Monday, August 31, 2015

My 5 Favourite Non-Wrestling Podcasts

A while back I wrote a post about my favourite podcasts hosted by pro-wrestlers. Since some of you may not be pro-wrestling fans (to which I have to ask - why not??), I decided to follow up with some other fun podcasts that don't feature people kicking or pile-driving each other.

Hopefully you all know what a podcast is, right? The name comes from an "iPod Broadcast," as it's a form of digital media you can download and listen to on your MP3 player. It's basically a radio program, but nowadays anyone can record one and put it out on the Internet for the world to hear. They are produced by major media corporations, celebrities and regular folks in their basement, and the quality and topics vary spectacularly, since anyone with a microphone and a computer can create one.  I listen to a lot of podcasts (while jogging as well as at work since many of my tasks are data-entry type deals that don't require a lot of concentration), and below you'll find a few of my favourites. I also highlight an episode or two of each to give you a good taste to get started.

All of these have their own sites where you can listen directly, as well as being available on iTunes (my preferred method of listening) as well as several other feeds. Find whichever one works best for you!

Catlike Reflexes
iTunes Link

Full disclosure - I personally know many of the people involved in this one, so maybe I'm biased, but it's still a lot of fun to listen in on a gang of smart funny people joking about nerd stuff. It's basically a round table of like-minded geeky folks riffing on a different topic every week: movies, comics, video games and other pop culture references. It's recorded live with everyone in the room and the audio quality is top notch - it often feels like you're just sitting at a party, listening in on a fun conversation.

Will you learn anything? Probably not. But it's fun and hilarious and it's an entertaining way to spend 30-45 minutes. Not all podcasts need to be serious interviews. As a busy guy without the disposable time to indulge in my nerd pursuits, I can live vicariously through them as they talk about all the best comic books and video games and that I'm missing out on. Or, if you're the kind of person who DOES follow web comics and Steam games, you can listen in and then argue with the hosts over their opinions on social media.

Best Episode: Zombie Planning - The gang shares their plans for how to survive the inevitable Zompocalypse.

Grim Tidings
iTunes Link

Do you like fantasy, particularly so-called "Grimdark" fantasy? Rob and Phil have your hookup! Two up-and-coming authors share news and stories about the sub-genre of Grimdark, but most importantly they also feature a variety of interesting guests - mostly authors but also publishers, designers and anyone else remotely connected to fantasy fiction - to provide candid interviews about their craft and the genre. They feature not only up-and-coming indy authors (from around the world, no less) but they also get high-profile guests like Victor Milan and R.A. Salvatore. The Salvatore show drops sometime in September and I think will be a huge deal for the show. This program is rapidly developing a big following and is definitely one to follow if you're into writing and/or fantasy fiction.

Best Episode: Whatever their latest one is, they improve every week. But if you're looking for one to start with, try their interviews Victor Milan, Dave de Burgh or Peter Newman. They're all great choices.

PodBros Promotions
iTunes Link

Formerly "The Guy Huddle," PodBros Promotions is the centerpiece in the ever-expanding PodBros network of podcasts, which features dozens of regular podcasts on a variety of topics, from geek fandom to comic books to sports to hunting to comedy and conspiracy theory and who knows what else; they seem to be adding new shows every other day.  Promotions focuses on promoting independent creators of all kinds, to give them a platform to tell the world a little about themselves and their projects. They've had writers, podcasters, artists, musicians (and yours truly) on board and if you're interested in just hearing different creators from all walks of life discuss their outlooks on how they make things and get their voices heard, this is the place to check out. And hey, you might learn about a new show, book or music that you'll come to really enjoy.

Best Episode: I could just tell you to listen to my episode, but really my favourite was their interview with Jack Wallen (Episode 31: The Zombie Huddle), a very successful independent author whose career I aspire to emulate.

iTunes Link

This one may be less interesting to non-Canadians, but it isn't just a Canadian news program. This is an exercise in media criticism, questioning how and why the media reports on current events the way they do. The topics noted journalist Jesse Brown reports on can only be covered on a podcast because mainstream news outlets wouldn't touch his stories with a ten-foot pole. Investigating bribery and government manipulation in the media, cover-ups, ethics in journalism - he touches on everything. It's not just some conspiracy theory nuts, either; Jesse interviews respected journalists, writers and media personalities about real current events and stories, asking questions no one else will ask. If you're at all interested in how we consume media (and Canadian news and politics in particular) it's very fascinating stuff.

Best Episode: His interview with comedian Scott Thompson. I know, I know, he's had interviews with Anonymous and talked about all kinds of serious and important topics, but I'm a sucker for Scott Thompson. The only reason his podcast (The Scott Free Podcast) didn't make my list is because it's updated so sporadically.

One Shot
iTunes Link

There are a lot of podcasts out there about table-top role-playing games, and recording of people playing roleplaying games (I mean A LOT), but they all suck. This is the only one I've found I can listen to. Not only does it not suck, it may also be my favourite podcast, period.

For those of you familiar with these games, you know how much fun it can be sitting around a table with your friends and acting out the ridiculous adventures of your make-believe characters. The folks at One Shot take that interaction and turn it into an art-form. Their table is filled with actors, comedians and performers of all kinds (not all, but enough to urge the table along) and they turn the game into a performance that other people can listen to and enjoy. I have honestly never laughed so hard at a podcast as I do at some of the antics these guys and girls get up to. A role-playing session is very much like acting out a little play, and that's exactly what these folks create: It's like listening to an old-timey radio play, and it's absolutely glorious. Even if you're not familiar with role-playing games at all, check out an episode or two of One Shot to see what a perfect game should look like (at least in my humble opinion).

Best Episodes: The Dungeon World series (a version of Dungeons & Dragons, episodes 29-31) or Inspectres (a riff on Ghostbusters, episodes 70-71). Both made me laugh so hard I had tears running down my face. I was listening to them at work praying no one would ask me what was so funny. I hoped they would just assume my grandfather died or something.

*  *  *

Hey all, don't forget I'm currently crowdfunding my next book in a vain attempt to get it picked up by The Nerdist. More info about it here, or you can go directly to Inkshares to support.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pre-Order My Book and Help Me Win a Publishing Contract

I just posted my latest work-in-progress on Inkshares, a crowd-funding site for publishing. Here's how it works: You pitch your book idea and post excerpts on the site, and try to convince readers to pre-order the book. If you hit a certain threshold of pre-orders, Inkshares will pay for the editing, design, printing and marketing for the book.

It's a fascinating model that seems like a win for all parties involved. The author (potentially) gets their book published without the personal cost of self-publishing or the humiliating obstacle course of finding a traditional publisher. The reader is only charged if the threshold is met and the book goes to print. And the publisher (Inkshares) has a guaranteed number of presales on the book before they even accept the manuscript so they know that they can cover their investment in the project.

Inkshares say they can get their books into many major book sellers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and numerous independent bookstores. They also claim their are options for publishing overseas in other languages and even selling movies rights, but those are pale in comparison to the true reason I'm signing up.

The biggest reason that I decided to so this right now is that they're currently running a contest in conjunction with pop culture powerhouse The 5 books with the most pre-orders by September 30th in the Fantasy & Science Fiction categories will automatically get published, even if they don't meet their thresholds. More importantly, the folks at the Nerdist will pick their favourite book out of the top five to be backed and endorsed by, becoming the first book in The Nerdist publishing imprint with all the perks and glory it entails.

So now I implore you, all my faithful readers: Help me win this contest so I can get an interview with Chris Hardwick on The Nerdist Podcast. Sure, publishing my book is great, but my true life's ambition is eat a burrito with the son of Bowling Hall of Famer Billy Hardwick.

This man's son is the first face you see after your favourite character bites it on The Walking Dead.
My project, tentatively titled "Hell Comes to Hogtown" is now live at Inkshares. The entire first chapter is available as a free preview so you can determine if you like my style of writing. I would love it if you would pre-order it and tell all your friends, but if you just "Follow" the book to increase it's profile on the main page, that would be great. Even if you tell all your friends and spread the word, that would be great. Maybe one of them would like it?

Anyway, here is the (very) short pitch of what the book's about:

A comic book nerd and a pro-wrestler try to clear their names in a kidnapping while evading a bloodthirsty demon hobo.

It's a comic horror/dark fantasy in the vein of Christopher Moore. If that sounds like something up your alley, please check out the page and show your support!

(Also, if you have any better ideas for names for the book, I am open to suggestion)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The First Money I Ever Made As a Writer

I threw this factoid out in a random comment reply, but I realized it was a good enough story that I should probably share the whole thing.

I mentioned last week that I had received my first royalty payments from Amazon, but what I neglected to mention was that those few bucks were not actually the first money I ever made from writing. It was the first money I had made in about 20 years, though, and the first that wasn't - for lack of a better word - shady.

You see, in high school I wrote for a "literary magazine" called the Manifesto. It was a student run project, completely written and produced by our 11th Grade class. I did all the layouts and typesetting not just because I was the fastest typist but because I didn't trust anyone else to do it properly (I was a self-publishing control freak even back then). I was also the defacto treasurer: Since I was in charge of getting the covers printed so I held onto our meager funds to pay for printer ink and photocopies. I think we charged like 50 cents an issue and didn't sell many copies, so it's not like we were talking William Randolph Hearst publishing money here.

This is the cover of the Christmas edition that started the problem.
Colour prints cost a fortune back in the day.

Anyway, at the end of the school year there was like $5.25 in coins left in our printing "account" (which was actually a sandwich baggie under my bed). I held onto it through the Summer thinking we would need it in the Fall, but for whatever reason the magazine never got off the ground again. Maybe because I got a girlfriend and had other things on my mind. But I still had that bag of coins, and I held onto it all through the school year. When I was leaving home to go away to University, I found the bag and wracked my brain for all of about ten seconds on what to do with it:

"I did more work on the magazine than anyone else. Screw it, I'm keeping it."

I think I bought a Coke and some chips or something with it. That was the illustrious start to my "professional" writing career: blatant thievery. I regretted it afterward - while I did do a lot of work on the magazine (contributing many stories in addition to the layout, editing, etc), I probably should have shared the money with the other guys. So if any of you are reading this - Morgan, Greg, André, Steve, Chris, probably some others I don't remember - I apologize, and I owe you each like 65 cents. If you give me your addresses I'll send you an email money transfer.

André earned at least 65 cents for this sweet-ass drawing of our Social Studies teacher.
As an amendment to the above story, during my final year of High School (remember, the year after we did the magazine), a bunch of guys got together during the yearbook photo sessions for a picture of the Manifesto team. For some reason I got super pissed at this because it wasn't part of our senior year and I thought it was dishonest to say it was (also remember, this was before I stole the treasury money). It didn't help that they had a guy pose in the picture that had nothing to do with the magazine just because he was trying to get in as many yearbook photos as possible. I think he's even in the picture of the girl's basketball team. My point is, you totally can tell I'm pissed in the photo, I have the grumpiest, nastiest look on my face. They even put my name down as "Editor-in-Chief" to try and appease me but it didn't help any.

I was a surly dick as a teenager and photographic evidence of that fact has been preserved for posterity.
Did you actually think I was going to show you a yearbook picture of myself? Fuuuuuuck that.
As an amendment to the above amendment, going back over these old issues for the pictures reminded me of the dumb and hilarious shit that we did as kids in high school. The magazine was basically in response to the terrible "official" high school newspaper, and we spent a lot of our time and energy making subtle (and not so subtle) digs at "The Man." I've got some great and embarrassing stories I'm going to have to share in some future post - maybe even a whole series.

For instance, our cover artist was really going through a "hippie" phase at this point.
How about you? How low have you sunk in the name of art or making a buck? I prefer stories that include both.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

GUEST POST COVER REVEAL: Piper Morgan Joins the Circus by Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris is a children's author and all around great person. Her latest book, Piper Morgan Joins the Circus, will be released soon by Simon & Schuster. Stephanie asked me to help show off the snazzy cover for the book as well as get people hyped for what looks like a really fun new kids series.

So without further ado, here's Stephanie & Piper!

The Cover!

Cover illustration by Lucy Fleming.

The Book!

When Piper Morgan has to move to a new town, she is sad to leave behind her friends, but excited for a new adventure. She is determined to have fun, be brave and find new friends.

And after learning her mom’s new job will be with the Big Top Circus, Piper can’t wait to learn all about life under the big top, see all the cool animals, and meet the Little Explorers, the other kids who travel with the show. She’s even more excited to learn that she gets to be a part of the Little Explorers and help them end each show with a routine to get the audience on their feet and dancing along!

But during Piper’s grand debut, her high kicks and pointed toes don't go quite as planned. After causing a dance disaster, she has to prove to everyone--especially queen of the Little Explorers, Lexie--that she belongs in the spotlight.

The Author!

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the upcoming Piper Morgan series. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive.

The Links!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG August: I Just Realized I Don't Know What I'm Doing

"So, how's that novel coming along?"

It's one of those things every writer hates to hear, and it's doubly worse when you ask it of yourself, which is something I've been doing every day for the past month.

See, when I put out Ten Thousand Days earlier this year, I had a big plan on exactly when and how I was going to release my next book. I took what I learned on that release and built a schedule on how the next one was going to work. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to keep to it.

I can make up excuses as to why it's not coming along, but the honest and biggest roadblock is simply me and my relationship with the book.

I've written 8 novels, of which Ten Thousand Days is the only one I've let out of The Closet. For all but one of the others, I simply wrote it for fun because I wanted to see if I could do it. I wrote only for myself and a handful of people who I knew might read it. I would finish the first draft, made a few edits here and there, but then it was done and I moved on. I didn't go back and go in depth into the mechanics of the book.

My current work-in-progress is the first time I've ever written something knowing that I would make it available for public consumption, and seriously considered that I have to make this something that people will enjoy reading.

I'm not thinking about catering to a particular market or preference, but I am suddenly acutely aware of all these things I've never paid much attention to: Are motivations consistent? Is dialogue believable? Does the progression of action make sense? When I wrote in the past, I just wrote what was fun and what I thought was enjoyable to read. I never considered how people were going to read this and judge me.

You know we all do it.
For instance, yesterday I had to cut out an awesome scene that I really loved. I thought it was hilarious and really fed well into the next chapter, but the truth of the matter was it made no sense. The characters shouldn't have been doing what they were doing in that moment. It was just unbelievable and nonsensical. Not to say the book is hyper-realistic - far, far, from it - but the logistics of the scene just didn't fit into the story. It survived the first two drafts but it kept eating away at me and I had to go back and remove it. It sucks, because now I have to replace it with a much less interesting exposition scene, but I really think it has to be done.

And that's been my feeling of the whole manuscript lately. Is any of this any good? Will anyone like this? I've spent months working on this, but am I wasting my time? I thought I knew the basics of what I'm doing, but I've been questioning it a lot lately...

Anyway, I'm just about to the point where I can send the manuscript out to my beta readers - that should happen this week. I'll find out then if this book is worth continuing or if I should just chuck the whole thing. I'll be sure to keep you posted...

So just we don't finish on a completely negative note, there were a couple of good things to report from last month.
  • Ten Thousand Days is now officially available for purchase in paperback form, and amazingly a couple of people actually bought it. It's exactly the same as the eBook version, but I guess there are still a few holdouts who prefer to hold a dead tree in their hands. I also sold a few more eBooks on Amazon and Kobo during July as well, presumably thanks to the price drop and promotion.
  • I received my first royalty payments from Amazon for my first month of book sales in May. It certainly won't buy me a new car, but it covered dinner for myself and my wife. So not only am I a published author, but I'm a paid one as well. 
Maybe with the next book I can cover drinks, too.

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Writers post their thoughts on their blogs, talking about their doubts and the fears they have conquered. It's a chance for writers to commiserate and offer a word of encouragement to each other. Check out the group here.
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