May 23

From Self-Published & Back Again

In 2014 I was an angry author. I’d just parted company with a literary agent I absolutely adored (because I was writing stuff she couldn’t sell)  and then my publisher, Strange Chemistry Books, went the way of the dinosaur less than three years after arriving on the publishing scene with much fanfare.  I had a perfectly fantastic young adult post apocalyptic thriller ready to rock and  so I began to query the project. After near universal replies stating that what I had written was written well but that “zombie books were a hard sell these days”, I said screw it. I’m going to try this self-publishing gig.

And so I formatted the book. (Pressbooks – I highly recommend it)  Found good cover art. Uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. Then … I waited.

The book is called THE NORTH, it’s about a band of teens in the Canadian militia who’ve just heard a weak broadcast on shortwave from a place called Sanctuary Base, and it’s supposed to be zombie free. They bust out of their armory and commence a perilous journey eastward across the cold Canadian prairie. They encounter more than they’d bargained for and do battle with survivalists as well as the living dead. Everything changes when they cross over into claimed land by former military elements led by somebody called SUNRAY and now the real battle for survival begins.

The book received fantastic Amazon reviews and sold quite well. I didn’t conduct a blog tour because blog tours don’t work. (Seriously, they don’t translate into sales. Waste of time.) I was unable to secure reviews from bloggers who had reviewed my earlier stuff – perhaps it was because the book was self-pubbed, who knows? I promoted the best I could online and the sales were very strong for about a year. Strong enough that I was generating a couple of hundred bucks a month in royalties from Amazon – I wasn’t going to complain. That was like … my car payment! From a zombie book!

After that first year, the sales began to dry up and for the past twelve months the book seemed stuck at around 300K in the Amazon rankings for YA Post Apocalyptic books. (That’s like a small handful of sales each month, btw.)

I could have let the book linger on in the Smashwords/Amazon e-book sales purgatory, but I decided to contact Severed Press – a small publisher of ZOMPOC fiction with a very strong following. (And damned good cover art not to mention an excellent website) They’d actually offered to publish THE NORTH back when I was an angry author but I turned them down. That said, they were a class act about it, suggesting that I contact them if I ever decide I want to have the book published as a reprint.

Well, that’s what I did. Thanks to Severed Press, THE NORTH has a new lease on life. It’s available now on Amazon.

north new

So … why did I go from self-published back to traditionally published? It was simple: the issue was discoverability. Severed Press has a strong, loyal following of readers and most of their books rank quite well on Amazon. As a self-pubbed author I had to compete against ZOMPOC books from the big traditional publishers AND independent publishers AND self-publishing types like me. The common denominator for the traditional publishers and the indies who do ZOMPOC is their existing fan base. To me, it seemed that it would be much harder to discover my book when the market is fairly flooded with self-pubbed ZOMPOC books but maybe I could see the book rebound if I was able to tap into a publisher’s fan base. We shall see, but I suspect I will be right on this and THE NORTH will experience a bump in sales, I might pick up some new fans and I can get down to writing more ZOMPOC stuff.

In short, for me, self-publishing worked … for a while. And then it didn’t, largely because of the discoverability issue. This isn’t to say that self-publishing failed me or I failed it. Every book sells for a while and then the sales drop. And I still have three other books that were traditionally published, now self-pubbed. I haven’t given up on self-publishing even though many experts in publishing thinks that ebook sales are declining.  This is a must read for anyone who truly believes the ebook is dead, because it ain’t. Not by a long-shot.

Recently, my agent has suggested that Urban Fantasy is dead. (We’ve been trying to sell a project and we’re basically at the end of the journey for this particular novel.) I have been spending some time looking at self-published urban fantasy on Amazon and it looks to me like many self-published books are doing fine, thank you very much. Perhaps UF is a hard sell for traditional publishers because they are competing against a lot of very good self-published UF. Don’t get me wrong; the big five are still publishing UF, but they’re taking very few chances on new or mid-list authors. It’s business. I get it.

And I might just self-publish this urban fantasy. It’s still out with one Canadian publisher and I’m waiting to hear back. Time will tell.

So, the journey continues. Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing and self-publishing is not better than traditional. The moral of this story is today’s author has to be mindful of what is selling and where. He/she has to be prepared to think outside the book when it comes to placing a completed project. The biggest lesson for me is never to discount the fan base for genre-specific indie publishers. They’re loyal. Oh, and one last thing. E-books are far from dead. All the industry hype about the drop in e-book sales DISCOUNTS the self-published books and those of independent publishers like Severed Press. In short: the publishing industry is not the big five. It’s all of us: self-published authors, indies and all the rest.

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May 19

Well Done, Shane!

My son, Shane Aaron Cummings just completed basic training. I’m a very proud father. He’s in the best shape of his life and has acquired a work ethic and confidence he will carry with him all his life. Onward.

 

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April 11

Review: SILVER ON THE ROAD by Laura Anne Gilman

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I love westerns and if you ask my wife how often I complain about the need for a good western film to be thrown in among dog pile of superhero films being made these days, she’d tell you to wait five minutes. I love a good western novel too, but it’s been years since I’ve read one because while I like my fantasy books to be hard and fast (Dresden, John Taylor, Alex Verus) I love a western novel to play out in CinemaScope inside my brain. In short, for a western book to grab me, it has to be epic in the cinematography of language. It has to basically be John Ford’s The Searchers in print, to grab my attention.

What makes Laura Anne Gilman’s SILVER ON THE ROAD a phenomenal read is that not only does she write in CinemaScope, it’s that she has created characters that you want to spend time with in a world that is so far removed from our day-to-day lives that you can taste the dust in your mouth with every turn of the page.

Izzy is about to turn sixteen – a woman, by the standards of the old west. She lives in simply, “the Territory” in a town called Flood and she works for “the Boss” or, as you discover his other name “the Devil”. He not only runs the town but who also runs the territory. His word is law and Izzy has a choice to make. She can stay in the Territory or she can leave and explore the outside world. And the Territory is a magical place – a fusion of old west and myth. If you see a magician, you run – Izzy doesn’t. (Not the kind that will pull a rabbit out of a had. Let’s just say they’re an amalgam of sorcery and insanity.) It’s a world where snakes talk, where those who aren’t quite human dwell alongside riders like Gabriel, Izzy’s mentor. He’s bound to the Territory and he just wants peace. He’s made a bargain with the Devil on the heels of a bargain that Izzy has made as well. She wants a measure of power and respect. The Devil gives it to her by making her his left hand. Gabriel must taker her out for a mentorship on the road and from the moment the pair leave Flood, the reader is drawn into a slow burn of a story with a page-turning plot featuring an unnameable, unknowable evil that conjures up the image of the Angel of Death sweeping across the land.

As with every hero’s journey, Izzy must confront the creature responsible for the deaths and disappearance of Territory residents. All the while she must unravel its mystery and meaning while at the same time learning that her deal with the Devil has given her power … just not her power. She is his representative in the Territory and her word is his law. The sad irony is that as Izzy learns that she possesses skills and abilities, they’re not really hers when she so wanted to be independent, powerful and ultimately, respected in the man’s world that Gilman so masterfully recreates.

Gabriel is a flawed mentor with his own demons. He offers Izzy a hard mentor-ship at first, but as the pair encounter the evil running rampant throughout the Territory, he goes from mentor to someone who actually cares for his apprentice and is willing to lay his life on the line to protect her. Only he can’t – he knows this and as the story evolves, the power imbalance in his relationship with his apprentice shifts toward Izzy because ultimately, she is the Devil’s left hand on the road and we’re not entirely sure Gilman’s Devil is of the hell fire and damnation kind. He’s an enigma and he isn’t. He is always present throughout the book and it is Izzy who must carry the sheer enormity of his presence inside the Territory.

Silver On The Road is the kind of book that features a female protagonist you feel invested in by the time you’re done reading. You care about Izzy. You want her to find her power and respect. You cheer her on as she confronts uppity marshals, magicians and monsters that ‘crack your bones’. There is clever world building throughout that presents an alternate universe old west where magic and myth are bonded together like a rider sitting high in the saddle. It is beautifully written and easily the best book of the year.

 

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March 27

Batman v Superman: A Hot Sticky Mess of Operatic Superhero Insanity

*AHOY! THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!*

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There are a significant number of bad reviews  for this film.

And I don’t care because I loved it.

I loved it right from the minimalist font used for the film’s titling as we dream-sequence the funeral of Bruce Wayne’s parents right down to the recycled GGI cave troll from Lord of the Rings they used as Doomsday. That was special.

cave troll

I actually liked Affleck’s grey-tipped Bruce Wayne thundering across the screen in a brand new Jeep Renegade (which is a Fiat, btw) *thank you product placement. I noticed most of the vehicles were Chrysler products*. I loved that at no time in the film (that I can recall) is he called Batman, just “the bat” or “the Gotham bat”. I loved the insane Batmobile car chase – this Batmobile was cooler than Christopher Nolan’s Batmobile IMHO.

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I loved that, as with most Zack Snyder films, there are big, ENORMOUS giant heads on the screen followed by slow motion. Lots and lots and lots and lots of slow motion. Right down to the cartridge case falling to the ground during Superman’s funeral. Did I mention that Supes kicked the bucket? Well he had to, Doomsday did it. (Yes, I know he’s not the same kind of Doomsday from the comic of more than two decades past, but then basically every superhero film pisses all over canon, (I think organic web shooters might have been the start of it, but who cares really because they sure as hell screwed up Spider-Man 3, didn’t they?)

I loved Jesse Eisenberg’s mad as a hatter Lex Luthor (though the gold standard for me will always be Gene Hackman’s) I wasn’t crazy about Amy Adams’ Lois
Lane though I was surprised that she and Clark Kent were living together since 2013’s Man of Steel. I love that Clark Kent climbed into the bathtub with her and2 hey, that’s not horrifyingly daring since it was 36 years ago when Superman took Lois to his Fortress of Solitude to give up his powers and get jiggy with Lois in a shiny bed comprised from a shiny super-kryptonian textile that never needs to be washed. Their love won’t ever be denied and anyway, there was only about five minutes of actual relationship time for the two during the whole film as Superman had bigger things to do, like justify his existence to Washington’s politicians.

It’s no big deal. Superman has talked with met with the Washington establishment in Alex Ross’s beautiful KINGDOM COME. Whatever. congress

bruce fileI loved that Bruce Wayne has a secret file on other Meta Humans (hello Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg and Wonder Woman). I loved their little intros – particularly poor old Cyborg’s painful assembly complete with blood curdling screams. I liked flash in the convenience store. I liked Aquaman zooming through the water after nailing the aqua-paparazzi with his trident of awesomeness. I loved the little avatars on the computer. The Bat knows everything about everyone. Always. (But Superman must be stopped.)

I love that Diana Prince is on her own  mission in the film and that, again, in my humble opinion, Zack Snyder got her down perfectly in that old photograph.
I actually heard a few people in the crowd say “awesome” and “cool”. I loved that she was bang on awesome in the fight with Doomsday – a gladiator with a shine in her eyes and a grin on her face. This Wonder Woman loves the battle and I cannot freaking WAIT for her film to come out.

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I love that Bats basically kicks the shit out of Supes thanks to gadgety Kryptonite to weaken the man of steel enough so that armored bat boot actually breaks something when it connects with the Kryptonian rib cage. I loved that Bats automatically reverts back from Superman MUST be stopped mode and into Save Martha Mode because underneath all that patchy grey costume material, he knows what it’s like to be an orphan. I freaking loved the fight scene when the Bat goes and saves ol’ Martha Kent from the baddies.

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I just loved the movie. And I didn’t think that I would at the start. Yes, it’s a HUUUUUUGE film. And yes, I think it would have been wiser to do a World’s Finest film as the means to form the Justice League. 2016 is the year all the superheroes are at war with each other and the DC Filmverse needs to be very careful here because they can’t clone what’s happening in the Marvel-verse. (Yes there have been some Marvel stinkers). I think this film was doomed f0r reviewers from the moment that Ben Affleck’s name became attached to the project. I am no fan of the guy, but I liked his Batman. And there have been other worse Batmen, haven’t there?

This is a bubble gum movie. It’s designed to make a pile of money, sell a bunch of geek crap and make the kid in middle aged farts like me squeal with glee. It’s chock-full of BIG SPECIAL EFFECTS and HUGE SUPERHERO ACTION. Don’t go for a beautiful story line. You won’t find one. There can never be one in a film of this scale and I suspect we will be hearing the same kinds of things when Captain America Civil War hits theaters. I’ll go see that one too and let my inner child out just for two hours of mindless super hero action.

Have we reached peak superhero at the box office? Beats me and I don’t care.

PS … I own a DVD of Affleck’s Daredevil. It too is beautiful in its terribleness.

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January 21

My Kid Is Off To Boot Camp

shandad

The picture you see on the left is about twenty years old. It features a younger, thinner version of me and my then 5 or 6 year old son. The picture on the right was just last spring – I was having a beer with my son at the Great Canadian Brew House.

I remember stepping into the photo booth at the old Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth Nova Scotia where I lived at the time, though I honestly can’t recall where on earth I got that ugly shirt from. I imagine we’d just come out of the cinema because Shane and I saw a ton of movies when he was little. I would have been about 27 at the time – I’m 48 now.

It’s been a long road for my kid. He’s experienced a lot of upheaval in his life as I tried to sort my own life out. He’s been living out here in Saskatoon now since he finished high school and up until yesterday, he worked at my company as a sheet metal apprentice.

On Saturday his life is about the change forever. He’s joined up to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces and his basic training starts next Monday. Three months of drill, inspections, physical training, more drill, more inspections, weapons handling and of course marching. Lots and lots and lots of marching.

He’s 25 now – he’s been through a rough couple of years as he struggled to find his place in the world. He is well liked at my company. He does very good work on everything from installing gas lines to heat runs for furnaces. (He installed the gas lines in my own house to our kitchen range and my beautiful, amazing, fabulous Weber barbecue outside on the deck) He’s a hard worker. Resourceful. He’s respectful and he has a good heart. He’s an excellent catch for the right girl once all the smoke clears from basic training and getting himself settled at his unit.

We talked early in 2015 about his joining up. As a veteran, I told him the facts as I saw them: the military isn’t for everybody but the best people I ever knew, I served with. I suggested that after surviving basic training, he would be more confident, more independent – he would become a changed man. And of course a regular paycheque, free health care and a regimented life has its benefits because you are part of something bigger than yourself. Serving in the military changed my life when I joined up at age 17. It gave me the confidence achieve whatever I set my mind to. I think it will do the same for my son as well.

His flight to boot camp leaves in 48 hours. I’ll be driving him to the airport with all the best wishes a father can offer and the confidence that comes from knowing he’s going to succeed because he’s got a good head on his shoulders and a strong work ethic. I’m proud of him for joining up because a lot of people his age are adrift in life and their work. I’ve seen it first-hand. I think this will give him a clear direction and a hell of an opportunity to shine. Once basic training is over, he’ll be spending the better part of 2016 at CFB Gagetown learning Heating, Air Conditioning which is better than me when I joined up: all I was qualified for was the infantry.

So go kick ass, Shane. I know you’re going to do your old man proud.  They might even have sriracha sauce at the mess hall. Onward.

 

 

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