Lessons for Fellow Convention Rookies

                Over the past year I’ve made it a point to start attending more cons. So far I’ve done Comicpalooza, CONtraflow, Con Carolinas, and I’ve applied to have a vendor table at Denver Comic Con on the weekend of 6/30-7/2. It has been a ton of fun, as well as a great learning experience. Now I am by no means a con expert, I’d say I’m still firmly in the n00b category and will be for some time. However, I’ve been lucky enough to share several of those cons with Authors & Dragons crew, one of whom is a damn master of conventions: John Hartness. I’ve learned quite a bit from working with John, and going to these things in general. So, while I’m still new enough that some of these lesson still feel like revelations, I thought I would jot them down for other authors and artists just starting down their path of the con scene.

                1) Buy a vendor table. As much fun as doing the panels are, they only occupy so much time in your trip. And while it’s tempting to go watch other panels and absorb the con’s stuff non-stop, that’s not totally fair to the folks who came out to see you. They might really want to say hello, but your panels all conflict with others that are higher up on their list. Having a vendor table means you have a checkpoint where people can swing through to get signings, ask questions, or just say hello. It also gives you a place to be between panels, one that’s more productive than just heading back to your hotel room. Remember, we go to these things for the readers, so being as visible as possible makes things easier on them. Plus, if you can sell a few books you can take some of the fiscal strain off attending the con, and that makes going to more of them down the line a lot easier.

                2) Bring bags. I don’t mean branded bags, although yes of course that would be cool. Just plastic grocery store ones will work fine though. I’ve seen many a person walking around with an arm-load of stuff they bought from a vendor at the point of near-dropping, only for John to pluck out a plastic bag and give it to them, saving the day. Not only does this make things easier for the guests, and for the people who buy his books, but it also allows for a natural discussion to start, during which the person might find out that they like the genre John writes in and want to check out his works. Bags should really be a basic staple, yet time and time again few vendors seem to have them (me included) so it’s worth considering this detail and keeping a stock on hand.

                3) Be responsible. A con schedule is an important thing, it holds a lot of people’s time in the balance. Guests might be showing up to a panel just for you, or another author, excited to hear them speak. If you arrive late, holding things up, you’re taking away that time from the other authors and all the guests who want to see them. I made a lot of jokes about drinking a beer during all my panels at Con Carolinas, but that is A) Pretty much on brand for what folks expect from me, and B) was done carefully to fight a hangover, not get sloppy drunk in front of people. I haven’t seen a lot of panel guests blow things off, but when it happens it can be a real bummer. I ended up doing a two-person panel at one con when all the others skipped out, and you could see how disappointed the guests were. Treat the time of everyone with respect, especially if you want to go back to that con next year.

                4) Have displays. I’ve been skating by mostly on the fact that I can tower over the rest of the room and have a voice that is a level of loud my parents called “please shut up”. But even that won’t last much longer. I’m already ordering table aprons and a banner display for my next few cons, because in the sea of vendors it’s important to stand out. Not just in the eye-catching, lure-in-a-new-reader kind of way, but so that the folks who might enjoy your work don’t pass by without ever noticing you’re there. Remember: the goal is to make it as easy as possible on the people who want to see you. Good displays are one more step of that, and I’ve watched firsthand the difference they can make at various author tables. I’m not saying go all out and blow a ton of cash upfront, if you need to make your own displays that’s okay, just have something that makes you noticeable for the sake of the existing readers and the prospective ones.

                5) Network. Go to con parties. Talk to other vendors/authors/artists/everything. Make friends. A con is one of the rare places where other people in your line of work are all gathered and you can talk shop with them. There is so much to learn, about the business or the cons themselves, so tempting as it can sometimes be to hit the bed after a long day at a con, push through and go out to the recreational stuff. You may meet the cohost of your next podcast, or your next cover artist, or just someone you have a good chat with about the state of Kindle Unlimited. It’s always worth your time to be friendly and meet new folks, so put in the effort.

                6) If possible, go with a group. I’ve yet to do a solo con where I had a vendor table, but I already know when it happens it’s going to be harder than the ones I’ve done with the Authors & Dragons gang. There are a lot of reasons to attend cons with other authors, fiscal being one of the most immediate that jump to mind. You can split hotel rooms, tables, and even travel costs in some circumstances. That takes a lot of the burden off of going to cons, meaning you can accommodate more of them. Aside from that, there are also logistical benefits. Having friends there meant we always had someone to cover our tables when we were on a panel, rather than having to shut it all down every time. And, of course, it’s often just nice to have friends around to spend down time with. I know this one won’t be viable for all people in all circumstances, but if you can head out as a group then I think it will make the experience as a whole a lot more fun.

                I’m sure I’ll have more to add when I’ve gotten much more con experience, but ideally this makes things a little easier on you folks taking your first trip. Hope I end up at a con near everyone soon!

The Future of This Site and Serials

                I struggled with myself over when to write this blog. Part of me, perhaps not the bravest part, wanted to wait until the last chapters of Super Powereds and B&B were posted, then swing through with this news. But that would put a sour tone on what I’m hoping will be a fun, exciting finale, and that’s not fair. Not to the readers, and not to the story. I think it’s better if I tell you now, as things are clearly starting to build once more to the last few arcs. This way everyone has time to process the news properly, and by the time we reach the end of the books they’ll have had a chance to make peace with it so they can hopefully enjoy the endings as they are. I’m still stalling, aren’t I? Fuck. Well, no more of that. Here’s my big news:

                There will not be any new serials to replace Super Powereds or Blades & Barriers when each one wraps. Those two will be, at least for now, the final web-serials on DrewHayesNovels.com.

                Now I’m sure you’ve all got lots of questions about why I’ve made this choice, and I’m going to do my best to answer them further down, however before that there are some site-based issues that have to be tackled first. So, what does this mean for the site?

                1) This will only impact the serials, everything else will continue. For those who like my drinking videos, blog, yearly Halloween event, Authors & Dragons, and so on, rest assured that none of that is going anywhere. I still intend to keep this site active with those forms of content, and perhaps some new ones as time goes on. Only the serials are coming to an end.

                2) Year 4 and Blades & Barriers will both finish on here. I don’t want you thinking I’m yanking away the last bit and telling you to buy the book. This tale started as a web-serial and it will end as one. To do anything less would be ungrateful to all the wonderful readers who have helped make this story a success.

                3) I’m going to leave the Patreon up for those who want to keep getting the behind the scenes stuff, but I understand and expect that lots of folks will pull their pledges when the central focus of the site ends. That is perfectly fair and I don’t begrudge you it one bit. I just don’t want to take the perks away from the folks who enjoy them, so I’m leaving the option up.

                4) This doesn’t mean that the Super Powereds world is closed forever and that no more spin-offs will be written. I’d go so far as to say there probably will be a few some ways down the road. I’m only ending the format, not the story-world itself.

                5) Some of the older books will have to rotate into Kindle Unlimited as the launch for Year 4 draws near. I’ve written longer blogs explaining the need for this, just wanted to remind you all that it was coming. As before, I’ll try to work it on a rotation so that they can live on for free on the site some of the time, however once the final book is coming out I’ll have to promo the older ones, there’s no way around that.

                With the logistical stuff out of the way, let’s get down to the more existential question: why? Why is an author who constantly talks about his love of web-serials not starting any new ones? Well, the simplest answer is that I might again, one day down the line; however for right now I need some time away from them. Since 2009, I’ve written over a million words of Super Powereds, and that’s not counting spin-offs. When I tell people getting into web-serials to brace for a long-term commitment, I mean it. And in that time I’ve done 2 – 4 chapters per week (depending on spin-offs and bonus chapters) without missing a single scheduled chapter. That doesn’t seem like a lot per week, but over time the effort builds up.

                Even with that effort, I’ve loved doing this serial, having this community, and I know without a doubt my career wouldn’t be where it is without your support. But, as time goes on, there are other projects I want to tackle, other books I want to try, and it’s hard to find space for them in the schedule when so much of my time goes to keeping up the buffer on these serials. It’s time to open up that schedule and try new things. Some will crash, I’m sure, but some might turn out to be as much fun as I want them to. That’s okay; failure is a part of this job. Trial and error comes with the turf. As an author, you can’t let the unknown scare you away from things you want to do. Starting my first serial scared the piss out of me. Giving them up is fucking terrifying. But it’s what I know I need to do next, so I have to push on.

                It’s strange, I feel like I’m writing this as a goodbye letter even though there are still months of new chapters ahead. And even once that’s done, I’ll still be here, posting blogs, doing shots, and putting up random ideas that pop into my head. Still, there’s no denying that this does mark the start of the finale of a very real, very huge chapter in my life. This series got me out of the corporate world and into a job I never actually thought I would have. You all spreading the word, buying the books, leaving reviews, and just generally supporting the effort, you literally changed the course of my life. I hope I’ve written stories you liked well enough to return the favor, but rest assured I’ll keep on trying either way for a long time to come.

                I suppose the best way to close a blog like this is by saying thanks, to everyone who has read and will read these stories. I never could have imagined when I started with the seeds of this series what it would grow into, in terms of both the tale itself and how big a part of my life it became. On top of the thanks, I’ll just add one thing: I’ll still be here if you need me. Need to kill some time at work by reading ridiculous fake-office memos, need to get through a rough night by watching me make an idiot of myself drinking on camera, or need some advice about your own writing journey (my email is still on the right-hand side of the site). Even if you don’t have the same reason to come visit multiple times a week, I’m still around when the occasion demands, and that’s one thing that won’t be changing any time soon.

The Worst Speaker Money Can Buy

                Here at Thunder Pear Publishing, we know that diversification is the best way to stay afloat in the shifting market of the publishing world. While once it was enough to simply write books, now multi-media efforts like podcasts and videos of binge drinking are necessary to keep the lights on. It is in this spirit of entrepreneurial adventure that we proudly present the newest offering: the ability to book me, Drew Hayes, for private speaking engagements. Yes, for the low price of only $10,000 (plus all travel and booze expenses) you too can sit in rapt silence as I tell you the harrowing story of how I wrote dick jokes until they were able to cover the rent. If you are a fellow publisher, I’m happy to share my litany of insights into the industry, but rest assured that I can speak to any company or group willing to have me. I’ll even do private speeches, although holding eye contact with one person for that long is going to weird both of us out eventually. Now I hear you already, $10k is a hefty price tag, so what can you expect to get for your money? Well, just as a sampler:

                1) Professionalism. As a “respected” author and the head of a company, you can be sure I’ll treat your time like it’s my very own. And since it’s my time, I’ll be sure to embody that Drew Hayes spirit you’re expecting. A lot of authors would put on a mask of normalcy to try and blend in, but not me. I’ll arrive as every bit of the bumbling shitshow you’re expecting. Late is a given, or early but with a bunch of strangers and a bottle of booze insisting on doing shots of before we kick things off. Cursing will be ample and creative, paired delightfully with a child-like lack of attention that flits between topics as quickly as they enter my head. You paid for the Drew Hayes experience, and as a professional that’s what I’ll provide.

                2) Audience Engagement. We’ve all been to a speech that droned on and on, with the listeners soon pulling out their phones or day-dreaming. Well none of that at a Drew Hayes speech. First off, my entire presentation will be a drinking game. The audience will all be given beers or wine (provided by you) and instructed to take a swig every time I satisfy an arbitrary condition. Don’t worry, I’m not cutting you, the organizer, out of the fun; you’ll get to choose what the condition is! Make it something relative to the topic or just your company’s name, I’ll find a way to shoehorn that bastard in as often as possible. There’s no way to keep attention like tying it to hooch.

                Beyond just the game though, many segments of my speech will call members of the audience onto the stage with me, making sure they stay engaged. The Jello-Fight is always a classic. Don’t worry, all genders and body-types are welcome in the Jello pit; it’s not about sex, it’s an illustration of proper communication processes. How? You’ll have to see for yourself in person!

                3) Expertise. When it comes to publishing, the entire system is in seemingly constant upheaval. No one knows for sure what sells anymore, big name authors are going indie while indie authors clamor for traditional publishing contracts, and the only thing people can seem to agree on is that Amazon has a scary amount of market share. And let me tell you, I know something about knowing nothing. I can wax on for hours as needed without actually saying much of anything. You’ll be hard pressed to find an author better at droning on for as long as needed without having any real content to convey. Will I spend an hour talking about my favorite TV shows from ten years ago? You’re damn right I will, and I’ll probably even work in the cue to drink a few dozen times. If you can’t say something informative, and saying something incorrect would be detrimental to those listening, isn’t conveying nothing really the best case scenario?

                4) Dedication. A lot of authors would take the upfront payment, show up to the gig wildly drunk, and accept it when they were turned away. Not this guy. You paid for a speech, and you’re getting one. I may have to bust into the building through a clever disguise (or sprinting) and use a PA system to reach the masses, but I knew what this job demanded when I took it. And sure, the cops might taser me until I pee to make me release the microphone, however I will go down slurring out the last bits of wisdom I can until the final volt renders me unconscious. That’s the sort of steadfast dedication you’re getting when you book a Drew Hayes speech.

                5) Action. Sometimes when I’m drunk I get confused by the stage curtains and try to fight them. Just let it play out, it’s a nice break in the flow for the audience and I’ve been told it’s an entertaining show to watch. One of these days I’ll actually win too, and that will make for an all the more amazing event.

                6) Spectacle. The Keg-Relay is a classic closer to any speech, and I like to think I’ve really elevated it to an art form. Listeners will have a chance to compete, adding a level of friendly comradery to the event, at least until I tell them you’ve promised the winner $10,000 of their own. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay that, it will really be their own fault if they believe me by that point. Some will, however, and that should send them into overdrive to clutch those sweet greens in their own hands. Be ready to see the most ruthless, ambitious Keg-Relay you’ve ever experienced. At the end, I’ll talk to the audience about how forgetting team work and focusing only on themselves ultimately made things harder on all of those competing. Or, if one person dominates, I’ll just tell them all to follow whatever that person says. They’ve clearly got their shit together.

                7) Sustainability. If you book a normal speaker, they’ll do their spiel, take their check, and that’s it. But when you book Drew Hayes, no one knows what the hell will be said, me included. That means you can have me speak as many times as you like with a virtual guarantee that the experience will be unique at each presentation. Every meeting you need to fill can be handled just by tossing me a check, and as the company’s event coordinator won’t that make things easier on you? I may not be great, but I’m easy to get, and that’s something.

                Booking can be made by reaching out to my secretary, who is also me, at NovelistDrew@gmail.com. Please allow at least a couple of weeks of notice so I can properly prime my liver and plan out how to cram as many drinking cues into the speech as possible. I look forward to working with all of you!

Con Carolinas

                Depending on when you read this, there’s a chance that I am screaming through the air in a metal tube, defying the gods’ will that mankind stay earthbound as I complain that my seat doesn’t have enough leg room. I’ll be flying to Charlotte, is what I’m getting at here. Not just for a different region’s barbeque either, but to attend Con Carolinas with the rest of the Authors & Dragons crew. That’s right, all active players are going to be there with me, which means if you see a news story about a bunch of dudes accidentally burning down a hotel while pretending to kill elves… don’t be surprised if the next episode is broadcast from behind bars.

                Until our almost inevitable incarceration, however, we’ll be out and about, having fun, doing panels, and hosting our second Live Authors & Dragons game. It may also be our first one to get live-streamed, but given our overall level of tech skill I’m not going to make any promises there. For those of you in or near North Carolina, here are some of the antics you can expect if you make it out to Con Carolinas this weekend:

-Having finished his Bear-Dueling training, Joseph Brassey will be in attendance. Now while he’s said over and over that he’s not going to wear a skimpy leather outfit and dye his hair blue to roleplay as Bjorg, I think if enough fans come by and ask where the outfit is, he’ll eventually cave. Just make sure you’re not dressed as anything remotely bear-like, from what I hear those warrior instincts are still on a hair trigger. Apparently he took the head clean off a Winnie the Pooh toy at the mall.

-Steve Wetherell is making his way across an entire ocean to join us. We think. To be honest, we’re still only sure of what he says every third word or so. He’s definitely coming, he’s on the schedule and everything, but whether he’ll arrive via plane, phone booth, or magical umbrella is yet to be determined. All we know for certain is that he’ll be there, and he sent the hotel a very proper and polite letter that more or less boiled down to telling them they needed more booze on hand. Whatever they had, it wouldn’t be enough. So if you want to meet Steve, follow the waiters hurriedly lugging armfuls of bottles into the convention, and you’ll probably find Steve, or a table of the rest of us.

-Robert Bevan has sworn to shit on something, somewhere. That one is a wild card, so you’ll have to come to every panel to see if you can catch the live show. It should also be noted that the con in no way agrees to this stunt, so it comes with the added potential of seeing someone tackled mid-dump by security. Now that’s fucking theatre!

-Speaking of panels, there are a lot of great ones to attend. I’ll post my own schedule at the bottom, but the A&D crew is going to be all over the place, including working together on one about comedy writing called “Going for Laughs”. I can’t imagine it won’t be a shitshow, so make sure to earmark that one.

-On the subject of shitshows, our second live A&D game will occur at 10:00 on Saturday night. If that seems kind of late for a panel, let me remind you what sort of miscreants play in that game. They put us at a time when all the bars would be open and drinking is socially acceptable. In other words, they know us and our audience well. We may also add some interactive elements to this game, so it can go off the rails in all kinds of directions. Don’t miss it!

-John Hartness and I have decided that rather than randomly breaking into an unexpected chokeslam, this time we’re going to book the event properly. I’ll be taking the heel role, and I’ve prepared for it by spending most of my life looking like the villain from a college 80’s movie, while John will be playing the face. Of course I’ll drum up lots of heat through the con, cursing, drinking, and just generally being a pain. Then John will give me a proper come-uppance… right through that mother fucker with the $30 t-shirts’ table! That’s right, we’re hitting that bastard again. Anyway, after the inevitable power bomb we’ll probably form a tag team for the rest of the con, battling our way through every keg the bar can toss at us.

-We might do another Power Hour. I mean, I almost certainly will, that’s how I get out of bed in the morning, but as a group we only might do another. Mostly because of timing, with the A&D panel taking over our Saturday night, the only option would be to do one Friday, or hit the Power Hour before or after the game. Seeing as that amount of shots and then beer would probably kill a fair number of our group, in the long-term it might be better to not risk it. However, if we do manage to get another one together then everyone is invited. BYOB though, Steve has been very firm about not sharing his extra beers.

-Rick Gualtieri has informed us that he will not be attending this con, technically. The Arrow of The Gods, on the other hand, will be there in full force. Whether it be shooting fake arrows at those who in no way were bothering him, awarding Junior Adventurer badges for every act of petty violence, or just popping out from behind trash cans and announcing his presence, you’ll find The Arrow of The Gods all over Con Carolinas. Until security locates him, probably, after which you’ll likely only find Rick. Holy shit, and now I get the purpose of wearing a mask!

- Jokes aside, this event will be a lot of fun, and there’s way more going on than what I can put into this single blog. So while I’ll put my own panel schedule below, be sure to check out the whole schedule (https://concarolinas2017.sched.com/) where you can sort by speakers or categories and make the most of your weekend.

My own times are below, and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible!

 

Drew's Con Carolinas Schedule

Drew Tries Stuff: Soda Beers Part 2

                Yes, as sure as the sun rises in the East and bears break into houses to secretly poop in the toilets, so too does another trend rise amongst beers. First it was craft, then wheat beers for a while, and now soda beers are continuing to take the world by storm. And let me say this: I love both of those things deeply. Soda and beer getting married is, for me, like mixing cake and pizza. Two things I enjoy, suddenly becoming one. Well, that’s how it would work in theory, anyway. If my restraining order from the Pizza Hut by a bakery near my old apartment teaches us anything, it’s that sometimes those things you love weren’t meant to be combined. As we saw in the last entry, there were good and bad options to be had out there, and now that there are more varieties popping up some are downright absurd.

                That’s why I tried three more, so you wouldn’t have to!

 

Not Your Father’s Vanilla Cream Ale

                Fuck this drink. I know, I know, I’m supposed to build suspense and draw you in before revealing how I felt about the beer, but I can’t even bring myself to pretend there’s a chance of redeeming this one. And it pissed me off all the more, because I adore a good Vanilla Cream Soda. A cold VCS on a hot summer day is delicious. This, on the other hand, was just awful. And to be clear, this is not like with the Ginger Ale from last time. I had others try it too, and the overall consensus was sour expressions and polite refusals to sip any more.

                It’s weird, I like Not Your Father’s root beer so much, yet nothing else I’ve had from them has been even halfway decent. I wonder if they stole the recipe for the root beer from some family member and then had to start throwing bullshit in bottles once the market exploded with other booze root beer options. Whatever is going on over there, they need to implement a QA department, or just someone with a tongue, to tell them when to throw things back to the R&D phase.

                Rating: 1 drunk who won’t shut the fuck up about his home-brew out of 5.

 

Henry’s Hard Grape Soda

                Full disclosure, I actually had this one more by circumstance than intent. One of my friends loves, loves, grape soda and everything that tastes like it, to the point where she mixes grape vodka and Welch’s grape soda. I have friends with unique tastes. Anyway, she had a pack of these and allowed me to try one. Since the Orange Soda took some time to grow on me during that first review, I made a pact with myself that I would finish this one no matter what and took a tentative sip.

                Good news and bad news: The good news is that this one doesn’t really require much drinking to get used to. It tastes like grape soda with a slight kick, and whether it’s your first sip or your fifteenth that holds true. It’s decent, assuming you like grape soda of course, but to be honest it didn’t rise quite as high in my esteem as the orange soda had by the end. That’s the bad news; it hits a ceiling early on that it never quite gets past. Then again, as a casual grape fan I might not be the target audience, I’ve seen several friends go through a few of them no problem. At the end of the day, this is one that lives up to the taste of the soda its mimicking almost perfectly, so use your own opinions on grape to decide if it’s worth trying.

                Rating: 3 minutes of convincing the bartender you’re totally still good to be served despite the pile of vomit in the corner out of 5.

 

Mike Hard Black Cherry Lemonade

                Listen, before anyone goes to the comments to get pedantic about what is and isn’t an actual soda beer 1) Chill the fuck out and 2) I saw like three soda-beer brands, including NYF, pitching some kind of lemonade, and I like black cherry a lot, so I decided to count this. If you think this fails to live up to the rigor of my proposed experiment, then you take comedy blogs way too seriously.

                Much like with the Vanilla Cream Ale, I’ve got no desire to bury the lead here: the BCL (Black Cherry Lemonade) is fucking delicious. No, really. Yes, I have a sweet tooth that might color my opinion; however it’s not even all that sweet. There’s some bitter in there to balance things out, and… I don’t know how else to put it, this drink is one of my favorites. I’ve got a case of it sitting in the fridge by my desk right now. If you even like black cherry the slightest amount, pick one of these up and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

                I’d also like to add an addendum for this drink: I’ve been doing this tasting spread out through a few weeks, so some have been in my life than longer than others, and this one goes back the longest. Long enough for me and my friends to have discovered that it is amazing for hangover drinking. Usually the hair of the dog turns stomachs, but all of us can put one of these down without batting an eye. No matter how crappy you feel, these seem to go down smooth, so that means even if you’re not a fan in general it’s still worth having for when the morning after a fun night demands your suffering as payment.

                Rating: 5 bags of random shit from Taco Bell when you’re drunk at midnight out of 5.

The First Annual Drew-Con

                So this weekend is Comicpalooza in Houston, and while I was really excited about going back for a second year, I ended up having to back out a few months back. The reason was unavoidable, in that this weekend is the final push of my move that had been schedule forever ago, so there’s really no getting around that. Once this weekend is done, I’ll be fully out of Deep Ellum, but my thoughts as I haul dressers and boxes of crap will be in Houston where everyone is having all the fun. But the move only occupies Saturday, so I’ve decided to drown my sorrows on Sunday by holding the first annual Drew-Con. (Cue fanfair and celebration). Now from the name alone I know you’re all sitting there, trying to jam cash into the monitor in the hopes that it will magically turn into tickets for this experience, but have no fear. Since I don’t have any space or venues, Drew-Con will be held simultaneously and independently at homes all across the world. Everything you need to know to participate is in the information below.

 

Drew-Con: One-day only convention celebrating the works, missteps, and general attitude of all Drews, though mostly the one writing this.

-Location: Wherever you want it to be.
-Cost: Sort of depends on where you go to celebrate. Theoretically free if you stay at home, except there’s still stuff like rent and utilities factored in there. Let’s just call it ‘variable’ and move on.
-Dress-Code: Again, variable for the same reason, although if you want to be true to the Drew-Con spirit flip-flops and workout shorts capture the look of the daily office attire.
-Food: All Drew-Con guests can take advantage of a special deal we have worked out with Postmates, Ubereats, and every major pizza chain wherein you order food from them and pay whatever they say you owe. I know, I know, we really went overboard on this, but you deserve it.
-Schedule: We all know events are what make these things, so be sure to attend every event to get the most out of your Drew-Con experience.

Morning
9:00 – 10:00: Brunch. Well, brunch in a very technical sense of the word. You can have food if you want, but the real feature here should be the Mimosas, Bloody Marys, or some light breakfast beer like a cider. Or you can just put whiskey in your coffee. It was good enough for every one of our grandfathers, its good enough for you. Just go light, you’ve got a long Con ahead of you, you’ll want to be sure and pace yourself until at least lunch.

10:00 – 11:00: Evaluating Superhero Dynamics and Plots in Powerful Modern Interpretations. For this, you’re going to want to get yourself a nice drink, find a comfy place to sit, and watch a few episodes of Young Justice. Pick whichever ones you want, although if you’re new to the series maybe start with the first 3, and reflect on how fucking good this show was and how lucky we are that a 3rd season is in the works. You should be able to cram in 3 episodes, mostly, although maybe skim past the intros if you’re tight on time.

11:00 – 12:00: Resource Acquisition and Management Panel. Part of being a writer is keeping up with your stock of things. Time, money, books to send out, promo stuff for cons, shipping supplies, I think you get the idea. We’ll have an exercise in that principle here, before anyone is intoxicated and unable to drive. Head to your nearest store and buy booze for the rest of the day. Remember: buy too little and you’ll run dry too early, spend too much and you have paid for resources you didn’t need. Although you can always drink them later, or just drink harder, so maybe don’t worry too much about going overboard. Oh, and buy a 6-pack more than you think you’ll need (foreshadowing!).

 

Afternoon
12:00 – 1:00: Lunch. Now that you’ve got some proper drinking supplies, let’s pad that belly. Unlike with Brunch, here you will need to actually eat, although the driving is done so feel free to go nuts with the booze too. I don’t think you need much more direction here, its lunch. You’ve got this.

1:00 – 2:00: Social Engagement Hour. Those of you who are single, get on your dating app of choice and swipe around for an hour. Feel free to put on more Young Justice or other works in the background, and by all means don’t slow down on the hooch. It’s a con, after all, you’re allowed to cut loose. Those of you in relationships, maybe spend this time talking with your significant other, deepening that relationship. Or use the hour to just drink harder. Those of you with no interest in social engagement, fill this time by looking at hilarious dating stories on the internet and chuckling at what the rest of the world goes through to hook up.

2:00 – 4:00: What Went Wrong? Pick your favorite movie that is objectively bad, yet you still enjoy, and analyze what elements lead it askew, as well as which factors make you enjoy it. If you’re feeling really ambitious, perhaps try reworking the concept yourself, see if you can find a way to tweak things so that you think it would have been more beloved by audiences overall. Or yell at the screen, you’ve been drinking for a while now and that might be as coherent as you get. Hell, why not go ahead and play a drinking game to the movie while you’re at it! Note: we only have two hours for this activity because that’s all anyone should need. Yes, there are good movies that are over 2 hours, and there are bad movies over 2 hours, but there aren’t really any good-bad movies over 2 hours, so the timeframe should work for all.

4:00 – 5:00: High Fantasy. Don’t worry stoners, I read the emails; I know you’re in my fan-base too. This Drew-Con is just as much for you as anyone else. Thus why this hour has been set aside for you. While engaging in your drug of choice (drunks, booze is still on the table) watch several episodes of a show that presents classic fantasy elements in a highly stylized way. Examples might be Game of Thrones, Adventure Time, Pushing Daisies, or whatever show you think fits. It’s your con, do what feels right. Just don’t go so overboard that you can’t rally for the next event.

5:00 – 6:00: The Author Experience. Here we try to recreate what it’s like to be a professional author. There are plenty of activities to cram into this hour, some examples include:
1. Trying to explain to your parents that yes, this really does count as a job.
2. Figuring out how much Ramen and Easy Mac you can eat before your body will cease to function.
3. Drinking in the shower.
4. Writing hard for an hour, then reading it through and deleting the whole bit.
5. Maybe post a tweet or something?
Feel free to mix and match these, or add your own as they come to you. If you feel uncertain about every choice you’re making, then Congratulations! You’re experiencing what it is like to live off of your writing.

6:00 – 7:00: Q&A Panel. It wouldn’t be a con without professionals and celebrities taking questions from attendees. Sadly, we have neither celebrities or attendees, but social media is still a thing. Try tweeting or snapchating or whatever the kids do these days to your favorite celebrities and see if they will answer some questions. Let’s be honest, given the lines for this stuff at cons your odds of getting a reply are probably about as good as making it to the front of a real Q&A panel line.

 

Evening
7:00 – 8:00: Dinner. You’re going to want to go carb heavy here, something to really dilute the booze in your system. It’s been a long day, and we’re not done yet.

8:00 – 9:00: Power Hour. Boom! Told you that extra 6-pack line was foreshadowing. That’s right, it’s not a Drew-Con without a Power Hour. You can do whatever one you like, be it a creation on MyTube60, one you made yourself, or even one of the several Drinkalong Power Hours I’ve got on the site. All that matters is that Drew-Con will have an international Power Hour occurring simultaneously all across the world. This also might be a good time to put the social media away, unless you want to accidentally post some really vulgar curse words on Grandma’s facebook wall.

9:00 – 10:00: Con Dance. This is less of a planned event and more just an inevitable thing I’m acknowledging. You’ve been drinking all day, you just did a Power Hour, a lot of you are going to dance anyway, so let’s lean into it. Go nuts. Put on some music you like and rock the fuck out, whether its rock or not. Dance the booze out of your system, then put more in. Dance like no one is watching, and perhaps take some steps to make sure that’s the case. Video exists, and you don’t want to give your friends more blackmail material on you than they already have.

10:00: Closing Ceremonies. This sounds a lot classier than just saying “Pass out drunk”.

 

And that’s the first Drew-Con. Good luck to all of you “attending” at home, and remember that DrewHayesNovels.com accepts no liability for alcohol poisoning or related issues for what is clearly a comic blog. But if you do something totally epic, DrewHayesNovels.com will try to take some credit. Not an obscene amount. Maybe like 20-25%. That seems fair, right? Yeah, that seems fair.

Useful Non-Writing Skills for Writers

                Fun fact: during my first year doing this job full-time, I actually incorporated Thunder Pear Publishing and named myself as president. Now while I’m sure that seems like self-serving silliness, and I’ll grant you it was a tad bit just for fun, there’s actually a solid reason I went to that trouble. Anyone who is familiar with this blog knows I never shy away from the fact that this job could end at any moment. Even assuming the books keep moving, so much of the market is controlled by Amazon that one policy change by them could send me and many in my position into a tailspin. Knowing that, the reason I incorporated was for the sake of my resume. A multi-year gap is unacceptable, and “writer” wasn’t going to look a lot better if I had to jump back onto the corporate wagon, so being able to honestly say I spent the time running a start-up was my best way to keep the resume accurate and up-to-date without giving myself a major hurdle to climb down the road.

                And while the position started as just ‘writer’ way back then, in the time since I’ve had to take on many other jobs as I’ve learned more about how publishing works. I know there are plenty of authors who tell you to be your own marketer and edit on your own as much as possible before passing the work off to neutral eyes, so I’m going to skip those. Instead, today I want to talk about some of the skills and tools you’ll benefit from learning as soon as possible in your writing career.

 

Bookkeeping

                I did a blog a few weeks back about the importance of tracking your money as an indie author, so I won’t harp on this point too much. But the simple fact is that you are going to be running a business, which means making sure you have enough income to cover your bills, whether they be for supplies like books or shipping materials or for things as mundane as rent. There are plenty of programs out there for keeping track of your income streams, but if you’re broke and don’t mind a slight learning curve you can use Excel (or a free Google knock-off) as an exceptional fiscal tracking tool.

                It does take some learning, however there are free class options, Youtube tutorials, and good old fashioned Googling the answers to the problems you might hit along the way. That last one is how I learned it, in fact, and over time I’ve become downright competent with the system. Or you can always pay for the fancy money-management software if that’s an option, but whatever tool you use you do need to get used to balancing your books. Future-You will be thankful when tax-time comes.

 

Digital Book Formatting

                Digital Book Formatting is, in its most basic form, turning your manuscript into a file readable by the digital device (Kindle or Other) that you’ll be using. At the bare minimum, someone who claims to do this should be able to make a functioning .mobi or .epub file without any stuck together chapters or other issues. At slightly higher levels, you have things like image insertion and creating a Table of Contents. And while there are plenty of services that will do this for a fee, as a writer you’ll want to take the reins on this as soon as possible.

                Why? Because you’re going to have to format a lot of books. Not because you’ll be churning them out so fast, although if you focus on short stories that certainly is possible. No, you’ll be converting a ton because every time you make any change in the manuscript, that amounts to a fresh conversion. Suddenly found a few typos you missed? Either leave them in or do another conversion. Found out a chapter break isn’t properly inserted? Fresh conversion. Missed a comma in one sentence? Fresh conversion. As you can imagine, the fees per conversion would pile up quickly, so it’s much better to be able to handle this in-house.

                The good news here is that while the fancy formatting stuff is tougher, the basics are pretty, well, basic. I even wrote a blog about it years ago (http://www.drewhayesnovels.com/blog/ebook) detailing how to get through your first formatting session. There are pictures and everything. Best of all, the two tools you need for this (Calibre and Sigil) are both 100% free, so there’s no fiscal investment in taking control of this part of your business.

 

Image Manipulation

                I probably should have just said “photoshopping” above, but Photoshop is an Adobe program that costs a shitload, and I don’t want you thinking you need something that high-end out of the gate. There are plenty of affordable image manipulation programs out there. Personally, I use GIMP, but if that doesn’t look like your jam google around until you find one that suits you.

                As to why you need an image program, believe it or not I’m not going to say use these for covers. Cover-design, for me, is beyond my artistic skillset, as it is for many other authors, and in those cases I advocate paying someone who knows what they’re doing. Yes, this is a high-cost, however for most books it’s also an indispensable investment. That said, you don’t necessarily need to outsource the work every time you need an image made or tweaked. Sometimes you want to do something simple, like make a bookmark design using your existing logos, build an image for social media, or even design business cards. Just last month I used GIMP to tweak the A&D logo for our Sexy Authors & Dragons event. These are projects that, with time and effort, you can handle on your own at a level that will be of serviceable quality with a much lower price (time does have a cost) than if they’d been outsourced.

 

                You’re going to wear a lot of different hats when you run your own business, it goes part and parcel with the job. And you should absolutely pay people for their expertise when the situation warrants those skills, but mastering these three early will save you some cash and give you a greater level of control of your work. Oh, and bartending! Shit, nearly forgot the most important one there. Yeah, definitely know how to make a few quality cocktails, especially around release time.

Thunder Pear Publishing Summer Trip Memo

                First off Grant, let me say “Welcome Back!” since we’re glad you made a full recovery. While I am a little miffed about you sending out the unedited version of the memo over Halloween, it’s a mistake that can be forgiven in light of what happened. It actually worked out well, since you ended up providing the whole company with proof that I specifically told you not to drink from the pumpkin. Tore that workman’s comp lawsuit apart nicely. Anyway, let’s put the past behind us. You’re back just in time for the company’s annual summer trip to Splash Wasteland, the water park a few miles outside of the city. As before, we’ve got a memo to send, although this time please do not make the same mistake and send out this version. Make the changes I ask for and then send it back to me. No one else. Got it? Good.

                Good Morning Everyone! As you all know, this Friday is the annual company trip to Splash Wasteland. I know we’re all excited, but please take a moment to read this over so you’re familiar with the schedule and policies. After what happened over Christmas, I don’t need to tell you the important of these memos. You weren’t here for this, but during the annual Christmas Drinking Contest our department manager was able to chug the bowl of eggnog faster than Mr. Hayes. Per Thunder Pear Publishing rules, that makes him the equivalent of a Baron in Mr. Hayes’s eyes, at least until the rematch. As near as we can tell, Baron equates to something like a VP, meaning the department has more clout than usual. Thus, they have to take our memos seriously. Make sure to take careful note of the below items, as there have been some changes from years prior.

1) The buses will be arriving at 7 am on Friday morning instead of 9. Apparently Mr. Hayes has a “work bender” he’ll be on during Thursday night and rather than sleep he insists on keeping the party going. His exact words were “Can’t get hungover if you never stop drinking” which is sort of accurate, I suppose. Anyway, find a more dignified way to phrase that. As I’m sure many of you can guess, that means this year we will indeed be taking shot buses once more, despite the very adamant requests of Splash Wasteland’s staff. While alcohol will be freely available, we do encourage some moderation during the ride over. We understand that Mr. Hayes will often unilaterally decide that a drinking game has begun and no one can help drinking then, but outside of those circumstances please use discretion.

2) There will be no drugs in the form of pills or powders allowed inside the waterpark grounds. That should go without saying since such substances are illegal; however the company drug policy is somewhat lax, at best. Since last year we had some people forget to empty their pockets before going on rides/in pools, there were a lot of bystanders who got unexpectedly high. Mr. Hayes has put a foot down on this, he does not condone dosing people without their permission. Instead, he will have a stockpile of various “party favors” on hand for employees that can be had freely but not taken into any of the pool areas.

3) Splash Wasteland would like us to remind you all that taking dumps in the public pool is not original, or funny, no matter how comically large they might be. Please use the actual restrooms, for number two at least if not the entire spectrum of bodily functions. To be fair, when Sara snuck horse poop into the lazy river it was pretty funny. Everyone was horrified, but also deeply confused about which person was possibly producing such massive turds. It let to something of a poop-witchhunt, which is probably why the staff doesn’t want a repeat. We didn’t quite get to public burnings, but it was closer than it should have been.

4) While Thunder Pear Publishing has a dress code meant to accommodate the various styles and comfort preferences of our employees, please remember that Splash Wasteland is a public park and therefore decency laws are in full-effect. We ask that you choose a swimsuit appropriate to the amount of coverage necessary to comply with those laws. Grant, tweak this a little. It sounds like I’m body-shaming our staff but I’m just trying to make sure they cover the essentials. There were a lot of reports of toplessness and “hanging brain” as it’s called during last year’s trip. Maybe less drugs will help the problem, but we still need to try and make it an hour in before the cops are called this time.

5) Ever since our first trip to Splash Wasteland, and the alleged “beer waterfall” created near the Kiddie Area, the owners decided not to allow children in the park at the same time as our company. Logically, banning us would have been easier, but evidently Mr. Hayes won a different eggnog drinking contest to secure our continued visitation. All of that was to say that while we understand some of you have families who might wish to come on the trip as well, we have to hold firm on the policy of it being employees only, especially for those of you wanting to bring your kids. It’s not a company choice, it’s one made by the owners of Splash Wasteland.

6) Yes, Ryan has agreed to make a summer version of his famous Halloween “blue bowl” punch. Employees will be limited to one cup each before arrival, more can be had by accomplishing what Mr. Hayes deems as feats of strength, will, or intellect. See if you can find a way to carefully include the fact that all of these feats are the same test, a game of beer pong, without actually calling out that fact. Mr. Hayes demands we keep a sense of mystery to the trials.

7) The Annual Employee Pool Battle Royal will be held before lunch this year, as last year there were some issues with people vomiting after their stomachs were hit by frozen water balloons. Let’s also remember that after last year’s ruling, only liquid water counts for purposes of acceptable tools. Rita will be defending her championship, so per company rules she may not be attacked prior to the event beginning. Everyone else is fair game. Just a heads up, every year the employees fight on a suspended platform above a pool, using fists, water guns, balloons, etc, to try and knock one another off. The winner gets a corner office and big salary for a year. Join if you want, but know that we always take out the fresh meat first.

8) Lastly, everyone remember that the buses to come back will be meeting in the parking lot of the abandoned gas station a block away from Splash Wasteland. In the extremely likely event that the police are called and we’re forced to scatter, make sure to make your way there no later than 4 pm. At that point, we’ll be leaving and you’ll have to find your own way back. Also, as always, anyone who leads the cops to our location, intentionally or not, will have to report to Mr. Hayes on Monday for the Trials of Worthiness to determine if they keep their job. Word of advice Grant, never undertake the Trials of Worthiness. Not unless you’ve already got bull-fighting experience.

                And that’s everything! I know we’re all excited for the big trip, so everyone remember to pack lots of sunscreen and I’ll see you at the pool.

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

Understanding the Nature of Ideas

                One of the most common questions writers get asked, at least based on my experience and that of the other authors I know, is where do we get our ideas. Or sometimes we’ll get someone who has an idea of their own wanting to give, or even sell, it to us for it to be developed into a story. We never take them up on that, just as we never really give satisfactory answers to the question of where our ideas come from. Part of that is because it’s an impossible question to honestly answer, I can’t trace the exact origin of my thoughts any more than you can, people dedicate entire lives and philosophies trying to unravel where those sparks of cognition come from. But the other reason we tend to skim past that question is because we know the truth. A dirty, filthy little secret I’m going to unveil to you right now.

                Ideas are easy.

                Now I know a lot of people’s hands slapped at the keyboard in fury at that last bit, and are already racing down to the comments to call me an asshole, but for those of you still reading take a deep breath and here me out. An idea, at its most basic level, is just a seed. A kernel of a thought. A one-line synopsis that could be taken in untold directions. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at a very popular idea.

                Idea: Book following the life of a spell-casting child in a magical academy.

                So, Harry Potter, right? Or wait, The Magicians technically falls into that scope too. And there was The Black Magician series, and that Discworld book following a student at Unseen University, not to mention Wizard’s Hall, A School for Sorcery, I think you all get the idea. That’s without even counting ones that are derivative of the idea, aka magic school but we don’t call it magic. You know, like if there were superheroes at a school instead, an element you might see in X-Men, or PS-238, or Super Powereds.

                I’m not trying to say all of those works are just rip-offs of each other, all dating back to some proto-book we’re stealing from (Don Quixote). My point is that different authors can take the same idea, the same seed, and develop it into entirely different works of fiction. Because the idea is a starting point, and barely one at that. There is so much more that goes into a work than the initial concept. Developing the world, the tone of it as much as the lore and history that built it. The types of character you want to have, the sort of challenges the MC(s) will face, the length, narrative structure, numbers of arcs per entry, series vs. standalone, what level of violence/swearing/sex to put in, I could go on for long enough to fill out the rest of this blog. Writing a book isn’t a matter of popping out an idea and then letting the rest unspool. Ideas are the first small step you take in writing a book. That’s why we tend to skim past the question when it gets asked: partly because it’s hard to trace the origin of a thought, but mostly because there’s so little about the idea worth discussing. All the things we added onto the idea, all the character designs and plot threads and that stuff are topics we usually won’t shut up about. But the idea… there’s only so much to say.

                That’s sort of the point of the blog today: we put too much emphasis on ideas. However, I’m not writing it in hopes that people will stop asking about the ideas, it’s a harmless question that very few people mind answering. No, my real target for this one is all the writers out there struggling because they’ve got it in their head that there will be some huge “Idea” that comes down from the mountain and be unmistakable for anything but solid gold. I get emails from authors fighting with themselves more than anything else, going from project to project, never finishing things up, because they get a new idea and mistake it for being better than what they’re working on. It’s rarely better though; the new ideas are just easier. You haven’t hit walls in the development yet, or found frustration trying to write the plot. A new idea is shiny, and promises that it will be the one to unspool easily from the writer’s mind, a book that practically writes itself. But those are hollow promises. No idea can deliver on that, because it’s the creation of the story that gives them value. An idea on its own is just a thought. A “that’s neat” which can be easily set aside and forgotten about.

                I’m not saying that some ideas don’t offer more room for development than others, part of writing is learning to recognize which ideas you can turn into a short story, novel, series, or nothing at all. The key word there is “you”. Some writers can take preposterous notions and spin a series out of them, others would only be able to grow a novella from the same seed. Knowing how to evaluate and nurture those story seeds takes practice to get right, and some will lead to dead-end projects along the way. That’s fine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing wrong with failing. Taking risks, trying new things, that won’t always work. Failing is part of the job, and you should embrace it sooner rather than later unless you want to make yourself miserable. But you won’t get the practice you need if you never see your ideas all the way through to a final product, jumping ship to something shiny and new doesn’t do you any favors.

                Lastly, I want to talk for a minute about originality. It’s a common idiom these days to say “Nothing is original” and leave it at that. Which is fair, to an extent. As the wizard school example showed, a lot of tales do leave from the same starting station. But while yes, any idea you have will doubtlessly have been tried before, that doesn’t mean they’ve done it your way. We’ll use a real life example that comes up fairly often: nerdy vampires. For anyone who follows the A&D authors, you might be aware that John Hartness, Rick Gualtieri, and I all write books about dorky vampires that satirize elements of urban fantasy. People will often ask if we were inspired by one another, or ripped the others off, which is A) impossible, since they were all released so close to each other we couldn’t have had time to read another and write/edit/publish our own and B) sort of misses the point. Despite all those books starting from the same concept, we took them all in wildly different directions. You would never mistake any of our works for one of the others, because all the character development and world-building made them into strikingly different tales. So yes, in a way originality is impossible, even when you think you’re on the cutting edge of something, but when you develop beyond the initial idea there will be so many turns and choices to make that you don’t need to worry about ending up with the same piece of work as anyone else.

                I rambled a lot in this one, but the tl;dr of this one is simply that as an author, it’s dangerous to get hung up on the notion that ideas are the biggest part of the creation process. If you go that route, you start waiting for perfection instead of learning the tools you need to take a simple concept and build an entire story around it. Don’t waste time expecting perfection from the first step of a journey, focus on learning to see those stories through, even if they end up below the quality you consider publishable. That’s how you make the mistakes and improve, so that next time you have an idea you’re better equipped to see how it’s best pursued, or if it’s worth chasing at all.

Things I Won't Miss About Living Downtown

                 Some of my longer-term readers might recall that a few years back I wrote a post about life in the Deep Ellum area, mostly full of cool things I’d discovered while living in a downtown environment. But like all things in life, my time down here is coming to an end. In fact, April will be the final time I do the monthly Wine Walk as a Deep Ellum resident. As my eyes fall upon the quiet suburbs where I’ll be moving to, it’s tempting to glamorize my years living here, to let my mind remember them as nothing but fun and non-stop partys. However, the truth is there are many things about this sort of lifestyle I very much won’t miss, and I think recording them now will be a useful tool in keeping Future-Drew from donning rose-colored glasses. If we’re lucky, it might even help a few of you deciding between downtown and suburban living which one is right for you. So, here are the things I will not miss dwelling in the heart of a downtown community:

 

All of the Poop

                I can’t say if this is a Dallas thing, a Deep Ellum thing, or a people who live in my general building/neighborhood thing, but there is more poop around here than there should be. Granted, any public poop is too much, however I would look past the occasional dog turd in the grass. Assholes are everywhere, and I don’t imagine I’ll avoid that in the suburbs. But we’re not talking about a few lone bad pet owners. There’s too much poop for that. In the grass, on the sidewalks, in the bushes, and occasionally in the halls. While most of it is animal, as you’d expect, there’s an occasional dump pile that is either from a huge dog or a human, and given the number of drunks who wander around after bar-closing time human is the more likely option.

                Now I’m not trying to run my old neighborhood down the road and make you think the streets are lined with manure. You can walk through the whole area as a tourist without noticing any poop. When you live here, on the other hand, and you have to go off the main foot traffic areas, you know you’re risking running into rogue turds. I’d say at least once every two days I encounter some form of poop, and that is way too often. Something I’m very much hoping not to see as much in suburbia.

 

Having No Damn Stores

                People in your mid-early twenties, think fast: What’s the first thing you look at when choosing a neighborhood to live in? Some of you probably said safety/niceness, not wanting to live in a place with lots of stabbings, and I’ll bet a few of you (my people) said how close it was to the nearest bar. I would wager that virtually none of you said “Close to a grocery store” as your answer, because who bothers to think about that? I sure didn’t right up until I had to start fighting traffic every time I needed so much as a damn tomato. As cool as Deep Ellum is, the closest thing we have to a store is a 7-11 down the street. And while that thing has saved me numerous times, it’s not a substitute for a real grocery store. The closest of which isn’t too far away on a map, but requires fighting highway traffic to reach, making it a 20-30 minute process just to get there, add another 20-30 to get back.

                The grocery store is just one example; there are a multitude of things I’m not close enough to reach easily. Electronics stores, office supplies, really anything that isn’t food or booze, and Dallas doesn’t help by spreading shit out so much. Running errands for me takes hours, and very little of that time is spent actually in stores. I know it seems like having endless bars in walking distance is the beginning and end to what you need nearby, but trust me that sooner or later making a pilgrimage for the basest of dinner ingredients will wear on your nerves.

 

The Lack of Space

                I’ve mentioned this before, many times in fact, but I come from a pretty small town. As in, the Walmart was all we had open past 9 p.m. small. Which means a lot of the fun we had came from doing shit outside. Parties in open fields, setting up cheap inflatable pools in the summer, jumping off buildings and other dumb kid shit. Although I don’t really look back on my small town with much fondness, over the years I have started to miss having space. Not that I’ll have a lot when I move, but some, which is enough to at least host people outside when I have a party, or play beer pong somewhere other than the kitchen, the lone spot in my current place with enough space to run a game. From the crampedness of the apartment itself to the actual lack of ability to go outside (other than my comically tiny balcony) everything about a place like this starts to feel cramped over time. Full disclosure, I’ve talked to other people and this doesn’t bother them as much as it seems to bug me. Hard as I’ve tried to run away from it for so long, part of me is still that small-town kid, and I think that means there will always be a peace of me that yearns for ample space.

 

                Credit to Deep Ellum, in spite of all these issues and many more, I’m going to miss this neighborhood. It was a weird, shifting, uncertain place, but I made a ton of memories here, some blurrier than others, and I know once I’m actually away I’ll miss it deeply. That’s the nature of adventure though, to explore something new you must leave the familiar behind, and I hope to find that suburbia will be an adventure of its own.

                Except for mowing my lawn. Calling it right now, I already hate that shit and I haven’t even had to do it yet.

Saying Farewell to a Legend

                Some of my earliest childhood memories are of watching wrestling with my Dad.  We haven’t ever had a lot in common, I was always the artsiest member of my family on both sides and while the folks were supportive, it didn’t mean they shared my interests. But wrestling was an exception. We watched it during the Ultimate Warrior days, caught the tail end of Hulkamania, and saw the donning of a new WWF superstar in Stone Cold Steve Austin. But through the years, as the faces changed due to injury or WCW recruitment, there was always one constant, and he was my favorite for a long time. That constant was The Undertaker.

                Before I understood the industry, and kayfabe, and really anything beyond the spectacle of wrestling, I just knew he was awesome. He had a badass gimmick (at one point the word was literally in his name), put on crazy good matches, and never broke character. Fans never got to see Mark Calaway, the man beneath the wide-brimmed hat, there was only ever The Undertaker. Well, except when he was the American Badass, but even then the commitment never waned. Commitment is a good word to toss about when you’re discussing The Undertaker. He’s a man whose life seemed to be built on a bedrock of commitment. He was committed to the WWE, never straying during the Monday night wars. He was committed to his character, not even inducting long-time friend Paul Bearer into the Hall of Fame because it would break kayfabe. He was committed to the industry and the fans, giving everything he had to wrestling until he was just too worn to keep putting on matches.

                For those of you who don’t know, The Undertaker officially retired last Sunday at Wrestlemania 33. That’s why I’m talking about him in the past tense. Because while Mark Calaway is still very much alive, and I hope he stays that way for many more years, the time of The Undertaker is past. And that’s not just another retirement. That’s the end of an era. A generation of fans grew up with The Undertaker as a constant, and to see him go signals the loss of something special. Something from our childhoods, and adolescence, and even parts of who we are today. Even if many of us fell away from wrestling as we got older, I don’t know any former fans who don’t still look back on The Undertaker fondly. It was cool, knowing he was still out there, squashing jobbers and building amazing feuds. But as of Sunday, that is no more. The Undertaker is gone, and like a true pro he went out on his back.

                That’s something that I don’t think gets enough credit about wrestling culture. When a wrestler finishes their career, the farewell is not getting handed a big spectacle match where they defeat some new rising start to leave on a win. That’s how most of us would write it, because we see victory and accomplishment as inherently tied together, so of course we’d want to see them leave with a win. But that’s not the way it works in wrestling. To that world, no matter how big you are, the best way to say goodbye is to lay down for someone younger, newer, someone with more matches ahead of them. You take all of the momentum and crowd-love you’ve earned and pass it on by making the new guy seem like he’s so good not even a legend could beat him. You put him over, make him look great, and pass some of that momentum on rather than taking it with you when you leave. They even call it “doing right” to leave on your back, because that’s the right way to go out.

                And the fact that The Undertaker left that way is not something to skim over. I mentioned commitment above for a reason. Vince McMahon (the man, not the character) might be made of muscles and crazy, but it’s no secret that he prizes loyalty above all else. That matters, especially since no one was more loyal to the company during the most hectic years than The Undertaker. By all accounts the two men are very close and The Undertaker has a lot of creative control over his character. If he’d asked to go out on a win, I don’t doubt they would have done it that way. Probably not to Roman Reigns, but they’d have let him leave as a victor. He didn’t ask for it to go that way though. The Undertaker stayed committed to the industry he loved up to the very end, and when he went out on his back he did more than just add to the push WWE insists on giving Reigns. He reminded the entire locker room that this was how a true wrestling legend left. If he’d won, it would have made some of the younger talent think that if they got big enough, they could leave on a victory. He would have made the new goal to be so popular that you could exit on top, instead of reinforcing the idea that everyone, even legends, do right by the new stars.

                I don’t have a plan to tie this all into some writing-themed conclusion. There’s a lesson in there about the importance of losing, but I already covered it in the first writing/wrestling article. And I could try to tie it up with a point about how the world would be better if we were all more willing to help the next generation rather than shoving them down for fear of losing our place. But the truth is there was no plan for this blog. I just couldn’t sleep and found myself writing, because it didn’t feel right to let this event pass without saying something. Without acknowledging how big of an event had just occurred. Not for some of you, heck probably not even for most of you. Still, for a lot of people out there this was a big moment. It only felt right to say one last farewell to the Phenom, the Dead Man, the American Badass.

                Farewell Undertaker. And long live Mark Calaway. After everything the man has given us, he’s more than earned this walk off into the sunset.

Does Stability Lead to Worse Art?

                There’s an old stereotype of an artist’s (author, filkmaker, painter, really take your pick on medium) journey that in the beginning we’re expected to sacrifice and suffer for our creations; commonly it’s called being a “starving artist”. The idea is that rather than eat right or pay rent, we pour all of our resources into the work we love. We work all the harder on that next piece, because we’re betting heavily on success. We create to survive, churning out constant and increasingly ambitious projects in an attempt to gain some form of stability. This idea of the starving artist is problematic for a lot of reasons, and unpacking them all would be a blog unto itself, but for right now I just want to establish that the idea exists.

                And, to some extent, there’s truth in the idea of personal-sacrifice. Working hard on your art demands, at the absolute minimum, time. That’s assuming you’re working in a medium with no other associated expenses to create your art, which is rare, but for now let’s stick with just time. Giving up time to create something means you’re taking it from elsewhere in your life. If it’s out of your personal life, then you’ll see the deterioration of friendships, and maybe romantic relationships as well. If you take the time from your professional life, then you’ll have less disposable income, or maybe miss out on promotion opportunities. So yes, there is an element of sacrifice even if all you give is time, and we often feel these sacrifices the most early in our careers.

                There is also a flip-side to this equation though: what happens when the artist is no longer starving? When they have enough security to stop producing to survive, and instead can focus on creation for the sake of creation alone? Is it purer for the sense of focus, or weakened by the lack of that primal drive to survive fueling the creation? You’ll find people with different opinions all over the place, and I doubt anything I’ll say is going to impact you either way if your mind is made up. Still, it seemed like an idea worth discussing, and to do so I’m going to use an icon that I think almost everyone who reads my books will be at least passingly familiar with: Kevin Smith.

                To grossly oversimplify the career of a man who has been all over the place, Kevin Smith is a director from New Jersey who got his start by self-funding (off credit cards) and directing a movie called Clerks. It gained notoriety and was eventually released to acclaim, giving Smith a career springboard to make more films like Chasing Amy, Mallrats, and Dogma, to mixed receptions. After some time though, he grew tired of what he was doing and tried something very different with Red State, then left movies altogether for a while, focusing on his newfound love of podcasting. That changed with the release of Tusk, a film inspired by an idea he had during an episode of Smodcast, in which a podcaster is surgically turned into a walrus by a madman. This was followed by Yoga Hosers, and the upcoming Moose Jaws will finish out the run he’s calling The True North Trilogy, since all 3 films are set in Canada.

                You’re probably noticing that the further into that filmography I got, the stranger the titles and plot became. We went from clerks in a convenience store, to angels trying to break into heaven, to a human being turned into a walrus through horrifying torture surgery. Was he smoking himself into madness, or was the change due to him becoming rich and famous, thus giving him the freedom to explore what he wanted all along? And the real question: did losing his need to survive lead to him making worse art?

                Well, no. No, it didn’t. True, he might be making art you don’t like as much, but that’s different from making worse art. You see, there’s a factor people often mix-up with quality: marketability. From a technical perspective (don’t worry, I checked with friends who actually study film before talking out of my ass) Smith’s newer films are written, shot, and directed better than most of his earlier works. Calm down, I know you like the old stuff better, we’ll get to that in a moment. But it really shouldn’t be that shocking that the work is improving. If you do something for 20 years, you’re naturally gaining more knowledge, experience, and resources along the way. Obviously his skill is increasing over time, that’s part of doing anything for several decades.

                So if the new movies are technically better in most ways (and I know I’m asking a lot from some of you to meet me on that point) why are they popularly regarded as worse? You already know the answer, I told you in the last paragraph: marketability. With his first film, Smith tapped into the slacker culture in a way that few films had before at the time, and that appealed to a lot of people. From there on, Smith was working within the confines of Hollywood, meaning his films went through traditional corporate filtering like focus groups to make sure they appealed to a wide enough audience. Factors that didn’t fit the bill were cast off; everything was put on a path toward making a solid profit, because that’s what movie studios have to do to stay solvent. His work had to be marketable to get made, the art was required to appeal to the greatest number of people possible, and thus it was tweaked and tooled around with until it fit the bill. It does bear mentioning though that even in what many see as Smith’s heyday, his films were often too niche to be considered blockbusters.

                The reason Smith’s films changed so significantly was money-related, though not in quite the same way as one might expect. To, again, really sum a lot of shit up, Smith began using independent distribution houses and investors in his films, keeping production costs way below what they were in the Hollywood machine. That means his amount needed to break even is far lower than it was before, and that allows him to make movies that don’t need to be exceptionally marketable. He can makes whatever he wants, even if it’s using nazi-bratwursts as the bad guys, trusting that there are enough people with similar tastes out there to break even or perhaps turn a profit. And so far, he’s been right. Despite not getting a lot of critical love, both Yoga Hosers and Tusk are already in the black. Did they earn enough that he’d still be okay without his existing fame and wealth? I don’t know, you’d have to ask him about that, but the point is that they both now exist and nobody lost money to make them happen.

                That’s what really changes when artists are no longer trying to pay rent with their next work: they’re freed from having to write with the market in mind. Sometimes this leads to better work, freeing them up to take bold chances and risks that they never would have before and breaking all sorts of new ground. Sometimes the art we get from this is a little too crazy, or so niche to the creator that no one else finds joy in it. I’m not going to try and say that one is better than the other, only that it’s important we see this for what it is: fiscal stability providing the artist room to take more chances, not lessening their artistic drive.

                I’m not saying you have to love the works of artists in their later careers. In fact, the less marketable they become, the higher a chance that you won’t like them. But I do think it’s important to separate out the idea that making something non-marketable somehow implies a decrease in quality. Taking risks is usually a good thing, and even when they don’t pan out there’s lessons to be learned from them. For my part, that’s why I try to structure my releases so I alternate between established series and new, untested projects.

                Tying talent to desperation with the starving artist idea, on the other hand, is kind of a dangerous thing to put out there. Attempting to make your art into a career is already crazy hard; people need to know that it’s okay to stay at that day job until they’ve got a solid footing to step out on. Having rent and food doesn’t weaken your ability to produce any kind of art, you don’t need to go all in to be a “real” writer/painter/director/animal trapeze trainer.

                Take your time, learn about your market and what ideas you have that might appeal to them, and build your work at your own pace. And probably don’t finance everything with credit card debt. That gamble worked out well for Smith, but it’s not one even he recommends others take.

Rejected Blog Ideas 2

                Yes, it’s that time again, the time when I run low on ideas for a blog so I decide to write about the things I decided not to write about. I’m assured it’s very “meta” although that assurance comes from the voices in my head, so maybe take it with a grain of salt. Anyway, despite the weird shit that often shows up on this blog, there are some topics that are too far out there or underdeveloped to get written out. Here are a few ideas I had that failed to make the cut to full-feature.

 

The Exploding Audiobook Market

                The long and short of this one was that it was a long idea that just came out too short in words. Basically, the audiobook market is booming right now, with lots of users joining audible and more authors starting to depend on that income to support themselves. And that’s really cool, something totally worth talking about. The problem is, the second sentence in this paragraph pretty much says it all, and it’s hard to make a blog out of a topic that can be summarized so easily.

                True, I could have gone into some other aspects of audiobooks, but between writing about how to make them and doing yearly lists of my favorites, I didn’t leave a lot of water in that well to pull from. Even talking about the technology route is too easy to sum up. Ready? Audiobooks are exploding in popularity because 1) most of us have phones that can store entire libraries of the things, eliminating the need for bulky CDs, and 2) More and more cars have Bluetooth/aux functionality allowing us to play those audiobooks on trips. Boom, that right there covers most of the technology factors. I might have been able to drill down a little on specifics, but not enough to be worth a real blog unless I added in a ton of padding.

                Bottom line: audiobooks are great and it’s a wonderful time to get into the market. And that pretty much says it all.

 

Genetically Average

                When I first got a “Superhero Genetics Test” as a Christmas gift, I had 2 thoughts: 1) Can you turn your genes into vodka if you drink enough? And 2) Hey, this will make a cool blog. The test was a basic genetic screening panel that checked to see if you had genes indicating you would be stronger, faster, or smarter (basic superhero skills) than the average person. I swabbed my mouth and sent it in, waiting to see what my results would be.

                So what was the problem? Well the title kind of gave it away: I’m genetically average on all accounts. And that’s fine, but it’s also kind of boring. If I’d gotten even one that was above normal, I could have written about me trying to make my own costume and go out to fight crime with my… let’s say speed for this hypothetical. I’d go out and try to help people, mistakenly thinking genetics would give me an advantage and ultimately getting injured or my ass-kicked. None of those jokes would work with an average rating across the board though. I tried doing a blog about Average Man, but none of the directions I found for it worked in such a short context, so I ended up ditching the idea entirely.

                Fun Side-Note: I also got a genetic testing kit for my dog, Dr. Winston. That one turned out to be super enlightening, because while I’d always assumed he was a mutt, it turned out he was a half-breed. Half-Corgi, half-Australian Shepard. Kind of a limited audience on that one though, so no blog there either.

 

Should You Stick to One Genre?

                So I didn’t know this when I started, but conventional wisdom says a writer, especially a new one, should stick to a single genre. If they can swing it, one series in one genre is considered ideal. Now obviously that’s not how I work, and since I’ve talked to people who were surprised I managed to stay self-sufficient using my multi-genre approach it seemed worth examining. Was conventional wisdom right, or had the market evolved to tolerate authors writing across multiple different genres?

                The problem here was that I couldn’t stretch “Fuck if I know” out for a whole blog, and that’s the only honest conclusion I’d be able to present. Digging into this topic turns up all sorts of competing ideas, philosophies, and experiences in regards to multi-genre writing. If you care, do a Google search and you’ll find tons of discussion on the topic. Which was part of the issue: there doesn’t seem to be a consensus to reach on this one. Some authors only succeed when they stick to genre; others find a lot of success by branching out. It’s one of those weird things about this job that doesn’t make sense, and you make peace with that the longer you’re doing this gig. But making peace with it and being able to meaningfully contribute to the conversation are different things. I ultimately realized that my own experience was little more than a lone drop in a huge bucket of conflicting accounts, and accepted that this was just too big of an issue to get my head around.

                For what it’s worth, I’ll say this much: the level of debate means that clearly it is possible to succeed writing in multiple genres, otherwise there wouldn’t be much to discuss in the first place. Now whether it’s the right fit for you or not is going to be a case-by-case thing, which is no surprise since that tends to be how these always end up anyway. If you feel the desire to stretch yourself across multiple genres, then I’d say go for it. Writing the thing you’re passionate about is usually the best strategy to undertake. On the other hand, if you like your genre, then don’t force yourself out of it without cause. Either tactic is viable; it’s just a matter of finding a way to make it work for you.

 

Managing Indie Income

                That’s right; I’m doing another blog about the business side of being a writer. If you went back in time and told my parents I’d grow up to write blogs about money management, they’d yell at you for invading their home and accuse you of being a time-traveling witch with your strange future garb. Once you’d been taken away for breaking and entering, however, they’d laugh quite a bit at the nonsense that time traveler was spewing. But necessity forges strange friendships, and over the last decade I’ve had to learn to balance a budget well enough to pay for rent, booze, and food, usually in that order.

                Much of that training came when I was doing sales for a living, which prepared me for my current job as a full-time author better than I’d have expected. I’ve talked before about how writing full-time is a lot like being in sales because it revolves around managing a pipeline of your work and making sure you’ve always got irons in different stages of the fire. Today, however, I wanted to talk about the other side of that equation: how to handle the money you get when there’s no set amount coming from month to month. And trust me, its’ very different from working a job with a set salary.

 

Know the Cycle

                Although there are some variations, for the most part book releases of authors with established catalogs tend to follow a predictable cycle. A new book will launch, dedicated readers will pick it up and spread the word that it’s either good or bad. Regardless of whether the book is a success or not, or even part of a series, that first month will generally be among the highest for its particular sales. The next month will also be elevated, and a bit of a bump on the third can sometimes be found. After that the book will level off to whatever amount your books usually sell in a given month. Now those can be spiked with promotions and marketing, but for this blog we’re going to focus on the natural cycle and not get into manipulating it too much.

                So, the cycle of a new book is Month 1: Biggest sales, Month 2: Big sales, Month 3: Small elevation of sales, Month 4: Back to normal. That’s really important, because those release months will often also lift your other books too, leading to them being the points where the large chunks of your income come from. And having inconsistent income requires you to view your revenue stream in a slightly different manner.

 

Don’t Spend What You Make

                While I won’t get into real examples here because every author’s journey is different, I do need to use some financial examples, so we’ll pick some big numbers that are easy to work with. Let’s say romance/Lovecraftian author Svetle Thruster has a stable series with happy readers. In a normal month, he makes $3,000. On release months, however, he makes $9,000. So Month 1 is 9k, Month 2 is 6k, and Month 3 is 4k before going back to 3k as usual. Now you might look at that and think Svelte is going to rent himself the biggest cocaine fountain he can find in Month 1, a smaller one in Month 2, and maybe just eat out a little more in Month 3, but that would be a terrible plan.

                You see, Svelte actually needs $4000 per month to cover rent, food, car, and other necessities like his passionate love of fancy cheeses. So rather than spend the extra he makes in those 3 months, he puts it away to cover for the normal months when he’d be coming up short.

                This takes a little getting used to, especially when you come from hourly or quick-cash jobs such as bartending that make living paycheck to paycheck easier, which I did. The goal here is to look at income in terms of what you’ll make all year rather than month to month. Trust me on this lesson I learned during my sales days: It’s really easy to have a big month and think the money will never stop flowing, but it will. The key to lasting in jobs like this is to use the big months to cover for the lean ones, because sooner or later they will be coming. For authors and salesman alike, they will be coming. When you look at your income over a year, balanced against the monthly budget you have, it gets easier to see how one month is filling in the gap from another, allowing you to balance your schedule and bank account without ending up short and selling blood to make rent.

                Pro Tip: Blood places know if you try to sell them animal blood instead of yours, no matter how ethically it was obtained. Don’t try it; they are a little too free with those lifetime bans.

 

Track Your Money

                When people write in to ask me how they know if they should do the writing thing full-time (I know, those e-mails surprise me too) one of the first things I tell them is to get all their sales records in order and try to put together some averages of what they made. Assess the release months and the slow ones, try and figure out how often their releases will be coming and what the average amount on the slow months is. If they haven’t got enough data to do all of this, the my advice will be to wait, because unless they hit the author-lotto chances are no one will be making enough to quit before they’ve been at it long enough to have this sort of information.

                Assuming they do have it, however, then the next step is for them to look at their bank statements and figure out how much they spend, and then to split it off into essentials versus non-essentials. Not just the obvious stuff like rent either, but the things you know you’re going to spend money on whether it’s responsible or not. Like Svelte and his love of cheese, we all have weaknesses and you shouldn’t assume future you will suddenly develop better self-control. Once they have the numbers for average spending broken out by essentials and non-essentials, they can take a real look at the situation.

                At this point you have to look at how much cash the books are bringing in, and how much is from the release months vs. the normal months. Do you have enough to cover your spending? Does it depend on wild upswings, or do the usual amounts support it? Will there be new expenses (like health insurance) you have to account for when working for yourself?

                I’m not going to have an answer to this part; it’s a decision you have to arrive at on your own. But by laying out the facts and taking a hard look at them you can at least figure out what amount you need to be working toward. Whether it’s by producing more work or cutting back spending, you’ve got something to shoot for and a good foundation for how to handle income once you make the jump.

                Common sense as I know this is for some of you, I personally wish dearly I’d gotten this explained to me when I was first on my own and doing sales. Because let me tell you, it doesn’t matter how much you sedate them or what gauge needle you use, cheetahs wake up pissed when you steal their blood. Sluggish and easy to outrun, obviously, but pissed nonetheless. Don’t steal cheetah blood; just learn to manage your cashflow.

Overlooked Movies from 2016

                I think it’s not a great shocker to anyone that I love taking risks on movies. Anyone who has read my list of Halloween films that are fun to drink to knows I must have gone through a lot of bad cinema to find the ones with redeeming qualities. Well good news, my love for the good/bad/unexpectedly amazing doesn’t just extend to horror schlock, I also greatly enjoy movies from all kinds of genres. And let’s be honest, after several weeks of blogs that were in some way linked to promo work for the new release, I’m overdue to talk about someone else’s art. So today I am going to talk about some of my favorite movies from 2016, either to drink to or just to enjoy, that got overlooked by the bulk of movie goers.

 

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

                For the life of me, I can’t tell if this is actually a good movie or not. I strongly suspect that it’s not, at least in terms of script and plot, but fuck me if I don’t love watching it all the same. The reason for that is because the cast is insanely talented, and they pull off every scene with so much charisma and humor that even if the words aren’t funny they still manage to sell that shit. And I mean, can you really be surprised? This is a collection of crazy talented comedic actors, all playing off one another at every opportunity.

                The movie stars Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza as the female leads, both of whom are amazing alone and fucking unbelievable when they work together, as well as Adam Devine and Zac Effron as the titular Mike and Dave. Adam Devine is strong as always, from starring roles in Workaholics to side-parts like in Pitch Perfect, the man always turns in quality work. As for Zac Effron… you folks might fight me on this in the comments, but I’m still going to say it: I think Zac Effron is among the most criminally underrated comedic actors out there right now. The guy nails every bit of humor handed to him, be it in films like this or awful trainwrecks like Dirty Grandpa, where Zac is one of the few good things on screen. Anyway, with these four anchoring the main cast they could have done Titus Andronicus and pulled some funny bits out of it, working with an okay script made for a few hours of unexpectedly enjoyable hilarity. Like I said, the movie itself might not be good, but you’ll still be glad you took the time to watch it.

Bonus Drinking Game: Drink every time someone says the name Mike or Dave.

 

The Bronze

                I know my audience pretty well, so I’m keenly aware that telling most of you to watch a film anchored by someone whose biggest credit is The Big Bang Theory is going to meet with eye-rolls and mutters about laugh-tracks. Truthfully, I doubt I would have picked this one on my own, and it would have been a mistake on my part. This film was a passion project for Melissa Rauch, and wow does it ever show off another side to her acting skills.

                Switching off from her usual meek persona (she played that even on other shows like True Blood) Rauch comes out swinging as a foul-mouthed, bitter, entitled former gymnastic prodigy who is still coasting through life on the glory of her former accomplishments. From getting free pizza at the mall food court to demanding to be treated like a celebrity in her small town, Rauch starts off as unlikable and then digs in at every chance to make the audience think less of her. It’s a lot of commitment that leads to some really hilarious moments, but it’s when the movie’s plot actually kickstarts that things get moving well.

                I won’t bother doing a synopsis, if foul-mouthed former gymnast didn’t get you then this movie isn’t going to be your jam, but it does present the opportunity for Rauch’s character to show another side to herself. I really liked that they never tried to redeem or excuse her, new facets of her personality are treated exactly like that: she’s a dick, and she’s also these other things, but neither cancels out the other. It’s a strong character piece that lets a previously underrated talent show what she can do, and all in all it’s definitely worth a rental.

Bonus Drinking Game: Drink every time Melissa Rauch drinks, lies, or curses.

 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

                For the life of me, I can’t imagine how this movie ended up on an under-appreciated list. It’s the fucking Lonely Islands doing a movie-length segment with new music, tons of cameos, and hilarious performances. The plot is strong; the acting is what you’d expect from SNL alums like Andy Samberg, and the songs are catchy as shit. My only guess here is perhaps that some people thought what worked for music-video length segments wouldn’t hold up over a full movie, and they might be right if that’s what Lonely Islands had done. But to their credit, they branched out, telling a complete, cohesive story that’s got a great mix of comedy with an unexpected amount of heart.

                Satire can be a tough genre to sell in sometimes, and music-based satires are always fated to be compared to the juggernaut that was This is Spinal Tap, which makes it an extra intimidating field to put a film in. Popstar holds its own though, with a veteran cast, a tight narrative, and an insightful poke at our current music industry. It’s really good, and if you’ve liked anything by Lonely Islands you are going to love this film. So stop reading and go rent the thing already!

Bonus Drinking Game: Drink every time a celebrity cameos as themselves.

Release Day Tradition Origins

                I never know how many of you folks who read the blogs also follow along when I do book releases, but I assume there has to be some overlap, so at least a few of you know that I have certain traditions in place when I launch a new book. Though most of them are pretty straightforward, there are a few that are a little more unique to me and my way of doing things (read: shitshows) that stand out. And since people will often ask where these came from, I thought today was a good time to go through all of my traditions, or at least the ones I’m not sworn on a sacred altar of blood and Bud Light cans not to divulge, and talk about where they came from.

 

Tradition #1: The Morning Mimosas

                I don’t know if this one really counted as a tradition back in the beginning, unless almost every weekend was somehow a book launch. The truth is I love mimosas, and champagne in general, so these have been my breakfast booze of choice since I discovered them. Thus, when book releases came around and I needed something to settle my nerves, mimosas were the drink of choice. And boy, were there some nerves to settle. Even now when I release a new book, I wake up a little scared that people won’t like it and I’ll have put in all that work only to disappoint my readers. That’s a natural fear that I don’t think is ever going away, and probably shouldn’t if I want to keep making quality work. However, that fear has nothing on the absolute terror of releasing in the early days.

                Back then I had no idea what I was doing, whether the books were selling by luck or weird coincidence, or if the next step I took would be the one to plunge my fledgling career into ashes. That was when the release day mimosas were essential, not a tradition as much as a coping mechanism for the insecurity and fear trying to overpower me. They were there every time a book came out, all the way back to the beginning, and as time went on and I got less scared (and also learned to deal with those fears with ways other than booze) I kept them around because they’d been woven into the fabric of my releases, and it would have seemed strange not to have them.

                Also because, as stated, I really like mimosas.

 

Tradition #2: Digital Release Parties

                One day, I would love to hold a release party in person, with the opportunity for fans to come drink some mimosas and celebrate the launch right alongside me. I even tried to put something together for Forging Hephaestus, but all the dreaming in the world doesn’t change the fact that I’m still a relatively little guy in the literary pond. In a few more years, maybe that dream can become a reality. Until then, however, I have the digital release parties, which do have the upside of allowing everyone who wants to, regardless of geographic location, join in the fun.

                The digital release parties grew out of the dream to hold a big event and the limits of my current prestige. I started by holding Q&A sessions on release days, but those got pretty messy as it was just one topic that kept popping up and filling people’s feed, plus the poor organization meant I missed a lot of things readers asked. I finally hit on the idea to put everything onto an event page, that way we could all have our fun and it would be easy to navigate, plus not bother anyone who didn’t care about the release. I kept the Q&A portion that I started with, slowly adding in more activities as new ideas came up or technology became available. Nowadays the parties include games and prizes, sneak peeks and tidbits, and recently even a video live-stream where I can actually talk to answer things instead of typing. Each innovation has made the process more fun, and I hope in a year’s time there’s even more going on at every one of them. Even when the in-person parties become viable, I think I’ll keep the digital component. I have too much fun to let it go, and besides that gives me an excuse for two parties!

 

Tradition #3: The 5-Star Shots

                Oh boy. These things. So the first two were pretty self-explanatory, but to clarify for those who don’t know I’ll go through how this one works. On release day (before I pass out), every time someone posts a 5-star review I take a shot. Normally that isn’t too many, since my books are long and until Forging Hephaestus I never did Advanced Reader Copies, meaning the only ones who could leave a review were beta-readers and people who stayed up all night to read the book. Originally, I didn’t even tell people I did this, it was just a fun way to secretly cheers the readers who were that determined to start the books off on a good review footing. But, as one might imagine, between the mimosas and the shots discretion is not one of my strengths during a release day, so I happened to mention it during one of the parties. People were intrigued, I started posting pics of me doing the shots through the day, and from then on it’s been a part of my release day traditions.

                I actually really like these, otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing them, but when Corpies came along I thought I might die. Since that one was a web-serial first, tons of you got to read it prior to release, and I think it reached somewhere around 20 reviews that first day before I fell asleep. It was a rough hangover, but a great start for the book, so I was more than happy to muddle through the next day. That said, I did decide to start keeping more than straight liquor around, some mixers and gentle boozes like Baileys and Rumchata were added to my stock so I could vary things up when the numbers got high. The traditions have to evolve, after all, if I’m going to find fun new ones to add to the mix.

 

                Those are my big three for every release, and I’m curious to know if the rest of you have any traditions for big days in your lives. Maybe before a game, or a work presentation, or whatever you need to psych yourself up for. Talk about them below, and maybe the rest of us will see some good ideas to borrow.

 

Super Villain Broadcast

                Every television, computer, and other screen in the world suddenly clicks on displaying crackling static. Confusion ripples across the world for several seconds, until the static suddenly vanishes to display an empty chair in front of a concrete wall.

                Is it on? Well you’re the genetically enhanced rabbit with Wi-Fi in its brain, aren’t you supposed to know? What? It is? Fuck!

                Static returns briefly. When it clears again the world can see Baron Baddington now seated in the chair, a slightly frantic expression in his eyes as he whispers inaudibly off camera. In the days to follow, government agencies will enhance and filter this whispering until they’re able to make out his words. They were “How’s my light?” as it turns out.

                Good morning world! For my non-English speakers out there, this broadcast is presented in brand-new Translate-O-Vision, patent pending, which should put my words into a language you can understand. As some of you may have heard, I recently escaped from the paltry prison you all held me in. My time there was not pleasant, and now that I’m out I felt it only fair to reshape the world more to my liking, since I had to spend months in discomfort. To that end, I have constructed a machine that will produce endless clouds to block out sunshine. They’ll still let enough rays through to nurture plants and the like, I’m not trying to starve myself or anyone else here, but until my demands are met none of you will feel the warmth of the sun on your face, every beach day will be clouded over, summer will be hot yet somehow feel as depressing as fall… basically it will be like you’re all stuck living in Seattle. Now don’t fret, because I am a reasonable mastermind. I have a small list of demands I want met, and once they are you can have your precious sunshine back.

                From the side of the camera, a small paw covered in white fur can be seen, lifting a stack of pages into Baron Baddington’s reach. He snatches them up, giving a brief nod to the paw, which slips away from sight.

                Let’s get the money out of the way first. It’s gauche and trite, I know, but endless cloud machines don’t pay for themselves. I’m going to need a cool ten billion from the nations of the world to get back my investment and some spending money. Oh, and only the nations with the top ten highest GDPs are allowed to be part of the payment. I don’t want any of you “world-powers” screwing over a third-world country, again, by making them foot a part of the bill. Only the cash cows are taking care of this one. Have the money ready to go by tomorrow morning.

                Next up, I want every country, and this applies to all of you, to start funding some endowments to the arts. Let’s say five percent of your GDP, or two percent if you take all of it from defense. I don’t need you shoring up your weapons against me anyway, and to be frank the number of operas and symphonies across the globe has been falling at a depressing rate in the last few years. I may be a villain, but depriving the world of such culture would be truly criminal.

                After that… ah yes, no more pay toilets. Anywhere. After having to suffer the indignity of pooping in a public cell, I feel a kinship to those struck down by circumstances seeking only a private space to do their necessary. I will not stand by and allow others to suffer through such a degrading experience. Anyone with a pay toilet after sunset tonight will be targeted and punished by my squads of robot soldiers. And I made them on the cheap, so they are not equipped to do anything delicately.

                My next demand is that every country farm and ship carrots to me, with the amount due proportionate… to… wait a minute, I didn’t write this.

                Baron Baddington turns off camera to glare at someone unseen. He begins a frantic whisper fight, too low and polluted with another sound source for government agencies to clean up. After several seconds of fighting, he turns back to the camera and offers a weary smile to the billions watching him live.

                Right, where was I? Ah yes, carrots… apparently. Fine, every country owes me one ton of carrots per year, either grown on their own or bought from a neighbor. Anyone who tried to use this to demand to economically gouge another nation of carrot sales gets a visit from the robot soldiers. And one ton of carrots per country is plenty, more than a single rabbit could or should eat in a year.

                Another brief glance off camera, although this time there is no audible response.

                Anyway, my next demand is all education in all nations becomes immediately free. That might sound strange, coming from a madman holding the world hostage, but let’s put our cards on the table folks. I’m not getting any younger, and as I age I’ve started to look ahead, to the next generation of evil geniuses. How will they rise up to take my place if we don’t properly nurture and refine their intellects? This demand is my investment in the future of villainy. Plus I’ve got a niece heading to college soon and knocking this out will get my sister off my ass, so it’s win-win as far as I’m concerned.

                That leads us to the first of my big demands, because all that piddling stuff was just the warm-up. Superheroes must be deemed as illegal entities, and all superheroic activities must cease at once. From now on, the act of fighting villainy shall be criminal in itself! That should throw those goody-two-shoes on their ass with the moral dilemma of it all. Not to mention, I can-

                The screen fills with red light as a flashing bulb over Baron Baddington’s head begins to flash just as a high-pitched siren can be heard over the television. He turns off-screen, presumably looking at some sort of display.

                Wow, looks like we’ve got some incoming superheroes. A lot of them, actually. Guess I might have pushed my luck with that last one, huh? Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying. Looks like I’ll have to do a strategic retreat for now, I am in no mood to go back to prison. Luckily, an old pro like me knows to never start one of these proclamations without an escape plan. Until next time, this is Baron Baddington Esquire signing off and reminding you all to stay terrified.

                Leaping up from his chair, Baron Baddington hurtles past the camera, knocking it slightly askew as he does. Now facing a blank wall illuminated by a flashing red light, the camera faintly picks up Baron Baddington yelling from off-screen.

                Hurry, Commander Whiskers, to the multiverse! Let’s go to that world where hangovers don’t exist. I need a drink after a day like this.

 

While Barron Baddington won't be there, remember that today is the Digital Release Party for Forging Hephaestus (10am-2pm CST) with trivia, prizes, a livestream, and more. Also, Forging Hephaestus itself is available as of now! Get it in digital or audio form. 

Super Hero Drinkalong Power Hour

This week, in celebration of the upcoming launch of Forging Hephaestus (with audiobook now available for Pre-Order) Ruby joins me one last time for a Super Hero Power Hour. Enjoy!

 

Note: We had some folks point out that Ruby and I are a little washed out by the video on this one, so I'm adding another version where our audio is dominant. Now you can pick which is louder: The video noise (1st video) or our jabbering (2nd video). Hope you dig them either way.

 

Louder Music Version

 

Louder Vocal Version

The Good Place and The Art of Foreshadowing

                So before we get into today’s blog, I have to get the obligatory Spoiler Warning out of the way. Today we’re going to be discussing NBC’s Television show The Good Place (TGP from here on) and the entirety of its first season. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll try to structure this so you can still follow along, but if you haven’t seen it and you think you might want to, even a little bit, then bail out here. I’m going to be spoiling the shit out of the first season, so you have now officially been warned.

                For anyone who hasn’t seen TGP, go watch it now. If you can’t be bothered to do that, then you should know it centers on a woman (played by Kristin Bell) named Eleanor who awakens post-death to find herself in a comfortable office, met by a man who professes to be an architect of the afterlife named Michael (played by Ted Danson). She learns that while no religion ever got the afterlife correct (most were about 5% right) they did nail the idea that there is a Good Place and a Bad Place, and Michael assures her that she is in the good place. Eleanor is led out to her community, where she sees her house, views memories of her philanthropic trips and good deeds in life, and meets her soulmate Chidi. The catch is that we soon learn Eleanor didn’t do any of these things, and was in fact a fairly shitty person in life who seems to have arrived in the good place by mistake. She confides this secret to Chidi, who ultimately decides it’s his moral duty to try and teach her to be a good person who deserves to stay rather than be sent to the bad place upon discovery. Making it more complicated is the fact that when Eleanor does shitty things, the world is warped by her badness, causing mayhem and occasional giant shrimp to fly through the air. Thus the crux of the series, or so we think, kicks off as Eleanor must suppress her shitty tendencies while trying to learn to be better and keeping her secret the whole while.

                If you’re like me, then you’re probably wondering how the hell they’re going to stretch that concept out through a full season. The answer, as it turned out, was tight scripting, a limited run of episodes, and a willingness to take bold turns to keep things fresh. This is not a show that runs out of steam at any point, and it always keeps you wondering what will come next. Eleanor ends up outing herself for the sake of Chidi around episode 7, making serious personal changes to evolve, and eventually sacrifices her own shot at freedom to save her friends. All of which makes the big reveal at the end of season 1 so thrilling: Eleanor was never in the good place to start with. She, Chidi, and her friends/neighbors who she grew close with, have all been in the bad place from the start. It’s a new type of bad place, designed by Michael, where the torture comes from she and her friends driving each other crazy. The twist is insane when it hits, and I literally remember staring at my screen as Ted Danson’s character shifts from dopey to outright evil, thinking there was no way this could be happening.

                Then, when the episode ended, I went back to rewatch the whole season. And fuck me if they hadn’t been laying down the clues for that twist since episode 1. They managed to hide a huge surprise like that on a show during the age of fan theories and internet speculation running rampant all over everything, and they did it with a wink to the audience the entire time. The more I mulled it over, the more I appreciated the level of work that had gone into it, and the more I wanted to discuss how they’d earned that twist.

                They played with the expectations of the viewer. From the beginning, Michael explains things to Eleanor, and we take it as a device to provide exposition to us as viewers. Sure, he might be talking to Eleanor, but we really know the point is to inform us about the world. And when some of the things he explains about the afterlife seem kind of dumb, or illogical (like the painting of the stoner prophet hanging in Michael’s office) we just take it at face value because it’s a sitcom, and the people who write it can go for a laugh instead of building complicated lore. We don’t question what we’re told any more than Eleanor does, because why would we? This is TV, and a character is explaining how the world works. For all intents and purposes, that’s gospel, to us and to Eleanor. Until the end, when we find out Michael has been lying to Eleanor, and by extension us, ever since the start. Suddenly it clicks, and we realize that all the oddities in the lore we’ve heard aren’t because it’s a sitcom, but because everything we know has come from a character purposefully misleading us. All of which makes the idea of season 2 more interesting, because thanks to that twist we now have no idea how this world really works. They turned our own trust against us to keep us from noticing the flaws in Michael’s explanation, and it was masterful. Even better, you can rewatch season 1 with this new knowledge and it’s almost an entirely different experience, as the context alters the dynamic of virtually every scene.

                They played fair. An unearned twist can be really annoying, especially when it carries the sense that the writers had no idea what to do so suddenly a main character is evil, or an alien, or whatever. But TGP definitely laid the groundwork for their surprise, even if it’s only clear on rewatches. For starters, outside the four humans (Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason) everyone in the series turns out to be either an architect or a Janet, so they would only need to be “in character” around the humans. And on the rewatch I discovered that there is not one single scene in the show that doesn’t depict one of the four humans. No quick, misleading shots of Michael talking to Janet in character for no reason or anything like that. They only show how these people act around the humans, which is easy to notice when you know to look for it. There are also the flashbacks to everyone’s lives. While Eleanor is outright shitty in hers, we see glimpses of the supposedly “good” people’s lives and gain more insight into their time on Earth. Through that, we also learn that Tahani had a bad relationship with her sister and Chidi was cripplingly indecisive. We see their flaws, and assume it’s meant to be about giving us moments to view the characters as more human. But again, that’s just playing our assumptions against us.

                They give us the tools we need to understand. A big part of TGP is the discussion of morality. It’s baked into the concept, since Chidi is teaching Eleanor to be good, so it doesn’t raise any eyebrows when the show slows down to teach Eleanor about things like consequentialism, or how good actions can be bad if their motivation is corrupt, or utilitarianism, or a dozen other ideas. And while again we take that as part of the show, the truth is we’re the ones who need these lessons. All serving the great twist at the end, when we discover that our characters are in the bad place. Now while Eleanor and Jason were a given as rotten apples, Tahani and Chidi appear to be decent people. It’s only when we look at the flashbacks through the lens of our new understanding of ethics that we see the problems: Chidi’s actions, intended or not, caused suffering for everyone in his life, and while Tahani raised billions for charity, her motivations were corrupt from the start since it was really about showing up her sister. It’s because of the lessons imparted through the show without us even noticing that we can understand why these two have ended up where they have.

                I already liked this show, it’s hard not to love Kristin Bell and Ted Danson in anything, but the end of the first season vaulted it to among my all-time favorites. It’s very rare a show manages to hide a secret like this out in the open, laying the groundwork to earn it, without setting off so much as a single red flag in the process. It’s amazing, and if all my gushing hasn’t conveyed the point yet you need to go watch the whole thing. Look for all the lines that seem to say one thing but have a whole new meaning in other context. There’s a ton of them. Really take it in, because that show is a great learning opportunity for anyone who wants to use surprises and twists in their writing.

                Michael-only-knows what we’ll see from them in season 2.

The Basics of Advances

                Once upon a time, as legend tells it, advances on a book flowed freely from the mouth of the Publishing River, soaking every author with a moderate track record and a hot new property to pitch. But the rise of indie and the shift of the publishing model has changed a lot of things, not the least of which being that advances are far less frequent and lower than they once were. Some authors feel that’s a sign of the end-times for the industry, while others (like me) think it’s less of a big deal.

                For anyone not familiar with publishing lingo, let’s knock out a definition real quick. An advance is when a publisher offers an author a chunk of money for their book, let’s be optimistic and say $10,000, upfront upon agreement to publish. However, this is not bonus money as some people believe, it’s more akin to borrowing against your own royalties. See, now the author has a 10k “debt” to fill in. I used quotation marks because they’ll never be asked to pay the money back out of pocket, however the publisher keeps their royalties until they’ve paid back the 10k. This is called “earning out” an advance, where you’ve made back the initial money and have started being paid in royalties once more. Thus, an advance is just what the name implies, you’re getting a big chunk of payment upfront and then nothing more until that amount is paid back.

                I’ll be honest with you all, for a long time I didn’t actually see the point in advances. Lump sums are harder to mentally budget and allocate than a steady stream of cash pouring in from royalties, and from what I’ve heard some publishers use bigger advances to sell authors on a smaller royalty percentage, which can often be a bad deal depending on the sales. But as I’ve learned more about the industry I’ve started to understand the uses of this tool, so I wanted to share those lessons with you folks.

 

Advances Give the Publisher Skin in the Game

                No publisher wants a book they’ve signed to fail. That would be stupid, and bad business, and really just make no sense at all. Every time they spend the money on editors, covers, formatting, etc, they are hoping the book will be a grand slam that earns them enough to buy a yacht made of cocaine. That said, there is a large difference in motivation between a book they’ve published and a book they’ve published while sinking our optimistic $10,000 into. If the non-advanced book does poorly, that sucks, but it’s part of the gamble. If the 10k advanced tanks, that’s a fair chunk of money they know they aren’t going to recoup through royalties. This means that even if every other element in the two books is equal, the publisher has a fiscal incentive to promote the one with an advance more aggressively. That one needs to sell to make the accounts balance, the publisher is more fiscally invested in its success.

                For most authors I’ve talked too, this aspect right here is the biggest element of wanting advances. It’s like the publisher is investing in the book, putting their own money in the game, and promising that they’re going to do all they can to make the book succeed or else they’ll take a loss on the project. And to be fair, in a world where we’re constantly reading tales of publishers shutting down unexpectedly or tossing books they signed into the wind with no promotion, it’s perfectly reasonable to want some assurance, especially if the author is dealing with a publisher they have never worked with before. To this day, I’ve never been big about negotiating for advances, however I also have to admit I’ve been working with the same companies who have earned my trust for years now. If I was building a publishing relationship with someone new, there’s a good chance I would try to get an advance as a sign of commitment, and that would make things tougher because…

 

Advances are Drying Up

                Listen, right now we have to draw sort of a line in the sand between the Big authors and the rest of us on the mid-list and lower. Yes, Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher and J.K. Rowling are going to get huge advances for their projects. They have proven their ability to sell, to generate revenue, so it makes business sense for any publisher to back a dumptruck full of cash into their driveways during negotiation time. For the rest of us, it’s a little more complicated.

                The digital revolution did a lot of things to our world, and a shitload of things to publishing as a whole. Among those changes were the rising of the indie tide which allowed writers like me to even be on the scene in the first place. One of the other big ones, however, was the proliferation of digital books. Aside from convenience and ease of use for the readers, that shift impacted the publishing industry in a big way: minimal production costs. Before e-readers, the cost of a book was more than just editing and formatting it, they also had to produce each copy. Physical books that required time, resources, and transportation, all of which have costs of their own. That’s still around, sure, but not nearly to the same level it once was. Selling e-books is so much cheaper, once the book is finished there are literally no more associated production costs (marketing and the like are another boat). People just click and a copy arrives on their device. This means that the cost of every book is far lower for the publisher, and that translates to a simple business truth: publishers can afford to take more risks than before.

                That impacts advances pretty directly, because it makes a new business model viable. Rather than doling out 10k to an author you think will sell well, they can invest that 10k in creating 10 other books instead. 10 more books, with 10 other sales progressions, and all it takes is one of them to do great or a couple to do moderately well to make back the investment of all 10. Low production costs allow for diversification and greater extension into the market, rather than betting big sums on authors who are expected to, but don’t always, produce sales. I’m not going to say this is the only reason advances seem to be getting rarer and rarer, in fact I’m positive it’s not. This is just one of a million other factors, most of which are way above my paygrade, that have contributed to the advances becoming rare. So, with advances being less frequent and harder to get, the question becomes…

 

Should You Fight for an Advance?

                Like pretty much everything I talk about related to money or art on this blog, there’s not a concrete answer to give. Your situation is your own, and no one will have the exact same circumstances as you do. Big lump sum or steady stream are very different payment methods, and I’m not going to tell you which is best for you. I can, however, talk about how I view the options and maybe give some points to consider.

                For me, even now, I’m not huge on fighting for advances. I’ve gotten a couple through Tantor, nowhere near that optimistic number we’ve been kicking around though, but it was never a big sticking point of the negotiations. Working indie for me is all about consolidating small revenue streams together until I’ve got enough to live on, and I’d rather have another stream than a big chunk of cash followed by nothing.

                There are definitely times it’s worth pursuing, however. Working with a new publisher is a big one, as we discussed above, since it’s a show of faith from them. If you have a project that’s appealing to what you fear might be a limited audience, sometimes an advance will be more than you expect to earn in royalties from the book, so at that point it’s a slightly safer bet for you. And, of course, anytime you’re in a fiscal situation where you actually need a lot of money upfront an advance can be a life-safer. Don’t be afraid to go for it, if an advance is what you really need, just be prepared for a probable uphill battle. Or, if you don’t really need one, maybe consider sacrificing it for a larger slice of the royalty pie or other concessions on the contract. You know you and your work best of all, so don’t be afraid to make the fiscal choices that set you up for success.