Friday, August 17, 2018

Sometimes It Really Does Get Lost in Translation

Since I'm a middle-aged white guy in Michigan, I haven't read tons of manga.  In fact I've read two and only because they were on Amazon Vine.  It's kind of a weird experience because you have to read it "backwards" from what in a traditional Western book is the back cover and read right-to-left.

But that's easier to overcome than some cultural differences.  The second manga I read was called Again!?  The concept sounded interesting:  what if an outcast graduating from high school could go back to the first day of school and do it over again?  Might he end up popular this time?  Or might it end the same?

Well it turns out the author doesn't seem to give a shit about those questions.  Most of it involves this kid somehow going back in time to the first day of high school and trying to impress this girl.  She's the sole member of some spirit club that sings the school fight song and bangs drums during sporting events.

And my thought is:  Who gives a fuck about this?  But the author makes this the sole focus of the book.  And I guess there are at least 5 more volumes!  It was just so tedious because I didn't really know or care what this stupid club was or why it should have any significance to what I thought would be a fun time-travelling story.

But probably in Japan they actually know what that shit is about, so it probably makes more sense to them.  That's where we get into cultural differences that can make a book exciting to one country or just super-duper boring to someone from another country.  And I guess sometimes you could end up with something that's just downright offensive from one country to another.

That's what I get for broadening my horizons I guess.

BTW, speaking of high school time travel stories I actually did something like that a few years ago with OMG, I've Become a Teenage Girl!  The idea was that after a 20 year reunion a loser wakes up back in high school, only as a girl who gets to hang out with the popular girls.  And then he (as she) realizes that popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be.  I never got into spirit clubs.  Clearly that's what I was missing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Critiquing Outside the Box

I've been on Critique Circle for a while, though mostly I just play Hangman.  Occasionally I critique queries people post because I don't really have time to critique story excerpts because you have to write 150-300 words.

Anyway, one day someone posted a query for a YA story about a kid who moves to a new town (real original) and meets a girl at a record shop.  But then of course the record shop is going to close and they have to try to save it.

To which I just groaned.  It's all so cliche!  I mean the "save the record shop" has been done in movies like Empire Records and in books like Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue.  On a broader scale, the whole kids have to band together to save their favorite spot thing has been done to death in books, movies, and TV.  It's even been parodied in shows like South Park and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  (And I assume The Simpsons because they've done everything.)

Well someone who wasn't even the author comes along and screams bloody murder because the author didn't ask anyone to critique the plot so how dare you say that!  Her big contribution was to point out where a couple of commas could be inserted--Andrew Leon would be proud.

My thought is:  who gives a shit what the author asks for?  It's not like "singers" could go on American Idol or The Voice and say, "I only want critiqued on song selection.  Not anything else!"  You put your query or story up for critique and you're opening it up for whatever you get.  If you don't like it, tough; you probably shouldn't have put it up then.

Though again it wasn't even the author complaining.  I'm not sure where this person got off complaining when she wasn't even involved.  One of those things that annoys me is critiquing someone's critique.  Unless it's Jay Greenstein's copy and pasting the same spiel over and over.  (How I miss that.  lol)  Everyone should get their say and let the author decide what they want to use.  If you have someone going around trying to shout others down, it just makes things unpleasant.

Anyway, agents probably don't mind cliche stories that much.  It's more about if they think you can sell your cliche story.  Still, it's good if you at least know your story is a cliche.

On a different query (one I talk about in a month or so) this dude made a similar complaint.  He used the metaphor of going into a skyscraper that's finished and complaining about it.  Well if I'm the building inspector and see your skyscraper is tilted 30 degrees, the basement is full of water, wires are sticking out, and you've got rat turds all over then I'm going to say something.  I'm not going to say to myself, "Well the thing is done so I guess just leave it."

Honestly, I'm not doing you any favors if I censor myself.  If a schlub like me can see these weaknesses, you think a professional is going to miss them?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

It was kind of funny a couple months later when the same bitch who whined about that first critique pulled the same shit on another thread, complaining that we should respond to what the original poster asked.  To which I said I did respond to the original poster--like six weeks earlier when it was first posted!  That shut her up.  She apparently didn't read the whole thread.  And yes if these things go on for a while (or someone responds after a long time) they can go off in different directions.  It's just the nature of these discussions.  Stop being so anal and just let it happen.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Breaking Bad-ly: Goliath Season 2

Way back in October 2016 I watched the first season of Amazon's Goliath with Billy Bob Thornton as a former lawyer who's brought out of his drunken stupor to fight against the big law firm he helped found.  I really liked that first season and as I said it was the legal thriller I had hoped Better Call Saul would be.

Now almost 18 months later we finally get a second season and it's much more like how Better Call Saul actually turned out to be.  Which is to say, shitty with extraneous medical conditions and drug cartels.  Overall it's a jumbled mess that almost completely leaves out the courtroom.

Having won the big case last season, Billy is rich.  He buys a Prius he doesn't use and a house for his daughter but he still works out of and usually sleeps at the crappy motel from the first season.  A bus"boy" at the bar he frequents has two sons who are in a gang and are killed by the DEA or something.  Then his good 15-year-old son is charged with murdering someone in retaliation.  The father asks Billy to take the case, but he doesn't until the father is murdered on his way to give testimony.

So now you think this season is about getting this kid off the murder charge, right?  But not really.  That all goes out the window when Billy contacts an FBI friend and they pressure a dirty cop into confessing that his informant killed...whoever it was.

At that point it becomes a long, boring mess of the bad guys covering their tracks.  There's a drug kingpin in Mexico who cuts people up for fun, his sister who is running for mayor in LA, and a real estate developer who are all working together for their various reasons.  The mayoral candidate, Marisol, hooks up with Billy and takes him to Mexico, where he's taken hostage by four almost random characters until he escapes.

The real estate guy Tom (played by Mark Duplass of the indie filmmaking duo The Duplass Brothers) is especially weird.  When he was 9 his sister lost her leg and somehow this gave him his first erection and so he's been obsessed with it ever since.  He actually has a mock-up of his old house with actors to recreate the scene while he beats off.  It is super creepy.  And totally pointless.  I mean, what the hell does that add to the plot?  Nothing.  He hooks up with Billy's assistant, a former hooker, which also doesn't really add a whole lot.  He gets a little bit of information that he could have gotten if he'd used some goon to plant a bug or listened in on Billy's cell phone.

There's also a henchman who could be in a James Bond movie.  He has only one hand and on the other arm he has a super-powered vise thing that at one point he uses to crush a woman's nose and another to choke someone.  I forget if he has a name or not.

For a show that's supposed to be a legal thriller there's very little courtroom action.  The murder case never even goes to jury selection.  Not that I necessarily want courtroom action as we've seen that plenty, but when your character is a lawyer and does almost no lawyering, it seems like a problem.  As I said most of the last 4 episodes are the bad guys covering their tracks.  They kinda suck at it.  I mean Billy goes to the drug kingpin's estate in Mexico so you think it'd be pretty easy to kill him and leave him in a shallow grave, but they don't do that.  Instead he wanders off and ends up being taken hostage before escaping.  Is it really that hard to kill someone in rural Mexico when you have an army of machine gun-toting goons at your beck and call?  It really shouldn't be.

It doesn't really make sense the DEA raid that kicks off the season.  I assume it's where the busboy's older sons are killed, but then who would the younger son be killing?  And why?  And since he was a poster child of the mayoral candidate, why did they use him as the fall guy?  All it did was make things more difficult for her campaign.  Since there's never a trial or anything we never really get into all the mechanics of that so it just winds up being pretty pointless.  Really the whole season is pretty pointless.

And in the end evil prevails!  At least the mayoral candidate gets elected mayor and her brother is still a big drug kingpin.  The real estate guy gets all his limbs amputated and his tongue removed.  I guess killing was too good for him?  Or something.

I really liked the first season but this was just a mess.  If they're planning a third season they don't leave any clues as to what it might be about.  Not that I'd want to watch after how boring and pointless most of this season was.  Maybe they can actually let Billy get back to lawyering a little?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Resistance to Resistance

The second week of May I took my "staycation," or a week off from work where I didn't really go anywhere.  Part of that was I finally got around to writing Resistance, the third part of the Gender Swap Heroes series.  August 2017 I wrote the second part and in the epilogue I wrote a scene to set up the third book.  In that, Major Roger Stevens wakes up badly injured in the hospital and a mysterious woman offers him a serum that will give him superpowers so he can stop the superpowered people who put him in the hospital.  And he eagerly accepts.

I wrote up some notes and then just filed those away for a while.  The idea was I wanted to build up some material so I could write the book and not have to worry about going weeks with no new releases.  I didn't really intend for it to go like eight months but one thing or another kept coming up and eventually I figured my staycation would be a good time to get a good start on it.

Maybe I waited too long because things didn't really seem to come together the way I hoped.  It wasn't really bad but I don't think I was quite as into it as the first and second books.

Then I realized that my notes were probably not full enough to make much of a novel.  So I took the plot in some new directions.  Maybe scary new directions.  It seemed to kind of limp to the finish then.  I was planning to leave room for a fourth book in the epilogue but then decided I would just wrap it up.  Though of course I could still write a fourth book if I want.  It's not like I have to answer to anyone on that.

You know what they say, if you fail to plan you should plan to fail.  Or in this case I failed to plan adequately.  Sometimes looking at a synopsis you just can't see how long it's going to take to cover the whole thing.  This was one of those cases.

Now given that I don't feel really strongly about it, how could I release such a story?  Isn't that just a terrible thing to do?  I thought about it but then I figure plenty of books I've thought were really good some a-hole has given one star and some stories I don't feel great about get 5 stars.  So what the hell do I know?  Might as well let the public decide.  Or like plenty of other books they might say nothing at all.  Whatever.

All that being said, you can buy it for Kindle and in paperback--if you want.  No skin off my ass if you don't.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Animators: A Case Study in How NOT to Write a Novel

You ever read a book that just really, really pisses you off because it's just so fucking terrible that it makes you wonder how the hell it ever got published?  I mean all these agents and editors and published authors tell you all this stuff not to do or to do and then you read a book that sucks so much and yet somehow got professionally published so it really doesn't make any sense.

That's what this book The Animators was for me.  I hated it on pretty much every level.  As it wore on I just really, really absolutely hated it.  But even though I bought it for only $2 I didn't want to just quit on it so I kept plowing ahead and it just kept grating more and more, like when you get a stone in your shoe and it just won't come out.

I already talked about how much I hated the medical drama and how it derailed the book.  But wait, there's more!  Much more!  Here's the list from my Goodreads review with some additional thoughts in red.

First, I feel like the description lied to me. I thought it was about two female animators and their struggles in a male-dominated industry. Like The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay with women animators in the 21st Century. That's not really how it plays out. After they have a falling out because of Mel's behavior, everything is conveniently solved by Sharon having a stroke. It just felt like such a cheap way to bring them back together because it's basically a deus ex machina; it's like a god threw a thunderbolt down to knock Sharon out. (OK, I already covered one, but still.)

Second, even before the stroke Sharon is an overgrown child. She has no ability to be on her own. When Mel's not around she basically curls up in the fetal position, all but unable to fend for herself. Through the story she needs Mel, their agent Donnie (who is a woman), a former childhood friend, her mom, and a new boyfriend to take care of her because she's so unable to care for herself that at one point she walks into the street without pants or underwear. At 32-33 years old you should be able to live on your own even if someone dies. Most of us don't have the luxury to wallow in our filth for months after someone dies; we have to actually go on living. (As my counter to this in the sixth Scarlet Knight book Emma's daughter "dies" shortly after birth and Emma gets put in the psych ward after almost crippling a couple of orderlies. In the psych ward she realizes the horrible thing that life goes on. Her daughter is dead but she has to go on living: eating, sleeping, reading books, and so on to fill the hours. Because even if you want to, you can't just curl up in a fucking ball like a fucking baby.)

Third, while Mel and Sharon are creative in their drawing they have no imagination when it comes to stories. Their first movie "Nashville Combat" was based on Mel's relationship with her mother. Their next movie "Irrefutable Love" is based on Sharon's life. They don't seem to have any ability to actually imagine anything except a feminine hygiene product commercial. Then Sharon gets mad when her old childhood friend doesn't want her to use his childhood trauma in the movie about her. (Her childhood friend's dad was a pedophile who didn't really abuse him but took naked pictures of young girls. So far as I know Sharon wasn't one of them but for some dumb reason--lack of imagination--she has to use this in the movie (names changed to protect the innocent) even though she knows--or should--people will be able to know who it really is and will ask him things he doesn't want to talk about. It's just selfish on her part and it serves no real purpose in terms of her movie because it's not really HER experience. I mean if you're making a movie about you, why do you need to include someone else's trauma? So I was totally on the friend's side, which is just another reason to hate this fucking book.)

Fourth, the notebook. Sharon makes this notebook of a bunch of people she dated or imagined dating. It's such a huge deal for her that she can't tell Mel about it until after the stroke and then it's like she's revealing the secrets of UFOs or Bigfoot or something. And I kept thinking, so what? Why do I care who you imagined about going out with? Everyone has a list of people they've considered going out with; they just don't write it all down in a notebook. I just never saw the significance the author obviously thought this had. (I don't know if I have an actual LIST in my head, but I think we've all seen someone at the store or Starbucks or wherever and thought she/he was cute and thought about asking her/him out. Big fucking whoop. It's not like the nuclear launch codes or plans to the Death Star. Get over yourself already. Fucking snowflake.)

Fifth, the author is the sort of fool who introduces an important new character at 94%. Not even a hint of this character until then. So despite how important he is to Sharon's life we hardly have time to learn anything about him. Then the author introduces a bunch of new coworkers. Since the book is 97% over why do I even care? I'm not going to bother remembering them; it's not like there will be a sequel and even then I wouldn't want to read it. (I mean really it's so goddamned annoying when authors do this. Oh, hey, I found the love of my life right at the end of the book! With no foreshadowing or anything. It's not someone we met earlier--to my knowledge--or in any way prepared the reader for. It's just, "I met this guy and we fell in love!" Oh, hey, awesome. There's no time to create a REAL character or relationship in the amount of time left though so they'll never end up as more than a two-dimensional cutout. And introducing all these coworkers seemed fairly pointless because as I said why would I bother remembering a slew of people you shoehorned in at the end who really have no purpose to the story? The one female one you could have maybe passed off as Sharon/Mel: The Next Generation but in that case you really should have had two female coworkers. Or really How It Should Have Ended: Sharon should have gone into teaching and encountered two students like her and Mel to bring it back to where the book started with them meeting at school in a drawing class so the whole thing could have gone full circle.)

(Sixth, something I didn't really want to talk about much for spoilers: Mel dies of an overdose and that's what causes Sharon to go fetal for like a month. The thing is, this didn't happen with like no warning signs. There were TONS of warning signs! Mel was frequently drunk and using drugs (pot and harder stuff) and yet Sharon does NOTHING about this. None of her "friends" do anything about it. They all pretty much write it off as, "Oh that's just her." Even as the problem gets worse, no one says anything. No one holds an intervention or anything. Then she dies and Sharon goes into the fetal position and everyone acts so bummed out. So why didn't any of you morons DO anything? She had the money to go to fucking rehab; why didn't any of you assholes drag her there? Don't blubber about how much you cared about her when you just let her slowly kill herself.)
Technically the writing was fine, nothing special. That at least was one thing I didn't hate. But in every other way this was awful.

There you go.  Just so many things that if you're a writer you really shouldn't do.  Don't make your character a whiny little brat who curls into a ball any time something bad happens.  Don't make your character so selfish she thinks her dumb crushes are like some huge important secret.  Don't have your character exploit someone else's trauma for her gain.  Don't introduce the love of your character's life when there's not enough time to do anything with it.  Don't introduce a bunch of new characters when there's no time for them to be worth remembering.  Don't have your characters be so fucking dumb they just let their best friend die of an overdose when it was so freaking obvious she had a fucking problem with booze/drugs.

Anyway, since I absolutely hated this book I'm sure it'll win a Pultizer, National Book Award, and eventually an Oscar when the big movie adaptation staring Reese Witherspoon or Nicole Kidman or whoever comes out.  That's the way life goes; I ought to just curl up into a ball. lol

Monday, August 6, 2018

No One Has Full Immunity

Almost two months ago, Michael Offutt wrote this entry on how every hero needs a weakness.  The classic example is Superman and Kryptonite.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I think Kryptonite was actually invented for the radio show not the comic book.  Because they needed something that could weaken Superman.  Otherwise, where would the drama come from?  I mean if Lex Luthor or whoever couldn't hurt Superman, where's the challenge?

This was something also brought up during an episode of Crackle's stop-motion superhero show SuperMansion last year.  When the League of Freedom needs some good press, they bring in JK Simmons to shadow the lead hero Titanium Rex for a movie.  But since Titanium Rex has no known weakness, where's the drama?  This is actually a ploy to get him to reveal a weakness.  But still it's true that if a character has no weakness then it'd be a pretty boring movie.

My superheroes have weaknesses.  The Scarlet Knight's armor is invulnerable against conventional weapons, but it's not immune to magic or holy weapons.  I used the same weakness in the Girl Power stories for Apex Girl, the Superman-type character.  And in the Gender Swap Heroes series for the Apex Girl-type character.  I guess I'm not that original.  Maybe I should make someone's weakness swallowing water like Unbreakable.

Probably the earliest example of a hero with a weakness was all the way back in The Iliad.  Achilles was a superhuman warrior because his mom dipped him in magic water as a baby.  But he was vulnerable in the heel where his mother held him.  And of course that came into play later.  Homer was way ahead of the curve.  Actually he invented the curve, right?

The second-oldest is in the Bible in the story of Samson and Delilah.  Samson was super strong and unbeatable, but he had a weakness--his hair.  When Delilah cut it off, he lost his superpowers.  Oh, wait, that actually happened, right?  [eye roll]  

If a superhuman hero doesn't have a physical weakness, then often they'll have a psychological one.  Jesus technically wasn't invulnerable, but he could have been if he wanted from what the Bible says.  He chose not to use his godly power out of compassion for our flawed mortal souls.  King Arthur was also not invulnerable per se but what brought him down was he was too trusting of his wife and Lancelot.

In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan is pretty much a god.  So how can Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world, fool him?  First with "tachyon particles" that cloud his view of the future.  And then he convinces Dr. Manhattan that all the people he's close to have gotten cancer from him.  The psychological trauma prompts Dr. Manhattan to leave for Mars.

The Incredible Hulk isn't entirely invulnerable, but really he's pretty much invulnerable to regular weapons.  The way they usually bring him down is by Banner's love for Betty Ross--or Black Widow.  Either way, reaching his human heart is his main weakness.  (Or an Infinity Gauntlet.)

The point being every character has to have a weakness.  If it's not physical then it's mental.  That's the only way you can create interesting, rounded characters.  Because that's what allows conflict.  And conflict is the essence of drama.  So make sure not to make your characters too perfect.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Why the Double Standard Between Marvel and DC Movies?

A couple of months ago I read a Geek Twins article and it talked about how Man of Steel 2 would have had a "less murderous" Superman.  It reminded me of the double standard that exists between Marvel and DC when it comes to movies.

Man of Steel is a perfect example.  By 2013 every Marvel villain except Loki had died (or at least we thought Red Skull was dead).  No one gave a shit that Obadiah Stane, Abomination, Whiplash, Red Skull*, or those fiery AIM people in Iron Man 3 died or that they were killed directly or indirectly by the hero.  It was fun!  Yet when Superman kills Zod to keep him from barbecuing a family that apparently didn't have good sense to run away long before then, everyone loses it.  OMG, Superman can't kill!  How dare you!

Similarly the year before the Avengers fought an alien invasion of New York and trashed much of the city.  No one cared.  It made a billion dollars.  It was fun!  Yet when Superman fights rogue Kryptonians in Metropolis everyone loses it.  OMG, you can't destroy buildings!  What about 9/11?  That's so disrespectful!  Wait, so it's OK for Marvel to destroy much of the actual New York but DC can't destroy fictitious Metropolis because that's too much like 9/11?  Say what?

Batman v Superman comes out and everyone whines that it's too dark.  It's no fun!  Avengers Infinity War comes out with the heroes losing and half the universe dying and everyone says, Genius!  They're so brilliant!  So when DC does a dark movie it's bad but when Marvel does it, it's genius?  Gotcha.  And before you say how much better Avengers 3 was, go back and read my review.  It was rife with plot holes,  the central one being that the infinite fucking universe is overpopulated.  I mean the Milky Way Galaxy is like a grain of sand on a beach.  Yet look at the Rotten Tomatoes scores of BvS and Avengers 3.  One bleak movie rife with plot holes is so much worse than another bleak movie rife with plot holes.  How does that make sense?

I saw the "Honest Trailer" for Captain America: Civil War (like me they even called it Avengers 2.5) and while it's satire it riffs on the same thing:  BvS and Civil War are largely the same movie, so why is one reviled and the other loved?  Admittedly Civil War is a slicker production, but it's not perfect either.  The villain's plan is so overly complicated that he'd have to have the ability to see the future to make it happen.

It reminds me of politics.  Trump can make fun of a handicapped reporter, say to grab women by the pussy, call Mexicans rapists and "bad dudes," throw Starbursts at a world leader, and all sorts of other atrocities but if a mediocre comedian makes fun of Sarah Sanders or calls Ivanka Trump a cunt or a Democrat uses some naughty language then there's all this whining and whinging about not being "civil."  It just doesn't make sense.  In this scenario DC is the liberals; they can do the same as Marvel and yet they'll be criticized for it while Marvel is hailed as brilliant.

It doesn't really make sense to me.  Maybe there's some reason for it.  I don't know.  It's pretty ridiculous to me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Trouble With One Issue Voters

I really hate one issue voters.  Like people who vote for a candidate just because he supports guns or hates abortion or hates gays or hates Mexicans.  Doesn't matter if the candidate is a complete scumbag (see Trump, Donald; Moore, Roy; and most of the GOP) as long as he holds a favorable view on this one issue I'm voting for him!

One issue book reviewers are just as annoying.  People who don't care about anything else that happens in a book as long as their one issue is dealt with favorably.  Generally I've had three types of these:

Unhappy endings.  Wah, the book didn't end happy!  One star!
Meanness:  The one character was too mean!  Wah!  One star!
And then this one a-hole has twice given books one star because the gender swapped female character hooked up with a male.  And that cannot--I repeat, cannot--happen!  One star!

Besides the one star it just irks me when someone reduces a whole book to a single thing.  Even if the book in question isn't extremely long, it's still annoying to boil the whole thing down to an ending or a "mean" character or that other thing.  Stories are fairly complex things: you have plot, characters, setting, and so on all tied together with sentences flowing into paragraphs flowing into pages.  There's a lot of moving parts.  So boiling it all down to one thing is like saying I hate a particular car because I don't like the rims or the color or the cupholders.  It's taking something complex and nuanced and simplifying it to a childish degree.

I'm sure politicians love one issue voters.  They're easy to placate.  I mean all you have to do to win gun nuts over is wave around a pistol and blather about the Second Amendment being the most important thing in the universe.  To win over "pro-life" people all you have to do is say Roe v Wade is the worst thing since the Holocaust...oh wait, they probably don't think that happened.

So I guess I could placate these people.  I could make every book end Happily Ever After with no one being mean and no gender swapped women ever get together with men.  And guess what:  these assholes won't go around giving me good reviews.  Because they don't.  Or they give me one and then do the heel turn and give me like 5 bad ones.  Or that one a-hole saying gender swapped women can't hook up with men has only reviewed 2 of my books, both one star.  But I have plenty of books where the gender swapped woman hooked up with another woman.  But maybe this a-hole only read those two books, right?  He just never read any of those others, despite that there have to be dozens by now.  I mean come on, the law of probability on that is pretty freaking outrageous.

Catering to these people then seems like largely a waste of time.  Also, I'm a Grumpy Bulldog so I don't like being told what to do.  If you say I HAVE to write books a certain way then I'll tell you where to shove that.  Unless you pay me a bunch of money.  $2.99 don't cut it. 10,000 times that maybe.

Anyway, while I'm whining (because isn't this Insecure Writers Support Group day?) recently this one guy took the heel turn far quicker than anyone I've seen.  By that I'm referring to fake wrestling where a "good" wrestler suddenly becomes a bad guy, like Hulk Hogan in the 90s--I see you, Laplume!  In this case you get "reviewers" like my hero John Daniels who give me a glowing review and then turn around with bad reviews.  It's actually happened a few times.

The latest the guy does a nice review for How the Cookie Crumbles and then the very next day does a negative review for Transformed Into a Pregnant Girl.  And just like Daniels it's full of all this crap like he's some kind of Eric Filler expert.  You read one other book!  That doesn't make you my biographer.  Though it's funny he says "I've read many of the author's other books..."  Really?  Then why aren't you giving all those good reviews?  Oh, right because complaining is so much fun--hence, this blog entry.

This part was probably the lamest part: 
this just reads like it was written on a deadline by someone who quickly grew bored of his own story
I mean, I self-publish so there are no "deadlines."  Duh.  Maybe he thinks Planet 99 Publishing is a real operation.  I guess that spiffy website is coming in handy then.  But really this was written 3 1/2 years ago, so I don't really remember a whole lot.  Except I wrote it on the way from Michigan to Seattle because I remember writing bits of it in Michigan and South Dakota; I don't remember if I finished it by the time I got to Washington, though I think I might have.

I think mostly he's pissed this wasn't a whole novel.  But really if you're such an expert you'd know none of the books in this series were extremely long.  Some got up around 100 pages, but none of them were "novels."  So if you're really an expert you'd know this was pretty much the same length as all the others.  Thus you shouldn't be reading in anything about it being an "outline" or that I "grew bored" or had a "deadline" to meet.

I suppose that is better than those one issue assholes though.  They're just the worst.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Stuffing: It's Not Just for Thanksgiving Dinner, Toys, or Bras Anymore

Last year I wrote an entry on all these omnibuses that ranged from 800-2500 pages and were being sold for a piddly 99 cents.  At times they've really clogged up Amazon charts, especially in erotica categories.

It turns out there's something even worse:  stuffing.  A few "authors" have been very successful manipulating Amazon's Kindle Unlimited system by selling a book that also includes several other books, though it's not necessarily indicated in the book's description.  And sometimes in "mosaic stuffing" those books stuffed into the book are themselves stuffed with another book!  It's like one of those Russian dolls where you open it and there's a smaller doll and you open that and it's a smaller doll and so on. 

This David Gaughran guy seems to be really on top of it, so you can read a couple of articles about it, like this article from Nigel Mitchell's Twitter feed and this article from Facebook "friend" Kathy Steineman.  The first one also has some stuff on "#Cockygate" and also describes a sleazy way that these stuffing "authors" would use to get people to flip through their books and post reviews.  It's called #Tiffanygate because everything needs a fucking "gate" attached I guess.

This is another of Amazon's self-inflicted problems and in Amazon fashion they're kinda, sorta handling it--erratically as always.  They won an arbitration suit against some authors recently.  Some authors have had books taken down and some authors might have accounts blocked but others are still alive and well.  The second article talks about some of the minimal ways authors are changing their stuffed books.  Mostly it's just calling it a "compilation."

Now some legit authors like me do things like omnibuses or boxed sets.  Those are not "stuffing," though I worry Amazon in their jackbooted way will start to just shut down anything that even looks vaguely like stuffing--so long as it's not a Big Five compilation.  I do omnibuses because I figured that they might attract the value-conscious consumer.  I mean someone might not want to pay $2.99 a book but maybe they'll pay $4.99 for a trilogy or $9.99 for a bunch of books.  Or get them from Kindle Unlimited.

Other authors like Sandra Ulbrich Almazan and Jay Noel have been in compilations and box sets.  Those are done so that authors can band together for the greater good.  Again it's about creating a value for customers and then hoping that some of those readers will like your story or book and go to find more.  It's like if an indie band puts a song on a soundtrack or sampler; the point is to draw listeners in so they buy more.

Those are all legit uses, or at least they should be.  "Stuffing" is just a lot of bullshit.  It's just throwing a bunch of stuff together to get page views and thus more money from the Kindle pot.  At least those omnibuses I complained about said they were compilations so they aren't technically "stuffing" though still skeevy.  Any time someone puts out a 2000-3000 page book for 99 cents, you should know it's not on the up-and-up.  In my original entry I think I compared it to if someone offers 200 cans of pop for a dollar then it's probably not very good.  Even authors looking for "exposure" probably aren't that desperate, right?  Or not.

But I don't know how you can really solve it.  This sort of stuff is always like a game of whack-a-mole:  you knock out one stuffer and there'll be another and another.  Or if you change from page views to something else then scammers will find a new way to manipulate the system.  That's just what people do.  It's like viruses and hacking; they make software to stop this worm or virus and then another one pops up.  It never ends when there's so much money at stake.  And for Amazon there's no need to work too judiciously on this problem as they're making money on this stuff.  It's really other authors these "stuffers" screw over, not Amazon.  So you can't really expect Amazon to move too quickly on the problem.

If you've seen a stuffed book, report it to Amazon and maybe the Evil Empire will stop it.  Or not.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hasbro's Distribution Is Still Stuck in the 80s

In the last couple of years I started buying Transformers toys again, but I never imagined that it would be so goddamned difficult.  I mean it's 2018, so all you have to do is go to Amazon, right?  Right?  Well no, because Hasbro has an asinine distribution system that's stuck in the brick-and-mortar days.  Except the brick-and-mortar doesn't really give a shit anymore.  Thus, it ends up that most of their reimagined original Transformers toys end up either being shunted to discount stores or bought out by EBay or Amazon Marketplace buyers.

Up until last January it was actually kind of fun.  Sort of a scavenger hunt as some stores were still selling old Combiner Wars toys from like 2015.  Last year when I went on vacation to Petoskey it was a fun diversion to go to the various Wal-Marts, KMarts, Meijers, and whatnot just to see what stores had.  I got a couple of Titans Return toys I hardly ever saw in Detroit and a Combiner Wars Silverbolt that was fairly old by that point.

Around January, though, pretty much every store ditched the Titans Return toys (and any older ones) in favor of the new Power of the Primes series.  The first wave of which:  Jazz, Slug, Swoop, and Dreadwind are pretty much everywhere now.  Some stores have the larger Starscream and Grimlock too.  Some.

Now the asinine part is that there was in theory another series out since then and yet you can't find those hardly anywhere.  I found Snarl at a Meijer, Rippernsapper and Blackwing (whose wings are purple BTW) at Wal-Mart, and the larger Elita-1 and Hun-Grrr hidden on a top shelf of another Wal-Mart.  But I could not find Moonracer or Sludge anywhere.  The latter really annoyed me because I had 4 of the 5 pieces of "Volcanicus" the giant robot you can form with the five main Dinobots, something fans have wanted to do since the Dinobots first appeared around 1985.  Yet no matter where I looked, no one had him! (I finally did see him and Moonracer in a store--last Monday, months after they were supposed to be out.)

Finally I just gave up.  EBay had a Sludge and Moonracer for a fairly reasonable price and I had a 15% coupon so I just used that and said fuck it.  I mean if Hasbro doesn't want my money then fuck them, let some skeevy online seller have it.

As someone with a fucking business degree, this makes no fucking sense to me.  Why make your product unavailable to consumers?  That's what Hasbro ends up doing because they apparently don't distribute most of their toys through Amazon, only the world's largest online retailer and perhaps largest retailer in general.  I did get my Grimlock from them but that was only a brief window when they had it.  The movie-based toys they do a little better on, but the rest of the Transformers line is pretty much only available through third-party Marketplace sellers, who of course mark the prices up, often two or three times what retail would be.

Many of the Titans Return line I saw once--if at all--in stores.  It was basically if you didn't pounce on them right away, you'd never see them again.  There were some that would rot the shelves until being marked for clearance, but so many were almost as rare as Bigfoot.

Now since in theory Hasbro distributes to brick-and-mortar stores they might have some online, right?  Or at least let you reserve them online like you can do for fucking boxes of cereal?  Nah.  Wal-Mart just says "in store only" and Target is entirely useless; according to their site the store near me in Novi has every toy from 2014 on in stock...somewhere.  Of course they won't let you reserve it online and I'm sure if you ask an employee they'd just give you a blank stare.

To make it all worse, Toys R Us went out of business this year.  So now there are no big toy store chains left.  Yet even last year Hasbro was still marketing a number of Transformers (and other toys) as "Exclusive" to Toys R Us.  Now those are being liquidated at rock-bottom prices.

Other Transformers toys have ended up on discount store shelves like Five Below and Ollie's.  I never saw the giant Trypticon toy at Wal-Mart, Target, or Toys R Us but when I walked into Ollie's before Memorial Day they had 12 fucking cases of them by the entrance!  Instead of selling those for $100 or so on, say, Amazon, Hasbro wound up liquidating them for $50 at Ollie's.  Who the hell is running that place?

It simply makes no sense to me.  My marketing teacher in college said one of the most important rules of marketing is that your product has to be available to buy.  You can have awesome commercials and presence online and all that, but if people can't find the fucking product, what good is any of it?  That's Hasbro's problem.  Their hidebound policies have made most of their products unavailable.

It's real simple to figure out:  their bread-and-butter (toy stores) are gone.  Brick-and-mortar stores will give you like four pegs at most for Legends and Deluxe class and only a bit of shelf space for larger Voyager and Leader class.  As for Titans like Trypticon and Fortress Maximus?  Yeah, right.  And you're lucky if these brick-and-mortar stores bother restocking more than three times a year.  So, hello, you've got to get your shit online.  Not through EBay.  Not through Marketplace.  Not through "Joe's Toy Box" or some other rinky-dink website.  Through your own website, through Amazon, and it'd be great if Wal-Mart, Target, etc could get their shit together too.

It's not just Transformers.  Some of their Star Wars toys have the same problem.  I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same with My Little Pony or some of their girl toy lines.  And it's not probably just Hasbro.  I collect some of the superhero toys, many of which are unavailable in brick-and-mortar stores and erratically priced online.  Most of those I think are Mattel, so it's probably unfair to single Hasbro out.  But it's still pretty fucking asinine.

I heard yesterday Mattel is cutting 2,000 jobs--mostly white collar, I think--because of a drop in sales.  They attributed it to the closure of Toys R Us.  Which shows how much they're still relying on the brick-and-mortar.  I guess in a way it makes sense as kids aren't on the Internet quite as much as adults and they don't have credit cards to buy stuff either.  At least not usually.

If getting answers from Amazon weren't like talking to the Sphinx or the fucking Oracle of Delphi, maybe I'd ask them what the deal is.  Why aren't they carrying more of the Transformers and so on?  Is it their fault or just Hasbro's?  I blame Hasbro, but maybe it's not.  Maybe John Oliver or someone can do a piece on it.  It just pisses me off because it's so illogical.


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