Head Hopping

I didn’t really get into writing to follow rules. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s only one rule worth following and that’s don’t confuse your reader. Everything else is just icing, but if the reader can’t follow your story that book you spent so much time on is either going into the circular file or sent off in a cloud of zeroes and ones.

If you spend a little time digging you’ll quickly find out head hopping is a matter of great contention. Much like the Oxford comma and using certain fonts, some people get all frothy about the mouth when someone talks about head hopping.

Those people have far too much time on their hands.

So, what the heck is this whole head hopping thing and why am I researching it? As things would turn out, I’m working on the last Saxton story and was doing a bit of bouncing around in the first chapter. I’d heard of head hopping, but wanted to get a better definition and see what other people thought of it. If it’s one of those things that tends to confuse readers, then it’s a real no-no, but there’s not a huge amount of consensus about whether or not it’s strictly verboten or just one of those things you shouldn’t do, but everyone does anyway. Is head hopping analogous to getting drunk and dancing naked on a table at a four star restaurant or is more like picking your nose in public?

After reading a bunch of blogs on the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one really knows for certain, but everyone seems to have a serious gut reaction to head hopping. In fact, head hopping is one of those things that, handled slightly differently, becomes third person omniscient, which everyone seems to agree is quite okay.

Head hopping, by definition, is swapping between two or more characters’ point of view without a distinct break and using the character’s own voice as the means of communication. Third person omniscient is swapping between two or more characters’ point of view without a distinct break, but maintaining the narrator’s voice as the means of communication. For instance:

Yee-haw, he thought, these cowpokes surely did know how to treat a lady right. She felt the affections of the lads at the cowboy dance were, while unwarranted, at least interesting.

vs.

The cowboy thought Yee-haw as he always did when he thought about women. It was just a way he had of exploring the world and his place in it in relation to the fairer sex. For her part, she felt the cowboys and their affections were a fascinating distraction from the ennui of day to day life.

There’s this thing called deep POV, where a writer delves into the psyche of a single character at a time and tells the story through that person’s eyes and voice. Head hopping is basically the process of implementing deep POV, but not limiting oneself to a single character at a time. Done right, deep POV can really draw a reader into a story by placing him or her straight into the character. This is similar to the way first person POV works, but with he/she said instead of I said. Done poorly, deep POV runs the risk of feeling stale.

Head hopping can cause issues for readers because it draws a reader into a particular place and then yells, “Ha! Your’re not really there, you’re here. And also, you’re not who you think you are! You’re not you, you’re actually Josef Stalin!”

If you’re deep into a character’s head and suddenly you’re in some other character’s head, the result is going to feel like hitting a fire road in Ferrari. And there you go, you just violated the cardinal rule and confused your reader. Your hard work was flung across the room or reduced to random bits on someone’s tablet.

Poof. Gone.

Does that mean you absolutely cannot head hop? Well, that depends on how you do it. It’s one of those things that can be done well, but swapping in bad p;laces – like in a paragraph – can be catastrophic. In the final analysis, it’s probably best to avoid head hopping, but if you’re gonna go ahead and do it, at least break paragraphs before you do it.

Of course, that’s just my opinion and, as I’ve already established, I don’t exactly truck with most of the rules of writing. Except that one important rule of not confusing the reader. Make your reader paranoid, terrified, hysterical. Make him or her laugh or cry or want to strangle a manatee in the nude. But make sure you don’t confuse them.

All this, of course, begs the question of why I would suddenly take interest in this. The Henchmen series is firmly in first person POV. The Saxton series has been largely third person deep POV. But, as I was working on the first chapter of the last Saxton story, I found it was helpful to bounce back and forth between a couple characters to compare and contrast the event and do a little bit of foreshadowing.

That lead me to wonder if I was head hopping or doing a bit of third person omniscient. I’m fairly certain whatever I’m doing is (or will, once it’s all edited) working. Still, I’d like a second or third or nth opinion on it. So here you go, the first chapter of the last Saxton book in all its raw and unedited glory. Drop a note in the comments and tell me if I’m way off base.

/********************************************************/

The woman screams. Her limbs strain against the metal bands that keep her secured to the cold metal table. Metamorphosis takes her body and twists it into sickening shapes. Her limbs grow longer and stouter, replacing her slim arms and legs with bulging muscle and thick bone.

She raises her head and gazes down at her naked body with terror in her eyes. As her muscles expand she remembers summers in Las Cruces and wonders where she went wrong. Her past dissipates like so much blue-gray smoke as pain wracks her body again. In her mind, someone is tearing her limbs off just like she used to tear the legs off grasshoppers before tossing them in ant hills.

The metal table is far from the nearest ant hill, but the withdrawal makes it feel like ants are crawling through her insides. She actually welcomes the pain of her body changing because it means she doesn’t have to focus on the incessant need.

“You were correct, Colonel,” a man in a white lab coat says as he stares in wonder at the transformation. “She is strong. I would not have believed a woman could be this strong.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jannik Schäfer nods and frowns. “You must toss that old thinking aside, doctor. Women will be necessary in the New Order. We must rectify the mistakes of the past and one of those mistakes is relegating fifty-one percent of the populace to the dust bin.”

“Yes, Colonel,” the doctor says, hanging his head in shame.

The woman is barely recognizable as a human anymore. Her body has tripled in size, sucking resources from the tubes plugged into her veins to turn into muscle and bone. She has taken on a simian look, like a pale, hairless ape with a woman’s head on top of its massive shoulders.

“The face and head are the last, correct?” Jannik asks.

“Yes sir. The process works from the bottom up. We’re not completely certain why, but all the subjects have transformed from the feet upwards. We suspect it’s something encoded in the new DNA that says the body must have a solid foundation.”

Jannik nods, but otherwise doesn’t speak.

“This new strain of alien DNA is more robust than the previous strain,” the doctor says. He has the look of a kid on Christmas who’s just opened the best toy in the world and can’t resist talking about it.

“The old strain was decades old. I’m amazed it worked at all, Doctor Hess. You are truly a wizard. The Brotherhood is lucky to have you.”

Doctor John Hess blushes. He’s not used to dealing with bigwigs. Frankly, people baffle him. How can he explain the majesty of his work to someone who has never seen the things he’s seen? “Thank you, Colonel.”

Doctor Hess pauses, unsure if he should continue. “If I may be so bold, Colonel…,” he starts.

“Go ahead, Hess,” Jannik replies, never taking his eyes off the woman on the table.

Her face is changing. It hurts so much she can’t even scream anymore as the bones grow into a muzzle and the muscles tear and pop. The gnawing hunger is still inside of her and she buries herself in the pain. This isn’t the first time she’s wished for the eternal slumber of death. A painless end to a short lifetime of mistakes would be proof there is a loving God.

But the pain continues and the gnawing need continues to nip at the edges of her mind like rats burrowing into the raw flesh of a severed limb. Again, she screams. Again it does nothing.

“Are the rumors true, sir?” Hess asks. “Did the original DNA samples come from Dulce?”

Jannik snorts. “Somewhat. The samples came from one of our first labs. A deep, dark hole under Albuquerque. Early Operation Paperclip scientists were brought in to study the artifact. They drew the first bits of DNA. The new strain comes from a ship we stole from the government that was shot down late last year.”

“What about the, uh, other genetic code?” Hess asks.

Jannik straightens his black jacket and sighs. “Almost the same place. Have you had any luck with it?”

Hess is in his element. He turns to face Jannik, ignoring the woman screaming in the other room. “It is incredible and impossible. It’s not DNA, at least not as I know it. It changes, sir. It changes from solid to gas to liquid and back again. I wish I could take a piece and examine it more closely.”

The woman’s eyes roll back in her head so hard she wonders if she can see her brain. Through the red haze of agony, she prays laser eyes to shred the gray matter in her head and end it all. But the pain continues to grow. Her jaw elongates. Her teeth shift and grow and tiny movement feels like the worst toothache she’s ever had.

Jannik watches her through the glass. His eyes close focus on his reflection in the glass separating Hess and himself from the subject. In the glass he sees a ghostly reflection of himself. It’s not much of an image, but enough for him to know everything is perfectly in place.

“You must never examine the shadow outside of the confinement area,” Jannik says.

The unmistakable force in Jannik’s voice pushes Hess back a step. “But … why?”

Jannik tears his eyes from his reflection and the woman in the other room. Piercing cobalt blue eyes focus on Hess. The doctor takes another step back. “Because I told you not to,” Jannik says.

Hess swallows hard. He stared into the eyes of the demon and lived to tell about. One hand fiddles with his white doctor’s coat while the other one unconsciously wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. “Yes. Sir. Sir Yes,” he stammers. “Yes sir.”

In Jannik’s mind, the conversation is over. He looks back at the woman on the table and finds she’s still. “What is happening?” he asks, pointing at the woman. “Is it done.”

“No, sir. I guess the pain finally knocked her out.”

Jannik shakes his head. “No, that won’t do. I was told she must be alert and aware throughout the procedure.”

“Her brain has shut down, Colonel,” Hess protests.

“Restart it.”

“Sir?” Hess asks.

Jannik turns the full force of his eyes back on the doctor. “Restart it or take her place on the table, doctor.”

Hess takes a moment to process that. Like everyone else at the base, he knows Lieutenant Colonel Jannik Schäfer does not have a sense of humor. “Yes, sir.”

The doctor fiddles with a tablet in his hands. Without warning, the woman screams again and Hess feels it in his soul. To think, this woman, who was a runaway and a crack whore, was going through so much so that the formula could be perfected. He almost envied her. It’s not everyone who can say they have advanced science as much as she is doing right now.

Pain vanishes in a heartbeat, like someone flipped a switch. Her body collapses into the table and her eyes close. She can’t see herself. If she could, she’d start screaming again. Tiny insects crawl across her bare flesh, but she’s too tired to care anymore. The pain is over and that’s all she cares about.

Her name. What was her name? No matter, it would return or she could go search out the people that… What is the word? Created. Created her. They were there. Two people. One with short hair the other with long hair.

Why can’t she remember who or what they were?

Why can’t she remember herself?

“Sir, if I may be so bold, I’m terribly excited. The process has never gone this far.”

Jannik struggle to hold in his own anticipation. His heart is pounding in his chest. On the table, still strapped down, is a female ape with deep black fur sparsely covering her body. Even from here, he can see the confusion in the beast’s eyes.

“I must admit, Doctor Hess, I’m interested in the outcome myself. You’ve done wonders blending the samples,” Jannik says. “Have you reproduced the prototype serum?”

Hess cannot tear his eyes from the spectacle in the room. The ape is calm now. “Almost sir,” Hess replies. “I need a fresher sample of the shadow to finalize it.”

“Excellent work, doctor. If all goes to plan, you’ll soon have all the samples you need. You’ll be able to pull them straight from the source.”

The words slowly make their way into Hess’s mind. He tears his eyes from the ape woman in the next room and looks at Jannik. “How? If I may ask, of course.”

“As you know, the prototype is working for us. While he’s occupied, plans are in place to harry and then capture the shadow source.”

Jannik folds his arms across his chest and chuckles. “Did you know he actually has the audacity to call himself ‘The God of Dreams’? Such an arrogant thing.”

“Are you saying the sample came from a god?”

“That’s what he calls himself, anyway. We know he can do things regular people can’t. Personally I think he’s a liar and a charlatan. No matter. Soon this ‘God of Dreams’ will be in our grasp.”

Hess cringes at the thought of dealing with a god. “Do you think harassing a god is wise, sir?”

Jannik’s laugh echoes through the small chamber, echoing off concrete walls. “There is nothing to worry about Hess. He is nothing more than a liar trying to claim the throne of The Church of the Eternal Dreamtime. Pah! You will see. We have already hired a man who claims to be able to call this god. If the little man’s story pans out, we won’t even need to send troops; we will just wish him here and – poof! – he will be here.”

“Yes, Colonel,” Hess says. He still feels the gnawing in his stomach that usually tell him bad things are going to happen sooner rather than later.

“How is my serum coming along. Have you managed to figure out how to merge what you’ve found?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Hess says. “I need more samples from the god. We’ve managed to recreate the prototype’s information, but the god’s is significantly more complicated.”

“You’ll have your samples soon enough,” Jannik replies.

Both men stare through the one-way glass. The final effects of the serum are working into place. Her mind was largely wiped and it shows in her emotionless eyes. A once streetwise, drug abuser has just been transformed into the perfect soldier.

“Is it safe to go in?” Jannik asks.

Hess checks his tablet and nods. “Yes, sir. The change is finished. I must counsel caution, though, sir. She’s the first successful transform. She’s quite strong and her aggressive nature has been enhanced.”

Jannik doesn’t acknowledge the warning. He sweeps through the door and stands over the mutant ape. Her dark eyes watch him cautiously. He watches back, searching for any trace of humanity left behind the simian gaze. Nothing jumps out, just the blank stare and hint of rage of a caged animal.

“You’re magnificent,” Jannik says. “Soon, I’ll have an army of you. You and your ilk will stream through the world. Together, we will bring order to this chaotic world. We will bring unity and strength back to a people who have forgotten what it means to fight for something.”

Deep in her mind, a spark ignites. It’s not much, little more than the light of a single match in a pitch black cave, but it stays lit.

Jannik strokes the creature’s fur, marveling that something so amazing can have such a soft pelt. He flashes back to his grandfather returning from hunts around the world. On every continent, his grandfather hunted wild animals. They were always predators and usually alpha predators when available. After each hunt, the man would bring back the pelt and head. The heads were mounted in the family reading room. Animal after animal laid down its life for the eldest Schäfer until every free space had the head of a tiger or a lion or some other thing with teeth.

In his young mind, Jannik thought his grandfather was the strongest, bravest man in the world. He, himself, never took up hunting. At least not big game. He hunts homeless people, though; stalking them through the dark alleys and pipes they call their home. Pathetic creatures. Not worthy of being called humans.

Yet another thing to eradicate when he seizes the world. In Jannik’s mind, if a person can’t muster the wherewithal to take care of themselves, they were worthless. Worthless things needed to be excised if the world was going to be rebuilt stronger.

“Hess,” Jannik calls over his shoulder. “Release the clamps.”

“Sir, I strongly suggest we do that in a more controlled space.”

“Hess,” Jannik repeats. “Release the clamps.”

Hess sighs loud enough to be heard from the other room. He quietly closes and locks the door. “Yes, sir.”

Jannik smiles as the steel bands slide silently from the limbs of the beast. She clenches her fists and sits up. When she rises, Jannik feels a pang of nervousness. It was one thing to admire her from the comfortable blanket of safety, but not that she’s free he realizes he’s alone with a monster he helped create.

The tiny flame in her head flares brighter briefly. This was one of the creatures that hurt her. Her mind is still a jumble and she lacks the mental processing power to realign her new neurons. Still, she knows enough to want to hurt the thing in front of her.

She rises to her full height and relishes the power of this new body. Images intrude on her simple mind – summers and first kisses and the heady taste of meth filling her mouth and lungs. The pictures make no sense. Why would she need summers or kisses? But the feelings that came along with the images are tinged with melancholy regret.

As quickly as it flared up, the tiny flame shrinks back down and there’s only the animal left. She wonders if she can bat the little thing aside and leave. There are things to hunt and conquer out in the world. All she needs is to escape and then it will a glorious, lifetime-long hunt.

A single fist in the creature’s face, then she can run free. She draws back her arm, ready to sweep aside the tiny creature with the strange hair and no fur.

“Did you embed the inhibitors?” Jannik calls over his shoulder.

Hess’s voice sounds tinny and nervous over the old speakers in the transformation chamber. “Yes, sir. She should already to reacting to your presence.”

Jannik stands his ground and stares. He knows enough about human behavior – and this thing still has similar instincts – to know that backing away is equivalent to backing down. She’s strong enough that a punch from that fist will probably go right through his head. He makes a mental note to push Hess to finish his serum. That special mixture of prototype and god will make him the most powerful thing on Earth, but for now he’s just a weak, pathetic human with an indomitable will.

He grits his teeth and sets his jaw as the ape-woman rears back. A lesser man would run and cower, but that same lesser man would be easily hunted and smashed by this newest creature. She was specifically chosen for her street smarts and general resiliency. It took a team of three of his soldiers to bring her in and she smashed one’s jaw in the process. Another will likely never have kids. And all that was before Hess fed the soldier serum into her veins. The mere fact that she survived it means her mental toughness is amazing.

The tiny creature in front of her stands its ground. It should be running, but it waits patiently. A thought from the tiny flame of her former self screams to smash the little man, but a larger thought bounces through her skull telling her he’s not to be touched. Screw it, she thinks. Her muscles tense and she longs to feel his bones break.

But that large thought won’t give up and he won’t run. There’s no fear in his eyes and it gives her pause. Her mind is torn between the tiny voices echoing through her head. Kill him. Don’t kill him. He is weak. He is strong. He must not be harmed. He is the future.

Her arm slowly drops. She won’t kill him. Not now at least. For now, the voice screaming to kill him will have to wait.

Jannik watches the hairy arm fall and slowly exhales. He wasn’t even aware he’d been holding his breath. His mouth breaks into a grin, slowly at first so as not to threaten the creature, but rapidly spreading as she doesn’t attack. It worked. It actually worked. The process successfully created a monster that could be controlled.

He mentally reminds himself that there’s no guarantee she’s completely controllable, but the initial results are positive. Tomorrow he’ll put up her against the two guards that he found asleep at their post. If she kills them and he can still keep her in check, then he’ll consider the experiment a success. If only they had finished her before the operation started.

“Hess,” Jannik says. “You are a miracle worker.”

Hess doesn’t answer for a long time, longer than he should wait and Jannik makes another mental note to give the scientist a stern talking to about responding. “Thank you, sir,” Hess finally says.

Jannik reaches up and touches the creature’s face. Her pull back briefly, revealing teeth that could chew up a cue ball, but she leans her face into his hand and actually purrs. The problem, Jannik reflects, with human soldiers is they have complex emotions and are inherently unpredictable because of that. This creature has simplified emotional responses. Anger and love are powerful emotions, but they’re far more predictable.

An army like this will be unstoppable. Especially once he himself has been transformed and can lead from the front of the battle lines. Jannik pulls a phone from his pocket and pushes a button on the blank face. “This is Jannik. Echo team, you’re clear for Operation Mjolnir.”

The creature’s eyes are closed and it’s switched from a simian purr to the quiet chirping the aliens made when they were content. The sound makes his hair stand on end, but like everything else he’s endured in life, Jannik Schäfer will learn to endure this.

A Long Time Ago…

This is almost the exact opposite of a post I did a bit back on things that were still there, but forgotten. Today we’re going to look at something that’s gone, but definitely not forgotten.

If you weren’t alive in the late ’70s you really have no idea just how hard Star Wars mania hit. For a movie that was supposed to be a flop, it energized the country and revitalized the sci-fi movie scene. In fact, the story goes, the studio considered it the B-movie release and Star Wars opened on a paltry 40 screens across the country because those were the only theaters that would take it. There was another movie 20th Century Fox figured would be its summer block buster, so the studio didn’t really worry about pushing Star Wars too hard.

Now, of course, no one remembers that other movie. Star Wars was such a phenomenon that it eclipsed everything else that came out that summer. In case you’re wondering, the other movie was the movie adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight.

the_other_side_of_midnight
I actually really like that image.

I’m sure Sheldon loves Star Wars to this day.

I remember seeing the first trailer for Star Wars and immediately thinking I had to see this thing. I was five or six at the time, so any movie where people dressed in space armor and swung glowing swords at each other had my vote. When the movie hit in the summer of 1977, I, like every other kid in the country, lined up to see it. I’m not sure how much my grandma liked it, but she said she enjoyed it and we made it a tradition to see the next three together over the summers. She missed out on the last three prequels, which is probably for the best because they was have ruined the series for her just like they almost did for everyone else.

But that’s neither here nor there. Before Jar Jar Binks taught an entire generation how to hate, the original cast was there on the screen and everywhere else. Seriously, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting Star Wars merchandise. The lead up to The Force Awakens had nothing on the follow through of Star Wars. Today, we refer to it as Episode IV – A New Hope, but back then it was just Star Wars, and it was everywhere on everything all the time. Including this:

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The car was real. Someone won it and probably drove it around with a huge freaking smile on their face. It was a 1977 Toyota Celica GT with a custom paint job.

I can’t find the specs on the actual Star Wars Celica, but according to Carfolio, the ’77 Celica GT was a four cylinder, rear-wheel-drive car boasting a whopping 95 bhp at 4800 RPM. For the time, it wasn’t a bad car. In fact, they’re still fairly common on the street racing scene. Couple a car that got decent gas mileage with a five-speed manual and some kick-ass Star Wars art and you the babe magnet of the late seventies. Unless it was some babe that won it, in which case it would be a dude magnet.

Now, like I said earlier, Star Wars was everywhere on everything in the summer of ’77. It was almost at complete sensory overload levels. Most of that merchandise has vanished over the past (almost) 40 years, because most of it wasn’t designed to last. But the Star Wars Celica had two things that set it apart from everything else.

  • It was a one-off custom paint job
  • It was a freaking car

Unfortunately, like most other merchandise from the era, the Star Wars Celica has vanished – poof – without a trace. You wouldn’t think that would be an easy task for a car to pull off. After all, aren’t cars supposed to be registered? According to Hollywood, any police cyber expert should be able to spend about five seconds typing the VIN into the vast police databases and get not only the owner, but an incredibly high-resolution picture of where the car is right now. In the real world, though, things don’t work quite like that. All that information was tracked on pieces of papers that changed hands when the car changed hands. The original pieces of paper are probably covered in fried-chicken grease and slowly decomposing in a landfill in Indiana.

As for the car? Well, that’s gone. Aside from one classified ad in the early 80s where someone was offering to sell the car, the trail is completely cold. Cold as Hoth or Palpatine’s heart. Poof. Gone. Vanished without a trace. The Celica, too, is likely covered in fried-chicken grease (we loved our fried chicken in the 70s and 80s) and slowly decomposing in a junk yard in Indiana.

Like a lot of the stranger pieces of reality, this would make an excellent plot point for a story. Not necessarily hunting down the Star Wars Celica, but rather some car that has gone missing and has something important squirreled away in the trunk. As another example, The Thing in Dragoon, Arizona, claims to have a 1937 Rolls Royce that was used by none other than Adolf Hitler.

the-thing-dragoon-arizona

If you take a bit of time to look around the world and ask yourself a few questions, you’ll soon find that there are stories out there begging to be told. Plus, it gives you an excuse to research the odd and wonderful, and maybe even plan a trip to Dragoon.

As for the Star Wars Celica, someone will eventually find it rusting in a barn somewhere with it’s trunk full of old phone books and a half-eaten, desiccated Big Mac on the dash. No one will really know what happened between the time someone won the car and it was found. The car may be gone, but the story is just begging to be told.

How Indie is Indie?

Late last year I was at Page One, one of the few remaining local independent bookstores in Albuquerque. The other is Bookworks. Both are great places and are generally much more pleasant to hang out in than any of the bigger corporate joints. Anyway, when we were at Page One there was a small spot in the back where some local indie authors were doing a little meet and greet. It was quiet, so I went up to say hello and meet some of the other Albuquerque authors.

So, what was the first thing they ask me? “Who are you published with?”

When I told them I self-published my three they got that look. You know, the one that says, “So, you’re not good enough to get published?”

I shook hands, nodded and smiled, and moved on to see what else the store had to offer.

The whole interaction got me wondering, though. These guys had publishers, editors, book designers, book formatters, and so on. Granted, they were published through a small press, but they had actual publishers and people who, ostensibly, were there to help them out. If their publishers were anything like the other publishers I’ve heard about, the authors had to give up rights to their books and get a pittance from each sale, but they had a larger support structure than I did when I started out.

How exactly is that independent again? If we say you’re an indie author because you’re with a small press, then independence is simply a matter of scale. The difference between publishing through Hachette and a local publisher is just that the publisher is larger and you get even less of a pittance from each sale.

And in return, you get to look down on people who decided to publish on their own.

Does that mean that their work was any better or worse than anything self-pubbed? No, not necessarily. Certainly there’s a ton of crap being self-published these days, but there’s also a bunch of crap coming out of traditional publishers both large and small. Where the publishing happens is largely a matter of choice and has no real impact on the quality of the work. As a buddy of mine says, “Crap abounds.”

Publishing is an interesting world these days. It used to be you had to get a rep, send a manuscript around, and tack rejection notices up on your wall while you drank scotch and hammered out the next great American novel. Now, I can pretty much guarantee you there’s someone out there that will happily publish your book, but that acceptance letter will probably come through a small publisher. Don’t expect much in the way of an advance or help with marketing, though. Unless you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you’re pretty much on your own making sales. Fortunately for King and Rowling, they’re both excellent authors with a long history, so marketing their books can consist of “New Stephen King novel coming in a few months. We’ve already deducted the cost from your checking account and you can expect the book on your Kindle when it comes out.”

Does all this mean I look down on people who went through publishers? Not at all. I respect the gumption to get out there and wade through the Byzantine maze of publishers and find someone they can work with. That takes a lot of patience and more wherewithal than I can usually muster. And traditional publishers offer some intangible benefits that self-publishing does not. A lot of book awards won’t even look at self-published books. Ditto for a bunch of the bigger book review blogs. Another benefit is you can look down your nose at self-published authors.

Self-published people, on the other hand, get the benefit of keeping the rights to their own works and generally get larger royalties. The downside is you don’t have the resources of a publisher to help you out.

Which means you are well and truly on your own with self-published works. You make the call about how it gets edited, designed, and marketed. Fortunately, there’s an entire cottage industry out there doing cover design, ebook formatting, print book formatting, editing, and so on. In fact, if you need covers or formatting, drop me a line. I’m good and I work pretty cheap. If you take a quick look at the bottom of this post, there are some links to people who can help you format your book, design your cover, provide editing and proofreading services and so on.

In both cases, self-published and traditionally published authors are usually on the hook for their own marketing and that’s the thing that’s truly brutal. You may think pouring your life into a book for a year is rough. Wait until you have to get people to read it.

In case this was a tl;dr moment, to sum up:

There are pluses and minuses to self-publishing or going through traditional publishing routes. Traditionally published authors get more resources, better awards, and also get the ability to look down on self-published authors. Self-published authors get to keep the rights to their own works and usually get better royalties. Both are valid ways forward because when you’re writing the only important thing is someone out there is reading.

In the end, it’s your choice to determine just how indie you want to be. I write, format my own books, and design my own covers. Others are quite content to farm out some of that work. It’s up to you and no one else.

So, either way, if you’re just starting out and are looking for some resources, here are some folks I know that might be able to help you on your way.

Resources:

Editing

Kelly Hartigan

Kim Huther

Michelle Dunbar (email)

Cover Design

Sharon Brownlie

Eric Lahti

Melanie Smith (sells photography, can be used for cover art)

eBook Formatting

Eric Lahti

Print Formatting

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You can also try to send me a review request for this blog.

If you know of anyone who should be added to this list, leave a comment with his or her contact information. At some point in the near future, Ian D. Moore of bouncepen.com is going to make a more permanent version of this list.

SIBA 2016

SIBA, for those of you not in the know, stands for Summer Indie Book Awards, an annual award for indie authors promoted by Metamorph Publishing. It’s a great (and free, free is important) chance for indie authors to get our works out a little further and explore some of what other people are doing. All in all, it should be fun time, especially since the rules are pretty lax. Essentially, during the nomination phase, you’re allowed to vote for as many books in each category as you feel like each day for ten days. Then some magic happens and something else will happen. I’m honestly not sure what will happen next; I was nominated and was pleasantly surprised to find Henchmen came in 2nd in fantasy. If it goes further, great. If not, that’s cool, too.

shockedpitbull
This was my shocked and awed face.

Honestly, I just thought it was cool someone nominated me. And contrary to what you might have heard, 2nd place is not the first loser.

Now, all in all this should be an easy thing. Vote. Count votes. Announce winner(s). Easy peasy, right?

Apparently, during the nomination voting phase a couple authors had to be removed from the competition for sending threatening emails, at least one winner that I know of got a 1 star review on his book from a friend of the 2nd place guy, and there were apparently vast accusations of cheating and other chicanery. I know a guy who’s getting off Facebook because he won his category and has gotten nothing but grief and nasty messages.

nicholsoninsult

Now, let’s be clear here: As far as I know the winner gets bragging rights and a featured spot on Metamorph’s web page; nothing more. It’s not like we’re all competing for a million-dollar contract or anything (those don’t really exist anyway), you get a featured spot and the ability to say you’ve won.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s cool stuff right there – and I applaud whoever wins in the end – but it’s hardly something worth threats, nasty messages, and accusations of cheating. And how, exactly, do you cheat in a contest where you can vote every day for as many books as you want and rope your friends into doing the same?

So, for a group that always pats itself on the back about how supportive it is, there are at least a few indie authors being real dicks. To those people, I say, “You’re acting like children, grow the heck up.”

vikingofdisapproval

In case you’re wondering who won the fantasy genre nominations, it’s this book and it looks like it might be interesting.

And thanks to Metamorph Publishing for doing this award and putting up with all the nonsense that came along with it. You people have the patience of saints.

Book Review – Salby Evolution by Ian D. Moore

A sequel to the excellent Salby Damned, Salby Evolution does something a lot of zombie books are afraid to do: it takes on the story after the story and adds some new twists to it.

That’s a very good thing.

Zombies got really popular after Max Brooks released World War Z. Unfortunately most zombie books didn’t really add much to the genre. Salby Damned changed that dynamic a bit by focusing on the characters stuck in the middle of an insane situation and the clever ways they found to get out of it. It threw in a government angle and tossed us a curve ball by making chronic zombieism something that could be treated. Salby Evolution takes that concept and runs with it.

In the Salby books (and, arguably, a lot of zombie literature) the zombies are created by a virus. Where a lot of people go astray with that is not looking at all the weird things viruses can do. In my humble opinion, Max Brooks made a mistake by claiming the Solanum virus was 100% fatal. No virus is 100% fatal. Even the nastiest versions of Ebola have survivors. Of course, that wasn’t the point of Brooks’ book – he wanted to look at a world that had gone completely mad and how people coped with it.

Moore did take the time to use a bit about viruses and their unfortunate habit of mutating. A mutated virus may have drastically different effects from the original strain and that’s the jumping off point for Salby Evolution. He’s also the first zombie author I’ve come across that gets exactly what people and governments would do when faced with a zombie outbreak: namely, try to weaponize it. Think about it: a zombie outbreak would be the ultimate area denial weapon and controllable zombies would make excellent soldiers.

Take zombies as a virus, the idea of governments trying to weaponize the virus, tie a bow on it, and drop the whole thing into Russia, and you’ve got a heck of a good mixture for a story.

One interesting note: Evolution sees Moore expanding his writing skills by interjecting a 1st-person point of view into an otherwise 3rd-person narrative. This concept of P.O.V. switching is something that was verboten not that long ago, but is becoming more acceptable. It’s not an easy task to pull off, keeping the story flowing as you bounce from the whole story to an individual’s take on the whole thing, but Moore handles it well. I’ve read books where there were ham-fisted attempts at switching from 1st to 3rd person and they can be baffling reads, but Moore takes the time to make sure the reader can digest the change in direction. Each swap takes place at a clear break and, I found, it added a personal dimension to the larger story.

Remember – and this is for you writers out there – the cardinal rule is never confuse the reader.

In the end, Ian Moore has given us a truly unique twist on the zombie story. It’s part horror story, part love story, part military action, and part political intrigue, all seamlessly fused together into a very enjoyable story that sets us up the thrilling third book.

Hear that, Ian? We want the third book now.

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Get your copy of Salby Evolution

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So Close I Can Almost Touch It

The first cut of Transmute – the 3rd book in the Henchmen series – is almost done. I guess I’m kind of unique in that my revisions and edits usually add more text, most people remove words when they edit. I add them. This is probably because I have this nasty habit of writing all over the place. I get bored with one section and move to another one, then I find the stuff I did in the new section needs some more explanation in earlier sections. So, it’s sitting at about 70k and will likely tip the scales at 80k before it’s finally done.

Coming to the end of a book is never exactly easy. When I finished Henchmen, I kind of wandered around for a while wondering what to do with myself and where my adventurous friends got off to. Turns out they were still there, lurking in my subconscious like a bunch of muggers.

To tell the truth, I didn’t exactly have any further plans for Eve and the gang when I was done with Henchmen. Spoiler alert: they won. Of course, I couldn’t let that go and knew there had to be something else going on. That something else turned into Arise and it was in Arise that I finally introduced the main enemy of the series. Transmute leaves the gang in a bad space and the final book will ultimately end the saga. I still haven’t decided how it will end, but the pieces are finally in place for that last book to go a bunch of different directions.

There will also be one last Saxton story before Transmute hits. The Saxton stories give us a look at the bad guy of Henchmen and Arise and how he comes to grips with the world. They also add hints about the main antagonist of Transmute and whatever follows it, so if you haven’t read them, give ’em a shot. At the very least a lot of stuff gets blowed up real good and there are a couple awesome car chases.

All that said, I’ve never been big on cover reveals, so here’s the tentative cover for Transmute. If that image of Eve looking like a bad ass doesn’t get you interested, you might want to check your pulse and make sure you’re still alive.

Transmute cover ©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66
Transmute cover
©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66

But wait! There’s more! Here’s a couple other ideas I’d been experimenting with, but ultimately discarded.

Transmute cover ©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66
Transmute cover
©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66
Transmute cover ©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66
Transmute cover
©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66

Drop me a line, let me know what you think.

A Story

This is a tale I heard way back in Junior High when I was studying Spanish. It’s one of those things that’s stuck with me over the years as an excellent example of the things that terrify others can be overcome by changing the rules, or just by realizing no one else completely gets the rules.

Back in old Mexico, when banditos roamed the desert taking what they wanted and generally causing mayhem, there was one bandit that was feared above all others: El Guapo.

El Guapo was a bandito’s bandito. If a bank was robbed, everyone knew it was El Guapo. When a train disappeared and the desiccated corpses of the passengers were found months later, staked out in the desert and picked clean by crows, it was El Guapo. He was a vicious son of a bitch and he never shirked away from letting people know that.

Like all good banditos, El Guapo had  a certain kind of panache. In addition to his amazing cruelty, El Guapo loved to taunt to the Federales with lyrical messages that explained not only why he killed everyone who crossed him, but why the Federales were impotent to stop him.

He was also known for his epic beard. In the annals of history, El Guapo’s beard is still the standard by which others are judged. The members of ZZ Top are only considered to have 0.8 El Guapo beards; that’s how amazing his beard was.

No one had ever seen El Guapo without his beard. Legend had it that he was born with the beard. In a single breath, people would praise the beard and feel sorry El Guapo’s mother who was said to have died in childbirth because of that glorious facial hair.

Well, as these things happen, eventually the Federales caught up to El Guapo and his gang in a small town dedicated to Santa Muerte, which was an appropriate place for a slaughter. For all his wealth and power, El Guapo couldn’t stand up to the combined might of the Federales. Bullets flew and soon the smell of gunpowder and copper filled the streets. The battle took a heavy toll on both sides, but it was El Guapo’s men that bore the brunt of the lead.

El Guapo himself lucked out and barely escaped the bloodshed, but he only had the slightest lead on the Federales. His knowledge of the desert helped him, as did his keen night vision as he guided his horse by the light of the full moon.

He’d always dreamed of going out in a blaze of glory, gunned down by at least a dozen Federales, but Santa Muerte had cheated him of his glory. So, he struggled to find a way to disappear into the world and hide out until he could be reborn.

In the first town he came to, El Guapo made a decision that he never thought could. Desperate times drove him to desperate measures and he sought out the barber shop.

After banging on the door for at least half an hour, the old barber finally answered the door. He nearly fainted when he saw El Guapo, dirty and bloody, on his doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. He knew he had to tread carefully, lest the bandito shoot him where he stood.

Señor Guapo,” the barber stuttered. “To what do I owe this honor?”

El Guapo shoved his way inside the barber shop and slammed the door. “I need to you to shave my beard,” El Guapo said. “I’ll happily pay you three gold pieces for your troubles.

The barber was aghast. El Guapo without his beard wouldn’t be El Guapo.

“But,” El Guapo continued, “I have very sensitive skin. If you nick me while you’re shaving me, I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

The barber went white as a sheet. There was no doubt in his mind the bandito would pull the trigger. “Señor,” the barber pleaded. “I am an old man and my hands are prone to shaking. Please, let me get my assistant; he is much better at shaving anyway.”

The barber told his assistant El Guapo would pay him three gold coins for a shave – a king’s ransom! – but also had very sensitive skin and a single nick would spell death for the shaver.”

The assistant was talented, but even the most talented people find their hands shaking when threatened with death. “Let me get our young intern, Señor. He  is young and without a family and his hands don’t shake at all.”

The intern was still yawning and rubbing his eyes when he was led to see El Guapo. “I’ll make you an offer, intern,” El Guapo said. “Shave my beard off without a scratch and I’ll pay you in gold. But, be warned, I have very sensitive skin and if you cut me, I’ll gun you down where you stand.”

El Guapo took a seat in the sole barber’s chair and motioned the young intern to come over. ‘Okay,” the intern said and shrugged his shoulders.

The young intern gave El Guapo the best shave he’d ever had. When he was done, El Guapo’s skin was smooth as silk and for the first time he could remember, the infamous bandito gazed on himself without the famous beard. He looked like a completely different person, gentler perhaps, but still living up to his name.

He happily gave the intern the promised three gold pieces. “You do excellent work,” El Guapo said. “Your hands didn’t shake at all. Weren’t you afraid you’d cut me?”

The intern shook his head. “Not really. If I’d cut you, I would have just slit your throat right then and there.”