Wednesday, May 25, 2011


My Donors Choose page is live. It lives!

Our turtles are awaiting your largesse.

Until next time, the Burning Zeppelin is wondering if anyone else thinks that "largesse" sounds like it should mean a female large.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


So, yesterday I posted asking for dollars to help fund my class turtles.

It turns out that the project hasn't gone live yet. Apparently it takes a day or two for my project to get past the review process.

I'll throw up another post when the project does go live. Many apologies.

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Another Life

In my other life, I'm a science teacher. I teach seventh grade science in an Oakland middle school. Whenever I'm not posting, writing, or sleeping, that's pretty much why. It's rough, living two professional lives, but I think it's worth it.

Anyway, I have classroom turtles, but their habitat is less than ideal. One particular problem: it stinks. I need a better filter to keep their water clean. Unfortunately, I don't have the three hundred dollars it takes to buy a better filter. If you know anything about California schools - and Oakland in particular - you won't be surprised when I tell you that my school hasn't got the money, either.

However, you do.

Not you individually (probably), but all of you - all my readers - probably have three hundred dollars to spare. I wrote in an earlier post that I probably have between twenty and thirty readers. That means that if all of you donate a little more than ten dollars, that's my filter. That's my turtles. My students get to have living creatures in their life sciences classroom, rather than just dead things.

If you're interested in donating, here's my Donor's Choose page. You can also use that page to keep track of my other projects, which you can continue to donate to, if you are so inclined.

Thanks from me, and all my kids, and Benjamin and Shelley (the turtles), too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In a Hole in the Ground, There Lived a Neanderthal

So, I've been watching Walking with Cavemen with my kids as a way to keep some science learning going, despite the disruptions of the testing weeks. We finally made it to the section about Neanderthal Man, the much maligned failed evolutionary offshoot of humanity (though, interestingly enough, there are signs that even as it was dying out, Neanderthal man was mating into the lines that would eventually produce modern humans). As we were watching, something occurred to me:

Neanderthals are hobbits.

  • Short? Check.
  • Stocky? Check.
  • Omnivorous? Check.
  • Tough as all hell? Check.
  • Cave-dwelling? Check.
  • Essentially human in the ways they think and act? Check.

I can easily see how, if Neanderthal Man had not died out, they might have cleaned up in much the same way as the humans they coexisted with. Their musculoskeletal system would have slimmed down and their brains continued to advance as their ecological niche increasingly selected for smarts rather than brawn. They could easily have stayed short and tough when compared to humans. Why develop an easy-going disposition? Why not?

Anyway, just a weird little thought that occured to me, and I'm eager to hear what you think of it (hence the creative prompt tag).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Awesomesauce or Avoid-at-all-costs?

So, first of all, I am reviewing all the comments and rebuttals to my assertions about self-publishing - as well as a great conversation with friends Gavin and Kindli (and their adorable son, who didn't say much) - and... I'm gradually revising my opinion. There is a longer post in the works, certainly, but today is not the day for that.

Today is the day for this.

The Abigail sent me the link. Rosebud: the Magazine for People who Enjoy Good Writing is holding a contest. The Fourth Biennial Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction. The winner gets $1k and publication in Rosebud. Four runners-up get $100 and publication in Rosebud. The losers get squat, but are considered for publication. There's also a determined lack of funny business when it comes to the contract, which is nice.

That's the upside. The downside is that there is a $10 reading fee. The downside is also that, as I am given to believe, most contests - especially those that require a reading fee - are, well, scams.

So where am I on this one? On the one hand, one hundred to one thousand dollars (well, $90 to $990, really), publication, and a feather in my cap. If I lose the contest but win publication, I still stand to net $20. On the other hand, Yog's Law.

I'm probably going to enter. After all, it's only $10, and the potential rewards are quite solid. There is, however, a matter of principle to consider; I'm not going to put my name - and therefore, my tiny professional endorsement - in a crooked hat, even if it's a cheap crooked hat. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. Is the Fourth Biennial Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction a scam? I'll also be emailing the illustrious, august, inimitable Mur Lafferty on this matter. In case you don't listen to I Should Be Writing, I'll let you know what she says.

Incidentally, Rosebud Magazine also charges a one dollar "handling fee" for ordinary submissions. I haven't been doing this for very long, but I have yet to encounter another magazine that charges money to submit work. This seems like a strike against Rosebud. Again, however, it's only one dollar, so it's a very small strike.

Until next time, remember that money flows towards the Zeppelin... or at least, it should.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why Not Self Publish?

In the comments to a recent post, a gentleman named Greg Christopher said:

"You are a fool for not self publishing. You would have money by now.
Sorry for the tough love, but you seem to be needlessly hurting yourself."
Now, we are not enemies of tough love here at the Zeppelin, and I'm not writing this post to shame or criticize anyone, but when I started to respond in the comments I ended up writing a post, so here it goes.

The thing is is that self-publishing a novel is basically a full-time job. Once you're done writing the novel, you need to do all the work of editing - and that includes finding people who are qualified to help you who are not yourself, since by the time you are done with your novel, you're going to need an outside perspective. Then you're going to need cover art and layout, which you probably don't know how to do yourself. Editors cost money, artists cost money, and layout experts cost money.

Then, you're going to need to settle down to some serious self-promotion. As a self-published author, you need to do everything yourself. If you want to get your book into a bookstore, you are going to need to go to that bookstore, get a meeting with that buyer, talk up your book, and hope she buys it. And if she doesn't, you just wasted time and gas money that you may or may not have to spare. Forget about getting your book into stores in another part of your state, let alone another part of the country.

On the other hand, with an agent and publisher backing you up, you've got somebody to do all that for you, and you don't pay for any of it, at least not directly. You pay in a cut of what your novel makes; if your novel doesn't sell, you don't pay.

On the third hand, e-publication is always a possibility. The self-promotion here is a bit less travel-intensive, since you can use the internet, but still takes a lot of time and energy. You need to email, post, pimp, and produce free content like a demon if you want to get anywhere. You need to do all the work of a publishing agency's marketing machine, all by your lonesome. Abigail Hilton, among others, has managed it, but I'm not sure how.

Now, that said, I'm mostly talking about short stories here, not novels. So, where is the benefit in traditionally publishing short stories?

Blogs (like this one) are good for building a base of fans. I suppose I could start releasing my stories for free here to build up a base for the eventual self-release of my novel. Again, though, we're talking a lot of work. I've been keeping this blog fairly regularly for about two years now, and I've got maybe thirty readers - probably more like twenty. The thing is, I don't need to reach you already - unless I lose you, I've got you. If I posted tomorrow with a sample chapter of my self-published e-reader friendly novel, I predict that most of you would read it.

There are other problems with self-publishing short stories on my blog. Let's say I just up and posted The Dead of Tetra Manna, a story I've been having a hard time finding a market for. For that post to net me new readers - which is what I'd need to do to use this blog as a platform to build my writing career - someone would need to read that story, like it, and then pass it along to a friend. That friend would then need to read the story and not only like it, but like it well enough to become a regular reader him or herself. This could happen - it probably has happened - but it isn't likely. There are too many intermediary steps between post and follower during which the signal can be lost. How many times have you heard, read, or heard of something interesting, thought to yourself "I should follow that dude's blog," and then failed to follow through? That's why after two years of fairly steady blogging, I'm still at only about thirty readers.

Compare this to The Dead of Tetra Manna finding a place in a traditional, online, or podcast magazine. Nearly every reader or listener is not already someone who follows my blog. Let's say Podcastle bought The Dead of Tetra Manna. Podcastle has at least several thousand listeners (possibly more), almost none of which already know who I am. If even one percent of them become followers of my blog, I'm golden.

I have data to back this up. When the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine bought The Invisible Kingdom, my blog experienced the single largest boost since the Abigail started reading and my readership went from "zero" to "one." I started with about ten readers and ended with the thirty or so I have today, a 300% increase.

Add to this the fact that most magazines won't take a short story that has been posted for free, but you can always post something for free after it's been published, after a suitable delay, and you see why it's important to pursue external publication for short pieces. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that seeking external publication for short fiction is an important step in building the base for successful self-publishing.

Finally, podcasts.

Well done podcast magazines, braided anthologies, and novels attract a lot of attention very quickly. I could, in theory, begin a series of podcast stories or create a podcast version of Knights of the Land. I have frequently mention the excellent Guild of the Cowry Catchers, and I have listened to, enjoyed (and in some cases, posted about and reviewed, many others). I have great reverence for podcasters. I am not ready to be one.

In my other life (note that I didn't write "day job") I am a middle school science teacher. Teaching middle school isn't a job. It isn't even a career. Three jobs, two careers, and membership in a secret assassin clan just barely begins to scrape the surface of how much physical, mental, and emotional work this is. Physical, mental, and emotional giants like Chris Lester of Metamor City can manage teaching and podcasting at the same time - and even he's trailed off lately - but I know my limits. Perhaps there will be a day that I can teach all day, podcast all night, sleep while I drive, and write while I sleep. Until I figure out how to do that and not die (or, alternately, get better at teaching so it takes less of my time), though, podcasting is not for me.

So, where does all that leave me?

Hopefully, right where I am.

I know who I am and what I want. I am not a Mur Lafferty or an Abigail Hilton. I don't, at this point in my life, have that kind of drive or organization, and I don't want to be a full time writer. I have a more than full time career that I love. What I want is to keep slogging away, working on novels, writing short stories, and building my base. Some day, when I attract the attention of an agent and a publisher, I can pare off some of the time I already have for writing - weekends, vacations, the entire freakin' summer - for book tours and hardcore marketing. The rest of the time I can balance between the work I love and the work I also love.

I hope this post isn't too long or too vehement, but I spend a lot of time consuming I Should Be Writing, Dave Thompson's livejournal, and other writerly outlets. Being an loud opinionated person, I can't help but want to comment. And what is the Internet for if not conversation?

Well, porn. Conversation and porn.

Until next time, the Zeppelin lives and lets live, and you should, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I am singularly ill-suited to proctoring tests. If I'm not totally engaged with a cerebral task, I hate sitting still - I'm probably more than a little ADHD - and proctoring isn't engaging or cerebral, and it barely counts as a task. It's the worst and most "bastard-love-child-of-babysitting-and-being-a-prison-guard" part of teaching. It doesn't help that I was out sick yesterday, my sub was apparently awful, and one of the power sockets died in the night, causing the turtle tank to be without filtration for about eight hours. Anyone who has ever kept red-eared sliders can tell you how much of a problem that is.

Seriously, if there are creatures that produce more poop than red-eared sliders, I don't want to know about it.

Anyway, the combination of state tests, whining children, and pooping turtles puts me in a mind to talk about rejection letters, so that's what I'm going to do.

Right before I began my teaching career, I began a project to see if I could acquire fifty (or more!) rejection letters over the course of a year. The logic is that I can't make them buy my story, but I can make them give me a rejection letter, and as long as I'm getting rejections, I'm sending out stories, and as long as I'm sending out stories, I'm working on my craft, putting myself out there, and making a sale more likely. Abruptly developing a career put a serious crimp in this plan, and I've only managed to net one acceptance and ten rejections, but that's eleven brand new steps into writing, so I'm not complaining.

For a while there, I was also posting the rejection letters with the serial numbers filed off. I stopped doing that when I read some horror stories about publishers taking offense. It was harmless, fun post fodder - I wasn't offended by the rejection letters; in fact, I only ever commented about how polite and helpful my rejectors were - but it wasn't worth risking my writing career over.

I recently got an incredibly classy rejection letter - my tenth! - from Abyss & Apex. The jist of it was this: "your story is well written and made it all the way through the slush process to reach my desk, but it isn't to my liking; good luck placing it elsewhere and do try again with something new."

Over the course of my...

[Time to walk around the room and gaze balefully - but also encouragingly? - at students]

Over the course of my writing career so far, I've noticed an overall pattern to my rejection letters. There are fits and starts, leaps forward and leaps back, but the story goes something like this:

  1. Form rejection, signed by the editor but with no indication that it is from an actual editor, or even an actual human being.
  2. Rejection with encouragement and commentary, signed by an editor.
  3. The "good story, but not to my taste" rejection, from an editor.

I wonder, is this progress? I have the feeling that it is.

In step one, I was clearly getting rejected by slush readers.  In step two, I was reaching editors, who rejected my stories because of quality issues. Now, in step three, I'm reaching editors who can't find anything "wrong" with my writing - they just didn't like the story.

This means that instead of writing mediocre stories, I'm writing good stories and sending them to the wrong magazines, or the right magazines on the wrong days, or the right magazines at the same day as someone whose stories was even better.

Clearly, even if this means something it doesn't mean a heck of a lot.

I also shouldn't take this to mean that I'm entitled to any particular kind of...

[Stop whispering to each other! This is a state test - do you want to get your butt suspended?]

I also shouldn't take this to mean that I'm entitled to any particular kind of rejection letter. Just because I feel like I'm mostly in step three doesn't mean that I'm not going to get a form rejection once in a while. If I get all discouraged (or worse, grumpy) when I do, then it's going to crimp my style.

What it does mean is that I'm making progress, and that's never a bad thing.

That's a pretty positive conclusion for a post that started with turtle poop, don't you think?