Jul 10, 2014

Where Did Ren Go?

Goodness gracious. It's been a while since I've been here. I'm a horrible person, you say?

Well, not so much, honestly - - - I've been embracing the "I Own A Website" life, and moved my content over to my new digs over at www.renwritings.com - go on over and check it out. Loads of new material, links and my new feature, the "Have You Met...?" Monday posts. Some great surprises - go take a look!

Jun 3, 2014

Is Amazon the Devil?

I like to think back to a time about twenty years ago, before I'd even heard of Amazon.com. It was a funny time, when I used to frequent second hand bookstores, enjoying the feel of the old pages on my fingertips as the tales unfolded across the landscape of my imagination. I dreamed, way back when, of telling stories - though at the time my focus was through the medium of music, it hadn't been too long since I'd been caught up in the fantasy of having books sold across the world to people I'd never meet. In this dream, someone not so different to me was sitting in a bookstore, thumbing through the pages of my stories. 

It was a nice dream.

Music relented the stage back to writing, and I resumed my quest for storytelling, seeking out the right story and the ability to tell it. 

By this time, I'd heard of that Seattle company called "Amazon" that promised to deliver books right to your door. It was ludicrous, I thought. Why would you go there to find books that you can more easily find through the satisfying process of wandering the shelves and seeking out that one spine that shone out from the rest, called out to you and demanded to be taken home and devoured? How could that experience possibly be replicated on the internet? 

Well, I'll be honest. It couldn't. The tactile sense of connection which only really happens in those dusty stacks of books can't really be found through a brightly beaming laptop screen or even through the touchscreen of your iPad. 

But around that same time, a funny thing happened. Those wonderful, small, cozy, familiar bookstores began getting shuttered, unable to compete with the gleaming brick and mortar bookstore chains. Soon, all you had was brightly lit marketplaces, all more than happy to show you on their end caps or bold cardboard standees just what book you needed to buy next. You could avoid those, sure, but the decisions about which books stared at you and what books were even permitted to turn their spine to you were already long since made. Thumb through them all you like, the improvisational sense of discovery was quickly replaced by computer menus and a friendly vested staff who were happy to point to this section or that, and would you be paying for that by cash or credit card today?
The quest...was sterilized.

So I, on a dare, I think, returned to the computer in my home. I figured, if I'm going to have a sterilized, brightly lit and impersonal quest for books, I might as well do it in my pajamas. At least I don't need to worry about finding a good parking space.

And there it was: Amazon. I set up my account and logged in. Poked around a bit, and noticed that the searching became much more intuitive. As I made purchases, it figured out what kinds of things I liked, and even made suggestions. Sure, I know it's the same deal as in the new franchise book stores, but something about it just felt like it was becoming my own personal shopping assistant. 
I placed my orders, they magically appeared on my doorstep a few days later, and that was it. I was hooked. My ferret-like need for instant validation was rewarded. I once again began devouring books. And then music. And everything else Amazon began to offer. I did my holiday and birthday shopping there, even got my stuff gift wrapped and shipped to my friends and family who didn't live near me. It was kind of perfect.

A short time later, I wrote my first book. Now, the at-that-time established process for publishing success was simple: 1) write a book; 2) get an agent; 3) get your book signed to a publisher; 4) pile all your delicious money into an empty pool and go swimming in it.

So, like a dutiful young author, I submitted query letters to agents. "Hey there, I've got a book! You should read it!" Now, I had low expectations, taught to me by the music publishing world. But I got some great responses. Some agents wanted the manuscript. Some wanted just the first few chapters. A few just thanked me for my time and wished me luck. But the most successful queries all returned the same response: "loved the book...loved the characters...loved the world..." et cetera et cetera. "...But I'm not sure how to market a 'steampunk/young adult/science fiction/fantasy' book..."
This confused me until I considered how bookstores manage their publications. See, it's all about the real estate, right? Where do the books fit on the shelf, how many books are already on that shelf, is there room? Can the book be face out? On an end cap? On a table? What section of the store will it be in? What other books are coming out at that time that this book will be competing against? These are all questions that any book following the old marketing model have to consider. 

But then I learned a very interesting fact: Amazon didn't worry about those questions.

So I stopped sending out pointless queries and published directly on Amazon. It's been a few years now, and I've learned a lot - mostly through trial and error, much through expert guidance through people I trusted - and, some 45 publications later, I'm doing fairly well. When my books are ready - written, edited, re-written, designed, and formatted - they go up and are ready for consumption within hours. HOURS. 

All the costs are mine, the responsibility to market and produce are mine, the fees for editing come out of my own pocket, but, also, the royalties for every copy sold are mine. I don't get many of the perks that larger publishing houses are able to wrestle from Amazon, but the way I see it, the benefits of being nimble are always going to outweigh the benefits from being unwieldy and bloated. Standard production time of a "traditionally published" novel can be years - most of which is after the book has left the author's hands. And that's fine. It's a bit understandable why the larger publishers so frequently miss the mark on trends and contemporary interests, but then again, most of them own the newspapers that print the reviews, so I'm sure that balances out for them.

But now, in light of all the craziness in the current public debates regarding Hachette and Amazon, and all of the "he said / she said" inherent to such arguments, I tried to view the entire process with an open mind. Yes, I do business with Amazon - I have my books sold on multiple platforms, but Amazon simply does better business for me, so yes, there is that potential for bias. 

At the same time, the idea of "following the money" makes things pretty clear. Large publishers have built in processes that require constant influx of money. They've got their stable of artists, editors, distribution companies, paper suppliers, marketing groups, lawyers, and so forth. And with that vast army of worker bees, they have been losing money on publishing for the past 20-odd years, and are more than happy to blame the new kid on the block. But the fact is, when a book sells, the author should get paid. Period. Forget the idea of advances, let's look at truly traditional publishing. You write a book, you print the book, you sell the book, you make enough to print two books, and so on. You start small, you work your way up. 

Isn't that how it should work? 

So when I look at the differences between the two companies - Amazon and (Insert publishing house name here) - I ask myself this question: where is the closest connection between author and reader? Financially, it makes more sense. Creatively, it makes more sense. 

But really, it's about options. The old way. The new way. There are more readers than ever before, there are also more writers than ever before. It's a big new world. And the less time we spend fighting about it, the more time we'll have to improve it.

For more blogs, head on over to www.renwritings.com.

May 27, 2014

20,000 Views Later....

In honor of a pretty nifty milestone - 20,000 blog views - I opened myself up to a random topic, and my old friend Yann SoitiƱo challenged me to do an appropriate tribute to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Fact is, that old book really had a profound effect on me, and it warrants a tribute.

I was first introduced to the novel by Walt Disney. I can't remember if I was on the ride at Disneyland first or
if I was watching the movie on Sunday night's Disney show, but I remember they were both well before Star Wars. Though the idea of being fascinated by the stars and the universe and dinosaurs were all part of my childhood realms of imagination, this movie was the first step. It was just like going to the moon, I thought, by dropping below the depths of the seas and exploring terrain no man had seen, facing unimaginable terrors and the subtle political and social themes present in the book - though they were lost on me in my initial exposures - as well as the overall epic scope.... come on, giant squids!

So here are a few things that maybe you weren't aware of - things I always found to be pretty interesting.

First, did you know how far a league is? Well, in this book they use the metric league, which is about 4 kilometers. 20,000 leagues is several times the diameter of the earth. I say this just to clarify that the title of the book is not referring to how far down the Nautilus went, but how far it went. Captain Nemo, in his desperation to remain undiscovered by the evil political constructs of mankind, was resolved to remain underwater, far below the reach of the nations of the world. Thus, 20,000 Leagues refers to the resolve of Captain Nemo, and the journey he took his crew and captives on, until his mad quest for vengeance eventually led to what we are left to believe might have been his death.

Second - his book contains many allegories against the plight of the common man ("No Man" = "Nemo") against the abusive might and crush of commercial industrialism. The Nautilus was described as a personal construct and design, with the octopus being a commonly used symbol for industry and revolution. Considering the way industry runs the world even now.... it still strikes a punch.

See, this is why it's a good book - - hundred+ years later, it's still interesting; still relevant.

Thank you again, Jules. Among the other books you penned, this still remains my favorite. In fact, I think I'll go give it another read. Been a while since I visited Atlantis. ;)

May 26, 2014


The word that is sticking in my head today is "independence." I know that the actual USA "Independence Day" isn't for another month and a half, but thinking about Memorial Day made me think about how many soldiers have fought for the idea of freedom from tyranny. "Freedom isn't free" - I keep seeing that slogan all over Facebook today, and I agree. Sometimes, you have to make the difficult choices when faced with something that goes against your moral core. Sometimes, that choice means being willing to risk losing something that matters to you - sometimes, that is a very scary choice to make. At least, I used to think that. Then you find yourself in the middle of the decision and recognize that it's always been clear what you should do.
So many people have died for this country. Died. It's a sobering thought. Many of them wore uniforms, held weapons to defend or attack their enemies. Our nation was founded on the principle of being prepared to defend this nation at all costs, from any enemy, without or within.
This Memorial Day also makes me think of all the people who have died in this country who were not soldiers. Who were not in uniform, who were not on the front lines in some other country, who were not holding weapons. Some of these lives were taken by foreign extremists. Many were taken by domestic extremists. People who believed that their philosophies, their rage, their hostility justified the taking of other human lives.
I think about those people as well. And I wonder how long we - all of us, this whole human race - will allow all this senselessness to go on.
If you'd like a rhetorical question, to help wind this whole statement up, then how about this:
What could we, as a world, accomplish, if we had one full year without violence? Working together, for the benefit of us all? What might we do?

May 8, 2014

Global Harming

Thought I'd take a bit of a thematic departure today and discuss something I keep seeing, reading, hearing about and I'm really close to getting a concussion from all the times I strike my head against the wall.

I see two political camps debating - stop laughing, I know I used the word "debating", in spite of the fact that the conversations rarely could be logically categorized as such - the premise of "Global Warming", or "Climate Change", or whatever term is being used to describe the status of our world as being globally climatically changed.

The debate rages - it's been going on for a good hundred+ years, in fact, and though the facts themselves have only clarified the causative link between our actions as industrious human beings and the gradual disintegration of our viable biosphere on this, our only currently known and accessible habitable planet. And this back and forth conversation has fallen into a pattern. See if this sounds familiar:

1. Scientists present facts: X is happening, Y is probably the cause.
2. Other interested parties (and if you go far enough, it's the people who make money from X) say "oh, pshaw. Your theories are bad because Z."
3. Scientists return to their science, come out with a better definition of Y.
4. Return to step 1.

Sometimes, this process results in a different name for X. Sometimes the clarification of Y gives us a better understanding of our world. Every single time, Z has no scientific basis, and is only the equivalent of "la la la! I'm not listening!"

Often, the Z pretense is a distraction, such as trying to make jokes about the term "global warming" as a way to oversimplify into falsehood the entire concept of X in the first place. Then, the scientists have to waste their time just coming up with a new term for X that people won't just decry out of hand.

Look, people, science can be hard facts. Sometimes you don't want to hear it. But the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, and life did evolve, and the universe is a big big place, filled with potential and wonder.

Let's look at the basic premise behind Climate Change. It's warning that our use and dependence upon fossil fuels, our drilling into the earth's crust, our pollution of the seas and waterways and soil - all these things are contributing to the destruction of our planet.

People who argue against this premise - I'm going to give you a simple challenge. If you pull your car into your garage, close the door and run the engine, what's going to happen? And now, multiply that times the BILLIONS of cars, trucks, buses, boats and other engines that use that same fossil fuel source for their combustion. And where do you suppose all those toxic fumes are going?

But I can see that some people still don't want to believe it. They still want to argue the facts. So here's another concept to chew upon.

We have the technology to convert our engines to clean burning processes. We have the ability to use solar, hydroelectric, wind power, and we have even newer technologies that go even further. We have these abilities to use technology in a way to generate energy that will NOT CREATE ANY POISONOUS FUMES AT ALL.

Let's pretend that all these "global warming" and "climate change" scientists are possibly wrong. Let's suggest that they have only a 75% chance of being accurate. No, let's go 50%. 25%. Let's go crazy and suggest that there's only a 1% chance their theories are right.

I have a daughter. One day, she might have children, and they might have children and so forth. If there's a 1% chance that they won't - because we failed to change one stupid thing that we knew there was a chance might KILL US ALL and did nothing about it.....

Think about this. If you're one of the people who clings tenaciously to the FALSE CLAIM that our dependence on fossil fuels, coal, and all the other unclean and non-renewable energies are NOT slowly killing us and our planet.... just think. If there was a 1 percent chance that you were wrong, and that this falsehood could result in the death of our entire planet.... WHY WOULD YOU NOT TAKE THE CHANCE THAT YOU MIGHT BE WRONG??

What is there to lose by changing this? Why not risk these petroleum companies and their chance of making their quarterly bonuses in favor of SAVING LIFE ON THIS PLANET?

Our great-great-great grandchildren won't care who those CEOs are.

At least, I pray they'll be alive so that they won't.

Stop arguing the wrong things. Start making the changes. Change what needs to be changed. Save this world. It's the only one we have.

Feb 3, 2014

One Lengua To Rule Them All

A lot of folks seemed to be okay when Coca Cola tried to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, and I guess maybe they thought Coke was speaking literally. Because now that they're trying to invite us to be okay with the idea of *racial* harmony, people have just lost their freaking minds

I'd like to invite all those people who say that America should only speak its truly American language to learn Nahuatl, or one of the Athabaskan languages. Oh, shoot, how about Cherokee or Sioux. Or, Spanish or French or Dutch, which were also spoken earlier in many parts of the United States of America. 

Also, now might be a good time to mention that no, there isn't an "American" language. Should there be? Well, there are sufficient grounds to suggest we are in the middle of a communications crisis in this country. But to say "English" (as in, From England, an imported language FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY) should be "The American Language" is to court idiocy. As in, you're treading upon thin logic. If you're going to be TRULY American (read: North American, from the United States of America), your official language truly ought be BI-LINGUAL. At least. 

Aspire to be better, my friends.

Jan 27, 2014

Who Is Favo Carr?

One of the questions I get asked a fair bit is who or what inspired the characters I've written. To be fair, I've a different answer for each character - in many cases, the ways the characters were inspired were as varied as the characters themselves, and many of them are actually amalgams from a cast of sources. But in light of the current and soon to be birthed "Steel & Sky", I thought a bit of background on Favo Carr might be

He came originally from two characters: one in Final Fantasy XII and one in Star Wars: Balthier and Han Solo. Kind of an adorable but cocky scoundrel. Well dressed. Polite. Charming. And a bit filthy. I always hear his voice sounding a fair bit like Jude Law, but lately, he's been looking more and more like Tom Hiddleston (with sun-bleached hair). Stop your swooning, ladies. This lad's not spoken for, but good lord does he have more issues than Rolling Stone. Though, if you like that sort of thing, go right ahead.

We first meet him, briefly, in the Chronicles of Aesirium, book one: Reaper's Return. He's a villain, of sorts. An elegant thug. A miscreant and a coin-operated criminal whose main interactions with our heroes is to be hunting down a mysterious object called the Morrow Stone.

I had a few plans for the man - he was fun, he was my favorite mix of naughty, but, really, he wasn't the Big Bad from the books and I'd considered him more of a red herring than anything. But then a funny thing happened. I started to genuinely like the character. He loved to talk, but had a style of verbal waltzing that I found charming. The man could talk his way out of most issues, but, as it turned out, he didn't mind occasionally getting his hands dirty. Form and function.

He's an odd mix of street smarts, book-learned magic and good old-fashioned practical experience. He can pick the antennae off a flea at thirty meters with his trusty Mark IV SpellShot, and that isn't even the least of the tricks he keeps up his sleeves. It goes mostly unmentioned in the books, but he's a fine dancer and even considered a future on the stage, but he lost interest in drama when he discovered that you didn't get to keep the costumes.

Oh, and all that practice with the rapier? A bit of refinement and it works even better in real life.

It was some point around book four where my editor sat me down in a sort of intervention and asked me, "okay, I have to know: are you ever going to kill him? It's like he's freaking immortal or something. Nobody is that lucky." And thus the legend of the Immortal Favo Carr was born.

I shouldn't think it too great a spoiler to reveal that he is also one of the main characters in my newest series, "Tales of the Dead Man", and we meet him right around the beginning of "Steel & Sky". Though just how he comes to be a part of this great new adventure....well, you'll have to read it and find out. Trust me, compared to the things that get laid out in this next series, mentioning that Favo is in the books is the LEAST spoilerish thing I could tell you. Well, maybe I could mention that it takes place in Aerthos, as well. And there just may be a few other cameos here and there. But I'm not telling.

Oh, and on a little behind the scenes note: whenever I'm writing Favo's scenes, I play the Sherlock Holmes or Pacific Rim soundtracks. It seems to make him walk with a bit more swagger in his step. Go figure.