The Unlikely Spy is on sale for $0.99

Heyo! It is I, your friendly deliverer of tales of daring-do and pies of delicious pizza. Have I got a deal for you! The Unlikely Spy, Volume One of the Adventures of Grant Scotland, is now on sale for a mere $0.99!

You can find it at these fine e-tailers:

Kindle.

Nook.

Kobo.

Apple.

That’s the first three books of the Grant Scotland series all wrapped up into one neato potato e-volume and sold to you for less than a cup of gas station coffee! And reading it won’t be nearly as hard on your stomach!

Uh… I mean, it won’t make you sick.

Ack. I mean, it won’t make you poop.

 

It won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth?

 

Damn, I suck at self-promotion.

Anyway, hop on this deal like it was a jumpy castle, because it is TAKING OFF!

The sale lasts through Tuesday the 15th, so do not despair if you are somehow reading this on a device that can’t immediately connect to your favorite e-book retailer.

Bye (buy) now. Have a great weekend. Pick some apples. Read some (my) books.

Advertisements

Some News and Some Random Thoughts

Hello again, gentle readers! I just wanted to add a quick update on what’s been going on with Grant Scotland as well as post some thought nuggets about how the summer went and how my writing is progressing and how it’s important to practice good oral hygiene. Wait, sorry. That was my dentist talking. It’s been a while between visits and this latest one she got in my head a bit about taking better care of myself. But that’s not today’s topic! You’re not the boss of me, Dr. Richardson!

Well, okay, maybe when you’ve got me upside down in that chair, blasting away at my calculus with a sonic scaler you are, but not anytime else!

A sonic scaler! It cleans your teeth with the power of sound! Even dental instruments are getting sci-fi these days. We live in the future.

 

Dentistry 2020. [Image credit Cyberpunk 2077]

But enough about teeth. Let’s talk about Grant Scotland. Hey, guess what? You know those Bookbub promotions that I’ve done in the past, the ones where Bookbub would only let me advertise internationally and never domestically? Well, I just got the word here at Grant Scotland HQ (also known as the closet-sized office attached to my bedroom) that Bookbub wants to do a domestic promo!

WAHOOOOO!

This is kind of a big deal. Bookbub’s domestic subscriber base is about twice the size of its international one. As an aside, did you know they’re based in Cambridge? They’re practically right down the street from me! I wonder if they like pizza…

 

It’s not a bribe. It’s a free lunch. And since there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then this never happened. Capiche?

 

Anyway, this means more exposure and more sales, but it also means I can finally get an honest-to-god crack at getting myself a core audience. I don’t mean to slight the international crowd – I’ve gotten some great support and feedback from Aussies, Canadians and UKers – but Grant Scotland is more of an “Americanized” style of fantasy story-telling, so I’m eager to see what my reception will be.

What do I mean by Americanized? Well, I borrowed from some very modern and American sources for inspiration, i.e. Glen Cook’s works, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, the Burn Notice TV show, the Bond movies (yes, I know he’s a British invention, but the movies are very heavily Hollywood-influenced). Anyway, my take on serial fantasy is certainly not unique, I’m just saying it’s very intentionally more New World than Old World.

So, I will once again price the omnibus at the insanely low price of $0.99! That seemed to work just fine last time, so hopefully it’ll turn out even better with a brand new audience. I guess we’ll see. The promotion starts October 11, so if you still haven’t taken the opportunity to enjoy some Grant Scotland adventures, look for The Unlikely Spy to be on sale all Columbus Day weekend.

And as for Book Five, I can reveal that I am about 90% done with rewrites. I’ve got a couple of scenes to drop in and then one last revision pass for spelling/grammar/stupidity and we should be good to go. Oh, and it also has a title. Not going to reveal it yet, though. I’ll wait for the cover reveal (coming in October, hopefully!) And I’m still looking to hit that Thanksgiving Day launch date. I don’t predict any problems, but I’ll let you know if there’s a delay.

And I’m excited! I can tell my writing has grown stronger over the course of writing Grant Scotland. This book might be my strongest, most cohesive storytelling. I know, that sounds boring. You might not even notice, but I do. Character motivations drive more of the plot, long-planted plot seeds grow from seedlings to blooms, tension is built and resolved in a little more orderly fashion, etc. Good stuff. My Force powers are growing, but I am not a Jedi yet.

Over this past summer, I’ve been concentrating on writing better as well as writing more. The first few years I was mainly concerned with quantity. I had spent a lot of my life not writing, so I had to make up for lost time in that regard. I’m still doing that, probably will for the rest of my life, but that’s mortality. It’s a bitch. We’re all up against the clock.

 

I said it’ll be done when it’s done, Death! Cop a squat and chill!

 

Ummm… yeah, I digressed there. Sorry. But quality! Quality is what I’ve been making time for recently. Some writers argue that quantity trumps quality in writing and a compelling case can be made for that, but I’m pretty sure you can’t ignore quality completely. Maybe you can skate by once you’ve established a core audience, but I feel you should always be looking to improve, even if only for your own sanity. I mean, if you can’t take some measure of pride in your work, well… Why do it?

A perfect case in point is Ernest Cline’s recent book, Armada. Now, I loved Ready Player One, although I acknowledge its faults. Cline is a bit of a clutzy writer and the nostalgia was heavy at times (although I forgave him that because I know he was equally damning as loving of gamer-geek culture) but overall I thought the concept was fresh and timely. Also, I’m insanely jealous at how naturally he seems to be able to write about people playing video games. He absolutely pulls me in and makes me feel like I’m participating in whatever game his characters are playing.

I can’t do that. I’ve tried and I just can’t. I always make it sound too vague or too technical. So. Jealous.

But Armada? Not going to lie. This book is a flaming bag of crap. It has all the signs of having been rushed out to capitalize on his Ready Player One success and the buzz over the movie. The characters are stick figures borrowed from cheap Hollywood stereotypes and the plot makes not even one shred of sense. And the author knows it! At several points he has the main character actually thinking to himself “None of this makes any sense.”

Because it doesn’t! Even when the big reveal happens and some things get explained (mighty thinly), there are still gaping plot holes and inconsistencies. That’s quantity over quality. That’s the author leaving a note for himself on the page to go back and fix it, but probably never getting the chance to do it because the profit-driven publisher needs the book released yesterday.

I hope he recovers a bit of his game and gets his groove back. I’ll be rooting for him.

Talk to you all again soon! Going to be a busy fall!

I’ve Finished… Something

Hi there! It’s been a while. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy writing and delivering pizzas and submitting short stories to magazines and binge watching Stranger Things. You know, the usual. Haven’t had much to blog about recently, but I will let you know that I just finished the first draft on that science fiction book I started at the beginning of the year. I had set myself a deadline of July 1st and although I passed it by a couple-three weeks, I’m satisified with my accomplishment.

I’m not ecstatic. I’m not itching to polish it up and start sending out query letters. I’m not even 100% certain it’ll ever see the light of day, but I am very happy with myself. I proved that I could write a book that isn’t Grant Scotland and isn’t fantasy. It feels like I’ve taken another step on the path toward maturing as a writer.

 

That’s me. There I am. Climbing the Writer’s Mountain. Wearing my Writer’s Pants.

 

That’s not to say it’s a bad first draft. As first drafts go, it feels pretty stable. It needs a lot of polish and there’s plenty of parts that need more detail and the plot feels divorced from the characters in too many areas, but overall it’s a solid lump of word-clay to work with when I choose to return to it. I’m not sure when that will be. I know I want to get back to AoGS5 and finish revising it so I can publish it this fall. That should take up the next two to three months. After that, there’s a fantasy book (not related to Grant Scotland) I think I want to write in the form of serialized novellas. That might be next year’s first project.

After that? Who knows? Maybe AoGS6 or maybe I’ll return to the draft I just finished. I really should give it a name. It had a name. Two, in fact, but they were awful. At first, I wanted to call it Ghost World but then I realized that title applies to about half of all science fiction titles everywhere (probably). Then for some reason I was thinking of calling it Planet Mausoleum, which is its current document title, but after a solid minute of thinking about it, I realized that sounds just awful. So, it’s Untitled Science Fiction Book One for now.

In some ways it was easier than writing a Grant Scotland book and in others it was much harder. I found initially sitting down to write it was an almost joyful experience. I wasn’t writing Grant Scotland and that was exactly what I needed. However, as the work progressed, I found I knew nothing about what I was writing (not just the hard sci-fi parts, but the soft ones too) and the work got a little bogged down. I did some research, but not a lot. Hard sci-fi kind of bores me. To me, sci-fi is basically like fantasy. I need just enough real-world physics, science and human history to suspend my disbelief, but too much more than that and my eyes start to glaze over.

 

Telling me about your spaceship is cool. Explaining how a ship can only go faster than light when everyone on board has removed their pants is sort of interesting. Detailing the various science degrees your engineer character has and how that is relevant to understanding space travel is dull.

 

No, the research didn’t slow me down, it was more of a critical error I made in outlining. So, if you’re a writer struggling to write a book, this bit may be of some use to you. I found that I had written a very good outline of the plot, but had done almost nothing with outlining my characters. That is, the machinery of the book was prepped and ready to go, but it had no soul.

No, that’s still not quite right. I found as I was writing that the characers were being carried by the plot instead of pushing the plot forward themselves. Their motivations were okay, but none of these people had any real depth. So, about a third of the book right now is a lot of telling the reader what’s happening instead of showing it. That’s a sure sign your characters just aren’t involved in the story. To get them involved they need depth (strengths, weaknesses, flaws, disputes) as well as motivation.

So, that was tough. There were a lot of writing days where I put down the most pedestrian prose I think I’ve ever written just to push the plot forward. “He opened the door. He looked around the room. Everyone was staring at him. He wasn’t wearing pants. Again.”

 

“…in the land of Pantsylvania, there lived a very bad boy who refused to wear his trousers…”

 

You get the idea.

Anyway, it’s okay. It needed to happen. If I had given up on it, I never would have learned what I was doing wrong. The characters needed more urgency (and exigency?). That hadn’t been as big of a problem with Grant, maybe because I had created him in my head even before I thought about the story or maybe just because I wrote it in first person. The draft I just finished is in third person, which I found called for much more detailed examinations of its characters than I had at first thought.

Grant can tell you what he’s thinking about the characters and actions in the story as he’s taking part in them, but in third person doing too much of that can really bog down the narrative. I found I needed these characters to be much more developed right off the bat so that they can take part in the plot without too much introspection to explain their actions. I think just adding some depth to the main characters should go a long way towards helping with that. Also, increased depth should give them more agency, which should also shake up the plot, which is definitely on rails at the moment.

Good stuff to think about. I’ll most likely return to that manuscript eventually, but for now I’ve got to polish up some Grant Scotland adventures. The break was nice, but I’ve been missing him lately, so I know I’m ready to return.

Avengers: Endgame, The Umbrella Academy and time travel hijinks

A while ago I wrote a blog post about how much I hate time travel. Sort of. I mean, specifically, I hate time travel plots in science fiction and fantasy books and films and TV shows because they make no sense and tend to eat the main story. Actual time travel, on the other hand, would be pretty cool. If done safely it could be like some sort of Disney ride. If you could climb on the Time Express and take a tour through your favorite moments in history without actually being able to interfere (keep your hands inside the car at all times!) that would be fun. You’d experience it like you were riding around in someone else’s brain, so it would look and feel like you were actually there… Wait. That’s just VR. Okay, dumb idea. I suppose it’s only actually time travel if you get flung off the ride at some point and have to experience being stranded in the past as yourself.

And then all the stuff I hate about time travel would happen; the alternate timelines, the impossibility of returning to your present, the infinite possibilities of the actions of other time travelers, the probable murder of your present/future self, etc. Yuck. Also, another thing that always bothered me about time travel – when you go back in time, you would look and act and speak differently than everyone around you, even if you went back in time in your own home town. You’d be immediately suspicious.

Unless you just went back to last week or something, but… come on. You’re not going back to last week just so you can distract yourself from hearing Bob give Endgame spoilers at the water cooler. What even are you doing with this time travel power?

Oh, that reminds me. There will be some Endgame spoilers here. Also, Umbrella Academy. So, if you haven’t seen either of those, then you should stop reading and go get on that. I’d say I’ll wait for you, but you already know I won’t. Your eyes have skipped down the page and you can clearly see I didn’t wait for you. But you should still go see both the Avengers movie and the excellent Netflix series The Umbrella Academy and then come back. I won’t be here, but my words will be because that’s how they work. It’s a bit like magic but also like science and… ugh… time travel.

 

You go ahead and watch some fun TV and movies. I’ll stay here and think about the cultural impact of the invention of the written word. Fun!

 

So, we good? You all caught up? Here we go.

This isn’t a review of Endgame, exactly. I’m not sure I can break it down enough to examine it in depth. One day, I’ll probably do a combined viewing of Infinity War and Endgame to take a look at what they’re doing in terms of story and character arcs, but if I do that, I’ll probably have to include the entire MCU and that’s… just nuts. It’s insane what Marvel and Disney have done. Incredible and awe-inspiring, but certifiably crazy. I’m just not sure what storytelling lessons we can draw from it all. Not yet, anyway.

Instead, what I thought we’d talk about was the rather interesting things Endgame is doing with time travel, which I still hate. When the Avengers (or what’s left of them) go back in time to get the Infinity Stones before Thanos ever laid hands on them, they directly take on the problem of alternate timelines by promising to return them once they use them to undo “The Snap.” This is explained as clearly as possible in the confrontation between Banner-Hulk and the Ancient One. She shows him how taking the Time Stone she is guarding away from her will create an alternate timeline where the Earth has no Time Stone (and thus no way to guard against Dormammu in the Doctor Strange movie). Banner says that won’t happen because after they’re done with them, they’ll return to the exact time they took them and give them back.

So, one imagines that one second after Banner-Hulk jumps away with the Time Stone clutched in his beefy fist, Captain America strolls up to the Ancient One and gives it right back to her. Ta-da! No alternate time line!

Except, of course, that’s not true at all. Alternate time lines don’t work like that. They do not require Infinity Stones to exist. Alternate time lines are created just by the simple act of travelling back in time. Just by arriving in the past you have already made it into a different past than the one that existed and thus made a new timeline. You don’t even have to do anything. Your very existence proves the timeline is different from the original. Every consciousness that happens to detect your presence, every molecule of air you breathe, every atom you push out of the way with your own atoms – creates a new timeline!

But still the whole Time Heist idea was a good attempt at heading off paradoxes and maintaining some kind of rationale as to why they can return to a “post snap” future holding Infinity Stones from the past because they will (have) return(ed) them. Even though they haven’t (hadn’t) yet. And therefore there’s a paradox anyway, unless you believe in the Bill and Ted theory of time travel, which stipulates that as long as you leave a reminder to yourself in the future to go back and do something in the past, then you’ll see an immediate result in the present.

Which is eye-rollingly ridiculous. I would have been hugely disappointed by the movie at that point, but then all those Doc Strange portals started opening up and I got all distracted and excited.

 

When you see one of these things open up, that means shit’s about to get real.

 

So, while it was a nice twist on solving time-travel plot holes, it still failed in that regard. I didn’t really care. It was fun and epic and I got to see my man Hawkeye once more before they (probably) retire him. I’m satisfied.

But the time travel plot was unnecessary, in my opinion. I guess the creators and writers felt they needed it for all the fan-servicey stuff, but that was always a low priority on my list. I wanted a battered Avengers team hounding a battered Thanos and forcing him to finally admit that no matter what, his grand plan was and always will be futile. I still more or less got that, so as I said, after Endgame I look out at the complete MCU and I’m satisfied.

 

Like this, but with less finger-snapping and such.

 

I know it seems like I’m hating on time travel a lot, because I am. But you know what time travel plot I actually like? The one they’re using in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. I’ve never read the comics, so I’m unfamiliar with the source material, but the show comes across as some kind of Breakfast Club for superheroes. These kids, born under very strange circumstances, are adopted and raised by an eccentric rich guy straight out of an Edward Gorey book and trained to use their powers to fight crime. We join them when they are (mostly) grown to adulthood and see that they didn’t quite turn out as the old man had hoped.

Anyway, it’s very clever and the soundtrack is unbeatable, but since I’m assuming you’ve seen it, you know all that already. But you know what really impressed me with the show? The fact that they use time travel as a central plot point and yet do it in a way that actually adds to the story instead of distracting away from it. Apparently, there is ONE most favored timeline that must be kept intact no matter the costs and there is a sort of paranormal/supernatural governing body called “The Commission” that makes sure this happens.

From what I gather, the stipulation is that time is all happening at once, instead of in a linear fashion. This idea isn’t new, but it’s the first I’ve seen it presented in such an engaging manner. All the events throughout time come together somehow to form a certain desired timeline. Since all of them are happening at once, the Commission sends agents through time to make sure they happen (keep happening) the way they are supposed to. They seem to have a particular problem making sure the Hindenberg accident keeps happening, for instance. Now, what exactly this “preferred” timeline is and what the final outcome of said timeline will be is still a mystery, but we do know that it includes the destruction of the Earth. So, yikes. Our heros have their work cut out for them.

 

Some have a little more work to do than others.

 

This is the first time I’ve seen a time travel plot include both the idea of a main timeline and a non-linear understanding of how time works and I love it. Instead of an infinite amount of alternate timelines, there’s just one that needs constant pruning. So, as we head into season two, we get the feeling that no matter what changes our heroes could make to the past, the Comission can simply correct either instantly or at another moment in time.

The conclusion we’re expecting is that the only way to truly change our fate is to destroy the Commission itself, but what that would do to the universe is unclear. Will there still be a preferred timeline or will time be allowed to fracture? Would that split the universe into a multiverse? Would that put an end to any meaningful time travel?

I don’t know, but instead of with every other time travel plot I’ve ever come across, I’ll actually be interested in finding out.

Why We Care About Stranger Things

So, we’re getting a third season of Stranger Things and that’s pretty great because this show is pretty great. I’ll admit, I didn’t tune in until just recently. Like, really recently. I’m telling you I just finished binge-watching the first two seasons and I did it over… ummm… three days? Has it been three days? Does the sun still shine outside? Do people still go outside? Is it safe? Who drank all the coffee? Why does it smell like body odor and farts in here?

And I’ll admit, I didn’t want to believe it could live up to the hype when I started watching it. As I watched episode one and two… I mean, I liked it. I thought it was good. I was entertained, but not swept away, you know? Maybe it was because at first I really only latched on to Hopper. We’re both around middle age. We’re both a little more thick around the middle than we should be. We’ve both been knocked around a bit by life, but we’re still in there swinging. And we firmly believe mornings are for coffee and contemplation. Yeah, Hopper’s my guy.

 

Pictured: Captain America.

 

But then something about those kids just went to work on me. Something happened after episode two or around there, something I can’t quite put my finger on, and suddenly I was as close to those kids as I was to Hopper.

And I just couldn’t…

stop…

watching.

And before I go any further, I’ll just put a PSA out there that binging is NOT a healthy way to experience anything. Seriously, don’t do it. Not good for the brain or the body. I can attest to this on more than a few subjects and watching Stranger Things is no exception. I spent a full day fighting off depression when I was done, because I found after about seventeen hours of exposure in a seventy-two hour period I was way too close to the characters. It’s like hanging out with great friends for an extended weekend and at the end of it you don’t want to go back to the other parts of your life. But in real life it’s okay because at the end of that weekend you’ve also realized you’ve just about had enough of those people for a while, right?

But not in Hawkins. I wanted those people to stay. I didn’t want to leave. I love each and every one of them and they’re all fascinating as fuck. And together we saved the world from interdimensional monsters! How am I supposed to beat that out here alone on this side of the screen?

::sob::

Ummm… So, binge watching. Not good. Don’t do it.

 

In case you’re wondering, I was the dwarven fighter. It fits my barrel chested (and waisted) physique. I’m not pictured here because when this was painted I was hanging out with Hopper in the bar doing what dwarves do. Image credit: Mashable and Bob Al-Greene.

 

A lot has been written about all the things this show does right, because there’s not much that it doesn’t do right. It captures the times of the early eighties without obsessing over them. It evokes Lovecraftian horror without directly referencing it. It directly references Stephen King’s mega impact during that time period without becoming a campy parody. It makes you care about every loving last character. I mean every single one – yes, even Billy. Okay, maybe not Ted. Ted’s a bit of a punchline.

 

It’s okay, Ted. You make everybody else cooler. Just think of it that way.

 

And it paces itself painfully well. The tension is almost perfectly built and then thunderously resolved. At the beginning of both seasons, everyone is more or less together. But as the season progresses and they all get pulled in different directions, you find yourself hungrily wanting them to get back together at last and do the big heroic thing. But those Duffer brothers have you practically begging for it before it finally comes. Bastards. Hate you. Never change.

And, of course, more than any of that is the ability of the creators to weave everything together meaningfully and then wrap every loose end up satisfactorily. But not too satisfactorily. Even though the good guys win, there’s still something very wrong in the world of Stranger Things. And even though some characters get to resolve their individual conflicts, some don’t. Maybe, on some level, none of them do.

And all that is great. It’s better than that. It’s astounding. So many shows strive to get just one or two things right, but this show just goes ahead and checks all the boxes. How?

Because you care.

Why do you care? Let me try to explain it. I think I might come close to hitting the nail on the head for why I care, but it might be something different for you. I can’t tell you how to feel, that’s your job. My job is to tell you how I feel and see if that knocks you around and gets your attention and makes you think about how you feel.

 

Pictured: The master class. I’m not quite there yet.

 

Let’s see… where to start? Well, the kids in the show are somewhere in middle school/junior high. Remember when you were that age and everything was a big deal? It was after elementary school, where you didn’t understand what was a big deal and what wasn’t and friends fell into two groups; people you played with and people you didn’t. And it was before high school, where everything was still a big deal, but you learned to pretend like it wasn’t, and friends fell into so many groups it was difficult to keep track of what everyone was doing and what they cared about.

But middle school was that time when you were becoming aware of the world around you. Your friends were more than playmates. You could talk to them about other stuff besides fun and games, but even the games and sports that you played very often became ways of figuring out real life. Adults became figures that you began to sense didn’t really have all the answers you once thought they did.

And you could leave the house on your own and start to explore the world. Time was starting to seem just a little more precious and the spaces around you a little smaller, but you were still at the center of all of it. Consequently, when good or bad things – and, dare I say strange things – happened to you and around you, it was a big deal. A very big deal.

That’s what this show gets right.

Don’t get me wrong. I hated middle school. God, it was awful. Everything was painfully awkward and embarrassing. Failures were fatal and successes… Well, the successes were actually heroic. Fleeting, but heroic.

But most importantly, it was a time when you began to care. You cared about figuring out how you should react to things. You started to care more about the people you spent time with rather than just caring how you spent the time.

And that’s where the kids of Stranger Things take me. The Duffers nail it. I rarely care about kids in shows or movies. I usually see them as set dressing. Obviously, in Stranger Things they have to be central, but they’re not just central, they’re intimately familiar. The Harry Potter movies did the same and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but Stranger Things just does it so much better. We’re shown that the kids care about each other and about their world to an extent far exceeding their capabilities to do anything about either and you believe their feelings are genuine, because you felt the same way when you were that age.

Eleven is us. Same with Mike and Dustin and Lucas and Will (poor Will – really hoping they’ll take it easy on him next season, but I’m not holding my breath). It’s the time we’re just awakening to being the protagonists of our own stories. But we’re young and innocent. We don’t know the story. We don’t know what to do. We don’t even know how to communicate how we feel about things yet. But we believe that if we just had the chance, we could do something memorable. Heroic, even.

Or, like Eleven… if we concentrated hard enough we could move around the pieces of our world and somehow make something right and good.

And I’m still trying to do that. This show reminded me. It’s why I write.

 

Pictured: Writing… but, like, WAAAY cooler.

A Story Is Born

Ever wonder how a story gets written? No? Well… I do. I’ve been writing seriously for about five years now and I’m still not sure how ideas in my head make it onto the page and form any sort of sense. That’s what I’m posting about today. So, if you weren’t curious about it before, prepare to get curious!

Kind of psych yourself up for it, you know?

Because that’s how it starts, honestly. I often have to force myself to get curious in order to get the ball rolling. You see, same as it is for most people my mind wanders, but when I get a little snippet of something drifting across my frontal lobe – a strange thing someone might say to someone else, a still frame of a bizarre scene, a what-if scenario from something I’ve read or watched where I rearrange the motivations or the actions of the characters – instead of letting that little brain fart dissipate into the air, I capture that thing and dutch oven the hell out of it. I jot it down on the nearest jottable surface and then stick my head in it and breath in the strange fumes of my own gassy imagination.

 

To protect the neighborhood, a good friend springs into action during my creative process.

 

I have two notepad files on my desktop (not to mention the odd piece of scrap paper) filled with this sort of stuff. Want to see some? Of course you do.

-A story called the Superlatives where everyone has a title like “Ethan the Nimblest, Zack the Worst, George the Toughest, Jack the Roughest…

-The Resonants – a story about people who can experience memories attached to objects

-A druid acts like a medieval geologist in a fantasy world, but for money and status she searches for precious metals and rare resources even though it might destroy the magical and natural world she loves.

Stuff like that. Just a random little thought that pops into my head, usually while I’m doing something else, and I have to stop everything and write it down somewhere. Because – and if you’re a struggling writer like me you should write this down – if you don’t write it down immediately… baby, it’s just gone.

 

Pictured: An idea lights out for the territories.

 

But that’s not even the thinnest, skinniest sliver of the tip of the iceberg! No. At this point, the real work starts, because now you have to force yourself to get curious about your little idea. Start asking yourself questions about it. If Ethan is the nimblest, does that mean he sucks at everything else? Is that why he has to travel with the other Superlatives? Does he hate them or love them? Or is his problem like the hammer and the nail? Because he’s so good at being nimble, is he only interested in solving problems acrobatically?

And then! And then! Then you have to actually start answering those questions. And that’s where things start to get a little difficult, because you’ll have to sift through a lot of answers before you find the ones you like. Be patient! This takes time.

Oh, and you might find that someone else has already written a story based on your idea. Like, I think I just realized Stephen King already did a paranormal take on something like resonance in The Dead Zone. But that’s all right. There are no new ideas anyway. Just keep asking yourself questions and making up new answers. Go ahead and read stories about what you want to write about. What did they do that you like? What would you have changed? And most importantly, why? I think in the why you come up with your own unique theme for your story.

Somewhere during this process you’ll have to decide if this is a short story or a novella or a novel. So far, I’ve just been using the number of questions and answers I can generate about an idea before I get a rough idea about the shape of the plot to decide on its length, but I certainly don’t have a formula.

And yes, now you’re at the point where you need to start plotting this sucker out and suddenly the challenge rating on the process has jumped from “engaging” to “difficult.” Well, it does for me anyway. Plotting a story is like pushing heavy stone blocks into place so they form a rough staircase, one that ideally descends on the back end.

 

Here I am measuring my plot blocks because I haven’t yet had quite enough caffeine and/or alcohol to start moving them.

 

Hard. Sweaty. Don’t care for it. My natural inclination is to write a story using just dialog and thoughts, but things need to actually happen in a story or the witty dialog and beautifully polished narrative full of understatement and metaphor just tends to sit there like a moody teenager who eats nothing but pizza and Bottle Caps and sneers at you because you’re old and fat and gassy. Bratty kid. Just wait until you get old.

Errrm… Ahem.

Anyway.

So, push-push. Grunt-grunt. Make those words get some exercise.

And if you’re looking for tips on how to make an interesting plot, then… well, that’s a blog post for another time perhaps. I mean, it’s like this whole big thing. There are entire web sites devoted to the topic, so I’d encourage you to check them out. But suffice it to say, the general building blocks of a plot never change: you’ve got a protagonist, a problem, a complication, a confrontation, an interlude, another complication, a final confrontation and then a denouement and an ending where hopefully your protagonist has changed or grown in some way.

Add more stuff to it or subtract some stuff, but those are basically the heavy stone blocks you have to push around. And once you’ve got them in place, it’s time to actually write the damn thing. And that’s where the difficulty gets cranked up to eleven. This is where the people who are actually writers get separated from the people who want to be writers. Because let me tell you something. Most days? Most days you don’t want to write this. You want to play a game, drink with friends, watch a movie, eat a whole chicken, read a whole book, learn to tango, go for a walk, etc. And you should do all those things!

But you should also write. So, do both. But when in doubt or forced to choose? Choose the writing. It’s hard. It’s eleven hard. But there’s no way that story’s getting written unless you write it. The story elves aren’t going to do it for you. They’re just going to sit on the window sill, pointing at you and laughing and taunting you. They can write whole books just by snapping their fingers. What’s your problem? Why is this so difficult for you? Maybe you should just give up.

 

Hi Dan! Watcha doing? I guess it’s writing because it looks like nothing from where I’m sitting. Anyway, I just dropped by to remind you that everyone is smarter, prettier and more successful than you! Kthxbye!

 

Yeah, elves suck. I hate them and I hate their stupid elf magic.

Push-push. Grunt-grunt. That’s how scrubby humans like you and me get a story written. Slowly. Painfully. And it’s true that some days you’ll sit in front of your computer and just stare at nothing and nothing will happen. That’s okay! This is normal. Your brain sometimes needs to just rest or recharge or plot terrible vengeance on the entire elven race. Just let it happen. Maybe just write some more notes. Maybe just write yourself some more questions. And then tomorrow you’ll sit down again and you’ll write some more.

And you’ll go on like that until one day… a story is born. You’ll write “The End” and you’ll be in possession of an entire first draft of your story. And you’ll feel good. You’ll drink deeply and laugh heartily that day, my friend.

Of course there’s revision after revision after revision to be done, but that’s how a story goes from being born to being raised to maturity. Essentially, that process never ends, you just choose a time to stop and then send it out to publishers or self-publish it or just share it with your friends or whatever.

But this blog post was about the birthing process of a story and when you get to that “The End” then the birthin’ is done. And so is this post.

The End.

Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #9)

Hello and welcome to another issue of Notes from the Self-Pubbed! It’s been a while since I’ve put one of these little newsletters out, but that’s because there really was very little new to report on the self-publishing front. Sales have been slow, borrowed page reads in the Kindle Unlimited Library (KUL) are negligible and the release of the next Grant Scotland book is still a ways off.

But shortly before Christmas, I put the omnibus on sale for $0.99 and scored a BookBub (International markets) promotion for Christmas Eve. This was a bit of a gamble. Although BookBub ads always generate a return on investment, I was flying in the face of common sense by appearing twice in the same market (although admittedly it had been more than a year since the first appearance). Also, making the sale price so low put me in danger of simply not generating enough actual dollars, regardless of units sold. But, self-publishing on the internet is a bit of a wild west experience and sometimes you just have to be willing to take some risks to get any kind of reward.

Actually, I guess that’s mostly true everywhere. Anyway, let’s take a look at my results!

 

How bad is it, Doc?

 

The numbers, raw and unprocessed:

Title on sale: The Adventures of Grant Scotland, Volume One: The Unlikely Spy

Sale period: December 21st to December 28th

BookBub ad (Dec 24th) promotion cost: $188

 

Units sold on Smashwords:

Kobo: 83 (plus 2x book 4)

Apple: 58 (plus 2x book 4)

Smashwords: 1

 

Amazon:

237 units (plus 5x omni at full price, 1x book 1, 3 x book 4)

1281 borrowed page reads

 

 

The numbers, refined into delicious dollars:

Smashwords royalties (60% across all distributors)

omni (at sale price): $85.20

book 4: $9.60

 

Amazon royalties (30% @ sale price, 70% @ regular price)

omni (at sale price): $71.10

omni (regular price): $35.00

book 1: $2.80

book 4: $8.40

 

Total in sales from sale period and post-sale period (as of today):

$212.10

…less $188 in expenses equals about $24 bucks in profit. About the same as the first BookBub ad, in fact.

I also get some money from the borrowed page reads in KUL, but I honestly have no idea anymore how they calculate it. So, we’ll just call it a mystery bonus, probably somewhere between two and six bucks.

So, the cost was $188 and my sale period sales didn’t quite cover that, but my post sale period sales rescued me. Still, that was a little too close for comfort. I think Grant Scotland is finished doing promotions on BookBub’s International Market. From here on out, I’ll only try for landing a US Market ad – for the omnibus, anyway. I still haven’t tried to get a promo for book 4. That’ll probably be my next bid.

Well, that’s it. BookBub remains as reliable as ever, although I don’t think I’ll risk another omnibus promotion with them unless I can get on that coveted US Market distribution list. But hundreds more people have purchased my books! My seed continues to be sown ever further afield! And like dragon’s teeth they will yield an unstoppable crop of indestructible fans!

 

Arise, mighty readers! Live! Conquer! Review!

Big Deal! Big Savings! Big Holiday Fun!

Hey there! Did you know that starting today and lasting for one week and ONE WEEK ONLY (plus maybe a couple extra days) the first three e-books of the Adventures of Grant Scotland series will be on sale for just 99 cents! And I’m not talking about each one, I AM TALKING THREE BOOKS FOR 99 CENTS!

Get it here: Amazon

Or here: Kobo

Or here: Apple

Or here: Nook

“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT is even going on in your head, Dan?” you may ask. “You’re mad! Clearly mad, I tell you!”

AM I?!?!?!??!!?

 

99 cents. A brilliant and daring sale orchestrated by a genius? Or insanity made manifest?

 

Perhaps. But it is entirely beside the point.

Many of you know that the only promotions I do for Grant Scotland these days are with BookBub. After a lengthy and unprofitable period of trial and error, I found the only advertising service that gave me a return on investment and great visibility was BookBub. But it’s tough (and only getting tougher) to get them to agree to feature a book. I got them to do it once before and it was a good experience.

Since then I’ve been trying to get them to feature the omnibus on sale to the US market and/or sell it at the $2.99 price point instead of $1.99. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to bite on either of these options. So, I went the other way and dropped the price all the way to $0.99 and agreed to feature the book internationally, which they jumped all over the first time I offered it like it was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Tree in a stocking full of candy canes.

It’s not a great idea to feature the book again on the same distribution list as last time, but it’s been almost two years and instead of $1.99 sale price it’s $0.99. So, I’m hoping those things make enough of a difference. I still don’t know why they won’t give me access to their US mailing list, but I’ll take what I can get, I guess.

But the price WILL be worldwide, which still includes the United States despite Trump’s strident efforts to the contrary, so if you have not yet experienced the joy of reading the exploits of that many-foibled hero, Grant Scotland, now’s your chance! Or tell a friend! Or a relative! Or that complete stranger riding next to you on the train RIGHT NOW!

The actual BookBub ad will run on Christmas Eve, so if you’re in Canada, Britain, India, Australia or Japan you might just see it. If not, the sale price is good until next Friday (likely plus an extra day or two) so don’t worry if you get distracted by all the spiked egg nog and sexy elves and miss it.

Good. Now you know and you can say you’re informed. You’re all caught up. I’ll give you a run down on the results sometime in January, but for now… GO!

Be merry! Have fun! Relax! Enjoy! See you next year.

Top Ten Things I Love About The Holidays

You know what I don’t do a lot? This. This kind of thing here. I don’t go all out and post holiday-related stuff to spread cheer and merriment. But I should. I totally should. So, I decided this season I’d open the warped and booze-soaked doors of my heart to you and share what makes this time of year so special for me. Here is a list of “things” –  accoutrements, if you will – that generally exist in some prominent form during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years that warm my cockles.

 

10. The Gifts – I include gifts on this list because let’s face it, it would be disingenuous to exclude it. Now, if you’re a kid, gifts are where it’s at. But as you grow into adulthood, gifts become more symbolically important and matter less in any quantitative or qualitative measure. In short, they’re nice and the holiday season would be lacking without them, but ultimately it’s all the other stuff that brings joy. But a thoughtful present or bit of cash is always good. Or a Grant Scotland novel (now available in attractive and giftable print editions!), perhaps?

9. Midvinterblot – The yearly sacrifice of a Swedish king to appease mighty Odin and possibly avert a future famine is a festival of WONDER! The mead! The roasted boar! The rivers of blood pouring from the noble monarch’s throat as he bleeds his last for the betterment of his people! No Yuletide is complete without it. (NOTE: In the absence of a Swedish king the nearest civic leader will do in a pinch.)

 

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a little royal bloodletting, eh?

 

8. The Lights – The trouble with the holidays is that they come during the darkest time of the year. On the other hand, if they came at any other time of the year, they wouldn’t be as special. Why? The lights. I swear if every town’s main street, not to mention every house in every neighborhood, wasn’t festooned with lights and garlands I’m not sure I’d find the energy to get out of bed. It’s so damn dark (and usually cold and wet) that unless my little burb is lit up like Vegas on a Friday night, I’m not leaving my cozy little writing space for love or money.

7. Yalda – It’s so good to pass the time enjoyably with friends and family close by! But it is even better to do so during the longest and darkest night of the year, when Ahriman’s legions of demons stalk through town and countryside alike, looking to prey upon the unwary. Do not go to sleep! Regale each other with tales of humor and horror to stay awake, else slumber will claim you and your future will be filled with a lifetime of misfortune and disaster! Who can stay awake the longest? A fun-filled game for the whole family!

6. New England Patriots (and football in general) – Yes, I know football goes on all throughout the fall and into the winter, but for my money, the REAL football is played between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Even Tom Brady (Hallowed Be Thy Name) agrees with me on that. This is where every team bares its knuckles and makes a hard run for the playoffs. And it’s (usually) where the Patriots assert their dominance over the rest of the league, whether they ultimately win the Super Bowl or not. I mean, eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories over an eighteen year span? That’s insane! It’s an era of success unmatched in NFL history and I plan to enjoy every minute of it while it lasts.

 

Here’s a picture of Tom spreading Christmas cheer to all the good little football fans around the AFC before crushing their hopes that their pathetic team will ever make it past the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

 

5. Panquetzaliztli – Who doesn’t love a good road race? It’s especially exciting when you and your friends have prepared for it by fasting and no one is allowed to eat until the first person carrying a loaf of bread shaped like Huitzilopochtli crosses the finish line. Thrilling! Add to that all the drums and the dancing and the ritual sacrifice of massive numbers of slaves at every mile marker and you’ve got yourself a Panquetzaliztli to remember! (NOTE: A good thick-soled long-distance running shoe is best when sloshing through the rivers of blood coursing through the streets.)

4. Jennifer Garner on InstagramJennifer Garner is a national treasure and has my undivided attention all year long, but during the holidays she transcends from simply being the sweetest and most adorable person on Earth and becomes the avatar of holiday cheer itself. If perhaps you’re feeling a bit blue or simply worn down by life, the world and everything, then go watch her Pretend Cooking Show on Instagram. I guarantee you will be so fucking charmed and feel so goddamned cozy and warm you’ll want to skip through town in your nightshirt, buying turkeys for disabled children.

3. Krampusnacht – What is Santa without Krampus? What is good without evil? When the naked, hairy, horned one grabs a naughty toddler, drags him out to the town square  and stuffs coal in his mouth and publicly shames and mocks him, the parents may feel compelled to intercede, but they should not. Do not invite the wrath of Krampus! Besides, it’s all in good fun. Instead, they should point and laugh along with the rest of us, for the boy will not be harmed aside from a sudden case of explosive diarrhea and a lifelong scar of humiliation. Oh, to be young and foolish again!

 

I love that the kid is getting dunked into a basket of coal and his sister is all like “Imma eat apples and watch you cry, fucker.”

 

2. Mom’s Baking – My mother’s chocolate chip cookies and apple pie reign supreme over every form of baked good ever prepared. Do not attempt to argue. I know you must show loyalty to your own favorite purveyor of delectable goodies, but know that you live a lie. Look! Look upon her works and despair! You shall never know such delights in your life. Lament! Oh, lament!

1. Cthulumas – What holiday season would be complete without a dark visitation from the Great Dreamer? Whether it be sprucing up your house with a Wreath of Many Tentacles or slowly going mad listening to baleful carols like “Do You Fear What I Fear” or “Away in a Madhouse” you’ll be sure to be ready for the coming of the High Priest of the Great Old Ones. Your mortal life is insignificant. Make it merry!

 

Well, that’s it. I hope you had as much fun reading about my most cherished holiday traditions as I did writing about them. Maybe we can do something fun like this next season, assuming we haven’t been devoured by Yog-Sothoth, the Eater of Souls, by then.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Give Them Something to Vote For

Here it is, my once-a-year unabashedly political blog post. It should have something for everyone, but not enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone. I’m nothing if not an equal opportunity disappointer. I’m going to be generalizing a bit in this post, so I beg your forgiveness. Generalizing is a good way to talk about ideas abstractly, but a terrible way to talk about people. So, I’ll try to stick mostly to ideas, but I’m sure I’ll end up offending someone if not everyone.

 

Hang on. Let me gear up first.

 

Midterms are upon us! Are you ready to vote? Are you ready to get ten others to vote? No? Well, what the hell is wrong with you? Why do you hate freedom?

These are the messages that are currently flooding the intertubes by well-meaning “get out the vote (and vote Democrat)” types. That’s right. Apparently the only way to defeat Trumpism is to VOTE (Democrat). The assumption here, like it was during the presidential election, is that the vast majority of uncast ballots are clearly anti-Trump.

I don’t know why this myth persists. The “Not-Trump” strategy failed the first time, why would it succeed now? Democrats and their staunch supporters see themselves as the answer to authoritarianism, but they still refuse to see that Trump rose to power because many (if not most) of Americans do not care about democracy, the republic or the institutions that safeguard liberty. I don’t know that they ever did. Here’s a generalization for you, but have you ever seen a Trump supporter circulating a picture with the tag line “Look what they’ve sacrificed so YOU can be free” depicting a suffragette or an ACLU lawyer or Martin Luther King? No, right? It’s always a veteran. The message is still just as laudable, but the emphases is quite a bit different, yes? If the only sacrifice being respected here is the military kind, then it seems questionable whether liberty is at all valued.

 

Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed when Ohio National Guard troops fired at some 600 anti-war demonstrators. A cropped version of this image won the Pulitzer Prize.

This person also sacrificed so you can be free.

 

Look, I’ll be voting Republicans out wherever I can this year, because I’m horrified at how they can support a president calling the media (and Democrats) “Enemies of the People.” I mean, I can also name a half-dozen policies and public platforms of theirs I disagree with, but forget that. We’re way past that. You can’t name your political critics and opponents Public Enemies. Not here. Not in this country. That’s some third world junta shit right there. We’ve already seen violence and death as a result and it’s only likely to get worse. But most people who voted for Trump don’t seem to share my concerns. Those things just aren’t a big deal to them. What they do care about is vision. A plan. A way forward.

The people who voted for Trump (and the people who didn’t vote at all) may be mistaken in believing Trump’s plan for America is anything but reactionary and based on a mistaken belief in a mythological time of perfection in America that never existed (e.g. “Make America Great Again”) but it is undeniably a VISION.

And what have the Democrats offered in response? “Well, clearly the facts point to Trump’s ideas as wrong and so therefore people will vote for anything but that. Surely, if we present our data correctly, everyone will see how Trump and the Republican leadership are fools and morons.”

 

Pictured: Democratic leadership is hopeful about the test scores of this year’s body politic.

 

It didn’t work before. It still won’t work. Many if not most Americans believe the system needs to keep breaking and burning until the country returns to some fictional past of perfection. They don’t care about Trump being a wanna-be Mussolini or about how tearing everything down will only make things worse for everyone, because they have VISION.

Where is the Democratic Party’s VISION? Who is the one standing up and saying “Make America Greater” or “Make America a World Leader Again” or some such thing? All I’m hearing is “Make America Trump-less.”

And the media isn’t helping either. Instead of reporting on the continuing impact of Trump’s policies, we hear about how he praised Robert E. Lee as “a great general” and this is somehow indicative of our president putting his foot in his mouth again. This isn’t news! The guy has no tact! Can we move on from this please and talk about how tariffs are promoting certain industries at the expense of others and what that means for America’s economic future? Can we do some stories on immigrant families getting torn apart? How about buisnesses that are suffering because the immigrants who were doing the jobs white people don’t want to do are shrinking because of lack of labor? Can we for the first time in perhaps ever have an honest discussion about why we need immigration laws and quotas at all? If people want to come here and work and pay taxes, then why not let them?!?!?! I work with plenty of immigrants. Some are great, some are not-so-great and most are just fine. Just like everybody else. And none of them can understand where this supposed free hand-out is located, because they sure as hell haven’t found it.

And for what it’s worth, Lee was a great general. He was one of the best generals of his time. Acknowledging this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a white supremacist. If I said Lee was a great man, then I’m saying something highly questionable since he was guilty of supporting the institution of slavery and taking up arms against his government. So, I’d likely only call him a great man if he had sided with the Union. But even still, I might not, because I don’t know maybe he liked to kick cats or something. And in my book, intentional and repeated cat-kicking is a big disqualifier. I mean sure, we’ve all aggressively repositioned a feline using naught but the bridge of our foot, but you don’t go making a habit out of it. Now, I’m not saying Lee did like to kick cats, but I wasn’t there. I don’t know for a fact that he didn’t. So, in the absence of information, I can’t feel comfortable calling him a “great man” even if he had sided with the Union. But though he didn’t, I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting he knew his way around a battlefield.

 

 

Perhaps I’m being a little cavalier about that topic, but I firmly believe the emphasis needs to start shifting away from reacting to Trump’s verbal flatulence and toward the forming of a new progressive agenda. We need a new vision for the United States. Obama tried to give us one, but he failed. I was really rooting for him, but he just couldn’t get enough lawmakers on board and so not enough policy got passed to achieve his vision. But you know what he did do? Even when he was in the middle of underwhelming everyone, he still got a lot of people to vote for him, because he could sell his vision to the voters.

That’s what we need. Because Anti-Trump will not work. Mark my words. It WILL NOT WORK. If your main argument for it is that most people must see how destructive and terrible Trump is, my answer to you is that yes, they see… but it happens to be exactly what they wanted. I don’t think most of them want racism or hardship, but if they don’t see it in front of them then it doesn’t matter to them. Or it’s considered an acceptable loss. They have a vision for America. And the only way to get them to vote away from the GOP and Trump is to give them a better vision. Preferably, one with less Nazis.