New Song: ‘Empire State’ by John Anealio

Some of you may have listened to my recent interview with John Anealio on The Geek Side of Life podcast. If so, you got a small taste of his music during our conversation, but to really get a feel for his sound, you need to hear his new song. John released Empire State earlier this month, and it’s a significant departure from the other songs available from his Web site. As someone who did (and does) love the progressive rock of the 1970’s (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Jethro Tull, etal.), I really found this song captivating and artistic. I don’t know if it’s one that he can perform live, but I hope to hear him give it a try at Balticon next month.

Here’s the song, for streaming or download. Enjoy!

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What I’ve Been Doing

It’s been almost a month since my last post here, which has shot a major hole in my aim of two to three blog posts a week. Part of the reason for that absence has been laziness, but it has also been a busy time. Here’s part of what’s been going on in my life since I reported on the Shamrock Run in March.

I launched a new podcast! Since I wrapped up the podcast of Purgatory two years ago, my podcasts have been few and far between. I had originally hoped to write and podcast a new short story every week. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I am not Scott Sigler, who can turn out quality work week after week. I didn’t want to podcast stories just for the sake of doing them; I want to put only quality work out there. Consequently, I released only a couple of interviews I did over Skype. Until a few weeks ago.

My new show is called The Geek Side of Life, and I intend it to be an exploration of all sorts of geeky culture, from old stories to modern books, movies, music, and TV shows, and anything else that fits the geek mold. As I write this, I have released five episodes: Two short stories that are in the public domain (by H.G. Wells and Robert E. Howard), a short story of mine, and two interviews. The interviews have been especially fun (I enjoy hearing someone else’s voice rather than my own.) Jenn from the Jennisodes podcast gave me a crash course in game design and production, as she readies her new role playing game Project Ninja Panda Taco for release later this year. I also had a terrific time chatting with singer-songwriter-podcaster John Anealio about his music. If you haven’t heard his new song Empire State yet, you need to download it now. In fact, I think that song will be the subject of my next post.

I’ve already recorded two more interviews, one with writer-podcaster Justin Macumber, whose novel Haywire is available for sale now, and with author-singer-graphic designer Starla Huchton. Both of those conversations will hit the feed shortly. My plan is to release new episodes every two weeks. That seems to be a comfortable span for me; a regular schedule that shouldn’t prove to be too burdensome.

I continue to ready Purgatory for self-publication. Starla is busy designing a book cover for me while I re-read it for the billionth time and continue to catch mistakes or problems. One issue popped up quite suddenly a few weeks ago. If you’ve listened to the podcast, there is a scene where the protagonist, in an attempt to find the gateway to earth, begins to sing a pop song from the 1960’s. In another scene, one of the other characters sings a couple of lines from a Beatles song. This didn’t seem like a big deal when I was giving away a free podcast; it’s a much bigger deal if one intends to make money from the work at issue. I realized I had to weigh into the treacherous waters of getting permission to use these lyrics.

I am a researcher by day, and I commenced an investigation to identify the publishers of these songs. While at a Barnes & Noble store one day, I found a Beatles songbook that contained the song I used. I flipped to the page, found the copyright information at the bottom, and snapped a picture with my phone. A Google search revealed that the publisher is a joint venture of Sony and the estate of Michael Jackson. I got an email address from their Web site, dashed off a request, and got a response within a few days. The response provided a form for me to complete and return.

Shortly after I returned the form (and in the mean time discovered that the same publisher owned the rights to the other song), I received a licensing price quote from them. They requested $300, and I was to limit the print run to a total of 500 print and electronic copies combined. The $300 was a discouragement; the limit on the print run is a deal-breaker. A very quick rewrite will eliminate any traces of the lyrics from my book.

The weeks ahead will include finalizing the cover, hopefully catching all typos in the text, creating a PDF for the print version, formatting it for the various ebook formats, doing all the uploads and getting it to market. I don’t think it will seem real until I see it for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, the iBook Store, and everywhere else that I can think of. I anticipate selling more ebooks than physical books, but I plan to bring several copies of the print version with me to Balticon in May.

Beyond that, my day job has kept me very busy, I’ve gotten a bit more freelance work lately, my work on two library boards of trustees draws a lot of my attention, and something really nice has happened in my personal life. More on that some other time. My exercise routine has slipped a bit, with the result that some of my pants feel like they’ve shrunk. That’s something that must change immediately.

So, that’s the news from Lake Wobetim. I’ll have a new post again soon. Promise.

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New Feature: Subscribe By E-mail

For those who feel they don’t receive enough email, I’ve added a new convenience feature to this blog. If you click the R² Email me this Blog button on the right and provide your email address, you can receive my words of wisdom right in your email In Box. They will make a nice addition to the twice-weekly emails you get from that retailer you ordered a t-shirt from three years ago or the fund-raising emails from that non-profit whose petition you signed on the web once for some cause you can’t remember. I’m all about the convenience of my readers.

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Life’s Little Ironies

Last Saturday, I participated in the Shamrock Run, a four-mile race through Syracuse’s Tipperary Hill neighborhood. More then 3,500 people registered for the race, and more than 3,100 of them actually ran or walked the course. It was an amazing sight. I grew up in a town with a population of 2,000. To see that number and more running through city streets with me on a Saturday in early March was awesome. There were half a dozen bands playing on people’s yards throughout the course, runners dressed all in green. There were even a few guys running in kilts. I wonder how that worked out for them; they’re lucky it wasn’t a windy day.

Normally when I exercise, I listen to podcasts on my iPod. I’m a self-confessed podcast junkie. If you see me with my earbuds on, I’m more likely to be listening to a segment of Talk of the Nation or an episode of Podcastle than I am to be listening to music. As I was waiting for the starting horn to sound before the race, I started listening to a podcast, but it didn’t feel right. There was so much energy in the hundreds of runners all around me that I needed to listen to something that would pump me up even more.

I quickly scrolled through my iPod and landed on Led Zeppelin’s PHYSICAL GRAFFITI album, which I had not listened to in some time. Perfect. As the race started, the opening chords of Custard Pie got my legs moving and I was off to the races, as they say.

Now, they call it Tipperary Hill for a reason, and the course for the run involved running up two steep hills. A mile or so into the run, we went down North Lowell Avenue and made a left turn onto Ulster Avenue, the first significant hill. As I was leaning into the hill and shortening my stride (techniques that I learned as a member of the high school cross country team; thanks, Coach Bachner), the third song on the album started. If you are familiar with the album, you know what I’m talking about.

Yes, as I was running up a steep hill, I was listening to In My Time of Dying. Had I not been panting from exertion, I would have laughed out loud. I could not have planned a more ironic music choice. You have to love these little ironies in life.

I finished the race with a time of 36:59, which I was pretty happy with. First long run of the year and all that. The race was so much fun that I’m already planning on next year. And henceforth, I will always think of that hill on Syracuse’s west side whenever I hear In My Time of Dying.

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Revisions, Revisions

There is a lot of writing on my agenda these days. I’ve been hired to write two freelance articles for a technical newsletter. I’ve been asked to write a profile of a parishioner for my church’s weekly bulletin. The project I’ve spent the most time on lately has been the second draft of the novel I completed last fall.

Some authors love the phase of the writing process where they pour out the story in the first draft but hate the revision process. I’m the opposite. This book in particular seemed to take me forever to finish (paying freelance projects, day job duties and good old-fashioned procrastination had a lot to do with that.) It took me longer to write this one than either Acts of Desperation or Purgatory did. Once that first draft was done, I set it aside for a few weeks and worked on some other things. I wrote a piece that may end up in an anthology a friend is planning to publish, and I wrote a short story on a whim inspired by a conversation I had on Twitter. The story was goofy and fun, but I have no idea what I’ll do with it. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll submit it to a few markets and see if I get any nibbles.

Having returned to the novel, I find that I really enjoy the revision process. I can spot the places where my character descriptions need beefing up. Words that I use repeatedly start to jump out at me (my characters tend to snort a lot.) Little inconsistencies become obvious. I find that making these repairs is a whole lot easier than creating the world and the story in the first place.

While the entire novel has not gone out to beta readers yet, one of my friends read a few of the chapters as I was writing the first draft. She gave me a lot of valuable feedback, and my first pass at revision focused on many of the issues she raised. Now, I’m going through the book scene by scene and making changes. Once this round is done, I’ll be ready to turn it loose on beta readers. That’s always a scary prospect, but it’s an exciting one, too.

More to come as this work moves from my laptop to readers’ eyes.

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My Interview on Abbie Hilton’s Podcast

As you may or may not know, last year I played a griffin in the podcast of Ashes, book three of Abigail Hilton’s fantasy series The Guild of the Cowry Catchers. Felbane, my character, is a Clint Eastwood type of griffin: He doesn’t say much, but boy do people respect him, mostly because, at any moment, he could say “Screw it,” and eat them. He doesn’t get invited to many parties, but he doesn’t seem to care.

Last year, I interviewed Abbie for my podcast. A few weeks ago, she turned the tables and interviewed me. We had a great discussion about Cowry Catchers, Purgatory, and publishing. Thanks again to Abbie for having me on her show. I hope you enjoy.

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Writing Technical Post: The Danger of Passive Sentences

If you’ve read any books or articles on writing, at some point you’ve read or heard an instructor say that you should avoid using passive sentences. For those who don’t obsess about these things and who may have forgotten what a passive sentence is, here are two examples, one of an active sentence and one that is passive:

“Ringo played the drums.” (Active sentence)

“The drums were played by Ringo.” (Passive sentence)

In sentence number two, the phrase “were played” is a passive verb. It makes the drums the subject of the sentence, when really, the reader wants to know about Ringo. After all, he’s the one who makes the drums come to life. Too many passive sentences can make a piece sound wooden, stiff, and unexciting.

And sometimes, they can cause significant problems.

Imagine that someone has written a will, and in that will he has left a large sum of money to a non-profit group that supports a local museum or school or orchestra or some other cultural entity. Suppose the will states that the funds “should be used to supplement the services already available.” This sentence is a problem. Why? Because it does not say who will use the funds to supplement services. Is it the non-profit group that has received the funds, or is it the cultural entity that benefits from the group’s support? As you might expect, one’s interpretation will vary depending on whether one is a member of the support group or a member of the entity. The group is apt to disagree with the entity.

When the amount of money involved is small, this is an annoyance. When the amount is large, it can create hard feelings as both sides try to assert control over the money.

Whether you are a novelist trying to scare people with a ghost story, a newspaper columnist describing the latest presidential candidate debate, the author of a textbook, or a lawyer writing a will, improperly used passive sentences can: 1) make your novel or column boring; 2) make your textbook even more boring; 3) start a conflict. When the sum of money is in the hundreds of thousands or millions, that conflict could end up in a courtroom. All because the writing was unclear.

Like any other part of language, passive sentences have their place and legitimate uses. However, writers should take care not to overuse them, and they should give careful consideration to meaning when they decide to use them. We write to communicate — a message, a story, a joke, driving directions, or instructions. If we’re going to take the trouble to write something, shouldn’t we do it in a way that leaves no doubt as to what we mean?

It’s not communication if the receiver doesn’t understand what you said.

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A Snail-Mail Letter a Day in February

From Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog (courtesy of Mur Lafferty):

When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? December sees a lot of mail and you remember that sense of delight when the first card arrives. You can have that more often.

I have a simple challenge for you.

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

Feeling intimidated? It’s fewer words than NaNoWriMo and I know how many of you do that. Join me in The Month of Letters Challenge.

It’s an interesting idea. I don’t know if I’ll send letters all 24 days (what with February starting tomorrow and all,) but I might send a few. I used to live for letters back in high school (you know, in the far distant past of the 1970s.) It might be kind of cool to send and receive them again. For a while. Until I get writer’s cramp and run out of stamps.

Think you’ll try it?

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Writing As Investment

Dean Wesley Smith offers an interesting new perspective for writers:

An Indie Publisher Investing Plan

Step One: Set a Goal to Publish Something New Every Two Weeks.

— It could be a short story or your latest book. It could be a collection, whatever. Just put into print one new item every two weeks. (I know of very few writers who haven’t been working for a time that don’t have backlist as well to help with this. If you hate the story and think it sucks, put it under a pen name.)

— Give yourself one week to miss, so you will have 25 books, stories, collections up in one year. (Even if you miss for three full months you will have 20 books, stories, and collections up. Not bad.)

— This investment plan will also keep you writing new work.

Step Two: Consider Each Publication a Deposit into Your “Future Investment Account.”

— So instead of turning into an “Author” with every new published item, consider each new published book or story an investment in your future. Just like putting $100.00 into a 401(k) every two weeks. Think of it in the exact same way.

— Just as you ignore your 401(k) statement most months, ignore how your sales are going. Focus on the writing of the next thing.

— And if you really want to use your writing as an investment, just let the money sit in an interest-bearing account as it comes in each month from your sales. You might be stunned at how fast that will grow as you keep writing and publishing. (I know some writers are already doing this with their indie publishing accounts.)

— Take the long-term approach. Think out five and ten years, not two weeks. (I know, impossible for beginning writers to do, but again, you are investing in your future. It’s all an attitude.)

I like the idea of thinking of my writing output as an investment account. It provides an incentive to write more and to spend more time polishing what I’ve written. This approach reminds me of advice I’ve heard given to salespeople: Rather than think of cold-calling as a chore, think of it as a source of earnings. If it takes on average 20 cold calls to produce one sale, and each sale produces an average of $500 commission, then each cold call is worth $25. The thinking goes that, if the salesperson approaches a cold call with the thought that it will earn $25, cold calling becomes less of a chore.

I’m not a salesman by trade and I think I would hate having to make cold calls each day, but I like the thinking behind this. I am a writer, however, and there’s nothing stopping me from adopting Smith’s attitude toward writing production today.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think of this approach.

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Podcast Extra — Jennisodes Episode 79: Marketing

This podcast is essential listening if you are a writer, illustrator, musician, artist, or any other creative content producer who is trying to reach an audience. It’s from the Jennisodes podcast, which I discovered a couple of weeks ago. It’s quickly become one of my favorites, added to my already too-long list of podcast subscriptions.

In this episode, she interviews public relations professional Joshua Logan Seideman. Some of you may know that public relations is one of the many hats I wear at my day job, so I was especially interested in this one. The conversation surrounds the topic of marketing a game (Jennisodes is a podcast devoted to role playing games, after all,) but his points are valuable to anyone who is trying to get their work noticed. I listened to it once yesterday while walking my dog and driving to work (not at the same time,) and I plan to listen to it again when I can scribble down some notes.

Whether or not you have an interest in RPG’s, I highly recommend Jenn’s podcast simply because every week she gets fascinating guests to interview. This week’s episode features the two attorneys who do the Law Of The Geek podcast. Again, the talk was about the legal aspects of game design and marketing, but they made some very interesting points about contracts with illustrators and other outside content creators. As someone who is contemplating self-publishing, I had not given this any thought, which is especially bad since I spend much of my time on the day job reading contracts. Even if you decide not to bother with a formal contract, you should be aware of the implications of that decision, so I strongly recommend you give that show a listen.

So much to listen to, so little time…

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