The End of a Blogging Era

Howdy ladies and gentlemen. Particularly my followers, who I’ve accumulated over the years. After some consideration, I’ve decided it’s time to retire this blog.

I’ve told myself for the longest time I was going to get around to giving it a face lift. A new theme, maybe maintain an actual writing schedule for it. But these ideas have been constantly brushed aside for more exciting projects. And unless you pay for hosting yourself, the written posts just promote the advertising clicks for whomever is giving you a blog. They love free content.

Well, I was fine with that once. But these days, if people want to read what I write, I’d rather them go read it at Thunderbird.

I’m not alone in this. Andrew and I both agreed it would be better to drive attention to our work. Thus we decided to move our personal stuff to an op-ed section over there, starting later this month. I’ll be redirecting my domain to my forthcoming personal page on Thunderbird. And I’ll probably copy over some of my “greatest hits” blog posts and delete them here.

For those who have followed He2etic’s Hysterical Horoscope all these years, I thank you. You can still read my stuff, but it’s time to move onto bigger and better things. Check back on JamesFadeley.com for the redirect in a few weeks.

Game of Thrones: A Theory of How it Ends

As if it wasn’t obvious, this post contains spoilers galore and, if I’m right, could even spoil the very ending. If you don’t want to risk it, don’t read and wait until Monday (or after you’ve had a chance to see the final episode). Then we’ll see how right or wrong I was.

The theory goes that the Night King versus the god of light is a battle repeated again and again every few centuries. The Night King and the Others are gods of the cold and death. Meanwhile R’hllor, the “one true god” who really likes fire, is represented through followers and allies in the form of the Red Priestess Melisandre and the undying Beric Dondarrion. However, the Night King was unlikely to win against R’hllor without recruiting/claiming a powerful ally… the Green Seer, better known as the Three-Eyed Raven. A shaman of the old gods, whom the northmen still worship. (The religious aspect is important, and I’ll explain in a second why.)

The Raven knew the Night King was coming and reached out for Bran Stark, who was gifted enough to take on the sight and host him. And after the events of the battle of Winterfell, was finally freed of the threat of the Night King. I would note Sandor Clegane’s line on how “the one true god buggered off the moment the Night King was dead.”

My suspicion is that Bran/Three-Eyed Raven is, in fact, manipulating events. I can think of three, non-exclusive reasons:

A) Bran Stark made a deal with the Three-Eyed Raven, to become his new host in exchange for protecting his family.
B) As the shaman of the old gods, worshipped by the northmen, he owes it to them to give them their vaunted “King of the North.” This goes back into the “the right to rule stems from religion” argument. Just as the Faith of the Seven deigning the King of the Seven Kingdoms, the northern gods were looking to crown their own king.
C) The possibility that Bran is, in fact, evil, and the old gods could very well be a Cthulhu reference. Afterall, George RR Martin did add Carcosa to his book series.

I would say C is the least possible reason, and am inclined to dismiss it. However, the Starks could not be safe as long as Cersei had the throne and Jon Snow had a claim.

This leads us to a final point. Bran’s powers include seeing the future and, most importantly, controlling animals. I don’t think Daenerys was actually in control of Drogon while he burned King’s Landing to the ground. Bran was.

In fact, who knows how far Bran’s manipulation has gone. He could have set the Dothraki to charge against the the white walkers during the Battle of Winterfell. All he’d have to do is nudge the leader’s horse to begin the charge after their swords were lit afire. He was also warging into the dragons during the battle, possibly trying to prevent the ice dragon from killing Jon. Likewise, it seems strange for Bran not to mention that Daenerys could lose Rhaegal during the march to King’s Landing.

Regardless, I think Daenerys is being framed, and may not be as mad as we think. But it still prompts action against her, and may result in her death, however unjust. If Jon learns that it was Bran who caused all this, who knows what will happen however… a colleague of mine suggested that Jon may burn down the throne and shatter the seven kingdoms for good, breaking the cycle of power.

Finally, there’s a small suspicion I have that Jaime Lannister isn’t dead, and maybe the one to kill Daenerys. Guess we’ll find out Sunday.

 

Escaping the Streaming Rat Race

We’re moving in a few weeks. In preparation for this, I did something I tried not to think about doing for a long time. I went ahead and stripped my DVD collection of its cases, and gathered them into one neat (if very large) binder.

Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Who bothers with DVDs anymore?”

It’s a good question. If Netflix or Amazon Prime (or Hulu if you prefer) don’t have what you want, you can usually rent it off Amazon or another service. But I’ve been watching the wind and I have a ominous feeling that bad times are upon consumers. Not a “forever” situation, but things can suck for a while.

I believe that Netflix has known it, but they’re working on borrowed playtime. Much of their content is still very much from other movie studios. Back then, it was cheaper for content producers to license their titles out and collect royalties from Netflix instead of constructing digital delivery services of their own. But the industry is making rapid steps to embrace the changes Netflix heralded.

And when they do, they’re going to want their stuff back. If Netflix doesn’t build enough of a brand, their platform will be barren, save for whatever they’ve made in time, and that of a few independent studios providing outside content. A report from late last year stated that users spent 80% of their time watching titles that Netflix didn’t make. The company is locked in a race to generate enough of their own stuff to escape the reaping.

It’s already coming to a head. Anyone who has been following the recent Netflix and Marvel TV series shake up knows that Disney is entering the game with Hulu and Disney+. When Warner Bros gets its services running, all those CW shows will probably be going elsewhere. By the end of the next three years, likely every major studio will have its own service instead of relying on a few, centralized providers.

I’m really not wild about hopping from service to service, paying $10 to $20 a pop. All the apps, logins, bills and so on, for only a few things I really want to see. In theory, you could purchase and own on Amazon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they find ways to make your selections “unavailable.” I’ve read a couple of articles where the fine print on Amazon’s digital movies may result in unavailability of movies you’ve “purchased” due to sudden “content provider licensing restrictions.”

I feel that the ease and convenience of the streaming age is going to be on choppy seas for a while. Again, I don’t think this is going to be an everlasting dark age. Yet it may take another few years for studios to accept that this emerging system isn’t convenient for customers, and is already resulting in a second age of digital piracy.

Everyone just has to learn the hard way…

If you’re like me, you refuse to torrent. But you’re probably not wild about your wallet being thinned either. So maybe my arguments have swayed you to consider either buying Blu-Ray, DVDs or storing digital copies of your favorite movies. If so, I would highly suggest storing the following crowd pleasers to escape the streaming rat race:

And you don’t have to buy new. Keep an eye out at garage sales and antique stores, grab them for $3. Just buy them, and store a copy to call your own. And yes. Yes, I know that you can rip and store these DVDs. The legality of this is questionable, so I sincerely hope you do so only for your own personal use if so.

Production Blues

Work calls and my head is just not in the game. Too much is going on this week, so perhaps a few paragraphs might take my mind off matters.

As of this blog, I am getting closer to the final touches on two anthologies. Both are due out in roughly a month. The first, Welcome to San Cicaro, is an urban fantasy and horror anthology written by authors besides me. Yep, I’ve taken the job as “just editor” on this one. The other anthology, Banner Saga: Tales from the Caravan, is one story from being finished with edits. Because it’s intended as a collection of shorter Banner Saga works, a few pieces of mine will be a part of that one.

The next few months will be critical. I’ve been jotting down ideas, some of which are for team-based projects that other writers and artists maybe invited to. Others are for personal novels or works I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time… and put off.

The latter point is interesting to me. Nothing I’ve ever done has been 100% mine alone. The Bolthole anthologies, The Gift of Hadrborgand the afforementioned upcoming releases… they’ve all either leaned on others or have involved a franchise. And I feel I know why that is.

One of my biggest fears is to finally hit that degree of success, only to be defined solely by that one win. I dread the thought of writing dozens of novels around the same character, never visiting a hundred other minds in scores of unique settings. To never wear a thousand masks and live a thousand lives.

I don’t understand authors who are happy with revisiting the characters, again and again. I’m fine with it for a while, perhaps with one sequel. But so repeatedly? When is one satisfied? But who am I to judge. I can’t say I’ll know satisfaction after completing my own dreams. Perhaps I too will not know happiness in creation, and know not whether I seek an elusive magnum opus or pray that it is illusive.

Oh. Yeah. And we’re closing on a house tomorrow.

You Ain’t -Punk

I missed my opportunity to go to Cleveland ConCoction last weekend due to a teensy little surgical procedure to reconstruct my ACL. Considering my mobility depends on a pair of crutches, and how my leg gets painfully swollen if I stand too long, I reluctantly relinquished my hotel reservation.

In fact, much of my year is kind of shot. ConFluence in Pittsburgh is up in the air. And in truth, I’ve kind of reached a break point in my job. I believe I’ve mentioned I was promoted to team lead, but the workload was vast. The goal post for our project kept shifting and work weeks inflated to 50 or 60 hours long. However we met the minimum viable product standards Friday before last, and I am getting more optimistic that the next release will not be so demanding.

The prior week however, was devoted to rest and recovery. Hours were spent catching up on television, including the second season of The Expanse, the final season of The StrainAltered Carbon and several episodes of the original Star Trek. I also made significant headway into Black Lightning and the second season of Jessica Jones. Movies weren’t ignored either as I finally caught Black PantherCocoThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which I did not enjoy) and Moana (which I did). I also found time to wrap up Stephen King’s It and Into the Blight by my friend and first-time novelist Jonathan Ward. I recommend you read it and keep an eye on Ward as a promising new author as it was very well told.

With something to do besides just work all the time, I’ve felt a hungering to write again unlike any other. There’s a part of me who covets something that isn’t out there. Something that isn’t totally like everything I’ve read or watched before. Much of my bibliography has been to distinctly please someone else; a publisher, an editor, a franchise, a fan base. Very little has been for me.

This idea of writing for myself reminded me of the anger I bear towards the current direction of the indie publishing industry. In the last few years, a couple of publishers had ripped me and my friends off. Yet we’ve seen interest dying among readers from too many titles. Anyone foolish enough to ask writer corners for suggestions gets buried in 60 or so self-published sales pitches.

And maybe there’s a hint of paranoia in the mix. I find myself a bit guarded on the occasions when I’m asked about the process of writing for Banner Saga. Kind of like the Oscars, where those celebrities’ faces dropped when they were asked, “What would you tell the younger generation of actors who are trying to make it?” It’s this sensation of knowing that someone nakedly wants something that makes one feel a little apprehensive.

Honesty keeps a blog from being boring.

That’s the cynicism talking. The same bitterness that found itself into a short story embracing it. A story that was good enough to inspire Manuel to work on a comic for it, and he’s hard at work learning the ropes about this first time endeavor. I really wish I could tell you that it’s right around the corner, that it’ll be published in a month or so. But it won’t be. It sucks but art takes time.

More so because I really want Manuel to learn the ropes about every aspect of making a comic. I am not helping to raise an artist (Manuel was long already that), I’m helping to train a full fledged art director. And to do that, he has to have a solid, hands-on understanding of every aspect of the process, even if he eventually delegates others to take charge of lettering or layout, etc. I think a solid leader is a jack-of-all-trades who, at the very least, has a good grasp of each element of whatever makes the product in question.

But this comic and the bitterness that surrounds it… I worry sometimes that cutting off larger chunks of myself for the witch’s ink brew can backlash. New marketing ideas I’ve considered seem sarcastic and even combative. We talked genre labels and one idea kept coming up that we found hysterical: calling out the -punk suffix cause most of it isn’t really punk.

It isn’t.

All these names began as a twist on cyberpunk, which usually is punk— stories that mix low life and high tech, and usually revel around sticking it to the man. But with all the -punk genres, the anti-authoritarian attitudes died down, and the punk themes were set aside for exploratory tales, alternate histories (like Iron Harvest, which I’ve backed and if you’re into RTS games, you should too) and ideas more in the proto-science fiction vein.

I haven’t been studying marketing as hard as I should, but I’m fairly certain that calling a motherfucker out is not considered sound practice. Yet there is something attractive about the idea, given that indie publishing inevitably has an anti-establishment streak to it, or at least should. Therein lies the point: if you succeed, Disney will buy it and make a mint. If you’re semi-successful, Disney will loot the concept. Hell is the only asylum, full of the despicable and the incorrigible that they will never touch.

Back to work.

Lean, Mean 2018

2018 certainly started right.

Late last year, Manuel, Andrew and I were talking about new projects for Thunderbird Studios. I pitched a few ideas, but also sent them the first half of a short story I’ve been struggling with. Yet Andrew and Manuel were excited enough for the tale that we swept almost all other projects off the table to work on a comic book for it.

Yesterday, a few hours of New Year’s Eve were spent finishing a 16-page long script. And today, the second draft. Manuel, our artist, received it this afternoon with the intention of printing, reading and returning revisions.

It might sound strange for an artist to do this, but here’s the thing. Writing a comic book script can be anything between writing and writing/graphic design. Pages have to be written with an idea of how many panels they’ll involve. We have to consider how much space is needed not just to show (rather than tell) the story, but also for speech balloons, sound effects and narration.

“Show don’t tell” is generally good advice for novice writers of novels and short stories, yet there are limits. For example, the difference between telling and showing could be the difference of one or two narrative sentences versus three to five additional paragraphs, pages… or even entire chapters.

So the question becomes whether or not the information conveyed in those brief sentences is worth:

  1. The extra time for the writer to produce the new content.
  2. The cost for the editor to check the extra material.
  3. The increased price of formatting the expanded manuscript.
  4. The expenses of printing them (physical copy only).
  5. The reader’s time to read it.

That last point is actually the most important. If that new content entertains readers, the combined effort of all the prior steps is likely validated. If not, then everyone’s time and money was wasted. If you need proof to believe me, try reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. Or even just reading the comments and reviews.

Pedanticism can be a writer’s sin.

With comics, the problem can actually be reversed. The “show” aspect is naturally handled through the art. You can even tell a tale that intrigues readers’ speculations by removing all dialogue and narration. The Darkest Dungeon comics (online and free) are really good about this.

But when you want to confirm needed details or convey aspects of the world that are beyond the scope of the story, actually telling the story can be the way to go. It would be quite the challenge (not to mention expense) to draw everything.

As I’m finally getting back into the swing of writing, I’m hoping to be able to handle all revisions on the script, then fire and forget it. This may sound optimistic but part of my problem is that things keep “bubbling back” and grabbing my ankle. I end up getting pulled into many small issues that need work, affecting other projects.

Lately I’m trying to solve these issues by focusing on shorter works. While comics take about the same amount of time as short stories, novellas are considerably faster than novels. They’re also easier. Usually I find myself staring at a novel synopsis and scratching out entire sections that are nothing but “filler.” Or if they don’t fulfill two of the following three needs:

  1. Developing characters
  2. Advancing plot
  3. Expanding the world

I actually sat down and took a hard look at the math on novellas on Amazon’s sites. With e-books, it actually makes great sense. In print, it’s certainly possible although the extended distribution options can force prices above what I feel comfortable charging. But after taking a quick look at my well-selling novel, I noticed that extremely few of my sales come from those channels.

Let’s see what the new year brings…

Painful Lessons in Publishing

A more official word will be going out soon, but it looks like we’re cancelling the Outliers series for good.

The fact that it was ever made at all is something of a small miracle. Five authors putting together a world of stories and characters, each shared and culminating towards a greater epic? That’s no small feat. Yet even before founding Thunderbird Studios, we had a publisher who backed out. This was early 2016, and the small press market seemed to be in a real flux. So, I started an LLC, grabbed some ISBNs and got to work with Manuel.

To help promote it, we even put together a primer, Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come, that was regularly given away for free. What threw us for a loop was that the primer seemed to do pretty great. The shorter length plus the art helped us quickly reap ten very positive reviews on Amazon’s UK site.

It looked like a really promising start for us.

Then we published the first volume of five novellas.

And it did not sell.

That was a year ago. We blamed some of it on the election upset last year and kept trying to turn it around. Facebook advertising, reaching out to folks directly, trying to get reviews. We had almost 250 followers on Facebook and several groups we could tap for more, and a few more on Twitter. We had our own personal networks. And we even launched our own product site, backed with freebies. But none of this helped.

Ask me why and I can think of a dozen reasons. Maybe more.

We really fought against labeling it as “superheroes,” focusing more and more on the science fiction elements. We dived into more grounded concerns, a formula that involved adding incredible talented people to say… the nursing profession, government bureaucracy, crime and law enforcement, the plight of the poor, and market manipulation. There were even a few modern day political points, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and police being required to use cameras.

These weren’t superheroes. They were just ordinary folks who could do something unique, and the world itself was reacting instead of the other way around.

We had serious and lasting impacts from our antics. The final story of Outliers: 2016 involved a sizable chunk of New York burning down. In future volumes, that section of the city is still very gone. And the politics of that event were still being debated. Less laser beam eyes and more modern cloak and dagger.

But I guess people took one glance, saw superheroes and didn’t look again.

What’s wrong with superheroes? Nothing, unless you’re not Marvel or maybe DC. Jon called it when he pointed out that the glutted market (especially with three companies using Marvel’s properties) makes anything one does seem derivative. Particularly when Fox came out with The Gifted, one of several in-universe terms we used to describe our Outlier characters. He described it as “a kick in the teeth.”

And speaking of terminology, Outliers was not a great choice to call our series. Search for it and the first thing you’ll discover is the book by Malcolm Gladwell. Keep digging and you’ll find The Outliers, a novel by Kimberly McCreight that was released earlier in 2016. Our efforts were a painful third.

Another big sign, one I should have watched for, was that the only people who ever seemed excited for Outliers were other authors and writers. Conversations about it drifted towards, “Can I pitch something for that?”

Yet most of them backed away when they realized that Outliers called for no small amount of homework. We weren’t big on “limitless powers,” and frequently nerfed what our protagonists could do. There were factions to develop, and sharing characters meant learning about their backstories, abilities, relationships and philosophy. Basically, every contributor was an encyclopedia in a series. And the wiki we developed to hold all this information got pretty damn big.

Joining us was buying into a creative contract. And when they realized that meant limitations, they seemed to lose interest.

In the past, a few people who were cross with me called prior works failures. I always shrugged. Those efforts never bothered me because they were trial and error, and I was always upfront about that. They were projects of learning that actually did go on to make several dozen sales. In the case of Far Worldsa couple of hundred.

But Outliers was a true failure. It sucked because most people remained silent on the matter. Folks said that they would review it, then they flaked. Not only friends but family just couldn’t be bothered. No one wanted to be honest and say, “Yeah, cool. Listen, I’m not really interested in reading that. But good luck.”

Not loved, not hated. At best, unknown. At worst, no one cared. And we’re left humbled hard by that truth as we leave our work to be trampled into dust by time.

Sigh…

…Anyway. The Outliers site is shutting down in a few days. The primer is coming off market too, and we’ll probably be retiring our social media outlets as well.