Dec 12, 2011


Years of routine have built into my subconsciousness a tendency towards reflection this season. I'm not really alone in this, I understand. But having a child definitely raises the stakes, and each year is a bit more...interesting.

I try to steer clear of too much elaboration on religion (author's note: if you think this is a strange statement to make, you should hear how much I talk about it when I'm not typing about it!), but rather than addressing December as a loosely-affiliated series of secular celebrations, I'd rather use my actual words.

Religion is a complex beast. It and all its accoutrements are so easily misinterpreted, depending on where you come from, what you believe in, and how you believe in it. Not only is it impossible to swing a dead cat without smacking someone in their religious indignation, but then you've got PETA on your case for swinging the dead cat around in the first place. I suppose one day I might chance putting my own views down on paper - there's always that next series of books, for example - but for now, please understand that I might be deliberately vague on that sort of thing.

But in the raising of my child, my wife and I have decided to give our daughter as broad and global an understanding of faith as possible. There will come points in life where she will more specifically decide upon her belief system, and we'll be as supportive of those choices - if not moreso - than we have been thus far. It's been a process of teaching and encouraging self-examination, followed by support for her ability to understand for herself exactly what she believes in, coupled with sharing our own beliefs.

So it was a bit disconcerting a few weeks back when I made a reference to Noah and the Ark, and she looked at me with confusion. "Is that from a comic book or from Star Wars?" she asked.


We realized that in my efforts to keep her religious exposure open, we'd actually not taught her any bible stories. But I should have noticed that - there were signs. Like that one time she read off the television the words "Jayses Krest" (Jesus Christ) and asked me what that meant.  Okay, yes, she's ten. And I probably should have talked to her about that sooner, but yes.

December 2011 has thus become "the month we explore the bible." Starting with Genesis and going chronologically, we're going through the stories therein. Later this week, we'll be arriving in the new testament, and we'll wrap the month out with talking about other December traditions, from a variety of cultures. If this goes well, we've talked about exploring other cultures and philosophies in a month-by-month basis throughout 2012.

See, she has talked to me about wanting to write stories, too. Comic books, manga, short stories, etc. And regardless of what you may individually feel about the bible, what they all boil down to - all matters of faith aside - is that they're all stories. And not just any stories, but tales which hold a significant place within our cultural collective awareness. It's one thing to acknowledge that she doesn't see Star Wars the same way as I do. I saw it when I was seven years old, and it rewired my brain. It didn't have nearly the same impact on her as it did on me, and that's okay, too. But in order to tell stories, you also have to KNOW stories. A firm understanding of the cultural origins of your audience is essential; the same words, legends and imagery is crucial for an open structure of communication. Even if she doesn't grow up to be a writer, she should be familiar with all these stories, no matter how she feels about them.

Not for the first time, I'm really excited to see what kind of adult she grows into. And not for the first time, I'm terrified of not doing enough.

I'm pretty sure it won't be the last time for either one, either.

Dec 8, 2011

Reaper's Return: The Pitch

As a followup to my previous post, a few folks have already asked me what I came up with a new, revised, shiny, happy new pitch.

Well, the short answer is that there are still several in the can. The shortest pitch? The 'elevator pitch'? The full monty? Well, don't make that face. I'm talking metaphor, here. This remains an essentially family show, after all.

My pitches have heretofore been a bit broad; I tended to pitch the entire series, which in hindsight is really a silly thought.

Try, for example, to pitch "Lost". The simplest thing - "a plane crashes on a tropical island. Weirdness ensues" - doesn't quite cover it. But neither does "Oceanic flight 814 crashes on an island that moves through time and space, giving all the survivors an opportunity to move on from the mistakes and laspes in judgment of their lives before, during, after and sideways from crashing on the island. There is a powerful electromagnet which powers the island and must be maintained by a guy with a cool accent who has to press 8 14 15 23 42 and I think I'm missing a number there but you see the numbers all throughout the series so it shouldn't be too hard to fix that in post, but there's this one great episode where a temporal physicist who is kind of crazy and played by the fantastic Jeremy Davies.... oh, but I digress..."

Or, another example I was thinking of.... how do you suppose M Night Shyamalan pitched "The Sixth Sense"? Because just saying "it's about a kid who can see dead people" isn't quite enough. And "it's about a kid who can see dead people, and the psychatrist who is trying to help him" is closer, but still kind of lacks a bit of the punch. But "it's about a kid who can see dead people, and the psychiatrist who is trying to help him... who is ALSO DEAD." is much better.

Oh, and if you haven't seen the Sixth Sense, sorry for the spoiler. And, also, welcome to the 21st century.

So anyway. Here's the latest presentation.

What if Death wore a pretty black dress?

Everyone in Oldtown had heard talk of the Reapers. Even though nobody had seen one in years, everyone whispered the tales: flying from rooftop to rooftop, stealing the souls of the unwary, letting their undead beasts hunt through the streets for any member of the community too reckless or fearless to heed the nightly curfew ... mysterious and terrifying, most feared to even mention them by name, lest they appear and gather your spirit away.

For 11-year-old Romany, her greatest fears were less about the mythological Reapers and more about surviving a miserable life inside of Oldtown's solitary orphanage. Her stark white hair made her an obvious target for the bullies, and the cruel nickname of "Ratgirl" had followed her for years. But if Rom thought her troubles were behind her, being struck dead by a bolt of lightning would only open the door to an entire life of new ones.

First on the list? Finding out that she a Reaper.

....aaannnnndddd.... Scene!

Thoughts? Comments? Feedback? Love to hear your ideas.

Reaper's Return, the first book in the 6-volume Young Adult Steampunk series "Chronicles of Aesirium", is available through Smashwords, Amazon (eBook and Paperback), Barnes & Noble (eBook and Paperback) and now on iTunes, too!

Pitch Imperfect

Ah, my lovelies, I am a bad blogger. I mean, certainly, I've been busy with good reason, but more about that in a moment.

Was invited to a special thing last night that I couldn't really talk much about until afterwards - CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing held a really fun event which they called "Pitch 2.0". A fair subtitle might have been "Talking Yourself Up in the New Age of Publishing." About 100+ people were in attendance (I'm terrible at judging official counts of crowds, by the way. As far as I can tell, once there's more than 25 people, I need someone else to give me numbers. Just saying, don't ask me to be the advance scout for your invading armies, I'll never provide accurate intel on the enemy troop count.), most of which were indie authors working with CS and KDP for the self-publishing (present or future) of their books.

It was held up in the SAAM (the Seattle Asian Art Museum), which I will be returning to soon as one of the locations for my next series. I had some time to kill prior to the event, so I got the chance to peruse. Very peaceful. I hung out and did some reading on my new Kindle Fire (This is not abject product placement, I bought it myself and LOVE IT. Do not judge me.) while I waited and watched the crowd gather.

After they let us all in, we got some tasty noms and milled about. I took a few minutes to people watch. I love the strange way a room filled with relative strangers will eventually begin to coagulate. Little snippets of conversation weave their way through the audible haze and I had to stop myself from smiling like a loon. I really do love people. I don't even know why I own a TV, I should just go hang around groups of strangers and that would be all I'd need. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I'm literally just fascinated by people I do not know. Almost as much as I'm fascinated by those I DO know. I'm a weird person. Good thing you like me, or you'd probably try to have me committed.

After our free range time, we found ourselves - quite by magic - in one of the SAAM's lower auditoriums and got to meet our hosts for the evening's event. We had a rousing little intro (and thank you, Thom, for NOT doing the "I can't hear you!" follow up to asking if we're all having a good night. That can be easily overdone. Just saying. Maybe next time?) which led into a panel led by Jeff Ayers. Joel Friedlander, Jason Black and the brilliant Alan Rinzler headed up the panel. I have serious hair and scarf envy for Alan. I feel perfectly comfortable in that confession.

So now we began the meat of the night: Pitch 2.0.

This whole event began quickly feeling like an echo of my subconscious. It was like a dream I had where I'd left a really brutal and torturous party by fleeing into an alternate dimension in which everyone had cool goatees and ... er. Wait, that's the wrong dream. What I MEANT to say was that it was that they were saying all the things I've been enjoying about the self-publishing paradyme shift over the past couple of years in which I've been exploring it.

One of them mentioned the sense self-published authors had not too far back where they felt as if they needed to somehow gloss over the fact of their self-publishedness for fear of being treated like self-indulgent and delusionally frolicking lepers. I'm going to pause a moment to reflect upon the image I just conjured up there.


Okay, moving on.

They also talked about the key logic behind making a pitch - then and now. Before, a pitch was all about talking to an agent, a publisher. "Please buy my manuscript. Please? Pretty please?" Always, with a sense of begging them from a position of inferiority. As if they alone governed our destiny. You know, laying it out there like that... it just makes me want to stir up a revolution. The RIAA made me annoyed enough, but... okay, putting the pitchfork (heh. See what I did there?) down and going back on topic.

Nowadays, though, the pitch is a far broader tool for authors. Thanks to social media (The Rule: Be Present), a more observable level of access between readers and writers, and the more expidited turnaround time for publication, it just makes sense to have a better feel for one's books. As authors, it's essential now to have that skill to discuss your work with the people who may - unbelievable, I know! - just happen to decide to pick up a copy of your book and give it a read. I remember a musician I worked with many years back who confided in me that he loved playing live, but hated the crowds. "Sometimes, they applaud loud enough, but when they don't, I just hate them." I asked him if they'd ever found a proper diagnosis for his condition.

Because, honestly, what the what?

If you don't like talking to people, then tell you what. Accept the process of Pitching 1.0. Keep writing, and keep submitting your books up to publishers, and that's fine. Perhaps you'll be picked up by an agent or a publisher, and that's all well and good. But, me? Well, I love the whole talking to people part. So much fun. And maybe since I haven't set out to write the Great American Novel. I mean, don't get me wrong, that's a great goal, but I know myself well enough to remain delightfully unclouded by the tendrils of self-delusion. I like to write enjoyable (and occasionally thought-provoking) fiction, and I'm fine with that. Presently, the part I enjoy most is introducing people to my books (oh, and speaking of which.... Ta Da!) and talking with other authors about their books. It's really a pretty amazing time to be an artist in general, isn't it? No, it's okay, you can dance that jig now that you were thinking about.

Oh, so after their panel, we had about an hour with Jon Fine from Amazon. Solid chap, that man. Made some great observations and challenging declarations about the democratization of publishing. Sometimes, I feel like perhaps I'm too jaded from so many years dwelling deep in the bowels of corporate America, but I keep forgetting how many forward-thinking corporations there really ARE out there. And, no, I don't believe they're purely altruistic. I suspect they realize that right now is a very good time to get on the side of the middle class majority, or, in this case, get all the THOUSANDS of independent authors already working with Amazon squarely on their side. Smart business sense. Something the RIAA really should have learned. (okay, I'll stop peeing on that corpse now.)

After Jon's message, we broke up and practiced pitching with a fwe editors who volunteered their time to come hang out and offer feedback.

I'm typically pretty comfortable in my delivery, but to be perfectly honest the idea of pitching one's book to a person who will instantly offer positive and nega - - er, I mean constructive - - criticism in front of a small group of peers.... well, it kind of felt like having your mother in law show up in the bedroom and provide a running commentary.

"Oh, dear, your father isn't like that with me at all, he's far more tender and... okay, I don't understand what you're doing with that there. I think it will work better if you move your hips like this..."

* shiver *

Okay, maybe not like that, but it was certainly one of more jarring experiences I've had since college. And I think perhaps that's why I appreciated the evening so much. Ideas for improving my pitches rushed the stage. It was intoxicating.

And on that note, I need to get back to work. What with six books - - did I mention that "The Crook and the Blade" is now available? Too much self-promotion? Hmm? Heh. - - being out, I'm only taking a few moments for my Snoopy Dance before I get back to managing the marketing and continue to prep for the next few books on my plate.

Oh, and have you jumped over to Smashwords lately? Book one, Reaper's Return, is still there and remains a free ebook download.

What if Death wore a pretty black dress?