Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - The Year That Was

The bread is in the oven, and the meat for the meatballs for the New Years Eve Game Night party is thawing.

It have a very little time to look back on 2014.

On the one hand, I want to say that 2014 was a horrible year.  Health and family issues consumed it utterly.  I made very little money at writing, and my sales came to a near stand-still -- but that was entirely in proportion to the effort I did not put into it.  Same with art and pretty much everything else I might have done in a professional way.

And yet....

It was all in proportion to the work I'd done on it.  And I did make a lot of connections, and set myself up for some future moves.  And in spite of the serious stress of things going on in my personal life, taking a real break from work was... nice.

I have perfected my bread, and also the art of roasting nuts.  And these meatballs I'm making tonight... they're da bomb.  And though we recently lost our favorite Thai restaurant, a new Burmese place opened up in town, and I was introduced to a new dish -- Burmese Pickled Tea Leaf Salad. OMG!  It's magnificent.

In the way of sort-of-work, sort-of-not, we went to a major sf convention this summer -- Detcon -- and I got to see those great Diego Rivera auto industry murals real live in person.  Another magnificent thing.

(It may not seem like much, but these are Bucket List level things.)

Furthermore, this fall, life settled down and I could get back to creative things....

Which is when I rediscovered sound.

One of the things I always do when life throws everything for a loop, is see if there is something I can build on, something I've already done.  Look for new markets for old stories, or pick up writing fresh on a half-written story I abandoned long ago.

Or find a new format to release a book in.

I expected that I would be doing paper copies and illustrated versions of my books, or repackaging old blog posts into a book or something like that.

But instead I decided to look into audiobook versions.  And golly, I got swept up in that -- because performing my books as audio is like creating them again.  I am bringing them further to life.  I am completing them.

I don't know how long it will be before I get back into real writing production.  I will certainly finish and publish something in the coming year, but I can't say what or how much just now.  Certainly some short fiction.  Probably a Man Who novel or a return to the serial at least.

Oddly enough, this time off has given me a real sense of perspective what's going on in the industry.  When you're striving and striving, you get tunnel vision.  Your focus is too close.  You can only get the big picture when you step back.

I don't usually like to make predictions, but I do have a sense of a few things for publishing, and I'm going to talk about that tomorrow.  In particular, I want to take a look at the "crash" many people are talking about in the indie community, and how I think a lot of people are getting it wrong in what it means.  (And how, the next Big Thing is going to be the Rise of the Amateur.)

The other thing I hope to do this week is to rewrite my old "The Times That Try Writer's Souls" post and record it for the Daring Novelist Podcast.  I figure tomorrows post and that (the text of which will be posted here) are companion pieces.

But just now, the bread's coming out of the oven and I've got to get to those meatballs....

See you in the funny papers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I've been taking a bit of a break from the blog.  I expect to be back with a New Years Eve post (probably something about how resolutions and "bucket lists" are NOT the same thing).

In the meantime, I read a noir Chirstmas story, "Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake" on the podcast this week. AND I sang that catly Christmas carol "We Three Cats."

You can listen directly from the blog at Reading in the Attic -- or go to iTunes and download the MP3.

Have a happy holilday, and....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Your Story's Soundtrack

While prepping the next few episodes of Reading in the Attic (one just posted, two more coming) I found myself scrambling for music.

I've got the theme music for the podcast.  I don't know why I suddenly need songs for each story, too... except I find that I do.  And I've been adding small sound effects here and there....

Maybe it's just the frustrated movie maker in me, but I find that, now that I have the chance to present the story formally to readers/listeners, I am recalling certain elements of the creative process.  You could say that it's really the frustrated writer in me.

On every writer's board out there, there will be long discussions of the music writers listen to while writing.  For some, it's just background noise and mood music that they hardly hear.

Or for those like me, I will sometimes listen to a certain playlist -- actually listen to it -- before a writing session.  The songs may evoke certain feelings or moods. They can get me into the story.  And the music will often seem wrong for the story, but is right for me.

For instance, when writing Have Gun Will Play -- which is a western -- I would listen to Herman's Hermits, "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good."  Which might seem strange, except that song is Mick thinking about Casey.  So in spite of the shoot outs and mysteries to be solved, and all that, THAT is the song that puts me immediately into Mick's mindset.

I have a number of songs like that.  A friend on Twitter sent out a call for songs to set the mood for herself while writing a scene with her heroine deciding/preparing to go after some bullies.  I had several (they were my theme music for work when I had a day job) -- Bob Seger's "Shakedown" and Abney Park's "Below the Radar." (Abney Park is particularly relevant to anyone writing Steampunk, as they are a steampunk band.  Airship Pirates and all that.)

Music can be great for setting any mood.  I listen to Patsy Cline when walking (even if I'm not "out after midnight"), also Nancy Sinatra (even if I'm not wearing boots made for walkin') or The Proclaimers (even if the distance I'm walking is not "500 Miles" or 500 more).

(Pause to put the playlist with The Proclaimers and Bob Seeger.....)

The thing about mood playlists, is that they can be completely you.  You don't have to explain how Herman's Hermits applies to an old west gunslinger. 

Furthermore, when you're writing fiction, you can imagine what your characters are listening to.  (It is tempting to overdo this, of course.  Your listening to it is NOT the same experience that your audience will have.  Remember that a lot of your audience may not know the songs, either.)  But it can spark a scene. 

I'm thinking of the middle of The Man Who Did Too Much, when George -- who has had a very bad day -- shows up at Karla's door, depressed.

There was music playing inside--some bouncy alternative rock classic.  He knocked again loudly, and it was only a moment before she flung the door open.

"George!  What are you doing here?" she said.  She seemed exceedingly happy, which was suddenly very annoying.  Even worse, she had a sock puppet on her left hand.  It was bouncing and singing silently to the music as if it had a life of its own.

I didn't mention what the song was, because George probably didn't know and he was in no mood to listen anyway -- even if it was a song with a message he needed to hear.  But for me, knowing George's mood and Karla's whole lifestyle, it was good to have just listened to her whole playlist.  And to know that the song she was listening to, was "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.  ("I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never going to keep me down....")

It was enough to know that, and for characterization, it was enough for the audience to know for the sake of characterization that it was upbeat alternative rock.  Especially because immediately after this is a chapter break -- and a change in point of view Karla, so I DO name the next song....

He looked awful.  Hair mussed, unshaven, rumpled.  He had this stiff tight-lipped kind of expression, and a gleam in his eye that made her think that she should see that his day didn't get any worse.

She cleared some tapes from the end of the couch where she had piled them for sorting.  He looked at the spot like he didn't know that a couch was to sit on.  The music player switched to the next song, and Judy Garland broke out into "Come On, Get Happy!"  George frowned at it.

"Weren't you just listening to punk rock?"

"I have eclectic tastes," said Karla.  She turned the music down.  "Would you like some orange juice?"

"If it's got vodka in it.  And you can hold the orange juice."

 I named the Judy Garland song here for two reasons.  One is because we're in Karla's point of view, and because she knows the song in detail, and she knows how badly it conflicts with George's mood, so she will thinking in specifics. She would never think "a Judy Garland song" or anything generic like that. 

The other reason, though, is characterization.  Karla is someone who listens to Chumbawamba and Judy Garland (and Kermit the Frog, and Edith Piaf) on the same playlist.  And furthermore, all these songs belong together to her.  The message, ultimately, is "Come on, Get Happy."

And as with everything in Karla's life, George struggles to grasp that.

And... that leads to a third reason I named the song, though it's not something overt that the audience will necessarily get: Come On, Get Happy is a song about washing your sins (and troubles) away in the tide and going to the Promised Land.

George has headed for Karla's house because it's the Promised Land.  He's flailing his way across the River Styx here (and has been for pretty much all of his life).

So the song has a thematic meaning that makes it the one which, in the end, I decided to name.  It's a subtle thing, and not flag I want to wave up front. 

Which leads me to why I'm thinking about this.

Real Theme Music

I'm going to read an excerpt from The Man Who Did Too Much on an upcoming episode of the podcast.  And, as I mentioned up top, I have taken to picking a little music intro and ending for each story I read as well as for the podcast as a whole.  Just a little something to separate the chatter from the story itself, and to set the mood.

The ironic hipster in me would like to choose something like the Proclaimers as the theme music -- because that's a song about a guy who, like George, is prone to do too much (walk a thousand miles just so he can fall down at his girlfriend's door).  But that's under copyright, and I don't necessarily want to be that overt.

The song for the Mick and Casey story was easy. I looked through hundreds of royalty free clips to find one that suggests western but not either too grim or too hokey.  And I found what I think is perfect in this Irish tune: Connemara 9

It's got Mick McKee written all over it.  It's strummy and cowboy-ish -- and very laid back -- every bit as laid back as Hermans Hermits, but not anachronistic.  And, of course, Clarence Francis "Mick" McKee is of Irish ancestry.

But The Man Who Did Too Much flummoxed me.  First of all, the mood of the story is not George's mood. The story is a cozy mystery mixed with a madcap adventure.  George is a fish out of water.  But the story is also about him.  So should I choose action hero music?  No, because that's not the sort of story (I'd be doing the ironic hipster thing again - at the expense of the audience rather than for their benefit).  Also because the bit I'll be reading (the opening) is not really adventure at all.  It's kind of anti-adventure.

And I honestly could not think of any kind of music that would, just by style, evoke a quiet Michigan beach town.   So, since the excerpt does focus on George, I might as well go with him....

George is kind of an exotic guy -- an action hero who does a lot of work in Asia -- so what about a foreign theme?  Something kind of moody and Asian?  And hey, there's one of those in the same collection I bought for the Mick and Casey theme: Que Lie.  I like that one a lot, but I think that it kind of misleads or confuses the reader/listener.  Yes, it hints at some cool stuff to come, and actually has some connections with the story the reader might not expect, but that isn't in the excerpt.  So... I think maybe not.

So... back to action hero.  There's moody action hero music, isn't there?  Like, the James Bond theme would be too flash, but something reminiscent of the title songs (Goldfinger, Sky Fall, Live and Let Die)?  But maybe a little smaller and more personal? 

So I started looking at odd things, maybe more cinematic things, and I came across something that started weird and cinematic but ends up.... strangely suitable in nearly every way.

It's a tune called Point Piper 2, and after the weird opening, it breaks into ... a beach song.  Well, really just some guitar strumming which shifts from minor to major scales and is really both moody and uplifting and relaxed.  The kind of thing someone in any group on the beach might play.  Exactly the mood I'd want to evoke.  (I'll be cutting off those first few seconds and going for the beach with this.)

Phew.  Now I just have to pick something for Harsh Climate -- a story about two teenagers who have to battle freezing weather and a gang of kidnappers.....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Fiction Podcast is Up

All right....

The fiction podcast is live -- though not yet listed in the iTunes store.  You CAN, however, subscribe to it through iTunes even before it is listed (instructions below.)

Here's the blog: Reading in the Attic

I've got a whole lot of "business" to do -- updating links and archive pages, etc.  Just the stuff that makes it easy for people to find things, without having to explain and link things in every post.  It's amazing how much time and work these "passive marketing" things take.

(UPDATE: both podcasts are now available in the iTunes store: Reading in the Attic, and The Daring Novelist Podcast.)

In the meantime...Damon Runyon

I've been discovering some cool things in old magazines.  I was browsing for things for my mother to read. She is very picky and easily turned off. (So browsing is a problem for her -- because if something turns her off, she turns away from a whole genre.)  She liked some Damon Runyon stories I had. But it's hard to find more these days.

So I was browsing the internet for similar things, books and authors I could at least find used, and discovered that A) Ring Lardner wasn't just a sports writer -- he wrote fiction.  And B) Damon Runyon, before he wrote his famous Broadway gang books, wrote some amazing poetry. And also was a sports writer.

I have discovered at least one early Runyon poem that doesn't seem to have been collected.  (Most of his collected poetry is about army life. Miscellaneous other subjects appear to have been neglected.)  That poem is really quite wonderful.  I will definitely be reading some of his poems (collected and uncollected) in Reading in the Attic.

And I'm even thinking of doing some special editions of some "lost" Ring Lardner work, and offering an audiobook of it.

Back to Audio....

For those of you already interested in audio, you can subscribe to podcasts in iTunes, even if it isn't in the iTunes store.  All you need is the feed address.  You just open iTunes, and look for "subscribe to podcast" under the File menu.  Paste in the feed address, and voila -- you're subscribed.  (Once it is in the iTunes store, of course, you can just go and click "subscribe.")

(And please note: The feed address is actually an RSS address.  If you subscribe to them through a regular RSS reader, you'll get the blog posts.  If though a podcast reader -- like iTunes or Stitcher, or a podcast app on your phone -- you'll get the audio.  But to do that, you have to copy and paste the link - which is why I didn't make them hot links.)

My two podcast feeds are:

Reading in the Attic:

The Daring Novelist Podcast:

For those of you think you might be interested in listening -- either for authorial research or for pleasure -- I'm going to post something about how to listen and how to find podcasts that interest you, etc. later this week.  (Personally, just as I'd like to turn listeners into readers, I'd also like to turn non-listeners onto the joys of podcasts.)

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

DNP Ep 01 -Why Audio (Post and Podcast)

Finally, at last, the first episode of my Daring Novelist Podcast.  The text of the post is below, for those who would rather read than be read to.

NOTE: The podcast isn't subscribe-able on iTunes and other podcast directories yet, but soon will be, and you can subscribe manually via this link - Daring Novelist Podcast Feed. Or you can directly download the podcast with the link just below this, or just listen right here on the blog! (How convenient!)

Daring Novelist Podcast - Episode 1 - Why Audio? 10:00 min

Why Audio?

Readers of my blog know that I have been getting really interested in audio lately.  I'm really throwing all caution to the wind on it with the idea of a weekly fiction podcast.  Just... giving away most of my work for free.

Although, honestly, I don't know where this audio bug is taking me.  I just find that I feel the same way about it as I did about indie publishing when I first realized it was a realistic option.

Until a few weeks ago, I never actually considered doing audio.

For one thing, I went to film school, so I know a little about audio production -- enough to know that it would be a pain in the tuchis.  If you think finding a time and place to write is a problem, forget it.  Even in really bad conditions, you can still physically write.  The right time and place is more mental than physical.

Finding a place and time to record sound?  Nightmare. 

When the cats come yelling into the room (or worse, just outside the locked door) it doesn't just break your concentration. The cat is collaborating with you.  It's in the recording. Along with the furnace, the firetrucks, the midnight train to Georgia, crickets, night birds, and the electrical box. 

(The electrical box, at least, has a constant hum, and can be filtered out.  The neighbor kid's graduation party, not so much..) 

And if you get the kind of mic that doesn't pick up all this extraneous noise, that's the kind that will pick up pops and sibilance from your voice.

And don't talk to me about levels and pre-amps.

Besides, audio is old tech, isn't it?  Other than slickly packaged audiobooks, the kids these days aren't interested in simple audio.  And what does it have to do with indie publishing anyway?  I mean other than the aforementioned audiobooks, which are freaking expensive.  They're really kinda for the elites.  It's rich people and libraries, isn't it? And msot libraries only stock a limited selection of best sellers.

So, no, I didn't consider taking up audio.

Not much.

It's not like I listen to the radio or anything like that.

So the other day, I was sitting my car, listening to the radio.  As I always do.  I don't think I listen to radio, but I do, constantly. I just don't listen to Top 40 or satellite radio.  I listen to news and talk -- mostly public radio, local sporting events and podcasts.

And that day my public radio station was having a fund drive.

While begging for cash, they pointed out how much bang for your buck you get with radio.  They were, of course, correct.  Radio is famously cheap to produce and broadcast.

And I had this epiphany.  You know how they talk about the "Wave of the Future"?  Well, I saw the wave of the past crashing through the future.

It was this image of the old days of bootstrap radio -- tiny stations broadcasting out of a little shack.  Pirate radio and propaganda.  A guy with a mic and a transmitter, playing music and telling stories and giving the farm report.

Before networks and multinational media companies got a hold of it, radio was a lot like the internet.  Heck , even afterward, radio has always been a tool of the little guy.  But in the early days, it was like blogging.  And like the indie publishing revolution.

But it was still kind of expensive, because even though it's cheaper than running a TV transmitter, even a low power radio transmitter is beyond the budget of most individuals.

Ah, but digital audio, which doesn't need a transmitter, and reaches way farther, that's just like indie publishing.  It's just like the entire web.

And... when I look into it, I find it's booming.  It's easy to overlook, because it's everywhere in the background.  People like me don't think we listen at all, when actually we're subscribed to 400 podcasts and listen to all sorts of things on the web and our phone and the radio.  All the time.

People listen as much as they ever did.  It's just that what they listen to comes from many different sources.

A few years ago, all you heard was that the podcasting boom was over.  But now, everybody says audio is the wave of the future.  People who don't have time to read, still like to listen.  In their cars, in the kitchen while cooking or doing housework.  While jogging or walking the dog.  Video is cool, but you can't do anything else while watching, really.

A lot of people in publishing are talking about creating "enhanced books" to build stronger engagement with their audience.  Something cool to compete with all the noise on the internet. 

But these efforts often fail, or succeed only in finding a niche audience.  I keep telling people that it's because the audience isn't looking for deeper engagement or for more complicated books.

They are looking for simpler things that integrate with the noise. They like that a pure text ebook can be read on their e-reader, phone, computer, tablet -- anything that can handle text.

Sound is just like text.  It's everywhere, and can be accessed from every kind of device.  It's not demanding.  It only requires one sense (the ears rather than the eyes).

And even though there is nothing new about audio to the listeners.  It's not something everyone in publishing does, including the indie community.  Sure, everyone wants to make an audiobook of their novel, but that's kind of a luxury.  It's a niche -- like getting a hardback edition printed.

And podcasting or radio? It's not actually a part of publishing. It's a totally separate venue -- a place to promote your book.

Because, after all, the vast listening audience -- the audience way bigger than the reading audience -- doesn't pay for what it gets.  And when it does pay, it wants it cheap.  The radio/podcast audience is the pulp audience. They are the equivalent of those who buy cheap and used paperbacks, and comic books. Who can't often afford hardbacks.

Amazon, always the leader in business, is working to crack that general audio market by offering cheap Whispersync deals on audiobooks.  Which is incredibly cool, although even there, it doesn't touch  major parts of that audience.  It doesn't touch the huge audience of people who don't habitually buy books, even if they would like audiobooks (because after all, audiobooks are expensive as a rule. You only get that Whispersync deal if you are a READER first.)

And from the publishing side, even the indies, all I hear is whining about how the discount cuts into royalties.  Publishers, including indies, are just not interested in that huge audience, because they don't pay.

But here is the thing: people are used to watching television without paying -- but they still buy DVDs of their favorite TV shows.  They buy a whole lot of other stuff realted to those shows, too.

They do this because free TV, and before that radio, created a generation of people who want TV.  People are willing to pay for something they want.  Even though they can get it free.  People are weird that way.

They pay ten times as much for coffee which they could easily make at home, too.  Cheaper, hotter, better.

And when people in publishing think about that, they whine about how that coffee money isn't being spent on them.

But here is the other thing: It's free and cheap coffee at home and at work that habituates people to coffee. It's the ubiquity of coffee that makes people appreciate great coffee.

And it's growing up with TV available all the time that makes people love TV enough to collect their favorite shows on DVD.

This is another subject which has been on my mind for months -- and maybe I'll post about that next week.  

So much of today's publishing landscape depends on things given for free or very cheap earlier on. And I'm not talking about free samples or the sort of things indie publishers do as a marketing gimmick.

I'm talking about things that are free or cheap as a class:  Pulp fiction.  Children provided with books by their parents and schools and libraries for years before they have money to buy their own, soldiers in WWII given books by all the major publishers.

And more recently, the early indie publishing pioneers who provided a disenchanted audience with ultra-cheap or free books.

In my opinion, writers like Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath didn't just capture an audience.

They created an audience.

But more about that another time.

Suffice it to say that I think podcasting is an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Also, for all that recording is a pain, I am a production geek.  I actually do enjoy the editing and technical part of the process. 

And I'm really surprised to find out how much I enjoy the performance part of the process.  My skills are still pretty rudimentary, but it's really cool when I bring the story to life.   Maybe not as well as I'd like, yet often way better than I imagined I could.

As a result, I think I will start recording some of my old blog posts -- the best of the Daring Novelist, if you will -- for a monthly writer podcast. This post will be the start.

If I can carve out the quiet time when the furnace isn't going, and the cats aren't yowling (or purring), and the firetrucks aren't roaring....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DNP Ep 00 - Podcast Introduction

This podcast is purely a small introductory episode -- just under three minutes -- to see that everything is set up right (and obviously as a reference for people who are new to the podcast later).

I call it a Sacrifice to the Pancake God -- that is, it's sorta like that first small pancake you make to make sure the pan is the right temperature, etc.

UPDATE: okay the first attempt did not work.  It appears that the RSS feed can't see the embedded link to the file.  (Color me much confused over that, because... oh, I'm to confused to explained.  Let's just say the easiest to find tutorials and instructions gloss over the link....)

So here is a plain old vanilla link, which should work, unless I have to do a whole new post to get the RSS to recognize the change....

(Second Update: For those keeping score, the plain link almost worked (and technically should have worked but didn't quite). I just had to add a "rel" tag that identified the link as an enclosure.)

The Daring Novelist Podcast - Episode 1 - Introduction.

If this goes well, I will post the first real episode later tonight.  (Sometime after Agents of SHIELD....)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday, Podcast!

Okay I have got the first episodes of both the Daring Novelist Podcast (which will be monthly) and the Reading In The Attic Podcast (which will be weekly) done.

Sort of.

The recording and sound processing is done.  I still have to make sure I have all my mp3 tags right on the files.  Which includes doing "covers" for them. I have concepts. They won't be hard, but they require work.

I also have to set up associated accounts and blogs and RSS feeds with all the associated information nailed down there.

Then I have to do uploads and submissions.

My goal is to have the Daring Novelist Podcast done by the end of the day Tuesday, so I can finally post the post I wrote for it (with a link to the audio version) here.  It's a ten minute podcast, and most of the posts for the DNP will be realtively short. (They will be, for the most part, old blog posts from here, with an occasional new one.)

The Reading In The Attic Podcast (RitAP) will be longer.  It will consist of fiction and "story notes."  Sometimes my stories, sometimes old stories from various attics, sometimes I'll do excerpts of other current authors.  The first one will be 1/2 hour, and will be a story from WWI called "For Belgium" -- it's the story associated with the image I used in the header of this blog.  The lady with the sword holding off the Prussian officer.

It has music and sound effects. (Not a lot of sound effects -- I just realized that in some places the words just didn't have the visceral effect I wanted, so I added a little something.)

That will debut on December 9, if things don't go terribly wrong.

I have the raw recordings for the next two episodes after that (and more), but they have to be assembled and edited.

But at the moment, I'm exhausted.

See you in the funny papers.