Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Universe, Unintentionally

The stories I’m writing have become interconnected without me really intending it. At least not at first. The idea was to just write what was in my head, exploring as many genres and story ideas as possible. It was my love of comic books and the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe that probably dragged me this way, but it could also be the influence of Faulkner or Stephen King or any number of other authors who I’ve read over the years. Also possible is that building a Universe is leftover business from my mini comics run.

I’m not Alan Moore, I’m not Neil Gaiman, I’m not Stephen King and I know it believe me. I’m not trying to be those guys, I’m really just trying to be me; trying to find Jason’s voice and tell Jason’s stories. If what I’m writing seems somehow familiar or derivative remember that it’s difficult to be wholly original. Gaiman and other professional-type writers run into it and have to tell their readers online to not post any fiction in the messages on their blogs. It’s crazy that ideas are litigated over, and there’s really no point in pulling a gifted, acknowledged, award-winning author into court over an idea you gave him by posting your own poor fiction on another’s message board, is there?

Everyone has the same ideas. It’s all about the execution. For me it’s been about stretching myself from just wanting to do comics and to explore this newly opened option of writing short stories. I’ve done more writing in the last six months than I have in the last three years and it’s getting better. It’s getting better precisely because I’m writing more. And reading more, too.

So there it is: the influences of my past (comics, certain authors, even some Old Time Radio shows) are finally catching up with me and I’m making the most of it. I’m using a master plot, though I hope it’s not REALLY a formula. I’m using professional author’s Rules of Writing and in the process coming up with a few rules of my own. All of this is coming together into a coalescing of Idea, Will and Time that’s perhaps best described as a Universe of Jason’s Stories. It didn’t start that way, and I even resisted for a while, but there were too many interesting things to explore.

I can’t let it go. The act of creation is a powerful aphrodisiac. Seeing that creation to completion is even more powerful. Done is the engine of more.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Discourse

You can see over there on the left that I have a Twitter account. This last week I’ve seen my ‘follower’ counts go up by as many as 15, then dip down five, up two, down three and so forth. I suspect that I will have to use some application like Twitterific or TweetDeck to use Twitter to its potential.

It’s funny because yesterday I tweeted that if you’re following me because you just follow everyone whose name comes up in the hopes of building your follower numbers, you’ll be disappointed that I won’t follow back. I still read my feeds there because I use Twitter as an aggregator like Bloglines. I want to keep up with friends or acquaintances on Twitter and Facebook, not build up some Ashton Kutcher-like empire of zombie followers. I don’t need hundreds of thousands of followers or even a million if all they care about is social media empire building. I want you to follow my tweets because you’re interested in what I’m saying. If you’re not interested, I don’t want you around.

I realize this is antithetical to the entire social media phenomenon that is Twitter. Here’s a newsflash: I don’t care. Come along if you like. If I know you or think your own work is interesting, I’ll follow you back. Otherwise, bugger off for all of me.

I think it’s sad commentary that something like Twitter or Facebook is used as a status symbol. We, Americans here in the 21st century, don’t talk enough as it is, but even limited to 140 characters we can say things of interest. There are people writing novels on Twitter, there are folks finding others they haven’t seen in years on Facebook. Connecting and talking and catching up and making plans to see one another in person, they have used social media for its purpose. This fascination with celebrity competition is sad beyond compare.

So, if you’re following me on Twitter, thanks. If you’re a friend on Facebook, I’m glad I can catch up with you there. If you’re just looking to pump up your own numbers, don’t expect me to follow back. On Twitter write something interesting and then use a #tag or my @name to get my attention. If I like what I see, I’ll follow. On Facebook, it’s going to be a little harder, but you’ll figure that out.

In the meantime, if you’re following one of those celebrities with a million others, try getting all of them to reply that person at the same time and see if that doesn’t break the internets.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Habit

I buy certain things out of habit, or brand loyalty. I shop in the same stores because I know where everything is, I’m familiar with some of the folks who work there or I’m treated ‘right’ for being a long-term customer. I get up each morning and feed the cats, make the coffee and turn on The Weather Channel. It’s habit, routine, ritual.

When I participated in November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I built the habit of writing every single day. It’s the only way to get 50,000 words in a month or less and when it was done, I was looking for something else to do. I’ve made music, mini comics and tried any number of creative endeavors over the last twenty years to varying degrees of success. Habit and obsession are opposite sides of a very thin line and there are expressions of emotion inside me that have to get out, one way or another regardless of the form. The idea of combining all these loves into writing short stories and selling them on a monthly basis as a kind of ‘fiction single’ the same way that iTunes sells songs was appealing. I think I got the idea for this from my habit of reading Warren Ellis’ website and getting his Bad Signal emails, so I’ll give him the credit for it but I’m actually going to do it.

What jasonarnett.com is about is trying to get some folks to build a new habit of coming to the site once a month to decide if they’d like to buy a short story for a dollar. I’m aiming the site at comic book folks who aren’t reading a lot of prose or don’t have a lot of time to read prose but want something different than comic books on occasion. These stories are pulpy in their construction, along the lines of Walter Gibson’s The Shadow, Lester Dent’s Doc Savage or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. They vary in theme and genre in the way that Old Time Radio shows like Quiet, Please, Lights Out, and Suspense did. Interconnected, the stories are also influenced by the present day storytelling of Matt Fraction’s Casanova and the aforementioned Warren Ellis’ Fell, a new kind of comic book where a big story is crammed into a smaller than normal space.

It’s my hope that I can get readers to build the habit of trying out something new for a minimal amount of money by delivering the Jason Arnett brand of story. I’m still seven weeks out from the ‘official’ launch of www.jasonarnett.com, but I’m working to get it ready by writing every day, usually before I go to work. I have six stories in various states of readiness, with another in the plotting stage as I write this and hope to have that one done and at least one more in progress on launch day. Since the first story will be free, that means the first six months, at least, will have fresh content. These will constitute the first half of the first year of the site. I pledge to give you increasing quality and consistent delivery. When you buy one of my stories, I hope you’ll come back to buy more and tell your friends.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Table of Periodicals

I love comic books. Everyone who knows me shouldn't be surprised by that, or if you are: sorry you didn't know. I have problems with how the industry runs nowadays and have had for more than ten years. Cover prices are really out of control, publishers control rights that don't really belong to them in the same way that record companies do, and quality is so far down that it's no surprise that selling 100,000 copies is considered a hit. Comics aren't ubiquitous like they used to be and the only major distributor left (from as many as three that I can recall) is only major because it started signing publishers to 'exclusive' contracts in order to gain its effective monopoly. In the last two months, that distributor also says it won't offer for sale any title that can't pre-sell less than 500 copies.

All of these things are money-driven. It makes sense, from a certain point of view, but not to consumers. Certainly it makes less sense when the quality of art has been diluted to ensure that there are five Batman comics, five Superman comics and three or four Spider-Man comics each month in addition to the interminable mini-series featuring Z-list characters who could barely sustain a guest appearance for half an issue. By 'art' I mean writing and inking, too. Consumers complain a great deal about cross-over events but still keep on buying them.

Because it's a habit, comic books are. They buy every Batman book because they always have, every Spider-Man book because they want it to get better and their collections won't be complete without the dreck. I stopped that about fifteen years ago and focused only on what i perceived to be as 'good' comics, many of which weren't popular and didn't sell well. Tim Hunter is one of the most interesting magical characters out there, but his last series died an early death as it seemed to be hitting its stride. Crossing Midnight by Mike Carey and Jim Fern went early due to low sales. Fables and 100 Bullets are brilliant stories that survived long enough to really find the audience they needed.

It takes a while, and it takes money to survive. So many small businesses don't survive their first year it's insane. I don't know the latest figures, but it's huge. Of those survivors, another large portion don't survive into their third year. It's all about building the habits and having a quality product. If your business becomes a regular part of someone's routine, you will survive, or you will be replaced. I see that Americans are reading more fiction these days than previously (I hope due to interest and actually caring about being entertained) and that's something that needs to continue.

We need to keep that habit up, whether it's comic books or magazines or (cross your fingers) newspapers, Americans should be reading more. This is a siren call to all creators/writers/artists to improve the quality of your art. If you want to survive, you have to bring the quality and you have to bring it regularly.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Musing on Time

I checked out a book from my local library last weekend using a self-check machine that scans my card (with a barcode) then scans the book (with another barcode) and signals it's done with a loud and unsatisfying 'beep'.

I wondered who else might've checked out this book and then was sad I wouldn't know. Not only that, but I wouldn't ever know the last time the book had been read. There's nothing quite so sad as an unread, unloved book, is there? In the old days, there was a machine that (I assumed) took a microfiche picture of the book's title card and my library card that had a very satisfying CHUNK sound followed quickly by a buzz. Then would come the heavy thump of the date stamp from the librarian (later replaced by a seemingly magical print function in the checkout machine). I remember looking at the cards inside the front cover of the book and seeing names and dates and thinking "Wow it's been six months since someone last read this". That's an interesting thing about time, those kinds of snapshots.

Nowadays at my local library technology has saved the librarians time, organized and more effectively tracked books that may never be recovered if lost and assigned a fee to the last person to check it out. It's certainly efficient and I don't begrudge them saving time and a little money. It just seems to me that we no longer know if a book is loved or how long it's been loved by just looking inside the front (or back) covers. It's a history that's just not there any more.

Except maybe on microfiche.