Pirates Without Ships: Are You A Pirate?

Remember the stories of swashbuckling pirates sailing the high seas? Taking ships and stealing the property of others? Buried treasures and tropical islands?

Some of today’s pirates still sail the seas in order to steal from others. But there are far more pirates out there, surfing the uncharted waters of the internet, stealing property left and right.

And many don’t even realize they’re pirates, or that they’re stealing from someone else!

Are YOU A Pirate??

Have you ever downloaded a song, book, movie, etc., from a file sharing site? You know, that new release that you can’t wait to get your hands on, and suddenly, it pops up free online? So of course, you download it, and tell a couple hundred of your closest Facebook friends it’s there, right? Of course you do. Why shouldn’t you?

Well, here’s why. If that book or song or movie isn’t free from the creator or licensed distributor, then you’re stealing it.

With all the recent attention on SOPA/PIPA, I wanted to let everyone know why some sort of legislation that protects Intellectual Property from being stolen needs to be enacted, until such time as the creators of Intellectual Property are compensated for their work, regardless of who’s downloading and who’s distributing copies.

Everyone Does It…

Yes, many people do. That doesn’t make it right. It’s still theft.

Okay, so it’s a crime. But it’s victimless, right? So who cares. Everyone knows authors and musicians are rich. They aren’t going to miss that couple of bucks. WRONG!

A few authors earn big money. They are not the average! Most earn a few hundred dollars for each book they write. Gone are the days of big advances from publishers. The few that still offer advances have cut them down to an average of $3-5k, and that comes in 3 separate parts, usually months apart. And guess what! That advance has to be paid back! It’s an advance against the book’s future earnings.

So, if the author’s contract stipulates that royalties will be 15% (about average for a traditional publisher) of the net profit (after the publishers expenses – offices, editors, artists, secretaries, actual publication costs, and who knows what else – and the distributor, the people who get it from the publisher to the bookstore shelves, take 50% right off the top), then depending on the cover price, each copy sold earns the author from a few cents to maybe $3 (for a hardcover at full price) at most. The book has to sell enough copies to earn back that $3-5k advance, one dollar at a time, before the author sees a penny of the royalties. And that can be for months, or even years, of work! So, every single copy sold is important to the author. And so is every single copy stolen.

Yeah, but…

One of the arguments used to justify this kind of piracy is to compare it to a library. Not the same thing at all. A library purchases a copy. That one copy gets lent to one person at a time. If each person keeps it 2 weeks, and it’s immediately checked out again, that one copy is viewed a total of 26 times a year.

But, if that one copy is uploaded to a file sharing site, it can be downloaded thousands of times a day! And that’s just that one original copy. Each of those thousands of copies can potentially be uploaded to file sharing sites, and each of them downloaded thousands of times a day. And each of those thousands… You get the idea.

Another argument is that the people who download pirated copies wouldn’t purchase a copy anyway. Well, maybe. Maybe not. You see, there are unscrupulous pirates out there. They charge visitors to their sites a subscription fee, or a download fee, or whatever they want to call it. Essentially, they steal copies of a book, share them however many times, and charge the people downloading that stolen copy. The pirates are getting paid for what doesn’t belong to them. What’s the world coming to, when criminals cheat?!

The downloaders actually bought their copy, just not from the person who created it. They bought it from thieves. So, at least some of those people would have purchased it from the creator, even thought they did.

Do YOU want to work for NOTHING?

So, here’s the thing. If you want your favorite authors, artists, musicians, etc., to continue to produce the entertainment you enjoy, please don’t steal from them. If they can’t earn a decent living for their families doing what they love, they’ll have to devote more time and energy to a regular job. Most authors do have dayjobs, writing the books you enjoy in the evenings and on weekends, giving up most leisure activities in favor of entertaining you. They can’t feed their children and keep a roof over their heads if their work is always stolen, and they can’t continue to devote the kind of time and focus it takes to write a book if they’re not going to get paid for it. Would you work a second job for free? Didn’t think so.

If you want to read you favorite author’s books, shell out the 5 or 6 bucks so she gets paid for the 3 or more months of hard work she spent creating it. If you seriously can’t afford to buy it, there are lots of legitimate ways to get free copies. Authors and publishers often have a couple of days where the book is free to download. Watch the author’s blog, they often host giveaways on other blogs in order to promote the book. Sometimes the book will be included in a huge giveaway where the winner receives a dozen or more books for free. Become a reviewer – larger review sites often need new people to read and review books, and normally, they provide the books.

Let other people know that not only is downloading pirated copies illegal,  it isn’t just stealing from some faceless corporation. Encourage people to borrow from the library. Several ereaders allow the owner to lend copies of books they own. Suggest a couple of friends go together and buy a paperback copy.

When you download a free book, make sure it’s legitimately free. Download for the author’s site, the publisher’s site, or an authorized retailer’s site. If you doubt whether the book might actually be free, check with the author or publisher. If you come across pirate copies available online, notify the author or publisher so they can take action to stop the illegal downloading.

Do the right thing. It’s not that difficult. Really.

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Too Real For Fiction?

 

A Fact Checker Is Born

I’ve always been geeky, more so at some phases of my life than others. Back in the late 90s, when I finally gave in and started internet service for my work computer, I was instantaneously hooked. All that lovely information out there, right at my fingertips! Suddenly, I could easily and quickly access facts about any subject I chose, no matter how obscure.

Besides being geeky, I’ve also always expected authors to know at least basic information about their settings, and other elements of their books. Put a key Civil War battle in the wrong location, call a mare ‘he’, or place a wild animal outside its possible ecological range, and the book turned into a wall-banger. Add the internet, and I could immediately check facts that just didn’t quite ring true.

WRONG!!!

And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Today’s reading public is more demanding than ever for accuracy and realism in fiction. We want police procedures to ring true, manufacturer-model-caliber of firearms, medical facts accurate enough for the JAMA, and so on.

As a result of all that, countless readers criticize certain genres for being unrealistic. Make up a creature? Can’t exist, so it’s unrealistic. Alternate history? Yeah, right. A man who treats the woman he loves with respect? Absolutely not!

If you’re going to do something like those things, as an author, you’re often expected to make sure everything else in your book is accurate. No fudging historical details. No bending of physical laws. No hedging of medical details. No liberties with geography. No contriving logic. Well, you can, but someone, probably lots of them, is going to give you grief about it.

The info hound in me is glad for this insistence on accuracy. In part, because it means that as I read, I might be gathering little bits of trivia that could prove useful eventually. Also because I don’t like misinformation being distributed as what someone might mistake for truth.

Creativity v. Real

But the creative part of me wonders just how much realism and accuracy I should expect in fiction. It is, after all, fiction. Inherently not real. Do I really need the author to give the right police code for a kitten up a tree, when the responding officer is going to fall victim to the spree killer? And do I seriously care what kind of suture the surgeon uses to close the gut-spilling, as long as the hero survives it? And what the hell difference does it make whether the germ causing the pandemic is correctly named and classified, if the heroine doesn’t manage to get the cooler with the cure in it across the city so it can be put to use? Do I really care if the heroine’s ball gown is a color that won’t be widely available for another 75 years, as long as she manages to escape the evil countess’s clutches and entice the duke into falling in love with her?

Seriously?

As a reader, why do I get pissed if the author fails to correctly name an obscure object, if the characters are multi-dimensional, the plot interesting, the conflicts exciting, and all the elements of the story well-written? Is it really that important?

I’m not questioning whether the big things should be realistic, things like key battles in the wrong location in a historical novel, or sending low-slung sports cars along heavily rutted logging tracks in a contemporary novel, and that sort of thing.

I’m talking about those little insider details that no one outside a particular field of expertise would know. Do you care that the little container a tattoo artist puts the ink in when tattooing someone is called an ink cap? Or that the narrow band at the top of a horse’s hoof is the coronet? If it doesn’t matter to the story as a whole, do we need our fiction to be that real?

What’s your preference, as a reader? Do you like books filled with excruciatingly real details? Or can you tolerate a little laxness, if the story is good, and otherwise well-written? What are some of the glaring errors you’ve spotted in books?

A Hero To Die For

**Just a note before your regularly scheduled post. WordPress has offered the opportunity for bloggers to protest SOPA/PIPA, either by going dark today, or displaying the “Stop Censorship” Ribbon until the Jan 24th  Senate vote on SOPA/PIPA, or both. I decided to go with the ribbon, for various reasons.

As a writer, I am 100% against online piracy and theft of Intellectual Property. If I choose to give my work away, I will do so, but I don’t want anyone stealing it from me. But I do NOT believe this legislation is the way to go about protecting against those crimes. I urge EVERYONE in the US to contact their US Senators and tell them point-blank, “Do NOT support SOPA/PIPA if you want to SERVE another term!” Remind them they serve at the pleasure of the people, to represent the people.

If they do not accurately represent you, WORK against them in their next re-election bid. Don’t bitch about the poor job they do if you sit home on election day and justify your lack of fulfilling your civic responsibility by whining that the rich dude or the corporate dude or the insert-your-own-adjective dude will win no matter what. He absolutely WILL if you, and everyone else, continue to sit on your ass and do nothing about it. If you do the work, and he wins anyway, then at least you have the right to bitch. And next time, work harder!

OK. ‘Nuff said. Let’s get on with it.

A Hero To Die For

This piece originally appeared on GraveTells.com, Nov. 4, 2011. I wrote it as part of “The Hero Chronicles Discussions Series”. I’ve decided to run it again here, as part of my ongoing “Nailing Down the Essentials” Writer Wednesday series. It’s the second (here’s the first) post in a series on character development that I’ve been thinking about for a while. You can expect further entries on other types of characters, like heroines, villains, sidekicks, secondaries, and throw-aways/red-shirts.

So, here we go. (Oh, and despite serious temptation, I left out the NSFW pics that really wanted to be included. *sigh* The sacrifices I make for you.)

A Hero To Die For

You know him – the one that makes your heart pound at the thought of being near him, and not just because he’s so beautiful. Being the woman that wins his heart would satisfy you in a way nothing else could. He’s the Hero.

Impressive Cardboard?

Romance novel heroes tend to get a bad rap in the rest of the literary world. What’s that? …Oh, right. The rest of the world, literary or not. Many people believe heroes are just gorgeous faces with chiseled jaws, ripped bods with washboard abs. And don’t forget the “impressive manhood”.

Paranormal Romance heroes have an even worse rep. They’re supposed to be all-the-above, plus they’re either emo vampires, or savage werewolves, bad angels, or redeemable demons. Sci-Fi Romance has its misunderstood aliens. Historical Romance has the rakehell noblemen. Non-Romance readers probably associate all the subgenres with some stereotypical Hero or other.

The few who are so one-dimensional are the ones to get noticed, and perpetuate the misconceptions. No wonder non-Romance readers don’t want to get to know them. I wouldn’t either, if that were truly all they were. Fortunately, there’s sooo much more to a good Hero.

The Perfect Hero

But what makes a really good Hero? What makes him who he is? Can he be imperfect? Damaged? Not physically beautiful? That’s what we’re here to figure out.

A person’s appearance is often our first impression. Our, and the Heroine’s, first impression of the Hero is no different. What is it about him that catches her, and our, attention? I’ve read Heroes with phenomenal good looks, and just average appearances, and a few who were horribly scarred. But there’s something more, some indefinable quality, about all of them. Whatever it is, that quality makes them utterly beautiful to their Heroine.

A man’s actions can tell us a lot about him. There are good boys and bad boys, both in novels and in real life. The bad ones seem to be favored right now, just begging to put the past behind them and start all over with the right woman (though we all know that in real life, bad boys usually stay bad). But just because he’s bad, doesn’t mean he can’t have a good side. And even the good boys will do bad things if they have to, and since life is messy, they often do. Then we have Alphas, who take charge naturally, and Betas, who step up when it matters, and both can be sexy as hell.

But appearance and personality are just parts of the person, like so many pieces of the puzzle. What really brings a Hero to life is change. If he’s the same man at the end of the book as he was at the beginning, he’s just window dressing – a hot body to fill in certain empty spaces in the book. Not a real person.

At a bare minimum, he has to have a conflict, and work to resolve it. Ideally, he’ll be conflicted in several areas of his life, both internally and externally. Real people can fight the bad guys, and work on overcoming a phobia stemming from a childhood trauma, while seeing that their elderly mom has what she needs, and making bullies leave the neighbor’s kid alone, all while they’re coming to terms with the monster that lives in their heart, and so can a Hero. While he’s dealing with whatever trouble the author throws at him, he can also handle issues from a bad childhood, along with a jealous ex. Our Hero might not settle all his conflicts, but he will grow as a person because of them.

Romances from a couple of decades ago were full of Heroes who swooped in on their white horses and rescued the Heroine, whether she wanted to be saved or not. Today’s ideal Hero (with an action based plot) fights at his Heroine’s side to save both their asses, and is just as likely to need rescuing as she is. If there’s no bad guy, he’ll still fight, in whatever way necessary, to win his Heroine’s heart. He might start out being an arrogant a$$hat, but he’ll learn to respect his Heroine’s opinion and abilities, and to rely on her.

But what really tops it all off, turns a hot, exciting man into the perfect Hero? Love. Whether he’s a good boy, or bad, alpha, or beta, his love for his Heroine makes him perfect. The kind of love that makes him willing to give up his own life, or the very essence of who he is, for her. He will go through hell and back, and we hope for an ending that allows him to survive, win the heroine’s love, and spend the rest of his life loving her.

One of my favorites is JR Ward’s Vishous. What I like about him is that he comes with baggage of several varieties. He’s also not just a muscle bound warrior – he’s fearsomely intelligent and tech savvy. Definitely not a good boy, he’s a stone cold killer when necessary, and into some pretty hardcore BDSM, but he’ll do anything for the people he cares about. While he’s gorgeous, he’s not the traditional so-handsome-it-hurts-to-look-at-him beautiful. Doc Jane, his Heroine, is his reason for living. He might be a character in a novel, but he’s real.

Who Are Your Favorites?

Who are your favorites? Why? Do you prefer bad boys, or good boys? Alphas or Betas? Movie-star-handsome, or not? Describe your perfect Hero – not just how he looks, but those aspects of him that make him who he is.

STRANGER DANGER!!

Absolutely not! I forbid it, young lady! What do you know about this… this… CHARACTER… you’re writing about? Nothing, that’s what! Well, I won’t have it! Before I allow you to write him, you’re going to figure out who he is!

Too much? Really? ‘Cause I didn’t th… Oh well, you get the idea.

Earlier in the week, as I was thinking about how to begin a short series of posts on characters for my Nailing Down The Essentials series, I came across this CuriosityQuills post. The author lays it out far better than I could.

Back in The Good Ole Days…

Way back, when I was a young writer determined to create a best seller, I wrote what I thought were extensive character profiles. Then I spent two decades just dabbling, while I focused on being all I could be as an Army wife, and a mother, and held down a demanding career. When I came back to serious writing a couple of years ago, I’d forgotten about character profiles.

I’m too old to waste time…

Okay, so I’m not ancient. 🙂 But, at 44, there are so many things I want to accomplish. I don’t mind taking the time to do something right, or to savor experiences. But wasting time, especially mine, really irks me.

I started writing my first weredragon novel with not much more than a vague physical description for Van, the hero. Really BIG mistake. I had no idea how or why he would act, what he might think or do in certain situations. I didn’t even know whether he was gay or straight, or what he liked. As a result, I spent a great deal of time writing scenes that didn’t ring true, and trashing them.

In frustration, I took another approach, that also wasted time and words. Every time I needed to make a decision about him (Was he modest, or comfortable with his body?), I wrote a scene justifying the decision (Slightly modest, as a result of his cousin’s cruel teasing when they were adolescents). I ended up writing dozens of scenes that I knew I would never use, but to be sure my decision rang true to his character, I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Why write character profiles?

Some writers might be able to write complex, multi-dimensional characters beginning with only the vaguest of details, and manage to keep every moment real. They make all those bits and pieces cement into characters that are more real and consistent than your college roommate. I can’t do it, though.

These days, I get to know my characters pretty thoroughly before writing the first word of the book, as part of my outline process. I’m not talking about their physical descriptions, or the list of events that make up their lives. I’m talking about the series of experiences that turned them into the people they are. I’m talking about WHY they make the choices they do, and react to certain situations the way they do.

When I know WHY, I can be sure all my characters’ decisions and actions will be realistic for them, that they will be consistent and multi-dimensional. After I point them in the general direction I want them to go, I can trust them to take care of the WHAT and HOW. It becomes their story. The events fit the character, rather than the character changing at the whim of the events.

Getting to know the stranger

HOW do I get to know them so well? Well, the process changes a bit with every new character. First, I decide the superficial stuff, but that could just as easily come after. The physical description, and things like: sex, age, race, profession, birth family structure, location, and etc., are pretty basic and generic.

Then we get to the hard parts. I write their backstory by first dividing their lives up to the present into stages – infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood (sub-divided into regular intervals, depending on age, decades, half-centuries, centuries, and etc.), and if necessary, middle-age and old-age, subdivided in the same way as adulthood. For each of those stages/intervals, I write two influential memories, one good, one bad – just a brief little scene overview that can be fleshed out further if necessary.

My vampire’s having a rough day

For a one-hundred and fifty year old female vampire, I would write one good and one bad significant memory for infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. The second interval of adulthood would begin at fifty years old, then one hundred, then each decade thereafter.

Maybe her old brother threw her down the well when she was six, and now she fears water and cramped spaces, after spending thirty six terrifying hours in the well waiting to be rescued. So, she isn’t going to willingly explore the narrow cave that’s actually a tunnel leading to the bad guy’s compound. She’ll need serious motivation, and no alternatives, to go there.

Since I know that, I know that when the bad guy’s henchmen try to force her into the cave at gunpoint, she’s going to fight hard, because she fears the cramped, dark, and damp cave far more than she fears a gunshot wound. I need her to get in that cave, though, so after she kicks the henchmen’s collective ass, I have to throw something else at her, something worse than the cave.

The vampire bounty hunter, with orders to bring her head to the bad guy, bursts into the clearing at the mouth of the cave. Enough? No, maybe she’ll take her chances and fight him too. Let’s add to it. The bounty hunter’s two assistants are with him. And the love of her life will die a permanent death in less than one hour unless she finds a way to save him. Maybe. Oh, and she has the secret weapon, the only thing on earth that can kill the bad guy and ensure her, and her lover’s, survival. She darts into the cave.

Adding it up

If I hadn’t known about the well incident, I might have sent her bravely forth into the cave, even after an earlier scene hinted at her fear. The phobia wouldn’t have been integral to who she is, just a passing fear. We’d have missed that kick-ass fight scene, and the additional conflicts and complications. The character would have been less complex, less real. Each of those memories can be used to add additional facets to the character, and new conflict or resolution to the story.

I don’t stop developing the character when the memories are written. I also create a short story for each main character, just a couple of pages, summarizing the story from their point of view, as if they are THE main character. This takes care of each character’s agenda and motivation as it fits within the larger picture of the whole story.

Now, not only do I know my character quite well, I know how she’s going to react to each situation. I know what else I need to throw at her, for the story to have the kind of impact I want it to have, while being logical and realistic for my character. She’ll be a multi-dimensional person, rather than just blinding going along the road I set for her, overcoming obstacles and making the changes I think she should. She’ll think and feel, and change on her own, and her character arc will feel natural and organic to the reader. She will have a REASON to be in the story.

Yeah, it took extra work at the front end, but it saved countless hours of floundering around trying to get characters to do things that don’t fit their personalities. The result is that I’m writing the story to fit the character, rather than writing a character to simply plug in to the story.

What do you do to get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do you jump in with little more than a vague idea what the character looks like?

No Authors (or Elephants) Allowed!!!

A recent post on Dear Author sparked a discussion in my blogging network about whether authors should thank reviewers. According to the post, even a simple Thank You in the Comments of the review will kill discussion among readers.

I can see that happening if the review, or the ongoing discussion, is negative. Most people are uncomfortable saying unflattering things about a person’s work if they know that person is listening in. Especially if the phrasing is less than tactful. But if the discussion and review are positive, why would the readers abandon the conversation?

DON’T?

Now, in my Rethinking Reviews post, I stated that the best advice I’d ever seen for responding to reviews was simply DON’T. But, like everything else about writing, that approach doesn’t work for every author. Some feel compelled to acknowledge the roughly twelve hours the reviewer put in to read and review their book. In that case, a strictly professional Thank You comment or email seems to be the answer. Saying “Thank you for taking the time to review my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t right for you,” in response to a scathing review can be an effective method of taking the high road, and refusing to stoop to that level. For some readers, it gives the impression of class and professionalism.

No, see, what I really meant was…

One of the dangers of responding to reviews is giving in to the temptation to explain what we really meant when the reviewer obviously misunderstood. As much as we want readers to see exactly what we think we’re showing in the book, explaining can look like making excuses. We don’t want readers to think our writing is so poor that we’re unable to express what we mean, and thus have to provide explanations after the fact. Note – If we’re asked in an interview to explain something about our book, it’s a different situation. We’re expanding on, rather than making excuses for it.

What’s your motive?

Most of us write because we love it, and have a passion for writing. Like anyone else, we like to talk about what we love. So, are authors welcome to join in readers’ discussions of other authors’ books? Like the rest of it, we have to be careful of the impressions we give. If we didn’t care for the book, some people will assume it’s sour grapes, that we’re jealous of that author for whatever reason. And, if we loved the book, some will decide we’re simply promoting our friend’s book, hoping to boost her sales.

Squeee! Fangirl moment

Before I joined online writing communities and became acquainted with several of my favorite authors through the online conversations I’ve had with them, I would have been thrilled if an author deigned to discuss her book with me. These days, I’m ecstatic if an author talks with me about her book. There’s just something about talking with someone who created something that you enjoy.

 

How do you feel about authors joining in book discussions? If an author discusses books, hers or anyone else’s, do you doubt her sincerity and motivation?

Six Sentence Sunday 12-11

This week’s Six continues the scene from last week’s. Jaden has fought her captors to keep them from torturing her, only to be knocked unconscious. Now that she’s awake, Jack, Redinger’s assistant, explains what happened.

Jack laughed and stood up. Filth encrusted coveralls sent off a fresh wave of nausea-inducing stink. “That’s my own invention. Redinger’s cattle prod ain’t strong enough to manage vamps, in my opinion.” His habit of dropping entire syllables and running words together made him difficult to understand. “I jerry-rigged one to double the zap – slap it to the base of the spine, and they’re down for the count.”

 

Visit SixSunday.com for the list of all the Six Sentence Sunday participants.

Six Sentence Sunday 12-4

This week’s Six is from another scene, but picks up where we left off, with Jaden unconscious.

Jaden came to, lying on a blanket in the cell. The pain in her back and head made her wish she hadn’t regained consciousness. She tried moving, only to groan aloud and stop.

“Oh, you’re awake.” The nearby voice sounded vaguely familiar.

 A little at a time, she forced her eyes open, wincing as memory flooded back. 

To check out other fabulous writers, visit SixSunday.com for a list of all the Six Sentence Sunday participants.