Saturday, May 17, 2014

And then, my head exploded: Exploding Head Syndrome

Actually, my head didn't explode. But I do occasionally suffer from Exploding Head Syndrome, a weird phenomenon that, since I've had it for as long as I can remember, is probably more common than anyone realizes. It's just that, who are you going to tell? And what are you going to say?
(Simulated conversation)
"Honey, someone hit the house with a car!"
"Um, no they didn't."
"Then it must have been an earthquake!"
"Um, no. No earthquake."
Googles. Sure enough, no earthquake in the news. "All the doors in the house slammed at the same time?"
"Now you're just being silly."
"Okay, okay. It must have just been my head exploding."

I've felt burning, prickling, and even stabbing sensations in my sleep associated with dreams, or perhaps the dreams try to 'explain' the sensation by making me suddenly walk over sharp coral or getting shot or stabbed. And no, I don't wake up with a body part that's fallen asleep when this happens. So that's pretty weird. I've had full-color (which isn't supposed to happen) full sensation, vivid dreams that border on hallucinations. These dreams, separate in experience from my other dreams, are associated with a period of time when I had severe sleep disturbance issues that they tried to treat and ended up giving me epic nightmares. Ugh. I've also had 'normal' full color, no sensation dreams that nonetheless seem so vivid and important that I remember them for years afterward, like the one where I found a newspaper article about the first centaurs created by science in someone's tower-house attic. I've done lucid dreaming (fun, btw) where I can consciously seize control of the dream environment and continue to dream. And my creativity is clearly linked in a reciprocal fashion to dreaming. If I don't write with full engagement of all my powers of Kami every day, I'll start to dream weirder and more vivid dreams, then nightmares, until finally I find a time when I can do some serious writing and then the dreaming returns to my regularly scheduled programs. And if I'm in the middle of an intense writing period, I'll get incredibly lame, super-boring dreams where I'm shopping for an item and can't find it, or I'm at work. And then I have to wake up and go to work or go shopping. Ugh. What a waste of good dream time. It's like all the creativity that poured out of me into my writing drained my lake-o-inventiveness and left behind a sludge of boring.

But this annoying thing, this exploding head syndrome thing, though it doesn't happen very often (maybe a couple of times a year) is so bad, so frightening ... and yet it's happened often enough now that when it happens and I wake up (today it woke me at a reasonable hour, 5:30 am, which is nice because now I can get an early start on my day) I can accept (almost every time–not this morning though, whoooo boy!) that no, the house wasn't whisked away in a tornado and we didn't just land in Oz with a tremendous crash that killed one of the wicked witches.

As awesome as that would be.

And I can usually go back to sleep.

Not always, though.

This morning, it's good that I'd pretty much had a full night's sleep because I could not have gone back to sleep. My heart was going a million miles an hour, I felt hungover (and no, didn't have a drop of alcohol, actually hadn't had even a nightcap since Sunday–hey, could that be my problem? :P ) and I was absolutely, positively sure that an intruder had dropped something incredibly heavy, as in, the entire house when the jacks had given way (except there was no falling sensation just before so maybe it was just the half of the house I wasn't in.) (And there were no associated rattles or glass crashing so clearly it was emptied already of all our stuff.) (And the wood framing had to be stabilized in some way because there were no snaps, crackles or pops.)

It was really unpleasant and frightening, to say the least. I was actually afraid to explore the house, I was so sure that there was a crazy, clumsy intruder downstairs.

Some doctors believe that you'll get clusters of these exploding head thingies when you're stressed. I don't know about that. I am incredibly stressed and overworked right now, but I've been incredibly stressed before and I didn't get them. There's no way for me to remember if I was stressed when this happened before. I suppose, now that I've blogged about it, I can make a little note on future blogs at the end and we can track it together.

So, if you see something about my head exploding at the end of future blogs, don't be alarmed. It's for science.

And now that my head has exploded, I can start my day. I hope you have a great one! And may your head never explode.

Friday, May 16, 2014

+5 vs Scammers

I thought something smelled funny, but I kept it around anyway. Today I looked it up because it was really starting to stink, and I found this:

How did I not know about Salty Droid before? This is awesome.

I love a lot of things about the internet. Probably my favorite thing (besides cute overload and instant communication with family and friends) (and art stuff) is how it can be such a great tool for education. I've been educating myself via the web for a while now, and I'm learning to get better at it.

Sadly, the internet is also a great place to get scammed and misinformed. Well-meaning friends (myself included) unknowingly spread stuff that isn't true or even actively harmful. This is why we need resources like Salty Droid, which outs scammers, and Snopes. What? You haven't heard of Snopes? Please. Please please please become acquainted with Snopes, an urban legend website. It's not perfect. No site is. But when you get one of those forwards from someone about the dangers of eating pop rocks and drinking cola at the same time, before you send it to everyone on your email list, first, go to Snopes and check out if it's true or false. There have been false positives and false negatives, of course, but they do have a mechanism for correcting those. At the very least, it's a great place to start.

Whatever you do, though, don't start reading around Snopes or Salty Dog because you'll get sucked in and before you know it, three days will have passed and you'll have no clean dishes or laundry. (But at least you'll be better informed!)

Often, the easiest way to keep your identity and your money safe on the internet is to simply use the internet itself against internet scammers. Salty Droid, just like Snopes, is one resource out of many and may not be perfect. For one thing, you have to be able to read nerdish, which can be byzantine in construction and unclear as far as what is meant as sarcasm and what's meant as an actual statement. Anyway, Salty Droid and many others out there exist purely to help you make certain that money or time (and let's face it, the time is usually more important than the money) isn't wasted on someone or something awful or potentially damaging to you. A few minutes of searching is time well-spent to defend yourself against bad things.

Of course, no Kami blog entry on scams and lies would be complete without a (re)mention of Writer Beware!®:The Blog and the Absolute Write Water Cooler. All you writers out there, if you get the least bit of opportunity, be sure to spread the word about this invaluable resource. There are still plenty of newbie (and some experienced) writers out there unaware of the horrid that is bad publisher and agent behavior, not to mention the many other pitfalls of writing.

Sometimes it feels like there are more pits than road.

The more mention there is on the internet of these kinds of resources, the harder time bad people will have stealing, and the better educated we all will be as lies and misinformation are snuffed out. Or revealed for what they are, which are stinky piles of stink. Or perhaps just laughed at. Maybe turned into silly videos we can all enjoy on YouTube. With cute kitties illustrating the main points.

Thusly armed, you can enjoy the wealth of educational materials (for free!), business opportunities (real ones with real value provided!), and of course, the ability to quickly communicate with family and friends on a scale unfathomable just twenty years ago (and look at cute animal pics and videos) and have a far smaller chance of getting ripped off or victimized by people abusing the awesome that is the internet for selfish gain w/o actually generating any value for the people they're hustling to.

It's like using the internet against the internet to better enjoy the internet. Somehow, it works.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Again with the Creds!

A couple of days ago, I read another 'would like to be a panelist' email. I'm not trying to be mean here. This is for educational purposes. But dang, it's hard sometimes to keep a civil tone. I know agents and editors get this way too, just because they see it so much. Have you ever seen the Palpatine on the Escalator skit by Robot Chicken? (Warning, language, politically incorrect, and, btw, Palpatine, not a good guy, right?) Anyway, the point being that, try as I might to not be, I think I'm getting jaded. Which is bad. The 237th person to query might be annoying because they're making the exact same obvious, dorky mistake that 159 people made before them, but it might well be their very first time querying, so how could they know? They're like Gary the Stormtrooper on the escalator (the one that bows his head and says aww) who gets cussed out for doing the same thing everyone else did, the thing he was supposed to do as far as he knew, btw. They totally don't deserve the brunt of someone's annoyance that has built up from the gizillion people before, right?

So, with that in mind ....

The person emailed the programming department, which is the right place/people, with their micro-publisher hat on, saying that one of their authors was local to a con and was interested in attending as a panelist. The person then asked who to contact about this, and signed with their first name, last initial, and the name of the press.

What's wrong with this, you ask?

Nothing, except that the email was phrased exactly as I paraphrased it, with no specifics. No name of the author. Last initial instead of full last name? Really? No link to the press website? (Turns out there wasn't a website, at least not one I found.) You're going to make me Google you? Seriously? Oh, and, this is the killer part. They did not mention *which* author was interested.

So, I do the Google dance. At this point I'm only mildly annoyed. The only thing I could find of any substance (and by substance, I mean something more than just a listing on a list page) was on B&N, so I click on the link. There are four books on the B&N publisher page. As far as I can tell, it's a full list. Four books, well, that's pretty tiny even by my standards, but I'm not going to knock them for that.

So, Name F. looks like he wrote two books that were authored by Name Full-last, but it could be coincidental, right? Maybe. At this point I'm grinding my teeth. Is Name F. inquiring on behalf of Name Full-last, which is probably himself? Then why the flip not say so in the email? Hi, my name is Name Full-last, I wrote a couple of books and I'd like to come to your convention. Here's a link to my stuff. Thanks for your time!

See how easy?

Sadly, this story gets worse. One of the authors of the four books is clearly a pseudonym. Either that, or a family that coincidentally has a fantasy-sounding last name decided to name their child after one of the major characters in LotR. And I can't help but think, could this be a pseudonym for Name F.? Which makes me suspect that the other author name (which looks like a traditional American name, more or less) might be a pseudonym for the same person too. At which point I'm so done with this person. Because 'one of our authors' should actually be 'I'. Anything else is a lie.

I must operate from the benefit of the doubt position, and assume that there are at least two people working together here, but that didn't stop me from developing a bias against this person. I'll combat that bias to the best of my ability, but, sorry I can't erase the experience from my brain and I don't feel I should have to. Every email I get builds the relationship between us, whether its a 'argh, more spam, I hate you!' relationship or 'yay, an email from my friend!' relationship. If there's more positive than negative, I'll look forward to our next correspondence. If, OTOH, it starts with vagueness that stinks like bullshit, and continues on to even more odiferous bullshit, that's hard to recover from.

The publisher's cause is so-not-helped by really poorly designed book covers that look like they were done by the publisher's art department, namely him again. If he hired out, he needs to change book designers and find one of a multitude of pro designers that work for cheap.

I haven't seen a response from this person yet. I'd like to think he's too busy doing publisher stuff or doing day job stuff. Hopefully he's not thinking up vague specifics to the questions the official staff sent back along the lines of which author? What creds? What experience/knowledge would this person bring to the con?

Things the staff shouldn't have to ask, because it should have been in the first email.

I hope that by writing about this stuff, more people will have a better idea of how to present themselves. Because cons need fresh ideas, new people with unique backgrounds to trot out and entertain their members. I hate to think of all the people that got passed up because they put their literary feet in their storyteller's mouths. Much of the time, I think it's like a slush pile–there isn't enough development there to be at the pro level yet. But sometimes I think the ability is there, but the communication disconnects as people try to present themselves as something more than they are.

If you think you're not enough as you are, then either grow to be what you dream to be, or accept that you may in fact be awesome enough as you are and run with that. Lying, bad. And misrepresenting or puffery is lying. Be honest, true, clear and specific, and you should be good, no matter how it breaks.

That works in writing, art ... everything.

Friday, May 02, 2014

How to Get on Convention Panels & Generally Impress Folks

I just reread someone's application letter for a convention. I reread it because he resent it, most likely because he didn't get a reply the first time. There's a reason he didn't get an immediate response.

Here's the deal, all y'all who want to be panelists on conventions, or want to include creds in a bio, etc. People aren't dumb. They can see right through the very thin veneer of vague to your lack of applicable experience. Trying to gloss over a thin or non-existent qualifications does a lot more harm than good. Trust me! Especially when it comes to hitting up a convention committee for inclusion on their panelist list. This goes double for cover letters for submitting writing to a publisher.

Here's a classic: twenty years of experience. That particular number irks me because it's used so often by people who are trying to sound impressive, when really they've been part-timing or hobbying for that twenty years. Which is cool to do, and extremely valuable time spent while learning your craft, but trying to make it sound like you've been doing something full time for twenty years seems to say one of several things. I'll mention two here:

A) You've been struggling to break through for twenty years and yet can't point to a single, specific, wow-worthy example of the fruits of your labors in your letter? Ouch.
B) You're seriously going to make me Google you instead of giving me something exact and definable so I can gauge your skills?

This person may be amazing. I can't say one way or another, and that's the problem. I feel like I'm being lied-at, even though the words may be true. I've had this happen to me before, quite recently*, actually. Most of us have. I would be far happier if, say, this person said that they've worked on this movie or that script or published in this magazine or through Cute Micro Press than try to sound all important about how they've been in the biz for twenty years.

My mood was not improved when I did Google this person and found some stuff that could have been easily included, and would have sounded a lot more appealing than the generic, hand-wavy references made in the letter. In fact, it wasn't a lot of accomplishment for twenty years. He did, however impress me with what he'd done. If I hadn't known it took him twenty years to do that, I might have said, kewl, this is nifty and worth exploring further. Instead, perhaps unfairly, I had the feeling that it wasn't a lot to show for the time expended.

So please, dear persons trying to impress folks with your creds:

Time spans aren't as important as specifics. Look at Stephen King's cred list sometime on his books. For the man who seldom needs an introduction, there's a mention of number of total books so far and a couple of current ones. For someone who hasn't been writing prolifically and famously for that long, a couple of specifics are fine, or even none. Yes, I said none. If you're working on a novel, say you're working on a novel, not that you've been writing for twenty years. If you have written a novel based on your experiences at a Space Camp, that's awesome. I want to know more about the Space Camp and maybe other folks want to hear about it too! If you're writing a cover letter and this is your very first short story, let the short story speak for you and just write hey, I wrote this thing and I hope you like it. Thanks for your time. I did that on cover letters for years, and it works just fine. If you want to be a panelist at a convention, think about the things that people might want to hear about, and if you have something to offer, mention that. Say, that you worked for three weeks with script writers for a movie produced by Twentieth Century Fox ... that might not sound like much compared to twenty years of something if you look at it one way, but from where I sit, I don't feel like someone is trying to deceive me, and that's something specific and true that I can consider.

Besides, as much as you might want to be at a specific convention or sell at a specific time to a magazine or whatever, it's better to look at the long term than the immediate pay-off. Maybe you don't have quite enough going for you this time, or this specific story doesn't fit in with what the editor wants right now. Selling it harder isn't going to make it happen. Living well and working hard is going to help you achieve your goals. And as you achieve them, you won't have to write vague letters anymore. Maybe they'll even hunt down your email address to invite you to conventions and anthologies and all kinds of kewl stuff.

*I was trying to work with a guy on a design and during the hour-long conversation he kept bringing up the fact that he'd been working in the biz for fifteen or twenty years or whatever. All I could think was, how is this relevant to getting the job we have to do done right now?