Sourcerer’s 11: Questions for Author Alex Hurst

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Welcome to the September edition of Sourcerer’s 11, our monthly interview series. I’m chatting today with fantasy, science, and speculative fiction author Alex Hurst. You can find her on WordPress at Alex-Hurst.com and on Twitter @AlexHurstTweets.

Meet Alex. She's cool.

Meet Alex. She’s cool.

Welcome, Alex!

Thank you! It’s an honor to be here. I’ve followed your blog for a long time, and was pretty chuffed when you asked to interview me.

Yay, us!  (Alex is the one speaking in boldface, just so you all know. I am speaking from here on out in italics. And I am pretty stoked about the fact that the word “chuffed” has just been used on my blog for the first time ever. Let’s do this thing!) 🙂 Q&A time!

Q.1: Earlier this summer, you released D.N.A., a serial, illustrated novella. As you know, we love illustrated fiction, sci-fi, and superheroes around here, so I’m intrigued. Can you tell us a little bit about D.N.A. and how it came about?

Art by Kevin Nichols

Art by Kevin Nichols. We almost went with the cover image, but thought the better of it and decided to do something special. We have more art from Kevin Nichols today 🙂

D.N.A. came about sometime in the latter part of last year. The fiction writing group I belong to had a call out for superhero-themed fiction, and that being a genre I’d always loved as a kid, I simply had to try to get a story in. D.N.A. was accepted into that anthology (Writers’ Anarchy III: Heroes & Villains), but is re-released now with minor alterations and a handful of illustrations.

I started the story with a concept (Alta’s “power,” but then decided to also use the world that rapidly developed as a vehicle for discussing feminism, LGBT, and social issues. Alta is a woman, a person of color, and a lesbian, and the story and characters all amount to the big question I hope to ponder with the series: What does it mean to be human?

Q2. Do you have another fiction project in the works you’d like to give us an early teaser for?

I have a few projects on the back burner right now, mainly because I don’t have the knowledge to move forward. My current novel-in-progress is a non-European epic fantasy told from the perspective of the villain, but it’s on a stall because I need to do some serious world building in regard to military and poverty functions within the regions.

Q.3 Since you live in Kyoto, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask you about Japan. I’ve always had a fascination with Japanese culture, but I think we often get an overly-simplistic view of other cultures in the U.S. Can you tell us something interesting about life in Japan that the average North American could never learn from the television and travel literature?

Hm, I’ll have to think about that one for a second. There are a lot of things that many people find shocking or surprising about Japanese culture, but it really depends on how much the person has studied or what kind of person they are in general.

That being said, I think that most of the world would have the impression that Japan wastes very little. Just last week, I saw a NYT article that discussed the philosophy of “mottainai” or “Such a waste!” In theory, this is inline with what we learn about Japan. They recycle, they take care of their things, etc., etc. So, it was very surprising to me to find out, when I came here, that there are a lot of micro-wastes in the culture, like individually wrapping every cracker or cookie in a package, or triple shrink-wrapping electronics. Even books, when you go to the book store, are all shrink-wrapped with paper “obi,” or belts, which are all thrown away, generally.

Likewise, many restaurants don’t offer a doggy bag option for food that you can’t finish at the restaurant. Grocery stores won’t stock food that isn’t absolutely perfect, and tons of food simply gets thrown out every year. What it comes down to is that they are very good at not wasting some things, but not others, and I think that’s true of any country in the world.

Q.4 Let’s talk about blogging for a bit. Your Archetypes series is one of my favorite blog series of all time, and it seems to be generally well-received. How did you come up with that idea? And if you don’t mind sharing, how long do those posts take to produce?

There's an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. :-) Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

There’s an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. 🙂 Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

Well, thank you very much! I have a lot of fun writing those posts. I can’t actually remember much how it happened. I think I was looking at critical analyses of fairy tales and came across the terms “anima” and “animus,” and thought it’d make a good blog post. Then, because I was there anyway, I decided to have a look at Jung’s twelve archetypes, because I find them way more flexible than traditional stereotypes used to fill a cast.

The posts themselves don’t take long at all to introduce, but I did spend two days before starting the first one building the graphics. I decided ahead of time what sort of look I was going to go for, prebuilt the wheels and made a template for the featured banner. Since the images are done, it’s just a matter of filling in the text once a month. I usually start thinking about who I want to use for each archetype a few days before the post, and find the images on Google…. The actual writing of the posts takes about 4-6 hours, give or take, though the Creator post only took me one hour to churn out. I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants blogger; shame my fiction writing doesn’t work the same way!

Q.5 Everyone who’s blogged for any length of time has favorite posts, and in my experience, bloggers’ favorite posts are rarely their most popular. In your own opinion, what’s the best post you’ve published so far?

Another hard question. I think my favorite post is another series that hardly got any love, Tackling Poe. I made that series my first year of blogging, though, and didn’t know anything of what I know now. I’m actually going to be repackaging the whole series over the next couple of years, now that I know how to push it properly.

Q.6 Most bloggers make a lot of mistakes in the early going, so those of us who have been at it for awhile usually have a list of things we’d do differently if we could go back to the beginning and start all over again. Do you have any tips to offer bloggers who are just getting started and want to be successful?

If I could do anything again, it would be deciding FIRST if I want a self-hosted domain or WP.com domain, because I switched three months in to self-hosted, and lost so many of the followers I’d struggled to gain in the beginning. 

I would also say participate in a couple, but not too many, weekly memes in order to meet people. However, the most important thing, to me, for any blog, is that your blog have something personal to say. Personal not just in the stories you tell, but in the voice you use to get them out there. Don’t be afraid to offend people, or not be interesting… just be you, and be honest.

Q.7 Since you write both fantasy and sci-fi, I’m curious to know which you prefer as a reader. Which do you read/enjoy more of, and do you have any favorite stories you’d like to share with us?

I’ve gone in and out with the genres I like. I was heavy into fantasy when I was younger, but I ended up finding so many problematic themes (mythical creatures as pets/pedestals, women having no other conflict than to be raped, etc) that I simply stopped reading the genre after 14. I’ve picked up some science fiction novels since then, but I mostly enjoy science fiction in short stories (see: Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction)

As far as my favorites, those are also variable. I’ve come to really enjoy the idea of Roger Zelazny’s Book of Amber, even if I found the writing ineffective. Right now, my heart is more with speculative fiction, as in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or with fantasy, Brust’s Jhereg or Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, though I didn’t like the entirety of the end in the latter!

Q.8 You mention in your WordPress profile that you volunteer as an admin for the online community Fiction Writers Group. Since many of our readers are fiction writers, I think some of them might be interested to know what that community is about. Would you give us a brief run-down?

Sure, I’d be happy to! Fiction Writers Group is a Facebook community of authors from all around the globe. We currently have over 8,500 members, and we produce 2-3 anthologies a year that are only open to those in the group. I admin, I keep up with the website (writersanarchy.com) and do the proofreading and interior design for the anthologies. Definitely check out the website, because there’s way more information there, but my favorite part about the community is how generally helpful everyone is, and the mock publishing process we have for our Writers’ Anarchy series, which boasts no form rejections and the opportunity to resubmit after feedback. I think it really helps people take baby steps to a thicker skin!

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain't good art, I don't know what good art is.

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain’t good art, I don’t know what good art is.

Q.9 Any advice for writers, artists, and other creative folk who are struggling to break in and find a large audience for their work?

Have an idea for your audience, but don’t write with the intent of reaching a large audience. Write first with the intent to tell a good story, and have that story edited — not just proofread, but truly edited. Indie and self-published does NOT mean do everything yourself! There are a ton of resources out there. 🙂

Once you have your story the best it can be, then think about platform. I think there’s nothing for it but blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately the work isn’t over once you type The End. There will be many, many more hours of marketing and reviewer searching ahead of you…. but, don’t give up!

Q10: Give us your best elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your stories?

I like to write about the human condition, and what it means to be human in an unhuman world. My works, no matter the genre, are character-driven more than plot -driven, but that doesn’t mean the plots are lacking! I like diversity, not just in skin tones and gender and disability, but also in personality, and the reactions and actions people who aren’t me would take in any given situation. If you’d like a free set of stories to read, check out my works on Out of Print. “Scalawag” and “Passing Over: The Handbook” are, I think, the best stories to read to get an idea as to my range. 

Q.11: If you could own one magical artifact or piece of out-of-this-world technology, large or small, from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star, what would it be?

I think Jim C. Hines answered this best with his Libriomancer series (imagine, pulling any loved item from any book ever written!), but If I had to choose one, and it couldn’t simply be a magical or supernatural skill, I’d want a wand from Harry Potter… a common answer, but there’s so much you can do with it! (As long as the Ministry of Magic isn’t on my trail, too!)

Weekend Coffee Share: Hooray, September!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m glad it’s Labor Day weekend, because I really need the break. August was a marginally better month than June and July — at least there were no car accidents and no one died — but it wasn’t the greatest. I’ll not rehash the whole lousy summer, but I do hope September is the month things finally get better.

weekendcoffeeshare_2015

And I’d tell you I’m so far behind on my blogging, I don’t even know what to do next. Finding enough time to blog is always an issue for me in the late summer and early fall, but it’s been worse than usual this year. The family’s needing a lot of time and the commute I took on when we moved in June just makes things different.

The drive is only 45 minutes door-to-door, but most of it is busy interstate driving, so it doesn’t have much decompression value. I don’t have much time before work to do internet stuff, as I have for most of the time I’ve been blogging. And when I get home it’s either homework time or dinner time. So, most nights, I’m not sitting down to the computer until well after 8 pm, and I’ve had to adjust my bedtime because I have to be up at least two hours before work time.

This is a serious lifestyle change. Up until June, my office was 15 minutes away, whether I walked or drove. It was just as fast to walk as to drive because the driving time was all about finding parking. So, most days I walked, and the 15-minute walk WAS good for decompression.

For most of the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve been able to maintain the productivity to blog mostly every day because I’ve been able to squeeze in an hour before work and/or an hour after, and when I needed to catch up, I could always stay up too late to get stuff done and catch up on my sleep the next night. Those two easy-to-come-by hours have simply evaporated. I’m dealing with a serious crunch here, and I don’t know an easy solution.coffee

I know most bloggers work day jobs and lots of people have busy schedules.  I’m certainly not claiming to be unique or looking for sympathy here. I’m just perplexed by a problem I’ve not had to deal with up to this point. I managed so well for so long, and I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve just spent the last two years making. But I’m not sure at this point that this is going to get better once things settle down toward the end of the month. I’m afraid it’s here to stay, which means that if I want to keep blogging at the pace I’m accustomed to, I’m going to need to figure out something to let go in order to free up the time.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you September is off to a pretty good start for me. In fact if it weren’t for the problem of not knowing how I’m going to recover my blogging time, it would be off to a better start than any month I’ve had since April. I gave most of the day yesterday to my grandson. My wife and stepdaughter have been sick (there’s a nasty virus going around), so they slept in. I made the boy breakfast and then we goofed around for an hour or so. I’d intended to give him some time early in the day and then get to work, but we ended up taking most of the day.

He wanted me to show him how to make paper snowflakes by cutting and folding paper. Our first attempt produced two strips of paper with three identical holes each. The holes were perfectly positioned to turn them into masks, so we each colored one with crayons, added string, and took photos of one another in the cool homemade masks.

weekendcoffeeshareI posted about the snowflake thing on Facebook, and my friend Rose, who’s blogged here on more than one occasion, found me a snowflake tutorial. It took me a few tries to get the folding just right, but it worked, and we spent a couple of hours making snowflakes. The grandson is thinking he wants to make a bunch of them and glitter them up to use as Christmas decorations.

Aside from that, I was up and down, in and out of the house most of the day with him, and before bedtime, he ended up showing me how to play a video game because he wants me to X-Box with him. It was an all around good day, but I never found an hour or two to sit down and do any actual blogging — the internet time yesterday was all 15-minute sessions in which I either scanned comment threads for a few minutes or did quick Facebook posts.

He’s out with another of his grandfathers today — that’s a regular Sunday thing — and everyone else is in bed, so I’m going to see how far along I can get with the blogging between now and 3 p.m. today.

Have a great Labor Day if you’re in the U.S., and a fantastic week if you aren’t.

Don’t forget to add your coffee post to the linkup at Part Time Monster, and share it with #WeekendCoffeeShare on Twitter.

StumbleUpon v. Reddit

I’m looking at StumbleUpon and Reddit as key networks to expand into over the next year. The reason for that is simple: if you’re looking to bring visitors to a website as efficiently as possible, building a viable presence on one or both of those networks is probably a good move. The problem: They require a lot of engagement, and they step on sharing one’s own stuff pretty hard.

This means figuring out how much time you can get by with spending on them and knowing how often to put your own links out there are tricky. I have no idea how either of those networks decide what counts as “affiliation,” and I publish at and promote several blogs I do not own. I don’t want to be demoted before I even get started, and I don’t have a lot of time. So I’m proceeding slowly and cautiously.

But I have been experimenting. I have a StumbleUpon account I don’t use very often and no Reddit account at all. We’ve seen some success with both over the last couple of weeks. I’ll share a few numbers with you today and then explain the differences between these two networks as I understand them.

This spike happened here the weekend of Aug 10. I’ve included the mouseover info for the peak day. This is a good four-day spike from Reddit. It started on Sunday and trailed off on Wednesday. We still got a little from it on Thursday, and continued getting odd views last week.

15_08_10_spike

Most of this traffic went to a Tolkien post and a Batman post that were shared on various subreddits by a friend of mine who is not affiliated with the blog on Sunday, Aug. 9. The Tolkien was shared early and the Batman was shared late. The Batman post generated about 100 views, and they came in over a shorter period of time than the views on the Tolkien post, which brought us visitors for days. I’m assuming the difference is explained by the relative sizes and activity levels of the subrreddits where the posts were shared.

Overall, we received around 240 documented referrals from Reddit from this. That’s two or three days’ worth of traffic for us, depending on time of week and how we’re set for content. So, totally worth the minimal amount of time it took to drop those links.

Just to put those 240 views over a 4-day period into perspective for you. In the last 30 days we’ve received 195 views from the WordPress Reader, 115 from Facebook, and 75 from Twitter. And we’ve only gotten a little over 1,000 from search engines.

As I was putting this post together Friday evening, this happened. These are stats from Part Time Monster. The Friday/Saturday spike represents almost 800 views. A few came from StumbleUpon, but most came from Reddit. The info in the mouseover is for Saturday, which turned into Diana’s best day ever.

PTM spike 15-08-23

This one was a surprise. Diana’s Girls and Gaming post was shared spontaneously on Reddit by a blogger who as far as I know, we’ve never talked to. That post received more than 307 views on Friday and we recorded 168 Reddit referrals that day. I stumbled the post around midnight and it got another 53 views from StumbleUpon between midnight and 2 am on Saturday morning.

The StumbleUpon traffic trailed off, but PTM received another 179 Reddit referrals, and by the end of the day on Saturday, the gaming post had been viewed another 298 times. Out of the total of 780 views at the Monster on these two days, 605 were on the gaming post. We’re sure that 400 of those came from Reddit and StumbleUpon.

Again, just so you have some frame of reference. In the last 30 days, PTM has received 204 views from the reader, 57 from Facebook, 57 from Twitter and 604 from search engines. It’s also worth noting that Part Time Monster’s previous best day was a 400-view day in mid-March, and 85 of those views came from StumbleUpon. Our best day here at Sourcerer is 391 views, and 81 of those came from StumbleUpon. In fact, every time we’ve set a new best-ever record in the last 18 months at either of these blogs, StumbleUpon has been involved.

This is real progress for us for a couple of reasons. We’ve seen handfuls of referrals from Reddit before, but never anything like this, and these numbers are comparable to all the StumbleUpon spikes I’ve ever seen aside from the two or three very best. The 50 views I got for Part Time Monster from StumbleUpon is also the first time I, personally, have had a successful stumble. Up to this point, it’s always been other people stumbling our posts that got the views.

So which is better, Reddit or StumbleUpon? That depends on how you like to play on the internet, and on what you’re looking to get out of it.

Reddit is basically a huge forum with sub-forums (called subreddits) for just about every topic you can think of. People chat and share links related to specific topics. Reddit users can vote things up or down. Enough up votes will land a link on Reddit’s front page. Enough down votes can disappear a link entirely from Reddit.

StumbleUpon is a network for sharing and curating links. Users follow topics (called “Interests”) and can follow up to 100 other Stumblers. StumbleUpon sends content from your interests and from the people you follow into your feed, and you can like/dislike things. StumbleUpon saves all your likes and allows you to build lists of things you like. You can also share pages to StumbleUpon and categorize them for other users to find.

Reddit strikes me as easier to use — I find the StumbleUpon interface difficult. Reddit is also probably a more predictable source of traffic if you can learn to share there effectively, but StumbleUpon probably has higher traffic potential. (I’m saying “probably” here because I’m not well-versed enough to be sure). StumbleUpon was one of our top five referrers here in 2014 and brought us almost as many views from two or three lucky stumbles as Facebook did from every link we shared there.

The value of both to bloggers is simple. If you generate enough views on a single post in a short period of time, that helps the post get into Google searches. I’d say 80 percent of the the search traffic we get here is from people finding posts that were put into those searches originally by StumbleUpon.

I plan to eventually use both of these networks, but I am starting with StumbleUpon because I have more friends who use it than use Reddit, and because I already have a StumbleUpon account set up.

What about you? Do you use either of these networks, and do you have any advice for us newbies?

Happy Monday!

Thanks for Tuesday, and Have a Link!

Thanks to everyone who joined in the self-promotion thread on Tuesday.

I’d intended to do a roundup with a few of the links from the thread today, but we received so many links, and I’ve had such a crazy week, I’ve not had time to really do them justice. There’s tons of good stuff on that thread, so if you’re looking for blogs to read, it’s a great place to start.

Rest assured, I’ll take the time to visit them all and at some point, I’ll do a roundup of some sort. In the meantime, Give Thoughts by Mello-Ello a look. It’s a fabulous blog!

Happy Thursday!