Archive for 31 March 2011

The Emotional Baggage That A Male Reader Brings To The Novel

Several months ago I started downloading free fiction ebooks from Amazon for the Kindle App on my iPod Touch. I normally don’t read fiction ebooks since I’m a dead tree traditionalist who prefers flipping the pages of paperbacks. Two years of unemployment and three months of being underemployed doesn’t leave much money for buying stacks of paperbacks, even if the local Borders stores are going out of business. Naturally, each of the free ebooks was the first book in a series. If you’re hooked on the series after the first book, you just have to read all the other books.

I read “Bright of The Sky (The Entire & The Rose, Book 1)” by Kay Kenyon, about spaceships fueled by black holes that creates an inter-dimensional rip to a strange world larger than our universe and how one man came back tell to everyone but no one believed him. I read the other books, “A World Too Near” and “City Without End,” the following weekends. I still haven’t the fourth book, “Prince of Storms,” since I’m taking a break from the series. The last two books were each read in a single eight-hour sitting from beginning to end. I like books that don’t demand being read all at once.

Some of the best science fiction in recent years has come from women authors. Having grown up reading science fiction written mostly by men during the 1970s and 1980s, I appreciate the different concerns, ideas and viewpoints that women authors can bring to the genre. But sometimes a woman author can provoke a strong visceral response in a male reader like myself.

The other free ebook that I downloaded was “Hunted By The Others” by Jess Haines, about a human woman private detective hired by the mages to retrieve an artifact being kept by the vampires that can take control of the werewolves. The Others, of course, hate each other, and a pro-human group wants to kill them all off. An interesting premise for a new urban fantasy series.

Unlike the heroines in all the other urban fantasy series, Shiarra Waynest doesn’t start kicking ass once the story gets started. She is a fearful woman who is easily intimidated and disrespected by anyone more powerful than she is; especially the men who like to shove her around. Like fingernails across a chalk board, I cringed throughout the first half of the book. I absolutely hated it. But, being a glutton for punishment, I read the second half and absolutely loved it. Why? The heroine acquired several magical items that boosted her physical abilities and confidence in herself to start pushing back against the guys. Everyone suddenly starts respecting her to avoid getting their asses kicked, and she gets the job done to her satisfaction.

I haven’t had such a strong visceral reaction to a book since I read “Cell” by Stephen King, where my favorite minor character got killed off in a senseless act of violence in a “you know something really bad is coming around the corner” scene. I threw the paperback across the room and let it sit on the floor for a week before I could pick it up again.

But my reaction to “Hunted By The Others” was much different. As a male reader, I brought a lot of baggage when reading this ebook that colored my perception of the characters.

Strong Resistance Threshold

Unlike reading other genres, reading urban fantasy requires a significant amount of emotional investment. The world building is often much more extensive than some epic fantasy or science fiction books. You got to learn a whole new set of rules about how the characters interact with each other and  the urban environment around them. Whatever you think you might know about magical creatures is often tossed out of the window (i.e., vampires may walk in sunlight because they’re not that dead yet or a separate species not related to homo sapiens). Sometimes I have control issues about letting going of the familiar world around me to embrace someone else’s fantasy world.

For the longest times, I was reading only Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison, then Ann Agguire came along, and I recently read Jeannie Holmes. I started branching out into reading more urban fantasy since my first novel is about a video game company haunted by a troll-like ghost, which could be either horror and/or urban fantasy. Horror has its own internal logic—cue “Twilight Zone” music—but urban fantasy is a much different animal. I haven’t read enough urban fantasy to decide if I want to revise the rough draft in that direction.

Kick Ass Women In Film

Starting with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the “Alien” movies, Milla Jovovich as Alice in the “Resident Evil” movies, Uma Thurman as The Bride in “Kill Bill” movies, Michelle Rodriguez in too many movies to name (although I thought she was too feminine in the recent “Battle: Los Angeles” movie), and even 13-year-old Chloe Moretz as the Hit Girl in “Kick Ass,” have all been kick ass women who weren’t afraid of picking up a weapon, shoving the men aside, and getting the job done. I rarely see movies about a weak and fearful woman being pushed around by men. I’m more likely to get ticked off at the husbands in some movies who are being jerks and want a divorce because their wives are trying to accomplish something meaningful (i.e., “Juno” and “Freedom Writers”).

If you read the summaries for most urban fantasy series, the heroine is almost always a kick ass woman. I think that is why I enjoy reading urban fantasy, being a reflection of the movies I have seen since the 1970s. Had I grown up in an earlier era, maybe I would enjoy reading more novels about big men, big guns and big boobs. Although the hero shagging the girl every other chapter would get on my nerves just as much as the obligatory five pages of romance porn found in most urban fantasy novels.

Mother Was A Fearful Woman

My mother had an overwhelmingly negative influence in my life. House and child were her exclusive domain that my father had no say in, and the garage was off-limits to her since that was my father’s exclusive domain. I was never allowed in the garage since I belonged to her. Throw in case of beer every Sunday afternoon after grocery shopping, hell hath no fury than a fearful woman on a drunken rampage. I ducked a lot of beer bottles, dishes and pots while growing up.

My father was a complete stranger to me until I turned 18-years-old, when he announced that I was his and we worked together in construction for two years in San Francisco (50 miles was how far he needed to escape from her). When I left home for college and joined the campus ministry, I still couldn’t escape from my fearful mother. For years I had to call her every night to reassure her that I was all right. I didn’t find freedom until she committed suicide by letting her breast cancer go untreated in 2004, and, through counseling several years later, I decided to become a writer.

An ideal woman for me is someone who has fiery temper and a very short fuse. Why? If she gets pissed off, she will get into my face and tell me why. Nothing makes me madder than a fearful woman telling me that she is afraid to talk to me because she thinks I might get mad at her. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to know about it so I can change. I can’t change myself for the better if no one tells me what is wrong. Maybe because I’m a big guy who comes across as being a natural for raping, pillaging and burning, people assume things that aren’t there. (One unpaid ministry leader strongly suggested that I rape a woman in the church to start my career as a future California serial rapist and make everyone happy by going to prison.) Or maybe because I’m conditioned by books and movies to live in a world filled with strong women that I have unrealistic expectations about real women in general.

A month after I reading that “Hunted By The Others,” I started dissecting why I hated and loved that book in #ufchat on Twitter. Then someone causally mentioned that Jess Haines was lurking in the background—Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!—and a moment later she started replying to my tweets. We had a nice conversations about merits of taking her urban fantasy series in a complete different direction. Last week she sent me signed copies of all her novels in the snail mail: “Hunted By The Others,” “Taken By The Others,” and “Deceived By The Others” (coming out on July 5, 2011). It’ll be interesting to see if I can leave my emotional baggage behind when reading the first book in paperback.

Amanda Hocking – Young, Ambitious and Whining About The Work?

The writing blogosphere is alit this with the news of Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old writer from Minnesota who had written nine ebooks and sold 900,000 copies, was looking for a traditional publisher and signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. That’s like winning the lottery. For those of us tolling away in relative obscurity from the bright lights of the publishing world, the message is loud and clear: sell enough copies of self-published books and/or ebooks, the traditional publishing world will soon slobber for the opportunity to throw down big money on the next big thing. However, Hocking’s reason for wanting a traditional publishing deal is somewhat curious.

But here’s what I can say – I’m writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation. As I said before in my post – Some Things That Need to be Said – I am spending so much time on things that are not writing.

What makes her think that by signing a four-book contract with a traditional publisher she will actually have more time as a writer who actually writes?

Some of the more bothersome tasks of being a DIY writer will go away with a traditional publisher. But, by signing a four-book contract, Hocking is trading in the idiosyncratic demands of running her own writing business for the idiosyncratic whims of a traditional publisher concern about the bottom line.

She will have to write, submit, revise and proofread on the publisher’s schedule. If she gets sent out on a nationwide book tour for several weeks or months, she may find it next to impossible to find time to write on the road. Or, if she does find the time to write, the quality of her writing may suffer. Although she may now be a successful ebook writer in the virtual world, her dead tree books may fail to find a broad enough audience in the real world to justify the large advance being paid out and the publisher could easily cancel the contract after the first book. If that happens, finding her next publisher will be problematic and going back to being a DIY writer even more so.

Stephen King, who spends every day writing, had to hire assistants to handle the administrative side of his publishing empire. Even living out in far-flung Maine doesn’t prevent the publisher, media and Hollywood from making excessive demands on his time that can take him away from writing. Every now and then, he reportedly drops out of sight to focus exclusively on his writing.

I mentioned on #writechat this past Sunday that I missed my early days of submitting short stories by snail mail. I would go to the post office with 20 to 30 envelopes, come home to write new short stories, and the responses to my submissions would start to tickle in six weeks later. The following weekend I would prepare all the rejected short stories for submission again, go back to the post office, and write new short stories for the next six weeks. Every seventh weekend I did nothing but admin tasks. I did that for three years straight.

Then two years ago I started submitting my short stories by email. This came about because literary magazines were starting to move away from snail mail submissions, and I started writing speculative fiction for anthologies that accepted submissions only by email. My office expenses for paper, envelopes and postage dropped by two-thirds.

Unfortunately, now that everything is done by email and I recently started publishing short story ebooks, it seems like I have less and less time to write because of all the admin tasks that need to get done. Even if I did finish revising the 700-page rough draft of my first novel and found a traditional publisher, the admin tasks will still demand more of my time. Being a writer these days is no longer about being a writer who writes.

Tallying Up Read An eBook Week

The Read An eBook Week (March 6-12, 2011) is now over. All my ebooks over at Smashwords were available for free with a special coupon code. I gave away 109 copies among seven titles, with an average 13 copies for six titles and 31 copies for one title. If these were actual sales, I would have earned $60. By giving the ebooks away for free, I’m hoping that readers will enjoy my work enough to seek out my future ebook titles.

The one title with 31 copies was “The Unfaithful Camera” (a short story that originally appeared in Transcendent Visions, January 2010). Was it because of the little boy who comes home angry from school when his father doesn’t pick him up? Was it because he found his father and older sister doing the bouncy-bounce in bed? Or was it because of the cover art with the scantily clad girl?

Hard to say why that title did so well. I’m going to assume that it was the well-written story, although I wouldn’t be surprised by the bouncy-bounce theory or the cover. Ebooks with obvious sexual content is a specialty niche on Smashwords.

Out of 109 copies, no one left a review for any of the seven titles. This is becoming something of a pet peeve for me. As all of these titles were reprints of previously published short stories, poems and essay, I know editors liked them well enough to publish in their publications. I really don’t know what readers think of my work.

I was also happy to find out this week that I sold another 10 copies through the Sony retail channel for February. I’m still waiting for the sales numbers from Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. For some reason the sales numbers for my Kindle ebooks through Amazon has been tapering off. From what I read elsewhere about publishing your own ebooks, you need to come out with a new title about every other month. I got two original ebook titles coming out in the next six weeks and four more titles in second half of this year. Sales should perk up with those new releases.

Meanwhile, I will need to do some black magic to modify my ebook sales tracking spreadsheet to account for this sudden surge of free copies. Looks like my Christmas shopping essay will no longer be my most popular title. I’ll find out in a few months if this week-long promotion will result in future ebook sales.

Eight Is Enough Q&A Interview

My Eight is Enough Q&A interview is up on Sarah-Jane Lehoux’s blog, where I answer eight questions about writing and what ebooks I got coming out in the near future. Please take a moment to read and leave a comment.

The last question was fun: “This is the most important question you ever answer. Your life depends on it. Zombie pirate or zombie ninja?”

Everyone interviewed so far went for zombie pirate. I actually gave two answers. Here’s the first answer that appears in the Q&A:

Zombie pirate. I can see a zombie pirate chugging down a bottle of rum and jumping overboard for shark brains.

Here’s the second answer:

A zombie ninja doesn’t make any sense. Ninjas are all about precision, which was why they took over consumer electronics and work for Steve Jobs at Apple.

This answer made realize that I needed to hone my reputation as being a Silicon Valley writer. Too many of my early short stories have generic locations to appeal to the widest audience. Of course, those were literary short stories. Unless a literary short story featured New York City, anywhere else would make that short story suitable only for the regional markets. The West Coast is a very small regional market.

When I found my grove in writing speculative short stories, the location sometimes became more important than the characters. This year I let all my unpublished manuscripts fall out of circulation from the slush piles to rewrite each one to fix any structural flaws and re-slant for the Silicon Valley locale before submitting again. Silicon Valley will be a prominent location in future stories whenever possible.

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