The Future, Man

I originally posted this as a FB status, but it seemed to hit a note and I wanted to explore and expand on it.

The other day, I read an article about how anything resembling the Enterprise was many years in the future, and for some reason, it’s been bothering me ever since.

History is full of people saying, “Yeah, haha, that can’t happen for another HUNDRED YEARS!”, usually with the result that this impossible tech shows up within the next couple of years. And that was in the beginning of the technological revolution.

For all of our social ills, our scientific problems, and our problematic governments, we’re in an age where we have possibly more potential than ever before. We have people like Elon Musk and even James Cameron, who have big dreams and the money and connections to make it happen. There are pieces of technology that haven’t been utilized to their fullest, and a huge crop, worldwide, of brilliant people looking to build a new piece of the future. The Internet makes it possible for big dreamers to find support networks, resources, and outlets. We have calls for Martian settlers, tests for anti-grav technology, and biotechnology that would make the SF writers of twenty (TWENTY!) years ago green with envy. And they aren’t claims or projects by crackpots, but by leading scientists and entrepreneurs.

Moreover, we have writers–of novels, movies, games, nonfiction–who are positing and contemplating the technical and social aspects of these new developments, creating an incredibly rich environment of possibilities. I believe that one of the biggest aspects of any new development is the understanding of its effect on the world and its users, and with the so-called ‘soft sciences’ like psychology, sociology, and family sciences slowly gaining recognition and respect, there’s a wider outlet for those examinations than ever.

Dr. Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Future” talks about how futurist predictions are almost always wrong because they look at the trajectory that things are on at the time, and project that into the future, when, in fact, progress happens in leaps and bounds, plateauing for a while and then springing forward with huge strides.

I know I’ve complained in the past that it seemed like SF’s push and imagination had sort of stalled out and gotten left behind, but in the last couple of years, it seems like that is a hurdle that’s been overcome. This is particularly noticeable in short stories, where the industry is seeing an absolute burst of highly-talented authors. (A lot of those award-winners are heading into novel-length fiction now, and I look forward to seeing what they will add to that field.)

It may be that something like the Enterprise is 30 or 50 or 100 years in our future, but I think we have reached a point where we have to be careful in claiming that anything is too impossible, or too far in our future, because announcements are made weekly about new things once only found in SF.

Besides, isn’t it our job to bring the future right to our doorstep?

Giving Back

The holidays often seem like an endless stream of ‘gimme gimme’, but there’s been an excellent trend, lately, of giving back. Some of the obvious ways are to donate to a local foodbank, shelter, or community outreach program, or, for animal lovers, your local rescue. Religious or not, some churches do have programs that are community-focused and beneficial.

But, if you don’t have a favorite local charity, there are some great, lesser-known charities that can use a little extra holiday cheer. The money you give them goes straight to their cause, not their bureaucracy. Some of them are ones I have personal experience with, others were recommended by BooklifeNow staff and Twitter users.

Veterans and Military Families

My personal ones skew a little toward the side of veteran-support, between working on War Stories, and my personal life. Our veterans come back from war to a life that expects them to immediately transform back to civilians, and many of them find that a difficult transition. The organizations below do some extra-special work for our returning soldiers.

Team Rubicon is a veteran owned-and-run relief organization. Volunteers use their skills and knowledge to provide disaster-relief. Due to the history of their volunteers, those areas include war-torn regions not always accessible to relief. They are 14,000 volunteers strong, and have deployed those volunteers on over 50 missions over the course of barely four years. They have provided relief in the wake of Sandy, Haiyan, this year’s Midwestern tornadoes, and the massive flooding in Pakistan. They have also deployed teams to Thailand/Burma, Haiti, Chili, and multiple African countries.

Besides all of that relief, they offer veterans a sense of purpose and community, saving lives and future. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite groups.

Ways to help: Team Rubicon’s Box of Awesome is available on Amazon, in sizes from small to super-duper huge. It’s tax-deductible, and your money goes straight to helping them do more good. You can also donate money directly, or, if you’re a veteran, consider volunteering directly for them.

Fisher House

A few months ago, the special operations community reeled under the news of a mass-casualty event in the Middle East. A unit of Army Rangers and their support personnel suffered heavy casualties on a routine operation. Usually, when this happens, the government aids the families in getting to the appropriate place to claim the bodies, handle funeral expenses, and more. But the government was in shut-down, and decided that they weren’t going to pay out, leaving the grieving families hanging.

While powerful voices in the veteran community immediately put pressure on the government to change their stance, another group stepped in to make an immediate difference. Fisher House, a charity devoted to making sure that military families have somewhere to stay while soldiers are undergoing medical treatment and care, donated the $500,000 the government wouldn’t, to make sure that the families could attend to their fallen loved ones.

And while the government held an emergency session to get the money out, Fisher House was there and ready to support the people who needed it.

At-Risk People

Child’s Play Charity -Recommendation and writing by BooklifeNow writer Geardrops.

The focus of Child’s Play Charity is to deliver toys and games to children in need. When it was founded in 2003, the charity’s efforts were focused on Seattle Children’s Hospital. In the following years, it would expand to cover hospitals around the world. Now they are expanding their focus to include bringing games to homes for battered women and children, and have ten pilot locations they are hoping to deliver gaming stations to this year. Child’s Play has one of the lowest overheads of any major charity, and as a result the bulk of the money that is donated to Child’s Play does reach those in need. Only a tiny percentage is required to keep the charity itself running; the rest goes directly to children in need.

People already familiar with Child’s Play might also be familiar with some of the drama concerning former founding members who are better-known as the creators of webcomic empire Penny Arcade. Since they are very publicly affiliated with Child’s Play, many assume they directly profit from it, and considering the problematic things they have said this year and in the past, this has caused some people to feel dissuaded from donating. If you are one of those people, worry not: Penny Arcade and Child’s Play are two separate entities, and they do not profit from it (note: Child’s Play is a non-profit organization). When it was founded, they took care to ensure it was its own independent organization. I recall one of the creators saying this was a deliberate move, that if something should happen to Penny Arcade, it should not impact Child’s Play.

It’s really an incredible charity and well worth your notice and, if possible, donation.

Liberty in North Korea -Recommended by Twitter user @scourger.

“Our work begins by rescuing North Korean refugees hiding in China, who are vulnerable to abuse and capture. It takes $2,500 to fund an individual’s rescue through a 3,000 mile underground railroad through China and Southeast Asia.

Every year, thousands of North Koreans risk their lives to escape political persecution and economic hardship. If caught trying to escape or caught in China and sent back, they are at risk of extremely harsh punishments, including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture, and internment in a political prison camp. To make matters worse, while hiding in China their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and sex traffickers, as they have no recourse to any authorities. Although many refugees try to escape, many do not have the resources or connections to get themselves out of China. That’s where we come in.”

The Gathering Place -Recommended by Twitter user @ECthetwit

Every year, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducts a point-in-time study to determine the number of homeless individuals living in Denver. In January 2013, they counted 11,167 people. Of this number, 43.4% were women and 62% were adults living in households with children. Additionally, 25.4% of the individuals surveyed were newly homeless, meaning they have been homeless less than a year and this is their first time to experience homelessness.
As Denver’s only daytime drop-in center for women, their children, and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, The Gathering Place provides a variety of programs and services those who enter our doors.

Girls, Inc -Recommended by Twitter user @rakdaddy.

Girls Inc.® of Orange County has been a respected member of the non-profit community for almost 60 years. The mission of Girls Inc. is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. We put our mission into practice through the Girls Inc. experience that equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow into healthy, educated and independent adults.

Girls Inc. of Orange County positively changes the lives of 4,500 girls, ages 4 1/2 to 18, each year, by providing year-round holistic, compensatory, and intentional programming focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), financial literacy, sound body image, healthy relationships, and college and career readiness.

Extra Life

“On an Autumn Saturday each year since 2008, tens of thousands of gamers have joined together to save the lives of local kids in a celebration of gaming culture that we call Extra Life.  From console games to tabletop RPG’s to even lawn sports, Extra Life gives people that love to play a chance to do what they love to save lives and make a difference.

Originally designed as a 24-hour marathon of gaming, Extra Life has evolved to mean different things to different people (though most of our participants still attempt the marathon).

To participate you need only sign up (free) and gather the support of your friends and family through tax-deductible donations to your local CMN Hospital.  Then on Saturday, November 2nd (or any day that works for you!) play any game(s) you want on any platform(s) that you want with anyone you want for as long as you want.
The proceeds from Extra Life stay where they’re raised to support children’s hospitals. Since 2008, our incredible players have raised more than 4 million dollars.”

Extra Life is a once-yearly event, so you can’t donate now (I don’t think), but I, and many other gamers, will be playing again next year, so mark your calendars!

American Red Cross

This one seems like an obvious choice, but I am including them for a different reason. The Red Cross offers a lot more hands-on opportunities than most places. CPR certification, blood donation, and community-outreach, there’s something for almost everyone.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, culled from my personal experience and a few recommendations. So what’s your favorite place to give back?

Kickstarting Success or Failure

Monday’s general ‘blah’ has matured into full-fledged head cold, exacerbated by the smoke machines at the industrial music show I managed last night…and definitely not helped by the after party. Or the fact that I smacked my head into a wall in the act of sitting down, after successfully not dying during self-defense training. Do they teach self self-defense?

All that kind of pales against the main event today: the War Stories Kickstarter funded, so I have an anthology to create now! But because that’s fresh on my mind, I want to talk a little bit about the processes and stresses of Kickstarter and crowd-funding.

1.) Pretty much every religion says that God(s)(esses)(etc) helps those who help themselves, and Kickstarter is much the same way. Being prepared before you ever hit ‘launch’ is essential. Know your stretch goals, your reward levels, your updates, everything. It will save a lot of scrambling later.

2.) Ask for feedback. Talk to people who have run Kickstarters before, and run your projects past them. They’ll catch a lot of issues and point out weaknesses to you.

3.) Know your subject. Are you doing something that’s going to just hit all the right buttons, like Geek Love? Or something that will potentially ostracize the majority of the potential audience? War Stories was like that. We heard accusations of xenophobia, Conservative bias, liberal bias, anti-feminism, pro-feminism (as a bad thing), and more, from both sides of the aisle. We left a lot of money on the table because we flat-out said we wanted to do something provocative and new, but we knew that and spent a lot of time talking about and addressing it.

4.) Talk. Throw yourself out there. Get on podcasts, blogs, news sites, anything you can, but be sure you spread yourself out over the course of the Kickstarter.

5.) Be grateful. Engage, talk to, thank, interact with your backers.

6.) Budget time every day to deal with your Kickstarter every day. Go through your backers, check what levels are most popular, and make sure there aren’t any questions in the comments section that need to be answered. At the end of the Kickstarter, budget some time to push through the last couple of days. Use that extra excitement as an excuse to post a little more often.

7.) Budget time after the Kickstarter, to take some time off from the promotional grind. Let your backers know that you’re going to be gone for a while, and then just sit back and get out of the madhouse of constant promotion. Don’t let the momentum die off, just enough time to take a deep breath.

8.) Know your needs and limits. Every project is unique. For Geek Love, we were only doing as many books as our backers pre-ordered. War Stories will be available for sale long-term through our publisher though, so it’s a totally different sort of push. People can wait for the reviews to come out to make their decision. That means we don’t get as much money, but also that the project has a longer life.

9.) Deadlines deadlines deadlines. Don’t set hard and fast deadlines unless you know you can hit them, but don’t just say ‘hey, it will happen when it happens’. Give your backers an idea of when to expect things, and then stay in touch with them so they feel connected and engaged.

10.) Know your audience…and your money. Kickstarter is, in a way, the ultimate in social media roulette. You’ve got plenty of opportunities, but you have to leverage them, too. Your reach is a complicated algorithm of social capital, reach, professional history, reputation, project, and half a dozen other things. Some creators have a few hundred dollars available to them, others have a few hundred thousand. So spend time researching projects similar to yours, and pay attention to whether their creators are fan favorites or completely unknown.

11.) Prepare for success, be ready for failure. The odds are against you. Most Kickstarter projects fail, so every single success is against the odds. I’ve been fortunate, and every project I’ve been involved with–as project lead or advisor–has succeeded, but that’s entirely because of hard work, luck, and knowing the audience the project would appeal to.

So, there’s that. I can’t tell you how to create a successful project. I am more cognizant than ever of how amazing my friends are, and how lucky I am. Tomorrow, I’m going to spend part of the day talking to Andrew about the next steps of the project, and then I’m going to take a couple of days off of promotional things. Beer and football with my boyfriend and his buddies on Monday, maybe, and my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class later in the week. Stuff away from the computer, you know?

Oh, yeah, that’s the other thing: just admit now that you’ll just be sitting in front of the computer and compulsively hitting ‘refresh’ for however many days the thing is running. So lay in supplies, and plan for carpal tunnel, insomnia, and weight gain.

Space Unicorn Zombie, or “How to build a good industry/community”

If I listened to the advice* of my Facebook ‘friends’, the beginning of this post would read:

“The Space Unicorn Zombie Erotica Anthology beginning is a very delicately timed story of an editrix living in a hole in the ground…”

Of course, those were all separate suggestions—and some of them led to threats about the perpetrators getting their hands duct-taped to chairs—but they all added up to a preposterous, if entertaining, premise for a blog post.

Taking random suggestions from the internet for a blog post topic sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it’s something most beginning writers do every day. There are hundreds, if not thousands of writing advice blogs, books, and programs out there, written by everyone from best-selling authors to the kid down the street who published the first short story he ever wrote on his blog yesterday.

I remember when I was a newbie writer. If someone had actually published something, I considered them something like a minor god: they’d done something incredible. I read all those things, went to panels, listened and soaked everything in. If you’d told me that sacrificing blue chickens gave me a higher chance of publishing, I’d probably have done it.

And then I learned that not everyone who said ‘this is how it’s done’ actually knew what they were talking about.

Now I’m the one writing blog posts, sitting on panels, running workshops, and I’ve realized just how much bad advice is out there, and how many people don’t know how to tell the good from the bad.

There’s no way to root out all the bad advice. Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, and other watchdog organizations do their best to keep an eye on the business and keep the worst sharks out of the water, but that still leaves a lot of self-help gurus, get-rich-quick schemers, and just over-eager amateurs out there.

We talk a lot about keeping ourselves safe from predators and bad advice, and about keeping the industry safe. We don’t talk enough about nurturing the newbies, bringing up the next generation of writers. Clarion, Shared Worlds, and other workshops set the foundation of a professional career, but there needs to be support for the writers around the structured programs, too.

I firmly believe that anyone who wants to break into a business needs to set themselves up as well as they can. Do the research, read the trade magazines, attend the right panels and shows.

I also believe that we should make an effort to support, mentor, and encourage the writers around us. This isn’t a competition. As small and connected as the writing community is, the person you’re mentoring today might be acquiring your book for a publisher tomorrow, or writing the book that changes your life.

As professional writers, we have responsibilities:
Support our colleagues.
Look out for each other.
Educate ourselves.
Commit to spreading good, solid advice and calling out the bad.
Remember we aren’t in a competition here.

*I am either coming down with a cold, or suffering from nasty allergies, so I make no promises about the coherence of the above, as evidenced by the fact that I have the phrase ‘Space Unicorn Zombie Erotica Anthology’ in a professional post.