One Week to Live

It’s been a long journey for Necropolis. And for me.

The first four thousand words of the adventures of Rip Eulogy, necromancer-for-hire, have been copied and pasted and saved too many times to track the timecode. I worry that if I ever found the original file, it would be in WordPerfect 5.1 format. Yeah, as old as that.

Or maybe not quite. I don’t really remember. But let’s say the origin of the story dates back at least a decade, when I started writing some fun, crazy material for the hell of it. And just as I thought I was really onto something, I got stuck. It was my typical modus operandi. A lot of crackling banter and thrilling moments, but I didn’t know what the story was yet. I didn’t know where all these intriguing pieces fit into the puzzle. I didn’t even know what puzzle I was working on.

So it got shelved. For years.

Four years ago, I started over. I didn’t throw away the original material, although none of it appears in the final novel. My epiphany was that what I had started to write occurred much farther down the plotline of a series. Book three or four maybe.

Moving forward, the only thing I kept was a vague plot idea about Rip being hired to use his talents to bring justice to a long-dead war criminal. It was a starting point. That, plus my extensive research on the art of performance regurgitation—because that’s my idea of recreational reading.

No, it shouldn’t take four years to write a novel. But then, this was the single longest and most complex project I’d ever tackled. It made Longshot Comics look like a trifle. It made that four-hour TV miniseries look like a single short evening of binge watching. Mapping it all out on a piece of paper looked like pages of physics equations. Then, of course, there was my misguided attempt to approach the legacy-publishing biz before I came to realize how much the industry had changed when I wasn’t looking.

There were publishers who didn’t want to look at any manuscript over 120,000 words. Publishers who were in the process of going bankrupt and stiffing the authors they already had. Publishers who still wanted authors to send them a printed-out physical copy in the 21st century (overseas no less). Publishers who took 16 months to respond to an initial pitch.

Incidentally, when it takes you 16 months to get back to me with a “Yeah, sure, send us the whole manuscript, we’d love to take a look,” my response is, “No. That ship has sailed.” It sailed, hit a rock, and sank. The survivors were plucked out of the sea, put on another boat to their destination, and have been ashore for over a year now. They’ve received counselling for post-traumatic stress and have gotten on with their lives. Some have even had enough time to get over their fear of the water. That’s how much can happen 16 months.

So yeah, when I say I started writing the novel in earnest four years ago, it’s actually been finished for nearly two. The rest of the time has been spent editing, proofreading, and getting jerked off by agents and publishers who don’t understand that the industry is changing all around them, and that their role in it is getting killed off—largely by their own hand. It was also time spent learning the ropes of the new independent press that has arisen through outlets like Amazon. Over the last year and a bit, I published all this stuff, largely as a dry run for Necropolis.

I’ll evangelize the independent press again at a later date. And share more stories about publishing woes and my distaste for unprofessionalism at all levels of the industry. Right now, though, it’s time to reveal the cover.

Covers are a gamble. You know the old saying: you can’t judge a book by its cover. Absolutely true. But you can sell a book by its cover. You can also NOT sell a book by its cover.

I’ve looked at a lot of urban-fantasy/supernatural-suspense/mystery-horror covers in my market research. I’ve seen what sells. And I can honestly say, I don’t really care for them. It’s hard to argue with sales figures, but I’ve long been an opinionated elitist when it comes to things like book covers and movie posters. And I’ve had a lot of viciously critical things to say about some of the marketing trends I’ve seen and come to loathe.

Floating-head DVD covers were the bane of my movie-collecting days. Badly Photoshopped heads of celebrity stars pasted over elements of the original theatrical poster was the norm for years. It wasn’t about aesthetics, it was about telling consumers, “Look who’s in this one!” Awful, awful stuff. At the other end of the spectrum, I was always a fan of the Criterion Edition covers. Yeah, the artsy fartsy ones. They were probably all terrible from a marketing point of view, but they had mood and atmosphere. Rather than being too literal about the content of a film, they suggested tone, and I found that much more personally appealing.

These days it’s all about the orange/cyan colour-contrast posters and covers. Every second movie resorts to this supposedly appealing colour scheme to help sell their movie, and it’s bled into book covers as well. This trend, too, shall pass. Eventually everyone will see it for the painful cliché it is, and it will become repellent rather than attractive. In time, it will go away, and when people see one of those orange/cyan one-sheets, they’re not going to subconsciously think, “Oh, how appealing.” They’re going to consciously think, “Oh, how dated.”

So after a lot of thought and image searches and one major redesign, this is what I came up with.

It’s sombre, it’s moody, it hints at content and themes, but doesn’t depict anything that literally takes place in the book.

I like it, I’m going with it, and I know I may well be shooting myself in the foot. Current marketing tropes suggest I should be going in a very different direction. But I wrote a book that I would like to read, so I figure I should slap on a cover that would draw my eye.

It’s a gamble. It always is. The stakes are high on this one. Necropolis stands on its own as a self-contained story, but I’m over 60,000 words into the sequel. It’s a lot of commitment to something I don’t know will fly with readers. The first handful of reactions have been stellar. We’ll see if that carries through.

Necropolis will be available for Kindle next week. It will debut at a painfully (for me at least) low price of $0.99 to help it scale that all-important algorithm ladder and tie in with various promotions. It’s a whole lotta book for a buck, and a whole lotta performance anxiety for me. This is the seventh time I’ll be hitting the “publish” button on Amazon, and it’s going to be the hardest one to let go of.

I’m nervous.

On a side note: The cover reveal is old news for subscribers to the Eyestrain Productions newsletter. If you want first-looks, exclusives, special deals, and the occasional free book, sign up now.

Necrotic Spring Cleaning

As a home owner, I have had to remove a broad range of dead critters from the property over the last couple of decades. The day we moved in, there was a dead baby bird on our doormat. On the roof, I discovered several years’ worth of raven and crow victims, and had to spend a couple of hours removing half-eaten pigeons and pigeon parts.

Then there was the dead mouse. And the dead rat. And fragments of a skull that likely once belonged to the squirrel prey of the predatory orange tabby that used to live next door. His kills were legion, and I still dread ever having a look at what might be stored and desiccated behind our backyard hedge.

With the spring thaw and the receding snow comes the revelation of the new crop of trash and remains that got buried in the winter. Today, I found a candidate for most exotic corpse yet excavated on my land.

A squid. An entire dead squid, about the size of my hand. I’ll be removing him once he finishes melting out of the layer of ice.

Bear in mind, I’m in Montreal. Miles from the water. And squids are not local.

Obviously, this came from a fish shop. I imagine someone bought it, decided they didn’t really know how to prepare it, and then threw it away once it started to go off. Then it got fished out of the trash by an animal looking for an easy meal. One of the squirrels, or perhaps another urban-wildlife scavenger, moved it to the side of my house before deciding it, too, didn’t fancy squid after all. At that point it was dropped in the snow, covered over, and preserved for me to discover in March.

So, y’know, yuck.

I’d rather have more chucks of pigeons to sweep off the roof. I am not looking forward to scraping up this slimy, gooey cephalopod. I’m also not looking forward to the flashbacks the next time I order a plate of calamari.

Too Sexy for an Amazonian

From today until Friday, there’s another multi-author cross promotion going on for mystery, crime and suspense novels. Sex Tape is one of the books selling at a reduced price (this time in U.S. and U.K. markets only). I wanted to hit this promotional period a little harder than usual, so I’ve begun delving into Amazon advertising. It’s an interesting system, filled with niggly numbers and fine tuning and keyword bids, that appeals to the same economic-gaming centres of my brain that make me want to play work-management videogames over first-person shoot-and-frags.

I was all keyed up to give it a go, submitting a carefully constructed campaign for Sex Tape, only to be rejected a few hours later. Why did Amazon turn me down? Why didn’t they want to take my money?

Because the Sex Tape cover is too damn sexy for them.

Their terms of service for advertising are hilariously puritanical, and their limits on what you can have on your covers and in your blurbs are a touch narrow.

Scantily clad women are possibly okay, provided they aren’t striking a pose that’s too suggestive. Bikinis might be a go, but lingerie means someone is gearing up to get laid, so nix on that. And don’t you dare have a couple canoodiling. Embracing is one thing, but if they seem too into it, that crosses the invisible line. Even if they’re fully clothed. You never know, they might be dry humping.

And it doesn’t stop at sexual suggestion. You have to walk a fine line with violence as well. Guns can appear on your cover, though they should preferably be stylized or of the sci-fi/fantasy variety. Don’t ever show a character pointing one at another character, even though that’s kind of what they’re made for. And never ever have a character pointing a gun straight at the viewer. Because that might traumatize or frighten off potential consumers. No one wants to feel threatened by a book cover. I once walked into a public library and saw a James Bond novel with a cover like that. I had to run away and call the police after giving the book my wallet.

Okay, that covers sex and violence. We’re done right? Nope. Here’s my favourite quote from the terms-of-service page:

“Please ensure that the headline and custom text does not present customers with emotionally draining or depressing messages.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that caveat emotionally draining and depressing.

I get it. I really do. If you’re selling the world tons of shit, you want them feeling up up up! You don’t want to bring the consumerist-frenzy mood down. Buyers might get sad and lose the will to type in their credit-card number. But what people find depressing is pretty broad. Who can even define that?

If I want to see a load of personally depressing images and blurbs on Amazon, all I have to do is type in search terms like “American politics,” or “boy bands,” or “Kardashians.” That’s all it takes.

Then I’m off to find a book cover that looks poised to shoot me in the face and end my misery.

Prizes include a new Kindle Fire. Go forth and CONSUME! And keep the mood light and happy and not emotionally draining, even as you read all these stories about crime and murder.

Drunk on the Air

At 7:00 pm ET, I’ll be back on the air for another episode of Cinema Smackdown on CJLO. I think this is something like my fifth appearance. They’ve all blended together after that three-hour Oscar Special last time around.

Because St. Patrick’s Day has devolved into some sort of week-long celebration of inebriation in Montreal, we’ll be talking about the Irish and the Irish curse for the whole show. I’ll be tying all my answers in with Irish actors, Irish directors, and Irish film topics. When necessary, I will be wedging some square pegs into round holes because, hey, on or about St. Patrick’s Day, everybody’s Irish.

Like we really need an excuse to drink ourselves piss-stupid in this town.

Listen live here.

Data Dump

Yet again…

Sex Tape is part of a multi-author promotion. I figure most people reading this will have long-since grabbed a copy from past promos, so I mostly mention it to support other authors on the list. Check out the link and see if there’s a mystery or thriller that entices you. This weekend, they’re all only a buck. (NB: Amazon U.K. has the right sale price for Sex Tape, Amazon U.S. continues to lag as of this writing).

From the archives:

A page of notes from a conference I attended years ago—back when Sex Tape was a Telefilm Canada-backed project and I was trying to come up with a logline. The doodles may give you some indication of how much I was enjoying the conference.

Early Sex Tape material, still recognizable in the final product, though some lines were rewritten.

Also of note, in Sherlockian Land…

Japanese reprints of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories are pending as those volumes continue to make the global rounds. TV shows I’ve written for have been translated into dozens of languages, but this marks my first print foray into Japanese. I may well never see a physical copy of it in my hands (much like the edition from India), but it’s nice to know it’s out there.

Meanwhile, Part VI is available for pre-order. My story, “The Adventure of the Cat’s Claws” figures prominently in what promises to be the biggest collection yet.

That’s enough news for now, but I’ll tease you with one final thing—one particular piece of news the majority of people who come here have been waiting for. A certain comic book series of a particular minimalist style may be returning shortly. For real this time. Considering my name is now on a contract and payment is on the way, I’d better follow through.

More soon. Just let me publish Necropolis first.

Preferential Treatment

I’ve made a number of references to my upcoming urban fantasy/supernatural suspense novel Necropolis, but have offered few details. That’s probably because this is the single largest project I’ve ever undertaken, and it’s only the first part of a new series that will keep me occupied for years to come. It’s hard to summarize all I’ve poured into it, and everything it’s about—especially without giving away spoilers.

I can only hope it’s enough to say: if you’ve ever given a shit about my work, this is the big one.

A five-chapter preview will be posted for newsletter subscribers starting tomorrow, and free advanced review copies will shortly be made available to any of those subscribers who express interest in reading the rest before everyone else…and, of course, leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads on or about release day. That’s the important bit. Not only do reviews raise the profile of any book in algorithm land, they also open up additional promotional options with websites that have minimum-review requirements.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say and announce in the coming weeks. Right now, I’m operating on about two hours of sleep, I’ve been up and working since 1:00 am, and I still have a long workday ahead of me. It’s probably not the best frame of mind to be in when trying to pitch a novel that’s been years in the making. I’ll try to do better once I’m over this current editing/designing/promotion hump.

In the meantime, if you’re at all intrigued, Necropolis, the epic horror/mystery/fantasy/comedy, will finally be published next month—while the thirty-thousand-word preview is only hours away. If you want in, become a newsletter subscriber, and receive an exclusive bounty of bells and whistles and free stuff*.

 

*Bells and whistles sold separately.

Oscar Afterburn or: Hollywood Can’t Read

The Academy Awards gets it wrong all the time, but never so obviously, stupidly wrong.

In a clusterfuck that threatened to turn Warren Beatty into this year’s Jack Palance and host Jimmy Kimmel into the Oscar’s own version of Steve Harvey, the wrong movie won Best Picture. For about a minute. Then it was corrected, to everybody’s shame and embarrassment.

Apparently a second copy of the Best Actress envelope was handed off to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway instead of Best Picture. During a long moment that looked like late-stage dementia, the two were left to interpret the surprising contents of the envelope that told them the Best Picture was, in fact, Emma Stone. In the spotlight, under the gun, they leapt to a reasonably logical conclusion that since Emma Stone starred in La La Land, the Best Picture they were trying to decipher must be La La Land. Only it wasn’t. And this was amended, to everyone’s mortification, mid-acceptance speech.

How could such a thing happen for the first time in nearly a century of Oscar awards, you ask? Simple. Nobody in Hollywood reads. Not the treatments, not the screenplays, and not even what’s printed in plain English on a damn envelope (check out “Underwriter” in Raw and Other Stories for more of my take on this phenomenon). Illiteracy in Hollywood is a terrible thing. It gets all sorts of awful movies made, and now it’s screwed up the climax of the great film-industry circle jerk, just when they were trying to reward the one or two half decent movies they accidentally made last year.

It’s a pity. It’s also pretty damn funny.

For more of my Oscar coverage (before it’s rendered utterly irrelevant by the passage of time, and nobody remembers who won what a day or two from now), read my epic live-tweet of the event where I burned through 70 snarky comments over the course of the evening. Or you can listen to my three-hour Cinema Smackdown appearance on their Oscar show, which has just been posted to their website.

Oscar in My Hand, Gun to My Head

God help me, I’ll be live-tweeting the Oscars again this year. Watching the #etalkRedCarpet pre-pre-opening blather is making me deeply regret this decision already.

Good thing I have plans to get drunk off my ass. Doing inventory of my home booze-stash I have…

Oh shit.

I have a bottle of champaign, a mini bottle of apple cider, and a quarter bottle of gin.

That’s all.

I. Am. Fucked.

Watch me comment on this train wreck at @Shane_Eyestrain, and join in my despair for the floundering film industry. Please. I don’t want to face this horror alone.

It’s Just An Honour to be Not-Quite Nominated

It was fun while it lasted, and I squeezed it for all it was worth.

The final nominees for this year’s Bram Stoker Awards were announced a few hours ago and “Raw” is not on the list. My story has been banished to the preliminary-ballot wasteland, where all the other also-ran stories wander aimlessly and, from time to time, kill and eat each other. It’s what horror stories do when left to fend for themselves.

Which doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t read “Raw.” After all, it was one of 11 semi-finalists in its category for the most prestigious literary horror award out there. Go get it, along with 19 other twisted tales I’ve concocted over the years. The number of sales and Kindle Unlimited page-reads have been heartening, making this my biggest eBook publication yet.

I can’t say the news isn’t disappointing. Plans to stalk the Stokers again next year are already afoot. Tonight, however, I will have to curl up with my Writers Guild Award, my Max-und-Moritz prize, and my sixth-grade public-speaking trophy, and cry myself to sleep.

The marathon episode of Cinema Smackdown went well last night. Despite being a guest short, we managed to blather on about the Oscars, cinema, and the state of the film industry for three solid hours with barely a break. I also got to make my argument that Boo! A Madea Halloween was snubbed by the Academy this year. I haven’t seen the film. I will never see the film. Regardless, I think it should be given a special Oscar for Best Financial Model.

Tentpoles running 200 to 300 million dollars are killing Hollywood. Budgets like that could very well wipe out even the most venerable studios if they suffer just one summer of flops. Gambling on 100k shoestring indies they snatch at Sundance won’t save them. There needs to be a return to mid-level budget cinema, and Tyler Perry is paving the way. Heed his example. The latest Madea film cost 20 million to make. It was marketed for about 30 cents (that’s rounded up) and took in over 70 million. That’s not a home run by Hollywood standards, but it’s a solid base hit. Enough of those keep studios afloat. The majors used to understand that, but now they’re swinging for the franchise fences with every remake, reboot, and regurgitated release—and it’s unsustainable.

Give unemployed filmmakers (especially John Waters) the 20 to 40 million they need to make their boutique films that are geared towards specific demographics. Fuck the international market. Not every film can appeal to everyone. Boo! A Madea Halloween barely cracked one million in non-domestic release, but it didn’t matter. It knew its audience, they showed up, and they loved it, even as every critic panned it.

Listen to reason Hollywood, and be saved.

Spoiler alert: they won’t.

Dead Air

This will be brief because I still have a lot of prep to do for tonight.

I’m back on Cinema Smackdown for a special three-hour Oscar episode this evening at 6:00 pm EST. Yes, three bloody hours. A few more hours and the show will be as long as an actual Oscar Awards ceremony.

Spoiler alert: There may be filler.

Tune in to CJLO to listen live as I struggle to help fill hour upon hour of dead air with inane movie-related babble. Apparently this is seen as preferable to clogging the airwaves with more electro-funk Muzak, which seems to be the station’s usual broadcasting mandate.

Admittedly, I may be judging them based on what often airs after or instead of the show.