Customized Google

Once upon a time in the early days of the intertubes, like last year, you and I could Google the same phrase and get the same results. As we continue down the path of Minority Report where every advertisement ever is customized for our interests and needs of that moment, Google is not so simple a tool as it once was. You see, based on your history and your interests and various brainwaves in specific key areas of your brain, Google can predict what sites would be of most interest to you based on your search parameters.

Humor aside, Google the company has modified its search algorithm so that Google the search engine takes into account various information it has collected about you and customizes your search results to best provide you the results that you would most likely want based on your search parameters and personal tastes.

I don't mind this so much. I mean, yes, it's one more layer away from our privacy onions, but it's not any more intrusive than Facebook and doesn't require me to go into my privacy settings to uncheck boxes that clearly cross a line every four months.

Where this really takes away the fun for me is looking at my analytics here on the website/blog. One of the fields you review is search terms that people used to arrive at your site.

  1. what is being factual?
  2. "moss troll problem"1
  3. henchman street history, boston, ma
  4. hobo writing2
  5. jennifer hillier creep3
  7. josephlselby.com4
  8. sarah megibow rejection partial

I was particularly interested in where I showed up in the Sarah Megibow rejection list (her name is Sara Megibow by the way, without the H). Searching through the first ten pages, I could not find a result that came to my website. Really, if something isn't in the first ten pages, it's not worth finding. SO, this leads us to one of two possible conclusions:

Option 1) My search is customized differently than that person. I'll never know just where I appeared in their search results.

Option 2) That person looked farther than ten pages, in which case, dude, you need to chill. Yeah, Sara rejects partials, including mine and if you went past ten pages, obviously yours as well. Be happy she requested a partial. Plenty of people got passed. Look at the silver lining. And unless you pull out the dick response, she'll be more than receptive to your next query. (She was challening me to submit my next manuscript the NEXT DAY after she passed on my partial. And I picked up that throne gauntlet with alacrity. If this is a duel, it's one I'm going to win. But I'm going to do it with class and manners. So don't be a dick, crazy person.)

Option 35) Someone was trying to find my blog post the other day and thought it would be faster to look over pages of Google search results than scroll down the front page of my website. Because, you know, sure, whatever. I got nothin'.

1 When you put quotes around a search phrase, you are telling your search engine that you want an exact match. Don't look for individual words Moss, troll, and problem. No, that person has a moss troll problem specifically and needed to come here to try and figure out what to do. This is weird because I don't believe I've ever discussed moss trolls before nor do I know how to deal with them (giant slugs would be my first suggestion, though). Still, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed your time here.

2 YES! Someone is searching for hobo writing! I have officially coined a phrase! (Pauses to make sure it wasn't me. ... no, no it wasn't.) WOO HOO! I hope to go hobo writing again soon.

3 Muah ha ha ha ha, someone Googling Jennifer Hilier's new book came here instead. See that, kiddies? You don't need to write a book, you just need to filch other people's fame. Awesome. I'm winning!

4 Wait... You Googled to figure out how to come to Isn't that like asking what the number is for 9-1-1?

5 I know I said there were only two options, but that one is technically an option too. An incredibly lazy, more work than just coming here, round about way to remember a post I just published last week.

It's a Code!

Every once in awhile I'm in the mood to write a conspiracy thriller story. So I'm updating a website to a new edition. The editor gives me chapter summaries in a Word doc, which implies they're all new. But they're not. Most of them are identical to the previous edition. BUT not all of them are, so rather than sending me a correlation document that says what I should keep and what I should change, I have to go through them all line by line.

Now the simple short cut to this is to look at the beginning and end of the bullet point. If they match, the rest does too (I tested this theory just to make sure I was correct--which I was). Scan for page numbers that might have changed and you're good to go.

In a couple of chapters, a weird thing happened. The first word and last word of each bullet point, when all points were read in succession, ALMOST formed sentences. Grand conspiracies of world manipulation and domination began to surface. I was part of some grand plot!!!

Oh, no wait, now it stopped making sense. I was ALMOST part of some GRAND PLOT!

But that would be kind of interesting, eh? Not someone who is really good at ciphers or puzzles but is just doing something mundane and stumbles on something that was in plain sight.

Who does he tell? How does he tell? Now he's on the run by what might as well be called the Illuminati! Oh no!!!!

Oh, you're a writer?

I stopped telling people I write fantasy unless they directly ask what I write. Even then, they get that masked look on their face like they're trying their damndest to hide their disdain. That or they had a sudden bout of diarrhea they were fending off.

Any more, really, I don't like telling people I'm a writer at all. Unless I'm around other writers (and even then the dick measuring can be tiresome). The first thing people ask is whether you've written something they've read. No, because it hasn't been published yet. Then how are you a writer? Well, sir, that is an oft discussed topic and one I do not care to repeat with someone who doesn't really care but is only making small talk.

What I don't mind telling them is that I work for a publisher. I do and have been in the industry for 8+ years now. I know my craft well. BUT the first thing I have to stipulate is that I'm not in acquisitions because the first thing people say when you tell them you work for a publisher is that they have a book idea.

It's always an idea too, never a book. "I have this book I've been trying to get published." If only. "I have this idea. Maybe I could give it to you and someone could write it." Yeah, you've read plenty of other posts that properly enumerates our disdain for such comments. I won't repeat them here.

BUT, last week, I got the comments to beat all comments. There is a crazy guy that comes into Jackie's that they've dubbed El Grosso. Once he leaves, they put on rubber gloves and clean his spot at the counter, his chair, and everything near where he sat. He doesn't look crazy when he first comes in, but once he sits for a bit, he starts...leaking. Dirty tissues every, a pool of syrup on the plate the ducks could swim on, and so many other nasties that I won't bother telling you about because really, his name tells you all you need to know.

Well he asks me a question the other day. It's a closed question. Question. Answer. I know it. I tell it to him. I don't extrapolate but return to my book. Speaking to him, however, turns out to be the only invitation he needed. And now we're off to the races! Oh I work in publishing? Yes but not in acquisitions. I have a book idea. Of course you do. I work in educational publishing. We do textbooks. Oh, it could be a textbook. You'll certainly learn something if you read it. You'll learn about life!

They have that class in college? I don't think it was offered at my school.

So I have this book idea, but I'm just too lazy to write it. (At least he's honest.) You could publish it (the idea or the book? I don't think anyone will buy a printed idea). You work in Boston. I'd like to go to Boston. It would be a lot better than here. I thought about going to Oxford and giving them my book. They're smart over there. But you're here, so I'll let you publish it if you want.

I don't publish. I build the media that goes along with the textbooks. Websites, ebooks, that kind of thing.

But you know someone. Not really. You gotta know someone. I should just go over to Oxford. I could study there. Learn a lot of stuff.

Listen. You're a writer. Do you know any good universities in Las Vegas?

And I swear, not a thing of that is made up.

I'll Make a Bajillion Dollars!

So, as we all know, the reason there is still resistance to the ebook is because some people worry about losing their pretension. How can one prove that one is better than those around one if they cannot see that the book one is reading is clearly far beyond the reading level of everyone else gathered.

There had been a quickly-abandoned proposal of creating ereaders with screens on both sides, one for reading and one for showing the cover. Given that nearly all ereaders are immediately put into a protective cover, this proved a waste of time and monies.

But there must be a way we can welcome the coming epocalypse while maintaining our pretentious superiority! Well, there is, with the Selbomatic eBook Attenuated Label (SEAL-the bad ass of ebook covers).

Take the standard design for an ebook cover. Thick, padded sides with straps to hold in your ereader. Cut a rectangle into the top cover and shave off a few millimeters so there is a book-like divot in the cover. Slice an opening in the side. Print out a color image of the cover of the most pretentious book you want people to think you’re reading (and if you’re really concerned about looking superior, I suggest you actually read the book too lest someone else ask questions you cannot answer). Put the paper image between two thin pieces of plastic, then slide them into the opening until the image is situated in the divot. This divot being in truth a window to your intellectual superiority.

Ideally, you could manufacture this entire thing, but if your intellect can’t wait to be on display, you can accomplish it with a razor blade and a file. I am now accepting start-up capital.

Minimum Word Counts

When I lived in St. Louis and began to finally put genuine effort to a career in writing, I began the Third World, an epic setting required of every major fantasy author. To that point, I did not read critically. I read what I enjoyed and read for enjoyment. I did not stop to ponder word choice or sentence structure, pacing or plot. I just read. And because of that, I just wrote.

I wrote chapters for the story of that chapter and gave no thought to reader fatigue1 or for that matter writer fatigue. Both CAUSE AND CONVICTION (originally titled THE END OF BLISS) and A CIRCLE OF CRIMSON STONE have chapters that are 10,000 words long. So when you look at the Queue and you see a word count of 40,000 words, that means that book only has 4 chapters written.

Shortly after this, I joined my first writers' group. The response was the same as everyone else's response would eventually be: shock. One chapter is 10,000 words?! Are you crazy? That's so long? Is it? I didn't think it was. Perhaps it was just a difference of genre. They wrote thriller, sci-fi, women's paranormal and...well, not sure about the last lady. But none of them wrote epic fantasy. So clearly mine was more appropriate for my genre.

Was it? I was sure I had read plenty of epic fantasies with similar word counts. But there would only be one way I could know for sure. I went home and pulled books off my shelf. Martin, Williams, Rothfuss, and others. All epic fantasies, the bellwethers of word count. 250k minimum per manuscript. Then I did a cast off2 on a sampling of chapters in each novel. I got the evidence I needed.

The average word count was 2000 to 2500 words per chapter. In the monsters of the genre, the chapters were still only 1/4 the size of the chapters I was writing. Instead of having 25 chapters, they had 100 or more. So, in my next work, I decided I'd try writing shorter chapters.

My next work was BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE which ended up with chapters as short as 500 words, though most averaged about 2000. This proved to be a good move on my part because--as you can imagine--writing 10,000 word chapters can be exhausting. So now, as a rule for first-draft writing, all my chapters will be 2000 words long (minimum). This has been a great yardstick to use. 1100 words and I'm not fleshing out the scene enough. 4000 words and I've included too much back story. 1800-3300 words seems to be a great sweet spot.

This is also why I'm able to write in order and so quickly. I write 1000 words on my way into work. I write 1000 words on my way home, completing one chapter. 5 chapters--10,000 words--a week, and in 2-3 months, my novel's first draft is complete.

1 It's a weird psychological effect, but readers don't seem to handle long chapters well. They get mentally tired and want a break. Even if they don't take a break from reading, a chapter break seems to reset the internal clock, give them a sense of advancement, of knowing the story is moving toward its end. I could take the same ten-thousand word chapter and split it into two five-thousand word chapters, and the response from readers would be more favorable toward the latter. It's weird, but I've found this to be the case regardless of region or reader level.

2 The whole 250 words/page thing? Yeah, that's crap. That's the metric you use in a meeting when you're asked for the total page count and you haven't done a cast off yet. If you want a quick but accurate measure of how many words there are per page, you take a book of like design (you may not realize it, but books have different interior designs allowing for greater or fewer words per page), and do the following. Find five to ten pages that have a fair balance of dialogue and description (not all description and not all dialogue). Count how many words appear in the first five or six lines and divide by the number of lines. This gives you a word-per-line average. Then count the number of lines on each page and divide by the number of pages: lines-per-page. Divide the total word count by wpl average. Multiply this result by the lpp average and that is your projected page count.

There are ways to get even more precise page counts, but this one can be done in 5 to 15 minutes and is accurate enough for our purposes. For adult fantasy, the word count per page is closer to 300 to 350 per page rather than 250. Over the course of 100k-250k, that extra 100wpp can make a big difference.


This isn't a fully formed story idea, but something I wanted to write down for later. Today is my birthday (and if I weren't so tired, I had a completely different post I wanted to make but now I'm just going to go watch "Repo Men" instead). For my birthday, I went up to the White Mountains and went horseback riding. There is a ranch I've been to before (Rocky Ridge Ranch) and a horse I enjoy riding (Buddy).

We were walking along in the hotter-than-expected heat and I thought some people might feel bad for Buddy, having a few hundred pounds of saddle and human on his back. It wasn't like we were going much faster than I would have on foot. We're walking after all. But back in the day, it wouldn't be just me. It'd be all my gear too. Buddy was a Beast of Burden.

And that got me thinking. Where is Burden? Who are these beasts that live there? Are there any other similarly named locations? Could you be a Beast of Obligation? or a Beast of Obsession? Or do all the beasts come from Burden and you get something like trolls in Obsession? And why are these communities so homogeneous? Is there a segregation law that prevents beasts from living somewhere besides Burden?

And what's it like to live in Burden? It doesn't sound all that fun, really. Why doesn't anyone leave? Is it because the housing market is depressed? Or are beasts low wage-earners versus neighboring communities?

And for that matter, is Punishment a penal colony? It makes sense, given its name and all. But why do they only send fat people there? Or are they taking the broader definition of gluttony where the object is non-specific and it's simply the appetite that matters. Do the Greens from Envy take issue with how broadly gluttons are defined? Or do they have a summer home in Envy but winter in Punishment?

Have Fun Storming the Castle

Current, non-syndicated television runs in 30 or 60 minute time slots. Of those slots, the actual program will run 20-22 minutes or 42-44 minutes respectively. Its this constraint that allows a writer--if he or she so wishes to apply herself--to know the plot, the outcome, and the bad guy (if you're watching one of the myriad procedural dramas currently on television) long before the show reaches the reveal. Often, you can know all of it within the first few minutes.

Why does the timing make a difference? Because of the other rules. You cannot have a reveal with something that hasn't already been introduced in the episode. The doorman can't have killed the young starlet if he hasn't already had some speaking lines. The audience is given the chance to figure it out. And since we write for a living, that means we balance all the other demands of story in our heads, pacing, motivation, the twist, etc.

One would think that being able to figure out a television show so early in the program would defeat the fun. And if a show is done poorly, it absolutely does. But, I am not a book snob. I like television and movies and theatre. I like visual storytelling as much as (more than?) written storytelling. I don't just have a creative writing degree. I have a playwriting degree as well.

The reason this comes to mind at the moment is because I just finished watching the season 3 opener for "Castle." Like so many of its audience, I came to the show for Nathan Fillion being nothing short of a "Firefly" fanatic. The chemistry between all the leads is what brings me back, the witty yet warm voice the show has crafted for itself. The first fifteen seconds of the season opener made me shout GOO! when it cut to black. Of course, I already knew the twist and knowing the twist made me know the whodunnit when introduced. But who cares? When a show can make you shout GOO! it's worth watching, even if you already know what's going to happen.

I keep a list of recommendations on my website that includes TV shows I watch (or did watch when they were on, *sniff* I miss you Firefly *sniff*...okay, I didn't see that until it was on DVD, which is good because I got to watch it in order). I've been debating updating that list to make it more current.

Last season's offering of NCIS was dismal, the worst of the series run, and I don't know if I can bring myself to go back. I'll give it a shot with the season opener, but I'm not holding my breath (forgive me, Gibbs).

Chuck is luring me back with season 4 even though I skipped season 3.

With Numb3rs gone (it never recovered from constantly losing the female lead other than Navi Rawat [helllooooo nurse!]) and most of the other network fare looking lame or contrived (despite the various geek-themed shows which I suspect will come off condescending, though I admit to not having watched any of them).

I have increased my cable viewing now that they're streaming or releasing on DVD. Stargate: Universe has hooked me hard where I was never interested in the previous two series.

Psych continues to please, though I wonder if it peaked in season 3.

Eureka is a pleasant new discovery, but I've burned through the first three seasons and now have to wait. *pout*

I had been watching Leverage, but they used the "jealous triangle" early in season 3 and I hate that plot line.

So, this is a healthy list, more TV than I've watched since I first returned to the small screen (I had given it up for four years but the ad for Numb3rs and the discovery of NCIS season 2 pulled me back in). My wife and I usually watch an episode to destress at the end of the day. Neither of us want television to consume our evenings from activities we find more rewarding.

But for all that, and for knowing the stories usually as soon as they start, these shows have established a voice or present their characters in such a way that I want to keep coming back regardless.

How about you? When you're not reading or writing, what kind of stories do you fill your time with?

(Anyone that mentions reality TV gets slapped. We're talking storycraft here, people!)

(As a note, I've decided to separate reality TV like any show with the name Jersey in it from the post-modern gameshow. I really enjoy the skill that goes into competitions like "So You Think You Can Dance." If the hosts and the judges weren't so obnoxious, I might watch.)

Another List!

Elizabeth Poole loves Westerns. I love Westerns! TOP FIVE WESTERNS!

1a. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" - Aside from giving me my namesake, this movie has a lot of things going for it. It was the first Western where all the Native Americans were played by Native Americans. They were also portrayed as the threat they were to settlers rather than just people on horses who charge forward and run away. Josey Wales the character is the essence of Clint Eastwood's Western career boiled down to pure awesome. It's long and may drag a little at times, but when you see him glare and then spit, you know it's on!

1b. "Unforgiven" - Much like Rocky/Rocky Balboa, this movie allows Eastwood to add some craft to the whole creation. The case could be made that William Munny is Josey Wales as an older man. There is one scene in particular where Munny talks about how he doesn't know how he kills so well, he's just always been good at it. That's the exact opposite of Josey Wales who can read a gang of four soldiers and know who to kill and in what order. It's more an exploration of how two different men ended up in the same spot. And the end? With Ned? GOO!!!

3. "High Planes Drifter" - WOW! This one is all about atmosphere and hate and revenge and if I ever needed a movie to epitomize the Deadlands role playing game, it's "High Planes Drifter." With such big-name movies like the two above, this one is often left off of the must-see lists of Clint Eastwood movies, but if you haven't seen it, go rent it right now. I can't even tell you without spoiling it and you'll hate me if I do.

4. "The Specialist" - Yes, I said "The Specialist" and not "Rio Bravo" or any of the other myriad John Wayne movies (despite its inclusion of Dean Martin of whom I am a huge fan). John Wayne's characters had a certain style, much like Clint Eastwood's. In "The Specialist," he breaks that style and how! I would never have thought to see John Wayne play that kind of character. I expect Clint Eastwood to play that kind of character, which is probably why I like this one so much. :)

5. "Pale Rider" - Some people claim that the character from this movie and the character from "High Planes Drifter" is the same. I disagree for reasons I can't post because of spoilers. I do think the premise can be similar and that's all right because the premise is so awesome Clint is allowed to tell it twice. Any time you see a story quote Revelation about a man riding a pale horse? Yeah, a poor comparison to this movie. This is where that awesome was born. (It also has the tall guy from Happy Gilmore, and that's always interesting.)

Honorable Mention - Young Guns Emilio Estevez (Estevez), Keifer Southerland, and Lou Diamond Phillips? Nuff said.

Filling in the Middle

I still haven't started revision on THE TRIAD SOCIETY. Things keep cruising along with JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. One of my original reasons for getting TTS squared away was because I wanted to go to World Fantasy Con in Columbus. I've gone over the con website a dozen times. As con websites go, nothing on it has sold me on going there. What did sell me was the presence of Sara Megibow from the Nelson Literary Agency. NLA is at the top of my list of agencies I want to work with and has been for some time. The opportunity to meet Sara in person and perhaps overcome the suckitude that is my queries was appealing.

Of course, I just started a new job and rather than being busy in the summer, it's busy in the winter. I also took a slight pay cut. All this combined to have me withdraw from attending my wife's competition at Harmony, Inc's international barbershop competition in New Brunswick. Now, World Fantasy Con is a month earlier, so a case can be made that I could go to it and not IC&C. Of course, when the one is supporting myself and one the other is supporting my wife, I think it's a little selfish to withdraw from the one only to do the other.

Depending on my workload, I may not be able to do either regardless. So, the time crunch created by having a finished and finalized manuscript of THE TRIAD SOCIETY is gone if I don't go to WFC (and no, I would not pitch anything to Sara it wasn't in a state that I could hand it to her on the spot and feel confident it was an adequate representation of my skills.

This is good because I have not stopped working on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I'm coming to the end of the edges. Writing a novel by the seat of your pants (vs plotting, pantsing vs plotting, I'm a pantser) is like putting together a puzzle. You have a scattered mess of ideas that you need to arrange and put together to form a coherent picture. Like any puzzle you start with the easiest pieces, placing the corners and then the edges. Eventually you have to fill in the middle. That's when you reach that point in the story where you can't skirt around the plot any more. You need to decide on protagonist and antagonist motivations, decisions, and outcomes.

In JH, the main character (aptly named Jehovah) is forced to kill five people or the Hanged Man will kill him and his entire family. Of those five people, I only know the name of one. I know the profession of two others. I need to figure out how these five people are connected (I have a loose understanding, like edge pieces with very distinctive holes that allow you to connect a middle piece) and how Jehovah is going to navigate his interaction with these five people to reach the climax of the story.

This is much harder (like the middle of a puzzle). So, once I get to that grind, maybe I'll switch back to TTS. But you know, right now, it doesn't feel like I will. This is really rolling. I have a good vision of this setting. I'll need to revise to make a lot of the character dialect consistent, but I knew that from the beginning. For a first draft, this is coming along swimmingly.