News From The Darkness: A Personal Update As I Clamber Toward Daylight

Musing

Where have I been?

How am I doing?

What’s happening with the Doc Wilde books? Or any other writing I might be doing?

It’s time for a general update, and probably past time for a Doc Wilde update since Kickstarter supporters and other fans are patiently waiting for me to get the next book out.

First, if you would, read my post from back in February, “I’m Back. Ish.” It covers some important ground and remains pertinent, especially regarding the state of Doc Wilde, and whether the coming books will be illustrated or not. (And there will be coming books, it’s just going to take a bit longer.)

Now, since that post, which itself was part of an effort to drag myself back into the world and into health and productivity, things have improved somewhat, but I’ve also had a realization: I’m in convalescence. I’m making progress, but I’m doing so far more gradually than I’d like, and far more gradually than I tend to allow for. I’m fighting a depression monster that has had me pinned beneath its claws for many years, a monster which has beaten me and ruined my plans over and over and over again, a monster that has laughed at everything the psychiatric community has thrown at it from therapy to all sorts of drugs to electroshock therapy.

I have had to accept something about myself that batters what pride I still have: I have a disability. I look in the mirror and I don’t see someone who’s disabled, but I look at my life and I certainly do. And I fucking hate it, and I hate that I have to struggle, and I hate that it’s so goddamned hard, and I hate knowing how much I could accomplish if it weren’t a factor, but none of that actually makes any difference because it it what it is and I have to deal with it.

If I don’t, it will kill me. Continue reading

Advertisements

GREED: The Fine Art of Sticking It To Your Readers

As a writer, there is nothing more sacred to me than the connection between the teller of tales and those he tells them to. I write because I want to be read, and read by as many people as possible. There is, of course, a practical aspect to all of this, because to make a living at this craft requires a lot of readers. But there are far easier jobs to do which are generally a lot more lucrative, and the sharing of stories and ideas is the primary currency I crave.

Not everyone shares this philosophy. Samuel Johnson said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” and to a degree that’s solid advice, especially in a time when so many folks try to wrangle writers into writing for free in order to get “exposure.” But if cash itself is a writer’s raison d’être, their muse is a whore and there’s a good chance they’re a hack.

As a reader, I’ve always despised publishing tricks that create scarcity in order to squeeze more money out of some readers while keeping material out of most readers’ hands. For example, an expensive “exclusive limited edition” of an author’s book which includes a story that’s not in the generally available edition and won’t be available anywhere else. It’s true that this rewards devoted fans willing to spring for something special, but it also punishes devoted fans who may not be able to afford the book. “If you love me and want to read everything I write, o wonderful reader, you will buy this exclusive collectible. Otherwise, screw you.”

To be clear, I have no problem with cool collectibles. I love beautiful limited editions, all autographed and bound-in-cloth (like a real goddamned hardback) and illustrated and such. It’s the exclusivity of content that I take issue with. That’s disrespectful to your fans, the most important people in the world to a writer, the people who most want to read your work. Why cheat them of the chance?

This applies to pricing, too. While “what the market will bear” is a fine principle for corporate mercenaries, it can be a harsh metric when applied to the dynamic between writer and reader. A writer I know is writing a series of adventure novels about a popular character that I would love to have on my shelf, and support this author’s work, but the publisher prices the paperbacks at $25 and the hardbacks at $40 and I just can’t afford them. Such pricing is unnecessary; Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is fully illustrated and I published it at $12. Even allowing for licensing costs, the prices for my friend’s books err dramatically toward favoring the publisher over the reader.

The worst case of this sort of thing I have ever seen is a new book featuring a crowd of classic pulp heroes in a shared adventure, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen kind of thing. As you all know, I love pulp and I’m innately interested in this sort of thing. The book looks to be huge and extravagant and loaded with illustrations, a gorgeous artifact for any library. But the lowest price for one of these volumes is $200. And the highest price?

$15,000.

How fucking ludicrous can you get?

I don’t begrudge the writer or publishers the extravagance of their book. If they want to sell an elite edition of it for fifteen grand, and someone wants to buy it, that’s awesome. And even the version at $200 may be worth the price for collectors if the book is beautifully (and expensively) made. But publishing it without a less expensive point of entry for the vast majority of possible readers, especially the very pulp fans this was presumably written for, is unfortunate. It also limits the potential size of the author’s fanbase to a small pool of folks willing and able to fork over a lot of cash.

When he wrote this book, did the writer do it because he loved the art of telling stories, and wanted to reach readers? Or did he just see an opportunity to squeeze money from the collectibles market? Because it really looks like the latter.

Me, I want to reach all the people I can. I want to treat my readers, and potential readers, with the sort of respect I hope to receive as a reader myself. I’d rather sell two thousand books at $12 each than a thousand at $25. I’d rather be read by a thousand people than a hundred. And I’d never participate in a stunt that kept my work from being accessible to most of the folks who might want to read it.

If your favorite book is a checkbook you may disagree.

In Which An Artist Discovers DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

About a month ago, artist Giancarlo Fusco read my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom and gave it sort of a micro-review on Facebook:

Just finished reading Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom… FUN book! If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones or the Incredibles, grab a copy by Tim Byrd. Felt the need to do a quick sketch of Doc Wilde himself… #drawing #illustration #3coffeeslater

Doc Wilde sketch

Giancarlo contacted me, asking for my permission to do a Wilde picture for his portfolio, which I, of course, gave. A few days ago, he produced the finished piece, and it’s pretty nice.

Wilde Adventure

You can find more of Giancarlo’s work here.

Writers Who Kill Kittens

Don't lets the mean writer killz me...

Don’t lets the mean writer killz me…

So, I’m reading a discussion about how we should or shouldn’t let a writer’s politics affect our enjoyment of their fiction, and I see this:

“I don’t give the yuck cut of a rat for any writer’s politics. Can they tell a story that I’m going to enjoy and read over and over? Then I’ll damn well read them despite their politics. The only reason I won’t read Pournelle isn’t political, he stapled a kitten to a door. Once you start torturing cats…we’re done.”

Holy shit. Jerry Pournelle stapled a kitten to a door? That’s a horrible thing to do. What an asshole.

Oh, someone clarifies that the poor kitten was actually just in a story. Whew.

Then, the original commenter digs in: “Anyone tortures a cat in their fiction and I won’t read them again. Yeah, it was in one of Pournelle’s novels. But for it to be in one of his novels, he had to think of it.”

Good grief. I just had this argument (again) with people who think that George RR Martin is a monstrous woman-hater because terrible things happen to his female characters in books in which terrible things happen to everybody. (Never mind the fact that the women in Martin’s books are strong and fierce and smart and competent and complex…)

People, fiction is fiction. It is not real life. Depiction of terrible things is not endorsement of terrible things. Depiction of terrible things is drama. It is the fuel of fiction. The first rule of good drama is to mistreat your characters. And maybe even the occasional kitten.

Hating on a writer for what happens in their story is stupid. It’s no better than hating an actor as a person because she played a terrible person in that movie you saw and therefore must be a terrible person.

This isn’t to say that awful people don’t sometimes lace their awfulness into their work, or that they shouldn’t be taken to task over it. Some writers are racists and sexists and nazis and maybe even kitten killers. I’m not gonna defend The Turner Diaries for its very clear agenda (though I will fiercely defend its author’s right to write it any damn way he wanted to).

And if an author states vile opinions outside of their fiction which resonate with themes in their fiction, they’re inviting criticism on those terms so they’re fair game. If you want to peek inside the brains of some truly awful folks, read the blogs written by the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” groups who’ve hijacked science fiction’s Hugo Awards this year. Writers like Theodore Beale aka “Vox Day”, Tom Kratman, and John C. Wright are writers you can comfortably read knowing that they’re the very worst sort of person. Here’s some reasoned debate I saw from Kratman, on Sad Puppy Brad Torgersen’s blog, when some guy mildly disagreed with him:

Kratman

He went on like this for a while, threatening to track the guy down and hurt him. So yeah, douchebag. Sling all the brickbats.

But, in general, assuming that a writer condones terrible things because those things happen in their stories is not just simple-minded, it’s anti-art. Have some goddamned perspective, for pity’s sake. Fight the good fight, not just any possible fight. Don’t like an author’s work? That’s fine, don’t read it. But leave the poor author alone.

No kittens were harmed in the writing of this post.

DOC WILDE: “The Best Doc Savage Book Since 1949!”

Wilde Adventure!

Most readers of this blog are aware of the fact that  my Doc Wilde books are, at least to some degree, a love letter to the old hero pulps of the thirties and forties, especially to Lester Dent’s great Doc Savage (who was also a primary influence on Superman, Batman, and many other characters as diverse as James Bond and the Fantastic Four). In recent times, a Doc Savage movie has been planned, to be directed by Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon, writer/director of the superlative Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3).

Last week, my friend William Preston (himself an amazing author and Doc Savage fan) pointed me to a website whereon another fan of the Man of Bronze is tracking and commenting on developments related to the movie and to Doc Savage in general. Somewhere along the way, he read my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, and this was his reaction:

It’s obvious to me Tim Byrd is the most qualified person to write or consult on a new Doc Savage film. He gets Doc Savage. He’s modified and adapted the Doc Savage oeuvre for his young adult literature needs but what he takes and how he uses it is pretty darn awesome. His story constantly moves forward, stuff happens, thought and research are combined as if by Lester Dent magic, and great Doc Savage details large and small come into play…

Mr. Black, Shane, Dude, hire Tim Byrd to write your movie for you.

Further down the page, he posted this:

Best Doc Savage Book Since 1949!

This is very gratifying to me. While I consider Doc Wilde to be very much his own man, and in spite of his many similarities to Doc Savage he is also quite different, there is still that strong current of homage crackling through the stories. So having other fans of the old pulps respond to my work in this way tells me I’m doing the job I set out to do.

Book Review: SANTA CLAUS SAVES THE WORLD by Robert Devereaux

Santa

I’ve been reviewing and plugging Robert Devereaux’s work since I reviewed his masterful Santa Steps Out way back in 2000. I’ve given his books books as Christmas gifts to I don’t know how many folks, and pointed folks toward them during that season nearly every year on my blog. I even read all of Santa Steps Out out loud to my girlfriend. There are good reasons for all that attention, and those reasons are definitely on display in Devereaux’s latest, Santa Claus Saves The World.

I need to point out that these books are a series and follow a definite chronology. Those new to Devereaux’s Santa should definitely read Santa Steps Out (which I reviewed here) and Santa Claus Conquers The Homophobes (reviewed here) before reading this one. In the first book, Santa steps out on his beloved wife, having a torrid affair with the Tooth Fairy, and all sorts of mayhem and wonder result. In the second book, Santa becomes concerned about all the hatred in the world leveled at gay people and takes definitive action to put an end to it. Santa Claus Saves The World is a much shorter book (a novella, actually), and serves as an open-ended coda of sorts to the earlier works.

It does, of course, tell its own tale. This time, Santa and his flock (and allies ranging from Aphrodite to God himself) take it upon themselves to fix humanity itself, to banish all the horrible and nagging imperfections in our basic psyches and make the world the place of wonder it has the potential to be. This involves a lot of hard work by Santa and his elves, and a lot of hardcore fucking. Folks already familiar with the series know very well by now that Devereaux’s stories are violent and profane, in your face, and brilliantly written. They also elevate the carnal to a wonderful spiritual level, a celebration of love and of  life itself. If you’re easily offended, stay the hell away from his work, but if you can enjoy (or at least tolerate) seeing beloved childhood mythical figures engaging in the wildest, most pornographic sexual activities imaginable (and some stark, inventive violence), you’ll be rewarded with some incredible, thought-provoking fiction. As he puts it in his author’s bio, “…as long as one’s writing illuminates characters in all their kinks, quirks, kindnesses, and extremes, the imagination must be free to explore nasty places as well as nice, or what’s the point?” Robert Devereaux’s imagination explores a lot.

I enjoyed this book, but it’s definitely a pleasure for folks who’ve visited this North Pole before. The beloved characters from the earlier books are here, but the full development of their personalities already occurred in the first two books, and the narrative velocity of this shorter tale doesn’t allow much backpedaling to explain who they are or what happened to them before this new adventure. Reading this book alone will spoil the previous tales in a big way. But if you read the trilogy in order, this won’t be an issue; you’ll know these people very well by the time you crack this book’s cover.

Read Robert Devereaux’s Santa tales, they will entertain and challenge you, and may even make you open your eyes a bit more.

Book Review: CRYPTOZOICA by Mark Ellis

Cryptozoica

“This whole thing sounds like the plot for a lot of B movies.”

Thus speaks one of the main characters in Mark Ellis’s dinosaur adventure, Cryptozoica, and the statement reflects what I expected going in with this novel. I had reservations based on a handful of factors. The cover was brightly colored and a tad cheesy. I knew that Mr. Ellis had been a writer for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle line of macho testosterone-and-explosions books, and frankly my limited exposure to Gold Eagle books over the years hadn’t impressed me (though I never read any of the ones written pseudonymously by Ellis). And from the blurb describing the book, this seemed squarely in the pulp tradition of lost worlds, dinosaurs, beautiful women, and heroes named Jack.

That formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I happen to love pulp, as anyone reading my own work knows. But I can’t stand bad writing, and a good bit of pulp, both original and modern, is pretty awful.

By the time I finished the prologue — which dramatically ties the novel’s background to Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle — any reservations I had were chased away and I knew I was in good hands. Ellis’s writing is strong and vivid, as any good adventure writer’s should be, and he has an adept sense of story.

To go into much detail would be to spoil some of the book’s many pleasures, but I will say that it is both pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of tale and a lot more. The characters are all interesting and layered, the setting vividly painted, and the action swift and smart and full of cliffhangers. There is science, both real and weird, and Ellis’s excellent research adds interesting detail throughout. There’s a Dragon Lady, Chinese gangsters, secret societies, shifting loyalties, the requisite cool (and hungry) dinosaurs, and a few ancient mysteries. There are also some ever-topical themes relating to science and faith that are very pertinent in our current culture.

The book is nicely illustrated by the cover artist, Jeff Slemons, but I read it on my iPad and the images all loaded at a resolution just low enough to be annoying. It would be nice to see them more clearly (and I know it’s possible, as we managed to do it with my own illustrated novel, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom).

I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Get yourself to Cryptozoica for some good old fashioned adventure with modern smarts.