Time-tithe and Giving Back

I’ve been expanding the list of podcasts I listen to, branching out into more science-based programs. I love  myths, stories, and legends, but lately the factual information side of my info-tainment has been lacking. Thus, I ended up listening to a Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast (Star Talk Radio) where they mentioned an idea I can’t stop thinking about.

The guests suggested each listener should ‘time-tithe’ each week. They focused on science, but I couldn’t help but think how well this would work for writing. Now, depending on your religious life, you might not be familiar with the Biblical concept of a tithe. The idea is to give 10% of your income, as both an obligation and as an offering of thanks. Many of my friends grew up tithing 10% of their babysitting earnings. But the podcast was talking not about writing a check, but about setting aside 10% of their time time where you work to make things better.

For at least the last five years, I’ve judged a writing contest each spring. This year was a bit of a trial with lost packages and some hard to score entries. I found myself considering if this should be my last year. My writing time is scarce these days and my word counts show it. The hardest connection for any writer is the one between their butt and the chair, and I often imagine that lightening my commitments will make me write more. The contest felt like a simple thing to take off my plate, something I could give up and not miss.

But it’s not that simple. Most importantly, judging is one of the few ways I have to give back to the writing community. I benefit from the many blogs, tutorials, and general help other writers offer. I was blessed to be briefly mentored by an amazing scifi author. I’ve gotten advice from other members of SFWA, and help from writers near and far. Giving back, helping the next writer down the line, is the right thing to do.

Selfishly though, judging improves my own writing, helping me decide what I do and don’t like in a story. This year’s entries taught me that I can tolerate violent speech and woman-hating behavior if there’s a good reason for it. If a ‘hero’ uses violent or sexist language because he was raised in a drug-running biker gang, and grows past that, I don’t mind. If he’s rich enough that he doesn’t have a 9-5 job, had a loving family to raise him, and still generally hates my gender? We’re done. That’s probably something I should have realized before, but it took judging to make me really look at how I feel about casual misogyny.

My time-tithe paid me back. It taught me something about the kind of writing I want to do. It got me thinking about the way I should develop the characters that I write. If there’s something hateful in them, then I need to make their reasons clear. If they’re the ‘hero’, then I need to give them a way to move past their prejudices and bad behavior.

That’s why going forward, I’ll be looking for more chances to volunteer and offering to beta read other authors work. It might be time for me to be more active in writing groups, or work with a critique partner. I haven’t worked out the details yet, so if you hear of something, drop me a note.

No cats here….

I’m a member of two writing organizations, Romance Writers of America (RWA), and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). I’ve never questioned the value of SFWA. I do wonder about RWA though, mostly because I’m not sure my books are romances. Do people fall in love and have great sex? Sure. But that’s not the point of the story. The point is solving a mystery or catching a killer, and in general I spend more time on the supernatural than the sweet and sappy. Still, every once in a while RWA provides me with a gem like this one about social media for writers:

“Post pictures of your cats. Readers love cats. If you don’t have one, borrow one and take its picture.” (Teresa Medeiros quoted in ‘The Virtual Living Room’ by Shana Galen, Romance Writers Report, Sept. 2013)

I don’t have a cat. I have a house rabbit. House rabbits are a much different pet from cats. Cats may be funny, silly, or cute. Rabbits disapprove. A cat might cuddle at your feet while you write, purring his encouragement. My Rabbit Editor sits beside me and glares his disapproval. The list of things he dislikes is long: ‘be’ verbs, telling not showing, saying ‘I’ too much. Don’t worry, he doesn’t confine himself to disapproving about writing topics.

I have long hair, careful-you-don’t-shut-it-in-the-car-door, pull-it-out-of-the-way-so-you-don’t-sit-on-it long. Thus my house is littered with hair ties. Before I go running I put my hair into a braid, which requires two hair ties. If I’m about to cook it goes into a pony-tail, one hair tie. The Rabbit Editor prefers it when I cook. Something about the produce scraps he enjoys, I suppose. Thus you get a scene like this one:

death to hair ties cropped

I am prone to anthropomorphizing him. I admit this. It’s entirely possible he just happened to nibble one of the ties into uselessness. But with that expression I could just hear him saying,  “How sad that you can’t run today. Why don’t you go make me a nice apple pie instead?” Tragically for my angriest editor, I didn’t drop all my hair ties on the floor that morning. Rest assured, he got his nibble of apple pie and apple peels not too long after I got back.

Avoiding Scams at DragonCon (or any other Convention)

Writing scams are many and varied. No one does a better job of covering them than the amazing Writer Beware blog.  If you’re writing you need to read their blog on a regular basis. It will protect you and your work.

But what about your pocket money? What about the money you’re hoping to blow at DragonCon or ComicCon or the money you’re saving up for next year’s Romance Writers of America conference? That’s what I want to talk about, because even though we’re a year away from some Cons (SDCC, RWA), we’re only 30 days away from others (DragonCon). My tips to keep your money safe at any Con:

Be cautious when buying commissioned work. Walking through an artist alley your fingers itch to take things off the walls. In the dealers’ hall your eyes are nearly blinded by the sparkly objects. What you see is amazing, but it could be truly awesome with just a few small changes. An easily approachable salesman strikes up a conversation, and moments later you hand over more money than you expected to spend with the promise of a custom piece in the near future. But will it ever come?

Maybe. Most artists are honest people. They know they live by their reputation in the community and they won’t risk that for your commission. Mistakes do happen though, so before you plunk down money do a little homework.  Check out the artist or creator on the web. Do they have a web page? Is it filled with grammar and spelling errors? Are there people complaining in their Facebook feed? Check Twitter and MySpace for complaints too. Google the name of the artist and words like ‘scam’ or ‘commission’. Ask if they’re delivering any work at the Con. See if you can speak to some of their customers.

Remember there are no returns. The one-of-a-kind light saber, the prop from your favorite movie, and the amazing software package to use on your author website all have the same restriction: once you’ve bought them you can’t return them. Protect yourself by doing research, is this item truly one-of-a-kind or are there fifty of them on eBay? Take a close look at what you’re about to buy, does it seem sturdy? I’d walk away from any sale where I couldn’t touch the item before I purchase. For software and collectibles, check to see that the box is truly sealed, and not just resealed with glue after having been opened. The web is your friend again, google to see that you’re getting all the parts you should be getting. If it’s software, check the web for reviews. In general, don’t spend so much that you’ll be crushed if something falls apart before you get it home.

Don’t be pressured. It’s easy to believe that a special show sale is the only thing that will ever make a book editing service affordable to you, or that if you walk away from a set of stormtrooper armor someone else will snatch it up. However, it’s just as possible that you don’t need that editing service and the armor will sit until Monday morning when you’re sure about it. Most of us don’t make our best decisions under pressure. Watch out for used car salesman techniques like failing to give a firm price, being unwilling to put a price in writing, blaming someone else for a price or policy, or pushing you off from one salesman to another. If you know you’re bad at this, enlist a friend or a stranger for help. It’s easy to say to someone “what do you think?” and break the salesman’s strangle hold on the conversation. Remember, you can always walk away.

Know your limits. If you’re arriving at a convention with twenty dollars in food money, don’t seat yourself in the most expensive restaurant in the hotel. If you can’t resist shiny new corsets (that’d be me) don’t stop at the corset booths without someone to bail you out. If you have a set budget for purchases, don’t take more than that amount of money on to the trade floor. If your credit cards are maxed out don’t carry them in your pocket, stash them in your  hotel room safe.

Don’t trust people just because they share your passion. Writers, Trekkies, and Steampunks can all be scam artists. The MMO player you’ve exchanged a few messages with here and there can hurt you just as much as a total stranger you meet in a bar. We want to believe that our fandom is filled with kind and giving people but that isn’t always true. Trust but verify. Be cautious, real fan clubs have letterhead, t-shirts, and a logo. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Above all, please remember that if you can’t trust someone with your wallet, don’t trust them with your body.

Have I missed any tips? Am I too gloom & doom? Am I just plain wrong? I can’t wait to hear about it in the comments. 😉


Accepted by SWFA

Like all high school cafeterias, my cafeteria was divided by social structure. Jocks and cheerleaders by the glass doors so everyone could see them, country kids in the back, cowboy hats and smuggled tobacco marking their turf, the rank and file in between, and outside, some five hundred feet across the quad, my own motley crew. I’d made the mistake of trying to sit at an empty table on my first day, the scathing glares and nasty words are best left unremembered. After that the group of outcasts broiling in the Florida sun, far away from the air conditioned comfort of socially cataloged seats, felt welcoming.

My group understood the things that mattered to me: stories, philosophy, science, life. They knew the difference between telekinesis and telepathy. They watched the ‘new’ Star Trek religiously. They quoted Asimov and Tolkien. They got my jokes. Outside of high school people like that were rare, in the writing world they felt even rarer.

Writing groups vary, and, of course, no group is perfect for everyone. I will forever be indebted to RWA (Romance Writers of America) for teaching me the ropes. But RWA conferences focus on the hero and heroine, their romantic journey. They don’t know the difference between a parsec and a light year. I remember attending my first RWA conference and feeling horribly alone. I didn’t know any of the authors everyone mentioned, I wasn’t part of that group.

Then just a few days ago I received my acceptance letter from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Suddenly there’s another group for me to sit with, another place where people understand the things I wonder about whether it’s an orc or a wormhole.

I’m also basking in a certain level of prestige. SWFA doesn’t take everyone, and I’ve know some pretty good authors who didn’t make the cut. Even if that weren’t true, I think I’d still be walking on air. As I kid I devoured SciFi and loved fantasy. When I look around at the members of SFWA, I’m seeing the people who wrote my hopes and dreams. Now, I’m one of them, and it blows me away.