The Kindle Unlimited Experiment Results

 

               For those of you who haven’t noticed, Super Powereds: Year 1 is back on the site. Yes, after 3 long months in Kindle Unlimited, it’s finally back in its serial home. I’ve gotten a lot of questions from folks who wanted to know how the time away went, and if it will be happening again, so I thought for ease it made the most sense to just turn the experience into a blog for everyone curious on considering taking a similar tactic with their own work.

 

The Experiment

                Just a real quick recap here, for those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. If you’re already aware of what went down, skip to the next section. Basically, with all of the Super Powereds audio books (of what is out in ebook form) released, I needed to do some promo work for the books themselves. And Amazon only lets you do that through Kindle Unlimited, which requires the book not be available anywhere else, and yes, free versions of serials count. So I took Year 1 down from the site for the minimum time to do a KU run, 3 months, back in September. Okay, now you’re all caught up!

 

Fiscal Results

                I’m not going into hard numbers here, but I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that managing income streams is a big part of being a self-employed writer. We have to pay some attention to what’s coming in each month, otherwise we’re likely to end up back in a cube, secretly writing between visits from our boss. And, in terms of overall gain, this was kind of a blowout for KU. There are two ways to look at revenue from having Year 1 on the site: ad-money and attracting new readers who go on to purchase other books from me that aren’t free. It’s quasi-impossible to measure the second part with any real metrics, so I have to stick with ad-revenue for the fiscal measuring stick. On the same end, with KU the main fiscal sources are the payments per page read and the new readers brought in by the promos or free KU reading options who go on to try other books. Again, pretty hard to quantify the second part so we’ll stick to the first.

                Now as I said, we’re avoiding real numbers here, but I don’t mind talking about ratios. In the race between ad-revenue vs. KU page-read payments, the only easily measureable fiscal metrics we have between the two, KU is the winner by nearly 4 times as much. Trust me, it’s less impressive when you see how small both sets of numbers are, but the point remains that KU does still earn a shitload better. Fiscally, this experiment was a rousing success. So I’m sure some of you are wondering why I let it come to an end. Why not just keep Year 1 on KU for good if it earns better there? Well, the simplest answer is that while I do have to be aware of money to keep doing this job, it’s not the most important decision making factor when it comes to my books. That comes down to the next part in the evaluation:

 

Audience Results

                As those of you who were around for the blog announcing this know, I don’t move anything out of the serial community lightly. I love that SP started and continues here, and I’ve never wanted to tear it away from its original home. But I have to say, I was really amazed by all the support you folks showed at me having to try this out. I was braced for a lot of backlash, instead you all understood that it was something done out of need, not a desire to drop the story’s origins, and I was genuinely touched by all the great comments and e-mails I got from people assuring me that it was okay, and you understood. In the whole three months, I only got one or two negative e-mails, and they were clearly from people mad at not getting to read a book for free rather than someone in the community feeling betrayed. I just wanted to say thanks for that, it meant a lot to know you all were with me on this trial.

                In terms of more objective measurements, growth for the site did slow down during the time when Year 1 was on KU, which was to be expected. It’s the first step into the series, and with it gone the task of getting invested had a much higher hurdle. That said, the slowing wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I think that’s because a lot of people found the site from the book on KU. I’ve gotten quite a few messages from people who found me through Year 1 on KU, then kept reading on the site. I know that’s anecdotal, but without any tangible way to track reader migration from one medium to another, it’s the best I’ve got to work with data-wise. Essentially, if you’re considering doing this with a project of your own, yes you’ll see some growth slow down, however you’ll also be reaching out to a big new audience on KU as well.

 

Will it Happen Again?

                Almost certainly yes. I don’t say that with a great amount of joy in my heart, but the fact remains that promoting books on Amazon is a necessity to stay afloat, and sooner or later I’ll probably have to move another piece of the series back into Kindle Unlimited to make sure it stays relevant in people’s minds. However, I’m going to try and pull something that doesn’t act as the front door for most new readers next time. Corpies is clearly the best candidate to fill that role, although I don’t know when I’ll put it in there yet. Hopefully it won’t be needed soon, as I’m enjoying having my whole series under one roof again.

                As for the main series books, I doubt I’ll ever put more than Year 1 up on KU. Yanking something out of the middle just feels… weird, and like a real dick move to new readers. Hitting a “Sorry, this is e-book only right now” hurdle on the first book is inconvenient, sure, but no one is invested yet. Getting that on book 2 or 3 seems like a bait-and-switch at the very least. That said, I do know the next time Year 1 will be going on KU already, and it’s during the lead-up for when Year 4 gets released (no, there’s no date for that yet, we’re still way too far out).  Once the last of the series is on pre-order, it just makes sense to have the first one free again. But I don’t think that will happen for a good bit, so rest easy. Year 1 is home, and is here to stay for quite a while.

                Thanks again for bearing with me through this test everyone, and hopefully this offers a little insight into why I had to give this a whirl, as well as whether or not it was a worthwhile endeavor for your own projects.  

Great Audio Books: Round 2

                With the holidays upon us and Going Rogue’s audio book not set to debut until January, this seemed like a good time to share some of my favorite audio books I’ve found since the last time I did one of these. I know you’ve got lots of traveling to do, so if one of these strikes your fancy them maybe spend and Audible credit on it and happily kill time on your journey. As always, none of these are ads or branded content or any of that crap, all of them are books I found and enjoyed on my own time enough to talk about. One note though: I don’t tend to like fiction in audio, so these are going to be memoirs or other non-fiction, but I promise all of them will be entertaining. Well, they were entertaining to me, anyway. And since you’re on this site, I think we can safely assume you have excellent taste in humor, so you’ll probably dig them too.

 

If Chins Could Kill by Bruce Campbell

                This is going to be a pretty easy sell for most of you. Honestly, I was downright pissed when I discovered this book; I couldn’t believe no one had told me Bruce Campbell had a biography that he narrated himself. I should also mention that it’s one of the longer books you’ll find in this category, the man makes sure you get your money’s worth when he creates a product.

                As you can probably surmise, this is the tale of Bruce Campbell’s life and career leading up to a point in the early 2000’s. It’s got all of the upfront honesty about show business you’d expect from Hollywood’s blue collar B-movie star, and on top of that a lot of insight into what went on behind the scenes of some of our favorite cult classic films. Not pointless gossip mind you, but real discussion of how some of the Evil Dead special effects were done, what made them take some of their creative choices, and just how taxing an ordeal shooting their first film really was. It’s great, it’s fun, and if you know even a little bit about Bruce Campbell then you already know what you’re getting, and you understand it will be quality.

                There’s an added bonus to this one in that Bruce has a sequel coming out next year, so if you listen to this one this year then next Thanksgiving on your trip you’ve already got a prime pick for something to entertain you on long stretches of empty highway.

 

How to Fight Presidents by Daniel O’Brien

                I actually read this when it first came out and loved it. I didn’t plan on buying the audio book since, you know, I’d already read it, but Amazon will sometimes do a thing where if you buy an e-book you can buy the audio version for a couple of dollars. I saw the offer, decided “why not?” and added it to my Audible library. Weeks later, hungover and in desperate need of something to distract me on a flight but too jumbled to keep hold of any long narrative, I gave it a shot. And hot damn, did it deliver.

                DOB does not narrate this book, and while I was a little bummed about that at first the guy they got was a perfect fit. He really added a lot of life to these tales of presidential shenanigans, a strong voice with a wide range bringing DOB’s hilarious words to life. For anyone who hasn’t somehow already heard of this book (it got a lot of press when it came out, and rightly so) it’s about the strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments of every deceased president in our history, presented in the context that you’re about to fight them. That first bit makes it sound dry, though I assure you it’s anything but that. Hearing the crazy, sometimes literally so, things our presidents did casts them in a whole new light, and it made me genuinely curious to learn more. If not for the cursing, I’d say this book needs to be part of every school’s curriculum because I have never been more engaged in learning about history than in listening to that book.

                Bottom line: you’ve got one of the guys who put Cracked on the map in top form narrated by a truly skilled voice artist with loads of interesting historical tidbits. It’s hard to go wrong with this one, in fact, it almost one my top pick of the session. However, that honor had to go to…

 

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes, Joe Layden, and Rob Reiner

                Yup, you read that right. It’s a book about the making of the Princess Bride, written by the people who were there for every step of it. And while Cary (Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts for those of you bad with actor names) carries the role of principle narrator, you will not believe how many people from the film are on the audio version narrating their own sections. Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, really just too many to list out. Basically everyone you’d want to hear from is on there, with the obvious exclusion of Andre the Giant, although they do tell a great number of heart-warming stories about their huge co-star.

                This book covers all of it, from Rob Reiner getting the rights to make the film, all the way to the luke-warm release and eventual rise to prominence. It’s a very contained novel in scope, though given its length you’ll quickly realize how much detail they pack into the story, and how much story there is in the first place. It really is a great listen, and the ensemble component makes you feel like you’re just sitting in a room, listening to the cast tell stories to one another. There’s a closeness in this book that’s hard to replicate or describe, but once you start listening you’ll soon feel it for yourself. If you’ve got a long drive and only one credit to burn, this is the book for you.

                …unless you’ve somehow never seen The Princess Bride. In which case go rent it right now, then buy the book for your trip home. Also slap whoever was in charge of your cinema education, because they committed a sin against you by not showing you that movie.

Covert Cocktails: Thanksgiving Edition

                With the pending arrival of Thanksgiving next week, it’s an undisputable fact that many of us are about to go home and visit our families, and while we all love our families to some extent, it doesn’t mean all of them are necessarily a joy to be around for extended periods of time. Especially with a recent election in which the divide between candidates was nearly even and incredibly divisive, chances are you and some of your less fun family members aren’t going to see eye-to-eye, making prolonged interaction all the more taxing. But have no fear, dear readers. I’m here to help you make it through the holidays by teaching you how to sneak enough booze to make the family tolerable without any of them realizing that you’ve been playing a drinking game where you do a shot every time you resist rolling your eyes.

                My longer-term readers will recall I did something similar a few years back, in which I taste-tested various booze/cereal combinations to find the best option out there. Today, however, we’re going to discuss more than just tucking alcohol away in the cereal, we’re going to find ways to get you through a myriad of different situations.

 

1) Get Cranberry Sauced

                Quick question, what’s the number one Thanksgiving staple that nobody ever eats? You’re right, it’s cranberry sauce! Well, specifically it’s the can-shaped purple blob that jiggles on a small plate, beckoning the daring and suicidal to spoon some of it onto their already crowded plate. Fuck you, cranberry sauce, this is the big eating holiday. Everyone brought their A-game dishes, and you think you’re getting space on my plate? Go hang out with the ambrosia, asshole.

                Sorry, might have been venting some stuff there. Point is, cranberry sauce is always there and never eaten, so why not make it work for you? Cranberries, like all fruit, can be soaked in liquor and turned alcoholic. Get yourself a citrus flavored vodka, or a cranberry flavored one if you want to be on the nose about it, and soak those bastards until they are bursting with hooch. Then use those cranberries to make a sauce of your own, or just toss them onto your plate like a garnish. Someone might ask you about them, maybe, but it won’t be more than polite banter at the very most. And even if someone does actually try your sauce, guess what? It will taste pretty shitty, because all cranberry sauces do, and they won’t take enough bites to get even a buzz off it. Sure, it does mean plowing your way through a terrible amount of cranberry sauce to try this tactic, but what are the other options? Sobriety or family judgement? No way, you’re above that. Just close your eyes, shovel it down, and try not to listen to your uncles and cousins fighting about the economy for the fifth time today.

 

2. Say Jell-O to Intoxication

                Much like cranberry sauce, Jell-O salad is a dish that is utterly beyond redemption, and yet will still be present at every Thanksgiving table across the nation. Some say that no one actually cooks the stuff, that instead it is brought upon us all as punishment for an ancient wrong our ancestors committed. What wrong? Shit, I don’t know. This is America, pick up a history book and take your pick. The point is, Jell-O salad is always present, and only eaten by those with trouble chewing, the ones desperate for the dessert course to begin, or you, in this particular situation. Because for once, the curse can skip your house, you are the one making the Jell-O salad this year.

                Essentially, you’re going to treat this just like you would a Jell-O shot production, only instead of setting them into easily shootable containers, you’ll pour the mixture of vodka, water, and gelatin into a mold, then toss in the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel fruit options. Now here is where you can get greedy, or play it safe. Unlike the cranberry sauce, someone might actually try the Jell-O salad, but between the awful fruit and the general low quality of the dish, they’ll probably dismiss the alcoholic burn of the flavor as you fucking up yet another thing you tried to do. Soak the fruit, on the other hand, and you’ve got a dish with enough punch to carry you through the whole day, but one bite from an outsider and they’ll know something is wrong. It’s a gamble, I won’t lie to you there, and only you know if it’s one worth taking for your particular Thanksgiving. Either way, let the Jell-O set, toss it onto a plate, and then dig in.

 

3. Hiding Sins in Cider

                Or Eggnog. Or Hot chocolate. The point is, most families have at least one festive drink that they like to make, one that everyone is pouring mugs of and sipping on throughout the day. Now many of these will be alcoholic already, and those are okay, but the best options are the ones sans any booze at all. I know, this feels counter-intuitive, but stay with me. If the drink already has booze, you can’t cannonball through it without getting a few sideways stares. If the liquid is virgin, on the other hand, then no one will say a word when you’re on your fifth mug by breakfast.

                The trick here is to be prepared, and to not get greedy. You’ll want to have a liquor on hand that pairs will with your family’s default beverage. So for eggnog, a cinnamon vodka (whiskey would change the color, and that’s risky business) or something cream based liked Rumchata.  With cider you’d want to go with Fireball since the color, scent, and flavor match well to the drink. Hot Chocolate is a tricky one: you can alter the color as long as you bury the liquid under marshmallows, but you’ll want to get something mild or chocolatey flavored to keep it secret. Point is: come prepared. Know what your family serves, and maybe be prepared to whip it up yourself if no one gets that train rolling fast enough.

                The other part of this is to not get greedy. Unlike the food tricks, your family knows people hide booze in drinks, and ever since you lit the Christmas tree on fire and tried to pee it out they’ve known you are capable of such tactics. The key here is to remember the day is long, and you don’t want to tip your hand early. Go for a little bit of booze with each cup, maybe heavier if you’re using something with a low-proof, but never enough to where someone could tell just from smelling your mug. If anyone asks for a taste, feign an illness coming on and encourage them to get their own, just to be safe. Slow and steady is how you make it through all these conversations and grandma dropping words that aren’t technically slurs, but sure sound like them.

                However you celebrate (or drink your way through) the holidays, I hope that you manage to have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Writing Lessons From Wrestling: Part 2

                Wow, I was a little surprised people actually wanted more of this, to be honest I left the door open not expecting anyone to want to walk through it. But clearly y’all enjoyed breaking down writing advice through wrestling, so let’s keep at it! And I’ll start things off with the topic I promised at the end of Part 1…

 

What Makes a Good Anti-Hero

                Anti-heroes have been a bit mistreated over the last few decades. Originally catching on with darker superheroes like Punisher (I know he predates the 90s but we’re talking about when he got over) and Spawn, the idea got pushed way too hard way too fast, over-saturating the market and forgoing much of what made the original concepts work. Nowadays an “anti-hero” is just a good guy wearing a trench coat with maybe 1-2 vices that they’ll shed during the run of the story. Angst has been used in place of good story-telling, and the character archetype has turned into something of a punch line.

                So, what makes a good anti-hero? I thought about this a lot, and the best answer I have is this: An anti-hero is someone doing evil/illegal things whose goals happen to align with general morality. For example, let’s say I live in the 1940’s and I want gold to buy a private island. I steal a bunch from my nearest target: a government safehouse. I am a thief. Now, let’s twist one element of that. I live in the 1940’s and want gold to buy a private island. I steal a bunch from my nearest target: a Nazi bunker. I am an anti-hero. Nothing changed about my motivations or actions, all that shifted was that my target was agreed by people as a whole to be a greater evil, and thus weakening them made me momentarily good.

                And boy, it’s hard to find a better case study of that than Stone Cold Steve Austin. Because, lest any of you forgot, that persona came out as a heel. Even Austin 3:16, one of his most noteworthy catchphrases, came about because he was mocking the religion of Jake The Snake Roberts, a beloved (at the time) veteran wrestling icon. But Steve Austin had too much charisma; the fans loved him. He was going over no matter what, so Vince McMahon decided not to fight it. He also, quite wisely, didn’t try to tone Austin down or take away the character elements people embraced. Instead, they just created a bigger heel for Austin to fight against, something nearly everyone could relate to: a shitty boss keeping a boot on people’s necks. McMahon made himself the biggest of heels, and specifically went about fucking with Austin. That was the bulk of how they made Stone Cold a face (yes diehard fans, I’m skipping some stuff. We’re going for bullet points here). They kept him exactly the same beer-drinking, no shit-taking, foul-mouthed Texan but they made his personal goals align with the general morality of stopping McMahon. They built a face on the idea of an anti-hero, and it became what is arguably one of the most famous personas in wrestling history.

 

Manage Your Pops

                A “pop” is when you get a sudden extreme reaction, usually positive, from a crowd. The most common form of this is the sudden appearance or return of an unexpected wrestler. Maybe a babyface is getting their ass-kicked in the ring, and things look dire, and then suddenly, after months of absence due to one of many injuries, the glass-break of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music plays and he races down to the ring. People lose their fucking minds, because you just gave them an unexpected twist featuring someone they love. Other pops come from extremely cool moves, seeing a wrestler finally get a surprise well-deserved win, justice get served on a heel, etc.

                Here’s the thing though: as amazing as pops are, they also need to be rare and unexpected. Remember, I’m not talking about slow-building payoffs like we discussed last time, I’m talking about sudden, often unexpected moments that make everyone want to stand and cheer. You can’t have those happen every match, or you’ll dilute what makes them special. Over-exposure is a big problem, especially when you have major talent, and it’s tempting to use them as much as possible to keep raking in ticket/book sales.

                As writers, that’s something we have to keep in mind when doing our story structures. Long, strong narratives with danger, characters, and satisfying conclusions are the meat and potatoes of story-telling, while pops are more like candy. Awesome and delicious, for sure, but if they’re all you have then it’s not going to leave people feeling fulfilled at the end of the story. I’ll use one of my own favorite pops in my work as an example. (Minor Spoilers for Super Powereds: Year 3) During Lander’s Crucible, a lot of stuff that’s been built through the whole book was coming to fruition. Story lines were finding their conclusions, and characters were getting hard lessons. But during all that, I brought back Titan for one scene over two chapters. His fight was small in the scope of everything going on around him; however, the views and reaction were huge. People got one of their favorite characters when they weren’t expecting him, and he got to show his stuff by whipping another strongman’s ass. It was a pop, pure and simple, a spike of excitement in the current of escalating tension. And that wasn’t by accident, with as heavy as those chapters were I knew we needed a moment to make people want to cheer. Shifting the mood, giving folks a moment to catch their breath, that’s just one use of pops in your narrative.

 

Recognize the Importance of Losing

                You know the greatest wrestling lesson that I think more writers could learn from? That it’s okay to lose. Your babyface doesn’t need to, and in fact shouldn’t, win every one of their matches. Not just through DQ or interference: it’s okay to let a face lose clean, to fall short, to just flat out not be as good as the heel they’re set against. Because wrestling understands a truth that I’ve seen many stories fail to grasp: the world doesn’t end after just one loss. Losing can be a motivator, maybe the face/character in question has been sliding on their training, getting more swept up in other parts of the job, and this is the push they need to get their shit in order. Or maybe it’s a full-on wake-up call: they’ve lost their way recently and a strong loss is a shock to the system, forcing them to realize they need to make changes. Hell, you can even go for the classic narrative: the heel is just better, and the face has to climb a mountain of effort to stand at the summit with as the heel’s equal. In wrestling, that would be represented by battling through the heel’s stable of cohorts, defeating each one, though with some more losses thrown in, growing in skill and strength until they’re finally able to put on a good match with the heel who squashed them. Anyone who read the Part 1 can see that’s a classic example of building to the payoff, and you can’t do it without losing.

                The same goes for characters. Your MC doesn’t need to, and again shouldn’t, come out on top in every single exchange, be they physical, verbal, or romantic. No one in the real world wins all the time. We admire characters for their ability to win, but we relate to them through their losses and failures. All of us have fallen short, have come up against someone so undeniably better than us at something that we couldn’t imagine catching up. Don’t try to sell us fantasy of being that guy, as a culture we hate that guy. Sell me the fantasy of being the kind of person who doesn’t balk at seeing such a wide gap in skill, who buckles down and starts climbing that seemingly unassailable mountain. I’m not saying your MC has to suck constantly, but don’t be afraid to let them face some failures and hardship. Let them struggle to reach a goal, put all they have into it, and then that turns out to not be enough. Not just as part of a build-up to a payoff, but sometimes just because that might not be a thing they’re good at. Losing is a crucial tool in the writer’s handbook; don’t be afraid to bust it out when it makes the narrative stronger. 

January Indie Book Review Suggestions

                For those of you who missed it on Twitter, I’ve decided to do a special event this January. Maybe it will be a tradition like our Halloween antics, or maybe it will be a one-off if nobody likes it. Either way, we’re trying something new! Actually in truth I wanted to do this last year, but life got away from me and since I never publically announced it, I just scrapped the thing. Hence today’s blog, as I want to be accountable for it this time, as well as get suggestions from you readers.

                Suggestions of what you ask? Why indie books, of course! Come on, you read the title before clicking, you knew where this was going. As part of the New Year, I want to give some love to fellow indie authors who are turning out great work and deserve some more eyes on their writing. To that end, I’m going to spend the next few months reading indie books, and the four I like the most will be reviewed throughout January on this blog. Plus, I’m going to feature that book for the following week on the adspace on here, so even those who don’t read the blog will have a chance to see it and perhaps find a new favorite book. I know my scope is limited, but I still want to do my part to celebrate the indie writing community.

                That said, there are a lot of indie books out there, and while I can sift through them one-by-one I feel like it’s better to take recommendations from people with exceptional taste, like the ones who read this blog. So, either by e-mail (NovelistDrew@gmail.com) or in the comments, let me know some of your favorite indie titles. If I pick it up and love it, they might make it to January’s big indie celebration.

                There are a few rules for suggestions, just to narrow things down and make sure the attention goes to the books who need it the most:

1. I’m only looking for indie, or maybe very small press, books. There’s great stuff picked up by major publishers all the time, but that’s not what January’s celebration is about.

2. I know a lot of writers follow me on here, so I hate to say this; however, I feel it’s necessary: please don’t suggest your own books. We all love our work, it’s why we make it, and I totally understand that. But there’s ample self-promotion out there already. For this, I want to hear from people who read a stranger’s book and loved it enough to tell other’s about it.

3. It’s fine if there are multiple format options out there (print, audio, digital) but they must have an ebook on Amazon to be considered. That’s partly because I think digital sellers will see more benefit from this kind of promotion, and partly because all I own is a Kindle so it has to be on Amazon.

4. This last rule isn’t even a rule, really, just a general heads up. Since the goal of this is to give attention where it’s needed most, I’m more likely to give precedence to great books with few reviews/low sales ranking versus those that are already doing well. If you suggest a killer book and it doesn’t end up on the January promo, it might be because it was already doing so well I didn’t think it needed the boost.

                That’s it for the guidelines, so start telling me what you’d like me to read. I can’t promise I’ll get to everything, but I’ll do my very best. And if you don’t have any to recommend, why not go try a few unexplored indie books yourself? Heck, take some recommendations from those who do leave comments. There’s a lot of great work out there, and I look forward to celebrating the indie spirit with all of you in January!  

Thunder Pear Publishing Halloween Party Memo

                Grant, welcome to the company and I hope your first week is going well. Below is the general staff announcement about the company Halloween party. There are a few bits in italics for you to punch up and add to. Make sure you do not send out this version, as it’s not yet complete.

                Hey there everyone! I know we’re all excited about the upcoming Spooooky weekend, and of course tonight’s Thunder Pear Publishing Halloween Office Party! Grant, put in a gif of balloons here or something. I want to seem festive. Now as you all know it starts at 7 tonight so that everyone has time to go get costumes from their car or home and show back up. However, after the mountain of reports we at HR had to deal with last year, Mr. Hayes has given us permission to put out some guidelines for this year’s festivities. Don’t put Mr. Hayes’s signature or anything on this, we’re being a little loose with the word ‘permission’. Truth be told when we asked he just slurred out a few incomprehensible drunken words, but the tone sounded positive so we chose to take it as permission.

                Now we don’t want to ruin everyone’s good time, so we’ll keep this limited to issues that have previously arisen, as well as rules that are in line with most office policies, along with the accepted standards of general human decency.

1. Please do not photocopy your genitalia. This applies equally to both genders, as there were plenty of pages of both sets on the floor last year, as well as a few of what we, and the police, suspect were animal… anuses. Jesus, I almost said buttholes. Grant, find a more professional word for anus and put that in. This is a serious one, as it counts as both indecent exposure and a health code violation. We all know Mr. Hayes demands the copiers be clean enough to eat off, and often does just that, so it’s really imperative we keep them unsullied by human, or non-human, genitals.

2. Please refrain from spiking all punch aside from the one being served out of a giant pumpkin. Mr. Hayes encourages freedom of mixology and provides the pumpkin punch as a canvas for you all to mix your various shines and liquors into, however he also respects the integrity of a classic cocktail and asks that you not alter the compositions in the other bowls. Variety is important, and if they all become “trash can cocktails” then people lose their drinking options.

3. While costumes are required and encouraged, please think of the comfort of your fellow workers when coming up with your outfits. The ten foot tall Optimus Prime that Sara built out of metal, complete with working lights and partial transformation, was objectively impressive. Go look for pictures of this when you have a break, Grant. I’m underselling it here because I have to, but the thing was for real fucking awesome. That said, Sara’s costume also led to a half dozen broken toes before the night was done, and one parking ticket when she drunkenly passed out on the sidewalk wearing it after the party. I’d say that’s hardly worth the $100 gift card she won for Best Costume.

4. Thunder Pear Publishing is a company committed to diversity and tolerance, and we certainly respect the religious beliefs of all our employees. We do ask, however, that any religious ceremonies requiring the ritual sacrifice of animals, or in the case of last year carving up a Honey-Bee-Ham covered in red paint because the pet stores were closed, take place off company property. True, we did short the catering order slightly, and other than a bit of paint the ham did make a welcome addition to the buffet, but let’s not take needless chances. I think we’ve all seen that 24-Hour live chicken store open down the block, and our janitors have said flat out that they refuse to clean up blood, bones, or feathers. Apparently Mr. Hayes was only able to negotiate that level of cleaning into their contracts once per year, and he saves it for the Arbor Day party.

5. Please remember that each employee is entitled only to a single +1 to the party. Last year saw a rampant abuse and disregard for that limit, and while having an entire marching band in our conference room was admittedly a spectacle that we spoke about for some time, the vast number of unexpected bodies are part of what caused the insufficiency of catering mentioned previously. One employee equals one guest, no exceptions. Except for the marching band, Mr. Hayes has personally invited them to return and catering has been notified. Grant, that reminds me, make sure all the break rooms are stocked with Tylenol. You don’t know a hangover until you pair it with the pain of eardrums that have been right next to a live horn section for several hours. Honestly, if we get any work done here before Thanksgiving it will be a miracle.

6. Mr. Hayes appreciates that many of you have grievances to level at him for the way this company has been run, both in the past year and during its tenure overall. And while he welcomes that feedback, we feel it’s pertinent to remind everyone that there is a time and place for such discussions. Specifically, it’s when he’s drunk enough that he dons a decorative pumpkin like a mask, tears off his shirt, and steps to the center of the room taking on all challengers. As always, should you best him, you are permitted a fifteen minute meeting the next week to speak on any topic you like. But, if you challenge him and fail, your pay will be slashed by 10% for the next six months. Quick tip here, don’t challenge Mr. Hayes when he wears the pumpkin. He’s not that strong or skilled, but by that point he’s so far gone into the drink that we’re pretty sure he can’t even feel pain. Someone stabbed him with a letter opener last year and he just gave them a suplex into a nearby desk, then brought the guy a drink from one of the punch bowls.

7. Feel free to use the free car service Mr. Hayes provides to get employees home safe. We here at Thunder Pear Publishing value the safety of our people highly. If, in the course of your ride home, you feel the need to vomit, spew, or otherwise release bodily fluids (Clean this part up for me. I want to cover the whole spectrum without going into everything that was done to these cars last year.) then the drivers would kindly request that you alert them, at which point they will gladly pull to a curb and permit you to do whatever is necessary outside their vehicle.

8. Despite what several people thought after drinking the punch from the blue bowl, none of you are fireproof, super strong, or have gained the ability of flight. We don’t know what Ryan made in there that gave people such delusions, but I assure you none of them are true. And yes, per general request, we’ve had Ryan triple the amount he’ll be bringing to this evening’s festivities.

9. Do not summon any ghosts or other spiritual entities you can’t control. After the drunken séance last year we got reports for months about an unnatural presence in Break Room 2. It got so bad Mr. Hayes had to send for a priest to cleanse the floor. Grant, while you’re stocking Tylenol, put out a bottle of whiskey in Break Room 2. We lied about the priest, no one affiliated with a church will touch this business, but we’ve found if we leave some mid-range booze out once a week the ghost is pretty cool. We think it might be a former employee, probably one who died during the Flag Day Emu Incident of 2011. Remember folks, ghosts are like pets: if you can’t control them don’t bring them around strangers.

10. Most important of all, please don’t forget to wear a costume. Mr. Hayes might be a half-drunken lunatic, but Halloween is one of the three things he takes seriously. If he catches anyone in normal clothes after 7, he’ll send you to the Hall of Lost Costumes where we store the outfits that have been found on the cleanup of previous Halloweens. Having looked in there recently, trust me that you do not want to wear anything that was left behind after one of these parties. The stains alone are enough to make one’s skin crawl.

Thanks so much for looking over this quick list of guidelines for tonight’s party, and remember, the one rule that stands above all others is this: Have fun!

That’s a lie; the rule that stands above all others is to never drink the punch in the pumpkin. Trust me kid, if you want to still be alive next week, let alone coherent enough to do your job, steer clear of that shit. Ignore the rest of us drinking it, we’ve built up a tolerance. Anyway, clean all this up and get it back to me by this afternoon, then I’ll send it out. Again, do not send this version.

From the desk of Carol Dempsy, Thunder Pear Publishing HR Coordinator and Halloween Liaison.

Supervillain Apology Letter

                As most of you reading this, probably in the papers or on your digital devices, are aware, I, Baron Baddington, have been ordered to write an apology letter to the public at large as part my so called “rehabilitation”. If forcing contrition seems like a fool’s endeavor to you, then congratulations on having an IQ higher than my wardens. Still, they’ve threatened to take away my cable if I don’t write one, so it seems I’m going to have to muddle through this. Apologizing for every slight and petty crime would take far longer than I am willing to devote to this task, and I suspect a great deal more space than most periodicals would allocate to running it. Instead, I’ll try to take a macro approach and hit the high notes.

                I am sorry I blew up a chunk of the moon. To be fair, I did replace it with nearly indistinguishable materials as part of my Moon Base Construction project, so aesthetically there’s really little difference unless you’re the kind of nerd who owns a telescope. And sure, the tides might be a bit wonky now, but you know who owns beachfront property? Rich people. Do you really care if their mansions get a little flood damage? …of course you do, as do I, which is why I’m sorry for the whole exploding chunk of moon issue. I’d also like to take this opportunity to assure you all that, despite public speculation, the area I demolished was nowhere near the historic sight of America’s first landing. I’m a villain, not a commie, and I do take some pride in our shared national history.

                I am sorry I temporarily turned the entire world into cats. Look, I’ll level with you, that whole plan was pretty much a bust from go in the first place. The idea was to make everyone into creatures that were easier to train and control, bend your wills to my own, and then turn you back once the conditioning had taken. Cats were a poor choice. If anything, I think I made you all more stubborn and independent. And if my henchmen were any indication, it seems like most of you were dealing with hairballs for at least a few days after the change back. Warden’s orders or not, I truly do apologize for that experience. Having to clean up after a few henchmen was bad enough, I can’t imagine what those of you with large families went through.

                I am sorry I took the president hostage. Okay, actually, you know what, if I have to do this then I’m going to give away a trade secret or two. Do you know how hard that man’s job is? Do you have any idea the daily stress and pressure he must function under? The president loves it when we villains swing through for an occasional kidnapping. We’re obviously not going to hurt him, holy shit no villain with enough smarts to actually breach White House security is stupid enough to call down that kind of heat. It’s mostly pageantry. He gets a few days away from the grind, we can negotiate a couple million out of a fund kept specifically to pay us villains off, and when the superheroes swing in to save him everyone gets a feel good moment, even if we villains do generally escape at the end.

                I’m sorry I summoned a netherbeast into this dimension and it almost devoured all of existence. Seriously on this one, that was a total fuckup. I was trying to bring over a demon to get some useful magical tools, and… look ancient Flertarian is a hard language. Reading it is a mother fucker, pronouncing it doubly so. So I may have fudged up a few syllables here and there and drawn in the wrong extra-dimensional being. But can we also talk about the fact that I helped to stop it? I mean, this is my world too, I don’t want to be eaten by the gaping maw of nothingness any more than the rest of you. That’s why I quit the cubicle job in the first place. No one mentions that though, they always say that I’m the one who let it in, never adding that my insight and arcane knowledge helped send it back. Whatever, it was my mistake in the first place, so I suppose I have to own that.

                I am sorry I turned all bacon into tofu. You know, I’ve taken a lot of high profile hostages through the years, but never has the nation risen up as one to demand my subjugation or appeasement with the same fervor as when I held bacon for ransom. Have to admit, I did not see that level of fury coming. Superhero teams and government task forces were being sent out that very day. It was a little scary, if you want the truth. I didn’t think you all had that kind of unity left in you, but clearly I was wrong. The point is, I overstepped a line, and I apologize for doing so.

                I am not sorry that marketed a brand of useful and inexpensive phones that released toxins into the skins of politicians every time they told a lie, giving them furious bouts of diarrhea. Yeah, you didn’t know about that one, did you? They like to keep that hush hush, for obvious reasons. Go hunt down some DC janitors though, they’ll tell you tales you can’t believe. It was, admittedly, not my most refined or high-brow caper, but I feel that as the lawless it is our responsibility to sometimes serve a bit of public good. In my case, every time a politician proved themselves to be full of shit, I simply tried to remove some of it. Is that really such a crime? Based on the duration of my sentence, yes, yes it is.

                I am sorry that I gave trees sentience. That part really wasn’t all that hard, they’re further along than most of you suspect. But when I couldn’t get the system for giving them mobility down, the whole project became rather cruel. Making an army of trees: proper villainy at its finest. Giving trees awareness, yet not gifting them with a way to run or fight back when people came to cut them down: now that’s just in poor taste. It still wouldn’t have been so bad, if only they hadn’t figured out how to scream.

                Now then, I think that covers the larger events of the past year. But I’ll go ahead and add one in advance: I apologize for the jailbreak. Perhaps having nano-bugs dig through the walls while I kept the guards distracted with writing this silly paper was overkill, although it was fun to reminisce on my more recent accomplishments. I’m going to go ahead and leave this behind, the warden can do with it as he wishes. If nothing else, he cannot say I’m not a man of my word. See you on the outside, future subjects!

 

From the desk of Baron Baddington, Esquire.

 

Did you enjoy this mix of humor, fiction, and super-villainy? Well, while Baron Baddington is a blog-only character, why not take the dive into a whole book of the brand new villains! Forging Hephaestus doesn't come out until February, but you can apply for a digital Advancec Reader Copy (ARC) today. Why wait until release when you can read it a whole month early? Click here to apply!

Writing Lessons From Wrestling

               I’m not really going to blow your minds by saying that I, a guy who grew up in small-town Texas during the 90’s, loved wrestling am I? Well, if so then put the brain splatter back in your head and get over it. That was the Attitude Era, the Monday Night Wars, the birth of the NWO, and the origins of such superstars as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin (yes I know both had careers previous to this timeline but we’re working from the point at which they got over). There were dark spots too, but overall it was a great time to be a fan, and some of my favorite childhood memories are going to see live shows with my dad.

                Today isn’t a discussion about my childhood love of wrestling or the stars that come from it, however. Nope, today we’re going to talk about the story-telling, structure, and general lessons that can be taken from wrestling rings and applied to creating a book or story. And, lest you think I’m doing this sarcastically or as a bit, let me say upfront that this whole thing is 100% serious. There’s brilliance on those turn-buckles, if you’re willing to look past the garish costumes and see it.

 

1) Jobbers are Integral

                In the wrestling world, there’s a term for someone who is used purely for bigger names to mow through in easy victories: jobbers. See, when you’re trying to push a wrestler into a new storyline, or get them over (popular) with a crowd, sometimes you need to have them whupping ass nonstop. The thing is, they can’t come out of the blue and start fucking with your other big names. For one thing, that messes up the storylines that those wrestlers are working. For another, it feels unearned and sort of pisses away opportunity. Jobbers fill that space, getting some experience and learning the craft in the ring while helping to push other, more experienced, wrestlers along in their path.

                And Jobbers are just as necessary in writing. Well, okay, this one might be more specific to action or superhero writing. Romance folks, you can skip this part. Unless you’re doing a romance set in the backdrop of pro wrestling, in which case email me a link to that shit today. The point is, every action-style story is going to have Big Bads, usually with one standing above the others as the grand finale for the book or series. Jobbers are what you use as you escalate toward that final confrontation to the Big Bad. Muggers, low-level crooks, general nare-do-wells, these are who your protagonist starts off against. They provide a good proving ground, allowing you to show off what the character can do, and perhaps make some rookie mistakes to learn from, while the stakes are relatively low and more forgiving. On the other side, you can use Jobbers for your villains as well, having them push through mundane law enforcement and maybe less powerful good guys so they can appear as worthwhile challenges to your protagonist. If all the hero and villain have to play off is one another, it’s going to be hard to really showcase either, and the encounters will get stale quickly. All of this is really important because Jobbers make it possible to do one of the core tactics of wrestling and writing:

 

2) Build to the Payoff

                This is a great example of what so many properties do wrong, and the real successes do right. They get scared they won’t get any other chances, so they put everything they have in the first film/book/season, rushing to the grand finale so quickly that it’s hard to even remember everyone’s names, let alone get invested in the fight. Wrestling, for all of its flaws, is usually pretty good about not doing that. When they’ve got an angle, they’ll let it run for a while. If two wrestlers are in a feud, it’s not a quick match and done. No, they build to it slowly, brick by brick. Helping fuck the other over in non-related matches, beating down their enemies friends/teammates/stable. Cutting promos calling one another every different shade of mother fucker. The angle is always there, in everything either one does, slowly rising until finally, finally, they get the chance to go at one another. But even then, its rarely a clean fight. Maybe it’s a four-man match or an elimination and neither gets a satisfying conclusion. What they do get, and the crowd gets, is a taste of what’s to come. Perhaps only a few minutes of them going at it before circumstances pull them away, but enough to show that when this fight occurs it’s going to be awesome. And holy shit, assuming it’s been booked right and you’ve got two people who know what they’re doing in the ring, when that battle finally arrives it’s the stuff of legends. What would have otherwise been a ten minute match with no build up becomes the sort of event that fans talk about for years, sometimes decades, to come.

                I’ve written about this at length in other posts, but not building up to payoffs is one of the surest ways to undercut your character. Not just in the action/superhero genre either, this is true for pretty much all genres. Unearned victory or triumph is one of the surest ways to make sure a moment fails to land with a reader. Sometimes, they can be so bad it actively turns readers away. The term “Mary Sue” gets thrown around a little too freely these days, but I tend to see it more lobbed against characters that win through no hardship and suffering of their own than those who, while objectively better, earned their way to victory. Go slow, build up to the climax, make it so that when there’s finally resolution, the reader is on their chair screaming like an insane person because they’ve wanted to see it so bad and now it’s finally here.

 

3) Doing Heel-Face Turns (And Vice Versa)

                Real quick: face is short for babyface, meaning your good guy/girl characters. Heel is slang for the baddies. Now in most wrestlers careers, they’re going to have to switch between those roles as the situation demands, because if they keep doing the same shtick for too long people get tired of it. You wouldn’t read a whole series about a guy eating cereal, eventually you’d want that dude to get up and maybe get some lunch. When done well, a turn (switching from face to heel or the other way around) is rooted in a good story providing solid reasons. I’m trying to avoid real life examples here for those who aren’t fans and don’t know wrestling history, but if you ever want to see one of the best face-heel turns, look up the Mega Powers exploding, Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth’s split, and then the eventual reconciliation that became a fucking amazing heel-face turn. That was one rooted in very human, understandable motivations and endures as a classic for good reason.

                See, here I’m not going to hold up wrestling as a paragon, but rather as a great case study.  Because they have so many turns in their history, it’s really easy to look back and see what makes for turns that work, and ones that flop. Turning a heel into a face has become a big thing in some stories lately, however very often it looks like a cheap gimmick rather than an actual character moment. Honestly, I could do a whole blog on just this topic, it’s so complex and interesting. But to boil down a few rules I’ve gleaned from watching many turns through the years: A) Always root your turn in a relatable emotion. Emotions are what can change people at their core, circumstances just alter actions temporarily. Pride, jealousy, anger, anything is on the table as long it’s something a normal person has experienced. B) If you’re going heel to face, it helps to have a bigger heel acting as a catalyst. There’s a reason “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has endured as a saying for so long. C) Don’t make it too easy. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and there should be some struggle to stay on their new path, be it heel or face.

 

                Wow, I’m pretty much done for this blog entry and I feel like I barely scratched the surface here. We didn’t even touch on anti-heroes, of which it’s hard to find a better than Stone Cold during the McMahon feud, or the importance of a character losing sometimes. Well, if you folks like this let me know and I’ll do a part two somewhere down the line. Leaving the door open for rematches is a classic wrestling tactic as well.

Planning Your Halloween Costume

                Yes, I know it’s only the second Friday of October, but even if it’s still 80 degrees in Texas it’s October damnit, and that makes it Halloween season. I’m not saying every blog this month will be Halloween themed, but I’m not saying they won’t be either. Let’s be real, I don’t put that much planning into the blog section, and I think that spontaneity makes it more fun. That’s the excuse we’re going with this week, anyway.

                Now, to actually get to the topic at hand, I love dressing up for Halloween. Well, truthfully I pretty much love costumes in general. There’s a reason I did so well at theatre for so long after all. Costumes are just fun, and while some years I like to do really intricate ones with lots of pieces and effort, sometimes it’s great to pick something simple and really run with it. To illustrate, I have devil and pirate costumes with at least six pieces each, but last year I dressed up as a giant beer. It was what I was in the mood for, and I had loads of fun doing that. Aside from general inspiration, you need to really put some thought into your Halloween outfit selection to maximize overall enjoyment. These are the rules I employ to make sure my favorite night of the year goes as well as possible.

 

1) Know Your Activity

                There are a lot of different themes and variations in the categories of what you’re going to be doing on the most party-tastic night of the year, but generally they can all be classified into one of three categories: Party, Bars, and Outdoor. Maybe it’s a house party, or a jam at a local movie joint doing a scary film marathon. Perhap your outdoors plans involve taking children (hopefully your own) around to Trick or Treat, or going out to a haunted hayride. Bars… there’s really only so much variety there. The point is, you need to have a game plan as far in advance as you can. And yes, life changes, so make backups, but try to keep them in the same general category. It makes a big difference in planning your outfit.

                If I’m doing a Party night, for example, then I can wear some more elaborate shit, including costume shoes that are uncomfortable but look awesome, because I know there will be places to sit whenever needed. Bar or Outdoors, you better believe I’m making a selection that gives me comfy feet, because I’m past 30 and that’s now officially something I’m old enough to complain about. Doing a Bar means keeping a costume sleek and easy, since you’ll be packed tight and don’t need to be bumping into people all night, but if you’re doing something Outdoors then you can do crazy shit that stretches out a bit. Just make sure you can run and drive in that outfit however, as nobody likes waiting ten minutes for the guy dressed like a dragon-human hybrid to get his tail in position so we can finally start the car and get moving.

                Point is, know your desired category, talk with your friends ahead of time, put out feelers wide, and make choices that give you the Halloween you want so you can dress for it.

 

2) Know Your Climate

                Now I say climate, not weather, because no one can really predict the weather very far in advance. Fun Fact: I used to work with meteorologists, and they would refer to predictions more than 5 days out as “throwing bones” because if you used chicken bones to predict what the weather would be, it was about as accurate. However, you do know your area, so there are some general possibilities you should be able to brace for. If you live in the North, pick a costume that either incorporates a coat or can fit under one. If you live in Seattle, assume you’ll get rained on the minute you leave the house. If you live in Colorado, do not dress like any kind of junk food because that fog isn’t clouds and you don’t need a stoner trying to take a bite out of you. And, if you’re like me and live in Texas, you know to make either two costumes, or something highly changeable.

                In Texas, we do get semi-chilly falls/winters. Not what anyone above the Mason-Dixon would consider cold, but enough that having exposed skin while walking around for hours makes for a shitty time. The thing is, we never really know when the cold will hit. Sometimes it’s in November, sometimes it’s in September, and often it’s midway through October. But until it comes, we don’t know if it will be here for Halloween, which means having a costume that’s good for both warm and cold weather. Of course, this is only really relevant if you are spending the night doing something from the Bars and Outdoors category, however it’s still wise to plan close to the right edge of the temperature spectrum. Life takes weird turns, and it never hurts to have a jacket accessory if yours leads you out into the cold.

 

3) Keep It Comfy

                I know a lot of you, especially the younger ones, are going to ignore this bit and that’s why I saved it for last. Yes, there is a time when you can pick a costume that straps you in tight or leaves most of your torso exposed to open air, but sooner or later you’re going to reach a point where the endless discomfort is just no longer worth it. Once you arrive at that point, come back here and consider this simple strategy: keep it as comfortable as possible.

                I’m not saying you can’t do fun characters, but I am suggesting that you perhaps put your outfit together with more care than just grabbing something cheap from Spirit and hoping it fits. Don’t break the bank, thrift shops are still all over the place and sewing isn’t that hard to learn some basics on. Or, if you have lots of cash, just custom buy the shit you need. Point is, pick an ensemble that you can lounge, walk, or drink comfortably in, depending on your exact plans. Choosing something enjoyable to wear will make it easier to press on later into the night, when otherwise sore feet or bunches of ill-placed fabric might drive you to call it done early. With comfort on your side, you can really push your Halloween for all it’s worth, and that’s important. We only get so many in this life, don’t waste one having to constantly adjust the poorly fastened waistband of sheer-fabric costume pants.

                Personally, I think this year I’m going to dress as Bob from Bob’s Burgers. Gray sweatpants, comfy shoes, and the ability to carry around emergency burgers that are technically thematic.  It’s no giant beer outfit, but I do think it will be a lot of fun. If you’ve already got yours picked out, share it in the comments below! Maybe some of our folks still pondering will get ideas.

Let's Guess What I'm Doing!

                For those of you who have been reading the blogs, listening to the announcements, or really just paying attention in any capacity, you know that right now (assuming you read this on release and not afterward like some crazy person) Future Drew, or FD when I feel lazy, is in New Orleans at CONtraflow. Well, he’s Future Drew to me, Present Drew to all of you… wow this got really complicated before we even left the first paragraph.

                Anyway, the point is that right now FD is in New Orleans, hanging out with the rest of the Authors & Dragons crowd, ready to have a ton of fun at this Con. And while reason, logic, and my fifth therapist all advise against it, I thought it might be fun to try and guess what that asshole is up to. Remember, he got in on Thursday night, which means he’s waking up either hungover as all hell or still drunk. Still sleeping is out, I can never sleep late even after a night of boozing. With those two caveats in place, it’s time for wild conjecture about what FD is up to!

 

1) After a night of drunken debauchery on Bourbon Street, FD has now woken up on a gambling boat slowly making its way up and down the Mississippi River. He’s realized that nearly all his cash has been used up, meaning he’s going to have to win enough money to pay for a ticket back to New Orleans in time. Maybe he befriends a down and out riverboat magician who teaches him the tricks to counting cards, besting others in a tournament of gambling before ultimately arriving back in New Orleans just in time for CONtraflow’s opening ceremonies. He leaves the riverboat richer in both heart and wallet, but stops off for just one drink on Bourbon to celebrate his victory. Two hours later, he arrives at the con in an elaborate chicken costume. No one knows where he got it, including him.

 

2) Future Drew has awoken to find himself surrounded by massive, dead-eyed creatures that stare at him from the endless shadows. He searches in vain for escape, but there is only more monsters at every turn. They stare at him, silent, huge, and looming. FD wonders if they are judging him. Perhaps he drank too much and passed away, and this horrifying space is where his final destination in the afterlife will be determined. Within a few hours, FD has set up an elaborate religion to these silent dead-eyed creatures, complete with prayer rituals and plans for a sacrifice, if he can ever find anything else living in the space. They are unmoved. FD wails and gnashes his teeth, and begins to wonder if perhaps his test is not to worship these monsters, but to best them. Just as he readies himself to attack, light floods the warehouse as a door outside is finally opened. Turns out FD had just gotten drunk and wandered into a storage warehouse for Mardi Gras floats. Realizing his mistake, he bolts out before anyone can find the hieroglyphics he smeared on the floor using feces.

Sidenote: I know this is all meant in silly fun, but holy crap I am not wrong about how creepy those storage areas look in the dark. That shit gave me nightmares for weeks as a kid.

 

3) FD went on a walking ghost tour and brought along some spirits (wink, nudge, wink) of his own. When nature called, he accidentally urinated on what he thought was a wall but was actually part of a gravestone. Having offended the lost souls of the graveyard, they yanked FD from his body and gave him only until the sun rose to earn his way back to the land of the living. Rather than messing with that bullshit, FD just pointed off to the side and yelled “Look over there!” and while the ghosts were distracted he jumped back into his body and ran like hell. Upside to dealing with old ghosts: tricks we all take for granted are still fresh to them. After that near miss, FD called it a night, only to find the ghosts waiting for him at the hotel. But then he woke up in a cold sweat, taking solace that it was just a dream. …or was it?

Yes, it was.

Probably.

 

4) FD came into possession of an ancient trinket (he might have drunkenly robbed a voodoo shop) that makes his wishes come true, but with a terrrrrrible price. For example, midway through the night he ran out of booze, so he wished for more beer. And the trinket gave him beer, but it was (insert dramatic music here) a 30-pack of Keystone. Oh what warped depravity, truly only a monster could do such a thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, FD still drank it. Beer is beer after all, and after the first ten you can’t even taste it that much. That was last night though, this morning he’s on the phone with some friends who practice law, trying to work out exact wording to make sure his next few wishes will have predictable and easily fixable bad consequences. What, you thought he’d throw it away? Fuck that shit, bad wishes are still worlds better than no wishes. He’s just got to put a little thought into what he says first. Oh… but he’s drinking mimosas while he takes these notes, so thinking is about to go out the window. Okay, if he accidentally does a wish that ends the world, that’s a bad call, he’ll take the blame for that one.

 

5) Future Drew is currently leading a parade through the streets of downtown New Orleans. He doesn’t remember how he got into this position, only that he’s holding a baton, people keep following him, there’s a brass band playing, and every time he holds a hand out someone slaps a beer into it. Slowly, FD will lead them through the city, drawing attention of local then national media as the parade swells in size, eventually winding its way to CONtraflow in time for Opening Ceremonies. FD will then, like the runner of the original marathon, keel over on the ground, his task complete. He won’t be dead though, he just needs like an hour, hour and a half power nap, then he’ll be up and good to go in time for festivities.

 

                Whichever of these futures, if any, occur (I’m betting on 2 personally) Future Drew will be at his panels and the Authors & Dragons table through the weekend, ready to say hello and shake the hands of all who make it. If you come up and ask, I’ll even tell you which prediction came true.

Know When to Fold 'Em

               In many ways, the ending to a book, show, or movie series is as important as the sum of everything that came before it. While a strong finish will give the fans a sense of closure, even as they have to say goodbye to their favorite characters, a weak one can tarnish and even sour the series they loved up until that point. And there are, admittedly, a lot of ways that can happen. Poor choices get made, bad ideas linger longer than they should, and, in the instances we’re going to be talking about here, creators simply keep the series going for too long to be able to have any sort of satisfying conclusion.

                It’s the danger of success, and a shockingly easy trap to fall into for creators on any level. People love your work, it selling/getting renewed/getting greenlit, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to wind things down. And, to be clear, not every type of work needs that strong ending. The Simpsons, for example, can more or less run indefinitely (regardless of what people say about post-season nine quality) because of its nature. It’s a show that is highly episodic, with very light continuity, and no central theme or story running through the narrative. If I go watch a random episode from the last season, having not seen any for a year, I’m going to immediately know what’s going on and require no recap.

                But we’re not talking about the Simpsons today. I mean, aside from the part above where we did just that. No, this is a conversation related to pieces of media with an over-arching plot that starts at the beginning and is only wrapped up at the end. One that hit it out of the park, one that faltered by staying too long, and one that somehow managed to do both. Because the ending is hard, and shutting your own work down in the face of success is even harder, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do for the work and the fans, even if it seems crazy in the moment.

                Let’s start with the one that hit it out of the park: Gravity Falls. Now Gravity Falls only lasted two seasons, though you wouldn’t know that from how much merchandise, fan costumes, and general internet presence the show has. There’s so much hype and exposure that it feels like it’s been around for decades. But nope, just the two seasons. Despite the fact that it’s success easily would have justified dragging it out for another five, and I have no doubt they’d have been renewed all along the way, creator Alex Hirsch came in with a narrative in mind and he told it in two seasons. Then he let it end. And honestly, without going into spoilers, the show went from being great to a classic on the strength of that ending. It was potent, powerful, and closed out all the major plot threads that had been raised at the start of the series. It made Gravity Falls a strong show all the way through, from start to finish, and that’s no small feat. Nor is it one that could have happened if the show had limped on for extra seasons, padding out the core narrative with hastily slapped on ideas, like, oh I don’t know…

                The one that faltered: Lost. Now I know Lost is sort of cultural joke these days, but it’s easy to forget that the show started with so much momentum. Well-deserved, too. Go back and watch the pilot, and try to push everything you know about what’s to come from your mind. What you’ll see is a show nearly drowning in talent and potential. And drown is exactly what it did. A show that, according to interviews, was conceived of with a tight storyline and a planned number of seasons (although they apparently didn’t actually know how they would answer every question they raised) got ballooned out to an unwieldy length because ABC wanted as much as could be made.

                So Lost was stretched, the core narrative paced back, new storylines that were never part of the initial plan brought in, a few powerfully planned seasons had their elements sliced up to go twice as far, and… well, now Lost is pretty much a cultural joke. The thing is, as much shit as the ending to the show gets, and given that the entire final season is sort of the finale it’s well-deserved, I don’t know that they could have done much better if they got a mulligan on just that episode. By that point, the story had swollen so large and the over-arching plot was lost in the swirl of lesser-narratives. It ran too long for its own good, and the ending is really a reflection of that.

                Which brings us to the last example, the one that managed to both close strong and then stretch too far. Now listen, I know the knee-jerk reaction to this one will be to punch your screen, but hold that fist and hear me out first. Okay, you ready? The one that both nailed the ending and then dragged on too long is… Harry Potter.

                Look, first seven books? Great ending. Rowling crushed it. Sacrifice, growth, duty, light versus dark, final epic battle that had been teased from book one, and a happy ending about life moving on. She checked all the boxes so hard they should have lit the name Harry Potter on fire and never permitted anyone to write it down again. But then, the Cursed Child came out. And let me save you the trouble of rushing to the comments, I know it wasn’t a true Rowling work, but to that I have 2 replies: 1) It’s her property, and she allowed it to happen. 2) Go look at the cover and tell me anyone who doesn’t read interviews and stories about this book is going to realize it isn’t all written by her. The billing sure makes it look that way.

                Doing my best to avoid spoilers, Cursed Child has a fair amount of issues that have been documented in various places on the web, but the criticism that seems to echo the loudest from all around is that it severely weakens the original series’ ending. Ron, Hermione, and Harry aren’t as happy and cool and well-off as we’d all imagined them to be, because of course they aren’t. This is a book about people’s lives, and Happily Ever After only exists when the story stops. The minute you tell more you have to add flaws and issues to create tension with relatable characters. It’s a necessity of the medium, yet it made a lot of people deeply unhappy. Why? Because with its existence, the end of Book 7, that badass closing that put a cap on the tale we’d been reveling in for years, became an act break instead of a real ending. And the instant we saw what the Cursed Child had to offer, we knew the new ending wouldn’t be even close to the same level as what we’d had. Now you can debate the technical accuracy of this since Cursed Child is, I think, loosely canon at best, but the point stands that people picked it up see what happened to Harry Potter, and many quickly regretted it.

                The purpose to all of this discussion, because shockingly I do have a planned ending in a blog about endings, is that as creators we have to keep in mind the trade-off that comes with pushing a story past the limits it was designed for. And here, at last, I’ll talk about it in personal terms. Super Powereds is far and away my best selling series. It launched my writing career, and is what a big majority of my readers know me for. In the past year, as I started on Year 4, it has been very tempting to try and stretch this out a little more. Add in some intern years, or have something happen that holds them all back. But at the end of the day, I know where Year 4 is going, I know the ending I have planned, and I feel like it’s a good one. Maybe I’ll be wrong, that is always a possibility, however it will still be me doing the best I can to give a satisfying conclusion to the tale that started in the Prologue of Year 1. And I think, in the long run, that will be better than squeezing an extra book or two would have been. It’s all only a guess though, none of us can see the future.

                All we can do is try our best to deliver the best story possible, regardless of medium, and trust our instincts when they say it’s time to pull down the final curtain on a tale.

 

What to Expect at CONtraflow

                For those who haven’t been following the Authors & Dragons podcast (shame) or checking my Upcoming Events section (double shame) then you might not realize that on the weekend of September 30th – October 2nd I, along with most of the A&D crew, will be at CONtraflow in New Orleans. I’ll pause while all of you race to buy tickets to the event and then plan out your plane/driving schedule.

                Everybody booked? Awesome, let’s continue.

                So what should you be braced for in this awesome convention headquartered in one of the most debaucherous cities in the U.S.? A lot to be frank. I could write a dozen blogs on the fun, wild, cultural, and culinary aspects of New Orleans (I’ve got family there so have been visiting regularly since childhood) but since that would also involve a fair amount of self-incrimination (if you’re not going to fight a statue, why even drink?) I’ll skip it for now. Instead, let’s focus on what to expect from CONtraflow itself!

 

                1) Let’s get the saddest part out of the way first: Neither Joseph Brassey (Bjorg) or Steve Wetherell (Brandon Thighmaster) will be attending. When asked, Steve drunkenly mumbled an explanation that none of us could really understand through his accent, although we did get the words “public intoxication” “NSA” and “zoo robbery” so let’s just all assume he’s got a good reason for skipping. As for Joe, we’re not even sure he knows about the con, the last reports of him were that he’d taken his sword into the mountains and was challenging bears to duels. Every few days an injured bear limps into town, so apparently he’s doing well.

                They will, however, both be digitally present for the first ever live Authors & Dragons podcast, so you needn’t worry about turning up to watch an incomplete shitshow. Oh, which I guess leads to:

 

                2) There will be a live Authors & Dragons podcast! Yeah, sort of gave that away on the last one, huh? Well it’s still true, damnit. Finally, you, yes you, can come watch a bunch of guys poorly play Pathfinder and then take questions from the audience. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, we have been reading your dream journal. On that topic, you need to talk to a therapist like fucking now. The dream with the whales and the buttercream? Sick shit. Get help. But get it after CONtraflow, because you don’t want to start making rational choices before New Orleans. Where’s the fun in that?

 

                3) John Hartness and I will probably put on an amateur exhibition wrestling match. This one isn’t official or on the schedule or anything, but we’re going to be in a town that is functionally made of alcohol, plus John and I are both big old school wrestling fans. Sooner or later we’re going to get into a drunken discussion of which era was better and what superstar had the best moves, and after that it’s a short hop to choke-slamming each other through some poor vendor’s table to prove that it’s really all in how you take the bump.  That vendor is going to have it coming anyway. $30 for a t-shirt? Fuck that dude, he deserves a table choke-slam.

 

                4) Robert Kroese and Robert Bevan will at long last engage in a battle to the death over who can be called Robert. I mean, it’s confusing to everyone, right? Sure, I guess we could just keep calling them by their last names like I do, but no, this is a matter of manly pride, and I know neither of these gentlemen will be denied. While the exact competition is still in debate, we’ve narrowed it down to doing shots, duel by pistol, and Parcheesi. Both of the Roberts are really pulling for Parcheesi, saying they in no way feel the need to die over rights to a name, however I think we can all see that for the bluster it really is.

 

                5) Rick Gualtieri is going to cosplay as every single character from each of the Authors & Dragons writers’ books. Granted, he doesn’t actually know that yet, and it will mean having to change clothes approximately every five minutes with no time to eat or sleep, but it’s such a fun idea there’s no way he won’t be down for it, right? And of course, he’ll be taking pictures with everyone in those various costumes, as well as doing live-readings featuring the character he is dressed as from their respective book.

                …okay, full disclosure, no one else wanted to dress up, so we may have collectively decided to shove that duty solely on Rick. So if you see him sans costume at any point, it is your duty and obligation as a reader to ask where his outfit is. Of course, seeing as a huge chunk of my characters dress like college students, he might actually be in costume, at which point I’d say you owe him a beer for challenging his work ethic.

 

                6) For those who survive, we’ll be doing a Drinkalong Power Hour with the A&D crew. I’m actually not kidding at all about this one; we’re absolutely doing a Drinkalong Power Hour with all the A&D players who come to CONtraflow. Now while encouraging binge drinking isn’t something the con or we can do for liability reasons, we are going to try and have it in an area where alcohol is freely available, so that any fans who want to play along could make the choice to do so of their own volition. It’s a free country, we can’t very well stop you from drinking.

 

                7) The Authors & Dragons team will be at a table, selling our wares and greeting fans. When we’re not at the bar, I mean. Okay, so there will always be at least one person at the table, probably more if we’re allowed to fill up a cooler and bring it to the table. Maybe a grill too, for when we get hungry. Small TV to watch when we get bored… and I’ve now accidentally turned the A&D table into a tailgate, haven’t I? Fuck it, that just means it will be even more fun to visit! Don’t tell the $30 shirt guy where we are though, don’t want him trying to plot revenge. Then we have to call Joe down from the mountains, the bear population rages out of control, and it just becomes a whole big thing.

 

                8) Panels! Seriously, there are a lot of cool panels at this thing, and I hope you can all make it out to at least one. I don’t expect even my most devoted fans to hit all of them though, because it’s freaking New Orleans and I know my drawing charisma isn’t nearly high enough to justify skipping Bourbon Street. But for those who do attend and wonder where you can see me, aside from the A&D table and, let’s be honest, the bar, below is my Panel schedule for CONtraflow:

Fri 5:00 PM: Opening Ceremonies (110 minutes)
Sat 10:00 AM: Can Superman Be Relevant In 2016 and Still Be Superman?
Sat 1:00 PM: Authors & Dragons Podcast
Sat 6:00 PM: The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Where Is It Going and What Would We Like To See. Or Not
Sun 12:00 PM: The The DC Cinematic Universe: Where Is It Going and What Would We Like To See. Or Not
Sun 2:00 PM: Making the Fantastic Make Sense in the Modern World: Creating Modern Fantasy
Sun 3:00 PM: Podcasting

                I hope to see you all there for as many of these as you can make, but even if all you do is stop by the table to say “Hi” I know we’ll all appreciate it. Meeting our readers is always the best part of getting to do these sorts of things. Although the potential for a Robert vs. Robert Death Match is a pretty close second.

                See you all in New Orleans!

Drew Tries Stuff: The McDonalds Secret Menu

                “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” – Ernest Hemingway.

                While I don’t usually open these with a quote, that one right there sums up the impetus of this blog in a nutshell. I got drunk with friends, we talked about secret menus, and suddenly the idea to try the selection we’d heard of from McDonalds was born. However, we were much too drunk to do it at the time, so we all agreed it was a task we’d tackle the next day. And when we all awoke, hungover and tired, we just sort of… rolled with the idea. I don’t know how else to describe it. Our judgement was lacking, we needed food, and the idea had momentum. Or, another way to look at it is this: we braved the unknown so you wouldn’t have to.

 

 

Breakfast: The McChicken and Waffles

                I’ll be honest; I kind of pushed for this one. You take a breakfast chicken biscuit and trade out the biscuit part for McGriddle buns. I know it sounds awful at the outset, however bear in mind that I love that fried chicken breast, all McGriddles, and the actual dish of chicken and waffles. To me, this seemed like it had too many good components to fail.

                And you know what, I was right! Well, I was right to me, anyway. Not everyone in the group enjoyed this culinary mash-up, however I ate the whole damn thing and a few bites of my friends’ sandwiches. I genuinely liked the taste, which I will concede was a little strange, but still very palatable. You just have to know what you’re getting going in. It’s not going to be true chicken and waffles any more than McDonald’s serves a real hamburger, but you can still enjoy it for the cheap flavor punch it is. Still, because creating this requires ordering two sandwiches and wasting the components of one, it can be a bit pricey.

                Group Score: 3 drunken Ronald Mcdonalds pissing in the bushes by a drive-thru out of 5

 

 

Lunch: The McGangbang

                Hey, real quick digression here, do you know why so many places have secret menus? It’s not to add an aura of mystery to your fast-food experience, it’s because they don’t have to provide caloric information for items that aren’t on the real menu. Because if you saw the nutrition on some of these, there is no way you would ever find the inner strength to order them.

                Which brings us to the McGangbang, a McChicken shoved between the hamburger patties of a McDouble. I got mine without cheese (I like cheese, just not what McDonalds calls cheese), while the rest were purists. After the first round, we were collectively a little apprehensive of this one. I mean, the damn thing was unwieldy, and most people don’t have my giant gaping maw of a mouth, so taking bites was a difficult process. Eventually, we all got our teeth sunk in though.

                Look, I don’t know if it was the hangover, the low expectations, or the actual sandwich… but this went over really well. Yeah, I can feel the shock on your face, and to it all I can reply with is “Me too.” None of us were braced for this to actually taste good, it just kind of works. It does make sense, aside from the meats there’s not a lot of difference in the core components of each sandwich so they blend together seamlessly. I haven’t been back to try it again since that day, so I can’t say how it would land on a sober palate, but for one that has woken up with the traditional desire for grease and salt, it hit the spot dead on.

                Group rating: 5 Grimaces watching you unblinkingly from the trees out of 5.

 

 

Dessert: The McCrepe

                Okay, so anyone aware of the McDonalds’ menu has figured out this took a breakfast and lunch trip to complete, but rather than do two breakfast ones I decided to bill this as dessert, since it really felt more in line with something like that than anything you’d try to start a day with.

                In concept, the McCrepe is where you order the hotcakes (or pancakes, if I just lost any of you northerners) and the parfait, then pour the parfait into the hotcakes and fold it over like a crepe. It’s supposed to be fruity and light. In reality it was… bad.

                This was something of an inverse of the McChicken and Waffles we started with. I fucking love those hotcakes, they were my go to order all through childhood, but the presence of the parfait made them borderline inedible. However, the rest of the group found it more enjoyable, because they are tasteless monsters and I don’t know why I associate with them. Nobody loved it, mind you, they just didn’t spit the first bite out and start cursing like a certain indie author did. I did manage to get a few bites down for the sake of the experiment, but it was a fight. Of the things we tried, this is the only one that I would 100% never want to eat again.

                Group rating: 2 Hamburglars upper-decking your toilet out of 5

 

                I won’t say I regret us going through with this plan, although I did move pretty sluggishly for the rest of the day. Then again, I was hungover, so maybe the fault doesn’t lie entirely with McDonalds for that. If you’ve got any favorite secret menu items, let me know in the comments. Sooner or later I’ll be drunk again, and who knows what sorts of plans might get made.

Fun Fan Theories About Me and My Books

                Like any good nerd, I love me some fan theories. Some of them are fantastic, adding a layer of depth and explaining flaws in the original works. The best known example here is probably the one that James Bond is in fact just a code name given to various agents through the years, explaining both why a spy gives his name out so freely and the shifting appearance and attitude of Bonds through the years. And yes, before anyone goes to the comments, I know about Skyfall, however it doesn’t change the fact that the theory was a good, well-reasoned one.

                Anyway, while most fan theories don’t fit quite so seamlessly into the works they’re based on, they are still fun to learn about. Sometimes it makes you look at an old work in a new light, and that’s great for both the creators and the audience. Interestingly enough, as much of a little-known indie as I am, there have still been a few people who’ve emailed me or posted fan theories on the web regarding me and my work. So today, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorites with you all. Remember, some of these have serious holes, and I’m not vouching for how provable they are, only how interesting I found the concepts.

 

#1: That There is No Drew Hayes

                This was a weird one to read about, because I am Drew Hayes, and I know I exist, so it’s strange to see speculation about whether I’m real or not. The fundamental concept as I’ve seen it is this: Because my books came onto the e-book market with a good push (which we all know is thanks to you awesome readers) and have generally been met with favorable reviews across the board, it’s speculated that I’m not a new author at all. Rather, I’m a pseudonym (chosen as an nod to the Drew Hayes who wrote Poison Elves and passed away) used by several different authors when they want to write books with cursing and fun that they couldn’t get away with under their own brand. Thus why I have several different series in several different genres, all releasing at a relatively speedy rate.

                To be fair, I do churn out a lot of material, even by full-time author standards. And the easiest things to point to that would disprove this, namely my presence in podcasts and videos on the site, didn’t really exist when I first ran across it. True or not, it was always one I found kind of fun, and I’ve toyed with the idea of dropping fake hints that point to it being true over the years. In fact, that was what inspired my April Fool’s blog, You Caught Me, I’m Shakespeare. So if you see me at a con and I introduce myself as the actor who portrays Drew Hayes, now you’ll know why.

 

#2 That Super Powereds is Really About Football

                I’m going to level with y’all: even knowing this wasn’t what I had in mind when I wrote the series, I still found this one pretty convincing.

                The premise here is that Super Powereds is really about college football, or sports in general. The highly competitive nature, the constant training, the big yearly events that might be comparable to championships or bowl games. And, of course, the success rate. Despite everyone in the HCP being talented, only a very small amount of those who first start move on to being professional Heroes, which isn’t too far off from those who actually make it into the NFL. I even sort of played into this, albeit unintentionally, when Vince had his Rich-coma in Year 2 and re-imagined all the HCP people as being on the same football team.

                This is one of my favorites I’ve found, because even being the author I can’t really disprove it. No, that wasn’t what I had in mind when I wrote the series, but there’s no singular element I can point to within the work that actually tosses it all out the window. Yes, some parts are harder to fit than others, but on the whole it comes together pretty well.

 

#3 That Various Works Happen In the Same Universe

                Okay, so I’ll admit this one is at least partially on me. I love Easter Eggs in various works, and once I started creating my own worlds I couldn’t resist putting in some nods to my other stuff as tucked away little nuggets for my more careful readers. An example of which: the role-playing game that’s secretly a book of parahuman law in the second Fred book is called Spells, Swords, and Stealth: Modern Justice, which shares part of its name with the tabletop game played in NPCs. I’ve also covertly connected a few of my book worlds through familial relations. Anyone who read Topher Nightshade and Pears and Perils, aka my diehard fans, might have noticed that April and Auggie (whose real name is August) share the last name Parish. Auggie even makes reference to his sister early on in the book. That’s one where the two books are very much meant to share a world though, as will the eventual Infinity Villas, so it was an intentional connection rather than an Easter Egg.

                It would be fairly tedious to list the different proposed connections I’ve seen tossed out, just assume any two books I’ve written have been speculated to be connected at some point or another. And while some are more on base than others, I don’t actually want to confirm or deny anything beyond the obvious connection between Topher and Pears. I think it’s more fun to let people guess, and for those who have the really keen eyes to spot those Easter Eggs through the various books.

                But I think it will also be fun to let you all in on a little secret. Well, not a secret, at least not to those who have been to the recent Digital Release parties on Facebook, just something I’ve never really made public on the blog or site. Every series I’ve ever written (not every book, mind you, but every book world) has the same Easter Egg at some point in them. Think of it as my own Big Apple Cigarettes (the brand Tarantino snuck into all of his films for a while), a fun little element that never stands out on its own, but once you start looking for it will be fun to spot. What is the egg across all my series? Well, no one in any of the digital events has figured it out yet.

                Maybe you’ll be the one to change that.

Asian Buffets: My Secret Passion

               Look, I’m never going to really sell myself as any kind of foodie. For one thing, I reflexively wedgie anyone who uses the word “foodie” non-sarcastically. And for another, I love waaay too much stuff that’s either technically terrible or just terrible for a living body. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a fine meal as well, and I cook a lot of my own food, but come 2 in the morning I’m a lot more likely to have a mountain of Taco Bell and regret than a finely sous vided duck breast. No matter how much Top Chef I watch or fancy recipes I try, there’s a part of me that will always yearn for the greasy deliciousness of cheaper food.

                Nowhere is that more apparent than in my love of cheap Asian Buffets. I’m not talking about the nice places with well-made food either, though I certainly like those too. When I say cheap I mean no more than $10, and usually closer to $5. Whether they market themselves as Chinese, Japanese, or just stick with the culinary catch-all of Asian, these buffets are among my favorite guilty pleasure places to eat. My friends have learned never to tell me if such a place is nearby during food discussions, because I will latch on and refuse to let go of the option, no matter how much everyone else brings up trivial matters like poor health department scores.

                For a long while, I’ve joked around that if I couldn’t be a writer, then my ideal job would be restaurant critic who specifically only does Asian Buffets. And, earlier this week, I decided to actually whip up a rubric of the dishes I would evaluate for my version of that job. If you want to genuinely assess a restaurant, this probably isn’t much help, but if you want to follow the ravings of a madman as he quantifies what makes a cheap buffet delicious, then you probably need professional help. But until you get it, this will aid you in your task.

                As a note here, these food items are arranged not in order of importance, which would make more sense, but rather the order in which they hit my over-crowded plate.

 

1) Fake Crab/Cheese Casserole.

                I don’t know the real name of this, and neither do you, but anyone who has been to a cheap Asian Buffet knows exactly what I’m talking about. The fakest of crab, combined with a creamy, likely mayo-based sauce, covered in cheese and baked into a metal pan. Sometimes there are other components, maybe celery or onions in there too, but the core elements of fake crab, white sauce, and cheese are indispensable. I love the shit out of this dish, and even I can’t tell you why. All I know is that if this is bad, or worse, not there at all, you may as well shut the whole damn buffet down because not even I will come back. It’s that essential.

 

2) Smothered Mussels.

                Again, no idea what these are really called, but it’s basically a mussel covered in the same sauce and cheese as the first dish. Shockingly though, I tend to scrape most of that off. As a Cajun man, I find most shellfish needs only the barest of flavorings, just a kiss of something different to bring out the natural flavors. I’m not looking for magic here, either. I know these are going to be ten years old and freshly defrosted. All I want is the mussel to be A) warm, and B) Not spoiled. You give me that, along with the topping that I mostly waste, and I’ll be pretty dang happy.

             

3) Peanut Chicken.

                For some reason, I feel like peanut chicken is on the way out. There are several places I’ve been to that don’t serve it, and those places no longer have my business. If the first two choices didn’t tip you off, there’s a lot of creamy, rich elements on my plate. Peanut chicken works as an essential counter when I need a break from those flavors. Plus, it’s fucking delicious. I wish there was a drive-thru near me that did peanut chicken, because I would go by damn near every day. Actually, thinking about that, I’m pretty glad such a place doesn’t exist. Just make sure the chicken is hot and crispy, and the sauce fully coats the outer crust, and it’s hard to go wrong with this classic.

 

4) Sushi.

                I know, I know. Sushi at a place that charges $5 for a buffet is basically asking for trouble, but sometimes in life you have to roll the dice. While some of the really fancy buffets will do sashimi, at a cheap one you need to brace for low-end rolls, and maybe a few varieties of sushi. Here I judge by variety as much as quality. Extra points for salmon, obviously, as well as for eel, which used to be everywhere and isn’t anymore and it pisses me off because I love it so much and… sorry, had a tangent there. I also add positive marks for every roll they offer that doesn’t have cucumber in it. I shit you not, if I had three wishes I would genuinely be tempted to use one to stop making cucumbers a default ingredient in so many sushi rolls. Sorry those of you who love cucumber, I’m just not a fan.

 

5) Dessert.

                I’ll admit, I’m skipping a few other regulars on my buffet plate, but rather than break down every single thing I like, I’m really trying to keep this focused on the big elements, and dessert certainly qualifies. Now sure, most places will have fruit, and that’s great. For those of us who didn’t spend $5 on buffet because we make smart choices though, there are really two staples here you can count on: the fried dough with sugar and ice cream. The fried dough is nice, when you’re in the mood, but you can tell a lot about a buffet by the ice cream they stock. If it’s a “scoop your own” situation then anything other than Blue Bell means immediate point deductions. This is Texas, damn it, and we have access to some of the best ice cream around. Don’t half-ass it. On the other hand, if it’s a soft-serve machine then it’s hard to go wrong. Even if they skimp on toppings, I’m usually pretty happy with a small bowl of soft-serve, although of course there are bonus points for sprinkles or hot fudge.

                Congratulations! Now you too can evaluate a discount Asian Buffet using the protocol of someone who has clearly spent far too much time at such establishments.

Site Changes (Mid-2016)

                I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the key parts for anyone working online, be it in serials or e-books, is the ability to change as the market changes. What worked two years ago might not work today, and if you can’t adapt to the shifts in market then you may end up just another Blockbuster Video. So, with that in mind, it’s time to make some changes to the ole website. Some of it will be cosmetic, some of it will involve shifting of features and focus, and one part will be huge, but temporary. Rather than bury the lead or make you skip to the end, let’s dive right into the biggest part of this.

 

Super Powereds: Year 1 is Going Offline for Three Months

                Look, as a rule I always try to shoot straight with you all. You’re my readers, and it’s thanks to you that I’ve managed to make a career out of this. Long-time fans will know I’ve been pretty vocal and stalwart about SP being a web-serial first and a book second, which means I’ve wanted to keep them online for free even after moving into the e-book world. And, despite what some people might expect, it’s been a good arrangement. Having them online doesn’t really hurt sales that much, as least compared to my other books that only exist on Amazon. I like this set-up, and I think you folks do to.

                However, every now and then I need to do a marketing push. It’s a necessity from a business point of view. And with SP Year 3’s audiobook marking a full audio release of everything that’s in print, this is a prime time to do just that. The thing is, most of the tools I can use for marketing (Bookbub and the like) require a discount, and I can’t do deals or promotions on Amazon as an indie author without being part of Kindle Unlimited (KU). As you might recall from earlier blogs, KU comes with the stipulation that the books only be available on Amazon, which means to do marketing I have to take SP: Year 1 down.

                So, if you own the book already, nothing changes. If you have KU, you can still read it for free anytime you like. The only people who will be adversely affected during the three month run is new readers who don’t have KU. And if any of those happen upon this blog… sorry about the timing. Please swing back by in a few months and it should all be back in place.

                Again, before moving on, I want to drive home that this is a temporary measure. Even at that, it’s one I hate to do, but it’s something that needs to be done so I wanted to be as upfront as possible with all of you about it. Sorry for any inconvenience it might cause.

 

The Forum is Getting Retooled

                You’re all nice people, so I know you didn’t want to say this, but I will: The current forum on here kind of sucks. It’s not intuitive, it doesn’t group topics well, it was a temporary measure when I first built the site (Squarespace lacks a native forum) that has clearly overstayed its welcome. The fact that so much of your discussion goes on in the comments is excellent proof of that. This is something I’ve known needed dealing with for a long while, however I’ve lacked the time and technical expertise to find a solution so I put it off until now.

                I’m not sure how this is going to shake out; my goal is to find a plug-in that gives the site a forum that’s actually useful to the people who like to talk on them. In the meantime, some of the readers founded a Super Powereds subreddit, so that’s a good place for those who want to have conversations that are easier to continue after a chapter (and therefore it’s comment section) is no longer new. If nothing else, it should be a far more user friendly experience than dealing with my old forum.

 

I’m Adding an Actual FAQ

                Lest you think this whole blog is about things leaving or changing, let me close by letting you all know that I’m adding an addition. Second one this year, actually, since I’ve already created the Upcoming Event page that tells when every book scheduled to release is coming out. But this is something different, as the section title gives away; I’m going to create an actual FAQ page.

                I used to do FAQ blogs as jokes, since I didn’t really get that many questions, however over the years I’ve started getting some similar ones, enough that I think I can create an FAQ that will actually be helpful to folks. I plan to have it up by the end of September, and while I’ve got ample questions to start with, feel free to toss some of the frequent ones you see asked in the comments below.

 

                Actually, I’m going to end here by encouraging you to leave feedback on any one of these topics. I know this isn’t necessarily the most fun news to drop, losing a whole book (even temporarily) really sucks, and some of you might have enough expertise with forums to throw out some excellent recommendations. Tell me what you think and feel if you’re so inclined, the whole reason I did this blog and made sure everyone knew what was on the horizon was because I believe in communication whether the news is good or bad.

                Thanks for bearing with the site announcements folks; we’ll be back to the fun silly blogs next week.

Q3 2016 Anime Review

                It’s that time of quarter again, a new season of animes have come in, and after six weeks I think we’ve seen enough to know which are the standouts and which are falling short. I’ll be honest, this season feels like we got a lot more of the latter than the former, but there are still a couple worth talking about so I’m going to do this segment. Fingers crossed Q4 shapes up a little better.

 

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.

                I think this is the first time I’ve ever had one of the shorter shows on here, but given that it posts every day I feel like there’s enough content to make it worth checking out. While every episode is ~4 minutes long, they work well given the ridiculous premise and low stakes.

                Essentially, this is a story following a high-school student with extraordinary powers who just wants to be left alone. There’s no angst, no real drama, the comedy all comes from a character who borders on being omni-powerful trying to lay low, draw no attention, and make it home in time to watch television.

                In longer segments, I think this would probably fall apart, but the short snippet style really works with the premise. On top of that, because this is such obvious satire it’s able to skewer a few of the classic anime tropes, while turning others on their head. It’s a light, fun, enjoyable show I was surprised to find won me over. Then again, given that it’s satire of a classic genre presented in short form, I probably shouldn’t be, since that could just as easily be read as a description of the Fred books. Maybe I’m too close to this one, but I still think it’s worth watching. And hey, with every self-contained episode only being 4 minutes long, you can find out if you enjoy it with minimal investment of time.

 

ReLife

                I wasn’t entirely sure if this counted as Q3, since the entire series dropped onto Crunchyroll a few days before the first new animes of the season began to show up, but given the overall quality I decided that it was worth talking about. Plus, you can go watch the entire thing today, which is a nice change for people who love to binge.

                ReLife in premise is about a man whose life has gone off-track getting the chance to test a new pill/program that makes him look like a high-schooler and sends him back to school for a year of rehabilitation. And if that descriptions sounds like it’s going to get really creepy and off-putting, don’t worry, I was right there with you. But part of doing these reviews means giving everything a fair shake, and I was surprised how quickly this show drew me in.

                Rather than being a cavalcade of tropes and fan service, instead it’s an interesting examination of the contrasts between the optimism of youth, the bitterness of seeing your life go off-course, and the desire to rekindle an innate sense of hope in one’s self. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an anime, and a comedy at that, so most of this is going on in the background. Still, there are some very serious, real moments that often seem to leap out of nowhere and reinforce the overall narrative of the show. It’s really enjoyable to watch, with the dark parts adding a layer of depth so many shows lack and the comedy making you want to keep clicking through to the next episode. I had a lot of fun watching this show, and I sincerely hope it gets a second season, as this was easily one of the highlights of the quarter.

 

In Case You Missed It: Daganronpa

                While I’m enjoying the new seasons of this show so far, I haven’t seen enough to know if they’ll really hold up against the original, hence why they didn’t get featured on the list above. That said, however, I fucking love the original Daganronpa. Granted, I’ve always been a bit of a mystery buff (I watched way more of the Case Closed anime than I’m proud of) but between the art, distinct characters, and overall sense of uncertainty I rank Daganronpa among my all-time favorite animes.

                The premise is a bunch of people trapped in a school building and handed a challenge. If they can successfully murder one of the other students without being caught, then they can go free. However, should the others correctly determine who committed the murder, that person will be killed. If they accuse the wrong person, on the other hand, everyone besides the murderer is executed. So, pretty high stakes from go.

                That alone is a strong premise, but when you add in the over-arching mystery that runs through the series (how the hell they all got there and what is going on) it really strengthens the story as a whole. I’ve mentioned before the importance in managing different story arcs, and this show does a masterful job of building from one arc to the next while teasing out the over-arc in just interesting enough tidbits to always keep you guessing and engaged. Go give it a shot now, and then you can take a gander at the sequel series that are going up this season.

                As always: Happy Viewing!

Whoops, I Accidentally Broke Time

                Hey folks, can’t really hang around for long today, this week has been really crazy. Like, literally insane, the sort of series of events that makes one question the coherency of their own mind, until they remember those shots of Everclear they did an hour prior.

                To sum it up: Monday this dude in a silver jumpsuit and weird helmet appeared in my living room. And, like any good Texan dealing with an intruder, I hit him in the head with a baseball bat (guns require too much clean-up). Anyway, the dude drops this weird device near my feet; I go to pick it up, and poof: suddenly I’m being hurled through time and space.

                Gotta say, time travel always looks a lot smoother in movies than in is in real life. Stepping outside the flow of cause and effect is sort of like stepping outside your own skin. Which, by the by, also happens when you time travel. It’s a pretty nasty experience, all over, but it does give you a nice buzz for like 5 minutes afterward, so maybe give it a shot if you have the opportunity.

                It took me a few tries to figure out how that doohickey worked, for a little while there I was sort of bouncing around at random. Don’t worry though, I remembered the moral of all the time-travel books I’ve read: kill every butterfly I see so those fuckers can’t flap their wings. Didn’t actually find any butterflies though, so I just tried to do right wherever I could.

                And yes, before anyone asks, I did end up in pre-WW2 Germany for a brief stint. Don’t worry; I made sure to tell everyone nearby what a total shitbag Hitler would be and not to get involved with him in any way. I wasn’t around long, but the people at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna seemed very receptive to what I had to say, so I feel like they’ll probably spread the word.

                Ended up in Victorian England for a while too. Good beer, weird clothes. Had a few drinks with a dude moping on about lady-troubles. I told him to stop internalizing everything, he needed to work through his issues rather than wallow in them. Start a project of some kind, be creative, do something to really leave a mark on the world. Not going to lie, I may have changed a life back there. When I have time, I’m going to see what Jack ended up doing with his life. And if he ever found love.

                Definitely thought I was home for a while, since I popped out in Dallas. Then I saw the old cars and realized I was too far back. Still, it was nice to catch a parade. Not sure why that creepy dude ran away from the grassy knoll when I sat down to watch the cars drive past, there was more than enough room for everyone. Then again, I think he went into a book depository, so maybe he had actual business to see to.

                Here’s the crazy thing though, this time-doodad hasn’t just been sending me to the past, I’ve also gotten to see the future as well. Good news: we finally crack flying cars by 2030. Bad news: the airlines can’t compete, so they lobby and pass legislation that makes using them illegal by 2031. Also, don’t put too much of your financial portfolio in gold. When it comes out that magic and alchemy are both real in 2045, the price of pretty much any precious metal goes to shit. The only exception is, surprisingly, aluminum. Turns out, neither alchemy nor magic can reproduce that shit, so buy as much aluminum foil as you can now, and prepare to be set for life.

                Fashion also takes a weird route somewhere down the line, with pretty much everyone donning single piece silver jumpers. I got one on my last trip, and I have to say it’s pretty comfy. Little snug, but that’s what happens when you steal a jumpsuit from some dude passed out on a bar’s sidewalk. Yup, we’ve got flying cars and alchemy, but people still want to get shit-faced. Weird thing though, these jumpers are the exact same outfit as the dead guy in my living room was wearing, save for the helmet.

                The silver lining to all this is that I think I’m starting to get the hang of this device. Finally made it home, obviously, but I plan to set out again real soon. Just wanted to knock out this week’s blog and see if the stuff I’d done had any cool effect. If you’ll all excuse me for a moment, I need to hit up Google before it changes its name to OmniMurderCorp (2018).

*             *             *

                …wow. I, um… wow. This… whoo, this is a big fuck-up. Jack, the Dallas parade, the Academy of Fine Art… something tells me a cookie-bouquet isn’t going to make amends for this one. In fact, I may have broken the entire timeline with all that dumb shit.

                Okay, look, this one is on me, and I’m going to fix it. Don’t worry, I have a plan. I’ll go back in time to right before I got the time-device, and stop me from ever picking it up. Wait, shit, Past-Me is going to be drunk and violent if I suddenly appear in the living room, and he’s a good swing with that bat. So first, I’ll grab a helmet to protect myself, then time-jump back to warn Past-Me not to do shit. Then we’ll sit on the couch, drink some beers, and watch old movies. This is good. This is the perfect plan, there’s no way it can go wrong.

                I’ll catch you folks up on how it plays out next week, once we’re all back in the proper timeline. Until then, enjoy this brief respite from the telepathic slugs that drop from the sky. Not sure how I prevented that nuisance from occurring, but it’s definitely not worth the trade-off.

                Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a helmet.

 

Honest Answers to Common Writing Questions

               Little secret: sometimes I like to go look at the Kindle Community Writing forums just to see what they’re up in arms about. Whether it’s the KU prices going down, frantic speculation about Amazon’s next move with publishing, or the ever-present fear of our royalty rate being shifted, there’s never a shortage of people scrambling about, and it often makes for an interesting read.

                However, amidst all the panic and chaos there are usually a few folks trying to get honest information from their peers as they navigate the largely uncharted waters that are indie-publishing. A lot of the questions raised in these discussions tend to repeat themselves as well, almost like a greatest hits list. So today, I decided to give my own responses to those common questions, for the benefit of anyone reading the blog who has always wondered about the answers but didn’t skulk around in forums long enough to find them. And hey, if I’m going to answer, I may as well be truthful about it.

 

Q: Why aren’t my books selling?

A: Fuck if I know. Yeah, there are a lot of smaller reasons why it might not be catching on, like a bad cover, weak blurb, lack of marketing, and all that jazz. But a lot of the time someone asking this hasn’t skipped or half-assed those elements, and they still aren’t getting traction. In those cases, it’s a genuine mystery as to what’s going on there, because making a book isn’t a formula where you put all the elements together and walk away with a best-seller.

The dirty truth is that none of us really know what works for sure. If we did, none of us would ever have flops, and we’d probably make piles of cash brought to us in gold-plated wheelbarrows. That’s just not the case, though. Sure, we’ve all got strategies that we’ve found work for us specifically, but most of us have seen others use the same techniques to no avail. The publishing game is a shifting, crazy place where what’s hot today could be played out tomorrow, there is no golden strategy that fixes all.

The only honest advice I can give to folks in this situation is to take a shotgun approach. Try everything, until you find a method that bears you fruit. It might not mean it’s a good method overall, but if it works for you then that’s all that matters.

Or, for a funnier and less optimistic thought on the topic, you can Robert Bevan’s answer to pretty much the same question.

 

Q: What does it take to really feel like I’ve made it as a writer?

A: I’ll let you know when I get there. Look, imposter syndrome is a fucker, and I’ve seen writers far more successful than I am talk about still dealing with it in spite of being pretty widely-renowned. Different people might overcome it at different milestones: maybe when you put your first book out, or sign with a traditional publisher, or make it to a place on Amazon’s ranking list. Or, more likely, there’s no external threshold that will make you feel like a writer, because self-doubt is just a flat-out bastard.

That’s the trouble with adulthood; we don’t get ceremonies and spectacle clearly marking the accomplishment of a goal and the passing of a bar. There’s no “official writer” graduation cap to toss into the air. You’re a real writer when you decide to feel that way; nothing else is going to get you there until you decide you’re ready.

 

Q: How do I deal with bad reviews?

A: I touched on this one at length already, so I won’t bog the blog down in repeating shit. You just have to accept the fact that people will shit on you and your work. It’s not pretty, or nice, but it’s the truth of this industry. Sometimes the criticism will be pointing out valid mistakes. Sometimes the reader will disagree with specific choices you made. Sometimes you’ll have committed an internet sin like “too many minority characters” or “being a woman.” Deserved or not, the bad reviews come part and parcel with the job, so it’s something we all have to grit our teeth and drink our way through.

 

Q: What do I do if my book has been pirated?

A: To start with, most book pirating sites never actually have the content they advertise. The vast majority are scams designed to pilfer credit card numbers from people who try to sign up for all the luscious literary goodness. So the Google alert that triggered the worry was likely unfounded, as no one is getting books from those sites.

That said, book pirating does exist, albeit more in the torrenting and file-sharing community than in some shady site openly claiming to have books that would have big publishers filing DMCA’s before the site had been up for an hour. And in these cases… there’s really nothing to be done. People who want to steal it, will. The most you can do, as an author, is make sure that money is the only obstacle that might tempt someone to take that path.

What I mean is that a lot of times, people will pirate as a matter of convenience more than thrift. If your book isn’t available in their country, or on their device, then piracy becomes a more viable option than purchase. I’m not going to condemn or defend piracy as a whole; I was in high school when Napster came out so I clearly wouldn’t have a leg to stand on from those years alone. But once you accept that it’s going to happen no matter what, you can shift from stopping it entirely (impossible) to creating as few motives as possible for someone to go down that path.

Also, one last bit for the actual pirates out there: if you’re going to steal a book, at least leave an honest review on Amazon for it, especially if it’s from an indie author.

 

Q: Does the crippling self-doubt ever go away?

A: No. That’s why most authors are alcoholics.

 

Q: Holy shit, we have to pay taxes?

A: This one comes up more than I wish it did, so much so that it really bears addressing. Folks, income from Amazon is still income, and once you pass a certain threshold you’d better fucking believe Uncle Sam wants his cut of the cheddar. Yes, you need to pay taxes on your book sales. Be always aware of that, especially once you have titles that really start moving. Because this isn’t like getting paid by an employer, where most of the government money is yanked out before you can ever touch it. Nope, in this situation you get handed your shares along with Uncle Sam’s, and he expects you to keep his money safe until he comes calling for it in April.

Truth be told, dealing with taxes as an indie-publisher is probably a big enough topic for its own blog, but I’ll leave that to someone else because it sounds boring as hell. Point is, be aware of how much you’re selling, and put back funds appropriately to cover that bill come tax day. Take it from my experience during my first year of doing this gig full-time: you do not want to be caught unprepared when that tax bill arrives.

Let’s just say Past-Drew ate a lot of discount Ramen that month. But now, as a writer who knows about and prepares for the coming of tax day, I’m not nearly so bad off. I can buy my pallet of April Ramen full-price, like a damn adult. And really, isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

Rejected Blog Ideas

                 As much as it might seem like I throw any old thing that occurs to me up on these blogs, and I’ll admit I do tend to use this space as an area to just have fun, believe it or not there have been some ideas over the years that I tried to write, and ultimately didn’t make the cut. Today, I thought it would be fun to fill you in on some of the shit that ended up on the metaphorical cutting room floor, so you could see that even my whimsy does have limits. I’ll even include the planned titles, because often times that was the best part of what I could come up with. And to kick things off, I’ll start with the idea that inspired this blog:

 

Let’s Talk About Sex (Bay-Bee)

                The plan for this blog was to discuss how adding even semi-graphic sex to a book immediately altered its genre to Romance or Erotica, which was unique since me adding… let’s say violence to Pears and Perils or Fred didn’t stop either from being light-hearted comedies. I could have picked any number of elements there, and the point would remain the same.

                After a general discussion of the curious way sex is treated, especially in light of the fact that I bet a lot more of us have danced the flesh mambo than have gotten in a fistfight, I would have gone into the different methods I used to deal with the topic without actually getting graphic.

                To be frank, there were two issues with this blog: 1) It really needed the voice of someone with experience writing in the Romance/Erotica genre to lend some expertise to the topic as a whole, and I don’t know anyone who does that well enough to ask them to guest blog. And 2) There are only so many ways to say “don’t show them fucking on the page” before it gets old, and I hit that point way too early in the blog. Maybe I’ll come back to this one, because it is a good topic to discuss, but only if I can find a way to flesh (giggle) it out and get some input from a person who knows more than I.

 

Building an Arc

                The bitch of this one is I know I’m going to have to do it one day, but since I’ve been putting it off for 2+ years I’m counting it as rejected all the same for now. Simply put, this would be a discussion about managing various arcs within a story (character development, plot, etc). Specifically it would be dissecting the different methods needed to write a serial, versus a novel, versus a series. Because they are all different, and managing the arcs is key to doing each one as well as possible.

                However, talking about the subject is just flat out boring, at least in terms of writing it down. I’ve had conversations with fellow writers and those weren’t nearly as bad, but every time I try to put this information down in a blog I fall asleep halfway through. It’s informative, sure, but even that’s only true for the small subset of my readers who are also writers. For everyone else, it would be a total skip, and I wouldn’t blame them.

                Like I said earlier, it’s one I know I’ll have to do eventually, but not until I can make it fun. Maybe I’ll use it to experiment with video blogs (yes, I’m planning to do more than just drink on camera) or work up a slide show or something. I’m just spitballing here, if I’d found a way to make it fun I’d have done the thing already.

 

Drew Tries Stuff: Sobriety

                I mean sure, I could have done it, but where’s the fun in that topic? No thanks.

 

The Great Agent Hunt

                This is an example where the concept didn’t fall short as much as I just wasn’t able to get what I needed to put out something worth reading. To give a simplified version: back when Forging Hephaestus was freshly written I was debating how to proceed with it: indie-publish, submit to REUTS, or try and get an agent who could shop it around to the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster). I did a fair amount of research into agents who worked with hybrid authors, even posting an interview with one here on the blog. My plan was to compile everything together, explaining the pros and cons of agents in the modern marketplace, and then explain which choice I went with and why. It was designed to be a good peek behind the scenes and show how an author went through the evaluation and decision process.

                The biggest problem here was that I stepped out of my depth. I know a lot about indie and small-press publishing, so I’m comfortable talking about those subjects. Agents and the Big Five, on the other hand, exist in a whole different spectrum. Even with research and interviews, it became clear that there was a lot of machinery moving behind the scenes that I couldn’t see, and the last thing I wanted was to write a blog with poor information in it.

                To recap here what was nowhere near enough for a blog: Finding an agent who works with the really huge publishers is a long process, and even if one of the Big Five takes your book there’s no guarantee they will promote or back it well. They have a slush pile too. Agents who don’t work with the Big Five… I honestly wasn’t able to find a concrete benefit to employing them. Theoretically agents get you better deals, but Amazon’s percentage is set and a small-press only has so much margin they can cave on, so it’s hard to justify another 15% off the top. I’m not against agents or saying they have no worth, mind you, only that I wasn’t able to determine what that worth was well enough to distill down and put into a blog.

                In the end, Forging Hephaestus was set on the course of indie-publishing, because there were elements I knew any publisher would ask me to change (such as a minor character named Johnny Three Dicks) and I wanted to keep full control. If I ever get more experienced in this field, I’ll probably come back and try to write the blog. If the experience of learning about agents taught me anything, it’s that a little clarity would be a very welcome topic to cover.