Yesterday’s live interview with Film Sensei Jay Haynes went great! The show was supposed to only go thirty minutes, but we kept receiving such great questions from the chatroom that we talked for over an hour.
We mainly discussed the writing arts and martial arts, with occasional name-drops of Keith Minnion, Richard Chizmar, and John Johnson, with deep dishing about Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The “Live With Sensei” audience was also treated to Jay wristlocking me live on camera! You don’t want to miss that, so watch the whole gory show below. I’m going to ensure I’m subscribed to his channel, because next week the subject will be a show-and-tell of “failed experiments.”
A couple of events to tell you about!
January 25 @ 3PM
Live with Sensei: Watch on YouTube
• Host Jay Haynes and I will kibitz about story craft.
Westin Waterfront Boston Hotel
• Deena Warner and I will be guests concerning online marketing for publishing industry in the “Great Website Designs & Boskone Reveal” panel. I’ll also be giving a reading from Empire of the Goddess and participating in other panel discussions on self promotion and the business of writing.
February 19 @ 8AM
Rotary Club meeting
Cold Harbor Restaurant
• The Rotary Club of Mechanicsville will host me as a guest speaker during their breakfast meeting.
Almost two weeks post-launch of Empire of the Goddess, and some great reviews have already come in, including this one from Publishers Weekly:
“Warner’s tale of a dystopian parallel Earth run by religious fanatics is quick-paced and intriguing … enough to keep fans of dystopian stories hooked.” (Read the whole review.)
The Audible link to the audiobook finally went up, plus a number of other vendors linked from the book page. They all supply short audio previews that don’t necessarily match what I sent them to use as the preview, so if you hunt around, you may find something you haven’t heard before. For instance, I was surprised to discover that Audiobooks Now has an incredibly long excerpt of Cursed by Christ available for free at this link. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the deficiencies of my microphone rig at that time compared to what I used for Empire of the Goddess.
Speaking of audio engineering, I hope you caught that Audiobook Production Tips tutorial. There’s a lot I still need to learn, but if you’re an independent publisher looking to add an audio line, this may help you get started. Also check out the other Empire-related articles on story inspiration (this one and this one) and cover art.
Do you own a professional sound isolation booth? You do? What time can I come over?
That’s what I’ll be asking everyone the next time I narrate my own audiobook. It would go far more quickly and involve far less swearing at my pets. Of course, you wouldn’t then have nearly as much fun learning about the hell I went through with Cursed by Christ and Empire of the Goddess, now would you?
All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.
Aha, I can’t fool you! You found me out. Your astute eye has detected an abnormality. In the back of your mind, Sesame Street is singing, “One of these things is not like the others.”
Let’s see: horror, horror, and what the hell is that. *
Two covers for the same novel? Just who am I trying to fool? Well, no one, actually. Empire of the Goddess is what you call a “cross-genre” novel. It has elements of both the horror and fantasy genres, and so I admit, in my Machiavellian calculations, that in my requests to the cover artist, I tried to appeal to both readerships. All I can say in my defense, Your Honor, is that both covers are truthful, and in fact they depict different scenes from the same story. They are not misleading.
That’s the what. Now let’s talk about the why.
I first sold Empire to a bona fide publisher who was not myself: my old friends at Thunderstorm Books. It’s always been important to me to acquire that external validation of quality from a gatekeeper, if possible. Thunderstorm, as usual, put out a great product: 52 hardcover copies, autographed by me and the artist they hired, Deena Warner, printed on the kind of paper that will probably outlive me.
Thunderstorm caters to horror collectors, and I knew they would like the novel, what with its elements such as human sacrifice and that really awful thing that happens to Thomas in chapter 3. So its cover, depicting the World War II memorial in Washington being used as a gallows, is something that appeals to them. (Thanks to Norman Prentiss for the cover art idea.)
But, like with Cursed by Christ, I wanted to perform the story, and Thunderstorm doesn’t sell audio. Hence the new self-published editions this summer. The fantasy-esque cover, depicting a pivotal scene at the Flat Rock Overlook in North Carolina, is only an effort to broaden the audience. I also edited the cover copy to better match it. I wish there was a more sinister motivation I could now confess to you for the change, but unfortunately, I only play at being sinister. I’m really just a geeky, middle-aged white dude.
However, you will be interested to learn that this time, instead of just an audio edition (yes, 10 hours of me blathering at you) and necessary eBook, I went whole hog by adding a paperback. The paperback presented a new challenge that went beyond ensuring each new chapter begins on a right-hand page: I needed a publisher’s logo for the bottom of the spine.
Of course, the publisher this time is me, so I’m trading as MW Publications. (Get it? The M is for Matthew, and the . . . yeah.) Deena and I discussed various logo ideas, and I liked those that entwined the letters M and W in interesting ways. I suggested putting the M over the W like mirrored mountain ranges, as a tribute to the Blue Ridge Mountains near our home. Deena came up with something better.
It’s still an M and W, but they’re entwined — as if they’re grappling. As if they’re Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners like our hero Thomas Dylan.
So if you see that logo up in your browser’s tab as you read this blog post, that’s why. Maybe one day, I’ll have it engraved on my tombstone and throw a Pharaoh party like my friend Keith Minnion.
Currently, MW Publications only carries my own titles, Empire of the Goddess, Cursed by Christ, and the new eBook editions of Dominoes in Time and Blood Born, but that may change down the road. Who knows? Only the Goddess Darwin.
* Yes, there are three covers here, and the title says “Two.” Verily, I am fucking with you.
Also see: Inspiration for Empire of the Goddess
All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.
There’s rarely a single source of inspiration for any story I write. Empire of the Goddess had three: parasites, religious myth, and my sons.
One day, as I raised my invisible antennae to detect inspiration, I took a long walk around the neighborhood. My part of Staunton, Virginia, resembles the DC suburb I grew up in, with its single-family homes and trees. In the middle of the work day, with folks away at their jobs, it can feel like a ghost town. The familiar becomes quiet and sinister. I noticed odd details that I dutifully dictated into my handheld voice recorder. A squawking bird flew by with strange, mechanical motions. A puddle in a rain gutter concealed a bottomless pit. But what really caught my attention was the empty lot at the end of the street.
Beyond a gravelly area that marked a future road extension, a line of woods opened into another world. The trees formed a corridor into a forest of unnatural overgrowth. It felt like peering down the maw of some planetary vampire, sucking life out of the world. What if one of my boys, then aged 3 and 5, were lured into that throat? I would have to go after them.
From that visceral feeling came my main character, Thomas Dylan, whose young son, Walter, is abducted through a portal to parallel world — a world that feeds off ours.
But what kind of planet would do that? What kind of society would steal our children?
At the time, I was reading Reza Aslan’s terrific book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan describes a first-century Palestine teeming with itinerant holy men performing faith healings and exorcisms. They sometimes called themselves messiahs and made resistance to the Roman Empire a religious duty. In such a time, to preach about an empire of god rather than man was a capital offense.
I reasoned that a fantasy world structured similarly would seek to keep its populace under an iron fist of control. With disease and sin entwined caduceus-like in meaning, a theocratic imperium would ensure it alone dispensed healing and its deity’s forgiveness. Imagining the most dramatic mechanism I could for such oppression, I followed this garden path of thought back to the forested portal at the end of my street.
Why would this parallel world want to kidnap people from ours, casting a net into which Thomas Dylan’s son falls? The answer: to sacrifice him as part of a long-running parasitism on our world by a state religion and political power dating back to Columbus.
Make that world a dystopian version of contemporary America, set rules that allow for actual magic, and mix in some romance and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Thomas Dylan is off on the most transformative adventure of his life.
Perhaps some part of you will feel the same.
This morning, I had a great time as a guest of Rockbridge County High School in Lexington, VA, where I gave a presentation about audiobook production. After all, audiobooks are about all I’ve been doing for the past year! Thanks to Dave Simms for setting it up. Here’s a snap Dave took of the class; I’m the guy at the end of the arrow:
I played them bloopers from the production of the Cursed by Christ and Empire of the Goddess audiobooks, and discussed what I’ve learned the hard way about best practices. One lucky
guinea pig student even got to use my audio rig to record some narration. Using a projector so they could see what I was doing, I showed them how to edit the narration in the Audacity sound program. Fun time all around.
While at the Writer’s Digest Annual conference last weekend, I picked up this great handout from Wiseinkpub.com called “20 Ways to Help an Author Out.” I’ve taken the liberty of re-typing the tips here. Please apply them liberally to promote your favorite writer.
1. buy the book!
2. buy the book for others as a gift
3. face the book out at bookstores
4. read the book where others can see it
5. ask a bookstore employee where the book is located
6. leave a review on Amazon, BN.com, and Goodreads
7. “like” the author’s author Facebook page
8. reserve a copy at the library
9. attend the book release party and bring two friends
10. spread news of the book through your social media channels
11. arrange a connection for the author with your media contacts and people of influence
12. recommend the author as a speaker at your local library
13. if your library has an annual author luncheon or evening event, suggest the author as a speaker
14. create a Wikipedia page for the author, including details related to the authorship of the book
15. buy a few extra copies, and donate them to your local library, doctor’s office, and community center library
16. send a copy to your favorite radio show with a personalized note explaining why you liked it
17. take a picture of yourself holding the book, and post it on your social media
18. create a Pinterest board by pinning the cover, author’s photo, and any other photos or illustrations related to the author or book
19. offer to write 10 e-mails you’ll send to booksellers, librarians, TV or radio producers, book reviewers, or just to your network of friends and family
20. volunteer to help the author at book events
SF Signal just published an interview with me, “Plan 9” Is Back! Matthew Warner Novelizes the Remake of the Notorious Zombie Movie. It goes into the process of novelizing the Plan 9 movie and putting together Dominoes in Time. Check it out!
Buried amid yesterday’s Super Tuesday coverage was this gem from USA Today about the importance of clear writing:
Justices OK child porn sentence in war of words
WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court upheld a child pornography defendant’s 10-year mandatory minimum sentence Tuesday in a case that had both sides debating the meaning of Star Wars and sour lemons.
Six justices ruled that a federal law’s key phrase — “a prior conviction … under the laws of any state relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward” — means only that the last charge must involve children. The first two charges, they reasoned, could apply to adults as well.
Not so, Justice Elena Kagan said in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, triggering a colorful debate over what she called the “ordinary understanding of how English works.”
“Imagine a friend told you that she hoped to meet ‘an actor, director or producer involved with the new Star Wars movie,'” she said. “You would know immediately that she wanted to meet an actor from the Star Wars cast — not an actor in, for example, the latest Zoolander.”
Kagan added two more examples and then concluded: “Everyone understands that the modifying phrase — ‘involved with the new Star Wars movie’ … — applies to each term in the preceding list, not just the last.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the 6-2 opinion, countered with an example of her own.
“It would be as if a friend asked you to get her tart lemons, sour lemons, or sour fruit from Mexico,” she wrote. “If you brought back lemons from California, but your friend insisted that she was using customary speech and obviously asked for Mexican fruit only, you would be forgiven for disagreeing on both counts.”
Sotomayor’s interpretation prevailed, which was bad news for Avondale Lockhart, whose enhanced sentence for child pornography was based on a prior conviction of sexual abuse involving his 53-year-old girlfriend. He argued that the tougher sentence was intended only for those whose prior conviction involved children.
During oral argument in November, the dispute was close enough to convince Justice Antonin Scalia that the verdict should tilt in Lockhart’s favor. “When the government sends somebody to jail for 10 years, it has to turn sharp corners,” he said. “It has to dot every I and cross every T. It has to be clear.”
Scalia’s death last month left only eight justices to decide the case, but his influence lived on in the opinion and dissent. Each side cited his influential book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, written with Bryan Garner, to bolster its case.
So, there you go. Proof that copyediting saves lives, my friends, and the pen is mightier than the sword, and so on.
Seriously, though, this is an example of how critical it can be to write clearly. In the case of Avondale Lockhart, it sent him to prison for an additional ten years. For what it’s worth, I agree with Justice Kagan. But this is the U.S. Supreme Court, and their word is final. In light of that, and assuming the statute was not actually intended to send someone like Lockhart to the clink for an additional ten years, how should the statute have been written? Here is an alternative. Incidentally, it uses the Oxford comma, which I think also adds clarity:
a prior conviction … under the laws of any state relating to sexual abuse or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward, aggravated sexual abuse, or sexual abuse
All I did was reorder the list items so that the crime related to minors comes first. The problem, though, is that it’s clunky as hell. Perhaps it should have been like this:
a prior conviction … under the laws of any state relating to: (a) aggravated sexual abuse, (b) sexual abuse or (c) abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward
The Supreme Court should have remanded the case to a fact-finding court for further testimony about the statute, if it hadn’t been done already. An expert witness in English grammar could have shed some light on this. Or how about (gasp!) calling in the actual legislator who wrote the law to testify about what he/she intended?