High Expectations Are Your Friend

A few days ago, Amazon announced that e-books with excessive content errors – spelling mistakes, formatting problems, etc. – will be flagged with a warning when a reader goes to download the book, and authors across Teh Interwebz are shitting themselves.

According to a blog post on Goodreader, beginning on February 3, “Amazon will begin showing customers a WARNING MESSAGE on the Kindle store detail pages of books that contain several validated quality issues.” The post goes on to say that the quality control – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is – will be a two-stage system. If a book contains a few small errors, the warning will be displayed and readers will still be able to download the content.

If the book is such an absolute dumpster fire that no one can read it without wanting to toss their Kindle across the room, then, gentle writers, your book will be suppressed and unavailable to download until you fix the problems.

U GUYZ R SO MEEN
U GUYZ R SO MEEN

And ever since this announcement came out, I’ve seen authors complaining about what a terrible idea it is, and trying to find all kinds of reasons why it’s terrible, and making excuses for why they just think it’s soooooo unfaaaaair that Amazon is doing this to them.

News flash, my little pumpkins: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

You know who it’s about? YOUR READERS. Because quite frankly, if you’re turning out a product – and yes, your book is a product – that’s full of spelling mistakes, bad formatting, weird grammar, and repeated demonstrations that you don’t understand the difference between your and you’re, then the people who might want to read that book deserve to know in advance. They just do. If you can’t be bothered to improve your product, then you don’t deserve to have them as your customers. Writing is a business, and readers are your customers, and they deserve better.

The enemy here is not Amazon. The enemy is not quality control. The enemy is, in fact, a culture in which writers have decided that they’re under no obligation to fix mistakes that make their books unreadable. If you go out for dinner, and your cheeseburger arrives undercooked and missing the cheese, and your fries have a hair on them, you’re not going to just sit back and nom on your food and be happy to do so, telling yourself, “Well, the cook tried really hard and I know how proud he is of this meal, so Imma just eat it anyway and then Yelp about how awesome it was.”

Are you?

Hell no, you’re not. Why would you expect your readers to do the same?

One of the reasons why self-publishing so often gets a bad rap is because there’s so much garbage out there. I’ve read some really amazing self-published work from the Kindle store – and I’ve downloaded some books that were absolute and utter shit, because the repetitive spelling mistakes and dodgy punctuation were so distracting that I couldn’t finish

the first chapter. Want to be taken seriously as a writer? Upload a quality product.

If you get a message from Amazon saying your book has mistakes in it, know what you do? FIX THEM. And then upload a new version of the file. If you think we, as writers, should be allowed some sort of pass on quality just because it’s a creative endeavor and not a Happy Meal that we’re producing, then you really need to evaluate whether or not you’re writing books for your readers, or whether you’re just indulging in Author: The Role Playing Game so you can live out your ego-masturbation fantasies.

Our readers deserve better. As writers, we owe it to them to produce a quality product. And if we can start doing a bit of quality control on ourselves before that product even gets to Amazon, then maybe someday – just maybe – self-publishing and small presses will become less of a joke. Amazon’s new policy might be what’s putting this all in motion, but it’s up to us – the producers of content – to fix the problem.

For the Love of Fairuza Balk, “The Craft” is Not a Documentary

I told someone during a conversation yesterday that I can always tell when the USA Network has aired The Craft for the 847th time because I start seeing an influx of emails from people who want to know how they can change their eye color with Teh Magicks.

This is the face I make when you ask for a spell to change your eye color.
This is the face I make when you ask for a spell to change your eye color.

Usually what happens is I’ll say “Erm, no, you can’t really do that,” and then, THEN GUESS WHAT. Nine times out of ten I’m told I’m wrong, I’m lying, or I must not be a Twoo Pagan or I would clearly know better. DUH PATTI.

Okay, Neve Campbell Jr., don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Here’s the thing. The Craft is actually not a terrible movie. I don’t hate it. It’s entertaining as shit, and it definitely has a delicious feminist spin that you don’t often see in the horror genre, especially with Balk’s chain-smoking leather jacket look. The costuming and makeup are so over the top that it’s clear the film doesn’t take itself too seriously (I know that when I’m feeling up to a bit of spellery, I always put on my finest Catholic school girl uniform and the eyeliner I got on clearance at Hot Topic).

Not only that, some of the ritual scenes are pretty good – although there’s no god called Manon in modern Pagan religious systems, like there is in the movie.

But folks, honestly, that whole eye-color changing thingie? NOPE. The spell to make you switch bodies with someone? NOPE. Making your friends levitate at a sleepover? Let me have my good friend the Nope-topus answer that one.

On the other hand, some of the stuff in The Craft is sort of rooted in reality, if you happen to believe in things of the magical persuasion.

Director Andrew Fleming hired Pat Devin, High Priestess of Covenant of the Goddess, as a “professional Wicca consultant,” which I didn’t even know was a job title but it is. Anyway, Devin was smart enough to put some material into the film that could be done by a competent practicing Pagan. You can’t change your eye color, but you could change the way people perceive your appearance. No one invokes a creepy god called Manon (there’s that whole he doesn’t exist bit), but many Pagans call down the goddesses of their tradition in the ritual known as drawing down the moon. The teen protagonists call the quarters and cast a circle, which is something found in some – not all – traditions of Wicca.

Honestly, the biggest complaint I have with the movie is there’s (sort of) a presumption that magic isn’t real, that it’s all just illusory, and while plenty of people do believe that, those of us who have lived magically for any length of time know that it’s really all just a matter of perception.

So when you send me a message asking for a spell to levitate your friend while you’re switching bodies with them and changing your eye color from brown to purple, and I tell you NOPE, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s not because this is some secret esoteric knowledge that us Olds like to keep away from the N00bs, and we’ll only tell you when you become a Level 12 Paladin. It’s certainly not because I don’t know my shit. It’s because that’s just not how magic works.

The Craft is good, fun, horror fiction. It’s not a documentary. If you want to learn How to Magic, there are metric shit-ton of resources out there, but The Craft ain’t one of them.

Oh, and just to be proactive, I think there’s a Harry Potter marathon coming up next week somewhere, and I won’t be answering questions about how to conjure up your Patronus, either.

 

 

Why I Don’t Read Vampire Romance

This originally appeared back in 2011, but it’s one of my favorites, and I wanted to re-run it, because vampires.

On Vampire Romance, and Why I Think It Sucks
Vampires is Skeery
Vampires is Skeery

This is partly inspired by a college essay I wrote a zillion years ago, and partly inspired by the recognition that I must be the only woman in America who doesn’t dig vampire romance. I should state ahead of time that in no way am I telling you that YOU should hate vampire romances. Read ’em if you got ’em. I’m just trying to explain why I personally think they suck.

At any rate, some thoughts on the whole vampire-as-sexxeh trope:

Between the Twilight series (bad seventh-grade fan-fiction), True Blood (repetitive softcore porn after Book 4), and the skyrocketing sales of various paranormal romance books, vampires are everywhere. Now more than ever, they seem to be portrayed as the tragic, romantic heroes, with little to no emphasis placed on that whole blood-drinking, throat-shredding thing.

The earliest written tale of vampires actually appears in the form of a German poem by Heinrich Ossenfelder, called simply The Vampire. Like later vampire stories, it’s pretty heavy on the erotica, particularly for being written in the 1700s. A few decades later, Thalaba the Destroyer was written, and was the first time a vampire showed up in English literature.

During the nineteenth century, lurid vampire tales became very popular, and both Coleridge’s Christabel and Joseph le Fanu’s Carmillia take advantage of the theme of taboo lust with their stories of lesbian vampires (yes, there were lesbian vampires even in the 1800s!). Finally, Bram Stoker delivered what some might call the quintessential piece of vampire lit, in Dracula, which he published in 1897.

These early pieces of vampire fiction were really quite risqué for their time – they combined death with sex and lust, which was rather frowned upon by polite society. Particularly during the Victorian era, when Stoker’s work came out, there was a good deal of sexual repression, and the image of the lustful vampire drinking the blood of the terrified virgin was considered scandalous. Nice girls did not read vampire fiction.

So now, a hundred-and-more years later, we’ve got nice girls obsessing over whether they are Team Edward or Team Jacob. That is, everyone but me (although one might use this as a chance to question whether I’m a Nice Girl or not). Here’s why I don’t enjoy vampire romance:

(1) When you boil it down to its roots, vampire romance is all about repressed female sexuality. Look at Edward Cullen (worst.boyfriend.ever) and wonder if he’d be so into Bella if she was Slutty McPopular Girl, instead of Shy Quiet Loner Virgin. Doubt it.

(2) Vampires are dead people. I don’t care how much you bedazzle them, I can’t find the not-so-thin premise of necrophilia attractive. Besides, if the dude doesn’t have a pulse, how does he get it up? I mean, I hate to be all “put out or get out,” but I’ve got some standards. Sort of.

(3) A four-hundred year old vampire hungering for the love of a teen girl (or really, anyone under the age of about, oh, let’s say eighty) kind of verges a bit on pedophilia. If the vampire was just a fifty year old trucker following you home from the grocery store, no one would find anything appealing about this romance at all.

(4) Vampires started out as Scary Creatures of the Night that ripped apart throats and terrified villages. For them to suddenly be erotic squicks me out a bit. Even Anne Rice’s LeStat and Louis (oh, Brad Pitt, so pretty with fangs) were terrifying in their own debauched madness, despite the overt sexuality of the story. The lust and sex and erotica was overshadowed by the frustration and rage and horror at what they had become.

(4a) Vampire romance novelists tend to nice-ify their heroes. Seriously, if see one more book about a vampire who is a fucking vegetarian or only drinks the blood of dead hamsters so he doesn’t have to Killz Teh Innocent Peeples, I’m going to hurl.

That having been said, don’t get me wrong, I love a *good* vampire story. One where I get scared by things that go bump in the night, or one that makes me stick my hand through a doorway to flip the light on before I enter. You know, just in case something’s in there that might try to kill me.

For some great scary vampire fiction without romance or sparkles, I’d recommend any of the following:

Go read one of these. Seriously, it’s worth the effort, and it will give you a whole new perspective on vampire fiction as a genre in its own right.

Erotica That Doesn’t Suck

I originally wrote this post back in 2012, when I was still working at the Big Chain Bookstore, because all the hullaballoo over 50 Shades of Grey was driving me batshit crazy. Not because people wanted to read erotica, but because 50SoG is SO FUCKING BADLY WRITTEN. No kidding, you guys, I have a three chapter rule, and I could barely make it that far.

fd8Anyway, so I’m re-running this because, in the almost four years since I wrote my original post, even more people are reading erotica and apparently I’m That Friend You Ask About Smut. If 50SoG is gateway smut, here’s some stuff you need to read that’s actually GOOD SMUT.

Erotica That’s Way Better than 50 Shades of Boring

It originally started as Twilight fanfic (yeah, I hated that too) only there’s no vampires and more bondage. However, it’s tedious, repetitive and boring – and yet I’m selling a zillion copies a day, because it’s publicly-approved erotica. Matt Lauer says it’s okay for you to read it, ladies! Here’s the problem. It’s erotica for people who have never READ erotica before. It’s lame. Anastasia and Christian Grey are so boring that I don’t care if they ever get laid or not. There’s SO much stuff out there that’s written at a higher caliber.

Obviously, everyone has a different list of stuff that arouses them or that they find appealing. And of course, everyone has things they find just plain UNappealing. This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it’s a good starting point if you’d like to read some erotica that has a plot other than just “Golly! I’m submissive!”

That’s right, my friends, I’m reading smut so you don’t have to.

Authors to check out:

Maya Banks: Her KGI series is a lot of fun – it’s about a group of four brothers who run a paramilitary consulting agency. The guys are hot, the heroines are smart and sassy and generally don’t sit around waiting to be rescued, and the sex scenes are smokin’ hot. Banks also writes a series with titles like Sweet Seduction and Sweet Temptation, and they focus on relationships that have a dom/sub angle. WAY better stuff than 50 Shades.

Opal Carew: Writes some pretty hot, pretty graphic erotica. A number of her books focus on “unconventional” stuff, particularly menage (M/F/M) and swinging. Well written and believable.

Jaci Burton: Writes straight up F/M erotica with Happy Ever After endings. Reasonably good plot lines, strong female characters, and generally men who are not obnoxious. Pretty hot sex scenes.

Dominique Adair: Spicy erotica, typically F/M with occasional variations, some light BDSM, a bit of paranormal (vampires, etc). Pretty good stuff, and she lives around Columbus, too, so you can support a local author if you buy her books.

Lora Leigh: Lighter-weight erotica with Happy Ever After endings, but well written and strong characters.

Ann Herendeen: Writes historical erotica with a number of variations: F/M, F/F, M/M, and menage included. Entertaining, lots of humor tucked in among the naughtiness. Her Pride/Prejudice puts a whole new spin on the relationships between the Darcys and others.

Also, adding this in because since the original post, I’ve discovered:

Tessa Dare: Hot ‘n sexy Regency romance. I love the Spindle Cove series, and the Castles Ever After books are seriously hot – all of them feature sassy and smart heroines and leading men who are fantastic and believable at the same time.

Meeting Other Pagans

I get a lot of questions from people who lead in with “I’m the only Pagan in my town!”

You might be, rabbit, you might… but there’s also a really good chance that there are a boatload of other Pagan-y types in your town – hell, maybe in your own neighborhood – who are thinking exactly the same thing.

Keep in mind that since Paganism is not a single religion but a collection of thousands of different spiritual paths, there’s no clearinghouse list of all of the people who self-identify under this heading. However, there are a number of ways to find and meet other Pagans in your area – it just takes a little bit of effort.

But here’s the good news: technology has made it so easy to meet new people that you can figure out where they are before you even leave your house!

Want to meet other Pagans? GO WHERE THE PAGANS ARE:

  1. The internet. We’re everywhere.
  2. Public events like PPD.
  3. Metaphysical shops and expos.
  4. Coffee houses, bookstores, your yoga class, and probably the next PTO meeting.

Want to know more? Great! Here you go: How to Meet Other Pagans in Your Area

The Christians and the Pagans

Random note: The Christians and the Pagans is one of my favorite holiday songs, by Dar Williams. Go listen to it on YouTube.

Anyway, I’ve noticed over the past zillion years that there tends to be an awful lot of Christian-bashing in the Pagan community. Not all the time, but enough that it’s noticeable, and enough that I get emails like the one here: Do Pagans Hate Christians?

A reader says, "I've been studying Paganism recently, and although I'm very drawn to it, there's one thing that really concerns me. I've met several Pagans who are pretty vocal in their hatred of all things Christian. I was raised Christian, I have Christian family members, and I don't have anything against that particular religion, I just know that it's not the right one for me. Once I get involved in the Pagan community, will I be expected to badmouth Christianity too? This seems counterproductive, if we Pagans want to be met with tolerance ourselves."

Counterproductive as fuck, yo.

Here’s the thing, guys. I’ve been Pagan since I was around eighteen-ish, which means that’s been nearly three decades of tree-hugging, dirt-worshiping, naked-moonlight-dancing polytheism… and I’ve never felt obligated to hate anyone based upon their religion, whether it be Christianity or Other. Have I disagreed with people’s religious viewpoints? ABSOLUTELY. But my friends who are Christian are good people, and if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be my friends. They do good things and they are willing to overlook our differences in theology, so why shouldn’t I be able to do the same in return?

You guys, honest, if you want to demand respectful interfaith relationships, it goes both ways. Don’t get shitty with your Christian friends and family members who think your path is the wrong one, when you’ve just called their supreme being an asshole.

 

Stop With the Emotions, Laydeez!

First, I need to preface this by saying I kind of struggled with whether or not I wanted to share my thoughts on this, and that’s because I know for a fact that several of my friends think the article I’m about to discuss is a really good one. I know this because they’ve shared it on various social media thingies.

And then after about eleven seconds of waffling, I said, “Nah, fuck it, Imma write it anyway,” because, gentle reader, I have no internal monologue filter.

So there’s this couple named Gary and Joy Lundberg who write articles about marriage, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m completely unfamiliar with their past work. They appear to write a lot of stuff with a fairly Biblical slant, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I’m hardly their target reader demographic. Recently several of my friends shared this article of the Lundbergs’ called 7 Signs You’re Being Too Emotional For Your Husband.

Not gonna lie, when I saw the title it was almost like the brzzzzzzrrpp? of a record-scratch in my brain. “Well,” I thought to myself, “what delightful fuckery could this be?”

The long and the short of it, ladies, is if your husband stays out longer than he should, doesn’t listen to you when he is home, loses his temper, and stops telling you the truth… well, damn it, it’s your fault because you’re too emotionally needy.

I. Can’t. Even.

Their advice includes this gem at the end: Learn how to take control of your emotions. In essence, take care of yourself by eating properly. Get enough sleep. Take breaks now and then — even just a walk in the sunshine can help keep your emotions in check. Make the effort, and not only will your man love you for it but your life will be much happier.

If you’d just take a minute, girls, to get a decent night’s sleep and stop eating foods that make you fat…

I’m not going to bother ranting on a point by point case about all the fuckery that’s wrong with this advice, but I’m going to take the liberty of correcting it:

Learn how to take control of your emotions. Say what you feel, and be honest about it. In essence, take care of yourself by eating properly by doing things that make you happy, which may include eating properly, or it might include lying on the couch eating ice cream. Get enough sleep, not for your spouse’s benefit, but your own. Take breaks now and then — even just a walk in the sunshine can help keep your emotions in check make you feel better. Make the effort, Be yourself, and not only will if your man doesn’t love you for it, then he’s not someone you need in your life anyway. Be who you want to be, even if that includes wearing your emotions on your sleeve, and your life will be much happier.

Yes, ladies, if your husband is doing any or all of these seven things, help him to be a better man by changing your emotional responses to him. Keep that stuff in check! No one wants a woman who is emotional! And when you do start bottling things up and not talking anymore because you’ve just stopped caring or feeling, remember these two bits of advice:

  1. The Xanax is in the cupboard.
  2. If you hit him in the head with a shovel, you can sob and point out that you’ve let your emotions get the best of you once again. After all, it’s what women do, right?

Celtic Paganism, and Stop Being Effin’ Lazy

I get a ton of emails and messages and random smoke signals from people who want to learn new things. Learning new things is good – except when those people say “Well, I don’t have time to read, can’t you just teach me?”

  1. No, that’s fucking lazy.
  2. What makes you think I have the time or interest to teach someone I don’t know?
  3. Can we talk about #1 some more?

HuttonDruidsIf you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to learn. You’ve got the same 24 hours in the day as everyone else. I’ve had to have this conversation multiple times lately with people who want to be spoon fed information, and I’m sorry, but magic – and any other aspect of Pagan practice, really – isn’t for lazy people. If you really want to learn, do the work. If the work is just too much effort, then go take up a nice easy hobby that won’t tax your brain much, because fuck if I have the time to coddle anyone.

All of that said… you guys, there is a TON of information out there. AppleBranchSO MUCH INFORMATION. And it’s info that I – and plenty of other people – have taken the time and effort to put together to make life simpler for everyone else who wants to learn new things. Seriously, this couldn’t be much easier – the info has already been assembled for you. GO. READ. IT.

:/endrant

Okay, now that I’ve got my “Don’t Be Fucking Lazy” rant out of my systeEllisCeltsm, a quickie fun fact for you: Wicca and Celtic Paganism are not synonymous. In fact, Wicca isn’t Celtic at all – Kaathryn MacMorgan does a great job explaining why – but for those of you who are actually interested in a Celtic Pagan perspective, there’s a metric ton of great primary and secondary material out there. Go read these nine books: 9 Books for Celtic Pagans

Up Helly Aa: Great Balls O’ Fire!

One of the things on my bucket list is a trip to Scotland, which I’m hoping to accomplish as a graduation gift to myself in a year or two. Ideally, I’d like to visit in the summer time, when the weather is less sucky and the heather is a-bloomin’ on the moors… but the problem is that a summer visit means I’d miss Up Helly Aa!

Up Helly Aa is a Shetland festival that’s a throwback to the islands’ Viking heritage. If you ever do any Sheltand Island genealogy research, you’ll know what I’m talking about – I’ve got people with names like Angus MacDonald marrying people named Gunnhild Olafsdottir, and the like. It’s a very odd mishmash of cultures, and Up Helly Aa, which falls at the end of January every year, is a celebration of that blend.

And really, it’s a festival that has fire, food, and drinking – all of which are very Scottish and very Viking, so how could it be anything but awesome? Here’s a bit more: Up Helly Aa

Scar Tissue: Zombies, Time Travel & Mad Scientists

Originally published on August 21, 2015, but moved over here for your viewing pleasure:

Scar Tissue is available now for your Kindle or the Kindle app!

It’s 2213, and Zanna Tradescant is one of the best Historical Interference Control agents in the district – after all, who else would let the Launch Team strap them into a pod and shoot them back in time? Not too many people would sign up for that at all, so when rogue scientist Austin Kent timerides back to 1893, carrying a deadly virus with him, Zanna’s the only one who can stop him. She’s going to need some help, though, to navigate the turn-of-the-century streets in New York That Was, and that’s where beat copper Jackson Garrity and his sister Maggie are going to come in very handy indeed. While Garrity and Maggie are unaccustomed to chasing mad scientists and hungry zombies around the city, for Zanna, it’s just another day on the job. Download Scar Tissue over on Amazon!