Moving to My Own Domain

Click here for ChristopherKellen.com!

The past six months or so here on WordPress.com have been pretty great. I love the interface and pretty much everything about it.

Unfortunately, my continued growth and the need to do more things (like host file downloads, etc) have convinced me that it is time to move to my own site.

I probably should have done this to begin with, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Now that I know for certain that I’m in this for the long haul, I decided that it was time.

The new site is also a WordPress blog with all of my previous posts and content already uploaded. I will no longer be updating this site as of today – all new content will be available at christopherkellen.com.

See you there!

Review: The Congregation by Aric Mitchell (@aricmitchell)

(Format Note: I read The Congregation as an ePub review copy kindly provided by the author.)

Now, I’ll say up front that I’m not usually one for horror. I normally stick to my tried-and-true genres of science fiction and fantasy whenever possible. The last time I branched out into horror was when I read Brian Keene’s City of the Dead and found myself both revolted and fascinated by the bleakness and absolute worst of humanity. The conflicting feelings were so strong that I’ve sort of skirted the genre since, but since I love indie fiction so much, I jumped at the chance to review Mr. Mitchell’s debut horror novel and give the genre another try.

The Congregation is dark, intense, disgusting, hideous, and bleak. In other words, it’s exactly what it set out to be.This isn’t horror in the traditional sense, with creepy things waiting to jump out of the shadows and lots and lots of suspense. This is somewhere halfway between the kind of horror where everything is implied and nothing really happens and the splatterpunk horror made popular in many cult zombie films. The setting is the Arizona-Mexico border, the time could be anywhere from the 80s to now (given that there’s very little modern technology referenced… I don’t even remember if anyone had a cell phone) with an ensemble cast in which only a couple of people are genuinely likeable and you expect them to die at every turn.

Beyond the blood and gore, though, there actually is a pretty cool story at the center of this novel, which is what I was hoping to find. It’s not just pointless violence and nasty-gross bad guys and possession, but an interesting take on an old story that really ties the whole thing together. It’s a competent narrative, for which I was pleasantly surprised.

There were times when the prose could have used a bit more editing and/or proof-reading,  mostly for tightness – some of which may be personal preference – but I noticed very few scattered typos and minor errors. They did not overly distract from the reading.

Overall I felt that The Congregation was a strong debut novel, from an indie author who’s probably got a lot of good things coming his way. For near-perfect professionalism I would suggest one more editing/proofing pass to reword the occasional confusing sentence, but since we live in a world of ebooks, I’m not deducting much for formatting/editing unless it’s egregious. The fact was that when I started reading it, I felt like I was watching a train wreck – it was not so much that I had to turn away, but instead stared, riveted by the horror until I hit the final page, the twist… and was satisfied.

Final Score:

KDP Select, Amazon, and the Value of Free

It seems like ever since Amazon launched this KDP ‘Select’ thing, where you can add your books to a ‘lending library’ for Prime members and make your book free – for up to 5 days! – that this is now the only way in which they believe in free.

My novelette The Corpse King has been free at all other outlets since I released it, but Amazon still wants $0.99 for it. Why? I have no idea. No matter how many ‘lower price’ notices they receive, it seems they are no longer price-matching to free.

Look – if I didn’t want my damn book to be given away, then why would I be doing it? Amazon.com is a distribution platform. My short story Dutiful Daughter was downloaded thousands of times after I made it free. That means thousands of people had the opportunity to read that story, simply by virtue of the fact that it was available for free on the largest e-book distribution platform known to man.

Do you know what that’s called?

MARKETING.

It’s freakin’ marketing, people! As an indie author, very few people are going to take a chance on spending money – even the impulse-buy $0.99 – unless they know for certain that they’re going to like the work! Instead of buying ads, because my pocket change is sparse, I want to spend the money that I would otherwise make selling that novelette on showing people that yes, I really can write and tell an engaging story!

There’s a reason I chose The Corpse King as the free one: it’s most representative of what I want the stories of Eisengoth to be like: dark swords & sorcery where the characters understand the bleakness of the world they live in, and still rise above that to make the best and most heroic choice available.

I realize that Amazon is not going to change their ways, but I think more people should understand that free does not mean free. If I choose to write a story and then offer it to the world for the low, low price of $0.00, I am doing it for a reason. This is why, despite the fact that its reach is limited, Smashwords is the superior distribution platform for ebooks. Unlike Amazon, they have an understanding about what it means to be an independent author, with no marketing machine and no massive funding behind you.

The only way to gain traction as an author is word-of-mouth. Someone must like your work well enough to recommend it to their friends. Some people still find their books randomly browsing in a bookstore, but those days are waning, and it’s not an option for the indies.

Here’s the thing: nobody’s going to recommend your work if nobody reads it to begin with. FREE is one way to unbalance that equation, and get people reading your work, even if no one’s ever heard of you.

Sadly, I cannot host downloads directly from this blog. In the future I plan to be hosting my blog on my own website, but as of now this is merely a wordpress.com special. So if you’d like to sample my work, Smashwords is the place to do it.

I hope you enjoy The Corpse King. If you do, check out Elegy at Amazon or Smashwords.

If not, come on back here, tell me why it sucks and what I can do to improve it!

Review: Once We Were Like Wolves by M. Todd Gallowglas

Once We Were Like Wolves

(Format Note: I read Once We Were Like Wolves via the Amazon Kindle Select Library, as I am an Amazon Prime member.)

Once We Were Like Wolves is the second book in the Tears of Rage series (see my review of First Chosen here).

Mr. Gallowglas turns everything up a notch in this second entry to his Celtic-feeling fantasy series. The world he has created is rich and vibrant, featuring: tricky gods, warring factions who all increasingly hate one another, ancient history that feels alive, and truly engaging characters that draw you straight into his narrative without letting go until the end.

Being that I am currently writing a ‘Book 2′ of my own, I entirely understand the difficulty involved in that process. One has to pull threads through from the first entry, while raising the stakes and expanding the scope but without sacrificing the feeling that made the first one connect with readers. It’s not just about continuing the narrative, it’s about extending the feelings you forged in Book 1 while simultaneously making everything grander.

I believe that Mr. Gallowglas succeeded on every point. We see our main characters begin to grow into the roles they have been forced into, the story introduces new twists and turns driving us toward the final conclusion while being immersed in frenetic action. Most of the second half of the book is a rocket-powered ride of genuinely enjoyable action, filled with imagery that’s still stuck in my head, slowing down just barely enough so that you don’t break your neck when you arrive at the end.

M. Todd Gallowglas is a writer to watch. Speaking as an author myself, his rich storytelling, excellent characterization and frankly amazing world-building makes him the kind of author that I would love to have a chance to collaborate with.

So, the final score for Once We Were Like Wolves:

For fantastic world-building, an engaging story, haunting imagery and excellent characterization. Also, for addressing (whether purposefully or not) my major issues with Book 1 and providing a story that gets going from Page 1. This is well-worth the read and you would be missing out if you didn’t.

The Sword & The Sorcerer

So, when you hear the words swords and sorcery, what do you think of? What’s the first image that comes to your mind?

It’s a Frazetta painting, isn’t it? Or is it Boris Vallejo instead? Go on, you can say it. It won’t hurt my brain too much.

Okay, I lied. It will and it did hurt my brain.

Not that Frazetta wasn’t a talented artist or anything, and Boris Vallejo certainly knows his stuff, but this is why the swords and sorcery genre is on life-support! What started out in the 1930s with Kull (NOT Kevin Sorbo) and Conan (NOT Arnold Schwarzeneggar) and Solomon Kane degenerated into a mess of beefcake and T&A. The imagery became associated with it, mediocre writers clambered aboard like so many rats aboard a ship, and slowly eroded its legitimacy until the phrase swords and sorcery became synonymous with crap fiction that resides at the bottom of a used bookstore’s 50-cent bin.

I’m sure my view of history is skewed. Maybe the crap writers got on board first and the imagery came later, but there is an undeniable curl of the lip and sneer that comes on the faces of even the most geeky fantasy readers when you say those three words.

I like swords and sorcery. I love the old Conan stories (you can find Howard’s novel, Red Nails, for free on Project Gutenberg), Moorcock’s Elric stuff is good, and my absolute favorite is the Kane books written by Karl Edward Wagner, who was a true disciple of the genre.

What makes swords and sorcery different from other fantasy fiction? Epic fantasy suffers from ‘farm-boy’ syndrome, where the son of a blacksmith or some other ‘lowly’ profession turns out to be a great hero and grows up to save the world. (Read the backs of some fantasy books the next time you’re at a bookstore. It’s almost sort of revolting how many of Book 1-s carry this description.) It’s full of sprawling plots, monstrous casts, world-wide travels, and world-changing conclusions.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with epic fantasy. I happen to love it a lot – well, the good stuff at least. (There’s not nearly enough good stuff.) I’m just trying to draw a contrast here.

S&S, on the other hand, is tightly-focused. The cast is smaller, the stage is smaller. If epic fantasy is a Broadway show, S&S is a quiet municipal theater putting on some stunning drama with actors you wouldn’t know from anyone else on the street. S&S focuses (usually) on one central character, the hero, who undergoes his trials and suffers but comes out on top because he’s the hero, dammit. Conan of Cimmeria became King of Aquilonia but quit when it got too boring. He killed dinosaurs, discovered the ruins of ancient civilizations, met disadvantaged deities and more. Wagner’s Kane, on the other hand, was cursed by an insane god to live forever, and live forever he did among forgotten civilizations, brewing wars and fighting the machinations of dark gods, all for his own gain in the end. Kane was a Chessmaster (WARNING! WARNING! THAT LINK GOES TO TVTROPES.COM – if you don’t know what it is, do NOT CLICK unless you’re prepared to spend several hours not accomplishing anything) in the most basic sense, twisting everything and everyone toward his own ultimate goals.

In the past year or two, I have seen the tiniest hints of a revival of the S&S genre. I read Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles and those definitely have the flavor, and a few other books have been described that way as well, though I’ve yet to have the chance to read them. I hope to see more of it, because I see fiction drifting away from the hero. With the success of George Martin’s Ice & Fire we’re starting to see more muddled, political fantasy which doesn’t really have a hero. Now, I like Mr. Martin’s work a lot, but it still makes me long for a real hero. Unfortunately (SPOILERS, SPECULATION) I believe that hero was Rhaegar Targaryen, and he died at the Trident.

Now, to tie it all back to me like any good narcissistic blogger: The Arbiter Codex is not strictly swords & sorcery. Elegy could be classified as such, because it is solely D’Arden’s story. Others may not possess all of the necessary qualifiers, but one thing’s for sure, that heart of adventure – strange places, strange things, and the struggle of a hero against impossible odds – will continue to be there.

SOPA: The Internet Protests

This will be short. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Wikipedia, Google and other major sites across the Internet are protesting a bill in Congress known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

This bill threatens to make 3rd parties liable for user-created infringing content, threatens the DNS protocol that the web uses to turn http://www.google.com into an IP address so you can get there, and supplant the already-abused DMCA takedown process in favor of unilateral censorship of websites when they are accused of even linking to infringing content, all because the entertainment industry keeps having their best years ever… Uh, I mean, keeps getting ‘destroyed’ by piracy.

I’ve previously given my stance on piracy, so I won’t repeat it here. As an independent content creator, this bill scares the daylights out of me. Why should I be liable for comments made on my blog? What if my work should become popular (a guy can dream, right?), and somebody with deep pockets decides they don’t like me making money and accuses me of infringement, killing my way to connect with my readers?

Sure, that’s an extreme scenario (and a fairly unlikely one in my case) but the bottom line is, though the provisions of this bill are targeted at ‘rogue’ foreign sites, there is a fair amount of precedent for well-intentioned laws to be abused. The provisions of SOPA (and the matching Senate bill, PROTECT IP) go too far in their desperate quest to drive more money into the coffers of large media conglomerates. The Internet is the greatest invention in the history of humankind since the printing press, at least. Corporate greed should not be allowed to put an end to this wacky, wonderful, crazy thing that we’ve got here, with all its cats and rants and the bugs and the amazing people who create just for the sake of creating – can-fiction authors who know they’ll never see a dime, hilarious pweb videos and both the best and worst of the human race all put out there for everyone to see.

OK, so this wasn’t as short as I planned. Anyway, I stand in full support of Wikipedia, Google, Wired and more when I say these bills must be stopped.

Good day.

Amusing

So it seems that a post I made a few months ago – My Dungeon, Your Dragon – an essay I wrote on cooperative storytelling via D&D – is quite close to the name of a new web series, causing my blog to get a lot of what I assume are unintentional hits.

I find this unexpectedly hilarious.

I just hope the series is actually good, so I don’t get people leaving comments telling me about how the show sucks, when I actually have nothing at all to do with it. xD

Progress on Legacy continues forward. I’m really enjoying everything that Scrivener has to offer, and so far it’s done a bang-up job keeping me on track. I did discover an entire subplot to help build momentum at the beginning, but I am still heading along the path which will follow the outline of scenes that I devised, which is a vast improvement in my eyes.

I will be interested to see what happens when I am looking back at the completed project. How close will I have been to the outline? Were there any scenes I simply decided not to use?

This project is really also a process of discovery for me, trying to bolster my weaknesses as a writer and utilize my strengths to their highest potential. Can I pull it off? Well, it’s going pretty well so far. Let’s hope it stays that way!!