Monday, October 19, 2015

Bring Your Own Marshmallows

I've decided what I'm going to do for Halloween this year. A bonfire. A big one. I have a free-standing barbeque pit in my back yard - perfect for constructing wood-burning fires, and big enough to accommodate all the copies of my fiction books currently on hand. I estimate there are probably about a hundred books, so it should make for a full evening of roasting weenies and toasting marshmallows and saying goodbye to what I once (foolishly) thought might be my "writing career." Gotta laugh. In reality, of course, one cannot call writing a career, but only an obsolete hobby - at least that is how it has begun to appear in today's "market."

Market.  What market?

I have been doing the fiction writing thaaang for over 35 years, and other than KILLING TIME and a few short stories, I'm sorry to say I have not been especially successful. If I listen to my fans and critics, it's not because I'm not good enough. It's not even because I haven't been especially prolific in the past 10 years (hard to be a full time writer when one actually has to work for a living). It's largely (but not entirely) because the "market" has become glutted with garbage (and most of it actually IS garbage) so that anything with any substance 1) can't be found; and 2) if it IS found, it is generally given a wide berth because the reader has been burned far too many times by all the previous garbage; and 3) even if the book is found and the reader decides to give it a look-inside, chances are high that some clique of trolls has posted so many negative reviews that the reader ends up tucking her tail 'twixt her legs and fleeing in terror. Who can blame her? Certainly not I.

My SO, Wendy Rathbone - who is a seasoned, published professional writer and highly-awarded poet - recently attended a "writer's retreat" in San Diego, which was geared specifically toward the kind of fiction she writes (male/male romance). Aside from the fact that the convention itself was organized in a very peculiar manner (no dealer's room, no place to actually SELL one's books even though readers were there allegedly wanting to BUY books), Wendy had an author signing on Thursday morning (worst possible time, since people are still arriving or won't even show up until the weekend) Not sure whose bright idea that was, but it basically sucks. But no matter...  

After much chaos and fuss to get everything in order, Wendy managed to sell precisely no books whatsoever, even though she had over a dozen titles on her author table, including two brand new ones which just became available this month. She received multiple compliments on the covers, but ultimately it was all for naught. I had originally been scheduled to attend, but as the time approached when I should have been getting in the car, my own "little voices" gave a shrug of screaming indifference and strongly suggested that I stay home with the new puppy and enjoy the rare desert rain. So, as it turned out, my own books weren't even put out (which is no one's fault but my own), but at this point I have no doubt that my sales would have been nada-times-nada as well. As Mr. Spock was fond of saying - "If I drop a hammer on a planet with positive gravity, I don't need to see it fall to know that it has, indeed, fallen."

Lotta truth to that.

Also a lot to be learned from the science of logic. It's one thing to have hope. It's another thing altogether to have false hope. And to be brutally honest with myself - if I haven't made a real dent as a writer in 35 years, logic dictates that I probably ain't gonna. So... no worries, no regrets. Just simply time to put my energy toward something else. Sure - who knows? - maybe I'll start a  new book next week, but right now, I can see no reason to keep writing book after book... only to watch them languish in total obscurity. 

Wendy's words upon returning home from the convention were, "But I had a good time."  Hmmm. The same words spoken by beauty contest runners-up and people who get thrown off the island. That's the difference between Wendy and myself. She's the positive one always finding that golden ray of sunshine and looking to the future, whereas I tend to be the darkling who can predict the future based on the past  - and I must say that the future of writing doesn't look the least bit promising. Wendy is already planning her next novel. And I'm preparing for a bonfire.

Bring your own marshmallows.  (And your own books, if you feel so inclined.)

Being a fickle bitch prone to occasional fits of drama, I reserve the right to change my mind. But right now... I've got a book of matches burning a hole in my pocket.  Bon appetit.

Just a few of the titles that will be smokin' this Halloween!  Get 'em while they're hot! 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Indulgences, Negative Pleasantries and "Gaslighting"

A Personal Rant

(Having nothing to do with writing, quantum shamanism, or anything other than my personal observations of life, the universe & everything wedged in the crack in between)

In case of rant, break glass. (Then use it to slit the throats of any idiots standing within 100 yards).

With that said, there is nowhere to begin except in the middle.If you are offended by strong opinions and truth, you may want to go back to looking at pretty pictures on the internet or hook up with your "nice" friends who like to facilitate your ongoing whiny weaknesses that you've been milking for sympathy, attention and financial support all your life. The bottom line here is that a lot of people who call themselves victims also create themselves as victims - and with what turns out to be good reason. Hell, if I'd realized earlier in life that I could get stuff (including full financial and emotional support) by pretending to be sick, injured, mentally ill, or just plain lazy, I might have bought myself one of those patented "Victim Here!" t-shirts and hopped on that bandwagon that never stops at any workplace, and certainly doesn't make any layovers in Reality.

For some, the status of victim brings lots of attention, and you can always roll out that big banner that says (with great big tears), "Don't blame me, I'm the victim!" Well... how about this? How about not choosing to be a victim and watch how your life turns around? I'm not ignoring the fact that some people really are mentally ill or otherwise disengaged from reality - that's absolutely not what I'm ranting about here - but many (if not most) are simply milking the system and their family and friends for every ounce of energy, money, emotional support and whatever else they can get. No, I'm not an unfeeling monster. Yes, I know people who are legitimately "victims" of life. But I also know a lot of people who fall under the heading of Energy Vampire - and that's a vocation, not just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Where is all of this coming from? you might wonder. Life experience, for starters, but also from a lot of stuff that makes the rounds on the internet from time to time. I'm simply tired of keeping quiet when it has become an epidemic of entitlement, self-indulgence and self-pity. In reality, most people choose to be the victim because - let's face it - it's a lot easier than being strong, much easier than standing on your own two feet, and a helluva lot easier than thinking for yourself. It's much easier to blame others in the aftermath of your failures, as opposed to taking the bull by the horns and living from the vantage point of your own strengths (and you have those strengths - believe me, everyone does!) So when someone whines about how they have "been a victim all their life," it just makes me want to grab them and shake them and ask them why on earth (or any other planet) they would choose to passively allow their weaknesses to rule their lives, while ignoring their strengths.

Most victims aren't born. They are (self) made.

I recently read an article about "gaslighting" - but to be honest here, a lot of it sounded to me like the author was trying to assign blame for every sleight she had received in her life. If your family is comprised of assholes and homophobic rednecks, why are you still there? If you're an adult, you can walk away (yes, it will be hard, but that's why you learned to walk). If you're a child, you (hopefully) have been schooled in the fact that you can report physical or psychological abuse to the authorities (teachers, police, priests - well, scratch that last one...). Bottom line - if you're willingly standing in the shit line, don't whine! If you need help, get it - report the abusers or simply walk away. It doesn't matter if they're your family members, your best friends or a stranger on the street.  If you really feel you are being victimized, get the fuck out of Dodge. What are you waiting for?

But on the other side of that coin... whether you decide to stay or go, don't then turn around and blame everyone but yourself. Don't run your passive-aggressive self-victimization performance on those who have been trying to help you for years despite what you might prefer to believe. I've had more than my fair share of people (mostly emotionally needy women) come into my life as "friends" but as time wears on (more than 30 years in some cases) it has a tendency to turn toxic when I begin to realize that these women who sought me out for my strength (their words) are now blaming me for their own weaknesses. Or, more precisely, they are defending their right to be weak, and annoyed that I see it.

This has happened to me at least 3 times, and not in any minor way. In my early 20s, a woman in fandom (who was twice my age, married with children and seemingly settled in life) attached herself to me under the guise of being a friend/mentor. For awhile, it was fun - having an older friend who shared my same interests (Star Trek, fan conventions, writing, etc), but it wasn't long before things turned weird. I suppose that all started when she would come to my house on weekends, half drunk and out of her mind on prescription pain pills, and begin to throw herself at me as if we were lovers. And this was with her two young boys tagging along for the ride - inappropriate, to say the very least.

At first, I thought I was mistaken - being young and naive allows one to live in a state of quasi-denial - but when she would unroll about a foot of tongue into my ear and call me "Baby," I started to get the idea that it was a great deal more weird than I had originally imagined. Of course, I'm no stranger to same-gender pairings (I've been with the same woman for over 35 years), so one time I responded... only to later be accused of raping her (even though the "relationship" never went any further than a kiss, and not even a memorable one at that). Bottom line - her strict Catholic upbringing wouldn't allow her to realize she was actually a Lesbian, and so her only recourse was to violently and vehemently blame the person she had been trying to seduce for months. Chalk one up to Crazyville.

Is that "gaslighting" on my part? I don't think so, though I'm sure I've been accused of that under more than one trendy psyche term over the years. Point being - it was to her advantage to play the victim. Got her lots of sympathy from people who blindly believed her, and made it easier for her to run back and forth from the east coast to the west and keep a "Baby" in every port (or so she originally hoped). Smart. And hardly a victim if you look at it with clarity rather than blind emotional empathy for the one who always whines the loudest. She created her own reality through her own actions. She simply skipped over first year physics, wherein we learn that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words... consequences. If this, then that... it ain't rocket science.

There have been other incidents, more recent and, frankly, even more unbelievable. A friend of over 30 years abruptly decided to write me a "Go fuck yourself" email  - which was probably not a bad idea under the circumstances, seeing as how any real "friendship" ended long ago as a result of her own inexplicable actions (not once, not twice, but dozens of times).  Though in all fairness to myself, I'd have to say that her agenda in finally breaking it off  is every bit as transparent as her behavior over the past three decades. It becomes impossible for any real friend to remain supportive when you have seen through the facades and the childish, immature, self-indulgent games. So the only way to protect herself from the potential scrutiny of her family members and other mutual friends was to make a "first strike" tactical maneuver and label me as the tyrant, thus allowing herself to go right on playing the role of the victim to those who do buy into the charades. *shrugs*  I don't take it personally. It's just business. If those closest to her knew the real truth about her agendas and her manipulations, she would stand to lose a lot more than she will lose by just unfriending me out of her life. Hell, I don't even blame her. Just wish she would stand on her strengths instead of always falling back on her weaknesses. Tried to tell her that a few times, which is probably why I am now the poster child for her dart board. *lol*

Another long-time friend (over 30 years) also recently told me to go fuck myself.  Damn - I'm starting to need a tube o' lube for all that self-abuse I'm being told to inflict on myself, but that's okay. I'd rather fuck myself than most other humans these days, so now all I need is a new bunch of D-cells. They get the job done and don't write me nasty emails in the morning.  The thing is... the consistent complaint in these last two cases ultimately boils down to... "You're not giving me enough attention."  If I boil away all of the other self-indulgent and self-entitled whining and attempts to twist reality (of which both are true masters), that's it in a nutshell. In both cases, I was essentially told that I wasn't playing the game right. I didn't say blue is my favorite color (because it's purple). I wouldn't tell them it's okay to say one thing and do the opposite (that's what a yes-man does, not what a friend does). I just wasn't playing the game the way they wanted to play it, and that was enough to get me thrown off the field. That's okay - I'm not invested in those games anymore anyway. Happy to know that the only winning move is not to play. Happier still not to need consensual agreements with pretenders.

And yet, I always ask myself, "Self, is it you?" Am I a bad friend? Am I a bad person? Am I a bad influence?

I honestly don't think so, and neither does anyone who really knows me. (I've asked.)  I'm strongly opinionated (who isn't?). I have my own ideas about the meaning of life. If you want to discuss them, ask me. If you want me to change those ideas to suit your notions... ask yourself why you so desperately need me to agree with you. What it really seems to come down to is a bad case of false expectations - and it's easy to play the victim when you think someone owes you something, even if in your own mind. The whole thing about "gaslighting" as it is being discussed on the internet usually isn't about real mental abuse. It's just life. Not everyone is going to agree with you. Not everyone is going to like you. And very very few people are going to love you. Why you would think everyone owes that to you is what might need to be examined.

Keep this in mind... when someone accuses you
of "gaslighting," they may not realize
that by pointing a finger at YOU,
there are 4 other fingers
pointing back in their own direction.
 In common English, it's also known
as the cat calling the dog a hairbag. 
People have disagreements all the time, but in today's world that seems to mean crying mental abuse and running to your friends and family in the hopes they will agree with you and give you all that "Oh poor baby" attention you seem to need-need-need so very desperately.  As far as I can see, in most (not all, but most) cases, what that really points to is just one more manifestation of the very thing the "victim" is crying foul about in the first place. In other words - instead of standing up for yourself, you turn and blame everyone but yourself (making yourself the victim in the process), often pointing the finger at the people whom you know full well have seen through your games and your manipulations. Deny it all you want. Turn and point the finger at someone else if that's what you need to do - but it won't change who you are, and it won't get you any closer to who you might want to be. It's just one more diversionary tactic, one more dive into the depths of your own self-deception rather than any attempt to climb the very real ladder of your strengths. And if you want to accuse me of "gaslighting" for that, you go right ahead. Maybe it will make you sleep better. Maybe it won't. But one thing is true: you created your own reality and now you are living in it. You know the truth about yourself (and so do 99% of the people you mistakenly believe you've been fooling).

There are all sorts of other tangents I could go off on. Okay, you talked me into it.  In the same vein as "gaslighting", let's talk about triggering - another buzz word that's gained popularity in social media and especially in fannish circles. Back in the day of the first fan fiction, nobody would have thought to worry about being "triggered." The word didn't exist. But no matter. What it comes down to is that some people are so overly sensitive that they request - no, they demand - to be warned about anything and everything that might maybe possibly probably "trigger" an emotional response. And, well, frankly I find that a bit... er... crazy. (Hope that doesn't trigger anybody, but I'm sure it probably maybe possibly certainly will).

I mean - let's get real. If you are reading fan fiction - particularly male/male or gay romance "slash" - chances are very high that nearly any such story may contain something that is going to trigger somebody somewhere. Granted, if the story contains a violent rape with a Wile E. Coyote as the perp and the roadrunner as the victim, maybe I could understand. But here's a little fact that will probably rattle a few cages and trigger a few hate mails - but it can be validated if anybody wants to go look.  I have posted several of my old Star Trek K/S fanfic stories on Archive of Our Own, and the ones that get the MOST hits and the HIGHEST kudos counts are the very ones that have "non-con" sexuality, or - gasp - feature one or the other of the characters as a sex slave with induced amnesia.

So let's be honest - do people want to be "warned" about non-con, or do they just want to get off on it? Doesn't matter to me either way - but here's another thing. If you know you are uber sensitive to rape stories or death stories or stories in which boy-meets-sheep, boy-loses-sheep, boy-eats-sheep... then why on Earth are you even reading in a genre where you might run across that?  Do you expect pro authors like Anne Rice to warn you about all that naughty sex in those Beauty books? Do you expect Stephen King to tell you somebody is going to tango with an ax on page 329? What do you expect - and why do you even expect it? Where is it written that you must be coddled and protected, when you are going out of your way to read the kind of material that might trigger your triggers? Isn't that rather... um... naive? And entitled? And... well... here's that word again... crazy?

If you don't like what I'm saying here, that's fine. Unfriend me. Tell me to go fuck myself (I'm starting to enjoy it). But by all means... don't try to blame me if you are twisting yourself up inside because you enjoy the wringer. It's called negative pleasantries - getting off on being weak or indulgent or entitled. Sure - you can do that and maybe even feel righteously justified in those beliefs. But somewhere inside yourself... you do know the truth. And that is what's really eating you up inside.


Just to be perfectly clear... my comments here are entirely personal observations, and I intend no disrespect to anyone who is genuinely victimized, mentally ill or emotionally damaged. Life happens. Bad things happen to good people. My comments here are wholly in response to what I see as a dangerous trend toward painting oneself as a victim instead of turning and embracing the real strengths you have earned through your own life experience. In at least 95% of all cases, you aren't the victim unless you choose to adopt that label. You are the most powerful being in the universe. Prove it! Not to me, but to yourself.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Interesting Times?

As anyone who is serious about writing already knows, we are living under the shadow of an ancient Chinese curse:  "May you live in interesting times."

Where the writing/publishing industry is concerned, there has never been a period of greater change and upheaval than we are now encountering. The rules are changing by the second, it seems, and what was right yesterday is wrong today, and at this point I'm not even sure how much of the current "trending" is even legal (but that's another can o' worms to be opened at another time by far more qualified people in nice suits).  My purpose here is to shed some light on current trends and ask writers and readers alike what they think of it all? My secondary purpose is to appeal directly to Amazon - asking them to specifically consider whether or not the new pay-for-pages-read policy is going to be a money-maker or a potential albatross.

As many of you already know, Amazon has recently unveiled its intent to begin (as of July 1, 2015) paying indie authors for "pages read."  (To read a more fact-based article, please visit... The Telegraph.  There are also lots of interesting (and occasionally heated) comments following the actual article, which are also worth considering.

When I first heard about this, I was understandably confused, but also more than a little concerned. On the one hand, I said to myself, maybe this could be GOOD for good authors, in the sense that readers can generally tell by 20 pages or so into a book whether or not it is 1) going to hold their attention; or 2) reads like it was written by a dyslexic first grader; or 3) is not at all what it was hyped up to be in the product description.  So, from that perspective, I thought maybe GOOD books would find their way to the top (like cream floating), but then I realized... there are a lot of OTHER things that also float... and some of 'em aren't very pleasant-smellin'.

Part of the "logic"  to this new policy is that it will theoretically (but, hey, it was once an accepted "theory" that the earth is flat, but never mind...) pay more to authors who write well-crafted novels of a reasonable length (50,000 words or more), and "punish" scammers who write 10-pages and charge the same as legitimate writers. Okay - good theory. But... when you look at it more closely, it's probably nothing so altruistic at the core of it.

So when I began looking into the actualities of this new pay-for-pages-read idea, what it really boils down to is that even the very best writers are going to end up receiving less because it's a fact that a LOT of people have opted in to the "Prime" program (aka "Kindle Unlimited") and the word "unlimited" means precisely that. For $9.99/month, folks can download as many books, movies and music as they want. And what that means is that a lot of people are going to essentially "buy" books that they may or may not ever read.  In months past, the actual sales of my books outnumbered the Kindle Unlimited (Prime) copies 2 to 1, or more. Now... quite the opposite. More people are "borrowing" through Prime than those who are actually purchasing the Kindle books. What this means is that most of my royalties are (or were) coming through the Kindle Unlimited avenue, and those royalties will undoubtedly dwindle dramatically because - let's face it, folks - people are fickle. Instead of buying a book for $2.99, they will download it through their Prime service, and if they never even open it, the writer never sees a dime, even though the reader has the full book at their disposal. Seems kinda... weird?

Okay, so maybe they will read it. Or maybe they will only read 10 pages because, ultimately, people place very little value on things they did not really "buy". It's kinda like being handed a library card with an unlimited number of check-outs, no expiration date, and no obligation, so the books sit on the cybershelf gathering dust because there is simply no incentive to read them. They were "free" after all, and so they are without value in the minds of most.

When I contacted Amazon directly through our publishing company (Eye Scry Publications) to express my concern, here is a transcript of what transpired.

Eye Scry Publications wrote:
Subject: Paying for Pages Read?

Your new policy of paying writers only for "pages read" is more scary than not. When I opted in to KU and KOLL, that policy was never mentioned. Then, suddenly, writers were only paid if the reader got 10% into the book.  Now... THIS?  I have to ask - is the same policy being applied to movies and music purchased/borrowed through Prime? If a customer only watches 10% of a movie, is the motion picture company only paid 10%

The problem here is that - as always - writers are being short-changed as a way for the company  to make more money. Clearly, the company is offering a service to its customers for $9.95/month and since the service has now become popular, writers are being used to make up the difference - which is completely unfair, especially since most of my titles were opted in long BEFORE this practice was instated.

Yes, I know I can opt out (and I probably will). But I wanted to try to negotiate FIRST, since I have always SUPPORTED Amazon's treatment of writers and indie publishers. If I went into a book store and bought a book just for one recipe, I still expect to pay for the WHOLE book, and I expect the writer to receive FULL royalties.

If you have "oversold" your "Prime" program, you need to raise your price to customers rather than trying to take it out of the pockets of writers. Without writers, Amazon would not exist as it does today.  Please consider that. And thank you for listening.
Amazon's response...
From Amazon:
I'm very sorry for any frustration this has caused.
I understand you're concerned about the recent change in our KDP Global Fund calculation for KU/KOLL borrows.
Please know, we're making this switch from July 1, 2015, in response to great feedback we’ve received from authors who have asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.
In the current payment method, when a Kindle Unlimited customer chooses your book for the first time and reads more than 10% of it, their choice qualifies toward royalty payment for you. Though, the borrow will be counted only if the customer reads 10% of your book, you'll receive the payment for a complete borrow, not only 10% payment on the borrow.
Rest assured that, even if it takes the customer some time to read your book, we'll still pay you for the pages they read once they read them. For instance, if a customer borrowed a 200 pages book on July, and reads 20 pages in the same month, then the publisher will receive the share of KDP Global Fund for 20 pages on the month of July. Further, if the customer is reading the remaining pages in the September, the publisher will be paid for the remaining pages on September, and the publisher will not lose out the payment for any pages that read by the customer for the first time.
In some cases, the customer’s device might not be online, but once they connect, the pages they read will be counted. You will also be able to see total pages read and dollars earned from the KDP Select Global Fund in your Prior Months’ Royalties report.
However, I understand your concern and I've passed along your comments to our developers. We definitely value your opinion and will continue to listen and respond to our publisher’s concerns. We will make every effort to evaluate the information you have provided, and try our level best to lead it to program changes or enhancements.
It is always important for us to hear how publishers react to all aspects. Your feedback will help us to improve the selection and service we provide and we're glad you took time to write to us.
We look forward to support you as always.
Thanks for the understanding and using Amazon KDP.
It just seems to me (and many other writers I've spoken to) that this whole new policy is unnecessarily complex. If readers buy (or borrow) a book that they don't want, they have a very reasonable length of time to return it (yes, even digital books). That aside, I also find myself not completely trusting the software tasked with keeping track of how much a reader actually reads from here to eternity.  Seeing as how I get all sorts of ads for Viagra and penis enlargement strategies (and I'm not even of the male persuasion) it seems highly unlikely to me that computers can REALLY track whether a reader reads 10 pages or 12 or 2.5.  Big Brother is watching you? Really? Seems that Big Brother may be a bit myopic, since I also get ads thanking me for supporting the Republican Party (not!) and letters of appreciation from my own cell phone service provider thanking me for "choosing FiOS" (not!).

Ultimately, It's ALWAYS a case of "follow the money." I'm pretty sure Amazon doesn't work for free, so why is it expecting writers to essentially place their books in the Kindle Unlimited program and then NOT get paid. When the program was first launched, I opted in based on the contract at that time - and now that contract has been severely altered (more than once) to such a degree that it has gone from paying authors for their work to... well... figuring out ways not to pay authors for their work  Yes, writers and publishers can opt out of the Kindle Unlimited program and have their books only for actual sale, but in so many ways that seems like a drastically unfair alternative, since it is beginning to appear that there are more Amazon customers on the "Prime" program than those who might actually buy a book (even an e-book) outright. Cutting off nose to spite face... hmmm... is that really the only option here, or should Amazon perhaps reconsider this new policy? Surely there are other, more reasonable and viable solutions?

Instead of trying to punish scammer-writers who publish 10-pages of drivel, why not make a minimum-length requirement for books published on Kindle Unlimited? If you're going to call it a book, maybe it has to be a minimum of 100 pages or 30,000 words. And then there's the matter of quality-control - which is another issue for another time going off in another direction altogether, but it seems to me that a lot of GOOD writers are being buried in the mountain of garbage because there does not appear to be a way to auto-scan a book for "This is pure crap." I'm not talking about matters of taste. I'm talking about books that are one long paragraph, no punctuation, no comprehension of language, just run-on drivel that belongs (at best) in a 12-year-old's private diary and not on Amazon. Considering all the other cyber-spy technology, seems reasonable that some sort of quality-control software could and should exist.

Writing is an artform and also a creative right. But let's face it - much of what is written simply doesn't need to be out there for public consumption. In fact, since print-on-demand technology became easily accessible and the world opened up to "indie digital books," every other person I meet introduces themselves as a writer, when the harsh reality is that 99.9% of them have never sold a book professionally. Don't get me wrong - I'm not an advocate for traditional publishing. I've been screwed once too often through that avenue, but at the same time I see so many problems with indie publishing that I am inclined to conclude... we do indeed live in "interesting times."

I've also come to the conclusion that trying to make a living as a writer in today's world is ludicrous folly unless you happen to get struck by cyber-lightning for no reason anyone can discern. Mainstream publishers have cut advances and royalties to writers to such a degree that it would be professional suicide to go with traditional publishing, and now Amazon appears to be looking for ways to short-change writers as well. Personally, I think ALL writers should go on strike and just start asking, "Would you like fries with that?" Not a pleasant idea, but maybe the only realistic one. I'm tired of giving everything away to corporations who seem to think writers OWE it to them to line their pockets while our own bills go unpaid. It's absurd - but what can be done?

Then again - I just heard yesterday about Taylor Swift  forcing Apple to change its mind about its notion to give away a new streaming subscription service (free for 3 months, they say!). It was the fact that they would not be paying artists during those 3 months for any items streamed for free that caused a kerfuffle... and that's when Taylor Swift gave them a Swift kick... and good for her!  Too bad the writing world doesn't have someone of her stature to take this bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground! Any volunteers?

While I have always supported Amazon's treatment of indie authors and publishers, I am imploring them to reconsider this new policy, because it is really a poke in the eye to legitimate writers. If you want to punish the bad guys, Amazon, then punish the bad guys. The rest of us really are doing the work and the art we love, and when a writer and publisher can come together in a mutually beneficial arrangement, there's no limit to what can happen. Your new pay-for-pages-read policy may look good on paper, but the reality of it leaves a lot to be desired. There must be better alternatives.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Crickets and Cat Bellies

Spent most of the day on Monday and Tuesday farting around on Facebook. I ask myself why. The little voices in my head just laugh and say, "It's easier than writing and at least one person will probably read it, even if that person is your mother." Were it not for the fact that my mother died in 2006, the little bastards might have a point, which I don't want to acknowledge, but which almost every writer I know nowadays faces like a demon in the mirror every morning. Bottom line - no matter what we write, whether good or bad or potentially earth-shattering and life-altering - it certainly appears that nobody gives a fat rat's ass. Even the Ouija board remains silent, which only goes to show that my mother isn't even reading my drivel. I tell myself that perhaps there are no e-readers in the Afterlife, but who's to say?

I warned you this blog was going to be a trip to the dark side, so don't throw rocks at my window or tell me that I should "look on the bright side." Don't think for a moment that I am not keenly aware of my own complaining, as well as being keenly aware of my own role in the drama that is professional writing. And don't try to fix me, 'cuz I'm not really broken. I'm simply aware that the world has changed and moved on, and it may well be that most reading and most writing is rapidly becoming a thing of the past - rather like the buffalo, the telegraph and the mullet. I say this not out of bitterness or even sadness, but with a sense of nostalgia.

When I was a child, the only real entertainment we had was reading. Nothing like curling up with a good science fiction book on an otherwise dull afternoon after school. I blew through Ray Bradbury, Heinlein, Ellison, Bester, Asimov and plenty more. Read every novelization of the Star Trek episodes and whatever rare and occasional tidbit of fiction Bantam threw our way like scraps to starving cats. Because there was so very little of it, I started writing my own and eventually, at the age of 24, sold my first professional novel. It is generally agreed that KILLING TIME is the most controversial Star Trek novel ever published.  Rather than reiterating the saga here, if you're interested you can take a gander at a previous blog entry entitled "Once Upon A Mad, Mad Time."

Point being - a lot of us became writers out of a sense of genuine love for the characters we wrote, and a true desire to tell a story that would affect readers in some way. My horrible little Star Trek stories written when I was in my early teens were, of course, dreadful. But my friends loved them, and would always show up in school the next morning, eager to see if I'd written more. That was reward enough!

But now... in the big bad "real world," I'm no longer sure that a few friends saying they like my work is enough. When I was young and wild, living in Miami and San Diego, cavorting with the unknown by night and working crummy jobs by day, it never really occurred to me that a day would come when I would need to "settle down." I probably never thought I'd live this long. Good friends (and more than a few envious cynics) used to tell me, "You can always fall back on your writing in your old age! For now, go out and sew your wild oats! Live like there's no tomorrow! Be all you can be!" (Okay, that last one was probably an army recruiter I passed during my grand exit from the mundane world.)

But through all those years, I was still writing. Sometimes feverishly. Other times sporadically. Some of it was fan fiction. Other was pro. And to one degree or another, I was always successful. In the professional field, I made enough sales to tell me I was "marketable," and I had the strong support of some good editors, agents and publishers. In fannish circles, I had a huge fan following under my pseudonym, Alexis Fegan Black. In fact, I couldn't write fast enough to satisfy the hunger of my fans - and for those days I am profoundly grateful! Thank you to everyone who ever stood in line at a sci-fi convention or ComiCon eagerly anticipating one of my novels. To employ a well-worn cliche, those were the days!

And yet, I have to wonder... where are those people now? I have posted several of my stories on a large fan fiction archive, and have received thousands of hits and hundreds of kudos... and with every story I post, I also include a guide to my professional works in the same genre (usually male/male romance in this case). And even though I would think there would be some cross-over... there're those damn crickets again.  It really does perplex me that the same people who literally raved over my fan fiction don't appear to have any interest in anything other than fan fiction.  Nothing wrong with that - I mean that sincerely - I'm just sayin' that it surprises me and causes me to re-think that common condolence of 'You can always fall back on your writing in your old age.' Can I? The crickets are singing a different tune, and that's more than a little bit scary for someone who had grown used to feeling successful in most of her endeavors.

So at some point, I have to wonder if it's just a case of obsolescence. Has reading been replaced with other, more modern pastimes? Not necessarily anything wrong with that either. It's been proven that certain video games can improve hand/eye coordination and increase reaction time. But it's also been proven that those same video games may be at least partially responsible for so-called "ADD" or "ADHD" (whatever they are calling it this week). Even if that's true (either or both), I don't think it's going to change the way we do things in today's world. Kids are still going to play video games, and walk around with their eyes glued to their cell phones, and listen to music that the previous generation would have dismissed as someone having recorded military explosions... and our generation is going to sound like our own grandparents, when they were telling us that television would rot our brains and rock 'n roll would turn us into devil-worshiping zombies. Reading is going to become all but obsolete, and probably a lot sooner than we think. Sure, small pockets of readers will continue for awhile, but will probably begin to be treated much like those strange kids of my era who insisted on listening to Lawrence Welk just because their parents and grandparents thought his "champagne music makers" had a nice sound. You know the ones I mean - pocket protectors and beanie hats with propellers on top, and a line of bullies chasing them home from school every day.

The world is changing - and the result for me personally is that I spent most of this morning rubbing the cat's belly and marveling at the fact that cats will never be obsolete. Plushie was a foundling who was living on our carport back in August of 2013 - just a wild little half-grown creature who had once been somebody's pet, but obviously got left behind when they moved on. For awhile, he convinced himself he could live on squirrels and sparrows by day and run from the coyotes at night, but finally one morning he let me walk up to him. He spoke in a very human voice with a slight touch of a piratical accent, and said, "It's gettin' tough out there on the high seas, m'lady, and sooner or later that Kracken is gonna take me down. So whatta you say you leave the door open and I'll just find me a nice comfort zone there on the couch?"

So we came to an agreement, me and the cat, and now he spends his days lounging around the house and serving as an object of meditation on days like this. He has no worries. Food comes. He does not need to pay any bills or run any business. Certainly he doesn't concern himself with writing fictions for the other cats to enjoy. He simply exists in harmony with life - eating and sleeping when he chooses, flat on his back with his eyes closed and just the tips of his little white fangs peeking out as he snores.

What this says to me is that humans have really screwed up their priorities. At times, I feel I am somehow "failing" as a writer because my sales haven't shown any drastic improvement in several years, despite the extreme effort I put into it. And yet... how can something "fail" if it is already on the fast track to becoming obsolete? It stands to reason that as more technology becomes available every day, less people are going to be avid readers - particularly readers of fiction. I suspect non-fiction will linger on life support a bit longer, but between illegal pirate sites and dwindling interest in general, I'd give it less than 5 years before the "new humans" have chips in their brains and simply upload their interests the way we download things to our ipads and ipods and PCs and tablets today. Nothing wrong with that either. The world is going to change, and so are those who live in it. Unavoidable.

I was conversing with another writer today who mentioned she had published a book not long ago and was intending to work on the sequel. But she was reconsidering because sales of the first book were disappointing, and the crickets were doing their thing again. I was amazed at how closely this paralleled my own recent experience. After publishing my first erotic male/male romance in several years (Prince of Umberlight), I was frankly appalled that sales were so slow. That's a kindness. Let me rephrase. Sales were dismal. And even though I am at least halfway through the writing of the second novel in the series, I am seriously reconsidering whether it is worth my time and energy to finish it. Wendy (my life partner) says she writes for herself, for fun, for the sake of doing it. She is much more of an optimist than I am, and seems to genuinely love the thing itself.  Me? I like that old saying, loosely paraphrased... "I don't like writing, but I love having-written." But even so...

I think a lot of highly talented writers are questioning whether entering into a career as a writer is rather like going to school to become a telegraph repairman. If it really is a simple case of obsolescence, so be it. Things change. Technology evolves. Humans want what excites them even if it doesn't necessarily enrich them in the bigger picture. That, sadly, really is human nature.

So what now? Where writing and trying to be "successful" as a writer are concerned, I think it may all come down to getting struck by that lightning bolt I've mentioned before. I see some very bad writers having very good success on Amazon and elsewhere. And I see some very good writers languishing in obscurity. If there were any logic to any of this, it would be the other way around, but as Mr. Spock was constantly discovering, humans are the most illogical creatures who ever existed.

Me?  I'm going to go contemplate the cat's navel. At least that makes me smile. By tomorrow, maybe I'll be singing a different tune. Maybe the crickets will, too.
May 14, 2015


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dangerous Playthings

Just released!

Dangerous Playthings is one of those stories that rattled me out of bed in the middle of the night and insisted I must write it NOW. Do not pass sleep. Do not count sheep. Just do it.

It's been centuries since the Earth was struck by a comet known as Denizen. In the aftermath, an immortal named Merkinder has taken upon himself the task of teaching small groups of ragged children the arts of survival and civility in their new world. Willow LeBlanc is one of his apprentices - but as Merkinder is rapidly discovering, this wayward orphan may very well break his immortal heart.

Told is a poetic and literary voice, DANGEROUS PLAYTHINGS is a story that will haunt you for centuries to come.

Available from Amazon - and only 99 cents to buy!

Also available directly from the publisher
Eye Scry Publications


   The cracks in Merkinder’s window fractured Willow’s silhouette, warping and bending it like a funhouse mirror. Just as he had warped and bent her when he had plucked her from the savage shore along with four others. What had it been? 10 years ago now?
   The others had all gone.
   That was how he thought of his students, how he named them. Earth and Water were always girl-children. Earth he schooled in the arts of building and growth, while Water was the flow of knowledge who might go back to the humans as the new teacher. Fire and Air were the male children – Fire being the warrior and the hunter and the guardian of mathematics, Air the custodian of the arts – music-maker and mischief-maker, poet and priest of words.
   And then there was the matter of Spirit, whose gender was determined by Fate with each new tribe – for he thought of them as his tribe while they were under his care, living under his earthen roof, tending the garden, practicing dance and the fighting arts, and polishing their knowledge until, eventually, the ravages of puberty called them back to the wild, and, one by one, they left his home, never to return.  
   It was no coincidence that Willow had been his Spirit – pointed out to him by fate. Most of the children, upon being dragged to the shore and left by their parents to die, wept or wailed or screamed until they lost the energy to protest, or created their own end by calling down upon themselves the coyotes and the other predators who were never far away in the ever-dusk, a quick bolt from the edge of the forest to the edge of the sea. The shore was littered with rags and bones, child-ghosts, undefined wraiths who never had the chance to grow up, never the opportunity to earn a face. The blind ones. The ones who howled like banshees now-and-evermore in the night that never ended. At times, Merkinder believed it would drive him even madder than he already was.
   But Willow wasn’t like the others. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She wasn’t afraid.
Instead, she sang. Not in a particularly beautiful voice, but with an undeniable connection to... something.
   That something, Merkinder knew, was Spirit. And so she had completed his tribe – the fifth element of creation, the one who must carry the blessings and the burdens of metaphysical knowledge: the myths and the legends, the very soul of Rebirth and the bloody scythe of Death – for Spirit was the spark at the heart of all Creation. Without Spirit, the other elements might lay dormant for eternity.
   The word rolled over in his mind, faithful companion and savage trickster. The yin and yang of his tumultuous essence.
   He remembered the old world vaguely, though he had no idea how long it had been. Immortals told time by the rise and fall of mountains, the course of rivers, the path of comets. And, of course, Time had treated him strangely even before the coming of Denizen – when he would prowl the transient night and drink from the veins of the dark ones, the naughty ones who would otherwise prey on their own kind. It was his job, he had reckoned, the thing Nature had created him to do: exterminator of the wicked, prince of predators, king of the immortals... though he had no real idea why or even how he had become the thing he was back then, the thing he was still now, so many ochre centuries later. His maker had taught him nothing, and at times he wondered if that was why he had taken it upon himself to teach the sacrificial lambs – not out of any great sense of nobility, but because they deserved better than he himself had received...


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sorry I Sat On Your Rose-Colored Glasses

Lest anyone think the title of this entry is intended entirely in jest, let me assure you... it ain't. It is my belief (based on decades of personal experience) that all writers go through what can only be called 'the dark night of the soul,' and if those writers are truthful, it is a dark night that may last a lifetime. *ouch*  So if you're one of those card-carrying bliss ninnies who needs to believe all mosquitoes go to heaven and all writers eventually achieve the status of best-selling author... read no further, for it is my intent with this entry to disappoint you and shatter your false hope entirely.  Like I said in the opening post of this blog (Once Upon A Mad, Mad Time), a lot of the stories writers tell are horror stories - not fictions in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe, but true tales of dread and woe torn from the pages of their own personal journals.

The grumblings in this entry fall under that heading and it is intended as a personal rant - so be warned. If you want fairy tales, go to Disneyland. If you want some of the ugly truths about writing in today's world... read on and PLEASE feel free to add your own writer-tales-of-terror in the comments section. It would at least let me know I'm not talking to myself in the dark.

It was one of those mornings (yesterday, as a matter of fact) when I woke up on the wrong side of the coffin, climbed out of bed only to step in something that had once seen the inside of the cat's belly, and finally stumbled into the bathroom to discover there was not a drop of running water because a hose had been left on somewhere on the 5 acres. This meant trying to track down the culprit, which meant going outside at 6 a.m., which meant looking for shoes and clothes and the AK-47 one normally keeps on hand for just such occasions.

It occurred to me somewhere between one step and the next that this is all too common, and the words came into my head, "I'm just tired of the whole absurd syndrome!"

Of course, it had very little to do with stepping in cat barf or having a beef with the house-member who is obsessed with watering the sand. It had to do with... life. My life. And - in particular - my life as a writer. All of this came to me in a rapid flash of awareness. I was simply weary of jumping through hurdles and hoops (most of them blazing), only to end up two more steps behind at the end of the day.

Yes, I'm whining. And if you're any sort of serious writer, you can probably understand why. But for those who may not have reached this particular stage of annoyance and frustration yet, allow me to spell it out in a numbered list.

1.  Life gets in the way of writing.  Most writers have other jobs because writing seldom pays the bills unless one is extremely lucky. I won't even say "unless one is extremely talented" because - let's face it - 99.9% of the stuff in the bookstores (online and brick-and-mortar) is pure and unadulterated crap.  Talent would appear to have little to do with success, and so most of us work for a living and write in the hopes of maybe one day far in the future being able to at least supplement our day job. Point being - in The Real World I own a retail business with my significant other, wherein we operate a large merchant booth (Eye Scry Designs) at Renaissance Faires, Scottish Highland Games, Celtic Music Festivals, and the like. We're on the road intermittently for 9 months of the years, doing an average of 20-25 weekends per year.

So just as I'm sitting down at my desk, the phone rings, and it's a nice lady who says she was in our booth at a recent faire in northern California. She asks if I remember her (by her voice? on the phone?) and goes on to tell me about her mother's health, what kind of dog she owns, and finally gets around to why she is calling. She had wanted to purchase a dress from us at the show, but "evaporated" (her word - I think she meant "procrastinated"), so now she is trying to describe this particular dress to me (we have probably 30-40 different styles). By the time I finally know what she's talking about, at least 15 minutes have passed, and I am no closer to sitting down at my computer than when my foot was ankle-deep in kitty-pucky. She finally says, "So I was hoping you could send me 2 or 3 of those dresses so I can try them on."  Er...?  It didn't seem reasonable to her that she would need to pay for them. No, I should just send them to her (at my own cost), and if she liked them, she would send a check along with returning whatever ones she didn't want.  Er...?  Really? She was a good person, and "completely trustworthy" - but then, I'm pretty sure Chuck Manson would make the same claim to the guys and gals on the parole board.

But no matter. The only reason this is worthy of mention is because it is all too common - not just with me, but with just about every writer, I suspect. The world at large is a vast conspiracy to prevent a writer from writing.

2. I stole this book from you, but could you read it to me? As I hung up the phone, there were those words again. "I'm just tired of the whole absurd syndrome!" Out of the blue, I recalled an incident that occurred a few months back. I moderate a couple of large forums and groups, so it's not uncommon to get questions about my books once in awhile. One morning, I received a private message from a young woman who said, "I was wondering if you could clarify a few things from one of your books that I just got from _________. (She named a well-known and much-hated pirate site). I read the book in one sitting - it was really life-changing for me, but I don't understand what you said on page 32 about blah blah blah, and if you could write me back and explain it better, I'd really appreciate it."

Some days it ain't worth gnawing through the straps - because if I did, I would probably only end up in jail for strangling some imbecile who thinks it's okay to literally steal a book from a pirate site, and then have the big silver xmas balls to PM the writer and ask for a private dialog!

One has to ask - why are these pirate sites even allowed to exist? I know, I know, most of them are in foreign countries, but then the question must become, why does ANY country allow the outright theft of intellectual property? I've heard the age-old (and bullshit-based) argument which states that "All information should be free!" but as anyone with 2 brains cells to rub together knows, that's just the mantra of the Age of Entitlement Generation. They use the same argument with movies, music, and all manner of creative endeavor, seeming to believe that everyone owes it to them. One begins to wonder where their parents were during their formative years. Nobody owes you anything - least of all entertainment. Entertainment (including books, movies, music, etc) is a privilege, not a right. If you want it, at least have the common decency to pay the artist for their work.

And if you don't have the decency, you may want to consider the consequences - such as a $675,000 fine recently imposed by a judge in Massachusetts. Personally, I hope this sets a precedent - because until this issue of internet piracy of intellectual property is resolved, it seems like all artists are only fools, laboring to produce something of value only to lay it at the feet of thieves. What's the point? If you think about it, it will drive you to drink. And if you don't, aren't you just sweeping it under the rug?

I could go on at great length about how some (most) of these pirate sites even have the audacity to charge their customers some sort of "usage fee" - $89/year, for example, and you can download anything you want from their site. So, technically, these flagrant assholes are charging you for my books, so if you're going to pay for it anyway, why not go to Amazon and order it legitimately? It's not just my pockets you're picking when you download from pirate sites, it's also a matter of your own safety. Literally 75% or more of these illegal downloads are loaded (intentionally) with viruses and malware of all sorts. I once enlisted the services of a good friend of mine who is also an expert hacker, to examine one of my books that had been illegally downloaded from such a site. What he found was terrifying! I'm not a computer expert, so I don't know all the exact lingo, but basically he said that the text had been embedded with data-mining software that would slowly but surely destroy the computer's registry and invade (and destroy) every other program and app installed on the computer.  So - the cost of repairs or replacement of an entire computer seems like a hefty price to pay for what would otherwise have cost the reader $2.99 on Kindle. Do the math. It ain't hard.

And if you are dumb enough to download one of my books from a pirate site, don't ask me to explain it to you.

3. Use your head - just once. I'm tired of "reviewers" reviewing books that 1) they never read; or 2) posting a review based on some quality of the book that was beyond the writer's control. For example, I once read a review that said, "The package was ripped open when I got it, and even though the book wasn't damaged, I'm giving it a 1-star because it should have been packed better."  The book in question had been sent by Amazon, and probably torn open by the Klingon Letter Stomper at the girl's local post office. Neither Amazon nor the author had anything to do with it, but instead of figuring that out for herself, the girl left a scathing review and ended up hurting the writer's standings.

Sorry if this is an unpopular opinion, but I personally liked "the good old days" (she said with a doddering grin) when reviewers had at least some sort of credentials. Like... oh... maybe they were above the age of 11 and had a rudimentary grasp of the language. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes Amazon makes is allowing customer reviews by readers who are obviously reading at the level of "See Spot Run" or who base their reviews on their own personal prejudices. I got a review on one of my books which reads..."The story also contained unnecessary profanity but not excessive."

Er... the book in question is a male/male romance with all the appropriate warnings right up front. And to be perfectly honest, the profanity in that particular book is minimal, and so the question becomes... If you are offended by words, why are you reading anything at all? Okay, maybe that's not a fair question (but I think it is).

4.  Banished to the Island of Obscurity.  I'm tired of writing books no one is ever going to read - a dilemma faced by most writers nowadays, whether pro-published or self-published, print or e-books. Let's get real and look the tiger in the eye. Reading is rapidly becoming a lost art - and for many of the reasons cited above.  The attention span of most readers could be defined by what will fit in a post on Twitter. In a world where things like Game of Thrones and World of Warcraft and every lunatic on Facebook are all competing for our attention, most people just don't have the time to sit down with a good book And even if they do, what can a writer really do to have even a small chance that the one book they do read that year will be yours?  Personally, that's where I'm stumped.  I've done it all - from Facebook ads to Amazon ads to Google ads... and near as I can tell, I'd have a better chance of turning a profit at the local casino (and we all know what kind of odds that entails).

I've tried running free promotions on Amazon. I've even posted entire books for free on Smashwords... and though I get tons of people downloading them, I don't see that these "gimmicks" have increased sales more than 1% of 1 percentage point overall.  Sometimes I'd like to tell myself, "Self, just face it. You're a lousy writer and you'd do well to forget about this crazy idea of writing and just sit in front of the idiot box all day." But two things stop me. 1) Every time I threaten to do it, I have people telling me how much they love my books, how they will help me by reviewing my books, how they would be devastated if I quit... and yet... while I very much appreciate the flattery (seriously, I do!), even when I give away free review copies, seldom if ever do the books actually get reviewed; and 2) I have these stories in my head that I very much want to write, but after awhile, it becomes disheartening to think I am writing them only for myself.  If that is the case, then I ask myself if I really need to write them at all. After all, I know the story - how it begins, how it ends, and all the adventure and angst in between - so if I'm just writing for myself, I can do that in my head, right? Why waste so much time and energy channeling my characters and their worlds onto some idea of virtual 'paper'?  Save a digital tree.

5. Where have all the readers gone? (sung in the key of E-minor) I've heard authors talk about cultivating an audience, often using the words "one fan at a time," but that's about as realistic as building a stairway to heaven out of twigs and Oreos. Back in the days when I was a fan fiction writer, I had a rather large following. I've posted a lot of my old Star Trek fan fic to AO3, and with each story I include a mention of my works on Amazon, much of which is in the exact same vein (male/male romance), and near as I can tell, there is incredible interest in the old fan fic, but virtually no cross-over interest into my professional works. Is it only because the fan fic is free?

When I was at the height of my reading and writing phase, I would devour anything by an author whose work I enjoyed. I probably read everything Ray Bradbury ever wrote - whether it was science fiction, contemporary fantasy or even non-fiction.  I didn't limit myself to only the characters of Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade. I read the author - and I generally found that if I liked one of his genres, I liked most if not all of the others. So I'm still rather perplexed as to why there seems to be almost no cross-over from readers of fan fic to readers of pro fic.

It is a strange world in which we live. That's the only thing I really know anymore.


If you're expecting me to now retract everything I've said above and offer some sort of magical solution... I can only say that I wish that were possible, but that genie climbed out of her bottle and escaped long ago.

Perhaps the only encouraging thing I can say today (tomorrow may be different) is something I learned from my mentor. Loosely paraphrased, it is simply this:

Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses doesn't change the world, it only skews your own perception. It's only when you have the courage to see things as they are that you may have the power to change them. 

Of course, the "problem" (is it a problem?) is that when we see writing in today's world for what it is, it can be so overwhelming that it begins to seem that the only winning move is not to play. Or, simply, "Why bother?"

That's the view from the wrong side of the coffin for today. Hopefully tomorrow will bring new insight, or at least renewed hope. (That's my attempt at being an optimist... take it or leave it.)


So... why did I bother to write this?

Mainly to let you know... you're not alone in the dark.  There are hundreds and thousands of other writers right here in that cave next to you. I only only hope we all had a shower and a breath mint, 'cuz it's gettin' crowded.  

Stay sane... if you can.

My latest work of fiction, written under my
long-standing brand - "Alexis Fegan Black."
Available on Amazon or
Eye Scry Publications

Thursday, March 26, 2015

E for Effort, EF for Epic Fail

We were on our way home from the Phoenix Highland Games, I was shot-gunning in the front seat, half-asleep and bored to tears, when I looked out the window and saw a huge billboard. Nothing strange about that. The roads are littered with 'em - everything from Viagra to vampire movies. But this one was for a book, and so it caught my attention and caused me to give it a second look.  I'm not normally a billboard snob, but I did notice that the graphics were somewhat less than perfect, the readability was a bit questionable, and it didn't really communicate anything to the observer other than the title of the book, accompanied by the words, "A medical thriller."

Out of curiosity, I looked up the book on Amazon when we got home, figuring that any writer who would foot the bill for a gigantic sign is a writer who is as desperate as the rest of us to find his audience out there in the big, bad world. So that gained him some kudos just for effort.

Unfortunately, when I read the "Look Inside" feature, I was not only appalled, but outright embarrassed for the writer. While punctuation existed, it was clear that the writer could have used a competent line editor. Words that should have been capitalized weren't, commas were distant rumors, and character point of view changed from one sentence to the next, sometimes in the same paragraph. And that was only on the first page! The fact that the book had three reviews (all 5-stars) also spoke volumes - the writer has at least three friends or family members who thought enough of him to support him. That's great, but hardly a recommendation for anyone who went to the bother of actually trying to read the "Look Inside."

I've heard the old argument (usually coming from bad writers) that it's the story that matters. And while that may be true on one level, if readers can't even get to the story because of all the obstacles and road blocks left by the writer, then the story is lost and the book may well be doomed. But even that isn't the whole issue here - not entirely. As with everything, there are levels and layers, and if you want to be a good writer as well as a good story-teller, you'll go to the bother of learning the craft so that when you do break the rules, it will be obvious to your readers that it was intentional rather than just a blunder of unparalleled ignorance.

So here's the thing... I can admire this writer's tenacity for renting a billboard near a small town where lots of older folks live (folks who might actually read books and enjoy the kind of story this writer was trying to tell). But - if you're going to spend that kind of money on advertising, don't you want your product to be the best it can be so that you might run the risk of getting return customers? As it stands, if I had bought this book and tried to wade through its multiple layers of errors upon errors, I would never-in-a-billion-years buy another book from the same author. No, not ever.

What to do? In an ideal world, everything a writer writes would come out perfect the first time, a flock of doves would descend to carry the book to the publisher, choirs of angels would proclaim the book's publication, and reviewers and readers alike would sing the praises of the author's exemplary work and recommend him for a place in heaven. The reality is a bit different, of course. And no writer (no, not a single one) is going to be a good judge of their own work - particularly within the first year after the book has been written. Time and distance are the only things that will give a writer any sort of perspective, and sometimes even that isn't enough. I've re-read something I wrote 10 years ago and thought it was crap. And I've re-read something I wrote 20 years ago and actually dared to think it was pretty good. So the writer is the last person who should be the final judge of when a book is ready for publication.

Point being - if this guy who sprung for a billboard has that kind of money to burn, why not enlist the services of a professional editor? There are reputable ones all over the internet. There are also writer's workshops all over the internet - where other writers (and sometimes even editors) will help you with your book before you embarrass yourself right out of a career. My feeling was that the story was probably fairly good, but no reader with an IQ above room temperature was going to wade through the horrendous, glaring errors just to get to that story. And the sad thing is that all of these blunders are fixable.

And this raises another point. Whatever happened to having a good story and good writing? Let's talk about Ray Bradbury, who wrote some of the most lyrical stories ever written, and told some stories that still haunt readers years later. And then there's Anne Rice. Stephen King. And plenty of relatively unknown writers who produce some damn fine work... only to be relegated to obscurity.  One may ask, "Why?" but I sometimes don't think any answer exists to that question. It sometimes seems to be a matter of saying - one either gets struck by the happy lightning fairy, or one doesn't. It's a crap shoot.

But here's the rub: if you're a writer who wants to have any chance of success in this brave new world of indy publishing, the very first thing you have to do is to produce a book that is readable, and as close to perfect as it can be (with the understanding that nothing is ever perfect). Sure, the first time you read your book in print, you'll discover a typo or two. You may even run across a place where you left out a comma or added a semi-colon that's out of place. Minor details - it's gonna happen, and in today's world of ebooks, it's usually relatively easy to correct. But those kinds of errors (in moderation) are insignificant and usually won't stop a reader from reading on if you have done your job as the writer.

What's your job? Simply this: tell a good story with compelling characters, and - hopefully - do it in such a way that the writing itself is not a long string of cliches strung together to express an idea that isn't even your own.  Encourage your reader to think outside the box and read between the lines. Bring your characters to life through a thorough understanding of who they are - in other words, think before you write. As a reader, I'm much more interested in knowing why Joe is burying a body than I am interested in knowing what he ate for breakfast (unless, of course, he had an allergic reaction to coffee and became homicidal...)

And finally... if you are going to invest a lot of time, energy and money in your book, if you are going to rent an expensive billboard, please do yourself the service of having your book properly edited before you put it up on Amazon. It's the only way that billboard is ever going to earn its keep.

...and, no, I am not going to tell you the title of the book for a couple of reasons. 1) I don't want to embarrass the writer; and 2) you might be tempted to buy it and I don't want to be accused of encouraging you to waste your money.  :)

Carry on.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Remembering Leonard Nimoy

Someone suggested sharing "Your Favorite Leonard Nimoy Moments." Here's one of mine.

It was around 1985 (?) when I was invited as a guest speaker to a Star Trek convention, where Leonard was the guest of honor. As it turned out, the convention was somewhat chaotic. So I volunteered to be on the security detail and ended up backstage with Leonard while he was waiting to go on for his talk. For awhile there were other con organizers and hotel personnel running around, but then came a time when everyone just disappeared and I was alone with Him (yes, capital "H").

There was a grand piano in the hallway where we were waiting, and on top of it were piled literally dozens of gifts from fans. Leonard was looking at the pile, and so I asked him, "What do you do with all of it?"

Very politely, he smiled and said, "We donate most of it to charity." It was obvious that he appreciated the gesture of love and affection from the fans, but equally clear that he probably didn't have a big enough storage unit to accommodate all the gifts he received throughout the course of a single year. He stood there for a moment, then picked up a small box and handed it to me. "These will melt before we get back to Los Angeles. Enjoy."

It was a box of Godiva chocolates. Mr. Spock gave me a box of chocolates! I think I had a big grin on my face for several days. Best damn chocolates I ever ate. One of the finest men I ever met.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

3 Out of 4 Voices In My Head...

I left the field of fiction writing for nearly 20 years at the advice of my spiritual mentor (whom some might say is The Big Daddy of All Voices In My Head), and now that I have written a new novel (Prince of Umberlight) and am in the process of writing the second in the same series, I'm starting to remember why I gave it all up for so many years.

Aside from the obvious reasons (not the least of which is that my dogs and cats like to eat, and writing is not a reliable way to earn a living), I find myself lying awake in the middle of the night listening to the yammerings of a dozen or more characters, all of whom feel their story is the one that most needs to be told, and therefore I should immediately drop everything I'm doing (like trying to sleep), go straight to the computer (do not pass go, do not collect $200) and at least have the good manners to write extensive notes on who said what to whom, when, where, why, and what the outcome might be 6 novels or more down that long and winding road to Needle (as in - one more indy novel needle in a haystack of literally millions of similar needles). Even if the sun should rise before I am finished, the little voices say, I must not falter.

And so the sun comes up on another day, the dog is giving me dirty looks for keeping her awake all night while pecking away at the keyboard with all the lights on; the cat is promising to do something really nasty if I don't feed him, clean his box, pet him for a minimum of 1.25 hours without interruption, and groom him in the fashion every prince is accustomed to being groomed - and all in that order, please; last night's left overs are still on the counter; dishes are still in the sink; aliens have landed on the front yard and are asking for a book of matches (I guess they didn't get the memo that I stopped smoking over 20 years ago)...

And there are vampires in my head asking - nay, demanding - that I must tell their tales of angst and immortality, love and grief, ecstasy and torment, life and death and everything in between.  In fact, I have had to tell them I'm in the shower right now, just to have a few minutes to scribble this SOS on the walls in my own blood.

But be that as it may... (they will be on me again as soon as they realize I've deceived them!)...

From a writer's perspective, there appear to be two contradictory forces forever at war - the yin and the yang, the light wolf and the dark wolf, the agony and the ecstasy. What are they really? Simply put, they are the thrill of creation and the dark night of the soul that comes with wondering how to get one's books seen, read, reviewed.  As I discussed in one of my first entries in this blog, "Getting Found In the 'Other' World," writers are now required to wear so many hats that we just don't have enough shoes to match. Writer. Editor. Publisher. Cover artist. Publicist. Webmaster. Advertising manager. Chief cook and bottle washer at the nuthouse. The list is long.

Did you know that most of the Star Trek
writers don't get a single cent from the
digital sales of their books? One more
reason I have come to favor
 indy publishing.
When I initially released Sons of Neverland back in 1997, the publishing industry was just beginning to shift from the traditional toward a more general acceptance of indy writers. I had always been in the traditional markets previously, beginning with my Star Trek novel, Killing Time, but I embraced indy publishing for a LOT of reasons - not the least of which is that it allows the author to maintain creative control and to ultimately produce a book that is more in alignment with her own vision, as opposed to the typically narrow parameters enforced by traditional publishers.

Of course, the downside is that most indy writers (including myself) don't have the resources to do a large advertising campaign (or even a small one). Then again, unless you are already a highly established author, most traditional publishers don't waste a lot of time and money on promoting your book either. If you're lucky, it's on the shelves at the few remaining book stores for a couple of weeks, then on the remainder shelf for another month, and then it's off to the land of obscurity.  The only real difference is that indy publishers still have the rights to their books - so the book can be re-released and updated over time, and the writer begins to build a catalog of titles which - hopefully - readers will eventually find. Granted, it may be at a time when the author has been pushing up daisies for decades, or cavorting with the voices in her head in the nursing home, but we have-to-believe that one day we will be discovered.

 I could go into an entire diatribe about that, but two things are stopping me:

1.  The vampires have found me again and insist I must stop this foolishness and get back to telling their tales; and...

2.  It would be a diatribe unto itself, so best I should surrender to the vampires before I am seriously punished. What they don't know is that I'd probably like it every bit as much as they do.

 An erotic gay vampire romance...    Sons of Neverland - Available on Amazon!