Authors with six-figure incomes

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Twenty years ago, Donald Maass interviewed authors to find out who had six-figure incomes, and what they had in common. What did he discover?

No conventions. Hear that? They don't attend many conventions

Excerpt from ‘The Career Novelist’ by Donald Maass

Download a free copy of the book this is from at this link.

Obviously, none of them listed “Lucky” among the important factors in their success, but we can take that as a given. You can do everything right, but if you’re abandoned by your editor, or your preferred subject matter appeals to a small audience, well, that’s just too sad for you.

But how much of this advice (to the extent that it actually constitutes advice) still holds, twenty years later?

I suspect that writers really do need to be somewhat “plugged in” right now. Writers aren’t going to make a lot of sales by going onto social media and calling for readers, but they can recommend other authors, and those other authors can recommend them in return, if they like. Log-rolling! It’s not actually evil, if you liked the book.

I also wonder what other factors would weigh in here: how quickly do they publish? Are their books largely within a single series? Do they win awards?

Personally, last month I passed the five-year mark on my publishing career, and it hasn’t be great. When the trilogy and the new UF comes out this winter, I’ll have published or self-published ten books.

I’m not looking for six-figures here, but mid-five would be nice. Very very nice, actually. We’ll see.

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly

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A Darkness More Than Night (Harry Bosch, #7; Terry McCaleb, #2)A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unsurprising and a little disappointing.

There isn’t a lot of mystery to this mystery; obviously, the star of a long-running detective series is not going to suddenly turn out to be a secret serial killer, and the B plot makes it obvious what’s really going on. It’s creepy as hell in places, but the the only real question is where they’ll find the clues to the inevitable solution.

I’d give up on these books if people didn’t keep recommending them so highly.



Buy a copy for yourself.

I backed the third edition of CHILL (and so should you)

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When Pacesetter put out the first CHILL edition way back in the ’80′s, I snapped up a copy. For those of you who watched my Kickstarter video from last year (oh, shit, a year? must finish books) you might have noticed that box on the shelf behind me. It’s been 30 years since it came out, but while I have never played in a genuinely good Chill game, I still remember it fondly.

When Mayfair put out a second edition in the early nineties, I started snapping those books up. They were fun to read, for the most part[1], and suggested a great many story ideas, most of which I never got to use[2]. Someday, maybe. Someday.

Still, this was the ’90s, when The X-Files was all anyone talked about. It should have been the perfect moment for the game to break out. Unfortunately, the fear checks never really worked, and the horrors in CALL OF CTHULHU bigfooted all over the traditional monsters in Chill. People were more interested in Deep Ones than haunted houses, apparently. The game never sold as well as it should, and when Mayfair had a break-out hit in SETTLERS OF CATAN, they dumped rpgs in favor of board games and have never looked back.

There was an attempt some years back to put together a third edition; I was part of the crowd reading through the rules and discussing them. Sadly, people suck, and the nasty sarcasm I got when I dared admit that I sometimes ignored a die-roll to make the narrative work, convinced me it was more stress than it was worth. Much later they tried to raise $45k to print the rulebook, but it never happened.

Part of the reason I never quite had a successful game is my own weakness as a GM (excuse me… “CM”). Part was that the game required a certain willingness for players to face an enemy that was more powerful than they were[3] which had to be investigated before it could be fought. Part of it was that the players were unused to NPC interactions that didn’t mimic the might-uber-alles bullying that came with lawless murder hobo fantasy campaigns. Part was just an unwillingness to get in the spirit of things.

An example of that last:

Me: “The last thing you need to do for character creation is think up the first time you came into contact with the Unknown. It can be a haunting, a vampire attack, whatever.”

Player: “Uh, well, okay. I was walking down the street and I saw a werewolf driving a pizza-delivery truck.”

Me: “Dude.”

Player: “What?”

Sophisticated role-players, we were not. Suffice to say, I made several attempts over the years with different groups, but it never really came off.

However, I quite liked the way the rules handled creatures’ powers as though they were spells. I liked that you roll percentile dice for skill checks. I liked the idea of SAVE[4], the organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural[5]. I liked the genuinely scary creatures in the main rulebook. I even liked the weird psychic powers the PCs could access.

It was also nice to see that they broke the “rules” with regard to the creatures. I was raised to color inside the lines, and that attitude extended to pretty much everything, including the “rules” of monster movies: vampires can’t cross running water, ghosts have a task they needed to accomplish, werewolves could be killed with silver. There were boundaries! It was all laid out!

Then came Chill, which offered that sort of monster, along with other kinds. You could have werewolves that didn’t give a shit about silver or vampires that could walk in the sun. It didn’t matter, as long as it was interesting. For me, who had always broken rules on the sly because breaking rules meant trouble, the game was a bit of a paradigm shift, creatively.

Plus, for a guy who loves spooky horror but hated the sadistic pain movies and books of the 80′s (and who still hates modern grimy torture porn), Chill gave me some control. It let me imagine the stories I wanted.

That’s why, yesterday, I backed the third edition of their Kickstarter even though I can’t really afford it. The playtest materials are gorgeous; this is really the best art the game has ever had, and a quick glance at the rules is very promising.

It also looks like they’ve fixed the issue with fear checks.

Anyway, the materials they’ve already made available have me excited for the project. I hope they blow the doors off their goal and start funding a bunch of supplements or whatever.

Hell, I might dig out the adventures I was working on twenty years ago to see if there’s anything salvageable in them.

So, if traditional horror rpgs sound good to you, back them. You’ll at least have a chance to look at the playtest, with plenty of time to change your mind (you won’t change your mind).

[1] I was sorely disappointed by the “monster manual” for the game, called Things, but I’ve read enough horror game supplements to know how difficult it can be to make up a long list of horror creatures that are a) inventive, b) scary, and c) set the right tone.

[2] On Twitter, someone suggested that the playtest sampler for the 3e Kickstarter had a bit of Child of Fire in it, but in truth the influence goes the other way. The idea of a family (a whole community) that can’t remember one of its own comes straight out of the main rulebook for 2e. I read about that creature almost fifteen years before I started CoF. If you back the Kickstarter, you’ll get to see for yourself.

[3] In fact, I converted one of the creatures for 2e Chill (a mist mummy, which is a creature that spreads pestilence) directly into Champions so a five PC superhero team could fight it, and damn if it didn’t have blisteringly high points.

[4] aka Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata or The Eternal Society of the Silver Way, which was explicitly changed from “White Way” in the Pacesetter version because it sounded like an offshoot of the Klan. See also: The Dresden Files TV show changing the “White Council” into the “High Council”.

[5] In first edition, it was an actual functioning society that sent people out to investigate shit. The second, naturally, turned things all grim and dark, because 90′s. The new edition seems to have a rebuilding theme, which is welcome.

9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

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Nine Dragons (Harry Bosch, #15)Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This isn’t what I was looking for, either.

Anyway, I read the first three Harry Bosch novels in omnibus form, having snatched the massive hardback for them off the front table at now-defunct Tower Books in Queen Anne. The police procedural plot was a bit predictable but clearly well-researched and the tone was perfect: a sort of morose, cynical inevitability of ruined lives and terrible grief. Yeah, the lead character smoked alone in his little house at night while jazz saxophone music played, but the cliches were effective.

I love that shit. I enjoyed the books so much, I wanted to do my own version.

In the years since, I haven’t kept up with the series, but I have occassionally bought a copy for the giant to-read pile, and I returned to the author now for another taste of that perfect tone.

Sadly, it all gets pissed away partway through the book. What starts as another police procedural about a murdered man with a family suddenly turns into the movie TAKEN, with Bosch in the Liam Neeson role (sans karate).

I can forgive the clunky prose, although this was much clunkier than I remember. I can forgive the tenuous string of clues that lets the Bosch track his daughter all over Hong Kong. I’m less forgiving about the way the Chinese characters are treated, although I guess that’s hard to avoid in a crime novel. Same again for the fridged ex-wife.

By the time the characters return to L.A., I knew the big twist was going to be that the obvious killer was obvious, and I’d lost momentum.

Still, it reads like a thriller, and I worked my way to the end.

I can’t pretend it wasn’t disappointing, but I have A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT here in my pocket, so maybe that will be a return to that bleak, sorrowful tone.



Pick up a copy of 9 Dragons for yourself

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

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A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matthew Scudder, #17)A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After seeing A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES at the theater, I was looking for a novel that would make me feel as sad and as bleak as the movie did, without the unfortunate elements that I had to forgive in the theater. This was the closest option and I grabbed it.

It doesn’t have the same punch as the film, but it is very nicely done, as private investigator books go. As in most of these books, it’s primarily dialog but it’s very good dialog.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Matt Scudder, former corrupt NYPD detective and struggling alcoholic, tells a story from decades before when he was an unlicensed private investigator. He does favors for friends, and they give him gifts in return, all very under the table.

In this case, a guy that Matt knew as a kid grows up to be a career criminal. After a stint in prison, he and Matt both end up in AA, trying to stay sober and put their lives back together. Part of the AA recovery process involves contacting people you’ve hurt in the past and making amends and while in the midst of this step, the poor guy gets murdered. Matt gets “hired” to look into the list of people the victim wronged to see if any of them might be the killer.

It’s a sad book, but it’s not as bleak as the film, and that’s what I was looking for. That’s not fair, I know, but I’m still laying out 4 stars for a solid crime story where the most pressing question is whether the protagonist will make it to his one-year sobriety anniversary.

Anyway, if you like private eye mysteries set in NYC of the recent past, this is the book for you.



A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

New creepiness for the Halloween season

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Maybe you guys have heard about The Dionaea House? It’s a story (or is it real?) told through emails, texts and blog posts, a modern epistolary novel.

And it’s spooky as hell.

Not gross, not horrible, or filled with monsters tearing people apart, or demon children, or whatever bullshit modern horror is about. It’s a smart, subtle (except where it shouldn’t be) scary story, and I highly recommend it.

It’s by Eric Heisserer, and it was popular enough that it launched his screenwriting career. The film that was supposed to be made from it hasn’t happened, for the usual reasons, but it’s supposedly going to be name-checked (or featured, not sure) in the upcoming series The Librarians. Anyway, you should read it.

The reason I mention it? Heisserer is back at it: “Information I’m Dumping Here for Safekeeping”

Read through. Open the images. Follow the updates. It’s fun.

h/t to John Rogers (@jonrog1) for the link.

Randomness for 9/26

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1) The 50 Dorkiest Songs You Love. NB: you don’t have to tell me you personally don’t love some or all of them. I know.

2) Edgar Wright – How to do visual comedy. Video. This is excellent and shows why I find modern comedy so incredibly boring.

3) Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead (Rotated). Video. So weird and funny.

4) Anonymous Gods. The computers at Google automatically blur the faces of famous religious statuary.

5) Netflix’s new spoiler website. #spoilers

6) Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch.

7) Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Manson & the Birth of Cults

Rolling my eyes at THE BLACKLIST

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Probably the least effective promotional tool (for me, personally) is an image of James Spader in a fedora, but that’s all over the ads for the second season of THE BLACKLIST, his latest TV show. I had little interest when the first season aired (I watched two shows last year, both derived from comic books) but when S1 appeared on Netflix Streaming I felt a little poke in my curiosity bone, and I gave it a try.

The premise: Spader plays Raymond Reddington, one of those super-criminals who travels all over the world doing favors and generally playing fixit for other bad guys. He has a background in military intelligence and a mysterious, tragic incident that prompted him to disappear and become a baddie. Essentially, his backstory is a dead wife and daughter, the first two female characters fridged on the show. After decades on the Most Wanted List, he turns himself in to the FBI, volunteering to be an informant in exchange for immunity. He promises to give them criminals so secret the government hasn’t even heard of them, but he’ll only talk to one person, an obscure young agent no one has ever heard of.

The show is cheesy from the start, but it opens with mystery: What’s Reddington doing? Why this young woman in particular? What *really* happened to Reddington’s family? Is the young agent’s husband really who he says he is?

So it’s cheese, but it’s smart, fast-moving cheese. (Contrast that with FOREVER.) This is one of those shows where the cops get into gunfights all the time, shoot people, then brush it off. It’s also one of those shows where the criminals they chase are all evil masterminds of their fields. Usually, their so good that no one even realizes they’re committing crimes.

Sadly, they have a habit of fridging their female characters. Supporting character Agent Action-Hero gets to reunite with his ex only to lose her tragically. Tragically, I tell you? And the season finale threatens to bump off three series regulars, but only the woman is really gone.

They should be smarter than that.

The whole thing is exaggerated as hell. The mystery behind Reddington’s list, the over-the-top quality of the eeeevil plots, the constant uncertainty of who can be trusted, all reminds me of some best-selling thriller novels, and it’s been interesting to study.

But the second season premiered last night and I skipped it, because while it’s fun, it also feels like it ran it’s course. Still, it’s an interesting exercise in popular entertainment.

Movie Review: THE GUEST (tl;dr: See It)

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I don’t usually review movies because most of what I see at this point is Corporate Hollywood Entertainment [1] (case in point: My kid is dragging me to THE MAZE RUNNER next week) and I’m not part of anyone’s marketing team. If there’s something worth saying, sure, but I only write “SEE IN THE THEATER/RENT IT AT HOME, MAYBE/ONLY IF YOU WANT TO PUNISH YOURSELF” for smaller movies folks might miss.

THE GUEST is in limited release in the U.S. as of today, and I’m going to tell you why you should see it.

First, here’s the trailer.

For those who didn’t watch, it’s a Deadly Friend story, in which average people find themselves the “beneficiary” of a powerful, dangerous new pal. Stephen Black’s Deadly Friend subplot was one of my favorite parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it’s a subgenre I have wanted to dabble in for a long time.

The Peterson’s are a typical family, but they’re struggling. Mom is still stricken over the death of her eldest son in the military. Dad is drinking too much and stalled in his career. Their eldest daughter secretly seeing her drug-dealer boyfriend on the sly, and their remaining son is friendless and bullied at school. In walks David, who knew their son in the military and was with him when he died. He’s come to deliver a message of love, and to fulfill his promise to help his dead comrade’s family, if he can.

Unfortunately, David is a vicious psychopath and maybe somewhat more than human, too. What starts off with small kindnesses quickly escalates into terror and violence, but despite all that, there’s still an underlying attraction for all the characters. He’s a bit like a vampire; attractive and compelling, but once you’ve invited him in, you’re in the shit.

One thing the movie gets right is just how seductive David’s penchant for violence can be. He starts off by responding to attacks with counter-attacks, and there’s an undeniable appeal to that sort of strength, especially for the youngest boy. It feels like power, like agency, like something to be admired and emulated. As David gets closer to the family, and the things he does to “help” them become more awful and outrageous, the connection he’s established with them is still powerful. There’s a scene late in the movie–just a conversation between two characters–that would be the epitome of “What the fuck are you doing? Are you nuts?” in any other movie. It’s a metaphorical go-into-the-basement-along scene. And yet, because of the characters’ history, it’s the most believable, heart-breaking, and terrifying scene I’ve watched in months.

The movie’s being partly billed as part comedy[2] but it’s not, really. It has some subversive moments, and there’s a dark comic playfulness to it, especially at the end, but nothing to make you[3] laugh aloud. For me, the weird absurdity of it lent the violence extra weight and realism.

The trailer features a lot of action shots, but this is more psychological thriller than action movie. Dan Stevens, (who does a pretty good American accent) brings real charm and unpredictability to the part.

Anyway, it’s in limited release right now, but if you can see it, you should. If you can’t, see it when it goes into wide release in October. Everyone claims to want original, interesting movies, don’t they? Well, this is it.

[1] Hey, I wonder if I could make a useful acrony–oh, never mind.

[2] Or an comic thriller

[3] meaning “me”

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?