Exercise for the Author

The problem with the phrase exercise for authors is simple. It is confusing. Do I mean physical exercise such as stretches, do I mean mental exercises such as meditation, or do I mean writing exercise such as prompts? To simplify it, I mean all of the above.

Physical exercise is a growing concern for me as time just doesn’t seem to have mercy for me as I age. I could once sit down and type for hours on end. I could lose complete track of how long I had been at the keyboard. Now, I feel it when I sit down and start typing a few lines. I have invested in the naturally speaking software that allows me to get through some writing without the physical strain, but I am still best with my hands.

Some tips for physical exercise besides the things doctors always tell us to do: walk, stretch, etc., may include the use of a prop or two. A tennis ball is a great item to have on hand to roll under a foot, or to roll an arm along on the desktop. I also like the inflatable ball that I can stretch my back on. Plus it reminds me that I could still do a back-bend like when I was a child, but without the ball, I don’t.  I did see they make a chair frame for that particular item, but I haven’t used it so I can’t say if it is better than the desk chair I am currently in. I do know the desk chair I am currently in is not one I plan to be in next year. It sucks. Finally, I try to get up every 50-90 minutes and take a 10-20 minute break. On good days that is when I do the stretches, walks, yadayadayada. On most days I use that time to let the dogs out, snack, and daydream of all the things I will never actually make on Pinterest.

Mental exercise such as meditation is something I struggle with, but I do believe it is good for me and when I can get into the pattern of both yoga and meditation, my life runs much more smoothly than when I am not making that practice a priority. I am a much nicer person when I am focused on being positive and peaceful. Since my day job consists of teaching multiple college freshman English courses, I can get evil easier than I would like to admit. Seriously, one class actually estimated my seat at the desk and where my head would be and then drew horns and a tail for me on the board behind it. I’m sure I still have that picture somewhere. I’m the monster until they get a good grade three semesters later and realize they needed all that work. Mental exercise I obviously need is an outlet for the many roles I play in my life and others.

Writing exercises, such as the one I am doing now, are important. At least in my humble opinion, we have to find ways to work on our craft as authors that are not about the next plot. If I only write and focus on romance novels, then specific sub-genres within that, I will never know what else is out there that I may be good at. I try to write in a variety of genres because I have to write for myself, and that means seeking a challenge and improvement. It means finding new ways to express myself. This blog is a major challenge for me which is why it is so neglected. It isn’t fiction. It is non-fiction and that means exposing myself in a more private way than if I posted nudie pics (which I will not be posting). It means being brave and baring my actual thoughts to the reader stumbling upon this post. Which leads me to question: what is this blog all about anyway?

I’ve come up with an answer. It is about me, of course, you, possibly, and us, maybe. I’m looking to add structure to this blog, a purpose (other than just my digital footprint and inexpensive web-site option). Stay tuned to see what theme I come up with. Feel free to weigh in on what you feel is missing in the realm of author blogs and maybe that will help me give it a little more life.


Book Pirates and Me

I know there isn’t a lot I can do about book pirates and the theft of my e-books. I have tried to use digital rights management. I have limited the places I make the books for sale. All it has done is make me more angry, frustrated, and confused.

I’m pissed because these people don’t really like books or authors. They obviously don’t care that my income from my books supplements my income as an adjunct teacher. I need my sales. Not to buy bon-bons and bubble bath either. I need my royalties to my bills.

I’m confused because I don’t know if the pirates are being intentionally cruel to people or if hey are just ignorant. Maybe they don’t realize that not every book published is rolling millions of dollars towards the authors. I won’t be paying off my student loans any time soon with my royalties, and if people keep stealing my books it will take even longer!

I have heard the argument from all sides and I have tried to talk myself into just ignoring it. I can’t. I really feel like jay and Silent Bob in that movie. I want to print off all of their addresses and go to their houses and kick their asses. At least the people in that movie wrote a review. People stealing my books aren’t even doing me that favor. I mean if you’re going to fuck me in the ass, at least give a reach around, right?

Hence the frustration. At this point there isn’t much I can do about it but call people out by name and hope that someone somewhere in the chain of online communication will judge them. I mean it would be the best kind of Karma for their kids to grow up to be writers and have other people steal their work. Then they can cry to mommy and daddy and they can say, oh dear, it’s okay, I used to steal from authors all the time.  However, they wouldn’t think it was okay if it was their work or the work of their family.

I mean sure, everyone is entitled to my work for free. I mean they pad for the cover art, they sat hours and hours in a chair writing the book in the first place. They paid for an editor. Oh wait, they didn’t? Huh?  That was me? Oh, well then….why the fuck does anyone think it is okay to pirate my work?

The sites that allow this to happen make it damn near impossible to just tell them to remove the link. They know what is taking place at their websites. They turn a blind eye to it. I have to hope these people will eventually get a moral bone in their body and stop this nonsense. I mean I argued forever that e-books should be affordable, they should not cost a lot of money. I now know why they are selling at 8 and 12 bucks. They have to in order to compensate for the losses.

Then there are those who say that those people reading it online for free wouldn’t have bought it anyways. Fine, they wouldn’t have read it either. I don’t want thieves to read my work. I’d rather never sell another book in my life than to look at a site and see that my book Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off has had over 10 thousand pirated downloads. I could probably pay a bill with those kind of royalties, so yeah, it hurts, it burns, it angers.

I obviously need to get back into the gym and do some yoga and remember that what goes around comes around and all that peace and harmony stuff. What I really want is for people to take my books down off of their pirated sites. If not, then I really want them to experience it in their life someday soon so that maybe they could be less ignorant, entitled, or whatever it is that makes them feel like they can do this.

Recently these two have contributed to my frustration:

Lief77 at Mobilism not only stole my books but also put a logo on my covers! http://www.mobilism.org/viewtopic.php?f=1292&t=610713&start=0&sid=95c79a51013c3e819f5ee01d8de6a4dc&view=print …

Please ask Ukkin at Scribd to take my book down! http://www.scribd.com/doc/165088437/Get-a-Grip-Hollywood-Nights-North-Cara …


Plagiarism and the Industry of Fiction

I felt compelled to write this post regardless of readership due to the amount of current events that have cropped up concerning the issue of plagiarism and fiction. In particular, romance novels. The kind of stuff I write.

                I know the sting of being accused, even in an off-hand way of plagiarizing. On a popular review site, a reader said my book, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off, was basically ripping off the movie “What Happens In Vegas”. It was pretty upsetting since my book was out well over a year before that movie was even advertised. I realized the person either didn’t read my book, didn’t get past the first chapter of my book, or didn’t watch the movie. I did after that comment because if anyone was being copied, it was me and I wanted to know. Fortunately, the good people of Hollywood had not ripped me off.

                I know the burn of discovering someone has plagiarized, though I encounter that in my life where I go by the name attached to my social security number. I teach at a college and since my students are all old enough to purchase what I write, I use the pseudonym Cara North to keep my worlds somewhat separate. Yes, they do find me, but they seek me out. I don’t push what I write on them. Anyways, when students turn in papers to me they all go through a system called TurnitIn. The program highlights the percentage of the paper that is word for word found elsewhere.

                Now I know that as a contemporary erotic romance author I tend to throw cock around pretty liberally in my books (Not in the BDSM way, in the use it a lot way). I know that there are only so many ways to describe putting a dick in an orifice. Yes, I am sure that if someone ran my book through the plagiarism checker of romance novels (should it exist-hint hint multibillion dollar Amazon) the phrase, “Put his dick in her mouth” or “Put his cock in her ass” will pop up the same as in a bunch of other books.

                I get that. As a professor, I don’t sweat the small stuff. There is only so many ways a student can phrase certain things and yes, someone has likely said it before. I had one student freak out because he discovered his sentence was used on a public blog somewhere two days before he submitted the paper. Yes, they can also see the report if they choose to. I told him I wasn’t concerned and no one else would be either. I look for a high percentage rate. I look for complete paragraphs or passages copied from other papers, websites, etc.  If more than 20% pops up, I know I need to look at this student’s paper closer and possibly have a talk with them to make sure they understand.

                As fiction writers, there is no excuse for it. We are all essentially telling the same story. “Boy meets girl, or boy meets boy, or girl meets boy, or girl meets wolf pack, whatever gender/species/amount of partners you are into in to, said person loses said partner(s), and then gets said partner(s) back. The loss isn’t always a physical one, sometimes it is emotional uncertainty. Any at rate, it is the oldest story and we all draw from it. What makes our books different is our own unique blend of weaving this tale. We draw from the familiar and the unfamiliar.

                I once had a conversation with a beloved author who said she had one of those “oh crap” moments of is this mine or is this someone else’s? She didn’t copy it from that author, but once she re-read her book she remembered a similar scenario in something she had read. She said she spent a good amount of time tracking down that original book to ensure she had not repeated the scene by *gasp* accident! She hadn’t. When she found it the only element that was the same was the scenario regarding the heroine cutting her hair. I am sure some of you who write might be doing the *gasp* right now because you may have written a scene that has a scenario involving someone cutting their hair and someone else reacting to it. Sheesh, that never happens in life, right? We all know there is a time to worry, and a time to realize that some things are going to happen in multiple books just like it happens in multiple real lives.

                If we aren’t talking about these minor issues that make us authors sweat, but go virtually unnoticed by everyone else in the universe, what are we talking about?   Are we talking about the precedent set by fan fiction authors who have been picked up and published by major publishers? How does that work exactly? I don’t know. Is there a percentage of a book that needs to be original? I don’t read fan fiction. I have not read the 50 Shades series because I think it is a dangerous precedent for publishers. I would like more explanation on the reasoning behind it. After all, if anyone remembers the Meg Cabot issue (I kept the article for my classroom purposes; here is a link to it on Wikipedia) that was big news and published in newspapers around the world. Now, what? Are fan fiction books different? I don’t understand.

                Then there are the copy and paste plagiarists. That’s right, copy and paste. These authors don’t have the time or decency to go through and change more than a name. This has been the issue as of late. Within the past month I have read three different bouts of crazy stemming from copy and paste authors. I’m not going to link them, you can Google it, or log in to Twitter or Facebook and read. These are the one we tend to be most concerned with because not all of the plagiarism is happening to “big name” authors with “big name” publishers who can afford “big” lawyers.

                Not that anyone seems to need them. Social Justice is apparently working to get these people to remove the books, and sometimes remove entire websites. Social justice is not always right. There is recently a review posted on Amazon accusing an author of plagiarizing. There is a plagiarism case with concern to the book. However, the author getting the blame was the one being plagiarized. This becomes the problem. Who did what first in the eyes of the reader? I go back to my own example. I am sure that girl saw the movie and then picked up my book. She never looked at the copyright date. Certainly, she didn’t know about the two years prior to that when it was being work-shopped in my critique group or in line at a publishing house prior to release.

                Readers don’t care about copyright dates. I know I didn’t prior to becoming an author. I know I had a student tell me that The Vampire Diaries ripped of Twilight. I asked her to bring both copies of the book to class the next meeting. I showed her the copyright page. She was blown away by the timeline. See, readers are going to read in the same genre. So it doesn’t make sense to me. If these people are ripping off an author and putting it up, who do they think is going to buy the book? Probably the people who read the author they just ripped off because that is the type of book they like to read!

                Fear not! Romance readers tend to read across the genres, so they can’t just change a name, race, or species and copy and paste either. It will come out. The question is, can we prevent it from happening in the first place, or at least reduce the amount of occurrences? I propose Amazon invest some of the money they are making from all of this e-publishing in a program like TurnitIn. They can take my approach, pick a percentage rate for matching words that indicated a pull for review prior to publishing, and then they can spot check minor issues or eliminate them from the search.  With the amount of erotic romance pumping through the electronic veins it might be prudent to eliminate the “Fuck me!” phrase from the da
tabase of matching words and phrases.

                Sure, it might take longer for my books to go up and be available to the public, but I would rather wait a day or two for it to go through that system than to lose sales to people who are not even writing their own work. Yes, it is that serious of an issue. Every time someone pulls this shit, we all pay for it. Readers get anxious about trying new people. Authors get anxious about letting out advance review copies. Consumers of every genre get pissed because they spent their hard earned money on something they already read.

                We can’t copyright ideas. Some things are going to be phrased the same no matter the genre. We can be grateful for those people out there bringing this to light. Reviewers and avid readers are the number one source of policing this phenomenon. It is a heavy burden and does not come without its own cost. Those people who do not believe their author/friend/family would do such a thing retaliate. Social media makes it complicated as we have seen when people have attacked or killed “suspects” because they got the wrong “Jane Doe” with the same name as the real perpetrator. To my knowledge no one has gone that far over romance novels, but there is a fine line between calling someone to the floor for something they did and bullying.  Professionalism is required for anyone to be taken seriously when revealing something like this. It is a legal issue. People cannot control their reader’s behavior, but they should be clear not to endorse the hateful behavior of rabid fan-girls/boys.

                In a society where celebrities have to lobby for years to get to use their own name on social media, is it any surprise we have to deal with copy and paste plagiarists in publishing? Our society has become accustomed to a certain amount of plagiaristic behavior. The publishing industry giants are bringing some of this on all of us in the industry by not clarifying the boundaries of fan fiction being published. This might prevent new authors, often without knowledge of all this, from thinking it is okay to pattern and pull from another book.

                I say inexperienced authors because I struggle with accepting that seasoned authors would do this. From my personal point of view, not endorsed by anyone, some ways a new author can avoid these temptations or coincidences include:

  1. Stop reading within your genre. I don’t care what people tell you! I only read contemporary when I am not writing because I fear the subconscious phase that might leak out. This means I might rad one book a year and it is usually by one of three authors.  
  2. Get a reader group. You don’t have to get a peer group of other authors to edit you. It works best if you have a group of avid readers review your work. They will point this stuff out in a “Simpsons Did It” (courtesy of South Park) way before it gets to an editor to correct commas and spelling.
  3. Remember that every author raking in the big money was once a person starting out and writing an average, okay, or crappy story to get published. You wouldn’t steal from that book, so don’t seal from one they finally made it with either.
  4. Remember that writes are usually unstable, at least I am, and these books are kinda like our word babies. If you wouldn’t want me to come take an arm off your toddler, then I don’t want you to take a paragraph out of my book. It is hard enough when people tell me they don’t like it (aka your child is really ugly). It is so rewarding when they do (aka this child is going to do well in life). I can’t imagine how it must feel to find out someone stole a few parts of a book (aka I took out your child’s heart and kidney while you were sleeping). So don’t do it. It takes nine months to grow a baby and then you have the rest of your life as that child’s parent. It can take weeks to years to grow a book and as long as it is published it will likely outlive you.