• Tag Archives art
  • On Having a Brick in Your Head

    There are days when your head feels like it’s filled with sand or some sort of concrete lump instead of a brain. It makes you tired and you don’t feel like writing or drawing, and all you want to do is take a nightcap and go to sleep.

    But you have to work anyway.

    You have to.

    Books and art don’t make themselves. You let yourself slide one day, then the next time it becomes two days, then three, then four. Soon, you’ve got nothing to show for your year.

    Brick in the head or not, the work needs to get done. No way around it. We live in a society where a lot of people don’t want to work for something. Too bad. Whether you feel like it or not, work is a required part of life and, especially, in the art business where it’s highly competitive.

    Do the work.

    Lose the brick.


  • Why the Standard “Author Platform” Doesn’t Work

    Social MediaThis article was originally published June 5, 2017 on the Operation Awesome Blog.

    All right, let’s talk straight. Specifically, let’s talk author platforms. You’ve read the articles. You’ve been told how important they are. You’ve been given a list of what to include. Heck, you’ve even taken all that information to heart and acted upon it.

    And the book sales aren’t happening.

    So you keep at it, hoping one day it’ll all pay off. Day in and day out you bust your tail on social media and the Web only to keep missing your goal sales-wise. Or, perhaps, you hit it some months and others you wonder what it’s all for. Frustration sets in and you don’t know what’s going on. You did what Author A said. You got your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your blog, your Instagram and all the others—yet still you’re just another author voice shouting into the storm.

    Here’s the issue: you’re following someone else’s advice. Worse, you’re following it to the letter and in the game of publishing, following the author platform advice to a T is a death sentence.

    This is why:

    ▪ Publishing is a giant crapshoot. There is no sure-fire way to do anything. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or trying to sell you something. While true there are basics and groundwork you can lay, that’s all those things are. Yes, your standard author platform recipe should be part of your game plan. That’s no different than saying you want to sell your book but you know you can’t sell your manuscript as is. You need to make it pretty and put it between two covers before you can do so. That’s a given. The basics.

    ▪ The standard author platform isn’t working for you is because you aren’t making it yours. You’re making it like someone else’s or, simply, following the basic recipe without adding the personal tender loving touch that makes your cookies taste better than the other guy’s.

    This is how to fix the issue, written step-by-step, but don’t treat it like an instruction manual. Customization, you know?

    Step one:

    Lay down the standard recipe. All good baking has a fairly consistent base across the board. Have your Facebook page, your Twitter, blog, Instagram and all that. Customize each page and make it about you and your books then commit to a Web plan where you’re active on each on a regular basis.

    Step two:

    Start adding the TLC. Don’t make your Facebook page like Joe Famous’s. Make it like yours.

    I hate the word “brand” when it comes to this author stuff. It turns us into a product and, frankly, art is never about product. It can become a product, but should never be a product. See the difference? This world is sickly loaded with consumerism and people pushing products non-stop twenty-four hours a day. Most of us have tuned out the racket. But what draws us and captures our attention? Unique items and unique people. This so-called “brand” you’re supposed to become? How about voice? After all, your voice is what makes your art what it is to begin with. Why turn that off when sharing it with people?

    So . . .

    Format and design your pages to reflect you and your books. Don’t be all authorish. Don’t be all bookish. Don’t make people feel like they’re in a stuffy library when they visit you on the Web. In other words, don’t be so professional you come off as cold. Cold people suck.

    Into baking or crafts? Build that into your page designs and content.

    Into superheroes and comics? Put up some indie superhero character art as part of your banner and pictures.

    Into sci-fi and tech? Give your page(s) a mechanical flare and make the electro-junkies squee on the inside when they visit you.

    Into horror? Spook it up, man.

    Get the idea?

    Step three:

    With your on-line base of operations already established, leave it alone for a bit and start playing around with other marketing ideas.

    Some items . . .

    ▪ Set up book signings. Table at conventions. Hook up with some craft shows and flea markets. Arrange a book tour, say, local at first then, depending on success, look at traveling out-of-province/state, even country.

    ▪ Set yourself up as a unique property at these events. Don’t just have a plain table. Add some posters and signage. Add some props. Display your books in a pyramid-like tower. Stand out. Fool around. Don’t be the lonely author who sits there with a handful of books laid out boring and flat in front of them, longingly gazing at the passersby, your eyes pleading, “Please come talk to me. Please come buy my book.” I mean, you took all this time to personalize your on-line presence, why wouldn’t you do the same for your off-line one?

    ▪ Casually bring up you’re an author into everyday conversations. You can subtly work your pitch into whatever you’re talking about with someone—choose appropriately, of course—and at a bare minimum leave them with a business card. But have books on-hand or in your car in case a sale is to be made. Trust me, it happens.

    ▪ Go to open mic nights and share story excerpts or poetry. This is your chance to pimp your work, network and perhaps get hired for new projects.

    ▪ Do workshops.

    And a thousand other things. These examples are to make this point: lay your groundwork—that author platform—then play around with other marketing avenues. You’ll be surprised what works. You’ll also be surprised at what doesn’t because what works for Author A doesn’t always work for Author B.

    Book marketing is all about customization. It’s about finding what works for you and putting energy into those things while discarding the things that don’t after you’ve given them a fair chance (i.e. six months to a year or something). And you know what? Even that thing you did that didn’t work for your first novel might be the goldmine that works for your second one. Each book is different. Even each book in a series is different.

    Authors want the easy way out. “I just want to write,” they say. Well, if that were really true, you wouldn’t be publishing as well, right?

    Or they want to be told what to do: that standard author platform recipe. Come on. How can you be so creative in fiction then totally useless outside of it? Don’t you know your life is a story and so is your book career? That creative flare that you put on the page can be used off of it, too. Stop thinking inside of your book and start thinking outside of it.

    After this article is drafted, my plan for the day is to revisit my platform, one that I’ve already customized to me over the years—self-publishing since 2004—and take inventory on what’s working and what isn’t. I’m going to make some changes and try new things. Going to add my own TLC instead of relying on the standard Author Platform recipe.

    I’m eager to see how these cookies turn out. I already know my zombie chocolate chip ones are dead ringers for a win and my Axiom-man cookies are super.

    Screw the standard author platform. It’s boring and useless. But your own? The one with your personal touch?

    That’s something special.

    Get to it.


  • Galaxy Comics – Free Comic Book Day Appearance

    Once again, the gracious folks over at Galaxy Comics are hosting a creator showcase the same day as Free Comic Book Day (May 6). I’ll be there this Saturday not only checking out the free comics and emptying my subscription box for my take-homes, but also tabling on the second floor with superhero and monster books, and possibly some art. Other great Winnipeg creators will be there as well.

    Please come down and join us as we celebrate a medium we love so much and discover new art and comics you might have never seen before.

    Galaxy Comics is located at 200-1109 Henderson Highway here in Winnipeg.

    (Oh, by the way, the Axiom-man/Auroraman: Frozen Storm Kickstarter ends tomorrow–Thursday, May 4–so please support that, too. Thank you.)


  • Why You Should Stop Selling Your Book (and Do Something Better)

    Getting Down and Digital DrivethruThis article was originally published July 7, 2016 on the Operation Awesome Blog.

    Now, repeat after me: selling your book is bad.

    Very bad.

    “Wait . . . what?” you say. “If I don’t sell my book, who’s going to read it? Isn’t selling my book and making money what authors are supposed to do after publication?”

    I don’t know. Is it?

    If you want to ensure your book won’t sell, sell your book.

    Here’s what I mean:

    The on-line world is loaded with authors whining and begging people to, “Buy my book!” They form groups on Facebook, which amount to nothing more than broke writers marketing their books to other broke writers. They tweet purchase links all day and hit up social networks with ads . . . then cry at night because it did absolutely nothing for them.

    How do you get a following these days with everyone and their dog writing a book, publishing it and calling themselves an author?

    Or how does someone who starts from scratch come out of nowhere and move copies of their work without shoving it in people’s faces? (And we’ve all seen them: those authors whom we’ve never heard of move a gazillion copies.)

    To build a following, marketing your book will get you nowhere. Sure, you might catch a few sales and feel like a success story all your own—and rightly you should, to be honest—but to keep those sales going and to build a readership, you need to switch up your game plan.

    You need to start marketing yourself.

    Some people call this branding. What are we? Cattle? I don’t want a brand for my books. I don’t want my books to be what I’m known for. I want me to be what I’m known for. When I’m dead and gone, that’s the thing that matters, not how many books I sold.

    Stop chasing the almighty dollar and start chasing the reader.

    You don’t want to be known as that distant author behind a desk somewhere. You don’t want to be that high-and-lofty literary guest at some convention. You want to be that down-to-earth extra awesome person who’s a familiar face at shows and signings. You want to be that friendly and approachable on-line personality who’s a class act and is genuinely interested in interacting with their readers.

    “But all I want to do is write!”

    Then get out of the business, frankly. Or, if you must write, then don’t publish. As much as I’m an art-first-money-later guy, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to make a few bucks off what I do. The motivation to make cash isn’t to be rich, though. I don’t care about that stuff. I just want to make enough to live on. But I can’t do that selling my book. I have to sell me.

    Let me break it down for you in really simple terms:

    When you first started writing, you went through a lot of trial and error and a lot of drafts. As you wrote a few books, you noticed your style started changing and at one point you reached that magical book where everything was different and you found your voice. Since then, your voice has been your style. Writing is easier, editing is easier, coming up with stories is easier, too.

    This applies to your marketing efforts. You need to find your voice. You can’t just be another author spamming the world. There are ads everywhere for everything. People ignore that stuff. But they don’t tune out unique voices . . . especially if that voice has something of value to say. This is how followings are made and grown. You become known as the author “who’s like that.” Not the author “who’s like so-and-so . . . and a million others.”

    I’ve been publishing since 2003, and indie publishing since 2004. I’ve seen it all. People have come and gone. There’s been successes and failures. Ups and downs. Yet there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout all of it: the authors who found their marketing voice are the ones who are still doing well today, who have a following, and have cultivated loyal readers based on who they are and not just their work.

    To be clear, I’m not diminishing the importance of putting out good books. Sometimes that can indeed be enough to build a readership (i.e. it initiates word-of-mouth, etc.). But if you’re an author lost to the din of the flooded publishing world, writing a damn good book is probably not going to cut it. You need to get yourself out there and expose yourself to readers by showing them who you are behind the page.

    Some writers niche themselves and become known for a certain thing or a certain personality. Others are more broad-brush. Whatever the case, simply blasting ads everywhere isn’t going to do anything for you. But if you meet people, whether on-line or off-, and not just use it as a means to pitch them your book, you’ll be surprised at how many copies you’ll move.

    Put the people first, your book/comic/whatever second. This is so important. This about reputation and, at least for me, I never, ever buy books from people who blatantly shove it in my face. I don’t care how good the cover is or what the synopsis is about. As a reader, I want to be cared for. I want to know this isn’t just a money game to the writer.

    Art first, book(s) second.

    And if you’ve somehow missed the point of everything above, all I’m saying is be yourself, share yourself, then share info about your book after that.

    Connect with readers first, then point them to the page.

    We good?


  • Why I Quit the Publishing Industry and Opted to Just Make Books Instead

    bookshelfmar162016Well, we’ve really done it, haven’t we?

    And we’re all to blame, every one of us.

    Writers, editors, publishers, marketing departments.

    Indie or traditional, we’re all guilty.

    Some call this the Golden Age of Publishing and the best time to be a writer.

    Still trying to figure out why. That is, why in the truest sense. Sure, the arguments are it’s easy to get your work out there and some of have made a goldmine. That’s not reason enough to give this era of publishing the labels we have.

    For those who don’t know, I started writing my first book in 2000. I published it via a vanity press in 2003. Starting in 2004, I began self-publishing all my novels through my own company, my traditional “outbound” sales being short stories. Being independent back then was considered taboo and the kiss of death. If you publicly declared you published your own work, at least in writing and publishing circles, you weren’t a real writer and eBooks weren’t real books. You weren’t even a real publisher.

    It bothered me for a few years, but then I didn’t care and proudly flaunted what I did. If you didn’t like it, too bad.

    I made a name for myself in small press circles and became a minor local celebrity. Back in the beginning, back when I was writing that first book, there were a couple of months where I dreamed of fame and fortune. Not anymore. Don’t want it. But that’s another blog entry.

    As my career progressed, I’ve seen writers come and go, publishers rise and fall, and the industry drastically change. I’ve made amazing friendships and networked with so many people, some of whom are very well known. I’ve stuck to the small press by choice and have dealt with the major league publishers while my publishing company was in full swing and I worked with other authors.

    These days, I’m alone again. By choice. My meltdown in 2014 led to that and, in some ways, I’m still recovering.

    That’s a quick history of where I’m coming from.

    Back to why I decided to quit the publishing business: to be honest, I won’t no part of it. Not in the way it is right now. Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to a several writers about how things are going. I’m paraphrasing, but they all said the same thing: not very good. Can’t get readers.

    Over the months and recent years leading up to this past little while, I’ve heard the same thing. It’s getting progressively harder and harder to reach people and books can no longer–for most–be one’s sole source of income. And I’m not even talking massive money, to be clear. For many, making a thousand bucks off one’s books in a year is doing well. But to make a livable wage of, say, twenty or thirty thousand? Forget it.

    Sure, there are genre exceptions. Erotica’s a big one. I know a guy who’s main love is horror, but that doesn’t pay the bills, so he writes pornographic books to make up the difference. Certain romance genres are also big. But other genre fiction from average Writer Joe? Forget it.

    The market is flooded. Everyone is publishing a book these days, quality be damned. And those who do put in the time and effort and monetary investment for quality are just nameless voices on the wind. Some said the cream would rise to the top. I have yet to see it, and that statement was made years ago.

    Heck, some readers are stopping reading independent titles altogether because they’ve been let down too many times. You don’t have a name that’s recognizable and one that can be counted on to deliver the goods? Back of the line, please.

    That opening line to this entry? It’s true. Here’s what happened:

    A certain on-line juggernaut was a good place to get books. There were many others, but this big on-line place was a favorite. They offered a few breaks, saved you some shipping, discounted things by a couple of bucks. It became a common place to refer people to. We all sent them there. Over and over again. The company grew–exploded–and came out with their own publishing platform. That caught like wildfire and stories of near-instant millionaires tickled the ears of writers everywhere. A little more time passed and everybody was publishing and everybody was referring people to this one place. Meanwhile, over the years on the side, other companies couldn’t compete and started shutting down. (Ever wonder why you go into a bookstore and a good chunk of it is dedicated to things other than books? There you go. Or what of the smaller publishing houses whose main bread and butter is government grants and not book sales?) Options became limited. And us writers kept pushing one platform, one retailer. Throw a flooded market on top of that and now things are falling apart.

    (And you know it’s bad when you have big shot agents in NY telling you to self-publish instead.)

    Writers don’t know what to do and fail to realize they’ve ruined their own careers by betting the majority of their chips on one avenue. Mankind’s shortsightedness, right? Look at other writer blogs that talk about writing and publishing. What are most of the articles about? How to sell books, score big at a certain on-line place, manipulate charts and cheat your way to the top all in the name of the almighty dollar.

    Greed.

    Pride.

    Foolishness.

    Oh sure, even if you’ve scored massive right now–who cares? You’re screwing Future You. If you’re really in this business for the right reasons–that is, you’re an artist and need an outlet and want to share it with people while supporting yourself at the same time–you should know by now this is a marathon not a sprint. Yet writers are sprinting and scrambling and are getting frustrated all the while not paying attention to how their actions today will affect themselves tomorrow.

    Samhain Publishing is the recent high profile case of a publisher closing its doors. The reason? Like all businesses that have to say goodbye, they couldn’t fund the operation anymore. If you read their letter, which is on-line, the bulk of their sales came from one place and, when that market became tough, the money was no longer there to keep going.

    Side note: Even those who are making a killing at this–it’s not a killing at all because they have one main outlet, even one main format. Take that away and what’s left? Not much else. That’s not success, in my opinion. Yours might be different. Success in publishing comes from doing well in the majority of the markets, not just one. Anyway . . .

    Speaking generally, the mad dash for the dollar is the main culprit. Greed is the fall of mankind.

    I was at a bookstore recently and I was disgusted by what I saw. Nearly every book on the shelf looked just like the one next to it. Not a single one caught my eye. Sure, some had neat-sounding titles, but strictly the covers? It’s like walking into Moore’s to buy a suit. They’re pretty much all the same save for a few differences in how the lapels are cut. But that’s marketing. That’s the big machine brainwashing people into telling them what they want. Romance covers look like this, thriller covers look like that.

    Of course I realize I could very well be alone in this. My tastes are more into the unusual and books with covers that show genuine creativity and break boundaries are what get my attention. This goes for my comic book tastes, too.

    So again, the machine, the big ocean of publishing. I’m just one measly fish in all this but everyone else wants to cater to the masses. They forget that we programmed the masses to accept things a certain way by doing things a certain way over and over.

    Even books. We have genres. When a book’s genre is a snap to define, it’s marketable. Ask any writer who’s queried an agent or publisher. Have a different style of book where genres–even mediums–merge and it’s much, much harder. Seems we forgot people simply like stories and have instead forced those stories into little boxes. Romance here, thrillers there. This puts writers in boxes, too. Write a book that’s gonna sell. Another common mantra. So you write to genre, even to formula. That’s what readers expect, after all. Don’t shake things up. Don’t create anymore. Just follow the recipe and hopefully your cupcakes will turn out well.

    I got into this business all those years ago to tell stories. Being green and naive at the time, I knew about genre but didn’t know about genre. And, yeah, I’ve partly catered to it as time has gone on. Even played the money game and published what was popular. It was all unfulfilling. The extra bucks in my pocket didn’t fill that gap in my heart, the one that needed to express itself through simply telling a story.

    Over the years, I’ve tried to do new things in my fiction. Even my zombie stuff has gotten blasted because of some of the non-formulaic stuff I threw in there. Wanna give me a one-star review for that? Put me down. Or the first Axiom-man book. It’s a slow burn because I based it on real life and played it out as if the storyline happened in our world. No fast-paced Hollywood hero stuff.

    There were even times over the years where I was obsessed with landing a mass market deal so I could “make it.” There were other times where all the joy and fun of creating was gone and my books became a product and I was a factory. And, man, when a book loses its heart–it’s not a book anymore. Just words on a bunch of pages. That’s empty. That defeats point of even creating to begin with.

    These days, all I’m seeing is the majority of those in the business thinking nothing of the craft itself and instead thinking of the endgame, the product, the dollar. Search writers’ groups or your Twitter feed. Article after article on “formulas for success,” or “how to write a book that sells.”

    The immediate cash grab.

    (These formulas are all BS, by the way. There is no one right way because if there was, the secret would’ve gotten out by now and we’d all be doing it.)

    Authors are panicking because most rely on on-line sales and, well, there’s really only one place for those now, isn’t there? You remember whose fault it is.

    Just living in the now. Screw the Future You and, for quite a lot of you, you are that Future You right now and you’re taking it hard up you-know-where.

    As said, we’re all guilty.

    —–

    To wrap up, I just don’t want to be part of this business as it is. I don’t want my own creativity to be limited by outlet or genre. I don’t want to be an author brand or that writer who only does one thing. The point of art is to create without limits. Pick your medium. This is where you say, “Well, that might be, A.P., but if you want to survive in this business you have to play by the business’s rules.” And you’re right . . . but you also forget it’s actually us writers who make the rules.

    Except no one is going about trying to change them. A publisher is useless without you, remember?

    Imagine if we all started doing our own thing. Imagine if we didn’t play to genre or one platform or manipulate systems and writers everywhere flooded publishing offices with manuscripts that were excellent heart-filled stories that didn’t fall into a definable category. Chaos at first. A whole slew of rejections. But if it kept happening? The powers that be would have no choice but to take a second look and revise how they do business.

    Or . . .

    Imagine if every writer marketing their work got their heads around the truth that fostering box stores–on-line and off- –is a bad idea, and instead of handing their literary destiny over to a single entity, they diversified. Hmm . . . what if they led by example? What if their own purchases for anything in their lives were made outside the giants? What if they steered their readers toward direct sales or other outlets that don’t get as much attention? Small businesses would thrive again. Perhaps, even, people in general wouldn’t be corporate cogs and we’d all have fulfilling lives in terms of how we spent eight hours a day and the rewards we reaped from it beyond just the dollar sign.

    For years I said if the publishing industry continued down the path it was on, it would start to break. Now it’s happening. I know many writers who used to support themselves on their writing having to go and work outside the home again. I know of many small presses closing up shop because they can’t sustain themselves off of books.

    It seems creators in any medium don’t understand they hold all the cards. We can change this. We’ll need to take hits along the way and some will be financial. You’ll have to part with your precious cash. But in the long term? That Future You? They’ll thank you.

    As for me, I’m out. Gonna march completely to my own drummer now. Do things my way. Tell the stories I want to tell genre be damned. Break some rules. Put out books with covers that are simply cool instead of falling into marketing cliches. Even mix mediums and put out illustrated novel/graphic novel hybrids. These days I don’t rely on that on-line empire for my sales. Off-line and direct work very well for me. And this is good. If all my cards were in one deck and that deck goes away–and yeah, it could happen, guys, unless you know the future and aren’t telling me something–I’d have nothing.

    Anyway, you might call this career suicide.

    I call it career resurrection.

    I’m in this to be honest with my work, to be honest with who I am as a person, to be straight up with you and to be the real deal. Might also being the only guy doing it, too, which is fine.

    But, man, what a payoff.

    I’m not publishing books anymore. I’m making them. To publish them connects me to a business that’s dying. To simply make them and make art connects me to something that’s alive.

    And that’s so much better.


  • Canister X Book Review #16: The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino

    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    The Hospital Suite
    by John Porcellino
    5 out of 5

    This book is, quite simply, amazing. I’ve been a fan of John Porcellino’s work for several years and when this book arrived in the mail, I got to reading it as soon as I could. John’s honest portrayal of working through his illness and the aftermath that followed struck a chord with me on several levels. In fact, I just sent an email to John going into those things more in depth.

    On the cartooning front, John is a masterful cartoonist and storyteller. This book kept me gripped from beginning to end and the art within complimented the story John was telling.

    This book is highly recommended. Do yourself a favor: read it.


  • Canister X Book Review #14: Stargazer, Vol. 1 by Von Allan

    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Click Here to Order from Amazon.com
    Stargazer Volume 1
    by Von Allan
    5 out of 5

    After the passing of her grandmother, heartbroken Marni is having a hard time dealing with her loss. Her friends Sophie and Elora come to her side and try and comfort her. All Marni has to remember her grandmother by is a strange-looking artifact that looks more like an antique vacuum cleaner without the hose or cords than anything else.

    In an effort to get back to a normal life, Marni and her friends have a campout in the backyard and Marni brings the artifact with them into the tent. After a brief tussle, the artifact transports them to a mysterious world, tent and all. The three girls now need to find a way home. The question is how? Perhaps the cute robot they discover can help them. He seems pretty handy, giving them food and all, but he better act quick because a foul beast lurks somewhere in the dark and Marni and her friends will be doomed if they don’t stop it first.

    This is my first exposure to Von Allan’s work aside from what I’ve seen on his website (which I think I found while Googling Canadian cartoonists). I’m very pleased and Stargazer was better than I anticipated.

    The writing: very solid. Allan’s pacing is spot on and his delivery of information is succinct and gets you from point A to B without any clutter. I was very impressed with how he was able to convey what are very detailed story points, characters and the world they inhabit without him over-explaining everything. His word choice and placement does the work for you and tells you what you need to know when you need to know it.

    The art: Lately I’ve been falling in love with black-and-white comic books and Stargazer further convinced me that the black-and-white comic book medium is an arena that needs to be explored by comic book enthusiasts everywhere. Von Allan’s artwork is natural, shaded well, inked clearly and is detailed enough so you know what you’re looking at, without you getting lost in endless black lines. His proportions are bang on and regardless of the camera angle chosen, each scene unfolds smoothly and easily.

    The book: Well put together and well bound. I particularly enjoyed the non-standard size of the book (I think it was around 6×9 thereabouts) which made for easy handling when reading.

    Von Allan also included extras in the back: a character gallery (very cool posters here); plot outline; brainstorming sessions; and even a few pages of sample script. I’ve always been a fan of behind-the-scenes material for books and comics and Allan’s little package at the back of Stargazer was well put together.

    I’m looking forward to what will no doubt be a dynamite Volume Two from a talented storyteller.

    Keep ’em coming, Mr. Allan.


  • Take Up Your Pen Daily and Follow Me

    DSCF2971Note: This post was originally published on Jeffrey Allen Davis’s blog

    Take Up Your Pen Daily and Follow Me
    by
    A.P. Fuchs

    There are two kinds of writers when it comes to the Christian camp: those who are Christian authors and those who are authors that are Christian. The former is the writer who deliberately writes Christian fiction, stories with a Christian message and often with Christian characters. The latter is the writer who writes stories from a Christian worldview but doesn’t overtly share their faith via the stories they tell.

    I’m in the latter camp, though I have ventured into the first. The reason I’m in the latter is because—just the way my writing career started and has gone—my story ideas tend to fall in the secular category in terms of concept and execution as opposed to me sitting down and purposefully writing a story with a Christian message.

    Science fiction, fantasy, horror, superheroes—these are my genres. I’m a huge nerd and always have been. And while true there is such a thing as Christian speculative fiction, my characters tend to be your secular every-man instead of hardcore believers. I have written obvious Christian characters in the past, but doing so brings up a problem because if indeed a truly born-again Christian writer is going to write a truly born-again Christian character, he/she knows they need to be accurate in their portrayal of what a Christian really is. Simply writing a religious character, though that can have its merits, is a disservice from the Christian worldview because our aim is to convey truth as it is, not what man has made it out to be.

    In my work, I tend to provide Christian ideals via my secular characters while also showcasing their flaws and even, in some cases, their lack of religious conviction. Things like hope, love, perseverance, self-discipline and so on—items most of humanity agrees are good things, though all have root in Christian-Judeo teaching—are prevalent in my characters. I’ve found that if I make a truly Christian character, it tends to, at this stage in my career, be a stifle on showing a character’s humanity. To clarify, in Christian circles we are well aware that we all have faults big and small, but to the outside world, the image of a Christian is one who is righteous ninety-nine percent of the time. If that person screws up while preaching righteousness, then suddenly they’re a hypocrite and the reader has lost all faith in them. We see this in real life almost daily. I find it’s better given my particular stories to have characters with Christian traits as opposed to being outright religious.

    That’s not to say Christian characters can’t be well done, but on the whole, most of the time the Christian author is preaching to the choir and, well, have fun trying to interest a secular person into reading your stuff. No one likes being preached to, even Christians in some cases.

    However, my personal Christian sensibilities have informed my fiction starting late 2005 and onward. While there were glimpses of it before, in terms of story choices and presentation, there’s a certain code of conduct I have to follow and I believe these fall into three main areas: language, sex and violence.

    On language: Some of my very early work had a lot of cursing. Just where I was at at the time. As I continued writing and my heart changed, choice words were removed from my output and instead I found ways to not use bad words. Sometimes a simple, “He swore,” is enough. Other times I challenged myself to write around cursing as, to me, cussing in writing is lazy writing. I’m sure we can debate this but it seems it takes more creativity to come up with other ways to display disgust instead of four-letter words. I’m not talking about using lame soft words like “darnnit” and “oh fudge.” I’m talking about showing a character’s anger or disgust at a situation via their actions and accompanying phrases via creative writing instead of just throwing in a swear word. True, people in real life cuss all the time and, for the secular reader, such language doesn’t offend them. I get that from a let’s-go-for-realism point-of-view, but I can’t see how an author claiming to be Christian can include choice phrases and then preach righteousness off the page.

    Interestingly, I also have a flipside argument that is pro language in books, even from Christian writers. Before you call me a heretic, here me out. You have to ask yourself, what is a swear word? Why are some words dirtier than others? If you look at cursing over the course of human history, it’s gone through a lot of iterations. Long ago, instead of telling someone to blank-off, you’d tell them things like, “I hope you die a thousand deaths” or “May darkness be upon your family.” That was cursing and/or the swear phrases of the time. Of course, spiritually, such phrases are indeed cursing but walking down the street today, if you said that to someone, they’d probably look at you and go, “What?” So it seems that the reason cursing is a no-no amongst Christians is because it displays the heart-motive behind the words used. Frankly, if I told you to screw off, that’s the same as me telling you to F-off because in my heart I mean it the same way. If I stub my toe and yell out something dumb like “Cow patties” in anger, that’s the same as saying the other word. Again, it’s about the heart.

    For my own conviction, if I’m doing something around the house and tell someone I have a pile of blank to clean up, I don’t mean such a word in a malicious way nor is it directed at anyone, therefore I’m in the clear.

    But, again, there are certain expectations of the Christian from a worldly standpoint and so it’s best to refrain from swearing in fiction.

    On sex: From 2005 onward, there’s been no sex in my books. At most, it is implied (i.e. “They went to the bedroom”), but never graphically detailed. Sex in and of itself is a beautiful thing ordained by God for both procreation and recreation. God is pro sex. However, we humans have twisted and turned it into something else and, worse, have made it a source of entertainment in various mediums. The reason why sex as entertainment is out of bounds is because it incites lust, whether overtly like porn or a little less so via fiction. Is writing about sex wrong in and of itself? No. If someone asked me to give them an idea of what a sex session looked like and wanted me to write it and their motive was purely for education, I’d have no trouble with that. But, if I knew they’d use it as a source of lustful imaginings, then there’s an issue. It’s not so much lusting after fictional characters being wrong—I mean, they’re not real so technically you’ve lusted after nobody thereby haven’t violated Jesus’s command to not look another with lust. But, the danger is it can warp your view of sex and/or sexualize people you see walking down the street thereby putting you in a compromised position. And it’s for that reason I abstain from graphic sex in my books.

    It’s kind of like asking is it appropriate for Christian artists to go to life drawing classes with nude models? My answer is it’s just fine provided lust doesn’t enter the equation. The human body is a beautiful thing and was made in God’s image. It’s a work of art. Having been in life drawing classes myself, I can tell you, lust doesn’t enter the mind because after a couple minutes, the naked person standing in front of you is viewed as no more than a teapot or lamp. That’s not to say I view them as objects, but I’m more focused on getting the curves and anatomy right that I’m not even thinking sexual thoughts. But, once more, if lust entered the picture, then it’s time to pack up my sketchpad and leave.

    On violence: I struggle in this area. I’m not sure how much is too much and how much is not enough, from a fiction standpoint. After all, every book needs conflict and sometimes that conflict gets violent. Should I show it realistically? Should I skimp over the details? I’m torn. Biblically speaking, Scripture is extremely violent but it never delves into detail. It just says what happened. I’ve read Christian books that handled violence the same way. They broke the rule of show-don’t-tell and quickly told the reader so-and-so was in a fight or got shot and that’s it.

    Upon reflection, my stance on violence right now is again rooted in the heart of the issue. Why am I writing it? Is it because I enjoy showing people getting hurt or cut up or whatever? Or am I simply trying to put the reader in the characters’ shoes and take them through the paces so they can feel what the character is feeling? Showing, not telling. Likewise, from the reader’s point-of-view, if I knew some of the more graphic displays of violence in my fiction fueled some sort of weird lust for torture in my readers, then I’d remove that element because I’m feeding something that shouldn’t be fed.

    I will say, writing more or less clean books have been a bonus for me. I feel better about my work and it also serves as a selling point at book signings and conventions. Often people want to buy my stuff for their teenagers. When I assure them the books are language- and sex-free, they’re thrilled to hear it and it helps close the sale. I do warn them, however, that some of my stuff is violent and if showing blood is a put-off for them, then maybe they should pass.

    The hardest part about being an author that’s Christian is that sometimes it puts a stopper on creativity. It would be fun to write a book with no rules and just put in whatever I felt like—follow the art, so to speak. After all, I’m a sinful man with sinful tendencies and art is about expression, whether that expression is all happy rainbows or storm clouds. Of course, this also means that what I put on paper is a reflection of my own heart. I’m paraphrasing, but like Jesus said, what’s in a man is what comes out of him, and it’s what comes out of him that defiles him or not.

    I suppose this is where “Take up your cross daily” applies.

    I think in the end what I write and what I include ultimately shows where I’m at in my spiritual journey and what business has been squared away and what still needs working on. The main point is this: as mentioned above, it’s about the heart. Mine’s not perfect, but it’s getting better.

    Take this as you may.

    Sidenote: if you like writing contemplation and publishing talk, consider signing up for my free weekly newsletter, The Canister X Transmission at www.tinyletter.com/apfuchs You also get a free clown thriller out of the deal.

    The first year of newsletters have been collected and released as The Canister X Transmission: Year One. Details at http://bit.ly/1PqpSNh Thanks.


  • My Comics

    Originally, way back when, I had wanted to be a comic book artist. As one thing led to another, I got involved with writing and eventually followed the career path of a novelist. However, over the years I’ve still had the chance to dabble in comics, whether it was just writing them or writing and drawing them.

    Below is a picture of the comics I’ve produced through Coscom Entertainment.

    They are: Axiom-man: Of Magic and Men, Axiom-man No. 1 and 2, Meet the Maximums, Canister X Comix No. 1, 2 and 3.

    The bolded titles are the ones I did both the writing and art on.

    If you are interested in purchasing any of the above comics, Axiom-man No. 1 and 2, and Canister X Comix No. 1-3 are $2 each, the others are $3. I’ll even bag and board them for you. Just let me know via email as per the contact page and we can arrange something. Postage is extra. Thanks.