I am so very, very far behind on everything. It is definitely panic time. What fun.
June 25, 2012
Full disclosure: I have no right to be complaining about this. Actually, I’m not truly complaining as such. It’s more that I’m shaking the Fist of Frustration at the Goddess of Amusing but Ultimately Insignificant Coincidences, twin sister of Annoia, Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers (all credit to Mr. Pratchett).
So I’ve been writing a lot of songs lately, mostly fantasy- and sci-fi-flavoured bits of amusing fluff. I perform some of them at a monthly SF reading series, and people do seem appreciative. I’ve never put any of them online, since I’ve only really been working on them since last Christmas, but I’ve always planned to do so, despite my complete lack of knowledge of how to make a half-decent recording or video. In fact, I was sort of thinking of working on that this weekend.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been refining one particular song that covers a subject that will be recognisable to many fantasy fans and, nowadays, HBO viewers,all in anticipation of a performance this coming Wednesday. Perhaps I was a little too pleased with this song and am now being punished for my hubris. On Friday, less than a week before the performance, Paul and Storm released their own single on more or less exactly the same subject. You can, and should, watch the video here (or, in fact, on their website, which is linked above). It’s very funny. I am unhappy with Paul and Storm.
This sort of thing does happen, of course. It’s not even that it happens only to struggling unknowns; Pixar probably has a few choice things to say to Dreamworks about Antz, released a month before A Bug’s Life. And I can hardly complain that a brilliant comic duo has scooped my song, considering that I’ve never, you know, released any songs, ever. It’s just that coincidences do sometimes make one fall to one’s knees in a rain-soaked meadow and scream, “Whyyyyyyyyyy?” to the heavens. One generally goes for ice cream afterwards.
At any rate, my vaguely directed indignation has now been put to relatively good use: I have recorded four of my songs, damn it, including the scooped one. I did the scooped one first in an attempt to prove, if only to myself, that I was not a freaking copycat but simply a victim of Fortune’s whims. The recordings are not, shall we say, of professional quality. Basically, I had one microphone, my voice, and a ukulele. My voice can charitably be described as “untrained.” Nonetheless, feel free to listen. Do go find the Paul and Storm video first, though, since it’s got fake beards in it and is hilarious. Then go find other stuff by Paul and Storm. I especially recommend “Frogger! The Frogger Musical.”
I apologise beforehand for the weird format below; I can’t seem to fix it.
Here’s my scooped song, which may baffle you if you do not know who George R. R. Martin is:
This one may appeal to those who believe that Twilight is the devil:
This one is (literally) self-explanatory:
This one is an affectionate poke at my city of origin:
There will eventually be more. I’ve got about ten at the moment.
June 18, 2012
When you are trying to get a novel published, you spend an awful lot of time sitting around waiting to be rejected. Sometimes, this happens even when you are not, in fact, sending anything to publishers.
As someone who has been writing since she first picked up a pen in her chubby little hand but who has, in fact, spent the last two decades not sending her work out to publishers, I am a slightly weird example of a newbie wannabe writer. During my undergrad, I just knew I was going to be published someday. I even sent a partial manuscript to a small Canadian publisher when I was in my early twenties. It was, of course, rejected; the rejection was personalised, but it still hurt. I did know I wasn’t going to give up.
I did, though. Oh, I kept writing. I’ve lost count of the number of novels I’ve written. I would always pound them out, edit the hell out of them, and put them carefully away on the Shelf of Shame. I did plan to start sending stuff out again. I did. But this manuscript had problems in the climax, and that one was too sentimental, and I had to write a synopsis, and how was I supposed to write a synopsis? My synopses always ended up being about ten pages long. And then there was the query, or the cover letter, or whatever. Was there a difference between a query and a cover letter? How long was an excerpt? Why did no Canadian publishers accept children’s fantasy? (This was before Harry Potter. Eventually, it was also after Harry Potter. Canadian publishers took a while to catch up on the whole children’s fantasy thing.)
Oh yes: Harry Potter. Before Rowling’s books, no one wanted fantasy; it was all about gritty realism. After Rowling’s books, everyone wanted fantasy, but everyone who wrote fantasy was a Rowling copycat. And then there was Twilight. Oh God, was there ever Twilight. Suddenly, there was no more “children’s literature”; there was “YA” and “middle grade.” YA was all dark and gritty, with pouty girls on the covers. My stories didn’t have romance plots; no one would want them. There was no use in even trying.
I did this for decades. I made all the excuses. I made it to the age of thirty-six without having sent out a single manuscript or even a single short story or poem since that one novel I had finished when I was twenty or so. It was easier to deal with the rejection when it was only happening in my head.
I finished another novel when I was thirty-six. This time, I was determined to do something with it. I mean, I was thirty-six. Never mind that I hadn’t been trying: I was still someone who had meant to be published by her mid-twenties and had made it to thirty-six without gaining a single publication credit. Writing had always been what I wanted to do, and here I was, avoiding sending stuff out because I was afraid of failure. So I edited until I could edit no more, and then I actually did write the damn synopsis and the damn cover letter and eventually an agent query and so on. And I’ve sent the novel out a few times. Two publishers and a few agents have it at the moment. I’ve had some rejection letters and a lot of ringing silence from the agents (agents often don’t respond at all unless they’re interested). I do feel crushed and despondent and as if I’m attempting to climb a ridiculously high mountain with no gear. I’ve got a short story out as well. I know I could receive a rejection at any moment…or I could wait for months and months and then receive a rejection. I know in my heart that all the replies will be rejections because I am so very used to thinking of myself as failing at everything. Yes, I realise that huge numbers of people go through this; I am not claiming uniqueness in any way.
But you know what? At least I’m trying now. Even if I’m eventually rejected by every agent and publisher in the world, I’ll have tried. I spent so long not trying that trying feels weird. All I really know is that I can’t stop writing, so rejection or no, there will be more novels. If they sit forever on the Shelf of Shame, so be it. I guess the fact that I’m thinking like this now instead of just telling myself that there’s no use in even researching publishers is, in its own topsy-turvy way, a kind of success.
June 11, 2012
Do not mistake this post for the Weekly Pointless Rant; that’s below. Instead, this post just repeats the list of incentives for contributing to the Clarion Write-a-Thon. Why have I dreamed up all these incentives? Insanity may have something to do with it.
The message (also available via the comic’s index page):
The Clarion Write-a-Thon is starting soon, and I shall be participating. Please take a look at my profile page on the Clarion site, and consider sponsoring me. For every $200 raised, you guys will get seven extra comics. $1,000 will get you a comic-book-style story about Marie’s past. Beating last year’s total of $1,212.66 will get you a comic-book-style story about Casey. Perhaps I’ll even print hard copies of these stories and send them to donors. There will also be some sort of extra if we hit $666.66 again.
In addition, I’m going to do a draw every Sunday night. All you need to do to have your name entered in the draw is to donate something to Clarion that week. It can be as much or as little as you like (I would suggest $1 as a minimum, but there’s no maximum). If you decide to pledge instead of contributing a lump-sum donation, your name will be entered in the draw every week until the end of the Write-a-Thon. The winner will be announced when Monday’s comic is put up. (I don’t think the Clarion people process donations on the weekend–at least, they’re not doing so at the moment–so weekend donations will probably count towards the next week’s draw.)
If you win, you will receive either this WoB tile coaster or this other WoB tile coaster (your choice), though likely not until August (I’ll order all the coasters together, then sign them and write little messages on the backs). Winners will be responsible for e-mailing me their contact information. If they want to opt out, they can do so, and a secondary draw will be held. Those who win more than once will receive more than one coaster. Okay, yes, you can also just order a coaster for six and a half bucks, but where’s the fun in that? As well, there’ll be a bigger prize later. Thus:
In the final week of the Write-a-Thon, I’ll hold an extra draw in which everybody who has contributed thus far will be entered; those who have contributed more than once will be entered more than once (to a maximum of ten tickets per entrant, just in case you are mulling over a cunning plan to contribute 50 cents a day for a month and a half), and those who have gone with the pledge option will get one ticket per week of participation. The prize will be a framed print of the black-and-white WoB comic of your choice (the black-and-white comics just fit the frame better). You may choose any WoB newspaper-strip-style comic published in the course of the past six years. Here’s an example of what it will look like (except with a different comic unless, of course, that’s the one you want).
Incidentally, I’m also happy just to sell you a print. Tell me what you want, and I’ll make it up for you; it’ll take about two minutes.
I just took a look at my WoB Talk spam folder. A few months ago, I would generally have had between five and ten comments in there at any given time. Lately, however, the spambots have been taking notice of the blog. There were 100 spam comments yesterday. Today, there are 121. Considering that comments are deleted when they’re more than thirty days old, that means I received at least 21 and quite possibly many more spam comments just today. One even got through the filter, though it was pretty obviously spam, and I deleted it immediately.
The spambots have really been trying hard lately. Gone are the days of all-caps spam detailing which bits of the male anatomy the spammer is proposing to perk up; such messages have fled to the Gmail spam folder, where they languish in dusty obscurity. No: the blog spammer is a more sophisticated creature. A spam comment on a blog is designed to look like a genuine comment, though it is couched in the sort of vague language that fake psychics use to convince their marks that they really can see beyond the mysterious veil. The secret to a successful spam comment is to word it in such a way that the spam filter and/or the blogger may be fooled into thinking there’s a possibility that it’s genuine.
Take an example from today’s appalling load of spam, all of it directed at the Rant I posted two weeks ago, “Not Exactly a Handsome Prince.” Apparently, all the spambots have been telling each other about that one. Here is the latest comment (spelling and grammar reproduced faithfully):
Thank you so much for providing individuals with such a nice possiblity to read critical reviews from this site. It is always so excellent and also stuffed with a lot of fun for me personally and my office mates to search your blog at a minimum thrice per week to study the new secrets you have got. Of course, I’m just certainly fulfilled with all the surprising hints you serve. Certain 2 ideas in this posting are honestly the most efficient I have ever had.
The commenter mentions “critical reviews,” often a safe bet for blog content. He personalises the comment by mentioning his “office mates” and their thrice-weekly blog search. “Surprising hints” also turn up on many blogs, and calling two of the blog’s ideas “efficient” is a savvy idea, as it praises something that, again, many bloggers aim for; it also suggests a certain specificity. Other spam comments mention daughters, friends, or spouses. Some are short and vague; others are long and detailed. The former often work better, as they are less likely to get stuff wrong. Two seconds of analysis will, of course, direct you to the spam link accompanying the “personalised” comment, but I’m sure many people are fooled just long enough to click.
It’s probably only a matter of time before spammers find ways past the filters by creating programs that can borrow actual content from blog posts, plugging key words into the spam and thus personalising comments to the point where the filters can’t distinguish then from genuine comments posted by genuine human beings. We’ll know the machine world is imminent when the spambots begin posting fake comments that are more insightful than the real ones. Perhaps the spambots of the future will be able to construct fluent paragraphs extolling the virtues of a certain blogger’s cat or agreeing with another one that the ukulele is a noble instrument. Bloggers will start writing to attract spambots, with whom they will be able to have much more intelligent conversations than they do with thirteen-year-old trolls who clog up their comments pages with such gems as, “LMFAO STFU IM SLEPING WITH UR MOM.”
I, for one, welcome our new spambot overlords. Maybe if I ask nicely, they’ll help me with my marking.
June 4, 2012
It’s a funny thing about being a musician: the guitarists have it easy.
If you’re a guitarist, you’re expected to be, well, a guitarist. You play the guitar. If you’re a really high-level guitarist in a high-level band, you may have a lot of different guitars for different kinds of music, but you will probably also have someone to carry them for you. It is likely that you own some sort of truck. If you’re just any old guitarist who plays with people sometimes, you may take only one axe to any practice…maybe electric, maybe acoustic. If depends on the gig. A guitar is not a small instrument, but it can be carried with a fair amount of ease in a light gig bag. Your music probably fits into this gig bag too.
If you don’t play the guitar, you may be a keyboardist. A keyboardist runs into a few more problems. Your keyboard, if it has, say, 61 keys, is about the size and weight of an acoustic guitar but more awkward to carry. You will need a stand and possibly a stool. It is also probable you’ll be using an amp. So will an electric guitarist, but the latter won’t need the stand. A keyboardist just has more to carry.
You may also play the drums. You’re really in trouble now, especially if you don’t have a truck or a van or any kind of vehicle. You probably want to practise in some place that already has a drum set. On the day of the gig, you’ll get a friend with a car to help you out.
Then there are people like me. By “people like me,” I mean “people who have learned a few too many instruments and end up playing all of them at any given gig.”
The guitar and the keyboard are both versatile instruments. Better: they’re regarded as fundamental. I can play the guitar a little and the keyboard a lot, but I am usually in kinds of bands where the keyboard is not, in fact, a standard instrument: for instance, folk and bluegrass bands. No worries: I can play the accordion. And the mandolin. And the ukulele. And the banjolele. And various flutes and whistles. And, if necessary, the bodhran. I own a banjo but don’t yet play it well enough to gig with it, and I am sometimes kind of grateful for that fact. Banjos are heavy. Mandolins and ukuleles are not, but if you are carrying one of each, plus most of the other instruments just listed, the weight adds up.
A couple of days ago, two friends and I played at a book launch. It was a lot of fun, and I loved the music we were doing. The one problem was that I was playing six damned instruments in eight different songs. We rehearsed every Saturday. I got to haul an accordion, mandolin, ukulele, wooden flute, low whistle, and C whistle back and forth across the city. One week, I had a bodhran too so I could lend it to our singer, who also doubled as a percussionist. On the day of the gig itself, I added a music stand, a ukulele stand, and a guitar stand I had converted into a mandolin stand to the load. I also had to take the bodhran and assorted other percussion with me on the way home.
I’m still in pain. The accordion was on wheels, but accordions are heavy, and even rolling one along the sidewalk takes strength. I do not want to talk about getting on and off buses and the subway. It got to the point where I was physically incapable of lifting the accordion a few inches off the ground. The “light” instruments seemed less light when I was carrying them all at once. The guitar/mandolin stand was this big awkward thing I strapped to the accordion case, and it kept getting caught in doorways. I was constantly worried that I was going to squash the ukulele or sit on the flute.
The problem is that it’s nice to have instrumental variety in a band. When that band has only three members, it’s not the guitarist who ends up providing that variety: it’s the “other instrumentalist,” the idiot foolish enough to have more than one instrument available. It makes sense. Not every song needs an accordion. Sometimes, a ukulele is just too quiet or a mandolin too shrill. When you’re playing a certain kind of bluegrass without a fiddle, a flute can make a half-decent substitute in a pinch. I could easily have said, “I’m going to stick with the mandolin this time around,” but I’m a fan of mixing it up. I do find that when I do ridiculous stuff like this, I end up kind of regretting not being able to drive.
The gig went well, incidentally. Johnny Cash and the accordion make a surprisingly good combination.