David Niall Wilson
(19 comments, 87 posts)
This user hasn't shared any profile information
Home page: http://www.davidniallwilson.com
Posts by David Niall Wilson
I spend far too much time on trivialities in this blog, ignoring what it should truly be about. Words. Stories, creation and art – the ups and downs of the particular life behind my own stories. Some things matter more than others, and today, I have decided, is a very good day.
First, unrelated to any of the other topics involved, I went running for the first time in almost a year. I made it a mile and a half in the brand new Vivobarefoot Running shoes (more on those in another post). I came home, got the leash, and took Gizmo for a long cool walk, came home once again, fed the birds and closed their door so the rest of the family could continue sleeping…
Then, as I shook loose the final cobwebs, I opened up my Kindle Fire, turned on the Wi-Fi and began the download of the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s newest – The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I knew nothing about this story. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I knew one thing. There are things you look forward to. There are movies coming out – concerts to see – television premiere’s – vacations. All of these things you hold inside and when things get rough, you turn to them and wonder about them a little, and forget the world.
For many years now, one of the things that has done this for me is the work of Neil Gaiman. It’s infectious, of course, and has spread somewhat to the rest of the family. I pre-ordered the book because I think Trish might want to read it, and that Katie most certainly will. (She loved Coraline and has The Graveyard Book and Fortunately, the Milk waiting on her Kindle). While I will sit and agonize over buying new books and paying bigger prices, I have cast this aside as unimportant in a very few cases, and this case – this new story waiting – has been a top-of-that-list case for some time now. I pre-ordered the audiobook the minute it came out, and purposefully timed the last book I listened to to end yesterday, so I’d be ready.
So, I ran a mile and a half. I opened up my computer browser and went to check on my own story (written with the very talented author Steven Savile who – as it turns out – is also my very good friend) – Hallowed Ground, which has been enjoying a two day free promotion and has given away a (to me) staggering 18,200 copies or so. Currently, our little tale is #6 of all the free books available for the Kindle. If the gurus are right, well, this will continue on into sales when the promotion ends. If not – just maybe – some of those 18,000 people are settling into their day – perhaps with the Whispersync for Voice audio that is only $1.99 with the free book – but more likely with a Kindle – and dropping through time to the city of Rookwood, where magic, and crow-men, and even Lilith herself awaits them. That is what I hope, because here’s the thing.
I do not want to write like Neil Gaiman, though I count him among the three or four working authors I most admire. I do not want to write like Neil – but I want to “be” like Neil. I want to be seen for what my heart tells me I am – a teller of stories. Some of them are good, and others, probably not so much, but they are mine. I want to write like me, and be like Neil Gaiman, and -right this very moment – I want to be back on the bench, by the pond, where I left the protagonist of his new book staring at a pond and remembering. I want to listen for Monster, padding through the grass. I wonder what happened to Lettie. I will say nothing more about this book until I reach the other side…
But so far, this is a wonderful day. Thanks Neil.
I spent some time on the phone with a lady this morning that runs one of the bigger groups for independent booksellers in the south. It was one more in a long string of conversations that have led to this post. My goal here is two-fold. One, I want to educate everyone, readers, booksellers who might not know, and authors, on the mathematics of a POD book and why the current situation sucks. The second goal is to reach out to all of those same groups of people and work to find a solution. Here toes nothing.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use one of my own novels – Heart of a Dragon. This book is available in hardcover and in trade paperback, so I can show you the realities of pricing and distribution.
Out books are printed and shipped through Lightning Source. Lightning Source, of course, is associated with Ingram, but we’ll ignore that for now. Numbers:
Heart of a Dragon – Cover price $12.99 Trade paperback.
Heart of a Dragon – Cover price $24.99 Hardcover
Lighting Source has been very good to us. There is a calculator on their site where you plug in the type of book, the number of pages, and then experiment with prices and discounts so you find a point where you can make a little money and your author also makes money. It’s easy to use.
We have been discounting our books at 40 percent, hoping this would encourage independent bookstores to order from us. I know most of them use Ingrams or Baker & Taylor, and so, I thought giving this discount would at least help. On the above book:
$12.99 – 40 percent discount – we make $3.98 a book. This is split 50/50 with our authors. The rest, we split among the company and the book designer we work with. in other words. Not much.
$24.99 – 40 percent discount – we make $4.53 a book. Same deal.
That is what we make if we manage to sell a book through Ingram. What I’ve been told is – they do not pass this discount on to booksellers. They short discount it – probably no better than 15-25 percent in any case. Why? Because we don’t allow returns. To explain that. If 100 books are ordered, and we accept returns, and only 30 are sold, the other 70 are returned to Ingram, probably damaged at least lightly, and shipped to us, and we have to buy them all at cost. We have no warehouse. It’s a problem. So, we don’t allow returns.
The reality is that Ingrams WANTS you to discount your books 55% and accept returns. If you don’t accept returns, and still manage to get up to 55% you might start to see some bookstore returns, but here’s the thing. For us to make the same amount on the books prices have to go up considerably.
HC – $32.99 – 55 percent discount we make: $4.39
TPB – $17.99 – 55 percent discount we make $4.29
Then, if we were to take returns, we risk having a pile of these laying around….
If people order directly from us, we can offer the deeper discount to THEM. There may be a point in the middle where all this meets up. We may have to raise prices slightly to give bookstores 50 percent without returns. Currently, what we have done (effective the end of June) is to lower our discount to 20 percent, cutting out ANY sales to bookstores through Ingram, but lowering the cost at B&N and Amazon and directly through us and raising the amount per sale that our authors will receive. We don’t want to be for sale only on the Internet, but that appears to be where we’re heading.
What will fix all of this? A Network of independent publishers creating a single source for booksellers to order from that is simple in the way ordering from Ingram is, but that does NOT cost a chunk of the profit to use. Also, and those of you who have published through NYC know this, if we offer returns we have to change our accounting. We have to keep a “reserve against returns” on print book sales for at least six months, meaning you wait longer to get paid for your books, and if they are returned, don’t get paid for them at all. Then we have to have big “damaged book” sales and try to unload them at $5 – $10 a copy to cover print costs.
Another possibility is to make the information on POD books – cover art, description, price available in stores for customers willing to wait for delivery to their store. Maybe laminated product cards?
It’s ridiculous that we can’t find a better way for this to work in this digital age. Print on Demand has changed the availability of books, simplified the math and shipping – but not addressed the distribution. The old model is designed to work well for people using standard, off-set printing, where you pay huge chunks of cash up front, order print runs in larger numbers, dropping the per unit cost, and allowing that 55 percent discount and returns, hope to do better than break even. The really big companies can drop their per unit ridiculously low – and do – by printing literally hundreds of thousands of best-selling books that end up deep discounted, and still make money (while killing thousands of trees) Those of us working through Print on Demand channels need a new method of aggregating the available titles and making them available to libraries and independent book stores in a way that does not inconvenience them out of the game. Dealing with each of us separately does that.
We also need a way to get people into those stores requesting the books, because, in the end, that is the only way to get them to take the extra trouble – and who can blame them for that? I’m open for suggestions, and would love to hear from other publishers using Print on Demand – how you work it, if you take returns, how bad has that been? If the higher prices don’t matter – I would love to know that too. I am trying to make this print line a success..
I don’t know if what we need is a joint catalog put together by independent publishers, a network of e-mail and direct mail programs reaching out to bookstores, raising our prices and caving in…but I aim to find it.
There is a lot of timing involved in a writing career. Anyone who does not believe this should pay attention. Here’s a story for you…and a commentary on where I find myself these days. This is not a complaint, or a call for, well, anything…just what I do. When I write in this blog, I try to adhere to my own advice to write what hurts…
When I started writing back in the 80s, horror was in a boom. Due to circumstances that could have gone other ways, I became a writer of horror and dark fantasy early on and I had a unique opportunity. I either blew that opportunity, or avoided it. The votes are still out on that. I had an agent at one point who called while I was away at sea. If I’d been there when that call came in, there was “a slot”. What this meant, at the time, was that pretty much whatever I’d turned in (and I had books) would have been published in the raised-foil tsunami of horror. That probably would have irrevocably changed my career. Maybe I’d still be riding the wave – maybe I’d be drowning in the aftermath of the big crash. No way to tell, because I was out at sea, and missed it.
I set off on my own multi-directional path. Star Trek, White Wolf, Vampires, horror, science fiction, fantasy – mystery and thrillers. I’ve written them all. Most of my books have gotten good to great reviews. I’ve won awards. People in some small circles know who I am. I write a lot, and that will probably never change.
Along the way, though, something weird happened. I never reached the heights of best-sellerdom, or even the upper middle-class of writing. I just did okay. I barely missed a lot of things that would have changed everything, and I kept writing.
Recently I started noticing that – despite the fact people know me and congratulate me when I finish a project, they don’t read them. It’s not that no one likes the books – people who do read them like them – sometimes even love. I don’t see any of those dreaded threads on message boards about how no one gets how I am still writing, or they couldn’t get through my books. I also don’t see anyone starting threads about me in any positive way, or any excitement over whatever I’m working on. What I get – mostly – is nothing. Nothing at all. Those who have always been famous remain famous. Many newer authors, some awesome, others mediocre, and even a few I consider a long way from ready for prime time, get read. People gather together and read their books in groups. They line up to buy them before they are even published. For my books, people are happy to enter a contest and maybe get the book for free, but buying seems to just never happen, and when people DO buy the books…well, if they ever read them I seldom hear about it.
I’m the author in the middle, currently. I still believe I’ll find the way out – not sure what it will be. If I do make it out, I hope those who “discover” me also come back and read the older books – the ones I’ve spent a lifetime writing. I hope they like/hate/talk about them. Mostly, I hope they read them.
Here’s how America works. It seems to be the same in every industry, and every walk of life, and we are in a particularly good seat at the moment to watch the entire process unfold yet again. Someone invents something, makes something, or something that already existed somehow gains new traction and becomes a “thing”. The minute this happens, the gears start turning. While the originator of “the thing,” and the first few copy-cats out the door will do well, eventually people wanting to capitalize on “the thing” have to branch out. Suddenly there will be services to help you do what the originators did. There will be books about why it is successful, and how to emulate that success – mostly be people who have not done so, and - if they COULD do so – would BE doing so. Marketing schemes will rise. Consultants on how to do that marketing will rise. Analysts will roll out the adding machines and we’re off to the races. Half of what we spend our money on (and this is a conservative guess) could cost a lot less by simply cutting away the layers of industry that have been built around the original “things” – and the greed of the long string of leeches living off of them. This, of course, is a habit it’s hard to break. People have to work, and in among all the leeches, there are genuinely helpful, knowledgeable people trying to help. None of that is the point.
The point of this post is that Publishing – as an industry – is a perfect example of old school exclusivity, and a somewhat crumbling tower of layers it is going to have to shed to carry on very far into the future. In the old school model, it’s hard as hell to get a book published. They liked it that way (still like it that way) because it makes them seem somehow god-like and important. It gives them the leverage to control people and “things” that they could not otherwise. The same is true of agents. Somehow it has reached the point where authors vie desperately for the attention of these folks – writing what they are told, when they are told and absolutely terrified of doing anything else. The rulers of the industry would like you to believe that all of this is based on the quality of the work- that the agents and editors choosing the books being published are the cream of the crop from all possible sources – that they have magical powers that make their judgment calls the cornerstones of literature. Let’s be frank – those cornerstones support Fifty Shades of Crap and enough books NOT written by the celebrities whose names grace the covers to carpet a very large city. Maybe a country. There may have been a time when publishing was largely based on quality – but it is currently based on cash.
Marketing rules publishing. Hype rules marketing. You are more likely to see a pop-up picture book from Stephen King than a well-distributed book by a talented newcomer. Self-publishing and independent publishing is on the rise, but in many cases the sames rules are applying. Someone creates a “thing” and a million people rush to copy it. Ten of those million manage to do something that makes them money, the rest either rush off after the next thing, or branch out into the new surrounding industries. Those who succeed become gurus – despite the fact that becoming a “thing” is not something that they could recreate, or teach. Consultants build empires. Editing services by people with absolutely no credentials to BE editors are around every virtual corner. Services asking you to pay ridiculous amounts of money so your book can be “published” run by people who know absolutely that you have no more chance of success with them than you do without them, but that their dog will get Kibble if they convince you otherwise. A lot of these “publishing services” are run by respected agents and others whose place in the new schema is on rocky ground. These are people you would hope would be working in the best interests of their clients, but history says no. They are working in the interest of cash.
There is a great blending, as well. Agents – once very important, integral parts of the process, are mostly another blockage in the system these days. They have very limited outlets for work they can sell. If they are successful, they have clients they rely on, and the rest get little time, little consideration, and a lot of delay. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard authors say they’ve written dozens of proposals and sets of sample chapters that never got past an agent until they nearly quit writing in frustration. The odds are that agent is hedging bets by stringing them along, but is really hoping to get off the phone so they can talk to a successful client. It’s business. Another thing to remember is that, in most cases, agents are not editors. Editors, these days, have very little chance of buying something new that they really want – unless the deal is very much banked in their favor, or the product in question either is, or appears as if it might be “a thing.” Don’t count on this old standard route to get you where you want to be as a writer. Remember – despite what the Internet seems to believe – that not everyone can write. If you are good at it – you have a talent – a gift. Don’t sign that gift over to people who have no intention of helping you nourish it…and don’t spend all your time dashing after gurus. Study the market – study the new paradigm. Ask questions. There has never been a better time for talented writers, as artists, to stand up and change things.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to get through those old barriers, agents are now picking new clients from the self-published authors on the bestsellers lists – which obviously means less time for all of those people who made use of the services that helped them write their novels, edit their novels, write query letters for their novels – and submitted them in tight packages following said agent’s posted guidelines. Yeah, it’s like that. All that money wasted – all those services that really aren’t. Do you really need an entire book to show you how to write a query letter? Is there really anyone out there who can so influence your book / project / talent with their “proven formula” for ANYTHING that is more than another crutch to hold you up while the slow-moving wheels of publishing grind on past your efforts without a sideways or backward glance? Probably not. Still, I have a whole shelf of books on formatting and writing. It’s what we do.
Distributors – instead of being a convenient way for publishers to reach booksellers, they are now set up to make it more difficult for any but their chosen clients, or those who bow down to ridiculous demands, to get a product out there. They bully stores by only offering good deals in return for exclusivity. The bully publishers by demanding things like returns – knowing full well that just a couple of over-ordered titles could put a smaller business OUT of business.
And it’s all crumbling. As it crumbles, keep your eyes open. If something is a “service” now that was not there before, and it’s associated with “publishing” but really doesn’t seem to be… remember it’s how America works. A thousand businesses wills pop up for every new “thing” and they will prey on the 999,990 who don’t manage to immediately copy the “thing” for profit. The few that DO make it will be held up and pointed at to prove that ANYONE can do it – and there will be no articles written about the other 999,990 – it’s bad for too many businesses.
Things I’d like to see when the smoke clears:
- Authors publishing the books that move / inspire them instead of what an agent/editor says they should write.
- Editors and (if they make the cut) agents who respond promptly and remember that they work for the writer.
- A distribution system that allows independent publishers and sellers to interact fairly.
- More transparency on the financial side of the industry.
- A more cooperative world where – rather than huge advances, what authors want is steady, sustained income and impact – and where publishers don’t try to squeeze the majority of the profit out of those who created it.
I’m a dreamer, I know…but maybe that will be a “thing”.
The new face of publishing has really set the Internet on its ear. Pundits abound. Lists are everywhere. I’m not going to tell you I’m an expert. I’m going to say – I’ve been writing for decades. I’ve published a magazine, and I’m currently publishing 130 plus authors and 600 titles in a variety of formats. I’m going to tell you I’ve had good, and bad editors, agents, and publishers myself. In other words, I’ve been around the block a couple of times.
The current thing distressing me is the all-or-nothing attitude people seem to be taking toward self-publishing. There is the old school publishing model, agents, NYC, big advertising money and advances, reviews in trade magazines no one can afford… and there is the opposite, self-published books, priced to sell at .99 and making their way onto the best-sellers lists. I’m not in ANY WAY putting down that success. It’s remarkable, it’s eye-opening, and it’s very very cool.
Here is the thing though. Everyone is different. Some people have the charisma, energy, and skill set to market, blog, tweet, post on every available online outlet, design professional looking covers and go the distance. Some people just write. Some people can do a little of each. The new publishing paradigm is going to need to be be more diverse than the old one. Some will make it because of their ability to embrace the entire digital world and work it like a finely tuned instrument. Others will need help. Some will make it by luck. Others will have the endorsement and help of someone who already has the pull to raise someone up to a new level. We all have to work together, and the best part of this new digitally powered world is that there ARE options.
The new message:
You have to have a blog
You have to be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.
You have to schedule tweets, do giveaways on Goodreads, conduct blog tours.
The old message was:
You need an agent.
You will have to wait years to get noticed.
Almost no one will make it to the top, or even into print, but you pound away until it happens.
My opinion is – some of all of this is true, on different levels and in different degrees, for everyone. Do you need an agent now? No. Did you need an agent before? No, not really. I sold all of my novels myself. All. I have had agents handle the contracts, etc. for me, but I sold my books myself. Same deal now. I sell them myself. You don’t have to wait forever – unless you want to be published in NYC – same as before but now you have options. At the same time if you want a six figure advance from NYC you may need an agent with the right connections. Good luck to you. Why deny all the options others might choose? To validate your own choices? Blogs, Twitter, etc… Yes, no, maybe. If you are good at those and have time / bandwidth for them they help. If you are bad and try them anyway they are frustrating and soul-sucking. If you work with others, you can group some of that work together, playing on the strengths of those who can.
When all is said and done, all publishing will not be self-publishing. It’s as discriminatory a paradigm as the old one, leaving out all who can’t play the game, and I don’t believe the world will turn its back on all those authors who can write amazing stories, but can’t market them well if they choose to accept help. Crossroad Press and the model we promote can help. We are not greedy, we are not trying to get rich on the work of others. We are not NYC…but we ARE giving a lot of authors the breathing room to write, and for others we’re providing that bridge – that step up – that allows them to compete with a new digital generation. It’s exciting, and I believe it’s important. If I didn’t I would just be doing my own books..
The two things that remain true in publishing and writing have been around for a very long time.
1) Everyone wants to know the secret to getting published and becoming a bestseller.
2) There is no one way, or secret, and never has been.
The sooner number 2 sinks in and we all start working and building together, the better.
Before I get too far into describing this novel, I want to talk a bit about where it came from. First off, it was a novel that I never would have written left to my own devices. That said, once I had decided that I DID want to write it, I ran into one of the walls in publishing that irritates me the most. An agent who – rather than really being interested in my work, my vision, my voice, etc. – really only wanted someone who could write another “Da Vinci Code” before it lost its appeal and she had to come up with another thing to try and make her authors copy. Authors – write what moves you. Anything other than this will result in – at best – lukewarm, mediocre writing. A worst? It will make you want to stop writing altogether, and then you begin to cave in to entropy and the great boredom that binds. I mean this with all my heart. If you are going to write, write thing that matter to you because there is no way in hell they will matter to someone else if you don’t.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Agents work for writers. That’s the dynamic that works. That is no longer the dynamic in the publishing industry, and it’s a bad, horrible, spit it from your mouth thing. You should NOT spend your hours and nights and weeks and even years banging your head on some agent’s desk trying to write what they think is the next big thing. A: They may have a connection to sell books to, but they are no more qualified to call the next big thing than the editors who – in general – ignore THEM in the same way they ignore you. You may, or may not write the next big thing, but your odds drop astronomically when you stop writing what you want/need to write and start trying to please “the machine”. If your agent makes you feel as if you work for them, that you have to curry their favor? They aren’t agents at all. It’s not what they are supposed to do. They are supposed to have faith in YOU, YOUR talent, and YOUR vision…if they don’t they should represent someone else, and you should have nothing to do with them because -from my experience and that of many others, the odds are you will sell most of your own books over your career. The agent may, or may not help with contracts – but they WILL collect 15 percent of everything you make. They should earn it, not make you feel as if you work for them…and yet pay them.
Anyway…The Orffyreus Wheel was one of several ideas I came up with for a particular agent. She wanted me to write something like The Da Vinci Code. I came to her with several proposals – all of which she wanted three chapters and an outline for – none of which she could – in the end – be bothered to represent. When I finally figured out she was killing my ability to work at all, I cut that anchor chain – and began writing again. I sold a bunch of books fairly quickly, and during that time, I wrote The Orffyreus Wheel because, though the prod to go and find this story came from elsewhere, once I DID find it, I was fascinated, and knew it needed to be completed.
It’s relevant. Whether or not Johann Bessler invented a perpetual motion wheel that could have pumped water virtually forever, barring worn out hardware, is a moot point. What would happen if someone presented such a constant, free energy source to the world is not. The fuel and power behind our world is controlled by people who consider most of the rest of us bugs. If they didn’t need the bugs to use their energy, they’d do away with us cheerfully. Witness the billion dollar severance pay-outs for oil execs and the fact that bankers who run failed banks and ruin people are still rich. They would not be on board with a good, clean, free energy source -they would want to either own it – or destroy all knowledge of it. Don’t even get me started about what the government might do with it.
That is the basis of half of my novel. It runs on twin timelines – one in the past, a fictionalized version of the life of one Johann Bessler, the invention of his wheel, the power struggles that ensued, the hatred from his peers, where it all led. In the present – an heir with the keys to that same secret, and enemies so large and dark she can barely comprehend them.
This is a thriller. It is also a historical novel. It is fast-paced and I think, intriguing. It was published as a serial by “Amazon Shorts,” one of the old Amazon programs – and was a bestseller in that program, but the program died just as the last segments were going live, and the book fizzled. I brought it back as an eBook, revised and cleaned up – it’s also available as an unabridged audiobook….one day before long it will finally see print.
This Wednesday and Thursday – it will be a free eBook on Amazon.com and I hope you’ll take a chance on it. It was not a book I would have found and written on my own, and for that much I thank Dan Brown and that old, not-very-helpful agent. It’s notable that once I sold one of the other books she did not like – The Mote in Andrea’s Eye, she had the temerity to write, congratulating me on my success and ask if I needed her to represent it… Seriously. That happened. I managed to keep a civil tongue and bid her adieu.
There are stories to write, you see, and every one of the stories she told me I should not write are now published…some with a degree of success, and NONE paying her fifteen percent for hating them. I’ll count that in the win column! If you are an audio lover, you can buy the eBook for $3.99 and receive the “Whispersync for Voice Ready” audiobook for $1.99 - narrated by Ian Alexander. If you download it later this week for free – you can STILL get the audio for $1.99. Come on – let me tell you a story.
Besides just being the first full-length novel in the O.C.L.T. series, The Parting is novel that I discovered while researching. That happens to me a lot. I go to look at one thing, and I end up with a handful of events, facts, bits of synchronicity that bind it all together, and I end up working on something new. When I decided to write about Rebecca York, a woman with a great deal of magical ability, and roots reaching back into Egypt, I downloaded a very old book on Folklore. In the process, I found a story about an ancient sorcerer. He apparently had the ability to part water. From that I made the leap to Moses, and the fact he studied with the Egyptians. I made some other connections and discovered that there might just be an ancient talisman, The Aptet of Tchatcha-em-ânkh, that assisted with this particular spell, and I was off to the races.
The first chapter – about 7700 words – is available for you to read here. It is the beginning of the novel, and it is the basis for the plot. I brought that talisman into modern times, put it in the hands of someone with an agenda, and pitted several of the agents of what would eventually become the O.C.L.T. against the evil. At the time of The Parting, the O.C.L.T. did not exist. There was a network – a computer web – created by Wendell “Mack” MacKlemore. He collected and fed information to different contacts, sort of trying to run the whole thing himself. It was too big for him, and the events of The Parting serve to set the stage for this realization. In the follow-on novel by Aaron Rosenberg, Incursion, the actual creation of the organization, and the establishment of a base of operations.
There are a lot of fun characters in The Parting – an old monk, a young Israeli boy, his family, an agent of the Mossad, terrorists, diplomats, and of course, another sorceress. I think this is one of my faster paced, more intriguing novels, and I very much look forward to more adventures with the agents of the O.C.L.T. in the future. I hope you’ll take some time to read the opening chapter – it stands alone, I think, as a novelette – though it obviously leads into the story at large.
Since the days I was involved with licensed fiction for White Wolf, writing in their World of Darkness for the Vampire the Masquerade line, Wraith, and later for Vampire the Dark Ages, I’ve had a soft-spot in my heart for series fiction. I have also had a bone to pick with most of it, and when I set out to create my own series – there are three now – I was determined to make an attempt to fix what I saw as problems in most shared world and series work – particularly the kind that shares authors. First off, the problem with a formula is … it’s a formula. While that formula may work wonderfully for a time, and even become a comfortable fit for a large group of readers, what my own reading has taught me is that – as an author – it grows increasingly difficult to be original, compelling, and in any way relevant if you allow the formula to take over too much.
The second problem I have found is rigidity. When you write licensed novels, you find that a lot of what you love in your work is cut out because it doesn’t fit the narrow mold envisioned by the license holder. For instance – my vampire, Montrovant, hero of my trilogy The Grails Covenant – had some abilities that stretched beyond his “clan”. Now, their books clearly stated that – with effort – this was possible, but when I turned in the books they acted as if they’d never written that, and wanted me to just make him a good little vampire who only used a particular set of powers – ever – and even went as far as to tell me that NO vampire would ever act differently than another… what? Their vampires are fully formed entities – if they were not, it would be like trying to write a zombie novel where the only characters were mindless ghouls eating people and nothing changed. Bleah.
So – I’ll cover The DeChance Chronicles, and how I try to keep them fresh in later posts. This weeks books in the Year of DNW promotional push – are my two current entries into the O.C.L.T. series – the novel THE PARTING and the Novella “The Temple of Camazotz”.
When we set out to create the O.C.L.T. (originally three of us, but it ended up being myself and author Aaron Rosenberg) we wanted something different. The first notion was that it could be a home for books other authors had written as Fringe, X-Files, Buffy, Angel, whatever licensed novels that were rejected for whatever reason. Change them around, add in a consult from one of our agents, or any loose tie-in you like, and you’re in. What it grew into was something much better. We created a series of agents that are constants. These are the core agents, and mostly – if there are novels that feature them – we will be writing them. The beauty is – any weirdness, any occult, alien, or other-than-natural event can trigger an appearance or a connection to O.C.L.T. – and any author’s own character can benefit from the joint marketing by writing us in. Crossroad Press is doing an original series by Melissa Scott & Jo Graham, for instance, The Order of the Air. In both of the first two books, Geoffrey Bullfinch (who may, or may not be the one who wrote the mythology book) is mentioned and on the periphery. Their series takes place in the past, but many of the O.C.L.T. characters have been around for a very long time. I have also tied in The DeChance Chronicles – directly connecting Donovan to Bullfinch and Rebecca York, agents of the O.C.L.T. – and thus tying them in (as well) with my new novel NEVERMORE, and my fictional Old Mill, NC. It’s one big magical world, and that opens up the fictional possibilities. There are few rules. That helps as well. I’m going to end this with links to the Books of the O.C.L.T. (I may write about mine separately later in the week) and with a list of the O.C.L.T. agents as they appear in our series “Bible.” I hope you’ll give it a try. I’m betting if you do – you’ll like it.
No Laughing Matter – A Tie-in Novel to the O.C.L.T. – By Kurt Criscione – AMAZON – (Audio coming soon)
Geoffrey Bullfinch: named for Chaucer and Bullfinch of the mythology book. Stands just under six feet tall, nondescript, often carries a pipe. He has gray eyes, gray hair, but is difficult to pin down on his age. Dresses either like an academic, or, on a mission, like a 1960s African Explorer in Khakis. Expert in folklore, mythology, ancient cultures and religions as they relate to supernatural entities and events. Also has some power, but it comes from written spells, sigils, and amulets, and is drawn from a vast library and a lot of research. He is slender, of Anglican ancestry, but with an accent that hints of Wales, or Ireland. Besides his work with OCLT he is an author and lecturer on cryptozoology and the occult. He has served as a consultant to most of the intelligence agencies of Europe, has contacts with CIA, MI6, etc. While appearing bookish, dressing impeccably, and speaking softly, he is surprisingly adept in martial arts and has an encyclopedic and practical knowledge of most weapons.
Isabella Ferrara: an Italian monster hunter, Isabella works for the Vatican but has been seconded to OCLT. Tall, curvy, and olive-skinned, with clear green eyes and dark blonde hair, she is a striking woman if not a beautiful one. Isabella is also deadly as all hell—she is versed in pretty much every weapon and martial arts, and also an expert in monster lore. She is a talented tracker and hunter as well. Isabella is deeply religious, but highly adaptable—she has no problem working with people of other faiths, or seeing things that wouldn’t normally be encompassed by Judeo-Christian beliefs, but she very much believes in the Holy Trinity and the Mother Church.
Reed Christopher Hayes: The team leader and strategist. American. He goes by R.C. or Reed, or Chris to some old friends. His nickname in Military Intelligence was “Crease.” R.C. looks much like Denzel Washington–average height, black, reasonably good-looking but not stunning, close-cropped hair turning salt-and-pepper, the same stubble on his cheeks and chin if he’s not careful, a serious, intelligent face. He isn’t young anymore—he had a promising career as a field agent for Military Intelligence but then got stuck in a lot of dead-end assignments and desk jobs and the like after the thing with the troll before he finally got fed up (hah!) and transferred stateside to the FBI, who were thrilled to have an agent of his experience. He’s still fit, though—he doesn’t look like much in a suit, necessarily, but he’s in good shape and still solid in a fight. R.C. is happily married, and he and his wife Nancy have two kids.
Gunter Krieg: Tall, mid-forties, born and raised in Berlin, with crazy gray hair that sometimes sits down and sometimes waves around his head like a cloud, Gunter is a professor at Evergreen State University (and yes, there are dozens of Evergreen States around the country, and no, he will not bother to tell you which one is his home). He has had offers at all the major schools, but none of them would give him the freedom to pursue his crazier theories and without that he’d go mad. Evergreen State has only a small science department, but they hired him because he paid for a wing to be built for research and because he wins them big grants—they have no idea what he’s doing, beyond checking regularly to be sure he’s not experimenting on people, and they don’t really care. Gunter’s mind is somewhat like a calculator on steroids. He’s respected, feared, and ridiculed by the world of Physics. He is a theoretical physicist who likes to move from theory to physical testing sooner than is wise, but he is (at heart) good. He would never harm anyone purposely, and he believes that science and those who understand it owe their gifts to a higher purpose—he will fight tirelessly to stop science from being used for evil but he does not know how to interact with most people beyond seeing them as mathematical constructs and treating them as such. He is, of course, brilliant.
Elizabeth Lapsey: Elizabeth is a short, overweight Cuban-American woman in her forties with high-functioning Asperger’s, who always provides more information than is necessary and also is incapable of not finishing a sentence she starts. She has a gift for languages in particular, but in general loves to find patterns. She loves to talk to people, and indeed tends to be almost Golden Retriever-ish in her ability to talk to anyone. The babbler of the group, and also a born researcher, the problem isn’t inducing her to talk, it’s getting her to stop. A born and bred New Yorker, she is not now and has never been a fan of nicknames—she answers only to “Elizabeth” or more formal modes of address, and in fact the one surefire way to get her to stop talking to you is to call her “Liz” or “Beth” or some other diminutive.
Wendell Macklemore: “Mack” is a computer and electronics wizard. Graduated from college at age 12. Went to MIT and dropped out because he was bored and had things he wanted to “work out”. Has worked for the defense department, and been released from several projects because of an inability to work within boundaries. Responsible for numerous breakthroughs in technology. His hacking is beyond brilliant, and his quarters are, basically, a mainframe with a bed and kitchenette. He is jacked into every electronics system in the world, largely because he is security consultant to some of the most powerful governments and industry giants in the world. He runs the OCLT computers and databanks, and is quartered in Arizona, not that far from Area 51 (which he is also jacked into). Tall, athletic, with dark wavy hair and a handsome smile, he absolutely does NOT look the part of the geek. He is always up for action and has an impressive array of self-designed gadgets that, at times, border on magical abilities. He lives in a trailer outside a place called Brisbee, Arizona (I’ve been there). He lives in the desert, surrounded by strange antennas and signs claiming “mind-control free zone,” and “alien monitoring station” – his cover is as an alien-seeking wackobird who writes for the tabloids. There is an entrance in the trailer to an underground cooled bunker filled with his actual surveillance and network equipment.
Malana Tai: Malana is from Tuvalu (also known as the Ellice Islands), a Polynesian island nation midway between Hawaii and Australia. Though only twenty-five, she has an old soul and has proven herself capable of remaining calm and even upbeat in tense and dangerous situations and when facing creatures outside the normal human scope. Thought not particularly pretty, Malana exudes a certain friendly, healthy appeal, and can win people over with a single bright smile. She is energetic, rarely still, and friendly, and though happy to talk she is also an excellent listener. That is in part due to her special “gifts.” Malana is a telepath and an empath, most of it subconscious—she constantly picks up thoughts and emotions from those around her, and automatically adjusts her own behavior to suit, making her something of a social chameleon. She can look below the surface if she focuses, but too much contact can make her dizzy, nauseous, and even unclear on the boundary between herself and her target. Malana’s home is one of the smaller Pacific Islands, which made growing up a bit difficult—because of the small setting she knew everyone’s innermost thoughts and desires, and had a hard time separating herself from the mix. Big cities offer anonymity and a comforting white noise, psychically as well as audibly, so as soon as she was old enough (and had aced the interviews and exams and got offered a scholarship to a good school), Malana lost herself in the big city and never wanted to look back. She loves traveling and loves meeting new people, but prefers big cities and crowds to smaller, more intimate settings.
Hideyoshi Tidijin: small, slight, delicate Japanese man of indeterminate early to late middle-age (he’s actually fifty but could pass for thirty easily). Dresses impeccably, usually in hand-tailored brown or gray suits unless he’s in the field. Wears gloves most of the time, and often a face mask. Tidijin–who insists upon being addressed as “Professor,” “Professor Tidijin,” or “Tidijin-sama” — is an archaeologist specializing in early human history and pre-history (and in nonhuman history, though that isn’t on his public CV). Nicknamed “Tidy-bowl” by successive years of students, Tidijin is an excellent archaeologist and a renowned professor, considered one of the leading experts in his fields. Which is ironic, given his pathological fear of dirt, dust, and contamination. He is meticulous and precise and has an incredibly delicate touch, ideal for unearthing and reassembling ancient artifacts–but he has a hard time operating in the everyday world, especially in crowded places. Tidijin is a practitioner of Tai Chi (“It clears the mind and focuses the body”) and has a surgeon’s touch with a scalpel, but he is so strongly against contact that he would only engage in physical combat as an absolute last resort.
Rebecca York: Indeterminate age, very attractive and dark, appears late thirties to early forties, but over time will be found to be much, much older – Rebecca, daughter of Ivan of York from Ivanhoe, was thought to be a Jewish Sorceress, and Rebecca may possibly be the source of the character in the first place. She has a working knowledge of most of the schools of magic, but is particularly adept at the Kabala and the type of ritual magic practiced by Crowley and the Golden Dawn crowd. She has served in Israel with the Mossad, but has been an advisor to leaders in many places. She has powers, but they are seldom shown overtly. Height: 5’11″ Slender, long dark hair in a braid. Soft spoken, but with eyes that grab and hold those she speaks with. Rebecca lives in a secluded home in the mountains of North Carolina. She drives a Jeep, and has an adventurous streak that often gets her in trouble.
I will write about this book at length, eventually. It taught me a lot about writing. It was one of the last books I wrote “without a net” – meaning I wrote it all the way through with only a vague idea where it was going in the end… I wrote all of my earliest novels that way, and I still do that occasionally, though I am now a proponent of the outline, because for one thing – it relieves stress. Not knowing how a book will end when you are already starting the final chapter is a harrowing experience.
Anyway, the quick history. I wrote a novelette a long while back for a book titled “Strange Attractions” – based on the kinetic art of the lovely and talented Lisa Snellings – who also created the amazing cover art for my novel NEVERMORE – just released. Lisa created this amazing Ferris Wheel … in the cars on that ride, a variety of strange characters took a ride, and each author chose one of those characters to write their story from – to use in any way they saw fit as inspiration. I chose a Harlequin, hanging by a noose from one of the cars. I made it my desktop wallpaper. I stared at it – and then I went on a trip to Washington D.C. – and everything changed.
Like I said, I’ll get into this at length in a later post. The books inspiration came from a wide variety of sensory input over a very short period of time – or at least, the novelette that became the book was born in that fashion – it’s now chapter one. I saw the movie PI. I visited the Holocaust Museum. I got stuck in a subway station, listening to a man play absolutely BEAUTIFUL blues on a saxophone, but never saw the man himself…and I had that image – that upside down harlequin staring at me from the computer screen.
Brandt and the band are among my favorite characters ever, and they may return in a book titled The Bone Witch before too long … I wrote another novel, Ancient Eyes, that takes place very near the final setting of Deep Blue, and I have tinkered with writing this third book to tie those two together…but for now…my book is free. My gift for two days. I hope you’ll download it – I hope you’ll read it – I hope you’ll review it and share it with friends.
I love to tell stories…I just need some folks to read along…
Another thing – you can get the book for free, and then, owning it, get the unabridged Audiobook through the Amazon / Audible whispersync program pretty cheaply. It’s narrated by the amazing Mr. Chris Patton…he brought the band to life.
- Write what you know.
- POV Matters.
I’m not much for cut-and-dried rules; I write what I write, and I write ‘how’ I write, but sometimes I can go back after the fact and pick out some things that are important. Since this week I’m talking about my novel, This is My Blood, I thought I’d start with that.
When I parted ways with organized religion, the insides of my psyche were not a pretty sight. I had issues. I had some anger, too. Mostly, though, it was growing pains. I was drawn into the “fold” the way many are – I was young, lonely – girls asked me to a Bible study (pretty girls) – it gave me a sense of belonging, and, for a while the notion that I knew something important. I’m not planning on bashing religion in this post. I’ll say that I write fiction, and it can be powerful. Ancient people wrote fiction too, and just because it helped them get through the night, and the stories were passed down from generation to generation, I see no reason to consider them more than they are. Fiction. The world does not need Gods or higher powers to believe in – it needs men to step up and take responsibility for their own good, and bad works.
In any case, there I was. I had recently decided NOT to become a campus minister, but had studied quite a lot toward that end. I had a wealth of biblical knowledge, and some very strong ideas about what I did NOT like about Christianity. It had nothing to do with Jesus, or with God – for that matter, though he seemed (and still seems) far too clinical, judgmental, and violent for my taste. It had to do with rules, with the men who made and enforced those rules, and the hypocritical nature inherent in anything important that becomes ‘organized.’
I started with my plot – it was straightforward. Someone near Jesus would be cursed with vampirism. I did not want to change the main story. I did not want (as many suggested I should) to turn it into some sort of cosmic romance novel. I had something to say, and I needed the proper voice to say it. So I started with what I knew.
Religion – particularly Christianity – is based on faith. You don’t’ get to know things, you have to trust…God, The Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Church. You just take what they say on “faith” and forge ahead. That is the flaw. It is not enough, and it never was enough, because men are creatures of intellect. We can think for ourselves (and should do so) and in a faith-based system, that’s not only frowned upon, but you are told in many cases that the thoughts and facts you encounter are just tests from some dark, evil entity trying to lure you from the fold. Clearly, then, none of the men surrounding Jesus was going to be able to tell the story as I wanted it told. It had to be someone who knew the truth. Someone who had walked where Jesus had walked, had absolutely no doubt there was a Heaven, and a Hell – someone without the false support of faith crumbling beneath their feet.
I chose an angel. I chose to have Lucifer raise one of the fallen in the form of a woman, ostensibly to test Jesus’ will to resist temptations of the flesh, but in my mind, to provide the perspective – the point of view – that could make my book more than a vampire story.
I don’t want to get mired in talking about that book, because I want you to go and read it. I’m greedy like that. I love feedback. The point is, as Mary often tells us in the novel, she has walked the roads of both Heaven, and Hell, and her memory will suffice. She was disgusted by the greed and infighting among the apostles, astonished at the blindness of those witnessing miracles, and five minutes later arguing over points of “law” as if their opinions mattered a whit. She knew what was at stake, and so, as she walked along through the gospel of Judas Iscariot, she was the perfect voice to comment on things that had been left unsaid, to voice the concerns and fears that the Bible ignores.
She was MY voice, my message to my past, and my hope for the future.
I call these posts “Writing What Hurts” for a reason. When you are really writing, everything about the words matters to you. Sometimes you are just storytelling. Sometimes you are fulfilling commitments, or putting bread on the table. Other times, like the time I spent writing This is My Blood¸ you are consumed by the work – obsessed with it – invested so deeply that every comment, every reaction, every turned page matters to you. If Clive Barker is right, and we are all books of blood, then our best work is flesh torn from our hearts.
When you decide what your book is about, think about who is involved. Think about all of the points of view from which the story could be told, the problems inherent in each, the gains and take-aways of each choice. Think about how you want your readers to react, and to which characters – and events. Choose your book’s voice wisely, and stay true to it. You may find that, by the time the work is done, you’ve learned as much as you’ve taught.
Now, as I’m certain I’ve caught your attention – Buy This is My Blood now at Amazon.com…