Friday, November 6, 2015

Since I've Been Gone

Wow. It's been a while since I've made a real post here. Where have I been? Well, I took some of my own advice and wrote the fucking book. Although in this particular case I was actually editing the books. All of them. And now I'm writing again, back on the grind.

This is just kind of an informal 'what's up for the foreseeable future' post, since I'm not very good at blogs and posts. I'd honestly rather just keep my head down and write books, and play some games in between. But there are things I'd like to say and who knows, maybe there are some things I have to say that people would like to read, or maybe even could really use. I know there have been enough things like that I've come across something where the person seems to think they're wasting their time, that they don't have anything interesting to say, but listening to what they had to talk about helped me in one way or another.

So maybe that's what this could be like.

Or maybe I'm just pissing in the wind.

Either way, let's get started!

I do have a list of things I want to talk about that I've been scraping together. I have an idea that I want to do a weekly posting schedule. We'll see how that goes. I've been really busy lately and struggling to keep up with the myriad of stuff that goes with being a writer, but I have been managing! So we'll see how that all shakes out.

I also launched a Patreon campaign! If you'd like to support me, even if it's just to give me a buck a month, I'd really, really appreciate it! You can check it out here. I imagine some people might be asking, 'Why are you doing this? I thought the average Patreon campaign was for people who mainly released their stuff for free online.' Well, that's true, and it's also true that, traditionally, a lot of Patreon campaigns are done by webcomic artists and people who do humorous dubs of animes or stuff like that. I've got two things to say to that.

#1: I do, actually, have a lot of my work available for free online! You can read everything ever written for my original series, The Shadow Wars, right here on WattPad. (As of right now, I'm working on the tenth title in my series, with a total of fifteen novels to come, as well as about a dozen short stories and/or novella tie-ins.) So there.

#2: The world is a scary place. This is doubly true when it comes to money. You can be riding high one minute, paying all your bills, building a savings account, all that happy crap, and then the next minute one, single thing can completely fuck you. Right now, I'm actually doing okay. I can pay my bills and keep food in the fridge between my writing and my wife's job and my roommate. And that thrills me to no end. But that could come to a screaming halt at literally any moment with no warning.

My sales could drop off for absolutely no reason (it's happened before, more than once, and I have no control over it), my wife could lose her job, we could get into an accident, some natural disaster could destroy our house, either of us could get cancer or some other kind of debilitating sickness that we'd be insanely lucky to survive unscathed. The point is, money is important, because it can deal with a lot of crap. And the more money I have coming in, the more security I and my wife are.

Now, I'm not going to be looking at Patreon as my primary source of income or even as a big source of income. But it would be awesome if I could even get a hundred bucks a month extra coming in or something to help pay the bills or feed into the savings account to deal with it the next time my car breaks down for absolutely no reason and suddenly, oh shit, it's a thousand bucks to get it fixed. Now, if you don't have the money to spare, that's fine. I know what it's like to be in a situation where every damned penny counts. I've been there. But basically, if you have a spare dollar or five bucks or something that you wouldn't mind giving up every month, that'd be really appreciated. Also, you get something out of it! I made sure to put together a lot of prizes.

Okay, there, we got that out of the way.

Now, to talk about another thing. Paperback novels! People have been asking me about paperback versions of my works since day one. Which I understand. I honestly wish I could have launched with the paperback option. But the reason I didn't was because I wanted to go through CreateSpace, which is partnered with Amazon and is currently the best option for indies. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, they cost money because they want to have it formatted their way...which is perfectly reasonable. Since I don't have the know-how or the inclination to go through figuring all that out, it would cost money to have someone else do it for me. Lots of money. Which I don't have. So I've just been waiting.

Then, a friend of my did a quick run through Lulu.com, which I checked out several years ago and thought they were still a bit amateur. They have, apparently, evolved. Which is great! I'm currently putting together a print-on-demand paperback of Necropolis. I'm really hoping to have it available for purchase before the end of the year. Once I get it done, it shouldn't take too long to get the others up, too. They'll very likely all be priced at 7.99$, with the exception of the novellas, Dead Ice, Dead Skies and Quarantine, since they're shorter, they'll likely be cheaper. It really all depends on the base cost of printing each book, since I would like to turn a profit still. Now, for full transparency, I have to tell you that that would be 7.99$ before shipping & handling. That's usually about 3.99$ so it'd be closer to 12$ instead of 8$. Sorry about that, nothing I can do about it.

But here, check it out. Here's some pictures of the second version of Necropolis.


I'm working on putting together the third version now, which, (please) will be the last time I need to make adjustments on this one. It costs me money and time (minimum two weeks) every time I need to make an adjustment and unfortunately I can't tell if the book has turned out right or not until I'm holding a copy physically in my hands.

So yay! I'm really excited about that.

Finally, I guess the last thing I have to talk about is my actual writing. Necropolis 4: Terminal is going really well. I'm four chapters in and still going strong. I feel this one and it's coming fairly easily. (We'll see how long that lasts.) I fully plan to have it written, edited and published by the end of the year. After Necropolis 4, I have another five novels, nine short stories and one novella planned in The Shadow Wars universe. I'm hoping, (praying is more like), that I will have all of those done by the time we hit 2017. And then something brand new comes along.

The only other thing I have to talk about is Toonami. Now that things are settling down and I'm getting into my routine, I should find some time to get this one started. However, before I get it started, I want to do a thorough plan-out instead of the play-it-by-ear approach I've been taking to some of my other fan fics. Hopefully this will mean that it will turn out better.

That's it for now.

If you've got anything to say or any questions, I encourage you to respond in the comments!

-S. A. Lusher

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Interview with Erik McClure aka Blackhole


So, interesting little backstory about how I discovered this guy. If you don't care, proceed to the interview below! Back in the mid to late 2000s, I came across this awesome track called On the Edge and I immediately fell in love with it. In fact, it served as an inspiration for my HaloxToonami crossover that I wrote and am planning on resurrecting. Up until just a few weeks ago, that's actually as far as my knowledge of Erik McClure went.

I started brushing off my ancient Toonami files, (those that survived), in preparation for its resurrection and came across a tracklist of songs I listened to to help inspired me. I had completely forgotten about On the Edge and immediately started listening to it again, only this time I asked the obvious question of: Who actually made this? One thing led to another and before I knew it, I randomly decided to ask Erik if he'd mind doing an interview with me.

He was super cool about it and accepted some totally random dude's interview invitation and here we are today! And now that interview.

01. When did you first start making music?

Technically I came up with a "song" when I was 4, but I only actually started writing real songs when I was 11 or 12, and it wasn't until I found FL studio when I was 15 that I would actively start trying to make music.

02. What originally inspired you to make music?

I always like improvising on the piano more than actually playing songs.

03. What are you goals, hopes and dreams?

I'd like to make a living making games and software. I see myself as a backend programmer, the guy who makes all the engines and tools that everyone else uses to make things.

04. What are your influences?

I am heavily influenced by ParagonX9, Trancecrafter, F-777, and Thomas Bergersen. I also draw inspiration from the tracker scene (such as Elwood and Awezoom).

05. Do you have other creative goals? (i.e. film, photography, writing, etc.)

I'd love to be able to make a movie at some point, but I'm not sure that'll ever happen. I have a few writing ideas too, but they're unlikely to materialize.

06. Do you plan on releasing more of your older Newgrounds content on Bandcamp?

I actually can't. Bandcamp has a strict limit on how many free downloads I get, so I only put music I'm selling on bandcamp, plus a few remixes.

07. What do you use to create your music?

FL Studio 12, EWQL Symphonic Choir, EWQL Orchestra Gold, Kontakt 5, z3ta+, Harmor, Ogun, and a few other random plugins.

08. Why did you choose the moniker Blackhole?

I came up with it a long time ago in middle school, back when I was fascinated with actual black holes. I kept the nickname to ensure consistency but usually sell music under my real name.

09. What kind of games do you make and why?

Well right now I haven't actually managed to make any games. All my ideas are 2D at the moment, but that's mostly because of time-constraints. Most of my games are either puzzle-based, or focus on emergent gameplay by introducing a single concept into an existing structure and taking it to its logical extreme.

10. What would be your dream game to make?

Probably a space sim game. Good space sims are extremely rare right now. Elite: Dangerous is okay, but I'm holding out for Star Citizen.
And there's the interview! You should check out Erik's music. It's definitely worth listening to and dropping some cash on!

Erik's Bandcamp

Monday, October 5, 2015

Another Carbon Based Lifeforms Interview!


So, I managed to get another interview with Carbon Based Lifeforms!

For those of you who don't know who Carbon Based Lifeforms are, they are a duo of ambient music composers who operate largely out of Sweden named Daniel Segerstad and Johannes Hedberg. They've been making great music since 1996 and have released seven albums and an EP, as well as a lot of awesome singles. Also, one member of the duo, Daniel, has a side project called SYNC24 that is just as good and very much worth listening to.

In the past year, they've remastered and released their original three albums and have gone independent, which is awesome!

Without further gushing over them, here's the interview they were more than kind enough to give me.

01. What inspired you to remaster Hydroponic Garden, World of Sleepers and Interloper?

When we discontinued our contracts with Ultimae to go independent we saw an opening to revisit our old albums and tweak some things we've been wanting to adjust, and thought we might as well do a full remastering. We started out doing ourselves but we quickly found that it was damn near impossible for us to remaster our own work, we just ended up trying to copy the old sound to no avail, so after a lot of discussions we decided that Vincent (AES Dana) was probably the best person to do it, he's a really talented audio engineer and he knows our sound really well. Lucky for us he had the time to do it :) We asked Vincent and he was onboard.

02. Is The Path getting remastered at any point in the future?

NO

03. How about Twentythree?

It's still pretty new to us and the mastering is good enough... for now :)

04. What about all of the miscellaneous songs and reedits, such as Epicenter (Second Movement), Metrosat 4, the Irdial EP or T-Rex Echoes? Will we be getting a compilation album of misc. tracks?

We plan to do some sort of compilation but after remastering three albums we were really tired of that kind of work and wanted to start working on a new album. We are still going to release it at a later time.

05. With CBL remastering and re-releasing all of its musical library, can we expect to see something similar with SYNC24 in regards to Source and Comfortable Void?

I've already released Source in it's original version and Comfortable Void is in same shape as Twentythree, so I don't really see it happening.

06. SYNC24 was created by Daniel for tracks that didn't quite fit the CBL mood or, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day. What about Johannes? Surely he must have some unreleased tracks stockpiled somewhere. Will we ever see any of those?

There is some stuff around but it's not in the same vein as CBL at all though, there's some chippy italo disco (www.digidroid.net), some acid stuff (https://soundcloud.com/lnetzel), some video game music etc.

07. Your fourth album, VLA, has always struck me as a curiosity. What inspired you to release a single-track, hour-long album?

We played around with some old software and ended up with that drone and we felt it kind of worked as a coming down/meditation/falling asleep track so we figured, what the hell let's give it some length... :)

08. What inspired the name of the band: Carbon Based Lifeforms?

When we started out making ambient tracks we felt they sounded really organic so we wanted something to fit that feeling and also we were really into FSOL back then so the name was kind of an homage to their Lifeforms album.

09. I know that you guys are planning a new CBL album before the end of next year. What about SYNC24?

Nothing planned at the moment. My life has been a real roller coaster fathering a child, moving to a house and CBL takes most of the precious musical hours, in a good way :)

10. Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming album? Hopes? Plans? Progress thus far? Working titles?

We strive to combine the feeling of Hydroponic Garden with the melodies of Interloper. However, nothing ever turns out the way we plan as the tracks seem to have their own will so we'll probably end up making a country album :) We have about 10 embryos lying around right now. As for the working titles, we'll probably keep them to ourselves, we have to keep at least some small part of our dignity :)

11. Will you be releasing the original versions of the albums for sale alongside the remastered editions at any point?

Probably not but you never know, if there is a big demand for it we might reconsider.

12. I've just recently discovered what could be called a 'lost track', Into the Canyon, released on what seems to be an earlier or otherwise different version of The Path that has since been released on bandcamp. It is the only track missing from The Path and it's very good. What went into the decision to leave the track off of the re-release of The Path?

It was added to the mp3.com version(s) of The Path, called The Phat 000001 and The Phat 000002, the album was cut in half because of the size restrictions on mp3.com. http://www.discogs.com/CBL-The-Phat-000001-The-Phat-000002/release/1553664

It was written by Mikael Lindqvist, the third member of Notch.

And there you have it, another great interview!

Show some love for Carbon Based Lifeforms and SYNC24.

Purchase albums and EPs from CBL & SYNC24 here.
Carbon Based Lifeforms [Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube]

Thanks again guys!

Monday, May 4, 2015

On Writing the Fucking Book

What is the absolute, number one rule that all writers follow, no matter what?

Writers write.

You've probably heard that phrase a lot, and I bet a lot of people hate the phrase. At the absolute end of the day, what makes a writer is a person who writes and publishes what they write. More and more often, publish is substituted by self-publish. (Also, please note that I am saying this from the perspective that you'd like to write and make a career out of it. If you're writing as a hobby, that's fine. This post isn't for you.)

For a moment, consider this. I'm not all that great a writer. I'm writing straight up genre fiction, and my ideas aren't anything new. I certainly feel a lot better about my prose than I used to, but I'm lightyears from the likes of Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Hell, I'm several miles removed from a lot of self-published writers. And I know for a fact that there are writers better than I am that, frustratingly, aren't writing much of anything.

And yet I've been making money at least semi-regularly since January of 2014. It isn't much, but it's fairly reliable, and slowly increasing. So why is that?

There's a lot of debatable reasons, and a few solid ones. I know that novels sell more than short stories or novellas, significantly more. I'm slowly building up a fan base. I've had a few giveaways. My covers are fantastic, thanks to M. Knepper.

But one thing I really think that helps set me apart is consistency. I've published eight novels in the past two and a half years, as well as a handful of short stories and novellas.

There is where the Write the Fucking Book principle comes into play. Getting to book written and out is the absolute foundation of success in the writing business. Obviously, there's a lot more. Knowing the mechanics of grammar, basic plot structure and development, dialogue, character development, marketing, etc. But you can know all these things, and even be great at them, but it won't amount to shit if you don't write the book.

Here's a few pitfalls I've seen authors (myself included) fall into.
  • Social media. A lot of authors get sucked into the vortex of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Goodreads, etc., etc., etc. There's a million sites out there where you can show your book off, hype people, pour hours and days into a black hole that probably won't give back. It can be addicting.
  • Research. Don't get me wrong, it's important. I don't really do any, but that's because I write in a Sci-Fi universe I thought up myself that's light on the Sci and high on the Fi. But there are a lot of authors who begin to research for their book...then it's four hours later suddenly and they find themselves poring over texts completely unrelated to their work. Authors can turn anything into procrastination, and research is among the worst, because it feels like you're doing work, even though you might not have written anything for the past three weeks.
  • Hype. This ties into social media, but also extends to talking to your friends and family about your work. I've fallen into this trap myself all the time. Still do, but not as much, as I've tried to minimize it. Hyping up your book, talking about some of the cooler aspects of it, is addicting. It's a drug. There's few better feelings than sitting there fantasizing about how awesome your book is going to be with a willing ear. Stop it. You should be writing your book, not talking about it.
  • Editing. What? This must be a mistake, right? Well, this is just my opinion, and I'm not making the big bucks yet, but we'll see how it turns out. I'm all for going over your book with a fine-toothed comb for errors. An error-free book is certainly what you want to shoot for, and you should hire a professional if you can manage it. I'm more talking about rewrites, what a lot of authors refer to as editing. I've talked to several authors who say that they go through an average of seven to ten rewrites, which is absolutely insane to me. It changes for every writer, but make more of an effort to tell the story you intend to tell the first time around and try not to rely on 'just fixing it later'. I know this really goes against authors who say 'just write it, even if it's crap, you can edit it later'. For me personally, the idea of 'get it right the first time' has saved a lot of time. I'm fully willing to concede that I'm not writing epic masterpieces over here, and that my stories tend to be pretty simple and straightforward, which is intentional. This has really helped me get a lot of product out quickly, which is what is needed to make a name for yourself in the face-paced self-publishing market. One book a year doesn't cut it anymore. Not even close.
  • Worrying. This is a big one for me personally. I wasted years and years worrying. I worried about everything. Is this the correct first book to write? Is this too controversial? Will this sell? It's going to suck, I bet. While I fully advocate having a plan, (i.e. knowing if you're writing a trilogy ahead of time, knowing where the book is going to end, it saves a lot of time and helps the continuity), I also advocate not sitting there and worrying yourself sick. It's generally better to just push past your fears and write the damned thing.
Here's a great guest post on J. A. Konrath's blog by author Tracy Sharp, Just Do It.

Something Konrath says in the post that I'm willing to bet will piss off a lot of people is: "This is a business about persistence, not talent. Asimov wrote 400 books. James Reasoner just finished his 185th. How many have you done?" Bob Mayer also has a great quote on this: "Writing is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."

To be sure, there are plenty of readers out there who'd rather read Stephen King than J. A. Konrath, who'd rather read a lengthy, well-plotted, character-driven novel than a quick, 70,000-word book of blood and death. And yet the fact that Konrath and authors like him are selling like fucking crazy means that there's more than enough people out there who would rather read something quick and light and fun.

My point is this, both types of writers can succeed, but significantly fewer people have the raw talent of King and Barker and Gaiman, whereas persistence, determination and a basic skill level at writing is accessable to damn near everyone.

So if you're serious about being a professional author, you should probably write the fucking book. I definitely wish someone had imprinted this on me years ago.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On True Badasses

Last night, I was having an in-depth discussion with my wife about the Tomb Raider reboot. Neither of us were really all that into any Lara Croft games or related media before this game, so we had a relatively 'fresh' view of the intellectual property. Essentially, we both liked it a LOT. I'm looking forward to the next one.

But, anyway, we've come across a lot of strange criticism of the 'new' Lara. A lot of people seemed to be upset by the fact that she showed so much emotion. That she hesitated or was terrified by all the events that occurred to and around her in the game. They seem to think that this makes her a weaker character and a lot less badass than the original Lara.

That made me very confused, and it got me thinking.

What's more badass? The Arnold Schwarzenegger type who never hesitates, never falters, never lets a single shred of worry slow them down or a protagonist who is nervous, who doubts themselves, who fucks up every now and then?

The second one, obviously. It's bizarre how many people get this backwards. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely a place for the ultimate badass who smokes cigars, kicks everyone's ass without breaking a sweat and doesn't have time to bleed. I enjoy tons of those types of movies. But media that tells stories more similar to the new Tomb Raider are significantly more gripping and tend to get you a lot more emotionally invested.

For those characters that are ultimate badasses who never flinch or hesitate, you find yourself asking: is it even possible? Do they even feel those emotions? Don't they ever doubt themselves? Don't they ever wonder if maybe they've got it wrong, or what happens if they fuck it all up? Are they physically capable of fear? And the answer, more often than not, seems to be 'no'. If that's the case, then we're not watching human beings, we're essentially watching walking, catch-phrase spewing killing machines that are beyond error. There's no tension, there's no investment, because you already know the outcome: the badass soldier/loner/mercenary/etc. is going to kill all the bad guys, smoke a cigar and bang a supermodel. And he's not even going to break a sweat trying.

Take a look at John McClane in the original Die Hard for contrast. Throughout the movie, he makes mistakes. He misses shots. He overplays his hand. The bad guys get the better of him sometimes. And he's afraid. That scene where he has to tie a hose to himself and jump off the top of the building, or he'll fucking die in an explosion, he's pissing his pants with fear. He's talking to himself, hesitating...he clearly does not want to do this. But if it were a more 'traditional' badass, they'd just make the jump and nail it flawlessly. Because John is terrified and obvious about it, we're a lot more nervous, and thus a lot more invested, because he could fucking die doing this. More importantly, it makes us ask: What if that were me?

It makes him more human.

That's what made this 'new' Lara Croft so great. Sure, she's brave, she's tough, she's competent. But she doubts herself. She knows she could die at any moment doing these insane things she has to do to ensure her own continued survival.

A character who hesitates, who makes mistakes, who feels fear, is always more compelling because it isn't brave if there's never any question whether or not the character is going to succeed. That's essentially the same as saying the television was brave because it turned on. For characters like the 'traditional' badass, success is all they're capable of as characters. They aren't overcoming anything. But for true badasses, they make you feel, they make you concerned for their well-being. You sympathize with them, and ultimately feel more satisfied with them as characters because they swallow their fear, push aside their doubt and do that really awful, terrifying thing in spite of the overwhelming odds.

Friday, April 3, 2015

On Strong Female Characters

Oh boy. Time to talk about something controversial.

Wait. Strong female characters are controversial? WHY?

Oh yes, not only is it controversial to talk about strong female characters, (or apparently anything relating to women and equality nowadays), but it is EXTREMELY so. The sheer amount of negative reaction that pops up around even casual statements relating to feminism is simply brain numbing. It's kind of like watching someone clearing their throat to make a statement, and suddenly the nearest thirty people pull out machine guns and empty the magazine into them. It's that level of absurdity.

I can't even comprehend the irony of how the very same men who are screaming that gender equality isn't an issue and women are blowing things are of proportion, getting all emotional over nothing...are the very same men who are sending rape and death threats to their fucking home, friends and family. This is as over-the-top as someone walking around, completely engulfed in flames, claiming that fire is a myth.

Now that I've got that out of my system (ha, not even close), let's get a few things out of the way.

I'm a feminist. And no, not because I'm trying to laid, nor because I'm married to one. It's because, shockingly, I came to the conclusion that women should be treated equally all on my own. (Crazy, right!?)

The second thing that's relevant: I'm one of those boring, straight white men. (Seriously, I am boring.) And yes, I understand that I'm playing life on Easy. Was my life difficult? Debatably, not really. I have no crippling mental or physical illnesses or injuries (that I know of, fingers crossed), I've never been homeless, I've been given lots of opportunity and there are people out there who care for me. But that doesn't mean I wasn't fucking miserable enough to be declared a danger to myself at some points (I wasn't, but, looking back on it, I really did have a lot of red flags for such behavior). Despite this, I'm aware that my life was a lot easier on the simple basis that I was straight, white and male. People didn't give me shit for my sexual orientation, my gender, my religion or the color of my skin.

Man, I am getting way off topic. Sorry.

Okay. Strong female characters. If you've read my books, you can say that I'm not exactly the greatest portrayer of these such characters. But I'm no slacker either. I'll admit that I'm still afraid to tackle the role of writing a straight-up female protagonist. It seems like a daunting task. But the more time goes on, the more I find myself asking 'why?'

My biggest fear is that I'll do something insensitive without realizing it in the course of creating a female protagonist. Basically, that I'll fuck it all up. God knows I've done enough of that in my life. I have similar concerns when writing not-white or not-straight characters. But I've discovered that it's better to try it out and fuck it up than do nothing at all.

Anyway, in the course of researching 'what makes a strong female character', I've come across a few strange things. Everyone seems to point to Ripley as the ideal Strong Female Character. She's tough, yet sensitive. Badass, yet nurturing. Watch as she takes on the Alien Queen like a fucking boss, and then takes care of terrified, young Newt.

On the surface, this makes sense. But if you dig even a little deeper, it becomes apparent that...something isn't right. And when I dug a little deeper, I discovered a fundamental flaw in the search for the Strong Female Characters.

What makes a woman a woman?

The argument that Ripley is a good strong female protagonist because she is both badass and nurturing is an inherently flawed one. Are all women nurturing or motherly? Are they all badass? Is it a requirement? I know plenty of women who are great, but have no interest in raising children. Does this make them not women? I sure as hell don't think so, no matter what the religious nutjobs say. (I'm not a fan of religion, can you tell?)

The depressing fact of the matter is that writing strong female characters is the same difficulty level as writing strong characters. A woman doesn't need to be beautiful to be a good character. A man doesn't need to be a hardass to be a good character. A character isn't a good character because of their gender, they're a good character because they're well balanced and well written. Or maybe because they're totally insane and compelling.

I've written several different prominent female characters, so I have some examples to draw on.

In Dead Ice, I had three distinctly different female characters. One was a tough, competent individual who was better at handling stress and taking control of the situation than the main male protagonist was. Another was often grim and  humorless, facing down her own death with a surprisingly rational calmness. Another was a terrified, antisocial hermit who was prone to panic and crumbled under stress. The important thing I kept in mind was that these characters were the way they were, not because they were women, but because this is who they grew up to be, because of the events in their life previous to this.

I know this sounds painfully obvious, but I think a lot of people either A) Don't fucking care about stuff like this or B) Are at least trying to help correct the problem but don't really know how. They put a female character in their story and every time she's around, you can almost hear the author saying "LOOK! I WROTE A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER! AREN'T I GREAT! I'M SO SOCIALLY AWARE!"

A lot of people seem to miss the extremely obvious fact that the way to have good female characters is not call attention to the fact that you're doing it. Let the character speak for herself. The same goes for LGBT characters. If, when I'm reading you book, I can practically hear you saying "OMFG! LOOK! I HAVE A GAY MALE CHARACTER! THAT'S SO UNUSUAL! I'M SO PROGRESSIVE AND FORWARD THINKING!", then you have failed in your task.

In the same way that being gay doesn't define you as a person, your gender doesn't define you. Or, at least, it shouldn't.

So, one of the key things I've learned in my two and a half decades of life, is that I bitch a lot. Anyone who hangs around me long enough knows that I'm easy to get going on a variety of subjects. Because I try to turn my weaknesses into strengths, I decided that instead of just bitching about something, I'd always try to at least try to fix it, no matter how large the problem is.

Misogyny is a HUGE problem.

A primary way I've found that I can combat it is by inserting (hopefully) good female characters into my stories. One of the biggest assets I think I have is that I am not writing books about strong female characters...I'm writing books about people with guns in space fighting monsters. Whereas typically the only type of people who go looking for books prominently featuring strong female characters aren't the type that need to have their brains adjusted, tons of people come looking for generic sci-fi/action. And by slipping in a good female cast and not drawing great amounts of attention to that fact, I can show regular readers that YES, you CAN have a third or half of your cast be female and it doesn't have to be a fucking 'chick book'.

Seriously, I once read a report about how guys thought a movie was a 'chick flick' or there was something wrong, a disproportionate amount of men vs women, if there were more than two or three women in the movie. THAT'S INSANE.

Here's a few pieces of advice I can give: 
  • Diversify. Take a look at your cast and make a minimum of a third of them female. If you're feeling brave, make it half. Because it's not like men represent 2/3s of the freaking world.
  • Mix it up. Make the female characters different. In your quest to make 'strong female characters', does this mean that you can't have any weak, stupid, petty, panicky, annoying, etc. female characters? Of course not. Just make sure ALL of them aren't like that. Make one of them tough and a good shot. Make another lazy who's only interest is in laying around toking up and eating pizza all day. Make another one a genius recluse. Make another one with positive body image, outgoing and has no qualms about casual sex. Make one a total bitch that puts down anyone else every chance she gets. A bodybuilder. A drunk. A pilot. A soldier. A bum.
  • Avoid man talk. It's shocking how many stories you can look at that have men and women, and the majority of what the women talk about is the men and how hot or ugly they are, and the men do all the plot stuff.
  • Go against the grain. Sometimes, it might be a good idea to go against what everyone else is doing. In Absolute Zero, one of the female characters was a huge, hulking, standoffish woman. I don't just mean that she had some muscles, we're talking a female Arnold Schwarzenegger here. This brings me to another subject. Don't have characters that go against the grain in terms of looks and then all you focus on is how unattractive they are. I've seen a lot of movies go down this path where the only unattractive woman is there for like comic relief or something. You can almost hear them saying "LOL LOOK! THIS CHICK IS REALLY BUFF! IT'S FUNNY CAUSE THAT'S NOT NORMAL!" The same thing goes for overweight female characters. There's too much fat-shaming as it is.
  • Just make a good character. Okay, so, to reiterate, when you're sitting down to design a female character, just do the same thing you do when you're creating 'normal' character, or characters you feel most comfortable creating.
Obviously, I'm not the expert on this stuff, I've just picked up a few things along the way. And if you've read my work, you know I'm not exactly the greatest writer that ever lived. But I'm interested in doing my part. And hey, if I ever get accused of writing a shitty female character, it won't be because she's a woman, it'll be because I'm just not that great a writer!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

On the Kindle Unlimited

The landscape that is self-publishing is changing yet again.

A long time ago, Amazon introduced Amazon Prime. The original idea behind it was to build customer loyalty by granting free shipping & handling in exchange for something like 90$ a year. As time went on, they began tacking on added benefits.

One such benefit was the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. The idea was, you could borrow any book that was enrolled in this library by publishers (traditional or self-published). You could only borrow one at a time though, and only once a month.

Now, however, Amazon has unleashed the Kindle Unlimited. For just 10$ a month, Kindle owners can now borrow as many books as they want from the KOLL. I imagine there are a lot of happy readers out there right now.

Now, let's look at this exact same thing from the author's point of view, specifically, self-published authors.

When Amazon set up the KOLL, they set aside a fund of several million dollars per month for those who had enrolled their works in the KDP Select Program. The down-low on that is if an author puts their books in the KDP Select, they agree not to sell/give away the book anywhere else and return, Amazon grants the author certain perks. One of these perks is having your book inserted into the KOLL.

Now, at the end of each month, Amazon would add up every book that had been borrowed from the library and divide that by the amount of money that resided in the KOLL Fund, the number they got was how much each Borrow was worth. Up until the Kindle Unlimited initiative, each borrow was worth roughly 2$. Which was pretty great for authors. It became less so as time went on. Originally, 99 cent novels were all the rage. At 99 cents, the author saw 35 cents on every sale. Then 1.99$ was the new magic price point, which meant 70 cents per sale.

When 2.99$ became the new selling point, the author saw 2.05$ out of every sale. That was about equal to the 2$ Borrow, so it was still good. If anything, it was great because the reader didn't have to pay a thing, so it felt like they were getting a free book, and they might go on to purchase the author's other books if they liked them enough.

Now that the magic selling point for self-published novels is 3.99$, which nets the author about 2.75$ per sale, that 2$ Borrow isn't look quite as appealing, but whatever, there were still a lot more sales than borrows.

Then the Kindle Unlimited came along.

Now, indie authors are reportedly seeing a marked dip in sales as everyone is borrowing their books instead of buying...or ignoring them completely as they suddenly have access to all 700k+ titles enrolled in the KOLL. The Borrow payout has gone down from 2$ per to something like 1.40$, which is still decent, but I imagine it'll go down further. On top of that, getting borrowed no longer guarantees getting paid for the borrow. The reader must read a minimum of 10% of the book for it to count.

There's a lot of doom-saying going on, many authors are predicting massive crashes and a flattening out of sales across the board.

I think it's a little too early to make many definitive predictions, but the horizon doesn't necessarily look as bright as it did at the beginning of 2014.

However, there may be some hope.

I think this might be the perfect time to see the return of serial fiction. The more I think about this, the more I keep thinking about people talking about 'binging' on whole seasons of shows from Netflix. If someone wrote a serial fiction, lets say 10 'episodes' to a 'season', and put them all in the KDP Select, it's not much of a stretch to think that you could garner a lot of fans who would binge-read the entire season, borrowing every title.

Let's try a thought experiment.

You have a 90,000 word novel at 3.99$. That's 2.75$ per sale. Now, let's say you take that same novel and chop it up into 6, 15,000 word a piece bits, and put each one up for 99 cents while enrolling them in the KDP Select. Someone nabs the first one and reads it, becomes addicted and borrows every single title. Even at only a 1$ per borrow payout, suddenly you're making 6$ on the exact same novel, and the reader is technically paying nothing except for their initial 10$ a month investment.

Isn't that amazing?

I thought so. A lot of authors are railing against this, which I think might be a bit pointless. Amazon will, unfortunately, do whatever Amazon does. So far, most of it has been good. What makes the most sense is to not put all your eggs in one basket. I'm still going to write novels, I'm also going to write some serial novels.