How LibreOffice freed my inner rebel from the shackles of Microsoft Office

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Yes, you do have a choice.

As moral beings, humans try to align their behavior with their values.

I don’t use Microsoft Word to write. I’ve successfully resisted putting Office on my laptop. I refuse to have anything to do with Office, if I can help it.

I admit it’s a quirk, but it’s how I live my values.

Why would a writer care about his word processing software? Do painters worry about the brand of paints they use, so long as the colors are true?

Writers don’t care about software, but they ought to.

Artists in general, and writers in particular, like to set themselves against The Man, whether it’s a corporation, a government, or some other institution that demands control and stereotyped thinking. But no writer ever thinks of the software they depend on.

I do.

Microsoft is a behemoth of a company that rakes in billions of dollars a year mostly because its convinced manufacturers and the general public that it’s the only game in town.

It isn’t.

Though they may grumble, individuals and independent businesses feel compelled to fork over hundreds of dollars every few years for the latest version of Office because they don’t think they have a choice.

They do.
Continue reading

Five Questions: Sherry Decker, author of A Summer with the Dead

A Summer with the Dead cover image

Sherry Decker’s A Summer with the Dead is scheduled for release May 1.

I heard author Sherry Decker read from her upcoming novel A Summer with the Dead at Two-Hour Transport, a monthly open mic and guest reading series at the famed Cafe Racer in the city’s Roosevelt neighborhood. I’m not normally a fan of horror, but her reading was so compelling, that I thought she was perfect for my Five Questions project. From her novel’s blurb:

“On the run from her abusive husband, Maya Pederson takes refuge with her Aunt Elly on her farm. Her first night there, Maya is wakened by a whisper. ‘Help me,’ someone begs. ‘Don’t leave me here.’ Thus begins a string of nightmarish events in Maya’s already stressful life. Disturbing dreams that seem far too real, dreams about the farm’s history, dreams about murder and blood and bodies buried under the house.”

Sounds pretty cool!

Do you remember the first character you created?
That would have been in fourth grade. The protagonist’s name escapes me, but it was about a little Native American girl who wanted to do something important, but was sickly and smaller than all the other kids. All I remember is that someone shot at her with an arrow. The arrow went through one of her long braids and she was carried up into the sky where she became a bright star.

Sherry Decker

Sherry Decker

How did you feel when you saw your work in print for the first time?
That was a short story was titled The Lender. It appeared in local writer/editor Lisa Jean Bothell’s magazine Heliocentric Net in 1994. I recall standing in my kitchen, holding the publication, heart pounding, staring at the story and my name in print, thinking . . . wow! It was a surreal feeling, something I had tried to picture since second grade. Even now it’s a miraculous feeling. I always feel honored and confused both. It’s amazing that other people not only want to read what I write, they apparently like it and will actually pay me for it.

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
Persevere! Don’t give up! Don’t write what you know; write what you love! Also, read everything: advertisements, comic books, classics, experimental, fiction, nonfiction, movie reviews, books reviews, anthologies, collections . . . everything! Writers have their favorite parts regarding writing. Some love the imagination-creative process where we “open that vein and spill our blood all over the paper” and some love the editing process where we perfect our work. I’ve gone from one to the other and back again.

I also love marketing and communicating with editors and publishers. I pay close attention the writer’s guidelines provided by most editors and advise beginning writers to do the same. You can seriously irritate an editor by ignoring those guidelines.

This is usually ignored by most beginning writers: avoid adverbs! Seriously. Not in dialogue, of course, because people use adverbs when they talk, but you’ll be way ahead of other beginners if you refuse to use adverbs in your narrative. Instead, go to the effort and agony (I went through verbal gymnastics) to find a powerful verb instead. Dig for your verbs. And, attend conventions. Take a big breath and approach those editors, publishers and other authors. Continue reading

Two-Hour Transport: A journey into Seattle’s sci-fi and fantasy community

Two-Hour Transport

Podcaster Anaea Lay of Strange Horizons reads her work at Two-Hour Transport in Seattle.

Seattle’s reputation as a literary town includes an enormous presence in the science fiction and fantasy universe. The great Octavia Butler, author of the Parable of the Sower, penned her works in the shadow of the Space Needle, the city’s iconic landmark. Other authors include Don McQuinn, Cat Rambo, and Shawn Speakman. Lesser known and budding writers are nurtured by a vibrant writing community, and recently a new series of events is encouraging fresh voices to speak up.

Theresa Barker, Nicole Bade, and other writers are producing “Two-Hour Transport,” a monthly series featuring readings by established sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors. These invited readers share published work or test out new work on an audience at Cafe Racer, a funky, arts-oriented watering hole in Seattle a few blocks from the University of Washington. The most recent THT I attended was on March 22, and it featured horror writer Sherry Decker, reading from her upcoming novel A Summer With the Dead, and Anaea Lay, the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons magazine.

In a new group called “Brag-a-Thon,” participants win a sticker when rejected by an agent or publisher.

The quirkiest segment of the THT program is the open mic, when up to ten writers ranging from pure novices to experienced pros take five minutes to share something and build up their presentation chops. Almost anything goes, from poetry in the style of Lewis Carroll to excerpts of full-length science fiction novels in progress. I’ve had great fun presenting my own work a few times, and the audience is always friendly and appreciative, no matter the skill level. It helps that everyone sips a beer or a glass of wine to support a neighborhood business.

Two-Hour Transport is part of a larger ad hoc collection of meetups under the banner of the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers, which started out several years ago as reading groups meeting in local cafes. The meetups include a regular Sunday critique group at Wayward Cafe in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, and a new group, a monthly “Brag-a-Thon,” in which participants win a sticker for having a story rejected by an agent or a publisher. It’s all intended to build solidarity in a traditional publishing business growing less and less welcoming of writers, ironically, particularly new writers, if they don’t fit into a pre-existing pigeonhole.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of my participation in these groups. It puts the lie to the image of the lonely scribbler at his or her word processor pounding out the next great American sci-fi novel. Though a writer can isolate himself, writing is a social act that depends on support from friends, feedback from colleagues, and if you’re very lucky, help from a publisher. Here’s to a long run for Two-Hour Transport and her sister activities.

The next Two-Hour Transport is Wednesday, April 26, at at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle. To participate in the open mic, place your name in the hat near the stage.

Have you attended a Two-Hour Transport reading? What did you think?

How would King Arthur’s knights cope with a climate-changed world?

King Arthur painting

James Archer painted The Death of Arthur in 1861. King Arthur lays mortally wounded after his final battle. He waits for a ship to take him to the Isle of Avalon.

My wife and I drove from Seattle to Powell’s Books in Portland a couple of weeks ago to satisfy an itch. At this point, I’ve written three novels and eight shorts in the world of Carbon Run, but the project has run its course. Is there another way to explore the idea of a post-global warming world in which protecting the environment is the society’s single most important value?

For a variety of reasons, my mind turned to fantasy, which is odd, because I’ve never been attracted to epic fantasy, or high fantasy. I found Tolkien too dense and I shrugged at most other dragons-and-magic stories. Having said that, I enjoyed the early novels in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). He plays down the wand-waving and flying lizards shtick in favor of character development and relationships.

This led to a realization: I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends. It’s easy to forget that these romances were the literary fiction of the High Middle Ages, and they’re full of magic objects, fabulous beasts, and so on. The stories of King Arthur are as much about greed, lust, pride, loyalty, bravery, and family drama as they are about enchantments and floating castles. Merlin, as an archetype, gets a lot of play in modern fantasy, but his role is relatively limited, though important, in the Arthurian stories. I like that. Continue reading

Five Questions: Sabrina Chase, author of the Argonauts of Space series

One Blood cover

Cover image for One Blood, the second book of the Argonauts of Space series.

I’d like to introduce you to Sabrina Chase, a Seattle author whom I met through one of my writers groups. She gave a fascinating talk about how to successfully publish as an independent. It can be very rewarding, but it’s a lot of work, she says. Sabrina is the author of the Argonauts of Space series, including The Scent of Metal, One Blood, and the upcoming Soul Code.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.
I’ve been writing since I was 13, so I’m afraid I don’t remember.

Sabrina Chase

Sabrina Chase

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?
One thing about being an indie writer is you are elbow-deep in the sausage making from the beginning to the end, so it was more of a “oh good, that step is finished” rather than a shock of revelation. It wasn’t “real” to me until I got my first non-family reviews…

What is your favorite piece of advice for new writers?
There is no royal road, no matter how talented you are (or aren’t) and areas of talent vary. Every successful person had to work hard at *something.* Don’t envy the “overnight successes;” they often have twenty years of hard work before that success that aren’t mentioned in the press release.

One thing about being an indie writer is you are elbow-deep in the sausage making.

If you were queen, what would you change about the publishing world?
I would really like to have translation exchanges so I could get my books out in different languages. (Indie already has changed the publishing world!)

What is your next project? Timeline?
I am currently writing Soul Code, the third and final book in the Argonauts of Space series. I hope to have it published by the end of 2017.

Bonus question: If you could reincarnate as another writer, living or dead, who would it be?
Terry Pratchett, a wonderful, funny writer who left us too soon. The beard would take a little getting used to, though.

I’m welcoming more authors to my Five Questions series. To learn more, check out my Promote Your Book page.

Author Mem Fox and Donald Trump’s chilling of America

Mem Fox reads to kids

Author Mem Fox reads to her audience. Image courtesy Adelaide Advertiser.

The recent mistreatment of Australian author Mem Fox by US Customs and Border Patrol heralds a little-discussed effect of President Trump’s plan to shut the door on immigration. Her detention by CBP could have a chilling effect on the cross-fertilization of ideas that makes open societies so powerful. As Trump attacks illegal immigration, he is sending a message that any visitor is suspect, and Fox’s experience underlines the argument.

In February, Fox was en route to Milwaukee to attend a conference on literacy, tolerance, and inclusion. Fox is the author of numerous children’s books, including Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes, and Possum Magic. At the airport, she was detained for two hours by CBP on a visa problem, which turned out to be the CBP’s error. She has visited the US 117 times.

“In that moment I loathed America,” she says. “This is not the way to win friends.”

America is proud of its history of openness to new ideas from the outside. That’s part of our heritage of welcoming immigrants, because they bring new energy and approaches that enrich us, figuratively and literally. The country also welcomes visiting artists and writers for the same reason, in hopes that cross-cultural fertilization raises everyone up. During the Cold War, despite the hostility, the Soviet Union and the U.S. each sent ambassadors in the form of writers, symphonies, dance companies, and visual artists in the interests of peace. It took the edge off the mutual suspicion.

If I were stopped at the border, how I would prove I was a writer? Compose a sequel to War and Peace?

Which artists and writers will now think twice about visiting, given Fox’s experience, and the Trump Administration’s tone? Engineers may already be thinking about staying away. A Nigerian engineer was stopped at the border and told to prove his expertise by taking a test. If I were stopped, how I would prove I was a writer? Compose a sequel to War and Peace?

In effect, every visitor is an ambassador, and there are signs they are going elsewhere. According to travel industry figures, searches for on flights to major US tourist attractions are down by nearly half. Not only does the country suffer intellectually, these drops have a major economic impact on tourism-dependent communities. The industry says the “Trump slump” has cost $185 million in business.

America is in danger of losing its reputation as a welcoming light to all peoples, whether to stay or to visit. Some want us to close our doors to the stranger. If they win, we’ll all be the poorer.

What do you think? How will we maintain our reputation for openness?

For me, 2017 will be the Year of the Contest

trophies

A few of my writing trophies, layers of dust and all.

I’ve been writing professionally for thirty years, and I’ve tended to see entering contests and competitions as a chore. I’m not sure why, except that I’ve never liked competing against other people, preferring to compete against myself. I like to push myself on and on, to see if I can beat my last personal best. That said, I enjoy winning and the recognition that comes with it. I’ve won a few prizes and have a small shelf of trophies from my journalism days.

2007 was the last year I took home a trophy from a writing competition, when I won a local award for my book on the history of the schooner Wawona. Sometime in the distant past, maybe during the 1980s, I believe I won a short fiction competition based in Oregon, but I can’t find the documentation. I may have imagined it.

I started taking fiction seriously around 2008, when I began work on Carbon Run. I focused almost exclusively on finishing the novel and the subsequent novels, City of Ice and Dreams, and Restoration. I completed the latter manuscript a few weeks ago, and I’ve been focused on writing short stories set in the Carbon Run world, with an eye toward publication in sci-fi magazines as a way to get some visibility, should the novels ever be published.

I enjoy winning and the recognition that comes with it.

In the course of research magazine markets, I ran across fiction contests, both literary and genre-based. In a couple of cases, one or two of my Carbon Run stories seem a perfect fit. Contests these days are much easier to enter. Before email, you had to send in several printed copies of contest entries, which cost time and money. I no longer had the excuse of calling contests a chore, when all you have to do is send an email or upload the entry to a website after filling in an online form.

With my lame excuse gone, I put together a spreadsheet of likely contests and competitions, especially focused on Carbon Run. Many contests are free or have a relatively low submission fee, between $10 and $30. As long as I maintain spending discipline, I should be able to enter one paid contest a month and as many free contests as I can find.

If I’m lucky, 2017 will be the Year of the Contest for me. I could earn recognition, a small cash prize or two, and most importantly, some street credibility in the speculative fiction and publishing community. Perhaps a win or two might help me push through the wall of indifference among literary agents, or the disinterest (so far; I still have a couple of manuscripts out) of presses, big and small. I’m crossing my fingers. I have nothing to lose.

Have you entered a contest recently? Tell me about it in the comments.

I must be crazy, because I’m a college student again

Last October, I wrote about my layoff from Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. Nearly three months later, my professional life has taken an unexpected turn: I’m a college student again.

My career path is much like the zig-zag of a UFO across the sky. I started out as a journalist, mostly because I wanted to write and earn a steady paycheck. The fact that I loved reading newspapers and later fell in love with radio was icing on the cake. It was relatively easy, however, for me to drop into the software industry when RealNetworks wanted me to write articles showcasing its audio software.

It was around that moment that the seeds for my decision were planted. Continue reading

Hey, Tacoma. I’m making a rare appearance at Foss Waterway Seaport!

Lighthouse Guide cover image

I’ll be talking about the Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses and its companion guide Dec. 10, 2016 at Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma.

It’s been years since I’ve made a public appearance, but my friend Wes Wenhardt, the executive director of Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, asked me to give a talk. I’ll be at FWS 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, December 10. I’ll be speaking about some of my favorite Puget Sound maritime heritage attractions listed in my books.

I’ve published two maritime history guidebooks, The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Maritime History, and The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses. I published the books in 2010 and 2012 respectively because no comprehensive, single-volume travel guides existed for U.S. maritime heritage attractions, including maritime museums, tall ships, and lighthouses.

Copies of my books will be available for sale at the presentation. Foss Waterway Seaport’s address is 705 Dock Street in Tacoma. Hope to see you there!

Have you visited Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma?

I’m between projects and I need your help deciding what to work on next.

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Not sure if I’m carefully weighing my options or being indecisive.

I’m religious about my work habits. I set aside two hours a day for writing only. I decide what I’ll work on and do that thing until it’s done or the two hours are up. I’ll add 15 minutes here, cut 15 minutes there, work on a lower priority item if I finish the high priority task, that sort of thing, but the core principle is like a rock. As a writer with only a few fiction credits, this helps me feel that I’m moving forward.

There’s one point where my little method fails. When I’m between major projects, I’m all sixes and sevens. I’m uncertain what to do with myself. Start a new project? Tinker with an old project? Get a real job?

Take the current moment. On Saturday, I finished a major revision for City of Ice and Dreams, the second novel in my as-yet-unpublished Carbon Run series. I’ve incorporated suggestions from my editor, John Paine, and a half-dozen beta readers. I’ve worked on it an average of five or six days a week for half a year or more. It’s consumed much of my waking life. I capped this portion of the project by writing a synopsis and a template query letter to agents and publishers. I’m working to push this project out of the nest, if anyone will have it.

Now what? Continue reading