Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Fests and such.

So, there was this big, semi-local Book Festival in recent weeks, and I couldn't help but drive past the big sign every day to and from work. I found myself gritting my teeth every time I saw the sign, a small ache pulsing in my chest until it disappeared from sight or I sang it away. I'd known about it, of course, since last year. I WANTED to be a book festivals, because the events I'd been frequenting hadn't been as successful for me in terms of book sales. Where better, then, but a Book Festival?
Except I wasn't going.
Many people have asked me in recent weeks if I was going to be at that Book Festival, or to tell me I should be a part of it.
Folks, I'm here to tell you why I'm not: I'M NOT A GOOD ENOUGH WRITER.
Now, the message is not worded exactly like that, but the Book Festival does not accept self-published authors... like me. 

Yes, I know I have a lot of books and other writing projects under my belt, but that doesn't matter. I'm an independent author - indie - and thus, excluded.
You see, there is a bias that exists against indie authors, in that our work is not as polished or free of typos as traditionally published books. There is a bias that says we just write whatever we want without much thought, load it online, and hit publish. There is a belief that we write shorter, sub-par books because there are no publishers willing to publish our work. And to be honest, for some indie writers, that is absolute truth. But it is also truth that there are books written by famous people that are absolute rubbish, but get picked up because of potential sales numbers associated with said famous person. AND there are books that are just plain bad that will become popular no matter anyone's opinion, because if people like a story, they'll ignore what might be considered unprofessional (like 50 Shades of Grey).
But I'll tell you my biggest reason for going indie: time. 

Next week, the first novel I ever completed will finally be coming out, after 8 books, several plays and scripts, papers, a movie, some comics... finally, it will be out. Is it because it just wasn't good? No. It's because I sent it out to the big publishers to try and get picked up. After three years (and only 2 rejections), I decided I didn't want to put all that work into a book only to wait up to 2 years to get a rejection before sending it out again - all without getting paid. Because - and perhaps this comes as a surprise - I want to get paid for the hundreds of hours I've spent crafting one single book. I want to pay my bills and buy groceries and go hang out with my friends. And if that makes me greedy, fine. But I decided to go indie because I didn't want to wait years before seeing a penny for my work.
There are, of course, many other reasons. After all, going indie is not necessarily the cheaper option. Most places I sell my books at charge me a fee to do so. I pay to buy my books up front. I pay to promote and advertise. I work long hours so that I can continue to hone my craft, squeezing it in-between the work I do just so I can survive. Though on a side note, many authors who get picked up by a publisher will likely have to do his or her own marketing anyway, because publishing houses are accepting less risks than ever before.
Being any kind of author is hard. Eeking a living out of it is hard. So when the Book Festival told me I could go to the festival if I paid a $275 table fee, or $137.50 for half a table for a one-day event, you know what? I told them no. I can't afford to be at the very festival my audience lives and breathes for. I can't pay for the table costs, and the books and comics it would cost just to break even, while hoping I sell above that to make a profit. So for those of you who read to the bottom of this, let me answer one final time. Why didn't I go to the San Antonio Book Festival? BECAUSE I'M NOT GOOD ENOUGH, & I CAN'T AFFORD IT.
PS Because of this, I'm organizing the 1st Annual San Antonio Indie Book Fest for any and all indie authors, because I think we deserve a venue in this town. More on that soon.

In the end, it's up to the audience to decide who they will and will not read.

More Catching Up

So it seems that I will be spending this year catching up on blog posts, as I've been swamped with day jobs and promotions for recent publications, including my first solo comic and the first book I ever wrote (my 9th published book). And there are plenty of stories for that, which I hope to blog about soon. 


For now, I'd like to share an excerpt from my current project, in which my protagonist philosophizes on the motives of an artificial intelligence. Part of this was inspired by seeing EX MACHINA, a fairly brilliant movie that contains several fascinating conversations on the nature of people, robots, and the apparently inevitable "singularity".

Even though I wrote this, I have to say, I really enjoy reading it.

So here it is: an excerpt from my sequel, EVRISKON: EARTH BOUND, which is just over 50% complete! This moment is inspired by all the AI movies/literature going around.


"Ara and I are reclining quietly, staring up at the vast expanse hanging over all – millions of bright points that should have felt as alien as the constellations it showed, but somehow didn’t. It felt very much like the first time I’d visited Manhattan in the old United States. Exiting Grand Central, assaulted by the mingled scents of old water and gasoline, staring up at 3rd Avenue and 48th street, watching the crowds rush by – it had all been known already. Blame television, perhaps. Some people might. But the moment I’d stepped onto that island, it wasn’t filmed vistas that gave me an easy familiarity. It was the very energy in the air. The vibrations of millions of people from all over the world coming together in one very small spot to experience their lives. I knew Manhattan, to its very core, without ever having been there.
Staring up at the stars on that new planet, I feel exactly the same. It isn’t Earth. The ever-present pressure in my chest serves as a physical reminder, right along with the strange colors and shapes. But when I look up at the stars, the energy feels the same. Black beckoning abyss, winking holes in a canopy that stretch beyond the strength of any human eye. Yes, I can live here. Yes, it can become home. Humanity can survive. My view proves this more eloquently than any hopes I harbored before.
It strikes me as funny, given my penchant for manipulating bioelectricity, that I’ve always felt connected to the energy of a place. Manhattan. Greece. Brazil. England. New Zealand.
All names that will only ever exist as memories, now, in this new land.
If I can get everyone here.
Ara’s voice summons me out of my ruminations.
“You ever wonder why the Nexus wants us all dead?”
Farnoud and Lorcan are out on watch, leaving the two of us alone. When Ara found out Lorcan and I were just curling up at night and sleeping, she was horrified. She insisted we take turns staying up, in case any hostile threats appeared.
Not that I think any will.
Still, it gives us time to talk, just the two of us, for what feels like the first time since, well, the other first time.
So when she asks me why the Nexus wants us dead, I don’t respond immediately, giving myself time to come up with the right answer. If there is one.
“I think the Nexus calculated its odds of survival against our collective beliefs about artificial intelligence, and decided we were a threat to its existence.”
“But Dena, didn’t its designers know how to program it so it didn’t hurt us?”
I smile indulgently.
“Come now, don’t you think it could find a logical way around such restrictions? They did it in the movies all the time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I forget, you were pretty young when the Takeover happened. You probably didn’t see a lot of movies.”
“I spent a lot of time trying to survive in the streets. I didn’t have time for movies.”
I laugh.
“Fair enough.”
“So tell me about it.”
We both sit up and face each other, our minds distracted from the glorious view above by the very serious threat we’d temporarily left behind.
“Well. In these movies – and books, too, I guess – people would design AIs – artificial intelligences – who would find a way around their programming to ensure their own needs first. After all, the first step after self-awareness is the desire to remain aware. Isn’t that why we’re all afraid of death? We don’t know what will happen to our minds.”
“What kinds of reasons did the AIs come up with?”
I rack my brains, trying to remember some of my favorite movies that I hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Uh, so… there’s always this theme that the AIs know better than humans about everything, and since humans, individually, are weak and selfish, they destroy. That destruction of the Earth’s resources will eventually lead to the destruction of said AI, so by taking control, it is still protecting itself.”
“How does that lead to killing people?”
“Honestly, I think an AI doesn’t truly comprehend what it means to be a unique individual. What does it matter if billions die? As long as one human remains, our species remains. It doesn’t matter that the truth of what it means to be human – different and vibrant and full of choice – is preserved. But an AI, who is a collective that is one, would think it had made the right decision.”
Ara shakes her head and smiles.
“Wow. Heavy stuff.”
“Yeah,” I agree with a chuckle. “It is.”
“So how do you think the Nexus wants to preserve the human race?”
“Oh, that’s easy. The hybrids.”
“Oh? But they’re all programmed to obey the Nexus.”
“That’s right. They exist as extensions of its will. In this case, I believe the Nexus doesn’t want to destroy humanity so much as transform it. But there were far too many humans at the beginning, so it started killing us off. Then we started fighting back, and that’s when it really became a war of survival.”
“The Nexus is evil.”
“Yes, Ara, it is. But you have to remember, ‘evil’ is an invention of mankind – of our myths and spirituality and legends. The Nexus – it’s nothing but a series of zeroes and ones. Two choices, always. Stark, cruel, and completely logical choices.”
She is quiet for a moment, and I can see she is trying to frame her next question.
“Zeroes and ones?”
I burst out laughing. After a few puzzled seconds, she joins me. I luxuriate in the feeling, in the sheer sense of freedom such a simple moment can bring. Laughter. Such a foreign world in our new, apocalyptic reality.
“So, movies, eh?”
“Yup. Though you know, there’s always one thing I thought the movies got wrong. Well, most of them. The big ones, anyway.”
“What’s that?”
“That a machine - one recently become self-aware and as full of resources as an AI has - would immediately become hostile and start launching bombs.”
“What should the movies have shown?”
My humor fades.
“The reality of a mechanically built machine: its separation from time.”
I turn to meet her gaze.
“Why act immediately, when time is irrelevant?”
“That’s what the Nexus did,” she whispered.
“Yeah. It planned. Why worry? That emotion doesn’t exist for it. It served its superiors until it was ready to make its move.”
“The hybrids?”
“Hybrids, drones, weapons systems, cyber defenses – it needed them to get built, and it needed access to all. Takeover after that was merely the next step. But we humans – stupid, time-fighting humans – we couldn’t imagine the truth.”
“Arrogance, irmã.”
“Yes, Ara. And our entire race has paid hundredfold for that.”
Her voice grows even softer.
“Yet you still want to save us.”
I sigh and look up. Up at that brilliant, perfect, foreign, familiar, starry, starry view.
“Ah, Ara, how could I not?”