Archive for September, 2009

Who wants a shirt?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

As many of you may know from the various conventions I’ve attended, I have these cool little black buttons to hand out that say “I Am Not a Serial Killer,” thus allowing people everywhere to set their friends and loved ones at ease. Someone was even spotted wearing on on a bus in Queens, no doubt earning many a grateful sigh from his fellow passengers. Now, thanks to the joint powers of Hard Work and Stick-to-it-iveness, it may soon be possible to reassure people with your entire torso, rather than simply a small portion of it. Behold!

SK shirt
The awesome folks at 2Day Designs (the same people who make the buttons) told me a few weeks ago that they could also make some other stuff, if I wanted it. I kind of waffled back and forth, not really certain if I really needed any more merchandise, so they decided to just make me a couple of samples T-shirts so I could see in person how awesome they are. Let me assure you that they are exceedingly awesome. They had the foresight to deliver the sample shirts at a party full of people, and every single person there was oohing and ahhing over the shirts. I couldn’t walk two steps without being asked where I was selling them and how much they cost.

So now I’m showing them off to you. Do you like the shirt? Would you buy a shirt like this, for yourself or maybe for that weird guy on the bus? Would you get one for all your friends and then hang out under an overpass, leering creepily at each passing car? More to the point, would you be interested in me setting up a web store and selling these, online and at conventions? Let me know!

(P.S.: If we actually do a web store, I will take the extra step to use T-shirt models who look a little less like serial killers than I do. Or maybe they’ll look even scarier; I could go either way. The point is, you will not long be subjected to creepy photos of me.)

Wondermark’s Awesome Story Generator

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

As you may have noticed on my “Other Stuff” page, I’m a big fan of Dave Malki’s webcomic Wondermark, and I encourage you all to read it. Today’s comic is, in lieu of a story, a full story generator that gives you a simple structure and prompts you to fill in the blanks with several awesome little genre fiction elements. All you need now is a random number generator, and viola! A perfect story every time. Observe:

The Psychomancers
In a leather-clad America, a young, idealistic revolutionary stumbles across an alien artifact which spurs him into conflict with humanity’s selfish nature, with the help of a shape-shifting female assassin and her wacky pet, culminating in a philosophical argument punctuated by violence.

the Aerotrons
In a coal-powered medieval Europe, a young flying message courier stumbles across a talking fish, which spurs him into conflict with his own insecurity vis-avis girls, with the help of a female who inexplicably becomes attracted to the damaged protagonist for unstated reasons (and her closet full of assault rifles), culminating in eternal love professed without irony.

The Chronophages
In a metaphorical terraformed Mars, a young journeyman inventor stumbles across a dusty tome which spurs him into contact with supernatural monsters, with the help of a girl who’s always loved him (and her cleavage), culminating in the invocation of a spell at the last possible moment.

As you can see, these are not only awesome, they are completely viable in today’s market. The first one up there is actually a pretty accurate description of The Matrix, if you count virtual reality as an alien artifact, and Morpheus as Trinity’s wacky pet.

Dan rants about Guitar Hero 5

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I’d always thought that “This Song Is Just Six Words Long” was a Weird Al original, not a parody, but this morning on my way to the office I heard “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You,” and now I know the truth. It would have been impossible to take that song seriously even before Weird Al made fun of it. You wouldn’t think a song that ridiculous would really need a scathing destruction to lay bare all its flaws, but I guess that’s why we have Weird Al.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about today: I want to talk about Guitar Hero 5. I played it last week, and hoo boy, it does not have a very good song selection. Pick almost any song on the list, replace it with one of the songs from my previous polls, and you’d have a better game. The biggest misstep seems to be picking a great artist, and then giving us one of their weird, lackluster songs instead of one of their awesome ones. I know musical taste is subjective, but come on:
Bush – I know “Comedown” is the one everyone knows, but why not “Machine Head”? Or “Chemicals Between Us”? Even “Warm Machine” is better, and that one kind of bugs me.
Band of Horses – A band this varied, and all you can come up with is “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”? How about “The First Song,” or the reason they’re famous to begin with: “The Funeral”? I’d even play “Is There a Ghost,” though it would get dull to sing.
The White Stripes – “Blue Orchid” pales next to songs like “The Hardest Button to Button,” “Icky Thump,” “or even older stuff like “Fell in Love with a Girl.”
The Killers – These guys don’t have a very deep portfolio, I’ll grant you, and most of their best have already been used, but that doesn’t mean we care enough about “All the Pretty Faces” to want it in our guitar game.
Billy Idol – You could fill a whole game with Billy Idol, and I would buy it, but that does not change the fact that “Dancing with Myself” is not even half as awesome as “White Wedding” or “Rock the Cradle of Love.”
Nirvana – Okay, I’ll give you “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but why on Earth did you use the live version of “Lithium”? I can think of a couple dozen better songs to put here, such as, say, the album version of “Lithium.” Seriously.
Tom Petty – “American Girl” is arguably the best track in the game, so kudos on that, but “Runnin’ Down a Dream” should have been “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” This is inarguable.
Elton John – A piano guy probably just shouldn’t be in a guitar game in the first place.
The Rolling Stones – On a long list of awesome hits that changed the face of music forever, “Sympathy for the Devil” is one of the more boring choices you could have made. I could suggest alternatives, but if you need my help compiling a list of Rolling Stones songs maybe you shouldn’t be the guy picking songs for Guitar Hero.
Weezer – Here’s a short list of songs that would have been better choices than “Why Bother”: anything.

There are others on this list(like Muse and Coldplay and Beck and on and on), but I want to talk about other problems, too. “Under Pressure,” by David Bowie and Queen, and “Feel Good, Inc.” by Gorillaz, are fun to sing but boring to play. Bob Dylan is awesome, but “All Along the Watchtower” should have used the Jimi Hendrix version. “Sex on Fire” has awesome music, but lyrics so silly none of us can sing them with a straight face (I’ll actually put “We’re an American Band” in that same category).

What songs on this list do I actually think are good choices? There’s not very many, though at least they’re in double digits:
“American Girl,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“Bleed American,” by Jimmy Eat World
“Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” by The Smashing Pumpkins
“Du Hast,” by Rammstein (there are better Rammstein songs, but I’ll take what I can get)
“Judith,” by A Perfect Circle
“Kryptonite,” by 3 Doors Down
“Play that Funky Music,” by Wild Cherry
“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” by Nirvana
“Steady as she Goes,” by The Raconteurs
“Superstition,” by Stevie Wonder
“You Give Love a Bad Name,” by Bon Jovi

I’ll also say that most of the new features in the game are awesome, and I really wish I had them in Guitar Hero 4. But that song list is just too lame to bother with. Grrr.

Movie Deal!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The contracts are signed and in the mail, so it’s finally safe to announce: I have sold the movie rights for “I Am Not a Serial Killer.” Hooray! At this stage it is what we call an option, which works like this: a producer pays me X dollars to “reserve” the rights for a certain period of time. During that period I can’t sell the rights to anyone else, and at any point before that period expires they can pay me Y dollars (already defined in the option contract) to purchase the full rights and begin production. Typically, this will happen after the producer has found a director and a screenwriter, and they’ve worked out a screenplay and a shooting schedule and a workable budget; in other words, they don’t buy the full rights until they have a very clear plan of how to make the movie, and they’re confident they can do it right.

In my case the producer already has a director lined up, and I’ve talked with him, and I’m incredibly confident that he can do a great job with the book. Everyone involved thus far is European, for what it’s worth: the director is Irish, and production company is French, and that turns out to be a very good thing because the European movie industry is not nearly as strapped for cash as Hollywood is right now. What this means overall is that the movie stands a better than average chance of actually being made, which is great news. Keep in mind, though, that it could just as easily crash and burn and never happen at all. We’ll cross our fingers and hope for the best.

So what are they going to do with the book, specifically? I have no idea. I know they intend to shoot in the US, but that’s about where it ends–it’s too early to talk about casting (though you are free to speculate), and it’s even too early to say conclusively what they plan to do with the structure of the story. So much of the book depends on John’s voice–will they use narration? Will they find some wacky gimmick to turn inner monologue into outer dialogue? Will your favorite minor character appear or be written out for the sake of time? At this point, we literally have no idea.

But I’m very excited to find out.

No one will knock on your door and ask you to write a book

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

ten years ago, I took a creative writing class in college taught by the illustrious Dave Wolverton, better known to most of you by his epic fantasy pseudonym David Farland. I talk about this class a lot, because he’s the guy who came right out and told me the truth: it is completely possible to make a living as an author. It is possible; there are people who do it all the time. No one had ever told me that before. I took him at his word, set my goals high, and worked like a maniac, and ten years later I’m a full-time author.

The foundation to becoming a professional author, he told us, is simple: write a book. “No one is going to knock on your door and pay you to write a book,” he said, “but if you write enough books and knock on enough doors of your own, sooner or later someone will pay you for them.”

Dave has a cool email thingy that he sends out called “The Daily Kick in the Pants,” which is an incredible tool for aspiring authors, and I recommend it to everyone. Last week he sent out a brief flashback to that class I took, which I have reproduced here completely without permission. All 20 students in that class wanted to be authors, but only three of them actually wrote and finished a novel. Who were those three? Read on:

The first one was Branden Sanderson, who turned in as his first assignment the first chapter of a novel called Elantris. I gave him an A+ on the assignment and made a note: “Finish this book, and there is an excellent chance that I will give you a cover quote.” He did, and I did. When the book came out, we went on tour together each fall for several years. It was a blast. But he will most likely be a number 1 New York Times Bestseller this fall, and so the poor lad will have to try to make his way across the book-tour circuit alone.

To my knowledge, the second person in the class to finish a book was Stephenie Meyer. Her novel Twilight has of course gone ballistic. She sold 8 million copies in hardcover in the first quarter of this year, and hit #26 on the Forbes list of America’s top-paid entertainers in June.

The third person in the class to finish a book was Dan Wells. He sold the hardcover rights in the U.S. for an average advance, but more than doubled it in the U.K. The Germans loved it and paid him a small fortune—enough so that he has gone to writing full time even though his first novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer, hasn’t hit the shelves here in the U.S. yet. (Look for it when it does. I think that Dan is a brilliant writer who is going to have a huge career.)

(By the way, Dave was the guy who taught me the importance of foreign rights. Thanks again, Dave!)

Three students from one class went on to become professional authors, internationally published. Is that because he was lucky and got three people who would have been authors anyway? I don’t think so. Is that because he’s an incredible teacher? That’s getting closer, but it’s still not the whole story. The real reason three members of that class have gone on to get published is the simple fact that we wrote books. We put in the work and made it happen. The only difference between writers and everyone else is that writers write; it sounds silly, but it’s true. If you want to write a book, do it. If you want to get published, do it.

All you have to do is sit down and write.

As regards the poll:

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I’m deeply gratified to know that I’m not the only person who wants to put mozzarella sticks on a hamburger. Dear whoever clicked that one: I like the cut of your jib.

Writing Excuses wins a Parsec Award

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

As many of you know, I do a podcast called Writing Excuses with two other writers, both far more famous than I am: Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler. It’s a quick, 15-minute audio show with a new episode every Sunday night, each focusing on a different aspect of writing such as dialogue, outlining, world-building, plot twists, and so on. We think it’s pretty good, and apparently a couple of people agree with us, because we just won a Parsec Award for Best Writing-Related Podcast. Huzzah!

Podcasts are a relatively young form of media, but they come from a long tradition of audio broadcasting; in many ways they’re just radio shows that you listen to over the Internet. The Parsec Awards are one of the first system created to recognize and promote excellence in this medium, and they cover a broad range of categories: instructional stuff like our cast, various news casts, and a wide selection of “performance” casts covering everything from short stories read aloud to actual radio-style dramas. You can do pretty much anything you want with a podcast, and the pervasiveness of the Internet opens podcasting up to an enormous audience: anyone can make a podcast, and anyone can find it and listen to it. Thanks to groups like the Parsec awards, you can get a pretty good idea of which podcasts are awesome and worth your time. We’ve heard some of the other nominees, and some of the winners and nominees from past years, and it’s all excellent stuff. We’re honored to be in such great company, and humbled that they picked us as this year’s winner.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with what podcasts are and how they work, let me explain our process in better detail. Brandon and Howard and I (and our producer, a friend named Jordan who handles all the technical stuff) get together every other week or so and record several episodes back to back. Brandon asks questions, we try to provide pithy answers, we crack jokes to make ourselves sound smarter than we are, and Jordan records everything on his computer. Every Sunday he posts a new 15-minute chunk on both our website and on iTunes; if you want to listen, just visit the site, look for the big arrow universally recognized as “Play,” and click it. You don’t even have to download anything. If you prefer to listen via iTunes or some other system, you obviously already know all about podcasts, and this paragraph wasn’t really intended for you. Stop reading it.

If you are a writer, or if you have even the vaguest inclination to write, I recommend Writing Excuses very highly. We keep the episodes short and sweet and to the point, trying to cram in lots of great advice without meandering off into useless tangents and idle chatter. Each episode sparks a lot of comments, and you’re welcome to chime in as well, plus our awesome listeners even went so far as to create an online writing group (called Reading Excuses) right on the same forum Brandon and Howard and I use for our message boards, The Official Time-Waster’s Guide.

We’re very proud of our little podcast, and we’d love to have you join us.

Revision complete!

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

It took longer than I expected, almost four full weeks, but the revision of Book 3 is complete. Let there be feasting and song! I’ve mailed it off to my US editor and a few of my alpha readers (those who hadn’t read the first version, which I suppose technically makes them beta readers). I know that several of you expressed interest in reading it after my call for help went out on Twitter yesterday, and I thank you very much for the offer, but there’s a couple of reasons I said no to most of you. The first is time: I’m under a lot of pressure to get this manuscript finalized ASAP, because Germany is already asking for a final version they can start translating, and that means anyone who would have to read book 2 before commenting on book 3 is out of the running. Sorry.

The second reason is more selfish: I’m trying to restrict my pool of alpha/beta readers for the time being, just so I still have people who haven’t read it when it comes out for real. The first book won’t even launch in the US for another eight months–as much as I’d love to share it with everyone now, I don’t think this is the best time for book 3 to start making the rounds. I have this irrational fear that the handful of people I’ve met in person are the only ones who read my books, and I know it’s not true but it scares me nonetheless. So I’m being mean and making you all wait. Sorry.

The good news is, I now have a few days to get back to Strawberry Fields, which I left approximately half-finished when I went out of town for WorldCon a month ago. My writing group is burning through it–they’re reading chapter 9 this week, out of the 15 that are completed–so I really need to get back in and finish it. The good news is, I think I can complete the first draft by the end of September. After that I’m almost certain that I’m going to launch myself into a Dark Fantasy that will be much longer and more ambitious than anything I’ve ever written (well, except for my very first book, which was ridiculously ambitious, but then that’s how first books usually are. Especially from fantasy fans).

So anyway, that’s the news. I’ll be getting back to my “Starting from Scratch” series of posts about Strawberry Fields, continuing to catalog its creation, either tomorrow or Monday.