Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Just Die Already!

Story clichés bother me.  When I read, I want to be taken off the track that I could personally see coming a mile away.  I want surprises, new characters, and a story that goes in ways I didn't expect.  As such, there's a phenomenon present in writing that I despise - bringing characters back from the dead.

To be fair, it isn't like this is a new phenomenon.  Writers have been doing this for ages, and it has annoyed me just as long.  I find it to be a lazy way to keep a story going, and its value as SHOCK has been so overdone that it's no shock at all when it happens.  It seems that whenever a story reaches a point where it starts grasping at things, the author will bring back an old character to shake things up.

I believe that what's dead should stay dead.  I know I'm an effete snob, but I'm this way for two main reasons.  First, it's just not realistic for folks to keep rising from the dead.  This doesn't happen in real life, and having already suspended my disbelief to read a tome, this trite technique shakes me out of that wonderful escape.  The reason a harrowing escape is so compelling in real life is that it's so rare(c'mon - how many times do people really survive a boat capsizing in the middle of the ocean?)Second, it doesn't allow the story to deal with the new reality of a character's death.  When a dead character returns, it constricts the story and makes any future tension unbelievable.  Why should I care about the characters and their well being if they're going to keep coming back no matter what's done to them?  I'm actually angry that I spent time in mourning, only to have to factor them back into my life.  It gets confusing.

I get that readers and even writers become attached to our favorite characters.  They provide us comfort and familiarity in a world that rarely possesses either.  But it's the uncertainty of a story that gets us going and makes us want to know what will happen next.  There may be the rare time when someone can and should be brought back to advance the plot, but the writer needs to make it clear very quickly that the character's death was part of the plot all along, and not some device reached for at the last minute to extend a story that should've ended.

It's hard to kill a character we write about.  If it's so hard, then don't put it in at all.  You can still give the reader the illusion of tension, even though you know said character is safe.  But if you kill off a character, have the courage to keep that character dead.  Yes, some readers will implore you to bring them back, but resist these calls.  In the end, it'll make a better book and keep readers turning the page rather than rolling their eyes.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Culturally Sensitive?

Okay, perhaps I'm wading into rough waters here, but this article from The Chicago Tribune caught my eye(h/t to The Passive Voice).  As writers, we often do lots of research for our books in addition to the hiring of editors, the use of beta-readers, and the countless hours we ourselves spend pouring over our work to make sure we got each nuance just right.  However, some authors and a number of publishers are going to a new set of eyes, based in large part on the potential(mostly through social media) to edit their stuff.

Sensitivity readers.

If you're anything like me, you just did a double take at that phrase.  Yes, it's exactly as it sounds - you or your publisher pay someone to comb through your book looking for signs that you've been culturally insensitive to this group or that one.  Sensitivity readers supposedly provide you tips on your portrayals for characters that are part of a group you aren't a part of(or maybe even one you are a part of if you're not sufficiently "woke" to your own group's travails).

I've touched previously on topics of "cultural appropriation," and this seems to fall in the same overly sensitive, politically correct strain of "let's not hurt anyone's feelings."  To start with, I find it offensive that any one person thinks they have enough expertise on an entire group of individuals that they feel qualified to tell you how they think or act.  This will sound kooky, but people have a tendency to be different, even with shared cultural experiences.  Harvey Fierstein and Milo Yiannopoulos couldn't possibly be any more different in terms of outlook or activism, despite both being gay men.  Ben Carson and Al Sharpton may both be black, but does anyone here have any doubt that their portrayals in books(or characters based on them) would and should be completely polar opposite?  How does one look at anyone based on an immutable characteristic and say they are sufficiently read in that they know just how a character should act, especially when it's your character?

Next, this should insult any writer with half a brain.  The implication here is that we don't do our own research.  I can tell you from experience that research is one of the biggest ways I spend my time...and I write fiction!  Akeldama will come out in May, and since a large part of it is based on the Catholic Church - a church to which I don't personally belong - I had to do a ton of research on how it works.  I didn't leave it up to some "sensitivity reader" to tell me where I went wrong - I spent countless hours combing over each nuance and talking to Catholics(and Mormons) to find out what I didn't know.

Further, and I hate to break this to the culturally sensitive among us, but not everyone is going to like your book.  I promise that someone somewhere will find something offensive about what you have to say.  Just look at our polarized world today.  You can't shake a stick without finding someone saying something you dislike, or without seeing mass protests over a perceived slight.  Each person being different, with a different outlook, will read your work in a different way, and you can't cater to everyone.  Not only will you drive yourself nuts, but you'll never accomplish that task.  On the off chance that you get close, your work will be so boring that no one will buy it.

I wonder if the gatekeepers of such political correctness have given thought to which works wouldn't stand a chance at being published today.  Does anyone really think that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would even be given a look under these conditions? Or To Kill A Mockingbird?  Given his writings about poverty, despite his relatively well off status in English society, I doubt much that Charles Dickens wrote would make it past these folks.

What happened to letting the reader decide our work?  The market is pretty responsive, and if you've gone over the line, it'll usually let you know by not buying your stuff.  While I want everyone to enjoy my stories, I write for me, and I hope others come along.  But I find out by giving it to all of them in my style, not by culling out the offensive parts that might upset people(and believe me, I've got some stuff that many people simply will not like).

If you feel the need for a "sensitivity reader" to check your stuff, go ahead.  That's your right.  But don't tell me I need one before I publish(yet another reason to avoid traditional publishing).  If someone wants to raise a ruckus, they can do so, but they'll find me about as responsive as a statue.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Offset Releases

A friend of mine is struggling with the release of his first book.  As he and I are just beginning this journey, I found his dilemma relevant to my path.

He has finished his book and has both the ebook for Kindle and the hardcover formatted.  However, that means that the ebook is ready to be uploaded while the hardcover still has to go through production.  His struggle is over whether or not to go ahead and release the ebook or wait for both to be ready for a simultaneous release.

I see the advantages and disadvantages of both.  By releasing his ebook now, he can go ahead and generate buzz that might lead to greater sales.  Plus, I imagine that there's no feeling quite like the one of having your work out in the public square.  At the same time, what if the ebook bombs or finds all of its audience online?  Could that hurt the hardcover sales and make his effort tank?

There's not a right or wrong answer here, as I see it, nor an easy one.  I think it's a matter of figuring out the marketing scheme and how your target audience gets its information.  An ebook reviewed by someone from the right site could help get things started, but what if that person likes to hold a physical book(like I do)?  That could create an offset in how audiences hear about the work, and you need as much momentum as you can get right out of the gate.

What are your thoughts?  Should my friend release in Kindle first and wait to release hardcovers, or should he wait until both are ready?  I promised him an answer on my thoughts by next week, and as of now, I have no thoughts - I need yours.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lots Of Learning

As you may have read, I'm off and running towards my first release later this year.  As such, there's a whole lotta learnin' going on around here.  Even as prepared as I thought I was, I've found that there's so much I just didn't anticipate.

The biggest thing I needed to understand was time.  Despite the long lead time I have, getting with a good cover artist has been eye-opening.  A few I contacted were booked several months out, and although I'm sure they'd have done great work, all were beyond my release date.  I finally found a great cover artist who was able to help me realize the vision of the book I was striving for.  As an aside, I plan to do a cover reveal by the end of the month - one of the first physical indicators I have that this is real.

With time as a lesson, I've also learned that you can't just do a few point and clicks and expect a book to magically pop out.  There's formatting, ISBNs, legal agreements, applying for status, applying for copyright, and so many more things that I understood on a surface level but never really put in the context of time.  Quite daunting.

So, what's the purpose of this post?  Is it just to play a song for sympathy and ask you to feel sorry for me?  Nope - it's to help any other indie authors understand the process isn't an easy one, and there's a steep learning curve.  Know what you're getting into.  I don't want to discourage anyone, for one of the greatest feelings on this journey I've had was when I got to see my cover for the first time, but context is important.

I'm still looking through Ingram's Lightning Source and Create Space for final distribution, and I'll make that decision by March 1st.  It may come down to ease versus quality, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On Book Timing

As most of you know, I almost never stray into the areas of politics and religion.  The only time I've done so was as a writing exercise to see if I could pull off viewpoints that make me sound credible but that I don't necessarily hold.  I'm still not sure the readers of this blog could figure out which sides of the aisle(religious or political) I fall on.

None of this is to say that I don't pay attention to politics.  With the saturation of political coverage nowadays, you'd have to be obtuse not to see what's going on.  There are sweeping policy changes, new directions, protests, riots, and each side screaming so hard at the other that I'm surprised anyone has any vocal cords lefts.  Which brings me to book releases and how to properly time them.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a novel called Schism about a second American civil war.  It still requires some tweaking(I need to expand the final act, probably splitting it into two parts), and I initially planned its release for October of 2018.  That might still hold, but I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't find a way to release it sooner.

Our level of political discourse is insane.  I don't think I've ever found it to be more hateful and shrill.  I've watched people who've known each other for decades cut each other off over a political viewpoint or support for some policy or candidate.  I personally find that to be petty, but it's still reality.  So would a book about such a split do well right now?  It's certainly timely.  I think people of both sides would find something to nod at and something to froth over in Schism.

While I find the climate to be disturbing, that doesn't mean an author and business person shouldn't look to take advantage of the moods that exist.  Timing is such an enormous part of the success of any work that people will often write books for the moment in the hopes that current passions will ignite a firestorm.  If only Schism were complete now, I'd likely do the same.

It saddens me to say that I don't think political tensions will subside over the next couple of years, so my October 2018 release date is still probably viable.  In some ways, I'd like for the window to close, for that would mean people are able to calm down and discuss things rationally.  However, I just don't see that happening anytime soon...do you?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Two Times A Week?

As you know, I shrank this blog back in October from its three times a week format to one time a week.  My new job and the demands of life made staying on top of that requirement almost impossible.  There was also a dearth of topics, since I felt I'd said most of what needed to be said.

However, I think life has slowed down enough, and I have more topics(such as moving towards my May 18th publication date), that I'm going to try and post twice a week.  This will open up the blog and give readers a bit more while not yet making it so hectic that I get overwhelmed.  We'll try this for a while and see how it goes.

So in addition to the Monday morning post(I know I post it late in the evening on Sunday, but most folks don't see it until Monday morning), I'll also have a Thursday morning post so that y'all will have something to read over the weekend.  Anyone have any thoughts on that?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Off And Running

Not much to talk about today other than the fact that I'm off and running.  I've contacted a print designer, two cover artists, and have an account now with CreateSpace(my application to Lightning Source is being reviewed).  I also have a business account and line of credit for Rushamra Publishing LLC.

So what does all this mean?  It means I'm jumping headlong into a very intimidating process.  I've written nine novels, four of which are ready to go, and another that should require only mild editing(the other four will need some work before they're ready).  I also have a degree in business, both in undergraduate and graduate level work.  Therefore, I'm all ready...right?

On the surface, sure, I'm ready.  I've been putting this together for a long time.  Under the surface, it's pretty intimidating.  I've never leapt this far off the pier before, and my launch is something I want to go right, even though I know there will be bumps along the way.  The best way to describe it is the Gene Hackman line from The Replacements - "Like a duck on a pond.  On the surface everything looks calm, but beneath the water those little feet are churning a mile a minute."

As soon as I have a cover to reveal, I'll post it(the only folks who'll see it sooner are those on my distro list).  All in all, very exciting and very nerve-wracking.  Full speed ahead!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Current Reading List

I sometimes get asked what I've been reading.  After all, a big part of being a decent writer is being a prolific reader.  So here's what's on my current list:

Sleeping Late On Judgment Day - I discovered Tad Williams a little later than many people.  However, a year or so ago I picked up Happy Hour In Hell on a whim, not getting that it was the second book in Williams' series.  The story is narrated by Bobbly Dollar, an angelic advocate for the recently deceased, who has no memory of his life on Earth and is a foul mouthed heavy drinking hero.  Oh, and his girlfriend is a demon, which apparently is a big no-no.  There's a plot by some higher ranking angels, in a pact with a major demon lord, to create a "Third Way" that goes beyond Heaven or Hell.  Dollar is basically a man, with all the faults that implies, who has access to supernatural realms.  A pretty engaging story, and one that makes our images of the afterlife appear a bit more...complicated.

One Year After - I've grown to like William Fortschen from his Lost Regiment Series.  One Year after follows One Second After, a story about an EMP that devastated the United States by shutting down power across the nation...and keeping it shut off.  Few of us think about how much life would really be affected(we all have silly fantasies about being as tough as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead).  However, lots of people would be dead in the first couple of months from just not having basic medical needs met(think about it - how many diabetics would die from no insulin?  Or how many Cystic Fibrosis or Sickle Cell Anemia patients who have no access to treatment?).  One Year After picks up with the story of rugged survival in the NC mountains by former Army officer and current professor James Matherson.  Government has begun to re-emerge, and there's a new threat, this one more tyrannical, coming down on the community.  I'm about a quarter of the way into this one, and once finished, I'll move on to The Final Day.

The Prometheus Bomb - This is the only non-fiction on my list right now.  It's about how The Manhattan Project brought together a motley collection of scientists, politicians, and military leaders to create the most powerful weapon in the world.  The project started out inefficiently due to disorganization and a lack of urgency, despite the priority given to it by Franklin Roosevelt.  In one example, the scientists created a uranium pile on the campus of the University of Chicago.  Think about that - they had no idea what would happen had the pile gone beyond critical mass and could've destroyed the city.  But in those days, the project had so little real direction that they did things willy-nilly and could've done a great deal of damage.  This is the story of how it was organized, prioritized, and produced the atomic bomb.

World War Z - I've read this one a few times, and it always fascinates me.  First off, ignore the movie.  It sucks.  The only thing it and the book have in common are the title and the fact that there are zombies.  Beyond that, the movie is terrible.  The book, on the other hand, is a great "historical" novel of how mankind might deal with a threat it doesn't understand.  It shows a great failure of adaptation in the beginning, and humanity has to adjust in order to survive.  It's told as a series of interviews with survivors of the war, and it can be surprisingly realistic.  This is one of my all-time favorites, and I strongly recommend reading it if you get the chance.

I'm sure I'll get to more this year, but this is the list right now.  What are you reading?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Being A Twit

Okay, so the title of the post is a bit misleading since this is about both Twitter and Facebook, but I couldn't find a pun to make about Facebook.  Anyhoo...

Social media continues to pervade our lives.  It's everywhere and nearly impossible to escape.  As writers, it can be a useful tool for marketing.  We get to describe our work in order to gage interest, build an audience, and let that audience know when we're coming out with new stuff.  That said, it can also be a dangerous trap of our own devising.

I've previously described that we, as writers, need to keep our personal views on controversial subjects out of our work.  In light of this past election, it's even more vital we do so.  Most of us have strong opinions about recent events, but as the vote totals show, we're roughly a 50/50 nation, and each side feels steadfast in their views...to the point of cutting people out of our lives if they don't support our side.  I may think that's petty, regardless of who you support, but that's still a fact of life in this polarized age.  By injecting our personal views about this candidate or that, we risk alienating half of our potential audience - not the best way for a new writer to build followers.  Yes, rare people like Stephen King and JK Rowling can give out what they think without repercussion, most writers simply don't have that luxury.

Prior to around 2000, that wasn't really an issue.  Blogging was fairly new, and social media was non-existent.  Now, however, we all feel like we can put anything out from the comfort of our keyboard.  Problem is that it isn't only the side we agree with that sees it.  People on every side love to troll through the internet looking for outrage.  It takes only one poorly worded tweet or a viral Facebook post to irreparably tarnish what half of people think.

I have strongly held opinions myself, and I voice them a great deal on Facebook.  However, my feed is private and not visible to those I don't know.  I promise that at least half of you would turn me off forever if you knew what I wrote on there(probably more than half...I can be quite annoying).  We've all heard stories of one ill-advised tweet, even made in jest, ruining people's lives.  Remember, Twitter and Facebook don't provide body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc, so people will read it in whatever voice they want to, and these days it seems like that voice is a super-serious one.

In this perpetually offended age, remember your audience is more diverse than you think.  Michael Jordan recognized this in 1990 when he was asked why he wouldn't endorse Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms, and he responded with, "Republicans buy shoes too."  If ideological purity is what you want, then by all means, piss off half of the audience, but just know that you won't have as wide a reach.  Also, you'll eventually piss off those on "your side" too.  Is that worth your own self-righteousness?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Officially Incorporated!

I am now officially a business owner!  Late last week, I finally established Rushamra Publishing, LLC, the company for the publication of my novels.  I'm still on target for a May 18th publication date, so I thought I'd fill everyone in on a few details.

To start with, why the name Rushamra?  No, it's not some reference to the ancient Middle East, or a nod to some obscure source material that few would know and makes me sound either clever or snobbish.  Quite simply, it's the first two letters of me and my immediate family(RUss, SHerry, AMelia, and RAchel).  My family has been extremely supportive every step of the way, and I wanted to recognize them for that.

Next, why did I choose to be an LLC(Limited Liability Corporation).  Honestly, due to the protection coupled with ease of setup and operation.  Sole Proprietorships leave the owner vulnerable to all kinds of nasty consequences in the event some asshat gets the silly idea to sue me for some odd reason.  All the big-time authors, like Stephen King and JK Rowling, have been sued by folks who were eager to cash in on their fame by claiming that they'd written the same basic novel and that it was stolen.  Although I know that I'm not on that level, it would be silly to not be prepared.  Cases like this are usually dismissed, but they're costly to defend, especially in the US, where you're still responsible for all your own legal costs, even if you win.  By forming an LLC, and ensuring I keep my business fund separate from my personal accounts, I am able to protect my family's assets from seizure.

Also, some have asked why I waited till after the New Year.  I just wanted to wait until In could start under a new tax season, even though my tax accountant said this wasn't as necessary as I once thought, for filing as an LLC isn't terribly complicated(it's complicated, but that's a result of the tax system being complicated, and filing a schedule C doesn't add much more burden, especially to pursue my dream).

So, what does all this mean?  It means I can move forward with all the nuances I need to meet the May 18th publication date.  I'll contact the cover artist I've found shortly, have the books properly formatted, get the ISBNs, etc.  As that ramps up, my update posts will include the cover, blog tours, in person appearances, giveaways, and all that jazz.

I know this step may be small, but I'm excited.  It's the first real sign that this is real that doesn't have to do with just writing the book.  I hope y'all's interest remains with me, and I'm grateful for the continued support.