Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ranking the Summer Movies

I'm a quasi-movie buff. I love going to the theater even though it's absurdly expensive. During the summer, my wife and I see most of the big ones. So today, I'm ranking the summer movies.

Keep in mind I haven't seen EVERYTHING out this summer, but I have seen most of the blockbusters. We'll start with my least favorite and end with my top flick of the summer. Overall, I liked something about each movie I went to see.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon: I loved the first Transformers movie. Once Optimus Prime spoke, I was hooked. It was a fun movie. The second one...well...let's just say it was an acquired taste. The third movie was enjoyable, but I felt like I'd seen it before. Jumpy, jittery Sam Witwicky. Noble, heroic Prime and Bumblebee. Scene-chewing, abrasive Agent Simmons. Nonsensical, overly-complicated "plot." Explosions. Transformations. Too much going on at one time. Like Revenge of the Fallen, the final battle scene was confusing. Still not a bad way to spend an afternoon, however.

Cowboys & Aliens: I saw this one Friday night. You know, it was actually a lot of fun. They managed to play this one straight and Harrison Ford got all the good lines. I'm not sure if audiences will embrace it because it's such a strange departure from anything else. For the most part, it's a straight-up western with fantastical elements. Still trying to figure out how I felt about this one.

Green Lantern: This movie made a lot of "worst of" lists for the summer. I can definitely see why. Really, GL is a mess. However, the film has an earnestness that I felt saved it...and Ryan Reynolds did a good job with it. I also enjoyed the scope of the special effects and admired the attempt to widen the scope of our recent superhero movies. Ultimately, the numbers don't lie--Green Lantern was a major flop financially. A few script tweaks and it could've soared.

X-Men: First Class: From a quality standpoint, this one should probably rate higher. Through and through, it's a well-made film. The acting is good, most of the effects are good. There's nothing "technically" wrong with it. However, it just didn't quite "click" for me. Kevin Bacon wasn't a very good villain, and the "first class" mutants were a bunch of nobodies. Hugh Jackman had a great cameo and the Xavier/Magneto dynamic worked extremely well.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II: There was no camping in this movie. Part I was two hours and 15 minutes, but felt like three and a half hours. Part II was the same length, but felt much shorter. This was a tighter movie with a lot of payoff for Potter fans. I've never read the books and am acquainted primarily with J.K. Rowling's world through the movies. I thought it was very effective, even though I understand a good deal was cut from the books. My wife loved it--she's the Harry Potter fanatic--and that's good enough for me.

Thor: I wanted to get around to seeing this one again, but never did. Thor had the Iron Man vibe the second Iron Man movie lacked. On the other hand, it also had that "let's cram in another Avengers reference because we have to" vibe that weakened Iron Man 2. A strong supporting cast, nice moments of humor, and a good performance from Chris Hemsworth made it all work. I could see where this one would be hard to swallow for a lot of moviegoers. The whole Asgard thing seems so different from the Iron Man/Incredible Hulk worlds previously introduced in the Marvel Universe. I bet it seemed less "grounded" for many folks.

Captain America: I can't begin to tell you how much I loved Cap. He's always been one of my favorite characters and this movie did him justice. Great villain, great story, great atmosphere...I thought they nailed it on this one. From the scrawny Steve Rogers to the USO set piece (I'm still humming that stupid song!) to HYDRA and the Howard Hughes-esque Howard Stark, I loved it. I did see Cap twice...and I'd gladly go see it again.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Quick Smashwords Update

The final numbers aren't in quite yet, but I wanted to take a quick second or two to talk about my Smashwords experience. Working with little publicity and relying on giving away stories for free, I "sold" more than 300 stories in the month of July. Now, "sold" isn't really the operative verb here. They count as sales on Smashwords, but I didn't make any money off those "sales."

I'm fine with that. A few people were even kind enough not to use the promotional code, which means I earned a few bucks (a few).

The Smashwords promotion concludes Sunday, but here's a look at the numbers up through the penultimate day:

Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven: 72
In Memoriam: 61
I Took Over the World for This?: 59
A Wing and a Plan: 58
The Stuntman: 52

I had set a (secret!) personal goal of 300 sales for the month under this free model. I'm pleased with the results.

I'll have the final numbers late tomorrow.

You can see my Smashwords short stories here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Take Five with Dementius

Today's interview is with Dementius, former Baron-Count-Lord-President-Sir-Supreme Leader-Emperor (and Tsar) of the defunct United States of Dementius. Captured by the Interstellar Justice Corps, the ex-despot is detained within an IJC facility, where he's (for some reason) still allowed to wear his infamous suit of armor.

MATT: How's the food here?

DEMENTIUS: I find it decent enough. They serve pudding on Fridays. So it's Pudding Day.

MATT: You've prided yourself on being the supervillain who doesn't fall prey to the foibles of supervillainy. Yet here you sit in a maximum-security IJC facility, where you await trial. How does this make you feel?

DEMENTIUS: Insightful question. (grumbles something unintelligible) My idiotic supervillain contemporaries never had vision. Their plans were small-minded. Capture the heroes. Depower the heroes. They needed to do more. They needed to kill the heroes. So that is what I did. And it worked.

MATT: When your plan worked--and I know you expected it to work--what did you think would happen next?

DEMENTIUS: It didn't quite happen as I expected. The president of the United States was dead and Congress immediately caved in. I thought they'd fight back. I thought the other nations of the world would rally together to fight me. Instead, most of them just gave up. They surrendered to a single man and his small army of robot warriors. I did not anticipate taking control to be so easy.

MATT: I see. Take me back to the moment when you finally disposed of your arch-enemy Powerwynd. What happened?

DEMENTIUS: My Ultimation Ray expanded superpowers to uncontrollable levels. When I tracked down my bothersome foe--in addition to her powers, she was a dogged IRS agent who also went after my financials--I turned the weapon on her and watched as her powers reached uncontrollable levels. It was like a person-size nuclear explosion. Quick and satisfying.

MATT: One thing you did not anticipate was the way social media websites would shape the plight of superheroes and supervillains. What role did they play?

DEMENTIUS: Ick. Social media. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Turn the Ultimation Ray on me. (audible gagging sound) When my supervillain contemporaries started interrupting TV transmissions, their rants ended up on YouTube. When people started sharing those clips, The Daily Show and Talk Soup picked up those rants. They turned supervillains into jokes. Then, I discovered someone turned my image into a piece of "flair."

I set out to prove supervillains were no joking matter. It was a sweet irony when Brent Sussex--the interminable hero "Cyberclaw"--posted the location of the annual heroes meeting on Twitter. It was, for the most part, one-stop shopping. Finally, I had eliminated most of the heroes. I had finally...

(knock on the door, guard motions for me to leave)

MATT: I guess that's it. Thank you for your time.

DEMENTIUS: I'm not going anywhere.

Find out more about Dementius and his diabolical plot in "I Took Over the World for This?" available now on Smashwords and Kindle!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Interview with Glider-Hawk

After an interview earlier this week with real author Michael R. Hicks, today we Take Five with Glider-Hawk, a character from my short story "Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven."

Glider-Hawk hails from the fabled world of Klebbia, a place don't know much about it. Perhaps the man-hawk will tell us more about his homeworld.

MATT: Hello, Glider-Hawk. Thanks for joining me today. What's it like being a part of the Interstellar Justice Corps?

GLIDER-HAWK: They let me fight. I like fighting. (awkward pause)

MATT: That's it?

GLIDER-HAWK: You're using up your five questions quite quickly, human. I grant you an additional one.

MATT: Tell me about the Last Stand. Do you any survivor's guilt about what happened on Cyclonus Seven?

GLIDER-HAWK: No. (awkward pause)

MATT: How many of the enemy did you kill?

GLIDER-HAWK: I cannot say for certain. It was an overwhelming army. (ear-piercing screech of a warrior hawk) If I were to venture a guess, human, I would say thousands. Many thousands.

MATT: What are your impressions of CrimsonStar?

GLIDER-HAWK: (rubs mouth-beak with tip of wing) CrimsonStar was a great man. He proved to this warrior why the Klebbians should care about your earth. When I first heard the distress call from Cyclonus Seven, I did not believe it worthy of my time. Because of my affiliation with IJC (Interstellar Justice Corps), I felt obligated to answer the call for help and doubted CrimsonStar's ability to lead our group of heroes. I underestimated him. He and his mate (Windshear) were very brave. The hearts of Klebbian Warriors beat within their human chests.

MATT: You speak fondly of your homeworld. How would you describe Klebbia?

GLIDER-HAWK: You Earth-men speak of heaven. That is Klebbia, a world with pure, blue skies and rich, shining seas. It is a wondrous place with magnificent, mighty trees and daunting rock cliffs. To soar above Klebbia is to soar on a higher plane of existence and feel the hearts of all Klebbian beat as one nest. A Great Nest it is.

MATT: Thank you so much for joining me today, Glider-Hawk.

GLIDER-HAWK: I grant you one more question.

MATT: You really don't have to do that.

GLIDER-HAWK: (ten seconds of ear-piercing screeching that rivals the Most Annoying Sound in the World)

MATT: Okay, Glider-Hawk. If you could do anything differently regarding the defense of Cyclonus Seven, what would that be?

GLIDER-HAWK: I would not have left CrimsonStar and Windshear. Though my final action is what ultimately saved your planet, it is not the Klebbian Way. My brethren are trained to fight to the death. I regret my wounds kept me from finishing the fight at their side, even though I understand the necessity of it.

MATT: Thank you, Glider-Hawk. May the Great Nest be with you.

GLIDER-HAWK: That is not what we say, Earth-man. (Glider-Hawk squawks and then flies off, presumably bound for Klebbia)

Catch Glider-Hawk in action during the "Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven," available now at Smashwords and the Kindle Store!

Hawkeye picture courtesy jurvetson via Flickr

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Smashwords Experiment

A few weeks ago, I decided to put some of my short stories up on Smashwords to see how they'd do. With very little fanfare or advertising, I put five stories up on the site, set the price at 99 cents, and then enrolled in Smashwords' July Summer/Winter Sale, where the code SSWSF allows readers to grab a free short story.

Has the experiment been worth it?

I'm going to say yes. Sure, I haven't made any money off the 257 "purchases" readers have made on Smashwords. Without the promo code, however, would anyone have paid for one of my shorties (anecdotal evidence on suggests the answer to this is pretty much "no")?

This is not the final tally, of course, there's a little less than two weeks left to get one of my stories (well, actually, ALL of them) for free (shameless self plug site link HERE).

"Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven" is the runaway winner, with "In Memoriam" in second place and my other three in a dead heat. Here are the "sales" numbers:

"Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven" - 61
"In Memoriam" - 57
"I Took Over the World for This?" - 47
"Wing and a Plan" - 46
"The Stuntman" - 46

I set a goal of 300 sales for the month...and I'm getting close. The experience has been well worth it and I'm thinking about unleashing this upon the world:

This is Super, an anthology of superhero/comic book stories that includes 20 of my original works. I'm almost finished with the layout, although I'm going to have my beta readers look through it and there's that little matter of the story I still need to finish for it.

I'm wondering: does this interest anyone? Instead of getting a story for 99 cents, does 20 for $2.99 sound appealing?


I am a reader as well as a writer, so today I'm launching what I hope will be the first in a series of book reviews. This will be, unfortunately, a sporadic feature because I tend to read in spurts.

Today, I'm tackling IN HER NAME: EMPIRE, the first in an epic sci-fi/fantasy saga by Michael R. Hicks.

The book follows the rise of Reza Gard, a young boy kidnapped and forced to live among a mysterious warrior culture known as the Kreelan. The aliens are, of course, at war with humanity...and Reza is one of the unfortunate youths taken from a child labor world for orphans.

Yeah...Reza's had a real great life. His parents were killed when the Kreelan invaded his home planet. He blames their deaths on the aliens and vows revenge, surviving an encounter with a spiritual leader that leaves them both scarred.

A few years later, Reza is a boy on the cusp of manhood when the Kreelan strike again, invading the hated planet where Reza and other adolescents toil as little more than slave labor. Reza is kidnapped and forced to live among the aliens, first as an animal, and then...well...pretty much as an animal.

As he grows and changes, Reza begins to understand the enemy and adopts their warrior ways. Against all odds, he emerges as a top fighter and improbably becomes the potential savior of the Kreelan race. He takes a mate--forbidden for eons because of a "curse" upon the predominantly female species--and learns to value their ways, eventually confronting a heartbreaking decision concerning his true loyalties.

This is a coming-of-age tale at its finest, a book that takes little time to get started before turning into a rip-roaring read.


-Reza has every right to be ticked off at the universe, but his indomitable will keeps him going
-Mixes a little sci-fi with a fantasy vibe
-Sweet, improbable romance involving Kreelan warrior
-Fight scenes are well done and visceral
-Goliath is the reliable steed every hero deserves
-Colonel Wiley & Kreelan armor shaper were especially memorable characters
-Bloodsong idea


-The character of Muldoon and his perverse ways could repulse some readers from the get-go...I really struggled to get through these parts
-Kreelan mythology required a few read-throughs before I "got it"
-on rare occasions, the book did get a little too "talky" with some overly-explanatory dialogue
-"Suddenly" used a bit too much (personal pet peeve that probably won't bother you)
-Some scenes could use a little tightening


IN HER NAME: EMPIRE hits level four on the Ray Liotta Quality Meter (what is that? Find out here). A fun, escapist read perfect for the summertime!

This is a self-published book of very high quality. Hicks has two direct sequels and a second trilogy of prequel books detailing the "first contact" between humanity and the Kreelan Empire.

The best thing about this book? It's FREE. Author Michael R. Hicks offers IN HER NAME: EMPIRE on his website as a free ebook download IF you sign up for his email newsletter (get it here).

Disclaimer: I signed up for the author's newsletter to obtain a free copy for review and have no personal connection to Michael R. Hicks. I read the Smashwords version on my Kindle.

QUESTION: EMPIRE is a coming-of-age tale that evokes sci-fi/fantasy classics. What other works do you count as inspirations?

MICHAEL R. HICKS: To be honest, I was rather surprised that IN HER NAME had such an element of fantasy, because I've read very, very few fantasy books. I only managed to get through the Lord of the Rings after seeing the movies, and off the top of my head I can't remember a single other fantasy book I've read.

The sci-fi side of the house is a different story, if you'll pardon the pun. I grew up with Heinlein and Asimov, among others, and count Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle as huge influences (my most favorite ever book is THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE). But David Drake, David Weber, Scott G. Gier...there are really too many to list.

QUESTION: What can you tell readers about how you developed the Kreelan & their culture? Were there any real-life influences?

MICHAEL R. HICKS: This is always a hard question to answer, because I don't really have an answer. I first get ideas for stories as a snapshot in my mind, like a visual epiphany. I don't know the details, only the kernel of the story. For IN HER NAME, that actually began late in high school and early in college, when I got an idea for a story that later morphed into a novel. But I didn't intentionally base it on anything from the real world, although I'm sure I embedded elements of things I know subconsciously. From there the story just started playing out like a movie in my mind at night while I fell asleep, and the next day I'd furiously write down what I could remember, replaying the movie in my head.

And that's how I write today, although I have more of a conscious influence over the movie: I can now largely hit the mental play button at will. I just don't know what's going to appear on the big screen until it happens!

QUESTION: What frustrates you about the book/publishing process? Is there anything about your books you'd like to change?

MICHAEL R. HICKS: I think I've largely left my frustrations with the process behind, because I now understand where the rough spots are and can either avoid them or minimize the bumps. And for any author who's frustrated or annoyed with how things are, I'll say this: be joyous and happy that the technology is now available to self-publish, particularly for ebook platforms, because it's made all the difference. And, with few exceptions, it's free for authors/publishers to use. Yes, there are annoyances. Yes, it's not perfect. But if you spend some time to learn what to do and do it, it's not that huge a deal.

As for changing anything about my books, in a perfect world I'd probably go back and rewrite or revise some things, both to correct some lingering bloopers and maybe to make the existing books better. But the readers seem to be happy with them as they are, and keep asking for new books, so I'm simply working on putting out more books, as fast as I can.

QUESTION: What's this Summer RV Tour you've been blogging about?

MICHAEL R. HICKS: My wife and I love RVing, and this summer we decided to take a big trip through New England and eastern Canada. We had intended to do book signings along the way, and while we did a couple, that didn't pan out quite as we'd hoped, mainly because we had put together such an aggressive schedule. But I did come up with a number of story ideas and got some good research material, and we also saw a ton of cool things and met some great people (including some long-time fans in Pennsylvania). We plan on traveling a lot more once I'm out of my day job, and if we're ever in the area of interested readers, feel free to let me know so we can hook up!

QUESTION: What's next for the IN HER NAME series? What other projects are you working on?

MICHAEL R. HICKS: Oh, jeez! I'm currently working on the next book of the IN HER NAME series, DEAD SOUL, and hope to have it out by the end of September. This will finish off the "start of war" trilogy that began with FIRST CONTACT and continued with LEGEND OF THE SWORD. Next up, I think, will be a sort of historical romance novel with a sci-fi twist set in the Second World War. Then I'll probably put out the first sequel to SEASON OF THE HARVEST, then get to work on the third IN HER NAME trilogy that will close the story arc between where DEAD SOUL ends and EMPIRE begins. I'm also planning to do a fourth trilogy telling of the foundation of the Kreelan Empire, and I've got a list of projects beyond that. There's lots of stuff to write!

The IN HER NAME series is available at most major e-retailers, including, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Store, and the Sony Reader Store

Follow Michael R. Hicks on Twitter @KreelanWarrior!

You'll find his official website HERE

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thanks to my fans in the UK....

The proof is right there on the Amazon UK Kindle Store. "Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven" is the #1-selling Kindle Book in the Kindle Store > Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Superheroes sub-sub-sub-sub-sub section.

Champagne for everyone!

And if you're a US reader who wants to get in on that HOT "Last Stand on Cyclonus Seven" action, go here. To my United Kingdom fandom, go here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Galley Proofs and Edit Notes

Received a pretty cool email today that's a first for me.

My short story "And the World Stopped" will appear in the Told You So anthology from Pill Hill Press. It's looking like the book will come out in the next month or so.

Anyhow, I received an electronic galley of the anthology today. I can't show it to anyone, but it's a first for me. The galley proof is what the book will look like when it goes to the printer. It's one of the final steps in the editing process and gives authors the chance to look over their work.

In this particular case, I'm reading "And the World Stopped" and looking for any inconsistencies before the book goes to the printer. I have spotted a couple minor things, but it's neat to see a preview of the book, complete with copyright page, table of contents, and author biographies.

I also learned that several of the other authors are from Indiana and/or the Midwest. My corrections are due by August 4th, so I'll be working on that.

In addition, I received editing feedback for my short story "Harrigan the Magnificent," which will appear in Timid Pirate Press' Cobalt City: Dark Carnival anthology in September. I haven't had a chance to look at the suggestions (admission: I worked on the Ray Liotta Quality Meter and FORGOT TO DO IT), but will work on giving the piece a bit of a polish this weekend.

Writing production has been down this week. I've been working on doing the electronic formatting for a possible anthology of my own stories. That's taken up time. I've also been reading more (thanks, Kindle!). Combine that with a quick road trip to the family reunion, a few blog posts, and work...and you've got the recipe for a drop in writing production!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Introducing the Ray Liotta Meter

I love my meters.

Perhaps too much.

The following is in response to a buddy who said I needed a Ray Liotta meter on my blog.

I heartily agreed with him and came up with a sliding scale called the Ray Liotta Quality Meter.

It's basically a letter grade or five-point system for reviews.

You can debate which Ray Liotta movie is the best or worst, but I had to come up with something using the Netflix Watch Instantly catalog, which unfortunately features neither Hannibal nor Operation Dumbo Drop, which were the original choices for the "bad" end of the meter. Heck, I would've settled for Turbulence!

These are ranked in order of my favorite Ray performances, not necessarily the relative quality of the movies involved. I'm saying this in hopes that the Scorsese fans can forgive having Field of Dreams as the "best"'s my all-time favorite Ray performance.

Anyhow, here's what I came up with, thanks to some quick screencaps:

No Escape: You're an 80s-style action movie made in the mid-90s. Two featured characters include two "guys who are in everything" -- Ernie Hudson and Lance Henriksen. There's some fun to be had here, but Ray sums it up best: "Tonight we'll bury the father. Tomorrow we'll start rebuilding the compound. Tomorrow we start all over again."

Muppets from Space: Harmless. Forgettable. A bit formulaic. It's all right, just not great, and there's no razzle-dazzle quality about it. but it does have the one scene where Ray Liotta randomly shows up as a security guard, and that saves it from the scrap heap. Barely. "So long! Bye-bye! What a handsome family."

Cop Land: Reach this level, and you've got some good, even some great, qualities. But there's something holding it back. Even though Ray comes in at the end, guns blazing, it can't quite make it all the way up to the top. But I still love it, even for its flaws. "Bein' right is not a bulletproof vest, Freddy!"

Goodfellas: From smooth criminal to coked-out whackadoo to key state witness, Ray plays all the angles in this gritty crime drama. This is a 4 out of 5, a B+, an admirable achievement. Funny how that works, huh? "It's just, you know. You're just funny, it's...funny, the way you tell the story and everything."

Field of Dreams: Seldom will a review hit the rarified air of this unassuming Iowa cornfield. This is Ray at his restrained finest, a young, earnest ballplayer given another chance at the Show. And there's even a bit of that Liotta Craziness: "Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the sonuvabitch when we were alive so we told him to stick it! (maniacal laugh)."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reader Mailbag, Take Two

Back in February, I brought you my reader mailbag, which featured a little Q&A session involving some "readers" and myself.

The tagline:

"Real questions from fake readers."

It was a fun little post, so I thought I'd do it again.

QUESTION: So, um, what happened to The Flying Trapeezius?

Logan from Ontario

ANSWER: Oh, it still exists (here's the proof), but it's more of an archive now. I've decided to concentrate my efforts on My Kingdom for a Novel (or a Short Story). It serves the same purpose, minus the "autumn vomited here" layout from TFT. For better or worse, all my old posts are there.

QUESTION: You keep trying to sell stuff on your website. Now you've got a "Matt's Store" tab on the blog. Why are you selling out?

Annie from Tatooine

ANSWER: Listen, I used to be shy about this whole writing thing. I didn't talk about it much and kept it like a secret identity. But if I really want to do this--and I do--I have to be my loudest and best advocate. I'm trying to attract readers. I don't post a lot of my fiction on the blog--and maybe that will change--but the best place for people to get a sample is to visit Smashwords or I'm not going to pretend I'm not trying to turn this into a career.

QUESTION: You're doing it again.

Annie from Tatooine

ANSWER: That's not a question. Next question!

QUESTION: So if you're making so much money by posting your work on Smashwords and, why haven't you bought a yacht?

Steve from Brooklyn

ANSWER: Whoa, there! I never claimed to be making money. In fact, I said "I'm not going to pretend I'm not trying to turn this into a career." My Smashwords stories are free right now (just use the code "SSWSF" on the site). My Kindle versions are 99 cents. In royalties from both platforms, I've made $3.00 because a couple Smashwords customers didn't use the promo code. And some guy bought a story in the Amazon UK store.

QUESTION: Will you buy me a value meal with all the writing money you've reeled in?

Vito from Sicily

ANSWER: I don't know where you're getting your value meals these days, but I want in.

QUESTION: When you made the ABC's of Writing, did you realize you could've used a lot of other options? Like, instead of using "Agent" for "A," you could've used a real writing term like "Analogy" or "Alliteration?"

James from Riverside, IA

ANSWER: I had multiple options for every letter in the alphabet. I was just going for terms that meant something to me. I may revisit the ABC's of Writing with another series of posts because I had a lot of fun putting it together. I'll think I'll go the Bases Loaded route and call it ABC's of Writing: Second Season.

QUESTION: What's with all the meters? Shouldn't you have one with Ray Liotta?

Brian from Indianapolis

ANSWER: The Peyton Progress Meter tracks the development of a book or story from draft to submission. The Reggie Miller Writing Continuum tracks my word count for any given day. The Joey Votto Meter tracks my short story success rate.

Ray Liotta? I think this blog could use a little Ray Liotta.

QUESTION: What's the deal with self-publishing? Are you considering it?

Jerry from Manhattan

ANSWER: Hmmm. Well, considering I've already posted a few stories on Smashwords and Amazon, I would say I'm more than considering it. I've already done it. Do I have the confidence to try it with a novel? I don't know. I'll have to think about it. I had a full request for one of my manuscripts, so I'm keeping my options open.

QUESTION: Do you have any exciting things planned for the future?

Dwight from Syracuse

ANSWER: I don't have any big blogging series coming up to rival the ABC's of Writing. At least, I haven't thought of any yet. I am considering doing an ebook superhero anthology. If I go forward with that, I'll have more news in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Are you reading anything right now?

ANSWER: I bought a Kindle a couple weeks ago (my thoughts here). I just finished the first book of Michael R. Hicks' In Her Name: EMPIRE series (a review is forthcoming). I also read Pentecost by Joanna Penn (if I get into the groove, I'll try to review that, too). On deck: Swarm by B.V. Larson and The Pharos Objective by David Sakmyster.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Kindle Experience: Two Weeks Later

About two weeks ago, I broke down and bought a Kindle.

I haven't been resistant to the "Ebook Revolution," but I haven't exactly been running toward it either.

As a reader, I wasn't sure what it would offer me. As a writer, I didn't know if it would have any utility beyond giving me a device on which to check the formatting of my stories.

So, two weeks later, a look at what I love, like, and hate about Amazon's bestselling e-reader. For full disclosure, I bought the Amazon Kindle with Special Offers (wi-fi only version) because I wanted to save a few bucks.

As a reader...


WHATEVER. WHEREVER. WHENEVER. I can read whatever I want, whenever I want it. Amazon has integrated its Kindle store onto the device, making it easy to browse and find books. Connect it to wi-fi, and I've got an entire bookstore at my fingertips.

WHAT BOOKMARK? If a phone call or something else interrupts reading time, the device remembers where I'm at, allowing me to pick back up right where I left off. If I'm reading multiple books at the same time, those are all bookmarked in the appropriate places.

NO MORE BOOK LUGGING. I'm not usually one to carry around multiple books, but I do it every once in a while. I don't have an extensive library on my Kindle (there are six books on it so far), but I don't have six books to lug around. It's nice.

NO EYE FATIGUE. It's like reading from a paperback. Really. I didn't believe it until I saw it for myself. I tried reading off an iPhone, but gave up because I didn't like the size of the screen and the backlighting became tiresome.

TRAVELS WELL. I took my Kindle on its first road trip this weekend. It performed admirably. Hotel wi-fi was easy enough to pick up and the device is light and easy to carry and/or pack. It was also easy to read while riding in the car, even in the sunlight.

GOOD BATTERY LIFE. My Kindle was down to about half battery power before the trip. After about two weeks of usage, I still had about 50% battery power. Since I'm sometimes overly cautious, I charged the device before heading off. Still, it seems like the device sips its battery power.


BLACK FLASH! This really does take some getting used to. I'm talking about the quick "black flash" effect that happens when you turn from one page to another. The first time I read from my Kindle, I couldn't get over this. I didn't know if I ever would. It just takes a little time before this effect becomes second nature.

SOMETIMES FEELS LIKE A VIDEO GAME AND NOT A READING EXPERIENCE. While the Kindle marks your reading spot for you, a percentage meter at the bottom of the screen shows your reading progress. Sometimes, I expect to see "Achievement Unlocked!" when I hit the 50% mark of a book.

SLUGGISH INTERFACE. The refresh rate on the screen is nothing like you're used to on a computer or smartphone. Kindle's interface plods along, sometimes getting several steps behind your button presses as the device tries to keep up. It's noticeable.

IT'S NOT THE KINDLE'S FAULT, BUT I WANTED TO TOUCH THE SCREEN. This isn't really a "knock" on the Kindle. I've had an iPhone for a couple of years now and am used to using the screen as an interface. When I first got the Kindle, I wanted to keep doing this. IT DOESN'T WORK LIKE THAT.

"PHOTOCOPIED" COVERS. Often, part of the charm of a book is its cover, whether glorious or hideous. It doesn't matter how well a cover is designed or colored for the Kindle format; they all look like something from a Game Boy.

LACK OF LIBRARY SUPPORT. I know, I know. This will change soon. It's still worth mentioning, however, until this gets fixed because you can't check out library ebooks and read them on Kindle. Oh, I'm sure there's a way (just not a legal one).

As a Writer...


EASY TO SEND. I HATE reading in front of the computer, something often required when you write. I self-edit okay...but being able to email a Word file, PDF, or HTML doc to my Kindle is invaluable. Getting that text off the screen and into a book-like form helps me spot problems.

PORTABLE WRITING LIBRARY...WITH NOTES. In addition to the above, I can annotate short stories and novels. If I catch a misspelling, poor word choice, or anything like that, I can make a note to fix it. During a weekend road trip, this came in very handy while looking over some stories.

FORMAT GAUGE. The real reason I bought the Kindle in the first place was to "see" what my stories would look like on an e-reader. I needed to see for myself, tangibly, what an ebook felt like. This is also useful for spotting any formatting errors.


BRAIN SPACE NOT ATTUNED! When trying to use the Kindle keyboard, I'm all over the place. I commonly mistype "M" when I want "N" and don't like the location of the "delete" key. This is mostly a function of muscle memory and unfamiliarity, but still worth mentioning.

MOVING THE CURSOR. ICK. It's not that it isn't intuitive, it just feels clunky. A lot of it has to do with the refresh rate and the Kindle's lack of horsepower. It just takes some practice.

I am overwhelmingly pleased with my Kindle. It has a lot of flexibility as a "paperback replacement" and writing tool. I won't do a lot of typing/productivity on it, but it does what it's designed to do remarkably well.

I'm not interested in an iPad/tablet computer, so the Kindle and its E-ink display work well for me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Smashwords vs. Kindle

Ever a foolishly enterprising fellow, I've been trying Smashwords and Kindle to learn more about the self-publishing thing. I don't know that I'll ever publish an entire novel, but I find the formats extremely satisfying for my shorter pieces of fiction.

I'm not giving up on the traditional route...but I'm also not short-sighted enough to see what can be accomplished in this new era of electronic publishing. Of course, about 10,000 people wrote this same post five years ago (I'm only half-kidding).

Anyhow, I have four stories up on the Kindle Store and five up on Smashwords. Both formats have their quirks in terms of ease of use.


Summary: I like Smashwords quite a bit. I'm new to the ereader/ebook thing and the website makes it easy to upload your work.

Of course "easy" is relative. You really should read through the Smashwords Style Guide because it will help you publish with minimal fuss. Still, the style guide takes a time investment that may worry or intimidate some writers.

I had a few issues with Smashwords when I first tried uploading, but I did find out the answer. It was, however, buried in the style guide and required a Google search to find.

Smashwords also has a lot of distribution channels. However, several of my fellow authors are probably feeling the frustration stemming from the lack of free ISBNs. Smashwords ran out on June 25 (I know this because that's when I first tried the website!) and hasn't acquired additional ones. An email update said they'd be available this week, but I haven't heard for sure yet. This is keeping potential readers who have Kobi, Nook, iPads, and Sony ereaders from buying my stories from those distribution channels. It's a frustration -- not a dealbreaker -- and I expect this to be fixed soon.

I've been satisfied with the Smashwords conversions, which match up adequately with other books I've purchased from the Kindle Store. When I noticed issues with my books, I was able to fix them quickly. The site, however, can get sluggish at times. I'm fortunate in that I did most of my work with Smashwords during the overnight hours, so it wasn't as big of a problem for me.

You also get a higher royalty cut than Amazon for your stories IF you're going for the quasi-magical 99-cent price point. So that's something to consider.


*mostly easy to use
*flexible formats (epub, mobi, PDF, etc.)
*variable pricing
*changes take effect quickly
*variety of distribution channels (Nook, Kobi, Sony, etc.)


*requires some homework
*some formatting quirks that aren't readily apparent
*fear that books are "cookie cutter"
*sometimes sluggish
*Free ISBN shortage limits exposure

Amazon's Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP)

Summary: Amazon's format is as tried and true as it comes in the world of ebooks. The company's Kindle is the best-selling ereader and Kindle has apps for PC, iPhone/iPad, and Android that give you the potential for a very large reader base (if you can find it, of course).

Amazon's interface is fairly simple (my full experience here), but it gave me the feeling that I didn't necessarily have complete control over my book and formatting. Most of this is a mental game and not the reality, however.

Unlike Smashwords, Amazon's KDP doesn't have a style guide. You're mostly safe with uploading an HTML file to the Mobi Pocket Creator and going from there. It's an extra step that makes it feel like you have to do a little more to get your book to the Kindle Store. The Mobi Pocket Creator is, thankfully, easy to use.

My biggest problem with KDP is the perceived sense of sluggishness I get from the platform. When you upload to Smashwords, BOOM!, your book is there, shiny and new and available. With Amazon, it takes a day or two before your book shows up. It's not a huge deal for the initial publication, but if you want to change something or upload a new version, that change won't be reflected for at least 24 hours (and 2-3 days in international marketplaces). Therefore, I feel I have less "control" over the Amazon offerings.


*huge exposure base
*Security of having Amazon's power behind it
*Kindle Store easy to buy from
*more perceived quality control


*lower royalties for $0.99 price point
*feels like you have less control
*changes are sluggish
*Mobi conversion feels like "extra" step
*"legalese" in uploading may turn off some


Both formats have their quirks and I'm sure other writers have had different experiences (and therefore different opinions) with Smashwords and Kindle Digital Publishing.

But I'd advise all writers to learn both of them. And if you're not comfortable epubbing yourself, find someone willing to help.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Now Available!

Serve in Heaven, Reign in Hell edited by Naomi Clark is now available!

You can get it at or Shoppe Static Movement hosted by Pill Hill Press.

My short story "Vengeance" is just one of several tales within the anthology.

Here's the summary:

Calvin Collins is a nobody, a low-level hood with friends in low places--the perfect police informant. Double-crossed by two detectives he foolishly trusted, Calvin gets three bullets in the chest and an all-expenses-paid trip to Hell. There, he faces a choice: a painful, fiery afterlife or the chance to get even. But in order to avenge his death, he must first become Vengeance, a being of pure, dark energy who serves an even darker master.

Becoming a Kindle Millionaire (Yeah Right)

I wrote earlier about my Smashwords experience, so now I'm tackling the Kindle format.

Other writers have blogged about this and many of them will know more about it than me. I'm sharing what I'm certain is a very basic Kindle experience as it pertains to short stories. I have not formatted a full-length novel for Kindle, so this is the "baby steps" version of adding content to Amazon's behemoth of a platform.

I'm hoping this modest guide will serve as a brief "How To" for anyone intimidated by Kindle Direct Publishing. This is coming from someone who is not an expert and has slightly above average knowledge of tech stuff.

All right, first, head to You can use your existing Amazon account or create a new one. For better or worse, I've got my consumer account, author central page, and Kindle Direct Publishing account all tied to one email address. You can certainly choose to do it differently.

This is your home screen:

I have three stories on here already...if this is your first time, you won't have anything here. Hit "Add a New Title."

You'll get a lovely form to fill in:

1. Name - Title of your book. Simple enough.

Book is part of a series/series number - This is a checkbox for novels that are part of a series.

Series title/Series volume - If your book is a part of a series (or you plan to make it part of a series), this is where you input the title name and volume number (for a fake example: Circle of Life Series: Volume XVI).

Edition number - If you have plans to expand a story or made heavy revisions, this is where you can note that by numbering the book version.

Description - A summary of your book up to 4,000 words. Based on personal preference, I'm going to say the shorter, the better on this. I don't appreciate 4,000-word book summaries when I'm browsing for a new book. You can, of course, feel free to differ on this.

Book contributors - This is where you get to add your name and declare yourself the author. If you have a co-writer, you can note that. I would image you can also add various contributors if you're publishing an anthology.

Language - The primary language of the work. Pick Latin just for kicks.

Publisher - This is where you note who published the book. I've published my short stories while listing myself here. If I come up with a great name for a publisher, I'll use that instead. Maybe.

Publication Date - The date you want your book published.

ISBN Number - Ye Olde International Standard Book Number. If you've purchased one for your book, be sure to enter it here. You DO NOT need one to publish on Amazon's Kindle platform.

2. Publishing rights I'm going to assume you're not spamming the Kindle store by uploaded a poorly-formatted public domain book you copied off the internet. Select "This is not a public domain work and I hold the necessary publishing rights."

3. Target Your Book - You can select categories for your book, but only two of them. Be sure to choose carefully and try not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available.

Search Keywords - This is optional, but I'd recommend it. This gives you more control over how people can find your book.

4. Upload Your Cover - Having a good-looking cover is a necessity. Make sure it has at least 500 pixels across and a max of 1280 pixels vertically. Right now, Amazon accepts only JPEG and TIFF formats.

5. Upload Your Book

Digital Rights Management (DRM) - You can set DRM or not. It's up to you. One offers piracy protection, the other doesn't. But know this: once you've made your selection, you can't go back (unless you unpublish your Kindle book, create a new version, and set the new book's DRM).

File - This sets which file Amazon will use as the source for your Kindle book conversion. The Kindle Digital Publishing site has a page with suggestions for formatting here.

SIDE NOTE: If you're a Word user, save your document (.doc) in the "Web Page, Filtered" format. And make sure you import that HTML file into Mobi Pocket Creator as Amazon suggests.

I tried skipping the Mobi step...and realized my books don't have covers. So, um, don't do that.

Preview - This is important. It gives you a pretty good taste of what your ebook will look like on the Kindle. I usually go through, screen by screen, to check for any strange formatting. I am NOT a pro at this yet. If you want a terrific primer on ebook formatting, head here.

Next: hold your breath, grasp the mouse firmly, and click "Save and Continue."

6. Verify Your Publishing Territories - Select "Worldwide Rights" or "Individual Territories." If this is your book and you know you have the rights to it, go with "Worldwide Rights."

7. Choose Your Royalty - You can choose 35% or 70%. IMPORTANT: Your book must be priced at $2.99 or higher to qualify for the 70% royalty. In addition, $9.99 is the upper limit of the 70% royalty. Go any higher, and you'll have to take the 35% rate.

You can also set prices for various Amazon stores, though I've been selecting "set prices based on US rate."

8. Kindle Book Lending - You can choose to opt in or out. If you say "yes," then someone can loan their book to another Kindle user for two weeks. If you say "no," then they can't loan your book.

Are you really sure you want to do this? Make sure to check the box next to:

By clicking Save and Publish below, I confirm that I have all rights necessary to make the content I am uploading available for marketing, distribution and sale in each territory I have indicated above, and that I am in compliance with the KDP Terms and Conditions.

Next: hold your breath, grasp the mouse firmly, and click "Save and Publish." Or, if you're skittish (and understandably so!), click "Save for Later" so you can work up the courage to put your work in the Kindle Store.

The whole process, by the way, took about 20 minutes.

Tomorrow: Smashwords vs. Kindle Store: Which is easier?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

He's heating up!

Pounded out more than 1,700 words on the Reggie Miller Writing Continuum in a little more than an hour. If I hadn't spent time tonight making some book covers, who knows where I would've landed?

Superhero story now at more than 4,700 words and has now eclipsed my crime story!

I expect to finish the superhero tale soon. After that, I'll get back to the other one.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Smashwords and a Quick Update

I've put five stories up at Smashwords and am asking for a fair price of 99-cents for them. Actually, I'm part of a summer promotion at the site, and the code "SSWSF" gets you those stories for free. You can find my author profile here. Since I am now a bookselling whore, I've also added a new "Matt's Store" tab to this blog. Some of my stories are also available in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Someone was kind enough to buy a pair of stories on Smashwords today without using the promotional code. If this was a mistake, I apologize, dear customer. If you bought out of the kindness of your heart, I appreciate it (or it could be a case of "Thanks, Mom!"--I really don't know).

After a fun day of celebrating the Fourth of July weekend with my in-laws, I pounded out 1,500 words, putting me at Average Night on the Reggie Miller Writing Continuum.

I'm now about 3,000 words into a new superhero short story.

The other crime fiction story I'm working on is about 4,100 words now. I need to get back to that one soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Working on a new story!

I'm doing something I normally don't do: I've got two stories going at the same time. One is straight up crime fiction, while the other returns to my love of the superhero fiction genre.

I started the superhero story tonight and churned out more than 1,500 words, which puts me at Average Night on the Reggie Miller Writing Continuum.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Superhero Summer Slump

Yahoo! posted an article this weekend about the failure of this year's crop of superhero movies (you can read it here).

This should've been the Summer of the Superheroes.

Instead, many people walked away from Green Lantern unbelievably disappointed, Thor hasn't been the Iron Man-like hit Marvel wanted, and X-Men: First Class was a good movie that hasn't lit up the box office.

I've seen all three movies. On some level, I enjoyed each one of them, but here's my analysis of why each movie has failed to capture the hearts of audiences.

All Three

They're too close together. Hollywood thinks we all have money to burn and believes people only want to see superhero movies. These flicks are big-budget spectacles that need a certain distance from each other. You can't release them so close together and hope for repeat business because the same targeted demographic will be spending its money to see the next movie coming out.

They're not Avatar. Scrap the 3D. People have caught onto 3D as being a gimmick (as it always has been!) allowing studios to change you extra money to be more uncomfortable at movies while having an inferior experience. I accidentally saw Thor in 3D (we thought the regular version was playing at our appointed time and we had read the listings wrong) and it brought NOTHING to the table. I will say Avatar did a nice job with this. I don't think the new X-Men had a 3D version, however.

Bring in the B-team. I'd venture to say Thor is more recognizable as a character than Green Lantern, but that's just me being ignorant about what the rest of the world knows about comics. Iron Man pulled it off because of a recognizable star in Robert Downey, Jr. Thor starred the guy who played Captain Kirk's father in the Star Trek reboot. Ryan Reynolds is a recognizable name, but many don't perceive him as superheroic. And while Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy were great in X-Men, your average moviegoer has no idea who they are. So not only are this summer's franchises "lesser heroes" in the public eye, the stars are as well.

Green Lantern. First off, I mostly enjoyed Green Lantern, but it did squander much of its potential. Here's why:

Too Much to Do. Green Lantern had too much going on. We had to introduce the Green Lantern Corps and the idea behind it. We had to introduce the villain Parallax and his relation to the Corps. We had to introduce Hal Jordan and the concept of his being chosen as the first human Lantern. We had to introduce his relationship with Carol Ferris. And then they threw in Hector Hammond. And Hal Jordan has father issues. Hal has to get trained. Hal has to save the day. You get the point.

Video Game World. The special effects in Green Lantern were, overall, pretty effective. But some of the little things...Reynolds' eyemask never quite felt "right"...added up. The scenes on Oa were sometimes breathtaking, but other times felt like a cutscene from a video game. Some of the ways Hal chose to use the ring were visually uninspiring.

Weak, Abstract Villain. To me, this is the biggie. These types of movies need effective villains (although Iron Man has managed, somehow, to get around this). Parallax was too abstract and didn't have a personal connection, really, to Hal Jordan. The whole movie was set up for Hal to fight a mildly irritated storm cloud with a face. The lack of a personal vendetta really hurt this one.

Mediocre Writing. A little too paint-by-the-numbers on its plot points, GL also suffered from some poor characterization and consistency. The movie talked a lot about how the death of Hal's father shaped his personality, but as the movie went on, that point seemed to get dumped. In addition, it would've probably been best to hold off introducing Tomar-Re and the role of Hal's mentor completely to Sinestro. Yes, diehard GL fans would've been upset, but they would've seen the movie anyway and we would've had a stronger connection between Hal and Sinestro.

Thor. Of the three, Thor was probably my favorite. It almost recaptured the Iron Man vibe that Marvel was going for. Like Green Lantern, it had a few things holding it back.

Superpowered...gods? Huh? Asgard was realized beautifully, but Thor is a much harder sell than Iron Man as a character. You can almost believe, somewhere, some rich guy is making a suit of armor to go and blast bad guys. You can't believe, however, that the son of a superior race of beings came to earth to learn humility. Thor's mysticism made the movie less palatable.

A little misplaced humor. Look, this is a great fish-out-of-water concept and Hemsworth did a great job. But there were some kitschy moments that didn't quite click.

X-Men: First Class. This was a solid effort with no show-killers and I'd definitely recommend it.

Where's Cyclops? Storm? What about Wolverine? Havok. Darwin. Banshee. Who the hell are these people? And why should I care about them?

The sour taste from X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn't help much. X3: The Last Stand was pitiful, a movie of squandered potential. Wolverine the video game tie-in was really good. Comic fans will never get over what they did to Deadpool. The bad feelings from these two movies may have given some fans pause about seeing yet another X-Men flick.

Oh, so you have another speech for us. About equality and crap. And politics. First Class got a little preachy at times, which I'm sure grated on some viewers. Trimming one of two of these little diatribes would've helped move things along.

But it's not all bad!

Green Lantern Pros:

*Ryan Reynolds is always watchable
*Oa visually beautiful, overwhelmingly so, at times
*Sinestro was terrific
*Movie managed to mix a sense of wonder with light humor

Thor Pros:

*Likeable hero in Thor
*Terrific supporting cast
*Memorable villain with personal vendetta
*Felt part of a larger, shared universe
*Beautiful to look at

X-Men: First Class Pros:

*Wonderfully realized relationship between Xavier & Magneto
*Laugh-out-loud Wolverine cameo
*Nice 60s retro vibe
*Kevin Bacon looked ridiculous in the Magneto helmet

Now, I have to say this: I have HIGH HOPES for Captain America. And the promo materials and trailers look incredible. You can bet I'll be there!