Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Shar-Pei Tidbit

Spooky Man reminded me today that Chinese Shar-Pei’s are not a breed the Idaho prison system uses for its guard dog program.

One of the K9 folks once told him, circa 1994, “They’re great barkers. They sound ferocious.” (heavy sigh) “But they’re just too damned happy to actually bite anyone, even with training.”

I like that in a companion dog.

Doggie Issues

After three months of working with Penny to: 1. learn her name (or at least acknowledge that we were calling her), 2. stop going potty in the house, 3. stop running off every chance she got, 4. stop chasing and/or obsessing over any cat she saw outside the house, and 5. stop dominance-humping Hank (yes, she did, and it was every bit as Euw-worthy as you think), we gave up and took her back to the shelter.

We had tried everything, including a shock collar that let us taser her when she tried to run into traffic or kill one of her feline family members. The collar worked while it was turned on, but it made everyone miserable and she reverted to bad behavior as soon as it was removed — or even turned off.

We filled out the shelter paperwork properly, warning her new people that she’s not house-trained, not food motivated (first dog I’ve ever come across who had to be forced to take a cookie), and would do best with no cats in her family. Telling the truth was good: she had a new home in about a week.

Then we walked back to the car and discovered a new wound on Hank’s face, maybe half an inch from his eye. (Note to self: we are not good terrier people and must never try to adopt one again.)

I’m perfectly happy with one dog.

Spooky Man, of course, met a woman at his latest Dr. appointment who does Shar-Pei rescue from California shelters (apparently Shar-Peis are the new Pit Bulls in California), and he is now awaiting a four-month-old puppy named Belle. She’s blond and adorable — wrinkles everywhere.

I don’t know how to get it across that I don’t really want another dog. Spooky Man seems to think it made Hank happy to have a playmate. All I saw was that it made Hank bleed. Every day.

On the other hand, I’ve never met a Shar-Pei who wasn’t an incredibly happy dog who liked everyone, so I’m sure it will turn out fine, and I’ll have an adorable wrinkly blond puppy in a few weeks (she just had her eyelids tacked, so she has to recover from the procedure before traveling).

Knock wood.

Vital Records vs Public Records

The “birther” thing came up again recently. I don’t really know why, because you can get a copy of that birth certificate on a coffee cup. One of my colleagues at the day job has one.

The whole controversy makes me twitch, because a significant number of people in the U.S. seem to think they have the right to possess a copy of the birth certificate of a perfect stranger. This tells me they have no clue that a vital record isn’t a public record, and they do not have any right to an unrelated citizen’s vital information.

My mother worked for the Idaho Bureau of Vital Statistics as a microfilm technician during the 1970s and 1980s. She converted century-old records of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and adoptions to the hi-tech record-keeping medium of the day.

As a result of mom’s esoteric job, I learned the difference between a vital record and a public record. A vital record is proof of identity. Nobody has the right to get a copy of my vital records but me or a first-degree relative. And both I and any first-degree relative have to prove identity by submitting a photocopy of government-issued ID, both front and back (and pay the fees), first.

The Idaho Bureau of Vital Statistics has no sense of humor, no good faith, and no direct contact with the public. You have to make a record request by mail, fax, or internet form (via a 3rd-party company that charges almost as much as the certificate fee).


This is the case even for presidential candidates who otherwise give up all rights to privacy. (By the way, neither presidential candidate for the 2008 election was born in the continental U.S.; John McCain was born on a military base in the Panama Canal Zone. Interesting trivia.)

Okay, this is where the political references stop, because the reasoning behind the confidentiality goes far beyond politics.

You can use a birth certificate to establish a new identity; you only need a birth certificate to get a Social Security number (I certainly had no other ID when I was six — mom got SSNs for all three of us; I needed one so she could put the car-accident settlement in a savings account). With a birth certificate and a Social Security number, you can get a driver’s license, a passport, and a life.

Posing as a family member to request the birth certificate of a person who died in childhood was a thriving activity in the 1970s. Most of the staff of the Bureau back then was devoted to researching every request to make sure it wasn’t fraudulent.

The confidentiality of vital records protects everyone born, adopted, married, or divorced in the United States. So be thankful there’s a difference between a vital record and a public record. It keeps Coneheads from ruining your credit.

Marketing: When is it squicky?

Writers have heard for years they have to brand, they have to be “discoverable” and they have to market, Market, MARKET their own work because nobody else is going to do it for them.

I’m here to say there are times and places to turn it off. For example, I belong to the Romance Writers of America professional organization, which costs me US$95 per year. I belong to several chapters within that organization, including a couple of special interest chapters, which all charge US$20-US$30 per year in dues.

For any individual listserv, I’m pretty much paying US$50 a year for the privilege of getting e-mails. At least two of the chapters I belong to have a promo/marketing problem on their listservs/Yahoo groups. Frankly, it smacks of personal injury attorneys handing out business cards at a Bar Association meeting. Squicky.

I work closely with sales and marketing people in my day job (pretty much, I am the marketing communications department at my small company), so I deal with message, urgency, and spin — a lot. I know all the tricks, and I don’t like it when they’re used inappropriately.

So what do I mean by promo/marketing? This:

  • “I just posted to my blog about (insert subject), so click this link to read it.”
  • “I entered this esoteric contest you’ve never heard of and I’m blatantly soliciting votes.”
  • “Congratulations!” or “I commented on your blog!” (followed by a 20-line signature that includes multiple book covers and an author blurb) — this one looks particularly desperate, which is extra squicky.

Basically, marketing is anything that demands an action from me: give you blog traffic; give you support; give you more attention than your words merit; buy, buy, buy your book(s). Greasy-leer, sweaty-palm, used-car-salesman-with-matching-white-belt-and-shoes squicky. Note: Not all used-car salesmen are squicky. I’ll bet you know the ones I mean.

What’s not squicky?

Class is never squicky. Write thoughtfully about interesting topics and have a discreet link in your signature (that is four lines, maximum, with no graphics) and I’ll probably click it and read about your books.

For example, if your new blog post is so fascinating you want to promote it, post it to the list as well as your blog. Discuss it with your colleagues, using full sentences and words (textspeak on an email list is definitely more squicky than classy).

Be polite. Be interesting. Have ideas. I know, that takes time and we don’t have time because we’re on the social-media-marketing hamster wheel. So get off the wheel; it’s probably the leading cause of squick. I’m a lot more likely to tell my tribe about your new title if I know you as classy, thoughtful, polite, and interesting.

Even if it’s a humorous YA vampire mystery romance I’m most likely never going to read (sorry, YA vampire romances aren’t my thing, even if they have funny mysteries attached), I have friends who love that premise and would also love to find a new author. Just not a squicky one.

Writing What I Don’t Know

Specifically, Japanese and Chinese traditional culture. I am working on a novel where the hero is from a space-faring culture based in East Asian cultural traditions and genetics, and the heroine is the equivalent of Japanese-American or Chinese-British. The more research I do, the more I find out exactly how much I don’t know about Japanese and Chinese culture.

I’m ethnically Irish, which means I have light hair, light skin, and round blue eyes. So, what do epicanthal folds feel like? Nobody who has them can tell me, because they don’t know what it feels like not to have them. At least I can figure out the hair — my mother had hair so vehemently straight it rejected poodle perms in about four weeks.

I’m culturally American, specifically Western American, which means I have one of the largest personal-space bubbles in the world. You get closer than four feet without a good reason and I’m going to be uncomfortable and backing away — just because of where I grew up.

Compare that to the Tokyo subway system, where they employ people to cram commuters into the trains with the personal space of, say, canned sardines. Shakiro (Our Hero) isn’t going to equate physical proximity with intimacy. Well, there goes that scene. He’s also part of the imperial security clan, which means researching the Samurai Bushido, the ninja/shinobi Oniwabanshu, and multiple schools of Chinese martial arts philosophy. Good stuff (Sun Tzu was fascinating), but still…that’s just the deep background of his world.

Because of my day jobs in technical writing and localization, I know that Japan has three different writing systems, one of which was co-opted from Chinese writing (kanji), one of which looks like Gregg shorthand (katakana), and one of which looks like a cursive version of Gregg shorthand (hiragana). And you read it from top to bottom, right to left. Yesterday, I had to look up the name of the Japanese short sword often used as a left-hand weapon by the Samurai class: wakizashi. Or at least that’s the Romaji for it (phonetic approximation using the Roman alphabet).

How would that shape someone’s brain? Does Shak trust written language at all? Would you?

It’s a good thing this is fiction, so I can make stuff up.

Need for Subconscious Speed

“Your job is done for now, so pat yourself on the back…then go write me a new book. ” This is how my editor ended her latest e-mail, the one accepting the copy edit changes and stets (which is copy editor-speak for “don’t make this change”) from me.

I’m working on it. Unfortunately, last night I was writing the scene where the hero and his father meet again for the first time in years, and dad started apologizing. Huh?

I realized that the reason Our Hero has been in the Republic (and not the Nipponese Empire, where he was born) is because he was passed over for a clan leadership position — by Dad. He went into self-exile to save face.

Which explains a lot, actually. You, in the basement — Muse — you couldn’t have sent this up three months ago? Whaddaya mean, you were working on the editorial changes for the last book? You’re supposed to be able to do both at the same time.

This little nugget changes motivations for half the plot. It makes perfect sense, but now I have to scrap most of the paltry 5,000-word first draft I have written. And I have to rework the synopsis/outline. Le sigh.

I need a faster subconscious.

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