Monday, February 6, 2017

The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes

"Curious Incidents:  More Improbable Adventures", Mocha's long awaited second volume of Sherlock Holmes paranormal fiction has arrived, and I'm proud to say I am one of the contributing authors.

The theme of this volume places Holmes in environments other than his native Victorian England.  The authors approached this from a number of angles.  I've only had the pleasure of reading the first three stories of the anthology so far:

"The Case of the Tainted Blood" by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
"The Case of the Burning Man" by Lucy Blue
"He-Who-Knows" by Derrick Belanger

I enjoyed them all immensely and look forward to reading the rest of the anthology.  The three authors used very different and extremely imaginative visions of alternate reality to depict alternate versions of Holmes and Watson in different time periods or historically alternate versions of their own time period.

Liese Sherwood-Fabre depicts Holmes and Watson as vampires in an alternate 19th century in which the world suffers a vampire apocalypse.  I loved it. Vampiric Holmes was still Holmes, bored out of his wits and contemplating suicide for lack of crimes to solve.  In a world of the undead, murder and robbery are things of the past.  Holmes finds a challenge to test his razor sharp investigative skill in a plot involving humans killing vampires.  Holmes, that paragon of goodness now finds himself on the side of darkness, working against the cause of humanity.  But, his characteristic attention to detail remains undiminished by his altered circumstances.  A problem is a problem, and Holmes finds the chase as addictive as he now finds blood.  A mixture of an intriguing case with a supremely bizarre premise and delightfully quirky characters makes this one a gem.

Lucy Blue takes it a bit further by introducing Holmes and Watson to each other in another sort of alternate reality:  a 1950's Micky Spillane-type urban noir involving a brutal murder, a knock-out of a doll spilling her guts (literally and figuratively) on a dark, rainy night.  A case involving a WWII mystery from Holmes' past, an old enemy with apparently dark mystical powers, a secret coven of white witches and a mystery surrounding a rich dame with plenty to hide.  Watson is black.  Holmes has a secret of his own.  Bigotry in all its forms and evil in its purest form are dealt with in a fast paced, tightly plotted mystery which pits Holmes' intellect against a supernatural menace the existence of which his stubbornly rational mind refuses to accept.  It was an incredibly enjoyable ride.

Derrick Belanger's approach was the least conventional of all.  Holmes is not Holmes and Watson is not Watson, at least not by name.  They are rather wise men, shamans of sorts in an aboriginal stone-age world which is afflicted by a mysterious monster that no one understands.  No one but the wise man He-Who-Knows.  His name doesn't have to be Holmes for us to know who he is.  His keen logic and deductive wit is his calling card.  It seems every era needs a Sherlock Holmes.  He takes whatever form is needed.

I rather took the easier route.  I used the original, unmodified Holmes and Watson and simply transplanted them bodily from the familiar surroundings of 221 B Baker street into a wild ride through future time periods in the company of a time traveler.  Rather than creating a modified Holmes who was at home in his alternate universe, I wanted to see the old familiar Sherlock trying to cope with unfamiliar surroundings and adapting his deductive methodology to alien worlds.  I had fun with it because it had the spirit of adventure to it; like Jules Verne, a ride into the otherworldly and unfamiliar.  Watson provided the wide-eyed wonder and child-like curiosity, while Holmes, as always, coolly and unerringly mapped his path through his new world.

The other entries I mentioned delved more into the inner space of the mystery that is Holmes himself.  His human weaknesses, his flaws, his hidden vulnerabilities.  Mine was more a straight-forward adventure story.  It may have lacked the daring of the others, as I was focusing more on concept than character, I'll admit.  In my own defense, I may feel inclined to treat another author's character (especially one as immortal as Holmes) with kid gloves, hesitant to speculate about or tamper with the familiar defining features of the character.  Mainly, I was just enjoying myself immensely.  I only hope I've provided as much reading pleasure for others as I found in the other stories I've mentioned here.

Support Your Small Presses!

Most of us here at Mocha Memoirs write for multiple small presses. There are many reasons to choose the quirky, independent atmosphere of a small press where the author is treated like a member of a family rather than a number on a ledger sheet, but it is also harder to make a living here.

And it can be disheartening -- I received royalty notification from one publisher of a penny for six months sales.

Or scary -- another publisher I know received word over the weekend that Amazon was closing their Kindle account and would not pay out anything for the last quarter of 2016. After some tense hours, it was resolved as an error on Amazon's part, but, as you can imagine, the authors were very worried.

Why am I telling you all this? So you can see that this business is a very fragile one. One of the biggest third-party sales sites went under in December with little warning and very little recompense.

Two days after I released my latest self-publishing project I had to send two DMCA letters to pirate sites. TWO DAYS. I wonder if they had more downloads than the two I've sold on Kindle...well, three, if you count the one I bought myself.

My point here is this. If you love the work of your favorite small press author, show them. Buy our books from the small presses who take the chance to publish them. We will all appreciate your support.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Revisiting the Making of a Goal Sandwich

Last December, I did a Toastmasters speech about setting goals, and I thought, as the year winds down to a conclusion--and won't we be glad to see the back of it?--that I would reprise this entry from last year and expand upon it a little.

To recap that post, a goal has three parts, and those parts can be equated to the making a sandwich.

First, you set a goal. This is equivalent to deciding you are hungry and NEED a sandwich.

Now, you may not NEED to set a goal, but if you WANT to focus your efforts, it is where you start. You can see from that earlier post that my goal in 2015 was to submit something everyday for the year. In 2016, it was to make $5000.

Your goal can be simpler: write 100 words a day; submit to 5 new markets; find a writing group.
Or, it can be even more ambitious: get a New York publishing contract; land an agent; write 5000 words a day.

The important thing is to set a goal in the first place.

Secondly, you work to make that goal happen. Make the sandwich.

It was hard work to make that submission a day goal a reality--but I did it. In fact, I actually made over 400 submissions that year. Some days, it was a tiny submission--like a haiku sent to Haikuniverse. Some days it was a novel. The important thing was to submit something.

Getting to $5000 this year...didn't happen. But I got to over $2700...which was over a thousand more than my best year since I started keeping track.

Pushing for a goal helps you focus. It can increase your output. It gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment as you hit milestones. And, even if you don't reach the goal--working toward it makes you feel in control of your work.

The third section of the process is to reward success--eat the sandwich.

This is not a step you can skip. If you don't reward a successful goal's completion, you have given yourself no incentive to set another goal. However, make sure that your reward doesn't sabotage your NEXT goal.

For example, when I completed the submission a day goal, my reward was a few days off...and that really destroyed the goal to submit one thing a week that I made this year.

And, don't beat yourself up if you don't complete a goal. No, I didn't make my goals this year. However, I worked probably harder than ever to sell more books at conventions, to find new shows to sell at, to submit to higher paying markets. And next year, I will try again.

If you don't make your goals, adjust the next year. Build on what works. Re-evaluate what doesn't. Next year, I will be trying to write a piece a day--this is building on the submission a day goal of 2015. I will be shooting for $3500 in revenue. Still more than I made this year, but a more realistic advance on 2016's figures.

What are your goals? How will you accomplish them?  I'd love to hear from you. :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Movie Review -- "Arrival"

The science fiction film "Arrival" has been promoted as "a movie about alien visitors for people who don't like movies about alien visitors."  Put another way, it's a science fiction movie which connects on a human level (or, at least aspires to.)

Speaking as a writer of the paranormal genre, I hope for a time when science fiction gains not only the respect of the general public but a means of connection with people who may not be science-minded or given to flights of fancy.  Science fiction is largely dismissed as the realm of the outsider, the "geek," the "nerd", the "loser."  Largely because it offers no connection with human life and drama; only with dreams and speculations which connect mainly with our child-like wonder.  Something which (sadly) we're expected to grow out of.

But, "Arrival" is a science fiction film for adults.  (In fact, speaking as a Boston resident, it was the only science fiction film I can recall being run at Kendall Square, a cinema that generally runs only art films.)  The point of view character is a linguist named Louise Banks, played with a marvelously human combination of strength and vulnerability by Amy Adams.  She is a mother raising a daughter.  Years slip by in a heartbeat.  We see glimpses of the child telling her mother she loves her.  The teenager yelling at her mother that she hates her.  And, the heart-rending tragedy of the mother at her daughter's deathbed.  Life presented as a misty, dream-like vignette which introduces us to a character we care about.

And then, the familiar, the tragic, the human comes into direct contact with something outside human experience.  Extraterrestrial visitation.  Huge, enigmatic objects from space set down all over the world.  No one can guess at their intentions, but of course the world is on hair-trigger alert.  Each nation sets up a team of translators to approach the seemingly impossible task of learning to communicate with a non-human intelligence.  And, ironically, at the very time when the nations of humanity should be talking to each other and comparing notes, the nations instead stop talking to each other altogether.  Instead of a collaboration that unites the world, the first alien encounter becomes a race to see which nations can get the aliens to cough up superior weapons technology first.  Meanwhile, the radio and TV shock jocks are criticizing the American president for not making a show of military strength.  It's all sadly familiar.  A dark look at human nature.  The theme is of course communication, or the lack thereof.  And, finding a common point of reference.

But, the protagonist, Banks, is the redeeming face of humanity.  Her quiet strength and gentle but determined hunger for knowledge drives her to try to understand the incomprehensible.  She has an academic intellect combined with a mother's patience.  It seems almost with love that she tries to make herself understood by beings who are as opaque as they are fearsome.  Banks peers out with her big, questing eyes through a viewport at towering, dark beings who, shrouded in white mist resemble a cross between giant squid and uprooted tree trunks.  Their language looks like circular squiggles of the type a child would make with finger paints and a mother would pin to a refrigerator.  But, Banks must find a deeper meaning in them, all while managing her budding romance with a man on her linguistics team.

The action is slow, testing the audience's patience and attention, but it is the quiet melancholy of the human drama intermingling with the unknown and the looming threat of Armageddon that holds the audience.  The film is about understanding, patience and compassion overcoming fear and animal instinct, but it's also about learning to look at life from a completely unfamiliar perspective.  The alien concept of time, it turns out, is circular, rather than linear, as ours is.  Reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," this tale offers a holistic, circular view of life that not only manages to endure the tragedy of death and separation, but even to embrace it as a cosmic force that shapes us into who we are.  The ending (or, beginning?) is sad and sweet and brings the circle round in a strange and beautiful way.  Not a conventional happy ending, to be sure, but one that makes you think, which is what science fiction (good science fiction, that is) is supposed to do.  But, this one also makes you feel.

A story like "Arrival" proves science fiction can come of age as a respectable medium which bridges the gap between the child-like dreamer in all of us with the adult issues of daily life.  A story that directly connects the larger philosophical questions with life's accessible texture.  Here's hoping we see more of its kind.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Importance of Anthologies

As I said in my last post, Mocha Memoirs newest anthology release is Ghosts, Gears, and Grimoires, a Steampunk horror collection. The new Sherlock Holmes anthology is currently in production. Last year, we produced Avast, Ye Airships! and An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Past anthology offerings included In the Bloodstream and The Grotesquerie.

Why should you care?

Many reasons. First of all, an anthology is a brilliant way to see the work of many different authors for a substantially cheaper price than if you bought their longer works without knowing anything about them. Of course, we hope that you will want to see more of their writing, but if someone's style doesn't resonate with you, you have other stories to read.

Tying in with that, it is a great way to find new favorites. An anthology usually has a mix of authors--some you may follow regularly, and others you may never have heard of. With a small press, you are even more likely to find some unfamiliar names.

Anthologies usually have a unifying theme or subject matter, which means that you are going to be getting stories that all relate to something you are interested in. Like Airship pirates, or Sherlock Holmes. :)

It can be a lot of fun to collect the authors' autographs too--though sometimes a challenge, as we have many foreign contributors. Which is another benefit: you get to see varying perspectives when you have authors from around the world.

Finally, you don't have to invest a great deal of time all at once to reading it. With short stories from different authors, you can pick and choose the order to savor them depending on the time you have to devote to reading at the moment. Anthologies are great for Kindles and other readers when you might be stuck in a waiting room or a long line.

Search for anthologies on Amazon, and you will be amazed at the variety of offerings. Of course, some may be higher quality than others. In these fast-shifting days of publishing revision, there are many anthologies that have been cobbled together quickly--but even the worst that I have seen have a gem or two in them, and for a reasonable investment.

And Mocha Memoirs has treasure chests full of carefully-chosen gems for you to enjoy!