Are You a Science Fiction Fan? Will You be Voting?

If the title isn’t clear enough, and the logo below didn’t show up, I’m referring to voting for the Hugo Awards rather than voting for the Cary Town Council. Being on one ballot was not enough for me!

(In fact, if you want to put me on a third ballot, you can nominate any of my filk songs for a Pegasus Award. Hahaha!)

Hugo Award Logo

But, insofar as the Hugo Awards go, the deadline is fast approaching for getting our votes in, as was recently pointed out by perhaps the biggest name in fantasy literature these days, George R.R. Martin.

The deadline is in fact the 31st of July — one day past the deadline for Pegasus nominations, haha! — and if you’re a member of the World SF Convention you should have gotten your Voter Packet and instructions weeks ago. If you’re not a member but you still want to vote, there’s just a little time left for you to purchase a Supporting Membership* and participate in the process.

In the blog post linked above, Mr. Martin noted that so far more than 2300 ballots have been cast. He asks,

Who are all these new Supporting Members? Are they trufans rallying to the defense of one of our field’s oldest and most cherished institutions? Are they Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Happy Kittens, Gamergaters? Are those dreaded SJWs and ASPs and CHORFs turning out by the hundreds and the thousands? Are these the Neo-Nazis and right-wing reactionaries we have been warned of? The truth is… no one knows. We may get a clue when the ballots are opened and counted, but even then, the numbers may well just say, “Answer cloudy, ask again.”

If you’re not familiar with all the lingo in there, count yourself lucky. And if you’re undecided about voting or what to vote for, bear in mind Heinlein’s admonition:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

So, vote! Even if you vote against me.

As for that other democratic process, we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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*A Supporting Membership costs $40, for which you get electronic copies of several of the nominated works (e.g., Best Novel) with which to make an informed decision.

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Amazon Rankings and the Power of a SINGLE Sale

Back in late February, Larry Correia included the Amazon listing for my album in the “book bomb” he orchestrated to generate interest in stories that he and Brad Torgersen recommended for Hugo Award consideration. (For more on how the latter turned out, read this.)

CD Sale
(“CD Sale,” by Jake Johnson, via Flickr under Creative Commons.)

The purpose of Larry’s frequent “book bombs” is to encourage people to buy an author’s work, and in particular to buy it on Amazon because improving a book’s ranking generally makes it more visible to additional prospective customers. Products with higher rankings show up more often in searches and the Amazon system selects them more frequently as recommendations. The idea behind the book bombs is two-fold, then: first, to help authors get paid for their work, and second, to put them in a better position to keep getting paid.

Anyway, since the only thing I had available for sale was my album, Larry included it along with other people’s books, which I appreciated very much. The results were curious to me, though.

Because of the plug I sold a grand total of one physical CD, and no electronic music, but my Amazon sales ranking improved by nearly a million-and-a-half places! Indeed, it hit unheard-of heights (for me) and now, nearly three months later, is still ranked far better than it was to begin with.

I don’t have the exact figures for the earliest rankings, because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but here’s what I remember (I’ve rounded these to two significant digits):

Date — Sales Rank
02/23 — 1,500,000
02/25 — 30,000 — because of ONE CD being ordered
02/27 — 60,000
03/04 — 200,000
03/17 — 360,000
05/06 — 840,000

I don’t know about you, but that much movement based on one sale seems a little crazy to me. Imagine what would have happened if two people had ordered my CD! It might suddenly have become a bestseller. Of course, it could just indicate how few CDs are ordered from Amazon on any given day.

I don’t know if the book rankings bounce around so much, but it seems apparent that if you ever buy things on Amazon — even single things! — you wield a great deal of power.

While we’re on the topic of Amazon, another tidbit you might not know: Reviews affect search results, too. My little CD doesn’t have any reviews there (and precious few elsewhere), so if you’ve got an Amazon account and a few spare minutes, it would be awesome if you’d bounce over to the Amazon page and post a little review. Just a few words about your favorite song, even with only a moderate rating, would make a huge difference.

Amazon is, of course, the biggest kid on the block when it comes to online shopping. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: when people buy my album from Bandcamp, they pay less and I make more money. (You have my permission to share that little secret with anyone who might appreciate the album or the bargain.)

But, regardless of whether you tell anyone about my music; regardless of whether you leave a review on Amazon or anywhere else; regardless of whether you’ve even heard any of my songs or read any of my stories; and regardless of whether you keep up with my nonsense or just popped in here for no particular reason, you have my sincere thanks just for reading this blog post.

If you take nothing else away from this, know these two things: I appreciate you being here, and you have more influence on the success of independent writers and artists than you probably realize. But with great power comes great responsibility, so use your power wisely!

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P.S. Yes, this is another post adapted from a newsletter article. That’s just the way it goes.

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Last Day for Pegasus Award ‘Brainstorming’ — Poll Closes Tonight

If you haven’t already submitted your ideas for what songs, composers, and performers should be considered for the Pegasus Awards for excellence in filking, you have until early Friday morning to do so!

Pegasus Award Logo

Unlike other awards, the Pegasus Award cycle begins with a wide-open “brainstorming” phase. (In this respect, the Hugo Awards may have something to learn from the Pegasus Awards; but, I digress.)

The Pegasus awards honor science fiction and fantasy-related music in these categories:

  • Best Filk Song
  • Best Classic Filk Song — a song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer
  • Best Writer/Composer
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — “parodies, pre-existing lyrics set to new music (for example, setting a Kipling poem), or other material adapted to filk”
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Time-Related Song — “31st wedding anniversary gifts are timepieces. For OVFF’s 31st Anniversary we focus on anything related to time”

Anyone who has an interest in filk music — which most people think of as science fiction and/or fantasy-related music — is considered part of the “filk community” and can participate in brainstorming possible nominees, nominating, and voting. The award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.”

Speaking of “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers,” last week on the Baen Free Radio Hour we released part 1 of a 2-part roundtable discussion about filk. Here’s the link to an MP3 of the podcast. We’ll release part 2 sometime in May.

All that being said, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest in filk just by reading this far in this post (for which, thank you!), and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process. So if you have favorites you’d like to suggest, fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. Note that there’s only space for five suggestions in each category, but you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like. (I filled out two.) But you have to submit your suggestions soon — as in, today! The deadline is one minute after midnight tonight, Pacific Time, or around 3 a.m. tomorrow morning, Eastern Time.

The actual nomination phase to decide what goes on the ballot will start next month, when the brainstorming results are released, and then voting will take place later in the summer. Then the Pegasus Awards will be awarded at the Ohio Valley Filk Fest in October.

So … start your brainstorming! And finish it, quick!

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Related Posts:
The Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll is Open!
In Case You’re Nominating for Any Awards This Year
What Do YOU Think is the Best Adapted Filk Song?
What Do YOU Think is the Best Time-Related Filk Song?

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Evolution of An Album Cover

As we’re making progress on my new album, Distorted Vision — about which I’ll have more to say in the future — I thought some folks might be interested to see how the cover of Truths and Lies and Make-Believe came about. Just as I could not have recorded the album by myself, I could not have put the cover together without the help of some very skilled people!

First, here’s my original idea of what I wanted the cover to look like:

Truths Lies cover art mock-up

I made that image on PowerPoint, using a picture I found on the Internet and the poster idea I’d first used in flyers for the album. I wanted an old-timey feel to it, and something about the idea of putting up notices appealed to me. Eventually, instead of trying to do two rows of posters I decided to use a single row — primarily because it was less work!

With the concept in mind, I drove around town looking for different places where we might stage the scene. I found several candidate walls in wood and cement and brick, and talked to nearby vendors about whether we could put up posters on them. Ultimately I got permission from the Creative Images trophy and sign shop to use the wall and doorway on the side of their building.

I went frugal with the posters: I printed them at Staples in a couple of different sizes to see what would work, then had enough printed for the photo shoot. They were printed on white paper that I “antiqued” with tea — specifically, a mix of black tea and some raspberry tea for a little reddish tint. (The tint comes through a little on the color versions of the photos — you can see a few of them on my web site.) To hang the posters, I mixed up batches of wheatpaste from a recipe I found on the web.

My photographer for the day was Paul Cory, who had recruited several ladies to be passers-by and observers in the pictures of me putting up the posters. I had recruited my daughter Stephanie as well, and in addition to her we had a lady Jedi, a “steampunk pirate,” and the comic book character The Question. You can see them on the inside of the CD cover, like this:

The original color version of that image, without the “postcard” effect, is one of the backgrounds on my web site.

Here’s the final cover design, as put together by my son Christopher:

I think it turned out to be a great realization of my original concept. And I very much appreciate everyone who helped make it a reality!

You can see all the cover images, inside and outside, on the album’s Bandcamp page.

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P.S.  I adapted this blog post from an article sent previously to my newsletter subscribers. If you’d like to receive my every-so-often newsletter, fill out the form here.

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What Do YOU Think is the Best Time-Related Filk Song?

This post is part 2 of a 2-part series related to the 2015 Pegasus Awards. You can read the first post at What Do YOU Think is the Best Adapted Filk Song?

Looking for more of your suggestions!

Pegasus Award Logo

As noted in part one, my first request for suggestions, the Pegasus Awards honor science fiction and fantasy-related music, and each year the organizers select two special categories for awards. This year the second of the special categories is the “Best Time-Related Song.”

Like the “Best Adapted Song” category, this one is wide open for nominations because the songs can “focus on anything related to time.” The Ohio Valley Filk Festival organizers picked the category because 2015 is OVFF’s 31st anniversary, and the 31st wedding anniversary is the timepiece anniversary.

The problem I’m running into is that I’m finding it hard to come up with time-related songs! So, a question for you: what do you think is the Best Time-Related Filk Song?

At present, I’m considering nominating:

  • “Beer-Powered Time Machine” by Mikey Mason
  • “Find Forever Gone” by Bella Morte
  • “One More Time” by Michael Longcor
  • “Welcome to the Age of Steam” by Jonah Knight
  • “’39” by Brian May / Queen

Can you think of other time-related songs I should consider for this category? You can actually suggest your own slate to the entire filk community by filling out the Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll.* But at the very least, send me your suggestions!

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*As always, if you’d like to hear some of my songs to consider, let me know. We’ll find a way to make it happen.

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What Do YOU Think is the Best Adapted Filk Song?

This post is part 1 of a 2-part series related to the 2015 Pegasus Awards.

I’m looking for your suggestions!

Pegasus Award Logo

The Pegasus Awards honor science fiction and fantasy-related music, and each year the organizers select two special categories for awards. This year one of the categories is the “Best Adapted Song.”

This special category is pretty wide open for nominations, since it “can include adapting or parodying a mundane song or a filk song, but can also mean adapting a poem or book.” So it might involve the best use of an existing song to make a new filk song, or it could involve a song that best captures the spirit of a favorite story or movie.

So, seriously: what do you think is the Best Adapted Filk Song?

I’ve thought of a few songs by friends of mine (or, in one case, a friend of a friend) that I’m considering nominating:

  • “Band of Brothers” by Ken Theriot
  • “Dead Hobbit” by Madison Maria Roberts
  • “Duet With a Klingon” by Carla Ulbrich
  • “Has Anybody Seen My Goyle? ” and “Call Me, Arthur” by Scott & Kirsten Vaughan (a/k/a The Blibbering Humdingers)
  • “The Ballad of Jones the Cat” by Keith Brinegar and White Plectrum
  • “When We Come Out of the Stargate” by Danny Birt

I know there are many more adapted songs out there, so if you have favorites that you think I should consider for this category, send me your suggestions!

Or, even better, you can suggest songs for the entire filk community to consider by filling out the Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll Forms.* (When it comes time to actually nominate for the award, you can only nominate 5 songs, but during the brainstorming phase you can fill out as many forms as you like.)

Thanks in advance!

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In other award news, you have until the end of January to join the World Science Fiction Convention to be eligible to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards. For the price of a supporting membership ($40), you’ll get electronic copies of all the nominated stories and artwork — it’s really quite a bargain! And, who knows? maybe you’ll even see something you nominated on the ballot. But only if you join!

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*If you’d like to suggest or nominate one of my songs, that’s okay, too. If you haven’t heard my songs and you’d like to, drop me a line. We’ll find a way to make it happen.

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In Case You’re Nominating for Any Awards This Year

Welcome to my periodic “here’s what I have eligible for awards” post.

119/365 Vote for me...
(“Vote for me…,” by Dave, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Fiction. I have two stories eligible for award consideration, published in 2014:

Related/Dramatic Works. I did some voice acting in 2014, too:

Music. My album came out in 2013, but the Pegasus Awards aren’t strictly time-bound. “Another Romulan Ale” and “Tauntauns to Glory” were both played on the Dr. Demento show in 2014, so that’s something. But if you’re stuck for an entry for the rotating categories of the Brainstorming Poll, you might consider:

  • For Adapted Song, “A Ship With No Name,” “Thorin Oakenshield,” or maybe “The Enemy’s Gate is Down”
  • For Time-Related Song, “Ten Thousand Years Ago”

If you’re curious about any of these, whether you’re nominating for the Nebula, Hugo, or Pegasus Awards or not, let me know. I’ll be happy to send you a story, or even sing you a song!

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The Gray Man Unplugged — ‘Help My Unbelief’

I know this video is nothing special — it’s just me and my guitar, shot with my phone, no frills, no special effects — but I think the song itself might speak to just about everybody at some point in their life. I think most of us struggle with doubt from time to time, and “Help My Unbelief” is a song about doubt and the desire to overcome it.

The studio version of the song is much better, of course. But in whatever format, this is one of the more personal songs I’ve written. I wrote it in 2012, and I actually sang it in church long before we recorded it for the CD. When I introduced it in church, I said something about “Doubting Thomas” being one of my heroes for being willing to admit his doubt, and how much I identify with the city official who said, “Lord, I believe — help my unbelief.”

If you’ve struggled with doubt, I hope this song gives you some comfort that you’re not alone. And if you know someone who is struggling, or who might want to use the song in a service, by all means feel free to share it with them.

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And now, a word from our sponsor: “Help My Unbelief” appears on Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, a “compendium of musical selections inspired or influenced by science fiction, fantasy, life, and faith … a multitude of things.” It’s not all serious songs — I tried to balance silly and serious songs on the album — though even some of my science fiction and fantasy songs often end up being serious.

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If the embedded video doesn’t work, here’s a direct link to the “Help My Unbelief” ‘unplugged’ Video.

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The Pegasus Award Brainstorming Poll is Open!

What science fiction or fantasy-related music would you like to see on the Pegasus Award ballot next year?

Pegasus Award Logo

Opening the “brainstorming” phase signals the start of the 2015 awards cycle for the Pegasus Awards for “filk” — the music of science fiction and fantasy fandom. The Pegasus Awards are awarded at (and administered by) the Ohio Valley Filk Fest each October; in fact, the 2014 awards were just handed out last weekend.

The brainstorming phase is conducted via this online poll that allows anyone to nominate up to five songs and performers, in four permanent and two rotating categories. The 2015 categories are:

  • Best Filk Song — Any song is eligible that has not previously won a Pegasus Award or been on the final ballot in this category in the last 2 years
  • Best Classic Filk Song — Any well-known filk song that is at least 10 years old, has not previously won a Pegasus Award, and has not been on the final ballot in this category in the last 2 years
  • Best Writer/Composer — Any writer/composer of filk songs who has not won this Pegasus Award in the past 5 years
  • Best Performer — Any performer in the filk community who has not won this Pegasus Award in the past 5 years
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — Parodies, pre-existing lyrics set to new music (e.g., a Kipling poem), or other material adapted to filk
  • 2015 Rotating Category: Best Time-Related Song — Because it’s OVFF’s 31st anniversary and the 31st wedding anniversary is the “timepiece” anniversary, any songs related to time

Anyone who has an interest in science fiction and/or fantasy-related music may be considered part of the “filk community” and can participate in brainstorming possible nominees, nominating, and voting. The award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.”

If you made it this far in this post or have read any of my previous filk-related posts, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest and would therefore be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process. So if you have a favorite you’d like to suggest, fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. And unlike elections for public office, you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like!

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If You’re a Teacher or a Parent, You Should Get to Know Tim Griffin’s Music

Last month I introduced my newsletter readers* to Tim Griffin, whose music I encountered at the World Science Fiction Convention this past August.


(Tim Griffin.)

My expectations for the World Science Fiction Convention in London were very high, and while the overall trip was awesome the convention had some ups and downs. As with any big convention, I didn’t get to see everyone or do everything I wanted, but one bright spot was the music portion, the best part of which was getting to meet Tim Griffin, who was one of the finalists for this year’s Pegasus Awards.

If you or someone you know is a parent or teacher, and might appreciate amusing songs that sneak in a bit of educational content, Tim Griffin is a name you should know and http://www.griffined.org/ is a website you should visit early and often. The first song Tim played had me hooked:

Aristotle said the world is a ball
Unrolled a scroll and made a map of it all
He put the planets in the sky, moving round the Earth every day
Copernicus drew a very different one
Pictured all the planets going ‘round the Sun
Then Galileo built a telescope and said, “Hey, it sure looks that way.”

You know that each generation learns a little bit more
Pulling back the curtain, opening up the door
But it’s only when we’re standing on the shoulders of giants
We can see the things we didn’t before

While he was singing I made a note on my phone — “shoulders of giants” — because I knew I wanted to learn more about his music.

Tim’s songs are enjoyable just from the standpoint of being catchy tunes, but what makes them unique is that most of them have educational components because he was a science teacher. I talked with him several times and found out that he runs a nonprofit educational foundation that produces music and makes it available — free! — to educators and anyone else who’s interested. Not only does he provide the songs for free download on his website, but he also provides the lyrics and in many cases includes references to educational standards that the songs address (e.g., California state standards, Common Core), and sometimes includes suggestions for educational activities to accompany the songs.

Tim pointed out to me that teachers don’t have to use the songs in an overt manner: the songs can be effective even if they’re only played as background music during what would normally be a non-educational part of the day, such as when the children have just come in from lunch or recess and are getting ready to start the next lesson. His foundation has conducted some research into music and learning retention, and the results have been quite positive, but even without that the music itself is worth a listen.

Check out his website, listen to a few of the songs, and if you like what you hear, buy one of his CDs or make a tax-deductible donation to the foundation — but even more importantly, share the music (or this blog post) with a teacher or principal or librarian.

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*Yeah, I have a newsletter I send out sometimes. You can sign up for it here.

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P.S. Seriously, if you know any teachers who may be looking for an innovative way to introduce science and math and technology topics to their students, please forward this to them!

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