Sunday, January 29, 2012

Imbolc: Twofer #2.

February 2nd is Imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days on the Neopagan calendar.  Imbolc honors Brighid, who happens to be one of my matron deities.  (Readers with a sharp eye might spot her in a supporting role in SwanSong.  Hint: one of her other names is Brid.)

You probably associate February 2nd with a different holiday -- one involving either a rodent snatched from his warm Pennsylvania burrow amidst great fanfare, or Bill Murray, or both.  At one level, Imbolc and Groundhog Day have something in common:  both observances are pegged to the midpoint of winter.  Twelve weeks separate the start of winter at Yule (which was December 22nd on the East Coast of the US in 2011) and the start of spring at Ostara (which, this year, is March 20th).  Halfway between the two dates, give or take a day, is February 2nd. 

So that business about how, if the groundhog sees his shadow, we're in for six more weeks of winter?  Hate to break it to you, but we get six more weeks of winter either way.

But Imbolc has a deeper meaning for Neopagans.  In the British Isles, it's about the time when livestock began lactating in anticipation of the birthing season.  So it's confirmation from the natural world that winter is half over and spring is on the way.  It's also about the time when the sun begins coming up earlier, even though daylight has been lengthening in the afternoon for several weeks.  (In December, the Capital Weather Gang posted a terrific piece about why that's so.  I don't think I posted the link at Yule -- but even if I did, it's worth revisiting now that the days are getting longer, if only to see how far we've come!)

So what's the connection between Imbolc and Brighid?  For starters, she is honored as a goddess of hearth and home, and as a healer, so childbirth comes under her purview.  Given Imbolc's connection to lactation, you can see how that makes sense. 

But the hearth also provides heat and light, and Brighid is a goddess of fire, connecting her to the returning light of the sun.  For centuries, priestesses tended a perpetual flame at Brighid's shrine in Kildare, in Ireland.  When Christianity took hold, responsibility for tending the flame fell to Catholic nuns until Henry VIII suppressed the monastery system in the 1600s and the flame went out.  But in 1993, it was rekindled in Kildare.  And it is tended all over the world in the traditional twenty-day rotation:  nineteen people each take a day, and on the 20th day, Brighid tends the flame herself.

But that's not all.  Brighid is also a patron of those who use the creative spark in their work -- of poets and bards, of shamans, and of smiths.  She is also a goddess of crossroads.  Because of all her talents, many Wiccans think of Brighid as a triple goddess, or as one face of a Celtic triple goddess.  But I believe that a single goddess is capable of doing it all.

This Imbolc, I will light a candle for Brighid, and I will make a new Brighid's Cross to hang above our door.  I'll thank her for her help and guidance this past year, and ask for her continued help in the year to come.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Oh fine, I'm late again: Twofer #1.

So yes, I suck.  I'm extremely late with last week's post.  In fact, I'm even later with last week's post than I was with the previous week's post.  But I have a good excuse, honest.  I developed shingles late last week; the nice doctor lady gave me nerve pain pills along with an antiviral, and warned me that if I took too many of the pain pills, they would knock me out.  She was right.  I spent about 18 of each 24 hours last weekend sleeping.

On one hand, I guess I needed the sleep.  On the other hand, I'm now extremely late with last week's post.

But fear not, I will make up for it!  I fully intend to post here both today and tomorrow.

For today, I thought I'd tackle a sticky apostrophe issue that's been bugging me.  I'm not going to get into all the rules for apostrophe usage (and all the ways we've all seen the rules broken on grocery store signage and the like [heavy sigh]).  My main concern lately has been the rule about making a noun possessive when the noun in question ends in "s".

Let's say you want to indicate that this chair belongs to Mr. Davies.  I would formulate the phrase thusly:  "Mr. Davies' chair."  Notice how I put only an apostrophe after the name.  To me, "Davies's" sounds awkward.  It strikes me as the same rule as when a Protestant preacher ends his prayer:  "In Jesus' name we pray, amen."  Again, "Jesus's" sounds awkward to me.

But then this other chair, over there, belongs to Mr. Owens.  Would it be "Mr. Owens' chair" or "Mr. Owens's chair"?  Hmm.  "Owens's" doesn't sound as awkward to me, so maybe it's okay.

Our old friends Strunk and White are no help; they tackle the possessive form of singular nouns, but none of the other possible permutations.

So I turned to teh intarwebz -- and discovered that in this case, there's no right answer.  There's some agreement on Jesus (and Moses, who's in the same boat):  archaic names ending in "s" get just an apostrophe, usually.  But past that, all bets are off.  Finally, I found a blog post by Grammar Girl (whose blog I've now bookmarked!) that says it's a style issue.  She also says Associated Press style is to leave off the "s".  Which explains why "Owens' chair" feels as right to me as "Davies' chair":  my journalistic past is coming back to haunt me once again.

Speaking of my journalistic past, I thought I'd wrap up this post with one of Merv Block's Top Tips of the Trade.  This one is number 7:  Have the courage to write simply.  In other words, don't feel as though you need to dress up your ideas with high falutin' language or complex sentence construction in order to make an impact.  Some of the most powerful sentences in the English language use the simplest possible construction.

Want an example?  Here you go:  Having shingles sucks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Late to the party again.

So this week's post is late -- I was sick with a cold, okay?  And I'm not even going to post about writing today.  But indulge me.

I said I wasn't going to turn this into a political blog, and I meant it.  But as a former journalist, I feel compelled to take note of today's Internet protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours (which is highly doubtful if you're reading this), you have likely already run into plenty of coverage of the protest against these two bills.  Briefly, the "innocent" aim of these two pieces of legislation is to protect the entertainment industry and other owners of intellectual property by having their work ripped off by Internet pirates.  The supporters say Internet piracy is costing copyright holders tons of revenue.  But it's hard to catch these pirates -- they've largely moved their operations offshore, out of the reach of US police agencies.  So the solution put forth in these bills is to hold Internet service providers accountable for every page they put on the web.  They would also give the US Justice Department the authority to shut down websites for publishing pirated materials to the web.

Sounds good…until you look more closely at what the websites would be required to do.  Companies like Google, YouTube and Wikipedia would be responsible for policing every link on every page in their vast databases.  New companies might have trouble getting start-up funding because of concerns over their ability to police content as they grow.  Not to mention that the unethical could maliciously plant pirated content on someone else's website -- say, that of a competitor.

All of those objections are important, unquestionably.  But I'm most concerned about the censorship aspect.  We would be handing an agency of the federal government broad powers to block websites.  I don't know if you remember, but during the Chinese Olympics, foreign journalists complained that China promised them full Internet access -- and then didn't provide it.  China routinely blocks its citizens' web access.  So do a number of other countries.  With these bills, the United States would be heading down that slippery slope.  It doesn't take a conspiracy nut to see how this could lead to web censorship for other reasons -- including disagreeing with the government.

But that's not all.  To me, this is just another example of the freedoms Americans have lost, or are in danger of losing, since 9/11.  The Washington Post published a great op-ed piece this weekend detailing how we stack up against nations that we've criticized for human rights violations (hint: we're looking more like them every day).  I recommend that you check it out.

Next week, back to the writing biz, I promise.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why every book isn't available as an e-book; and Indie news.

Let's cover the news first:  As you may recall from our last exciting episode, Adopt an Indie is no more.  However, there's good news!  The program has morphed into a website/blog called The Indie Exchange, which you can find here:  The idea is to link up readers with great indie authors (like Yours Truly). You don't have to be a blogger or an author to participate.  We've also got a Facebook page and a group on Goodreads.  Anyhow, stop by any or all, and check them out.

Now then.  I saw this question come up in a Goodreads forum:  Why isn't [my favorite book] available as an e-book?  The favorite book in question is usually something that's too recent to be in the public domain, but not recent enough to have been published after the advent of e-books.  And so the short answer to the question is: copyright.

American copyright law has morphed into a monster over the years.  In 1790, when the law was first enacted, an author held copyright on his works for a period of 14 years, renewable for a single additional 14-year term.  Subsequent legislation has extended those periods several times.  Currently, for works published in 1978 or later, authors hold copyright to their work for 70 years past their death.  That's right -- even if your favorite author dies, his or her work is still under copyright for another 70 years.  Works published before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication.  Works published in the United States before 1923 are considered to be in the public domain -- that is, you may do with them what you will.  (From Wikipedia.)

As you can see, chances are pretty good that your favorite book is still under copyright protection.  So a publisher cannot simply take that book from its backlist and produce it as an e-book; it must negotiate terms with the author, who owns the copyright on the work.

Now we must fight our way through another thicket.  Publishers buy from authors the right to publish their works. The publisher's contract with the author will specify which rights the publisher is buying -- hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, and so on -- as well as payment for the rights, and the length of time before the rights revert to the author.  Back before Al Gore invented the Internet,* of course, electronic rights didn't exist, and so publishers didn't know to lock them up in their contracts -- unless they put in a tricky clause that said they were buying all possible rights, now and forever, amen.  Authors whose contracts don't have that tricky clause can do whatever they want with their backlists, including publishing them as e-books themselves -- and some authors are doing exactly that.  Authors with the tricky clause in their contracts have a couple of options:  they can either convince the publisher to allow the e-book rights to revert to the author (which might have worked a few years ago, before e-book sales began to take off, but may be more unlikely now), or they can negotiate with their publisher to agree on a fair price for the publisher to produce an e-book.

At best, the process takes time.  At worst.... Well.  I will offer a cautionary tale about bestselling author Stephen R. Donaldson and the problems he's had in getting his backlist published in e-editions.

Donaldson -- who has talked about all of this on his website,, and in public -- authorized the e-book publication of his (lesser-known, sadly) GAP Cycle sci-fi series first.  Instead of taking a clean Word document from Donaldson for the text, however, the publisher decided it would be cheaper to send the hard-copy books to India and have them scanned and proofread there.  If you've ever had the dubious pleasure of correcting an OCR document, you have an idea what the result was.  To compound the problem, Indian English is not standard American English (or even standard British English).  Donaldson found whole chunks of text missing from one book, and he submitted 15 pages of corrections for another one.

For his best-known work, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Donaldson has prevailed upon the publisher to scrap the OCR idea and accept Word documents from him.  The first Covenant e-book is due out this spring.  This series is my favorite fantasy work ever, and I can't wait to own my own e-book versions.  But it's been a long, hard road to get there.  And perhaps now you can understand why it might be awhile before your favorite book is available for the Nook.**

*Oh, leave me alone.  I know Al Gore didn't invent the Internet.
** Shameless plug for Barnes & Noble, my daughter's employer.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's musings, and when to call a mom Mom.

First, let me officially wish everybody a happy 2012.  I hope that in this coming year, if you don't get what you want, at least you get what you need.  (There's your gratuitous Rolling Stones reference for the year.  I think it's good to get that kind of stuff out of the way as early as possible.)

Second, I posted not long ago that I was going to be participating in the February Adopt an Indie event, and that SwanSong was going to be up for grabs for some lovely person to read and blog about.  Alas, the organizer has cancelled the event.  Her personal life has ramped up, and she has not received enough help from volunteers to take on some of the responsibilities for the event, despite her numerous requests.  So, no Adopt an Indie next month.

I'm bummed because, frankly, I was looking forward to the publicity for my book.  But Donna had a larger aim of promoting indie authors in general; of course I support that, because improving the reputation of indie publishing will be good for all of us in the long run.  But not every indie author is so altruistic.

Anyway, and third, this means that my schedule is cleared for the next couple of months, and that can only be good news for the next book.  It's back from the first round of reviewing (thanks, Suzu -- you rock!) and my suspicions about the narrative's weak points have been confirmed.  So one of my goals for 2012 will be to whip that sucker into shape, aiming for publication in all the usual places by April or May.  (Stay tuned for updates, right here on this station!)

My other writing/publishing goals are to then draft the second book in the new series in May or June, with the aim of publishing it before NaNoWriMo 2012 begins, during which I hope to draft book 3 of the series.  (Whoa, I just realized the NaNo part of the timetable.  I'm gonna be a busy writer chick this year....)  And I'd also like to get back to updating this blog on a more consistent basis.  I think I kind of missed the once-a-week mark toward the end of the year there.  Apologies for that.

But enough about me.  Let's talk for a moment about...capitalization.

The issue is when to capitalize nouns that do double duty, sometimes as people's names and sometimes as regular ol' nouns.  I've seen this crop up in more than one place lately, so I thought I would address it here.

The rule is really simple.  If you're speaking directly to the person, or calling the person by name, you capitalize the word, just as you would capitalize anyone else's name.  Like so:  "Mom, I want to take Carrie to the prom."  Another example:  "Mom, Dad, and Amelia went to the store without me."  In each case, you're referring to Mom and Dad by name.  Mom and Dad's birth certificates might say Mildred and Murgatroyd, but to you, their names are Mom and Dad -- so you capitalize the words.

However, if you then tell someone, "My dad let my sister get a candy bar at the store,"  you're referring to neither Dad nor Amelia by name, so in this case you would not capitalize the words.

One way to make the distinction is to look at the word or words that precede the word in question.  If the word before the noun is not a possessive pronoun (my, his, her, our, their), an article (a, an, the, some, no), or an adjective, then it's likely that you're referring to Dad by name, so you should capitalize it.  (I mention adjectives because chances are really good that you'll find one of the other two parts of speech in front of the adjective.)  Does that make sense?

Please let me know if I've missed a part of speech that would trigger the lower-case dad.  Thanks!