On the Books: Characterization

Which qualities define a strong character? How can writers make their characters well-rounded? Join me and author Justin Knight as we discuss characterization on the latest episode of Geek Gab: On the Books.

Ethics disclosure: Justin has hired me to edit his upcoming novel.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier



The Last Jedi Will Ruin Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker - Star Wars Holiday Special

Mark Hamill's nerd bona fides need no elaboration. He might be the only one left who's competent to write a Star Wars movie. You doubt me? Check out what he said about the debacle that was Episode VII's climax:
Hamill has a lot of thoughts on how Luke might have been reintroduced differently in The Force Awakens. He could have come in during Han Solo’s climactic scene with Kylo Ren, receiving some sort of Force-telepathy distress call from his sister, General Leia, but arriving too late to save Han from death. Or, perhaps, he might have materialized in the snowy forest of Starkiller Base, where Rey duels with Kylo. On his first read-through of the script, Hamill recalled, he got excited when the legendary lightsaber wiggled portentously in the snow. “The moment in the forest, when the saber rattles?” he said. “I go, ‘Oh, baby, here I come!’ And then it flies into her hands? I said, What the hell, she hasn’t even trained!”
In another interview, Hamill elaborated:
“Now, remember, one of the plots in the earlier films was the telepathic communication between my sister and me,” Hamill said. “So I thought, Carrie will sense that Han is in danger and try to contact me. And she won’t succeed, and, in frustration, she’ll go herself. Then we’re in the situation where all three of us are together, which is one of my favorite things in the original film, when we were on the Death Star. It’s just got a fun dynamic to it. So I thought it would have been more effective, and I still feel this way, though it’s just my opinion, that Leia would make it as far as she can, and, right when she is apprehended, maybe even facing death—Ba-boom! I come in and blow the guy away and the two of us go to where Han is facing off with his son, but we’re too late. The reason that’s important is that we witness his death, which carries enormous personal resonance into the next picture. As it is, Chewie’s there, and how much can you get out of [passable Chewbacca wail] ‘Nyaaarghhh!’ and two people who have known Han for, what, 20 minutes?”
He is absolutely right. the relationship between Han, Luke, and Leia is the emotional core of the original Star Wars trilogy. The fact that we never get to see all three iconic characters on screen together was an unforced error that's emblematic of TFA's wretched screenwriting.

Since we've established that Hamill knows Star Wars better than the hacks entrusted with the franchise's future, read his reaction to the script for Episode VIII and despair!
Likewise, after reading Rian Johnson’s script for The Last Jedi, Hamill said, “I at one point had to say to Rian, ‘I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character.'"
I didn't see Rogue One in the theater. I don't plan to see The Last Jedi at all. I'll probably read some reviews, though, because it'll be interesting to find out if the rumored Gray Jedi BS devolves the series into full-blown moral relativism.

This stunning space opera carries you all over the known universe - and outside of it.
-Author Russell Newquist


Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

For our 100th episode, Geek Gab reviews the latest entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The verdict may surprise you.

Take a listen!

And don't miss the next episode of Geek Gab: On the Books. I'll be discussing characterization with author Justin Knight. Be there this Wednesday, May 31st at 3:30 PM Eastern.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier



Remember the Mall?

Empty Mall

It's surprisingly difficult to explain to people born after the 1980s just how central the local shopping mall was to a community's social and economic life. I remember when social conservatives would lament that nobody went to church anymore, and that malls were the new, secular temples.

Now people still don't go to church, and the malls are just as empty.

As of this writing, the local street gangs are engaged in a turf war to decide who will control the new bowling alley that's going into mall retail space once occupied by a major name brand anchor store. This is serious business. There have been shootings over it.

My hometown mall was one of the largest in the Midwest outside of Chicago when it opened in the 1970s. As kids growing up in the 80s, that meant my friends and I were kind of spoiled. We got two bookstores, two record stores, a two-story pizza place, and an arcade that remained a major social hub until the early 2000s.

That's all gone now. Anything that didn't cater to bored housewives, vapid teenage girls, or stoners disappeared ten years ago. Borders bought out the last bookstore, closed it down, and then went out of business themselves. Best Buy did the same to the video store. They're not dead yet, but online retailers are steadily driving them to the same fate that the big box stores inflicted on the mom & pop outfits.

It might surprise you that young men used to go to malls. They've since been driven out, just like they've been driven from pretty much every public establishment and institution. As is the case with churches, men's clubs, and universities, young men have strategically redeployed to their homes and the internet. Predictably, World of Warcraft and XBox Live finally did for the arcade.

I used to make solo outings to the mall on Saturday afternoons starting in junior high. The odds of running into not just one, but several, friends were good. This trend increased through high school and beyond. The mall wasn't just a place to blow money on SNES carts and comic books. It's where many of us got our first jobs and even worked our way through college, back when you could still do that short of cooking meth. One friend had jobs at so many mall establishments that we took to calling him "Visa".

In the economic as in the social sphere, mall activity revolved around the arcade. Nearly everyone I knew did a tour of duty there. Almost getting electrocuted while working on the World Heroes machine was a local rite of passage.

I never worked there. Instead I manned a large kiosk that sold Christian-themed figurines. The cordless phone's signal was strong enough to receive calls at the arcade, so on occasion I'd head down there with the handset and assure the owners that I was at my post when one of the snitches at the stores near the kiosk informed on me. I'd often be scheduled from open to close on weekends and would connect one of my vintage game consoles to the 13" CRT TV behind the counter to help pass the time.

Was the shopping mall a vulgar monument to crass consumerism? Sure. But it carried on something of the community socialization that goes back to the Roman forum. Now shopping is a solitary affair conducted via smartphone. Video games are likewise played alone or with Korean strangers. As Americans become ever more atomized and isolated, we drift further not just from contact with the transcendent, but from contact with the community as well.

The book reminded me something that I could see Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle writing.


Amazon Terrifies the Big 5

A friend alerted me to an article published by Vox.com which purports to show that Amazon is an evil monopoly bent on destroying the publishing industry.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and not just because it's rife with the usual Amazon zombie memes. Here, Vox.com take their butthurt over the fact that their legacy publisher pals are terminal losers to new depths of bizarro world delusion by insinuating that the used book market is tantamount to piracy:
It used to be that when you were shopping for a new copy of a book and clicked “Add to Cart,” you were buying the book from Amazon itself. Amazon, in turn, had bought the book from its publisher or its publisher’s wholesalers, just like if you went to any other bookstore selling new copies of books. There was a clear supply chain that sent your money directly into the pockets of the people who wrote and published the book you were buying.
But now, reports the Huffington Post, that’s no longer the default scenario. Now you might be buying the book from Amazon, or you might be buying it from a third-party seller. And there’s no guarantee that if the latter is true, said third-party seller bought the book from the publisher. In fact, it’s most likely they didn’t.
Which means the publisher might not be getting paid. And, by extension, neither is the author.
If a retailer is selling books produced by a publisher without first buying those books from said publisher, then those books are either a) used, b) pirated, or c) counterfeit. Amazon's policy states that the buy box can only link to retailers that are selling new books, so that leaves options b or c. In which case, the retailers are breaking the law.

But the point of the article is to cast large subsidiaries of multi-billion dollar conglomerates as persecuted victims instead of feckless losers. Therefore, Vox.com can't cry piracy because that would imply a responsibility on the publishers' part to safeguard their authors' interests.

How, then, does Vox.com explain the baffling appearance of these publishers' new books in third party retailers' inventories while also ruling out piracy? Simple. They do a bit of hand-waving to the effect of saying that "they don't seem to have bought their books from publishers" and link to The Huffingtong Post:
Third-party sellers may have obtained the books they sell in any number of ways. They might be a used bookstore that buys stock back from consumers at a cheap cost. They might troll book bins where people recycle books. They might have relationships with distributors and wholesalers where they buy “hurts” (often good enough quality to be considered “new condition”) at a super low cost. They might have connections to reviewers who get more books than they can handle who are looking to offload. And this goes on and on.
The last time I saw that many weasel words was in an MRK rant. To translate from the demagogue, they don't know. Note to Huffpo: "And this goes on and on" is not a data point.

What Vox.com and Puffho are studiously overlooking here is the minor detail that, if any of these speculative scenarios are true, all of the books ultimately came from the publisher. The most risible theory is that unscrupulous reviewers are able to sell ARCs because review copies aren't marked "not for resale". Apparently, protecting their copyrights isn't worth the expense of a ten dollar rubber stamp.

Vox.com then rehashes the "Amazon's low prices are driving down the value of books!" zombie meme:
This policy is part of Amazon’s ongoing, years-long quest to drive down the price of books. If Amazon succeeds, fewer people will be able to make their living as writers. That means fewer and worse books will make it to the marketplace.
Amazon routinely takes a loss on its book sales, often charging customers less per book than it pays publishers and swallowing the difference. It’s a priority for the company to be your preferred bookseller, even if it has to take a hit; its business model can accommodate the loss, because it generally makes up the extra dollars on the last-minute impulse buys customers toss into their shopping carts. Meanwhile, on the e-book side of things, Amazon’s low prices help drive sales of its Kindle. But that also means it has set certain customer expectations: Many Amazon customers now believe that books should be cheap — cheaper to buy than they are to make.
It is already punishingly rare for writers to make a living wage from their books. As Amazon drives down the cost of books, it will become ever more rare. That means fewer people will be able to invest the time and effort it takes into becoming a writer, which means a lot of talented writers — especially working-class writers and writers of color — will go unheard. All of which means that you, the reader, will be missing out on some excellent potential books.
The value of commodities like books is subjective. If enough customers believe that a book should be a certain price, then guess what? That's how much a market-facing retailer should charge for it. They cover that in econ 101, but it looks like Vox.com was sick that day.

Amazon is the biggest bookseller int he world. They have more and better market data than anyone else in the business. Their pricing practices aren't arbitrary. They're what the market wants. If the Big Five publishers weren't ossified incompetents, they'd find ways to reduce costs so as to enable more competitive pricing by, say, moving out of their astronomically expensive Manhattan offices.

But the most egregious deception in the whole piece is the glib assertion that lower prices will lead to fewer authors making a living from writing. This is not only illogical--stores run sales to increase revenue--it's contradicted by hard data.

Author Earnings - $50k

As the Author Earnings chart shows, authors who self-publish on Amazon are far more likely to earn a living wage from their writing than authors who publish with the Big Five. Not only that, tradpub's $50k per year earners are mostly name authors who've been in print for the better part of a century. The leftmost blue bar is especially impressive when you consider that self-publishing has only been viable for about a decade.

Thanks almost entirely to Amazon, more books are being published each year than ever before, and more authors are making a living with their writing than at any time in human history.

To dispense with the "low prices are bad" canard, the folks inhabiting those big blue bars are pricing their eBooks within Amazon's suggested $2.99-$9.99 range. It was the Big Five who badgered Amazon to move from wholesale pricing to an agency model where the publishers got to set the prices of their books.

The New York cabal promptly jacked up the prices of their digital versions to paperback or even hardcover heights. Now they're whining because reader-centric indie authors are murdering them in the marketplace. And you've got to love the "poor people and minorities hardest hit!" zinger at the end.

Vox.com missed the real story here, which is that Amazon, for all its faults, is at least market-facing. Meanwhile, the big New York publishers are hapless dinosaurs who go crying to their fellow travelers in the fake news media whenever the laws of economics fail to bow to their paper distribution monopoly.

UPDATE: Author and publisher Russell Newquist weighs in on Vox.com's wankery from a business perspective. Here are some choice excerpts:
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
Like most big corporations, Amazon engages in a primary business and a few dozen complementary businesses.
Ms. Grady’s post shows that she seems to have some understanding of these concepts. But she’s gotten it all backwards. Amazon’s loss leader isn’t books. Books (and, these days, other digital content such as movies and television) is Amazon’s primary business. Amazon may, indeed, occasionally take a loss on specific books. It most definitely does not do that on a general basis with books. Pay attention: Amazon sells more ebooks than print books, and has since 2011. EBooks tend to sell for less money. But because it spends less on distribution and storage costs, Amazon makes a lot more profit off of them. The same is true of streaming music and movies. Amazon has focused on the primary business of delivering digital goods for years now.
Amazon selling books through third party distributors isn’t a big deal for indie publishers or self published authors. As Brian notes, there’s no way for a third party distributor to get our books in the first place except through us – unless they’re engaging in practices that are already both illegal and against Amazon’s terms of service. This is just one more way for Amazon to sell more of our books. Ultimately, that’s a good thing.

Related: I happen to have a well-received series of reasonably priced books available on Amazon.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle



How to Write Action

Honor at Stake - Declan Finn

How much action is enough? Is character important to fun, engaging action? Is Dan Brown any good at writing action scenes?

Find out on the latest episode of On the Books with Declan Finn, author of the Love at First Bite series.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle
Action flows quickly and keeps the reader on edge. At one point, I was at 30% read on my Kindle. By 5:00 PM that same day, I had finished the remaining 70%. I was so engrossed I could not put it down.


Newquist on The Secret Kings

Brian Niemeier - The Secret Kings

Author Russell Newquist reviews Soul Cycle Book III: The Secret Kings.
I need to begin this review by offering my friend Brian Niemeier a sincere apology. I promised him this review a long time ago. [Full disclosure: I received a review copy free of charge.] In my defense: The Secret Kings is the first non-Silver Empire fiction book that I’ve read in 2017. Yes – that’s for the last five months. Thankfully, I’ve had some time to catch up a bit. I’m I lucky, I might clear my backlog before Monster Hunter Siege comes out.
I should have made The Secret Kings a bigger priority, and not just because I promised Brian. This is a heck of a read. The story is crazy – and I mean that in the best possible way. Old friends return – beaten, battered, and bruised, and then thrown into the fire one more time. This tale will take you from one end of the galaxy to another – and it revisits the premise that started the series. Once more, the space pirates return to hell. Only this time everything is different, and the stakes are even higher.
This stunning space opera carries you all over the known universe – and outside of it. The intriguing characters will stick in your thoughts long after you’ve finished the book, leaving you thirsty for more. Furthermore, this book ties together books one and two a bit more clearly, pulling the whole thing into a cohesive whole.
If you loved Nethereal and Souldancer, you’ll love the latest five out of five star entry in the series. And if you didn’t, you should check them out now.
I thank Russell for his glowing review and heartily second his recommendation.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

Get Who's Afraid of the Dark by Russell Newquist for $0.99 or free through Kindle Unlimited here.




The Last Megastars

Michael Jackson

Reader Michael Gross chimes in on my post about the tragic death of Chris Cornell with comments on the music industry that are so incisive, they merit his own guest post:
Music started to worsen in the 90s as the music industry sabotaged itself (so to speak) as sales declined and it was blamed on "taping." Bono correctly called out the real reason: crap music. Grunge was a fad, but it did succeed in blowing pretentiousness out of the water... until the champions of grunge also became pretentious.
It's a strange thing when someone like Tom Petty, in "The Last DJ," nails the situation that mass marketing has caused to music. You have ageist radio and marketing people blocking good music from older acts (why hasn't Pet Shop Boys' fantastic album, "Super," been played all over the place since its release 13 months ago?) in the name of shielding inferior acts from competition on the airwaves. Lame.
RIP, Chris Cornell. I put together a Google Play playlist today in your honor. I'm finding it weird how many albums you and Scott Weiland guested on -- separate but together, just like your grunge days' classification and radio play.
Here is Michael's playlist in honor of Chris Cornell. If you're in the mood for several hours of good music, free; consider checking it out.

On the topic at hand, I'm with Bono. Although in light of U2's work over the last decade, his remark does come close to the pot calling the kettle black.

Michael adds:
I think the record companies are reticent to put money into A&R and/or scouting the way that they did before. How else to explain YouTube folks getting record deals instead of garage or club artists? It's about saving money on the front end as they're losing money to the digital age. It's been recouped by convincing younger listeners that digital music is better than LPs, CDs, or cassettes, but that's my theory. Of course, ratings bonanzas like The Voice and American Idol help them find talent while raking in advertisement money from TV.
My good alternatives are found on indie labels, although most are older bands. The 77s, The Choir, The Lost Dogs, Michael Roe, Kerosene Halo, The Swirling Eddies, Daniel Amos, Terry Scott Taylor, and Steve Taylor are all intertwined and most of the bands have common members, but are my go-to "not mainstream" bands. Problem is, they're too religious (Christian) for the mainstream and not safe enough for the Christian labels because they dare ask questions rather than just write platitudes as lyrics. So, most of them release new records via crowdfunding now.
The pioneers of this era in music are virtually DOA -- or maybe we have lost creativity because artists are too busy "trying to say something."
Message fic rears its ugly head again; this time in the record industry.

Only four rock/pop acts have managed to reach the pinnacle of popularity and stay there: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Metallica, and U2. These are the last megastars. All of them rose to prominence in the 80s. One is now dead. The self-sabotaging structure of the record industry ensures that no one is coming up to replace them.

Incidentally, if you're interested in science fiction that puts fun before message, it just so happens that I've written a few books in that vein.



RIP Chris Cornell

Moments like these really drive home the fact that the music of your youth isn't just in the past. It's dead. Sure, some of the big acts from back in the day are still touring and recording. But the music industry has long since moved on from the days when record companies were tripping over themselves to sign earnest Seattle garage bands.

We laughed at the industry's brazen trend-chasing at the time. At least we got some good music out of it. If you'd told us that in 20 years it would be wall-to-wall Auto-Tuned Disney alumni, we might have saved the cynical laughter for when it was truly merited.

I never got the chance to see Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, or Audioslave perform. My favorite Chris Cornell song wasn't recorded with any of those bands, anyway.

Rest in peace, Chris Cornell: another casualty of an age that's making war on art.


How to Write Nonhuman Characters

Yakov Merkin - A Greater Duty

How should writers approach designing nonhuman species? What is the best way to write nonhuman characters so that they will be three-dimensional individuals while still being alien?

Yakov Merkin, author of the new epic sci-fi novel A Greater Duty joined me on Geek Gab: On the Books to share his thoughts on this vital yet woefully under-discussed topic.

Listen in!

Also, check out Yakov's viral post on the subject.

And since this is Space Opera Week, there's no better time to pick up my award-winning, genre-bending Soul Cycle series.
Imagine if Abraham Merritt read Galactic Patrol and said "Pshaw! I can do that!" then while writing his space opera he read Dune and watched some classic anime and decided to throw those in too.
-Author JD Cowan


Rolling Funnels into Buckets

Publishing consultant Michael Shatzkin notes that literary agents and big publishers aren't doing enough to help authors develop their digital platforms.
A major difference between book publishing today and book publishing 25 years ago is the practical power of the author brand in marketing. Multi-book authors can not only build their own followings in ways that can be usefully exploited, they now have an unprecedented capability to help each other.
Of course, they can do that best if they’re “organized” in some way. But both of the most obvious potential organizers who deal with many authors — the publishers and the agents — have commercial and structural impediments to being as helpful as they could be, or as authors need them to be, at either of the new needs: helping authors be better marketers of themselves or getting them to act in a coordinated way to help each other.
Building an individual author’s digital marketing footprint is an important component of career development. And, in fact, the foundation of the author’s “brand” footprint has strong influence on the success of the title marketing publishers would see as their principal objective.
But the publisher has a book-by-book relationship, not an assured ongoing relationship, with authors so investing for a longer-term gain is not structurally encouraged. And agents live with pretty strict ethics rules limiting their compensation to a share of the author contracts they negotiate, so they also have a structural impediment against investing money and time in the author’s general welfare beyond getting the best possible deal they can for every book they represent.
Big publishers have another impediment to helping authors exchange platform-building ideas. As Shatzkin explains in the same post, big New York publishers fear authors cooperating to pursue their best interests much like big business feared the introduction of labor unions.
Once they are capable at a basic level, being organized into mutually supportive groups, where they use their audience reach to help each other, is an idea that makes sense for authors. No author can “monopolize” a reader’s time. Most authors struggle to write as much as one book a year. Most of their readers need lots of authors to feed their reading habit. So even the most directly “competitive” authors can happily “share” their audiences. And readers would inherently “trust” a reading recommendation from an author they like.
But organizing authors to help each other in this way is also touchy for both agents and publishers. For agents, there are two obvious problems. One is that the best marketing partners for any particular author might be represented by a different agency. That makes things complicated. But the other is that the agent’s “job” is to get an author deals. Getting authors engaged in a perhaps-complex marketing consortium requires another level of understanding and persuasion that agents could rightly see as a distraction to what pays the bills: developing proposals and getting offers from publishers. From a publisher’s perspective, organizing the house’s writers and having them communicate directly is a bit like asking big-company management to organize the union. There might be good arguments to do it but for many it would provoke a visceral negative reaction.
Shatzkin is right that authors can't monopolize readers. For one thing, novels aren't really bound volumes made from wood pulp or even strings of ones and zeroes. They're made of intangible ideas. The laws of supply and demand don't apply.

But "Most authors struggle to write as much as one book a year"? No. Most Big Five publishing contracts limit authors to writing one book per year. Shatzkin should get wise to what writers can do when the shackles are off and they're free to write at pulp speed!

What is Shatzkin's solution to the (traditionally published) author's digital brand-building dilemma? It just so happens that he's founded a company to address that concern. Here's their pitch:
What OptiQly does is unique and McCarthy explained it. “We are looking at ecommerce product detail pages and funnel signals that indicate what is happening in relation to those pages. And we’re scoring that funnel against dozens of signals and rolling them into meaningful buckets of insights and activities. What is unique is what we score — the title and author. It will undoubtedly remind people of other SaaS tools that employ “scores”. In fact it already has! After all, it is SaaS with scoring. But that scoring is aimed at the things that matter to authors, agents, publishers, and others in the industry.”

Rolling funnels into meaningful buckets of insights and activities. Next-level concepts like this are why traditional publishing experts will remain employed and relevant long after the flash in the pan indie publishing fad has gone the way of the passenger pigeon.
In addition, publishers went through a scary period a few years ago (with the fear from that time at least temporarily in abeyance) when it seemed that digital-first publishing would give big authors the capability to reach their audiences and make their money without a publisher’s help.
It might be hard for you kids to remember back that far, but the scare that Shatzkin is talking about really did happen. For a minute there, it looked like there might've been a slim chance that trad publishing would go into decline as indie authors ate their lunch.

Lucky for them, the Big Five's notorious flexibility and awareness of the zeitgeist helped them find the solution: badger Amazon to let big publishers charge prohibitively high prices for eBooks; then misreport the dropoff in their own digital sales as a slowing of the eBook market as a whole.

Of course it's ridiculous to even consider that big authors might be able to reach audiences on their own. It's not as if guys like Nick Cole can walk away from, say, Harper Collins and earn vastly more going indie.

The Big Five want to protect their dying paper monopoly. They don't want to help authors build their digital platforms because they are inextricably invested in analog, and they don't want authors talking to each other because then authors would find out a) how draconian most of their book deals are and b) how much more their publishing house's anointed darlings get in money, contractual leeway, and marketing support.

Indie publishing is no cakewalk, though. Not only do indie authors have to write books (and many more than one per year), we take on all the responsibilities of a publisher. Our success relies on building relationships with our readers, and we absolutely cannot survive without you.

So, thanks for reading. If you like the content here, please check out my highly praised, award-winning, and self-published Soul Cycle series. Already read the books? Consider leaving a review on Amazon. It's impossible to overstate how vital honest reviews are to an author's success.

Happy Space Opera Week!

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle



Violence. Action. Conflict.

It's that time again. Not that pointing out contemporary film makers' unforced errors ever gets old.

This week, Daddy Warpig reviews Guy Ritchie's new King Arthur/gangster mashup film. Then I join my co-hosts in lamenting TV and movies' obsession with Refusing the Call and their bad habit of conflating violence, action, and conflict.

Is King Arthur any good? At least one of your stalwart Geek Gab hosts may surprise you with his answer. Find out here!

Bonus tip: violence is a sudden, destructive event without character or stakes. Action is violence plus character. Conflict is action plus stakes. We explain more in the episode.

Bonus 2: mark your calendars for Wednesday, May 17th at 4:00 PM Eastern, when I will be discussing nonhuman characters with author Yakov Merkin on Geek Gab: On the Books!

Space pirates in hell. Demons, space battles and plenty of well paced action.


Writing to Reflect

Funhouse Mirror

In the comments to my post about the decline of American comics, JD Cowan weighs in on the two-headed snake of message fic and postmodernism that is poisoning pop culture.
Postmodernism is a labyrinth of fun-house mirrors. No matter where you look, you see yourself distorted and in the center of it all. It's all about how special you are. 
It's the same issue with message fic. It's not about the story, the ideas, or the characters, but about what the very special message is. It's no longer about the audience at that point.
It might be an issue of creating to connect versus creating to reflect.
Or I might be spewing nonsense because it's late. Who knows?
"Pop Will Eat Itself" really was the most prophetic band name ever. Modern pop culture is filled with remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and relaunches. Maybe if they would stop looking in a fun-house mirror all the time they might get a clue.
Authors work for the readers. Those who write to reflect their own ideology or false images of themselves inevitably end up in the same unenviable position as the declining Big Five publishers.

Ebook Market Share - Author Earnings

The lesson to authors, aspiring and established: write to connect; not to reflect.

Unlike the Morlocks who whisper to readers with forked tongues, I observably practice what I preach.



On the Books: Author Marketing

Dragon Award-winning author Nick Cole, author (and my Soul Cycle editor) L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, and Geek Gab host Daddy Warpig convene with me to discuss author marketing strategies on this star-studded episode of On the Books.

Do blog tours build buzz for a launch? Do podcasts sell books? Is a BOOK BOMB! the key to publishing success? Listen in and find out!

P.S. final edits to my upcoming book for Castalia House are coming along nicely. I fully expect to turn in the finished manuscript before the end of the month. Stay tuned!



Why Comics Stopped Trying


Under the able editorship of Jeffro Johnson, the Castalia House blog and the Google Plus account which he also curates have grown into an impressive meeting of the geek minds. Recently, the Supreme Nerd Intelligence deliberated the perennial topic of why American comics have lost their groove.

We open with Jeffro himself, who made the following comment on a G+ post about the SJW convergence of SFF:
If you want people to employ traditional virtues in service of civilization, they first have to be able to imagine them. Heroism and romance were suppressed specifically to make it easier to destroy a people. The poindexters hold loyalty in contempt and sneer at sacrifice. They think goodness is for chumps. And they have held the reigns of culture for decades.
A CH reader left this trenchant reply to Jeffro's comment:
This, right here, is why the iconic comic lines are dying. Captain America, and Superman, are at their best when they are demonstrating the best ideals that we, as Americans, can aspire to. Those ideas include standing up for liberty, dedication to family, discipline and hard work, and a basic “can do” world view pared with a cultural orneriness that drives one to individual achievement and self-sufficiency.
The current crop of comics writers simply can’t imagine this. They cannot imagine anything good or inspiring in America, projecting their own failures and insecurities and insufficiencies on the culture as a whole, without realizing that they should have been among those propping up such icons.
The largest icon, of course, in this trope is Jesus. They can’t imagine him either.
I’m not a Christian. But you have to be daft not to credit Christianity’s influence on Western culture and (frankly) dominance in the world.
But they can’t imagine that. Reason number two is because of their self-imposed lifting of hypocrisy as the “ultimate” sin. It is better to not have a code at all than to have one and fail to live up to it. This is reflected in the method by which they try and tear down icons – hell, they even said it in Spider-Man 1 (Toby MacGuire), “the thing people like best is to see a hero fall.” (Paraphrased). They cannot fathom that the (a) the purpose of a code, even an unreachable one, is to set a goal for all people to strive to achieve, and (b) that you can’t live up to it all the time is because we are flawed, fallen, and human. However, (c) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying.
As a people, a country, and a world, we’ve stopped trying.
It bears pointing out that the commenter has identified the bait and switch at the core of the Morlocks' moral nihilism, apparently without realizing it.

He's correct that many high priests in the entertainment industry death cult have cast off objective morals to avoid accusations of having committed the last remaining sin: hypocrisy.

What they miss, due to a (likely purposeful) corruption of language, is that hypocrisy is not striving to hit the mark and missing. It's arbitrarily setting one target for yourself and a different target for others.

Isn't it interesting how moving the goalposts like this enables SF SJWs to continually set up double standards while a priori absolving themselves of hypocrisy?

Back in Jeffro's G+ thread, Tomas Diaz sums up the case with a superbly Scholastic closing argument.
There's a dictum in Thomistic philosophy which goes, basically, that there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses. You can't know something unless you've first experienced something. You can extrapolate certain things, yes, but you need that primary experience to do so.
For the Thomist, the imagination is nothing but the internal senses. Stories, history, poetry are formative because they give to our imagination, the internal sense, what our intellect can then abstract. This is why, in the Catholic sphere, perhaps the most important of personal practices after prayer and reading of scripture is devotion to the Saints. These give to our imagination the model of being a Christian.
Science Fiction and Fantasy, at it's highest, are exactly this practice (minus, though not contrary to, religion proper). They give to our imagination those virtues and values which form us. The real danger in Hard-Bud Sci-fi is in diminishing the gift to the imagination of the properly humane values in favor of inspiring mathematical and technological "wonders".
This is one of the reasons I think the push against message-fic needs to be tempered. We don't want message-fic which is little more than warmed over didaction (looking at you Lewis) and especially not message-fic which is contrary to wholesome reality (looking at you, modern SF "literature"). But we do what messages in our fiction - messages that don't try to bash our heads with facts, but rather enflame our imaginations with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, the virtuous, the holy. This need not mean "sanitization" (looking at you, "Christian fiction"), but can include the darkness entailed in this difficult endeavor (but not the denial of it's worthwhileness, looking at you, Grimdark).
As the International Lord of Hate so aptly said, go ahead and put a message in your story, but put fun first!

It's the same guideline that I've committed myself to following in the Soul Cycle.





Less than three months after his #1 Amazon best seller Dangerous was cancelled by Simon & Schuster, free speech advocate Milo Yiannopoulos has announced a bold plan to hasten the demise of the Big Five publishers while building a new platform for authors who never would have made it past the ideological gatekeepers in New York.
Former Breitbart Senior Editor MILO has announced the founding of his new $12 million dollar media company, MILO, Inc.
In a Facebook post, MILO outlined his new business plan and the $12 million investment funding that it has received from undisclosed investors. He has reportedly hired a seasoned media executive to lead the new 30-person team that will be based out of Miami, Florida. The new company will manage MILO‘s books, tours, merchandise and radio and TV opportunities.
In a statement, MILO said, “This isn’t some vanity nameplate on a personal blog. This is a fully tooled-up talent factory and management company dedicated to the destruction of political correctness and the progressive left. I will spend every waking moment of the rest of my life making the lives of journalists, professors, politicians, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists and other professional victims a living hell. Free speech is back — and it is fabulous.”
Further details emerged at the recent Cinco de MILO event in Miami, where Yiannopoulos unveiled his vision for the new media company. MILO Inc. will not only publish Dangerous, which soared to the top of Amazon thanks to pre-orders, only to be pulled before launch; the company will seek out other conservative rabble-rousers who would otherwise have been ignored by the legacy media.

Skip to the 1 hour mark. And turn down the volume. The crowd is enthusiastic, to say the least.

My comment: MILO Inc. is awesome on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. At last, a top selling author has said "screw you" to the censorious New York publishing establishment by founding his own publishing house. Milo's increased sales and bigger profits will wreak sweet revenge against S&S while destroying the last shreds of their credibility.

Delightful twist of the knife: Milo is also suing S&S for $10 million. Yes, the Big Five publishers' contracts are fortified with ironclad boilerplate that lets them weasel out of contracts pretty much whenever they want. But unless they can prove that the content of Dangerous was somehow unsatisfactory--a hard line to sell, considering that it was available for, and going like Gangbusters in, pre-order--there's a chance that S&S could be found in breach of contract.

Even if S&S wins the lawsuit, the time and expense of litigation will compound their losses from the portion of Milo's advance they already paid and the massive sales they forfeited. There's also the entertainment value of the court proceedings themselves if Milo testifies.

Best of all in the long run, dissenting authors will have a major outlet for works that would never have passed muster with the PC police. The fact that this wouldn't have happened if the big NY publishers hadn't played their usual blacklisting games is icing on the cake.

I wish MILO Inc. all success, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see more high profile authors and media personalities ditching the Big Five for their own publishing initiatives.

Dangerous should be back on the market soon. Until then, you can whet your appetite with Milo's provocative foreword to the best selling science fiction anthology Forbidden Thoughts, which also includes a well-received short story by yours truly.

Milo Yiannopoulos - Forbidden Thoughts


Geeks of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

This week on Geek Gab, controversy breaks out among your humble hosts over the new Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. Is James Gunn's second MCU offering better than, inferior to, or about the same as his first space opera tour de force?

Listen in and find out!

Also, the premier episode of my new Geek Gab gaiden series On the Books is now available on SoundCloud thanks to Daddy Warpig!

I like to give my blog readers a little inside info for their loyalty, so it's my pleasure to announce that the next episode of OtB will feature authors Nick Cole: Dragon of the Apocalypse, and L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright--my esteemed editor. Bonus: special guest Daddy Warpig drops in from Geek Gab Prime to join the festivities.

The show airs live on YouTube this Wednesday, May 10th at 4:00 PM Eastern. We'll be discussing book promotion through blog and podcast tours. Plus, you can pose your questions to our expert panel of guests live in the chat. Don't miss it!

Last but not least, final edits to the first novel in my upcoming three book series with Castalia House are proceeding apace. Look for book 1 to be released in late June or early July. As always, keep an eye on this blog for more details as they become available.

Luckily, I've got plenty to keep you entertained until then.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle



On the Books


It's my sincere pleasure to announce the launch of Geek Gab's second spinoff series: On the Books.

Geek Gab listeners have been asking us to do episodes that are more focused on particular areas of interest. Instead of narrowing the scope of our flagship podcast, we've decided to do gaiden shows based on each host's specific expertise.

Dorrinal's tabletop RPG special was the first Geek Gab gaiden to branch off from the main show, and it was a rousing success by all accounts. For those listeners who've been clamoring to hear more about writing, you'll be pleased to know that I've followed Dorrinal's lead and produced a show of my own.

Remember back when Writing Excuses used to be good? When each of the three original hosts got enough time to develop an idea, and they dished out writing tips aimed at entertaining readers instead of appeasing editorial assistants with gender studies degrees?

Since forking converged institutions is all the rage with the kids these days, I figured the time was right to streamline and refocus a podcast format whose original purpose was to streamline and refocus other writing podcasts.

On the Books will bring you expert writing advice, discussion, and interviews without all the fluff and scope creep. Instead of setting a hard and fast fifteen minute time limit that risks arbitrarily curtailing informative discussion, my goal is to set up a flexible format with a base running time of ten minutes for a solo episode, plus five additional minutes per guest (in which case I get five minutes and give the bulk of the show to the guests).

The Google Hangouts format comes with a built-in advantage that Writing Excuses only managed when they recorded in front of an audience: the ability to take listener questions. As with Geek Gab, audience participation is highly encouraged.

Now that you know the setup, please enjoy On the Books episode 1. At just over twenty minutes, it's technically a double-length show, which is perfectly reasonable for a series premier. Expect the show to settle into the planned format as I gain more experience managing my time and fielding questions from the chat.

On our inaugural episode, I discuss why common wisdom says the original Star Wars works as a story. Then I explain why it really works.

Bonus! A member of the live audience suggests an alternate idea for Darth Vader's true identity that would have fixed everything wrong with the original trilogy while taking it in a startlingly different direction.


May the Fork Be with Us

Star Wars Fork

Happy May the Fourth! No doubt Disney will be using Star Wars Day as a chance to parade the zombified corpse of their converged franchise before an increasingly resentful public. Well and good for them. This year, the cool kids will be cutting Intersectional Studies class to enjoy beers, smokes, and Golden Age pulp mags out behind the equipment shed.

Following the artistic failure of the last five Star Wars movies and amid growing demands for enterprising content creators to fork the creatively bankrupt franchise, Castalia House once again prove themselves to be swift, sure-footed mammals running circles around the plodding legacy media dinosaurs.

From the blog of CH Lead Editor Vox Day:
We'll be launching a new supernatural Mil-SF book tomorrow, but due to the aforementioned date, the author and I decided that it is time to formally announce that the creative deconvergence project I'd mentioned a few months ago is not only in the works, but has now entered the editing phase.
Not a day went by that Vel Exollar didn’t think about the war. His brief, but brilliant career as one of the Insurgency's ace fighter pilots remained a source of pride to him. But after spending his youth flying from one hidden base to the next in between hit-and-run strikes against supply convoys, shipyards, and imperial weapons installations, he’d been very much enjoying the relative relaxation as the captain of Lady Haut-Estas’s private starliner.
Now he marched through his ship’s alabaster corridors, sumptuously carpeted in scarlet. The air smelled of fear, tension, and spilled wine. Flanked by a pair of ensigns as he ordered richly dressed passengers who’d ignored the ship-wide order to return to their cabins, Vel was forced to consider the unfortunate possibility that his current employer's decisions might have spurred his old friends to new violence.
Vel trudged over the plush carpet lining the corridor as if it were a path leading to a gallows. He’d known perfectly well that Lady Jesla’s plan was not without risk. Some might have even called it rash, and once again he asked himself why he’d agreed to it. Had he simply grown restless after playing it safe for so long?
Perhaps she reminds me too much of her mother.
But regardless of whatever had led him to roll the dice one more time, the luck that had always sustained him had finally run out at Koidu. A galaxy cruiser belonging to the Commonwealth had shown up just as what was supposed to have been a harmless demonstration had gone to hell, and now it appeared that even a single misstep could lead to a second civil war throughout the galaxy.
Despite his worries, Vel tried to remain focused on the task at hand. Hiding in Anat’s cloud banks should buy us some time. The magnetostorm would render them essentially invisible to the deep space sensors of any ship that might be following them. What was critical now was getting Jesla to safety and scrubbing every trace of her presence on board. Deep willing, we just might pull this off!
A sudden shock that caused the deck to ominously vibrate derailed Vel’s train of thought. The two junior officers burst into action, casting about for threats and shouting demands for status reports into their comms.
Read the whole excerpt at Vox Popoli.

My Comment: Dragon of the Apocalypse Nick Cole has spoken of Vox's multi-front war against the forces of SJW convergence. Having already taken on Wikipedia and mainstream news aggregators, it looks like Vox intends to challenge the Mouse itself.

Good. Star Wars is heir to the pulp tradition that pink SF types sneer at. Castalia House, with its stable of pulp-inspired authors like Appendix N's Jefrro Johnson and Dragon of Science Fiction John C. Wright, has a far better claim to exercise stewardship over space opera than the does the current regime at Disney.

Tomorrow's announcement should be highly entertaining. I for one can't wait.

And if you can't wait for fun, thrilling space opera that doesn't lecture or insult you, I just happen to have an award-winning space opera-horror series available on Amazon right now.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle



Signs of Contradiction

Davis M.J. Aurini considers the six contradictions whose resolution will determine the future of the Alt-Media:
For some time now, there have been tremors moving through the Alt Media; foreshocks of a coming seismic event.  Recently these shocks have been coming more frequently, and are increasingly evident to audiences, as well as content creators.  There have been several attempts to fight back against the growing wave of censorship, but thus far they’ve been reactionary: an attempt to fight back against a single node rather than the entire network, with the goal of maintaining the “Wild West” status quo of the internet, while ignoring the inevitability that periods of chaos always return to order.
I can personally confirm the wave of internet censorship.

Aurini continues:
The conflict can be broken down into six primary nodes – or contradictions – each of which is moving towards an unknown resolution.
For the sake of convenience, Aurini's six contradictions are as follows:
  1. Wealth, Investment, Crowdfunding, and Financial Anemia: the advent of crowdfunding has ironically come at a time when the lion's share of wealth that would have been invested in new projects is instead locked up in low-interest accounts.
  2. Advertisers are Growing Nervous: no major advertiser has learned that hate is the new online currency--with the sole exception of Wendy's.
  3. The E-Celebrity Bubble: Boomers' inability to retire has prevented Millennials from attaining upward financial and social mobility in traditional industries. Enter the YouTube celebrity. But counting on ad revenue has its own perils...
  4. The Legacy Media Zombies: IP holders have given up on producing good content due to a series of credit bubbles. SJWs invade these dead (but not broke--yet) industries like worms eating a corpse. This legacy media zomification now infects everything from Star Wars to Fox News to Marvel Comics, which I wrote about previously.
  5. Algorithmic Content Control: the marketing algorithms of Twitter, YouTube, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are cannibalizing the old industries whose advertising dollars they live on.
  6. The Inability to Organize: the Alt-Media is embroiled in infighting when it should be uniting to finally take down the old media.

Once you get past the Hegelian dialectic, the reference to talk radio being at all relevant, and the thinly veiled swipes at MILO which nonetheless can't ignore his effectiveness, Aurini's post makes a host of crucial points about the current dysfunctional state of legacy and alternative media. The wisdom of his prediction for how the whole mess will finally be resolved is also hard to deny:
Where and how the shift happens is still unpredictable.  When it happens, it will be a Black Swan; unpredictable, irrelevant even, but thanks to the time and place of it, the whole system will change overnight.

NB: the one alternative media industry that is observably disrupting its legacy predecessor without prohibitive contradictions is indie publishing. I feel for recent graduates trying to break into radio, TV, music, and film; but I thank God that I'm in the indie fiction publishing business.



Fake Ebook News


The Guardian reports the sensationalistic story that readers are abandoning eBooks and going back to print. But surprise, surprise: it's fake news.
Sales of consumer ebooks plunged 17% to £204m last year, the lowest level since 2011 – the year the ebook craze took off as Jeff Bezos’ market-dominating Amazon Kindle took the UK by storm.
It is the second year running that sales of consumer ebooks – the biggest segment of the £538m ebook market, which fell 3% last year – have slumped as commuters, holidaymakers and leisure readers shelve digital editions in favour of good old fashioned print novels.
There's no sugarcoating this. The Guardian story is simply a lie--and an easily disproved one.

They're using the same dishonest category error that I've exposed before. Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of having to repeatedly decapitate this publishing zombie meme, but the big fiction publishers, and their allies in the mainstream media who claim to report news but are also fiction publishers, just can't let these tired memes die.

Acknowledging the truth would mean admitting that they've miscalculated. Badly.

OK. Here are the facts, one more time. The Guardian story celebrating a decline in eBook sales and a concurrent rise in print sales is sourced from The Bookseller and the Publishers Association. Both only cite data from the UK. The former only counted sales from the Big Five traditional publishers. The latter relied on data from Nielsen Bookscan, which measures sales of books at the point of sale but, as far as I could determine, doesn't have access to Amazon's internal eBook numbers.

Did you spot the bait and switch? That's right. Once again, a mainstream news outlet conflates "The Publishing Industry" with "traditional publishers", totally ignoring indie.

To set the record straight, let's take a look at the latest Author Earnings report, which does track Amazon's sales numbers.

eBook Sales Channels
Right off the bat, we see that Amazon is by far the biggest eBook retailer on earth, including the UK. We also see that indie publishers are a majority of Amazon's eBook market.

Amazon eBook Market Share

Those two charts alone unmask the Guardian story for the cynical propaganda it is. But what we really want to know is, what's the actual state of eBook sales in this Year of Our Lord 2017?

Here are the highlights from Author Earnings:
  • "Between early 2016 and early 2017, overall Amazon US ebook sales grew another 4%"
  • "In other words, albeit slowly now, the overall US ebook market is still growing."
  • "Indie ebook market share, after the sudden sharp drop that we reported in October 2016, seems to have bounced back a little in early 2017."
  • "Big Five ebook market share, on the other hand, after a brief flirtation with recovery in October 2016, has fallen precipitously once again in early 2017, to just 20.8%"
  • “'Small/Medium Traditional Publishers,' as a cohort, have continued their slow, steady climb in unit market share, but their share of total consumer $ dollars spent on ebooks is rising far faster."
There you have it: another stake driven through the heart of this undead, and patently false, meme. Of course, we can be sure that the Big Five publishers will dig up the fake news of eBooks' decline right back up again--at least until they're out of business. For now and the foreseeable future, indie and small publishers are where the growth is at.

Not coincidentally, you can get in on the indie publishing excitement by checking out my thrilling Soul Cycle, the second volume of which is the first indie novel to win a Dragon Award.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle



Pulp Extravaganza

This week's awesome episode of Geek Gab witnessed the return of two titans of pulpdom: Appendix N author Jeffro Johnson and the prolific John C. Wright!

Listen in as these luminaries of the Pulp Revolution discuss beautiful yet dangerous and forbidden female love interests, whether there's a place for hard SF in the pulps, and much more.

Meanwhile, in writing news, I've finished the final draft of my debut novel for Castalia House. I'm not at liberty to give any more details yet, but keep an eye on this blog for further announcements in the near future.
...as a metaphysical fantasy, it delivers what The Wheel of Time promised but never truly realized: a story that shook the pillars of Creation and left it transformed.
-Nathan Housley