Virtual Overlords: A (Mostly) Comedic Take On The Future of Digital Publishing

e-book

By Liberty & Steven Montano

Here’s a glimpse at what the world will look like in 20 years thanks to e-publishing.  Please be warned that while a lot of these ideas are possible (perhaps even probable), we do end up going off the deep end…

Google_Glass_with_frame-1940x1056

1. Because of Google Glass, people will literally read all of the time, because they’ll have the power to load books directly in front of their eyeballs 24/7. Unfortunately, due to the rewiring of our brains thanks to excessive internet usage, we’ll retain only a fraction of what we actually read.

2. Self-driving cars will allow us to read while commuting. Ironically, texting while driving will still be banned in most states.

pill

3. Building on the success of the Alzheimer mouse trials, scientists will produce books in pill or gum form for easy consumption.

4. In defiance of e-publishing, the world will see the rise of dangerous paperback gangs who smuggle rare printed books.

5. 3D printed custom book covers will go viral. The book gangs will not be happy.

6. Virtual reality (oculus rift) will lead to holographic novels and new heights of book addiction.

eye tribe

7. For a short time, all E-Readers will utilize Eye Tribe, and the resulting eye fatigue will increase sales of Google glass.

8. Creating an e-book will become part of school curriculum, and will become an expected skill in the job market.

9. Publishing houses will give way to marketplaces, resulting in the death of bookstores.

10. Overhead displays + “erotic material” will become a problem for law enforcement.  Porn book cafes will replace head shops.

11. Legislation to end book printing will be introduced by environmentalists. The legislature will fail, but the decline in printing continues.

12. The price of e-books will level out. People will reminisce to when a book only cost $.99 $4.99 $7.99.

13. The sale of bookshelves will plummet.  IKEA stock prices will take a hit.

14. The internet will tell you what to read based on a complicated algorithm that determines the “right” book for you. More often than not, the internet will be right.

15. The rise of holographic novels will render book-to-movie adaptations redundant.

cat vs. dog

16. Books/media created for pets will hit the virtual shelves. The war over whether dogs or cats are better rages on.

17. Implants will allow a person to completely write a book in their head. Intellectual copyright lawyers find themselves in huge demand.

18. Classic e-books will be upgraded to integrate with Google maps to provide a visual experience, while music appropriate to the setting will be embedded in the e-book data files.

19. Olfactory capability in e-books will lead to disgustingly cliche books being created for tween boys.

robo-writer

20. Big media houses will perfect bot-written books, which quickly become the junk food of the literary world.

21. Obesity rates will fall as ingesting media becomes more interactive.

22. Elementary schools see a major makeover. Desks become less common, but the dependence on VR decreases interpersonal contact.

23. The human population growth rate slows, maybe even goes negative due to our escaping into VR media.

24. Radio stations broadcast book files instead of music.

25. The weekly release of serial novels becomes incredibly popular. NBC takes command of the book industry.

26. Access to the internet via implants allows for an unprecedented consumption rate of e-books. This also renders notions of traditional learning moot.

27. Implants remove the need for keyboard, televisions, and interpersonal communication.

young-frankenstein

28. The increased consumption rate of hard scientific data will increase interest in theoretical knowledge, resulting in a dark era of mad scientists.

29. The third world will have an explosion of tech advances. The so-called first world will go out of fashion and “poor” living will become chic.

30. New mental illnesses tied to digital consumption will run rampant.

31. Implants will allow us to communicate with our pets, and later all forms of animal life. The number of vegetarians will increase exponentially.

32. The internet will become our collective subconsciousness.

33. Computer viruses will become a battlefield weapon, as all soldiers will have tactical implants.

34. Malls will disappear, replaced by virtual shopping. Demolition jobs will be in high demand, until robots take over that field.

decepticons___megatron_by_jasta_ru-d31jngx

35. Once they take over the construction and demolition fields (and, thanks to big publisher “ingenuity”, writing the books that humans learn from), robots eventually take over the world.

36. A few stalwart humans refuse to accept implants and are driven into hiding. Every young man’s dreams of living in a Terminator-like future become a reality.

Pre História-gathers

37. E-books ascend to Godhood. Our collective digital consciousness is sucked into data clouds, leaving our bodies free to roam and wander like the primitive nomads we were always meant to be.

 

About the Authors

My wife Lib is pretty awesome. She’s also psychic. And she has pyrokinesis. So you probably don’t want to piss her off.

When she isn’t busy designing book covers, editing my crappy work or maintaining my website and social media presence, Lib ponders the future of E-Publishing, dog training, self-sustained living, and life as we know it.  She’s also the author of Novel Blogging: A Writer’s Guide to Blogging.

As for me, I do accounting and write books.  Learn more at my site, if you dare!

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Vlog and Podcasts – the future for online writers?

by Autumn M. Birt

A recent article over on NY Times bestselling author Joanna Penn’s blog the Creative Penn said that blogs with video capture more interest and retain visitors much longer than those with only prose.

My first thought was…

 

– Autumn writes novels set in worlds without cell phones, internet, or video. OR if it technology does exist, she finds ways to blow it up. She likes it there. Learn more about her epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order and check out her newest release, the beginning of a military dark fantasy series Friends of my Enemy, at AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. And now on video. Good gods.

The Trouble With George R.R. Martin

by Bruce Blake

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Recently, our good friend Scott Bury lamented in his post, Spies Everywhere, how it seemed that Hollywood and Sony had been ripping off his ideas.  Inspired by his post, I decided to take a closer look at a similar subject.

One George R.R. Martin.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him…he is writing a little series about some place called Westeros.

Like most of the free world–and by free world, I mean anyone who has cable, a DVD player, or loose enough morals to take advantage of sites like thrones, Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros, George MartinProject Free TV–I’ve recently finished watching season 4 of A Game of Thrones. Unlike the majority of people watching this excellent series, I have also read the first three books of Mr. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For those of you who are unaware of the parallels, that means I am in the same place both televisionally and literarily (I think I made at least one of those words up).

Since this is the case, I decided it was time to pick up the fourth volume, A Feast for Crows, and get it read before season 5 arrives so I can stay ahead of the game and bother my wife, who hasn’t read the book, by letting slip the odd important detail before it happens whenever she makes me mad.

I’m not far into the book–only about 150 pages (and still waiting for something of importance to happen. It’s sad that, the more successful an author gets, the less say the editors have…happened to J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, too)–but I’ve come to notice a pattern in the books of Mr. Martin’s that I’ve read.

George RR Martin is stealing my ideas. Here’s how my observation differs from Scott’s, however:

George isn’t just stealing my ideas, but he’s doing it, writing them, and publishing them before I ever have them!

Mr. Martin smiling about another idea he stole that I haven't even had yet!

Mr. Martin smiling about another idea he stole that I haven’t even had yet!

The unmitigated nerve! I imagine that a number of other authors are finding much the same thing when they read his series. What it boils down to is that the man is so creative and imaginative, and the series looks to be stretching on for so long, George may actually use up every good idea there is to be used in fantasy.

How many of you have had the idea of an army created from men bred from the time of their birth to be warriors? Or of people who can ‘warg’ themselves into animals (you may have used a different term)? God trees? Cities built on islands interlinked by bridges (Scott Lynch must be stewing over that one!)?

Similar comments may be true of many other lengthy fantasy series but, to be honest, I haven’t read too many of them. I started Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series years ago, but found it too slow-moving to slog my way through all one hundred and thirteen books, so abandoned it after about 400 pages. The only author we likely can’t accuse of pre-stealing our ideas is JRR Tolkien (as I’ve probably wondered on the very blog in the past…should I change my name to Bruce RR Blake? Would that guarantee me some measure of success?). Since Mr. Tolkien pretty much invented the entire genre, it is he whom the rest of us deign to pilfer from.

The thing that makes Mr. Martin’s reverse larceny most concerning is the massive amount  of exposure his ideas have received. Seven million people thiefwatched the season 4 finale on HBO, and I presume that number doesn’t include the pirates who watched it (Arrr!). If I’d discovered some unknown–or even relatively known–author had plagiarized my cool ideas before I had them, I probably wouldn’t be quite so concerned. But seven million people watched one episode…one episode!!

How will I ever get credit for a reasonable idea if he keeps writing?

I may as well give up this genre and start writing about  a boy who goes to wizard school…wait. What? Someone already did that?

See what I mean.

So, George, I beg of you…lay down your quill, unplug your Selectric typewriter, lose the password to your laptop. For God’s sake, and for the sake and sanity of all the fantasy authors in the world, leave some good ideas for the rest of us!

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Bruce Blake is currently writing the third book in his Small Gods series and it was George Martin’s use of the term ‘small gods’ in A Feast for Crows that sent him over the edge.

You should still read his books, anyway.

Why Hallowe’en? Because we love to see fear in the mirror

By Scott Bury

Image courtesy Things Gunjan Draws http://thingsgunjandraws.blogspot.com

Ebola. Communism. Totalitarianism. Pandemic. Climate change. Terrorism. Jihad.

Judging from hyperbole in social media, we are out-and-out terrified of these things. As evidence of the level of fear, one person seriously advocated carpet-bombing ebola-stricken areas in Africa as a response to contain the epidemic, because he saw it in a movie.

The job we have chosen as writers of fantasy and speculative fiction is to reflect our audience’s fears back to them in symbolic way. Perhaps this is a way to help deal with them, but mostly, it’s because through fantasy, we can take some joy from our fears as well as, well, fear. It’s like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun because it scares us, but we’re really safe.

A long, grisly, nasty yet honourable tradition

This is what fantasy writers have always done: writing stories about mythical, legendary and magical symbols and themes, stories that give us another way to look at what’s really bothering us. It has a long history in a technological era:

  • Godzilla, the monster awakened by atomic radiation and that could breathe out “atomic fire,” reflected our fears of nuclear war and radiation.
  • Zombies, like those in World War Z, Night of the Living Dead or The Walking Dead reflect our fear of incurable, virulent and especially contagious pandemics, made even more horrifying and destructive by their ability to instantly render their victims as vessels of further transmission.
  • The Hills Have Eyes, Drag Me to Hell, Saw and other recent horror films and books play on our fears of surveillance, mortgage foreclosure, and of course, the old standby, the Other—people not of our tribe, and therefore a threat.
  • Dracula, the Un-Dead, the progenitor of nearly all the vampire books since, plays on several fears. First is the fear of contagion—Bram Stoker’s heroes thought Lucy’s affliction was a blood disease, after all – but also the fear of being infected with something that will change your nature (becoming a vampire). There is also the fear of the Other, the foreigner, the intruder who by his very nature is dangerous. But mostly, Dracula was a sublimation of the greatest fear of the Victorian era: sex.

Yes, I am saying that sucking up blood was the only way that a Victorian era writer would portray sexual lust without getting banned or arrested. Don’t believe me? The vampire was ultimately defeated by a woman’s sexual attractiveness. Oh, sure, Dracula said he was only interested in her blood. But he was lured to his doom by a beautiful young woman, who invited the vampire into her bedroom and made him stay all night long. Now tell me Stoker was not writing about sex.

Still holding onto that argument? Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s film based on the book and try to sustain it.

Today, writing about fear of pandemic is just too easy. Vampires or zombies with ebola-like symptoms is just too obvious—which means there is already a really bad book or movie, or both, based on exactly that idea in development right now.

But what about Jihad? Terrorism? What sorts of fantasy tropes symbolize those without being overly literal? Now there’s a challenge for this capable gang to take on.

The biggest fear, though, that I can see is the fear of change. Any new idea still evokes howls from predictable corners. How would fantasy writers deal with that? What about fantasy readers? What suggestions or challenges do you have for your favourite writers?

Leave your suggestions in the Comments.

 

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His books include the historical fantasy The Bones of the Earth, the erotic romance One Shade of Red and the historical memoir, Army of Worn Soles.

He has I written articles for newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia, including Macworld, the Ottawa Citizen, the Financial Post, Marketing, Canadian Printer, Applied Arts, PEM, Workplace, Advanced Manufacturing and others.

Visit his

Cheesy Fantasy Movies, Part 2

Not long ago, I wrote a post about some pretty awful fantasy movies, and why we love them in spite of their ultimate cheesiness (or, quite possible, because of it).  In that first post I discussed Beastmaster, Willow and Legend.  Now I have three more movies to get off my chest.

Hawk the Slayer

Hawk the Slayer

There’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of this bizarre fantasy flick, but I’m often surprised by how many people have heard of it.  This movie has “the 80s” written all over it, from the flair of the opening credits to the overly synthesized music to the mist-filled cinematography…all that’s missing is Richard Simmons and a soundtrack by Phil Collins, and we’d be all set…

The evil Voltan (Jack Palance, breathing heavily and using his scowl to terrific effect) is the scourge of the land, and when he and his men kidnap the Abbess of a small convent the sisters turn to a band of heroes led by the man called Hawk (John Terry, years before he was Jack’s alcoholic father on Lost), who has cause to hate Voltan (they’re brothers, you see, and Voltan sort of…killed…Dad).  Armed with a cool-looking magical sword (the bottom of the hilt is a hand gripping a glowing orb) and aided by Gort (a “giant” with a hammer), Ranulf (a warrior who manages to get his ass kicked in almost every scene), Crow (an elf, not the wise-cracking robot), and Baldin (a “dwarf” with a whip), Hawk and the others battle Voltan to an excessively Quincy Jones-like soundtrack and (spoiler alert!) ultimately save the day.

Honestly, Hawk the Slayer is so utterly cheesy its hard not to like it.  The film is hokey from the very first frame, and like a lot of the rest of the movies on this list that’s truly where the charm lies.  John Terry is a capable actor, and his ability to keep a straight face in spite of all of the heavy-handed zaniness going on around him actually helps to keep the film grounded.  And what is there not to love about Jack Palance running around with half of his face hidden and acting menacing?

 

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian is considered by many to be among the staples of the genre — a bare bones, well-plotted, efficient sword and sorcery adventure with plenty of blood, babes and mayhem.  It never overextends itself, and never tries to be something it’s not.

Conan the Destroyer…yeah, not so much.

The sequel eschews the linear model of its predecessor and goes for “bigger, badder, more” (the failing, honestly, of most sequels).  This time, legendary warrior Conan (Arnold Schwarzeneggar, The Guhvenator himself) is recruited by the secretly evil queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, taking time off from kicking Superman’s butt) to help Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo) recover a sacred jewel in exchange for Taramis returning Conan’s lost love from the grave.  Accompanied by far too many other characters — Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain, without a slam dunk in sight), the captain of Taramis’ guard; Akiro the wizard (Mako, reprising his role from the first film and chewing on the scenery); Malak (Tracey Walter), a bungling and thoroughly annoying thief; and Zula (Grace Jones), a warrior-dame who the producers really wanted to be in the movie — Conan secures the jewel from the tower of the evil wizard Thoth-Amon (Pat Roach) and returns only to learn that Taramis plans to use the treasure to revive the Dreaming God and wreak havoc upon the world.  Oops.

Conan the Destroyer can be enjoyed on a very visceral, corny level.  The action sequences are well done, and there’s plenty of excitement to be found, but as a sequel this film is pretty lacking.  The original, even for as simple and sometimes cheesy as it was, had a soul to the proceedings, a sense of gravitas and conviction in spite of ultimately being about a big warrior running around and smashing things with his sword.  Conan the Destroyer, sadly, is full-on cheese, and while that’s perfectly enjoyable in its own right, the film could have been much better.

Krull

Krull

This, probably my favorite of the “cheesy” fantasy movies, is a highly enjoyable epic fantasy adventure that just happens to really be more sci-fi than fantasy.  Alien invaders called the “Slayers”, minions of “The Beast”, descend in their flying fortress and launch a ruinous attack that slays both of the monarchs of the world of Krull.  When Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) — who prophecy foretells will have a child who will one day rule the galaxy — is kidnapped by the Slayers, it falls to her betrothed, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and an old sage named Ynyr (Freddie Jones) to rescue her.  Aided by a cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw), a bungling magician (David Battley), and a band of escaped convicts (including Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson), Colwyn must find the elusive Black Fortress, lair of The Beast, which changes its location with each new dawn.

The only thing cheesy about Krull is the inherent sense of corniness present in most 80s fantasy flicks, because, all things considered, this is a pretty good movie.  The characters are a bit thin, yes, and The Beast’s efforts to woo Lyssa (who really does little more than run around the Black Fortress and look distraught) grows tiresome, but the battle scenes are well choreographed, the Slayers are sufficiently frightening opponents, and the special effects are, for the most part, pretty decent for a moderately budgeted film (though the scenes involving the Widow of the Web’s lair are, admittedly, pretty awful).  The soundtrack is even good (though it came at that stage in James Horner’s career where he was basically writing the same theme over and over again…if you get the main titles for Krull, Star Trek II and Willow confused, don’t feel bad, because they’re essentially the same).

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That’s it for my list.  What are some of your favorite fantasy cheese fests?

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Steven Montano watches too many movies, and there’s no question they’ve rotted his brain.  He also writes fantasy novels and likes to get lost in the woods.  Find out more at his website.

Do hippogriffs lay eggs?

by Autumn Birt

My husband is entirely at fault for this post. And Bruce. We’ll get to Bruce’s role in a bit. First, my husband…

There are two reasons my husband became… well, my husband. The first was because I owned a green Jeep. The second was because I knew how to cook. I love food. Actually, food is love in my family. Thank goodness high metabolism runs in my genes as well, ‘cause we have LOTS of love. I introduced my husband, then boyfriend, to this concept very early. Jump ahead… many years to last fall when my husband discovered Big Green Eggs.

Homemade soft pretzels cooked over a wood fired Egg... because I can!

Homemade soft pretzels cooked over a wood fired Egg… because I can!

If you have yet to discover Big Green Eggs, stop reading this post now and block it from your memory. You just don’t need to go farther. But if you love food, especially grilled and smoked, if you ever thought baking bread or pizza over a wood fire sounded like a great idea in the fall… well, you’ve probably already heard of Big Green Eggs. Despite my eye rolling and near epileptic fit at the cost, I now use my Big Green Egg more than my oven. And on those two to five nights a week that I’m standing on my porch (through thunderstorms, snow, ice ‘events’, and gorgeous evenings), as well as occasional breakfasts and lunches to cook something tasty on my Egg, I wonder… what exactly laid it?

This is where Bruce comes in.

About the time my Big Green Egg rolled into my life, Bruce wrote a post on some of the great resources in his fantasy library. Many of them ended up on my Yule list… and I did receive the Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. What fantasy author doesn’t have at least one fantasy creature resource list or grimoire sitting around?! So well armed on the myriad creatures of fable and myth thanks to Bruce, I set out to determine what creature lays big green eggs.

element encyclopedia of magical creatures John and Kaitlin MatthewsI’d like to note that I’m assuming no infant, endangered mythical creatures are harmed in the production of Big Green Eggs. One, because I’m vegetarian and don’t want to destroy the love affair I have with my Egg and two, because the line separating the top ‘lid’ from the bottom charcoal chamber is straight. I picture the hatching process running like an egg cesarean. Hatchlings-to-be whose emergence is imminent are helped along before they break through the fragile – and valuable – shell. Otherwise, considering the rarity of mythical creatures as it is, this would not be a very sustainable business venture!

Considering these are eggs, that mostly limits the search for potential parents to feathered or reptilian creatures. Nothing is one hundred percent straightforward with these sorts of creatures though. Considering the size of even my Egg, which is a medium and over a foot in diameter, dragons come to mind. I have to admit, standing next to a large or extra large Egg and thinking about the beast, especially a dragonish beast, that must have laid it… my palms get a little sweaty. That is a seriously large animal! Who would even have the gall to take an egg from such a creature (and survive)?!

The temperature extremes that Eggs endure also points to the dragon potentiality (and away from not fiery creatures like hippogriffs, which, it turns out, do lay eggs). I’ve used my Egg during Maine’s lovely and brisk winters where you can throw a cup of boiling water in the air to make snow fireworks (someday I’ll post a list of things we do in Maine to stay entertained during the winter… who knew kayaks were useful in January?) and gotten it well over 500 degrees without any sign of strain or cracks.

Relative size of the mini and large Big Green Egg to a person along with potential parents

Relative size of the mini and large Big Green Egg to a person along with potential parents

So dragons for the big Eggs seems logical. But what about the small ones like the mini version? Small dragons? Or maybe a phoenix? Now the idea of raising a flock of phoenix for egg production like some sort of fiery chicken sounds doable… and might be a potential green energy heat source! Hmmm… I wish my reference book contained more on care and feeding!

I’ll keep looking through my book for more potential egg-parental creatures. I don’t think I’ve even begun to compile the complete list! Let me know if you have any suggestions. 🙂

– Autumn has gone insane. She likes it here though and is being very productive in her writing as all those voices in her head finally make sense. Find out more about Autumn and her writing at her website www.AutumnWriting.com or find her online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page.

Cheesy Fantasy Movies, Part 1

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is pretty awesome.  Game of Thrones, perhaps even better.  For fans of epic fantasy, these efforts represent the culmination of what we love about the genre, everything that pulls us in whenever we pick up a new novel or sit down to play Dungeons & Dragons with our friends — the drama, the politics, the darkness, the sense of danger and wonder and excitement and the discovery of worlds that can only exist in the imagination.

But not every effort to bring epic fantasy to the screen have been nearly so successful.  In fact, it’s safe to say that most of them were pretty awful…and yet we love them anyway.

It’s hard to say why epic fantasy translates so poorly to film, but it seems that much of what feels so sweeping and serious in the personalized experience of reading a novel comes across as a bit hokey when projected to the screen.  My theory (for what it’s worth) is that fantasy films make such an effort to have a broad appeal that they get mired in fantasy stereotypes instead of telling good fantasy stories, and as a result end up feeling hackneyed and cliche.  That, plus they’re often just cheesy as hell.

And that’s not to say these films aren’t enjoyable.  Hell, I’m a fan of every single one of these movies (and many more like them), but I would hesitate to call them good examples of fantasy…or even good cinema, for that matter, but there’s still a level of enjoyment to be culminated from watching these films.  Sometimes you’re just in the mood for fantasy, and you decide that maybe a 243rd consecutive viewing of Peter Jackson’s trilogy might be pushing it…

So, without further ado, here’s a quick rundown of some fantasy films that aren’t especially good…but they are fantasy, and still enjoyable in their own right even taking the cheese factor into account.  I’ll cover 3 movies now, and a few more the next time my number comes up for the Guild.

Beastmaster

Beastmaster

Despite the fact that it starred Marc Singer, Beastmaster actually had a few things going for it.  Sadly, the story wasn’t one of them: the young prince Dar (Singer) is intended to be sacrificed by the evil sorcerer Maax (Rip Torn, long before he started taking semi-respectable roles).  Dar is rescued by villagers and raised as their own, knowing that one day he’ll return and free his kingdom from Maax and the bestial soldiers of the Jun Horde.  Oh, and Dar can telepathically communicate with animals, because…well, because.

Corny as hell but surprisingly engaging, Beastmaster benefits from some well-staged battle sequences and a hammy performance by Torn.  Unfortunately the film is seeped with cheesy dialogue and could have benefited from a more original story, but it found tremendous appeal because the animals were so cool.  And for some reason Beastmaster spawned two sequels and a TV show, so apparently the filmmakers knew what they were doing…

Willow

Willow

Even George Lucas couldn’t quite get it right.  Fun and flashy but incredibly derivative and utterly predictable, Willow‘s title character is a Nelwin (who just happen to be identical to hobbits in almost every way) who becomes entrusted with the care of a young princess prophecy states will bring about the downfall of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh, sneering with aplomb).  Along the way Willow gains allies in renegade warrior Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer, excellent as always) and Bavmorda’s rebellious daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), who race around with Willow from one action set piece to the next until the day is saved.

I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t enjoy Willow, but I’ve always accepted it for what it is: fluffy, throw-away entertainment, without much of an original idea to be found but still refreshing for its humorous dialogue (the movie is practically a self-parody at times), well-done action sequences and beautiful art direction.

Legend

Legend

Jack (Tom Cruise) lives in the forest, where he occasionally flirts with young Lily (Mia Sara), an innocent maid.  One day Jack takes her to see a unicorn, unwittingly revealing the pure creature’s location to goblins in service to Lord Darkness (Tim Curry, looking nothing like Professor Frankenfurter).  Jack is soon appointed by the faeries of the forest to save the unicorn before it’s sacrificed, which would allow Darkness to reign supreme.

If that all sounds kind of silly…well, it is.  Thankfully, the director behind this silliness is Ridley Scott, whose arresting visual style and fabulous use of shadows and light can make even a largely nonsensical film like Legend an engaging treat.  There are some terrific special effects (the troll is awesome) and a few very well choreographed battles, but overall Legend comes across as a bunch of interesting ideas that never quite found a real story to go with them.

What cheesy fantasy movies do you hate to love?

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Steven Montano watches too many movies, and there’s no question they’ve rotted his brain.  He also writes fantasy novels and likes to get lost in the woods.  Find out more at his website.

Burning Stars: An Ode to Indie Artists

Artists are crazy. You need to be, in order to stoke the fires of humanity.

Wait.  Allow me to elaborate.

I’m an artist, and Indie author. As usual, I have a bunch of projects on my plate. Too many, without a doubt, and this is really nothing new.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to stay focused. Sometimes I find myself wanting to drop one project in favor of some new and shiny idea that comes bouncing along and dares me to try it out. Like a Golden Retriever with ADD I scurry off after this squirrel of a project, completely forgetting what the hell it was I was doing until…

OH CRAP I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT IN 2 WEEKS!!!!

Me, when I think about writing.

Me, when I think about writing.

So I swing back, desperate to throw together promotional posts, understanding how little time I actually have to work on writing with a demanding 50-hour per week accounting job (though, to be fair, having a house account at  two bars is kinda cool…). I realize I still need to send out covers for the reveal and book blurbs, that I need to give out free copies to people helping me out and finish formatting the paperback version of the novel, that I need to get the draft of the next book onto the editing table…

…oh, yeah, and I need to write. There’s that.

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Writers are a little insane. I don’t think there’s any denying it (and, to be fair, I haven’t met many writers who’d dare to try). We spend many (if not most) of our hours away from our tedious day jobs writing and editing novels; we have trouble reading a book or watching a show or even stepping outdoors without trying to find some way to blend all of that sensory input into our next story; we plan our free time, our weekends, and sometimes even our jobs around when we’ll get to work on our next book; we pour our hearts and souls and energy and minds into producing these piddly assemblies of a few thousand words knowing damn well that this will only ever be a hobby, that we’re not in this to try and get rich or become Stephen King but because we love it, because we’re addicted to it, because if we weren’t putting all of those explosive mental energies into our stories we’d probably be coming up with a plan to conquer Wisconsin or break the barrier to the 8th dimension or invent the better bowling sock.

Welcome to the world of writers. We’re all crazy here.

Have no illusions: being a self-published author is a lot of work. If you break down how much time you spend brainstorming, writing, editing, coming up with cover concepts, proofreading, social marketing, re-reading, formatting, publishing, and panicking over whether or not people will like your book or not, you end up making about 4 cents an hour. Underage factory workers in third-world countries are laughing at you.

My brain on deadlines.

My brain on deadlines.

It takes a special sort of insane to be an artist, and I use the broader term here because illustrators, musicians, comedians, dancers, and every other creative wacko out there suffers from this same malaise, this drive to expression that becomes an obsession. We all ride the pendulum, swinging back and forth.  We want that crazy, the highs and lows, the rush and fears, the anxieties and the satisfactions.

Because those energies have to go somewhere. I honestly believe artists have a special spark in them, a boiling presence deep in their soul, a tortured and explosive star that’s either in the midst of a supernova or about to burst into one, except it does it all the time. Every new project, every late night spent bent in front of the keyboard or scribbling things down by hand or walking back and forth in the coffee shop talking to people who don’t exist but who happen to be half-elf strippers named Raul, every time you slap your hands together when a new idea bursts through your otherwise debilitating consciousness, every time you get that dangerous sparkle in your eyes that means you either a) have the MOST BRILLIANT IDEA EVAR!!!! or b) are about to fly into a homicidal rampage…every time that happens it’s a new star, a new supernova, a new explosion of life.

For many, that star does eventually fade. It’s fading for me even now – I don’t believe it will ever go out, not really, but as I get older and the time I spend at work and trying to take care of my family expands and my energy level at night gets less and less, I know I can’t keep up the same hectic schedule I’m used to, and while I’m still capable of being terribly productive in short bursts it takes a little more for me to want to sit down and write that blog post or work on that new project, to hit that editing goal or to organize that blog tour after I’ve already been organizing and reconciling and counting and working for ten hours, only to come home to an Autistic boy who had a bad day and a pair of beautiful ladies who for some reason like to spend time with me. There’s only so much of me to go around.

But that fire still burns. With any luck it always will.

The fires of creativity.  (Also, I want marshmallows.)

The fires of creativity. (Also, I want marshmallows.)

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Around this time you’re probably wondering to yourself: “Does this blog post have a point?”

It does, and it’s this: Indie artists, whether you be writers or musicians or mimes or sword swallowers or any of the other countless souls with the fires burning in you, who work ridiculous hours and pour your heart and soul into your craft, who know deep down you might never “make it” but who carry on anyways because that fire drives you, because your passion drives you, because you live and need to create, to express, to craft, know this: I admire the hell out of you. I understand what it takes, I understand what you give up, I’ve worked those hours and burned that oil and battled those demons, and still do.

We may not be job creators, but we change the world in our own way. We stoke the fires that burn in humanity’s soul. They’ve burned for a very long time, and thanks to people like us they’ll keep on burning for a long time after this.

Come with me and stare into the flames. We’ll get lost there together.

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Steven Montano has been stoking the fires for over 20 years. He gets burned quite often. Check out http://steven-montano.com/ to find out more.

Still Relevant

***DISCLAIMER: This is actually a happy post because I’m very happy with where I am right now.***

Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl With ScissorsOn March 27, 2011 Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl With Scissors was released into the world with grand fanfare. There were ticker tape parades, breaking news updates and a whole host of community events focused around the novel. People from all walks of life were seen standing in lines to purchase this book, talk shows were all abuzz, and apps were created for the iPhone. There was even talk of a Made-for-TV movie.

When I woke up from that dream, I had sold one copy online. It was exciting. I knew for a fact I was going to see my numbers exponentially rise week by week to unheard of heights. So, week by week I watched the numbers…rise, fall, rise, fall, stay steady, disappear, come back, go around a corner and hide then peek out for a day or two. Months and months later, I still expected that exponential rise in numbers. Word of mouth would be the book’s savior if not my mad marketing skills (or “skillz” as my oldest son would write). It was going to happen.

Or not.

As it is, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl With Scissors has not achieved the numbers I dreamed of back in March 2011. In fact, it has so far failed to achieve anything remotely resembling a “success” in terms of sales. So…what did I do wrong? For that matter…did I do anything wrong, or can I call this whole experiment a success as I decide what that is?

Let’s back up a minute. What defines “success?” To you, it’s likely something different than what it is to me. Then again, it may be the same thing. Stephen King is, no doubt, successful. He’s written many things, made much money, and gosh darn it, people like him. Even Glenn Beck is successful, if what you define in terms of success is something akin to being well-known and/or rich but much vilified. The point is, success is not always what the world wants us to believe it is. Is Nicole Polizzi (Snooki…and I can’t believe I just used that name) successful? According to the world, she is…or was. To me, she’s no more successful at being an author than the guy who paints “Kidz With Kanz” on the side of a train in a downtown Los Angeles train yard.

You see, what what I didn’t do when writing/editing/publishing Castles was this: I didn’t define what I would term its success. I didn’t say “a hundred books a month” = success. I didn’t say “fifty five-star reviews” = success. I didn’t say “making it to Oprah’s reading list” = success. What I did was akin to throwing a baby in the ocean and expecting it to swim to Cuba in an hour.*

So what did I do?

I failed.

Rather than give you another blog post about how to sell your books like a self-publishing genius–and haven’t we all read enough of those?–I thought I’d give you a little view into how not to sell a book. Or, in Pooh terms: How to Fail While Really Trying. In other words, these are all the things I tried, how I tried them, and how they failed.

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Step 1: Edit, Edit, Edit. Was Castles edited? Hell, yes. The novel was written over a period of seven years, and during that time so many eyes looked on it the thing has a complex. On the final edit, only two egregious errors were noted out of 50,000 words. That’s, um, 0.004%. Not too bad considering the four errors I noted myself in the last Simon & Schuster novel I read.

You know editing is important. I know it’s important. That’s why Castles was edited to death and then microwaved on high for hours. Is it really spotless? Is any book spotless or did it finally escape the editor’s pen?

Step 2: Make a Pretty Cover. I’m not a graphic designer by profession, but I believe I have an eye for art, design and complimentary colors. If I don’t, my significant other (the wife of wonders) does have a collegiate education in the field of graphic design and marketing. I did a lot of research on how my cover should look and leaned on my wife for guidance. What did similar titles look like? What fonts were used? Was it simple or complex? All of these things factored into the cover currently in existence, to include the psychology behind the white background. Does it capture your eye?

Judging by sales, however, the cover isn’t a selling point.

(My wife is also a counselor, which helps in more ways than you think.)

Step 3: Write a Description that Sells. The description for Castles, much like the novel itself, was written over several years and vetted by many, many people–and I don’t really like those people much. When I hear someone say “that synopsis has me hooked” then I know it’s okay.

Is it perfect? No. Could it be better? Yes. Did Elaine from Seinfeld write it like she did that wonderful catalog copy back in the day? If you answered no to that question, then you’re old enough to have watched the show. Anyway, it’s all subjective, isn’t it? There are books out there I’ve picked up in spite of the description, not because of it. There are also books I’ve picked up because of the description and have been really, really pissed off about.

I guess it’s all a game, isn’t it? You can write a description until your eyes bleed, but it won’t be the same thing the next guy wrote.

Step 4: Solicit Reviews. I admit: I’m not very good at this. In the beginning, I sent out a few requests with the obligatory free copy of the book. I asked a few author friends I knew to read it and give me their feedback. However, my view of reviews is probably different from most self-published authors: why solicit them when the ones that come in out of the blue from total strangers are probably more representative of reality?

The reviews I’ve received for Castles have been wonderful. Very few of them were solicited. That, in itself, makes me happy…but it doesn’t sell books.

Step 5: Solicit Interviews/Guest Blog. Now this is where I really failed. I think I expected people to knock down my door and ask to interview me. Since this didn’t happen, I decided to ask if anyone wanted to interview me for their blog. Now that sounds pretty desperate, doesn’t it? “Hey, you. Stranger. Can you interview me for your blog because no one else wants to talk to me?” Well, the two or three or four interviews I’ve done so far have been more than fun. They’ve been awesome.

Anyway…are interviews the key to getting your name out there? Does writing a blog post on another person’s page (who probably gets as many views as you do) really pave the way to Amanda Hocking fame and fortune? I guess that’s an honest question to ask, but I’m in no position to debate it since I failed miserably at this step. Still, I’m guessing it doesn’t have as much of an impact as the pundits say it does.

Step 6: Buy Advertising/Send out Press Releases. I did this. I bought targeted Facebook and Goodreads ads. I think the only thing these ads did was increase the exposure a fraction of a fraction of a percent. I certainly didn’t see any increase in sales. I didn’t even see an increase in sales of other books, which would have indicated the click-thru netted some attention. Clicks on paid ads were not worth it. Why?

Well, I had to step back and examine my own time on Facebook or Goodreads. Do I even look at ads? Not really, unless I’m trying to find a way to hide a flashy one that’s give me seizures. So, if I don’t do it, why would the rest of the world do it?

What about those Press Releases? You know the ones: they’re a pain to write, they sound fake and they’re eventually sent out to the press in a shotgun approach hoping it nets at least one kill. Did I do this? Not with the shotgun method. I did sent out a few, but they were very targeted to the publication. The net result of my efforts: 0.

Step 7: Schedule Book Signings. People scare me. Actually, if I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d probably be a recluse with long fingernails, yelling at the sidewalk people.

Step 8: Run Contests/Do Giveaways. Since Castles has been out, I’ve given away more books than I’ve sold. This is par for the course, isn’t it? The idea behind contests is this: the winner of a contest is so excited to have won something, they will immediately read your book, like it so much they tell their friends, and then those friends will tell other friends until–BAM!–your book is optioned for a movie staring Brad Pitt.

Guess what? All contests do is create one fan, and that fan may not be a fan after they’ve read your book and thought it was about puppies when it was really about killing puppies. Contests are confidence builders (“I’m a WINNER!”)…but not necessarily for the writer.

Giveaways are totally different. Giveaways (or free promotions) get your work out to the world by the hundreds or thousands. Think of all those people who downloaded your free book from amazon.com? Those 500 people are going to read your work and want more! Then they will buy the rest of your books! Then they will tell their friends! Then those friends will tell their friends! Then…

Did you catch my sarcastic tone? Giveaways do the following: they enhance your sense of potential, give you an idea of what it’s like to see your sales jump through the roof, make you swoon. But think about it: if ten percent of the 1,524 people who downloaded your free book during a promotion actually read it and aren’t of the variety that thinks filling their Kindle with books is cool…and if ten percent of those people like it…and if ten percent of those people tell a friend they read a book and liked it…and if ten percent of those friends actually go out and purchase the book after the giveaway has ended…

…you’ve gained 0.1524 fans. Congrats. I have a few of those.

Step 9: Social Network Like a Pro. See Step 7.

Step 10: Publish So Many Books You Look Like J. A. Konrath on Steroids. I’m not a fast writer. In fact, I’m slow. Castles was written over 7 years. My second novel, Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, took only 2 years. My third novel, A Difficult Mirror was started 22 years ago and finished in 2013.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll take 7 or 30 years to write the next book. In fact, my average for publication (not writing) is probably around a year for a good novel, edited, vetted, polished, done. In contrast, there are authors we’ve all heard of who write a book a month. If you have 10 of those books available, and each one sells a copy a day, you’re selling 10 copies a day or 300 a month. If you have 20 of those books, 600 copies a month. I think you can do the math for 30 books, etc.

Writing, to me, is an art form. It takes time for me to form the words right and get the story on the page the way I want it to look. That said, I pushed Sketches from the Spanish Mustang out over year in increments, like a serialized novel that’s not a serialized novel. The expectation I had was what you’d expect: have more books out and people would buy more.

What do you think this did for the sales numbers on Castles?

Step 11: Passive-aggressively Fill Your Blog Posts. I’m not. So there.

Step 12: Get Lucky. I’m not.

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*I have never thrown a baby in the ocean. Just so you know.

Don’t Trust What You See…

By Autumn M. Birt

First off, Happy Birthday Dad!

Me, my dad, my husband, and my mom watching the lead boat brave rapids in Costa Rica. If you think those expressions are good, you should have seen us zip-lining!

Me, my dad, my husband, and my mom watching the lead boat brave rapids in Costa Rica. If you think those expressions are good, you should have seen us zip-lining!

If you are not my father, just ignore that first bit. Though it is relevant, because this post is inspired by something my father and I share. Anyone who has followed along here for some time has probably noticed I’m a fan of art and science (the left half and right half of your brain both need fed!). When the two come together, well I’m one happy camper.

So, of course, I’m a fan of illusions (which I share with my Dad). I know this is a fantasy blog, but isn’t writing, especially writing about imaginary worlds or abilities, nothing more than trying to make the impossible seem real? So what could be better than sharing some illusions that challenge what you think is real or possible in this world?

First, let me say I found all these awesome illusions on the fantastic blog Bad Astronomy. If you are a fan of seeing the wonder in the universe and on this planet (say, like being an unrepentant fan of Dr. Who), I highly recommend you pursue Phil Plait’s blog. And with that… let’s try to melt your mind a bit!

Let’s start with water spirals that defy the law of physics!

You should have guessed I’d start with water (my first released book is about people with Elemental powers!) I’ll just let you marvel at the beauty and magic of dancing water that spirals upwards… but if you MUST know the secret to this illusion, you can find it on Phil’s post.

So what is up next? How about 2D pictures that look like they are moving… but aren’t?

What is not to love about an illusion so good, it fools your cat?! This is one that you could work on at home if you are patient and know the secret (which you can find here). If you do, send me your results! 😀

This next one is one of my favorites. Even when you know how it is done… well, you still SEE the illusion. Now that is tricky…

There isn’t much more to the post by Phil on that one, except some links to other awesome illusions. You can check them out here.

This next one just frustrates me. Can our mind really be fooled so easily??? Apparently, yes.

There is a lot more to the post explaining why our mind messes with our sight, so go on and check it out!

And here is the last illusion I’ll share. Is there anything more fun than paper drawings with big teeth that follow you with their eyes?

Aren’t they cute?? If you want to see another video on how it is done or read more on it, you can find the blog post here.

And here is an added bonus: you can download and print out your own creepy watching dragon! (See this is a FANTASY blog!) Put it on your writing desk to watch you with its knowing, toothy smile whenever you procrastinate from your writing…

I will throw in one last thing that is not illusion related. Because it involves coffee grounds and zero gravity while explaining how planets form. If my science class had been this much fun…!

Again, to give credit where it is due, find the full article at Bad Astronomy! 

Now, I hope I’ve given you a new perspective and a renewed sense of wonder with which to start the new year! Welcome to 2014 everyone. Make sure it is a GREAT one!

Watching dragon illusion

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy series on elemental magic, the Rise of the Fifth Order. She also has lots of other WIP (read TOO MANY), but she has put them ruthlessly aside to concentrate on Spirit of Life, the final book in her current series. First draft to be finished any day! You can find her online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page or on Goodreads. Of course, she likes illusions and disappearing acts, so you might not really be seeing what you think you’re seeing…