Hedging my Bets

When I was first writing the books that would make up my Urban Fantasy series, On the Hedge, my ex-wife asked me what I planned to do with all of them (I was about three in at this point). I told her nothing. I was writing the books for the sake of writing the books, and I didn’t want to put myself through the soul-crushing hell of trying to find an agent over some fluff I cranked out at weird hours of the morning.

Today, the first book in that series (The Web of Nightmares) is out on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, and the reception has been … disappointing. I posted a link to the book onto an Urban Fantasy group page I follow, and the response was tepid. What did I do wrong? Was my blurb uninteresting? Did I pick a bad title? It the series name lousy? Is the book itself rancid garbage? I know it’s not the cover because the cover is amazing.

What do I have to do to get those people’s attention? Some of them like heavy action, some prefer more psychological drama. Some want romance, some won’t read a book with a hint of romance in it. Some want heroes, some want heroines. Some want vampires, some loathe vampires. A lot of them won’t even look at a book that’s self-published. It’s almost like they’re individual people with individual tastes or something. I could make myself crazy trying to figure out what they want.

So I’m not gonna. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’m not going to do anything different. (I might pay for advertising, though.) What was the whole point of this exercise I’m undertaking this year? Was it to become a bestseller, to quit my job, to save up for a vacation, to make money? No. It was to give my books the covers they deserve, to have a website and an author’s page on Amazon and a long list of credits on Goodreads. To have a physical novel in my hands that I can autograph for anyone who’s interested (coming in July). It’s to give me a goal to write toward. It was to make my books available, how I want them available, for anyone to see if they’re interested. To maybe pick up a few readers here and here. Money would be nice. A little notoriety would be nice, but you need a lot of luck, a much thicker skin, and a willingness to do a lot of things that aren’t writing to have that, and I have none of those things.

Do I write for the fame? To reach the widest variety of people to give them what they want? No. I write for me. I write to see words and situations and a style that I can’t get anywhere else. I write to process grief and trauma and philosophy. I write so that I can relive events in my life from a different perspective. I write to live out a fantasy of me, whether that makes me a monster-fighting witch, a sleazy philanderer, an out-of-control tomboy, or an IT person still in love with an old flame. None of these reasons are for the money, and I steadfastly refuse to change. This won’t make me a success, but I don’t want to be a success. I want to be a writer.

So stay tuned. This is going to be a big year for me. And, for the love of God, buy some of my books. I’d like to sell at least a few copies.

Facing the Times

I was just thinking about Kuchisake-onna. Do you know who she is? She’s a Japanese urban legend. She’s either the ghost of a model who had some bad plastic surgery or abused wife, or she is a dark spirit that roams the country, or a demon. The official name for her kind is yokai, which could mean ghost, spirit, or demon, or all three. The folklore isn’t clear. Like most yokai, she follows a script, and only by knowing it can you expect to get out alive.

Imagine you’re walking down the dark streets of Tokyo in 2019 or earlier, and a woman approaches you wearing a surgical mask. She will ask you, “Am I beautiful?” Being polite, you answer that yes, she is. She removes her mask to reveal that her mouth has been split open from ear to ear. She will ask again, “Do you still think I’m beautiful?” If your answer is to be brutally honest and say no, or if you’re too busy screaming in terror, she will slit your mouth open to match hers, and in recent tellings, she will do it with a pair of comically large scissors. If you continue to be polite and say that she is beautiful, she will leave you alone without a word. And then, while you sleep that night, she will murder you in your bed. If you think you can get out of it by saying she isn’t beautiful up front, she will decapitate you right away, probably with those scissors.

The thing is, once Kuchisake-onna spots you, you’re in it for the long haul, so you need to be prepared. At any point, before or after she shows her face, you throw a handful of hard candies at her, she will be distracted by those, and you can get away safely. The best way to get away without having to stock up on Jolly Ranchers or Werther’s Originals is to answer her, either time when she asks if she’s beautiful, with, “You’re average.” This is such a departure from the script that she’ll just wander away, the encounter forgotten.

Kuchisake-onna is a bit of a celebrity in Japan. They’ve made her the subject of a number of horror movies. As far as I know, she never made it into an episode of Supernatural, but she did appear in the short-lived CW show Constantine as a minor villain. Honestly, she’s got a lot of potential as visual horror, but you probably couldn’t make an entire movie about her.

I was thinking about her today, as I was in the supermarket, and I saw a woman walk by with stunning eyes. That’s all of her I could see because it’s 2020, and it led me to wonder what she could be hiding under that mask. And then I remembered that Japan has been asking that question for centuries. I wonder if Kuchisake-onna has been getting around a little more in Japan, if she’s feeling less conspicuous and a little more relaxed. It’s hard to be suspicious of the woman in the mask when everybody’s got one.

Are Women From Venus, Though?

So, there is this cliché in culture where men find it cute and hot when women eat a lot. They don’t like it when she puts on extra pounds, though. It’s a lot like the way that men will brag about how they love a woman without makeup, but they are pretty horrified by what women do look like without makeup. Men want their women to look beautiful, but they don’t want their women to go through the work of looking beautiful. It’s inconceivable to us, the gender that can look conventionally attractive being kind of out of shape and taking a ten-minute shower that it might take a carefully monitored diet and up to an hour in the bathroom to be conventionally attractive.

Some of it might also be because we’re, as men, taught to devalue the girly, and what could be more girly than caring about the way you look?

So I’m making a female superhero a main character in my next novel (which won’t be a superhero novel per se, but will have superheroes in it), and I’m trying to think of the practicalities of her powers, and I briefly flirted with her having to eat 6,000 calories a day to function, so she was always shoving food in her face. But then I thought, do I want to be that cliché? So I’m going to pass on that. It would have made for a fun gag, but it’s also really misogynistic. I can give her a personality that’s not just a male wish-fulfillment quirk.

I know I’m not going to be a bestselling author, and my impact on the cultural zeitgeist will be that of a light cough, but it’s still important that I do the right thing.

Sweet Smell of Success

As you know, I’ve had my self-publication of my baker’s dozen of books on my mind. I’ve contacted three artists about covers, received two amazing ones back, and am looking into getting a real webpage. I’m not expecting to make any money on my books, and everything I’m sinking into covers is a luxury, not an investment. I don’t want to do what I’d have to do to to really sell myself, i.e. become an active presence on Twitter (Ugh) and shaking hands. I want to write. That’s all I want to do.

I’m a member of this FB group that makes me feel awful about myself. The focus of the group is how to make a living being a writer, and they insist on putting way more work that I’m ready into marketing and such, and if your book doesn’t sell a lot, then you’re a failure. Today someone made a post where he listed his mistakes when he started out writing, and the #1 and the most important was that he wrote for himself, not to market.

That really got to me. Because, in my mind, what’s the point in writing if you’re not writing for yourself? Nicole suggested I write to market, and the amount of not-being-able-to-motivate-myself-into-doing-that cannot be overstated. How do I measure my success, by having a webpage of thirteen (and counting) books with sweet covers that nobody will go to? Or by canvassing Twitter so I can retweet a bunch of authors whose books I may not have read and writing books so they’re exactly like every book out there? I’ve obviously found the FB group for the latter, but is there one for the former?

He Who Hesitates

I’m ordering a book cover, with more to come next month (Newcastle is going to the cardiologist this month, so my funds are limited in October). I’ve looked into some easy ways to do some marketing that won’t break my bank or my sanity. I am at peace with the fact that I won’t sell that many copies (I’m doing this for myself, not because I want to get rich). I will probably be good to go in January.

So the question left is, will I actually start in January? Will I be able to stare into the yawning chasm of Amazon and just throw myself in there? Or will I simply hold my breath and promise myself I’ll do it when I’m ready? Will imposing failure hobble me (I said I was at peace with not selling many copies, but I’m not going to like it)?

I’m running out of excuses.

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

It’s no secret that I like the Urban Fantasy, whether in books or in TV. This doesn’t apply only to Urban Fantasy, but to all genre-style books, movies, and TV shows (excluding romance). These works of fiction tend to have a high body count. Whether it’s the victim before the opening credits of a TV show, or the innocent bystander being killed in the carnage of the two heroes duking it out above the city in a movie, or the person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the sexy rogue vampire is walking through the pages of a novel, genre fiction is a bloodbath, and life (except for the main characters) is cheap.

With that much death, it’s hard to comprehend how we’re supposed to feel about it. It should be shock value when the villain just lashes out and kills another hostage, is it? We’ve lost almost 200,000 people to a virus, and most of that was due to negligence and political infighting. Each of those lives means something, but the number is so staggering, we can’t comprehend it. It’s why people don’t wear masks anymore. They don’t see the lives, they see a number.

I write primarily in Urban Fantasy, and I’m really squeamish about killing people. I mean, I have. My nostalgia novel Infinity has a pretty shocking death toll, and the vampire in my vampire novel’s gotta eat. But usually I let people live.

Partly it’s because of logistics. For example, the population of Sunnydale, California, could have, in no way, supported the amount of people who died there on a weekly basis. And who would want to be a Gotham City cop or a guard at Arkham Asylum when anytime one of them appears on panel, they get their throats slit?

But mostly it’s empathy. Even fictional characters have a family who will miss them. They had favorite movies and food, and statistically, some of them have got to have pets. They may be made up by me, but they’re more than just a statistic to make the bad guy seem extra bad and for the heroine or heroine vow to avenge and then forget later.

Also, I found a lot of storytelling possibilities. In one case, a character who should be another dead victim is turned into a trauma survivor who becomes friends with the heroine. And when I do decide to kill someone, the loss of a life means something to their family, to their friends, and to the heroine who witnessed it. I’ve just made the on-the-cuff decision to kill a minor character in my current book, and it’s really allowed me to think about who he was when he was alive, and to get to know him, not just through his funeral trope where everybody stands around a hole while a priest drones on, but through the wake, a celebration of his life and his potential.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t really have the stomach for the way non-main characters are treated in genre fiction, and the only solution to that is to do it better.

Hope & Change

What if everything that’s going wrong with this country politically—the hatred, the distrust, the bad faith, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, could be traced back to a single event twenty-six years ago? Without that event, our country could become a more reasonable, equitable place? What if you could make that event go away? Would you do it?

But making that event goes away would change everything. It would smooth away some of the adversity that makes you who you are. You might not be friends with the same people, you probably wouldn’t live in the same place. Your economic situation could be different. You could even have a different partner. And almost certainly, every single person born in the last twenty-five years would cease to exist, replaced by other people, who I’m sure are lovely, but they wouldn’t be your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and friends. Would you still do it?

That’s the question I’m asking in my current novel. I’ve identified an event in 1994 that has led directly to where we are now, with federal agents kidnapping innocent Americans off of the streets (but, ironically enough, not the Americans that stormed state capitals with AR-15s on their backs), and I’m asking if everything good that would be altered in history was worth it to change our decades-long slide into fascism. Do you have a duty to the hundreds of thousands of those who have lost their lives so far and the millions more living a nightmare life of poverty, or do you have a duty to the members of the Zoom Generation who have touched your life?

Would I do it? Would I change literally everything?

And the answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

A Positive Spin

I think I’m making a huge mistake, narratively, in my novel, but I’m not sure I want to fix it. Basically, the law and order principal of my heroine’s high school asks her to trust her (the principal) with the kind of secret that could end the heroine’s life at that school if it gets out. This would be the perfect opportunity for betrayal and creating an impossible social situation and the kind of chaos that my stories thrive on.

But I don’t do that. The principal keeps her word. The secret is safe.

Right now, I severely distrust authority. From the top to the bottom, I don’t believe that authority, in general, has my best interests at heart. I saw my high school principals, in one way or another, betray the students they were supposed to protect. One went to prison for it. And yet I don’t want to teach my heroine the same lesson I learned. Her life is hard enough as it is. I want her to be able to trust someone in power.

As a weaver of plots, I chose the boring path, the overly optimistic one. This isn’t Game of Thrones—this is a YA novel about a teenage witch. Let me have a little light.

Cooped up and Crazy

Day 15 of quarantine, and I’ve snapped. I thought that, as a rabid introvert, this would be great, but I’m barely keeping it together.

Part of it is physical. It’s a seven-minute walk at top speed to get to the office from the Metro in the morning, and Order Processing is an active, demanding job, and over the course of two days, all of that is gone. Walks around the cemetery aren’t filling in the gap.

Mostly it’s time. What am I supposed to do with all of it? I thought I’d write more with tons of it, but I’m actually writing less. When I worked, I wrote for an hour first thing in the mornings, on the trains when I found a seat, and in the hour between jobs. I still write for an hour in the morning, but that’s it. The rest of my time I spend trying unsuccessfully to think of things to write and watching TV. When time isn’t precious, I tend to waste more of it.

This is going to go on for a while, so what I need is some way to apply the pressure that I’m used to, or just to use the time productively, or to accept and forgive myself if I’m not productive. These are strange times.

The Best Days of our Lives

My current novel is a Young Adult novel. That means I have to get into the head of a social outcast in high school, and that’s fun, I guess.

Here’s the problem: thirty years later, the stakes aren’t as high. If I woke up in high school tomorrow with forty-four years behind me, and some pretty girls in the hallway started whispering to each other while keeping their eyes on me, I’d just say whatever and keep walking. I wouldn’t even be able to work up the energy to make a jerk-off motion with my hand.

But back when I only had fourteen years behind me, the ground would tremble, fissures would open in the floor, and skeletal hands would grab me and drag me into eternal suffering. My life would be OVER.

And let’s not underestimate the amount of influence the contamination of going through puberty affects the point of view.

So, yeah, I’ve got a great story to tell, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to properly communicate the URGENCY of the experience.