Thursday, 11 July 2019

Author Branding and Word Choices

A few weeks ago someone asked me... well, they didn't ask me so much as accuse me of never using foul language. You know, four-letter words, crude language, cussin'. Saying #%cK.  Originally, their purpose was an attempt to shame me for my language choices. Their reasoning: children can't use foul language, but adults should. Not "could", but should. At least, that's how they explained it to me. Adults were supposed to cuss.

Their explanation did not hold water with me, because the children in their circle used language as blue as any adult I've ever heard. My choosing not to use foul language, in their eyes, meant I was either too immature to know I could, or that I was too timid--a coward, essentially--to admit I was an adult.

Also, I knew the real reason behind their accusation: they were making a stand against my culture and my beliefs. They thought if they could shame me and force me to defend myself by showing that I could use foul language, then they would simply have used that against me by saying I'd betrayed my beliefs, et cetera, et cetera.

Puh-lease. I'm a middle-aged woman. We don't fall for that kind of cheap trick. If anyone ever tries to pull something like that on you, know that it's a dick move, and don't be afraid to call them out on it.

I choose not to use foul language because it's not part of my brand.

I am an author. I write a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. That audience tends not to use foul language, prefers not to read foul language and will actively seek out books that are not peppered with foul language.

This audience is huge.  (Hello, lovelies!  Buy my books!)

What about the audience that isn't afraid of foul language, who don't mind the occasional cuss word?  Guess what?  They also buy books free from swear words. Rare is the reader who will get offended by someone NOT using foul language. They are not my audience. Let them go buy someone else's books.

This is not to say that I go around substituting "Fetch" for "#%cK and Gosh-darnit for G@#d@#%n.  That's not how this works. This is like a vegetarian trying to substitute Tofurkey for a beautiful filet mignonette. You don't substitute. You find a completely different way of expressing yourself. You order the beautiful Black Lentil Daal and enjoy it for its true beauty.

So, you're writing along and come to a moment when a real person might say, "#%cK you!" But would your characters say that? If it's simply not a part of their character, they'd say something else. 

One of my favourite moments is in a BBC version of Pride & Prejudice where Lydia tells Kitty to "save your breath to cool your porridge." That line cracks me up but also conveys Lydia's frustration with her sister perfectly.

The whole idea is to express an emotion. A clever author will know a dozen ways of doing this without compromising their brand.

So, back to branding. My characters don't cuss, especially not the way 21st Century westerners do.  I don't write contemporary, so I can get away with this much easier than contemporary authors can.

In the culture I grew up in, adults didn't cuss. Who did? The outsiders, the rebels, the lower class, the uneducated, the disrespectful. For me, my experience taught me that curse words took away from a character's nobility. It reduced them, somewhat.

I don't want that for my characters, so I come up with other ways for them to express themselves that is true to their character and doesn't compromise my brand. After all, I want to deliver what my readers expect.

When I go out in public as an author (like to a convention or something), I want to maintain my author brand. When a potential reader meets me, I want to leave the kind of impression on them that would reflect what they'd encounter in my books. My potential readers cherish certain values. If my outward behaviour does not match those values in their eyes, they would have no reason to consider picking up one of my books. I would have betrayed myself and lost a potential fan.

No four-letter word is worth that.

Her Grace sees no reason to give in to crudeness.

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Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Behind the Scenes: the Recording of an Audiobook

Ever wanted to see your books as audiobooks? Ever wonder how it’s done? I'm gonna show you how.

Romance Writers of Australia (RWAus) are presenting a month-long Online Writing Lab (OWL) where I demonstrate a behind-the-scenes production of an audiobook, including recording and editing, Quality Assurance (QA) requirements, and more. Discover why a good narrator is worth their price per finished hour, or see if you’ve got the patience to DIY.

What makes a good raw sound file? How do you edit that sound file? What makes a good-quality audiobook? How can I make my voice sound better? Does an engineer need fancy equipment and a sound booth? Is my laptop or computer good enough? What about microphones? How long does it take to produce one Finished Hour of an audiobook? How can an audio file pass strict Quality Assurance?

Participants are welcome to treat this as an info-only course, or you can install the same software I use and give sound editing a go in the comfort of your own home. Proceed at your own pace week by week.

There's still some spots left in this online workshop.  Interested in knowing more? RWAus or TryBooking has more info.
Her Grace has just finished a thesis and is ready to move from Astronomy to Audiobooks for June. Come join her

Friday, 3 May 2019

Home should spark joy

I am subscribed to a double-handful of newsletters. Most I tend to ignore until I'm ready to read them (that's usually a few days up to a few weeks).

But one arrived today, and for some reason, I was thrilled.

It was the KonMari newsletter. I was genuinely happy to receive it. Today's topic: Greeting your home. It contained a lovely video of Marie Kondo greeting a home before getting to work.

Following up somewhat from my last post, I thought about my home.

Actually, I'd been thinking much about  home lately, since my parents had come to visit, bringing pictures and news of the place I was born. I also listened to the stories of others in my family, of former neighbours, old school friends and more. Not everyone had a happy home, a place to which they could retreat from the world and find comfort and rest.  (My daughters later remarked on the change they noticed when their grandparents had come into our home, and when they had left. I think one of the phrases they used was, "It's so quiet now." Shame, for there were more stories I wanted to hear.)

For a lot of people, home isn't a quiet place, or a safe space. It's not somewhere they want to be.

My daughter had some trouble with this concept. We are often out at stupid o'clock in the morning as she has a before-school extracurricular class. She'd see fellow students on their way to school a good two hours before the school starts. "Why are they leaving so early?"  Escaping home as soon as one could wasn't something that had crossed her radar.

I'm glad she does not feel that way about our home. I've worked hard to make my home feel like a home should. It feels warm at my home. It feels welcoming. It feels safe.

And that's the way it should be.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A Poem for April

I read Ask A Manager, a blog which provides all sorts of useful insight, horror stories and good advice regarding the workplace. It is eye-opening. Go have a squiz. It's a good education, especially if you aren't sure you have a good handle on workplace norms. (hint: most places aren't.)

A recent post talked about a poor management call, entitled: "we have to write deeply personal poems and share them at a staff meeting".  This elicited quite a reaction from the commentariat, many of them erupting into poetry. Because "April Is National Poetry Month", I chose to write a poem to share. It makes more sense if you read the blog post about the deeply personal poems.

Screw Your Stupid Poem
by Office Gumby

"Where I'm from?" I come from home.
A poem about home. Of course I'm going to cry.
Everyone cries about home, either by the going from or the coming to.
And not for the same reasons.

"The worst thing I have been told"?
That I must write a poem about it.
I've already lived through the worst things.
I don't see why I should live through them again.

P.S.: Dear Hellmouth,
I greatly love your updates and will miss them sorely once you escape.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Three Things for a Successful Author

I KonMari'd this blog post to leave the most important parts. I realised you didn't really want to hear lots from me on the craft of writing. However, the things I mention in here are things I wish I knew twenty years ago. It has taken me this long to figure these things out.

May they help you as well.

1.  Voice. You wanna know what will hook an editor or agent and get them to read on?  It's voice. If you ain't got that, nothing else matters, no matter how tight your storyline is or how deep your characters. If you can't hook and editor/agent/reader to want to read on, they'll never discover the other beauty.

2.  Attitude. A bit of humility goes a looong way in this industry. A chip on your shoulder will cost you. I presume you're in this for the long run. (I am. I have a Fifty-Year Plan.) Develop a sweet and humble attitude. Others will be happy to work with you if you do.

3. Patience. Assume it's gonna take a long time for stuff to happen. That said, do not procrastinate. Do. Not. Procrastinate. Everything else will take away much of your time in your Fifty-Year Plan. Don't give it any more. Get as much done as quickly as you can, and have patience for the rest.

Question for you: What don't you know right now that you wish you knew?

Friday, 12 April 2019

B is for a Picture of a Black Hole

Yes, Katie Bouman, you should be excited. You and the rest of your team who brought us this really cool science image.  A few other people who were involved are Sandra Bustamante, Feryal Ozel, Heino Falcke, and all these people from the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. Congrats, guys!

In case you've been living under a rock or off the grid, you will have heard the news of the first image of a black hole. It looks like this:

A direct image of the black hole at the core of galaxy Messier 87.
Papers linked at the bottom, for those who wanna go hardcore.

A black hole is a final object (greater than ~2M☉) that has collapsed down due to gravity, because there's no other force (like thermal pressure) to counter the gravity.

Theoretically, we've known about black holes since 1915-ish when Einstein had a few theories about gravity, and Karl Schwarzschild talked about the gravitational fields of mass points. Even the idea behind something so massive that even light cannot escape its gravity has been around since the 18th Century.

Are black holes a real thing? Yes. We know them by their gravitational influence, as well as a few other clues. Here's a couple of recent papers that cover a few things about one of the best-studied black holes, Sagittarius A*, in delightfully nerdish details:

So yeah. Black holes, totally real, and we've known and studied them for at least a hundred years. Thing is, due to their nature, we haven't been able to take a picture of one.

It's hard to take a photo-graph of something that doesn't emit or reflect any photons. So, how did they do it?

In their reportings in the Astrophysical Journal, the team shared, "Einstein's general theory of relativity not only predicts the existence of black holes, but also provides a means to directly observe them. Photons can escape from near the event horizon via an unstable circular orbit, whose observational manifestation would be a bright ring of emission surrounding a dark interior black hole "shadow". The diameter of the shadow for a black seen by a distant observer is predicted to be...larger than twice the...radius of the event horizon due to light-bending effects...."

This method is only successful if: "(i) there are a sufficient number of emitted photons to illuminate the black hole, (ii) the emission comes from close enough to the black hole to be gravitationally lensed around it, and (iii) the surrounding plasma is sufficiently transparent at the observed wavelength."

And it was. I'm impressed.

(I can't believe I've not devoted an entire blog entry to black holes before! Bad astronomer! No cookie!) If you want to see more science content from  me on my blog, please comment below. I'm happy to oblige. If not, go buy my books and register your opinion that way.

Dr Katie gave a TED talk a couple of years ago about how one would go about imaging a black hole:

Do watch this video. She's so excited and passionate by the science. It's contagious.  I love her line, "I can't show you a picture of a black hole today [in 2017]." 

Well, Katie, you can now:

Papers here for those who want to go hardcore:
Never be afraid to go hardcore on science. Even if your gaze glosses over and your brain turns numb, don't ever let that deter you. Read enough abstracts, and eventually things will begin making more sense. Also, whuffie.

Friday, 5 April 2019

My Thesis has Taken Over My Brain

Some Random Thoughts...

Please send chicken nuggets.

The problem with a History of Astronomy project is that much of the original source material is print-only, and mostly out-of-print.  I live in Western Australia. Is eBay my friend? Time will tell.

This guy and I are supposed to be best buds for the next few months. But I'm not feeling the love.
Librarians and I are mates, and they're willing to help me, as much as they can.

I now have more library memberships and accompanying cards than a sane, reasonable person should have.

Look, a mango!

Yesterday my mother turns to me as we're walking out of the airport and says, "I just realised, I could have checked that book out of the library [where she lives] and brought it along for you."  Yes, you could have. Oh well.

Why do many critics of Sagan say, "Don't get me wrong; I am a fan. But..."

Professors are supposed to be your mates. Why aren't they helping more?!

A BA degree is a degree in BS. I am confident I will be able to spin words of some kind.

Remember to reference! (Kneale 2019)

This guy spent lots of money so the US Library of Congress could acquire Carl Sagan's personal papers.
I kid you not.
To a fiction author, twenty pages is a doddle. You can crank that out easily in an afternoon. For a MS thesis, 20 pages is a lifetime plus fifty years, with interest.

You might think print books are romantic. They are not. They are fickle, they are rare, they are forgotten and they have this funny smell that makes your nose itch. Also, many of them do not inhabit Western Australia.  Digital is an excellent way to go.  All my books are available in digital format.  God of the Dark is free. Go get your free ebook and leave an honest review somewhere useful.

Where are my chicken nuggets?!

This is the weather in Australia right now.

Is it morally reprehensible to mark a library book lightly with an erasable pencil?  It's morally acceptable for music scores. In fact, it's expected. Just be kind and erase your markings before returning the score. Every musician knows that.

If I wrote in the style of Sagan, would more people wanna buy my books?  

Her Grace's brain is being eaten by a thesis.
"The Influence of Science Popularisation: a Case Study of Carl Sagan"