Monthly Archives: July 2013

Five Benefits of a Small Press

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As of last week, I signed my life away on a three-book deal with TZPP. I’m expecting the first round of edits for my novel, The Dream Box, sometime this weekend. The project’s tentative release date is Black Friday.

This is my first experience dealing with a younger press as opposed to the industry giants in New York, and I have to admit that I’m pretty happy with it so far. I’ve always been a “shoot for the moon” sort of guy, but as you may have read in Rejection: Greatest Hits, some of these larger, more established presses can be surprisingly unprofessional. All things considered, there are some real advantages to signing with an underdog, which I shall attempt to illuminate:

1) The Contract and Your Rights

I can’t speak for every small press, but my publisher made it clear to me going into the signing process that nearly every aspect of my contract was negotiable. I confirmed with Professor of Great Renown that it was an industry standard contract save for a few sticking points, which I came back and successfully negotiated with no issues. My royalties, which I won’t share publicly, are fairly generous. I didn’t need to find a literary agent (what a joke so late in the process, right?) to hustle for me. Nor did I have to deal with the kind of silent treatment I received from a certain unnamed mega press who one day shall be named on this blog and shall live forever in infamy. But not today. ‘Tis not yet the time for naming…

Is He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named singing Journey or... :-0

Um, is He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named singing Journey? Man, I sure hope that’s all it is…

2) Personal Connections

Frankly, it feels amazing to know your publisher believes in you and to work with editors who seem to really want you to succeed. My publisher has given me gentle nudges (and the occasion kick in the rear) to get me writing again after personal mishaps–and this after generously promoting me on an anthology cover when he could have picked from a dozen other authors. Several of the senior staff members at TZPP (including my publisher) began following this blog after the press accepted just one short story, and we’re always promoting each other personally through social media and other avenues as opposed to staying on our respective sides of the “professional” fence.

Before I had my foot in the proverbial door, this was the sort of interaction I absolutely coveted.

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At present, I’m not feeling any of that “cutthroat” mentality you read about–rather, there seems to be a true sense of loyalty. Not those patronizing shenanigans, either. Loyalty. I hope it holds.

3) Valued Input

After I signed, I did that thing all rookies do: “You know, I have some ideas for the cover design…” I did this knowing that most publishers could care less what an author thinks about the way a book is marketed. After all, it’s the author’s job to write and the publisher’s job to figure out what will sell, right? Wrong–although it’s a common misconception. The author first has to write something salable and pitch it to editors and/or agents, but seldom does he (or she!) get any credit for being sales oriented. There’s usually a sense of “You’ve brought it this far, but we’ll take it from here.”

My publisher, on the other hand, was kind enough to let me submit my input for the cover design for all three books. I was really surprised. Even some of my heroes have complained about the cover art they’re stuck with looking absolutely nothing like their original vision. I think every writer dreams of having some kind of creative control beyond just the words on the page. I didn’t imagine it would come this soon.

4) Collaborative Opportunities

TZPP has been assembling a team of writers to create an installment series through collaborative world building. I’ve been interested in this project since the get-go, and it sounds like it might finally be getting the green light. I haven’t had the opportunity to create by committee since college. Not to completely geek out here or anything, but those meetings in bars where we closed Mill Avenue down trying to figure out what a Postmodern version of hell would look like to Frank Herbert were more fun than most of the college parties I attended at ASU. Getting paid for the sort of thing you’d do for free during your college days is the very definition of living the dream.

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Patience, Philosoraptor! I was just getting there…

5) Growth

Every mega publisher out there today (before having a conniption about Kindle) started as a small press. Joining an already successful conglomeration wherein your book deal–your dream–might have been nothing more than some high-powered agent’s proviso for some bigger book deal would leave me wondering if I really made it on my own steam. The idea of helping a younger publisher grow and receive renown, on the other hand, hardly leaves room for that sort of doubt. Every writer seeks (needs) validation–whether through publication, sales, reviews, awards, a cult of die-hard fans willing to commit seppuku over the end of a book series, or–my favorite–all of the above.

A sane person would try to prove it to him- or herself before proving it to the world, but unfortunately for most of us, the process only works in reverse. Authority (i.e. being an author) isn’t something that can be assumed–it must be granted, bestowed. Only an audience can do this. The opportunity to grow with a publisher is probably the purest way of proving to the world that I was meant to do this.

Then, perhaps, I will have proven it to myself.

Is He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named singing Journey or... :-0

DON’T STOP… BELIEVING!!! HOLD ON TO THAT FEEEE-lay-eee-lay-ING!!!!

Uh, yeah. Thanks Bae–err, Voldemort, err, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named!

-Whew!- Close call!

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Irony of Survival (Part 2)

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Wherein we continue to discuss Zharmae’s second anthology of 2013… If you’re just catching up, check out Part 1.

Knackerman

When it comes to delving into the cattle mutilations often thought synonymous with extraterrestrial phenomenon, Malachi King makes a smart move in choosing a protagonist well versed in animal death–the local knacker. Ironically, I can’t think of a story that has tackled this subject and included this particular perspective, which now that I’ve read “Knackerman”, seems quite odd. It’s the same kind of logic that Crichton used in creating many of his characters–if an extraordinary event were to occur, who would be the first on the scene, and who would be most likely to have to deal with the event?

King differs from Crichton in that he chooses a blue collar perspective character as opposed to, say, a veterinarian or expert in the forensic field. This does two important things for the work: 1) it sets up a distinct voice that is representative of a rural mentality and 2) it establishes a theme of secrecy that is consistent throughout the story and is a tenet of this sub-genre.

The knacker, Benny Davis, gains an additional layer of characterization in being an African American Vietnam War veteran who has dealt with death so long that he has made it his business. Despite being world weary, he is entirely relatable as he peels back layers of mystery surrounding the paranormal events that occur on the farm and the family caught in the middle. False suspicions are sown, the line between reality and speculation is blurred, and there is even a bit of a redemption story here. In the end, we understand why those who encounter extraterrestrial life choose to keep the secret–at least in the realm of Science Fiction.

Station 17-B

Steenbock’s tale made me wonder from the get-go if the man has screenplay training. The scenario he puts together would fit easily into a a flick from the Aliens franchise and, to me, is a bit reminiscent of the little known film Event Horizon, which is one of my all time favorites. Of course, Steenbock’s work would be a hell of a lot easier (literally!) to pitch than Event Horizon. Whenever I try to explain it (the film is based on the novel by Steven McDonald), I always come across like a jackass.

Me: It combines the genres of Sci-fi and Horror by playing with the concept of a drive creating a black hole in order to pass through space time, but in this case, the shortcut the ship takes is literally through hell because hell is the dimension between the two points in space time. So when the ship comes back and has to be salvaged, it’s sort of possessed. Like it actually brought hell back with it to our dimension. Sort of… 

Everyone: Dude, that sounds stupid.

Me: No, you don’t understand…

Everyone: Oh, I get it. It’s just stupid.

Me: No! Why don’t you see?!

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“Do you see, now?! Do you see?!

Yes, that was an inside joke for those who have seen the movie. Hey, this is my blog, and I can make all the stupid inside jokes I want. Complain all you want about Event Horizon–from where I’m sitting, it was probably Lawrence Fishburne’s part in this film that landed him the role of Morpheus in the Matrix Trilogy.

But I digress…

Steenbock’s work is much more plausible. Station 17-B has been abandoned following an incident that no one can remember, and a group of space privateers led by one Captain Galleson receive a government contract to destroy it. No salvage operation necessary. However, a former resident of the station, Silas, who at first seems obsessed with determining just what happened to its crew, confronts Galleson and convinces the captain to bring him aboard. Galleson agrees at first as a curiosity, which aggravates relations with some of his crew members, as Silas does not come across as particularly trustworthy.

The mystery of what happened on Station 17-B–and why it even exists to begin with–goes deep enough to have been the introduction for a novel or series. Steenbock incorporates some exemplary world building into this tale, but unfortunately, to comment on it in too much detail would ruin the reason for reading it. There are a few red herrings thrown into the mix, along with several moments of No!! Why the hell would you do that?! as the crew explores the doomed station seeking the truth–which, again, made me feel like I was watching a movie as opposed to reading on my Kindle. After blasting through this novelette in one sitting and easily imagining a novel based on the same universe, I’m curious to see what Mr. King writes next.

More Irony of Survival later… In the meantime…

event-horizon

DO YOU SEE?!?!?!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist… -.-

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Irony of Survival (Part 1)

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When my publisher sent me a free copy of this year’s larger anthology for which my short didn’t quite make the cut, I have to admit that my pride smarted a little.

“Seriously though,” he said, “you might really enjoy reading some of these stories.” 

I think his main point was that I needed to get off my intellectual butt and start reading and writing again as opposed to devolving into a caveman at the local gym. Balance has never been one of my finer points. I generally throw myself into an endeavor full force with little consideration for whatever exists outside of it. Travis reined me in, however. When I thanked him for this, his response was simply, “Of course. That’s why I’m your publisher.”

To a guy that once waited five years just to hear back from a major publisher… well, let’s just say you won’t find this kind of support and camaraderie just anywhere. So I took it for what it was and gave Irony of Survival a shot.

My publisher was right. There are some wonderful stories in this anthology, which I shall partially spoil in just a moment. There are also some lemons, but that’s to be expected when dealing with an anthology. After all, anthologies aren’t intended for just one demographic, so it’s inevitable that some works contained within will speak to you while others won’t.

Reading what a press selects for publication is also a useful strategy for determining what to submit in the future–this is a subjective business, after all. All established publishers include something to this effect on the company website, but most writers ignore it because we’d rather create first and find a publisher later. I mean, why sell out before it’s time to sell out, right?    

Writers have interesting notions like artistic integrity and the preservation of our original visions. This makes us absolutely annoying to work with sometimes, but if we weren’t so passionate about these things, we probably wouldn’t be writers. It’s a Catch 22. 

So I took this suggestion as a bit of investigative work. Then, as you typically do when you find something worth reading, I turned off the inner critic and enjoyed the stories.

Of Dogs and Vomit

I was initially thrown off by the title of Kevin Bennett’s dystopian short. It’s from Proverbs 26:11. (My Catholic upbringing was apparently wasted on me.) It’s probably a good thing the verse is included at the end of the story as an epigram as opposed to at the beginning as an epigraph, as knowing it gives away the plot.

Those of you that have the anthology in front of you just skipped to the end of this story, right? Figures.

That would be a mistake because where this story really shines is in its premise. Bennett creates a future in which slavery has been reintegrated into a future America via the abuse and subsequent dependence on a drug called “Sustain”. Essentially, the Company controls the production of the drug and thus uses it to control addicts that become dependent on it for survival. In an ironic juxtaposition with American history, the “slave hunter” in the story is Black, and the escaped slave is Caucasian. Both perspectives are included in each chapter, and the characters are given just about equal time as well.  

The theme of abuse permeates the entirety of the work. Tom, the escaped slave, abuses both himself and the drug Sustain. The Company abuses both Tom and Enforcer Stack, who responds in kind by abusing both his subordinate and very authority he pretends to uphold. By the end, I felt sympathy for both dual protagonists, as Bennett does a fine job of drawing them together despite their differences and demonstrating that there are many forms of slavery. Or, to quote Eliot,

“We think of the key, each in his prison.

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.”

-The Waste Land

 

Catalogue Phantasma

Frances Pauli’s offering drew me in almost immediately. There’s something compelling about a mystery artifact found in a storage unit that probably should have been left undiscovered. I’m also biased because I’m a huge fan of Supernatural, and the writers of that show frequently play with occult objects wreaking havoc on the hapless mundanes that discover them. And sometimes, the protagonists.

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“No, Dean! Not A rabbit’s foot! THE rabbit’s foot!”

Pauli’s story also touches on how our deepest desires–our very dreams–can lead us astray. Also present is the theme of simulation in a fantastic sense, which leads the reader to question just how important reality is when faced with our most intimate of temptations. “Catalogue Phantasma” made me wonder which dream I would chose given the conceit of the story. What conceit, you ask? Do you want me to spoil the whole thing, or what? 

Despite the protagonist being female, I probably related to this story the most. It’s pretty darn universal.

Shall You Know Me When You See Me?

Allow me to speak plainly. Henry, the protagonist of this ghost story, is a jackass. I don’t relate well to characters that are having affairs and trying to justify/rationalize them. Cynthia is a real sweetheart and an interesting woman that deserved much, much better. She has Hester Prynne syndrome–the problem isn’t with her at all; it’s that no man in the story is actually a man. 

You notice how my analysis just fell flat and I tried pathetically to cover it with a reference to The Scarlet Letter? That should let you know that this one disturbed me a bit. It’s a ghost story. I was disturbed. Johanna Lipford probably accomplished what she was going for here. But Cynthia, baby, if you’re out there somewhere, you can haunt me any time.

Time to buy more alphabetic refrigerator magnets…

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Does anybody remember Dead Like Me stealing this gag from Stephen King? Great show. Bag of Bones was a great book, too.

I should probably do the dad thing and take my kids to the pool like I promised, but there’s plenty more “critical analysis” of Irony of Survival to come. If you’d care to pick up the anthology before I spoil it in its entirety (I do that sometimes!), you can find it on Amazon.com or follow this link

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