Basement Blast

I love shooting people.

Specifically, I love shooting my friends with Nerf guns. Not the least of all, this includes my wife.

The other day, she’d texted me and said she’d had a rough day at work, so I decided to do something special for her when she got home. Most husbands would draw a hot bath, buy flowers, and cook dinner that night, but our relationship is different–I daresay it’s more fun.

So I whipped up a Nerf-based adventure for her.

You’ll catch most of this if you watch the 2.5-minute Basement Blast (hashtag it! #basementblast) video below, but I’ve created this post to share how I did some of what I did on the back end so you can reuse some of it with your spouse (or kids, or whoever) if you so choose.

The actual Basement Blast video is the last one on this page. The first two videos are the two videos I mention in the Basement Blast video. I wanted to create a story world for the Nerf adventure, so I wrote out instructions and details in two letters that I left for her, and then I filmed those goofy videos. Here’s how it went down:

I started by leaving two Nerf guns, an envelope, and her iPad (which I’d used to film the videos) on our bed. The envelope instructed her to open it first, and she found this letter:

Then she watched these two videos in the order they’re placed within this blog post:

Following that lunacy, she opened the second letter:

Then we went into action. You can see the rest of what happened here: https://youtu.be/lUyqjap1PcY

If you create your own Basement Blast vids, feel free to post them in the comments. Or, if you have any questions about how I did this, or why, or… anything else, I guess… post those in the comments, too.

Posted in Movies, Storytelling, Strategery

5 Thoughts on Profanity in Christian Fiction

As a kid, I put down the book JAWS because I reached a point where one character was cussing out another character. Nowadays, I probably would’ve kept reading.

Why? My thoughts on the issue of profanity have changed.

Yes, kids. It was a novel first.

In my opinion (and that’s all this post is, folks), the use of profanity in fiction–even in Christian fiction–isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it can enhance a story in ways that other language cannot.

My goal here is not to be inflammatory but rather to inspire a meaningful, respectful discussion about this topic. You, the reader, don’t have to agree. In fact, I welcome your respectful disagreements to these thoughts.

(WARNING: This post contains some profanity.)

1. There’s plenty of gratuitous content in the Bible.

There’s a lot of crude and graphic writing in the Bible. Google it, or flip to Ezekiel 23 for an example of some ridiculously obscene language.

Pastors, try preaching a sermon on that passage without reading the text aloud to your congregation. Congregants, try listening to it! Most American churchgoers would lose their collective minds if someone read that passage aloud on Sunday morning.

I’m just going to leave this here.

I won’t go into too much detail about the Ezekiel 23 passage, but suffice it to say that the author told a story to make a point to his audience–and he used some really colorful words in the process. And that text made it into the Bible–God’s inspired, Holy, infallible Word.

So if you’re going to throw out a Christian novel because it has the word “damn” in it, then discard your Bible right along with it.

2. Cultural Meaning Matters.

While other words may have comparable meaning, only one word carries with it the cultural impact and punch that “shit” does. That’s its inherent value/infamy in our contemporary American-English vernacular. In other languages, that word just doesn’t carry the same impact.

Consequently, it’s that same reason why some people don’t think that word should be used: it carries a lot of meaning that other words don’t.

So the use of that word (or any word deemed profane) needs to happen in an appropriate context because of its inherent impact. (More on that in #4.)

3. An author shouldn’t avoid profanity just to keep someone from “stumbling.”

If we’re bound to apply Paul’s call to not cause anyone to stumble to our writing, we might as well stop writing now. Writing, by nature, is provocative. (And writing fiction, by one definition, is the telling of an extended lie.)

At some point, no matter how much I sanitize or censor my writing, I’m going to offend someone or “cause them to stumble.” This is especially true for authors who write speculative fiction.

On the other side of the coin, let’s not forget that Paul also advocates maturity. In the case of writing, this maturity falls on both the author and the reader.

In my opinion, authors should use profanity sparingly and only for necessary impact when writing fiction. I’m not a fan of authors dropping F-bombs every third sentence, for example. Instead, I prefer that authors use profanity only when it will have the greatest punch in their writing (if they use profanity at all).

As for readers, if someone is offended or verging on stumbling because of something they’ve read, then they need to let the Holy Spirit guide them to put the book down, or turn the page, or find some other solution that doesn’t involve protesting until the book (or other content) gets banned from their local Christian bookstore.

The key here is mutual respect: readers, don’t blast authors for including bad words in their stories. Similarly, authors shouldn’t blast readers for being prudes or not “getting” their writing.

And at the end of the day, it’s not the author’s job to babysit someone else’s Christianity.

4. Above all else, context is king.

If you have a pastor swearing and cursing in your story, sure, I could see why that’s a poor representation of Christ.

But if you’ve written a drug dealer holding a gun to another guy’s head, he’s not going to say, “I’m done fooling around with you and your doo-doo. I’m going to blow your gosh-darned head off, you son of a biscuit.”

If you whitewash that scene, you’re lying to your reader. You’re not telling the truth or writing authentic fiction.


The truth is, life is ugly. Sin is ugly. We as authors don’t have to paint egregious depictions of sin, but sanitizing it for “sensitive readers” won’t help them either.

I believe our primary mandate in writing fiction is to tell the truth through story. I also believe we should be afforded the freedom to tell that story in the way we feel it needs to be told. If someone disagrees with what an author writes, there’s a solution for that, too…

5. Know your audience.

If you’re writing for today’s Christian market, plan on nixing extreme content altogether. (Except for violence–for some reason, Christendom doesn’t seem to care as much about that.)

Why? It’s because today’s Christian audience doesn’t want that content in the fiction they consume.

If you, the author, choose to include profanity in a story and a reader doesn’t like it, kindly let them know that they’re not that book’s target audience. Then go out and find another reader who is in your target audience.

But readers, please stop hating on authors if they include such content! It’s not solely the author’s fault that you don’t like what they wrote. As the old saying goes, “it takes two to tango”–the author AND the reader.

Conclusion

Point #4 is the most essential element of this whole debate–specifically the part about authors needing to tell the truth in their fiction. I think that if we can apply Galatians 5 to our approach to writing (and reading), Christian fiction will be better off going forward.

What do you think about this issue? Where do you draw your lines with profanity in Christian fiction–or in your everyday vernacular? Do you see an argument that I missed, either for or against this idea? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Storytelling, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

6 Publishing Red Flags

Authors nationwide (and beyond) rejoiced when Tate Publishing (which hilariously only has ten likes on its Facebook Page) announced it was closing. Yet the devastation Tate left in its path is no laughing matter.

But Tate wasn’t the only publisher that authors need to watch out for.

I teach at 8-12 writers conferences per year, and I interact with a lot of publishers. Some of them are classy, professional, and really know what they’re doing. Others feel slimy, salesy, and shifty to me. Others just seem inept.

I’ve encountered inept publishers and shifty publishers of various sizes. It’s not exclusively small publishers who are inept (I know of several that are wonderful and employ talented people), and it’s not exclusively large publishers who are shifty (some of them are upright and demonstrate great integrity and ethics).

Most people have a sense for discerning when something is shady, but a lot of people can’t tell whether or not a publisher can produce quality work.
 

In my time at dozens of writers conferences over the years, I’ve identified a few red flags that could (but don’t always) signify that a publisher is inept or incapable of helping authors and their stories reach their full potential.

1. It’s a small operation.

Bigger publishers typically produce better work. More minds, organized and properly directed, usually produce better outcomes than a one- or two-man show.

If the publisher only has one editor and one cover designer, and they’re the same person, or the editor and the marketing person are the same, then that’s either an incredibly talented person or they’re not truly great at either skill. (Sure, there could be some middle ground, here.)

So who’s doing the typesetting? Who’s handling the contracts? Who’s handling the royalty calculations, and who’s writing the checks? Is it all the same person?

If you’re their only author, then maybe that’s doable, but as a point of reference, I’ve independently published two books, scored high in math in school, and I still don’t do my own accounting/bookkeeping. I don’t have time for it, and I prefer to specialize in other areas (more on that later).

If the publisher is doing (or trying to do) too many things proportional to its size, that’s a red flag worth considering.

2. They’re cheap.

If a publisher isn’t willing to invest in you, why would you invest in them? I’m a big believer that in life, “you get what you pay for.” And if a publisher won’t shell out or otherwise provide excellent production value for your work, why are you even talking to them in the first place?

To use another platitude, “the proof is in the pudding.” Look at what they’ve produced thus far. If their already-published books* have significant errors in them (excessive typos, continuity issues, misspellings, or other editing problems) or their covers suck, then you can pretty well assume this red flag is significant enough to give you pause.

*Note that some of these publishers will promise you the world when it comes to quality, but they’re more interested in signing you to a contract than delivering on their promises. Remember to always get your requests in writing.

3. They’re fine with mediocre book covers.

Anyone who tells you that the book cover doesn’t matter as much as the story is either lying, misinformed, or delusional. Your book cover is the single most important marketing investment that you or a publisher can make for your book, because it’s what hooks the reader (or doesn’t) first.

If you want your book to sell, you need an excellent book cover.

If the publisher has a track record of producing mediocre book covers, run for the hills. Don’t ignore this red flag.

4. They don’t have any connections.

A monkey with an iPad could learn to upload your book to Amazon, Smashwords, and other online retailers, so why are you giving up 40-60% of your royalties to a publisher who can’t get your work into bookstores? (Especially when that monkey needs a job and has kids to feed?)

I’m not knocking ebook-only publishers. Some of them are fantastic, and certainly some of them have other valuable connections beyond basic uploads to online retailers.

More-established publishers have relationships with bloggers, media, and review websites who can help get the word out to their audiences about your book. They may even have connections to conferences or conventions or TV shows where they could help you land a speaking engagement or set you up with a booth to promote your work.

The point is, your publisher needs to be able to offer you something beyond editing, a book cover, and an upload to Amazon, et. al. If your platform is bigger than theirs, that’s a red flag you need to assess before signing with them. Ask objectively, “What can they do for me that I can’t do for myself?”

5. They’re disorganized.

Not many of you know the history of my company Splickety Publishing Group (SPG), but I wasn’t always the owner. Before SPG was a thing, we just had one flash fiction magazine (which we still have) called Splickety Magazine.

Our then-parent company helped us publish our first issue in early 2012 with the understanding that they would pay the authors we had acquired according to the contracts the authors had signed with us. A month passed, and the authors didn’t get paid. They told me that everyone would get paid eventually.

Then two months passed. Then three. Four. Five…

Nine months later, I personally paid the authors of Splickety’s first issue (to the tune of a whopping $150 or so) because the publishing company wasn’t paying them. Within another month, I negotiated to assume the ownership and financial responsibility of Splickety Magazine, which later became Splickety Publishing Group (and we now publish three flash fiction magazines that you can subscribe to FOR FREE instead of just one).

This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the principle well: if a company can’t meet its obligations to its authors in a timely fashion, they’re probably pretty disorganized—not to mention ridiculous. (If you can’t find a way to pay fifteen authors a grand total of $150 over a 9-month period of time, you just shouldn’t be in business.)

Does the publisher you’re considering have their act together? Or are they struggling with business travails like a monkey trying to learn how to upload books on an iPad? If they don’t seem to know what they’re doing, or if they can’t keep their promises, that’s a YUGE red flag.

6. Their acquisitions approach is skewed.

Pop quiz – What’s more important to a publisher: making money or publishing quality books? If you guessed both, you’re right.

Sometimes.

The big New York publishers are just as guilty of producing some of the poorest dreck ever printed as they are of publishing the world’s all-time bestselling authors and their books. The same holds true for small and medium-sized publishers and for indie authors who self-publish.

The biggest red flag over inept publishers is how they approach acquisitions.

In dozens of conferences, I’ve seen a wide range of acquisitions approaches. They’ve ranged from on-the-spot giveaways of contracts, to contracts awarded as prizes (sometimes provisional, sometimes not), to standard sit-and-pitch meetings that sometimes yield contracts and sometimes yield rejections, and much, much more.

Usually, the publishers who ask nearly every author to submit their manuscript, regardless of the genre, the writing skill, the level of editing needed, or the author’s platform are the inept and/or sharky publishers.

By contrast, other publishers have told me not to submit because what I had to offer didn’t fit into what they were looking for at that time.

Publishers who take everything generally don’t know how to market anything.

“But what about the big New York houses? They publish all sorts of stuff.”

You’re absolutely right, theoretical blog post critic. They do publish all sorts of stuff. And that’s because they’re gigantic companies with hundreds or thousands of employees at dozens of affiliate publishing houses or divisions within the company who are trained and have experience working with specific types of books.

It’s not one guy in his basement publishing a sci-fi horror novel one day and then a self-help book on dealing with fibromyalgia the next, only to move onto a children’s book about cats playing basketball on day three.

Who WOULDN’T read this book?

Big companies are big because their employees specialize in only a few areas. They succeed because they specialize and because they can afford to specialize. If a publisher is willing to take anything, they don’t specialize in anything except trying to line their own pockets.

Publishers who take this sort of shotgun approach have a business model that essentially says, “acquire a lot, publish a lot, make money on what sells, repeat.”

Nowhere in there do you see any concern or mention of helping to produce great quality publications. Think it through: the people running these companies need to make money to live, right? So publishing more books will reach more audiences. More books means more sales opportunities, more sales opportunities means more sales, and more sales means more money.

The publisher puts books out there, regardless of the quality, makes whatever money it can off of its 40-60% of the royalties, and lets the author do all the work. Since the publisher has multiple books out there, they don’t care about the quality. They only care about putting more out there.

This business model only works with a high volume of acquisitions.

If your publisher doesn’t truly care about your story, that’s the ultimate red flag.

Conclusion

So what do you think of this list? Would you add anything to it that I forgot or excluded? What scenarios have you run into where something about a publishing arrangement just didn’t seem right? Share your feedback in the comments below.
Posted in Editing, Money, Storytelling, Strategery, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

IPAL Promotion

Want to skip the spiel?

cropped-Ben-on-Books.jpg

Get your print copy of IPAL today!

I’ve got 1,000+ books ready to land in happy homes, and now you can buy them securely through PayPal.

1 for $14.95

2 for $24.95

3 for $34.95*


Number of Copies



Want a bulk order?** Email me  at 1BenWolf@gmail.com and we’ll work it out!

*Prices do not include $2.95 shipping charge.
**Formal distribution channels are forthcoming.

Want a digital copy instead? Click here to buy it from Amazon.

The Message

I fundamentally believe that kids need to know how much their parents love them.

My IMG_3880name is Ben Wolf, and I have a son. His name is Liam, and he’s one of my two favorite people in the world. (The other is my daughter Violet.)

A lot of little boys have daddies who want them to know how loved they are, and that’s the exact message I wanted to convey to my son: daddy loves you no matter what. What little boy doesn’t need to know that? What loving parent, whether they’re around all the time or not, doesn’t want to convey that love?

Since I love my son so much, I decided to use my talents and skills to create something unique and special to remind him of how much I love him, something he can always have with him, even when I can’t be around.

The Idea

The idea to create a children’s book for Liam came to mind one day, and within minutes I had fleshed out the plot for I’d Punch a Lion in His Eye for You (IPAL). (Side note: I’m developing a great story for my daughter Violet as well.)

It took me another 6 months or so, but I managed to wrangle enough extra funds from my day job as a freelance editor to hire a phenomenal artist and a dynamite designer to help me bring this book to life.

The ResultIPaL Cover

The results have been nothing short of fantastic. The unbelievably talented Ben Powell took my concept and brought it to life with his pencils and markers in ways I never could have imagined. Liam adores this book, and so will the little ones in your life.

A lot of parents want to express their love for their kids whether they’re around all the time or not. This book shares the message of that love in a fun, adventurous way.

Limited Time Offer

Order a copy of IPAL and as an added bonus, I’ll send you these extras for free:

  • 3 Short Stories (written by me)
  • 8 Flash Fiction pieces (also written by me)
  • A digital copy of my award-winning novel Blood for Blood
  • A digital copy of Havok Magazine 1.4
  • A digital copy of Splickety Prime Magazine 3.2
  • A digital copy of IPAL

But this deal only lasts through March 7th.

Buy your copies today! Each copy you buy counts as one entry to win a poster.

(To buy more than three copies, please contact me via email at 1BenWolf@gmail.com. Orders with bulk discounts may not be eligible for poster-prizes, but you still get access to the free content listed above.)

Number of Copies



Email me at 1BenWolf@gmail.com for bulk orders.

For more info about Splickety Publishing Group and our fantastic flash fiction magazines, check out www.splicketypubgroup.com.

Posted in Speculative Fiction, Storytelling, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beyond NaNoWriMo – A Challenge for Real Authors

NaNoWriMo (Nano) is halfway done. I’m ahead of the stated Nano goal at the time of writing this, but I’m chasing my personal word count goal of 2,000 words per day. Right now I’m behind and need to write about 3,000 words today to catch up.

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

If you don’t know what Nano is, I suggest clicking on the link above and learning more about it there. Basically, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month in a novel.

According to Nano’s website, over 350,000 people participated last year. That’s huge. The site also states that more than 250 Nano novels have been traditionally published. That’s not so huge, but it’s a telling commentary on how hard it is to get a traditional publishing contract these days.

One of my assumptions about Nano for a long time has been that many folks who participate largely aren’t trained writers; they’re just people who want to write books. I think that’s great, whether it’s true or not.

But out of that assumption comes a concern, a question: how many of us who are doing Nano this year won’t write much of anything in December? Or in January? Or beyond?

Nano can jumpstart the formation of a writing schedule, but with the “event” of Nano over on November 30th, how do we make sure we keep writing afterward?

It’s been said and alluded to many times by many pro writers that writing is something that needs to happen far more consistently than every day for one month out of a year. Here’s a quote I love that’s been attributed to Stephen King:

I’m guessing a LOT of amateurs write for Nano, and again, I think that’s great. But my challenge to those of us who fancy ourselves something more than mere amateurs is this:

Write more consistently.

(I’m preaching to myself as well, here. I go through spurts. I’ll be really productive for a month, and then miss two. Or three. Or more than three, I’m ashamed to admit.)

I firmly believe that great writers write often and consistently. Not everything they put out is gold, but a lot of it probably is because they’re used to writing and they know how to make things work within their stories.

With that belief in mind, I’m offering up a challenge to you (and to myself) today: let’s make this December the first ever December where we’ve continued to write. We can call it #DeCoWriMo–December Continue Writing Month.

If you believe and understand that writing is something you need to do consistently in order to succeed in publishing, then let’s get behind this, support each other, and make sure we do our part to keep writing.

#DeCoWriMo

Posted in Writing Tagged with: , , , , , ,