From 7 to 8

I subscribe to the email newsletter of Jason Calacanis, the CEO of mahalo.com. If you like Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell you may like Calacanis as well. If you don’t know who any of these people are, well, on with the blog.

Calacanis sent out a newsletter a few weeks ago where he spoke frankly about the shortcomings of some of his companies apps. He talked about how getting a product to a 7 is actually not all that hard. So, let’s say you have a good idea for a song. Assuming that you have a base level of skill and creativity, that good idea should get you at least a 6. Work and polish will get you a 7. A 7 is not just above average, a 7 is good. A good song. A good book. A good app.

A 10 on this scale is f’ing mind lowing. To tell the truth, you are not capable of a 10 and neither am I and I don’t know who the hell is. It’s better than great. Better than amazing. A 10 will destroy the earth and reshape the landscape.

A 7 is good. And if I am honest with myself, much of what I do has aggregated to a 7. Recording wise, I think some of my songs might be 5′s or (horrors) maybe a 4. Live, I think I have hit a 9 a couple of times based on the faces in the crowd and the CD sales afterwards. I like to think that I am above average but my powers of self assessment keep me from claiming that I am an 8. So, the real question is: How do I go from a 7 to an 8?

Again inspired by the Calacanis newsletter, I have two possibilities. First, get my 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell, in his game changing book Outliers, provides compelling proof that to become the best in the world at what you do, you need to do it for thousands of hours. The more I write, record, produce, perform, and collaborate, the better I get. However, the improvements needed to move from good to great are time-consuming and, for many folks, are not tangibly noticeable. It’s a grind. Going from being a bad guitar player to an average guitar player is a big deal. From average to good is noticeable. How would you notice if one song is produced ‘good’ and another ‘great’? Slow but steady, I guess.

The second idea is a bigger deal. I need to make big changes to the way I record. My last four CD’s- Ghosts Don’t Disappear, The Exploration of Dangerous Places, Age of Steam: Strange Machines, and the upcoming Another Creepy Christmas were all recorded at the same studio with the same producer. After almost three years, I feel that Zack (producer) and I have gotten better. We’ve put out songs that may have been 5′s but also those that might be 8′s. Time, practice, trial and error has brought us to a place where I truly feel that the new album might be an 8. I’m still in the middle of recording and not objective, but it feels like a full step forward instead of refining my place. And we did this by getting closer to 10,000 hours.

But! To become a solid 8 and, dare I say, attempt a 9, requires a change. A big one. Something that gets me out of my groove and pushes me. Hard. It will probably at least double the cost of my next album. It’s a little scary. It will happen.

Here’s to 2013.

Ninjas vs Zombies

Hoo boy is it summer, eh? Those poor ninjas in their black outfits–Stay hydrated, secret dudes! And those zombies are really starting to smell in this heat.

This week has been an interesting one on DorkCargo, starting with a bitter blood feud and culminating in a reminder of how awesome it is that the Karmic Wheel didn’t toss me off in Afghanistan. I thought I’d add one more for the week, another one of these Zombie vs Ninja questions for which there is no right answer.

Local vs Organic.

I know, I know. 1) what does this have to do with books; 2) why does it have to be one or the other; and 3) haven’t we all gone round and round this a million times in our own lives?

At the house of DC we have been radically changing the way we eat: what we eat, how much of it we eat, and where it comes from. It takes for bloody ever now do do the damn shopping, but it actually costs less because we’re eating less. The three points of the food decision decision triangle for me are: organic, local and cost. (photos below are from Whole Paycheck Foods. the first is of non-organic but local, the other is of organic but very not local, the peppers are from holland.)

What I want to know from y’all is your story. Have you made such a change? Why? What are the food shopping and consumption rules you have made for yourself and your family? Any luck getting the Spousal Unit on board with this whole “let’s change the way we eat” plan? Do your kids care?

Diet and nutrition are intensely personal journeys. What and why of my diet choices won’t work for you, and your nutty food ideas won’t necessarily fly round here. But I know that a lot of you do shop at your local farmer markets, have changed the way you eat, or have gone off and started your own farm.

Here’s how this relates to books.

It occurred to me that even though my thoughts and values were in the right place, my actions and food consumption were not. I realized this, like one of those shafts of sunlight parting the clouds in religious iconography, when shopping for food for our roommate at ConCarolinas: committing to a lifestyle change means changing all of my life, all the time, not just picking and choosing when to occasionally commit to some arbitrary values.

I believe that we get a lot of encouragement and gentle reminders and inspiration from our peers. (“If he can do this, I can do this.”) Take a moment to tell us your “what and why”, leave some encouragement for someone else, and take some away for yourself.

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Bandcamp 101

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t listened to the radio in, uh, years. You know, the one on the dial, the receiver, the eff-emm. It’s been many a long year since the record labels have produced anything I’ve wanted to hear.

That all went away sometime about the when we cut the Cable TV cord.

So where and how does one find music of the non-canned Clear Channel variety? I utilize Rhapsody some, have been playing with YouTube, hate spottify, got irritated with iTunes… and found Bandcamp.

Bandcamp works well for me.

It appears from the buyer’s point-of-view that the musicians actually receive a major portion of the money you pay for the album downloaded from Bandcamp, which is the dealbreaker for me.

It’s searchable. You can download the electronic album or buy a physical copy (provided one is available from the artist). You can listen to the entire album right there on the spot, for free, for as long as the artist makes it available.

And if you really like what you hear, you can opt to pay more for the album than the artist is asking for! That’s important.

Probably the coolest feature is that the musicians who utilize Bandcamp recommend their favorites. So, if you like listening to Musician ABC, they in turn, recommend Musician XYZ.

There isn’t an app for on-the-go Bandcamp Explorations, but the “listen now” feature actually works on the g-damn iphone–I’m impressed that they worked that out, as the iStuff often does not play well with others.

Plus, you can embedd and share the links to the albums/singles via FB, Twitter, email, etc and so forth, declaring to all the world wide that you are currently listening to and enjoying music from:

My Growing Fear Of Books

One of the books I bought at my first convention was Nobody Gets The Girl by James Maxey. Obviously, I thought it was fantastic and grew very optimistic about books that I discovered at cons. Interestingly, there were two other books I bought at that con and they were not fantastic. They were fine. Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve made it a goal to buy at least one book from each convention I attend. I look for interesting ideas from non-marketing machine authors, usually found sitting alone in the dealer room or in writers ally. I’m happy buying indie art from indie artists, and will continue doing so, but I have come to a sad conclusion. Most of these books are not fantastic.I have read some not-fantastic books that were self-published, small press, and big 6 products. Books written by people I know fairly well, kind of well, and not at all. Each time a book changes from could-be-awesome to not-quite-there, I get a little sad. We all want everything to be fantastic and unfortunately, there are some awfully big misses that began to grow in me a fear of books.I have learned something about my own literary preferences over the last year. I hate internal monologue. Remember that I spent 6 years as a playwright. For me, Plot + Character – Musing about what just happened – 2 pages describing an unimportant room = engaging story.

I spent 9 months or so reading, sometimes slogging, through the non-fantastic wondering if James Maxey was a fluke. Nothing else was comparing well to my go-to’s of Robert E. Howard, Connie Willis, Jasper Fforde, and William Browning Spencer. Imagine then my delight at once again discovering something fantastic.

I am 2 chapters into Leona Wisoker’s Secrets Of The Sands and am very happy. I’m not the biggest Dune fan, so after meeting Leona a year ago and seeing the desert scape on the cover, I avoided picking up the book. But as fate would have it, we are co-guests of honor at Madicon this March. I felt that I should read one of her books so we could have at least a polite chat about it. But it’s actually so great that 2 chapters in I want to talk about it. At MarsCon this year she told me that her editor, Barbara Friend Ish, kicked her third book back 2 times for rewrites. This might have something to do with the quality.

And it’s not just Leona that makes me optimistic. I have Shadow Ops: Control Point, the new book by Myke Cole, The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, and The Blood Of Ambrose by James Enge sitting by my bed. All of these look fantastic and are quelling my fear of books.

Writing My Own Rules – Jason Halstead

Guest post by Indie Author Jason Halstead

My story’s not unique – I knew I wanted to write when I was young. Some people wanted to teach, some wanted to be astronauts or firemen. I wanted to write. Well, I wanted to be a 80’s action hero, too. Neither one seemed likely, but I had a better chance at writing so I worked towards it even though I had no idea what I was doing.

For the sake of brevity I’ll skip the years between then and now. It took more lessons and setbacks than I can count, but anybody who knows me knows that my life is a constant example of how to overcome setbacks and road blocks. I’d even argue that in spite of holding multiple degrees including an MBA, the only thing I’ve really learned in life so far is that always striving to learn more is the key to succeeding at anything.

I was published through a small press in 2009 with a cross-genre book (fantasy / space opera) called Voidhawk. It became the beginning of a series that has grown to three books and shows no signs of slowing down. It was quickly followed with Wanted, a science fiction book that has been my greatest success. In fact, at the time of this writing Wanted has held the #1 spot on the kindle science fiction / adventure bestselling list for a full week now. It’s currently listed as a free book, and I hope to leave it as such for as long as Amazon will let me.

After Wanted was released I followed it up with Dark Earth, which was to be the beginning of my third unrelated series. Dark Earth is a paranormal / urban fantasy style series. After Dark Earth I released book two in my Voidhawk series (Voidhawk – The Elder Race), then a couple of standalone novels Human Nature and Sex Sells.

It was at that time I grew tired of going through a publisher. I’d worked with two at this point, and one showed signs of faltering. Similarly the communication was lacking and the promotion / marketing was non-existent. So I stepped away and decided it was time to do my own thing.

I’d grown a great friendship with a fellow author by the name of J.E. Taylor throughout this process. Jane and I decided that we had the skills, between the two of us, to help ourselves and others out. We started up a company called Novel Concept Publishing, LLC. All of our future novels have gone through this entity, and we’ve also helped a few other authors get some truly great books out to the market. We’re very small and plan to stay that way though, but we’re always looking for quality submissions.

Since that point I’ve put out six more books. Voidhawk – Redemption is the third book in my Voidhawk series, Ice Princess is the very successful sequel to Wanted, The Lost Girls and Voices are books in my Dark Earth series, and I introduced a new futuristic science fiction series called Vitalis with two entries: New Beginnings and effective a couple of days ago, The Colony.

In the very near future I’ll have a third Vitalis book out, another Dark Earth book out, more Voidhawk novels, and many more of everything else to follow when cover art and editing are completed. As far as I’m concerned, breaking away from a publisher that dictated my schedule was the best move I’ve ever made. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

There are other problems to being an author though. Promotion and marketing are the big ones. Sure, you have to write a good book and that means having a decent editor, but no matter how good the book is if nobody knows it’s out there you won’t have sales worth mentioning. That’s the struggle. Everybody wants to be seen, so how do you stand out? I’m still learning the tips and tricks, and I’d argue it’s as much chance and luck as it is anything else. The only thing I can recommend to would-be writers is to just keep plugging away at it. My goal is to be self-employed as a writer and I’m nowhere near being there yet. Balancing the day job, family, writing, and my sometimes obsessive hobby of power-lifting, means I lose sleep, but it’s all worth it.

Being a writer is the same thing as being an entrepreneur. It requires hard work and long hours. Anytime you’re not working on writing or getting the word out is time spent where you are not making money. It’s not the path for everyone – many people prefer the stability and reliability of a regular job. I don’t blame them, but it’s not for me. I write not only because I’ve got all these stories inside of me, but because I want to write my own rules for success.

If anything I’ve said intrigues you, please check out my website (http://www.booksbyjason.com) for free samples, sign up for my newsletter, or to learn more about my books. I share my experiments and lessons learned on my blog regularly, as well as sharing tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way (http://booksbyjason.wordpress.com).

Hot Air, Gaudy Colors, and SciFi/Fantasy Literature

Up, high and bright, or low and building, or descending rapidly into traffic – the hot air balloon has long been a human fascination. Ever since one nearly landed on the roof of my house in the fourth grade, they have been a fascination of mine. Playing in the sand with a twig one Saturday morning and hearing that repeated whoosh-hiss as the pilot attempted to maintain enough height to clear a few houses and make it to asphalt, I was quite startled. My sister and I could clearly see the occupants’ faces – including their expressions of concern and frenzied activities. Balloons, while filled with air, are not light on the ground, or a roof top. On the ground, deflated, the typical balloon system weighs around 600 pounds. In the air, fully inflated, add the weight of the encapsulated air – then the balloon weighs closer to 2.5 tons.

Now, if I had known that little snippet of info a few years ago when a balloon landed on the North-South I-25 as we were going through, my eyes might have bugged out a bit. It was the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta weekend and balloons speckled the sky. I remember trying to take ridiculous photos of these tense, worried humans that were only a few tens of feet above me as all traffic slowed to less than 20 mph, waiting to see where this aeronaut would be able to set down. In a situation like that, I would hate to guess which is the lesser evil – set down in traffic or risk the power lines.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and I was driving the lonely backroads of northern NM to meet a lady with a heavy, unidentifiable accent to buy an electric fence system. The meet had been arranged through several emails responding to a Craig’s Listing and a handful of garbled phone calls. The nice lady wasn’t too sure herself where she was on the backwoods map. So I packed my cash, a good audio book, and a little semi-auto protection and went on a cruise on a set of roads less traveled to a destination I was pretty sure about. Mostly. But why didn’t I take the camera? Sigh.. For out there, having only seen one other vehicle, was a hot air balloon landing nearly on route. Big and mostly yellow, that tower of deflating nylon was nodding towards my beat-up truck as I first slowed and then sped up to go under it. After meeting the once-sheepherding lady for the electric fence, I headed back the same way, followed by a chase vehicle – which was a large pickup in this case – which pulled off at the appropriate location and assisted the ballooners in packing up their ride.

Enough about my fascination with hot air balloons. These simple wind-born rides have caught the imagination of science fiction and fantasy writers for generations. Probably the most well known is Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, which entails an English and a French man traveling around getting into and out of all sorts of trouble (and happens to be a Darkcargo YOBC selection). Jules Verne also incorporated a balloon in Mysterious Island, in which some American prisoners escape via balloon and after several days land on an unknown island.


Mary Shelley wrote more than the classic horror story of Frankenstein. She also wrote The Last Man, an apocalyptic plague-ravaged science fiction novel in which the technology of balloon flight is integral. Part of Edgar Allen Poe’s belated recognition was due to The Balloon Hoax. This was a fictional account of an European crossing the Atlantic in 3 days in a balloon, which was printed as a true account in 1844 in New York newspaper The Sun. There is also the Texan aeronaut Lee Scorsby from Philip Pullman’s series His Dark Materials.

You might think that hot-air balloons are so blase, so two centuries ago. But think about it. How many times would you willingly get into a flying vehicle who’s speed and course is determined by the wind? I think travel balloons capture the very essence of adventurism. If you are the adventure type, and end up in Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta, you can take a morning to fly about the NM skies.

Clockwork Phoenix 1

My Old Foss.

” This can’t be good,” Old Foss said.

The Old Man blinked and without taking his eyes from the Jumblies said, “Why can I only sometimes understand you? Sometimes you are just a cat and other times  a voice, a friend. Why is that, Old Foss?”

“I am always your friend,” Old Foss said, “only you are sometimes deaf. I don’t know why.”

–from Old Foss is the Name of his Cat, by David Sandner, collected in Clockwork Phoenix 1 by Mike Allen

You’ve seen this photo before. It was the first Darkcargo “avatar” thing-bob. But what’s that book in the background? Mr. Pockets has been modelling the Clockwork Phoenix 1 anthology for about three years now. Editor Mike Allen has published an electronic version, releasing this weekend.

The stories are…fantasy, yeah, but they’re not High Fantasy or Swords and Sorcery. They’re lyrical, prose-like, delve into corners of speculative fiction normally left dusty by the well-trodden highway of Fantasy. These are stories that lurk behind the trees waiting to ambush the weary pilgrim on that well-beaten path.

The first time I read Clockwork Phoenix I had to put it down a lot. Many of the stories are disturbing, opening that endless vein of human sadness. But these stories have their reverse image too, tapping into that endless artery of hope and joy.

My favorite from the collection is “The Moon-Keeper’s Friend” by Joanna Galbraith, because it speaks to my sense of wonder and delight, its pun on the word moon being the almond sugar on that little pastry of a story.

I loved Root and Vein by Erin Hoffman, a different and sadly hopeful story …and here I have trouble, and the trouble is the same for all these stories. This story is ABOUT a dryad, but it’s ABOUT hope and regrowth and the capacity to carry on past despair.

The Tailor of Time by Deborah Biancotti–> sewing, fabric, clockworks, and being nice to someone else at your own expense. Yup. My Kinda Story.

And I hate Old Foss is the Name of his Cat by David Sandner. I cry just trying to write about it. Loneliness and old age are my personal horrors, and oh! how our hearts break for the sufferings of our loved ones.

We’re discussing self-challenges a lot this weekend with NaNo and book challenges. I’m hoping you’ll pick up the e-version of this book and challenge yourself to explore the less-maintained paths with what has sometimes been labeled as “weird speculative fiction”. It will probably take you a while to read. There were two stories that went over my head, but every one of the other 16 made me sit back on my heels and re-arrange my schematic of the capacity of another human’s imagination. If nothing else, get it for Mike Allen’s Introduction, which is hands down the most lyrical and engaging string of words ever put before me.

Mike Allen is the long-time editor of Mythic Delirium, a speculative poetry magazine with multiple award winning poems to its credit. His Hugo-nominated short fiction is truly “dark and twisty” and I always have to put on my “Big Girl Panties” and muster enough courage to read it–during the day. He’s been featured on the Star Ship Sofa, and has been asked to be a regular part of that crew. And, as he’s located in Roanoke, I get to check the “local” category box.

The Realm of Writing – S. M. Boyce

Guest Post by Author S. M. Boyce

S.M. Boyce is a fantasy and paranormal fiction novelist, book blogger, and affordable professional editor who recently published her debut novel The Grimoire: Lichgates. Boyce updates her blog weekly so that you have something sarcastic to wake you up in the morning. Also, her Creative Writing degree entitles her to both be pompous and serve you french fries.

Feel free to get in touch with her, since she loves meeting new people. All links and details are at the end of this post.

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Quick, what’s the coolest thing you can think of?

This post was written for those who shouted “Writers!” to their empty office so loudly that they spooked the fish in the tank one room over.

Oh, was that oddly specific? I prefer to call that imagery, not stalking.

Welcome to the realm of writing: where everything is fair game and no one can really agree on anything. It’s a fun adventure and the name of the game is getting published.

I’m lucky enough to count myself among the published; my debut novel is The Grimoire: Lichgates and was published this last October as the first in my contemporary fantasy Grimoire Trilogy. It has been a wild ride that involved a lot of insomnia and Red Bull, but seeing my book in Amazon and Barnes & Noble searches made it all worth it. It was really crazy when I saw it in print. But oh man, when the reviews started rolling in, my head went fuzzy. Strangers were reading my work…and liking it.

Here’s the blurb for The Grimoire:Lichgates:
The Grimoire is a book that turns its own pages. It can answer any question asked of it. So when Kara Magari stumbles across the old book while hiking a hidden trail, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. She’s thrown into Ourea: a beautiful world full of terrifying things. Most of the creatures there want to control her, but everyone is trying to find her. There’s no going back now.

There’s even a large following on the Grimoire Blog, where I post weekly bonus content like character artwork and deleted chapters not available anywhere else. People can live the Grimoire story any time and for as long as they want.

The Rock Stars of the Writing World

One of the greatest parts of being a writer is the writing community and its amazing & talented people that are – nine times out of ten – ridiculously nice. Let me give you an example. Go to the #amwriting Twitter conversation and send a witty response to someone who looks interesting or said something funny. Half the time, the conversation elevates until you learn a great new writing or marketing tip. Sometimes, you can even strike up strong friendships with these contacts.

Through Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, the Kindle Boards, Google+ and writing circles like Scribophile, you as a writer can connect with great writers who will help you to hone your skills and initiate conversations with your readers. Use social networking as a chance to engage with your audience, instead of throwing advertising at them, and you’ll go far. I wrote another guest post about marketing tips, so you can check it out or look at my friend Laura E. Bradford’s similar post if you’re interested.

What You Should Know

I was asked to give a few tips for new writers, so here goes one of the most important lessons I know: writers need to be avid readers with thick skin and an open mind.

Not everyone is going to like what you write, and that’s okay. Not every book blogger will read your book or leave a kind review. Hopefully, though, the book bloggers that do review your work at least give you constructive criticism from which you can learn, because otherwise it’s kind of a waste of everyone’s time.

I run a book blog called The Source and try to do just that with each of my reviews: I analyze the author’s voice and style, discuss what I liked and what I didn’t, and leave in-depth details with examples of what the novel’s strengths & weaknesses. I also post my review on Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords (if applicable) and anywhere else I can. I’m currently taking submissions, so feel free to go to The Source and query me if you’re a published writer and would like some exposure. I particularly love prerelease novels, if you want a review out before your book is even released. However, know that I ignore submissions that don’t abide by the requirements listed on the submission page. Query me first.

Whether you’re a seasoned author with twelve billion published books or a newbie just starting out with a laptop, a latte, and a dream, remember above all else to support your fellow writers. Leave reviews of our books. Connect with us. Critique our work on Email Her.

Places to Find S.M. Boyce:
Boyce’s Blog
Boyce’s novel: The Grimoire: Lichgates
Twitter
Goodreads
Facebook
Website
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Quick! Visit the Vendor Room!

Needle-felted bat brooch! from Cretur Fetur

Sophia says:

Cretur Fetur creates needlefelted creatures “for the advancement of
fine organic creature awareness,” harmoniously combining animal facts
with fuzzy art: http://www.creturfetur.com