Glitch City

Sorry folks. I know there are issues with the site. The very nice post from Amie Gibbons keeps disappearing due to technical difficulties. I’m working on it.

Some days, you feel like you shoulda just stayed in bed…

State and Art

watercolor painting of snow and sunset

I shared a post a friend had made, one that I profoundly agree with, and it promptly got a comment from another friend who completely missed the point of it. The commenter’s assumption was that I object to paying for tax-funded art, or that I don’t want art created that I ‘don’t like.’

And a miss is as good as a mile.

Here’s the original post, by D Jason Fleming: “If you truly think that all culture comes from the government, such that defunding the NEA and NPR will destroy the arts, you really, seriously need to sit down and have a think.

Was there NO art prior to government funding? REALLY? Where the **** did blues and jazz come from? Because I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t the US government, nor any kind of subsidy from ANY kind of government.”

I’d take it a step further and declare that maintaining NPR and the NEA is what will destroy the arts. The point here isn’t about my tastes, or DJ’s, or the commenter when I shared this. It’s about artistic and intellectual freedom. In modern society, we seem to think that art cannot pay for itself; ergo, art must be subsidized in some way to be created. We’ve created this concept that art and commercialism should never be combined, and that to be a commercial artist is somehow lower than to be a ‘pure’ artist.

Elsewhere, DJ shared this article, which is a fantastic example of what I’m talking about. The Blues, the musical style that was born and grew up in the backwoods of America…

The tragic image of the blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta ignores the competitive and entrepreneurial spirit of the bluesman himself. While it is certainly true that the music was forged in part by the legacy of slavery and the insults of Jim Crow, the iconic image of the lone bluesman traveling the road with a guitar strapped to his back is also a story about innovators seizing on expanded opportunities brought about by the commercial and technological advances of the early 1900s. There was no Delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel-string guitars. And those guitars, which transformed American culture, were brought to the boondocks by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

You really ought to read the whole thing, whether or not you’re interested in music. If you’re interested in being inspired, making your own way in the world, and perhaps entrepreneurship, this has it all.

The government didn’t come into that story one bit. These men and women fought hard to make a living, and they did it with their art. No-one subsidized them, no one reached down from the lofty Olympus of D.C and offered them a pitying hand up. That… that is artistic freedom.

On his blog, DJ has discussed the disappearance of business in music at more length. Here’s a pertinent excerpt, but again, read the whole thing when you have time.

This is a contemporary problem. Our culture used to give a damn about how things worked. Process was important, even if it remained in the background. Business was important, not dirty or disreputable. (It could be run in dirty or disreputable ways, of course — any fool can see that — but it wasn’t inherently that way.)

In case you think I’m joking or exaggerating, go back and watch The Glenn Miller Story.3The movie’s main thread is how Miller tried to find his sound, the thing that would make his work unique. But an important secondary thread is the business aspect, and it’s not treated like poison or cooties, the way it would be today. It’s there, it’s got to be dealt with, and it’s a point of honor for the most part.

My readers know that I’m over at DeviantArt quite a bit. I also support them, with a subscription fee. because DA is a platform for the arts, in a way that NPR and the NEA would no doubt sneer at. Commercial artists, beginning artists, and, trust me on this, artists that make me cringe when I come across their work. Sometimes I think Rule 34 originated at DA, and if not they drew it first. DA doesn’t pay the artists. They don’t attempt to control the art that’s posted on their site. There’s no pressure, implicit or overt, to make art that adheres to an agenda. They are simply a platform where anyone can come and look at galleries of art that range from horrendous to sublime. Turn up your nose at digital art as ‘not real art? I challenge you to look at these examples, come back here, and say that again with a straight face. Traditional art is dying? Not so fast. 

On the other hand, NPR is notoriously biased. Look, I’m apolitical. I get called a conservative, but I’m probably not. I once sat in a hallway at a large Science Fiction convention, and overheard a conversation between a well-known Fantasy author and his friend, which boiled down to ‘all conservatives are uneducated and they can’t help lying.’ I sat there and silently seethed. I’ll set the stage a little. At the time I was about halfway through a Bachelor’s of Science. My grades were good, and certainly better than a lot of my peers, making the President’s list, and the Dean’s lists, for a year and a semester (at the time) will confirm that to a girl. I had recently written four fantasy novels, which had been very well received, and at the moment this conversation happened I was working on the finale for my bestselling trilogy on the laptop on my knees. But for years, I had been told that I was stupid, and that’s my hotbutton. I don’t react well to being called stupid, or uneducated.  I knew better than to say anything, though, I would just have been sneered at.

And that’s pretty much how NPR treats conservatives, or those that they label and lump in with conservatives. Sneering. Promote the arts? Sure, the ones that march in lockstep with their belief system. The NEA? same thing. Can you imagine trying to get a grant for, oh, let’s say Space Art. Beautiful work involving Godzilla. Have you ever seen a Bob Eggleton painting? Man’s a genius. But he’s a commercial artist and because of that he’s dismissed (which is a crying shame).

It’s always been my opinion that art and business are hand in hand. You can’t be a successful, independent, artist without also fully grasping business principles and practices. Art sponsored by the government? Well, let me put it this way. Today’s Inaguration Day. About a third of my facebook feed is in mourning (I kid you not, one of my artist friends posted that they were going to wear all black and urged their friends to do likewise), a third is chortling with mad glee, and the other third wishes those two-thirds would just shut up already and get back to work. The man’s a president, not a king or a god. If we’re going to accomplish our goals, and dreams, and remake the world, we have to get our hands dirty, not rely on the Gov’t to stoop down from above with a drachma or two. Because governments change. What one wants, another doesn’t want. The consistent thread is that they want power, and where do the arts fit into that? Another friend put it this way: “The entire Renaissance is the by product of a pissing match between rich people. I think we can manage.”

We can. We do. Patreon is the equivalent of those Renaissance patrons who wanted art in their own images, but in paying for it, they subsidized some of the most beautiful works mankind has ever known. But hey, that’s just my taste. You may prefer Piss Christ in a Jar.

Me? I’ll take independency. 

Cold Hands

New Hampshire

My hands are cold this morning. It’s a bit distracting, to be honest. I know how to warm them up – several ways, actually, ranging from taking a brisk walk to washing the dishes. For some reason, though, cold hands keep me from writing easily. I don’t have problems with my joints, it’s just… cold and stiff. My morning routine today was sedentary, and I know this is my fault. That, and having let the furnace fire die out. it’s been warm enough we don’t really have it, and if I do build it up, and then bake and run the dryer, like last night, the house gets up to 80 and I’m unhappy with the heat. I’m so spoiled.

Really, this is about being spoiled. I have the ability to get my hands warm. There are people who don’t. Who don’t have the option to go build up a fire when they get chilled. Who don’t have the leisure time to take a walk, even though I can justify it as plotting time, and exercise to boot. Who can’t afford to complain that when they put their teabag in to steep, the side of it split open (I’ll still drink it. But we won’t buy Lloyd’s tea again, the girls report this is a frequent occurrence). These are, as the saying goes, First World problems.

It doesn’t make me feel better to try and guilt myself into not being uncomfortable just because someone else out there has it worse. I’m reminded, when I see that patronizing and dismissive sneer “first world problems” with it’s implied ‘shut up and stop whining,’ of the very old-fashioned guilt trip: ‘Eat your porridge. Remember, children in China are starving.’

Did that work for anyone other than in self-righteous children’s books? You know what I’m talking about… the ones where there was a moral and only the Good little boy or girl was rewarded. I was a tomboy. ERB spoke to me. Anne of the island spoke to me, she who was never quite able to fit in… It’s not that I lacked compassion. Had that starving child been plunked down in the chair next to me (and I should clarify here that my mother never used this odious reasoning on me. Her statement was much clearer, ‘when you’re hungry, you’ll eat.’) I’d have shoved the bowl over gladly and gotten them seconds.

It doesn’t help to have the guilt trip set up right there, in front of you, while the layer of the trap stands with ill-concealed glee waiting for you to fall. I’ve got cold hands. I can make them warm again. Doing so does not harm some vague concept of a far-off unfortunate. Mind you, my own mental argument of ‘I can endure this, my ancestresses used to milk twice a day in the cold and damp and…” that does help me suck it up, remove the tremble from my lip, and go wash the damn dishes. Because sitting here  fretting over the cold does nothing productive toward the day. Not any more than trying to dismiss my woes as ‘First World’ would.

I guess it’s because I see the most absurd statements and arguments on social media. Ones that make me cock my head to one side, baroo? and wonder if these people ever look up and observe the world. Much less look back at the rich panoply of history that formed and shaped that world. It annoys me when those who are willfully ignorant do their best to shame and demean those who don’t align with their side. Guilt trips don’t elevate anyone. i try to always encourage, lift up, just a little. It’s not a lot, just me and a kind word. But I find that when I do this, I feel better too. The cold hands aren’t a symptom of a cold heart, or too rich a lifestyle in my First World home with hot and cold running water and all the internet my heart desires. They are just cold.

I think I’ll go find someone sad out there, and give them a cyber hug. Because I can. Because that’s a First World privilege I proudly possess.

Attention Grabbers

Cute kitten

It’s been one of those days. For one thing, I usually try to post in the morning. Well, for one reason or another I didn’t get to it, and about mid-morning my day started to act like a pack of toddlers. You know what I mean, if you have spent any time around small children. Or not-so-small, at times. They want your attention. They want it now. And if you’re giving too much attention to one of them, another who was playing happily and quietly by themselves is going to have the urge to come tug on your sleeve until you share your attention with them, too.

Today, none of this was particularly bad. It was just one thing after another, cropping up, demanding my attention, and sometimes two things at once needed me. The end result is that stuff got done. Just not as the same stuff as I had planned. For one thing, the website – this one – is now switched to a different hosting plan. There may have been some down time today on the site, and sorry about that, but it was meant to be minimal and I couldn’t check up on it (or hurry it, for that matter) while it was happening. Hopefully this will take care of some of the issues I’ve had for the last year with the site crashing under heavy traffic, and being slow to load. It’s also costing me considerably less, since I shut down two websites and am only running one. I was talking with my daughter today about business expenses, and what I once-upon-a-time paid out for having a site built, hosted, maintained (ok, that part’s a joke. Updates to material were never done in a timely fashion) and a newsletter database supported. Now? Well, you can do all of that for free, and you don’t have to know how to code. I pay for the website hosting happily, it’s part of doing business, but I could settle for free and have it be nearly as effective. And newsletters? Mail Chimp is the bomb. And they’re free. Highly recommend them to anyone who wants to send information to subscribers on a semi-regular or irregular basis and doesn’t want the up-keep of a blog.

But I digress. The rest of the interruptions were a mixture of personal and business, and it was all good. It just got me thinking about life, and how working from home is a perpetual challenge. I’ve done it forever, it seems – since 2000, which isn’t an age, but certainly an era. There’s been a few years in there where I worked outside of the house full time, and it’s easier. Really. I’m not joking around. Reporting in to a routine, orderly job is far better than having to manage your own time, constantly triage the to-do list, and juggle all the attention grabbers. In every job interview, they ask you ‘what do you do if your day’s plans change?’ and I look at them, thinking what I cannot say. I’ve run a home office for a successful small business, creating nearly everything about it from scratch (ever wonder how I got into graphic design?) while managing three toddlers and an infant. I know how to remain professional and on track under conditions that would turn your hair white. A client decides they need something different in the afternoon than what they said in the morning? I’ve got this. Motherhood is like that. But you’re not supposed to talk about your kids in an interview, so I just explain what triage is to them.

Sometimes triage is an unpleasant choice. Today, it meant I didn’t get any writing done. I may, this evening, but I may not, since there is laundry to fold and dinner to be finished.  it’s ok. The long-term plans show me that I didn’t waste today. I can bump things down the list a notch, not off it. Sometimes I have to bump things off it, but writing isn’t that. Taking a daughter shopping did get bumped.

And I’m going to have to wrap this up. Something about a family who want my attention. They’ll get it, too!

Math is Art

I’ve always found something strangely fascinating about those blackboards or whiteboards with huge incomprehensible equations scrawled across them… But I have to face that although I passed calculus, it was by the skin of my teeth. I can catch glimpses of the beautiful, elegant thing that math is, like looking through curtains out into a moonlit garden. There’s a woman pacing there, and the shadows consume most of her. Only a curve, a gleam of light on a cheek, reveal the promise of a terrible, ineluctable being that drives the universe to its knees.

So there’s that. I’m a wordsmith, not a mathematician. I know what’s beautiful when I see it. I appreciate my friend’s jokes about math, and physics, even if I don’t know what the coefficient of fiction is until I’m told that it’s mu. I can make art, even if I can’t parse the equations.

Which is what I’ve been doing with fractal flames. I know there’s math there. But it’s like the magic smoke in my electronics. If you let it out, they don’t work any more. I just don’t think about what is really happening in there, the tiny electrons dancing and passing impulses back and forth, never moving and yet never at rest. I couldn’t tell you how to calculate the fractal. I can tell you that it’s beautiful.

Ashes of Roses

One of the things I love about this art media, aside from the digital-no-mess part, is the ability to create things that look organic. Fractals occur in nature, and so when I create them on the screen, they look…well, natural. Only not. Far more perfect than they have any right to be. Which can be uncanny if I’m not careful.

Bryophyte

To keep the fractals from looking too perfectly made and shaped, I try to introduce some asymmetry, often by adjusting the perspective.

Lacework Skull

 

Other times, it’s the very symmetry of the work that makes it into something more than simply abstract light against darkness.

The Wood Guy

When we moved out into the country and into a rental, it was during a relatively mild November. One of the things about this house we were told early on, and made us happy, is that it had a dual furnace system. A propane furnace for backup, and an “Energystar efficient” wood furnace. Because of the way things were bollocksed up when we were agreeing to rent, getting in to look at the house happened sort of slowly and piecemeal. I was excited to have a system that wasn’t entirely reliant on electricity, unlike the little house. There may not be as much danger of losing power here in OH, but there still is that, and I was raised to be prepared.

So, a wood furnace. Well, sort of. It, like much of the other things in this house, is quirky. Before we moved in, we had propane dropped, and the plan was to find a wood supplier once we were settled. With mild temps, it wasn’t a bad plan. I was a little worried about the cost of wood, especially once we looked at the ‘furnace’ and realized it was a wobbly (I kid you not. One of these days it’s going to fall over) wood stove on tall legs, with a sort of automatic damper (which may not be working. We’re not sure. We also have no idea when the chimney was swept. They’re getting back to us on that), half-lined with firebrick that is cracking and falling apart. Oh, hey, you know… I grew up with a barrel stove, he grew up with various wood stoves and fireplaces. It’s functional. Efficient? Yeah, no.

Shortly after we moved in, I stopped at a garage sale about a mile from home. I found a hat stand for my First Reader, and in the process of chatting with the lady, learned that her husband delivered wood, for $140 a cord. Given that I’d been told about the high price of wood by one of my professors, who was paying at least $200 a cord, and remembering NH where in the dead of winter it could climb to $300 a cord… I took down his number.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve gotten to know the wood guy. He’s been by at least every two to three weeks with another load. This morning was the latest one, and I was musing on the workflow we’ve developed. That first load he brought us, a heap of split dry ash on a big flatbed trailer, he confided in me that he has COPD, so he has to stop and take a breath from time to time. He’s a tall, rugged older fellow, reminding me more than a little of my grandfather and certain great-uncles. He wasn’t too sure about this little lady who started pitching wood right alongside him, that first trip. But I wasn’t going to just stand there. I certainly wasn’t once I saw how out of breath he got. The kids were tasked to help, too. The whole family works.

On a later trip, he told me he’d just celebrated his 69th birthday. He’s told me that his kids are all grown, and moved away, and that Christmas isn’t much, without family around. This morning, he was out of breath again. Not because he was slinging wood. Nope, this time it was laughter. Three kids, me, and the wood guy, pitching firewood and witty banter. My girls go out with headphones on, and the boy is like a feckless puppy constantly worrying the wood guy because he’s in the way. “You’re goin’ to get hit! It’ll hurt!”

I like our wood guy. I don’t think he knows what to make of us, but I know that we make him laugh. He likes coming here, he told me, because my kids remind me of his. I like that I can see my family through his eyes, and on days where I’m wondering if I’m doing ok at this mom thing, I can see that yes, they are good kids. They may complain, but they’ll pitch wood with me. They’ll make jokes and offer the wood guy their music when he wants to know if he can listen while they pitch. They get his dry sense of humor.

It gives me hope that there are people out there like this guy. He barely knows us, but he dropped by a while back because while I have his number, he doesn’t have mine, and he wanted to make sure we were ok on wood. At Christmas he insisted on lowering the price, and he won’t raise it again. He fusses over the wood he brings us to make sure it’s clean and dry, since he knows we store it in the basement. There are good people in the world. I can’t do much in return for him, but we can make him laugh, and make his work easier when he comes to our house.

I guess that’s enough.

I’m here

I’m just writing. I took the time this weekend to read back through and create a ‘bible’ of this work in progress, as I’ll be writing the final part this week, and needed to be sure I was tying up some loose ends, and reprising others to set the whole series up.

Once that was complete, I started writing in earnest. Re-reading also made me start to grasp what I needed to write. So I’m writing. And I’m not inclined to pull my head out of the story far enough to write a coherent essay for the blog, sorry folks.

I’m back down the rabbit hole. The manuscript is at 73K words, with a projected length of 100K words. I don’t write to wordcount, so it may be a touch longer or shorter. I’m thinking longer, right now, but we’ll see how the finale plays out, and the cigarette moment.

Oh! Before you go, if you’re looking for something fun to read, check out Amie Gibbons’ latest, Psychic Undercover (With the Undead). Sweet Southern Sass, vampires, ghosts, an undercover FBI agent and psychic faces a real challenge to her new career. If you enjoy a romp of a read with a cute girl who’s packing heat and not afraid of a challenge, you’ll like this one.

And the Other Thing

This and that…

One of the perks of teaching a teen home ec. in homeschooling is that I get to eat waffles for breakfast, and I didn’t have to cook them. Buttermilk waffles from scratch, mmmm.

Waffle courtesy of the Junior Mad Scientist.

While I’m eating these delicious fluffy things, I’m also taking a break from cleaning house. It’s not bad, but we’re having a dinner party tonight, the floor needs mopping, and I have to get a chocolate pie (and maybe a berry one) in the oven shortly. On top of a job interview this afternoon, my day is rather full. So the blog will be brief today.

When I know I need to do a post like this, I look at my open tabs. I don’t have a lot up right now, I had to restart the browser a couple of days ago, and I’ve been working on two – ok, three – computers this week (one was to reset it for new use by Homeschool girl).

That’s ok. I think you’ll enjoy something from this eclectic collection.

First, a lovely short webcomic (the visual equivalent of a short story)about the gift of time. The characterization reminds me strongly of Pratchett’s Death. Be aware this one can cause your room to become dusty, so you should have a tissue to combat the, ah, dust.

An article about a common weed here in the MidWest caught my eye. I knew what Pokeweed was, before coming here, but it wasn’t really hardy to NH. I still haven’t tried eating it, and you’ll see why if you read this.

My author-colleague Amie Gibbons has a tongue-in-cheek take on IP law as it pertains to image use and other things. It made me laugh, but it’s a great lesson too.

Finally, a bit of self-promotion. Last year I did a year of art daily, which was mostly posted on facebook in an album. I didn’t want to do it again this year, while it’s an excellent exercise, I wanted to focus more on writing now that school is finished. However, to keep my creative side fed, I’m going to do a year of photos, taking one daily and posting it in a gallery over on DeviantArt. They won’t all be artistic, or tell a story, or even very interesting depending on the day, but it should be interesting to see them all as the year progresses.

 

Heigh ho, Heigh Ho

Muster on the Mountain

Oh, wait, wrong dwarves. I woke up this morning to my mother having shared this medley of Tolkein songs, performed acapella, and, well, it’s fun!

But before that, my husband invited me to sit outside in the pre-dawn dark with him. Ohio being Ohio, it’s currently in the mid-60s, rainy, and positively balmy out there. We have a porch, now, that wraps around two sides of the house and allows space for chairs and a little table. We two sat and talked in the relative warmth, enjoying a moment of peace before the day really began.

It’s these moments which are the glue that holds everything in place. I’m thinking about the chairs I bought for the dining table recently. I’d posted a photo of them, being whimsical, and someone wanted a close-up of how the legs connected. Pegs and glue, I deduced, not seeing a place for a screw or bolt that extended all the way through the wood. It’s a nicer look, for a smooth finish, where all the holding is done out of sight. The pegs, of course, are what bears most of the force of a full-grown adult sitting on it. But the glue keeps the pegs in place.

Even the best of marriages needs renewal of that glue from time to time. Little frictions chip away at it. Evenings spent apart, running around picking up a clarinet, and groceries, and… long vacations where it’s too cold to escape the house and tempers fray, and… no time, no energy, all that slowly erodes the glue and makes the joints weak.

So you take the time, stealing it from your morning routine if you have to, and do the little things that strengthen the joins. You do that even if you aren’t feeling any give there, not yet. It’s not that you’re sitting in the rainy dark talking about deep relationship goals or topics, you aren’t. It’s just a bit of this, the weather, goals for the kids, the best boots for mud. It’s the time taken to connect, just the two of you. To remember what it was that made you fall in love in the first place.

We try to take those moments whenever we can. I don’t think it’s a deliberate ‘relationship mending’ but simply that we want to be together. We love the kids, and know that they need us to parent them as they grow toward adulthood. But we need one another and the strong join that makes us a parental unit in order to accomplish that in the best way. I’ve been a single parent, and it’s hard. This is better. Mutual support and aid, coming to the rescue when one parent is under siege. Yes, parenting is sometimes a bit like a battle.

We have deliberately planned some time together, trying to make it out on a ‘date’ every week. Most of the time our dates wind up being as much running errands as anything, but it’s still time and we talk about everything under the sun. Although mostly house and family, these days. Where once we’d plot novels, now we discuss educational goals and how to support the young things. It’s amazing how quickly things change. But for those times of torsion, where the force on the chair legs goes all sideways instead of the normal, well, we know where to find fresh glue.

And if the wood breaks? The chairs we had when we first arrived here were an odd mixture of a few we’d bought new, and four that had been picked up for a dollar apiece. I didn’t expect much from them, which was good because they didn’t deliver much. The glue in their joints was long gone, which we could have corrected. But the wood shearing off flush with the joint? That’s beyond my capacity to repair at this time. Yes, I suppose I could have gone out and found doweling to replace some of it (windsor-style chairs). It would have looked godawful, but the chairs would have been sittable. Maybe. We decided that rather than try to repair them, we’d replace them with something that would stand up to teenagers who plop down, sprawl, wiggle, and generally torment chairs. The First Reader was holding out for cafeteria metal-framed chairs.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading in a niche genre, reading stories written down by paramedics, cops, and ER docs. One consistent thread through them is broken family dynamics. If I’m going to persist in my chair metaphor, and I am, then some of the people out there are like my dollar chairs. Poorly constructed, slapped together with shoddy glue that fell out almost as soon as it was dry. The only thing that’s holding them together is the finishing nails, and when enough pressure is put on them in the wrong direction… pop. Then the wood shears, and it’s all over. It’s difficult to create an enduring product when you use inferior materials. Am I implying my husband and I are somehow better? No.

We were raised on the values of a different time and age. I’m younger than he by a generation, but I was raised outside mainstream culture. Do I think that there aren’t good kids growing up now? No. There are some wonderful young men and women maturing into their full abilities, with the capacity to endure and add beauty to the world through their very existence. I’m never one to want to stereotype an entire group of people, so although I recognize the truthiness of the millennial jokes, I also see that it’s not completely accurate. For a time when my Eldest was involved with Civil Air Patrol, I was impressed and inspired by the young people I met in her squadron, just as one example.

Sadly, I do think that concepts like honor, duty, loyalty and love as more than accomplishing as many genital sneezes as humanly possible are not being taught. Babies come into the world from parents who treated their reproductive systems as toys only, with no sense of the gravity of their actions. Don’t get me wrong – sex is a wonderful gift we humans are given, and to be enjoyed – but that’s not the only thing it is for. No form of birth control is 100% effective. Nope, not even that one.

We live in a world full of broken chairs, broken people. I can put the chairs out on the curb and if the pickers don’t get them, the garbageman will. I’ve got new chairs around the table that make me smile (and didn’t break the budget). Yes, I could take the time to drill out the shattered pine, smutch on a little glue, and tap a new dowel in. After I shaped that dowel (which I don’t have the skills for, but the First Reader does. Partnership is a wonderful thing where you fill in one another’s weaknesses to create something greater than the sum of the parts) and cut it to fit. It would never look as good, but it would hold. I can’t do that on a person. People are much more complex than furniture. Can people mend? Now, that’s a question for another day, as I have a Little Man to get ready for school.

How To Blog

Well, first, you have to write something. No, wait, first, you have to pick a platform. No, wait…

I have been doing this for eleven years now. At first, I was doing one thing, and then I was doing another, and now? I’m doing something else, with touches of the first thing and the second thing. So… what does that have to do with blogging?

The first question isn’t ‘how-to’ it’s why. Why do you want to blog?

When I started blogging – the first thing – it was a mommy journal. I kept it up very irregularly, as a way for far-flung family to see the kiddos grow and learn, as well as a way for me to put some of my thoughts and feelings in a place where I could know they might be read. I’ve journalled since I was a girl, and there are things I wouldn’t write out in public, but it does make a difference to know someone is reading, and on occasion to get supportive comments. Particularly as a young, isolated mother, it was important to me. But that’s all the blog was, in the first years, and I didn’t post regularly, because I was a young mother of four, one an infant when the blog began. Which translates to little sleep, no time, and limited coherency.

The second thing I blogged about was the Farm. After my divorce, when I was struggling to rebuild my life and support my kids, my Dad asked me to help him with the Farm while we lived there. It wasn’t hard to say yes – I could only pay so much for rent, and I felt obligated to help where I could – because it was work I loved doing. Part of the farm management was building the Farm blog, as a way of bringing eyes to what he was trying to accomplish, and a germ of the marketing we planned to gear up into. Big plans were laid, for sustainable permaculture gardens, grants to get him the high tunnels he needed for polyculture, and the blog was part of the publicity machine we’d need as we grew. In the end, the Farm project was tabled, I moved, and the blog changed yet again.

Now? Well, my regular readers know what the blog is now. An eclectic collection of essays, recipes, how-to posts, and whatever happens to fall out of my head that day. The big idea behind why I do it is content marketing. And I get asked from time to time about blogging, so today I’m summing it all up.

First, you ask yourself WHY you want to blog.

Based on that answer, you can start to choose the platform you’ll use to blog from. I chose Blogspot, back in the day, because it was free, easy to set up, and you could connect easily to other like-minded blogs. Peter Grant’s very successful and popular Bayou Renaissance Man still uses that platform, as do many other bloggers. It’s still free, and although I am not fond of the comment interface (as a reader and occasional commenter) it is a great place to start if you are just trying to build a readership and want to link up with a blog community.

if you are just wanting a blog as a journal, and looking for people to share with, Tumblr can be a good choice, with caution: not all the community there is remotely supportive. It can be a toxic stew, so choose the people you follow and interact with carefully. For art sharing and journalling, check out DeviantArt. I use that as a platform for my visual art, and I know artists who also use it for a blog of sorts – the community is huge, and again, use care in who you interact with, since, yes, there are deviants here.

I wound up choosing to use WordPress for the Farm blog, and my later writing blog, for the sheer flexibility of it. I started with a free blog, something.wordpress.com address format, later moved up to the something.com format (more professional looking, and a mere $18 a year) and finally moved to self-hosted (which reminds me I need to spend some time today calling around for a new host… GoDaddy sucks). With self-hosted I am able to control any ads on my site (I don’t have any, not enough traffic) and use the vast library of plugins that add capabilities to my site, like Woocommerce for an e-store.

Now, ask yourself the when question “HOW OFTEN?”

The answer to this, again, depends on why you are blogging. If it’s just a vent space, that doesn’t matter. You don’t need reliability, or consistency, if you are just putting it out there for someone to wander by and comment on. However, if you are trying to do content-based marketing and provide your readers with consistently appealing tidbits of posts, then you need to set up a schedule.

I’ve learned that if I can put out consistent material on a regular basis, my hits go up. However, I have posts that still pull in readers who are googling something (mostly these are how to… posts) years later, and every now and then I can tell someone knew found the blog and is exploring it. I have the depth to be a time-sink which is a bit funny. I also have a field where people can sign up for my blog to be delivered to their email, which is helpful for periods like the last two months where I was very erratic in posting. However, I don’t know who of those ~500 subscribers actually read it, since I don’t see the ‘hits’ there.

At the first of the year I started posting 6 days a week again, and immediately I saw my hits double, sometimes more (on days with post of general interest). But daily blogging is a huge challenge all on it’s own, since it means coming up with content every. Single. Day. I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ve sat here staring at the blank post box with nothing going through my brain at all.

If you’re trying to build a readership, you must have a schedule. Once a week is probably good, or setting T-Th, or MWF routines up. But be consistent. Use the draft and schedule features on your blog program (I don’t know if Blogspot has them, I know WP does) so you can write ahead when inspiration strikes and have that post come out on time. Go ahead and write a passionate post on a whim and publish it on the spot, but don’t neglect the routine, either.

I did learn that more than one post a day doesn’t work – I tried it, and got feedback that it was irritating to my email subscribers. Now, I use posts that aren’t time-sensitive as buffers, knowing I’ll have days I’m not up to writing something. Well, ok, I had a buffer. It’s gone now, eroded by that last semester of school which ate my brain. But I’ll work back up to it.

 

Print Happy

So this is a very late post. However, I have a good excuse. See, this morning I decided that since I have the new printer, ink, more ink, good paper (I mean really good paper. Beautiful, velvety, archival-quality paper. I’m trying not to drool on it, it’s so delicious), and everything all plugged in, installed, and hot to trot…

The desk. I have no idea where the scanner is going to go!

I should make prints. I have an order to get out (sorry it is so late!) and have been wanting to do this for a couple of days now. However, when I got started, I realized that while I have the originals I would be making prints from (and just a couple, right now, not ALL the art, of which I have a considerable stack at this point) I did not have print-ready digital files. So…

The scanner is dead. Long live the new scanner… only it’s not here yet. Right. They say photography is better for capturing art, anyway. The light outside sucks, so let’s set up the photography stuff in the pantry (best spot for it, really). Argh. Warped watercolor paper is not working with this, shadows, artifacts, crap! Oh, darn it.

After some considerable time, photoshop, and test prints (not on the yummy paper) I had them where I wanted them. And I had gone out looking for a desk for the First Reader. Didn’t find one today that would work for him, but it’s just a matter of patience. I finally created prints, and they look really darn good. Now, I need to run to the post office and mail them out!

Life is like this, some days. Projects balloon ridiculously, and the only consolation is that now I know what I’m doing for the next batch. And there will be a next batch.

The firebird, on a firepit.

I can now create prints on demand from my desk, in formats up to 13″x19″ (I’ll have to order paper for that size, so it will be an extra 3 business days). I have on hand paper to do up to an 11×14 print.

 

Quitting Time

The Titanic in snow

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote last week, at the Mad Genius Club. In it, I talked about how I’d learned to quit books. It’s not that I’m quitting reading, oh, no. What I did was learn how to put a bad book down instead of letting it suck part of my life away.

Yeah, there have been books that painful…

Only, sometimes it’s not that the book is painfully bad. Sometimes it’s me, not them. That’s a horrible line for a break-up, but it’s true in this case. I’m not always in the right place to read and appreciate a book, and I have learned that attempting to force myself to read a book usually winds up with me disliking the book. It took me several attempts to read Huckleberry Finn, and Anne of Green Gables. I knew I was supposed to like them, but I was young and for whatever reason couldn’t break into the story.. and then when I did, I liked the books. I went on to read everything LM Montgomery had ever written and to realize how much like Anne I was as a girl.

I’m a mood reader. When I’m in a mood, I want a certain flavor of book, and trying to read outside that, even if it’s a book I’m supposed to read for a good reason (like, say, to review on this blog) is usually a bad idea. So I’ve learned to put books down if I’m not in the mood, and not judge them unfairly. The books I intend to review I pick up again later, but if it’s just a random novel that caught my eye I’m likely to not give it another look.

Like I talked about last week, I just don’t have enough time to give some of it to an unworthy book. Sarah Hoyt wrote about things that throw readers out of books in this post, explaining why she doesn’t like certain books:

Well, ten percent or so are unexplained.  I just don’t get into them.  No, I have no clue why.  Why do you like some dishes and not others?  Why do your tastes vary with season and mood?  I don’t know.

However, for the other 40% I’ve found that there are broad categories of errors, from the massive to the small that just lead me to fling the book against the wall (virtually, since they’re on kindle.)  And I thought I’d post them here, for the benefit (eh) of those of you working the word vines.  I mean, whether you’re going traditional or indie, you REALLY should not pop your reader out. Read the rest… 

The Titanic in snow
With some books, you can just tell things are about to go horribly, horribly wrong…

I think for me, the two biggest things that make it quitting time are boring, and bad characters. If I don’t care about a character, but the pace is fast, I may keep reading. Even if I like a character, if the book is rambling on for pages about how they are dressed and nothing is happening, then I’m likely to wander off to check facebook, read a blog, draw a doodle.. and when I come back, I’ve forgotten that I was reading that book and start on something else. Even on the Kindle, where in theory you open back up to the page you were reading, I’ll come out of the book to browse my library. The First Reader has had a recent problem with his Fire, in that it wants to always open to the very end of MH: Sinners, instead of the book he was trying to read. Makes it hard for him to keep on that book.

Which brings me to another point. My quitting time is not his quitting time is not your quitting time. My resident curmudgeon is much more critical of his reading material than I am. He’s also super-sensitive to certain tropes that make him prickle up like a porcupine, and about as happy as one (I’m sure porcupines are sometimes happy. Why is it that hedgehogs are always pictured cute and cheerful, while porkies are bad-tempered? They need a new PR rep) when he encounters it in a book. I’ve pointed out that I’m sure most of the time the authors weren’t trying to be tropariffic, but it doesn’t matter. He’s quit, and on to another book.

As a writer, I try to keep some of this in mind. Putting the reader hat on, I know that if I bore my readers, they’re out. I know that my most specific negative reviews on my books have been from readers objecting to my writing a positive male character, or from a male POV. I’m not going to quit including men in my books who are strong, competent types that love well and work hard for their families (inspired, by the way, by my husband and father, and uncles and cousins, and…) so I’m going to ignore those readers while I’m writing. Because if that is their quitting time in a book, there are plenty out there with men being denigrated or relegated to the shrinking pansy role. I just don’t want to write it, personally.

Now to flip it around. Sometimes a book does get better. It can be worth doing a bit of slogging, to find a buried treasure waiting. So how to decide that this book, this time, is the time to keep digging? Personally, I rely on word of mouth. Also, because I’m an author and part of a community of other authors, I rely on my personal knowledge of that person. If I trust them to tell a worthwhile story, I’ll keep reading through the rough parts. I did this with the original unedited version of Mackey Chandler’s April, and was rewarded with a great series I’ve enjoyed ever since. He’s taken care of the editing since then, so if you haven’t tried it, go check it out. Does it still have flaws? Sure, but those are philosophical and important only to me. And I have the ability to ignore elements in a book, up to a certain level, before it hits a wall. If you’re a devout Evangelical Christian, there are elements in April that will set your teeth on edge, namely the portrayal of churches. For me, I could see the extrapolation from Westboro Baptist, and it didn’t bother me (except that I really don’t believe there’s that much connectivity outside the Catholic Church, certainly not among the Baptist sets. But that’s because I grew up in them).

Where do you decide it’s quitting time? What books have you pushed through a tough reading spot on, and then been rewarded by?