Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Author Platform: Well That Was Embarrassing

20 November 2013

I’m not particularly easy to embarrass.
Sometimes, that’s actually a fault of mine: I can speak frankly about things that make other people blanch, and I’m not always sensitive to that. Sometimes I’m an asshole about it.
A couple of weekends ago, I went to the Algonkian Write to Market Conference. One of the exercises was intimidating but simple: four of you would get up in front of the room, each would deliver your pitch that you’d readied for an agent, and you would do a Q&A session about it.
Simple enough, right?
Except that I was pitching an erotic romance novel.
Probably anyone not already published in that genre would be nervous about it. Reasonable.
Then there was the Q&A part.
Question from the back: “What makes you think you can write a sex scene?”
This is an author platform question, essentially.
Fiction writers often don’t get grilled on them. I’ve never lived in a post-apocalyptic Palo Alto, never been on a space station, nor have I ever lived in a mythical world. But I’ve written about them.
Erotic romance novels are different than “hot” romance novels. Passionate Ink has category definitions, but I prefer my own:

Porn: about the reader’s journey, not the characters’. It has a happy ending — of sorts. Generally ends with a sex scene for obvious reasons.
Erotica: about one character’s sexual journey, and doesn’t require a happy ending. Classic example: the book version of Nine and a Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeill, which does not have a happy ending in the romance sense, but does have a happy ending in other senses.
Erotic Romance: about characters in a relationship and their mutual sexual journey, requiring HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happily for now). Removing or toning down the sex causes the story to fall apart. So the question posed of me was also asking: can you not only write a sex scene, but do you have enough skill to make that sex scene a necessary part of the plot?
Sexy Romance: about characters in a relationship who have explicit sex, requiring HEA or HFN. I do agree that the sex can be toned down without losing structure. Frankly, I don’t like these much and find myself skipping over the sex scenes in them.

Author platforms are critical in a lot of non-fiction: why would anyone want to read your cookbook? What authority do you have to write a self-help book? A travel guide? A medical reference?
But there are so many things saying how essential it is for an author–any author–to have a platform. I have a pent-up rant coming about this, so we’ll just table that for now. Let’s just say that even Forbes has gotten into the buzz.
For a fiction writer, that platform can be as simple as: be yourself, just a bit more out there.
There I was with a question–and any number of ways to answer it, and lots of pleasant memories from my callow youth volunteering their services. Oh, black sand beaches of Martinique…. I digress.
This is publishing, and I happened to have a track record, which I’ve written about before.
So I said, “Well, I’ve sold twelve porn novels for money, and I made more writing them than I did programming during that period.”
Which is true.
I’m not sure what compelled me to add that second part, though.
I’ve generally said it was “half” my income, but the truth is it was a tidge over fifty percent, partly because software engineering salaries in South Florida at the time were reprehensible, and partly because I had writing deadlines and checks that came in like clockwork.
It’s always been embarrassing to me: not that I wrote porn for money. More that I took money for writing books I wouldn’t read for free. It was hard work, and not work I’m proud of, but it did teach me how to approach writing seriously even if the subject is generally not regarded seriously. When I went on to write and sell four computer books, it was incredibly useful experience. As awful as I think the porn books were, I’m pretty sure none of them are as bad as the examples in this (seriously NSFW) blog of sex scene WTFery.
The question from the back changed my perception of my prior work. Suddenly, it became relevant. Instead of writing in another field, it was at least arguably relevant to something I’m doing in the present. For the first time, I felt like I was at peace with my time in literary brothels.
The other writers applauded, and not just the polite sort of applause. It was a difficult and pointed question to get through, and I’m sure they were all very, very glad it wasn’t a question they had to answer.
I came home with a 2nd place synopsis/opening contest win (and accompanying check), and I didn’t even get through my newly-revised pitch before the agent I stood in front of requested a full.
Go, me!

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Season Three: Narrative Structure

19 November 2013

Now that Fairly Legal Season 2 is being broadcast in worldwide markets, I keep seeing people ask what season 3 would have been like.
Several of us who’ve done a lot of writing have discussed this, and I’m sad to say that others have come around to my point of view. In short: I believe this was answered in the first scene of the second season.

Specifically, it’s this line:

No. No. I tend to make things much worse, and then I disappear.

That’s the proverbial Chekovian gun on the mantlepiece. Since it didn’t happen at the end of season 2, my guess was that it was intended for the end of season 3.
Sarah Shahi has said that Kate was going to be very “Sex and the City” in Season 3, dating lots of guys. Implication being anyone other than Ben.
And, honestly, in the sense of keeping a longer-running show around, it was too early to put Ben and Kate together. Look at how long the romantic lead-up was in Castle. Or CSI. (In CSI, I like that it didn’t turn out to be Happily Ever After for Grissom and Sara, but then there’s the awkward part of the relationship being shorter than the buildup.)

Show Longevity Revolves Around UST

Where UST = Unresolved Sexual Tension. That’s what sells advertising, and TV shows live or die based on ad spend. You can throw a believable male/female spark between the primary characters, press them -> very long. Several hundred thousand words (aka several books) long. Here’s a Twilight one that tops half a million words. A Star Wars one that’s 300k words. A 400k Glee fic. (Note: I haven’t read any of these; I generally limit myself to ones that are no more than typical novel length.)
As a footnote, I’ve come to a new understanding of serious fanfic writers: fanfic is like improvisational jazz for writers. You get to take someone else’s motif and play with it. I like the pieces that subvert the underlying work’s tropes or add meta layers to them. I love weird crossovers (Fairly Legal/V anyone?). A piece I admire concept-wise (but have only read a bit of) is this meta-fanfic where Bella is a fanfic writer and Edward is one of her readers. Note: half a million words and a lot of UST.

Dividing Loyalties

The love triangle’s a hard one, and I think Fairly Legal lost ratings because it divided crucial viewers between the Justin camp and the Ben camp. Most of the new viewers were solidly in the Ben camp, and it’s interesting to note that essentially all the fanfic written after Season 2 started was about Ben and Kate, not Justin and Kate.
Working backwards from the final scene of season 2, I get why it happened the way it did, but it would have been far more sympathetic to the Justin shippers for Justin to find a new and compelling possible romance to give the Justin fans something to look forward to.
Worse, Kate’s Sex and the City antics in season 3 would have lost many of the Ben shippers, including me if it had gone on too long.

Character Arcs

The opening bar scene in season 2 made me wonder: was Ben intended to be a two-season character? Or not? As someone who loved the character, had he stayed disappeared after the end of season 3, I’d have stopped watching. My expectation for the season 3 ending would have been that Ben would have disappeared sometime in the final episode and Leo and Lauren–and possibly even Justin–would have pushed her into going to look for Ben, with the final moment being them seeing each other, leaving that moment hanging in the air. Because, you know, season finales and cliffies go together like strawberries and whipped cream.

That Word

Speaking of, I have to say that I really, really love where season 2 of Fairly Legal wound up. I think it was one of the best moments I’ve ever seen for a show ending, because it both closed off a lot of possibilities, but left the new season (if there were to be one) open in the way most season endings don’t.
I need a word for that. It’s almost the opposite of a plot chokepoint.
Said ending caused my plot brain to go into overdrive for months. Every morning, I’d dream a new plot that could stem from that moment.

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Annual Period of Mourning

18 November 2013

Every year, my body lets me know that it’s the annual period of mourning, aka the anniversary of my first husband’s death. (Which was Friday, fwiw.)
You know, you’d think that being happily remarried for several times as long as I knew my first husband would make the grief go away. Weirdly, it doesn’t.
The only way I can explain it now is that it’s like feeling like you’ve got half a flu. Not so much a dull ache in the chest as it used to be, just something experienced through the entire body like some ordinary pestilence.

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Reverse Identity Theft

15 November 2013

reverse_identity_theft] As someone whose primary email address is the same as my own domain, I’m less prone to incidents of “Reverse Identity Theft” than the average person.
However my iCloud account is a constant source of annoyance and amusement. Deirdre’s not all that common a name, really, but it’s astonishing how many of them seem to be using iCloud and mis-remembering their email addresses.
This has led to a number of errant hotel reservations (one for an affair), mailing list subscriptions (like one I got today), an AT&T phone line that took five months to get transferred, a phone unlock service for a Motorola phone (clearly not from me).
My all-time favorite happened earlier this year. I got a FaceTime call from someone I didn’t know.
“Hi mum. It’s me, Kevin.”
He was very embarrassed by it, but that particular one made my day.

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Living vs. Dying

14 November 2013

My friend Jay Lake has been blogging about his cancer for several years, and someone made a rather rude point.

I considered the posts that I read and saw nothing in them but anger and suffering. If Jay feels that there is more to his life now than suffering, he should post that more often than complaints about his GI tract, his inability to write or even function cognitively at a level that allows any degree of productivity.

Just because I, or another person, wouldn’t choose (from where we’re sitting) to make the same choices doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice.
Once upon a time, I dated a doctor. His father was terminal (in several senses) and wanted to die (I heard the father say so multiple times). Yet, he didn’t want his father to go. There were durable powers of attorney and no support for end-of-life decisions other than surviving, and, essentially, he forced his father to live. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch, and it was one of the core issues that destroyed the relationship. I felt that I would never be truly listened to on important issues like that. After we broke up, he went around telling people I was suicidal (not true) simply because we’d had discussions about what end of life meant. And disagreed. I lost friends who believed him instead of me.
As this comment suggests, it’s not always easy to know if an expressed desire to die is out of some kind of frustration or hopelessness, or out of a real desire to die. However, in the father’s case, it really was that he wanted to move on.
I think it’s remarkable that Jay’s been so public about the struggle he’s had with cancer, and it was very hard reading his recent post about having a couple dozen tumors. We don’t get to see into the lives of cancer patients very often, and the stories we do hear tend to be the better ones or ones without the detail Jay provides. I know I posted a particularly good cancer story a few years ago. Most aren’t like that, though. Far more stories are like Jay’s, with no one listening, with no one understanding, because we’d rather all sweep it under the rug.

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Ahh, Book Reviews

12 November 2013

Once upon a time, I thought I’d actually find new books by joining up on Goodreads and adding a handful of people whose taste I liked and — I’d find new books that way.
Then my friend Kathryn, got sick (and has since died) and wasn’t reviewing as much, and hers was the only taste I knew relative to mine well enough that I could tell whether I’d like a book or not.
What I discovered fairly quickly was that I became profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of reviewing books. These were my colleagues, even if I happened to be the junior leaguer of the bunch. The other thing is that I feel there’s an inherent narrative if I tell you what I am (or am not) reading, and that’s my bigger problem with Goodreads. I feel like there’s some accountability for my taste. Why am I not reading X? Why did I not like Y? I find the mere thought of that kind of meta-narrative paralyzing.
Oh, and “You should read Z.” That goes over really well with me. Not.
Whenever anyone asks me to write a review, my inner snark comes out. Spare us both and don’t ask.
Over the weekend, I heard the following line: “A one-star review means the wrong reader found your book.” The reader is someone who wanted to like your book.
The truth is, I happen to pick up a particular book to read it because it feels like the book that would appeal to me most in the moment. That’s all there is to it.
I think I’m going to just do it this way from now on: I’m going to occasionally post reviews on Goodreads (even though this author probably wishes I didn’t) that are primarily “I really loved this particular book” reviews. That means I’m not going to review, or attempt to review, most of the books I read. I’m removing all my shelves soon.
While I’m on the subject of reviews, congrats to all the people I know on the RT list, including Susan Mallery (whom I went to grad school with) and Vivi Andrews and Kelly Jamieson, who wrote two of my favorite books this year, and Lauren Beukes, who’s up for the big prize. Sadly, Lauren Gallagher, who wrote my so-far-favorite of the year, didn’t make the list. And I’ve added a few books to my to-read pile off that list….

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Solving Some Mail Issues

11 November 2013

Because I have a few email accounts that only get the occasional piece of email, I hadn’t noticed that I’d hit this problem on Mavericks until it affected my primary email account.
After last week’s fun with a DoS attack and an even-more-fun experience with invisible windows, I finally thought I had it all fixed, only to discover that my mail server list was suddenly woefully outdated and couldn’t be edited.
Using the first link, I think I got them all behaving.

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How I Spent My Day (Arguing With Apache)

05 November 2013

So I had a phone call that was supposed to happen via Skype today. Only it didn’t. At the time, our household was under a DoS attack.
Inadvertent, in all likelihood.
However, after 192,482 request for pages in a 48-hour period, I’m gonna add you to iptables no matter what your intent was.
It turns out that the culprit is that a handful of pages kept making the URL longer and longer. For reasons that I have not yet figured out (and probably won’t sleep until I do), apache did its best to serve up the pages even though those directories don’t exist.
So I have log files for things like (the URL is fake, but the patterns in the post are real):
I found one of the offending pages:
I can click a link on that page, and it’ll go to:
…and click a link that looks the same, and it’ll go to:
Except that directory structure’s not on disk. There’s no symlinks up or down the directory tree (do not do that!) that would cause this structure.
It’s html (old hmtl), no PHP, no server-side includes, no JavaScript (or CSS), no .htaccess, no rewrite rules. We’re talking stuff that’s pushing 15-20 years old, here.
It should work.
Yet, obviously, there’s a problem.
So, when someone tries to recursively wget the site’s document tree and uses a high enough number of levels (at least 13 in this case), suddenly 192,482 files get delivered and the requests will never terminate because some pages go (apparently) infinitely deep.
FWIW, we turned symlinks off anyway, and that didn’t prevent it from happening. It’s completely not obvious to me what the source of the issue actually is.
Hell, I was beginning to suspect mod_speling and that’s not even enabled.

Update: An Hour Later….

It turns out that it was an Apache directive I’ve seen so often in examples that I’d overlooked it, even though I never enable it myself.
Specifically, in directory a, there was no directory b, but there was a b.html. So it would serve that instead, and the apparent directory would get longer and longer and longer, leading wget to think there was another directory level to fetch.
So all that was needed was to turn off MultiViews and restart apache. None of us could remember exactly when that changed, but I think t thhere was a server rebuild in there somewhen.
Also, to the person who’s requested 60,000 copies of the same file that’s so old Rick doesn’t even remember what it is? Dude.

Read More Hosting Over Time

04 November 2013

In 1998, I registered At the time, it was hosted by Epoch Internet, then a Tier 1 provider, aka the place where I spent my days.
After leaving there, it was hosted briefly on a cable modem from a box in my apartment — back in the day when a cable modem usually had a stable (even though not truly static) IP address and, if you didn’t do anything too untoward, Comcast would actually let you host mail service on one. Those were the days.
Then I moved to the bay area, and LinuxCabal did its own hosting in San Francisco. We had rackspace. We had IP addresses. We had bandwidth. So my box moved there. (LinuxCabal has since moved to Mexico, but that’s another story for another time.)
Then we moved to Menlo Park, and got commercial DSL, hosting our domains from our own servers.
In 2005, I got into Ruby on Rails and needed offsite hosting (in part due to bandwidth constraints at home), and hosted at TextDrive, where it still is to this day — even through TextDrive’s emborgment (late 2006) and disgorgement (late 2012) from Joyent. I still hosted other domains from home up until 2010, when that box died suddenly. The box itself is still in use — we put it on top of the washing machine to help keep the lid shut so the washing machine keeps running.
Most other domains moved to Site5, but I haven’t really been happy with that solution. I’m sure it works great for other people. It’s just not my taste.
Soon, will be picking up and moving as I’ve now got a VPS at It’s pretty much all set up; I spent the day yesterday arguing with web server configs.
To my surprise, lighttpd only saved about 1M of memory over apache, and the lighttpd setup is fiddlier with PHP, so I’ll be going back to apache later today. If nginx were better supported in CentOS, I might go that route.
Long way of saying: there may be some internet blips going on with the site (as well as my other domains).

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Fascinating Breakdown of NY Times YA Bestseller Lists

04 November 2013

Here’s a fascinating breakdown of New York Times Bestseller Lists answering the age-old question: do women really dominate the YA lists?
tl;dr version:

The first thing I wanted to know was how well men and women were represented on the lists. I’ve always suspected that men outnumbered women on the list, and when I’ve made that claim before, I’ve been told that’s not true.
But actually, it’s startlingly true.

Possibly just seems like women dominate the list because the field is more equal than others?

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