Monthly Archives: January 2014

Today I Am Guardedly Optimistic

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No doubt due entirely to the efforts of our enthusiastic readers, We have heard from TOR, and they seem eager to reestablish communication, which is, in fact, all I wanted. Thank you all very much. To TOR, the Girl Genius Omnibus is just another mishandled book. To us, tiny little atelier that we are, it is one of our core products. We will let you know how this works out. I hope there will be no further snags.

I was certainly surprised to read that Mr Hayden was not, in fact , the editor in chief at TOR. TOR’s own website lists him as Senior Editor, and I will admit that I was unaware of the difference. The embarrassing point remains that I made a factual error regarding Mr. Hayden’s title and job description, and for this I am genuinely sorry.

Coincidentally, Tropical Cyclone Dylan has roared past our little island, and today we got to watch the staff start cleaning up. Kaja said she’d never thought we’d have to go to Oz to run into a cyclone. For this observation, she received an extra ration of rum.

Astonishingly, the place has taken only minor damage. The hotel staff went out of its way to reassure the guests that Dylan would never get stronger than a Category 2, while the hotel was built to withstand a Category 5 storm. Once I knew that, I kept hoping we’d actually get a Category 5, as I figured it would be even more entertaining. This is because I’m irresponsible, and not actually one of the people who has to clean things up.

But even at Category 1 (or 2), Dylan certainly moved things around a bit. The South side of the island got hit so hard that they won’t even let the guests go take a look at it. Chunks of the boardwalk got carried away, as did the arrival dock. There’s vegetation down everywhere, and the tidal surge pried out huge blocks of stone and tossed them about on the beach. Several tons of sand and gravel got pushed up off the beach and spread about the patios, and a fair amount got dumped into one of the pools. In fact, when we looked at it this morning, we got to see the entire pool under water (which was very peculiar for some reason).

This left the beach itself covered in gravel, fragments of broken coral, and lava rock, and there were numerous tide pools that Kaja and I spent some poking through. I kept looking for the fabled blue ringed octopus, but everything I saw was sort of turquoise, so it probably didn’t count.

The staff was out there bright and early scrubbing the place down, and they looked so busy and overworked that I hated when I had to call them over to get me another Mojito, but they probably enjoyed having an excuse to stop shoveling gravel. I know I would.

Welcome, Tropical Cyclone Dylan! Also, Travels with Carol

IMG_2684Photo: Here’s Carol near the start of our walk. I wonder what city she’s in?

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Kaja here! The tropical cyclone now has a name: Dylan! Yay! Dylan is currently passing just north of us.

We’ve been entertaining ourselves by chatting with the people who work here, who are very interesting and in many cases very well travelled. They seem entertained by the weather in a sort of “what are you going to do” sort of way, which matches our mood, so what the heck. Phil offered to help out if any hatches needed battening down or whatever, but they only laughed at us. But you know, they were nice about it. The lovely sign that welcomes newcomers to Daydream Island blew down today, so…no welcome here at the moment. Go away. Welcome later.

When Carol and I first landed in Sydney, it was early in the morning. Fortunately, when we land in Sydney from the West Coast of the United States, we’ve found that we’re wide-awake and ready to see the World. Walking out into the warm air under that blue sky was exactly what I needed. I had been feeling pretty down as the New Year rolled on, so it was wonderful to be back in Australia.

Phil told me recently that he read a science-y article that said that when you’re feeling down, just thinking about warm sand and palm trees can have a marked impact on your mood. I realized that I’ve been doing something of the sort in recent years, but instead of sand and palm trees I’ve been thinking about the blue sky and red earth of Australia. And it does indeed lift my mood.

So Carol and I picked up the rental car, which I was not allowed to drive. (Because of the rental agreement.) This meant that I got all the amusement of watching someone learn to drive on an unfamiliar side of the road, without having to do it myself. She was pretty good at it, though, and only turned the windshield wipers on instead of the turn signal a few times. Hilarity!

We drove in to Woolloomooloo and found our hotel. Carol wanted to stay in Woolloomooloo because, twenty years ago when she was Director of Logistics at Wizards of the Coast, she had stayed there on a business trip and fallen in love with the name of the place. And who can blame her. Woolloomooloo! We walked down to Circular Quay and ate pies (readily available on the street! Civilization at last!) and toured the Opera House, which I believe one must do, or they feed you to the Kangaroos.

We also discovered the “flat white,” which seems to be the ideal way to drink coffee without sugar in it.  And…even though I am from Seattle, I finally got a lovely coffee in a nice china cup with a pattern on top drawn in foam. I was thrilled about this, and took a picture—so much of our coffee comes in paper cups now, this was a real treat. I’ve never had decorated coffee before, although I’ve seen it on the net all over the place. When the waiter saw me taking pictures of my coffee, he brought his phone over and showed me the picture of the special birthday coffee the barista had made for him the night before. I love fancy food and feel that I ought to get more of it…I’ll have to get to work on that.

Nota Bene: Phil seems to only have my login for the WordPress blog, so a lot of his posts are showing as having been posted by me. Whoops. We’ll figure that out later. This has been me: Kaja. That is all.

A Tale of Two TORS. Be Warned, I’m Annoyed

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They are the best of publishers, they are the worst of publishers. It all depends on who you talk to. If you can.

Many know TOR books as a science fiction powerhouse. They publish best selling authors who love them to pieces, and well they should.

Then they publish us. This might be a surprise to many of our readers, as we have been self–publishing Girl Genius and other comical books for over thirty years. But, in fact, TOR is the publisher of the first Girl Genius Omnibus; Agatha Awakens. You see, TOR was thinking about starting up a line of science fiction graphic novels, and told us that they thought having a multiple Hugo Award winner as the launch title would be a nice touch.

We agreed, but had reservations, as we had been selling Girl Genius for over ten years at this point, and didn’t want them to be disappointed. We told them how many copies we’d sold, and they sat back, chuckling knowingly, and assured us that our entire sales history would be a nice warm up for their edition, and in fact, they very nicely allowed us to continue producing books in our current format, so we wouldn’t cheese off all the loyal readers who’d already invested the book shelf space in this format (We had been prepared to insist on this, as I know how much I hate it when a series jumps publishers and the bindings don’t match up. I have friends who think I worry about things like this too much, but then they never correctly sort the spoons in their utensil drawer, so what do they know), but to our pleasant surprise, we didn’t have to. Better and better.

So Kaja put the book together (this was a bit unfair, I’m afraid. Kaja is the computer, technical and graphic design part of our team. She had to take all the art, reformat it, edit it, repaginate it, and all that other stuff so that TOR just had to ship it to the actual printer. For my part, I make damn sure she never has to open a drawer and see a misplaced spoon), and off it went.

So…Hey presto! The book came out, and looked great. Very nice production quality, and a breathtaking low low cover price (http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Genius-Omnibus-Volume-One/dp/B00DEKOIB0/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1391062386&sr=8-2&keywords=foglio+agatha+awakens). And that was the hardcover edition, which meant that the softcover, which is where the bulk of a books sales come from, would be priced even lower, and thus, even more accessible to new readers. Sweet.

So then we asked when the paperback edition would come out, so we could promote that. Soon, we were told, first they wanted to assess the sales on the hardcover, so they could get an idea (based no doubt on some secret mega-publisher mystery math) on how high they should set the print run. Okay…so when do you want us to get you the files for the second omnibus? Because at that point, we could have had three of them out the door in as many months, and any noob to publishing can tell you that the way to build sales on a series is to keep the books coming.

Silence.

I mean, nothing. I called my agent. “Hey, did I cross a line or something?”
No. In fact, they’re not responding to him, either. No e-mail response, no written replies, and secretaries telling him over the phone, “Sure, I’ll transfer you…Um…Oh. No, she’s gone. Yes, totally gone.”

What the hell is going on? Well, according to friends I have who do this for a living, TOR is not so much this monolithic publishing behemoth, but is, more accurately, dozens of little editorial fiefdoms, overseen by editors of varying degrees of competence and professionalism. Ostensibly they all report to the editor in chief, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

So after a year of this (yes, an entire year. We are Slow to Take Offense, here at Studio Foglio), I write to Mr. Hayden, asking him if our editor is dead, or just fired? This question surprises him, as he saw her in the office that morning. He seems sympathetic. We even have a face-to-face meeting at worldcon the next week where he explains that TOR just really doesn’t know how to sell graphic novels, and when someone takes on a job they don’t know how to do, they tend to just stick their fingers in their ears and hope that eventually, it goes away. Fair enough, I am occasionally like this with The Experiments.

I mention that we’ve been selling graphic novels fairly well for quite awhile, and that we’d cheerfully give them pointers. However, if they just can’t wrap their heads around it, which seems obvious since after three years they have yet to sell through the initial print run (We’d have done it in 16 months- and that’s with no advertising, which is a fair comparison, as they did no advertising either), then we’ll just sing a chorus of “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You”, and then we’ll publish them ourselves, because if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s publish and sell Girl Genius graphic novels.

But we can’t. Because our contract with TOR says we can’t publish “a competing product” for five years. Okay, what can we do about this? But now, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has apparently decided that we’re too much trouble.

Silence.

No, seriously. You don’t want the series. You can’t sell it. We’ll even buy the remainder sitting in your warehouse. Talk to me. Talk to my agent. Prove you’re not dead or fired.

Silence.

The only conclusion I can come to, is that Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has decided that he can ignore us. Eventually, we, like many other confusing things that he cannot make money from, will go away. It may take five years, but really, who cares?

Personally, I think that the problem is that we’re this little studio alllll the way out on the west coast, and thus, easy to ignore. If you have stayed with me all through this screed, then I would like your help. Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a Facebook page.  So does TOR Books. Here is his old e-mail address; pnh@panix.com (I say old, because as far as I can tell, it’s been deactivated). We very rarely ask our readership to do anything other than enjoy the strip and purchase the occasional book (Hey, TOR, your first lesson in marketing. And it’s Free!) But if some of you would write to let the folks at TOR know that we’d like to take our book and go home now, we’d appreciate it.

Sorry for the rant, but really don’t know what else to do. It’s like punching a rope.

They Appear To Be Evacuating Our Island Paradise

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Today we were informed that the ferry service between our tropical island paradise and the mainland is being shut down because the storm that has been blowing over trees and dislodging signs from buildings is expected to get even worse. A clerk cheerfully declared that it’s the worst storm to hit the area since the 80’s. Odd, I don’t remember vacationing here in the 80’s…

The guy behind the front desk told me, “You get on the boat which is leaving in the next hour, or you are stuck here until Friday. At least.” A lot of people (who probably actually live in Australia and thus are a wee bit more flexible) took them up on this, and when the time came, there was a very long line of people pushing past Bruce– The mascot guy in the cheerful shark suit– to get on that boat. In my opinion, Bruce would have joined them if he could. Now I live in Seattle, and I’ve seen my share of choppy seas, and I wouldn’t have wanted to go out on those waters as they were. The promised increase in ferocity will be, if nothing else, interesting.

The Experiments and I took a stroll around what is increasingly becoming our private island, and we all had a good time walking into the teeth of the booming gale. They’ve never been in a situation where you had to strain to put your next foot forward (I, on the other hand was once shown the secret ‘Tapioca Room’ at Graceland). Once we reached the deserted south side of the island, we played mini-golf. The golf course here promises “A Whirlwind (check) Tour of Australia in 19 Holes!” Thus we got to play past giant fiberglass depictions of the Sydney Opera House and Snowy River and Ularu, as well as cheerful opal prospectors and diggeree-doo playing natives, past sleeping dingos and Tasmanian Tigers. Then a palm tree crashed into the Opera House, which in my opinion automatically raised the par on that hole from 2 to 4. Naturally we finished the course (rented equipment) before we allowed ourselves to be blown back to the main hotel.

After dinner, Kaja and I took a stroll about the grounds. This not quite as insane as it sounds. Yes, the wind is still roaring furiously (as it has for the last three days), but between the hotel buildings and the dense, jungle–like ground cover, there isn’t very much in–your–face wind unless you actually go to the beach to check out the high tide (very high). Our impression as to the population density of the hotel is confirmed by the paucity of lighted rooms. On the other hand, all the staff seems to know our names.

The local wildlife doesn’t seem too worried either. We saw a wallaroo rummaging through a trash can, a grumpy bird determinedly pushing its way through the wind, and a couple sporting about in an out–of–the–way hot tub. It’s also still pretty hot, so the wind is actually refreshing. Perhaps I’ll take a dip in the pool.

Marooned on a Tropical Island, and Wombat Snozz!

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Look at that tummy! LOOK AT IT! EEEEEEE! LITTLE FEET IN THE AIR! EEEEE!

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This is kind of awesome, or at least, it will have been awesome…

 

I am now officially trapped on a tropical island. The wind is so bad that the ferries are no longer running.  It’s supposed to get worse tomorrow.

 

Now, as tropical islands go, this one is hardly a desert. The worst thing I can say about it is that they’re out of regular-style Pringles and also the coffee drink I like. Fortunately, we still have lots of tea. If the tea runs out, we may have a problem.

 

Still, tropical island it is, and stuck here I am.  Adventure!

 

Because the wind is blowing so hard, a palm tree fell over and crushed the Sydney skyline near the Sydney Opera House on the mini-golf course. The statue of Ned Kelly appears to be all right, though.

 

Since I don’t have a picture of Ned yet, I’ll share this one: the most snozzed-out wombat I have ever been privileged to see. I never hoped to see a wombat’s belly, but this guy was having a lovely nap on a hot day and giving us the full display. I wanted so very much to rub it, damn the glass at the zoo. We never did see the face, just the tummy. Still, I’ve seen wombat faces before, but never a wombat’s fuzzy underside. A rare treat indeed!

 

In Australia, Learning to Like Fish

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I’ve decided that this is the year I will learn to like fish. Growing up in Seattle means seeing a lot of stinky dead fish all over the place, and back in my childhood, meant seeing the hideous zombie salmon that used to run up the tiny streams to spawn, die, and rot. Plus, having a sporty Mom means a lot of fishing, and a lot of fishing means cleaning and eating a lot of fish. Blech. So I have always been in the camp of  “Fish are Friends, not Food.” Because…ick. But I’m trying to change this, so I’m making sure to eat a little of whatever the people around me are eating, and telling myself it’s good. I had some truly nice stuff while visiting Giles’ parents in Newcastle, so I’m off to a good start. Above you will see a picture of me learning to like fish.

Yes, I’m supposed to be finishing up the third Girl Genius novel, so of course I have decided to write a post instead.

Here’s what’s been going on: for the last year, my friend Carol has been writing a book. A lot of it is set in Sydney. So she’s had Australia on the brain.

I have also been anxious to get back to Australia, I was here about four years ago and really loved it. Plus, the Holidays in Seattle mean several months of lights-in-the-dark celebration, followed by the holidays ending, the lights going away, and the dark sticking around for another few months. I like the dark, but more and more I’ve been finding that I really hate January and February—and am ready to see that incredible blue sky that I only see in Australia.

So. Let’s see if I can get this written so it makes sense: Carol’s sister Eilis and her boyfriend Giles were going to be visiting Giles’ parents. Carol decided that, while her sister was in Australia, she might as well visit her sister. In Australia. And do research on her novel. I decided that Carol shouldn’t be allowed to run around Australia on her own, since she could very well end up running off with Russell Crowe or something. and we can’t have that. So I piled on for the trip, too.

Then Phil decided that it wasn’t fair that I got to run off to Australia without him, so I told him he could meet me in Sydney when Carol went home, and we’d go find a beach somewhere that he could sit on. We are now on said beach, but the weather is incredibly windy and so it isn’t really as much fun as we’d hoped…not much of a big deal for me, who is supposed to be writing anyway, but certainly a problem for the kids, who are mostly stuck in the atrium of the resort, or in our room.

Well, it’s the tropics. I’m told this sort of thing happens. By the way, it’s still beastly hot, even with the rain driving so hard that I can’t see where I’m going. It’s really interesting weather, I’ve never been in anything like it. Not even in the shower.

In spite of the recent weather, I still love Australia outside of all reason.

If I manage any amount of gumption later, I’ll write more about our adventures.

I Am Doing A Bit More Nothing Than I Had Intended…

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We are still ensconced upon this lovely tropical island, however said island is currently being battered by a tropical storm. This is entertaining in its own way, but is not what I had planned.

Yesterday was Australia Day. Out here, at least, the locals admitted that it was taking place, but otherwise were rather low key about it. We were expecting fireworks, or a communal boomerang toss, or a declaration of war against New Zealand. Something. Anything. But no, just a quiet pride in the fact that they’re the only country that occupies an entire continent and that was pretty much it.

Spent a significant part of the day teaching the experiments the finer points of ping-pong. Considering the table had seen better days, and the fact that a hard smacked ball was likely to sail into the shark tank, they both took to it remarkably well. Experiment # 2 wants us to install a table in the basement, and actually spent additional time instructing younger children in the finer points of the game (which was hilarious to watch, and I’m sure the hotel can order fresh balls. And sharks)

One of the more entertaining species of this island is a species of long legged bird know as the Bush Stone Curlew. We call them Grumpy Birds because they have mean little faces and seem to be filled with hate. They invade the restaurant while we eat, and whenever they think you’re getting too close, or they get too close to you, or they think you’re looking at them, they hiss at you, with a hiss that sounds exactly like a dying can of spray whipped cream. This has the opposite effect to that which they no doubt desire, as children love to chase after them because “They sound so funny”. I imagine them staring at the windows of the restaurant, actively willing it (and us) to burst into flames so we can die screaming. We love those little guys.