Don’t Be a Hypocrite!

I stopped watching the CW’s Flash many seasons ago. The show had too many logic disconnects to make sense (not the physics of super-speed; you need a lot of willingness to suspend disbelief, but that’s expect for a superhero show), and just sloppy writing.

I did stick around long enough to see the introduction of Ralph Dibny who would become the stretchy sleuth Elongated Man. Ralph was immature, crude, gross, and rubbed everyone wrong. Hartley Sawyer was the perfect actor for the role, he looks identical to the comic book version and has a snarky sense of humor.

Kids, Elongated Man, Flash, Costume, Zentai, Bodysuit, Superhero ...
Elongated Man

Ralph’s particular arc was to grow, mature, become more heroic, and be all that he could be. And he succeeded, eventually winning everyone’s trust and respect.

Now they’ve fired Hartley Sawyer because 8 years ago he made several insensitive, offensive tweets. Sawyer was a young comedian, immature and going for shock value to get noticed.

Sawyer was Dibny, who has grown, matured, and become the adult he wasn’t then.

By firing Sawyer, the CW has become a steaming hypocrite. It’s heroic for Dibny to grow up, but not Sawyer, who’s apologetic and recognizes his offense.

This is a writing blog, though, so let me bring it home: write what you believe. Live what you believe. Obviously many of characters are negative examples… they aren’t what you believe but they counterpoint what you do believe in your favored characters. Clearly they should be growing in a manner consistent with what you believe to be good. When you see someone similar going through your character’s arc, you should be applauding it.

THE FLASH Finds Their Elongated Man
The comic book version.

Or is that a stretch?

Writers are SO Powerful!

It’s been a sad and scary week, studded with ugly racism, peaceful protest, some of it hijacked by violent people. Cities are locking down and social media is overrun with angry posts and comments.

The truth is racism is a horrifyingly real issue still, yet strides are being made. What used to be a (forgive me) black and white topic is now a complex topic with many subtleties and nuance. And you’ll find that social media does not put up with subtleties and nuance, because too many people aren’t listening.

Snow Falling on Cedars (film) - Wikipedia
A moving book. A story well told.

Hence the power of the writer and the ability to fully explore subtleties and nuance in novels and non-fiction. To Kill a Mockingbird was for many white writers of a certain age our first powerful awareness of racism and did more for white-locked regions than even well-done protests. I’m from Seattle, a nearly all-white community and racism wasn’t a big concern because, well, there was no one to be racist against (and the few minorities we knew were friends, and it’s funny how once you see someone as a person first, the skin color doesn’t matter). Years later Snow Falling on Cedars was a similar eye-opening book, this time about white-Asian racism, which for our area was more meaningful since a large Japanese community was close to ours.

Here’s a story of nuance that I fell into as a 3rd-grader. Sammy was a classmate who got into fights every day. I never saw why the fights started, just that he was always in the middle of it. Sammy was Japanese, but to me he was just Sammy. I hadn’t learned racism and never dreamed the fights were about racism. In the cloakroom as we waited for recess, I asked Sammy if he was going to get in a fight again. He said nothing, walked up the line and whispered to the teacher. When everyone else was released to recess, I was held back and lectured on racism by our teacher who was supremely disappointed in me. She thought I knew better.

Well, clearly I didn’t know better. It hadn’t occurred to me why he was fighting (I was on crutches and watched the playground from the sidelines. I could see a lot but hear very little), just that he was fighting. My question was not racist, I just wanted to know if he was going to fight today. I was so confused because I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong. At first I thought maybe she thought I was going to fight him, but I couldn’t walk so fighting wasn’t possible. For a couple years I was an imperfect observer while kids played, much like Scout, who was too young to understand the larger issues facing grownups.

Story is powerful and the issues are plentiful, not limited to racism. In a book we can see all sides of injustice. Through fiction you can tell your story and give we readers a deep insight. That is needed more today than ever before.

Not every book has to be focused on a social issue, but social issues exist and your characters may deal with them as a texture of the period.

Make America Understand!

Even Jerks Can Work

He’s arrogant, cruel, self-righteous, petty, venal, and in so many ways a jerk. Yet he’s funny, witty, and charming, so he’s the star of the show.

Maybe you didn’t think of Benjamin Franklin Pierce, AKA Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, as an awful man, but he is. He belittles Frank Burns rather than help improve him, he objectifies women, makes sport of everyone, can dish it out but can’t take it, and while he’s a great meatball surgeon, if you knew him in real life, you’d consider him vain, shallow, and mean.

That’s the power of story. As a fictional character who you don’t have to live with, Hawkeye is fun. As a co-worker or friend, he’d be tiresome.

The Avengers: Jeremy Renner was so fed up of being 'Loki's minion ...
No, no, no, not THAT Hawkeye… well, okay, that Hawkeye, too.

In a story, though, Hawkeye promotes conflict. He riles people up, then awes them with his skill as a wit and a doctor.

He is deeply flawed, which makes him an engaging character. My main characters are often too nice, too good, because they are the observers of the action.

That’s a weakness in my writing and one I need to correct. A flawed character can get worse AND can get better; he can change. He’s unpredictable and stirs controversy. He gets himself into and out of trouble. He commits the action, he is not acted upon.

Hawkeye is a great character, but a lousy person. Make sure your characters are flawed yet have a way of covering themselves.

Another example of this is Psych, a favorite of my children. Sean’s a jerk. Flat out, lousy friend, jerk. Gus MUST have been abused as a child to put up with him. Jewels is out of her mind for caring about him.

But he’s funny. Audacious. Gets away with stuff we can’t.

He’s good story.

Gregory House is another jerk, but he pushes the jerk way hard with the only redeeming quality is that he knows medicine. He is THE most unlikable human on the planet played so fetchingly by Hugh Lorrie. Roguish, biting charm…

In Star Wars, everyone’s favorite human is Han Solo. A roguish, charming bad boy with a tarnished heart of gold.

There must be something good about being bad.

In a story (don’t take that as an excuse to be a charming jerk in real life).

A Surprising Admission from a Publisher

I know it’s strange to admit, but I haven’t read a paperback book in years. I read a couple of hardback books a little more than a year ago, but almost all my reading has been done on a Kindle Fire or a computer.

Until recently, that is. I’ve relocated my office and probably a thousand books, among which I found several novels I had been meaning to read. Two nights ago, I picked up Dean Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.

It was weird.

6 x 9 Standing Paperback Book Mockup - Covervault
Do you know where your paperback is?

The font was small, the margin dipped into the bend of the spine, and it felt odd turning thin pages. Then someone turned off the light and reading was over for the evening.

I’ve taken for granted the ability to change font size and type style on my Kindle. Both my Paperwhite and Fire need no exterior light, and swiping is second nature.

I had the thought that it won’t be long before e-readers completely take over the market. I’ve been resistant, of course. I love paper books. I love the smell and the creak of the spine. Yet I made the realization that of the six bookshelves in my office, my Kindle has the capacity to hold all my books in the palm of my hand. That says a lot to a guy with a sore back from moving said bookshelves.

Of course, I take that to heart when designing my author’s books. Font is large enough to read easily, gutters are wide enough, but the ebook sells for less and has the same royalty.

Will paperbacks and hardbacks go the way of the VCR? Maybe. Especially with libraries being closed for a while now, people are turning to their Kindles. It is difficult to go back.

Does that surprise you? Perplex you? Or have not thought about paperbacks in a while?

ACX and Audiobooks

Time has become vapor in these days of crisis. I missed blogging last Wednesday and didn’t notice. Sorry.

Last night I submitted my first audiobook to ACX. Great platform with a lot of improvements. Learned a LOT! The next time will be much faster.

Should you produce your own audio book?

Maybe.

It helps to have a background in, or be able to learn, sound engineering. You must have a good microphone and place to record. There are great instructions at ACX, Amazon’s audiobook publishing platform, but I don’t agree with all of them.

Microphone Woes

My old condensor mic stopped working, so for recording Creativity Wears Boots, I bought a Blue Snowball. What a nice little microphone! That stopped working. My computer couldn’t find it. So I submitted a warranty claim and Blue was excellent. Amidst all this Covid madness, they replaced it with, they said, a Yeti Nano, which is a step above the out-of-stock Snowball. What I got was the Ice.

Blue Snowball iCE USB Condenser Microphone 988-000067 B&H Photo
The Ice. Good for single source narration.

The Blue Snowball Ice is a fine microphone, I finished up my recording with it, but the Ice is a step down from the Snowball because it’s uni-directional. The Snowball is uni- and omni-directional.

Amazon.com: Blue Snowball iCE USB Mic for Recording and Streaming ...
Blue Snowball – Omni and Uni Directional with a switch. Good mic!

Another call to Blue and they sent out a Blue Yeti Nano. THIS MICROPHONE ROCKS! Clearer than the clear Snowball, richer tones, it’s a great microphone. Unfortunately, I had to do some pickup recording so a couple chapters sound better than the others. That’s why I started with my book before recording any of my other author’s books, so I could make the mistakes on mine.

Hands-On Review: the Yeti Nano from Blue Microphones
The Blue Yeti Nano – Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

So, good microphone, and my office is covered with sound tiles (hard to make stick on the wall, which is another story).

Which Audio Recording Platform?

ACX recommends Reaper as your audio recording platform. It has a free 60-day trial, is ranked #2 for audiobooks, and is very confusing.

I used Audacity, #14 on the list, free, and very easy to use. I also downloaded an ACX Check plug-in which told me how to process my files, which meant making them louder and limiting peaks. Prior, I removed background noise, equalized, deepened, normalized and added a hint of reverb.

Audacity outputs to a wave file, so freac is a free audio converter to MP3 formatting, for uploading to ACX.

ACX Uploading

ACX now has a nice feature. When you set up your book and load a file (follow their directions), it immediately analyzes the file and tells you if it’s acceptable. Of 37 audio files, only one was rejected (which was odd, because Audacity’s ACX Check said it was fine. ) Another boost of volume and limiting of peaks and it was set. (For future, set the gain higher and turn on the limiter).

I finished setting up my account and submitted it. I got an email that the submission was accepted and after they lightly process and analyze it, within 30 days they’ll let me know if it’s rejected or it will be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes (wider distribution is possible if you’re willing to take a deep cut on royalties. Most audiobooks are purchased on these three).

Oddly, you don’t get to set your own price. They’ll do it for you based on the length of the product.

Are You Ready for the Work?

Audiobook production, like self-publishing, is a long, complicated process. At Prevail Press, we help people daunted by self-publishing while giving them a great brand affiliation.

If you find recording too daunting, you can pay an independent or ACX-affiliated producer, or split royalties with ACX producers. Nor do you have to go with ACX, there are other distributors.

It’s a lot of work that may or may not be worth it, but as time goes by, audiobooks will become more and more of the market.

Got questions? Ask away!

A unique publisher who is Author-Centric and Reader-Sensitive