Self-publishing services: mind your e-business

There seems to be a lot of concern in the self-publishing community that indie authors are being taken for a ride. There are some unscrupulous people out there who are offering “packages” of “self-publishing services” for exorbitant fees. What services? Well, basically, some of the things they are offering to do you can do yourself for free, like uploading a file to Amazon and Smashwords. So, that’s pretty bad. Still, some people don’t want to be bothered and are willing to pay for the privilege, but in that case I’d recommend those people take the time and patience it takes to find a traditional publisher, since they are obviously not interested in actually self-publishing, just in getting published. People who self-publish without wanting to bother with the details of that decision are kind of like “big game hunters” that are willing to pay for everything just so long as they don’t actually have to do any, you know, hunting.

 

"This sucks. I don't know why I couldn't have shot him from my laptop. Worst. Safari. Ever."

“This sucks. I don’t know why I couldn’t have shot him from my laptop. Worst. Safari. Ever.”

 

And yes, there are services that will even write the book for you. Don’t get me started.

However, these package sites are also offering to do services that most authors can’t do for free. Namely, proofreading, editing (line/copy), formatting and cover design. So, while you might be throwing some money away on buying the free stuff included in one of these “packages” you will be getting some things you’d have to pay for anyway. Therefore, the bone of contention is mostly over how much they charge and less over what they are charging you for.

Now, I’ve read a couple other blog posts about this by other self-published authors and they come across as indignant over this slight to their profession and outraged by the actions of these “vultures” who prey upon the innocence of the naive. More or less, I agree with them, but I’ve also noticed something about these authors. They tend to do their own editing and also have access to extraordinarily cheap formatting and proofreading and art services. They usually proudly list the people who they use and the low prices they pay.

I don’t know how they found these people, but I’m willing to bet they hooked up with them a few years ago, before the big boom in e-book self-publishing. Thus, they got some good prices for their services. Now that these services are much more in demand, new authors are facing higher prices. That’s just how it goes. An author who has been self-publishing with his editor and artist for a few years is likely still paying the same amount he did when they started, but that doesn’t mean that editor and artist are charging OTHER people what they charge him. Even if they are, I guarantee you they are overloaded with work.

For instance, I tried to secure the services of Konrath’s editors and artists when I finished my internal revisions on Dead Empire. First of all, it took each of them at least a month just to reply to my email. Secondly, they told me they would be happy to work for me, but they were booking three months in advance. Lastly, they quoted me prices that were more than what Konrath was paying them (although not much more, to be fair).

One of the main selling points of self-publishing is not having to wait to publish, so I was not inclined to book with them. Also, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the services, quite frankly. Konrath pays (the last he mentioned, at any rate) about a hundred bucks to each of his contractors, give or take. He has three. One does proofing, another does formatting and another does cover design. While I found the formatting of his e-books quite good, the proofing was of debatable merit since he does his own editing and the cover art wasn’t at all the kind of thing I wanted. I had a very vivid image of my book’s cover in my head and I knew a typical one or two or three element e-book cover wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted the reader to get in my head and see my world the way I see it right there on the cover.

 

Okay, maybe not all the way inside my head.

Okay, maybe not all the way inside my head.

 

So, I went to E-Lance to search for contractors. I never considered looking for a package deal. Wasn’t even aware they existed. I just wanted to hire professionals to do a professional job. Guess what? That’s what I found. I’m not trying to sell people on using E-Lance or anything, I’m just going to say that I could put my projects (one editing/formatting/proofing project and one cover design project) up for bid and then looked at all the contractors’ profiles as they bid on them. I eventually chose the best candidates that did the best work at the most reasonable prices.

I guess my main point that I would want anyone who is interested in self-publishing to realize is this: It’s a business. On the one hand, if you shovel a lot of money at someone else to do your business for you (like these packaged services) then you’re most likely going to be disappointed and frustrated. On the other hand, if you insist on doing everything yourself or using bargain basement contractors, you’re probably also going to be disappointed and frustrated. But the reality is, it’s what’s right for you. Just don’t let anyone else tell you the “right” way to publish your book, because the truth is there isn’t a “right” way currently. The market is growing and changing on an almost daily basis. If you have a great idea for your cover, but don’t have any design skills, then don’t skimp on the artist. But at the same time, maybe you feel your writing is strong enough so you don’t need an editor and you can save a couple hundred bucks skipping that expense.

I will say you should always (always, always) get your manuscript proofread. Spend money on that at the very least. Your proofreader will be the one who will make sure every “too” isn’t a “to” and every “you’re” isn’t a “your.” Think you can do it yourself? You’re wrong. You always see your writing the way it is meant to be read, not actually how you wrote it. Important difference.

 

"Did you mean to use the word egregiously thirteen times in this paragraph or were you just having a seizure?"

“Did you mean to use the word ‘egregiously’ thirteen times in this paragraph or were you just having a seizure?”

 

But seriously, you should probably hire an editor. Just my two cents. Because, if you’re like me and you’re not confident in your grammar and punctuation and you don’t have design skills and you still want to publish a book that people will take seriously, then set aside some money to hire professionals. You have to keep in mind that these people are running their own businesses just like you. It’s not unreasonable for them to demand adequate compensation for their services. If you want to give money to one company to take care of everything for you, then go ahead and do that, but for the love of your friends, family and supporters CHECK THEM OUT. Make sure you talk to customers and get a look at their work. Whether or not the books they help people publish actually sell is besides the point. Just make sure you like the work that they do and that most other customers are satisfied with their experience.

But seriously, if you can’t be bothered to find your own editor and artist and you don’t want to deal with the insanely easy KDP program or the Smashwords interface, then just be patient and find a publisher to publish you. Don’t pay anyone. If you’re in earnest about being a writer, eventually someone will publish you.

However, if you’re in earnest about self-publishing, then do yourself a favor and put the time in and do your homework and also realize it’s going to take some money. Even Konrath had to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees just to get the rights to his books back before he could self-publish them. Know what happened to him? Millionaire. Just saying. That’s business. You have to spend money to make money.

Oh, and I guess I should close with the important disclaimer that you shouldn’t do what I’m doing, because I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m beginning to get the sneaking suspicion that most other people don’t either. Cheers. 😉

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The Pizza Man Cometh

So, recently I picked up a part time job delivering pizzas to help support my fledgling writing career. It’s not that I was dreading having to split my time between my writing and some dumb job – I know that’s what every writer has to do, some (or maybe even most) for their entire lives. No, for me it was more of an existential class-conscious struggle carried out in my head.

See, I worked plenty of shit jobs in my twenties to support my corporate ladder climb and I wanted to believe that since I was now in my 40’s I no longer had to do that sort of minimum-wage, trash-bag-changing, “can I help you” type of work. The reality, of course, is that I gave up on the corporate ladder climb and embraced working for myself a couple of years ago, which means I have to support a different climb altogether and thus the current need for a supplemental shit job. I actually had to leap a mental hurdle and convince myself I didn’t need to feel like I was sliding backwards before I got into the proper frame of mind to go out and get a wage job.

It took a bit of messing around with my own sense of reality, expectation and delusion. Thus my choice of title for this post. I could belabor the comparison to the themes in O’Neill’s play, but I won’t. I actually have never seen it, I just read about it at some point because I kept seeing references to The Iceman Cometh pop up everywhere. Still, I will say the themes of what it means to be “successful” and the idea that we all choose which delusion to live under are directly applicable.

I have decided I am going to be a successful self-published author and that I’m going to do whatever it takes to make that happen. I have further decided that my meaning of “successful” is that I can cover most if not all of my living expenses with the proceeds from selling my books. Whether I have deluded myself about the fact that this will ever become a reality is besides the point. It’s my delusion. I own it. You don’t have to like it. You can get your own.

 

To Jack you listen! Mind what you have learned! Save you it can!

To Jack you listen! Mind what you have learned! Save you it can!

 

So, picking up this pizza delivery job and figuring out how to re-balance my time to keep my writing pace up signifies entry into the next phase (Second? Fourth? Beta? I don’t know phases…) of my writer’s journey towards my definition of “success.” For the next two years, I’ll be working to keep from drowning in debt and writing to release three more Grant Scotland books. My original plan stipulated that it would take at least six books (full length, professionally edited and formatted and with good looking covers) before I could ever hope to start seeing real returns on my investment. These three are no doubt going to be tougher to get out than the first three, but I’m happy with how both the quality and quantity of my writing has improved over the last couple of years, so I’m optimistic.

And you know what? Delivering pizzas is fun, not to mention lucrative! The tips you receive launch your income far above the minimum wage and the freedom to be out and driving around most of your shift instead of cooped up next to a pizza oven is obviously a perk. Know what else? I never considered this when I was thinking about taking a delivery job, but I’ve found that one of the best things about it is that people are always happy to see you! This adds much more pleasure to the job than I would have guessed. Almost all of the time in my previous jobs, people were never particularly happy to see me show up. Instead of me giving them a piping hot delicious pie, usually I’d just give them more work. Sad trombone.

 

"I expected a veggie supreme, but all I got was this lousy feature spec. Thanks, Dan. Thanks a lot."

“I expected a veggie supreme, but all I got was this lousy feature spec. Thanks, Dan. Thanks a lot.”

 

Also, I’ve learned that drivers yield for the pizza guy. Oh, yes they do.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to check out The Adventures of Grant Scotland! Book Three, Spy for a Wayward Daughter is now available at all e-book e-tailers as is an omnibus edition of the first three books!

Tip your driver, folks! That tip may well be supporting a writer!

 

 

The Dead Body: A Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig does these great flash fiction challenges over at his blog “Terrible Minds” Definitely worth checking out. This is the first time I took on one of his challenges and since he only allows 1,000 words I was delighted by how much it makes me concentrate on writing leaner prose. Thanks, Chuck!

Anyway, this challenge’s requirement (besides length) is to involve a dead body right from the start. Here’s what I came up with. Enjoy!

—————————————————

Running on the beach in the middle of the night is an odd experience in and of itself, but doing it while high on Briar Patch was as close to an out of body experience as Cherny could get. His heart hammered in his chest and his ears filled with the rolling of the surf and the pumping of his blood. The breeze pushed against him and offered to teach him to fly. He spread his arms and attempted to take flight, but instead tripped over someone lying half-buried in the sand. Cherny flung out his hands and landed hard.

“Aw, shit. Sorry!” Cherny said as he scrambled to his knees and turned to look at the man he had run over. He wasn’t moving.

“Cherny.” Tabit jogged to a stop. As she caught her breath, she looked looked at the man.

“Is he…”

“Dunno.” Tabit tucked her hair behind her ears and bent over the man. “Hey, mister. You awake?”

Cherny crawled closer and sat down. Half of the man was hidden in the sand. His skin was an unhealthy gray.

“I think he’s dead,” Tabit said. She knelt down and leaned closer. “Yeah, I don’t think he’s breathing.”

“What if he’s just breathing like… really small?”

“What?”

“Like sometimes, I’ll look at my cat and think she might be dead, because I don’t see her chest moving at all, you know? But then I get up close and see she’s just breathing really small breaths.”

“He’s not a fucking cat!”

“Well, obviously. I’m not saying he’s a fucking cat, am I? I’m just saying he might not be dead.”

“Well, he’s not sleeping. I’m pretty sure he’s not breathing. I’ll check for a pulse-“

“Wait!”

“What?”

“Don’t touch him! It’s bad luck to touch dead people!”

“I thought you said he was sleeping?”

“Well… I changed my mind.”

“He’s dead, Cherny. We have to tell someone.”

“What? Why?”

“Because that’s what you do when you find dead people on the beach in the middle of the night.”

“Says who?” Cherny’s Briar Patch buzz was turning sour in his stomach. He rubbed it and squinted at Tabit.

“It just seems the right thing to do is all,” she said. “I mean, I’d tell someone if I found you dead on the beach.”

“Well that’s different! You’re my girlfriend!”

“Well, let’s say if it was Treedy or Garver or Sund? Or anyone from the Docks for that matter.”

“That’s different, too. We’re Aelfans. Of course, I’d tell someone. But he’s a Huthan, plain as day.”

“So what?”

“So if we tell someone we found a dead Huthan, we’d get hauled away and thrown in a cell. You know how much they hate us.”

“Wonder why they’re so hairy…” Tabit reached out to touch the dead man’s wiry beard, but Cherny slapped her hand away. She glared at him and rubbed her wrist. “Don’t know what you’re so scared of.”

“It’s bad luck is all,” Cherny mumbled. “Anyway, they’re hairy because they all come from up north. Up in the mountains.”

“I thought they came from the west?”

“Maybe… Maybe I was thinking of Durfans. Those are hairy, too. Still, I suppose they could have mountains out west.”

“Well, what about Samael? We could tell him.”

“The constable? He’d tell the Huthans for sure.”

“Well, yeah, but then it’d be him doing the telling, right? Besides, he’s an Aelfan. We can trust him.”

“S’pose…” Cherny mumbled. Something glinted in the sand near the corpse’s exposed hand. Cherny brushed some sand away and saw it was a gold chain. He pulled on it and found it was wrapped around the man’s waist like a belt.

“Oh look!” Tabit exclaimed. “He’s opened his eyes!”

“What?” Cherny looked at the man’s face and saw the eyelids had opened, but there was something strange about the eyes. They had no pupils. “Oh. He’s still asleep. He must have been sleepwalking. See? I told you.”

A hand shot out of the sand and seized Tabit’s neck. She gurgled a surprised scream. Cherny reached out to help, but the man’s other hand came up and gripped him by the throat. As Cherny clawed at the ice cold grip, he saw the man’s mouth gape. Several small sand crabs and dune beetles scurried out of the desiccated black orifice.

Cherny attempted a scream, but when that didn’t work he reached behind his back and took out his shucking knife. He slashed and stabbed at the arm holding him, but it seemed to have little effect. Finally, with spots starting to float in front of his eyes, Cherny remembered how his shucking knife was meant to be used. He shoved the blade deep into the man’s wrist and applied enough pressure to cut through rotting muscle and sinew and push bones out of joints.

Working the blade back and forth, he finally severed the hand from the arm and it immediately fell to the sand and looked as dead as it should. Cherny gasped and rolled away. He took a moment to thank the old gods and the new, but then remembered Tabit. She had her legs in front of her and was frantically kicking at the dead man’s face and shoulders, but he was slowly pulling her towards his decaying mouth as her strength failed.

Cherny jumped on the corpse’s chest and put his knee to its throat. After that he put his knife back to work and soon Tabit was rolling away and coughing and gasping. Cherny dove away as the handless monster flailed in the sand. It attempted to pull itself up, but seemed to be losing energy.

Cherny didn’t wait to see if it ever was going to recover. He pulled Tabit to her feet and they stumbled as fast as they could off the beach and into the Docks District.

“See?” Cherny said as they ran through alleys and across deserted streets. “I told you it was bad luck to touch a dead guy.”

 

No, THIS Tone of Voice

 

So, more than one friend has commented that they were dismayed at the amount of anger I express in some of my blog posts. Honestly, at first I was surprised to hear that, since angrily shout-casting my views or hate-blogging was never my intention. After I went back and reviewed some of my posts, I’m still certain I’m not trying to sound angry, but I very definitely am not afraid to express my feelings about things I don’t like. However, I’m also quite clear that these thoughts are just my opinion and are not at all how I expect other people should feel.

Maybe the distinction is too subtle. All right, I guess I come off as angry sometimes.

At any rate, just to be clear, I am NOT a crusader. I’m not looking for converts to my world view. When you read an opinion of mine here, it’s because I use this blog to talk honestly about how I feel about things and sometimes that feeling is negative. That’s life. Frankly, I think this blog would be boring if I restricted myself to only talking about my books or the things that make me feel warm and fuzzy. If that’s the kind of thing a reader who visits this blog is looking for, then that reader will be disappointed and should probably move on. I think a lot of people look at that viewpoint as an aggressive one. Sort of saying “If you don’t like it, shove off.” That’s not it at all. I respect everyone’s right to have their own tastes and I know that I won’t appeal to all tastes. I CAN’T appeal to all tastes. I haven’t the slightest idea how.

I figure if you’re someone who is visiting the blog, it’s because you want to know more about me. That’s what you’ll get. If you don’t like it, you’ll stop visiting. If you do like it, you’ll stay and hang out and we’ll chat and maybe become friends. Isn’t that how this whole socialization thing is supposed to work? Am I wrong about that? Was I supposed to try to sell you a used car instead?

 

"What's it gonna take to get you behind the wheel of this blog?"

“What’s it gonna take to get you behind the wheel of this blog?”

 

But sometimes I don’t just talk about things I don’t like, I also add a little bit of funny. I think this also puts some people off. When you try to be funny about a negative feeling, most people, especially those that disagree with you or are suspicious of you, suspect you are trying to talk down to them and prove you’re somehow more clever than they are. This is an insanely easy impression to get. It used to happen quite often to me when reading some of my friends’ posts on Facebook or all-the-things-that-came-before-facebook. After several misunderstandings I came to the conclusion that snark is incredibly dangerous on the internet. To this day, I still have to remind myself that these people are my friends and I shouldn’t take offense when I read something I’m unsure how to take. So, I probably shouldn’t use snark at all, but…

Fuck it.

Tell you a little story. I’m out pounding the pavement, looking for part-time work to help fund the writing, you know? So, I’m looking at pizza delivery places and liquor stores, two industries in which I know I am eminently qualified to work. My favorite liquor store is up on Mass Ave, just up my street and down a block. They didn’t have any shifts available, so I start walking home and thinking about widening my search.

But then I see it. The entire reason I should probably not want to work on Mass Ave. Down the sun splashed sidewalk on this warm and breezy late spring day came the very model of modern geek-chic. He was tall, slope shouldered, fat-bellied and clothed in only the best fake used clothes. His jeans were inexplicably well-worn AND sturdy. His maroon shirt bespoke of 70’s daring color fashion, but complemented his frame instead of pinching it. His black silk vest flapped in the breeze the way only a meaningless piece of affectation can. His long red locks streamed behind his balding head, waving like a fiery banner to all the other out-and-proud geeks, announcing “Here I am! Come talk to me about the Avengers! Loudly and enthusiastically in the broad light of day! Come brothers and sisters! To me!”

 

"Now they're out of the basement and into the light. Thanks, Joss Whedon. Thanks a lot."

“Now they’re out of the basement and into the light. Thanks, Joss Whedon. Thanks a lot.”

 

Also, he was riding what I have antagonistically labelled a “Vanity Cycle.” Now, if you’re not familiar with this term – and how could you be, I just made it up – a Vanity Cycle is basically any wheeled contraption that some delusional fellow invented in order to make sure everyone knows how much of a special snowflake he is when he’s out riding it around town. I’m not talking about two-seater bikes or recumbents, those are very real modes of transportation for people who can’t be on an ordinary bike. If I ever pick up cycling again, I’ll probably do it in a recumbent, because my back is so finicky about lumbar support, I have to sit in a desk chair big enough to suit a Bond villain.

But I digress. It’s also important to point out that the Vanity Cycle is not a wheelchair. This person is not disabled in any way – they’re just fucking special. No, a Vanity Cycle is usually a chair-like apparatus that comes equipped with anywhere from one to forty-seven wheels. Actually, I don’t think there’s an upper limit on the number of wheels. Anyway, I can’t go a single fucking day on Mass Ave without seeing one of these things being wheeled around by some dude wearing a self-satisfied smirk, just begging people to stare and comment. If I were to work in a store on Ye Grande Olde Massachusetts Avenue, I know I’d get stuck in the inevitable exchange:

ME: “You want a paper or plastic bag?” (For your ridiculously over-priced microbrew?)

NERDTASTIC MAN: “Oh, that’s all right. I’ll just stick it in the back of my Chair-Pack-Cycle.” (Pronounced similar to Popsicle, only with additional and unnecessary syllables)

A long pause ensues where I try not to make eye contact with him as he delays handing over payment. Eventually, he knows I have to give in. I reach out to take his credit card and he angles his beady eyes just enough to brush my retinas with his excited, piercing gaze.

NERDTASTIC MAN: “It’s my own invention!”

ME: “Really?”

NERDTASTIC MAN: “See, it’s a chair and backpack and cycle!”

For the next few minutes I am trapped, alone and afraid. A six and half foot tall red-haired giant swings a contraption off his back and starts folding pieces of it out as he talks in spurts in between taking gusty breaths and blowing out grunts meant to evoke Homer Simpson. I feign bemusement. Sweat is breaking out all over the giant’s brow. He keeps looking at me as he sits on the unfolded apparatus and wheels it around the storefront. I pretend not to worry about the display of carefully stacked Smirnoff nips built precariously close to the counter’s edge as I smile encouragingly.

NERDTASTIC MAN: “You can use it at home while you’re on the computer.”

I’m sure he means “gaming” but as a liquor store clerk, I don’t rate “gaming.” The guy who owns the comic store down the street will get “gaming.” He’ll get gaming thrown into the conversation every other minute. That poor, dumb sap. He doesn’t know what his future holds. But I know it. I feel a strange sense of power come over me as I watch the giant pop tiny wheelies and spin around in place. Maybe I’ll call the comic store and see if they’re interested in knowing their future. For a price…

NERDTASTIC MAN: “You can just pop out of bed and wheel around your house, then wheel down to the street and wheel all the way to work! Wheel right up to your desk!”

Except I don’t have a desk you terrifically stupid genius. I have a counter. They don’t let me sit. I noticed you didn’t include “taking a shower” in your list of activities you could “wheel right up to.” Why am I not surprised? I’m sure whatever tech start up this guy works at has him plugged into the farthest corner of their charming little converted barn-loft space. It’s a great location. Perfect for them. Didn’t work out for the ten preceding tech start-ups, but they didn’t have VISION. That’s the one thing that got this guy hired, I’ll bet. He’s got VISION. Everyone else in the office is scooting around on their cute little Razors, but not him. Oh, no. This little snowflake is WAY different than the others. And I get to hear all about it. One of the little perks of living within a 5 mile radius of MIT, I suppose…

 

"If I don't see these guys in Fallout 4, I'll be disappointed. But not THAT disappointed, you know?"

“If I don’t see these guys in Fallout 4, I’ll be disappointed. But not THAT disappointed, you know?”

 

So, was that mean? Was I too angry? Yes and probably. But was it funny? I don’t know. It’s up to you. I’m completely fine with your judgment. It’s yours, after all.

A couple of years ago I decided life is too short to censor myself. If I think it’s funny, then chances are a lot of other people will too. Sometimes, I think something loud, obnoxious and angry is funny (like Lewis Black, Denis Leary, Bill Burr and many others) and I’ll write something in that style. I’ll try to cushion it with “But this is just me…” but honestly that just gets boring to write every goddamn time. So, the people that want me to sell them a used car will keep shopping for a blogger they like and the people that love me will still love me even if they think I’m an ass sometimes (usually).

The Unlikely Spy

The first Grant Scotland omnibus is finished and available for purchase! You can grab it HERE or HERE or get it on Nook/Kobo/Apple in a few days. It includes the first three books of the Adventures of Grant Scotland, lovingly bound in this collector’s edition cyber-volume. Order now and we’ll also include this attractive virtual slipcase!

 

Made with the finest virtual materials and rarest digital ingredients.

Made with the finest virtual materials and rarest digital ingredients.

 

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest to come up with a name for this collection. I received many responses, both on the community page and through email. Some were creative, some were funny and some were unabashedly ridiculous. Although I didn’t find this exact title among the submitted entries, I do have to credit one person with directly contributing to the final decision. So, congratulations to Daria Liston, whose several recommendations revolved around Grant’s profession as a spy and his seeming perpetual state of being unready for the role of protagonist that we keep demanding of him. I think she really captured the essence of our hero in these first three books.

So, I included a special thank you to her in the acknowledgements and will be sending a signed print copy as soon as those become available. When will that be? Hard to say, but rest assured that it will happen. I will contact Daria for shipping info as soon as it does.

I decided on the title  “The Unlikely Spy” because it spoke to one of the central themes I wanted to explore in this series. The idea of “the unlikely hero” is a common one in genre fiction, but all too often I find that even though I am promised an unlikely hero, the protagonist is generally quite capable and even extraordinary in one or two ways. I remember growing up this was everywhere in fantasy fiction. The books that stand out in my mind most are the Dragonlance Chronicles. We were told on the back of the first book and at several times throughout the narrative how “unlikely” these heroes were, but in fact they were anything but. Even when we first meet them they are already accomplished at their various talents, widely traveled and almost always more experienced and gifted than most everyone else in the world. Is it any wonder they were drafted by one god to fight another?

So, while I loved those books, I was always a little put off by the constant assurances from the writers that these people were just like me. No way. Not in one single way. In fact, the only thing I could point to that made them seem unlikely is the fact that they were outsiders. Well, I guess they would be, right? If such a heavily armed troop of death dealers were ever to settle down anywhere, they would instantly become the de facto ruling party of that area. Then you’d have to admit that they were not in fact unlikely heroes, but instead exactly the right guys for the job. Who is going to investigate these weird lizard people that keep eating our children? Well, I guess it’s probably going to be that Tanis fellow and the Majere boys. After all, they live here. This effects them, too. And, seriously, what am I supposed to do? Go into the swamp and start poking seven foot tall lizard men in the nose with my rake?

 

'spose I could try baking him a pie. He does look hungry.

‘spose I could try baking him a pie. He does look hungry.

 

So, when I set out to write about Grant, I wanted a hero that wasn’t just paying lip service to being unlikely. I wanted a well and truly unlikely hero. I not only wanted the ordinary man in the extraordinary circumstance, I wanted my hero to have very big, very obvious faults and weaknesses that would battle him just as hard as any enemy. I wanted the reader to be genuinely unsure Grant was going to be up to the task of solving difficult situations. Added to that, I also wanted the reader to be protective of Grant and sympathetic to him because they recognize he’s battling with common everyday internal and external pressures, just like us. In short, I wanted people to worry a little bit about him, to see him attempting something heroic and think “hey, wait, if he’s just like me, there’s no friggin way he’s going to pull this off.”

You see, I’m never all that interested in how a book ends. I’m really not. I always assume that the end of the book works out just the way the author intended. How could it not? I’m more interested in tracking how he gets his protagonist/s through the trials. This was one of the things that always amazed me about Robert Parker. Spenser was incredibly tough – the obvious hero – and could easily shoot his way out of most situations, but he was also a deeply sensitive man constantly worrying about his antiquated code of ethics; a modern knight errant. So, while he could just kill everyone who bothers him, he very rarely allows himself to do it. The drama from most of the Spenser novels comes from the hero finding a way to solve his problems and lead an enriching life without always reaching for the gun. Obviously, he ends up reaching for the gun quite a bit, but that’s because a good book needs its doses of action and Parker probably knew he couldn’t let his series get too cerebral. Anyway, the point is that most of the plot of each book revolves around Spenser making life difficult for himself by holding on to his code.

I took this idea and turned it on its ear for Grant. Instead of having a code to wrestle with, he makes life difficult for himself by holding on to his own trauma. He is haunted and bedeviled and when the rapidly changing world brushes his shoulder as it goes by, he gets spun around a few times and falls down.

But then he gets back up. After all, he’s just like us.