Dark AND Fun (A sort of Mad Max Review) #MondayBlogs

I recently watched Mad Max: Fury Road and holy fuck that was a fun movie. I expected to watch people drive through the desert in lunatic clothing screaming incoherent thoughts. Something like a remake of the California Love music video, you might say.

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Caaaalifornya Looo-ve.

What I did not expect was the damn fine movie that it was. The entire 2 hours were insane and dark and gritty and entertaining. More than once I had to laugh, not because anything particularly funny happen, but just at the fact of how much joy the set and rig designers must have had making this movie. There is one entire rig where the back side hold 4 guys drumming and the front has a guitarist suspended by bungee cords wailing away for the ENTIRE movie. What other movie could pull some shit like that off?

Now, stepping away from Mad Max, the movie reminded me of a Joss Whedon quote. I’m not much of a quote fanatic, but there are a few that stick with me and this is one of those: Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of god, tell a joke.

That very statement is what’s wrong with DC movies, Batman in particular. The Dark Knight Rises was so heavy and tried to hard to be important and grim and whatever else, that it forgot to be fun. That could be forgivable in some instances, but when your screenplay comes from a comic book? Nah, bruh, it has to be fun. It came from a goddamn cartoon.

Coincidentaly, this is one key aspect of story-telling that I think horror movies do well. How many scary movies have you watched that made you laugh out loud? More than one, I bet. Horror writers (The good ones anyway. Well, I’m assuming, I don’t care all that much for scary movies anymore) understand that if you are going to spend 90 minutes ruining someone’s (or everyone’s) life, you need to spruce it up with a couple jokes. Otherwise, your audience might actually kill themselves mid-movie.

Hell, Nightmare on Elm Street frightened the hell out of a good 3 people and Freddy Krueger still wound up being a singing, dancing, Ace Ventura with bad acne scars. Evil Dead? Scary as ten dammits before it became more funny than terrifying. And that’s the human response, right? We make jokes to get through a bad situation. How many times has the shit hit the fan and you’ve been like ‘well, at least I just bought this new shitproof shirt. Now it’s just my pants that are dirty.’? Okay, that might not be my strongest example, but you get the point.

Are we all going to die in a blaze of burning knives coated in cyanide with a witty retort on our lips? Probably not, but hey, they’re movies, they have to be a little liberal with ideas. But otherwise, that’s life. Bad shit happens and we make jokes to feel better. So, to me at least, when there is a story and bad things happen repeatedly with no lightening of the mood, it legitimately gets me down. A while back I came across a list: great movies you’ll never want to watch again. I read over the blurbs for each of the movies and never wanted to watch them in the first place. They all just sounded like a lot of awful things happening. I don’t give a damn how good the acting or screenplay is, I don’t want to watch a movie where a pregnant woman gets stabbed in the gut with scissors. (Yes, that was actually in a movie on the list. Maybe not exactly like that, but something close.)

Story-tellers, wordsmiths, scribes, best sellers, and hacks; no matter what you think of Whedon, remember those words and for god’s sake, tell a fucking joke already.

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Knuckle Up Chump. Writing is a Deathmatch #MondayBlogs

I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it a million more damn times. Writing ain’t easy. And when I say that, I don’t mean writing 80,000 words of coherent story. Don’t even get me started on the countless hours of editing. The soul crushingness of beta readers and further editing. Not to mention the sore throat from reading the entire novel out loud.

I suppose it could end there, but after you’ve written and edited a novel, you probably want to sell it, right? And when I say writing ain’t easy, I’m still not talking about the fight to craft the perfect fucking query letter. Is this concise? Does it convey the right tension? Do I include previous works? What if they didn’t sell well? Should I tell the agent about my overwhelming fear of praying mantises (Manti?)?

After that there’s the always smooth sailing of rejections. Form letter after form letter after slightly personalized form letter, the highlight of the rejection process. But hey, even J.K. Rowling got rejected, right? So you keep plugging ahead. Eventually move from agents to small presses. That shouldn’t be as strict and then you find one and discover that you should have been building yours social network months ago.

It goes on and on. The struggle for sales is real. What about this technique? How about this marketing service? There are probably a million different questions and ten million different answers. And every last one of them leads to work. How much work you put in can decide how successful you will be.

A friend sent me something to the extent of this: Only 5% of people start a book. Of them, only 5% finish the first draft. Of those only 5% have the tenacity to stick through edits. 5% through queries and so it goes. On and on. So do you have what it takes to be in the 5% of the 5% of the 5% of the 5% or whatever? Yes, good. Write a novel and sell some goddamn books. If the answer is no, that’s not a bad thing. Maybe you just really enjoy writing books.

To be honest, I’m at a bit of an impasse. I started writing books because I love it. I started selling books because I’m a narcissist who needs constant approval. Now, I’ve got 4 novels out there that, quite frankly, aren’t selling worth a damn. Recently, I’ve signed up with a book marketing badass (C.D. Taylor) and she has given me a ton of instruction (Read: Work) to market myself. If I follow every bit of direction I’ve been giving, I will surely sell more books, but I will also not have any time to write any more books if I follow all of the instructions. Selling books means a lot to me, but so does writing them. I’ve got a decision to make about how hard I’m willing to work to be successful. So do you. Life is all about finding a balance, my friends. Sometimes that comes natural and sometimes you have to work for it, but whatever you do, never assume writing is easy and know that it doesn’t stop as soon as you get words on the page.

When depression acts as a writer’s block

I can’t write.

No, that’s not just an honest observation of my abilities as a wordsmith. What I mean to say is: right this very moment I am having difficulty forming words or the energy to deal with them.

When creative people are emotional or depressed, they make their masterpieces; forever that’s been the most common trope I’ve heard about artists. People go into their dark places and draw from within and puke up a mixture of last night’s whiskey and artistic brilliance.

For me, that’s not the case. Right now, I’m having a hard fucking time. Two full time jobs mean 90 hour workweeks. 90 hour weeks mean I don’t sleep and I miss my family. I’m not digging for sympathy, just laying things out. Now, one of my jobs is over night at a hotel. The hotel is small and six hours of my night are spent doing nothing. Last night, I played Need for Speed for five hours. That should mean premium writing time, right? Hell, at my usual wordcount per hour, I should have two novels done this month.

But no, I haven’t written a single goddamn word. I’m having a hard time editing the words I have written. And no, it’s not because I’m half-asleep at four in the morning. I just don’t have the concentration to write. My problems and sorrows and whatever the hell else are floating around in my brain and I don’t have the energy to worry about anyone else’s. For me, writing isn’t hard under normal circumstances. Rarely do I struggle to tell a story, but right now I’m coming up empty. I’ve got two half-finished novels, one short story, and one comic script that all desperately need attention and I can barely hold my shit together well enough to write this blog post.

What makes everything worse, as my friend Danielle Shipley pointed out, writing is fun and being too tired to write adds to the stress that caused me to not write in the first place. It’s one hell of a vicious cycle.  Before, I didn’t have time, but could still manage to squeeze out words at a pretty steady rate. Right now, I have all the time in the world and instead of doing anything remotely productive with my ‘career’ I’m plopped in front of a TV debating what gear settings would be best on my Nissan GTR and thinking about how maybe writing just wasn’t my thing. All of this because I’ve got other things on my mind.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Just thinking out loud, I suppose. Maybe I just wanted to see who else out there is the same. What about you guys? Do you struggle with words when you struggle with other things? Or is stress and depression a proving ground for perfect prose? I’m off now, to do some editing and hopefully get my groove back.

THE INDUSTRY IS CHANGING!

The industry is changing, the industry is changing, HOLY FUCKING SHIT, THE INDUSTRY IS CHANGING. And I’ll just throw in the usual disclaimer that I’m no industry expert, I’m barely even a part of this industry that I’m about to rant about, BUT, I am a writer—both traditionally and self-published—and I’m a reader.

This all started when a friend read one of my unpublished manuscripts and suggested I should self-publish it because the genre is weird and will make it hard to market to an agent or publisher. I thought about self-pubbing, but my eventual goal is to get an agent and I wasn’t sure if self-pub would be the truest route to that end. Then today, a different friend sent me a link to this article on Anne R. Allen’s blog about how self-publishing isn’t as clear of a route to an agent as it used to be.

All this information has got me thinking, and bitching about ‘the industry’. Publishing has gone through a whole slew of shit in the last decade. It’s gone from, ‘you aren’t on the big five, no one has ever heard of you’ to ‘HOLY SHIT THIS SELF-PUBLISHING ON KINDLE THING IS GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE FAMOUS’ to ‘MY GOD, THERE ARE 17 BILLION SHITTY, FREE BOOKS ON KINDLE WHY CAN’T I FIND A GOOD ONE?’ to ‘Kindle Unlimited is making books free and cutting into indie author profits how we will carry on?’ and so on. In short, the industry is changing.

I think if the publishing industry is smart, they will take a look at the music industry, because everything is changing. Technology is changing the world, for everything. I think the music industry has handled this change particularly shitty, and books can easily fall into the same hole. The biggest problem is free. Everyone wants everything for free and they want it now.

In response to expensive shit–$20 for an album, $30 for a book, $25 for a movie—people have started stealing shit. Piracy is a big deal and it’s not going away. Now, I’m not here to bitch about internet pirates. Honestly, I don’t know exactly how I feel about piracy. BUT people are taking shit because #1: everyone is broke and #2 they feel ripped off by ‘the industry’. Books are especially shitty in this case because they are charging $13 for an ebook. If you are going to charge $30 for a hardcover, at least the reader is getting a sexy book that looks nice on the shelf. Paying for ebooks feels like paying for air. You can’t see it so it’s hard to justify. Piracy is a big deal.

The next big thing is bundling. Bundling is HUGE and publishing has been stupid slow to react. You know why it’s huge? Because people USE e-whatever. They listen to music on their phone. They read books on their phone. They have sex ON THEIR PHONE. Okay, I’m not sure how that last one relates, but I said it anyway. People love the ease of electronic copies, but since they are paying for air, it’s hard to justify.

Easy way around that? You guessed it, fucking bundling. You bundle an ebook and physical copy. People read the ebook because it’s convenient, and then they put the physical copy on their shelf to show that they paid for something. Same with music. You know how I listen to music? On a record player because I’m kind of a hipster like that. You know what I won’t pay? $12 for an album on my phone. You know what I will pay $24 for? That same album on vinyl with a free digital copy. Best of both worlds.

The next factor in this whole mess is streaming services. Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, and now Kindle Unlimited. These services are a godsend for people who devour media. I personally love Spotify, I have converted many friends to its wonders. I pay for my subscription. TV watchers feel the same of Netflix (a service I also pay for), and readers probably feel same of Kindle Unlimited. As far as I know, artists hate these streaming services. Taylor Swift had all her music pulled off Spotify because art shouldn’t be free or some shit like that. I still haven’t figured out why she took her music off, though.

I’ve seen multiple articles about how Kindle Unlimited has murdered indie author salaries. The way artists get paid is changing. What absolutely sucks about is this: the biggest people it’s hurting are the indie artists. Whether it’s on Spotify or not, Taylor Swift is a multi-millionaire. Whether Fifty Shades of Gray is part of Kindle Unlimited or not, EL James has a boatload of money. Through whatever mix of money, marketing, and luck, those people have established their fame.

Do you think it matters to Cutthroat Shamrock if their music is free? Your fucking right it matters because in your mind you just said, ‘Who the fuck is Cutthroat Shamrock?’. Do you think it matters to me if people get my book on Kindle Unlimited and I get a few cents instead of a dollar? It can, yeah. I’m not a career author, but I’d like to be. Do you know how I can be a career author? Getting more people to PAY for my work. That matters to me, probably not to you so much. BUT if you like my writing and want to see more of it, I need time. Writing takes time, books take time. There’s an old saying something that includes time and money…*snaps fingers* what was it? Oh yeah, “He who doesn’t have a fucking dime, doesn’t have time to waste on art because food and gas and diapers are expensive and shit”.

So, the industry is changing. Do I have answers? Not really, other than the bundling thing. But we as artists all need to adapt, we need to get ready for the changing market. We need to get more creative. You know something I’ve seen in music for a while, but have only just now seen in books? Pay what you please media. I’ve seen more than one high-profile musician say ‘want it free? Take it. Enjoy it? Pay whatever you feel it’s worth.’ I can’t remember who, but I saw that same approach with a book the other day. Creative marketing is a big deal. The few super successful authors will always be successful and the rest of us are going to have to figure out how to change to keep up.

The last thing I have to say is a repeat: Art shouldn’t be free. I mostly agree with this. There is a lot of work involved in creating a book. I have put lots of time and effort and energy into each and every one of my books. Whether I make a million dollars or three cents, I will continue writing. It’s something I can’t shake. How many other authors can say the same? How many talented authors write for a living? Lots. If we don’t pay for their art, they will quit creating it. They won’t have a choice, we all need paid. So if you want to pirate a book, go for it. And in a decade when all your favorite authors quit writing books because everyone stole all their work, you don’t get to be angry.

Fuck the Hero, Show Me the Villain

Disclaimer: This has been said before, I’m sure of it. Probably more eloquently and by someone much smarter than I. I have just had this on my mind and felt a need to get it out in my own words.

I read a tweet the other day. By the other day, I mean more than a week ago and by that I mean, I have no idea who tweeted it or exactly what the tweet said. Therefore, I’m going to paraphrase. The tweet said something like: What’s with everything wanting me to root for the bad guy? I want to root for the hero.

I get it. I really do. Rooting for the hero is understandable. Everyone likes to imagine themselves as the main character and no one wants to see themselves as the ‘relatable bad guy’. Fuck no. We all want to be the strong jawed, chiseled ab’d, perfect spoken, wealthy super-man (or woman). BUT, and here’s a big fucking but, that’s not the case. Every one is a villain to someone. There’s a quote about writing:

Every villain is the hero of their own story.

That quote gets its own paragraph, because it’s that fucking special. A real gem. No, I’m being serious right now.  In all the stories we got as kids, the bad guys were just, bad guys. They just wanted to ‘rule the world’ for no other apparent reason than it gave them an excuse to try to kill the heroes in the most ludicrous possible way. That was fine when we were six. Sounded scary. Worked. But now, now things are different. Empathy is a comprehendible emotion that I didn’t so much have as a kid.

Those bad guys that want to take over the world? Yeah, they exist. And they do want to rule. Do you know why? Because they think it can be better. Every single person who has tried to take power of any sort, has done so because they think they can do better. How many times have you seen some half-assed operation and thought, ‘I could totally fucking run that better’? I bet you have. Some people take the gumption to actually take steps to change it. Whether we are talking about the service at McDonald’s or a country’s government, it’s the same.

So, that person trying to make change, they are doing so because they want to improve something. They want to change. Do you know what happens when things change? Someone inevitably gets fucked. Let’s use the fast food example, but not the place with the golden arches, we’ll call this place a small bar, let’s say, St. Sebastian’s. Now, this bar is getting along, doing fine. Sure, the servers don’t pay a whole lot of attention to their tables, and the bartender spends more time on his phone than serving drinks, but the place turns a small profit. Things are good.

Now, an entrepreneur sees the place for its potential. He thinks he can really shine the place up. So he buys St. Sebastian’s and takes over running the bar. Now, the servers have to pay attention to their customers, build loyalty and repeat service. The bartender has to put his phone down and fill orders, maybe even clean between mixing up those delightfully delicious daiquiris. Customers love the turnaround. St. Sebastian’s becomes a place where people like to come and drink, a regular shining example of what a hole-in-the-wall should be.

Our entrepreneur is a hero, right? He improved business and profit and has happier customers. Everything is better for everyone, right? Almost. Those servers and that bartender, remember them? Yeah, they hate our entrepreneur friend. With a burning fucking passion. They had a good thing going and this asshole had to stroll in and fuck it all up with that goddamn work thing. Are they wrong, for being mad because they are expected to work at their job? Of course they are. Do they understand that? Nope. Mr. Entrepreneur is absolutely a villain to them.

This boiled down example can be expanded to work on everything. So back to rooting for the good guy. At some point, people have realized that clear-cut heroes and villains are for the birds. Everyone is both. Every human is both a hero and a villain to someone. We have just transitioned so that we are telling stories from both sides. The bad guy has a reason and we are learning his reasons. I LOVE that. Show me what the (pro)antagonist is fighting for. It’s something.

Breaking Bad, for example. (WARNING I AM PROBABLY ABOUT TO SPOIL THE HOLY FUCKING SHIT OUT OF BREAKING BAD SO IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE SHOW YOU SHOULD PROBALBY STOP READING BECAUSE SPOILERS AND SHIT.) Breaking Bad is one of my favorite stories in recent memory. Let’s break it down.

Walt gets cancer. He’s a teacher and can’t afford that kind of thing. Being sick is expensive, who can afford that? Walt is a husband and a father. All the sudden he’s looking at sure death and leaving his family with a hudred grand worth of debt. No good person wants to do that to their family. It’s a fucking hell of a catch 22. Do you pay to keep yourself alive and screw your family financially? Or do you give up and not fight it to save money? No shit, this is a scenario I’ve thought about before because apparently being a parent makes you paranoid as a motherfucker.

Turn out, Walt is a pretty fly chemist. A chemist needs quick cash. What is the quickest way to make cash? Drugs. No, seriously. People always want drugs, people pay CASH for drugs. Walt knows drugs, Walt needs cash, so he takes the clear choice and makes them. Up to this point, we are on his side. The dilemma is relatable. Walt is breaking the law and manufacturing a hardcore drug. Make no mistake, he is a bad guy, but he has a reason. That reason is what drives the plot for me. Remembering why he started and where he came from all while watching how much farther he descends into being a total fucking asshole.

You’ve heard of gateway drugs, right? In a way, this is gateway villainry. Take a small, justified step toward the darker side of life and before you know it, you’re falling down a pitch black hole of world domination. That’s why I like to root for the bad guy and want more stories like it. Perfect can fuck right off. No one is perfect and no one gets where they are without stepping over someone else. Show me those steps. Bonus points if you show me both, the person doing the stepping and the person getting stepped on.

This is why I write #MondayBlogs

Okay, so last week my buddy Mark T. Conard tagged me in this little blog hoppy thingy madoo. I completely forgot about it until right this second, so forgive me as the rest of this is shit is made up off the top of my head. Also, Mark is a kickass writer, I just finished his book Killer’s Coda. Go read it.

 

So why do I write? Easy. It’s fun. I’ve always written in one form or another, crappy teenage poetry or songs or 2nd grade comic books. A couple years ago I fucked up and wrote a novel. No really, it was a joke. I had no idea what I was doing or how to write anything. This nifty idea just popped in my brain and I was like, ‘huh, I could make a book of that’. So I wrote. Eighty thousand words of pure garbage muddying up a somewhat unique idea. I didn’t get that then.

 

I just knew that it was fun. Holy shit, I finished a novel. It was huge. So I blindly submitted it to agents like crazy. Stupid idea, I know. I’ve learned a lot since then. But, back on track, writing was, is, fun. It’s a blast. I get to create and then brutally murder things on a daily basis and people laugh about it.  And sometimes people even pay me for it. Holy shit. Did I mention writing is fun?

 

That’s it for me. Whether I hit the bestseller list tomorrow or never have another word published, I will write because I enjoy it. I get to make people laugh or cry or just, feel. That’s a wonderful thing to do with my spare time.  That is why I will always write.

 

To all the writers reading this: Have fucking fun. Okay? *Knocks on forehead* Yeah, shit’s stressful and rejection hangs around every corner, but THIS. IS. SUPPOSED. TO. BE. FUN. GODAMMIT. Have a good time out there guys. I hope you enjoy your week.

What meeting a band taught me about writing #MondayBlogs

On Wednesday my wife and I went to a concert together. It was our first ever concert after being together for over ten years. The band was Vintage Trouble and they fucking ruled. Seriously, these guys are all amazing musicians.  If you don’t know them, look ‘em up. I’ll wait here. You know what, fuck it, I’ll just embed a video for you to listen to while you skim these words. Ready, go:

 

Great fucking song, isn’t it? So, after the show, we went up to grab a vinyl (yes, I listen to vinyl, what else would I listen to?) and get it signed by the band. We get up to the band, who were all super cool, and first up is Ty Taylor, the lead singer. He shakes my hand and I tell him they fucking killed tonight or something. First thing he says is, ‘Do you play?’ Yeah, I’ve got a scraggly beard and long hair, maybe that’s why he asked? Maybe I look as poor as only an artist can be? I dunno.

 

Either way, with a line at my back and the quick wit of cement, I could only say, ‘Uh…not in a long time’. Which is true. I haven’t played guitar in over two years. He gave me a shocked kind of look and said, ‘Man, don’t you miss it?’ as if he couldn’t imagine going without playing. And I bet he can’t. I imagine he lives for the music he creates. I told him I do miss it and stepped on down the line to get the Nalle Colt, the guitarist’s signature.

 

What I wanted to tell him was that I quit guitar because I found writing. I love music. It’s a huge part of my life and there’s always music playing around me. Playing guitar was a whole hell of a lot of fun and I would pick it back up if I had the time, but there’s just something I get from writing that I don’t from music. A sense of freeness and accomplishment or whatever you want to call it. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the same feeling Ty gets while making music and that why he can’t live without it. I gave up guitar because I didn’t HAVE the time; I write novels because I MAKE the time.

 

Maybe he was just making conversation in the three seconds he gets per person during signings. Maybe he assumed I look like a musician. Or maybe creative types can see that little bit of something in each other. No matter what brought up the question, it made me think about why I write and reminded me that great stories are something I can never live without. I thank Ty and Vintage Trouble for that just as much as I do for the great show.