Friday, June 28, 2013

Stages of an Indie Writer

Here's a link to a great article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. One of the most interesting things in it, for me at least, is the comparison of "new" and "old" publishing, and the idea that writers accustomed to traditional publishing don't often recognize what success looks like in self-publishing. She writes:

In the old [world of publishing], books had to sell fast because they’d be off the shelf in three months (or less). In the new, the book is just starting to get noticed a year after publication. It might have its best sales month 29 months after publication.

If you're interested in publishing, I highly recommend you read the rest of the article.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

solid, gritty, pulpy

The first excerpt of Blood Brothers that I posted on this blog was meant to illustrate the fun I had with "overdoing it"--indulging my desires to write in a lyrical way about far-out, mystic ideas and experiences. A lot of those sections take place within the chapters told from the Verlvik character's point of view. But I also had a lot of fun with more action-oriented (or, as Jim Butcher puts it in his interview with Patrick Rothfuss: "solid/gritty/pulpy") writing, and a lot of that writing comes in the chapters told from the perspective of the Grillis character.

So, to balance the previous excerpt, I figured I'd post an excerpt showcasing the gritty/pulpy action in Blood Brothers. Here's an example:

All the bewilderment in Grillis, all the shock and horror he felt, galvanized in that instant into rage. Before he had a chance to decide to act, before he’d consciously chosen an action, he was in motion. He rose up through the trap door like an avenging ghost, and stepped onto that killing floor with the axe head soaring into the air above him. Transfixed as they were with the gruesome spectacle, none of the men there noticed his ascent. But these weren’t men, Grillis knew in his heart. These weren’t men, these were monsters.

With all of his body bending backwards like a strung bow, Grillis brought the axe head back, and then he sent the first blow flying. It came down square on the crown of the nearest cleric’s skull, and kept on moving, down through the brain, through the spinal column, to finally clear solid matter just below the cleric’s shoulder blades. The man toppled forward lifeless, like a felled tree. Before his body hit the ground the axe was on a new path, up and over Grillis’s right shoulder, and then soaring back horizontally to the left, to tear through the side of the next cleric’s neck. The force was so great it sent the man’s head flying, flipping ear over ear in the air, spraying rings of blood.

Grillis’s mouth strained wide, crying outrage. It must have made a terrible racket, though he couldn’t hear it. All the sound that existed for him in that moment, as he stepped toward the third cleric, was the rush of blood in his ears.

By now the third cleric had warning of the danger closing in on him. But as he turned to face Grillis, and saw the woodcutter’s blood-spattered face, saw the carnage wrought in a mere handful of heartbeats, he quailed. His mace came up in a weak-handed blocking position, no match for the force of the twelve-pound axe. As Grillis brought the axe back from the blow that had beheaded the second cleric, he turned the motion into a vicious backhanded swing that swept the mace away, and smashed square into the third cleric’s mouth with the back of the axe head. Fragments of tooth and bone flew into the air as the man’s mouth caved in, and his limp body was thrown heavily against the wall, making the whole shack quake.

Grillis brought the axe into a ready position in front of him, and turned toward the remaining men in the room. There was a moment’s pause, and then several things happened simultaneously: the third caprine, who must have been Athemon’s father, turned and ran out the shack door; Ciranon’s hands went to the iron collar at his neck, and seemed to pass through the metal as though it were smoke, leaving the collar to fall to the wood floor with a clank; and another cleric, this one wearing brilliantly polished plate-mail armor over his tunic, raised his hand to point at Grillis, and spoke.

“Halt, demon!” the armored cleric boomed. It was the voice that had silenced Ciranon’s plea mere moments before. “Behold the light of the Goddess!”

Though the only sunlight in the room came through the door behind him, the cleric’s armor suddenly flared with light as though it were reflecting the brilliance of the sun. Grillis stumbled back, his left hand leaving the axe handle to try to shield his eyes from the glare. He heard Ciranon shout out a warning. Desperately, the dazzled woodcutter swung his axe one-handed.

It connected with something hard and brittle, and instantly a dozen points of pain opened on Grillis’s face. Less than a millisecond later a massive force smashed into him, knocking the breath from his lungs, carrying him backward to bang against the shack wall. The force was more than the shack could take. A sharp creak, almost like a dog’s yelp, filled the air, followed by the explosive cracking of wooden beams splintering apart.

“It’s coming down!” someone shouted.

Grillis threw his arms up to shield his head. The wall behind him gave way, the pressure pinning him to it seemed to jolt from some heavy blow, and then all was raucous sound and confusion.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

why I'm not interested in watching Brad Pitt's World War Z

I like zombies. I'm a big fan of George Romero's movies, and Simon Pegg earned a special place in my heart with Shaun of the Dead--a place that continues to flow forth goodwill despite the fact that most of the other movies he's been in have been pretty disappointing (the new Star Trek movies being an exception). But I'm not at all interested in going to see Brad Pitt's World War Z. Why? Let me tell you why.

It's not a zombie movie.

Zombies, in my mind, are compelling subjects for very specific reasons:
1.) they represent the inevitability of death
2.) they represent the triumph of oblivion over thought and consciously directed will
3.) they are human in form, but possess no humanity.

When you take those things away, when you feature a zombie that doesn't have those characteristics, you remove the essence of what makes the zombie concept interesting. And, from everything I've seen or read about the World War Z movie, it looks like they've failed to incorporate all of those crucial things.

First of all--and this is a problem that many recent zombie movies have fallen into--the zombies move way too fast. Crucial to the George Romero portrayal of zombies is the fact that his zombies are slow, lurching things. They're corpses, reanimated bodies in various states of decay. It makes sense, therefore, that their bodies are not in optimum athletic condition. It makes sense that they aren't capable of outrunning an Olympic sprinter.

And that reduced ability highlights the first point I mention above: zombies represent the inevitability of death. Despite the greater physical condition we possess, zombies are inescapable because of their inevitability, which is like death itself. The knowledge that our physical condition, even when we're in the prime of our lives, is a temporary thing--that's a compelling thought. And zombies represent that thought in a carnal form.

Now on to the next problem: the zombies are displaying organized, cooperative behavior. I read an article about the making of World War Z, and in the article the film-makers say they wanted to do something "new" with zombies. So they drew from natural phenomena--salmon swimming upstream, animals hunting in packs, ants swarming onto each other until their bodies create a rising column (like in the picture). And this detracts from the second point above: zombies represent the triumph of oblivion over thought and consciously directed will.

In certain ways this second point actually just builds on the first point. Zombies show us, by their mindless action, that our cleverness and our determination--just like our physical ability when we're in the prime of our lives--don't make us safe. We're smart, we're capable of concentrated effort and deliberate action, and yet such things pale in the face of a relentless, mindless horde of zombies. The Brad Pitt movie--by having the zombies show the ability to work together, by showing that they can think--removes that feature too.

And finally, zombies are compelling because they look like humans, but show no sense of humanity. The George Romero movies highlight this aspect beautifully. They show people struggling to come to terms with the fact that a zombie, while it has a human body, has no human sense of compassion or sympathy or fraternity with other humans. All they have is a desire to kill. And when the zombie used to be a friend or family member, dealing with that lack of humanity becomes even more difficult.

But in the Brad Pitt movie, at least what I've seen of it in previews and commercials, the zombies are running around so quickly, in such great numbers, that you hardly get a sense of them as individual things. And so there isn't time to face the idea that they used to be human.

So all in all, it looks like an Epic Fail to me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

overdoing it

Last week I posted a link to a video of Jim Butcher interviewing Patrick Rothfuss. The first question Butcher asks relates to Rothfuss's eloquence, i.e. the artful way he writes. Rothfuss mentions, in his answer, that he goes through a lot of revision in his writing process, and that doing so lets him feel free to really "overdo" it, because he knows he'll be able to look at it again later and see if what he's written works, or whether he was just "wanking around."

His words stood out to me. In the course of writing my novel Blood Brothers, my favorite moments tended to be the ones in which I really "overdid it". I had a lot of fun throwing prudence to the wind, and letting the purple prose gush forth. I did carefully evaluate those sections later, and I took the comments of several beta-readers into careful consideration, too--and in the end I almost always chose to let the "overdone" moments stand as they were (or, sometimes, I polished them up a bit). Like Rothfuss says, some readers will be turned away by such writing. But to me these moments are a blast.

Here's one of my favorites, in which the Verlvik character falls off the edge of a cliff:

Falling. Verlvik knew the sensation well. All pictsees did. As children, they spent as much time in the trees as they did on the ground. One thing that every pictsee learned about trees: sometimes you fall out of them.

Falling, therefore, was a familiar sensation for Verlvik. The instant of weightlessness at the start of the fall, the embrace of gravity that followed it, the feeling of the world rushing past you as you plummeted, Verlvik knew all of this as well as he knew the feeling of strong sun on his skin, or of rough bark beneath his feet. He knew falling like he knew the beating of his own heart.

But a key part of what he knew about falling, as key as the double-pulse rhythm of a heartbeat, was landing. Either right-side up or upside down, landing always followed falling. In a way, it consummated the falling experience. By its contrast, and by its inevitability, landing helped to define what falling was. And usually it happened rather quickly, almost always more quickly than you expected.

So in certain ways, as Verlvik fell off the cliff, as he felt the pull of the earth take hold of him and draw him downward, what he felt was quite unfamiliar. As the world plummeted by, and continued to plummet—as the earth’s pull drew him down more and more fiercely—Verlvik discovered that what he was experiencing now was rather different than anything else he’d ever experienced. Without the quick landing to fulfill the rhythm of falling, the sensation of falling became foreign to him. What he had known as intimately as his own heartbeat had become something entirely different, and entirely new.

Perhaps this is why his heart itself was behaving so strangely. At the start of the fall—the moment of weightlessness before gravity took hold—his heart had frozen in a clench. And now as he fell, as he remained suspended in that fall without a landing to return things to normalcy, his heart seemed unable to decide what course it should take. And so it held on, frozen in that clench, unwilling or unable to resume beating as normal.

His heart wasn’t the only thing acting strangely, either. The rope-like locks of his hair, which normally hung limply to the top of his shoulders, now writhed in the wind like snakes. His wide-open eyes flowed with tears, which in itself wasn’t unusual considering that wind, but instead of flowing down his face like tears normally do, these tears ran outward from the corners of his eyes, spreading over his temples, running into his ears.

Verlvik shook his head to clear his ears, and realized that though his heart seemed too stupefied to move, the rest of him still could. And so he turned his head to look at the massive waterfall to his left, and realized with delight that the torrent of water was falling at the exact same speed as he was: dreamily slow.

In fact, watching that water, Verlvik suddenly became convinced that neither the water nor he himself was actually moving at all. It was the cliff walls, and all of the rest of the world, that moved, passing him by.

Verlvik rolled onto his back to look up at where he’d been. He could see the top of the cliff soaring away into the sky. Father Longhair was up there, just a silhouette at this distance, looking down. Verlvik waved to him. It reminded him of being at the bottom of one of the massive forest trees, and seeing someone up at the top. And that led Verlvik to thinking of how trees had to pull water through their roots, and pass it up through their long trunks, to feed their leaves hundreds of feet above the ground. A tree, he decided, was sort of like a waterfall in reverse.

His stupefied heart, the velocity with which the mist-laden air rushed by, and the notion of every tree being a backward waterfall—together it all left Verlvik feeling rather breathless. He rolled onto his stomach again and opened his mouth wide. Air rushed in through his mouth, inflating his lungs, filling his body with moisture-heavy vapor. The mist was inside of him now. The physical form of the Great Goddess was filling him up.

He had fallen hundreds of feet already—or rather, hundreds of feet of the cliffs had passed him by—and he was nearing the thick cloud below. He could see it roiling and tumbling beneath him. The power gathered by the falling water must have been incredible, and when the water reached the bottom of the cliff it hit with enough force to vaporize a part of itself, to turn itself into the cloud, to become the mists ascending above the cloud, to become the heavy rain falling on the tops of the cliffs.

And then he had passed into the cloud. All around him, a white void. He could no longer see the falling water. He could no longer see the cliff walls passing him by. There was no motion, and no time. He was floating in a boundless white nothingness, as if the form of the world no longer existed, or had not yet been born. His lungs felt full to bursting. The Great Goddess was within him, filling him up. And he was within the Great Goddess.

He raised his hands to his face, but the cloud was so thick that he couldn’t see them. Or perhaps they were no longer there. His body had disappeared, had been absorbed into the cloud. His body had been absorbed by the body of the Great Goddess. There was no division between himself and Herself anymore.

Slowly, the white around him began to dim, to darken. The cloud became smoke. The smoke became ash. The ash became coal. And the coal became the black darkness of dreamless sleep.

And then, having returned to a familiar experience, his heart finally released its clench, and began to beat anew.

Friday, June 21, 2013

two very different approaches to fantasy

I'm currently reading The Wise Man's Fear, which is the second book in Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle.

Actually, "reading" isn't the most accurate way to describe the relationship I'm having with this book. Reading brings to my mind a more leisurely activity than what I'm engaged in right now. I'm not really reading it so much as having a wild fling with it. You see, I checked this book out from the library, it's due in a few days, and they won't let me renew it because someone else already has it reserved. The book is over a thousand pages long, and when I found out I wouldn't be able to renew it I had 500 pages left. So now I'm racing through it, and giving it my every free moment, because I know our time together will be brief.

It's an excellent book, by the way. The writing is incredible--full of insightful descriptions of the sorts of things most of us experience but never manage to express so eloquently. It even manages the rare miracle of putting things we've felt and thought into words that make those thoughts and feelings clearer to us, easier to understand. And the story is great, too--full of fleshed-out, engaging characters, compelling action, fascinating ideas. It's really a marvelous book.

But it's not really a book I'd normally race through. It's not a tightly-plotted, edge-of-your-seat, page-turner type of book. It's more of an expansive, meandering book, drifting through one story-arc after another. It's the sort of book you have a long-term relationship with, not just a quick fling.

Which makes me think of another series of books: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. Here's a picture of the first book in the series:

Butcher's books are also excellent books. And they're the tightly-plotted, edge-of-your-set, page-turner type of books. He's masterful at raising the stakes, upping the odds, maintaining an ever-escalating tension that keeps you flipping pages quickly, eating the book with your eyes. The Codex Alera books are perfect books for the "wild-fling" sort of relationship.

Ironically, I found out about Patrick Rothfuss through my appreciation of Jim Butcher. You see, I was searching the internet for Jim Butcher information, and I stumbled across a video of him being interviewed by Patrick Rothfuss (click here to go to the video). And that lead me to another video, filmed at the same convention, of Patrick Rothfuss being interview by Jim Butcher (click here to see that one).

If you watch the videos, you'll see that these two guys respect each other. It's obvious that they've read each other's books, and that they appreciated the skills those books showcase. And that brings me to the point of this whole post: they write very different types of books, and yet they recognize value in books that are different from what they write. They seem to understand that there are different types of greatness.

I've been thinking about that because I've been frequenting Amazon recently, hoping to see some reviews go up for my book, and I've ended up reading some of the reviews people have posted for The Wise Man's Fear. A lot of the people that have issues with the book seem to be complaining that it isn't a Jim Butcher book--it isn't a tightly-plotted, edge-of-your-seat, page-turner. It meanders.

Or, to put it in a more confusing way: they're blaming the book for not being what it isn't supposed to be.

I think they're missing the point.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sign up for my newsletter, get free stuff.

If you scroll to the bottom of this blog, you'll see a box with the words "email address", and a subscribe button below it. Typing your email address into the box and clicking the subscribe button will get you added to my newsletter list. I'm planning on using the newsletter to announce new releases, special offers, etc--and as a way to reward people who show interest in my writing. Here are a few special opportunities I'm planning on making available to people who sign up:

1) Free download days. Blood Brothers is currently signed up with Amazon's Kindle Select program, which means that I can make the ebook available for free download on five days in the next three months. If you'd like to get a copy, but you don't want to pay for it, sign up for the newsletter and you'll get an email giving you advance notice of an upcoming free day.

2) Review rewards. At some point in the near future, in an effort to get more reviews for Blood Brothers up on the Amazon page, I'll be rewarding reviewers with a free copy of the second issue of my zine Map of Fog. This issue is of particular interest to fans of Blood Brothers because it contains a story relating my rediscovery of my childhood love--fantasy fiction--as an adult. Map of Fog was a critically acclaimed zine, and it's pretty hard to get a copy of it now, but if you sign up for the newsletter, you'll get info telling you how to get a copy for free.

3) Sales days. I'm also considering making Blood Brothers available for reduced prices on certain key days. If you want to know when one of those sales days is coming up, sign up for the newsletter.

So sign up! I promise not to bombard your email inbox with spam--I'm thinking it'll be less than a dozen emails in a year--and if you ever decide you'd rather not be on the list, every email will have an unsubscribe button included at its bottom.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blood Brothers now available in paperback

Blood Brothers is now available in trade paperback directly from the Createspace website. Click here to go there.

It should be available on Amazon in about a week.