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.

Indie Celebration Month Book #4: Mythfits

                Welcome back to the fourth and final week of our Indie Celebration Month! For the final entry, I decided it was time to feature a genre that is dear to my heart for obvious reasons, and often doesn’t get the love it deserves: comedy. Humor is a big part of not only my own work, but what I look for in books to enjoy in my free time, so when I found Mythfits by Heide Goody and Iain Grant I was glad to crack it open and give it a try. What I found was a short-story collection with humorous takes on fairy tales and religious mythology, spanning a myriad of different subjects and yet coming at each of them with an interesting, often funny, spin.

 

Where It Shines

                Mythfits is a collection of short stories, and while some feature pre-existing characters that have appeared in earlier stories many exist only for one shot. It’s in the latter group that Mythfits really shows what the team of authors is best at. The tales are concise, and strong for it, often exploring single concepts or ideas but doing so well enough that each story feels unexpectedly satisfying. There’s a brevity that some authors would shy away from in a few of them, and while that could have been a detriment in this case it makes several of the works stronger. They get in, set up the funny premise, and then leave before the idea can grow stale. It’s bold in a few cases, but overall a strategy that works. There’s a story about supportive witches that was a great example of this quick-and-funny strategy.

                There’s also a big emphasis on the humor itself, from dialogue to narration to small details that add an extra layer when a reader notices them. Some books like these will toss the comedy on as an afterthought, however here it was clearly a focus and showed more polish because of that effort. Despite the comedic concentration, there’s plenty of careful world-building done, especially in the one-offs, that utilize the economy of words and paint a fuller setting for the stories with a few carefully dropped details.

 

Where It Could Improve

                As much as I enjoyed the one-shot stories, the ones with previous continuity were a little weaker. I’d never read anything by this duo before, but within a few stories I’d realized that they were using the book to explore some worlds that had clearly existed beforehand. A quick search of their Amazon listing proved me correct, and while there’s nothing wrong with using short stories to show a new angle on an existing property (I’ve done it, and more importantly so have authors way bigger and better than me) it felt like these entries expected the reader to already be familiar with those worlds. Less effort was put into establishing characters or building the setting, which led to the tales as a whole feeling a bit flatter than the one-shot entries.

                I’d also say that while most of the stories were well-constructed and enjoyable, some of them lacked any real arc. It was more like watching a scene played out by characters that, while interesting, didn’t build toward resolution or conclusion. I enjoyed the time spent on them, I just wished a few of the stories had a bit more story in them. That said, one of the benefits of working in comedy is that if the laughs are good and it serves the tone of the tale, it’s okay to tell a story without a point. The few that didn’t resonate with me might hit your funny bones right on target.

 

Conclusion

                Comedy short story collections are fewer and farther between than they should be, and this one was a fun way to kill a few hours. Mythfits spans a large array of worlds and settings, dipping a toe in here and there all over the place, ultimately cherry-picking the best humorous materials from each of their sources. It’s a quick, enjoyable read that’s perfect for when you’ve only got time for a few pages and still want to feel like you’ve finished something. The authors have a long list of titles available on their respective Amazon pages as well, so if you like the overall tone and style you’ll have lots of options to follow it up with.

                I’d also like to say a big thanks to everyone who submitted ideas for this year’s Indie Celebration Month. It was amazing getting to look at and read through so many of your favorite indie titles, and I hope to make this a yearly tradition so that I can discover even more hidden gems. Thanks so much for joining us for this, and remember if you read and like any of these books be sure to leave a review for their authors. Hope you found something you’ve really enjoyed!

Indie Celebration Month Book #3: Fire Sower

                Hey there folks! Glad you could make it to the third week of our celebration of indie books, this time featuring Fire Sower by Callie Kanno. While the first two books were good, they were also both toned in a way that was meant to examine and play with genres and the expectations therein. I decided it was time for a more straightforward book, one that tried to be true to its genre rather than deconstruct it. In Fire Sower, I found a story set in a seemingly simple fantasy world with a big emphasis on characters, and that was exactly what I was looking for.

 

Where It Shines

                As I said before, the book does a good job of making the tale about its characters, specifically the MC Idris. You’ve got a classic premise of a simple farmer chosen for greatness by forces beyond his control, so the premise isn’t trying to be ground-breaking, but that’s okay because it’s not really about that. The real story is Idris having to adjust to the new world where he finds himself, trying to find a balance between embracing the new and remembering his roots, as well as figuring out if this is even the life he truly wants to live. A big emphasis is put on relationships through the tale, and I don’t mean the romantic kind. Idris has to find familiar ground with his fellow Royal Guards, the higher-ups, and even his own weapon. None of which come easily, either. This isn't a “one good talk and we’re fine now” kind of tale, it’s about small steps, some of which go backward, and building trust a little at a time.

                Also worth a mention: the plot keeps you guessing. I mentioned above that the premise is fantasy-standard, and really that’s true for most of the elements in the story as a whole. Yet the way they’re used and mixed about is often surprising. There were several times I thought I knew which direction the tale would unfold based on how these things usually went, only to find myself surprised as it went a whole other way. And those new directions never felt unnatural, they were well-grounded in the thoughts and personalities of the characters that had been established.

 

Where it Could Improve

                Despite the twists and turns, the overall plot still does feel a little too familiar in a lot of places. It stays true to the fantasy roots, and while adding a lot in terms of character and relationships, does very little unique with the world as a whole. Maybe the author is playing a long game here, planning for a series and intending to expand the setting slowly, revealing its own gems a piece at a time, but for their first outing the world as a whole felt generic. There were a few tidbits with potential, however they came later and were packed against more interesting plot points so it was easy to miss them.

                Additionally, while the character work on the main cast was excellent, the side characters weren’t nearly as well developed. It’s a bit strange to go from dealing with complex, well-rounded characters to ones that may as well have their roles written across their forehead. Had the author not done such a good job on the prime cast it may not have stood out so glaringly, but the difference between the quality of characterization was wide enough to be jarring on some occasions. This is especially true in terms of the antagonists, who were more plot props than people. We saw nothing compelling, redeeming, or interesting in them, they’re just assholes who are clearly meant to be evil. It didn’t weaken this book tremendously, but if Fire Sower goes for a full series I hope it finds a more compelling villain to pull things along.

 

The Conclusion

                If you want a classic fantasy with a big emphasis on characters and a plot where you won’t see every turn coming, Fire Sower is a good fit for you. It also does an excellent job of properly ending the book while still leaving room for a series rather than cutting off without warning, an issue you’ve all heard me rant about at length. Thankfully, this one had a satisfying conclusion that really brought with it a sense of closure, along with curiosity of what else awaited the characters.

                You can read Fire Sower for yourself here, or check out the author’s website. It seems there will be more books in the series to come, so if you really like it don’t forget to check back for the sequel. And I look forward to seeing you all next week for the final book in our month of indie celebration!

 

 

Indie Celebration Month Book #2: Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller

                Welcome back for the second week of our indie book celebration month. After I’d finished last week’s deep dive into the realm of fantasy, I started wanting to try something a little more modern next. I found a good fit for that craving in Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller by Chris Strange. As with last week, I won’t bother rehashing a plot when you can read the author’s own summary for yourself. It’s a tale where kaiju are not only real, but an ever-looming threat in a world that’s seen how destructive they can be. Despite all the trappings of an action piece, which this definitely is, the story itself is a mystery, styled in a blatant throwback to the pulp noir detective pieces of old. It’s an interesting mixing of genres, and I wasn’t sure it would work, but I’ll be damned if the two didn’t mesh surprisingly well.

 

Where It Shines

                I have to say, Chris Strange did a wonderful job building atmosphere with this book. That, more than any other element, stands out to me even in the weeks since I actually read the novel. From the beginning, there’s an inherent tension to the setting we’re presented with. This is a battle-scarred world, one where humanity has seen how easily it can be wiped out, and the effects of that really resonate throughout the story. It’s even more impressive because, as tense as things open, they escalate well as more plot unfolds, until you genuinely feel the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

                The book also does a good job with conjuring the right feel of the old-school detective novels. Despite the fantasy setting, the main character (Jay Escobar) seems like he could have been plucked from the grime-covered streets of any classic gumshoe’s tale. Smart, pragmatic, and surly at the right times. As a mystery, the story holds up well as a whole. There are constant twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, to the point where you really don’t know how things will end, or if the humans will even win. The stakes are firmly established and feel very real, which is vital to both a horror tale and a mystery novel, and which the book pulls off quite nicely.

 

Where it Could Improve

                As much as I just praised Jay Escobar as a character that does an excellent job of encapsulating his genre, the truth is there are times when he’s a little too spot on as a vintage detective. While the throwback is nice to establishing a tone and genre for the book, Jay is such a carbon copy of the old-school detectives that he comes off thin as a character, feeling instead more like a piece of scenery. I kept waiting for some modern update or addition that would distinguish Jay from the mental cardboard cutout of a PI we all have, but it never arrived. If he were a side-character it wouldn’t have been as noticeable, but as the MC the lack of distinction did make it harder to care about him as a whole. He worked great as a set piece, and I definitely cared about the fate of the world, but there was nothing human enough to drag me into caring about Jay and I think the book was a little weaker for it.

                To some extent, that’s true of really all the characters with a couple of rare exceptions. They feel like pieces moved into position that are meant to add to the style and atmosphere rather than exist as individuals. The flipside to this is that it creates a story where it truly feels like the world is the main issue at stake, individuals can be cast aside easily, and that serves to reinforce the overall tone of the novel. But if you’re the sort of reader who really needs to connect to a character to get into a book, then this might be a harder work to enjoy.

 

The Conclusion

                Overall, Mayday was a great, quick read. It was especially refreshing because I’d just rejected a few fantasy works for going so clumsily hard on world-building in the first few chapters, whereas this one did a wonderful job working the small details into the actual story. It wasn’t afraid to toss you an idea at the opening, then slowly drag out the reveal of backstory and tidbits about the world. It trusted its reader to stay engaged even if they didn’t know how everything worked from the outset, and it paid off by allowing a world that feels more expansive than the ones that blow their whole setting before chapter three.

                Pick this up if you’re looking for a great example of a genre-mashup and world-building, as well as an intricate mystery plot surrounding giant monsters set on destroying humanity. It was an all-around good time to read, and I look forward to the sequel when it comes out. You can pick up the book here or go check out Chris Strange’s website. Enjoy, and I’ll see you all here for Book #3!

 

Indie Celebration Month Book #1: Dungeon Born

                Welcome everyone to Indie Celebration Month here on DrewHayesNovels.com! For the next four weeks, I’m going to be reviewing books that you, my wonderful readers, told me to check out and I ended up greatly enjoying. Now obviously there were more than four books I liked, you all suggested a ton, so I tried to give these spots to books with fewer reviews than some of the ones already tearing up the charts. Gotta spread the love where it’s needed most, so don’t worry if something you loved didn’t end up here, it might just be too big already.

                I’m tackling this project chronologically in order that I read the books, so this week’s choice was one I found early on named Dungeon Born by Dakota Krout. I’ll skip the summary, mostly because there’s a link right there where you can read one in the author’s own words. All you need to know is that it’s about a man in a stone that turns into a dungeon, and it’s pretty damn fun.

 

Where It Shines

                I really don’t know if this is LitRPG or not, people seem divided on what that term encompasses, but this particular fantasy is clearly meant to poke some fun at the Tabletop/Video Game worlds we often go exploring in. The world-building here is really great, as it justifies common aspects to dungeon crawls which had previously seemed nonsensical. Reappearing monsters, loot dropping from nowhere, shifting difficulty curves, all of it is addressed in a way that not only makes sense, but really contributes to the story as a whole. It’s fun, light-hearted stuff for the majority of the tale with sudden, often unexpected, turns into dark patches that highlight the inherent dangers this sort of world would encompass.

                I’m also going to say that the characterization is strong in one piece of the story, that surrounding the owner of the dungeon’s land: Dale. Through the eyes of a relative rookie that begins ascending the ranks of adventurer, we see more of the world outside the dungeon and meet a cast of characters that, while sometimes blending together, shine well when they do stand out. We see a lot of classic fantasy stock-types, some played straight and others tweaked for surprise, and all in all the moments of the story that might have been a real detraction end up bringing some of the most interesting bits in the book.

 

Where it Could Improve

                Weirdly, we’re going to start with characterization again. As much as I enjoyed the characters outside the dungeon, those inside it were significantly less fleshed out, which is no small detail since one is arguably the main character. There’s a lot of growth and discovery in the dungeon as the stone (Cal) learns more about what he can do with his abilities. Those bits are fun, too, don’t get me wrong. It’s part of the world-building and as I said already that area is strong. The issue is that we see very little personal growth in Cal through the story. Maybe it’s a commentary on the static nature of beings like Cal, but it still felt like there was room for more there.

                A lot of the characterization trouble probably came from the other main issue in this book: exposition. Specifically, exposition in dialogue. Cal and his Wisp friend are the main occupants of the dungeon, and over the book we’re told that they’ve grown closer, but it’s an odd shift considering that nearly every chat they have is a massive dump of exposition regarding how to be a dungeon/how the world works. There is minimal effort made to get to see what lies beyond these characters’ business arrangement, and it makes some of the sentiment near the end come a bit out of nowhere. Maybe the author is trying to move character development slowly through the series, maybe he was just hamstrung by the tremendous amount of exposition that went into the world-building. Either way, I hope this area picks up a bit in the next entry.

 

The Conclusion

                Look, I’m not going to talk about any books in here that I don’t really enjoy, so this section won’t be some big shocker regarding whether or not the book is worth checking out. It definitely is, that’s why it’s getting a place in the celebration. The only reason I put in a “Where it Could Improve” section was so folks knew what they were stepping into. As I discussed in Literary Red Flags, there are just some things that every reader can’t stand, and it only feels fair to let you know what you’d be getting in a new read.

                With all of that said, I really enjoyed Dungeon Born. It was fun, never took itself too seriously, and knew when to go for the laugh instead of the drama, and vice versa. It’s a solid work by a new author; one who I hope sees a lot of success in his works to come.

                As far as a sequel, Dakota has confirmed that one is in the works. A pre-order page is expected to go live on January 15th with a release of February 15th. If you want to know more, Dakota’s site is https://dungeonborn.wordpress.com and he’s got a Facebook page for the series over at https://www.facebook.com/TheDivineDungeon/. I hope you all dig the book as much as I did. See you next week when we talk about Celebration Book #2! 

 

2016 Wrap Up

                Wow, another year in the can. It’s been an interesting one too, for the world at large as well. This was a year of contraction for me, of learning to scale back rather than let myself become over-loaded and have things fall to the side. Before writing this, I read the 2015 Wrap Up and the need for that is painfully clear in last year’s writings. Last year I discussed the fact that writing Forging Hephaestus blew up my schedule and how I wouldn’t have my head above water for a month yet. The truth is I didn’t actually break through the waves until around May, I was playing one form of catch-up or another until then.

                In 2016, I ended the experiment that was Starter Serials. It was a lot of fun, and I felt like it did serve a purpose, but ultimately I created it because I wanted a place where new serial writers could get their feet wet before starting a site of their own, and in the time it existed the other options for that ballooned significantly. Starter Serials wasn’t needed, and taking it off my plate freed up a fair chunk of time. I also stepped down from my presidency of the Pen and Cape Society. Truth be told, I wasn’t a very good president during my second year, I was always running between one project or another and I didn’t take the time to lead as I should have. Since I stepped away, the PCS has gotten a lot more active under its new leadership, which is as it should be.

                Now some of you are probably wondering why, in a blog where I traditionally celebrate accomplishments of the past year, I took a whole paragraph to talk about things I quit. The reason for that is simple: quitting is in itself an accomplishment. Running your own business like this, it is easy, too easy, to over-extend yourself. You try to do everything, and in the end only pull off a handful of things while half-assing all the rest of it. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, just like there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that it hasn’t worked out or isn’t needed anymore. For those of you wanting to go down the full-time writer path, it is vital that you learn to manage your time, creativity, and energy properly, because you don’t have infinite of any of them. Letting go is important, shifting priorities is necessary, so don’t be afraid to do that when needed.

                In terms of overall accomplishments, it was a pretty good year. I did my first con, Comicplaooza, then did my second con, CONtraflow, with most of the A&D guys. We had our first live podcast at CONtraflow, in fact. In the book world, I released my first-ever spin-off, Corpies, and it did well. The third books in both Fred and the SS&S series came out as well, both of them outselling their predecessors. Tantor released audio versions of all of the current Super Powereds books, which have been a great shot in the arm and gotten the books out to a whole new audience. Tantor even liked them enough to sign Forging Hephaestus and try to produce it in advance, so that the audio version should (remember, not in my hands) be out with the digital and print versions. I created my first ever hardcover book! And while there’s no movie or TV series for anything yet, there has at least been interest in a few properties. Maybe Super Powereds: Year 1 being an Audible Finalist for Best Fantasy Book of 2016 (I know this is bragging, but this is the paragraph where I celebrate accomplishments so it’s permitted) will get me some attention. Maybe that goal isn’t as far away as it has been in years prior.

                But, as with all years, 2016 has come to its end. So the slate wipes clean, and I have to start working on new accomplishments to celebrate. Let’s get the ball rolling on that with some goals (no resolutions here if you recall) for 2017!

 

2017 Goals

1. Finish Super Powereds: Year 4: I don’t have a release date for this book yet, and I won’t anytime soon. But in 2017, I plan to finish writing Year 4. My current plan is to take the next few months and write as far ahead as I can in the story. By March, which is the latest I could wait to start a book for Fall 2017, I’ll have to make a choice: keep writing and turn Super Powereds: Year 4 into my fall release, or pause to write something else and put out Year 4 sometime in 2018. Which I choose will depend entirely on how far along in the story I am. Remember, even once I finish there’s still editing and proofing that needs to be done before the book can come out. It’s purely going to come down to pragmatic issues in terms of timing, however no matter what I plan to wrap writing the story in 2017. It’s a little bitter-sweet to be honest, but I’ll take time to reflect on that when I’ve actually reached the end, not before.

2. Release Fred #4: As always, this is in REUTS’s court in terms of timing, but seeing as I’ve got the first draft already written, I don’t forsee this being a big issue. Some of you might notice that, unlike last year, the next Swords, Spells, & Stealth book isn’t in this entry. That’s because if SP:Y4 takes the fall slot, the next SS&S book won’t be out in 2017. Like I said earlier, there’s not infinite of anything, so we have to choose our projects carefully.

3. Do a Con with the whole A&D crew: As much fun as we all had at CONtraflow, I’d really like to attend a con with the entire team present. We’re working on this behind the scenes, and while nothing is certain I will say that the possibility of pulling this off is viable. I have a minimal amount of ability to influence this one, but I’ll still do my best.

4. Movie/TV deal: You know what, there have been enough close calls, and I’m ready to see something happen, so I’m putting this on the list. Let’s make 2017 the year Drew gets his first TV/Movie deal, followed by 2018 as the year you finally see one of the properties on a screen. Other than the words on your computer screen, I mean.

5. Complete the Authors & Dragons secret side-project: I can’t tell you what we’re doing, hence the word secret, but me and the A&D guys have been putting something together for the past few months. I’d like to see it pulled off and released in 2017 for our listeners/readers who have been amazingly patient.

                That’s enough droning from me about what I plan to pull off in 2017, tell me about your New Year’s Goals in the comments below. Thanks so much for sticking with me through another year, it’s been a great one, but let’s make the next even better!

Drew Tries Stuff: A Bunch of Gift Boxes

                Hey there everyone! I hope the holidays are treating you well. Down here in Texas the temperature has finally dropped below 20, so I’m starting to see what winter is like for the rest of the country. Have to say: not a fan. I had to wear real shoes instead of flip-flops the other day, can you believe that?

                Anyway, today I wanted to do a special festive version of Drew Tries Stuff. With Christmas on Sunday, I know some of you are scrambling to think of last minute gifts for people you have no clue what to buy for. And in those moments, the option to get them some sort of monthly gift service can be truly tempting. No judgement here, I’ve used the tactic myself. So, for those of you stuck wanting to get a person something without having any idea what they might actually want, I went and tested several different services to see what the best bang for your buck is.

 

The One Everyone Knows: Lootcrate

                Part of me wishes I’d asked them to sponsor this blog, since it seems like they’ll pay for advertisements everywhere else. Podcasts, Youtube, even regular old cable: sometimes it seems hard to even open the fridge without hearing about Lootcrate. I guess that’s the point of aggressive marketing though: to make sure people know your name. Anyway, this was the first thing to check off on the list since it’s so well known.

                Full disclosure: I actually bought this last year since it seemed fun. And for the most part, it has been. Figurines, shirts, neat little accessories, and digital coupon codes make up the usual offerings from month to month. It’s a fun moment, getting the box and popping it open to see what’s inside. Occasionally you’ll get something really unique and interesting too. But since I’ve got a long-term perspective on this, I know that the other side of the equation is clutter. After looking at the non-functional stuff like figurines or décor, you then have to make a choice: use it to decorate your home, give it away, or trash it. While in the beginning you’ll pick the first option a lot, eventually it starts making a home look kind of cluttered, like you left things lying about. Soon you’ve got to make room for the new stuff, which means giving away or tossing the old.

                For the price and the fun, Lootcrate isn’t a bad deal by any means. But if eventually the shine wears off the apple and you opt to quit then you won’t have a hard time. Full credit to Lootcrate: it was super easy to cancel. All available right there online, no need to make any calls. Plus, there’s a lot of customization on this one. You can do Lootcrate Anime, Lootcrate Gaming, Lootcrate Pets, and several more. It’s a good value for a fair cost (About $15-$20/month depending on the plan), so if you need a gift in a pinch this one can work well.

 

The High-Priced One: The Chive Box

                I thought about doing one of those fashion boxes next, but I decided not to for a lot of reasons, mostly that loads of people have different ideas of what makes good fashion so it would be hard to make a general review on the topic. Maybe somewhere down the line.

                This is a little more comparing apples-to-apples. The Chive is a site either known for its philanthropy or douchery depending on which part of the Internet you hail from, but it was the best example of a high-end lootcrate style box I could find. And that’s what this is, make no mistake. It’s a version of Lootcrate that costs ~$60 a month and advertises a box with a value of over $100 in contents. I got one of these in November, and to their credit they did send a fair bit of stuff. Some of it was referral to the brand, but most of it was generically usable. The theme was Movember, and it contained things like a simple (comfy) t-shirt, a mustache beer mug topper, and several different products for beards/mustaches.

                While I wasn’t going to get much mileage out of the beard stuff (I keep a short trim even at my facial-wildest) I do have to give them credit for sticking to the theme. And with the exception of some stickers, everything they sent was either wearable or usable, which means it’s less likely to be a clutter issue. However, on the test of cancelation The Chive fell flat: forcing me to contact a representative to end the expensive subscription.

                Between the price and the issues of cancellation, it’s hard for me to call this one a great deal. That said, if you know someone who enjoys the brand and would get a lot out of it, this would make an excellent gift that includes things of actual usefulness, so it absolutely has some value. While Lootcrate was a good catch-all gift, the Chive Box is a solid option for someone you might want to get something more targeted for.

 

The Specialized One: Shades Club

                 Despite originally planning to do three grab-bag style boxes like the two above, searching the internet kept leading me to options that were A) Far more specialized or B) Clearly trying to ape the exact model of Lootcrate, and I just didn’t see any value in reviewing what would fundamentally be the same product twice. Instead, I decided to take on one of the more specialized options in the form of Shades Club, a company that sends you sunglasses for $30 a month.

                I picked this one for a reason, by the way. I am constantly wearing sunglasses, both because the sun is always bright down here in Dallas and because I like to be left alone when walking my dog. But I’m highly prone to losing the damn things, so I always buy extremely cheap pairs from gas stations or Amazon. This seemed like a good way to get slightly nicer sunglasses for my constantly shrinking collection that might be better than price indicates.

                And you know what, that’s exactly what I got. I’ve only recieved one pair so far but I have to say it was a pretty nice set of sunglasses. Comfortable, functional, and without the thing where it’s darker at the top than the bottom. I hate that crap, it always leaves me discombobulated. These were awesome, a very nice pair I’m happy I have and get a lot of use out of. Granted, one set is a narrow sample size, but it indicated at least a quality product. And like Lootcrate before it: full marks for ease of cancelation. You just log-in, click your account, and turn off the subscription when you don’t want to keep paying. No calls, no e-mails, no nothing.

                At the end of the day, this one is a little more specialized than the grab-bag boxes, but the flip-side is that you’re getting a product you know the recipient wants (or else I’d hope you’d get them something different) with almost no chance of it becoming clutter. $30 for sunglasses is a steep mark-up from my usual gas station accessories, however it’s a small sum compared to what shades usually cost. Overall I’m pretty happy with this one, enough that I actually decided to keep the subscription up for a few more months. Summer is just around the corner after all, and I’m bound to lose a few pairs of sunglasses on my first trip to the beach.

                Whatever you choose, good luck with your gift-giving and Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Holidays/Merry Festivus to you and yours!

Literary Red Flags

                As many of you know, this week I’ve been spending my days reading rather than writing as both a nice mini-vacation and a way to look through as many of the recommendations for January Indie Blog month as possible. Sidenote: Is it too on the nose if I call that event the Drewgos? Yeah, it probably is. Anyway, the point is that since there are far too many books on the list for me to read, I had to start with samples and see which ones held my interest enough for me to keep going once we passed the 10% mark.

                In going through it like this, however, I’ve started to notice more of the red flags that I pick up on that tip me off to the fact that perhaps a book needed a little more polish before going out into the world. Since critical reading is a big part of being a writer (at least when reading your own work) I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my red flags, why they exist, and why even when I see them I’ll sometimes keep on reading.

 

Flag #1: First Person Narrative

                Relax everyone; I’m not saying that first person is a bad way to write stories. It is, in fact, a really powerful tool that’s responsible for some truly great pieces of literature. If I’m settling in with an author I trust, then it’s not even a red flag for me. However, when exploring books by new authors seeing first person automatically makes me worried over what I’m about to step into.

                I’ve talked about it here and there on other blogs, but my issue with first person is that while it’s in fact one of the hardest narrative perspectives to do well, it’s also the default choice for a lot of new writers. I’m not crapping on others from a hill here, my first attempt at a book (never published or on the net, thank god) was first person and it was horrid, this was a lesson I learned firsthand. First person seems like it should be easy, because it’s looking at the world from a single person’s perspective, and that’s what all of us do already. But the truth is first person is very limiting, yet you’ve still got to do all the other work a story demands through that one viewpoint. You have to build a world, other characters, tension, ambiance, and so much more all through one set of eyes. And that shit is hard. So it’s not a knock that most people, especially new writers still finding their style, don’t use the narrative especially well. It’s a good tool, and one that should be used, just not without reason.

                When people ask me about stuff like this (I can’t believe it either, but the emails do come) I try to tell them that if you want to use first person, you need to have a reason for it, not assume it as the default. For me, I used first person for the Fred series because seeing the world through the filter of the character was important to setting the tone and general humor. One of my fellow web-serial-turned-ebook-writers did the same with Continue Online, where the limitations are important because uncertainty and discovery are big themes of the book. To use a commonly known example, from a well I’ve admittedly drawn from many times, Dresden Files works great as a first person because Harry Dresden has limited information, so you as the reader do to, which makes for a more thrilling read as the cases unravel. Like I said before, first person narrative is a great option to make solid stories, but it requires care and precision to be used well.

 

Flag #2 Starting with Worlds over Characters

                In several of the books I’ve been looking at, especially the ones geared toward the fantasy genre, there has been a heavy emphasis on creating the world over introducing me to the characters. Now, I know some people with disagree will me here, but to me that reads as flawed storytelling. Yes, your world is very important, especially at the start of a new series, however there’s almost no chance it’s more important than your characters. The world is a setting, perhaps a grandiose and lovely one with endless possibility that a reader wants to dive into, yet still a setting. Characters, on the other hand, are the emotional hook that draws a reader in and makes them care about the world in the first place. Using the early sections of a book to establish how awesome and historic a world is can seem like it’s laying a foundation for awesome story-telling later, I get that. The problem is that if you don’t give a reader enough story to draw them in then they’ll never stay long enough to see it. Without a strong connection to the characters we’re basically reading a fictional history/geography textbook, and there’s a pretty small market of people who enjoy that.

                I’m not saying world building isn’t important, mind you. It is, it really is. And I’m not even saying you have to eschew it entirely in the beginning. I’m just saying go slow, be sparing with what you give. All I need to start a book is where I am in a given scene. Give me that piece of the world first, and maybe sprinkle in some hints at what lays beyond that. A nice farming village where they occasionally find debris from an ancient battle, a kingdom’s capital where the threat of war hangs in the air, an island community made up of those who came for reasons unknown (for now) generations ago. Start small, and then slowly expand outward. Make each piece of the world interesting first, then let us see more of what’s beyond the boundaries as the characters move there. People, emotions, common experiences or desires, these are what ground us in a world no matter how mythical. Lay that foundation first, and then move us into the world.

 

Flag #3 Poor Editing

                Look, I know I’m the last person who gets to talk shit about this. My editing skills are horrendous. It takes me two editors and a wonderful beta group to get my books to the state they’re published in. But part of me thinks that because it’s my area of weakness, I can say this to my fellow authors without sounding like I’m talking down to them: you need an editor. There might be people out there who don’t require one, geniuses and prodigies do exist, but never assume you’re one until you’ve got the track record to prove it.

                I try to read a lot of indie, and that means I see a loads of books with real potential and awful editing. I don’t just mean typos and misplaced commas; though yes plenty of that too. I’m talking about badly structured discussions where it’s unclear who is speaking, whole chunks of exposition dropped into conversation without so much as a pause for someone else to ask a question, continuity errors large and small, and so much more. An editor is more than an expensive version of spellcheck, it’s a person who looks for these sorts of issues professionally and brings them to your attention. They may not always say what you want to hear, but if they’re good then they’ll tell you what you need to hear, and your book will be better for it. Even if you don’t take their suggestions, it will force you to look at the issue and find a way to improve.

                In a pinch, if cash won’t permit paying for a true editor, then workshop the shit out of your book. Get critique partners, there are dozens of sites dedicated to matching up authors so they can look over one another’s work. Make sure someone else, someone impartial and not concerned about hurting your feelings, takes a long look at your work. Because there are mistakes there, whether you’re Neil Gaiman or an indie nobody like me. You need the input, the edits, to make a work stronger. We all do, and there’s no shame in that.

                 I think that’s enough red flags for this time around. I just want to take a minute to thank everyone for all their suggestions for January’s upcoming event. Despite how this blog might make it seem, you folks tossed out some great stories I’ve had a ton of fun reading, and I’ve still got a lot to get through. Thanks for sharing the books you loved with me!

Surviving Office Christmas Parties 101

                Believe it or not, before I became head of the endlessly burning strip-mall carnival that is Thunder Pear Publishing, I used to work regular office jobs. Well, okay, that’s probably easy to believe since I’ve mentioned it before and obviously I had to work regular jobs before the writing took off. Point is, I spent much of my twenties having to go to Office Christmas Parties (OCP from here on out) and noting the myriad of missteps my fellow cubicle grunts would commit. Since I know much of my audience is still finding their own footing in the corporate world, I thought I would put together a handy guide for how to get through an OCP without tarnishing, and perhaps even elevating, your reputation among your coworkers.

 

1. Don’t Steal Anything Too Heavy

                It goes without saying that you’ll use the distraction of an OCP to rob your office blind. They pay you shit wages and refuse to promote you even though you only showed up drunk to work like… three times this year, which is a huge improvement from the last. Seeing as how no one does Christmas bonuses anymore, it’s your God-given right to pilfer as much as possible while the bosses are doing body shots off a copier.

                However, rein in your ambition there Robin Hood. You still have to come to work next week, and it’s not like security is going to be too drunk to watch the security cameras when an entire copy machine is missing. Focus on small things you can hide in your pockets, purse, or suit jacket. Pens, pencils, staplers, toilet paper (if your office is nice enough to spring for the good stuff), post-its, memo pads, you get the idea. Things you can sell to your irresponsible roommates or some college kids with hope still shining in their eyes (bastards) to make a quick buck.

                I know, I know, the monitors look nice and shiny and you can just picture how fancy the pizza you could buy with that money would be, but better a thousand small crimes you pull off than one big one that gets you booted out the door.

 

2. Never be Drunker than “The Boss”

                I put quotation marks on that because I want to be very clear here: I’m not talking about your particular boss. Like you, they are a cog in a greater machine, meaning any power or value they appear to have is illusionary. No, I’m talking about The Boss, the most powerful person present at any given gathering. It’s a title that shifts as people enter and exit the party, one you need to keep careful track of. If The Boss is throwing back shots and yelling for someone to make a sandwich run, you take a few yourself and make that fucking sandwich run (By which I mean order sandwiches on your phone. It’s the future, let’s act like it).

                Nobody likes the office shitshow (or so I’m told) but a stick in the mud is no fun either. Treat The Boss like a pace car: however much they’ve had, you’re a few drinks behind. Because when the dust settles, as long as you were A) around The Boss and B) didn’t do anything worse than them, you’ll be untouchable. After all, if you play this right then The Boss might have a new drinking buddy, and nobody fires their drinking buddy.

                In the event your version of The Boss is sober, quiet, or otherwise boring, then you must be too. Maybe use the time to hunt for a new gig, because that place sounds like it sucks.

 

3) Spike the Punch Carefully

                Listen, we both know you’re going to spike that punch. What did they put in it, two drops of Crème de Menthe? Don’t they know you’ve got the kind of drinking habit that comes from dealing with a dead-end job in your post-college years? That punch as is won’t cut it. You need something that hits you like an actual punch, yet still tastes sweet enough to mask the garbage liquor you can afford. But you have to use a delicate hand, you don’t want upper management to realize all the cube-dwellers are shit-housed before they’ve sipped enough wine to feel buzzed. Part of that means making sure no wanderers who try the punch can tell that you’ve… let’s say recalibrated it.

                Your first aim should be to match flavor with flavor. If it’s a fruity punch, use a fruity liquor (yes the old man who runs the liquor store will judge you, but he’s done that since you came in three times in the same night to buy more cases of beer anyway) or if it’s a mint punch go for something like Rumple Minze to get mint flavor. If flavors cannot be paired, however, then you might have to match bite with bite.

                In a worst case scenario, you may have to show (gasp) initiative. Bring your own fruit punch mix, toss out whatever garbage they made, and fill that fucker with Everclear. Fruit punch is already a little tart, so the bite of the Everclear won’t be as bad. I won’t lie to you, the punch-spike-switch is a high-level maneuver that comes with plenty of risk. Pull it off though, and you shall be carried on the shoulders of your fellow cube stooges as the night’s triumphant hero.

 

4. White Elephant with Care

                Don’t bring a dildo to the office gift exchange. I know by this point you’ve realized this whole blog is comic over-exaggeration, but this is actually a very real lesson I saw unfold in the office days. Someone brought a dildo to a white elephant gift exchange with management, not just their department, and it went over exactly as well as you’d expect. So I repeat once more before we dive back into the absurd humor: Don’t bring a dildo to the office gift exchange.

                Instead, bring a dozen dildos to the office gift exchange. Bring as many as you can afford, and remember you’ve got that sweet office supply money coming to refill your coffers, so go nuts. Swap out every card and tag with one of your dildos wrapped in an assortment of different, untraceable festive papers. The goal here is not to make everyone bring home a sex-toy, that’s a side-benefit. No, the goal is to sow distrust among your peers and overseers. When the gifts start getting opened with false name tags attached, they will be forced to ask the inevitable question: did… did someone replace all the gifts with dildos? No, that’s impossible, no one would be crazy enough to do that. More likely, everyone here felt like dildos were an appropriate gift to bring to an office party. As more dildos emerge and the distrust mounts, whisper in their ears, plant fears and secrets, and wait to harvest them when the New Year arrives.

                But if you’re not willing to commit to that level of deception and trouble-making, then skip the lewd gift entirely. Bring batteries, or something useful but boring, and bide your time until the real party begins. Soon the booze will flow, The Boss will try to drown their latest divorce in whiskey, and the office supply pantry will be unguarded.

There is partying to do, so go forth and do it!

 

The Kindle Unlimited Experiment Results

 

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

 

The Experiment

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

 

Fiscal Results

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

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

 

Audience Results

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

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

 

Will it Happen Again?

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

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

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

Great Audio Books: Round 2

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

 

If Chins Could Kill by Bruce Campbell

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

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

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

 

How to Fight Presidents by Daniel O’Brien

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Covert Cocktails: Thanksgiving Edition

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

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

 

1) Get Cranberry Sauced

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

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

 

2. Say Jell-O to Intoxication

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

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

 

3. Hiding Sins in Cider

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

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

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

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

Writing Lessons From Wrestling: Part 2

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

 

What Makes a Good Anti-Hero

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

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

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

 

Manage Your Pops

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

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

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

 

Recognize the Importance of Losing

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

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

January Indie Book Review Suggestions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hey folks, this is Drew. Just wanted to say thanks for all the great suggestions. I've started my list-making, buying and reading though, so unfortunately I can't take any more suggestions for this round. If a book you want considered isn't below, be sure to swing back by next time I do one of these events!

Thunder Pear Publishing Halloween Party Memo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supervillain Apology Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From the desk of Baron Baddington, Esquire.

 

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

Writing Lessons From Wrestling

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

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

 

1) Jobbers are Integral

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

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

 

2) Build to the Payoff

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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