A Fond Farewell; or, All Hail the King of Strong Style

Last night was a strange night for myself, both as a grown-ass-man and a fan of such an oddity as Japanese pro wrestling (which I call pro wres, because that’s what they call it, not “puro” or “pure-o-ree-sue”). Last night I got to watch what will most likely be Shinsuke Nakamura’s final match within a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring, alongside some of the names that he came up with, or that he competed against for years. I was tired while watching the opening matches, found myself doing the dishes to stay awake during the intermission, but still fixated on the video reel that they threw together of his farewell press conference and career retrospective.

My god.

In a way, it’s kinda crazy. I got to watch Shinsuke Nakamura throughout his entire career with New Japan Pro Wrestling, with all of the bumps along the way. That means from the rushed young lion phase of his career right into the “Supernova” phase that saw him, a young wrestling prodigy, tasked with carrying not only the struggling company on his shoulders, but the struggling world of pro wres as well. At the time Shinsuke was an awkward young guy, there was supposed to be a chip on his shoulder, but instead it seemed like he was just some young kid thrust into a position that he clearly wasn’t ready for and everything that came with it.

They wanted him to fit a mold, to become the living embodiment of stars from years past like Nobuhiko Takada and the legendary Shin’ya Hashimoto. They didn’t want him to be himself, and perhaps, he wasn’t quite sure who he was at that time, either. I got to watch him grow from that awkward kid with an entire culture and history of pro wres on his back to a confident, self-fulfilled performer who was so incredibly sure of himself that it was hard to believe that he was ever anything else but the King of Strong Style.

I’ve been following his career since the beginning, watching while he journeyed from that awkwardness to not only accepting it, but being proud of it and turning it into a vehicle to express himself to the world and be proud of who he was. All of that happened while I, myself, grew up and had to deal with similar issues. We all grapple with these growing pains and becoming the person that we really should be, which sometimes is a stark contrast from what we envisioned for ourselves.

A tearful goodbye.
A tearful goodbye.

For Shinsuke Nakamura he wanted to be what New Japan and the fans wanted him to be. He wanted to be that bad ass, that saviour of Antonio Inoki’s vaunted Strong Style pro wrestling, but it didn’t fit. Nakamura wasn’t that bad ass by nature, he was a kooky, eccentric guy that absolutely could be an asskicker if he wanted to be, but never seemed comfortable in that role. So he spent years in the black, Lion-mark trunks trying to embody the perfect Inoki warrior without anything ever fitting.

Similarly, for years I tried to fit into a mold that I felt I should at least attempt to squeeze into. I wanted my father to be proud of me, I wanted to prove that I could do these things that no one thought I could ever do. I, that eccentric kid growing up whose self image was that of a quiet, conscientious kid who could follow rules and make everyone else happy, wasn’t really that kid. The shock on my face in fourth grade when my teacher singled me out as one of the class’s biggest troublemakers and loudmouths was palpable. That was a joke, wasn’t it? When my desk was moved to the center of the room alongside other kids that I had always turned my nose up at and believed that I was somehow better than was a strange wake-up call.

Yet that quiet, nice kid was still what I strived for. Climbing a corporate ladder, taking advantage of these “born leadership abilities” that I had and “making something of myself” felt important. In fact, while I was doing that my father was so incredibly proud of me, to the point where it broke my heart at times. After years of being disappointing to both myself and to my family (or at least perceiving that disappointment), I was finally doing the right thing. Of course, it wasn’t actually the right thing for me. Creatively I had died a slow death, watching as all of those ideas that once filled my mind became less and less tangible or exciting, instead setting it aside to take life “seriously.”

When people think of intellectual pursuits or viable forms of entertainment I’m sure that professional wrestling is at the very end of the list, if not barred from that list entirely, yet it’s something that I’ve always been drawn to. As a bigger kid growing up who wasn’t exactly great at traditional sports I saw pro wrestling as such a natural fit for myself. I could do that, I thought. People liked me, and if they didn’t like me, they at least listened to me when I spoke, even if I never saw myself as deserving of that attention. Literature was always my main hook, but pro wrestling never quite went away, instead I searched for something that I could assign more meaning and value to, which led me to watching stuff beyond the traditional, southern-style wrestling in the US.

When I first saw Shinsuke’s new attitude I wasn’t sure that it worked. That awkward, vanilla, boring guy was gyrating, dressing in tight leather pants and acting like a mix of an 80’s rockstar and a traditional martial arts bad ass a la Hashimoto. That guy and the new guy in the ring were such disparate characters that connecting the dots seemed nearly impossible. A mohawk that he didn’t even bother to spike? The “YeaOh!” call after his matches and the weird peace sign-finger gyrations. What?

I was absolutely skeptical, yet I had to keep watching. Something about him was magnetic. Not only had he finally gotten more comfortable within his own skin, but he was one hell of a performer. In fact, he was probably one of the best that I had ever seen in the ring, which was saying a lot. But all of this happened while I myself was grappling with who and what I really was and where I was heading. I was watching someone that I had given up on entirely remake himself and find his true, inner self in a strange embodiment of self-actualization, and he was absolutely stellar.

Right now I’m in a different place than where I was when I first saw Nakamura back in 2002. A lot has changed. Some of the bad, some for the good, some for the great. I have a lot of incredible things to look forward to and for that I’m eternally thankful. Last night I thought that I wasn’t going to make it, but talking to my wife after she woke up kept me up long enough to tune in to watch the match. A lot of that was strange, looking back. I was laying in bed, watching a live New Japan event on my phone while my wife sat next to me reading something that I had wrote on her Kindle. The difference between that kid locked up in his bedroom with his latest giant box of VHS tapes from Lynch sitting on that ugly, green shag carpet upstairs in my parents’ old house and that 33 year old man in bed was that of night and day.

A Young Shinsuke. Still kind of a giant nerd.
A Young Shinsuke. Still kind of a giant nerd.

This entire week I had been reflecting on my work, past and present, and was coming to certain conclusions about where I needed to head next. Some of that reflection was that my work has improved so much that I almost don’t recognize my past work as my own anymore. The novel that I’m currently in the midst of revising was worked on as a sort of fun, relaxing break from what I considered my “serious” projects, but now I’m finding that the writing, the style, the narrative and the characters are simply much more striking and interesting than anything else that I’ve ever done. That meant coming to the tough decision to shelve the science fiction book that I was looking to release next to give it more time to sit before I return to it and give it a full rewrite to get it to exactly where I want it to be.

Sometimes self-realization requires accepting of one’s self and to strive for exactly what you want yourself to be, as opposed to trying to fit into a mold that seemed like an okay fit at the time, but the further you got the more of a pain in the ass and restrictive it grew to be. I’ve had a lot of influences in my life and I’m not about to pretend that Shinsuke Nakamura was the main one, but it would be crass to ignore the impact that his work and journey has had on me.

AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura on 1/4/2016. Now both with WWE.
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura on 1/4/2016. Now both with WWE.

So last night I got to witness the send off for one of the greatest in-ring performers of this generation, of a guy that I got to watch grow while I, too, grew alongside him. The tearful, emotional send off from some of the most hardcore fans in Japan, his friends and rivals had a profound impact on me. That was a man who impacted lives across the world, and this wasn’t his funeral, nor was it his retirement, simply a send off while he prepared for a new chapter in his life in America under the WWE banner.

Will I enjoy his work in WWE the same as I did in New Japan? Who really knows. WWE is essentially the popcorn movie to pro wres’s action-drama style, the summer comic book movie featuring the big stars, the big special effects, sometimes a profound story but mostly a bunch of bullshit with talented people involved uniformly, while pro wres can be a lot of things, overlapping a lot of different genres. But I’ll still be watching while I, myself, evolve and grow into the man that I’m comfortable and happy being, in hopes of one day being able to be as happy with myself and my work as the King of Strong Style was with himself.

#YeaOh.

(If you’ve never seen him… just watch)

Of Art, Viability, Respect and Genre; or, Self Reflection and Forgiving George Lucas

Some of the topics that I grapple with from time-to-time have to do with commercial viability and creator intent. As a writer, I’ve always felt that my strengths were more along the lines of the absurd, strange and thought-provoking nature. The first novel project that I worked on was predicated on wanting to make big, bold statements and to do so through a carefully-tuned, broken narrative structure. It may have been a bit of a large undertaking considering my lack of experience in writing novels and the commitment to the art of long form.

When I reflect on that story, sometimes I cringe and other times I get nostalgic and want to start it all over again and make it work. Basically, I always looked at writers who were presenting stories that were a bit different and looked up to them, wanting to be able to add to that lexicon of work some day. I saw writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami and even David Foster Wallace and that was what I wanted to do. Granted, my technical knowledge and interests might not line up with some of them, but I always wanted to create something that was frustrating for all of the right reasons and was left open to interpretation. A lot of my short fiction that I produced throughout college fell along those lines, including tales of god-like airline passengers that crash a jet to make a point, a young army veteran with a sheet of metal lodged in his head that kept him teetering the line between lunacy and lucidity and scenes of extreme, casual violence.

When I ventured off on my new journey into writing in late 2010 I found myself in a bit of an impasse. That crazy novel that I had began back in 2006 hadn’t gotten very far and looking back at it, well, it was a mess. I had some complicated ideas for it written out somewhere, but the actual novel itself had a lot of problems. Having never written anything longer than 20-or so pages before I found myself having a difficult time keeping tenses correct, which was only compounded by taking weeks and months off in between writing sessions and opting to write in a stream of consciousness fashion. This led to some utterly profound and interesting segments as well as some complete garbage that simply couldn’t be saved.

So the idea was to simply start over. The thing is, I was severely “out of shape” mentally. While I’ve tried to never masquerade as anything beyond what I am, I always considered myself a pretty smart guy, but not reading or writing on a consistent basis for a few years while working a menial, soul-sucking job left me without much left in the tank. Picking up old favorites to read was difficult, trying and frustrating, my mind quickly wandering elsewhere, which was a problem. I felt like I had simply let any intelligence and wit that I once had fade and degrade beyond repair. If you’ve known me for a long time, you’ll know how absolutely soul-crushing and difficult this was for me. But I persevered, I kept trying and eventually that hazy cloud began to roll back a little bit at a time.

I became deeply entrenched in MMA and kickboxing, simply because I had been involved in both for so long and it was the world that I knew, as well as the world that knew me. A large part of my identity after college was tied in with those sports and my work writing about both (kickboxing, mainly), so I rolled with it. One day I sat down and decided to work on a short story, with the concept being imagining what it would feel like for a down-and-out fighter who was once incredibly famous and successful to be to get out of bed with all of his physical and emotional aches and pains. I wrote for many hours straight and eventually found myself sitting on 14,000 words and a lot more left to say. I had unwittingly found myself a new novel project, which would go on to be “The Godslayer.”

Once again, in retrospect, I see problems in that book from on the sentence-level to the conceptual-level. Agents and publishers didn’t seem overly interested in it, but were encouraging for me to keep going and come back to them with something marketable. Men don’t buy books, never mind sports fans, they said. I shrugged, figured that with my contacts within the industry I could release it, get some support and go from there. I also wanted to do so without spending money, which was a very big mistake. I think that “The Godslayer” is a good story and I’m glad that I told it, but I think that my exuberance for releasing something and hoping for some commercial success may have clouded my better judgement in giving it the fine-tuning that it deserved.

I’m talking revisions, editing, the works. Maybe some day I’ll revisit it, or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll someday try to wipe it from existence, who knows. That cloud that I spoke of before had rolled back some, but I found myself back in a familiar place again; working hard, long hours and finding myself mentally and physically unable to do much else beyond work and be grumpy. My identity being tied to MMA and kickboxing led to me getting more and more work in the field, going deeper and deeper into the well.

My dream of being a successful novelist was still there, but I had placed it on hold in hopes of making enough money so that… I’m not really sure? There wasn’t really an end in sight, just this thin hope that if I saw enough success in what I was doing I could some day stop and leverage it into publishing books. No, it doesn’t really make much sense, but that was where my mind was at.

When I was thinking about my “career” as a novelist, I found myself frustrated and dejected. “The Godslayer” did pretty well considering that the marketing that I had was calling in favors with friends to publish articles about it, making podcast appearances and writing guest articles for websites to promote it. Also, yeah, like I said before, kind of a mess of a book that I should have been more careful with before releasing. I had always loved science fiction, dating back to my love for Star Wars and the expanded universe novels being what got me into reading when I was younger, pushing me off into other science fiction and later other books outside of sci-fi, so why not write sci-fi? Science fiction has that commercial appeal with readers and, in my mind, there was a lot of garbage out there already. I could probably do something pretty cool, pump out a series pretty quickly and follow the blueprint that a lot of self-published novelists had set over the past few years. I’m a smart dude, I could do this no sweat.

In summer of 2014 I decided to step away from as much of my work in MMA that I could and focus solely on this new plan of whipping up a science fiction series quickly, getting it out and getting some buzz going. My point of reference for science fiction literature ended somewhere in the late 90’s and I had grown to be of the mind that not much had happened that was worth reading or being concerned with after then. I had kept up with television and film, for sure, with some all-time favorites being Star Trek DS9, Babylon 5 and Firefly on the TV side and, well, not many new sci-fi movies were classics, exactly.

Anyway, I made another mistake here, that mistake was not respecting the genre properly and understanding it. I knew that there was stuff out there that did well, I have a general understanding of what they were, how they were written and how well-received they were, but I hadn’t really sat down and acclimated myself to a lot of the work out there. I knew the classics and knew that there was a market for science fiction so I went for it, hoping to churn out a ton of books in quick succession.

This is where “Terminus Cycle” came in. I’ve talked about disappointments with it before and I stand by them. Reflecting on it, I made some mistakes, and perhaps the biggest mistake of all was not having the respect for modern science fiction and understanding the market. My determination to be successful led me to push for something that I felt would be commercially viable as quickly as I could to build up a library of work. My intent for it was all over the place, with my stress levels on the rise because I wanted to release something that was really, truly great, something that would stand the test of time, but I wanted to do it quickly. That sort of devil-may-care attitude blended together with the pressure that I put on myself to not only write something substantial, but that would help to push my career forward led to some errors in judgement.

My intent was there, but man did it not translate into exactly what I had pictured for it. I honestly shouldn’t be talking about my own perceived failings that much because there were a lot of people that enjoyed the book and have been asking about the follow-up. In fact, those outweigh any of the more critical opinions that I’ve seen, but even then, I have a hard time with it, as just about any artist does with their work. Part of why I’m writing all of this out, though, is because I was watching the recent George Lucas interview from Charlie Rose. George Lucas has been put through the grinder over the past fifteen or so years, which the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has only stirred up yet again.

Personally I see a lot of what Lucas has done and find stuff wrong with it. There is a lot to poke holes into when it comes to his work, from dialogue to human interaction to pacing and his incessant meddling. But still, George Lucas was the guy who created Star Wars, doing so being a tremendous risk at the time. Yet he succeeded. What followed was a career of commercial films that ranged from huge successes to near misses, all of this from a guy that never wanted to create commercial, Hollywood-style films.

When faced with what he saw as another ten years of his life to create a third Star Wars trilogy and a few commercial busts on films that he helped produce, Lucas decided to hand the keys to LucasFilms over to Disney for a hefty chunk of change and to move on. His ideas for the next few Star Wars films were rejected outright by Disney and he decided that it was time to simply walk away from something that had both consumed and defined his life as an artist and a human being.

Undoubtedly George Lucas fucked up a few times in his career, with those fuck ups only amplified by the fact that Star Wars has been such a beloved franchise that many fans grew up with. Lucas claims that he’s making films again, but that they are more like his early works, the experimental kind that most likely won’t see the light of day but make him happy. Star Wars was an obsession for him, they were his creation, but he’s been forced to move on.

Star Wars, was, if anything, a part of his quest to prove that he was more than just the guy who got lucky with American Graffiti, that he could create a new sort of fairy tale that at the time was incredibly innovative with its use of technology and filming techniques. He, of course, looks back at all of his past work and hates most of it, which really resonated with me today while watching this, because I understood it.

I’ve been wanting to work my way back to what got me passionate about writing in the first place, but I’ve had a number of detours and each time I walk away with more knowledge and understanding, but I also walk away disappointed and frustrated with myself. Along the way, though, I’ve found a new found respect for science fiction literature by spending the past year consuming as much of it as I could, finding myself enamored with the likes of James SA Corey, Ann Leckie, John Scalzi and many more. I read some really great sci-fi and some really mediocre sci-fi. I’ve also read some sci-fi that I don’t really enjoy, but understand the appeal of.

What taking a crash course on modern science fiction has really done for me is to give me that newfound respect for the genre, but also to harden my resolve when it comes to writing science fiction. There is a lot of great stuff out there and I feel like I have a very good grasp on what I want to contribute to it now. I have the “Terminus Cycle” follow-up in a good place right now and I even have more ideas that are bubbling over in my mind, just ready to come out when I’ve got the time and will to work on them.

George Lucas definitely has his shortcomings, as do we all, but he helped to shape a genre for generations to follow while also pushing the world of filmmaking forward into a new direction. That wasn’t always his intention or what he saw for himself, but it became his legacy because sometimes that is simply what happens in life. For myself, I’m happy that I’m at a place where I’m seeing my own shortcomings while also seeing growth and understanding what I want to do as I move forward as a writer.

As I write this it is 2016 and it’s time for forgive George Lucas and respect what he did and how he changed all of our lives, just like we all need to give ourselves a break sometimes and not be too hard on ourselves. As long as we are all learning and trying to move ourselves forward there is no sense in beating ourselves up over silly mistakes or perceived past failures.

So I’m going to post this without proofreading it because, hey, it’s a blog post and I’m tired. So sue me.

The Force Woke Up Last Night, and It Was Great

This blog tends to err more on the side of my professional life and updates on my book projects. Seeing as though I’m currently going through the process of trying to find an agent for my next novel, there really isn’t a whole lot that I can say is going on right now with that. My next novel has been through a few rounds of revisions and I’m pretty happy with it, but for right now I’m testing the waters of traditional publishing after a few years of growth as a writer.

What’s funny is that I also am finishing up a first draft on another novel. This one is still science fiction, in a broad sense, but more closely in line with post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a story that I started working on back in 2004 as a group project of sorts, only to start it over again a few years ago. I really never saw myself doing much with it, but my wife read what I had at the time (which was about 10,000 words) and kept asking me when I was going to do more with it. Eventually that became my “distraction” when I needed a break from the Terminus Cycle follow-up and now I’m just about done with the first draft of that. Crazy, right? So I have essentially two books just about ready to roll, which I’m excited about. Whenever they happen.

Anyway, what mostly got me to sit down and write tonight was that I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens tonight. Going into it I was a bit torn, mostly because Star Wars has such a long, strange history. I’m not overly nostalgic or emotional about a lot of things, which can be a good thing, but also kind of a bummer to some people. I see a lot of the stuff that comes out pandering to my generation, hoping to loop in our kids into our depressing downward spiral of nostalgia with movies, toys, video games, apparel and everything else. Star Wars is perhaps the most toyetic and mass-marketed franchise in the history of man.

While that isn’t always an indicator of quality, it usually is a red flag that something might be worth skipping out on. Yet Star Wars, for all of its flaws and my complicated love/hate relationship with it, lives on and still endears me to this day. That’s something special, indeed. Even after the prequel trilogy (ugh) still hanging around the neck of the franchise like an albatross, hopes were incredibly high for The Force Awakens.

Even the trailers felt more like Star Wars than the prequel trilogies ever did, which was a big deal. The removal of George Lucas from the equation almost seemed key into bringing the series back to its past glory and beyond. I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to respect George Lucas and still find him to be more of a plague on the series over the past 20+ years or so.

Sure, JJ Abrams can take a lot of the credit for bringing the Force Awakens to life, but what was really exciting to me was the return of Lawrence Kasdan, a writer who is just as responsible for those great memories that we all have from Star Wars as George Lucas as. Initially brought into the Star Wars universe when George Lucas handed off the framework of a script to Leigh Brackett, who then passed away, Kasdan was brought in to finish the script for Empire Strikes Back. He quickly became the silent thread holding the whole thing together. While A New Hope was fine, in retrospect a lot of the problems that we all find in the prequel trilogy were also a part of Episode IV, just in smaller doses.

I’m not overly fond of publicly criticizing other writers, but George Lucas isn’t a particularly great writer, especially when it comes to stuff like dialogue, human emotions, characterization and pacing. Kasdan was able to bring the characters to life further in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and I’m really not sure why he wasn’t brought in for the prequel trilogies. Lucas handled the writing for The Phantom Menace on his own, collaborated with Richard Hales on the second prequel and then wrote the third on his own. Needless to say that simply didn’t work out.

Kasdan’s return, along with JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt put together one hell of a film in this that blended together nostalgia with new characters seamlessly. The new characters were center stage and their stories all felt important, while the older characters were there to add weight to their struggles. There was enough fan service to keep the old fans happy while still telling a new, valuable story and kicking off what should be a great series of films.

This movie was as close to flawless as a Star Wars film could get, which says a lot about it. Star Wars has never been overly weighty or grounded that much in reality, instead having more of a grand, sweeping fairy tale that has enamoured multiple generations. The story here definitely had weight, but there were also comedic moments worked in that fit the story, added depth to the characters without being as overt as some of the stuff that Lucas attempted to work in, showing that a deft approach at humor will always work out better than trying to bring in an animated comedic figure like Jar Jar Binks. The effects also felt a lot more in line with the aesthetics of the first trilogy, still feeling modern and fresh without having that overly polished, super CG look that a lot of films have.

Like I said before, I’m not an overly emotional person and I do get bothered by stuff like people trying to outdo each other with how hardcore of a Star Wars fan they are. I’m not the type of person who is going to show up at a premier like this all dressed up in a costume or being animated about much, but that’s just how I am. I’ve been a fan of these movies since I was a kid and have most likely seen the original trilogy dozens, if not over a hundred times now, as well as partaken in my share of merchandise sales. Hell, I’ve got well over $1,000 in Star Wars Legos lining my office right now. Still, you won’t find me publicly declaring myself THE BIGGEST STAR WARS FAN or anything like that, nor will I be changing my social media profiles with Star Wars images. That being said, there were quite a few times throughout the movie where I felt myself tearing up, stuff like the opening credits roll, nostalgia stuff or even some of the story points.

Maybe it was just being so damned happy that something Star Wars was finally working out, that it was finally getting the respect and attention that it deserved. This movie made me feel like a kid again and not just some analytical jerk looking for plotholes. There was definitely some magic in this film, which I can’t say for any of the prequel movies, which even on rewatches are incredibly difficult to sit through.

Oddly enough, 2015 has been a very good year for triggering what nostalgia is left in me, with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both coming out in the same year, both reviving long-dormant series that I grew up obsessed with, and both delivering far more than I could have ever imagined that they would. Hell, I’ll even take James SA Corey’s The Expanse being made into a show on SyFy and that show not disappointing as a win.

Seriously, if you enjoy science fiction and haven’t been up on your reading over the past few years, check out The Expanse on SyFy. Really, really good stuff. Stick through for the first four episodes, trust me, it’s worth it.

“I’m Learning to Live”

A few weeks ago I came to a bit of a strange decision considering the path that I had chosen for my career and my books. That decision wasn’t the easiest and really, I’m not sure that posting about it is the smartest thing because, well, things don’t always work out in the end, right?

Anyway, that decision was to take a long, hard look at Andlios Book Two and decide where I wanted to go with it. As most of you reading will know (or should know), I finished the rough draft of Andlios Book Two in late August and since then have been working on fine-tuning it over the past few months. I took about a month and a half away from it as well to start a new project, but I’ve been back at it for a few weeks now. I’m reaching the point with Book Two to where I’m understanding that there are a lot of things that I’d need to get moving on soon to get it ready for release, mostly being commissioning new artwork and then finding and paying an editor to run over it with a fine tooth comb to catch my [mostly] embarrassing mistakes that I still make after writing professionally for ten years now.

So I jumped back for a second and looked at Terminus Cycle, which included looking at what I did right and what I did wrong. I learned a lot from the release of Terminus Cycle, especially compared to what I learned between the release of Godslayer and Terminus Cycle. What’s funny is that there were years in between the release of Godslayer and Terminus Cycle, but Terminus Cycle was only released in late March and I only have seven months of sales data to sift through. Yet the muscle, money and time that I put into marketing Terminus Cycle and being able to figure out what works and what didn’t work has been invaluable. I also learned just how valuable being meticulous with revisions can be.

I’ve talked about this at length before, but I’m not sure that I put enough time into revising TC and after release I’ve found a myriad of things about it that I wish that I had done differently. There have even been moments where I’ve considered going through and doing those things that I didn’t do to it to jazz it up a bit, but for right now I’m letting sleeping dogs lie.

One thing that I did do for Godslayer and didn’t do for Terminus Cycle was working to get it published through traditional publishers and working through the whole system that is publishing. That means querying agents and trying to get my foot in the door that way. I made a conscious decision with Terminus Cycle to go the “indie author” route with it, and when looking back through the numbers, I’m not so sure that everything worked out the way that I wanted it to. I moved thousands of copies, which is really, really cool and I’ve amassed a decent number of reviews on both Amazon and GoodReads, working out to a 4.0 average on each site. Really, that’s pretty cool, considering Godslayer has zero reviews on GoodReads and 11 on Amazon after a number of years. Hell, I’ve seen books released by major publishers who have less reviews.

I’m tremendously proud that I’ve been able to reach people and stir up enough in them to leave a review of my book, good, mediocre or bad. I’ve been approaching “Book Two” a bit differently and upon reflection, I think that it’s a pretty damned good book at this point. The idea of sinking a whole lot of time and money into breaking even (or losing money) against is a hard pill to swallow at the moment. While I make enough money off of LiverKick right now, the idea of working as a novelist has always been to make it sustainable.

The vast improvement in quality (or quality control, I guess you could say) and how I wrote the book drove me to decide to pump the brakes a bit on publishing this book right away and instead feel through the waters of literary agents and give myself a chance to get this published traditionally. Now, I know what you are saying; isn’t this book two? It is and it isn’t. While this is the continuation of the lore and even some of the characters from Terminus Cycle, I wrote it in an accessible way to where if someone went into it without reading Terminus Cycle they not only wouldn’t feel lost, but would feel entirely comfortable using it as a jumping off point.

I went as far as to rename Terminus Cycle on Amazon from Terminus Cycle (Andlios Book One) to Terminus Cycle (Andlios Origins). Is that a cop out? I’m not sure, but it treats the journeys of Jonah Freeman and Peter O’Neil with respect and helps to establish the Andlios universe for those that are interested. For those that don’t feel like they need to go there? That’s cool as well,  you’ll still hear about their stories and the history of Andlios and the Earthers in this new book as well.

If I do find an agent and do start working on the process of getting this book released through a major publisher it might take a while, which is kind of a bummer for those that are actually waiting for it, but I felt like it had been four years since I made an attempt at working through the traditional publishing industry and have come so far since then. It’s worth a shot, right? If things don’t quite work out over the next few months and every agent I queried shoots me down or simply isn’t interested then I might just move forward with releasing it on my own, but I feel very strongly about this book and that my time and efforts are worth money at this point.

Changes on Amazon and the crazy deluge of self-published works hitting the market are difficult to deal with right now and, in a way, Terminus Cycle got lost in the shuffle. This upcoming book will most likely appeal more to a wider swath of readers and might even be received better, which could mean more success, but having help in promoting the book and distributing it could go a long way to do it the justice that I believe that it deserves.

I do have a novella that I’ve been working on with some of the backstory from the planet Andlios that I wrote in a manic daze back a few months ago that I plan on returning to shortly and running through a few phases of revision. I’ll most likely be releasing that on my own within the next few months once I have it in a place that I want. So hopefully I’ll have a bunch of cool news over the next few months. Until then? Back to revisions and working hard every day.

A New Star Trek on a Weird Streaming Service; or, Why Can’t Star Trek Fans Have Nice Things

To say that I’m feeling conflicted about the news that there will be a new Star Trek is to put it lightly. I’ve had my struggles with getting through Voyager, and Enterprise was just almost entirely unwatchable. Yet.

Yet.

Star Trek will always hold a place in my heart, though. I’ll always be willing to give something Star Trek a shot just because of the rich history. There were times when The Next Generation dragged on a bit and yeah, Deep Space 9 was incredible but some of the time traveling stuff became a bit grating after a while, as was the late focus on Chief O’Brien being a schmuck. Give the guy a break, already.

The shiny, new JJ Abrams movies are rather divisive when it comes to Star Trek fandom, with hardcore fans claiming that they are an atrocity while others are okay with the more action-oriented take on classic Star Trek storylines. I enjoyed them for what they were and it was fun explaining the story parallels between the awesome Wrath of Khan and Into Darkness to my wife. Of course, she then couldn’t sit through Wrath of Khan, which may be a huge negative for the modern films. Anyway, they are mostly fine.

Now there is news that there will be a new Star Trek television series debuting in 2017 on CBS All Access. The first episode will air on CBS proper, but then every following episode will stream on CBS’s web streaming service which, dear god, this is an awful idea. Television is really starting to fragment and consumers need to have a variety of subscriptions to keep up with shows now. Like I love the show Community but Yahoo! Screen was a terrible platform for the last season and I still haven’t even finished it yet. Mostly because of how obnoxious of a platform Yahoo! Screen was, and it didn’t even cost money.

The question is this; is Star Trek once again positioned for failure?

I understand on a base level that this is a ploy to get people interested in CBS All Access, but at the same time, putting Star Trek behind a $5.99 a month paywall seems ridiculous. Is Star Trek a strong enough brand name to push people to sign up for a streaming network that feels, at best, unnecessary? Netflix, Hulu Plus and every On Demand give consumers access to just about everything, why start another worthless subscription site and then bury a new show behind it?

What’s worse is that Star Trek fans have been burned so many times now. Voyager wasn’t great, but it had its following, for sure. Enterprise was just not good, with only the hardest of the hardcores sticking with it for the entire run. The show just wasn’t good, though. Michael Dorn (Worf) has been attempting to get his own Star Trek show picked up for ages and this apparently won’t be that, so really, what is this going to offer Star Trek fans? The films have already taken on a drastically different tone than the rest of the franchise, the last few series weren’t great, why can’t Star Trek fans have nice things?

The Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Trailer Adds Gravity to the Universe

Years passed and my craving for science fiction never relented, I just moved on to different things. The Dune series, everything Star Trek, SyFy’s great relaunch of Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, the Expanse books and the truly fantastic Babylon 5. While it may be difficult to find a lot of truly great science fiction, there is some out there if you are willing to look and sift through everything else. Fans of science fiction tend to overlook faults when looking for something to grasp onto, so there are shows, books and movies that may not be that great that have gotten a pass over the years (I really don’t understand the appeal of Farscape after watching two seasons).

No matter what, though, I can’t seem to escape Star Wars. In fact, hundreds of dollars of Star Wars Lego sets adorn my office right now with that showing no sign of stopping any time soon. The announcement of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and who was attached to it did initially get me excited, but that quickly faded because of past disappointments. Disney went on to destroy the Expanded Universe of novels, games and comics that were built up over most of my lifetime heading into this, all to launch a new universe of novels, comics, television shows and games. What I’ve seen of this new universe thus far is far from inspired (outside of the Rebels show), instead run by a committee and most likely shackling any sort of creative decisions made by the authors.

Yet.

Yet the release of the Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens final trailer has made me a believer. Crazy, right? Truth be told this is absolutely everything that had been bothering me about the impending release was assauged by this trailer. There were questions that were left unanswered (was that Luke with the metal hand and R2-D2? Why isn’t he on the posters? Who is this new Sith? Is the new Sith Luke?). The new characters that we’ve had glimpses of in trailers and stills were framed in a way that made them truly interesting and left me wanting to know more about them and most importantly, this new saga looks to add some important framework that never really existed in the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars was an epic war story told through the eyes of the main heroes and villains of said war. The prequel trilogy was simply expanded backstory that did help to add some framework and sense of gravity to the original trilogy, but it was more jamming as much backstory in as possible than fleshing out the universe.

Even back to my youth it bothered me that there was so little seen outside of the black and white, good and evil of war. Who were the Rebellion? Why did they break off from the Empire? Who were they helping? Were there actually common people or was everyone just a Stormtrooper or a Rebel? Like I said, some of this was addressed in the prequels, but not much really was. Star Wars always lacked anything anchoring the universe to reality, to making the struggle seem valuable.

The Empire was evil, you see, run by SITH LORDS and the dark side of the Force, even though most of the Imperials thought it was an old, hokey religion. Sometimes the battle between good and evil felt like a choice of color palate more than an actual struggle of ideological differences. Imperial ships and bases were just filled to the brim with nothing but military and Rebel installments weren’t much different. The only planet really given any color was Tatooine and that was one of a forgotten border planet that was filled with smugglers.

Who manufactured the ships, the weapons and the clothing? Where were any of these things bought? Luke was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters, but what the hell did that mean (there was actually a later released deleted scene showing this, I’ll grant you that). Was that some sort of retail location? How was there an “Academy” where Luke’s friend Biggs could train and end up as a Rebel? Were they really so brazen about this? Over the years authors working on the Expanded Universe had helped to breathe life into these issues, but with those being wiped away now there shouldn’t be more excuses.

The films themselves lacked this context. Instead there was a laser focus on the struggle itself and the heroes and villains. What this new trailer has shown is indeed that there will be new heroes, heroines, villains and villainesses, but most importantly, how these people were impacted by everything else that happened.

“Those stories about what happened…”

“It’s true. All of it.”

Those few lines of dialogue alone help to build up and flesh out the Star Wars universe more than we’ve seen in so long. The derelict hulks of ships on Jakku provide context to what happened after that final, fateful battle in Return of the Jedi and each character that is shown, in just a few simple words, are given context, motivation and depth beyond what any character in the prequel trilogies were given over the span of three films. Bravo. I’m very much looking forward to this.

Finally, Star Wars has some gravity to it.

High Hopes

So I started a new project.

While that might seem counter-intuitive since I haven’t released Andlios Book Two yet, it really isn’t. Andlios Book Two is out to beta readers and has been for about a month now. Some feedback has filtered through and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read it and send feedback thus far, as well as everyone else who intends to in the future. Like I said in a previous entry, I’m looking to gain some distance from Andlios Book Two so that when I go back in for another few runs I’m looking at it from a fresh perspective. After a month I’m already seeing some adjustments that I want to make, which is a good thing.

This new project I’m going to remain mildly secretive about for now. I tend to remain quiet about my books until it is time to release them for a pretty good reason, that reason being that things can change quickly when it comes to novels, especially when they are still being written. What I can say is that I’m revisiting an idea that I had in the past and that this one is a lot of fun for me to work on at the moment. The first week I actually took some time off from writing to do some stuff around the house with Lori, then the second week was me looking through all of my potential projects to decide which one to work on now.

At least I’ll never be left wanting when it comes to ideas, right? I picked this one because anyone that I’ve shown it to has gotten excited about it and wanted to read more of it right away, which tends to be a good sign when it comes to fiction. The book itself is still science fiction, but of a different breed. Less focused on space and technology and more on people and the dumb things that we do to our planet, selves and society. The tone is also a bit different, a bit more tongue-in-cheek and fun than my previous books, which helps to give it a different texture.

This one probably won’t be super long, which will be nice considering that Andlios Book Two is currently my longest work sitting at around 140,000 words (Terminus Cycle was 93,000 and Godslayer was 63,000 for reference). The pace that I’ve been going at has been writing about 10,000 words a week, which puts me at over 30,000 coming off of this week, meaning that within a month or two it could be onto the next phase of editing and revisions with it, which could be great. Of course, it could go on hold when I feel like the time is right to finish up Andlios Book Two, most likely after I get some more feedback in and weigh my options on what revisions I want to do, but considering this pacing this new book shouldn’t take too long.

Patience

Right now the follow up to Terminus Cycle is out to a select group of readers and, well, I’m at a loss for what to do with myself. My plan right now is to let this book germinate for a while. It’s out to readers, most give me unrealistic time frames for which they’ll read it but I’ve been doing this for a while now and know that it takes time. I’m in no rush for it. In fact, I want to put this book aside for at least a month or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes. I figure that while I have this luxury of not being under any sort of deadline that I should take advantage of it and make it as good as I can.

That, to me, means letting it sit for a while. I tend to like something, then look back at it a few months later and find a ton of stuff wrong with it that was missed and yearn to be able to take it back and fix it. This way I can do that. Like I said, though, that isn’t the problem, the problem is that I’m sitting here and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. It’s like singing in front of people. What do I do with my hands?

I went ahead and started working on another, non-related to Andlios project and while that is fun and exciting, it’s been a long time since I really focused on something outside of that universe. The original idea for the series was hatched back in 2012 and a lot of the ideas came together over the span of the following year before I actually started to work on it in late 2013. I’ve started little things here and there that I’ve put aside for later (this project being one of them), but taking on a whole new idea for a novel is at times a daunting process.

After two years of working inside of one universe where the words just flowed I’m having to stop and do a lot of planning. I’m thinking up ideas, plot points, character arcs and all of the stuff that needs to happen before I continue forward with the actual writing. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there is a lot to writing than just sitting down and writing. Without a solid foundation of ideas you don’t have a novel you just have a loose collection of ideas and characters that may or may not come together to make a story.

What I want from this story is for it to be different than anything else that I’ve released. I want it to reflect more what I enjoy reading on average and just be different.

Tough Decisions

There comes a time when you have to slow yourself down, take a look at the what you are working on and make tough decisions. For me the past few weeks have been interesting, to say the least. I’ve been working really hard at revisions on the Terminus Cycle follow-up and have gotten to a pretty good place in it. Pretty soon I’m going to be sending it out to beta readers and wait for feedback to start filtering in. The tough decision that I’ve made is that I need this book to sit for a while.

Initially I had set a lofty goal for myself of releasing three books from this Andlios series in the calendar year of 2015. Terminus Cycle would be March, Andlios II would be August and Andlios III would be December. A part of the reason why I wanted to do this was by studying what was selling on Amazon and how authors were getting attention. It felt like there were two schools of thought to being a success as an indie author; release a ton of stuff in short succession or release one well-polished work and get picked up by a major publisher.

There is a tremendous upside to both, but I tend to work best when I feel like I’m working upstream. The idea of releasing books on my own and being able to do it under my own terms was incredibly appealing, as was the fact that Amazon offers a 70% commission rate. It’s a feast or famine situation to where an author can make a flat rate through a publisher and possibly get royalties in the future if it sells well, or an author can make a lot more if the book sells the same amount through Amazon. Of course, if your book doesn’t sell a ton you are kind of out of luck. I’m not out of luck, but I’ve found that money on marketing is very important to keeping copies moving and that most of the time I just make my money back.

Anyway, this was my plan and as time moves on I’m not sure that I like this plan as much as I did initially. The way I looked at it was that maximizing revenue was the most important thing for me. If it meant rushing through and releasing books that are pretty good but not great I was willing to take that risk. Now that Terminus Cycle has been out for five months and has received both positive and negative feedback I’ve realize that this probably isn’t the best approach for me as an artist.

These two methods remind me a lot of something from the 90’s that plagued the world of clothing in the way of the one size fits all t-shirt. The one size fits all t-shirt was a thing that existed in the 90’s just about everywhere and was a male extra large. Sure, it did technically fit most people, but it would either be too big or too small. If you were bigger than a male XL it would be way too small for you, if you were smaller than a male XL the shirt would be like a dress. That’s how I view these two methods of publishing and attaining a fan base.

Simply put the method that I chose just doesn’t work for me and how I work. Last August I quit blogging (for the most part) after years and years of making money writing as a blogger. Blogging was a strange process where quality control was inexistent on most sites and the sheer volume of posts that had to be made as well as the expediency of them dictated that they were usually quickly tossed together without much craftsmanship involved. On average I was making about $5 an article and working 6 – 7 days a week outputting many, many articles a day. Under such circumstances the idea of sitting back and combing through an article was insanity. Most were fine the way they were and the readers wouldn’t notice if anything was off anyway.

Once again, sort of one size fits all. Writing on the internet doesn’t work the way that it used to before the bubble burst where I’d be able to write an article for a larger site and invoice them for $35. Pumping out a dozen 300 – 500 word articles a day led to a lot of malaise when it came to writing and a distinct lack of worrying about overall quality. Once again, it’s sort of a one size fits all affair when it comes to blogging. Nothing really matters in the end, just page views and Facebook shares. Crafting a perfect article just does not matter outside of the occasional longform piece.

When reflecting on Terminus Cycle I see the convergence of these two one size fits all mentalities into a perfect storm. I was used to writing fast and loose and was under the impression that the only way that I could possibly work towards success would be to be incredibly prolific. This is where the idea of releasing three books in a year was born and where I decided to overlook some of the problems with Terminus Cycle before releasing it. I wanted it out and wanted to adhere to the plan and in retrospect there are some things that I’d absolutely change.

This has all led me to believing that when it comes to the second book I need to let it ferment for a while so that I can look back on it with fresher eyes and do what I need to do to bring it up to my own standards. I want to be able to create art that I feel 100% about and that when it gets out to readers I can feel completely confident that I’ve given them my best work.

Sometimes I write different things

Writing is tough.

Writing novels can be even tougher. Most people look at writing a novel as this nearly impossible task and when I tell people that I’ve published two already they look at me like I’m insane. Those looks are mostly because I finished writing them, not that I got them out into the wild or anything.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog you know that I’m in revision hell on the Terminus Cycle follow-up. I am. At times it is cool, at times I have to go back and rewrite entire chapters, which can be fun, and other times it is infuriating and boring. Basically, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s needed to make sure that it’s as great as it can be.

Over the past few weeks I’ve dabbled with putting other kinds of stuff up here to bring in some traffic and push some books out the door. It has worked, which is cool. So right now I’m going to share another article that I recently wrote.

Gasp, it’s about professional wrestling. Crazy, right? I’ve been watching wrestling since I was a kid and it carried over into adulthood. In fact, it was a bit of an obsession in my college years, mostly with Japanese Pro Wrestling (which I refuse to call “puroresu,” by the way).

Anyway, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax concluded over the weekend and I’ve been left ruminating on the outcome. The conclusion that I came to is that being a Shinsuke Nakamura fan is akin to being a Toshiaki Kawada fan in the 90’s. Check it out here on Cageside Seats. 

I write things, you read them. Pretty simple.

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