Monthly Archives: June 2016

Mockers Podcast Shout-Out

Brothers Eric and Andy Mocker of "The Mockers Podcast."
Brothers Eric and Andy Mocker of “The Mockers Podcast.”

Between the Wall and the Fire, got a shoutout last night on The Mockers Podcast by brothers Eric and Andy Mocker. What did the brothers think of my latest collection of science fiction and fantasy stories? Tune in for yourself to find out! You’ll also get to hear Eric’s opinions on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Warcraft movies. Don’t miss their weekly sports quiz! And finally, make sure you stick around for their “mockumendations.”

While you’re at it, you might want to go check out their back catalog. They’re still relative newcomers in the podcasting world, but they’re coming on strong. Take a look!

A Pius Man – BOOK REVIEW

"A Pius Man" by Declan Finn
“A Pius Man” by Declan Finn

Last night i finished reading A Pius Man by Declan Finn. The best way to describe this book is to say that it’s a pro-Catholic version of Dan Brown’s writings. The story begins when a researcher at the Vatican archives finds something he shouldn’t see. Somebody doesn’t want it to get out. Of course they kill him for it. Action and hijinks ensue.

Most modern explicitly Christian fiction, to be blunt, sucks. I mean, it’s really, really bad. Thankfully that is absolutely not the case here. This book is an enjoyable read.

The best thing about this book is the fun characters. I particularly enjoyed Sean Ryan, the Hollywood stuntman turned mercenary action hero. His background may seem to many to be implausible, but I’ve known enough people from really strange backgrounds that it actually felt more real to me for it. I also greatly enjoyed his portrayal of the fictional Pope Pius XIII. His life history rings very true, and he feels like a priest – the best kind of priest.

This is one of Mr. Finn’s earlier novels. I picked it as the first to read and review under the mistaken impression that it actually was his first novel. Unfortunately, some of that shows through. Although the characters are as fun as I’ve already mentioned, there are a bit too many of them for this particular story. It is sometimes hard to keep straight what is happening to whom. There’s also a bit too much expository dialogue. Indeed, even the author realizes this. One character goes so far as to explicitly comment that they’re drifting into “Dan Brown monologue” territory. The comment would sit a little better if the book hadn’t actually drifted a bit too far into that already.

On the other hand, the action flows pretty well – and there’s rather a lot of it. That helps keep the exposition dumps from dragging the book down too far. Some of it is a little over the top. But then we kind of hope for that out of our action novels, don’t we? It never goes so far as to break one out of the story.

A Pius Man is a strong read. I think most people will enjoy it, even non-Catholics. But the strongest audience for this book is definitely going to be those who want good, fun, action thrillers that don’t insult their faith. I give the book four stars out of five and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

OPEN SUBMISSIONS – Superversive Superheroes

superheroYesterday I discussed what superversive fiction is and briefly talked about the two anthologies of superversive science fiction and fantasy that I’ve published in the last two years. Today I’m pleased to announce that Silver Empire is now accepting submissions for our next superversive anthology.

Our first superversive anthology focused on “manly courage.” Our second focused on “devotion to family.” This time the theme will be “superheroes.”

  • It should be a short story of roughly 3,000 to 15,000 words. These are loose guidelines. If the story is strong, we’ll accept stuff outside of it. And I’m not going to quibble over a few words if it’s 2,998 or 15,011 words or something like that. But that’s about the size we’re shooting for.
  • It should be a science fiction or fantasy story.
  • We are looking for exclusive publication rights, and also the rights to republish the story in our upcoming Lyonesse project (republication will only make you more money, so don’t fear!)
  • Submissions are due by April 30th, 2017.
  • The theme of this anthology is “superheroes.”
  • The anthology is deliberately superversive. Thus, we’re looking for serious submissions. Satire and Parody are ok *IF* they take the theme seriously.
  • The superheroes should be heroic – or if they aren’t, the story should showcase this as a failing. No “Captain America was actually Hydra all along” stories will be accepted.
  • You must have the rights to the characters you use and be able to legally transfer them to us for the purposes of this anthology. Unless by some miracle you actually are DC or Marvel and want to let us use your characters, we can’t use them. Trust me – we want to use them as badly as you do. This is just how the world works.
  • Payment will be in royalties – no advances. The royalty rates will be relatively high, but our sales volumes will likely be relatively low. Exact rates will depend on how many stories end up in the anthology but will follow a simple formula based on word count (50% of sales sent to authors, prorated to each author based on the word count of the story compared to the word count of the anthology as a whole).
  • Stories that are part of a larger world or series that you’re developing are perfectly fine – even if previous or later stories are not published through us.
  • Submissions should be in Word format (doc or docx is fine).
  • Submissions can be e-mailed to submissions@silverempire.org.

What Is Superversive Fiction?

Some of my works have been labeled with the term “superversive.” But it’s not a common term, and people often ask me what it means.

Urban Dictionary says the following:

Nurturing; supportive, building up — opposite of subversive
The superversives decorated the object with daisy chains, linked their arms around it and sang “Jerusalem.”
The definition is quite good for a short definition, but it only takes us so far – and their example usage is truly bizarre. So let’s take another stab at it. Here’s a definition given by Mr. John C. Wright, as relayed by his wife, L. Jagi Lamplighter, on Sarah Hoyt’s blog.
“You know how subversive means to change something by undermining from below? Superversive is change by inspiration from above.”

This definition is slightly less concise but far more informative. The last half century or so has seen quite a bit of subversive literature – literature designed not for building up civilization but for tearing it down. It has many features to it: heroes who aren’t heroic, the world is portrayed as a terrible, evil place, beauty is nowhere to be found, good always loses in the end, etc. Some of this started out as a fair and necessary reaction to literature that had become too whitewashed. The world has warts in it, and portraying a world without them lacked character and truth. But the pendulum has swung too far. Too much art today shows only the warts and neglects to show the beauty of the world.

OK, that gives us a good idea of what superversive isn’t. But superversive is more than just “not subversive.” We could take the next step by looking at the Superversive Manifesto, proposed by M.C. Tuggle. But although there’s plenty there to like, I think it misses some the mark.

If subversive is about tearing down the structures of society, superversive must be about building them back up. Specifically, I believe superversive fiction absolutely must contain some of the following elements:

  • Heroes who are actually heroic. They don’t have to be heroic all of the time, or even most of the time. But when the time comes, they must actually be heroic.
  • People are basically good. Not all the time, not in every case – and certainly not every person. But basically.
  • Good Wins. Not every time – a good story always has setbacks in it. But evil winning is most definitely not superversive.
  • True love is real. Again, maybe not for everybody. But it’s real.
  • Beauty is real. It’s ok to show the warts. But show the beauty, too.
  • The transcendent is awesome. There’s no obligation to show any particular religion, or even really religion at all. But superversive literature should show the glory and splendor of the wider universe around us, and it should leave us in awe of it.
  • Family is good and important. Not every family, sure. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
  • Civilization is better than barbarism. This doesn’t mean barbarians are evil, or that they aren’t fun. But in the end, they’re… well, barbaric.
  • Strength, courage, honor, beauty, truth, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility are virtues. This can be demonstrated by showing people breaking the virtues. But they must be recognized as virtues.
  • There is hope. Superversive stories should never leave the reader feeling despair.

The “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech from Secondhand Lions sums it up very well.

BetweenTheWallAndTheFireI apply the term superversive pretty strictly. I’ve put out two anthologies of science fiction and fantasy short stories that were deliberately themed with superversive intent. The first, Make Death Proud to Take Us, carried a theme of manly courage. Every story is specifically written to showcase men being courageous – something that is lost in a great deal of modern fiction, where too many men are slimy, sleazy, weaselly, and fearful. The second, Between the Wall and the Fire, tells stories about devotion to family. We live in a world that is constantly trying to break down families in every way. We opted to instead showcase families: why they are important, what they bring to the world.

Some of the contributors didn’t even know they were participating in superversive projects. In fact, I’ve had to explain the term – after the fact – to more than one of them. And yet in the case of one of my authors, I can specifically say that throwing out a superversive topic – with no explanation of why I’d chosen that topic – resulted in the best story she’d yet submitted to me, hands down. The fact of the matter is that even if you don’t agree with the superversive movement, these are the kind of stories that resonate with people.

At Silver Empire, we continue to make the effort to publish superversive fiction. Not everything we publish is explicitly superversive. Indeed, I’m pretty strict about using the label. But I’m also not particularly interested in publishing subversive fiction. There are plenty of other outlets who will do that. Enough other people are tearing the world down without my help. I’m ready to build.

World War Is A Fact On the Ground

wallpaper_world_in_conflict_soviet_assault_03_2560x1600Consider:

  • Saudi Arabia has forces fighting in Yemen and is quietly providing aid in other Middle Eastern conflicts.
  • Boko Haram, an Islamic insurgency, is fighting in four African nations.
  • ISIS is involved in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Algeria, and other parts of Africa… and France and the US and the Caucasus Mountains (in Russia).
  • Turkey has forces involved in civil war with Kurds in its own territory – a civil war that has spilled over into Iraq.
  • Pakistan is involved in the conflict in Afghanistan, it’s in semi-civil-war with itself, and it’s involved in conflict with India over Kashmir.
  • The US has forces involved in conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and has participated in and/or instigated conflict in the Ukraine.
  • Russia is involved in conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, the Caucasus Mountains and more.
  • The Phillipines is still fighting a conflict against Islamic insurgents… with US aid.

Notice the pattern yet? This isn’t just a list of all currently ongoing conflicts in the world. That list is much longer. Every conflict on this list is connected, and the fighting is occurring on at least four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. There’s a good case to be made that current conflicts in South America are part of this as well, bringing it up to five continents. That leaves only Australia and Antarctica out… but Australia has provided aid to the US in several of these conflicts, as have many western European nations.

There is interconnected conflict going on involving nations from at least five and maybe six continents involving dozens of countries. In what way is this not a world war already?

Only one: the intensity level is much lower than what we associate with a world war. Now consider further:

  • Saudi Arabia is fundamentally unstable, and getting worse.
  • Ukraine still hasn’t stabilized from its conflict.
  • ISIS’s influence outside of the middle east – and inside it – is growing.
  • Syria is fundamentally unstable.
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is threatening to blow up again.
  • Russia is meddling in everything in the Middle East, which is typical for them.
  • The US is also meddling in everything in the Middle East, and not always for the best.
  • Mass migration of refugees from the Middle East is already a destabilizing influence in Europe, and it’s getting worse.
  • Portugal, Italy, Spain and especially Greece still face major economic crises that threaten to destabilize them – just as that same mass migration is destabilizing in other ways.

Now tell me exactly how any of this isn’t going to the next level.

My Twitter Analytics Are Seriously Fubarred

For the past several days, my Twitter Analytics have been… well, broken. First let’s take a look at them. Here’s a screen cap from just a few moments ago. I’ll fill in some actual numbers below.

analytics_fubared

The visual should be enough to show that something is off. Notice the sudden fall off in impressions (the blue bars) beginning on Sunday. Notice also that my rate of tweets per day hasn’t really changed much. It’s fluctuated well within the same range as the last 28 days.

But the numbers will really drive it home. First, in the last 10 days I’ve increased my Twitter followers by nearly 50%. One would therefore expect my impressions to generally increase, not fall off (ignore the spikes; those are days when high profile Twitter users retweeted me). But that last bar is the kicker – the one you can barely see. That’s for Wednesday, June 14 (I know… that’s tomorrow. For some reason my Twitter analytics reset the day at 7PM. I don’t get it either). That bar shows three organic impressions for the day. But that tweet was posted after the reset, and you can clearly see that it’s gotten 792 impressions in that time (more now).

What gives?

The last several days are like this. If I total the tweets manually, I get far more than Twitter is claiming I’ve gotten.

It gets crazier. This actually started happening to me on Thursday. Don’t see it in the graph? That’s because on Saturday the bars for Thursday and Friday suddenly jumped up to the levels you see now. Before that, they’d looked a lot more like today and yesterday did.

At first I thought I was shadowbanned again. I’m pretty sure it’s happened to me more than once. Traffic to my blog – especially traffic from Twitter – is also down. But blog traffic is only down a little, not by as much as this chart would suggest. But it’s clearly not that – or at least, not just a shadowban.

I’m not the only one. It’s happened to Morgon as well. And now this:


Twitter’s analytics are quite clearly broken. Something is horribly wrong with them.

Updates:

After several discussions with others on Twitter, notably Mark Kern (@Grummz) and Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich), this appears to be a) very widespread and b) a bug, not censorship. It also seems that individual tweet metrics are correct (as best as we can tell) and it’s only the cumulative totals that are off. Also, Mr. Cernovich noted (I believe correctly, from my data) that there appears to be roughly a 2-day lag in Twitter getting its analytics updated.

Update 2 (6/20/16):

My numbers seem to be correct on Twitter analytics now. However, mouseovers are still broken. The position of the mouse doesn’t map correctly onto my charts.

Amazon Giveaway Follow-Up

BetweenTheWallAndTheFireLast week I ran an Amazon giveaway and reported on my initial results. Here’s a bit more of an in-depth analysis a week later. First, a brief look at what happened overnight:

Within an hour and a half I’d gained 100 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, I gained 147 followers throughout the entire month of May. As of this morning when I write this, I’ve increased from 436 Twitter followers to 631, a total increase of 195 followers or a 44% jump. The contest is not yet over as of this writing – there’s still one more eBook to give away.

Book sales are up – and by more than the units that I paid for. This experiment happened as part of the book launch, so I can’t tell for sure that it’s directly related to this giveaway. But book sales are actually up as compared to the previous day.

Good results, right? Yes – and I’m definitely glad I did it. However, the rest of the week didn’t live up to that first rush.

I scheduled the giveaway for 3 books, with a 1-in-100 chance of winning. That should have netted between 200 and 300 followers – and it did. My follower count went from the 436 followers noted above to a peak of 702 followers over the weekend. However…

The first two books went quickly, with 195 followers literally overnight. That was great. But it took another five days to finish the giveaway and award the third book, and also to hit that peak.

What does this tell us? Does that mean this is a one time deal? I don’t think so. I think it tells us two things.

First, a large portion of that gain in followers likely came from people who already followed me retweeting it. In other words, it was friends of friends. This is good and bad. Many of those followers are likely to stay, which is good. On the other hand, that resource is probably tapped out for the near future – until I gain significantly more new followers, or manage to convert a large portion of this batch of new followers into actual “fans.”

Second, as small as it was this singular giveaway probably saturated the market. That means that running one every day or even every week is going to hit diminishing returns very quickly. My guess is that the sweet spot will be running one once a month or even once a quarter. I think that once a month might work OK if you’re giving away multiple products and can cycle through them. Once a quarter would work a lot better if you only have one product. Even with multiple products, once a month might be too often. I plan to experiment further to nail this down. Either way, I don’t expect to pull of overnight 44% growth again. I believe that getting that kind of growth was largely a function of having such a low follower count to begin with.

So far I’ve maintained an overwhelming majority of those followers – but they have started to trickle off. I’m down into the low 690s now, so I’ve lost about 10 followers of the 266 I gained during this event (about 4% of them). I expect to drop more over the rest of the month, although it might be hard to tell as they trickle away and I continue to gain new followers on a day-to-day basis. I expected to lose many of these followers, and 4% after one week isn’t bad at all. It’s actually far better retention than I’d expected.

The units that I paid for did count as actual sales. They showed up on my KDP sales dashboard, and they did effect sales rank on Amazon. However, this effect was diminished due to the length of time it took for the contest to end. All three sales showed up at once at the very end of the giveaway. Had they shown up at the beginning – when sales were already good from our launch – they might have propelled the book into the top 20 for its category. As it was, they didn’t even push the book back into the top 100.

Given this, and the way Amazon’s sales rank algorithm works, I think the best use of this kind of giveaway is during a product launch. Experiment beforehand and get a good idea of the right way to setup your giveaway to ensure that it ends early and the sales show up in your launch ranking, helping to propel you to a better slot as part of your launch. But realize that if you try to game the system by buying a particularly good sales rank, you’ll probably have to buy far more copies than you’ll sell as a result. In other words, the value of this is likely to be limited.

At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that you have a good number of reviews up early. If we’d had more reviews up when the giveaway happened, I think we’d have had far more success with it.

The final verdict is that this is an immensely useful tool when used properly. But don’t let my click-bait headline from the last post fool you – it’s not going to cure all of your sales woes, at least not on its own.

An Interview With Declan Finn – Part 3

"Honor At Stake" by Declan Finn
“Honor At Stake” by Declan Finn

When I started reading Declan Finn’s early novel A Pius Man, I reached out to him and asked if he was interested in doing a blog interview. He graciously accepted. As before, this interview will be in three parts, posted over three days. I hope to have my review of the novel up next week. The first part focuses on the books – particularly on The Pius Trilogy. The second part focuses on his experiences with writing and publishing. This third part focuses on Mr. Finn himself.

You can find out more about Mr. Finn’s works at his web site.

Bold text is my questions. The rest is Mr. Finn’s response, presented without editing unless noted.


Aside from authors and works previously listed as inspiration, can you tell us what your own favorite sff authors and works are?

Those are easy: Timothy Zahn’s body of work, from his Star Wars to his Baen. John Ringo, most specifically his Princess of want series. J. Michael Straczysnki, for Babylon 5. And when I want Star Trek, Peter David and only Peter Dated. Zahn has characters who think, mostly spies. Ringo balances humor and action. JMS is where I learned character and construction of story. And Peter David for when I just want to go off the wall.

Favorite current sff show and/or movie?

Of current shows, right now, the best fantasy show on television is probably Grimm, with science fiction being The Flash. (Unlike some people, I have problems seeing Person of Interest as science fiction, considering most of the action is with plain old bullets. I also have problems seeing NetFlix as television. Yes, I’m a Luddite).

Like everyone else, I’m a fan of the Marvel films and Lord of the Rings. But most recent SFF film? Ender’s Game. I liked the novel The Martian, but the film had too much “I think I can top 2001: A Space Odyssey” during the course of filming.

Favorite non-sff show and/or movie?

I’m a fan of 24, and thankfully, it’s coming back. No idea if the new version will be good, but here’s hoping.

And, since we’re not talking about recent works in this question, Die Hard is my Christmas movie. From now and forever. [Editor: Yippie Kay Yay!]

Favorite current sff books?

Iron Chamber of Memory, by John C. Wright. And Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine. Though I recommend the upcoming The Big Sheep by Rob Kroese

Favorite non-sff book?

Verticle Run, by Joseph Garber. I read it many moons ago, so I don’t know if it’s easily attainable. But if you can get your hands on it, do so. More recently than that, most anything by James Rollins.

What did you do before you became a writer?

Writer at NYU’s school of Polytechic University. Which means I was part of the creative end of the pool.

Do you still have a “real” job? If so, what do you do?

I spend 12-15 hours a day either doing promotional material or write. I’d say I have a real job now.

I do actually try for a “real” job whenever I can. Why? Because a 9-5 job would actually allow me to get more reading in on public transportation. Right now, I feel like I’m a failure if I’m not constantly working nonstop on my various and sundry projects.

Do you have a degree? If so, what in?

Master’s degree in history. I gave up part of the way through the PhD when I discovered that the college I was at was all about personal politics than actually doing the work.


Tune in tomorrow for part 3.

More Than One Shooter or Police Foul-Up?

nightclubMike Cernovich posits that, contrary to the official reports, there must have been more than one shooter in Orlando.

Even at closed quarters, it takes several rounds to kill a person. People are terrible shots. People who are full of adrenaline and have been running are also terrible shots. Witness interviews also indicate that Mateen shot into the ceiling.

How many rounds of ammo did Mateen have, and would that number be enough to take out over 100 people?

Assuming the shooter had tactical training, he’d be carrying a load bearing vest with 8 fully loaded 30 round magazines, for a total of 9 magazines (one on his weapon). That’s 270 rounds.

Mateen would also have a fully-loaded pistol with an unknown number of magazines. Let’s assume he was using a 9mm handgun, which holds a 15 round magazine, and that he was carrying 4 additional magazines. That’s 75 rounds of 9mm ammo.

In total, Mateen would have had 345 rounds of ammunition.

If you think 345 rounds of ammo is a lot, talk to some soldiers. People are hard to kill.

Also watch this video. You can hear 30 rounds go off in a matter of seconds. Yet somehow the shooter was killing people for 3 hours?

There’s more – much more – at the link, including eyewitness reports about multiple shooters. While I’m personally not ready to call it “case closed,” he does make a pretty good case. However, a few caveats:

First, how many people were actually in the club? I haven’t seen this detailed anywhere. If the club was at capacity – or worse, overcrowded (because nightclub managers never do that…) then this really could have been a case where the pickings were just that easy. However… even there, I would expect the injured list to be quite a bit larger to support a death list that long. Most people really aren’t that good of a shot.

Second, and more importantly, the killer had approximately two hours before the police intervened. That’s lots of time to get the job done. If he had some way of getting extra ammunition inside, then this could have been done.

Even with these objections, Mr. Cernovich makes a strong case. But I have an alternate hypothesis.

What if some of those deaths are the result of the police storming the place at the end?

Consider:

  • Contrary to popular myth, the average police officer is not a very good shot.
  • Hostage rescue is hard. Ridiculously crazy hard. Standard rule of thumb in the business is to expect to lose 10-20% of the hostages – and that’s when you have full element of surprise and an elite team. Orlando police certainly didn’t have the former. And while I make no judgement about the quality of their team relative to other police departments, it’s unlikely that they were at, say, Navy SEAL levels.
  • When you have a squad of 6-10 SWAT officers opening fire, a good portion of that 50 person death toll can happen very quickly.

And all of that is if everything goes right with the hostage rescue.

Were there multiple shooters? Or are some of the victims dead due to police fire? Keep in mind that these answers are not mutually exclusive, and it’s very possible that both hypotheses are true. Or neither. This event is less than 36 hours old, which means we’re still in the fog of war stage. The only thing I can guarantee at this point is that the media reports are inaccurate.