Thursday, February 20, 2014

Experiments in Self-Publishing vs. Traditional;

The traditional vs. self-publishing debate has been going on for as long as I've been writing fiction. And largely, this debate is old geezers telling young whippersnappers that their music is too loud, and young whippersnappers claiming that music is supposed to be loud. Duh!

You see, the old'uns don't think traditional publishing has run its course. And they're right--traditional publishers still sell a ton of books. But does that mean the young whippersnappers are wrong? Absolutely not. Music is good loud.

Imagine this: a flexible market where traditional and self coexist.

Sounds crazy, right? But it isn't. The fact is, authors are finding both paths to publication viable. And readers are finding both paths to writers viable. E-books now represent a large portion of how books are read (estimates I've found range from 20% - 35%) and they're growing. But assuming such a trend will continue until all print sales are squeezed out is swiss cheese logic. Because publishing is a unique industry, and it's flexible--there is plenty of room for people to be who they want to be. Self-publishing is for certain types of people and traditional publishing is for others and debating which is better is a little like debating which group of people is better, when in actuality, they're all equal but different. Which is how I think it should be.

In the interest of finding what type of writer I am (old geezer or young whippersnapper), I decided to give self-publishing the ol' college try. "Why not?" I asked myself. Hard-headedness was the only reason I could think of. Self-publishing is supposed to be easy (if not frustrating). So I went to Amazon to find out how easy, and if self-publishing is for me.

As it turns out, self-publishing is very easy. I mean, scary easy. I mean, prom queen easy.

Kindle Direct Publishing streamlines the experience so that posting a book takes little effort or knowledge. A trained monkey, given enough tries, might accidentally publish a book simply by clicking random buttons on the website. In fact, making the cover image was the hardest part. (I'll get to how I did that, along with proper use of Creative Commons art, in my next post.) The only problem I ran into was a small formatting issue, which was easy to fix.

When I signed up for KDP, I did so with the intention of publishing one short story--I went with "Erasure", which was originally published through the pro-zine Buzzy Mag. It's an older story, but one of my favorites. But I ended up publishing 2 shorties. I decided that since this was a test, I wanted to publish 2 stories of mine that are written in totally different styles. "Erasure" is a straight-genre piece. It's fast-paced. The second story I published, "Five Years Gone", is a new literary piece (meaning non-genre) that focuses on emotion and has a slower pace.

Problem is: I had deceived myself. 

When I stepped back, I realized I hadn't published that second story to better serve my test. It does do that, but it wasn't at the heart of my motivation. No, in actuality, I had published that second story because I was felling the rush, the excitement, the hunger for publishing. Posting "Erasure" was easy, it came with that good vibe that accompanies all new publications, and I didn't have the black cloud of possible rejection hanging over me.

The instant gratification aspect became shockingly apparent. And that scared me. Because it came with the texture of addiction.

The real question is: would that self-publishing itch be a negative addiction or a positive one?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

EDITOR INTERVIEW: Grey Matter Press is Giving Away 400 Books this Week and Anthony Rivera Gives Us Tips on the Submission Process

Grey Matter Press is going buck wild in celebration of Valentine's Day by giving away 400 books! Well, that's not true. The Chicago-based book publisher is celebrating the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. What's that? It's Capone. It's the gritty streets of prohibition-era Chicago. It's a brutal slice of Americana. Check it out.

Oh, but the part about the giveaway is true. Between February 9th and the 15th, they're showing readers the love by giving away books (print & digital) in contests, sweepstakes, and online giveaways. Not only that, but they're allowing winners to select their prize from one of four anthologies published in the last year. (Including Dark Visions 2 which features my story 'Last Call')

With 400 books to hand out, I'd say everyone's odds are pretty good. Get the details here: St. Valentine's Week Massacre

I decided to mention this event for a couple of reasons:

Grey Matter Press is a new publisher--first opened to submissions in 2012--and already they're proving a great resource for promoting new and established authors in dark fiction. Their first release, Dark Visions 1, has made the Stoker preliminary ballot. With dozens of horror-themed anthologies being released every year (month?), that's no small accomplishment for an opening publication. If you follow them on Facebook or Twitter, you know they spend day-in and day-out promoting their authors. Not just the books, but the names. With national distribution through Barnes and Noble bookstores coming soon and a growing following of readers, Grey Matter Press makes good on their promise to ". . . help each and every one of our authors succeed by delivering your groundbreaking work to an all-new audience that is, right now, clamoring for exceptional independent dark fiction."

I also thought this would be a good time to feature an interview with the acquisitions editor of Grey Matter, Anthony Rivera. Anthony was kind enough to answer some questions about the press, their submission process, and what they look for in a manuscript.


What sets Grey Matter Press apart from other emerging publishers?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Snow Globes and Making Your Fiction Memorable

Writing advice: everyone has some. And who am I to give it: nobody. I'm just a guy sharing his experiences with writing. Snow globes make sense to me, and I rarely hear anyone talking about them, so I thought this might be a new concept to some and a refresher for others.

When I say 'snow globe', I don't mean the decorative ball of water and snow. I'm talking about a writing device that represents a story, either through theme or emotional engagement, and acts as a focal point for making a story memorable.

The term 'snow globe' references Orson Welles' 1941 film Citizen Kane. In the opening scene, Kane is clutching a snow globe. He utters the name "Rosebud. . ." and dies. The globe slips from his hand and smashes on the ground. Many critics have disseminated the symbolism of this scene--the divergent plot, the hopes, the fragility, etc, etc--but the context here is that the snow globe is a solid object in the story that the viewer can latch onto when recalling the film later. From there, the story unravels. But that scene continues to come back to us. In our minds, it represents the story for many reasons. Think of The Wizard of Oz. Is there a single item/image that you think of when you hear that title? Dorothy and her red shoes, perhaps? What do those shoes say about the movie and why do they stick with almost everyone so completely? Yes, they're red and bright and therefore noticeable. But they also represent something deeper. Home, innocence, you decide. That's the great thing about symbolism--different people will derive different meanings.

Often, the most obvious snow globes are a singular item or place. Like Dorothy's shoes. Or REDRUM (I bet you know what movie I'm referencing here based on this single piece of imagery). Or the envelopes in the short film Envelope (a really great movie staring Kevin Spacey. It's 17 minutes long and will stick with you better than most full-length Hollywood features. Watch it.)

But snow globes aren't always obvious. Or singular. If you've read Tim O'Brien's novel The Things They Carried, you might know how a snow globe can be represented by a collection of items/images. Each soldier has something personal that he carries with him into battle, and each character is made clear and unique by those items. The innocent youth carry comic books and photos. The tougher ones carry more adult items. But all carry something that strongly represents the person as an individual and, at the same time, represents the theme of the story on a whole.

In the short film Waiting for the End of the World (6 minutes), the snow globe is one item that takes many forms. For the main character and his dismal life, clocks of every kind sum up his existence. The film begins with him waking up, much too early by the looks of it, to an alarm clock. This is followed by the character continually punching in at work. The punch machine, another clock, reminds us that he is on someone else's time, an employee and nothing more. Then there is the clock at his job that he counts the passing hours, minutes, seconds with. He watches this clock, although we know he wishes he didn't, and we feel his life ticking away in the service of a corporation. His countdown at the end of every shift drives this point home. The seconds are simultaneously meaningless and heavy. Each second, the same as the last, brings him one step closer to an empty life.

And then there's The Great Gatsby and the green dock light. This snow globe has conflicting meanings that highlight themes and the character's metamorphosis. Gatsby stands on his dock, staring across the water at this green dock light flashing through the fog. That light represents his hopes, dedication, and a great longing for a lost love. Early in the story, we see Jay Gatsby as this unstoppable juggernaut. He is superior to the common man and anything he puts his mind to is accomplished. There is no way he can fail to win Daisy back. But as the story progresses, we start seeing cracks in the myth. Jay Gatsby--and his hopes--are crumbling; the green dock light takes on new meaning. It no longer represents hope--it represents failure. It represents unrequited love and everything that's wrong with Gatsby's dream and the life he worked so hard to attain. In that dock light, we are reminded of all the emotions that make The Great Gatsby such a memorable story.

For me, inserting snow globes into a story isn't a conscious thing. If I were to plan them ahead, they wouldn't feel natural. I write and then I go back during the editing process and I look for what item or location or character trait can summarize the story and its themes. Then I draw that item out, or maybe I bury it in a way the reader isn't aware of. Obvious works, but so does subtle.

Here's one more short film. Can you identify the snow globe and its role? The Laundromat (6 minutes).

(This lesson and the idea of a "snow globe" was originally created by Christopher Ramsey, a teacher who gave me some lasting guidance at an important time in my life. Thanks, Chris!)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

REVIEW: They Thirst by Robert McCammon (1981)

This book can be found on Amazon.

Classic McCammon: They Thirst follows several different characters, who, at first, share little or no connection. That is, until the plot gets to work and forces them to band together for survival. 

One by one, building by building, a change is occurring in L.A. Parasites with fangs have descended on the city, unknown and unseen. Some whisper their names--vampires--but even they find it hard to believe. "Vampires aren't real," they say. "That's fiction," they say, adding a chuckle. But 'they' are wrong. Anonymity and an exponential spread are the greatest weapons of an ancient vampire lord who controls his hidden army from the shell of a castle overlooking the city. Using the invasion strategies of great conquerers such as Alexander and Caesar, he plans to conquer its nine million inhabitants within a few nights. And only a handful of characters stand in his way…

Let's get cliche: McCammon has a way with words. His writing is vivid, clear, and exciting. His characters are real and he does a decent job of connecting the reader to their emotions. But this story came with one major flaw. The plot, though well-woven, proved to be pointless in the end. But, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll save that for later.