Monthly Archives: January 2009

Fear of Pollution

The New Podler recently invited me to become a contributor. My first blog for them is up:

In response to the recently posted “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab” NYT article, why do I feel like the elite lads are complaining their exclusive club isn’t so exclusive anymore? I get a slight sense of impending doom from Motoko Rich, as if the Published Authors Club isn’t feeling as important as it once did when an author was either published or unpublished—not this in-between DIY nonsense where everyone has a voice and is using it (for better or for worse). I’m not knocking traditional publishers. Their editors are (mostly) impeccable, their market penetration is very nearly absolute, and (the majority of) their authors have proved their worth repeatedly. But they can be a tad whiny at times. Especially when someone forms their own club across the way.

Read the rest here, and let me know if my little bitch impression is any good.

Your Book Will Never Make It

The New Podler links to an interesting The New York Times article on self-publishing and success—or lack thereof:

When Lisa Genova, a former consultant to pharmaceutical companies, wrote her first novel, “Still Alice,” a story about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease, she was turned down or ignored by 100 literary agents.

Ms. Genova paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. A fellow author discovered the book and introduced Ms. Genova to an agent, and she eventually sold “Still Alice” for a mid-six-figure advance to Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which released a new edition this month. It had its debut on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on Sunday, at No. 5.

I’ve done the self-publishing thing, and have spent many a night laying awake hoping and praying for the kind of discovery mentioned above, even though I’ve known better since 2004 or so. Self-published fiction never sells well. Never has. Historically, there have been a few flukes, but for the rest of us there’s simply too much stigma and too many poorly-edited, flat out bad DIY novels out there to let anyone take us seriously. The general consensus is that POD and self-publishing tools are good for either mainstream authors who already have a large following and who are interested in getting their backlog into print—or for naive hobbyists (let’s face it, if you’re an author who publishes his own books, no one is ever going to consider you more than a hobbyist, regardless of how many months or years went into your work) who imagine themselves somehow succeeding where many, many others have failed.

Okay. Enough pessimism. There is a bright side to all of this. Twenty years ago the only shot for a no-name fiction writer without connections was the slush pile (and this was before the convenience of e-mail). Today you’ve got computers in every home, desktop publishing software, printing / distribution services, and the Web. The odds may not be much better, but the paradigm has shifted. Using a music industry analogy: a self-published book is your demo, a sample—a teaser to get the big boys’ attention. Instead of mailing your demo to New York, you set up a Web site, you get people to visit and comment on how much they absolutely love your work. You can’t simply have lunch with a reputable agent, so you set fire to yourself and do a little Look At Me! dance in the hopes of attracting attention before your heat suit melts. If it works, they come to you. If not, you’ve got a following that very well might stick around for your next demo.

Now, where did I put my matches?

Is This Not the Coolest?

It always warms my heart to see familiar names in movie credits:

A promo card for Urgency

For the record, I just wanted to say that I knew both Sean and Sal before they were famous.

Oh, and you SuperMegaNet fanboys / fangirls out there, save your bytes and stop sending me your (much appreciated) “wherefore art?” messages. I’m hard at work on episode 2.4, which I’m planning to post next week. ;)

Kung Fu Hustle

I’m still a little woozy from last night’s Windows re-installation and movie marathon. While I stuffed my face with pepperoni pizza, Sal showed me Kung Fu Hustle—and I now know why Hollywood has failed to excite me for the past decade. Matt, from Bag of Mad Bastards, puts it like this:

Imagine a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon set in the middle of a Shaw Brothers “grindhouse” kung-fu movie from the ’70’s.

You just don’t get that often enough. Max Payne pales in comparison. Sin City (which, in my opinion, relies too heavily on the dark and broody) is close…but dayum!

Staying Hawt

Alicia Sacramone becomes a celebrity

Don’t confuse “hot” with “hawt”. The former merely implies physical appeal; the latter, though, means you’re both gorgeous and sassy and media-worthy and so on. It appears ex-Olympian Alicia Sacramone has, in her post-Beijing travels, become quite hawt. Well, she was always so, but now the big news is that she’s dating someone. Why is this news? Oh, right. Because she’s no longer a competitive gymnast, she’s a celebrity. We used to care about her scores, and now we’re cataloging her beaus.

It’s one of several answers to that oft-asked question: What does a gymnast do after the Olympics (which is probably the only time anyone notices or cares about the sport)? Simple. She either finishes high school / college, goes out and gets a job—or she tries her darnedest to stay hawt. Monica Sardinia (cheap plug warning) didn’t get the whole celebrity aspect of the sport. She did it because it was a means to an end, but it was all drills and skills, going through the motions of being a cutesy celebrity in order to affect her ultimate goal: Olympus. She had to be a gymnast in order to become a celebrity in order to continue being a gymnast.

There are parallels in the non-fictional world. Parents, coaches, clubs, and promoters are trying desperately to make celebrities out of their little acrobats. Gymnastics isn’t a money sport unless you’re on the Olympic team or attending a prestigious college. Your typical elite meet is a collection of quieter, more refined triumphs—you can’t get your audience excited in the same way Kobe Bryant can when he scores. Unless, again, it’s an Olympic year. Sure, there are endorsement deals, books, TV shows, pseudo-celebrity status augmented by plastic surgery and / or liposuction, but you’re splashing in a sea filled with bigger, more obnoxious football and basketball players. The results vary greatly. Shannon Miller has become a professional speaker and broadcaster; Carly Patterson has been trying since 2004 to spark her singing career; Shawn Johnson is touting a new book, as well as sticking close to Sacramone via her new Covergirl deal.

These are just the gals with an affinity for the limelight. The ones you hear about in the news. Everyone else has found their own version of hawtness in finishing school, starting families, or coaching. Doni Thompson, who last competed for UCLA, started a gym with her husband; Elena Zamolodchikova (try saying that name two times fast!) achieved lieutenant status in the Russian military and a mentoring position at her gym. Countless others have left their glory days behind and have become ordinary citizens. You can go both ways, it seems. Practicality or popularity.

Still, Sacramone is hawt, and she pulls it off well, having effectively used her competitive career as a springboard to stardom. If she resists the temptation to pull a Michael Phelps, big things await her down the road.

Ozzy’s Ghost

A very blurry Ozzy Osbourne takes the stage at NAMM 2009

A very blurry Ozzy Osbourne takes the stage at NAMM 2009

From the Goddamnit Department: My camera hates me. I was going over last week’s NAMM footage and discovered that all the stills / video I took sucked big, bulbous ass. This, and my camera also corrupted a really cool shot of me in a fedora. I was planning on using that on Hot or Not. Oh well. At least I got to see Ozzy Osbourne in the flesh…even though it seems he can’t be photographed via conventional means. Now I know how the conspiracy theorists and Bigfoot hunters feel.

Gordonism: Shit happens to those who wait

As shitty as it sounds, the New Age entry on this poster inspired me the most

As shitty as it sounds, the New Age entry on this poster inspired me the most

There’s been a lot of shit on my mind lately—a side-effect of geekdom, apparently. Supposedly those of us blessed with analytical, mathematical, or artistic minds find it hard to “turn off” or shift from one collection of thoughts to another. My brain’s been loitering; I’ve been coping with the realization that “The Ultimate Crunch” video was never meant to be more than a YouTube clip. Basically, I (like many others) fell for the gimmick and bought a dozen bags of Doritos as props in the hopes that it would be worth something more than just revenue for the Frito-Lay company. Thank God I wasn’t naive enough to eat everything afterward.

I’ve been getting back into the Web design biz, and am remembering now all the reasons I left it behind in the first place: no one wants to pay you for shit they don’t want to do themselves. It’s kind of a paradox, as is trying to figure out where to go next in the next decade of my life. SuperMegaNet has kept me sane. I’m having fun working out all the personalities and story lines. There’s a lot of me in Theo, and a lot of Theo in me. It’s keeping my mind off the little worries, having this doppelganger to help bear the load. And I can use Ernie to say all the things on paper that I’m too polite to say in real life. Blogging is my new therapy, it seems…though I promise not to resort to girlish crush reports and angst-filled diary entries. That’s what MySpace is for.

Funny how the silliest little things can sometimes make a difference. The poster above proved to be quite motivational. “Visualize shit happening” is just what I’ve been instinctively starting to do as of late. Not only that, but making shit happen, too. I promised last year to have The Knack re-released after the demise of the original print run; now I’ve followed through with a pocket paperback version, available in limited form, but available. Death to typos!

Also featuring a brand spanking new cover is the pocket paperback version of Heroes’ Day. I never liked the faded yellow painting cover, which was a hasty replacement for artwork that was to be done by Aleksas Trotter. Sadly, he passed away before he could finish it.

With rising prices on everything, it seems we’re a teeny bit closer to having parity between mass market and print-on-demand paperbacks (which were expensive to begin with). The latter matters to me because, as a starving writer utilizing an independent publisher, POD is all I’ve got—and that’s both a blessing and a curse. Reminds me of some interesting comments from Wil Wheaton at last year’s Comic Con. His DIY statements towards the end rang true. For the last ten years I’ve been trying to find acceptance at the major publishers when perhaps I should have been doing it myself all along and building an audience through my Web site. This relates to the “visualize shit happening” thing. Wanna visualize with me? Scroll down and leave a comment. “Boo!” or “Bite me!” will do just fine. ;)

Familiar Ground

Two street team members deface a clothing rack in Costa Mesa

Two street team members deface a clothing rack in Costa Mesa

One of the problems with new year’s resolutions is that the ones you make are usually the ones you break, and the ones you keep are the ones you never make in the first place. I was actually moving away from my site duties as 2008 wound down—but then I read a pair of books on Web promotion, and now I’m suffering from blog fever. Much of this is due to the launch of SuperMegaNet. But it’s also a culmination of having been online for nearly ten years, three of those at Jessture.com, posting videos, selling books. I think I’m finally coming to terms with the blogosphere in general. I’m more willing to whore myself. I know I’ve said that before, but this time I’m serious. I’ll prove it with a couple of tie-ins—and crossovers. I don’t have a beefy marketing department at my disposal, so I’m going to go door to door, if need be, until every last person in southern California has a copy of Heroes’ Day in their hands…or, failing that, through their living room window.

I mentioned crossovers above (as well as briefly in Between the Chapters). This year, in addition to darker / edgier themes, you’ll be meeting some recycled characters in SuperMegaNet. Frequent readers will already know that I hate wasting material, and that I often bleed themes and characters from one project to another. In 2003, I almost turned my then-current Heroes’ Day draft into part of the Urban Prophets storyline. That’s why Alyssa was a gymnast, and why “Swarm” took place ~seventy years from now. I very nearly sent Alyssa to Olympus, but decided in the end to keep the two stories separate. Something similar is happening now. There was this whole personal side to Monica Sardinia, but it would have been overkill to keep all the little stories in the Heroes’ Day final draft. Like the scene where Monica sneaks into Keene’s Gymnastics with Pat, Sarah, and Amy and has a slumber party. Overkill, but not necessarily without value. Thus: Monica’s training partners have become Summer’s friends, “jockettes,” as Ernie likes to call them. They’re useful bits from another project, and, admittedly, shameless tie-ins to Heroes’ Day.

So, to the readers who’ve asked me why certain plots and characters seem uncannily similar to one another, there’s your answer. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.

Mourning the Death of Paper

It appears print media is fading depressingly fast. A short while ago it was announced that PC Magazine is going 100% digital. Today I logged on to Gamasutra.com and found that another of my long-time favorites, EGM, is closing up shop as well. As John C. Dvorak puts it in “Summarizing the Death Throes of 2008”:

When you combine this with the push to take what was a unique American industry and pretty much hand it over to Asia, because it’s cheaper to do things over there, then pretty soon everything is done there. While this in itself isn’t a bad thing, Asians as a whole have no interest in print magazine advertising. Culturally speaking, they aren’t about selling more sizzle than steak. And while this is commendable on some cerebral levels, it creates a humdrum if not out-and-out depressing environment.

I remember my first issue of EGM, way back in 1990. It had a pixelated screenshot of Castlevania 3 on the cover, and a foreboding warning inside that the game might not be released in the US. I was hooked from then on. The drama, the games, the reviews and previews—but most of all the feeling of a crisp new issue in my hands every month. Paper is pleasure. I’m sure some of you have seen that webcard / e-card of the naked woman reclining on a sofa with a comforting volume poised on her chest. I won’t post it here, but you get the point. There’s a sort of sensual nature to having wood pulp in your hands. An intimacy. Computer reading is much more monotonous, best suited for quick bursts of news, directions, or instructions. Reference stuff. It’s so not fun laying in bed with your laptop or e-book reader propped on your beer gut as you try to get through a Dean Koontz novel. It’s kind of like staring at photographs of the Grand Canyon but never actually going. Yes, the print outfits listed above have their online counterparts, but it still saddens me that these long-standing institutions have fallen by the wayside along with the likes of Science Fiction Age, Omni, and my personal favorite of the last decade, Incite Magazine:

Incite Magazine, issues 2, 3, and 5

Incite Magazine, issues 2, 3, and 5

I’m not knocking the possibilities of digital media. There’s a lot to be done with the technology. It’s just that the printed word is going extinct before a viable alternative is truly available. E-book readers require batteries, and there’s a software learning curve from device to device—to say nothing of compatibility issues (I don’t think any hardware manufacturers have agreed on a universal e-book format yet). And who’s to say if the formats we have today will still be around thirty years from now? With a printed book or magazine, the only requirement is that you understand the language in which the material was written. E-books require that your device manufacturer keep up-to-date with changing formats, aging or damaged hardware, computer viruses. And maybe that’s the idea: to infuse the publishing industry with tech conventions. Upgrades, planned obsolescence, re-buying compatible copies of your favorite e-books every five years instead of buying a single paperback and hanging onto it for life.

Maybe I’m reading into this too much. I’ll know I’m right if and when the Random House Reader hits the market. ;)

Hard Cheese

A broken televisionThe Crash the Superbowl Top 5 has been revealed and…we didn’t make the cut. Neither did a lot of other people, as all five videos chosen were semi-professionally produced (read: they had a budget, whereas we had none). So, we never had a chance in hell—but it was still a blast filming “The Ultimate Crunch” and making Cary’s cheese fetish dreams come true. Thanks to everyone who helped us out on that long, long night, and thanks to all of you who donated your clicks.

Speaking of clicks, if you have a few more to spare, trot over to the Preditors & Editors Web site and cast your vote(s) in this year’s readers’ poll. The contest runs through January 14th, so there’s still a little over a week left for you to vote for your favorite authors, artists, books, and ’zines.