Read this white guy, not those other white guys.

Don’t Read Neil Gaiman

Lots of people have read, seen, or heard about the article posted earlier this week on xojane by K.T. Bradford. Her challenge to “Stop Reading Straight White Male Cis” has been discussed ad nauseum in and out of writer’s circles.

But I just wasn’t digging K.T.’s label for me. It got me thinking: what should I be? I think I’ve got it, but it’s a bit long for the dust jacket:

WARNING: Gaelish Sarcasticus Phallus Domesticatus

There. I want my handful of fans to know: it’s totally cool to challenge yourself to read my drivel.

Okay, I don’t agree with the outrage in certain circles. Everyone needs to broaden their reading horizons. Get a grip. What I do disagree with is the practice of labeling people at all.

Tribalism is an ugly thing. Go check the comments section on that article. Even Neil’s Twitter feed went to shit briefly when he mentioned the article and noted he wasn’t outraged.

Some will blame white dudes for whining. Others will blame the non-white dudes for hypocrisy. The finger pointing starts, the trolls begin to breed, and pretty soon nobody gives a hoot about that well-intentioned article with the click-bait title.

What everyone seems to be missing is that while you’re all hurling insults and upvotes, there’s really only one problem: Neil Gaiman.

Wait! Why is everyone picking on Neil? WE LOVE NEIL!

Neil Gaiman may be a poster child for social activism. He may be a champion for diversity and an unapologetic feminist. His writing may be critically acclaimed, popularly lauded, and just plain AWESOME. But he’s also the poster child for an industry.

The very same industry that has been selling the white-washed view of the world. The very industry that is reluctant to take risks with alternative stories and authors.

As an unabashed fanboy, I’ll be the first to say that Neil deserves every bit of success he’s received. But my point is, the problem isn’t with an entire class of people Neil happens to belong to. This problem isn’t solved or even made remotely better by “not reading straight white males cis for a year”.

I was repeatedly reminded how my whiter-than-the-driven-snow book, Crimson Son, wasn’t “marketable”. Told how boys in the target audience “didn’t read”. Too “niche”. An unclear audience (i.e. not straight up YA.) There was a certain thing the traditional publishers wanted to push, and my odd little book wasn’t quite it.

And here’s the deal – a lot of fiction that has even a subtle focus on gender identity, or sexuality, or even minorities will hear some of the same damn things. Over and over and over.

Publishers that big are about money. They want the broadest audience with the fattest wallets and a story engineered to as close a commercial sure-thing as they can get. They find guys like Neil Gaiman and print money around them. He writes stuff that resonates with lots of people, not the ever smaller groups we keep trying to fracture ourselves into, and people eat it up.

And you know what? I’m fine with that. I’ll gladly take my quirky shit elsewhere and pray people find me in the endless sea of words. The digital revolution has unleashed the floodgates for better and worse. Gate keepers, perception managers, be damned.

Does that mean I don’t think the entertainment industry needs a big ‘ol kick in the ass? Hell no. In our books, our movies, our comics, audiences are demanding to see a world that looks more like them. We’re waking up to the reality. It’s slow and painful and at times, it requires these labels to get the point across, but we’re getting there.

Does this mean I think people who aren’t “Straight White Male Cis” can’t write things that resonate with broader groups? Hell to the double no. They can absolutely trump in human experience what most white guys in America have to say. But too often, like with the article in question, their platform becomes about their label and not about their words. Their appearance and not deed. Their voice gets lost under all this chest beating and posturing as the tribes go to war.

We’re all human. All individuals. That’s all you really need to know. Tell me an amazing story about you. Find some way to get it to me – the big machine or the tiny one. I hope I find it and good luck to anyone, no matter their label, foolish enough to try this writing thing. We all have voices that need to be heard.

Not Exactly Common

51sJ2ySPoqL._SL250_I wanted to vlog today but the weather happened. From sixty degrees to freezing in a matter of days, we’ve got an official snow day here in North Texas. Well, “inclement weather” day. Snow is uncommon. A thing of myth and legend.

How might weather stop me from Vlogging you ask?

There are people here.

Like, people all up in my space. True, I own a house that in other parts of the world would probably fit multiple families comfortably (This is Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas except housing costs). But the fact remains: I have a live studio audience.

Yes, I vlogged before and then uploaded myself to be viewed by the masses without any sort of problem. I am aware that this makes no sense.

So instead, let me draw your attention to the latest self-pub novel I’ve had the pleasure to read: The Commons by Michael Alan Peck.

The Commons is difficult to categorize. On Amazon it is classified as Urban Fantasy and even YA. Mr. Peck’s reasoning behind the choices is sound, but The Commons is so much more. The Matrix as written by Dante might give the reader a starting point. There are no cantos – the writing is smooth and prose fluid – but that classic idea of a journey through the afterlife forms the centerpiece of Peck’s work.

Regardless what it may or may not be, this is a five star book.

Paul, a troubled young man who has drifted between street life and foster homes, is struggling to find his way. He’s found a refuge in the “New Beginnings” group home but he can’t quite let go of his past. He has unfinished business with his lost family and when he sets out on his journey, he has no idea exactly how far he’ll need to go to find them.

His search takes him to a place somewhere between life and death. An Orphean descent into an underworld littered with rest stops, diners, and mythical beings. A place where reality conforms to the personal experiences of the traveller but, in truth, is endangered by a voracious evil that seeks even greater control.

The Commons is another work of fiction that sets a bar self-publishers should strive to reach. And despite that, I can see exactly why this book might have been out of place in the traditional publishing world.

The story starts off quietly enough that you get the feeling this is not the work of genre fiction it claims to be. We meet interesting, detailed characters long before we know exactly what mystical elements may be at play. As events unfold, we aren’t given a road map. The reader is allowed to puzzle these things out on their own. By the end, we reach an almost cliche moment, but any doubt is dispelled by the expert setup which tells us this is not, in fact, your typical ending. It is another stop along the journey.

Peck allows himself to explore real characters inside the genre trappings. Strongest are a wounded combat vet, Annie, and her profoundly autistic son, Zach. At first on the edges of Paul’s journey and then inextricably intertwined, these characters undergo a full transformation of their own. They are given depth through close POV sections which several other characters benefit from as well. The only complaint may be the lack of development in some of the other supporting cast, but in the end, there is only so much space.

Of them all, Zach’s passages shine. Each time we drop into the autistic child’s view, Peck shows the reader how this disorder provides him both weakness and strength. His arc exemplifies triumph in the face of adversity and never once do you feel Peck is lecturing or resorting to shortcuts to depict his disability. Whether or not he has close personal experience with autistic children, Peck provides the necessary illusion that he does and by the time Zach is at his pivotal moment you will be on the edge of your literary seat over the boy’s fate.

Despite the fluid and expert prose, toward the end, there were changes in style which weren’t exactly welcome. However, readers will likely find themselves so engrossed in the story that they make little difference.

Most likely “unmarketable” by traditional standards, this unique blend of genre and style provides a refreshing reading experience amid the young adult landscape of dystopias and vampires.  Even classifying it as young adult is misleading as the book delves into a depth of theme with a fullness of prose you don’t typically find. Regardless the murky shelving, The Commons is a work of urban fantasy that deserves to be heard.

Check Out My New Geeky Gig!

cropped-logo-geekdadWhile it’s been a quiet week here at the blog, I’ve been scheming behind the scenes. The great folks over at GeekDad broke down and decided to give me a gig. Go check out my first post, Tomb of Horrors: Hangover Edition, and be sure to add the site to your list of daily doses of unadulterated geekery.

I’ve also been cranking out short stories for my as of yet unnamed Crimson Son universe anthology due out in June. I think one more solid tale and I’ll be ready to torture my editor with the results. I plan to do a bit more on my own this time on the formatting end, so we’ll see how all that goes.

What this new gig means for the blog is I’ll keep aiming for a post twice a week and my Geekery articles will end up split between here and GeekDad. I plan to focus on gaming, but their broader platform includes all aspects of geekness, parenting and even geek parenting (a hobby of mine).

I’ll keep this short today so you can head over and check out the article, and share it, and leave comments, and bookmark, and all that cool stuff that you know I’d do for you ’cause I’m such an awesome guy. (Oh, and yes, I created the epic header image…)

SEO ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! Keyword “Geek” density at neutron star levels…

Dealing with Rejection through Physical Violence

Assault and Battery, Kidnapping, Breaking and Entering - whatever it takes. (This is the off-camera poster mentioned in the video...)

Assault and Battery, Kidnapping, Breaking and Entering – whatever it takes. (This is the off-camera poster mentioned in the video…)

How many writers can say they got the chance to enter a cage match with an editor? An editor that has rejected one of your precious stories in the past? An open invitation to kick and pummel them mercilessly before a crowd of other writers chanting for blood?

I did exactly that.

On Valentine’s Day.

Well, maybe the cage was a row of chairs in an awkward alcove off the artshow room. And maybe I refused to hit him all that hard. (I get enough rejection letters that I need to keep my options open.)

ConDFW XIV was great fun and the Literary UFC panel was a hit (rimshot please). We had representatives of several martial arts showing off their skills in front of one the larger audiences of the weekend.

Tai Chi stood serenely at the center while Bartitsu strangled his colleague with his own scarf. Krav Maga bounced up and down like she’d been shotgunning Red Bull and kept talking about ripping off fingers and sending the family jewels back to the pressurized cracks of the earth that formed them. Meanwhile, the Tae Kwon Do guys traded elbows to the face and roundhouse kicks to the head. Every so often we’d try to interject how the hell all this violence related to writing.

This was my first time as a panelist at a con. I kept getting this odd feeling of wanting to be…responsible or something. It was disconcerting to treat the little shoulder angel to some prime time. His pitchfork wielding half must’ve been off in the gaming room jinxing dice.

Because of this, I did not assault Adrian Simmons of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. I even checked my swing at the the slow pitch on a naming panel when Tex told an audience member “she’s got the double D’s” (context is everything and my brain is often outside of that.) I even inquired of the audience at my reading if anyone was offended by foul language.

Who the fuck was that guy?

Luckily, there was no video of the literary smackdown, but I did manage to get a recording of the epic reading with Tex. My son filmed everything and then I mangled his efforts. He may have a sick day after my next con, child labor laws be damned.

Enjoy!

brian_williams

The Murky Corners of My Mind

Most people didn’t know that aside from barely escaping a hot LZ while being pursued by the Predator with Arnie screaming “get to tha choppa!” in the background, Brian Williams was also a thug with some serious street cred. Cred he developed in his early days spittin’ against the masters on the streets of Oakland.

I feel for Brian Williams. I do.

My memory is a pretty damn odd place. (Remind me to mention the con later…)

When I’m engaged with a project, I’m hyper-focused. On a job where observation is key? I can rattle off details I probably shouldn’t of things I did long ago. RPGs? I used to be walking index for the PHB. School? I’d study my notes before a test and develop a near photographic feel for where everything was on the page.

I get absorbed into projects and once that happens, everything outside what I’m working on gets pushed to the murky fringes. Then, several months or years later, I latch on to something new and repeat the process. My brain is never comfortable standing still or hoarding knowledge in one particular place for very long.

For things like passing interests and trivia, I retain this bizarre, eclectic, collection of nonsense. Even details about stuff I was present for, things I think I should recall, my wife has to remind me of (shhhhhhh! Don’t tell her…) because my attention is often split at the time with whatever that “big project” is.

Scheduling and minutiae are my bane. Unless I had a job where that was the one, single thing I did. In that case, I’d probably be a walking calendar, Rain Man style.

Thoughts outside wherever my core processor is dedicated at the time often work like my fiction – intuitive, fragmented. All that stuff is up there and by some miracle, it makes itself available when I need it, though not always in the original form.

For example – I recently “misremembered” a piece of my own writing. To the point where I need to make a few adjustments to Fat Man and Little Boy which I published on the site not long ago. A minor continuity error which causes major problems with the history of a world I created. A world I’ve been away from for a year while my brain centered on my latest fantasy venture, First Song.

The only saving grace is, in the context, I don’t feel bad making it a revisionist history. This was exactly what led to the initial mistake in the fictional world anyway. Life imitates art. But now that I’ve brought forth this fictional world and all these characters from those murky depths, I have to figure out a way to be more careful with continuity. Pure intuition won’t cut it.

Was Brian Williams making shit up to sound like a journalistic bad ass? I don’t know, but I doubt it. I have no clue how his brain perceives the world and what he’s got at instant recall at any given moment. I just know he gets paid to talk all the time. If I did that, I’d say dumb shit repeatedly (speaking of which, come see my panels at the Con, it should be entertaining…) I write. If I mess it up, I have time to re-draft, re-word, re-everything.

Yeah, there’s the argument that journalism should be his one hyper-focus. That he should recall every detail with perfect clarity.

I don’t know. Brains are weird things. I’ve got an autistic nephew that’s a wonderful kid who constantly reminds me of the full-on mystery of how we perceive the world around us. My own son has issues with dyspraxia that affect his processing of external stimulus. Any law enforcement officer or defense attorney will tell you that eyewitness testimony, while compelling, is hardly reliable or accurate and is often in conflict with other eyewitnesses.

The world’s a crazy place and we’re just the filters. Some of us have filters that are predisposed to create and re-imagine. Some are just describing our actual experience and it is so alien, people think it must be imagined. Whatever the case, I’m glad you’re here to check on the mess my filter is outputting.

Oh, thanks for the reminder – one more plug for ConDFW THIS WEEKEND! I’ve updated the schedule (on the right sidebar) to show all the times and locations for my panels (straight from my own Google Reminder Calendar…)

Russ Vlogs: Kindle Life Hacks

Well, I kept threatening to do this and here it is. A vlog post.

Thanks also to everyone that stopped by to check out my response to the elementary school battling the servants of Sauron. So far, no word from the school and I’ve been keeping an eye on the news to hear about the prayer circle or bomb squad response called in to deal with the Ring of Power which I sent them. We’ll see.

Enjoy the Vlog. The quality isn’t that exceptional (my son, the kid that made this, is in school), but hopefully it gets the point across.

I grew up with paper books and was skeptical of eBooks to start. But the more I both use my Kindle and publish things to it, the less of a future I see for the old pulp and ship method.

Yeah, all the pre-press stuff for creating a book remains mostly unchanged. But when you can click a button and make your book available to millions of people who in turn can simply click a button to read that book, there is no turning back. Compared to the deforestation, pulping, shipping paper, printing, shipping the final product and quite possibly shipping that again (’cause people order more paper books online than they buy from a brick and mortar at this point) – ONE MOUSE CLICK RULES THEM ALL.

It just does.

End of story.

An Eye on the Gates of Mordor, Texas

war_on_idiocy

I wasn’t kidding…

Lots of great news today for fans of Crimson Son and for the forces arrayed against Sauron’s bid to take over Texas schools. The tides have begun to turn. We have risen up with great cries of YOU SHALL NOT….wait a minute. Okay, so we need a different battle cry, but whatever it is, we’re shouting it loud and clear.

I’m humbled by the traffic given to my call to action buried in a whole heap of scathing sarcasm. So far, the article has been shared with thousands of people through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. But that’s not the exciting part.

Somebody else relinquished their precious.

On further reflection, I’m not sure exactly how many we have left. Three were rumored to have been destroyed by dragon fire. We all watched Gollum ride the One Ring into a fiery oblivion at our local theaters. Minus mine, the little terrorist’s and our anonymous benefactor, that makes sixteen? You know, forget the Tolkien math – LET’S SEND AS MANY AS WE CAN!

Other ways you can help? How about attending a sci-fi convention deep in the bowels of Mordor, err, Texas? That ought to be a thumb in the eye of the war on imagination. Or just shameless promotion on my part. You make the call.

Yep, I got my schedule for ConDFW! Take a look at the sidebar for details. I’m going to be on four panels and moderating a fifth over the Valentine weekend (ummm, sorry babe…) One of these, the Comic Book Quiz Show, might be changing but the rest look pretty solid.

On Saturday, I’ll be on the Literary Ultimate Fighting Championship panel along with several other literary martial artists. (If you’ve read the bio, you’ll see I’ve got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.) An eclectic mix of other disciplines will be represented from Bartitsu, a Victorian east / west fusion, to Tae Chi. Immediately afterward, I’ll wipe off the sweat and head to the gaming room to moderate The Fate of Table Top Gaming about the upsurge in interest for board games. To cap the day off, myself and the incomparable Tex Thompson will share a stage for our readings – I can’t imagine this will be anything less than awesome.

Sunday, I’ve got two panels flanking my signing in the dealer’s room. First up is E-Zines versus Magazines. Frankly, I’m becoming a die-hard eBook convert so this ought to be interesting. After the signing (bring your copies of Crimson Son or buy one on site!) I’ll once again be in a room with Tex and other notable authors to discuss Do’s and Don’ts of Character Naming.

But enough about me, this Con is going to be amazing. They’ve got everything lined up from cosplay to  live demos of Artemis. Its a geek-literary reactor at critical mass and I hope to see all of you there! In the meantime, keep dishing out the geekery, oh, and keep an eye on those Gates of Mordor somewhere in West Texas.

One more thing about long-sealed gates: SFWA recently announced they’ll include ways for self-published authors to earn membership in their organization. They don’t have the exact details posted yet, but from the preliminary data, Crimson Son has a great start on meeting that goal. If you loved the book, please let others know! I’d sort of given up on the trad pub scene and the formal organizations – being Han Solo is just fine by me. On the other hand, there’s nothing I like more than achieving goals through unconventional means and while SFWA has had a rocky road as of late, they do represent a ton of writers whom I greatly admire and respect. Being one of the first of the unwashed masses to clamber through those gates would be a nice way to end 2015.

Thanks for reading!

41SWqbF25DL._SL250_

Texas School Rightly Fears Corruption of the One Ring

41SWqbF25DL._SL250_Texas has made further steps to criminalize the use of the most dreaded power in the universe – your imagination.

Imaginations are dangerous things. The overuse of this faculty could lead us to believe that global temperatures are “warming”. It might even allow us to imagine such preposterous things as giant lizards roaming the earth for millions of years before the republic of Texas was founded.

Fortunately, schools have long since made pointing your finger at other kids while playing cops and robbers a suspendable offense. Now they’ve upped the ante and turned their attention to those among us wielding magical rings of power.

Think about it –  a room full of invisible tweens. What horrors could be unleashed upon the world?

Of course the child who started it all has a troubled past clearly showing his allegiance to Sauron. He audaciously called a child “black” and brought a “science” book to class which, please brace yourself – I must really apologize in advance for the crude nature of this revelation – had a picture of a pregnant woman.

As all true Texans (and Benedict Cumberbatch) know, he should have used the more proper term “Colored Person” – a failure on the part of his parents, no doubt. As for the abomination of depicting a pregnancy, he needs to have the correct format explained to him – ALL photos of pregnancy have to be taken inside the womb and include approved anti-abortion slogans. These types of photos are fine for display at church, home, and prominently on billboards throughout our communities.

To date, Anti-Imagination policies have proven to be extremely effective in limiting our children’s dangerous, creative tendencies. All kids need to understand that school is for multiple choice practice where we select answers from a carefully controlled and pre-determined set of responses – not for glorification of the horrifying abominations of hobbits and “mommies”.

In Texas alone, we’ve saved dozens of kids from serious carpal tunnel issues which could be caused by pointing your finger and flexing your thumb, like a gun. With the new extension of our Anti-Imagination crusade to Rings of Power, there is no telling how many children will be spared gollum-like transformations.

No child should ever feel threatened by bullets composed of air or ancient sorceries forged in the fires of Mount Doom. Doing so would be tantamount to leaving them behind.

To reinforce the reality of their lives, we’ve vigorously adopted and proposed legislation that lets our teachers not only carry real firearms (which are much easier on the metacarpo-phalangeal and carpo-metacarpo joints) but will also allow them to shoot these little budding Servants of Sauron with little to no repercussions.

We may just yet win this war against the evils of imagination. One bullet at a time.

However, ammunition costs money. And sending teachers on sabbatical to quest for rings of power so they might toss them into the Cracks of Doom would be expensive and cumbersome. As you may or may not be aware, Texas schools are woefully short of Samwises and are mostly in the habit of cranking out one Saruman after another. The ring bearers would be bound for failure and thus our hard-earned tax dollars would be wasted.

But I propose a solution.

If you are in possession of a Ring of Power, I would request that you please send it to the following address for proper disposal: Kermit Elementary School, TEXAS, 1700 KERMIT ST, KERMIT, TX 79745-5230 United States 

If you are in need of a message, might I suggest the following:

Administrators, Dolores Umbridge, et. al,

I am sending you my Ring of Power for proper disposal. Please know I will be with you all the way to the Cracks of Doom.

Your Friend, Sam

**All sarcasm aside (this is a personal feat…), I did actually send Kermit Elementary the replica ring listed in the link above. I believe it was $16 with shipping, money well-spent. Also, full disclosure, that link and all of my links go through my Amazon Affiliate account whose tiny percentages help me keep writing words and things.**

I Am Not Writing About Writing

Okay, I am. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I am. I’ll lead with some news to fool myself…

I woke up to a couple interesting emails in my inbox. The first was from the staff at ConDFW. They’ve got the schedule put together so I know when I’ll be able to sneak off to the gaming room and when I need to sign, read, and chat with the fans. (A few things are still up in the air but as soon as I have the finalized details, I’ll post ‘em.)

If you’re in the DFW area, I highly recommend this local sci/fi con. For starters, I’ll be there. Also, a whole bunch of other local spec-fic writers, some you might not have heard of yet but you should definitely be reading.

Discovering new books is exciting. The NYT bestseller lists bore me to tears lately. Sure, any writer would love to sit atop that throne, but there’s something to be said for the originality of work that hasn’t been engineered and edited to strike some statistically perfect audience at the optimum time. Mid-lists, self-pub, small presses – these are places where crazy original ideas can thrive and niche works don’t get pulped before their time.

But discovery is the hardest part. Cranking out the next in a long line of teen-vampire-dystopian-chosen one books sometimes feels like the best option when you’re struggling to be heard. However, you can make a niche book work, you only need to be realistic about the costs involved and know how to reach that target market.

Speaking of which, the other email was from a writer’s discussion group I visit from time to time. There was a new post from a fresh-faced poet looking to self-publish her first book of poetry.

Poetry is one of those few cases where I would tell the potential self-pubber to shoestring budget that stuff. Like a dental floss budget if you can and still make it look presentable. Or combine it with solid artwork or photography to add another point of interest. Anything. ‘Cause poetry doesn’t sell.

The bestseller lists for poetry at Amazon are still littered with the work of hairy old white dudes that died over a hundred years ago. The majority of the rest are anthologies, not single author works, and those single author works that show up at all tend to be from a very exclusive group.

I’m not trying to dis poetry, the American public does that enough for me and they seriously won’t buy your book.

When you self-pub, you’re essentially going into business for yourself. You need to center your business around a product that stands a snowball’s chance of surviving an overcrowded hell. If you want to be a poet you need to either scrap for the few trad pub opportunities or find unique ways to market your words and get the most bang for your buck – maybe consider the backs of paper cups at Chipotle.  Anything, but don’t bank on that self-pubbed book of poetry being the profit on your balance sheet.

True, I just said that self-publishing is an amazing opportunity to get work out there which people might not otherwise see. But it can also be a trap for starry-eyed writers who feel that they are going to change the world with their words. Most likely you won’t.  What you will discover is how badly you want to make this writing gig happen for yourself.