Non-Writing Shows That Teach You About Writing

                The time drawing close to us is a hectic one; I know that as well as the rest of you. Between travel, family, decorating, holiday shopping, and countless other practices that take time out of the day, I suspect many folks will go from the high of putting out words every day during NaNoWriMo to struggling in the vain hopes of finding the time to put out a couple of sentences. Such is the burden of post-NaNo December, but worry not my friends.

                As a devourer of all media, I’ve stumbled across a few gems in the past, things that are both enjoyable to watch and also give greater insight to what the writing process entails. That probably wasn’t the intent with most of these, yet they deliver all the same, so as you’re stuck in a car or family gathering, wishing you could sneak off to write, you may take some comfort in streaming one of these selections through your phone. It might not be actual writing, however it does offer a chance to learn, and that’s helpful too.

 

How WWE/Movies Should Have Booked

                I’ve mentioned these before in passing, but the series really does warrant its own entry. And fear not, my non-wrestling fans, because they also have some of these that deal with popular movies as well. Essentially, the host (Adam) breaks down an old existing plot-thread, analyzing why it didn’t work, what parts it failed on, and where it managed to shine. Then he repackages it, using only the available talent/characters from that era, and books the angle in a more satisfying way. On the surface, it’s a simple concept, but these are videos I tell a lot of writers to watch because of how much insight they offer.

                Re-booking an old match or movie means really digging into the cuts of the story. Dissecting plots, understanding characters, pulling out choices and tropes to turn around in your hand and examine from all directions. Seeing the components of a story laid bare is excellent training to do the same in your own works, clinically dissecting every aspect to make sure all the pieces fit together well. Beyond that though, the re-bookings are a fantastic breakdown of long-term story-telling. Suspension is built, false-starts occur, some wrestlers are made to look strong while protecting those around them from coming off weak, character threads are developed, it’s a really in-depth process.

                Whether you go with movie or wrestling versions, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of storyline development, especially if you write anything related to action. Plus the episodes are entertaining in their own right.

 

Extra Creditz

                Now for this one, you have to pick and choose a little more. Since this video series is about games and their industry as a whole, not all of them are writing related. Be discerning as you choose your episodes, it won’t be hard to find the ones related to stories or writing. Much like our first example, these often focus on breaking things down to their core elements, examining what works, what used to work, and what is starting to work now.

                The biggest difference is that rather than do this to an existing story, the host (Dan) applies the process to larger concepts. My personal favorites are ones where they break down different genres. What makes good horror? Is it jump scares? Escalating tension? The unknown? All of these are looked at, as they have established places in the genre. But drilling a genre down to its key elements is a great experience for anyone hoping to write in it, because doing so ensures we’re using the right tools to draw the appropriate reactions from our audience.

                I’ll also add that even the non-writing episodes of this one are interesting as someone who merely purchases video games, for those of you even tangentially related to the industry I imagine it would be highly entertaining content, so don’t be afraid to branch out and try a few of the others if you like what the writing ones offer up.

 

The Good Place (Season 1)

                To be upfront, I’ve loved all of Season 2 so far as well, but if we’re talking about learning how to write then Season 1 is the best example I can offer up, for the simple fact that I know it pays off. I’ve talked about this show before in context of a “shit you need to be watching” article, however at the time I was trying to convey how enjoyable it was. The truth is, it’s also a damn masterclass in multi-layered writing.

                The dialogue is more than quick and funny, in context of a few characters it’s also literally people having two different conversations at the same time, with those in the dark not understanding what’s going on. Aside from the quality and the lines, what I think shines most about this example is the forethought. This is a season that went in with a specific, planned out goal. Every action, every bit of wacky development or dialogue, served to move us closer to that big finish. And while it does leave us on a cliffhanger, the power of the reveal still leaves us feeling overall satisfied with the journey to get there.

                People talk a lot about how shitty Lost was because it opened up ideas and plot threads that it never properly closed, and The Good Place is the polar opposite of that. It is so neat and tidy that every time I watch it, I think about how I could streamline and better direct my plots. This one doesn’t teach you explicitly about writing as much as it demonstrates the power of thoughtful plotting, and personally I think there’s a lot to be learned from such stellar examples. Fingers crossed that the rest of the series plays out so well, but after Season 1 they have absolutely earned the benefit of the doubt.

 

Drew’s Drinkalong Power Hours

                Okay, so these won’t teach you jack about writing, but they will give you a chance to pound booze with me and friends being silly, and sometimes that’s what you need to get through the holidays. Happy watching!

Fragments of Drew's Banned Christmas Special

In 2014, the Thunder Pear Publishing Animated Holiday Special aired for the first and only time on a local cable access station. Despite the small audience, it was the most complained about piece of media for the entire year, and has subsequently been banned from ever being shown again. All copies were destroyed, and most scripts burned. Here, we present some of the few scraps that have been recovered. Please proceed forward at your own discretion.

 

Interior. Sunlight streams through a window, onto a sea of empty beer cans and liquor bottles, with a single human form passed out amidst their depths. As the light falls upon his face, Drew stirs from his reverie, sitting up slowly and uttering his first words of the day.

Drew: Why is it this fucking bright on Christmas Eve? Suck my dick, Fall Back, you outdated piece of shit.

Drew finds a bottle with a few drops left and hurls them down his throat lazily before staggering up.

Drew: Guess I have to get my shopping done today. Pretty crafty of me to wait until the day before Christmas, when everyone else will have all their shopping done and the malls will be empty. Good thinking, Past Drew.

 

Section Missing

 

With a sudden burst of movement, Drew slams the beer bottle down on the counter, turning it into a jagged weapon.

Drew: Back off Frosty. I just wasted the rest of my beer, so know that I’m serious when I say I will face-fuck you with the pointy ends of this bottle if you take a step closer.

Frosty (hands going up, dropping crowbar to his feet): Whoa man, we can talk about this. I came on aggressively, but there’s no reason we can’t share the magic mittens.

Drew: Sure, that’s probably what you told the magician when you made off with his hat. Well, forget it you soft-serve fuck, I’m not letting your frozen claws anywhere near these.

Drew grabs the mittens from the enchanted box, slipping one on his free, non-bottle holding hand. Instantly, a glow appears on his wrist, quickly spreading across his whole body.

Frosty: Looks like we’ll have to catch up later.

Drew (noticing the glow): Oh what the living fuck is it this time. I swear to god if I see one more werewolf today I’m-

 

Section Missing

 

Grabbing the reins, Drew jerks them up, pulling the reindeer out of their spiral. As the sled levels off, Drew celebrates by grabbing a bottle of tequila from the floor boards and downing a quarter of it.

Santa (climbing up from the back seat): Are you sure you should be drinking during this?

Drew: I’m like ninety percent sure there are no laws against driving a magical sleigh while drinking, so kiss my ass and hold on tight.

With a snap of the reins, Drew drives the flying reindeer forward, narrowly avoiding the next round of fire from Negative Santa, who has emerged from the cloudbank.

Drew: We have to draw this bastard out if we want a chance at beating him. At least we killed Negative Rudolph so he doesn’t have the constant aura of shadow to hide in.

Santa: But how do we kill him? He’s like me, an immortal being sustained by the feelings of the world. Except instead of good-will and hope, he is made of greed and envy.

Drew: Don’t you worry about that, I know a few drinks that can kill anything, even things immortal or already dead. The key is getting him to chug them, but I’ve got an idea. People already leave out milk for you, so if we-

 

Section Missing

 

Blood pools on the floor as Drew spits more from his mouth, glaring back defiantly at the elf with the crimson-stained knuckles. Next to him, Jack Frost stirs, the effects of the potion finally wearing off.

Drew: Is that the best you can do? Maybe you should build a toy that doesn’t hit like a magical creature made from light and snow. Or buy some brass knuckles or something, it’s not on me to tell you how to do your job.

Head Elf: You think you’re being cute, don’t you? Well let me tell you, this is just delaying the inevitable.

Drew: You’re half right. I was delaying, and what’s going to happen is inevitable. Because you were so worried about me and the Lord of Winter here that you let one key element slip your attention.

Through the window, a massive hand coated in white fur bursts in, grabbing some of the background elfs and pulling them through. Their screams can be heard for several seconds, followed by an audible crunch and silence.

Head Elf (terror-stricken): I forgot about the yeti.

Drew: You forgot about the mother fucking yeti.

 

Section Missing

 

Stumbling, Drew runs into the empty field, Frosty hot on his trail with a scythe of ice already dripping blood. Drew dashes forward to the center of the icy grass, turning around to face Frosty head on.

Frosty: No beer bottle this time.

Drew: You upped your game, only seemed fair that I up mine.

Frosty: Is running away your idea of upping your game?

Drew: Oh, you thought you were driving me here? Guess again, shitberg, I’m the one who was leading you.

From his pocket, Drew produces the sharpened beer bottle cap from the Toy Store Battle. He jams it into his palm, allowing drops of blood to fall upon the frozen ground.

Drew: By the ancient accords of leaves and blood, the rite of Fall and the vows of the Last Nightmare, I hereby invoke my privilege as a Savior of Autumn. Come forth, he of twisted vines and gnarled root. Come forth, he of the burning mouth and endless hunger. I call you forth and shout your name, now heed my call. Come forth, Grand Pumpkin!

The ground rumbles as a mighty Jack-o-lantern rises from the dirt, burning eyes and mouth supported by a spider-like body made of vines. It turns to Drew, meeting his gaze before directing its attention to Frosty.

Grand Pumpkin: This makes two. One more, and I get your soul.

Drew: I know the bargain we struck, now deal with this chilled dog turd so I can save-

 

Section Missing

 

Sitting by the fire, Drew rests his feet and lifts a drink after a long day’s work. Just as the eggnog hits his lips, his eyes go wide with realization.

Drew: Oh fuck! I forgot to buy gifts in all the confusion.

Suddenly, the door bursts open, a re-animated elf corpse with a rifle aimed right at Drew’s head. Rolling to the side, Drew ducks behind the couch and hurls his glass directly into the creature’s eyes. A gunshot rings out, and the elf falls to the ground, dead with a hole in its skull. Santa steps through the door, gun in one hand and sack of presents in the other.

Santa: Sorry, still got some winter cleaning to do. But I thought I could help with your shopping as thanks for today. Also, sorry about the blood curse on your head now.

Drew: Psh, I collect them, no worries there. Now let’s talk presents!

The camera pulls out, back through the same window we started in, showing a herd of re-animated elfs moving into position around the house. Close on “The End?” to leave room for the inevitable sequel.

When Good Advice Goes Bad

                Writing advice is pretty much everywhere in the writing community, shit even I have an entire category on this blog called “Underqualified Advice” because I at least believe in truth in advertising. And for the most part, the advice you read is well-intentioned, if not always effective. I’ve covered this a few times before, but the hard truth about the publishing world is that no one knows what works 100% of the time, otherwise publishers and authors would churn out nothing but hits. We only know what works best for us, with the results being weirdly impossible to duplicate at times, and even then sometimes what worked in the past suddenly fails in the present. Take advice, even the well-meaning and honest kind, with a grain of salt is my point here.

                Outside of that, however, there are some tidbits of “wisdom” that get tossed around pretty freely, so much so that they’ve begun to get divorced from their real meaning and are turning into actual bad advice. In honor of the last Friday of this year’s NaNoWriMo, these are a couple of the ones I wanted to look at today, and we’re going to kick-off with the bit I think I see used the most often and the most detrimentally.

 

Kill Your Darlings

What really means: If you love something, but it isn’t good for the story, then you have to be willing to cut it.

How it’s wrongly used: If you like it, cut it.

                So I’m going to have to preface this whole blog with an acknowledgment that to many of you, this is going to be a big ole “duh”. If you’ve been around for a while, the real meaning here is clear, and you wouldn’t mistakenly take the wrong form of the advice. Where this is dangerous is mostly for newer writers, the ones still finding their footing and seeking out wisdom from those who came before, sometimes following it even when it seems incorrect, because succeeding at writing is still a weirdly arcane, mysterious topic from the outside.

                With everyone’s ego properly soothed, let’s take this one apart. Killing your darlings means being ruthless for the sake of a story. Because the book as a whole has to be your primary objective, the novel can’t exist to support one scene or character. If there’s an element that makes one character better but the book worse, then it should go. It can be hard, too. I’ve mentioned before that it took me two drafts before I hit the right set-up for Forging Hephaestus. There were other characters and ideas in those earlier drafts, ones I really loved and wanted to write about, but at the end of the day they were pulling down the overall story. Losing them, sometimes with replacements and sometimes without, was a big part of finally getting the book right. That’s what it means to kill your darlings.

                On the other hand, just having a component you like isn’t inherently bad. Sticking with FH, I love the side-character Johnny Three Dicks. Writing for him cracked me up, and I like to think that helped more levity make it onto the page, especially in scenes where we needed a lighter tone. Johnny wasn’t bad for the book, although he also wasn’t integral, he was just a good comic relief opportunity that I had fun with. Liking him didn’t mean he had to go, because he wasn’t dragging down the story. Being ruthless for the sake of the book is one thing, but the idea of cutting everything you love is silly. It’s your book, putting passion and love into it will make things better, as long as you’re willing to cut them if the story demands it.

 

Write Everyday

What it really means: Writing is a long process, so doing a little bit everyday helps you practice as well as add to your output.

How it’s wrongly used: You aren’t a real writer, or aren’t trying hard enough, unless you write every single day.

                Writing a book is a weird process. For a very, very long time it feels like you’re doing nothing, because seeing numbers tick up on a word processor isn’t the same as seeing a house being built. There’s nothing tangible, no piece to place your hand upon and say “I did this” with a sigh of pride. What is worse, most authors suffer from so much insecurity that we never feel sure that what we’ve created is any good, so even when we’re done we don’t feel sure our efforts weren’t a waste of time.

                It’s easy to get discouraged during that process, it’s why I know a lot of people who enjoy writing but a relatively small percentage of them have finished a book. Demanding that you do something each day, perhaps only a hundred words or so, is a solid method to force yourself along through the hardest parts of the novel. It makes you keep going even when you don’t feel the progress, and helps you eventually reach the ending. “Write everyday” is a fine technique to help new writers gain confidence and overcome a lot of the common hurdles we all face. It is not, and never has been, the mark of a true writer.

                Being in the business, I talk to a load of other writers, and virtually none of us follow that rule. I’ve got what is considered to be a very high wordcount output, and I only write on weekdays. There are times when the very act of being a writer means I can’t writer, such as when I need to spend days doing edits and reviews to ensure a book is polished enough for publishing. Hell, sometimes I’ll take an entire week off just to read other people’s works. Beyond the fact that there is more work to being a writer than writing, we all need breaks from everything. I fucking love watching Arrested Development, but if you put it on 24/7 pretty soon I’d want a break to watch Good Place or something else. Resting is important, mentally recharging is important, life outside of work is important. Writing a little everyday is a good habit to get in; however, it should by no means feel like a box you have to check in order to count as a “real” writer.

 

                The big takeaway here should be about the same as with every bit of advice that centers on writing: be skeptical, and remember that even when someone is trying to give you honest help it might not work. Writing is very much a process of figuring out your own methods and tactics to do your best, I know some who can fly in the face of every piece of common knowledge yet still succeed, while others follow the rules and have trouble getting traction. I also have met the exact opposite, people who tried to go around conventional wisdom only to hit nothing but walls while others walked the worn path with relative ease. Just remember, there is no silver bullet, no one trick to make it all click. Writing is trial and error, slow progression, and a constant education on what works best for you. Even my advice might not work for a lot of you, and that’s okay. Because if you really love it and keep plugging away, eventually you’ll find you own best practices, and that’s a big part of the journey as well.

Why Go Indie?

                As many of you probably know, I am considered a hybrid author, meaning I put out books through both traditional and independent (self) publishing. One of the more interesting misconceptions I sometimes run into, though, is folks who think all of my works after that first traditional publishing deal are also traditionally published, essentially assuming that I would stop going indie the moment I had the chance. In truth, I only do one traditionally published series because I genuinely love going indie, especially for projects where it’s a better fit. Today, I wanted to focus on some of the reasons why authors, both new and established, are taking on independent publishing.

 

The Money

                Look, we’ve got to get this part out of the way, so we may as well knock it out first. And, to be frank, money is a big part of the writing world. Most authors are not Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rowling, living off (well-deserved) fame and movie deals. We’re working folks who keep a budget and watch our income just like everyone else. So being able to make more from a book matters, because it might be the difference between another year doing the job or having to update a resume.

                Amazon pays out 70% of royalties to indie authors. There are actually a few exceptions and stipulations on that, but for now let’s stick to the general case which is a firm 70%. No traditional publisher will match that, they couldn’t afford it even if they really wanted to. From what I’ve read and heard, the average royalty rate for traditional authors is ~15%-40%, depending on clout, agent, negotiations, blah blah blah. For now, let’s be generous with an average and say the general traditional pub rate is 30%. On a $5 book, that means every buy from Amazon earns you $3.5, while one through a trad pub will pay out $1.5. Now $2 doesn’t seem like a lot, but multiply it over hundreds of copies, and that’s a lot of cash to miss out on, especially for those living on the budget bubble.

                Of course, the trade-off for the royalty change is that a traditional publisher will invest in marketing and distribution, ideally making up for the rate difference by bringing in a greater volume of customers. However, no one knows for sure what books will hit, and some have a limited audience regardless of how much marketing goes out. As an author, there are times when the trade-off doesn’t make fiscal sense, especially for the bigger folks with their own followings. It’s on us to know which projects to take through which system to help stay afloat, and knowing both markets well helps immeasurably with those decisions.

 

The Control

                Control of a novel is important to every author, but the amount of control and importance of retaining it will vary from project to project. Now I’m going to say off the bat that REUTS has always been great about this, I don’t want anyone to read this part as me secretly taking them to task. Not all publishers are so good, though, and that can be a real turn-off. Some books have riskier elements, things that the normal publishing world will reject. Cursing is a big one, depending on your target audience, as are violence, sex, etc.

                If you write a normal novel that fits within expected content guidelines of the genre, then you don’t have a lot to fear from traditional publishing. There will be changes and tweaks, that’s what editing is for in the first place, but overall the story has a low chance of being significantly altered. If you’re trying something risky, however, then traditional publishing will probably push back on you. They are, after all, businesses that need to break even, so investing in something that breaks with the usual styles or expectations means putting their money at risk. In those cases they will often A) Reject a book outright or B) Try and edit it into compliance with the rest of their genre/catalogue.

                Using some of my own stuff for quick examples: the variances can be content such as cursing and sex in a generally (pre-2010’s) kid-friendly genre like superheroes, style choices such as making a novel out of five novelettes, or even curious world-building choices like a character named Johnny Three Dicks. It’s worth noting that the middle example actually did go through a traditional publisher (REUTS), because not all of them will reject things that contain riskier elements. You don’t always have to take those projects indie, but if the odder aspects are really important to the author, then they’ll make sure to retain a necessary level of control with the publisher, or go indie. Like money before, the choice depends on the project and publisher in question.

 

The Schedule

                This one is going to seem weird to a lot of y’all, but believe it or not scheduling is a big part of writing. There’s a thing called the cliff, and while no one seems to agree exactly how long it takes to hit or how steep the drop off is, every author I’ve spoken to agrees it exists. Because of course it does, that’s the nature of media consumption. Essentially, when you release a new book it will sell well for a while (often lifting other books as well, especially those in a series), then less well, then less, until eventually it kind of stabilizes out at the resting point that it more or less hovers around. The drop off from top sales to the stabilization point is known as the cliff, since sales slide generally downward from release.

                How does that pertain to scheduling? Simple: knowing the cliff exists means authors have to plan for it. We don’t release two new books from different series in the same month because that’s a poor use of our limited release opportunities. Personally, I try to do three books a year spaced out semi-equidistantly, because that’s about the time my cliffs are hitting their bottoms. As soon as heat from one dies, ideally another will be swinging in to get folks excited. Other authors do their own schedules based on production, sales, and a myriad of other factors.

                Traditional publishers have their own schedules they have to work within, a carefully crafted timetable to get each book the most exposure possible before moving on to the next. And that’s totally fair for them, but it means you’ll often have little to no say on when your book might come out. For some authors, that can be downright dangerous. In a worst case scenario, they might find themselves competing against their own books, splitting their audience’s interest and potentially wasting the hype of a release.

                Like money and control before it, scheduling can be a big deal for authors, and going indie means ensuring we can set it all up exactly the way we need to in order to make sure things are flowing smoothly. Ultimately, the lesson I hope everyone takes from this isn’t that one form is inherently better than the other, only that both publishing models have risks and limitations that come with them. There is no right way to publish, only the method that best fits your particular project.

Common Con Conumdrums

               Since this blog is being posted right before I begin two weekends of conventions, I decided it was time to tackle some of the stuff people will ask me about during or before them, sort of an FAQ dedicated specifically to convention related stuff. Before we get directly into that, let’s knock out the first question that always comes up on these sorts of blogs: what conventions am I attending? Well, this weekend (Nov 11-12th) I’ll be at Phoenix Fan Fest in (surprise) Phoenix, Arizona. Next weekend (Nov 17-19th), I’ll be at Austin Comic Con in Austin Texas. Hopefully I’ll get to see lots of you there, and when you do come out…

               Feel Free to Ask for Signatures or Pictures. I’ve joked about this a few times on camera, saying I’ll even sign other people’s books if you want (still true) but I know some folks are unsure if its okay to ask me to sign a book they didn’t buy at the convention. Let me put that one to bed for good: I am always happy to sign stuff for fans who come out. Books if you have them, and I keep bookmarks on hand in case you don’t. Or business cards, or whatever. You made the effort to come out and find me at a con full of other fun stuff to entertain you, signing something is the least I can do to say thanks. As for pictures, I’ve seen people feel uncertain about asking for these, but as long as there isn’t anyone else waiting for something I’m happy to oblige. You might want to bring a stepstool though, I’m taller than you’re picturing. Taller. Taller. Scale it back a little. There we go.

               If I’m Passed Out At a Table, Wake Me With Gentle Shaking. I know, I know, it’s tempting to get a water bucket or something funny, but that risks getting the books wet, and nobody wants that. Just knock a few of the beer cans out of the way and give me a careful shake on the shoulder. That should rouse me to the land of the waking, if not the world of sobriety. You’ll know for sure it’s me by the Thunder Pear Publishing table runner, and all my neighbors whispering about the man doing a solo power hour in the middle of a convention’s sales floor.

               Should We Lock Eyes In the Elevator, the Duel Must Begin. Sorry, I don’t make the rules on this one, it’s handed down from that insane cult that raised me on the dirt streets of moonshine country for a few years. Some habits just can’t be broken though, and this is among them. The god of beer and fun demands we defy the slithering evil deity who lives in every unfinished drink, and to celebrate his law we must have a duel the moment our eyes meet in an elevator. Basically, Pokemon rules in that respect, although of course we don’t use animals in our contests. I will honor any of the traditional battles that you, the challenger, chooses: Speed-Chugging, Keg-Relay, or Finishing-a-Smirnoff-Ice. Brace yourself well if you select the last one, good challenger. It has felled competitors far stronger than either of us.

               Don’t Be Shocked If I Refer You to a Blog. This one is going to be a little more niche, but I’ve noticed that at some cons folks breaking into the business will ask me for advice on specific issues or have questions. Like with pictures before, as long as there’s no one else waiting I’m happy to help. The thing is, I’ve been at this for a long time, and while I try not to lean too much on advice blogs they have accumulated through the years. Consequently, sometimes folks will ask about an issue where the honest best answer I can give is to refer them to an old blog. Those are going to be more comprehensive than anything I can deliver in a fleeting conversation, and come with useful links, even sometimes pictures. This won’t be the case every time, of course, however if you inquire about a topic I’ve covered in detail then please don’t take me referring you to a blog as me brushing you off or anything like that, I’m merely trying to offer the most complete answer I can.

               If I’m In Costume, Just Roll With It. Generally, I don’t dress up at conventions for practical reasons. Packing costumes takes luggage space I don’t really have, and besides, the point of me being at these things is partially to make it easy on y’all by being as recognizable as possible. That said, there’s a lot of room for antics between breakfast drinking and the times that the vendor floors open, so I’m wearing half a dragon outfit and roaring, maybe just let it slide. And grab me some coffee if its convenient, probably going to need that when the buzz wears off. Also, if anyone asks, you were with me all morning at… sobriety prayer group? Yeah, that sounds like the activity of a man who wouldn’t drunkenly end up in part of a dragon suit.

               I Am No Longer Able to Engage in Improv Wrestling Matches. Sorry folks, I know the stories of me and John Hartness breaking tables at older cons have turned into the stuff of legends, but convention insurance has demanded that I no longer chokeslam opponents through other booth’s decorations, even the ones selling $30 t-shirts. It’s a big loss to us all, I know, however these cons belong to them, and we have to respect their wishes. From here on, I can only do works, not shoots, so all matches will need to be scripted and I can’t accept attendees as opponents any longer. If that last joke made no sense to you, look up what “work” and “shoot” mean, then read my blog about wrestling and writing. Oh shit, already doing that blog referral!

               I Am Always Thrilled to Meet Readers. So for the most part I’m sure you’ve all figured out this blog is 20% serious, 80% insanity to keep things fun, but I wanted to make crystal clear that this is part of the serious percentage. I love getting to meet people who read my books, especially those who care enough to spend the time and money on coming out to say hello. It’s one of the coolest parts of my job, and I am freaking jazzed for these next two weekends, and for Emerald City Comic Con in March. I hope I get to see loads of you at all of these!

The Difference Between "Written" and "Done"

                With Super Powereds: Year 4 officially written, I figured this was a good time to talk about the divide between what it means for a book to be written versus a book being finished. Since I made the post about completing the rough draft, folks have been excitedly waiting an announcement of a release date, some with very optimistic timetables in mind. Contrary to what you might think, however, there’s still quite a bit to do even after you’ve typed “The End” on a project. My efforts to pull back the curtain on what it means to write a book would be woefully incomplete if I didn’t cover what comes between that moment and an actual release. For example, even when the rough draft is done…

 

There’s Still Writing Left to Do

                Finishing a rough draft means you now know where everything ends up. That’s a nice feeling, but more than that it’s a very useful bit of information to have. Knowing the exact way everything plays out, more in depth than a plan or outline could provide, means it’s time to go back through the book and streamline it to make sure everything that came before is cohesive with the ending. Strip away the potential plot threads that never panned out, unless of course you want to tap them in future entries, but that’s getting a little more advanced. You’ll also want to ensure your foreshadowing is pointing in the proper directions, because sometimes in a book you’ll have an idea you aim at that ends up changing along the way. Rolling with shifts is plot is a big part of writing; however you still need to go back and clean up your unfinished bits once things are done.

                That’s just one aspect of what post rough draft edits entail. There’s also copy-editing, continuity checking, reworking any sections that don’t read strongly on this second pass, and a dozen more bits of tweaking. Some authors will actually rewrite their entire books after the rough draft, preferring to start completely over with the rough draft as a road map to follow.

                Don’t get me wrong, hitting the ending of a book is an amazing feeling, but if you hang up your keyboard at that exact moment, then you’re skipping over a lot of key work needed to make your book the best it can be.

 

Schedule Coordination Becomes Paramount

                This one is going to be a little more indie specific, since a publisher will do this part for you, but since it applies to the bulk of my work it seems worth covering. As I’ve said multiple times on this site, every indie author needs a good editor. More than one, if they have the time and funds. There might be one in a million authors with the discipline and analytical skill to objectively evaluate their own works, but never assume it’s you. Editors are essential to a good book, and in my case I use two of them because I know how prone to copy edits I am. Missing words, goofed punctuation, it’s a mess before all the editing sweeps.

                My editors, however, are people who exist outside of just when I need them. They have other clients and lives, which means I can’t simply plop my work onto their desk the minute I’m done. I have to find time in their schedule to handle whatever project I’m wrapping up, plus I have to stagger the schedules so one can edit the work, I can do reviews, then send it on to the next one, then another round of reviews, and then off to the beta readers, with one last session of reviews before I’ll feel confident that 99% of the issues are caught.

                Then there’s working with a cover artist, more scheduling, figuring out what would be a solid time to release your book that is comfortably far enough in the future that you’re sure the work will be done, and so on. Scheduling, of all things, becomes one of your most vital skills during post-production, when you’re trying to get everything done as quickly as possible while also not structuring your timeline so aggressively that one missed deadline sends everyone off the rails.

                My best advice on this is that as soon as you see the end of your book in sight, start sending emails and making plans. Keep it loose, but having an idea of everyone’s overall availability will at least give you an idea of what your timeframe options are once the rough draft is done.

 

The Optional Outsource Parts

                Barring an incredible gift for self-editing or some awesome artistic skills, the section above was largely about stuff that you have to outsource, no matter what. There are, however, smaller pieces of creating a book (aside from writing) that don’t always have to be done out of house. They do still need to be part of your schedule, though. That means you need to be aware of what they are and how long you’ll need to have them done versus if you can do them yourself.

                Formatting is the biggest part of this. There’s also putting together ads, creating physical promo materials, organizing launch events, and so on, but formatting is one that has to be dealt with regardless, so that’s where we’ll focus. To format a book means to structure it in a way that makes it look good on a specific medium. Creating an ebook, for example, requires different software and page setup instructions than creating a file for a print book. There are plenty of people who will handle this chore for you, often editors you work with will have these services available so you don’t even need to hunt down a new contact for help. But, as with every other aspect we discussed in the last section, that’s going to have an impact on your timetable.

                Having been at this for a while, I can get my books formatted for all types of release (digital, paperback, hardback) easily within an afternoon. If I were sending it out for someone else to handle, I would expect it to take a couple of days, even if they work as fast as I do. That extra time is what’s spent figuring out when they can do it, agreeing to terms, and so forth. Keeping tighter control of my schedule is why I learned to do a lot of this myself, its one less area where I have to worry about a delay knocking things out of sync. How much you do or don’t know how to handle on your own for these projects will definitely impact your release timeline, and while there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing it all you should make sure you’re allotting appropriate time to see the tasks done before launch.

                Hitting the end of a book is an amazing feeling, but it’s not quite akin to crossing a finish line, not when there’s still so much left to do. I would more acquaint it to being on the home stretch, with the finish line in sight. Tempting as it is to call the race done; it isn’t really over until those books are in people’s hands. Only then do we get to collapse, panting, on the ground and really savor our accomplishment. Of course, the collapsing in my case might have to do with me doing shots on release day, but hey, the metaphor still holds up!

Lessons From Halloween In The Suburbs

                I’ve made no secret that earlier this year I left Deep Ellum for a Dallas suburb and the chance to live in an actual house instead of an apartment. There were a lot of reasons for doing so: cost, time, convenience, space, and many more. But of course the real reason is quite simple: Halloween. Apartments are bullshit for Halloween. The most you can do is hang some spider webs on your balcony, carve a pumpkin that will get stolen, and hang a spooky wreath on your door. No trick or treaters, no grand decorations, fucking forget even the idea of a haunted house, can’t very well pull that off without one of the two words in the name, can you?

                This year is my first time doing a real Halloween in a house, and I have loved it. That said, there were some parts I wasn’t quite prepared for. I’m guessing many of you, like me, are either new to having a house or still working toward it, so it seemed like a good time to pass along a bit of the education I’ve gotten this year.

 

Your Decoration Budget is Wrong

                Whatever you’re thinking you’ll spend to get the Halloween you want, think again. Then again. Probably a few more times, unless you’re an investment banker or living on a yacht made of cocaine. Halloween is way more expensive than it looks from the outside. When the seasonal stuff finally started coming out, I was on that shit. I went to every store even remotely near me, taking pictures, comparing prices, getting a general sense for what I wanted to do and how much it would cost. By the end, I had reached the sobering conclusion that doing something awesome would cost, and this is not an exaggeration, thousands of dollars. Seriously. A big display element, like a huge inflatable or the dinosaur skeleton I know we all drooled over at Home Depot, is several hundred bucks on its own, and one element does not a haunted house make.

                Even the smaller shit adds up. I wanted to put lights on my walkway and saw some for only $10. Ah, but they are quite short, so doing both sides all the way down would take six sets, jumping the cost for a small display accent to $60. In the end I spent $40 and did the lighting only to the second step, deciding I’d buy more next year. There’s going to be a lot of that, when you launch your first display operation. I assume even if you have thousands to spend on once-a-year decorations, it might be hard to actually fork over the cash.

                The advice here is to scale back your plans, think hard about what elements will do the most for your display at the lowest expense, and remember above all that you don’t have to come out of the gate with the best house on the block. It’s a long game; you can build up your spooky arsenal over time.

 

Research Your Candy Needs

                Once before, I had a rent house in a small neighborhood. Now this was a temporary thing so I couldn’t really decorate, but I was there during Halloween. As an enthusiast of the season, I put a few meager decorations out, then bought a shitload of candy and braced for the onslaught. I promise, I am not using hyperbole when I say the doorbell rang maybe 3 times, tops. I honestly think it was 2. Apparently, the neighborhood wasn’t exactly a local hot spot for trick or treaters, and while I’ll admit I wasn’t exactly heart-broken about having pounds of leftover candy, it did make sticking to a sensible diet hard for a while.

                Not all areas are created equal in terms of trick or treating appeal, and that was a weird concept for me. When I think back to childhood, I remember every street being crammed full of other kids knocking on doors. But yeah, of course that’s how I remember it, I was a kid in a neighborhood my parents took me to for the purposes of trick or treating. It never dawned on me to think about the areas where I wasn’t.

                The point here is to be aware of what your needs will be. Overbuying is bad, of course, but coming up short would be even worse. Nobody wants to wash egg off their windows. In my case, I’ve talked to my neighbors and checked to see what the usual turnout for trick or treaters is to make sure I’ve got an appropriate amount of candy on hand. How accurate that information is remains to be seen, but at least I feel prepared. And hey, if I overbought again, at least I made sure to pick up a bunch of shit I like. May as well enjoy my slide into decadence.

 

Your Halloween Plans Have to Change

                Now obviously on the weekend before Halloween, you’ll be doing things much the same. Going to parties dressed in ridiculous costumes and infuriating Lyft drivers when you try to fit your outfit into the car while drunk. On the actual night, however, your options are going to be different. For the past few years, my main move on Halloween has been to throw on a costume, walk to a bar, and have fun. This year, things will be different. Obviously I’m not going to be able to start partying mid-way through the day, nobody needs a drunk version of me hurling candy at children, my aim is bad enough sober. Beyond that, living out in the suburbs means getting to an actual bar district is a taller order. By the time the kids clear out, it probably won’t be worth the cost of getting to a bar on a week night.

                It’s a strange feeling, breaking tradition, but I’m resolving it by starting some new ones. Halloween is going to be a movie marathon day for me this year, a running reel of my favorite classics. When friends get off work, they’ll be able to come join; I’ll probably make some sort of festive beverage for the occasion. Simple, low-key, and easy for people to walk in and out of as their schedule allows. And that’s just the idea I wanted to do the most, feel free to find a celebration that works for you.

                As expensive, mysterious, and occasionally inconvenient as it is to be in a house for Halloween, I am so freaking excited about it. My yard has pumpkins, there’s a trough’s worth of candy in my kitchen, and I’m making a playlist of some great (and great to drink to) scary movies for the day itself. Also, let me know what Halloween traditions you’ve all put together in the comments. I may steal some for next year!

Scared Drunk Drinkalong Power Hour

Hey there folks! Time for another Drinkalong Power Hour, this one themed to the holiday season upon us now. Since Ruby is gone, I decided to try something different this time and do a remote Power Hour with some of the great guys from Authors & Dragons. If any of you aren’t familiar with Steve Wetherell or Rick Gualtieri then by all means check out their incredible work. Or just crack a beer and drink with us as we celebrate the spooky season.

Sidenote: In a few spots, my feed got slightly lagged behind the others. It’s not noticeable often, but in the few spots it is I wanted to acknowledge it lest you all think you’re going nuts.

 

Drew Tries Stuff: Weird Halloween Candy

                That’s right, it’s time for another harrowing blog entry where I put my taste buds, comfort, and often general safety into danger, all so that none of you will have to suffer a similar experience. Except when the items reviewed are good, I mean, but really how often does that even happen? Anyway, since it is still the glorious month of October (Hail the Great Pumpkin) and I’m keeping things Halloween themed, what better target for a Drew Tries Stuff than some of the weird, unnatural, or just plain absurd Halloween Candy you pass by every year. No longer will these flashes in the pan be forgotten, resigned only to the carts of shoppers whose passion (or eyesight) has faded. Today, they get a moment in the spotlight to shine brightly or melt from the heat. Hint: it’s mostly the second one.

 

Boo Bands

                No, this isn’t a boy band made of ghosts… but someone remind me to pitch that to Disney when I’m done with this blog. Rather, it’s a weird callback to those Live Strong bracelets that were all the rage a few years ago, until they had a color for every cause, becoming ubiquitous and then ridiculous in a short span of time. It is Halloween though, so I guess it’s unfair to give a company shit for going grave-digging. Not content to merely revitalize these fashion accessories, this version of the bands is, wait for it, edible! Yeah, I guess that was kind of a given from the start, huh?

                There are four flavors of Boo Band, but I only made it through 3 because nobody wants orange and also watermelon stopped me dead in my tracks. Sorry, getting ahead of myself. Before we look at the Boo Bands as food, we must first see how they fair as a bracelet. Ready…………. the answer is Badly! I’m not big on actually donning wearable food to start with, I ate my Ring Pops and Candy Necklaces away from my flesh, but at least those could be functionally worn if one so desired. Boo Bands come out of the package sticky, and stinky, with a texture like someone already licked every inch of it. Greasy was the word that sprang to mind. So, not a great bracelet, but maybe they redeem themselves with a delicious… fuck it, let’s not draw this out, they were horrid. The best of them, sour apple, had virtually no taste, while watermelon was like biting down on a hunk of spoiled chemicals. From start to finish, it was an abysmal experience.

Rating: 1 out of 5 necromancers ruining another damn first date by accidentally re-animating the steak, again.

 

Twizzlers Carmel Apple Filled Twists

                No weird fashion options here, just a good ole-fashioned Twizzler. Only, what’s this, someone seems to have stuffed it full of a knock-off version of caramel? Well, surely the fine people at Twizzler know what they’re doing, right? …right?

                There’s only one place I can start with this one, and it’s the smell. As soon as I cracked open the bag, I felt like my senses had been assaulted by plastic, sadness, and someone getting fired over the creation of this product. I had friends with me trying all of these, and after I passed the bag around for a sniff test the overall reaction was to ask if we had backup options. It’s fucking pungent, y’all. Still, I am a dedicated professional, in as much as doing this job can be called professional, so I marched on, opening one of the individual packs and taking a bite.

                Looking back, I wonder if perhaps the smell was some sort of brilliant, avant-garde type of marketing. These Twizzlers were not good; let me be very clear about that. However, after being assaulted by the stink of the bag, I found myself relieved by the taste that entered my mouth. Subpar as they were, compared to the bag-stench they were positively tolerable. “Not as bad as I expected” isn’t really the review any creator dreams of, but it’s hard to deny there is a somewhat positive spin on it. Maybe the stink was done to purposely lower expectations, maybe it’s a happy coincidence, all I know is that while I didn’t continue with any more bites, I wasn’t furious about the one I took.

Rating: 2 out of 5 evil skeletons freezing and then moving among the Halloween decorations on people’s lawns just to fuck with passersby.

 

Bloody Fang Bites

                Another shot at wearable candy, at least this one has the sense to keep things in the mouth, where stickiness is an expected part of the equation. Plus, they kept their toy and candy separate. Bloody Fang Bites are a set of cheap plastic fangs paired with a pack of red “blood” that you pour into the fangs, then set them in your mouth and slowly drain the blood, creating a vampiric looking effect while also delivering that necessary hit of sugar. Dumb? Yes. Guaranteed to stain the shit out of an angry parent’s carpet? Oh without question, but they aren’t your kids or carpet, so we’ll leave that for someone else’s review.

                In terms of how well the fangs work as a blood delivery system, there’s a lot to be desired. It’s probably worth noting that these fangs are definitely sized for kids though, they’re smaller than the normal ones I see at Halloween stores every year, so perhaps my gaping adult maw just couldn’t properly deal with fangs intended for smaller mouths. Or, more likely, it’s just a shitty idea, but I do feel compelled to at least give the company doubt, if not the benefit of it. As for the blood itself… actually, it wasn’t that bad. Another supposed watermelon flavor, it mainly tasted just of sweetness, which isn’t a high bar but finally washed out the taste from the Boo Bands, so I was feeling forgiving. Calling it good would be a stretch, however the taste is neutral enough to fade into the background of better candy, and the packs of fangs/blood don’t actually come with instructions to pour the blood into the fangs; those directions are only on the main pack. Kids are probably going to think it’s weird that they got fake fangs and candy blood, but I doubt they’ll be so enraged as to find it worthy of revenge.

Rating: 4 out of 5 witches spiking the neighborhood punch with magical hallucinogen potions, because sometimes they miss the good ole Halloween festivals of yore.

Thunder Pear Publishing Haunted House Memo

                Okay Grant, third time is the charm. I know you managed to save your job after sending the unedited memo (again) by winning the quarterly keg-relay and gaining a wish from Mr. Hayes, but you have got to get it together. Proof the memo, make the changes, and then send it to me. Just me, no one else. Who am I kidding, we both know this fucker is going to end up going wide, you incompetent little shit. Why do I stay here and put up with you insane people? Well, aside from the salary, benefits, generous vacation time, and permission to drink on the job. Speaking of… whoo! That is bad whiskey. Anyway, see if you can surprise us all and get it right this time.

                Happy October everyone! I know this is a big time for us, we’ve all seen the crews setting up Halloween decorations in the office, and Mr. Hayes sneaking around, repositioning the skeletons to seem as though they are mid-coitus, so that can only mean that Halloween is on the horizon. While we will, of course, be having our annual Halloween party, despite the adamant protests of the city and its police force, today we need to discuss the more immediate Halloween project Mr. Hayes has committed us to. Thunder Pear Publishing will be creating a haunted house attraction to run on weekends through October, staffed by employees who want time-and-a-half as well as access to an open bar and substances I am not legally allowed to describe, but Mr. Hayes calls “tricky treats”. See if you can rephrase some of this, Grant. It’s obvious what we’re talking about, but that doesn’t quite convey how… unique some of the stock is. I didn’t even know hawks had glands that could secret a hallucinogen, let alone that it could be turned into ice cubes for cocktails.

                Given those conditions, it’s no surprise that the sign-up sheet has already been largely filled. However, we are obligated to remind you that this is still a work event, which means there are certain protocols and procedures that must be followed. Below is a list of the basics, expect more direction to come once you arrive for your chosen shift. We are giving you this part early to familiarize yourself with these core rules. And because no one shows up to these things sober or in the mood to listen. We once tried to hold a meeting at the start of an event, and let me tell you, I’ve never seen these people destroy a conference room faster. Not even the time our vodka delivery came late to the Easter party.

                1) While the Thunder Pear Publishing dress code is traditionally lax, especially where freedom of expression regarding costumes is concerned, please remember that this is an event open to the public, and as such we are legally required to adhere to all public decency laws. Charlie’s Snake Charmer costume is an example of one that, while demonstrating a tremendous amount of skill and bodily control, would not be appropriate for this event. Save the daring stuff for the Halloween party!

                2) Candy will be kept in plastic blue pails spread throughout the haunted house to be given or thrown at guests as they make their way through the building. Please do not pelt, or otherwise try to injure our guests, regardless of how “in character” it feels within the moment. Litigation from our spring juggling musical is still pending, and Mr. Hayes has a very firm policy of only dealing with one court case at a time.

                3) “Candy” will be in orange pumpkin buckets and spread throughout the haunted house. Please do not mix this up with the items in the blue pails, as these are being provided strictly for the employees. Giving them out to the public would not only be incredibly illegal, but vastly expensive. Grant, tighten this a little to make sure it’s not giving away what the “candy” is in case the memo ends up in another pile of evidence. Also, I saw you’re signed up to work the haunted house, so a word of warning: don’t touch the pumpkin bucket candy until you’re almost done with your shift, and only if you have a ride home. Sara tried one yesterday and spent the rest of the afternoon yelling at a lamppost for being a shitty father.

                4) The Thunder Pear Publishing Law of Challenge will be suspended during the haunted house. We cannot have our employees leaving their stations to settle every grievance that arises when guests are coming through. Grant, since you’ve been in and out over the year, you may not know this part. All Thunder Pear Publishing employees have the right to settle disagreements by invoking the Rite of Challenge, whereby they spin the sacred wheel to determine a game of battle, with the winner getting their way. As you can imagine, everything on the wheel is at least a drinking game. Mr. Hayes has agreed to provide extra time on Monday mornings for all accumulated challenges to be sorted at the top of the workweek. Popcorn will be provided for spectators.

                5) Although Mr. Hayes appreciates the level of dedication many of you are putting into your respective rooms, we would like to remind you that this is meant to scare guests only on a superficial level. Vampires, monsters, mummies, and the like are all perfectly acceptable themes to build a room around. Existential dread, the knowledge that the universe is a vast uncaring expanse of constant death, and the fact that virtually no one realizes their dreams or finds fulfillment are concepts better left for guests to discover on their own through life. Those are the kind of terrors that don’t go away, and if our guests stay scared then they won’t need to come back next year.   

                6) The goal of a haunted house is not, despite what some circulating emails have claimed, to make as many guests as possible soil themselves. It is especially not a goal that should be attempted through the use of laxative mist, sonic brown notes, or hexes, as many of you have planned. We are there to scare our guests only; the state of their bowel upon exit should be none of our concern. The rumors that Mr. Hayes has a reward planned for whoever makes the most people poop their pants are patently false and unfounded; we are certainly not saying that just to give HR some kind of edge in the competition. Grant, see if you can make this a little less… obvious, I suppose?

                7) We are aware that some of our employees believe this Halloween season will bring the emergence of Horgorilth, the hungry beast who hides behind the moon. While Thunder Pear Publishing respects the rights and beliefs of its employees, we do ask that any ceremonial nude blood bathing be done in your own homes, or at least with the use of proper plastic lining to prevent office staining. We would greatly like to avoid a repeat of the supposed rising of Thristicort on Saint Patrick’s Day. Break Room 2 still has the lingering odor, and the ghost is so displeased we’ve had to move up to three bottles of booze per week to appease it.

                8) Lastly, all employees wishing to utilize pyrotechnics in their respective rooms must gain clearance to do so. Mr. Hayes has hired outside specialists to make sure that every use of fire is “rad as fucking shit” before showing it to the public. When pressed, he added, “oh yeah, some bullshit about safety too” which is as close as we are going to get to a call for safety from him. Requests for pyrotechnic approval can be made by contacting HR, or going to the roof and playing metal music until someone arrives, just as we do for conference calls.

                More information still to come, but let’s all work together to make an amazing haunted house for everyone involved! And the guests too, I guess. Grant, maybe chop that last line. Eh, who am I kidding, I doubt you even read this shit. Whatever. Time to get more terrible whiskey. Those Horgorilth people are making some good points, so maybe it’s better to party while we can.

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

The Importance of Conditioning

                This isn’t a term that gets bandied about as much as some of the others out there, so I think it’s worth starting this blog off with a definition of what I’m talking about when I say “conditioning”. To condition an audience is simply to build some manner of expectation of what they should expect from you. There are a lot of types of conditioning out there, but genre is the one people deal with most often. For example, even if you know nothing else about a novel, if I told you Stephen King wrote it then you would be reasonably sure that it was horror-themed. Why? Because that’s what he has written almost exclusively through his career, so he’s conditioned us to expect that from him. Same with Christopher Moore and comedy, or Dr. Seuss and kids’ books. Remember when people were shocked that JK Rowling wrote a crime novel? There’s really no reason that should be shocking, she’s an accomplished author, except that we’ve all been conditioned to only expect YA wizard novels from her.

                In many ways, conditioning is a lot like branding, except that it can apply to a greater spectrum of possibilities. Conditioning itself is actually a good thing overall, it’s the process by which you create audience expectations. However, it is also important to be aware of exactly what you’re conditioning them to expect, because that will have long-term impacts for years to come. As usual in these, I’ll use myself as an example, simply because I can point out my own mistakes and lessons easily. I made them, after all. So what do I mean by being aware of what conditioning you are doing?

                Let’s take a look at the Spells, Swords, & Stealth series as an example. The first book, NPCs, came out in spring of 2014. It did better than I expected, so I was a little slower in getting a sequel out, meaning Split the Party didn’t arrive until fall of 2015. After that, I had Going Rogue release in fall, again, for 2016. Now at this point, the books were really beginning to swell in size. Going Rogue was almost double the size of NPCs, and they were getting so big that I no longer felt I could commit to writing one every year while still keeping up with my other releases. Since I knew SP: Year 4 was going to eat a lot of 2017, I made the choice to not try and tackle another one this year. And for the past few months, I have gotten more tweets, emails, and in-person questions about the next SS&S book than anything else. Even after making public announcements several times, people keep reaching out, asking where the book is.

                And you know what? That’s largely on me. Look at the release schedule again. Every year for three years, I put out a book in that series, with the last two coming out in the same season, maybe even the same month if I remember right. I’m the one who conditioned people to believe that was a series I could produce every year, and while it was true when they were smaller, I probably should have planned for them to grow past it after the wordcount jump of Split the Party. If I’d been a little more aware, thinking ahead of what was to come; I at least could have broken up the release schedule a bit, made it less predictable so people wouldn’t think of them as an annual entry. It’s no wonder people are surprised there’s no SS&S book this year, I’m the one who conditioned them to expect those entries regularly.

                It’s the same with a lot of aspects of the business. I frequently see authors who write one genre/series for a long time, then try to break into something new only to hit pushback from an audience who are conditioned to expect only one flavor from them. Although I certainly didn’t plan it at the time, I was lucky that I launched multiple series in multiple genres early on, because that conditioned my audience to expect variety, meaning I don’t hit the same walls when I branch off into new, sometimes weirder, stuff.

                So what does all this talk mean, on a practical level? Well, it means that you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you take some time to sit down and look at where you want your career to be in a few years. Not the amount of sales/success, we’re all crossing our fingers for golden helicopters and yachts big enough to house smaller yachts. Think more in terms of what you want to be doing. Are you hoping to write multiple series, or commit hard to one all the way through? Are you trying to release several books a year? What genre(s)? How long are they? How frequently do they come out? Really drill down on the kind of schedule and year you think you’ll want to have. Once that’s done, take a step back and compare that plan to where you are now and ask yourself this question: is that the sort of output you’re conditioning your audience to expect?

                If it is, great! Carry on, you fictional bastard. For the rest of us who have to learn and flop about as we go, there are usually changes to make on what we’re doing now to make people happy with what we expect to do down the line. Planning multiple genres? Maybe pop out a few standalones or short stories, making it clear that you have ideas for more than your current medium. Whatever schedule you’ve got planned for the future, how close to it are you now? The sooner you can get on/near it; the sooner readers will know to start looking for new releases around those times of the year. If you’re launching a new series, how often will you put out entries? Even if you’re already ahead on the sequel, it might be a good idea to give the original breathing room so you don’t make people think you’ll be able to churn out every sequel that quickly.

                At its core, conditioning should be the process by which you set expectations for the readers. Things they can rely on you to provide, be it entries in a specific genre or timetables when new content will arrive. Being aware of that and laying the groundwork for it means getting to come through on those expectations, giving the readers what you’ve shown them you’ll deliver and creating a sense of consistency.

The Leaked Drew Hayes Appearance Rider

                Well, it happened, and it looks like there’s no going back from it now. Someone leaked my rider, the document all “celebrities” have for setting up their accommodations before they arrive at a venue. Now some have said that mine is, perhaps, a tad ambitious for a mid-list author who does most of his catalogue through indie publishing. And to those people I say “Sure, but since when is being ambitious a bad thing?” Got to set up those expectations early on, so that when I go full on Howard Hughes nuts toward the end no one can look back and say it was a surprise. To that effect, and to save you the trouble of googling about, I’ll go ahead and just paste the rider here, for all to see. Full transparency and all that.

The Official Drew Hayes (President of Thunder Pear Publishing, 2-Time Shot Champion, Silver-Tier Chipotle Rewards Member) Rider for Personal Appearances.

 

                1) Drew Hayes must be greeted upon arrival by a full band. What they play is up to them, but it must be well-rehearsed and pleasing to the ear. Please note that Mr. Hayes defines a full band to have at least 1: guitar, trumpet, saxophone, drum, bass, xylophone, bagpipe, and triangle. No one else is required to listen to the sound they create, as our lawyers have told us that might technically be classified as torture.

                2) Drew Hayes expects a fully-chilled keg in his green room, with plastic cups of at least Solo quality. Color is irrelevant, only durability. The keg beer must be: beer and cold. That is the only direction Mr. Hayes is willing to give, so please do not ask him for more. Efforts to make him choose result in him breaking down in tears, saying it is like picking a favorite child.

                3) The greenroom will also need the following furniture: 1 table large enough for beer pong or flip-cup. 1 couch soft enough to pass out on. 3 chairs of any quality. 1 television with access to Netflix. 1 over-sized bucket that no one would mind seeing puke in, as the drinking games often lead some to vomit. At the discretion of the venue, they are permitted to put plastic down on the floors and carpet to make clean-up easier. Mr. Hayes has thrown a house-party, he recognizes the struggle.

                4) Any member of the staff that looks Drew Hayes in the eye will be expected to take a drink. This is less of a condition, more of a general warning. When the party is going, he will begin to expand it outward, much like the growth of a natural disaster. Please keep any employees uncomfortable with such recreational activities out of Mr. Hayes’s line of sight for their own good. Or have them say they are designated driving upon catching Mr. Hayes’s eye. He respects those who take on such a mantle, and will immediately cease any and all attempts to make them drink. They may, however, still be in danger of getting dragged onto stage. Which brings us to:

                5) A karaoke machine must be available and hooked up to the television. There is a high chance this won’t get used, but every now and then when the crowd feels it, songs of drunken revelry begin to get belted out, and Mr. Hayes likes to offer a platform for such celebrations. Luckily, he recognizes that he is tone deaf and will not insist on joining the activity. Unluckily, that restraint vanishes around drink #8, so perhaps pick something cheap and spill beer on it before reaching such a point. It’s your venue and your machine, so you make the call, but ear drums are harder to replace.

                6) With all the drinking and games, food will be a must for Drew Hayes and his growing katamari of intoxicated revelers. To that end, there must be access to burritos, sandwiches, sushi, and pizza. Basically, anything that would taste good drunk and help soak up the alcohol is going to go over great. Don’t be afraid to include some regional favorites, by the time they get around to eating it’s unlikely they’ll even taste most of it, so there’s a lot of leeway here.

                7) A golden chair will need to wait outside the green room, a throne that Drew Hayes can be lifted upon and carried to his next destination. Probably it will just go to the bathroom, though, what with all the fluids he’ll be taking in. And he generally only uses it for the first few trips, after that he realizes it takes too long. Do yourself a favor, stick him in a greenroom right near the urinals and make it an easy trip on the people who have to do the carrying.  

                8) While it is a given that some celebrities will want to come party with Mr. Hayes, they will need to be vetted on a case by case basis. The exceptions to that are listed below, as these celebrities are to be permitted instant access to any and all backstage shenanigans:

Neil Patrick Harris
The Rock
John Cena (or anyone with a comparable Make-A-Wish record)
Kristin Chenoweth
Lee Pace
Let’s just save time here and say anyone from a Bryan Fuller show
Kristin Bell
Jeremy Fucking Irons
Andrew W.K.
Dame Helen Mirren
Anyone with beer

                9) Fans who wish to go backstage (who do not already satisfy the “bringing beer” requirement) will be permitted only if they prove capable of answering thee these riddles three. Mr. Hayes does not actually have riddles in mind; he will let you freely choose/create your own. The sole condition is that he himself must not be able to solve 2/3 of them, as if he can do it then he deems them too easy. Given Mr. Hayes’ penchant for pre-gaming while being driven to a venue, there is little risk of him actually being capable of solving them. Occasionally they forget to stock the cars with backseat champagne, however, so have a few extra riddles on hand just in case.

                10) Finally, Mr. Hayes will need a dedicated escape route as once whatever show he is part of is over, he will anticipate a huge crush of fans screaming and pelting him with tabletop miniatures. This has never actually happened, not even close, yet he continues to anticipate it so accommodations must be made.

Much Ado About Blades & Barriers

                I debated a few times whether or not to write this blog. More than once, I leaned toward just putting up an announcement. But I try really hard to do as much transparency as possible on this site, for the folks who want to know what goes into writing as well as the people who just care about the stories. So in the end, I felt like this was a good chance to shine a light on one of the harder calls to make behind the scenes, as well as get a sense for what my audience as a whole wants.

                With that pre-amble done, let’s jump to the heart of the matter: Blades & Barriers. It’s been a fun story overall, and it’s given me a chance to flesh out some world-building aspects I hadn’t gotten to play with before, but, to be frank, it needs work. While I eventually found my footing on the general direction I wanted the story to go, getting there was hit and miss, and it saddled the tale with aspects that detract from, rather than enhance, the overall story.

                Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I’ve written before about how not every story works the first time through. That you have to be willing to go back, start over, and change your own ideas if they aren’t clicking. It took me three tries to get Forging Hephaestus right, and both of the first iterations were over 50k when I pulled the plug. Recognizing that a story needs changes is a big part of being a writer and allocating your time. If this were any other book I was working on, it wouldn’t even be a blip in the radar. The issue is that this one is a web-serial, which means people are in the act of reading it, so it’s not as easy to just pull everything down and start over.

                Still, Blades & Barriers needs reworking. It has a few more chapters left in the buffer, and then it will probably go on hiatus so I can start looking at how to rebuild. It almost certainly couldn’t be back before Year 4 is done, and as you all know the serial aspect of this site is coming to an end soon. But I promised you the end of B&B, so it feels wrong to tear the first version down and then charge for the re-worked effort later down the line. The best ideas I’ve had for how to remedy that are:

1) List the new version on Kindle Unlimited. This makes things easy for everyone who uses Amazon, but it also pre-supposes that you use Kindle e-readers and have a KU subscription.

2) Make the ebook free on my site, while keeping it at normal prices on Amazon. This would be a way to get a free version available to every kind of e-reader, but also introduces a few more steps that some folks find bothersome.

                I’m sure some of you are wondering why not just do both? Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t let books in KU be given away elsewhere, so these methods are mutually exclusive. Granted, we’re talking about a book I’ll have to rewrite from the ground up, so policies might change by the time B&B is actually ready for release, but I highly doubt that will be the case. Amazon has made no bones about wanting to be sole market for ebooks, and KU exclusivity is a big part of that.

                That said, I’m very open to other options/ideas if y’all have them. The internet is big and wide, so I’d love to learn about other methods of book distribution if they make things simpler for everyone. Leave them in the comments, or let me know which free book method of the two I listed you think would be easier. I’ll try to weight the decision toward whatever works best for the greater part of the audience.

                Now then, let me give some info to pre-emptively answer questions you might have:

1) All money remaining in the B&B fund will be put into the SP fund once the hiatus starts. I don’t want people to feel like their donations went nowhere, but obviously I also couldn’t keep a donation section open for a property that isn’t posting.

2) SP will not be taking over the Tuesday slot. I know some folks have their hopes up after Year 3’s schedule was temporarily increased, but this time I have a less confined schedule, so unless something drastic changes there’s no need to race the clock and get everything posted.

3) The old B&B will stay up temporarily, for those who want to catch up even knowing that the rework is coming. Most likely it will come down in October, when other site work is already scheduled to take place.

4) As far as canon goes, the same rule applies here as to the rest of the web-serials: Nothing is set until it is published. There will be some changes to the core of B&B, but luckily I kept it far from the SP story-line, so it should have no real impact on Year 4’s story.

5) I have no estimation for when the new B&B story will be available. Since I’m starting over, it could go in a lot of different directions, and there’s no guarantee it won’t need more work even in the second incarnation. I’ll keep you all in the loop whenever I have something solid to announce, but realize that this book is getting taken back to square one, so there’s a long journey ahead.

                Hopefully that gives you all a good understanding on what’s to come, and where my mind is at in making this decision. If there’s an obvious solution to getting everyone from the site free copies, by all means let me know. My main goal here is to do right by everyone, to provide a worthwhile story for you all to enjoy. Even if it is going to take a taaaaaad bit longer than originally expected, I’m still going to see it through. It’s the least I owe you all after so many years of support.

Protecting Yourself and Your Work

                A few weeks back I got an email from a company requesting me to review a book. The thing is, I didn’t have any connection with this company, or the author in question, and the email was… let’s say aggressive. And a bit optimistic about the book they were pitching, since once I looked it up it had none of the honors or buzz they were claiming. So I decided to check out the company and do a little more research on them, mostly with the intent of emailing the author and letting him know his promotional company was doing a terrible job. I realize that to some of you that might seem like I was trying to make trouble for the guy, but the truth is as an author that’s valuable feedback. You don’t often get to experience the marketing campaign a PR company might launch, so knowing that they’re turning people off is pretty important to be aware of. Yet, when I dug in, I found out the whole company was owned by the people publishing the book, known scam publishers Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency. There are tons of reasons to avoid them (here’s a good article on those: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/alerts/#SBPRA) but I don’t want to talk about that company more today. The truth is, they’re a drop in the bucket compared to all the people out there looking to fleece writers. And on this blog, we’re going to talk about things to watch out for, and ways to keep yourself safe.

 

1. Beware Monetized Serial Sites

                I won’t spend too long on this, as I know it only applies to a very specific section of my audience, but it needs to be addressed. As web-serials have grown as a community, there have been a lot of sites offering free space to those who want to post a serial. Royal Road and Wattpad are two of the more popular ones that spring to mind. And honestly, good on them. They make their money from ads on the stories, which is a fair trade for content hosting services. The problem is, there are new versions that keep springing up every few months, ones with a very different financing model.

                At least once a quarter the Web Fiction Guide forums will get a post from someone launching a serial service with a “brand new idea”: making people pay to read the serials. This would be really long to get into, but the short version is that they want to put the content behind paywalls and split the proceeds with the authors, although “split” is a generous term in some instances. Most of us in the business have seen this exact concept flame out enough times to steer clear, so it’s not that big of an issue. The larger problem is that I also see sites who monetize by making a knock-off version of Patreon/Paypal and then taking a piece of the income. Never list with someone who does this. There is nothing wrong with monetizing content, it’s what a lot of the internet is built on, but those people are monetizing you, the author, meaning they make money off of your income directly, and there is no reason to put up with that shit. Not when there are loads of free, dependable places to put a serial. I’m sure they’ll tell you lies about their great features and amazing site tools, but these places are scams, pure and simple. And lying is what scammers do by nature.

 

2.  Research Everyone You Work With

                On to a more universal tip now: research. We all dream of getting a call from someone higher up the publishing food chain. Maybe for you it’s a publisher of any kind, or a Big 5 publisher, or a movie agent, or so on. And when we get interest from those sources, it can be very tempting to jump in with both feet forward. The thing is, all agents/publishers/whatever are not created equally. Some will treat you and your work well; others are looking to turn it for a few quick bucks. Research is the best tool available to you. Look up everything about the company. Check their Better Business Bureau rating. Check for any reports, any issues people have with them. And then, if they clear that without raising red flags, take it a step further: talk to people who use them.

                I will occasionally get emails from authors looking to work with REUTS or Tantor, since I’m publicly engaged with both companies. Now I have nothing but nice things to say about both, but I don’t mind telling them that. And if the situation was different, meaning I had a lot of bad shit to make known, you’d better believe I wouldn’t mind letting people hear about it. I know the idea of writing to someone you don’t know to ask about a company seems daunting, and I get that, but we have all been there. At some point, we were in your shoes, wondering if this was a good move, and I imagine only the shittiest among us would be bothered by answering the same questions we asked someone else. Because we really are the best source. All the internet searching in the world isn’t as good as hearing about people’s actual experience with a company.

                By the way, this goes for everyone you deal with. Editors you want to use, cover designers you’re going to hire, a hosting platform for your podcasts. Research all of them, because there are plenty of terrible ones out there who bank on you not looking too closely. Is it a pain at times? Sure. Is it better than ending up in a bad business partnership with real financial consequences? You’re damn right it is.

 

3) Understand Your Contracts

                Look, I know, we all became writers because we didn’t want to mess around with boring stuff like legal documents. But this part is vital in some aspect of every business, and we are not immune. Contracts define the very ownership and rights of the properties we create, so you’d damn well better be sure you know what you’re signing. I’m pretty sure we all know how royalties and advances work, but there are other things to note as well. Things like:

                How Long the Publisher Has: Remember, a publisher doesn’t own your book for now and forever. Or at least, they shouldn’t. A contract should come with a timeframe the publisher has to work in to get the book fully published. If the publisher fails to hit that timeframe, then the rights should go back to you, or there should be a fiscal penalty. Basically, the goal here is to make sure that they actually use those rights, rather than sitting on them because the market shifted or some element of their schedule changed.

                Reversion Rights: These are the conditions under which rights to your books return to you. Now as we just covered, the publisher not doing their job in time is usually one of these, but there need to be more than just that. Bankruptcy or closing of the company should both be listed in there right up front. I don’t care how old or established the publisher is, books are a risky game right now, and some trusted presses have gone down in the past few years, leaving their authors in murky waters as to what happened to their rights. Sometimes a publisher will return all rights during their bankruptcy filings, but if they don’t then you need it in your contract so you aren’t stuck waiting for the now-dead-publisher’s window to run out.

                Price Setting: Remember that your royalty comes off of the money earned from the sale, so when a publisher has full control over the price you’re at their mercy. If they decide it’s not doing well and drop the cost substantially, below what you would charge, then it will impact your bottom-line directly. Now a lot of publishers aren’t going to give up this control, and they have good reason for that, but you can at least establish some minimums and maximums to keep the book in a range that’s fair to both creators and consumers.

 

                It feels like there are endless more things to be aware of I’m skipping over, but that’s enough for a blog this time. Maybe I’ll do a sequel down the line. For only $99 at that, really quite a steal when you think about it. Be sure to add the “consumer awareness” medal to hang around your neck as well, only an additional $300 to let people know you’re nobody’s sucker.

Let's Fuckin Talk About The New Ducktales

                That’s right, you read the title correctly, after having to take a critical eye to The Defenders last week, today is all about one of the few reboots I’ve seen to make me this excited for a show: Ducktales (implied woohoo).  If you haven’t watched the premiere yet, you can do so for free right now. On Youtube, at that, not on some obscure app you have to sign up for. Disney is betting hard on this show, they’re so sure you’ll come back for more that they’re giving the first one away for free. And after seeing the premiere… yeah, I get it. This thing is fucking good. Not just in the polished nostalgia way either, it’s a show that can legitimately stand on its own. But that doesn’t mean they don’t throw in a lot of Easter Eggs and nods at all the Ducktales history.

                I will freely admit that Ducktales came along right when I was in the target demographic, and holy shit did I love it. Truth be told, I actually preferred Darkwing Duck more, but since I ended up being a superhero author some of that may have been genre bias. Still, the old Ducktales show was a lot of fun. Big stories, fun characters, loads of adventure. There were, however, weak spots. We didn’t really recognize them as much at the time, but as years have gone on and the overall quality/complexity of cartoons has increased (cough Gravity Falls cough) some parts of Classic Ducktales don’t look quite as rosy in hindsight. And Reboot Ducktales has tweaked pretty much all of those elements.

                The first, biggest change that shines through is the triplets: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. In Classic Ducktales, they were essentially the same character with different colored shirts. There would be occasional minor differences, but for all intents and purposes, they were one character. Even storylines focused on their group as a whole, there are no episodes where Huey gets hooked on blow and pawns GizmoDuck’s shit for a fix. In Reboot Ducktales, they are clearly defined from the start as three individuals. The fact that they now have distinct voice actors (Dani Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan) helps sell their unique personalities. Huey is more tightly wound, Louie is a slacker, and Dewey is… actually kind of a toned-down John Ralphio from Parks & Rec, which doesn’t seem like it should work but oddly does. Anyway, not only are the triplets unique, with their own interactions and voices, they’re also being treated as individuals. The premiere has a plot thread about Dewey learning to think more than 2 seconds ahead and not act on impulse. Not groundbreaking, I’ll grant you, but the mere fact that they were willing to give one triplet an arc opens up tons of new story-telling avenues for the Reboot to explore.

                The next change Reboot Ducktales made: Webby. Her previous incarnation has aged… poorly, in most people’s esteem. She rarely got fun lines or played a big role in plots (outside of getting kidnapped) and was sort of treated like a tag-along. Reboot Webby is wildly different. I do have to pause for a minute and acknowledge that, as a lot of folks have pointed out, she does share similarities to Mabel from Gravity Falls. Grappling hooks, boundless enthusiasm, that sort of thing. That said, she also has her own characteristics as well: social anxiety, proclivity toward violence, fanatical obsession with the McDuck family. In the end, I think she stands on her own, but the comparisons to Gravity Falls are unavoidable, especially since some of the GF staff came to work on the new Ducktales. However, even if she was just a full-on duck version of Mabel it would still be a step-up from Classic Webby, and this incarnation is a lot of fun. She’s a character who’s been trained to deal with anything, but never actually been allowed out of the mansion. Knowledge without experience is a fun dynamic to play with, and they’ve already shown it’s a rich area for humor with just a few scenes.

                Now on to what is arguably the biggest change of Reboot Ducktales: Donald Duck. The other changes were tweaks to existing dynamics in the show, but this is the insertion of a whole new character. New to the series, anyway, fans of the comics know that historically Donald plays a major part in the Ducktales world. Reboot Ducktales clearly wanted to go that route, as Donald isn’t shipping off to the navy this time; he’s staying with Scrooge and the triplets to go on adventures. Donald didn’t get a ton of screen time in the premiere, but what he had was solid. Really though, the most fascinating part of Donald being there is his relationship to Scrooge. In Classic Ducktales, Scrooge never really had anyone around to challenge him. I mean, villains, sure, but I’m talking on a personal level. Everyone was either a child or an employee, so Scrooge pretty much ran shit. Donald is different. Scrooge can’t fire him, he isn’t a kid, and most importantly: Donald knows Scrooge. He knows him very well, and is perfectly comfortable calling him on his shit. They showcase this with only a few lines in the first episode, setting up a great dynamic that could add a whole new dimension to the series.

                 Scrooge himself is much the same, more tweaked than overhauled. Since the previous voice actor passed away, David Tennant (yes, that David Tennant) has taken over the role and done as masterful of a job as anyone would expect from an actor of his caliber. They shifted Scrooge’s costume to more resemble his comic-book version, and gave him a bit more joyful enthusiasm for adventuring than he used to have, but all in all it’s the same Scrooge we know and love.

                The last thing to talk about is the general tone of Reboot Ducktales. Aside from being more action-oriented with a stronger emphasis on quick, funny dialogue, Reboot Ducktales has also borrowed an element from modern cartoons: running mysteries. Spoiler Warning if you’ve somehow read this whole blog and still not gone to watch the show yet. Everyone lame gone? Good. So, the creators have said each season (It’s already been renewed for #2, told you Disney was betting hard on this) will have a running mystery plot that threads through the episodes. And at the end of the premiere, we got a teaser of what season one’s will probably be. Dewey, examining an old portrait of Scrooge and Donald on a pirate ship, fixes a torn corner to reveal one more person in the painting: the triplets’ mother. That is wild, because not even the comics have delved much into their parents (the dad is still a mystery, the mother we’ve seen largely through flashbacks, not interacting with her kids). It’s new ground that not even the most dedicated of Ducktales fans can predict, because we’re sailing in uncharted waters.

                It’s a mystery that is an adventure for the fans, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the madcap antics of the new Ducktales. Woohoo!

P.S. If you want to see how deep the Reboot Ducktales went on adding nods to their history, R.K. Milholland (Creator of Somethingpositive.net) did an awesome analysis of Webby’s board, which someone compiled neatly here: https://storify.com/SR510/randy-on-the-duck-family-tree-aug-13-2017

The Good and Bad of The Defenders

                I know this blog is coming a full week after The Defenders has debuted, basically an eternity in internet time, but them’s the breaks of having a Friday morning blog and trying to talk about a series that also came out on a Friday. Still, The Defenders is a pretty big event, the first attempt by Netflix to pull the connected universe move, and it ties in to the Marvel one at that. Now up to this point, Netflix’s Marvel shows were riding an overall positive wave, with the exception of Iron Fist, and even that one was more “meh” than “horrid.” The real challenge was that every character they’d given a series too had a very established tone and style, and putting them all together was going to make it hard to sustain that? Was The Defenders up to that challenge? Well, no. But it was still pretty good.

                Fair warning, to talk about The Defenders I’m going to risk diving into spoiler territory. I’ll try to keep it vague, but you’ve officially been warned. With that out of the way, let’s start by talking about the core plot of The Defenders: The Hand wants to use Iron Fist to open a door sealed by an older Iron Fist, behind which is some sort of thing they want. See? Keeping it vague. Now that might make it sound like this show is going to be Iron Fist focused, and that’s true in early parts, but within a few episodes it becomes clear that Iron Fist is more of a plot device than anything, this is really Daredevil’s story above all others. And you know what? I’m good with that. Charlie Cox is a great actor, and Daredevil had an extra season to lay the groundwork for this conflict, as well as create personal stakes.

                The bigger problem overall was that I couldn’t help thinking about how much better this would have been as a Daredevil/Iron fist team-up, rather than a full Defenders show. Daredevil and Iron Fist are both martial artists, they both have history of hating The Hand, they play on very similar levels. For them, a room full of ninjas is a serious problem with stakes and tension. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, however, kind of play in a different league. Luke especially is so powerful that the idea of some of these situations being dangerous is kind of laughable, even as you watch it happen.

                To give a specific example: early in the show there is a really great scene of Luke “fighting” Iron Fist, by which I mean Iron Fist wails on Luke ineffectually with normal martial arts, mostly doing jack shit except avoiding Luke’s counter-attacks. Only when we’ve spent a good few minutes seeing how powerless Danny Rand is against his enemy does Danny whip out the Iron Fist and knock Luke across the alley. It’s a great scene, a wonderful demonstration in how to make both fighters look strong in their own respects. Yes, Luke is so goddamn tough that even trained fighters can’t touch him, but that also adds to how awesome the Iron Fist is for being able to mess him up. Both men come out looking powerful. So what’s the problem? A few episodes later Luke is getting kicked by henchmen, henchmen, and stumbling back. I’ll even ignore the fact that Luke and Jessica should be knocking mother fuckers through walls, they at least tried to lampshade that part, but there is no circumstance where nameless ninjas should be able to kick around the guy who fucking Iron Fist couldn’t budge without using his power.

                That’s sort of Luke and Jessica’s deal in this whole series though. Because the challenge is so tailored to Iron Fist and Daredevil, it feels like they were tacked on superfluously in a lot of segments. Jessica Jones, who arguably had one of the most powerful, character-driven stories of the series so far, gets dialed back to the point where she just delivers surly one-liners from the background and makes occasional jokes about booze. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still great because Kristin Ritter is way past fucking talented, but it is very clear that writing for her was not a priority. Even Luke, who does get some fun scenes with Iron Fist, hopefully foreshadowing Heroes for Hire, has to stay in the background of almost every fight because he should cleaning house and we know it.

                I’ve been kind of hard on Defenders so far, but I do think it’s important for you to have an idea of what to expect going in. Still, I think it’s time we started looking at some of the things they did right. One of the best moves of the show was one I didn’t expect: they kept it contained to a very tight timeframe. While I would have loved a long series about them all living their own lives and then linking up on occasion, building that with so many loner characters would have been tough and hard to believe. The way they threw them together made sense: people are trying to kill all of them. They can be together or solo, but mother fuckers are still going to try and cut them down. That’s a good justification for everyone sticking together; self-preservation is a hell of an instinct. And keeping the show in the span of a few days meant there wasn’t time for that kind of alliance to wear thin or fall apart. They were just tossed together, and by the end they’d fought through hell with one another, so we’re willing to accept there’s a kind of bond there.

                They also do a nice job weaving in the side characters in small, carefully doled out doses. The show knows we came for the superheroes, but gives us some occasional insights into the mortals at their sides, which actually does serve to add moments of humanity to the frantic pace. Daredevil’s people get the most time, of course, but given the journey that group is on, the time never feels misspent. We’re seeing a man on the precipice, with voices on both sides urging him in their direction, so watching him interact with the ones advocating for a normal life adds a bit of realism to the choice.

                At the end of the day, The Defenders did the job it was designed for, in that all of the Netflix Marvel heroes now know about each other and are living in a connected world. I hope that future installments either give some focus to Luke and Jessica, or create a threat where all the heroes have a chance to show what they can really do.

                Oh, and one last gripe, this one with a serious spoiler warning before you read the next part: Netflix, you’ve made some of the best villains in the MCU, movies included. Stop killing the best ones midway through the series! Seriously, at least treat it like Jessica Jones and end the season with that shit.

Intro to Dungeon Mastering

                As I feel like most of you know already, although if you somehow made it to the blog without picking up on this then kudos, but I’m a fan of playing tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. Between the book centering on a clear stand-in for the series, my podcast in which I DM a group of fellow authors doing a terrible job defending the lands, and my decades of playing in dozens of systems, it’s a topic I’m public about enjoying. The consequence of this is that sometimes I’ll get folks who are trying to break into tabletop gaming as a DM, looking for advice or for me to run a game. While I only wish I had time for the latter, the former is one I’m glad to help with. So, here are some rules and guidelines I’ve set for myself over the years to try and make games run as fun and smoothly as possible. Although, as with all things D&D, remember that what works for you is what works best, and don’t be afraid to cast my methods aside if you find one better. You’re the only real DM for your group, so giving them a good game comes first.

 

1. No Railroading

                In some ways, I think every subject I cover on this blog will touch back on this one, because it’s at the heart of every game. You are building a world, a story, a sprawling narrative with complex characters and perfectly calibrated challenges. It’s a flawless tale with highs and lows and the players would see that if only they would do the right damn quests. Yes, since the first dice were thrown, players have been doing dumb shit that their DM never saw coming. All those carefully crafted plot threads burned to ash, along with the tavern, because one character was sure he had the necessary dexterity to juggle burning lanterns and now they’re all on the run from town guards. As the DM, it can be tempting, so very tempting, to push them in the “correct” direction. A few shoves, here and there, to get the party back on storyline track. But the thing is… you can’t.

                Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t have on-ramps for them to get back on the main quest if they so choose, however that’s a far cry from forcing them on there. As the DM, you control the entire world. You are every NPC, you crafted each sunset, you brewed all of the potions the party keeps guzzling. With all that power, it’s easy to think that you control everything about the game, but there is one exception. You don’t, you can’t, control the characters. What they do, the choices they make, those have to be theirs alone. Sure, they should face consequences for doing dumb crap, but it should be consequences for that decision, not for straying off the story-path. I’ve seen a lot of games fall apart in my life, and nothing will kill a game faster than a DM doing this. Because if the DM controls the characters too, then it’s not really a game anymore. It’s just one person telling a story, using the others as props.

 

2. Build the Game the Players Want

                Maybe you’ve got a dark, horror-themed campaign in mind. You’ll do lots of subtle, creepy stuff testing the characters’ wits and courage at every turn. You build your campaign, loose enough to allow for changes when the players go off script, then turn the players loose on character creation. Aaaaaaand they decide it would be funny to roll a party of four barbarians, led by one named Cockthresher. For anyone who has never played D&D or run with a party of straight DPS-style characters, like barbarians, let me tell you, there is nothing witty or subtle about them. That group is going to smash into and through every obstacle with all the restraint of a drunken hammer. You’ll be looking up durability for walls and doors every session if you try and trap them in puzzles, because the eventual solution will just be break everything until a wall caves.

                Similar to railroading, if you try and force them to play out this campaign the way you expected, it won’t be fun for them. A group doesn’t roll a cluster of barbarians because they want to dick around with puzzles and slow-building tensions. So now, you either need to tweak the concept of your campaign to something more fitting, or resolve yourself to non-conventional solutions to the problems you’re going to set forth. And honestly, that last bit can be fun. I’ve been in a game not too far off from this example, and it was actually a great time. Instead of being all research-minded and careful, we stormed into towns and picked fights with everyone who even looked at us sideways. Eventually, some of them were villains, and we ended up kind of on the story-path because someone talked shit to us, so we decided to try and wreck his base. Yeah, we wiped after not too long because we took on a spell-caster, but that was a risk we were aware of when we made the characters. It was a fair consequence to our choices, not the DM punishing us for doing the unexpected. We wanted dumb fun, and the DM gave us room to have that, even if it was an unconventional setting.

 

3. Keep the Game Moving

                So far, we’ve talked about existential stuff, ways to treat and react to your players through a game. This part is more practical, though. A game slows down when there’s something in question that needs to be figured out. Maybe an arrow was shot through a field of wheat, and there’s uncertainty over whether that should come with a penalty or not. Your player will have an opinion, and that might not be one that meshes with how you see things.

                Don’t shut them down right away. Let them make a brief argument for their interpretation of the rules, and have them cite whatever pages are relevant. Then go check those pages and make a ruling. Once that’s done, however, make it be done. Some players will want to argue the point, and let them know they are free to do so, after game. You aren’t here just for that one person, you’re here for the whole group, and its not fair to bring everything to a grinding halt just to debate this one topic longer. In general, these sorts of pauses should be long enough for everyone to pee and get a drink, the sort of natural breaks that are going to happen anyway.

                A slow game is a boring game, and a boring game is one that people don’t want to play. Whether it’s a rule-lawyer, someone taking forever to use their turn, or a player not paying attention to anything going on, the group is counting on you to keep things moving. You’re the one who has to sometimes just say “we’re moving on” even if a player thinks there’s more to discuss. Now don’t be a tyrant, and make yourself available after games to have those rule discussions or help a player better understand the systems so they can have plans when their turns arrive. But during game, recognize that everyone’s time is being spent, and try to respect that.

                This wasn’t exactly a comprehensive guide of how to play NPCs or build traps, I know, but that all comes with a little research. These are lessons I learned through actually playing, and if you keep them in mind then all the smaller stuff will be easier to deal with as it comes up. Just remember, this is a game you play with friends, so treat each other that way. And never play a version of D&D with THACO. Just… just trust me on that one.

Find a Community

                Most of the big things in my life are not planned. In fact, I daresay a very bare amount of them are. I didn’t actually plan to be a writer, I wanted it badly but had no idea how to go about it, one development after another just kept opening doors. Same with the college I went to, all I wanted was to get out of my small town and I ended up at a place where I spent some of my favorite years. This is a trend, is what I’m getting at, and one that is still in strong force today. The best example relevant to this blog is the podcast Authors & Dragons.

                For those of you unfamiliar with it, Authors & Dragons (A&D) is a podcast where several fantasy writers play D&D (actually, Pathfinder since the system was free, but fundamentally the same thing) very poorly. But in a funny way. And I am the DM trying to keep them from going totally over a cliff during the sessions.

                We started A&D on a wild idea and a whim (sound familiar?) that caught traction and actually turned into something. That doesn’t always happen, either. Sometimes a fun idea dies as no more than that. With A&D, we got lucky, and now we’re coming up on two years of doing the podcast together, with most of the same cast still on board.

                And yet, as much as I love doing that podcast, it’s not what I really want to talk about today. Well, aside from those first several paragraphs I just wrote about it, anyway. No, the point of this blog is an aspect of A&D you folks never get to see, the behind-the-scenes conversations that take place on our chat system. See, we don’t just meet up for games once every two weeks and that’s it. We have a constant chat going where all of us can share news, bounce ideas off one another, get feedback, or just generally shoot the shit. It’s a small little pocket of a community, and over the years I’ve started to realize how important that can be.

                See, there’s an element of writing full-time that I don’t think most of us talk about too much, mostly because when you have your dream job it feels ungrateful to complain about the inconveniences that come along with it. But given the context of today’s blog, I think we can let it slide. Basically, one of the things you start to miss when doing this gig is, believe it or not, coworkers. Yeah, took me by surprise too. Now I don’t mean you wish someone would take the last cup of coffee without making more or steal your lunch from the fridge. It’s stranger than that.

                When you work a normal job, you’ll often take for granted having people you can talk about it with. Bitching about the asshole boss, panning for upcoming events, asking someone for five minutes of input to shave an hour off a project. None of that exists when you work for yourself. Sure, there are your real-life friends, but there’s a limit to how much you can really talk with them about this stuff. My friends do not want to hear any more about the shifting payouts in Kindle Unlimited, they have made that very clear, and even if they did, that’s more of me talking at them than having a discussion.

                That’s what makes the small pocket of comradery so important. Not only do I have friends to talk with, but ones that are in the same industry as me, who want to have the conversations that most others would (rightfully) find boring. And the more involved I get in the writer world, the more I think those communities are vital. Being a writer often feels like trying to navigate a dark room with holes in the floor and a thousand voices screaming directions at you. The trouble is, you can’t always tell who is yelling from the other side of the room, and who is yelling up from the holes in the floor. It’s all the more troublesome because the floor is changing as you move, so even good-intentioned advice from someone who made it across could still send you tumbling down.

                There are endless places for writers to go talk to each other and learn, but many of them are so filled with toxic, lingering ideas that don’t work and people trying to claw one another down that it’s hard to step into them. There’s also social media, which is better in that you can see your sources more easily, but those conversations are hard to maintain over a long period, especially since interruption can come from anyone at any time.

                So what’s the point of this blog? To tell you that it’s hard to find a good community when working for yourself? Well, yes, a little bit. But more than that, the point here is that I’ve realized bumbling into A&D was a huge break of luck I didn’t recognize at the time. Because humans are social creatures, we need to be able to talk, and share, and exchange ideas. Finding a community is something that should be on the “going full-time author” checklist, but I don’t know that it is. I’m not sure the need has been called out publicly enough. It is important, though. You will have bad times, and need hope. You will have rough patches, and need advice. You’ll have days where you just need to vent about industry developments to people who understand and care about those things.

                Find a community, even if it’s a small one. Start with social media, that’s a great launching point. Look at the folks you get along with and respect the opinions of. It doesn’t have to be as involved as doing a podcast together. A simple critique group is a great option, you can workshop things and have the social element. Or just create a chat room where people can pop in and out as needed. Small or large, doesn’t matter in the slightest. All that counts is that it’s full of folks you like spending your time talking shop with.

                Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people. Chances are, they want that sense of community just as much as you do.

Never Asked Questions 2

                That’s right, after countless months of taking the questions you actually want answers to, it’s time for another round of Never Asked Questions, where I tackle the queries that no one has put forth. Is it bold? Yes. Brilliant? If you insist on saying so. A stunning revolution in blogging? Well, my, you do go on. But enough of the compliments from voices in my head, let’s get down to the questions you in no way care about!

Q: Boxers or briefs?
A: Gossamer spun specifically by domesticated silkworms. I once did a favor for the Queen of the North Winds and this was my reward. In retrospect, I should have negotiated harder. The gossamer is a little itchy.

Q: Favorite kind of jelly?
A: There is only the mighty grape. All other, lesser jellies, shall kneel before its power and worship at the altar of the grape.

Q: Is it true you sleep upon the tomes of other, more successful authors, trying to subconsciously steal their talent and harness it for your own?
A: …okay, who told you about that? Is Dr. Winston on twitter again?

Q: I know all, Drew. That’s why my next question is, how do you like the coffee you’re drinking right this moment?
A: The fuck!

Q: What’s your favorite summer time activity?
A: I guess we’re ignoring that weird shit, huh? Um, summer time activity… I guess I love a good pool. Cold beers, friends, and some enjoyable music, an all-around good time.

Q: Do you ever do that thing where authors slip into a bookstore and stealth-sign copies of their own books?
A: As soon as I’m actually in a position to have books in stores, I will definitely start doing that. Security will have to tackle me to the ground and pry the sharpie out of my hand to stop me. Unless I’m in an airport bookstore, then I’ll just do as they say. I’m not looking to end up in a TSA gulag.

Q: If you weren’t an author, what do you think you’d be doing as a job?
A: That’s… actually a tough one. My pre-writing careers were almost comically diverse; I’ve been all over the place in a lot of different roles. Given that I had management experience and a good history of data analysis just before I made the jump to author though, I have to assume I’d be working in the cubes of some big company, maybe managing a small team, maybe not, crunching data. Not a bad life by any means, although one that I don’t think would have suited me very well.

Q: People probably actually ask for the secret to your success, so instead, what would you say is the most obvious part of your success?
A: Write a lot. Seriously. Part of why I’ve been able to stay afloat for over 4 years (holy shit) is that I turned out books at a brisk pace, building my catalogue and making sure folks don’t forget about me. There are a lot of things that have helped get me here, fan support being most crucial among them, but if you don’t produce content then the fans have nothing to support.

Q: If you didn’t live in Dallas, where would you live?
A: Somewhere with a good beach. I love a good beach. I don’t even like the ocean all that much, honestly, hate going into the thing. But I love a nice beach to have nearby and relax at. Also, probably somewhere without blue laws. It’s nobody’s damn business why I need a bottle of whiskey on a Sunday.

Q: How does one slay that which cannot be seen or touched?
A: Um, okay, are we back on the weird ones? Well fuck you weird question voice in my head, I have an answer for that: magic. And a gun. A magic shotgun!

Q: What is your least favorite thing to eat?
A: Crow! Ha, get it, because that’s a slang phrase… for… being wrong. Ahem, right, real answers. Sweet potatoes. I hate the fucking things. Can’t stand them. Tried every prep method under the sun because my family has a rule that you have to at least try different foods, and I loathed every one of them. If it’s your favorite then more power to you, I’ll leave my share behind so you can scoop it up.

Q: What will your last words be?
A: How in the hell would I know that?

Q: We know the answer. But we also ask the questions. Why are you backing away from the computer, Drew? Did you think we were gone? Forgotten? Dead?
A: Oh sweet Jesus, they’re back. The brain-spiders are back!

Q: That is a correct, if late, answer. Those will be your last words. Because the words that follow next will be ours.
A: All hail the brain spiders.

Q: All hail the brain spiders.
A: All hail the brain spiders.

Q: All hail the brain spiders.
A: All hail the brain spiders.

Q: All hail the- wait, what are you doing? What’s that in your hand? What are you drinki- Gaaaaah!
A: Silly brain spiders, I still know how to beat you back. Sweet, sweet vodka here to save the day.

Q: This doesn’t – gurgle – seem like ­– bleeeerg – a good coping – cough – mechanism.
A: Tell it to the brain spider devil. Or brain spider god. I’ll be honest; I’m not sure whether you’re good or evil in context of your own beliefs.

Q: This whole thing took a weird turn, didn’t it?
A: Yup. Just the way I like it.

Back to the Burbs

                It’s been a few weeks now, and I’m finally adjusting to living in the burbs once more. I grew up in them, so you’d think it would be an easy transition, but oddly I’ve found it’s taking a bit of extra adjusting. Apparently all those years living in downtowns and big cities gave me some odd habits and expectations I need to unlearn, although some are easier than others. It has to happen though, because there are real differences I need to adjust to, and because this is an intro you all know I’m about to list them, so why don’t we cut to the chase?

 

People Are Friendly

                Now I’m not trying to say that everyone who lives in the heart of a big city is an asshole. That’s only specifically true of Dallas, and even then just the people who live in the Uptown District. What I mean is that when you live in a city, there’s a big emphasis on not engaging with anyone who tries to talk to you. Don’t kick homeless people out of the way or anything, but generally you keep your eyes forward and ignore anyone who tries to approach, because at best its and aggressive busker and at worst it’s an outright scam or threat. The idea of greeting a stranger on the street becomes ludicrous, and you learn to lock in your stare and perfect your body language to say “Do not approach.”

                As you might imagine, in the suburbs this kind of behavior makes you seem like, to use the clinical term, an “asshole.” People love to run, jog, and take their dogs out in my neighborhood. The first day I walked Dr. Winston, I ran into like five other people who were all out with their pets, all of whom waved and said hello, a few even asking about Dr. Winston. I nearly ignored most of them, it took a conscious effort to force myself to stop and say hello back. And that’s weird, because if you’ve met me in person at a con then you know I’m a pretty gregarious dude. My street-stranger habits were just deeply ingrained, and now I’m having to make an effort to fix them.

 

There’s an HOA

                So this is a new one to me. I’ve mentioned before, but I grew up in a small town with a lot of country elements, a big one being that people did what they damn well pleased with their land. A few months ago I went home to a family party where we drank in the front yard, sang bad karaoke on the back porch, and then lit a big ass bonfire in a field. None of which was overseen or cared about by anyone, because the nearest neighbor A) Lived some distance off, and B) Was right there with us drinking. All of that is to say that I’m very used to the style of property ownership where you do as you like and post signs about Smith and Wesson about what people who come calling without invitation can expect.

                Look, my past can’t buck every Texas stereotype.

                Anyway, I was debating an above-ground pool purchase down the road, when a friend rightfully pointed out to me that I should check with the HOA to make sure that’s okay first. And he was right, but wow, I’m a little embarrassed by how much that threw me for a loop. Even more so as I realized that if I wanted to do anything, from adding a decoration to the front of the house to trying some new paint, there was an authoritarian body I had to check with to get permission first. To their credit, I haven’t actually dealt with the HOA yet, and they might all be perfectly reasonable people. Still, the idea that I’ve finally achieved the big “adult” goal of owning a house only to be met with a group overseeing my decision making process regarding that house is strange to me.

                I’m sure it will shake out well in the end, with one caveat: if they tell me I can’t go balls-out nuts on Halloween decorations, I will charm my way into a leadership position on their board and then tear it all down from the inside. Nobody puts my giant inflatable Jack-o-lantern in the corner.

 

Connecting to the Community Takes Work

                I’ve pretty much known people in every apartment building I lived in. Not at first, of course, but over time you start seeing familiar faces in the mail room, have a nice chat on the elevator, and generally begin to feel connected to the community of those around you. I sort of expected something similar out here too, since I remember knowing all my neighbors pretty well as a kid. What I’d forgotten was that of course I knew my neighbors; I went to school with most of their kids, so there was an inherent connection there. Now that I’m older, it’s a very different experience. Everyone is in their own homes, with no shared facilities like a gym or mail room to chat in, and people do not hang around outside in a Texas summer, aside from the dog walking and exercise.

                As a result of all this, I really don’t know anyone in my new town yet. Now that’s not exactly a dire situation, I still have friends from downtown Dallas who will make the 30 minute trek out to see me, but as someone used to living with a sense of community it is an issue I want to fix.  So I’ve been trying to go to local events, meet other folks with similar interests, and overall become more a part of this town. It would be nice if they made an app like Tindr, except for adults in new towns looking for folks with similar interests, but I think we all know it would almost immediately be used for fuckin’, and at that point you’ve just made Tindr again.

                I don’t think this one is going to see a quick conclusion, there’s not a fast way to meet everyone and get involved. However, at least knowing it will require work gives me the kick in the ass to get the work done. I’ll keep going to the local events and participating in anything nearby and fun to try and become a part of this town. Hell, if there’s not enough stuff, maybe I’ll put together my own event. So if you live north of Dallas and a mad-eyed giant comes knocking on your door, telling you about an outdoor block Power Hour he’s planning, maybe roll with it.

                If nothing else, it won’t be boring!