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.

Words of Encouragement

I’ve probably spent too many recent blog posts bitching about elements within the writing/publishing business. And believe me, I have plenty of other complaints I could air. But I don’t want this to turn into a grouse session. Having said that, this will sound like another scathing criticism. But it isn’t. This was perfectly professional. I just thought it was funny.

Rejection letters. Every writer has seen plenty. I’ve been around long enough to have received them when they were actual letters, in the mail, with addresses and stamps and everything. Now it’s all email, but it’s the same difference. No more submitting manuscripts with a SASE (that’s self-addressed, stamped envelope for the young’ns). Of course, with the ease and inexpense of email, there’s no excuse for failing to get back to someone who’s submitted a solicited story. Form letters are still the norm, but now they can be copied and pasted in mere moments. Anyone in the business who can’t be bothered to at least do that much to turn down a professional inquiry or manuscript is, in turn, no professional.

I have a story I’ve tried repeatedly to find a home for—stubbornly. It’s one of a handful I have that doesn’t thematically fit in with the two or three collections of shorts planned for somewhere down the road, so its best chance to see the light of day any time soon would be for me to sell it to somebody else’s anthology. It’s come close to a sale multiple times, making it to the final round of consideration on a couple of different books, only to be dropped before the finish line because there was simply no room left.

It happens. No biggie.

And it happened yet again, recently. Still no biggie.

The rejection email was standard but sweet. I’m sure everyone got the same one, but what amused me was a certain across-the-board presumption in it. It read, in part, “Please keep on writing, revising, and submitting to the very best markets you can find. It can be an arduous journey, but a fulfilling and rewarding one as well. And with each new story you write, you’re honing your craft. No effort at your writing desk is ever wasted.”

Words of encouragement. For a noob.

Me, I’ve been doing this professionally for thirty years. Maybe I should be flattered to be lumped in with hungry young writers full of energy and delusions. But I’m not. I’m old and broken and jaded.

A rejection email that reads, “No thanks,” is sufficient for me.

I guess that doesn’t seem as cordial, but it’s enough, and it lets both of us get on with our day. More importantly, it lets me know I’m free to peddle that story to the next publisher looking for something that fits a niche of a niche of an unpopular sub-sub-sub genre.

The story I’m talking about is unironically titled, “Wait Your Turn.” And it has, indeed, been waiting for a very long time now. Patiently.

I was going to wrap it up there, but screw it. I’m out of patience. “Wait Your Turn” is now up on my Patreon page at one of the lower tier levels. It is, after all, a horror story, and Halloween is coming up fast.

Incidentally, my Patreon page has been a bit of an embarrassment since the whales migrated south for the winter. Those high rollers made a big splash for a couple of months, but the party is over. Now I’m looking for more low-level backers just to get the number of subscribers up. A plan is formulating to richly reward those who chip in at only a buck a month. It’s just a matter of finishing a new wave of material—time, as always, permitting.

Terrible Career Advice

I listen to a fair number of writing podcasts that cover the business end of things. I never know when some random interview might offer up a relevant nugget of information that has direct bearing on my own endeavours. People like Joanna Penn, the folks at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and the lamentably defunct Self-Publishing Roundtable have uploaded many hundreds of hours of worthwhile material that serve as a guide for do-it-yourself authors.

As I’ve said, probably too often, the publishing industry has changed, and I’ve been seeing a real deficit in professionalism from the old guard. Often, it’s the bigger, established publishing houses that are the worst offenders. They do increasingly less to promote their stable of writers, while the options for new authors to bootstrap their way to a readership increase. My decision to go it alone remains firm.

Nevertheless, I don’t like to live in an echo chamber, listening to confirmation bias. Sometimes, a suggested video will cross my feed that provides another viewpoint to counter an argument I’m already sold on. No stranger to self-doubt, I like to remain open, asking myself if I made the right call.

One recent video I saw offered a bunch of reasons to not self-publish—to stick it out on the slush pile, go pro with the establishment press, avoid the solo-act fad. It was a well-produced video, from a YouTuber who was slick, presented himself well, and spoke with authority.

And he was completely full of shit.

The nitty-gritty details of why I disagreed with each of his points is academic and not likely to be of much interest to casual readers. But the way I knew he was full of shit may be more generally enlightening: I looked him up.

Simple, I know, but effective. I do this all the time when I listen to writer interviews. If they sound like an authority, I want to confirm they are an authority. So I check their credits and sales.

Sure enough, this guy had an Amazon author page, complete with photo and bio. Bearing in mind that his video, advising other writers to keep banging their heads against the wall of mainstream publishers, was uploaded to YouTube two years ago, I was eager to see how many books he’d since come out with, and how well they were doing.

He had one credit. One. And it was for a short story in an anthology. Hilariously, it was a collection I was also in, from 2015. And I remember what they were paying. It wasn’t the sort of money careers are made of.

In the two years that have passed between his video upload and now, he could have learned the ropes of how to manage his own little publishing empire. I did in that same time frame. And whatever novels he’s shopping around to indifferent publishers—who can sometimes take a year or more to reply to a single submission—could have been edited, designed, and printed for a growing readership by now.

I hope he’s doing well as a video blogger giving bad advice, because he’s not an author.

Contributor Copies

I haven’t been submitting short stories to anthologies much lately. Mostly I’ve been stockpiling shorts for future collections. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a backlog trickling out over the last year. It’s been a while since I updated the anthologies page on this site, but the information on there is now current, with final covers and links to where you can buy copies.

One of the reasons it took so long to update the page was a lack of good cover scans. I’ll grab them out in the wilds of the web if I have to, but the ones I found of the most recent books were too low rez. That meant I had to make my own scans of the covers.

Problem: I still hadn’t received my contributor copies of certain books, months after publication.

This has happened before, so I’m used to it. It’s completely unprofessional, and again, I’m used to it. But it does burn bridges. If I’m well-paid for a story, I accept it as a petty pain in the ass to have to order my own copy. But if I do something on the cheap—or even for free—and you don’t at least send me a copy, we’re done. A copy of the damn book is the least you can do.

I’ll take a moment here to specifically point out that I’m not talking about MX Publishing. I give them my Sherlock Holmes stories for free because all the profits go to charity. And they’ve been phenomenal about sending me early HARDCOVER copies, fresh off the presses, from overseas no less. No complaints there. And if I weren’t so busy on other projects, I’d already have other adventures of Sherlock and Wiggins lined up for future volumes.

No, I’m talking about some of the small-time publishers. And I get it. You’re small, you want to save money, and postage is expensive. I don’t like the sticker-shock I get when I have to mail a book either. But one contributor copy is the bare minimum authors should be able to expect when they appear in a new book or magazine. In my comic-writing days, I’d get at least ten copies to pass around, often 25 and, in the case of my solo issues, 100+. And then there’s Money Talks #5, which I co-published with SLG back in the day just to make it through the first act of the story before the series got cancelled. I’ll die with copies of that comic filling boxes around the house. I don’t know enough people to give them all away to.

One copy. It’s all I ask. Let me gaze at the spine of your book on my author shelf and remember our time together in the publishing biz. Failing that, I’m afraid our business interaction will never be more than fleeting.

Jinxed

The year 1997 was a busy one in the history of Longshot Comics. Book Two, The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers, came out under the Slave Labor Graphics banner, and I was hopping flights around the continent doing multiple convention appearances.

I was also working on several shorter Longshot stories to help promote the book. In the midst of this, Brian Michael Bendis approached me to do a page for his Jinx Special. This was a charity collection from Caliber Comics, centred around his titular bounty-hunter character. Most of the pieces other artists were doing were pinups, but I’m not exactly a pinup artist by the stretch of any lunatic’s imagination. What I offered to do was an original Longshot piece, featuring a crossover between one of my characters and his. In a sex shop. There would be a reference to what had been going on in Jinx’s comic, as well as an update on the current whereabouts of Douglas Gethers (Bradley’s estranged son).

“Douglas Gethers’s Worst job Yet” was published under the two different covers of the Jinx Special and later collected in a larger Jinx omnibus. At San Diego, Bendis told me he was getting a lot of questions about me. Namely, “Where did you dig this guy up?” Four years into the Longshot Comics saga, most people had still never seen anything like it.

Skip ahead a quick twenty-one years, the story has been reproduced in the new forty-panel format. I’m hosting it on my Patreon page for free (as in not behind a pay wall), so parties interest in both Longshot Comics and Jinx can go check it out, no strings attached.

I also shot a short video about it last night.

I’m still trying to decide when and how to move forward with this fledgling Youtube channel. Three videos in, I’m debating upgrading my broken-down dead-pixel flip. Interest in the material is, unsurprisingly, minimal so far, since I barely speak of it. Nevertheless, I got a random subscriber out of nowhere. Just one. But it shocked and delighted me.

I don’t know. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get used to talking to myself alone in a room. The radio show is vastly easier since I’m interacting with other people. Plus I’m concerned about unleashing my inner opinionated dick. Blogging is bad enough. Get me on a vocal rant and I’m likely to say all sorts of things that will get me fired off projects down the road and sabotage my eventual run for political office.

 

World’s Finest

Bleeding Cool has announced the release of Longshot Comics, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer article.

The headline flatters my ass clean off. Here it is in the mix of headlines on the front page.

I have nothing to add to that.

But in update news, I should mention that I had to bump up the price of the Longshot ebooks. This was my first time publishing a graphic novel through Amazon—the key word being “graphic.” That means lots of pictures taking up a lot more space than mere text. And I’d forgotten to account for Amazon’s distribution fee for larger file sizes.

Jeff Bezos ended up eating my lunch for the first couple of days of release, and there’s a guy who doesn’t need to get any richer off the efforts of poor, starving artists like me. I’ll take the sales that went directly into his pocket as a life lesson and move on. Thankfully, the vast majority of copies sold have been for the paperbacks, because collectors still like physical copies of comics to entomb in bags forever.

As an incentive, I’m lowering the Kindle MatchBook price to FREE. That means, if you buy a paperback of Book One, Book Two, or Book Three, you can also download a Kindle ebook copy from Amazon for zero dollars and zero cents. This one’s on me. And Jeff.

Back me on Patreon for more Longshot Comics stories, and to force my hand to start work on a Book Four.

 

They Weren’t Called “Eyestrain Comics” for Nothin’

One of the great advantages to having a digital version of Longshot Comics is the panel-zoom feature on the Kindle. Here’s a short video where I, and my lovely and talented assistant Finnegan, explain how that works. It’s the perfect solution for old, tired eyes.

If you’ve already bought a paperback copy, you can also get a digital copy from Amazon for the reduced price of $0.99 (down from the regular $2.99). If you don’t have an actual Kindle like the one in this video, there are free Kindle-reader apps you can download for your phone or computer.

Swan Song

Longshot Comics Book Three: The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers was, as I may have mentioned on a dozen occasions, a long time coming. But Filson has existed in the Longshot universe almost from the very beginning.

Passingly referenced in a largely speculative way in The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers, he appeared in his own story in 1995, right after the Slave Labor Graphics edition made its debut. It was a story you probably missed, but one that now functions as a coda to Book Three.

I hadn’t initially planned on making a string of short Longshot Comics stories, but during my first appearance at the San Diego Comic Con to promote the book, I was set upon by a representative of Tower Records. He loved Longshot, and wanted me to do an original story for the comics page of their in-store magazine, Pulse! The chance to reach a young, hip audience of pop-music fans was a golden opportunity I promptly rejected. Instead, I suggested doing a story for their other in-store magazine, Classical Pulse! because a chance to reach an old, out-of-touch audience of opera fans was more in keeping with my self-sabotaging business model of zero market penetration.

Nothing mixes better than classical-music enthusiasts and avant-garde experimental minimalist comics, I always say. With that pearl of wisdom in mind, I wrote a story about the final years of Roland’s mysterious grandfather, and his interaction with British composer Edward Elgar in the Powick Asylum, where Elgar worked during his early career. This quiet end for Filson suggested nothing of the rollicking life of daring adventure I had in mind for him, but provided the eventual third volume of Longshot an endpoint to aim at.

Reprinted in Money Talks #4 to help build anticipation for The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers, that was the last anyone ever saw of Filson Gethers’s Music Lesson until now. The entire five-page story has been redone and reformatted, and is now the third Longshot story hosted on my Patreon page.