The Martian Theory

While hauling my earthly goods from California to Colorado, I listened to the audiobook version of The Martian by Andy Weir. I was intrigued by the self-published success story, and decided to give it a go. You should too, it’s a fantastic book. Here’s a blurb, paraphrased from the Amazon product description:

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, [astronaut Mark Watney] finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive…. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

My wife and I loved the central character so much, we started saying I was Mark Watney-ing whenever I’d creatively solve a problem around the house. It’s the new MacGyver-ing.

Now then, beyond a simple book recommendation, I have a theory about the book. Very, very minor spoilers follow. As someone who hates spoilers, trust me, you’re fine.

I originally described this book to friends as, “a near-future where we’ve started manned missions to Mars,” but upon further reflection, I’m going to update that stance. It’s not a near-future, it’s an alternate-present. All the technology for these fictional Ares missions currently exists. The only problem is that we haven’t spent billions of dollars on space travel and Mars research.

Here it is, my theory on The Martian: In the story-world, the September 11th attacks never happened. Instead, we spent all of those billions of dollars funding NASA and manned missions to Mars.

Think about it. There’s never a mention of a terrorism. There’s never a mention of 9/11. There’s never a mention of tightened regulations, security, or a slashed NASA budget. The world comes together on a cooperative level with such ease, it fits the political atmosphere of an America that hasn’t been at war for well over a decade.

The Martian takes place in a parallel universe where there is no Global War on Terror.

For those who’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think about my theory, or if you have any theories of your own. Do you think it’s an alternate-present where there was no recession either? And if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t forget to check back in once you do!

On Having a Thick Skin

“Have a thick skin.” If you’re a writer, whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro, you’re probably given this piece of advice dozens of times throughout your creative lifetime. The gist of the sentiment is: “Don’t take criticism too personally.” And while this is a lovely aphorism, it’s also easier said than done.

“Get tough, writer!” Image courtesy derausdo.

To follow the metaphor, having a thick skin makes my professional persona armored like an elephant or a rhinoceros. But here’s the thing–those noble beasts are born thick-skinned, whereas a creative person is nearly always the opposite.

We wouldn’t need a battlecry to “toughen up” if it came naturally. We’re told to desensitize ourselves to criticism because it’s the opposite of our instinctual reaction. When someone judges a writer’s work harshly, this tends to feel like a judgement of the author on a personal level. How can it not? You pour yourself onto the page, whether it be genre writing or memoir, and dedicate months or years to perfecting the product.

Okay, so what inspired this newest bout of self-reflection (and/or pity)? A negative review, of course.

A thoughtful, honest, and thorough skewering of MURDERED appeared on Amazon yesterday in the form of a 3-star review and it’s been eating at me (read the review here). And before you say, “3-stars isn’t negative,” allow me to direct your attention here:

Exhibit A: See the titles? "Most Helpful Critical Review". The defense rests its case.
Exhibit A: See the titles? “Most Helpful Critical Review.” The defense rests its case.

While the reviewer has some lovely things to say about the book and its author (he said in third-person), there’s quite a bit in there that I can only describe as “scathing.”

But I digress. The point of this blog post is for me to expand on how it is that I’m able to have a thick skin. How I “take a licking and keep on ticking.” Sure, I allow myself a moment of self-pity (and by “allow” I mean I accept the fact that I will experience these emotions and resign myself to it). But then I move on. What’s my secret?

My thick skin doesn’t come naturally, it’s formed from callouses.

That is to say, it’s built up as a defense against injury and assault. Each affront, no matter how small, toughens me up. Now, I’m able to look past the surface review and ask myself, “Okay, what did the reviewer really not like?”

The reviewer in my personal example compares MURDERED to a Rubik’s Cube, in a negative way. Their impression is that the book is nothing more than a simple curiosity; fun for a few minutes until the novelty wears off. And yet when I was writing the book, I actually told several friends I felt like I was creating a “literary Rubik’s Cube!” I naturally meant this as a positive–as a challenge. As a game that is fun to pick up and play with from time to time, but actually difficult and time-consuming to solve in full.

Not everyone loves a Rubik’s Cube. Then again, there are whole clubs and competitions formed by those who do. Not everyone will love my books, and some of those people will review them, but there are others who enjoy what I do and I’ll keep writing for that audience. The negative reviews still sting, but with my callouses I’m able to move past them more quickly.

Soon, I’ll be charging forward and there’ll be no stopping me.

James Schannep
9 June 2014

Artwork by Judith Powers, Ragged Edge Studio.

 

INFECTED Promo Results (Day Two)

Continued from Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

January 9th
PhotoFunia-16f3d2b_smallGood morning, again! Today Book Blast is set to go out and, with (fingers’ crossed) the continued buzz from yesterday’s promotion, this should make for an exciting day. I don’t know about you, but I could hardly sleep a wink. Whattdya say we see how much action happened overnight?

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

2686 Downloads as of 0600, January 9th.
2686 Downloads as of 0600, January 9th.
Woo-hoo! Made it into the coveted Top 100.
Woo-hoo! Made it into the coveted Top 100.

Two interesting points of order based on these stats. First, is that I’m still listed in Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure (an old category) as well as Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic (new category). Could this be because my update is still “processing”? I’m not sure. I’ll have to watch carefully as this develops. Second, even though my rank has surpassed the Top 100 free books in the kindle store, I only gave away 450 copies over the course of the entire night. Which leads to…

LESSON LEARNED: Be patient/don’t panic. Within the first two hours of the day, my rank got worse and shot up to #99. If this is a race to #1, that means I’m not doing well… or does it? Amazon’s best seller ranking is elastically flexible and doesn’t necessarily correspond to current downloads. Maybe someone else’s rank simply processed before mine? I could just need some time to catch up. Tough to say. Amazon keeps their ranking algorithm a closely-guarded secret, but it pays to go with the flow. Just keep doing what you know you should be doing, and let the ranking system do its thing.

Here’s a mid-day update, after Book Blast has gone out:

4113 Downloads as of 1400, January 9th.
4113 Downloads as of 1400, January 9th.
Back to "increasing!" Slow and steady wins the race today.
Back to “increasing!” Slow and steady wins the race today.

Interesting to note that the categories are still switching. Could this be a good thing? It’s putting me on several different categories throughout the day (the maximum allowed is two), so I can’t see how it would hurt… Hmm. But the main point is that it’s getting better. From all I’ve heard and read, Book Bub is the behemoth service that’ll push any promotion over the edge. So if I can just keep climbing the charts, no matter how slowly, I should be in for a treat tomorrow.

The snowball is your book promotion. The more people you get to help push it along, the bigger it’ll get until it eventually starts feeding itself.

The afternoon was spent doing more promoting and marketing, of course, which leads to another…

LESSON LEARNED: Set up everything beforehand. I started contacting book sites a month out, but I found a great list of resources I was planning to contact during the promotion. Big mistake. Just going through with everything I’d had planned, to include continued social media marketing, took up all my time. You should have everything ready to go before you promotion starts, so the most work you have to do during the event involves the copy/paste function.

It’s getting late. Let’s do one last look at the stats before bed:

5358 Downloads as of 2200, January 9th.
5358 Downloads as of 2200, January 9th.
Still increasing and -- BONUS -- now it's topping 3 categories!
Still increasing and — BONUS — now it’s topping 3 categories!

It’s getting significantly more difficult for INFECTED to climb the ranks, but at least it still is. And with tomorrow set to be my “anchor day” I’m hopeful. You might also notice 3 more sales of MURDERED in 24 hours. Not exactly the boost I was hoping for, but it’s still early (and I’m thankful for each sale I get). Time to try and sleep and prepare for the exciting conclusion tomorrow…

Continue to INFECTED Promo Results (Day Three) 

A Writer’s Resolution

Image credit: Geoff Whaley

A week into the New Year, I’ve finally decided to write a post pertaining to my goals in 2014. I have personal resolutions for health and happiness, but I’d like to keep this post focused on my goals as an author and as the owner of this blog.

The first, as an author, is a fairly straightforward one: Complete the next book in my Click Your Poison series.

As far as a blogging resolution, I feel a bit hesitant. But… I think I should embrace being a “blogger” — and for me, that’s easier said than done. I have a voice in my head saying, “Why should you shout your opinion at the world? Why should anyone care?”

Well, in order to silence that voice, I pledge to post more often and more honestly about the two things that should draw you to this page: 1) My writing, and 2) My journey from unknown writer to self-published rock star (gotta dream big, right?)

This year, just like this kid, I'm resolving not to lose my sense of humor.
This year, just like this kid, I’m resolving not to lose my sense of humor.

Topic #1 will include include progress updates and samples (hooray, samples!), and will involve the community when and where I can. Maybe I’ll bounce story ideas off you, give polls, or even host contests for naming characters, businesses; that kind of thing. It should be light and fun.

Topic #2 will focus on what I’ve learned in this business from pitfalls and successes. This will primarily be of interest to other writers. In that vein, I’m introducing a new topic: Lessons Learned (to be populated gradually over the year)

Happy New Year and best wishes in 2014!

-JS

Ding-dong, the Witch is Dead

Hey! Amazon deleted that 1-star review written in Dutch!

Haters need not apply

 

It would appear that the 1-star review of INFECTED was deemed invalid by Amazon’s filters, but… Why do you care?

I doubt you do. This post is a blending of narcissistic and cathartic, which I believe comes out to narcotic, and fits the definition of a substance offering a hollow, fleeting happiness that will consume your life if you let it.

But that’s what blogs are for, right? Sharing the good and the bad. Exposing shortcomings.

Like this one: I actually cared about a review written in Dutch that said my book “wasn’t for people with actual zombie experience” (according to google translate), whatever that means. In my dark hours I would see zonder inspiratie flash across my mind and I’d wonder if maybe this was the one guy who had it right. Maybe my writing is uninspired. Maybe he’s the only one with the guts to tell the truth.

The fact that the review was taken down (no, I did not “flag” it or anything of the sort) doesn’t eliminate doubt. Comes with the territory, I guess. But it helps.

I’m in trouble if and when my books ever go wide and–God forbid–thousands of people review it and some small percentage is negative. I realize that will happen, and I’ll be fine. Even if all those negative reviews get to stay up, I’ll know that all the positive reviews are unquestionably valid.

See? That’s what this did. It’s a good thing. Okay, enough narcotic. It’s Halloween! Time for a zombie author to celebrate.

Oh, and if you hear a scratching at your door, you may want to look through the peephole before you open up to give out candy:

    You never know what's lurking out there...
You never know what’s lurking out there…

Opportunity Knocks and I’m Out Partying

Well, damn.

I just got invited to sell my book at “Walker-Stalker Con” in Georgia. It’s a zombie convention where the cast of The Walking Dead will be present to sign autographs.

803904_10152218063905760_1600501820_n

The bad news? I’m a groomsman at a wedding that weekend!

And I got a call from the Ft Hood PX (only the largest US military shopping outlet in the world) asking if I’d do a Halloween signing. Which, if not for the wedding, I could do an epic roadtrip and hit both. Pack the Prius full of books and make it a thing.

Obviously, I want to be part of the wedding (love you Brian & Emily!), I just wish they didn’t conflict. The gods mock us mortal men!

Positive spin: my ‘little book’ is starting to get some big attention. There’s always next time, right? Right?!

 

100k words and counting

I hit 100,000 words on my next Click Your Poison book the other day. I figure as long as I’m celebrating base-10 accomplishments, from 1k to 10k, I think I should toast myself for hitting 100k words on MURDERED. That’s long for a novel (which typically runs 60-90k words), and I’m not even done yet. Chalk it up to the three storyline schtick. Hopefully it’ll result in a more immersing experience for you, the reader. That’s the plan anyway. Now if I could just finish the first draft! Although, I did celebrate this today as well:

 

1K books sold!

1000

July marks over 1000 copies of INFECTED sold in less than 10 months! Since September 17th, roughly 750 ebooks have sold. Since November 13th, roughly 250 paperbacks have sold.

Thanks so much to all my awesome readers who’ve enjoyed the book and shared it with others. None of this would be possible without you! I am ‘eternally’ grateful (zombie pun intended)…

Lyrical Writing

I believe you write how you read, just as you are what you eat. So as a writer, I need to read well (and often). After perusing this great thread of writing advice on reddit, I found a new writer to consume. I couldn’t help but share.

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” — Gary Provost

I’d never heard of this author before, but I’ll definitely be checking him out. If his popular “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing” has any more gems like this, I can’t wait to uncover them.

garyprovost

The Living and the Dead

I was asked by my friend and fellow author, Todd Travis, to write the foreword to his new anthology of short horror/thriller stories. I’m honored to have done so and I think I even managed to say something halfway poignant, so it’s my pleasure to share that foreword with you now:

TLATD FOREWORD
by James Schannep

The short horror story is one of the oldest human traditions. Indeed, one could theorize that we evolved into creatures with language just to be able to tell such tales. Prehistoric man’s first thriller—for which he was rewarded with a warm fire, roast strips of mammoth venison, and ample grunts of approval—was called “The Terror at Black Rock” and told of a brave warrior’s near-death experience with a saber-toothed tiger. You see, these stories and their monsters were real, and by hearing them we could learn to avoid Black Rock, especially alone and after dark. The short horror story kept us alive.

These tales are still important in the modern world; whether it’s still being told around a campfire for the benefit of your fellow hikers or if you’re reading this book in bed, ready to plunge down an emotional rollercoaster before safely drifting off to sleep in the comfort of your own home. But what about the monsters—are they still real?

I’m not telling you that Bigfoot is out there (constantly looking over his shoulder and walking with extra long arm-swings, such as the Alaskan scientists in the story In Season hope to find) but certainly the potential exists. The threat of the unknown is real. There are, without a doubt, things in this world we don’t fully understand that are dangerous, and out to get us.

Recent events have proven that monsters are real. I don’t understand the kind of person who would bomb a marathon any more than I do the kind who would shoot up a school or a movie theater, but I do understand exactly what motivates zombies and werewolves. Ultimately, that’s why we love a good horror story, because all the terrible things that we live with, all the hidden facets of society, become tangible and comprehensible. Whether it’s a simple ghost story or something more complexly metaphysical like in The Living and the Dead, we get to break down and analyze the dangers of evil through the reading of stories. We experience something new and terrifying without needing to go down to Black Rock ourselves.

The true genius in Mr. Travis’s collected shorts is that he manages to do both: delight us with thrilling tales of monsters while showing us that true terror lives in the people and world around us. So sit up, don’t relax, and prepare to be terrified, because if you pay attention—these short horror stories might keep you alive. Just make sure you blame Todd Travis (and not me) if you can’t look at the people around you the same way when you’re done.

Happy reading and sweet dreams.

16 April 2013
Orcutt, California

TLaTLCheck out The Living and the Dead, available now!

For fans of STEPHEN KING and DEAN KOONTZ … author TODD TRAVIS (Creatures of Appetite) has gathered a haunting collection of suspense stories exploring the monsters, both living and dead, roaming our world.

– A brilliant biophysicist on the verge of proving there is no life after death discovers, to his horror, that the dead are determined to stop him …

– An abused small town boy finds a special friend in the woods next to his trailer, but his friend isn’t like other children and cannot leave the woods, not ever …

– A group of determined graduate students seek Bigfoot on a remote Alaskan range seek but discover a monster far more deadly than they ever imagined …

– An elderly store manager, disturbed by a stranger eying the armored truck deliveries to his store, decides to take matters into his own hands …

– A beautiful young woman walks the streets of Manhattan at night seeking men, but for her own dark purposes, because for her, night is for hunting …

– A mysterious little girl somehow “invites” herself along on an abduction, leading her captors to wonder who really is in charge …

Five stories of suspense and terror and a short novel exploring the darkness everyone eventually faces when it’s their time to die, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD is a collection one may want to read with all the lights in the house on …