Monthly Archives: June 2012

Guest Blogging at Rebeka Harrington’s Blog

Hi again. Just to let you guys know, I did a guest blog today at Rebeka Harrington’s Blog. Those interested can find it here.

Eating My Own Words: On Free Ebooks

It’s official. I have to eat my own words because I’m now “selling” my dark fantasy ebook “Drasmyr” for free. Yep. I took the leap… or I fell on my own sword, I don’t know which. I’ve written a number of blogs on the changes ebook publishing are bringing to the industry. “Oh no!” I said. “Free ebooks are going to force all the other books out of production. Why pay five dollars for any ebook, when you can get something of comparable value for free?” I gloomily prophesied the imminent end of writing and publishing as the tsunami of free books forced down the prices of all books everywhere until profit margins shrank to nonexistent levels and the entire publishing industry collapsed in on itself. Well, I’m still waiting for that to happen; well, not eagerly.

 

Anyway, I guess it’s a question of branding. And the brand of an author is his (or her) name. I’m a beginning author. “Drasmyr” is my first fantasy book. At the moment, no one on the planet knows who Matthew D. Ryan is. And it’s my job to change that. The theory behind giving a book away for free is to develop a following. The first book acts as the hook; the rest of the series is where you will make your money (I hope). I spent several months trying to “sell” my book, but sample downloads were few, and actual purchases were even rarer. In the beginning, I was hell-bent against giving my book away for free. I mean, I had literally spent years slaving away, writing the best book I possibly could and now you expect me to hand the product of all that labor away for free? No way! I thought.  By the time month four of sales had rolled around, however, my perspective on the matter had changed. I see now, that it’s not enough just to write a good book, you need exposure. And the best way to get exposure is to remove as many barriers to purchase the item in question as you can. The biggest barrier is price. Hence, I cut the price to zero. The number of downloads is increasing—not as quickly as I’d like, but it’s a positive sign.

 

This approach is more effective when you are writing a series. People are more likely to buy your next book, if they are already invested in the characters and plot that has come before. Fortunately, since “Drasmyr” was always intended as the prequel of a four book series, that’s a plus for me. I look forward to publishing the next book and actually charging money for it (Let’s hope the entire industry doesn’t collapse in the interim).

Check Out “Desires Revealed” by Rebeka Harrington

Rebeka Harrington is a fellow blogger of mine. Not only is she a vampire fiction author, but she has also recently released her latest book “Desires Revealed.” Check it out here, if  you are big on paranormal vampire romance. They appear to be same sex vampires, so bear that in mind.

Movie Review: Disney Pixar’s Brave

The movie “Brave” is Disney’s Pixar’s latest filmmaking venture. It is basically a computer animation that tells the story of a young woman—a Scottish princess, actually—who is going through the typical teen troubles that have become the common fare of Hollywood. The difference being this story is set in medieval Scottland. At least, I think it’s medieval times: the characters are armed with bows and swords and axes, they are ruled by kings and queens, and they tell stories of close encounters with over-sized bears.

 

The plot revolves around the betrothal of the young woman (for the life of me, I can’t remember her name—I should, but I had an ear infection when I saw the movie, and they were talking in those fierce Scottish accents anyway). As was common in earlier times, the girl’s parents—the Scottish king and queen—are in the process of arranging her marriage. Basically, they want to hold an athletic contest of some sort, where the firstborn sons of the three other Scottish lords are to compete for her hand. She will wed the victor, or so her parents think. I think her name is “Merriada” or something like that. I’ll call her “M” for short. M wants nothing to do with any of her suitors. She’s a typical teenager hell-bent on living her life as she wants to, not as her parents want her to. So she takes steps to thwart her parents’ wills, some of which prove more disastrous than others. She encounters powerful bears, a clever witch, and a number of mystical wil-o-wisps.

 

Overall, I thought it was a decent movie, but I thought the message was muddled. She goes through her trials and tribulations which were basically a result of her own doing. Her goal is good—she simply wants a say in her own marriage—but she nearly gets her mother killed by her shenanigans. The conflict between what her mother wants and what she wants is only resolved when her mother changes her mind. And I don’t think that transition was handled well—it was cute, but it lacked something. Finally, I’ve noticed a trend in some of the more recent Disney movies. They seem to be getting darker and darker, as if they are forgetting that their primary audience is very young children. This one wasn’t too bad, but there were scenes with skulls and a battle with a very powerful bear that ended with a dead animal. Plus, the looming presence that M might lose her mother might be a bit too much for the very young. Still, it was a good, if not spectacular, movie.

 

I’ll give it three and a half—maybe even four—stars out of five stars.

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I had low expectations for the movie “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” because of several movie reviews I read that gave it a less than stellar recommendation. And besides, the concept is just so plain silly, how can you expect a great movie from that? I mean, really? Abraham Lincoln? As a vampire hunter?

 

Well, it’s an original concept, I’ll give it that. I’ve heard the book is really good, and if I had the time, I might actually read it. Anyway, back to the movie. This film tells the story of our sixteenth President, but with a few extra tweaks. Apparently, unbeknownst to us all, good old Honest Abe spent a considerable amount of time hunting vampires in his youth. It begins with the vampire that murdered his mother. Bent on revenge, Abe tries to kill the man with a normal gun, whereupon he has his rear-end handily handed to him by the creature in a fight that nearly costs Abe his life. I’ll leave it there, because I don’t want to spoil too much. Anyway, Lincoln moves to Illinois and takes up hunting vampires as a lifelong vocation. But he soon realizes that the vampire menace is too pervasive for a single man to deal with it alone. This leads him to politics, and on to the Presidency, and on to the Civil War.

 

I have two major concerns with the movie. First, there was a certain lack of cohesiveness to it. The beginning was decent enough. I was intrigued by the vampire hunting and his life in Springfield, but after that, there seemed to be a kind of disconnect with the events of the Civil War. I kind of have the feeling that it would have worked better as a mini-series on TV, because the scope of events was too grand. But that, of course, would be ridiculous. My other concern is something of a moral one. Slavery is such a repugnant practice, injecting vampires into the war that won the slaves their freedom seems to minimize the significance of that war and all that transpired because of it. I’m not sure you really want to do that. It’s a sensitive issue, and not one that sits well with dark humor.

 

Still, I found the movie enjoyable, if not perfect. I’ll give it three and a half stars.

The Defining Characteristic of Fantasy Literature

When you are discussing literature, what do you think of when you hear the word “fantasy”? One of the first things that pops into my mind is magic. Indeed, for me, magic is almost an essential element of a fantasy novel. But upon reflection, I find reason to question that first impulse. Years ago, I read the novel “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. It is generally considered a fantasy novel. It doesn’t really have magic, but it does have talking (to each other) rabbits. One of the rabbits, though, is kind of psychic, so perhaps that could be classified as magic, but that would be a stretch, I think. And regardless, the real reason “Watership Down” is classified as fantasy is not Fiver’s sixth sense; it is the anthropomorphic treatment of the rabbits and their society. Rabbits are elevated to a human level of consciousness with complex relationships and intricate interactions. There is a “bad guy” rabbit in the name of General Woundwart (if I recall correctly) and a number of heroic protagonists: Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver to name a few. When I was a kid, my favorite was Fiver.

Anyway, my point is that magic alone does not have a wide enough scope to be considered the crucial element in a piece of fantasy literature. There are plenty of fantasy novels that do not rely on magic, and are still considered fantasy. What, then, is the defining characteristic? Is it the classic pairing of the “good guy” versus the “bad guy,” or in literary terms, the protagonist and the antagonist? Unfortunately, that has too grand a scope of application. Where the net cast by the term “magic” permits too many books to escape, the net cast by the simple existence of antagonists and protagonists is far too inclusive. Most literature would be included by such a definition.

Looking on Wikepedia we get the following definition of fantasy: “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting.” That seems like a reasonable definition, but is it complete? I’m not sure the previously mentioned “Watership Down” passes the test. Would you classify talking rabbits as “supernatural.” I guess, in a sort of technical way it is, but I tend to think of supernatural as something grander: ghosts, spectres, or the actions of deities. Making rabbits talk seems somehow less “above and beyond nature” and more of a variant on the way nature is. And besides, do we really know that rabbits don’t have some primitive language that allows them some minimal communication? It may be unlikely, but it is not impossible. Regardless, we still need a primary characteristic. The key is to focus on the two terms “magic” and “supernatural” in the above definition. They share the characteristic of generally being considered impossible (at least as far as current human science is concerned). From that, I would argue that the defining characteristic of fantasy is that it incorporates an element of the impossible, whatever that may be. In “Watership Down,” this is the ability of the rabbits to talk (yeah, I know I just said talking rabbits might be possible, but generally speaking most people would regard it as impossible) and have complex relationships. In other stories, it is the ability of humans to cast powerful spells. It will be interesting to see how this would change if science were to prove something like, say, the existence of ghosts or telepathy. The line between fantasy and normal literary fiction would be blurred to ever greater degrees.

Anyway, those are my somewhat disordered thoughts on the subject; care to share yours?

How to Deal with Writer’s Block and Writer’s Burnout

I rarely get writer’s block. If I sit down to a computer to write, I usually am able to write something—it may be total gunk with shoddy dialogue and lame descriptions, but it’s something to begin working on. What happens more often to me is writer’s burnout, which is subtly different than writer’s block. In burnout, I can’t even sit down in front of the computer. The thought of sitting there and writing just fills me with revulsion. I have nothing left to give, and no thoughts to record. I have to do something else, no matter what it is, just something different.

 

Still, some of the techniques to deal with one are similar to the techniques to deal with the other. One effective approach is stream of consciousness writing. Basically, you sit down at your computer, open up a word processor and just start typing. Anything and everything that comes to mind goes to the computer. You might just start with garbage like “asd;faldkrj.” As long as your fingers keep moving, it doesn’t matter. Eventually you’ll start putting words together, then sentences, then before you know it, you’ll be typing something not unlike a diary entry, ranting at the universe and raving at God.

 

On the whole, the techniques of dealing with writer’s block involve putting something on the screen. Whether it makes sense or not, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t like typing gibberish, take a piece of dialogue from someone else’s novel, or a section of narrative, type it into your computer and start tinkering with it, seeing if you can improve it. Or find a book on writing and just pull out an exercise and do it. Before you know it, you’ll be back on track.

 

Burnout is a little tougher as it usually involves a psychological revulsion towards all things writing. Even the stream of consciousness technique may be insufficient. In such a case, the best technique, and one that I am very poor at executing, is: do something else. Spend an hour exercising. Get your mind off writing for a while. Exercise is particularly good for burnout. I know this, and yet I still rarely employ it. That’s because my burnout is usually concurrent with depression in which I don’t feel like doing anything, least of all exercising. Sometimes, you might be forced to take a whole day or two (in my case, with depression it sometimes involves a whole week) and do something else. In such instances, it helps to have a back-up hobby. For me I use puzzles and chess to break the monotany.

 

I hope that helps.

Experimental Promotion: Drasmyr Now Available for Free

The dark fantasy novel, “Drasmyr” is now available for free at Smashwords until Friday, June 22nd with the coupon code: DR66V.

 

When I first started my blog several months ago, I was dead set against giving my e-book away for free. It seemed so counterproductive. Indeed, I am still somewhat hesitant to do so; the book represents several years of labor on my part. I would prefer to earn some kind of financial reward for my book, but let’s face it: I have very little name recognition. Matthew D. Ryan… who’s that? Between twitter and my blog, I have about one hundred followers to date. Which is good—it’s certainly better than ten, or say, zero—but I have to grow a little faster. Sales are sluggish, partially because of the lame economy, I’m sure. Anyway, now that I’ve been at this a few months, I can more clearly see the “reward” inherent in giving the book away for free. Basically, it helps build name recognition, something a beginning writer desperately needs.

 

So, given that, I’m going to run a little experiment. For the next few days (until Friday, June 22nd), I’m going to give the book away for free at Smashwords. The coupon code is: DR66V.  I will see if the increased number of sales is significant enough to make this a more permanent retail price. If not, then I guess it’s back to the drawing board. But, well, we’ll see…