Month: February 2012 Page 1 of 3

Editing for Indie Writers: Before you select beta-readers, and what to do with them when you have them.

The indie editing series continues (starting here but the collective posts are here)!  I’m done with Ebook Formatting 101!

I’m still looking for one or two things for my cover posts, so if you’re interested in $5 for use of your cover in an ebook, blog post, and possible print book much later on, contact me.  Needed: a “before” type picture with print  horribly unreadable over a busy background image (you can supply an “after” picture, too, if you like), and a “before” type picture with 3d lettering of the cheesiest sort (same with the “after”).

I said that last time I was going to talk about integrating comments…but I got enough comments about beta readers that I have to back up a little.  So when I put this together as an ebook, this will come before the previous editing post.

There are three sets of things you should do before you send your book off.  Even if you’ve done this kind of thing before.

  1. Determine the purpose of your book.
  2. Pick your beta readers.
  3. Clean up your manuscript.

Determine the purpose of your book.

If you cook relatively well from scratch, you know that salt isn’t just something you dump on food at the table.  It’s not like, when making spaghetti, you just make the spaghetti without salt, bring it to your guests or family with a salt shaker, and let them have at it.  You add salt to the pasta-cooking water, you add salt to the meat, and you adjust the salt after the sauce is put together, right before you serve it.  And then you serve it wih a salt shaker on the side, because lord knows there’s alway someone who wants more salt.

Marketing is like salting your food.

Marketing is determining who will like your book and why, and making sure you have those things in place.  Before you write, you should be thinking about your audience.  As you write, well, you should just be writing, honestly.  But if you thought about who will fall in love with your book before you started writing (even subconsciously), you’ll have a better shot of selling your book (however you sell it).  When you’re writing, you should be emotionally involved with your book: that’s a kind of marketing, because you are a part of your audience, and if you don’t love the loveable things in your book, then what’s the point?  Falling in love with your own book: marketing.

And before you send your book to your first reader, you should check the seasoning, if you will.

Admittedly, I’m only starting to touch the surface of what it means to make a book marketable, on my personal journey.  There are a ton of people who are better at it than I am.  I recently read Al Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel and found that it really spoke to me.  I don’t know that it would produce a book that withstands the test of time, that is loveable, that will make you feel like it’s saved your life during difficult times, but for blockbusterability?  It definitely spoke to me.  At any rate, I know enough to say that marketability isn’t just something you throw on top of your book at the end…and that knowing your market before you send it to beta readers can save a lot of heartache.

What’s your market?

  • Start with genre.  If you have two genres, you must determine which one is the most important: which readers are you more likely to make happy?
  • Determine whether you have a sub-genre, like Steampunk or Cozy or Techno-thriller.
  • Determine where your book stands in relation to best-sellers or classics in your genre and subgenre (or explain how it partakes of both genres, if applicable).  Is it Interview with a Vampire meets fairies?  Is it The Princess Bride, only set in a labyrinth?  Is it manga-esque?

There are 1001 other techniques you can get into, to make sure you know your market.  What personal beliefs do your readers hold (politically, spiritually, sexually–what are their attitudes?  What do they think is funny? dramatic? over the top)?  What cross-markets can you tap (like schools or cake decorators or motorcycle enthusiasts)?

Basically, what you’re doing is laying down a rudimentary marketing plan.  Which, if you’re selling to big publishers, is nice; if you’re selling indie, it’s essential.  You’re publishing a book…who cares? That’s what marketing is.  Publicity is free coupons and blog tours and Facebook contests.   Marketing is knowing who’s going to eat the meal you’re preparing and keeping them in mind throughout the process: it’s salt.

Determining your beta readers

Pick beta readers who fit your market.

To put it bluntly, that means if you’re in a critique group where the people either do not read your genre of books on a fairly regular basis, or if you’re in a critique group where people are diametrically opposed to the themes in your book, then they don’t fit your market, and you’re not going to get what you need from them, and you should quit that group.  They might be able to improve your comma use, but they’re never going to help you sell more books.  Just go.  The same applies to your beta readers: if your mom is offended by what you write, she’s not your market, and you shouldn’t be inflicting your work on her, no matter how proud she is of you.  She’ll be just as proud if you don’t make her read stuff she doesn’t want to read.

I’m not going to get into the benefits of critique groups versus early readers who don’t critique or any other variation: do what works for you.  Online, face-to-face–whatever works for you.  Due to the extremely personal nature of “what works for you,” this is a trial-and-error process. I think the only real rule is the one above: don’t bother with beta readers who aren’t your market.  Even if they’re great writers.  You may find that beta readers who are great readers for one type of book are no use on another: for example, some people who read adult books can’t stand kids’ books and will bring up all kinds of issues that kids won’t care about, even if it’s otherwise the same type of book your beta normally reads.

The thing is, you can’t write a book that makes everyone happy, and trying to do so means that you never hit anyone in particular’s sweet spot.  You don’t just want to serve a lot of food, you want to sell the food that makes people come back for more, for some reason or another.  Customer loyalty means that people are looking for your stuff–you don’t have to convince them to buy your book (or your food); they already know you have what they like.  Even McDonald’s* has a sweet spot: if you’re on the road and everyone’s tired and it’s late and nothing has gone right that day, you can stop at McDonald’s, and they will have hot food that tastes just like it tastes everywhere else, and it won’t be scary like that last truck stop where you had to stop because the engine was overheating and someone didn’t go to the bathroom at the last place even though you asked “Are you sure?” twice.  Okay, it’s not a lofty sweet spot, but there it is, and people buy the food.

Your first test of whether your book hits that sweet spot is your beta readers.  If you’re selling a McDonald’s book, don’t pick readers who look down on McDonald’s and never eat there; pick people who eat at McDonald’s all the time, people who eat at McDonald’s some of the time (on the road), and people who break down and buy a bag of Big Macs because sometimes you just need a bag of Big Macs.  If you have a caviar book, get caviar readers.  And so on.

Special topic: Beta Readers who are too nice/not nice enough.

This is a trial-and-error problem.  Remember, what works for you is what’s important.  If you want people who approach reading more critically, get into a critique group or send your ms. to readers who graduated from the “criticism is more important than creativity” school of Creative Writing (we’re all over the place, sadly).  If you want people who are less critical, send your ms. to people who just like to read.  But always make sure you’re working with people who fit your market.

If you find that your beta readers are in your market but are not telling you enough information (“I enjoyed it.” “I didn’t care for it.”) then you can take several approaches:

  • If someone in your market likes it, maybe no more needs to be said.  It was good enough for them. That may be all you need to know.
  • You can ask whether that person is really in your market.  If they didn’t care for it, ask them if they can put a specific finger on why.  If they say something along the lines of, “I don’t like it in stories when ____ happens,” then they aren’t in your market.  Like, “I think they swear too much,” or “Bossy characters annoy me.”  If they can’t put a finger on why more than once, they may not be useful as a beta reader.
  • If you just want them to dwell on the story as much as you do, get therapy.

Special topic: Agents and editors.

When you’re submitting your work to agents and editors, remember that they have to be part of your market in order to do a good job on your story.  You must do your research to find out what they like to read: an agent or editor who doesn’t like your story won’t know what to do with it, really, and if for some reason bought or took on your book, would likely screw something up.  Again, you can’t make everyone like your book.  You can’t pitch to every agent or editor just as you can’t hassle random people to be your beta readers.

Clean up your manuscript

Okay…back on track.  I posted how to clean up your ms in this post.

Next time (I hope): Integrating comments!

*My husband keeps referring to “that new Scottish retaurant, MacDonald’s,” in a fake Scottish accent.  This is leanding me to misspell it as MacDonald’s on a regular basis, so if I missed one, my apologies.

Ebook Covers 101: More Ebook Covers, from an Indie Cover Art Poll

So back in January I entered an indie cover art poll, and didn’t win (no surprise there).  However, I’d like to take a minute to break down the covers there…

 

Blood and Guitars – Heather Jensen

Very designy cover, a cutout on a white background.  It has good contrast, even at small sizes.  Genre seems fairly obvious: paranormal romance, with guitars.  However, the picture has a white background, and the cover has no border, which makes it hard to view on a light background.

 

Flame of Surrender – Rhiannon Paille

Full-image background.  The lettering has poor contrast, especially in B&W, and the fading from the decently-readable light purple at the top of the letters gets darker toward the bottom–combined with the smaller type under the word “Flame,” I had to force myself to read the whole title.  The background is too busy to pull off the lettering as such.  The picture is striking enough (I rather like it), but it makes me think, “This had better be tree porn,” which wasn’t the impression I picked up from the description on Smashwords.  The genre is clearly some kind of romance + fantasy combination, but I don’t really get a feel for it.  YA or not?  I thought it was more YA, but when I checked out the genre on Smashwords, it’s in the non-YA epic paranormal fantasy categories.  I’m not sure how fantasy can be both epic and paranormal.

 

The Choice – Lorhainne Eckhart

Full-image background.  The font’s not all that and a bag of chips.  The 3D dimensions on the font make it harder to read (and somewhat cheesy-looking), but the font’s well-placed over non-busy areas of the background, and it’s big enough to read the important bits, although the author name is almost too small to be readable at a smaller size.  I get a sense of a fiction story with very small elements of the supernatural in it (almost, but not quite, magical realism).  I also get a sense that this story might be very “cute,” with a sentimental ending (the pink house is the only thing in color).  The book’s listed as a detective novel and as romantic suspense on Smashwords.

 

Blind Veil – Michael Lorde

Image-on-colored-background.  The font contrasts well, is large enough, and is easy to read.  The image is striking.  This strikes me as a very eb00k ebook cover, if that makes sense–something that would look cheesy as a print cover but works well as an ebook cover.  I want to say this is a thriller, something like that movie with Harrison Ford among the Amish…I looked it up:  this is a thriller, but a science fiction thriller.  Wow.  I did not pick up on that at all.

 

Danse Macabre – C.V. Hunt

Full-image background.  The font’s not quite big enough–imagine what this would look like with a more solid white font without the black borders on the letters.  Fat, white letters with no serifs.  It would scream horror thriller.  Or, alternately, if the letters were wider, still thin, but stretched longer, vertically?  The font just looks too normal for the genre.  Background: fantastic.  I’m thinking of picking this up.  Smashwords says this is a Horror/Undead book.  Right up my alley. Downloaded sample for Nook…as a beginning cover designer, I would take this as a note that if you communicate the genre well, other elements that are less than ideal may pass more or less unnoticed.

 

Rook – JC Andrijeski

Disclosure: I know the author and have read a draft of the book. Full-cover background.  A good example of making tradeoffs and breaking rules.  At thumbnail size, you can’t really read the text, but the image is so striking (and that “K” becomes a “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT UNDER HER EYE PLEASE NOT A SPIDER” moment) that it almost sucks people into look at it despite themselves.  Does this cover scream YA to you?  Also, no.  But it screams, “This is a book about an intense character.”  No demure maiden here.  The cover works even though it doesn’t fit the “rules”: keep that in mind.  If you find yourself simply having to look further at a book blurb or a sample with no other reason than the cover, it works. The cover for Twilight, for example, also doesn’t really give a hint about genre–yet it’s so striking that you can’t help but look further (I certainly couldn’t, when it came out, but didn’t get past the sample.  I kept picking up the book, hoping that somehow it would be a book for me–due to the cover.  That’s how good the cover is.)  The only thing I’m utterly blah about on this cover is the series title.  Every time, I read it first as “Allie’s Book War One.”  The design isn’t enough to offset 30-plus years of reading from right to left.

 

At Road’s End – Zoe Saadia

Full-image background.  I feel the title should be the most readable thing on a cover, unless you’re a big-name writer.  Because the black font fades into the background, the most noticeable words on this cover are the tiny author’s name.  The shadowing behind the title font makes it even harder to read (to my astigmatism, it seems to vibrate).   Overall, the cover is just too dark without enough bright points–having the title font in a brighter color would take care of that, though.  The dark shapes in the image would be a lot more interesting if the background were a lighter color, too.  What genre is this?  I have no clue.  None.  This book has no appeal for me, because I have no idea what to expect.  Smashwords reports the genre as historical fiction.  Hm…I’d say, give it a font that looks somewhat historical, brighten up the picture while retaining contrast, and add a border that reflects the period on the outside, and sales would go up.  IMO.

 

Legends of Green Isle: The Forgotton Spell – Constance Wallace

A very designy cover, with mixed elements.  I don’t know where to look on this cover.   The title isn’t the most important element, I can’t read the font clearly (and the 3D stuff just makes it harder), I can’t tell what the picture in the middle is at first glance, I can’t tell what’s in the white space, and the lack of symmetry in the block for the author (with a whole lotta white space) just makes me feel lopsided.  But I can tell the genre as soon as I can figure out what the picture is, so it’s not a waste of time and probably moves books relatively well.  What age group is this for?  Adult?  Smashwords reports this as a YA fantasy, but I’m just not picking up on YA.  Note: the Amazon cover is simpler and doesn’t look as designy–but it communicates better.

 

Agents of Change – Guy Harrison

Full-background cover.  This one won the contest.  Dude.  There is not a dang thing bad I can say about this cover.  My only quibble is that this is an adult thriller, and the chick in the image to the back looks YA-ish.  This isn’t the book for me, because I’m not a thriller reader, but I can tell that at a glance.  And if I were a thriller reader, I’d know that I’d have to at least read the sample: that’s what you want from a cover, to get people to read the blurb and a sample of the book.  Even the shading on the lettering is subtle and effective.  This is a better thriller cover than most professional thriller covers, and would work well as a print cover, too.

 

Doing Max Vinyl – Frederick Lee Brooke

Very designy cover – cutout on white background.  Okay.  Something about this cover took real guts.  What is it?  There are several ways in which the designer walked right up to the edge of “the rules” but didn’t quite break them…and one way in which the designer said, “I’ve heard about that rule.  Fuggeddahboutit.”  The font is almost 3D.  The title is almost too hard to read.  The title against the background (that skinny leg) is almost too hard to read.  The image screams this story is about a chick who gets revenge.   Or maybe it’s a fetish book…but the contrasts seem too violent to be pure kink.  No, upon reading the tagline at the bottom of the cover, I have to say this is indeed a revenge book.  Okay.  Got it yet?  The name.  This is a book for chicks written by someone who admits to a masculine pen name.  I say more power to he author.  However, next time put a black border around the cover, so the image doesn’t fade into light backgrounds.  And the Amazon print cover?  Is even just slightly funnier than the ebook one.

…sadly, I ran out of time (and my book is the next one on the list, and I’m still not distanced enough to be able to talk about it).  So more covers later. Dear authors and cover designers, I know our jobs are hard ones, and I don’t mean to offend; these are just my impressions.  Feel free to respond 🙂

 

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-02-26

  • Ebook Pricing Discussion: Buy an ereader if you’re considering giving out ebooks for free. http://t.co/rsnLQQnN #

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Ebook Pricing Discussion: Buy an ereader if you’re considering giving out ebooks for free.

This keeps coming up.  People want to know how to price their books in a situation where nobody has had enough time to test a method–the method that might work great during one five-year stretch might not work out so well during the next stretch.  Who knows?

However, I’ll tell you my theories at the moment so you can consider them and argue with me.  I’m no economist, so there are potentially a lot of considerations that I may have missed.  So be it: I plan to keep on learning and keep on experimenting, and this may not be my final word on the subject, either.

One thing I do know, though: the experience of reading ebooks is not 1:1 for reading paper books and probably affects people’s purchasing habits.  So if you’re thinking about epublishing, even if you’re dead-set against the ebook-reading experience and want to stay with print books, you should:

Get an ereader

Before you start selling ebooks, get an ereader.  Heck, they’re cheap–get several and write them off on your taxes.  Spend at least a month reading books on your ereader.  JUST on your ereader, if you can manage it.  Here are your goals for that month:

  • Download several books from your local library, if ebooks are available.
  • Download a THICK book from your ereader’s online store.  Maybe even a boxed set.
  • Download 20-30 free ebooks from your ereader’s online store.
  • Figure out how to read an ebook in the bathtub (hint: wrap the ereader in a freezer bag).
  • Download several books from Project Gutenberg.
  • Scroll through the Smashwords home page until you see at least ten books that you’re tempted to buy.
  • Download 20-30 free ebooks from Smashwords.
  • Cruise through the ebook store for your ereader and find one book that you can’t resist buying at $.99.
  • Do the same, but for a $2.99 book.
  • Again, do the same with an ebook $9.99 or less.
  • Finally, go nuts and buy a book that you’ve been planning to buy, regardless of the price.
  • (You might want to consider doing similar things on your smartphone, if you have one: try Aldiko and the Amazon and Nook apps, try the Overdrive app and set it up for your library.  You should download those things from your app store, by the way, not online.)

Buying books on an ereader isn’t like buying a print book.  With print books, you have to consider both price and space.  Generally, you have to pay for print books, and you generally have to pay more than $.99, even at Goodwill.  (Mine are usually $1.)  And regardless of whether or not you pay for a print book, you always have to keep in mind that a print book takes up shelf space at your home (or chair space, or floor space, or space on top of your kids’ heads if they’re especially flat).

With an ereader, you could go for the rest of your life, reading a book a day, and never have to pay for another book again.  Don’t believe me?  I set up a list on Twitter with nothing but free ebooks. And you’ll never have to return the books, either, unless you get them from the library.  And those books don’t take up space, except metaphorically on your ereader–but you can save books on your computer, too, should your ereader overfloweth.

Yet people are still selling ebooks for money.  How?  Logically, shouldn’t readers be gravitating to free books?

The real cost of reading books, one that people don’t talk about much, is that it takes time.  Is a book “worth” $1 or $5 or $8.99 or $27.99?  Without the distraction of a physical book and thinking, “Oh, well, it must cost a good deal of money to print and ship it, etc.,” it becomes obvious that books cost hundreds of dollars to read.  Just take your hourly wages times the amount of time it takes for you to read a book.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some people who’ve invested at least $5,000 of their time reading The Wheel of Time series, even though the cover price, in paperback or ebook, is going to be less than $150 total.  Probably.

(It’s about 11,000 pages for the whole series.  I read quickly, at least a page a minute.  That’s about 184 hours, or about $27 an hour to make $5,000.  I’m pretty sure there are people who make over $27 an hour who are reading that series…and people who read slower than a page a minute.)

So what’s the real cost of reading The Wheel of Time?  At $27 an hour & a page a minute, about $5,150.  Or about 190 hours (184 hours to read, plus six hours to make enough money to pay for the books).  The actual cost of the books is not the big expense here.

The more time you spend on an ereader, the more obvious it becomes that you download or don’t download books (free or otherwise) based on whether you think you’re getting your money’s worth for the time spent.

You’ll have a ton of books on your ereader that you picked up for free.  Here’s my prediction on most people’s pattern in picking up free books:

  1. They pick up anything that’s free.  “SQUEEEEE!!!!”
  2. They start limiting themselves to things that a) look professional and b) look at least somewhat related to their usual genres.  Except for that one book they just couldn’t pass up.
  3. They start limiting themselves to books from #2…except they read the sample first, to make sure it’s edited and formatted decently, and that they have any interest in reading that author.
  4. They bypass at least 99% of the free books they see and stop feeling guilty about not reading all the crap on their ereaders.  They may start reading an author that they picked up for free, but only if that author hits their particular sweet spot.

Writers will probably also go through a phase of picking up all the free indie writer books they can find; this will thin out after a while, too.

In the end, free is not a panacea.

Putting up a book for free will guarantee you more downloads, especially if your book has a professional-looking cover, is formatted and edited correctly, and shows some modicum of talent.  But it won’t guarantee that people will ever read it.  With free books, you will run into a lot of people in stages #1 & #2, to whom free books are still like crack.  But they won’t read your book unless it hits one of their niches.

I think there’s a place for free; it’s a tool that will catch lots of #1- and #2-stage readers that may fit your niche but probably won’t, by a factor of hundreds if not thousands.  But acquiring those #3 & #4-stage readers–the ones who are both likely to read and enjoy your book–is much harder, and free won’t always cut it.

“Free” cannot be the only tool in your sales toolbox, and this quickly becomes obvious if you have an ereader.  And, really, why would you want to sell something you wouldn’t want to buy?  Even for free?

Next (probably on next Friday): How to calculate the money you need to make on your book to break even.

Ebook Formatting 101: The Aftermath

I gave the Ebook Formatting 101 presentation last night for PPW.  The first hour was the formatting side; the second hour was the slideshow (much meatier than the one in the blog post) plus questions.

Oh, man.  People said it went well (aside from my learning curve with the microphone), but I saw a lot of glazed-over eyeballs.  It was a lot of information.  Someone (Laura Harvey?) mentioned that it might work better as a hands-on class, and I have to agree.  Bring your laptop and a five-page story, and walk out with an ebook.  We could do it.  However, it would take a logistics person to pull it off, and I am not that person.

I think the slide show went particularly well, and I’m going to try to work that into an ebook.  I might have to split it in two:  Formatting 101 and Covers 101.  I’m interested in picking up specific ebook covers to help flesh out the cover images slide show; contact me if you’re interested in letting your cover be part of a discussion.  I’m paying $5 for rights to use each cover in blogs, ebooks, and a possible print book later (much later).  For the class, I used some covers I didn’t have rights to, and I want to swap those out.  I might have to link to some of them: the Robert Jordan covers for the Wheel of Time series in print vs. ebook are an excellent illustration of why some things work better as print covers than ebook covers.

Something that was driven home to me last night:  for the most part, writers don’t know how to use their word-processing programs at more than a basic level, for the most part.  I had to explain what m- and n-dashes were.  What curly quotes were.  I’ve been using Word long enough at an advanced level that I forget sometimes that most people don’t need to know these things.  So when I put the ebook together, I may have to put in an appendix on advanced word-processing topics and link back to it as needed.

Fiction: Alien Blue

New fiction up!  I’m trying out the Kindle Direct Select program, which means I have to leave it exclusive on Amazon.com for three months (May 20th).  I’ll let you know how it goes…at any rate, it’s only available via Amazon.com at the moment.  So if you happen to buy a copy but don’t have a Kindle, contact me with a screenshot of your purchase, and I’ll provide an alternate version for your ereader.  Being in the Select program means that I can’t sell the other versions from my website, either, but I don’t want to punish people who don’t have a Kindle.  So contact me.

 

Alien Blue

by DeAnna Knippling

“Only beer can save us now.” –Bill Trout, Zymurgist*

Sci-Fi.  Bill Trout didn’t set out to get involved with aliens. He just wanted to run his damned brewery and heal up from being abandoned by his ex-wife. But that ain’t the way things worked out, and now he has some bodies to bury, an alien kid who’s wanted for murder—mass murder—to hide, and a planet to save. But Bill won’t go down easy.

Fortunately, the aliens, who are a blue ooze that takes over your body and are real hard to kill, have no tolerance for alcohol. So now Bill has a new beer on tap: Alien Blue.

He just has to be careful who he serves it to.

Note: This the cowboy-hat-with-the-pink-band story.

For future reference, here’s the eventual hat.

Just because Bill makes fun of it doesn’t mean it’s not fetching.

Rather than put a whole bunch of material up here, if you’d like to read a free (non-Kindle-specific) sample, click here.  But here’s the beginning…

Prologue

The door of Bill Trout’s bar opened, and a couple of people pulled their guns out. The aliens weren’t supposed to come till dawn, but hell, who trusts an alien? Then the daughter Bill never knew he had walked into the bar, and his heart just about broke.

He knew who she was, because she looked just like her mother, except for her nose, and she looked about the right age for when her ma had left him. She let go of the door, and it jingled shut, cardboard in the hole where the glass should have been. Without a second glance, she walked past the diorama of the crazy caveman dragging his woman and fighting off a saber-toothed tiger.

“We’re closed,” Bill said.

The young woman’s jaw jutted out, and Bill had a flash of déjà vu of his ex. The bar, as any fool could plainly see, was packed.

“Er, and there’s no room anyway,” Bill added.

The girl spotted the empty booth he’d left at the back of the room. “I’m here to meet somebody,” she said. “He’s supposed to be wearing a cowboy hat with a pink band. Have you seen him?”

Bill couldn’t help touching the Twins cap covering his bald spot. “Nope.”

The girl pointed to a table near the bar. “Isn’t that him?” Bill turned his head to look, and the girl made a break for the back booth.

He cussed at her back. “I shoulda locked the door.”

The Caveman Brewery, built into an old yellow-brick warehouse, looked almost festive with its neon beer lights, upside-down canoe, and garish, handmade beer posters, but the customers looked like hell, half-asleep and mean. Guns and booze were in evidence at every table.

Bill’s daughter switched her purse strap across her chest and braced her feet against the base of the table. “I’m staying,” she said, when Bill followed her.

“Missy, you got to leave.”

She glared at him and said, “I need to meet my dad. I don’t know who he is. He has cancer and he’s going to die and he didn’t even know I was born.”

“Missy—”

But she wasn’t stopping. “Mom wrote him a letter telling him to meet me here today. He’ll be wearing a cowboy hat with a pink band and carrying the letter from Mom, and some dumbass waiter isn’t going to screw this up, so bring me a beer.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry, miss. But this is a real bad time.”

The woman shouted, “I said I want a beer!”

Then the bells over the door tinkled again, and a tall, dark-skinned man—so tall his head brushed the bells—stumbled into the room, almost falling into the diorama.

The room went dead quiet.

“Hang on, miss,” Bill said, and, “God damn it, Anam.” He beelined over to the man, jerking him upright. “I told you to get the hell out of my town!” Anam, whose filthy, ragged shirt and pants were smeared with either wood stain or blood, grabbed Bill’s arm so hard he found smears on it, later. As Bill struggled to push Anam back out the door, his heart shuddered, and he sagged at the knees, wincing, and Anam had to wrap an arm around him to hold him steady.

Then Bill realized what Anam meant to do, and he stopped fighting. “You fool,” he said. “You damned fool.” He pointed Anam toward the patio. “Go. I don’t want you in my sight.”

Anam pulled himself along table by table, until he reached the door. He put his head on it, tried to pull it open while he was still leaning on it, jerked harder, and almost pitched himself backwards on his ass. The springs of the door creaked as it opened, then slammed the door behind him.

Bill passed a hand over his face. There was no going back now.

The folks in the bar started whispering again, and Mimi rushed up to him, twisting a towel around and around in her hands, dripping water. Her lips were almost white, her black-and-purple hair tangled like snakes.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Bill glanced up at the bar. About a hundred and fifty people were packed inside, ready for violence, and all he could think was that he had to get his daughter out of here. Out. Of all the damned times for her to come to town. Of all the damned times.

“It’s all part of the plan, darlin’,” he said. “That girl there, she’s here to hear the tale.”

“To what?” Mimi’s eyes went wide.

“We’re all getting erased, one way or another,” Bill said. “She’s been sent to get a true record, so…well, so we can get our memories back later. Only she don’t know that. Later I’m going to have you take her to the bathroom and get the recorder off her…probably in her purse somewhere. Her ma would have planted it there, without her knowing.”

Mimi gaped at him, her mouth open, showing her delicately-disordered teeth. She had become like a daughter to him, or even closer: like an employee. “So that’s what Smart Bart was doing.”

“I better get back to it.” He turned around and limped back to his daughter’s booth. “A cowboy hat with a pink band, huh? All right, missy. I changed my mind. You can stay till your dad shows up. But you got to promise me something.”

Her eyebrows met in the middle. “What’s that?” She was pretty in a in a bad-posture, ugly-duckling way, somewhere between sixteen and twenty-five. Bill hadn’t seen her mother for twenty-two years, which should make her just barely legal to serve. Ah, just look at that nose. It was his nose, before it got broke. He woulda sworn on it.

“You got to try this new beer I been working on. I make most of my own beer, you know. This new one’s called ‘Alien Blue.’ On the house.”

She didn’t let go of the table. “Okay.”

Bill gestured toward Sam, his bartender. The party pump under the bar wheezed like an asthmatic poodle as Sam pulled most of a pint for the woman.

Bill stumped over to the bar and picked up the blue beer. His hands were shaking, but he didn’t spill a drop as Sam handed it to him.

“That’s the last of it,” Sam said.

“Good riddance,” Bill said. He brought it back to the girl. “Come on, try it.”

“Thanks.” The woman took a deep, thirsty gulp. Plenty. Then the taste hit her, and she put the mug down and shuddered.

Bill laughed despite himself. “What do you think? Good stuff, huh?”

She forced herself to stop gagging and gasp, “It tastes like monkey piss.”

Bill flashed a big-ass grin at her. “Aw, didn’t like it, did you? Well, it does have a funny aftertaste.”

She swallowed her own spit a couple of times, trying to get the taste out of her mouth. “So why is it blue?”

Bill said, “It’s a long story.”

The woman sighed. “A long story would be good. And some water. Or something. I need to kill some time until my Dad gets here. Besides, I collect stories.”

“Really? You a historian or something?”

“No, just a writer. You haven’t heard of me.”

Bill laughed. “A writer? Figures you’d be a liar.” Before she could ask Bill what he meant, he said, “Well, I’ll make sure this guy who’s claiming to be your dad’s on the up and up; I know most folks who live within a hundred miles of here. What’s your name?”

“Nina Nesbitt.”

Bill held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. Bill Trout. I own the place.”

“And I called you a waiter.” Nina put down the blue beer to shake Bill’s hand and winced when Bill squeezed the hell out of her fingers. “Ow!”

“Sorry.” Bill let her go and grabbed the blue beer before she could pick it up again. “How about I just dump this out. Wait. I think I’ll put it in a lead-lined keg and bury it with the radioactive waste out in Nevada.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Nina lied.

“Oh, honey, it was worse. Sorry to pull such a mean joke on you, but it was for a bet. Now, how about some wheat beer, little touch of clove in it? I call it A Hard Day’s White.”

“Uh,” Nina paused. “I guess I could try it. If you’re done playing practical jokes on me.”

Bill laughed. “I’ll give you the good stuff now, I promise. I’ll even throw in a couple of Reubens and a basket of fried mushrooms to take the bad taste out of your mouth.”

Nina smiled the kind of smile that makes men propose, with dimples. “Please?”

Bill smiled back like he couldn’t help it, then turned his head and bellowed, “SAM, PAIR OF WHEATS, FAT KRAUTS, AND A BASTARD OF HATS.” His voice echoed above the crowd, through the air ducts and the rafters. He confided, “Me and Sam couldn’t remember any genuine diner lingo when we opened, so we made some up. More fun that way.”

Bill walked into the back of the house and poured what was left of the beer in a plastic bucket, then added an equal amount of Everclear that was sitting next to it in a jug. He could hear the people out front muttering at each other, a susurrus that had gone sharp. Well, let ‘em.

He came out, sat down at Nina’s table, and said, “So the beer. It all started with the mayor, Jack Stout. If you knew Jack, you knew that he was full of damned good intentions unmoderated by a lick of common sense. Tonight’s his wake—” Bill broke off and wiped his face.

Nina leaned forward and touched his hand.

Then Mimi showed up with two mugs and a basket of mushrooms. “You okay, Bill?”

Bill put his grin back on. “Just thinking about Jack. I’ll be fine, I guess. Why don’t you check the patio? You haven’t been out there for a while. Somebody might need something.”

Mimi glanced over at the door Anam had gone through. “Sure,” she said.

As Mimi left, Bill said to Nina, “I gotta say, missy, I sure am glad you came along.”

“Why’s that?” she asked. “And don’t call me missy.”

“Fair enough,” Bill said. “Thing is, everybody here knows the story except you, and I got a hankering to tell it one last time. Hell, it’d make a good novel, you ever feel like writing it up. You can use it; just change the names, okay?”

Nina said, “Maybe.”

 

*Someone who studies the practice of fermentation, as in brewing, winemaking, or distilling.

 

New Fiction: Alien Blue

New fiction up!  I’m trying out the Kindle Direct Select program, which means I have to leave it exclusive on Amazon.com for three months (May 20th).  I’ll let you know how it goes…at any rate, it’s only available via Amazon.com at the moment.  So if you happen to buy a copy but don’t have a Kindle, contact me with a screenshot of your purchase, and I’ll provide an alternate version for your ereader.  Being in the Select program means that I can’t sell the other versions from my website, either, but I don’t want to punish people who don’t have a Kindle.  So contact me.

 

Alien Blue

by DeAnna Knippling

“Only beer can save us now.” –Bill Trout, Zymurgist*

Sci-Fi.  Bill Trout didn’t set out to get involved with aliens. He just wanted to run his damned brewery and heal up from being abandoned by his ex-wife. But that ain’t the way things worked out, and now he has some bodies to bury, an alien kid who’s wanted for murder—mass murder—to hide, and a planet to save. But Bill won’t go down easy.

Fortunately, the aliens, who are a blue ooze that takes over your body and are real hard to kill, have no tolerance for alcohol. So now Bill has a new beer on tap: Alien Blue.

He just has to be careful who he serves it to.

Note: This the cowboy-hat-with-the-pink-band story.

For future reference, here’s the eventual hat.

Just because Bill makes fun of it doesn’t mean it’s not fetching.

Rather than put a whole bunch of material up here, if you’d like to read a free (non-Kindle-specific) sample, click here.  But here’s the beginning…

Prologue

The door of Bill Trout’s bar opened, and a couple of people pulled their guns out. The aliens weren’t supposed to come till dawn, but hell, who trusts an alien? Then the daughter Bill never knew he had walked into the bar, and his heart just about broke.

He knew who she was, because she looked just like her mother, except for her nose, and she looked about the right age for when her ma had left him. She let go of the door, and it jingled shut, cardboard in the hole where the glass should have been. Without a second glance, she walked past the diorama of the crazy caveman dragging his woman and fighting off a saber-toothed tiger.

“We’re closed,” Bill said.

The young woman’s jaw jutted out, and Bill had a flash of déjà vu of his ex. The bar, as any fool could plainly see, was packed.

“Er, and there’s no room anyway,” Bill added.

The girl spotted the empty booth he’d left at the back of the room. “I’m here to meet somebody,” she said. “He’s supposed to be wearing a cowboy hat with a pink band. Have you seen him?”

Bill couldn’t help touching the Twins cap covering his bald spot. “Nope.”

The girl pointed to a table near the bar. “Isn’t that him?” Bill turned his head to look, and the girl made a break for the back booth.

He cussed at her back. “I shoulda locked the door.”

The Caveman Brewery, built into an old yellow-brick warehouse, looked almost festive with its neon beer lights, upside-down canoe, and garish, handmade beer posters, but the customers looked like hell, half-asleep and mean. Guns and booze were in evidence at every table.

Bill’s daughter switched her purse strap across her chest and braced her feet against the base of the table. “I’m staying,” she said, when Bill followed her.

“Missy, you got to leave.”

She glared at him and said, “I need to meet my dad. I don’t know who he is. He has cancer and he’s going to die and he didn’t even know I was born.”

“Missy—”

But she wasn’t stopping. “Mom wrote him a letter telling him to meet me here today. He’ll be wearing a cowboy hat with a pink band and carrying the letter from Mom, and some dumbass waiter isn’t going to screw this up, so bring me a beer.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry, miss. But this is a real bad time.”

The woman shouted, “I said I want a beer!”

Then the bells over the door tinkled again, and a tall, dark-skinned man—so tall his head brushed the bells—stumbled into the room, almost falling into the diorama.

The room went dead quiet.

“Hang on, miss,” Bill said, and, “God damn it, Anam.” He beelined over to the man, jerking him upright. “I told you to get the hell out of my town!” Anam, whose filthy, ragged shirt and pants were smeared with either wood stain or blood, grabbed Bill’s arm so hard he found smears on it, later. As Bill struggled to push Anam back out the door, his heart shuddered, and he sagged at the knees, wincing, and Anam had to wrap an arm around him to hold him steady.

Then Bill realized what Anam meant to do, and he stopped fighting. “You fool,” he said. “You damned fool.” He pointed Anam toward the patio. “Go. I don’t want you in my sight.”

Anam pulled himself along table by table, until he reached the door. He put his head on it, tried to pull it open while he was still leaning on it, jerked harder, and almost pitched himself backwards on his ass. The springs of the door creaked as it opened, then slammed the door behind him.

Bill passed a hand over his face. There was no going back now.

The folks in the bar started whispering again, and Mimi rushed up to him, twisting a towel around and around in her hands, dripping water. Her lips were almost white, her black-and-purple hair tangled like snakes.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Bill glanced up at the bar. About a hundred and fifty people were packed inside, ready for violence, and all he could think was that he had to get his daughter out of here. Out. Of all the damned times for her to come to town. Of all the damned times.

“It’s all part of the plan, darlin’,” he said. “That girl there, she’s here to hear the tale.”

“To what?” Mimi’s eyes went wide.

“We’re all getting erased, one way or another,” Bill said. “She’s been sent to get a true record, so…well, so we can get our memories back later. Only she don’t know that. Later I’m going to have you take her to the bathroom and get the recorder off her…probably in her purse somewhere. Her ma would have planted it there, without her knowing.”

Mimi gaped at him, her mouth open, showing her delicately-disordered teeth. She had become like a daughter to him, or even closer: like an employee. “So that’s what Smart Bart was doing.”

“I better get back to it.” He turned around and limped back to his daughter’s booth. “A cowboy hat with a pink band, huh? All right, missy. I changed my mind. You can stay till your dad shows up. But you got to promise me something.”

Her eyebrows met in the middle. “What’s that?” She was pretty in a in a bad-posture, ugly-duckling way, somewhere between sixteen and twenty-five. Bill hadn’t seen her mother for twenty-two years, which should make her just barely legal to serve. Ah, just look at that nose. It was his nose, before it got broke. He woulda sworn on it.

“You got to try this new beer I been working on. I make most of my own beer, you know. This new one’s called ‘Alien Blue.’ On the house.”

She didn’t let go of the table. “Okay.”

Bill gestured toward Sam, his bartender. The party pump under the bar wheezed like an asthmatic poodle as Sam pulled most of a pint for the woman.

Bill stumped over to the bar and picked up the blue beer. His hands were shaking, but he didn’t spill a drop as Sam handed it to him.

“That’s the last of it,” Sam said.

“Good riddance,” Bill said. He brought it back to the girl. “Come on, try it.”

“Thanks.” The woman took a deep, thirsty gulp. Plenty. Then the taste hit her, and she put the mug down and shuddered.

Bill laughed despite himself. “What do you think? Good stuff, huh?”

She forced herself to stop gagging and gasp, “It tastes like monkey piss.”

Bill flashed a big-ass grin at her. “Aw, didn’t like it, did you? Well, it does have a funny aftertaste.”

She swallowed her own spit a couple of times, trying to get the taste out of her mouth. “So why is it blue?”

Bill said, “It’s a long story.”

The woman sighed. “A long story would be good. And some water. Or something. I need to kill some time until my Dad gets here. Besides, I collect stories.”

“Really? You a historian or something?”

“No, just a writer. You haven’t heard of me.”

Bill laughed. “A writer? Figures you’d be a liar.” Before she could ask Bill what he meant, he said, “Well, I’ll make sure this guy who’s claiming to be your dad’s on the up and up; I know most folks who live within a hundred miles of here. What’s your name?”

“Nina Nesbitt.”

Bill held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. Bill Trout. I own the place.”

“And I called you a waiter.” Nina put down the blue beer to shake Bill’s hand and winced when Bill squeezed the hell out of her fingers. “Ow!”

“Sorry.” Bill let her go and grabbed the blue beer before she could pick it up again. “How about I just dump this out. Wait. I think I’ll put it in a lead-lined keg and bury it with the radioactive waste out in Nevada.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Nina lied.

“Oh, honey, it was worse. Sorry to pull such a mean joke on you, but it was for a bet. Now, how about some wheat beer, little touch of clove in it? I call it A Hard Day’s White.”

“Uh,” Nina paused. “I guess I could try it. If you’re done playing practical jokes on me.”

Bill laughed. “I’ll give you the good stuff now, I promise. I’ll even throw in a couple of Reubens and a basket of fried mushrooms to take the bad taste out of your mouth.”

Nina smiled the kind of smile that makes men propose, with dimples. “Please?”

Bill smiled back like he couldn’t help it, then turned his head and bellowed, “SAM, PAIR OF WHEATS, FAT KRAUTS, AND A BASTARD OF HATS.” His voice echoed above the crowd, through the air ducts and the rafters. He confided, “Me and Sam couldn’t remember any genuine diner lingo when we opened, so we made some up. More fun that way.”

Bill walked into the back of the house and poured what was left of the beer in a plastic bucket, then added an equal amount of Everclear that was sitting next to it in a jug. He could hear the people out front muttering at each other, a susurrus that had gone sharp. Well, let ‘em.

He came out, sat down at Nina’s table, and said, “So the beer. It all started with the mayor, Jack Stout. If you knew Jack, you knew that he was full of damned good intentions unmoderated by a lick of common sense. Tonight’s his wake—” Bill broke off and wiped his face.

Nina leaned forward and touched his hand.

Then Mimi showed up with two mugs and a basket of mushrooms. “You okay, Bill?”

Bill put his grin back on. “Just thinking about Jack. I’ll be fine, I guess. Why don’t you check the patio? You haven’t been out there for a while. Somebody might need something.”

Mimi glanced over at the door Anam had gone through. “Sure,” she said.

As Mimi left, Bill said to Nina, “I gotta say, missy, I sure am glad you came along.”

“Why’s that?” she asked. “And don’t call me missy.”

“Fair enough,” Bill said. “Thing is, everybody here knows the story except you, and I got a hankering to tell it one last time. Hell, it’d make a good novel, you ever feel like writing it up. You can use it; just change the names, okay?”

Nina said, “Maybe.”

 

*Someone who studies the practice of fermentation, as in brewing, winemaking, or distilling.

Ebook Formatting 101 (Advanced Topics)

The ebook formatting 101 series continues.  Read the rest of the posts in the series here.  I was going to include the handout with this post, but I changed my mind: the handout will contain less than the posts, so why post it?  It’s just a front-back printout to trigger people’s memories and to help the visual people follow along during the talk.  Anyway.  I won’t have the ebook for this ready by the time of the workshop, because I’ll want to integrate any good questions/points from the workshop into the ebook, but it should be ready this week or next.

Let me know if there’s anything else you want to know (as a beginning ebook formatter) or want to make sure that beginning ebook formatters know as they’re just starting (as an advanced formatter).  I will stress the necessity of editing several times, I promise.

So you’ve mastered the most basic ebook formatting techniques, and you’re ready for the next step.  You’re tired of hand-formatting your italics, want to add bulleted lists, inline images, and produce better book covers.   You’re even starting to think about making a POD.

.Doc-file Formatting Tips

As always with a .doc file, Smashwords has the best tips on formatting a clean file.  However, here are some additional tips and workarounds I can pass on:

  • Adding bullets using your word processor’s automatic bulleting function may or may not work for all conversions.  You can insert a symbol for the bullet with a couple of spaces instead, especially if you get Premium Catalog errors for the automatic tabs your program may insert.
  • The indents on .mobi/Kindle conversions may be messed up; add a .01″ indent to paragraphs that are not supposed to be indented, so the conversion engines won’t automatically add full indents. Sometimes this worked for me, and sometimes it didn’t.
  • The hanging indents on .mobi/Kindle conversions may be messed up; try a -.2″ indent to the first line to force a hanging indent.  However, I had even less luck with this than I did the previous tip.
  • If you have studied that Smashwords style guide, know what it means to have a “clean” file, and you wrote your story is in a “clean” file, then you do not need to Paste Special/Unformatted Text, which saves a ton of time on formatting/checking italics.  Just paste it in and make sure every paragraph is formatted with one of your styles.
  • Insert images as normal on a separate, Centered-style line, making sure the images are about 450 pixels on the longest side/100 dpi max.  Your max file size is 5 MB for Smashwords, and Kindle Direct will charge you extra from your royalties on some files over 3 MB, after conversion.  I’d check that your .doc file size is no more then 2 MB if possible, or offset the extra charge in your pricing.

PDF Formatting Tips

This is for PDFs that you sell via your website (or send out to reviewers), not for the Smashwords PDFs.  I don’t recommend trying to make PDFs via Calibre; it’s a headache.

  • Save the PDF file as a separate file.
  • Don’t set up headers and footers with page numbers unless it’s a print-only version; this helps on printouts but looks just as bad on ereaders as ever.  (Thus, consider setting up two PDF versions: print and non-print.  If you set up a print-only version, consider doing research on book design before you build the file.)
  • At least make sure you don’t have orphans, that is, single lines at the top of the page, which can be disorienting for the reader.  If so, insert a page break before the preceding paragraph (or just force an extra line down).
  • If you don’t have a full version of Adobe, install a free PDF converter of some type; I like PDFCreator, but I’m no expert on PDFs.  It will let you save or print your file as a PDF with embedded fonts, both of which are important.

Adding .Epub and .Mobi  File Types

To get more control over your conversions (especially at Kindle Direct Publishing), you can add XHTML formatting to your repetoire.  Basically, you: 1) lay out the document as a .doc file just as you would for the Smashwords version, with some exceptions, 2) prepare the file for conversion (some things are easier to do in the .doc file), 3) dump it into an XHTML template, and 4) convert the file using Calibre.  There are even more complex ways you can build those files, using all types of programs, but when I did the research, this is the one that seems to balance ease of use with control.  (Some people swear by Sigil or KindleGen or some combination of those programs and more.)

I highly recommend the tutorials by Paul Salvette, who covers the whole process in a lucid, step-by-step fashion.  However, some instructions may be sightly different for Mac users. especially for step 2 (or so I hear).

The Next Step in Covers

To do more advanced covers than you can pull of in PowerPoint or a similar program, you need to get into image editing software.  The expensive route is a combination of Adobe Photoshop (image editing) and Adobe InDesign (layout).   However, if you’re not ready to commit to Photoshop, you can replicate that in a less expensive (free) fashion by using a combination of GIMP (kind of like Photoshop) and Scribus (kind of like InDesign).  There are other programs you can use, but of the ones I looked at, these had the best combination of tools plus help documentation.   Even so, this was the most technologically challenging part of the learning curve for me (so, really, it’s the part I’m proudest of for getting as far as I have).

PODs

PODs are a different world than ebooks.  You cannot use the same file, even the same .doc file, and I would be very suspicous of anyone who says you can. The issues are complex and even arcane; however, with some research, it’s fairly easy to make a POD that’s difficult to distinguish from a big-publisher printed book.

Above all, do not go with a POD printer who charges you thousands of dollars in setup costs without first researching low-cost alternatives: CreateSpace (tied to Amazon), Lightning Source, and Lulu.com.  I have used CreateSpace and Lulu.com; I find the CreateSpace books more enjoyable as physical books, because the Lulu covers (when I did them, two years ago) had a tendency to curl quickly, and the pages seemed more like printer paper than book paper, which made the text near the gutter (in the crack near the book spine) hard to read.  I can’t say whether that’s still the case.

For software, I build my covers using the same techniques as above, but at 300 dpi and sized for my book following the provider’s guidelines (do the interior first; you need to know exactly how many pages the book has in order to calulate your spine size).  I build my interior files with MSWord, then save the files as a PDF using PDFCreator.  At some point, I may get sophisticated enough to need to use InDesign or Scribus to do interiors, but I’m not there yet.  You can do everything from drop caps to kerning in MSWord 2007.

As far as your design research goes, start with the free Wikibook Basic Book Design, which may not tell you everything you need to know, but will at least familiarize you with what issues you should start thinking about.

…And More

Pricing: There are multiple theories on this one; I’ll probably write more blog posts on it.   But I did write some posts on figuring out a lowball estimate for how much your fiction is worth, if you want to check those out.

Various design books that I recommend:

Other places to find free/cheap cover images:

Other places to find free/cheap fonts:

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

I’ve been working more on Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy, and I got to a statement that made me shake my head:

Consider that the whole Wonderland story itself is one huge dream, since Alice’s sister wakes her up for tea at the end.  Alice never really visited an actual place called Wonderland; she just thought she did.  –Robert Arp

Um.  No.

When you are dealing with ideas rather than facts, you have to take into consideration that the rules for ideas do not match the rules for facts–and it’s often useful to be aware that what we normally think of as “facts” are so moderated by ideas that the rules for facts may not apply. For example:  “This sweater is red.”  However, if you look at a red sweater under a green light, it’s black; our perception skews the color.  Is the sweater “really” black or red?  Color is reflected light: so it really depends on the color of light it’s reflecting, doesn’t it?  It isn’t “really” red or “really” black–it’s just that most of the light we use would tend to show it as red.  Practically speaking?  Red.  But in “reality,” it’s not red, because you can’t define “reality” as “only in broad daylight,” which is the only time it’s really the red that we expect to see.  Painters know this.

Is this a pipe or isn’t it?

It is a pipe, and it is not a pipe.  Opposite facts may not be true, but opposite ideas are often true.  Love is the best…love is the worst.  Bacon is good…bacon is bad.  Death is tragic…death is hilarious.

Did Alice go to Wonderland, or did she dream it?

It’s perfectly acceptable, when dealing with ideas,  to be inconsistent.  Even paradoxical.  Because often the opposite “truths” of an idea are both true.  Alice both did and did not go to Wonderland: it’s a story.  The characters in Wonderland are both logical and illogical.  Words both have meaning that cannot be changed and are whatever we make of them (Humpty).  We can believe six impossible things before breakfast (White Queen) and in order to reach our destinations, we often have to walk away from them (Red Queen).  The Wonderland of the first book both is and is not the Wonderland of the second; the Red King both does and does not dream Alice into being.  A pun is both logical and illogical; it both follows the rules and breaks them.

We think, “The opposite of something true is false,” but it’s very hard for an idea to be true, that is, factual.  Because ideas are things we think and not facts, it’s very easy for the opposite of an idea to be another idea, rather than just untrue.  Yet we behave as though our ideas were facts: the opposite of me is other; the opposite of my point of view is bullshit.  Yet many points of view have utility–even contradictory ones.  Overall, it seems to take many different types of people (with correspondingly different points of view) in order to make things work.  We can’t all be pawns, after all, or deuces of spades, or even all chessmen, or even all gamesplayers–who will make the chessboards?  Who will sell them?  Yet we think that people who aren’t like us, or who don’t think like us, are liars, stupid, foolish, ignorant, and even inhuman.  The pattern of thinking “the opposite of true is false” is a limitation, a hindrance–a poor tool.

The more valuable pattern, I think, would be not to teach a girl of ten or eighteen (when the books were written, relative to Alice Liddell’s age) that there is one best strategy to follow through life–for example, logic–but to teach her that no matter what people say, no matter that one minute they’re doing you “good” and another doing you “harm,” no matter what changes you go through, there’s a you there, and there are many tools (including but not limited to logic) that you can use to navigate even the most absurd of situations, including breaking rules (even logical ones).  Many children find the Alice books perfectly terrifying–and they are.  They poke holes in what we think of as real, right down to the level of “truth.”

The fictional Alice can enter Wonderland through a rabbit-hole and exit it through a dream: it’s a story, which are both real things and dreams, and something else besides.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-02-19

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