Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Support Sinister Grin!

I mentioned in last week's post that there are ups and downs to crowdfunding, ways to abuse it and ways to us it correctly, and we're all feeling our way forward on the subject.  No sooner did I post that than I caught wind of an Indiegogo campaign from a great small press I've already gone on the record as considering one of the best outfits around, Sinister Grin.  As I mentioned in my post on the subject, Indiegogo is a lot less skeevy than Kickstarter actual, so that already puts SG ahead of the curve in my book.

More important than their choice of crowdfunding platform, though, SG produces great work from top-notch authors, and I mean top notch.  So if you're of a mind to support independent horror, please consider contributing to their Indiegogo campaign.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"U" is for "Ultron"

This post isn't really about Ultron.  Except maybe that he's a jerk and some of the people I will be talking about will be jerks?  I dunno.  It just seemed like a good thing to name a post.

The actual subject of this post is "Unmentionable."  As in, unmentionable words.  If you've been anywhere near a device or another human being in the last week, you'll have heard that the president - our sitting president of these United States, Barack Obama - used the N-word on Marc Maron's podcast.

Much hay has been made in the media and the social media about this event.  Actually, "event" seems like too strong of a word.  Occurrence, maybe?  Happenstance?  Anyway, people are riled up about it.  It's got us talking about censorship and race relations in this country, so that's a good thing. 

I've been thinking lately about this need to bowdlerize words, and what that really represents.  When I was a kid, I remember referring to the F-word and the S-word, and feeling very on the fence about whether "crap" and "pussy" were swears, and whether I could get in trouble for saying them.  At my age, and after a four-year stint in the army, there is literally no traditional curse word which holds any kind of taboo for me.

The words that I consider truly offensive, that even as a writer I deploy with great sparseness and only after long deliberation, are a handful of ethnic and misogynistic slurs.  Perhaps it makes me a coward, but, yes, even in the context of this blog post about unmentionable words, I won't be deploying the actual N-word or C-word, or a slur against Jewish people which begins with a "K."

I've had characters say these words.  BRAINEATER JONES was set in the 1930s, and after reading a lot of the literature of the time, I realized that it was dishonest to pretend like white people in that era were concerned with sparing feelings.  These words which we consider the height of taboo today were tossed around with a casualness that beggars the imagination.  And, perhaps even more interesting, the silly words which we're allowed to say on basic cable were things you didn't say in mixed company in the '30s.

It's a tightrope walk for me as an author to know that I'm writing for the sensibilities of a modern audience and yet trying to stay true to a period, or perhaps a character.  It's kind of a cliché that villains are the only ones who can kick puppies, smoke, and use slurs (consider Dennis Hopper in "Land of the Dead") but often that's true.  Because how can I make a bigot sympathetic to a modern audience?  Certainly, it's possible.  Dirty Harry - well, admittedly that was in the 70's - but he springs to mind. 

It's just kind of a tough sell.  It's a lot easier to extricate bigoted elements from a hero or anti-hero altogether rather than deal with all that baggage.  No one (for the most part) likes to consider themselves racist or sexist, so when you throw that element in, an audience almost immediately refuses to sympathize.

So what's the big deal?  These are just words, after all.  Well, yes, but words have power.  2 billion-odd people around the world live their lives by the words of a five thousand year old book still today.  And there are any number of sentences that will raise your hackles, send you into a fury, or please you almost orgasmically for the rest of the day.  And then there are individual words so potent in their use and so deeply entrenched in historical usage, that the word alone terrifies people.

These are the words we bowdlerize.  When "fuck" no longer meant anything to me, I stopped calling it "the F-word."  But there are soccer moms and infants running around saying "darn" and "pee-pee" because those are the words which have power over them.  I suppose we ought not to judge people with different sensibilities - after all, as I mentioned last week, there are people who find the word "moist" repulsive for no real compelling reason.

I think perhaps what unites the words we bowdlerize are that they can be used as weapons.  If someone said "Fuck you" to me when I was twelve (or even in certain circumstances today) it would probably really rile me up.  Curse words are like generic weapons: a bullet or a knife tossed in your general direction.  The slurs that cause real pain, the N-word, the C-word, and so forth, are like a laser-guided missile that can only harm one particular kind of person.  And every time we deploy it we harm all of that kind of person, not just the individual it's directed against.

Calling someone an "asshole" is like saying "You're worthy of insult because of your actions, whoever you are."  Calling someone an N-word is like saying, "You're worthy of insult because of who you are, regardless of your actions."  And what's the proper response to that?  An asshole can stop acting like an asshole.  A POC or a woman can never stop being what they are, no matter how they act.

I might be disappearing up my own asshole at this point.  These are thorny, complicated issues and I don't even really know what I'm trying to prove or to who.  Maybe we could have a (civil, please!) discussion in the comments.  Let me know what you think!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Lifetime of Running from Mobs and Armies (Guest Post from Michael Meyerhofer, Author of KNIGHTSWRATH)

HAWM, loyal squires and knights of Bloglandia!  Hark, for this morrow welcomst we to the blog, yon proud maester of poesy and ryme, Michael of Clan Meyerhofer!  Lest I spoil thine sighted eyes with further medieval-speak, let us fete our guest with mead, mutton, and much cheering!

About Michael Meyerhofer:

Michael Meyerhofer grew up in Iowa where he learned to cope with the unbridled excitement of the Midwest by reading books and not getting his hopes up. Probably due to his father’s influence, he developed a fondness for Star Trek, weight lifting, and collecting medieval weapons. He is also addicted to caffeine and the History Channel.

His fourth poetry book, What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, was recently published by Split Lip Press. He also serves as the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review. His poetry and prose have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Brevity, Ploughshares, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rattle, and many other journals. He and his fiancee currently live in Fresno, California, in a little house beside a very large cactus.

Guest Post:

People who have read WYTCHFIRE know that the world of the DRAGONKIN TRILOGY is not always a friendly place, and that will grow even more apparent in KNIGHTSWRATH. This is a world where those born with the “gift” of magic are often killed at birth, and even if they do survive, they face a lifetime of running from mobs and armies. But this is also a world in which the people who wield magic (called the Shel’ai) sometimes use unnecessarily brutal methods to defend themselves. Put another way, there’s a great deal of moral ambiguity built into these conflicts, and like Rowen Locke (the everyman protagonist), the reader might not always know exactly who is right and who is wrong.

Furthermore, not all these conflicts involve magic. Some, sadly, could have been taken from our own newspaper headlines. For example, orphans in the slums of Lyos (also called Dark Quarter) have to worry about a lot more than starvation, and there are hints that especially during his childhood, Rowen fought off opponents who, in one sense, were far more sinister than greatwolves, sellswords, and vengeful sorcerers.

Much has been made (and for good reason) of the way sexual violence has been handled in "Game of Thrones," HBO’s epic (and, lately, increasingly loose) adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantastic series, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. I reside in the camp that says dark fantasy should be gritty and realistic, but I also hate it when violence (especially sexual violence) is used purely for shock value. To me, that isn’t just irresponsible writing; it’s also lazy. So even though the books of the DRAGONKIN TRILOGY are unapologetically brutal at times, I hope readers will notice the driving purpose behind the various conflicts. 

One thing I’ve also learned as a writer is that you don’t always have to show the monster. Often, you get more psychological mileage out of referencing dark events without actually showing them, which also allows you to bypass the whole, muddy debate over what is and what isn’t gratuitous. Igrid, a new character in KNIGHTSWRATH, is a prime example of this. Without giving spoilers, I think it’s safe to say that Igrid’s past is even more troubling than Rowen’s, which meant I could have included some pretty graphic flashbacks. I decided to avoid this, though, because fantasy readers are smart and imaginative, and often, a quick reference can speak volumes.

All that being said, another thing I avoided in KNIGHTSWRATH was the impulse to make things darker by filtering out my natural love of gallows humor. Human beings in the real world often use humor to deal with messy situations, and the characters in the DRAGONKIN TRILOGY are no different. In fact, I think that Jalist would make a good stand-up comic. And hopefully, readers will sense that’s there hope and a kind of wild beauty throughout the world of the DRAGONKIN TRILOGY, too. After all, that’s what Rowen, Silwren, and the others are fighting for.


Rowen Locke has achieved his dream of becoming a Knight of the Crane, and he now bears Knightswrath, the legendary sword of Fâyu Jinn. But the land remains torn, and though Rowen suffers doubts, he would see it healed. His knightly order is not what it seems, though, and allies remain thin. When Rowen and his friends seek an alliance with the forest-dwelling Sylvs, a tangle of events results in a midnight duel that teaches Rowen a dangerous lesson and leaves him with a new companion of uncertain loyalties.

The sadistic Dhargots still threaten the kingdoms, but another menace lurks in the shadows, playing a game none can see. As Rowen struggles to prove his worth—to his allies and to himself—chaos raises its hand to strike. A price must be paid, and not even the wielder of Knightswrath will remain untouched.

Friday, June 19, 2015

On Kickstarting

Internet culture is an endless source of fascination to me.  The internet, even some 35 (ish?) years after its inception, is still very much the Wild West.  New, game-changing hardware, software, websites, and apps seem to pop up daily.  Facebook basically IS the internet, and that didn't exist until 10 years ago.  Twitter didn't exist until what, 7 years ago?  What about the iPhone, for that matter?

We're all kind of learning together as a society and individually what it's like to have virtual lives.  My alma mater has the distinction of having the first person who was fired due to social media, based on a MySpace (!) pic back in, I think, 2006.  Together we're all navigating the difference between personal, professional, and virtual (and the overlap between the same) in an environment that changes constantly.  It's all quite a lot to take in, actually.

So I'll try to be ginger, or at least level-headed with this topic.  Kickstarter is a relatively new trend.  (And while I know there are several major sites with various modus operandi - Indiegogo, GoFundMe, Patreon, and so forth - for our purposes I'm just going to be referring to the crowdfunding movement as Kickstarter or Kickstarting, mmkay?)  I have friends who despise the very concept of Kickstarter, think it ought to be illegal, even.  I guess there's something to be said for that. 

It's a little bit gross.  It's a little bit gauche.  I know I said I wasn't going to get into the vagaries of the various Kickstarting sites, but Patreon in particular seems like a rather grotesque money grab.  "Pay me to do what I do!"  Um...okay.  Shouldn't you get paid on the back end if what you do is worth paying for?

There's also (obviously) value in what Kickstarter does.  Kickstarter is (for 2015 at least) the apex of the democratization of art.  It's the democratization of funding, at long last.  For countless centuries we worked on a patronage system, where rich kings and nobles underwrote the efforts of their pet artists, and that evolved into the industrial studio/publisher model of the 19th and 20th century, which wasn't a whole lot better, except it was slightly more of a meritocracy.  At least, in the sense, that if you could convince a studio head that what you were producing was going to make money, he might front you the money you needed to make the product.

Now the fans can prove directly their devotion to a movie, book, game, whatever by acting as the studio.  It used to be that all a fan could do was plead their case with the studio.  (Hey, it got us a third season of "Star Trek."  And six episodes of "Jerico."  So, you know, ups and downs.)

Like I said, and like some of my friends believe, this feels a bit exploitative.  Okay, so you're a fan of Care Bears?  Kickstart the Care Bears movie!  We'll even send you a sticker if you donate a certain amount!  And then after that you've won...the opportunity to buy a ticket to the Care Bears movie!

Well, it certainly flips the traditional speculative model on its head.  But it does seem to place an undue burden on fans.  Of course, no one's holding a damn gun to anybody's head.  If you want to donate twenty bucks to have an opportunity to spend nine bucks on a movie ticket later, nobody's going to stop you.  And I guess it does mean that you can put your money where your mouth is in terms of fandom.

What sometimes gets lost in the sauce here is all the vig Kickstarter is skimming off the top.  Kickstarter, and to varying degrees its competitors, all take a slice of the pie.  Every pie.  So from the jackass who wanted $18 to make potato salad all the way up to Zach Braff trying to start a new studio-quality movie, Kickstarter is sitting in the background making a profit.  It's not illegal - most scams aren't - but it certainly seems to be a bit of a grey area morally, if not ethically.

Hey, I'm not made of stone.  And I'm not anti-Kickstarter, either.  I had a very good friend's house burn down and I threw a few bucks to I think it was his GoFundMe campaign.  And I've contributed to charity anthologies and a few other things I either thought were worthy or were being run by a friend.  I can't deny the efficacies or the draw of Kickstarter.

What I really want to circle back around to, but I never can because of my ceaseless bloviating, is whether we're ushering in a new era of digital panhandling, and whether that should be considered socially acceptable.  Like I said, there are valuable Kickastarter campaigns and there are total horseshit, and they run the gamut from respectable to detestable.  And it's almost impossible to translate any online activity into a direct meatspace counterpart.  But that being said, if I took my guitar and sat on a street corner asking for change to make my art, there's a certain level of scorn society would heap upon me.  Not so much if I made a Kickstarter to put out a CD.

Actually, do people still put out CDs?  Do people still buy one or two CDs a year?  Let me know in the comments if you want two CDs.

I'm increasingly seeing authors using Kickstarter for a general sort of "pay for me to live" type service.  I understand Kickstarter campaigns for individual projects, but this seems like a strange, relatively recent development in the crazy world that is online life.  Hey, I'm a writer.  I get that it sucks to write things on spec.  You put in hundreds of hours of work on a novel, then hundreds of more hours trying to sell it, hoping that maybe somebody somewhere will want to publish it.  And then even if you're lucky enough to get it published (or go through the additional hoops of self-publishing) odds are damn good it won't sell.

But now we're talking about flipping that paradigm.  Instead of writing a book on spec, seeing if it sells, improving your craft, and trying to sell another book, some authors are now asking for money up front.  Give me the money now, the concept seems to be, so that I can subsist as an artist, and produce my work.

Partially this raises my hackles because I have a day job, most writers have day jobs (and some a damn sight shittier than mine) and support themselves while doing the book thing, dreaming of a day when their work is good enough to quit the day job and subsist organically.  Of course, that's all a very narrow-minded and, frankly, big-C conservative way of looking at life, so I don't necessarily want my gut reaction to be the final thought on the matter.  We all know the things we say and do online aren't the same things we would say and do in the real world.  But if what we would scorn as panhandling or a pyramid scheme in the real world gains respectability as crowdsourcing in the virtual world, why not a new paradigm for not being a starving artist?

As I said, the patronage system was pretty shitty.  It led to a lot of shitty art that flattered the patron because of course it did.  And the studio system led to a lot of shlock, calculated (in the coldest imaginable sense of the word) to make money.  I imagine a system where artists are essentially free to do whatever they want, free fro the shackles of economic reality anyway, would be a whole new thing.  It might be beautiful and transcendent and lead to art that otherwise would never make it past an editor or a test audience.  Or, fuck, it could lead to a bunch of masturbatory bullshit because nobody's striving for anything anymore.  I don't know.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"T" is for "Tyranny"

To me, there is no more repulsive experience than touching newspaper.  I know this is a little odd.  I know millions upon millions of people, across the centuries, have enjoyed nothing better than the feel of a crisp Sunday paper in their hands.  Lord knows I've read about it often enough.

The tactile feel of that strangely thin, almost gray paper is repellent to me.  The smell, the touch, the sloughing off of newsprint is grotesque and malodorous.  It doesn't come up very often anymore, as we've switched away from printed media, but I still have to fetch and immediately dispose of the pennysaver from our mailbox each week, which I do clenching it between two envelopes and holding it away from my body.

I have a distinct recollection of a near panic attack when very young and reading about Sherlock Holmes, hanging out in a train car, surrounding himself with dozens and dozens of newspapers.  That was Doyle's way of showing us that Holmes was well-read, and kept abreast of all of the kind of Victorian minutia that he would seem to pull out of his ass at the end of every story.  For me it sounded quite a bit like a personal hell.

I also remember a near physical revulsion watching an episode of "The X-Files" when carny geek The Conundrum began to make a papier-maché cocoon out of newspapers by licking them.  The very idea that I might someday find myself in London and order fish and chips and have to that repulsive material is enough to give me a shudder.

But here's the thing: I don't pretend this is universal.  I'm well aware this is a personal, albeit odd peccadillo.  I don't feel bad about it, because I know people who are equally disgusted by mushrooms, which I relish, or the word "moist" which I feel quite frankly completely neutral about, or, as was made famous by an episode of "The Three Stooges," some people will go into a fighting rage after hearing the song "Pop Goes the Weasel."

We all have and understand that other people have these, well, "preferences" isn't the right word, and I already used "peccadillos," so let's just say, proclivities, when it comes to food, music, and a whole variety of other little ordinary, everyday things.  What I don't understand, or, frankly, just find exasperating, is that no one seems to project this understanding onto language.

If I had one wish for the literary community, it's that more writers and editors were linguists.  We often call ourselves "linguists" in the sense that we use language, but I wish the study of language, actual linguistics, were more widespread in the community.  I say this because I often find myself embroiled in debates that are completely devoid of the context that this greater understanding would provide.

As a metaphor, imagine you were trying to advocate for, say, parliamentary government.  And you engage in a conversation with someone who literally can't understand anything outside of the Democrat/Republican dichotomy of American politics.  You'd be trying to explain to someone who wants to debate about Social Security that there are, in fact, other methods of governance beyond our own.  This is how I often feel when we get locked into debates about comma placement and spelling and that sort of thing.

French is an interesting counterpoint to English. France has a department of their government called the Académie française which dictates what is immutably correct in the French language.  English has no such academy, which while it allows some flexibility even in our formal writing, means that we will forever be plagued by silly appeals to a non-existent authority.

I've often debated on this very blog things like the double spaced sentence and the Oxford comma, things which I feel strongly about.  For that matter, I've pointed out how exhausting I find people who want to tell me to pronounce "sherbet" as "sher-bay" instead of "sherbert" or who argue that "ain't" or "irregardless" aren't words.  If we limited ourselves to this kind of prescriptivist nonsense, we'd barely be able to communicate.  Imagine having to justify yourself every time you used "LOL" or "selfie" in a sentence.

And I don't say this to be ridiculous.  I say this to point out an important truth.  Language is organic, and ever-changing.  People are fond of saying that "gay" technically means happy...but no one uses it that way anymore.  Not in close to a century.  What point are you attempting to prove by making that argument?  That you can't change with the times?  That you're incapable of communicating with your fellow English-speakers?

The purpose of language is ease of communications.  I have no issue with, say, a publishing house insisting that I use their house style.  Where I take issue is when they insist that their house style is in some metaphysical way "correct."  There is no "correct" English.  We have rules that we generally adhere to in various situations, but overall the point is to communicate our ideas to other people.  I wouldn't use 7334speak in a wedding invitation, and I wouldn't use the Chicago Manual of Style to compose a text.

I often think that ee cummings eschewed punctuation and Cormac McCarthy eschewed dialogue rules to prove a point about the futility of descriptivist tyranny over language.  No one McCarthy or cummings dense or unreadable because they ignored the rules.  Which is not to say that we should blanketly ignore rules, because, of course, a general set of rules allows for (say it with me now) ease of communication.  I'm writing now in my blog style, which is different from my novel style, which is different from my work style, which is different from my speaking style, which is different from my texting style...and being aware of that, due to just my limited grounding in linguistics, means that I'm not walking around all the time talking about what's "right."

There is no universal "right" because there is no academy in English.  There's just a variety of (often contradictory) style guides and an even greater variety of publishing house styles and a near infinite variety of personal styles.  The only time you can truly be "wrong" in English is when you fail to communicate your point.  Know what'm sayin'?

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Quintessential BRAVE NEW GIRLS Post

Purchase Links

Barnes and Noble


The anthology website
The crowdfunding page (fully funded)
An interview on Across the Board
Announcement on Mary Fan's website
Full funding announcement on Zigzag Timeline
A post on Zigzag Timeline (change the world)
A post on ZigZag Timeline (tech savvy heroines)
Story lineup on Zigzag Timeline
Acceptance announcement on Kate Lansing's blog
A post on The Nerdy Paige (Atlas Shrugged)
Acceptance announcement on Kimberly G. Giarratano's blog
A guest post on The Blog of Erised
Cover reveal on Astral Musings
A post on The Nerdy Paige (crowdfunding launch)
A post on The Nerdy Paige (anthology announcement)
Acceptance announcement on Manuscripts Burn
A post on Zigzag Timeline (exploring a character's past)
A post on The Martian Perspective
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Of Cat's Whiskers and Klutzes)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Graveyard Shift)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Courage Is...)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (The Keys to the Stars)
An interview with curator Paige Daniels on Pankhearst
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (The Data Tourist)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (The Hive)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Panic)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Helen of Mars)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (The Mad Scientist's Daughter)
A guest post on Tash McAdam's blog
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Robin Hacker)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Fledgling)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Flight of the Zephyr)
A post on Kimberly G. Giarratano's blog
A post on Jennifer L. Lopez's Blog
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (A Little Bit Truer)
An illustration reveal on Manuscripts Burn
A post on Manuscripts Burn
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Robot Repair Girl)
An interview with Evangeline Jennings on Col's Criminal Library
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Blink)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Lyra)
Teaser post on Leandra J. Wallace's blog (The Hive & Helen of Mars)
Teaser post on Leandra J. Wallace's blog (Flegling & Panic)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (The Outpost)
Teaser post on Leandra J. Wallace's blog (Courage Is... & The Mad Scientist's Daughter)
A preview on Zigzag Timeline (Foreword)
Teaser post on Leandra J. Wallace's blog (Graveyard Shift & Takes a Hacker)
An illustration preview on Zigzag Timeline
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 20)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 19)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 18)
A second illustration preview on Zigzag Timeline
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 17)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 16)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 15)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 13)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 12)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 11)
A trailer share on Manuscripts Burn
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 10)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 9)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 7)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 6)
A countdown on Astral Musings (Day 1)
A release day giveaway on Leandra J. Wallace's blog
Release day announcement on Astral Musings
A spotlight on Kelly Smith's blog
A release day post on Zigzag Timeline
A spotlight on What's Happening in the Heartland
A mention on Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog
A review on Classic Book Reader
A review on eBook Review Gal
A review on Damsels with Chainsaws
A guest post on Pornokitsch
A review on The Story Goes...
A wrap-up mention on The Story Goes...
A review on Rock Springs Crafts
A nomination on the Amelia Bloomer Project
A review on Book is Glee
A review on Strange Charm
A post on Pankhearst
A review on Long and Short Reviews YA
A mention on Sophie E. Tallis's blog
A mention on brilliant years
A review on Read Me Away
A review on Lilac Reviews
A review on Phillip Tomasso's blog
A review on Writer by Night
A review on
A review on Cellar Door Lit Rants and Reviews
A mention on Lilac Reviews
A mini-review on Space Station Mir
A review on Trista M. Borgwardt's blog
A review on Oh! Leander
A review on Kelley Kay Bowles's blog
Named one of the best books of December 2015 by Stephanie Faris
Named the #1 Indie Book of 2015 by Classic Book Reader
A spotlight on Wands and Worlds
A review on Online Book Club
A review in Analog
A feature on Becky Clark's website
A review on Bellsie Books
A spotlight on Thinking Like a Geek
A mention on Bea's Book Nook


Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Signing in North Carolina!

If you live anywhere near Raleigh-Durham, you're not going to want to miss the big Red Adept book signing tomorrow.  It's being held at:

Event Horizon Games
1496 Garner Station Blvd
Raleigh, North Carolina

Bull Spec interviewed me and a few of the other authors here.

You can join the official Facebook event here.  Or, heck, just show up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"S" is for "Severed"

It just so happens that I work with two publishers at present, and by some quirk of fate the company names follow one another in the alphabet.  So last week I wrote about my debut company, Red Adept Publishing, and this week I get to write about my sophomore and tertiary company, Severed Press.

Fortunately for me, both of these companies have been extremely good to me.  RAP is a general-purpose, multi-genre company, but Severed is, for my money, the finest small publisher of horror in the world.  All of my work can be described as "horror," though I wouldn't argue with "dark science fiction" for BILLY or "urban fantasy" or even "bizarro" (as dubbed by Brian Keene) for BRAINEATER.  Overall, though, I'm comfortable with "horror" and my knowledge of the genre is pretty fair to middling, so I have no problem weighing in here.

There are quite a number of extremely high quality small horror publishers out there.  Samhain, Sinister Grin, Ragnarok, DarkFuse, Evil Jester, and Deadite spring to mind.  (There are a lot more - I don't mean to snub anyone.)  But for my money, Severed Press is the finest out there, certainly the finest publisher of zombie horror, and probably the finest of horror overall.  You need look no further than their stable of authors - titans of the genre like Wrath James White, David Bernstein, Jake Bible, and Tim Curran, not to mention some friends of mine like Ian McClellan, H.E. Goodhue, Suzanne Robb, Phillip Tomasso...the list goes on and on.  (Again, not to snub anyone.  If you're that person I didn't mention, just know that it means I value you the most of all.)

It took me, like, a year to figure out that this was a bisected (or...severed) fountain pen nub.
So how did a shit-hot outfit like this get involved with a shit-for-brains like me?  Well, the story is like something out of a fairy tale.  A fairy tale full of mutilations and, I guess, just an ordinary fairy tale.

Anyway, it was September of 2013.  BRAINEATER had been picked up by RAP and was scheduled to come out in October.  An old mentor of mine in the army had once given me the advice "don't rest on your laurels" and it's stuck with me like few other pearls of wisdom ever have.  So I realized that with a book coming out, the only awful thing I could do was to not be ready to get another book out there.  At the time I still was (and to be frank, I still am) reaching for that brass ring of an agent and a Big 5 deal, and a 7-figure advance.  I think most of us will never give up on that dream until we get it, or we start getting the same kind of money out of self-pubbing or small pubbing.

So I began querying my masterpiece THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO to every agent in NYC.  I have to admit, there was a noticeable difference in interest this time around when I could include "my first novel will be forthcoming" in my query letters - it shows you're not just some schlub.  Almost as compelling to me as the thought of a Big 5 deal was a deal with one of the top-tier horror presses, so on Sunday, September 15, I submitted to Severed Press.

Now, Severed is located in Hobart, Tasmania.  I believe I sent my query letter in the middle of the night, EST time.  And I received a reply in the middle of the night (my time) Monday saying, "send us the full manuscript."  That was spookily fast, and bear in mind that I'd submitted to Severed before and been rejected.  That was probably the first time I realized that other people might feel as excited about TGA as I did.

I had no higher hopes of TGA being picked up by Severed than I did that it would be picked up by some rock star agent like Janet Reid or Jenny Bent, both of whom, I believe, don't represent horror, so that was a terrible metaphor, but fuck you, this is my blog, I do what I want.  So imagine my surprise when I went out that Thursday to a bar for my birthday...and just after midnight my phone dinged.

Now, this was back in the heady days of 2013 before your Meghan Trainors and your iPhone 6s, so receiving an email wasn't necessarily in real time.  But it had happened!  Severed had picked up my magnum opus, and they had done it just a few minuted before midnight, my time, so it had been on my birthday.  Best birthday present I ever received, and I had to buy a round for all my friends to celebrate.  Or maybe one of them bought me the round.  I can't really remember.  It was my birthday and I was drunk as shit.

Working with Severed has been stupendous.  They're an honest company, with a great contract, and, like I already said, their reputation is second-to-none.  One last quick story to tell you what working with them is like.  When I went back to Severed with BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS, Severed forgot to send me my three gratis author copies.  No big deal.  I wrote to them and mentioned that I needed ten for an upcoming convention, and would pay my usual author rate.

(By the way - this is just an aside - but for those of you who are always asking me for free autographed books - yeah, I have to pay for those.  So, yeah, okay, Dad, let me just give you some free shit.)

You would have thought Severed realized they had kicked my wife in the throat.  They were so apologetic, and - get this - they said they would not only get out the three courtesy copies they owed me tout suite, but they would also give me the ten books I needed for the convention!


So, basically they went out of pocket around $100 because of an honest mistake.  That basically sealed the deal for me.  After that, I began singing Severed's praises every chance I get.  These aren't just honest people, they're decent people, and they care about keeping their authors happy.  And I get to work with them.  :D

Monday, June 8, 2015

An Author's Creed?

In the period when I was on my way out of the military, creeds became very popular.  There was a Soldier's Creed, an NCO's Creed, a Warrior's Creed, and various creeds for the more specialized jobs.  I have an issue with a few points of the Soldier's Creed (which seem to be there more for macho posturing than to actually make a coherent point) but for the most part it's not a bad statement to make.  And it's not a bad concept.

A creed establishes what you should be working for.  It formalizes the values you claim to believe in.  And inasmuch as anything becomes more valuable when you write it down, I started wondering whether there ought to be an Author's Creed.  Not one that we recite each morning and before every convention panel, but more like one you could receive a knitted version of and hang up on your wall.

I started to fiddle with the idea but I almost immediately hit a brick wall.  What sorts of things are universal values held by every author?  Almost nothing.  Just in my short experience in the literary world I've already encountered authors from every walk of life, who agree on almost nothing.

I almost feel like I have a better shot at writing a Horror Author's Creed.  I could at least say, "Our job is to scare or make the reader uncomfortable."  But even that seems a little wishy-washy.

So, being as my blog is, naturally, ground zero of the literary community and a tourist destination for artists from all walks of life, I thought I might crowdsource this one, so...YOU DECIDE!!!™

If we actually followed through and put together an Author's Creed, what points would you like to see included?  What points could you not bear to see included?  Let me know in the comments.

Here are a few points I came up with at least for discussion:

- "I will always remain true to my artistic integrity."

- "Other authors are my peers, not my competition."

- "The only critic who matters is myself."

- "I will be a responsible and respectful member of the literary community."

- "I will only submit my last draft, and my last draft will be my best draft."

See, even with these I can see some points for disagreement.  So let's discuss.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"R" is for "Red"

I'm a pretty heavy-ass drinker.  (In fact, I'm drinking right now.)  If you thought all the wacky drunkennness of BRAINEATER JONES was some kind of wish fulfillment, rest assured, that's pretty much my life, sans all the having a biological necessity for drinking.  Pretty much every time Jones was taking a drink in the book I was also reaching for a drink.

No surprise, then, that on Saturday nights I really like to tie one on.  No normal weekday drinking for me!  Saturday is when I can really get sloshed, sit down, and watch DVDs until the wee hours of the morning.  Because fuck it, Sunday will attend to itself.

But what if I told you that one time Sunday did not, in fact, attend to itself?

I remember the day distinctly.  It was January...9, I think?...2013.  I guess I don't remember the date that specifically.  But I do remember the morning well!  I rarely get phone calls just as a general rule.  And I can't even think of how many times I've gotten a phone call on a Sunday morning before noon.  In fact, this may have been the first time now that I think about it.

I fumbled for my phone.


My mouth felt like paper.

"Hello is this Stephen?"


"This is Lynn from Red Adept Publishing."


I didn't understand what was going on.  But I knew how hungover I was.  I had to try to get some water into my mouth from the bathroom sink while I was talking to this person.

"I'm calling because we've accepted your manuscript."

Well, now isn't that a better reason for a Sunday morning call than anything else?  I hoped I didn't sound like a complete lush, but I was rather a lot happier for the rest of the day.  My first novel was going to be published.  I guess it's a moment you never forget.  I wish I hadn't been hungover for it, but I guess that's appropriate for the birth of BRAINEATER.

Red Adept has turned out to be a boon in my life.  If there's one thing I've learned - if there's one thing I wish I could impart on younger writers, much as I despise writing advice - authors are a tribe.  You don't really get a pass to join the tribe just by becoming published.  But once you are you can start reaching out.  It's amazing what kind of doors the ability to say, "Here's my book" will open for you.

Red Adept came with a tribe pre-baked in.  Lynn, the owner, the same lady who made that call to me that fateful Sunday morning, insisted upon it.  We all had to join the RAP Authors FB group.  I'd never been in a writing group before.  For one thing the whole idea stinks of desperation to me: unpublished authors jerking one another off in a circle and getting jealous if one of them makes it.  To be quite honest I had never sought one out, even with the advent of the internet or advice to the contrary.  Writing was never really a team sport to me.

The RAP group changed my mind.  Well, maybe it was a bit different from my preconceived notion of a writers group, because we had all been accepted for publication.  But having a safe space to interact with other authors, where you don't have to bore the piss out of ordinary bystanders because (repeat it with me now) WRITECRAFT IS BORING was actually quite nice.  And we dug into marketing schemes and things like planning to do cons together.  And now I've met members of my tribe IRL and some still just online, but anyway I've started cheering them on.

And I learned another important truth about this business, one which had perhaps never occurred to me before, which is that this isn't a competition.  Writing isn't a zero sum game and no reader buys just one book.  When one of the members of the tribe has success, the whole tribe is elevated as a result.  One person's success improves the image of the group, and by interacting with one another you become part of a group of successful people, and that (hopefully) leads to success yourself.  I've had so many doors open to me because of the authors I met through RAP that I couldn't even really begin to adequately list them here.

Well, that went off a bit from what, if anything, I initially meant to say, but there you have it.  "R" is for "Red Adept," my first publisher, home to my best mates and peers in the business.  Ten years from now I wonder where we'll be.  Some of us will be long done with the whole writing thing, a fluke or a life goal long since given up on.  Others of us, I have no doubt, will be unicorns, living off our work.  I hope I'm not still in the trenches, but I imagine I will be.  Will some of us be dead?  Have movies made of our work?  Go quite mad?  Have t-shirts with our faces on them?  Time will tell, I suppose.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Making Sure Your Title is on Fleek

I've been working for the better part of a year - well, a millennium, actually, but let's not get into that right now - on a vampire story.  Vampires are particularly difficult because they've been done to death (ha!)  I feel like I'm right on the cusp of something original, really original, with our favorite bloodsuckers, but I can't...quite...

Anyway.  Tossing around a science fiction theme, a title occurred to me: BLOOD STAR.  Pretty cool, n'est-ce pas?  I then took my standard next step which is to check on Amazon to see if any other books or important media shared that name.  Of course, one does, a 1989 novel by an author I'm unfamiliar with, Nicholas Guild.  Does this mean, therefore, that I am banned from using that title I independently created by smashing together two fairly run-of-the-mill words?

Short answer: no.  Of course not.

Titles, in case you are unaware, cannot be copyrighted.  This is pretty easy to remember and intuitive.  After all, the movies "Pretty Woman" and "Bad Boys" were named after songs.  Or, flipping the script, "Dirty Harry" by Gorillaz and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by whatever that shitty band was were named after movies.

Of course, this isn't just an inter-media thing, it's also intra-media.  For instance, the other day I was wondering who sang that "Bang Bang" song I heard on the radio.  (I could tell at least one of the singers was Nicki Minaj, because she kept mentioning her own name - not 100% sure why that was necessary - but I couldn't tell who the other two were.)  So I went to Wikipedia and learned that there are literally twenty different songs which have been recorded with the identical name of "Bang Bang."

So, generally speaking, if I wanted to call my space vampire epic BLOOD STAR, Nicholas Guild wouldn't really be able to say anything about it.  And considering that his book was about ancient Rome and mine would be about futuristic monsters, there's not even really much of an argument I'd be acting in bad faith.

For a real-world (and hilarious) example let's compare our good friend Mary Fan's own cyberpunk sci-fi epic SYNTHETIC ILLUSIONS with the surprisingly similarly named A SYNTHETIC ILLUSION by Christian Clark which appears to be a tale about "elite prostitution."  If names could be copyrighted, Mr. (Ms. ?) Clark might very well be able to sue our intrepid Ms. Fan for misrepresenting his (her?) seminal hooker book.

Which is not to say that he (she?) couldn't try.  I'm not a lawyer, but I do have friends who are lawyers, and as they've explained it to me (sorry if i'm fucking this up, guys) basically anyone can sue anyone for anything.  That's why a Nebraska woman recently made news for suing "all the gays."  That doesn't mean your suit has any merit or that a judge won't just toss it out of court, though.

Trying to sue someone for copyright infringement on a title is basically as frivolous as a case gets, considering there is no such protection.  And if you can't even suggest that there was some kind of bad faith reason for doing so, it gets even more frivolous.  Nicholas Guild wouldn't have much of an argument that I'm trying to ride the coattails of his not-especially-popular thirty-year-old novel, for instance.

So, this raises one last point and then I'll stop talking about matters I'm not really qualified to give legal advice on.  Suppose I was a dastardly little fuck and I did want to try to take advantage of the fact that you can't copyright titles for my own purposes?  Why couldn't I, for instance, title my vampire novel STAR WARS, EPISODE VIII: THE BLOOD STAR MENACE?  A lot of damn people would be buying my book and I would have essentially swindled them.

Well, this is where trademark comes into play.  I'm not 100% on the difference between trademark and copyright - maybe an expert can weigh in down in the comments? - but I do know you can trademark fictional characters, some fictional terms, and series names.  So "Star Wars" is trademarked as a brand name, as is the "For Dummies" series.  And I couldn't have "Harry Potter" show up as a character in my book - at least, unchanged with a scar on his head and glasses and a magical wand, etc. - because he's a trademarked character.  But under fair use, which is a whole other thing, I could have "Jerry Cotter" a very similar boy wizard appear for parody purposes.

So, to simplify:

I call my book BLOOD STAR even though another, unrelated work by that name exists - Totally legal, since you can't copyright titles.  You could get sued, but you could also get sued by a Nebraska woman for being gay.  That doesn't mean the case has any merit.

I call my book THE DA VINCI CODE even though a substantially more popular work than mine by that name exists - Technically legal, since you can't copyright a single title.  But if you piss in Dan Brown's eye and he decides to sue you, considering you were obviously working in bad faith and he's got millions of dollars for legal fees - is that really something you want to deal with?

I call my book HARRY POTTER AND THE BLOOD STAR, even though a popular, trademarked series by that name already exists - Totally illegal.  You done fucked up now, son.  You acted in bad faith AND you violated a trademark.  Not only will the case have merit, but almost any property popular enough to be worth infringing upon will probably be owned by people with the time and money to sue you into oblivion.
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