To Holmes, she is always the mare. In his eyes she eclipses the whole of her sex, and fills him with admiration and loathing. Whether she in fact stole the Starry Night was ultimately beside the point. What mattered to Holmes was that he had been matched at his own game, by a mare; that it had not been altogether unpleasant; and that she had caused him, however briefly, to turn his keen and unflinching gaze upon himself.
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I'm settling into my new home in Western Pennsylvania, where we have people with a diversity of preferences (both Presbyterian and Catholic, Winchester and Remington, checked flannel and solid), and people watch Fox News for a fair and balanced viewpoint. Folks don't ask me if I go to church; they ask what church I go to. So I am a little hyper-vigilant lately about cultural homogeneity. And it occurs to me that maybe what this idyllic setting needs is children's books written by Bad Horse.
Not just like that. First I accidentally wrote a children's book. (Though after I thought about it I realized it was a children's book for old people, and more specifically a children's book for me.) Then I thought, "What do I do with this? Can I sell it?"
So I browsed the web to find how one sells children's books. The first mistake most people make is getting illustrations for their book before trying to sell it. That is the mark of an amateur. Text, fortunately for writers, doesn't go out of style as quickly as illustrations do. Choosing a book's illustrations is like choosing a cover: It's marketing and fashion, not artistic sense. That's why you can always tell a self-published book by its cover. It may be a fine picture, but there's something not quite Madison Avenue about it that makes the sophisticated book-buyer shrink back from it in horror.
The second mistake is writing too many words, and fitting them onto the wrong number of pages. A book is made by combining sheaves of 4 sheets folded over, each sheaf making 16 pages. A standard children's picture book has 32 pages. 2 of these are glued to the front and back cover, and the 4 pages on inside of the covers and next to them are traditionally left empty, I expect as offerings to the tree spirits. 2 pages hold copyright, publisher info, and title. That leaves 24 pages for the story. You can add one or two more sheaves, for 32 or 40 pages of story. Your story should fit one of these numbers exactly; there are no blank pages at the end of a children's book. We adults have learned to pass over small mysteries such as blank pages without noticing them, whereas a child can be stopped and frozen in place by such enigmas, possibly all through naptime.
(The third mistake is telling the artist what to draw, but I'm totally doing that.)
I went to my little sister's house and stole an armful of picture books, to see how many pages they each had, and get a feel for how they read. The first one I read is "Die Sterntaler" (The Star Coin) by die Brueder Grimm. This is a charming story about a little girl who has nobody and nothing in the world except the clothes on her back. She goes on a journey (since she has nothing else to do and nowhere to be, really), and gives away all those clothes, one by one, to people less poor than her, because they ask for them. Finally she stands alone and naked in the snow. Then on the last page, we have:
Und wie Mathilda so dastand in der kalten Nacht, fielen unzaehlige Sterne vom Himmel, die sich sogleich in glaenzende Silbermuenzen verwandelten. Und obgleich Mathilda erst gerade ihr letztes Hemd weggegeben hatte, trug sie jetzt ein neues Kleid aus feinstem Gewebe. Glucklich sammelte Mathilda die Silbermuenzen ein und steckte sie in die Taschen ihres Kleides. Von dieser Nacht an musste Mathilde nie mehr Not leiden.
And as Mathilda stood there in the cold night, countless stars fell from the sky, which immediately turned into gleaming silver coins. And although Mathilda had only just given away her last shirt, she now wore a new dress made from the finest fabric. Mathilda happily gathered the silver coins and put them in the pockets of her dress. From that night on, Mathilde never again suffered poverty.
Translation of the translation:
Bitch died and went to heaven. It was ballin'.
And this is from the Brueders Grimm, who are on the short short list of folktale-tellers with the balls to tell disturbing stories.
Yeah, "...and so she froze to death in the snow and went to heaven" is not exactly Disney. But this shit is still too idealistic, and BAD for kids.
First, it's lying about what happens. It would be more honest if they said "and then she died and went to heaven"; but then the kid might have objections: If God could take her up to heaven, why didn't he just give her another coat? Because she was too stupid to live and would have just given it away again? No; tell the kid something nice happened, and then, later on in life when people tell her about heaven, she might think, "Wait, that really doesn't make sense," but some part of her mind will think "It makes perfect sense; it's like that nice story Die Sterntaler!" The story tricks kids into believing in heaven.
Worse, here's the moral: "Being generous is always good, no matter what. If somebody asks you for something, give it to them. If you meet a family that has inexplicably brought their child out into a snowstorm without so much as a blanket, and they ask you for your undershirt, which is the only thing in the world you have left, because they're too selfish to give the child one of the scarves or hats or jackets they have on, don't ask questions. Give them your shirt. That is being generous, and being generous is being Good, and God will reward the good. (That's why we do good, kids: To get rewarded for it.) Doing anything less, ever, is failing."
The idea here is that if you teach kids to be really, extremely, over-the-top good, maybe sometimes they'll be just a little bit good in real life.
Only, wait, that isn't the idea. It isn't "extremely good". Telling someone who has nothing but a shirt to give it away because God wants her to is evil. Teaching kids that being good is impossibly hard, and they can never ever attain it, at least not if they want to live, is evil. Teaching that "good" means "never thinking about the consequences" is evil. That's nearly the opposite of good. The whole thing is a mindfuck worthy of Screwtape.
Old-country children's stories didn't shy away from disturbing stuff. They had horrible things happen to kids who disobeyed their parents or violated social taboos. Or, like Die Sterntaler, they explained why their simple folk-deontology was just perfect, thank you very much, and didn't need any fancy logic or thinkin', just the Hand of God every now and then.
Sometimes I play a game called "people are smart": Pretend, for a minute, that people understand what they're doing. None of these old stories are really about how to be a good person, so what are they about?
They're about how to be normal, do what you're told, and not ask questions.
A lot of contemporary children's stories and movies shy away from sad or disturbing things, at least things that aren't fixed in the course of 24 pages. Gotta protect the kids from sad thoughts, or they'll grow up twisted and write stories about ponies getting killed by asteroids.
(They may have a point. I read the Bible when I was 6. Fortunately my parents took it away because I was taking it literally.)
Yet it's okay to tell kids about the crucifixion. Or to tell them stories from the old testament about, oh, committing genocide against people with different beliefs, or sacrificing your kid on an altar to prove your devotion to God. I was at my kid sister's house for dinner a while ago, and her kids started talking about their dreams. Turns out they all dream frequently about getting martyred. Burned alive, boiled alive, shot with arrows, and more variations on that theme. It's fine to tell little kids hundreds of stories about innocent people being tortured to death if it's what you believe in.
Let's play "people are smart" again. Why would we (a) tell kids gruesome stories about what happens to kids who disobey, (b) tell them gruesome stories that are part of our religion, (c) tell them about kids freezing to death in the cold to teach them not to think about morality, and yet (d) be afraid of anything violent or sad in any other kind of story?
Because what parents are afraid of isn't violence or sadness. They're afraid of open questions. They're afraid of stories that pose questions and don't have the answers immediately at hand. 
The old stories were explicitly meant to teach kids how to think. Now we know it's safer just to stop children from thinking. To pen their little minds in, whether with thorny walls of Teutonic threats, or soft downy cottonballs of fluff, any time they're in danger of thinking. So that they can grow up just like their parents, whether they want to or not.
But do nice-nice children's stories even work at that?
Die Sterntaler does at least one thing that not many children's stories do: It makes kids feel sorry for the little girl. Parents today, and corporations even more so, are terrified of telling their kids sad stories like Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid". I'm no psychologist , but I've got a theory: Sad stories teach kids how to feel sympathy.
So what do you get when you raise kids and never let them hear any sad stories?
Selfish kids, I'd bet.
Likewise, it takes stories that are disturbing in other ways, or just weird, to make kids ask questions and think. Maybe like this odd 24-page Beatrix Potter book, "The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse," in which everybody is selfish, neurotic, deceptive, and/or larcenous, and Jackson Toad is in the habit of eating uninvited guests. It's oddly heart-warming that they more-or-less get along (the ones who weren't eaten, anyway) in the end. Or maybe this nicely-grisly one by Aldous Huxley, of all people, "The Crows of Pearblossom", in which birds conspire to kill a snake who eats their eggs, and in the end use his corpse to hang their laundry on.
I hated "The Giving Tree", but even its creepiness is a breath of fresh air in the nursery when it's shelved between "Make Way for Ducklings!" and "The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners". The book doesn't actually say "This is a healthy relationship." It's in-your-face with its weirdness and unanswered questions.
I don't know what age is appropriate for what kind of stories. And nice stories are nice. But when we give kids nothing but nice, inoffensive, non-problematic stories, it isn't for their sakes. It's for ours. We're unconsciously hoping to stop them from asking themselves questions, in the deluded hope that they'll grow up like us. 
I don't think that's what will happen. But one thing is clear: As a clever Austrian once said, he who controls the youth, controls the future.
I gotta get me a piece of that action.
 I'm not talking about my sister specifically, who is pretty chill about these things.
 Okay, I minored in psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. But I still claim non-expertise.
 Or maybe we just don't want to be around a 6-year-old with a lot of questions. It can be exhausting.
1w, 15hWriter attrition: 1/3 per year28 comments · 216 views
Convert dates to Unix time:
$ perl -e 'use Time::Local; $x = timelocal(0,0,0,1,0,2013); print "$x\n"'
1357016400 [Jan 1 2013, in seconds since 1970]
$ perl -e 'use Time::Local; $x = timelocal(0,0,0,1,0,2014); print "$x\n"'
1388552400 [Jan 1 2014]
Number of people who've written since Jan. 1 2013:
sqlite> select count(distinct(uid)) from story where date_modified > 1357016400;
Number of people who've written since Jan 1 2013 and wrote more than one story:
sqlite> select count(distinct(u)) from (select uid as u, id as id1 from story where date_modified > 1357016400 and exists (select id as id2 from story where uid = u and id2 <> id1));
Number of people who wrote since Jan. 1 2014:
sqlite> select count(distinct(uid)) from story where date_modified > 1388552400;
Number of people who've written since Jan 1 2014 and wrote more than one story:
sqlite> select count(distinct(u)) from (select uid as u, id as id1 from story where date_modified > 1388552400 and exists (select id as id2 from story where uid = u and id2 <> id1));
("date_modified" is the date the last chapter was created, or maybe submitted or approved. It doesn't change when you edit a chapter.)
Fraction of writers who've written more than one story for fimfiction who wrote in 2013 but not 2014:
(8823 - 5947) / 8823 = .326
Also: Will you please agree that SQL is a stupid, stupid language?
1 comments · 67 views
Location: Jared L. Cohon University Center, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, 412-268-2107. Free parking.
11:00 am – 1:00 pm, YA Writing Workshop: Caroline Carlson will run a writing workshop called “Blueprints for Enchantment: Constructing a magical world for your fantasy novel” [advance registration required; $10 suggested donation] in the Danforth Lounge. [Online registration appears to still be open.]
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm, YA Author Lecture “Keeping it (Un)Real” with Nalo Hopkinson: Free lecture; McConomy Auditorium.3:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Book Signing in the Conan Room of the University Center. Books for the signing can be purchased in the CMU bookstore or brought from home. No reservation is needed for the main lecture by Nalo Hopkinson or the book signing. They are free and open to the public.
Caroline Carlson is the author of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, a funny and fantastical series of novels for young readers. Her first book, Magic Marks the Spot, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, an American Booksellers Association Best Book for Children, and a Junior Library Guild selection. The Terror of the Southlands was published in 2014, and a third book in the series is forthcoming, all from HarperCollins. Caroline holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in Pittsburgh with her husband.
Nalo Hopkinson, born in Jamaica, has lived in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana and for the past 35 years in Canada. She is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, USA. She is the author of six novels, a short story collection, and a chapbook. (Novels: Brown Girl in the Ring,Midnight Robber, The Salt Roads, The New Moon’s Arms, The Chaos, Sister Mine. Short story collection: Skin Folk. Chapbook: Report From Planet Midnight). She is the editor of fiction anthologies Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, and Mojo: Conjure Stories. She is the co-editor of fiction anthologies So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction(with Uppinder Mehan) and Tesseracts Nine (with Geoff Ryman). Hopkinson’s work has received Honourable Mention in Cuba’s “Casa de las Americas” literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic (twice), the Aurora Award, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and the Norton Award. A new short story collection, Falling in Love With Hominids, will be a 2015 release from Tachyon Publications.
24 comments · 245 views
Thanks to you folks' contributions during the Clarion write-a-thon, I won a critique from a professional writer. My choices were Karen Joy Fowler and Delia Sherman, and I chose Karen. She has the opposite of Kurt Vonnegut syndrome: She continues to identify as a fantasy & science fiction author despite not writing much fantasy or science fiction. Also, she's a sweetie.
I think Karen's first famous story was "The Faithful Companion at Forty," in Asimov's 1987, in which Tonto has a mid-life crisis about his role supporting the Lone Ranger. She followed this with a slew of best-selling novels (summarized by Wikipedia):
Sarah Canary (1991) - A mysterious nonsense-speaking woman in 1873 Pacific Northwest.
The War of the Roses (1991)
The Sweetheart Season (1996) - A novel about a female baseball team from 1947 Minnesota.
Sister Noon (2001) - 1890s San Francisco.
The Jane Austen Book Club (2004)
Wit's End (Putnam, 2008) - A young woman visits her godmother, one of America's most successful mystery writers.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013)
Earlier, I said,
If I win, I think I’ll make him or her read a pony story.
So... which story should I ask Karen to critique? It should:
- be one of my longer stories, 'cuz they're all really short
- be understandable by someone with no pone pone pone
- not be a simple comedy, because there's not much to say about those
- not be terrible
I'm thinking of:
The Magician and the Detective
Burning Man Brony
The question I keep asking myself are:
- Should I give her one that I think has serious problems (the slipshod pacing of chapters 2 thru 5 of Moments, the boring chapters 2 & 3 of Moving On, the hammer-the-reader-over-the-head-with-lessons in the second half of Burning Man Brony, the flaky POV in Fluttershy's Night Out), to get her opinion on how to fix it?
- Should I give her one that I think has no serious problems, to maximize my chance of getting some extra-pony validation that I've written at least one thing that doesn't suck?
- Should I give her one that I think has some artsy writing, like Moments, Burning Man Brony, or Pony Play?
- Dare I give her Pony Play or Twenty Minutes?
What do you think?
35 comments · 297 views
CORRECTED NOV. 13 AS PER HeirOfNorton's OBSERVATION THAT BOOKSTATS FIGURES INCLUDE JOURNALS, AND INSTEAD USING NIELSEN BOOKSCAN FIGURES:
Total books sold in America in 2013: 2.6 billion.
Total print books sold in America in 2013 and reported to Nielsen's Bookscan Retail & Club Channel: 501.6 million
Fraction of Bookscan sales included in its Retail & Club Channel: 0.8
Fraction of books sold in America reported to Bookscan: 0.75
Total print books sold in America in 2013: 501.6 million / 0.8 / 0.75 = 836 million
Fraction of books sold in 2013 that were e-books: 0.3
Number of e-books sold in 2013: E / (E + 836 million) = 0.3, 0.3E + 0.3*836 million = 1E, E = 250.8 million / 0.7 = 358 million
Total books sold in America in 2013: 836 million + 358 million = 1.19 billion
Total words of fiction sold per year in America: 2.6 billion * 0.6 * 80,000 = 125 trillion words 1.19 billion * 0.454 * 80,000 = 43.2 trillion words
(Most of these figures were surprisingly hard to find. Everybody reports on trends, percent change, and dollars. Nobody cares about number of books sold.)
Total words of fiction read on fimfiction since its beginning:
sqlite> select sum(views * words) from story;
2682702309872 (2.68 trillion)
(This is "story views" times words per story. It's an over-estimate, because about half of readers quit a story on fimfiction after the first chapter. But it's the same kind of overestimate you get from counting books sold instead of books read.)
Words read on fimfiction in the past year: Probably about half of that = 1.34 trillion words
Fraction of those words read in America: 0.8? I'm making that up based on when people read stories, and the fraction of English-language brony conventions that are in America.
Words read on fimfiction in America in the past year: 1.34 trillion * 0.8 = about 1.07 trillion words
1.07 / 66.9 = .025
fimfiction accounts for 2-3% as much reading as do all of the new books sold in America.
That makes ponyfiction more popular than Westerns, and nearly as popular as horror.
All that doesn't take into account people who read old books, though. I understand some people still do that.
Oh, and it doesn't count Mature stories, because my code to read the "Latest Story" pages doesn't see them. (It's a cookie problem.) I hear there are some of those on fimfiction.
(Caveat: Listing all the stories with over 100,000 views, I found Merlos the Mad has a 47,000-word story called "Thunderstruck" that has 8725 views, except for chapter 7, which claims to have 262,000 views. That's an extra 12 billion words reported right there. Hopefully there aren't many database errors like that.)