If you’re pregnant and you know it, clap your hands

December 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm (Articles by others)

According to this Huffington Post article, 1 in 450 women don’t know they’re pregnant until after twenty weeks have passed – that’s halfway through the pregnancy.

Since I was about twelve, the familiar joke of “You must be pregnant” in response to every known symptom of physical illness has cropped up over and over again. Maybe there’s a frightening amount of truth to that (for one thing, estimates on the rate of miscarriage are as high as 70% – but most of those occur before the woman’s period is even due, so they pass unnoticed).

It seems insane that anyone could fail to notice they were pregnant for more than about a month – and most of us hear a statistic like the one above and immediately think, “Wow, that’s some serious denial.” There’s some truth in that – I am quite close to a man who realised his girlfriend was pregnant long before the thought had occured to her – but apparently in most cases the story is quite different. Apparently the body will very often deliberately hide a pregnancy from the mother by releasing only a small amount of the HCG hormone – the one that causes nausea and stops periods (amd the one that turns urine or blood tests positive for pregnancy). It means a miscarriage is more likely, but it also means that factors like maternal stress or illness are reduced (useful, for example, if the mother is poor and malnutritioned). Ultimately, it gives the baby its best chance of survival.

I like this article because it confirms what I’ve felt all along – the worse I feel, the better off my baby is. It also confirms what several people have said: Bad pregnancy, good birth (because many of the hormones are designed specifically to help with the birth – like relaxin, which is doing horrible things to my back, hips, and digestive system, but useful things to the birth canal).

So that’s. . . nice.

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How to exist

November 5, 2011 at 8:59 am (Articles by others)

. . . as a creative person.

Here is a semi-pictorial article on how to succeed as an artist (according to a successful artist). Free sample:

#3 Write the book you want to read.

#8 Be nice (the world is a small town).

And here is your cat pic of the week (she might look high and mighty here, but she’s fallen off that perch several times in the last few weeks (*scramble scramble thump mreow?!*):

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The myth of self-publishing success

October 29, 2011 at 8:49 am (Advanced/Publication, Articles by others, Beginners, Writing Advice)

Hollywood and the media feed us a lot of rubbish. Every school classroom (particularly in a rough area) is full of world-class singers/dancers who simply don’t realise how amazing they are until a teacher inspires them to follow their dreams. Every socially awkward girl is actually stunningly beautiful after a haircut and some contact lenses. Every nerdy kid is actually a mathematical genius. . . and so on.

I’m sorry, but it’s just not true. You are almost certainly not a misunderstood genius. Even with a whole lot of hard work, you probably won’t win gold at the Olympics (you’d be amazed how many people don’t). And even if you spend a year – or five years, or even ten years – working on a book (or ten books) – you may not be very good.

I fully understand how hard it is to accept one’s own lack of writing talent – particularly after a lot of hard work towards a goal that other people seem to achieve so easily. A LOT of people don’t accept it – and so they blame mainstream publishing.

And thus is born the extremely powerful myth that self-publishing is the road to success. The few tales of actual self-publishing success are given a huge amount of media time, because they make a great story. The reason they make a great story is because they’re extremely, extremely rare.

Here‘s one of many true and rational articles standing up against the tidal wave of “believe in yourself and self-publish your way to fame and fortune” articles that we’ve all seen.

And here’s my cat, showing us a far likelier road to happiness:

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A writing scam? For ME?!?!

October 13, 2011 at 8:28 pm (Advanced/Publication, Articles by others, Beginners, Daily Awesomeness, Writing Advice)

A few days ago, I received my first ever personalised writing scam via email. Here is the full text of that email:

Dear Ms Curtis,

I am writing on behalf of a new international publishing house, JustFiction! Edition.

In the course of a web-research I came across a reference of your manuscript Worse Things Happen at Sea and it has caught my attention.

We are a publisher recognized worldwide, whose aim it is to help talented but international yet unknown authors to publish their manuscripts supported by our experience of publishing and to make their writing available to a wider audience.

JustFiction! Edition would be especially interested in publishing your manuscript as an e-book and in the form of a printed book and all this at no cost to you, of course.

If you are interested in a co-operation I would be glad to send you an e-mail with further information in an attachment.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards
Evelyn Davis
Acquisition Editor

Just Fiction! Edition is a trademark of:
LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing GmbH & Co. KG
Dudweiler Landstr. 99
66123 Saarbrücken

Phone: +49 681 3720-310
Fax: +49 681 3720-3109
Email: e.davis@justfiction-edition.com

Register court/number: Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRA 10752
Identification Number (Verkehrsnummer): 12917

Partner with unlimited liability/Persönlich haftende Gesellschafterin: VDM Management GmbH
Register court/number: Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRB 18918

Managing directors/Geschäftsführer: Dr. Wolfgang Philipp Müller, Christoph Schulligen, Esther von Krosigk

This is a fairly simple scam. They don’t charge money up front, but will presumably gain that cash by offering me copies of the book – probably at a reduced rate. The sales of that book to the author are probably the only sales that will ever happen. Interestingly, the first book in their “catalogue” was “published” less than a month ago. (Never publish with a company less than two years old and/or one that has no successful titles.)

It is clear from the email above that not only do they not bother with editing, they don’t actually bother READING the books they represent. In fact, my “manuscript” Worse Things Happen at Sea is a twitter tale – all of about 1000 words. They list a large number of distributors (many of which are probably actually wholesalers, meaning that they STORE books, not sell them – I strongly doubt any actually “distribute” books to bookshops). One of the American distributors sounded familiar, so I searched Writer Beware and found this excerpt about it:

Now, one of the tricky things in this industry is that one of the major players, Ingram, is both a distributor and wholesaler. They have separate arms to handle each. But, per the descriptions above, there’s a vast difference on what they do if you pay them to be your distributor, versus merely having a listing with them in their wholesale catalog.

Unfortunately, a lot of small presses and POD self-publishing companies try to make you believe they have the distributor relationship when, in fact, they have the wholesale relationship. Since Ingram won’t reveal its client list, it’s hard to know which is which. However, I believe that right now, Ingram requires that a publisher that’s a distribution client must have about $20K+ of income from Ingram in order to qualify. If you think logically, would even PublishAmerica, the powerhouse of POD presses, qualify? Probably not. PA has the titles, but not the sales.

Kids, here’s the take-home message: There are a lot of scams out there (plus, to make things worse, some helplessly naiive publishers who simply don’t have the business sense to function). Never forget that. If someone approaches you with a wonderful shiny offer, they have a reason, and – I’m sorry – it’s very rarely because your writing is as good as your dreams. Often people are dodgy even when it’s you approaching them (setting up a web site isn’t difficult). If their books aren’t on shelves at your bookshop, they’re not actually getting sold – and yours won’t be sold to the public either.

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Flow chart of speculative fiction

October 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm (Articles by others)

This is a rather beautiful map of book recommendations in the fantasy and scifi fields, based on personal preferences.

It’s such a good idea I plan to make one just for steampunk – make your recommendations now or forever hold your peace 🙂

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Versatile Blogger Award

September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm (Advanced/Publication, Articles by other bloggers, Articles by others, Beginners, Steampunk, Writing Advice, Writing Ranting)

I am, according to General Happenings in my House, hereby awarded a Versatile Blogger award! Thank you 🙂

My duties, upon receiving this much-coveted honour, are as follows:

1) Thank the awarder by linking back to their blog;

2) Pass on this award to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know I have done so;

3) List 7 things about myself.



Here are some great blogs (in no particular order):

1) Ripping Ozzie Reads – an accomplished group of Australian specfic writers (including Richard Harland, Rowena Cory Daniells, and Margo Lanagan) share their know-how.

2) Pub Rants – pub as in “publishing”. This is the blog of a US agent – again, lots of great advice.

3) KT Literary blog – another US agent (in fact, she is friends with # 2).

4) Nathan Bransford – US ex-agent and children’s author (again with the advice). He also runs great forums.

5) The Intern – this time it’s a US ex-intern, but her advice is still excellent (more on writing, less on the industry).

6) Behler Blog – this time it’s a US editorial director giving free industry help.

7) Writer Beware – there are a LOT of scams out there designed to prey on writers. This blog investigates, then tells the horrible truth.

8) Call My Agent! – more industry advice, but this time from an anonymous Sydney agent.

9) Terrible Minds – advice, interviews, and very rude rants from author Chuck Wendig.

10) Slushpile Hell – when a writer needs a little more sarcasm in their day.

11) Brass Bolts – a steampunk writer blogs about steampunk (the pics are especially good).

12) Trial by Steam – steampunk articles and events.

13) Multiculturalism for Steampunk – a seriously excellent and well-researched steampunk niche blog.

14) Antipodean Steampunk Adventures – an Australian steampunk who actually builds his own stuff.

15) Blue Milk – a feminist blog on motherhood (not always safe for work).

Well! That list certainly answers the question, “So, Louise, what do you do all day?”

Now for seven things about myself:

1) Umm. . . I attempted my first novel when I was seven years old (it was about a family of cats – naturally).

2) My mum read the Narnia series in hospital after giving birth to me (I’m re-reading it at the moment).

3) I speak semi-fluent Indonesian, and once considered marrying an Indonesian man I was close to.

4) I leave the curtains open until dark most nights in case the sunset is pretty.

5) Only one of my grandparents is still alive, and he is not well.

6) I can juggle.

7) I have pre-ordered “Goliath” by Scott Westerfeld; the third book in his brilliant YA steampunk trilogy (“Leviathan” is the name of the first book).

Thank you and good evening!

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Make me care

September 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm (Articles by others, Beginners, Writing Advice)

A story needs two things: An interesting character, and a serious problem.

“Interesting” and “serious” are where it gets more complicated.

Here is an article on how to make your reader care about your characters (by giving them a reason to care before the action explodes on the page). If they don’t care, they won’t read on.

Some other day I’ll talk about how to make readers care FAST – before you lose them. I reckon you’re lucky if you get two hundred words.


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Are writing courses worthwhile?

August 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm (Articles by others, Writing Advice)

This Huffington Post article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-joseph-davis/mfa-programs-_b_929183.html – links aren’t working today) argues that they are.

In my opinion, the most important pieces of information writers should get from such courses are:

Spelling and grammar (don’t laugh; it’s necessary)

The ability to follow submission instructions (so, so necessary)

Industry manners – eg don’t ever reply to a rejection

Some realism about (a) How long things take (b) How much writers earn, and (c) How few unpublished novels ever get published.

In my (reasonably limited) experience, none of these are taught in writing courses. But some other useful things are. Perhaps more importantly, you meet other writerly types, and may end up with a decent critique group.

Pictured: not a decent critique group.

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It’s not about the money. . . or is it?

August 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm (Advanced/Publication, Articles by others, Writing Advice)

I’ve said about a million times that if you don’t enjoy writing for the sake of writing – don’t write.

Crime pays more often than writing does, and I’m willing to bet there are more millionaire fraudsters than there are millionaire writers.

On the other hand. . .

If you want to get published, you need to actually connect both with individual readers (ie you need to make sense, and to CONVEY all that emotion in your imagination) and with the market (ie you need to obey certain conventions, such as a 60,000-80,000 word length in young adult books).

Lynn Price of the Behler Blog talks a bit about the difference between “writing for the love” and “lazy writing” here.

Speaking of lazy, I keep telling Ana that leaving muddy pawprints on my notes does not constitute co-writing. It doesn’t seem to bother her. 

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The dreaded semicolon. . . of DOOOOOOOM!!!

August 13, 2011 at 8:47 am (Articles by others, Beginners, Writing Advice)

The semicolon has been known to divide loving families into shouting melees, and to send careers down in flames. It is the most contentious and passion-inducing piece of punctuation – and the most addictive.

How NOT to use a semicolon:

1. Frequently. I once had an editor add more than a dozen semicolons to a single page of a story (and there weren’t any lists). When I politely pointed out that he’d let his punctuation run away with him, he took another look and soon apologised profusely. My peeps, don’t let over-semicoloning happen to you!

2. To show off. This is particularly true in academia, where the person marking you has been scarred by both #1 and #3. Between Year 11 and the end of university (which was heavy on English courses) I discovered that a significant number of teachers and lecturers were so passionately opposed to semicolons – any semicolons – that they would mark essays more harshly if a single semicolon was spotted lurking (correctly or otherwise) in the text. For this reason, I did not use semicolons in essays for six years. I honestly recommend you do the same.

3. Incorrectly. If in doubt, use a comma. It will be correct.

Moving on, here is a simple tutorial on semicolons, with pretty pretty pictures to help you through the strain of intellectual effort on a Saturday morning. Enjoy.

And here is Ana. . . lurking like a semicolon gone bad:

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