Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just a little brag

City of Rogues (Book I of The Kobalos Trilogy)My epic fantasy novel City of Rogues has made it into the top 100 epic fantasy novels selling for the Kindle. It's ranked at 77 as of this moment.

Not a huge deal, but number 78 was R.A. Salvatore and number 79 was Brent Weeks. So I felt pretty good about it.

Admittedly my e-book is on sale for 79 cents this week, but I'll take what I can get.

Friday, June 25, 2010

10 cliches horror writers should try to avoid

  • The unstoppable serial killer: Or maybe all serial killers altogether. Really, it's been done. A billion times. Both onscreen and in novels and short stories. If you believe your serial killer is unique and interesting, you're probably wrong. If you don't believe me, ask an editor at just about any horror magazine that accepts fiction, because they'll likely tell you've they've read tons upon tons of stories featuring serial killers, each more boring or banal than the one before. Serial killers have become so common in fiction they've actually become the good guys in some tales; Thomas Harris' Hannibal and Jeff Lindsay's Dexter are tribute to that. Of course it's not impossible some author out there could come up with some new, interesting serial killer, but it's not likely any time soon. Think outside the box on this one if you decide to go the serial killer route in your fiction.

  • Vampires: Much like serial killers, and maybe even more so, vampires have been overdone. In fact, vampires have been so overdone that they're no longer scary. They've become fantasy creatures that offer us immortality at a price many of us seem willing to accept, drinking the blood of our enemies. Vampires have become to horror what elves have become to fantasy: Boring. Again, it's not impossible some writer out there could come up with a great vampire story, but I'm not going to put money on it.

  • Zombies: I love zombies. Really, I do. But they've been done. Zombies haven't quite yet become as common or boring as vampires or serial killers in fiction, but they're getting darn close. If you believe you've got a unique zombie story, you probably don't. But that doesn't mean you have to give up. As always, think outside of the box. Try something new. Don't go over the same ground a thousand other writers have already tred.

  • The thingie won't work!: This one is more common in cinema, but I've seen it in fiction also. What am I talking about? It's the cell phone that doesn't work. Or the car that won't start. Or the gun that won't operate. It's some device that somehow, for some reason, won't work just when the good guys need it. It's been done. To the point of straining the readers' believability. Try something else.

  • It's dead. No it's not!: This is another one you see in horror movies all the time, but it's cropped up more than a few times in horror stories. I'm talking about the bad guy who gets whacked by the good guys, then rises up again, usually immediately or soon after being whacked. Save the bad guy's return for the sequel, if there's going to be one. Otherwise, this is another element that strains the believability of the reader. We've all seen it done. We know it's going to happen. Surprise us by not letting it happen.

  • The cop or the soldier: Here I'm talking about the good guys, or at least one of the good guys. In way, way too many horror tales, especially ones involving a stranded group besieged by some monster or other, one of the good guys always seems to be an ex-cop or an army vet or at least a security guard. He (and yes, it's always a he) is the one who knows how to use the gun. He's the one who takes action while the others are frightened. He's also the one who usually ends up getting whacked, often by sacrificing himself, just so the writer can show how tough his or her bad guy really is. This character is also the one who usually, suddenly turns out to be an expert in explosives, firearms, hand-to-hand combat or whatever, even though they've only had basic training or had a class one semester. It comes off as silly and sloppy writing. Find another character, please, preferably one that's more believable.

  • Guns: There are all kinds of cliches concerning firearms in horror writing. There are the guns that always jam at the most important times. The guns that run out of ammo too soon. The guns that never seem to run out of ammo. Then, often, there's the lack of guns in a horror novel or short story. I'm sorry, but if some big, bad monster is ripping apart my neighbors in my town, I'm probably going to arm myself and not wait around for the cops or army or local hero to show up. Yes, some people don't like guns, but I'd bet many of them would suddenly like guns if a werewolf were kicking in their door. Please be realistic about this one. Guns shouldn't be overlooked, but they also shouldn't populate a horror story so much it becomes a Rambo tale.

  • Lack of religion: Religion is a touchy subject, so it's common many writers shy away from it. I'm not talking about religious horror tales here, because they are out there. What I'm talking about are your traditional, mainly secular, horror tales. There's hardly ever any mention of religion in them, unless there's a demon from a hell, a religious person who has become a fanatic or some nice, trite little mention of religion. The truth is, when people get really, really scared, they often turn to God or faith or whatever they were taught to believe in their younger days. It might be nothing more than a quick prayer, but I often feel religion is an aspect of horror fiction that's way overlooked in any believable manner.

  • Weather and time of day: Fog. Storms. Dark clouds. Midnight. Darkness. How about a monster that shows up in the bright of a summer day and rips you a new one? I guess zombies might qualify. Still, bad things don't always happen at night and far too much horror doesn't reflect this. There's always some killer or monster slurking around at night, but you don't see nearly as many terrors chopping off heads and chomping on body parts at noon time. It might be nice to see, mainly because it would be more believable.

  • Insanity: This one is right up there, especially since it's related to serial killers who often are portrayed as insane. But do we really need another short story where in the end it turns out the protagonist was just crazy? Hitchcock did it with Psycho half a century ago, and since then every horror writer has been trying to emulate it. It's been done. Get over it. Check, please? Time to move on.

  • Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Kindle, Nook begin e-reader pricing wars

    Book reading isn't what it used to be. Okay, maybe it is to some extent, but the popularity in recent years of electronic readers has changed the face of reading, quite probably forever.

    Though some form of e-readers have been around for years, and consumers have been reading digital versions of some books on their computers for some time now, it was only a few years ago when Amazonheated things up by releasing the original version of the Kindle. Since then, more and more companies have come out with their own versions of e-reading devices, such as the Nook from Barnes & Noble, and nowadays its growing increasingly difficult not to find your favorite books available in digital format.

    As can be expected, this has created a rift between those who still love the old-fashioned print books and those who love the new technology. One argument print lovers have made against digital books is that the prices are too high for e-book readers.

    But all that might be changing. As of Now.

    The price of the Kindle recently dropped to $189, its cheapest yet. Why would Amazon do this? Because Barnes & Noble just released a new Nook. It comes with Wi-Fi. And the cost? Only $149.

    That's a drastic drop in prices for e-book readers, which only a couple of years ago were still in the $300 and $400 price range.

    The big question, of course, is will these dropping e-reader prices draw in the more readers? Time will tell, but personally, I'm guessing it will. I also believe that once those e-reader prices finally get down to $99, that's when e-books will really take off.

    Still, one has to wonder why the average consumer needs an e-reader. Most books can already be read online or with apps on your favorite cell phone or i-device. So why shell out cash for a Kindle or a Nook? Perhaps the ability to store hundreds or thousands of books will draw consumers, but that will likely on effect the hard-core readers. What about those who only read a few books a year? For them, an e-reader might not seem to make as much sense, but hopefully with falling prices the e-readers will draw in more and more people to read more and more. Literary lovers can only hope.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    The future of electronic book publishing is NOW

    I'm not going to list all the magazine articles, the blog posts nor the multitudes of online chats, etc. concerning the current situation (some would call it a fight) over print books vs. digital books. It would be repetitive and boring. If you know about this situation (fight) already, then you'll know what I'm talking about. If you don't know, read on.

    Basically, it breaks down into a couple of different camps. The print people vs. the digital people. It's a lot more complicated than that, actually, but for simplicity's sake I'll just stick to these two groups.

    The print people keep talking about how print books are still doing great business and how print books will never die. Many of these folks tend to be ones who work within the traditional print publishing industry, but a good number are also readers and writers who simply love the good old print book.

    The digital people are the ones telling us how print books are dying and electronic books are the wave of the future. Again, this is oversimplifying, but this is a blog post, not a book. Many of the people in this group are writers who have either switched to digital publication or who could not or did not manage to be published in print and have thus opted for digital. However, many of the folks in this group are readers who are tech savvy and love their Kindles or Nooks or other e-reading devices.

    As a former newspaper journalist, I feel like I'm in a somewhat unique position in my opinions concerning the books versus ebooks debate. See, I'm no longer a newspaper editor because my job no longer exists, at least at the last couple of places where I used to work. Newspapers aren't quite dead yet, though there are fewer papers than there were just a few years ago and the staffs and the remaining papers have been cut deep into the bone. Many newspapers today have fewer pages than they did just a short few years ago, and often the actual size of those pages have shrunk. Newspapers have fewer advertisers, and the have fewer subscribers.

    The future does not look bright for newspaper, but I'd hazard a guess that actual, physical newspapers will probably be around for at least another generation or so, let's say anywhere from a dozen year to a few decades. The papers will probably continue to shrink physically and more newspaper will probably close. The staffs at the newspapers also will probably continue to shrink until there's only one reporter (who also has to shoot photos), one editor and one person working on the website.

    Why this happened to newspapers is not too difficult to figure out. Basically, the news became too easy to get. Thank the Internet, and to a lesser extent television. What it really breaks down to is a matter of distribution. Newspapers rode high when they were the only game in town or the biggest game in town. But nowadays, newspapers are just one of many, many games in town. People can get their news from hundreds of different sources, and many do. For many potential readers, there's no reason to pick up a newspaper, let alone subscribe to one, when they get their news for free every time they log on to check their e-mail.

    That's newspapers. But I was talking about print books and digital books. Unfortunately, much of what I was hearing in the newspaper business five and ten years ago is the same as I'm hearing from current print book publishers. To quote a recent Publishers Weekly article, "Despite what you may have read, book publishing is not in deep crisis." That sounds familiar. I was hearing it a few years ago. Back when I had a real job.

    On the flip side, I don't want to sound like some electronic book publishing evangelist. Digital books have their problems, as an industry and as a product. Lots of readers love print books. Not everyone can afford an e-reader, or wants to spend that kind of money.

    What's happening in the book publishing industry is an upheaval. Traditional print book publishers are suddenly facing new technology in which they seem to feel they are in competition. Also, many indie book publishers and writers who want to self publish are turning to digital publishing and ebooks, and this draws plenty of ire from some of the print folks who keep saying over and over that self-published works are inferior to their print product (which is at least somewhat true).

    What everyone in this debate seems to forget is that change is inevitable. Electronic books are here to stay. They aren't going away. Whether or not they eventually, completely replace print books is sort of a silly question to ask. Because of course they will. Or nearly will. My guess will be print books will always be around, though eventually they might only be available as expensive collectibles. But I'm talking years, more likely decades, from now. Or maybe not. Who knows? No one does right now.

    The second thing everyone in this debate seems to forget is their business sense. The traditional book publishers need to stop fighting the digital revolution and should embrace it. Why? Because it they don't, they're only hurting their own bottom line. Print publishers are going to have to rework their business models over the next few years just to survive, let alone thrive, so they need to hop to it instead of just doing business as usual and hoping ebooks won't hurt their current sales too much.

    On the other front in this battle, independent publishers and self-published writers need to realize that it is often true their works taken as a collective whole are somewhat inferior, often not edited well, often without solid cover art and often just not as good to read. Of course there are plenty of folks in this camp who are turning out quality material, but that's not currently the standard. And many of these indie and self publishers need to stop acting so smug, as if they've got the print industry on the run and they're taking over. Digital lovers need to keep in mind the print industry can be used to promote and benefit their works, too. For example, what self-published writer wouldn't accept a contract from a major print publisher? Very few.

    To repeat, yes, I've oversimplified all of this. There are some print publishers who are making great strides toward a digital business operation, while there are also digital publishers who are finding a working relationship with their print counterparts. Too bad more publishers and editors and writers aren't doing the same.

    The future of book publishing is already here, so it's time we all started acting like grownups, got our business plans together and moved forward instead of bashing one another back and forth in blogs, magazine articles, etc. Only the smart will survive, not the smart asses.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    No. 23 - The Velveteen Rabbit

    The Velveteen Rabbitby Margery Williams

    Started: June 19
    Finished: June 19

    Notes: By some misfortune, I had never read this children's book. The wife told me today it was time I read this book. So I did. I am a fan of rabbits, after all, having had them as house pets for at least a dozen years now and "Watership Down" being one of my favorite novels of all time.

    Mini review: Just a lovely, lovely story. It seems as if there's going to be a sad ending, but all turns out as well as it possibly could in the end. A nice, little fantasy/fairy tale for children. Thanks to the wife for having me finally read it.

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Kindle formatting help available for online authors

    If you're a self-published author or an author, editor or publisher looking to add your works onto Amazon's Kindle book store, you will likely soon realize you've got a big job ahead of you. Simply uploading digital files for books onto Amazon's Digital Text Platform site is fairly easy, but making sure your book looks right isn't so easy.

    And I'm too lazy to go into the details to help you.

    Thank all that's holy there is someone who is willing to help. Writer Natasha Fondren is blogging an online series about formatting books for the Kindle. As of right now there are three parts to this series, but I'm sure more will be coming. Below are links directly to the first three sections of the series:

    Kindle Formatting for Novels I

    Kindle Formatting for Novels II

    Kindle Formatting for Novels III

    Again, more is likely to come, so stay tuned.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Taking Chances is What Fiction Writing is All About

    There’s the old saying that you need to learn to walk before you can run. This is definitely true in fiction writing. Before breaking the conventional rules of fiction plotting, characterization, even grammar and spelling, the beginning writer needs to learn the basics.

    But once those basics are down, it’s time to experiment, to have a little fun. If not, the writer can grow stale in their writing. Experimentation helps to stretch the mind and can help a fiction writer to grow as a writer.

    When this experimentation phase should begin is really up to the writer, but as mentioned, the writer should really know their basics before trying anything too drastic. Some might even suggest a writer never get too experimental, but really, the writer can do what he or she wants.

    Of course they might not ever sell any writings that seem too off the wall. Or the opposite could happen. Their experimental writings might take off like lightening, could possibly even start a new trend. Or not. Either way, taking chances with one’s fiction writing can be fun and educational.

    Writers who don’t write for money, who write for their own personal reasons, can obviously do as they please. Those of us who write for a living sometimes try to follow trends or to write for a particular audience in hopes of making a sale. Some might consider that selling out. Fine. Whatever. But a writer has to eat and feed his or her family. Besides, Shakespeare wrote for money, as did Mark Twain, Poe and even Tolstoy (though in this last example, Tolstoy was at times emotionally in turmoil about writing for money).

    Regardless of one’s reasons for writing, sooner or later the writer is probably going to enter an experimental phase, or possibly several experimental phases coming at different times during their writing career. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    If one cannot experiment with one’s writing, if one can not stretch their own personal and literary boundaries, what’s the point of writing? Yes, some of us write for money, but there are plenty of other ways to make money.

    All fiction writers, or nearly all fiction writers, write for exploration. Sometimes a writer is exploring his or her own mental and spiritual depths. Other times a writer explores possibilities within society, how certain changes could affect a society. There are all kinds of possibilities, all types of avenues to explore, and that’s what fiction writers do. They explore the impossible and sometimes the possible. They ask, “what if?”

    And if, as fiction writers, we cannot ask that one simple question, “what if?,” then we might as well close up our laptops, put away our pens and get a day job. Right?

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Will Ebooks Ever Overtake Print Books in Sales?

    Three years ago, Steve Haber, Sony's president of its digital reading division, predicted that within 10 years digital books would surpass print books in sales. According to a recent article in the Telegraph, Haber has changed his prediction to only five years.

    Whether he meant five years from now or five years from three years ago, I'm not sure, but I'm guessing he meant five years from now.

    That means today.

    In other words, by the year 2015 more books will be sold in digital form than in print form.

    That sounds amazing. It almost sounds science-fictionish. To the scoffers, it sounds absurd.

    But why not? Digital music poked around for about a decade, but then in a matter of a year or two it took off like crazy. You can hardly find CDs even in a Walmart nowadays, and don't even try to look for music cassettes except at a yard sale.

    Much the same has happened with movie. Hollywood tried to keep its hold on digital viewing through DVDs for about a decade, but over the last half dozen years movies have become more and more available online and in other electronic formats. Television is going the same route. It's even possible to imagine a day within a decade or so when cable television could be a thing of the past, replaced by websites where one can download their favorite shows or possibly wait through a brief buffering to watch the shows directly online. and YouTube are already leading the pack.

    So why not books, too?

    Sure, there are a number of hardcore readers who will always want a printed version of their favorite books, but those numbers are relatively small compared to a much larger, broader and more casual reading audience. And yes, plenty of folks can currently gripe about the prices of e-readers being too expensive, especially with Amazon's Kindle, the current e-reader leading the pack, selling for $259; but that $259 is cheaper than what the Kindle was going for a couple of years ago when it was first introduced, and eventually the prices of e-readers will only get cheaper and cheaper.

    Imagine an e-reader selling for $99. Then imagine being able to download your favorite author's brand new novel for $10 or possibly less. It could happen. And when it does, the digital reading market will take off even more than it already has.

    It's true not everyone will go out and buy an e-reader, but most consumers will purchase a computer if they don't already have one, and plenty of people are willing to read on their computer.

    The prices of ebooks are also a concern, what with publishers and Amazon and other online venues always seeming to argue over the costs of the ebooks and with many readers complaining about the prices. But eventually that will work itself out and the market will settle down. Eventually publishers and digital distributors will stumble upon a model that pleases the readers while also making them money.

    It's going to happen.

    When? I won't make a prediction. But Steve Haber's prediction doesn't sound too far fetched to me.

    Sunday, June 06, 2010

    Please Hollywood, Don't Remake Jaws

    A few months ago, the website Cinema Blend announced that Universal Studios is planning on remaking the classic horror-thriller movie Jaws, which originally came out in 1975 and was directed by Steven Spielberg. The Cinema Blend article went on to specify this Jaws remake would be released in 3-D, and that one of the stars of the movie would be no other than Tracy Morgan, he of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame, to portray the Matt Hooper character (played in the original by Richard Dreyfuss).

    I don't know if any of this is true. There's probably at least a kernel of truth to it.

    But what I do know is true for me is that I hope, desperately hope, none of it's true.

    Some things are sacrosanct, even for Hollywood. No one has dared to remake Gone With the Wind, or Casablanca. No one has to try to remake even Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, at least not yet. There's a reason such movies haven't been remade. They shouldn't be. They were perfect for what they were when they came out in the theaters.

    For me, Jaws is such a movie. It is beyond being just a horror movie, or being a thriller about a shark. It's a downright spiritual movie. What, you don't think there's anything to Jaws beyond a shark eating a bunch of people? Well, you're wrong. Jaws is a tale with many themes, one of my favorite from the film being the relationships of men towards one another, especially men of different backgrounds from different times and different cultures (though admittedly all American, white males in the original film). Also, here is a tale of man having to deal with more than his own ego, an ego that has run up against something that is beyond himself, while also having to tackle the machismo that comes of three men out hunting. Then there's the family relationships, of the mother and children left behind as the father goes out to hunt a beast most deadly.

    And for me, the shark in Jaws was never just a shark. It was a spiritual thing, though one of evil. A demon, perhaps. There are hints of this throughout the film, especially during the hunting scenes. This Great White shark is not only larger than any ever seen before, but it is also stronger and smarter. It has a personality, and it seems to have a sense of vengeance and/or retribution about it.

    Now, about Tracy Morgan. I like Mr. Morgan's acting. He's a funny guy. I love seeing him on television and in movies. But he's a comedian, and I don't want to see such a good dramatic film as Jaws ruined by throwing in some corny one-liners.

    And I won't even go into the 3-D idea other than to say it's awful. I'm sorry, but even with today's technology, 3-D isn't all it's cracked up to be. It looks silly.

    There. I've said my pieces. Please don't remake Jaws, Hollywood. Isn't there another slasher flick from the '80s you could rip off?

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Win a book edited by John Scalzi

    On June 8 Tor will be releasing Metatropolis, a collection of short stories edited by no other than author John Scalzi. The gist of this collection are tales of a future without oil. In honor of this upcoming book, Scalzi and the other writers involved with Metatropolis are having contests.

    Which means you have a chance to win this new book. Actually, you have five chances, one chance at five different websites. If you'd like to take part in these contests, check out the sites for:
    John Scalzi
    Jay Lake
    Tobias Buckell
    Elizabeth Bear
    Karl Schroeder

    Each contest is different, so have fun with it. Keep in mind the contests end at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on June 7, so get to it.

    The contest at Scalzi's site includes writing up to three haiku about a future with no oil or nearly without oil. Below are my submissions to Scalzi's blog.

    We worship the sun
    Wind drives our lingering souls
    Children of fossils

    Burning dinosaurs
    Forgotten baptism of oil
    Engines thirst for god

    Cannons fall silent
    Tanks roll the deserts no more
    Still, we pray for rain

    Don't be fooled, writers DO compete against one another

    There are two types of fiction writers. There's the kind who gets along with other writers, which is the most common of writers among writers. Then there's the writer who doesn't get along with other writers, and usually he or she is the kind of person who doesn't get along with anyone.

    In a fair world, one might argue the writer who doesn't get along with anyone will not have a career as a writer. In many cases, that is the truth. But not always. There are a number of professional fiction authors, none of whom I'll name, who have a good career despite the fact they can be a perfect pain to the rest of us. Sometimes those writers have "made it" because they're just that good, they truly are gifted. Others had a stroke of luck at some point or other. But really that's the truth for all writers.

    Some of us are good. Others are lucky. Most of us are a mix of the two, and being hard working doesn't hurt either.

    But today I'm going to focus on the writers who tend to get along with everyone.

    Quite often writers join or form a sort of family of writers. Sometimes writers become buddies with other writers or editors or publishers they've met at conventions. Other times writers are pals with folks they've befriended online in one venue or another. Or maybe a writer becomes chummy with others in his or her's local reading group.

    All too often authors suggest all writers are one big, happy family and none of us are competing against one another.

    Don't you believe it.

    Sure, there are potentially millions upon millions of potential fiction readers out there, and theoretically it's just as likely one of those readers will pick up one of your books as it is they'll pick up something I've written. But that's not reality.

    The reality is that we writers and authors and novelists, whatever you want to call us, are in competition for readers. While there might be millions of readers available, they can only read so much. And with every writer hoping to "make it," and considering just how difficult it is to "make it," competition becomes a natural.

    The Internet also has given way to this impression of a lack of real competition by the very factor the Internet seems so huge and open. For readers, it's the most gigantic library or book store of all time. Everything is right there at our fingertips for reading, or buying and then reading. With so much available and in a book store that's virtually limitless, what need is there for competition?

    Lots. Tons. I have to make a living as a writer. So do many other people. While the gigantic book store might seem limitless, the pocket books of potential buyers is not limitless. Nor is their amount of reading time.

    I'm not suggesting authors must be antagonistic towards one another. A big explosive scene in the public eye (aka the World Wide Web) will draw in some potential readers early on, but in the long run it's going to drive them away. Why? Because everyone is going to remember how much of an ass a particular author was, and they'll be more likely to avoid his or her work in the future, especially after they make sure to tell all their online buddies about how big an ass that certain author was.

    The best things a writer can do to compete with others writers is to write the best story they possibly can, then to promote it as best as possible. And keep in mind the unfortunate truth that many readers' decisions upon which novel or short story to pick up next are based upon factors having nothing to do with the quality of a writer's work. Sometimes it's the cover artwork that draws in or turns off readers. Other times it's a blurb on the book itself, or a review. There are tons of factors, thus the appeal to self-publishing or self electronic publishing for many writers because it allows them to keep more control over their work.

    In the end, I want my readers. But I also want your readers. I won't begrudge you having your readers, and I'll hope your readers will stick with you if they also happen to pick up something I've written. But if I can outright steal some of your readers away, I'm not going to lose sleep over it.

    Just means you have to write better the next time. Which then means I'll have to write better the next time after that. And so on and so forth.

    Competition. It can make you a better writer.

    Or at least you'd better hope it will.