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!
A couple of weeks ago I was approached by an author on twitter who asked me if I’d like to participate in an ‘Interview Swap.’ Through the process, I’ve met the whip-smart and extraordinarily creative fantasy author, A. Wrighton. You can see my side of the Q&A on the A. Wrighton blog here.
Thus far, I’ve been able to accommodate any requests for interviews (Love ’em), but I’ve yet to actually interview someone myself. So I said, “Sure!” and started brainstorming a list of questions. I should’ve asked her why she enigmatically goes only by the letter “A”, but, as I said I’m only a novice interviewer. Here’s the Q&A I managed:
Tell us a bit about yourself (bio): I started writing when I was really little, about 5, and at that point I had been telling stories for a few years. (Yes, seriously). I’ve dabbled in every kind of writing you can think of – fan fic, video games, comic books, novels, novellas, short films, web series, feature films, animation, etc. – and love helping and networking with other writers. I’ve lived in or visited almost every state in the U.S. and I was once fluent in Spanish, Latin, and Arabic. I have a B.A. in English/Literature and I took home the highest honors for my M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. I like fruit, coffee, and football and when I am not writing, I am hiking, sleeping, or playing with my family & two pups.
And a quick blurb on your book: World War II with a victorious Third Reich – with dragons and less guns. What? You said quick! It boils down to this: Defiance: Dragonics & Runics Part I is the first in a quartet of epic novels that enlist you in the Resistance movement against a tyrannical dictator who has successfully murdered the entire race of magic-wielding people, the Runics. Following a Prophecy slated to free Solera and return the Realm to greatness, the Rogue Dragonics – Dragon Riders who disobeyed the order to slaughter the Runics – search for The One and the Five Catalysts that will enact the Prophecy and restore freedom and Justice. The Rogues have a breakthrough when they decipher a predecessor’s log and realize one Runic – of untold power – escaped the Council’s grasp. Find her, and the Resistance will be one step closer to the Prophecy’s success. The only problem is – they aren’t the only ones looking for her.
What inspired you to start writing? How old were you? As long as I can remember I was telling stories. My first recorded (on paper in my mother’s garage) was in Kindergarten when I was 5. I think it has 11 words total.
How would you characterize your writing style? I don’t characterize my style. I write in my own voice and what you read, is who I am. I bend the rules but only because I know and respect them. If you are looking for traditional styles – I’m not your author. What other people say ranges from a female Edgar Rice Burroughs to an astute student of Hemingway.
How did you come up with Defiance: Dragonics and Runics? I fell asleep listening to the History Channel. It was either a show about Dragons or Hitler. I honestly don’t remember. I just know that I woke up at around 4 am, grabbed a pen and my notebook and scribbled down (I found it recently): “WW2 with dragons. Don’t &$@! with the dragons. Magic.” After that, I took my love for dragons and history and wove together a story that hopefully serves as a warning to its readers and really calls into question the extent of a person’s humanity in extreme circumstances.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Yes. It’s really easy to say in retrospect that if put into the situation the characters in the Dragonics & Runics series were put into, that you would do the right thing. But then, what exactly is the right thing? Who decides that? Where’s the line? And, if you were actually there – in the war, in the battlesky or in the cities – would you still do what you think you will? There are limits to a person’s humanity and this series really opens that conversation up to the readers.
What books have most influenced your life most? The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway Stardust by Neil Gaiman The Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey The Ancient One by T.A. Barron
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? Tim O’Brien. He’s so brutally honest and his characters are so truthful and raw. He bends rules to wield a better story. I just love everything he writes. It’s pure genius.
What are you reading now? A colleague’s book. Can’t divulge too much now!
What are you working on right now? The second book in the series – ALLEGIANCE: Dragonics & Runics Part II, the young adult paranormal fiction episodic that I host on my website, and then the third episode on the webseries I co-created and write on – Things Left Unsaid.
Do you see writing as a career? Or just a hobby? How else do you fill your time? Career. It’s my calling. Right now, it’s not my day job but it will be. I fill my time with my day job and my family. That, and I sleep every third day or so.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing? Writer’s block, etc. I don’t look at things as challenges but as puzzles. I don’t subscribe to writer’s block so, no go there. What I do find challenging is being an indie author in a not-so-friendly-for-indies book world. That’s changing, but it’s still got a ways to go and that can wear down on the indie author.
Do you plot out your books or just shoot from the hip? Both. I work with a bare bones skeleton and then – if it’s an intricate weaving of plot and subplots (like Dragonics & Runics) then I note card it. Otherwise, I just write.
Who designed your cover? The amazingly talented Anabel Martinez. She’s well known for her video game art and has amazing fans. I saw some work she did of a character for a video game that was kinda slated as a propaganda poster and I was all – HER! I MUST HAVE HER! I think I started my email with that too…
Who did your trailer? I did but with some help. All the trailers feature voice-overs directed by Scott H. and there are three different actors that lent their voices to it: Michael Monks, Kiriza Bajos, and Erin Bennett. They’re amazing. The music I get royalty-free from Kevin MacLeod. He’s wicked talented!
What was the hardest part of writing Defiance: Dragonics and Runics? Figuring out where to “divide” the books (parts) properly so you have a microcosm plot that furthers the series plot and doesn’t cut short the subplots. It’s like knowing where to step on a rickety bridge.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Network and work on your craft. Write, write, write. Edit. Edit. Edit. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. And, don’t take failure as an option. Learn from your criticisms and mistakes and get better. Oh, and get used to not sleeping so you can finish that story burning in your mind’s eye.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? You think you know what will happen and to whom, but you don’t. I didn’t even know on some of them. They surprised me, now I will surprise you.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? My heritage is that of a German Jew on one side. You’re probably going “eesh” right now and you’re right to do so. We don’t have a family tree anymore. They’re just… gone. So, really delving into the Third Reich and Hitler and his powerful oratory skills was a challenge. I can’t make the Chancellor seem flat and I wanted him to be as realistically twisted as Hitler was. But, I hate him. Hitler’s one of the only people I will ever hate. He earned it, if you ask me.The other challenge was keeping everything sorted. Thank god for my OCD organizational skills and making a production bible. It’s often referred to as “My Precious.”
Thoughts on a zombie dragon? Bad. Ass. Can it have an acid fire breath? Oh! And maybe… his wings are mainly bone with just these rotting sloughs of skin and wing membrane. He can eat goat brains!
I’ve officially begun “Click Your Poison #2” and the subject is (drum roll, please)…
A mystery! And I don’t mean, “I’m not telling you, it’s a mystery.” I mean a literal murder mystery novel–a solve-your-own mystery, in fact. Which, I believe, is the first of its kind. I don’t think anyone has ever tried a literary puzzle of this scale, letting you (the reader) attempt to piece together the clues yourself. As part of my preparation, I read “The Elements of Mystery Fiction” by William G. Tapply (which is written more for a novice writer than it is for someone who has studied writing but is new to mystery fiction) and in it he says:
Avoid the second-person point of view… I know of no mystery novel that’s done it successfully–or of any serious writers who’ll admit that they’ve even tried.”
Well, Mr. Tapply, rules are made to be broken. In CYP #2, YOU will have to crack the case or the killer will get away with murder. I’m also sticking with the “3 Unique Storylines” convention that I started with INFECTED, but I can’t promise “50 endings.” I’m going to let them occur organically, like I did with CYP #1. Maybe there will be less, maybe more; we’ll see.
BUT! I’m excited. I know the plot and I’ve buried it under layer upon layer of subterfuge, red-herrings, and what-could’ve-happeneds.
Like onions (and ogres), mysteries have layers.
I know the characters, locale, and major turning points, and now it’s time to jump in and let the possible decision points guide the path of the book. It’ll probably be around 8-10 months before I can publish this book, but I’m too excited not to share. Don’t worry, I’ll post various updates (and samples) in the months to come, so if you haven’t already subscribed now is a great time to do so.
In case you’re not one of my usual readers, I recently self-published a book and I’m looking for ways to promote my work and spread the word. A couple of friends suggested I check out reddit.com and put up a few posts there to try and garner more interest. I’d never used reddit before, but I had heard stories such as the guy who got a screenwriting gig from reddit, so I thought it could be worth a try. After all, my book is a solely electronic experience and reddit is easily one of the largest online communities out there.
It was a fun experiment, but ultimately a failure from a book promotion standpoint as people were far more interested in picking the brain of a former nuclear missile officer than they were in talking about anything I’d written. Still, my blog got 25% of its page views for the year… in one day. So I figured I should give it another try.
My next time around, I decided to post specifically about the book. I posted an announcement in the zombie forum, put my book cover in their pics section, and asked a question in the writing sub-reddit. This is where my troll was lurking.
I asked if my self-published book looked professionally done or if there were any aspects that screamed, “Amateur!” and the answers started trickling in. I won’t give you a link to this post, and (hopefully) you can’t find it, because I’ve since deleted it.
Allow me to explain why.
One commenter praised my blurb, saying it seemed to keep in tone with the book. Another said the cover looked professional, but the fact that I have only five-star reviews on amazon made him suspicious. This latter point is what the troll jumped on. She/he immediately threw out accusations that I’d written all the reviews myself, even going so far as to create multiple reddit accounts to have a conversation with myself online. The troll then submitted their own accusations to the “worst of” reddit under the title “User schannepj submits own post to r/bestof, uses same shell account [“Brian”] to post fake amazon reviews of his book and sell it on r/writing.” Luckily, a moderator quashed this flagrant lie of a post.
In the light of recent sock puppetry scandals, I’d like to take a moment to address my glowing amazon reviews. INFECTED has only been out for two weeks, hardly enough time for the independent reviewers and bloggers I’ve contacted to have a chance to weigh in. As of right now, most of the reviews are written by friends, but of their own volition. I never asked anyone to post five-star reviews. And I certainly never wrote any reviews for myself.
Even after I explained this, the troll did not relent. One of the friends who suggested the reddit campaign even tried coming to my aid:
I’ll self-identify as one of the author’s friends, and FWIW, I’ll vouch that Brian is a very real perosn(SIC) and a very ardent promoter of James’ work. James debuted his book to our group by passing an iPad around a circle with a bottle of Jamison(SIC) in the middle. It’s no surprise that the participants of that drinking game wrote several of the rave reviews you see the very next day.
I’m gritting my teeth and trying to be polite here because, even though you insulted my friend, there are some truthful observations in your comment–even if you misinterpreted the information. You seem concerned with preserving the credibility of self-publishing. What would you have a fledgling author do? Ask his friends NOT to help?
The troll stopped claiming sock puppetry, but did not apologize. Instead, she/he shrugged it off with an, “[It’s] all the same to me because it has the same end result: game the system.”
Okay, so let’s drop the whole troll issue for a moment and discuss the core issue here: Is it wrong for friends to post online reviews without some sort of “I know the author” caveat upfront? Should I have said, “If you know me, please don’t review my book”? I don’t think so, I think I should tell everyone I meet to review the book, but I’d certainly love to hear some other opinions. These are only my *first* reviews and I hope to see many more from people I don’t know, like this one on Goodreads. It’s an interesting scandal-filled world out there, where reviews are of the utmost importance, and self-published authors will do anything to succeed.
I know my integrity’s intact, and I stand by my product. I’ll just be staying off reddit for a while. But the troll did bring up a good point, albeit in a roundabout and vindictive way: I need more reviews.
So… calling all reviewers–anyone care to give me an honest read?
Whether you know it or not, this is the day you’ve been waiting for. This is the day I unveil the latest and greatest in storytelling technology. With INFECTED, the flagship book in the Click Your Poison series.
What is Click Your Poison? It’s the first gamebook series (a book in which YOU are the hero, and your choices directly influence the story’s progress) aimed directly for adults. What series like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Give Yourself Goosebumps, and Fighting Fantasy (UK) pioneered for children’s books in the 1980s & 90s, CYP now does for those fans who’ve grown up but still crave more.
Except now, as an ebook, you simply click your choice and the story flows forward for you. No flipping pages.
The first CYP book, INFECTED, allows you to answer the crucial question of our time–Will YOU survive the zombie apocalypse? Jump into the book right at the outbreak of a global zombie pandemic to learn how you’d fare against the walking dead. With over 50 possible endings and 3 unique storylines, you can pick up INFECTED a few minutes at a time on your smartphone, or dig deep on your tablet or PC… finally, a book with replay value.
I hope you have as much fun reading it as I’ve had writing it. The book’s PR campaign kicks off in the next couple of weeks, so this announcement is a special head’s-up for my blog’s community. Be the first of your friends to “Get INFECTED!”
Yes, this is a piece of zombie fiction. No, it is not related to my impending book. “Corporate Zombie” takes place in a different world, with slightly different rules. Here, zombies may not learn, but they certainly never forget. And yes–that means zombie ninjas are possible.
It’s $1 to buy, or FREE if you’re a Prime member (don’t worry, Amazon still pays me even if you get it for free), so why not check it out?
I’ve been prepping non-stop for the release of my new book, so I figured I could use a little diversion. Somebody posted a link on facebook to I Write Like, a site where you can see what famous writer you compare most to. In their words, “Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.“
For me, I’m sure my style varies project to project, but I decided to give it a whirl for INFECTED, my imminent book. Choosing five different sections, I got four:
To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled open. Some writers specialize in the away-from-home experience — they’ve safaried, eaten across Italy, covered a war. Wallace offered his alive self cutting through our sleepy aquarium — our standard TV, stores, political campaigns.
Writers who can do this, like Salinger and Fitzgerald, forge an unbreakable bond with readers. You didn’t slip into the books looking for story, information, but for a particular experience. The sensation, for a certain number of pages, of being David Foster Wallace.
Of course, it kind of feels like a horoscope reading, where everyone is fated to lead an awesome life. I mean, honestly, who’s going to balk at being compared to a pair of geniuses? Something tells me you won’t ever input your writing and see the result: