Caturday: Pet the Cat Edition

 

In case you needed a “second person viewpoint” cat photo. “The cat leans on you. You reach over and scritch him, and he slow-blink smiles at you.”
It is Saturday and I love me some Saturday. I hope yours is treating you well! Just in case you need something to help it be more awesome, have my favorite pumpkin recipe! (It’s my only pumpkin recipe, so I guess by default that makes it my favorite 😂)
Enjoy the weekend, all!

Painting the Unicorn! Youtube! And Audiobooks!

I continue my experiments with water-miscible oils, this time on a larger canvas:

 

I will add his horn back in, promise!

I’m livestreaming this process on Twitch, but the captures are ending up on my youtube channel. You can see the first two here:

I’m still trying to figure out this process (streaming with the easel instead of the desk), and also with the new camera. Every new stream I get a little closer to something I’m happy with, though. Particularly with Spouse to help!

Meanwhile, another hour and a half of the Amulet Rampant audiobook has dropped! You can get that here, on bandcamp. Tomorrow is Bandcamp’s no-commission day, but honestly I’m not expecting to make back what I’ve spent on this so far. You can donate there (today or tomorrow as it pleases you!), or you can use the paypal link if you want to donate. At this rate, donations are far enough behind that if I run into a budgetary snag we’ll probably have to quit… but for now, I am okay, and I am treating this as my 2020 gift to myself. Enjoy it with me, if you want!

That’s the news for now!

The Problem(s) with Patreon

Many years ago, when I was still part of SFWA, I had a long conversation with the Patreon reps about their platform. I’d been using Patreon for a several years already, and they wanted my take on it. That conversation led me to a video call/interview with the engineers—I think I did two of those? In which they questioned me about use cases and I had a chance to explain what I felt was their greatest challenge. As is typical of me, the tactical stuff had to wait on the philosophical stuff, because I believe you can’t really figure out what you’re doing until you get the big picture in order.

What I told them: ‘you guys are great, but you really have to decide whether you are a payment management system or a content delivery system. Right now you’re trying to do both, badly, and the compromises are killing you.’

Fast forward several more years (I think I’ve been on Patreon for seven now) and if anything they’ve doubled down on their confusion. I’m not the only one who thinks the results are untenable; they invited me years ago to their private sandbox for interaction between creators and the engineering team, and the posts there echo my concerns and frustrations. They’re still doing so after opening that sandbox up to all creators (and replaced almost all the engineer interaction with a marketing/customer communication liaison, who filters our issues before putting them in front of the coding team).

If this is painting a picture to you of a company wildly out of touch with the needs of its users, then yeah. That.

If anything, the philosophical issue of ‘what are we, a way to distribute content or a way to manage payments for artists’ has been compounded by a second, enormous philosophical issue: ‘who is our customer.’ (See my picture above!) You would think this would be straightforward: patrons pay creators, and Patreon skims a commission off the top of that transaction (#1). That means the person cutting the check for Patreon is the creator. They are handing some of their money to the company. But Patreon continually messes this up and treats the patron as the customer: “They are paying Patreon, right?? So that means they’re the ones we should listen to!” They think the relationship looks like #2 there.

But guess what? The person most in touch with what they need to give their audience the experience they expect is… go figure… the artist! Not the people trying to make money off the artists!

If you haven’t got your foundation in order, anything you build on the results is going to fall apart. The many ways Patreon is failing creators are manifest to us… and to patrons as well. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Why doesn’t the search work better? No, the search within the artist patreon, not on the whole site.
  • Why does the page load so slowly? And I didn’t ask for infinite scroll. I wish the stupid infinite scroll would turn off. Why does the infinite scroll not even remember sometimes what the last thing I looked at was??
  • What if I want to catch up on previous entries? Why is it so hard to look back?
  • Why are these entries poorly tagged?
  • Why can I only see one image unless I go to the dog-slow Patreon site?
  • Why doesn’t Patreon leave me logged in? Why do I have to re-login to the site every time I go to it? Why doesn’t it remember which page I was trying to go to once I do login??
  • WHY CAN’T I FIND ANYTHING
  • Why is the comment section SO USELESS

Trust me, these frustrations aren’t minor and you’re not alone. Creators have entire lists of them that get aired and re-aired on the sandbox while the Patreon team designs new layouts for your creator page “to make it easier to attract new patrons.” (Several people always say, “What, so we can immediately lose them because of how much the patron experience sucks?”)

I could forgive some of those languishing projects (anyone remember the Community tab?), but not the fragile backend that breaks every time you change something—or Patreon does. If you are a relatively new patron and you’ve been confused by how many broken links there are, that would be because Patreon made it impossible for us to reassign old posts to new tiers when we shifted them. Or when they shifted them, as they did when they made the ‘you can pay in your local currency’ switch. (Yes, that change broke the permissions system. Without warning.) To fix these continual breaks, I would have to go back and manually reset the permissions on every single post I’ve ever made. All thousand plus of them. Because Patreon has never given us the tool we’ve been asking for to do bulk management of posts. It’s like they’re still in start-up land mentality: “oh, no one has more than a few months of data/posts!” But Patreon’s been around for seven years! Most of us have hundreds, if not thousands of posts!

Believe it or not, there’s not even a mass delete function. And you are surely not surprised that there’s no archive function either, so you can’t download your posts for back-up.

This is without the undercurrent that makes it evident Patreon is not interested in small time creators. They keep making changes (or trying to make changes) that would substantively hurt the 90% of their customer base that isn’t raking in thousands of dollars a month, like shifting the commission structure to punish microtransactions, or putting together and pushing merchandise plans that you’d have to be rolling in money to afford. They very clearly consult frequently with those big dollar creators… but as usual, those creators are the exception, and catering to their needs (while obviously a better financial decision for their company) will rarely help their less lucrative accounts which, you begin to think, they’d rather not have at all.

Do I blame them for focusing on their bottom line? No. (Well, maybe a little, but only because they say they care about all their creators when it’s obvious they don’t. I won’t blame you for trying to maximize your earnings, but I will blame you for lying to make yourself sound good while doing it.) But if Patreon’s gotta do what it’s gotta do, and more power to it, I still have to evaluate whether it’s going to serve me… and right now, it’s clear that as a content management system, Patreon isn’t working. There’s no way for me to manage the number of posts I have, and no graceful way for you all to navigate them. They didn’t even let you tag the posts with more than five tags until recently, when they did a stealth update that allowed it (I would never have known had I not fat-fingered my way onto a sixth tag recently). You can’t find the good stuff, like the short story downloads, without having to swim through dozens of short news posts and other ephemera. And this is a problem that will only get worse with time.

Do I have a plan? I wish. The reason so many people are using Patreon is because there aren’t better options. But I don’t trust Patreon to stick around as a useful platform (why are they so concerned with those upper echelon earners? What do their financials look like?). My safest bet is probably to do all my own hosting and to use Patreon solely as a payment manager, and possibly use it in conjunction with other options (like Paypal subscriptions) to diversify the tip jar income stream in case Patreon collapses, or throws me off the platform, or something else blows up. But my thinking, starting with the foundations (very important) is something like this:

  • Do not sell bonus content. You didn’t do this with Livejournal, and it was healthier for you mentally/spiritually and for the community.
  • Use the Patreon as a tip jar, and as a gateway for Discord access.
  • Continue using Discord as your paid service.

What this looks like, in terms of getting people fun bonus content, is something I’m still trying to figure out. But for now I’ve thrown together a page on my website for some of the missing stuff, and I’ll be putting more things there as I find them. Yes, that page is unlocked (though it’s not linked anywhere). If it gets out to strangers, then I guess they can download some short stories. I’m not going to police that page use; I’ve gotten pretty far trusting my readers to be honorable people and so far you all have never given me reason to regret that, so I will go on as I have.

I expect that these decisions will lose me some people and that’s okay. Not all methods work for all people, and I don’t blame anyone for moving on, or downgrading their tips, if what they expected was exclusive access to bonus content. And maybe I’m a little nervous about that, because Patreon is no longer an insignificant part of my income. But I have got to arrange this so it’s sustainable for all of us, and with Patreon continually breaking things and giving me no way to manage any of it, this method is not working.

I will pause at this point and mention that if you haven’t tried the Discord and you’re at the level where you have access, that it’s worth trying. It’s an extremely positive community, and unlike a lot of creator/patreon Discords, I’m actually there daily, chatting about what I’m doing/working on, sharing excerpts or brainstorming aloud. And that’s just the parts about me; the people there are fantastic, and we do weekly events, and talk about everything from what we’re cooking to what we’re working on. It’s a very supportive and friendly environment, and Discord makes it easy to access (there’s a web client, a desktop client, and a phone client). I recommend it!

So that’s where I am with my thinking. As I said, I’m not sure how it’s going to look once I figure things out, and you are welcome to chime in with your suggestions, comments, or questions, as always. This is a more discombobulated post than I usually write, but trying to fix/figure this out has seriously upset the inside of my brain and it’s mostly confetti in here. Ugly, sad confetti. *halfsmile*

Kickstarter is LIVE! Come play!

My most successful Kickstarter to date was last year’s Major Pieces project, which gathered some interstitial stories I’d already completed with stories written from your prompts to fill in some of the gaps of the Princes’ Game series. Your participation made for a far more interesting table of contents than I could have come up with on my own… without your suggestions, I would never have thought to write about the restaurant at Starbase Alpha, or how a D-per came to be employed by a foreign queen, or about the forgotten children of the Chatcaavan imperial harem.

It was so rewarding, in fact, that I’ve decided to do it again! Join me and your fellow readers today for the campaign for In the Court of Dragons, my next “reader-sponsored/inspired” collection! I’ve got a core of a couple of stories planned, but I need your help to round out the volume!

We’re live! Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mcahogarth/in-the-court-of-dragons?ref=19q1dx

In addition, to help kick off a list of suggestions for readers to vote on, I’m opening my membership-only Discord server to everyone for a day! This invite is valid for 24 hours, and will grant you access to the party in the #picnicfield channel, where people are brainstorming new ideas for the collection. I’ll pick the most appropriate of those ideas for everyone to vote on during the Kickstarter campaign. Or you could just come and hang out with your fellow Jaguar readers! Our Discord community is one of the best, I think, and not just because I’m biased. (And please, read the rules before arriving!)

Join us for the fun!

News! Kickstarter, Annual Memberships at Patreon, and Streaming (Today!)

Cool stuff coming or available now!

  • First, I’ve enabled annual memberships for Patreon! If you are sick of the monthly payment charge, you can now go buy an entire year at once. You even get a 5% discount! Here’s a guide to make the switch. (Because some of you will ask, neither is “better” for me. It’s nice to have monthly income; it’s nice to have the lump sum. Go with what’s best for you!)
  • I’m back to streaming the sketchbook scan today on Twitch! Stream starts at 1 PM EST! If you missed the first 30ish pages, it’s up on youtube. This is all in service of me making plans for how to make this more fun/interesting for all of us. Stay tuned…
  • My Kickstarter campaign for the new collection has been approved! My plan is to launch the last day of September (so next Wednesday). Check out the preview here; you can use that page to be notified when the project goes live!

More as things develop! I am excite, and I hope you are too! 🎉

New Audiobook Chapter, Amulet Rampant! Not Particularly Worksafe!

Chapter 3 is up, and it’s an hour and a half long! And it is probably not at all safe for work, because the cuddle begins in this one. Jahir and Lisinthir fans, rejoice! You get to hear their interactions purred in your ears by the inimitable Jim McCance. We also get a little bit of the Queen and the Knife, for Chatcaava lovers.

Go get it at bandcamp!

For those of you who aren’t aware what I’m up to with this, it wasn’t my plan to finish the audio edition of Princes’ Game. But since readers have asked, I’m letting them crowdfund this one, chapter by chapter. It’s free to listen on Bandcamp, but you can donate there, or use the Paypal link I’ve provided instead if you prefer that method. Once I hit the $200 an hour I need, I commission the next chapter.

I hope audiobook lovers are enjoying this one as much as I am!

Tentative Plans (2020-2022)

Because nothing survives contact with the enemy (time), these are only *tentative* plans. But here’s how I’m thinking the next couple of years will go:
  • Pelted Pack (2020-2021): Alysha 7, Zafiil 1 and 2, Dragons’ Fealty and Another Collection
  • Other Stuff (2021-2022): Kherishdar 5, Coracle 1-4, maybe a Jokka short or novella
  • Back to Pelted (2022): Surela’s trilogy
I am about halfway through Alysha 7, about halfway through Zafiil 1 and 2, and the other two projects are at the outlining/planning phase. And I want to talk more about that last bit, because I have decided I want my end of year work to be another Major Pieces-like project on Kickstarter! Last time was too much fun, I’d like to have another chance to do a reader-interactive thing again.
Even if I didn’t, some of the stuff I want to do for this collection is necessary pre-writing for Dragons’ Fealty, so I’d probably end up either doing it, or outlining it so specifically it might as well be written… so why not combine that stuff with some reader requests?
Having said that, Many Lessons Were Learned during the Major Pieces campaign, so I am planning this new campaign to address those things.
I have been spending a lot of time at the end of this week, trying to decide what to do with myself going forward, but now I feel more confident. I hope there’s something for everyone to look forward to on this list!

Worldbuilding: Failing Your Way to a More Realistic Setting

We return to my observations about writers’ bibles and worldbuilding as the wiki develops! In this case… it’s time to tell you that your flaws can be supremely helpful to you.

BAD RECALL IS YOUR FRIEND. For instance! One of my most egregious flaws is a bad memory. It’s so bad that my family and friends tease me about it all the time. (They’ve decided I’m a wormhole alien, from DS9: ‘you exist now, without linear time’. They’re not wrong.) I’ve gotten by in my life by being intensely devoted to list-making and note-taking, and that will get you far; in fact, it often gets you farther than people with good memories but lackadaisical attitudes toward record-keeping. But not all my leet skillz at jotting things down can change the fact that I have farmed ninety percent of data to an external system. One which—if you have a bad memory—you might misplace, or organize too poorly to use because after a while your stack of lists and notes gets so tall indexing it requires a computer.

In the past, while writing, my strategy for dealing with this was to look up as much information I could find about vital things, like my main characters’ eye colors and childhood traumas, and then… make up everything else. Even if I had the vague feeling I’d made it up before. “I need a sport for this walk-on character to be into. Um, I’ll make something new? SWIRLYBALL. Um. IN ZERO-G.” And then, a week later: “I need a sport for this new character to have played in the past. Didn’t I just? Oh, heckle, too much trouble. I’ll make something new! How about… WAR POLO. You play it riding the native animals, which are like velociraptors but furry, and they bite one another so that’s how it became about war, because while you’re trying to hit the ball with sticks your mounts are trying to eat one another!”

If you do this long enough, pretty soon you have sixty sports, all random, and no character interested in both, until you hit Story #12 and you want the characters to have a conversation at a sporting event and you happen to run into war polo while flipping through your stack of notes and you go, ‘OKAY THAT’S GOOD.’

I always thought of this particular habit of mine, of shrugging and making up new things because my memory was awful and my notes too voluminous to index, was a bug. It turns out, though, that it’s a feature, because it makes the world seem enormous. If I’d had a better system (or brain), the first time I named an opera house, I would have remembered it and every time I needed an opera, or a performance, or a cultural event, or to give a character an interest, I could have said, ‘Oh, obviously they’re a fan of the opera, and this opera house in particular!’ Readers would have started noticing that every opera ever mentioned was staged by the same opera house, and it would not have made that opera house feel famous, it would have made it feel repetitive. The walls of the world would close in: “This place has only one opera house. Only one form of High Culture even because EVERYONE IS INTO OPERA.”

By continuing to come up with truly trivial details and then forgetting them, they remained trivial. And that makes it feel more real than dredging it up as the answer to all possible references. It’s like talking to a person at a party and discovering they’re really into this thing you’re not into and that it’s complicated and has its own history and famous figures and events and you’re thinking ‘but it’s just a dog show’ or ‘it’s just orchids’ or ‘it’s just a single fantasy novel.’

One of the things I’ve had to tell myself as I started filling in the wiki is that I can’t stop making up stuff off the top of my head just because I now have an entire page of Alliance sports, or Chatcaavan foods. For the world to feel huge, it needs to feel deep, and the only way to achieve that is to keep adding things to it, no matter how minor. The minor things may, in fact, be more pivotal than the major ones.

I did make up an opera house, in an obscure story that was run once in a fanzine. I think that’s so far in the past that it’s safe to have someone be into opera again.

MISTAKES ARE YOUR FRIENDS. By now you’ve heard about all the errors I’m finding while hunting through the books, and how I’ve become resigned to that being the result of maintaining a contiguous universe for over 25 years. Not just resigned, but all right with it, and sympathetic to Past Me for all her efforts. The Peltedverse contains 29 canonical books, any number of short stories not yet collected for retail, some large number of non-canonical material so old it’s no longer available, plus thousands of sketches. At that point, mistakes become the Hand of the Artist Revealed, not something to be ashamed of.

Having said that though, mistakes are gold because they serve as random seeds for embellishment/worldbuilding. One of the hardest things to simulate when a single person is creating something is the real world’s unpredictability, absurdity, and haphazardness. Reality is not just large and full of detail (as from the previous section)… it’s also weird and unlikely and gives you many headscratch moments.

Explaining away your mistakes is a great way to simulate some of that. If you decide to frame your continuity errors as all true, despite being contradictory, then you end up in really interesting places. So, for instance, the interim captain of the Stardancer, who briefly served while Mertricia Heartfoot (Alysha’s predecessor) was on maternity leave, is listed in the canon under three separate names: Leary, Levy, and Lery. (Cue my facepalm.) This one is particularly egregious because Levy is already a character in the canon, the human admiral who sees Lisinthir off in Even in the Wingless. “They must,” I thought, “constantly get one another’s mail.”

And just like that, I could see Leary—the name I settled as his real one—getting mail from personnel addressed to Lery and Levy and being extremely annoyed. “They can build wormhole generators that take you from orbit to a planet in a single step, but they can’t manage a database so that it gets my name right!” In my head, Leary wearily pops a message to Levy. “Got your notice again.”

“Right on time. Thanks for forwarding it.”

Leary, who previously existed only as a few lines of description in my head, now has a bizarre piece of trivia associated with him that demonstrates the absurdity of the system. Does it excuse my error in the text? Of course not—me getting his name wrong as the semi-omniscient narrator can’t be explained away by in-universe issues. But I got to use that mix-up as a story prompt, and that allowed me to develop not just his character further, but also the world (the Alliance still has data entry issues) and his relationships (I now know that he corresponds with Admiral Levy).

I did this again with a Pelted character who swore by two different sets of gods, almost certainly because I forgot what species she was when I wrote one of her pieces of dialogue. Instead of panicking about that error (or beating myself up for it), I recorded it and let it lie there for a while. A few days later, I remembered that when two Pelted of different species have children, they usually genefix the resulting babies to either one species or the other: perfect. Obviously my double-god-swearing character had parents of different species, who genefixed her to one. She must have a brother who got genefixed to the other: instant family, with bonus instant family history! I bet she and her brother tease one another endlessly. “Big ears!” “Snaky tail!”

There’s no limit to the ways you can use your errors to springboard into diversification of your universe. One character describes a historical event as being driven by economics, and another by racism? Both true, or both false, scholars are arguing about it at universities and writing dissertations on their opinions. (Bonus: says something about each character, whether that’s about their basic biases, or about their educational backgrounds.) Described your starship engines as working one way in this book, but another way in a different one? Both engines exist! One is a modification of another, or one was discarded as less efficient, or one is an experiment, or one is more expensive and therefore not as common. Your character claimed to meet someone in college in one story, and then said they met in childhood later? Bad memory—maybe she’s mixed that person up with someone else, or conflated them. (Why?)

The latter is particularly powerful. “Oh gosh, wait, I’m remembering that wrong” or “no wait, I’m mixing that up with something else” is real. Do you remember every detail of your life? Exactly? I bet not. It would be weird if all your characters wandered around, spouting off their biographies in perfect detail as if they were reciting from an inner Wikipedia entry. In real life, most of us get things wrong all the time, or need to look at photos or journals to remember, or have our memories triggered by items (“oh, the souvenir I got when I was on my first date with you, at the fair.”). Let your characters have as faulty a recall as real people.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this particular article, doesn’t it. 😄

Anyway, my observations of the day. Questions and comments welcome, as always! But if you’re here to point out an error in the canon be aware that you will probably be directed to record it on the wiki. lol

Painting Available: Lace and White Roses


Size: 15.5″x7″
Medium: Gouache and Glitter Watercolor
Price: $2500. (Expect $150 for shipping in the US). Layaway Available.
Discounts: 10% military; first time collectors receive 5% off and free shipping.
Supplement Material Available: Yes
Contact the artist at haikujaguar at gmail to inquire further.

Posters, Mugs, Shirts, Notebooks, Magnets available at Zazzle
Favorite this piece on DeviantArt!


The original sketch for this drawing has been waiting for paint for years… maybe it knew it needed time for me to discover watercolors with glitter in them? I don’t know, but I glittered the living daylights out of this piece and it deserved every flashing mica particle of it. The result is a rich piece that changes character from every angle you view it… which makes it nearly impossible to photograph or reproduce. Which is as it should be, I think. An original should be unique and irreplaceable, and when you receive it you should feel like you have something special, an experience that can’t be duplicated.


Attempts to Photograph Sparkle

From a story perspective, it also made sense: I wanted to draw Reese happy, finally, in one of the fairy tale dresses she loved to read about, and this piece of her serene and content amid her winter roses, in a winter ball gown, was just right. Allacazam, naturally, had to be along! And in one of my favorite minor stories about this piece, one of my friends looked at all the color tests and said “I like this one best, but her face is in shadow and she deserves better.” I agreed with both her points, chose the scheme… and changed the face, so that Reese could be a source of light.

The supplemental material for “Lace and White Roses” includes the color tests I did to decide where I wanted the light and shadows, and is available on request as a companion to the original. I suggest framing them together, or you could keep it as provenance for the piece itself: the hand of the artist, working out challenges.


Supplemental Material

I had a lot of fun with this one. Reese deserved her moment.