Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Indie Experiment

I will admit, dear reader, that I am one of those people who has looked down on indie publishing for years and years. And by indie, I mean self. I assumed it was the realm of writers who lacked the talent to make it in the world of legitimate publishing, who decried the gatekeepers and networks and claimed there was an inner circle of publishers who kept their brilliant writing from the public market because... well... just because. I assumed these people simply couldn't see the failing of their own work, and were willing to pay good money to see their names in print.

I had a harsh view.

Over the years, that view has evolved. Mostly because I've seen friends get fucked over by the publishing industry, I've seen truly great books fail, and I've seen mediocre books rise to the top on little more than buzz and packaging. I've come to accept that book quality simply doesn't equal publishing success. I could see, clearly, that there were many variables in the publishing process. Any one of those variables could sink a good book. Some of the best writers I know are struggling to stay in the mid-list.

This got me to thinking about indie publishing. After all, there have been a number of success stories out of the selfie world. Not just blockbuster success, like Wool or 50 Shades, but people who are simply supplementing their income or making good mid-list kind of numbers by producing their own stuff. And following the end of the Veridon series, I had a number of short stories that hadn't been seen in the US, all of which served as the foundation for Heart of Veridon. There was some small demand to see these stories. I also had a novella that hadn't landed in any of the short story markets. The rejections had all been nice, but it was an odd length to place. So I decided to do a little experiment. I decided to publish these things myself.

Formatting took time, as did layout. These are not things I'm naturally inclined to do, and there's a lot of nuance in laying a book out that most folks probably don't recognize. I wrote up some author's notes for the Veridon stories, then added two science fiction stories that had also seen little distribution in the US. I called the final produce Bones of Veridon.

I have to pause to talk about covers. I was fortunate enough to get some help from a friend who owns her own studio, who did an amazing job with my covers. We were able to get covers for both of the works that really evoked the stories without being too fancy. If you need a cover, I would happily recommend Mez. She's brilliant.

So, I got Bones of Veridon out there and made some sales. I was encouraged. Not 'hey, my money problems are solved!' levels of encouragement, but units moved. I did twice weekly bumps on my various social feeds, and that always sold a couple books. I went ahead and put the novella out. That didn't go as well, not by a long shot. There was no established fan base. Plus I dropped that title too close to Bones of Veridon. The people who might have been interested were still gorging on Bones, I think. But I'm learning. The next one will be better timed, and hopefully different enough to draw in people from outside my usual readership.

This doesn't mean that I've given up on traditional publishing. Not by a long shot. I have one series out to editors, and another pitch that I'm writing for a YA title. I think traditional publishing is still the backbone of the genre, and will be for a long time to come. But I also think that indie publishing is a viable outlet, and one that every author should at least look into. Unless you're one of the big names who can hand literally anything they write over to one of the houses and start a bidding war, some of your work isn't going to fit into the traditional expectations of the editors and agents who guide this industry. That doesn't mean it's bad, or unworthy of publication. Independent publication lets you experiment with things that the more risk-averse industry types won't go near. It lets you expand your reach as an author, and establish a little more control over your own career. Plus it's terribly satisfying to get stories into the hands of readers.

That's what this entire business is about, right? Telling stories? And if you have a good story, there's no reason you shouldn't be allowed to tell it. So write, and publish, and let the readers decide.

I'd be a fool if I didn't include links to those titles I put out, right? So here they are:

Bones of Veridon

Memories of Copper and Blood

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Guest Blog: Joshua tells you things about Elysium!

My agent, Joshua Bilmes, is a man of the movies. He's much better at analyzing them than I will ever be, and has seen way, way more movies than I ever will. We both saw Elysium recently, and as it was the final science fiction movie of the summer, we decided to do dueling reviews of the movie. Well, not dueling. But I've done a review that appears on his blog right here, and he's done a review that will appear on my blog.

Right now, in fact:

Elysium. noun.  “Any place or state of perfect happiness; paradise.”  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.  1996.  Random House Value Publishing.

Elysium. movie.  Sigh.  2013.  Tri-Star Pictures.

For the avoidance of doubt, Elysium the movie falls well shy of perfect anything.

At the dawn of my career as a literary agent I was put in touch with the “plot skeleton” by Scott Meredith, which is similar to more recent things like Robert McKee’s story structure or a gazillion other guides to writing books or movies.  That plot skeleton started with an identifiable lead character.  Elysium is an instant fail.  Our lead character, played by Matt Damon, is on line to board the bus for work.  Someone behind him gets in trouble with the robotic line monitors.  So first thing when the line monitors come to Matt Damon, he decides to mouth off.

Are you kidding me?

Our lead character is that guy, the one without the brain or common sense to realize that making jokes about bombs while you’re standing on the TSA line at the airport waiting for you or your carry-on to go through the scanner is just not the best idea.

Everything else that happens to our lead character is a direct result of his being a wisecrack.  He is injured so he’s late to work so he’s in trouble with his boss so he agrees to do something dangerous at work because it’s that or be fired so he is injured and has five days to live so he needs to cure himself. 

This might have engaged me if the character was more well-rounded, but there isn’t much else to go by.  We know he’s trying to keep on the straight and narrow, but I just saw that movie and it was called Fruitvale Station.  We know he pines for halcyon memories of his childhood girlfriend.  I’m pretty sure I saw that movie somewhere else.  Many somewhere elses.  Somehow or other, I feel like I’d checked out of the movie around five minutes in, and I stayed that way.

I’m trying to figure out what else there is to say about the movie, and I don’t come up with much.

Jodie Foster gives a strange performance with a Africaans kind of accent for no particular reasons, other than to remind us that this is high art, allegory, full of meaning and lessons.  However, her character, the Secretary of Defense for the Elysium habitat where the rich people live, isn’t very convincing in how she does her job.  Her so-called boss is even less convincing in how he does his.  The underlying set-up, the protocols of how things are done, makes no sense.  It looks like things are being made up as they go along.

There aren’t any other actual characters in the movie.  There are people who fill archetypal roles.  The bad guy.  The good guy who dies so that our hero might live.  The girlfriend.  The young child our heart goes out for.  We should care enough about the girlfriend and the young child that we aren't bothered we can't quite figure out a cogent back story to explain how the girlfriend goes from the idyllic flashback scenes to reaching heaven to returning to hell with a daughter who isn't covered under her health plan.  

The movie ended with the same implausibility and lack of common script sense as it started.  The people on Earth are going to get cured.  The habitat will send its ships full of Miracle-Gro sick bays.  I was kind of hoping for something nice, a good what-would-happen-in-the-real-world scene of people on Earth being killed and trampled as a lawless society suddenly had millions of people angling for 50 Miracle-Glo sick bays.  No such luck.  It's all very elysian, as the citizens of Earth kind of dance and frolic toward the ship's cargo bay, not exactly going in single file but certainly forming a happy and well-choreographed mob where we just know that everyone will get their just reward in the exact right order.     

I could talk about the special effects!  Good special effects!!  Delivered on a budget!!!.

That is what we are supposed to talk about when we discuss the work of writer/director Neill Blomkamp.  His reputation in the US rests on the success of District 9, a sleeper sf hit when it opened four years ago.  District 9 had some creative plotting and an interesting setting, but it devolved into what so many other sf movies devolve into, an extended overlong chase scene that took up most of the movie.  I dozed off for a bit during that, just like a checked out a bit during Elysium.  The main impression I left with wasn’t that I loved District 9, it was that I loved that he’d managed to do an sf movie filled with all the sorts of things sf movies are filled with and done it for some small tiny fraction of what Peter Jackson spends to do it.

So in ELYSIUM, many critics seem impressed that Neill Blomkamp delivers an Important Allegorical SF Film For Much Less Than Pacific Rim.   It’s just not a very good film.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you deliver on a tighter budget, when you deliver the same thing as everyone else. 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Picking at the Bones of Veridon

For a while, I've wanted to compile all of the short stories that led up to Veridon, but I wanted to do it right. For me, that meant combing through the manuscripts to correct canonical errors and tweak the spelling of a few place names that evolved over the years. I also wanted to produce something that looks as good as it reads. I've been working on all this in the background for the last handful of months, and I'm happy to say that the final produce is now available. It's only on Kindle Direct for now, because they really make the process straightforward and simple. The final piece was the cover, and that fell in place thanks to the brilliant @MezBreezeDesign. I couldn't be happier with it.

All that to say this: You can now pick up Bones of Veridon at Amazon for the Kindle. There are seven stories, five of them from Veridon plus two others that aren't related to the Shining City of Cog. In the book I talk a little bit about each story, what was going through my head when I wrote it, that sort of thing. Let me know what you think of the book! Enjoy!

Bones of Veridon