When I sent out that last newsletter with the free promo codes for The Iron Gate audiobook, I got an unprecedented number of error messages. At the time, I had more than 1450 subscribers and I got more than 180 bounces.
A few of those were the usual stuff: this email address doesn’t exist/please fill out this form to have your email whitelisted/this server doesn’t exist. But most of the bounces–more than 150 of them–were from gmail telling me that I haven’t set up some kind of special new email authentication.
Which has to be written in a kind of code.
What do I know about coding? Nothing.
Does my domain host have a little “set up SPF for this site” box for me to check. No.
Was it something I could just copy and paste? Absolutely not, and nothing about the little codes they required made sense to me.
Luckily, my son is teaching himself to program. He helped out (meaning that he took over while I did dishes) and set up something that erased the big red X error messages that popped up when I ran a check on my mail server. There were exclamation points in a circle though, so I contacted the domain host help desk and asked them to look it over.
They wrote back to say that they’d made some changes to the SPF my son created.
I checked again. A big red X error message appeared again. This one, in fact:
“Domain must have at least one mail server.”
When I sent this screencap to my domain host help desk, they told me it wasn’t their fault. They had done everything correctly, even though it was a change they’d made that triggered this error message. They suggested I read that “help center article,” which of course I’d already tried to do.
Basically, it felt like they had washed their hands of me.
Anyway, I’m expecting another newsletter to go out when The Flood Circle comes out in audio. Will gmail users receive it? Honestly, it’s hard to say that this point. I hope so.
In case anyone out there needs to hear this: I don’t have a Venmo account. Please don’t send money to me through that service. That’s not me.
I got an email on Saturday congratulating me on opening an account, and I assumed it was phishing and sent it to Spam. Then the emails kept coming, and a quick check showed they were from the actual company.
Fun fact! In their original email, Venmo included a “Not you? Click here” -style link that would remove my email address from whatever account had been created with it.
Another fun fact! That link didn’t work.
So it’s been the usual back and forth with the help people, who per standard practice skim over my initial message and offer advice that doesn’t work for me. At this point, it seems we’ve reached the stage where they have blocked that email address, but I keep asking if it has been used to trick people into sending money and somehow the support staff keep missing that message.
God, the future is stupid.
Anyway, I don’t have a Venmo account. If someone impersonated me in that service and asked you for money, please report that.
It took the passing of movie star Chadwick Boseman at the young age of 43 to make me realize that I needed to cut way back on Twitter.
See, I wanted to write something on this blog about Boseman’s passing, about the work he’d done while he was sick, knowing that his life might be cut short. About the impact he’d had and the joy he’d spread. That I admired the legacy he left behind and feel awful that he’s been cheated of the time he could have spent with the people he loved.
But I can’t seem to focus on the subject. I can’t even sort out my own feelings about the passing of this famous stranger. Everything’s all jumbled up.
And this isn’t true just with this one subject. It’s true about politics, movies, all sorts of things. I’m more distractible. I’m finding it harder to focus.
The more intense the problem becomes, the more I’ve begun to associate it with Twitter.
Obviously, there are other causes, too. Generalized anxiety about the pandemic. Being stuck at home, looking at these same few rooms. But I think the bulk of the problem comes from what I’m calling the Twitter Effect: a continual flood of information in small doses on widely disparate topics.
As an example, this is what’s popped up in my Twitter timeline as I write this:
Sports team urging people to vote
A snide remark at a pundit’s old tweet
Abolishing Daylight Savings Time
Trump’s golf shoes
Misinformation from QAnon
Joke about Plato
Snide election comment
Halloween book recommendations
State-level (but not my state) police reform
Retweeted cross-promotion for a TV show
San Francisco rent laws
Trump tax returns
Climate change policy
Alexa’s “whisper mode”
I stopped scrolling just now when I came to a cartoon with the caption “My desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to stay sane.”
It’s not just that social media can feel so combative and alarmist. That, I can manage. It’s that I’ve spent 13 years training my brain to take in random, scattershot input about all sorts of different things. I need fewer soundbites and more long form thinking. More time reading outside Twitter, in other words.
For a long time, I held on to Twitter because 1) it has replaced blogs as a source for interesting/amusing links, 2) I follow some very fun and funny people and it’s become my main source of laughter during the day, 3) book talk, which is mostly pretty dull but this is what I can get, 4) film and tv talk, which tends to be more analytical and therefore more interesting, 5) and finally, the big one, politics.
Twitter was the place where I kept up with political scandals and wonky procedural shit and climate change and so on. Turning my back on that felt like being a bad citizen.
And few things are as irresistible as an addiction that feels like virtue.
So I’m cutting back on Twitter in a big way. Years ago, I set up my writing laptop to block it during the day so i could get shit done. This past weekend, I set up my desktop to block Twitter (and Steam, because 2580+ hours of Sentinels of the Multiverse is plenty) from midnight to one in the afternoon.
That still leaves my wife’s iPad, which I can use to access the service if I want, but that belongs to my wife and it’s not convenient. Part of any plan for breaking bad habits is to make them inconvenient. Plus, I’m not trying to drop Twitter completely, as I did with Facebook. I just want to cut back.
So I’ll be on Twitter less because less. I won’t be completely gone, but I hope to put an end to doomscrolling and political hobbyism.
It’s a relief, honestly. Social media feels both necessary and damaging at the same time. I’ve sort of grown to hate it.
Let’s return to the Avalanches for one of the most persistent (but enjoyable) earworms of the pandemic:
And we jump from that upbeat song with the dark video to a site that’s straight dark. Grim London is one of the resources recommended in the tabletop rpg Liminal (As I type this, I’m about half an hour away from our first session) as an interactive reference to hauntings and murders in that very old city.
1. Remember the old days when a person would simply turn to their blog and record a bunch of thoughts, instead of giving them away to a profit-free social media company like Twitter? Man, those were the days.
2. I’ve reached a tricky part of The Iron Gate. That’s not a bad thing (the exact opposite, in fact) but this is a part of the narrative where I’m going to be second-guessing myself and jumping around, trying to iron out a decent sequence of events so that things are fun and also cool and also make you want to keep reading. Every once in a while I see writers talk about writing a first draft and just going out with it, and I wish I could do that. Never happen, though.
3. Watched Ernst Lubitch’s final completed film last night: CLUNY BROWN. It’s a rom com that doubles as a satire of upper class British manners. (“Darling, if I trust you now, I’ll always have to trust you. And I won’t.”) Often, when a movie criticizes social mores, it makes itself a period piece. Its much more palatable (marketable) to GREEN BOOK racism than to address racism in the here and now. But CLUNY BROWN, released in 1946, was set in 1938. Anyway, it’s a funny, clever film with terrific performances. Worth watching.
4. Two weeks ago, I asked you guys to please review One Man and my other books, too, and you have really responded. Before I that blog post, sales for all my work on the Kindle store were in the mid-20s. Almost immediately, they jumped to the high 50s or low 60s, and now One Man is only 8 ratings/review from that sweet 100 mark on Amazon. Thank you all. It really makes a big difference to discoverability and to overall sales. If you’ve been meaning to post a review but haven’t gotten around to it, the links at the bottom of the main post should make for easy clicking. Thanks again.
5. My son has been working on a novel and has given me his first draft. It’s pretty good for a first effort, although no where close to ready for public consumption. But every moment I spent doing something other than editing his book or working on my own makes me feel guilty, like I’m slacking off. Luckily, guilt has never stopped me from being super lazy, so I’m going to log off, make a couple of notes about our respective works, and then put in the library dvd for TITANS, which I’ve heard is terrible. If so, I can turn it off after ten minutes or so and never be tempted by it again.
Me: Twitter says you were right. Wife: ::stares at me, laughing:: Me: I would still do it the same way, though. Wife: I know. https://t.co/MhXpTIY1xg
— Twenty Palaces Kickstarter Going Right Now (@byharryconnolly) July 23, 2019
Everyone was telling me that five cents a word was too low, and I kept responding by saying some variation on, “SFWA set the minimum pro rates (for short fiction) at five cents a word. That’s the number I’m going to use!”
Except I was wrong.
As pointed out to me by another author (and if you have a middle grade fantasy reader in your life, or if you like historical fantasy with lots of Big Romance, you should definitely check out Stephanie’s books) SFWA changed the minimum pro ratemonths ago. I should have gone with eight cents a word.
Which is hilarious to me. It would have been the work of sixty seconds to check that, but it never even occurred to me that I should.
And of course, nothing has changed about the Kickstarter or the books I’m planning to write, except now I have to explain to my wife that she was totally and absolutely write all along, and with a little more smarts I would have done what she wanted me to do.
Anyway, as you can see by the embed below, one novel is already paid for. You can help make a second happen by pledging $4 or more. (Which gets you two ebooks)
After 24 hours, the dollar amount guarantees more than 90,000 words, so I’m thinking The Iron Gate is going to be a novel.
It also looks like the campaign might reach the upper limit, which means I’d have to write the next Twenty Palaces book pretty much right away. (For more info about the upper limit, check the campaign page itself).
This is wild, guys. This is also a lot of work. I spent most of yesterday wandering around my apartment, then checking the pledges, then washing a few dishes, then checking pledges, then vacuuming, then checking, then playing SOTM, checking, scrub toilet, check, open the file for The Iron Gate, then close it again so I can check.
Which means I haven’t been as productive as I need to be. That changes today. If I’m going to get this first book to you in 12 months, I have to do some thinking and some typing.
Anyway, please spread the word to any other fans of Twenty Palaces or contemporary/urban fantasy that you know. I’ll keep tapping away at these keys.
Kickstarter is running a “Break Kickstarter” campaign, which invites creators to use the platform in unusual ways. Not to break their rules, but to organize a campaign in an unusual way.
Until I saw that promo, I hadn’t been planning to use Kickstarter again. To be honest, I was gratified that my 2013 campaign for The Great Way did so well, but it was a crapton of work, and I’m a naturally disorganized person. I screwed up a few times while fulfilling that campaign, and that was extremely embarrassing. I didn’t want to put myself into that position again.
But if there’s an opportunity to flout the usual expectations? I’m signing on for the next Twenty Palaces story, The Iron Gate.
Here’s what’s going to be unusual in this campaign:
No stretch goals
One reward: an ebook (although you could decide not to take a reward if you prefer)
One pledge level: (although KS lets you pledge more if you want) You decide how long The Iron Gate is going to be
The Twisted Path was a novella, and some readers really wanted me to go back to novels. I’m not sure how much demand there is for this, but let’s find out.
For every $50 pledged to this campaign, I will write a thousand words. That’s the minimum professional rate, established by SFWA, of five cents a word.
In practical terms, I’ll look at that as a minimum word count.
So, if the campaign meets its goal of $500, I’ll write a 10,000-word novelette, which is about the length of “The Home-Made Mask”. If all twelve-hundred-ish people from the Great Way campaign pledge $4, that’ll be about enough for a novel.
I’ve set an upper limit, too. If you want to know what that is, or have other concerns, please check out the campaign. Also, if you’d like to take part.
That video below? Worth watching, like Ellis’s other work.
(Actually, I’m sort of assuming the video shows up, since WordPress’s new “block” system doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.)
If you’ve watched it (and let me say again, you should) you already know that it’s a discussion of some relatively recent critical schools of thought about literature, namely, does the author have any authority over the story and characters outside the published text? Or, to use the examples in the video, does the author get to tell us what happened to the characters after the last page? Do we have to take seriously the secret things they tell us about the characters that’s not in the text (such as, that Dumbledore is gay)?
Like John Green in the video, I’m of the opinion that readers get to choose for themselves, and at least should be able to extrapolate from the story.
As a personal example, a number of readers asked me what happened to Lar Italga after the end of The Great Way. Me, I thought it was so obvious that I didn’t even bother to write it. But that wasn’t good enough for some, and they seemed annoyed when I turned the question around and asked what they thought happened to him. They didn’t want to extrapolate. They wanted the authoritative word.
A number of people also wanted authoritative insight into how the names were pronounced, and “however you like” was apparently not an acceptable answer. I’ve read I-don’t-know-how-many fantasy novels with goofy pronunciation guides and I’ve learned to ignore them. In the privacy of my own head, I think of the characters’ names however I like, but a significant number of readers want the “correct” form.
The video takes JK Rowling to task for many of her pronouncements about the world of the books and the future of the characters. Is it especially laudable to make Dumbledore gay if you don’t include it in the actual book where it would have counted? Do we need an apology about who Hermione ended up with? Do we need to be told that, before indoor plumbing, wizard students crapped on the floor and them magic-ed the mess away?
Lots of people had a laugh at that last one, but it seems she knows what she’s talking about. Click the tweet below to see why I will never ever time travel back to the middle ages in Europe.
I’m lying here being sick while @seraph76 reads me bits of a history of French royal court poisonings and I think we need another terror— rahaf mohammed al-qanon (@AliceAvizandum) January 5, 2019
I know it starts off talking about poison, but it quickly moves to sewers (or the lack thereof) and no, please, authors, do not try for this level of realism. Just click the tweet to open and read. It’s hair-raising.
So, yeah, Rowling has a history of coming up with a bunch of extraneous stuff about the Harry Potter books–seemingly without giving it a lot of thought–and not to the benefit of her books or herself. To which I have to say: Can you blame her?
The Harry Potter books were such a gigantic hit that she has been deluged with questions, many from very young readers. Is she supposed to tell a ten-year-old Hermione fan that the character is a fictional construct with no life or existence outside the text? Yeah, that would go over well.
It’s entirely unsurprising that she launched an entire website (literally “More Potter”) which lists a bunch of character biographies and other bullshit that Rowling (or one of her interns/social media hires/whatever) threw together in an afternoon. That it draws in the hardcore fans (and tries to sell them stuff) is an entirely reasonable way to avoid all those earnest questions flooding the author’s social media.
And then, when a new Fantastic Beasts movie comes out, superfans get upset because the backstory in the movie doesn’t match the extraneous BS listed on Pottermore. Not that it matters. The Hogwarts Cinematic Universe is different from the books, obviously.
So yeah, I get why John Green and other authors (like myself) don’t want to add more story once the story is done. I also believe that Rowling’s circumstances are unique to her, and the pressure on her to drop these little bits of extraneous story must be incredible. I don’t always like what she says, but she has my sympathy.
Hey, let’s talk a little bit about something that way too many people have already talked about: the Harry Potter films. And by “talk about” I mean “share this series of three Movies with Mikey episodes about the franchise.
Go ahead and watch. They’re good. If you’re not sure why you should bother, read more below.
The first time I told someone outside my family that I planned to binge all eight Harry Potter movies (nearly 20 hours worth of films but maybe more with bathroom breaks depending on beer) their reply was “Better you than me.”
And I get it. They’re kids films–at least at the start. They have good choices mixed with the not so good, and an inconsistent tone in some places. They take a while to hit their stride. It’s the BLOODLINE effect: how many hours do you have to watch before it “gets good”?
But I thought that binge-watch was valuable. The first movie is adorable, like a 130 million dollar school play. The last is as intense as any big-budget thriller. Making that journey is no easy feat.
I wouldn’t consider myself a Potterhead, or whatever Rowling’s Potter fans call themselves. I don’t visit Pottermore, write fanfic, or play quidditch IRL. I haven’t memorized the biographies of the supporting cast, so I couldn’t tell you where Minerva McGonagall took her gap year or whether Professor Sprout makes her own hats. I’m not that sort of fan about anything.
But I have read the books more than once (unusual for me) and I think there’s a lot to learn from the way the movies stumble and then correct themselves as they go on (which is a weird way to describe that process, I know, because movies don’t create themselves, but you guys know what I mean). I’m always interested in the creative choices behind a work that affects me deeply, which is why I’ve watched Beyond Stranger Things a half-dozen times, and I’ve already watched this three-part documentary twice.
In these videos, Mikey covers the onscreen character choices, the studio-level hiring decisions, and everything in between, showing how they came together to become this weirdly compelling long-form story. And I say “weirdly” because this sort of thing shouldn’t be my jam (except for all the death) but it is, and Mikey touches on that, too.
If you’re interested in how creative work gets made (esp in a group/corporate environment) give these a watch. They’re funny, insightful, and breezy. Neumann is also one of the few Patreon accounts that I feel I can afford to support, if you want to know how strongly I feel about his work.
Anyway, this is where I confess: I just binged these movies last July for my birthday, and watching this documentary makes me want to do it again, just to pick up on more elements that change in each installment: costuming, camera movement, sound design, and so on. And it just so happens that I got a box set for Giftmas. Maybe it should be a reward for finishing this round of edits on my new book.