My Sales Numbers

I found something more cutting and disheartening than getting rejection from literary agents. My book sales numbers. I just got my Q2 numbers back and yeah, um, not the fly-off-the-shelf numbers I would have liked to see. At first, I was laid low. But then, I got some perspective. Very few authors are ever going to get the Harry-Potter-Twilight experience. Very few even get the midlist, big-publishing house experience. Most writers write a book, several hundred people read it, and ten minutes later it’s at the Goodwill for 10 cents.

However, instead of getting a dozen donuts and watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I went mountain biking. And I haven’t mountain biked in months. So there I was, huffing and sweating and puffing and cursing the mile I rode up the mountain, climbing, climbing, climbing, when a walker came by and I stopped, er collapsed, to let him walk by. And we had a typical exchange.

Walker: Hard work, huh?
Me: Yeah. Brutal, but fun.
Walker: Good for you though.

He went on by, I clipped into my pedals and continued the climb and it struck me; the writing game is good for me. All life is a struggle. That’s one of the themes in my novel, The Never Prayer. Maybe you are one of the lucky hundred to have read it.

All life is struggle, and me struggling in the writing game is valuable to me, to those around me, to other writers. It’s brutal fun. And it’s good for me.

The story doesn’t end there. So I’ve been watching a lot of House M.D. I’m struggling through season 8 to get to the finale and God only knows why they didn’t keep House in prison for half the season. House in prison was delicious.

So while I’m biking, I’m conceding that the writing game is good for my psyche, however painful and however much of a struggle it is, and I think about House M.D. and happiness. House believes that only people who lie to themselves can be happy. That life is inherently too difficult to be enjoyed.

That may or may not be the case. However, having a dream, having a goal, believing the lie that maybe, maybe I’ll be one of the lucky writers to break through and make it, well, it keeps me going. It doesn’t keep me happy, but in the better moments, it keeps me satisfied.

And maybe satisfaction is enough no matter what my numbers are.

Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker: Steampunk Novel or First-Person Shooter?

Years ago, I made the mistake of giving Barry Eisler a critique of a book he wrote that was full-on published and out there. I said what I liked and what I didn’t. Now, Barry is a great guy, and so he took my critique of his first John Rain book, Rain Fall, with a grain of salt. Ha. If some yahoo did that to me, I’d punch him right in the kisser. I wouldn’t, but I’d think about it.

So here I am, trying to review books, and I don’t wanna get hit, and what’s my review going to do? I critique people’s unpublished books in an effort to make them better. But once the book is done, it’s been assigned an ISBN and published, well, it’s not gonna get any better ‘cause it’s done. The end. That’s why critiquing published books is a waste of time. That’s why reviewers have been called the demons who walk across the battlefield shooting the wounded. The battle has already happened.

So when people ask me what I thought of their published book, I say nice things, smile, and move on because I don’t want to shoot the wounded.

A long intro to say this: I’m going to critique published novels of people I don’t know and say what I liked and what I thought could use some work.

And that’s where I’m going with Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker. It’s a huge steampunk book in the steampunk genre which is so steampunky. And is it steampunk? Oh, yeah–alternate history Seattle during a sixteen-year-long civil war with zombies and ancient Seattle city monuments.

Basically, a mad scientist’s device unearths a poison gas that creates zombies. The good people of 19th century Seattle create a wall to keep the gas and zombies inside. Think Escape from New York with fewer convicts, more zombies. And like Escape from New York, there’s a society inside the walls for the rebellious, the indigent, and the independently-minded.

Boneshaker’s absolute glowing wonderfulness is in the setting, the details, the writing, the whole atmosphere and mood. Cheri Priest’s rain-sodden, gaseous Seattle is breathtaking. The characters are believable, and for the steampunkers, there are dirigibles, goggles, and cool anachronistic inventions. And guns. Lots of guns, tough guy.

Reading Boneshaker was the first time that I ever felt like I was reading a novelization for a video game. Seriously, it felt like I was playing Boneshaker rather than reading it. There are ever-evolving guns to use to kill the zombies, there are missions to go, time limits, and a slow walk through labyrinthine madness toward the minotaur at the center. Is the evil genius who lords over walled-in Seattle the same mad scientist who unleashed the gas? I won’t give nothin’ away.

But I’d totally buy and play Boneshaker the video game. You betcha’.

So that’s all the good stuff. The bad stuff? Well, video games have conflict but it’s generally one layer of conflict. Get this, kill zombies, get that, get out. In a first-person-shooter, there’s not a lot of internal conflict going on as you mouseclick along.

The characters in Boneshaker don’t feel one dimensional, but I wanted more conflict somewhere. I think why The Hunger Games grabbed me, because of the layers of conflict. The Hunger Games had the romantic stickiness of Peeta and Katniss. Is their love real or just a weapon? I would have liked to see something like that in Boneshaker, and yeah, I’d make it a romance and give it some level of discomfort. And the plotting. We meet the denizens of the walled-in Seattle, but it’s not until later in the game, and even then, the civil war inside seems forced. There’s only one real faction and I’m not sure why the Chinese laborers spend so much time pumping fresh air down into the guts of the city, but I might have missed that plot point.

Maybe I’ve become too Hollywood. Snake Plissken goes into New York to get the president out. In Boneshaker, the mom goes under the wall into Seattle to get her son out. But in movies, the P.O.V. is clear, the obstacles are clear, the story is tight. Boneshaker’s story isn’t as tight as I wanted it to be, but then, it’s a novel not a movie, so I’ll chalk that up to me being Hollywood and move on.

Would I recommend Boneshaker? Oh yeah. If you want a perfect example of Steampunk, this is it. And when the video game comes out, I am so there to buy it.

I just hope Kurt Russell does one of the voices.
Cherie Priest’s website, where you can buy her books.

Goodbye, Buffy, We Hardly Knew Ye

So there she is, Buffy Summers, standing at the edge of the crater where Sunnydale, California used to be and where it is no more. Supposedly, the Hellmouth closed forever. Or something.

And there I was, watching the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The last episode. No more. That’s when the depression started. It was over.
Now, I’ve watched other shows and the finales of other shows, but I gotta’ tell ya’, I’ve never felt so sad at the ending of a show before. I’ve felt cheated, like with Battlestar Galactica, and I’ve felt satisfied, go, Firefly, but when I watched the last Buffy episode, I felt desolate.

No more Buffy. No more Willow. No more Anya.

Anya was my favorite. I wanted one more episode to watch how the Scooby gang handled her death. I’ll never forget Anya’s reaction to everyone grieving over Buffy’s mother’s death. How she couldn’t understand it, couldn’t understand everyone’s sorrow.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’m late to the party and Buffy’s last episode was almost ten years ago. Or something. Yeah. I’m late. And I’m stupid.

I tried to watch Buffy back in the 90’s, during its original run, but I couldn’t get into it. Season 1 was, um, iffy. Season 2 better, but not good enough. And if you try and come in midway, inscrutable. I had gay friends recommending it, and we all know all gay people have impeccable taste, but, well, I had Star Trek to watch.

Two huge lessons I’ve learned in life: listen to less Rush, more Prince. Watch more Buffy, less Star Trek. There.

So I kept getting slapped and beaten for not watching it. Seriously. Hit. “What–you haven’t watched Buff?” Smackola. So I knew I had to force myself to weather through the first couple of seasons. I did. And I am so glad.

Joss Whedon has genius, certainly, and we all either love him or hate him for it. I secretly want to eat his heart and brains, with onions, in hopes I can ingest some of that genius. The thing is, Joss Whedon can do conflict well, but his real brilliance is making us fall in love with his characters.

And I fell in love Buffy, Giles, Xander, the whole Scooby gang. And so, when the show ended, it was saying goodbye, a forever type of goodbye.

Sometimes I wonder if art and TV and novels are worth anything. If it’s all just a distraction from real life. Maybe to blind us from enlightenment.

But my life was richer for watching Buffy, gotta’ say.

Now, the spin-off, Angel? Um, I’ll post about that later.