First Year’s End

As December draws to a close, so does 2011.  A lot has happened these past twelve months.  Last year at this time, in the final hours of 2010, none of this existed.  Dark Things Rising was not even a thought in my mind.  My return to publishing was merely a dream collecting dust.  My work sat unread within the aging files of my computer, unheard of, unloved. 

     It began with my website, www.HarmonUniverse.com.  A simple name, I know.  Rather uncreative, but it can be difficult to pick a domain name that appeals greatly to you and is not already owned.  And besides, I like to think that, as a hub for my marketing efforts, “Harmon Universe” sums everything up quite nicely.  The whole thing was, quite honestly, my wife’s idea.  (She’s awful smart that way.)  At the time, it was little more than a starting point, a launch pad, I thought, for advertising my writing.  It was originally to be a gallery of free short stories, assembled with the hope of building a small fan base and maybe even attracting an agent.  It wasn’t until I began to contemplate selling my novels from my website that I discovered the miraculous world of independent publishing.  Before I knew it, book one of The Temple of the Blind was available for purchase on ereaders worldwide.  …And how ironic is it that I now realize my website is the most neglected of all my publishing tools?  I haven’t updated it nearly enough these past few months.  I’ve promised myself to give it more attention as I journey forward. 
     Now, as the year draws to an end, I sit here in a cloud of contemplation, reflecting on what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve released four books in my dark adventure series this year, both in digital and print formats, as well as the recent collection of short stories.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that I consider my writing career a runaway success.  I’m afraid you won’t find me at the top of any bestseller lists this holiday season.  However, I do consider 2011 to be a successful year.  Just check out my reviews on Amazon.  I’ve collected a number of fans…  It’s not a large number…  I mean there’s definitely more than zero…  And my book sales have been…well…existent.  Most months…  Still, I remain confident that my name will grow, that more and more fans will eventually find me.  I still have so much I wish to share, so many more stories, so many more adventures.  But it can be so hard to wait, can’t it? 
     Looking forward again, 2012 should be a great year.  Look for the final two books of The Temple of the Blind.  I also have a new novel in the works.  And of course I will continue to entertain you here at Dark Things Rising and keep you informed at Harmon Universe.  I have only just begun to write! 
     Thank you to everyone here on this blog who has decided to come along for the ride.  Let’s continue to see where this journey takes us. 

The Holidays Are Upon Us

Thanksgiving is fast approaching.  Fall is giving way to winter with the first snowfalls.  Holiday music can be heard in department stores everywhere.  My wife can be heard complaining about holiday music in department stores everywhere.  And we all begin to look forward to eating ourselves into a tryptophan- and gravy-induced coma.  And for me, that also means it’s time to get off my lazy butt and get to work.

     A few years ago I took over the responsibility of Thanksgiving dinner.  This was not a burden thrust upon me, understand.  I volunteered.  I thoroughly enjoy the cooking (and I’m not too bad at it, either, believe it or not).  And it’s always nice to have everyone over.  I find it fun.  And the cooking is really not so much work, especially given that I have the assistance of my wonderful wife, without whom I would never be able to deliver such a magnificent feast.  I’m sure that without her I’d probably manage only to hurt myself…or embarrass myself…or embarrassingly hurt myself…
     My menu always includes a huge roast turkey and stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, made-from-scratch rolls, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and usually enough desert for about four times as many people as would ever possibly show up.  I begin working the day before, preparing everything I can ahead of time.  Time management was the hardest part of learning to cook for me.  When I first started out I could never make everything finish cooking at the same time.  There would always be something done way too early or too late.  Thanksgiving dinner, however, has to be perfect.  I don’t want to disappoint anyone, after all, by screwing up their favorite side and so I’ve turned it into an exercise in patience and meticulous planning.
     And still the dinner is not even remotely the hardest part.  Before I even begin shopping for my annual feast, I set out to clean every surface of my house.  After all, with two children under seven in the house, it seems to be constantly in a state of disarray and there’s always some chore I’ve put off for far too long.  Like cleaning the ceiling fan blades, for example.  How embarrassing.  Usually by Halloween I’ve begun formulating a list of chores to do.  And the first thing on this list is to pick up all those toys.  The first thing on my children’s list, however, is apparently to put them back on the floor.  As quickly as possible.  In as many rooms as possible.  (They’re really good at it too.  I turn my back and playthings are scattered all over the place.  I don’t even hear it happen.  I swear they’re like little messy ninjas.)  I just cleaned the house yesterday and today there are dolls and action figures and cars and Barbie accessories everywhere I look.  I don’t understand it.  There’s a little plastic Scooby Doo on the living room floor.  Daphne’s on the dining room table.  Shaggy’s in the bath tub with Polly Pocket…  It’s like the aftermath of an epic, Toy Story kegger.  Barbie’s passed out in the back of her convertible.  Ken’s naked in the closet.  Mr. Potato Head is wearing a Cabbage Patch Kids dress.  There’s part of an Optimus Prime Halloween costume on top of the fish tank and a Little People school bus in the laundry hamper.  There’s a plush Spongebob Squarepants in the refrigerator!  How does that even happen?  One of Polly’s shoes was inside the sock I pulled out of the dryer this morning.  It’s out of control!
     Assuming I have any hope of staying ahead of these toy ninjas, I still have to sweep and mop and vacuum and dust.  The laundry has to be put away and the dishes absolutely must be clean before I start cooking.  I’ll need all the space I can get when I start prepping that turkey.
     I’ll save the windows for last, like I always do, in the naïve hope that they will stay clean at least long enough for someone to see them.  But, alas, I will barely have the first room done before I turn around to find little hand prints smeared across one or more of the panes.  Or perhaps the three-year-old will simply be licking the glass.  Again.
     And I’ll have turned my back again by this time, so let’s not forget to pick up those toys…
     Is it all worth it in the end?  Of course it is.  I look forward to it all year long, actually.  And I have no one to blame but myself for letting those ceiling fan blades get so dusty.  But I do wish the ninjas would give it a rest for a while.
     And what is going on with Shaggy and Polly in there…?

Why Indie?

Why do I self-publish?  Why set my work adrift in the uncertain seas of the independent author market when I could hand it over to a traditional publishing company?  Why do I single-handedly shoulder the sometimes overwhelming burden of managing every detail of my book’s existence, from copyediting to publicity?  People tell me, “You’re work is amazing!  You’re too good an author to do all that work yourself!” …well, okay, so nobody’s ever actually said that to me…  Not in precisely those words…  Or any words, really…  But it would be nice if someone did…

     Admittedly, I’ve had some difficulty finding publishers and agents to handle The Temple of the Blind.  I’ve collected quite a few rejection letters.  The book’s size was probably an issue.  Clocking in at over 300,000 words, it’s a hefty manuscript.  Another issue was likely that the story failed to conform to well-known formulas.  It is not, for example, a murder mystery staring a quirky, lovable and relatable sleuth surrounded by a delightfully eccentric myriad of suspects.  It is not a tale of a spunky and quick-thinking hero forced to match wits with a sadistic and brilliant killer in order to survive.  I never picked up any popular book and said to myself, “I’m going to write something that will appeal greatly to this book’s fans.”  As a result, I don’t have a convenient, preexisting fan base that would appeal to a potential publisher.
     I did not, however, choose independent publishing because I gave up on traditional publishing.  My decision was not a last resort.  For one thing, I haven’t collected nearly enough rejections to convince me that the book is not good enough.  I still think that I’m a good writer…even if readers of my blog and Facebook page and Twitterings still haven’t taken my not-so-subtle hints and showered me with embarrassing praise as yet…  I simply haven’t found that agent or editor who sees the potential in the work that I do.  If I feel bad when I look at the number of rejections I’ve accumulated, it is because I should have gathered many more than I have.
     My failure was that I was afraid to let go of it.  I’d heard so many horror stories about new authors being taken in by publishing scams that I was reluctant to trust anyone.  And even the reputable publishing companies rarely lived up to the expectations of a bright-eyed new author.  All the articles I’d read about publishing seemed to have the same underlying message:  Don’t get your hopes up.  First, I should expect rejections.  Many, many rejections.  Mountains of rejections.  Seriously, a whole, freaking heap, more than you can even imagine, boxes stacked to the ceiling, warehouses full of rejections.  Okay.  Got it.  I expected rejections.  I embraced rejection, faced it head-on.  I even wanted to get a big red stamp that said REJECTED so that I could stamp each envelope before I filed them away with the others, but my wife wouldn’t let me.  Something about retaining “optimism” toward my work…  I thought I was being optimistic.  To me, it was about viewing every rejection as a stepping stone toward getting published.
     Secondly, there’s what happens once you finally do get published.  New authors have no control over their books.  Contrary to popular belief, a publishing contract does not throw open the doors to all your hopes and dreams.  Even if I make it through the gauntlet of editors and agents and somehow get my book made, I retain absolutely no say in what they do with it.  I might hate the cover, for example.  And I certainly shouldn’t expect to see my book on every shelf.  I’m not going to be distributed as widely as the big name authors.  Not even remotely.  Hardly at all, in fact.  They’re not going to advertise your book for you.  Why would they?  They could use that money to advertise an author they already know makes them money.  And really, wouldn’t you do the same?
     You have to go out on your own and sell your book.  You have to convince the bookstores to carry it.  You have to convince readers to give your book a chance, even though they’ve never heard of you before.  You’ll spend a lot of your own time and money, likely only to see your book out of print in a few short years and nothing left to show for it.  Unless you bought something nice with that cash advance…like a big TV…then I guess you’ll still have that…but you don’t have anything else…
     Depressing, isn’t it?  I thought so.  But by independently publishing, I get to be my own publisher.  I get to control it all, from distribution to cover design to deciding how long it remains up for sale.  And I was going to have to do all that marketing work anyway.  True, I don’t get a fat cash advance (no big TV for me) and I don’t have access to a trained copyeditor to review my work for difficult-to-find errors, which means my book ends up less perfect than it otherwise might have.  (Potentially embarrassing!)  But these days I can put my work out there with virtually no overhead costs.
     So do I self publish because I think it’s the only way my work will ever see print?  Absolutely not.  Do I do it to stick my middle finger to big publishing?  No.  Not really.  (Well, maybe just a little…)  There’s still a place for big publishing, but that place is not to greedily guard the only doorway to aspiring authors achieving their dreams.  I won’t be one of the lowly masses begging at their doorstep.  I’ll be using that time building my brand and putting out the best work I can and developing an audience.  I’m not entirely against working with a publisher or an agent, but the terms must be my own.  I won’t sign away everything I’ve built for myself so far.  There is no value, in my opinion, in having a publisher or an agent, if I have to compromise all of the freedom I’ve enjoyed as an independent publisher up to this point.  When and if I find a publishing deal that is right for me, I will join the ranks of the traditionally published.  In the meantime, I’m perfectly happy to be an independent author with a small but awesome fan base, slowly but surely getting my name out there.
     Until the rest of the world discovers my titles, I’ll just have to keep working and occasionally stop to bask in all that praise from all you adoring fans…
     You guys aren’t very good at taking hints, you know.

Just Me and My Boy

Earlier this month, my five-year-old started kindergarten.  For her, it means longer school days, longer school weeks and more responsibility than she faced last year in 4k.  For me, it means that she’s away from home seven hours a day, Monday through Friday.  That’s thirty-five hours with only my three-year-old.  Just think how much writing I can get done with so much time!  No fighting.  No playing rough.  No working together to get the cat down off the bookshelf.  With only half the distraction, I should be able to get twice the work done on my next book…or so I thought…

     Sometimes it really does work like I’d hoped.  Sometimes it’s quiet.  Sometimes he plays by himself with his toys.  Yesterday, he saw me typing on my laptop, so he went and fetched his little toy laptop and pulled up a chair at the table beside me and began banging away at it.  One day last week, I was working on a scene that I just wasn’t sure about, so I started at the top of the page and read it aloud to myself to see how it sounded.  About halfway down the page, he appeared beside my chair.  I reached the end of the scene, satisfied with how it sounded, and he said, “Thank you, Daddy.  Thank you for reading your book to me.”  These moments are truly priceless.  And with my wife teaching an extra class this semester, I’m spending more time alone with my son than ever before and more than ever before, I love being a stay-at-home dad.
     But life has a way of balancing things out, doesn’t it?  More often than not, I find it impossible to concentrate on my work because he no longer has his sister to entertain him and he wants my attention, often for far longer than I have the stamina to last.  And when I’m finally able to convince him to go and play with his toys, I’m quickly reminded of how incredibly annoying a great many of his toys are.  Between the tambourine (thanks so much, Uncle Gary) and the harmonica (you too, Grandma) and his talking Star Wars Clone Troopers helmet (…okay so I was the one who got him that…seemed like a good idea at the time…) I simply can’t form coherent thoughts.
     Now I find myself constantly struggling to balance work with parenting.  For this, nap times have been a blessing, but they’re starting to get shorter and I’m not sure how long he’ll be willing to take naps.  Of course, if I turn on the television, he’ll sit and watch quietly, sometimes for a considerably long time, but I don’t like to rely on the television.  It’s not a babysitter and I’ve never believed in using it as one…no matter how much I may want to…  The remaining option is to keep looking for things to keep him busy when I want to be writing.  Not too long ago, I brought out some Play-Doh and let him play with it while I worked.  Except for having to stop every few minutes to acknowledge his newest creation, it was quite successful in keeping him entertained…but what a mess!  I’m still finding that stuff!  I don’t even know how it found its way into the bathroom…  And I didn’t realize this before, but if you leave Play-Doh stuck to a hardwood floor overnight, you’ll need a putty knife to clean it up.  Oh, and for any new parents out there who still care to try this, be sure to clean it up before lunch.  Don’t just move it aside so he can continue playing with it when he’s done eating.  It will somehow find its way onto his plate and he won’t like it on his peanut butter sandwich.  Alternately, I suppose I could probably keep him busy with crayons for a while…but every time I do that, one of them vanishes…and a new work of art usually appears mysteriously somewhere in the house within a few days.  I remain somewhat skeptical about the eyewitness testimony accusing the cat.
     I would love to have my own “office hours” for my writing, where I can lock myself in my office and compose and edit my manuscripts in peace and without interruption…but that’s not going to happen as long as I still have a child at home during the day.  But on the plus side, I still have a child at home during the day.  I’d sure miss those little visits I get when I’m working and someone wants to give me a hug and a kiss…
     Kind of makes it all worth it.

Making The Naughty List

Sex!  Have I offended you?  If so, I sincerely apologize.  And also:  SEX!  BOOBIES!  PENIS!

     …There.  Now that the easily offended and prudish have been frightened away, the rest of us can have a mature and responsible discussion on the topic of sex in fiction and the psychology of sexual attraction and intercourse as it applies to the various characters and their evolution within the pages.
     …And that should have chased off all the pervies who just showed up because they saw the word “sex.”  Now on to today’s real discussion.
     I do not write young adult any more than I write paranormal romance.  I sometimes write about young adults…although mostly older teens.  My series, The Temple of the Blind (notice how I shamelessly plug this title into my blog posts whenever I see an opportunity?  Sorry about that.), is populated primarily with young college students.  I also sometimes write stories that are perfectly appropriate for young adults to read.  My short story, “From Such Small Things” is a creepy ghost story, but contains no sexual or overly violent elements and I don’t think it is anything any teenager shouldn’t be able to pick up and read—although I’ll leave those kinds of decisions solely to the parents out there.  However, much of my work, including The Temple of the Blind (did it again, sorry) and many of my shorter works, contains ample elements of sex and/or violence, sometimes graphically.  This is not necessarily because I set out to write a sexual or violent tale.  I don’t write erotica and I don’t write splatterpunk.  But I also never force my stories into any kind of predetermined package.  I begin the story, sometimes without even knowing the ending, and then let it take me where it will.  I let the characters evolve naturally.  I let the events of the plot unfold as I go.  Sometimes, it surprises me.
     After the release of my first novel, The Box, I was faced with distributing it to all the people I know.  Including my mother…  (Awkward!)  Overall, I’ve gotten nothing but good feedback on it (the trouble seems to be getting people to buy it in the first place), but a few people have found it difficult to look past the adult content in the book.  “It was good,” they’ll tell me, “but a little graphic…  But it’s good!  …but it’s a little graphic…”  And they’re right.  It is a bit graphic.  In chapter eight, the characters discover something that turns their sexual desires against them and they find themselves unable to maintain control.  I don’t sugar-coat it.  The camera doesn’t pan away.  I don’t cut to another scene.  I drag the reader all the way into it, forcing it onto him the way it was forced upon the characters.  My intention was never to blatantly make the story more graphic, but rather to immerse the reader in the wild emotions of the scene.  It’s shocking!  It’s embarrassing!  Oh, the awkwardness!  What have they done?  How will they deal with it?  You can’t believe that just happened!  If you’re blushing when you read this chapter and glancing around to see if anyone might somehow be able to tell what you’re reading, then the story has had exactly the effect on you I intended.  Because this is also what the characters feel when the scene is over.
     As a result of what happens in this scene, the characters lose their clothes and end up traversing the frightening, dark, labyrinthine setting naked, compounding the awkwardness of what happened between them and the vulnerability of their situation.  It was something of an experiment in character development.  And I was very happy with the result.  So happy, in fact, that I revisited the idea later in book three, with a larger group of characters, and carried it forward.  (Don’t worry.  My books won’t always be about naked people.  I promise.)
     If you happen to be the type of person who is offended by graphic material in a book, I do apologize.  But this is my blog, not yours, so…SEX!  Seriously, though, nobody’s making you read it, so just don’t get mad at me okay?  Don’t make me say “penis” again.  (Isn’t that a funny word?  What’s even funnier is how angry my wife gets when I say it while she’s trying to record a voice mail greeting!)  For the rest of you, I hope you’ll enjoy my work for what it’s meant to be.  The adventures in my tales are like the adventures in your life:  you simply don’t know what might happen at any given time.  Sometimes it’s the things that shock you that are most memorable.
     And if this discussion has aroused your curiosity at all, feel free to check out The Box, book one of The Temple of the Blind, available at Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.  (Okay, even I found that one rather shameless…)

Buy My Book!

     I think all of this marketing stuff is starting to get to me. I’m obsessed with my book sales lately. I want so badly for my books to be successful, and I don’t know how to create more exposure. Everywhere I go, all I want to talk about is my book and how I can earn more readers. I want to tell everyone I see to buy my book. I feel like I’m slowly transforming into some kind of bookselling vampire. Instead of bloodlust I have saleslust. “Look at that guy in that fancy car over there. I’ll bet he can afford to buy a book. Maybe I should follow him. See where he’s going. Stalk him into a dark alley somewhere and pounce!”
     No. I control it. It doesn’t control me.
     I’m so preoccupied that I can’t help but look around everywhere I go and wonder if any of the people I see would like my book. If only they’d try it, I think. If only they’d open it up and read the first few pages…I’m sure they’d be hooked. I only need to find a way to convince them…to transform them into my loyal fans… The world is suddenly filled with unwitting victims…I mean…potential customers…who just need a little…encouragement. “Look how bored our waiter looks… I bet he’d like to hear about a good book. What about that guy at the next table? Or the woman he’s with? The hostess? Probably not those ladies in the corner…they’re like eighty…the sex scene in chapter eight would probably kill them…”
     I’m not sure if I can continue to restrain myself. The kid at the checkout lane asks me if I’d like paper or plastic and I want to scream, “Buy my book!” But I control myself. I contain it. The woman at the post office asks me if I want insurance on that package. In my head I scream, “Buy my book! Buy it!” Aloud, I simply say, “No thank you.” I went to the library yesterday… Oh god… All those readers…everywhere I looked…reading…right there in front of me… I couldn’t control myself. “Buy my book! Buy it! You’ll love it! It’s good! Just read my reviews!” Luckily, nobody heard me because I was only whispering. (It was a library, after all.) I then decided I should probably escort myself out of the building before I embarrassed myself.
     In what could be perceived as my most shameless act of self-promotion ever, I taught my five-year-old daughter to say, “Please read my daddy’s book!” She’s actually quite good at it. She’s so proud of this talent, in fact, that the moment she lays eyes on my book, she will immediately snatch it out of your hands, step back and shout her lines. I’ve been threatening to put her on You-Tube for weeks now…

     For now, I’ll get back to work. I have things to do. (Must repress the hunger…) I need to brainstorm. September is right around the corner and that means October is imminent. I’m hoping the Halloween season will bring me more opportunities to show everyone that I’m someone worth reading.