Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Will Not Get Paid This Much for Any of My Novels

But it's nice to see that publishers still believe in science fiction.

Last month, this bit of news showed up in the Publishers Lunch daily newsletter:

Try not to think about the fact that Weir originally self-published his first novel, The Martian. Or the fact that he also got a six-figure publishing deal for that book. Or the fact that The Martian is now being made into a movie, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, scheduled for release in November of 2015.

That way lies madness.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned at Viable Paradise (which is happening again this week, by the way) was this:

Do not compare your own writing career to any other writer's career.

Everyone finds a different path to publication. Everyone has a different story—literally. Keep writing. It'll happen. And meanwhile, make sure you're enjoying the ride, because it'd be a shame if you didn't have some fun during those years (and yes, it will take years).

In related news, huge congratulations to my fellow Pacific Northwest writer Jason Gurley, who just sold his novel Eleanor to a publisher! (Oddly enough, his book was also self-published originally, and it also went to Crown—just like The Martian. Coincidence?)

Jason and I, along with thirty other authors, will be attending Story Con this Saturday at the Fort Vancouver Community Library. If you're in the Portland, Oregon area, stop by and check out the panels, readings, and signings—I'll be moderating a panel on flash fiction which I promise will not be boring!


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

I Support #SportsNight2014

Something wonderful happened on Twitter last Friday night.

That something was #SportsNight2014.

If you follow my writer persona, you may have noticed me retweeting some of my favorites:

And speaking of Fifty Shades of Grey, did you know that I, too, have dabbled in Sports Night fan fiction? It's true! Oh, it was many years ago, when I was a tender and callow fellow, but I still love my crazy pitch for the 9/11 episode of Sports Night—shown below.

(I'm only going to reprint the relevant portions of my original blog post from nearly twelve years ago, since many of my opinions have matured since then—in particular, I've become much more bullish on fanfic.)

Here's what I dreamed up on January 28, 2003:

My girlfriend [now my wife :) -CKL] gave me the Sports Night DVD box set as a Christmas present, and we watched the pilot episode last night. I noticed several things that I had forgotten about the show. The most heartbreaking was the opening shot, which had been missing from the syndicated reruns: the World Trade Center towers glittering in the night. [Note: that omission may not have actually happened, but it's what I remembered at the time. -CKL]

Sports Night is set in the studios of a fictional cable television network, CSC, presumably located in the World Trade Center in Manhattan. (I don't think this is ever actually mentioned in the show, but let's run with it for now.) And presumably, Comedy Central cut out that opening shot after September 11, 2001. I don't blame them for doing it. The show only ran for two seasons, from 1998 to 2000, and it would be pretty depressing to think, while watching the reruns, that those characters had perished later, when the towers collapsed...

So here's the Sports Night fanfic-- no, let's call it the lost episode, the one that Aaron Sorkin never wrote-- that I'd like to read. It's the September 11th episode, which I'm sure he would have done if the show had still been on the air. He did one for The West Wing, and Sports Night is set in Manhattan. In the World Trade Center.

It wouldn't be a flashback episode. That would be too easy, too simple a tearjerker: look how happy we were before! No, I think Sorkin's smarter than that. It would be a "bottle show," just like the 9/11 episode of West Wing-- set in a single room, or at least only on the standing sets for the show. No location shooting. Just talking.

I imagine it's in a coffee shop near the WTC. Maybe next to Battery Park. It's just after noon on September 11, 2001. The towers have collapsed, but there's still dust in the air. The Sports Night staff began evacuating right after the first plane hit the north tower. They think everybody got out, but they've been separated. Only a few of them made it to this coffee shop. Isaac, Casey, Jeremy, Natalie, some of the tech crew. Dan, Dana, and the rest are somewhere else. Nobody wants to say "missing."

This is Casey's story. His show, and the network which aired it, had been in danger of folding just last year. And then a stranger in a bar told Dana about coaxial cable, and CSC was bought by a holding company named Quo Vadimus. The network and the show were both saved. Jeremy and Natalie got back together. Isaac had recovered from his stroke. Things were looking up.

That was last year. That was this morning. And now, less than four hours later, the Sports Nights studio is part of a pile of rubble in lower Manhattan, and the two most important people in Casey's life-- Dan and Dana-- are missing. But nobody wants to say "missing." They say, "They're not here," or "They're somewhere else," or "I don't know."

It's all about the words, of course. That's why I love Aaron Sorkin. It's all about the dialogue.

Eventually, Casey blows up and says it: "They're missing!" That sets people off. Jeremy rants about Islam and how Arabs hate Jews, until Isaac delivers a disarming insight on race relations drawn from his rich life experience. The techies, still in shock, supply infrequent commentary on the sporadic news coverage coming from the television. The TV breaks; they try to fix it. Comic relief.

Emergency workers show up looking for water. The teenage kid behind the counter insists on charging them full price for the bottled water-- over $100. Casey watches the conversation, then finally loses it when the rescue workers can't come up with the cash. (Phones are down; credit card authorizations won't go through.) He goes ballistic on the kid and nearly punches him until he realizes how scared and confused the kid is. He doesn't know what to do. He's just a kid. All he knows is what the manager tells him.

Casey pays for the bottled water and helps the workers carry it out. The TV's back on. People are talking. Natalie confesses to Jeremy that she's scared of what's happened, and what might happen next, but she's more scared of how much he hates the Palestinians, and she can't understand any of it. Dialogue ensues. People are trying to use their cell phones, with varying degrees of success.

Natalie's phone rings. It's Dana's number, but it gets disconnected. Casey returns, grabs the phone, tries to call Dana. Nothing. He wants to go out and look for them. Others remind him that they agreed to meet here, everyone knows where this place is, what if they come back while he's gone? As if to support their argument, another one of the techies-- maybe Will-- arrives, bloodied, dusty, limping, barely coherent.

Important note here: this isn't ER or Third Watch. No spurting blood, no camera flying around as a screaming victim gets pulled out of an ambulance. The show isn't about physical injury or damage. It's not about the pain. It's about how we deal with the pain. It's about how much we want to say, and how little we are able to say.

Someone will, of course, make a joke at some point about how similar the names "Dan" and "Dana" are. It will snowball into something ridiculous, possibly involving sex-change operations or maybe just wigs, and people will laugh themselves silly.

Everyone in the coffee shop watches President Bush on TV, speaking from Barksdale AFB, explaining how security measures are being taken and trying to articulate what nobody can. The phrase "cowardly acts" sparks some discussion.

The show ends with no sign of Dan or Dana.

That's an episode I'd like to see.

Savvy readers will recognize my "ripped from the headlines" repurposing of the actual incident in which a New York City Starbucks outlet charged 9/11 rescue workers $130 for three cases of water. If I actually scripted this thing, I'd use that as the thematic linchpin. Maybe I will use it, or a modified and not legally actionable retelling, somewhere else someday. (This is where you comment and tell me someone has already done it better than I ever could have.)

I like what Sorkin did on West Wing and what he's doing on Newsroom, but I LOVE what he did with The Social Network because it's the closest he's ever come to recapturing the magic of Sports Night. I do appreciate what he attempted to do with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but it (like West Wing and Newsroom) got bogged down in dealing with the actual work being done in the workplace in question.

Sports Night and Social Network were able to soar because we (the audience) never had to care that much about actual sports or software engineering. The important thing was seeing how the characters dealt with their jobs. We needed to know that the work wasn't life-or-death every damn day, and we also needed a conceptual air-gap to buffer us from having to understand how live television production or dynamic web sites actually work. (To put it in terms of Pixar story rule #4: we care more about the "One day ___" part than the "Every day, ___" part.)

It's not about the job. It's always about the people.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014



I don't have any big plans for my birthday this year—mostly because, honestly, it'll be hard to top last year's incredible awesomeness—but it's been a really good year so far...
What's next? Well...
  • More short fiction sales, hopefully (I currently have nine stories out on submission, of which three have been shortlisted)
  • We'll see what happens with Waypoint Kangaroo, the novel my agent is trying to sell
  • I'm going to the Surrey International Writers' Conference for the first time
  • I'll be doing NaNoWriMo again, of course
  • It looks like Puzzled Pint will expand to eleven cities this month
Life is good. :)


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Kinda Wish I Had Seen This Sooner

TL;DR: Don't buy Western Digital or Seagate hard drives.
Hard Drive Failure Rates by Model
"Hard Drive Reliability Update – Sep 2014" from the Backblaze blog


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I am once again busy

So, no blog post; please enjoy this animated GIF of Peter Dinklage (as Tyrion Lannister) dancing back and forth.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SnoutCast #209: Yuan Niu

This month, we talk to Yuan Niu, who's been running DASH in the Bay Area for several years and Puzzled Pint there since July!

[ Download mp3 ]

Show length: 39:52
File size: 36.4MB

Follow @hungrynerd on Twitter for more!

What Else?

Team lowkey's spoiler-filled Shinteki Decathlon 9 (SD9) recap video. LOOK AT IT!

Tell us we're wrong on the Internet! E-mail or post a comment at

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link / Stitcher link ]

Curtis DeeAnn Yuan

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Don't Worry Too Much about Piracy and Here's Why

TL;DR: oh, just go read Cecilia Tan's blog post instead.

This summer, my friend Katrina Archer self-published her YA fantasy novel Untalented (previously a 2009 ABNA quarterfinalist):

This week, she discovered that the eBook version had been pirated:

And that started a long Facebook discussion (not shown here) of how much authors should worry about online piracy. I threw in my two cents, but we haven't had computers and the Internet long enough to see how all this shakes out long-term, so everybody's arguing from ideology more than evidence.

With that in mind, here's my "mix tape" argument for not spending your time worrying about how to prevent or fight piracy. I'm focusing my own efforts on making cool stuff, finding an audience, and being nice to paying customers.

By the way, have I mentioned that my own book,
THURSDAY'S CHILDREN: Flash Fiction from 512 Words or Fewer,
is available as a free download (PDF or TXT)?

(And now back to our program.)

NOTA BENE: the excerpts below are totally cherry-picked, heavily edited, and completely biased. YMMV.

I'll begin with Tim O'Reilly's seminal "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution" (11 Dec 2002), from which I often quote:
Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
Cory Doctorow elaborates on this in "Liability vs. leverage: How writers lose when 'piracy' gets harder" (14 Jan 2013):
[A]lthough it’s hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it’s impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts. It doesn’t matter how you plan on making your money — selling books or downloads, selling ads, getting sponsorship, getting crowdfunded, getting commissions, licensing to someone else who’s figured out how to make money — you won’t get the chance unless people have heard of your stuff.
But let's talk about books specifically. Since books are made of text, and plain text is pretty much the easiest form of data to copy and share over the Internet (by design), online piracy is an obvious concern for professional writers. However, John Scalzi makes a very logical argument in "The Stupidity of Worrying About Piracy" (13 May 2005):
Let's ask: Who are pirates? They are people who won't pay for things (i.e., dickheads), or they're people who can't pay for things (i.e., cash-strapped college students and others). The dickheads have ever been with us; they wouldn't pay even if they had the money. I don't worry about them, I just hope they fall down an abandoned well...

I don't know anyone who can pay for a book or a CD or a DVD or whatever who doesn't... I don't see the people who can't pay as pirates. I see them as people who will pay, once they can. Until then, I think of it as I'm floating them a loan. Nor is it an entirely selfless act. I'm cultivating a reader -- someone who thinks of books as a legitimate form of entertainment -- and since I want to be a writer until I croak, that's a good investment for me...

Yes, there's an investment risk... [but] I believe that fundamentally, most people aren't thieving dickheads; they're people who if they like your writing will want to support your career... Treat readers like they can't be trusted and there's no reason for them not to live down to your expectations. Make it clear to them that they're integral to your continued success, and they will help you succeed. Treat them like human beings, for God's sake.
This is not a new sentiment. In fact, Eric Flint said pretty much the same thing in "Introducing the Baen Free Library" (11 Oct 2000):
[Publisher] Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest.

He's absolutely right about that. One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences...

[T]he truth is that most people are no more tempted to steal a few dollars than they are to spend their lunch hour panhandling for money on the streets. Partly because they don't need to, but mostly because it's beneath their dignity and self-respect.

The only time that mass scale petty thievery becomes a problem is when the perception spreads, among broad layers of the population, that a given product is priced artificially high due to monopolistic practices and/or draconian legislation designed to protect those practices. But so long as the "gap" between the price of a legal product and a stolen one remains both small and, in the eyes of most people, a legitimate cost rather than gouging, 99% of them will prefer the legal product.
Of course, none of this philosophizing assuages the gut feeling of "OMG they're stealing my stuff!" Cecilia Tan breaks it down for us in "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ebook Piracy" (23 May 2011):
[A]uthors who see 100,000 downloads of their book as equivalent to 100,000 lost sales are deluding themselves. Please trust me when I say that 100,000 downloads is not the equivalent of 100,000 copies shoplifted. It’s actually the equivalent of 100,000 people thumbing through the book while standing in the bookstore or library, deciding whether to invest the time in reading it...

Of those 100,000 who downloaded your book, most of them aren’t reading it anyway. 90,000 probably never open the file. Of the 10,000 who do, you just got the equivalent of them opening a copy of the book on the shelf at a bookstore to see if they like it. Most traditional authors would have KILLED to have such great placement in the bookstores as to attract 10,000 browsers to pick up the book and look in it. Out of those 10K, say 3 out of 4 decide the book is not their cup of tea. So now we’re down to 2500 who are genuinely interested. In the brick and mortar world, retail rule of thumb says 500 of them would have a good chance of buying it...

Giving stuff away helps. Having it for easy sale also helps. In fact, despite all our “new media” chatter about publicity in the digital age, about blog tours and Twitter contests and Facebook pages, these two things seem to be the only two things that actually make a measurable impact on sales. Give stuff away to increase your customer base, and then have it for easy sale to sift money out of those who are eager to pay. That’s it.
There's more great stuff in Tan's post, including a link to Jeff Vogel's highly entertaining "might as well have just made a big pile of money and set it on fire" cautionary tales. If any of these issues interest you, I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading through her full article.

Back to Untalented. Since the pirate site in question appears to be behind a paywall, and Kat's already filed a successful DMCA takedown notice against them, I'm not too concerned for her—why would any reasonable person pay to access a shady download site instead of just buying the eBook from Amazon?

Last but not least, until September 30th, US readers have the chance to win a paperback copy of Untalented through this GoodReads giveaway! You have literally nothing to lose. Of course, if you can't wait—or don't want to take your chances—you can also buy the eBook right now. (Full disclosure: yes, that is an affiliate link.)