Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.

 

Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

DetCon1 Redux (Part One)

I’m sitting just outside the DTW jetty that will eventually have a plane parked at its other end. This plane will take me to PHX and thence further on, and hopefully home, to SEA. While I sit, sipping an iced chai from the coffee stand down the concourse, I’ve been reviewing the last four days. Trying to form the lessons I’ve learned into something I can use moving forward. Articulate the wisdom of those who have gone before me.

I should note that in addition to all the learning and networking I had an awesome time. The North American Science Fiction Convention happened to to intersect with the NetRoots Nation convention. This proved a particularly good sort of kismet for all involved. Every time I had a little down time I was approached by someone from the adjacent affair who would invariably say something like “What’s this all about?” or “I don’t read science fiction, but I want to more ….” In some small way all that curiosity and social boundary crossing I think enriched the experience for all involved. Plus, I believe the verdict was that DetCon1 had the better room parties.

From the get-go my convention schedule seemed subject to change. The Vice President’s visit to the same building meant that I got stuck in some amazing traffic. As a connoisseur of the finest road bound cluster events in Norther America and beyond I can say that this was a classic Interstate stoppage. Ultimately, this meant that I missed my scheduled reading. But don’t feel bummed for me because the agile and capable staff running the convention from the table in the green room busted a move and helped me find a spot on Saturday. Opposite Jim Hines. Which was awesome. Did I happen to mention I read opposite Jim Hines? I should probably say that again, opposite Jim Hines.

Had I nothing to read other than a crap pile of words I would still fail to see how this could have gone badly for me. Jim Hines…. Rather my first reading at a convention turned out to be a fairy tale princess event with butter and bacon. We (and mostly he) packed the room. It was standing room only and as we got ready I couldn’t help grinning madly because I knew that I had selected a black arrow from my quiver.

Chapter four of the second book in the “sports in space” series is about the naval space program’s super secret Atlatl gunboat system told from the point of view of Gunnery Sergeant Capston. I had rehearsed the reading a bunch the night before, I wanted it to go really well. I knew there were three good laughs in the manuscript and the potential for a cringe. They happened, all where I had anticipated they might. Even better I know how I can do a better job next time.

The reading was an amazing learning experience and it also served as a great opportunity to get to know Jim Hines a little better. What a great guy to be friends with. I am really looking forward to Geek Fan Expo in September where we’ll both be special guests.

Speaking of readings, I caught John Scalzi and Jacqueline Carey combined reading. A memorable hour of my life, and one which I can now refer to in an effort to make future readings of my work all the better. Both of these excellent authors are also the very best public readers.

So, yes, watching these two masters read was very helpful and informative. I also got to spend some time face-to-face with them both as well as others. A memorable tid-bit that Scalzi left me with was something like, “The operating mode of writing is failure, so get used to it. Submit, and while you’re waiting write some more. Eventually, you’ll get sales.”

Finally, John’s wife Kristine was at the convention. Much like my wonderful Tess, Kristine is a capable, smart, and loving woman who teams up with her main man in the creative process. Perhaps the most important take away from our conversations was that I was reminded I really need to listen and pay attention to what Tess has to say about my work. Perhaps more importantly what she tells me about the way I conduct my business. She is my first, best fan in addition to my partner. Also, “never compromise when it comes to your work.” Kristine gave me this fundamental as a guideline and then we enjoyed a beer in between panels. If you’re reading this, I’ve heard you both. Loud and clear.

And with that, I must leave you. The plane is at the far end of the jetty and the scent of anticipation is running through the crowd. Yes, there will be more. Stay tuned, big announcements are blog bound.

Author Interview Mel Hearse

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you what may be the last in my series of author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Let me say, before we get to the introduction, that this has been a lot of fun for me. An eye opening experience, but alas all good things must come to an end. Currently, I don’t have any more scheduled interviews. If you’re reading this and thinking “Hey, what about my story?” don’t fret. I would very much like to speak with you. Drop me a line and we’ll make it happen.

Now, on to the introduction. Today we’ll be talking with author, journalist and Mom Melanie Hearse. Check out her website, she has a journalistic bibliography a mile and  a half long. Interestingly, however, her contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, THE GREATER GOOD, was a first step into the world of fiction. It’s an interesting mashup of Mother’s Day and Tales from the Dark Side and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Mel, who lives and works in Australia, has a novel on the way and has since produced several short stories. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Continue reading

News

First, the good news. This weekend I received a letter from the DetCon1 Programming folks and I quickly shot off a reply. I’m headed, once again, to Detroit, Michigan for a summer convention.

I don’t know what it is about that part of the world, but man you “Yoopers” sure have a thing for SFF. I’m not complaining. Not even a little bit. In fact, I’m sort of ecstatic to visit Michigan in the middle of the summer. I’ll get to hang out with the mucky-mucks for a couple of days. Meet new friends and share with colleagues. I’m currently planning on driving so if you’re interested you’ll get to experience my overlander first hand.

Yesterday I nailed down my reservation at the hotel, and there is even the possibility that my beautiful and talented wife might join me on this excursion into intense geekery.  And for that I am even more excited than I have the words to express. I might have to bump up the reservation and get a room with a view.

In other news I have lined up a couple more author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Be excited, you’re going to get buckets of new author blood really soon. Peter Cawdron is due this upcoming Friday. Followed by Ernie Lindsey, Susan May, and Mel Hearse.

In the mean time, if you’re looking for something to read you won’t be disappointed with this anthology. The diversity of voices and tales means that you can pick and chose what you’d rather read based on your mood in the moment. And, even though it is thicker than a Chilton’s Auto Repair manual, it won’t break your budget at $4.99 (kindle price).

While you’re supporting independent authors you should give me a try. I’ve just put out a short story of my own which is turning into something of a series. ON THE LEFT FOOT: A TALE OF THE LONG EARTH is only $0.99 on Amazon and it will transport you from that dull, slightly musty bus seat into an otherworldly back country filled with the rich scents of waking pine trees and fresh trout.

Also, last weekend I added another couple of thousand words to the next in the “sports in space” series UP SLOPE. It is on target for spring release and I’m pretty happy with how the story is coming along. You don’t need to read the first in the series to understand the story, but if you gave THE BIG RED BUCKLE a gander you would not be disappointed.

Next up, this morning I was browsing through your many, many Facebook posts when I came across a real gem from Jacqueline Carey, who is a formidable presence in the the world of wordsmiths to say the least, and she has something really poignant to say about our professional organization.

I don’t mean to imply that the blame for all that ails SFWA lies with its most senior members.  I’m sure it doesn’t, but I can only speak to what I’ve observed, which is that there’s an undeniable generational push-back against changing mores that’s a significant part of the problem.  I don’t want SFWA to lose its identity or its sense of history, but if it’s going to remain relevant, it needs to adapt.  Honor the past, but celebrate the present and look toward the future, too.

I can thank my wife Tess for getting me hooked on Carey’s Kusiel series, late night readings from Kushiel’s Dart were something of a treat back in the early days of our relationship. It is sexy stuff, but with careful and complete construction, deep plots that make it difficult to sleep (even though you have work in the morning).

At ConFusion I had only the briefest of encounters with Carey, but her opinion, and the action (or inaction) she is willing to undertake in order to achieve a clear and unmistakable expression, is admirable. And she has done a wonderful job of laying out all the things SFWA might be missing its maddening rush to cling to BS and drama.

I mean… seriously?  The publishing industry is undergoing seismic changes, changes that affect every single author in (and out of) the genre.  E-book pricing and royalty rates, the antitrust lawsuit, DRM, the rise of indie publishing, Amazon’s slow-burning bid for a monopoly, dwindling brick-and-mortar stores, the commodification of fan fiction, promotion in the age of social networking, the Google Books lawsuit, the consolidation of the Big Six into the Big Five, etc.  There’s a lot to talk about!  And yet when it comes to SFWA, it seems all the oxygen in the room was—and still is—being sucked up by a discussion that has no business taking place in this day and age.

When I first started to accumulate rejection letters one of my primary motivations to be a writer was SFWA membership. I wanted to be included in the group and run along side others doing the same thing. In my past life as an engineer I belonged to a variety of professional organizations, and for the most part, this was a useful and even necessary requirement for inclusion within the network of people working in the field. They kept me appraised of the major currents in my industry and helped me make good decisions that ultimately made me a better engineer.

The realization that SFWA membership might be beyond my reach, even with the growing collection of SFF bearing my name, gave me pause. I started to ask myself, “What could I get out of this relationship if I take the time to jump through their hoops?” The answer that I reached basically amounted to not much that I couldn’t find on my own. I’ve got KBoardsGoodreads, and conventions for community, inspiration, and to keep me appraised of what is and isn’t happening in the writing world. The organization’s Writer Beware blog tends to be far behind the 8-ball when it comes to breaking news and new predatory practices that harm creatives, and its contributors spend at least half their time tooting their own horn. The organization has become, in many respects, just a breading ground for drama and discontent.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to extend some kudos to Jacqueline Carey, I think she is doing a good thing and I hope the best for her and wish her luck. Yes, she has lost her nomination privileges for the Nebula, but her opinions are already well respected. I’d happily read anything she recommended, her cogent and considered opinion has lot more weight than an award.

And finally, I wanted to take a moment to pass along the announcement that Michael J. Sullivan‘s next book is available for pre-order. And if you order now, you’ll get a pile of extras and bonus stuff … early. This is a series I’ve had on my W2R list for a while and Mr. Sullivan is an excellent dude.

So, I will round out today’s news and announcements with one more place for you to spend your hard earned dough on books. Click on through to this announcement for all the details and goodies.

Excellent Article on Forbes

Oh yes, please strip away the mystery. Really enjoyed this article. Plan on reading it again, and then maybe one more time just to make certain the meaning sinks in.

Michael J. Sullivan, author of HOLLOW WORLD gives some excellent advice for indies as well.

Run a Giveaway – Sullivan gives away advanced reader copies (ARCs) of his books on Goodreads up to 6 months before the book is available in print.  This gives the books more value to contest winners who read them before the general public.  “I was only giving away two copies but 2,700 people entered and I got the member names for all of them,” Sullivan told me.  In addition, each contest entry generated a story on that person’s activity feed on Goodreads, which became free advertising for the book.

Build a List – In Sullivan’s world, building readers can be a one on one chore, but the numbers add up quickly.  “I used to go to malls and stand in a bookstore for an event for three hours and I’d get 5 people to read my book.  But then they’d write back to me and some of them would become fans and recommend my books.”  Goodreads makes the same process much easier.

Participate in The Community – Sullivan stresses a central point about communities – they treat others in the community best.  The secret to being promoted within a community like Goodreads is being a good citizen and participating not just as an author but as a reader.  Sullivan was also one of the first authors to friend virtually every reader who gave his books positive ratings.  As a result he now has over 51,000 reviews of his books on Goodreads.

 

An Opinion

Today, io9 put up a blog post “10 BOOK SERIES THAT WOULD MAKE EXCELLENT TV SHOWS” and it got me to thinking. Top on their list of possibilities is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. A personal favorite of mine, one that I go back to time and again, and re-read because it is just that good.

This ambitious, huge series is nothing but political conflicts and complex worldbuilding, with a huge dose of philosphy thrown in. The first colonists land on Mars and debate the ethics of terraforming the planet, and incidentally humanity’s place in the universe. Over time, the series also gets into questions about how to organize scarce resources and the best form of government. HBO or Showtime could turn this series into an addictive, bleak, hypnotic drama — like BSG, only even more adult and grounded

Now you might imagine that I’d be giddy and happily agreeing with the author CHARLIE JANE ANDERS, but I’m not. After reading a story I rarely, if ever, want to see it produced on any screen. My experience tells me, that any film treatment of one of my favorite stories will invariably fall so far short of my expectations that I won’t just be disappointed, but downright angered. And frankly, I don’t need any more opportunities for anger in my life.

So, I understand that this is going to be an unpopular opinion. As an author, I also understand that this is where the money is. Selling the rights to a story you’ve written is a lot like finding a never ending seam of gold buried under a mountain you own top to bottom. But raise the question of film remakes with me and you’d better have a comfortable seat. There are just so many mistakes that are made in the process of transforming a story into a screen play.

Start with Peter Jackson’s treatment of J.R.R. Tolken’s masterpiece trilogy THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Say what you will about Tom Bombadil and the bog wraiths, but that is fully a third of the first book hacked from the first film as if it were so much dross. Trolls? How are you going to manage trolls in the HOBBIT after you’ve already portrayed them as mindless, hulking beasts in the RINGS? And don’t even get me started on the masterbatorial CGI yank fest of every single battle scene in every single film thereafter. These films are what happens when you take a perfectly wonderful story and add a mountain of cash and a stinking pile of dumb.

And author involvement seems to be little remedy for the outrage that will invariably occur if directors, film crews, and production people get their hands on a story. I’m sorry Mr. Martin and Sir Pratchett, but your written words are far superior a medium than the lackluster renditions of your works that make their way onto my television screen. I find myself wanting to enjoy these stories on the television as much as I did when I read them in their written form. Desperately wanting that much enjoyment, but what is painted on the screen never seems to get me there, and I go to bed, after every episode, unfulfilled.

Tell me again, how much money did this little production make?

I know I may have infuriated a potentially large cross section of my readership, so at this point let me take a moment to point out that this is my opinion, nothing more. You can like film remakes of any story all you want and your love for these won’t be any skin off my back for certain. Hollywood and major broadcasters will likely continue to create abridged film versions of stories I love despite my feelings on the topic. And just to be clear, if someone ever picked up one of my stories and said, “Well hey! This is wonderful. I’d like to make a film about people racing paragliders on Mars,” I might actually take them up on an offer. If they offered me the industry-standard, J.K. Rowling sized swimming pool of loose twenty dollar bills I would probably jump on it, the story be damned.

However, I think it is important to understand that we lose something in the telling of stories when our attention is focused solely on the screen. And too, we are losing something vital to our humanity if we fail to read, or if the narrator is unable to convey the importance of the words. Here is where the deficit occurs. Sure a director can capture a few good threads from the fabric of a complex and well woven tale, but this is like reading the Cliffs Notes to Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE and pretending that you understand the entirety of the tale.

Maybe it is my imagination, or the fact that as I read I can picture some scene and hold it in my mind. Or maybe it is that by allowing a director and his film staff unfettered access to a story they invariably imagine things differently than I do, and I am unable to find common ground with their version, or surrender my vision of the story scape. But I want to close my eyes and imagine Saxifrage Russell tip-toeing through the Martian tundra as I see him fully in my mind’s eye.

Not a Meritocracy

An excellent example of HuffPost muckraking has been making the rounds today. Honestly, I think author Lynn Shepherd wastes a lot of valuable screen space throwing a tantrum about JK Rowling’s relative success in publishing. But there is a point at which Shepherd gets my full attention.

It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

Lets get something straight, right from the beginning; publishing is a capitalist business, not a meritocracy. I understand this, and seldom even question the situation any more. If you publish use the tools you have at hand to sell more books. That’s the rule, that’s how it works. Right, wrong? That doesn’t matter.

Additionally, I’m not going to lay my neck down on the block and suggest that J.K. Rowling (or anyone else) stop writing, stop writing in my genre, or stop anything for that matter. Your success as a writer is your business. If you chose to tell the world about the details, good on ya.

Ultimately, I think that the foamy kerfuffle this article surfaced has a lot more to do with the way the big boys sell books than the quality of anyone’s writing. Per USA Today’s most up-to-date rating for THE CASUAL VACANCY saw a bump from not registering to #131 twenty-eight weeks after it was first listed coincidentally at the same time Shepherd published her story on HuffPost.

Shepherd goes on later in the opinion piece, but the whinge starts to gather mass and the reader is forced to ask the all to critical question “Why?”

The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books – just as well-written, and just as well-received – to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do. And now there’s going to be a sequel, and you can bet the same thing is going to happen all over again.

I have to say that I’m happy for Rowling’s success. And why not, she must have worked hard enough to get where she is. Writing takes a lot of time and energy. She should be allowed to write books, just like the rest of us. Good or bad, however, it is the readers that should determine how much of our collective mind space her works take up, not very deep pockets and well refined marketing strategies.

And there is the problem, ad execs and publishing mavins, convinced that anything a Big Name writes will sell a forest’s worth of paper, are tripping all over themselves in the mad dash to sell, sell, sell. They can signal boost in a way that most of us can never hope for.

In doing so they have exposed their hand. The tell is in the fact that they can and do lavish such treatments on a few authors while ignoring so many more. And yeah, this sort of market manipulation hides so many other good works. But what can be done? Nothing, publishing is not a meritocracy.

What I Want

Recently, all-around good guy and SpecFic author Ramez Naam wrote a blog post Publishing – We’re All On the Same Side in which he outlines some observations about publishing, publishers and the people who write. At the end of this piece he writes “What I’d Like to See”.

In my dream world, what I’d love to see:

  • A little more acknowledgement on the self-pub side that traditional publishing has various advantages. Yes, it has downsides too. Yes, self-pub will be better in some situations. But the dialogue right now simply waves away the advantages to authors that can come with traditional publishing deals.
  • Fewer insults cast at self-pub books as a class, particularly on issues of quality and so on, from traditionally published authors. Really, unless your goal is to get people good and angry and harden their hearts, there’s very little point to this.
  • Less taking it personally on both sides. More compassion for and cheering on everyone who writes.

Well, I can keep dreaming, can’t I?

I really enjoyed this post and it further underscores my belief that there is a middle ground. The concept has been smoldering for a while now and the Shepherd piece just blew on it. So Mez, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to take a crack at this too.

For context, I am a self-published author and will likely continue to be so. I have published traditionally; a number of non-fiction, short pieces, but honestly, I don’t count these. And my fiction is weird enough that traditional publication would be a tremendous stroke of luck. That said, I am pragmatic person and writing is a career choice, so ultimately, I will publish the way that works best.

Without further adieu, my thoughts:

  • Writers get respect, yo!

    Fiction writers especially. Yeah, it’s hard. You’ll lose much sleep if you become a writer. Your conversations will become one dimensional explorations of story ideas you want to develop later. You’ll likely lose friends, for a vast variety of annoying reasons, while you’re bleeding on the page.

    Writing isn’t just a vocation, or a career choice. It’s a life style. An already unnecessarily complicated and problematic lifestyle. Like becoming a monk or a nun with about the same amount of sex. If you write, you deserve respect.

  • Stop the Whinge

    There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of envy in this business. Hell, I feel it too. At ConFusion I felt envy when John Scalzi talked about when he felt like he had made it. I too, would someday like to buy a tank of gas and not worry about where the money to buy it might be coming. I too would love to swim in a J.K Rowling sized swimming pool of cash (or more realistically, write checks to the charity of my choice with lots of digits).

    Every last one of us pours as much of their self into their work as they can afford. And that’s why, when it’s done and up on Amazon, we sit and wonder why we’re sitting at #374,097 on the Paid in Kindle Store while that worthless piece of fluff won’t release its death grip on #1.

    Ultimately, I know that it is going to take a much larger pile of words to get there. To get anywhere close to there. But the whinge does nothing to get anyone there. Bitching about someone else’s success, endlessly comparing your works to theirs, whining (often publicly) about whatever is a WASTE OF TIME.

  • Publishing is Publishing

    This might be a corollary to the previous bulleted item, but the fact remains. Publishing is publishing.

    I am super-fucking tired of the constant, low-grade squabble that goes on between the different parts of the published world. As Mez correctly points out more is better, and both parts of the community can contribute to each other. They should contribute to each other. The belief that one way or the other is somehow “better” is just ridiculous.

    Is traditional publishing working for you? That is awesome! Do you prefer the indie route to print? Let this stand as a virtual hug and pat on the back. Just getting work out there is hard enough. The “I poop on your publishing mode” attitude has got to go; it’s simian and base and it makes you look silly.

  • Be nice to one another

    This bears repeating. In fact, it should become a mantra. If you feel the urge to tear someone else down, even if they’ve just invested lots of time and effort in the destruction of another (see Shepherd), ask yourself “am I being nice?”

    It’s a truism that authors don’t really compete with one another. We mostly compete with people not reading, with them sitting on the couch, or watching television, or simply not knowing of anything good to read. I trust that most of the authors I know are supporters of other writers as a class, and that we want to see more people make the leap from “I have a book!” to “People are reading my book!” and even “I’m making a living off of people reading my book(s)!” as we did at one point (or may be in the process of doing).

    So let’s cheer each other on, and point to success, anywhere we see it.

  • What I’d like to see

    This is my dream world statement. It is also me being a hopeless optimist, publicly and without shame.

    • I’d love to see more inclusiveness from professional organizations such as The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Guilds and Unions of yore did not increase their power and influence within their operating space by excluding a particular class of member. If there is a gateway for entry let it be legitimate. The SFWA bar for entry is antiquated at best and this hurts Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. All of ’em.All you need to be a full member of Romance Writers of America is the serious desire to pursue “a romance fiction writing career” and $95 a year. You get full benefits of membership (which are laudable) and voting rights. It makes me want to carve out time for at least one romance story a year (which would be crap I know, but still).

      Other professional organizations need to legitimize all parts of their slice of the pie. They need to do this quickly. When they do, they’ll see a huge bump in their membership and a precipitous drop in drama and ugliness.

    • More readers, yes, many more readers. And this isn’t just the self-interested sort of plea for you to be my reader. No, I think we need more readers.Guys, I’m a slow reader. I admit this because I know, in the past, it is the thing that has kept me from reading more. I’ve felt a fair amount of self-loathing and shame over this deficit.

      But stories are a critical and necessary part of our humanity. We have evolved to pass wisdom around using them. Your perfect story is out there. Whatever your handicap is – lack of time, slow reading, a crippling, misanthropic fear of overwhelming crowds in books stores – there is a ready made solution for you.

      It is my sincere belief that if more people read, even a little, every day (instead of relentlessly tuning into the boob tube or other distraction) the world as we know it would experience a dramatic and much needed shift toward the positive.

    • A lot more cross pollination. Meaning, if you read something you like SHOUT ABOUT IT. If you fear that the juggernaut hype machine of Big Ink is obscuring the voice of a really good writer you like than why are you letting that signal drown out that voice?There are ample options for feedback out there. Review the book on Amazon or GoodReads. Write a letter to the author. Tweet about your favorite read, or your last read. Tell someone at the coffee shop. The list of ready made options goes on and on. And every time you get someone else to ready, you’re cross pollinating.

      Or you could try and be really unique. Cause you’re hip and cool and your love of a story is also a sort of self-expression. Tattoo your devotion to a story on your hide. Name your child after a favorite character. Think outside the box, astound the masses, be awesome!

Interview with Author Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker at WorkMichael Bunker‘s biography only grants the reader a momentary glimpse of a truly innovative and unique mind. He has been grinding out an amazing list of stories which include dystopian sci-fi, the WICK series, The Silo Archipelago, The Last Pilgrims, and the Amish/Sci-Fi novella Pennsylvania.  His latest short, the excellent REDOUBT, is part of FROM THE INDIE SIDE and is a bit of a prequel to some of his longer form fiction. It is also an excellent example of short fiction done well.

I sat down and talked with Michael about REDOUBT, the FROM THE INDIE PROJECT and his writing. I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy his thoughtful answers as well as his formative storytelling.


MT An anthology takes a lot of outside editorial effort. Finding all the authors, ensuring that all the different works make it into the collection on time and with requisite polish, and then there are the on going business aspect of publishing and imprint that must be managed. It is a difficult proposition for traditional publishers to undertake. How were these things managed by a bunch of independents spread all the way around the Earth? Were there hurdles along the way?

MB Susan May has written a wonderful article for Suspense Magazine that outlines how the whole thing came together. But basically it was a serendipitous conflagration of events and how I ended up involved I’ll probably never really know. From my perspective, it came as a total surprise, because – you have to understand – things have changed a lot for me since I first was invited into the project. When my friend Jason Gurley first asked me if I’d be interested, I was probably by far the most unknown author of the twelve. At least that is the way I saw it. I jumped at the opportunity to be connected to these other eleven authors, and I’d do it again. But my overall footprint in the Sci-Fi world was almost non-existent when this first came together. Since then, I’ve become slightly better known, but I’m still awed to be mentioned in the same breath with any of these other professionals. As for hurdles, I was surprised that there weren’t any that I knew about, because out of all the authors in the world, we ended up with 12 that worked really well together, and who were all willing to sacrifice, if necessary, to make this thing happen.

MT Tell us about how you became involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

MB I was contacted by my friend Jason Gurley. He’d been approached to write a short story for the project, and I was fired up for him.  Secretly, I might have been a tad envious, but I really think that Jason is a great author and I want good things to happen for him, so my excitement for him squashed the envious part.  So then Jason said that they might be looking for a few more Indies and asked if I would mind if he mentioned my name to them. He said that I’d already been discussed, and he was pretty sure they’d be glad to have me, but he wanted to clear it with me first.  I jumped all over the opportunity.  To be included in this anthology was – and is – a great honor for me.

MT After FROM THE INDIE SIDE would you consider future anthology projects?

MB Absolutely. I’d love to do more of them. I’ve tried to make myself more valuable to the big guns involved with FROM THE INDIE SIDE by working my reader base and turning out a bunch of reviews. Hopefully if anyone else out there is doing one they’ll ask, because I’m all for them.  I wrote a little piece on my blog about what I think about short stories and anthologies, because I’m a huge supporter of the form, and I always have been.

MT Your contribution REDOUBT parallels the world you’ve developed in your novels WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS in that it takes place at the beginning of an American collapse shared by those books and is the result of a series of attacks. Something that is unclear and never really answered in the short story is the question of who the aggressors are. Can you provide a little background about the conflict?

MB Yes. I wrote THE LAST PILGRIMS first, and it takes place 20 years after a worldwide collapse, the root of which I only hint about in that book. The next novel was the WICK Omnibus which details the events of that collapse.  In that book I started with some events that were really happening in the world. Economic problems, the sharp and acrimonious political divide in America, and then I added two very real natural disasters: Hurricane Sandy, followed by a Nor’easter that strikes the New York area leading up to the presidential election.  The fictional part comes in when my protagonist in WICK, lost in the snowstorm in the Catskill reserve, stumbles into a prison that turns out to be part of an actual top-secret town that turns out to be a Russianized village that is a privatized spy school – utilized to turn out authentically Russian intelligence operatives that can be sent into Russia to spy for America.  That part is based on some real events and locations that happened during the Cold War.

Through this bizarre landscape, we learn of a plot by hardliners in both America and Russia to destroy America and Russia as they are in the modern age. This leads to an EMP attack over America – carried out by corporate interests serving these hardliners – and eventually a full scale nuclear exchange.  Through all of this, my goal has been to show real people and how they deal with one another, and not so much to focus on huge events and the show that is going on.  WICK, THE LAST PIGLRIMS, and REDOUBT are essentially Russian style stories. They focus more on people, the real-world consequences of philosophies, and human interactions, with action only serving to move the story along.

MT Three of your main characters have a military background (SOF and SAS) and are currently survivalist militia members waiting for a collapse. Have you served previously? Are there other experiences that you draw on to create these characters?

MB I have not served in the military, although I was raised in a military family and as a student of history and human nature have spent a good part of my life studying the subject. I also, in my younger days, spent a lot of time around militia types and have many friends in lots of different political/social camps – including militia members, and people who are hostile to anything paramilitary.  The main background of THE LAST PILGRIMS, and therefore REDOUBT though was that TLP was written as a direct modernization of the story of the Ancient Waldenses. A religious community that lived in the Alps for centuries despite numerous genocidal attempts to destroy them as a people. So my military characters are almost all directly drawn from real life individuals in history who lived with and protected the Waldenses.

MT Near the end of REDOUBT there is an exchange between Phillip and Geoffrey in which the Taos artists says, “I don’t have any [politics] left. Except this place. This place is my politics.” Considering where and how he lives before the attacks, I found this sentiment a lot more believable than his earlier characterization. Why was it important to you or the story to make this Taos based artist a “socialist/communist” in the first place?

MB I wanted to have these wildly different characters who came from very different backgrounds. Goffrey Byrd who is the artist, is based on several real life people who I’ve known and befriended who have self-identified as socialists or communists, when in fact, once pressed really only adopted those labels as a way to be different and to shock some people while ingratiating themselves with others.  So I modeled Goffrey after some real artists.  My parents have a rental home in Angel Fire, New Mexico, only miles from the location I describe in the book, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Taos talking to people and drinking coffee. So many beatniks and hipsters and society dropouts who hang out in Taos identify themselves as socialists and communists, but I found that when I really got to know them, they had almost no political foundation at all. They were just like me, in fact. They just wanted to live life and be left alone.  That was their real politics.

MT Was REDOUBT something you had sitting a drawer or did you write it for the anthology?

MB Busted! I wrote REDOUBT originally as an Epilogue for WICK. Something that would lead into a third novel (or series) that would tie WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS together. It was quite a bit longer, and it really ended with a cliffhanger.  When I talked to Brian Spangler and others about a story for the anthology, I was encouraged to use the story if it would introduce a whole new audience to my other works. So at first I submitted the longer REDOUBT story for FROM THE INDIE SIDE.  After thinking about it awhile, I realized that first – I shouldn’t end an anthology story with a cliffhanger, and also I didn’t want to introduce a whole bunch of ancillary conflicts that are not resolved in the story. So, I ended up pulling the submission and re-writing REDOUBT so that it became a shorter story, and one that had an ending that said what I wanted it to say, without it angering people by leaving the story with a cliffhanger. In the original story, there was a lot more about what was going on in Taos, which becomes “New Rome” in THE LAST PILGRIMS novel.

MT You live and work on a farm, take care of a family, and, without a doubt, you are a prolific writer. I often wonder how much time you put in on a day-to-day basis and where that time comes from given your other obligations and responsibilities.

MB I have a wonderful family, including four children – three of whom are either adults or teenagers. I’ve reached an age where my wife and family are really able to handle most of the farm requirements, which allows me to write full time.  I work at writing just like it is a full-time job. I am at my desk usually at 7:30 in the morning, and I work straight through until I’m done. Sometimes that is 5 p.m., sometimes it goes on until midnight.  I have a goal I try to hit every day, and I try to work until I’ve reached my goal.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.

MB Well, I don’t think anyone has figured out the ins and outs of discoverability. There is a natural Catch-22 there, and I’ve talked about this in some of my blog posts. If ever the “way” is figured out and broadcast, everyone would do it, and it would instantaneously cease to work.

Discoverability is like Atlantis, or the Fountain of Youth. Maybe it is out there, but I don’t know where. I’m not sure anyone knows how it works or where they are. All we can do is increase the likelihood that IF someone finds us, they like us and want more of what we write.

There are three concrete things Indies can do to help themselves.

  • Write and publish. Build a backlist. It is possible for someone to have a hit book with their first title (and with nothing else out there,) but it is very, very unlikely. Too many authors go all-in to try to make their first novel a hit, without realizing that statistically your first novel sucks, and realistically – if there is nothing else out there for readers to buy, then they might be unwilling to take a shot on a debut title AND think that it is representative of what the author will continue to produce. There are some great debut titles, and some turn in to hits (people win the lottery)  – it just isn’t likely to happen to you or anyone you know. The answer is to work hard, and publish a lot.
  • Get better. Since in every field of endeavor people tend to improve as they practice and work at their chosen field, your next books is most likely going to be better than this one. Especially if you are studying to make your writing improve. So keep writing AND improve your skill at writing.
  • Be Nice. Say “yes” to opportunities, be a good member of the community, and try to help others.  All the marketing and promotion stuff – to me – is secondary. It is an afterthought after these three things. That way when the time to be “discovered” happens, you’ve increased the probability that what the discoverer finds, is worthwhile and can ignite into something much larger. There tends to be streams or paths of least resistance, which readers follow to find the things they might want to read. You usually cannot force your way into that stream. You have to grow into being a part of what people are looking for. Sometimes Indies get frustrated because there is no “Easy” button, or some system they can use that is guaranteed to work. And answers like mine only increase that frustration – but that is just because I don’t know how to be found, break out, or be successful at this.  I’m still trying to figure it out myself. All I know is that when I publish more, improve, and be nice, better things start happening for me.

MT I believe science fiction today is trending toward the dystopian. Many new stories are more survival epic than space opera. You write a great deal about what happens after the end of everything as we know it. Do you agree that this trend exists, and if so why?

MB I agree that it exists. Absolutely. I’m just against dystopia or post-apocalypticism being lumped in with Sci-Fi. I am not a Sci-Fi writer (Ok, with Amish/Sci-Fi I am, but still…). It is by accident of historical genre manipulation by companies that sell and categorize books that I am a sci-fi writer. I think there can be dystopianism or PA in Sci-Fi, but for the most part realistic dystopian and PA titles should not be considered Sci-Fi.

They are only considered Sci-Fi because there is world building, and usually it takes place in the future, and sometimes that imagined reality involves some technology that isn’t currently widespread.

Now, to answer your question. Why? Why is dystopianism popular today, and why is Sci-Fi really trending more dystopian? I think it is because we live in a world that is very troubling right now. There have always been pessimists, but I don’t think they’ve ever outnumbered the optimists. Not even close to doing so, probably. I think those numbers are probably growing closer together today. You know, I am a great pessimist, but I think I write optimistic fiction.  Whereas someone like my friend Hugh Howey, who is a great and evangelistic optimist, seems to me to write more pessimistic fiction. If that strange scenario is what is really happening, then maybe more Sci-Fi writers today are actually very optimistic about the future of the world! It’s just that I’m not. Because I’m a pessimist (mostly).

MT I am very interested in the tools other authors use to create their works. Give us a rundown of what your writing space looks like. What are the tools you keep in your tool box? Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? Is there anything you’re unhappy with or is there a feature request that you have for a particular tool?

MB I have a great work space.  I have an almost 600 square foot office that is a separate building on my property. It is almost solely used as my work space.  I have a huge library in my office, and I have a really ideal environment for creating.  I live off-grid, so my office is powered by alternative energy sources (solar power and a backup generator).  Ideally, I’d like to increase the amount of power I have available (for printers and perhaps some larger monitors) but I’m really happy with my space. I think I have all the tools I need, since I rely on some really talented people to do a lot of the graphic and formatting work.

MT Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we sign off?

MB I’m just glad to be asked to do this, and I appreciate the opportunity!

Writer’s Tool Box: Not Facebook Part Zwei

“So where ever you’re targeting advertising your page on Facebook is a waste of money. I wish Facebook would remove all the fake likes from my page and from all the others, but that would mean admitting that they have generated significant ad revenue from clicks that weren’t genuine which then supress the reach of of page which had low engagement. Forcing those pages to pay again to reach unauthentic fans. So the truth is that Facebook benefits by maintaining the status quo. Because the reality is *NOBODY LIKES THAT MANY THINGS*”.

I found this on KB today and if you’re using Facebook to promote something there is ample evidence you’re wasting your time and money. Paying for page likes, or page promotions for that matter, seems increasingly like willingly donating to a racketeering scheme.

I will continue to cross post information about my writing to Facebook, but don’t expect me to ever use their services to promote through that particular social network. The noise to signal ratio is full of static.