The Way of the Word

21. July 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Does anyone remember Marvel’s Epic imprint? Not the one from the 1980s/1990s, but the one from 2003?
If not, a short reminder: Under Jemas and Quesada, Marvel had resurrected the Epic Imprint as kind of a new talent search. It didn’t last very long, they folded it rather quickly. But at least they tried.
Of course I submitted. My idea was very outrageous, and I didn’t think they’d go for it:
I submitted a pitch for a Red Skull series.
Yes, that Red Skull.
A German writer, submitting a pitch for a series starring one of the most evil characters in comics (if not the most evil), a Nazi even, taking over a country in Africa as his new springboard towards world domination.
If you can’t see at least 15 things wrong with that, I don’t want to know you.
I scripted the first issue, wrote rough outlines of the following five issues of the initial miniseries, and charted a course for a potential ongoing. Then I submitted it.
To my surprise, Marvel was interested. But they didn’t like the first issue, because I recapped the origin. They asked me to revise and resubmit.
Epic’s end was announced two weeks or so after that, before I got around to doing the revisions. The Captain America movie reminded me of this old thing.
So here, for your pleasure, is the pitch (but not the first issue script) for my proposed Red Skull ongoing. The characters and everything are TM and (c) Marvel Comics Group, the story is (c) me.
* * *
The first issue would have been a recap of the Red Skull’s origin. He discovers that one of his African “trade partners” has problems delivering Coltan (a rare ore needed for most modern consumer electronics). So he goes off to take care of the matter himself, and gets his butt kicked. That gives him the idea to take over that country, become a world leader, and use it as the cornerstone for his eventual world domination. If enough people should ask, I can post the script some other time. Here, for your entertainment, the almost accepted pitch. It’s perfectly okay to read it without the #1 script, since I had thought, when Marvel asked for revisions, to just toss out the first issue and start from #2, just altering the pacing to stretch that (and parts of #1) into six issues.
* * *
ISSUE #2
· Red Skull’s forces invade the presidential palace. He murders the president of Jumalia. His army arrests all the other members of the country’s government. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner. After all, having their own countries works for Doom, Magneto, the Black Panther…”
· The next day, when he publicly executes Jumalia’s government, he declares himself the new president of Jumalia. Red Skull sets up a new government. He appoints N’Dolo to serve as his vice president.
· While Red Skull has his final argument about race and opportunity with Hitler’s portrait, and then disposes of it…
· …his troops go to every village in Jumalia and draft every unmarried man between 18 and 25 years of age into the army. Because these people are all poor, they eagerly sign up when they discover that the army pays better than anything else: US-$ 20.– a month.
· Red Skull buys some nuclear weapons. He decides that he has a better use for them than to resell them.
· Some factions among the previous president’s army mutineer, but Red Skull strikes them down.
· He organizes his new army along the same lines that Shaka did 200 years before. N’Dolo, who is becoming something of the Red Skull’s sounding board for his ideas on reforming Jumalia in the image of a new Reich, ably assists him.

ISSUE #3
· Red Skull hires several super-villains: Avalance, Constrictor, Chemistro, Cobra, Crossbones and Mandrill. He appoints them to be Jumalia’s team of super-heroes. One of their incentives is full diplomatic immunity, and a nice, regular paycheck. He also hires Taskmaster to train these villains so they can work as a team. He calls this team The Cadre.
· He calls the local representatives of several international corporations to his new office. All these businesses, which had been exploiting Jumalia’s resources, are told that their contracts are now null and void, and may be renegotiated. Two of the representatives, secure in the power of their corporations, dare to challenge the Skull’s decision. At first, it seems that they get away with it.
· The next night, they are abducted from their homes and punished for their insolence. Naturally, they do not survive their punishment.
· The corporations refuse to be treated in this way, and run to their governments to complain.
· The US administration take action. They call Red Skull and warn him: play nice, or else. Red Skull defies them.
· In Jumalia, Red Skull has the tribal elders brought to him. He tells them that they are now the nation’s council. N’Dolo is shocked: President Red Skull shares power?! No, Red Skull explains. He only gives the elders the illusion of power, because that will pacify the villages, leaving him free to do what he must do to forge this collection of tribes into an empire.
· Jumali’s underground press finds out about this and publishes both the news about the elders, and the problems with the US. Skull finds out, and doesn’t like it at all. He orders the head of his newly-installed secret police to find and bring him the publishers of this underground newspaper.
· Red Skull discovers that there are plenty of companies out there that want to negotiate for a piece of his resources. Among them are A.I.M., Hydra, Halliburton, Nokia, Microsoft…

ISSUE #4
· Poachers invade Jumalia’s forests. Red Skull’s elite troops, a mix of the new native army and his original strike forces, engage them and wipe them out. Red Skull leads them personally. He sends one survivor back to let everyone know how poachers will be received in Jumalia.
· This is very much a PR tactic, however. When the poachers attacked, Red Skull is entertaining various international dignitaries, and he makes a point of how he cares for the environment. They buy his line.
· With corporations, he discusses his plans for exploitation of Jumalia’s resources. These resources include diamonds, coltan and oil. After his earlier presentation, he stresses that the exploitation models should respect conservation of the environment. He also insists that the corporation hire local workers, and compensate them fairly. Since this is Red Skull making these demands, nobody dares to suggest otherwise.
· Red Skull also makes a deal with A.I.M. to set up a research facility in Jumalia.
· When the news about Jumalia’s deal with A.I.M. reaches the US, they openly threaten Red Skull: cut your ties with the terrorists, turn in any weapons of mass destruction that you might possess, or face the consequences. Red Skull’s reply: “Yes, dolt, I have weapons of mass destruction. If even one of your soldiers sets foot within range of my borders, I will use them to reduce your cities to piles of radioactive rubble.”
· The US government decides to send in their newest government-sponsored superteam: The All-Americans, who consist of US Agent, Battlestar, American Eagle, Crusader and Timeshadow.

ISSUE #5
· Red Skull’s spies in the DoD warn him of the impending attack of the All-Americans. He prepares for it.
· Red Skull sends out invitations to a press conference. He also sends out invitations to international charities, such as Greenpeace, the WWF, UNICEF, to set up offices in his capital and help work towards the improvement of his new adopted country.
· N’Dolo has a clandestine meeting with Jumalia’s resistance movement. They had originally gathered to remove the previous president from power. Now that Red Skull has taken over, they aren’t sure what to think. After all, he’s white. N’Dolo argues in Red Skull’s favor. So far, everything Red Skull has done has benefited the people of Jumalia in some way. He argues to give Red Skull a chance. Since he is part of Red Skull’s inner circle, he hopes he can influence Red Skull to work in the resistance’s interests.
· The secret police arrest the publisher of the Jumalia True Story. They bring him to Red Skull. Influenced by N’Dolo, Red Skull is persuaded to make a deal: the publisher is allowed to live… if his newspaper will adopt a more patriotic slant.

ISSUE #6
· Red Skull has invited members of the international press to explain his vision of Jumalia’s future. He explains how he plans to unite the warring factions within the country, how he plans to improve the standard of living, literacy, the infrastructure. Initially, he gets hostility from the press, but he wins them over: “Aren’t you an international super-villain?” “So are Dr. Doom, Namor and Magneto. That doesn’t keep them from caring for the people in the countries that they rule.” “How can you be satisfied with ruling a country in Africa? You’re white…” “No. I am not white. I am beyond skin color. I am Red.” “But you’re a feared Nazi racist…” “I have renounced Nazism and racism. I have come to see how wrong both basic concepts are.” “But you’re still a fascist.” “I still believe in a strong government, yes.” N’Dolo and the tribal elders speak in glowing terms of what Red Skull is doing.
· Stupidly, the All-Americans choose this time, the press conference, to attack.
· The Cadre, trained by Taskmaster, leap to the Red Skull’s defense. They fight the All-Americans. The US-team is out-powered and outnumbered, and Taskmaster’s training has really taken hold. They defeat the All-Americans. Red Skull places them under arrest.
· Returning to the press conference, Red Skull spins the attack to his own geopolitical advantage.
· After the press conference, he visits the imprisoned All-Americans in jail. He tells them that he will not kill them. Instead, he will send them back to the US, thoroughly humiliated.
· Which he does, a couple of days later, on the same flight that the international press take.
· When the news reports come in, they are quite in his favor. Red Skull discusses it with N’Dolo. They discuss the next important steps for the country.
· After his day’s work is done, Red Skull enters the command center he is secretly building under the presidential palace. Here, he continues his scheming and plotting to destabilize the world’s governments, in order to facilitate his takeover of the planet…

THE PITCH

And so it begins… the new life of the Red Skull. A life that places him on the same level as Doctor Doom, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner and Magneto: a truly untouchable menace who acts under diplomatic immunity. Red Skull has a new mission, a new, bigger vision. And he has found a new way to attain his goals. Gone are the days of the racist Nazi who wanted to conquer the world without too much effort, while rubbing Captain America’s nose in it. No, the Red Skull has learned from the mistakes of the past. Rejecting his past obsessions, he recreates himself and becomes more dangerous than ever.

His new mission is based on a slightly non-traditional perspective of the Red Skull. “History is written by the winners.” The Red Skull, to us, is a major villain. However, had the Nazis won WW2, we would now be reading about the adventures of the heroic Red Skull and his arch nemesis, the evil villain Captain America. From a Nazi point of view, Red Skull was Nazi-Germany’s first superhero. The Nazis were evil. Red Skull is evil. There is no doubt about that. However, from the Skull’s perspective, he was created to be the Reich’s hero. The new approach to the character is based on this shift of perspective. To Red Skull’s view of himself.

RED SKULL: HOSTILE TAKEOVER is intended as a 6-issue mini-series. It changes the character’s status quo and also provides a set-up to continue it as an open-ended series, sales permitting.

The continuing story of the Red Skull would not only relate his problems with running a country (which would turn out to be more difficult than he had expected), it would also deal with the fall-out of his decision to become a highly visible world leader. Some problems that Red Skull might have to face could include:

· The return of his daughter, Mother Superior. When she arrives in Jumalia, does she want to support her father, or replace him as Jumalia’s head of government?
· The Cadre, Jumalia’s super-heroes, are known to be quite uncontrollable. When one or two members of the group, overconfident with the diplomatic immunity their new status gives them, go on a rampage through the US. It’s now up to Red Skull and the still loyal members of the Cadre to stop them before the public relations damage they do becomes too great.
· Wakanda will not be very pleased that someone like Red Skull has conquered his own country right on their doorstep. What will they do about it?
· Now, Red Skull also has the time and leisure to finally do something about the impostor who sullied his “good name” so many years ago: Malik, the man who posed as the Red Skull while the real one was in suspended animation.
· Baron Strucker and Hydra will not be particularly happy that A.I.M. has been allowed sanctuary in Jumalia. When they decide to do something about it, the Red Skull has to choose sides. Then again, this may be a welcome opportunity to finally get back at Strucker for betraying him so many years before.
· And, of course, Captain America will also want to have a word with the Red Skull regarding this new situation.

These ideas for potential stories don’t even consider the potential for conflict that would arise naturally from the fact that our central character is president of a country in the heart of what may be the world’s poorest and most exploited continent:
· How will the Red Skull, for example, deal with the situation when, upon seeing how much the standard of living in Jumalia improves, economic fugitives enter his countries from all the neighboring countries? How will he deal with the fugitives? How will the leaders of those neighboring countries react?
· Is it possible to reconcile the Red Skull’s plans to exploit Jumalia’s resources without damaging the country’s environment too much?
· How will the world deal with the fact that Jumalia’s leader is one of the most feared men in the world? Especially when Red Skull arrives in New York to join the UN?
· Since transitional periods in totalitarian states such as Jumalia are difficult times, Red Skull will not only have to deal with internal strife, but also with those neighboring countries whose leaders would consider this an opportunity to do a bit of conquering.
· Can Red Skull really get away with running a terrorist organization, while being such a public figure?
· And all of this doesn’t even take into account yet that Red Skull’s vice president, the one man he is taking into his confidence, is secretly one of the leaders of Jumalia’s resistance movement.

Changing the Red Skull’s status quo does not limit the character. Rather, it opens the doors to a number of new, interesting developments.

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1. June 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It’s funny how some things develop sometimes. How the real world needs of the writer can influence a story, and actually make it better.

Case in point: Die Young. I’m writing without an outline. I know the crime, I know who did it, and I know why they did it. As I write it, I uncover the story just as the investigator, Shaw, does. And sometimes it surprises me.

Case in point: I recently had a scene where I needed someone to leave a building. If I’d ended the scene with that character leaving, it would have been glaringly obvious, a couple of pages later, why he left. At least to me, but I’m writing this assuming that the readers are at least as astute as I am. So I needed to extend the scene beyond that, but without forcing it, or at least making it seemed forced.

What happened was that the scene ended on a completely different major development, a development that I hadn’t planned, that I hadn’t foreseen, but that made complete and total sense.

Another thing was that I didn’t feel good yesterday. I was tired, distracted, preoccupied all day long. I decided to put that into the story: by giving Shaw some sleep-withdrawal, then have something happen, and let him wonder if he missed anything because he was too tired. The obvious answer is yes. 🙂

I also realized that I have accidentally created an extra viable suspect. I’ll have to nurture that character, just to see where it will take me.

Lastly, I realized that I overlooked something obvious. Because the case originally ties into the adult entertainment industry, I had Shaw begin his search for the endangered Amy Mason there. He hasn’t found her yet, nobody knows her. The obvious thing I overlooked: just because the bad guys work in the adult entertainment industry doesn’t mean that Amy has to work there. However, I’m not sure that this logic error is something that needs fixing. For one thing, the case is only two days old, story time. Shaw spent the first day looking for Diana Young’s killer, and the second day looking for Amy Mason. In the story, he has just woken up to day 3. Now, I could go back and add a line or two where he considers the possibility that Amy Mason might not be connected to the adult entertainment industry, or I could have him realize that over breakfast on the third day. I’m not sure yet which is better, but I’ll need to decide before continuing.

Frankly, I lean towards the latter, having him realize it. Shaw’s human, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t overlook the obvious. “I missed the obvious, but at least I only wasted a day looking in all the wrong places — places that I probably would have searched anyway, even if I had thought of it.” Something like that.

24. May 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

I was rewatching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service yesterday evening, and I wonder: in both the novels and the movies, Marc-Ange Draco never shows up again. But he should. For those who don’t know the story: in OHMSS, Bond marries a woman named Tracy. Tracy is the daughter of Draco, who happens to be a major figure in international organized crime. At the end of the story, Bond marries Tracy, who is just afterwards murdered by Bond’s arch enemy Blofeld.

Yet neither in the novels or in the movies does Draco become involved in hunting down Blofeld to avenge the death of his beloved daughter. Sure, it’s Bond’s stories and Bond’s enemies, but I find it very much out of character of this kind of person (who earlier in the story staged a major assault on Blofeld’s fortress to rescue his captured daughter) that he just, well, seems to shrug it off.

Right now, you probably wonder why I talk about that instead of my progress on Die Young, which is what the NiP posts are about. Oh, it’s simply: it made me realize that I need to kill Amy Mason.

What, huh? Or rather, what, who? Isn’t this novel about who killed Diana Young, Teh SexKitteh?

Yeah, sure. The problem was that I needed a stronger hook for Shaw to remain involved after the first 20 pages, so I added a missing person quest.

Now, some pages later, I’m stuck. I didn’t know how to advance the story. Which is why I started to watch movies instead of working on Die Young. Distract myself, let my subconscious work on the problem. I was getting so desperate that I was considering doing a Hammett. You see, there is something that Dashiell Hammett does in his stories that I don’t like: he relies too much on coincidence to move the story forward. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie The Maltese Falcon, with Humphrey Bogart. One thing that happens over and over again in the story (the novel too) is that Sam Spade’s investigation gets stuck, and then someone comes in out of nowhere, drops a clue and vanishes again. Without Spade having to do anything for it. I hate that. But I was starting to think that perhaps I needed to do something like it as well.

Then I remembered that I had already set up a solution to it. Shaw had already talked with a contact at the NYPD’s vice squad. That one could come up with something, which meant that the information wouldn’t come out of nowhere.

But that raised another problem: once Shaw has Amy, he doesn’t have to continue to work the case. Problem solved, case close. I’d be back to square one.

That’s the problem with a MacGuffin: once the hero has acquired it, end of story.

The solution came over breakfast this morning. I was re-reading Maison Ikkoku and thinking about how I haven’t killed anyone in far too long. Which tells you far too much about how my mind works. (Although, to be fair, I mostly thought about how nobody has tried to kill Shaw yet in this novel, and realized that so far, noboy had any reason to.)  Anyway, it was then that I realized how to solve all my problems at once:

I have to kill Amy Mason. That would fix the dead end I’m currently staring at, it would provide a nice break in the story’s current lull, and it would give Shaw added incentive to get his ass in gear.

It’s like with comics. In comics, if you’re stuck, you blow something up. (Come to think of it, that’s also how they handle it in blockbuster movies.) Here, I’m stuck, so I’ll kill Amy Mason in order to move the plot forward.

29. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

The single worst problem when I’m supposed to work isn’t writer’s block. It’s distractions.

It’s late in the evening, and I’m rather tired. It’s been a long day, and I haven’t slept well for two nights. I’m currently rereading James Clavell’s Shôgun, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. I haven’t read it in several years, and it feels fresh and exciting again. It’s difficult to tear myself away from the novel, and I have to expend a lot of willpower to not boot down the computer and lose myself in Japan of AD 1600.

I have several DVD box sets that I still want to watch. Among them two seasons each of Magnum PI, Starsky & Hutch and Home Improvement. I’m a member of media swap groups, so I don’t have to buy used books or DVDs or CDs. I swap out stuff that I no longer want or need, and get back stuff that I do want. The problem is willpower: it’s hard to resist impulse swapping. When I decided to write Die Young, I locked the unwatched DVDs away, to remove the temptation.

One thing I do to reduce distraction is that I write on the notebook. The notebook has  no internet connection. It has no games installed. It’s a pure work machine.

And yes, the internet and games are massive chronovores. I just finished translating a movie that took twice as long as it should have because, well, I didn’t like the movie, so I spent more time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking places, or playing Half-Life, than I should have. And yes, I got Half-Life through one of those swap groups. It’s a major effort to not check the swap groups all the time for interesting stuff, because while I work on Die Young I wouldn’t want to take the time to watch movies anyway.

The matter is made worse by the fact that I don’t have a deadline. Die Young is a sequel to The Coldest Blood, which hardly anyone has read. Nobody’s waiting for it. It makes no difference if I finish it this year, or next year, or not at all. I’m pretty good with deadlines. That movie I mentioned above, the one that I disliked so much I procrastinated too much? I still turned it in a day early. Go me, right? Yeah – I know, though, that I could have turned it in much earlier than that. Then I would have had a bit more breathing space with the other four deadlines I have right in front of me. The next translation is due on May 2, then another on May 9, then a couple of columns on the 18th, and then there’s another translation that I need to squeeze in somewhere along the way. Busy, busy, busy. I don’t really have the time to slack off, to be distracted.

And yet, there is that copy of Shôgun over there, beckoning me to boot down, call it a night and immerse myself in the adventures of John Blackthorne, the Anjin-san, and the rise of Toranaga-sama to Shôgun.

If I were smart, I would try to use it to motivate me. Tell myself that somewhere down the line, some guy with a notebook computer and word processing software will try to resist the distraction of Die Young.

But only if I can resist temptation.

By the way, you might know the writing rule ‘kill your darlings.’ Well, every now and then, I get one that is very very difficult to kill. This time: His confusion was so obvious that I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for him or invite him to poker night. Tell me: is that a potential classic, or what?

27. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Okay, to be honest, it wasn’t all that great either way. Sure, I had a good writing session last night, but I’m rather unhappy with my output. To the point where I had to decide, against my habits, to fix it in revisions.

What happened?

As I told you in a previous post, I discovered that the first chapters of Die Young emulated Robert B. Parker’s method of one chapter per conversation.  Once I discovered that I had done that accidentally, I decided to continue that way for the first in-story day of Shaw’s investigation.

That meant I had to start Chapter 6 from scratch. The problem with that was that Chapter 6 is an exposition chapter. Shaw received evidence and draws his conclusions. That’s much more difficult to pull off only in dialog. From that you can probably understand why I started and scrapped that chapter five times before just hacking it out and telling myself I’ll fix it in revisions.

Then there was the final conversation before Shaw confronts the person who did the actual deed. I had wanted to get more hard information about anesthesiology before getting to that chapter, but I forgot. I had read up on it to see if my idea on how to do it would work, so I winged it with what I remembered from that. So I’ll get the hard data and insert it into the placeholders when I do the revisions.

One thing I am happy with is that I managed to work in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to The Coldest Blood. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, The Coldest Blood is the first Shaw novel. It’s available for only 99 cents on Amazon US, Amazon UK and Amazon Germany. I’m quite proud that I managed to make a reference that you can consider light snark from the character if you don’t know The Coldest Blood, but if you do know it you’ll catch a different layer of meaning.

If a blog post had chapters, I’d call the next one Evolution of a Suicide.

There are some things I always knew I would do. One was the killers’s motivations. There’s the Mastermind, and I know their motivation. And there’s the trigger person, and I knew how their motivation would result in Shaw really getting involved with it.

Huh? What?

Yeah. Exactly. The problem with the idea of Die Young was that Shaw initially gets involved out of curiosity. But that’s not enough to make him take the case. It’s not believable that he should put aside paying work (okay, which he doesn’t have) and get into danger just because he’s curious. I knew I needed to provide him with a stronger reason to go after the Big Bad. I found that reason in the Trigger Person’s motive for their part in the murder. That had also been slightly tricky, because the Trigger Person needed to go against their apparent own interest to do it. When I found an answer to why someone would do it, I also had the answer for Shaw’s motivation to follow this through.

The other thing I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to leave it vague just how much the Trigger Person knew. Did they know they were murdering Diana Young? Did they think they were doing something else? Did they know and just fool themselves into thinking they didn’t? I think I pulled that off. Which leaves the next thing nicely poignant.

The suicide.

Another thing I always knew was that I wanted the Trigger Person to commit suicide in front of Shaw. (No, this is only a mild spoiler, because it happens only 30 pages into the manuscript.) As I worked towards it, I had this image of him chasing the Trigger Person up to a roof, where the Trigger Person confesses their part and jumps. As the story progressed, that became implausible. There was no way that the Trigger Person could stay out of Shaw’s reach long enough to get to the roof. There was also no way that Shaw would meet the Trigger Person on the roof. For the leap into death, they had to be in a closed room high up in a building. Problem: windows, and windows that high in New York, AFAIK, don’t open. So I needed the Trigger Person to have a way to smash the window. Solution: the Trigger Person brings a gun, to shoot out the window. Waitasecond — if the Trigger Person has a gun, they don’t need to shoot out the window, they can shoot themselves … Also, that they had brought the gun has some interesting implications about the Trigger Person’s state of mind after the murder.

So all in all, I’m happy with some things that I managed to do, but I’m unhappy that I left so much “to fix in revision”. But if I hadn’t, I’d probably still be tinkering with Chapter 6 (the exposition chapter, remember?). It’s probably better this way, even if I feel not very good about it.

23. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Progress on Die Young is slow but steady. And as the saying goes, that wins the race, right?

On the chapters so far, I’ve borrowed a page from Robert B. Parker. If you look at how he did things, you’ll see that each chapter is one conversation. His protagonist has a conversation, end chapter, new chapter with new conversation, end chapter, new chapter with new conversation. Even if the two conversations happen in the same location. Start chapter, have conversation, end chapter. Start chapter, have conversation with the other person sitting at the table, end chapter.

So far, I pretty much did the same thing in Die Young. Shaw has a conversation, end chapter, next chapter is a different conversation in a different location. I’ll admit, though, that I did it that way mostly because I like to shift chapters between locations, not between conversations. I didn’t realize I was emulating Parker until after chapter 3.

So far, it makes sense to do it this way. I’ve got Shaw driving around, meeting people and asking questions to solve the murder of porn actress Diana Young. Three or so chapters from now, I’ll break style. Once Shaw has identified the person who actually administered the poison, I’m going to return to the pulpier, action-ier style of the Mickey Spillane school that I already used in The Coldest Blood. (Obviously, Spillane and Parker are two of the greatest influences in my own mystery writing.) Hopefully, the stylistic shift won’t be too upsetting, because it will be accompanied by a narrative shift.

21. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Yes, I admit it. I haven’t talked about the progress of Die Young for a while, because there hadn’t been any. I had written one page in February, and then nothing.

On Sunday evening, I booted the notebook again and continued work. I’m not going very fast — I’m a slow writer anyway — but I’ve completed the first three chapters now.

As the plan goes, the first couple of chapters will chronicle the first day in the investigation, which will end with Shaw confronting the person who pulled the (metaphorical) trigger. That is going to open a completely different can of worms, and will keep Shaw busy (and in danger) for the rest of the novel.

The funny thing is that I got back to it because I was bored. I had one free hour. In such cases, I usually either watch a TV series episode on DVD or read. I didn’t feel like watching anything, and because I planned to get a certain book from the library the next day I didn’t want to start on any books. (I’m a one book at a time person.)

So instead, I did a bit of work on Die Young.

I’ve recently noticed that there is one piece of advice that’s frequently given: don’t stop the flow. When you’re writing, don’t go back to edit, just hack it out and leave all the edits/corrections for revision. I have  a friend who works that way, and he’s fast. Even I admit that the advice makes sense. Unfortunately, I can’t make myself work that way.

When I have a scene that contradicts an earlier scene, I feel compelled to go back and fix that. If I think of a better phrase for something I wrote earlier, it’s the same. I edit and revise constantly. Which, yes, is why I’m a slow writer.

I have also considered that I could post the chapters of Die Young here on the blog as I finish them.  That idea came, in part, from wrapping up a chapter evey night (so far). The main obstacle is that it’s not a pace I’m sure I can maintain. And unless I can maintain a regular update schedule, I wouldn’t want to start. On the plus side, it would be the whip I’d need to keep me going if I get another block. I put Die Young aside after one page because I’m not required to continue working on it. I have no deadline, and there isn’t anyone in the world who is actually waiting for this novel. There is no pressure to finish this. Turning it into a blog novel would provide that pressure. And yes, that would be a good thing.

What ultimately decided me against it, other than my worries about meeting a schedule, is the above-mentioned fact that I revise constantly. If I post chapter 1 today, next week’s version might be completely different after the story has progressed in a way that might have required many changes to chapter 1. Or simply after revising individual sentences as I thought of better ways of saying them. A good example is a running gag that I decided to add to the story, so I added it to chapter 1.

The running joke is that when Shaw tells his friends about knowing Diana Young, aka the porn starlet Teh SexKitteh, they all reply, “I didn’t figure you for the type.” When he clarifies that he knew her because she actually lived in his neighborhood, they make an unbelieving comment.

By the way: if you want to encourage me to finish Die Young and/or present the chapters on my blog, you can do so by leaving comments to my Novel in Progress posts and by buying The Coldest Blood, which is the first Shaw novel. For the latter, just follow the link on (your) right-hand side of the screen. It’s only 99 cents per download, and it’s DRM free.

26. February 2011

Mutually Assured Entitlement

In his blog post of May 12, 2009, Neil Gaiman writes about entitlement issues. In case you’re wondering, I talk about this now because it has only now been brought to my attention. I don’t usually read Neil Gaiman’s blog.

In this one, he talks about how creators do what they want because the readers are not the creators’s employers and therefore have no right to expect anything but what the creators deign to give them. Which includes a completed story.

I’m sure that Neil is very happy with the Red Riding Hood movie novelization. You might have heard of it: the one that is published without an ending; the ending will be revealed online after the movie has been released. You still get to pay full price for the novelization, though.

I’m also not going to linger on the irony of that blog post: on the one hand, Neil condemns reader entitlement, while complaining about how American Airlines doesn’t provide the kind of power outlet to which he feels entitled.

Frankly, I can understand both sides in this ongoing debate. I can understand that for a creator, life sometimes gets in the way of doing your job: creating stories. It has happened to me too. Frak it, it’s happening to me right now. The only difference is that I’m not in the middle of a major saga of which half the books have already been published. You know, like A Song of Fire And Ice.  So yes, I can understand the side of the creators, who don’t want to feel bossed around by their readers.

The problem with that is that the creators fail to see what they do as work, as a job. They see themselves as artists. I mean, imagine if you, the regular joe, showed up at work with that attitude. How long would you keep your job?

On the other hand, the readers aren’t entitled to tell the creators what the creators should be doing. Yet I am a reader too, and as such I do believe that if I invest my time and money into a story, the creator of said story owes me an ending. If I as a creator don’t want to spend several years working of multi-volume sagas, then perhaps I shouldn’t launch multi-volume sagas.

In short, I think that while readers should exercise more patience while waiting for the next chapter of the multi-volume epic they invest themselves in, the creators should remember that it without those readers, they would have to go to a day job every morning, where the “I do what I want when I feel like it” attitude would only get them a pink slip.

Until then, I suggest that the readers apply the same solution to the problem that I do: if something is billed as “Book X of Y,” leave it on the shelf until the creator has actually finished the series. That way, the creators can indulge themselves and only work on their multi-volume epic when they feel like it, and the readers don’t need to worry that the multi-volume epic they enjoy will never be completed, because it’s already complete.

25. November 2010

DRM – What it it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)

As some of you have already noticed, I released my hardboiled mystery novel The Coldest Blood as an e-book for the Kindle (US-Version) (UK-Version). When you set it up, Amazon’s DTO program offers you the choice of putting DRM on the file.

DRM translates as Digital Rights Management, and it’s a copy protection scheme. Depending on the program, it restricts user rights in regards to how many copies they can make/use/keep, how long they can keep them, and it makes sure they can’t make any copies by themselves.

There is also another side to DRM, one that Amazon has been known to exploit. Does anyone else remember the event that became known as Amazon Fail 2? Basically, Amazon pulled supposedly pirated copies of George Orwell’s works Animal Farm and 1984 from the Kindles of people who had bought those copies. Without so much as an explanation (at least not until the brown mass hit the air circulation device).

I was not the only one to appreciate the irony that they did this with the works of George Orwell. If you don’t know why, I suggest you read 1984.

Anyway. DRM is one of the two buzzkill reasons why I don’t own an e-book reader. I’m used to owning what I buy (or at least not pay very much for borrowing – yes, I do have a library card). When I buy a book (as in, not explicitly borrowing), I do so with the expectation of getting to keep it, and not being at the mercy of whoever sold it to me. However, DRM turns the supposed purchase into a lending fee. Don’t believe me? Try transferring your Kindle book to another device after having used up your allocation.

If I want to borrow a book, I’ll use the aforementioned library card.

The major reason for DRM is the fear of piracy. If your work isn’t copy-protected, someone will make an illegal copy and make it available for illegal download, robbing the creator of their income.

Now, mind you this: I’ll come down on anyone who pirates my work. Yes. Because I’d rather get those royalties to pay my bills. Times are hard for me too.

But.

DRM isn’t the way. Seriously, any would-be pirate who knows what they’re doing will crack your DRM in one minute flat. Or possibly less. DRM is just a minor irritant for copy pirates. It doesn’t stop them at all.

I suppose you see what I mean now. Why I believe that DRM is not only worth absolutely nothing, it has only one practical use: to annoy the consumer.

Now, as someone who considers DRM a deal-breaker in buying an e-book reader, I was faced with the choice of putting DRM on The Coldest Blood. It was no choice at all: of course I didn’t. And as long as I get any say about how my work is uploaded, it will not have any DRM ever. I believe that if you buy something you should own it.

Plus, a pledge: If, despite everything, Amazon ever deletes my work from your Kindle, drop me a line. Prove that you actually did buy a copy (receipt or whatever). And I’ll provide you a new one, DRM free, at no extra charge, in a file format of your choice, that Amazon can never take away from you.

5. September 2010

CLAWS 2 Blog Tour 2010 – Stacey Cochran

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/CLAWS-2-ebook/dp/B003TU20HE

Hi Jens,

Thanks so much for hosting me on my Blog Tour for CLAWS 2. The new novel is the second in a series that features wildlife biologist Dr. Angie Rippard who gets drawn into police investigations when hikers and campers are attacked in wilderness areas in the American West. The books are available primarily in eBook format, though the first book is available in paperback as well.

Today, I’d like to discuss a couple of marketing tools that I’ve found effective in marketing and promoting these self-published novels.

The Book Trailer

I created a book trailer for the first novel CLAWS that I posted on YouTube. This week, the book trailer will cross one million views (very likely during this visit to your blog). Here is the trailer:

There has been a lot of debate in the blogosphere about whether book trailers actually work in helping to sell books. Most book trailers that I have seen rarely get more than a few hundred views (let alone tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of views).

I have no data that directly links the million views the trailer has received with a single book sold. That said, CLAWS is one of my bestselling books to date, and it’s likely that its sales have come from many marketing efforts in a lot of different locations.

I’ve never seen another book trailer receive a million views, so I’m going out on a limb here in analyzing why this trailer worked so well. My hunch is that it became viral early on and started getting re-posted on 3rd-party blogs. I put a lot of effort into titling the trailer with key words that people would likely be looking for, and people love to comment on it (it has nearly 400 viewer comments).

The Blog Tour

The Blog Tour on the other hand has had a direct impact on sales. Because of the immediacy of Amazon Kindle sales reporting, I can see if a book sells well on a day that I visit a particular blog.

For those unfamiliar with a Blog Tour, it is essentially what you’re reading right this moment. An author prearranges with blog hosts to visit their blogs on specific dates with specific topics. The author sends his/her guest post to the blog host as a Word file, and then the blog host posts the text on the scheduled date.

For the first CLAWS book, I visited blogs for 45 days. For CLAWS 2, I’ve done nearly three months of “touring.”

I generally write up new posts for each blog I’m visiting, so it takes time and organizational skill to stay on top of everything. But aside from that, it costs nothing to do, and it’s fairly effective with helping to spread the word.

Conclusion

Well, thanks so much for letting me visit your blog today, Jens. It means a lot to me and it definitely helps to spread the word. If anyone has questions about book marketing or publicity, I’ll be checking in over the next few days to answer any questions or respond to comments.

Thanks so much, folks.

================================

Stacey Cochran

Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University. His books include The Colorado Sequence, Amber Page, CLAWS, and CLAWS 2.

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