Love/Hate In SF/F/Horror: I Like Clowns.

25 05 2018

clowns

I love a good clown. Clowns are way underrated. They have deep history, culture, and skills. I believe an individual can fear clowns, certainly. The courophobia trend in our society is drummed up hysteria and a further example of how innocent love of art is shunned. You want to see a skillful, good human being? Harpo Marx, who is the tramp, along with his brothers in the above photo.

I hate when a character who is a Jesus analog has the initials “J.C.”.  Jesse Cutler of “Preacher”. The martyr/healer/magic black man from “The Green Mile”. Lots of others I have blotted out. Yeah, Garth Ennis, it’s all blasphemy, har har. Steve, we get it…he’s really Christalicious.

I love me an innovative monster design! “The Shrike” in the Hyperion novels. The elk-thing in the movie “The Ritual”. I’ll go to Days of Knights and read AD&D modules just to say “Holy Eff this is cool.”

I hate when a story’s Hell is lifted from Dante’s “Inferno”. I tend to be a stickler for reference material, in that a writer should use all of the material or not use it at all. Even Dante says “Inferno” is an allegory and not a roadmap. I can’t take “Inferno” seriously when Dante reserved the 9th Circle for some local politician he despised.

I love a good jerk who does the right thing. I am discovering they are tough to write. What if we replaced Elric with Ignatious O’Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces”? Maybe Stormbringer could possess O’Reilly’s book of metaphysics or his stained bedsheet?

I hate when I write a draft and find all my characters are two dimensional, like the women are sexpots, or the minorities there to add “veracity” to the setting. To fix this, I give each character her own goals and character arc. I think of a person I know who fits this character and bring my love of that person to that character. But man, that first draft makes me disappointed in myself as a human.

(You may note that I say “love of that person”. I found that when I write a character based on someone I actively hate, or who supports values I despise, that character comes out flat, irritating, and unconvincing. So far, I’d say the trick to good writing is pitting good people against each other.)

I love a good caper. I haven’t read much Donald Westlake, but man is he great! Like Westlake’s stories, I love movies where doofuses pull together for the prize (“It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, “Kelly’s Heroes”, “The Ladykillers”).

I hate when the villain is a corporate toady or a mindless soldier. We are surrounded by business owners who are compassionate contributors to our society. We know men and women in the military who are intelligent, kind, and spiritually deep.

I love intimate, tight, even claustrophobic environments. I love stories where the magic or horror could be playing out next door and you’d never know it.

That said, not crazy about home invasions or serial killers. I like plausible, not Torn From Today’s Headlines.  That’s my quirk.

I love a well-written fight scene. Noir has them. Horror does okay by them. But Fantasy fights read like diagrams from Black Belt Magazine. Even martial arts experts will tell you that fights are bloody, clumsy, and usually stupid. Think of a fight you’ve seen. Was it a ballet of violence? Or a rugby scrum with livestock?

I hate that as I write this I have the voice of some grumpy old soothsayer going off in my head. Harlan Ellison. Or just about every other genre columnist who is 50+ years old. Can’t wait to pontificate in a voice I can call my own.

I love all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. Just saying.

 

 

 





Deadpool Is More Edgy Than You Think. Your Writing May Benefit….

24 05 2018

 

 

 

deadpool

Does Deadpool want to be transgressive? Or does Deadpool just want a white picket fence with a beautiful breeder wife and family? Or does he want to do whatever’s funny at the time?

This article from The Guardian wonders.

Contrast it with this article from Film Hulk about creating emotional resonance.

Can Deadpool have depth? Can any horror comedy? For such questions, I make comparisons to “Shawn of the Dead”. Surely Shawn of the Dead was evocative and memorable.

But had Shawn of the Dead wanted to be a franchise like Deadpool, I could see only two options. It would have to put off Shawn’s maturing, which would have made Shawn a glib punchline like Ash from “Evil Dead”. Or each sequel would have to be a new life lesson where the character is changed, which could reduce DP’s zany energy to “The Addams Family”.

All of the movies are horror comedy, sure. But I worry that DP is going to burn out quickly cycling through cartoon shocks, like ED did. I like that DP tests boundaries, not only in breaking the fourth wall and its casual inclusiveness. What other superhero is enthusiastic about having children? What other hero fails with such spectacular realism? What hero isn’t a millionaire living in a mansion?

The DC Universe is gritty. Do you care about it? I have a hard time caring, because the heroes seem to care about so little. Is DCU’s grittiness realistic? Not when Superman destroys whole cities without carnage or remorse.

The only thing DP lacked was Negasonic and Yukio bickering. You know, the thing we never see superhero couples doing, especially teens:

Negasonic: “Just swing the chain.” Yukio: “But you like my Gogo Yubari kick!.” N: “We don’t have time!” Y: “You took like a year to power up!”

The Film Crit Hulk and Deadpool have given me a lot to think about.

  1. Back story creates empathy.
  2. Relationships must evolve.
  3. “Grittiness” is not the same as “realism”.

 





Lessons From The 2018 Nebula Conference With Links To Resources

21 05 2018

nebula logo

I went to Pittsburgh last Thursday to watch my good friend Dr. Lawrence Schoen get his chance at a Nebula. This is his nominated book.

Being twice nominated, he had a lot of meetings about editorial and collaborative opportunities. This is what conventions are all about for professionals.

Meanwhile, I as an aspiring professional and Growing Concern went to panels to learn about the biz. Here are my notes:

From a panel about Facebook ads, from experienced Facebook advertisers:

  • Cover images! Spaceships or dragons, period. When possible, use food related images for your cover. Food provokes better click rate. I know, right?
  • On the flip side of that, use vampires where possible. Okay, working on that right now.
  • Start small with FB ads and increase where successful. How small? $5 SMALL. This is a relief because my savings took a beating this weekend.
  • As in all things, There Is A BOOK:  “Help! My Facebook Ads Suck!” by Michael Cooper. This book was recommended by Lindsay Buroker on her podcast, too. I’ll be getting this one.

 

From a panel on e-publishing:

  • When publishing your e-book, put in a link for readers to subscribe to your mailing list and receive free material related to that book. Put in that link at the beginning at at the end of the book. Cool! Can do!
  • When readers click the link, they will land on a page asking something like “Would you like to receive materials from me?” There will be a check box. That check box MUST BE AN OPT-IN. They have to click to receive. This is part of those new European internet regulations.

Do you know about Draft2Digital? They are a publishing and promotion platform. Check them out. I’m intrigued.

Have you used Beatsheetcalculator.com? I was developing calculations on where plot beats should fall based on page percentages. Of course, someone else has done it first. It even incorporates the Dent Pulp Formula and the Hero’s Journey.

Last, when writing a series, make all books stand alone. No cliffhangers. I knew this, but it was good go have this reinforced by a panel including series maven Laura Anne Gilman.

Sadly, Lawrence did not win. However, his competition were all from Big Five publishers. My small publisher Noble Fusion Press got Lawrence onto the ballot TWICE. Good work supported by promotion gets results.

Was the convention worth it for me? I had some good moments. A series I’ve begun was well received at a Kickstarter Seminar. Did you know Kickstarter provides guidance on optimizing your campaign? This response did warm my enthusiasm.

The cost, though! I spent enough to set up a book. I was in the middle of a slump, though, and now I’ve got new wind. Maybe I could have gotten that new wind at the upcoming local Balticon at about 10% of the cost.

Anyway, if I remember anything else, I’ll let you know.

Keep writing!

 





Lampreyhead the Mixtape

28 02 2018

I saw that the YA writer Maggie Stievater create music lists for her writing and I thought I’d give that a try.

This is what I listened to while writing. It became background noise that helped me trak when an hour of writing had passed, and frankly I got more done when the earbuds were silent, but listening to it helped me catch the mood of the book.

It has Pirates of Penzance, Bert Williams, Chick Webb, and Brecht to try to convey the burdens from Ned’s age. But I also needed music to remind me he is shallow and wistful, so I went pop. Heino, a kitchy German balladeer, helped remind me of Ned’s German roots. Robert Hazard, Motley Crue, Dinner, Hot Chocolate, Beach Boys, and Funkadelic reinforces Heino’s pop energy. Last, there’s the goth/punk with Nick Cave, Chelsea Wolfe, Xiu Xiu, Suicidal Tendencies, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a cover by Brak for his pensiveness.

LAMPREYHEAD THE PLAYLIST





What I Learned On This Draft

22 02 2018

Hi guys,

I’ve finished the Beta draft of Lampreyhead: Blood Summoning.

I laughed, I cried, I learned oh so much.

First and foremost, I had always heard about writers having total existential meltdowns during redrafts. Not me. I’ve struggled with writing since 1989, sure, and I thought I’d run in the worst the writing experience had to offer.

Au Contraire! I had run into little baby struggles. In my first novel, I had spread the pain out over six years of writing. “The Flesh Sutra” started as published short stories. In my other short stories, the obstacles could be easily surmounted or shelved.

Lampreyhead’s Beta had a deadline, and man-oh-mannikin did I suffer! A day-long panic attack. Cold regret over every life decision since 8th grade. The veil of satisfaction torn away, revealing Death Himself exhaling putrid breath in my face, corpse hands raised to snatch me to a lonely pauper’s grave.

I put up a post on Facebook in this state, and got a couple of responses. One was from a guy from high school who has done remarkable things with his life, who essentially nudged me and said “I’m here, but knock off the whining.”

I took down the post within an hour of putting it up. The next day, a scene was moved to a different chapter and slowly my momentum returned.

So yeah, I learned I will provoke a panic attack to avoid working. I am not proud of this, but The More I Know.

Also, I was reminded that Tone Will Choose Itself. I can attempt to make the story like Clive Barker or King or some dark whimsical guy, but it won’t work. Stay true to the story and the feeling of the story will develop consistency and moral.

“Moral” developed through finding the recurring notes and realizing how I felt about them. What responsibility does a creator have toward a creation? What responsibility to have to your past? As it turns out, these will be recurring issues in the upcoming series.

I had thought I wanted something dark and funny that touched on these issues, and I thought of Monty Python. I re-read my Monty Python books (Big Red Book, Papperbak Book) and discovered they have not aged well. The movies now seem closer to the old “Carry On” films of the ’50s, but with better transitions. So I was flying blind. I’ll course correct as I go on.

The last item I learned was just that: “as I go on.” This is a series, and just as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has weak titles, as does every series, nothing is going to appeal to everyone.

What did I fix? All characters have arcs with distinct points noted throughout the work, including the villain and the villain’s revealed flunky. All the characters have cause and effect which flow through the entire plot.

Descriptions are more lush. The setting is obvious at the first paragraph. Three sensory points per page. All words presenting action.

I am particularly proud of the character voices.

So. Now I begin outlining the two others in the series. Book Two will take place at a major electronic chain store, Book Three will take place at a comic book store on South Street in Philly.

You’ve read this far. Would you like to Beta read this 30K work? I’ll put you in the acknowledgements. I guarantee you that you’ll laugh. I guarantee you that you’ll be creeped out.

Send me word at Tim_W_Burke at H   O   T   M   A   I   L.

attachment_92231613





Is Your First Draft Any Good?

17 01 2018

www.pinterest.co.uk

My writer’s group Noble Fusion met and critiqued the first draft of “Lampreyhead”. I have met professional authors. Noble Fusion itself has professional authors and editors. It does not matter how many words you’ve ever published. First drafts always suck. How do you know when you’re on to writing a decent book?

While writing the draft, an author can tell where that draft is weak. Usually the draft is a sequence of set pieces where the characters lack agency. The author will know where the plot’s been fudged, or that the magic system isn’t quite right, or that emotional beats aren’t given enough room to breathe.

The book is on the right track when: 1) your group is enthused, and 2) the critiques hold no surprises.

I knew this draft was rushed and lacked detail. I suspected the characters needed more depth. But I did not panic.

Again, as fellow Noble Fusion member Dr. Lawrence Schoen told me:

“I’ve done novel breaks at Taos Toolbox with Walter Jon Williams. Professional authors have presented drafts that were utterly unworkable. This draft is workable.”

On to the critique! Sally Wiener Grotta said of this draft: “The sentence structure is repetitive. It needs to vary structure to build tension. There is a lot of passive voice. Use active verbs.”

Barbara E. Hill was pretty thorough with comments like “We just don’t understand this universe” and “How do the characters feel about each other”, which…yeah. Lots more detail needed.

So I’d have preferred to have written something brilliant right off, but that’s not how reality works.

Today and tomorrow I am working with the cover artist to tweak the fonts. I am waiting for the marketing copy from CreateSpace. I am revising the draft with the goal of sending a draft to beta readers by the end of January.

Would you like to be a beta reader?

What problems do you run into on your first draft? Who does your proofreading?

 





The Winning Cover of “Lampreyhead Book One”

16 01 2018

The font layout will change, but this is the winning image chosen by both the voters and my writing group.

(sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner with this. Day job is tiring.)

My farcical abs! abs! abs! formula didn’t go over so well and I understand why: the eyes here arrest your attention. Women voters especially went for this design.

My writing group Noble Fusion East Coast (represent!) read my draft and declared the novel to be innovative, not in the spirit of Monty Python, and sliding close to grimdark.

Next step is to integrate the ad copy I purchased from CreateSpace. For $200, they research five keywords, write taglines and a punchy summary, and polish up the other little text bits I’ll need to advertise. The fee comes out to about 20 hours at my job and taps into the CS expertise, and so is worth the money at least as a starting draft.

attachment_92231613





I Learned About Self-Publishing From 50 Writers — Launching My Series (A Repost)

2 11 2017

My website URL lapsed and I had to get back online. Here’s the post that everyone missed:

I am launching a three book series in Spring of next year.

The first book has the working title “Lampreyhead”.

 

Sea-lamprey-head-detail

Designing the plush toy giveaways is going to be a challenge.

 

You may see short stories with the character Lampreyhead in my Bibliography page, but these books will not have the frantic Animaniacs energy. There would be no way to sustain that pace over three books at 100K words without burning the audience out.

It will be about vampires, and it will be funny, hopefully intelligent, insightful, and yes a tad gruesome. Think “Clive Barker and Christopher Moore, or maybe Neil Gaiman with a Christian fixation”.

If it makes me happy, I will expand the series. I will be self-publishing, because I lack the hide to deal with agency submissions.

As I proceed with the publication process, I’ll update as to what decisions I’ve made.

For the past two years, I’ve been listening to self-publishing podcasts:

“The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast” with Lindsay Buroker

“The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast” with Simon Whistler

I listened to well over fifty writers give their advice on self-publishing.

What I learned:

  • Have at least three books in your series ready to launch. Release the books one month at a time, then have your next material in the series ready for Month Four.
  • Use simple, all-inclusive publishing solutions. Use someone who will format, publish, and distribute. Adjust and optimize to your market as you learn particulars.
  • In self-publishing, e-books lead print in sales.
  • Have a mailing list ready at the time of publishing. Use a third-party service to gather new fans.
  • The cover art should cost as much as the publishing. Use experienced cover artists who have worked in your genre. If you publish print versions, your book title should be readable from ten feet away.
  • Draft and redraft your blurb. Have others review it. Favor a sympathetic character over action or idea. Use other writers’ as guideposts: “if you like Clive Barker, yet get a laugh out of Christopher Moore…”.
  • For promotion, use story excerpts over reader reviews.
  • The number of reviews on Amazon or Goodreads help, but are not essential to good sales.
  • Provide new material for sale at least once per month per series. Even a short story or excerpts of WIPs will do.
  • Use pseudonyms only to separate family-friendly material from racier series. Otherwise, pen names multiply promotions needing upkeep with no multiplier in reward.
  • The effectiveness of an advertising tool can change weekly. An ad tool’s effectiveness varies widely between genres. The only reliable promotional tool at this moment is the mailing list.
  • On your website, your mailing list prompt should not block the text or stop navigation. I know when a site pops up asking for an email, I get angry and click away from the site. Apparently, I’m not the only one with that reaction. Keep your mailing list prompt to the sidebar.
  • In your books, place your Acknowledgments and Dedication on the last pages; this makes more space for story text in the Amazon “Free Sample”.
  • On the last page, place active links to sales pages for previous publications and your mailing list, followed by “Please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads” with links.
  • Do not bother with Book Bub until the third book of your series is released, and even then only if sales are noteworthy.
  • Do not bother advertising on Twitter.
  • Set sales price at $2.99 unless the book is 100K words or more.
  • Reduce the price of Book One to .99 when Book Two is released. Do not give away books for free.
  • Do not hesitate to change your book cover if you think it will increase sales.

 

I am most of the way through first draft of Book One. I’ll update you every week as to how things are progressing, and if you’re interested in beta reading, coo. Let me know and I’ll be glad to help you out in whatever way I can.

Let’s have some fun!

 

 

 

 





I’m Creating An E-Book Series and I’ll Bring You Along. With Funny Vampires.

29 10 2017

Better-Vampire

I am launching a three book series in Spring of next year.

The first book has the working title “Lampreyhead”.

You may see short stories with the character Lampreyhead in my Bibliography page, but these books will not have the frantic Animaniacs energy. There would be no way to sustain that pace over three books at 100K words without burning the audience out.

It will be about vampires, and it will be funny, hopefully intelligent, insightful, and yes a tad gruesome. Think “Clive Barker and Christopher Moore, or maybe Neil Gaiman with a Christian fixation”.

If it makes me happy, I will expand the series. I will be self-publishing, because I lack the hide to deal with agency submissions.

As I proceed with the publication process, I’ll update as to what decisions I’ve made.

For the past two years, I’ve been listening to self-publishing podcasts:

“The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast” with Lindsay Buroker

“The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast” with Simon Whistler

I listened to well over fifty writers give their advice on self-publishing.

What I learned:

Have at least three books in your series ready to launch. Release the books one month at a time, then have your next material in the series ready for Month Four.

Use simple, all-inclusive publishing solutions. Use someone who will format, publish, and distribute. Adjust and optimize to your market as you learn particulars.

In self-publishing, e-books lead print in sales.

Have a mailing list ready at the time of publishing. Use a third-party service to gather new fans.

The cover art should cost as much as the publishing. Use experienced cover artists who have worked in your genre. If you publish print versions, your book title should be readable from ten feet away.

Draft and redraft your blurb. Have others review it. Favor a sympathetic character over action or idea. Use other writers’ as guideposts: “if you like Clive Barker, yet get a laugh out of Christopher Moore…”.

For promotion, use story excerpts over reader reviews.

The number of reviews on Amazon or Goodreads help, but are not essential to good sales.

Provide new material for sale at least once per month per series. Even a short story or excerpts of WIPs will do.

Use pseudonyms only to separate family-friendly material from racier series. Otherwise, pen names multiply promotions needing upkeep with no multiplier in reward.

The effectiveness of an advertising tool can change weekly. An ad tool’s effectiveness varies widely between genres. The only reliable promotional tool at this moment is the mailing list.

On your website, your mailing list prompt should not block the text or stop navigation. I know when a site pops up asking for an email, I get angry and click away from the site. Apparently, I’m not the only one with that reaction. Keep your mailing list prompt to the sidebar.

In your books, place your Acknowledgments and Dedication on the last pages; this makes more space for story text in the Amazon “Free Sample”.

On the last page, place active links to sales pages for previous publications and your mailing list, followed by “Please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads” with links.

Do not bother with Book Bub until the third book of your series is released, and even then only if sales are noteworthy.

Do not bother advertising on Twitter.

Set sales price at $2.99 unless the book is 100K words or more.

Reduce the price of Book One to .99 when Book Two is released. Do not give away books for free.

Do not hesitate to change your book cover if you think it will increase sales.

 

 

 

 

 

 





Look At These Life Lessons! Ed Latimore Is Buckaroo Banzai!

4 10 2017

Latimore

He’s a good writer! “They become the stakes they burn themselves on”! Seriously, somebody give this guy a guitar and an Overthruster.








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