Sunday, May 26, 2013

Interview and feature at Fantasy Books List

An interview with me with the Fantasy Books List site is now available, in which I ramble out a few answers to some solid questions. Want to see how scatterbrained one fantasy writer is? Check out the interview!

Also, my novel City of Rogues is featured at the site for the day.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Epic fantasy multi-author Ebook sale party

If you like epic fantasy e-books, this one is for you. Initially to help celebrate author Vera Nazarian's birthday, Vera and a number of other epic fantasy authors got together this not-so-little sale. Dozens of authors are taking part, including myself, and dozens of epic fantasy e-books are on sale. My novel Ghosts of the Asylum is on sale for $2.99! There are plenty of e-books available, so check them out. I'm sure you'll find something you'll like.

Check out the sale here!

Friday, May 24, 2013

My readers don't owe me

Let me be clear: I'm not a fanboy. Of anything. Maybe I was when I was young, a kid, a teen, maybe in my twenties, but not now. There are particular movies, games, comics, books, musicians, etc., that I enjoy, some more than others. But there are none I cannot live without, and there are none that are perfect, though there's nothing wrong with that because it's often the imperfections that make me love a piece of art (some blues guitar comes to mind).

But ... I don't need all that stuff.

Lose everything ... lose all those DVDs and CDs and books and whatever else you've got saved up and collected ... lose your wifi and passwords and wireless ... and you'll learn real fast that yes, you can live without those things, too.

We don't need them.

Oh, sometimes we think we do. And some of us absolutely believe we do. That stuff is art, after all. It speaks to us, speaks to our souls.

Maybe. But it's also still a collection of stuff, whether in physical or digital formats. It's still most likely to be trashed or passed off to someone who doesn't care nearly as much once we are gone.

Let me ask a question: Does being able to listen to a new favorite song at any time you want make you happy? Try living without your iPod or iPad or even a freakin' Walkman for a month. Oh, there'll be moments when you'll think about a song, but I guarantee you will get by. You might listen to the car radio more often. Yeah, the old AM and FM. But I think you'll get by. I think you'll still be relatively happy, even if every single one of your immediate wants aren't being met. You learn to live. That's just how it is.

Music and books and art in all forms, all of that stuff can be important, but if it truly speaks to your soul, if you believe it truly is a part of yourself or makes you part of who you are, wouldn't it carry with you? Wouldn't it stay in your mind, pop in from time to time at the least?

Even if it's only of entertainment value, wouldn't you recall all the really good scenes? The really cool characters? The best lines?

Readers and viewers and fans and the like, they spend a lot of money on their art and their entertainment. They don't have to. It's not like a good book is going to fill their belly or put their kids through school or pay the rent or get rid of their wife's breast cancer. A good book might make you feel better about all those things, and about the rest of life, but generally speaking, it's not going to make those things go away. It'll maybe just make life a little more tolerable for a few minutes or hours every day.

But if it weren't there, there's still survival.

And there's always something else. The next book, or movie, or album, or what have you.

Most people who spend money on art have to work for a living, and even those who don't work, many of them do not do so by their own volition. Consumers of art and entertainment have choices to make when spending their money on that art and entertainment, and I appreciate when they spend their money, and their time, on my own writings.

I don't claim to be a great writer, even a good writer. I think I'm a decent writer, and I think I show signs of improving from time to time. As a writer, I tend to try a lot of experimentation, not all of which pays off (financially or artistically), but I'm enjoying it.

I tend to approach my writing as some people do spirituality. I don't know all the answers, but I enjoy asking the questions. I enjoy delving into the human psyche, into our spiritual and mental selves, even the possibility that those parts of us might not exist from some viewpoints.

Generally I write for myself, figuring I can't be that different from some sections of humanity, that at least some others must think and feel in similar patterns as myself. I figure those people are or will be or can be my readers.

Though I am my first reader, I always write hoping it will touch someone else. Rarely do I write merely to entertain, though I try not to get so deep that my work becomes boring. I want people to question and to wonder, and to wander.

Yet I realize readers don't have to come to me for those things.

My readers don't owe me anything.

I just hope I can pay them back a little bit.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 26 -- Pathfinder Core Rulebook

by Paizo Publishing

Started: May 16
Finished: May 19

Notes: It's been a long, long while since I've done any tabletop gaming, though it is one of my favorite hobbies. Since I have played, this Pathfinder game has become quite popular as a continuation of D&D version 3.5. As I'm not only familiar with D&D 3.5, but it's also my favorite version of the D&D game, I thought I should check out Pathfinder. I've looked a little into D&D version 4, and honestly didn't care for what I saw, feeling the rules changes got too far away from the core concepts of the game. At least Pathfinder is there for us old fogies who like the older system. Heck, I miss gaming so much, maybe I'll even try to scrounge up a game somewhere. From a writing standpoint, one of the things I love about gaming is that it allows me to try out characters and plot ideas, to see if they will work and/or to flesh them out before I start writing.

Mini review: The book read well, though I felt it was written somewhat for younger readers (teens and 20-somethings), not that there's anything wrong with that; I just felt "talked down to" a little, but then I've been playing tabletop RPGs off and on for 30 years now and am pretty familiar with the "genre." This is basically a rehash of the D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide, so there wasn't a lot of new material here for me, making it not the most exciting of reads. Still, this book is important to gamers for two reasons: 1.) The D&D 3.5 DMG is no longer in print, so if you need or want a new copy, this is the easiest and possibly best way to get one. 2.) There are enough minor rules changes here to generally improve the game somewhat.

Next 2 covers for print projects

These are about finished, though there is still some tinkering to be done.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 25 -- The Once and Future King

by T.H. White

Started: May 9
Finished: June 8

Notes: I have put off reading this book all my life for a very simple reason, one I'm not really wanting to admit since I'm a fantasy writer. But the truth is, I'm not a big fan of the Arthurian mythos. Okay, there, I said it. My reasoning? I just find all of the characters to be so weak and wishy washy. One stupid decision after another, after another. I don't mind flawed characters, but total imbeciles who continue to do stupid things over and over again? In all fairness, I'm sure I've just not been exposed to some of the stronger tales of Camelot, which perhaps this novel is, most of my exposure having been from Medieval literature, Disney, and the early '80s movie Excalibur. Oh, and Monty Python, though I love that version. I finally decided to read this story when I ran across this old paperback in a used book store, the cover being for the movie Camelot. Maybe my mind will be changed.

Mini review: Took me a lot longer to read that one that I'd expected, mainly because it was a while before I could get into this one. My feelings on this book vary depending upon which part of the book. Initially this book was four novellas, and my enjoyment of each of these novellas varied.

The first novella is titled "The Sword in the Stone" and should be familiar to most who know of King Arthur. It is basically the tale of Arthur's education before Merlin and under Merlin, and then Arthur's eventually becoming king by pulling Excalibur from a stone. This section of the book was okay, but nothing spectacular. It was mildly interesting to me, comparing it to other origin tales of Arthur with which I am familiar. The Merlin character here was pretty likable, and Arthur grew on me some, but over all I still didn't care much for the characters.

The second novella is "The Queen of Air and Darkness," and this was by far my least favorite portion of the book. It drags on and on, jumping from one little, seemingly unimportant scene to the next. Most of the story here concerns the four boys who are part of the northern Orkney clan, a group that will give Arthur troubles throughout his kingship. Very little that happened here seemed important to me while reading it. However, there were a few scenes that turned out to be heavy foreshadowing of later events, and this was kind of nice in a poetic, literary fashion. Of the truly important events in this novella, the events that pushed the story forward, they could have been written in two pages instead of 150. Really.

The third novella was my favorite, "The Ill-Made Knight." I did not fall in love with this book until I got to this section, which deals with the life of Lancelot and the search for the Holy Grail. It was at this point that the author became quite genuine, in my estimation, with his thoughts and studies on religion and spirituality. Lancelot becomes a truly tortured figure, tortured spiritually, and eventually so does Arthur. It was here that I truly began to understand and have empathy for some of the characters, though I will say Queen Guenevere was shown often in a negative light, though she does redeem herself some in the fourth novella. Some of the writing in "The Ill-Made Knight" is White's strongest and best, and some of the scenes are enough to nearly bring one to tears.

The fourth novella is "The Candle in the Wind." It focuses upon the betrayal of Lancelot and Guenevere, the war between Lancelot and Arthur (along with Gawain), and eventually the war of Arthur (sort of with Lancelot) against Mordred, Arthur's bastard son. Some of the writing here is as good as that of the third novella, but the writer also tends to become more philosophical here, in a number of pages focusing upon Arthur's thoughts toward the end of his reign. This part of the book was interesting to me, but I did not enjoy it as much as "The Ill-Made Knight," nor did I dislike it as much as I did the earlier portions of the book.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Yes, I have a pen name

No, I won't tell you what it is.

I've been asked several times about this lately, so this is why I'm posting about it here, though I had thought I'd mentioned on this blog at least a few times before. The fact I have a pen name in and of itself is not a secret, but the actual name is.

For the most part, my pen name writes in the same genres as I do, fantasy and horror.

Why do I have a pen name?

A few reasons, most of them somewhat embarrassing to me.

For one thing, some of the material is, to be honest, not my best work. Some of it is pretty old, going back 20 years. Some of it is pretty juvenile, in my opinion. And I don't want that work associated with my public name as a writer. If this material is so bad, why publish it at all? Well, I hadn't ever planned to, but then I saw a year or so back on his blog that Dean Wesley Smith suggested publishing material that wasn't necessarily one's best, but to do so under a pen name. So that got me thinking, and after thinking a while, I went ahead and published the stuff. It doesn't bring in nearly as many sales as my "name" material, but every sale helps.

Second, some of the material leans toward either the experimental or the potentially controversial. Frankly, I want the freedom to be able to explore whatever I want with my writing, and I don't want the headaches of hearing from every nut job with an axe to grind. No, I don't write erotica, at least not yet, and if I did, I'd probably use yet another pen name. And no, I don't generally write political related material.

As I said, my pen name mainly consists of fantasy and horror material. Within those genres, sometimes the stories and themes can go in directions not everyone appreciates or even approves of.

To repeat: No, I won't tell you what my pen name is.

But I'll give you this ... if you guess, and guess correctly, I'll fess up. But only to you, and only in private. And if you give away my secret, my pen name will do awful things to you in his next novel. I mean truly awful things. Like with bananas and barbed wire and stuff.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 24 -- Pushed Too Far

by Ann Voss Peterson

Started: May 6
Finished: May 9

Notes: After recently reading some Puzo, I'm still kind of in the mood for some darker fiction, but not quite horror. This police procedural novel is about a notorious bad man who is released from prison when one of his supposed victims turns years later, and the revenge this bad man plans against the small town that condemned him. The protagonist is the small-town sheriff. Sounds interesting to me, and plenty of others (including Joe Konrath) have spoken highly of Ann Voss Peterson.

Mini review: This author can write. Pretty tight plotting with sympathetic characters. A little action, a little romance, a few spills, a few chills. For those concerned with such things, there is no overt gore here, but there are definitely some "off screen" things mentioned that are quite grotesque. Nice thriller read for a few days. Nothing too deep, just some ass-kicking fun. I had a good chuckle when one of Konrath's more iconic characters made a brief appearance.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Mario Puzo quote from 'The Godfather'

"I have no intention of placing my fate in the hands of men whose only qualification is that they managed to con a block of people to vote for them." -- Mario Puzo, The Godfather

Monday, May 06, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 23 -- The Godfather

by Mario Puzo

Started: April 29
Finished: May 6

Notes: I just finished reading Puzo's Fools Die, which was an astonishing read, and I'm not ready yet to give up on this author. So, I'm turning back to one of the classics, the novel he is most likely to be remembered for. I've read this novel before, and I'm a huge fan of the movies (at least the first two movies ... the third one having its moments but lacking in comparison to the earlier films). From what I recall, this novel and the first movie (really also the second movie to some extent) follow pretty much the same plot, but there were some minor differences which I felt made the novel darker even than the films. But it's been a couple of decades since I read this one, and now I'll see if my memory serves correctly.

Mini review: Truly excellent novel. I think I still prefer the writing style of Fools Die to some extent, but the plotting here is much stronger. As for characters, Puzo is always "on." His characters are great, no matter the novel. Fans of the movies should read this, for sure. As for my memory, in some ways the movies are darker, but I still feel the novel is darker in other lights; Kay's reactions to Michael's world are stronger and less accepting in the movies, making the first film somewhat darker, but I believe the novel delves into the darkest sides of the mafioso characters themselves.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Indie authors' expectations for advertising and marketing

I read through a lot of different online boards concerning fiction writing, publishing, and indie authors. I'm not even a member at some of these sites, and at others I rarely post, frankly because I'm tired of all the I-know-everything-and-my-way-is-the-only-way-to-success-and-if-you-don't-believe-every-word-I-say-you're-an-idiot idiots. I simply don't have time for people who feel the need to be overly pushy, who don't understand that the way they frame their arguments often can be as important as the arguments themselves.

Anyway, one topic I see coming up quite often, sometimes even daily, is advertising and marketing for indie authors. I've read about all the different approaches. I've seen the stats various authors have presented, which sites worked for them and which didn't. And I've followed the successes and failures of more than a few indie authors who have spent a fair amount of money on marketing and/or advertising. As far as I can tell, most indie writers are breaking even, more or less. Oh, a year ago I might have read about some indie selling thousands after a major promotion, but I'm not seeing that nowadays, not in the last few months or so.

I've spent a little money myself, just a little, on marketing, and I've not found any major success with it.

Also, I pretty much only tweet a few times a month about what I'm reading, or when I having something new available. Facebook I use more for social interaction, though I do announce when I have something new to read.

What it comes down to is, for me, is the advice of an old pro, Dean Wesley Smith, who says, "Write the next book."

Every time I put out a new book or e-book, my sales go up. My sales tend to reach a plateau of sorts and then to settle in. At least until Amazon or Google or somebody makes a major change in algorithms or something similar, and then I might have some work to do, or maybe not.

I'm not suggesting this will work for every indie writer, or those who are hybrids, part indie and part traditional. For some it might work, for others, maybe not.

But I guess I just don't see the benefits to all the effort and money being spent on advertising and marketing for indie authors. Not now. Maybe a year or two ago.

I'm sure I've missed some, but I no longer hear or read about major success stories because of advertising and marketing. Oh, I've read about plenty of sales increases after an advertising and/or marketing campaign, but then a month or so later the sales numbers seem to drop back down to where they were.

Where's the benefit in that? Okay, one great month of sales. Yippee! Go splurge when the money comes in. Then you're back to square one.

It's my impression too many indie authors, even some of the more serious ones who make their living as indies, are focusing upon instant gratification and not the long-term game. To some extent, this can be expected. It's human. But it's also a lousy way to run a business. Hell, just look at the world economy of the last dozen years, because it's all been "instant money, instant money" and never a long-term approach, and you can see where that has taken us.

There's nothing wrong with advertising and marketing, but in my opinion it should be part of a long approach, not a oh-boy-we're-going-to-be-the-next-big-thing approach. Because it doesn't seem to be working.

And why isn't it working? Because the indies are mostly in the e-book market, which is finally, slowly beginning to mature. Things are working their way out, and not always for the benefit of the individual authors.

The e-book market is still relatively new, and still faces a lot of changes over the coming decade, but one or two months of great sales doesn't mean an indie author will suddenly have a career. No, what they'll have is a house payment or two, or maybe a good week in Vegas.

I don't need a good week in Vegas. I need a retirement plan.

As an aside, Dean Wesley Smith also says not to waste time blogging, which is a general rule I'm obviously not following, but I blog more for myself than I do for others (though I'm glad to hear from anyone), to help me keep track of various things and to help me work out some thoughts of my own.