The Vinestead Anthology

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today, I’m trying to understand what psychology of the series tag. You know, that whole template every budding indie writer seems to be following these days: The Novel Title (The Series Name, Book X). I understand why people who write series would want to tag their books so readers get them in the right order, but what if you write interconnected books that don’t go in any order? Can you still use the series tag? Does it add value, or will it ultimately hurt more than it helps?

Consider the change I made yesterday to the listing of Por Vida on Amazon:

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Say you’re a new reader to my books (fat chance, I know you’ve got ’em all on your Kindle), if you saw the above on Amazon, would you:

  • See the word anthology and think unordered series of books taking place in the same universe?
  • Feel like you should seek out Book 1 and start there? (assuming the other books were properly labeled)
  • Not want to get invested because the series is already four books long (I felt this with the Dark Tower series)
  • Close the tab and go browse Reddit for a while

I’m torn between wanting to let people know these books are all connected (based on how excited I get when Stephen King mentions Derry in one of his books) and not wanting them to think its a true series that never finds an ending or that it needs to be read in a certain order.

So I ask you, fellow authors: If you were trying to market standalone novels that shared the same universe, would you use the series tag? Why / why not?

I’d ask my agent, but she lives in Canada. You wouldn’t know her.

In It For The Money

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I’ve never paid much attention to the financial profit/loss aspect of independent publishing. I just don’t see the point. I know, generally, how much the royalty checks will be each month, and I know it doesn’t compare to the marketing and materials spend. One of the supposed advantages of indie publishing and print-on-demand was that it required very little in terms of upfront money. But what they didn’t tell me when I started in 2004 (because nobody knew) was that it does cost money to self-publish. A lot of money, it turns out. Sadly, for myself and a lot of writers, the dream isn’t to get rich on my novels; I just want to break even.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I use Intuit’s TurboTax to do my taxes. I used to love their Quicken product, but gave it up years ago in favor of Mint. And when they bought that, I gave up Mint in favor of You Need A Budget. All that is to say that I’m not familiar with Intuit’s other financial planning offerings. So, I was surprised to see them advertising a self-employed version of their QuickBooks product while I was doing my taxes. As it turns out, it’s possible to deduct some of your writing expenses when you file. I had never given that much thought before.

One of TurboTax’s features that I really like is the live “refund” counter. But this year, it really turned my crank when I put in my royalties and saw that refund crater. Damn you, IRS! TurboTax tried to lessen the blow by asking if I’ve spent any money in pursuit of my “small business,” but alas, I had not kept track, so it would have all been guesses.

Well, 2018 is the year that all changes. From now on, I’m keeping track of everything I buy that is related to indie publishing. I don’t know if it will be all deductible, but if it saves some money, then maybe the experiment is worth it.

Think about all the money you spend to fuel your writing habit:

  • Editorial services
  • Graphic design (covers, marketing, etc)
  • Webhosting, domain names, email addresses
  • Word, Scrivener, Scapple
  • Laptop, computer, keyboard, mouse
  • Printer, paper, pens, highlighters, staples
  • Envelopes, postage
  • Advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Goodreads, Google
  • Gas mileage to the bar, drink purchased, sorrows drowned
  • Red Bull, candy corn, whiskey, aspirin
  • Intuit Quickbooks Self-Employed ($10/mo)
  • Bribes for Positive Reviews

If that number is higher than your writing income, well, my friend, you’re operating your small business at a loss, and in addition to my condolences, you deserve a tax break*.

*The asterisk means I’m not a tax lawyer and I have no idea if that is true or not. I don’t even know if tax lawyers are a thing.

Anyway, if you haven’t started doing your taxes this year, you can get Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed for free for a year by filing with TurboTax (always check with your bank or credit union to see if they have a coupon). If you’ve never tracked your profit/loss before, it might be an interesting experiment to see how it all stacks up at the end of the year.

I’ll let you know how my experiment turns out… if it’s not too embarrassing.

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Fingers crossed, am I right?

Prepare Your Cortical Stack

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It’s finally here. Netflix’s adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s mind-blowing sci-fi novel Altered Carbon is now live, and though I’ll never forgive Joel Kinnaman for his part in the Robocop Reboot That Shall Never Be Mentioned Again, I can’t wait to binge the entire season this weekend. It’s hard to describe how awesome Altered Carbon is–if you’re into technology, explosions, and some of the l33t-est buzzwords you’ll ever read, this is the story for you.

The show has a Facebook page (because it’s 2018 and everything does) where you can watch trailers and behind the scenes, but since you’re reading this here on deadlineavoidance.com, there’s a possibility that you dabble in the writing. You, my fellow fiction monger, should check out this video where Richard K. Morgan sits down to watch the first episode.

Link to Facebook that I can’t iframe for some reason.

All I can think is how fucking amazing it must be to watch your story come to life. Back in my early days of writing, I wanted nothing more than to see the words A Short Story by Daniel Verastiqui in print. Then it was A Novel by Daniel Verastiqui that I wanted to see. The current dream I’m chasing (well, I mean, it’s possible) is seeing Based on the novel by Daniel Verastiqui flashing across a movie theater screen. Thankfully, people who make movies and TV shows have good taste, and so long as they’re making Altered Carbon and not Toaster Tingles (Book #1 in the Kitchen Appliance Romance Series), then I’m okay with my novels languishing on the Amazon charts.

I love Altered Carbon.

I love cortical stack.

I love needlecast.

I love neurochem.

And I love, love evercrete. So much so that I straight-up stole it and started putting in my stories just to get them more of a Science Fiction feel. I still do. Here’s a passage from my current WIP:

The Provo Temple hadn’t stood at full height in over a decade; twisted rebar grew like weeds from uneven piles of gray evercrete. The thick white monoliths that used to circle the building had been crushed under the feet of mechanical giants, and doors that had once welcomed worshipers had shed their glass and twisted into barely passable openings.

If you write Science Fiction and haven’t read Altered Carbon, I advise you to put down that Red Bull, cork that bottle of wine, close out your Scrivener windows, and fire up your Kindle. Here’s the link to the first book, because yes, it’s a trilogy, and I recommend all three: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.

Time After Time

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Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash

I’ve really taken a liking to non-linear narratives. When you think of all the ways you can mess with a reader, there’s nothing quite like the confusion you can create by having multiples stories operating on multiple timelines. Did A happen before B? Are they happening at the same time? And then later, when everything becomes clear, the reader is incented to re-read the entire book, because now it has taken on different meaning. Today, I was trying to figure out what had sparked this interest in time-confusion, and I realized it started long ago with movies like Pulp Fiction, but it wasn’t until I read Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines that I was compelled to try it myself.

Warning: Spoilers for Wayward Pines below. If you haven’t read it and you like so-called “good books,” do yourself a favor and go buy it now. Don’t watch the TV series; buy the book.

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I read all three of the Wayward Pines books on a trip to Punta Cana, finishing up the third as we landed back in Austin. While the second and third books were good, it was the first that really punched me in the gut. You start the book thinking both story lines are happening at the same time, but how can that be? Then there’s the way people are behaving. And some of them having different memories of different times?

When the helicopter landed and the truth came out, I was absolutely blown away. I loved it. The mystery. The clues. Everything about the twist was perfect for me.

I immediately started working on a new book, Por Vida, with the intention of having story lines that would intersect with hopefully the same punch as Pines. The feedback has been good; I don’t think people saw it coming, but more than that, it was fun to write.

I get bogged down when writing linear stories. That’s why I have to have multiple characters/POVS in my books; otherwise, I won’t get anywhere. It’s not exciting for me to describe Character A going from here to there, doing this and that, and finally something. There has to be more to a story than simple plot points, and multiple timelines ups the complexity big time. Sure, there’s more to keep track of, but if you can do it right, it makes for an exciting read (and write).

Ultimately, you have to write something that excites you as an author. Weaving two timelines together in a way that will surprise and delight a reader truly excites me. Having that power over a reader excites me. I want them to get to the end and say I should have seen that coming! I want them to go back and read the story again and say Look at all these clues!

My upcoming book, Hybrid Mechanics, implements multiple timelines as well, with some extra twists thrown in. Beyond the “didn’t see it coming” twists of Pines, there’s also the “I know it’s coming, I just don’t know how.” That’s where I want to be. I want the reader to know I’m gonna mess with their heads. I want them turning each page in the hopes of finding another clue that will let them unravel the mystery before I reveal it to them at the end.

If they beat me, fine… I’d love to hear about it in their review. But if I beat them, awesome… I’d love to hear about it in their review.

Anyway, those are today’s thoughts on multiple timelines. Love ’em or hate ’em, they can add spice to an otherwise pedestrian narrative about synthetic killing machines hunting the last of the organics in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

What’s She Wearing?

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I came across this Tumblr post a while back and had to bookmark it because I always feel foolish describing clothes on women. There was a period in my writing where women always wore blouses and skirts and pretty much nothing else because I didn’t know the names of the other things. I still have that problem, and I’m a grown ass man. Thankfully, you don’t have to suffer as I did. Check out the full post here: http://elphabaforpresidentofgallifrey.tumblr.com/post/165929456848/themistrustfulmistress-decorkiki-a-visual

The Dallas Cowboys and The Domain

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I didn’t understand The Domain here in Austin when it was first built. Who the hell would travel all the way up MoPac just to go to Macy’s? Now, it’s the place to be, growing larger every day, and it’s home to some great restaurants and an aging iPic theater. We don’t go there often though, and it’s for one reason: parking. That brings me to my thesis: Parking at The Domain is a lot like the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl.

Every time you decide to go to The Domain, you think, maybe this time (season), it will be different! Maybe things will go my way and I’ll find a parking spot (not get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs). But no, there’s always a Tony Romo parked in the middle of the street with their flasher on waiting for people to finish getting into their car and leave. And even when you do see a spot, by the time you get to it, the defense has fallen apart and given up an easy 6.

The worst part is that you know finding a parking spot is possible. You remember the good old days when you found a parking spot three times, in 1993, in 1994, and in 1996. What happened in 1995? No one’s quite sure. Maybe there was a Lexus taking up two spots.

Ultimately, you end up parking in the garage (not making the playoffs) and sneering past all the Maseratis (Patriots) in their prime parking spots as you make your way to Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM to buy your fiancee some cupcakes because she’s been craving them and you’re a standup dude.

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Time to Reset

Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones. Therefore, if we don’t think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears. — Nick Bostrom, Are you living in a computer simulation?, 2003

What I’m Playing This Month

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Every so often, I see a post on Kotaku titled What are you playing this weekend? And I never answer because A) I don’t comment on the Internet and B) the game I’m playing is one of sadness and unrequited desire. Please direct your attention to the photo of PS4 games above. It might be hard to see because of the image quality, but the last two games on the right are still wrapped. Every day, I tell myself I’m going to open one of those games and play them. But I don’t. Every day is a fight to even start playing… and it’s a fight I always lose.

This month, I’m playing Parent Gamer 2018. I recommend it for anyone who likes playing games in 5-minute increments.

Speaking of which, what I’ve actually been playing is They Are Billions. I’ve always been scared that one day age would make it impossible for me to play games anymore. My dad never Nintendo’d. I assume it was because he was too old. Snapchat makes me feel old, but games never did. Until now.

According to Steam, I’ve played 13.1 hours of They Are Billions, and I’ve still yet to win a single round. The zombies–those goddamn dirty zombies–just keep getting me. And every time I start a new game, I know I’m going to lose, and I still start it anyway. It’s the kind of game that you need to sit and play for hours, not five minutes here, five minutes there.

Speaking of Steam, there are so many games I purchased during the sales that I haven’t played. Prey. The Dying Light expansion. Etc.

As a parent, you have no time for gaming. Until the kid grows up, I guess. Then we can play together.

How soon is too soon to introduce your child to Minecraft?

My 10 Greatest Achievements / Failures of 2017

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As each year comes to a close, it’s important to look back on everything you’ve done in the last 365 days and tell yourself either good job or you suck. Because what is life without judgment, either internal or external? If you don’t grade yourself, how do you know if you’re #hashtag winning? Exactly. So here you go, 10 of my proudest achievements and 10 of my darkest moments of 2017.

10 Greatest Achievements

  1. Got my son to sleep on 5.29.17.
  2. Got my son to sleep on 8.12.17.
  3. Got my son to sleep on 12.30.17.
  4. Got my son to sleep on 7.01.17.
  5. Got my son to sleep on 11.26.17.
  6. Got my son to sleep on 11.25.17.
  7. Published my 4th novel, Por Vida, in April.
  8. Got my son to sleep on 11.27.17.
  9. Got my son to sleep on 9.18.17.
  10. Completed the zero draft of Book 5 on 12.31.17.

10 Greatest Failures

  1. Did not get my son to sleep on 12.31.17.
  2. Did not get my son to sleep on 8.22.17.
  3. Did not get my son to sleep on 11.28.17.
  4. Purchased the Dark Tower movie instead of waiting for it to show up for free on Hulu.
  5. Did not get my son to sleep on 6.19.17.
  6. Did not get my son to sleep on 7.31.17.
  7. Did not get my son to sleep on 12.25.17.
  8. Drew First Blood from my son on 12.18.2017.
  9. Did not get my son to sleep on 11.29.17.
  10. Did not convince Richard Linklater to make a movie out of Veneer.

Honestly, nothing really compares to the pride I feel when I get El Matador to sleep. It’s literally the best thing I can possibly do with my time. And, conversely, when he continues to wail and his momma has to come take over, I feel like a failure.

Oh well! Here’s hoping I get better at it in 2018!

Enjoy all your free time, people without kids!

Wake or Be Woken

Wake or Be Woken

It’s never too early to start freaking out about having to write a book description that will somehow magically convince people they need to read my latest Science Fictional opus. I have never, not once, written a book description that I was happy with. Instead, I write something the day it goes live on Amazon and hope for the best. Probably not the best marketing tactic, but whatever. For book 5, I’m looking to get a jump on that madness.

I sat down this morning and told myself there was no way I was going to get anywhere near a book description. Instead, I just started writing some garbage. Then I paused, hit Enter a few times, and wrote more garbage. I did that for about half an hour. Here’s what that produced:

The year is 2017. Donald Trump is President. Mass murders are commonplace. Nazis are back. The world balances on the precipice of nuclear war. Most people agree: reality is completely out of control.

But it’s not all bad news.

As it happens, none of it is real.

The world as you know it is actually a simulation centered around the city of Austin, Texas, and more specifically, four of its residents. There is nothing special about them on the surface; one’s a manager at a tech startup, another is a former soldier who drives for Brinks, the sole female is a moderately famous YouTube personality, and the fourth is a day-trader who is making a killing with Bitcoin.

They’re just normal people living out what they believe are normal lives.

But in reality—that is, actual reality—they are all dreaming, hooked into a collective delusion set in the Live Music Capital of the World.

For almost four decades, they have enjoyed American life at the dawn of the 21st century. But now it is time to wake up.

How will they feel when they learn everything they’ve ever known is a lie? Will they tell themselves they knew it all along? Will they abandon their faith and embrace chaos? Or will they use the opportunity to make a fresh start as someone else?

Only time, vicious infighting, and the threat of death at the hands of synthetic killing machines will tell for sure.

Does this adequately describe what Hybrid Mechanics is about? Not really. It’s one aspect of a multi-faceted story, the idea that we’re all living in a simulation. I really want that idea to be in the book description because I don’t want readers to think it was all a simulation is some kind of twist.

It’s not a twist.

It’s a starting point.

After that, comes the how, why, where, and when. The real question is whether the characters can survive long enough to answer even one of those questions.

Oooh, mystery.

/sigh/

Someone should take my blog away.

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WIP Update: Crossed 100,000 word mark on December 2017.12.14.