Just got through with Planet Comic Con. Good show, lots of new and old fans. If you’re just checking in from a panel or having grabbed my business card, feel free to poke around. The tags below should let you find things fairly easily with regards to writing, promoting, and other thing of interest to independent authors. Happy reading!
So one problem about the blog tour that I exacerbated by doing two books at once is that it’s easy to get the wires crossed if careful. The Avid Reader was promoting On Seas So Crimson, and I managed to think it was doing An Unproven Concept. Didn’t catch the mistake until the post was up. In any case, here’s the interview:
1. What inspired you to write An Unproven Concept?
When I sell the book in person, I tell people it’s a mix of Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, and Halo. These are several of the influences and inspirations for my sci-fi works. Mainly I also wanted a military sci-fi series without “hero shields,” i.e., true peril for all characters involved.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about the next books in the Vergassy Series or what you have planned for the future?
The next book out will be Though Our Hulls Burn…, which is chronologically a prequel. One of the criticisms that I got the most from readers in response to An Unproven Concept was that a lot of “big picture” things were referenced by not fully explained. So going to go back 15 years to 3035 and explain what happened.
3. Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in An Unproven Concept?
Without giving away spoilers, I take a “large cast so I can whack some of them” approach to casting decisions. I also believe that characters, like real people, should come into a story with a past. For instance, Mr. Marcus Martin is a former Confederation Marine officer who lost his entire platoon in an incident prior to the start of An Unproven Concept. This has led to him having mental trauma and feelings of worthlessness that play a role in his decisions as the starliner Titanic’s chief security officer.
4. You know I think we all have a favorite author. Who is your favorite author and why?
My favorite author of all time is Jack McKinney (pseudonym), the author of the Robotech series. The two men who actually wrote under the singular name did an excellent job of taking the rather thin background of the anime series and expanding it into something deeper.
As to actual singular authors versus collaborations—I’m a fan of early Harold Coyle and David Drake. In both cases, it’s how visceral they make their combat scenes and characters.
5. If you could time-travel would you travel to the future or the past? Where would you like to go and why would you like to visit this particular time period?
I always think this one is a loaded question. I mean, the last thing someone wants to do is time travel to, say, “Up Then” in the Terminator universe. With regards to going backwards—well, let’s just say if I show up on an Antebellum Plantation things are not going to end well.
But…if I had a choice where I could just observe without being scene or interacted with? I’d like to go backwards to the Titanic, as I’ve always been a student of the wreck. Forward? I’d go forward 100 years to see if we actually get our flying cars.
6. Do you have any little fuzzy friends? Like a dog or a cat? Or any pets?
Yes. My wife, fellow author Anita C. Young, and I have five pets. Our two dogs are a Newfoundland-Labrador mix and a Blue Heeler / Shepherd of some sort. As to the three cats-we have one senior cat and two kittens. The kittens were what happened when we went to “pick up an older cat that was familiar with dogs.” Whoops!
As part of the blog tour, I was interviewed by blogger Lisa Haselton.
Please share a little bit about your current release:
An Unproven Concept is what would happen if you put Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, and Space Battleship Yamato into a cloning vat then had George R.R. Martin raise the baby. The book centers on three vessels, the battlecruiser Constitution, the destroyer Shigure, and the starliner Titanic, as they deal with Humanity’s first encounter with aliens. Without giving away too much, the Titanic is not where she’s supposed to be, and thus gets caught up in the conflict between the two naval vessels and the hostile craft.
If you like capital ship combat, it’s in here. Flawed characters without “hero shields?” If this was a list of ingredients, it’d be number two. Mecha and starfighters? In abundance. It has received positive reviews from Amazing Stories, Reader’s Choice, and Pop Cults, with a solid 4-star rating on Amazon.
What inspired you to write this book?
Back in 2006, I entered a short story contest with a novella entitled “On Their Behalf…” Several of the judges stated the original storyline was simply too broad to shoe horn into 15,000 pages, but that it sounded like a great concept for a novel. Six years later, I wrote another novella entitled “Ride of the Late Rain.” Again—great concept, but the judges felt I was trying to compress too much into one storyline. So, after I had success with “Ride of the Late Rain” as a novella via Kindle, I decided to go ahead and do An Unproven Concept as a full novel. The Kraken Edition combines both “Ride of the Late Rain” and An Unproven Concept. You can read an excerpt on my blog here.
What exciting story are you working on next?
In between trying to chop down my dissertation, I’m working on Though Our Hulls Burn…, the sequel to An Unproven Concept. It will basically explain some of the prior events referenced in Concept, specifically how the Spartans came to be part of the Confederation of Man.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When as a 14-year-old I tried to submit a bunch of long hand story parts to a New York publisher. I cannot remember how, but I’d acquired one of those “Writer’s Guide” that had every publisher listed and the address for their slush pile. I figured of course they had people to type things up—that’s why they were a publisher! I don’t think I tell many people that story—because I think my younger self was a wholly optimistic ignoramus knowing what I know now.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
On top of my day job, I have a commute that’s over an hour long each way, plus am finishing off a dissertation. How do I find time to write? I have a patient, understanding spouse who is also an author. I also belong to an active writing group that is really good about trying to get together to get some words down.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Friends and family point out that I really don’t have a “writing” versus “speaking” voice. I never really thought of the two of them necessarily needing to be separate.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually wanted to be a fighter pilot until my eyes went bad in the 5th grade. I was heartbroken, and it took a couple years for me to truly accept that dream was pretty much finished when I couldn’t read the blackboard from the front row.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
On my FB page is a sign up for my mailing newsletter. Also, my novellas Pandora’s Memories and A Midwinter’s Ski are available as “perma free” offerings from Amazon.
So I’m in the midst of doing a blog tour through Goddess Fish. I intend to do a rundown of things, but I thought I’d catch everyone up with what blogs I’ve been doing. This post was done for Rogue Angels in support of On Seas So Crimson:
- What or who inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always been an avid reader from when I was little. Growing up on a small farm that was miles to the nearest neighbor, I used to sometimes act out things that I read in books. (John Carter was a favorite…darn Earth gravity.) Eventually I also started writing things long hand, and the rest is history.
- What elements are necessary components for your genres?
I think the biggest components for any genre, not just sci-fi or alternate history, is that you have to have a compelling set of characters. In the case of the former, that is followed by some aspect of escapism that will allow readers to separate from their daily drudgery into a different universe. The reasons why Star Trek and Star Wars have been so successful is we’ve come to care about the individuals involved.
Alternate history is a bit different in that the main compulsion lies in the historical pivot. Most of the “characters” are already known to the readers, but the changing situations are not. For instance, in my Usurper’s War series, most World War II historians are familiar with Heinrich Himmler as the head of the SS. However, knock off Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, and suddenly he’s in a vastly different role as Fuhrer. That what if transitioning to what now is the genre’s foundation in my opinion.
- How did you come up with the ideas for your novels?
A lot of time it’s a combination of what I’ve read and random inspiration. For On Seas So Crimson, it was a discussion back in the ‘90s about how World War II could have been different. For An Unproven Concept, it was being a fan of the old Robotech novels, Star Wars, and the old school Battlestar Galactica.
- What expertise did you bring to your writing?
I’m actually getting my doctorate in U.S. History and majored in Military History from West Point. I’ve placed in historical essay contests and have been published in both Proceedings (the United States Navy and Coast Guard’s professional journal) and the Journal of Military History. So in the alternate history arena, it could be said that “I’m a professional.”
Alas, I have no experience with commanding a starship or flying mecha in real time. If any travelers from the future or distant galaxies want to change that…
- What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio?
I’m blessed to be part of a community of writers in Kansas. Everything from Star Trek to Sherlock Holmes through zombies, I’ve got people who can hook you up.
- As far as your writing goes, what are your future plans?
At the moment, I’m working on Though Our Hulls Burn…, the sequel to An Unproven Concept. I should have my dissertation done by the end of the year, so that will give me more time to work on the third book in the Usurper’s War as well.
- If you could be one of the characters from your books, who would it be and why?
This is the point I see a few of my local writer’s group chuckling, as I have a reputation for being a little brutal to my characters. I’d have to say Jason Owderkirk, the Commander Air Group (CAG) for the C.S.S. Constitution. Mainly because he has it relatively easy (so far) in the Vergassy Universe.
- Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?
Yes and no. My local library is incredibly supportive of local authors, with one of the librarians being the Municipal Liaison for Nanowrimo. This has created a strong community of writers, and we’ll help people out if asked. So yes, I’d say that finding a critique group is definitely a fruitful exercise.
- When did you first decide to submit your work? Please tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step?
If we’re talking originally, I submitted my work to agents and publishers back when I was in high school. Looking back, I think the main impetus was that I had no idea how publishing worked, so I figured there was no harm, no foul in submitting.
- Do you outline your books or just start writing?
A little of both. I’ll often have a scene just come to me while I’m driving to work or doing something else. For example, the ballroom scene from An Unproven Concept just popped into my head. I was fortunate enough to find a great concept artist, Justin Adams, who was able to convert words to picture (see below).
Susanne Lambdin and I were panelists today at Little Apple Comic Con. I may have suggested death to a Disney Character.
In the U.S. Army, there’s a movement technique called the 3-5 second rush. It’s used to move from cover to cover before someone blasts you. The soldier running is supposed to say, “I’m up! I’m seen! I’m moving! I’m down!”, with going prone or the next cover destination coinciding with “down.”
*pause as I imagine at least two people “CONTEXT!”*
Why is this important? Well,
a few seven (!) months ago, I did a post on cover art. This led to some follow up questions from Eschewing Easy, so I thought I’d map out the cover negotiating process a little bit more. As with all things, this is from my experience. Likewise, while Amie Gibbons may be a lawyer, I most certainly am not. So when I say “Do this thing…” about an agreement, it should not be considered a substitute for seeking the advice of someone who has passed the bar in your state.
So, I’ll deal with EE’s questions in order that they will probably apply:
1.) How do you make this fair for both author and artist?
My father used to have a saying. It had many variations but basically it went, “Fair. Comes once a year. Usually there are ponies. Do you smell horse sh*t?”
Thankfully cover negotiations are usually not so cutthroat, but inherent to ever enterprise are differing concepts of “fair.” First and foremost, as an author a person should be fair to the artists’ time. You know your budget, and if you’ve done your homework you should have examples of the artists’ work in front of you. One way to approach it is to ask them how much they would charge to paint a picture similar to the one that caught your eye. For example, the picture at the top of this blog post was similar to one the artist, a Greek national, had on his Deviantart. Given that I had a concept in mind that was very similar to one of his pictures, it seemed to be a natural fit. So I asked, and he was within budget. But had he not been, I would not have tried to haggle him or had him start something only to decide later I didn’t want to spend that much money.
‘That much money’ leads to my second point, i.e., “fair” means paying an artist a going wage. If as an author you want something with a high degree of detail, many subjects, and a setting that’s going to require a decent graphics rig to render, then you better have a plan for ~$20/hour unless there’s other incentives involved. Like, if for your day job, you detail cars and you throw in three free detailing jobs, then of course that price drops…but it better be some serious labor in exchange for the time. Oh, and it needs to be said: “Exposure is something you die from, not something you work for.”
On the flip side, fairness to you as the author will include work that is done on time and to standard. It will not require you having to ping the artist multiple times to get a response and it certainly will not involve attitude. Finally, it should include a mutually agreed upon contract that the artist generates and the author has reviewed by a legal professional. Why do I make this point of emphasis? Because as an author you likely have zero clue about what sort of materials will be involved in this, what other expenses the artist will have, and dozens of other things that are art specific. Full disclosure–the better half is currently back in art school, and I now know there are things that I never would have thought an artist would have to buy that are not cheap.
Edit: I forgot to add in moral boundaries. I have a fellow author of supernatural works. Recently she had an artist balk at drawing a demon. I myself have had artists say, “Nope, not doing that. Too grisly.” In neither case is there any ill will. Just like you as an author can say, “Whoa, too much skin…”, an artist can not want to have certain things in their head.
When I say contract, I do mean a binding document. At a minimum, this should discuss what rights are retained by whom, payment or payment schedule, how the piece will be delivered, and payment means. There should also be language involved where the artist gives their word that no part of the art will infringe on others’ copyright nor has it been used by another author or any other work. Once terms are agreed upon, the most common method I’ve then used is that the artist signs it, scans it, then emails to me as a .pdf. In turn, I print said .pdf, sign it, then email it back with a CC: to myself to establish date and time.
Now, have I done this every time? Not hardly, and sometimes the agreement’s been a little “Ash Housewares” in that it did not have every single thing I’ve laid out above. But, I can say that for every piece of cover art that was north of $100 there’s an agreement sitting somewhere on my hard drive and also elsewhere in safe locations. I also carry a copy of said agreements with me to most cons just in case I need to ward off someone saying, “That’s the Battlestar Galactica!” (Yes, it’s happened. Why, I’ve even had someone suggest I go get a hard copy of the digital painting at the top of this blog signed by Edward James Olmos. Of course I forgave the guy–he bought a book.)
2.) When is payment?
So usually when a piece is getting developed, there are phases. The first phase is the concept, i.e., you tell the author what you’re thinking. No money should change hands at this point, as the author can’t be sure that the artist has the same definitions for words that he or she does. The next phase is where the artists sends you a concept sketch. This can range from a collage of pictures that are similar to what you desire to a 60-80% solution for the final picture.
If it’s the latter, some artists will want what I call “earnest money.” This will usually be outlined in the agreement, and it’s an artist’s hedge that you will not “change your mind” after they’ve basically drawn your picture. Heck, some authors who will not be named have gone so far as to get a 80% solution concept sketch, stiff the original artist, then low ball with another artist to finish the piece. Suffice to say, whether through being flighty or being a jerk, the end result is the artist is still out several hours of work. Ergo, check your agreement and if you see something about fees for the concept sketch, ask the reasoning behind them and work through any differences you may have about them.
Regardless of how much is done in the concept sketch, once it’s agreed upon most artists want a percentage (30-60% usually) at this point. This is money that keeps the proverbial lights on while they’re working on your piece, so you should not be worried about paying for it. The best method to do so is via PayPal or some other service that has buyer’s protections, not direct payment. Also, never do friends and family payment, no matter how much the other party may cry about “fees.” Why? Because all those buyer protections that are built into PayPal go “poof” the minute you select “send money to friends and family.” Plus, it’s a violation of the User Agreement.
The last phase is preparing the final product. Do not nag your artist during this period. I say again, DO NOT NAG YOUR ARTIST DURING THIS PERIOD. Every time he or she is having to stop to answer your email or phone, they’re not working on your project. Or, for that matter, the three or four other ones they may have going if they’re really successful. You have a date that was agreed upon in the contract, and they should be professional enough to backwards plan enough time into their work to allow for revisions.
3.) What about revisions?
Look at that pacing! It’s like I planned that or something. Okay, here’s the deal–as an author, you’re not going to get a lot of revisions. Indeed, from the artist’s perspective, they may have put something in the agreement language about major versus minor revisions and the number thereof. Know why this happened if they did? Because some numb skull asked them for about ten different revisions, flaked out, and then bailed on the entire project for whatever reason. (Yes, that’s pejorative, but there’s not some magic bottle artists’ go to for their time. Ergo, partial payment.)
In general, if you’re feeling anxious about revisions, the artist and you can program in extra “gates” within the agreement. Understand this might cost you more $$-$$$, which is reasonable given the time disruption. Imagine if you had to write a story on commission then stop after every chapter, send it to get revisions, wait for those to come back, revise, resend, rinse and repeat. That’d be time consuming and would likely eat time, no? See above about magic time in a bottle, none of.
Once revisions are complete, it is at this point that you’ll make final payment. Again, I swear by PayPal–others hate it. But I’ll be honest–most times I’ve heard a “An author screwed me on PayPal…” story from an artist, come to find out that the flip side of that coin did not paint the artist in a good light. Which, of course, led to bad word of mouth and some poor artists.
4.) What if, as an author, I’m just not happy with the final product?
You know that saying, “The customer is always right?” Well, that doesn’t totally apply here. Art isn’t a widget or a car–there’s not a whole lot of exact dimensions, other than the size of the image, involved. So, before going ballistic, ask yourself, “Why am I unhappy?”
Is it because the image is not a 100% match for what you expected? –Sorry, but we don’t have mind reading technology yet where the artist can trace the exact image in your head. This doesn’t mean that you have to accept something having, say, swastikas rather than Soviet red stars. But…well, let me just post a pic that was a 85% solution to what I had originally wanted:
Compare and contrast to the 70% solution (which is no fault of the artist–but I did learn lessons for the above picture):
You know what? Both of these convey the fact that an American task force is being attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Both were prepared by artists who are experts in their respective (nautical and comic art) fields. In the case of the latter, the only reason I went back to get another cover was because everyone, and I do mean everyone, asked me if I was writing a graphic novel. In the case of the former, Wayne simply admitted he thought having the POV be from behind the B5N (the plane dropping the torpedo) was beyond his capabilities and made the picture too cluttered. (Upon further review, he was right.) You know what? Both men still got paid, and I still use Eric’s piece for marketing.
Is it because the artist did not follow instructions?–Now we’re talking a bit heftier reason to get a case of the grumps. However, when one says “did not follow instructions,” was it because going with what the person said would have required basically starting from scratch, caused the author to bust a publication deadline, lead to the artist missing another deadline, or due to an unforeseen circumstance like, oh, an F-3 tornado ripping the artists’ roof off? (Don’t know the person myself, but I know of the situation from a con acquaintance.) If so, don’t be a jerk–if the cover is still functional, will attract the eye, and does not violate, say, historical accuracy for a novel set in Victorian England (“I said a pistol, not a blaster!”), go with it. Understand that iron triangle (good, fast, or cheap–pick two) rules apply here if you’re up against a deadline. If you are really unhappy, never use the artist again. That includes never giving them word of mouth or recommendations.
However, in all things, remember this is a two way street. Authors with reputations for being flighty or divas don’t get good cover artists except through luck or $$$. “Will have to put up with difficult authors’ crap…” isn’t necessary a stated fee. I can tell you, however, that it is a mental one. Don’t be that guy / gal.
If it ended up in court, is the discrepancy so obvious that your victory is nearly certain? I’m meaning you asked for a bodice ripper cover set in the Antebellum United States and ended up with a cover that looks like it should grace a fantasy novel. The main subject was an Asian man and you got Napoleon Dynamite. Think “John Wayne as Genghis Khan”-level of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!” Because if you’re going this route, it better be something that makes having Nun Thunderdome seem sane. (“Two Nuns Enter. One Nun Leaves. Two Nuns Enter. One Nun Leaves.” “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” “Oh, hello Bishop O’Reilly! *nervous laugh*”)
If all these conditions are met…still think long and hard about it. There is no guarantee that you’ll win. But, if after you’ve eliminated every other recourse and the principle and/or amount is so high you’re ready to expend time and money wringing satisfaction out of someone, lawyer up.
5.) What about reproduction rights?
First ask yourself, “Why do I want reproduction rights?” Then ask yourself, “Why do I want reproduction rights now?” The reason for the first is that you’re going to pay some $$$ for them. If you want full rights to slap that picture on anything you want, expect to pay 30-50% over what you’re just paying for the cover. This is reasonable–artists with rights can keep making money on your piece, sans cover design, for years. You can search for an artist who will let you keep all this stuff in the original price–or you can find a good one that’s going to charge you a reasonable price for it. I know authors who insist on the former…and you can tell.
If your book sells well enough that marketing is a thing, you can always come back for them later. Slap a line in the agreement about paying $$$ for future full rights by XXX date if necessary, at which point the price becomes open for negotiation again. Get it ironclad by a lawyer, then move on. The important thing is that you get your book out in a timely manner with plenty of $$$ left for editing and marketing. Come back for the “I’d like to put this on mugs everywhere!” later.
Anyway, hope this helps folks looking to move towards cover art. I’ll probably come back to edit this later after running it by a couple of cover artists.
Sorry for some of the intermittent posting. I have spent most of the last few days filling out interview questions for my blog tour through Goddess Fish Promotions. For those of you who do not know what a blog tour is, basically a promotion site sets you up with guest blogs / reviews of your book on several different websites. This is my first time trying it, so we’ll see it goes. Even if it doesn’t work for me, successful paranormal / urban fantasy author R.L. Naquin swears by them–so it may be a genre thing.
In other news–I have recently been published in Armor magazine, the U.S. Army’s professional journal for mounted warfare. You can find the article here: http://www.benning.army.mil/armor/eARMOR/content/issues/2017/Winter/ . It’s regarding doctrine, so odds are it may be a little dry without context.
Out of all the questions I got asked (and there were a lot), I had the most fun with the “What is your musical playlist?” one. I kept it limited to 15 songs, but here was my answer (with some Metal Monday Alumni):
1.) Dawson’s Christian – Vixy and Tony (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjxMieuRPe4)
2.) Husker – Bear McCreary, from BSG: Blood and Chrome (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeCFZ04ggQ0)
3.) Gettysburg Trilogy – Iced Earth (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxkVNYPSups)
4.) The Stars Will Fall – Crom (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky1nY3jlq1M)
5.) One Last Battle – Vic Tyler (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFzpZeSVPRA)
6.) Attack – Hans Zimmer, Pearl Harbor OST (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p0rVpyxnwI)
7.) Requiem For A Tower – London Music Works (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaioIutcHKI)
8.) Theme from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla—Akira Ifukube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfwLQIE3l4s)
9.) Bottle of Pain—Combichrist (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyFyTHQqIFc)
10.) Freedom Fighters—Two Steps From Hell (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP1QHVNHMAE)
11.) The Bleeding—Five Finger Death Punch (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeeWq3hDMCU)
12.) I Love You—Woodkid (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afqeBydhpQU)
13.) Long Live the King—Sabaton (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rIYMEl_4xc)
14.) When Winter Comes—Miracle of Sound (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDt3jeXGfDU)
15.) Even in Death—Evanescence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9btPqVRZIlY)
I also learned that a lot of interviewers unwittingly ask the same questions. I don’t want to steal any of the gracious hosts’ thunder, so I’ll start regularly answering a set of these questions here on the blog / in my newsletter. (“Newsletter? How do we sign up for the newsletter?” “Click here, my curious friend!”)
Last month I rode out to San Diego to attend the WEST 2017 Naval Conference hosted by the USNI (United States Naval Institute) and AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association). The primary purpose was to receive my physical award for winning the USNI’s 2016 Cyberwarfare Essay Contest. As a bonus, I also got to see a lot of awesome exhibits, visit the U.S.S. Midway, and talk some slight smack to a Class of ’64 USNA grad. (“I guess we decided after 14 years to finally let your guys experience a victory.” “_My_ class never lost to Navy, Sir.”). This is me with the other award winners:
Here’s what the plaque looks like:
I’m pretty sure that The Prolific Trek is still muttering about driving halfway across the US to pick up something that would have easily fit in a mailing package. But, had I done that, I would not have gotten to see the Grand Canyon:
Or totally fan boy over meeting the amazing Vincent P. O’Hara, author of several naval history books. The one I’m holding, The U.S. Navy Against the Axis, is probably the best single-volume coverage of the USN’s surface fleet during the Second World War. While James Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno is my go to recommendation for the Guadalcanal Campaign, O’Hara’s is my choice for a complete series.
Finally, my next upcoming event is Little Apple Comic Expo (LACE). It will be hosted at the Kansas State Student Union on 18 March from 10 AM to 6 PM. Feel free to swing on by to see Anita C. Young and I hawking our wares.
Anyway, that’s it from the Midwest.