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Five Years On

This past June 15th (2019) was the fifth anniversary of the publication of Unlucky Seven.

It came and went without much ado.  Mainly because, although Amazon lists this as the date I first hit the go-button on this project, the real work did not start until October of 2014.  That is where I feel its anniversary should always be celebrated.

October 4th, 2019 was my first ever public exhibition as an author.  The Too Groovy Toy Show.  Held in a tiny church hall on Main Street in my hometown.  I split a six-foot table with my friend and fellow author Spike Bowen.  It was the first time I had personally sold a paper copy of my first run of my first novel to anyone.  I handed them a book, they handed me ten dollars.  So it began.

I didn’t even start signing them until around the third copy when my 8th grade Honors English teacher showed up, certainly not expecting to see a slacker of a student like me sitting behind a table hocking my own writing.  I think I had to borrow a pen from someone because it never even occurred to me that anyone would want a copy of my work let alone one with my scribble of a signature inside it.

[Look, I know and I have been told by more than a handful of people that the tendency toward self-deprecation in my autobiographical writing doesn’t exactly bring in the social media hits but I am describing my earliest days here and my real feelings about them, so just press on reading, it gets better.]

I sold maybe ten books that day.  I was walking home with $100 in my pocked even though I had spent quite a bit more than that just buying inventory.  The table was $20 split between Spike and I and I had spent $75 on my 24×36 bristol board cover poster.  I didn’t know what I expected.  I had purchased 25 copies of my book and thought I would be cleaned out of them by the end of the day, walking out of there some kind of hometown hero.

I went home with a bit of a bruised ego which was my own fault for setting the bar high in a setting with which I wasn’t very familiar.  I wasn’t sure if I would even bother going out with it in public again until Spike and I conspired to go to our first Steel City Con that December.

In the interim, things were flat.  I was obsessively checking Amazon every day for new purchases or reviews.  I set up my Goodreads page so that I could offer another avenue for such things.  I took time to post in forums about my writing.  I posted constantly on social media, plugging and plugging and plugging.  I even put the book up for free on Amazon — something I periodically do now but, at the time, made it feel like I was desperate.

I thought that putting my writing out there would be some sort of immediate success.  I was gullible and blind.  Mainly, blinded by my own ego.  Why weren’t more people buying?  Reading?  Reviewing?  Where were the trumpets ushering me in past the gate that I had pounded against so hard in years past trying to get someone professional interested in my work?

Amazon did very clearly state that their publishing platform did not include promotions but surely in the category my book was in it must get some sort of attention.  Surely people would come along amidst the sea of self-publishing and recognize that here was a complete and sturdy book, ready for mass consumption, and that I would be discovered sooner than any hack like Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James as the legends foretold.  My writing is better than theirs, right?  I’ll be the next superstar, right?  Let’s start casting the movie!

All this in my head, I tried to keep a level expectation to the public.  I wasn’t about to whine or complain about how poor sales were in those earliest of months.  Upbeat sells.  I knew this from my years in retail.  And so came the pitch.

Directly behind me in that church basement was a shelf full of arts and crafts supplies, likely held there for Sunday school and other children’s activities.  Realizing I had brought my giant poster but no accompanying price tags or eye-grabbing flavor text, I drew up a sign on the back of a paper lunch bag whose original purpose was likely linked to biblical hand puppets.

Fresh Hot Words – $10

This sign had grabbed a few chuckles at the toy show so, when I set up at Steel City Con for the first time (going in with the same deluded expectations of a giant amazing sell out), the sign stayed.

It wasn’t long before I realized that, despite my meager pile of books, my poster, and my funny sign that I was in Artist’s Alley.  Around me rose towers of colorful artwork of people’s favorite characters and there I sat, in the middle of all of them, with really nothing interesting to show for myself.  I could have thrown books at people and hit them in very sensitive areas, but would it even make a difference?  It would probably drive away business and maybe get me kicked out.  It wasn’t until the Saturday afternoon crowd rolled in on day 2 that I got fed up and, realizing what I could do with the sign people chuckled over, screamed for the first time:

“Words for sale!  Fresh hot words for sale!”

Heads turned away from the pretty art pieces for a moment just to look at what nutcase was screaming in the middle of a crowded place.  This was a con, after all, not an auction house.  At shows like this, people weren’t supposed to call out to the clientele or interact unless they spoke to you first.

The thing is, though, they looked.

From there it started to get more personal.  I would call out individuals.  I started to become the Carnival Barker of Row P.  I got more elaborate with my adjectives and soon my pitch became: “Fresh hot organic words for sale!  Gluten-free, non-GMO words for sale!  Free-range, farm-to-table, locally-sourced words for sale!”

I sold maybe a dozen more that weekend.  It felt so unfulfilling.  It was early in the game.  I was thinking with my wallet rather than my brain.  I wanted the fame and fortune that came with being a writer and I thought it would come immediately.  This is a thirty-three year old man honestly believing that fame was going to drop into his lap any day now that the book was public.  Looking back, I can’t believe how sadly gullible I was.

This isn’t a sob story or a pity party, though. It’s a retrospective.

Cons went on and I continued to measure my worth in numbers of books sold.  Eventually, with the encouragement of my editor, I was able to pick up and move on with the story just as I was thinking of hanging up the entire thing permanently.  Without her, I would have been lost in more ways than one.

Once the second book was in hand and people actually showed up to get one, I started to become a bit more encouraged.  It was at this point that I slowly stopped caring about the money (having long ago given up any idea of ever making the nut) and started caring more about the readers.  I might sell a dozen books over a three-day con and, while barely enough to cover meals and a bar tab, that was still two dozen potential readers.  Even if they were the book collectors who have that ever-growing pile on their nightstand, at least my books would be somewhere in the mix to be read eventually.

People always ask me at cons about what it’s like to self-publish.  They tell me they are also writers and they are working on their stories and they want to know how to do it.

My answer is always akin to this:

Writing the book and publishing it is the easy part.  It’s nothing more than importing a document and making a few clicks.  If you have anything at all written, it can be on Amazon, ready to rock and roll, in a matter of literal minutes.

There are two very hard parts, though.

One is hubris.  Leave it at the damn door.  I’m not talking about what I discussed earlier about dreams of fame and fortune.  What I mean is you, the aspiring writer, will legitimately believe that everything you have put to paper is without flaw.  You have gone over it yourself many times.  You’ve revised.  You’ve edited.  You are confident that what you’ve got is the pinnacle.  The one that will be talked about for years.

You are wrong.

I am by no means saying that you are not a good writer.  I usually don’t know you from Adam if I’m giving you this spiel.  But please trust me when I say that your eye should absolutely not be the only one on your manuscript before you make those few clicks.  There is so much you can benefit from having someone that you trust give you the brutal truth.

The first book in the Unlucky Seven series is a key example of not having an editor.  Recently, in doing some research for the writing of book three, I went back and read a few chapters of it.  Compared to my more recent efforts (enhanced by my editor) it feels like parts of it are straight hot garbage.  That’s the author talking, however, and is not necessarily a reflection of the audience’s reception of my work.  I still have confidence in every word of what I put down but I realize in retrospect that I was the very person I have given this warning to at least two dozen times.  This is experience talking, kids, trust me.

Oh, and if you get a friend to help you, please for the love of the pen, make sure they are going to be honest with you.  If you don’t have a friend, there are plenty of writing forums where you can get someone to read your stuff and give you (maybe even more) brutal honesty through the veil of the internet.  Regardless of where this comes from, be prepared for this criticism.  Yes, your thirty-five chapter fantasy novel may have taken quite some time to write and the idea that you might have to eliminate aspects from the story or blow up entire chapters or even start from bare-bones scratch may be totally horrifying, you will (not may, will) be better for it in the long run.

The original U7 took me ten years to write.  It was a 70+ chapter project I started on my LiveJournal (don’t look it up) which took years to write.  Eventually, I blew it up and started over from the beginning.  When I didn’t like the way that one turned out, I did the same.  Three times I started over.  Sure, I put it down for a while but when I came back I came back for real.  And that was just me editing myself.

My actual editor went through the Obligatory Sequel with me chapter by chapter.  As a chapter was completed, I would send it to her for an opinion.  Many chapters were blown up and started from scratch during that process.  In the end, TOS is a better book for it.

Do not let your pride goeth before your fall.

The second hard part is marketing.  We’ve talked some about this but I’d like to expand a bit just to give you the full con-level lecture.

I have noticed at the last few cons a growing number of self-published authors grabbing table space wherever they can, be it in the main showroom or in artist’s alley.  I am often curious as to the sales that they gain as, most of the time, they are sedentary and likely falling prey to the first problem I mentioned, hubris.

Just because you wrote a book doesn’t mean anyone wants to read it.  Just because you are a writer at con doesn’t mean anyone is going to stop at your table and even turn over your book to read the summary on the back.  If you even have a summary on the back (which, like, PUT A SUMMARY ON THE BACK).

Do not think that a video sizzle reel for your book is going to attract attention, either.  If you try to let something like that do the talking for you, you’re heading in the wrong direction.

If you are at con, SELL YOUR BOOK.  I do this constantly.  I have called over and pitched people who had absolutely no intention of walking out of con with more than a handful of autographs and selfies who wind up walking out with all that and a set of my books.  Engage.  Talk to people.  I know this is hard for most of us introverted writer types, but you gotta do it, as emotionally draining as it might be.  If you don’t want to talk to people, great, there are plenty of other marketing avenues for you out there but if you set up at con, expect to be social.  Demand to be social with your readers, too.  You would be surprised what a couple of quick jokes and a frank conversation will do to even the most curmudgeonly of con-goers.

Last piece of marketing advice is pricing.  Be real.  Yes, I know it took you a long time to write it.  Yes, I know you want to try to make your money back on your table and book stock and everything else (this all also falls under hubris).  It’s absolutely not going to happen if you’re selling each book for $25.  This is not Barnes and Noble and you are not Stephen King.  An average con-goer comes in with a budget.  One book for that much is not going to seem like a value to them unless they are exactly within your genre niche.  Even then, they might give you the old “I’ll think about it” and ne’er return.  I make a profit from the base sale of my books but that is only based on what I pay for them to get printed and does not take into account con costs (hotel, food, beers, etc).  First you get the readers, then you get the money.  Be patient.

If advice to others is the best I can pull out of five years of doing this, then so be it.  If you have tactics that work better, good on you.  I’m only speaking about boots on the ground sales.  Obviously I have not yet mastered the online market, so I would be open to some feedback on how to increase my numbers in that area.

My big takeaway from all of this is that it should not be about the money.  If you have to count numbers to make yourself feel good, count numbers of sales in general.  Count the readers.  Count the interactions on social media.  Count the number of people who come up to you and ask for the next one (even if you don’t have the next one yet).  Those are the numbers that matter.  Those are the most important people to your career.  Those are the most important people to your writing.

Thank you all for continuing to read my stuff and support me.

Remember that my door is always open for suggestions and feedback.

Keep fighting the good fight.

 

—end transmission—

 

U7 Book Three Status Report

It’s been a while.

 

I feel it necessary to apologize.  I haven’t been very forthcoming with shorts, news on the third book, or news of any kind, really.  I’m doing my fans a disservice through lack of communication and that’s not the kind of author I want to be.  That being said, here’s what’s been happening.

 

Back at the beginning of June, I lost my day job.

It was the first time in my adult life that I have been unemployed.  I was laid off due to cutbacks within the company for whom I was working.  It came as quite a shock.  I had a job which I never thought I would leave – at least, not until this writing stuff really takes off.

This hit very hard at first.  Two days after my dismissal, I was at Sci-Fi Valley Con in Altoona.  I was very much not in the mood to interact with people and spent most of the weekend at my booth quietly applying for unemployment benefits and searching through job listings.  I was cool on the outside, but panicked on the inside.

After I got home from SFVC, I resolved myself more to working on my resume and applying for jobs.  When I wasn’t doing that (which is, in PA, mandated by the state that you have to do), I was admittedly sitting around and feeling sorry for myself.  I could have done a lot of writing.  I should have done a lot of writing.  Instead, I wound up moping around, playing video games, watching movies… anything to keep me from thinking about my current predicament.

I should have been writing this entire time.  In fact, I tried.  I started a short.  It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.  I started it again.  Same result.  Crushing depression told me that I was a hack and it didn’t matter.  I was reminded that I did have fans and that I did have an obligation to them and that consistent and transparent communication (as well as maybe a short) would be for the best.

 

I ignored this because I am stubborn.

 

It wasn’t until Steel City Con in August that I really understood that.  I realized that my fans are real (no offense if you’re a fan and reading this, I know you exist, just, like, it’s hard to recognize that when you’re depressed).  A lot of you were asking around about book three.  I kept saying I was working on it.  This was true at the time, I just wasn’t working hard.

I spent the last weeks of August agonizing over the outline for book three.  There are still maybe two shorts I want to write before starting on the actual book but I needed to know where the story was going.  This is especially significant after receiving some constructive criticism about book two from a fan at Sci-Fi Valley Con.  They said they didn’t like The Obligatory Sequel as much as the first book because it wasn’t as funny and became more a traditional superhero ensemble drama rather than the action-comedy they liked.  I could see that.  Not as many jokes as there were in the first one in the interest of advancing the overall plot.

This had my head spinning as my original plan for book three spiraled out of control, getting into the drama of the plot, trying to come up with twists and reasons and lore.  I was backtracking the story of certain characters wondering where their stories started and contemplating throwing in mind-blowing twists leading to massive crazy expositions and explanations of everything people might have been curious about.  Filling in all the cracks and creating even bigger ones.

 

Then I realized that none of it was funny.  Nothing I was putting down on paper was even necessary.  Writing entire histories on certain characters was necessary only for me but wouldn’t really be necessary for the readers.  I started over.  I was rethinking the plot, the motives, the jokes… the direction I was going would have wound up focusing on one specific character and had no gravitas for the rest of the cast.  It took me a while to figure out how to adjust it so that I could retain all the elements of the storyline I’d been working on and get the other characters more involved and invested.  It took quite a while to get there but I finally did.  I just wanted to be able to do all of this while still making you laugh and sparing you a lot of the long-winded details.  If you know me personally you know that I love long-winded details so you can imagine how tough it was to self-edit in that aspect.

You’ll still wind up getting hints or even full explanations of some of the canon backstories I’ve written down (I know you’re all curious about Phalanx 81623 from the epilogue of book two, for instance) but a lot of the lore behind some of the things (specifically Project related lore) might not ever be revealed.  You should know, though, that I have a bible just so I can keep things straight on my side.

 

The Tuesday after Labor Day, I got a job offer.  I accepted and am now situating myself in a new office doing a similar job to that which I was doing previously.

 

As I started planning for the next step in my life, I found myself reinvigorated about the writing.  On my last weekday of freedom, I churned out the majority of the outline for book three – revamped, retooled, prepped to be plot-driven while remaining pretty damn funny.

I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s the working atmosphere.  I have modes, I suppose, and when I was unemployed, my mind told me that I wasn’t in work mode.  I had many ideal days over the summer in which to accomplish work; sitting on my porch with a jug of iced tea, my laptop, and a pack of smokes.  Nothing of any consequence ever came out of it.  I just couldn’t feel the rhythm.

 

I have been wanting to write this post for a while.  I felt you deserved to know what was happening.

 

As soon as my work situation is stable and I am through being onboarded and trained, book three writing will begin.  If you haven’t yet, I would recommend checking out the shorts that have already been posted.  There are going to be some consequences to the actions taken in those shorts within the third book and I want you guys to be prepared.

I’m planning on releasing a U7 2.5 which is going to compile the shorts into a (very short) book.  There will likely be at least two shorts exclusive to the print version, so make sure you pick it up when it is ready.  I’ll be making announcements when that happens.

 

Thanks for continuing to read and bearing with me as my real life gets back on track.

 

Keep fighting the good fight.

 

—end transmission—

How Santa Works Now – A Brief History

There is a man who lives in the frozen arctic north.

Despite all reports regarding shrinking polar ice, his home remains standing in one of the most remote places on Earth.  Literally, no one – aside from he and his immediate associates – have ever traveled there.  It exists in a place which is scientifically proven to be the farthest point from civilization, above water, on the planet.

Originally, this man lived in a village far south of his current domicile.  During the early winter – the darkest days of the year – he would cheer people up by bringing hand-fashioned toys for the children and necessities for those with more responsibilities.  His tradition was beloved by the public and he was a very giving man.  His philosophy was that he should share the warmth in his heart with others in order to make the winter that much more bearable.

Seeing his success in the small snowy village, he thought about expanding his operation.  He used his sleigh and some of the indigenous reindeer to deliver his heart-warming goods to other nearby areas to help them through those dark, cold times.  As his delivery radius grew year after year, he found himself in need of help.  He recruited the people of his home village to help him fashion toys and gifts, enough that everyone in his region would get one thing they needed or wanted to help cure the winter blues.  He was himself a jack-of-all-trades but, by teaching his workers the basics, they became masters of their own.

As his workforce grew and his range continued to expand, he found himself creating a grand design.  If he could bring this kind of cheer to one region of the world, why not bring it to the entire world?  It remained a pipe dream until one night he spoke of his ambitions to one of the village elders.  The elder revealed that he was familiar with the Ars Arcanum of the older world and that there were ancient incantations which could help him achieve his goals.

Through the use of forgotten ley lines, the elder and the man cast a spell found in a dusty grimoire which would re-position their village to a hidden place of power – this most remote part of the world, away from the prying eyes of the ever-advancing world of man.  A place where their use of this magic could remain secret.  Their intentions were noble and they knew if any of these powers got into the wrong hands, they would be misused.

They enchanted his sleigh next.  As the distance was now vast between his home and those to whom he brought cheer, it made sense that his conveyance should fly.  The trick to the spell, however, was that the sleigh would need constant forward momentum in order to stay aloft, which meant the work of his already famous reindeer would continue.

With his village and workforce now operating in secret and the ability to range further than ever, he began to visit every village he could on the night of December 25th.  The cheer he brought helped to retain the magic he had been granted.  His gift giving was close to a holiday mentioned in the grimoire but far enough away to allay suspicion of any true magic being used.  It wasn’t until much later during the Reformation that this would, coincidentally, be officially recognized as the birthday of Jesus and therefore named Christmas.  That is another story altogether.

Though his range was larger than it had ever been, he still felt it wasn’t enough.  There were people out there who were in need.  There were those who required something to sustain them through the frigid winter to come.

He and the elder enchanted more sleighs.  They gathered more reindeer.  They trained some of the burlier men in his employ (he being a mountain of one himself) in his gifting procedures.  They broke the world up into regions for his self-made doppelgangers.

Over time, these gift-givers grew their own style, name, and reputation based on their region.  None of them would ever top the original who, despite having accrued quite an burgeoning empire over the years, still made his own rounds personally.  The idea of gift-giving grew so much that people began giving each other gifts and creating their own winter cheer.  His idea was spreading.  The time of year became the season for giving.

He liked this so much that he decided to add a bit more mystique to his routine and that of his compatriots.  They would only come while people were sleeping.  They could continue to give gifts, but their visits would no longer be the center of attention.  The holiday he had fashioned would become about celebration with family and friends – togetherness in the face of the bleak season to come – rather than concentrating on the arrival of him or one of his lieutenants.

Time pressed on and population expanded.  Considering the workload and the facts, he decided that adults were providing their own cheer through togetherness and the gifts they gave to each other.  He decided to turn his efforts fully to children and the village, which had now become nearly a factory, switched exclusively to toy production.

This was done for a secondary reason, as described by the grimoire.  While the magical energies of a younger world put the spells in place, belief in those magics was what kept them empowered.  Adults, with a more concrete and cynical view on the world, had no time for what came to be told as legends or fairy tales.  If he could retain the belief of at least the children – more powerful in its nature due to their innocence – he could continue his operation indefinitely.

This was important as he came to rely on magic.  An enchantment kept his camp hidden.  Spells kept himself, his workers, and his lieutenants from aging.  He possessed flying sleighs and what would become known by fantasy gamers everywhere as the original bag of holding.  Unless he was able to pay the upkeep through belief, everything he treasured would fall apart.

The legends used to spread belief in he and his cause began to homogenize and pool together.  He was starting to be recognized as one man with different names who circled the globe in one night, giving presents to all who deserved them.  Building on this, he decided to make his lieutenants a bit more uniform.  Belief would remain strong if it was in one entity.  He had no personal thirst for power or worship, it was done only to retain a strong belief in what he and his compatriots were doing.

As the centuries pushed on, things grew more difficult.  More lieutenants were required.  Different magics were scavenged from the grimoire allowing the gift-givers to enter through tight open spaces, mostly chimneys or other ventilation systems, to get where they needed to be.  These were feats of individual magic, however, and tended to exhaust the user.  Rumor was spread of this (and it spread fast), sparking a tradition of milk and cookies being left as a snack along with the occasional carrot for the well-known reindeer.

The legends continued to unify and eventually the most recognized name given to what was still believed to be the solitary gift-giver was Santa Claus.  The visage of the original had been seen and passed down through the ages for so long that, in the early decades of the 20th century, it was brought into prominence by a rather ambitious soft drink company via their advertisements.  This put belief at an all-time high.

This was both a blessing and a curse for the gift-givers.  They were now busier than ever.  Consumerism was kicking in.  Children were no longer happy with handcrafted toys and they wanted things which, logistically, couldn’t be made at Santa’s factory.  Things made from plastic and cardboard.  Things with motorization and circuitry and, eventually, advanced electronics.  Much to the dismay of the big man, if he wanted to maintain belief, he would have to buy into it.

He sent some of his best off to college to learn about marketing techniques and trend tracking among other business acumen.  His staff, once expert craftsmen, were being moved from manufacturing to import/export.  The icy village in the middle of nowhere became a business hub, the grimoire continuing to provide all the magic they needed to gain access to phone lines and internet connections without the need of bringing in people from the outside.  They would buy the toys they needed to meet demand.

Santa himself became less like the foreman of the holiday and more like the CEO of an idea.

He had since given up his personal sleigh route.  Mechanical forms of propulsion were now powering technologically upgraded sleighs bearing his trusted lieutenant.  They flew out at Christmas in droves of thousands, continuing his legacy.  His job was now an executive position.

Years prior, he had taken advantage of part of his legend created by his adoring public: the naughty/nice theorem.  While he originally felt that everyone should get something at Christmas, he could see the point parents were making by invoking his name to bring their children to order.  As all the other work was being done by his subordinates, he decided to make it a real thing and started a new department of his operation.

He didn’t use the ancient magics to accomplish this.  Instead, he created a spy network which rivals any currently in the world today.  His representatives are everywhere.  They watch the entire year.  A report is eventually given off to the Naughty/Nice Department for evaluation with Santa himself handling the cases under heaviest dispute.  The NND tends to keep their paperwork off his desk as much as possible, but there are some cases which require his personal touch.  He trusts his staff to make the right decisions most of the time.  After all, they’ve been with him for centuries thanks to magic.

He also trusts his marketing staff to do the right thing.  They’ve not been wrong once in targeting the hot toy of the season.  They use a combination of trend analytics and department store Santas (their ear to the ground) to make their determination.  They give an annual presentation to the big man himself, send the results to acquisitions, and they order as many units as they can,  To this day, this is how children wind up getting that impossible gift – the one that is constantly out of stock.

Sure, sometimes their parents battle it out with other people to get the last one on the shelf and lose yet, somehow, one still winds up under the tree.  This is thanks to the NND.  Upon naughty/nice determination, the NND can inform the warehouse who then places an item and contacts the parents regarding a pickup.

Strangely, these “it-toys” can be recursive.  Once acquisitions places a huge order before the season, it can cause a massive shortage in that particular item and, through media – both traditional and social – can cause a run on the market making Santa first the cause and then the solution of the big toy rush.  This is easily overlooked and forgiven as the warehouse is always emptied of the “it-toys” by the end of the season and the manufacturing backlash always guarantees that the kids who didn’t get a pass from the NND will get one after the holidays.

Perhaps the most interesting transition that has occurred within the last thirty or so years is that neither Santa nor his lieutenants make personal deliveries anymore.  With the advent of security devices and the rise in home defense, it was safer to allow himself to become a legend rather than remain a fact.  He and his staff continue to reinforce the myth with random acts of holiday magic here and there, just to let the world know that he is still around.  He leaves the spread of belief and the true perpetuation of his legacy up to parents.  Sometimes they don’t realize how real he actually is.  Still, every year he mounts up on his old-fashioned reindeer-driven sleigh and makes a few laps around the world.  You might spot him if you look closely.  When you’re the figurehead of an operation this big that has been going on for as long as it has, you have to make at least one real appearance.

In closing, remember the big man this Christmas.  He may have ancient magic at his disposal, but he can’t give you world peace or any other conceptual gift, as much as he would like to.  Ask him for something tactile, though, and chances are he’ll either make one available to someone you know or he’ll find a way to get you one himself.  Belief is down more and more every year and he needs that to keep things going so he’s willing to overlook the fact that you are a 35 year-old looking for a NES Retro (please help, Santa!) in exchange for a little extra help in the magic department.

You may not see him in person, kids, but that’s just because he has a pretty big corporation to run.

Also, if you’re looking for a couple of signed first editions under your tree, I know a guy.

All-New, All-Different

While I fail to see the problem with the recent rash of changes Marvel has completed over the last year or more, you need look no further than the comments sections of just about any post on the internet announcing one of them to realize that there are some very vocal people out there who don’t really care for what’s going on.

It starts with a cry that these are marketing ploys; something akin to the Death of Superman in the sense that it won’t last too long and was only done to drum up new sales. I fail to see the problem from this angle as it’s the prerogative of a company to be successful. If that success means changing something, even briefly, to become more profitable, then that’s probably something the company should do. It’s just good business.

It continues with a cry that these marketing ploys are “pandering” to a more diverse audience to broaden Marvel’s readers. I also fail to see the problem here, aside from the use of the word “pandering”. Again, a successful business targets a broad base of consumers. Why be exclusionary? From a strict business standpoint, the more people you have reading your books the better.

After these two logical arguments have been presented as to the business of running a major comic label, detractors will continue their line of objection by stating that the changes to the characters in the story makes Marvel’s integrity questionable at best. That replacing beloved characters like Steve Rogers or Bruce Banner or the Odinson with equivalents such as Sam Wilson or Amadeus Cho or Jane Foster, respectively, does some sort of massive disservice to the story and the community at large.

Of course, the logical argument to this is that, if one actually reads the comics involved, then one would see that the replacements and changes are all integral to the story. Story is the important part, after all, and it wasn’t as if Steve or Bruce or even the Odin-born Thor were removed inexplicably from the Marvel Universe. They continue to exist. They continue to affect the ever-unfolding fabric of the Marvel Universe because they couldn’t just be brushed aside. Their story goes on though they might not get quite as much of the spotlight as they once did.

“Oh,” say the commenters, “But, we don’t want the all-new, all-different. We want more of the same.”

To these particular dissenters, I reply: Why? Steve Rogers has been around forever and, when he died briefly not too long ago, Bucky picked up the shield until Steve returned. There was even a period where Steve was just Captain Steve Rogers, letting Bucky continue with the Captain America moniker for a while longer. Not quite as many were upset with this. Steve’s story went on, Bucky’s story went on. The story allowed for this to happen.

We know why, though, don’t we? We know why the Sam Wilson handoff – even though it was perfectly in line with details of the story – didn’t pass as quietly. It had nothing to do with integrating mechanical wings into the stars-and-bars motif, either.

It’s the same reason that so much controversy was generated when a woman picked up the fallen Mjolnir after Thor Odinson was rendered unworthy. It’s also the same reason people are going insane that a Korean man (who has been a staple in the Marvel Universe for longer than most “fans” probably know) is slated to replace Bruce Banner.

It’s the same reason that Miles Morales freaked so many people out back in 2011.

When I was a kid, I grew up reading comics. My first love was the X-Men (followed shortly by Batman, but that is another blog entry).

I loved the X-Men because it was a team of people with crazy powers. All the characters had such different voices and looks. It was vibrant and different and some people looked practically inhuman (not a cross-reference). It was way different than watching reruns of Challenge of the Super Friends because not everyone was running around in a mask. They showed the X-Men at play as well as at work. There were actual inter-character relationships working there. It was intricate and engaging and not just good guys/bad guys because you had characters like Wolverine – the consummate anti-hero – and Magneto – the guy who was bad but not really but really but not really. You know what I mean.

No, I didn’t really have all these feelings when I was a kid because I didn’t know how to define them. As an adult, I can tell you about this with much more articulation. I liked the X-Men because they were all different.

The X-Men were all outcasts from society; sometimes because of their powers but, more often than not, because of their appearance. I related to them because I was in a similar predicament, growing up a different color from most of the kids around me. I was a pariah, I was looked at differently, and I always hoped I would find out someday that I was a mutant. Aside from Wolverine, my favorites were Beast and Nightcrawler because, out of the lineup at the time, they were the least human in appearance. Also because Beast was super smart and Nightcrawler could teleport (a power I coveted highly).

As I got older and the comic progressed, somewhere in my early teens, I related to the two of them even further. Nightcrawler had a crisis of faith and became a Catholic priest for a time (something that, until I was like 12, I had possibly considered) and later, Beast continuing to mutate into something more feline, getting further away from his humanity.

My point (before this backstory drags on any further) is that I loved the X-Men because they took in anyone. They gave a home to people who were dealing with some serious issues. I related to that because, as a weird, intelligent, brown kid in a white neighborhood, I never really felt like I fit in. It’s why I continued to read comics. It’s why I wanted to write. I realized because of the X-Men that there might be a hero out there who was like me.

Marvel expanding its universe to be inclusive is possibly the best thing they could have ever done. Introducing characters like Miles Morales and Kamala Khan… Elevating characters like Sam Wilson, Carol Danvers, Jane Foster, Amadeus Cho, and even Laura Kinney (that’s X-23 to you noobs)… This is what we need. The little kid reading three-month old issues of X-Men Classic about Wolverine and Storm (mainly) taking on the Brood – one of the first comics I ever owned – is cheering for the kids who are picking up the books now and finding heroes to whom they can directly relate – showing them that they can be super, too.

Purists will brush off this entire blog entry. I wonder, honestly, through the veil of anonymity that is the internet, why they call themselves “purists”.

A true comic book purist accepts canon as gospel. What the company says goes. If they say Steve Rogers had his serum stripped from him, then he has. If they say Bucky didn’t want to pick up the shield again, then he does not. If they say that Sam Wilson was next in line for the throne, then bow to your new king and STFU. A comic book purist would accept the changes and be excited about the directions the story will take from this point on.

Instead, these “purists” seem to be more concerned with the color of Sam’s skin and what it means that a strong Black character is holding the shield and bearing the mantle of Captain America. They get upset about the rumors that Peter Parker wants to retire from crime fighting to run his new company (which, admittedly, was built by Doc Ock as “Superior” Peter) and hand the role over to Miles Morales, a half-Black-half-Puerto Rican kid who has proven himself an amazing (not reference humor) Spider-Man in another universe. The rumor is that Banner will do the same (or be otherwise depowered), leaving room for Amadeus Cho to put on the purple pants of destiny.

“NO!” they scream, “You’re taking away our heroes for the sake of colorwashing the cast! You can’t just make all that history disappear!”

Colorwashing, by the way, is a despicable term. If you use this, please unfriend me and never come here again.

No one is taking anyone away. They are staying. No legacies have been eliminated. No timelines have been changed (well, unless you’re Spidey, then who knows). Their stories go on. And, as far as them not wanting to see action anymore, can you blame them? How many times has Peter Parker skirted death, caused the death of loved ones, cause property damage… how many more happy returns can there be? If someone else is capable, can’t he put down the power and the responsibility and let it be taken up by someone a little younger? Someone who has more of the drive? Hasn’t Peter deserved a little bit of the reward for all that risk over the years? Steve Rogers has been fighting for America since World War II. Can’t he have a little break where he’s not freaking dead?

Don’t even get me started on Banner…

The “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Universe, in my opinion, is shaping up to be fantastic. People will hate it. We know why. It is nice, however, to see one of the big comic labels recognizing that diversity is important. Not only does it allow the kid that I was see someone more like me being a superhero, but those kids like me will also read stories that are more relatable to their own lives.

DC has miles to go before they can even think of catching up. In fact, if DC did something similar now, THAT would be the real disingenuous pandering marketing ploy.

Keep making mine Marvel. Marvel, please keep making Marvel ours.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Fear Fear the Walking Dead

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: There are spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead in here. If you haven’t watched up to Episode Three and you’re sensitive to those kind of things, come back later when you decide that it really doesn’t matter how badly I spoil this suckfest for you.]

Watching Fear the Walking Dead reminds me why I wrote the Unlucky Seven books they way that I did.

Too often in fiction, the writers create a world in which something crazy or unbelievable happens for which there is, apparently, no precedent. This is a common trope but one that I think needs to be called out. It’s a particularly frustrating one to deal with for the consumer of the product if those consumers are already familiar with the subject matter.

When I say no precedent, I mean that characters in the given story have no idea of previously written fiction about the subject matter.

You see it all the time in comic books; an origin story where people decide to become costumed heroes as if the concept never ever existed anywhere. They have adventures like the same sort of adventures never happened in anything they’ve ever read before. The major comic book universes exist in a reality where superhero fiction was never a thing.

I wrote Unlucky Seven in a universe where everyone understand exactly what is happening to them based on the proliferation of superhero fiction.

What I will call the Clueless Universe trope is far too prevalent in fiction and can be especially frustrating when applied to specific genres.

That said, let’s talk about how this makes Fear the Walking Dead borderline unwatchable.

After watching last night’s episode three with some of my friends (a tradition carried over from the parent show if for no other reason than continuity) I realized something: we have not shut up and watched through any of these episodes. We are screaming at the screen constantly because of the overwhelming level of ostrich syndrome exhibited by the show’s characters. Specifically, last night, the small family holding up in the suburbs waiting for daddy to get home.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yes, I care so little about this show that I don’t bother to keep up with names.]

Their heads are so far in the sand that, even though they have power and cable at a relatively undisturbed house in the suburbs far from any of the horrors of downtown LA, they refuse to turn on a television or a radio to gain any valuable information instead relying on asking each other “what’s going on?” in an unending circle of stupidity – as if one of them is going to suddenly gain some divine knowledge on the situation as they sit around and play Monopoly like it’s family game night and not the dawn of the zombie apocalypse.

They peer through the blinds, make stupid mistakes like shining flashlights outside during a rolling brownout, convince themselves that their neighbor – who has dead eyes and is growling and pawing through their backyard fence to get at their tasty bits – is just sick and in no way harmful. Even though she has been at the back fence all night, reaching longingly toward the house full of delicious live human flesh, they continue to give her the benefit of the doubt the entire time. This after dealing with at least two different walkers previously in the same day.

While I appreciate the writer’s attempts to show people struggling to deal with the beginnings of a worldwide crisis, the gullibility level placed on these protagonists is simply staggering. The only conclusion we can draw is that it falls into the previously mentioned trope: the world of The Walking Dead must have had absolutely no zombie fiction to look back on to help aid with the survival or even outright prevention of the zombie apocalypse.

Is this a world without George Romero? Was there no original Night of the Living Dead? No sequels? No remakes? None of the basic knowledge of zombies that someone could have some kind of clue as to what the “walkers” actually are when the shit starts tenuously dripping into the fan and is poised to hit full on? I mean, the only kid with any inkling as to what was happening made a shiv to defend himself. A SHIV. SERIOUSLY. Get a nice one of your mom’s kitchen knives at least, dude. You should know better than to rely on something so makeshift in the beginning. Save those shiv-making skills for when you’re in a Woodbury- or Terminus-type situation.

I’m ok with the characters being reticent to take a “human” life (or whatever) but come on. You know what Mrs. Tran became. You know she’s not reaching through the crack in your fence to try to give you a hug. Not to mention the fact that you just iced another neighbor in your living room after he looked up from his dog chow with a not-so-right look on his face. The writing isn’t just on the wall as to what is going on in this world, it is blazing fire, three-hundred stories tall. People are turning into zombies. Zombies die when you get them in the head. They are not friendly no matter who they might have been before they died. Get with it quickly or get eaten.

Would any of us act differently? Yes. Mostly because we have shows like The Walking Dead and other, older, more revered reference material to look to for assistance. Would we put our head in the sand? Sure, some of us would. I don’t think that we would be having family game night after watching our neighbor across the street get eaten on top of a deflated bouncy castle. These characters are so helplessly written (except for the barber-dad who we have termed Latin Carol) that they seem even more improbable than the cast of the main show in the way they escape and kick ass. They are a gross caricature of those who would be in the vicinity of Ground Zero should the outbreak ever occur. I am not as prepared as some of the people I know should “shit go down”, but I like to think I would be able to handle myself at least slightly better than these chumps.

I honestly have a hope that every character on that show gets bit or eaten because their ignorance demands it. They are not Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Carol, or any of the others who have had to make the really hard choices. They are not survivors. They are zombie food. I know, I should give them time to develop that hard outer shell our usual gang has but, to be honest, I don’t care enough about this group of ignoramii to want to watch them make the transformation.

I will continue to watch this show because of the connection it has to the main show. I just think that, after five previous seasons of zombie ass-kicking, it is a little too late to go back to the well and see how people reacted to the start of the thing. A prequel involving one or more of the main characters of The Walking Dead would have been much more interesting (Michonne’s backstory, anyone?). Showing us strangers who would rather pretend the world isn’t crumbling around them rather than adapting to it is not the kind of thing I was looking for in a spinoff.

They drove to the hospital. In LA. In the middle of a full-scale riot. With zombies. And they drove right by like “NOPE” like it wasn’t a thing. Like, “whoa, hey, look at those cops unload on that old lady in a hospital gown. Glad their cruisers aren’t blocking the road. Glad there aren’t thousands of residents trying to barge their way into the ER for treatment. Nope, an LA hospital in a zombie riot is just a breeze to drive through. Wave and say what’s up.

Not to mention their flatbed truck was left parked and pristine in the middle of the street right next to where people were chucking molotovs into other random cars. Fancy that.

Sigh.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Events!

Just wanted to throw out that I’m going to be doing an Author Q&A on Wednesday June 10 at the Carnegie Library of Homestead.  Here’s the event page if you want to RSVP.

https://www.facebook.com/events/956567171041542/

Also, Spike and I will be returning to Steel City Con this August.  I will hopefully have copies of the sequel for sale by then.  I am working diligently, don’t worry.

Short post.  That is all.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

In My Absence…

You may have noticed that I’ve been away from the blog since February.  I’m not ignoring you.

I’ve been busy working on the Unlucky Seven Sequel (still as yet untitled).  You’ll be pleased to know that as I’m writing this I’m in the middle of chapter 17 out of an outlined 26.  I’m still looking at a mid-summer release (around July/August) if I can continue on this pace.  No joke, some of this stuff has been particularly difficult to write and I’ve had to blow up half the outline and retool the narrative at least twice already.  Rest assured, I have a plan.  I will not be GRRM or King and promise a series only to stall somewhere in the middle and not make good until years later.  Any of you who bought a book from me at the most recent cons should know that I meant what I said and it’s in process.

There are so many things I’d love to blog about.  I actually have a list but, by the time I get to any of the topics, they’ll likely be moot or out-dated.

I wanted to write more about Con life and how it’s been a serious blast, even though it is some pretty hard work.

I wanted to write about the straight-up anger from portions of the fanbase at the All-New, All-Different Avengers line-up in the comics and how the diversity of that new group is actually going to help to save comics rather than, as some fan-boy purists would have you think, destroy the legacy of great heroes.  I wanted to mention how much I love Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Jane Foster Thor, Carol Danvers, Sam Wilson, Spider-Gwen, and all the other heroes of the evolving Marvel (616) Universe.  I also wanted to mention the morons who can’t accept that all their favorites aren’t boring muscly white men anymore.  That one may come up again later depending on the temperature of the internet.

I really want to talk about the writing process and everything I’ve discovered over the past few months.  I wanted to let people who have that nagging story idea or that manuscript they’re just not a hundred percent sure about that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I want to encourage more people to enter into the self-publishing game and put their stuff out there.  I actually spoke at a panel about this at Sci-Fi Valley Con and I also have an Author Q&A coming up at the Carnegie Library of Homestead on June 10th (so, if you’re local to Pittsburgh or you want to travel to see me, go here and let me know you’re coming).  I’m not usually one for self-aggrandizing (no, seriously, I’m not) but I’m going to do my best to get people to put their necks out there and take a chance on themselves.

Oh, and as far as the sequel goes…

If you’re one of my readers and you want to see the first three chapters of the new book, shoot me an e-mail through here.  I’ll get it out to you ASAP.  Subject to minor revisions/editing but they’re pretty solid in my opinion.  Always open to feedback.

I promise I’ll be back to a regular blog schedule as soon as the sequel is over.  Trust me it takes all of my effort to keep moving forward and I actually feel guilty talking time away from it to address you but I feel you deserve to know what is happening.

In the meantime, o my brothers and only friends…

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—