Five books to check out this summer

Boy, I live for the summer. What follows is a list of books I’m anticipating in the next few months. The summaries and release dates (which could change) are lifted from Amazon.

April 30th
Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderon’s Worlds

Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was one of the seminal figures of 20th century science fiction. Named a Grand Master by the SFWA in 1997, he produced an enormous body of standalone novels (Brain Wave, Tau Zero) and series fiction (Time Patrol, the Dominic Flandry books) and was equally at home in the fields of heroic fantasy and hard SF. He was a meticulous craftsman and a gifted storyteller, and the impact of his finest work continues, undiminished, to this day.

I’m still on the fence about this one because I don’t read many anthologies anymore (I have a ton I haven’t even cracked yet), but it’s worth noting I own more books by Poul Anderson than any other writer. Brain Wave and The High Crusade are two of my favorite novels ever. Greg Bear (Anderson’s son-in-law) and anthology-master Gardner Dozois edited this collection of stories paying tribute to the writer.

May 19th
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

I’ll be reading this one for sure. Insanely long and no doubt full of all the amusing meanderings we expect, it’s a story in which Earth’s moon explodes for no apparent reason. Frankly, you had me at Neal Stephenson, but what a hook!

May 19th
The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

The Scarlet Gospels takes readers back many years to the early days of two of Barker’s most iconic characters in a battle of good and evil as old as time: The long-beleaguered detective Harry D’Amour, investigator of all supernatural, magical, and malevolent crimes faces off against his formidable, and intensely evil rival, Pinhead, the priest of hell. Barker devotees have been waiting for The Scarlet Gospels with bated breath for years, and it’s everything they’ve begged for and more. Bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex, fans and newcomers alike will not be disappointed by the epic, visionary tale that is The Scarlet Gospels. Barker’s horror will make your worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories. The Gospels are coming. Are you ready?

Detective D’Amour meets Pinhead. This is history in the making, folks. It’s like Mayweather/Pacquiao for horror fans.

July 7th
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

A major new novel from one of science fiction’s most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.

I’m not sure why, but I missed out on Robinson’s 2312. I’ll try to check this one out when it hits paperback.

July 28th
Armada by Ernest Cline

It’s just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He’s daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom—if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.

Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer.

If it’s half as easy to read (and enjoy) as Cline’s Ready Player One, I’m all in. The eighties nostalgia angle in RPO initially turned me off, but it quickly became apparent that Cline was more genuine than gimmicky. I think back to that book more than I thought I would, but maybe that’s only because Cline seems to be everywhere these days. Nonetheless, I’m probably looking forward to this one more than the rest even though I typically don’t love lite SF. According to this Verge article, Universal Pictures has already bought the film rights.

Neil Gaiman visits Tulsa, where one of his favorite writers lived

Here’s the article in the Tulsa World. I was there. I would have enjoyed myself a lot more had I not been sick. Allergies, I reckon. I felt like I’d been hit by a steamroller and my mouth developed a dry fuzziness which had me looking longingly at the nearby woman who’d been wise enough to pack a Coke into her purse. The stiff, immovable seats of the Performing Arts Center somehow didn’t help the fact that antihistamines are potent knock-out pills for me.

It was apparent Neil Gaiman was genuinely excited to be in Tulsa. He explained that one of his favorite writers, R.A. Lafferty, lived in Tulsa so he’d been intrigued by my hometown for over thirty years. He said he wrote his first fan letter to Lafferty and the two developed a correspondence which lasted many years. Then he apologized for his “ridiculous accent” before he read Lafferty’s short story Seven Day Terror, which had the audience cracking up although they hadn’t initially warmed to the idea of Gaiman reading someone else’s work. His accent and sense of timing actually served the story about a “disappearing device” made out of a beer can very well. He claimed it was the first time he’d performed a reading of a work that wasn’t his own.

When asked what was the best piece of advice he’d ever gotten, Gaiman told a story about what Stephen King once told him, but then he amended his answer saying Harlan Ellison told him how to shave a coarse beard with conditioner and that that had been the best advice he’d ever gotten. The audience laughed at the way Gaiman answered the question before also dodging it. When asked how we should deal with Terry Pratchett’s troubles with Alzheimer’s, Gaiman said, “We don’t.” He then explained that people’s complacency with the disease is perhaps why it doesn’t get enough attention. His advice was to continue feeling bad about it because it’s a terrible thing.

All said and done, it was a good night, every bit as peculiar and amusing as you could hope for, but like I said I felt like shit. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to see the writer of American Gods in person. What was even cooler was the fact he obviously enjoyed being here.

That’s what’s funny about Tulsa. It sounds like a shit hole (the way I imagine Oklahoma City) and to be honest downtown used to be kind of shitty when I was younger, but every out-of-towner I’ve met since then loves it. It’s a fun place, guys. Really. Just don’t do the boring tourist thing (at least not all of it) and you’ll be surprised by how much stuff there is to do here. And the eatin’s cheap, so don’t complain.

More on R.A. Lafferty here.

Fade In: Michael Piller’s unpublished account of Star Trek Insurrection

From the book:

I wish I could have been there back in 1987 when Gene Roddenberry went to the studio and announced he’d found the perfect actor to play the new Star Trek captain — a middle-aged, bald Englishman.

If the show had been scheduled on CBS, NBC or ABC, Patrick Stewart would never have been Picard. Give us another Shatner, they would have said. Youthful, bold, swashbuckling. Young demographics! But Star Trek: The Next Generation was to be syndicated, that is, sold on a station by station basis. What that meant was that Paramount could mount the show any way they wanted to and if they wanted to cast a middle-aged, bald, Englishman, so be it.

Personally, I feel he missed a perfect opportunity to replace “so be it” with “make it so,” but that’s just me. Here’s the complete .pdf. If I could link you to a source where the book is purchasable, I would, but it was never officially published. It’s my understanding Michael Piller really wanted to give this book to fans and aspiring writers. So go, spread it like wildfire. It’s not a great book, but there is some good stuff in it. Like this:

Paramount had Patrick’s toupee overnighted from England and he returned the next day, this time with hair. Roddenberry took one look and said, “Take it off.” Everyone in the room realized that Patrick’s bald head carried a certain power.

I’m halfway through reading it and so far the book is more about writing than the fun bits of trivia. Writing is a lot like knitting. For people who are into that kind of thing, nothing is more rewarding than sitting down in a zombie-like trance and getting to work. But let’s face it: talking about the craft itself is almost as dull as listening to someone go on and on about the meaning of the dream they had last night. If you spent all day cleaning the house, you’d probably have more interesting stories to tell than if you had spent your day telling an actual story.

The point is a good book on writing is rare these days. Fade In almost qualifies. In it, Piller writes about writing the screenplay to a movie only a die-hard Star Trek fan could like. More importantly, he (sometimes) makes it interesting without resorting to “tell-all” drama and tabloid controversy. The Kid Stays in the Picture it ain’t, but it’s honest and shows a side of Hollywood that rarely sees the light of day. When was the last time you read a book about Hollywood in which everyone was A) acting so professional and B) hard drugs weren’t mentioned at all?

This is still brain candy, through and through, and I’m not convinced anyone but Star Trek fans would like it. And if you are a fan, you’ll shake your head as Piller enthusiastically relates how he and other forces conspired to craft a film that was a letdown for most viewers. The previous film in the series, First Contact, had a lot of goofy stuff in there (“Assimilate this!”—Worf), but it’s still one of the best and most lighthearted Star Trek films. 

Why Paramount would want to move away from that, why Piller would want to move away from that, why producer Rick Berman would want to move away from that, is beyond me. Usually with these kinds of franchises we wonder why they didn’t deviate from the formula. Here, we wonder why they decided to deviate so unanimously when so many of us actually wanted more First Contact. Piller’s book has many answers to questions like these, but they’re not as satisfying as expected.

For instance, in the film Data is back to being the Data we knew before he installed his emotion chip. We saw him temporarily deactivate the chip when he and a security team fought the Borg in the previous film (Picard: “Sometimes I envy you, Data.”), but why didn’t he ever turn it back on? Piller, demonstrating good attributes for an episodic television writer but not necessarily a movie writer, says he wanted to avoid what he calls “The Rhoda Effect.” He says audiences became uninterested in Rhoda after the titular character was married on the TV series. Well yeah, that’s true, but I kind of became uninterested in Data after he fell down a few rungs of his character arc.

Another annoyance with books about screenwriting is the unnecessary amount of filler material they employ. Early on, Piller includes a treatment for the screenplay in its entirety. Not much of it ends up in the final product. While some die-hard fans will find its inclusion interesting, I found myself skimming. By Piller’s own admission, when Berman read the treatment he said, “Who cares?” When I got to the second treatment Piller includes, I skipped it altogether. That’s not the stuff I personally wanted from a book like this, but a greater fan than I might appreciate it.

I think the most fascinating thing about the book is it makes you realize that sometimes there’s not really any one person or group to blame when a movie turns to shit. Whenever a movie in a series turns to shit, fans are always looking for excuses: “Oh, the studio ruined it,” or, “Their creative decisions were all about money,” etc. But everyone involved with the project was concerned with making an honest Star Trek flick, something that stayed true to the spirit. On the chairman of Viacom at the time, Jonathan Dolgen, Piller says:

As a rule, Dolgen doesn’t involve himself in creative decisions. But he breaks that rule for Star Trek. And it’s not (just) the money. He happens to be a huge fan. Dare I say, a Trekker?

Despite good intentions all around, it fell apart anyway. Apparently Piller didn’t get that memo. You can tell he feels the film turned out great despite the mixed reception. I think my biggest problem with Insurrection is Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore had just proven a Star Trek movie works best when it resembles a bonafide popcorn movie more than a television episode. Piller (and even Patrick Stewart, as indicated in correspondence reprinted in the book) seemed more interested in making a two-hour episode of The Next Generation. And on the big screen, that’s just kind of out of place.

The Expanse and The Man in the High Castle are coming to TV

Journalists are already calling it “A Game of Thrones in space!” Well, okay. If you guys say so. I know one of the writers of the source material used to work for GRRM, but let’s not get all sensational and shit. Watch the writers wince when the lazy GOT comparison is made in this video.

I admit I’m usually not a fan of SyFy productions. I tried watching their Dune adaptation at least three times and never got very far into it. For the record, I’ve never finished the David Lynch movie, either. The trailer for The Expanse resembles too much of SyFy’s stuff that I don’t like: too slick for its own good, too shiny. At least it’s got some good actors.

If it sounds like I’m not excited about this series, I assure you it’s only because I’m not. But hey, I’ll watch it anyway and I really, really hope I’m wrong. At the very least it reminded me I need to read the sequels to Leviathan Wakes. (I have a bad habit of starting series and not reading the sequels.)

You know what else is getting the TV treatment? Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Here’s a clip:

Now that’s more like it.
The Man in the High Castle has to be one of the best alternative history novels ever written. See, it’s a novel set in a universe in which the Axis Powers won WWII. The characters themselves discover a novel set in a universe in which the Axis Powers lost. It’s an alternative reality set within an alternative reality. Look, it sounds a lot more gimmicky than it is, trust me.

io9’s best science fiction & fantasy books of 2014

Well, the only books I’ve read from the list are The Peripheral, The Martian, and Lock-In, which just goes to show I should really read more new stuff (I blame this on my pulp addiction). I actually thought The Martian and Lock-In came out last year, so I’m a bit more current than I usually am at this point in the year.

Here’s their list.

And here’s a fairly new video of William Gibson talking The Peripheral:

I love how the interviewer mentions he used to pretend he was Case as a kid
As for my New Year’s Eve plans tonight, I have no idea. Frankly, I just want to sit around at home and watch the ball drop because that and The Oscars are the only two television “events” I watch all year. I just don’t like getting drunk on the one day of the year everyone’s drinking and yes, I realize how crazy-paranoid-silly that sounds. A friend reminded me of time zones and the fact China isn’t celebrating the new year today, so theoretically there should be plenty of sober people to deal with a potential alien invasion.
Speaking of time zones, each year I’m reminded of Louis Wu in Larry Niven’s Ringworld who, at the beginning of the story, decides to extend his 200th birthday by hopping across time zones via teleportation. Here’s something I haven’t realized until today: that novel’s over forty years old. Man, we’re getting old, aren’t we?

William Gibson: "How I wrote Neuromancer" @ The Guardian

From the article, written by Gibson himself:

My fantasy of success, then, was that my book, once it had been met with the hostile or indifferent stares I expected, would go out of print. Then, yellowing fragrantly on the SF shelves of secondhand book shops, it might voyage forward, up the time-stream, into some vaguely distant era in which a tiny coterie of esoterics, in London perhaps, or Paris, would seize upon it, however languidly, as perhaps a somewhat good late echo of Bester, Delany or another of the writers I’d pasted, as it were, on the inside of my authorial windshield. And that, I assured myself, sweating metaphorical bullets daily in front of my Hermes 2000 manual portable, would almost certainly be that.

Read the full article here.

Timothy Leary on Neuromancer:
“It’s the way the world is going to be in ten years, like it or not.”
I don’t think there is, nor will there ever be, another story that makes as much sense to me as Neuromancer.

Horns is available on-demand before it hits theaters

It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

A movie adaptation shouldn’t be judged by the quality of its source material. It’s impossible to avoid, though, especially when the material is so admirable. The adaptation of Joe Hill’s legitimately insane Horns suffers in the typical three-act screenplay form. Whereas the novel opens with a guy who wakes up with devil horns, the film gives us a typical movie opening, putting off the horns for just a little too long. And the reason he gets the horns in the first place—the violent desecration of a memorial, if my memory serves me correctly—hardly appears in the film version at all. My girlfriend asked me, “Why does he have horns?” Then I realized the movie is a better companion to the book than a standalone feature. Maybe judging it by the book is excusable in this case.

That’s the bad. The rest is quite good actually, at least when it’s not trying to play it too safe. Sometimes it feels the filmmakers pussyfoot around the demonic aspects of the story, which kind of misses the point. Otherwise, there is plenty of snake-charming, plenty of startling confessions from seemingly normal people. To call this horror is misleading. Dark urban fantasy is a better label.

The plot: Ig Perrish is a twenty-something whose childhood girlfriend has been murdered. Everyone thinks he’s the killer, including his parents. One day after a hard night of drinking, he wakes up to find devil horns have sprouted from his temples. The horns have an effect on people. Nobody seems to think the horns are out of the ordinary and they feel compelled to tell Ig their darkest secrets. Heather Graham’s character, a waitress, confesses she’s telling the cops lies because she wants to be on TV. A bartender tells Ig he wants to burn his establishment down for the insurance money and Ig tells him to do it. He does, laughing hysterically. The confessions are the funniest parts of the movie.

I’m happy to report Daniel Radcliffe doesn’t suffer from the same fate as most former child actors. Whenever I look at Fred Savage or Elijah Wood, I still see them as children. But when I see Daniel Radcliff, I see an adult, which is good. He makes a good Ig Perrish. The rest of the cast is just as good. I particularly liked Juno Temple (I usually do) as his girlfriend, Heather Graham, David Morse, and the casting of Ig’s parents: James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan, two generally underused actors.

It’s a good picture, just a little rough in spots. Also, I’m not sure it’s quite worth $10.99, but I hope it does well when it hits theaters.

Novels to read this month

It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

Right now I’m reading Blindsight, which is hard science fiction with a vampire and a handful of horrorible moments. Blindsight is one of those novels that don’t come around often, something along the lines of Snow Crash and Pandora’s Star in terms of balancing balls-to-the-wall entertainment with hard science fiction. I’m trying my hardest to savor the hell out of it. Each time a chunk of the puzzle is revealed, I go back and reread the first few chapters to see how it all ties together. I always notice something I didn’t notice the first time. Some may say it’s silly to have a main character who essentially lacks the ability to feel empathy, but they’re wrong. I feel a warm connection with Siri Keeton and I don’t think that says more about me than Siri himself and how Peter Watts has written him. You simultaneously pity him as well as envy his unique position among his fellow humans. He’s a lot more human than he lets on.

Peter Watts on writing SF

And the novel’s terrifying. Strictly speaking, it’s undeniably science fiction, but it’s the kind that unsettles you and everything you believe (in other words: the best kind). Watts has said he doesn’t really believe the argument the book makes, but it’s the kind of argument that’s as plausible as it is mind-fucking. And it’s fresh, so fresh. Without giving too much away, Blindsight supposes humans really are special little snowflakes in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps that’s not a good thing. When the book was initially released, the publisher didn’t give it the marketing it should have had (according to Watts) so Watts released it for free, which boosted sales after all was said and done. You can check out the free version here. The sequel just came out, too.

Another book that’s in the “technically SF, but also horror” category is Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three. Although I found it to be disappointing, it’s probably easier to swallow than Blindsight if you’re not an SF junky. Come to think of it, Bear’s Blood Music was pretty terrifying as well and it might be his best book. While we’re on the subject of horror written by science fiction writers, FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard (yes, that Hubbard) is worth any price you can get, and Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak was a lot more influential on both science fiction and horror than most people realize. FEAR and Donovan’s Brain are easy reads, the kind of stuff you can read in one day.

The older I get, the more I like Stephen King. There was a time I was annoyed his name was forever connected with horror (and repeatedly mentioned), but let’s face it: he’s earned it. I think my favorite thing about King is the fact he’s rich as hell, but hasn’t lost an ounce of the everyday charm that fuels his stories. The guy has pumped out so much stuff it’s hard to assign just one as “my favorite,” but as far as pure enjoyment goes, Misery is probably number one for me. In terms of legitimate scares, however, The Shining takes the cake. I don’t know what it is about that one in particular, but I love it.

It’s not often I love each book in a trilogy equally, but Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector series kick all kinds of ass. Those who have only seen Hannibal the movie may wonder what it’s doing on this list, but the book is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better. The ending is much better than the film version and overall it’s a worthy conclusion to Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Clarice’s final destination may have been too sick for Hollywood to film, but it’s the ending we all deserved.

Joe Hill is, hands down, my favorite newish writer (I know he’s been around for a while, but it seems like yesterday when his first novel hit the stands). As for novels, he’s three and three with Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2, the latter of which I have thought about every single day since finishing it. The Gas Mask Man (Bing, Bing, you terrible thing) got into my head. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Who Wants to be a Doctor? The "deadly game" subgenre and why The Hunger Games is a welcome addition

I hear it constantly, both in real life and online forums: “The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale!” People seem desperate to prove they saw Battle Royale long before they heard about The Hunger Games, as if that keeps their nerd cards current. I saw it first, too (*flashes nerd card along with an old imported copy*), but to say The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale is like saying Interview with the Vampire ripped off Dracula.

Before Battle Royale there was The Running Man. Before that there was the novel it was based on, written by Richard Bachman (Stephen King). The Bachman pseudonym paid homage to Richard Matheson, who also dealt in high concept ideas. I don’t remember where the proudly stupid Deathrow Gameshow figures into the mess, but the concept isn’t new. It goes back almost a century to Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game and the subsequent movie. Seriously, that story is likely older than your parents.

That’s not to say Battle Royale is a rip-off. All I’m saying is “the deadly game” is an awesome subgenre (TVtropes counts over twenty examples of the deadly game in film alone), one which has yet to be driven into the ground like vampires and zombies. Yes, these stories share the same idea, but ideas aren’t protected by copyright in the United States. Only the execution of the idea is copyrighted, which means you’re free to write stories about deadly games all you want.

And you should. It’s, as the kids say, a hella fun. (Okay, I obviously have no idea what kids say anymore.) My tiny contribution is included at the bottom of this post.

Cutting Cards, my all-time favorite Tales from the Crypt

I think it’s easy to see the appeal of the death show subgenre as long as you’re honest with yourself:

A) It’s satire of what passes as entertainment on television. Geraldo, Morton Downey Jr., and Jerry Springer have left behind a disgusting legacy American culture isn’t going to cure anytime soon. The other day I was told there was a new show where contestants are dropped in the middle of the wilderness naked. When I asked which channel this was on, the reply was, “I don’t know. I think it was Discovery or TLC.”

B) Humans really had entertainment like this, perhaps most memorably in the days of Spartacus. I know people like to think they’re above being fascinated by death, but have you ever seen traffic proceed smoothly past a car wreck? It’s hardwired into us, this fascination with the macabre, not because we’re sick, but because it’s important for us to know What Can Go Wrong with our flesh vessels. Which is why I scream inside whenever I hear snobs whine about how distasteful the horror genre is—you’ll never convince me the first stories told around campfires weren’t about gruesome deaths.

perhaps my favorite film example of the deadly game

Maybe the reason some people dislike The Hunger Games is nerds’ precious interests are finally going mainstream. Yes, it sucks that all of John Carpenter’s movies are becoming pointless remakes. And yes, a lot of us actually found comfort in existing outside the “cool” groups with our love for speculative fiction and all weird things. But damn it, The Hunger Games is a surprisingly great interpretation of the death show. I’m glad kids are getting sophisticated stuff like this as opposed to Twilight and other superficial speculative fiction stories.

Most of all, I’m glad the death show subgenre will outlive me, that future generations will be much more accepting to the high concept weirdness literary critics used to shun. That’s growth, people.

Several years ago my girlfriend was making fun of how ridiculous television was getting and said, “What’s next? Who Wants to be a Doctor?” At which point I immediately walked into the other room and wrote the following story….

Who Wants to be a Doctor?
a short story by Grant Gougler

The figures slammed the foot end of Mark’s gurney through a couple of doors which led backstage. He could already hear the crowd on the other side of the curtain. They were riled up out there, absolutely frenzied. In regards to the question posed by the show’s title—Who Wants to be a Doctor?—it sounded like everyone in the world did.

The stagehands weren’t paying any attention to him. He attempted to lift his head, kind of succeeded, and tried to plead for mercy. If his lips moved at all, he couldn’t tell. The producers had shot him full of neuromuscular paralytics. The drugs didn’t work on pain, of course. They only worked well enough to keep him quiet and subdued.

Mark heard the announcer’s omnipresent voice: “Jane Slotham, come on down!” Then the theme music played while the randomly chosen audience member made her way down to the stage, squealing in excitement. She jerked the mic away from the host and introduced herself as a thirty-two year old homemaker from Ohio. She was a huge fan of the show. Her family never missed it.

“How ’bout that,” the host said, reclaiming the microphone. “So you know the rules, but some of our viewers at home may not. Remind us, Sal.”

“The goal is simple,” announced an omnipresent voice, “operate on your patient, return his status to a stable condition, and sew him back up. If your patient lives for one hour, you win… an all-expense-paid vacation for you and one guest to beautiful Waikiki Beach in Honolulu!” 

The crowd went wild.

“All right, Jane. Are you ready to meet your patient?”

“I’m ready, Todd.”

“Alright, ladies… bring him out!”

Four women dressed in nurse costumes shoved Mark towards the stage. As the curtain drew he caught glimpses of a laser light show sweeping the clouds of the fog machines. The stage lights were too bright for Mark to see the audience members, but he could feel their excitement, could fear their enthusiasm.

The crowd cheered the four assistants as they mugged for the cameras and parked Mark’s gurney beneath the jumbotron. Then they blew kisses as they exited the stage. From his new angle, Mark could see himself on the big screen. He was shirtless and pale. Not a man anymore, but a cold corpse which hadn’t realized it was dead yet. The corpse was strapped to a vinyl pad, puddled with various types of bodily fluids.

He would have to watch whatever they did to him.

The music faded as the host opened a sealed envelope. “Jane, this is Mark Saddle. Up until a few hours ago he was serving two consecutive life sentences at the World Correctional Facility for—get this folks—cheating on his wife.”

The crowd heckled and the host patted the air to pacify them before they ripped their seats out of the floor.

“Jane,” he said, “what’s your initial assessment?”

“Well, Todd, because of the large amount of blood the patient has lost, I’d say that he’s either the victim of a gunshot wound or a stabbing.”

“That would appear to be the case, wouldn’t it?”

“I’m going to go with… ummm…. knife wound. I don’t see an exit wound and you did ‘gunshot victim’ last week.”

“The advantage of being a longtime viewer, ladies and gentlemen.” The audience laughed. “All right, Jane. We’ll get you prepped for surgery and, in the meantime, you folks at home stay right where you are. We’ll be right back!”

The theme music played them out to a commercial break. A prop comedian kept the audience warm while a stagehand helped Jane into her scrubs. Another stagehand wheeled in a cart full of stainless steel instruments, which gleamed like mirrors. Watching Jane’s face as she mentally prepared herself for the torture she would soon inflict, a deeply suppressed part of Mark was glad he couldn’t talk. He was finally famous.

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The homestretch beard and the possible indie publishing bubble

The novel I began in November took longer than expected because it quickly became apparent it works better as a series rather than a stand-alone book. This was worrisome because the story was intended to be a one-off and I didn’t want to cop-out and pull a “To Be Continued” at the end of the first book. Really, a book ought to stand on its own even if it is part of a bigger story, which means you need a definite conflict and a definite resolution, all in one story. So I worked on some short stories and a screenplay while I thought about ways to make the novel a little more independent. Then a seemingly minor character I had written about earlier in the story came back unexpectedly and, well, everything fits together nicely now.

It’s a standalone story after all.

the homestretch beard

Right now I’m growing my homestretch beard. Whenever I’ve been working on a project for a month or more I tend to neglect shaving towards the end (and sometimes showering, but that’s a different story). I figure I might as well make this an official custom. The beard won’t be shaven until I finish the novel. There just isn’t enough time for being a civilized human when you’re finishing something that’s been in your head the last four or five months. So…

Is indie publishing a bubble right now?

If you ask me the answer is “sort of,” but I’m not an industry analyst and I don’t really “get” economics. I am just a plumber, after all.

Yesterday my friend asked me what I plan on doing with the novel. That’s a good question. My first instinct, upon completing anything, is it should really be published traditionally. My biggest issue with that is the time involved finding a publisher who actually wants to take a chance on my silly little book. Twenty publishers rejected Frank Herbert’s Dune for crying out loud; what does that say about my chances of quick publication? My second biggest issue is this is supposed to be a series… so, uh, if the first one doesn’t sell, who’s to say they’ll ever publish the second one?

Tip #1: Don’t write a series until you’re an established writer.

Not too long ago self-publishing fiction was considered the stamp of an amateur (and rightly so). That’s changed in recent years, sure, but I feel a lot of that is because of ebook readers; the technology is still pretty new and apparently there are a lot of people hungry for as much cheap content as they can get for their new toys (we’re talking 99 cents to $2.99, sometimes even free). But am I really the only person who considers the current generation of ebook readers to be the Atari 2600? There was a lot of thoughtless, cheap content pushed out for Atari and look how that turned out.

The problem is absolutely anybody can pretend to be a writer these days. I could write a piece of shit in a week or two, upload it to Amazon and other markets through Smashwords, then buy five-star reviews off of a website like A lot of people are doing just that. When you have delusions of grandeur you can justify being such a slimy weasel: “Hey, I am the shit! I just need to rig the results I know I deserve!”

I spend a lot of time lurking in writing forums. I discovered a lot of amateur writers are churning out a huge catalog of “books” (many of them are only a few pages long) in a matter of months. A lot of these men and women are reporting four-digit monthly incomes that are either growing or holding steady. Each of these masturbatory forum threads attract a lot of attention from other writers who are obviously interested in doing the same. One of these would-be power writers said, “Instead of being a needle in the haystack, the idea is to make so many needles that you have a needle-stack.” Or something to that effect.

They make it sound so easy: get around fifty “books” out there on the market, use a different pseudonym for each genre so people don’t get sick of any one pen name (I imagine readers are getting sick of this shit, anyway), and flood the market with your quickly produced garbage. Then: profit.

This trend just isn’t going to last. The people who are doing it are fucking themselves in the ass and could potentially damage the entire indie publishing scene. Yeah, a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but listen to what I’m really saying: Only publish stuff that’s worth people’s time. Should that sentiment really be so controversial? Just because people are buying this shit now doesn’t mean it’s worth their time.

You may remember that a while ago I released my own independently published novel for free, but the difference was I worked on the sucker for over two years and I planned to sell it once I got enough input. I was also upfront with readers by telling them it was still a work in progress, an experiment. Since then I’ve lost interest in that piece (let’s face it, it wasn’t all that great), but a few hundred people read it and I learned a lot so I’m happy. I used to give short stories away for free, too, but you know what? When I sold my first short story I discovered I enjoyed having an editor and, more than that, I enjoyed getting paid.

No, it’s not all about the money, but my first short story fully paid a utility bill I would have otherwise been late on. Yes, getting money for something you enjoy doing is awesome. That raises another point: people who focus on quantity over quality can’t enjoy doing it, can they? Not only did they not deserve that money, it’s not as satisfying as getting paid for something they enjoyed.

This has all been to say that, like a lot of writers, I really think that indie publishing is going to play a big part in the future. I just think we need to treat it with the respect it deserves. Maybe indie publishing isn’t in a bubble in the traditional sense of the word, but again, all I’m saying is don’t publish shit just because it’s easier to do than ever before.

My plan is to continue publishing short stories the traditional way so I know I’m worth a shit. As for my next novel, I’ll probably publish it myself through Smashwords and Lulu, but only after I’ve hired a professional editor, gotten a decent cover artist, and a ton of beta-reader input.