Monday, May 25, 2015

Experiencing controversial things

Last summer I was getting out of my old habits and experiencing electronic music on a brand new level. It led me to some insights on how humans achieve transcendent states without chemical assistance, and I saw parallels between two-day EDM festivals and the vision-inducing rigors that ancient hermits inflicted on themselves.

Let's take that in a different direction. If you haven't heard it yet, any author who wants to write about guns ought to take an opportunity to handle them in person. I recently spent a weekend with the Appleseed program, a .22 rifle, and some paper silhouettes.

I don't have any interest in guns outside of their practical details. The Second Amendment is not something I'm interested in arguing about in this blog. However, guns exist, they are tools which can be used for good or for evil, and personal experience will always give one more insights than reading somebody else's account of a thing.

I spent sixteen hours, over two days, loading magazines, making my rifle safe, and shooting at increasingly small silhouettes on paper. A .22 has very little kick, but a sore spot developed on my right collarbone. I've never been so glad that Cobra Pose in yoga comes easily to me, or that I've learned to hold a position for a long time while breathing slowly and steadily.

There were frustrations. I couldn't get a cheek weld with the stock. None of the seated firing positions work for me. My eye had a lot of trouble focusing on the targets. Actually, you're not supposed to --you focus on the front sight -- but it meant I was firing all but blind sometimes.

For some, shooting is about becoming absolutely still, like a statue. Stillness is absolutely a part of it, I agree, but aiming is also about knowing the rhythms of your own breath and muscles. I was finding the right moment in the natural movement of my gun's sights to strike.

There's an instinct there. Humans are predators, after all.

Guns can be controversial, more so than EDM festivals... and there are more controversial, unorthodox or outrightly dangerous experiences one can have than firing a rifle. We can't go out and try everything that might give us a completely accurate picture of what our characters experience (I've never experienced zero gravity, though if I had the chance I'd jump at it) but if it can be done safely then I don't see why a writer shouldn't.

Safely, ethically, legally, that is. If I were writing Dexter I wouldn't take up serial killing.

Have you done something new just for research purposes?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Structure in paranormal thrillers

I went looking for a decent monster movie.

That's a tall order, unfortunately. A lot of monster movies are action- and horror-formula killfests with precious little introspection. To make matters worse, I didn't want alien monsters or scientifically created monsters. I wanted magical ones. Cryptozoology, if you prefer. Which shortened the list even further.

I wanted something to prod me into thinking about how people react when confronted with something they've long believed was mythical. Aside from reaching for a weapon, that is.

Out of necessity, I started moving toward what might be more accurately called paranormal thrillers. They were more thoughtful and more focused on the characters. I also started to notice structural similarities.
  1. Gadgetry & denial: The main character arrives in a state of denial. Science is called in to explain the initial situation. Gadgets are deployed, tech-speak is thrown around, and surely science will save the day. 
  2. Facile solution: Spooky things happen. A rational answer is found. The question seems to be resolved. We're done here, right?
  3. The hook: No, we're not done. Something inexplicable happens that touches on the character's tragic past. More on this later.
  4. Confrontation/Acceptance: Science and logic are abandoned. The main character starts reacting emotionally and/or intuitively, and the paranormal reveals itself. As a result, the character relives the past trauma and changes internally.
  5. Fallout: Objective reached, the paranormal withdraws or is conquered. The main character has to deal with the emotional and practical consequences. 
Best of the three, IMO
The one thing I particularly noticed about the three pretty-good paranormal thrillers that I watched -- The Awakening, The Mothman Prophecies, and Oculus -- is that the main character in each is wrestling with the death of a loved one(s). Central to the paranormal revelation is the ending of the grieving process in which the character has been "stuck" for however long.

Interesting that being touched by death seems to be a prerequisite for being able to properly confront the paranormal. Having to face our helplessness against death preps us, perhaps, to face something else that's outside our control and understanding: the paranormal. Something which science can only do so much to stop. So in a way, stories about the paranormal are be stories about helplessness... which can be terrifying.

Naturally, having seen a pattern in these stories, I want to mess with the pattern. My character has already faced the death of a loved one (this is a sequel story) so he already partly fits the mold. I had not thought about this story in terms of his grieving process, though.

So maybe I succeeded in prodding my brain despite the deck being stacked with awful B-movie fodder.

Seen any good paranormal thrillers recently?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Real world sales numbers, part 4

It's time for my twice-yearly update on self-publishing sales numbers by those of us who don't shoot into the stratosphere of popularity! Last time, the lingering questions were how will my novella with Dreamspinner impact sales and how will finishing my fantasy series impact sales?

The final part (#6) of Disciple went on sale in March, quickly followed by the Omnibus which collects the whole thing into one nice doorstop. I ordered a paperback copy of that just to have it on my shelf. :)

Hawks & Rams went on sale December 31, 2014, and I have gotten two royalty reports from Dreamspinner since then.

Let's see how the sales graphs are looking:

Sales by title, per month
Total sales, per month

  • Date range: October 2012 - April 2015. 
  • H&R sales are reported quarterly, so to avoid a huge spike I divided them evenly over the three months of the quarter.

Last time I posted, I had just had an October of zero sales. As you can see, they've bounced back well. The trend (red line in the bottom graph) is definitely upwards. March was my best sales month ever. H&R's sales have definitely made a difference so far.

One question I had as a self-publisher was how a small press would compare to my own efforts.
Sales by retailer
As you can see, despite the big spike in Amazon sales when I dropped both Disciple, Part VI and the Omnibus, Dreamspinner has been an excellent sales channel. 

So am I making a living yet? Well, let me put it this way: in 2013, I earned about $207 from my book sales. In 2014, I earned about $305. 50% higher! 

Is that awful? Well, in 2012, half of self-publishers were earning less than $500 a year. It's hard to say what that number is these days -- there's a lot of sketchy information about self-publishing out there. 

I don't mean for this to be discouraging if you're thinking about self-publishing. I'm just trying to show you that when we say it's hard, slow, and difficult, we aren't kidding. How would my numbers be different if I published four books a year? Ten? (I can't write that fast, it's not physically possible. But some people do.) What if I was writing in a hotter category than epic/gritty fantasy?

Who knows. Your self-publishing story will be different, I know that for certain.

Got questions? Feel free to ask.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Finally free of the WIP...

I finally finished my WIP. I've been working on it since October, so it's taken me the better part of five months to write this thing. That's unusual for me. It's called Airborne at the moment and it involves a new cast of characters, a new universe, tackles new genres (for me) and wanted to be told from a new POV (for me).

Having said that, maybe five months isn't so bad after all.

"Omniscient" POV
I posted a sample scene from Airborne and got a little feedback on it. One of the aspects pointed out to me was that the POV is omniscient. The critiquer mentioned that omni needs to be done "really, really well" to work and didn't care for it in this sample.

OK, she didn't like my omni voice. That's fine. What nagged at me was that is has to be done "really, really well" -- for some reason, I've heard this un-useful bit of advice a thousand times -- and avoided like the plague otherwise.

How in the heck are you supposed to learn to write omniscient if you "can't" unless it's "really, really good"...? We all need to practice. We all need training wheels. And it's not like you have to sound like a 19th-century author if you're going to use an omniscient POV. What does 21st-century omniscience sound like anyways? (I'm willing to bet it sounds like social media.)

I have shelves of "how-to-write" books just like anyone else, though I'll admit I haven't cracked one open in years. The questions of what omniscient is and how it's done is sending be back to the shelves. Should I have done that before I wrote Airborne? No, I don't think so. Better to revise a shitty first draft than to analyze yourself into paralysis before writing it.

The critiquer also pointed out that I billed Airborne as an "urban fantasy medical thriller" but there's nothing medical or thrilling going on in the scene. True. Guilty. But it is urban fantasy, at least. I'm fairly sure I got that part of the novel right though the rest is open to debate.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure where this scene should go in the story but it does need to be somewhere near the front.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...