Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September: The Hot and the Cold

Theoretically, autumn begins in September. Temperatures begin to cool, leaves fall from the trees, a certain ineffable crispness suffuses the air. Although we've had a few days that were unmistakably full of "fall," we've also had our hottest days of the year this September. Full on summer hitting 100 degrees. Not that I'm complaining about the weather, they've been dealing with worse heat in Texas and other parts of the south all summer.

As I mentioned in my last post, we're moving, and that's definitely a cold moment. I, now, really understand why we, culturally, are no longer nomadic. Moving sucks! It really just does. I can just imagine cavemen back in the day trying to decide which prized skull they were going to drag along with them to the next location, because they could only carry one. Or mothers trying to motivate their young children to "just come on!" It makes perfect sense to me that we all settled down and quit following herds of beasts around.

Not that I didn't already know that moving sucks, but it's one of those things that you put out of your mind when you're not actually in the midst of it.

As for the house, the drama with the banks at the beginning of September was cold, nay, frigid, but getting the house was definitely HOT! Painting it was... cold. We're still not finished with that, because we lost a weekend to the bank time suck, but we're having to put off the rest till after we get all of our stuff moved over. Cold cold cold.

The lack of writing this month due to the move is definitely cold. You know when you pull on a rubber band? That tension that forms... that's what it feels like inside me, at the moment. I want to get back to Brother's Keeper, but I just don't have any time for it, right now.

As for The House on the Corner, although it technically came out in August, it was close enough to September that I'm going to give it a September hot. The sales, on the other hand, have been oh, so so so cold. Between the Nook and the Kindle, I have a total of 6 sales, much less than I had hoped for. I'm actually above that on the sales for the physical book, although most of those have been hand-to-hand purchases as opposed to online purchases. I definitely have a lot to learn about this whole marketing thing.

However, I did get my first review! Definitely a HOT! You can read it here, and you should! If you've been thinking about buying but have just been waiting to see the feedback on it from other people, here you go. Also, there is an additional short review for it here if you scroll down to it.

Well, I suppose that's about it. And, really, all I have time for. Back to packing go I!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What the Heck?!?!

As I mentioned way back in this post (yes, go read it! It was a long time ago, and most of you weren't here, yet), my wife and I have been trying to buy a house. This has been a long, arduous process. Really long. We started looking back in January, if that tells you anything. The fact that it's taken so long has had nothing to do with us and everything to do with the screwed up state of the real estate market and the fact that a bank is on the selling end more often than not.

We actually made an offer on the very first house we looked at. Yes, back in January. It wasn't a great house, but it had a huge back yard (HUGE) with several fruit trees, a work shop shed, and a storage shed. We were willing to overlook the deficiencies with the house because of the space for the kids (i.e. our daughter) to run around in. The real issue, though, was that it was a short sale (that's when the "owner" is trying to sell the house for less than what s/he owes on the mortgage (just in case any of you didn't know that)).

The home owner was in foreclosure proceedings and was trying to get out from under that by selling the property. The problem was that she really didn't want to be selling. At any rate, we put in an offer on the house. The short sale process sort of puts a halt on foreclosure proceedings, so the woman suddenly found herself living in a house mortgage-free. She did everything she could to slow down what is already an incredibly slow process. What the heck? I mean, I understand her position, but to just put up blocks at everything that needed to happen? It was ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that the two mortgage holders on the house couldn't stop bickering with each other. Over $3,000. Really. The banks were bickering over (what was probably) pocket change (to them).

We put in an offer on another house. So, then, we had offers open on two houses. I don't remember if the second house was a short sale or a foreclosure; it probably doesn't really matter. We made an offer that was too high. In a market with falling house prices, we made an offer of above what the bank was asking. Seriously. We did. There were a couple or few other offers as well. You want to know what the bank did? They came back with a response of "give us your highest and best" offer. What the heck? I wouldn't do it. I told our agent, basically, "screw that." I already didn't like the offer we were making, but my wife didn't want to spend six months looking for a house. >insert maniacal laughter here< We withdrew our offer.

Evidently, everyone else felt the same way about it that we did. A month later, that same house sold for $30,000 LESS than the offer we made. What the heck? Stupid bank. It was a good thing, though, as neither of us really wanted that house.

Eventually, because of the roadblocks the woman from the first house kept throwing up to the selling process, her agent quit. Seriously. In the middle of the deal. Because of the lack of progress on the whole thing, we would have had to start over once she got a new agent. I'm not exactly sure when that happened, but that house just came back on the market a couple of months ago at something like $20,000 less than our offer. The woman is still living in the house, because, I guess, the bank can't make her leave while she's trying to sell the house. What the heck? But it's a pretty sweet deal for her.

Somewhere in there, we made an offer on another house. Another short sale. It wasn't a house either of us liked, but it was a good price. It had no yard and no playground anywhere nearby, but the house was an adequate size, and, like I said, the price was good. But Oh! My! Gosh! (Eggs! (sorry, private joke. Okay, not private, but you have to read my book to get that one. I only say it, because anytime anyone says "oh my gosh" anywhere around my kids, they respond with "eggs!") the bank couldn't quit screwing around with it. Seriously. Every time we thought we were making progress, the selling bank would start the paperwork process over again. They re-appraised the house at least three times. It may have been more, but, honestly, I quit paying attention to all of it. And, again, we had made an offer that was too high. It was too high because we offered asking price although it needed something like $20,000 in repairs. And the bank couldn't decide to sell! What the heck?!

This went on for three or four months. Until we found the house that we're moving into. It's a little on the small side, and we offered too much (asking price), but my wife actually loved this one. See, it has a playground literally right next door. It's perfect for my daughter. The day they accepted our offer, the bank from the other house came back and said they were ready to go with the offer we'd made on that house. The very same day! What the heck?! We barely contained our laughter and told them "too bad." That house is now back on the market at something like $20,000 less than we offered for it. Stupid bank.

Yes, we're in  the process of moving. I know! Fun! Not really. I hate moving. But I'm glad to be moving. I just want the actual moving part to be over with. Anyway, this one didn't come without its moments, too.

This house we bought was a foreclosure. For a foreclosure, it's in remarkably good shape. We looked at a lot of houses. I think all but one of them was either a foreclosure or a short sale. In general, the foreclosures were a mess. You wouldn't believe some of the things people do with their houses. Especially their garages. Most of it illegal. Not necessarily in the "illegal" illegal sense, mostly just building rooms and stuff that they didn't get permits for. Although, we did see at least one house where the garage had been turned into a pot lab (all I can say about that is that they must not have been very good at it considering they got foreclosed on).

That's not to say that there weren't issues with this house we're moving into. The main living space had a horrible color scheme, but that didn't stand in the way of buying. In fact, we thought everything was going to be quick and easy, because the selling bank wanted it done now, basically. They'd already been in escrow twice with the house and had had issues with the buyers, so they wanted to make sure we were going to go with it and set some pretty quick deadlines on things. We were like, "yeah! We can do that!" The quicker the better, right? heh We got all of our stuff done on time and ended up having to wait at every corner for the bank to catch up, because they just wouldn't get the paperwork done on time. What the heck?

Then came the big issue. The appraiser pointed out some areas on the house that the lender wanted fixed before they would release the money. To put this into perspective, both the general home inspector and the pest inspector had pointed these areas out, but they had both said they were really just cosmetic issues and nothing to worry about. But the appraiser saw ugly spots on the house and wanted them fixed, and, as we found out, the appraiser is all powerful under the new system of home buying. If we wanted the house, we had to have these areas fixed first.

But we didn't own the house, and, when banks sell foreclosed homes, they sell them as-is. They wouldn't allow the repairs to happen. We were in a "what the heck?" situation. And we were running out of time. Serious negotiations started. Estimates from some contractors were requested. The selling bank seemed like they were considering it, but the lending bank decided they would make an exception and allow the repairs to happen after escrow closed as long as we made the repairs within 21 days of the close of escrow. We got a date for that set up about a week after the scheduled closing of escrow. 

That day came and went. Yeah... the selling bank, the bank that was pushing for a quick close, couldn't get their act together. The guy who was supposed to sign all the papers for the selling bank had gone on vacation and the guy  that was supposed to be taking care of his duties was... well, I have no words for what he was. Incompetent comes to mind, but I don't know him, so I don't really know. What I know is that the papers didn't get signed, and we had to cancel the contractor because escrow still hadn't closed. And we'd turned in notice at our apartment complex, so we were losing moving time. What the heck?

Finally, the selling bank got its act together (I think the guy got back from vacation) and got everything signed and sent to the title company. The day this happened, the lender decided... wait... we went through three weeks of negotiations and getting estimates and all this stuff to have these repairs done, right? These repairs that were completely necessary before the lender would agree to release the money for our loan. It was a huge deal, and we had scampered and fretted and all sorts of things to make sure that this was going to happen. The day that all of the papers were finally going through and the lender was releasing the money, they decided, "oh, never mind. We don't actually care if you have those repairs done. They're not significant enough." WHAT THE HECK?!?! Seriously! WHAT THE HECK?!?!

I mean, fine, that's great, but WHAT THE HECK?!?! It's like in high school when I did an assignment (early) but because most of the class was having trouble with it and hadn't done it, the teacher decided to un-assign it. I was the only one, the only one that had already done it. What the heck? This whole thing with the house was like that. Pain. in. the. butt.

But we have a house, now. And we're getting moved in. Painting. We have a new refrigerator coming tomorrow. So, I guess, it's all good.
And there's a park right next door.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I want my two hours!

Today is the day of the
being run by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Should be an interesting topic. See, the thing is, everyone's favorite movies tend to all run in the same direction. Which is not to say that everyone has the same most favoritest movie, but, if you go looking around at people's favorites lists, the movies listed become rather repetitive. It's not all that often you'll come across something that really stands out. However!
People tend to have different lists for movies they hate, and that list can be much more  interesting than favorites. I mean, generally, when you hear that someone loves Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, you just smile and nod in agreement, "Yeah, that's a great movie." But, when you hear the list of movies people don't like, there is the opportunity for those, "What are you talking about?!" moments, "I love that movie!"

Contrary to popular belief, I quite like movies. Back when I was in high school and college, my friends believed, except for a few exceptions (like Star Wars), that I hated movies. Really, I just made them hate movies. We'd come out of seeing something, and I would point out the flaws and weaknesses, and they would go from "that movie was great" to "oh... that movie really wasn't very good." They interpreted that to mean that I had not liked the movie when that was usually not the case at all. Even though I could pick the movie apart, it didn't (necessarily) diminish my enjoyment. I just accepted that (most) movies would have issues and accepted them for what they were despite plot holes, bad acting, or predictable endings. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth shut so that my friends could retain their own enjoyment.

None of that is to say that I don't have my own list of movies that you couldn't pay me to sit through again. Okay, well, you probably could pay me, but you'd really have to make it worth my while. I mean, really, really worth my while, and I consider my while to be worth quite a bit. Mostly, I'm going to focus on big, blockbuster movies that I think are completely overrated, although there will be a few where, if I could have, I would have demanded my two hours back. Keep the money, just give me back the time I wasted.

I'm not going to do a countdown here. Well, except for the top few. Mostly, I'm going to go sort of chronologically and deal with them at the time in my life when they happened, and why I think they don't deserve the attention they get.

10. Superman. There has not been a Superman movie made that is worth seeing. I grew up watching the old George Reeves Superman television series, which I thought was great (I haven't seen it since I was a kid, so I don't know how I would feel about it, today, but I loved it back then). The first movie was so much worse than the TV series. Not that Christopher Reeve wasn't good, but the movie itself was just boring. I've never understood why so many people hold it up as the epitome of the super hero movie. Yes, it was the first, but that doesn't make it the best. Besides the boring, it had one of the stupidest endings ever. You  have to understand that this is coming from the 8-year-old me, too. The idea that Superman could fly around the Earth really fast and make time go backwards is just... well, it's stupid. If an 8-year-old could recognize that, there's no excuse for all the adults that were all giddy over the film. And that was the high point of the Superman franchise. Don't get me started on Superman Returns. That's one of those where I want my 2 hours back. Brandon Routh did a great job with what he was given; unfortunately, what he was given was a steaming pile of crap, and there's just not a lot you can do with that.

9. Star Trek. Excluding the latest Abrams version, these movies should never have been made. Again, the first one was the best, and they just went down hill from there. Yes, I hear you all out there cursing me and protesting with mumblings about Wrath of Kahn, but, really, it just sucked. At least, the first one actually had an interesting plot. It might even have been okay if they hadn't been so busy patting themselves on  the back over their less than adequate special effects that they felt it necessary to devote over 30 minutes of screen time to absolutely nothing happening. "Ooh! Our model of the Enterprise looks really cool doesn't it?" "Yes, it does!" "Let's just pan around that sucker for, like, 15 minutes so the audience can really appreciate it!" "Oh, yes, absolutely!" And, then: "Ooh! Look at all the pretty technicolors we can make!" "That's awesome!" "Let's just have Spock fly into this stuff for the next 20 minutes so the audience can appreciate all the cool stuff we can do!" "Oh, yes, absolutely!" What a waste of time.
Now, to be fair, I'm a Star Wars kind of guy, and the action in Star Wars is "faster and more intense!" Action in the Star Trek movies is pretty yawn inducing. That's not tension; it's boredom.
In the end, though, the biggest issue with Star Trek as movies is that I never felt like I was watching a movie. They were just episodes of the TV show that were, for some reason, being shown at the theater. That's just not right. If they'd been on TV, they might have been okay.
The Abrams one, though, that was a movie, and doesn't belong in this list.

8. Batman. To be specific, the Batman franchise that was started by Tim Burton. I think I was the only person that came out of the theater in 1989 with the words "well, that sucked" on my lips. The thing is, if Burton had just been honest and called that first movie The Joker, I might have been okay with it. As it was, though, I hated it. And Keaton, whom everyone was worried couldn't do Batman was fine as Batman, but he sucked as Bruce Wayne. And the more of those movies they made, the worse they got. To the point of, "I want my two hours back!"
Years later, I found out why they were so bad. During a controversy with Kevin Smith, Burton proclaimed, "I would never read a comic book." Tell me how, exactly, you can attempt to make a movie about Batman without ever looking at the source material. That explains why he got everything wrong about those movies.

7. Catwoman. Is there even anything that needs to be said about this one? Well, maybe, source material. Use it. What a disaster of a movie.

6. Event Horizon. I honestly can't tell you why I hated this movie. It was so bad, I've wiped the memory of it from my mind. I just know that my wife and I barely sat through it. In retrospect, I'm not sure why we did. Stupid, stupid movie. One of those movies that forgets that people that really like sci-fi tend to be pretty smart people so failed to bring any amount of intelligence to the table.

5. The Matrix 2 & 3. These movies prove that sequels shouldn't be added after the fact. Although, now, the Wachowski brothers claim that The Matrix was always intended to be a series, that's just a way to justify making sequels for a movie that was never intended to have a sequel. They said as much before they started work on Matrix 2. But the money got into them, and they added a Terminator ending onto what had been a smart, thought-provoking movie. I want my 4 hours back!

4. Green Lantern. I already did a post about this one (you can see it here), so I'm not going to re-review it. Just give me back my 2 hours, okay? With the amount of money this one lost (like $100 million), I can't believe they're making a sequel.

3. Independence Day. The only stupid movie I'm glad I saw in the theater. It was worth seeing it that one time in the theater, because it really did have some cool scenes that would have been lost seeing on just a TV. However, that doesn't justify the utter stupidity that was the plot of this movie. Peter David (one of the greatest writers of comic books ever) did a great review of it back in the day which totally supported all the things that I had been telling my friends that sucked about it. It was one of those movies where the makers tried to distract the audience from the stupidity with cool, flashy things on the screen. Unfortunately, it worked. The only saving grace was Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum; they were great together. It wasn't enough to disguise the big platter of poo poo that was Independence Day, though. At least, not for me.

2. Highlander II: The Quickening. I loved the first Highlander movie. Yes, I realize it's pretty cheesy looking, today, but it was such a great concept. I watched everything that Lambert did for years after Highlander. And there was Sean Connery, too, who was already in my top 3 actors back then in 1986 (he's not anymore, although he probably still makes the top 10). How could they go wrong with a sequel? They forgot they're own source material, that's how. "Hey, I have an idea! Let's take this great fantasy movie we have and turn it into some weird sci-fi movie! That'll work, right?" Wrong. I got to see Highlander 2 for free at a special screening and walked out feeling like I'd been ripped off. That's pretty darn impressive, if you ask me.

1. The Dungeonmaster. Easily, the worst movie I've ever seen. Which I've mentioned before. I don't think 14-year-olds are supposed to walk out of movies feeling like they just wasted 2 hours of their lives. I mean, 14-year-olds are supposed to be wowed by anything that approaches special effects and be easy to please, right? Evidently, that was not the case with me. I walked out of that movie with the thought that it was the worst movie I'd ever seen, and that opinion hasn't changed in more than 25 years. Considering that Highlander 2 and Green Lantern are on this list, The Dungeonmaster is impressively bad. I want my 2 hours back!

There you have it. The worst movies I've ever seen. Well, many of them, anyway. There are a few more that could have made the list, like that monstrosity of a Godzilla movie that was made by the Independence Day people. And the animated Transformers movie. Probably even Cowboys vs Aliens, but I actually haven't seen that one, yet, and I'm not sure I'm brave enough to do it after what I've heard.
Okay, you can all scream at me, now.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Who Started Your Dream?

Before I get into this dream business, Shannon Lawrence over at The Warrior Muse has gone and interviewed me. My completely unbiased opinion (>smirk<) is that it's a great interview, and you should all go read it. Actually, I do think it's a good interview, and it has some good thoughts in it. You'll get to find out a little bit more about my book, and there's some of my thoughts about publishing and the publishing industry that I may not have said on here, yet. So go check it out. Just click the little linky up there.

Seriously. Go. Now. I'll still be here when you get back.

As part of Rachael Harrie's platform building campaign, Cat Gerlach started up this little blog ring about what inspired us to be writers.
The idea is that if you follow the chain of links, you will eventually get back around to the person you originally clicked from. So pick one of these: Rachele Alpine or Ali Cross (although, I think Ali's post won't actually go up until tomorrow (the 16th), if I followed that conversation correctly) and click through. If you continue on through the links that is the other one that you haven't already read, you should get all the way back around to me. Sounds like fun, right? And don't worry: it's only a dozen or so of us, so it's not going to take you weeks to get through them all.
Oh! and there are prizes. However, I'm not going to list all of those out, because, honestly, I'm not sure what the list boiled down to. I will tell you how to win one, though: leave a comment. Each comment you leave on each blog is worth one entry, so there's your incentive to make the full round. I do think there were some good prizes in there, even if one of them is not a copy of my book (sorry, I just don't have any available, yet, but I'll explain about that next week).

Who started my dream?

I think my answer is somewhat atypical, at least from what I have seen from other people talking about these kinds of things. I never got "inspired" to write because of some book or some author I read. The closest I come to that is, probably, The Hardy Boys, but I wouldn't really call it a moment of inspiration. I started reading The Hardy Boys sometime around 4th grade. At some point in there, I decided I was going to write one of my own. Except that I changed the names to protect the innocent. Mainly myself. Because I didn't want to get in trouble for copyright infringement, although I have no idea why I would even have been thinking that at that age. But I was.

I got out a notebook, and I started writing. Probably Big Chief (Big Chief was really pads of paper. Colored red (not  the paper, just the covers). Because it was an "Indian" thing. No, no one thought anything about that back in the 70s), because that's what I always had back then. I don't really remember, though. I was making decent progress. But this was back in the days before I knew I could tell my mom to stay out of my stuff, and she had this annoying habit of getting into my things, so she found my "book" and read it. Her very supportive comment was, "Did you make up all these names yourself?" The book went in the trash. Especially since I hated the names. I felt that they were inadequate, and that was the thing she commented about. I didn't continue my writing pursuits.

But I was good at it. Teachers commented about my writing all the time, sometimes reading things I had written to the class. But I didn't think about writing anymore. I was a math/science student, after all; artistic pursuits were good for nothing more than hobbies.

By the time I was exiting high school, I hated math and science. Well, mostly math. I was so tired of it. I elected to major in English in college. I did this with the idea of writing. No, I can't tell you why. What I can tell you is that I had to argue with every counselor at the school about my choice. Yes, my math/science scores were that high. Not that my English scores were bad; they weren't. In fact, they were great, so that should say something about my math scores. I spent my entire freshman year at college explaining to the administration that, no, really, the English major wasn't mistake. Yes, I knew what my scores said. No, I did not want to major in math or anything related to it.

The English department was ecstatic with my decision, and I was, eventually, appointed a counselor from the English department.

My first real attempt at a novel was during a break from college while I was substitute teaching. It's about a dragon. I still have it stored somewhere in a box, and I still think it's a good story. I might one day go back to it. I can point to no inspirational moment for that novel, either. It was really more about saving the environment. With a dragon.

What I'm saying here, I guess, is that the decision to "be a writer" came more out of not wanting to do math anymore and knowing that I was good at writing. So, yeah, sorry for the big let down there. I didn't even follow through with it at the time. I was young and busy, and staying home at night to write never occurred to me. Then, I was out of college and working and still out at night and staying at home and writing never occurred to me. Then, I was moving to CA and getting married and, later, dealing with kids, and the whole writing thing had, mostly, just left my brain.

So how, then, did I end up writing a book? Well, here's the thing: A few years ago, I kept hearing about these Anita Blake novels and how good they are. Let me preface this by saying that I hate, hate, the whole vampire thing. I hated it in high school when everything was about Anne Rice, and I still hate it, today. Vampires are the bad guys. Period. End of story. I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer for that very reason (I'll excuse Angel, because he was an exception); the vampires were bad. Evil. So, hey, here are these Anita Blake novels, and she's a vampire slayer, so I thought I would try one out.

Big mistake. And apologies to anyone that likes that trash, but it was trash. I started with the first one, because, you know, that's what you do, and it was torture. I'm not very good at putting down a book once I've started it, but I seriously considered it with that one. One thing stopped me. See, by about page 80, I had figured out the entire plot. Really. The entire plot to a 350 page novel in 80 pages including who the bad guy was. But I kept thinking that I must be wrong, because, really, no published author could be that bad. And I kept hoping that I was wrong and that Ms Hamilton had tricked me all the while knowing she hadn't.

The other thing I kept thinking was that I could do better. So much better. The thought that went along with it was that that thought was stupid if I then didn't actually follow through with doing better. It's like guys across America yelling at football players on TV. In other words, ridiculous. Anyone can say "I could do better," but it doesn't mean a thing unless you actually do that.

From that perspective, I suppose you could say that Laurell K. Hamilton was my inspiration, because it was because of her and Anita Blake that I decided to follow through with the thought of writing. I'd talked with my wife about it on-and-off for years, but that was all I did. Talk about it. I hadn't made a serious attempt since that discarded book about the dragon while I was in college. So I wrote a book. And it's better than Anita Blake.

At least, it's better than the first one. I was told, later, that the Anita Blake books don't really get good until you get to the third one, but, seriously, how does anyone get that far? After having all of my fears about the first one confirmed, there was never even the consideration of going on, so how did anyone ever get to #3 to begin with. Maybe I'm being too harsh? I mean, she is a big, famous author with a big, famous franchise from a big, giant publisher, so what do I know?

Oh, but wait, I do have to mention C. S. Lewis and Narnia. He's probably the writer that had the most influence on The House On the Corner. It was a very deliberate thing on my part to write about houses and the things you find there. It was deliberate because Lewis and Narnia had such an impact on me as a kid. I wanted to find places, doorways, other worlds. And I wasn't the only one. My friends and I used to play games wrapped around those ideas, and I wanted to capture that feeling in my own book. There's even a small nod to Narnia in House. How could I resist?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing in the Slow Lane

It's 8:00am, and you're sitting in traffic. Again. To make matters worse, the car is overheating. You have the windows down and the fan blowing hot air out at you, but it's not doing any good. The temperature gauge just keeps going up and up. You turn the car off  in frustration. It doesn't matter; the traffic is at a standstill, anyway. Going nowhere. If only there weren't so many people all trying to go in the same direction as you... All these people travelling the highway of traditional publishing. The highway to being a published author. Hopefully, a rich and famous one.

You sigh and look wistfully over at the commute lane. You know, the lane that requires at least an agent as a passenger. Or a publisher. Or, even better, both. The cars in the commute lane just keep whizzing past. There goes Samantha Sotto in her Before Ever After VW van, and there goes Michelle Davidson Argyle in her little yellow Monarch beetle. And Michael Offutt is just pulling over into the commute lane with his new publisher. Those writers are getting somewhere, but you... you're stuck here in traffic with all of the other "aspirers." Just sitting in place waiting for some kind of movement.

You take the time to look around. Maybe you can sneak into the commute lane and make some headway, but, no, there's a publication cop just up ahead. You smack on the horn a few times, but it doesn't make you feel better, not really, and no one pays attention. You spy an exit up ahead, but, crap, it's one of those toll roads for a vanity publisher. Off in the distance, you see the self-publishing highway. There are some cars over there; they're moving slowly ahead, but, at least, they're moving. That has to be better than just inching along where you are. Right? Right?

You look for an exit before you realize there are no exits to the highway of self-publishing. That's a road you have to find for yourself. Yeah, there are some paths from some of the more adventurous, even some signs, and, way in the distance, you can see that there are some construction crews (like CreateSpace) working on some entrances to that other highway. But there are no exits from the one you're on. And the publication cops... well, they're waving people back and telling them it's unsafe to go that way. Uncharted. Dangerous.

What do you do? Stay the course? Inch forward? Hope to pick up a hitchhiking agent? There aren't many out there, and they seem to be really picky about what kind of cars they'll get into. And here's your car, overheating. Oh, it looks okay from the outside, but, really, when an agent takes a look in the window, will she really want to get in? You have already been turned down by several. And there's that road off in the distance. The other one. The one the publishers wish you couldn't see. What do you do?

heh heh I feel a "choose your own adventure" calling my name.
A. I stay on  the traditional publishing highway and hope for the best.
B. I dodge the publication police and head off road hoping I can find my way onto the self-publishing highway.
C. Well, I don't really have a C, but you should have one, so: I fork over tons of money to get on the vanity publisher toll road and never make any of it back.

Seriously, though, doesn't it feel like this sometimes? Like you're just sitting and nothing is happening. You're trying to move forward, but you're just not getting anywhere. Of course, the first obstacle is getting a manuscript written. You're not even on the highway until you've done that, you're just driving down the service road in envy. It's all hard, though, and the service road isn't a bad place to be. There aren't any fingers being pointed.

Anyway... I chose this particular example, because most people are still looking to traditional publishing. At least, the vast majority of the blogs I see are all talking about how to go the traditional publishing route. That's not me, of course, but it's still most people.

And I can still see onto the traditional publishing highway. I can see how zippy the people in the commute lane are, and, sometimes, it just feels SO slow over here. Almost like I'm having to get out and push my car along. And all I want is for things to just go a little faster. You know, doing that butt thing that kids do when they're trying to get their toy vehicles to move faster, but all they're really doing is causing them to rock back-and-forth.

All of this so I can say how different the experience is with this edition of The House on the Corner as opposed to the first edition (the one with no cover art). The first time through, I sold no copies by hand. It was all online and not many at that, but I didn't push it very hard, because I knew I was working on one with cover art (yea! Rusty Webb). This time, though, I'm having requests for copies from people that know me, and I already sold all of the copies I ordered initially, which surprised me, even though it wasn't very many. I've had to order more, and some of those are spoken for, so I'll probably have to order more, again, before this book signing event at the end of the month. But the e-copies aren't moving at all. That I find really surprising, especially since the previous price of my e-copy was $9.99 (yeah, it was too much, but I didn't know better, yet) as opposed to the current $2.99.

And all I want is for things to just go a little faster. But it takes a lot of work, and that part is slow. And a lot of perseverance, and that part is hard. Harder, even, than writing a book, which is hard enough. And reviews. It takes reviews. So, here I am, mentioning them, again, and saying how I'm going to do a post dedicated to the importance of reviews. And I am! It's coming soon. I promise. As I'm finding out, reviews are the most important thing! Along with how good cover art is the most important thing! And how writing a good book is the most important thing! The problem is that there really aren't any unimportant things. But, you know, since I've written a good book, and I have good (great) cover art, the next thing to deal with is getting some reviews. Then, maybe, things will move faster. Even if just a little.

Oh! and I almost forgot, I've tweaked the Brother's Keeper tab. It no longer contains the first chapter of the book but the prelude instead. No, it's not a prologue. It's more like an extended quotation that would go with the first chapter, but, because it is a little story in and of itself, I'm, for the moment, calling it a prelude.

I've also added a new tab: Tiberius. This has the first little story about Tib and will be the chapter one of this project. There's also a back story piece that I'm preparing as a separate publication as the audience isn't quite the same. Tiberius will be kid accessible (like The House on the Corner), but the short story that sets it up is most definitely not meant for kids. Look for that soon; it's called The Evil That Men Do.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Farm

I collect things. Well, not so much anymore, but I used to. Many of those things, I still have. They're just put away. In storage. But they're there. All the Star Wars toys from when I was a kid. Yes, I still have all of them. GI Joes and Transformers, too. Comic books. Way too many comic books (but that's a much longer tale and not what this post is about, but, you know, if you want to buy some, let me know. heh). Magic cards and other CCGs (yes, even thousands of the Harry Potter TCG cards). Some of these things, I wish I was still involved with but, mostly, it's all just put away.

I don't spend time with any of it. However, there is some amount of comfort knowing that it's there. I don't know why. My wife wishes she knew why, because she wishes I would get rid of at least 95% of it. Sometimes, I wish I could just toss it all, too, but it would leave me with the feeling that something is missing. There was a point when I was in college that I was kind of strapped for cash. Not something I was used to dealing with. I generally did a pretty good job of keeping myself in the money that I needed to get by, but, this one time, I was running low on fundage. I knew these kids that collected Transformers, and they had been lusting after my collection for months and months. Being somewhat desperate, I broke down and decided to sell some of them. Well, it ended up just being one of them: Soundwave (along with the cassettes that went with him even though they were, technically, separate figures). I've never really gotten over selling that one piece. It haunts me still. "I used to have that." "If only I hadn't been stupid and sold him." Those kinds of things. So, even though I haven't even looked at my Transformers in years, the knowledge that I'm missing that one figure from my collection pricks at my mind any time I think of them. When the kids came back to buy more a few weeks later, I told them I wasn't selling any more of them.

I could give other examples of how the losses of little, basically, inconsequential things can sit around and nag at people. Not just me. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "I used to have that when I was a kid. I don't know what happened to it." Or, "yeah, I had all of those, but my mom threw them out when I went off to college." Or, "yeah, I had tons of GI Joes and Star Wars toys, but I blew them all up this one 4th of July." Yes, that's a true story. The common thread is that everyone, every single person, I've heard say anything like that all wished s/he had those things back again. Small, unimportant things. But things that had meaning to them and played some part in their lives when they were growing up. For me, things I hoard up because one day I want to share them. Sit down with my kids and explain what they meant to me, why I kept them, and pass them on.

But, in the end, they are still just things. Often things, like my wife says, that clutter up our lives and steal our space. And we don't really have a lot of that, so it's a valid concern. However, it's not always things that we want to pass on. Sometimes, it's people. My grandfather is the person that I most wish I could pass on to my kids. The person from my life that I most wish they could meet. He's the person that sat with me every night after he got home from work, smelling of sweat and motor oil, and read to me. Read to me the same books over and over, because I was the king of "read it again," and he was my throne. Little Black, A Pony. And that story about the old blue truck and the cow. And he would read them over and over to me.

He was a presence. Quiet. Strong. My mother tells me, and, you know, she knew him a lot longer than me, that he never raised his voice. I certainly never remember him yelling, but things are often different with your kids as opposed to your grandkids, but, no, she says he never raised his voice. As far as she knows, he never raised his voice to anyone. If they (my mom and her two siblings) needed shouting at, that was my grandmother's job. And he never said an unkind word about anyone. Not an individual. Not any group of people. Not even when the Cowboys lost. He was the giver of hugs. Bear hugs. The one that tickled us and caught our hands when we were too slow. He has always been the person I most want to become.

The day he died remains the worst day of my life. When the phone rang that morning, I knew what it was about before anyone answered it and was already crying even though I had no reason to think that that was what the call was about. I'd just seen him two days before, and the doctors said he was going to be fine. That they'd caught the cancer  in time and that he should recover. But I knew. And, even then, I felt the loss as not just my own but as a loss for the kids I didn't yet have or have any notion of whom I would have  them with.

Sometimes... sometimes the things that we keep packed away in storage are places. I haven't been "home" in 10 years. Home being the House from The House on the Corner. My parents live in it, now, and I spent my teenage years living in it with them. But, before that, it was my grandparents' house. My memories of that house go back as far as I have memories. My dog when I was two. My mom holding me and not letting me go down to him when they found him dead in the backyard, still a puppy, both of us. My cousin pushing me off a riding toy and my aunt taking care of the huge bump on my head. Hearing jingle bells one Christmas Eve and being convinced it was Santa in the house.

But home was also East Texas. Besides the house in Shreveport, my grandparents had a farm outside of Jefferson. This was the real place where I was formed. Playing in the hay barn with my cousin Sam, leaping from stack to stack of bailed hay pretending we were superheroes in Gotham or New York. Catching toads with my cousin Becky. Picking blackberries with my grandmother. Feeding the cows, especially the one called Pig with the forked tongue, the table scraps from dinner. Waking up to the smell of coffee brewing.

This was the place that I spent nearly every major holiday from the time I was born until my grandfather died when I was 20. Every Thanksgiving I can remember. My cousins and I sitting at the kids' table where my cousin Sam would pour ketchup all over everything on his plate. The nearly 20 adults sitting at the long row of tables passing food back-and-forth. With just a few exceptions, every Christmas, too. My cousins, brother, and I all slept on the floor together when we were kids. Often in the same room with the Christmas tree. But, somehow, there were always presents piled under it on Christmas morning,  none of us the wiser as to how they got there. It was probably that more than anything else that convinced us of the magic of Santa.

There was also my great-grandmother's house. It was about a mile or so down the road, the dirt road. I spent as much time there as I did at my grandparents'. My Uncle Fred lived there, too. And, in the summers, my Aunt Effie would come and stay and bring my cousin Becky. I spent my summers with her. With her and my uncle's dogs. He always had at least three, and they always had the most unimaginative names. Spot. Brownie. Blackie. About as far out as it got was a dog named Ginger when I was a teenager, and that  was probably because he already had a Brownie.

There were so many places there. Because, you know, when you're a kid, one place can be comprised of many universes. Under the house where the dogs would go when it was too hot, and it was often too hot, and dig holes to lay in. That was our favorite place to catch toads. The cane patch my uncle kept back behind the house for fishing poles and where there were often snakes, but we played in there anyway. The pond that my uncle dug where we would swim. And catch frogs. And where there were also often snakes, but we played there anyway. The pine woods that surrounded my great-grandmother's where we would tramp around. The loft of the barn where Uncle Troy dried his peanuts.

They had an actual well in the house. When we were thirsty, we would go and lower the bucket and bring up a pail of water and drink from it with a big dipper that hung on the post. Everyone drank from that dipper, and no one thought anything about it. The water was always cold and had a metallic tang to it that may or may not have come from the dipper. Possibly, the well tells you that it was an old house. It had a tin roof. I loved being down there when it would rain and listening to the rain pound on that roof. They kept skewers, for lack of a better term, on a nail next to the fireplace (all the time), and Becky and I would sit and roast marshmallows on cold nights.

My Aunt Effie actually had a house down there, too, even though they never actually stayed in it. It was, oh, probably three miles or so farther down the road. They had a wardrobe down there full of games. Most of them missing too many pieces to really be playable. On the very rare occasion, my cousin and I would walk the three miles down to her house so that we could play Mouse Trap, because that's where that game lived. There was no need for a key, because the house was never locked up, and it was never an issue that it wasn't locked up. Nothing ever went missing.

This was the place that I really grew up. Sitting and shelling peas or shucking corn on the porch at my great-grandmother's. We did a lot of that. Riding in the back of the pickup with the dogs, because the dogs went everywhere with my uncle. Unless he had to go into town, and, then, they would obediently stay behind. Digging potatoes. Playing in the mud in the ditches next to the road after the rain. Riding on the tractor with my grandfather and, sometimes, getting to steer. Going on long walks down the road with my great-grandmother and picking wildflowers for the table, when she was still strong enough to do that with us.

This place has been like that box of Transformers. Like all my Star Wars toys. Giving me comfort because I knew it was there. Giving me hope that one day I would be able to share these places with my kids. Take them there and show them. Tell them stories. "And this was the place where we were chased by the cottonmouth." "And this is the place where we found the copperhead, and my uncle came and chopped it up with a hoe." "And this was the place where we stumbled across the rattlesnake, but it just shook its tail at us and let us go." I told you there were a lot of snakes. Not all of the stories would be about snakes, though.

I've always known that it wasn't actually very likely that I would get to take my kids and show them all of these places and tell them the stories about the people that lived there, make them as real for my kids as they are to me, but there was the possibility. The knowledge that those places were there, stored away like a collection, a collection of memories, smoldered in my mind, keeping some part of me warm. I could dream of taking them and showing them the pond, long ago choked by weeds and telling them, "this is where I used to swim," and see the dumbfounded looks on their faces, because they have never known anything other than swimming pools. And take them down to the creek and show them the vines that we used to swing into the water from. And just... just sit on the porch in the old chairs where we would sit for hours in the evenings watching the fireflies (when we weren't out trying to catch them) and shelling peas.

But all of that's gone now. I just found out yesterday that all of it, all of it, my grandparents' house (where my Uncle Oscar (my mom's brother) was living), my great-grandmother's house (where my Uncle Fred still lived), even my Aunt Effie's house (where no one was still living, because she actually lives in Houston), was claimed by  the wildfires raging through East Texas. It's all just... gone. And I don't know, really, how to feel about it. I mean, these are not places I'm currently involved with. Like the boxes of toys, they have just been stored away for the future. A future that would probably never be possible, but there. They were there, and I knew they were there, and I hoped. But it's all gone now. The outhouse out behind my great-grandmother's that no one ever used, because it was always full of wasps. The turkey coop. The 200 year old furniture. The tractors, at least one of which was probably 100 years old. The floor that I slept on on Christmas Eve, and the coffee pot that would wake me up in the morning with its smells wafting through the house.

Part of me feels guilty for feeling such loss to something as intangible as my memories when so many people, so many people, have lost everything that they are involved with. Lost where they actually lived. But I do. There is a numbness and a pain fighting within me over these places I haven't seen in a decade and haven't spent any real time in since my grandfather died 20 years ago. The loss of these things won't affect my life or change how I live. I won't have to make allowances to my routine to compensate for their loss. But just as I had the knowledge that they were there, I now have the knowledge that they are gone. It will be just like Soundwave. I won't be able to think about "the farm" without the nagging thought that it's gone. I can no longer imagine what it must be like for the people that have lost everything to these fires, because I can't imagine walking through the blackened earth where all that I once knew and loved once stood. I wish that I could. To make it real. Because I can't imagine those places not being there. What I do know is that, now, I can't go back. Can never take my kids and make these places real to them. That is a loss that can't be replaced.

[Just as a note: none of my family members were hurt during the writing of this piece. They all were away or got out safely. They should all be okay, too. Without going into details, they are all taken care of.]

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Campaign Challenge: The Man With No Eyes

I've had a secret project going on for a while. Part of the reason it's so secret is that I'm not really very far along on it. Work on The House on the Corner (buy it now! >grin<) and its sequel, Brother's Keeper, have kept me pretty busy over the last many months. But I do have this other story happening in little bits and pieces. Actually, I'm going to start showcasing some of it, soon, so I thought this first challenge in the campaign would be a good place to introduce Tib. Or Tiberious. But he prefers Tib, because Tiberious is what his mother always calls him when he's in trouble.

It's going to be his birthday soon, and bad things are starting to happen. I hope you enjoy this little introduction. Oh, and, yes, it comes in at exactly 200 words.

The Man With No Eyes

The door swung open as Tib approached. For just a moment the thought flitted through his head that, maybe, all the bad stuff was a lie and his mother was there waiting for him. But, no, he knew it had done it of its own accord. No, not its own. The shadows.

They were in there, waiting for him. He could see them stretching through the house and up the stairs. Moving without moving. The bright sunshine outside only served to make the shadows more distinct. More real. He could hear them in his skin as he moved across the porch. Hear them calling to him. Whispering to him. He shivered and stepped into the house. His house. The house that his mother should be in. Except that she wasn't. He just hoped it wasn't the man with no eyes that had taken her. Maybe she'd gotten away.

But, no... if she was safe, the shadows wouldn't be here. In her house. He stood in the middle of the patch of light stabbing into the living room from the open door. From the back corner of the room, a figure emerged. A man with no eyes. The door swung shut.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Dead God's Wrath: A Review

Review... what a dreaded word. Seriously. We all want them, but we're all scared to get them. And to give them. But, really, there's nothing more important to an author's success than reviews. Well, other than writing the book to begin with. It's like waiting to see what your grade is on a term paper. It's a topic I'm going to have to start talking more about. What a review is. Why it's important. However, this isn't a post on the topic of reviews, although, perhaps, I should have done that post, first. Be that as it may, this post is a review. And, speaking of getting grades on a term paper, I think that's the format I'm going to use when I do reviews.

So my buddy, Rusty Webb, the guy that did the spectacular cover for my book, is also a writer. Just in case you haven't picked that up, yet. He has his very first (written) offering for the public available for the Kindle. He also did the cover for this one:
You can find over on Amazon for the low, low price of just $0.99. The real question, of course, is should you buy it?

So... let's get into that, then.

I give A Dead God's Wrath a good, solid B. And just to clarify that, a B means it's better than average. I'm not a big fan of average, and I wouldn't tell you to spend your money, even a buck, on something that's just average.Wrath, though, at a dollar, is a good buy. Even if it is short. That just means you can sit down and enjoy it all in one sitting. If you happen to like westerns, I'd say it's a must buy item.

My first impression of Wrath is that it's kind of Jonah Hex (not the movie) meets Neil Gaiman. It just had that Gaiman kind of feel to it. The everything seems normal except that something's just kind of "off." It can be hard to tell, at first, with Gaiman, exactly what that is, and I had that same sense with Rusty's work.

Rusty paints a clear picture of the environment without getting too detailed about it. There's just enough there to put the image in your mind, and, really, that's all that's needed. The dialogue is good. The pacing is great. The hero, Thomas, is realistic. He's a man up against odds that he can't beat, and Rusty never resorts to pulling some unbelievable super human feat  out of his hero's nether regions to please the audience. The hero's heroism is that he faces up against a situation that he knows he has no way of overcoming, but he does it anyway. The act of a true hero. "I know I'm going to die, but I have to do this." Thomas is the guy we aspire to be, but most of us aren't.

The western story is spiced up with just a little bit of mythology. Or, maybe, it's science fiction. It's a little hard to tell within the confines of the story, but that's okay. We don't know because Thomas doesn't know, and that's how it should be.

However, the story does break down a little bit for me at the end. The first thing is that I expect that the title will make sense (in any story) by the time I get to the end. When I finished Wrath, though, I had no clearer understanding of what the title means than I did when I started it. It's a great title, though; I just don't know how it relates. It's clear that there is more to the world than what's in this one story, so, maybe, if I knew more, it would make sense. As it is, though, it leaves me feeling like I missed something, and, maybe, I did, although I don't think so.

Likewise, the reader never gets to find out what was really going on in the story. In and of itself, that's fine with me. I don't need to know everything to enjoy a good story, especially if I know there's a larger story going on, and this is just a piece of it. Basically, if the character I'm viewing the story through doesn't get to find out, I'm okay with not getting to find out. However, there is an attempt at an explanation right at the end that just falls a little short of making anything clear. From the character's perspective, I like what happens here, because it has to do with his denial of the events he's witnessed. From the reader's perspective, though, I wasn't satisfied. I felt like all of that should either have been left out entirely, or it should have been given to us in a way that the reader could get it without Thomas understanding. Rusty dances around somewhere in the middle of those two things which left me feeling sort of like I can imagine I would feel if I was watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the very first time and someone turned it off just after they escape from the Death Star. You know they got away, but you would also know that the story wasn't really resolved.

It's still well worth the read, though, and it does leave me wanting Rusty to go back to it and give us more from that world. It's clear there's more. That's really the best way to tell if a story has done it's job. Does it leave you wanting more? Or to hear it again? And I definitely want to know more about what's going on in Rusty's sci-fi western world.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Power of Art

So... this isn't the first time I've done this whole self-publishing thing. I mean, it is, but it isn't. Those of you that have been following for a while have probably caught on that this is the second edition of The House on the Corner that I just released. See, there was a problem with the first edition. A problem that turned out to be a really huge problem, but, at the time I was preparing it, I didn't think it would matter. The first edition had no cover art.

Okay, so I hear some of you groaning, right now. "My gosh! Won't you guys shut up about cover art!" Us guys being me, Rusty, and Michael. Well, probably, after this, I'll be through with the topic. At least for a little while.


Back in January when I was doing all of this the first time and under a deadline, I didn't have any way to get any art for the book. [At some point, I'll explain about the deadline, but, for now, just accept that there was one.] Now, I know that art is important, but my logic went something like this:

1. It's just going to be online, so no one will be going into a book store and seeing it, so there's no real need for an eye-catching cover. It's all about the story anyway, right? Well, it should be, so, darn it, I'm just going to have to go with it without one, because that's what I can do, and it's about the story, not the cover art!

2. But I looked at the stock art that was available, anyway. You know, just in case there was something worth using. But it all sucked. The closest thing to what I was looking for was a close up shot of a doorknob; which is to say, there was nothing remotely close. I figured it would be better with just the title in black on a gray background, the closest I could get to the feel I wanted.

3. I have people asking for the book, people ready to buy it, and they don't care about  the cover; they just want to read it, so, really, it's not that big a deal, right? Right! Of course, then, very few of those people followed through and bought the book. Near to none, in fact, but that's beside the point.

What it boiled down to, though, was a book without a cover.

It was still an awesome feeling to hold that first proof copy in my hands. Cover or no cover. And people thought it was neat that I had this book that I could show them that I wrote, and people would ask me, "When's it coming out?" And I'd explain that it was "out" and that if they wanted it they could get a copy from Amazon or from me, but they'd all look at me like there was something wrong with what I was saying and do nothing about it. Those conversations always felt weird to me, and I couldn't figure out what the problem was. Really, I couldn't.

Now, I know.

See, I have my new proof, now, the one with the cover art. I took it up to my kids' school the other day, because my kids wanted to show it to their friends. They get very excited about this sort of thing, and, hey, it's exposure, so that's good. The reaction to the version with art is... well... the response has changed from, "Oh, when's it coming out?" to "Oh! I want to buy a copy" that accompanies rummaging in purses for money. And it's all because of the cover art. It just makes it more real. It looks like a book, now, whereas before, I suppose, it just looked like a proof. Like something that wasn't quite finished.

The experience has been interesting. And there's been an offer to host a book signing. An offer by someone that really sort of dismissed the whole thing the first time. That is the power of art. Specifically, the power of Rusty's art. This whole experience has given me a whole new outlook on the whole art thing and they way people react to it and, really, just how important it is. At least, how important it is to other people.

I think my problem came about because of that saying, "don't judge a book by it's cover," which was said to me at the right time by the right person. Not someone just repeating the saying to me but someone telling me about how important it is to look beyond the surface of things to what's really inside, and I have tried to apply that in my life ever since. Including to books. Since 5th or 6th grade. I've really always just tried to look at cover art as something extra because of that and not let it sway me as to whether the contents of a book were any good. So, when it came to my book, I knew the contents were good, and I just sort of hoped that people would would use the same criteria I did to decide whether to buy.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. It just doesn't work  that way. Well, I know, now. It was a good lesson to learn. I mean, I already knew. I knew when I decided to go back and do a second edition that I had to have cover art. That was the motivation for doing a second edition. Sure, I made some internal edits, but, if I hadn't needed a cover, I probably would have just let them go. The cover art was critical, and I spent some months agonizing over it before Rusty graciously volunteered his services. But, still, I didn't know. I hadn't experienced the difference there would be  in the reactions of people. The difference between knowing the stove is hot and actually touching it. The difference in standing outside a restaurant window while hungry and watching people eat and actually getting to go inside and sit down to a meal. A whole world of difference.

So... do yourself a favor, and make sure you get some worthwhile art for anything you want to publish. It's worth it!

On that note, here's one more look at the cover for The House on the Corner (unless, you know, you actually want to click on the tab up there that says The House on the Corner -- the art will always be there):
Oh, and, if you want to buy it, links abound! Click the House tab or see the square up in the top right of this page. I'd appreciate the support, and I'd love to hear what you think!