Dana’s Gift Emporium for the Terminally Late and Non-Shopaholic

Right. Crap. Christmas and/or other midwinter holiday requiring giftage. There’s very little time left to get that special someone a little something, isn’t there? Suppose I’d best boot the Dojo to another day and get on it, then.

If, like me, you’re teh suck at this whole shopping thing, hopefully the links contained herein will offer a bit o’ the old inspiration and assistance. Even if you do have to give someone a card saying, “I ordered your gift late, so you get to open this card first.”

What if you’re buying for someone you’re obligated to buy for but don’t really like? Oh, just wait. Got that covered, too!

Science Gifties

Evelyn Mervine has the definitive list of gift ideas for geologists, by geologists. You’re sure to find something good here, but in case you need more ideas, Agile has also got some suggestions.

I’d like to plug Edmund Scientifics, because when that whole uproar started over gendered science kits, even though they weren’t the main offenders, they responded by doing the right thing and ending the gender segregation. Check them out for a little something for the Young Scientist on your list. They have a remote-controlled flying shark on the front page right now. How awesome is that?

Rocks In a Hard Place offers some fabulous items for the geologist on your list, and comes recommended by Garry Hayes. Their front page alone made me scream with joy. They’ve got fluorescent bloody minerals, and really, who doesn’t want fluorescent bloody minerals?

Also, there’s Mini Me Geology, which has some adorable options, and there’s that Austin Powers reference in the name, which makes them all the more awesome. Plus, Rock Detective kits. Seriously, where was that shit when I was growing up?! Recommended by Kate from Iowa.

Do you know someone who doesn’t own Brian Switek’s Written in Stone yet? Remedy that immediately!

And, this may not exist yet, but what an idea:

Surely this should be on every geologist's christmas wishlist? I want one. via @ http://t.co/bCa3MahU
Dr Rebecca Williams

Here’s a one-stop shop for the geek on your list from Double X Science.

For Those Less-Than-Loved Ones

Our own Stephanie Zvan uncovered a treasure trove of ideas for those obligatory gifts you must present to people you’d rather not buy a gift for, and will present with a present only because social niceties demand you do so. Even if you haven’t got one of those people in your life, read the post – it’s good for a belly laugh.

Charitable Works

Speaking of belly laughs, bust your gut laughing and find some good causes to give to at The Bloggess, where The James Garfield Christmas (And Hanukah) Miracle Returns. Sort of. This also ties in beautifully with the begrudging gift category. See Miracle #3.

And the JAYFK is having its Holiday Vaccine Drive. This is a fabulous thing – you can, for not much money, potentially vaccinate an entire village. We wish each other good health every season. Why not do more than wish?

Too Poor For Awesome Gifts

Are you kidding? Srsly? You can afford whole worlds!

Sign at Powell's Books

Doesn’t even have to be a new book – plenty of beautiful stuff at used bookstores at a great price. Doesn’t even have to be a physical book – get an ebook for those with ereaders, and you can afford even more!

But if you’re super-amazing poor, don’t forget the greatest toys of all time, which often don’t cost a thing. Give a copy of that post along with the toy, and you might make it out alive.

And always, always, remember the love. Give plenty o’ that, and get plenty back, my darlings!

Los Links 12/9

I promise you, Los Links will soon move back to Monday where it belongs. Time keeps getting away from me. Things happening, y’know. And then there’s the fact so many people are writing so much interesting stuff, and reading takes time, and argh.

Lots and lots of links this week. Far more than it seemed like it would be. Hopefully you’ll find one or two that interests you. Enjoy!

Occupy Wall Street

Bad Haven: Alan Moore Responds to Frank Millers ‘Occupy’ Rant.

Etsy: OWS Bandana //PRESALE// (Neil Gaiman’s models)

Stupid Evil Bastard: I knew they were destroying #OWS tents, but.

The Guardian: Goldman Sachs whistleblower threatened with the sack.

My Occupy LA Arrest: My Occupy LA Arrest, by Patrick Meighan (UPDATE: 12/9/11).


AGU Meeting

Quest: AGU: Twenty Thousand Geeks by the Sea.

Andrew Alden: AGU Day Two: Vesta Unveiled.

Highly Allochthnonous: Monday at AGU, Tuesday at AGU, and Wednesday at AGU.

Magma Cum Laude:  AGU 2011: Days 0 & 1.


Skepticism and Mental Illness

Feminist Whore: Sad Things.

WWJTD: SSRIs, Skepticism, Suicide and Suicidality, How to Find an Atheist Counselor/Therapist and When Normal Activities are Terrifying.

Scientific American: Epigenetics Offers New Clues to Mental Illness.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Missing the Point on Mental Illness.


Burzynski Clinic

The Quackometer: The Observer Responds – Complicity in Misinformation.

Skeptical Humanities: Letter to the FDA about Dr. Burzynski.

Popehat: Junk Science And Marketeers and Legal Threats, Oh My! and Tell Me About The Rabbit, Marc Stephens.



Clastic Detritus: Friday Field Photo #161: Lava Flow in Hawai’i and Seafloor Sunday #90: Fifty Years of Ocean Scientific Drilling.

Nature News: Yeti crab grows its own food and Out-of-body experience: Master of illusion.

Wired UK: Transparent crab shell holds the secret to bendable screens.

Respectful Insolence: A “homeopathic physician” in Arizona versus science.

Tetrapod Zoology: The Wealden Bible: English Wealden Fossils, 2011.

Laelaps: How Tylosaurus Lost Its Fringe, and Other Squamate Stories and Teeth, From the Outside In.

Cosmic Log: ‘Arsenic life’ debate still percolates.

Improbable Research: A slip of the pen (followed by 25 years of writer’s blockage).

Georneys: For Scale.

Andrew Alden: Five Myths of Plate Tectonics and Losing Geodiversity.

Rapid Uplift: Geological Monuments Of Hyderabad Disappearing.

Bad Astronomy: The gorgeous birth pangs of young stars.

USGS Newsroom: San Andreas Fault Mysteries Begin to Unravel.

volcan01010: Why people are scared of Katla.

Eruptions: Unravelling a Volcano Using Crystals Under a Microscope and The Right (and Wrong) Way to Die When You Fall Into Lava.

Mountain Beltway: Friday folds (and boudinage): Superior Craton day 3, stop 1 and Currents in the Devonian deep.

The Last Word on Nothing: Abstruse Goose: Stop the Massacre, Guest Post: Auditing Astronomy Class and Guest Post: Two Malarias.

Terra Sigillata: Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!

Geotripper: Spending a Day in the Earth’s Mantle: Exploring Del Puerto Canyon in California’s Coast Ranges and Revisiting the Other California: The Story of the Pine Creek Mine From Someone Who Was There.

Uncovered Earth: The Magic Planet.

Tuff Guy: A is for Aniakchak (an A to Z of volcanoes).

Speakeasy Science: Periodic craziness.

Skepchick: My experience with German Measles.

Denison Geoblog: Rising Waters at Lake Atitlan.

EvoEcoLab: Evolution’s Tempo, Movement I: Adagio and Evolution’s Tempo, Movement II: Allegro.

The Back Forty: How a Flat Expanse of Boring Gravel is Vital to You and the Desert.

The Thurners: Graduate School Barbie (TM).

The Contemplative Mammoth: How to argue with a scientist: A guide.

Maitri’s VatulBlog: A Trip To Kilauea or The Volcanic Smog Gets In Your Eyes.

Dinosaur Tracking: Disney’s Age of Dinosaurs.

Observations: Are Psychopaths “Brain Damaged”?

The Dynamic Earth: Evaporite Casts in Sandstone.

@ScientificAmerican: Scientific American Defends Marie Curie—and Women Scientists—in 1911.

Boing Boing: Potentially habitable exoplanet: The fine print.

Physics Buzz Blog: In the Quantum World, Diamonds Can Communicate With Each Other.

Compound Eye: Scientist Spots Missing Link in his Basement, but is too Sleepy to Catch it.

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: Space Rocks, an encore edition.

Poikiloblastic: So an igneous petrologist walks into Indiana…

Failure: The Berkeley Pit.

The Scicurious Brain: One chemical makes you crawl, another makes you swim, if you are C. elegans.

Cocktail Party Physics: Anatomy of a Stradivarius and Open Lab 2012: Kill Your Darlings.

History of Geology: A Dirty War We Can´t Win.

JPL News and Features: NASA’s Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge.

Scientific American: Egg Timer: Separate Biological Clocks Govern Female Fertility and Life Span.

Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists: How Universal Is The Mind?

Dr. Jen Gunter: When the doctor has PTSD.

New Scientist: Chimp markets reveal evolution of friendship.

Wooster Geologists: A Tale of Two Museums: Part 2 — The Creation Museum.

Geology.com: East Africa’s Great Rift Valley: A Complex Rift System.

The Primate Diaries: The WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology.

Short Sharp Science: Megaquake warning for the high Himalayas.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: How acquiring The Knowledge changes the brains of London cab drivers.

Popular Mechanics: What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447.

Tree Lobsters: The History of the World (According to the History Channel).

The Fluffington Post: New Theory Suggests Cats Are Liquid.

Lousy Canuck: News Flash: pole reversals won’t happen suddenly; won’t end world.

Olelog: World’s Highest Active Volcano.



The Atlantic: Why I Am Proudly, Strongly, and Happily in Favor of Adverbs.

SplatF: 10 steps to better blogging.

Chip’s Blog: Where does the marketing money go?

Adventures in Space: The Question Is…Are You Tough Enough?

Book Riot: When Used Books Attack: Banana Edition.

Comic Book Resource: Bill Willingham on “Fables” vs “Once Upon A Time”.

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: Tips On Responding to Public Criticism (Inspired by Steve Jobs).

Plot to Punctuation: Swimming to find your characters.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Why Your Novel is a Tall, 6-Pump Vanilla, Breve Latte Grande, Extra Hot, Heavy Whipping Cream, Extra Dry Cappuccino (Or It Should Be) by Elle Lothlorien and Eisler & Konrath Vs. Hachette.

Digital Book World: Leaked: Hachette Document Explains Why Publishers Are Relevant.

Nieman Storyboard: “Why’s this so good?” No. 23: William Langewiesche’s voice of experience.

Patricia C. Wrede: Too many, too much and Learning About Ebooks.

Nathan Bransford: How to Network Without Networking.


Dystel & Goderich Literary Management: Why not an older novelist?

The Passive Voice: The Self-Published Author as the Self-Employed Author.

The New York Times: Selling Books by Their Gilded Covers.

Ask Nicola: Bookselling: We are showroom dummies.

Brooklyn Arden: Behind the Book: Three Things Writers Can Learn from Liar’s Moon, Part I.

Writer Beware Blogs: The Fine Print of Amazon’s New KDP Select Program.

Paid Content: The E-book Investigations: Are Publishers And Apple Breaking The Law?

Sean Farrell: “Pathetic email.”

The Oatmeal: Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling.

Women’s Issues

Blag Hag: Being a woman on twitter.

Is Rape Funny?

BBC: ‘Honour’ attack numbers revealed by UK police forces.

Marayam Namazie: There’s no honour in ‘honour killings’.

Jim C. Hines: Sexual Harassment: Bystander Intervention and Supporting Victims of Sexual Harassment.

Doctor Nerdlove: Nerds and Male Privilege.

Boundary Vision: Mourning science on December 6 (Repost).

RH Reality Check: Concerned Women for America’s Condescending Treatment of Our Female Troops.

Shakesville: Impossibly Beautiful.

The Staggers: On misogyny and female columnists.

Jezebel: Pro-Virginity, Anti-Feminist Folks Make The Purity Myth Trailer Terrifying.

Dr. Petra Boynton: A tragic case of medical misconduct.

Doing Good Science: How do we make room for pink microscopes? (More thoughts on gendered science kits.)


Religion and Atheism

Geek Gestalt: ‘Brick’ breaker: Lego bible too racy for Sam’s Club.

The Friendly Atheist: The Problems with Biblical Parenting and Discipline and If They Can Quote Bible Verses, So Can We.

The Digital Cuttlefish: Ellwood City–No Atheists Allowed and Much Ado About “Nothing”.

Comics Alliance: Ask Chris #81: Scooby-Doo and Secular Humanism.

Blag Hag: Car hits atheist; car breaks.

The Telegraph: Islam, Charles Darwin and the denial of science.

Why Evolution is True: Religion reduces science literacy in America.

Greta Christina’s Blog: What Does It Mean That God Is Good?



Forbes: The Bomb Buried In Obamacare Explodes Today-Hallelujah!

Contrary Brin: Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film.

Emptywheel: Florida Containment Dome Crackers: How Saving $15 Million Ended Up Costing $2.5 Billion.

The Political Carnival: Kids Eating Rat Poison is an “Acceptable Risk” for ALEC.

***Dave Does the Blog: Human Rights Are Human Rights and Literal paternalism.

The Atlantic: Ceding Liberty to Terror: Senate Votes Against Due-Process Rights.

Blog of Rights: FBI: If We Told You, You Might Sue.

Mike the Mad Biologist: More Creationist Economics: When the Foolishness of Austerity Collides With the Balance of Accounts and Why Gingrich Scares Me in the General Election: Bullshit As a Load-Bearing Structure.

National Journal: Heads in the Sand.

Almost Diamonds: How an Authoritarian Protects the Vulnerable and Middle Class Is Not a Virtue.

Paul Krugman: Send in the Clueless.

Slog: Fox News Attacks the Muppets.

Wil Wheaton dot Tumblr: Mah Guvnor!

The Daily Beast: Obama’s Restrictions on Morning-After Pill Are Politically Driven.

WWJTD: The Last Gasps of a Desperate Man.

Hullabaloo: Postpartisan depression: The Democrats join the War On Women.

Slobber and Spittle: What Killed Cain’s Campaign.


Society and Culture

Jina Moore: Right on, David Newhouse. Or, “How to report on Penn State”.

Skepchick: You May Want to Save Your Pocket Change Next Time You See a Jingle Dude.

The Globe and Mail: Remarkable school gives girls from the bottom of India’s caste system new hope.

Roger Ebert’s Blog: Outta da way of this steampunk wheelchair!

Geek Girl: Why @PayPal is wrong regarding @Regretsy, according to their own policies.

JAYFK: Double-dipping earns high school principal an ‘F’.

Decrepit Old Fool: “But you have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judges?”

The Guardian: What to expect from the anti-gay marriage brigade.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: TSA Has Lost Its Collective Mind.

Almost Diamonds: Why Should I Pay for Your Health Insurance.

The Atlantic: Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

Butterflies and Wheels: Another turn of the screw.

Seattle Area Readers: Clear Your Weekend Schedules

Image credit: Photo by Mike Wilson for Burien Little Theatre.

You’ve only got three opportunities left. Then Inspecting Carol will be gone forever, and you’ll have missed the chance to laugh your way to a hernia. So choose a showing:

December 16 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

December 17 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

December 18 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday 

Buy your ticket. Go.

Burien Little Theatre always puts on something whacked out for the holidays. None of this sappy-happy crap for them. Oh, no. It’s usually hilarious, always completely warped, and a great antidote to all that cloying Christmas music you’ve been enduring. Inspecting Carol was no exception to that rule. It’s chaos right from the very beginning. And you think you know where it’ll end up, but it doesn’t go there. It turns left at Albuquerque and ends up – well, by then you’re laughing too hard to notice the “Welcome to X” sign.

It’s got a whole bunch of these perfect little moments. You will never hear the word “utensils” in quite the same way again. And the ending. Just when you think the ending’s going to sag just a bit, it hits this crescendo of absurdity that caps the whole thing like that one perfect cherry on a Dadaist banana split.

You will see an Asian in a serape and a diaper, and it will make sense.

You will see some of the best worst acting in the business.

You will see Scrouge holding stuffed animals.

You will see a person in a dress doing a back-crawl on stage.

And you will marvel at the technical aspects, because just like you have to be a superb actor to play a bad one, you have to be technically perfect to pull off multiple stage disasters.

The actors did a phenomenal job. They don’t stop acting when the focus isn’t on them, either. Spare a glance for those on the periphery of the scenes, because their reactions are priceless. It’s just marvelous, what they’ve done. They’re all fantastic, and while I doubt anything will ever dethrone Martha, Josie and the Christmas Elvis as my all-time favorite fucked-up holiday play, this came perilously close.

So just go. Don’t deprive yourselves. And give a huge round o’ applause to the actors who made this such a delight. They were amazing, every one.

  • Andy Beal (Luther Beatty)
  • Sarah Bixler (MJ McMann)
  • Robert Harkins (Sidney Carlton)
  • Eric Hartley (Phil Hewlitt)
  • Adam Hegg (Kevin Emery)
  • Nathaniel Jones (Wayne Wellacre)
  • Russ Kay (Larry Vaushall)
  • Kevin Schilling (Bart Frances)
  • Tim Takechi (Walter E. Parsons)
  • Vera Werre (Dorothy Tree-Hapgood)
  • Rochelle Wyatt (Inspector Betty Andrews)
  • Yvette Zaepfel (Zorah Bloch)

If you went to Frankenstein, you’ll recognize Russ Kay, who was The Monster. I just want to say that he makes a gorgeous dude-playing-Scrouge. Nathaniel’s one of my favorites from many other BLT productions, but he’s never slayed me like he did this time round. And Vera Werre – just delightful. Tim Takechi was fucking incredible. So were all of them, and I’m going to stop naming names now because we’ll be here all night – just bloody go see the show, m’kay?

And forgive them for making Los Links a day late. If you see the show, you’ll understand why that was worth it.

Sunday Song: Helena’s Theme

The Universe is conspiring against me. Three extra-long days at work ended tonight, and I said, “Huzzah! At last! I can get shit done. I just have to catch up on my Twitter stream.” Then a friend popped up needing some assistance, which was a lot of fun offering, and didn’t take long. Then there was the excitement with the drunk person left passed out in a car by friends and waking in a panic with no idea where she was, thus leading to drama with car horns and a call to the police to assist with ensuring her safe return home, as she was too far gone to even tell us what the situation was, much less where she lived.

And I still haven’t finished reading for Los Links.

And I’m on my way to Burien Little Theatre in the afternoon for some fun with Inspecting Carol. It’s at 2 pm, if any of you locals wish to join me.

Anyway. That’s why you’re getting a song rather than a post with actual substance in it, but this is an important song. I actually meant to post it some time ago. You see, I have a brilliant young geologist friend named Helena, pronounced the way Kamelot pronounces it, and she always reminds me of this music: beautiful, intriguing, and a lot of fun to listen to. She’s quite a bit less tragic than the Helena in the songs, though, a fact for which I am grateful.

So here is Helena’s Theme:

While we’re on the subject of Kamelot, I’d like to reestablish my metal cred by playing one of their metal songs. Loves me some Roy Khan, especially when Simon Simons of Epica is joining him.

Nobody talk to me about the fact Roy’s left the band. I want to think happy thoughts. That is a hugely depressing thought.

Fuck. Now I’m depressed. Quick! Kitteh with dolphins to the rescue!

Tip o’ the shot glass to my coworker and friend Starspider, who prevented me from spelunking the pit o’ despair by finding this video and forcing me to watch it at work.

Saturday Song: Escala

Once again, we have reached the point in the week where there’ll be no Los Links for you if Dana doesn’t get her reading done.

So here’s a lovely video and a version of “Palladio” you may not have heard, even if you have heard “Palladio,” which you may not have done.

And the album version, for comparison’s sake, and also because I love it:

I know, I’m killing my metal cred with all this stuff. But I’ve been a fan of classical and classical-inspired music since blasting Beethoven and Vivaldi in a Cadillac El Dorado whilst wearing headbanger clothes in high school. Lookers-on have absolutely no idea what to do with that.

Pitch 2.0: Naming Names

Veterans of the Nymwars will know why my ears pricked when a member of the audience asked the panelists at Pitch 2.o about pseudonyms. And they’ll know why I scowled a bit when the first response was along the lines of “Why would you?” They came out pretty anti-nym, but for a good reason: identity. While it wasn’t made clear in that brief time for discussion, I think they’d agree that it’s not the ‘nym that’s the problem, but starting over from scratch.

If I’m mistaken, they’ll hopefully be by to set me straight. But let’s proceed on the assumption I’m correct.

(Apologies in advance for not identifying who said what – I don’t do shorthand and was scribbling too frantically to pop a name by the notions. I’d make a lousy reporter, wouldn’t I just?)

Right. So. Pseudonym. Should you? The question was from someone who’d written something outside of his normal sphere and was thinking of publishing it under a ‘nym. And when he said this, looks of horror crept across the faces of every person on stage. These are, mind you, folks who’d just got done talking about platforms (which I shall get to shortly – exhaustion is forcing me to write out-of-sequence in search of the low-hanging fruit. It is also apparently making me segue. How much does a seg weigh? Anyway. Where were we? Right. ‘Nyms).

One said, “Why give up the platform you have just because it’s different? You shouldn’t have to use a pseudonym just because you’re an expert in only one area so far. Show them your expertise.”

Another said, “We’re all complex people with lots of interests. Your followers are too. Something about you appealed to them. X % of people interested in your former thing will be interested in the new.”

And the last said, “People follow you because you’re a good writer.”

I didn’t jot down the rest. It had to do with being the world’s expert on trumpet polishing, and having written a widely-admired book on trumpet polishing, and then going on to write a treatise on strawberry slicing. You could do that under a ‘nym, yeah, and build a reputation as the world expert on strawberry slicing. But you’ve got this platform you built as the world expert on trumpet polishing, and your audience will have a subset of people in it who’d be thrilled to find out this nifty new technique for strawberry slicing. So why not keep your name, and show them your expertise, thus keeping a portion of your existing audience while also building a new following of strawberry-slicing fans? I don’t believe this bit was mentioned, but it’s also possible your strawberry-slicing fans will also contain a few trumpet polishers, and they’ll be glad to know their search for the best book on trumpet polishing is at an end.

So here’s what it’s about. It’s about an identity, not a name. We veterans of the Nymwars know a “real name” isn’t an identity. So if you, like me, write under a ‘nym, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve got an identity you’ve established. People know you as your ‘nym. Your ‘nym has name recognition. The silly thing isn’t writing under a ‘nym to begin with. But it’s possibly very silly to write about trumpet polishing under one ‘nym and then create a new ‘nym to do the strawberry slicing thing, just because you’re worried people will somehow become upset if the world’s foremost authority on trumpet polishing has also some quite useful things to say about strawberry slicing.

I, personally, have never minded when my favorite authors of one sort of thing have pursued other sorts of things under their established name. I may not be in to everything they do, but I appreciate the opportunity to discover whether I am or not. Neil Gaiman, for instance, writes some fabulous children’s books I’d never have read if he’d published under the name Bob McRobert. Most readers will understand that you are no more cardboard than your characters (and your characters aren’t cardboard, right? Right?). They’ll be happy to let you prove your mettle at something a little different. They might even discover interests they never knew they had.

Some of your fans may gripe about you wasting your time on strawberry slicing when you could be spending your valuable time writing Trumpet Polishing Two: Electric Bugaloo, but no one’s forcing them at gunpoint to read Strawberry Slicing Secrets Revealed! And if someone is, in fact, doing so, then they really need to assess whether it’s wise to continue their relationship with that particular bookseller.

Now, if you’re known for wholesome children’s picture books, and you wish to write some rather, erm, vivid pornography, I suppose a case could be made that a new ‘nym might not be such a terrible idea. And authors choose to give up the platforms they have as one name and do something else under another quite often. It sometimes works. As with all things in writing, rules are bendy.

But you have to keep in mind what you’re giving up. You’ve got to create a new audience from scratch. You’ll have to create a website, perhaps a blog, certainly a Facebook page and perhaps a G+ one, and if you’re wise you’ll do a Twitter account, all under a new name. You’ll have to feed that identity as well as your previous one. You’ll have to keep the two separate. It’s twice the work. So the benefits should be pretty spectacular before you decide to create all that extra work for yourself.

Be sure it’s worth it before you spawn an alter-ego.

Also be sure to check out the comments on the previous post – Jason Black and Nathan Everett, two of the professionals who made Pitch 2.0 such an informative and fun time, put up comments that will certainly repay a perusal. Our own Hank Fox has direct experience with CreateSpace, which is welcome news for those of us considering whether or not to go this route. It pays to consider your options carefully, but isn’t it nice we have got them at last?

CreateSpace and Amazon’s Pitch 2.0: Completely Worth It

So, last night, I attended a free event put on by CreateSpace and Amazon called Pitch 2.0. It very nearly didn’t happen, and I’ll be paying dearly for it for the next three days, but it was totally worth it. It was even worth the rush hour traffic on the 520 bridge, which locals know is the kind of hell you usually only associate with cities like L.A. and New York.

I took copious notes and I’ll be blogging about it for some time to come, starting soon (probably as soon as work finishes making me pay for my pleasure). The main thing I took away was this: publishing has changed, and independent authors have some fantastic resources available to them now. I’ve been seriously considering the whole self-publishing route for some time. Unless circumstances change, this event has pretty much convinced me that this is the right choice for my books. I’m not interested in spending years trying to get them traditionally published after finishing them. I want them in the hands of my readers ASAP. And with the tools available now, those books won’t lack for anything in the product quality department. The only possible failing may be the author herself, but I’ll be doing my utmost to make sure the contents match the beautiful, professional packaging.

A lot of excellent information came out of this event: help with pitches, marketing, distributing, and various other topics. We won’t lack for Dojo material, I can tell you.

I can also tell you that if CreateSpace and Amazon throw one of these little soirees in your neighborhood, get your ass registered and attend, no matter what it takes. It was worth several months’ worth of perusing the best writing blogs out there. Not that you shouldn’t be doing that, too, but there’s nothing like an event like this for helping you become a better author and, if you wish, your own publisher.

Warning: Fencesitters and Bystanders May Be Affected

At the risk of inviting a miasma of socks, I am going to talk about Womanspace once again. It’s important, and I’ve got a point to make.

There are a couple of open letters that are worth reading. Dr. O’s An open letter to Dr. Rybicki makes a very important point:

Maybe your short story isn’t the biggest issue out there concerning sexism, but it’s the little issues that are frequently the most dangerous. Little slights, which appear innocent enough on the surface, permeate our thoughts and actions without our conscious permission and ultimately DO have consequences, whether we intend for them to or not.

And when your small act of sexism, intentional or otherwise, ends up published in a venue the size of Nature, it has an outsize effect. This is why women and men spoke out. Silence would imply the issue is unimportant. It’s most certainly not. As any scientist who also happens to be a woman whether a culture of sexism harms, and chances are excellent she will tell you it does.

Of course, this wasn’t the worst act of sexism ever perpetrated in the entire history of civilization. And it would have probably died quite quietly if the author had possessed the humility and courage to utter just two words.

I’d have liked it if he had. But he chose to pour gasoline rather than balm, and we all know what happens when someone starts a fire on the internet. I’m not sorry it happened. Many excellent posts came out of it. Nature got put on notice, and so did anyone else who might have thought that a little light sexism was quite all right. Dust-ups like this raise awareness. And I want to talk about why that’s important.

I came across this tweet from Ed Yong after the whole fracas had died down a bit, and it struck me:

@ Ten years ago, I'd have reacted exactly as the "overrreaction" crowd did. These are great teaching examples.
Ed Yong

It struck me because I’ve been that person.

I wanted to make sure I’d understood Ed correctly, so I emailed him. I’m beginning to believe the rumors he’s some sort of android, because he emailed back immediately.

So before I became an active science blogger, I would have reacted to this with all the derailing tropes that are coming to the fore: you’re overreacting, he didn’t *intend* to offend anyone etc etc. Fortunately, I’ve been party to a lot of conversations with intelligent feminists, both female and male, since then, which have changed a lot of my view on gender issues. I’m immensely grateful for that.

In the responses of the “out-of-proportion” camp, I see a belief that always crops up in these debates: that “not-being-sexist” is somehow an easy, default position. Hence: it matters whether or not Rybicki intended to offend, because sexism would be an *active choice* over and above the baseline of not being sexist.

Which is rubbish. Not being sexist is hard. You’re pushing against unconscious biases, cultural norms, historically ingrained turns of speech, and more. Not being sexist requires an act of listening to, and learning from, the reactions of those who speak out against it, even if that may make you uncomfortable. It requires introspection, care, and effort.

Ed Yong, for those not familiar, is not only one of the best science bloggers on the planet and a person I follow on Twitter equally for the knowledge and the hilarity he tweets, he’s also one of those men who actually gets it, who understands what sexism is and does and that it must be fought. There’s a lot more now than there used to be, and it’s not because women shut up when told they’re “overreacting.”

This should sound familiar to any atheist in the crowd. There’s a steady drumbeat of voices urging us to tone it down, don’t rock the boat so hard, stop being so sensitive, etc. forever on and on. I’ve been seeing the same thing with talk about sexism, and I’ll be providing more examples quite soon, because there was a particularly egregious example just today. And it’s rubbish.

I know it’s rubbish because, like Ed, I was once in that camp. I stopped camping over there only because people kept talking. Shouting, sometimes. I’ve been that sneering person. The noisemakers were noisy and annoying and disturbed my peace. I wished they’d shut the fuck up and let me get on with ignoring various issues.

But all those voices eventually got my attention. They broke through the deliberate deafness. It becomes impossible to ignore many voices speaking out. It’s damnably difficult to ignore a variety of viewpoints on the subject. It’s impossible to ignore when someone you respect joins that diversity of voices. Like me, you may, eventually, end up giving those voices a hearing, fair or not. And you may end up changing your mind.

This is uncomfortable at first. None of us necessarily likes rethinking certain of our assumptions. There are issues we may not think are issues or would rather not hear about. And sometimes, the counter-chorus starts. We want the voices to go away. Shut up, or go somewhere they can’t be overheard at the very least. But if they shut up, nothing will ever change.

Some things need to change.

And some things do.

This is what’s so often missed in these furors. I’ve been told I’m wasting time. So have my fellow bloggers, both here at Freethought Blogs and all over the internet. Why are you preaching to the choir? Why waste your breath on people who won’t change their minds?

The secret, dear reader, is that we’re not always trying to reach the unreachable. Oh, it would be nice. If I meet Ed Rybicki several years from now, and he tells me this whole thing got him thinking, and even changed his thinking just a bit, don’t think I won’t buy him a celebratory drink. It would be brilliant if his consciousness got raised, and if all those people so quick to defend him calmed down and realized that no one ever hated Dr. Rybicki as a whole human, but were annoyed by his story and appalled that Nature would give a platform to something that showcased sexist ideas about both women and men. It would be wonderful if everybody realized that unconscious sexism and unintended offense are things worth addressing, and doing something about.

But that’s not who we’re after.

The next Ed Yong may be listening. The next Dana Hunter may be, right at this moment, taking pride in the fact she’s not like those hysterical females, without realizing that those females are not hysterical and, additionally, are watching out for her ass too. The next person whose consciousness is raised on this issue, or any number of other uncomfortable issues folks wish we’d just shut up about, is out there, sitting on a fence or standing by.

That’s why speaking out is important. That’s why we won’t stop.

Okay, So This Is Only the Greatest Plate Tectonics Song Ever

I didn’t know this song existed 5 minutes ago. Then I pulled up YouTube, saw it in the “recommended,” and decided what the hell. Now it’s one of my favorite geology songs of all times.

Watch the video. Just don’t do so in a place where peals of laughter are frowned upon, i.e. at funerals, during wedding ceremonies, or if you work for a humorless corporation.

Dana’s Dojo: “It’s This Big and It’s Blue”

Today in the Dojo: Getting a handle on stories that don’t quite know what they are.


There was this cliché at the bookstore chain I worked for, eons ago when things like chain bookstores in malls still existed. Customers would come in all the time, collar one of the booksellers, and burble, “I need this book! I don’t remember the title, the author, or what it was about, but it’s this big and it’s blue!” About the only thing that changed in the parade of people coming in for the book whose subject, author and title weren’t recalled was the relative size indicated by their desperately waving hands. It happened so often that the manager of one of our stores, upon hearing this request for the billionth time, joked, “Oh, yes, I know that book. It’s right over there in our this-big-and-blue section.”

The sad thing is, she then had to chase down the customer, who was marching on the wall of shelves she’d pointed to, apparently expecting that bookstores had a “This Big and Blue” section right up there next to “Fiction,” “Reference,” and such. I’m not sure how the customer reacted when told the manager had only been joking.

That anecdote comes to mind because that’s much how this current novella was feeling. I don’t know the title. I think I know the author, but sometimes I wonder, especially when staring at her in the mirror after a hard night’s pounding the forehead into the keyboard. I had no fucking idea what it was about. But it’s roughly this big, and it’s definitely blue. Undoubtedly.

I got almost 19,000 words in and stalled out. Stared at it for days, wondering what the hell the emotional through-line was. Plot? Don’t make me laugh. Theme? Yeah, right. I wrestled a few more words in using brute force, then sighed, and set it aside as a bad job. No use trying to write something that refused to be written. I knew what that dead stop meant. Meant I had thinking to do. That’s how I roll. I’ve learned that when the words stop flowing, it’s because if I go any further without putting some serious thought into it, things are going to go terribly awry. I’d rather figure it out now that write any-old-thing and make the revision worse than it has to be. So, fuck you, NaNoWriMo.

I went to the notebooks.

And I started with describing the house. The house wasn’t clear. I had very little idea what the house we were stuck in looked like, and that was bugging me. I spent a night researching architecture and searching for pictures on the intertoobz of houses that vaguely resembled it. I spent another night or two putting the house together. But that wasn’t coming together either.

Okay, then, so it’s not the house holding me back. Know enough about what it looks like to be going forward, so what else? I started considering the people in that dining room we were stuck in. And I determined I needed to sketch out Ticaal’s life from birth to this moment to start figuring it out. That’s what I’ve done for a while now. Takes time, this, involves some re-reading and some pondering and a lot of tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep because this shit’s worrying me. Progress was slow, but steady.

And then, one day, I stepped outside at work to have a cigarette. A cold wind hit me like a blast from a homicidal industrial freezer. I wandered off a few steps, puffing, and the image of snow on the karst mountains hit me. And I knew Naaltoba, the old man who was dead to begin with, loved that snow. He didn’t get to see it often. He was usually down in the Siaan in the summer. But there was the midwinter break, and the festival, and this old man joyously grabbing whatever noisemaking implement was to hand and joining this line of people raising a ruckus while Ticaal’s mother pretended to disapprove.

What was this old man, whom the family didn’t like, doing down there with them at midwinter?

And then that thunderbolt struck: what if he was the one who actually held the family together?

Now, you may think I ran straight back to Scrivener and began typing like a fury, but I didn’t. That seed needs time to germinate. I continued plugging away on the History of Ticaal. And I kept considering whether this was the truth, whether this old man whom everybody thought was a bad influence on Ticaal but ended up hanging round with the family all the time anyway was actually their center of gravity, and if they would fly apart now that he was gone. It felt right. And it explained so many other threads of thought that had been spun out. And it provided a framework.

Sunday night, I’d made it to the point in the History of Ticaal where he meets Naaltoba for the first time, and how that changed his life, and I found myself doing work that will provide fodder for this novella, another one currently stalled, the novel its own self, and possibly much else besides. That, I can tell you, is an excellent feeling. I’m starting to understand. And when I’m done with this, within the next few days, I should be able to return to the current novella and get through (hopefully) to the end. Then I can revise to tighten up everything, in light of this new understanding of what this story is really All About.

So, what are the takeaways for you in all this babble?

If you get stuck, don’t be afraid to walk away. Not far, mind you. Don’t just stop writing, or move on to the next shiny project that will quickly stall. Spend some time dealing with the incidentals. Figure out what you don’t know and set out to know it. Let your subconscious do the hard work while you accomplish some of the necessary busy work. Allow yourself to do the stuff that isn’t necessarily putting words on the page, but is going to get better words on the page later.

I’ve discovered writer’s block isn’t so much a matter of a lack of inspiration as, quite often, a signal that some shit needs to be figured out. Don’t be afraid to figure it. Writing’s about telling a story, yes, but so much more goes in to that than just the words the reader will see.

And never ever forget that the notebook can be your flotation device when you’re lost at sea.