meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Your Own Words Turned Against You

I'm no fan of Milo Yiannopoulos. However, I've had enough bad experiences of people turning my words on their heads and using them against me that I find any such tricks distasteful.

Taking someone's words out of context is one of the favorite techniques of those who would play such games. It's been used so many time with print sources that most people recognize the possibility that a suspect text may have been given such a butcher job. However, the limits of audio and video technology have generally been such that dirty edits are obvious, such that if an extended speech looks like it was done in one take, it probably was.

However, while that was true with analog media, which had to be physically cut and spliced, it is increasingly less true with digital media. Particularly as sophisticated editing software becomes ever more accessible to individuals with an agenda, it becomes easy to put together bits and slivers of innocuous conversations to make it sound as if someone said something completely beyond the pale, when in fact the person said no such thing. A recording that looks completely convincing to most ordinary people who aren't familiar with the ways to look for subtle shifts of light and shade that indicate a video was assembled from disparate pieces.

And it is only going to get worse as hardware and software become ever more capable, and more in reach of ordinary people. However, I hesitate to recommend restrictions on the availability of video and audio editing software, for the simple reason that it has so many legitimate uses, particularly for indie filmmakers who want to produce pro-level movies for our entertainment, asking only our suspension of disbelief rather than our belief.

So we must be more wary whenever we are presented with a video that purports to be a person saying something unacceptable. We can no longer assume that just because it appears to be authentic unedited video, it is.

Especially since it has uses beyond just the political. Right now there's a scam going around where the crooks call people and ask "can you hear me?" When the victim gives the socially expected affirmative reply, the crooks record it, and then use it as "proof" that the person agreed to some expensive service. It's probably only going to last in its present form until courts start ruling that a naked affirmative particle does not constitute consent, and there must be audio evidence that the person did indeed consent to the specific service in question. But if one can make nearly undetectable splices to an audio file, it wouldn't be that hard to trick people into saying enough of the necessary words to splice them together into what appears to be a statement of consent, say by pretending to be conducting a survey about a product.
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  • Current Music: "She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

This Is Scary

David Cassidy has announced that he has developed dementia.

Gods above, but this makes me feel old. I can remember how about half the girls in my third-grade class had a ferocious crush on him, and were constantly going all cow-eyed talking about him.

And it's particularly scary for me because dementia runs in my mother's family. Of her father's eight siblings who reached adulthood, six had significant impairment before they died. I turned fifty this past December, and every time something slips my mind, I wonder how long I'll have before things start unraveling in earnest. How much of my various fictional worlds will I be able to realize in story before I get to the point where I can no longer put words together?

I know there are new treatments in development that seem to be able to reverse the decline instead of just staving it off. But I can only hope that they'll actually pan out, and not turn out to have unacceptable side effects or some other problem that leads to the hope evaporating.
  • Current Location: parental abode
  • Current Mood: scared scared
  • Current Music: "Cast No Shadow" by Oasis
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

On the Necessity of Research

A few days ago, Sarah Hoyt posted a blog entry about research fails in fiction writing. J Carlton over at The Arts Mechanical then posted a follow-up showing some websites dealing with the period that was handled so badly in the novel that inspired Sarah Hoyt's original post.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on research, providing some general guidelines on going about research, and particularly going beyond Internet and library research to contact people who know about a subject. It takes a little effort to overcome that hesitancy, but after a few positive experiences, it becomes steadily easier.

However, that statement usually is about research on very specific topics. It's reasonably easy to show that you've done your homework and aren't some lazy kid when you have a close-ended question asking for a specific bit of obscure information that a specialist is apt to have. But it's much harder when you've been stymied at an earlier step of the research process and need more general information. This is particularly a problem when you're writing near-term hard sf.

For instance, an accident at a moonbase. I have some images in my mind, but I don't know enough to get into the nitty-gritty of the technical issues behind those images, to say what went wrong or what solutions will be implemented to solve the problems. When I'm writing stories that just refer to the incident as a historical matter, I can gloss over the details. But I have a story that's stuck indefinitely because it will deal more directly with those events, and the efforts of one would-be astronaut to find a solution to one of their problems. All the books on lunar settlement have been very vague about the sort of dangers that might cause a major accident at a moonbase, so I've been stuck at square one. And I'm not sure who I can even approach to ask such general questions, who won't hear it as someone who wants someone else to do their research for them and give me a hard snub so I'll know I've overstepped myself. So without any idea of where to turn, the story continues to sit in a folder, waiting.

Even worse than the problem of needing general knowledge are the unknown unknowns -- when you don't even realize there's a hole in your knowledge until you get blindsided by someone who does know. It's especially a problem for those of us who are stuck working in a vacuum, unable to find any beta readers at all and having to rely entirely upon our own skills to prepare stuff for indie publishing because the alternative is writing for the dresser drawer.
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  • Current Mood: frustrated frustrated
  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles
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Fresh New Books

Right now it's hard to believe it's actually February. It's so sunny and warm, it feels more like April or May. Of course it's not going to last -- we're forecast to be back in the 40's by the end of the week. But it's nice to be able to give our heating system a break -- and what better way to enjoy this wonderful weather than to grab a good book to go outside and enjoy the warmth.

The Sun Never Sets by Joseph T. Major

A passionate defense of an exiled prince leads to changes that shake the course of European and world history, and lay the stage for a wider and wider yet monarchy.
In our world, the Electress Sophia of Hanover, sister of the gallant Prince Rupert of the Rhine, was made heir to the British throne, only to die just too soon, leaving the succession to her son. Once, though, she got a little too exercised about the poor exiled Pretender . . . and if she had been just a little more exercised, William of Orange might have changed his mind.
Such a change could put a strange and striking monarch in reach of the British throne. But the heirs of the Stuarts were not yet gone, and they could strike back. The result of this bold decision would mean wars across the world, involving people from lands spreading from Poland to Virginia, from Scotland to Naples. It would mean battles in the Cockpit of Europe, in the wilds of Saxony, and indeed on the green fields of England itself.
Not all is war. Literary figures such as Swift,Johnson, and Voltaire have strange and different meetings. The universal genius Benjamin Franklin, Printer, has an entirely new field of endeavor.
The opposed royal houses, and the other princes of Europe, face off in new and strange alliances in this novel.

The Atlantis Grail by Vera Nazarian

From Book 1: You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.

The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendants of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.

But there’s a catch.

They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.

Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.

Because there’s a loophole.

If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.

There is only one problem.

Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.

This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her school, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.

Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.

You Qualify or you die.

Rhondo Allegro by Sherwood Smith

In 1799, all of Europe is at war.

In Palermo, sixteen-year-old singer-in-training Anna Maria Ludovisi is married by her dying father to Captain Henry Duncannon, the Perennial Bachelor. Minutes after the wedding he sets sail.

The threat of French invasion causes Anna to flee to Paris. At the end of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte is transforming France; Anna must transform herself into a professional singer in order to survive.

in 1805, Anna's opera company is traveling through Spain when events bring the long-missing Captain Duncannon and his forgotten wife back together again, as the English, Spanish, and French fleets converge for battle off the Cape of Trafalgar.

For Henry Duncannon as well as Anna, everything changes: the demands of war, the obligation of family, the meaning of love, and the concept of home. Can they find a new life together?

A romantic Napoleonic-period historical from Sherwood Smith, author of DANSE DE LA FOLIE.

Lazarus Risen by Hayden Trenholm, editor

Dreams of immortality and eternal youth are almost as old as human culture itself. But what would the world look like if everyone could live and be young forever? What would it look like if only some of us had that privilege? Lazarus Risen presents sixteen stories from around the world that explore the economic, political, social and psychological consequences of life extension, human cloning, the hard upload and other forms of the biological singularity.

(Contains my short story "Phoenix Dreams." Also available in hardcopy from the Bundoran Press website).

Grandmaster's Gambit by Leigh Kimmel

The disastrous war of 1913 is over, and young journalist Isaak Babel has used his fame as a war correspondent to win a peacetime job covering an international chess tournament in New York City. However, trouble is aboard the airship Grossdeuschland, in the form of the notorious Bolshevik terrorist Koba and his henchmen. Men with a dark plan, and New York City will not welcome their visit

Next weekend I'll be on the road again, so there may be difficulties.
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  • Current Mood: busy busy
  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Plotting and Pantsing

Do you carefully plot out your writing in advance, or do you write "by the seat of your pants," letting the story take you where it wants to go and discovering it along with your characters? Or do you use a mixture of the two methods?

I know that one of the most toxic writers' groups I ever belonged to was adamant that panting was wrong, that it was fit only for the perpetual amateur, and that if one wished to become a professional writer, one must plan everything from the top down. Not just learn how to do it, as a tool in your mental toolbox to be used when a project suited it. I'm talking The Only Right And Proper Way for a professional to write. And being told that I would thank them once they beat through my "defiant pride" and remade me in their mold.

Except for me, it killed the process dead, turned it into a hateful chore instead of a joy. If I hadn't finally wised up and left, it might have shut me down for good, something that even Adult Authority Figures forbidding me to write hadn't been able to do. And for years afterward, I struggled with those hostile voices still lingering in my mind, telling me I was Doin it Rong, that I was proving my unworthiness to ever enter the hallowed halls of Real Authors, to have my writing reach an audience, to be paid for my writing. Of course that was back in the days when your choices were traditional publishing and vanity publishing, where getting published meant either getting a permission slip from the gatekeepers or admitting that you were a loser by paying someone to publish it for you.

But even in these days when Amazon and Smashwords and other platforms have broken down the old barriers and made it possible for writers to put their work before an audience without getting a permission slip from the gatekeepers, I still struggle with that ugly inner voice telling me that I'm wrong to view writing as a process of discovery, that the only Proper way to write is to sit down and decide each story element in advance, so that the actual writing becomes a mechanical process.
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  • Current Mood: artistic artistic
  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

When It's Time to Move On

I think we've all seen the successful series that becomes a victim of its own success. The one that keeps on going after the writer has run out of ideas, until the stories become actively painful. Sometimes it's even clear that the author is trying to write finis on the series -- I saw that in several of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, as early as The White Dragon. And each time she came out with yet another Pern book after it, I had a strong feeling that her publisher said something along the lines of "No, you can't quit writing Pern books." Or even "We won't contract you for another book in a new universe unless you sign a contract for another Pern book first."

At least indie authors don't have that particular form of arm-twisting to deal with. But there can be other reasons that we keep writing in a given world after the ideas are no longer fresh. Maybe it's just the fondness for the familiar characters and setting, much like going back to an old favorite vacation spot in hopes of recapturing the happy days of yesteryear. Or just the knowledge that you have an established market for a book set in that world, and writing something completely new would mean taking a huge chance that your established readership won't like it, and you won't be able to develop a new audience that does.

But you also risk having your established audience dribble away if you drag out your series until it starts to read more and more like warmed-over leftovers rearranged on a new plate. Or you may discover that you just have to get away. You start to dread starting up your next book, or even the next day's writing session. You find that you're doing everything but writing.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to get completely away from what you've been doing. Maybe it's time to consider writing in an entirely new genre. Now you need to familiarize yourself with different conventions, which means lots of reading and research that will help clear your mind and get you excited about writing again.
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  • Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

New Wrinkle on the Mirror Test

Have you ever seen your cat or dog attack its own reflection, perhaps in a mirror, or just a window at night? No matter how many times your pet sees its own reflection, it cannot connect the image with itself. Instead, it perceives its reflection as another animal, a rival intruding upon its territory, and reacts accordingly.

Yet a human child learns to use a mirror almost intuitively, about the same time as certain other key developmental milestones are reached. Our closest relatives, the common chimp and the bonobo, also pick up the idea of a mirror almost as soon as they are exposed to it, as do most other great apes. (The gorilla is unusual in this regard, but for cultural reasons rather than cognitive -- in gorilla society eye contact is always an aggressive act. Polite gorillas avert their eyes, and thus never have an opportunity to realize that the image in a mirror is themselves. However, captive gorillas who have been socialized to human customs regarding eye contact learn to use a mirror just as easily as any other great ape).

As a result, it is generally taken to mean that being able to recognize oneself in a mirror is an indicator of a sense of self as separate from the rest of the universe. Our closest evolutionary kin share this skill, but more distantly related primates such as Old World and New World monkeys, lack this ability. (Although it also appears to have evolved separately in several other clades, including dolphins, elephants and ravens).

Furthermore, it is generally assumed that mirror self-recognition is a binary thing. Either a species has it, or it doesn't.

But a recent experiment with rhesus macaques is upending those assumptions. A number of these monkeys were put through a series of training exercises involving a mirror on which the experimenters painted laser targeting dots. After learning several skills related to mirror use, they appear to be able to recognize themselves in a mirror -- which raises serious questions about just what is going on inside their brains, and how this training technique has changed it. Did it unlock a behavioral potential that was latent all along, but just never activated in the environment of normal rhesus macaque society? Or did the experimenters somehow cause something else to develop? And does either explanation indicate the presence or development of a sense of self comparable to a human's?
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  • Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
  • Current Music: "She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

The Literary Agent -- an Idea Whose Time Has Passed?

A decade ago, publishing houses were closing their slushpiles, citing the cost of handling unsolicited manuscripts. So the advice for an aspiring novelist was to get an agent -- which meant that in effect agents were becoming unpaid slush readers. It also meant that shady agents cropped up like toadstools after the rain, happy to cater to those who'd do anything, no matter how desperate, to realize their dreams.

Now the rise of indie publishing has upended the traditional publishing system, and there are serious questions about the validity of the old advice to get an agent. Even established authors are questioning the validity of the assumption that one needs an agent.
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  • Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
  • Current Music: "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles
meow, cat, Siamese, catty

DIY Promotion Post

I was going to get this done ahead of time, since I was on the road this weekend, but I'm having persistent problems generating the Amazon links. So I'm going to give everybody an opportunity to list books they'd like to promote.

I'm hoping that next week I'll have this problem resolved and be able to do a regular promotional post. I really don't know what the problem is.
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  • Current Mood: exhausted exhausted
  • Current Music: "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive