Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How I Handle Reviews of My Stuff

While I have an agent now—with whom I am quite happy—I presently remain an indie author. Among other things, this means the vast majority of readers out there have absolutely no idea who I am. This translates into brand new reviews of by debut novel, Progeny, coming out now, two years past the book’s publication date.

The latest one from Indigo Quill is a good one. Here’s a snippet:

“Progeny is one of those books you see made into a movie. It's a story that captures the reader and doesn't let them go, not even at the final page. If you enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia or the works of Paolini then you will most definitely enjoy Progeny.

I loved this book. I loved the magic, the drama, the characters, the twists and the mystery. It has all of those elements in one. Usually when I start a book I have to keep telling myself, "just get through the first few chapters, they always get better after that." Not here. I loved that you hit the ground running on the very first page.”

Authors, of course, love getting reviews like these. Yet as I read this one, it reminded me of an exchange I once had with another author. A genuinely nice guy and very talented (and successful) author, he told me that he never reads any reviews of his work. His reasoning was sound—not wanting to get too high or too low on himself—but I left the conversation wondering if he was not missing a big part of the creative process.

Let me see if I can explain.

I read every review of my work that comes in, good or bad. The good ones—here’s a big surprise—brighten my day and bring a smile to my face. Everyone like to be appreciated for something into which they have put so much effort. Want proof? Next Thanksgiving, after your mom/dad/husband/wife spends two days cooking prior to the big meal, offer them a grateful “Awesome job, mom/dad/dear!” Then, sit back and watch them beam.

People crave validation for a job well done. Anyone who says they don’t is lying.

There is a flip side, of course. Anything that might garner praise is also fair game for criticism, which is not something everyone can take.

First off, let me say this: I have no tolerance for mean-spirited critiques. We all know someone in our life who is overly critical of everything, constantly pointing out flaws in everything and everyone. In my opinion, this says more about the person themselves than the target of their ire.

However, in my experience, most people who offer criticism do so in the spirit of being helpful.
Honest critique can be incredibly useful, even if it stings. Sort of like a vaccination shot: it hurts for a little bit, but it makes you better in the end.

Question: if every Thanksgiving, your mother/father/ husband/wife consistently undercooked the au gratin potatoes, would you point that out? Granted, this is a family member, so a certain amount of tact is required. But if you hold your tongue, you are doing a disservice to them...and you will be eating crunchy potatoes with melted cheese every November. They—hopefully—take pride in the meal they prepare and want to do it right. They might even thank you for your criticism.

I believe creative sorts—authors, artists, chefs, whatever—should never dwell on any review, be it good or bad.

Personally, when a good review comes in for one of my books, I read it, pat myself on the back (just a little bit), and then I move on.   

When a bad one comes in, I see if I can learn anything from it. If so, great. I incorporate the feedback and I move on. If not, I shrug my shoulders and—guess what?—I move on.

In other words, I don’t get too high on myself, and I don’t get too low, which, if you recall, is the same reason that other author never reads any reviews.

Is my way better? Don’t know. But it’s my way and it works for me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Origins 2013 Schedule

As I mentioned in my post yesterday—HEROES! Anthology Information—I’ll be attending Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH from June 12-16. The theme of this year’s convention is “Superheroes” and, no, I will not be dressed in any sort of superhero outfit. My nine-year-old son, however, may show up one day in his Ironman costume.

This will be my third year participating in The Library program at Origins. The Library is a section of the floor dedicated to authors of all sorts, but mostly those in the speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi) arena. People can come in, chat with the authors, get books signed, sit down in a chair because their feet are tired. Whatever.

The attending author list seems to grow every year, both in number and luminosity. This year’s group:

Patrick Rothfuss
Michael A. Stackpole
Timothy Zahn
Aaron Allston
Bradley P. Beaulieu
Maxwell Alexander Drake
Aaron Rosenberg
Jaym Gates
Jennifer Brozek
Donald Bingle
Bryan Young
Sarah Hans
Janine Spendlove
Tracy Chowdery
Sheryl Nantus
Pat Tomlinson
Kelly Swails
Addie J. King
Dylan Birtolo
Gregory Wilson
Steven Saus
Daniel Myers

Beyond The Library, panels comprised of these same authors run—all day, every day, on the hour—in two of the convention hall’s rooms. The topics run the gamut. Some are serious, others are a bit more tongue-in-cheek, but they all loosely tie back to writing.

A couple example titles from this year’s tract:

Crafting the Love Scene
Principles of Medieval Cooking
Schrödinger’s Plot
Sexism: How much is too much?
Good Guys Wear Black Hats

Some of them can be quite intimate with only 10-20 attendees in the audience.

This year, my schedule is as follows:

11:00 AM:  Military Tactics with Janine Spendlove, Dylan Birtolo, R. T. Kaelin, Don Bingle
Military science fiction writers aren't the only ones who need to know the ins and outs of the military. Our panelists will help you brush up on the basics and tell you how much detail you need.

6-8 PM: Group Reading with Steve Saus, Janine Spendlove, Bryan Young, R.T. Kaelin
I’m not sure what I’m going to read. Probably a short story excerpt or two.

11:00 AM: The myth of Writer's Block with Pat Tomlinson, R.T. Kaelin, Don Bingle, Addie J. King, Bryan Young
Have you faced a malevolent force that prevents you from finishing your manuscript? How can you defeat the dark power that keeps your fingers motionless on the keyboard and your brain in neutral? Our panelists have battled this dreaded demon, and they’ll teach you how to best it.

11:00 AM: Writing the Trilogy with Timothy Zahn, Brad Beaulieu, Pat Rothfuss, RT Kaelin, Sheryl Nantus
Is there more to your story than can fit into one book? Or is it the other way around—do you have too much material for your tale and need to cut a few hundred pages? Our panelists will tackle trilogies and open-ended series, including how to approach writing the multi-part saga and how to market it.

12:00 PM: A Rose By Any Other Name with Dylan Birtolo, Aaron Rosenberg, RT Kaelin, Tracy Chowdery, Mike Stackpole

Sure, it might smell as sweet, but what about a book title? You better have something with punch so the reader will pluck it off the shelf. A title with zing can entice an editor or slush reader to give your story a look, too. A good name can also make your heroes and villains memorable and help define their character. We discuss the fine are of naming.

3:00 PM: Self-publishing by Bryan Young, RT Kaelin

A checklist of the hundred odd tasks you’ll have to do yourself if you don’t have a publisher doing it for you. And how much it could all cost.

As of now, that’s it. More than likely, I might sit in on a couple panels here and there if the other authors do not mind. I have my eye on a couple topics on Friday afternoon and some on Sunday.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HEROES! Anthology Information

In a couple weeks, I will be at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH (June 12-16, 2013), the theme of which is “Superheroes.”

The author list at The Library this year is an impressive one:

Patrick Rothfuss (Yup. Him.)
Michael Stackpole
Timothy Zahn
Aaron Allston
Bradley P. Beaulieu
Maxwell Alexander Drake

I’ll do a post tomorrow detailing The Library, the full list of authors you can meet, and my panel schedule.

This post is to share a bit about this year’s Origins anthology titled HEROES!

Edited by Kelly Swails and with cover art is by Ed Beard Jr., HEROES! has original stories from XX authors, many of whom will be at Origins. This is a limited edition anthology (only 400 will be printed!) and will retail at the convention for $10. If you’re going to be at Origins, pick one up, bring it by The Library, and each author will sign their story in it.

First, the cover:

 The Gamer God

I have titled this painting "The Gamer God" as you may note there are many hidden and subtle game elements alongside the more obvious mighty D20 hammer!!

I will have limited editions large prints of this available at Origins at my corner booth in the exhibit hall art show area. I will also be please to autograph the cover with my art if one so desires.

Next, the table of contents:

Green Room
Aaron Allston
Hero’s Final Walk
Timothy Zahn
The Raven
Maxwell Alexander Drake
He Was A Marvelous Man
Janine K. Spendlove
A Blank Canvas
Patrick S. Thomlinson
Waking Up
Dylan Birtolo
Fellow Traveler
Donald J. Bingle
By the Seat of Your Pants
Sheryl Nantus
Sarah Hans
Blue Boy
Daniel Myers
Bradley P. Beaulieu
Memories Like Crystal Shards
Jennifer Brozek
The Caretaker of Mire
Gregory A. Wilson
The Commodore
Bryan Young
Sunny Acres Home of the
Specialized Care of the Elderly
Addie J. King
A Fixed State
Aaron Rosenberg
R. T. Kaelin
By Blood and Fang and Song,
We Call You
Jaym Gates
Steven Saus
Cheshire Moon
Tracy Chowdhury
The One Where the Dad Dies
Kelly Swails
Field Trip
Michael A. Stackpole

And finally, a bit about my contribution to this anthology.

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek sort of story, “Interview” introduces us to young, wholly unglamorous Alex Butterworth (yes, there are syrup jokes). Currently working at the local Save-n-Shop where he bags groceries, Alex responds to an advertised job posting that he thinks is to be an assistant for the city’s greatest superhero: Lawman. The interview does not go as planned.

I had a lot of fun writing this short. Most of you know me as an epic fantasy author, so it was refreshing to break out of the genre and do something entirely different. In fact, I had so much fun writing Alex, that when approached by a someone (I can’t say who) to contribute a story to another anthology (I can’t say what), I continued the adventures of Alex.

So, without further ado, here’s a quick excerpt from the 4900 word short, “Interview”:

As Alex glanced about the crowded lobby, a tiny sigh slipped from his lips. There were way too many people here, all of whom were obviously more qualified than him. None more so than the young Adonis sitting in the chair across from him.
Six-foot, four inches, lean, muscular, and ridiculously good-looking. The only thing more chiseled than his arms and chest was his jaw. His hair was the color of autumn wheat and perfectly coifed atop his head. His eyes were bluer than the waters of the Caribbean. His suit probably cost more than Alex made in six months at the Save-n-Shop.
Adonis—it seemed as fitting a nickname as any—glanced up from his leather briefing folder, his stupid, perfect blue eyes fixing on Alex. “Can I help you?”
Alex gave a quick shake of his head. “Ah, no…I…” He paused, searching for a reason to explain his apparent infatuation. Looking to the leather case in Adonis’ lap, he said, “I was admiring your portfolio.”
The man glanced down to his lap before looking back to Alex. “Thank you. It’s a Pianki.”
“It’s very nice.”
“I know,” said the man, cocking an eyebrow. “It’s a Pianki.”
“Oh, a Pianki,” said Alex. “I thought you said…” He trailed off, unable to think of something that sort of sounded like Pianki, whatever the hell a Pianki was. After a few moments, Alex held up his dog-eared case. “Goodwill. Twelve bucks.”
Adonis’ gaze shifted to the worn, discolored leather case. With more sarcasm than Alex thought possible to stuff into a single word, the man said, “Stunning.” He dropped his gaze to his Pianki, and continued reading whatever the hell he had been before.
Alex sighed. Shaking his head, he muttered to himself, “Why am I here?”
This entire endeavor was a lark. He had been packing bags at the Save-n-Shop when an elderly gentleman bought, but forgot to take, yesterday’s copy of Metro News. Since Alex’s shift was almost over and his TV was on the fritz at home, he grabbed the paper and took it with him. He was not much of a reader—discounting the back of cereal boxes—but paging through the newspaper was better than staring at the walls in his one bedroom flat.
Halfway into his bowl of mac-n-cheese—made with water, the milk had been spoiled—he flipped to page four in the Metro section, chuckling at the fact that the Metro News had a Metro section. There, on page five, taking up half the lower page was an advertisement. It seemed that Lawman, the greatest superhero the city had ever known, was going to be holding interviews for an assistant. The starting weekly pay listed was ten times what Alex made in a month. Requirements listed: impress Lawman.
For some reason—some stupid, dumb, idiotic reason—Alex had shown up at 8:00 AM and had been greeted by a crowd of men and women infinitely more impressive than him. He had almost turned around and gone home. After all, today was his day off and there was a SpongeBob marathon on. Yet for some idiotic reason he could not explain, he had stayed.
Alex glanced at his watch. His eyes narrowed.
That was the same time it was last time he looked. Twisting around to stare at the massive, iron clock hanging suspended on the wall behind him, he frowned. “Damn it.”
Not only had he been sitting here for almost seven hours—without lunch—his watch was busted. This day kept getting better and better.
“Forget this.”
Placing both hands on the armrests, he stood tall from his chair.
Adonis glanced at him, a tiny smirk on his face, stared back to his Pianki binder, and muttered, “Thanks for coming.”
Alex would have liked to have done something to wipe that stupid look off Adonis’ face, but he did not want to show up at work with a black eye tomorrow. Or two. Nevertheless, a sharp-tongued retort seemed safe.
The large, double mahogany doors on the wall to the right opened, the thud and rattle drawing the gaze of everyone in the room. A young woman, petite, with glasses and the body of gymnast, sprinted through them and the room, her lips pressed tight. She swept past Alex, nearly knocking him to his seat in the process.  At the rate she was moving, he half-expected her to do a back handspring before leaving the lobby.
“Next!” boomed a deep baritone.
Looking back to the mahogany doors, Alex spotted the same giant of a man who had called in every other candidate so far. Six-foot-eight, an easy two-hundred-sixty pounds, bald head, black shades, and a pressed suit that was probably more expensive than Adonis’ was.
The man looked at the clipboard in his hand—it looked like what a playing card would in Alex’s—lifted his head, and called, “Alex Buttertwerp!”
Alex shut his eyes, tight, as a quiet chuckle ran throughout the room. He considered just walking out the door and letting the room enjoy the moment when ‘Alex Buttertwerp’ applied to be Lawman’s assistant. Yet again, however, for some stupid, dumb, and idiotic reason, he raised his hand.
Opening his eyes, he found everyone in the room staring at him, smiles on their faces. Adonis looked as if he wanted to burst out laughing.
The giant in the doorway said, “You’re Alex Buttertwerp?”
The truth was worse.
Moving through the room, toward the door, Alex said, “I believe the receptionist got my name wrong. My name is Alex Butterworth. Not…Buttertwerp.”
Eyebrows climbed from behind the man’s sunglasses. “Like the syrup?”
Another, slightly louder chuckle ran through the room.
Sighing, Alex conceded, “Yes. Like the syrup.”
“Ah,” muttered the man. To his credit, he did not laugh. Scribbling something on his clipboard, he said, “Follow me, please,” and moved into the hall. “Close the doors behind you.”

That's it for now. Hope to see you at Origins...