I’ve made a horrible copyright mistake

public-domain-logo-slightly-nicerOkay, I haven’t really made a horrible mistake, but saying I “almost” made a mistake doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic.

I was looking for some quotable poem for new new manuscript, and I found the perfect thing, however, I knew I’d have to check on the copyright status. In today’s world, figuring out the actual date a work goes into the public domain can be complicated.

O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

So, I looked up the publication date of the poem, and found out it was attributed to a poet named Sappho in 600 BC. And here’s where I almost made my mistake. I stopped there.

It wasn’t until I was editing my piece later that I started to think there was something wrong with my logic. Sure, the original was thousands of years old… but wouldn’t the original have been written in ancient Greek?

So, this becomes a translation, and translations, even translations of things like the bible have their own copyright rules. They can be considered derivative works and come under the original work’s copyright, but they can also, if suitably different be considered a separate work, entitled to copyright protection. So, I had to find the history of the translation and determine its copyright status. Fortunately, this particular translation was done by Ambrose Philips in 1711.

So, disaster has been avoided. However, I was lucky in this case. While the piece seems antiquated, it could have easily been done in the 1960s and still have copyright protection.

The Best Show Don’t Tell Advice Ever

Tim Leach wrote this on Reddit today, and it is awesome.

The evolution of the writer usually goes like this:

  • Beginners tell too much. They get told over and over again about show don’t tell.
  • Amateurs show too much. They no longer tell anything, and so everything is over described.
  • Professionals know when to tell and when to show.

“Show don’t tell” is not an overrated rule, as it really is a major weakness that’s almost universal to up and coming writers, so beating people over the head with it usually yields some results. But telling has its place too – it’s punchy, effective, and can be evocative if the voice that’s doing the telling is strong enough.

The rule I do try to stick to with “show don’t tell” is to apply it to character emotions. I try never to write “Dave was angry”, “Jeff was scared”, but to show them being angry or scared. You’ve also got to be careful about using tell too much for exposition, it can be very lazy and super dull. But yes, telling is a useful skill. Sometimes…

TL:DR – Show is usually better than tell, except when it’s not. Sorry that’s contradictory. Writing is hard.

Just some updates

file53d7f85012e10Wow, time can go by quickly. Between work, social commitments, and surgery, this has been a busy summer for me so far.

The surgery seems to have been a success. I’m currently feeling recovery-type pain instead of carpal-tunnel type pain, if that makes sense. I’m still a little weak in that hand, but every weeks is showing improvement.

On the writing front, I don’t have all that much to report. I’m working on the sequel to Minion of Evil. I was around 20,000 words in and I decided to start over with a couple different subplots. Now I’m getting back up to around 8000 words again. I’m also waiting for some beta reader comments on one of my other novels.

I’ve now been an intern at KHP for a month, but it doesn’t feel like it as they haven’t given me anything to do yet. I’ve been promised a pass at Adam J Whitlatch’s new book though, so I’m looking forward to that. I am a little worried that once they do get started they’ll bury me.

So there we are. Nothing big to report.

Two weeks of nothing special except the one thing.

10505493_10152934717752004_967532443341958906_nThere are two different things in this missive, so if the first one is boring, skip down to part B.

So, I finally broke down and got carpal tunnel surgery on my left hand. I’d done my right a few years ago, and it had helped considerably. This meant a whole two weeks with my hand in a splint and not being able to do much at all except read, take pain pills, and watch movies. Since this is essentially my ideal vacation, this didn’t bother me too much. I made quite a dent in both my James Bond and Stat Trek BluRay collection, and I watched the excellent British show Foyle’s War.

The biggest downside of my little enforced vacation was the inability to drive myself anywhere. If I’d had the ability, I would have spent some time in the coffee shop or the wine shop. I did spend some time writing, but I only put down a half page the entire time–between the pain and the splint getting in the way, it kind of sucked.

Okay, so that brings us to the part of the last two weeks which is momentous news–wow, I really know how to write a story, don’t I?. I was contacted by a friend of mine, Adam J Whitlatch and offered an internship as an editor at KHP Publishers. After a Skype call with the editorial staff, I accepted the position.

Now, I know what my friends and readers are going to say, “Just one minute. Don’t you need more time to write as it is? Didn’t you turn down a job as a full editor just a year or two ago for that very reason?” You would be right to say that. It weighs heavily on my mind even now. Here’s the deal though, as an unpaid intern, I have a lot more leeway to make mistakes and see if being an editor is indeed for me than if I were jumping into the deep end head first.

So, there it is, I have six months to prove to them, and also myself, if it’s worth both our time for me to be an editor.

Time to get serious and piss around a bit

800px-Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec_018

This Toulouse-Lautrek is here for no other reason than I am currently reading Christopher Moore’s brilliant book Sacre Bleu

So, I’ve been working on a sequel to MINION OF EVIL. This is not the first time I’ve started this particular book, but I’ve discovered that sequels can be difficult. If you’ve already saved the world and got the girl, what else is there?

However, I have gotten a full 25,000 words into this book, meaning that I can probably proclaim I’ve made it through to the middle. This is a good thing. If I make it to the middle, I can usually muddle through to the other side. In a year or two of serious redrafting, I may even have a readable book. For me, this is an exciting thing. I like finishing manuscripts.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of trouble producing new fiction. And I’m beginning to believe I know why. I used to write to the end of the chapter. If something silly occurred to me, it would go in. But lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the end of the book, and the arc of the story vs. the arc of the character.

At first, I believed these deep thoughts to be an indicator that I was arriving at the next level, as a more mature, tested writers. But lately, they have been weighing heavily on my, like an albatross around my neck.

That’s cool though. It’s all about the learning process. And it’s nice to know that I still know practically nothing this far into the game.

Accusations Suck

The Exodus GateA few years ago, at DemiCon, I met this really cool writer and filmmaker, Stephen Zimmer–work pictured to the right. As I tend to do when I meet someone cool, I friended him on Facebook and read some of his work.

The other day, Stephen posted a message to his Facebook page, which I’ve been thinking about ever since. I’m not going to reproduce the whole message here, but to paraphrase, someone sent their work to Stephen. He promised to give them feedback on their work, but when he didn’t respond in what they considered to be a prompt enough manner, they accused him of stealing their work.

Okay, I know many authors get very upset about the concept of people stealing their works–I would too. I have a friend who worries about sending his manuscript out to his own writing group. Furthermore, I know for a fact that this really happens, especially now that anyone with an Amazon password and some specialty software can be a publishing house. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to want to steal your manuscript.

Call me too trusting, but if I send someone my manuscript, and they don’t get back to me right away, I assume they’re working on their own project like–just to pick a totally random example–a novelization of War of the Worlds: Goliath

In my experience, the vast majority of people who offer help with your manuscript want to help you with your manuscript, and the vast majority of people who rip people off and steal their work are well-known enough to find with a Google search–most of them are shady publishers and can be found on Predators and Editors. Most of those will try to rip you off in a totally legal fashion, with shitty contracts and deals too good to be true.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, you don’t have to trust everyone 100%, but don’t just assume that because someone is slow reading your manuscript that they’re sending it to Random House. But if you do steal someone’s manuscript, you should murder them so no one ever finds out.

Wow, that really took a dark turn.

Some Interesting Videos about the NSA

file536d258dde61cFor me, one of the fun aspects of being a writer is doing research. Once upon a time, research was tedious and methodical. Today we have Youtube.

In preparing my presentation for Demicon about the NSA, I did read a lot of articles, but I also put in quite a few hours watching videos. So I thought I’d do a blog entry and some of the better ones.

Through a PRISM Darkly
Kurt Opsahl – Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation speaks to the Chaos Communication Congress
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMwPe2KqYn4

NSA & The Mass Surveillance Society
James Bamford who has written three books about the NSA addresses the ACLU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7MEzWzIIK8

Inside NSA – The National Security Agency
A Discovery program that is a little more pro-NSA. This copy includes some Realty Spam for some reason.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAPh5Pe1Iwk

Nova – The Spy Factory
A Nova program which James Bamford was involved in. I have to admit, because of time constraints, I didn’t get all the way through this one, but what I saw looked very good.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/spy-factory.html

Interview with Russell Tice
Tice was an NSA whistleblower before Edward Snowden.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6m1XbWOfVk

Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes just a cigar.

file534eec7b74940Warning: This post may be a collection of random thoughts.

I had an interesting day, yesterday. I had to give a deposition to an investigator. I am, of course, going to parlay this experience into a scene in the book I’m working on.

One of the most interesting things they asked me–which was not difficult, as most of what they asked me dealt with procedure and intellectual property–had to do with rumors. I think that I, as a writer, sometimes focus too much on what is really happening behind the scenes and not enough time on what my characters think are happening behind the scenes.

That’s enough about that, however, as I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to say.

In a couple weeks I’ll be attending DemiCon in Des Moines. It will be a chance to catch up with some writer friends. I intend to grill Adam Whitlatch on his upcoming novelization of War of the Worlds: Goliath, and twist his arm until he names a character after me. I’m doing a panel on the NSA, which should be interesting.

Speaking of Adam Whitlatch, I’m currently beta reading his book Birthright, which so far is pretty good. I need to spend more time on it though.

Hopefully by the end of this month, I will be releasing a new edition of my novel Minion of Evil through Broken Typewriter Press, a project of friend and author Dylan Moonfire. I enjoy working with Dylan, and I think we can come out with a nice book.

No one wants to hear it.

file5335c80c5ac17An interesting thing happened in American politics this week. Statistician Nate Silver predicted that the Republican Party is likely to take control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. Some Democrats did not like this simple act of calculation, and said a few words to that effect.

This reminded me of Romney supporters in September of 2012. At the time, polls were showing a slight lead for Obama, and from the Romney supporters there was a lot of talk about how Silver’s number may have been right in the past, but things were different in this election, and he was weighing the polls wrong… etc.

This little back and forth brings up two things that can make your characters, especially your villains more believable: Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance. And just for fun, I’m going to use ridiculous political examples.

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to give more weight to things that confirm your beliefs. Say Mr. Example who belongs to a political party believes that the opposing party is the party of “Tax and buy Papaya.” He watches a TV show that does a segment about the president (a member of the opposing party) visiting the Kenyan embassy and eating Papaya. The next day, a prominent newspaper runs a story about how the president only eats Papaya once or twice a year, yet he is known to finish and entire pineapple in one sitting. Chances are, Mr. Example is going to spend more time thinking about dirty Papaya eaters.

Cognitive Dissonance happens when someone comes into contact with a bit of knowledge that they believe, but is in contradiction to what they previously believed. Let’s catch up to Mr. Example after an election when his president is in charge. The thing Example really likes about his president is her teetotalling and strict sense of morality. He is in the supermarket and he sees a newspaper with a picture of their president drunk with a man, who is not her husband. Cognitive dissonance forces Mr. Example to either ignore the story or minimize it–maybe the picture was taken out of context. Maybe she was flushed and dizzy because she had an inner ear infection. Maybe the man just grabbed her because she was about to fall. Maybe the vodka bottle in her hand was refilled with water, because recycling is important.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, in a story, your characters are going to act in accordance to these principles. If they’ve always thought that Dan at the office was a good guy, and he offers them a stick of gum, they’re going to take notice, and maybe invite him to their party.

If a character thinks someone in this office is incompetent, he is going to notice every mistake to confirm his bias. When others don’t notice that incompetence, it will grate on the character until he lashes out in anger.

Just something to chew on.

Jealousy

1900136_10201607273731426_1683397005_n-200x300Something really cool just happened for my good friend Adam J. Whitlatch. He has been chosen to write the novelization of the animated movie War of the Worlds: Goliath. I just watched the trailer. It looks awesome, and I can’t wait to see how Adam makes it work in a novel.

Whenever someone I know has this kind of success. It gets me thinking about the attitudes we can have when someone else gets good and well-deserved news.

To me, it seems like there are two ways to react to someone else’s win. The first, and I think more juvenile way is to curse the success of others, to pile on projections of our own inadequacies, whether it’s taking a jab an A-list author or badmouthing peers behind their back. Putting down other writers, or “talking smack,” not only wastes your time and energy, it is unprofessional and counterproductive. In a worst case scenario, you may be burning a bridge.

Is it possible to be a prick and be successful? Sure, it happens every day. But I don’t want to be that guy.

A drum corps parable:

There was a small corps in the 1960s, back in the days when the VFW judged regional shows. One of the members of this corps asked their instructor why another corps was always scoring higher, since the other corps sucked. The assembled corps members cheered on their fellow.

The instructor looked over his corps and said, “Well, if they keep scoring better than you, and they suck, then you must sub-suck. So, if you want to practice some more maybe you can get better, and some day you can suck too.”

The more mature way of dealing with the success of others is easier, causes less stress, and maybe will even make you feel better about yourself. You feel good for the other person, and you walk away with a lighter soul, without acting like a total douche.

So, what if you are a total douche? Well, sometimes it is better to bury your natural instincts.

Here’s the thing: Writing, and life, is not a basketball game. There isn’t one winner and one loser. Just because someone has good news doesn’t mean you’ve lost some kind of game. You can choose to be consumed by the jealousy of others, or you can look at their accomplishment, be happy for them, and move on. Because you’re not going to find your own happiness by sitting around complaining about how unlucky you are, or how much better you are than everyone else.

As for me, I’m looking forward to reading Adam J. Whitlatch’s novelization. I’m hoping that–baring contractual issues, as I don’t really know how novelizations work–I’ll even be able to beta read it.