3.26.2014

The Art of Repetition

I coach a youth soccer team. The kids are five or six years old, and sometimes they practice great. They stay engaged, they take coaching, they play hard, and they don't fart around out there.

Other times (and, blessedly, this is rare) they don't. They dig in the dirt. They pick flowers. The pick each other up. They karate fight and get stuck repeatedly in the net. 

The field we practice on is next to a small urban farm, where the owners keep pygmy goats. You can imagine my success with running practice on the day they discovered that little nugget of information out.

It all boils down to the good and the bad when it comes to repetition. I listened to a great interview yesterday with Buzz Williams, the new head coach at Virginia Tech. He took a $500,000 cut in pay to go to the ACC because he wanted to test himself against the best. He also talked about how much he loves coaching. Sometimes, he says, the practices are better than the games.

It's so true. Sometimes, you sit down to dinner after a good practice and you just feel energized to have coaxed a nice effort out of the kids. You're happy to help them out, and you're thankful that they care about something enough to show up and work hard at it.

Similar lessons apply to writing. If you sit down every day and try to string words together toward some actual purpose, you're bound to experience the highs and the lows. If you have a bad practice (which is what I consider pre-edited drafting), but you stayed after it--even if it's all going to wind up on the cutting room floor tomorrow--then there's still some real value in that effort. Repetition is the cornerstone of mastery, and mastery is a huge part of identity. You want to call yourself a golfer? Play lots and lots of golf.

You have to write a lot if you want to be a writer.

And then there are those days when the words just pour out of you. On those days, you can only hold the blowtorch and let it go (anybody else out there here this song before? Because it's driving me insane, I tell you...insane). Those are the days that put a little pep in your step.

Sure, the games are exhilarating. They're damned fun. But it's important also to never lose perspective on the process as well...


3.25.2014

The Horror Beyond the Fence

I recently looked at the 1955 documentary Night and Fog for a project that I was working on concerning fascism in the twentieth century. Alain Resnais’s watershed documentary opens with an interesting, terrifying juxtaposition. The first shot frames a beautiful landscape—a lush view of the European countryside—before panning down to a stark fence post strung with barbed wire.

As the narrator paints a haunting picture of the close proximity between life and death—between captivity and freedom that was the hallmark of the Nazi concentration camps—the flesh bunched on the back of my neck.

This was the very essence of horror—a hell on earth just a few inches away, on the other side of a fence.

As Michel Bouquet chronicles the construction of the camps, which took place while millions of men, women, and children went about their daily lives—working, attending school, playing in the park—one experiences a mounting sense of dread. These things happened, and one can’t discount them.

One can’t look away, and one shouldn’t look away. Resnais’s film was instrumental in depicting what happened in the camps, and it remains one of the most important artifacts in cinematic history.

Fiction can have a similar effect. I think one of the reasons that dystopian narratives are so popular in mainstream culture is that audiences demand access to the fictional forms of oppression and suppression that Night and Fog makes so abundantly clear. Fiction is, after all, a safe form of access. It’s a portal on the nightmare—a quick glimpse beyond the veil.

And, in most cases, fiction doesn't tread into territories populated by films like Night and Fog, which documents the atrocities of the Holocaust so thoroughly that I repeatedly cringed through the film’s final third. The simple fact is, the terrible things that man actually does (or did) to his fellow man represent the truest aspect of horror. Those of us who write speculative fiction are merely holding up tiny mirrors, and twisting them at different angles to catch a peek at the monster from the safety of our keyboards.

I wrote The Reset with these principles in mind, though I didn't understand that at the time that I was writing it. That’s the nature of fiction—it means nothing to the author in the course of its gestation, and its meaning is dictated in large part by how audiences receive it. Once it’s out there, it’s up to others to make sense of it.

The Reset is a story of the apocalypse, and the survivors left to pick up the pieces. There’s hope in it, I think. As always, I hope it provides a bit of an entertaining escape…

3.12.2014

Jaguars Rising

Well, shoot. That didn't work out...

I think Blaine is a much better player than he ever showed here, and I feel for him now that Jags fans are piling on. Blaine should only now be preparing to play his second full season. When JDR cut Garrard, the writing was on the wall and it really wasn't fair to put Blaine in that position with such a lackluster roster around him. He had to work with new OCs in each year of his time here, and let's face it--the offensive line just didn't give him much time.

He didn't do media in town, and that hurt him, I think. I wish he would have been more active in the community. 

Even though he's a competitor and a great athlete, he also should have tried to endear himself to the people here. Showing up here and there at charity events or community celebrations would have helped, I think.

I wish him the best in San Francisco. He's going to a coach that can work with quarterbacks, and his role there is clearly defined, so he can just focus on getting better. Good kid and a great athlete, and it's a shame that he walked into such a bad situation here.

Now, I do think we are getting our house in order under our new management. The additions of Beadles and Bryant are good, and I'm glad Blackmon was re-signed. He really played well last year in the secondary.

If either Bridgewater or Clowney is not there for the Jags at #3, I hope we make a deal with Detroit and trade down to #10 (word is they really like Watkins). If we could get #10, #35, and #45 in the first/second, I'd like to see us grab, in order, Dee Ford, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Kelvin Benjamin/Tre Mason. That would put three decent rookies on the field, and then we have a ton of leverage to restock the roster with trench guys. The Jags have an insane amount of picks in this draft, and it will be the watershed moment for the future of both units...  

3.05.2014

Life, On the Other Side


Grab a copy of "Life, On the Other Side" for free over at Amazon. Comments are always appreciated here, or on the Amazon site...

3.04.2014

Moving Toward Equilibrium

I recently paid $1.99 for a digital copy of Stephen King's Doctor Sleep. The offer came to me in a daily newsletter I receive in my inbox that routinely lists books by Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and other mega-watt bestsellers. In many instances, I can get e-books written by these authors for just a buck or two.

Maybe five years ago, this practice was unheard of. Then, the Department of Justice did a little poking around into the lockstep pricing of certain e-books. Phrases like "price fixing" and words like "collusion" became part of the publishing lexicon. The end result of the DOJ's investigation was lower e-book prices. This was where the market was naturally heading with the proliferation of e-readers and the low costs associated with making e-books, but some companies didn't want to see their books selling for a few bucks.

Guess what? Readers (the market) prevailed...

I like to study the markets where you can find my stories, and the more that I study Amazon (the largest volume bookseller by far), the more I see the price of books stabilizing somewhere between $2.99 and $4.99. If you look at any genre top 100 list on Amazon, you'll see traditionally published bestsellers right next to independent authors--in many cases, with both books somewhere inside that price window.

We're seeing the quality of the artwork and packaging improve for independent authors, and it's often hard to distinguish at all between the products (with the notable exception of the established author's name on the front, of course). 

Heck, here's a listing of 300 books (!) that fall within that price range--many of them from well-known traditional publishing houses.

This marks an interesting trend, and one that I think bodes well for the next generation of independent and hybrid authors. I expect that more of the mega-watt bestsellers will experiment with self publishing, and that an entirely new collection of cooperative business practices will emerge between authors and publishers, who still hold a distinct advantage in engineering successful marketing campaigns for a book.

Readers should be excited about these trends. Given the cost of putting together a solid e-book, it stands to reason that they should be able to buy five or six quality books for the price of one traditionally published hardcover...

3.03.2014

50% off of Titles at Smashwords

Between now and March 08, you can take half off of a selected number of my titles over at Smashwords. Just pick a story and use coupon code REW50 at checkout.

As always, thanks for reading!

Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope....