Friday, February 25, 2005

This ad match is so bad it's almost funny...

My publisher just posted the following notice on their message board. This is so bad it's almost funny...

Earlier today I set up the section of the board for Xanna Vinson's The Song of an Emerald Dove. I sent her email saying that the section was ready, and encouraging her to register, get her username, and log in.

Later I got an email from her, and don't you believe that it's impossible to tell emotion in emails. I could almost feel the horror in her voice.

You see, the ads that run at the top of this message board are part of the Google AdSense program. Google's software apparently reads the text of the page and finds an ad with similar words. (I'm simplifying it, surely, but you catch my drift.) Well, sometimes the ads it shows aren't quite appropriate...

For example, for Xanna, a staunch animal lover who kept doves for many years, an ad for dove HUNTING at the top of her message board section was NOT appropriate!

I looked at the ads again tonight and there were four: one was for dove releases (as in weddings), two were for hunting, and one was for CDs by a group called the Doves.

There *is* a way to filter out ads that are not appropriate for the text, but the message board providers said that because of the way the ads are implemented on this system, it's not possible for them to filter out ads for individual message boards.

So please bear with us while we search for a solution. I like Google and Google ads, and I realize that this is just a faulty algorithm, but I know how disturbing a mismatch like this can be.

Harvest Shadows Publications

Wow. Can you imagine? I mean, here we have ads for companies who provide beautiful, peaceful releases of doves as a symbol of love and peace stacked next to ads for companies who provide you the means of slaughtering them! Ya gotta love the Internet!


What I'm Reading Now...

  • Page After Page by Heather Sellers
  • How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style by Laurie E. Rozakis
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Morven Goes to Boskone

I've known about Boskone for ages. A good friend, an artist, was an active member of the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) when I first met her and I remember her talking about the con, the fen, NESFA publications -- everything. Yet I never went, not even the ten years it was held in Framingham, where I grew up.

I thought I wouldn't find anything interesting. After all, I've never read more than a handful of SF books, get bored with talk of rocketry and space travel, and am generally too lazy a reader to ingest, understand, and absorb complex fictional universes. Yeah, I did love the original Star Trek TV series, but Star Trek is not what Boskone is about.

And yes, I knew there was a Fantasy aspect to the con, and though I've read more Fantasy than SF, my reading experience still numbers only a dozen books or so. I think the last time that I read Fantasy was around the release of Wizard of Earthsea or Mists of Avalon. Regardless, it was a very long time ago.

Somehow it totally escaped me that there was any Horror connection. Imagine my surprise when fellow members of HWA/New England Chapter told me that there were interesting horror panels at this year's Boskone. Some of them were even panelists. Well, that settled it. One can't leave one's horror buddies flapping their jaws at an SF con with no moral support, can one? Around 11 pm Friday night, after the con already started, I decided I'd go.

Doesn't sound like a big deal, does it? Boston, 30 miles away, train just a half mile from my house? Well, except that it's winter. And the train doesn't stop near me on weekends. And I'm not sure if I should drive or take the train from another station. And... Not very good excuses are they? No. So I went. And had a GREAT time.

I knew that the con would be well-organized. Any organization that manages to have its own clubhouse and publishing arm has to be able to manage a con. No disappointments there. The programming was excellent, from my point of view. Too bad I missed going Friday -- I missed a panel on "Vampire-Romance-Fantasy-Humor Crossovers and Others," one on weblogs (of course -- how timely), one called "Beginning Anime" (would have helped me communicate more intelligently with my anime-loving nephew), and one on writing groups! I wouldn't have had a blank spot all evening! DARN!

Saturday morning, after a nice cuppa Starbucks off the hotel lobby, I attended a panel on "Publishing Realities," with professional editors and an art director. They talked about what happens after a publisher buys your novel. It was fascinating, and the first time I had heard an art director speak on the topic. Briefly mentioned was "sophomoritis," a very real phenomena where writing the second novel seems so much more difficult than writing the first... (wonder why I homed in on that?)

Next for me was "Literary Horror vs Commercial Horror," a panel with F. Brett Cox, Craig Shaw Gardner, John Harvey, and Darrell Schweitzer. I know them all either from the HWA/New England Chapter or from Necon, a very small horror writer's convention I've been attending for 5-6 years now. As always, they were very informative and entertaining. They discussed current and past authors and why some might be considered literary and some commercial. The lines aren't as clear-cut as one would think. Craig Shaw Gardner pointed out that it's more along a continuum. John Harvey noted that the designation of commercial or literary probably has as much to do with Marketing needs as with the actual writing. Just as interesting were some of the side notes. Did you know that "Psycho" was originally presented as a "crime drama"? It seems that a lot of horror novels and films were, way back when Horror didn't have its own designation.

Next panel I attended was "The Halloween Business" with Charles Lang, F. Brett Cox, and Craig Shaw Gardner. Are you noticing a pattern here? Our poor HWA/Necon pros got picked for most of the horror panels. I attended all of them, and although there was -- naturally -- a little repetition here and there, I was still impressed with how fresh they remained and how much new information they added each time. In this panel, moderator Lang (someone with whom I was not familiar) led a discussion about the popularity of horror and asked if pop culture has diminished the field. One comment was that we might be having a horror boom because of terrorism. It seems that when people feel that things are out of control (as they did after WWII), they turn to horror to express or exorcise their fears. As someone said in a later panel, people get more superstitious in uncertain times, which could mean a boost in supernatural horror movies and novels. (Yay!)

"Finances for Freelancers" seemed to be the least coherent of the panels I attended, but I still walked away with good information and a better idea of what it means when you quit the day job... sigh.

I was late for the Guest of Honor speech, and though even I, ignorant of SF writers as I am, know who Orson Scott Card is and know it would have been valuable to hear him speak, I didn't feel right muscling my way through standing-room only real fans to hear him. I sat outside the room for a few minutes, listening through the open door, but couldn't catch enough of it to stay focused. From the laughter I could hear through the walls, though, I can guess it was a fabulous talk.

"Tropes of Horror" was on at the same time as "What New Writers Need to Know"! Damn! I would have loved to attend both, but I felt drawn to listen to F. Brett Cox, Craig Shaw Gardner, and Paul Tremblay. Though it was encouraging to hear Craig say that "No trope is done to death if done properly," the warm fuzzy feeling was balanced by more than one of the panel saying that they had a hard time forcing themselves to read yet another vampire novel.

"Building Characters" was a good workshop for any writer -- not just SF or Horror or Fantasy. I think that's what surprised me most about Boskone -- there was just so much for me as a writer! Of course, the panelists did talk about aliens and space ships, but I was so busy jotting down notes from other threads in the session that I didn't even have a chance to go brain numb. Paul Tremblay was on the panel, but the other two writers were SF writers, and I enjoyed listening to their viewpoints and experiences.

"As You Know, Bob..." Ah, once again, another good one for any writer! This one was on the problem of getting background information into your novel without it being obvious or contrived. Very good panel with Greer Gilman, Kelly Link, and Juliet McKenna, authors who I wasn't familiar with, but who were very knowledgeable and articulate.

Having learned on Saturday that there isn't a break in the program for lunch, I decided to skip the noon panel about J. R. R. Tolkien's modeling of the Rohirrim on the Anglo-Saxons who were the original English. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB idea. Had I looked at the panel list -- which I didn't, because I figured I didn't know any of these SF and F people -- I would have seen that the friend I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog was on the panel! Arggghhh!

The last horror panel on the agenda was "Undying Horror," a discussion of horror flicks, especially some of the newer Japanese films and their Hollywood knockoffs. I was a little late for this one, having run into another friend of mine just before the panel began, and got caught up in catching up...

For the last panel, I couldn't decide between "Exotic Mythologies" (positioned to give one ideas to draw on other than the standard Celtic mythology) and "Interviewing an Art Director." Since I knew less about how art direction and cover design work than I do about different mythologies, I opted for the Art Director. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB! Had I gone to "Mythologies," I would have run into my friend that I mentioned in the first paragraph.

After the panel, I made one last pit stop before leaving the warmth of the hotel for the cold outside. Nearing the escalator, I took one last look around, hoping I could run into my Friend from Paragraph One, and who did I spy leaning on a railing, looking down over the escalator? Yup. Said Friend from Paragraph One with her son and husband.

All in all, it was an unbelievably good con for me, and I can't stop kicking myself for not going sooner! Well, I will. Just long enough to pencil in the date for next year!


What I'm Reading Now...
  • Page After Page by Heather Sellers
  • How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style by Laurie E. Rozakis
  • Perfect Trust by M. R. Sellars

Copyright © 2005 Morven Westfield

Monday, February 07, 2005

This Ain't the Fever Talkin'

After my "Writing Hurts" post, you were probably thinking to yourself, "What a freakin' wimp." Well, wait. There's more.

Maybe those two weeks of pain that culminated in a monster headache on Jan 31 and a sore throat on Feb 1 were leading up to something. I've got what the guy at the end of the phone at the doctor's office called, "That virus that's going around." Give it another week, he says. Okay. Sure. Why not? The last week's been a bit of a blur, and that ain't the fever talkin'.

What pisses me off the most is spending 4 days in bed, 3 days when I was off the day job and could have been writing. I probably should have tried anyway. Sure, I was so fever-spaced I could barely think, but maybe the words would have been interesting. Maybe I would have produced a new character, one whose speech or thought patterns would have been radically different from anything I wrote so far... But then what would I have done when the fever broke and I couldn't write like that anymore?

Well, at least I'm getting time to catch up on my reading.

What I'm Reading Now...
  • Page After Page by Heather Sellers
  • How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat
  • A Voice in the Forest by Jimahl di Fiosa
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style by Laurie E. Rozakis

Copyright © 2005 Morven Westfield

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Could spring be coming?

Even though the temp is barely up to freezing, I wonder if spring is coming... The last couple of days I've noticed that the cats are lying in the sunny spots of the room rather than on the heated cat bed.

Does that mean the rays are getting stronger?* Possibly. Today (or tomorrow) is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

(*Yeah, yeah, the strength doesn't change. It's the angle of the rays as they hit the earth, but the end result is that the sun feels stronger. [grin])

Speaking of freezing, here's a look at the thermometer from last week:

The temperature outside

What I'm Reading Now...

  • Vampyrrhic by Simon Clark
  • A Voice in the Forest by Jimahl di Fiosa
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style by Laurie E. Rozakis
  • Magic Spells and Incantations by Elizabeth Pepper

Copyright © 2005 Morven Westfield