Wednesday, July 26, 2017

My New/Old car, or An Autobiography in Music Technology

I have a "new" car. His name is The Tick and he's a 2007 Honda Odyssey minivan. He's called The Tick (after the comic book character) because he's bigger than he needs to be, but strong and friendly, if also potentially unintentionally destructive (superstrength without careful awareness can cause quite an "oops" sometimes). Like the Tick, he's also a little slow and possibly stupid, especially when it comes to technology.

Even though this car is newer than Duncan, the Toyota Highlander I had to give up because I could no longer afford to keep him in repair, the stereo system is lower tech. It's a 6 CD changer and doesn't even come with an aux jack, let alone bluetooth.

Replacing the stereo system with something a little more recent is more than I am willing to spend just now, so I'm the queen of the workaround. I've purchased a bluetooth speaker for use with my more modern devices. I've also resurrected my old CD collection, which has been quite the trip down memory lane and has me thinking about how technology has changed the way I enjoy music throughout my life.

When I began my life as a music listener, in the early 1970s, it still came mostly on record albums. My mother had a fabulous collection of 45s kept in these weird little plastic boxes that kind of looked like cake covers. Hers were candy pink and yellow, as I remember.

When we listened to music at home, we would make a little stack of records and set it on Mom's fancy record player which would drop and play them one at a time while we built things out of blocks or folded towels, singing along or dancing when we needed to.

My own records usually came with a storybook and you were supposed to turn the pages when the beep or bell or tone sounded so you could read along. My favorite was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. I didn't start buying records until I was a much bigger kid, and I never built much of a collection, just enjoying what my parents bought instead.

Mom also had an 8-track player in her car and we kept boxes and boxes of cassettes in the house, choosing out a case of them to take with us when we drove anywhere far away. I can still remember when I was an older kid and she gave all her old 8 tracks to one of her brothers. I was sad because I had genuinely loved being allowed to be the one to shove the cartridges into place and switch them out while Mom drove.

By the time I had finished elementary school, my family had switched to cassette tapes. Cassette tapes were awesome because they were a lot smaller and you could carry a whole lot more music with you.

They were also awesome because you could record on them, so when WEBN played entire albums at night, you could set your recordable cassette player close to the radio and make a copy of it all your own. (Where I grew up, you were either a Q102 or WEBN listener, and I was a WEBN listener because it was edgier and played the stuff my uncles, who were like 8 years older than me, had taught me was cool).

I upgraded my portable transistor radio to a portable cassette tape player when that became available and could ride my bike up and down the street listening to my favorite tunes.

That easy portability and share-ability of music really changed how I enjoyed music.

As I moved into middle and high school, the mix tape became a fixture of my life. Thanks to tape decks with dual cassette, you could make a copy of a tape to give to a friend, or record different songs off of different albums to make a collection of songs by different artists, on a theme or with a feel (you youngsters do that now, too, but you call them playlists and share them digitally).

I still listened to entire albums then, from beginning to end, but I loved how easy it was (comparatively speaking) to put songs in any order I chose. It was a great mixing of that earlier technology of a pile of 45s as a playlist and the easy portability of tapes.

I don't have a clear memory of the switch to CDs. I think it was slower, and involved years when I used devices that could play either thing and where you could record from CD onto cassette, but not vice-versa. That fell during late high school and college for me. I was busy and my memories are not mostly about what music technology I used.

Like the switch to cassette had been, the switch to CD was awesome because you could carry so much more music in so much less space. But it also had me back to listening to entire albums because, at first, you couldn't make your own, at least not unless you were some kind of tech guru.

I mean, I know this is a mind-blower, but most people didn't even have their own computers then, and we didn't have cellphones at all, let alone the tiny computer-in-your-pocket that so many of us use now.

By the time I graduated college and moved to Alaska, I no longer had any cassette tapes (though I *did* still have VHS tapes . . .which is an old fogey story for another day).

In 2001, I got my first iPod--the one with the click wheel. I LOVED that thing. We had ripped our entire CD collection into digital format in preparation, and since I didn't know I was getting an iPod, I also made a lot of mix CDs during this time. By then, I owned the computer equipment to rip and burn my own CDs. (These are some of the CDs I pulled back out of storage and am listening to again in my new-old car).

Over the years and iterations of iPods and then iPhones, I've gotten used to listening to music one song at a time, with options for random shuffle or by music genre or by album, or in whatever order I choose via playlists. I use streaming services in different settings, but I still like feeling like I "own" my music and we have a GIANT family hard drive full of all the mp3s we've collected over the years. I'm using my iPod less than I used to, and don't plan to replace it when it stops working, relying instead of my iPhone and streaming services, so another transition is going on right now.

What I almost never do any more is listen to an entire album. Albums are tricky. They might be great, featuring many songs you love which are carefully ordered to provide a listening experience that runs some kind of gamut of feelings or leads you through a narrative. They might also feel really random and include one or two things you like and a bunch of crap.

Back to using CDs in The Tick, I've been listening to albums off all those old CDs again, and it's jarring. For every album that works as a single art piece, like The Rising by Bruce Springfield, there's one that feels like you have the same song recorded at mildly different speeds 13 times, like The Ramones CD I tried to listen to today.

A fun thing, though, has been discovering all the mix CDs I made back in 2001, and in the years since. I found one collecting songs my then-toddler loved (she's 17 now). I found CDs I bought at music festivals I attended during grad school. CDs that I bought to replace earlier technology, music I first loved on 45s or cassettes. That collection we made for our wedding. Kindermusik, Kim Possible, and Laurie Berkner, from earlier stages in my children's lives.

Just like browsing your book collection after a lifetime of collecting, these CDs are a history of who I am and where I've been, what and who I loved at different times, how I felt.

You know, maybe I won't throw them out when I decide to splurge on that new stereo system after all. There might just be too much of me in them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Social Media and Comfort Zones

It's easy to get in a rut in your reading. After all, when you find something you like, you want more! But there is a such thing as too much. At some point, the sparkle is gone, the shine is off. It might still be comfortable, but it's not as exciting as it used to be. So it's time to try something new.

I know this pain as a reader. Trying something new is stepping outside your comfort zone, and it's so frustrating when you try something new and you don't like it. When you get burned like that, it is that much harder to try something new. You want to hedge your bets, to know that you're going to like the new thing.

So, how's a writer to get new people to try her work?

Well, we'll have to step out of our comfort zones, too, and try something new. As a writer in that very position, here's what I've been trying.

An "easy" thing that most people try at one point or another is social media. Whether you use Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or some other platform, social media has several advantages for getting the word out there if you're a new author (and/or an introvert).

It's free.

It's popular.

It doesn't require that you leave your house.

But, oh dear, it can go badly when it goes badly. Cringing-ly badly.

Each of these social media platforms has their own aesthetic, their own etiquette and expectations. And a lot of excited new authors jump in with both feet, and their eyes closed, not looking around long enough to realize that they've elbowed someone in the chin flailing around like that. Hence you see feeds that have nothing but "BUY MY BOOK" or the same post with no alteration on several different platforms or worse yet, attacks or defensiveness about criticism. You make your potential readers uncomfortable or annoyed, and that can hurt not only one potential sale, but all your future potential sales to a reader.

Whatever platform you choose to play in, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Look around. Observe first. Make sure you understand how people typically use this platform. See what kinds of posts get positive response. Learn from what others do.

2. Do something there besides advertise. The users of all of these platforms aren't there to read ads. I mean, really, would anyone go anywhere specifically to watch ads (except maybe to YouTube to watch the clever Superbowl ads)? Don't forget the SOCIAL in social media. Make friends. Respond to what other users are doing. Post about something besides your work.

3. Always put the best version of you forward. We all have complaints, but these public forums are not the place. Save your venting for the private spaces in your life, among friends and colleagues. You don't have to be Pollyanna, but neither should you be Oscar the Grouch, hating everything. Be yourself, but with your filters on.

4. Pick a platform you enjoy. It's not necessary to be on *everything* or to drive yourself crazy trying to keep up. I probably do too many, but I'm an experimenter, and I use different platforms for different things. I like to try out new things and push myself out of my comfort zone. This will take some trial and error. You have to *try* something before you know if you like it, just like you're hoping people will give you a try as an unknown author.

For example, here's me trying video. I'm not very comfortable in the medium, but I like the idea of being able to give people a taste of what my book is like even if they can't make it to any of my events. I'm not ready to be flashy when it comes to video, but I could handle giving my phone to my sister and asking her to film me while I read at Con-Gregate.

5. Be honest. People don't like being lied to or scammed. If no one has reviewed your book yet, don't claim to have five star reviews. If you've sold ten copies to your friends and family, don't claim you're a bestseller.

That goes for your book advertising in other ways, too. Make sure your cover art and back of the book blurb give people a good idea what the book is about. People don't like bait and switch, and that's how it feels when you think you're buying a nice, straightforward romance, and suddenly a vampire descends from the ceiling. You don't do yourself any favors by getting people to buy your work under false pretences . . .they probably won't like it.

So, my author and other creative friends, what are you trying to get the word out about what you do? What's working or isn't?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Congregating at Con-Gregate

I'll be at Con-Gregate this weekend, getting my geek on and talking books and all things nerdy with my people. I had a great time last year and can't wait to go back. Here's what I'll be up to. Look on my schedule and be jealous! (Or better yet, come out and join the fun, if High Point, North Carolina is anywhere near you). If you're not already familiar with Con-Gregate, you can read this interview with the organizers from last year to learn more.

Friday, July 14: 3:00
Full-Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule
I'll be moderating this panel with Glenda Finkelstein, Chris Kennedy, Ian J. Malone, and Michael D. Pederson. We'll talk about how we manage our creative work alongside our families, jobs, and other commitments and what tricks we've learned along the way to be productive without driving ourselves crazy.

Friday July 14: 4:00
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Reboot
Moderator Mark MacDicken will lead this discussion with me, Stuart Jaffe, and Michael G. Williams. Looking forward to seeing what my fellow panelists think of the new team on the show.

Friday July 14: 9:00
Java and Pros I probably shouldn't be having coffee this late, but it's worth giving up a little sleep to share a reading with Darin Kennedy. Darin and I share a publisher for at least some of our work, and had our debut novels at around the same time. He's also been gracious to me in many ways as I found my comfort with the con scene. (And he's a damn fine writer).

Saturday July 15: 1:00
Writing from Different Perspectives Thank goodness for late starts on Saturday, because it looks like I'll be up late on Friday. But what a great panel to kick off my day with! We'll be talking about writing characters who are different from ourselves and how to be authentic, respectful, and sensitive in those portrayals. My fellow panelists are moderator Amy H. Sturgis and Barbara Hambly, Larry N. Martin, and Michael G. Williams

Saturday July 15: 5:00
Signing Table I'll be sharing a table with Kim Headlee and we'll both be signing our books and talking with anyone who has time to stop by. I'm extra excited about this since I'll have a new release to show off.

Saturday July 15: 6:00
And More Geeky Rants Come see what has our panties in a bunch. I'll be ranting and laughing with moderator Rich Sigfrit and panelists Misty Massey, Kim Headlee, and Tally Johnson.

Saturday July 15: 8:00
Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading A smorgasbord of authors, each reading a few minutes of their work. Just enough to leave you wanting more. I'll be reading alongside literary luminaries like John G. Hartness, Paula S. Jordan, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Gail Z. Martin, Misty Massey, Melissa McArthur, and Nancy Northcott (and maybe others will join the party, too).

Saturday July 15: 10:00
The Dichotomy Between Good and Evil I'll be moderating this panel about those lovely gray areas when good people do bad things and bad people do good things and how that plays out in fiction. Can't wait to hear what panelists Kim Headlee, J. Matthew Saunders, Edmund R. Schubert, and Michael G. Williams have to say.

Sunday July 16: 12:00
1987: Never Gonna Give You Up I'll be walking down nostalgia alley with other recovering 80s kids moderator JT "The Enginerd" and panelists Mark MacDicken , Gild the Mourn, and Misty Massey.

Sunday July 16: 2:00
Fusion: Alternative Histories and Mixing Genres: I get to finish by moderating one more panel with the fantastic Melissa McArthur and Glenda Finkelstein. We'll be talking about our favorite mash ups and what makes these stories so wonderful.

So behold my weekend and grit your teeth in jealousy! Or even better, join me. You can view the entire schedule here and learn more about Con-Gregate here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

IWSG: Valuable Lessons

Writing has taught me a lot: about myself, about wordsmithing, about the business of publishing, and how to fireproof ordinary clothing . . . In fact, I think that's part of the joy of writing as a career choice. There's no drudgery, no same-old, same-old, not waffles again. Each writing project is it's own puzzle to solve, mountain to climb, or whatever metaphor you prefer. It's all learning.

IWSG is asking this month: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing? I'm going to take "started writing" to mean "started seriously writing" because I've always dabbled and played, but I've only been serious about it since about 2013.

The most valuable lesson I've learned during this time is that you have to understand yourself as an artist to get anywhere. There are thousands of paths to a writing life, and myriad advice about when and how to work your way through the writing and publishing process, but none of that matters in the end. You have to find and do what works for you as an individual. That's going to mean trial and error to find a process that gets results.

I learned that I can write anywhere--I don't have to have a particular environment or time of day--but that I have to write every day in order to make progress and stay on track.

For me, the commitments I make only to myself have been the easiest to let slide. I've fallen off so many wagons that I have permanent spoke marks and hay in my hair. It took me until I was in my forties to understand that a little selfishness is necessary to get there (whatever *there* you've picked in your life: weight loss, mastery of a new skill, etc.). I began insisting on writing time every day.

I was reasonable about it. I didn't ask for twenty-three of every twenty-four hours or anything crazy like that. I tried to choose my writing time during hours that would have lower impact on the needs and wants of the people in my life. It took a little time, but we all adjusted and now writing is just something I do every day.

As of the writing of this post, I have written for 1,373 days in a row (250 words is the minimum to count as "having written" by my reckoning, though I shoot for 800 on schooldays and 2,000 on non-schooldays now, after building up my endurance). I've written 1,672,415 words since I started tracking with Magic Spreadsheet (1,373 days ago). I've finished drafts of six novels, and seen three through to publication (the third one comes out July 11). I've also written several short stories and novellas as well, and written a weekly blog post, articles, and guest posts galore during this time.

But all of that is after making a commitment to myself and keeping it, and getting to that point took all the forty-years that led there. My new struggle, what I'm learning now, is how to set priorities to make the most efficient use of my writing time. I still work full time, and am now managing book promotion and publication business as well as writing new words. It's a whole new ballgame.

I'm looking forward to reading the other posts by IWSGers on this topic and would love to hear from you in the comments. What have you learned? What are you still struggling with?
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.