Category Archives: Discussion

This is where general thoughts about the process of writing may go, including reviews for various books on writing.

End-of-the Month Roundup: August 2016

My Friday Updates started off with a bang, and then they tapered off, and most of August has been without. “Why?” you may ask. Well, the simple reason is that I haven’t had much to talk about in August.

But, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I have actually done a lot of work, but not on my writing. I’ve been spending much of August studying, marketing in particular, but also editing. It’s the editing I’ve been learning that’s stalled my free-flow of writing. In short, I want to get my stories right, and to do so, I have to better understand the genres they fit in.

I’ve always had a problem with genre classification. I get the general genres like action and drama. But I’ve never been taught the conventions of these global genres, nor the conventions or obligatory scenes of their more defined parts (like action adventure, for example). Thanks to The Story Grid, I’ve been learning more about the genre types, and to some extent the conventions that make them work. More importantly, I’ve been giving more thought to what defines certain stories within their chosen genres, including my own stories. Especially my own stories.

I’ve been wanting to write an update to The Computer Nerd for a while, but I’ve been holding off because I want to attempt to run it through the grid (as outlined at The Story Grid website), and I want to be sure I fully understand how the grid works, and in turn figure out what I still need to do to make The Computer Nerd work. I also want to pick up Shawn Coyne’s book so that I have some kind of textbook to refer to when I give storygridding (a term Shawn Coyne coined) a try. I think it’ll be easier to graph once I know exactly what I’m supposed to do.

To be clear, I do think the story works based on the genre I’ve established. But now I’m wondering if I’ve picked the right genre. And I also think I can make it better. Even still, I have pictures in my head for improving it.

But, of course, that’s not the only thing I’ve been studying, nor the only thing keeping me up late at night.

When I do put it through a new rewrite, and eventually rerelease it, I also need to consider the cover image. I like what I have, but I don’t know that it’s appropriate for the genre. So much to consider, and I feel like no matter how much I learn about my craft, my awaiting knowledge seems to stack and stack.

There’s also the secondary concern about marketing. Whenever I do reedit and repost the story, I’ll want to do so with a change to the metadata. In short, I want this thing primed for marketing, and that means stripping out much of what’s already in there and replacing it with a more direct (and beneficial) link.

But how do I follow that?

The primary marketing tactic I see and hear all over the Internet is that the mailing list remains king. And guess what. I don’t have one. Nope, no mailing list. My blog subscription option is the best source I have for sending out new information, and most of the people who come here come to read my one comedic post about hoverboards, so they’re not going to subscribe. Clearly, that needs to change. So, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the mailing list and when to start it. But, I don’t want to really push the thing until I have what Nick Stephenson calls a “reader magnet” ready, and I’m starting to think that moving the post-credits scene to a mailing list exclusively is a bad idea. That scene is really part of the book, and should remain with the book. So, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novella about the bounty hunter who’s searching for our mental institution escapees (spoiler alert if you haven’t read The Computer Nerd) and using that as my subscription incentive.

Would you be interested in reading the story of Mr. Sanders’s pursuit of our escapees?

Of course, getting people to subscribe means giving them something else to buy down the road, and The Computer Nerd is not something I plan to make a sequel or an entire series out of. It’s supposed to be standalone. Assuming they want something in the same genre, what do I give them?

I’ve been giving more thought to other stories I’ve posted or have planned to post by now–Gutter Child and Teenage American Dream specifically–and considered that maybe their stories could fit more into a mystery or thriller convention, and less in the convention they already have. So, among all of my other stray thoughts, I’m wondering if I should expand Gutter Child and turn the current plot into a subplot, and give Teenage American Dream a darker problem. I have some ideas on how I can expand them, but that will undoubtedly hold up my current plans of the other stories I’ve mentioned on this blog. I feel like I’ve been ignoring them long enough.

So, that’s how my month has been. No progress, just a lot of studying.

I also host a biannual game-making contest, which had a deadline this month, so I’ve been giving that a lot of my attention. But you came here to find out about my writing, didn’t you?

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

Friday Update #2: Adventures in Marketing Experimentation

I had planned on making this week’s update about Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two and its current rate of success on Smashwords and the affiliate sites, but there’s honestly not much to talk about at this time, so rather than talk about my disappointment in its current performance (okay, screw it, I will—I sold one copy so far, and it’s been out for a month, so now you’re updated :p ), I’d like to instead talk briefly about my plan to rework my marketing strategies for not just new, but existing titles.

A couple of weeks ago, I listened in on a webinar for Bryan Cohen’s Selling for Authors series and took to heart the lessons that he shared with attendees about how indie authors can increase book sales. For almost two hours, he and webinar cohost Kimberley Grabas discussed various strategies for hooking potential readers and gaining sales from people who might not otherwise care about or even find my book. Chief lesson in that series was to use copywriting to get readers’ attention. As a result of that webinar, I rewrote my description for The Computer Nerd to better entice readers to give it a chance. Here’s an example of what it used to say versus what it says now:

Old Description:

When Anston Michaels returns home from his stressful fishing trip weekend, he finds Rebecca, his latest would-be girlfriend, sitting on his porch. They have a date, which he’s forgotten about, and she’s here to collect. Sure, that morning he nearly lost his lucky fishing pole to a sea monster that would’ve taken it to the bottom of the sea had his friend, George, not been faster with the scissors. And sure, the thought of tangling with yet another adversary to his quiet livelihood before he even gets the chance to shower leaves him feeling anxious. But, he kinda likes her, so he’ll play her game.
While he gets ready for the date, however, he checks his answering machine to discover that someone more important called while he was away, and this person is someone he can’t ignore. Even though acknowledging the caller’s request means losing the date, and most likely the beautiful Rebecca with it, he has to take the meeting. It’s a matter concerning his ex-wife, who has just escaped from the mental hospital where Anston had her committed to a year ago. The caller is concerned she’s coming home to see him, and she may not be happy. [narrative story description]
What follows is a journey into the mind of woman who seeks murder or marriage, reconciliation or revenge, or something far more sinister than any of the above, and Anston must rescue her from her madness and stop her from ruining both of their lives before it’s too late. But is it actually madness that drives her? And is it really she who needs the rescuing? [story question]
The Computer Nerd is the suspenseful but quirky tale of a former married couple who seems to constantly walk out of step with each other, even when their love still lingers just beneath the surface, even when their livelihoods are at stake. Their journey is sometimes frightening and sometimes ridiculous, but no relationship is perfect, and they rediscover their range of feelings and their depth of understanding for each other while they work together to deal with a personal crisis that combines kidnap, conspiracy, and, worst of all, forced love into a tidy little demented weekend getaway package that neither is sure they’ll survive thanks to the sociopathic third party who’s tagged along for the ride. [sales pitch]
Also comes with a post-credits scene. [side note]

Okay, right? But not great? How about this:

New Description:

Complete safety in virtual isolation? Or likely destruction in a real romance? In the program of life, we must consider all of the variables. [hook]
Anston Michaels has spent the last year living quietly alone, content with his privacy and loving his slow-paced lifestyle. His is a life without drama. His days are filled with peace. He has two friends he spends once a month fishing with, and he goes on the occasional date to keep things from getting too lonely, but his social life is controlled to his liking, and he’s pretty sure he couldn’t be happier. So, when he returns home from his unexpectedly exciting fishing trip for a night of unwind, he is surprised to find Rebecca, his latest would-be girlfriend, sitting on his porch, collecting on a date that he’s forgotten about. And he’s definitely not ready for it. What’s worse, while he prepares to leave with her, he discovers that someone even more important has been calling while he was away, someone he can’t ignore. Even though acknowledging the caller’s request for a meeting means losing the date, and likely the beautiful Rebecca with it, he has to accept it. It’s a matter concerning his ex-wife: She has just escaped from the mental hospital that he committed her to a year ago, and now she may be looking for payback. [story introduction and emotional tie]
What follows is a journey into the mind of woman who seeks mutilation or marriage, reconciliation or revenge, or something far more sinister than anything Anston can imagine, and he must rescue her from her madness and stop her from ruining both of their lives before it’s too late. But is it actually madness that drives her? And is it really she who needs the rescuing? And does Anston truly know his ex-wife as well as he thinks he does? [story question]
The Computer Nerd is the suspenseful but quirky tale of a former married couple who seems to constantly walk out of step with each other, even when their love still lingers beneath the surface, even when their livelihoods are at stake. Their journey is sometimes frightening and sometimes ridiculous, but no relationship is perfect, and they rediscover their range for understanding each other as they work together to deal with a personal crisis that combines kidnap, conspiracy, and, worst of all, forced love into a tidy little demented weekend getaway package that neither is sure they’ll survive thanks to the sociopathic third party who’s tagged along for the ride. [sales pitch]
Also comes with a post-credits scene. [side note]
If you love human interest stories with unusual twists, and you’re wondering why your marriage isn’t great or if you’re dating the right person, then The Computer Nerd is right for you. [call to action]

[end descriptions]

I’ve tagged each paragraph according to its goal. The second example probably needs more work, but I think it does a better job hitting the primary notes needed to get a reader interested. According to Bryan Cohen, the four elements to a strong book description include:

  1. Tagline
  2. Synopsis
  3. Selling Paragraph
  4. Call to Action

It should be noted that in the two weeks since I’ve posted the new description, I haven’t gotten a single download. But to be fair, I released the thing back in October, so it’s probably not getting discovered as much as it used to, either.

But this is one of the places where I’m putting my focus at the moment.

It doesn’t mean I’m finished with this experimentation, however. Along with various copywriting techniques, I’m also working on new SEO techniques, which includes experimenting with genre listing. As of now, The Computer Nerd is listed as a Fiction > Thriller & Suspense > Psychological Thriller and Fiction > Literature > Literary on Smashwords, and Fiction > Psychological and Fiction > Thrillers > Suspense on Amazon. Even though it has had decent exposure on Smashwords once upon a time, and a couple of downloads on Amazon since its Amazon debut in December, I’ve also gotten only two reviews: one five-star and one one-star review. I’m pretty sure the one-star reviewer was expecting something other than what he actually got.

For reference, the keywords I have for it on Smashwords are suspense, programming, internet, marriage, relationships, quirky, humorous, marriage problems, mental issues, programming nightmare, and the ones I have on Amazon are marriage, quirky, programming, relationships, blackmail, sociopath, love potion.

So, in the coming week, I want to experiment with genre listings and keywords to see if I get an increase in traffic. According to all of the studies I’ve been reading and YouTube videos I’ve been watching these past few weeks, I should see some change in activity.

But, words alone won’t attract new readers to my words, and that’s what I’ve been studying this week. Yep, I’ve been learning more about appropriate cover design.

Now, I feel that cover design is worth talking about in a blog of its own, so I’ll save that discussion for later (maybe next Wednesday), but I did want to give you a preview of what I’m experimenting with in that regard.

As of now, my worst seller is the quirky adoption mystery, Gutter Child, and I have a feeling all of the ingredients to a first impression are at play ensuring that no one wants to take a chance on it. Even when I made it free for almost a month, I had gotten only seven downloads. The Fallen Footwear (my current best performer) still gets that many every 3-4 days. I think the copywriting for Gutter Child probably needs a stronger claw to the throat, as well, but I’m sure the cover is playing the primary reader repellant at the moment.

So, thanks to what I’ve been studying this week, I’ve been experimenting with new cover ideas, using techniques recommended by expert designers. As of now, I’ve got the old cover—

gutter child cover alt 4
Cover Image for “Gutter Child”

Looking like this:

gutter child cover alt 6
Cover Image for “Gutter Child”

And this:

gutter child cover alt 7a
Cover Image for “Gutter Child”

I’m not yet finished, or satisfied, with these changes, but I’m interested to see whether these increase my views and downloads once I do finalize them. Hopefully they may even generate sales.

So, that’s what I’m doing this week. I hope to report the results of these changes for my next Friday Update.

Stay tuned.

Healthy Obsession…

November 4, 2015:

Okay, so last month I had a more prolific blogging period than usual. Much of that came from my “need” to promote a novel I was pushing out to the public, complete with chapter samples, launch day announcements, and the eventual cave-in to the freebie model that satisfies the growing trend of $.99 books (and pricier titles) getting ignored. That blogging series steamrolled right into the day that cinemaphiles (including myself?) have been waiting for for 30 years (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either not a cinemaphile, or very sheltered, or grounded in reality–take your pick). And then there’s the seasonal writing push I tend to feel in October, thanks to the perpetual shots of pumpkin that blitz my system.

And all of this prolific writing leads to the inevitable issue that various viewer stats begin to spike, and with it my “need” to drive the numbers higher starts to eat at my brain. What can I write about next? What will draw the masses? Are the masses out there to be drawn? Why are so many people interested in pumpkin macchiato and hoverboards? It becomes a give and take of experimentation, acceptance, and confusion. How does one article generate more readers than all of my other articles combined? Higher numbers lead to more obsessive questions. And thus my search to answer those questions leads me to experiment with even newer ideas and loftier goals. The results often reveal that one shouldn’t mess with a working formula. But I digress.

The same can be said in the world of e-book commerce. My new e-book, The Computer Nerd, has already shot well past the number of downloads that my last two e-books have generated, in spite of their one- and two-month leads over it (Lightstorm and “The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky” respectively). But how? It’s getting ready to catch the total download count of “When Cellphones Go Crazy,” which I released back in July. And the thing has been on the market for just two weeks. Its acceleration up the graph has been relentless (ever since I made it free, but not at all when it came with a price tag), and I keep holding the planned $2.99 price at bay because I’m curious to see if it can catch the top three (“Amusement,” “Eleven Miles from Home,” and the highest downloaded title, “Shell Out,” which is ten days older than “Eleven Miles,” but a good 80 downloads ahead). The idea that it could take my whole author catalog is thrilling. But then it drives me to wonder, Should I make everything I release, ever, free? If so, how quickly can the next e-book rise? The answer to that next question, of course, will hopefully be answered on Black Friday, when I plan to release my next title, a novella called Cards in the Cloak. Given the cover, length, and category, I’m assuming it’ll have a run similar to what Lightstorm experienced. Just a hunch. But again, the question comes back to “Why?” Why did The Computer Nerd have such a lousy first two days (in viewership and sales) then take off like a rocket in spite of its views never topping the dismal first-day views? I have my theories (coming in the post-mortem I’ve been promising for the last two weeks), but the deeper question is, “Can I replicate and improve these with the next one?”*

So, these numbers become a source of obsession for me. But can we call it a healthy obsession? Besides the weirdness that a writer is even attracted to numbers–as a rule, people with degrees in English don’t mix well with anything related to math–I think a “healthy” obsession with these statistics is possible because that means I’m motivated to write something even better than the last thing and to do it soon while the fire is burning, not just in me, but in the readers who have come to find my writing stash.

And that’s really my main drive, to keep the writing coming.

As a reader, you may be wondering what this means to you. To put it simply, it means, don’t ignore what drives you (as long as it’s healthy and won’t cause you or others physical or psychological damage). That might be obvious, but there are still millions of people in the world who aren’t seeking out their dreams, or aren’t putting as much into them as they could, so I guess the message is still important, and if you’re reading this, and you’re not doing anything but dreaming, then stop driving yourself crazy and start doing what matters. Satisfying a dream is psychologically rewarding, even if it keeps you stirring in bed at night wondering if this was really such a great idea. The answer is yes. It’s such a great idea. You may hate the results, but at least you did what you’ve always told yourself you’d do, so you can stop asking all those “what if” questions, at least the starter “what if” questions–the branching “what if” questions, including “What if I had a million people reading my story about penguins in a jungle?,” may not actually stop assaulting your brain. But that’s okay. We’re humans, and we are never satisfied completely.

It also means that pumpkin coffee and hoverboards are popular subjects, way more than e-books and reading.

*To answer the above question, I think the answer is “not necessarily.” Books are like dates. You might have a successful run with one and a lousy run with another (not usually in that order), but you can’t really learn from your triumphs and failures because success comes from the other person’s experience, not yours, which means you have no control over how successful you are. You either hit the mark or you don’t. If you don’t, don’t despair. Just try again. Unlike true insanity, you probably could do the same thing the same way and have better results because the reader (or your new date) may have different needs that are more in line with what you have than the last reader (or your old date). You could also do it differently and have the same results. You just don’t know until you put yourself out there. If you do hit the mark, then congratulations, you’ve got a book that connects to people (or a follow-up date, which is also preferable).

Lethal Hairdo

October 23, 2015:

Continuing with a Back to the Future theme, in a loose kind of way now, it’s time we turn to one of the greatest action movies to come out of the 1980’s, Lethal Weapon, and more importantly, to its greatest legacy left on pop culture, the mullet.

Ah, yes, the mullet, the greatest hairstyle to hit a generation since the Moe Howard bowl cut, which I guess was just a revision to the old Caesar cut, which was likely the revision to an alpaca’s hair–I’m no hair historian, so I don’t know. From the mullet we have learned a great many thing:

  • Bad guys tremble at the sight of a mullet.
  • Ladies melt at the sight of a mullet.
  • Mel Gibson was at his best in a mullet.
  • The Lethal Weapon series died with the movie that did not give us a mullet.
  • Bonus Fact: George Clooney and John Stamos gained fame under a mullet. (Not really Lethal Weapon related, but still an accurate observation born from the eighties.)

As you can see, the mullet was important to our culture and to the longevity of Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson, and maybe the eighties?

Let us never forget the power it had on 1980’s cinema and the stars that had graced our screens.

Long live the mullet!

Want more mullet drama? Come back at 9:00 to read about the epic battle between man and his hair, told in poetry.

The Pros and Cons of Riding a Hoverboard

October 22, 2015

“Back to the Future” Day Week continues with an essay about the one thing we were all looking forward to having in 2015, but never got, thanks to ambitious predictions matched with poor sensibilities that led to our shattered hopes and unshattered bones.

Marty McFly was an expert skateboarder in his day. He could “skitch” (skate-hitch) like the best of them. But the one thing that kept him grounded in 1985 was the set of wheels under his board. By the time he got to 2015, he was stuck with these crazy pink magnetic boards that hovered off the ground. They still rode the same, at least for him, but they posed new thrills and dangers for him.

Robert Zemeckis, the director of Back to the Future, says in an old video that hoverboards “have been around for years, but…” and then talks about parent groups, toy companies, and stuff you can hear about in the Honest Trailer for Back to the Future, which was just released yesterday. Apparently, they haven’t “been around for years,” and perhaps haven’t actually been around at all, but it might be interesting to speculate what the world could be like if we did have hoverboards. So, here are the pros and cons of moving around on your own hoverboard.

Pros:

  • You can be cooler than those losers who ride around on “wheels.”
  • Hoverboards are flatter, and thus easier to stuff in a locker or backpack than a traditional skateboard.
  • They still function well as a food tray.
  • If you need to repel a magnet, just aim your hoverboard’s underside at it.
  • Futuristic designs look more relevant on a hoverboard than a traditional skateboard.
  • You can “skitch” easier on the back of flying car.*
  • You can hop curbs a bit easier.

Cons:

  • A lack of friction equals more spectacular wipeouts (technically a pro for “Epic Fail” videos on Youtube).
  • Hoverboards use magnets in place of wheels and probably don’t work on most surfaces.
  • They’re made of thicker plastic, and are less reliable for using as a crowbar than the skinnier skateboards of the 1980s.
  • If you run into a wall, they can break free from your feet and never return (see “friction” con).
  • It’s still impossible to take a date out on a hoverboard.
  • Your dog will probably prove to be a better skater than you if you put him on and send him off.
  • Having a hoverboard means we can no longer say, “It’s 2015! Where’s my hoverboard?” which is just as important to pop culture as the hoverboard itself.

And there you have it. Can you think of any pros and cons to having your own hoverboard? If so, list them in the comments. Would be fun to develop an epic list for something we may never get.

Come back tomorrow. We’ll be discussing mullets.

*We still need flying cars.

Don’t You Forget About Me

October 22, 2015

Even though “Back to the Future” Day was yesterday, the celebration continues with a look back at my favorite movie of all time.

In the year 1985, the same year that Marty McFly first adventured with the DeLorean into another time, a movie was released that would change the landscape for take-charge teenagers forever. Well, two movies, if you count Back to the Future. That first movie, The Breakfast Club, changed my life.

But that’s vague, so let’s paint a backstory here.

In February 1985, the month that The Breakfast Club was released, I was still just a kid, not even in the double-digits yet. High school was still many years away. And, most importantly, it was an R-rated movie, and my parents were too responsible to let me, their young child, see something with such language at the time of its release. So, I didn’t see it in 1985. Or, really, any time particularly close to 1985.

In kid’s terms, “particularly close” might mean a few weeks, or at the most, a few months. In kid’s terms, two years is a lifetime, and I’m pretty sure it had taken me a lifetime to finally get the opportunity to see it. But sure enough, sometime in the mid-late ’80s, a local independent station, which later became a FOX affiliate, started airing the edited-for-television version (Bender’s spirited curse becomes a spirited support for a university when “F**k you!” becomes “Fam U!” for example), and now, finally, I got a chance to see it.

I was blown away. And I don’t know why, exactly. As a nine- or ten-year-old, I had no reason to find power in the story of five teenagers who were way older than me and went through things I was still years off from experiencing myself. But I did. Maybe I was moved with anticipation. Maybe I thought all high schools were like Shermer High, and maybe I thought all teenagers were like the archetypes presented in the movie. Realistically, I was grabbed hard by the throat by the awesome soundtrack–I mean, that opening on black title cards and a montage of static empty high school scenes, so simple yet so thematic. But at my core, I think I was moved more by the dynamics of these people, the friction between styles, ideologies, and backgrounds, even with the one common thing they all share is universal: our parents help shape who we are. For a ten-year-old, that’s quite a lesson to learn.

On the one hand, I think it did probably have some bearing into helping me understand the person I’ve become, based on the instruction my parents had offered me. Both had vastly different levels of style, personality, and responsibility when it came to raising me. Mom was always very economical, responsible, intent to raise me to respect others, follow the rules, and so on. Dad was basically carefree and pretty blasé about most things, and more or less the dead opposite of my mom. In some sense, they were like a two-person Breakfast Club, two completely different archetypes trying to reach the same goal: not to accidentally wreck my life or kill me. I’m still alive and functional, so…I guess they succeeded.

But that’s not all I got out of the movie.

The characters in The Breakfast Club have a three-dimensional arc we can all learn from, even though the substance in their arcs may seem shallow at times–Ally Sheedy’s character, for example, grows from being a weirdo to being a pretty weirdo. But they still exhibit change in the nine hours they’re forced to sit together in a high school library. For most of us, change takes longer, but the fact that we can change is well-documented in this brilliant John Hughes movie.

And speaking of John Hughes, this is the movie that made me a fan of his work.

I’ve probably seen this movie 40 times or more by now. I don’t recall if I had done this on my first viewing, but at some point I had recorded a VHS copy of the edited-for-television version, watched it at least ten times in the three or four years following, bought the soundtrack on cassette, noticed a theme I hadn’t heard in the movie, rented the real movie (on VHS) when I was finally a teenager, was surprised to see that the edited-for-television version had cut a few scenes (including the joint sequence, which featured the theme in the soundtrack I hadn’t heard in the movie previously), eventually bought it on VHS when I was old enough to carry a job, bought it on DVD years after that (as part of a triple pack with Sixteen Candles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and I even had the opportunity to see it in theaters last year when Cinemark put The Breakfast Club in its Classics Series lineup for that season. And let me tell you, it’s amazing what we miss on the small screen that’s so much more defined on the big screen. I feel like seeing it in the theater brought me full circle. And even if I never watch it again, I feel as though I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth, and life’s worth, out of it.

I could keep going, but that’s the point. There’s so much to get out of this 97-minute movie that its impossible to cover it all in a single blog and still keep it short. So, rather than dive into character studies, cinematic tricks, relevant themes, and so on, I’d rather open this topic up for discussion.

Have you seen The Breakfast Club? What was your favorite part? I still get a kick out of Allison throwing the salami slice at the statue and watching it stick to the amorphous head. Just funny stuff.

Thanks for joining me on this nostalgia trip. Come back in an hour for my essay about hoverboards.

Celebrating Back to the Future Day

October 21, 2015

So, we finally caught up to Marty McFly’s fictional future. Hurray! That means we get to complain about all of the cool things we were promised but never given. It also means that, tomorrow, we will be officially hurtling into the unknown true future, a place of possibility but great uncertainty, a place where technology could overrun humanity or humanity could overrun technology, a place where Marty McFly is no longer our compass but a passenger on the DeLorean ride to the…future, but a place that might, just might, have hoverboards and self-lacing Nikes. Just might.

That’s all assuming Marty McFly doesn’t hang around until the following day–it’s been so long since I’ve seen Back to the Future, Part 2.

At any rate, I wanted to join the bandwagon of celebrating our merging of real life with movie fiction by calling up some pop culture history this week. So, over the course of the next few days, I want to present new reviews, essays, and other fun things to loosely tie into Back to the Future Day and all that it implies.

Come back tonight, starting at 8pm EST, for the official launch of Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm‘s Back to the Future Day celebration. I’m not offering anything revolutionary here, but I am offering some fun blasts from the past. So, check back often this week, as I’m planning to post something new and loosely relevant each night, and in some cases, like tonight, multiple relevant things.

Here’s the tentative calendar:

Tonight at 8pm: A Goodreads review of my favorite book of all time.

Tonight at 9pm: A Goodreads review of my second favorite book of all time.

Tomorrow at 8pm: A review of my favorite movie of all time (from the year of the first Back to the Future).

Tomorrow at 9pm: An essay about hoverboards.

Friday at 8pm: A celebration of the 80’s best and most infamous hairstyle.

Friday at 9pm: A continuation of the infamous hair celebration, in the form of my infamous poetry.

Saturday and/or Sunday (time uncertain): TBA. Check back here for an update.

Hope you come back to see what’s cookin’.

“The Computer Nerd” Release Day

October 20, 2015

Official Ad Flier for
Official Ad Flier for “The Computer Nerd”

Well, the day is finally here. Have you picked up your copy of The Computer Nerd yet? If not, you can find it at the online retailers presented in the links on its official page. It’s just 99 cents, a bargain for all the punch it packs!

If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think. If you start a discussion about it somewhere, link me to it. I’m curious to know how the general public receives it.

I’ve posted quite a bit about this story already, so I’ll keep this entry brief. Just wanted to say thanks to all of you reading this who have shown support by picking up your copy. If you like what you’ve read, then feel free to take a look at some of the other things I’ve written, which you can find on the side bar to the right. Most of them are shorter and freer, so they’re a no-risk investment.

In early November, I’ll begin the postmortem report on The Computer Nerd, its sales potential and reality, and how it stacks up against the concerns I posted about yesterday. Why would you want to know about that? Well, if you’re an aspiring author who wants to give indie publishing a try, then you might like a heads up on what the sales reality for what you’re producing could look like. We all need a reality check sometimes. I will also talk more about the books that are next on my release schedule if you’re interested in what’s coming soon.

Thanks for the readership, folks. Start opening up those discussions.

A Note to Potential Reviewers:

If you’d like a free copy of The Computer Nerd to review for your blog or website, feel free to send me a request by e-mail, listed on my contact page, with the subject line “Requesting Book for Review,” or some iteration. In the body, specify that you want a copy of The Computer Nerd for review and send me a link to your blog or website so that I know where to look for it. I’d also appreciate a follow-up e-mail when the review goes live so I can link it here. Please note that all free copies must be redeemed at Smashwords.

And thanks for your interest.

Regarding the Price:

I had intended to keep it priced at $.99, but after giving it some thought, and seeing how little readers seem to be interested in a cheap book (versus a free one?) so far, I think it makes more sense to charge a standard price for a worthwhile book. So, on October 27, 2015, the price will go up to $2.99. I think this is more fitting for its size and quality anyway.

However, for those who read this blog, I’ll keep a $.99 coupon handy for you (which I’ll list on The Computer Nerd‘s book page) until the end of the year.

Again, this wasn’t my original intention, but I think it makes the most sense from a business standpoint, especially now that I can see how little of a sales difference $.99 makes (spoiler alert!).

Changing Gears:

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll be posting some new book reviews and other interesting things in honor of Back to the Future Day, so I hope you’ll come back for the fun.

–Jeremy

Lightstorm and Goodreads

September 24, 2015

So, I released my latest novella, Lightstorm, earlier this week, and while I’m patiently waiting for all of the distributors to get their versions of the story (Barnes & Noble is dead last as usual), I find myself obsessively checking my download stats for the e-book (when I’m not writing/updating the next story I have on my 2015 roster, The Evil Clone of Michael Keaton–more on that another time) to see if I’m pulling in any significantly weighted numbers. Every time I post a new e-book to Smashwords, which I admit is probably the best platform I have for getting obscure stories out to the public, stories I know the traditional publishers would never take a risk on (I’m pretty sure), I keep thinking, This is the one that will turn the tide. This is the one that the people will discover, share, and lead me to that coveted breakout status. And then I see the numbers on those low-count masses who actually view the book, and the much lower turnout (well, 10% isn’t that bad actually) who choose to download it, and I start wondering if my platform is just too dang small.

Note: As of now, I’ve got about 300 views and 40 downloads for Lightstorm since I released it four days ago. If you’re a stats hound like I am, this might be important info. If you just like a good story, then keep reading (or download Lightstorm from your favorite indie e-book retailer!).

This leads me to that philosophical question that has plagued man since the dawn of time, or at least since entertainment and business had first collided: How does one increase his platform when he’s just a fiction writer who’s got only characters and situations to write about, not important stuff like self-improvement and diet fads?

Well, the obvious answer is to write the kind of story that people want to share. But even that is a tricky beast because all art is subjective, right? I can write only those works that interest me as a reader. I could certainly write for an expanded audience if I wanted to, but I do so at the risk of neutering my feelings or convictions. Not always, of course. But the risk is there.

Take the Romance genre, for example. Big market! I can’t read it, much less write it. I just lost about 80% of the e-book market. Dang it.

But does this mean that readers of other genres shouldn’t find and enjoy the stuff I can read and write?

Tonight I was looking up sites like Reddit and Goodreads, and I kept thinking that these would be great platforms for finding out what people are actually interested in. I was also watching a video where the marketing expert swears by Facebook as the best social media resource that any person seeking promotion can use. I don’t know–I use Facebook, and the hardest job I have with it is convincing my friends to read something, anything. I mean, I’ve posted poems about mullets on there, and I’ve gotten mostly just the crickets chirping in response. Poetry about mullets! It doesn’t get better than that (more on that another time)! In short, I know that there are plenty of valuable resources on hand, but for the life of me I feel like a monkey when I use them. Maybe there’s a trick to it. Maybe it’s all entirely run by luck. Maybe developing a platform is nothing more than a catch-22: you need a platform to develop a platform. Actually, that sounds about right. You can’t fill your cup to the brim with coffee if you don’t have the cup or the coffee.

With that said, writing is still the greatest source of expression I have, and I get a kick out of doing it. But part of the thrill of expressing is knowing that somehow my message will get out and people will talk about it and my ideas might actually set interesting things into motion. Obviously, I haven’t done that yet, or this blog would be about something else. But I’m still hoping that one of these books (which can be explored along the right margin if you click any of their images) will find its audience, and that maybe that audience will begin exploring other books past, present, and future, and maybe that audience will even dare to sign into Goodreads and leave a review or start a discussion that would help me, as a writer, know if I should keep trying to hand these things off to the public or if I should just keep them to myself.

And a quick note to those who ever thought about writing a book but were afraid to start: Just do it anyway. I’m part of the heavy population of low sales / downloads rankings at the moment (trying hard to reverse that!), but I know that the only thing that guarantees me a dead readership is not to write anything. Seeing the numbers in my stats climb by even one download a day can be pretty exciting. Now if I can just convince the people who downloaded it to give some feedback. Ah, now that would be awesome.

P.S. I know this is kind of an introspective and whiny blog, but you know, stats! Had to write something if I’m to have more than just one post in September. Why not this?

Feel free to leave a comment if you want to discuss this topic further.