Tag Archives: Publishing

Stupendous or Just Stupid?

2 Apr

Today’s post is brought to you by Editor Ed, frequent correspondent, small press publisher, author, and a great friend. He’s recently published the Sorcery Against Caesar, by Richard S. Tierney; Cthuhlu set in Roman times, it’s a great read. Check out more of his projects at Pickman’s Press!

Is modern art stupendous, or just stupid?  Certainly it’s a polarizing question: some people love it, some people hate it.  I’m somewhere in the middle; I don’t really understand it, but I can’t really dismiss it either.  That goes back to a moment in junior high, and a powerful lesson from an art teacher.

This question’s on my mind these days because I run a teeny tiny digital publishing company, and one of my current projects is a volume of collected poetry from an old pulp magazine.  I noticed that between the end of its first run in 1954 and its next incarnation in 1973, the poetry switched from almost exclusively traditional verse to almost entirely free verse (which I consider the literary equivalent of modern art).

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t really like free verse. I don’t particularly enjoy it, and certainly don’t understand it.  I’ve recently been researching it on the internet and buying and reading books about poetry, but still haven’t yet figured out the appeal of free verse.  How can I pick the “best” of something when I can’t even tell what makes it good or bad?  For that matter, does the general population actually like it, or is it something that only literary critics and college professors appreciate?  Would the average person in the street even bother buying a book of free verse?

I was explaining this frustrating conundrum to my sister Genevieve over dinner recently, and she was growing increasingly exasperated with me.  “Who cares?” she finally said.  “If you don’t like it, don’t read it, and don’t publish it!”

“I can’t,” I protested.  “I have to figure this out.”

“But why?” Gen asked.  “I guess I just don’t understand why you care so much about this.”

I struggled for a few moments in silence, trying to find a way to explain it to her, and finally settled on an anecdote.  “Do you remember Ms. Haussermann back at Holy Cross?  Every now and then she’d—”

“Come in and teach art classes, yeah,” Gen said.

“Do you remember when she took us on that field trip to the art museum in Chicago?”  Gen gave me a blank look and shook her head.  “Okay, then maybe it was just my class.  I think it was sixth grade, Ms. Johnson’s class, maybe 1987 or 88.  Anyway, we went to this art museum and looked at all these paintings.  Even the impressionist stuff at least made sense—you know, Monet, Van Gogh, all those guys?  Even Picasso was kind of cool in a weird way.

“Do you remember when she took us on that field trip to the art museum in Chicago?”  Gen gave me a blank look and shook her head.  “Okay, then maybe it was just my class.  I think it was sixth grade, Ms. Johnson’s class, maybe 1987 or 88.  Anyway, we went to this art museum and looked at all these paintings.  Even the impressionist stuff at least made sense—you know, Monet, Van Gogh, all those guys?  Even Picasso was kind of cool in a weird way.

“But then we went into the Modern Art wing, and that stuff was just… bizarre.  I mean, simple squares and rectangles of color.  A chain hanging from the ceiling.  Some plaster sculpture of a guy and girl in bed.  And there was this one big painting—I mean it was HUGE, the size of a billboard, it covered almost an entire wall—and it was painted entirely black.

“And I remember standing in front of it, looking at it, and I said aloud, to no one in particular, ‘Well, that’s just stupid.’

“ ‘You think so?’

“I looked up to see Ms. Haussermann standing beside and behind me.

“ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s just black.  That’s dumb.’

“Ms. Haussermann said, ‘Try looking at from over…’  She took me by the shoulders and moved where I stood, all the while looking to the painting to the lights overhead and back again, even bending over a bit so she could see it from my point of view.  ‘… here. Now what do you see?’

“My voice trailed off because suddenly I did see. The paint was just black on black, but the brush strokes were in this huge, complicated, swirling pattern.  It was really cool, kind of like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, or like a paisley design, or… something, I don’t know.  I think I just stood staring at it for a while.  When I finally looked around again, Ms. Haussermann was gone—talking to another student or something, I guess.

“Anyway, ever since then, whenever I see artwork that seems dumb and pointless, I can’t help wondering if there’s something that I’m missing, that if I just look closer I’ll see something really cool, something that isn’t obvious.

“So that’s why I can’t just dismiss free verse poetry as bad and not read it, not publish it,” I explained to my sister.  “I mean, if so many people like it, there’s got to be something to it, right?  So what am I missing?  Is there some sort of ‘hidden brush stroke’ I’m not seeing?  Or is it really just bad?  I don’t know.  I don’t know enough to know.  Not yet.  That’s why I’m researching it.  I’ll tell you this, though…”  I leaned back and took a sip of soda. “I sure wish there was some kind of poetry expert ‘Ms. Haussermann’ to explain free verse to me.”

So what do you think? Is modern art pointless? Or does it mean something to someone, even if it’s not particularly profound? Let me know in the comments below! And after you type that, check our my books, and you can tell me if my art is pointless or not. 🙂 However, if $1.99 is too much to pay for a comment, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

The God of Continuity

28 Dec

Plot holes can go undetected for years or covered up rather clumsily. They can throw your audience out of the moment and you may never get them back. So how do you avoid that problem?

The easy answer? Get someone to read your story before you publish it. There are so many things that can be caught by having a fresh pair of eyes. For example, in my most recent book, Drag’n Drop, I thought I’d throw in something really cool for the villain to say: “And then I will become the singer and not the song.” To which my friend, “What on Earth does that mean?” Whoops–not everyone got it. So I actually included my friend’s quote in my hero’s response, which allowed my villain to explain what the heck he meant.

In my old writing circle, all of us had one superpower that helped out the rest of us. For example, one of my friends was the Technobabble God. He was more interested in science than the rest of us, so if you had trouble with a particular technology that you were trying to make sound believable, he could give you a line of BS that sounded good, and you put that in your story.

I was the God of Continuity; I found your plot hole and ensured that whatever wacky #*$&@($ idea that you got in your head to put your story that somehow, someway, it would makes sense as part of your plot. You happen to use a digital gate in your story, because you just read Piers Anthony, and thought that turning a ship into an energy signal, and then rebuilding it on the other side was a cool idea. And it is… except that you’ve already established that we use hyperspace gates. So… why another method of travel?

The answer–the digital gates were an experiment by the government to improve space travel. However, they were so expensive that they could only be used on one established route. Duh-da! Your prayers have been answered, writer!

For my father-in-law, he built a world where the colonists had been medieval reenactors who wanted to get away from the modern world. It happened to be a world where psychic powers could be mistaken for magic. So when you run into a ghost of one of the original colonists, and he sees this computer, he didn’t know what it was. Except he should have–and one of his fans pointed this out. So in the prequel, he had to put in a bit about erasing their memories, so that the original colonists wouldn’t be having second thoughts about leaving. Plot hole closed.

If a friend won’t read your book, then it helps to wait a while between finishing your story and publication, then come back and read it again. Sometimes, just giving yourself time to breathe between finishing the first/second/fifth draft and getting it ready for print that you can realize, “Oh, Sancho Panza disappeared for two chapters!”

Is there an easier way to detect (and close) plot holes? Do you have an army of beta readers who can figure these things out? Can you lend them to me? 🙂 Let me know in the comments below!

Drag’n Drop is now available!

24 Dec

Through much trial and tribulation, I’m proud to announce that Drag’n Drop, my most recent novel, is now available for purchase on Kindle or in paperback through Amazon, for the low, low price of $1.99! If you ever wanted an alternate history urban fantasy story, now is the time!

A dragon should be able to go wherever he wants, right? But in modern-day Nieuwe Amsterdam (you’d know it as New York), magical creatures are hidden, and citizens of the Staats-General von Amerika aren’t interested in such nonsense like wizards, orcs, elves, dwarves, fairies… and most importantly, dragons, coming to light. However, magic exists and it changed history. For four hundred years, the European colonists have only managed to cling desperately to the coasts, outnumbered by the native tribes that threaten to push them back into the sea.

Caleb, a big green dragon who’s been living in New Amsterdam has seen native invasions come and go, but this time, something’s different. The united tribes have burst through the Cordelyou Line–a massive defense work built along the western border–with a new magic that should be impossible. Now they are threatening to finally destroy the European Settlements once and for all. Threatened with the loss of his home, he gathers his friends–a washed-up wizard and an arcane librarian–to travel across Amerika. His hope: find the source of the natives’ new power, gather an army of magical creatures, and destroy it… before it’s too late.

I’m very proud of my new book–considering it took ten years to come to the light of day–and hope you’ll enjoy it as well. Keep supporting independent authors!

This is Why You Hire Staff

22 Dec

Just when you think you’ve done it all before, what should have taken a half-hour ends up taking all morning. So I’m getting my new book, Drag’n Drop, ready to go on the Amazon site and… hilarity ensues!

Now here’s what really chafed my heinie–I actually got all the formatting done on my book text two months ago! Thanks to my generous (and good-looking) brother-in-law, Editor Ed, he actually had a professional artist make my cover. This is a new experience to me. I tried making my own cover for Defending Our Sacred Honor and I thought it came out good… but the more I look at it, the more it looks terrible. So I was rather grateful that Ashley Cser took the commission.

As mentioned, graphic design is really not my thing–which is ironic, because video production is my day job. But composition and performance are two different skills; just because I can find all this cool pictures and video and put them together doesn’t mean I can draw worth crap.

Speaking of which, I’ve got Kindle’s own e-book creator (Create), which works very well, and plugs everything exactly as I need it to. That worked fine. However, when trying to make the paperback version–because to stroke my own ego, I need to have them on my bookshelf–there was one major problem. The cover and the map weren’t fitting within the guidelines.

Getting the cover to work was understandable–after all, it’s the first thing that anyone sees. Ash had drawn the cover; after all, that’s what I paid her for. However, then I had to write the teaser text on the back, and put it all the other graphics. Took me an hour just to get that correct and then manipulate it so the picture appeared in the correct fashion. On the plus side, this will be the first book of mine that has the Albigensia Press icon on the spine!

If you don’t think that’s cool, you can instantly tell which books are professional or not by the publishing house icon on the spine. Interesting side note: All the hardcover books have the publisher icon at the bottom, all the paperbacks at the top. Weird.

Of course, once I conquered that hurdle, then there was that map. Considering I’ve blasted the last three authors who didn’t include a map in their book, I figured this was pretty damned important. However, my original map was pretty low quality, and it was drawn for a standard 8″x11″ page… and my book is 5″x8″. So I had to redraw it, left out a lot of the detail I originally included to fit it on the page, and thought I had it down. Nope. It took multiple tries to get the stupid thing in the right place so it wouldn’t get cut off by pagination.

However, four hours later, I think it looks great. Once you get a chance to see it on December 24th, I think you’ll agree. Yet I wish I had staff I could pay to do this for me–oi! I can’t be the only one who has this trouble. What issues do you have in your workday that you wish you could pass off to someone else? Let me know in the comments below!

I Spit You Out Of My Mouth

21 Dec

Looking over what I’ve read this year, I realized there weren’t a lot of middling books. There were books I loved, books I hated, but rarely “okay.” Is that a reflection on the books I choose to read or me?

So I started looking through my list and seeing a lot of fives and ones. That seemed rather odd. While I’m scanning these books, a strange biblical quote came into my head.

So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16 (NIV)

Am I just naturally gravitating to the books that I find really good or really crappy? So my next thought was, “Maybe I’ve just read a lot of crappy books?” Ever since taking up the challenge of expanding my network, I’ve been asked to read other people’s work that I’ve met online, as well as read other independent authors to help the cause. A couple are amazing – Programmed to Serve by Jenna Ivey is an amazing erotica story – and that is REALLY not my favorite genre. But then there are books so awful, I didn’t want to even give their titles, lest karma comes back to curse my own books.

Then maybe I considered, “Perhaps my tastes have changed.” For example, I just finished reading Mamelukes by Jerry Pournelle… or actually written by his son and David Weber, but it was solid military sci-fi. However, I’ve read a lot of military sci-fi, so I know what I enjoy and what I don’t. So I treated it like popcorn, had fun, but wasn’t wowed by it. Similar was Pirates of the Milky Way by Jaxon Reed – solid, enjoyable sci-fi, but nothing that blew me away.

So because I’ve been jaded from reading so much, it’s easy to go from love or hate. The Emigrant by Leo Champion really surprised me on how good it was whereas The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams showed me what a travelogue pretending to be a novel looks like. And I’ve reread a lot of my favorite books, because sometimes you want something you know you’ll enjoy.

Have you found this in your own reading habits? Are you getting more intolerant of the same old, same old? Or is there a warm spot in your shelf for popcorn reading? Let me know in the comments below!

Stylists vs. Storytellers

16 Sep

Books lie to you. All the time. Whether it’s the title or the cover picture or the description… all of its designed to get you to buy the book. This is accepted. But if you want a fun story about dogs and what you get is a literary experiment… oh, buddy…

This particular post is brought to you by the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams. He died four years ago at 96, so he had a good life and a good writing career, so I don’t want to blast an author I liked… a book of his… a LOT… but what the *#&$ you were thinking?!

I won’t even give Mr. Adams crap about keep writing about animals again because… hey, if that’s your thing, go for it. What I’m upset about is that this is supposed to be a story about dogs, right? It’s actually a) a travelogue of the Lake District in England, b) practicing how to write characters with the Geordie accent, and c) a jeremiad on the beauty of nature and the evils of man.

What… the… #*$&?! I remember picking this up as a 16-year-old (after reading Watership Down for the third time) and never getting past the Preface. I happened to find this book in a pile of forgotten books and decided to give it a try. No wonder it was sitting there! Even now, I had trouble getting past the first chapter. But I finished it because I wanted to see what happened to the dogs. I should have guessed; deus ex machina. Although I was a little amused to see the “god” in this case verbally criticizing the author.

Interestingly enough, a similar disappointment happened to my wife. She doesn’t read novels (mostly), but when she picked up a non-fiction book called “Judaism Online: Confronting spirituality on the internet,” you’d expect this to be a book about… well, online Jewish websites, the nature of discourse, dealing with anti-semitism. No. It’s the transcript of an email conversation between the two authors, one a recent convert, the other a Jewish scholar.

Really? This was published in 1998 – some press actually thought THIS was a good idea? Seventeen different publishers didn’t like my masterpiece, but they thought this was a good idea?! Maybe that’s why they came up with this deceptive cover, because they realized after saying yes that, “Oh, how do we polish this turd?”

That’s why I stopped submitting manuscripts; because publishers know their audience. They know that an unknown author with an original story is going to get zero interest. I’ve even written inspirational romance, but because it was set in an overseas school, it wasn’t going to speak to their Christian housewife audience. Occasionally, my brother-in-law gets me to write short stories for anthologies, but nowadays, I figure I’ll stick with my own press and pimp out my stories.

Speaking of which, pick up my latest book, Defending Our Sacred Honor! This time, the cover doesn’t lie to you! 😀

However, here’s your chance to tell me – have you ever been burned by a book? Add your book to the parade of shame below in the comments!

Mad at the Mad Mage

1 Jul

Published adventures can be wonderful things – they give the DM great ideas, and make the whole gaming experience a treat. Most of the time, traditional DM’s use bits of what they read and then use it in their own homegrown campaigns.

I am not like most dungeon masters.

First off, I’m lazy I run a weekly D&D campaign at my local gaming shop on Roll20, and up until this whole pandemic, we offered D&D Adventurers League. For those of you unfamiliar, it allows players to take their same characters from one game to the next, without having to have the same weekly schedule, and allows DM’s the opportunity to pull in new players without having to go through the arduous process of finding them. After a year and a half, I have a solid group of six players who come every week. Some have left, some have joined, but solidly six… which is amazing.

So my son buys Dungeon of the Mad Mage and tries it out… but after running it with his players, gives up after one session. But it is the ultimate dungeon crawl – 20 levels of dungeons, massive monster lists, great challenges – I had to try this out!

Yes, it is beautifully written, amazing art, and great scenarios. There’s just one major flaw… it has no plot! To be fair, it has several plot ideas, but these are pretty flimsy and they will last for several levels, and then you’re stuck. Travelling between the levels is fun the first time, but then dull as hell going back, because you have to then return to Waterdeep (Level 0) to collect on the mission. So my players finish the first, then third, then the fifth mission, but then I have just start making up goals.

To be fair to WotC, their more recent adventure books have been great, but man, has it been difficult to make the campaign fun for my players. We should wrap it up pretty soon… then I’ve gotta figure out what to do next. Do you think I can convince my D&D Diehards to play Albedo? How do you handle a campaign that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? Write your comments below!

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