Archive for the ‘For my Readers’ Category

This post continues my adventures in Self-Promotion. If you would like to read the first post on the subject, start here.

In case you were wondering, yes. I carry business cards. Some people may ask why, since I don’t provide a service or traditional product where I should need to be contacted directly. “Why not just do book signings?” I’ve been asked. Well, for one, I don’t have physical books on hand to do such. I’ve been researching print-on-demand through companies like Createspace or Lightningsource, but even then, carrying a ton of books around just to sign and hand out or sell isn’t feasible. What is? A business card.

Business cards are tiny. They’re just a sliver of card, they fit easily into a wallet or pocket. I can carry dozens of them at one time, and they don’t weigh me down.

Business cards make any encounter a potential for networking and sales. Never underestimate the power of networking–the person with whom you speak may not read your brand of fiction (or any fiction at all) but know someone who does. They could pass them along.

Business cards can make a sale even when you’re not around. I leave mine on community bulletin boards at work, at the grocery stores, with checks when I dine out.

Business cards can contain all the necessary information in a tiny package. While the front of the card has all the pretty colors and my brand (you know: “I’m In Your Universe, Exposing Your Brain.”), including a personal e-mail address and the address of my “publisher” Overlord M Press, the back is the real workhorse. It has the QR codes for Overlord M Press, and my author pages on Amazon and Smashwords.

Business cards are endlessly customizable. Use a little Google-fu and you can find hundreds of millions of places to get them. I used my own images (although I wasn’t terribly happy with the result, as the dark blue dropped out of the final printing) but overall they came out as I wanted them.

Business cards are cheap. They’re getting less and less expensive as more companies strive to print up a batch of quality-cardstock in order to secure your commerce for their other products.

What other products, you say? Well, T-shirts for one. I had one printed up that has my book cover on front and the aforementioned QR codes on the back. (This may not be an option if you’re paranoid about people following you with your camera, trying to scan the code. You are warned.) For me, my goal is to have a t-shirt for each of my books and novels and to choose the shirt to fit the venue. For example, if my stories about the American Revolution, In the Light of Liberty, were complete and published, I would make a shirt and wear it to the Gunmaker’s Fair I will be attending this weekend. Talk about networking without saying a word!

Don’t overlook the little powerhouse of the business card. You really can make it work for you if you are marketing on a budget.

 

If you’ve never heard of the Navy SEALs, you’re either not from America or very likely call that slab of limestone over your head “Home Sweet Home”. I’m not going to explain who they are here, but what I will say is that the perception of them as door-kickers extraordinaire is pervasive. Their entire lives overseas consist of these missions where they make terrorists and pirates snack on lead, and back in the States they party like a bunch of demons, right?

While that last bit about them partying is at least semi-factual, the truth is that they train hard and they spend a lot of time doing all the not-so-“glamorous” aspects of SEAL/Navy life. Physical Training. Duty. Watches. Briefing. Debriefing. Travel. Paperwork. LOTS of paperwork. The “hardcore” parts of the life, sold in the movies and novels, can be boiled down to a nugget in a big barrel of plain ol’ rock. (But they’re still the sexiest men ever, bar none.)(I’m going to get slammed with complaints that I ratted them out as not having a 24-7 highspeed lifestyle, I bet. I know just enough about Navy life to be dangerous, having served as a sailor myself. I just hope they stopped reading at the compliment above, which is not hollow. They’re very hot.)

What does this have to do with self-promotion, you wonder?

Not that I would ever equivocate the life and challenges of someone who trained and attained such an honor as becoming a Navy SEAL to someone who runs their own business, but think for a moment when you hear someone say “I want to be my own boss.” The thoughts, if not spoken, run along the lines of “I don’t have to work for anyone else and I can take time off and go places I want to visit and do things I want to do.” They see the glamorous side without taking into account any of the droll day-to-day activities necessary to reach that goal of working for oneself. What they really want is to be independently wealthy without all the hard work. (Not that I would ever have a problem with being independently wealthy, of course! Isn’t that the plan?)

I have a friend who runs his own business and has been doing so successfully for a very long time. But–huge “but”–it took him 20+ years to get there, and he works insanely long hours. He takes days off–sort of. Often, when I worked with him, we’d be up in the wee-est hours of the morning and would be out on the road or doing the labor of the job (yes, he got his hands very dirty along with his “wrecking crew”) and wouldn’t see a bed until close to midnight. And I thought boot camp hours were tough!

All that is just to explain that working for oneself, like I would love to do as a writer, is a goal that I am trying to achieve and I spend a lot of my time not just writing but by doing all of the rest of the work a publisher would do if I had gone the brick & mortar route. I get to do my own self-promotion, and for the next couple of blogs I am going to discuss the different methods I’ve been trying to get My Brand out there. Here are a few methods I will discuss:

Magazine Submissions

Business Cards

FanFiction (but probably not in the way you’re thinking)

P.S. I’ve been working on a project that I had been calling Dross, but has now come to be known as Ink & Sigil. Barring any emergencies, the novel, a steampunk fantasy, will be out before the end of the year.

squirrel

Squirrels are nifty creatures, but lately, they’ve been very distracting. My computer sits on a desk not too far from the window. This winter, I found myself staring out of the window when I should have been writing. I started seeing birds, and watching the birds (nature’s equivalent of “shiny things”) and the next thing I know, I’m concentrating on how to attract more birds instead of how to get back to my writing.

So when I put the seeds out, instead of just getting the birds*, I get…

You guessed it. Squirrels.

Now, I’ve lived in this area on/off for two decades, and have been back here in this same location for about three years. I have seen the “yard rats” do all sorts of amazing things, like team up to feed one another out of one of those so-called “squirrel-proof” feeders. So, intelligent, but they all looked alike to me. Until this winter.

This winter, I saw one of them, a scrappy fellow whose left shoulder had been ripped open, presumably by another squirrel. The wound looked pretty ugly and I didn’t think he was going to make it, seeing that he only had three legs to use, but that little sucker pulled through. He’s sporting some weird fur over the wound area, but he’s scrappy as ever.

Soon after I noticed him (I call him Paul, after my American Revolutionary Hero, Paul Revere), I noticed another smaller, sleeker male come along. I named him Sam (after Samuel Adams) and watched him and Paul take turns fighting one another.

Then another came along, only this one looked different from the other two. (Yes, you read that right–I started noticing the physical differences of these squirrels.) And this one presented itself butt-first at my window. I had a ‘she’ so I named her Rachel (after Rachel Revere). This one, well, she started coming to my window too, and her belly made it clear enough that she was a momma. I’ve even seen her dancing at the bird-feeder pole…

Not satisfied with just watching them, I decided to start feeding them, too. So I put out peanuts for them. They liked them enough, but when I accidentally picked up some “raw” peanuts at the grocery store, the little punks turned them down. They dropped them! I tried roasting the peanuts for them, and what do you know, they ate them then. Spoiled rotten little things.

Now I’ve got visitors all of the time, waking me up by scratching at the window, wanting to remind me that there aren’t any peanuts for them outside.

Like I said, nifty creatures, but distracting, indeed.

 

*I end up seeing blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, titmice (they are not mice and have no… ahem), juncos, a red-tailed hawk, a pheasant, a turkey (I call him “Future Sandwich”) and indigo buntings. At least those are the ones I can identify.

From as early an age as I can recall, languages fascinated me. I grew up in a culturally-diverse corner of town—Italian, Korean, Spanish speakers all lived on the same block, within a few houses of one another, and my own family comes from a background that would make a mutt feel like a purebred. In high school, I took up Spanish and then later took German. In college, I took Russian courses. I had also spent considerable time in places, while serving in the Navy, where Spanish and Italian were the native tongues. Later, in college, Russian. For fun, I studied French, Gaelic, Tolkien’s Elvish and I even own a Klingon Dictionary.

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Then I began creating languages of my own to use in my stories—Omen-Eyes, Ennid the Havoc, the languages for the upcoming Dross* and alien races of the SHARC series of stories. In each of these, the language provides a “flavor” to differentiate the races/species and in just about every case, creates some type of conflict because of the limits of translation.

Here are a few things I learned about language while studying them:

Languages more often than not don’t feature a one-for-one translation. If it works out that way, you’re lucky. Some drop prepositions while others adopt gendered ones. Some (including English) drop implied verbs.

Example: There is a book on the table.

In Russian, their grammar prefers: On the table, there is a book. (Which, translated with the available words, would read: “On table, book.”)

In German, their sentence structure can be even more rigid. Subject-Verb-Everything Else for a statement, Verb-Subject-Everything Else for a question. Some throw their words all over the place, using inflection more than just structure to differentiate between a statement and a question (yes, that would be English. We English-speakers are language contortionists).

You went there.

Simple statement, although why someone would have to tell someone else where they went is beyond the scope of this blog.

You went there?

Connotes the idea of surprise that the subject “you” overstepped some boundary to get to that location, like the timid librarian stepping into a biker bar, where they clearly wouldn’t be wanted.

You went there?

This one is a little more snotty, and less of a question than pure derision. They don’t want an answer, they want to mock. The subject “you” ventured into some place that the one asking the question wouldn’t have set foot simply because it is beneath them.

(There’s a great episode of Jerry Seinfeld that uses this to great effect. Why would Jerry bring anything?)

Some have few words that can say a lot, and others use a lot of words for very little, and some languages encompass both. Russian is my favorite for this. On one hand, they can say “Tim tahm.” and mean “Tim is over there”, while to say “I like pets” they have to wrap their tongues around “Menay neravidtsa domoshnie zhivotniey.” (Bugs Bunny pokes fun at this concept too, in “Wackiki Wabbit”.)

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This may arise from the need to define the concept within the sentence that you are introducing it. We could say “The clear sky” but if the one listening is not familiar with the concept of “clear”, it may have to be expressed as: “It was a sky through which light may pass so objects on the other side or within the volume of the object may be seen without hindrance.” Now imagine that some of the words in the definition had to be defined, as those concepts were unfamiliar. See where the conflict in trying to explain things can arise? (Oppressive regimes might condone destruction or redefinition of terms and concepts to prevent someone from speaking about things that the government doesn’t want discussed. Sadly, a fairly recent phenomenon in our own history is to cripple free speech, open debate and discussion by hurling the invective “racist!” or “bigot!”–the equivalent of the playground “your mom!”– when no intelligent argument can be formed or respectfully conveyed.)

Then there are the concepts. We speakers of English are all familiar with hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphors. Imagine telling someone that your heart leapt for joy when you saw them coming. If they have no experience outside of the literal realm, they may start looking around their feet for a bloody organ bouncing around in the grass.

English uses very little of the mouth. We blow air out through our lips, puff out our cheeks, touch our tongue to the roof of our mouths but we tend to use so little of it. Other languages, like Russian, use all of those and add different “depths” of the mouth and throat to create their sounds. Some, like the fascinating Khoison family of tongues from Africa even feature pops and clicks. We have a couple of equivalents in English—you’ve probably heard it as “tsk-tsk” or when someone “clucks” their tongue.

And finally, some of the translations can be… funny… when brought over into English and vice versa. A “Nova” was a car model that didn’t do well in Spanish-speaking countries because, while it’s an astrological term in English, in Spanish it translates to “no-go.” And some names are pronounced the same way as some Russian terms. I’m not sure “The Queen of Country” would want to be known as “Fish” McEntire, and that jedi-in-training would be far less heroic if he’d been known as “Onion Skywalker.”

*Title subject to change

I found out through the the grapevine that earlier this week (or was it last week?) we had National Haiku Day. So, I’m a little late to the game, but decided to write a fee in honour of some of my favourite stories.

 

Won the lottery?

Get your Gateway tickets here!

Beware the black holes

 

They must have children

Now my body is not mine own

But saints need their sins

 

Snakebitten, alone

Surviving, rebuild the world

Soon even that fades

 

Hot food and good fights

Okay, maybe my mare too

Watch out for demons!

 

Think you can guess them? (Not that my poems do them justice)–I’ll have the answers next week.

Quite recently, a writer friend who comes to me for advice told me that he is glad I have standards. I laughed, but denied that the standards were necessarily mine. They’re not, in fact, but the culmination of millennia of oral tradition and tales of heroes. Good stories hit on touchpoints, on lows and highs as they run their characters through the wringers of conflict, and games of emotional tug-of-war.

Stories that are stories have a basic skeleton, or hangar upon which they hang. I can liken this to fashion design. At the minimum, stories consist of words strung into sentences, piled into paragraphs. Think of the words/paragraphs as the fabric. If you are making a dress, for example, you have to follow a certain format—essentially a long garment that covers some fraction of the torso with some type of bodice or halter, of varying lengths of beyond-the-ankles to just covering the crotch.1 That statement itself implies that even though there is a basic structure, the format can encompass many shapes subject only to the designer’s imagination.2 Fashion designers learn the basics of dress construction and then learn how to play with the rules and create bizarre monstrosities only appealing to Lady Gaga… but it’s still a dress. irisvanherpencapriole-0780-682x1024[1].jpg

The writer is no different. He must know the rules and know them well before he can break them.

What is the framework, or hangar, for a story? Well, they have to have beginnings, middles and ends. All good stories have them. But just having these does not a story make. I can tell you about my day, which begins with me waking up, brushing my teeth, continues to the middle where I have lunch (sometimes by myself and sometimes I go out with my co-workers), or the end where I brush my teeth and go to bed. Is that a story? Not really. Nothing exciting happens, nothing that would make anyone feel that their time wasn’t wasted by me relating nothing more than a series of events.

So what else does it need? I hinted at it already—something exciting. Let’s say that instead of waking up and continuing my routine as normal, I had to stop at the bank and on that very day, the bank was robbed while I was in it. That’s exciting, sure (not that I ever want that to happen while I am at the bank, although I couldn’t tell you the last time I was actually in one). But okay, there was a bank robbery and I was there.

The story needs something else. It needs something unexpected to happen. That element, if nothing else, can become the whole reason the story exists, the single point on which the whole story hangs. Let’s keep the above scenario and set it up. Say I am someone of strict routine, who is never late and never varies from that safe, comfortable routine. Only this morning I realized I forgot to deposit the paycheck in the bank and I wrote a check for the mortgage and mailed it yesterday, so if I don’t get funds in the account it will mess everything up. So I am irritated, because I’ve got to stop at the bank (which further messes up my routine and ticks me off even more), and then the customer in front of me is taking a while and leaning in to talk to a distraught-looking teller, and I just have to get moving, and when I vent my frustration uncharacteristically, the customer in front of me turns around just enough to show me his gun, and instead of running or screaming like a frightened little social justice snowflake at the sight of a firearm, I pick up the teller’s ten pound marble nameplate, whack the guy on the head and step over his unconscious body so I can deposit my check with the flabbergasted teller and get on my way.

Where does a story like that get started? It could start with the routine, to establish that I am a creature of habit who is likely to fly off the handle and do odd things when I experience disruptions, reiterating that the routine is tantamount to my happiness, and therefore the desire is to remain in it.3 It could start with my discovery of that item that changes the direction of my day. It has a middle where the tension builds as I come across the bank robber, which also lends itself to a hint at what the twist will be like—something going on with the money in the bank. It ends when I’ve dealt with him and taken steps to repair the normalcy I crave.

Plenty of writers and those who teach creative writing will tell me I am wrong, or I haven’t covered all of the criteria. That’s okay, we all have different ways of seeing the same thing. I will recommend several of these learned individuals who have published good frameworks for stories. They are:

  • Joseph Campbell’s works. Must-reads, all of them, for any writer.campbell-joseph-the-hero-with-a-thousand-faces[1].jpg
  • Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters. Not so much for the characters, but the priceless section in the second half of the book on the Masculine (based heavily on Campbell) and Feminine Journeys.thN6LAS0EA.jpg
  • Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! Yes, it’s a book on screenwriting, but a quick, fun and informative read.save-the-cat[1].jpg

The last two especially have been priceless tools for me. I don’t necessarily write to their format, but when I’ve hit a slump or something feels like it’s missing in my story, I will hold up the scenes to their framework and I usually see that they are skewed to one end or the other (or both!) and ask myself if the “stages” they spell out lend any ideas to new scenes that would help tie the bookends together. I’ve never come away not having a new scene or two that move the story more coherently. Next time you write or read a story (or watch a movie) that seems to drag, or be too talky, or seems incoherent, it could be because it’s missing something from the framework that helps to make it a true story and not just a series of loosely-related or random events.

(By the way, years ago I ran my tied-for-first favorite movie of all time,4 The Road Warrior, through Schmidt’s/Campbell’s Masculine Journey and the story rocks it, dead on. Can’t get any better than that.)

1Originally I wanted to say that reached to the thighs but modern fashions have shortened the dress to some fairly revealing lengths… or not to length, as the case would be.

2I have to wonder from where some of their imaginations spring…

3For the record, I am not OCD. At least not most of the time. My closet is about the only place where I have standards. No wire hangers. Nothing but black hangers, all the same shape and size. Call me ‘hangerist’ if you like.

4What’s the other? Fury Road, of course. George Miller is a master director, and a lot can be learned about storytelling from him.

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

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There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

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Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

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So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?