Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo and Fear

Wow, I've been away from Ye Olde Blog for quite a while, writing like crazy and wishing that I was writing something other than whatever I'm writing at the time. I went to DragonCon and attended a number of fascinating writers' panels. I had been planning a long blog post about it but never quite got to it. To sum up, I:

Met Wil Wheaton - twice
Heard a number of interesting sci fi and fantasy writers speak about their craft
Dressed up like Tom Baker and danced to classic rock of some kind
Talked with other writers about publishing, short stories and copywriting
Squeaked oddly and yelled "holy crap!" at Gates McFadden
Made some concrete plans about writing fiction and getting onto those panels some day
Got my picture taken with Wil Wheaton
Demanded a business card from Brent Spiner
Apparently got my picture taken with some guy in a Boba Fett costume
Took notes on publishers that the panel writers talked about favorably
Stalked Wil Wheaton
Listened to a bagpiper

Now that the con is over and life has returned to normal, I have NaNoWriMo to contend with. The concept is to write feverishly without editing along the way and to get a novel of at least 50,000 words at the end of November. Last year I threw my hat in the ring and got to a miserable two pages. This year I am determined not to slink away in shame when November is over. To get myself motivated to really work on my fiction, I did something unprecedented.

I went out in public and talked to actual people. I went to a local NaNoWriMo meeting and discussed my novel with other aspiring novelists. The basic goal of the program is to write at least 1,667 words a day. It's now early into day two, and I have about 950 words.

Thinking about 1,667 words seemed like such a ridiculous goal. I can write 1,500 words for clients in about two hours. I once wrote a 10,000 word ebook for a client in one day. Piece of cake. I write all day, I can handle it.

I can't handle it. The words are coming so slowly, with every new paragraph staring at me with teeth bared. This is the writing that I have always wanted to do. All of the non-fiction that I've been doing for money was just until I could write fiction. I could pretend to be all into product descriptions or corporate writing so that one day fiction would be my living. Except, I haven't been pretending for a long time. Non-fiction has taken over so much of my life that fiction seems strange and unnatural.

When you write non-fiction, you put up a wall and write with a bit of a veil in front of you. You aren't inserted into the text at all. When you write fiction, your soul slips into it and says whatever it needs to. And if what is written isn't good enough, I don't know if I could stand it. That's the fear that's kept me back for a long, long time. I'm still not sure how to get over it. People write novels every day, and they don't put their entire identity and self worth at stake. Do they?

This first couple of pages in front of me is just the start. I'm going to push this beast until it can't push back, and I'll have a novel at the end of the month. I hope.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Crazy Find

I did one of my very rare self-searches today on Google because I had to find some article samples to send to someone. I hate doing that because every single time I do any lengthy search for samples I find at least one copyright infringer. Today? Yup. Found one.

However, I also found this:

The Growing Zones for Watermelons

This is an eHow U.K. article that cites my book as a reference and me by name as its author. I've seen a couple of my articles used as references before, and once I saw one of my niche sites used, but this is the first time I've seen my actual book cited.

I remember doing a book report in third grade and thinking that someday I wanted kids doing book reports to use my name in the bibliography sections of their book reports. It consumed my thoughts so much that I never really got that idea out of my head. It's one of the things that I have on my short little list of things I want accomplished before I die. This is just a Demand article for eHow, but it's one step closer to some kid's book report bibliography. Somehow it all seems so much more possible right now.

Monday, July 11, 2011

OK, I Guess I Need to Do This Again

A little over a year ago, I outlined what I thought was a fairly solid bit of arguing against using Facebook. I don't want pictures of myself all over the interwebs and I don't need more online time wasters. I don't want to post my "mood" or "status" and I don't want to read anyone else's. Apparently, this wasn't enough. I am still being cajoled, prodded and basically harassed about Facebook almost daily. So, I'm going to try to make this a little more clear:

I will never join Facebook. I don't care if they give out free money and sex with Sting. It isn't going to happen. Ever. I don't care if I am not cool for not joining. That actually cements my decision so you guys can stop saying it. But for those who I will end up directing here, there are several more every good reasons that I don't want to join:

*I don't want to have friendships reduced to scanning my "wall" every once in a while. I don't want to be chastised for not reading someone's latest updates. I don't want real, actual relationships to be replaced with this crap. No.

*I don't want anything that I might happen to write there to be owned by someone else. Did you know that they have, in the past, changed the rules to give themselves the copyright of anything posted on the site? I write for a living. I don't want to inadvertently write something there that I want to use and find that I can't use my own words elsewhere. I don't know whether they still claim copyright over everything their members post there, but the fact that it was done once means it can be done again. This is my living we're talking about. No thanks.

*Sites are increasingly tied to Facebook, and that worries me. I don't want everything that I do online to be the knowledge of everyone I know. Sometimes I take on kind of stupid work because it pays decently or just because it's quick and easy. Virtually anything you do online now gets posted on Facebook. That would be extremely inhibiting for me as a Web writer. I don't want to weigh every single thing I write based on whether I want my best friend from third grade to know that occassionally I write about zombie movies. It would seriously impact my bottom line.

*I really, really don't want to find my best friend from third grade. I always frame things that happen to me as stories- tales that have a beginning and an ending. The stories that I've lived through won't be the same if I know the eventual outcome of each character. Picture the gross cheerleader who made your life hell in high school. That's fodder for plenty of YA stories- at the very least it's a nice starting point that can take you in millions of different directions. Would it help if you find out that the hated cheerleader eventually became a boring middle-aged office worker in Texas with a haircut like Peggy Hill? No, it did not. I don't want any more of that, thanks. I want plenty of story fodder filled with characters who don't become middle aged and are forever the heroes and villains.

*Facebook members are free copywriters. Since I make a nice wage as a copywriter, I don't want any part of this. Did you know that if you talk about a product on Facebook, the site takes those words and uses them in ads for other members? They do. They post them as ads on the pages of your Facebook friends. That may some day expand to site-wide ads that you're essentially writing for free and without your permission. Reading about that was the absolute last straw for me.

If you're a writer you may think it's worthwhile, and that's perfectly fine, but I don't. I think it's dangerous and gross and has the potential to take away my words as well as my inspiration. But don't worry, I predict that within two years they will go the way of MySpace. Google is taking over as they have everywhere else. In two years I'll be hearing people beg me to join Google+ so that they don't have to slog through a muddy field to pick up a phone while under sniper fire or whatever the excuse is. I can't promise anything.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rules for Writing

I ran across this Guardian piece today- it's a massive list of rules for writing fiction, as written by several well-known authors. Reading it through is pretty inspiring, and a little eye opening in some ways. I managed to break two of these "rules" in that last sentence. Anyway, this is long, but many of the rules were just too interesting not to share.

A few of my favorites:

Elmore Leonard- "Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary."

Interesting, I interjected suddenly. I'm guilty of using words other than "said" in my own fiction. I think it's perfectly permissible as long as it's done sparingly.

Margaret Atwood- "Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B."

Too true. There's no possible way to please everyone, I exclaimed.

Roddy Doyle- "Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide."

I have a figurine of Oscar Wilde on mine. Does that count? I'm thinking not.

"Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy."

I've found in non-fiction that this is vital. I've been guilty of writing to a topic and meandering around until I finally put a title on it. That forces a focus. Did you see the Bleak House version with Gillian Anderson? That was outstanding. Netflix it if you haven't.

"Do not search for the book you haven't written yet."

Oddly, I did that yesterday on, I argued. It wasn't there. Get ready for it, suckers!

Helen Dunmore- "Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue."

This is the only one of the bunch that I can't figure out. Why would you do that, and how can you? When I'm going, I have to go. If it's 4 a.m., then it's 4 a.m. When the work demands it, it simply demands it.

Geoff Dyer- "Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something."

This is likely why I have at least eight novels in various stages of completion but never seem to actually finish any of them. One will start to piss me off and I'll punish it by spending time with one of its brothers. Because, you know, fuck him.

"Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation."

This may be the most thought provoking of them all. I have actually struggled with getting back into the cliches of observation and thought out of fear that my stuff is not the expectation. It's not what the masses want, and that makes it a little scary. These little bastards may end up living with me for the rest of my life instead of leaving home and finding the safety of a bookstore to rest in.

Anne Enright- "Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free."

True. It is quite freeing, in a tied-down kind of way.

Richard Ford- "Don't drink and write at the same time."

Don't be insane.

Jonathan Franzen- "The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator."

That is a fascinating statement. Imagine your reader as a friend, and here is a story that you are sharing with him. I can imagine that JK Rowling saw readers as friends and confidants as she wrote her series. I don't think that I have ever, ever done that, but it makes all the sense in the world. I'm going to sincerely try to do this instead of seeing him as a spectator and wanting him to sit down and shut up and listen to what I have to say.

"The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis"."

This is an interesting thing that doesn't sound as true as it is until you think of fantasy works and just how personal they are. I do think that my fantasy items are far more personal than my other pieces.

Esther Freud- "Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life."

I think I've cut more than I've kept in my fiction. Maybe it's meant to be that way. Editing your own work out is so painful, though. All of those imagined scenes that will never be. :(

"Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too."

This is the difference between knowing what the force is, what it does and what it feels like and being fed some crap about midichlorians. Sometimes, you have to trust the reader and let the story loose so the reader forms his own conclusions.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Every year, November presents a puzzling little question that hangs over the heads of obsessed writers. Should we speed write a novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), or decide that we don't have time/can't be bothered/haven't perfected the story yet/wanted to but there was an X-Files marathon. Often, the best course of action is to ponder it until the month is nearly over and then -whoops! Your decision is made for you.

Luckily, all of that comes just once a year and you don't have to think about it much until November approaches.

Not so fast there, cowboy. No one gets off that easily anymore. NaNoWriMo is now hosting a "summer camp" that forces you to do the exact same thing in the middle of the summer. Every writers' group is now buzzing with the question- will you or won't you. Will you deal with the scorching heat, try to write your paying work even with school out and write a novel as fast as you can at the same time?

No. I will not. I won't even plead time or story lines or X-Files.

Just, no.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Last Tornado Post

Things are getting back to normal for most people. The power has been spotty, but it's holding right now. I had stopped jumping at noises finally, and then the tornado sirens went off today. It was the first time they had sounded since the April 27th outbreak. I had been sure that I'd vomit or panic the next time I heard them, but I did neither. I did those stupid childbirth breathing exercises that they always think will help but don't. I kept it together and all was fine. I know that I can handle things now. I won't freak every time they sound. There will likely never be a day like that again in my lifetime, and that fact now seems real.

The emergency responses have been better than I thought they'd be. FEMA is everywhere. I don't know if they learned a lot from Katrina or whether they were unfairly maligned in the press, but I suspect the former. They've offered far more benefits to people than I thought anyone would. They've done everything from hand out food vouchers to pony up money for home repairs. They've put up electronic signs all over town with their phone number and email address to help people get whatever they need from them. I'm truly impressed by them. Local churches have also really stepped up, offering anyone who needs it everything from bottled water to pet food. Several are offering free cleanup of your yard and even free home repairs.

As for the Red Cross, the only thing, and I do mean the only thing that I've heard of them doing for any man, woman or child around here is to hand out a banana to someone I know who lost his home. That's it. Here's a banana- goodbye. They didn't even put together shelters here. Meanwhile, they're all over the place soliciting money. They are even selling stuff outside of stores. They are no better than looters. I won't even qualify that. If the Red Cross wants to sue me, please leave a message in the comments section and I will provide you with my name and address that you can forward to your team of high-priced lawyers. Bring it. I'll bet there are a lot of ugly little truths that they wouldn't like to be heard in a venue as public as a courtroom.

Meanwhile, I've come to understand that Maine isn't just cold- it is bizarrely, unnaturally cold and they have some kind of giant storms there that would be almost as scary as the stuff here. So, Maine's out. I'm looking at Oregon right now. They get some volcano fallout, but that's actually kind of cool. The other choice is Vermont. It seems OK in Vermont. I could get a bunch of tattoos and dye my hair awesome colors and be an Oregonian or get a bunch of cows and make ice cream in Vermont. Either one is fine by me..

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Warning: this is going to be very long, and it's not necessarily about writing. But then again, virtually everything is about writing. I always see things in terms of what I'd say about them, how I'd crop the tale to the right details, etc. But again, most of it is not about freelance writing and there is very little Star Trek:

6 a.m.

The day began a little before 6 a.m. when the weather radio alert sounded. I sleep quite lightly anyway, and I knew there was a chance of tornadoes in the morning, so I was barely sleeping and got to the alarm a minute before the tornado siren went off. If you've never heard a tornado siren, they're high-pitched, wailing monstrosities that have an otherworldly sound that sincerely sounds like it's being broadcast over the entire planet. I checked to see where the tornado was, and it was nearby, so I told everyone else in the household and got them into the designated tornado area.

People in this part of the country don't have basements- and it isn't because we don't want them. They simply don't offer them. I don't know why. Everyone has a sturdy area, usually a closet or bathroom, where they go to escape during close tornadoes. After awhile, it had moved on and we came out. School was delayed for a few hours, so everyone got a little sleep, thinking it was more or less over. For the first time that day, I couldn't have been more wrong.

I can hear it

A few hours later, with the offspring safely at school, the radio alert and the sirens went off again. This time the tornado was much, much closer. I was in the shelter closet trying not to lose it completely, asking spouse over and over where it was. Trying to keep me calm, I was told that it was "south of here" or "not very close." I tried to believe it, but eventually I could hear the tornado quite clearly outside, and loud bangs were telling me that it wasn't much farther than my back yard. "Stop telling me that it isn't close- I can hear it!"

When it had passed, we found out that the bangs were trees being ripped out of the ground and crashing. Some crashed into fences, some into other trees, etc. We had some fence damage, as did everyone else around us. A neighbor's mailbox had been smashed flat. The power was out, but we had minimal damage and it was over for the most part, right? So, so wrong.

We got the call that school was letting out in the midst of all of this. I didn't want to have any of us on the road, but I got another call telling me that the worst wasn't even here yet. That was pretty hard to believe, but we set out to go and fetch the offspring. The trip was eye-opening. The last tornado had struck less than a mile from us, and it had caused more damage than I've ever seen before. It had sucked air conditioners right off homes, torn roofs to shreds and twisted trampolines into modern art. Roads were blocked with huge downed trees and we had to drive over power lines. The roads were starting to flood and the rain was blinding. Every block of the trip was shocking and frightening, and I wondered whether everyone in the area had made it through alive. I don't know that everyone did.

They're all around you.

Once we got home safely, I really thought that there couldn't be much worse coming than what we'd seen and heard. I couldn't possibly have been more wrong. Within an hour there were tornadoes lined up for hours to the west of us, with new ones hitting constantly. Each new one seemed to have an insanely long track, and they weren't the run-of-the-mill F-0s and F-1s. An F-1 isn't a huge deal if you're inside, but these sounded more like 2s, 3s and maybe even 4s. Since then I've found out that most were 3s and 4s, and there's not a thing you can do about a tornado that powerful. Some were even long-track tornadoes. There was an enormous long-track wedge tornado less than an hour south of us and one two hours west. With a long-track, it can stay on the ground for two or three hours, so being so far away meant nothing. It just gives you more time to be afraid.

With no power we were relying on a tiny battery-powered radio that I keep in the tornado closet, and every hour brought grimmer and grimmer news. They'd never seen that many tornadoes at once, and the weather guy couldn't keep up with everything that was happening. At one point, my father called and said to "hunker down," however you do that. "Why?"

"They're all around you."
"How many right now?"
He paused for what seemed like forever, probably trying to count all of the tornado tracks on his smartphone.

Five tornadoes were all around us, forming a circle that was causing unimaginable destruction. Then, a tornado hit the weather alert tower and took out the NOAA weather radio information. Then one hit a local radio station and another a TV station. Then all radar was compeltely knocked out. The weather guys were scrambling, trying to get information, but with no radar they had to rely on people calling in and telling them where they could see or hear tornadoes. Then the phone lines went down, and that was gone too. I'd have given anything an hour earlier for the tornado sirens to stop, but then the power went off on the sirens as well. We would no longer get warnings of any kind, even the dreaded sirens. We were all on our own, in the dark, with the wind howling outside and loud thumps penetrating the darkness. I think that's when I started to come unhinged.

200 Dead

Tornadoes were coming and passing over, and trees were crashing into houses all over the area. With land lines out, cell phone service eventually came back here and there but with no reliability. Every call I managed to get was worse than the last. Neighborhoods were being flattened all around us. I could only guess that there were dead and injured all over the place, and still the tornadoes came. All we could do was listen and try to get through on cell phones. Late in the evening some cell towers were finally working steadily, and I found out from my brother that all roads had been closed because of downed power lines and trees. He only found out by reading the weather man's Facebook updates- every other means of communication was down. Can they even close every single road? I wasn't sure, but it reminded me of 9/11 when the Powers That Be said, you know what? No more planes.

Finally, late in the evening, I got a call telling me that it was over for us. Some parts of the state were still getting hit, but for us it was over. We had been waiting for the power to come back on, but it didn't. All the downed power lines weren't the main problem- a tornado had hit the nuclear power plant and a million people in our state were without power. I didn't find out until a few days later that more than 200 people in my state alone had died, some of them on a small and picturesque road that I regularly travel. For more than 12 hours we had been hit by an unrelenting onslaught of tornadoes and for more than 12 hours I had been pacing and crying and hiding and at some points trying not to throw up.

Hell No

In the morning, all cell service was gone and land lines were still down. There were emergency vehicle sirens all over the place and there was little information about what was happening. I did find out that there was a dusk-to-dawn curfew in effect for the entire county, and that the water was expected to be undrinkable soon. I remember the radio guy saying, "We'll let you know just when you need to start boiling your water." Boiling it with what? We were advised to start stockpiling our water. It was fine. It kept me busy. The governor announced that they'd need federal help dealing with all of the bodies. I went outside to stop hearing the radio.

Later, it was announced that it would be three to five days before power was restored- maybe longer. So, no phones, no power, soon no water and no end to this in sight. With no power, the few stores that had generators were being swamped with people looking for supplies. One of them was letting people in one at a time with an armed escort to prevent theft and/or violence. By the time they announced that a store was open it was too late to go there. With young offspring, no milk, our food spoiling, no way to contact anyone in an emergency and a curfew in effect, possibly signifying looters, I'd had it. We were leaving. I informed spouse that we were leaving town.

Aaaaand the Mad Max Lingo Enters the Lexicon

There was no gas available and the radio was reporting increasingly long lines of people trying to get out of town. Going straight north there was a 25-mile backup of cars trying to get gas and/or get out of town. Everyone was desperate to get gas. The working radio station reported a few gas stations that were temporarily open, but they were running out of gas as they were reported and then mobbed. So, due north wasn't an option- we didn't have enough gas to sit through the traffic that long. Northwest of town was also getting swamped by gas seekers. I didn't hear anything about northeast, though. There wasn't a word about long lines, miles of cars, etc. So, we'd go that way.

It would be expensive to stay out of town, spouse reasoned. It would be hard to get out of town. We didn't have enough gas to make it to an area with power if there were the same kind of traffic tie-ups in that direction. All solid arguments. But, I countered, Captain Kirk would never take "low on gas" as a reason for not trying. There is no way he'd sit back and deal with this when there was a hope for escape. Spouse said that Picard would stop and consider things. The curfew was hanging over us and if we didn't get gas in time we'd have to turn back. I.Don't.Care.What.Picard.Would.Say. And neither would Kirk.

The trip out of town was horrible to witness. Trees had crashed into houses, across roads, into cars, etc. Chunks of houses were everywhere, and some of the roads were flooded. You know that part of a zombie movie when the group of tattered survivors grabs whatever makeshift weapons they can and piles into the car and tries to get out of town, dodging abandoned cars and debris? Ok, maybe you're not into zombie movies, but trust me, every single zombie movie has that scene. I couldn't get that image out of my mind as we drove with our hastily-packed bags and dodged debris, with abandoned cars along the roadsides.

Getting gas soon was no joke. There were reports on the radio of people sleeping in their cars or abandoning them and walking because of a lack of gas, and we had offspring in the car. The phones were still out and there was no way to contact anyone if we ran out of gas. Eventually, spouse announced that we had come to the point of no return. If we turned back, we had enough gas to get home. If we kept going, we had no choice but to get gas within an hour. There is no way that Kirk would have turned back. Absolutely zero chance. He'd find a way. We'd keep going. The traffic had been light, but there was a chance that it would be backed up around the Tennessee border. And as it happens, that's exactly the way it was.

A little town right across the state line was mobbed by gas seekers, with gridlock clogging the streets and making it impossible to get to one of the few gas stations there. At least they had power. And there were gas trucks- they had gas. It took us over an hour, but we were able to get to one of the overworked gas pumps. It was slow and it kept shutting off over and over again, but eventually we had gas and I started to breathe again.

The towns right over the line that weren't destroyed were getting packed quickly, so we decided to go far enough away that there would be vacancies and no hour-long lines for gas. If we kept going another two hours, we'd reach Gatlinburg, a town with plenty to do and lots of inexpensive hotels. And so, our redneck travel adventure began.

My Redneck Travel Adventure

Without Internet, I was worried about work that I had taken on. We'd left so quickly that we'd left behind much of what we needed, and we didn't have smartphones. There was one content-site owner that I particularly wanted to contact, thinking that once the cell lines were more stable I could call my brother and ask him to email her. But, I couldn't remember her email address. I could barely remember my own name. Literally. The hotel clerk asked me my first name and it took me a few seconds to remember it.

With actual electricity, we finally got to see footage of the major tornadoes and some of the minor ones. They are now reporting that there were 24 tornadoes in the state that day, but that number is being added to regularly as more are confirmed. The death toll is also climbing steadily. Even hours from home it was two days before I stopped jumping every time I heard a high-pitched sound. We had to do something to get our minds off things.

Luckily, Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park, was very close by. Like DisneyWorld, it has a theme and extremely pricey sodas. But unlike Disney's themes of frontier and colonial life, the themes of Dollywood are logging and mining. Instead of a mouse they have a robotic vulture that tells hunting jokes. The mullet count was low, though. There were two mullets and three mohawks, so the proper mullet-to-mohawk ratio was adhered to.

Everywhere we went in Tennessee the streets were full of Alabama residents who had fled the deteriorating conditions. However, the array of redneck activities was enough to keep us entertained enough not to dwell on things for long. I got drunk at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and ate country food in an old mill.

Going Home

We had heard that on Monday, five days after the tornadoes, the power would be back on. We arrived in town on Monday afternoon, but there was still no power. Things were slowly getting back to normal in town- gas was available and most grocery stores were open, though the inventories were limited. However, things had gotten worse than I'd imagined in our absence. The looting was severe, and at least one looter was shot and killed.

What I hadn't known before is that it isn't just local lowlifes you have to worry about- people actually come from out of state to loot and pillage whatever they can in a crisis. Looters were everywhere, and they reached our street. One piece of looter trash came up to a neighbor's house and shined a flashlight in through the windows, presumably to see whether the house had been abandoned. He shined a flashlight right back at him, and the looter left. Now, I'm originally from Arkansas, and if a flashlight had been pointed into my window, there is zero chance that it would be a flashlight that I pointed back.

It was another day before the power came back on. I didn't feel safe that night, and anyone skulking around outside certainly wouldn't have been safe from me. The curfew was still on for parts of the county, and there were checkpoints stationed around the most affected areas. I also heard helicopters during the evening and night, and I have no idea what that was about.

This is a video made by someone that I know well, and it chronicles some of what it was like. I too did the pacing and staring, trying not to sit still for long. Sitting still overwhelmed you too much. Most of it is over now, at least, for the people who still have their homes. The insurance companies have responded incredibly quickly, and our damage is very minimal compared with a lot of people's damage.

My sense of safety is pretty much gone. I know now what I didn't really understand before- everything that you see around you- the computer, your store of food, the TV, the furniture, the home around you, your family- it can all be gone in minutes. All of this civilization that we put so much time and effort into building- phone lines, emergency services, food distribution- it can all be gone in less than a day. It doesn't matter what kind of house you live in or what emergency procedures you put in place. Large, sturdy homes made from brick were completely flattened. Maybe it's just a matter of time before the rest of them are in the next freak tornado outbreak.

Fighting the Future

I have come up with a few plans, but I don't know how much they will help. I have decided to:

-Get smartphones. I hate them, I think they make people lazy and stupid, but they would have been ridiculously useful during the outbreak day and in the days afterward. I finally have to admit that they may possibly be helpful.

-Try to get a tornado shelter. They are pricey, and there is a risk of debris falling on top of it and trapping you in it, but that's better than the alternatives. I'm going to find an affordable one, and it's going in the ground.

-Move to Maine. They don't have tornadoes in Maine. At all. Maine is cold and Stephen King lives there, but it's a better alternative to living in tornado land. I think in a year we could make the move and leave tornadoes behind.

-Keep tons of water on hand at all times. It will be a cold day in hell before I have any fewer than four flats of bottled water on hand or less than 3/4 of a tank of gas.

So that's it. If you read this far, I appreciate it. I don't know that I expect anyone to read this far, but I needed to get all of this out and to frame it as something that is over now. It's a complete tale with a beginning and a firm ending. Someone that I've known for years had his house flattened completely, as did several of the offsprings' classmates. For them this will go on and on. But for us, with minimal damage and no injuries, it's over.

Also? Screw the Red Cross.

Long Post Coming

Since the events of last week, I've been trying to organize my thoughts about what happened to me and to the area as a whole. I want to write something, maybe many things, about the experiences with the tornadoes and what came afterward, but I don't know what I am and am not willing to share just yet. I'm planning a blog post or two, two apocalyptic short stories and a few informational articles out of it all. But for right now, I'm just trying hard not to think about any of it anymore.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Suite101: A Panda Casualty

Suite101, if you aren't already aware of it, is a long-standing website that pays a revenue share to freelance writers who take on various topics and categories. I started writing for them about three and a half years ago when I'd been ghostwriting a lot and needed some Web bylines to get new clients. They proved to be fun to write for, and I made my minimum hourly amount with them, so I stuck around. After a year or so I became the feature write for the online publishing category (there is one feature writer per category). It came with a pay raise and some extra exposure, and I still got to choose my own topics within that category. Win-win.

The May Google algorithm change last year, however, cut some of my income from them and made them a little less attractive to write for. I lost about 20 to 30 percent of my monthly pay from them, and it became slightly less than my minimum hourly. Not happy.

And now Panda, a Web explosion that has decimated nearly all rev-share sites, has utterly destroyed Suite101. The site is pretty much over, and it's kind of sad. One of the Google guys actually specifically mentioned the site when talking about getting rid of sub-par sites for Panda. With a slight algorithm change, there is hope for the future. With a careful weeding out of specific sites that one guy hates, there is much less hope. I seriously doubt they will come back from this in the next year or two, if ever.

Just how bad is it? Here's a taste: on an given day I could expect $5 to $15 a day to come in on the stuff that I've already written. I wasn't getting rich from it or anything, but it was only about five hours a month and it was nice to have it coming in while I was building some bylines to show to prospective clients. Yesterday, I made .05. That's it. They've entered Triond/Bukisa/InfoBarrel territory. Lose-lose.

How did it happen? Here's what they did wrong:

They didn't screen content well. As a decent-paying rev share company, they were inundated with applications from all over the world and tons of content being written by the people they hired. They weren't as selective as they needed to be. There is some great stuff there- parts of the gardening section are particularly good, but some of the content on the site is really, really, really horrific. I'm assuming they figured that no matter how bad some of it was, they were making money off it and it should stay. That was shortsighted and ridiculous.

They stressed quantity over quality. They talked a lot about the quantity of output, but rarely said anything about the quality of it. Many of the writers assumed that the more they wrote, the more they would earn. This is not how rev shares work, and it's not what makes money for a site overall. A site that old should have known better.

They didn't listen to me. I mentioned two years ago that the increasing emphasis that the site was putting on its writers, rather than on its content, was going to do the site in. In other words, plastering "Write For Us!" across the front page made them look like tools. They constantly advertised for writers, and every page on the site has a "Write for Suite101" link at the top. That makes the site look amateurish and ridiculous. Any site worth reading doesn't do that, and that's likely one of the things that got under Google Guy's skin. If you're just there to grab writers and try to increase your workforce, you aren't a site that people are going to go on purpose. I did try to mention this and to lay it out simply and logically. I was given an award for pointing it out. Just kidding- I was emailed by the site editor himself and told that I would be fired if I ever said that again. No lie. Guess what? I'm saying it again. That editor is gone now anyway.

It's probably too late. They are dumping yucky articles, relaxing the article minimums and giving more screening to what gets published. But, it's likely too late. Being specifically targeted for demotion and spending so many years doing so much wrong has left the company with a bad reputation. The best chance to turn things around is to get a new domain name, reorganize the company and start again with a different way of doing things, perhaps migrating the best 1/4 of the content to a new site with a new name and management that hands out awards for helpful observations.

I haven't written a word for them in more than a month, and I don't know that I will. I do know that many people have jumped ship because of it all, but I haven't decided what to do. I only have to write one article a month to stay on. Do I do it?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Recuperating and Excitement

I had a six-hour surgery last month, and the recovery is proving to be slower than I imagined. I think in a civilized country they would allow you to stay in the hospital for more than one night after an ordeal like that, but this is not such a nation.

However, a couple of days after the whole mess, my book came in the mail. The publisher was nice enough to send along six advance copies, and they were pretty exciting to see. The book that I struggled with and lived with and eventually hated is a real, physical thing now. I suppose it was all worth it in the end.

Of course, the next book they offered me I turned down. And by turned down I mean I demanded three times the fee I got for the first one and refused to budge, knowing that there was no way I'd get it.

I think this is the last non-fiction print book that I want to do. EVER. I'm working on a new ebook that I want to sell on Kindle and I am expanding the existing ebook that I sell on my own site to create another Kindle book. I'm aiming to have both available for Kindle during the summer. I'm also moving a little on my fiction writing. And by moving I mean thinking about writing it. Hey, it's progress. Sort of.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Still Alive, Still Obnoxious

Wow, it's been quite a while since I updated. I don't think I've ever gone this long between posts before. The two people who read it must have been disappointed. :(

Since I've been away from here, I've mostly been obnoxious. I've always known that I have some obnoxious tendencies, but over the past few months I've really started to notice just how bad it really is. This week I've been thinking a lot about where that comes from and whether that's part of what drives me to tinker obsessively with impossible stories that just seem to never quite come together in their potential entirety.

Is it obnoxiousness that drives writers? Hemingway was pretty full on, and most of the greats seem to be pretty terrible. Darwin was apparently nice, as was that guy who wrote the Wizard of Oz books, but that's pretty much it. The rest of them are people who get in fights every time they go to Chick-Fil-A. Um, not that that happened Tuesday night. But yeah, most of the writers you read about were essentially damaged in some way. Obnoxious, secretive, reclusive, obsessive- these things irritate the people around me, but they worked for Poe, Faulkner, Byron, Wilde, Blake, Barrie, poor Mad Shelley and Vonnegut. I'm starting to think that people without a little crazy in them aren't really worth bothering with.

The next time I see the neighbors watch me going outside and sort of wince, I'm going to try to think of the great company that I am in and not how much I want to tell off most of the people around me.