“I know, if I back it, I’ll finally have a version of the book I’ll have time to finish.”
That was the comment left by the backer who pushed the Hidden Things audiobook project through the last step to the $1200 goal, only five days after we opened the kickstarter.
That’s right: over the weekend, the kickstarter reached the baseline funding goal – no matter what else happens, the project has funded – we are going to make an audiobook, and release a free, DRM-free podcast of the story, and put out six-pack collections of those podcasts.
It feels fantastic to write those words.
The Next Hurdle
There are still eighteen days left in the kickstarter, and while I’m entirely satisfied with funding the baseline project and doing a great audiobook, the first stretch goal is tantalizingly close. In case anyone’s forgotten what it is, I’ll be talking about it — the Little Things short story collection and accompanying audio recording — in just a few days.
In other words, we are still accepting backers, we’re still working to make the best quality stuff we can, and we still have a long ways to go on the fundraising portion of the project.
It will surprise no one that Tim White and I have already started preliminary recording (if nothing else, we had to get down the audio for the kickstarter introduction video), but those first attempts have yielded exciting complications that I’m going to tell you about tomorrow.
Can’t wait? Here’s a preview:
Tune in tomorrow for more exciting tales of audio recording.
Those of you who started but didn’t finish watching the kickstarter introduction video (about 66% – I love you anyway) might not know that I talk at some length about Digital Rights Management and why I want to make sure that there will always be a version of the Hidden Things audiobook that is DRM-free.
The thing is, lots of people don’t really get what DRM is and why it gets me so riled up.
Digital Restrictions Management or DRM is the practice of imposing technological restrictions that control what users can do with digital media.
When a program is designed to prevent you from copying or sharing a song, reading an ebook on another device, or playing a single-player game without an Internet connection, you are being restricted by DRM.
In other words, DRM creates a damaged product.
DRM is not about protecting copyright.
Companies present that argument to make DRM appear beneficial to creators, but in order for that to be true, DRM would have to work as advertised, and it doesn’t. Instead, what you get are digital product that are ‘broken’ from the point of view of the average user, thanks to DRM that is absolute child’s play to circumvent for anyone with actual criminal intent.
While DRM is advertised as a mechanism to prevent copyright infringement, the only thing it does effectively is restrict all of the incredible possibilities enabled by digital technologies… and then sell some of those options back as severely limited services to honest customers.
So, here’s what DRM actually does:
Treats all users like criminals, but in an ineffectual way that fails to stop criminals and both insults and frustrates honest customers with crippled, broken products.
Extends corporate control over the legitimate uses of products legally purchased, so that those same corporations can then (maybe, if they feel like it) extend you some the rights you should already have, usually with an additional ‘premium’ markup.
If you want an example, think about what a big deal it was when Amazon added the ability to share our Kindle ebooks with our friends. (You know: that thing we’ve been able to do with regular books, forever.)
Except… we can’t share all our ebooks. Just some.
And only for a few days.
And only once, per friend.
Unless you want to buy Amazon Prime.
Or your friend does.
Consider: DRM has broken most of our digital products so badly that this level of “freedom” makes us happy.
So, to hell with that.
When I hand you a paper copy of Hidden Things, you can do whatever you want with it. Read it to a crowd (by all means). Read it to you friends and family. Lend it to your friends and family. Give it away. Sell it. Chop it up and add it to a salad. Wear it as a hat. Even, if you choose, scan the whole thing and make 100 (or 1000 or ?) copies.
Anything you like. I will probably never know and I almost certainly will not care one way or the other. As much as trust comes into the equation, I trust you.
I want to give you this audiobook in the same way. I want to hand you this product and, with it, trust you as a customer, and a fan, and hopefully a friend.
Yes, someone (anyone) could grab copies of these unbroken, dare I say libertine audio files and hang them out on Pirate Bay or any one of a thousand Torrent sites.
But they could do that anyway, because DRM doesn’t work.
And I’m not going to hold a shotgun on everyone else in the store, just because one person out there might decide to be an asshole.
That’s not how this is going to happen.
Does this sound good? I hope so. If you want to support the project, and maybe show other creators out there that there’s nothing too scary about trusting your customers, check out the kickstarter page.
I write for a living and, more than that, I write because I love it. I always have: my first coherent story (a taut action-mystery-thriller in the ageless style of Alvin Fernald) is… let’s say “stored for posterity” in an old steamer chest in my garage. Handwritten, hand-bound, and illustrated in pen AND crayon – indisputably the best work I produced, circa 1979.
I’m proud of that little book, and the kid that wrote it. I’m proud of all the stories I’ve written since (even the ones consigned to my “still needs work” folder), the ones I’m working on right now, and (of course) Hidden Things. It’s a hell of a thing, to hold a book in your hands and see your words made solid in the world.
But I’ve never quite felt I was done with Hidden Things. Not quite.
Because for me, part of a story is telling it; actually speaking the words. Putting your characters’ rage and fear and joy into the air. Making listeners laugh, or cry, or groan. It’s simple: I was surrounded by storytellers as a kid, and that was what they did.
Now, I get to do it too.
Thanks to the efforts of my amazing agent and the fine folks at HarperCollins (who returned audio rights to me simply because I asked for them), I now have the opportunity to record the Hidden Things audiobook and make it available exactly the way I wish every audiobook could be.
But THIS time, I actually got in with the cool kids and finagled a sit-down with Chuck to talk about his work in advance, so I could could share it with you guys in a vaguely timely fashion.
Without further ado, let’s talk…
First off, the most important question: Explain the disgust and/or horror you feel when faced with Goodnight, Moon. I’m genuinely curious, because I’ve read it to my kids so many times I have it memorized like a 1st level Basic DnD Sleep spell.
It’s like a David Lynch bedtime story. It’s kind of eerily one-note with the primary colors mixed with the black-and-white, and the bunny has empty eyes and the old lady bunny has empty eyes and there’s a moon outside and a moon on the wall and creepy bears and then there’s, like, a bowl full of gruel? And then we’re saying goodnight to it? And goodnight to nothing? And goodnight to the spooky old bunny broad who keeps whispering for us to shut up? Man. It gives me this eerie Eraserhead vibe every time.
So what’s Blackbirds: Horror story? Urban fantasy? Science Fiction? Paranormal road trip? No one seems to know where it fits, and probably that’s a good thing, but how did you think of it in terms of genre when you were writing it? Was there a point where you just said, a la Miriam Black, “fuck it; it is what it is.”
I never knew. Even when I was writing the query letter, I thought, “I don’t know what to call this.” Which is against all the advice they give you, right? It needs to fit in a nice box, a thin slot, it needs to have a clear label in legible handwriting stuck over the whole thing.
Now, when I look at it, I think of it as “horror.” It’s labeled and shelved as “urban fantasy,” but to me, it’s horror. Though, I saw someone call it “noirror,” which I like.
You grew up in the eastern U.S. and live, as you put it, in Pennsyltucky, all of which I can’t help but notice is the basic geographical stomping grounds for Blackbirds. Many of the locations in the book gave me the sense I could probably look the names up and drive there, especially the [spoiler] with the [spoiler] near the end. Are there any locations from the book that you visited and said “Oh, yeah, this needs to go into a story,” even before Blackbirds made it onto paper?
Yeah, Blackbirdshops around a bit — mostly between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, not coincidentally both places I’ve lived. For me it wasn’t so much about traveling to locations and having them scream to be included, it was more that, during the writing, my brain wandered to these places, like they’d been pinpointed on a secret map that was then rolled up and tucked away into one of my skull-cave’s many cubbyholes.
These were, for lack of a better term, “Miriam places.”
I feel bad for Miriam, because she gets hammered with death — all around her, all the time — it makes her a very vivid character (and sympathetic, despite not always being totally likable). As a writer, how did you come to find out about Miriam? Did you start at her origin story (for lack of better term), or with “this woman knows how anyone she touches is going to die” and work backward from there, or something else?
I started with the power, but not just that — it was about the shame and guilt and tragedy of that power. And all that ties into our own relationship with death which is that it remains ineluctable and uncontrollable. In a twisted sense, many of my characters are (often inadvertently) power fantasies: Miriam’s is tragic and horrible and soaked in blood but — but! — just the same, she finds that she has a way, however distant, however terrible, to control fate. A power that none of us really have, not in terms of staying the Reaper’s scythe.
There’s a couple scenes in Blackbirds that make me tell people “You should read this book! Except maybe skip this part…” Without tossing in too many spoilers, where there any bits in there that creeped you out when you were in the middle of them, or are you the black-hearted, soulless machine that everyone seems to suspect?
The gory bits don’t bother me. Not in a deep and emotional way — I’m sure, I squick out and shift in my seat as I think of a particularly wretched scene. For me it’s about a deeper kind of horror. Like, there’s a scene where a little kid dies, and that got me then and, now that I have a kid, it gets me ten times as much. It’s such a sad and, I think, telling scene that it really gets me. I tried to tell the story and talk around it without getting into the gory details, but that almost made it worse — like, painting with shadow reveals a much more sinister picture since our imaginations are left to do the rest.
And the imagination of the audience is far worse than anything the writer could come up with. Because the audience puts into place their own most intimate fears.
Your website, terribleminds.com, has justifiably become well-known as a good spot to get no-nonsense, no-bullshit writing advice, and you’ve published several books of writing advice in that same style. Many readers love them, some hate them, but what do you think of them? Were they harder or easier to write than fiction like Blackbirds or Irregular Creatures? Bonus Question: How often is your daily dose of writing advice inspired by a screw-up that you just made it through with your own work?
What do I think of them? I don’t really know. It’s me yelling at me, a lot of the time — as you note, it’s often a response of me coming up against my own shortcomings or exposing some vulnerability in my writing or the industry as a whole. It’s all personal, even when it doesn’t seem to be.
It’s not difficult to write; it all flows naturally. That said, it’s a bit of a time-sink to keep up the blog with the five-days-a-week schedule. I think it’s worth it, but some days, it’s hard to say.
The fiction is always harder to write, but ultimately, more satisfying.
Speaking of Blackbirds and Irregular Creatures, what’s your preference; if you could make the same living either way, would you rather write novels or short stories?
Novels. Hands-down, any day of the week. I love short stories, I do, but novels have oxygen and fat and room to move. I feel like the stories I want to tell fit into that form better than short stories.
Mockingbird, the Blackbirds sequel, is coming out in a heartbeat or two today. Had you always seen Miriam as someone a series of stories could/would be built around, even before you got through Blackbirds, or did it become more obvious as you got to know her and see what there was to work with? Bonus round: do you see Miriam’s personal development in the second book progressing in parallel to the evolution of her power, or more of an inverse? Does great power come with a great shitty pile of stress, in the world of Blackbirds?
Miriam was like Schroedinger’s Cat for me in terms of a character — she was both alive and dead (as a series character) at the same time. If Blackbirds did well, hey, on she goes. If not, well, maybe she’ll just live inside my head. As such, Blackbirds works as a standalone novel but now, thankfully, doesn’t have to. And I’m at the point where I’ve got six or seven books in me at least — if a publisher wants ’em, I’m happy to have that relationship. If not, I’m just as happy writing them on my own and putting them out into the world.
As to the new book and Miriam’s development — it’s tricky, because you want to hit those bases, you want to grow her powers and deepen the mythology but not at the cost of character. For her, I think, as her powers grow, it’s key for Miriam to define and redefine her place in her own world and the world at large. We learned in the last book what she can do to sway fate, and this book is about whether or not she can fully embrace that role.
There’s a lot of family history with Miriam that still looms in the background by the end of Blackbirds. How much does that move towards center stage in the new book?
We see a little more of Miriam’s family — but I’ll go on record now as saying that her powers and her place are not some family legacy, not some secret supernatural bloodline. Trauma begets trauma and sometimes that trauma leaves some very clear — and in this case, very psychically active — fissures in one’s persona. Her family helped to make Miriam who she is as a character, but not as a psychic individual.
Just the same, family is a big thing for her — and will become doubly so in the third book, The Cormorant.
As most of you are aware, the Hidden Things ARC has been out for awhile, and the book has been earning reviews from many legitimate, intelligent people and institutions, including the Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and a number of independent reviewers with good reputations. The most recent review that came in is by Bill Capossere at FantasyLiterature.com; I like it especially because it is a truly nuanced evaluation of the book — he doesn’t think it’s perfect, and his critiques are fair and make total sense to me — and despite a hitch here and there, he gives it a solid 4 out of 5 stars and recommends it to his readers.
Now I’ll be honest: with all the reviews popping up on independent sites and on Goodreads (a site I’m still trying to get a handle on), I hadn’t paid much attention to Amazon. After all, these reviews have been coming from ARCs, prior to release, so there’s only been a two- or three-day window in which regular readers could post anything there.
Hidden Things has a single review on Amazon, right now. It’s four stars, and it’s from a “professional reviewer” who works the new release pages of Amazon. That’s a nice way of saying they basically shill for whatever books get dropped on their desk for review.
And I use the term ‘review’ advisedly — you can tell they didn’t actually read the book — it’s pretty much just a reprint of the back cover copy. I don’t know why this person reviewed Hidden Things — I certainly didn’t ask them too, and I very much doubt the professionals I’ve been working with at HarperCollins would do so.
I said before that Hidden Things has earned reviews; I chose that word very specifically, because that is what I feel has happened, up to this point. The story has to immediately grab a potential reader, get them to stick around, reward them and encourage them as they read, and finish with the reader — if not crying tears of joy — at least satisfied that it was time well spent.
The five-star reviews. The two-star reviews. I have seen them all, read them all, and every single one of them has taught me something about Hidden Things that I didn’t know.
Except that one on Amazon.
Guys, I need your help.
If you’ve read Hidden Things, be it the ARC or the just-released book, go on Amazon and review it. Tell people what you thought. Be honest. I don’t care how many stars you tick off, or what you say, as long as what you say is the truth that’s in your head, and in your heart.
I never thought of Hidden Things as urban fantasy (which is the way it’s often characterized) because ‘urban’ doesn’t really come into it very much, and it didn’t seem to have any of the trappings I typically associated with the genre. Vampires, sexy or otherwise, are nowhere to be seen; neither are werewolves. Ditto Chosen Ones, surly street wizards, or talking animal companions. There is magic, to be sure, but no spellbooks. Tattoos don’t factor in any significant way, and everyone’s is hair a reasonable, manageable length, and generally the right color.
My inspirations came from other areas: Hammett’s stories of Sam Spade and Continental Op gave me a frame of reference for early parts of the story, and the style and pacing of pulp science fiction and fantasy writers like Roger Zelazny have imprinted themselves on me so deeply I probably have Doorways in the Sand encoded somewhere in my DNA. Neil Gaiman’s light touch with the supernatural is something I’ve always loved, as well as Stephen King’s gift for characterization.
If you are at all on the fence about picking up the story, I suggest checking it out.