Not with a bang but a buy link: the rpg supplement from my just-finished Kickstarter is now ON SALE

Standard

For writers, the huge projects that we put hours of toil and sweat and heartache into typically end when something goes on sale. That happened today.

The Fate Core supplement, titled The Way into Fate, that covers The Great Way and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark has been sent to backers and is now available for sale on Drive Through RPG. It’s over 53K words (far more than intended) and is basically a world-building document expressed in Fate’s (deeply intuitive) game system.

Plus, there’s a 50-page adventure covering a historical incident briefly alluded to in the books. The Key/Egg section of the game covers Marley’s Farce Magic, and both sections include many story seeds for possible campaigns/adventures.

It also means my Kickstarter campaign is officially over.

The campaign that I launched in Oct, 2013 to fund books that were released one year ago, has now, with the publication of this game supplement, ended. To say this is a load off my shoulders is understating things significantly. If you’re a backer and I owe you books, check your Kickstarter messages. If you don’t have a working link, message me through Kickstarter.

And, to bury the lede, check out that final Kickstarter update for a big Twenty Palaces update.

In the meantime, if you like games and fun, pick up your copy of the game supplement here.

They say ideas aren’t worth much…

Standard

and “they” are correct!

Long time readers know that I give away story ideas on my blog (the ones I’m never going to write, I mean) under the tag “seeds”. And you might remember last year when I mentioned that writer Stephen Kotowych took one of those ideas, wrote it up, and sold it to an anthology called Caped.

Well, now that story has made the short list for the Prix Aurora Awards under Best English Short Fiction.

First of all, congratulations to Stephen; the idea of superpowers that spread virally through punching is a fun one, if I say so myself, but it’s worthless on its own. Execution is everything.

Second, I have no idea how the Prix Aurora works, but if you (yes, you, the person reading this) have a vote, why not vote for Stephen’s story, “Super Frenemies”.

Third, it’s an interesting world, and getting more interesting all the time.

Batman v Superman is a bad movie, but it’s not incoherent

Standard

I saw Batman v Superman on Friday, despite the reviews. as expected, it was full of (dark) spectacle, but as I said on Twitter, it played as if it had been made by people who didn’t understand how stories work.

Screenwriters talk about structure all the time, which is a concern that goes beyond the usual cause and effect of plot and character. How does each scene play out? What effect will this have on the audience? How does this scene play in relation to the scenes that came before and after it? For example, if you watch the scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Nick Fury is attacked in his super spy van, you see a standard (and effective) escalation of threats. First, Fury faces a squad of well-equipped gunmen and kicks their asses. That extended scene demonstrates that he’s a badass. The scene ends when the Winter Soldier takes Fury out in a second or two, sending Fury running.

First, you establish a character as super capable, then you present someone who outdoes them.

The similar scene in BvS, where Batman in his Batmobile dismantles Luthor’s security team on the road, only to be stopped by Superman, tries to hit the same note and fails. You don’t need to establish Superman’s power level. He’s Superman. And Batman isn’t being a hero in that scene, he’s being an anti-hero (because he’s stealing from a villain and murdering his henchmen), so we’re glad he’s been foiled.

And it just doesn’t work on multiple levels, and that’s just one scene.

But a number of reviewers are calling it incoherent or saying the plot’s baffling, and that’s a separate issue entirely. It’s extremely common for viewers (critics included) to see a movie, decide they’re not enjoying it, then mentally check out. They stop caring, stop paying attention, and quickly get left behind by the plot.

Why didn’t the protagonist just kill that guy? Why did they have that long scene in the courthouse? Why this why that? Why not fly the giant eagles straight into Mordor?

For viewers who are paying attention, the answers are right there in the film. For viewers who aren’t, their self-inflicted confusion is just another strike against the filmmakers. Although of course this happens with books, too.

There must be a name for this phenomenon, but I don’t know what it is. But whenever I hear someone say “I didn’t like this movie, and it made no sense” I always believe the first half and remain agnostic on the second.

State of the Self, 2016 (aka, the “We’ll see” post)

Standard

On Tuesday, I hit 100K words on the work in progress, currently titled ONE MAN, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to assess where things stand in a general way. No encouragement or advice, please, especially about the medical stuff.

Me, personally

I turned 50 last year, which I guess is supposed to be a big thing but it didn’t feel like it. Mostly, it felt (and continues to feel) like a timer ticking down. As more and more of “my” pop culture figures pass away (and more and more of them are closer to my own age) I’ve become increasingly aware that my own time is growing short. Right now, somewhere inside me, I probably have a cancerous tumor that’s lying quiet, small for the moment, but ready to expand aggressively under the right circumstances. If I’m very very lucky, I’ll live long enough to see my son married and living a stable life, to have earned a sense of accomplishment with my work, and to feel as though I’ve lived enough.

I can’t really imagine that, but that’s my hope.

The petty medical issues that have plagued me since 2012 haven’t gone away, but I’ve decided to work through them to focus on my weight. I’m down 10lbs in the last two weeks and plan to continue. The first few are always the easiest, of course. We’ll see.

Finally, for a long time I’ve pretty much avoided social situations. I talk to my wife. I talk to my son. I order coffee at the cafe. Beyond that, it’s extremely rare for me to speak to anyone aloud; all my interactions have been online. I guess the only exceptions have been the two-hour SF2W meetups that Django Wexler arranges, and I’ve been to, I think, two in the past year. Once in a rare while a reader drops me a note and we’ll meet face to face. Very rare.

Aside from that, I’ve been actively avoiding social events. I don’t go to conventions. I haven’t contacted the roommates I had 20 years ago to suggest we grab lunch. It’s been a very quiet life, and I like it.

But a week ago I cashed in the Christmas gift that my niece gave me: a tour of some of her favorite brewpubs in Ballard. It was extremely mellow, and we got the chance to just hang out and talk, which I don’t do much.

The following Friday, I had the event at the UW Bookstore, where a number of authors in the anthology Unbound signed books for readers. I suspect most of them were there to see Terry Brooks, but people were nice and it was good to talk to them. It had no noticeable effect on my book sales, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other authors afterwards. (What I could hear of it, anyway. People in bars are noisy.)

So I’m thinking I should put more energy into that sort of thing. Talking to people. I dunno. Maybe.

Family

My wife is doing pretty well, especially now that she has an APAP machine to help her sleep through the night, which she can do now, sometimes. She’s also spending more of her time painting. Making art was hard for her after her father died. She and her siblings inherited his canvases, which no one outside the family wanted and no one inside could bear to dispose of.

She began to feel the same way about her own work. Our apartment is already crowded, and she didn’t see a point to creating more stuff that her kid will have to deal with when we die. Slowly, she’s moved past that and is doing the work for its own sake, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. She’s also gotten into a couple of shows. Did I say it makes me happy? It really really does. Now I just need to write a hit book so we can afford a place with a studio. North-facing, naturally.

My son turned 14 a few months ago and starts high school in the fall. Homeschool is coming to an end, and I’m hoping that a) he’ll make more real life friends and b) I’ll have more writing time. It’s going to be a rough transition, but he’s ready for it. His sleep schedule might not be, but he is.

Games

I’m still playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on Steam. In fact, I’m playing it too much. I should probably download a program that will block Steam for most of the day. I’d get more done, and do less obsessive clicking.

BUT! I should say that, when I’m playing SotM, I don’t feel hungry, or itchy, or sad. I’m almost completely absorbed, even moreso than when I’m writing. It’s worth keeping around just for that. I just wish it was less irresistible.

Reading

After several years of feeling burned out on reading inside the fantasy genre, I’m finally feeling burned out on crime and mystery. It doesn’t help that I tried to shift from old classics to books that are popular and current, and really really did not enjoy them.

Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I picked up solely out of a sense of gratitude for the social events mentioned above, is a flintlock fantasy that I enjoyed way more than expected. Recommended. At the moment, I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because everyone on reddit loves those books passionately. I’m 80 pages in and mostly enjoying it, despite the fact that I’m not usually fond of high magic settings.

Watching

I took the family to DEADPOOL, which is an objectively bad movie, but hugely enjoyable anyway. It’s been a while since I saw a modern Hollywood film (that wasn’t SPY) that made me laugh really hard. Now I hear that the people behind Batman v Superman are planning an R-rated version, because… I don’t know, they think it was the rating that made DEADPOOL a hit and not the humor? Don’t know. Don’t care all that much.

I’ve also dropped a number of TV shows that I was watching through sheer momentum, not because I enjoyed them. Most of what I found compelling in season one of ARROW is long gone, and I just don’t have space for it anymore. After trying both LUCIFER and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, I’ve decided that they aren’t going to do that Star Trek thing where it takes them a little while to find their rhythm and they become awesome. Both are dropped. At this point, I’m only watching ELEMENTARY, FLASH (which has been way less fun this season) and AGENTS OF SHIELD (which has been improbably improving).
I’m looking forward to season 2 of DAREDEVIL, even though it will probably be a disappointment. We’ll see.

No one in my family is remotely interested in the upcoming DC adaptations. We’ll see, redux.

Writing

As I mentioned above, last week I crossed the 100,000 word mark of ONE MAN. What I didn’t mention is that last August 26th, I was at 31,000 words.

I know this because of this horrible new record-keeping that other authors suggested I do. All it does is tell me things that make me unhappy.
For example, last fall I took a month-long trip to Portugal, and my plan to squeeze out a few pages during quiet moments never worked. I got zero new words done that month.

After Thanksgiving, I stopped writing the first draft and went back to revise what I had. Revise it extensively, which took a month and a half.

When that was finished, I realized the game supplement I promised my Kickstarter backers was way overdue, and I spent three weeks revising that.
When I returned to ONE MAN, I re-outlined the rest of the book (using the virtual whiteboard app Scapple, which I like) and now things are tearing right along.

It’ll take another long revision process, and it’s going to be a long-ass book: at 100K words, I’m still looking ahead to the beginning of the climax. Still, I feel like this is good work. I just hope the market agrees.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on after that. The next book in the series is TWO DRAGONS, but I have a short story due for an anthology (soon) and I might want to write something else in between. Plus there’s that game supplement.

I wish I could be more prolific.

And that’s where things stand.

Hacking Popular Books But Still Confusing Popular With Good

Standard

Every question can be answered by computers, apparently, including What’s the difference between bestselling fiction and fiction that doesn’t sell?

Oh hell, am I supposed to make you click a link??? Have this relevant blockquote instead:

They took the first 1,000 sentences of 4,129 books of poetry and 1,117 short stories and then analyzed them for various factors. They looked at parts of speech, use of grammar rules, the use of phrases, and “distribution of sentiment” – a way of measuring the use of words.

They found that successful books made great use of conjunctions to join sentences (“and” or “but”) and prepositions than less successful books. They also found a high percentage of nouns and adjectives in the successful books; less successful books relied on more verbs and adverbs to describe what was happening.

More successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. The results varied by genre, but books that are less successful, the researchers reported, used words like “wanted,” “took” or “promised.” Successful authors employed “recognized” or “remembered.”

“It has to do with showing versus caring,” Choi said. “In order to really resonate with readers, instead of saying ‘she was really really sad,’ it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. You are speaking more like a journalist would.”

Communications researchers believe journalists use more nouns, pronouns, and prepositions than other writers because those word forms give more information, Choi explained.

“Novelists who write more like journalists have literary success,” she said.

And to think that I deleted all those prepositional phrases from my books because I thought they were unnecessary! Josh Helman might be playing Ray Lilly in the movie version right now if only I’d left them in.

More seriously, color me skeptical that Choi’s analysis above, which boils down to showing vs telling, is more than post hoc rationalization (or a mundane error in science journalism) since it seems to contradict the paragraph before, which says “actions and emotions” take second place to “thought processes” in successful books. It’s almost as though the data has to be twisted to fit the popular model of how to write well.

It’s almost enough to make me grab a Lee Child novel off the library shelf to see how much ink is spent “retaliating first” and how much analyzing story beats.

At the back end of the article, a writing teach claims that the research must be all wrong, since it’s verbs that make for good writing, and that people choose books based on subject matter rather than style.

Both statements might be true, but good writing is not the same as popular writing, and if you’ve got the subject matter, maybe there’s a boost to be gained by writing in a journalistic style.

Which, honestly, is interesting to think about, but which I’ll completely forget about by the time I return to my current book. I just gotta do my own thing. As much as I’d like to be successful, I suspect I’m immune to the advice that could make that happen.

Have a Nook? In the UK? Back up your books

Standard

If you’re in the UK and you have a Nook (there must be at least ONE of you out there) be sure to back them up. Nook is pulling out of the UK market and relying on a third-party to take over for the Nook books people have already bought.

Personally, I don’t put a lot of trust in maintenance arrangements with third parties.

Details here.

Authorial Self Sabotage: first in an informal series

Standard

The common wisdom is: if you publish in the genre, go to conventions. Here:

Now, to clarify (because this has bitten me in the ass before) I’m quoting Kameron Hurley to talk about her assertion, not to blindly agree with it.

I’m going to relink the article she’s linking above because it’s worth reading, and I’m going to quote it, too.

Check this part out:

Here’s another wrinkle: at least in SFF writerdom, there is really no meaningful distinction between friends and colleagues. Which, sure, is true of a lot of fields. But these relationships are particularly close, and the professional utility of these friendships can be very high. There are costs to missing out, to not being at the right place at the right time to meet the right person. Missed connections are a real thing. Because here’s another wrinkle: it’s not just about being talented. It’s about being noticed.

Which calls back to some other, previous posts of mine about luck. (Don’t roll your eyes, people, I’m going to be brief this time.) If you maximize your interactions with other people and with new experiences, and you remain open to new opportunities, you increase your chances of a “lucky” break. That’s why people who say you can’t control luck are wrong. You can’t control luck in any specific situation, but you can increase the chances that something lucky will happen over the long term.

Therefore: conventions, where you meet colleagues who become friends. The benefits of that are unpredictable but they’re there. The costs are there, too.

See this post by Chuck Wendig listing the upside and downside of attending. As Chuck says, the point is to meet people you like and be liked in return. It’s a professional opportunity to make pals, not to cynically acquire names and resumes who will give your career a lift. Chuck also makes an extensive list of the downsides, one of which is cost. Marko Kloos broke down the cost of attending Confusion, an event he really enjoyed and which is apparently the cool new thing.

Clearly, $1,888 isn’t chump change, and it’s clear that no one is going to make back that money on the weekend itself. The money I just paid to Bookbub was not tiny, but the extra sales more than made up for the cost. But that’s short-term thinking. That almost-nineteen hundred dollar ConFusion expenditure will pay off, if it pays off at all, in the long-term benefits that come from the friendships formed at the event.

For example: we’ve all seen writers pushing their books on social media, and most of us know that, while it works once in a while, it’s not an effective way to sell. You reach your core followers, they buy the book, and the positive effects of future promotion nosedives.

But being promoted by other writers to their followers, with a personal recommendation? That’s gold. Meeting an editor who remembers you as smart, funny, and sensible the next time your agent submits your work? Making a good impression on a handful of fans who decide to try your books, then love them so much that they evangelize for them? Also gold.

And it can’t be predicted or forced. It’s like the old saying: “If you want to find someone to love, be someone worth loving.” Authors just have to go, spend the money, the energy, and the time, and hope good comes of it.

For those who have found benefit that way, great. I’m glad Kameron Hurley’s career is doing well and I hope she becomes a best-seller (or whatever her goal is). But it’s important to be wary of Survivor Bias. My own experience at big meetups is not all that positive. Usually I leave feeling that I should have spent that time writing.

And then there’s this:

No conventions. Hear that? They don't attend many conventions

Excerpt from ‘The Career Novelist’ by Donald Maass

That advice is more than 20 years old and it’s the exact opposite of what authors are told now. Conventions may have been around for a long time, but could things have changed so much?

I’m open to the possibility that social media magnifies the effects of creating a F2F friendship with your colleagues; it’s possible that folks who witness fun and funny online exchanges between pros would be willing to sample the work of a whole clique. I also suspect that’s where “cool kids” rhetoric comes from (as in “I’ll never be one of the cool kids”). In social media, casual expressions of camaraderie are a public act and it’s easy to feel excluded when it looks like everyone but you gets to take part in the fun (Not to mention getting the reviews, the blurbs, the nominations…)

Then again, what looks widespread and pervasive on social media is usually neither. The ongoing drama in one person’s circles goes completely unnoticed by the world at large. And those people that look like they’re among the “cool kids” are struggling with their books and their insecurities just like any other writer. The only difference is that their circle of friends has a high(ish) profile.

Still, the idea that long-lasting sales comes to those who don’t waste time on the social stuff is very very tempting.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Is it worth the time and money? How many cons does it take to start making friends? Is it even worth it for me, a guy who hates to be jostled, who can’t hear in noisy environments, and is terrible at recognizing faces? (also names?)

Maybe it would be worth it, but feh. I’m terrible at that stuff. We only get 52 weekends a year, and I don’t want to use one of mine on socializing when I could be working on a book.

I could be shooting myself in the foot with that decision, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

Today’s Twitter Confession

Standard

Sometimes I squelch the urge to say things that are true but seem obvious. I probably shouldn’t.

And this is why Wren, an app that lets me send Tweets without being distracted by reading anyone else’s, is a great way to let off steam when I’m writing.

Death… I mean, Obscurity stands at your left shoulder and whispers “Soon.”

Standard

I should have put this here instead of on Twitter, but I got into a roll and what the hell.

Here it is, my short essay on obscurity:

I wish I could edit tweets.

Anyway, re: #18, here’s Jaime Lee Moyer talking about her series being cancelled after Tor pulled her first two books just as book 3 was coming out and here’s Patrick Swenson talking about Tor dropping him after one book. Those forgotten bestsellers I mention in tweets #6 & 7? At least they made a little money first. For too many of us, even that’s beyond our grasp.

I have also been thinking about George RR Martin, who recently announced that his next Westeros novel will be delayed. It reminded me of an article I read about JK Rowling, and the pressure she felt while trying to finish the last few Harry Potter books. Those authors have had amazing success, obviously, but they still feel Imposter Syndrome. They still worry that readers will be turned off and turned away. That readers will move on.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about lately, as I watch the Bookbub sales bump fade, and wonder if those readers will move past the 99 cent promo novel to my other work.

Hey new readers, if you want to keep up with my future work, why not sign up for my newsletter? I only send it when I have something new out.

Also, it helps keep the specter of Obscurity a few paces behind.

Writer Perspective v. Reader Perspective: Is Fantasy a Plot Element?

Standard

Holy crap, you guys, I have so many browser tabs open to read/link to/comment on and no enthusiasm for the job. I’m tempted to just create a giant link salad so I can be rid of them and their spinning beach ball of death.

But first, there’s a post I’ve been meaning to respond to for exactly one year, so I’m going to get it out of the way today, 365 days after it was posted.

My original post: Superheroes Are Not a Genre, in which I said that fantasy was defined by a plot element.

The response: Fantasy is not a plot element, by LJ user barbarienne (who not so incidentally did the interior design work for The Great Way, who helped me find a printer and cover designer, and was generally indispensable during the publication process. She’s the reason those books look as good as they do.)

My original post was about genres and how to combine them. Genres are defined in different ways: how they make the reader feel, what sort of plot question they have, where they’re set. What barbarienne didn’t like was that I defined fantasy by plot and not by setting.

Her post largely focuses on the importance of worldbuilding. For ex: But it is only in genre fantasy where the created setting is why the readers came here. [I removed a footnote from the middle of that sentence.] Note that she wrote “created setting” because there are several genres where the setting is central to reader interest, such as westerns and historicals, but those settings are re-created. Only science fiction blah blah blah, she covered that in her post, which I hope you’ve read.

And I agree with most of what she says. For the most part, fantasy readers love setting above all else, and some are seeking novelty while others are seeking the familiar. It’s why so many fantasy novels seem like travelogues. Even urban fantasy that’s supposedly set in our world contains sections that read like The Smart Tourist Guide To Secret Places.

But the thing is, I wasn’t talking about the reader’s experience of fantasy. I was talking about the issues a creator has to consider when mixing genres. For example, if you’re creating a fantasy/western, you could just add magic to a story set in Dodge City. You could, if you wanted, create a pseudo-Old West map in the way that other writers create pseudo-medieval maps, but you don’t have to. The magic a writer adds to Dodge City changes the type of story you can tell there, and while it might change some of the characters (gun-slinging wizard?) it doesn’t have to. But it will always change the way the plot progresses. Even if they’re stock western characters with nothing fantastical about them, if they’re facing a dragon or cursed dueling pistols or telepathic cattle rustlers, the fantasy elements affect the plot.

Fantasy readers, with their particular reading protocols, may not experience it that way. “It’s the old west with dragons!” they’d say, as though it was an entry in one of Rick Steve’s books. Fantasy can be defined in several ways, but among the fans of the genre, they’re looking for a interesting fantastical setting, but from the outside, readers think of it in terms of a story containing things that “aren’t real” (often with the implication that they are risible, childish, or a waste of time).

Okay. Let me backtrack a bit to my own books: when it was clear that Child of Fire was popular among fantasy readers who also loved mysteries and thrillers, Del Rey tried to push the book by sending it to mystery/crime reviewers, too. It’s a novel that crossed genres! Why not expect it to beyond the overlap of fantasy and crime into readers of crime novels?

But it didn’t. Crime/mystery readers and reviewers were mostly uninterested. (I say “mostly” because I got some very nice feedback from readers who wouldn’t ordinarily touch a fantasy novel; they only read it because they knew my wife and were surprised by how much they enjoyed it.) Why? It wasn’t the setting. It wasn’t even the general plot questions (Two people arrive in town to find and kill a very bad man). It was the fantastical elements that made up the plot: the spells, the spell book, the monsters, etc.

And if you think Spell books that summon monsters are part of the worldbuilding, you’re not wrong. But they are also elements of the plot, and powerful influences on the characters. In fact, they are all those things at once; as a writer, I can’t think of them in any other way. The temptation that Frodo feels to put on the One Ring is not just a question of character (Frodo can resist where others can’t) and it’s not just a plot question (can he resist temptation for the whole journey) and it’s not just evidence at the way magic works in the setting of Middle Earth. It’s all those things at once, and they are inextricable.

So, to sum up:

1. Speaking generally, fantasy readers read fantasy because they are looking for setting.
2. Speaking generally, fantasy readers experience fantastical story elements as worldbuilding first, character and plot elements second, because as much as they love great characters and exciting plots, setting is the commonplace attraction.
3. Speaking generally, non-fantasy readers experience fantastical story elements in a variety of ways, but typically as elements of the plot. In other words, fantasy readers -> “This is a school where kids learn magic!” / other people -> “These kids overcome their problems by casting spells.”
4. Search your feelings. You know number three is true.
5. For a creator who is combining fantasy with other genres, the fantasy elements may be related to the setting but it’s more likely that the fantasy elements will be plot-based.
6. If it’s unclear what I mean by “plot-based” well, consider questions like: “How can the characters achieve their ends?” “What obstacles interfere with the characters’ efforts?” “What goal are they trying to achieve?” Those are plot questions.
7. For example: Among all the space ships and robots, Star Wars has wizards who use telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, and can shoot blue lightning from their fingertips. When a creator is trying to decide what a character should do next, all those (fantastical) elements are on the table.
8. Some people will try to argue that the presence of fantastical elements indicates a fantasy setting. Those people are wrong. A book set in our New York City, but with jewelry thieves who are secretly dragons, is a fantasy plot in a mundane setting.
9. Which means I believe writers can/must sometimes do fantasy worldbuilding in mundane settings.
10. Those fantastical plot elements can be a tough sell to readers outside the genre, but not as tough as it used to be.

Now I remember why I put off responding to this post, because it’s so much easier to cruise Twitter reading jokes like: