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Okay, now who wanted a set of books?  I have restocked.

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First Impressions

A number of on-line friends have suggested a Netflix series called Stranger Things. I tried it, and shut it off after about fifteen minutes. The main reason was that in that time I didn’t meet any characters that I particularly wanted to spend time with.

The problem was in how the characters were introduced, and that’s an issue that I find with a lot of modern stories, film, and television.  Somewhere along the line writers got the idea that characters should be introduced at an unguarded, spontaneous moment.  I can understand the reasoning behind it, but I don’t think I like it in practice.

In Stranger Things the very first character we see is running along a corridor in a panic, trying to get on an elevator at the end of the hallway.  We don’t expect him to survive very long, and he doesn’t.  We’re given no information about who he is, what is chasing him, and why we should care if it gets him or not.

Moving on to the next scene, we see a group of kids who are supposed to be playing D&D, but all that happens is that the DM gives a moderately creepy speech and then sets a figure down on the table, at which point all of the players say, “We’re dead” and give up.

Then the DM’s mother yells down the stairs and tells everyone to leave.

One of the kids gets home to find no one there, and then something gets him, which may or may not have been the thing that got the unnamed guy in the elevator in the first scene.

Then we see the missing kid’s mother and older brother having an argument over breakfast, interspaced with some man who wakes up on the couch and takes a shower.

Now, some or all of these characters might be decent people, but it seems to me that the writers went out of their way to introduce them to the audience at the worst possible time.

I don’t get that.  For me, the most important part of any story is the people that it happens to.  As a writer, I want my audience to form a relationship with my characters.  I consider a character’s first appearance to be comparable to a first date with the audience, or a job interview, or a sales call.  I want to give my characters every advantage and bring them onstage on their best behavior, well dressed, and in a positive frame of mind.

There will be plenty of time to reveal flaws and imperfections later–but only if the audience sticks around.  And I, personally, won’t be staying long if what I first see is a family fight or a man arising from a drunken stupor.  Let me see what the character would want a stranger to see first, then I will have a reason to care about whatever dark depths are underneath.

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What Is “The Book Of Lost Doors”?

The Book Of Lost Doors is the collective name for my series of four novels, Catskinner’s Book, Cannibal Hearts, The Worms Of Heaven, and Gingerbread Wolves.

Cannibal      Worms      GingerbreadCatskinner

The four books tell the story of James and Catskinner.  James is a young man who was born into a cult.  When he was an infant, his father bound an alien intelligence to him–that’s Catskinner.  The novels are written in the first person, from James’ point of view.

I began this series with the intent to avoid the common mythologies that are prevalent in Urban Fantasy.  Instead, I drew upon New Wave Science Fiction and Horror sources for inspiration, primarily William Burroughs, Clive Barker, Samuel Delany and Phillip Dick.

Instead of vampires and werewolves, I have orthovores and ambimorphs, necroidim and minraudim, pale surgeons and blue metal boys. I wanted new characters, with strange capabilities and weaknesses.  I wanted a world that was strange and dangerous, but recognizable on the surface as being much like our own.

The overall story arc takes much from Lovecraft, but without the grim futility of most Lovecraftian fiction.  Suppose the Elder Gods were returning to Earth, but there was a chance to beat them.  What if monsters had been created to bring about the end of the world, but chose the side of humanity instead?

Mostly, though, I like to think this is a series about people.  Some very strange people, true, many of whom have been altered into something other than human, but still people for all of that.  There is love and betrayal, despair and hope, all of the fantastic drama that makes us who we are. Throughout everything that happens, I tried to never lose sight of what the events mean on the scale of one man’s life.

How well I have succeeded in this, of course, only my readers can tell.  The response seems to be very positive.  People have told me that they like the series, that they can relate to James and his struggles.  That makes me very happy. It tells me that I achieved what I set out to do more than I failed at it.

I think that’s the best I can expect.

Posted in Book Of Lost Doors, Cannibal Hearts, Catskinner's Book, Gingerbread Wolves, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, Who I am, Worms Of Heaven | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

I guess they won’t exchange the gifts that you were meant to keep

My talent for writing has done me very little good in my life.

It’s sad, but it’s true.  People have told me that they have gotten a lot of pleasure out of my writing, and that makes me happy to hear, but the fact is that I haven’t gotten much pleasure from it.

When I’m doing it the process feels… necessary.  I wouldn’t call it pleasurable, in the sense that playing in the water or eating good food is pleasurable.  It’s more like the satisfaction that comes from fixing  a broken machine.  It feels good to have done it, to have solved a particular sequence of words.  But the work… it’s work.  It’s often frustrating and always difficult.

The finished product hasn’t brought me much joy, either.  And I don’t just mean financially, although it’s true that I haven’t made any real money.  I mean interpersonally. People like my work–some of them like it very much.  But they don’t particularly like me.  How could they?  They don’t know me.

My relationships have always been about what I can do for other people, and my life as an author has been no different.  I suppose that all artist/audience relationships work like that–the artist gives and the audience takes and there we have an end to it.

I never particularly wanted my facility with words. I am not aware of ever doing much to earn it.  I’ve always written and over the years I’ve gotten better at it, true, but if I ever set out to learn how to write well it’s so long ago that I no longer recall the feeling.  It’s just something that is a part of me now, like my failing vision and the pain in my joints.

I can think of a dozen talents than I’d rather have than being able to write compellingly. I wish I was a musician.  Or a surgeon. Or a salesman–I’d love to have the ability to connect with people.

I’ve had people tell me that they wish they had my talent.  I’d give it to them, if I could.  I am sure there are a lot of people who would get a lot more out of it than I have. I try to help other writers, offer my advice and critique.  But since I don’t know exactly how I do what I do I can’t really tell anyone else how to do it.

The sad fact is that being good at something doesn’t mean that doing it is good for you.

 

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Publishing: Self, Subsidy, Vanity and Traditional

Recently I ran across this column: “I Lost $6,500 on My Last Book Launch”.

Reading both the article and the comments, I was struck once again by how different people use the phrase “self-publishing” to mean different things. What it means to me (and to most of the authors I am contact with) is “to publish oneself”.

That is to say, the majority of the self-publishers I know do the bulk of the work of publishing themselves.  We write, we edit, we design the books, we promote the books, we pretty much do the entire enchilada in house. That’s not to say that self-publishers don’t hire subcontractors to do part of the work, line editing or cover design or such, just that they control the process.

However, I’ve also noticed that there are those who use “self-publishing” to mean what I would call “subsidy publishing”.

Subsidy publishing is not necessarily a bad thing.  It simply means that the author enters into an arrangement with a publisher in which the author pays the upfront costs instead of giving the publisher the copyright and receiving a royalty on book sales (and possibly an advance against those royalties.)

It can be a bad thing, because some subsidy presses are less than honorable in their business dealings.   We call those vanity presses, but while all vanity presses are subsidy presses, not all subsidy presses are vanity presses.

Subsidy presses have been around for a long time.  Before e-books and print on demand they were about the only way that small market material could get published.  Books about local history, specialized technical works, handbooks for hobbyists–there are a lot of works that have a market, but not a market large enough to interest a traditional publisher. It was simply not cost effective for most publishers to buy a manuscript that would only sell a few thousand copies.

With a subsidy press, however, an author could pay a company to edit, format, and print a book, and then sell the copies him- or herself.  The author retains the copyright, the press simply does the work of turning the manuscript into a book for a fee.

An honest subsidy press (and there were and are such companies) will offer services for a set fee, usually per word or per page and do editing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, often warehousing and fulfillment.  There are fewer such companies these days because authors have more options, but there are many who have adapted to e-books and print on demand and the other changes to the publishing industry.

Subsidy publishing was and is a valid option for authors, and with some research it is possible for an author to find a reputable company.  However, I don’t believe that subsidy publishing is the same thing as self-publishing.

And I think this confusion causes a lot of arguments.  I read articles and comments from people who say that they think that self-publishers must have “professional” cover design and book design and so on.  In my opinion, if you are paying a professional to do all of these things, then it’s not self-publishing, it’s subsidy publishing.  And if you don’t like self-published works by authors who do these things for themselves, then you don’t like self-published works.

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