Author: Dachary Carey

The downside of works-for-hire, NDAs and dead links


The downside of works-for-hire, NDAs and dead links

I’m applying for jobs again, which brings me once again to the Hell that is “provide links to your work.”

There are three reasons that’s not a simple request, and I dread this question:

  1. I’ve written literally thousands of pieces of content as works-for-hire. This means that I do not retain rights to those works. In many cases, they are posted under someone else’s name. They may contain proprietary information. My best pieces have been written as works-for-hire, which means I cannot share those pieces with potential employers/clients. It’s a bummer.
  2. NDAs. In the corporate world, NDAs are common. I’ve spent years of my life writing for clients with literally nothing to show for my effort, because those works have been protected by NDAs. When I apply with corporate clients, or clients who want to see my business or technical writing content, I simply can’t show samples because that content is restricted under NDAs.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, the web is not forever. From 2007 to 2016 or so, I maintained a freelance writing website with portfolio links to articles I had written. It was awesome, because I could simply link clients to relevant content when interviewing. But businesses went out of business; people changed web hosts and URLs, and much of that portfolio turned into broken links. So I took it down, because curating and maintaining a working list became a major time sink.

So now, when I fill out forms asking for links to my prior work, I basically end up saying ad infinitum “I can’t provide working links, but I can send you some PDFs.” Or “I can’t provide samples because of NDAs and works-for-hire, but trust me, I’ve written a ton in that industry and it was really good stuff.”

If you’re thinking about hiring me, but you need to see a specific type of sample, chances are good that I’ve got a PDF somewhere I can share. Please let me know what you want to see, and I’ll find a relevant sample and send it over.

And if you absolutely have to see corporate samples that I’ve written under an NDA… I can redact something heavily and send it to you to give you an idea of my organization and structuring capabilities, but don’t expect to learn any insider info. I take the legal status of my works seriously.

Looking for a new (meaningful) writing gig

Business Personal

Looking for a new (meaningful) writing gig

At the beginning of August, I said farewell to the company where I’ve been contracting for the past two years. I worked with a great team, but I’d gotten burned out and it was time to take a break and then look at what I want to do next.

My plan had been to focus on publishing and doing my own writing full-time whenever I left that contract gig, but… I haven’t built up the publishing to the point where it can pay all the bills yet, and frankly, it feels a little frivolous to me at this moment in time.

Given everything going on in the world… I want to do something a bit more meaningful. I want to use my writing skill-set to do something with more impact.

I stumbled across the high-impact job board at 80,000 hours; they say:

They’re all high-impact opportunities at top organisations that are working on some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The types of problems that these organizations work on are definitely interesting, and direly need to be addressed. Things like; positively shaping the development of artificial intelligence; biorisk reduction; promoting effective altruism; improving institutional decision-making; all these things are big-picture, high-impact problems where I’d find the work a lot more meaningful than making another rich company richer. Or maybe something with some social impact, like working on gender equality, or LGBT rights, or something along those lines.

I’m currently looking around to see what’s out there. But if you’re reading this, and you happen to know an organization working on a meaningful problem that could use a writer, I’d love for you to reach out. Drop me a message via my contact form.

Wish me luck!

A sincere plea


A sincere plea

Tl;dr: latest school shooting hits too close to home; this sh*t has got to stop.

I owned a house 10 minutes from there. If the ex-husband and I had kids, they would have gone to that school. I have family who have lived in that area a long time, and family that still live there. I know it’s a cliche that no-one expects bad things will happen to them, but this hits way too close to home.

I have been very conspicuously silent on all these types of things, except to say my hearts go out to all those affected.

Time to break my silence. You strike near my heart, I can’t not say something.

All the people who politicize these shootings? You’re horrible people. Period.

School shootings, and mass shootings in general, are NOT a “good excuse” to resurrect those same old gun control arguments you’ve been fighting for years. People are entrenched in their beliefs around the issue, and there is no dialogue happening – just trying to shout down the other side.

Here’s the thing: THIS. CANNOT. CONTINUE.

I have nieces and nephews in school, and who are going into school soon. I have friends with kids. This issue affects people that I care about, and we as a society need to STEP UP.

This needs to stop being a shouting match about gun control. We need to take real steps toward ending the violence that has become a daily issue for our kids to face. It is ridiculous and sickening that our young children have to think about whether they might die today. That they have to drill and learn skills on how to be silent and hide in school when someone goes on a shooting spree. We need to stop accepting this. It is not acceptable.

We need to stop looking for a scapegoat or an easy solution that blames everyone else.

“It’s guns in every household.”
“It’s violent video games.”
“It’s bad parenting.”
“It’s bullying.”

Let me just get this out of the way…

I was bullied every day in elementary and middle school, and I HATED the boy who bullied me.

I’ve played violent video games as long as “modern” video games were a thing, starting with Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein in the 90s (all first-person shooters).

There was at least one gun in my household growing up, if not more.

My mom, bless her heart, was a drug addict; I saw things that no child should ever have to see, and was raised (most of the time) by my grandparents.

Never once in my life, never in my deepest, darkest psyche, did I have even a hint of a suggestion that I should take the handgun in my household and shoot the boy who bullied me, or any of the other people in my life who made it unhappy.

Gun violence and school shootings are WAY more complicated than finding one or even a few rallying points to shout about ineffectively while we watch our children die.

We need to get to whatever underlying sickness has infected our society, and we need to treat it. We need to stop shouting and FIGURE THIS OUT.

We need to get our best psychologists and sociologists on the case and have them figure out how it ever got to this point.

We need to pay teachers more, and make sure they have the time and emotional capacity to really *listen* to our kids, and help them learn the empathy and social skills that let us live together in a functional society.

We need to make sure parents have the time and emotional capacity to spend time with their kids, and provide good examples, and help them learn the empathy and social skills that let us live together in a functional society.

(This probably means parents working fewer hours, because the parents I know tend to be overworked and exhausted; we need to figure out a way to collectively help our fellow humans, because individually, we only have so much capacity.)

We need to make it easier for parents to access special needs resources and mental health services for their children, to give them the help they need when challenges come up. We can’t all be experts in everything, and parents should have access to these experts when they need them.

We need to find a way to reduce the roles that television and technology play in our lives, because this stuff is damaging and diminishing the personal connections that teach us how to interact with and value other human beings.

We need to level the playing field, so kids and their families are starting from a more even footing, with the same access to educational resources, healthy food, and a world in which anyone really can do anything. Right now, racial, economical, gender-based and other differences and tensions make things very unequal.

There are SO MANY FACTORS that are contributing to this gun violence crisis, and I don’t pretend to be an expert or to have all the answers. I DO want us to start having a real dialogue, and start making real changes, instead of just repeating the same old “take away all the guns” “over my cold, dead body” arguments we’ve been having for years.

We HAVE to address this. Now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not five years from now; it is time to sit down and FIGURE THIS OUT.

We are already diminished as a species, because we’re making our small children worry about whether they’re going to die today at school; this is already doing lasting damage to an entire generation of children. But we’ll be doomed as a species if we can’t figure out how to keep our young people safe.

And personally, I’m literally worried sick about the children I care about in my life; and I can’t imagine how parents find the fortitude to send their children off to school every day with this hanging over us.

We need to make it stop.

Unnecessarily gendered language

Language Personal

Unnecessarily gendered language

I was chatting with someone the other day, and caught myself using “guys” – as in, “you guys” – when talking with a woman about her relationship with her wife. I’ve been sensitive to using that word for years now, and I stopped myself, explained that it was one of those unfortunate verbal habits I’ve been trying to break, and re-framed the inquiry with “you ladies.”

This is one of MANY examples of a time I’ve gotten frustrated lately with how unnecessarily gendered our language is.

Why does gender matter when you’re using a common phrase?

I know plenty of people who don’t understand why it bothers me so much that I use “guys” by default to refer to more than one person; particularly in a mixed-gender group. Those people argue that “guys” is understood to mean “people” and isn’t intended to be offensive to women.

I have two fundamental problems with that.

First, and most personal to me, as I age, I’m becoming more and more of a feminist. I’m noticing more and more ways in which our society is unequal toward women, and it’s bothering me more every day, with every new observation of how unfair things are. I know this isn’t new to other people, but it’s new to me, and it’s fueling an increasing sense of injustice in me, so even these “inoffensive” assumptions in our language are becoming offensive to me.

I am not a guy. I am a woman. If you want to use a gender-specific term to refer to a mixed-gender group, why shouldn’t everyone be “ladies” instead? Of course I know that would never be accepted (although I loved the nod to this in Tandy’s attempt to be “woke” in Last Man On Earth), and I’m not seriously asserting it’s a better solution, but it’s an equally viable option. It’s equivalent. So ask yourself why that would never be accepted, and you’ll understand a bit of why I find it unjust.

Second, out of sensitivity to others, just don’t apply unnecessary gender labels when you don’t have to. Period.

Why does this matter?

When you’re addressing an individual or a group, you may have no idea how those people identify themselves. Applying an unnecessarily gendered label may be very uncomfortable for them, even if you don’t mean it in a literal sense.

Take my “guys” example above.

I know a trans person who has sometimes had a hard time “passing” as a woman. People would sometimes identify her as male when we were out in public – using words like “sir” etc. when speaking to her. That made her feel miserable. Trans people are already far more aware of gender identity than cisgendered folks; calling unnecessary attention to gender identity in every day scenarios where it simply doesn’t matter is almost cruel.

If someone had addressed a group she was in as “guys” – that could set up a whole chain of negative thoughts. “Did I not pass again? Ugh, this sucks…” etc. Even if the person addressing the group didn’t mean it literally, it’s like probing an open wound. (I happen to know that this individual isn’t bothered by “guys” in a literal sense, but there are enough other unnecessarily gendered interactions that I’m always sensitive to it when I hear myself use the term.)

So, in this example, wouldn’t ladies be just as bad – but in the other direction? Doesn’t “ladies” unnecessarily gender a group of people, who may be equally sensitive to gender identity in an inverse way? Or even just somewhere on a spectrum; neither trans nor cis but something in between.

Sir, ma’am, ladies, gentlemen, guys, dudes, boys, girls; we are all people. Sometimes it’s useful to refer to gender identity, like when you’re discussing health concerns with a doctor – but I don’t see why it should matter in any other context. Certainly not in the millions of every day interactions in which we unnecessarily gender a person, or even an inanimate object. (Why are cars, boats, and the sea “her?” None of the reasons I’ve heard are flattering…)

This is something I’ll continue to work on in my own language and interactions with people. And I hope it’s something other people will begin to think about more as they go through the world and have these little interactions.

To business card, or not to business card


To business card, or not to business card

Silly thing, I know… but I don’t have business cards anymore. I’ve had so many business cards over the years, in various incarnations, that when I made the decision to stop promoting my freelance career, I abandoned my old cards and made an intentional decision not to get new ones printed. I didn’t want cards for Bright Little Light Press yet, since I’m basically a one-woman house and imposter syndrome and all that stuff. I figured I’d probably get some printed eventually when we get bigger and I want to start accepting submissions, potentially hiring, etc. And I didn’t feel that personal cards were particularly relevant, as I wasn’t promoting my freelance career anymore.

But… also, there’s an element of wanting to be a bit more discretionary with my contact info. I’ve been more than happy to sit down with people over the years who wanted to pick my brain and learn from me… but I’ve also spent a LOT of hours in one-way exchanges where I give, and don’t get anything back from the other people. Since I started the publishing thing, I wanted to be more mindful of my time, and I also wanted to avoid the “all the writers who want to get published trying to reach out” element that can quickly become a major time-sink.

And, here’s the thing… as a woman, and someone who grew up in the Midwest where we’re super nice… I’m really bad at saying no. I don’t know how to say no to a contact request without being awkward. So, if I didn’t have business cards, I could just say “Sorry, I don’t have business cards, give me yours and I’ll reach out to you.”

Well, that’s dumb.

I’m currently smack in the middle of a great conference – Publishing University 2018, put together by IBPA. And yeah, there have been people I’ve chatted with that I don’t necessarily want to connect with… but there have also been some great people with whom I’d be happy to stay in touch. I went to a “Women in Publishing” breakfast meetup this morning, and it was a group of wonderful, professional peers with whom I’d be happy to have an ongoing relationship. And they all had cards but me. Which they passed around the table, while I apologized and promised to email them.

One of the things we chatted about was the boundary issue. It was wonderful/sad to hear that I’m not the only person who’s had this problem, but it was also really informative how different people have handled it. And I realized it’s time for me to practice saying ‘no’ – so I can also say ‘yes’ when I want to.

Next time I go to a conference, I’ll bring cards. In fact, scratch that – when I get home, I’ll go to Moo and get cards made so I always have them and don’t have to think about it next time I want to make a connection. And if I don’t want to make the connection, I’ll politely decline, or perhaps direct them to an alternative resource that can answer their questions.

My strange caffeine detox journey

Lifestyle Personal

My strange caffeine detox journey

If you know me at all, you know I’m a devoted coffee snob. I have an AeroPress at home and a second one at the office where I’ve been contracting for almost a year. I have not one, but two expensive burr grinders so I can always brew from fresh beans (one at home, one at the office). I temp the water before I brew. (Different beans extract ideally at different temps – I generally prefer anywhere from 85C to 95C depending on the bean, but 92C seems to be about my sweet spot.) And I buy rather expensive single-source beans from a local roaster.

So it came as a big surprise to my friends and family when, leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, I announced my intent to do a caffeine detox.

It started as my attempt to give up diet soda – I’d usually drink Coke Zero at lunch and dinner, and sometimes extra Coke Zero throughout the day. I know the chemicals in that stuff are going to kill me someday, so I decided I wanted to stop drinking it. Soda entirely, really – the diet stuff is full of chemical crap, and the non-diet stuff is jam-packed with unnecessary sugar, and I really don’t need any of that in my life. Plus, I lost a bunch of weight when I stopped drinking soda in 2005, so I thought it might be a good way to jump-start a healthier lifestyle again.

When I was thinking about it giving up soda, though, I realized I’d gotten entirely too accustomed to drinking a lot of caffeine, period. I’d start my workday with a latte. I’d have Coke Zero at lunch. I’d have a latte or a mocha mid-afternoon when I started feeling sleepy at the office. I’d have Coke Zero at dinner. Sometimes, when we’d eat out, I’d have a coffee with dessert. Basically, caffeine every few hours from morning ’til bedtime. I thought: “You know, while I’m trying to clean up my soda-drinking habits, maybe I should just stop drinking caffeine entirely. Just for a little while. Get through the withdrawal, and then drink less of it when I start drinking it again.”

So I did.

I planned to start over Memorial Day Weekend, because I’d have an extra day off and I knew I’d have massive headaches due to the caffeine withdrawal.

I was right.

The extra day off wasn’t really enough. I ended up working at home for a couple of days once the weekend was over. It wasn’t until an entire week had passed since I last drank caffeine that the headaches let up. And we’re talking migraine-level headaches for days 2-4, and then pretty bad headaches from 5-7. It was no walk in the park.

Week two was about feeling exhausted, all the time. I never really thought about what that must be doing to my body – how every time I started to get tired during the day, I’d just add some more caffeine. As a result, I had unconsciously programmed my body that whenever it sent me a sleepy signal, I’d just give it a chemical upper. I had completely messed with my body’s natural energy cycle, and it didn’t really know what to do once the caffeine wasn’t coming in again.

I’d wake up feeling relatively ok. But by the time an hour had passed – when I’d normally be drinking my morning latte or coffee – my eyelids didn’t want to stay up on their own. I had NO energy. I just wanted to go back to bed. Mid-morning, I’d be dragging. But mid-afternoon, when I always tend to get sleepy, was the worst. I’d literally be staring at my computer, and no matter how much effort I put into keeping my eyelids open, they would not stay open. I never fell asleep at my desk, but there were times when I’d sit there with my eyelids closed because I just literally couldn’t keep them open. I’d give them thirty seconds and force them open again, or go for a walk to try to get some blood flowing and give me some energy. But I think week two was even harder than the headaches – I could barely focus, and there’s something really debilitating about just being exhausted all the time.

By week three, I’d gotten a little apprehensive about what was going to come next. Was it going to be headaches again? Was the perpetual exhaustion about to descend on me again? When neither manifested, I thought: hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe the withdrawal is done. I started thinking about when I might start drinking caffeine again, and what form that might take.

One day, in the afternoon, I was feeling sleepy and also craving chocolate, so I thought about getting myself a hot chocolate. I know hot chocolate has caffeine in it. I did some spelunking to determine how much. Turns out, it depends. Generally, anywhere from 5mg to 20mg of caffeine in a hot cocoa, versus 80mg to 200mg in coffee, depending on the bean and the brewing method. I decided that was benign enough, so I treated myself to a hot cocoa around mid-week during week three.

MAN, I felt that caffeine!

That hot chocolate tasted effing amazing. And I felt SO GREAT after I drank it. I felt like I could do ALL THE THINGS. My mood lifted, I had so much more energy and focus, and I was super productive for the rest of the afternoon.

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. Wow, the body really adjusts quickly to not having caffeine. I thought I’d barely feel it, because I’d been drinking so much caffeine before, but let me tell you I felt the results and was very aware that the caffeine was affecting me.
  2. Oh shit. This might be worse than I realize. If even a little hot cocoa makes me feel this way, I’m going to have to be damn careful about how I re-introduce caffeine to my life. Maybe I shouldn’t drink caffeine again at all?

I wrestled with that for a few days. On Sunday, about five days after the hot cocoa and a little ways into week four, I decided to try a latte from one of my favorite local coffee shops. I was going to be deliberate about it – we sat there and had breakfast, and I savored the crap out of it. It was one of the most amazing coffee-drinking experiences I’ve ever had. And I realized: mindful coffee drinking is even more mind-blowing than habitual caffeine consumption. (This was the latte in the picture at the top of the post. Yes, I took a picture of it. It tasted even better than it looks.)

The rest of that day was amazing. I was SO PRODUCTIVE. I did a million chores, and got a bunch of writing stuff done, and didn’t feel like napping at 3 o clock or any of the normal stuff.

Then, when night rolled around, I was still feeling pretty energetic when it was time to go to bed. I forced myself to lie down, but my brain wouldn’t shut off – I laid there tossing and turning for a couple of hours, just thinking about everything and nothing, because my brain was too busy for sleep.

The next day was rough. And I knew it was because of the caffeine. I could still feel it in my system 24 hours after I drank it. But by the time mid-afternoon had rolled around – around 30-32 hours post caffeine – I was crashing. I think most of it had left my system, and combined with the lack of sleep the night before, I was exhausted. I barely made it through the rest of the day, and I canceled my evening plans because I just didn’t have brain.

Then I started to wonder if I should really be drinking caffeine anymore. If one latte, drank first thing in the morning, could have that effect – should I even be ingesting this stuff, period?

But I enjoyed it so much. And I had felt so productive and focused.

When Thursday of that week rolled around, I was absolutely dragging. I woke up feeling really cranky and grumpy. I could barely keep my eyes open. I made a decision: I’m going to get a mocha this morning. I want the chocolate and caffeine, for the mood elevation and to help me wake up. Otherwise, work is going to be very unpleasant, not just for me, but for anyone who encounters me.

It was a good call. That mocha was amazing. By the time I got to work, I was happy and chatty. (Mildly obnoxious, too – I announced to at least a half dozen people that I’d had a mocha that morning, and I even made it my Slack status. I had previously shared with people at work that I was caffeine detoxing, so I wanted to let them all know the good news when I started drinking it again. In retrospect, I may have been mildly caffeine-high.)

In the end, I didn’t regret drinking that mocha at all. I’d made a very intentional decision to have it, because I wanted it (and perhaps because I felt I needed it), and it had the desired effect.

Now here we are into week five. It’s Sunday, and I’ve just bought a mocha again. This is my third caffeine-based beverage in about four and a half weeks. (Well, really, my third in the last week, because that’s when I started drinking them again – last Sunday.)

I thought, when I walked up the street to pick it up, that I finally had it figured out.

I could have coffee-based drinks when I wanted them, and ONLY then. Not when I felt I needed them. Not when I was feeling sleepy, or tired, or cranky. Not out of any sort of craving or habitual need – I’d gotten used to lattes every morning, and again every afternoon/evening, and I don’t want to get back to that state. Only when I deliberately, mindfully, WANTED a coffee-based drink should I have one. I was pretty happy with that decision while I was sipping my mocha on the way home.

But now that I’m sitting here, typing this out and thinking about my reactions, I’m wondering if that’s really a good call. I made the decision to have a mocha on Thursday because I was cranky and tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open. Was it really that I WANTED it, or did I feel I needed it?

How much can I trust myself to judge the difference between want and need?

I don’t want to get back to a dependency state, because withdrawal was no good and it can’t be healthy for my body to be going through all that. The migraine-level headaches completely eliminated my ability to do anything substantive in days two through four. The exhaustion I felt during all of week two of my detox made me realize how I’d been putting my body through all kinds of crazy, unnatural swings with the sleepy/caffeine cycle. I feel like the caffeine was just masking the fact that my body was actually tired, and shouldn’t I be listening to my body? Isn’t that the whole point of mindfulness?

There’s also the fact that it feels wonderful to be so focused and productive when I drink caffeine. I feel like I get so much done. (I really do get so much done.) But it also just feels like a better mental state. And how is that different than any of the more serious, less socially-acceptable drugs? It feels like a slippery slope to me. Not that I ever have, or ever would, use “real” drugs – with my family history, that’s just not a thing that would happen. But in terms of how it affects the body, and wondering whether I can trust my mind when I’m making a decision about whether or not to have caffeine – all of the same psychology of addiction applies, I’m beginning to realize.

There’s the added complication that this coffee-consumption is tied into my identity as a writer. I love sitting at my desk, typing away and drinking coffee. It’s a really satisfying ritual. But how much of that is habitual?

And coffee helps me through those lagging cycles, where I want to stop and rest, instead letting me sit in front of my keyboard and just keep on working. But is that the healthiest thing? Shouldn’t I instead get up and talk a walk, or exercise, or nap?

Let’s not forget the fact that coffee and writers go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. It’s a huge part of the cultural identity of writers. If I stop drinking coffee entirely, does that mean I’m less a writer than other writers? It does feel alienating.

In short, this is a way more complicated question than I thought it would be when I stopped drinking caffeine on Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee detox was only supposed to be temporary – no more soda, but I’d go back to drinking coffee because I love coffee and I don’t have a medical reason not to.

But now, I have to wonder… is it really that simple? I’ve seen very clear signs of the physical effects, and I don’t think it’s such a straightforward question anymore. So I guess today, I’ll finish drinking this mocha, and savor it, and acknowledge that I have some thinking to do about whether caffeine has a place in my life long-term, and if so, how it will fit in.

Protecting your digital empire


Protecting your digital empire

After some of the conversations I’ve seen lately about backup strategies, I have been reminded that I’m not on my A-game when it comes to backing up my digital assets. It’s not just manuscripts; it’s the book covers, ad images, videos, podcasts and everything else related to the publishing empire. I’ve had bits and pieces backed up here and there, but not a comprehensive strategy.

So hubby and I have just splurged on a Synology (a raid array storage device with redundant drives to back up computers, so even if our computer dies and our backup fails, there’s another backup) and we’ll be syncing it with Backblaze for offsite storage.

Sound like overkill? Here’s the thing: hard drives die. It only takes your computer harddrive dying once to realize you need to back it up regularly. But what if your backup drive dies? Those don’t get the same attention as a computer drive, and you’d be surprised by how often they fail. (The one we’re using right now? Over 10 years old. Statistically, it should have died years ago. Before that, I’ve had two other backup drives fail.)

The raid array means that a backup drive can fail, too, but the information is stored in such a way that the other drives contain enough information to recreate the failed drive’s contents. There’s redundancy across drives, so one drive in the array can fail but the others still have enough data to protect everything.

But then what about a horrible disaster – like what if, God forbid, your house catches on fire, or gets destroyed in a hurricane? Your carefully-planned raid array is useless – you need an offsite backup solution.

A lot of people use Dropbox for this, which can be OK if you’re just talking a few documents. But if you want to back up terabytes of data, Dropbox isn’t a great solution. We currently have a 2TB backup drive that contains about 1.5TB of content. We also want to store content that we have on other drives, like videos from our trips, so there are a couple of other 1-2TB drives scattered around the house. Dropbox gets pricey when you go over 2TB, and more importantly – I’m not happy with some of their business decisions lately. I’d rather stop using them entirely.

So: Synology for the raid-array backup on-site, and Backblaze offers a Synology integration to back up our content offsite. It’s cheaper than Dropbox, doesn’t have the same icky business practices, and gives me a trusted company to keep my digital content safe even if a disaster should strike my home.

When your entire business is based on digital assets, this stuff matters. I have tons of documents (literally thousands – or maybe verging on tens of thousands at this point) from my freelance career. I have manuscripts from the publishing empire. I have cover art, ad image art and videos that have been professionally designed – I’ve paid thousands of dollars for – on my computer. I have podcasts for Bright Little Light Press. I have tax returns and accounting stuff. These things are assets, with real values attached, that my business can’t afford to lose. So it’s about time I’ve gotten serious about my backup strategy.

These are the types of expenses you don’t necessarily think about when you start a business. I know a lot of businesses that don’t have a good storage strategy, and an emergency data recovery plan with an offsite element in the event of an emergency. But these things can absolutely have a catastrophic impact on your business if you don’t take the proper precautions to safeguard yourself.

Some days are harder than others


Some days are harder than others

Some days, being a writer is hard.

You sit in a room, by yourself, pouring words out onto a screen through a keyboard. (Or a typewriter/pen onto paper, if you’re old school.)

You create worlds. They could be beautiful, or horrible, depending on what’s going on in your life. Your heroes could have wonderful adventures, or face Sisyphean struggles – or both within the span of a single story.

You have entire conversations in your head. There could be whole days when you don’t interact with another human being – you’re just alone with the people who have sprung from your mind.

When you start putting your work out into the world, you have no idea whether it’s good or bad. You think it’s good – or good enough, anyway – or you wouldn’t put it out at all. But it’s rare that readers go out of their way to say anything to you – good or bad. For all you know, your work could be falling into a void.

When you don’t hear much, you don’t know whether it’s because it was ‘good enough’ that people don’t have anything bad to say, or whether it sucks but people are subscribing to the: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” school of thought. But if you’re like me, the little Demons of Doubt like to sit on your shoulder and whisper into your ears, and you’ve constantly got to work to push them away.

But, if you’re really a writer, you can’t help yourself. Even though the Demons of Doubt are whispering away, and you rarely hear much about your work, and make only a modest living – you can’t stop writing even if you feel like giving up. Because writing isn’t something you do to make money, or to gain followers, or to become famous.

It’s just something you do because it’s part of who you are. You could no more give up writing than you could breathing.

So even if you go away, for a bit – try to wander off because you just don’t know if you’re accomplishing anything – you always find yourself back there, typing away, staring into the void as it stares back at you.

If you’re like me, and you’re having a tough day, just remember: we delve deeply into the stuff of life so that other people don’t have to.

We write about sadness, and heartache, and loss, because we’ve experienced it. The reader who shares your experience will find comfort in the threads that bind humanity together. And the reader who doesn’t will learn empathy for people who bear these burdens.

We write about struggle, and triumph, and joy – because other people need it. We write for the reader who is struggling, so he can believe he will overcome. We write about joy to bring light in the darkness, when the reader is daunted and sad. We write about love, for the reader who feels her life is lacking it. We write about family, for the reader who feels alone.

It is through this storytelling tradition that we as a species learn about things we have never experienced, discover that other people feel as sad or happy or lonely as we do, that none of us are as different as some may seem. It is this storytelling tradition that inspires us to dream, and strive, and dare to improve our lives – because someone has. At the root of every dream, every Herculean struggle, is a story of someone who achieved something.

We are the storytellers.

So if you write, and you’re having a hard day, just remind yourself of the story that inspired you. And think about the people who need to read the stories you have yet to write.

We write – because we can’t help ourselves. And we write – to help whomever might read it.

Cart, meet horse


Cart, meet horse

On the one hand, I’m definitely happy I decided to jump into the publishing side of the writing business.

On the other hand, maybe deciding to just jump right in was a little… shortsighted.

Who knew that running a publishing empire would be as much work as starting any other business? (Well, ok, so I knew it would be work, but I was maybe a little naive about how much work it would be.)

In the past few weeks, I’ve shifted gears… instead of trying a whole bunch of things in an unfocused way and seeing what works, I’ve settled down a bit to some of the foundational work that I skipped right past when I just threw stuff out into the wild.

What’s that, you ask?

Well, the biggest thing has been building a mailing list, surprisingly.

I’ve been struggling with the issue of how to get reviews on the books, because people use reviews when deciding whether or not to buy. I’ve been spending a lot on ads, but there’s only so much ROI when there aren’t any reviews. All the traffic in the world is only moderately useful without what one author calls ‘social proof.’ But Amazon, at least, is very strict about reviews – in theory, they shouldn’t come from friends and family, and authors can actually get suspended if friends and family review their books. (Which is bullshit – I get that they don’t want review manipulation, but for a new author starting out, the only people we have to ask for reviews is friends and family! We don’t have fans yet, silly retail beast.)

It turns out, conventional wisdom in this area is to build a mailing list to generate buzz around new releases, and have an advance reader team who can get ARCs and be prepared to leave reviews right away when a new release releases.

Oh, yeah, there’s also the pesky issue of having an actual launch strategy. Whazzat?

And the fact that ad costs go WAY down when your sales go up, because Amazon’s algorithms work in favor of things that people want to buy.

And I’m discovering that plain old book covers aren’t really effective for Facebook ads. You need separate art for those. So now I have to develop new creative assets for my Facebook ads. Which apparently should be mostly about list building, because the ROI on book sales through Facebook is generally too low to support advertising there for individual books. But when there are enough books to put together a box set, I can advertise that on FB, because the margin will be high enough to support the higher cost of customer acquisition there.

But with all this business stuff, I don’t actually have much time to write my own stuff.

Oh, and then there’s all the specialized tools I need to learn about. I had to learn MailChimp, and set up an automation sequence, and design an email, to start populating a mailing list. (And had to develop those creatives – but I’m actually pretty pleased with the creatives I came up with for that, they almost look professional. The Facebook ads are pretty slick.) I’ve spent way too many hours figuring out how to do 3-D book covers in Pixelmator. (I hate 3d book covers, personally – think they look so cheesy – but evidently they sell.)

And apparently I’m going to have to learn BookFunnel to distribute reader magnets and book giveaways, because that will relieve a lot of the technical headache associated with delivering the book file to people and helping them get it into their devices.

I also paid good cash monies on a course from this guy, who apparently made $450,000 via Amazon a couple of years ago, on self-publishing. This year’s course is focused on Facebook ads, but I actually bought it with the promise of an Amazon ads course that he’s adding in May. I’ve been spending a lot on Amazon ads, and they seem to be the only thing driving sales, but my ROI is crap – not a single ad is in the black.

But he touches on a lot of stuff in this course that sort of assumes I’ve done the underlying work and know what some of these concepts are. I do, in a vague sort of way, but I haven’t really done the work to develop these assets and resources for our new authors’ pen names.


So yeah. Tonight I have to edit this week’s podcast for the publishing imprint, because I’m still doing that, for some unknown reason. This weekend, I’d like to put together a video ad for one of the books – yes, video ads for books are apparently a thing. Plus I need to record next week’s podcast. And I still have a module and a half to go in the online course, plus two other bonus courses to consume. And at some point, I should work on building up a list of keywords for my Amazon ads, because those are supposedly the more effective ads (although I’m currently having more success with Product ads – presumably because I haven’t done the work to develop the keyword list).

So basically, I have a full-time publishing job on top of the full-time contract writing gig. When am I supposed to write my own stuff? Apparently I don’t get to do that anymore.

Beauty and the Beast: Why We Don’t Mess with a Classic


Beauty and the Beast: Why We Don’t Mess with a Classic

I went to see the Beauty and the Beast live action movie over the weekend.

I have opinions.

To give you a little backstory…

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite stories of all time. It caught my imagination at a young and impressionable age, and it has stuck with me relentlessly into adulthood. I love all versions of it. I love the classic Disney cartoon. I love Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I love Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter. I even love Sheri Tepper’s darker, grittier Beauty. In fact, I’ve got a soft spot for fairy tale retellings of all sorts, but Beauty and the Beast remains one of my all-time favorites. I’ve read somewhere between a half dozen and a dozen different book-length versions of this story.

I say all this to lay a little groundwork. Yes, I have high expectations when you mess with a classic. But I also feel there’s plenty of room for interpretation, if it’s done well, as evidenced by all the various book versions of Beauty that I love. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly a purist, or a snob about having the story told a certain way. If anything, I think I’d call myself an aficionado of the tale.

Now with all that out of the way… I was disappointed by the film.

(I know, you’re shocked, right? With all those qualifiers, you must have thought I was going to say I loved it.)

Note: I did not hate it. I would not say: “Oh, if you go to see it, you’re going to wish you’d had your eyes ripped out and your memory erased.” But I also would not say: “Oh, if you loved the Disney cartoon, you’re going to love this, so go see it.” If anything, I’d say: “If you loved the Disney cartoon, you may find this mildly disappointing – so maybe don’t go see it.”

So why did I find it mildly disappointing, when I’m normally so prepared to love every version of this tale?

Let us take a foray into the way my mind works…


Beef 1: The making of the beast

Alright, so it’s tradition to begin the story with the tale of how the Beast got cursed in the first place. If you know the story at all, you know how it went down. He was arrogant and entitled, in love with surrounding himself with beautiful things and beautiful people, and refused shelter to an old beggar woman because she was ‘hideously ugly.’ Or something.

Turns out, she was a beautiful enchantress, and she cursed him. The Beast gets what he deserves! Comeuppance!

In the live action movie, the director does a little too good of a job of setting up the spoiled prince. He’s ridiculously entitled, and the ball scene where he’s surrounded by beautiful women, who are all so focused on looking beautiful and catching his attention, while he cavalierly dances among them, swapping them out interchangeably, with an almost manic energy as he looks around himself – while still managing to be completely empty and soulless – that does too good of a job setting him up as a heartless beast.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and more cynical now. Maybe it’s because of the current political administration, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and all the Bad Shit I see going down in the regular world these days. For whatever reason, seeing his obsession with all that empty splendor, and the utter frivolity of his life, made him extremely unsympathetic to me. The entire scene seemed a little tone deaf to me – a little too on the nose given the current state of the world – and all I felt was “good riddance” when the enchantress cursed him.

The thing about this story is; you’re supposed to want to root for the Beast. You’re supposed to be glad, and relieved, and encouraged, to see him changing. But as the story progressed, all I kept thinking was: “No! Don’t let him change back. That arrogant human male was ridiculously entitled and horrible. Let him stay the Beast forever, and learn humility, and lead a simple life, and be happy.” Because they did too good of a job setting up the horrible spoiled prince, I didn’t want to see him again.

In all the other versions of the story, the prince is portrayed as an arrogant little jackass who needs to learn a lesson. That’s OK. He’s not truly a bad person – there’s a good heart in there somewhere under the spoiled veneer – he just needs someone to help guide it out of him.

In this version, he’s completely unsympathetic right out of the gate. Irredeemable. He’s a cold-hearted snake… look into his eyes. Uh oh.

For reals, though, they went too far establishing his backstory.

Beef 2: Belle’s village

Belle has always been different. She’s smart, and bookish, and that sets her apart. She longs for adventure, while the rest of the villagers are content to live their small, petty, unchanging lives, day-in, day-out.

Fine. Well and good. That version of Belle is just blandly sympathetic enough that we can project our own version of ‘otherness’ onto her. The village people look a little askance at her – they recognize that she’s different – but for the most part, there’s no malice in it. They’re just simple people, and they can’t understand her.

In the live action version of the movie, the villagers cross the line from being understandable, simple, village people (hah!) to… horrible, illiterate, Republicans.

I mean no disrespect to Republicans.

Well, OK, only a little.

The villagers are downright pissy that Belle is so different. But I was chilled by how they reacted when they caught her trying to teach another girl to read. They were absolutely appalled by the idea of educating another girl – “One is bad enough!” – and they decide they have to ‘teach Belle a lesson.’ So they destroy her invention, literally breaking it into pieces and scattering it across the paving stones.

There was so much wrong with this scene for me.

As a woman, we already face this kind of bullshit on a regular basis. Education for women isn’t prioritized as much as education for men, and if you’re at all progressive, you’re aware of the lack of representation of women in STEM. This is exactly the kind of thing that keeps women down. Showing repression in such a stark way in a Disney film? I know we’re supposed to empathize with Belle, and think the villagers are horrible – but according to Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art.” I can’t help but feel that some people are going to take the wrong message from this.

“Crap, that woman is educated, and she’s trying to improve the lot of other women, too! Let’s break her cool stuff and teach her a lesson so she shuts up and gets back in the kitchen and makes us a pie.”

There’s just too much of this type of thing that happens in real life for me to feel easy about watching it in a Disney movie. And it takes the villagers from being simple but harmless people who can’t understand the more complex Belle, to being horrible people who are actively repressing women.

Of course, it’s exacerbated by how Gaston then tries to mansplain to her how she should handle the headmaster. “Smile a little more and be more pleasant.” As a woman? ZOMG I am so sick of hearing how we need to be more pleasant to protect fragile masculinity, or live up to some stupid masculine ideal of what a woman should be. Just… no.

Yes, Emma Watson then gets to sing that iconic Belle reprise about how she wants much more than this provincial life… and it definitely has more teeth in this version, after that chilling series of exchanges. But there’s also a sort of stark hopelessness about it, when you think about how many other women are suffering similar fates in Belle’s world, and how she herself would have ultimately succumbed to ‘the provincial life’ if she hadn’t been kidnapped and locked up by some monster.

Which brings me to…

Beef 3: The Beast/Belle relationship

This wasn’t all bad, actually. In fact, I think I’d say this was probably the best part of the movie. Emma Watson was very convincing as a Belle who was capable of standing up to the hideous monster who held her captive. And you really felt she had more agency in helping to change and humanize the Beast than you did in the old Disney cartoon.

That being said… because they’d done such a good job of setting up the horrible spoiled prince in the beginning, and the beastly Beast before Belle started working her magic on him, the progression of their relationship seemed uneven. The progression seemed reasonable in the beginning – “Oh, he’s horrible, he’s horrible… ok, ok, she’s starting to change him a little, he’s becoming more likeable…” but then there was a big jump from that to the Something There moment. It didn’t feel earned in the same way it did in the Disney cartoon version. (Or at least, there wasn’t as far to go in the Disney cartoon, so the relatively short progression was a little more believable.)

There’s also the fact that as an adult, the Stockholm Syndrome aspect of it bothers me way more than it did when I was a kid who was too young to understand it.

Plus, with how unsympathetic the prince had been before he’d been transformed into the Beast, I really didn’t want him to turn human again. I wanted him and Belle to remain platonic buddies, and she could live in the castle, and educate herself in the library, and maybe start a school for all the poor girls in the village who the ridiculous headmaster wouldn’t educate.

Beef 4: Gay lefou

I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand: Yay! Inclusive representation in a Disney film! An openly gay character!

On the other hand: seriously? You had to make him a ridiculous caricature who’s in love with a straight man and too blinded by his love to see how bad the straight man is? The gay man is a bumbling fool who plays second fiddle to an arrogant egomaniac, who is the one true ‘bad guy’ in the film? There are so many things that are bad about this portrayal, and the fact that it’s this character that’s gay, that it basically undoes all the goodwill toward Disney in including a gay character at all.

I have a lot more opinions about it, but as someone who is outside the community, I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth – or ‘straightsplain’ something that isn’t really my issue. I’ll just leave it at: I feel really ambivalent about this.

Beef 5: the cross-dressing queen

Similar to the openly gay LeFou, there’s another moment in the film that I have very mixed feelings about. In the scene where the villagers are attacking the castle, the Wardrobe (who is Madame Garderobe in this version of the film) does some magic with ribbons and bolts of cloths, and when it’s all done, three men are standing there in dresses and wigs. Two of them look at each other and bolt, terrified to see that they’re cross-dressed… but the third turns toward the camera and ‘works it.’ He’s obviously happy with the transformation.

Now… yay? And… boo. Shame on you, Disney, for turning this into a cross-dressing queen joke. I want to give Disney the benefit of the doubt and say they’re shooting for inclusiveness, but the way they’ve done it here is absolutely tone-deaf. It’s a joke, another caricature like LeFou. And of course, in the end of the movie, this man ends up ballroom dancing with LeFou. Because the one gay man in the film, and the one cross-dresser, must end up together.

Just… no. Bad Disney. Do better. If you’re going to try to be more inclusive, and bring in marginalized cultures, do it right. Don’t make it a joke, or make the people portraying these lifestyles caricatures. Bad filmmakers.

Beef 6: gaston

Right, so in the Disney cartoon, Gaston was a bad guy. He’s probably one of the worse bad guys across Disney films, in fact – shooting the Beast in cold blood. That’s tough to outdo. But in this live action version, they’ve managed to outdo it.

Instead of being the arrogant asshat we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing, this version of Gaston is positively… evil. He doesn’t just pay off the asylum worker to lock up Maurice and get him out of the way so Gaston can woo Belle… he actually ties the poor old man up and leaves him for dead in the woods, where he (and a nervous LeFou) believe Maurice will get eaten by wolves. When the old man shows up later in town, Gaston lies about what happened, asks if the villagers are going to take a crazy old man’s word – and the woman who rescues him – against Gaston’s own, and spins it that “Maurice is a danger to himself and others,” getting the man locked up.

You know… I could keep unpacking how much more horrible and evil Gaston was in this version of the story versus the old Disney cartoon, because there’s a lot more… but I don’t want to waste more time on it. Bottom line: they went way farther with this character than they did with the old Gaston, and it didn’t add anything to the story. They were probably attempting to justify his ultimate demise, but I found it off-putting.

Beef 7: Unnecessary new music

Alright, so I know this director wants to put his own mark on the story, and Disney somehow wants to justify remaking the film… but just NO on the new music. Unnecessary. Didn’t add anything to the story. Just beat us over the head with stuff we already knew, to the form of music that wasn’t nearly as catchy as the original. Fell flat here.

Beef 8: unnecessary story/lines

There were other parts of the film where Disney added new story or new lines. Maybe to justify the way a character behaves – such as the motivation for the Beast becoming the horrible man he was as the prince – to the backstory on what happened to Belle’s mom. I didn’t feel that any of this really added to the story. And in some cases, the lines verbally explained things that we already knew from subtext. I hate when writers feel the need to do that. This is an old, beloved story – we already know what’s going on here. You don’t need to add two new lines of dialogue that state it aloud. You’re just beating a dead horse.

Bottom Line

It’s clear that Disney was attempting to update and modernize an old, beloved, classic story. But classics become classics for a reason – they’re timeless. By adding some of the things that Disney added, they’re either beating us over the head with story we already know, or didn’t need to know – or trying to force some more modern ideal on a film that didn’t need it.

Am I happy with this movie? Nah. It was disappointing.

Will I watch it again? I’ll probably rent it when it comes out, just to see whether or not my initial complaints hold up after a little distance from my first reaction.

But I won’t bother to buy it. I’ll reserve that for the original Disney classic cartoon, and all the book versions of the story that get things so right.

In the meantime, I’ll sit here and quietly muse on how a studio that can get things so right – like with Moana, or the original Beauty and the Beast, and some of the old classic Disney cartoons – can also do stuff like this, that comes off as tone-deaf and goes too far in ways that don’t add to the story, but do drive away loyal fans.