It’s Not the Thing You Don’t Know That Get You…

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It’s the things you think you know but are wrong.

For ex:

Everyone was telling me that five cents a word was too low, and I kept responding by saying some variation on, “SFWA set the minimum pro rates (for short fiction) at five cents a word. That’s the number I’m going to use!”

Except I was wrong.

As pointed out to me by another author (and if you have a middle grade fantasy reader in your life, or if you like historical fantasy with lots of Big Romance, you should definitely check out Stephanie’s books) SFWA changed the minimum pro rate months ago. I should have gone with eight cents a word.

Which is hilarious to me. It would have been the work of sixty seconds to check that, but it never even occurred to me that I should.

And of course, nothing has changed about the Kickstarter or the books I’m planning to write, except now I have to explain to my wife that she was totally and absolutely write all along, and with a little more smarts I would have done what she wanted me to do.

Anyway, as you can see by the embed below, one novel is already paid for. You can help make a second happen by pledging $4 or more. (Which gets you two ebooks)

The Iron Gate Kickstarter Campaign at 24 Hours

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screencap from KS dashboard showing 921% of goal

That’s pretty much a novel right there.

After 24 hours, the dollar amount guarantees more than 90,000 words, so I’m thinking The Iron Gate is going to be a novel.

It also looks like the campaign might reach the upper limit, which means I’d have to write the next Twenty Palaces book pretty much right away. (For more info about the upper limit, check the campaign page itself).

This is wild, guys. This is also a lot of work. I spent most of yesterday wandering around my apartment, then checking the pledges, then washing a few dishes, then checking pledges, then vacuuming, then checking, then playing SOTM, checking, scrub toilet, check, open the file for The Iron Gate, then close it again so I can check.

Which means I haven’t been as productive as I need to be. That changes today. If I’m going to get this first book to you in 12 months, I have to do some thinking and some typing.

Anyway, please spread the word to any other fans of Twenty Palaces or contemporary/urban fantasy that you know. I’ll keep tapping away at these keys.

Here’s the updated version:

The Iron Gate, a New (Break) Kickstarter Campaign

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Kickstarter is running a “Break Kickstarter” campaign, which invites creators to use the platform in unusual ways. Not to break their rules, but to organize a campaign in an unusual way.

Until I saw that promo, I hadn’t been planning to use Kickstarter again. To be honest, I was gratified that my 2013 campaign for The Great Way did so well, but it was a crapton of work, and I’m a naturally disorganized person. I screwed up a few times while fulfilling that campaign, and that was extremely embarrassing. I didn’t want to put myself into that position again.

But if there’s an opportunity to flout the usual expectations? I’m signing on for the next Twenty Palaces story, The Iron Gate.

Here’s what’s going to be unusual in this campaign:

No video
No stretch goals
One reward: an ebook (although you could decide not to take a reward if you prefer)
One pledge level: (although KS lets you pledge more if you want)
You decide how long The Iron Gate is going to be

The Twisted Path was a novella, and some readers really wanted me to go back to novels. I’m not sure how much demand there is for this, but let’s find out.

For every $50 pledged to this campaign, I will write a thousand words. That’s the minimum professional rate, established by SFWA, of five cents a word.

In practical terms, I’ll look at that as a minimum word count.

So, if the campaign meets its goal of $500, I’ll write a 10,000-word novelette, which is about the length of “The Home-Made Mask”. If all twelve-hundred-ish people from the Great Way campaign pledge $4, that’ll be about enough for a novel.

I’ve set an upper limit, too. If you want to know what that is, or have other concerns, please check out the campaign. Also, if you’d like to take part.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/harryconnolly/the-iron-gate-break-kickstarter

The Pressure to Continue the Story After the Story

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That video below? Worth watching, like Ellis’s other work.

(Actually, I’m sort of assuming the video shows up, since WordPress’s new “block” system doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.)

If you’ve watched it (and let me say again, you should) you already know that it’s a discussion of some relatively recent critical schools of thought about literature, namely, does the author have any authority over the story and characters outside the published text? Or, to use the examples in the video, does the author get to tell us what happened to the characters after the last page? Do we have to take seriously the secret things they tell us about the characters that’s not in the text (such as, that Dumbledore is gay)?

Like John Green in the video, I’m of the opinion that readers get to choose for themselves, and at least should be able to extrapolate from the story.

As a personal example, a number of readers asked me what happened to Lar Italga after the end of The Great Way. Me, I thought it was so obvious that I didn’t even bother to write it. But that wasn’t good enough for some, and they seemed annoyed when I turned the question around and asked what they thought happened to him. They didn’t want to extrapolate. They wanted the authoritative word.

A number of people also wanted authoritative insight into how the names were pronounced, and “however you like” was apparently not an acceptable answer. I’ve read I-don’t-know-how-many fantasy novels with goofy pronunciation guides and I’ve learned to ignore them. In the privacy of my own head, I think of the characters’ names however I like, but a significant number of readers want the “correct” form.

The video takes JK Rowling to task for many of her pronouncements about the world of the books and the future of the characters. Is it especially laudable to make Dumbledore gay if you don’t include it in the actual book where it would have counted? Do we need an apology about who Hermione ended up with? Do we need to be told that, before indoor plumbing, wizard students crapped on the floor and them magic-ed the mess away?

Lots of people had a laugh at that last one, but it seems she knows what she’s talking about. Click the tweet below to see why I will never ever time travel back to the middle ages in Europe.

I’m lying here being sick while @seraph76 reads me bits of a history of French royal court poisonings and I think we need another terror— rahaf mohammed al-qanon (@AliceAvizandum) January 5, 2019

I know it starts off talking about poison, but it quickly moves to sewers (or the lack thereof) and no, please, authors, do not try for this level of realism. Just click the tweet to open and read. It’s hair-raising.

So, yeah, Rowling has a history of coming up with a bunch of extraneous stuff about the Harry Potter books–seemingly without giving it a lot of thought–and not to the benefit of her books or herself. To which I have to say: Can you blame her?

The Harry Potter books were such a gigantic hit that she has been deluged with questions, many from very young readers. Is she supposed to tell a ten-year-old Hermione fan that the character is a fictional construct with no life or existence outside the text? Yeah, that would go over well.

It’s entirely unsurprising that she launched an entire website (literally “More Potter”) which lists a bunch of character biographies and other bullshit that Rowling (or one of her interns/social media hires/whatever) threw together in an afternoon. That it draws in the hardcore fans (and tries to sell them stuff) is an entirely reasonable way to avoid all those earnest questions flooding the author’s social media.

And then, when a new Fantastic Beasts movie comes out, superfans get upset because the backstory in the movie doesn’t match the extraneous BS listed on Pottermore. Not that it matters. The Hogwarts Cinematic Universe is different from the books, obviously.

So yeah, I get why John Green and other authors (like myself) don’t want to add more story once the story is done. I also believe that Rowling’s circumstances are unique to her, and the pressure on her to drop these little bits of extraneous story must be incredible. I don’t always like what she says, but she has my sympathy.

Movies with Mikey vs. 8 Harry Potter Films: The Path to Success

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Hey, let’s talk a little bit about something that way too many people have already talked about: the Harry Potter films. And by “talk about” I mean “share this series of three Movies with Mikey episodes about the franchise.

Go ahead and watch. They’re good. If you’re not sure why you should bother, read more below.

The first time I told someone outside my family that I planned to binge all eight Harry Potter movies (nearly 20 hours worth of films but maybe more with bathroom breaks depending on beer) their reply was “Better you than me.”

And I get it. They’re kids films–at least at the start. They have good choices mixed with the not so good, and an inconsistent tone in some places. They take a while to hit their stride. It’s the BLOODLINE effect: how many hours do you have to watch before it “gets good”?

But I thought that binge-watch was valuable. The first movie is adorable, like a 130 million dollar school play. The last is as intense as any big-budget thriller. Making that journey is no easy feat.

I wouldn’t consider myself a Potterhead, or whatever Rowling’s Potter fans call themselves. I don’t visit Pottermore, write fanfic, or play quidditch IRL. I haven’t memorized the biographies of the supporting cast, so I couldn’t tell you where Minerva McGonagall took her gap year or whether Professor Sprout makes her own hats. I’m not that sort of fan about anything.

But I have read the books more than once (unusual for me) and I think there’s a lot to learn from the way the movies stumble and then correct themselves as they go on (which is a weird way to describe that process, I know, because movies don’t create themselves, but you guys know what I mean). I’m always interested in the creative choices behind a work that affects me deeply, which is why I’ve watched Beyond Stranger Things a half-dozen times, and I’ve already watched this three-part documentary twice.

In these videos, Mikey covers the onscreen character choices, the studio-level hiring decisions, and everything in between, showing how they came together to become this weirdly compelling long-form story. And I say “weirdly” because this sort of thing shouldn’t be my jam (except for all the death) but it is, and Mikey touches on that, too.

If you’re interested in how creative work gets made (esp in a group/corporate environment) give these a watch. They’re funny, insightful, and breezy. Neumann is also one of the few Patreon accounts that I feel I can afford to support, if you want to know how strongly I feel about his work.

Anyway, this is where I confess: I just binged these movies last July for my birthday, and watching this documentary makes me want to do it again, just to pick up on more elements that change in each installment: costuming, camera movement, sound design, and so on. And it just so happens that I got a box set for Giftmas. Maybe it should be a reward for finishing this round of edits on my new book.

Fantastic Beasts 2 and the Basic Appeal of a Thing

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In a now-deleted tweet, another author wrote that the Fantastic Beasts movies sounded like the Star Wars prequels, because they focused on worldbuilding at the expense of characterization. That got me thinking about the basic appeal of fantasy stories, and what role worldbuilding and characterization plays in making that appeal long-lasting.

If someone as savvy as the one mentioned above thinks the Fantastic Beast films have Star Wars Prequel-level characterization, that’s a major failure of the WB marketing department. Whatever the flaws of the Fantastic Beast movies, boring lead characters are not one of them. Newt Scamander might be the most peculiar hero of big budget studio adventure films in my lifetime. Even something as simple as the way he stands when he talks to other people subverts the idea of a male hero, the guys who wipe a trickle of blood from the corner of their mouth with their fist.

Honestly, I found Newt’s body language off-putting at first. His body language suggests that he believes other humans are dangerous predators, even the friendly ones. Imagine a Harry Potter who can barely make eye contact with Draco. It’s a bold choice, and it’s about a thousand miles from sulky, petulant Annakin and whatever Liam Neeson was doing.

One the problems with the second film is that the newer additions to the story aren’t as distinctive as the characters from the first film. Grindelwald’s hench-people in particular are a bunch of stoic blank-faces and a big disappointment from the writer who created the faculty at Hogwarts.

But I have to ask, if you want to talk about interesting characters, what about Harry Potter as a character? He comes from an abusive background (without the harmful damage kids in that environment get in the real world). He’s good at sports. He’s earnest and brave and snubs Flashman… er, I mean Draco from the start of the story.

We like him because, in part (and I’ll get to the second part in a bit), he’s a good guy in difficult circumstances, but it’s the specifics of those circumstances that make his story compelling. That’s on the worldbuilding.

Really, it’s Hogwarts. Hogwarts is the centerpiece of the appeal of the Harry Potter stories. Yeah, the characters. Yeah, the names of the characters (which I love). Yeah, the mix of plot threat, magic, interpersonal character bonding and conflict–Rowling has a sense for mixing those things in just the right order. But the Harry Potter books work so well because of a fairly ordinary Brave Young Hero in an extraordinarily appealing setting.

There’s a moment in FB2 where the story briefly returns to Hogwarts and it’s announced by that musical motif. You know the one I mean. It made me wonder why the other characters didn’t have their own music. Shouldn’t Credence’s scenes have their own little jingle? Shouldn’t Grindelwald’s? (Or maybe they did, but if so I didn’t notice) It would have helped establish the various factions in the plot, and helped us connect them.But Hogwarts deserves its own jingle because Hogwarts is the place we want to be.

Personally, I think the worldbuilding is an obsession with fantasy readers and fans. I have seen people complain about The Lies of Locke Lamora because it didn’t give them a sense of the world as a whole. It’s been said that a crime novel is, at its core, about a city, while a spy novel is like a tourist’s travel guide. Well, I think fantasy readers want their novels to be expeditions into fictional places, and I suspect Rowling has plenty more travel guide in her.

This isn’t to say that characterization isn’t important–obviously it is–but I think what really matters (this is the second part I mentioned above) is the relationships between the main characters. How they’re connected, how that relationship is tested, how it survives (or doesn’t).

I think this is the biggest flaw in the FB2: not enough emphasis is put on the connections between the characters. Jacob and Queenie spend most of the movie apart. Credence and Nagini need a scene to demonstrate the powerful connection between them to make his climactic choice meaningful. Leta’s connection to Newt is demonstrated powerfully, but not her connection to Theseus. And Grindlewald’s connections to his henchfolk is simply assumed.

Yeah, the movie has problems, but I think it’s better than people think. As I said on Twitter, in a few years’ time I expect people to reappraise it, especially in light of the FB series as a whole, however long many movies turns out to be.

But I’ll sum up by saying the worldbuilding has to have lasting appeal to sustain a long series, which I think the HCU (Hogwarts Cinematic Universe, ‘natch) does. Also, it helps to have interesting supporting characters and standard heroic leads with strong relationships to the other characters, because it’s the connections the readers will invest in, not the characters themselves. IMO.

Randomness for 6/30

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1. No more snitch tagging on Twitter.

2. Body positivity became a marketing scheme, and it became a scam.

3. The Japanese engineers improve the binder clip.

4. What Makes People the Most Happy: An analysis of the way people answer the question “What made you happy in the last 24 hours?”

5. This Rolling Stone profile of Johnny Depp is beyond fucked up.

6. Lionel Messi walks better than most players run.

7. Amsterdam drained a canal and posted a picture of everything they found in it.

The SPFBO Bump(?): Contests and Book Sales

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A little over a week ago, the final results of the SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) competition came in. In case you didn’t know, The Way into Chaos was a finalist, but in the end I landed squarely in the middle. Sixth place, in fact.

Sixth isn’t so terrible, although the structure of the contest means that my book was certainly not the sixth best of all 300. (If you already know know how SPFBO works, skip the next paragraph.)

SPFBO is pretty straight forward: They have ten blogger-reviewers and 300 self-published fantasy novels to split between them. Each reviewer picks one finalist from their allotment of 30. Then each reviewer rates each finalist, and the books are ranked according to the average of their reviews.

When TWiC was made a finalist back in November, there were a number of people who thought another book deserved the spot. Readers’ tastes are idiosyncratic–mine certainly is–so the idea of a “best” book doesn’t really fit.

Anyway, SPFBO was founded by bestselling author Mark Lawrence. Here’s what he had to say about it:

From:

Mission statement:
The SPFBO exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy. It exists to find excellent books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It exists to help readers select, from the enormous range of options, books that have a better chance of entertaining them than a random choice, thereby increasing reader faith in finding a quality self-published read.

If you read the rest of that page, you can see Mark is up front about the idea of a “best” book. The most we can hope for is an intersubjective consensus, of sorts.

My question is this: Did readers “find” my book when it was named as a finalist? By which I mean: Did I get a bump in sales from SPFBO?

To simplify things, I’m only going to look at Kindle sales. I do list the books on B&N and Kobo and the rest, and there is an overpriced POD edition (which is redundant, but that’s how it works) that I plan to cancel soon, but all together they make up about one-tenth the sales on Kindle, and the trends match, so I’m going to simplify things by only talking about the Kindle store.

Let’s look first at the historical trends. Keep in mind that these are only sales of The Way into Chaos. The other books in the series are not included.

The Way into Chaos Kindle sales

Sales for The Way into Chaos under Kindle’s “Historical” tab

(Stupid Preview, putting a box around that one piece of text for no reason I can see.)

By way of explanation: The Way into Chaos was the first book of a trilogy, and I released book 2 and book 3 approximately 30 days apart, which I’d been told was a good strategy for ebook sales. Besides, all the books were finished because I had Kickstarter backers to please, so why wait? “Key/Egg” refers to A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, the pacifist urban fantasy that I delivered as a stretch goal.

You can’t see the bar graph for the month that the SPFBO finalists were announced because I sold fewer than two dozen copies that month. There was a very slight uptick in sales for Nov and Dec 2017, but the numbers were small enough that they could have been statistical noise.

That’s not what I’d call a bump.

What about the announcement of the winning book, which included cover art for all the finalists and their rankings?

The Way into Chaos sales covering winner announcement

The Way into Chaos sales covering winner announcement

That didn’t do it, either. I think you can see why I’m only posting numbers for book one in the series. I’d hoped that a bump in sales for the start of the trilogy would have carried over to books two and three, but there was no bump, and therefore no carry.

I imagine that Rob J. Hayes, who won the top spot with Where Loyalties Lie, saw a noticeable sales bump. I’d be curious to see what effect the contest had for him. Readers (including me) respond much more strongly to enthusiastic reviews than they do to mediocre ones.

And TWiC received a number of middling reviews: one reviewer doesn’t like books with fighting and politics. Another did the “No, really!” snark thing, but no one snarks on a book they genuinely enjoy. And all that goes back to what I wrote at the top, which is that the bloggers’ responses were very personal, just like in any contest.

Also of interest is this take, from an author who did not make the finals but feels he got tremendous value from it. For him, the real benefit came from the community that has sprung up around the contest.

Which is great for him, but that community is on Facebook, and I walked away from FB years ago for all the reasons that people do. I still have a (friendless) account because some readers want to follow me there and I need an account to maintain a page, but I rarely look at it. Joining a Facebook community wouldn’t make sense for me.

Besides, my life already has too much social media in it. What I need to be doing is cutting back, not adding more.

I post this not to complain or criticize. The book has already sold quite well, and hitting 7858 units sold in the first six months–only counting the Kindle–is pretty good. In fact, it’s better than some books released by traditional publishers. For comparison, in its first six months, The Twisted Path only sold 1,957 copies. That’s not terrible, but it was also a long-awaited sequel to my most popular series. So TWiC has done pretty well.

The reason I post all of this is to put as much information into the world as possible. Nihil veritas erubescit.

Anyway, SPFBO 2018 is already running and full up on submissions. But while it’s too late to enter, it’s a good time to follow along, find some great new books to read, and maybe join a new community. If you’re on Facebook, that is.

[Update] Author Rob J Hayes, who claimed the top spot in SPFBO 2017, had this to say on reddit:

It’s hard to say exactly what effect SPFBO has had on sales of Where Loyalties Lie because it was only released a couple of weeks before the blog off started last year. Since then its sales have been steady most months with large bumps both when it was announced as a finalist, and an even larger bump just recently when it won.

So there is a bump! Maybe I didn’t get one because a) I didn’t place high enough or b) I wasn’t part of the Facebook community or c) both.

Also, lol at “willing to put in the work”

Young Men in Groups

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I noticed this a couple of weeks ago and I tried to put off a response until my interest in it fell away. It hasn’t. Therefore:

It started with this tweet from Chuck Wendig:

If you click on that and read the whole thread, skip the rest of this paragraph. But basically, there are a bunch of right wing Star Wars fans who have decided the movie series has to be one of the many fronts in the culture war, and they imagine they have the power to tank a movie’s box office through shitposting.

And then there’s the guys who think that targeted harassment against the women who star in these movies–harassment that causes them to shut down their social media–is some kind of victory for men. Especially if the women are not white women.

It reminds me of something I read a very long time ago and never forgot. It was so long ago that I’ve forgotten the source, but it stuck with me: it’s that the most dangerous people you are likely to meet on the street are young men traveling in groups.

As a writer of thriller/action/violence and such, I’ve spent a fair amount of time searching for good books on the subject. They’re surprisingly rare. (I can recommend (with affiliate links) two good ones, if you’re interested. One. Two.) But you can usually find a worthwhile nugget or two in any book.

The reason young men in groups are especially dangerous, according to this long-forgotten author, is that to the men in the group, the victim almost doesn’t matter. The victim is beside the point. The real reason the men in the group want to do violence is to impress the other members. They want to prove themselves. To push things a little farther.

In the book, the technique the author proposed to head off the confrontation was to look one member of the group in the eye–not the one directly in front of you, but one standing back a little–and say something like “You know this is wrong.” Basically, to shame them into breaking the cycle of competition so they would move on.

It seems to me that part (not all, but part) of what’s going on in these RW hate campaigns is a similar dynamic. It was certainly the case with GooberGate, where young men were competing to be the most outrageous shit head, and for all the notoriety that went with it. The victim didn’t matter to them except as a trophy to show off to their friends. What mattered was attention from others in your group.

And when you’re online, a victim can’t look someone in the eye and shame them. That has to happen in real life, because that online connection will never be as strong as the connection to their group.

For example, check out this article about an incel who left the online incel community. Is it body dimorphism for him to believe he’s too ugly to ever get a girlfriend? He looks like a perfectly normal guy, but maybe he doesn’t feel like one. He says he didn’t approve of violent talk in those incel communities, but he thought they were dark humor.

I’m glad to say that Mr. Former Incel had a chance to meet people in real life who looked him in the eye and made him realize he already knew it was wrong. Instead of chiding other incels who fantasized about violence, he walked away.

There will always be a certain percentage of any particular group of abusers who are psychopaths or sadists. They hurt people because they like it and they can’t be shamed into changing. But the people around them, who see that viciousness as a kind of strength, emulate them so they can feel strong, too. Those followers can be cut away, but it’s not easy. And I have no idea how it can be done in online spaces.

“I don’t want to be what they made me.” A Review of Jessica Jones S2

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When I finished watching the second season of Jessica Jones (the first time through) I tweeted this:

Now that I’ve seen it all the way through three times does my opinion still hold up?

Yep!

Spoilers! Continue reading