Friday, November 30, 2012

Abandoning My Book

A quote that has been attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, and adapted by various other creatives over the years, is one of the truest things I’ve ever read:

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

Here’s the thing--when you release a book into the wild, it’s not because that book is the most perfect version of your story that it can be. It’s the version of your story that you are willing to put out there, like the baby bird being pushed from the nest.

About a month ago, I released the digital versions of my first novel, Courting the King in Yellow. Throughout the final editing process, I had used beta readers to get story feedback, catch mistakes, etc. So the book that was released in late October was the version I was willing to push out of the nest, especially since I wanted to have it out there before Halloween (the story takes place around that holiday).

Over the past month, I’ve been finalizing the print version of the book, which consists of formatting, tweaking, and reviewing actual print proofs. During that time, I’ve caught things here and there that I needed to fix (sneaky typos, some wording issues here and there), and I’ve noticed other things that I would change if I were to do it all over again.

This process has reinforced a lesson I have known throughout my time as a writer--it’s never done. Every time you get under the hood of something you’ve written--a short story, a comic script, a novel (or even this blog post), you find something to tinker with. From big things like the way a scene plays out, to smaller things like a line of dialogue, the structure of a particular sentence, or that one small typo that you find after you swear you had fixed them all--it’s never done. You just have to get to the point that you are at peace with the creation you’ve put out there, whatever flaws it may have.

The print version of Courting the King in Yellow should be finalized by mid-December, and that version is the best version of my book that I am at peace with releasing into the wild. That will be an important day, as it’s really the last piece of being able to focus more on marketing the book, and moving on to my next project.

As exciting as it is to finally share my book with anyone who wants to read it, there is a part of the process that is also excruciating. Because let’s be clear--Courting the King in Yellow will never be truly finished. Right now, as I write this post, that story continues to live in my head. If I were to sit you down and tell it to you today, what you heard would be different than what you will read in the book. And there’s something kind of cool about that.

A story is a constantly changing, evolving creature. When you read a book, you’re basically getting a snapshot of what that story was at the point in time the author decided to abandon it. Because if he or she didn’t abandon it--if the creator kept toiling away until it was perfect--that creation would never be seen by another living soul.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gaming + The Internet = Sadness (Part 3)--We're Driving Developers Away from AAA

It’s fitting that in my blathering about how sad the internet makes me about games, I’ve left the developers for last. Because they are the lifeblood of the gaming industry, and we are killing them. Developers of big-budget games for console and PC are leaving to work on smaller games, and not just because of the reduced financial risk.

So, let’s start again by assuming we all like games, which is why we play them, as well as read and talk about them so much. And yet, we treat most developers like Gordon Ramsey treats chefs on Hell’s Kitchen. With disdain, condescension and impossible expectations.

When I say developers, I mean everyone working on a game. The writers, artists, programmers, etc. These people spend years of their lives working ridiculous hours to craft an experience that we can immerse ourselves in for hours and hours.

For many of them, their games will not even be covered by mainstream gaming outlets. Worse still, they may get a dismissive mention in a “new releases” article, or a gaming website’s podcast, implying that they are not worth a gamer’s time. If they do get covered (which usually means they are a bigger budget title), they still have big hurdles to clear to be successful.

First, they must hope that their game scores an 8 out of 10 or higher, or most gamers will assume the game is not worth their money. If the game scores lower than a 7, it’s pretty much considered garbage, and word of mouth about what a failure it is will spread across the internet like wildfire. Not much room for error there. Even if the reviews are good, the developer must hope that none of the negatives in any of the reviews become a hot button issue for gamers, or once again, the internet wildfires will rage.

From a publisher standpoint, the industry has become a nuclear arms race of annually updated franchises, which forces developers to churn out slightly different flavors of the same thing every year, with little room to stray from the formula. You can’t blame the publishers, because we are the ones buying the same games every year. There is little room for innovation or new IP, and when something new does come along (like Kingdoms of Amalur, Dragon’s Dogma or Gravity Rush), much of the gaming press and many gamers will assume it’s not worth their time until proven otherwise. There is no level playing field for new ideas--it’s an uphill battle all the way. Unless the games press really gets behind a game before it releases (like with Dishonored), there’s a good chance the game will be dead on arrival, and all the positive reviews in the world can’t help it.

Not only has the current state of console and PC gaming brought about the closure of many game studios, but it’s also created an exodus into the mobile, casual and free-to-play gaming arenas.

On the mobile side, developers are more free to take risks on smaller projects, and they are creating for an enthusiastic audience that has reasonable expectations. Not to mention, there’s money to made, as the combination of lower development costs and huge install bases create the potential for big gains. In July, well-known PC and console developer Epic Games announced that their iOS game Infinity Blade was their most profitable game ever. Ever. Not Unreal. Not Gears of War. A mobile game.

Both the PC and mobile platforms have also proven to be fertile ground for the free-to play model. Mobile devices are littered with free games that are either supported by micro-transactions  or offer a premium version for a price. On the PC side, free-to-play MMOs are proving very successful, and are one way for developers to deal with the piracy issue that has plagued PC for years.

So in my mind the question is this: If the games press and gamers themselves have made developing big games for console and PC a losing proposition, why would developers keep doing it? I don’t think many will, and I think the next three years will see an even bigger migration away from big console and PC development, while the mobile and free-to-play markets continue to grow.

The sad thing is, we as gamers have brought this upon ourselves. We’ve created two categories for games today. Either a game is awesome and everyone needs to buy and play it, or it is awful and doesn’t deserve to be played at all. Everything is between is getting squeezed out.

Over the next few months, I’ll be posting about some of the overlooked games of the past few years that I’ve had a lot of fun with. Games like Legendary: The Box, Velvet Assassin, Raven Squad, Dead Island, The Saboteur and Binary Domain, to name a handful.

Monday, November 26, 2012

CTKIY Cyber Monday Sale!

If you haven't picked up the digital version of my book Courting the King in Yellow yet, now is the time!

From 4PM EST until 9PM EST tonight, you can get the PDF, ePub (Nook) and Mobi (Kindle) versions of Courting the King in Yellow for $2.99! That's 40% off the launch price. You get all three versions for the same three bucks, so you can read the book on whatever device you want!

Click here to grab it before the price goes back up to a whopping five bucks!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The print proof of my book, Courting the King in Yellow, arrived the other day. It was weird to actually hold in my hands a tangible copy of this thing I’d been working on and thinking about so much. But, it was a feeling I’d had once before, in early 2008.

In the picture to the right, you can see CtKiY sitting next to a book called Verisimilitude. That is actually the first draft of Courting the King in Yellow, in a much rougher format, and under a working title. At the time, CreateSpace had offered a free proof of your NaNoWrimo novel to anyone who finished the 50K-word challenge. So, I loaded up my unedited draft, and sent away for my free copy.

Which has sat on my shelf, staring at me every day since the moment I received it.

Getting the proof of CtKiY was a big moment for me, as it drove home the fact that I’ve actually brought the project to fruition after so long a time. It didn’t matter that there were still some things I needed to revise before the final print version would be ready. I had taken the ball of clay that was Verisimilitude in 2007, and molded it into Courting the King in Yellow. I’m very proud of that fact.

For those of you that enjoy insight into the process (like I do), here’s the few things that i needed to change from the first print proof:

1. I didn’t like the way the title of the book looked on the top of each page. I found it distracting, so i removed it. For some reason, I did not find this as distracting in the PDF or ebook versions. The print version looks cleaner now.

2. I had to adjust the page numbering so it appeared properly on each page. For the electronic versions, it’s fine to have page numbers appear in the bottom left corner, but I forgot to center them for the print version.

3. My picture in the “About the Author” blurb printed out poorly, so it’s gone. In the print version, there will be only text now.

That was pretty much it, which made it a little annoying to have to send things back to the printer before I can sell it. But, these things would have bothered me if I let them go. I am currently waiting for the revised proof to arrive in the next several days, and the print version could be available for purchase by December, just in time to scare the pants off someone for Christmas. It will make a great stocking stuffer!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Spoiler-Free Review--Amazing Spider-Man #698

There are no spoilers in this review, and shame on anyone who spoils this issue for someone else.

As I wrote this, Amazing Spider-Man #698 was being released, and readers were finally getting a chance to see what all the hype was about. I waited until a day after the issue came out to post this, because if you picked it up, I didn’t even want to influence your feelings about it.

But I need to talk about it, because man, it’s huge. And I loved it.

I cannot remember having butterflies before reading an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and that includes the big twist in One More Day (which, whether you loved or hated it, was pretty darn big). I wasn’t scared, mind you--it was nervous excitement. Because for me, Dan Slott has written the characters of Peter Parker and Spider-Man better than anyone who came before him, even his creators. You may think I’m crazy, and that’s your opinion. But for me, Dan Slott is the definitive Spider-Man writer.

So I wasn’t nervous about what might happen to who in the issue, I just wanted Slott to nail it from a story standpoint. And boy, did he.

When that certain moment in the story happened, I gasped. And then I reread it. And then I said “Holy crap.” And then I reread the whole issue. And then I said “Holy crap” again.

This moment in the history of Amazing Spider-Man was earned. It wasn’t some cheap twist that didn’t make sense. Sure, there are many questions to be answered in the wake of what happened, but the who and the why is a story that’s been building for over three years and 100 issues. Actually, it’s been building for Peter Parker’s entire life as Spider-Man. But Dan Slott brought it all together, and it’s a thing of beauty.

There are so many issues I want to go back and read now. There are so many questions I want to ask Dan Slott (when he comes out of hiding, that is). And I could not be more excited about what Superior Spider-Man will bring.

In the larger scheme of things, we all know that many stories don’t stick--that many changes aren’t lasting. And that’s even truer for the flagship characters like Spider-Man. But I would love to see this one stick. And if it doesn’t, I hope Marvel at least gives Slott time to explore the new landscape he’s created, because the story possibilities are endless.

With ASM #698, Slott cemented his run as the best ever in my book. And I thank him for making the last few years the most fun I’ve ever had reading about the superhero I grew up with.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gaming + The Internet = Sadness (Part 2)--It's Not the Gaming Press, It's You

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my favorite hobby, and how my enjoyment of gaming has been affected by all the negativity I see, hear and read from fellow gamers. Yesterday I wrote about the puzzling reaction of many gamers and some of the gaming press to the launch of the Wii U. This time around, I'd like to focus on the gaming press, and the love/hate relationship that gamers seem to have with it.

The most fascinating thing to me about the relationship between gamers and the gaming press is how twisted and abusive it is. It reminds me of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern everyday, but profess to hate them. When Polygon launched their goofy documentary back in August, Twitter melted as everyone pointed and laughed. But how many of those people now read Polygon's news and game reviews regularly? Same with IGN and their recent revamp of their review scale. According to the internet, it was the worst thing ever. But darned if their ZombiU review doesn’t have almost 3000 comments on it right now (and it’s been up less than 48 hours). And apparently Twitter is now a private investigation firm that constantly monitors the mainstream gaming press for any ethics violations or issues of perceived lapses journalistic integrity.

Here’s the crazy thing--many of the people spending time writing about what’s wrong with the games media, be it on Twitter, their blog, or whatever--WANT TO BE A PART OF THE GAMES MEDIA. On one level that makes sense, as who wouldn’t want to write about a hobby they love and make a living at it? But it’s almost as if these people think that either (a) it’s really easy, or (b) they would be so much better at it than the people doing it now. And so, they spend their time telling anyone who will listen about how all of the gaming press sucks.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as "games journalism." It’s crazy to me why people expect a gaming website or magazine to behave like CNN. At best, gaming media is enthusiast press, a group of people who enjoy games and get to write about them for money. Yet people treat things like one website's slanted take on Hitman: Absolution as if it's the Petraeus affair scandal. It’s not a secret--gaming press outlets have to maintain a delicate relationship with publishers and developers in order to get continued access to information. Gaming websites and magazines feature advertisements for games--that means part of their revenue comes from the same entities they are “reporting” on. If that seems like a conflict, it’s because it actually is a conflict.

If a gaming press outlet wanted to remove any possible appearance of a conflict of interest, then they would feature no gaming ads, and only discuss the retail versions of games after they had purchased them. No early access, no previews, no free copies of games. That will never happen, as gamers have proven to be very hungry for the aforementioned content. They want their reviews before the games comes out. They want interviews and early access. And their pageviews fuel the ad revenue that gaming websites need. Gaming press is part of the PR process for publishers, and that is not going to change anytime in the near future. But that doesn't mean that reviewers can't write honest reviews, or sites can't maintain a sense of integrity about how they cover games.

If there was one thing I would change about how the gaming press covers games, it would be this--get rid of reviews altogether. Most gamers only read them to validate the opinions they already hold, and non-gaming consumers (i.e. grandma buying a game for her grandkid for Christmas) don't read gaming sites anyway. Instead, focus on developer interviews, previews and a larger discussion of people's experiences with different games.

I guess what I’m saying is that sure, there are a lot of things that could be done differently in the way enthusiast press outlets cover games. But gamers themselves are as much a part of the problem as the press is. Gaming press outlets spend way too much time responding to angry gamers about everything from review scores to which console a certain site is biased toward, to conspiracy theories about bribes and a laundry list of other nonsense. Imagine if they could put that energy into talking about games instead of defending themselves from their own audience all the time.

Want to know how you as a consumer of gaming media can help change things? Here are a few suggestions:

-Stop berating reviewers because they game your new favorite game less than a 9.

-Actually read people’s reviews and not just the scores at the end of them.

-Stop looking for controversy in every tweet, post, review or article. You’re sucking the life out of the people who write them.

-Stop acting like any game that gets less than a 7 isn’t worth anyone’s time or money.

-Talk about things you like on the internet, instead of what sucks.

-Read features on gaming websites. They are what the writers would like to focus on more, but because you don’t read them, they have to write top 10 lists instead (because they get more clicks).

-Find outlets that you like, and promote them instead of crapping on the ones you don’t. And stop reading the ones you don’t like. You’re actually keeping them in business by going there every day.

-Start your own blog and write about the aspects of gaming you love (see Co-Op Critics). It may never result in a paying gig, but at least you’re putting your energy into celebrating your hobby, as opposed to bringing about the demise of it.

So to recap  all of my meandering babble is just a very long-winded way of saying that we should focus on the positive. We're talking about games, man. Games. Things we like.

And to leave you on a positive note, here's three awesome things about games today:

1.  PlayStation Plus comes to Vita tonight (11/20), and subscribers get access to six awesome games, including Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048 and Gravity Rush. Awesome, right?

2. Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is out for the 3DS this week, and it's a throwback to the great SEGA Genesis Disney platformers.

3. My favorite gaming site, 1UP, is running a great cover story this week about why they love games. It's a joy to read. Check it out here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gaming + The Internet = Sadness (Part 1)--It's Okay to Like the WiiU

Remember when the gaming hobby was fun?

I know, I almost can’t either. Maybe it’s because everywhere I turn on the internet, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about is how awful every aspect of gaming is. From the vitriolic ranting of entitled “hardcore” gamers, to the PR-driven gaming media, to the embattled developers who are constantly under siege by both, it feels like the hobby is being sucked into a black hole of negativity that threatens to destroy it.

I know, I’m probably overreacting. But seriously, man. It’s depressing.

Nintendo launched a new console this week, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think they rolled up on most gamers’ houses in the middle of the night and the threw a brick through their front window. The gaming press has also delighted in pointing out the “faults” of the WiiU, seemingly hellbent on getting revenge for being “duped” by the original Wii. And by duped, I mean that the console that gave us some amazing first-party games, provided a gaming experience that whole families could enjoy together, and has sold 100 million units somehow wasn’t “hardcore” enough for cool kids that were expecting something different than what they got. People are actually rooting for the WiiU to fail, and it’s kind of gross.

I’m not getting a WiiU at launch, but only because I can’t afford it right now. I can’t wait to play ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros. U. My kids will love NintendoLand (and so will I). I’m secretly hoping my wife gets me one for Christmas. She won’t, but I’ll find a way to get one sometime in the New Year.

And if you’re a gamer who’s not interested in the WiiU, that’s cool. But it’s okay for other people to be excited about it, and you shouting from the internet mountaintop about how much you don’t care about the WiiU is kind of weird. I don’t care about the Twilight movies, but this is the first time I’ve ever typed “Twilight movies,” because the people that do like them are doing just fine without knowing how I feel.

I started writing about the games press for this post as well, but I went on forever, so that will be in the next post. In the meantime, everybody go like something, for crying out loud.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I actually have a bunch of things going on right now in terms of writing projects, so I figured I’d do some quick updates this week:

Courting the King in Yellow
As I write this, I am waiting for the proof print copy to arrive on my doorstep. Once I make sure everything printed the way it was supposed to, I will be turning on the print option of my Drive Thru Fiction page, and folks will be able to get the ebook, the print version, or both (at a discounted price). At this time, I think the print version of courting the King in Yellow will debut for a limited time at a $9.99 price point (down from the $14.99 regular price). You’ll be able to grab the print and digital versions for $11.99 ($2 off the regular digital price).

I’m also considering doing a series of short podcasts that would serve as a writer’s commentary on the book. I would record a 5 or 10-minute segment on each chapter, discussing what was going on, my approach to that chapter, what changed from draft to final copy, and so on. The episodes would be free. 

I’ve also thought about creating a few more music tracks to form a soundtrack for the book. I had a lot of fun making the music for the trailer in GarageBand, and I have a few more ideas.

Secret Identity Anthology Project
A handful of members of the Secret Identity community are putting together an anthology magazine in the style of the old pulp magazines. I’ll be writing a short story for the project, which will involve one of the bit players from Courting the King in Yellow. The theme for the magazine will be “tales of vengeance,” and it will feature comics and short fiction. The plan right now is to put the magazine out in the Spring.

Mo Stache
The webcomic I’ve been writing for the past two-plus years in now in its final chapter (all of which you can read at The artist John Cordis and I are wrapping up the rest of the script, and we will continue to post pages on a weekly to bi-weekly basis until the story is done. Our plan is to collect the finished comic in print sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.

Co-Op Critics
I am very happy that the gaming blog I started over a year ago has really blossomed over the past several months. Co-Op Critics ( originally began as a small blog for my friend Dan Evans and I to elaborate on the gaming-centric episodes of Secret Identity that we were doing. But, we couldn’t record often enough and the two of us weren’t updating the blog on a regular basis. So, early this past summer, I enlisted the help of a few of our regular gaming crew to contribute to the blog, and it’s become something pretty awesome. In addition to regular posts by me, my buds Kim Wong, Dave Fetterman, Dan Evans and Erik Halston are contributing as well. Right now, kim has a great series of posts going about some of his best gaming memories, and I just started a series about jumping into the free-to-play version of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Check it out if you enjoy discussions on our experiences with games.

Book #2 (??)
I already have the first draft of my second novel written. The book will be the start of a new series, and it won’t be directly related to Courting the King in Yellow (although there may be a shared universe between the two). I will be talking much more about the project next year, and I may even get beta reading going at the start of the New Year. I am very excited about the project, particularly the main character, who I’ve been developing for years in my head and in a ton of notes. I even wrote the first script for a comic series back in 2008 that evolved into a good portion of the novel when I wrote it last year.

Last but not least, I continue to write over at Secret Identity, as Matt and I update the site daily in addition to putting out two episodes of the Secret Identity podcast each week.

So, I’ve got lots of fun stuff going on, and I won’t be slowing down anytime soon. More to come!

Friday, November 9, 2012

CTKIY Update--I Put Out My First Patch Today

So today I put out the first update for the digital versions of Courting the King in Yellow. The update is really nothing major--fixed a few typos here and there, tweaked the formatting just a bit on the ePub and MOBI versions--but what’s cool about publishing digitally is it’s really easy to update files and then make them available instantaneously.

Being a lifelong gamer, I’m very used to the idea of developers patching their games. In fact, I would say one out of every five times I put a disc in my XBox 360, there’s a title update on whatever game I happen to be playing. On rare occasions though, the patch may fix some things about a game and actually break others, causing more harm than good. Each time you dive back into those digital files, you could screw something up.

Which was the anxiety I was feeling as I finalized the updates for today’s book files. The last thing I want to do is fix a couple typos and then format the book wrong and have it be unreadable on some devices. And the whole ePub thing is very dicey to begin with. While ePub is a widely used eBook format, different eReaders deal the the same file in different ways. I run every ePub file through MagicScroll (a Chrome eReader pugin), Stanza (iOS) and Bluefire Reader (iOS and Android), and they all display the book differently. MagicScroll plays the best with the file, while Bluefire comes in second (some formatting issues with the front matter and some blank pages between chapters) and Stanza is a distant third (reformats much of the book). Now, the book is still very readable on Stanza, but those examples underscore the idea that no matter how good the ePub file is, a lot of how it looks to the reader will depend on the app they're using.

For the record, the MOBI format that Kindle uses seems a lot more stable to me, and the only formatting issue I’ve had with it is that it removes bold font (thankfully, I only used it for a few newspaper headlines in the book).

I have to say, for digital versions, the PDF file is the one that retains the look and formatting of print the best. It’s the format I would recommend reading the book in. But, it’s important to have options. My point is, I don’t take the updates lightly, and I won’t be doing them on a regular basis. If there is a glaring error or something that affects the book on a large scale, I’ll update it. But right now, the latest version I put up today is also the one that’s going to the printer, and I should be getting a proof to review in the next couple of week. The print version will be available before Christmas, for anyone that wants to stuff a loved one’s stocking with the gift of horror.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Creating the Trailer for COURTING THE KING IN YELLOW

A few posts ago, I talked about the fantastic cover the Jeff Rodgers designed for my book, Courting the King in Yellow. I recently used that cover and a couple of other tools to put together a short trailer for the book, which you can view in the player below:


It was actually pretty simple to put the trailer together. First, I used the GarageBand app on the iPad to create some theme music. I was going for a John Carpenter-esque synthesized feel, and I think it came out pretty great. I exported the music to iTunes, and then converted the file to mp3.

Once I had my theme music, and I had sliced up the cover image into a few different pieces, I went to and used their free presentation-making tool to put it all together. The free version of Animoto allows you to make up to 30-second presentations. You upload your photos and music, pick a theme, and Animoto does the rest for you. It’s really kind of amazing. If you’re looking for longer presentations and a larger choice of themes, you can subscribe to different levels of features.

For this trailer though, the free version of Animoto worked perfectly. With that tool, a little music created in GarageBand, and a sweet cover, I made a creepy trailer for my book that could get some more folks to check it out.

If you dug the little clip of music in the trailer, you can download to a longer version here.