New Short Story Out: Planet Ugh

Just published a new short story, bringing the count to seven shorts published in the past year. Planet Ugh was inspired by Youtube comments. The aliens have arrived, and Earth makes first contact. Do they think we’re ready to meet the rest of the universe? Our representative makes his case, but the conversation isn’t going well …

I wrote it for fun, and I hope you have fun reading it. It’s available on Amazon if you’d like to support me. You can also get it for free when you join the mailing list.

One Guy’s Simple Explanation for the Disney / LA Times Fight

I hate to see friends fight.

Like me, you may have been watching the fight between Disney and the Los Angeles Times over journalism, and early-access to Disney projects. It got more interesting yesterday, when the A.V. Club announced they would no longer attend Disney press screenings until the LA Times could.

Now look, I barely have a dog in this fight, but I know a bit about the industry after spending some years around it. Some people online do not understand why this is a problem, or what is wrong with this picture.

To help explain, I’m reposting a quick primer on the relationship between media companies like Disney and the Los Angeles Times that I originally wrote on Reddit:

In any consumer-based ecosystem, public relations make up a huge part of their marketing stream. It’s absolutely vital to them to have large media outlets talking about their product, discussing their product, reviewing their product. Media outlets, in turn, know that some of their readership are turning to them to know whether or not an upcoming product (in this case movies) are worth consuming and this readership factors into their entire reason for existence. One of the quiet rules of this relationship is You give us access and we’ll give you press / You give us press and we’ll give you access. Is this a symbiotic relationship? Absolutely. Is it ethical? No more or less ethical than a marriage where one spouse works and the other one keeps house. Sure, they could do the job on their own, but they’re much more successful when working as a unit.

Now, Disney is turning a symbiotic relationship into a dysfunctional relationship.Disney’s threatening the relationship and the rules that govern it. It’d be like a husband going “Hey, I didn’t like how you made dinner, so I’m not going to work” or a wife going “hey, we don’t make enough money, so I’m withholding sex.”

Actually, it’s even worse, because the animus is one-sided. The LA Times didn’t malicously report on Disney’s behavior. Disney didn’t even deny that it was happening. Disney’s acting in an abusive way by saying “even though I know you have to work, you’re not working enough for me.” They’re dog-whistling to the LA Times that they think they really wear the pants in the family and if the news org knows what’s good for them, they’ll get into line. It’s a toxic, dysfunctional effort at brinksmanship, but that’s why AV Club’s involvement is so important.

AV Club in this case is acting like the neighbor who knows both spouses and calls out the abusive spouse on their behavior. “Hey,” they’re saying, “if you like having me to dinner, you’ll sort this out like yesterday. I won’t tolerate this in my presence and if you go forward with this, you won’t find a lot of shoulders to cry on.”

If Disney is smart, they’ll figure a way out of this because as of right now, they aren’t coming off well. At the same time, we go through this every few years and the LA Times is by no means innocent of acting poorly.

Media outlets have occasionally gotten too big for their britches, too. One side of the table or others starts throwing its weight around, the other side stands up for itself and we all learn valuable lessons.

Remember the 2008 Writers Strike? Exactly. Stuff bubbles up, we yell, things get worked out, and life moves on.

This, too, shall pass.

Update – This has already passed … Disney ended the ban on the Los Angeles Times

Everybody Starts Somewhere and Other Notes

Hello sports fans …

Some quick notes while I take a break from being a writer to get over this bug I came down with. Re-watching Season One of Stranger Things in preparation for the next season that releases in a couple of days. I know I’ve talked about it before, but really … I’m filled with professional and creative jealousy when I watch this show. It’d be the highlight of my life to write something as good as what the Duffer Brothers came up with.

Go See Blade Runner 2049 While You Can

Blade Runner 2049 is being called a ‘disappointment’ for not making more money than it should have. I have my thoughts on why it doesn’t matter, but so does everyone else. Let’s not discuss or waste time. This is simply a movie you need to see in the theater. So go do it, while you can.

Last Point

Someone on Reddit just posted this and I love it. In 1984, Steven Soderbergh submitted a tape to Lucasfilm, showcasing an idea he had for a project.

Now, in the world of ‘Behind the Music’ and other biopics, this is supposed to represent a kismet moment. The moment that the Director of ‘Oceans Eleven’ meets the makers of ‘Star Wars.’ Music swells. The Journey Begins. Honestly, how cool would that be?

Yet for all of that coolness, the reality is much more ironic. Lucasfilm rejected Soderbergh out of hand, and this rejection letter is the proof. I’m showing you this, not to judge, but to say that ‘everyone starts somewhere.’ Before Steven Soderberg was THE Steven Soderbergh he was a guy living in a crappy apartment two blocks from the LSU campus and light-years away from the bright lights of Hollywood. He was a nobody, just like you and me.

Don’t fear being rejected. Don’t fear being unknown. Everyone starts somewhere. Just like you and me.

 

Yes, You Need Beta Readers

“Ouch,” I said. “This hurts. It’s also exactly what I needed to know.”

In between updates and binging ‘Mindhunters,’ I’m talking with my Beta Readers. They are hard at work making suggestions and providing feedback on Mesh. Just hearing from them is an experienc unto itself and I wanted to talk about it. Here’s why:

You can only know up to a point what people will think of your work. I can make a guess at how I think my story or my art will land with someone, but after that it’s really up to them. More often than not, you will have your assumptions challenged when they aren’t being completely destroyed.

So the question is, when do you want to hear that your book isn’t good: before or after it comes out? Me, I’d rather know before it comes out and you probably do, too.

Some authors don’t think so. Dean Wesley Smith, for example, will tell you that beta readers harm rather than help you. Nonsense. Beta readers are incredibly valuable to the writing experience. Without a Beta Readers, an author can spend ten years sending out query letters with no response because their work isn’t sellable and they never asked an objective audience to tell them the truth.

If you’re an author, you NEED to hear what people think of your work.

The information only hurts if you have an ego to bruise. Kill your ego, murder your darling. Your ego isn’t going to pay you for listening to it, but the readers will! It’s definitely within your interest to have the people you plan to sell your book to tell you what they think of it.

It’s not just that sucking is the first step toward being good at something. There’s an extra step in the process: How are you going to learn to suck less if you don’t know you suck?

This is the value of a good Beta Reader. They will tell you if you suck, why you suck, where you suck and when you suck. Know that you suck. Put your stuff out there. Hear it. Feel it. Accept it. Then start working at sucking less. Then listen, as they tell you how to suck less.

Don’t worry if you suck. You do. It’s okay. We all do.

Quick Note About Yours Truly …

I scored a screener of Blade Runner 2049 thanks to some industry contacts and yes, it’s a beautiful film. More on that later. Current events last week put me in a bit of a personal tailspin, and after watching Blade Runner, I thought it important to tell you a little bit more about myself.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I’ve been diagnosed with a severe social anxiety disorder. I don’t want to say more, because I’ve learned that people often hear ‘social anxiety disorder’ as ‘I’ll be okay to be with people if you push me enough.’

It’s not that easy at all.

After a number of episodes and breakdowns, I started to get help for my problems. However, this isn’t something that goes away over time. There are a few things I’ve had to accept as more or less permanent. As of last year, I was put on permanent disability which precludes me holding down a regular job.

Despite my new circumstances, I want to find a way to experience life. While watching Blade Runner, I was taken with Dr. Ana Stelline, played with a minimalist sense of elegance by Carla Juri. I won’t spoil the movie because you really should see it for yourself. But pay special attention to her character when you see her, because she explained a lot about my personal situation.

Alone, trapped by a compromised immune system, Stelline still manages to carve out a rich life for herself. She’s an imaginator, we find out. Her job is to imagine and record dreams that will eventually be uploaded into the memories of replicants.

Her life is about giving life to others, and Stelline seems to find a deep sense of satisfaction out of her role. She’s making a life for herself, by imagining lives for others. I connected with her character more than anyone else in Blade Runner.

One of the best things about stories is how they make you feel a little less alone in the world. Even though my circumstances haven’t changed and I will be unable to talk in public about the work I discuss online, I’m at least happier today than I was yesterday. Now I know that I’m not the only one who finds their own way in the world through the power of their imagination.  It felt good. First time in a long while that I’ve felt that way and Blade Runner 2049 is the reason why. If I could say only one thing to Denis Villeneuve, it would be: Thank you.

I’ve updated the About Page to reflect this insight on my condition. If you’re interested in learning more, you might check out:

Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety

The Social Anxiety Association

Mesh Update #6 – Hack Inspirations

I love it when a random piece of information on the Internet gets your juices flowing, don’t you? One of the inspirations for Mesh is the time-honored practice of ‘hacks’ at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

First things first: a hack isn’t what you think it is. In fact, a hack has nothing to do with breaking into computer systems. Rather, they are creative pranks done by students. Hacks can be deviously clever, or ridiculously simple. Their worth is judged on a hack-by-hack basis.

Curious about hacks? Say no more. Wired has a great write-up of hacks that have taken place over the past sixy years, and MIT has their own archive of hacks both past and present. I’ve been a fan of these hacks for years for a very simple reason – they’re fun, they’re interesting, and they showcase an undersung aspect of geek culture.

What do I mean? Simple. Our social media-driven world is obsessed with attention. It’s not enough to do something interesting, you must also get as many likes / upvotes / retweets as possible. Hacks, by definition, are uncredited. You usually never know how the hack artists are. Their ingenuity is only matched by their anonymity. Hackers, in this context, are proud to give back to the culture that gave them so much. It’s fun, it’s geeky, and it’s admirable.

Mesh is going to celebrate hacks.

Mesh Update #5 – Get It Out of Your Head

As I’m building Mesh, I remembered that I promised to use the ‘Pixar Rules of Storytelling.‘ I went back and started filling these out as though I was doing an essay exam and the results have been surprising. I’ll post exercises from time to time to help you understand where I’m coming from as the novel finds its home in the publishing industry. Here’s the next one:

Rule 11: Get it out of your head and onto the paper.

Any project I work on has to be complete before I can see the parts that can be better. A cake isn’t a cake until you’ve mixed the ingredients and put them into a hot oven.

By the same token, all these little elements of a story sound cool in theory, but will they work in the book? There’s no way to tell, until you write it down. Keep writing, keep creating. Stand over that muse and shake the art out of her.

 

Write on!

 

The Sordid Tale: A Follow-Up on Handbook for Mortals

I mentioned this earlier – a book on the NYT best-seller list had the hallmarks of a massive book-selling scam. The amateur sleuthes of the Internet uncovered her story and now the truth comes tumbling out. ‘Handbook for Mortals’ gamed its way onto the NYT best-seller list for 23 hours.

Now that the book is falling back into obscurity, its rise to fame is a tale that could fill twelve episodes of a Netflix series entitled “How to Be a Scumbag Bestselling Author.” Lurid details are now out, but the author remains unrepentant. “There’s good and bad in what occurred,” Sarem says.

You can read the details for yourself in the Vulture article. I’m not talking about this because I have any interest in shaming Sarem. She wanted to be a best-selling author. This is the path she took to get there. Was it right? Was it wrong? I’m not sure yet. Still figuring everything out myself.

I do think that there’s a larger point to be made about the dynamics of the writing game and when the time is write, I’ll talk about it. In the meantime, continuing to crank on Mesh. Much work remains to be done.