Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Closure

"All quiet on the western front. Various people are asleep. Various people are awake. They come and go in cars, pickups, taxis. Other than that, we watch the air move."     ---Pedrosa, Collateral

Things are good, solid. Writing is happening. Not much else to talk about.

A song for your trouble:



Sometimes I wish I played in a band with Dexter Holland. I would have loved to write with him. Nothing but respect for The Offspring. I love that they challenge their listeners with each record.

Anyway, taking this week off from blogging but got some good news yesterday. I'll share it when I can.

But I'm re-reading Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics alongside Saladin Ahmed's The Throne of the Crescent Moon. Learning a lot about storytelling from both books. I highly recommend them.

I'll be back next week with more thoughts.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spelling Matters

OMG, this record may have had
more influence than anyone would
have thought.
Spelling matters, folks.

I spent the weekend going over a manuscript to send to first readers, editing not just for passivity and clarity but also for spelling. To be truthful, I'm usually pretty good at spelling. Most of my mistakes come from typing too fast. The most common mistake I make is 'sotry' for 'story'. My fingers sometimes get out of order and I often will catch such mistakes in my first read-through. They're the smallest percentage of problems with my manuscripts. Always.

Being a good speller is a point of pride for me. I never participated in a spelling bee but I read voraciously as a teenager and into my 20s. Hundreds of pages a week for nearly two decades. That's what I credit for being able to spell.

And of course now, given the ubiquity of social media and texting, misspellings are everywhere. Businesses have to do it in order to trademark their products, too. Prince went so far as to use symbols in titles of his songs rather than words. There are ten words that The Oatmeal demands you stop misspelling right now. These ten words are the most commonly misspelled in particular in status updates and text messages and Tweets.

But they're not the only ones.

What bugs me the most is that when taken in aggregate, that is - seeing multiple misspellings on one page by multiple authors, it's shocking that so many people either don't care or don't know that there's a problem.

Aren't they embarrassed that their misuse of words shows a lack of education? A lack of pride?

Apparently not.

It's one thing to express yourself with little quirks, I suppose, but there's an effect to widespread abuse of the formality and commonality of the language. Just as a record of the language, these abuses are egregious. They show a laziness, a lack of caring that is alarming to scholars and should alarm the average bear, too. Soon the language will change for the worse.

Evolution of language is one thing.

It happens that in order for businesses to do their things and trademark the names, the names have to be fairly unique. I get it that intentional misspellings are part of that. THAT doesn't bother me. But if you're searching for a recipe to make doughnuts at home, think about how many spellings you might have to search just to find the one recipe you could make. Doughnut. Donut. Donutz. Do-Nut. There are other variations, I'm sure.

My generation allowed yadda yadda to become part of the lexicon. Useless term, that, except as an expression. YOLO being added is kind of okay in my book, as long as its capitalized entirely and used as it was meant to: you only live once. (Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on it, though. Radar and scuba should be all caps because they are acronyms the same as snafu, but they're actual words now.) Awesome is also of my generation and was overused by any number of segments of the society. Dude still bugs me but it's been thirty years and I've accepted its use by the average bear. (Although a dude to me is still a city-dweller out of his depth in the great outdoors. When was the last time you heard it used that way?)

Now, in the Digital Age, everything one writes online will be there forever. FOR. EVER. Regardless of your privacy settings I guarantee that someone somewhere will have access to it. (And if the CISPA bill passes, this is assured. Don't believe me? Here's the lowdown. And when you're done reading, will you defend the fourth amendment as vociferously as the NRA defended the second amendment?) This is important to remember but it's often forgotten by those that are too lazy or just don't care.

Which brings me to my point. If we no longer CARE, then things will change. Not always the way we want them to, but they will change. I don't have time to fight for everything I want because I'm living a life. Just like you. And these things move quickly when you're not looking. Those oppressively cute cat GIFS on Tumblr aren't the devil, but they sure are a distraction.

Look, spelling does count. It's how you show you're smart, that you understand the language you're speaking and writing and it shows that you understand it matters. Employers, friends, colleagues and stray passersby in cyberspace will judge you for your misspellings.

Wouldn't it be better to be respectful of the language?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Down Time

I need to spend some time writing more than just the blog here. Yesterday I finished a draft that needs some editing before it goes out and for the last couple of weeks I've been pretty wound up to actually be writing stories.

There are obligations that have to be met and then there's the novel. I need to get it out and working to find a home, too. Short story ideas are piling up like rising water behind a dam and if I don't do something about getting them through the spillway of my mind there's going to be one hell of a flood.

So it's not that there won't be updates, just that they won't be anything like regular for a while. Certainly not three times a week.

Thank you to everyone who's come by to read my Planet Comicon De-brief, easily the most popular post I've ever written here. Also lots of gratitude to those that have pointed to that post, especially Holly Messinger who sent quite a few of you over here.

In the end, this blog is a labor of love and I'm using it as an excuse to not write short stories or get back to writing the novel I started last November.

It's a journey I'm on here. I need to pull over and get out of the car, walk around the rest area and stretch a bit. Maybe take a nap before continuing on. This is just a pit stop. I'll update as there are things to update. The Twitter feed over on the right is a good way to keep up, if you like.

We should all spend less time online and doing things that matter, anyway. Thanks to all of you for tuning in and traveling along with me. I'll be back on the road soon. And you'll be able to see me every other Friday at the relaunched Confabulator Cafe. Come on over and see what we're doing there.

Okay. That's it.

See you soon with new stuff. Not going away, just slowing down here so I can speed up on other things.

Monday, April 15, 2013

About Science Fiction

Trek was really my first SF experience. I always loved that
the Enterprise had a headlight.
This is my genre.

I choose to write SF more than any other genre because there are so many potentialities inherent in it. I can write SF in any time-period I like, stories can be set in any place - real or imagined - I like, my characters can be based on real people or completely invented from scratch.

There's really no boundary to what can be called science fiction. It is, in fact, quite broad and inclusive. Open to anyone who wants to come in and be provoked into thinking about the world as it is today or tomorrow or far, far beyond that. Imagination in the extreme.

Limitless.

THAT's why I love reading SF. (And to be sure - let's call it SF so as not to be confused with SyFy, the TV channel. I know you're used to saying SciFi because that's a great shorthand, and SF means San Francisco to the majority [but don't dare call it 'Frisco, that's verboten] but trust me, SF also means Science Fiction.)

(How many asides is that?)

Reading. Writing. Watching. Science Fiction appeals to me because one can see the best possibilities in humankind alongside the absolute worst. And somehow everything is fair game in SF because you suspend your disbelief to experience. When you open an SF book or comic you don't expect to see places or people you're familiar with. You're ready to be plunged into a world wholly new, maybe semi-recognizable, and possibly strange. Some really great SF happens in 'the real world' (Inception, for one, the weird SF of H.P. Lovecraft) but that's really just a jumping on point. The world of the story is what counts.

Now, realistically, visually-produced SF (film, video, even art) costs. Budgets for the fantastic are less in terms of drawing or painting than they are in film or video, but they are still sometimes heady. Film and video pull us in easily (as does any good art) and we're ready and willing to suspend our disbelief as long as things don't get too silly. Still with me?

Good. Now this is the point: SF is everywhere. It inspires scientists to search, to discover, and that's a good thing. Laptops, streaming media, nuclear submarines, flying aircraft carriers. (Okay, not that last one. Not yet, anyway.) Armor like that of Iron Man's is being developed. People are working on alternate propulsion methods to get rockets off the ground faster, more safely, and more efficiently. Science hasn't caught up to SF yet because writers can imagine what's next.

But so can a lot of people. SF is wonderfully inclusive. All it asks of the reader or viewer is to come along for the ride and be willing to believe in what it's trying to tell you. Only for a little while. Think about it later and dismiss it or don't, but while you're in that world all you have to do is believe.

That is why Science Fiction is my genre and I'm proud of it. That is why I write Science Fiction.

Because Science Fiction is everywhere.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Self-Publishing and Self-Distribution

Why, hello, Spacemen. Where is the future?
A thought I can't get out of my head is one that came up during the Independent Visions panel I moderated at Planet Comicon last weekend. The conversation had a section that revolved around self-publishing as something that was necessary for a comic book creator to do when starting out and turned toward Kickstarter and all the benefits and headaches of those projects.

Peter Bagge mentioned that a PDF of his new book had been released on a file-sharing website a full month before it is released to the public and that so many internet denizens are used to 'free' entertainment they don't think about the damage done to the artist. However, when one of those denizens is in front of him at a show, they are happy to pay for a physical copy of the book they maybe stole pre-release and to talk to him about the work.

"So it's not art until they're in front of you," I said.

Everyone seemed to agree.

Ben Templesmith pointed out that the PDF had to have been leaked by someone from the publisher and that begs a question: Why would you do that? It potentially hurts sales of the book, which means less money for the company which one works for. Which means less bonus (potentially, if the company hands them out) and perhaps fewer artists coming to work for that company. It seems antithetical to everything.

Except, maybe not.

Templesmith talked about having creative control over his work. He likes to have it all and not having to share revenues with a publisher is the best way to make a living. Kickstarter offers that opportunity to anyone with an idea. If the project isn't funded, it's because either a) it sucks to begin with or b) the project leaders didn't have a good plan.

Everyone on the panel seemed in agreement that interacting with fans of the work is the best part of the job. Seeing them in person is cool and them buying directly from the artist at a show is the best way to support the artist.

So I asked them if they'd ever experimented with con exclusive items. No one really had, and that made me wonder.

What if someone of Bagge's or Templesmith's cache produced a book, printed it and ONLY sold it through their website or at personal appearances? It's still art, it's still available but the distribution is extremely limited. The risk of theft is monumentally lessened but once a digital copy goes out into the world, it's inevitable that someone will pirate it. So having a free copy on the artist's website is a good way to minimize that.

It just got me thinking about how people think about art. Of course I wondered about that a while back, too, but this one is sticking with me. There has to be a distribution model that could work for artists like this. I'm rolling some ideas around in my head and maybe something will stick. I need to do some research, and I should have when I first thought of this a year ago.

What do you think? If there were a way to shop independently released books that you could purchase direct from the artist, would you use such a service?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Need Some Help and Suggestions

One of the questions that was asked of us on the Prose Pursuits panel at Planet Comicon last weekend was "Do you read your reviews?"

My reply was "I'd be happy to get reviewed."

So my question for you guys is: where can I get reviews for my books? They're SF, action adventures and they're aimed at kids in 5th or 6th grade. Maybe a little older. Essentially all ages, or most ages. Or anyone who loves comics, really, who wants a light, easy read. Did you like Jonny Quest? Or Ben-10? Then these might be the kinds of books you'd like, too.

See I'm having a difficult time finding websites that review those kinds of books. I suppose I should just ask all you who've bought Agent of D.A.N.G.E.R. and Evolver to please, please, please review them on Amazon or GoodReads. But I'm curious where I should look in other places to see if the book can get reviewed. Any suggestions?

You can read the descriptions at the links above, but here they are for the sake of ease of viewing:

Agent of D.A.N.G.E.R. (where I sort of wrapped Fantastic Four and Thundercats together. Kind of.):
Ezekiel Wolfe chased the rumors of a dark organization bent on world domination and it cost him his job as a covert agent. No longer affiliated with any government, he joins three disavowed agents also on the hunt. Alone they had no chance. Together they are mankind's last hope against the otherworldly perils of this ancient evil.
Evolver (which is as much like Spider-Man and The Fugitive mashed up as anything else.):
Jackson Savage adjusted pretty easily to life in college until his dying father injected him with experimental DNA. Now suspected of terrible crimes, he must adapt quickly to find his father’s murderer. Pursued by a mad scientist’s monsters, Jackson discovers survival skills no other human has. 

If you can help me figure this out, I'd be really grateful.

In the meantime, I'll be whacking away at completing this draft of Evolver 2. I'm all jazzed up to be writing.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Post-Con Debrief

Darkseid and Luthor visited early and were around all
weekend.
Home from Planet Comicon 2013 and boy am I tired. It was a great show. HUGE compared to how it's been in years past and despite a few growing pains I think it has to be counted a success by everyone who attended and participated. Just an absolutely amazing time.

THE EXPERIENCE

When I walked onto the con floor with tablemate R.L. Naquin I was amazed. I've been to cons in KC and San Diego and elsewhere and this felt like any comic convention anywhere. Some booths were enormous, others only the size of a six-foot long table. The aisles were wider than they'd been in the Overland Park Convention Center over the last few years and that was obvious as soon as people started to pour in. As we were setting up, a bagpiper played the Star Wars theme and set the mood.

Being able to pick up our badges and wrist bands early, days before the show opened, was a smart move. Kudos to the organizers for being on top of their game enough to allow for that.

The only downside to the entire show was my poor planning for eating lunch on Saturday. I should have realized that come noon the line at the major chain sandwich purveyor would be longer than the line to get in. Because of the way they prepare their product the line was at least an hour long, if not longer. We ended up going outside to find a hotdog vendor which saved us money but wasn't as satisfying. Next year I'm going down 13th street to Constantino's grocery store where I hear the food is excellent. Wish I'd paid attention to advice like that pre-con.

It's Adventure Time!
Oh yeah, when we walked up the seemingly mile-long hallway that led to the escalators going up, it was obvious that the crowd waiting in line was buzzed. Everyone was excited to be there. All day on Saturday and early on Sunday (I didn't make it out until near the end of the show on Sunday) the line was long, long, long but seemed to move quickly. Anecdotal evidence from visitors to our table said that the staff did a great job keeping things moving, too.

My favorite moment of the con was talking with Neal Adams and shaking his hand. Having him sign my copy of the treasury-sized Superman vs. Muhammad Ali  and telling him he was my inspiration for wanting to be an artist and storyteller is up there with meeting Big John Buscema in San Diego. Neal was gracious and a real gentleman.


THE TABLE

Our table was in a great location. Actually ALL the Artist's Alley tables were in great locations. Attendees could walk around the outside of the con floor and could find everyone they might be looking for. Our neighbors were a terrific artist who was great with all his customers and drew well and fast one side and on the other were Bikers Against Child Abuse. Both of them were the nicest, friendliest folks. That always makes the days better. No one took up too much space and I don't think anyone felt like their tables were impeded by visitors to other tables grouping around too much. No one was really blocked. At least, we weren't.

The show is so big now that it's inevitable that there are some jerks who just can't be good. A friend got ripped off when she stepped away from her table for a bit, though. Someone stealing from an artist isn't new but it's sad that it happened. I hope this was a singular incident.

Huntress and Scarlet Witch both were awesome and pulled
off their costumes perfectly. Great job, ladies.
The price of the table was right and our location made it worthwhile. We watched all the cosplayers walk by and stop for pictures every four or five steps. Because of things I've read about other recent cons in other cities, I did pay attention and didn't see any instances of people getting out of hand with the scantily clad women. Everyone seemed respectful from where I sat. Especially the most daring cosplayer who wore the extremely minimal armor of Red Sonja and looked exactly like a Frank Thorne drawing.

THE PANELS

I've done panels before, not many, but a few here and there. I was a little worried about moderating my first panel at such a high profile event and with a couple of very high profile panelists. I needn't have but I'll get to that in a minute. Being part of the panel with writers Alex Grecian and Elizabeth Bunce and Rachel was a good time. The fact that it was moderated by my mentor and friend Ande Parks was even better. That one I wasn't concerned about at all, either. We had a nice turnout and got some great questions.

On Saturday I walked around to introduce myself to Ben Templesmith and Peter Bagge and ask them if there was something they wanted to talk about on the panel I was moderating. I'd done some research on everyone involved. I had met Chris Grine through Ande previously and met Kelsey Wroten for the first time. My goal for the panel was to ask a few questions, then let the audience take over. I had maybe half a dozen questions ready based on what they'd told me in advance and a couple more I'd come up with by talking to friends like Kevin Mellon and B. Clay Moore. Of course I was a little nervous but Peter and Ben and Kelsey and Chris were awesome. And the audience was loaded with good questions, too. In the end I had a great time and think I did okay moderating. If they ask me back to do more next year I'm in.

CONCLUSIONS

The red Dalek insists I return next year else
I risk extermination. 
Overall, the show is well-run and there were some growing pains but nothing that can't be fixed and overcome. Everyone involved was attentive, helpful and gracious. 95% of everything was right. For Sunday they got the hall's management to open two more food vendors so that the lunch lines were a lot shorter. Organization seemed top-notch. As is normal with such large operations, communication sometimes lacked but when it was brought to their attention, the team behind the show did terrific work in getting the information out through their various social media outlets and by email.

A particular shoutout to both Justin Cline and Kirk Chritton. Both these gentlemen made me feel like I was as valuable to the show as any of the celebrity guests. The hall staff was terribly helpful, too. Everyone with the show just had great attitudes and made it a terrific experience.

If you didn't go and thought about it, go next year. You'll have a great time.

Now that I'm back in the game, I'll be there as often as I can. I'm already beginning to plan my approach for next year when I'll have more books to sell.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Planet Comicon is NOW


I will be at table 1210 in Artist's Alley with my good friend and fellow Confabulator R.L. Naquin. We'll be on a panel together at 12 pm Sunday called Prose Pursuits (guess what that's about...) in Hall D alongside Alex Grecian and Elizabeth Bunce and I will be moderating a panel also on Sunday called Independent Vision in Hall B with guests Peter Bagge, Ben Templesmith, and Kelsey Wroten.

The pictures I'm seeing from Bartle Hall tell me this is the new paradigm for Kansas City Comic Conventions. I'll share my own photos when I can. Look for a semi-coherent report on Monday.

Stop by the table. If I'm not doing one of the panels I should be there. I'm not keeping a schedule because hey - sometimes you need to get up and walk around. Plus there are so many people to see...

Watch the Twitter feed for updates throughout the weekend.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Planet Comicon 2013

All the cool kids will be there.
This weekend, April 6 - 7, I'll be at Planet Comicon in Kansas City. I'll be at table 1210 in Artist's Alley with my good friend and fellow Confabulator R.L. Naquin. She's promoting her new book Pooka in My Pantry (you can find more info and buy links here) and I'll be hawking mine, Agent of DANGER: Strange Polarity. (And you can buy the ebook for 99c here and here.)

I hear some of you saying "Big deal, lots of people are there, why stop by and see you?" and that's a legitimate question.

To which I can only say: "Because I'll have stuff."

First, I'll have only a few paperback copies of both Agent of DANGER: Strange Polarity and Evolver: Apex Predator. Both have awesome Phil Hester covers and HE will be at the show on Sunday so you could get those signed by him if you wanted.

Second, I'll be able to show you what the ebooks look like and will share previews of both books with anyone who stops by.

Third, I'll have a box of stuff from the last time I was at Planet Comicon over ten years ago. Some mini comics and maybe a couple copies of the collection of essays I wrote about making mini comics.

Fourth, you can come see Rachel and me on the Prose Pursuits panel from 12:00 to 12:50 on Sunday. Well, actually you'll come to hear Alex Grecian talk about his new book and I may contribute something to the conversation about writing prose. It'll be fun and worth your time. Who needs to go to the Adam Baldwin panel at the same time, anyway? I may also be moderating another panel. Stay tuned.

Fifth, when I'm not on the floor searching for comics, I'll be livewriting at the table. That is, each day I'll write a short story in longhand on paper. I exhort you to stop by my table and ask how the writing is going. Ask to see a page, read it, tell me what you think. Likely there will be unintelligible scrawling, some doodles, and probably more than a few misspellings and incoherent sentences. The idea is to do like artists do but instead of sketching I'll write words. If you'd like to have a short, short fiction (five or ten sentences) we'll haggle but who wants something like that from a writer? I guess I'll find out.

Sixth, just come over and say 'hello'. Let me know you're reading the blog, talk about stories, writers, artists, comics, movies. You know convention stuff.

So yeah, that's what's happening this weekend. I'll take pictures when I can and update from my phone if it's possible. I'll be pretty disconnected from the internet for the weekend so you all be good to one another and stay out of trouble.

Monday, April 01, 2013

What Value, Art?

Does art in any of its forms move you? Does it make you feel something?

Music. Music is art, right? What do you feel when you hear a song? Do you have a favorite song and do you share that favorite song with others? (Hey, listen to this. This is amazing. You'll love it.) Have you had someone share their favorite song with you?

There's a method to this barrage of questions. I know you guys are smart, you can probably already see where this is going...

Ever stolen something? A pen from work, some paper? Ever shoplifted? Maybe tasted something in the store before you bought it, like a grape or something. Or a banana.

Okay, now I've got your attention. Why, when you go to the deli, do they weigh things and stick a bar code on it before they hand it to you? The answer, of course, is that they want you to pay for every ounce of pastrami or cheese or whatever. But they don't do that with the grapes or the bananas. Why not? Don't they trust me? After all, I just want to know that the grapes aren't sour and I don't want to pay for them if they are...

Fine. I get that. I disagree with it, but I get it. Sampling is one way to determine if you're going to like something.

To tie this to music, I like to listen to a record in its entirety to decide if I want to buy the whole thing. I love it when NPR streams something. I love it when artists stream on their sites. I point you to those things when I know about them. I've bought more music by hearing it all first than I haven't.

In bookstores (remember those dinosaurs?) I will browse titles and maybe flip something open and read a page or two then decide if it's what I want. I don't see anything wrong in that and the stores don't either. But when they put in comfy chairs and coffee bars and people park there for hours on end to read a single book, it's not a bookstore any more but a library. With coffee.

I hated when Borders did that. Cafe/Bookstores were all the rage and they're fine, ultimately, but they shouldn't be necessary. Bookstores shouldn't demand customers hang out. That helped the current culture of browsing in bookstores, sampling, then buying online via some application on your phone because you can get it cheaper from an internet bookseller.

Now we're seeing artists in comics, music, books, etc... using 'pay what you want' models to offer product to consumers. How much is that Radiohead album worth to you? What will you pay for Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's new comic series?

I have a lot of friends who make art of one kind or another. I wish I could support them all by buying their products though it's just not possible. Instead I try to point others who might have a modicum of disposable cash to them. I admire the crowdfunding that happens through Kickstarter and other sites. I think that's awesome. Find a level you like and spend that much to get a piece of art that you WANT.

Yes, corporations have sullied the feedpan for all us chickens who just want to read or listen or watch something. Yes, they were greedy bastards. Always have been. Nice of you to notice.

But who do you hurt when you download a TV series? Not the corporation. The folks who wrote, produced, acted, supported, distributed, and contributed to the show being on the air in any number of venues. When shows are stolen those folks are not paid residuals because those views don't count and corporations don't pay on uncounted viewings.

Those damn stupid ads that you can't bypass on DVDs (remember those?) that tell you stealing is wrong have value. They remind you that stealing is wrong.

So what value do you place on books? Enough to support the writer and everyone who helps her get it out into the world? Of what value is music that makes you feel? Everyone needs support to continue making the things that make us happy. Writers, artists, musicians, even some bloggers and journalists.

The real question is How Much Do You Value the Things That Enrich Your Life? What are you willing to pay to help those artists survive, live, thrive, and make more?

If you're coming to Planet Comicon (or attending any sort of artistic event) something you should remember is that not everyone who is famous at those things makes a real living off their art. Some do, quite a few do, but not everyone. If you find something you're interested in, engage with the artist and think hard about buying something. Likely that person has paid to attend said event and would like to eat lunch at some point. Dropping a dollar or two will keep them going and allow them to create more art.

Art for you to enjoy.