Sunday, August 31, 2014

À Loaf of Bread, a Container of Milk, and a Stick of Butter

   I had mentioned once, a long time ago, that I suffer from false memories. That is, I remember things in vivid detail that never actually happened. While it is very likely that this is just proof that I'm a replicant, it makes for some interesting conversations that usually end in, "That never happened." "Yes it did, I was in the back yard on the swing..." "Christina, there was no swing." And no, my brain would realize that there was no swing, but the memory of being on said swing would remain as strong as ever.
   Because of this, I often find myself questioning my more bizarre or surreal memories of things that I may have seen on television. Fortunately, we live in a world with Google and YouTube. When I absolutely need to know if the serious situation of the singing pills who were definitely not candy was a real PSA, Google came to my rescue. The title of this blog post comes from an old Sesame Street cartoon about a girl whose mother sends her to the store for three items. I don't know which was more disturbing, the fact that she had trouble remembering this list of three items or the fact that her mother thought sending an eight year old to the store with or without a list was a good idea. Eh, it was the seventies. Parents didn't mollycoddle their kids with things like lists back then. Parental responsibility aside, I am happy to report that again, thanks to Google, I know this cartoon really happened.
   But even in this, the age where every small blip on the universal radar is recorded digitally for the purposes of being torn apart by nostalgia critics of the future, there are still two items that the internet has failed me on. I'm beginning to think that the Tyrell Corporation fed me these memories by accident. And this is where I need your help. I want to crowd source my sanity. I need anyone who is Gen X or older to pull out your WayBack machines and think back to the greatest (pre-digital) era of them all; the 1980s. If anyone remembers either of these two items, please, let me know in the comments, on Google+, Facebook, or where ever. I need to know I didn't make these things up. This will not prove that I am not a Nexus 6 typing on a Nexus 7, but it will at least prove that the implanted memories are of actual events.
   The first, which I know I have mentioned countless times in the past, is a Tab commercial from the early to mid eighties, featuring a woman lying on an inflatable raft, who has irresponsibly fallen asleep in the sun (relax, sun burns and skin cancer hadn't been invented yet) and left her Tab cola vulnerable to predators. Out of nowhere, a periscope surfaces (made more odd, because I think she was in a pool) and looks around. Now, you expect the big cartoon eye to ogle the woman, but no, it locks in on the cola. A straw then emerges and the cola is magically slurped away by a periscope. Or, you know, seeing as it's a periscope with a very cartoonish eye, it may be getting high by putting Tab cola in its eye. What, do you think parents today invented the concept of being scared that their kids are doing idiotic things to get high? Ahem... Anyway, the girl wakes up and sees her drink is gone, the end. No idea what this is trying to say or how it's supposed to make me drink Tab. Still, no evidence of this commercial exists. Did it really happen? I only remember seeing it once.
   The next item is a PSA that I may have watched on school or at home. It was about the effects of acid rain on the environment. All I have to go on here, is that the star of the show was a little boy carrying a goose, who told every adult he met,  "Acid rain is killing my duck!" This phrase means nothing to the internet. Yet for thirty or more years, "Acid rain is killing my duck!" has been my go-to nonsense phrase to show frustration. I even got a group of coworkers to use it and they had never heard of this PSA either! Did I make it up? Do I have a vendetta against geese who portray ducks in after school specials? Okay, I may have a vendetta against geese in general. I was attacked by geese as a child and my mother teases me about the "wahnt wahnts" enough to know this was a real bit of mandatory childhood trauma. But back to the PSA. Was it real?
   There may be more, but these two are the strongest of my to-be-vetted-as-legit memories. So, anyone? Whatcha got? Did I make this up? Do you remember any of this? Do you have a memory that Google can't validate? If so, let us know. Maybe we can all get some answers together!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Vampires Have Awakened

   As you may have noticed (since I mention it constantly), I tend to spend a lot more time on the robots than the vampires, despite the title of this blog giving vampires top billing. The robots have just been very persuasive.

   The vampires have finally struck back. In my last post, I discussed an upcoming sci-fi project called Princess Robot Commander. I've since decided that this story will now be a trilogy. While this is great news and I am happy that one of my joke ideas took on a life of its own, I have had to shelve it. Why? Because I am not ready for an epic of epic proportions just yet. And no, that wasn't a typo, I just didn't feel like hitting the thesaurus right now.
   Instead, for the time being, I am going back to work on a series that I have abandoned several times in the past. This one is called, for the time being, Chaos in Blackbird. It is 100% pure urban fantasy with absolutely no science fiction elements. There will be magic. There will be supernatural heroes. There will be paranormal creatures including, but not limited to, vampires, demons, angels, werewolves, and fairies. But there will not be robots.
   I am not abandoning my epic space robot story. I am just giving it time to marinate on the back burner for some time while I immerse myself in an imaginary Midwestern town that happens to have an overabundance of crazy. Believe me, it's time. I've had the foundations for this one bouncing around in my brain since the early nineties. I have five stories outlined at the moment. My goal is ten books for this series. Lofty, I know, but I am not going to attempt to write them all at once. I will put out at least three or four of them before I go back to check on the princess. If she's ready to be written, she will let me know.
   So, unless the robots rise up and take control of my brain once again, this is the season of the vampire. Oh, and once again, forget everything you already know. These are not the genetically modified superhumans that I created for the Eyes series. These are blood sucking creatures of Chaos. And I can't wait to introduce them to you. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Social(ly Awkward) Media Part 3: the good, the bad, and the ugly

   It is time once again to evaluate the progress in my fight against my crippling fear of all things social media. We are now reaching the two year mark and much has changed, with mixed results, hence the subtitle. Let's begin with...

The Good
   I've finally worked up the courage to join a few groups on Google+ and Goodreads. Not many, mind you, but the ones I have found seem to be made up of kind souls who share my interests. Of course, that doesn't stop me from second guessing my every post and frantically worrying that I've said something that will offend or outrage someone. Some habits die hard, but I'm working on that.
   There are perks to each of these sites that I am slowly discovering. Both are great ways to connect to other indie authors and to bounce ideas off of one another. There are even groups out there specifically for us introverts. They might not have as many posts as say, promo communities, but it's comforting to know that I am not alone in my struggle.
   Then there is Pinterest. I am not on Pinterest, but every so often I see where someone has pinned one of my books. This, I like. Passive social media! To all the pinners out there who do this, thank you! I'm not ready to dive into a new and vastly different form of social media just yet, but I truly appreciate what you are doing.

The Bad
   Facebook continues to be my main source of self-promotion, mainly because I still haven't made enough inroads with Twitter to do much more than annoy my followers. But Facebook is a tricky animal. It seems that for every new follower, I lose actual views and participation. I don't expect everyone to like or comment on all of my posts, but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect those who have followed my page to have the opportunity to see what I have posted. This never happens. I am therefore eternally grateful to those who do like and share my promotional posts.

The Ugly
   Then there is my personal Facebook page. The one meant for keeping up with friends and family. This is an emotionally draining endeavor that I am considering stepping away from. Why? Negativity, plain and simple.
   Several studies have shown that social media, especially Facebook, has a negative effect on people's moods and I'm sad to say, I am one of those affected. It probably doesn't help that Facebook ran an experiment in which they selected only negative or positive posts to show certain individuals and used us as involuntary lab rats. I am not a depressed person by nature, but I am what I would call... rage-y. Seeing only the bad things that Facebook wanted me to see during their experiment caused me to block almost half my friends and family and withdraw further from participation in discussions where conflict could arise. This, I am pretty sure, was not the original intent of social media.

   I don't want to end this post on a downer, so I would like to stress the good. Talking to strangers is fun. Yes, it is scary. Yes, I still worry that I am being judged. But as I said, I have met some wonderful folks, authors, artists, and other creative types, who I get to help in my own way. In fact, I've added another artist to my dedicated art page, and I will soon be constructing a page where I will have a convenient listing of all of the Indie authors that I review for the Write On! segment of this blog. In fact, I may even begin conducting interviews if I can drum up enough participation. I still maintain that paying it forward and bolstering the careers of my contemporaries is the least I can do, and aside from helping others, it helps me. Nothing improves my own mood like knowing that I have this one thing, no matter how small, that I can do to help.
   Hopefully, one day I will amass enough of a following on this blog for these little spotlight segments to make a positive impact on the careers of all those involved. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Clowns To The Left Of Me, Jokers To The Right

   Unless you are an author or work in the publishing industry, the current court battle between traditional publishing giant Hachette and Amazon has probably flown under your radar. The simple version: Hachette wants to price ebooks high enough that there is no advantage to choosing them over physical books and they want everyone else to do the same. Amazon wants ebooks priced reasonably, with the high end being $10 (technical nonfiction being the outliers, but this dispute is over popular fiction and nonfiction). As such, Amazon has incentives at this price point. Mind you, Amazon also has incentives for the traditional publishing giants, but for Hachette, this isn't good enough.
   As a self published author, I've been keeping tabs on the apparent stalemate for some time. What the eventual outcome means for us hasn't been entirely transparent, but there is a lot of speculation. But yesterday, me and millions of others like me were pulled into the battle.
After 900 bestselling authors published a public letter to Amazon, encouraging them to allow for higher price points on ebooks, Amazon called upon us to send a letter to Hachette's CEO asking him to see the benefits of lower prices.
   Well, here's the thing: there are benefits to lower price points on ebooks and in their letter, Amazon pointed out many. Lower prices mean higher sales and higher profits overall. Ebooks do not have anywhere near the overhead costs that hard copy books do, which means that the higher prices are unjustified and unfair to readers. That being said, I will not be sending my letter to Hachette on Amazon's behalf.
   Why? Because fair is fair. Traditional publishers hate the ebook market. There are many reasons for this. One of the biggest is that ebooks have allowed for authors like me, who would rather write books than play waiting games with literary agents, a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to get our product directly to our intended audience. Traditional publishers see independent publishers as a threat. They deride us as unprofessional and uneducated. They do everything in their power to suppress our visibility to potential customers.
   And they should feel threatened. Their methods are outdated. They value their quarterly profits far more than they value their authors. They came late to the digital book market and have done everything in their power to undermine the progress that has been inevitable ever since the inception of Project Gutenberg's free online library. They buy their titles into the bestseller lists and they hire consultants to dictate what YOU as the reader are allowed to like.
   Because of this, I say let them raise their prices on the ebooks that they publish. If they want a new release set at $19.99, let them. If they feel that a price point of $9.99 is taking away from their profits, by all means, allow them to sell ebooks for three times that or more. But allow the rest of us to continue to set our own prices as we see fit. When they see a decline in sales, it will be up to them, not Amazon, not any other third party distribution company, to decide what the best course of action is. And if they still feel that they have been slighted and decide higher prices are the way to go?
   Well, what's going to happen is this: Authors who have had the good fortune of becoming a household name and rely on the millions of dollars they are pulling in are going to balk at the lack of sales. Yes, these same authors who are now calling for Amazon to raise prices are going to feel the hurt when Amazon does just this. They are going to blame Amazon, even though they got what they wanted. They are going to hate me and my $3.99/.99¢ indie book price point.
   Until they realize that as an independent author, self published through Amazon, I am making more per book at $3.99 than they are with their publisher at $19.99. Then, what they are going to do, is finish out their contract with said publisher and take that household name, which has been made a recognized brand thanks to the millions spent by the publisher on a strategic marketing team, and self publish their next best seller. It has happened before, and it will happen again. And where will that leave the publishers? Struggling to catch up...again.
   As I see it, this is not my battle until the traditional publishers find a way to stop Amazon from allowing self published authors such as myself to use their services. And if we ever reach that Fahrenheit 451 level of dystopia, well, let's face it, we have bigger worries than the fate of a small time author such as myself.
   Earlier this year, I made the decision to only read and purchase books from my contemporaries: independently published authors. Moreover, I decided to seek out well written works that suffer from a lack of exposure and promote them through reviews on Amazon, ratings on Goodreads, and showcase reviews here with the Write On! segment of this blog. This decision was based purely on my emotional reaction to the bland, poorly written dreck that has carried the "NYT BEST SELLER" label for quite some time. Now, this decision hold the additional weight of showing the corporations that they are not the only game in town and I do not have to play by their rules. I can freely read the works of new and innovative authors. Authors who only want to write entertaining stories aimed at eager readers and don't give a damned what's "trending" at the moment.
    Reading for entertainment is on the decline. The boom in reading that spawned from the Harry Potter craze of the 1990s is over. Kids and adults today have so many other forms of personal digital entertainment vying for their attention that e-reading  devices such as the Kindle and Nook quickly evolved from simple readers to proprietary tablet computers capable of doing everything from watching movies to playing Candy Crush. I can't even begin to tell you how many heartbreaking times someone has asked me what I do, and when I respond that I am a writer, they smile apologetically and say, "I don't read."
   Given this, what company in their right mind would want to price out the next generation of readers? The generation that is still reading. The generation that may only consider the possibility that a book might be an enjoyable form of entertainment because there is, in fact, an app for that. The generation that now has the option to borrow electronic books from their community's public library and will do just that when they can't afford to purchase instead. Who looks at this generation and thinks, "I do not need you."?
   A company with a very narrow focus, that's who. Forgive me, but if they want to set themselves up for failure, by all means, let them. As long as there are readers, there will be writers. You better be sure that some of us are going to do everything in our power to make sure the next generation not only understands the power of a good book, but has access to them as well.