Category Archives: writing

Forging Ahead

So last night I tweeted the following, “Well so much for podcasting any of my short fiction…” Why did I do that?

Well, I was chatting last night with Zach Ricks, a man who I’m proud to be a writing partner with and with whom I hope to continue to build a friendship and the subject turned to, as it often has of late, selling our fiction projects. It seems that according to one very knowledgeable source, podcasting your fiction before selling it to more traditional venues may reduce your pool of choices. Publishers, some publishers anyway, want first publication rights and if you’ve already self published it or put it out there for free then they may not be as eager to snap it up. That came as a surprise (though I’m not sure why). My instant reaction was to pull back and go, “I don’t want to hurt my chances at selling it”, because I do, in fact, want to sell what I write. I don’t want this to be a hobby, something I just do for fun. I want to entertain, but at the same time I don’t want to do it all for free. In this, Mr. Hutchins and I are in agreement.

After an okay night’s sleep, a cup of coffee and a dose of thinking, things look a little different this morning. As I have often said here lately, you need to look at why you’re podcasting. Why do I do this? I don’t do it for the money, obviously. I do it in part to improve my writing and generate feedback. I do it in part because it is indeed a hobby. I do it as a way to get my name out there in the writing world, even if it is “only” in the small pond we inhabit as podcasters. If these are the reasons why I do it then what harm is there in selecting a few stories from the ones I’ve written and use those to do that, while selecting others to pursue more traditional venues with? None, I’d say.

I believe in the “power of free”, but this is not an either or pursuit. I firmly believe that I can offer you, my audience, some freebies in podcast form and give you the opportunity to purchase it in various forms should you so choose. If those stories are less marketable to traditional venues, well I guess that means you can expect me to be pimping those in Smashwords hardcore. Some of you have actually bought my stories sight only half seen and for you I am especially grateful. I also believe that I can pursue print publication with stories that I won’t be giving away any time soon and once those stories are available in the wild, at a price, that some of you will go out and buy those magazines or what have you. Not all of you will and that’s fine, I don’t have that expectation. Once those particular stories are sold and it comes down to selling reprint rights, I don’t see why I wouldn’t podcast those as well.

I guess I say all of this to say that I will be forging ahead. I will be podcasting some of my short fiction in the near future, starting with Bitter Release and Music Box. I’ve already self published those after all and so if any damage has been done (and maybe none has) then what’s done is done. I’m rather proud of both stories and I hope that you’ll listen and if you like them, I hope that you’ll consider buying them.

I will also continue to submit stories to Great Hites. I think what Jeff is doing over there is great and while it’s a strictly “for the love” publication, I don’t think that diminishes its value and that may indeed be the largest source for stories I elect to sell and podcast through this site and Smashwords.

Ultimately what it comes down to for me is this. I have a great luxury. I don’t have to make a living doing this. I have the freedom to give some things away completely, with no expectation of making any money. I have the freedom to elect to try and sell other things without giving them away in the near term, to see if I can indeed one day make a living with words. My friend Dave said, “You need to choose which road to publishing you are going to take.” and while I agree with what I think he meant, I don’t think there’s only one road or that we have to do anything only one way. We’re trying to make our own roads here, aren’t we? There are “rules”, but there’s enough of a maverick in me to want to try and find out which ones of those I can break, or at least fold, spindle, and mutilate.

Thanks to everyone for their continued support of all of my efforts, monetary or otherwise, and be sure to let me know what you think of all this madness in the comment section. Maybe what I’m trying to pull off here is the publishing equivalent of a mullet. I think we can agree that pulling off the “business up front and party in the back” with your hair takes a great deal of moxie only truly accomplished by greats like the Swayze and perhaps the same is true of doing some free and some not free.

Sympathetic vs. Interesting Protagonist

In the latest feedback episode of the Cybrosis podcast novel an email I sent sparked a conversation about writing your protagonist as sympathetic vs. interesting and the challenges therein.

In my own writing I tend to try and make my main characters likable (or at least sympathetic/understandable). I’m not necessarily looking to make someone who you’d want to go out and have a drink with, but I want them to at least have something appealing about them. If you can’t like them then you should at least be able to say “I can see how they got there”. I want you to want to know them better or at least care about them and what they’re going through.

When they were talking about characters that are more interesting than likable/sympathetic, they seem to fall into talking about the ones that you love to hate/hate to love. I find Cyris, P.C.’s protagonist, to fall more into this category. While not the most interesting character in the story, she is interesting and that does save her and the story. It sounds like he’ll be transitioning her into a more sympathetic character as the novel progresses. That will be a nice trick if he can pull it off. I say that, not because I doubt P.C.’s skill, but because making that change without losing who you’ve built her to be in the course of one novel would seem to be quite the challenge.

So, sympathetic or not, your main character has to be interesting. As I said, I want my protagonists to be both interesting and sympathetic and I think that’s what most writers are really shooting for and what most audiences want to see. On the other hand, writing/watching anti-heroes or real shady characters can be a lot of fun. But if you go that route, the more unlikable they are the more interesting they have to be to strike a balance.

Some examples of unlikable, but interesting protags from my tweet stream are Grendel, Thomas Covenant (yes!), Sandman, Perry Dawsey (yes and yes!), Tony Soprano, Dexter, Francis Urqhart, Cal Mcaffrey. Looking at that list, the ones I’m familiar with, definitely show that to take the real chumps/rotten apples and maintain your audience’s interest in them you definitely need to make them interesting. I recently wrote a short story for Great Hites and I’m not sure which camp Bogdan falls into. (Maybe you can give it a read and tell me?) I don’t really like him or what he stands for, but I can at least see why he is what he is and feel sorry for him. My hope is that that tension makes him interesting even if you hate him.

So what’s your experience here? Can you think of some (un)sympathetic protags that weren’t interesting enough to save them? How could they have been improved?

Give It Away Now

So none of you good folks that are reading this are likely to be new to the idea that there’s a lot metric butt load of free content out there on the internet. Here I’m talking strictly about the legal, self published stuff. There are comic strips, novels, music, movies and more and all of this costs you absolutely nothing. It seems crazy and a lot of people really don’t understand it. I have been and will continue to be not only a cheerleader but an active participant in this community for years now and even I’m only beginning to “figure it out”.

For some people this seems to be mostly about finding a way to make inroads into the traditional publishing model. The thought being, if I can get a large enough fan base, then I can get the attention of the “gate keepers” at the big publishing houses and they’ll print my stuff and sell it. This has worked with varying degrees of success for authors like Scott Sigler, Pip Ballantine, and JC Hutchins, who all have struck deals with big labels. For others like PG Holyfield, Nathan Lowell, and Tee Morris their efforts have lead to deals with smaller publishers (and in Tee’s case publication of his non-fiction with big houses).

The traditional road is not one that others seem to be striving for. There’s a more “do it yourself” flair in authors like Cory Doctorow and Matt Selznick. While neither would eschew traditional publishing (and Cory has been published by Tor), it seems that they want to use all possible channels to get their stuff out there and cut out the middle man. That’s not to say that the aforementioned authors aren’t open to all ideas, I’m just talking about where their focus seems to be to me at the present time. Matt talks quite a bit about the neo-patronage idea. If I understand it correctly (and he may not have used these precise words), it’s about finding a smaller number of fans and dealing directly with them. I think that’s laudable.

So, why am I writing about this? Well two blog posts have come to my attention recently.

In the first, JC Hutchins let us know that the 7th Son sequels are not going to be picked up by his publishers thanks to the first novel not meeting their sales goals. He also says that he fears that the free model working as it has for some may be a fleeting moment and that he will no longer be contributing to it, at least not for a while. I felt saddened by his news, but I have to ask, is that me being selfish? If I truly want to be supportive of a fellow artist whose work I enjoy, shouldn’t I be more okay with his decision? I should, but I’m soooo used to that teat. Rather than being patient and waiting to purchase the works when/if they come out, the little voice in me wants to lament that I won’t get the fix I’ve come to expect. I mean I purchased Personal Effects: Dark Arts, but I didn’t purchase 7th Son. Intentions to buy it aside, that money still sits in my pocket and not his and I gave him only half of the financial support I could have.

The other blog post was from a source I’d never heard of. Astonishing Adventures Magazine is shutting it’s doors. John Carlucci says, “We deserve to get paid for what we create.” And you know what? That’s a valid way of thinking. The magazine wasn’t generating the revenue it needed to and so it closed. He also said, “I’m tired of killing myself and not making the smallest of footsteps ahead.” That’s worthy of consideration too.

So, is “free” dead, simply dying, or what? Well I think that it’s too early to tell. I, for one, certainly hope not and I intend to continue putting out free content, while hoping to figure out how to get paid in the meantime. But this whole thing raises a question for me. Do we “deserve to get paid”? Should we kill ourselves, spending all of our spare time and energy in shaking our butts and trying to “get ahead”?

I think the answer to that, at least for me, is no and no.

I don’t get to decide that I “deserve” to get paid. Now that’s not to say that I don’t think what I write is worth something. And yet here I be, writing words I have no expectation of earning a nickel for. I think that for me, it’s about writing something that’s worth your time. If you decide that that time is worth your money, well that’s your call. Would I like to get paid? Oh absolutely. Money is great. I’d love to quit the day job and spend hours and hours creating. Even then though, isn’t it the audience that decides whether or not we deserve to get paid? If I don’t buy JC’s book (provided I am capable financially) then isn’t that me deciding that he didn’t deserve it? If I don’t buy it then he didn’t earn my money, did he? (And for the record I do intend to buy it. He did earn every red cent that I will eventually give him.) keep in mind, I’m not certain of everything in this paragraph, this is me thinking.

One thing I think I am sure of though is that I’m not killing myself for anything. Maybe that means I don’t have what it takes. If I’m not willing to shed blood, sweat, and tears and shake my tail feathers as hard as some out there do, then maybe I won’t make it. I think I’m okay with that. I do want to write. I do want to write professionally. I will sweat for that. I will lose sleep over it. I will likely even cry over it at some point. But proverbially kill myself? Sacrifice my every waking moment or very nearly? No, I don’t think I’m in a place to do that, especially for zero/nominal return. Kudos to those of you who make the sacrifice and I hope it pays off.

So all of this said, why do I put out free content? I don’t expect that it will get me published. I don’t think it will get me a lot of kudos/feedback, though it has garnered me more than not podcasting has. This whole podcasting thing started out as and continues to be about me creating more and learning more. I’ve also made a lot of friends and met a metric butt load (can you tell I’ve got a new pet phrase?) of awesome people. I’ve written more as a result and am trying to hone my craft (that doesn’t sound too writerly at all, does it?). So that’s why I podcast and that’s what I expect. That’s why I give it away. If it has any side benefits, like Random House or Dragoon Moon Press offering me a contract or me getting an agent, then I’m not gonna cry. Ultimately though, even if it does, it’s up to the audience to decide what my writing is worth in terms of dollars and cents.

Am I right or am I waaaay off base here?


Matt Selznick clarified his neo-patronage concept. Here ’tis:

Hi Scott — great post; thanks for including me in it. I wanted to clarify a few things.

It’s nice to be included in the same sentence with Cory — yeah, we share some DIY sensibilities, it’s true — and we’re both (he on a larger scale than me, of course) published by third parties. You mentioned Tor with Cory — my first book, “Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era” is published by Swarm Press and hasn’t been available in it’s self-published paperback form since July of 2008.

You mentioned neo-patronage. Neo-patronage doesn’t have anything to do with dealing directly with a small number of fans. Neo-patronage is a compensation model that asks everyone who takes value from their experience of a piece of art to compensate the artist accordingly. The idea is that the audience is the arbiter of value… if you think the experience of reading “Brave Men Run” for free online is worth $5.00, or $20.00, or $50.00… great! If you think it’s not worth anything, fine.

Under neo-patronage, if you enjoy a book, that author did, in fact, earn the right to be compensated by you, since the author provided you with a service — an experience you would not have otherwise had and, presumably, you enjoyed. So I disagree with you there — even if you haven’t paid the author, they still earned the right to be paid.

When someone does work or performs a service, they deserve to be compensated — just like when you go to your day job and do your work, you deserve to be paid whether or not the boss actually pays you. You’d be put out if you didn’t get paid for work you did, right?

That’s the thinking behind neo-patronage. Pay what you think the work is worth, and never assume that something available “for free” has no value.

Mystery in Horror

I had a thought strike me yesterday (no it didn’t hurt, but it is very lonely and soooo, soooo cold). To whit, the thing that makes horror really scary is mystery.

The minute we fully understand that which is scary, it ceases to be as scary. Typically when there’s a big reveal in a horror novel or a movie all the scary evaporates and it becomes a thriller or an action adventure (or sometimes just plain silly). For example, I give you vampires. It’s really difficult to make them scary because now we “know” all of their weakness. Once the protagonists know that there are vampires they just break out the stakes and boom.

Now you could argue that you can still make a story scary by keeping the protagonists ignorant. If they don’t know about or don’t believe in bogey monsters then they can’t fight them as effectively. That can indeed help, but only a bit. We, the audience still know and that can neuter the story.

Another example, this one from the movies. Pick your modern horror icons: Jason, Freddy, Michael. What makes them scary at least in large part is, we don’t know what they are or how to put them down. They’re unstoppable forces, until… someone figures out their weakness or what precisely they are.

Now that’s not to say you can’t make these things scary or at least interesting. The thing is, I’m not so sure I’m talented enough to do that yet. It’s okay, most storytellers in the horror genre aren’t either. For the most part they just do what’s become popular and throw a lot of gore at it and hope it sticks. Some of them are gutsy enough to try and re-invent the critter. Rob Zombie’s given that a number of shots. I won’t opine on how successful he’s been since I haven’t seen most of them, but that is one option.

The better thing? Create something new, out of whole cloth. Don’t give away all (or any) of your creation’s secrets. maintain that aura of mystery. ‘Cause once you’ve shown it all, it’s just “Speed” in a haunted house

Public Critique

I asked a question on Twitter last week, the gist of which was, “why do I only see praise for podcast novels in the public stream. It generated quite a brisk conversation. I decided to create an audio response to the feedback. I hope you enjoy it!

Shows/People referenced:

Zach Ricks
Brand Gamblin
Dan Rabarts
Rich Asplund Jr
Pip Ballantine
Tee Morris
Rick Castello
Michael Falkner
Marnen Laibow-Koser
Dan Absalonson
Alasdair Stuart
Steve Eley
Nathan Lowell

Blogs mentioned:
Why Michell Plested cares about critiques and feedback.
Why Odin One-Eye reviews podcasts.
Svallie’s take on reviewer’s ethics.


I just got a rather nice compliment from JadedDave who can also be found at The Jen and Dave Show. He said:

“I think you handled the exchange between believers and non-believers very well.”

That was regarding my podcast novel Archangel and the dialog that takes place in episode sixteen. It made me feel all warm and junk. But seriously, I know that in a lot of Christian fiction there are issues when you get a believer and non-believer in the same room. It seems like many authors have never heard a non-believer speak before. It actually happens in the opposite direction too, when you get someone who isn’t a Christian trying to write “Christian-y” dialog. It really all gets back to making it all “natural” and that’s true regardless of who’s talking.

For me dialog has always been something I struggled with/fretted over. Just keeping it real enough to pass without making it so stilted or awkward (as real life conversations can be) as to make it unreadable/unlistenable is a tough balance to strike. I feel that podcasting has really helped that since by reading it out loud I hear how it sounds. I also find myself really listening to conversations around me and sort of mentally recording the rhythms and word choices. Doing this without looking like a stalker/eavesdropper is hard but it’s worth whatever risk there is. It should be noted that I put the word natural in quotes up there because I don’t think any writer can (and perhaps no writer should even if they could) make any dialog truly natural.

Another thing I struggle with, that’s been brought to my attention, is my choice of figures of speech. I’ve been in the rural south most of my life and I’m certain this comes out in much of what I write. If I were just writing stories that take place in that setting this might not be such a big deal. As it is, I’m not. So it’s just one more thing to keep a weather eye out there for.

What helps your dialog writing? What do you struggle with?

The Western

Jared Axelrod has been dropping story germs over here as an extension of Mur Lafferty’s News From Poughkeepsie project. His latest category tackles the Western genre. He has this to say:

I don’t watch a whole lot of television, but I don’t dare miss an episode of PROJECT RUNWAY. As an examination of the creative process and an intriguing character study of the kind of people who chose to make creation their life, it’s hard to beat. Plus, you get fashion shows and the idiosyncratic charm of Tim Gunn. It’s hard not to like such a program.

But I was watching last weeks episode and I almost punched the screen. The contestants were challenged to come up with an outfit based on a cinematic genre, and nobody wanted “Westerns.” In fact, not only did no one want Westerns, but there was serious Western bad-mouthing through most of the episode.

I just about lost it. What is wrong with Westerns, I ask? What?

Not a damn thing, that’s what.

I happen to agree. It’s one of my favorite movie genres and I tackled it in a sci-fi direction for my first NaNoWriMo. I think the two genres taste great together because they are both most often about people living on the frontier of different sorts. It’s about how that difficult life shapes them, changes them. Sometimes it’s a change for the better and sometimes not. It’s also about looking at the kinds of people that move out to the edges and why they do it. Everything from Little House on the Prairie to Firefly/Serenity to some very enjoyable podcasts (Solar Clipper and Tumbler) fall under the genre.

It wouldn’t break my heart to see Westerns replace or join Steampunk and Zombie in the hearts of geeks everywhere. Heck even mash them up together. They’re certainly compatible. So I’m going to try and do at least a couple of his prompts this week. One of them may even turn into a NaNo thing. We’ll see.