Success in a Den of Thieves

There’s been a steady, minor surge in sales of Raw and Other Stories in recent weeks and months. It’s always placed a solid third in the hierarchy of my best-selling publications, well behind Necropolis but surprisingly close to Sex Tape.

I say surprisingly because I was warned, when I first started down this publishing road, that short-story collections don’t sell. Regardless, I forged ahead, if only because I had a backlog of stories that had appeared in various anthologies, plus a selection of new material that had yet to see the light of day. They begged to be collected, particularly since one of them—“Raw”—had been shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award nomination.

I chose an overarching theme of “crime” for the book, with some of those crime stories getting nasty enough to cross into the territory of “horror.” I drew the line at supernatural. None of my ghost or zombie or demonic stories made the cut. They’ll be collected sometime in the future, once there’s enough of them to fill another volume.

Right out of the gate, Raw and Other Stories made more sales and got more page reads through the Kindle Unlimited program than I expected. Lately though, a couple of years later, copies—particularly paperbacks—have been moving at a much quicker rate than they probably should. It made me wonder what was up. Had someone reviewed the book somewhere or mentioned it on a podcast? I’ve seen sales correlations in the past with people doing as little as posting one of my covers on Pinterest. Every bit helps, and any mention is good promotion. But this was a much bigger anomaly.

A Google search later, I had my answer. Raw and Other Stories has been pirated by one of those book-theft sites out there. Someone is peddling a PDF and, discouragingly, it’s had more downloads there than it has ever had on Amazon—even when factoring in my free-promo days. More encouragingly however, is that even with the good review rank on Amazon, it’s even better reviewed on the pirate site. So…um…glad you liked it, I guess.

I figure some of the pirates have enjoyed my book enough to want to have a physical copy in their library. Paperbacks aren’t so easy to pirate. You might as well buy a copy. What’s your alternative? Find it in a library and spirit it away to a Kinko’s? Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

I guess I’ll just be happy that my paperbacks are getting free advertising in the dens of thieves and the coves of pirates. As Epitaph approaches publication, I’m working more and more on the next collection of short stories, Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals. I’ll have that ready for you to pirate as soon as possible, I promise.

Nineteenth Century Continuity Problems

I have a bone to pick with Herman Melville. A whale bone.

Keeping continuity straight in your stories and novels can be tough. The longer the work, the harder it gets. Series are especially brutal. It’s why, for instance, Harry Harrison started writing prequels to his Stainless Steel Rat books. Less continuity to remember.

Continuity seems to have become more of a concern for recent generations. Now that we have superfans tracking everything, and a World Wide Web to complain about each inconsistency uncovered, it’s become ever more important for writers to remember what they wrote (typically on a whim, often drunk, with little consideration beyond getting through the current paragraph).

Nineteenth Century authors got to be exceptionally lax about their continuity. I’m looking at you Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! Yeah, I see you, playing havoc with my pastiches of your work based around a child character who, apparently, didn’t age at all between the years 1881 and 1888.

Even when I’m not playing in the public-domain sandboxes created by writers of eras gone by, they can still screw up my own, original work.

I’m finally finishing the fine-tuning edit of Epitaph (yes, it’s been long and drawn out and I’ll probably complain about that in a future post). This final edit is all about catching micro errors, tiny typos that everyone missed thus far, and second guessing myself about certain word choices that most readers will never give a shit about. One of the biggest points of contention between myself and my lead copy editor is the spelling of Moby-Dick.

Or is it Moby Dick? No hyphen.

Necropolis fans will remember the harbinger, a lesser demon, who got trapped inside the remains of a reanimated goldfish and became a pivotal prop in a regurgitator act. It’s complicated. Anyway, he’s back in the sequel, and he’s still being snidely referred to as “Moby-Dick” by Rip Eulogy, professional necromancer and unprofessional asshole protagonist.

I hyphenated the name in the first book of the series, and will continue to do so in the second, just to remain consistent. But it’s been a hot debate (admittedly over unimportant minutiae). It would be great to go to the source to get a definitive answer, but Melville himself is the reason there are two versions of his white whale’s name.

I opted to use “Moby-Dick” as it appears in the title, right there on the cover. It is, after all, what he named his damn book. But then Melville went on to consistently use “Moby Dick” in the actual text. So which one is it? Does it even matter? Probably not, but it keeps me up at night.

Meanwhile, on the Conan Doyle front, the latest MX collection of Sherlock Holmes stories is out, with my own “The Adventure of the Ambulatory Cadaver” featured. Remember when these books were supposed to be a trilogy ten volumes ago? Neither do I.

The proceeds still go to charity. Not so for another Sherlock Holmes story I wrote that got accepted into a forthcoming anthology. That one I was going to get paid for.

I say “was going to” because I’ve already withdrawn the story. It was the first Holmes short I wrote, originally for a totally different collection. Even though it didn’t get in that book, it drew the attention of David Marcum and MX Publishing, and the rest of my contribution to the genre is history.

I’d been looking to make a clean sweep of my Sherlock Holmes adventures, landing them all in solid publications. This early attempt was the sole loose end, and I was pleased to find it an appropriate home. But then I saw the contract…with more publisher shenanigans, the likes of which I’ve complained about here before. For what amounted to a token fee, they wanted rights to the story that would echo into perpetuity, with the publishing house claiming a piece of the pie for anything and everything that might one day be derived from my concept.

I would have told them to fuck off if they were paying a hundred times what they were offering. I might have tried negotiating, but this sort of crap littered clause after clause after clause. When someone is trying so hard to screw you, don’t waste your time trying to spot and counter all the points where they’re being a bad actor. Just get out.

Back to my personal slush pile of unsold and uncollected stories it goes. Thankfully, I’m a publisher myself, so nothing I write has to wither and die in a drawer if I don’t want it to. I’m pretty sure, when the time comes to sign that contract, I’ll let myself keep all the rights to my work.

The 700 Movie Mark

I’ve mentioned the weekly movie night I’ve been curating for the last 16 years on this blog many times before—so much so, it has its own sub-category.

This week will mark the 700th unique feature-length film we’ve screened. There had been more movie nights than that, but I’m not counting a limited number of repeat screenings and the few nights when we watched nothing but shorts.

Partly due to this milestone and partly because we were stuck for topics to talk about, this Sunday’s episode of Cinema Smackdown was devoted to the primordial-ooze days of movie night. I blathered on at length about how this phenomenon came about, the first ten or so movies that were screened, and my close personal ties to this gathering (bizarrely, I now live in the original venue where movie night began in September of 2003).

Cinema Smackdown continues apace, with Michael and I doing weekly shows, almost without failure (admittedly I missed one show a couple of weeks ago because I was so damn sick). I don’t like to constantly promote it because it feels like every time I blink, we’ve done another episode. But if you’d care to delve deeper into the lore of movie night, let me point you at the last hour of radio we did.

You have two options to listen in. You can watch the raw studio feed I post on my YouTube channel (don’t be shy about subscribing or watching other episodes). That will let you listen in on our chatter before and after the show, as well as during commercial breaks. Or, if you want the actual broadcast version, complete with better audio, the news from the top of the hour, and the aforementioned ads, you can check out the CJLO archives. Here’s a direct link to the episode in question.

The Kids Are Alright

We’re now 15 volumes in, and I’m proud to have been a part of The MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories project since volume one back in 2015. My latest Holmes & Wiggins story, “The Adventure of the Ambulatory Cadaver,” will be appearing in this round of 66 original stories.These Kickstarters are the best way to get your copies first and for a lower price. Check the higher tier pledges to get the earlier editions as well, in your choice of hardcover, paperback, or PDF. As usual, all profits go to charity.

Now that Undershaw (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home) has been restored to its former glory, profits will continue to go to the Stepping Stones school for children with learning difficulties, housed therein.

Since all my Holmes stories to date involve Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, you might also want to check out David Marcum’s recent article about children in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Six adventures in, and my contribution to this facet of the Sherlockian universe is worth a mention. Number seven is in the works.

Oscar Indifference

It’s an Oscar year so uninspiring that the Academy couldn’t even book anyone to host.

This is the second year I’ll be unplugged from my former cable service, and I’m doubly disengaged and more disinclined than ever to seek out a stream or screening. If it weren’t for my friends and colleagues David Fine and Alison Snowdon being nominated for their animated short, Animal Behaviour, I probably wouldn’t bother at all. Even so, the Oscars are old hat for them. They already won a golden statuette for Bob’s Birthday years ago. Been there, done that. I suppose the drama of Alison’s double lung transplant during production makes for a compelling backstory to the film. Maybe.

No shit. That happened.

Other than that, the Oscar ceremony is poised to be even more boring than usual.

If you want some more contrarian opinions about the Oscars (which will probably be more entertaining than tonight’s show) we spent this afternoon’s entire episode of Cinema Smackdown talking about it on CJLO.

Check out the rest of my YouTube channel for other recent episodes. Subscribe to get the raw video feed with all the inappropriate off-air chat that happens during the commercial breaks. You can also listen to the actual broadcast versions on the CJLO website archives, complete with better audio and ads.

We’re live online and on 1690 AM every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm Eastern Time.

Best Before

I had food poisoning a day ago.

Been there, done that a couple of times before. But this time it was a whole new level of bad. Sure I felt like I was dying on those previous occasions, but I’d never been reduced to slapping myself in the face—hard—to maintain consciousness. I might have called 911, but the phone was an impossible distance away from the cooling surface of the bathtub side, where I was resting my flop-sweating head and waiting for my body to make its coin-flip choice of which end was going to handle the evacuation.

I was alone and far from assistance. Well, almost alone. One cat—the smart one—figured out something was wrong, and tried to comfort me with meows and face rubs, ignoring the danger she was putting herself in, crossing one potential line of fire repeatedly. I made a note to leave the tap running for the felines in case I didn’t make it. That would take care of their water supply until my body was found. As for food, I’ve always made it clear that my pets are free to help themselves to my mortal remains in order to survive until rescue arrives. What do I care if I’m dead? I’m not using the old meat-sack anymore, I’m not into open-coffin funerals, and the crematorium ovens don’t care how pretty your corpse is.

Morbid?

Well, I did write Necropolis. And the sequel, Epitaph, coming soon.

After you go through this sort of experience and you realize you’re not going to die after all, your thoughts go to figuring out why this horrible thing happened. I pointed a few fingers, and I did my research about the gestation periods of different types of food poisoning. In the end, I had to admit it was my own damn fault. The exact thing I’d been joking about with friends for the last year had come to pass. I’d poisoned myself.

I’m moving soon. And I’ve known this for many months. Among all the books and DVDs and collections in my house was a long-standing horde of emergency food. I’m in Montreal. I lived through the great ice storm of 1998. Disasters happen. Supply lines can get cut off. I like to have enough canned food on hand to see me through at least a month or two of interrupted services. If the shit hits the fan and store shelves empty out, I’d prefer to avoid the bread lines.

And, you know, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you really don’t want to have to go outside for anything.

It was only once I started going through stuff that I realized how long my long-standing horde had been stashed away in those basement cupboards. Every single can down there was several years past its expiry date.

Which, of course, was no big deal. Expiry dates on cans of food are mostly bullshit, unless the can got dented or corroded in some way. Otherwise, it’s an airtight seal that will allow you to enjoy the tin-encased contents well beyond any end of the world you’ve happened to survive.

Right? Right.

Admittedly, I composted all the canned peas and carrots and corn and beans. Canned vegetables taste like crap compared to their fresh counterparts. I’d bought them for an emergency, and there was no emergency unfolding that was dire enough for me to subject myself to that bland crap, much as I hate waste.

But the canned fish… Ah, the canned fish. Again, fresh is better, but cans of tuna and salmon can make for a fine sandwich. So, over the past year, I’ve been eating two or three of those cans per week, always subjecting them to a thorough sniff test first. Always cautious about what I was about to put in my body.

And it worked out fine right up until it didn’t.

I think it was the can of salmon I had for breakfast that morning that did me in. I can’t be sure. But it’s a prime suspect and, just in case, I threw the rest out. Then I threw out more stuff that was probably fine but had crossed the expiry date. Then I threw out stuff that should be completely inert and incapable of going bad, just because it had committed the unpardonable sin of getting old.

It all had to go, and it all went, without pity. Waste be damned.

I now have a very modest pantry. There’s nothing I want to stock up on until after this move happens and I have new cupboards to fill.

I dodged a bullet this time. I’ve mended my ways. And now I’ll have to come up with a new way to neglect myself to death.

An Epitaph for the Year

Epitaph, the sequel to Necropolis, is finished and being edited for release. Newsletter readers already got their sneak peek of the cover. Today is the day I put it out there for a more general audience.

The next newsletter, which goes out tomorrow, will include a link to the prologue and first three chapters (which just happen to end on Christmas). This is part of my Christmas promo that will also see Necropolis and Sex Tape (a tale that takes place between Christmas and New Year’s) available for free on Amazon throughout the coming week.

If you want to get the jump on reading the second book in The Necromancer Thanatography, hit that newsletter subscriber button to the right of this post and sign up before the next mailing goes out.

11-11-11 + 100

This is my grandfather, Francis Simmons, in The Great War. He fought for England, working closely with the teams of horses that hauled artillery around the front. He survived the war and married Mary Wyatt in 1919. They left Bristol and moved to Canada, settling in Montreal in 1922, where he got a job with Dominion Bridge. They had eleven children, three of which didn’t survive infancy. In 1942, two years after my father, the last one, was born, Francis came home from work and promptly died of the family curse—heart disease. He was about the same age as I am now.

The Great War (renamed World War One after it got a sequel) ended 100 years ago today. I’ve been lax about Remembrance Day in recent years. I haven’t been out to the ceremonies at cenotaphs; I haven’t been wearing the new improved poppies (now with a more true-to-form black centre as opposed to the green of my youth).

Today I made the effort, freezing my balls off on a sunny but bitter November day. I walked out to Montreal West for the festivities there. Not a lot of people gathered around the park statue for the traditional 11:00 am start (the time of day the guns fell silent), but the main show was only scheduled to begin at 12:15. That’s when people gathered outside the United Church up the street. I joined the procession and the piper, returning to Edgar Davies Park, which was, by then, filled with several hundred more people. It was the biggest turnout I’d seen since my childhood, back when we still had First World War vets and plenty who had served in the Second World War and Korea.

As of a couple of years ago, the very last of the Great War vets died. Too young to have been legally enlisted at the time, they lived well past a century, some lasting long enough to see the 100th anniversary of the start of their war. But now it’s all passed from living memory. And today, the remaining Second World War vets are in their 90s or older. There were exactly two with us in the park. A rare breed, rapidly growing scarcer.

The showing was solid for this centennial. I thought about the grandfather I never met, tending his war horses, as I got to hang out with a couple of gorgeous police mounts named Wifi and Merlin, standing guard over the ceremony. It’s good to do this every once in a while, and I’ll try to go again next year. No promises, but it’s always on my mind, every November 11th.

We’re all told to remember the wars, the sacrifices, and the dead. And it’s an important tradition. But I know it won’t last forever. The World War Two vets, those who fought in Korean, those from more current conflicts…they’ll all go the way of the Great War vets eventually. And, like all traditions ultimately do, Remembrance Day will get swallowed up by the passage of time. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard of anybody going to a memorial for the terrible losses of the Punic Wars?

That’s as it should be. The goal isn’t to keep the memory of our wars alive forever. The goal is to go so long without a war, nobody remembers what they’re like at all, and nobody considers starting a new one as a solution to common human conflict.

Dead Pixel Theatre Part II: The Revenge

Just in time for the release of “Halloween,” the latest film in that 40-year-old franchise, and only the third one to simply be called “Halloween”—Michael, Tess and I reconvene for another episode of Cinema Smackdown.

This round we discuss the long history and many entries in the slasher sub-genre. Whether you’re on Team Myers, Team Voorhees, or Team Krueger, there’s plenty to cover, including a lot of interesting, obscure specimens you may have never heard of.

Dead Pixel Theatre

I’ve been running a bit of an experiment.

My appearances on CJLO’s Cinema Smackdown number far too many to keep track of. I’ve been at it for a couple of years now and, with the new format and time, hardly an irregularly scheduled episode goes by without my participation.

Eyestrain Productions is not brimming with high-tech A/V equipment. I, infamously, don’t even own a smartphone. But I’ve taken to recording recent episodes with an old Flip. The visuals are hardly compelling, the lone-mic audio attempt to capture an hour of chatter in the room is dodgy, but you work with what you have.

The last three episodes are up on my recently minted YouTube channel. The first one is a straightforward two-shot, despite the fact there are three people doing the show. Reviewing the footage and watching myself fidget in front of the camera for a full hour was unnerving, so the next two episodes feature an uninspiring view of a station microphone, while capturing slightly better audio than previously with my own vastly inferior in-camera mic.

There’s an archive of old Cinema Smackdown episodes on CJLO’s website, but they’re always late to be posted, and early to be rotated off. This is my attempt to preserve some shows for posterity, because occasionally something really insightful gets said, or a genuinely funny joke gets cracked.

This blog post marks the first major announcement that I’m even doing this. With enough views, I might be compelled to buy a better camera and microphone. We’ll see how it goes. But if you miss one of our live-streamed shows (Sundays at 2:00 pm, when we manage to collect ourselves for an actual appearance), they’ll be uploaded to my channel soon after. The sound may not be as crisp as it is on air, but on the plus side you can hear what we’re talking about during the commercial breaks, which may not be fit for broadcast.