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.

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.

Whiskey & Wasted Words Episode #1

Hey all, Prose Bro Chris Smith and I have started our very own podcast. And I’m so excited I want to share it with y’all. So I think I’m going to embed it.

Right here:

And if that’s not good enough, here a link to just download the whole damn she-bang: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0Jh39f9rE17SW8yOFdOcnU0SHc

There are probably a million people I need to thank, but I’m blanking right now. For sure these two though:

We owe thanks to @EveyJacob on Twitter for sending in the icebreaker question and my friend Chris Suggs for donating some great music for our theme. You can find more of his works at  http://mortarstn.bandcamp.com/

SO tune in and listen to Chris and I babble about music and writing and why we are completely unqualified to give advice.

#13WeeksOfHorror Black Cats

“Do it, ya fuckin’ pussy.”

“Yeah, come on already.”

“Dooo it. Dooo it. Dooo it.”

The crowd of kids gathered close around. Well, close enough to see the show and still avoid any gore if things went bad.

Tom stood in the middle of the circle of anxious kids. He gripped a sheet of mini-explosives in one hand, polished steel Zippo in the other. He didn’t smoke, but always carried the lighter. Not a pyro, per se, Tom like to have options. And if any of those options included setting something on fire, so be it.

Even still, this stunt was above his usual level of stupidity.

He flipped the lighter open with his thumb, flipped it back with his index finger. The steady clack of the lid relaxed him. These weren’t cherry bombs or M-80s for Christ sake, just a few firecrackers. But still…

Why did I take this stupid bet again?

Toward the back of the group a pair of blueish, blue eyes watched Tom’s every move. He wished he could come up with a better name for those eyes, but Tom was neither poet nor romantic. Tom was a daredevil. Years of excellent stories revealed themselves in scars along his body like a road map to glory. Pain is but a moment, right? He’d heard that somewhere.

“Yeeaaarrghh,” Tom shouted as he thrust both arms in the air.

The crowed took a cumulative step closer. Two dozen phones held out at the ready, a generation of electronic third eyes ready to capture the moment. Tom flicked the lid back and struck the wheel. Flame danced on the tip of the lighter. Those eyes, those blues eyes grew wide as he touched the fire to the wick of the Black Cats. He thought it was a look of nervous excitement. That’s when he noticed how they glistened. They shone with all the sorrow of the blue flame that blew this bridge to pieces.

Too late to turn back now. The whole school would see the videos.

She never cried for him, just hung her head and walked away as he exploded his way to a glory more lonely. But at least he would always have the last look of those blueish blue eyes to keep him company, even when the flash of local fame dissolved like the smoke in the aftermath.

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.

#TeaserTenth for February

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#TeaserTenth is a monthly meme for writers, both published and unpublished. It’s a great opportunity to meet other writers, as well as readers, by sharing a sampling (10 lines or less) of the stories we are working on, or have already published.

Feel free to join! (click the badge above for details.)

This week, I’ve decided to share lines from one of my works in progress. This is taken from a random spot in the book. (unedited.)

Enjoy!

Here’s something a little more intimate than I’m used to. These lines are from my current work in progress, tentatively titled GAMBIT.

“I love you,” Sam gasps between kisses.

A moan escapes Fox’s lips as Sam digs his fingers into her back. He drags her closer to his body. If he holds her close enough, they synchronize. Two hearts beat as one. Two chests rise and fall in tandem. Two beings become one. Sam kisses deeper, feels the love of Fox under his skin.

In his mind, this moment could last forever. Sam imagines doing this on the beach, sun setting into the ocean. Hell, for this, this feeling, this moment, Sam would drive to the ends of the Earth. A hundred lives could never make Sam feel as real as he is right this moment.

A sound somewhere between a Wookiee and a cat caught in radiator fan is the only warning to the slimy, dirty, rotted fist that connects with Sam’s right ear.

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.