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

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.

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.

Five Reasons Why I Don’t Submit Free Short Stories

Okay, let me put my ‘Bardist’ hat on. I’ve submitted stories to free online ‘zines, participated in write-a-thons, and responded to writing prompts. Some friends are writers, some friends are editors. I’ve heard a lot of debate about the realities of art and commerce in the modern writing game.

At a certain point, I decided that if I was going to Write For Real, I had to be focused. I would confine my work to the places where my work had a shot at being paid for. People hear this and like to sneer, so let me try to explain in a cogent fashion why I only submit my work to places where it can be paid for. It’s a good thing, as you’re about to see for yourself:

  1. Professionalism begets professionalism – Want to be a professional? Hang out with professionals, it’s that simple. That happens to be true whether you’re a bartender, an actor or a writer.
  2. Paid stories are more likely to be read – Let’s face it, if writers weren’t worried about getting published, we would still be writing on bathroom walls, Medium, or Tumblr. We want our thoughts to be shared, we want our work to connect with readers. Platforms that pay for stories work so much harder to get their work in front of eyeballs than free services. When readers read you they’re also reading them! Much of the promotion work a semi-pro writer has to do is done for you.
  3. Money makes you take your art seriously – Doing anything for money carries an intrinsic standard of quality that you won’t find if it’s just a hobby. If you aren’t writing for money, you stop worrying about what you write or how often. “Don’t feel like working today? No problem, you aren’t getting paid anyway!” Knowing that there’s actual money involved makes you take the job seriously.
  4. Money makes people take you seriously – People only value what they pay for. Don’t ask me why this is true, but it’s true. Over and over again, social experiments have demonstrated that if you’re given something for free, you don’t value it as much as something you pay something for. I want to be valued, therefore I ask to be paid.
  5. It cost me something to make this story – Yes, it’s true. Creativity is fun, but it still burns calories. It still involves effort. I give up a lot of personal time and energy to write this stuff down. That’s not a bad thing, but it is time I could be spending on myself, my cat or my video games. If it cost me something to make this piece of art, then I need to value myself first, before I ask anyone else to.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I don’t submit free stories. It’s not to be mean, it’s not to be dismissive of those publishers or authors. They want to give their stuff away for free, god love ’em, and I wish them well. That’s simply not my path. If those reasons aren’t sufficent, you can find a few more by reading these articles:

Learning About Storytelling From Mr. Rogers

I just ran across this video essay and wanted to share it. If you’re like me, you’re interested in how the craft of storytelling is developed. You might not have considered Mr. Rogers to be a master storyteller, but he was actually very good at that job.

As the filmmaker says, his storytelling reflects a sincere desire to communicate between one person to another. You can’t be a good storyteller unless you’re willing to be open with your listeners, be vulnerable to them. That was a key takeaway, and I wanted to share that with you because I know you’re looking for ways to develop your craft, too.


Audience Building With @Scalzi

The Internet has mixed feelings about John Scalzi. Personally, I’m a fan. Guy writes good sci-fi and remains down-to-earth despite his level of success. Not only that, he’s always up to talk to regular people and has a fair amount of integrity:

After trading tweets with him for a while, I decided to ask him a question that very few other people would be in a position to answer. As I’m getting started as an author, I’m running into a number of challenges I did not expect. How do I navigate this unknown territory?

Even established authors find audience engagement to be somewhat daunting, but Scalzi seems to have found his own personal comfort zone between writing and talking to people so that more people buy his stories. How does it work? I decided to ask the man himself and see what he said. I was pleasantly surprised by the 140-character insights that followed. Continue reading