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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#NotAllMen, Comic Book Stores Redux

When I get a private e-mail response to one of my posts, it's almost always a guy, and it almost always starts with, "I didn't want to get into it with you in public, but..."

The missive sent because of Monday's post about failing comic stores was my first official #NotAllMen response for this blog.

WOO-HOO! I finally got my feminist cred! *Snoopy dance*

The gist of this Particular Reader's missive was that his local comic shop was run by a woman and she mean to him.

First of all, I don't doubt Particular Reader's account of his encounter for a second. But there's a few things to keep in mind:

1) I never said women were better managers than men. I've ranted more than a few times on this very blog about Blue Willow Bookstore in Houston and the snotty female manager who got pissy with me because I wanted to buy a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, with the current slump in comic book sales and the closing rate of comics store, chasing away ANY behaving, money-in-hand customer is not a smart idea.

2) I'd like to point out that in the numerous independent comic books stores in five states and the District of Columbia that I've visited since 1988, only one was owned by a woman.

3) The two articles I mentioned in Monday's post regarding the comic store downturn were written by...wait...for...it...TWO WHITE DUDES! Now, if two white men can recognize a problem in the industry they cherish, maybe, just maybe, there is an actual PROBLEM!

4) If you're selling a particular type of merchandise that you're not intimate with to the point you can't answer a customer's questions, then you need to hire someone who is familiar. One of the people I mentioned yesterday was the little old lady who ran the Book Nook. She knew the DC and Marvel lines, but she wasn't as familiar with Dark Horse, Image, etc. She hired her nephew who was.

5) Going back to point #1, the owner of the Book Nook was a class act. Like I said Monday, she sold new and used romances as well as new and used comics.

One day back in the early ‘90’s, I’d taken the afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment, one of those things at 2pm where it’s not worth going back to the office. I stopped by the Book Nook on my way home. There was a display wall that partially divided the comics from the romance section. I was behind that wall when an older man came in.

Apparently, he’d come in during that quiet time on weekdays after the lunch crowd, but before school let out to pick up some romance books. He and the owner were discussing the latest Nora Roberts when I walked up with my stack of comics. Poor guy turned twelve shades of red when he realized someone else was in the store. (Have I told you how bigoted this town is?)

The owner didn’t bat an eye. She just turned to me asked for my romance suggestion. I said I preferred Harlequin’s Temptation line since it was a little more modern, but my grandmother swore by Debbie Macomber. Once he realized I wasn’t going to tease him about his reading choices, he chilled, and the three of us had a nice chat.

And that's what makes a good business owner who will get repeat patronage.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Comic Book Store Conundrum

I've been reading comic since the '60's.

Wait. Let me amend that statement. I learned to read from the comics in the '60's (and Dr. Seuss too but he's not the point of this post). In an issue of Spider-man, Peter had a friend who'd taken something called angel dust and gotten sick and was about to hurt himself. Peter as Spider-man saved his friend, and the cops said Spider-man was all right in their book. And a little boy asked his mom if Peter's friend would be okay. She said she didn't know.

Yeah, I was four at the time. I didn't quite understand everything that was going on. But for once, I couldn't quite glean the story from the colorful pictures like I could Superman or Batman. So I made the effort to figure out the words in the balloons.

Which led to the drugstore in town that had comics on the bottom rack of the magazine wall.

I didn't have money back then. I relied on my cousins. Especially my cousin Frank. He used his allowance to fill his comic addiction, and he'd let me read his books. In fact, he spent so much money the owner would let him and his friends have the stripped copies when the new books came in.

Then our little town's drugstore went out of business in the mid-'70's. The bookstores in the bigger towns closed soon after. Finally, comics disappeared from the big grocery stores as well. I didn't know this at the time, but this was one of the first distribution crises that would hit the publishing industry.

In the early '80's, my little brother's middle school was selling magazine subscriptions. Lo and behold, a few Marvel comics were available, including my favorite The Uncanny X-Men. So I coughed up the money for it and New Mutants.

Once a month, they arrived in our rural mail box. The trick became getting to the mail first. Otherwise, the younger siblings, and sometimes my dad (yeah, Dad, I know you were reading my X-Men), would read them and not necessarily return them right away. In Dad's case, I think he piled his farming magazines on top of them to keep Mom from knowing he was reading them.

(Mom was an English teacher and had some specific, and very negative views, of comics, and science fiction too. Mind you, she could go through a grocery bag of Harlequins in a month. I'm talking the big department store brown bag with handles. Pot meet kettle. *rolls eyes*)

By the time I was out of college in the late '80's, the independent comic store had sprung up. And since I had a job, I had this wonderful thing called discretionary income. I could buy more than just two books a month. And I lived and worked in a town that boasted two comics shops. You would have thought I was in heaven.

*sigh* Do you have any idea what it's like to walk into a store, money in hand to buy stuff, and have everyone stare at you?

(Yeah, I know some of you do, and I know why. You're not the ones I'm addressing.)

At the first store, I tried to check out some of the back issues of stuff I couldn't afford earlier in my life, like the '70's issues of the Legion of Superheroes, but the silence and the staring grew to be too much. I grabbed the current issue of Wonder Woman and went to the counter to pay for it. The owner sneered and said, "Figures that's what a chick would buy." I never went back to that store.

At the second store, the owner and other patrons weren't quite as weirded out by my presence. However, I made the mistake of discovering my first issue of Sandman. When I went to pay for it and the rest of my selections, the owner commented how a lot of "chicks" seemed to like that book.

I answered that I was glad Vertigo had resurrected Cain and Abel from DC's old horror lines. My statement seemed to shock the shit out of the owner. He blinked and asked what else I read. We actually had a civil discussion, which led me to dropping by his store once a month for my comic fix.

Unfortunately, the good times couldn't last. I took a new job in another state and had to suffer through the same crap as before. After a second job-related move and more uncomfortable staring and nasty comments, I went back to subscriptions, this time through comic store in Colorado called Mile High Comics.

Shortly afterward, the First Gulf War and its accompanying recession hit. I was laid off, and I thought I'd have to cancel my subscription. Then a miracle happened, and I don't just mean finding a new job.

I moved to small town in Ohio that had a little shop called the Book Nook. It was split into two sections. One was new and used romance books. The other side held new and used comics. The best part? The store was run by a little old lady who didn't give a flying flip about which side of the store you shopped. I was in heaven!

Until the husband I found in that little town and I moved to Houston. Then the bullshit at local comics shops started all over again.

Around this time, I had a niece whose tastes were as eclectic as mine. So for Christmas, I gave her the first trade paperback edition of Sandman. She loved it! The sad part was I didn't buy any of the books I gave her for subsequent Christmases from comics shops. Not wanting to deal with the bullshit, I went to Barnes & Noble instead, though one clerk in particular was as snotty as the comic shop people in the totally opposite way. *sigh*

Maybe my patronage didn't matter in the long run. By then, I was in law school, and I still had my Mile High subscription. But comics were stacking up faster than I could read them. A couple of years after Genius Kid was born, I gave up my subscription. Partly because I didn't have the time. Partly because I didn't like the creative turn the X-books were taking.

By the time I started homeschooling GK, the comics stores closest to our house with the nasty owners had gone out of business thanks to the combination of the economic downturns of 2001 and the house bubble bursting in 2008. One of my former secretaries recommended Bedrock City Comics near her apartment.

This store was worlds away from crap I'd experienced in my twenties. The staff were helpful and pleasant. My original mission to get GK hooked on Spider-man didn't succeed. He arrowed straight for the manga shelves. But I found I liked the new person writing Wonder Woman and picked up a bunch of new and back issues. And we went to pay, the manager asked if we found everything we wanted.

I laughed and told him I wanted to get my son hooked on Spider-man. The manager chuckled, but we had a nice conversation about the generational differences in reading material.

We couldn't afford monthly visits to Bedrock City at that point, but I tried to go quarterly as a reward for GK hitting a homeschool goal. Still couldn't get him to read Spider-man, though.

Then a new store opened closer to our place, but I didn't get the chance to check it out until a few days after we'd closed on the sale of our house. I had some time to kill because our Houston mechanic was doing some repair work on our car before I drove north. So I stopped at the shop on my way to pick up some lunch.

Holy crap! Women were working in this store! Not just one, but three! And they were fucking enthusiastic and engaging!

They wanted to know if I was looking for something specific. When I said I was just browsing, they cheerfully let me do so without trying to force a specific sale.

And I wanted to cry. Because this was the store I'd always wanted to go to, and now I may not ever visit it again. If you're in Houston, I strongly recommend The Pop Culture Company for its excellent selection.

At the time, I told myself, "It's okay. You're moving back to the place with the Book Nook."

However, when I pulled into the strip mall a few days later, the Book Nook sign was up, but the lights were out. I peered forlornly through the dirty windows at an empty store. Apparently, I'd missed their closing by a matter of months.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought my first comic since that visit to The Pop Culture Company three years ago. I bought the Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman trade paperback from Amazon. I fed my nostalgia bug and didn't have to deal with snooty clerks from either end of the spectrum.

So why am I telling this story? This morning, I read Ed Catto's column in the online magazine ComicMix. Ed's essay was an answer to Glenn Hauman's column from last week in the same magazine.

Some comic shop owners are blaming PC culture and/or SJWs for their downturn in business. Yet, from my experience over the last thirty years, a lot of these shop owners have gone out of their way to chase customers they don't approve of out of their stores. Customer who want to buy their products and have cash in their hands. And this was long before the issues of sexual harassment at publishers and representation in stories became publicly debated issues.

Nor is my gripe specifically about women versus men working in a comics shop. It's about attitude. I'm sad that only one male shop manager wanted to treat me as a customer from the moment I stepped into his shop instead of looking at me like I was a cockroach infestation. And that type of attitude difference can lead to long-term consequences for a retailer.

Retailers exist to fill a customer need or want. Customers don't exist to provide a living for the retailers. If the retailers are not fulfilling that want or need, then the customer will go elsewhere. It's that simple, and that difficult, at the same time.

I've seen a couple of different customer studies (most were proprietary which is why I can't quote them directly or provide links). If a customer has a good experience in your store, they will tell 1-2 people at most. If a customer has a bad experience, do you think it's the same ratio?

Nope, it increases exponentially. The customer will blast their bad experience to 10-20 other people. And the studies I've seen were commissioned well before the rise of social media. Now, bad experiences can lead to viral incidents where millions of people will see you acting like a shit to a ten-year-old girl who's dressed as her favorite superhero in your store.

So yeah, if you're a comics shop owner, times are a little tough. But don't make things tougher on yourself by driving away paying customers because they aren't 55+ white men. You know, like the cousins who first introduced me to comic books are now. Because they are retiring and dying, and by the time they finish, you won't have any customers at all.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Trusting Your Art

Artists of any stripe can be a insecure bunch, probably because they are often belittled.

In American culture, pursuing art is considered inconsequential. A waste of time. Criticism of this pursuit is often vocalized by artists' friends and families as helpful advice.

I mean, how often have all of us heard the following:

"Why are you wasting your time on that crap?"
"When are you going to get a real job?"
"No one can make a living writing/singing/painting/etc."

And even if we get past that bullshit, there's the people related to the type of art we wish pursue, i.e. the current professionals, the critics, the brokers, who again in the name of helping can hold us back. You know the type of well-meaning advice:

"Instead of writing Y, you should write X."
"This is crap. You need to change everything."
"If you have so-and-so doctor/edit/review your work, you'll make lots of money."

One  of the hardest parts for any artist on this crazy path is learning to trust themselves. There's going to be a lot of people who have opinions of your work.

And that's okay.

But it shouldn't matter to you either.

Why? Because if you present your work to the public, you can't stop them from having an opinion about that work. Nor can you control the life experience those other people bring along as baggage as they read/look at/listen to your work. And trust me, there's a lot of baggage those consumers drag along to the party.

For example, an editor for a publishing company (and no, I'm not naming names) stated that zombies are over.

And I laughed. Why? Because that same editor has been saying vampires are over for the last twenty years, and I still haven't seen bloodsuckers totally go away.

It doesn't matter what someone else says. If you want to write about vampires, or draw superhero comics, or create weird metal statues, then DO IT!

Trust yourself to fulfill your vision of your project. Only you can create things a certain way. A way like no other person can. And the world will be a poorer place without your vision.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Indie Drama Queens or Why I No Longer Have Many Writer Friends

I don't know about the rest of you, but for me, high school was horrible. It's one of my top three worst experiences in my life.

And the other two consist of DH's emergency surgery when we didn't know what the fuck was wrong and me nearly dying during my C-section when my blood pressure crashed for no apparent reason.

So yeah, high school was pretty fucking bad. So bad, I will never, ever go to a high school reunion. Why would I want to hang out with people who spread vicious rumors about me, threatened me, and generally treated me like shit?

Yet, I keep running into indie writers who desperately want to re-create that experience. The cliques. The bitchiness. The infighting and taking sides over some innocuous happenstance. In other words, the drama queens.

It all comes down to some variation of validation. You have X, but I don't. Or I have Y, and you don't. Where X and Y are considered certain factors that signify a "real" writing career.

I thought we got over that years ago when we decided to forego begging agents for a crumb of attention, following editors into bathroom stalls, or being ecstatic that a publisher granted us a measly 6% of the income from our books.

But no, we humans are insecure little fuckers. We devise new and better ways of trying to prove we are better than our peers. And we often succeed in making ourselves and others totally miserable.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm so fucking tired of that kind of bullshit. My path isn't yours and vice versa. Judge your success by making each book better than your last one.

Or go live out the rest of your lives in high school. That's okay because I'm going to be over here doing something entirely different and my teen self will be having a blast doing it!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Aftermath

The Mallet Hammer had a boulder and concrete land on it.
The frame was so twisted it was considered unsalvageable.
Last week, I accompanied Darling Husband to a business event at his employer's headquarters in Tampa. He can't fly anymore thanks to an anxiety issue. Part of the reason I went was because I worry about him driving alone for extended periods. The other part was we needed some alone time as a couple after the last few years of life insanity.

Also, we're at a point where Genius Kid is a capable young adult. He can drive. He can cook. He has his own bank accounts. He gets his ass up when his alarm clock goes off and heads for school without (much) prodding on our part. And he kept an eye on his grandfather while we were out of town.

We also planned for two days for travel, instead of trying to do the entire 1126 miles in one day. We left Sunday and spent the night at some friends' house in Nashville. We had a lovely time there.

Arriving late Monday night in Tampa, we immediately crashed. I don't even remember hearing DH get up and head to the office for his meetings. (The hotel and his company's office are in the same building. Yay!) Then I woke up about one p.m.

And therein lies part of my problem. I expected the exhaustion, having come down with a nasty cold the week before we left. What I didn't expect was the severe muscle and joint pain.

I've been immune-compromised since my pregnancy with GK. The doctors don't know why. My new doctor here in Ohio has taken my issues seriously. He's tested for lupus. The pain issue has been too inconsistent to be fibromyalgia. He's as thoroughly stumped as the doctors in Houston.

First, I downed a couple of acetominophen. I took my time with a shower and getting dressed. Then I headed to the Starbucks across the street for some breakfast and editing.

I didn't last very long on the hard wooden chairs. I went back to our hotel room. Propped on pillows, I continued to edit until DH came back to the room to drop off his work stuff. His boss insisted I join them for dinner.

Apparently, she was worried I would be bored. I laughed and listed off everything I brought with me to work on during the trip. She was suitably impressed. And we had a nice time.

Wednesday morning, I felt a lot better. I took Baby Blue (my travel laptop which is essentially a glorified tablet) to Panera, which was literally next door to Starbucks, for breakfast. I didn't stay long because it was pretty crowded, but I did get in 3K words by the time DH was done for the day. We had a lovely dinner, just the two of us.

We left a warm 80-degrees in Tampa on Thursday morning. Just north of the Florida-Georgia line, we hit rain and a 20-degree temperature drop. The rain slowed us down enough we reached Atlanta just in time for the beginning of rush hour. URGH!

By the time we reached our hotel in Nashville, we were both exhausted. We had a light dinner at the hotel bar and crashed once again.

And I woke up to not only the same extreme pain of Tuesday, but a left knee swollen for no apparent reason. The rain was gone at least, and it was in the 30's. DH suggested the weather change might be responsible.

The 1,000,000th Corvette after its restoration!
We headed north once again. DH took Friday as a vacation day, so we stopped at one of our favorite places, the National Corvette Museum. We wanted to see the restored section where a sinkhole opened up beneath eight one-of-a-kind 'Vettes. It was pretty cool seeing the two restored cars, and a little sad seeing the five destroyed cars. The eighth is in another section of the museum, and you can watch as it's currently being restored. With the aches despite the painkillers and my swollen knee, I had to make frequent stops, but the visit was worth it.

We spent our final night in Cincinnati, and had dinner with one of DH's closest friends and the friend's significant other at the riverside Montgomery Inn. If you're ever in the city, I highly recommend the restaurant!

However, the relatively short drive between Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, left me pretty much incapacitated. We all made jokes about getting older, but I didn't dare drink alcohol with all the painkillers and decongestant I'd taken. And getting up and down stairs was a slow, torturous process for me.

After one last night in a hotel, we got home Saturday afternoon. After unpacking and starting some laundry, I collapsed on my recliner. I managed to edit a chapter. But that was all I completed before I went to bed and slept twelve hours. I still wasn't even fifty percent when I got up Sunday morning, but I worked a little bit while watching Cleveland-Detroit game and then listening to the Texans.

DH trying out the fit of a 2018 'Vette.
Don't get me wrong. We had a great time on this trip, but DH and I had planned to do some traveling around the country once GK graduates. But this little trip has me concerned about whether I can handle it. I very obviously won't be flying any time soon. We stopped every two hours for stretch breaks driving our drive to and from Tampa. I couldn't handle not moving for an extended period on the tight seats of an airplane.

Just as obviously, we won't be making a trip in a 2018 Corvette. DH tried one out while we were at the National Corvette Museum. Can you name the problem?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

I'm Going Senile...

Holy Crap!

I totally forgot to tell y'all that Sword and Sorceress 32 came out last week! It contains my short story "Unexpected", a delightful tale of a damsel saving the dragon.

P.S. There's a lot of other cool writers in the anthology, too.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sun, Coffee and Words

As you read this, I'm in the lovely city of Tampa, which also happens to be the headquarters of DH's employer. He had to come down for a two-day management meeting, and as I've said before, he no longer flies. So we drove down.

Don't worry. I won't be spending my days on the beach. My lily-white skin can't handle the sun. Seriously, I have to wear SPF 50 on the nights of the full moon.

Nope, there's two Starbucks and a Panera within walking distance of the hotel, and I have my frequent buyer cards. So I have no fucking reason not to get some writing done. Right?

Though I may have to sneak in a viewing of Thor: Ragnarok or two. Because Hemsworth and Ruffalo? YUM! Did I mention there's also a mall with a theater across the street from our hotel?

P.S. If you want proof I'm working, check out Chapter 4 of A Modicum of Truth.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was another movie I had wanted to see last year, but did not have the time. I recorded it during an HBO free weekend this summer, and watched it during my recent  illness.

Because it's been out for over a year, you're not going to get the usual SPOILERS alert.

Normally, I love Tim Burton films, but this one starts a little slow. The peculiar children, other than our hero Jake, aren't particular well-fleshed out.

On the other hand, Burton's need for insanely goofy action scenes results in a hysterical battle between one of the movie's villains, the Hollows, and animated amusement park skeletons. It's reminiscent of Mars Attacks! Also, Jane Goldman's screenplay doesn't leave off on the cliffhanger that the novel does.

But despite the marquee-level cast (Come on! We've got Eva Green, Terrence Stamp, Dame Judi Dench, Allison Janney, and Samuel L. Jackson!), this film doesn't rise to level it should have. I wanted to love this movie, but it came out meh. If I wanted something  on TV for background noise, I would find something else.

Also, if you've read the book, they switched Emma and Olive's powers for no real reason I can understand.

Overall I give Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children 5 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Friday, November 3, 2017

Some Insights While I Play Catch-Up

I'm finally able to breath, and coughing is under control, though my ribs ache like the dickens.

While I try to catch up on my projects, I suggest new writers read an essay series by Hugh Howey, the author of Wool. And just because Hugh's thoughts are part of Amazon's Author Insights program doesn't make them any less valuable items to consider as you makes your plans. The link is to Part One, but Parts Two and Three are posted on the website.

I'll add one more thing. There is no one right way to write and publish. I've seen several third parties try to pit one professional writer against another because they give conflicting advice.

As I've said before, I've taken tips from a lot of pros over the years. Some suggestions work brilliantly for me. Some don't, but that doesn't mean those tips aren't valuable to someone else.

As for the people trying to start fights? I find it laughable that so many of them are authors who aren't as successful as the people they try to pit against each other. Maybe if they spent more time and energy on their own business, they would achieve the success they are so jealous of in others.

Just my two cents.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

It's NaNoWriMo Time!

National Novel Writing Month starts today!

I'd hoped to have A Modicum of Truth done by now. Not to mention, reviewed the previous 888-555-HERO novel, write the last two chapters of it, and put together a series bible. All of this in preparation for hitting the ground running this morning.

And as you read this, I'm probably still crashed on my recliner with this nasty little cold, alternating between green tea, cough syrup, and water.

Can I catch up? Of course, I can!

Once the room stops spinning from the severe sinus pressure. Otherwise, I'll be veging for another day or two.

To everyone else starting NaNo on time, break a leg!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sinking into the Plushy Goodness of My Recliner

We have new downstairs neighbors who like to smoke. A lot. So much so that the smoke permeates our apartment. Genius Kid and I started to have respiratory problems. Thanks to a recommendation from Jo in California, we bought an air purifier for GK's bedroom. It made such a huge difference for him we bought a bigger unit for the living room/dining room. It arrived Saturday. Murphy, what a difference!

Unfortunately, the smoke damage was already done to the sinuses and lungs, making them more vulnerable. I woke up yesterday with a sore throat caused by a lovely viral infection. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the movies this weekend. This morning, GK texted from school that he also feels like shit, but he's going to try to stick out the day.

So right now, I'm curled up in my recliner with my birthday pumpkin spice latte. I'm going to try to make some headway on A Modicum of Truth, but with the pounding in my head, I'll probably take a nap or veg out to Supernatural.

We'd planned to go out tonight to one of my favorite restaurants, a little hole in the wall with good food and even better strawberry margaritas, but I don't think I'm going to be up for that. I thought maybe I'd be up to making pumpkin pie, but the run to Starbucks wore me out.

So we'll put off birthday dinner, drinks, and pie for a weekend that I'm a little more upright. In fact, I think I'll go take that nap now.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

How Many Times Do I have to Say Writing is a F***ING BUSINESS!

I'm late posting a blog today. I thought about not posting one at all because I'm at that lovely stage--the middle of writing a book where it feels like I'm slogging through a waist-high swamp, and I'm beginning to hate the damn thing.

And I wouldn't have posted at all if a few things hadn't happened this week that built into a crescendo when other acquaintances have asked for non-writing business advice.

Over the course of my life, I've been an IT project manager. I had to put together time and budget estimates for completing software. I've acting as a sounding board when my husband and his partners bought a software consulting firm. I've owned my own law firm.

Now, I own my own publishing company. I write up and spreadsheet sales and forecasts and projections and budgets.

And apparently, I'm the only one.

Or at least, I haven't anyone who truly treats writing and publishing as a business.

Let's talk about ROI again, that is a return on investment.

(If you want to see my rants concerning ROI in 2014 and again in 2015, feel free to do so.)

To review:

The return on an investment is when you divide the gain of the investment minus the cost of the investment by the cost of the investment. Or

ROI = (GOI - COI)/COI

I published my first novel Blood Magick in April of 2011. From then until August of 2016, I sold a grand total of 202 copies at $2.99/e-book across multiple platforms. To make the math easier, let's say I earned $2 per book. Therefore, my GOI is $404.

It's approximately 90K words. At the time, I wrote about 500 words per hour, so it took me approximately180 hours to write the story. Let's say I, the publisher, paid me, the writer, $10 an hour.

DH did the photography for free. I bought food coloring, corn syrup, a dozen white roses, and a pewter pentacle. My costs were approximately $45. Plus it took me a couple of hours to play with Paint.net to create alter the cover picture and add the text, so add another $20 for my time

A friend and I edited each other's novels over coffee, so throw in $10 for my Starbucks card.

I know just enough HTML to be dangerous so I formatted this myself using freeware.

My costs of investment? $1800 + $45 + $20 + $10 + $0 = $1875

Therefore, my ROI for this book is ($404 - $1875)/$1875 = - $0.78

Not good, right? What did I do wrong?

Well, it's an obviously homemade cover, and the formatting, while adequate, wasn't pretty. Competition grew over those five years. I undercut myself on pricing. Add to that a bunch of personal shit so I didn't pay enough attention to my business from the end of 2013 to 2016.

I took down the entire series from all retailers but Amazon in 2016. I hired a cover artist and a formatter. The additional cost for both was $240. (See? Sometimes cheaper isn't better.)

Then I uploaded the new version to Amazon about a year ago for a test run. I'll compile sales in January of 2018 so I have a healthy year's worth of data.

If you've noticed, I haven't added any numbers for advertising. Why?

Because advertising has been budgeted for 2018 once I have all the Bloodlines books released. Frankly, I'll treat advertising as a separate ROI calculation as well as a production cost ROI.

I see too many indie writers through good money with absolutely no fucking clue of what their ROI is. How do I know this? Because I ask.

So one more time--writing is a business. Treat it like one!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Still Scribbling...

I'm currently struggling to get A Modicum of Truth done before Halloween. If you'd like another taste while I'm in my corner typing away, check it out at my reader website.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

There's quite a bit of controversy surrounding the subject of this film that has nothing to do with the real-life menage a trois between William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, and his wife Elizabeth and their live-in paramour Olive.

Is this a factual story? No, not entirely. Writer/director Angela Robinson took a lot of liberties with certain events and the timeline. However, only the three historical people that are subject of this movie know for sure exactly what happened between them personally.

Is it an entertaining story? Yes, definitely. Robinson adeptly explores the question of whether you can love more than one person. Add in the repressive culture of the '30's and '40's, and you get a bittersweet tale of finding true love and fighting for what you need versus what society says you can have.

Is this story about the creation of Wonder Woman? Not really. Robinson superposes how certain interests and aspects of Marston's went into comic book stories, especially the BDSM kink side. But the focus is definitely on Martson's personal life.

Some people will find the subject matter disturbing. They definitely are not the intended audience.

But this is a sweet story that could have easily been told without using the historical personages, but I doubt it would have gotten as much attention.

My only gripe was the music chosen for two love scenes. It was a cheap, cheesy, and disrespectful shot at the unconventional love affair, and totally at odds with the story as a whole.

For that little faux pas, I give Professor Marston and the Wonder Women 9.5 stars out of 10.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Music Videos I Haven't Watched in 30 Years

Bananarama appeared on a recent episode of The Graham Norton Show, performing this song, and I went digging through my vintage cassette tapes for some old memories.


Friday, October 20, 2017

I Don't Need No Stinkin' Writing Prompts!

With NaNoWriMo twelve days away, I'm starting to get e-mails about "WRITE THE NEXT GREAT NOVEL! HERE'S FIVE WRITING PROMPTS TO GET YOU STARTED!"

*facepalm*

I thought briefly about checking the creative writing group that meets at the local library. The showrunner provides a writing prompt, you write for thirty minutes, then share your work with the group.

Uh, I don't think so.

Then there's a writer's meet-up in Lima that's run by a local poet.

Poetry isn't really my cuppa, and not what I do. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say. But guess what they do? The proverbial writing prompt isn't going to move me forward as a writer.

Ideas aren't my problem. Hell, a pre-made cover advertised by Alter Ego's new cover artist set off an idea for a super sexy dystopian fairytale fantasy on Tuesday. Needless to say, I bought the cover.

And wrote the blurb and two hundred words before I made myself stop and return to A Modicum of Truth.

Honestly, I don't get how a writer can NOT have ideas. I'm like the flipping dog, distracted by every squirrel that runs by. I CAN'T shut off the flow.

What I have to do is shunt it aside. For me, ideas are like a leaky roof dripping onto my brain. I stick a bucket underneath the leak to catch the drip (i.e. scribble down a few notes). Then I need to change out the bucket, which quickly starts filling, while I do my other work. When the next bucket fills, I swap it out for a new bucket so I can concentrate of my current story. At least, for a little while longer.

If you really truly need a writing prompt, unless it's a technique to get your muse unstuck, maybe you should reconsider whether a career in writing is for you.

But if you really, truly need a prompt, here's a real life example:

When I was still a practicing attorney, a male hawk used to sun himself on the sub-roof outside my office window. This was the summer of 2005. That same year, I also took my son to see the Mayan exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural History. Part of the exhibit included the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012. 2012 was also the year that our solar system crosses the galactic plane during its orbit.

So, take one or all of:

- a hawk
- the Mayan calendar
- Earth crossing the galactic plane

Guess what? I'm already 40K into the first book a new UF series. No, it's not this year's NaNo project--

Sqiurrel!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I'm Writing, I'm Writing

The paperback for Amish, Vamps & Thieves is out! Still have Blood Sacrifice and Ravaged to review, but I also need to finish A Modicum of Truth. Gah! Too much stuff to do before the end of the month!

While I'm quietly going insane, you can check out the first chapter of AMoT over on my reader-oriented website.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Videos I Haven't Seen in Nearly 30 Years

I'm so happy Prince's estate has released his older material. While I understand the gremlin in the back of an artist's mind to keep control of their material, once the public has consumed it, the artist cannot take that experience away.


Friday, October 13, 2017

When Is Enough Stress Good Enough?

We seem to be a society that is never satisfied. You hit a career goal or an item on your bucket list, and you wonder why you aren't happy.

Before anyone asks, yes, I'm that way, too.

A week ago today, I released Ravaged, the seventh novel in the Bloodlines urban fantasy series. That bring my total releases under the Suzan Harden banner to fifteen. That doesn't count the four short under the Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Nor does it count the sixteen releases under Alter Ego's name.

For the first time ever though, I didn't have the surge of adrenaline right before I uploaded the files to the various retailers and distributors. I didn't have the latent fear in the back of my mind about whether the readers would like it. I felt very blasé about the whole task.

In fact, I went right back to working on A Modicum of Truth after I closed my browser.

That never happens to me. I'm usually a nervous wreck for the next two-three days after a release. I'm constantly checking my sales numbers. I fret about reviews. And I simply can't concentrate on the next project even though I make sure it's been started before this release occurs.

To be blunt, I haven't been making bank like I used to. Frankly, I'm averaging $30/month this year because I'm coasting on fumes. I haven't had a quasi-regular release schedule since 2013. I admit that's totally on me, and Ravaged is supposed to be the start of a new monthly release schedule.

(And I've probably just attracted Murphy's attention by saying that, and I will be royally fucked by the one, true god relatively soon. But that's an issue for another blog.)

But on various other indie writer blogs, I hear laments from writers about the pace (they're putting out books at one per month if not more), the money (oh, noes! I only made $10K this month when I've been making $25K per month for the last year), or they are quitting because of stress.

Here's the odd thing. We indies work for ourselves. We decide the pace. We decide the effort of making money. We put the stress on ourselves. We made the decision to be an artist and an entrepreneur in a world that has no respect for one and over-glamorizes the other.

What does that have to do with my weird emotional reaction to the release of Ravaged?

We humans need a certain amount of stress to thrive. The actual amount differs from person to person, just like the amount of carbs, vitamins and protein we need to eat differs from person to person. However, too much of any one thing, including stress, can harm us.

The fact that I was able to move on  to the next task after uploading the files for Ravaged means I'm currently at my optimal stress-level. Not so little stress that I don't give a shit about getting any project done. Not so much stress that I'm a quivering mass of fear and angst.

If I can stay at this level for the next six months, I'm golden and y'all will have a lot of good stories to read.

P.S. Today's the last day Ravaged will be $0.99 at retailers. Tomorrow, it'll go back to it's regular price of $4.99.

Amazon
Apple
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
Smashwords

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Say (F***) No to Beta Readers

A couple of weeks ago, a new(er) writer asked me if I used beta readers. When I said no, they asked, "But how do you know whether you're hitting the tropes of your genre?"

Maybe because I've been a reader for nearly forty-eight years?

This is why the long-term writers say you need to be a reader in order to write. You absorb a lot of the aspects of basic storytelling by consuming the product.

I grew up in a small town. A very small town. First there was the comics and Dr. Seuss books at Grandma's and my cousins' house. Those were a lot more fun the primers my mom gave me. I zipped through the contents of our county library annex and the grade school's library in no time flat. Especially, the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys original mysteries and the complete OZ collection someone donated.

It was a treat when my grandma took me to the big county library a half hour away. More Nancy Drew, plus Doctor Doolittle, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and anything by Andre Norton.

Then came the bussing to another town for junior high. New library! That lead to McCaffrey, Asimov, Bradbury, and Homer.

When I hit high school though, I wasn't impressed with their collection of fiction. Most of collection was far younger than the level I was reading at. Meanwhile, the county library expanded its program to allow borrowing by mail. From there, I was introduced to James Clavell, John Jakes, and Patricia A. McKillip.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. Nor should story consumption be limited to the written word. Comics, radio serials, theater, movies, and TV are also good learning places.

So, after inhaling all those stories, the basics are pretty ingrained in your brain. You know the tropes of the genres you love. You could write them with your eyes closed.

Except...

We often don't trust ourselves. In many of us, any artistic endeavor is actively discouraged at best, or punished severely at the worst. We let those challenges gnaw away a part of our souls, so that by the time we actually produce a full story, we seek a way to fill the hole.

That's what critiques and beta readers really are. Their feedback becomes the stuffing we desperately want to fill the hole in our soul that we shouldn't have allowed anyone to dig in the first place.

That's what really missing in our writing--the trust in our own abilities. Not someone else's opinion of our abilities. Not how they would have written the story. Not their ideas.

Your ideas are just fine. Technical stuff, like grammar and spelling? That's easy to pick up. Actually, so is storytelling. But learn from the masters. Learn from the writers you love. Don't listen to people who aren't writing the fucking the story. They don't care. You do. It's your story.

And it won't be your story if you let other people tell you how to write it. Which means, no, you don't need any beta readers.

Proofreaders? Yes. Beta readers? No.

Trust yourself. You can do this. And you will rock!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The second most anticipated movie of 2017 (for me, after Wonder Woman). Eggsy is back! And again, he's driving both his allies and his enemies crazy!


* * *


SPOILERS!


* * *

After the events of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Gary "Eggsy" Unwin has settled into life as the new Galahad. He and Princess Tilde are living together in Harry's old house with J.B. Dumbledore has become the new Arthur. Merlin and Lancelot are still Eggsy's best buds.

So of course, that's when an old enemy from the first movie shows up to kill our hero.


PROS
1) I'm so sad there wasn't more of the fabulous Michael Gambon as the replacement for Arthur. There's nothing better than hearing the former Dumbledore say R-rated words on screen.

2) The inventive way they brought back Harry. It may stretch the suspension of disbelief, but it wasn't a one-trick pony, and it showed the talents and inventiveness of the Statesmen's Ginger Ale.

3) Speaking of bringing Harry back, the writers, et al, didn't make Harry perfectly all right once Eggsy found out he was still alive. He had memory and physical problems from being shot in the head. It was a touch of realism I appreciated.

4) OMG! The Happily Ever After was awesome!

5) Let me amend that. Mark Strong's rendition of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" rocked!


CONS
1) There wasn't as much Channing Tatum as the trailers and ads promised. I was a little sad because watching his and Taron Egerton's characters bond should have been the highlight of the film.

2) Killing J.B. was a shit move. The filmmakers should have known better than to kill a pet even if they used the incident to move Eggsy and Tilde's relationship along.

3) Okay, part of me was rooting for the Kingsmen and Statesmen's resident geeks to get it on. It was a total waste of Mark Strong and Halle Berry's awesome onscreen chemistry.


Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a worthy successor to the original. However, it's a lot more emotional, so bring some tissues. Overall, I give it 9 stars out of 10.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

RAVAGED Is Out!

RAVAGED IS OUT!

About midnight last night, I finished uploading Ravaged to Amazon, Smashwords, and for distribution to iTunes and Kobo. B&N will be a few more days since they want the number of pages for the paperback, and I don't have the formatted paperback back yet.

But I'm late and I wanted to get the e-book out ASAP.

I can't guarantee when Ravaged will go live on any particular site, but I'll be updating the links below as they go live.

Amazon
Apple
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
Smashwords

I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Family Drama Keeps Pulling Me Back In

Frack! I couldn't even make it through the first book of the next eight I want to release before more cow defecation hit the spinning turbine. Shit is happening that I can't talk about at the moment for someone else's privacy reasons. It's getting taken care of, but taking care of it is time-consuming as all get out.

My formatter had sent me the Kindle e-book file for Ravaged on Tuesday, September 26. I haven't completed reviewing it yet. It should have been a two-day job max. I'm not even at the half-way point on A Modicum of Truth either, and I'd planned to have it finished by now.

Why can't I have normal adult first-world problems? I have a friend whose kid is trying to decide between Harvard and Yale. Another friend and her S.O. are debating on whether he should take a promotion across the country when their youngest is also in his senior year. A third friend is simply thankful that her teen driver is all right after a drunk adult hit her daughter's car head-on when she was on her way to school.

If I weren't high on cider, donuts, and pumpkin spice lattes right now, I'd probably be curled up in my bed with a bottle of tequila, bawling my eyes out. But then, nothing's stopping me from going to the store for a bottle or two.

On second thought, maybe I should head over to Kroger for a bigger chocolate cake...

Monday, October 2, 2017

Why I Didn't Write Monday's Post

There are certain scenes in movies that simply make the entire film. Sally's fake orgasm. George running through the streets of Bedford Falls on a snowy Christmas Eve. Toto revealing the jerk manipulating the innocent Dorothy and her friends.

Well, last night, I was watching Magic Mike XXL for this scene:


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Reliving the summer I graduated from high school...


Friday, September 29, 2017

Minding the Gap

As I write this, I'm in the process of reviewing the Kindle e-book my formatter delivered on Tuesday. And as I do, I realize I'll be on a whirlwind of completing books in the pipeline and publishing at approximately one per month until April.

The very British subway warning popped into my mind because I'm still standing on the platform. I see the train slowing to a stop to drop off and pick up passengers, aka other writers.

It doesn't matter what my destination is at this point. Will I successfully board that train? Or will I get caught in the gap, so when the train takes off again, I'll be ripped to shreds.

Mind the gap. Odd thought go through a writer's mind when they're stressed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Bitching About the Past

Things seem to run in trends in the writer thoughts on the interwebs. The latest amusement (for me anyway) are writers that started seriously writing for a living around 2010-2011 bemoaning the quality of their old works compared to their newer releases.

Mind you, I'm not talking about the long-term folks who were trad published prior to 2010 and were either dropped by their publisher and/or realized the freedom indie publishing would give them.

No, I'm talking about the folks who didn't take the idea of making a living writing seriously until e-books and/or indie publishing exploded. Most had never been published, or at most, had one or two trad published books.

Anyway, they see the change in quality of their own work over the last six or seven years. Rather than rejoice they've grown as artist, they whine and gnash their teeth about the suckitude of their first novels. They waste time rewriting those book, or they whine about how they don't have time to rewrite those books. And sometimes, they take what I think is the worst option of all: they remove those early books from the market, essentially making them out-off-print.

*facepalm* (I swear anyone who is a writer has a dominant "whine" gene.)

I've already talked about this issue. More than once. Generally focusing on George Lucas here and here.

To paraphrase the late, great SF&F writer Jay Lake, once you the artist releases your work into the wilds of the public, you don't really own the story anymore. I'm not talking about copyright. I'm saying you can't control the thoughts of the people who read, see, listen to your work. You can't control their opinions of your work.

If you change your work, you are no better than George Lucas. You insult your fans by saying, "I didn't put out my best effort and you're dumbass fools for liking it."

Or even worse, you could lose potential fans by taking your older books off the market. You don't know which work of yours will resonant with the public. Hell, the song John "Cougar" Mellencamp wrote that he hates the most? "Jack and Diane". Yet, it's been his most popular work for the last thirty-five years.

If you think I'm immune from the embarrassment of older works, I'm not. While cleaning out my file cabinet a year ago, I stumbled across the first story I submitted to a magazine back in 1993. Yeah, it sucked, but I saw the glimmer of the writer I would become.

And yesterday, while working on A Modicum of Truth, I pulled up the original version of A Question of Balance from 2013. At the end that year's NaNoWriMo, I was two-thirds into the novel when I realized (okay, Subconscious smacked me upside the head) I was trying to cram three different plots into one book.

I made notes at the time so when I picked up the novel on 2015, I sliced off the extraneous bits. But I saved them for later. One of the bits I sliced off was the original version of the scene where Anthea tried to track Luc after he and Warden Gibb disappeared.

Oh. My. Goddess. The original version sucked so bad! LOL

But what a huge difference two years had made in my skills!

Another two years later, and I'm hoping A Modicum of Truth will be an even better book than A Question of Balance. If it isn't, I seriously need to rethink my life and goals because I should always be improving and growing as a person and as an artist.

After all, isn't that the true nature of the human condition?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Not So Lazy Sunday

After a late Saturday where one neighbor dared to berate other neighbors for having a holiday party (mind you, the guy bitching is the same one who comes home from the bars at 2:30 a..m. with his car stereo cranked to eleven and all the windows down), DH got me up in time for the NFL Pregame show.

Hello, my name is Suzan. I'm a football fanatic. I'm the one who has the Browns game on TV, the Texans game on radio, and the Steelers on the NFL website, only because I can't get DirectTV's NFL package. Satellite dishes are prohibited at our complex.

After all three teams lost, *sigh*, I went to Paneras to write for a few hours. Yes, I could have done that at home, but the temptation of watching the Green Bay-Cincinnati game would have been too great.

I got home in time to make cheeseburgers before Star Trek: Discovery's premiere. I liked it, but not enough to shell out ten bucks a month. Sorry CBS!

After ST:D (and when you write that abbreviation, you have to wonder what the suits at Paramount were thinking), I returned to working on A Modicum of Truth.

A full lazy Sunday would be nice, but I don't think I'm going to get one until after May.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Listening to Your Subconscious

Yesterday, I mentioned having my Subconscious yelling at me when I was doing something wrong. Here's a concrete example of why I believe we writers should listen to our inner voices.

Did you know the original main characters for my first urban fantasy novel were supposed to be Duncan and Phillippa?

Yep, that's right. Duncan had a bit more of a sense of humor back in the early '00's, and he was Greek, not English. Phil was a vampire, not an Amazon demigoddess. She contemplated a restraining order against him for stalking when he walked into her nightclub, but she knew someone showing up every fifty years or so wouldn't fly with a mortal judge. Alex was Duncan's best buddy, and he was a former Texas Ranger from the beginning. But he was the one Duncan rescued from rogues who'd bit him.

I loved the concept. I loved the characters. Except no matter how I tried, the freakin' story just wouldn't gel.  So I gave myself a break and started toying with a sequel for Alex. A reporter named Samantha learns about him, but for some strange reason he couldn't erase her memory. Neither could Duncan or Phil when Alex told them about her.

That story wouldn't come together either. I was the proverbial frustrated newbie writer. Until Subconscious yanked my attention to her solution through a dream.

The scene in Zombie Love where Duncan and Sam are chased to Phil's antique store? And Sam stabs Sierra Mallory in the chest with a wooden spoon? But Sierra's not dead, and she opens her eyes, Sam literally climbs up Duncan's body trying to get away?

Yeah, I literally woke myself up laughing at that scene/dream.

And once I set Duncan up with Sam and Alex with Phil, the words started to flow like melted chocolate.

By the time everything's said and done next year, I'll have written nine full-length novels, two short novels, and two short stories in the Bloodlines series.

Because I got out of my own way and listened to my Subconscious. She can be a pretty smart bitch when it comes to storytelling. I suggest listening to your Subconscious once in a while, too.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Writers Block, Or Are You Lying to Yourself?

I'm neck-deep in getting the final proof-reading pass of Ravaged done and writing A Modicum of Truth. I strongly suggest you go read Bob Mayer's blog on writers' block.

Ninety-nine percent of the time that I get stuck, Subconscious is screaming at me that I'm fucking up. That's why I have more than one writing project going at a time. If I get stuck on the primary book, I switch to whatever I plan to finish next and start working on it. Within a page or two on the secondary project, Subconscious provides an answer to the primary project.

As for the other one percent, I'm being a lazy ass and would rather watch reruns of Supernatural and The Big Bang Theory.

Or Deadpool.

Again.

The point being, you're better off being honest with yourself. That's why my brand-spanking-new Wonder Woman Blu-Ray is still in its plastic until I finish proofing Ravaged and hit the 30K-mark on A Modicum of Truth.

In other words, I'll be watching it later tonight. LOL

Monday, September 18, 2017

Losing My Mind

Well, it's actually losing myself in story over the weekend and the last couple of weeks.

High school soccer season started six weeks ago, so DH has been gone most nights since he's the timekeeper for both the boys' and girls' varsity and junior varsity games. His absence has actually been a good thing as I try to wrap up pre-production on Ravaged.

My writing is amusing from an editorial point of view. I mean, how many "to"s can an author manage to leave out of a manuscript? Let me put it to you this way, my original word count for the first draft was 83K. I'm halfway through the final proofread, and the word count is closing in on 89K. *smh*

Then there's trying to get A Modicum of Truth written. As any writer will tell you, the middle of a novel is the dangerous place. It's where the story has a tendency to bog down in minutiae.

I'm trying hard not to have the heroes heads disappear under bullshit. Unfortunately, that's meant a few false starts and the ripping out pages that don't work. Don't worry. It'll get there. A fabulous idea will pop into my head.

Probably when I'm in the middle of my shower.

And I just can't hop out these days and scribble something down because I recently colored my hair blue and purple. If you've done this before, you know about color bleed over the first couple of weeks after dyeing.

But cool hair definitely makes me feel more creative!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Farewell, Cassini

NASA/JPL Image of Rings and Pan
I woke up shortly before eight a.m. this morning, which is highly unusual for me. Let's face it I'm very much a night owl. After my morning ablutions, I did what I always do--check the news. And I realized I'd jerked awake about the same time the Cassini probe died in Saturn's atmosphere.

The Cassini-Huygens mission lasted far longer that the folks at NASA, ESA, ASI, and JPL at Caltech originally planned or envisioned. It launched in 1997, twenty years ago or way back when I was in my second year of law school.

After using the inner planets and Jupiter to slingshot its way to Saturn, Cassini-Huygens arrived in June of 2004. In December, Huygens separated from Cassini and landed on Saturn's largest moon Titan. The pictures and data they both sent back to Earth were freaking incredible. When Cassini's original four-year mission was a success and she was still chugging around Saturn, they extended her mission twice more before she started running out of power.

The mission directors had to make a decision. There was strong evidence that life may be or could form on a few of Saturn's moons. Titan, Enceladus and Europa are likely candidates. Cassini no longer had enough power to leave orbit. If it remained, it could disrupt or contaminate any proto-life on these moons. So the directors choose to send Cassini into Saturn's atmosphere.

At 7:55 a.m. EDT, NASA lost Cassini's signal as planned.

Farewell, Cassini! Thanks for all the cool pictures and the inspiration!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Risky Business

I've lost count of the number of posts I've written on writers and fear. Because of that fear, many writers refuse to take risks and they want guarantees that they'll make money if they get into this industry. Just this weekend I had yet another conversation with a relatively new writer about taking some risks with their books.

You want to know something. I think this person will be just fine in a writing career because they're willing to take those risks.

Folks, any business where you work for yourself is risky. It's your time and your capital on the line. You succeed or fail on your merits, no one else's. There's no one you can blame if you didn't do your research.

Oh, there'll be writers who try to blame someone. The current favorite target is Amazon. But a lot of the new kids haven't bothered to learn their craft. Their dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Their alpha males are total dweebs. And their heroines are Too Stupid To Live.

Even worse, they overanalyze a current bestseller, thinking if they write a book exactly like Big Name Author, then they too will be rolling in the dough.

If a reader already read BNA's book, why would they want to read the exact same book with the serial numbers filed off?

"But, but, but..." I can hear you say. "What about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey?"

Let me ask you this is return, what else has E.L. James written? First of all, I'm not slamming Ms. James. A lot of us started our writing life with fan fiction. And that's exactly what FSoG is--fan fiction. It was basically risk free. Has James taken a risk with her own ideas? No, because doing so does not guarantee her any money.

On the other hand, J.K. Rowling's name became synonymous with her creation, Harry Potter. She took a major risk by adopting what was a secret pseudonym in order to take on a new series in a new genre. Her alter ego Robert Galbraith did pretty damn well for a debut author. Or he did until "he" was outed as Rowling.

Rowling could have continued milking Harry Potter. In fact, she's been accused of exactly that with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, even though she only helped write the outline of the play. However, Rowling the writer has stretched her artistic muscles and delved into other characters on other genres when she could have given up and coasted.

If you want a career as a writer, ask yourself how much risk are you prepared to take on. If you aren't willing to take chances, get yourself a job and buy lottery tickets. Trust me it will be a lot easier than pounding out words for a living.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Warcraft

Once again, we used an HBO free weekend to catch up on movies we missed in the theaters last year. Warcraft is one of those movies that had a lot of potential, and...

OMG! It sucked so bad!

This one of those cases when the best cast in the world making a movie based on the most popular MMORPG ever can't save a turgid turd of a script.

Warcraft wants to be Lord of the Rings for a new generation. Except Tolkien wasn't trying to recoup millions of dollars of investment when he wrote his saga. Warcraft is trying to be too much to be everything to everyone and succeeds at nothing.

1) I don't have a problem with viewpoints from multiple characters in a story. However, in most good stories the POV characters start out together with a unifying purpose. The Starks and their duty in Game of Thrones. The gathering of the Fellowship to destroy the One Ring in LotR.

Here the POVs are convoluted. Are we supposed to care about Durotan and his dying world? Lothar, whose home is being invaded by the desperate orcs? Khadgar, who starts as a total chickshit wizard before taking over as Guardian of Azeroth? Who exactly am I supposed to be identifying with and rooting for here?

Unfortunately, the story doesn't carry the soapish fascination that Game of Thrones has where there are characters you love to hate. Which bring me to...

2) The character development is rather lazy and half-assed. All the characters are reactive, rather than proactive. If we are given a reason for a certain action, it is never really fleshed out. We don't know why Gul'dan or Medivh succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force fel, and the sad part is you don't really care either.

3) I have nothing against CGI, but you can't use it sell your movie without a fucking story behind it. This isn't a story. It's a part of a story.  It ends near the beginning of the middle, so you're left with a feeling of incompleteness. And going back to the other two points, you're not given to a reason to want to find out what happens next.

4) I wanted Dominick Cooper to shut up so fucking bad because whatever the hell accent he was using sounded awful!

I'm so fucking glad I didn't spend my valuable popcorn money on this piece of crap. In a very rare case, because I can usually find something redeeming in a movie, I give Warcraft 0 out of 10 stars.

Yeah, it WAS that bad.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Authors Helping Houston



Carrie Pulkinen put together a master page on her website called Authors Helping Houston. It's a listing of writers living or from the area hit by Hurricane Harvey last month. While the title is simple and catchy, the money is going to all the communities along the Texas coast devastated by storm.

Basically, buy a book between now and September 17th from one of these authors, and they will send all proceeds from those books to one of the charities listed on the page.

While I don't know Carrie, I know a lot of these folks personally from my time in Houston, back when we were all writer wannabes. While Tess St. John and Melissa Ohnoutka came out okay, their extended families were not so lucky. I haven't heard from Sarah Andre, but I have dog-sat for her two adorable puppies. Others like Lori Wilde, I've only heard speak at events and read her books.

There's a wide variety of tales available, so you should find something to your liking and the proceeds are going to good causes.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - The Hitman's Bodyguard

This is the typical buddy action-comedy. If you go into the theater expecting exactly that, you'll love The Hitman's Bodyguard.

If you don't, I suggest going to Wonder Woman, which just started its fourteenth week in theaters.


* * *


SPOILERS


* * *


PROS
1) Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson have some serious onscreen chemistry.

2) The chase sequence through the streets of Amsterdam was pretty rockin'. And there was only two totally unnecessary pyrotechnic scenes.

3) Salma Hayek matched Samuel L. Jackson curse-word for curse-word, and you really believed she'd cut your throat for grabbing her spectacular ass, which brings me to...


CONS
1) Poor Salma was totally wasted. It would have been a much better movie with her not being locked up, and running with the boys shooting things.

2) They tried to cram too many trope plots into the movie--professional rivals forced to work together/getting critical witness to court on time/assassin with a heart of gold/"bad" guy fixing "good" guy's relationship with girl, etc.

3) Wasting a wonderful villain like Gary Oldman!


Overall, The Hitman's Bodyguard was a fun, end-of-the-summer, non-thinking movie. I give it a solid 7.5 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Yep, still on that '80's kick thanks to Sirius Radio XM offering a free week of play. '80's on 8 RULES!


Friday, September 1, 2017

Helping Fellow Writers Affected By Harvey - Part 1

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to plug Houstonian authors affected by Hurricane Harvey. If you're a writer whose been affected or know a writer who has, drop me a note.

The Houston Metropolitan area probably has the single largest concentration of romance writers in the world. It's the birthplace of Romance Writers of America, and it boasts three chapters all by its lonesome. I learned a hell of a lot about writing from those folks over the years I lived in Houston.

Alison Kent is one of those awesome people. While I don't know Alison personally (one of those friend-of-a-friend things where you almost feel like you do), I do know she's a hell of a writer. I couldn't let go of her books on my shelves during the Great Book Purge prior to our move to Ohio.

Her husband Walt tells the tale of their rescue by local folks on his Facebook page. It's wild and a little scary. Not to mention the fur kids panicked a bit, but none of the rescuers were harmed. However, the cats let Walt know just how displeased they were with the situation. I suggest you read his account. I remember the same type of cooperation among neighbors during Ike and Tropical Storm Allison.

Here's the link to Alison's books. Why buy a book? Because her family will get that money far sooner than federal aid, and you'll get a damn good read in return.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Home, Wet Home

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last five days, you know about the devastation Hurricane Harvey has inflicted on the Texas coast and is now inflicting on Louisiana.

We lived in Houston for a little over eighteen years. I graduated from law school there. Our son was born in a Houston hospital and considers himself a Houstonian regardless of what anyone says. It's a lovely multicultural city with lots of things to see or do no matter what your personal tastes are.

Unfortunately, it also sits on a swampy drainage area, that has roughly three inches of topsoil on an ancient clay seabed, right next to the warmest large body of water on the planet. It  also sits in the crossroads of three major weather patterns. In other words, Houston get rain, and it floods hard and fast.

Now, throw in the scattered remnants of a tropical depression, a patch of abnormally hot water in the Gulf, and two high pressure systems to keep any circulation practically stationary over that ancient seabed, and you've got the disaster of Hurricane Harvey.

It's not like folks in Houston aren't used to hurricanes and tropical storms. While we lived down in Texas, Hurricane Ike hit the city on DH's birthday in 2008. Our subdivision was without power for nine days, and we mainly encountered wind damage. Flooding came the day after Ike as a separate storm front swept through and dropped an inch or two on the already saturated soil.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison was closer to Harvey's damaging rains and subsequent flooding, i.e. turning the Southwest Freeway and 288 into rivers. However, Allison was much smaller and she sat on the southeast section of the metro area where the levees and reservoirs couldn't catch the water. When citizens bitched about the lack of preparation, etc., then-mayor Lee Brown said, when you get two-feet of rain in thirty-six hours, you're going to get flooding.

And he's right. There's only so much preventative work you can do before Mother Nature teaches you an entirely different lesson.

There's a lot of bitching online about why a general evacuation wasn't called. It's because Houston learned a different hard lesson in 2005. Hurricane Rita was bearing down on Houston as a Category 5 storm. Even though forecasters said she would turn east prior to making landfall, a lot of people felt the need to bug out, especially after seeing what Katrina had done to New Orleans only three weeks earlier.

In 2005, the Houston Metropolitan area was 5.2 million people. You want to know what happens when half of Houston decides to evacuate at once? Traffic was at a standstill on every freeway. I-45 was literally a parking lot from Houston to Dallas, as was U.S. 290 to Austin, and I-10 to San Antonio.

People died in those glorified parking lots. From heat exhaustion. From stress-induced heart attacks. All because emergency crews couldn't get to them. What do you think would have happened if Rita had remained on course for Houston? Those people in their fragile little cars would have been sitting ducks.

After that horrific experience, the city and county leaders put together a layered evacuation plan. The islands and coast evacuate first. Then the zones closest to the coast. And the plan worked pretty damn well during Ike.



But Ike didn't squat on the city like the proverbially toad for four days straight and dump four FEET of rain!

The Houston Metro area has grown to 6 million people over 2200 square miles since Ike hit. Can you imagine trying to evacuate 6 million people at once when flash flooding is a major risk? So the citizens did the best thing they could have. They sheltered in place until that became impossible.

Even then, a lot of the designated shelters were underwater. Take a look at that map above. Pretty much everything, and I mean EVERYTHING other than Austin and Waller counties, is under water. The reservoirs and lakes are filled to capacity. At least three dikes have had sections collapse. The Army Corps of Engineers are doing controlled water releases to keep other dams and dikes from failing

We used to live up on the northwest side. In fact, we were closer to Waller than downtown Houston. Our old house is in the fucking 500-year flood plain! From what we're hearing from old friends and neighbors, a couple of inches of water has probably ruined the lovely hardwood floor we installed in 2012. And the folks who bought our house probably didn't buy flood insurance. We sure didn't. Hell, I can count on three fingers the number of times we had standing water on our street, and one of them was the day-after-Ike storm.

Yeah, that's how bad it is.

If you feel the need to help, here's a list of legitimate places to donate:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund by the Greater Houston Community Foundation

Houston Flood Relief Fund (Sponsored by Texans DE JJ Watt, who is known for his philanthropic work in Houston)

American Red Cross

To the people of Houston: I'm not going to send you any Cthulu-damned thoughts and prayers. I'll send you some real help.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Keeping Up with the Joneses

HBO had another free weekend in July, mainly as an enticement for the latest season of Games of Thrones. On the other hand, we used it to catch up on some movies we missed in the theaters last summer.

Keeping Up with the Joneses was one of those movies. I admit I've had a girl-crush on Gal Gadot since her first appearance in the Fast & Furious franchise so I'd really wanted to see it. Since this movie has been out for nearly a year, you're not going to get my normal SPOILERS warning.

With this cast, especially Zach Galifianakis, I assumed that this would be a laugh riot. It was...okay.

The premise is simple and perfect. A suburban couple is stuck in a rut. When their kids are away to summer camp, a new, super-elegant, super-perfect couple move in next door, except the new couple are not what they seem.

I'm not sure if it was Michael LeSieur's writing or Greg Mottola's directing that screwed this up. The best (or worst) example of wrongness was the scene where Isla Fisher's Karen has grown suspicious of her new neighbors and stalks Gadot's Natalie into the lingerie department of a store. Gadot comes on as an overbearing butch. The actress is obviously uncomfortable, and Isla is trying to play off her. The whole thing comes off as very awkward. Why they didn't let Gadot use her natural charm in the semi-seductive scene is beyond me.

This scene is a setup for another payoff later, but the awkwardness here ruins the convincing play during the payoff scene, so I'm pretty damn sure it's not the actors.

An example of how good the cast is comes when Jon Hamm's Tim confesses his job dissatisfaction to Zach's Jeff. The tough guy slowly lowering his walls and clicks with his neighbor.

Maybe it's the writer in me seeing where a joke could be added or where another joke could have been punched up. I really wanted to love this movie, but this should have been the Spy for 2016. It wasn't, and a part of me is sorely disappointed.

Keeping Up with the Joneses is not a bad movie. It simply wasn't as good as it could have been. Overall, I give it 6 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Music I've Been Listening to Lately

Billy Joel tried to pack all the world events that had happened in his lifetime up to 1989 into a four minute song. He didn't have enough room.


Friday, August 25, 2017

The Barnes & Noble Pornocalypse 2017 - Part 2

No one is really sure what prompted Barnes & Noble's heavy-handed tactics this week. Several bloggers have blamed it on the release of K. Webster's The Wild earlier this month. Webster deliberately violated T&C on several retail sites, not just B&N, in a effort to drum up publicity for her book. (And no, I will not link to it.)

Others have suggested that B&N was cleaning house in an effort to make themselves more attractive to a potential buyer.

However, I have trouble believing B&N's witch hunt was based solely on one author misbehaving or a corporate suitor. I mean, Microsoft got so fed up with B&N's missteps that they choose to walk away rather than deal with the bullshit. I can't see any investor, other than the crazy investors currently buying stock, touching B&N with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Not even Amazon or Kobo.

The weirdness on Wednesday was amplified when I checked the listings for one of my favorite erotica authors, Selena Kitt. While a majority of her e-books were gone from B&N's online listings, the paperbacks remained available.

Another favorite author Sarah Robinson, who writes hot romance but not erotica, was "on review" with B&N according to her Facebook posting.

So what the hell was going on with B&N's online store?

All we know is that B&N decided the backlash from authors and readers wasn't worth it, and they have started restoring accounts. Personally, I have a problem with the fact that they started pulling accounts before posting the August 16, 2017, revisions to their T&C. As a former attorney, I highly doubt if that stunt would hold up in court if a group of indie authors would file a class action suit. But this bullshit will probably make a lot of indie authors reconsider dealing with B&N in the future. I know I'm reconsidering keeping the updated books I've reloaded on B&N over the last few months.

Then, on top of B&N's crap, Amazon started reviewing Alter Ego's books. Why? I have no idea, but their T&C from September 1, 2016, is still online. I did some checking and other erotica authors have seen their own books being rifled.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm really getting tired of erotica being the publishing world's whipping boy.