Wednesday, July 30, 2014

PICKS Giveaway on Goodreads!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Picks by Rocci Doria

Picks

by Rocci Doria

Giveaway ends August 05, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
If you're not familiar with Goodreads, it's essentially a place to keep track of your book collection, review books, discover books, and, only if you like, interact with other readers and authors via message boards and a loose, semi-crunchy social networking framework. They do have an email newsletter you can opt out of, but I skim it.

I'll only actually get information for the five winners (so I can ship them the signed, glossy-covered 6" x 9" Print Bonus Editon for FREE), and I'll be scrapping it once the books are delivered. That's it!

"But Roc, wait! Why are you giving away your books?"

Glad you asked. Reviews! Picks is running a little short on them on Goodreads (like, it has none) and though the two it has on Amazon are great, it's still only two.

But no pressure.

It's actually been a lot of fun just introducing people to my stuff in hard copy, and I'm hearing things in person I never thought I would. It looks like the ride is getting ready to start, so everybody please grab a seat, lower your shoulder harness, keep hands and feet inside the conveyance at all times and take a deep breath... this one feels like it's gonna be a good one.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Holmesing

Curious as we are, humans have created a another addiction I've recently had to come to grips with, and I'm having a harder time fighting this one off. It's the datastream, the torrent you can dip a toe into when you need, but of course you just dive in instead and ride it out until... whenever.

I've heard more than a few very smart people say our brains aren't designed to deal with this much information and content. I'd say that's lucky, or we'd all be repositories of cat videos, screaming baby memes and inane pop star quotes we don't even want in our heads. Worse, we'd have no choice but to inflict it upon those closest to us. Some do this anyway, right at the point of glancing impact with our consciousness, so as to seize the fleeting opportunity. It's one of a few reasons I am not and will never be on Facebook, but I won't be casting the first stone at the nearest over-sharer either.

I think I'm like a lot of people in that I take in current events as a form of entertainment masquerading as the noble pursuit of knowledge and awareness. It's easily exposed, though - no matter how much time I waste on political and tech blogs, podcasts and Twitter (my favorite news feed and semi-idle-time-suck), I always know just enough of a story to get myself into trouble with somebody who knows more. I often remember hearing the rest, but I wasn't able to summon it, no matter how many times I'd heard it before.

On the other hand, if I've had to ferret out a technical answer or I run across something I can apply to one project or other I'm already on, it tends to stick the first time, even if I don't get around to using it for months.

Distressingly, I've caught myself thinking of this as Holmesing, after Sherlock Holmes deciding the knowledge that the earth travels around the sun, and not vice-versa, is irrelevant to him and so ignores it to save space for information he may actually need later. It'd be great if the process were this conscious and utilitarian in my head, but it isn't.

It'd also be great if I wasn't starting to make words like this up. I really hope I just read it somewhere.

Anyway, abandon all faith etc. etc. because I'm about to range into another vice-masquerading-as-virtue here in the self-contradictory concept of Time Management, a hookah in that great opium den marketed as Self Help. I can only say that it might be worth it.

For me, the trick seems to be to forget managing time. Manage attention instead. Recently, I've heard a lot of talking heads advocating a digital detox day once every so often - no internet, no devices, etc. This is impossible for me as I currently live on-call, but it did get me thinking. Even if our brains aren't designed to absorb the infinite information on offer all day every day, they are designed to try. They were built for an environment where new information was limited, often difficult to recognize, and valuable beyond measure. Now it's everywhere, obvious and mostly useless. It's easier to recognize this if you get a chance to think about what you're taking in, and whether you really got anything you wanted.

One thing I've been trying out with at least a little success lately is (loosely) categorizing information I want to stay on top of, and sticking (somewhat) within that. Since I live on a PC, that means giving my net surfing a little structure. Here's what my typical tab set looks like:


This is my little one from my laptop. The big one on my workstation has a couple more news-related tabs and my fantasy golf league because it's on Yahoo, and Yahoo likes their features to be impossible to find. Also, I tend to leave tabs up for things I'm working through or articles I don't have time to finish at the moment.

It's a double-edged sword, but mostly this enables me to check things quickly I would otherwise have floating in the back of my mind, and know for later if a video or article I'll want to check out is up already. The other stuff with a low signal:noise ratio like Twitter, Tumblr, Google News, etc. get relegated to rarer and rarer dead spots in my day, like as I'm eating lunch or waiting in line at the grocery store. 

Podcasts and audiobooks hold a unique and precarious position in this discipline because the passive nature of listening to them is deceptively active. If I'm doing something tedious and/or mindless, it's not a problem until I have to do something else, but two pressures emerge here: first, I don't want to lose the thread of something I've been listening to, and second, content in these mediums have a way of stacking up in a huge to-do pile. This is more true of podcasts since they're usually free and distributed on a regular basis, but if you've ever had trouble putting down a book, you'll likely have that same trouble with an audiobook. So even though I can listen and do other things, I've had to learn to let them pile up for a time I'll get a chance to go through several at a stretch, and maybe just put music on when I'm not going to have the time or attention span to get through a whole episode or chapter. Storage on your phone is cheap these days; storage in your brain isn't.

All that said, it's a work in progress. I still hold disjointed conversations about news and reblog the occasional incredibly stupid gif on Tumblr, but that exhausting feeling of knowing a million headlines and no actual stories is starting to fade. It's also bringing back a clearer, less jittery hand to my writing, which is going to matter a lot over the next few years. 

Or until we come up with the next big distraction.
_________________________________
P.S. 
If you're not distracted enough and yet somehow made it through this entire post, here are some podcasts I cannot recommend highly enough:
  • BBC World Update: Daily Commute
    • I wake up with this every morning. Well produced, wide-reaching and possessed of a morning-friendly tone.
  • Political Wire Podcast
    • More or less non-partisan examination of current political events, with good, non-shouty guests of every political stripe.
  • Fresh Air
    • Something I wish I'd known about years ago. Really good interviews and features.
  • Planet Money
    • Stories deep inside business and economics. They're not all like this, but a great example was about a six week project on the T-shirt industry, from growing the cotton to selling them on their site. Most features are one episode and most are pretty fascinating.
  • Wait, Wait
    • Funny and prescient panel show with comedians and humorists riffing on the news. Can occasionally be hit or miss, so if you do get one that misses, give it another chance the next week.
  • Commonwealth Club
    • TED talks from back when they were just "talks." Generally the format is a guest speaker and a Q&A. It's ostensibly non-partisan but it does take place in San Francisco, so...
  • Star Talk Radio 
    • Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, not TMZ. Probably most famous for the reboot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos show airing on Fox now, he's been a force in the nerd and hobby-nerd communities for years now. I could listen to this guy talk science for hours on end.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In with an Egg Timer

The editor also admonishes us to Intend The Pun
Indie Writers Monthly's inaugural anthology just hit the stands at Amazon, and I'm humbled to be in it alongside some formidable indie talent. The theme is time travel, and as editor Briane Pagel points out in the foreword, nobody had the same take on it.
"The stories in this collection are both above average and amazingly diverse. As I was reading them, I kept thinking how different each person's conception of time travel was..."
It's true. Time floats between rigid construct and trickster's plaything, flowing river and hopelessly tangled knot in a frayed rope. Sometimes people even fall out of time by no doings of their own, sometimes to return, if only infrequently, sometimes not at all. It's refreshing to have my mind bent this way rather than the stock-issued paradoxes involving, for some reason, some version of killing Hitler or (???) your own grandfather.

A while back, I mentioned being late to this party - I only heard about the call for submissions about a week before the deadline - and having to bang something out in a hurry. It's been a while since I wrote to a deadline. Admittedly, it's not something I'd been missing in my life but it was part of an effective formula this time around and I didn't mind so much.

The story is called "The Egg Timer," which is about as specific as I'll get because along with the short deadline came another dose of Kryptonite for me: a 1000 word limit. Or thereabouts. It was loose, for which I was grateful, because I've never been able to squeeze much of anything into less than 3000 words. That being said, I did manage to press and pinch and squeeze something into about 1400, which IWP very graciously accepted.

To give you much more than the opening paragraph would be too much, and that or less would be to mislead you completely so I'll just say this: friggin' read it. It's about the length of this blog post and a hell of a lot more fun, and it currently resides in a trove of good time travel stories by some authors you'll want to know.

So that's my self-promotion for today. Check.

Getting back to the process though: a lot of things happened in writing this that never have before. Though it was little more than happenstance, somehow Briane Pagel (@whyihatepeople) saw me promoting Picks on Twitter, and let me know there was still time to submit.

Allow me to digress one more time: A while back, I went through a period of about six or seven years where I submitted regularly to anthologies and zines small and large, online and off, without moving one story. I got a lot of form rejections and enough personal "thanks-it's-great-but-it's-not-right-for-us" notes that I was done trying to shoehorn my stories in anywhere. I eschewed the very concept of publishing until the moment I discovered KDP. That's worthy of at least one post on it's own, and I may even get around to writing that post someday but for now, suffice it to say it was a span of about six hours from that revelation to downloading Addie as a Kindle book. My first cover really sucked though.

Picks went up a couple of days later. All of that was about a year and a half ago, and outside of tweaking covers a little and getting into the habit of running promos, I didn't really think much about it.

And that's what I was doing when I got this tweet:
There's a HUGE difference between parsing a million different fiction markets and their various requirements, and having an editor send you a link out of the blue. Huge.

I'd never written anything at all involving time travel, which baffled me when I realized it. That, the short deadline and the tiny word limit all made me do something else I've never done before, which was bounce a few ideas off of people I know. Sounding it out that way, I came away with an idea that I knew could never be less than a novel, let alone 1000 words, but I shrugged and sat down to write it.

That's where I broke through the treeline. As soon as I had words on the page, it took on a new form and went in a completely different direction - they always do that. It used to frustrated me but I've learned to trust the rigmarole my brain does. My writing mind (muse, if you like; I personally hate that word) has a mind of its own and it does not like me telling it what to do. I still have a somewhat related idea for a longer story, but the short one was down in a few hours, and, nine or ten drafts later, is on the shelf. Again, if you haven't already, go get it.

This has been a fun and oddly enlightening experience. It's nice to see my name on a byline after so long of, well, not. It's rare I don't catch myself semi-consciously editing something I've marked finished in my head, but it's been a couple of weeks since I submitted "The Egg Timer," and I didn't catch myself doing that this time around in the anthology. I don't know how long the longer idea will continue to incubate while I'm tied up with other things - I'm working on another novel that's been dogging me, on and off and in various forms, for about eight years - but I'm still looking forward to writing it and, knowing me, it'll jump up and wrestle my attention away from everything else sooner or later. I hope it brings a good, sharp set of teeth.

____________
P.S.
Occasionally I'll be posting critical reviews, mostly of popular novels, on this blog. With regard to this or any other publication I take part in, I recuse... it's just too weird. I would only have good things to say in this case  anyway, and editor Briane Pagel does a great job of touching on, without attempting to summarize or weigh against each other, each of the stories in the foreword. That's enough.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Picks in PRINT Part 2

Createspace Paperback Reinforcement
I was tempted to do an unboxing video of this, but that seemed a little over the top. Got my first paperback copy of Picks today, and I'll plug Createspace  one more time because they're scary-good. The cover printing is very high quality (if digital) and quite glossy (though they have a matte option too). The construction and binding looks and feels durable. I went with white pages over cream, and it's a good, opaque, just-bright-enough white.

For some reason, I was completely prepared for this to look like crap. If you can do some or all of the technical work, it's pretty cheap to do and it's got the power of Amazon and a number of other distribution channels behind it, so the quality could easily have taken a back seat.

Another feature is the impressive speed. I uploaded the last of the cover art on Monday night, got the email that it was approved on Tuesday morning, and it was up on Amazon in time for me to order it that night and get it today, Thursday. Now, I've worked in a number of print shops, so with the right toys and processes, this isn't mystical to me... but taken all together, the highly automated yet still fairly flexible process, the speed to market and the size of that market, it's really an incredible thing, particularly for those of us old enough to remember actual typewriters in actual use.

Speaking of incredible things, I wasn't quite prepared for how real this became with a physical copy in my hand. It's elating, but I'm guessing it's a little dangerous in that it feels like a lot more than it actually is. Like I said, I could have run a vanity copy in a print shop, but that wouldn't have put an ISBN on the back -- I actually forgot and left the barcode space out of the original draft of the back cover design. It also wouldn't have gotten it up on Amazon, and it probably would have cost me about $6 if I did the work myself, and roughly $20 if I paid another shop to do it as well as this.

See what I mean? I'm still selling myself the idea.

It's still gotta get copies out. That's the next order of business as I work my day job and work on my next book, which, barring a huge spasm of short stories in the coming months, is going to be a novel. The trickiest part of this is going to be the keeping writing. Having the finished product in my hand is a novelty and one I've looked forward to in a vague way for a very long time, but it's not any sort of end.

I'll say this though: if you have something to print, do it. As I mentioned yesterday, no printed product should impart a feeling like this, at least not to me... but this one does.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Picks in PRINT

Picks Front Cover
Picks front cover
At various times I've been a geek with graphics chops and a graphics guy that can geek, and I went into printing because I enjoyed design. The slow and putrid death of that industry quickly beat that out of me.

So nowadays, I only do design when I feel like it and I've gotta say: some of the fun is back in it. I did the covers for both of my Kindle releases,  Addie and Picks, never thinking there was a chance in hell they'd ever see print, let alone together.

As of today, a print edition of Picks with Addie thrown in as a bonus is live in paperback on Amazon, thanks to their property Createspace. I only really decided to do this a few days ago, so I had to throw together a back cover. I don't know how much sense it makes to actually have blurbs and ad copy for a book that, as far as I know, will only be sold online, but I ran out of stock photo on the front (insert appropriate emoticon here). Nice recovery, eh?

Picks Back Cover
Picks back cover
Anyway, I can't wait to get my hands on the physical copy of this book. Having this kind of anticipation over a printed item is a little weird, given all the angst printed items have caused me over the years. As a consumer, I personally gave up physical books years ago, but it turns out most of my family and friends and everybody else have yet to make the leap. In fact, according to Pew Research only 4% of American readers have gone e-book-only, and only about three in ten actually read an e-book in the last year. That was one of those echo-chamber shocks for me, but it's got little to do with actually printing the book.

When you're at the stage of making, let's say zero-to-negligible money for all of the sweat you've poured into the page, you probably have a hard time talking to people about it. You get a lot of polite listens and the odd, half-hearted solicitation to read your stuff, but how does that pan out if you're a Kindle author? You give out cards with web addresses, you text and email links (even waiting for promos)... and they don't have a Kindle or even the app. Or they do, but they just never quite get around to it. Again, you can't put this on them -- everybody's got too much happening these days. I think this is one of the major reasons for writing workshops, Facebook groups and Twitter chats like #amwriting. Yeah, I know ostensibly they're about critical input, craft-work and the like, but they wouldn't be so marketing-heavy if they were very effective at these things.

If anybody ever reads this, I'll probably catch a mountain of shit for that. Preemptively, I answer all comers thusly:
"Meh."

But I'm interested to see what happens when I can slap a copy of the book in a potential reader's hand. I've got no illusions about making even half a living at this, so why am I doing it but to put my stories in other people's heads, any way I can?

Friday, July 4, 2014

On Being Reviewed

I didn't think this would make it out of my Tumblr drafts folder, but I’m compelled to get something down that I have trouble expressing. A funny thing happened to me on the way to bed the other night: I got a review. I got a really good Amazon review. And yes, I will be exploiting that in all of my social media timelines, but that’s not what this particular post is about.

I've really only loved to do three things in my entire life. One was graphic design, specifically print graphics, which depended heavily on the print medium’s continued existence and a more reserved, more aesthetically discerning working public than I think we may ever see again. Hence, the discipline as I understood it imploded and mixed it’s smoldering, leaden pellets with various forms of programming in order to continue to exist at all. I wasn't down. Please, please don’t make me code.

Another is snowboarding, which I fortunately didn't discover that until my 30th birthday or I’d likely be dead or worse by now.

Through it all (as every cliché goes), there was writing. It was there first and it’s still there now. You’d think I’d have done more with it in all that time, but in truth I've run from it most of my adult life, content to craft a really solid email on demand, or pen a very sound and physically existent letter to my grandparents. I mean, yeah, occasionally a story would flutter into my headlights and splatter across my field of vision, leaving me no choice but to sit down and bang out a bad draft just to squeegee it off… and yes, that did feel good… but that’s exactly what I was running from.

I got the notion pretty young that the whole "do what you love" trope was just that, a trope. I tested this theory of negation against my deep desire to work as a designer, and, with the help of a little inductive reasoning, it proved out. The balance of my working life has been a pinball’s journey of "sure I know how to do that" and learning on the fly… or not. It’s weird what people believe when you say it with properly ordered buzzwords and a pair of thin-rimmed glasses.

So now what? I’m still technically young (bring your own air quotes), as in not yet middle-aged. I've acquired a ramshackle, rusty pile of skills — the bulk of which currently command little demand and even less pay — and a few stories I either drunkenly poke at or feverishly rewrite whenever the mood hits. Other than that, I’m as wealthy as the first day I collected a paycheck from Bozwell’s Party Supply: I was fifteen and still couldn't afford a bike.

Time to stop running, I guess.

Last year I randomly threw a few stories up on Amazon in a collection I called Picks. I expected little and got even less, but I was okay with that; over the years I’d amassed fair stack of rejection letters and I just wanted somebody I didn't know — a reader, not a submissions editor — to read my shit. I figured if I even got reviews, they’d be tepid, like the tone of the form rejections to which I’d grown so very accustomed. For a year Picks didn't even get that, or actually anything, and I quit looking.

Not forgot, just quit looking. I missed the first review when it came in. It was good, and when I finally saw it, I was in the right frame of mind for it to change me a little.

Almost immediately after that, Indy Writers Monthly invited me to submit an original short for an anthology. I've never written anything so short, so tight, and in such short order that I liked at all, let alone how much I liked "The Egg Timer," which I submitted almost at the last second. More on that at a later date. Maybe.

This gets us back to the review. I was half asleep but I got a Twitter alert on my phone, which doesn't happen a lot. A reader tweeted this at me:

This shocked me awake. Not cogent, but awake. I tried to reply graciously but probably just sounded addled.

I don't know if anybody else does this, but on Amazon, you don't get any kind of notification when a review comes in, so you just have to look, either at the product page or at your author page. I did this incessantly when I first put the collection up, I generally do it when I'm running a promo, and, usually, I find time to do it in between. I have a few OCD ticks like this, but none quite so pronounced.

Anyway, I hadn't seen it, so after the tweet there was absolutely no choice in my universe but to go and look.


5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT writing; great stories. Weird stuff. July 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was an amazingly good collection of short stories in what could arguably be called the "literary horror" genre. It's literary, it's weird, it's well-written, it's really an outstanding showcase of this writer's talent, since the stories are each so different from one another.

(I picked this up based on its description. I don't know the author, and was not compensated in any way for this review.)

I love that this was so positive it needed a disclaimer.

I'm going to break some personal taboos of mine and admit a few things here. The tone of this blew my mind. To describe it how I read it wouldn't be fair to anybody and least of all Mz. Niehaus-Hard, but I will say that this is exactly the tone in which I personally want readers talking about my work. I didn't know it until I read it, but I fucking live for this.

Also, I never in my life expected to hear the word 'literary' applied to anything I'd written. I dig English, and pop culture and colloquialism have always been fun places to play, but I'm as woefully under-educated for writing as I am for the rest of the work I've faked my way through my whole life. I recognize that I probably shouldn't be calling attention to this if it does mean that much to me (particularly in cyberspace), but if intend to go down this road, I don't think I have a choice.

I'm kind of a private guy. I don't talk about myself or my own thoughts much without prompting, but if this blog isn't busy, it will at least be honest.

In a similar vein, I'm not currently all that prolific as a fiction writer, but I do think what I write is true.

There's room to improve in both departments if I want to keep getting better and stay creative. It's funny: I've been bending further and further away from my current career but toward nothing in particular. Now, a few words from a few strangers and I know where to go and damn the consequences. It's not just validation; it's truth, and the precise thing I've always striven for in my various occupations when I should have been ignoring it and striving for money. I mean, that's why I was there, and why I mostly gave this up.

So my deepest thanks to everyone that's read and enjoyed my work, and especially to those brave souls taking chances on us unknowns. To those very few who've reviewed my work so favorably, well, "thank you" doesn't really get us there, but seriously, thank you. I'm back where I belong, for better or worse, and I won't be looking back any time soon.