“As Those Fabulous Dragons Teeth…”

“The enemy of most authors is not piracy but obscurity.”
Dave Charest

About a year ago, I experienced what some might describe as a moment of clarity, one of those points where your perspective changes and you find yourself unable to go back to the way it was before.

Sometimes these are small moments, a sudden flash of intuition in a situation reveals a whole level of understanding you didn’t previously possess. Other times it’s something more profound, an evolution in your perspective that forever alters how you view the world.

Last year I asked myself a question and, without meaning to, I nudged myself into a different mode of thinking that completely re-framed how I thought about my writing.

Simply put, the question was “What do I want?”

The answer came almost immediately: “I want people to read my work.”

Ultimately, my goal as a writer — my reason for writing at all — is not to be famous, to get rich, to go on Oprah, or land a movie deal. I know plenty of writers who want those things, who write in order to achieve them. And while I would not shy away from those opportunities if they were given to me, they are not why I started writing and they’re not why I’ve kept writing all these years.

Mostly, I just want people to read what I’ve written.

And so I asked myself another question: “How can I make that happen?”

“Refine my synopsis yet again” was not the answer…

“Write the perfect query letter” was not the answer…

And even “Find an agent” or “Get a publisher” was not the answer…

Oddly enough, the answer wasn’t any of the conventional things that the industry traditionally tells all authors — things that I’d been doing for years in the hopes that I might get lucky.

No, the answer was a lot more obvious: “You want people to read it? Share it with everyone. Put it out there as far and wide as you can, make it easily available and free to anyone who might want to read it.”

That’s actually not a big a stretch — at least, not for me. Since the earliest days of this website back in 1997, I’ve been putting my stories, poems, and plays out there for people to download. And both “Assam & Darjeeling” and “Matters of Mortology” have gotten a great response on the strength of their availability on iTunes as free audiobooks. As has my latest podcast “The Gospel of Thomas”.

So. That being said…

I get e-mails every few weeks from people who have listened to one of my free audiobooks, asking how they can buy a “real” copy of their own.

Well, now you can.

You’ve probably noticed already those links over there for downloading or buying my novels Assam & Darjeeling and Matters of Mortology.

Take a look. For each of them, there’s a link to download an electronic copy of the book free of charge. If you do, feel free to share it around, e-mail it to friends you think might like it, or post it on your blog. That’s what it’s there for. And if you really like it and want to buy a copy you can hold in your hot little hands, there’s a link for that too. Right now there’s free shipping if you buy it through Lulu Marketplace.

Or I’ll even sign a copy and send it to you. People seem to like that too.

However you choose, I’m grateful for your interest in my work and I hope you’ll drop me a line and let me know what you thought of it.

And if you like, take a minute to head out to iTunes or Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble or anywhere else — give it a rating, write a review, let the rest of the world know what you thought of it. I’ll be very, very grateful.

Like the man said…

“I know books are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.”
John Milton

And now, a little bit of powerdorkery…

squee

Longtime readers of this blog — and anyone who had to sit through a meeting with me in the late Nineties and early Aughts — might remember my enthusiasm for a little Apple device called the Newton.

I won’t go into it’s history here, but I absolutely loved the Newton. It was a great tool for writers, lightweight and easy to use. It had a (for the time) a nice long battery life — surprisingly enough, it could run on AA batteries in a pinch. It had a nice set of native applications, including a more than adequate word processing program. And it easily sync’d with the Mac OS, making it a snap to move project files back and forth.

And, despite the bad press, I never had any difficulty with the amazing (but much maligned) handwriting recognition software.

As I said, I loved it. I first started using a Newton when I managed to cajole my bosses into buying me an eMate — a stripped down laptop running the Newton OS and sporting an amazing clamshell design that marked the first major design revolution at Apple. I took it to meetings and stopped traffic. People came in from the halls to ask about it. I could have sold a hundred of them just by showing up on client sites with it in my hands.

I loved it so much, I scraped together money I didn’t have to buy the MessagePad, a handheld “brick” version that offered much more processing power and versatility than the eMate. It wasn’t as visually impressive as it’s younger sibling, but the MessagePad stayed in my hand wherever I went.

The first lines of a short story that would eventually become Assam & Darjeeling were written on it. As was the first scenes of my adaptation of The Odyssey. Plenty of other poems and short stories and ideas started (and, sometimes, stalled) on the Newton as well. And, after shelling out a few bucks on eBay, I got my hands on a modem. So now I could do e-mail too.

Long after Apple abandoned the platform, I hung on to my Newtons (in fact, I still have them up in the attic, along with my first Mac). Sure, it was dead technology at that point, but I was still using it. In my own defense, I might very well be the person who coined the term “Zombie Technology” is justification for my commitment to the platform — with it’s eerie green glowing screen, the label was an apt one.

But eventually, I had to let it go. It was just too difficult to use in conjunction with the OSX platform and, ultimately, what had once freed me up as a writer was now slowing me down. So I buried it, tamping the dirt down as gently as I could.

Since then, I’d see little signs that the ghost of the Newton still wandered the halls of Cupertino. The scribbly little cloud puffs when you deleted a file in OSX were a cut and paste job from the Newton OS. And when the iPhone and Touch appeared with their neat little square apps and convenient dock at the bottom of the screen, I felt a familiar twinge in my fingers. Despite the disdain that Steve Jobs was rumored to have for the Newton, it was undeniable that some cannibalization was being done.

With the Touch and, later, the iPhone, I found myself once again wandering around with technology welded to my hand. And I was perfectly happy.

But . . . this was an iPad review, yes?

I apologize.

After dropping a few well-placed hints earlier this year, the nice people I work for were kind enough to give me the green light on ordering one of those newfangled iPad gizmos with all the trimmings. And they even sprung for the 3G model, pretty much ensuring that I could irritate all of humanity no matter where I went.

When it got delivered last Friday, I was out of the office taking care of Baby Sophie. Using up the last of my cajoling tokens, I was able to convince a coworker to bring it to me at the end of the day. Once the baby settled down for the evening, I started playing.

Life is, as I’ve often said, very good.

Like most everything Apple makes these days, the iPad was a breeze to activate and configure. I was off and running within minutes. You forget what a relief that is, until you have to work with something from another company.

I’d been waiting a while to get my hands on the iPad and the first hour of using the damned thing was punctuated by a series of delighted chuckles. My lovely and patient wife endured a barrage of “Oooh! And it also…” comments throughout the evening. She didn’t wholly appreciate my referring to it as Sophie’s new baby brother, but she loves me enough to know when I’m (most likely) joking.

Overall, the iPad feels great. It’s just the right size to carry in one hand, without being too heavy. And it doesn’t feel too small in two hands. After a few hours, I could feel my iPhone getting jealous.

As a media device, the iPad is outstanding. I’m not an HD or Blu-Ray snob and I don’t have a television the size of a king size mattress, so watching a movie or TV show on the iPad is no problem for me. And once you start using the YouTube, ABC TV, and Netflix apps, the geek joy goes even higher. Now I can finally watch “Lost” and see what all the yammering is about.

As an internet device, the iPad is a joy to use. These kind of things can be clunky and more trouble than they’re worth, but Apple long ago cornered the market on interface design. So it’s a relief to use a device that requires little or no time to learn — especially if you’re already familiar with the iPhone or Touch. The e-mail interface (particularly in landscape mode) is very clean and easy. And the browsing experience is terrific. Much has been made of the lack of Flash compatibility but, in all honesty, I didn’t even run across a Flash “hole” until after a day or so. And, even then, it didn’t really diminish my experience overall.

Assam & DarjeelingAs a book reader, I’m going to make an obvious prediction and say that the Kindle’s days are likely numbered if Amazon doesn’t do something dramatic. First of all, there’s the Kindle app — which worked great on the iPhone already and is now even better on the iPad (and both of my books look great as well, just saying).

I have to admit, the new Apple Book Store seems a little derivative of what Amazon and some of the other book reader apps have already done. But that’s a minor quibble. I expect it will evolve. My only peeve with the Apple approach to books is their adoption of that damned “page turning” animation. It’s an effect I’ve always disliked when I’ve seen it elsewhere online or in interactive media. I don’t like developers pretending a screen is paper. It’s a bit condescending to their user audience and forcing the digital to ape the physical analog world just seems wrong conceptually. Programmers should be looking for new ways to let new media deliver content, setting it free to be itself instead of pretending it’s something it isn’t. But hey, that’s just me. I have issues.

(I won’t weigh in on the closed system approach Apple has taken to the device and the iTunes store as a whole. That’s a subject for a different time. Suffice it to say that the Kindle versions of both Assam & Darjeeling and Matters of Mortology are both DRM-free. Amen.)

ComiXologyAnd I was surprised at how well comics translate to the device. After downloading a number of free issues for the ComiXology and Marvel apps, I can see the appeal of, say, having the whole Claremont/Byrne run of X-Men at your fingertips. But I don’t really see anyone giving up either the social aspect of going to their local comic book store each week, or the tactile pleasure of holding the comic in your hand. I’d say the same is true for digital vs. physical books . . . although the author/publisher in me is more than a little excited by these new media, channels, and devices. Again, that’s a different post for a different time.

I’m not a big time gamer but there’s definitely a whole new level of development waiting int he wings thanks to this device. It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of content gets produced, to see how far the adventurous programmers can push the interface and user expectations. Or if they just, y’know, settle for porting over Pac Man to yet another device.

A lot has been made of the touchscreen interface and keyboard. Personally, I didn’t have too much trouble using either. I type very, very fast on a conventional keyboard, so the onscreen one slowed me down a little. A few common keys are out of place, which led to a bit of hunt and peck from time to time (I did miss the Newton’s handwriting recognition more than once, though). But overall, it seemed perfectly serviceable. I expect I’d be able to hammer away on it or a few hours at a stretch without too much trouble. Although my preferred writing program Scrivener won’t make it to the platform any time soon (if ever), the addition of an iPad version of the Pages software is a welcome addition. I won’t be writing my next novel on it, but I bet more than a few chapters will get banged out on it.

So . . . long story short, I really like the iPad — and not just because it reminds me of how much I loved the Newton. Technically, I supposed you’d say it’s a “tablet” — living on the technological continuum between smartphones and laptops, serving as a hybrid that shares select features and functionality of both. In that context, it’s quite successful. My biggest disappointment is that I don’t own one of my very own. At some point soon, I’m going to have to share it with everyone in the office. I’m not by nature a selfish person, but it’ll be very, very hard to give it up when the time comes.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon training a number of middle managers on social networking. I started off the session by saying: “I grew up reading comic books and science fiction. Which is another way of saying I’ve been waiting my whole life for the real world to catch up. At long last, I’m finally living in a world that I used to read about. And I love it.”

The iPad is just one more reason why.

——————————————————————

Things I Did on the iPad in the First 24 Hours

  • Tried not to squee too much about it on Twitter.
  • Composed, sent, and replied to a boatload of e-mails.
  • Watched the latest episode of “Doctor Who” and the first four episodes of “Lost”.
  • Made notes for a new poem about Sophie that I’ll get around to writing about the same time she starts sleeping through the night.
  • Bought a book from the Kindle store.
  • Downloaded and read the free Clairmont/Miller Wolverine #1 using the Marvel app.
  • Wish more than once that DC would put their comics out there.
  • Spent $100 on work-related apps.
  • Sent our accounting department a reimbursement request for the aforementioned $100.
  • Obsessively polished the screen, just like every Apple device I own.
  • Wrote this blog post.

Things I Didn’t Do

  • Porn.
  • Skype.
  • IM or Chat.
  • Buy a book from the Apple store.
  • Buy a comic book from Comixology or Marvel.
  • Use the dock or wireless keyboard we bought to go with the device. Didn’t really need ‘em.
  • Share it with anyone.

Enemies and Friends



“The enemy of most authors is not piracy but obscurity.”



A few days back, Dave Charest posted that on Twitter, perfectly encapsulating a line of thought that’s been haunting me for the past nine months or so.

More on this a bit lower down in the post…

* * * * * *

In all honesty, I didn’t plan on taking a Summer Hiatus — and, really, given the amount of work I’ve gotten done over the past few months, I still could use a vacation. But if I went off somewhere for a week, you can bet I’d spend most of it writing.

Once the dust settled after moving earlier in the summer, I got sidetracked by the aforementioned secret science fiction project. If you’ve been following along on Twitter or Facebook, then you already know that the project is a comic book treatment/proposal called “Chimera” and that it’s been sent off to my friends in Singapore. So we’ll see where that goes.

(Speaking of which, let me offer a belated “Welcome to the World” to the lovely and perfect Ms. Prudence. And congratulations to her excellent parents, Gavin and WeeNee. Nice work.)

Would you buy a religion from this man?Interestingly enough, since completing the preliminary outline and scripts for this project, I’ve found a handful of upcoming movies and comics that share some of the same elements. There’s no direct correlation, just some interesting thematic parallels and plot points. But I gave up on getting frustrated by that sort of thing a long time ago. We’re all tapped into the same frequencies, so it’s no surprise when we resonate along similar lines.

In the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, this is referred to as “Idea Space” and that’s just as good a way to think about it as anything else.

(For certain kinds of brains, that movie is a mind-stretching experience. I recommend it.)

Any time I didn’t spend on “Chimera” over the past few months was spent working on a poem.

That’s right. One poem.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time on this particular poem. And all I have to show for it are about twenty-three pages of handwritten gibberish, incomplete villanelle rhyming schemes, and no poem.

I am mad at this poem. It is in a time-out right now and if it’s very good, I might let it out someday.

Bah.

I also finally finished a new play that had been languishing on the back burner for what I thought would only be a few months but which, surprisingly, turned out to be a few years. But it’s done now and once I tweak some formatting, I’ll be posting it here for one and all to enjoy.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that it isn’t actually a new play at all. Truth be told, it’s actually a complete reworking of the first play I ever wrote. Hard to believe, but that was over twenty years ago. And the idea/premise for the play is even older, going back almost thirty years.

I always felt like that premise deserved somewhat better than what my nineteen-year-old self was able to do with it. A few years back something shifted inside my head and I said “Yeah… that could work.” So I threw out most of the story and characters, retooled everything, kept the bits that worked, and put it all into the hands of a girl named Elizabeth to see what she would do with it. As a character, Liz surprised the hell out of me and I’ve grown as fond of her as anyone I’ve ever written.

Most surprisingly, the things that didn’t work in the first version of the script — all those things I wanted to resolve and repair — are still present and problematic in this latest version. I’d blame Liz, but it’s obviously the writer’s fault.

At any rate, the name of the play is “Drawing Away” and I’ll be posting it sometime this coming weekend. Stay tuned for details.

In the midst of all of this, an old acquaintance from college got in touch via Facebook. Usually getting pinged by someone from the past is a bit of a mixed bag (I’ve whined about this before) but, for many reasons, that wasn’t the case this time. And, in a surprising degree of coincidence and convergence, twenty years ago this acquaintance had played the lead in the original version of the play that I’d just finished retooling. Coincidence? Alan Moore probably has something to say about that sort of thing as well.

Somewhere, I’ve got a VHS of that play floating around. I’ll try to pull a scene or two and post them here. If nothing else, there’s a high degree of nostalgia for me. That was at the beginning of it all, one of a very few specific milestones that I can point to and say “There. That’s when I felt my life shift on its axis.”

But, for once, I didn’t resent Facebook for reconnecting me with someone from the past.

As many of you know, I have a day job working in Advertising. Most of my time is spent helping my clients navigate the thorny paths of various online mechanisms for connecting with their audiences, customers, and so on. I’m reasonably competent at what I do, fortunately. And it’s a fairly enjoyable way to earn a living.

In the past month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to help one of my clients take their first little baby steps into social networking. What this means is that, for all intents and purposes, I’m spending a couple of hours a day on Twitter and Facebook as my client. Actually, there are three different and distinct brands that I’m managing, across two different networks (that’s six accounts total). I’ve got seven different browser tabs open at all times, a 3×3 TweetGrid that runs real time searches on related terms, and an ever-evolving strategy for helping my client participate in these conversations in a way that’s meaningful, human, and worthwhile.
Dancing for the Clients
It is, as you might imagine, a hell of a lot to keep straight onscreen — to say nothing of inside my chronically porous little Gemini brain. And I still have difficulty coming to terms with the concept that I get paid to do this sort of thing.

Fortunately, they haven’t heard about “Stripper Friday”.

Not a bad gig, really — at least, it’ll do until that whole “Writer” thing ramps up.

Although it does remind me of the old “First you do it for love…” thing.

And on that note, back to the beginning…

I have a couple of semi-announcements to share.

First off, I recently put together a portable sound studio similar to this one. Which means that, over time, I’m going to (a) Re-record both “Assam & Darjeeling” and “Matters of Mortology” to improve the overall production quality and clean up the rough edges in the original recordings; and (b) Begin a new podcast with an open format more suited to conversation, interviews, and shorter pieces. The re-recording could take a few months, of course. But I expect the new podcast to kick off sometime in October.

Second, if you’re one of the many people who’s written to me about getting ahold of a copy of either “Matters of Mortology” or “Assam & Darjeeling” that you can hold in your hands and read with your whaddyacall actual eyes, then good news is on the way. Starting with “Mortology” in a few weeks, both books will be released in a variety of formats: Softcover, Hardcover, PDF, and a few of the eBook readers (Amazon’s Kindle is for sure, the Sony Reader is a possibility as well).

It’s an . . . experiment, of a sort. I’m very interested to see how it goes.

Watch this space for details.

* * * * * *

On a cold October day in 1877, a young man walked off a white oak ship.Speaking of which, it’s time now for something I really should do more often…

I met author Tony Delgrosso on Twitter some long while back. Not sure how we connected but he’s clever and funny, so I bet that had something to do with it. Sometime last year, Tony began publishing his novel “Mr. Abernathy” online in installments. It’s a fun yarn and Delgrosso does a good job taking some of the classic thriller elements (Secret Nazi research, time travel, and [maybe?] UFO technology) and crafts an enjoyable, engaging book out of them. I wrote a review for it on GoodReads, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here as well.

Another reason I like this book is that it’s from an author taking steps to promote his work outside of the traditional (and increasingly, frustratingly hermetically-sealed) publishing industry. It’s a bit inspiring and, like the man said, “it is a comfort to the unfortunate to have companions in woe.”

You can pick up a copy of Tony Delgrosso’s “Mr. Abernathy” online.