Celebrating Banned Books Week

Pile of books

This year, Banned Books Week lasts from Sunday, September 22nd through Saturday, September 28th. If you’ve read my blog, you know I support literacy and I do not condone banning, censoring, or burning books of any stripe. The list of banned books may surprise you, for they are oft-lauded tomes ranging from classic stories like Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet to genre tales like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

You can find a wealth of resources on the Banned Books Week website and through the American Library Association.

I’ll be reading!

    Mood: Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Want, want, want, want, want!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Does sitting on my bum count? Long work day.
    In My Ears: Traffic, caused by… Traffic.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: An Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demons. Title is misleading; it’s a scholarly tome about the witch trials that occurred up through the 18th century.
    Movie Last Viewed: Lilo and Stitch
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Serenity Crew, Wedding Planners Cortex Plus, and Shooting Fish
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels. Added an online writing workshop, too!


My “You Pick” Reading at CONvergence

On Saturday, July 6th, I will have a reading at 7:00pm during CONvergence. Will there be tears of blood? Sadly, my reading has to err on the hygenic side, so the answer to that is “No.”

However, I can do one better. You get to pick what I read. Here are the stories I’ll have on hand:

We Are Dust apocalyptic anthology

“The Button” – a Lovecraftian apocalyptic tale that fans voted me to write. It’s about a scientist who must make a terrifying choice as the end slithers ever closer.

The New Hero

“Fangs and Formaldehyde” – a vampire noir tale set in Las Vegas starring Atlas, an iconic character who helps other vampires. Somebody is hunting down other bloodstalkers. Who? And, more importantly… Why?

Don't Read This Book an anthology for Don't Rest Your Head

“Don’t Ignore Your Dead” – a very sad and sordid tale about one woman who is unable to let go of her guilt and get a good night’s sleep

OR…

???MYSTERY TALE???

An original story, un-named, never before been published… For your ears only…

Invisible Readers, Tricks of Perception, and Not Selling

The Tick Weapons Lab Avatar

The internet is a tricky place. To me, it’s very much like a sorcerer’s castle filled with echo chambers and mirrors like the kind you’d find in a Robert E. Howard novel. Those who live in the castle often forget that the vast majority of folks out there aren’t in that keep as often as they are, and they’re not conversing or interacting with them in the same way, either.

I see this every day. I’m online a lot for work-related purposes, but the effects of being online so much mean that I hear about the outrageous and the unusual often. (Rarely, if ever, do I see solutions. Solving problems is boring. Pointing them out is easier.) Truth be told, I would be considered a super-user. If you want to see depictions of what internet usage really looks like and how income is a factor, check out www.pewtrusts.org.

The perception that popularity sells books is dangerous because it’s not necessarily true. The other piece to that is money. Of those who know about you, which percentage of that are your readers. Of those readers, who is willing to spend money on your books?

Why is this important to remember? Writers don’t sell books. Writers write books. Writers can promote books, but unless you have a shopping cart set up on your own site? Retailers sell books. So your best chance of selling more books is either to a) write a better book b) write more books or c) market the books you do have hoping your efforts will have a direct impact. c) is madness. Marketing never ends. This is what people do for a full-time job. You need data, measurable actions, etc. You could drive yourself crazy and take precious time away from your writing.

When online stores do sell books, there is no guarantee yours will ever resonate with readers. This is fact. You cannot bank everything on the popularity you think you have, because you really don’t know what will take off, what won’t, how that will financially impact you, or how long your popularity will last. (Or, as I like to put it: the only thing writers have control over is the blank page.) Remember, too, there is a specific sales pattern that almost every retail site follows which always favors certain titles. I know we don’t want to think of our books and games as products, but in terms of sales, that’s what they are.

So what of your presence online? Those who are online every day paying attention to what you’re doing are the anomaly. From that subset, you may get some folks interacting with you, but you’ll also get readers who never do and still buy your books or games. Not everybody seeks out the creator and when they do, they don’t necessarily do it to converse with you or buy what you want them to. For example, I see a lot of “writing advice” websites out there. Does it help sell your fiction? Telling how the coffee is made (or, as an alternative how you make your coffee) and selling a unique brand of coffee are not the same thing. You could be known for one and not the other. You could sell one side of that coin, too, and not the other — or both.

Knowing how readers interact with us and when is only one part of this discussion. We also have to assume that we don’t really know those anonymous readers perusing our thoughts and websites and blogs. We don’t always know the “who.” Is that an agent? Publisher? Reader? If you are always negative, always pointing out the flaws, always critical: what does that have to do with what you do best? Your Art? Then, when folks do hear about you, it’s not when you’re at your best. Typically, links shared occur when that topic goes viral — which is an outlier and not indicative of people as individuals, but moreso when folks are upset.

Almost everything I do online is intentional based on how I’ve structured my business. When you see advice and whatnot on my website, it’s because I am sharing about what I do to get work and to build a solid, professional foundation. When I talk about process, like I have for Redwing’s Gambit, it’s to show how much I love writing and all the things I do to tell good stories. But, this is not the same thing as selling books. This is more to talk about who I am knowing that a reader may interact with my website now or at some point in the future. Social media is different. Twitter and Facebook are more personal, because they’re more ephemeral, but they are still me. I have good days and bad days but in between, social media is about me the writer, not me the book.

What I want to see more of, is the celebration of what we do as writers, our books, and each other. I don’t care if you’re self-published or not. Veteran or not. Why? Well, for an incredibly selfish reason. I believe everyone has a story to tell and that the world changes for the better when people read. I believe that literacy can only occur through great books, through fans passionate about what we’re writing, and through the excellent people in both aspects of the publishing industry I’m involved with. More of that. PLEASE! Because when we do this? And get folks excited about books? That puts the emphasis back on great storytelling and less so on internet popularity. The more readers there are, the more everybody — regardless of visibility — wins. In my mind, you cannot be online expecting to sell books without trying to attract readers. Forget who they are and how they interact with us, and you will either fall into the traps laid by faulty perceptions or completely ignore why you have a presence online in the first place. I don’t care if you believe you’re online for yourself or not; you are putting a piece of yourself into a new medium and your words don’t fall into the abyss, regardless of who’s reading them or not.

So, to sum up: you the person is not you the book. Stop the hard sell. It doesn’t work. You wrote the book. What next? Write another one. Find readers. How? By writing. Not selling. By engaging. Not selling. By making smart decisions with the folks you choose to publish and sell your books. Stop trying so hard! STOP GIVING AWAY ALL YOUR RIGHTS AND UNDERCUTTING WHAT YOU’RE WORTH. Be awesome. Be yourself. BE REASONABLE. Don’t worry about other writers “surpassing” you, because the success you perceive doesn’t impact what’s on YOUR screen. Congratulate them. Write the book you want to read. Read more. Don’t sell. Let the salespeople sell. You need to write the damn book.

And, finally…

You do not have to make your own cool, you are your own cool. Stop worrying about what anyone else thinks and keep writing — change the world one reader at a time. STOP BEING AFRAID. If you truly, deep down, want to write about something in particular and it’s right for you, the way will open. (It has for me.)

Now let all the b.s. from the day/week/month/year go and tell me a good story, dammit! Thrill me and chill me. Give me your fiction and your non-fiction. Say something about the folks whose work was so amazing it touched you. This is what we writers do. We give our readers an experience. Let’s give them everything we’ve got.

Write like your life depends on it — I do!

.

Comics, Female Writers, and Change

I read comics. Part of the reason why I do, is because I like reading them. The other reason why I do, is because I feel it’s my job as a writer to explore as many written mediums as possible. The juxtaposition of text and artwork, combined with using “only” the necessary words to tell a story, is a skill unto itself. Comic script writing, like any other form, is in its own category and is not mastered by everyone. For the most part, my storytelling (and reading) tastes run dark, but not gory, or humorous. Give me a hero (iconic or not) who changes as a result of what happens and you’ll have a fan for life. Hmm… Maybe that’s why I prefer Batman to Superman. *evil grin* Although… Hrmmm…

I wrote about the trouble with female superheroes a while back, and then recommended a character who’d be great for a stand-alone superheroine movie or two. And then I came across this article about female comic characters in pants and read quite a bit about the re-launch of DC’s line. Here’s an article about Catwoman’s boobs and another where DC pledges to hire more women writers.

You get the picture.

The thing is, I don’t feel any comic book company sets out to be malicious or put out a crappy product for its readers. I do, however, feel that comic books have a high cost of production and that affects the end result. On one comic, a penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, writer, and editor could be listed in the credits. Unless (and this has happened) an artist has taken on multiple roles by themselves. When DC announced that they’d be re-launching all fifty-two lines at the same time? I thought it was aggressive on their part from a creative aspect. That’s not just fifty-two comics, that’s fifty-two separate teams of people. While some of those teammates may overlap, from DC’s perspective they’re looking at deadlines and going toward people with experience.

Hence, the current predicament in comics lacking female writers, if a company hires based on experience. From the people I’ve talked to? That’s usually the case.

What I’ve found, is that because comics are so heavily focused on artists, writers like myself who have an idea for a comic need to find an artist to do a spec issue. To do that, I’d have to go to an artist and say: “Hey, I’ve got this great story. Would you do X amount of panels for free? No guarantee the publisher will pick up the idea, unfortunately.”

So, step one? I’d have to ask an artist to work for free. I’m to the point in my career where I won’t do that. I’m sorry, but in my experiences if you want something done right? You should pay for it. And again, there’s also the pencilling/inking/coloring/lettering that needs to be done. So it’s not just one job, it’s five. Let’s see… Well, step two requires me to make sure I know how to write a comic book script. There’s books on the subject, so I’d have to teach myself on that, unless I take a class or something.

Next, I’d have to get the spec comic printed. Again, it would be an investment specifically designed to get “that” comic published. I’m not talking about a portfolio of work that isn’t relevant to what I’m selling. I’m specifically talking about a single issue that’s catered to what that company publishes.

To get an existing comic title, I’d need to be a) a huge fan of that particular comic and b) know someone at the company. It is very rare for a writer to get hired off of a website. Most comic book publishers have submission guidelines. Since we’re talking about DC, here’s a link to theirs: DC Comics Submission Guidelines. It says, and I quote: “At this time, DC Comics does not accept unsolicited artwork or writing submissions.” They do have a Talent Search program, but that is specifically for artists. Not writers.

Writers, unfortunately, are a dime a dozen in the comics industry. When you start talking media/tie-in properties like Superman, etc. in this economy? You’re also talking about why publishers are leaning toward established writers, or ones that have a celebrity/brand attached to their name. They do this because from a business perspective, Steven King writing a comic will sell more copies than Monica Valentinelli writing a comic, because Steven King has sold millions of books.

Getting back to the whole writing thing. So, as I (hopefully) expressed there’s all these business concerns on the back end before a comic book publisher gets to the story part. As a reader, that’s where I see the disconnect coming into play. New forms of media, like animated television series and films, have encouraged a broader spectrum of fans. I’m not a hundred percent sure the publishers know what to do with that information.

My path to reading comics was through movies. I had friends (mostly male) that read comics, but it wasn’t until I saw some of the film adaptations and webcomics that I got excited about reading print comics/trades. The DC animated full-length features are fantastic! What puzzled me, though, is that Green Lantern’s animated origin story is wholly different from the film. When I was watching the live action version, I noticed the lack of/subdued presence of the female characters and female Green Lanterns. If anything, I think the live action films should take a page from way animated films are told.

Part of what turned me off from comics in my past was the way I was treated when I walked into a comic book store. (Same goes for video game stores, sadly.) Until I got to know the people working there, I was the chick buying comics for her boyfriend, not for myself. With the internet? And digital? I don’t have to worry about that. What I do have to worry is whether or not a comic is device agnostic. (Many are not. See my frustration with iPhone comics.)

Anyway, I recognized some names from other works and started to explore comics further. I strayed toward non-humanoid stories because I was pretty disappointed with how women (boob physics) were handled. And that sticks, to this day. Hellboy is my favorite because the artistic style supports the over-arcing story. I have a female detective story on the backburner that is so unlike anything that’s out there, that will probably remain in obscurity, because it’s so unlike anything that’s out there. A little bit of the ouroborus, to be sure.

I have no idea what the solution is to infusing more female writers into the industry. (Same goes for people of color or gay/bi characters.) I have a lot of respect for writers like Gail Simone and Barbara Kesel who’ve worked their asses off to get where they are, but I’d like the path to be easier for new writers. If change happens, I feel it has to be a conscious, carefully-planned decision that goes beyond the team working on a single issue. I know smaller press companies like Top Cow Productions have made those choices on signature characters like Witchblade, and have had success with that. I have every confidence that the same can happen at DC and other publishers, too.

For some good news and other names of women penning comics, check out the Womanthology project on Kickstarter.

What about you? Do you agree? Disagree? Think I’m off-base here?

Give a Book This Halloween! I’ll Be Participating in All Hallows Read

All Hallows ReadMany of you know that I am an advocate for all things reading. As a writer, avid reader, and fan of TOO many authors to count any program that promotes literacy is awesome in my book.

This time, author extraordinaire Neil Gaiman posted an idea about giving a scary book to someone on Halloween. Dubbed All Hallows Read, terrify your fellow trick-or-treaters with a haunting tale.

In that spirit, I will have a post that will go live on Halloween reminding people about this event. I can offer you a list of titles I’ve written to pick from — including the new ghost hunting anthology dubbed HAUNTED: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror — or you can get a gift certificate from DriveThruHorror.com. It’s your choice! All you have to do is this:

1) Be one of the first to comment on my Halloween blog post and
2) Be willing to do the same for someone else.

You don’t have to buy a book or a gift certificate for someone like I am. It can be a library book or something out of your own collection, too. And yes, this is the honor system. My spies aren’t everywhere. Yet.

That’s it. Easy, eh? Together, I’m pretty sure we can scare the world. Let’s give this TERRORific cause our best shot.

Otherwise, I’ll continue to regale you with bad, bad puns and dry sarcasm.

Happy Haunting Reading!

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