Quality and the Market

Is the new Ghostbusters movie any good?  I have no idea.  I haven’t seen it.

Given the relatively decent review score (not stellar, but pretty good) over at Rotten Tomatoes,  I’m thinking it’s probably a decent watch.  I’ve been busy as hell, but this falls into the category of movies-I-wouldn’t-mind-watching.

I read Brad Torgerson’s analysis of it, though, and that got me to thinking.  His point seems to be this:  if you make a movie to carry a social message, that movie will get destroyed at the box office.  But we all know that’s bullshit.  Not because of Ghostbusters, but rather because of all the other highly message-based movies that have done quite well at the box office.  You think The Hurt Locker wasn’t based on a social message?  Watch it again.  Wasn’t Apocalypse Now pretty political?  How about American Beauty?  All of these movies were made with strong social justice themes, and all of them did quite well.

So the equation that social justice + movie = flop is a vast oversimplification.  It is absolutely possible to make a social justice movie that does quite well.  Also, the basic premise that the market selects the best material?  Also bullshit.  The market does what it wants to, and it is a stupid, fickle beast.  There is no way the crowds actually enjoyed the second or third Transformers movies.  Didn’t stop them from turning out in droves to watch Michael Bey regurgitate their childhood in front of them.

But.

But go back up and re-read the first two paragraphs of this post.  Now, let’s place that in context.  See, I was a kid that loved Ghostbusters.  I knew that movie inside-out and upside-down.  When I hung out with my friends, pretending to be the Ghostbusters was one of the most fun games we had (I generally got Egon, which was even better).  I watched the Ghostbusters cartoon religiously.  I still drop obscure Ghostbusters references where nobody picks them up (and I have even put a reference to Gozar on the record in court).  For me, Ghostbusters was awesome.  It competes with TMNT for the #1 spot on my childhood-nostalgia wagon.

Now that you know that about me, look one last time at that second paragraph, and remember that Ghostbusters, as it sits, falls into the category of movies-I-wouldn’t-mind-watching and not movies-I-have-to-see-right-Goddamned-now.

So what the hell happened?  Well, there’s two possibilities:

1.  I am a rampant misogynist who simply doesn’t want to watch a movie where my favorite characters have all been replaced or succeeded (not sure which) by women.  This possibility can be rather reliably ruled out by a look at my overall posting, or

2.  The marketing on this film sucked.

No, seriously.  I didn’t see anyone talking about this film in anything but a Social Justice context.  I wasn’t told I should go see the Ghostbusters movie because it was awesome.  I was told I should go see the Ghostbusters movie because that’s what people who support women will do.  The entire thing blew up into an SJW controversy, and watching the movie stopped being about whether or not I wanted to see some only-halfway-competent people save the world from destruction and into a job.  And on this point, Torgerson absolutely spot-on.  I don’t want to spend my money and my time for a movie making a political statement.  I want to have fun.

And, by the way, if you’re going to make a social justice statement, why in the hell are the three scientists still white people and the streetwise-but-book-dumb character is still black?  If we’re making a social justice movie, can we at least go the full nine?  Yes?

What’s sad is, for all I know, Ghostbusters is fun.  That second trailer certainly makes it seem like it is.  But liking the movie hasn’t become about liking the movie.  It’s like you can’t dislike it without being a misogynist, and you can’t like it without being a complete lefty feminist.  And as soon as the act of going to the movie becomes a political statement, my mind categorizes it differently than if it’s an act of nostalgia.

I hope Ghostbusters is good.  I hope it lives up to the amazing movie that was the original, although matching up to Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, and Harold Ramis is a tough, tough thing to do.  Maybe it does.  But it’s likely going to have to do it from Netflix, because to get my fat ass off the couch, I need to be driven.  Ghostbusters’ marketing team could have done that for me.  Hell, if all they’d done was throw out the logo and a date, I would have been fucking there.  But as soon as it became all about the politics, and not about the story, then I walked away.

And here’s the thing:  I support the politics.  I’m all for the gender reversal.  Dirk Benedict was fun, Katee Sackhoff was better.  But Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck wasn’t better because she was female.  She was better because she was better.  She had more attitude, more strength, more conflict, and more heart.  Dirk Benedict was more of a standard rough-and-tumble heroic type.  Katee had depth.

Ghostbusters tried to sell me on it being awesome because of female characters.  And that simply didn’t work.  If you really want to drive the point home, be awesome and have female characters.  There’s a subtle difference, but it’s a big one.  I wanted the movie to tell me why it was going to be awesome.  It’s answer was “because gender-switch.”  So I lost interest.  Does that make me a misogynist?  Well, I don’t think so.  I think “because women characters” and “because men characters” are equally stupid reasons.  What I wanted was “because awesome comedy” or “because sweet action” or “because tense drama.”

Does Ghostbusters have those things?  Swear to God I don’t know.  This could be another John Carter of Mars situation here (a great movie with the worst marketing ever).  There’s certainly a lot of great reviews out about it, and those are starting to bring me around, but a lot of them focus on the social justice angle, which doesn’t.  I’ll watch it, eventually.  And when I do, if it is actually good, I’ll be pretty pissed off that the marketing folks concentrated on things that aren’t part of the story.  I listed a bunch of movies with strong social justice themes earlier.  None of them were advertised that way.  They just had them.  Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Third Parties and How to Build Them, or, Joshua Harris for Mayor of Baltimore

I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention, but we’ve got a couple candidates running for President who seem to irritate even their own parties.  This has led to another rash of third-party candidates poking their heads up like mushrooms from bullshit.  On the left, we have Jill Stein, who is almost on the ballot in half the states.  On the right, Gary Johnson has impressively managed to get on the ballot in 36 states.

And Dan Savage has said it better than I ever could.  You do not build a party by running a candidate for president once every four years.  You run people for smaller, more local offices.  It’s not a movement if you only ever see them on presidential rates.  Grass-roots means bottom-up, folks; if you’re going to build a Green Party, you have to start at the bottom.  You have to start with local campaigns.

I’ve got a lot of friends who keep talking about how the two-party system is bullshit.  And you know what?  They’re not wrong.  I’d love to see more parties.  I’d love to see someone have to build a coalition government in Congress.  I’d love to have a choice amongst more viable candidates for President.  But that’s not going to happen at the presidential level first.  It’s just not.  Jill Stein and Gary Johnson aren’t going to be President.  And we all know they’re not, but people keep talking about voting for them anyways, as though that vote will have meaning.  As though Washington will sit up and take notice of a third party if they get a fraction of the votes regardless of their loss.

And it won’t.  Washington didn’t sit up and take notice of Perot, and it didn’t sit up and take notice of Nader.  It ignored them both, because Washington doesn’t care about losers.  It cares only about winners.  You want a viable third party?  Win some elections.  It’s the only way to be viable.  And that means you don’t start with President.

Now, here’s the thing:  I have put my money where my mouth is, on this one.  I’m not supporting or voting for Jill Stein, because that’s a waste of a vote.  Mathematically, it is the same as not voting.  Sorry to all you protest voters, but nobody else cares about your third party candidate.

But I would like to see a viable third party at some point.

So I’ve donated to a Green Party Candidate.  Not Jill Stein, no.  I found the Green running in the most local election I could, and I made a donation to him.  Specifically, I made a donation to Harris for Baltimore.  Is he viable?  Not at the moment, but if enough of you Bernie-or-Busters sent some cash his way, he probably would be.  There’s not enough money flowing in the Baltimore mayoral race to hold back the tide.

That would be a crack.  It wouldn’t be a bring-down-the-house revolution, but it would be a crack in the dam.  It would be the first, solid step a third party took towards becoming a viable party in this country.

As I recently pointed out, change in this country comes slowly if at all.  We debated slavery when writing the Declaration of Independence; we didn’t end it until four score and nine years later.  The Seneca Falls Convention was in 1948; 72 years later, women got the right to vote.  The Human Rights Council?  1924.  Gay marriage nationwide?  2012.  Change happens slowly, but it starts with little steps.

So, here’s my challenge to you, Bernie-or-Busters.  I know I’m not going to convince you to step down your doomed support for Jill Stein.  But if you really, truly want to see the Green Party become an honest-to-God 3rd party, then I want you to also support Josh Harris in his run for Mayor of Baltimore.  Throw some money to his campaign.  Blog and do stories about him.  Because you’re going to have a much bigger impact on that race than you will on the Presidential one, and that’s what can start this ball rolling.  You want a third party?  Start here.  But if you support Jill, and you don’t support Josh, then I know you’re full of it.

Harris for Baltimore, 2016.

Our Experience with Sky Warrior Books

You may have noticed that the publisher of our novels, and many of the anthologies in which we appear, is a single publisher:

 

 

 

Now, that’s beginning to not be the case.  We’ve got some stuff with Knotted Road press, and a story coming out with WordFire, but the vast majority of what we’ve published to date is with Sky Warrior.

I’m not going to comment directly on the situation outlined by the anonymous complaints over on Writer Beware.  I don’t know anything about that situation, I don’t know the details, and I’m not here to speak on whatever happened there.

But after reading that post, I feel like I need to talk about my experience with Sky Warrior has been.

Let me start with this:  Sky Warrior Books is a name, but the person behind it is one Maggie Bonham.  Her and her husband wrangle a stable of authors together from their home in the backwoods of Montana.  It is a small press.  It does not have a marketing budget.  Occasionally, the royalty payments come slowly, but they do always come.  Granted, this is a small press, so our royalty payment isn’t the sort of thing to make us quit our day jobs, but they still come, and they are what we should be getting.

So is it perfect?  Nope.

But here’s the thing:  We would be nothing without Maggie Bonham.

If Maggie Bonham hadn’t noticed us lurking about at a Spocon and convinced us to submit a short story to a zombie anthology, we don’t become professional authors at all.  She took us from nothing–nothing— and made us what we are.  Our marketing abilities?  Maggie.  The quality of the product we release?  Well…Sue Bolich did that, but we only got Sue as an editor because of Maggie.  The fact that we can simply knock and a convention puts us on the pro schedule?  Maggie.

We simply do not exist if Maggie Bonham doesn’t run Sky Warrior Books.

She has been nothing but up-front with us about everything we have going on.  If there’s a problem with the royalties, we are told what the problem is and when it will be fixed by.  If there’s a problem with a book, we are told what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it.  And if we need something from her, she is there.

No.  The royalties don’t come quickly.  They just don’t.  But as neither of us need that fifty bucks right now in order to eat, that’s secondary from our perspective.  And Maggie has never been anything but up-front with everyone about her payment schedule.  She informs everyone at the get-go that marketing is the author’s responsibility.  We knew exactly what we were getting into when we signed on with Sky Warrior, and it has worked as expected since.

I have never known Maggie Bonham to act dishonestly with me in any of the five years she has been my publisher.

So, again; this article isn’t here to take sides in any ongoing drama.  That drama’s got nothing to do with me.  And there are some things that should make you consider whether Sky Warrior is going to be a good fit.  If you are the kind of person that needs your royalties right now or you will starve, then this isn’t the right place.

For us, it was.  What we were looking for was someone to help us learn the ropes of the business and provide us a platform through which we could build a fan base.  And Maggie did exactly that.  Now we have fans, and we have other publishers asking after us.  We’re getting to be a hot commodity.  From our perspective, that’s more important than having our royalties every month.

I have nothing but love for Maggie Bonham, and she has treated Esther and I with nothing but respect and courtesy.  So there’s my two cents on Sky Warrior Books as a publisher.

 

On Doing Something

I know all about the hating and the sneering.  I’m a member of the why-bother generation myself.  But why did I bother to come out here tonight?  And why did you?  I mean, it’s time.  It begins with us.  Not with politicians, the experts, or the teachers, but with us.  With you, and with me.  The ones who need it most. – Happy Harry Hardon, Pump Up the Volume

I was born in 1980.  That makes me either a young Generation Xer, or an old Millenial.  I used to identify as “Gen Y,” back when that was a thing, and I still kind of do.  The above excerpt is why.  Pump Up the Volume was a seminal movie for me, and it shaped my life in probably more ways than is directly comfortable.

There is, among people of my age range, a deep-set cynicism.  Everybody knows that the world is broken, and nobody can see a solution.  We complain about it on Facebook.  But, at the same time, we talk about how goofy the older generations are.  We mock the churches, we mock the social clubs who try to do at least some bit of good in our communities.  We want to see big changes, but we don’t put in the work for little ones.

Sorry, fellow millenials.  But you know it’s true.

There is a sense – and social media has become a large part of this sense – but there is a sense that complaining about something and doing something are the same thing.  If you repost a meme about (insert issue of choice here), then you’re doing your part.  You can be as strident as you want to, because reposting a meme has all of the illusion of being pro-active, with none of the actual investment.

And still we sneer at those who put in the work.  We complain about homelessness, but we don’t volunteer at the shelter.  We point out the problems with poverty, but we don’t work at the food bank.  We complain about discrimination, but the only people we talk to about it are people who agree with us.  We want to “raise awareness,” as though raising awareness and fixing the problem are the same thing.

Here’s a thing:  it’s not.

So, I’ve been the chairman of the board of a local non-profit for a little over a year now.  We provide housing and support services for homeless teenagers.  It’s not “raising awareness,” it’s “actually putting a roof over someone’s head and food in their bowl.”  There’s a difference, folks; that second one is a lot harder.

But today, I took a new step.  One that, had you asked me about it five years ago, I would have shrugged off in a cynical haze.

Today, I was inducted as a member of the Skookum Rotary Club.

Wait.  Hold that thought in your head for a second.  That reaction you just had?  The one where you asked yourself, “Frog?  Rotary?  Why?  WTF? How in the world do those two things go together?”  Hold on that thought for a second, because I am here to tell you this:  that reaction is the entire problem with our generation.

Let’s talk about the reaction I would have had to that news if you’d asked me five years ago.

Five years ago, I viewed all such gatherings (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) as futile endeavors.  As places where people gathered to pat themselves on the back for helping without actually having to help people.  I had that assumption because I had a different, more fundamental, more disturbing assumption:  any attempt to render such assistance will ultimately fail in the face of the overwhelming entropy that is humanity.

Boom.  There it is.  Everything sucks, and doing small things on a local level isn’t going to change the fact that everything sucks.  So forming these organizations that do small things on a local level is a waste of time.  Because I could be using that time to post Facebook memes about the bigger issues on a national level.

Now that I type it, it seems silly.  It was silly.  But there you have it; the flawed logic that I contained, and that I believe is contained within a not-insubstantial number of you.

I’ve been going to the Skookum Rotary meetings for about a month and a half now, and I’ve discovered something:  the people there are (1) by and large of an older generation than me, and (2) devoted to doing good in the world.  They understand that they can’t do it by themselves, but they also understand that their contributions can help, with others, slightly edge the world in a positive direction.

In the time I’ve been going to the meetings, I’ve watched local students get scholarships.  I’ve watched local schools get funding for programs their own budgets couldn’t cover.  I’ve watched local non-profits get funds to help people.  And I’ve watched the Rotarians working to make all of these things happen, without expecting praise for it in return.  They don’t do it to be lauded by their peers.  They don’t do it so that everyone on Facebook can hit a “like” button and assuage a fragile ego.  They do it because they see this as the way they can make the world a better place.

And…they’re right.

No, the efforts of the Skookum Rotary Club are not, in and of themselves, going to completely change the world for the better.  But the efforts these good, honest people are putting in are one grueling step towards that goal, and one that they’re willing to take.  Instead of going onto a social media site and demanding massive change right now with no work, they do and expect the exact opposite.  They go to their local club meeting and put in a massive amount of work for a small amount of change, because all change is good.  All improvements are worthwhile.  And actually moving the world in the correct direction is a long, slow process.

I am throwing my lot in with these old people who ignore the easy life of cynicism for the arduous path of optimism.  I am signing up to throw my back behind the work that they do, because I’ve seen them do more actual good than anyone simply reposting Facebook memes.  This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop posting on Facebook; I’m still a loudmouth know-it-all.

But irony was my shield.  So long as I believed nothing good could be done, I didn’t have to trouble myself to do it.  Now that I know that positive change is possible in small increments, I can’t ignore my own ability to contribute in some way, however small.

This isn’t a call for everyone to join Rotary.  That’s the way I’m going, but everyone has their own path.  This is a call for you to take a second, just this one second staring at your screen, and think to yourself about what you could be doing instead.  What time could you contribute, and how, to make the world just a tiny bit better?

Because if all of us did that, I assure you that the tiny bits would add up a hell of a lot bigger than any of us could initially dare to dream.

This is how come we lose so GD always.

You know why people don’t like liberals?  Cause they lose.  If liberals are so fucking smart how come they lose so God-Damned Always?  – Will McAvoy, The Newsroom

By now, anyone who is internet savvy enough to read this blog has already seen the opening scene of The Newsroom.  You’ve watched with glee as Aaron Sorkin’s always-sharp pen destroys the concept that America is the greatest country in the world.  McAvoy runs rampant at both sides of the political system, and effectively dismantles and patriotic jingoism anyone that may be watching has.

But this line is buried, kind of at the top of the rant, and it’s the line we need to be paying more attention to.  If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so God-Damned Always?

Well, we’ve seen some examples.  The Bernie-or-Busters have given us a fantastic repeat of the Nader supporters showing us what it was like to eat our own.  But not even that is the real issue.

No, the real issue comes with things like our response to mass shootings.

Let me throw out some data points for you, people:

1.  The Constitution must be amended, or the Supreme Court must change its interpretation of the Second Amendment, for the guns to get taken away.

Please don’t respond to this post telling me all the good reasons (or the bad ones) for gun control.  Gun control is a losing issue for us.  The Constitution is basically the stopgap, the thing that makes it an issue we can scream and rant about all day, but not do anything about.  That can be a good thing for us, too, by the way – that’s the thing making gay marriage and abortions legal, after all.  But it can put a stop to our reforms.

Put mildly, gun control is a loser.  Every time we gear up for a fight about guns and gun control, we lose.  And we look more and more silly each time.

2.  The political response to mass shootings is beginning to get predictable.  Which means entrenched.  Which means bad.

We have hit a point in our country that I never, ever wanted us to hit, but it’s time to admit that we’re there.

Stalin once said “One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.”  That’s gruesome, and horrible, and not entirely wrong.  We’ve now had so many mass shootings in this country that everyone who pays attention to the news cycles at all already knows what comes next.

Step One, mass shooting.  Step Two, hopes and prayers.  Step Three, Liberals talk about guns and conservatives talk about mental health.  Step Four, nothing gets done and we all get distracted because Kanye did something outrageous and there’s a video of it up on YouTube.

Rinse, repeat.

3.  These two factors mean that no mass shooting will result in gun control laws.

With each successive mass shooting, the shock value gets less and less, which means the political motivation to do things gets less and less.  Orlando was horrible.  In a week, we won’t be talking about it.  All the politicians have to do is talk for a week, then change the subject.  That’s it.

It is to the advantage of politicians to keep issues alive.  Doing something is not as important as having an opinion on something.  If there’s an issue you don’t have resolution on, then you are more likely to vote for the person who espouses your opinion.  Democractic politicians know point #1 damned well; they’re never going to make the kind of gun laws we need because they can’t.

But they can talk about how much we need them and rack up massive points with the base without ever actually doing anything.  Because doing something means fixing a problem, and that problem is giving you far more votes than fixing it would, even were fixing it possible.

4.  The mental health system in this country is a shambles.

It really is.  We’re terribly underfunded, and there’s a constant use of the criminal justice system to provide mental health services.  Mental health is a real issue, it’s a healthcare issue, it’s a progressive issue.

Will doing something about mental health stop mass shootings?  Almost certainly not.

But it will help a massive segment of the population that’s struggling right now.

5.  Republicans tend to be the ones holding back our mental health systems.

All the issues with our mental health system?  Almost all of them exist because a Republican doesn’t want to spend money on crazy people.  So our mentally ill are suffering in order to get more military spending and more tax breaks for the wealthy.

6.  Republicans could be forced to eat mental health reforms in the wake of a mass shooting.

Mental Health is the Republican go-to explanation why shootings happen.  Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; we have heard that mantra.  And (according to them) the mentally ill are to blame for these shootings, not the fact that you can walk into any Wal-Mart and pick yourself up an assault rifle.

Now, the Democrat’s response to this is to call it out for being bollocks.  And that’s a fair response, because it is mostly bollocks.  But it isn’t a smart response.  Because as soon as the Republicans start sounding off about mental health, we have an opportunity.  A golden opportunity.  Get the Republicans on board to fix a mental health system in order to save the guns that nobody was taking anyways!

7.  There will be another mass shooting

We’re getting them pretty quick, nowadays.  There will be another one.  We’re not implementing gun control (see above).  Institute your mental health reforms.  Put as much towards mental health reforms as you can, because (1) you actually have an opportunity to get things done, and (2) you are letting the Republicans walk far, far out on a limb.  Mental health money should have stopped mass shootings, right?  Well, it didn’t.  There’s some more corpses.

By agreeing to work with Republicans on mental health funding, you play their hand against them.  Either they give us a lot of money to deal with mental health, or they publicly destroy their own argument vis-a-vis these shootings.  As there is going to be another shooting later anyways, we can go after them on guns after we’ve used their money to deal with an issue we want dealt with, and simultaneously shown that their way doesn’t work.  We win, twice.

But, sadly, we’re not doing it.   We’re not going to take this maneuver; we’re just going to rant and rave about gun control.  And nothing will be done, because nobody wants to do anything about it other than talk.

We can’t prevent the next mass shooting.  We may be able to prevent the one after that if we played the politics perfectly.  But we won’t, because we’re liberals, and we lose so goddamned always.

The Pain of Reentry

I’m not going to do a con report for Miscon.  Miscon was easily the greatest con experience Esther and I have had yet.

This wasn’t because of the con staff (who were still great), or the hotel staff (who weren’t).  Miscon is the con where, for lack of a better term, the fact of our writing as a career really seemed possible.

That’s painful knowledge to have.

I have a good 9-to-5 day job that I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.  I need the income on that to pay the mortgage and eat, both things I enjoy doing.  Esther is the same way.  And the proceeds we received from Miscon were not so extravagant as to replace those funds.  We didn’t sell enough to actually jump off a cliff and start our writing career.

We sold enough to make it seem possible.

Maybe it was headily spending so much time with A-listers like Kevin J. Anderson, Chris Paolini, or Jim Butcher (the last of which is basically responsible for us thinking we could become writers at all).  Maybe it was the fact that people were actively searching the con for our book, and pestering table dealers to find it.  Maybe it was the crowd of people who slowly filtered under the tent as I did my reading.  More likely, it was the combination of those things, but it made me really look at myself and say “Holy crap.  This, too, could be yours.

Miscon was work.  And Westercon is going to be even more work.  But we walked out of Miscon having, for a short window of time, played with the big boys.

And now I’m not.

Now I’m back at my desk.  I just had the asshole du jour who’s crashing off heroin tell me I’m an idiot because I can’t immediately get him out of jail.  And I keep thinking back to those three perfect days where I wasn’t Peter Jones, Public Defender.  I was Frog Jones, fantasy author.

There is nothing like hope to make a situation that much more painful.

So, here’s the thing.  Before Miscon, a career as an author seemed like a dream.  One of those things you talk about like you talk about winning the lottery.  Fun to fantasize about, fun to think about, not a thing that could actually happen to us.  Oh, we’ve got books out.  They’re even really good books.  But the idea of that being your life?  Of someone on the street asking me what I do and my knee-jerk response being “I’m an author” instead of “I’m a public defender?”  We did not, realistically, believe that day could exist at some point.

Now we do.  It has been demonstrated to us in the numbers of our sales, in the response of the audience.  It has been demonstrated to us in the respect of authors who write alongside us, and in the faces of fans who get excited when we sign a book.  Miscon is not the con that broke us loose financially.  It is the moment we broke loose emotionally.

Guess what?  We want it, now.  We want it.  And the fact that we now know it is possible means we want it that much now.

 

We will have the draft of Black Powder Goddess, our new book in an entirely new world, into the revision stage by the end of June.  Graceless, the fourth book in the Gift of Grace series, is next.  Esther and I are making a solemn, public pledge.  We will be writing a thousand words a day.  Come hell or high water, we will produce a thousand words a day, each.  And we will spend weekend time editing one project while drafting another.

Because you, the fans, have asked for it.  Have chased us for it.  Have pestered Kevin Anderson to tell us where our books are.  And that tells us that you, our fan base, want this for us as much as we want it for ourselves.

No, I’m not quitting my job.  Nor is Esther.  Our jobs are what make our lives possible.  But we aren’t going to be “too tired” to get our writing done.  We aren’t going to need to do something else first.  We have gotten a taste of what could be, if we work for it.  And coming back to our normal lives has only emphasized how much we want it to be.

So, thank you.  Thank you, fans, for showing us what we could have.  Thank you, authors who have been here before us, for accepting that we have the potential to walk among you.  For the first time it feels like we actually do.

And in that one chance, that one possibility, there is more exquisite joy and excruciating pain than we have had at any point in time.  But there is also this:  if we can, we will.  If that chance is there, we will seize it.  We’ve had a taste.

And we want more.

As a result, brace yourselves.  Black Powder Goddess is easily the best thing we’ve written yet, and it’s not edited.  Graceless is plotted, and the twists we have for Robert and Andrea should leave you breathless.  And we’re not stopping until enough people join your ranks to make sure that our time as authors is no longer temporary.

An Indie Author Deliberately Tries To Skew Amazon With The Help Of His Friends.

Marketing

Marketing.

It’s the doom of all of us.  Oh, there’s a hundred and one books out there about how to use social media to market your books.  Facebook’s crap for it.  Twitter doesn’t lead to sales, because it’s too short a form.  And Goodreads groups have taken to creating spaces for authors to dump their promotional material where nobody needs to look at it.

The internet is saturated with assholes like me, writing blog posts about writing and desparately trying to claw our way over one another to make a sale.  I’m no better.  I’ve got the Facebook page, the Twitter account and (ta da) the blog.  I’ve done it all.  And it’s led me to a moderate amount of success, but nothing where I can quit my day job.

how-this-author-got-10000-preordersThis has gotten so bad that people are selling snake-oil books to authors about how to do this kind of digital marketing.  Like this guy over here to the right.  If you got 10,000+ Preorders as a first time self-published author, then you don’t need to actually sell a book about how you got 10,000+ preorders as a first time self-published author.

But you’re hoping to sell books to desperate authors, because that’s actually an easier market to sell to than the flooded genre fiction market.

So we keep blogging, and tweeting, and it keeps yielding limited results.  Because this?  It’s not where the readers are.

They’re not even at the cons.  Bless the cons, I love them.  The fans you meet at cons are rabid and wonderful and the best people in the world.  And there’s marketing to be done there, sure, but it’s not going to make you a big seller either.

There’s one thing that will.  One place that makes the difference between selling your books, and not selling your books.  That place is the Amazon “Best Sellers” list.

See, if people are buying your book, then Amazon figures your book sells.  That means Amazon wants more people to look at your book, so you move onto their “Best Sellers” list.  The higher your sales rank, the more easily people can access your book.  The more easily people can access your book, the higher your sales go.  You can see the spiral here.

The big publishers have this figured out.  They run massive campaigns to make sure their material is cranked the heck up, hoping that they can breach that Top Sellers list and get that snowball effect of sales going.

layeredcrowds6000pxwideI don’t have their resources.  All I have is you.  If you’re reading this, and you’ve come this far in, you realize that you are the only hope that indie authors have of breaking their way into that list.  So I’m issuing a call.  I’m trying to do, with nothing but my handful of friends and the viral nature of the internet, what the big publishers are doing using all of their marketing resources.

We’re trying to, for one brief moment, punch into that “Best Sellers” list.

Falling from Grace lower res

Falling From Grace releases on February 12th.  I’ve got a number of fans who read our books.  If I can get all of those fans, all of the people who would buy the books over the course of the month following their release, to all purchase on the date of release instead, then there’s a good chance I break into that list.  It’ll be temporary, but once we’re there, others who’ve never heard of Frog and Esther Jones will notice us, and have a chance to keep us there.

So it’s an experiment.  Can we, using nothing but you, break our way through the corporate structure and make some sales?  I have no idea.

But damned if I don’t want to find out.

So, here’s a link to the Facebook Event, if you haven’t seen it already.  Chipping in is no more than your daily cup of coffee, and if we all do it together on February 12th, maybe we make a bit of a dent in how this marketing thing happens.

Thank you in advance for joining me in this effort.

Haters gonna hate

Rant time.

Jesus fuck, people.  Just relax for a second.  We’re all going to be OK.

It’s true.  There are some haters out there who have gotten on the internet and said bad things about The Force Awakens.  Since 99.9% of the world shares my opinion that this movie is (a) awesome, and (b) a worthy successor to the original trilogy, an interesting thing has occurred.

The portion of the .1% who didn’t like the movie, or who at least claim to not like the movie, have gotten the lion’s share of attention.

Have you seen the “debate” as to whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue?  Spoiler alert:  she’s not.  Not even close.  But, like, one dude made a Youtube video about why his thinks she is and suddenly the whole internet is on fucking fire.

Guess what that did?  Drew attention to that dude.

I’m not naming or linking him here, because the last thing I want is to perpetuate the cycle.  But the long and the short of it is this:  the way to gain attention on the internet is by taking a stupid and unpopular position on something.  There’s a million blog posts out there about why SW:FA is an amazing movie, and rightly so.  But those bloggers are getting zero draw for their little reviews, because they are preaching to the choir, wherein the choir is the vast majority of the world.

But someone takes a contrarian position, and now we have something to talk about.  Now everyone can start  debating something.

Except there’s nothing to debate.  It’s a non-issue.  Rey isn’t a Mary Sue.  There.  Done.  How long did that take?  Fucking seconds.  But still we have to talk about it, because OMG SOME DUDE SOMEWHERE POSTED A THING THAT WAS WRONG ON THE INTERNETS.

This works every time.  Every time.  Take the loudest, most vocal, most contrarian opinion you can and you will get attention.  Some people will love you.  More will hate you.  But all eyes will be focused on you, which means you get the ad revenues, you get the traffic, and you get all the benefits of internet notoriety, whatever those might be.

I wonder why our society is getting so divided, anyways.  Could this Mary Sue thing be a symptom of a larger, systemic problem?  Something to think on.

In the meantime:  haters gonna hate.  Fuck ’em and move on.  SW:FA is awesome, and that’s all that matters to me.

A Muslim Refugee Might Kill Me, and That’s OK.

Let’s start with this:  every religion has had followers who believe that God demands the murder of anyone who does not follow their particular overzealous brand of that religion.

Christianity not only included, but especially.  There’s a good millenium of history where the most murderous fanatics around were, in fact, Christian.  Doesn’t mean all Christians are murderers, just means that Christianity contains the potential for fanaticism just the same as any other religion.

Islam is not that different from Christianity.  Same God, same Old Testament, same basic principles.  Christians believe in the divinity of Christ, Muslims believe Christ was a prophet and nothing more.  Muslims follow the teachings of Muhammed, which don’t really look all that different from the teachings of Christ.  There’s far more in common here than different between the religions.

Of course, the last people to admit that will be the believers.

So what I want to address today isn’t that, but we need to start there.  There exist in this world Muslims who are good, peaceful, law-abiding people.  This is simply a fact.  If you disagree with this fact, you’re not going to get the rest of this post, because you are stupid.

Having accepted that premise, we now move to the concept of the refugees.

migrants-serbiaThere are thousands upon thousands of refugees pouring into the Western World from the violence in the Middle East.  From, largely, ISIS.  And that makes sense.  When you’re living in a brutal, fanatical fundamentalist theocracy who tells you it’s your duty to die for Allah, you want to get the fuck out of there.  I think we can all back that.

These are not, for the most part, extremists.  They are not jihadis heading off to war.  They are people who want to get the far as fuck away from war as possible.  They want to practice their religion in peace.

For those of you playing at home, this is exactly why America exists.  Welcome to the Land of the Free, right?  Land of the Free?

But there is an issue, and it’s one we need to be honest about.  Some of these refugees will not be refugees.  They will be terrorists, placed into the stream of refugees, to kill us.  If we accept the refugees from ISIS, Americans will die as a result.  This is also a fact.

MMRefugeesThis fact has led to what I will call the “bowl of M&M’s” hypothetical:

There’s a bowl.  It contains (a large number) of M&M’s.  Most of them are perfectly fine, but (a small number) are poisoned so that they will kill you.

How many do you eat?

I’ve seen various permutations with the numbers, but the basic premise is the chance.  And it’s this argument I want to deal with, because a portion of the basic premise is absolutely correct.

If we think of the stream of refugees as M&M’s, then some of them are poisoned.  There are a couple of those that will kill some of us.  But this analogy gets the risk/reward dynamic of the refugees entirely fucked up.  Here’s why:

lottery-headerThe Risk 
I’m not asking that you, personally eat the entire fucking bowl.  That would kill you, because it would guarantee you eat the poisoned one.

No, I’m asking that everyone in America line up a la The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and we take our odds.  Each one of us is given an M&M.  Odds are, the one we have is not going to kill us.  We’re probably going to be fine.  Except that some of us are definitely going to die.  I’m asking each American to accept the relatively small risk that it will be them.  By doing this, I agree that I am asking us to put our lives on the line, because some of us will die as a result.  Why in the fuck would I do that?

Dabiq-Cover-3-150x212The Reward

Well, the reward is this:  that person is going to die if the West does not accept them.  ISIS will kill them.  How do I know this?  Well, because ISIS fucking published it.  There’s a magazine, it’s called Dabiq, and they have basically laid out their plans for everyone to read.

Oh, it’s sheer propaganda, but all you have to do is read their propaganda to figure out their goals.  And one of their major goals is for Muslims across the world to make the Hijrah to ISIS, a pilgrimage to join their Caliphate.

That would be exactly the opposite of what the refugees are doing.  That makes the refugees “infidels” in the eyes of ISIS, and we all know what they do to “infidels.”

So let’s get back to our M&M’s.  In this situation, I hand you an M&M.  I tell you that there is a small, but not impossible, chance that eating this M&M will kill you.  I then tell you that if you do not eat the M&M, ISIS will absolutely kill someone.  You won’t know them.  They probably won’t be of your religion.  Your life will go on mostly as it always has, except that you will carry with you the knowledge that you could have saved a life and made the conscious choice not to for your own selfish reasons.

And therein is the choice for us.  Some of these refugees will absolutely kill us.  But I don’t come from some weak-ass country, I come from America.  This is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  I accept that some of us will die as the result of allowing Islamic refugees in.

It is still the right thing to do.

Why do I not have more diversity in my books?

stop-talking-about-racismSome background, first:  Growing up, everyone around me was white like me.

That statement is not literally true.  The small, rural town of Colfax, Washington actually contained Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, Indians, and Arabs.  Not in large concentrations, but they were there.  Hell, they were within one grade level of me at school.

But I did not realize it.  Understand something:  as a child, if someone had shown me the following picture, I would not have pointed out any significant differences between the people that weren’t gender, age, and maybe that one guy was really bald:

diversity 22

You see, the idea of “diversity” had never hit the little town of Colfax.  I didn’t hear the concept until I got into college.  Oh, I’d heard about black people and such, but throughout most of my grade school career through junior high I didn’t put two and two together on that one.

o-COLOR-BLINDNESS-570An example:  There was a girl in our graduating class (a class, by the way, of only 64 kids) named Alefiya Hakim.  I knew her skin was a little darker than the rest of us, but it never occurred to me that she was a different race.  We also had a Kiran Dhillon; I only figured out she was a different race when she came to a formal event dressed in a traditional Indian gown, which was gorgeous and awesome.

The point here was this:  I didn’t really see dividing lines.  I was incapable of forming the idea that skin color somehow affected an artificial division between people.  Everyone was just kinda…like me.  As an adult, I understand the concept, but it strikes me as a pretty silly and superficial way to judge.

RedTruck2Now, when Esther and I started getting into writing, we went with “write what you know” as our slogan.  We set out to make the completion of a good novel as easy as possible on us, which is why we set the initial books of the Gift of Grace series in Spokane; that’s where we were living.  Now, Spokane is a pretty white city to begin with, and we were white people living in a white city.  So all out characters pretty much ended up being white.  If I had to write it again, I’d probably do it exactly the same way.  Those stories work the way they are.  (Granted, Falling From Grace puts into motion some events that will probably change all that, but that’s later).

But I also look at the body of short stories, and I realize something:  I’ve been pretty lazy on this front.  I have yet to publish a story, long form or short, than involves any significant non-white character.  And that’s just flat-out racist of me.  It was unconsciously racist, but it was absolutely racist.

Oops.

So, here’s the thing:  if I continue down this path, I can no longer claim that unconscious shield.  I’m now conscious of the problem, and having become conscious of the problem I have to actively work towards the solution or just be OK being racist, which I’m not.  That means I need to write in, at least to some of my work, characters that are not white.

And so I look out at how to do that, and I have come to a terrifying conclusion, which is this:

I am more likely to be ostracized as a racist if I include multiracial characters than if I do not.

Now, I’m a white, educated, heterosexual, monogamous male.  When I was rolling my character sheet up at birth, I basically checked the “privileged” box all the way down, powergaming the system for all it was worth.  My parents were lower-middle-class, so I guess I didn’t grow up wealthy.  That’s about the only difference.  So I know that I’m the most likely target for anyone who wants to point the finger at me and call me racist/sexist/homophobe/whatever.  And I want to avoid that, though I know I’m exposing myself to it simply by writing this post.

Here’s the thing:  as someone who writes stories containing all-white casts, I’ve never been specifically called out for it.  I am calling myself out for it in this post.  But mostly, I fade into the woodwork of the vast majority of genre fiction, which also contains a whole bunch of white people and not much else.  If I continue to write all-white, I’ll feel bad about it personally.  But I won’t take a lot of shit for it, because I’ll just be going along with the flock.

tumblr_mdumflyBaC1qdx802o1_500If, on the other hand, I try to include, say, a black character in a role, someone is going to give me crap about it.  I’m using African-American as an example, here, but these problems are pretty systemic.  The first one, and most obvious, is that I will be consciously building the story to include these characters to avoid being racist.  This, of course, is a trope already, and one I am very conscious of.

That said, I don’t think that’s my problem.  If the story works, and the character doesn’t hang there like a vestigial appendage, then I can avoid a character falling into the “token black guy” trope.  That’s simply a matter of good writing, and it’s not the real problem I have.  I simply want to acknowledge that I’m aware, and that if I’m writing something like this I will build the story around the character in order to avoid the Token issue.

No, the problem I’m having comes from designing the character herself.  The reason for this boils down to the choices I have when writing the character.

Option 1:  I treat skin tone for the cosmetic difference that it is.

Remember, I come from a background where I don’t think about anyone as being other.  Skin tone seems a stupid cultural dividing line, and if I were to write an African-American character, my natural inclination would be to build a fully-rounded character with a series of personal motivations and behaviors that have little to do with skin tone.  The fact of race would be incidental to their existence as a person.

tumblr_no40koAe4i1sjsmtco1_500Of course, this is going to run me into some problems.  I will have written a character that could, in the parlance of our times, be referred to as an “Oreo.”  I will not have specifically added behaviors or motivations designed to enhance the perception of the characters as being black, and so they are going to come off as black on the outside, white on the inside.

In other words, I’m going to be a racist, because I’ve included a character and gotten it wrong.  I’ve ignored African-American heritage and culture, and I’ve completely minimized the intrinsic value that being African-American has.

I’ll be a racist because I’ve totally gotten the race wrong, which is insulting to members of that race.

So, I can’t do it this way.  I have to research the culture and include some motivations and behaviors that highlight the fact that the character is, in fact, African-American.  Right?

Option 2:  I include at least some portion of the racial culture in the character.

Option 2 is terrifying.

Because here’s the thing:  there is no part of a minority’s culture that one can include without being thought of as racist by at least a portion of the population.

stereotypes-and-identity-3-638Some African-Americans speak in a “street” dialect of some form.  True of some whites and some Hispanics, as well.  Some don’t.  Do I include that kind of dialect for this character?  Not without being called a racist, I don’t.  Hell, if I wrote a white character that talked street, I’d be less likely to get tagged as a racist than a black one.

Does my character like hip-hop?  Once again, I know a lot of people from many races that do.  But if I include it, am I including a cultural element, or am I reinforcing a racist stereotype?  Is there, in fact, a cultural element unique to any race that cannot be painted as stereotyping the character?

I submit to you that there are things that I, as a white person love that I still can’t write into the hands of a black person without coming off as racist.  To wit:

a8Y1w6Y_700b

At the end of the day, I feel terrified of writing a character from a different race.  I feel terrified because, in my opinion, people are people.  If I’m going to write a character, I’m going to write that character as an individual, and not as a stereotype.  And by doing that, I am going to get something perceivably wrong.  Either the character will be a stereotype, or “not black enough.”

And I have no idea if/how to walk the line in between.

So I’m back at the beginning, for now.  I feel like more of a racist for not writing any diversity into my stories.  But I’m afraid of doing so, because I know when I do that I’ll be called out for being racist.  The very thing I attempt to try to get past my problem will become a much larger problem.

So, I’m throwing it out there.  Other authors, or frankly anyone who’s got an idea on this one, please let me know.  How in the hell can I go about becoming less racist without appearing to become more racist?  Because I think there’s a real problem here, and I want to write past it.

Thanks for your time, and thank you in advance for the advice I’m sure to get.