Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday IV: The Von Trappening

            If you’ve been following this page for any amount of time, you know I hate pimping my own work, but we’re officially in the Christmas season now.  And in theory this is the big internet shopping day.  And the marketing people—who are seriously wonderful folks—have dropped certain hints.  Sooooooo...
            I have to ask you all to buy stuff.
            I’m so very, very sorry.  I'll try to be quick.
            Here’s a list of my books and also a few anthologies I’ve got stories in.  Put them on your holiday wish list or get them as gifts for friends and family members. I’ll put links to most of them, but you can also scroll down through that sidebar on the right and find links to pretty much every version at every store you could ever want.
            Also, there’s still about a week to place orders with Dark Delicacies in Burbank.  You can order a book through them, leave instructions for an autograph, and I’ll swing by there to scribble in said book.  Again, do it in the next week and you should have said book in your hands in time for the holidays.
            Really, either way, just go to your local bookstore.  They’re cool and they could use the business, and then you’re not one of those conformists falling for that Cyber Monday capitalist nonsense.
            Anyway...

            Many of you are probably here because of the Ex-Heroes series.  Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication, Ex-Purgatory, and as of this spring Ex-Isle! All of these are available in a number of formats and a number of languages.  Also, Audible's included the first two books in a fantastic sale today soooooo... move quick if audiobooks are your thing.

            The Fold came out in paperback this year, but I think there are still some hardcovers kicking around if you know where to look  Early on someone described it as something like a horror-suspense novel disguised as a sci-fi-mystery, and I’ve been using that ever since.  The audiobook’s narrated by the always-amazing Ray Porter.  It’s also loosely connected to another semi-popular book I wrote...

            At least a third of you have probably found your way here because of –14— my odd little Lovecraftian-sci-fi-urban-horror-mystery novel.  There’s a paperback, an ebook, and another audiobook narrated by the amazing Ray Porter (it's part of that big Audible sale, too).  And, if things progress as planned, Team Downey’s finally shooting the pilot this spring.

            You can pick up all of The Junkie Quatrain as either an ebook or an audiobook (no paper, sorry).  It’s my attemptat a “fast zombies” tale, a series of interconnected stories I’ve sometimes described as Rashomon meets 28 Days Later.  It also features a recurring character of mine, Quilt, who keeps showing up in different stories in one way or another... 

            The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe also got a brand new edition this year, with a damned fantatic new layout. It’s the more-or-less true story of how the legendary castaway ended up on that strange island, some of the things he found there, and some of the things that found him.  I admit it’s a bit of work to read, but I still love it. 

            I also have a ton of short stories out in anthologies right now.  The big one is The X-Files: Trust No One, edited by the wonderful-in-so-many-ways Jonathan Maberry and with stories from Gini Koch, Tim Lebbon, Heather Graham, Brian Keene, and more.  My story here is “The Beast of Little Hill,” a classic Muder and Scully tale about roadside attractions and fake aliens.  Supposedly Chris Carter really enjoyed it, which is... well, cool.

            Naughty or Nice is a collection of fun, twisted holiday stories which run... well, the full gamut.  Don’t get it for your nine year old, let’s say that.  Or your less-than-open-minded mother-in-law...

            Corrupts Absolutely is a collection about superheroes gone wrong.  Mine’s a little standalone called “Bedtime Story,” about a hero called Omnes and some parents trying to explain to their little boy why the way the world is the way it is.

            You can pick up Kaiju Rising, which contains “Banner of the Bent Cross,”my WWII pulp adventure featuring the first team up of mercenary Dar Carter and history professor Ken Kraft  It also has a fantastically funny story by Peter Stenson (author of Fiend).

            There’s also “The Apocrypha of Gamma-202, ” a story about robots and religion, which appeared in Bless Your Mechanical Heart.  You’ll also get some great stories from Seanan McGuire, Ken Scholes, and Lucy Snyder.

            And thus ends my shameless Cyber Monday appeal to capitalism.  Again, so very sorry, but please tell the marketing folks you read it.  I’ll also do another list later this week with some great books I’ve read by other, much better authors.  And please don’t forget my Black Friday offer if you happen to be someone who needs it.
            Please feel free to resume your internet shopping.   Browse responsibly.  Clear your history on a regular basis. 
            No, don’t click on that—that isn’t really from PayPal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Imposter!

            Look!  We’re a day early because tomorrow I’m going to be cooking and watching a lot of my favorite black-and-white movies.  Joy!
            Well, not all joy...
            I need to get something off my chest.
            I’m a fraud.
            Seriously.
            I would guess, on an average week, this idea runs through my head five or six times (by odd coincidence, I tend to work five or six days a week).  The notion that I’m a complete fake who’s kind of stumbled into this life off sheer luck more than ability.  I re-read my new projects and wonder if they’re good or if I’m just deluding myself.  Maybe I don’t know a tenth of what I think I know—a textbook case of the Dunning-Kruger effect. 
            I sometimes wonder if the next book is going to be the one where my small fanbase gives a big shrug and says “ehhhhh... I guess he’s burned out.  Time to move on.” 
            I fret a lot about whether or not my publisher’s going to dump me as a writer, too. Well, not dump me, but just decide this latest contact will be... well, the last one.  Same with my agent.  He has some much, much bigger clients than me, and it’s not irrational to think he might decide his time and efforts are better spent focused on them.
            You may have heard of people feeling this way before.  It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s really common.  I get it all the time.  Chuck Wendig gets it.  Victoria Schwab gets it.  Pretty much every writer I’ve ever talked to at length has copped to it. They’re plagued with self-doubt. They question most everything they write.
            (You didn’t think Hemingway drank that much because it was fashionable at the time, did you...?)
            I’m not saying this to freak you out or feed your insecurities.  I’m hoping it reassures you a bit.  We all feel this way sometimes.  Yeah, even those of us so-called-pros who are doing this full time.
            There are two reasons people get hit with imposter syndrome, in my so-called expert opinion.  For what it’s worth.  And they’re kinda related.  It’s almost the same thing, really.
            First is that, once I hit a certain stage in my writing, I start to see certain things.  I can admit to flaws in my work.  Of course, once I admit problems might be there, that also opens me up to imagining and creating problems. 
            As it happens, imagining and creating is what most writers do.  We’re good at it. Sometimes we do it even when we don’t want to...
            Second is fear.  I think imposter syndrome is a lot like writers block.  The act of creation—of pulling something out of my head and setting it down on paper—can be terrifying.  If you think about, it’s really common for people to talk themselves out of doing scary things.  Think of a couple times in your life when you had to do something that scared you.  How often did you end up thinking something along the lines of “ I can’t do this! What was I thinking?  I shouldn’t be here!”
            I can think of three or four times that sort of mantra ran through my head, all long before I became a full time writer.
            There’s a flipside to this, too.  The folks who are utterly, 110% confident their work is perfect, and that they absolutely should be professionals.  The ones who have no doubts at all.
            And yet, for some reason... they’re not.  They don’t make sales. They don’t get deals.  Usually because of gatekeepers or antiquated systems or something.  Definitely not because of them.
            I’ve run into a few folks like this. You probably have, too.
            Y’see, Timmy, I shouldn’t look at imposter syndrome as a problem.  Oh, it sucks, yeah, and it can lead to one or three stressful days or nights. But really it’s a sign of my maturity as a writer. It shows that I’m open to the possibility my work isn’t perfect, which means I’m open to improving it.
            And improving it is the big goal for all of us.
            Next time I might shout at you real quick.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

That Cool Moment When...

            Hey, folks. So very sorry I missed last week.  I had this thing all plotted out and then I somehow ended up in the Mirror Universe. And not the cool part of the Mirror Universe... the bad part.
            Hey, speaking of cool stuff...
            I read a book recently where the characters spent most of their time trying to verbally one-up each other. Every line of dialogue was a cool, badass line.
            Which still wasn’t quite as exhausting as a couple books I’ve read that were just non-stop super-cool action and conflict from page one.
            Although, that was better than the folks who tried to do an uber-cool plot structure of a cool flashback within a cool story within a really cool flashback.
            Saying “cool” that many times is kinda... uncool, isn’t it?
            Now, with that in mind...  I’d like to repeat a little experiment I did for some of you a few years back.  Please pay close attention to the following paragraph.  Don't write anything down, but try to keep a lot of it in mind.  There’ll be questions afterwards.

            LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!!

            So...
            What parts of that stood out to you?  What was the high point?  Did the paragraph hold you from beginning to end?
            Odds are none of it stood out for you.  And the high point was probably when it ended, right?  In fact, I’m willing to bet you got halfway through the first line and just probably skimmed down to the end. 
            Nah, don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you.  Any sane person would’ve done the same thing.  It was just a bunch of LAs.
            Here’s another example. A variation on the theme, you might say.  Have you ever heard a tuning fork?  Tuning forks are perfect, y’know.  If you have a middle-C tuning fork it will hit that note and hold it for ages. 
            That said... have you ever felt compelled to listen to a tuning fork for hours?  No? Why wouldn’t you want to listen to constant perfection?
            Because it’s boring!
            A tuning fork plays one note.  That’s it.  It’s the musical equivalent of LA LA LA LA.  Middle C is great, and any musician from Bach to Pharrell will tell you it’s all but impossible to work without it--but it can’t be the only note.  It’s part of a system of highs and lows that we call music.
            Storytelling works the same way.  A story that’s just all the same thing is the literary equivalent of a tuning fork.  It’s neat for a minute or two... and then it starts to wear on your nerves. 
            I’ve mentioned this idea before, because it applies to several aspects of writing.  Structure.  Dialogue.  Action.  I can’t have a story that’s all action.  I can’t have a script that’s nothing but Oscar moments.  Every line can’t be a cool line.  Because if it’s all at the same level—if it’s all cool—then it’s all monotone.
            Look at Doctor Strange.  Big popular Marvel movie right now, yes?  And, yeah—no spoilers—it has scenes of magical combat and all that skyline-bending we saw in the commercials.  Lots of other cool stuff, too.  But it also has quite a few scenes where Strange just reads medical reports and books.  He listens to music.  At one point he has a conversation with a guy on  basketball court.  He even writes a few emails.
            Y’see, Timmy, it’s the up-and-down, back-and-forth nature that makes for interesting stories.  If you look at any good story, you’ll see that most of its elements swing back and forth between extremes.  Lows and highs.  Calm and frenetic.  Average and unforgettable.
            Because, again, if my story elements don’t have this up and down nature, if it’s all the same, then it’s just a line.  It doesn’t matter how high the line is, even if every point on it scores a perfect ten, even if it all goes to eleven...it’s still just a flat line.
            And you know what “flatline” is another term for, right?
            Dead.
            Next time... well, next Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the states.  But I owe you all one from last week, so I’ll try to get something up the night before.  That way I won’t feel like a total fraud.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Democracy In Action!

            On this particular Thursday, it seemed like talking about voting could be an interesting idea.
            One thing I did all the time when I was starting out—well, once I’d become brave enough to show my writing to anyone past my mom—was to get as many opinions as possible.  If I had enough, I’d count them up like votes.  And I would do whatever they said.  If someone—anyone—wanted this line or that element changed, I’d change it.  Or remove it.  Or add in something new.  Anyone else’s thoughts were just as valid as mine.
            This happened to me again about thirteen years ago, just before I started doing this full time.  Slightly different direction, though.  Believe it or not, I ghost-wrote an exercise book.  This woman was very smart and savvy about exercise and the specialized niche she wanted to write toward... not so much about writing and publishing. So she hired me to help her out.  Alas, she kept talking about the book with her friends and fellow fitness professionals, showing them half-finished drafts, and taking everyone’s opinion as scientific fact.  So we rewrote the book again.  And again.  And again.  Not drafts, mind you.  Complete, start-from-scratch rewrites.  I think it went through six or seven major revisions before I had to bow out just for time reasons. And she still didn’t have much more than a first draft of her book.
            It was frustrating, but I couldn’t really fault her.  Like I said, I used to do it, too.  I think most people do when we’re starting out and looking for assurance.
            Really, it makes sense to do it that way. It’s what we’ve all been taught, right?  Democracy in action.  Let people vote on something, go with the majority.
            Except...
            Writing is not a democracy.  I’m a benevolent dictator at best.  An angry god at worst.
            Now, before anyone gets too excited about being a dictator...
            I’m not saying I’ll never, ever listen to other opinions.  I have some great beta readers I really trust.  I have a seriously fantastic editor who’s much, much better at spotting flaws than I am.  It doesn’t mean their opinions or suggestions are always right, but I’d be foolish not to at least look at them and consider them.
            At the end of the day, though... what my story needs is up to me.  I’m the one crafting and telling it. Every line of dialogue, every subtle character nuance, every beautiful piece of imagery, every clever plot twist.  It all comes from me.  If a dozen people think I need to get rid of the wine bottle scene but I think it’s vital and memorable, I get the last say.
            And I need to make that decision.  Opinions are great, but as the dictator the final decision is nobody’s but mine.  If I’m going to put things on hold waiting for a consensus or a clear majority... that just makes me a figurehead.
            This also holds for what I’m writing about.  If I just want to write to entertain myself—that’s great.  If I want to fill my story with in-jokes that only ten people on Earth are going to get, that’s also my choice.  I can deliberately focus my book on neo-con, government-hating survivalists or tree-hugging, socialist liberals—and absolutely nobody can say I’m wrong!  This is my story.  Mine.
            However...
            This doesn’t mean anyone will want to read my story.  Or buy it.  Just because I’m staying true to myself and my vision--only bending where I feel I absolutely must—doesn’t mean my story is going to appeal to anyone else.  And some of those people it may not appeal to are editors.  Under other circumstances, they might be interested and willing to work with me, but if I’m not going to bend at all on that wine bottle scene...  Well, it’s not going to be their fault I didn’t make a sale.
            Plus... Let’s face it, I’m not going to please everyone, no matter what choice I make.  I’ve mentioned before that every story has a limited audience.   Sometimes a very limited one.  That’s the problem with leading—even as a benevolent dictator—the best you can ever hope for is a “greater good” situation.  There will always be people with no interest in the topic or genre, readers who just don’t like it.  Hop over to Amazon and check out well-established American classics like East of Eden or To Kill A Mockingbird.  Look at something newer like The Martian.  Heck, pick your favorite Harry Potter book.  All of these are unquestionably critical and financial successes with, I feel safe saying, hundreds of millions of fans each... but look how many one-star reviews they have.
            Y’see, Timmy, at the end of the day, nobody knows what my story needs but me.  It’s all mine. That’s the art part of it.  There is no democracy.  That’s where I get to be a dictator.
            But once I decide I want to put my writing out there, that I want an audience, that I’d like to get paid... Well, we’re not talking about being a dictator anymore. Now we’re talking about politics. We’re talking about compromises. We’re talking about tweaking my vision to appeal to a greater audience, even when it doesn’t appeal to me quite as much anymore.  Maybe not quite as great a good, but still a “very good” that reaches a lot more people.
            That’s the balancing act.
            Real quick before I wrap up, I’m going to be up in Tacoma, Washington this weekend for the Jet City Comic Show.  If you’re in the area, please stop by, say hi, and tell me how this blog is just a huge waste of time for everyone involved.
            Next time, I want to talk about something cool.
            Until then, go write.