Tag Archives: writing

Everything Aside–This Is How I Really Feel About Being Published

Let me open by saying that I am thankful for every sale, every reader, and every review. This rant comes, perhaps irreverently, at the same time as the news that Betrayal at Phobos is currently ranked second in sales with my publisher this month. I am grateful for the support system I have, which mainly involves my significant other, a handful of close friends, some former students, a couple of mentors, and my immediate family. It’s unfortunate that I’ve chosen to air my frustrations, but I just can’t keep my mouth shut about these issues any longer. I hope, at the very least, that this post proves instructional to those with hopes of becoming an author.

When I was a junior pursuing my BA in English, I had the good fortune of signing up for a creative writing class with a seasoned novelist who has been publishing on and off since the 1970’s. I got to know this professor, who many considered bitter and curmudgeonly, fairly well.  And he, knowing my dream was to write fiction for a living, sat me down after class one day and explained that writing is quite possibly the world’s loneliest profession.

I thought I understood what he meant back then. After all, when you’re twenty years old and still struggling to find your voice, very few believe you have anything worthwhile to say. If you can, you seek solace in a group of like-minded people that will bolster your courage and inspire you to continue on the path to publication. They listen when you bitch about how most adults today are content to read YA novels and rant about the injustice of the university shutting down its Humanities program. They provide a mental forum to which you may bring your ideas, however hackneyed they might be. If your friends are geeks, you might even get to test drive a character or two in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign before you waste 100,000 words on a novel starring “he who nobody likes” as the protagonist and “she of the ever shifting nomenclature” as the love interest. These are your best friends, your brain trust, your stalwart companions on the metaphorical life-quest you all obsess over whilst rolling dice and punishing your body with Jack in the Box and Mountain Dew Code Red.

But are they really? Or did everything just mean so much more to you than it did to everyone else?

The biggest problem with being a creative type—and especially someone who loves Science Fiction and Fantasy—is that you elevate your interactions with people to the grandeur of an epic.

Somehow, I managed a three-book deal with a mid-sized publisher. By the time my first novel was published, I had more than a few followers online: former students, people who had discovered my blog when it was Freshly Pressed, co-workers who also teach English or history, and the aforementioned boon companions. In my mind of epic metaphors and unreasonable expectations, I believed my triumph would be shouted to the heavens—or that it would at least go viral. This, of course, would be even more unreasonable if I hadn’t stood by so many of these people when they needed my help.

There are certainly high school graduates out there doing well now but who never would have made it if I had not stepped between them and their parents, or between them and the administration, or between them and themselves.  I can count a couple successful marriages that may not have happened if I had not smacked some sense into one partner or the other, usually the male. (I am also a damn good father, and anyone who doubts this does not know the first thing about me.) But failing even this, I have always stood for moral and intellectual pursuits while doing my best to keep my opinionated nature in check, which, for me, is more difficult than writing a book or teaching a college course.

In the end, none of this matters. You can’t expect those who died for you in D and D to show one iota of loyalty in reality. You can’t expect the college student you befriended more than a decade ago in a screenwriting class to be bothered to read your work now that it’s published—even when you offer to read his. You can’t even expect the students (and fellow geeks) you’ve dragged through high school kicking and screaming to show up for your book signing at the local library.

Oh, and you certainly can’t expect anyone on the Internet to do right by you. Over 2,000 illegal downloads of my first novel and counting. I’m a public servant, people—a teacher in what is statistically the most underfunded state in the Union. If you’re going to steal bread from my meager table, at least have the decency to write a review.

Here’s one thing you can count on: life isn’t really about doing the right thing, struggling, and being rewarded with a big payoff—that only happens in the world of fiction. So that’s where I’ve chosen to stay.

I am committed to the world’s loneliest profession. I understand now what that old “curmudgeon” was trying to tell me. The readers who will get something out of your stories are almost never the people you know personally. Those who were with you at the beginning will never see you as an author and will go to great lengths to ignore your accomplishments whether you publish through TZPP or HarperCollins. If you happen to inspire an epiphany somewhere in the world, it will forever remain unknown unless someone decides to write a review.

This presents a frustrating paradox: the first rule of writing is to consider your audience, but the odds are long that you’ll ever know who they are, at least not until someone invests many thousands in marketing you, and not some label, to get your work in front of them. When that happens, love and appreciate those fans, but never allow them to become the reason you write. The only person you can count on is yourself. Write for you.

If I’m honest, I get very few questions about my book series from legitimate fans. The most common question both friends and strangers ask me about being a novelist is, “So you’re published, but are you making any real money?” This is generally followed by, “Do they stock your book at Barnes & Noble? Oh, well why not?” These people don’t seem to understand that they, and not I, hold the keys to my success. All I can do is write the books. They also don’t seem to understand how incredibly rude this behavior is. What if I walked up to an engineer and asked him why he doesn’t make six figures working at Motorola? He’d probably break my nose. And you know what? I’d deserve it.

I, for one, am going to finish writing this book series regardless of who reads it and who judges me based on the size of my publisher. Eventually, the naysayers who didn’t support me will see me on the bestsellers’ list. It will likely be the only place they’ll see me from now on.

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So, What’s Your Book About?

The-Wolf-of-Descarta-3 (1)

This is the question all writers dread. When my editor asked me if I wanted to write my own blurb for The Wolf of Descarta or have the marketing department at TZPP do it for me, my response was, “Yeah, that’s all yours. Go nuts.”

Yes, to a point, all writers should be able to string together synopses or treatments of their novels, but doing so is kind of like “squeezing the universe into a ball”–a line which I constantly crib from Eliot.

So what is my book about? I think the answer to that question is really going to depend on who you ask.

A teacher might read the novel and note the effects of the Dalian Exam, which is taken at the age of 13 to bypass the genetic caste line between red collar and blue collar, and decide that I’m taking a stance against standardized testing in public schools.

A video game junkie might describe it as, “A scenario in which gamers and hackers finally take their rightful places as the future heroes of humanity.”

A romance fan might fixate on the love triangle between Balmus/Reese, Brea, and Petra because this serves as the driving force behind the story and Reese’s personal quest for meaning.

An English professor might argue that the book is really about the limitations of human identity and call it a cautionary tale about the role simulation may already be playing in shaping society. He or she might also drop the word bildungsroman.

A cellular biologist might call it a love letter to Charles Darwin that explains the evolution of robots.

A Fantasy fan might call it an experiment in bringing the staples of that genre–including heroic knights, trials by combat, magic, legendary creatures, true love, and weapons of power–into a Sci-Fi context without necessarily writing Space Opera.

A conspiracy theorist might call it a metaphor for big brother policing the Internet.

A devout Christian might read it as a parable for the need to make a true connection with God through prayer.

A string theorist might see those same connections as the equivalent of mental wormholes between dimensions.

An Erotica fan might gravitate towards the futuristic choice between the physical act of love making and the simulations that are replacing it.

A soldier might see it as statement about how warriors transcend the governments they serve through heroism at arms.

A psychologist… Hell, I don’t even want to think about that one.

A Sci-Fi fan might (hopefully) call it a refreshing break from the typical fair where rules and boundaries make stories predictable by limiting their scope–because in the Dream Box, reality is limited only to what the human mind can imagine.

So, what’s my book about? When you read it, you tell me. It’s scheduled for release November 21st.

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On Superhero Movies, Ben Affleck as Batman, and Book Editing!


Hey, that’s my sword! Okay, Wolvie. You can borrow it.

Yes, I own the actual antique version of the historical reproduction sword used in The Wolverine. (In the script, Yukio claims the blade itself is hundreds of years old like the clan Yashida sword in the comics, but the repo is of a Japanese officer’s sword from World War 2.)

This probably surprises just about nobody who follows this blog, right?

I was planning on reviewing The Wolverine and Man of Steel separately and including a melange of spoilers and opinionated statements (kind of my thing), but my second job has kind of gotten the better of me lately. I have just under 100 pages of The Dream Box left to edit for TZPP, and my deadline is swiftly approaching. I also had to grade hundreds of papers over the last week for my gig as an English teacher. I’ve kind of had my head under a rock.

Then I heard the news. Ben Affleck is Batman.

This is exactly what I saw in my mind:

Batman and Robin

Holy MATT DAMON, Batman!!!

I even tweeted that Matt Damon was playing Robin, and everyone is so enraged about this casting decision that some people believed me. This was my first experience being a troll. I rather enjoyed it. Given the memes that are circulating around Google right now, I’m not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous.

Why do I think Affleck as Batman playing against Cavill as Superman is the worst casting decision in years? Let’s look at the two (good) superhero movies that came out this summer. And let’s begin with the physiques being presented to us, the audience, as superhuman:

The Wolverine

When Hugh Jackman first landed the part of Wolverine in the X-Men franchise, I was, frankly, pretty disappointed. Comic book nerds are some of the hardest people on the planet to please, and Wolverine is, by far, my favorite comic book hero. Jackman, first of all, wasn’t big enough for the role, which is why you almost always see him wearing three shirts in the X-flicks. (He obviously fixed this issue by taking on the Rock’s training regimen and diet for the new movie.) He also didn’t manage to get the whole berserker rage thing down until X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which I actually enjoyed because I don’t really care for either Gambit or Deadpool as characters, and I thought Liev Schreiber, despite lacking Tyler Mane’s physique, played a mean Sabretooth.


But even here, the shot works because Jackman, who at this point is already huge, is wearing that coat… expect a lot of tricks like with with Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.

Still, X-Men Origins: Wolverine suffered from being subject to the continuity of the other X-flicks, which were pretty far off from the comic books. The Wolverine, on the other hand, is relatively self-contained. True, Jean is dead, and Logan has to deal with that vis a vis his psychological issues that are reminiscent of Rick and Lori in Season Three of The Walking Dead, but other than that it’s a side story pulled from two of the best arcs in the Wolverine comic books: 1) Wolverine in Japan, which was written in the 80’s, and 2) Wolverine sans his healing factor after losing his adamantium in a death match with Magneto, which happened in the 90’s. While the second story arc is less prominent than the first and the first has been updated to exclude some Japanese stereotypes present in the source material (re: “The Hand”), many scenes and allusions throughout the film were straight out of the frames of those comic books.

I should know–I own them.

The scene that stood out the most to me is when Logan is shaving and cuts himself–and he’s surprised he doesn’t heal right away. I remember him explaining in the comics that this was when reality set in for him. His healing factor was “tuckered out, darlin'”. He was mortal, and everyone who ever wanted a piece of him was going to be gunning for him now. I also appreciated that in The Wolverine, Yukio had Lady Deathstrike-esque hair, which I took as an allusion to that other Japanese character of great importance who should have showed up in this movie but couldn’t because she died without back story or explanation in X-2. Viper, another of Wolverine’s ex-wives, was probably worked into the script as a substitute for Lady Deathstrike, and what they did with her character held water. Small additions like these reward loyal fans because we know the writers are taking the source material into consideration as opposed to arrogantly believing that–because they work in Hollywood–their ideas must therefore be superior to those of the folks at Marvel.

The Wolverine is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the finest entry in the X-Men movie franchise for this very reason. The Wolverine I know from the comics would return to the wilderness like an animal after suffering a great loss, befriend a bear, and avenge that animal just as he would a human being–whether the statement made by these actions is mainstream or popular or not. He would also throw Mariko’s cheating bastard of a fiance out the window of a skyscraper because he doesn’t like what the man has to say. And he would absolutely need to rip his own heart out (we’re in the meta-narrative now) before being able to get over Jean Grey, a metaphor that was not wasted on true fans and hopeless romantics like me.

I’d personally like to thank everyone involved with this movie because at 31, Wolvie is my hero again.

We could also discuss all the cool samurai action in this flick, including the flaming two-handed swords that looked like something out of Machine Knight, but I’m obviously biased. I’m the intended audience. I can’t say the same, however, for Man of Steel.

Now picture Affleck, at 41, standing next to Cavill, who's younger than me! And keep in mind it isn't the suit that makes Cavill look like that...

Now picture Affleck, at 41, standing next to Cavill, who’s younger than me! And keep in mind it isn’t the suit that makes Cavill look like that…

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Superman. I went to go see this movie because I saw an interview with Russell Crowe, who is one of favorite actors. Crowe explained how his part of Jor-El in the film somewhat parallels his relationship with Cavill, whom he mentored. Still, I was expecting the film to be a lot of flying around, theme music, and men in tights like the other disasters that weren’t much like the comics and–much like some of the earlier Batman flicks–didn’t seem intended to be taken seriously.

Then, I heard that Christopher Nolan had written the story for Man of Steel along with David Goyer, who is getting a bum rap from a couple of my nerd friends on Facebook (as we speak!). I went into Man of Steel with high expectations because I’m a huge fan of how Nolan brought depth, sympathy, and realism to the character of Batman. If anyone could make Superman less of a two-dimensional character, it was certainly Nolan.

I wasn’t disappointed. I hadn’t enjoyed anything having to do with Superman as much as Man of Steel since the Doomsday arc from the 90’s and the New Supermen arc that followed it. The movie focused more on the Superman’s origin story than Hollywood’s typical Clark Kent at the Daily Planet trying to drop game on Lois Lane, and I think for some people who didn’t grow up reading comics and apparently were never bullied as children, this formula failed to satisfy. I, on the other hand, cried when Clark saved the bully on the bus because doing it was right. I cried when Kevin Costner got sucked up by a tornado to keep Superman’s identity a secret. I cried when Superman was finally able to cut loose on another person for the first time after a lifetime of bottling abuse and injustice, of being the cursed and undervalued freak, because Zod, who killed his real father and now threatened the only family he had left, was finally a worthy opponent.

This is the movie you take your son and your father to go see. I went with my daughters and my mother, and the experience was still exceptionally rewarding, but I would argue that Man of Steel is the father-son film of the year.

Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe probably agree with me.

Now, when I think of Ben Affleck and superheroes, my brain doesn’t immediately go to Daredevil, although let’s take a look at Affleck in his prime, 10 years ago when that piece of crap came out:

Is it just me, or is that stick just about the size of his arm?

Is it just me, or is that stick just about the size of his arm even after they stuck him in a textured suit?

Okay, so he’s not quite as wimpy as Orlando Bloom (getting some hate mail from his fans lately, so I must be doing something right), but the difference between Affleck at his best and Jackman/Cavill should be obvious at a glance. Is Affleck going to go through the same kind of training Jackman (also in his 40’s) did to be The Wolverine? I’m not holding my breath on that one. Maybe he’ll bring excellent character acting to the role like Liev Schreiber did with Sabretooth, but I’m not holding my breath on that one either. When I think of Ben Affleck in a superhero context, I think of the Kevin Smith films, and quite specifically, Chasing Amy.

This is Ben Affleck--the co-creator of Bluntman and Chronic, a comic book running gag.

THIS is Ben Affleck–the co-creator of Bluntman and Chronic, a comic book running gag.

As a fan of everything involving Jay and Silent Bob with the exception of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (not Smith’s finest work), I can’t help but appreciate Ben Affleck in a comedic role that, for the most part, involves the comic book industry and fandom. It’s not that Ben Affleck is the worst actor out there, but he isn’t a character actor/method actor. Better thespians than he have tried to take up the cape and cowl, including Val Kilmer and George Clooney, who both failed miserably as Batman.

The one potential positive I do see is that Affleck might take the role more seriously than some of his predecessors due to his previous work with Kevin Smith and the “furor”, as Crow put it, following this casting announcement. But one thing is certain: following Christian Bale and starring opposite Henry Cavill, who seems to play Superman effortlessly, is going to be the biggest challenge of Affleck’s career. I personally like the guy, so I hope he rises to meet it like a proper Dark Knight.

Okay, it’s back to editing The Dream Box for me. For those of you who are new to the blog, The Dream Box is the first novel in a three book Cyberpunk series I’ve sold to the Zharmae Publishing Press that will be available in both print and electronic formats. The book is currently scheduled for release on Black Friday, and my editor (@daniellecromero), has been teasing me with the opportunity to peek at the first cover this week. I won’t be allowed to release the image, unfortunately, but stay tuned for more information as the marketing crew at TZPP makes it available to me.


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