Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sometimes the Squirrel Finds a Nut

As much as I ragged on Critique Circle for being a bunch of hyper-sensitive morons, sometimes someone there could make a good point even while being a hyper-sensitive moron.

While I was exiled from the forums for "2 weeks" I wondered if I could still post stories and critique them.  I could and I had a bunch of points saved up so I posted the first couple of scenes from the story I was working on, which I'll be talking about a week from now.

The first scene has a squad of army guys in Oklahoma City after it's fallen to sorta zombie creatures.  The army guys have been sent in to see what's going on in the city because satellites and drones can only tell so much.

The scene begins after things have gone to shit and they're running from the zombies to the tallest building in town, which according to Google was the Devon Energy Center.  Then they have to climb the stairs all the way to the top so they can get a helicopter out of there.

The story is told first-person by the commander of the unit, Dashiell (or Dash).  I thought I'd experiment where I did a couple of paragraphs at the beginning like they were his after action report.  Then I switched to what was supposed to be his personal journal.  I wondered if that might be too confusing.  Guess what?  It was.  Who's narrating now?  I don't get it.  I mean it says "From the Journal of Dashiell Fairborn" at the beginning so who do you think is narrating? 

Anyway, I think this guy must have been one of those conservative Christian groups or Mormon or something like that because any time I mentioned anything sexual he got all pissy about it.  He told me he stopped reading at a part where after they escape the zombies Dash has a briefing with a female scientist and he thinks she's sexy in a hot librarian way.  The guy whined it was "wish fulfillment" and stopped critiquing.  So, yeah, another hyper-sensitive moron.

But he did make a sort of good point.  That was that we didn't really know much about the characters.  And first I'm thinking, well, yeah because the whole first scene is them running from zombies.  It's not the time for heart-to-heart discussions about their hopes and dreams.

I think part of what he said was Who are they?  What do they want?  Well obviously they're military guys.  What do they want?  To live!  I mean, duh.  But if you go deeper to the unasked question, WHY do they want to live?

For some it would be a wife or girlfriend and/or kids.  But Dash doesn't have any of those.  Why does he want to live?  Mostly because he's a really rah-rah gung-ho soldier guy and doesn't want to lose the battle or war.

By the time I was finishing the story, some 80,000 words later, I realized that I had some inconsistencies in the beginning with the characters.  I pretty much pantsed the characters so I hadn't really defined them before I started except for names, general appearance, and basic function.  It was later on when more personal details started coming out as a matter of course when there was time for talk of hopes and dreams.

I decided to rewrite the whole first scene and start it earlier.  Instead of starting when things went to shit, I started on the helicopter ride in.  I added an embedded reporter to the team who talks with some of the guys beforehand so we can get a little more background and more of an idea of their personalities.  And I could line things up better with what I wrote later on.

The new opening scene ballooned to like 30 pages from maybe 5.  The word count went from like 86,000 to 94,000!  I think it probably is stronger now.  And I might not have considered doing that if that critiquer, as misguided as he is about sexual stuff, hadn't said what he said.

So there you go, sometimes the squirrel finds a nut--even if it's not the nut it's looking for.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

FOMO Is Real And A Powerful Force

Recently I watched the Hulu documentary "Fyre Fraud."  Maybe you remember in 2017 there was this "music festival" called the Fyre Festival created by some guy named Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule.  All these rich Millennials went to this island in the Bahamas where all these bands were supposed to play...only no bands and instead of expensive villas they had FEMA tents and instead of fancy meals there were cheese sandwiches.  The whole thing was a disaster and McFarland wound up in prison, though not so much for the festival itself but financial crimes stemming from fundraising for the festival.

Anyway, at one point it talks about FOMO--Fear Of Missing Out.  They did a lot of social media promotion for this festival including having one of the Kardashian/Jenner women post something about it.  They especially courted "influencers" on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter etc.  Influencers are people with lots of followers because they're so hip and in fashion.  And so all these dipshits then got all excited and wanted to go to this thing because they were afraid of missing out.

For the other half of my thought process, recently I started watching Season 2 of The Orville on Hulu as well.  The first season aired in fall 2017 and basically ended by the new year.  Fox in its infinite wisdom decided not to start Season 2 until December 30th of 2018.  So pretty much a full year between seasons despite that it's on network TV not streaming.

Anyway, I got thinking that the problem with shows like that is I just don't care enough to watch them right away.  There's no FOMO for me.  In part because I don't really like the show all that much but also because none of my buddies really like it.  I know at least one of the Geek Twins reviled the first season and my brother wasn't really into it either despite being a huge Trek fan.  Obviously no one at work watches it either so there's no "talk at the water cooler" about it either--if we had a water cooler so I didn't have to bring my own filtered water.

I used to watch The Flash on CW in large part because it was fun speculating on things with Michael Offutt on Twitter and his blog.  When we stopped doing that there was no real reason to watch the show anymore because I didn't like it that much and there was again no fear I was missing out on anything.

Contrast that to say Game of Thrones which shamelessly decided to wait over a year for the final season despite that filming wrapped months ago.  I do want to watch that because I don't want to miss out on the end of the series.  And I'm sure a lot of people are the same way.  That's why so many people watched the last episode of M*A*S*H and Cheers and Seinfeld and of course why hundreds of millions of people watch the Super Bowl, though mostly because they don't want to miss out on the commercials.

Books and movies can be the same way.  People read the Harry Potter or Twilight or Hunger Games books because "everyone else" is.  Billions of people will watch Avengers 4 and Star Wars 9 this year because "everyone else" is.

So you have to admit FOMO is an important thing in entertainment.  You can also call it "peer pressure" though then I think of after-school specials with some bad actor trying to force another to take drugs.  Whether we like it or not, we all watch or read or do things because we don't want to be the only one who isn't.

If you're lucky you can be like GRR Martin not write your anticipated sequel for 10 years and still have millions of people salivating to read it because they don't want to miss out.  Most of us are not so lucky.  If Eric Filler didn't publish another book, how many people would care?  Between 0 and 1.

FOMO is definitely a big part of psychology if you want to understand why things are popular.  Unfortunately it can go horribly wrong like with the Fyre Festival.

Now if only people had FOMO about voting; maybe there would be more than 30% turnout for elections.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Life is Pain. Deal With It.

A favorite tactic of newbs on Critique Circle was to post some garbage that was clearly not proofread and claim the story was professionally proofread already so thanks but no thanks on actually learning the craft.

Take this example:

Maya is a modern-day teen, born of extraordinary Native American blood. Her mother, Autumn, discouraged her from learning about her extended family’s superstitious customs; legends, dances, dream catchers, and Kachina dolls? Forbidden!

Look at that second sentence.  Why the hell is that a question?  You're stating a fact:  her mother discouraged her from learning about her family's customs.  There's no question.  And why is there a semicolon and not a colon after customs?  A semicolon is primarily used in two instances:  to join complete, related sentences or sometimes in a list if that list has subsets of things using a comma.  The latter is sort of like using a bracket inside a parentheses.  But neither of those cases applies.

So I said:

Poorly written queries, especially when they're rife with grammatical errors, send up red flags to anyone reading them. They're not going to want to read a whole manuscript like that. Learn your craft first and then worry about querying.
Yeah, I guess it's harsh but it bugs me that these newbs send off queries when they clearly don't have the skills yet to write a decent book.  It wastes the time of agents or their minions who have to wade through that dreck.  And I like to imagine this scenario where you have one writer who's done their work and written a polished query and manuscript and then you have someone like that up there.  If the agent or minion reads the bad one first, it'll probably put him or her in a bad mood and so maybe he or she isn't very receptive for the more polished one.  Or maybe the bad one makes the good one look better.  I suppose it could go that way too.  Still, you're cheating yourself and the agents/minions by submitting before you're ready.

But as I said the newbs on Critique Circle love playing this bluff where they say their manuscript's already done and edited, so no problem.  But the above author really took it personal and private messaged me:
I paid an editor to edit this, and all of the grammar and punctuation is correct. Saying that I should "learn my craft first?" Actually, you should know the craft before making incorrect assumptions and incorrect corrections on my query. The sentence that you said was not a question is in fact a question
LOL.  Um, how is that "question" a question?  If it's a question, what's the answer:  42?  If there is a question there it's pretty poorly written.  It's missing a word like, "Did her mother...?" or "Would her mother...?" "Should her mother...?"  Any editor who says that sentence was right is obviously not one worth the money.  Like I told this author, you should ask for your money back.

At pretty much the same time you had another newb with the same shit:
Both are trying to keep a low profile from ruthless jewel thieves ring who have already murdered a man.
All are fourteen-years-old.
And again, maybe I'm being a little harsh:
Anyway, from some of the errors ("from ruthless jewel thieves ring" "All are fourteen-years-old") I doubt you're ready to submit anyway. Take some time and work on your craft.
 But clearly you can't think this is your best work.

First he/she tries to laugh it off:
The story is finished and been beta read so that's not a concern. It's just that I can't write a query worth a toot.
Well no, that's not the issue.  Not being able to write a query affects the overall content and structure, not the basic grammar.  That's independent of being able to write a query "worth a toot" or not.

Then this author does that old newbie thing of singling out some other person for thanks, slighting not just me but a couple of other people who weren't as harsh.  It's a passive-aggressive dick move and I said about as much.  (Not that it's a dick move, but it is.)

To which the author whined:
I don't mind what you say to my work - you haven't read what I wrote, you haven't seen the final manuscript (which has been grammar proofed by a professional, btw) - therefore you cannot comment on that. But you did.
First that sentence doesn't really make sense.  I don't mind what you say...therefore you cannot comment on that.  How does that make sense?  The two halves don't add up to a coherent thought.  What's meant is that I haven't read the whole thing so I can't say you need to work on your craft.

Which is complete bullshit.  Of course I can still comment on it!  First off, naturally I CAN comment on it; you can't stop me from doing that.  Only the lame ass den mother moderators can.  Also, first impressions count.  The example I made (twice) is that if you go to a job interview in a stained shirt and wrinkled pants, it's not going to matter how good your experience and references are; the interviewer is going to think you're a slob.  If you come in with a poorly-written query with basic grammar errors, I'm going to assume you don't know what you're doing.  The impression you cultivate is on you, not me.

At this point the moderator came stomping in, deleting my post saying the gist of the last paragraph.  No one tell the newbs they aren't very good at writing and need to work on it.  Let them make all the errors they want because telling them otherwise might hurt their feelings.  And that's what's important, right?  Not hurting their delicate feelings, not actually helping them get better at writing.

I suppose their argument would be that you can do it without hurting their feelings.  But I've already posted a couple of instances here where I barely said anything and got an earful.  An earful of personal insults when I didn't personally insult anyone, not even these pathetic newbs.  Just because you take something personally doesn't make it a personal attack.

I told them to delete my account but instead they suspended it for "two weeks" that was more like three weeks.  After that expired I should have just left but I'm lazy so I decided to stick around...for about 10 days it turned out.  Then of course trouble found me or I found trouble--or both.

Someone posted this long request for information about broken ribs.  Not just in general but someone's mannerisms and on and on.  It had been a few hours so since no one had said anything yet I said, "Have you tried Google or sites like WebMD?"

And of course fragile newb got all pissy about that.  Again I didn't really say anything personal but they took it as a personal attack.  Someone finally did have an answer about broken ribs but then couldn't help himself from saying in another post, "I'd never tell someone to 'piss off' and look somewhere else."  To which I said I never said for anyone to piss off and all the hostility was from the original poster.  And he's like, Well, I didn't say you did.  To which I said, well no you didn't LITERALLY say it but the implication was obvious.

Finally in comes the moderator again with a snide comment that people (they know who they are) shouldn't try to start arguments.  Which I didn't try to start an argument.  I just pointed out the obvious.  If you want to know about injuries maybe go to a medical site instead of a writing site.  Anyway, that morning I had to scrape 1/4 of ice off my car and drive through icy slush to work so I was not going to take Barney Fife's bullshit.  In no uncertain terms I told the mod to take his "they know who they are" and shove it up his ass--all up in his ass.

So then they finally banned me.  Probably should have done that weeks earlier.  Because I...stated the obvious, told people they should learn basic grammar, said people don't have to pay $2000 for an editor, didn't like someone's query...what a fiend!  It's pretty much me and Hitler.  SMH.  I guess no one will hurt their precious little feelings now.

It seems in these groups it's usually like in hockey.  A guy crosschecks or slashes another guy, who turns around and slashes or hits him back.  Guess who gets the penalty?  The guy retaliating.  These dumbass newbs overreact to something and lash out at me and I'm the one who gets in trouble for giving it back to them.  When am I ever going to learn?  Never, probably.

The saddest thing is now I can still play Hangman but it doesn't count it in the statistics.  Unless I use another email to set up a new account.  Bwahahahaha.

Anyway, where am I going to get fodder for blog entries from now?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Am I Crazy or Are They Crazy? The Conclusion

Previously on my blog...

I posted a query I thought was bad but other people thought was awesome:


Dear [agent name],
 [intro paragraph personalised to agent, saying why I'm querying them specifically – I might put the genre, wordcount, and comps here instead of in the paragraph towards the end]
 Ana D is good at getting what she wants. As a law student and only child of two diplomats, she couldn’t be otherwise. When a car crash on a deserted stretch of New Zealand highway leaves Ana lost in another world—a world of swords, magic, and very iffy legal systems—all she wants is to go home.
 To do so she must master her own magic, placing her faith in the aid of the moody and enigmatic Ciro—a magician with an origin as foreign as her own. Ciro tells her stories of prophecies, chosen ones, and Malac, an exiled prince of a dying race, who seeks multi-world domination. Tall tales, Ana thinks—until a nearby town falls victim to the widening cracks Malac is making between dimensions.
 Should Malac succeed, the worlds he deems worthless will be destroyed. The remainder will be linked with permanent portals, reducing the logistical challenges of pandimensional tyranny. Millions will die. Billions will be enslaved. But not yet. Total devastation is time-consuming, and Malac’s species long-lived. Several human generations will pass before dimensions low in magic, such as Ana’s, could face the effects.
 As the walls between worlds tear, Ana is torn between two lives. To go home to the family she loves, the world where her battles would be contained within a courtroom. Or to stay and stand by Ciro, and her lover, Elric, as they join a greater fight.
 [Fart] is a 119,000-word Science Fantasy story that traverses worlds of medieval magic and futuristic technology, blending epic fantasy and dystopian science fiction with a strong romance subplot—think Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World meets Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, meets The Ghost in the Shell.
 I hold a PhD in psychology*. My research, focused on the development of empathy and social cognition, has given me a deep understanding of how experiences and social interactions shape people and relationships throughout life. I am a child of immigrants, and the initial draft of Fray was written while I was living temporarily in France, unable to speak the language and trapped in a tiny apartment by the Normandy weather. My experiences of emigration are reflected in Ana’s story.
 If [Fart] appeals to you, I would love to send you the full manuscript.
 Thank you for your time.
And I talked about a chicken story I thought was lame but other people loved.  And I wondered if it's just me or them.

Then Cindy Borgne commented:
I found the query interesting. The writer seems to have the world and characters defined well. I agree it is too long, but it did make me curious to know more. The chicken story sounds like a comedy. I'm not sure about it. If a bunch of boring stuff happens, then I wouldn't like it. Most of the stories on CC I don't like, and you will probably feel the same way.

And something clicked in my brain.  There are pictures where two people can look at them and see two different things.  Like one where you can see a vase or two people's faces depending on if you look at the white space or the black space.  I think something similar happens when different people read things.

When I read queries on these sites I read mostly for the plot.  So I read a query like above and the story seems bland and cliche.  But someone else might look at the world building stuff and think it's really interesting.

Or that chicken story I was reading it as a story and there didn't seem to be a point to it.  Other people might simply have found the narration charming and interesting.  Thus they liked it and I thought it was lame.

I imagine agents and editors are probably the same, though I can't attest for certain.  It is a deeply subjective business after all.

So am I crazy or are they crazy?  Maybe we're all crazy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Insecurity: Am I Crazy or Are They Crazy?

One of those things that can really get annoying on critique groups is when you say something that's sane or reasonable and then you get a bunch of dumbasses who say something contrary and those are the ones who get listened to, mostly because they're telling the poster what he/she wants to hear.

Take this query from December:
Dear [agent name],
 [intro paragraph personalised to agent, saying why I'm querying them specifically – I might put the genre, wordcount, and comps here instead of in the paragraph towards the end]
 Ana D is good at getting what she wants. As a law student and only child of two diplomats, she couldn’t be otherwise. When a car crash on a deserted stretch of New Zealand highway leaves Ana lost in another world—a world of swords, magic, and very iffy legal systems—all she wants is to go home.
 To do so she must master her own magic, placing her faith in the aid of the moody and enigmatic Ciro—a magician with an origin as foreign as her own. Ciro tells her stories of prophecies, chosen ones, and Malac, an exiled prince of a dying race, who seeks multi-world domination. Tall tales, Ana thinks—until a nearby town falls victim to the widening cracks Malac is making between dimensions.
 Should Malac succeed, the worlds he deems worthless will be destroyed. The remainder will be linked with permanent portals, reducing the logistical challenges of pandimensional tyranny. Millions will die. Billions will be enslaved. But not yet. Total devastation is time-consuming, and Malac’s species long-lived. Several human generations will pass before dimensions low in magic, such as Ana’s, could face the effects.
 As the walls between worlds tear, Ana is torn between two lives. To go home to the family she loves, the world where her battles would be contained within a courtroom. Or to stay and stand by Ciro, and her lover, Elric, as they join a greater fight.
 [Fart] is a 119,000-word Science Fantasy story that traverses worlds of medieval magic and futuristic technology, blending epic fantasy and dystopian science fiction with a strong romance subplot—think Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World meets Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, meets The Ghost in the Shell.
 I hold a PhD in psychology*. My research, focused on the development of empathy and social cognition, has given me a deep understanding of how experiences and social interactions shape people and relationships throughout life. I am a child of immigrants, and the initial draft of Fray was written while I was living temporarily in France, unable to speak the language and trapped in a tiny apartment by the Normandy weather. My experiences of emigration are reflected in Ana’s story.
 If [Fart] appeals to you, I would love to send you the full manuscript.
 Thank you for your time.

To me, this query pretty much sucks.  It's 413 words and that's without any personalization, so it could get to 450-500 words.  That's close to twice what you should really shoot for.  And after all those words, how much do we really know about the story?  This woman from our world gets sucked into a fantasy world (a total cliche by now) where she has magic of some sort and has to overthrow a bad guy...somehow.

This person had pretty much submitted the same query weeks earlier so to me this was a minimal improvement if anything.  But other people loved it!  It's great!  I loved it!  I'd ask for pages!

The latter is especially dumb to say.  I mean you can say you'd ask for pages but you're not an agent.  Or an agent's minion--presumably.  You don't see dozens if not hundreds of queries five or six days a week for 52 weeks a year.  So to you maybe this stands out but to an actual professional it probably wouldn't.

It was kind of annoying because then the author and a couple of these overly positive people were having their own little circle jerk about it while I'm just shaking my head.  It got especially frustrating because at the same time a couple of other threads were like that.  It seemed like I'd become Bruce Willis in the 6th Sense; I was a ghost there but didn't realize it.

Probably the most frustrating was this one person had emailed me and said how much they liked my crits...then ignored my advice to listen to that moron who's been flogging the stupid teddy bear story for the last 5 years.  And my advice was perfectly reasonable:  Is my story sci-fi or urban fantasy or what?  Don't worry about it.  If you can't decide don't mention a genre in your query and let the agent decide.  I mean most agents represent sci-fi and fantasy together so it's not really that important that you decide what exactly it is.  Or go on Amazon and look for a book like yours to see where it's classified.  Nah, I'd rather spend pages and pages commiserating with someone who's sold exactly 0 books.  Gah!  It's so annoying.

I posted a story for critique and someone critiqued it so I critiqued the story he had up.  It was about chickens who talk and teach this kid swear words.  Which is what it says in the beginning.  Then it rambles for 2,000 words about his father haranguing a professor about chickens, painting the chicken coop, and shooting animals in the balls with a pellet gun, and then finally gets back to the talking chickens to say...that the chickens talk.  For...reasons.  It just ends.  Wait, so what's the deal with the chickens?  Are they magic?  Is there some secret chicken language?  Are they from a parallel universe?  WTF?

But three other people reviewed it and they just loved it.  It was so awesome!  You should publish it!

It makes me wonder:  am I wrong about this?  Do I not know what I'm talking about?  Am I crazy and these other people are sane?  I don't know.  It doesn't make sense sometimes.  Maybe I am wrong and these stories and queries really are awesome and should be published.  Who knows?

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Proof is in the Reading

In the argument over paying editors I talked about yesterday there were people who said you can't proofread your own book.  You have to pay someone to do that!  Which I think is pure bullshit.  Look, if you want to think of yourself as a professional writer you should be able to proofread to the level of basic competence.

This is another "controversial" thing that really shouldn't be.  A writer who can't proofread is like a surgeon who's afraid of blood or a peanut farmer with a peanut allergy:  he's pretty well fucking useless.  I guess in our lazy entitled culture maybe you can just slop down words on a page and pay someone to proofread it and pay someone else to do the "developmental" editing.  Why not just pay someone else to write it for you too?  And pay someone else for an idea?  Why do anything at all?

In an episode of King of the Hill I watched a couple of months ago Hank Hill takes his son Bobby to work where he sells propane and propane accessories.  Before anyone can sell propane grills, Hank makes sure they know all about propane and how to wipe propane tanks.  His son is baffled by this.  Why can't I just sell the grills?  And the answer is that Hank wants his people to actually know what they're selling.  When Bobby ignores this he eventually gets in trouble because he doesn't have any idea what he's doing.  So for instance he tells one guy that a grill will work great for a huge thick steak...and then it doesn't.  And he sells someone 50-gallon tanks when they need 100-gallon tanks or whatever the exact numbers were.  He finally realizes that maybe his dad actually knows what he's talking about.

By the same token you should know at least the basics of how to proofread or else how do you know what you're doing?  Even if you still pay someone to do it for you, how will you know they've actually done something?  Or if you ever do get to be a rich, famous writer maybe your publisher would appreciate it if you didn't have manuscripts that look like a fourth-grader wrote them.

Some people though seem to think proofreading is something akin to magic.  I don't really understand that.  I'm not a grammar Nazi or anything but I think I have at least a basic competency.  Like I know which they're/there/their or your/you're I should use.  Stuff like that.  Some of the finer points not so much but then your average reader probably doesn't know that either.

I mentioned yesterday how someone trying to show me up said "He doesn't know the difference between proofreading (which MS Word does for you) and developmental editing" and how ludicrous that was because MS Word is a pretty shitty proofreader.  I think part of the problem though is people really do think the computer can find the stuff for you.  If not Word then some app like Grammarly or whatever.  But again those aren't guaranteed.  It's just better to use your own fucking eyes and brain.

Maybe a lot of it is just laziness.  To proofread something you have to actually read the whole thing at least once, if not more.  Most of my books are short so it's not that hard to do but I suppose if you wrote a 1000-page epic fantasy it might be a pain in the ass.  I can see where it'd be easier to just pay someone else to do it.  Easier, yes, but to me that seems like throwing money away.

I'm not a "car guy" by any stretch but there are things I can do myself like change the windshield wipers or a flat tire.  Sometimes I wash it with the hose instead of going through the automatic car wash.  The point being that I don't pay someone to do what I can do myself.  That just doesn't make sense to me.  But I guess all the people on writing message boards are independently wealthy playboys--and playgirls.

The only exception to this is if you have some learning disability so you can't really read through something all that effectively.  Otherwise it's better to do your own work as much as you can.  It'll save you money and you'll know that your product is really your product.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Let Them Eat Cake...or Buy an Editor

A couple of years ago when I was out of work I had to go to the dentist.  I went to Bright Side Dental and this one assistant kept haranguing me about getting work done on pretty much all my teeth.  Despite that I told her I don't have a job or much money, she just would not get it.  "Don't you want to save your teeth?!"  It's not a matter of WANTING, not unless you're going to do all the work pro bono.  Oh, wait, you're not?  Well then...

This is like some of these people on Critique Circle and other places who are always saying, "You HAVE to buy an editor for your book."  Don't you WANT your book to be the best it can be?  They just can't seem to understand that not everyone can afford $2000-$10,000 for an editor for one book.  Round and round we go and it just can't penetrate their brains that some people don't have thousands of dollars lying around to edit a book that most likely will make far less than that.

I've talked about this before in relation to that idiot Guy Kawasaki saying you should spend $15,000 MINIMUM on marketing your book.  When it comes to self-publishing, people seem to think we're all millionaires.  You need to pay $500 for your cover, $5000 for an editor, and $15,000 to market your book.  Criminy, my car cost less than that!  And I've gotten a lot more use out of it than I'd get for one book.

Oh, well, if you don't spend $25,000 on your book you just don't care!  You'll just slap together any old thing and post it on Amazon!  Um, no.  I'm just not a fucking moron who'd bankrupt himself for a book.  Don't you believe in your book?  Um, no.  Not that much.

Because, again, the average self-published book doesn't make anywhere close to $2000 let alone $20,000.  The average book in general doesn't make that much money.  Oh, sure, but I'll be the one who defies the odds, right?  Clearly you don't know me.

One guy said, "I worked with an editor and my book won an award.  Yay me!"  Which is great, except the editor was hired by his publisher and paid for out of his sales.  So he didn't have to front any cash to hire the editor.  So telling me that I NEED to shell out my own money to buy an editor is pretty lame.

Similarly another guy paid only $375 to someone to edit his novella.  Which is sort of ridiculous but not nearly as much money.  The novella made like $2000 supposedly so now he's going to spend that to have the same person edit his next book.  Well, hey, good for you.  That's like putting $375 on black in roulette and when you win letting it ride on another spin.  That's still not like me fronting $2000 of my own money.

Another guy was like, "I'm 80 and pretty well off so $2000 just means my kids will inherit a little less."  Well, hey, good for you too.  I mean if you've got money to burn then go nuts.  In his case though at 80 you can't really consider yourself embarking on a new career.  I mean for this guy publishing a book is pretty much a hobby so it's like an old duffer spending $2000 on golf clubs.

On a side note this dumb lady then tried to stir up popular support against me by saying, "Oh you think we're all hobbyists on that bottom rung of the ladder.  Well I'm a professional, blah blah blah."  And it's like, Um no, I quoted the old guy and said "you" so it should be obvious I was talking to him.  "Oh well anything you say here is PUBLIC."  So she apparently thinks everything in every thread is aimed at her personally even when you're quoting someone else and saying "you" it still means her.  I've been using message boards for 22 years and I know that not everything everyone says is directed at me personally.  Duh.

In the course of this thread I tried using a number of examples to get the point across.  First, think of it like a business:  if I spend $2000 on a book that's likely to make less than $500 that's pretty poor business sense, isn't it?  Well, no, you have to spend money to make money!  The old guy tried to debate the meaning of "investment" with me; he thinks an investment is only stuff like stocks or bonds that you hold and it might appreciate in value.  Well, no, an investment is also money an owner (or company) puts into the business.  Paying $2000 upfront of my own money is investing my personal capital.  I haven't forgotten everything from SVSU accounting classes.

I tried a similar tack.  If you ever watch those house flipping shows on HGTV or TLC or wherever (which I only do when I'm at the dentist or mechanic) they have a very specific budget in mind first when they bid on a house and then when they're renovating it.  If they think a house will only sell for $800,000 they can't pay $1.2 million at auction and in renovations.  I mean sure it'd really make the house spiffy if they put in mahogany hardwood floors, granite countertops, and a hot tub but then they'd probably go over budget.  Maybe they could find a sucker who would pay more than $1.2 million, but it's not likely so you stay as much under the budget as you can make the most profit. 

Oh, well, if you don't spend $2000 then you won't get 5-star reviews and people won't buy your book!  Um, yeah, you clearly don't know readers very well.  I have never paid a fucking editor and how many people do you think complain about editing?  About the only time is on the Rebirth series from the 90s that I was too lazy to fix all the grammatical problems.  Yet there are still people who gave them 5 stars because they didn't give a shit.  Writers care about typos; readers care more about story.

On another side note someone tried to make me look like an idiot by saying, "He doesn't know the difference between proofreading (which MS Word does for you) and developmental editing."  It's like, Dude, you think MS Word can proofread your book for you?  Word doesn't even know when you should use its or it's.  And it only flags typos that aren't real words.  I was trying to think of such a situation when I saw I had one in my post:  I typed "words" instead of "works."  MS Word wouldn't flag that because works is a real word.  So the dude trying to make me look stupid made himself look stupid instead.

Finally a couple of other people came forward to agree, which was nice.  One person put it nicely:  spend only what you can afford to lose.  Which really is like gambling.  If you go to the casino you should only spend what you can afford to lose.  Spending $2000 you don't have on an editor is like going to the casino and taking out a line of credit.  Maybe you'll turn it into a huge profit, but most likely you'll lose your shirt.

Someone made the counter-example of if you want to start a restaurant you have to spend like $275,000.  Yeah, well, guess what most restaurateurs do?  Take out a small business loan.  Which means they need a business plan.  If you go to a reputable bank and tell them your plan is to publish a book and be the next EL James or Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking or whoever, do you think they'll give you the money?  I doubt it.  To get that kind of money you have to take out a personal loan or second mortgage.  Which means you could lose your house if your book goes bust.

Then someone else comes in to say, "Well I'm going to spend the money because I want to be successful."  To which I'm like, Hey you'd be a great general manager for the Yankees.  That's the kind of thinking sports teams like the Yankees, Cowboys, and Redskins have used:  if we spend enough money we'll win for sure!  None of those teams have won a championship since 2009.  Since 2001 small market teams like the Florida Marlins and Kansas City Royals have as many championships as the Yankees.  So does just throwing money into something mean it will succeed?  No.

Similarly I also mentioned the movies.  You have a lot of famous cases of movies that went horrendously overbudget:  Heaven's Gate, Waterworld, John Carter, and Justice League to name a few.  None of those made back their budget and except for Justice League they were all huge flops; in the case of Heaven's Gate I think it pretty much bankrupted the studio.  On the flip side you get movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity shot for a few thousand dollars and make millions.  So does how much money you spend dictate success?  No.

Still people just don't get it!  I finally figured out what these people remind me of:  those pyramid schemes like HerbaLife or Amway.  The kind where someone tells you to buy $50,000 of products because then you'll be able to sell them for a million.  What they don't tell you is the only money they make is from people like you buying to resell the products; they don't sell shit to anyone else.  Only at least those people have something to gain; people on these writing boards are hard selling editors and marketing and all that without even having anything at stake!  It's completely ridiculous.

And like Marie Antoinette they just can't seem to understand that some of us are poor and don't have $2000 sitting in the bank to fritter away on the whim of becoming a famous author.  Shit, that's more than I make a whole month (net) from my real job.  Maybe if I don't pay my rent, buy food/medicine/other supplies, or pay my utilities for two months I can afford a fucking editor.

I don't know what else I can say to get through to these people.  After all the arguing someone said:
we know where you stand. You think paying a professional to edit your manuscript to make it better is not worth the money. Others disagree. Let's leave it at that and stop twisting other people's words around to try to prove that your opinion is better than someone else's opinion.
OK, so you complain about me twisting people's words by...twisting my words.  And still somehow missing the fucking point.  I never said it's not worth the money; I said it's not worth going bankrupt to tilt at the windmill of fame and fortune.  It's not that difficult to understand is it?  But still you have these stubborn asshats saying, "Don't you WANT to fix your teeth?"  Let them eat cake with their new teeth!

Lordy, Lordy, you'd think writers could actually read and comprehend, right?  Not so much.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Rotten Easter Eggs

It was kind of funny on Critique Circle when someone wrote a post that was like a blog post I'd write.  It was trying to compare gags in Murphy Brown to the "darlings" writers are advised to kill.
So TV is a different medium than novels, but they're still storytelling and sometimes you learn things from watching TV with an eye to how they do things. In this instance, I've been watching Murphy Brown. Not the reboot. (I knew I wasn't going to like it because they weren't going to be able to resist making it political.) I'm talking about the original series. I just finished watching the first season and it reminded me how much I liked the little touches that can only be called "darlings."
 Specifically, the whole running gag with Murphy's secretaries. For those of you who don't remember the show, Murphy had a new secretary in almost every episode. Most of them were raging disasters. There are even YouTube compilations of her secretaries (It takes 4 compilations to cover them all.) These running gag most certainly qualifies as the kind of "darling" authors are told to kill. At least that would be my understanding because the secretary was never vital to the story line. As the YouTube compilations prove, they're completely capable of standing on their own.
 Another darling I personally loved was the back of Murphy's office door. There was always something new there, tacked to the dartboard. The characters never even acknowledged it. It just existed in the background, waiting for the audience to notice. It was always the thing I watched closely for.
 I often have things like this in my stories and I've always felt kind of self-indulgent for not cutting them, but watching the original Murphy Brown has convinced me that I should stop sweating it. I'm thinking instead that I need to use a different yardstick to measure whether they stay. It's not necessarily "Is it necessary to the story?" but "Is it entertaining enough to overcome the fact that it's not necessary?"
 What do y'all think?

Isn't that something like I'd do an entry on?  Except I think this thesis is incorrect.  First off, there was really nothing special about the stuff in Murphy Brown; shows have running gags like the secretary thing or the dartboard thing all the time.  Like remember in MASH how for a while Klinger would have a different female outfit every week?  And usually some new zany scheme to get a Section 8.  Or in Cheers every time Norm came into the bar they'd shout his name.  Or in Home Improvement they never showed the neighbor Wilson's face below the eyes.

Just about any show that was on for a little while probably has some running gag that really has nothing to do with the main plot.  Some of them, like the dartboard thing, are more like Easter Eggs hidden in the background so they don't really matter at all.

The other stuff are just running jokes to entertain the audience and the writers and actors.  It doesn't really affect the plot but there's probably enough slack time in the script that it's not a detriment either.  It is like a "darling" in that it's self-indulgent, though it's also fan service too.  These running gags if you do them long enough people come to expect it.  It was the same thing with Hitchcock's cameos in his movies and Stan Lee's cameos in Marvel movies.  It's not really important to the plot of the movie but it was something people came to look for.

But really the "darlings" they talk about for writers are things a writer thinks are really clever but don't add any value and may actually annoy the audience because they're dumb and self-indulgent.  Like there was one guy who insisted on calling his aliens "Kanooks."  Like Canucks, ie people from Canada.  Isn't that funny?  No.  Or a long time ago there was this guy who described a woman's hair as a "slow-motion riot."  Whatever that means.  Typically in critique groups people will refuse to kill those things they think are so funny and clever but really are just dumb.

Something recently from a story I was working on:  it's sort of like a zombie story and I thought it'd be fun if these soldiers were sheltering in Graceland until they could get picked up by a helicopter.  But then I looked at the map of Memphis and it didn't really make sense since the airport is just a couple of miles from Graceland.  Originally I was going to have them fight their way from Beale Street to Graceland but again on the map the Mississippi River is really close to Beale Street, so if you wanted to escape zombies, why not just go there?  Finally I had to kill this darling and find a different location instead of trying to force something to happen that wouldn't really make sense and in the scheme of things wasn't important to the story.

If you beta read a whole book then maybe you might notice something as minor as a turn of phrase or more significant like a whole character or subplot that just doesn't add anything and may actually distract from your enjoyment of the book.  Those are the real "darlings" that editors and such warn about.

So was the author of that post right?  Meh, not really.  See, you try to do blog posts like me and I'll do a blog post about you doing a blog post like me!  So meta.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Grumpy Bulldog's Ultimate Batman Trilogy

I'll give you a break from Critique Circle whines to give you one of my awesome fake movie ideas that I know people love so much.  Ha ha ha.

Anyway, this idea got started a couple of months ago when I watched Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.  This was a feature-length movie based on the popular animated series in the early 90s.  It came out in about 93 or 94.  The idea is that there's someone in a costume (sort of a gray Azrael costume) who's knocking off old gangsters.  Batman is accused of the crimes so he has to track down who it is and stop him...except he eventually realizes it's not a him, it's a her!  And worse yet it's an old flame of Bruce Wayne's who's recently shown up in town.

The neat thing is this serves as sort of an origin story as well because it flashes back to when Bruce is starting to war on crime.  That's when he meets this woman and falls madly in love with her.  He asks her to marry him and she accepts.  He's going to put the whole war on crime aside but then she has to leave suddenly with her father.  The backstory adopts a little of Frank Miller's Year One in that Bruce starts out just wearing a ski mask or something and gets his ass kicked.  Then he's sitting in the study when the whole bat thing comes to him.

Anyway, the woman is dressing like "the Phantasm" to get revenge on the gangsters who were responsible for her father's murder.  Which puts her at odds with Batman.  The last gangster turns to the Joker for help.  Before he became the Joker, he was the bodyguard of the gangster and was the one to kill the woman's father.  Long story short, Batman and the woman tangle with the Joker and stop him but then she has to go away and so Bruce continues his war on crime as Batman.

This seemed like it could actually work as a live action movie, especially since with the DC movie universe so fucked up they could use it as a sort of soft reboot.

As typically happens I got thinking about it and then the idea kept bigger and bigger as I started to incorporate bits and pieces from other Batman storylines I've read or seen.  And then I came up with a rough idea for not one but a trilogy of movies!

The first one would borrow heavily on Mask of the Phantasm in that there's a masked character killing people and Batman gets the blame and some woman shows up.  Only I thought:  what if the woman has a son--Bruce's son?  As in back in the flashbacks like 10 years ago or so Bruce and this woman were fooling around and after she had to leave with her father she found out she was pregnant but she never told him.

So as Batman tries to find out who this masked killer is, Bruce is getting to know his new son Damian and reacquainting himself with the woman who probably isn't Talia al-Guhl like in the comics but sort of along that same line.

Instead of the Joker I was thinking of using Deathstroke as the former bodyguard because they already cast someone for that and we can save the Joker for later on if we want.

In the end there's the big action scene with Batman/woman/Deathstroke and Deathstroke is stopped but the woman is killed.  And so it falls to Bruce to raise their son.

Then the second part would take place a few years later.  Unbeknownst to Bruce, Damian has been training and doing a little light crime fighting.  One night Batman runs into Damian and so Bruce decides to train him as Robin.

About that time the Joker shows up to terrorize Gotham.  Or it could be the Riddler or whoever.  What's the diff really?  The plot's pretty much the same no matter which villain you use; it's just the specific set pieces that would change.

Anyway, Batman has to deal with this threat and the hot-headed Damian.  Ultimately they track the Joker or whoever to a lair where he has a nuclear bomb or something stashed away.  While Batman disarms the bomb, Damian refuses to listen to Batman and takes on the Joker himself.  And gets his ass kicked.  Then he and the Joker are seemingly blown up in an explosion.  While Batman stops the bomb, he's crushed by the death of his son that he sees as his fault.  (Which it kinda is.)

The third movie would then be years later.  Batman is older and angrier, more like the Frank Miller Batman.  But that's not enough for him to actually kill the criminals--he just roughs them up more.  Then one night he sees a costumed figure who does actually kill some criminals.  (No one important, just some henchmen.)  Which reminds him of Damian's mother years ago.  But she's dead, so who could this new masked avenger be?

As Batman is trying to figure this out and the new masked avenger is killing minor villains, a new major player is moving in.  Bane, the Scarecrow, Ra's al Guhl...again, it doesn't really matter at this point.  The point is there's some bigger threat.

Batman and this new masked avenger are both working on tracking down this threat using the tools at their disposal.  Batman's a lot more subtle, obviously.  At some point they wind up meeting and there's a fight.  Eventually the mask comes off and Batman sees a scarred but familiar face:  Damian, his son!  He wasn't killed in the explosion, just injured.  But almost being blown up made him decide Bruce's way wasn't working, so he decided to go out and learn some skills and then eventually come back to do what his father wouldn't, ie kill the criminals.

Batman lets Damian go.  He eventually faces the bigger threat by himself but barely escapes and only then because of Damian's help.  They reluctantly decide they need to team up.  So they do and take down the bad guy.  Of course Damian has the chance to kill whoever it is but then pulls back.

Instead of a happy reunion, Damian decides while he might not kill people anymore (or as much), Gotham is too small for the two of them.  Batman agrees to let Damian go off to another city to find his own path.  And in a few years, when Bruce can no longer be Batman, maybe Damian will take over the legacy.

There you go.  Mostly it borrows from Mask of the Phantasm, A Death in the Family, and Under the Hood with a little Arkham Knight and Batman & Son.  I think the family drama is something they haven't really done in the previous movies so it would freshen it up a little.  You could probably make it work for Affleck or a new actor so no worries there.

Call me DC! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Beggars Choosing to Look the Gift Horse in the Mouth

Another wonderful incident from Critique Circle.  It's great there are so many dipshits there to provide blogger fodder.  I mean, otherwise what would I talk about:  politics?  Movies?  Comic books?  How awful!

Anyway, here's another dipshit.  This time whining that the crits he's getting might not be up to snuff.
I’ve a bit of a bugaboo in assessing the worth of some crits on CC. I’ve been working for the past decade to mature a writer’s voice, a style I like and one I am comfortable with as I write and rewrite (and rewrite).
 My vexation flows from critiquers who crit as they go along and don’t seem to acknowledge the disadvantage this places on the writing and the writer. The problem I have is that my stories tend to wrap one meaningful large moment around many, at first sight, questionably mundane moments. I’ll give a poorly thought through example to attempt clarity. I’ll have a character put her groceries in her trunk after pushing her fire extinguisher aside. Comment: “Cut the fire extinguisher. It adds nothing.” Then when they reach the part that bursts aflame, comment: ‘Oh, never mind.” (The fact that I advised you to do something ruinous to your story)
 Question: How does one do that and still trust the critter’s other analyses?
 My reaction is this person should not continue offering this species of crit. For me, and I posit, for any logical writer, it lowers the worth of even their most brilliant comments because the writer can only conclude that by the time the critiquer gains familiarity with the story as written, they’ve already finished critting it.
I do not contend that no one should crit as they go. Some make that their best offering. I do contend that they should acknowledge for their own benefit the disadvantage this places on the writing and the writer and recognize times when a little sell-doubt may be in order.
It's proof that beggars can be choosy!  And look the gift horse in the mouth.  Geez, just the nerve of people critiquing my story for free for not putting enough effort into it.  Why don't they read the whole thing and give it a good long think before critiquing it?  Hell, why don't they read it three times and write a whole 5000-word essay on it?

You want to talk about entitled snowflakes, there you go.  The reality of a critique site is you get what you pay for.  You don't pay for these critiques so you can't realistically expect sage wisdom.  Most of the people you're dealing with are not professionals.  They're just amateurs giving their time in a vain attempt to help you and in return they get 1-3 points so they can load their own stories to be critiqued maybe not up to your standards.

I don't like saying "it is what it is" because that's so simplistic but in this case the system is what it is.  If you want better, get out your checkbook and pay for a professional edit.  Otherwise you have to take what you can get.

From a critiquer point of view, I often don't have lots of time to spend reading someone's story.  And to be honest so many of them are so awful I can't read them all the way through once let alone several times.  There are plenty where I just give up because it's so fucking terrible.  Then I just scribble enough to get my 3 points and move on.  You don't like it, well, maybe you shouldn't have written such a shitty story.

The idea of just disregarding a whole critique because of one comment is so stupid.  Look, even the best hitters in baseball couldn't get a hit more than 40% of the time.  You can't expect someone not to have one miss in an evaluation.  It doesn't mean you disregard everything else.  To use another cliche, it's throwing the baby out with bathwater.  In the end, though, it's no one's loss but your own.

And as I said to the people defending this:  I can't wait until you get something published for real and start getting "reviews" on Amazon and Goodreads.  You think the critiques here are poorly written?  Wait until you get your first one-star review saying only "ok."

You ain't seen nothing yet, snowflakes!

As a funny addendum, a couple days later someone started another thread complaining that he wrote a 2200-word critique and the author just said all the stuff he pointed out was intentional.  In case you need another reason why some people might not want to spend hours writing a critique.  Even funnier when I said that maybe it was the guy in the first thread who was that author I got slapped down by the admin for "personal attacks" and trying to "incite a flame war."  If you don't actually use someone's name and just suggest a link between two threads how is that a personal attack or inciting a flame war?  I just thought it was a neat coincidence.  Even the moderators are such whiny crybabies on that site!

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