It’s Black Friday Somewhere

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To help promote the two new Twenty Palaces novels I released this past fall, I’ve dropped the Kindle price for the first book in the series, cleverly titled Twenty Palaces, to only 99 cents.

Want to read a dark contemporary fantasy without the usual trappings, including a distinct lack of romance between the two leads? These are the books for you.

Or they’re the book for your pal, the one who reads fantasy voraciously and is always on the hunt for something a little different.

Anyway, it’s a high-value, low-cost gift for the holidays, so maybe buy a copy for a friend and maybe for yourself, too.

I Don’t Have A Venmo Account

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In case anyone out there needs to hear this: I don’t have a Venmo account. Please don’t send money to me through that service. That’s not me.

I got an email on Saturday congratulating me on opening an account, and I assumed it was phishing and sent it to Spam. Then the emails kept coming, and a quick check showed they were from the actual company.

Fun fact! In their original email, Venmo included a “Not you? Click here” -style link that would remove my email address from whatever account had been created with it.

Another fun fact! That link didn’t work.

So it’s been the usual back and forth with the help people, who per standard practice skim over my initial message and offer advice that doesn’t work for me. At this point, it seems we’ve reached the stage where they have blocked that email address, but I keep asking if it has been used to trick people into sending money and somehow the support staff keep missing that message.

God, the future is stupid.

Anyway, I don’t have a Venmo account. If someone impersonated me in that service and asked you for money, please report that.

And The Killer Is… You Decide! ttrpgs, genre simulations, and game systems

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For years, I’ve been picking up the odd indie game here and there, trying to find (among other things) one that seems like it could be a great mystery game. I haven’t really found a promising option.

Generally, they fall into two categories. The first is exemplified by a teen detective game called Bubblegumshoe, by Emily Care Boss (among others) and published by Evil Hat Games. Bubblegumshoe uses the GUMSHOE game system which, despite the name, I’ve usually seen in horror games. GUMSHOE separates “abilities” into two categories. First are General Abilities, which let you roll against them and you succeed or fail in the ordinary way. 

Second are Investigative Abilities. If there’s a core clue that you need to solve the mystery, and a PC is on hand with the Investigative Ability that would acquire the clue, it’s acquired automatically. GUMSHOE doesn’t let a game stall or derail because a bad die roll, or a series of them, prevents the characters from snapping up a necessary clue. That’s an essential mechanic for horror games, because the antagonists are supposed to be overwhelmingly powerful compared to the PCs. That’s part of what makes it horror. There’s usually a very narrow path to victory for the players, and if they’re denied the information they need to find that path, the game is an automatic failure and not much fun. 

Like I said, it’s a clever mechanic. But to use it in a mystery story, you also need a GM who is capable of setting up a mystery plot, full of red herrings, fake but seemingly unbreakable alibis, and all the other tropes of the genre. And take it from me, a guy that’s tried his hand at mystery more than once, that’s a challenging skill set to acquire.

Alternately, we have the cozy mystery/cosmic horror game Brindlewood Bay, a Powered by the Apocalypse system by Jason Cordova and published by The Gauntlet. In this game, the PCs are elderly members of a local mystery book club in a small, coastal New England town. Individual adventures are cases, like an episode of Murder, She Wrote in which mystery readers nose around crime scenes, solving murders.

Except PbtA is a “Play to find out” system. The GM doesn’t create a clue trail. That’s actively discouraged. Instead, they create a story prompt and a list of generic clues like “an unsigned will” or “a photograph of the victim”. During play, the players themselves add the necessary details that will separate the clue trail from the red herrings, then roll dice to see if this is the solution.

Which is fine, but it doesn’t give the player the experience of solving a mystery. It puts them into the role of creating the mystery.

I had a similar issue with a Forged in the Dark game I actually got to play some time ago. The game was called Hack the Planet (written by Fraser Simons and published by Samjoko Publishing). It was cli-fi mixed with cyberpunk, and while I can be lukewarm on cyberpunk in general, this was a cool setting. Maybe the most interesting expression of cyberpunk I’ve ever come across. 

But I was very interested in trying out the system. FitD games were the new hotness at the time (and maybe they’re still the current hotness, I wouldn’t know) because they let people role play heist plots.

Personally, I love a good heist film. And when someone creates a heist-oriented fantasy game that not only wins awards and gets raves all over the internet, it spawns a number of clones in other genres, well, I’m interested. I really wanted to try that.

Except once we started playing the game, it turned out that the thing that makes heist plots most appealing to me—that unexpected twist where the moment everything is going wrong turns out to be part of the plan all along, and how did I miss the scattered clues that would have prepared me for that twist—is utterly neutered. The surprise of that moment is replaced by a player saying “I spend two stress.” No surprise. No thrill. 

And it sort of has to be. How else can you play out this sort of story in this medium? And the fact that I stupidly held out hope that the game could replicate the feeling of the movie has to be yet another triumph of hope over experience. I should have kept my expectations low. 

For me, without that surprise, the game was all tension and no thrill. 

I can see why people like that system. Not only does it have some cool ideas, it’s very fussy and is full of little boxes to check. It’s a game for the bullet journal/to-do list crowd. To me, it seemed underpowered and all that fussiness made it feel like a resource management game, which I hate. Cool setting, but that ruleset was actively unpleasant on several axes.

Which is a shame. I like heists, almost as much as I like mysteries. If I could figure out a way to capture the essential parts of them in a way that felt manageable in a game, I’d be pretty happy about that game. 

But I’m not holding my breath. Not every genre works in every medium. 

By the way, I have two new Twenty Palaces novels out:

The Iron Gate

The Flood Circle

A Milestone, of a Sort: One Kay for The Iron Gate

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Two days ago, sales for The Iron Gate at Amazon crossed the 1000 copies mark. That’s print and ebook combined and it’s just the one vendor.

An ordinary sales run for traditionally published midlist sf/f can be between 2K and 5K, so that puts me on pace to be pretty average. That isn’t a bad goal for me at this stage of my non-career. It also assumes that sales will keep chugging along a pace that will let me pass the “You must sell this many copies to ride this ride” sign. Otherwise, I lose even the pretense of being midlist.

Some other works have done better. The Way into Chaos has sold nearly 14K at Amazon. Those would be respectable numbers at pretty much any publisher, and they don’t count the copies “sold” through the Kickstarter. It makes me wish I could take those numbers back in time to show the editor who rejected that novel because it was a fantasy, had a portal in it, but the protagonists didn’t go through the portal. Only the antagonists did. It was a story about being invaded, not about invading somewhere else. The editor called that “bad worldbuilding.”

Then again, that trilogy came right on the heels of the books Del Rey published, and which they marketed and publicized heavily. As of my last royalty statement, Child of Fire has sold almost forty thousand copies. It would have just earned out its advance if the contract didn’t call for basket accounting for all three books. To this day, those books from Del Rey outsell anything in my backlist that I’ve self-published.

So were the sales for The Way into Chaos so good because of residual effects of all that money and hard work Del Rey put into the Twenty Palaces books? No doubt.

Were sales so good because of that incredible Chris McGrath cover? Absolutely without a doubt. I’ve always known cover art is really important, but I’m thinking I should have put a couple of extra reallys in there.

And then there’s the very real possibility that this is just a slow fading of a career that never really took off. I have readers who enjoy my work, but it seems like there are fewer every year, as later books make readers lose interest without bringing new ones in. I used to think that my creative instincts could appeal to a broad audience, but now that I’ve been writing for a while, it seems not.

Not sure where I’m heading with this, except to say that I’m not going to stop writing and that I will write Twenty-One Palaces at some point. I’m grateful for the readers I’ve got. I’m grateful for the chance to write my books and a system that allows me to publish them in the face of widespread publisher disinterest.

But I still feel that my non-career is aging the same way that I am. Things don’t work as well as they used to. Everything is slower. It hurts more. People fall away, leaving you with a smaller circle. And there’s really nothing to do but work hard to slow the decline while also coming to terms with its inevitability.

The Flood Circle

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Buy links:

Ebook:  Amazon  |  Apple Books  | Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  Smashwords

Print:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Audiobook download:  Apple Books  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Bookshop.org  |  Kobo

Audiobook cd:  Bookshop.org  | Indiebound  |  Mysterious Galaxy


I have already described the origin of The Flood Circle in my post about The Iron Gate. Kickstarter. Backers. Fulfillment. Novel. A few people have expressed surprise that I am releasing another book so soon after the previous one. Well, I wrote both together, sort of. First draft and revision for The Iron Gate. First draft and revision for this one. Second revision then second revision. Beta read and then beta read, and so on. The real question is why has the delay between books been so long?

But when I sat down to work out the story, I had to ask myself: Is this the last Twenty Palaces novel?

I could have cut things short. Definitely. I could have tried to arrange the story so that the finale of this book was the midpoint of another, very different book. Then I could have wrapped everything up in a single novel.

It was tempting. I recently discovered that I am not, in fact, growing younger as the years go by. In addition, I like a fast-moving story. Why not put Ray and Annalise through the ringer? Why not… I don’t know… turn my final idea for a novel into a ten thousand word epilogue or something?

It wouldn’t work, though. There was still too much story to tell. There was too much I wanted to get done, and the danger of rushing a story is that it loses its emotional impact.

So there’s going to be one more book after this one, called Twenty-One Palaces. I know the general setting but I have zero plot beats figured out. The stakes, the tone, the supporting cast are all a mystery.

But that’s for the future. For now: The Flood Circle

The Flood Circle Cover

Here’s the synopsis:

The three original spellbooks, source of all magic in the world, have been found, and Ray Lilly has already “acquired” one. Now he and Annalise are on a historic mission to get the other two and they’re ready to kill anyone who gets in their way.

If they succeed, the Twenty Palace Society will become more powerful than it has ever been and could truly safeguard humanity from both extra-dimensional predators and the people who summon them.

But this time their enemies are more formidable than any they’ve ever faced before. What starts as a covert mission to hunt sorcerers quickly collapses into a desperate—and very public—struggle to survive. Can Ray and Annalise track down and kill these sorcerers before they execute a plan to drive the human race to the edge of extinction?


As usual, I’ll be turning the buy links below into actual links as the book appears on each site.

Tantor is still doing the audiobooks, and they’re planning to keep the narrator from previous editions of Twenty Palaces. I’ll add those links as they appear.

You may have noticed fewer options for a print copy this time around. Normally, I set up a print version within Amazon and through Lightning Source’s Ingram Spark system. Ingram’s distribution system is very wide, allowing you to walk into pretty much any bookstore in the English-speaking world and say “Can you order a copy of The Flood Circle for me?”

It also gave readers a lot of choices (for print) that were not Amazon. Bookshop.org and Indiebound both explicitly support independent bookstores. And while the markup at those two shops can be intense, supporting indie stores is a worthwhile goal.

Except it mostly never happens. My most recent bestselling book through LSIS has been Twenty Palaces, and that book sold only twenty copies. Over two years.

What’s more, LSIS wanted to charge me eighty dollars to put the book up for sale.

The POD print editions are already too expensive for readers, and the system is too expensive for me. It’s weird to think of a $80 fee as a negative advance that I’ll never recoup, but I’m sitting here facing facts and accepting it for what it is.

I’m also thinking that they set the price that high to discourage long-tail idiots like myself, and I’m a guy who can take a hint.

So this time around, the only print options will be Amazon and B&N. Sorry about that.

And please, if you like my books, please tell your friends. In person, on social media, posting a review somewhere. Anything. Please spread the word.

 

Buy links:

Ebook:  Amazon  |  Apple Books  | Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  Smashwords

Print:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Audiobook download:  Apple Books  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Bookshop.org  |  Kobo

Audiobook cd:  Bookshop.org  | Indiebound  |  Mysterious Galaxy

How Not To Do It: Why I’m Not Much of a Publisher

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Friday was the release date of my newest novel, The Iron Gate. It was my return to the Twenty Palaces series, the books that landed me a publisher and a fanbase, and it’s the first new novel in that series since 2011.

And I have really borked the release.

Did you preorder a copy of the book? Did that preorder never show up?

That was my fault.

Let me back up.

After I ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 for The Great Way, I told myself I was never going to run a crowdfunding campaign again.

I’m not what you would call an organized person. I can never keep a calendar or a journal. Even a to-do list can be a challenge. So, when I published that epic fantasy trilogy, I made a bunch of mistakes, missed important deadlines and paperwork, and generally made life harder for the people I was working with. And myself, too.

I told myself I wasn’t going to do that again.

Then 2019 came along and up popped an opportunity to do things differently. I thought This new Kickstarter will be different. It’ll be simple in the extreme. No pledge levels. No stretch goals. I’ll put together some ebooks and email them around.

I thought that would be so simple that even I couldn’t screw it up.

Cut to this week and my attempt to get The Iron Gate on sale. I was dealing with one ebook vendor that would not upload my book, would not tell me that it had not worked, would not tell me why it wouldn’t work, would not tell me what I had to change to fix the problem. I’m usually pretty good with Googling up answers to my problems, but this took way longer than it should have to fix.

I also discovered several ebook vendors had more than one copy of the book, even though I’d only uploaded it once. I had problems with the cover art that had never cropped up before, and I wasn’t sure if standards at the printer had changed or if this time I’d done something different.

All these problems got handled, thanks to some totally normal and non-frantic wtf google what should I do? activity, but it was still frustrating as hell and wasted a bunch of my time.

I also found myself locked out of my Kindle Direct account the day before the book launched because Amazon decided to impose two-factor authentication. They wanted to send a special code to a landline I don’t even have any more. Was there an alternate to the special code to a non-existent number? Sure. All I had to do was upload a picture of my ID and wait 1-2 business days for someone there to look at it.

That was not how I wanted to discover I had yet another online account that I should have updated with my correct contact information when I moved more than 15 months ago. And yeah, two-factor authentication is great. But they need to let me set it up, not drop it on me.

But what about those preorders?

Here’s the deal. I fucked that up. There’s no other way to say it. I arranged for the books to be available for preorder. I asked people to preorder them, because the publication date was Sept 30, and vendors usually wait sixty days to pay the author, and I was hoping to get a decent chunk of sales revenue to arrive in the same tax year as my expenses.

But I fucked up. I was trying to do something else (at this point I can’t even remember what it was), I was not being careful and I was all click click click until I realized I had inadvertently cancelled more than 150 preorders from the Amazon listing.

Did you preorder from Amazon? Did that order never arrive? Well, it’s never going to, because of my error. You won’t be charged for it, but you won’t get it, either. If you still want the book from Amazon, please buy it from this working link.

Here’s another fun fact: after I stupidly cancelled those preorders, I got on the help chat with Amazon and spent more than two hours trying to get straight answers out of two different people. What I really wanted to know was whether the book I’d uploaded, and had set to publish at midnight that night, would still come out as scheduled even though I’d cancelled the preorders.

In other words, did I need to upload a new copy of the book?

After all that time, I couldn’t get a direct answer. Eventually, I was promised a call back which never came. The midnight publication time came and went without an actual publication, and I did in fact have to upload the book again to a new listing so people could buy it. Which meant the book was published late on that site and that the people who had preordered had to buy the book elsewhere.

I think I’d be better at publishing if I did it more often. The last thing I released was One Man, which was three years ago. There’s no way I’m going to remember all the little everythings I need to do to get this done. I mean, maybe if I journaled the process, I’d… oh shit. Nevermind.

Sometimes I think my chaotic, jump-around brain is helpful for my writing. Sure, it makes me slower than most, but a lot of my readers tell me my work feels different/ unusual/ original, and that’s great. To me, the stories feel like they’re playing out the only way they could, but other people are surprised and that pleases and startles and confounds me a little.

But if I had a more organized thought process, wouldn’t I be able to publish these books better? And write cleaner first drafts? And plot everything out in advance? And make a menu for the week when I’m getting my grocery list together? And go to the gym, wear shorts that can’t be described with the word “cargo”, and grow a full head of hair? The answers are unclear.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you enjoy my books, thank you for your support. As for my publishing process, I apologize for putting hurdles in your way to getting these books. I hate that I make these mistakes, find them both embarrassing and dispiriting, and am incredibly grateful to anyone who perseveres and buys a copy anyway. You guys are the best.

The Iron Gate

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Buy links:

Ebook:  Amazon  |  Apple Books  | Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  Smashwords

Print:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Bookshop.org  |  Indiebound  |  Mysterious Galaxy  |  Powell’s

Audiobook download:  Apple Books  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Bookshop.org  |  Kobo

Audiobook cd:  Bookshop.org  | Indiebound  |  Mysterious Galaxy

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Some time ago I started wondering how much actual interest there was in a continuation of the Twenty Palaces series. I’d tried the novella route with The Twisted Path, but sales were unremarkable. When I first started publishing with Del Rey, I’d thought I was a mid list writer. Later, it seemed I’d become a writer with a small following, then maybe not even that.

What was the point of trying to plan a career when my choices kept sending me in the wrong direction?

When Kickstarter got around to their brief “Break Kickstarter” idea, I had a really dumb idea: What if I started taking pledges for new Twenty Palaces fiction, but instead of offering a specific goal, I let the backers choose it. Break Kickstarter was meant to encourage people to use the service in a new way, so I set a rate of five cents a word and promised to revisit the series at whatever level of enthusiasm readers chose. No stretch goals. No pledge tiers. For every dollar a backer pledged, they could pick twenty words to call their own.

So, if I made a fifty dollars in pledges, I’d write a thousand-word short story. If pledges were higher, I’d write more, with a cap at two complete novels because I really had no idea how much or how little interest there was.

Well, pledges did hit that cap, and I owed my backers two full novels of at least a hundred thousand words each. The first, called The Iron Gate, is out now.

Cover for The Iron Gate

The Iron Gate

Here’s a description of the story:

Stormy Bay is a dying town nestled against an eerily placid ocean, and Ray Lilly is trapped in it. He can barely remember his name let alone his mission for the Twenty Palace society. Worse, he realizes that for some time now he’s been living as a puppet, his body and mind under the complete domination of an unknown power.

And that power can still seize control of Ray’s body at any time, forcing him and the people around him to playact in nonsense stories that center around a mysterious boy and his monster dog.

The town and its people shift and change, but only Ray seems to notice. He has no idea what sort of magic has imprisoned all these ordinary folks in Stormy Bay, but he does know he needs to get them, and himself, out.

But that might mean crossing a line he has never crossed before. While Ray has certainly taken lives in his work for the society, it was always in self-defense or in the desperate moments before impending calamity. Can he bring himself to commit cold-blooded murder, even to save dozens of lives?

Next up, after The Iron Gate, will be The Flood Circle, hopefully released sometime next month.

After that, I’ll be writing something else to let the creative energies renew. At some point later, finally, I’ll be ready to write Twenty-One Palaces, the final Twenty Palaces novel, The one that wraps up the series.

In the meantime, here are buy links to online vendors below. I’ve hit a few glitches here and there, and will connect to the books as they appear on the various sites. Apple Books is being Apple.

If you want a print edition, options are limited for the moment. I’m waiting for other vendors to connect their catalogs to Lightning Source before I can add them.

As for audio, Tantor will be creating an audiobook that combines The Iron Gate with The Twisted Path, since the latter is a novella and is too small to be on its own. I don’t know when that will be available but I will let you guys know.

And I can’t wait for the book to be fully out, so I can edit these last four paragraphs out of this post.

In the meantime, if you read the book, please write a review.

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Buy links:

Ebook:  Amazon  |  Apple Books  | Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  Smashwords

Print:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Bookshop.org  |  Indiebound  |  Mysterious Galaxy  |  Powell’s

Audiobook download:  Apple Books |   Barnes & Noble  |  Bookshop.org  |  Kobo  |

Audiobook cd:  Bookshop.org  | Indiebound  |  Mysterious Galaxy

Who Cares about Barb Holland: Nothing Characters and Fictional Death

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In my previous post, I said I was going to start trying to write shorter blog posts, which I would be able to finish in a reasonable length of time and which would then, with luck, actually be posted. That’s preferable to writing long, complex posts about six related topics that need to be reorganized four or five times and therefore never actually get finished.

Also in that previous post, I pointed out some errors in a particular review of Stranger Things 4, arguing (once again) that disinterest makes reviewers inattentive. But there was a section of the review that was wrong for a different reason, and I would rather talk about the issue separate from the review itself, because I’ve seen it echoed elsewhere more than once.

It’s the idea that Barb Holland is a “nothing character” and her death shouldn’t be such a big deal. 

I’m not surprised that people make this mistake. It’s commonplace for horror or thriller shows to introduce a character solely for the purpose of killing them off. It’s a clear and easy way to establish the threat the villains/monsters/whatever present. And Barb is that character. She’s dead by the first few minutes of episode three and up to that point she’d had maybe 30-some lines of dialog. 

So, a throwaway, right? Motivation for the plot, an excuse to show two frames of the monster’s face and another mysterious disappearance for everyone to scratch their heads over.

And maybe she would have been, if this show had been on the CW or something. The CW would have cast a thin, pretty underwear model, hung some nerdy/preppy accessories on her, and when she died she would have been completely forgettable. 

The Duffer Brothers went another way. They cast Shannon Purser, an attractive but overweight actor, then dressed her all the way down in the uncoolest clothes, glasses, and hairstyle they could manage. She defined Barb with in her big jeans and high frilly collar and giant glasses, clutching her schoolbooks to her chest and calling Nancy on her bullshit.

She was different. Vulnerable. Smart. Excluded. Specific. And a big segment of the viewers saw themselves in her. Barb was created to elicit sympathy in a way that the Lab Coat Guy, who appeared in the very first scene in the series, could not. Also, as Nancy’s best friend, as I’ve talked about, Nancy’s concern for her completely upends the teenage romantic plot that the show was building from the first two episodes.

Barb mattered to the characters onscreen and to the audience offscreen.

It’s not like Stranger Things doesn’t have nothing characters. Lab Coat Guy was one. The broken bodies strewn around Hawkins Lab in season two or the hospital in season three were not personalized, for the most part. They were extras dressed in blood spatters. But they didn’t have personality or specificity.

When I was writing Child of Fire, I wanted that first “death” by the side of the road to be memorable. And, judging by people’s reactions, it was.

But as much as I tried to turn it into someone no one had ever seen before–to the point where the kid doesn’t even really die–I didn’t take the time for him as a character. The circumstances of his death are memorable (as are the circumstances of Barb’s death, since it’s the first scene set in the Upside Down) but not him. I sort of wish I’d done what the show did, and gone for both.

The conversation reminded me of a comic book, number 12 in the run of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” which some people have called the greatest single issue of a comic book ever. In the first issue of this run, the villain/anti-hero King Mob shoots a guard while he’s invading some facility or other. It’s a single panel (maybe two, I haven’t seen it lately), and he doesn’t even pause in his dialog. It’s a moment designed to show King Mob’s ruthlessness as he guns down a nothing character. 

The story continues until issue 12, when it stops and returns to this nothing character. It portrays his life, all jumbled up, showing the abuse he suffered as a child, the abuse he perpetrated as he grew up, the people he cared about, how he hurt those people, and how he died. At which point, he wasn’t a nothing character any more. 

And really, none of them are, but depending on the genre, the story has to treat them like set dressing sometimes, because there have been so many and we can’t delve into the backstory for all of them. 

That was the case for the kid in my book. After he’s gone, Ray and Annalise dig through his home, looking for clues about who he (and his family) were and what happened to them. After that, he faded away. He wasn’t nothing, even after the story was done with him. 

The same is true for Barb, although judging by season four, the show is not done with her yet.

In personal news, I’m working through the notes I received for The Flood Circle, making sure all the story beats are clear and every important moment has the emphasis it needs. I’m also fussing with the text.

If you’re a Kickstarter backer for these books, expect a somewhat more detailed update around the start of August.

I’m also trying to work out what project I’ll tackle next. There’s an idea that’s really nagging at me but I don’t think I’m the one to write it. Also, it turns out that my son is already tackling a very similar project, and under no circumstances should his dad bigfoot his latest thing.

Scrolling Through Your Phone and Vacuuming: a Guide to Careless Reviewing

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It has been a week since the second volume of Stranger Things season four has come out, so it’s probably safe to talk about it now. But I won’t. Not yet. 

I find myself starting blog posts all the time, and because I seldom write in this space, I find that I often try to make up for the number of posts with the number of words in a post, and that long-ass season would need an awful lot of words. 

So, instead, I’m going to try to post more often but to cover less each time.

This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things 4.

Back when season one of Jessica Jones came out, an author I like posted a negative review of it. Which is not a big deal. It would be a dull world if everyone liked the same things. But one of his big criticisms was that he didn’t understand why Jessica wouldn’t kill the villain. He thought she should just kill him and solve the problem.

After I read that bit, I thought to myself something like, Was he vacuuming during the scenes with no fighting? Because those characters debate–at length, over several episodes–Jessica’s determination to somehow capture him alive. How could this author have missed it?

Well, he missed it because he didn’t like the show and because he didn’t like the show, he wasn’t paying attention.

The same thing crops up everywhere. I was reading a review of a novel in which Our Hero has an extended part of his life where he spends his mornings training with weapons and his afternoon learning magic, and the reviewer was obviously much more interested in the magic than the weapons. After Our Hero’s first fight, the reviewer was mystified. They didn’t know how the character could win a fight, because they’d skipped over the part of the book where he trains to fight.

And like every reviewer, they did not look inward at this discrepancy. They didn’t think Maybe I missed something?

Nope. They decided the character was a Gary Stu or whatever and dinged the book for their own lack of interest.

So it is with the review of Stranger Things 4 by Freddie deBoer. (I’m not going to link to it, because links are precious gems that must be spent carefully, but you can google up the guy’s Substack if you want. Fair warning: his bio cheerfully discusses his own growing reputation as “an asshole”.)

As part of his criticism, deBoer complains that too many of the scenes are Big Emotional Moments, saying: 

Why not have Max give that tearful confession about wanting Billy to die for no discernible reason other than manufactured pathos?

Now, anyone who has watched the show and paid attention knows exactly why Max makes that confession. She’s trying to bait the season’s villain into attacking her. But if you don’t like the character and are bored with the show, you’re not going to keep track of the plot. What’s more, all those Big Emotional Moments is going to feel empty.

(In fact, at the top of his review, deBoer says, in drama, every scene cannot be climax. He then goes on to list a long string of scenes that all fall at the end of the series, and that were climactic moments for the many, many storylines in this 13-hour story.) 

But look, the guy finds most of the characters “profoundly annoying.” He hates the politics. He hates the tone. He thinks it panders to nerds.

And really, given all that, is it any surprise that he’s not moved by the big moments at the end of those storylines? Or that he doesn’t really seem to be paying attention at all?

To which I say: people, don’t watch shows that don’t interest you. Just turn them off. Your hate-watch is not interesting in and of itself, and your criticism is not going to be as insightful as you think, mainly because you’ve spent half the run time of the show scrolling through your phone, not to mention all that vacuuming. 

One other thing deBoer talks about is Barb, and he’s wrong there, too, but that’s for another post. 

Behold the Hairdo of Vecna: Predictions for Stranger Things 4

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Okay, so the full trailer for Stranger Things 4 has finally come out. Here it is:

As a followup, the Duffer Brothers did an explainer video, where they talk about the context for many of the clips, drop a few mild spoilers, and generally hype the show.

So, in keeping with my tradition of making predictions about the upcoming season and getting everything completely wrong…

Let me say it again:

+++My predictions are always wrong+++

So there are no spoilers here, only anti-spoilers.

Anyway, here goes:

  • The Victor Creel storyline partially shown in the Creel House teaser will be the opening scene in the first episode, just as the frightened scientist was in S1, Kali’s gang was in S2, and the Soviet machine was in S3.

 

  • When part two drops on July 1st, I’m guessing the flashback sequence with a very young Eleven and all the other kids will be the opening scene for that episode.

 

  • Vecna’s very human looking eyes were once Victor Creel’s. The shot of Robert Englund, already confirmed to be an older Creel, shows him scarred and eyeless, and they named the bad guy Vecna, after all.

 

  • Because this eye-theft would have happened in the 1950’s or early 1960s, I don’t think that Vecna is an Upside-Downed Brennar. Nor is he Steve Harrington, turned into a demo-vampire by the bites of the demobats he’s fighting in that segment. Nor is he Billy Hargrove, which would make no logical sense but apparently people want it anyway because they want to see a handsome actor and Dacre Montgomery is the only one. Given his general shape, he might be an altered human but could be anyone, including someone like Percy Fawcett. [Update: it turns out that imdb has Dacre Montgomery listed in the credits for three episodes in this new season, including the last one. Still, I’m betting he’s in flashback scenes, not the Vecna suit.]

 

  • Billy’s tombstone is different in different shots because at least one of those scenes is a dream sequence. They did bring in Robert Englund for a small but pivotal role, after all.

 

  • Which means that several of the shots in the trailer are from Nightmare on Elm Street-style horror dreams, most especially the rock guitar jam session inside the Upside Down.

 

  • See also Max levitating above the grave. That’s another dream sequence. It could also be an effect of seeing the clock, as the Duffers say in their video, or a result of a few particles of the Mind Flayer that (flashback!) Billy slipped into Max’s body when she sleeping or eating Wheaties or something. But I think dream sequence is more likely. It’s not because Max is the new Eleven, the psychic girl with the ability to fight.

 

  • Then again, in a shot near the end of the trailer, Max is running away from (what appears to be) Vecna and toward some sort of portal. Through that portal, in the far distance, you can see what appears to be that same scene: a figure floating above three others on the ground.
Max running toward a portal out of the upside down, but is that Max herself in the portal, floating?

Click to open this full size to get a better view of the silhouettes in that white circle

 

 

  • So does that mean Floating Max is a doppelganger? Or that she’s trying to escape into the waking world, where Vecna’s influence has her entranced and floating? I’m not sure, but maybe I shouldn’t be making predictions about that shot of her floating.

 

  • In their comment video, the Duffer brothers say that the shot of Eleven screaming and blasting soldiers away from her isn’t unconvincing de-aging cgi. It’s not a flashback. High school age Eleven is back in her sensory deprivation tank bathing suit and her… hair is shaved again? I assume it’s a little hair piece, because how she going to do Enola Holmes 2 while sporting a Furiosa. Still, I’m 100% on board with Classic Eleven.

 

  • The rest of the (young) cast are going to move beyond the bowl haircuts. All these fans who want Will to come out of the closet, get a boyfriend, etc, but all I want is for him to get himself a decent haircut. Let Vecna steal it like he took Victor Creel’s eyes. Imagine here that someone took the trouble of photoshopping Will’s bowl cut onto Vecna. Anyway that’s my prediction: Will ditches the bowl haircut but doesn’t come out as gay. (Important Note: See line above between the triple plus signs.)

 

  • But Lucas does. In S3E1, it comes out that Lucas and Max don’t spend a lot of time making out. Lucas is making fun of Mike for wanting to kiss his girlfriend, and Max says, “It’s romantic,” in a way that suggests she would like that sort of romance, too. It’s obvious Max and Lucas like each other, but Lucas doesn’t desire her in the same way. See also this tweet about one of the new guest stars on the show. What if the “shocking event” (or one of them) is that he gets caught kissing Lucas? I’m saying that, whatever they decide to do about Will’s sexuality, Lucas is gay(, too).

 

  • Will Robyn and Nancy get together, romantically? I’m going to guess that’s a no. Yeah, Jonathan’s all the way across the country, but the “See you on the other side” exchange between her and Steve has some strong sexual chemistry going on. If Robyn is going to find love this season–and she should–it will be with Vickie, the “band nerd” played by Amybeth McNulty.

 

  • Chrissy, played by Grace Van Dien, is the one holding the mummified hand (presumably Vecna’s) in that one, too-quick shot. It was hard to see the actor’s face, though, which is why this is a prediction rather than me saying Oh hey, look who it is.

 

  • What will Joyce be wrong about in season 4? Nothing, as usual. Joyce is never wrong.

 

  • There’s a gladiator scene in the trailer, where Hopper and a bunch of other prisoners face off with a demigorgon, using only axes and spears and other hand-to-hand weapons. I’m going to guess that cutting weapons will be more effective than guns, which got so many DoE agents and guards killed. I’m also going to say that the Soviets are arranging these fights because they’re hoping a wounded demigorgon will open a portal to the upside down, either to recover from its injuries or to feast on one of the corpses, and they intend to send troops through the portal after it in hopes of creating a stable gateway. The payoff to that extended gladiator scene is a frantic scramble by Soviet scientists to set up a smaller version of The Key (featured so prominently in the first shot of the trailer) so they can shoot it through the demigorgon’s little gate.

 

  • That package with the Russian stamps all over it that Joyce examines? Murray sent it. I’m thinking Murray has some reason to believe Hopper didn’t really die, either because there’s no pile of overcooked long pork where Jim was standing or because our Russian guest star for this season reached out.

 

  • Mike and Dustin are going to learn that Eddie, their new heavy metal DM, has been dreaming about the Upside Down when he incorporates it into their game.

 

  • Who is in the body bag? I’m going to guess that it’s the high school guidance counselor Ms. Kelly, played by Regina Ting Chen, if she’s been brought in to Hawkins High to help the kids deal with all the trauma they’ve suffered. If the guidance counselor is one of the California characters, which would make sense because Eleven would have a lot of trouble fitting in to high school, then I don’t have a prediction.

 

  • Who is in danger of dying this season? Let’s go through the list.
    •  Every guest star for the season, especially the guidance counselor, the new DM, the basketball star who’s life spirals out of control, every government employee/soldier making their first appearance, and the shady Russian guy.
    • Ted. Honestly, it’s time for Ted to die as a hero or as a villain.
    • Murray. Brett Gelman brings fantastic energy to the show but if he’s going to stick around he needs a new schtick. Otherwise, he should be a tragic sacrifice.

 

  • What about the deaths of Steve or Max? I guess there’s talk in the ST fandom that both are at risk, and it sort of makes sense. Joe Keery is playing a college freshmen and he’s about to turn 30. I’m guessing he’d like the show to wrap up before he starts greying at the temples. As for Max, the Duffers said that this is a big season for her, and that Sadie Sink gives a fantastic performance. If someone is going to echo Billy’s death here in S4, it would make sense to be her.

 

  • My biggest prediction is that Stranger Things 4 is going to end in loss and tragedy. Owens says there’s a war going on. We know the show will end with season 5. It would make sense for this extremely long season, which will have a much bigger scope than any season before, will end Person-of-Interest-style, with the bad guys triumphant.

And if anything I’ve said here annoys you, remember that I’m always wrong.