[NOTE: This is the first blog post I’ve written while people watch via Google Docs! It was fun, if a little nerve-wracking. If you’d like to see this process and join in the conversation, support me on Patreon!]
My friend Joseph Rhodes (of Marlowe Kana soundtrack fame!) reminded me that today is the 65th “birthday” of MKULTRA (also called the CIA mind control program). Very shortly, MKULTRA was a program of experiments on human subjects centered around mind control using drugs, environment, and other factors to — among other things — extract confessions, implant suggestions, and otherwise fuck with people. It’s pretty gnarly shit, and well worth the read through the Wiki article (and deeper exploration is certainly fascinating, but get ready — it goes deeeeep).
He reminded me of this because, in my book series Marlowe Kana, the title character uses a flying “Superman Punch” move affectionately dubbed the MK ULTRA. He felt that was a neat correlation, and that I should make mention of it.
It brought to mind the whole point of my calling her flying punch the MK ULTRA: Because it sounded cool, and because her nickname in the books is MK, I felt that in the books’ future (100 years from now), people would have long forgotten what the actual MKULTRA Program was or what it entailed, and instead just consider it a cool sounding vaguely military-related name for a badass finishing move that their favorite soldier / celebrity used to humiliate her enemies.
It’s called “Semantic Change” and it occurs when words are redefined mostly by the way they end up being used, versus how they were originally defined. For example: we no longer use “decimate” to mean “Behead every 10th captured soldier to sow the seeds of doubt and fear in our enemy” (or, simply, “Reduce by 1/10th”). We don’t use “penultimate” to mean “the second to last item in a list” — we usually mean “MORE THAN ULTIMATE!” in the same way Ultimate means “MORE THAN EXTREME” (especially in taco and deodorant commercials). Fortuitous (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fortuitous) does not mean “lucky” — it just means “by chance.” And BAE now means “my significant other” instead of simply being an acronym for British AErospace (seriously, look it up https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bae), or a Korean surname. (Interestingly enough, I just discovered that Seth Godin covers some of this in his blog post today).
Hell, even the word “Literally” LITERALLY means “Figuratively” now (even though Mirriam-Webster tries to gloss over why, it’s still a travesty).
Language is weird. But, people are weird, so it follows that the thing they predominantly use to communicate with one another would, by default, also be weird.
So, that brings me to the point of this whole mental exercise: as a writer, do I have a responsibility to use words how they were intended to be used, or how they are colloquially used? Do I have an obligation to be right, or to be understood?
This topic is a fascination of mine. In fact, it’s the entire core of the podcast I did with Joseph in 2016 called The Joe And Joe Show. The idea: a podcast made in 2096, meant to emulate the culture, technology, and authenticity of the podcasts made in 2016 (arguably the heyday of podcasting). Much the way there are people who painstakingly recreate R&B studios to record music with the exact fidelity and sound of the classic recordings, or recreate 20’s radio dramas as accurately as possible to capture the period, we wanted to show that it is nearly impossible to recreate a time period accurately, including the vernacular and terms and social meaning behind them.
Think about how you remember, say, 20 years ago — 1998. You likely remember aspects from it as they happened, in context. I can remember three very distinct cultural acts in the 90’s — the holdover neon and metal days of 1990-1991, the shift from that into pure grunge and hip hop from 92-95, and the glossy repackaging of literally any band that wore plaid or copy the Wu-Tang clan. But if television and Netflix are to be believed, anything made now taking place in the 90’s like Everything Sucks!, Everclear and Nirvana’s Bleach shared the same airwaves. People wore neon green jumpsuits while others wore plaid and cargo shorts and Doc Martens, while still others were in JNCO jeans and Hot Topic shirts.
These things did not occupy the same space. But they’re all “The 90’s” to anyone who understands “The 90’s” through a vaseline-coated lens of either sub-preteen youth or Google searches.
If you want to refer to the 80s in shorthand, you say stuff like “totally!” And “gag me with a spoon” and call people Brad. And the truth is, no one really ever said gag me with a spoon, it was one line in one movie that people satirically began using as if it was a real term (and speaking of, as if is another of those delicious 80’s-isms that I just love bandying about in conversation to see if someone remembers it. The faces that I get from both boomers and millennials is usually worth the time it takes to explain what it means).
So, in hindsight, terms that developed in the 80’s and 90’s as jokes or simple in-jokes for shows, and terms that were used in general parlance, blend together the further you get from them. No one was actually telling teachers “Eat my shorts!” a la Bart Simpson. No one really asked “Where’s the beef?” (but ironically enough, WHASSSSUUPPPPPPP! Did become a full-on cultural phrase and my God, am I glad that shit’s over).
And this leads me to MKULTRA’s use in the Marlowe Kana universe.
There are a few avenues I can use to try to explain my use of the phrase:
- I’m so clever, I can see 100 years into the future that certain terms — in this case, MK ULTRA — lose context and blur into whatever meaning is grafted onto it much like our understanding of penultimate or decimate,
- I felt like Marlowe Kana’s nickname of MK would call to mind even the most infinitesimally small nugget of memory deeply lodged in passed-along history from parent to child, such that someone thought it was a vaguely government related term and she is a military person so it makes sense,
- It sounded cool, and then when the topic of it comes up, I retroactively attach all this weight and gravity around the topic of repurposed words and semantic change to justify it.
Believe it or not, three is not the answer. I know, normally I get super self-effacing when this kind of thing shows up, but no, really, it’s 2. I think it’s a strange yet prevalent enough thing that words change meaning over time that I wanted to include some aspect of it in the book. There’s also the devilish novelty of something so heinous as a government agency experimenting on humans with drugs to control their mind, willfully being made “cool” by attaching it to a military celebrity who competes in future corporate-military games like Next Top Soldier. Much like Jake the Snake Roberts’ DDT, or Adam Bomb , who wrestled in Japan quite often (Don’t even get me started on “heel culture” in Japanese wrestling — we’ll be here all night).
So, what’s the right call? I have to go ahead and say that my goal as the writer is to be understood. I think that it’s incumbent upon me to share with people stories that get them to a point of acknowledgement, rather than semantic correctness. If using a word colloquially does that, then I’m all for it. Of course, this does not give me license to simply use any word any way I want. That’s not the point.
The point is that sometimes, meaning is fluid. And sometimes, you try to let the fluid flow where it’ll do the most good, rather than where someone somewhere thinks it should be.
So, happy birthday, MKULTRA. Thanks for being so deeply disturbing that my books’ future finds it cool.
A lot of my creator friends (including my amazingly talented girlfriend Meghan Hetrick) have convinced me to use Patreon as a platform to build my “full time writer” business. So, I drafted one up, and asked them to check it out and give me some feedback. I plan to launch it May 1, and I wanted to accomplish two things: 1) explain the mission, and 2) offer people something exclusive at each tier, from $1 and up, that they would find valuable and interesting.
Not only did they like the rewards at each tier, the mission, and the layout, they even started contributing! So, it gave me a really great idea: I’m going to do a pre-launch signup bonus!
- Check out the Patreon — let me know what you think of the write-up, the rewards, the tiers, and the offerings.
- sign up before May 1, and you’ll get a copy of The Art of Marlowe Kana – Patreon Edition, an art book containing work from cover and concept artist Meghan Hetrick, character and animation artist Casey Edwards, and the genius website art of Alex Monik!
Even if you don’t sign up, I’d love your take on what I’ve offered and what else I could offer. Any idea is welcome, as is all feedback (and of course, donations!) And thank you very, very much for all your help and support!
If you want your passion project to fail before you even get out the gate:
- Combine “Make an impact with readers” and “Number of readers impacted” into the same goal.
I have a reader-friend, Rachel. She is on her third run through the first three volumes of Marlowe Kana. She loves the main character. She loves the dynamic between Marlowe and her sister, Jen. She loves the involvement of the President and the social commentary provided in his actions. She loves the universe. She loves that I let people figure it out as they read instead of providing massive infodumps and expository footnotes and technical manuals. She’s a fan. She’s precisely the person I’m trying to reach.
And you know what? Having reached Rachel, I am happy. Very, very happy. I have also reached Luca, Jessica, Joseph, James, Justin, Scott, David, Renick, Travers, Meghan, Rowena, Brandon, Chad, Jennifer, Nicole, and a few hundred others who have bought all three volumes of the book, left reviews, and dropped emails giving me feedback, almost all of it praise. This isn’t bragging. This is an admission. I never set out to do this.
Of course, this was a hope. But for the first time in my life, it was NOT the point.
Reach is not the same as impact. Even Steve Jobs knew that, and he changed the entire world three and a half times with his projects. He didn’t set out with the goal of creating Apple computers that end up on every desk right away. He had to iterate. First, build one thing. Make it the best you possibly can. Then, iterate on it. Make it better. And better. And better. Then, scale. Move up in numbers. Get your thing into more and more hands. And this is the most important: Make sure your thing is so good, people don’t drop it once its in their hands (metaphorically, of course… accidents happen, and I’m certain there are people who have physically dropped my books on the floor, but my hope is that they’re decent enough that they’ll pick them back up instead of leaving them there).
When I started Marlowe Kana in 2015, I didn’t expect to quit my job and focus on it full time. In fact, there was a time not too long ago where I thought my days of writing full time were over forever. I was satisfied with this. I was glad to have a good job, happy to have rebuilt my life, and pleased to be able to spend nights and weekends creating and writing about a universe that’s been in my head for years.
I think that’s the difference: I never once tied a metric to Marlowe Kana that wasn’t 100% about the quality of the writing. I simply wanted to learn how to write fiction that wasn’t pallid, hollow, self-serving, or boring.
Now, I am not saying I am the best I’ll ever be, or even great comparative to any other writer in the Cyberpunk genre or any other.
What I will say is that there was a bar I set for myself when I began this project, and I failed to reach it across several iterations. The version of Marlowe Kana that became Volume 1 is the third iteration on the universe and at least seven full drafts after beginning the process of writing it. I learned so, so much writing the first book. And when I was done, I read what I wrote and compared it to my checklist for passing quality:
- The universe makes sense.
- The characters each have their own motivation.
- No one is a vehicle for wish fulfillment.
- Everyone has their own voice, personality, morals, and objectives.
- The tech — arguably the most defining part of Cyberpunk — is not in the way, and has a clear path from something existing in today’s world.
- It discusses, through the plot, all of my concerns with today’s political, social, technological, and logistical concerns in a far more constructive way than blasting Twitter and Facebook ever did
- It’s FUN.
I am super, super proud that I reached those goals. And when I started on Volume 2, I created a new set of goals:
- More clarity.
- Divergent paths for characters and their motivations.
- Interruption of core motivations and surprises.
- Challenges to the genre and to the reader.
- No easy paths to victory.
- No expected endings.
- Constantly challenging my characters — and more, listening to THEM as they spoke in my head and keeping honest to who THEY are, not who I as an author want (or even conceptualized) them to be.
For Volume 3, I iterated up again, and decided I wanted to surprise myself with the ending. And I did. The ending of Volume 3 was a shock to me when I came up with it. I never saw it coming. It just… Happened. Because that’s where the story took me.
Now that they’re written and out there, I have new goals for all three volumes — find new people to introduce them to. Get them interested. Seek out the audience that’s ready and eager for what Marlowe Kana has to say. Sales figures, traffic, and reach are only NOW becoming a part of my strategy, because I want to do this with every hour of my day every day, and I have to be able to eat.
It’s a huge, huge difference. I believe fundamentally that the goals I set were vital to the success of the series, because my definition of success was never, ever once measured by any factor outside of itself. And I assure you, that will be true for volumes four through nine as well. I will concern myself with sales once they’re done and out in the world. For now, I only have one goal for the upcoming books: Make them worthy successors to the last ones.
I honestly feel that judging how important your work is by how many people have it is asking to be punished. If I can’t make this work financially, I’ll go get a job and write nights and weekends. I will not stop telling this story, because it’s saying what I need to say, and I’ve fallen completely in love with the vehicle I’m using to say it. Of course, I hope that I am able to sustain and keep this going as my daily, full time gig (and I’ve leaned up my daily life in order to achieve that. It’s a good thing I love ramen and peanut butter sandwiches…).
But if I can’t, that’s ok, because that’s not why I started. My definition of success for Marlowe Kana is not tied to reach. It’s all about depth. And if Rachel, Luca, Jessica, Joseph, James… All of them are happy with all nine volumes, I’ll have done my job.
Announcing the Marlowe Kana Volume 1 Original Soundtrack by Sinewave Sionora (Yes, A Soundtrack For A Book)
Today is a very proud day for me. A project a year in the making is finally out in the wild. I VERY PROUDLY present to you: Marlowe Kana Volume 1, the Original Soundtrack by Sinewave Sionora:
I cannot tell you how proud I am of this record. First, it’s 100% original music, all inspired by Marlowe Kana Volume 1. Second, it’s expertly composed, performed, produced and engineered by Joey The Mad Scientist (Joseph Rhodes) and CVRT-1 (Jason Covert), who are geniuses. I’m not just saying that because I worked with them and they’re friends — they are literal geniuses. Jason’s organic, thick bass and guitar work complements Joey’s synths, drums, and vox in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined before hearing it myself. I even contributed some crazy noises here and there!
About The music:
“Electronic” is the easiest term for it. If you like Massive Attack, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Aphex Twin, Tycho, or other artists who juxtapose deep thunk with intricate synth and live instrumentation, this is right up your alley. There’s elements of Vangelis (Blade Runner), Trent Reznor, and even grunge sludge like Sleep, Earthless, Clutch, The Melvins… There’s literally something for everyone on this record. But it’s not a gumbo of sounds — it’s very methodically orchestrated and each track is purpose-driven to communicate the feel and tone of each chapter of the book.
About Sinewave Sionora:
What started as a joke in a parody of “Music Review” podcasts that Joey and I did in 2016 became this crazy project called Sinewave Sionora. Shortly after I wrote Volume 1, I shared it with Joey. He immediately asked me if he could write some music inspired by what he was reading. My answer was “Wait, what? You really want to do that? HELL YES!” I’ve never heard of a book with a soundtrack before, but hell, why can’t there be one? Or, nine, as the case may be!
“I wanted to make something that was unique in it’s own right,” Joey said, “but had major hooks to the storyline. Everything from the music comes directly from the book in some form or fashion. It’s a pure cyberpunk album through and through and I am very happy to share it with the world.”
About This Album:
You can pay-what-you-want for the album at Bandcamp (even 0.00 if you want it for free — you know how I work, I don’t believe in forcing a toll for access to stuff I’m doing). You can also stream it free at Soundcloud, and it will be in iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and other music services this week.
What You Can Expect From Here:
Eight more albums! Because there’s 8 more books! Music for volumes 2 and 3 has already been recorded, and we are writing more to go with the new stuff I’m writing in volume 4. So, good news — if you like this album, there’s MUCH more where this came from!
Sometimes, The World Is Just Against You (And Sometimes, You’re Against Yourself And You Use The World As An Excuse)
I am hip deep in the middle of a pity party. I am sharing this with you in an effort to get the hell over myself.
To set the stage: In 2107, I put out three books (well, four, but that last one was clearly a joke). They were small, comparative to your average bookstore novel. The three were intended to be combined into a “Book 1” but I decided that was silly, and to keep them all individual. At over 150 pages each, they do qualify as books unto themselves. So, semantics aside, I published three real books in 2017.
Volume 1 of Marlowe Kana came out on on May 20, Volume 2 on June 19, and Volume 3 on September 17, 2017, and all three became print paperbacks on November 22nd (for those of you who, like myself, prefer the book-in-hand experience).
Proud? You bet I’m proud. It’s an awesome feeling to be back in the saddle and writing books again after a 10 year hiatus (2013’s Everyone Deserves To Know What I Think was a best-of-the-old-blog, and as such, was honestly just a cash grab because I was penniless and homeless, literally. Everyone who bought it, thank you). The momentum of the first pushed me through the second, which pushed me through the third, and in a year’s time, I tripled my bibliography. That’s kinda nuts.
When Volume 3 went live, I told myself I would take a few months to relax, rekindle, recover, and hit the ground running on January 1, 2018. I had momentum, and the overarching storyline for all nine volumes was established a while ago. But as far as particulars and how I like to approach each volume from a writing perspective, I needed time to build all of that stuff. Outlines, character descriptions, particulars, tidbits, governing principals… You know, all that writing stuff.
But I draw a line between “writing” (story, plot, characters, concepts, outlines, descriptions, story arcs, whiteboarding, and so on — what almost any writer would tell you is what makes up “writing”) and Writing — words on the page, intended for publication (after editing and all that of course… The First Draft, if you will). To wit: you can think and plan your story all you want, but the book isn’t written until you start page one, paragraph one, word one, and finish that last word of the last sentence of the last page. Period.
It’s January 14th, 2018. To date, I’ve written exactly one and a half pages in the new volume, Volume 4. That was on Wednesday, January 10th. I even announced in the Slack channel for the Marlowe Kana team that the first day of my new 90-day challenge had started, and that I was excited to finally get going on the actual labor of writing the new volume.
And then, things happened.
I got a nasty message from a guy I sent some cigars to in a sampler. He didn’t appreciate that his selection wasn’t as varied and out there as someone else’s in our cigar group. He’s the first guy to complain out of literal dozens I’ve sent cigars to. It put me in a sour mood and made me all grumpy. Also, I had to put in an additional few hours Friday night to fix a bug I just couldn’t figure out on the temporary HomestarRunner.com page we have in place to let folks know, a new site that isn’t dependent on Flash is on the way (oh, by the way, I’m working on the new Homestar Runner site. It’s made of HTMLS!). My day job got in the way a few times with last-minute asks that found me working in the evening when I got home. And last weekend, I hit my brick mailbox with my truck and cracked both a bit.
And just this morning, head full of gumption after last night’s staring at a blank screen and blaming every minor distraction for my inability to just write, I sat in my desk chair — READY TO WRITE — and it broke. Again. On the opposite side from where it broke a few years ago, sure, but still. It broke. And I had to fix it. DAY RUINED!
Day after day, these little things appeared that derailed my plan — nay, my DREAM — of coming home, pouring a fine drink, lighting a nice cigar, and writing all night. That Hemmingway shit. That Steinbeck thing. That Gaiman, King, Whomever-you-idolize fantasy of the Writer at work.
Only, it doesn’t work like that. I know this, because it has NEVER worked like that.
Not last volume, or the volume before, or Volume 1, or the book in 2013 (which was just a best-of-my-blog book and had no new writing in it), or the book before that in 2009 (which finished in 2007), or the book before that in 2006. It didn’t work like that for any of the over one thousand blog posts I wrote from 2002 – 2012. It didn’t work like that for the hundreds of articles I wrote for dozens of publications. It didn’t work like that when I was writing the first season of Screenland.
I’ve proven this to myself dozens of times over dozens of years, and yet, every single time I take time off and have to get started again, I fall for this stupid trap, thinking somehow that it’ll be different — you know, with the desk and the cigar and the fine drink and the genius just flying out of my fingertips. Or, more simply, the writer’s dream. The way it’s supposed to be.
That whole concept is delusional. Always has been, always will be. But it doesn’t stop my brain from fucking with me by bringing it up every single time I start something new.
Getting the first three volumes out last year was actually a multi-year process beginning in 2015, which required LOTS of found time, and lots more cancelled plans or passing on other fun things or disappointing friends and family because the only way I was going to get words on the page was to prioritize putting words on the page, day after day, night after night, regardless of how comfortable or fun or painful or forced.
This is Stephen Pressfield’s textbook definition of resistance. I am nose to nose with the scariest and most devilish enemy on the planet: my own ego.
By most points of feedback I’ve gotten on the three volumes so far, this book series is good. It’s intriguing to the readers who have read it. Each chapter makes you want to read the next; each volume makes you want to pick up the following volume and see what has happened. Those who have made it through Volume 3 email, text, message, and ask “Dude, where the hell is Volume 4! I gotta know what happens to Marlowe and Atlanta!”
That feels good. And it’s hard-won, because writing Volume 3 was only SLIGHTLY easier than writing Volume 2, which was only SLIGHTLY easier than writing Volume 1, which was hard in a way I can only describe in relation to training for a marathon after spending years on the couch. So in that regard, each volume after the first was its own marathon. It was only because I was trained up for the first, that I could do the second — which was STILL HARD. And the third? STILL HARD.
It doesn’t get easier. It’s work. It takes work to think about. It takes work to write. Night after night for months. The loneliest, hardest, most exhausting fun thing anyone could ever do. And here I sit, on January 14, 2018, actively fighting myself not to just quit and give up and focus on the day job and let those first three volumes be enough. Because the absolute last thing my ego wants to face is the possibility that they were flukes, and I really do suck, and all I’ve done is set myself up for a bigger fall.
It would honestly be easier if they sucked ass, because then there’s no stakes. But to know that there are people who are reading it and liking it and that the story isn’t pure garbage makes starting again so, so, so much harder.
As Seth Godin described in his amazing book The Dip, I’m in a hole in the first plateau on the gigantic climb that is this project. I’ve climbed this far and put in this much work and accomplished something, but there’s SO MUCH MORE to go. And to even get started on the next bit, I have to get out of this hole I’ve put myself into (which, despite being not that big, and atop the first big hill I’ve already climbed, feels like it might as well be at the bottom of the lowest point on Earth).
It’s a pity party. Plain and simple.
Staring up at the mountain ahead from this point I’ve reached, i’m filled with equal parts dread and awe. I know the old advice that sherpas give mountaineers, not to look up at the tip of the mountain, but to focus on the climb and only look down to see how much ground you’ve covered. I know that if I can just put my head down and start climbing, I’ll get another inch or foot or hell, even up to the next plateau.
I just really, really don’t want to. Cause it’s scary. So, these little minor things that show up and hinder my start are secretly very welcome to the enemy within me, my ego. It doesn’t want me to start, because it’s afraid of all the hard work ahead. Not just the work, but the possibility that all of that work will be for nothing when the book goes to my editor, Rowena, and she says “uh… this is shit, start over” (which has never happened despite being afraid of it every single time). And even if she does somehow manage to hack it apart and get it to an acceptable place, it might go to press and everyone reads it and goes “uh, dude, this is shit, why did you bother?”
Or worse, no one will read it at all.
The common thread of all of the above — the world somehow conspiring against me to keep me from that pure, perfect writers’ bliss of romantic settings in which I get to be a genius, my editor, readers, external opinions on the story… Not only is it all pure fabrication and manipulation of perspective, it’s also not the point. None of it.
I don’t write this stuff because the environment I write it in is perfect. It hasn’t been. Most if not all of Marlowe Kana Volumes 1-3 was written in found moments, or on my back deck at the rental house I shared with Meghan with a small Wal-Mart fan pointing at me in sweltering heat, and a worksite propane heater in the shivering cold, and whatever other stuff the weather threw at me. It was written in the back seat of cars on road trips, or on airplanes, or in hotel rooms. It was written during lunch breaks and after late meetings at work.
It got written in spite of any discomfort, amidst fears that it would be hated (or no one would care, which is honestly worse). Because all of that stuff above is just an opinion. It’s how I feel. And the work doesn’t care one bit how I feel about it, it just needs to get done.
I write this as a sort of confession; to get it out of me and admit publicly that I’m procrastinating. Not so I’m held accountable by anyone else — I don’t really need that as much as I need to look my own self in the face and say “Dude, cut the shit. Fuck your chair, your truck, software bugs, day job blues, fear, validation, or anything else that isn’t writing words on the page of the next book.”
Nothing disinfects like sunlight, and these germs of fear, doubt, resistance… They need to be sanitized. So I’m pulling off the covers and letting the light shine on it. I have no idea how interesting any of this would be for you reading this, but thank you for doing so anyway.
So with that out of the way, it’s time to write. See you when I need to vent more crap.
Hi there, fair reader! In case you didn’t know, I’ve written a new book. It’s a damn good book. I believe in this book with my whole heart. It’s literally what I’m betting my entire future on. So it means a whole, whole lot to me. It also means a whole lot to the folks who have read it so far.It’s gotten stellar reviews on Amazon from the folks who have read it, and the email has been great. One review sent to me just today:
“I’ve been mulling over what it is that draws me to MK [Marlowe Kana]. She’s a strong female lead, but it’s more than that. I feel like every teenage girl needs to read this book, every young woman, every pair of sisters. There’s something deeper to it…” — R.W.
And now that volume 3 (and thus, Book 1) is complete, it’s time to turn to promoting the book and trying to get as much attention for it as possible. Not just because I want to sell lots of books (but I do! But that’s not why) — but because this story deserves to be read. It’s something I have worked extremely hard on, which is not by itself reason enough for you to care, I know. And it’s tempting to tell you every single plot turn, subplot thread, character, and world-building element here in this post, but I really want you to discover those things on your own.
So, we will start with the absolute easiest way you can help me:
• Read the book.
It’s free on the website, and Volume 1 is free on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Barnes and Noble! And Amazon makes it super easy to buy the three-volume ebook set of Book One, where you get to read about political and corporate manipulation of an entire society’s mental wellbeing through media. A cybernetically enhanced super soldier named Marlowe Kana — the nation’s biggest star and three-time United America’s Next Top Soldier winner — is convicted of treason. But a splinter group of citizens called The Sovereign aren’t okay with that, and they bust her out! The entire country’s military & security division — a combined police / army force run by Imagen, the corporation that employs literally everyone — hunts her down. The chase reunites her with long-absent family and friends in not so fun ways.
…I’m saying too much, aren’t I? I really want you to find out all about MARLOWE KANA by reading it. It’s GHOST IN THE SHELL (the manga and movie, not that terrible racist ScarJo vehicle coated in neon) meets SILICON VALLEY and people are loving it. And did I mention, it’s FREE? Go!
From there, here’s some other things that would really, really help:
• Sign up for the email list.
It’s also free. And now that things are rolling on the “spreading the word” part of this project, it’ll be the place where I announce things like the upcoming audiobook and soundtrack (yes, this book has a soundtrack!), the paper book, release of book 2 and book 3, and other cool things. The email list in question is found here!
• Tell your friends.
Let them know there’s this new book out there which is free to start reading that even people who “don’t read” are really loving. It’s especially written for fans that love science fiction and/or cyberpunk stories, but also want deep character-driven storylines and a plot well-rooted in modern events, with excitement at every turn.
There’s no getting around it: reviews drive sales and attention. Think about when you go to buy a thing on Amazon et al. First thing you look at: How many stars. Second thing you look at: How many reviews. You want to know you’re not buying a dud and wasting your time. It would be a HUGE help if you could toss up a review (honest ones of course! Even if it’s 4 stars or 3 stars or even 1 star… Just share what you think honestly. Of COURSE I would love 5-star reviews, but the truth is, if you’re motivated to review the book, I’m honestly more interested in what you think than in simply adding another 5-star review to the list). People are comparing it to William Gibson, which I think is too much for my brain to handle. But I’m honored!
• Help get the word out.
I have stickers, handout cards, and flyers I can send to you if you’d be willing to volunteer to hand them out. Place them in bookstores and coffee shops. Pepper your local college campus with them. Do you volunteer for a literary or comic convention and want some to stuff into bags? I would LOVE that! They’re beautiful. They’re elegant. They’re FREE. Just email me and we will connect it all up.
• Help me get reviews for MARLOWE KANA.
Do you run a blog or site? Does that blog/site cover books, science fiction, cyberpunk, geeky stuff, nerdy stuff, or anything in-between? I would love to send you review copies of MARLOWE KANA! Do you know anyone who writes for a site like that? Nudge them (gently! Please don’t beg) toward MARLOWE KANA and let them know this book rocks. Social review is ubiquitous in MARLOWE KANA, and is the method by which people get access to services and engagement. Wait, I’ve said too much.
• Do you own a billboard or a building in an eclectic neighborhood and would be willing to donate space for a mural?
I have a team of graffiti artists who would LOVE to do a MARLOWE KANA themed mural. Gimmie space, I’ll give you art! You’d think I’m being hyperbolic, but no — I’m serious. I’ll get my painter friends together and come slather your free space with art that rocks, and subsequently, markets my book, since graffiti features heavily in the plot line. But I don’t want to give too much away.
• Do you own a skywriting plane (or know someone who does)?
Let’s talk. I want to skywrite MARLOWE KANA in the skies of small towns across the country. No one will notice or care. But it’d be fun Instagram material, you have to admit! In the world in my book, skywriting is impossible due to the atmospheric generators that enable life to continue existing… But here in our world, it’s an option!
• Are you a game developer / conceptualist?
This story would make one hell of a game. I have ideas. You have talent. I’d love to talk to you about converting the IP into a playable badass story where people get to destroy things meaningfully… You know, in the context of a larger social narrative set in a world that forecasts the inevitable track that our real one is on? Yeah… that. Games feature very heavily in the subplot in the book as well, as the entire society is driven by entertainment. But they’re a different kind of game… I don’t want to reveal that part yet. Remember, I said I wouldn’t give too much away.
• Do you know anyone (or are you someone) at Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Apple in show development?
Whooo boy, Marlowe Kana is just SCREAMING for the serialized 12 episode-per-season story release. Reviewers on Amazon have even said so. Imagine having your development hands around a GHOST IN THE SHELL type serialized drama that you could do all the things with that you really, really wish someone had done for that pile of neon-tinted crap that was the American release of GITS? Just imagine. Imagine it hard. Really, really get in there and think on it… Yeah, there’s a soft spot there, isn’t there? Well I have one too. And I want righteous justice for that travesty myself. It’s one of the reasons I wrote Marlowe Kana. Help me take that retribution to the next level, my new friend in show development. Let’s teach those folks a lesson in ACTUALLY GOOD NOT PANDERING CYBERPUNK AWESOMENESS that tells a story about the near-future wreck that we’re currently on track to becoming! Let’s show them how to correctly illustrate and narrate a future where one corporation controls all things, technology is a dependency to survival and not just a neat way to force your phone’s voice assistant to say “titty sprinkles”, and the consequences of playing God with the human body! YES PLEASE, LET’S!
…But you’ll have to read the book to really find out about all that stuff. Right. Yes. No more reveals. Back to how you can help me:
• Are you personally, yourself, Mike Lazzo at Adult Swim?
Mike, baby, let’s talk! Adult Swim’s core demo loves to laugh and you’re killing it on the yucks. But remember the days when you did Cowboy Bebop and everyone was like WHOA and you were like YEAH? This is a story that we can develop together that will satisfy that late-night need for darkly-humorous drama set in a visually stunning near-future cyberpunky utopia (yes, utopia… It’s a core part of the plot that the United American State is a utopia for its 40 million citizens, because no utopia can exist without somewhere else being a dystopia. The rest of the world serves as grist for the mill of the UAS’s constant tech dependency and… Well, that’s book 2 stuff. Let’s talk about that when we’re ready. I’m really bad at not revealing things).
• Do you happen to personally know David Fincher (Fight Club, The Game), James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), Gary Ross (Hunger Games), Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, AI) or any screenwriter attached to them?
Let them know you have one hell of a property they need to make a movie out of. It’s a gripping fast-paced politically-driven near-future social-commentary-lined story where a badass woman breaks things in dynamic fashion for good reasons. It’s up their alleys. And not just them — if you know anyone who wants to make Marlowe Kana into a film, I’m down. Super soldiers, biometrically-controlled environments, It’s just begging for the big-budget treatment.
• Are you, personally, David Fincher, James Gunn, Gary Ross, or Steven Spielberg?
Oh man… Wow. Well, this is certainly an honor! Wow… who would have thought that [David Fincher / James Gunn / Gary Ross / Steven Spielberg] read my little blog? Wow man… Just wow. I’m overwhelmed! I love your films! I really love that part in [Fight Club / GOTG / Hunger Games / Minority Report] where [technology-driven aspect of modern living] was used as a metaphor to show [aspect of psychology where the human ego strives to outdo the human brain’s limitations and subsequently sets it up for failure… Much like Facebook growing far beyond the bounds of being able to control their own platform and thus setting up the world — the no kidding, entire, literal fucking planet — for political hijacking by Russia due to the mass manipulation of emotional and psychological wellbeing through their shit platform]. That part rocked! Wow… Cool! Well, hi! Also, please make a movie out of MARLOWE KANA.
• Are you connected to an ancient spacefaring alien race who are scouring the galaxy looking for resources, and happen to have Earth on their radar, and are on their way to come conquer and subsequently ravish the planet?
Well, tell them not to, please. Cause that’s not cool.
Do you just like stickers and want some free ones?
Well, email me, and I’ll send you some. I’ll even cover the stamp. Just promise you’ll put them on that one notebook or laptop or iPad that you take to the coffee shop so other people will see it and ask about it!
As I’m sure you’ve all seen in some form or fashion, I’ve been writing a new cyberpunk sci-fi series called Marlowe Kana. Fiction in general is a new genre for me, much less Science Fiction and Cyberpunk. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and despite all the pain, fear, aggravation and suffering, I’ve loved every second of it.
So, for my first Book Report, I want to share some of what I’ve been going through, learning, and beating my head against.
Writing fiction is hard. Like, hard hard. Like, harder than anything I’ve ever written before, hard. Up until this book, I’d only ever written one other piece of fiction, and it was terrible. In fact, longtime readers will know that it was the very first written iteration of this novel, only with completely different characters and plot. Everything else I’ve ever written has been journalism, opinion pieces, blog posts, anecdotal stories from my youth, and silly things. A few trolling pieces here and there. Some loud and vitriolic stuff. Some really important stuff about social matters, and other really important stuff about divorce, depression, self respect and just about everything else.
Thousands of pieces over 16 years. It’s only now that I’m doing fiction, for many reasons that I’ll get into in another post sometime. And let me tell you, this shit is no joke. It’s work. Fun, joyous, amazing, hard, tiresome, sometimes-you-wanna-set-fire-to-literally-everything-you-have-written-and-give-up-for-the-rest-of-your-life-frustrating, hellish, heavenly work.
First, you’re responsible for the reality of your work. Not just the physical writing – which by itself is a feat. 25,000 words is a tiny novella, and it takes a month or two to write if you’re writing every single day – and I’m doing five of those, per book, for a total of 15 volumes and 300,000+ words. You also have to get it edited, re-edited, and copyedited. If you’re self-publishing, then you also have to get it typeset, printed/digitized, get a cover designed and made, published in whatever form and stores, and market the thing. But the writing itself, that’s hard hard work. The sheer sticktoitiveness it takes to just sit down and chop away at word craft is a lot.
But that’s not even one tenth of the actual work. That’s just the typing. the WRITING… that is the super hard part.
For every single writer, this holds true: you not only have to create characters, settings, technology, scenarios, plots, motivations, story arcs and events out of thin air, you have to make them all make sense. More than make sense – you have to raise these people like children and tend to their environment like a cautious parent, if that parent was Nicollo Machiavelli. If you’re giving even half a shit, you also have to make each character independent, such that you’re not FORCING them into things, you’re guiding them there and seeing what decision they make, and then acting accordingly. And if you’re giving a whole shit, you have to eloquently describe ALL of the above to the reader in a way that lets them know what’s going on, without being some voice in their head telling them what they already figured out minutes ago. And that’s just “Writing Fiction 101.”
If you’ve never written fiction before, the first time you let someone who is close enough to you to tell you the honest truth read your stuff, you’re in for one hell of a reality anvil to fall on your head. You will be called out for any number of things you had no idea was even part of the process. Things like the three-act rule. Plot cohesion. The story arc. Action elements and beats.
You may end up hating characters you thought were your favorite. You may end up loving characters that were tossed in on a whim. And speaking of whims, you will have more whims than you ever have plot points, and you have to beat yourself stupid to keep from including every single one of them – and the ones you DO include, you have to go back and research as thoroughly as you did all of your plot, characters, tech and settings. Then you have to make damn sure your whim didn’t just invalidate something you’ve already written. And INEVITABLY you will end up altering the course of your plot completely.
It’s a lot.
Some things that I’ve learned in the course of all of this have come from reading books on writing fiction. Others from great videos from other writers and directors and storytellers. Still others came from very honest people in my life with experience doing fiction work, who were honest enough and loved me enough to tell me the absolute truth about my writing.
And that’s what this series is going to be about: all the little things I’ve learned along the way that I wish I knew starting out. Now, I am only two volumes into a five-volume serialized novel, which is my first fiction novel. I am hardly any kind of expert. I don’t want anyone to think otherwise, or think that I think otherwise. But, something I’ve always known to be true: there’s no harm in sharing information. And doing something – pass or fail – qualifies anyone to share what they know of the experience, even if their perspective might differ from someone else’s.
It is in that spirit that I am going to write these Book Reports. They will detail lessons I’ve learned, videos I’ve found, books I’ve read, sources I’ve studied (and what I have learned from them), and tricks I’ve developed to get my ass in gear and get going even on the toughest days. I hope it helps, or at the very least, entertains. I’ll post #2 this weekend, and plan to cover basic action lessions I had to learn the very (VERY) hard way.
(UPDATE: Now it’s #6!!)
I haven’t blogged about it yet, but I’ve been working for the past year and a half on a novel. It’s called Marlowe Kana, and the first volume is now available on the website for the book, Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo.
Here’s the cover, which was done by the lovely and talented Meghan Hetrick:
I started posting chapters to the site about a month ago (here’s Chapter 1; you can read all the way to Chapter 8 on the site right now, and Chapter 9 will go live Monday morning), and last week finally got the ebook for Volume 1 into the various digital stores. At some point on Thursday, Amazon finally got around to correcting the price and made it free. Overnight, the book went from #99,000 or so to #51 in Cyberpunk in the Kindle store. As I write this, it is now #8. This blows me away. I did NOT expect this.
I even got my first review — a lovely 5-star note on why this reader likes what he got:
What I’m Up To With This:
The strategy here wasn’t to have a huge launch or make a big splash. I want my books to ALWAYS be free on the web, no matter what the content, size, or format. So, I decided to post a new chapter every Monday from now until the book is complete in 2018. Every single Monday, you can go to my site and get the next chapter in the complete story for free.
I also want to collect the chapters into volumes — five of them, for the first book — and make them available to folks who prefer e-readers and collected formats (and also hopefully make a few bucks on my writing so I can get back to doing that full-time). My strategy is to give away the first volume (Chapters 1-10) for free, and then release the other 4 volumes at $2.99 each. The chapters will still be free every single Monday. Once all 5 volumes are complete, I plan to release the paperback of the full story for the regular book price of $14.99.
I want something for everyone: chapters every single week for those who like keeping up with things as they’re released, smaller volume collections for those who like reading in chunks and binging every month or so, and a full book for those who prefer watching 5 seasons of a show in a weekend.
The plan was to do my work and stay ahead of the curve, releasing things on a regular schedule and letting people who are interested know what’s going on as I do it. I didn’t plan any marketing blitzes or media outreach or review strategies or any of that crap until after the fifth volume is out. I wanted the full book to be complete and in the world before I began the hard work of trying to get attention for it.
But somehow, somewhere, someone beat me to the punch, and the free Volume 1 Ebook got linked somewhere. Amazon doesn’t show you where, so I guess that’ll be a mystery until the search results in Google surface it. But whoever did it: I’m super, super thankful! Thank you for getting some attention for my new novel!
Why I Have All The Feels:
It’s been 10 years since I finished writing my last book (The one I released in 2013, Everyone Deserves To Know What I Think, was a collection of prior writing. Nothing new. Doesn’t count). As a lot of you know, my previous books were all about my life, my adventures, and my friends and loved ones. Well, most of that life is gone now. Some of those loved ones are no longer in my life. I went through some serious growth and a lot of transformation the last few years. So, when I decided to return to writing, the one thing I knew I wouldn’t be doing is the same thing I used to do, because I’m just not that guy anymore.
So, I decided to write fiction. I was once told by a good friend that writing about yourself and journalism are certainly writing, but you don’t really know how hard writing is until you try to invent a world and all the people in it, and make it make sense. And man, was he ever right. This book is HARD. And the embarrassing truth is, I honestly thought when I started that it would be a breeze.
All of my experience the last 15 years has been in spinning yarns about the zany crap I have seen and been a part of. So, it’s easy to go “And then this happened, and then THIS happened, and THEN…” And if questioned, you get to say “Well, that’s just how it happened.” Your only job is to make people feel something about it.
When you write fiction, you still have the job of making people feel… But what they are feeling about? You have to make all of that up. You have to make it whole, interesting, and real. You have to give each and every person a personality, a life, a reality. You have to make them operate with other whole and interesting characters, in situations that you invent that must ALSO be whole, interesting and real. And all of it has to take place in a world you must describe without insulting the reader, but also without leaving them behind.
In fact, my first draft of this book was so viciously ripped apart by my friends who actually know the craft of writing that I deleted it completely and started over, but only after reading every book, watching every video and studying every work I could on the art of writing fiction. And it was an act of love when my friends criticized my work — they didn’t have to be honest, but they were, and I am a better person and writer for it.
It’s been a LOT of hard work simply making this book exist, in a way that isn’t complete crap. So that alone has been a challenge. But the other half of it is that I’m doing something I used to do, but in a different way… Which means the old ways don’t work. The entire world of publishing has changed. I no longer have the connective tissue I used to have on the internet to get things out into the world (and that’s very much on purpose… Who I used to be and the connections I used to have were built on a lot of immaturity, attention-seeking, balderdash and bravado. I never want to be or see that in me again, so I had to walk away from those old places).
Sitting down and writing for days and weeks and months used to be how I made my living. These days, I work full-time again, and my writing is the thing I do on nights and weekends because I must. It feels familiar, because that’s how my career began. Going back to the beginning is tough. It feels so familiar, but it’s all completely different. And there’s nothing more exhausting than standing at the foot of a mountain you once climbed and seeing that its entire face has changed, and knowing you have no idea how to do this thing you used to do all the time is scary.
But here I am, and I’m not quitting. No matter what.
So to see my book unexpectedly get some attention all on its own… and to hear from folks that it doesn’t suck… Well, that’s certainly a recipe for a little tear-shedding. So thank you all very much for sticking with me these years, and for checking out this new thing I’m doing. It means the world to me.
Writing, and a whole lot of it. This book is one of three in the complete story. At the end of it all in 2020, there will be three complete paperbacks, which will also be available as 15 ebook volumes if you prefer. And every single chapter of every single book will be available for free on the Marlowe Kana website (where I am also stretching my wings in web development and playing with CSS animations, 3D transforms, WebVR and other really neat web stuff! If you’re into rich digital experiences, it might be up your alley!). Volume 1 wraps on June 5 when I post Chapter 10. The next Monday, June 12, I’ll start Volume 2 on the site, and the ebook will go live in all the stores shortly after. If you don’t like waiting week after week, you can get it for $2.99 and get ahead of the curve 🙂 The same strategy will apply for volumes 3-5 — as soon as those volumes begin on the website, you can get the ebook and read ahead.
Once volume 5 is finished, the paper novel collecting all the volumes will be available for purchase, and I’ll begin working on Book 2, and then finally Book 3, each following the same strategy: Free on the website chapter-by-chapter, $2.99 for the volumes in the digital stores (volumes 6-10 for Book 2, Volumes 11-15 for Book 3), and paperbacks collecting the volumes for book 2 and book 3 available for $14.99.
I hope you’ll join me for the ride!
Today, Bruce Schneier broke down how the Internet is going to break down, and keep breaking down worse, because corporations have discovered that you can put devices on the internet and let people fiddle with them with their iPhones but they don’t secure them. And they probably won’t, because they don’t have to, and it’s too expensive to do it voluntarily.
As Boing Boing broke it down:
Cheap IoT gadgets are manufactured by absentee proprietors and large, respected companies who ignore urgent warnings about their defects (or punish people who complain by remote-bricking their gadgets), leading to nightmarish breaches.
Meanwhile, Burger King is hijacking your Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Siri with ads that activate the voice search about Whoppers. Not that Google needs the hijacking, they’ve been inserting ads in search results on voice assistance for a while.
A quick search for “The Future Is Stupid” brought up this list of tweets that prove it is. And here I am, linking to a list of tweets on a website dedicated to crap content specifically created to get you to click on it. And that can be said about the vast majority of the internet these days.
I asked an intern at work today what they wanted to do with their career. “I’m just here for the credits,” he replied. “I really want to be a lifestyle guide on Instagram.”
In the 80’s, my crazy drunk uncle used to tell us as children about how the government had cameras embedded in the tubes of televisions to spy on us. Now, not only is that true, but we pay extra for the feature. And they can be hacked. By anyone, anywhere.
Back in the 1990’s, I made the huge mistake of telling my mother, father, sister and future brother-in-law that I was going to meet a girl I met on the internet. They spared no adjectives explaining to me how stupid an idea that was, that nothing on the internet was to be trusted in any way, shape or form. The conversation, which took about four hours, resulted in them holding a makeshift intervention with me explaining that the articles I read, news I get, and all of my activity on the internet was troublesome to them, and that I was dangerously close to losing touch with reality by reading all this “garbage” and trusting people I meet on the internet.
Six months ago, my mother was furious with me because I tried to debunk an article she read on InfoWars about Hillary Clinton helping run an underground child sex ring out of a pizza parlor. Oh, and the President of the United States not only regularly relies on those types of sites to inform his worldview, he also uses Twitter to pick fights with North Korea and China in front of his audience of tens of millions of followers, which is then covered on CNN daily so that the other 200 million people who might have missed it are sure to see it, because that’s what news is now: people using technology poorly, at great consequence for the world, and not listening to any warnings to the contrary.
Oh, and there’s an entire movie about emojis coming soon. And there’s an app for your favorite pasta brand to explain why pasta is yummy. They didn’t make the app. They just bought an ad on the platform that the app connects you to, so when you download the app, and you scan the box, it tells you why it was such a good idea to buy that box. It’s an ad that sells you on what you already bought.
Welcome to the future. It’s pretty awful. The only ways to combat it, it seems, are either 1) to not participate, or 2) keep calling out stupidity where it exists where you find it. I’m doing the second, mainly because I don’t quite know how to do the first.
(An aside: My new novel, Marlowe Kana, centers around the inevitable consequences of this current timeline’s bullshit, one hundred years from now. It’s not a dystopian novel, so let me assuage you of any concerns there. It’s actually a tale of American Utopia, and what it costs to have it. It launches May 1. I hope you’ll check out the two chapters that are up now, and come back for three more on May 1, and a new chapter every Monday after that until the story ends in 2019.)
I haven’t posted much about it, but 10 days ago, I entered into a 90 day art challenge with my good friend Joseph Rhodes. He’s a musician who has been exploring “his” sound and what that entails, and I suggested to him that he make a song a day for 90 days. I did the same thing a few years back, and when I was done, I had a body of work that had a theme and through-line to it which helped me find what my voice really was.
Then, I made the huge mistake of saying the following: “It’s literally impossible to do something for 90 days straight and not have something to show for it.”
Alarm bells went off, and my brain was alight with signs all reading “HEY DUMMY THAT’S YOU! YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT YOU RIGHT NOW!”
The past few months, I’ve been really lax in writing my novel, and it’s been affecting me emotionally. And what I found is that I let resistance and self-loathing get in the way of sitting down and doing the damn work. After all, nothing comes out of a faucet that isn’t turned on. Sitting down to do the work is turning the faucet on. You may get a few drips, or a fountain, or nothing at all… But the third thing is the only guarantee if you don’t at least open the spigot.
So, today is day ten. Last night, I finished the longest, most troublesome chapter that has appeared since I started writing the novel, and I didn’t just finish it, I completely rocked it out. That chapter has sat in parts and pieces for literally two months, because it was such an ordeal and so many parts needed to come together that it was daunting. But last night, I just rolled up my sleeves, sat out on the front porch under the awning and watched the thunderstorms, and wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote.
Tonight, I may not have that same flow. I may get stuck. I may work on frameworks. I may trickle out three sentences and resign to bed for the evening. But I doubt it, because momentum begets momentum, and right now, I’ve got lots.
So there’s an update for you, starting 10 days into a 90 day challenge. Look for lots more now that I’ve made it public.