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, August 31, 2015

Review Week! Part 1: THE BREADWINNER by Stevie Kopas

Greetings, frenemies!  As long-time followers know, I've long resisted the urge to turn this into a review blog (with the notable exception of the entire year of 2013 when it became nothing but a review blog - but I digress.)  With that being said, I've reviewed occasional books here and there, but I've usually just peppered those in alongside my usual, indispensable pearls of wisdom. 

This week I thought I might try something different and see how it goes over.  I just read three great books in a row, so I thought I might throw all three review up on the blog and see if anybody gives a shit.  If you do, hey, maybe Review Week! will become a recurring event.  If not, I'll be back to my usual bullshit next week.  So, with that being said, let's kick it off with THE BREADWINNER by our good friend, Stevie Kopas:


The end of the world is not glamorous.

In a matter of days the human race was reduced to nothing more than vicious, flesh hungry creatures.

Criminal defense attorney, Samson, struggles to keep his family safe and his sanity intact when the world comes apart at the seams. Veronica, the high school track star, races to get her brother out of their doomed city. Ben, a military veteran, is forced to come to grips with the end of the world as he fights the undead. Andrew, a police officer, struggles to maintain some sort of humanity in a world overrun by death and destruction.

There are no heroes here, just survivors, and they all have one thing in common: who you once were can no longer determine who you will be in the face of catastrophe.

THE BREADWINNER, book 1 in The Breadwinner Trilogy, thrusts you head first into post-apocalyptic Northwest Florida and will leave you craving more.

It's available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and can be discussed on Goodreads.


So I'm sitting here reading a perfectly serviceable modern zombie novel. A couple of survivors with a give-'em-Hell attitude and tales of woe battle the gruesome undead while trapped in an urban hellscape after the collapse of woefully inadequate emergency services - you know the score. Not brilliant, not terrible, just your standard "Walking Dead" clone that maybe you give three stars if you remember it long enough afterward to review it.

Then in walks Moira Eckhart.

Moira is an ingenious creation, I dare say one of the greatest and most mortifying characters in modern horror. She's clearly a villain and yet...there's no moustache-twirling to her. She's just adamant in refusing to bend to the new reality of a zombie apocalypse. Her attitude is that the world will simply have to adapt to suit her lifestyle and not the reverse.

It's such a brilliant, original, cuttingly satirical take on modern American culture that I can hardly believe it's never been done before. Most zombie stories - hell, most stories, period - make their hay out of how the characters change in the wake of dire straits - with their true faces laid bare, are they really a hero, really a villain, or really just a pragmatist? Moira eschews that entire journey by refusing to ever take off her mask.

Her children are trophies. Her husband - the titular breadwinner - is a trophy. She's even aware to some extent that she's a trophy. And while the reasonable characters are off hunting and scrabbling for a can of beans to survive the night, Moira refuses to cede one centimeter of her opulent lifestyle to reality. It's such a perverse notion, such an American notion - the sting of Kopas's satire cuts deep. I think most of us imagine we'll be Gary Cooper when the end of the world comes, but his glory days have long since dwindled into twilight. We're a culture steeped in the Kardashian ethos now.

Perhaps THE BREADWINNER is a metaphor. Moira represents the cult of celebrity, husband and breadwinner Samson is the American public who indulge such navel-gazing, and in the end it's only the children who suffer. Then again, maybe it's just a gleefully dark and twisted tale of a uniquely American suburban nightmare. Either way, it's definitely worth your time and money. 5 stars.

About Stevie Kopas:

Stevie Kopas was born and raised in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. She is a gamer, a writer and an apocalypse enthusiast. Stevie will never turn down a good cup of coffee and might even be a bit of a caffeine addict.

Stevie is the author of THE BREADWINNER TRILOGY. Books 1 and 2, THE BREADWINNER and HAVEN were originally self-published in 2013 and 2014. THE BREADWINNER TRILOGY was picked up by Permuted Press in May of 2014 and the second editions of both the first books were released in March and April of 2015. The third and final installment in THE BREADWINNER TRILOGY, ALL GOOD THINGS, debuted in May of 2015.

Kopas also participates in the AT HELL'S GATES horror anthologies and all profits are donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Her short stories, "Nefarious" and "Patient 63" can be found in the first two volumes of AT HELL'S GATES.

She currently resides in Panama City Beach, Florida and tries to spend as much time as she can in the sun.

Stevie is also the Managing Editor of the website Horror Metal Sounds and a writer for the site. She is an avid reader of horror and post-apocalyptic fiction (especially zom-poc) and reviews for The Bookie Monster. Offline, Stevie is a telecommunications professional.

You can connect with her on her official website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reader Mailbag #2: Questions On Description, Motivation, and General Advice

Well, after my very first Reader Mailbag, would you believe would you believe that I've received even MOAR questions?  Admittedly, from the same studious young lady, but still, questions is questions, amirite?  And if you happen to have any for the K-Man, just send them my way and I'd be delighted to answer them.

 So after her initial barrage, Steph followed up with a few toughies.  Take a gander and make sure to let me know what you think in the comments if you disagree with me!

1) How does one draw out descriptions? For example, in my head, I'll see and beautiful and ornate building, but I don't quite exactly know how to put all of it into words.

One trick authors use is to consider the five senses.  So you should be writing in either first person or close third person (second person is so rare it's basically a gimmick and third person omniscient is very passé - but that' a whole other conversation.)  In any case, any given scene is going to have only one viewpoint character.  So you put yourself in the viewpoint character's head and describe what he's seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, and tasting.  Obviously, you're not going to use all five sense for everything you describe - that would get very tedious.  Just pick out the one or two most important sensations for everything your character comes across, and as you do so, gradually you'll fill in the whole scene, almost like a paint-by-number set.  Using the five senses give your scene a sense of immediacy and makes it more concrete.

The other "trick" is not really a trick at all - read widely.  You should be doing this anyway, of course.  But now that you're an aspiring author you need to take a craftsman's eye to your reading.  Yes, sadly, you will not get the same pleasure you used to out of reading, because you'll be analyzing it and noticing places where your favorite authors fall down.  But you'll also begin to notice the places where your favorite authors excel.  So if you want to describe a beautiful and ornate building, go read how Tolkien or Rowling or whoever described their buildings.  How did they keep it interesting?  How did they make it clear what they were describing?  And when you do find those occasional masterpieces where the book is so good you're not slowing down to analyze it, it makes them so much sweeter.

2) I watched an interview with Richelle Mead (author of the 'Vampire Academy' series) and she mentioned that some of her inspiration comes from just driving around. What are other ways to gather inspiration and motivation to write?

That's very interesting.  Well, let's break this down into two parts, though, because I don't want to get too much chocolate in the peanut butter.


You mentioned motivation.  This is the simple answer, the Nike answer: just do it.  Some people benefit from setting aside a certain time of day to write.  I've heard many authors swear by waking up an hour early (or two, or whatever) and knocking it right out.  And it's true that the first thing you do in the morning is usually your best work (I find this true at my day job, too.)  I, personally, am a night person so I don't do that.  But there is quite simply no replacement for butt-in-chair time, whatever time of day you set it for. 

Some people also swear by various phone and computer apps that turn off your internet (or just your timesucks) so there are no distractions.  I don't do this because I tend to research as I go - I may need to look up a bon mot or the year the Salem witch trials took place or whatever.  But you may benefit from it.  The thing is, whatever your bare minimum daily word count is, you just have to set aside some time every day and sit down and bang it out.  Like I mentioned before, you'll probably find yourself getting into a groove and doing a lot more than the minimum.  But if you set 500 words a day as your standard, you just have to sit down and write 500 words a day.  And no "rollover writing" either.  You can swear up and down you'll write 1000 words tomorrow if you can skip today, but you just won't.  It's lik lost sleep; you never get it back.  I'm afraid there's not much for this but to do it.  I often talk about writing as being both a craft and an art.  Sitting down and pounding away at the words, even when you don't feel like it, is part of the craft.


Now, the first half of your question is the trickier one, the one that gets more into the "art" part.  People talk about having a "muse" and sometimes people talk about having their characters chattering away in their heads, but these are both metaphors for the artistic process.  What motivates you, what inspires you, what gets the juices flowing differs from person to person.  Most people will say (and sorry if I'm sounding like a broken record here, but it is an important point) that reading widely in your genre will inspire you.  Nothing gets me wanting to write quite like reading somebody else's genius idea and wanting to top it, or put my own spin on it.  (Yes, I'm talking about you right now, John Dixon.)  I also get really inspired by movie trailers, which is a shame because they usually precede two hours of me not being able to write because I'll be watching the main attraction LOL.

Driving around seems like a good idea and obviously it works for Richelle Mead.  I know a lot of authors who like to "people watch."  They may go to the mall or a pedestrian shopping center or something like that and look for strange people and behavior to inspire their characters.  If you're a fan of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" I can recall an episode where Jake, the captain's son and an aspiring author, just hung out in the Promenade making up stories about the various people and aliens passing by.  That seems like it could be a good exercise.

Another thing I might suggest is dumb manual labor.  When you go into something like painting, pottery, woodcarving, and the like, you're essentially turning off the storytelling part of your brain and just worrying about your hand-eye coordination.  I, for instance, paint models, and whenever I've had a good long painting session I'll often come away feeling refreshed and ready to do some storytelling work.

Ultimately, though, I can't tell you how to get in contact with your muse.  You'll have to figure out what works best for you and try a couple of different methods.

3) I couldn't go to a few writers seminars and workshops at Shore Leave due to previous commitments and I had missed the seminar on writing tips. What are some helpful writing tips for young, aspiring writers?

Hoo-wee, this is a big one!  Obviously there's enough material on this topic for a panel of five smart writers to fill an hour.  (And, to be frank, reams and reams of books and countless websites.)  So, one thing I would say is, if you're not already, get plugged in and start regularly reading some industry blogs.  If you're not reading Janet Reid, Chuck Wendig, and John Scalzi, you need to unfuck that immediately, and also by using that turn of phrase I just reminded myself there are bunch of great podcasts, too, like The Horror Show with Brian Keene.  But that being said, let me take a big picture approach and tell you what I think are the most important things to bear in mind.

First: other writers aren't your competition.  This isn't a zero-sum game, where some people win and some people lose.  When somebody like E.L. James writes a book that blows up and millions of people buy it, it benefits me because millions of more readers are now logging onto Amazon, thinking about buying books, and might go ahead and buy mine one day.  Writers make up a community, and we have to support each other.  That's why I'm happy to answer questions like yours here and at places like Shore Leave.  It isn't a quid pro quo thing, but there is definitely a give-and-take, almost like an apprentice-and-master kind of vibe to the authorial community.  And we all have to take care of each other.  Suppose you blow up, for instance.  Then I could always ask you for a blurb for my next book.  So, remember there are plenty of readers to go around, no serious reader is buying only one book, and writers have to support one another, both emotionally, financially, etc.

Second: manage your expectations.  Or perhaps I should say, "Remember that you're doing this for the love of writing."  If you write for the love of writing, then you can never go wrong, and no amount of success or failure can faze you.  Because you're already doing what you love, right?  If you weren't willing to do this for free, then you shouldn't be trying to do this for money.  Because don't count on the money.  I think every author, when they get their first book deal, secretly harbors the dream that they'll sell a million copies and it will change their life.  And there are some people who will, with a straight face, tell you that you're going to sell a million copies and it will change your life.  But those people usually have an ulterior motive or an axe to grind.  You may never sell more than a few hundred copies organically.  You may lose money on what turns out to be an expensive hobby rather than a gravy train.  Or, Hell, you may just ride the gravy train and be the next Hugh Howey or George R.R. Martin.  I don't know.  But if you're prepared to do this just because you love it, and you like the idea of maybe one or two other people out there enjoying your work, then you'll be fine, and everything else will just be the gravy.

Third: that being said, once your expectations are managed, be prepared to bust your ass and never give up.  Common wisdom suggests that the fifth book is the book you'll finally succeed with.  I think this is true in a sense, not because five is a magical number, but in that if you have the drive and dedication to put out four books that fail, and you still go on to make that fifth one, you've probably got the makings of a writing career in you.  No one is going to hand you anything.  No one is going to buy your book "just because."  You have to get out there and hustle.  Your friends and family, who you expect to be your biggest supporters, will be some of the most reticent people to actually buy, read, and review your stuff.  You have to get out there and market.  No one is going to just spontaneously review your book.  I've asked nearly 400 professional and amateur reviewers to take a look at my debut novel.  To date, eighty people, including ordinary readers, have actually taken the time to review it.  If you're prepared, and you're ready to make the long hard slog, and you take nothing for granted and expect nothing from anybody, then any success that comes your way will just be the gravy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Complex Ecosystem of a Single Book (Graphic Form)

I thought I might squeeze a little more juice out of Monday's post with a couple of infographics.

Here's what a single book looks like in the traditional publishing model.  (Click or open in a new window to enlarge.)  Obviously this flow isn't completely accurate, because for instance some readers will get to the book before reviewers and the publisher's marketing staff may still be doing work after the book is produced, etc. 

Note the money flows from the readers to the booksellers to the publisher.  The publisher pays the bookbinders, editors, cover artist, marketing personnel, agent, and author.  The agent obviously pays their own staff, and you'll note that in this model no money flows from the author (unless he has a personal staff.)  Remember that any agent or publisher who asks an author for money is a scam artist.

It's also interesting to note just how many people involved in this process don't get paid period.  Libraries are obviously supported by the public and don't get money from book sales.  Reviewers for the most part don't get paid (although if they do it would be by the publisher or author.)  Professional organizations are supported by dues-paying members.  For the most part, beta readers, critique groups, and other authors are involved in the process out of love.

And just to be clear, here's what this would look like in the self-publishing world.  The main difference, you'll note, is that the publisher and the agent are cut out.  Pay goes directly from the bookseller to the author, who then pays for marketing, editing, cover design, etc.  I pondered representing the real danger of self publishing by cutting back seriously on the number of readers.  But the truth is, a self-published author has the potential to reach as many readers as a traditionally published author, so in a sense the pool is the same.  Many self-published authors make more than they would have through traditional publishing, because of how this process is streamlined.  But this is more the exception than the norm.


Green crayon - money flow
Black - producing the manuscript
Tan - representing the manuscript
Red - publishing the manuscript
Blue - producing and distributing the book
Orange - promoting the book
Purple - terminal

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Complex Ecosystem of a Single Book

I've spoken on numerous occasions about how the publishing industry is a community or an ecosystem, but it occurs to me I've never really broken down what this means. So today let's take a look at exactly how many people go into making a single book.

1.) Author (1-2) - So the author writes the book. Fair enough. They're doing the bulk of the heavy lifting of bringing an idea to life. Sometimes two co-authors work in concert to produce a book. It's exceedingly rare to see more than two collaborators outside of an anthology.

2.) Author's Support Staff (Business) (0-3?) - At a certain level of wealth and/or fame an author will be able to afford to hire employees. I'm not especially familiar with this part of the business, but I do know a few authors who have personal assistants. I'd be surprised if even a Stephen King-level author needs more than a person or two to answer the phone, manage their schedule, etc., but as I said, I'm not particularly familiar with this part of the business.

3.) Author's Support (Personal) (1-10?) - That being said, authors require support and will get it from friends and family. To be frank, in many cases the only reason you are able to read a book is because an author's spouse or other loved one is the breadwinner of the family and supports them financially. But even if the author also works a day job, they will still require emotional support.

4.) Critique Group (0-10) - Some authors find value in a formal critique group. A critique group is basically as large as you want it to be, and you can exchange chapters or (occasionally) whole manuscripts for review.

5.) Beta Readers (1-4) - With few exceptions, most authors use beta readers (also occasionally called alpha readers) which is a trusted reader, possibly another author, who will point out major issues in a first draft of a manuscript.

6.) Literary Agent (0-1) - Many authors end up choosing the traditional publishing route. In this case, they will have a single agent who represents their interests and sells their books to publishers.

7.) Agency Staff (0-5) - Even though an author generally only has one agent, agents don't do all the work of their agency. Sub-agents sell foreign, audio, film, and television rights. Assistants and interns sift through the slush. If you got an agent, it's probably because of the efforts of one of these unsung heroes.

8.) Editor (1-3) - The role of the editor is to correct a book's issues before it is published. There may also have been an acquiring editor whose role was essentially to agree to take on the book with the publishing house. A book can go through multiple rounds of editing, variously referred to as content, line, proofreading, and a variety of other terms. Sometimes as many as 5 people will review your book before it's published.

9.) Cover Artist (1) - I didn't really get into this with #6 above, but you're really a buffoon if you think you can edit your own work or make your own covers. The cover artist is the person either the author pays if self-publishing or the publisher pays (or possibly keeps on staff.)

10.) Marketing Staff (0-12?) - Self-publishers can hire marketing professionals in the form of publicists, blog tour coordinators, and the like. Large publishers can have whole departments dedicated to this (although whether your book will get any love from marketing is another matter.)

11.) Publisher's Business Staff (0-hundreds) - Then, of course, there's the rest of the publisher's staff. Secretaries, accountants, web developers, interns, lawyers, operation staff, and all the other people who make any business hum. A small publisher might only have a dozen employees, or in the odd case, just one. A major publisher will have hundreds, maybe thousands, though not all working on your book, of course.

12.) Bookbinders and Distributors (?) - In the post-Amazon world it's easy to think of books as just showing up at your door. But, believe it or not, even if you're self-published and go entirely through CreateSpace, there's a staff who physically produces your books and ships them out the door to whoever orders them. In the more traditional world, there are staffs in binderies who distribute books to booksellers and then pulp the remainders. Actually, the pulping might be a whole separate process, I'm not even sure. This whole aspect of the industry is something I'm woefully uneducated on. If you're involved in the actual book production process, please chime in in the comments!

13.) Booksellers (1-thousands) - Again, this could be as "simple" as Amazon - but bearing in mind that Amazon has hundreds of thousands of employees - or as complex as a whole legion of big-name bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and so forth, as well as small independent bookstores and even places like Wal-Mart or airport news vendors where books are sold.

14.) Librarians and Library Staff (0-thousands) - Typically after the regular booksellers, but sometimes at the same time, libraries will acquire books, either by purchase or donation. Of course, if you make no effort to end up in libraries you never will.

15.) Reviewers (0-∞, probably around 50-100) - Reviewers, both professional and amateur, are critical to a book's success. Publishers may pay for reviews through magazines and services like Kirkus. Alternatively, publishing staff or authors themselves can reach out to reviewers everywhere along the scale from "mass market magazine or newspaper" to "guy with an Amazon account." Many amateur reviewers have followings on their blogs to rival the mass media of yesteryear, so this whole process is kind of a crap shoot.

16.) Other Authors (0-dozens) - Once you've become part of the publishing world, it's easy for an author to reach out to peers, and relatively easy to reach out to successful authors. Other authors will become some of your best champions, both in honing your skill and promoting your work, as well as the ordinary business of friendship. Authors who don't become part of the community flail. Authors who do will often flourish. It's not strictly accurate to say writing is an apprenticeship system, but there is a major element of seasoned authors helping newbies, who in turn help future newbies because they were helped once upon a time.

17.) Professional Organizations and Awards Juries (0-hundreds) - Professional guilds, unions, and associations exist for virtually every genre and type of writer. Such groups range from little more than fraternal backslapping clubs to indispensable sources of insurance, professional contacts, legal counsel, and other services. There's nothing quite comparable in the book world, but union membership is a de facto requirement for professional screenwriters. Organizations like the HWA, RWA, and SFWA also often sponsor industry awards, and while largely made up of authors and volunteers, some of these groups have paid staff as well.

18.) Readers (0-∞, completely impossible to predict) - The final and most important part of the publishing ecosystem is the reader. It could be just mom. It could be an audience of millions. There's really no way to tell, or, honestly, to predict. (If there were, every book would be a bestseller.) Without readers shelling out a few bucks for a book, nobody else gets paid. Not the booksellers, not the publishers, not the agents, and certainly not the author. So yay for you, because if you're reading this, you're the most important person in the world to me: a fan or potential fan.


So, there you have it. What often seems like the work of an individual will actually go through anywhere from half a dozen to hundreds of hands before it's complete.

What do you think? Anything I missed? Anything I completely bungled? Any more thoughts on one of the groups I described?

Friday, August 21, 2015


When I was in college, a French politician came to speak at our school.  I wish I could remember her name, but, oh, well, them's the ravages of age for you. 

She came to speak to us about the then recently passed Parity Laws in France.  I won't pretend to be familiar with the French political system, but it has something to do with ensuring that in every list of candidates, 50% are male and 50% are female.  Apparently at the time France had some rather dismal levels of female representation in government so they legislated a solution.

In any case, I remember the speaker addressed the concerns of her critics.  She said (and obviously I'm paraphrasing here) something like:

"Well, people ask me if giving this much opportunity to women won't hurt men.  And I say, well, no, it's not a pro-women law.  It's a parity law.  If we ever get to the point where there's 60% or 70% of the government made up of women, then this same law will swing the pendulum back in the opposite direction for men.  It's parity.  50/50."

I found myself thinking about this speech again for the first time in years a few days ago.  A good friend of mine was apparently sitting having a private conversation with another woman about the #yesallwomen movement, which I've discussed in a little more depth here and here.  And wouldn't you know it?  A guy - a stranger, mind you - decided to jump in and tell my friend that #notallmen were like that, and, oh, yeah, she only thought that way because she was a misandrist.

Luckily, my friend is not thin-skinned and the irony of a real-life mansplainer jumping into the middle of a private discussion was not lost on her friends and family, so we all had a good chuckle about it and, I assume, are none the worse for wear.  But ever since this incident the word "misandry" has been running through my head and what makes it different from misogyny. 

And the answer is simple.


I've been affected by misandry precisely - and, I'm digging deep into my past to come up with this number - zero times in my life.  I've never lost a job because I'm a man.  I've never been scared to go somewhere because I'm a man.  I've never walked into a bar or a social setting and been made to feel unwelcome because I'm a man.  And I wasn't exaggerating at the beginning of this paragraph, I have wracked my brain for days to try to come up with an example of a time I've been discriminated against because of my gender.

There's just...nothing meaningful I can come up with.  I just don't really run into genuine misandry all that much.  It's so odd, in fact, that it seems noteworthy.  One of my wife's relatives is a man-hater.  Maybe a couple of people I've ever run across.  Ever.  And that's about it.

And, yeah, I know, it's a terrible idea to use anecdotal evidence or personal experience to back anything up.  Because somebody else can easily jump into the comments and say, "I've suffered misandry and here's an example so nyah!"  Well, okay.  I'm pretty sure we can come up with isolated heres and theres.  But statistically what is the effect of misandry on the average American man?  How many court cases are there about this?  How much of an issue is it really?

The answer is not much of one.  And that's the point.  Discrimination against women is institutional, ingrained, and widespread.  It happens all the time, every day, to every woman.  That's the whole point of the #yesallwomen movement.  If misandry and misogyny affected men and women equally - if 50% of men were discriminated against and 50% of women - then I would say, "Hell, yeah, let's fight this together, men are victims, too!"

But we ain't.  Not in that way.  Because the world is wide and seven billion of us live on it now and we have 10,000 years or so of recorded history, pretty much everything that could possibly happen has happened.  If you go scrounging you'll be able to find examples of men being discriminated against and that sort of thing.  But doing that and then declaring that sexism is a two-edged knife is missing the point.


I think, in a way, false equivalencies are one of the most poisonous intrusions into helpful discourse that exists today.  Feminism is an obvious example, but discussions of racism are also rife with this problem.

"Black lives matter" is a statement of principle, an assertion against institutional racism and head-turning that preponderantly affects one segment of the population. 

"All lives matter" is a platitude, an empty slogan about as helpful and meaningful to our great, ongoing national conversation about race as "Cranberries are delicious."  But more importantly, it's a chickenshit way of asserting that "White lives matter" - which is really just a chickenshit way of asserting that "White lives matter more than black lives."  But even the sort of racists who believe this know better than to say it out loud.

But the point is still there.  "Black lives matter."  This is not taken as a given by our society.  Therefore it needs to be positively asserted.  "White lives matter."  Yes, but that's not really an issue, is it?  Because there's no parity.  Racism is disproportionately used as a weapon against the black population of this country.  And, yes, I know there was that "genocide" against white farmers in South Africa and you could probably find a wacky here-or-there story about a white guy who got fired because his black boss was racist or something, but these are not fair examples because there is no parity. 

Not even close.  Not even remotely goddamned close.  Not even Don Adams squeaking, "Missed it by thaaaaat much" close.  It's comparing goddamned apples and octopuses.

I'm going to make one more comparison and then that'll be it.  (Although I could go on all day, it's not good for my blood pressure.)  Pretty much ever since Obergefell and Hodges (well, since always, but it's gone into hyperdrive since then) there's a certain segment of Chicken Littles who have decided that gay marriage means Christians are being discriminated against in this country.  And they even manage to pull out the odd example, like a baker who was sued for not making a wedding cake, or a county clerk who was sued for not issuing marriage licenses, both cases supposedly because of the defendants profound faiths.

And even if I take these sad sack tales at face value (which I don't, because they're both bullshit) I still have to think to myself, "Gosh, those two Christians paid a small financial penalty for their faith because it conflicted with the law.  Of course, most gays have to live in pretty much constant fear of discrimination and ridicule at best and being beaten up, 'fag-dragged' behind a truck, and murdered at worst.  So I'm not sure that there's necessarily parity there."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reader Mailbag #1: Questions On Prologues and Writer's Block

Well, would you believe that after last week's post when I mentioned never having been asked a question for the blog before, I actually received an e-mail today with a couple of questions?  Of course, the two phenomena are completely unrelated, as these questions came from a con-goer and I had to ask her if I could post them on the blog, but NEVERTHELESS I stand by my initial statement that if you want me to answer questions for you, much like a monkey dancing for an organ grinder, all you have to do is send them my way.

So today's mailbag contained a couple of questions about prologues and one about writer's block from future bestseller Steph Cassidy.  Let's dig in!

1.) Are prologues a good thing to have, especially for a first novel?

I hope this doesn't wreck up your day, but the short answer is "no."  Agents (I'm typically going to say "agents" but I mean small publishers as well) have turned very much against prologues in the past few years.  It may have to do with their business practices, since they typically ask for the first three chapters of a manuscript and would naturally get pissed when the whole first "chapter" is unrelated to anything else.  It may also just have to do with broad publishing trends, but almost universally agents are recommending no prologues, especially for debut novels.

That being said, I have snuck a stealth prologue or two into a submission by just calling it "Chapter One."  If you have your heart dead set on some kind of prologue, I recommend doing this at a minimum.  But generally speaking, I would avoid the prologue.  And when you respond that people like George R.R. Martin use prologues with deadly efficiency (which, personally, I agree with) the agent's response will be, "Let's worry about that when you're as popular as George R.R. Martin."

2.) What makes a good prologue?

As I said, I wouldn't use a prologue if you're trying to jump into the business.  Maybe keep that particular tool in your rucksack until you're a little better established. 

Maybe it's best to think of it this way: an agent is not so much looking for an excuse to take you on, they're looking for an excuse to reject you.  So if you misspelled their name?  That's an excuse.  If your query was 275 words and they said keep it to 250?  That's an excuse.  If you used a prologue and they said not to?  That's an excuse.  It's not to say that if your work is heartbreakingly gorgeous, they won't ignore all the excuses.  But the way you want to think of it is, you want to nail everything in your query package so that the agent has no excuse for rejecting you, and really has to seriously consider you.  Is a prologue an absolute deal-breaker?  No, probably not.  But it is an excuse if they're looking for one.

That being said, if you feel a prologue is absolutely integral to your plot and there's no way around it, I would just say make it your best, punchiest, sharpest writing.  Make it the best writing in the whole book.  (The goal is to hook your reader, right?  And you only have the first five pages to do that anyway, if you're lucky.)  End with a cliffhanger so that the reader feels compelled to keep reading.  Maybe as best you can make it really clear how the prologue synchs up with the rest of the book as quickly as possible.  Avoid the sort of obscure prologue that only makes sense when you've finished the last chapter of the book.

3.) How long/short should a prologue be?

The glib answer to any question like this is "as long as it needs to be."  That being said, agents typically request the first three chapters or ten thousand words.  So the expectation is that an average chapter in an average book, everything else in the universe being equal, is about 3500 words.  As a craftsman: 3500 words is something to shoot for.  As an artist: make your chapters as long as they need to be.

4.) How does one overcome writer's block?

I'm going to reference two great geniuses in my field for this one. 

a.)  First, Brian Keene (who is a lovely person and my personal hero and you should buy all of his books) said that when he had writer's block he went back to re-read the classics of his genre (horror) and remind himself why he wanted to do this in the first place.  And as soon as he re-read Richard Laymon he realized he had a Laymon-style novel in him and wrote CASTAWAYS.  But generally speaking, reading as a writer will open up new thought processes and make you re-think pieces of craft that will get you itching to write again.  Like, "That little trick Laymon pulled?  I'll bet I could pull that!" sort of thing.

b.)  Second, Chuck Wendig (who I don't know personally, so I don't care whether you support him or not, but he seems like a nice guy) once said that any jerkoff can write 300 words a day.  I can't remember this exact blogpost but I remember it was a very clever trap.  He just outlined with simple numbers and said, "Look, if you write 300 words a day, at the end of a year that's over 100,000 words, which is a full-length novel.  So to be a professional author writing a novel a year, you just need to write 300 words a day."

To put that in perspective, this entire e-mail (so far) is about 750 words.  The answer to this question (so far) is about 250.  So if you can write two to three paragraphs a day, you can be a career novelist.  When Chuck threw down this gauntlet, I furrowed my brow and decided to see if he was right.  And so I set out to write 500 words a day.  And I realized that what he had done was told us to sprinkle salt on a bird's tail.

See, there's an old wives' tale that if you can sprinkle salt on a bird's tail it won't be able to fly away and you can catch it.  The joke, of course, is that if you can be stealthy enough to get close enough to a bird to sprinkle salt on it's tail, you can just reach out and grab it.  When I sat down to write 500 (or, as he originally suggests, 300) words a day, I realized I couldn't STOP at 500 words.  The whole trick was getting your butt in a chair every day and writing.  And if you've had a terrible, shitty, no-good, awful, very bad day, and you have to force yourself to get to 500, well, you'll still have a novel in a year.  But more likely than not you'll find yourself cranking out a few thousand words a day.  I finished a full novel in about three months using that method, and I wrote Wendig to thank him for the suggestion.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Can't Get Enough of Me?

Did you know that I'm reviewing "The Strain" this season over on our good friend The Bookie Monster's site?  I'm testing the waters on this a bit...aside from the occasional book I've never tried my hand at reviewing before.  I did ask for a job at the avclub once, and never heard back.  Of course, I didn't have any writing credits at that point so I can't exactly fault them for not hiring a rando off the street.

But anyway, just in case you've missed it, you can read SO MUCH MORE of my opinions on shit by checking out my BM articles,too:

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5

Friday, August 14, 2015

On Reviewing Books You Hate

Janet Reid had an interesting question in her mailbag last week.  (By the way, I don't think I've ever gotten a reader question before, but feel free to contact me if you want me to address something specific on the blog.)  Aaaaanyway, Janet received a rather lengthy e-mail with a fairly specific problem, so she addressed that pretty directly, and it's worth a read.  But it did strike me that this is a topic which might be worth a broad stroke approach, too.

So, as I've often pointed out, being an author means being part of a community.  Like any community we have our Reggies from the "Archie" comics and our Franks from "M*A*S*H" and even our Barney Fifes from "The Andy Griffith Show," but it's a community nonetheless.  You notice no matter how exasperating Frank or Eeyore or whoever got, when it came down to the community vs. the outside world, the rest of the gang never excluded them.

The point is: the literary world is an ecosystem.  Everybody knows everybody and every writer starts out as a reader and every reviewer aspires to be a writer.  A lot of publishing is predicated on favor-swapping, as well as paying it forward, which I've covered in other posts.  But what this all boils down to is that at some point in your career you will be asked to read a crappy book.

I don't think it matters if you're J.K. Rowling or if you're Crazy Eddie in the tin foil hat, you will be asked to read a book, and you will feel obligated to do so, and it will be crappy.

Imagine, for instance, that a reviewer who has bought, read, reviewed, and shared all eight of my extant books came to me and admitted they wrote under a pen name and asked me to review one of their books.  Or imagine one of the authors who I go to conventions with and who literally sits there for days at a time and sells my book to strangers asks me to review theirs.  Or even just suppose some wide-eyed young naïf comes up to you at a book-signing and holds out their book and says, "You inspired me to write this, Mr. K!"

If you're any kind of a human being, you'll have the proper sense of obligation.  And if you have any kind of integrity, you'll be struck by how difficult it is to tell someone their work sucks.  The way I see it, you have four options:

1.)  Pretend You Never Read the Book and Put Off Reviewing it Indefinitely

Overall, this is a bad option.  It doesn't really solve your problem, which is that you feel obliged to return a favor or help someone else out.  But assuming you don't get a bad case of the Jiminy Crickets, this might be a serviceable choice.  You can say you're totally swamped every time they bring it up for a while, and eventually they may stop bringing it up.

The downside of this is that you haven't exactly burned a bridge, but you've shown someone exactly how little you think of them.  I think it's very likely after this your friend won't do a whole lot more to help you out.  If they had been reviewing your books, the reviews will probably stop.  If they had been helping to pimp you, pimpage-free you will probably soon become.

I think if you actually are J.K. Rowling-type successful this is not such a dangerous option.  I don't expect the living legends I happen to be friendly with to ever actually read my stuff, and it doesn't stop me from pimping them out.  But I'm thinking if you're that level of successful probably everybody and their mother wants a piece of you anyway, so there's a whole other set of issues I probably can only guess at.

2.)  Advise Your Friend You Can't Review Their Book

This is kind of a gut-check option.  In a disturbing sort of way, it may be the best option to maintain your integrity, but it's one of those tricky moral quandaries like, "Do I tell the devastating truth or use a little tact?"

There's also a gray area here because you might lie about why you can't review their book.  You might go the tactful but not 100% truthful route of saying it's some kind of conflict of interest, you don't review any friend's books, you have dyslexia, or some other excuse.  The thing about excuses, though, is that persistent people will continue to pester you.  And you might run in to the same problems as the infinite delaying tactic of #1 - people may just come to stop supporting you.

And then there's the gutsy move of saying, "Your book wasn't very good so I'm not going to review it."  Professional and amateur reviewers say this from time to time, and since that relationship is a professional one, it doesn't hurt my feelings any when they do.  Of course, the problem here is we're talking about a peer.  Are you willing to screw with somebody's self-esteem like that?  Of course, that's part of the danger of getting into this business in the first place, but still, hearing from a trusted friend that your book is crap can be really devastating.

3.)  The Soft Review

I wouldn't say this is the best option, but it is an option.  Remember in the '90s before people got really jaded about movies how there would be all these ellipses in the quotes on the movie posters?  And something that said "This is a great film..." would actually read "This is a great film if you have insomnia and want to be bored to sleep?"  Or how when someone looks terrible but asks you if they look all right you can say, "Well, those shoes look great on you?"  Well, it turns out you can write whole reviews that way.

You could write a short review, only focus on the positives of the book (or, if it's a really godawful book, fudge it with vague statements about how you love this genre and that sort of thing) grit your teeth, give it a few stars more than it deserves, and put it up. 

I'm not saying I've ever done this.  I'm also not saying I've never done this.  On the surface, it solves the problem you have with your friend.  They are satisfied, and they will keep on supporting you.  It is slightly dishonest, though, and where it can really come back to bite you in the ass is when people start to think that you hand out stars to your friends like candy, or that you really don't know shit from shinola about books.  This is always the danger of not being 100% honest in your reviews.  People will read your reviews, and if they notice that you are always praising crap, they will cease to take you seriously as either a reviewer or an artist.  And that can be bad in the long term.  Plus there are the moral implications.  You did just lie to someone and maybe they needed to hear the truth.

4.)  Write An Honest Review and Ask Your Friend if You Should Post It

This is also a trick reviewers sometimes use.  It's sad, but a lot of authors don't take bad reviews well.  Some even go batshit crazy if you review them poorly, and "poor" varies from person to person.  I know people who think a three-star review is like being spat at in the face.

(For the record, for reasons I've outlined ad nauseum here on the blog and elsewhere, I appreciate any honest review, and I know damn well bad reviews are better for sales, so feel free to go medieval on my ass.)

So, knowing how crazy authors sometimes get, some reviewers have a policy not to post two-stars and below without permission.  So this is an option you could use with your friend.  Again, this is kind of a gut-check, but it might overall be the best option.  You can go to your friend and say, "I read the book, I wasn't real enamored of it, but I believe in you and I know you will improve.  So do you still want me to post this?"

Of course, as with anything, this could all blow up in your face and your friend could get pissed at you, or it could go down as something you joke about long into your eighties.  It's kind of a crap shoot.


So, there you have it.  I think these are the main ways to deal with reviewing a terrible book you feel obliged to review.  There's really no great way to deal with it, but this is a people business and in any people business there are going to come times when you have to manage feelings and expectations. 

What about you?  Have you had to deal with this issue?  How did you handle it?  Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Types of Reviews

HAWM, friends and blogketeers!  Today I thought I'd do something a little bit different.  I'm by no means an expert on reviews, but I have received a few of them at this point, (and even written a few) enough so that I've noticed trends in reviewing styles.  Let's look at a few. 

The Basic Review

Description:  From an author's perspective, this is the ideal review.  A random person read the book and felt moved to consign their genuine thoughts to posterity. 

Example:  "I really liked this book.  It wasn't the greatest book I ever read, but it had tension.  Jimmy was my favorite character.  I think if this author writes something else, I'll probably check it out."

The Overly Effusive Review

Description:  Let's not mince words here: authors love having their egos stroked, and a good review can be a day-maker (sometimes even a week-maker.)  And then sometimes it gets weird...

Example:  "When I say this author is God, I mean it.  And that's coming from a devout Christian.  I sincerely believe he may be Jesus reborn.  I have never read words of this heart-wrenching beauty, and to see so many in a row all in one place just makes my bosom heave with agony that I hadn't read them before now.  I hope to meet this author one day and give him the sloppy blowjob he deserves."

The Scorcher

Description:  Effusive reviews can get a little...weird.  That being said, I'd generally rather receive one of those than an absolute scorcher.  Sometimes a person doesn't just dislike the words you wrote on a page.  Sometimes they wish you had been aborted in utero.  And, yeah, they really do get that harsh sometimes.

Example:  "This book is a total trainwreck.  The author is obviously a misogynist/racist and/or member of a minority group/political party/religion which I will imply is awful without really clarifying why.  He needs to give up writing, and maybe try something he might be good at, like gathering up pigshit without gloves.  I wish I could award zero stars, because this festering pile of rancid dog cum deserves it, if not worse."

The Semi-Review

Description: It sort of seems like someone sat down to write a review, but then gave up midway through. This sort of review will be marked by lack of capitalization, sentence fragments, and incomplete thoughts.

Example: "good book."

The Damn Novel-In-It's-Own-Right

Description: A sentence fragment can be a little unsatisfying. Then, on the other hand, you have someone who clearly has too much time on their hands. I have a friend who (no shit) received a combination Scorcher/DNIIOR.  It was about nine single-spaced pages, carefully ripping apart every scene in the book.

Example:  "Let's take a look at page one.  Here we have seven paragraphs which...hold on, I should probably back up.  First of all, my degree is in psychology, so that should probably give you an idea of where I'm coming from.  Well, I say 'degree,' but the truth is I never completed my matriculation.  That's not a reason to look down on me, you know.  Plenty of successful people never went to college.  Just off the top of my head I can think of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Mark Cuban.  And in my case, this was the eighties and kind of a different time.  Reagan had just been elected president, disco was on the downswing, and the market was bullish.  Oh, I remember it like it was yesterday...[truncated due to space limitations.]"

The Nonsense Review

Description:  This reviewer was clearly deranged.  It seems they read your book, but otherwise it would be difficult to establish a clear connection between them and reality.  Their criteria for evaluation are...let's just say, confusing.

Example:  "Sure, there were zombies, but no mention of Donald Trump?  I mean, what's going on here?  We live in this world where wet is down and up is left and I mean, I love the book, there were hardly any typos, except that one on p. 94 which mixed up 'their' and 'there,' but do you really think that lacking cow is going to moo moo moo your way back into the farmstead?  Three stars.  Minus two points because you know why."

The Sleight-of-Hand Review

Description:  The reviewer clearly has ulterior motives.  Sometimes the review sites catch these and delete them.  Sometimes they slip through anyway.  Maybe the reviewer casually mentions somewhere to buy cheap Ray-Bans.  Maybe they e-mail you (this actually happened to me once) and ask for a quid pro quo review on their own book based on their unasked-for review which clearly went no further than glancing at the cover.

Example:  "This book was great.  I especially liked the scene set in Barcelona.  If you'd like to learn more about finding cheap hotel rooms in Barcelona, you can check out my blog at..."


What about you?  Get any weird/awesome/extreme review styles you'd like to share?

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Scale of Overratedness

If you spend any period of time on the internet, you'll find people unnecessarily excited about truly undeserving things.  Usually this amounts to a cat video which you can simply scroll past, but what about the times when you're just not sure whether something is worth your time to look at/discuss/experience or not?

Never fear, gentle reader, Manuscripts Burn is here with the solution!  I hereby present to you a helpful scale by which to measure how overrated something is:

As you can see, this scale is based on 1 full Amy Schumer and is divided into one hundred equal units or "centiSchumers." Now in the future you can easily mark how overrated something you or someone else is sharing by simply commenting "0 centiSchumers" (Louie C.K.) or "50 centiSchumers" ("The Boondock Saints.")

0 - Johnny Cash:  Since his death the Man in Black has been overhyped, overexposed, and has been the victim of more fair weather fans since his death than you can shake a Ring of Fire at.  And he absolutely delivers in every regard.  A genuine icon who led a hardscrabble life, a veteran with a social conscience and the music to put everyone else in their place. 

25 - "Doctor Who":  I've been a "Doctor Who" diehard since 2005, well before most of you Tennant fans clambered aboard the bandwagon, so I say this with all the love in the world: Shut.  The fuck.  Up.  About it.

40 - Norman Reedus: Norman Reedus actually seems like a nice guy, and not a terrible actor.  His portrayal of Daryl Dixon in "The Walking Dead" TV show - a character who didn't appear in the comics - was actually kind of a breath of fresh air.  The rest of it is hot air.

60 - Bacon: When deep-fried to a crisp, this garbage part of the pig makes an acceptable garnish.  The fact that there is now bacon-flavored vodka is a result of the meat industry astroturfing a campaign to raise the price of pork bellies.  And you fell for it.

75 - Key and Peele: Basically, they're the Amy Schumers of comedy.

90 - "Firefly": This marginally serviceable network TV show was cancelled 13 years ago.  Fans whined about it enough to get a movie.  Now the internet is riddled with moaning and rending of stupid orange hats.

100 - Amy Schumer: I actually watched Amy Schumer's 2012 comedy special.  It was kinda funny, I guess.  Now she's on the cover of "Glamour" and there seems to be an entire cottage industry dedicated to shoving her down the public's throat.  Maybe we could just let that happen organically, you know?  Or maybe not.


You can even test it out right now if you like.  How overrated was this post?  Let me know with a numerical mark and a point of comparison in the comments below!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Shore Leave 37!

Oh, hai guys!  I'm going to be at Shore Leave 37 all this weekend!  If you live in the Baltimore area, why not swing on by?  Legendary sci-fi author Mary Fan and I will be in the Dealer's Room all weekend, except for when we're speaking at panels.  So come on out, get a book, get a signature, chat us up, whatever you want.  Hope to see you there!


Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 7-9


The Hunt Valley Inn
245 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, MD 21031


Friday 4:00 pm, Derby Room - "Writing Groups and Beta Readers: How to Give and Receive Criticism"
Saturday 12:00 noon, Derby Room - "Publishing: The Good, The Bad, and The Indie"
Saturday 2:00 pm, Derby Room - "Generations Geek: Families and Fandom"
Saturday 3:00 pm, Salon E - "Military fiction vs. Real Military Life"
Saturday 5:00 pm, Chase Room - "Brave New Girls"
Sunday 10:00 am - "Canon or Not: Tie-Ins’ Relation to Source Material"
Sunday 2:00 pm, Salon E - "Switching It Up: Writing Different Kinds of Books"

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New Release: DEVIL'S POCKET by John Dixon

Big congrats go out to our good friend (and one of my favorite people in the world) John Dixon on the release of DEVIL'S POCKET, the sequel to his Bram Stoker Award winning debut novel PHOENIX ISLAND!  Get out there and support John because I know if you don't he can kick your ass.  DEVIL'S POCKET is available via:

Barnes and Noble

And make sure to tell your friends about it on Goodreads!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Reading Outside the Lines

I've been thinking a bit lately about meta-text.  I think this might be a result of indulging in last night's episode of "The Strain" which featured a fairly extended prologue which consisted of what seemed like a real-time playing of an old luchador movie.

I've never watched a luchador movie before.  I have no idea what they're like.  I have no idea why such a grainy black-and-white spectacle should take over the airwaves on a Sunday evening.  The "movie" alone was opaque enough in its meaning not to make an argument for itself to exist.

Compare this with, say, a flashback.  A few weeks ago "The Strain" opened with a flashback to 19th century Hungary or some such place.  I didn't have to think hard about it.  Although we were not in the usual, modern timeframe of the story, we are well aware that vampires are immortal and one particular vampire greatly resembles the hulking giant we are first introduced to in the flashback.  And the filming style was identical to our normal "Strain" episodes.  No further thought required.  This is immediately apparent as a flashback to fill us in on the background story of our show.

But back to this week's luchador movie.  I found myself doing a different kind of thinking.  I thought to myself something along these lines: "Okay, without explanation I might assume this is a fictional film within the 'Strain' universe - a play within a play.  But why am I, the viewer, being exposed to it directly?  Okay, perhaps one of the characters is watching it.  Okay, the film is being fast forwarded through boring parts - so there is someone watching it.  What is the purpose of this film, though?  It's obviously something of a takeoff on vampires, but these are traditional Dracula-style vampires, not our 'Strain' virus vamps.  So we're not learning anything 'real.'  We're learning something cultural.  About Mexican wrestling.  Oh, but you know what?  Guillermo del Toro wrote this book, and he's Mexican.  Perhaps he grew up on wrestling and wanted to direct an homage to those kind of films.  And I know from the episode two weeks ago featuring Nigel Bennett from 'Forever Knight' that he likes paying homage to older vampire stories.  So that's probably what's going on here."

See the difference between the two thought processes?  One examines the text, or possibly even the subtext, for clues.  The other ends up examining the meta-text.  Here's a simple breakdown if you're unfamiliar with those terms:

Text - what is actually written
Subtext - what is not written but is implied or suggested
Meta-text - what is neither written nor implied but you know about the work

For instance, you could write, "They had sex."  That's in the text. 

Or you could write, "They closed the shades and the light went out.  The next morning Jim woke up feeling exhausted, but refreshed."  You could probably infer from that they had sex.  Or you could infer something different.  That's your right as the reader, and that's why it's subtext - it's not spelled out.

Or there could be nothing at all in the book about sex of any kind but you know that the author was Jenna Jameson, a famous porn star, so you start to wonder if there was some sex going on with the main characters during the chapter breaks.

Here's another example.  (SPOILER ALERT, I guess.)  I guessed the ending of ENDER'S GAME.  I didn't guess it because it was telegraphed.  I don't think the ending was telegraphed, but if it was, I missed the signal.  And I didn't guess the ending because of any of the implied themes or subtext or anything like that.

I guessed the ending of ENDER'S GAME because when I reached the point where Ender was supposed to graduate from battle school after a huge simulation, there was about thirty pages left in the book.  I was following along, duped just like everyone else, and then I simply realized that there wasn't enough sheer paper left in the book to allow Ender to go out and defeat the aliens in any kind of satisfying sense.  And I knew from having read a million books before that they wouldn't leave it with a cliffhanger.  And I remember sitting there going, "Damn it.  There's only one way this can end.  The simulation must have been real.  That's the only thing there's enough time left for."

And I was right, of course.  The more we learn about the way stories are told and who tells them, the more we're able to look at fiction from a different viewpoint.  Knowing who the author is, why he chose his pen name, what's on the cover of the book, how thick a book is, how long a movie is, whether it already has a sequel or not...these are the kinds of things that can affect our experience.  Meta-textual things. 

I knew "Pirates of the Carribean II" would be a cliffhanger because Pirates III had already been announced, and the last time that had happened, with "The Matrix II," that had been a cliffhanger. 

I knew the ending of "Guardians of the Galaxy" because Marvel (thanks a lot, Marvel) had released a cute little clip of a baby Groot dancing.  When that never happened during the course of the movie...I realized, "Oh, Groot's going to die and come back as a sapling." 

Or here's a (formerly) super common one: if you go to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie, how much time do you discuss in the car on the way to the movie theater what the twist is going to be?  I had guessed the ending to "The Village" within five minutes, because I knew Shyamalan's M.O.

What about you?  Have you had your knowledge of meta-text affect your viewing/reading experience?
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