Transcending Medium

If you ask people about a game or a comic or a TV show that moved them, they will usually speak in imprecise language. Words like "awesome" and "moving" don't tell us much. Comments like "I laughed" or "I cried" do better. Experts will be more precise, speaking of pacing, or structure or character arcs. They might use phrases like "It sags during Act Two," or "It had the best Save the Cat moment I've ever seen." Sometimes, they can even tell you the differences between mediums. Often, though, if nailed down on how one writes for one medium or another, people will fall back to something like, "Good storytelling transcends form."

Right now I'm in my break from 80+ hour weeks and doing a measly 50 hours or so. Maybe even 45. It's like running naked through a spring rain. Seriously. And as 80+ hours looms again on my schedule (August, you bastard, I see you coming), I start cherishing every bit of goofing off that I get.

Yesterday, while recording the World's Greatest Comic Book Podcast, I mentioned that I was playing Arkham Knight, and that the Arkham series of games are some of the best Batman stories I've ever experienced. While a cohost seemed to think that was crazy talk, I think the reason is that I've never felt so connected to Batman character as I do in that game. Even though they arguably use the exact same tropes multiple times to achieve the same ends. I think it's because I don't really think of Batman as a character in most presentations. He's more an elemental force of rage and PTSD. Not every movie and comic, but often enough. But let's look at some of the things that Arkham does that makes their Batman stories some of the best.

Let me start by saying I've played all of the Arkham games but some of them I haven't played for a while, so my recollections of early games might be more emotional than base in pure fact.

A Slow Build of Pacing

The Arkham games don't usually start with a big in media res opening. They start in the middle of events, technically, but they don't try to blow up the world like pre-credits in a Bond film. They take time and start by laying down atmosphere. They give us some early romps to build our connection to Batman. They make sure that first hour or two of game play is pretty easy. Not only are they giving us tutorials, but they make us feel like Batman, so that when things get real, we feel like Batman's in trouble, not like we're just bad gamers. Obviously there's a difficulty setting so all of this comes through that filter, but the job of game designers is to make you forget that those dials exist.

Character

Batman almost never reacts to anything. Even if most cutscenes, he's standing there like a sociopath, watching calmly as the world burns. And so the games find ways to get us in his head. Often (maybe too often) they do this with the Scarecrow's fear toxins. Let Batman be a stoic bastion of stoicness. When his worst fears walk next to him, screaming about his failures, the stoic act moves from emotionless to painfully poignant.

Alfred

This actually extends to everyone who cares about Batman in the games, but Alfred illustrates it most directly. Alfred is was Joss Whedon would call our heart character. We know Alfred it the man who cared for this superhero when he was a little boy. Through Alfred's eyes, we see that little boy still there in Batman. We know it's okay to love this heartless bastard because Alfred loves him, and it doesn't take us long to realize that Alfred is a good judge of character, and he would not love this man if he was unlovable.

Big Set Pieces

A set piece, in fiction, is a big scene with a extended series of emotional beats, usually in memorable locales. The tearful goodbye in the rain is a set piece, as is the car chase, or the giant mid-act action sequence. The Arkham games do set pieces well. They translate them to gamist principles, but they do it well. They also slowly convert set pieces into the mundane. You want to make someone feel like Batman? Start a game with them desperately trying to take out four guys without anyone catching them, then slowly ramp things up until by the end of the game, they look at a room with 20 bad guys and ample hiding spots and think, "Whew. Thank goodness. I needed an easy one."

Dramatic Act Three

The Arkham Games are open world, but even so, they do a great job of rocketing you into Act Three. Last night I stopped advancing the pot to clean up all my side quests because I can feel the call of act three. The end is nigh. Batman has been stripped of everything until he's just a raw nerve of justice. Things are going to break, and it's going to be the Dark Knight or his foes. Blood will fall.

The purpose of this isn't to point out what makes a good Batman story. The purpose is to point out what makes almost every good Batman story. The designers of this game examined the triumphs of Batman storytelling... classics like The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Dark Knight. They distilled the heart of what makes a good Batman story and they expertly translated them into a game, because they knew that if they had a good emotional core, then half of their job was done.

You see these same principles transcending genre as well as media. The James Bond chase scene is the big Act Two argument in a RomCom or the tense stealth scene in a thriller, or the dreaded walk in the woods in a horror film. Act two might be about love, or violence, or a mystery, or a fall. The point is that the people who excel at their craft can apply these levers to any story in any medium.

And now back to Act Three. Because Gotham needs me.

Your First Published Novel: Part 23

Reviews can be hard. It's likely that reviews are the most difficult part of the writing process for some writers. You pour you heart and mind into something for more than a year. You draw knives and fight with your editors about it. You market and you fret and you sweat and you weep. And when you are done, it's out there.

And people hate it.

Not everyone of course. Most people like. If everything went well, most people might even love it. But people are gonna hate it. That's just the way with art.

I don't know that it matters for your first book that you be good at handling reviews. It does matter that you understand the process and you respond to them in a professional manner.  You can't rail against them. You can't complain about them (well, maybe in the privacy of your own home.) You certainly can't engage them. You shouldn't try. Some people would say not even to read them. My friend Randy Tayler tweeted at me "YOUR READING REVIEWS!" after one post. I don't know if he was happy for me or aghast.

You should be thankful for bad reviews. They bought your book. They read your book. They had an emotional experience with your book. You can't dictate what that emotional experience was. If you are ever in a situation where you must respond, at a public venue, for instance, the most you can do it thank them for reading the book. Do it sincerely. Practice in front of a mirror if you have to. Like the samurai of old, remember, it's not important that you be honest. It's vitally important you be sincere.

The only interaction I allow myself to have with reviewers is to thank them if we have some social media connection and occasionally ask if they are on Goodreads as well to remind them there is another place where they can post their reviews.

I don't want you to think I'm just inherently good at this. When Spacemaster came out, it was greeted positively overall, but some people's reviews of the setting were savage. Just brutal. That was quite the learning experience and I made mistakes. I argued. I justified myself. I did it politely, but it wasn't my finest hour. When this book came out as a podcast audiobook, the few negative reviews I garnered crushed me. But I'm used to them now. I've learned that you can't get good reviews without bad, and you should cherish the bad because that means the next few good are right around the corner.

As I write this I have a 4.5 on Amazon. A 4.1 on Audible. A 3.75 on Goodreads (that one is just starting to come up after a few one stars that gave up on the book early). Most of my negative reviews are along the lines of "Did not finish." My favorite review so far says I'm not as clever or as funny as I think I am. That's certainly true.

No one is as clever and as funny as I think I am.

Your First Published Novel: Part 22

It's been a month since the release of the book. Sales are, not surprisingly, sagging a bit. I didn't manage to generate much advertising this week. The Dungeon Crawlers Radio people have been generous enough to post some audio sample chapters, but those haven't worked as well as I hoped. However, I noticed after the last one that I didn't give him a proper intro and outro to each sample. Without context, it's hard to generate sales. So I'm recording those tonight when the house and neighborhood have gone quiet (read: after the fireworks), and I'll send them to him.

This week I finished up the next adventure for those local charity tournaments. I'll turn that in tonight. After that, I turned in my story for an anthology with Matthew Cox. I think I'm the first to submit. By a lot. So I spent the rest of the weekend shooting edits back and forth to him, as well as an unrelated argument about voice and viewpoint. Because we're on the internet, and fighting is kind of the point. Correct?

Meanwhile, for the first time since my birthday, two months ago today, I've the freedom to play a computer game. I recieved Undertale and Arkham Knight for said birthday. So I just finished playing Undertale about five minutes before posting this. I'll play Arkham Knight next. That will probably take a couple weeks. After that, I might be forced to start working 80 hour weeks again. I sure hope not.

I've been trying to hit up a couple podcasts a week, but I didn't want to interfere with me returning to the comic podcast this weekend, so I didn't push on the ones that record on Sundays. I'll hit up a couple more this week and see if I can generate some more sales buzz. I view this as a marathon, not a sprint, so I don't want to try any advertising that costs money until I use up take advantage of others. Also, I don't want too much happening at one time, because that would make it difficult to determine the source of the sales.

Well that's it for this week. We are plugging along. Hopefully, unlike a real marathon, I won't get shin splnts. Or lose control of my bodily functions.

A Rough Week

I don't have a lot to report this week, due to illness. We had one team join the Charity Tournament late, and I went back and finished their last round on Monday night. I'm not sure if it was that added effort, or if I caught a bug previously, but Tuesday I wasn't feeling well. I wasn't sure if I might have just blown my voice out. Well, I wasn't sure until the afternoon, when I realized that it was a full on cold or flu.

Wednesday it started settling in the lungs. Thursday morning it hit about as bad as it got. I filled a tall trash can with tissues. Saturday I started getting significantly better, but I still had to mostly cancel all activities. Today, I've felt like I've been batting cleanup on my immune system.

During that time, the book slipped to the high 70s in Humorous Fantasy, although it spent most of the week in the 30's and 40's. This week I'll start hitting up podcasts for my guest appearances, but since I wasn't even able to do the podcast I'm on weekly (Hold 322), this week was a bit of a marketing write off.

Charity Tournament

Yesterday I helped run a charity tournament. Today I taste pennies.

The tournament was at Dragon's Keep in Provo, UT. The charity is RiteCare of Utah, and they are a worthy cause. Their description from the website:

"We help children with all types of learning challenges related to speech and language. We are dedicated to helping children become more successful in their home and school settings by empowering them to reach their full educational and social potential."

I wrote the tournament. It's part of the Moving Shadow Campaign for my Echoes of Heaven setting. We had a problem with GM turnout, so I ended up running the second round multiple times (it's the one that takes the most familiarity with the material.) It was fun. I burned a lot of energy. I ate enough that I should be up 8-10 pounds today in water weight. I'm only up five. So it was good times.

Dragon's Keep is doing two more tournaments this summer. The are in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. They are also doing other events such as card tournaments. Their goal is to raise enough money to sponsor a child's entire course through the RiteAid program. It's a worthy cause. The next tournament is June 22-23. If you're within driving distance of Provo, you should join us. I might GM you for a round.

Oh, and the entire time, Death be Cliché was #13 in Humorous Fantasy on Amazon. So there's that.

Your First Published Novel: Part 21

Book Release!

Last night I had my book release party. It went better than I had any right to expect.

These things, for debut authors, can be horror shows, so I hedged my bets. I asked three comedians and a woman who podcasts with two of them to perform and MC respectively. We held it at a game store because it's thematically a fit and also a game store seemed more likely to put up with a comedy show.

Danielle ÜberAlles, the MC, ran thing like a boss. I really needed someone else to keep the whole thing stitched together and she stepped in and ran the entire affair for me.

Rebecca Frost performed first. That woman has the aplomb of a serial killer on Xanax. Seriously. She has more poise than himself Washington Crossing the Delaware. She once performed, unblinking in front of the worst audience I've ever seen. Luckily this time the audience was attentive and respectful.

Taylor Hunsaker went next. She invented a lot of new material for the show (I think to make sure it was family friendly). I admit I was a little worried that I'd put her on the spot there, but she handled it perfectly. Seriously. He set sounded like she'd been refining it for months.

We ended on Kristal Starr, who I believe is the most experienced comic of the three. She started off by rebutting the first two comedians (hilariously) and then went on to a solid set. I couldn't have asked for a better person to pull up the rear.

I'm not sure how many people came because people spread out through the store. I know that we sold 20 copies. Several couples bought one copy to share and several people left without buying any (they probably purchased from Amazon). My best guess is 35-40. I was kind of expecting 10.

Afterward, I took out my assistants and some close friends to pizza at my favorite pizza place in Salt Lake City. There we unwound and I squandered my earnings for the night.

Death by Cliche
$16.99
By Bob Defendi

All in all, a perfect night, really.

Your First Published Novel: Part 20

Release Day!

Death by Cliché
By Bob Defendi

Monday, Death by Cliché released on Amazon. On Kindle. The other formats came later, but in case you're reading this post to see what's available now, here's what I've found in my fairly obsessive checking:

Amazon.com: Kindle, Paperback, and Audio (via Audible.com)

Barnes and Noble: Paperback.

Itunes: Audio.

So Monday was slow. Not terribly surprising, since we didn't really advertise it Monday. I put out a notification or two on Facebook, but that was all. I probably sold a few copies. I watched my rankings creep up. By Tuesday, I hit about 44k in the rankings. I also started worrying about a lack of a paperback version. I asked the publisher and discovered that we were waiting on some part of the approval process from Ingram at that point.

However, Monday I did get my first review. 5 stars. That's the advantage of having released the audiobook in podcast form 8 years previous (or at least an earlier version of it). The people who bought my book that first day were already familiar with it. In fact, that first review said that he listened to the book about once per year.

Tuesday we also dropped the Hold 322 podcast for the week, and in it we plugged the book. I'm sure that accounted for my Tuesday sales because I didn't have much more to announce on Facebook.

Also around then I printed up posters for the book release party on Saturday and sent out invites to most of my friends on Facebook. So far the acceptances on that front aren't what I'd call a runaway success.

Wednesday my Big Idea post went up on Scalzi's blog. Since then, I've had healthy sales every day. At least healthy for the first release of a relatively unknown author. I hit #20 in Humorous Fantasy and #2 in hot new releases for Humorous Fantasy. I've dropped to number #3 since then.

Thursday, the MC for my book release event pointed out that I'd misspelled the name of one of the Comedians. Friday I printed new posters and took them up to the venue.

Yesterday was a big all day game for me. So I didn't do much more than hit refresh a few times on Amazon.

So, as of today, I'm floating in the 30s in Humorous fantasy and I'm #3 on Hot New Releases in the same category. The paperback and audio version are both out. I'm feeling good about plugging it in places. Next Sunday I likely start my podcast tour.

I should plug my Book Release Party.

Saturday, June 11 at 7 PM - 9 PM
Hastur Games and Comics
6831 S State St, Midvale, Utah 84047

I hope to see some of you there. I intend to bring cookies.

Your First Published Novel: Part 19

Death by Cliché
By Bob Defendi

One day more. Cue Jean Valjean.

Tomorrow is my release date. I'm strangely zen about it.

I'm going to call this a "soft release," because I have no idea what's going to actually be available for purchase tomorrow. Let me outline the state of things and then I'll explain why I'm not upset about it.

The Kindle version is available for preorder. The paperback isn't yet. The Audible version is undergoing the approval process, but we got them the audio files kinda late, so I can't blame them.

The ARC (Advanced Readers' Copy) of the book might or might not be finalized. The last note I heard on the matter was that I'd hear back Friday, but I didn't.

The categories on the book in Amazon look a little strange. I've asked the publisher if they are intentional (It's not in humor, for instance), but I haven't heard back.

Most of these questions I posed to them Friday morning, which was the last working day before release, since the book releases on a holiday. My base assumption is that they were too busy Friday to respond to me. That's okay.

So today, while paused in the recording of the Hold 322 podcast, one or more of my co-podcasters may have come to my defense, angry that at this moment, it looks like the paperback might not be available tomorrow.

Let me tell you why I'm not angry:

In the long run, who really cares? Seriously. What does one day mean over the other?

CQ actually gave me the option of moving the release date when I realized it was on Memorial Day. I thought about what that might entail and went through all the possible implications. I decided not to bother moving it. This is my first released novel. Not many people are waiting for it. While the people who are waiting for it specifically wait for the paperback version, I don't have a large fan base who will be enraged if it's a day late. Let's do the math.

I had about 5,000 listeners to the podcast audiobook. The conversion rate to sales is probably about 1-5 percent. Since the book was free and many of the listeners picked it up when Howard Tayler asked them to break my server, 1 percent is far more likely than five. So that translates to about 50 people who were waiting for a physical copy to go with their digital audio one.

But that was eight years ago, and the while the interest was high. At one point during the podcast, we missed a month. During the month I went from more than 5000 listeners to almost none. I had to completely rebuild my listener base. And that was just a month. Eight years? Most of those 50 don't even remember they wanted to buy the book in the first place.

There are about five left. I know because they message me regularly about various things.

So Monday is an arbitrary date. I'm not even going to start my marketing push that day, because I don't want to waste my primary shares on a day where most people are doing family barbeques. I'll put out my general announcement tomorrow, and I'll probably get five to ten sales out of that, but I won't be concerned if it's zero. Tomorrow isn't the day.

Tuesday, if everything is ready, I put out my big post. This is the one where I tag all the people quoted in the book and hope for a huge number of shares and retweets. The next day I'm on the Scalzi's Big Idea blog on Whatever. Monday and Tuesday, I'll probably be mentioned on the Left Show and on Hold 322, and as podcasts, the listeners will hear those throughout the week.

A week from Saturday, I have my book release party. But those sales aren't added to any list, so they are just for me.

I'm happy. I'm excited. I'm ready to buckle down and get to work. But I've been doing this too long to have expectations of overwhelming results. This is just the next thing that happens. After that there will be podcast tours and marketing pushes and maybe ad buys.

The real work starts this week.

P.S. I also turned in Death by Cliche 2 at about 4 am this morning. So there's that.

Your First Published Novel: Part 18

Eight days. The book releases in eight days.

So no we're in our final push. Honestly, we're probably handling stuff we should have handled earlier, but you know how schedules are. I think one of the big hold-ups is the cover, and I think for that we're waiting on the designer.

Monday we received two covers to evaluate. My art chops aren't the best, and my writer's group has four artists in it (and the rest just have great taste.) So I bounced it off them. They all liked the same cover (which was the same one I liked) and they gave me back great notes, which I passed on to Curiosity Quills.

Through this, I'm working on the 3rd draft of Death by Cliché 2. The first five chapters took days to finish, so I'm a little behind where I'd like to be and I need to finish five chapters a day to turn in by the 30th. That's coming along, but it's a fair amount of work.

Then on Thursday, they sent me a "dirty ARC" for notes. This close to release, I asked for a deadline and they told me Monday, so I needed to do a quarter of the book a day. That's 8-16 hours at the rate I proofread.

Also, my article for Scalzi's Big Idea blog is due soon, so I had to turn it in to my Writer's Group. It was terrible, so I've had to do three drafts since then.

But most everything is behind me, now. I've turned in my notes on the Arc. I have the 3rd draft of the Big Idea in for notes. I have almost finished this blog, and I've done my pass on my five chapters for today. All I have left is to put in some critique notes and then I can tackle some ad stuff for my game company.

So things are coming along nicely. It's good to be busy in this last week before release.

Second Novel and Trips to the Vet

I'd scheduled the end of last week and the beginning of this week to begin the revision of my second novel. I promised to turn it in at the end of the month. I expected to have some delays, notably from the fact that I don't have much time on Thursdays and Fridays and Saturday and Sunday were booked solid.

And the week before, another problem emerged. My cat, 11-12 years old, has been steadily declining in health. He seems miserable all the time and he has gone from trouble jumping to trouble walking. So we booked a vet appointment and it was scheduled Tuesday.

The cat, Azrael, did not handle this well. He peed on everything, the cat carrier, the people at the vet. Everything. This was compounded by the fact that the vet took one look at him and said, "That's not arthritis. That's complications from diabetes." Diabetes tests require urine. The cat didn't have any urine left. Because you pee a lot when you have diabetes.

So I took him back the next morning and we left him there all day. They took blood and urine, he peed on everything again, and we brought him home.

So Thursday we got the official confirmation he had diabetes. Friday I went in before work and they taught me how to give insulin shots. I bought a lot of expensive food, insulin and a big supply of needles. My game cancelled that night, so I was able to give him his first shot.

The difference was like night and day. The cat changed entirely. Like pod people. I call him Pod Cat now. Within an hour, he went from being lethargic and near crippled to hurling a box of pizza to the floor so he could attack the bits of feta cheese that flew out. Spunky. Mischievious. Pod Cat.

But back to the book. The night before Pod Cat's miraculous turnaround, I finally got to work on the novel. And Friday night I continued it. The biggest complaint I received was that it took too long ramping up, so I reorganized and cut more than a thousand words. I turned seven chapters into five, because all the scene changes were hurting my pacing instead of helping it.

It took three days, but I finally finished those opening chapters. Now I can push forward with the rest of the book. I'm behind schedule, but I set my schedule with some extra time in mind, so there's no need to panic. The moment I post this, I'll be back to the grind.

And for those following along at home, my experiment of using Black Desert Online as a brain hack is going fine so far.

 

Your First Published Novel: Part 17

This week, things are starting to move again.

First of all, I received word that John Scalzi accepted Death by Cliché for his Big Idea blogs. He does a fair number of those yearly, so I don't know how tough the competition is, but I was flattered. And delighted, of course. The  marketing people at my publisher seemed pleased as well. So this week I'm going to be reading through the last three or four months of Big Ideas to get a better feel for them.

I also set into motion the other final steps for the book release. I contacted the stand-up comics for my release party. Looks like the final count will be three. I've asked them for final details for the poster advertising the event.

I also started to process of getting the final date for my Book Bomb. It's occurred to me that I need to take that day off.

Now, the rest of the time to release should move smoothly. Mainly because I'll be busy. I promised my publisher book 2 at the end of the month, and I gave myself until my birthday to goof off. Tonight is the first night I have free since my birthday, so I'll need to hit the project hard.

My normal process for edits is that I start them at night after everyone is asleep, when I can really dig into my rewrite. The next day, when people are awake and I'm more likely to be disturbed, I go through other people's notes. Then that night, after everyone's asleep again, I start the process over with the next day's work, and my deep rewrite.

So that starts tonight. I also need to set up ads for my game company and design a tournament for a local game store charity event. Then I need to convert the next bit of The Echoes of Heaven for playtest. And somewhere in there I need prep my weakly game for the next few Saturdays.

So the time until release on the 30th should fly by.

5 Tips for Public Readings

In my years of working conventions, I've seen a lot of readings. I've only seen some good ones. Readings are difficult, and not everyone had a long, embarrassing history in theater to give them a firm foundation in public readings. So I thought I'd put together some of my best tips here to help you with your next public reading.

  1. Prepare. Prep is the key to a good reading, especially for your first few. I know you wrote it, but you've never had to read it in public before. Read it now. And then read it again. And again. Read it out loud. See what you're doing with your hands. Your body, your shoulders. Hear your voice. Make sure none of these things distract you on the day of the reading. Your goal here is to almost memorize the piece. During a reading a lot of things will conspire to make you stumble over words. Your nose will run. You'll sneeze. Your eyes will water. You want to be able to keep reading even when you briefly lose track of the text on the page.
  2. Excercise. My audio guy also runs political campaigns. He makes his candidates read Fox in Sox every day. I think he has them read it multiple times. When I need to get my diction in shape for a reading, say for an audio book, I do it at least once every morning and once every evening. You can probably just do it a few times the day or two before the reading, unless for some reason they are recording you.
  3. Fill the Room. Besides vocal hesitation and diction problems, the biggest problem I hear from people is their volume. If projection doesn't come naturally to you, practice speaking from the diaphragm. This might be the hardest thing for new readers. You don't shout. You project. You bounce your voice off the back wall. Try sitting up straight. Speak from the belly button. When you get it right, your whole rib cage should resonate with your words. In a good room, you'll the words bounce back to you.
  4. Seek a Conversational Tone. The last big mistake I hear is a stilted and artificial tone. This might be the hardest to teach, and it's worse if what you're reading has an arch tone to begin with. I have it easy here because my book has such a conversational tone that they are vocal stumbles written into the text. After my reading Friday, I had a person come up and tell me they couldn't tell when I was improvising and when I was reading the text on the page. Unless you write like I do, you don't want to go that far, but you want this to be active storytelling, not near-passive reading. Tell the audience what you mean, don't just read what's on the page. Vary your sentences. Feel free to gesture. Lean forward in the exciting parts. Lean back when things get casual. Try to let your character inhabit you. Remember that your narrator is one of those characters. The hardest thing about a reading is this: you have to be intimately familiar with the text, and yet you need to sound like you're inventing it for the first time. This takes practice, and if you haven't done it before, you aren't going to get it your first try.
  5. Relax. I know that all this can be overwhelming, but remember, this is supposed to be fun. This is just a conversation between you and your readers. If you have a way to go before you get good at this, don't worry. You aren't going to get all of this the first time. That's okay. People don't expect great readings from you unless they already know you as a great speaker. Your job here is to surprise them and do better each time than the time before. Start by being familiar with your text and reading your Fox in Sox (I wasn't kidding about that one). Do the others, but concentrate on those two the first time. When you have that down, worry about your projection. Once that's second nature, worry about your performance.

Here's the dirty little secret. Unless you have an extremely unusual circumstance, no one cares about your first readings. They are almost always populated by the people who love you and the writers who have the room after you. Give yourself permission to be bad, and then work to be better each time you read. Know that you will always hate your own performance, even when everyone else loves it. Just have fun. When people start giving you compliments after a reading, accept them graciously and thank them for coming. Try to connect with your people before and after the reading, and remember: this is your moment.

Enjoy it.

My Schedule for World Horror

Thursday

2:00-3:00 PM
Horrific Fantasy: A Touch of the Macabre. Dark fantasy as a subgenre that often dances across the line between fantasy and horror.  Is there a line, and how can you effectively cross it?
Darren Shan
Steve Diamond
Robert J Defendi
Jason King (M)
Christopher Husberg
David J. West

3:15-4:15 PM
Writing Action Scenes
Michaelbrent Collings
Amber Fallon
Eric Swedin
John L. Campbell (M)
Robert J Defendi

Friday

11:30 AM-12:30 PM
Short Fiction vs Novels.  Short fnaction and long fiction take different talents and different foci, but if you know what you’re doing, it can be fun ty do both.
Brian Keene
Jack Ketchum
Cody Langille
Robert J Defendi
Dave Butler (M)

2:00-3:00 PM
Readings (30 min. each): Steve Diamond & Robert J Defendi

Sunday

12:45 – 1:45 PM
Horror-Themed Tabletop Games.  With the growing trend in horror films and books, it’s only natural that tabletop games are following behind.  What’s out there and what you should be playing.
Dan Wells
Nick Fowler
Jessica Fowler
David Boop
Robert J Defendi (M)

Your First Published Novel: Part 16

It's just a hair longer than a month before Death by Cliché releases. About seven weeks until the book release party. I'm not prone to anxiety, but the pressure is starting to get to me. The problem is the tremendous level of powerlessness I'm feeling right now.

At this point, the cover isn't finished (to my knowledge.) The audiobook files aren't all in. I don't start the third draft of book two for another week or two. I can work on book three, but if I get too far ahead of my writer's group, then I just end up with the time pushed off later. Also, there are only a couple hours in the day where I can write, so working on that during all my free time isn't really practical unless I want to burn down the relationships in my personal life.

So I wait. It's been a long time since one of my books was in someone else's hands temporarily. With my game company, I'm frantically working on the book right up until the last moment. Writing books for other game companies, I turn in my finals and I'm mostly done except for the occasional con work. But the marketing of this book still falls mostly on my shoulders. I have a team to advise and set things up, but the actual public work is all me, and that's all still out there. So my emotional ability to move on from a book doesn't apply here. I can't move on. My role here isn't over yet.

Here's my strategy. There is an MMO that recently released in the US called Black Desert Online. It's fun enough. Some of my friends love it, although the gameplay isn't exactly my thing. Here's the advantage the game does have.

It has a rich AFK life. And trade empires. Trade empires that require a rich AFK life.

AFK stand for Away From Keyboard.

The most profitable thing I can do, right now in the game, it actively sleeping in a bed for an hour and a half to build up energy I can convert into cash through hard bargaining. But that's not all. There are trade routes that take 20 minutes or more to run, with a minute or two of buying and selling at either end. You can AFK fish and make solid money.

The last three and a half months almost killed me because I was working 80 hours or more a week. I had no recreation. Black Desert is a game where during a four-hour writing session, I could utilize all four hours in the game with only about fifteen minutes of real attention. My plan is to build my trade empire in that game over this next week or so to the point where, when I have to start drafting again in May and my time just goes away, I'll still feel like I'm playing a game. I'll still be working 80 hours a week. I'll just be playing 30 hours at the same time. Not actively playing, but I think I can trick my brain into thinking that's really goofing off.

And so much of the productivity in our lives is just hacking our brains into doing our bidding, isn't it?

That's my plan, at any rate. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Hardcore Henry

My good friend Howard Tayler asked me to review Hardcore Henry for him, so this will be a crosspost between robertjdefendi.com, schlockmercenary.com, and curiosityquills.com. I'll break it into two sections, the review and an analysis from a more writerly standpoint. The analysis will likely have more spoilers but just a few. Read the sections that are right for you.

The Review

Hardcore Henry is, without out doubt, the most terrible movie I've ever loved without reservation. It's fast-paced. It's a riot. It is a popcorn movie in it's purest sense. Unless you see it in D-Box like I did, and then the seats will fling your popcorn onto the row in front of you. So be warned.

Hardcore Henry is, in essence, the twitch.tv stream of the virtual reality first person shooter that's coming out in ten years or so. Told from the point of view of Henry, a mute protagonist who is brutally murdered during the opening credits (and I mean brutally), the movie begins with the cybernetic rebuilding of his body, the introduction of his wife, the attack of the antagonist, and a blast into the non-stop action of the film. This is a movie where every punch it literal blow to the camera and every stunt is entirely from the point of view of the stuntman. It takes the criticisms of "shaky cam" movies (which I generally hate), embraces them and takes them out to dinnerand dancing. It owns every glorious flaw.

And there are flaws. My my God, are their flaws. From interviews I've heard with Sharlto Copley (Powers, District 9), they embraced these flaws. If these interviews are correct, Copley saved this movie, because the filmmakers wanted to make a serious film, and Copley seemed to understand that if they tried to make a serious film, what they got would be terrible, but if terrible was their goal, then what they got might just be genius. So this movie embraces its warts. The villain is hackneyed and terrible and has inexplicable powers (because technology!). The conceit that explains Copley's character is more the pretense of an explanation than an explanation itself, and the climax involves a solution that seems to be making fun of action movies, video games, and Legolas all at the same time.

And here we come to the caveat of the film. This was, for me, the second funniest movie of the year. I rarely laugh out loud at a film and I burst out laughing at least four or five times during Henry. However about half the jokes are totally straight plays of action tropes. The other half are video game tropes. If you don't get into either of these, you will lose at least half the humor. If it's video games you aren't into, it's probably more than half (the movie literally has a silent protagonist and at one points goes into full tooltip-style quest tutorial).

If these facts sound appealing to you, you will likely love this movie. If you didn't understand half of that last paragraph, you might want to skip it. It aims at a certain few groups of viewers with a laser focus. It ignores the rest, and that's okay. It's pretty clear from the trailer that this movie knows what it is and makes no qualms about it.

But if you get motion sick, maybe watch it from the back half of the theater. Or take motion sickness pills before you go.

The Analysis

The genius of this film it's a paradoxical two-fold stance. Most movies that approach this level of absurdity feel like they need to wink at the audience and prove that we are all in on the joke. Hardcore Henry embraces this absurdity, but it never wavers in its viewpoint. It never blinks. It play its tropes with a perfect poke face, and if I can mix metaphors, doubles down. Its rare you see a film display this amount of courage. It knows what it is, and it never blinks. It plays the entire thing entirely straight.

The first time I laughed out loud, Henry was trying to escape in underground tunnels, a subway I believe. He darts down a side tunnel only to see it filled with cops, looking for him. He turns and runs down another tunnel, and for the briefest moment you see not one, but two...two...women pushing baby carriages, blocking the way. Two. I burst out laughing at the movie's own self aware ridiculous moment, but what won me in the scene is that the camera barely registers the two mothers. Henry takes them in and immediately Jackie Chan's his way up the wall. I'm not sure if I was the only person laughing because I was the only person who got the joke, or if I was the only person who saw the joke. I really wonder how much I missed. That other viewers got.

Technically, this movie is very challenging. It is not natural for a stunt man to do the things he has to do in this movie as Henry. A stuntman enters a zen state to do his work. In one scene, a scene pointed out by Copley in interviews, the stuntman playing Henry doesn't just get set on fire and have to hit his mark. He has to be set on fire. Then jump through a window. Then hit his mark. Then catch the appropriate images on camera on the other side. Then perfectly time turning back to catch the other two stuntmen also on fire. The stuntman part is probably old hat. The cameraman stuff is probably pretty old hat too. But doing them both at the same time? It's like trying to chew and cry on camera, two mechanically exclusive actions that can happen naturally but are very difficult to manufacture at the same time.

And as for the special effects, I'm sure there's some CGI cable replacement and non-stunt CGI, but the stunts themselves are spot on and live, and there's a visceral power to knowing that you're seeing what the man himself sees. The moment in the trailer where he drops a grenade in a van, speeding down the road, and the van explodes, hurling him into the air, and he lands perfectly on the back of a motorcycle? There's no CGI in that. No cuts. That scene was filmed live and presented as is. They used a crane, sure, but how hard is that shot even with a crane? I can't imagine getting it in just a few takes, and this movie was too low budget to afford a lot of tries. And that is mentioning all the stuff that's just improved. "Hey, you think we can shoot a running chase scene right up the girders of that bridge?"

Usually I analyze plot and character. This movie has no plot and character. The plot and character are so bad that this almost has to be intentional. The villain's final monologue is only one step above, "Evil plan, evil plan, this is my evil plan, mwah ha ha ha ha ha!" And it's only that so they could play it straight. The movie hits a bare minimum of plot points and twists and then it moves on. It doesn't pretend you're there for anything else.

Hardcore Henry is a prime example of knowing your goals, making your promises, and then fulfilling them with the deftest hand you can manage.

And I can't believe I'm saying this, but it succeeds.

Decompressing

In the middle of January, Wizards of the Coast released an OGL for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. Being a man with a game company that has products waiting to go the 5th edition, I dropped everything. I had one of the products mostly done, so we went into full on panic mode.

Here is a small list of the things that came due between then and now:

I agreed to help with some editorial work on the Planet Mercenary RPG.

My story for Redneck Eldritch came due. I might have written it in that period too.

A long novelette for another, unannounced anthology needed to be drafted. I definitely wrote that one in there.

It came time to draft the sequel to DbC.

I promised a map to my good friend Amber Argyle (I do all her cartography).

Various edits came back on various stories.

Two conventions came and went.

I needed to keep up on this blog.

I needed to stat the fifth adventure in my Echoes of Heaven setting to 5th edition for playtest.

There are probably several huge items I missed. The entire period, I thought I had about a month of work left, but as I'd finish one item, I'd realize the dealing on another would come up behind it.

The offshoot is I've been working 16 hour days for three months straight. So this week I played XCOM 2, which I preordered, but hadn't been able to play. Next, I'm going to play another game, until the end of April. Then DbC 2 will be due, and I'll need to do a third draft.

So. There it is. I'm keeping this short. My brain is a bit like pudding.

And, uh, down with Wymore! Or something.

Fan X 2016

Salt Lake City Comic Con 2016 is over. It was a blast. I was in about seven panels. Three of them were giant Star Wars extravaganzas. The green room was friendly and welcoming. I enjoyed myself. I really did.

I've written about the green room before, about how my favorite moments of most cons are in the green room, with my fellow writers, swapping stories and just being with people who have the same shared experiences. This con was no different.

I ate lunch with Larry Correia, Robison Wells, Tracy Hickman and Claudia Gray. Secured my cover quote for Death by Cliché from Larry. Hung out with a lot of fellow podcasters. Listened to Howard Tayler and Kevin J Anderson have a casual conversation that turned out to be a master's class in business.

I did it all with a certain melancholy joy. You see, it was my last scheduled con before my book release. My last chance to hang out in the green room without worrying about whether I should be on the floor, selling books. In a way, it was like a bachelor party. But without the strippers. Wymore wasn't there.

The last hurrah of freedom before responsibilities kick in.

It was perfect. It was special. I will cherish it always.

It was too soon. I've just signed up for World Horror.

 

Your First Published Novel: Part 15

This week I discovered that I have deeply and emotionally scarred Wymore, changing the entire course of  his career. I don't have the heart to mock him anymore. You're a special snowflake, Wymore. You really are.

I just got out of Salt Lake Comic Con FanX, and I feel like I have a post in me about that. But not this week. My thoughts haven't jelled yet. They'll probably firm up at about the same rate as the bones in my feet. So maybe next week.

So what I will talk about was how FanX plays into the release of Death by Cliché. I actually did very little of what you'd probably expect. In the seven panels I was on, I only once mentioned the book, because on that one panel, it seemed particularly relevant (it was a storytelling in RPGs panel and I was establishing my bona fides.)

Otherwise, I mainly just spoke of it when asked. Here's my thinking: nothing I do to push the BOOK can do anything but backfire two months out. No one who isn't already following me is going to remember the book in two months. Unless I push it too hard and leave a bad taste in their mouths.

So what I did instead was just sell myself as a product. I've picked up five or six new followers. Hopefully, they will convert to sales. If not, at least I didn't turn anyone off.

In the green room, I got a lot more done. I nailed down Larry Correia on getting me a cover quote. Hopefully, that will be coming in tonight. Larry is a good friend. I didn't hard sell him. Most of the time we spent reminiscing, trying to remember where and when we first met. Unable to. It just feels like we've known each other forever. That's the kind of relationships I try to form at these conventions. The kind that feel timeless.

I caught Kerry Jackson from the Geekshow podcast. Asked him if they did author interviews (I listen to a LOT of podcasts and I can't always remember who does what kind of content.) He said they did, so we agreed to get in touch to schedule an appearance.

I also got in touch with the Big Shiny Robot guys. They too do author interviews. They too thought I should be on the podcast. They gave me some advice on the length of my audio samples I hadn't thought of as well (having a small sample they can fold into an interview so that the listener doesn't just delete it.) It's that kind of practical advice that's invaluable.

There's one podcast I've asked the marketing team to set up. Other than that, these two were the last big gets on my podcast tour.

So that's it. It's been a good con. Next week, I should have my thoughts in order on FanX in general.

Until then.

Fan X

Greetings!

This weekend I'll be speaking at Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Experience. You can see the address in the sidebar. Here's my schedule.

Thursday March 24th
1:00 pm Who is Kylo Ren?
5:00 pm Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Post-Mortem

Friday March 25th
1:00 pm Looking Ahead to Star Wars Episode VIII and IX
2:00 pm One Season Wonders: Gone Too Soon

Saturday March 26th
12:00 pm All Things Tolkien
7:00 pm Supergirl: The Panel

Your First Audiobook Part 5

Two weeks ago, JM Bell, the head of Defenestrate Media studios, presented me with a list of pickups to do for the Death by Cliche audiobook. I called off my normal Saturday night plans so I could get to the studio by 9:30. We record the Hold 322 Podcast at 11:30 these days, and I wanted to give us some room for everything to go wrong. Recording had been cancelled just the week before due to an adobe update of the studio computers.

I got there and we fumbled through more computer configuration problems until a little after 10. Then we discovered that we'd already rerecorded the first chapter. If I'd reviewed part 4 of this series before driving, I probably would have remembered that.

We fixed the credits readings and rerecorded a chapter. I think we did a pickup on another section or two. Then we were done.

Done.

That should be the last real work I do on Death by Cliche until release. Bell still has some final work to do. Assuming Audible answers his last support question on formatting in a timely manner, I should start getting the files Wednesday night.

I don't know how I feel about this. It's something of a relief to be done, but a little sad too. I've been working on this project hard for so many months now. It's like standing in an empty house as you're done loading the moving van, going from room to room. Turning out the lights.

If I didn't need to draft all of Death by Cliche 2 in about ten days, I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

Next week is FanX. Semi-coherent post-Comic-Con notes will probably begin next Sunday.