Friday, July 31, 2015

How do you backstory?

When I play tabletop RPGs such as D&D, I'm usually a backstory-synopsis writer, 3-5 pages worth. If I think it'll be a long campaign, or even a few sessions, I write waaaaay too much backstory. Why? Mostly because it's fun. I like to leave dangling threads for the GM to play with, but I know 99% of the time nobody is going to read the history but me and the GM. (And yes, I'm as bad with joke campaigns as with serious ones.)

"I'm Stabitina, the stab-everything barbarian. I stab the water with
my shortsword and shout 'That's for the time you tried to choke
my cousin!' It does 14 points of tasty damage to the hot water,
and I gain the satisfaction of revenge."
"...Yeah, sure, whatever. The barbarian stabs the tea until
it tastes good."
On the other hand, a lot of the players I play with are more along the lines of "Yeah, uh, I came from, uh, the western plains, and don't like bananas or orcs"-style backstories. They roll the stats and have some kind of concept as to the type of character they play. Think more along the idea of a pitch than a short story: maybe thirty-five words of who the character is, what their motivation is, and why they've joined the party.

Both types of players are great to play with. Most of the fun of the game is roleplaying, and learning one's own character along the way is as much fun as writing a story with beforehand.

What kind of backstory style do you follow? Lots of story? Make it up on the fly?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Taiwan Lu-Ming Oolong Tea Review

  Taiwan Lu-Ming Oolong Tea, Organic

Reviewed by: Rebekkah
Type of tea

 loose-leaf, oolong
Flavor aspects

Happiness Natural, earthy
Where I got it

Not sure where exactly to get it online. The closest I found was here, but it's not an exact packaging match and my Chinese isn't good enough to tell if it's just a different packaging or another tea. I think the pictured version online is a higher grade.

How I brewed it

Water from the coffee machine, cooled down for about 2-3 minutes, then 1.5 tsp steeled in a 12-oz mug for 60 seconds.
Rebrewing notes

Like most oolongs, the answer to "how many times can I rebrew it" is "Yes." Alternatively, "How much day do you have?" I run out of day before I run out of rebrewing power. (I prefer not to re-use the same leaves on different days, but that's just personal preference.)

This is a high-quality organic oolong tea from Taiwan. It is excellent, and it is delicious, and if you like oolong tea, you will like it (if you can find it). Also, from what I understand,"organic tea" in Taiwan is pesticide-free grown tea, and any high-quality oolong tea will be grown without pesticides, as those taint the flavor of the tea. The Taiwanese take tea seriously.

In fact, if you know how to find Taiwan Lu-Ming oolong teas online at anywhere besides the link above, let me know. Please. This miiight be a plea to crowd-source "Where can I find more when I run out?"

I will note that 1.5 tsp could easily brew 16 oz of water, but I'm a strong tea person, so I use more tea. The aroma is earthy, a beautiful classic oolong scent, and the color is a pleasing gold/amber shade. If you like your oolongs sweet, avoid brewing for too long; however, even oversteeped I find the flavor pleasant.

It should be noted that walking into just about any grocery store or tea store in Taiwan will result in a shopping cart full of high-quality oolong teas. Many are very affordable, less expensive than tea you can buy in the US grocery stores and yet higher quality. You can also walk into a tea specialty store and walk out with tea that costs $100 USD an ounce or more, if that's what you really want.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post goes from July 7-July 24.

Publishing News

Authors United calls on members to sign a letter calling for the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice to start an investigation of Amazon due to its current market hold on the ebook world.

The Anderson family will be buying all the Books-A-Million shares they don't already own, taking the company private.

The Authors Guild urges Congress to replace the DMCA's "Notice and Takedown" regime with a "Notice and Stay Down" protocol, requiring internet service providers to filter their networks for pirated works. Resistance comes from the ISPs and other groups who make the claim that there isn't an easy way to filter such networks without interfering with the rights of the public.

The Authors Guild also seeks the standard traditional publishers' e-book royalty rate to be increased from the most common 25% it currently is.

Industry Blogs

On Writer Beware, agent Victoria Strauss warns authors away from designer who has a conviction for fraudulent activity. She also warns them from a "talent scout" magazine that's purely pay-to-play: Worldclass.

Agent Jessica Faust tells authors to relax when it comes to pitches. She also talks about what happens when one agent passes a manuscript to another agent (and why it might happen).

Agent Janet Reid gives advice and answers questions. She shares ten red flags that turn her off any query. If an agent leaves an agency, do her queries/submissions go with her or stay with the agency? (Usually go with the agent to the new agency, but it's worth checking.) She also offers advice for talking to agents in the wild. Also, she shares a couple of eyebrow-raisers: subbing to agents/editors at the same time, and a small publisher that loudly proclaims it "doesn't charge" for things publishers don't usually charge for.

Agent Kristin Nelson explains why "a small client list" for an agent is a necessity--and why "small" varies from agent to agent, with some agents having bigger small lists than others. And guest poster Angie Hodapp tells authors to audit their own royalty statements: it's worth it.

Agent Nephele Tempest posts Friday links for 7/3 and 7/10 and 7/17.

On QueryTracker, Rochelle Deans reminds witers that there's no such thing as talent--at least, not compared to skill and practice. Don't be afraid to write something horrible; it's part of the process of learning to write well.

Author Jane Morrissey talks about how to write a great sex scene on the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance blog.

Oh no! You're at a writers conference and you meet someone you really want to work with, but you made a bad first impression! Agent Mary Keeley talks about how to recover from a bad first impression.

How much are the currencies of famous fictional worlds worth? An infographic compares $10 with British pounds and American dollars.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Twisted ocean trees

It's beach time of year.

Many of the flowers that grow at the beach also grow in my area, closer to the middle of the state. Although the soil there is sandier and saltier, it still manages to support many of the same plants.

But there are some differences. The tendency of hydrangea to bloom more pink than blue, for example. And there are sand burs, and more morning glories. The dirt grows hotter, and when crossing fields, the spaces between the rows of veggies are silvery-white, not loam black.

The trees, too, are different. The beach wind shapes and twists the trees into strange architectures, not the tall and proud and straight-backed trees of home, but rather coiled and twisting dancers leaning away from the constant buffeting sea breezes.

And it's the smell of the air (salty and wet), and the taste of the tap water (a touch of brine in every sip). It's the bird calls (seagulls overriding the chirpers) and the bleaching of the brightly-colored buildings, where salty air has worn away the paint.

The little details set the location, really make it feel real. Usually it's the smallest, most minute little things that make stories feel real, that give the shape of the setting. And it's the stories grandparents tell, the way they set their memories in terms of what they knew, what they were doing, where they were. That's what makes it feel real to me.

I think of all the things about the beach, the twisting trees are the most iconic to me. More than anything else, a stand of half-bent trees leaning away all in the same direction tells me I'm near the ocean.

What details really make you feel like you're in a favorite vacation spot?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cool science news

So, uh, we now have pictures of Pluto. Just in case you were in another solar system and somehow missed that, but if your FB feed is like mine, you already know.

 On the other hand, you might not have heard about the giant winged dinosaur found this week.

And deaf mice, with the help of a little gene therapy, hear. Not well, but it's promising.

Then there's the new particle discovered in the Large Hadron Collider.

 Meanwhile, I discover a dragonfly.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A cheerful swamp

Swamps aren't quite what you'd expect. I wandered through one this weekend with a friend. 

In the summer, they're beautiful. Wetlands full of flowers and life. Oh, and we came across quite the stag party:


Well, okay, that one was a doe. But we passed at least 4 stags, too.

I won't say the area smelled great, but it wasn't an all-consuming, pervasive stench, either. Nor was it a gloomy area of lifeless greyness, and there wasn't a single set of Artax bones anywhere.

There was this, though. 

We get a lot of ideas of what scenery "should" be like from the movies, but it's rarely accurate. If the next swamp scene you see in a spring or summer setting isn't teeming with life, with dragonflies and flowers and sunshine, and little fish swimming in the shallows and birds fluttering through the vines and brush, then don't believe it.

It's as easy to fell into stereotypes about scenery as it is to fall for character tropes. It's such a mood-setting tool! And it's not like people will get offended by stereotyping grasslands or tropical beaches. But I, for one, would love to see a scene that takes place in a cheerful swamp.

After all, there's something satisfying about turning a trope on its head--especially when you're justified doing so.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Industry Blogs

Part two of Publishing news and industry blogs: The Industry Blogs half. This post covers industry blogs from 6/5-7/9, and I am going try to keep it no longer than a usual news/blogs post, because you need at least a little time left for writing, right?

Victoria Strauss, on Writer Beware, warns writers how to recognize and avoid awards profiteers (awards that pretty much exist as surreptitious cash-cows for the sponsors). She also warns writers away from Almond Press competition, whose prize is "exposure" (100 GBP for the grand prize) and it gets an anthology-full of material for the cost, paying nobody else but retaining the right to print their work. She also weighs in on Amazon's "No personal connection" rules for reviews.

Strauss also notes that class certification has been denied in the lawsuit against Author Solutions, meaning it won't be a class action suit unless the certification is granted in appeals.
We'll blame any important missed links on jet lag and
post-vacation laundry.

Agent Kristin Nelson weighs in on e-book subscription services, deciding that she considers overall good for authors. She also explains why 99.9% of agents will pass on a manuscript that begins with the protagonist waking up. And why those few that do work, work.

Meanwhile, author Kristine Kathryn Rusch implores writers to be willing to say No to bad contracts and giving away your work for free--say no and walk away. You have many paths open to you. Don't harm your business by accepting a bad deal because someone else wants you to, even if that person or company seems big and important.

Agent Jessica Faust shares the best places she and other industry professionals recommend to find agents. She also talks about the restructuring going on at Penguin Random House, and what authors can do if they worry that the consolidations will affect them. And what to do as an author if your contract isn't renewed.

On the Editor's Blog, why you need a good beta reader who isn't your close friend.

Agent Janet Reid gives advice and answers questions. Where do you mention that an editor has your manuscript in a query to an agent? (The last paragraph.) Is it actually okay for an agent to recommend an editor, or is it a conflict of interest? (It's okay, as long as the agent gets no kickbacks.)

Reid is asked what you need if you're basing a book off someone else's life. (Their permission and a legal contract stating that you have this permission. And, uh, actual legal advice, because it's complicated as heck.) And when a reader tells you your book isn't in a store? (Ask them if they asked for it to be ordered.)

And Reid explains why she would not touch a book being queried by a translator who is not the author of the book. Also, including someone else's song lyrics is a very touchy subject and not easy or cheaply resolved even when permission is obtained.

How about indicating an accent by dropping gs? (Reid says with the right diction, you won't need to.) What if you want to include a map, should you mention it? (Wait until after the query.) If an agent appears to only be making digital sales according to their Publishers Marketplace listing, is it a cause for concern? (No; for one thing, not all deals are listed on Publishers Marketplace.)

If you've used details from your own life, should you mention it? (Reid backs away slowly from the "story of my own life" because most lives make poor novels. Also, keep it low-key if you must mention it.) She also explains what exactly a series is, as compared to a stand-alone.

And that's it for this past month! Yes, I skipped a few good posts, but I do plan to sleep tonight, so it was inevitable. See anything recently that needs to be shared?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Taiwan makes an awesome vacation

I recently came back from a trip to Taiwan. If you've never been there, it's an awesome place, and I'd highly recommend it.

It's a tropical island, hot and humid. We went in late June, so it was particularly hot, but we found ways of staying cool. Pretty much everywhere we went was beautiful, and if you're a tea person, Taiwanese oolong tea is famous for being fantastic. Boba tea (also known as bubble tea) is another Taiwanese treat that is becoming world famous. It's good just about anywhere you have it, but we've yet to find American-made boba tea as good as what you can find in Taiwan.
Here's a few snapshots of what Taiwan is like:
Sunrise over the city

A local park

A mountain stream is ice cold and surrounded on all sides by
lush tropical foliage. It's a popular destination for river trekking.

The Taiwanese coast

Temple and beautiful mountain overlook

Historical city gate to the old city of Hsinchu.

Amazing ramen can be found even at the shopping malls. So good!

A city street

The Hsinchu glass museum. It's well-known for its glass art exhibits. There are also several other museums and a zoo nearby.

Piece of artwork in the museum

Nearby park early one morning, before the heat of the day sets in.

Taiwanese countryside. It's a very crowded country in the urban areas, but there are also sprawling rural areas.

Taipei 101, which was for a few years the tallest building in the world.
It's still a huge tourist attraction.

View from Taipei 101, overlooking Taipei. Taiwan as a whole is very mountainous.
Lotus flower blooming. Lotus grow all over in Taiwan.

Fish seller at the day market. You can buy pretty much anything
at the markets. Some of the stands sell whole fried roosters--
heads, feet, and all.

One of Taiwan's famous night markets. Games, toys, clothes,
jewelry, food—it's a carnival every night, so long as you
are willing to travel to the nearest night market.
It was a wonderful trip, and if you ever get the chance... well, I'd say you should make the chance, but perhaps I'm not entirely objective. Still, it really was a wonderful trip, and it's an amazing country.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Publishing Industry News

Publishing news and industry blogs, part one, covers 6/5-7/3 (the news portion, and a couple of cool features I came across). Part 2 will be next Friday, as I have been not-quite-staying-awake all week as I try to un-jetlag, and most of my American readers will be out spending time with families, getting sunburns, eating apple pie, and watching the fireworks tomorrow.

Publishing News

Zuckerberg's Year of Books aims to get readers to join him in reading different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies. A look at how it has impacted the sales of each book chosen so far.

The expiration of the Internet Tax Freedom Act is leading to a rewriting of legislation, which should allow the legislation to be updated to current economic realities. New acts that may replace the legislation--the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act and the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2015--will hopefully accomplish this rebalancing, and currently enjoy bipartisan support.

In the EU, the European Commission opens an investigation into the business practices of Amazon's e-book branch, specifically looking at Amazon's clause that publishers must inform Amazon if a better price will be offered elsewhere, or other retailers are getting better deals.

Amazon and Penguin Random House successfully reach a new long-term sales agreement.

Amazon also changes its royalty terms for authors participating in its Kindled Unlimited e-book subscription service and Kindle Owners Lending Library, based on complains from authors on how much their earnings dropped. The new royalty system intends to address this to pay authors more fairly. However, some are seeing the change as being unfavorable to authors.

Romance readers read a lot of books. Which Mark Coker theorizes is why Scribd is cutting back on the number of romance and erotica books offered: romance readers read too much! In any case, the number of romance and erotica books on the subscription service is being reduced, but there are still plenty of these titles available.

Most organizations agree that the U.S. Copyright Office needs a bit of an overhaul, but the plan to make the U.S. Copyright Office independent of the Library of Congress is meeting criticism, in part because many parties aren't sure that the separation would actually address the problems. The American Library Association makes a case in more detail as to why the separation may not be the best move.

Apple's appeal has been rejected once again in the price-fixing DOJ lawsuit, putting Apple on track to pay its $400 million fine to consumers.

Smashwords released a new feature allowing titles to be listed as preorders without a cover or even a completed manuscript.

Cool Features

It's well-known that backlit e-reading devices can add to eye strain and disrupt sleep. Oyster introduces Lumin to address this, a product that aims to automatically adjust the device's light to its surroundings and time.

The Guardian puts together a set of infographics about the Sherlock Holmes series.

Amazon has made it easier to share passages from Kindle books.

Bath reading will be ever so much safer for the books if these waterproof books get made.

Did you know Queen Victoria wrote a book when she was ten years old? And now it's finally been published.