$1.99 for The Unlikely Spy

For a limited time only! Actually, a very limited time. Like, just for today.

I actually began the $1.99 promo on Monday with a spot on BookBub’s International Distribution newsletter. I remembered to update the Grant Scotland Facebook community page, but not the blog. I sometimes forget that although the two crowds overlap considerably, they don’t overlap completely.

Anyway, the sale was supposed to end today, but I decided to extend it for one more day because of my gaff. Sorry about that. For those who have been following my (mis)adventures in self-publishing, it should be abundantly clear by now that my sales/marketing skills leave much to be desired.

Nonetheless, I persist.

So, by around about this time tomorrow the omnibus of the first three Grant Scotland e-books, The Unlikely Spy (an e-omnibus?), will go back up to $8.99 across all markets. So don’t delay! If you still haven’t checked out this fun, exciting and humorous fantasy adventure series then now is a great time to dive in and get caught up!

And how did the BookBub promotion go, you might ask?

Welllllll… we’ll talk about that next week. I promise. For now, if you’re a New Englander like me, today is a great day to burrow under some blankets and get some reading done.

 

 

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“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

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Grant Scotland Goes To Print!

At long last the day has arrived! The Adventures of Grant Scotland is confined to merely existing in the digital world no more! Now you can find actual ink and paper copies of the chronicles of Grant’s deeds of dubious merit and doubtful virtue. So, if you’ve been waiting to have your shelf decorated with these handsome volumes or know someone who would appreciate the gift (Christmas is right around the corner) then you’re in luck.

 

image

When I hold them all in my hand at the same time I can’t believe the sheer volume of word-mass I have vomited forth to date.

 

At the moment, Dead Empire and the omnibus are currently available, but books two, three and four will be ready for order in a few days. You can find options for ordering the print editions on the Amazon pages of the Kindle editions, but here are the direct links:

Spy for a Dead Empire

The Adventures of Grant Scotland: The Unlikely Spy

Are you interested in hearing about the self-publishing print process? Maybe? I’ll tell you what. I’ll refrain from getting into the details here, but I’ll do another Notes from the Self-Pubbed next week for those who are interested. Something tells me people are a little too distracted by other events to be in a good place to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of my little cottage industry just now.

I may also do a post about the election, but I don’t want to get too political here. However, there have been a few things I’ve observed after Super Tuesday that I’d like to talk a little about, but I promise it’s not anguish-filled Trump bashing. Plenty of people are doing enough of that and I’ll no doubt do some of my own over the course of the next four years, but there has been some interesting internal debates among Dems/leftists that have got me thinking.

But for tonight, I’ll just keep it short and sweet. The next few months you will witness one of the things that makes our country great – the peaceful and orderly transition of power. Celebrate and be thankful you live in a country where that is the case. The rest of the stuff we’ll keep working on.

 

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I didn’t forget my contest winner! A signed copy of The Unlikely Spy will soon find it’s way to you, Daria Liston!

Reviewing books and tipping delivery people help make America great (again)!

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Now Available: Spy for a Greedy Villain

Finally! After delays, snafus and shenanigans too copious to recount, the Kindle version of Spy for a Greedy Villain, the fourth installment in The Adventures of Grant Scotland series, is now available! So far it is only the Kindle version. A few of those aforementioned snafus hit the print production line, so the availability of the print editions that I promised for all the books has been pushed back a couple of weeks. They should be ready by mid-month.

In the meantime, download Greedy Villain to your Kindle and get reading!

 

aogs4_cover_final

 

Not sure if you’re ready to buy? Just waiting for the print edition? Well, then let me whet your appetite with a little excerpt:

 


I gave him a brief recap of my espionage activities over the past few months, which included reports on the growth and temperament of the One God followers, the coming and going of any Huthan notables and the operations of Doogan and Quinn. At last I followed up with a summary of the harbormaster investigation and finished with the discovery of a ghost in the Lower Docks.

 

“There’s no such things as ghosts, Scotland,” Solin said.

 

“I know, but I haven’t worked up a better nickname for him yet.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll think of something. I have every confidence in your ability to accomplish inane tasks of trivial importance.”

 

“Everybody has to be good at something.”

 

“And while your limited mental capabilities will no doubt be severely taxed in that endeavor, I’ll do some checking into what could make a man entirely concealed in plain sight.”

 

“You mean invisible. You can just say invisible.”

 

“Were I interested in being as lacking in attention to details as you, I could use the word invisible, but luckily for the both of us I am not. Complete invisibility is impossible. Not even the greatest Aelfan wizards were ever able to accomplish such a feat. But, there are several ways a man can remain unnoticed. Take me for instance. For the eleventh time in a row you failed to spot me before I spotted you.”

 

“How am I not surprised you’ve been keeping score? At any rate, he didn’t sneak up on me, I’m telling you I looked right through him.”

 

“Except his boots. Unless in addition to invisibility you also believe in the existence of a sentient pair of boots?”


 

 

Yes, Grant is at last reunited with his endearingly abrasive taskmaster. Hilarious hijinks ensue.

It’s only available on Amazon right now, as are all the rest except for the omnibus, because I want to stay in Kindle Select for now. I still get the occasional borrow through that program and that’s more than I get from Barnes and Noble or Apple or the others. At some point I may re-distribute the series to other markets but my experiments with doing that have been less than rewarding to this point.

In other news, I just finished my initial batch of interviews and guest blogs for my first blog tour! Goddessfish has taken all of my choicest bits of juicy word meats and flung them to the hungry denizens of the blogosphere. Feeding time is scheduled to start right after Christmas, so stay tuned and I’ll let you know what sites to visit so you can follow me around! You won’t even need night-vision goggles and a windowless van this time! It’s perfectly legal!

 

"Well, that takes the fun right out of it. Doesn't it, Precious? Yes."

“Well, that takes the fun right out of it. Doesn’t it, Precious? Yes.”

 

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That’s all for now! Please to enjoy!

Commence with the reading and the reviewing and the ordering and the tipping!

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The Cover Reveal and Other Things I Should Care More About

The talented and affable Mr. Thomas McGee of Rightly Designed has finished work on the cover for Spy for a Greedy Villain! And, now… without further ado I will reveal to you that which you have in breathless anticipation no doubt been awaiting. God, what an awful sentence. Who wrote that? Was he given permission to brutalize the English language so heinously? Actually, you probably don’t need a permission slip these days. Oh well… RAISE THE CURTAINS!

 

aogs4_cover_final

You already looked before I said “raise the curtains” didn’t you? Of course you did, you sneaky monkey.

 

You know, I really don’t get the whole “Cover Reveal” thing. I never even noticed it was a thing before I started self-publishing. What is it supposed to do? Generate buzz and excitement? Has it ever? I doubt it. I really do. I think it’s just another marketing gimmick that people do because they figure “why not?” It’s no-cost and it fills another blog post and generates a new tweet.

Well, hey. “Why not for me too” is what I always say when I’m saying things that aren’t quite true and don’t make much sense.

 

"Now you're starting to speak my language."

“Now you’re starting to speak my language.”

 

In addition to revealing the cover, I’m also revealing the release date for Greedy Villain. November 1st! Mark it on your calendar if you’d like but rest assured that I will remind you as obnoxiously and repeatedly as I can summon the strength to do so. Speaking of which – the strength summoning part, not the obnoxious part – I am planning to do a blog tour after release and have been investigating how these things work and they look HARD! You have to commit to doing at least one, but preferably several, guest posts and interviews per week over the course of four or eight or even sixteen weeks! Yikes! I can hardly stand talking about myself here as infrequently as I do. I don’t even know how I’m going to muster up the narcissistic wherewithal to launch what amounts to a dastardly coordinated surprise attack on the internet using naught but my massive ego.

Actually, when I put it like that, it sounds doable. Exhausting, but doable.

In any case, I no longer have a choice. Either I’m taking this whole enterprise seriously or I’m not. None of the lesser book promoters have yielded satisfactory results and Bookbub is still giving me the cold shoulder. The first three books haven’t collected a single new review in months. Purchasing a blog tour is the only viable way I can think of to get a few sales and a few reviews and push my name out there some more. I’ve done a little research on this and, like Bookbub, a blog tour almost guarantees you’ll get your money back, as well as pick up a few reviews. Also, they’re cheaper than I had priced them when I initially looked at them last year, so that’s good.

A friend of mine recommended I start going to fantasy/sci-fi conventions as an attendee and approach some publishers to help spread the word about the Grant Scotland franchise and also possibly pick up some extra work for e-zines and what not. It’s not a bad idea. I hadn’t really considered it, because I’m not too interested in writing for anyone else right now and I don’t want to give up rights to Grant either, so I doubt how sincere I’d be in approaching people in the industry.

Preferably, I want to attend a fantasy/sci-fi convention in a booth with printed copies of my books to sell or raffle off. It’s the self-pub way. I want to market to the consumers, not the producers. But, I also want to land a traditional publisher at some point for other projects I have in mind, so maybe getting my face in front of faces sooner rather than later might work. I don’t know. I’m having a tough enough time thinking about all the guest posts I’m going to have to write, nevermind my person-to-person pitch skills.

 

"Hi! I'm talk! Do you have a minute to Dan McClure?"

“Hi! I’m talk! Do you have a minute to Dan McClure?”

 

I know. I should have thought of all this much sooner and been busy with it after book two rather than book four, but come on. It’s me we’re talking about here. If there’s a way I can do something backwards and make it more complicated than it has to be, then you can bet your lunch money that’s the way I’m doing it. But if I was any other way would you still love me?

Don’t answer that.

 

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Finished. Let’s you and me grab some hooch and dangle.

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The Adventure Continues

Hello?

Anyone still here? Hey. Hey, you! Yes, you at the buffet table. Look, I appreciate you hanging around, but I wouldn’t eat those finger sandwiches. They’ve been sitting there since July. I don’t think they’re-

What’s that? You’ve already eaten three of them? Okay. No problem. Just have a seat. No, not there. I was thinking maybe you could sit in the port-o-potties in the parking lot. Trust me on this one. You’ll thank me later.

Okay, so… Oh, good. Some people coming in. Welcome! Anybody have the number for Poison Control? No? Okay. No problem. That’s completely cool.

How about a tow service? A REALLY discreet towing service. Yes? Good. I won’t ask how you got this… Yes, and I won’t make direct eye contact with the tower. Got it.

Well, alright! Let’s get things started! Please, everyone, have a seat. Refreshments will be made available, just not right now. And don’t mind the cobwebs. Purely for effect. Spooky, right?

 

Personally, I can never pull off spooky. I never get past "I really need to dust."

Personally, I can never pull off spooky. I never get past “I really need to dust.”

 

Anyway, thanks for coming. I really appreciate it. I know it’s been a while since I’ve hosted one of these things. Sorry for not being around this summer. Time went by crazy fast, right? How was your summer? Was it crazy like mine?

Yeah? What’s that, now? Oh, that doesn’t sound good. Should you even be telling me… Oh, you buried the hatchet with someone? Ohhhhh. I see. And then you burned the midnight oil, but not anything else… or anyone else. Good, good. Sounds like a summer to remember.

Well, my summer was… What?

Yes. Yes, you’re right. It should probably be printed on the label that a fifth of Jack Daniels won’t put out a roman candle stuffed into someone’s jeans. Like, both labels, probably.

 

"If you've consumed anywhere close to even half of this in one night, you're going to do some stupid shit. There. We warned you."

“If you’ve consumed anywhere close to even half of this in one night, you’re going to do some stupid shit. There. We warned you.”

 

Anyway, I don’t mean to cut you off, sir. If you’d like to make a guest post, then we can arrange something, but tonight I just want to do my thing and then… ummm… go do something else. Sound good? We good? Alright! Have a finger sandwich.

So, I’m back with news for you! Book Four of The Adventures of Grant Scotland is in final editing! I’ve passed it off to my beautiful and talented editor so she can correct the thousands of mistakes I’ve made before I expose them to the public. She knows how eager I am to expose myself, so she’s always great about making sure I’m covered.

What’s that? No, I don’t know if she’s single. Sir, please. I promise I’ll get done shortly and then you’ll…. Yes, karaoke starts right after this. All the more reason to let me finish, right?

So… Oh. Well, thank you for saying so. I haven’t really paid much attention to my mouth, but thank you for saying it’s pretty. That’s… Well, that’s really something.

Sorry, everyone. WordPress has started renting out my space to people who use it more frequently. They promise they’ll give it back to me full time once I start posting more regularly.

Yes, sir. Thank you for the suggestion. I will consider hosting my own karaoke night. Sounds like a good idea.

Ummm… but where was I? Oh, yes! So, Book Four is almost ready for publication. The design of the cover is currently under the deft hand of my most trusted and professional artist, so I can’t reveal it yet. However, I can tell you the title of the book will be…

Drum roll, please.

Oh. I see that I don’t have a drummer anymore… No, sir. You don’t have to…. Yes, I’m sure you were in a band in high school….

Okay, that’s not really a drum roll so much as the machine-gun evocation from Metallica’s “One.”

Yes, it’s awesome… Yes, awesome and deep… Deep like most people would never understand, you’re absolutely right. Please, stop crying.

Anyway, Book Four’s title is Spy for a Greedy Villain!

RIM-JOB

Wait. That’s… That’s supposed to be rim-shot. You meant rim-shot, right? You see, that’s only supposed to come after a joke and…

Well, that’s a fair point, sir. Perhaps I am a joke.

Wait. How did you even get a drum to make that sound? It doesn’t seem like a percussion instrument should be able to make a slurping-

Oh… Oh… No, you don’t have to show it. I’m sure you’re instructional video is wonderful. Maybe you can share it after karaoke? Okay? Honestly, I’m almost done here.

Look for Spy for a Greedy Villain (TICKLE-SLURP) to make an appearance on virtual store shelves this fall! You won’t want to miss what Grant Scotland gets up to next! And stay tuned to this blog! More delicious details and well-aged appetizers to come!

 

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Okay, we’re done. Seriously, though… Sir? You still awake? Send me the link to that video. That shit is cray-cray.

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Moving on… as we sometimes do.

That’s something my high school Algebra teacher used to say during class. He was a bit of an odd duck, but a great guy and probably a decent math teacher. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never met a mathematical formula I wasn’t allergic to in some way. But he tried his best to help me out and that was enough to earn me a weak “C” and let me get on with life and never have to do another scrap of math homework ever again, so I guess that says something good about his skills.

 

Yeah, I got a solution for X. I got it right here.

Yeah, I got your solution for “X” – RIGHT HERE!

 

But “Moving on… as we sometimes do” was a little phrase he’d use whenever he seemed to sense that he needed to move on to the next point he was trying to make instead of letting himself get bogged down. That’s more or less where I’m at with my writing now. I’ve been holding off on any further major revision work on book four while I go back and tear apart and reconstruct the “metaplot” – that’s the collection of continuing plot elements that bridge all the books. Sometime after book two came out and while I was writing book three, I had decided I wanted Grant Scotland’s adventures to revolve more or less around a major multi-volume story arc. The biggest reason for this was that I felt I couldn’t mimic the exploits of Robert Parker’s Spenser or Ian Fleming’s James Bond over an extended series in a fantasy world. Without an environment set in our modern world, I think reading about Grant solving crimes and engaging in clandestine operations would get old and silly rather quickly. I think (but I don’t know for a fact) that this is why Glen Cook stopped writing the Garrett, P.I. books. Well, his name is still on the new books, but it’s pretty obvious that ghost writers have taken over the series for the last few installments.

A fantasy world is hard enough to create out of whole cloth. To do so and then leave 90% of the cloth away from the reader’s eyes seems insane. My original idea was to have major plots typical of fantasy books unfold around Grant and have him only be tangentially involved. This would insure Grant could continue to have adventures without end and I would not have to stipulate a series finale. But in plotting it out I realized it was too much work for too little reward. Grant needs to be much closer to the epicenter of these events or the readers are going to feel like I don’t care about what’s going on, so why should they? On the other hand, Philip Marlowe can avoid getting involved in World War Two and Spenser can get away with barely acknowledging 9/11 happened, and these characters were and are as popular and readable as ever. So, why can’t Grant just float along and live his Grant life and just have a series of adventures with little to no connection between them?

 

Grant's idea for the T-Shirt design as well as his most often recommended solution to any and all of my plot problems.

Grant’s idea for the T-Shirt design as well as his most often recommended solution to any and all of my plot problems.

 

The answer I settled on is that I don’t think most fantasy readers have the patience for that. Or, more accurately, they want more from a fantasy world than just set-dressing. Secondly, the world of Spenser and Marlowe is changing and everyone who read those books knew it. Chandler and Parker didn’t have to mention it – it was already obvious to all of their readers. Unfortunately, I have no such luxury. If something changes in Grant’s world, I have to let the reader know about it or else the environment seems stagnant and dull. The real world changes, so mine should too. However, the reader is never going to see it change unless Grant is more actively involved.

So, for a while there I was not “moving on” but rather sticking in place and rebuilding the scaffolding around Grant’s adventures. However, that work is completed and I now have a new outline for world events that solves a few critical questions I had to answer for book four. I can now return to revising it with confidence.

That’s all for now. Time to get back to work.

 

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End of post! Thanks again for your continued patronage.

Go write something for someone and give someone some money, too!

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I Only Have Everything Left To Do

All done! Finished! Fini! Mission Accomplished! Pencils Down! Le livre c’est morte! No. Wait. That’s not right. About five years worth of French classes and you’d think I would have learned one damned thing. I don’t even think I can remember how to say my own name.

Anyway. Not important. I don’t write in French. I barely write in English.

The point is that I have finished the first draft of the fourth book in the Adventures of Grant Scotland series! Huzzah! I even maybe kind of sort of know what I’ll call it, but I’m not 100% on that, so I’ll keep it to myself for now.

 

"Keep it secret. Keep it safe."

“Keep it secret. Keep it safe.”

 

But what does this mean? When will this book be released so the one or two people who mistakenly download it can immediately return it when they realize there are no pictures of boobies?

Well, I’ll spend the next two to three months revising it and then get the editing and cover art done. It would be nice to think I’ll have everything wrapped up by June 1st, but July 1st is the safer bet. And while I’m doing all this revision, I’ll also be continuing to write the short stories I’ve been working on and setting up promotions for the new book as well as the series as a whole and getting print versions ready for order. Oh, and I’ll be trying to drum up real world enthusiasm by getting space at a fantasy/sci-fi convention and raffling off some books and t-shirts. Hopefully, I can purchase a booth without having to ransom someone’s child. Again.

NOTE TO SELF: Look for less awesome kid this time. Last one was too much fun and was a killer Catan player. Couldn’t resist setting up play dates, which have been a little awkward. Maybe kidnap a brat. Wait… parents might not want him back. Hmmm…

Oh, and the map! I keep forgetting about the map. There’s a map to Grant Scotland’s world – two, actually. They are in very rough form, but more or less ready to hand over to an artist and have them make something pretty. This is more a question of having spare cash. I don’t believe maps are critical to the series, but I’d like to add them to the blog and Grant Scotland Facebook community page as just a fun add-on for fans.

When I get some fans, that is. I ordered a bunch from Amazon, but they still haven’t showed up. I did get a large shipment of desk-top, oscillating… You know what? I’m not going to do that. You deserve better.

 

"Don't make me come over there. That joke was almost a hate crime."

“Don’t make me come over there. That joke was almost a hate crime.”

 

So, let’s see. I’ve got a ton of revisions to do (seriously, the amount of trouble Grant is getting into almost requires its own encyclopedic appendix to adequately catalog) plus more writing in and out of the Grant Scotland universe plus a lot of new promotion work. I recently did a no-frills promotion of the first three books during their latest Kindle Countdown phases in March using just the Kindle Advertising Campaigns and the results were not encouraging. That cost-per-click is just too high and there’s still not much difference I can see between interest-targeting and product-targeting (although product-based yields significantly more impressions but fewer sales). At any rate, I’m going to do one more round and tweak the expenditure way down to see if I can still rack up enough impressions/sales to make it worth it. I’ll probably bring my bid down to a dime a click. If the expenditure still gets out of hand, I’ll give up on it until I see some kind of limited guarantee of performance from Amazon. Kindle borrows are increasing in frequency, and that seems related to the campaigns – so there’s that, at least.

I’ve only found less than a handful of outside promoters (E-Reader News Today, Fussy Librarian, Booktastic and perhaps Booksends – although Booksends never pays for itself, its subscriber base seems decently big from what I’ve read elsewhere) who seem to be worth the money, but I’m building up some cash (and giving their subscribers a reset phase) before using them again. Additionally, I’ve heard from everyone who has used it that Bookbub is a veritable goldmine, but I have yet to be accepted onto their newsletter.

So, no Notes From the Self-Pubbed for now or the next few months. Also, the T-shirt giveaway has been put on hold for now. Contain your disappointment! I plan on re-launching the giveaway once Book Four releases. At that point in time I plan on including a free e-copy of Dead Empire along with an entry into the T-shirt giveaway at that time. The hope there is that tying such an enticing invitation to join my mailing list into a blog tour will yield the best results in terms of picking up dedicated readers. But we’ll see.

 

"Such plan! Much idea! Very excite! Wow."

“Such plan! Much idea! Very excite! Wow.”

 

That’s all. Just a quick update. Now I must away. I’ve words to beat into complete sentences and plans to set in motion and pizzas to deliver! YIKES! Is it April already?

Don’t put things off like I do. Get those reviews out and those tips ready. 😉

 

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Curb Your Disbelief

To the person who stumbled across my blog by entering the search term: “What was Bruce Campbell’s nom de plume in Burn Notice?” I believe the name you are looking for is either Sam Axe (his character’s name) or Chuck Finley (his character’s alter ego). And from what I gathered from the show (which I loved and need to rewatch soon) Chuck Finley basically ran Miami. It is my firm belief that he could easily win election as mayor, based on his extensive experience in cleaning up (and blowing up) most of the streets and neighborhoods of Miami-Dade County.

 

Chuck Finley for Mayor. Because he's probably already in charge anyway.

Chuck Finley for Mayor. Because he’s probably already in charge anyway.

 

Not sure how that brought you here, my dear guest, but I guess I mentioned the show more than once. Anyway, I hope that answers your question and you’ll come back again soon!

But let’s talk about Burn Notice for a bit. It is easily one of my top ten favorite shows of all time. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. Binge watch that thing. It’s perfect for it. Spy shows are generally better when binge watched, because the over-arching world-threatening plot lines can often get hard to follow when only tuning in every other week or so and having to wait several months for the next season. But even in bite-sized chunks, the show does very well – in fact, I think that’s where it shines. The formula of a super-specially trained agent forced to find his way when completely out of his natural element is a compelling hook, but add in the elements of needing to rely on his mom, his ex-girlfriend and his best friend after being accustomed to a life of self-sufficiency and the show not only exists in the real world, it thrives in it.

Although it was a great show, there was one thing that always bothered me about it. How did Michael, Fiona and Sam always get away with what amounts to limited urban warfare without law enforcement eventually stepping in and calling shenanigans? Or at least the media? Seriously, these three carried out a sort of vigilante justice with such extreme prejudice against property (but rarely life, which was cool in an A-Team kind of way) that I found my suspension of disbelief severely taxed.

But how important is suspension of disbelief? And what is it? Coleridge, the guy who coined the term, explains its necessity: “…a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” Basically, it’s a “I know this is gonna sound crazy, but just bear with me” contract between the author and the reader.

I mentioned in a previous post how I noticed some authors making obvious betrayals of this concept. Although it bothered me enough to make mention of it, it actually didn’t stop me from enjoying their books. That is, I found a work could still be entertaining and yet somehow violate this “law” of good fiction writing. Same with Burn Notice.

It’s the “human interest” part that is the most vulnerable to betrayal, in my opinion. The “semblance of truth” not so much. For instance, if you tell me a man can fly and don’t bother to explain why, then so be it. It’s a bit of a hurdle, but my suspension of disbelief is established. I see that you’re writing fiction here, so we’re good. But if he can fly and no one else can, then you should at least let me know that everyone else wonders about it from time to time. I know I would. Wouldn’t you? And perhaps people even seek to discover why your character has this power when no one else does. But if everyone just accepts it without a second thought, then I’m no longer sure the people that are in your book are human. Which is fine if they aren’t! But that would be the explanation I would need in order to keep my disbelief at bay. That was what bothered me in the example I gave previously and also what bothered me in Burn Notice.

Buildings exploded. Boats exploded. Shots were fired. A lot of shots were fired. Yet the cops were always somewhere else and when they presumably finally showed up, there were no witnesses? We live in a world where private surveillance cameras are extensively used, helicopters and drones flying around and a citizenry hyper-sensitive to terrorist attack, yet our heroes continually slip under the radar. Hmmm.

 

"What? Another huge fireball? I swear, no one in this damn town knows how to light a charcoal grill."

“What? Another huge fireball? I swear, no one in this damn town knows how to light a charcoal grill.”

 

And yet I enjoyed the show. Why is that? Because I wanted to see Michael, Fiona and Sam do it all again next week. The magical formula worked. Even though the suspension of disbelief was violated by ignoring the critical element of natural human curiosity (not to mention the entire institution of law enforcement being at least somewhat interested in doing their jobs) I still had a good time.

And how did the creators manage this? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this lately, because it directly applies to writing fantasy. In the world of Grant Scotland, I often have to wrestle with how much disbelief I’m asking the reader to suspend. A fantasy world seemingly asks for all of it. All fantasy stories take place in worlds that are very clearly not our own. You have to earn the reader’s trust from word one in order to get them to invest themselves in your world. But I think the way you do that is the same way the Burn Notice writers did it. Verisimilitude.

That is, despite that show having one glaring false representation of reality, the show also had many more truths. Michael’s complicated relationship with his mother. His craving to get back the life he had, despite it being obvious he can never go back. The very human conflicts he was drawn into each episode. The motivations of each character are the same as any real world person you might meet or hear about. These are the things that keep my disbelief suspended. If the conflict is human in nature, then the occasional lapse in realism is forgivable.

You say your evil necromancer villain wants to turn everyone into zombies so she can rule the world with absolute power and security? Really? Who would even want that? Who would want to rule over a world of zombies? Seems like it would become tiresome and boring quite quickly. Think about it. Who would she talk to? Who would praise her wise and righteous rule without her having to tell them what to say? Who would cook anything for her besides brains?

 

"Welcome to Chez Braaaiiiiins, My Queen! Tonight's specials are beer-battered brains, brains au gratin and brains stroganoff. And for dessert - brains a la mode."

“Welcome to Chez Braaaiiiiins, My Queen! Tonight’s specials are Beer-battered Brains, Brains Au Gratin and Brains Stroganoff. And for dessert – Brains A La Mode.”

 

No. Her motivation isn’t human in nature, so the reader can’t bring himself to care. But what if she sought to create an army of zombies to seize power and institute kingdom-wide reforms that would usher in a new age of discovery and enlightenment? What if she succeeds and then has to destroy her own zombie army in order to be loved by her (non-zombified) people? Would she finally surrender power to accomplish the fullest extent of her well intended but misguided purpose? Or would she find that the heady brew of power was too intoxicating of a tonic to give up and thus insure her own eventual downfall?

See? Now you got me. I don’t even care if there’s any semblance of reality behind how she’s turning people into zombies. You’ve got me hooked. That’s a story I want to read.

So maybe suspending disbelief isn’t as important as just curbing it a bit.

 

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That’s all for now! Thanks for visiting. As always, feel free to express your thoughts below in the comment section.

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My Top Five Favorite Sword and Sorcery Films

Because I knew you all were wondering but were too afraid to ask, I decided to put together my top five favorite sword and sorcery movies and talk a little bit about what makes each one special. These aren’t necessarily my favorite fantasy movies in general. Instead, I chose from that sub-genre of fantasy that features (you guessed it) swords and sorceries and focuses more on action and adventure than on drama or comedy or romance. The broader fantasy genre could conceivably include everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Groundhog Day, so we’ll just stick to sorting through the “what-everyone-thinks-of-when-they-think-of-fantasy” titles.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s jump right in. The list is arranged from fifth favorite to first:

 

 

Five: Excalibur

 

Excalibur_movie_poster

 

Arthurian legends are rich with the material that makes for great fantasy movies. There are knights, castles, mythological beasts and heroic quests. That’s pretty much all you need, right? Yes and no. You can stick to the basics and make a decent sword and sorcery flick, but if you go the extra mile you can make a movie that transcends its genre. That’s pretty much what John Boorman did with Excalibur. This movie doesn’t just cover the rise and fall of Camelot, it does it with so much style it makes your head spin. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, the acting is superlative, the writing is clever and the musical score is unforgettable. Boorman didn’t just make a King Arthur movie, he made THE King Arthur movie.

 

 

Four: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

deathly_hollows

 

I’m cheating a bit with this one and including both parts one and two and treating it as one movie. While I enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies, these last two struck me as head and shoulders better than the rest. It’s not just that we get to see the culmination of Voldemort’s plan and finally unwrap all the mysteries surrounding Harry Potter’s peculiar place in the world. Those things are compelling enough, but what surprised me about these two movies was the depiction of hopelessness and depression the heroes face when it appears all has been lost. In every other fantasy movie I’ve ever seen, when we near the end and the stakes are high, I’m used to seeing the main characters gear-up/hatch a crazy plan/start busting heads. But in Deathly Hallows, we see something quite different.

Voldemort wins. Everything has gone his way. Sure, he doesn’t have Harry and his friends, but he doesn’t need them. Meanwhile, our heroes have nothing going for them and only a vague idea of how to start (to START!) trying to find a way to defeat Voldemort. But they get frustrated at every turn and can do little but continually run and hide while the entire world descends into darkness around them. Everything from the broken radio broadcasts, the tense dialog, the director’s choice of settings and lighting and the actors’ portrayals of frightened kids on the edge of adulthood in a world where all the adults have gone mad…

Just perfect. Never seen anything quite like it before. Best scene in both movies comes in the first part, in my opinion. It’s when Harry and Hermione dance to Nick Cave’s “O children.” They’re trying desperately to keep their spirits up any way they know how, but their gaiety is fragile and faltering and the gloom closes in once again and all too soon. That scene gets me every time. It is very definitely always darkest before the dawn in this film.

 

 

 

Three: Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings

 

fellowship

 

I won’t cheat with this one, since all three parts of LotR worked very well as stand alone movies and claiming all twelve hours (if you’re watching the unabridged DVDs, which you should) of Peter Jackson’s opus for one top-five spot would be just too unfair. While all three movies were great, I felt Fellowship captured some key elements of sword and sorcery that many films do not. Not coincidentally, these are the same kinds of things that make fantasy role-playing games one of my favorite hobbies.

First, there is the formation of the group of adventurers. Each one has distinct strengths and weaknesses (well, alright, maybe Legolas has no weaknesses) and differing and sometimes combative personalities. But they all come together to form a great team that is ready to trek the wilderness and spelunk some caves. Exciting!

Second, there are riddles and traps as well as menacing monsters. There is not just one enemy and his lair and his minions to deal with in this movie. Instead, there are a plethora of dangers in this fantasy world! Many of them have nothing to do with each other, but they must be overcome, nonetheless.

Third, each hero’s actions have consequences, not just for the world the movie is set in, but for each other. The One Ring is a great foil for this particular element. It perfectly symbolizes the fear, distrust and envy all player-characters feel about each other at some level. Every good session of Dungeons and Dragons I’ve ever played had me curious and cautious about not just the Dungeon Master’s world, but my fellow adventurers as well!

 

 

Two: Dragonslayer

 

dragonslayer

 

Speaking of Dungeons and Dragons, this movie is perhaps the best at portraying that game on screen. We won’t speak of the movies based on the actual D&D franchise – they are all of them lamentable wastes of time. No, while Fellowship captured the necessary foundation elements of good fantasy gaming, Dragonslayer got the feeling right. It’s hard to say exactly how the creators did it. A good friend of mine wrote a great piece about that very subject, so if you’re curious, you should check it out over at the Tao of Zordon.

For myself, I can only add a couple of nuggets from this movie that always made me smile. One was the magical amulet the hero carries around. It looks like an 8-sided die, one of the strange “Dragon Dice” needed to play D&D. It might have been unintentional, but I thought it was a great coincidence. The other thing that usually brings me back to this film is the use of sound. Dave talks about it in his piece and I heartily concur. The menacing creak of the leather-clad villain, the quiet sounds of daily life in the village living under a curse and, of course, every single awe-inspiring noise from the dragon all serve to provide the viewer with the magical feeling of fantasy adventure.

 

 

One: Conan the Barbarian

 

conan_movie_poster

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger hungrily approaching his prime. James Earl Jones effortlessly delivering a mesmerizing performance. Max von Sydow making a bit part as a troubled king every bit as memorable as any role I’ve ever seen. Mako’s voice, rumbling and charged with portent, setting the table for the viewer with this pitch-perfect intro: “Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Then those drums come in. Oh man, those drums. That soundtrack by Basil Poledouris still gets my blood pumping.

This movie had exactly the right cast, writers and directors – not to mention perhaps the best score of any movie anywhere – to bring Robert Howard’s pulp fantasy vision to the big screen. While every other movie on this list is undeniably a sword and sorcery movie, this film IS sword and sorcery. Not only that, but it brings out all the elements of fine fantasy role-playing I described above. But our heroes don’t quest for high ideals, they quest for profit!

They invade villainous layers! They slay terrible monsters! They collect valuable loot! Then they go back to town and piss it all away! Why? Because they’re adventurers! That’s what adventurers do! They only get roped into trying to complete an impossible rescue-the-princess quest because the king makes them an offer they can’t refuse.

But, honestly, I think it’s the writing that makes this movie stick with me. James Earl Jones powerfully delivering “That is strength, boy. That is power. What is the sword compared to the hand that wields it?” Max von Sydow morosely admitting “There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.”  Schwarzenegger spitting his character’s wrath against fate and fortune: “Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

And, of course, the famous “Crush your enemies” line. You know the one. Interesting tidbit about that scene, though. The character who is speaking just as the scene opens is muttering “My fear is that my sons will never understand me…” You may recognize that line. It’s the same one Marlon Brando spoke in Apocalypse Now. Oliver Stone was the writer on both movies and I’ve often wondered why he put it in this film. Was he saying the barbaric warrior tribe that raised Conan and taught him to fight were somehow like Colonel Kurtz? Was he making a political statement about the inhumanity of warfare, even as it is glorified in a sword and sorcery picture? Was it just a playful Easter egg? Who knows?

 

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Well, there’s my list. I’m glad you stuck around and let me satisfy your curiosity about something you never knew you wanted to know. Have an opinion? Feel free to comment below!

This week’s T-Shirt winner is Tracy Pendleton! Congrats, Tracy! Look for the newsletter soon and please respond with size and mailing address!

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Bad Words: Badder Writing That I am Too Madderer!

Hello and welcome to another installment of “Bad Words” (actually, I just made up that name – the first installment didn’t have a series title, but guess what? It does now!) where we take a look at some common mistakes many writers make and how YOU the reader can learn to identify them for fun and profit. Just kidding. There’s no profit here for you. About the best you can hope for is to get a laugh or two and look at the pictures. On the other hand, if you’re an author, you might see something you do from time to time that you never knew bothered me. And, OF COURSE YOU’LL WANT TO CHANGE THAT BEHAVIOR! Pleasing me should be of paramount importance in your everyday life and so it is a matter of course that your writing should also take my tastes into consideration.

I have wants, people! Needs! They must be satisfied or… or… they will continue to be unsatisfied! And that is unsatisfactory!

But seriously, some of the stuff I point out below is just me making mountains out of molehills, but I thought I’d take the time to explain what bothers me about them because I’m seeing them a lot lately. I’ve been doing some intense reading of other self-published works in my chosen genres (mystery, fantasy/sci-fi) and although most of the stuff out there is garbage, there are a few writers who are quite good and I’d like to read more of their work. However, even though they are clearly talented and can make words do pleasing things on the page, they still make very aggravating mistakes that make me want to pelt them with Cheetos and slap them with deli ham! I want to grab them by the nipples and shake them and scream into their faces “Don’t you know how close to awesome you are? Don’t you know how many truckloads of ham and Cheetos I want to dump on you? DON’T YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU?”

But I’d likely get arrested for that, so instead I’ll just tell you how I think some writers could be soooo much better if only they’d stop doing dumb shit like…

The deus ex machina: You’re probably already familiar with this term, but for those of you who may have slept through a few too many English classes, I’ll explain. It’s a Latin term meaning “God from the Machine” and it refers to any sort of resolution to a conflict that seems to come out of nowhere. This is easily forgivable if an author just uses it to tie up loose secondary plot threads, but is unforgivable when it appears in the main action of the story.

Ridiculous Example: Our swashbuckling hero is busy bravely fighting the forces of doom and destruction at the climax of the book, but things take a turn for the worse and he finds his back against the wall and his feet in the doo-doo. His every strength has been countered and now the enemy is about to destroy him by exploiting a known weakness! Lament! Oh, lament! But wait? What’s this? Our Doubting Thomas of a hero can reach down deep within and summon the strength of a god? One of the allies he thought lost suddenly and inexplicably bursts in and aids him? The spirits of his ancestors distract the enemy just long enough to provide an escape? The evil-genius villain decides to walk toward the hero instead of just shooting him from across the room? Our sword-wielding hero can suddenly cast magic missile?

And on and on. You see what I’m getting at. A final confrontation only ends satisfyingly when our hero uses the tools and experiences he picked up through his journey to defeat the final boss. Nothing should suddenly appear. The reader should be able to trace the solution to the problem to something (or things) that happened earlier in the book or else it all just falls flat.

 

Just like this guy!

Just like this guy!

 

Getting lost on a tangent: This is where the author attempts (as all good authors should) to weave a multi-threaded plot line, but ends up losing the main thread, either for too long or permanently. This is incredibly easy to do, but is also fairly simple to spot on revision. While you can afford to spend perhaps a whole chapter devoted to a secondary plot point, any more than that and you risk confusing the reader regarding what’s actually important. Unless you use those one-sentence chapters, then I suppose you could spend a chapter or two or nine. God, don’t get me started on one-sentence chapters. What an arrogant waste of reader attention.

Ridiculous example: Our hero is hired to rescue a kidnapped princess. After investigating for a chapter or two, he finds she’s more or less a willing prisoner of her captors. She tells him to get lost. Unsure what to do, he spends a day thinking it over and during that time he receives a message from an old friend in need of some help. The hero shrugs and leaves to go aid his friend and for the greater part of the book, the action revolves around that new plot point. After more or less resolving the problem, the hero eventually comes back to convince the princess she shouldn’t hang with the bad guys and that brings the story to a close. Maybe the author makes some loose connection between the two conflicts, but FAR too much time was spent away from the “rescue the princess” plot to have it be at all meaningful anymore.

 

"...if you still care about that sort of thing, that is."

“…if you still care about that sort of thing, that is.”

 

Stretching suspension of disbelief to the breaking point: There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief in genre writing. The reader is often expected to believe in time travel, instantaneous communication through space, magic, fantasy worlds, etc. All of this is generally accepted as de rigeur, but I’ve noticed in one area – specifically dystopian sci-fi – authors seem to take just too many liberties. If you’re dealing with Earth or even an Earth-like planet with human-type peoples, you have to keep in mind that your readers will have certain expectations that can’t be disregarded.

Ridiculous example: The world is going to die within a handful of generations and humanity’s only hope is to gather up its smartest people and lock them away so they can tech our way out of it, hopefully. But the organization behind such a noble effort turns out to be nefarious in its designs. When the smartest people enter its secured compound, they are never heard from again! And… nobody wonders why. Not one single lonely boyfriend or worried mother picks up the phone to call. Nobody. Everyone just simply accepts that the smarty pants people need to “concentrate on their work.” Our hero only finds out that something is amiss when one of the smarty-pants finally manages to sneak a message out… YEARS LATER.

Seriously? You’re talking about humans here. Humans on Earth. No one would accept such an obvious kidnapping for any length of time much less for years. Well, unless there is already a clearly established system of gulags and work camps in your world. That might pass inspection. Or maybe everyone has been pacified with some sort of chemicals in the contrails of planes or something. Or perhaps a really taste brownie mix tainted with hallucinogens that trick family members into believing they’re still in contact with the smarty-pants relatives could work… Anyway, the point is – don’t forget the human condition. Never forget that. No matter how much your writing revolves around zombies or vampires or robots, your readers are all very human.

 

I don't care how many dragons you birth, you're still just a lost little girl looking for a home. Fuck you, George R.R. Martin, you brilliant bastard.

I don’t care how many dragons you birth, you’re still just a lost little girl looking for a home. Fuck you, George R.R. Martin, you brilliant bastard.

 

 

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Well, that’s all I’ve got for you today, except to announce this week’s winner of the T-Shirt giveaway.

John Cataldo!

Congrats, John! Look for the newsletter in your inbox (or possibly junk folder) and reply with desired size and mailing address.

So long everyone! Don’t forget to review a good book and tip a nice delivery driver!