Friday, September 28, 2012

World of Warcraft: An Origins Story

Earlier this week, Blizzard Entertainment released the fourth expansion for their hugely-popular World of Warcraft game. Mists of Pandaria adds new levels of gameplay, new race (Panda people!?), a new class, and all kind of other nifty new features. It also marks the first expansion I will not be playing since joining shortly after the release of expansion 1, The Burning Crusade, in 2007.

There are a lot of reasons why I'm no longer playing World of Warcraft, but I come to praise WoW, not to bury it: World of Warcraft played a role in turning me into a writer.

It's a strange thing to say, in some ways. Video games are not often thought of as being something that would encourage anything other than sitting in front of a computer, mashing buttons. After all, the image we have of gamers is either of pimple-faced teenage boys shut up in their room, taking advantage of internet anonymity to be all kinds of rude, or of forty-something year-old men, shut up in their parents' basement, pretending that the shapely, scantily-clad elf girl their driving around the screen is a real girl (and knowing, of course, that's as close as their getting to a real girl). The closest thing to writing we expect from these guys is something in game chat like this, "Ur a n00b lolololol."

But the truth is quite different. Gamers cut across the spectrum of humanity, and while there is a grain of truth in the two gamer stereotypes mentioned above (and I've known both types), the reality is gamers are middle-aged men with families and small businesses; they're college students; they're mothers, young and old; they're 60+ year-old retired Navy MPs. In short, they're a little bit of everything. And they are surprisingly literary-minded.

I found this out quite by accident. At some point in my WoW playing, I started scouring the web for advice on playing my Paladin. I learned to avoid Blizzard's official forums: that was the haven of the aforementioned stereotypical teens. They turned the place into a cesspool of blatant trolling or petulant whining, where serious answers to serious questions were as rare as the Time-Lost Proto Drake.

But the searches led me to World of Warcraft bloggers, and here I found a very different world: a world of intelligent people who were passionate and knowledgeable about the game, and enjoyed sharing their knowledge with others. They examined the game in detail, dissected it, and wrote posts that were informative and entertaining. It helped me a lot, and inspired me, too: eventually, my own passion for the game led me to being a very active participant on a forum created specifically for those who play healers in game. I wrote a two-part guest post on Holy Paladins for one of the better-known WoW bloggers around, and even created my own blog (now defunct for a year). I was writing, and I liked it.

WoW blogs led me to NaNoWriMo. In November of 2009, several of the bloggers I followed were talking about it, usually in this vein: "Sorry I haven't been posting as much. My NaNo is eating my brain." I'd scratch my head and think, What the Hell is this NaNo thing? Eventually I got curious enough to look it up. The idea intrigued me, but by the time I found out, it was too late to participate. And I wasn't ready. Yet.

But I was almost ready. In December, 2009, Blizzard prepared to release the last big content patch of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (and another thing: Lich King was brilliant storytelling, but that may be the subject of another post, no promises): the final assault on Icecrown Citadel, home of the biggest badass in the game at the time, Arthas, aka The Lich King. The world of the World of Warcraft was abuzz with what it would be like, and a funny thing happened to me (and here's my inner geek, laid open for all to see): my imagination was fired in a way I couldn't explain. While doing other things (driving, dishes, whatever), I'd 'see' in my head a story unfolding, with my paladin at the center of it, preparing to take Icecrown by storm. I saw and heard conversations in my head, imagined how it would go, how he would react…in other words, I was writing a story.

I didn't commit any of this to paper, but it circled my brain up until the raid was released, I was too busy getting smashed into tiny pixel bits by bosses to dwell on it any further. But the pump was primed. I was blogging regularly, and I was thinking. Stuff was happening in the Back Room. In March I had one of those first 'Aha!' moments when sometihng popped out of the Back Room. I didn't get far with it, but it was a step.

Perhaps it's not a coincidence, but in early August (yes, 9 months after the first chunk of Icecrown Citadel was released) of 2010, my guild finally defeated Arthas (we also got our first kill of a new raid-boss released the previous month, who was more related to the upcoming Cataclysm expansion than the winding-down Lich King one). The pressure was off, we had four or so months until Cataclysm. I spent less time in the game world. Is it a coincidence that I began writing fiction in earnest right after that? By then I had false-started two novels in the spring. In September, ideas seemed to grow like weeds. A couple of short stories shoved their way out. A few more ideas kicked around. And then NaNo hit, and I decided, why not? While writing my NaNo, the idea for Parallel Lives appeared, and when my NaNo was done I immersed myself in that.

I didn't know it then, but it sounded the death knell for World of Warcraft. Ironic, in a way, that the game that helped kick-start my creativity was at least partly killed by it. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe I would have found my way back to writing anyway, eventually. I enjoyed my time in WoW, and I do miss it sometimes, but I'd rather be writing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Anne Rice Gives Advice

Before there was Edward Cullen, there was Lestat.

Before there was the Cullen 'family', there was the Theatre des Vampires.

Before there was Stephenie Meyer, there was Anne Rice.

Rice is the author of the bestselling Vampire Chronicles, a series which have sold more than 80 million copies since the debut of Interview With The Vampire in 1976. I personally enjoyed the first few books in the series, though I stopped reading 4, I think. The Magpie picked up Interview a couple of years ago and loved it. The tales of Louis and Lestat were much more interesting to her than Bella and Edward, though I think she also stopped reading after book 3. Of course, as a college student, who has time to keep reading for pleasure?

Anyway, Anne Rice knows a thing or two about writing and publishing. Late last week, she posted a video on Youtube, offering encouragement to new writers.

Now, on the overall, I like what she says. She's encouraging. She gives a great, positive message on persistence. It's a message I needed to hear, as I have to say I've been a bit down this month. There is one problem, though. If you didn't watch the video all the way through, at about the 9-minute mark, Rice says:
"'ve sent it to every New York publisher you know of, and they've all rejected it. What do you do then? Do you give up? No, you do not give up. Self publish."

She goes on to discuss how it's never been easier to self publish (true), then touts the seemingly-weekly stories of little authors gone big (think Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, Tracey Garvis-Graves).

Rice is absolutely right, it has never been easier to self publish. But she leaves out the critical piece, and that is this: is your novel ready for publishing?

Presumably, if you've been sending it to agents and/or editors, you believe it's ready, but writers make mistakes all the time. We alternate between self-doubt gnawing away, telling ourselves we'll never be good enough, ever. And then we have moments of soaring self-confidence, where we're convinced we're the second coming of...someone super-incredible. Being objective is not easy. The thing is, what Rice doesn't say, and what a lot of writers either don't realize or choose to ignore, is this: If a novel is getting constantly rejected, there's a reason for it. It could be the query is not doing its job. It could be you're not reaching out to the right people. It could be the market is just not quite there. Or it could be the novel isn't good enough, or isn't quite polished to the shine required to get it to the next level.

And this is the toughest part of this whole publishing thing, really. Writing the book is perhaps the easiest step, at least in my (admittedly limited) experience. It's also the most fun part of it all. The joy of creating worlds, breathing life into people and putting them through heaven and hell. That's easy. That's exhilarating. Bringing those characters to a wide audience is the hard part. As Rice points out, however, not as hard as it used to be.

There was a person over in AW recently who posted his query letter for review. He mentioned that in the first 25 queries he sent out, he got a 60% response rate. SIXTY PERCENT! Ultimately, everyone passed on his fulls, so he was seeking feedback on his...query. Uh, seems to me there's nothing wrong with a query that garners a 60% response rate, even if, as he said, the rate fell off in recent rounds (I'm not sure how many total he's sent out; he says 'many more.') He's got something there, a story that's good enough to hook agents in, but if he's getting rejected on fulls he needs to do more work on the rest of his book. But if this guy follows Rice's advice, his book will be hitting the shelves sometime soon, and that may actually be the worst possible thing he could do. His book just may not be ready. By rushing to publication

Look, the fact is, agents and editors are often wrong, and they're more than willing to admit it. They may be wrong about your book, too. But before you rush to self-publish, make sure your story is ready. I mean, really, really ready.

This is all obvious stuff, I realize, but sometimes it just needs to be reiterated. Especially after a famous author like Anne Rice tells you to self-publish. Meanwhile, I recommend popping over to Chuck Wendig's blog today. He's got some advice on cultivating instinct, to help you know when you're ready and when you're not. Thanks for stopping by, as always.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mugshots, A Disorganized Rant

I actually had at least two different posts in semi-stages of completion heading into the end of this week. "I'm in good shape," I said to myself. "No problem this time around. Just, which post do I go with?"

Until yesterday happened.

Actually, what happened happened two days ago. On that day, International Talk Like A Pirate Day, border agents cried out, "Avast! Prepare to be boarded!" to singer/songwriter, Fiona Apple. They climbed aboard her tour bus and found some amount of hashish, which Apple claimed as hers, and arrested her.

The news hit yesterday morning, all sorts of jokes going around playing off the lyrics of Apple's song, Criminal, from way back in 97. That didn't bother me. The jokes were obvious, and my world wasn't rocked by the arrest: I like her music, but wouldn't consider myself a 'fan', exactly. What happened later, however, did bother me.

Sometime in the afternoon, the deejay at one of my favorite radio stations (a deejay who actually featured Apple during the lunch hour last week) posted Apple's mugshot on the station's Facebook page. The Criminal jokes being all used up, she commented on Apple's height--or lack thereof--instead. Not too many people commented, and the comments were largely neutral or mildly supportive of Apple, but the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the TMZ watermark across the mugshot.

Now, I'm no celebrity apologist. I'm not going to defend Apple, or claim she was set up or unfairly targeted. Nor am I going to turn this into a soapbox about the drug laws in this country. Simply put, she broke the law. She made a bad decision, and now she has to pay the consequences, which will include lost revenue (I understand she's already had to cancel one concert), the possibility of prison time, and public ridicule. I wouldn't worry about her alienating her fan base; fans are pretty forgiving. Apple is going to have to suffer the consequences of her actions, and that's the way it should be. What bothers me, though, is that mugshot. My initial reaction, upon seeing it, was, "How did they get that? That's just not right."

It's silly, of course. We've seen celebrity mugshots before: Nick Nolte, Robert Downey, Jr., Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, Lindsay Lohan, Lind-- err, sorry. Anyway, it's nothing new. None of those mugshots bothered me all that much; perhaps Apple's was sort of the last straw for me, or maybe there was something different about hers, I don't know. Anyway, I know that mugshots are part of the public record. Depending on the criminal, it may be the only photo readily available for the news. What bothered me, though, was how exploitative this felt, and how unnecessary. Maybe because it wasn't in service of the news.

In a curious case of convergence, later in the day, this story splashed its way across my home page, and this bothered me even more than Apple's rather pitiful mugshot. The short end of it is, if you've ever been arrested for anything, spitting on the sidewalk in Sheboygan, DUI, driving without insurance, whatever, there's a good chance your mugshot is out there, prominently-displayed on one of those websites. Think about that for a minute. Again, it's a matter of public record, but it just feels wrong to me, especially when said websites will remove it--for a fee. That feels even more exploitative to me than using Mel Gibson's or Lindsay Lohan's or Fiona Apple's mugshot to drive traffic.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Musing

Good morning, all. Hope you had a pleasant weekend. No super-coherent post today (as opposed to any other time, hah hah), just some random bits and pieces from the brain.

*Don't you just love it when you get a new idea? I was reading a book yesterday afternoon that sparked a line of thought, that led to what could be THE NEXT BOOK. I wrote a page or two during my Writers' Circle yesterday. It's all very vague and mushy in my head, but there's something there. Time to let it drift off to the Back Room for a while - I've still got Barton's Women to sand down and I'm reconsidering certain elements of Parallel Lives (I re-read it - it needs some help), so I've got plenty to do while this idea matures, but it's nice to have.

*I can't remember the last time a spectacular, hour-long, series finale concluded a television program on a satisfactory note. Last night's Weeds finale was another disappointment. The concept was good: showing the extended Botwin family roughly ten years in the future. Sadly, the execution just wasn't there. The episode provided some laughs and a tender moment or two, but much of it felt forced. It does not leave me feeling hopeful for the upcoming finales of 30 Rock and Breaking Bad. It seems the more networks hype up finales, the more likely they are to fail. A few notable exceptions: M*A*S*H, perhaps Newhart. I think Cheers ended pretty well, though I don't really remember. It was a long time ago.

*Music note. Have you seen the video for Bob Dylan's new song, Duquesne Whistle? It's...disturbing. Musically, it's fine (and I like the Louie Armstrong vocals; it's an improvement over some of Bob's more recent work), but the 'story' in the video is kind of creepy.

*I've been considering a new look for the blog. I liked this template when I chose it, but it's time for a change. I'd consider asking my wife to design a fancy schmancy website (that's what she does, after all) that cuts the cord from Blogger, but it feels a bit presumptuous.

*Anyone have experience with online submissions managers? A short piece I sent out at the beginning of the summer went from 'Received' to 'Second review' at one of the markets (can't remember if there was a 'first review' stage or not; I had kind of forgotten about it). It has since dropped back to 'Received', which makes me think a rejection notice is heading my way. Oh, well.

*Funny thing with words: I'm listening to a radio station as I type this. They're plugging an End-of-Summer 'Cornholing' tournament. To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride: I don't think that word means what I think it means. I've read too much Stephen King; it has a very different meaning in his work.

That's about it for me for today. Enjoy the week, all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fake Reviews

Whoa. How did it get to be Friday already?

It's been about two months since author Stephen Leather dropped the news that he used sock puppets to create buzz about his work (it's buried deep). Since Leather's admission, there have been at least three other cases of authors being outed for employing sock puppets. We've also seen a New York Times article about a man who made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling reviews, and, perhaps even worse, the story of a well-known author who in not content with posting five-star reviews of his own books, he also has to tear down the work of others.

In each case, the news has been met with outrage in the writing community. The Absolute Write 'authors behaving badly' sections fills up faster than a Red Lobster on 'All You Can Eat Shrimp' night. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of bloggers have weighed in, almost universally condemning these actions, and rightly so. It rigs the system against the men and women who are trying to build an audience with quality books and hard, honest work. It tilts the playing field.

But what will be the long-term outcome of this scandal on the Sock Puppetmasters? If you follow the threads on AW, and the comments in the blog posts, you would believe they will never sell another book so long as they live. "Add Author X to my Do Not Read pile" posts sprout like weeds. These authors get tied to the whipping post for a public flogging, and then...what?

It's too soon to tell for sure what will happen to Leather, Ellory, John Locke, and the other Sock Puppetmasters, but here's what I think: Nothing. Outside the outraged community of fellow authors, there will be no repercussions for them. Why? Because I don't believe the book-buying public really cares. In the grand scheme of things, buying reviews, writing your own reviews, even sniping at fellow authors while hiding behind fake accounts, that's small potatoes. We're a society that shrugs off far bigger lies; we accept, even expect, it. We elect liars and cheats to the most powerful offices in the world; who cares about a writer being less than honest? As long as he's not breaking the law or doing anything really sick, most people will shrug it off. And they'll shrug it off in particular if the person can write a good story (I've never read any of the authors in question, so I can't speak to that).

Please note I in no way condone this behavior. It's cheating. It's slimy. It hurts authors who are trying to make it honestly, and I won't do it myself. I just don't believe it will really impact sales all that much, but time will tell. What do you think?


Two other things: Last week, Lisa L. Regan--an honest author who will not fake reviews when Finding Claire Fletcher comes out in December--tagged me in The Next Big Thing. When I read Lisa's entry, the questions sounded awfully familiar, and rightly so: they were the same ones I answered back in August, when Nancy S. Thompson--an honest author who will not fake reviews when The Mistaken comes out next month--conferred on me the Be Inspired Bloghop Meme! Since I've already answered the questions, and I have no new WiP to plug, here's the link to August's post. Thanks, Lisa!

Finally, if you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a deadicated Deadhead, and can't resist posting boring videos of what was one of the most boring bands to watch. Here's another one. On this day in 1978, the Dead played the first of three shows at a little theater tucked away at the foot of the pyramids, in the shadow of the Sphinx, in the Egyptian desert. True to form, the Dead were typically erratic. "We played terrible," said Garcia a few years later. But they did get some good performances. Here's one:

That's about it for me, for now. Hope you've all had a nice week, and have a great weekend.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Carrie Butler's Cover: STRENGTH

Carrie Butler, of So, You're a Writer has a book coming out, and today is cover release day! She was one of my first followers, and she's a hockey fan to boot, so how could I pass up the opportunity to help out? I couldn't. So, here's the deal on Strength:

When college student Rena Collins finds herself nose-to-chest with the campus outcast, she’s stunned. Wallace Blake is everything she’s ever wanted in a man—except he can’t touch her. His uncontrollable strength, a so-called gift from his bloodline, makes every interaction dangerous. And with a secret, supernatural war brewing among his kind, there’s no time to work it out. To keep Wallace in her life, Rena will have to risk a whole lot more than her heart.

Pretty cool stuff. The 'he can't touch her' made me think of the quirky, short-lived TV show, Pushing Daisies, though the reasons for not touching are quite different, and I suspect Carrie's story is a bit more serious.

Now, for the cover:

No fair, she photoshopped someone's head on my body!
Pretty powerful stuff.

And if that's not enough to hook you, there's a trailer, too:

Very cool.

Strength is a New Adult Paranormal Romance, Book 1 of the Mark of Nexus series, available on March 7th, from Sapphire Star Publishing. Visit Carrie on her website, and check out Strength's page on Goodreads. March 7th looks to be an exciting day!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Is There Anybody Out There?

Back during the Sad Songs Bloghop, I listed this as one of the saddest songs going. You may have to turn it up to really hear.

I thought of this song this week, not because I'm especially sad, but because sometimes it feels like the only person in the world who doesn't write YA.

I know it's not true, of course; a number of you regulars here don't write YA, but still. It seems nearly every blog I find is penned by a YA or MG writer, and every query that turns up in AWs Query Letter Hell or on Matt's QQQE is YA. When I got my first 250 in the Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Agent's Inbox contest last spring, 14 of the 20 entrants were YA (and 1 MG). In looking back at one of the Drop The Needle Contests at MSFV in May, 14 of 25 entrants were YA/MG (and the percentage was even higher in her second round). The ultimate occurred this week. I managed to get a revamped first 250-words of Parallel Lives into Miss Snark's First Victim's September Secret Agent Contest (entrant #6, if you're interested; why I chose to do a revise is another story). 48 of the 50 entrants were YA or MG. Wow, it can be lonely out there. I wonder if I'm just looking in the wrong places, or if YA/MG writers are that much more sociable than the rest of us (with authors of literary fiction the most hermit-like).

In other news...

The cover for Carrie Butler's debut, Strength, goes live on Monday, and we'll have a sneak preview right HERE!

The Catbird returned to school yesterday; oh, how strange to see her alone at the bus stop.

The Magpie seems to have recovered from her case of the Second Week Blues.

Barton's Women sits and cools; meanwhile, I re-read (am re-reading, that is) Parallel Lives, and all I can say is, I thought I did a better job editing. /facepalm

That's about it for me for today. Thanks for stopping by, hope you all have a nice weekend. Be sure to stop by Monday and see Carrie's cover!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Musical Monday: Your Racist Friend

The Magpie has been in touch with one of her friends from home, a girl I'll call the Robin. The Robin is an outgoing, cheerful young lady, all Rainbows and Unicorns, who evidently got socked with her own case of The Second Week Blues at her college. She also had an experience that made me think of this great song from They Might Be Giants (3 minutes, no video so to speak):

The Robin has been having a bit of trouble finding her way at her college, it seems. Stuck with a roommate who alternates between niceness and not, and being in the unusual position of not really connecting with anyone, she's a little desperate to make friends, but at least it seems like her decision-making is good, as we shall see.

The Robin recently spied a fellow who made an unusual sartorial decision: he sported a bow tie with a pair of suspenders. An odd choice for a teenager, but the Robin took a chance; she approached, and opened with the conversational gambit, "Bow ties are cool."

Her guess was correct: the young man was a Whovian, i.e., a fan of Doctor Who, and she found someone to nerd out with. She must have been ecstatic, must have felt as if she was finally connecting with someone, that maybe she was in the process of building a potential friend. Finally. Rainbows and Unicorns are back!

And then the conversation continued, and the rainbows and unicorns became rainstorms and minotaurs.

According to the Magpie, as the Robin continued her conversation with her fellow Whovian, it became increasingly clear he was, in fact, racist. We didn't hear all the details,and I won't repeat the particularly egregious thing he said as relayed to us, but it was a doozy. The Robin even tried to give the guy some room to wiggle out and show himself to be better than that. He made a rather broad statement, to which she said, "In YOUR experience?" Nope. He was not basing his beliefs on any direct experience of his own. If he had, then perhaps he could have been argued with; perhaps he could have seen that her direct experiences undermined his beliefs. Maybe he could have seen her point of view, and been more willing to change his own. Instead, he was merely parroting some belief that came to him from somewhere. I'm not one for blaming parents for everything (as a parent, I can't afford to do that, hah hah), but I believe that's where most of these beliefs come from. At any rate, that was enough for the Robin. She told him off and walked away, upset and angry, still friendless, but better off in this case.

"Everyone's a little bit racist," sing the puppets in the musical, Avenue Q, and I suppose there's a grain of truth to it (and I grudgingly admit it exists in me, too, though I do my best to work past it and stamp it out). Not to use biology as an excuse for abhorrent behavior, but maybe there's some deep-seated survival instinct that makes us inherently mistrust people who look or act differently that we do. Or maybe it's purely society that's done it, I don't know. I do know it's better than when I was a kid, and it's certainly better than 50, 60, or 100 years ago. Sadly, it's still out there, and it's especially disappointing to hear coming from one so young.