Thursday, January 31, 2019

Len Wein's Batman: Batman 307

As a kid in the late 1970s, comics were one of my go-to things (Star Wars, KISS, and early Star Trek fandom were the other main loves of my life) and Batman was my favorite. Still being a young kid in late elementary, I didn’t pay attention to the names of the writers or artists. I just bought the books and read them, ingesting the stories over and over again.

When I review the covers of my issues of Batman, it turns out some of my favorites were all scripted by the same guy: Len Wein. Unknown to me at the time, Wein had already co-created Swamp Thing for DC and rebooted the X-Men over at Marvel, including the co-creation of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. Nope, all I cared about was good Batman stories, and for a stretch there in late 1978 and all through 1979, Len Wein was the monthly writer (mostly) for Batman.
With the cover date for Wein’s first issue being January 1979 (although it hit the spinner racks a month or so earlier), I thought it would be fun to re-read Wein’s Batman run forty years later and see how it holds up. Spoiler: his run is among my favorites of all-time. In fact, Wein wrote one of my favorite all-time comic stories, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk. But that’s for a later post.

Speaking of holding up, Batman and Bruce Wayne in the 1970s is my favorite version of the character. Dick Grayson is off to college, leaving Bruce to move out of Wayne Manor and into Gotham City proper. He takes up residence at the Wayne Foundation building, and operates there for most of the decade. It is one of the neatest buildings in comicdom, what with the giant tree in the middle of the building, which secretly houses an elevator to the basement where the Batmobile is kept. For a young boy like me, this was the coolest thing ever.

The building shows up in Batman issue 307, but not before in intriguing two-page prologue. A beggar woman is asking for spare change. A man in a trench coat, fedora, and scarf approaches and gives her two gold pieces. The next page, she falls dead, right under the title, “Dark Messenger of Mercy!” The artist in this issue is John Calnan and Dick Giordano.


The first time we see Bruce Wayne, he is in his office, staring out the window. Next to him is Lucius Fox in his debut. I’m not sure the thought process Wein went through to create Fox, but the character has been around for these last forty years. Morgan Freeman played him in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. From the chit-chat between Fox and Wayne, however, it’s clear Wayne has not shared his secret identity. The two men talk about business and name drop a man named Gregorian Falstaff (love the name) who, according to Wayne, “He’s rumored to have have a fortune which makes mine look like so much lunch money.”

Darkness literally falls over Gotham in one short panel, and Wayne excuses himself. He tags up with Alfred who has the Batman costume at the ready. As he swings off the top of the Foundation building, Batman makes a comment to Alfred: “When I start making value judgements—deciding who’s important enough to avenge—it’ll be time to hang up my mask forever.” Here in 2019, with the recent passing of Stan Lee, many folks mentioned Lee’s strong streak of social justice running through his words. Here, in 1979, Len Wein does the same thing for Batman.

Meanwhile...at police headquarters, a man named Quentin Conroy is livid. He wants Gotham’s finest to help him find stolen property, gold coins to be exact. Unbeknownst to both men, Batman is sitting in the same room, legs casually crossed, fingers steepled. The Caped Crusader in convinced he can find Conroy’s missing money, especially since two of the coins turned up on that dead woman’s corpse.


Street level, Batman approaches a sleep bum and there is a funny couple of panels. In the boxed panels, Wein writes “Without question, the Batman is an impressive figure. His unexpected visage, looming large out of the darkness, is often viewed with admiration...or hostility...or outright fear…” “But rarely indifference.” This as the bum goes back to sleep. See? You can have humor in a Batman story. Anyway, an Irishman named Shamrock (natch) approaches and asks the hero if he needs helps. When Batman says he’s investigating the murder of the woman, Shamrock knew her. He volunteers to escort Batman down into the sewers to meet some folks who might have seen something.

What Batman sees is a group of people living in an underground tunnel, the area kept warm by the steam pipes. Here, Batman meets Slugger (from the ‘48 Gotham Giants baseball team), Poet (Shakespeare of the sewers), and Good Queen Bess. Through dialogue alone, Wein gives these characters their accents and particular ways of speaking. Shamrock always says, “Laddie,” while Slugger talks like a New Yorker: “Pleased to meet ‘cha!” Batman learns there have been other deaths...and Queen Bess actually has two of the coins with her. The Dark Knight Detective ascertains the gold coins are laced with a contact poison, absorbed through the skin.

No sooner does Batman make this discovery than a piercing scream fills the bowels of Gotham. Another woman is being attacked! It’s the man with the fedora and red scarf. Batman leaps to action. A fight ensues, and Batman gets himself whacked by Scarfman’s cane. In the melee, two things happen. One, Scarfman’s hat and scarf fall away, revealing a face the citizens of the underworld know. Two, Scarfman’s cane cracked a steam pipe. It’s about to blow. So Batman gets between the pipe and the people. It explodes, hurling Batman across the room.

Later, Batman’s “new tattered friends” say Scarfman looks just like one of their own: “Limehouse” John Francis Conroy, a man who used to sleep with them before just disappearing. Being the detective, Batman soon finds his way to Quentin Conroy’s house (because Batman can get into any room in Gotham, right?). Heated words are exchanged and Quentin confesses John Francis was his father. He kept the gold coins as a remembrance of his father, a man who ran out on his family while Quentin was a kid. The modern pressures of the world drove John Francis to the streets, supposedly dying in a gutter.

But Batman isn’t so sure.

The next night, we see Scarfman prowling about. He gives coins to a man who extends his hand...the gloved hand of The Batman! Oddly, Batman is wearing a sling, proof not only did the steam explosion hurt him worse than we saw three pages ago, but reminding readers the Caped Crusader is really just a man, a man who can get injured. A second battle commences, but Batman’s shoulder hampers him. Scarfman swings the cane too wide, allowing Batman to come in underneath him. A powerful punch to the mid-section topples Scarfman. The odd cast of characters are also there, cheering on Batman. Scarfman questions their motives. All he wants is to give these street people some mercy and peace. But “the peace of the grave” is something they shun. Just as they shun him.
Scarfman’s mind snaps. He accuses Batman of turning these “friends of his” away from him. His face is misshapen, resembling John Francis Conroy, but a few panels later, it is revealed to be Quentin all along. Quentin, looking almost like a young boy.

Wein wraps up the entire story in three thin panels. We see Quentin being led away and Commissioner Gordon asking Batman about the clue. It was the heels of Quentin’s shoes, something we saw a few pages before. Many of the 1970s stories had clues the reader could follow, and it’ fun to go back and notice certain things you might have missed the first go-round.

Wein wrote a pretty decent script. I enjoy the non-super-villain aspect of these kinds of stories. Kind of like a breather before we get to the next issue featuring Mr. Freeze. Wein brings Batman’s humanity to the fore, both in how he protects the homeless but also, at the end, when he hopes young Quentin will receive the help he needs. He’s a true hero to all, discriminating toward none.

What did y’all think about this story?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 4

One of the best things about being independent is the ability to change on the fly.

BLOG POST TO READ


Ever since I read this post by Dean Wesley Smith, “No One Cares,” I’ve been giving it some thought. It’s churned around in my brain, off and on, for two weeks now. And it’s allowed me the freedom to change—potentially—my publishing schedule for the year.

What I’ve said from New Year’s Day on is that this is the year of Calvin Carter. Yes, I will be publishing at least the five novels I’ve already written. Each of these six books will be published on the odd-numbered months. EMPTY COFFINS on New Year’s Day. HELL DRAGON on 1 March.

But what y’all didn’t know is my plan for the even-numbered months. I had a whole other schedule planned out.
What I realized this week—early on, actually—was that I wasn’t ready for 1 February. At least, not for a novel.

So I’m preparing a couple of short stories. They are modern crime fiction featuring a character named Anne Chambers. She’s a homicide detective for the Houston Police Department. One of the stories was originally published as part of Do Some Damage’s COLLATERAL DAMAGE anthology (2011). The latter was originally published at David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp blog. Now, they are paired together in a short collection.


In other words, when you are an independent writer and publisher and you haven’t made public your schedule, you can do whatever you want...because your company is agile.

ALWAYS LEARNING - INSTAGRAM


I’m a member of Western Fictioneers, a writing group dedicated to western fiction. I’ve been a member since the group’s founding in 2009. We are a great group of folks who read each other’s works and collectively promote western stories and books.

We also help each other figure out how to promote our stuff and share marketing techniques. No matter how your stories are published, you simply must do the lion’s share of your own promotion. It is a constant learning process. For some, this process can be frustrating. For me, it’s a challenge, but one I actually enjoy. As much as I would love for there to be a “set it and forget it” solution, there simply isn’t one.

Which circled me back to Instagram this week.

I’ve been on Instagram for a few years now, but did nothing other than follow a graphic designer friend of mine, Mark Hamill, Neal Adams, and Kevin Smith. But after reading an internal Western Fictioneers email thread, I’m turning back to Instagram. I even uploaded my first...post? What do you call individual Instagram posts? Who knows? But I did it. And I plan on doing it more often in 2019.

Follow me on Instagram here. And if you’re of a mind, follow S. L. Matthews.

DEAL OF THE WEEK...AND ANOTHER LESSON


Do Some Damage alumnus, Kristi Belcamino, has a terrific deal.

I’ve subscribed to her newsletter for a few years now. She has forged ahead as an independent author and she is rocking it. She’s got her newsletter, her Facebook group, and her video channel where she talks about books, her own works, and the utterly charming “Coffee Talk Puppy Talk” series. You should subscribe to her channel. She’s at 95 subscribers as of yesterday. Let’s get her to 100 this week.

She’s got six books in her Gia Santella Crime Thriller series. With those six books, she has lots of options for promoting and selling them. And as of today, you can get all six books...for $0.99.



A dollar! Six books. Are you kidding me? You should buy that on principle. It’s a remarkable deal. Over 1,000 pages of crime fiction. And, as of today, she ranks as #1 in her fields. That’s how you marshal your books to your advantage.

If you are not following Kristi, you should. She’s a leader in what you can do as an indie writer.
Website
YouTube


ALBUM OF THE WEEK


I’ve got an early favorite for my song of the year.

When it comes to melodic hard rock and metal, Frontiers Music is leading the charge at keeping legacy acts in the public eye while showcasing new artists. To start 2019, they have a free sampler when you join their email list. It’s a list of twelve tracks by bands I’ve never heard of (save one: One Desire).With a hashtag of #RockAintDead, how can you go wrong?

You can't.

If you like hard rock with a melodic edge, go now to this site, sign up, and download this music. It is really, really good. How good? There’s not a bad song on this sampler. And how about this: I’ve already purchased two albums by artists featured on the sampler. One Desire’s self-titled debut and ALL RISE, an album by the band Perfect Plan. Both of these bands sit right in that wonderful pocket of taking old songs and styles and making them their own.

It is “In and Out of Love” by Perfect Plan that I find myself singing while washing dishes or folding laundry. Want to hear it?


That’s the update for Week 4 of 2019.

How has your 2019 been going?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 3

Of course there’d be weeks like this.
It’s been rather quiet this week at the home offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio. The biggest news was the approval of the paperback version of EMPTY COFFINS. It is now available for all y’all who like to feel paper under your fingers when you read a story.
DAY JOB BENEFITING THE WRITING JOB
I’ve been a technical writer/marketing writer for my entire career. I now work in the marketing department for an oil and gas firm here in Houston. The types of deliverables we generate constantly give me ideas on how to promote my fiction writing. SEO was the big lightbulb moment this week. A co-worker of mine gave me some instructions on how to best utilize proper metadata, tags, and keywords to promote effective SEO. I thought I knew what I was doing. Turns out, I was a little off base. As soon as I learned what she taught me, I started working it into the deliverables at work.
And also began working on it on my author website.
Every day is learning experience in life. It’s only how we apply it in our lives that makes each day a step better than the previous one.
WRITING LESSON LEARNED THIS WEEK
I wake around 4:30 to 4:45am and exercise then write until 5:50am. Sometimes, I get distracted in the morning or do some sort of busy work. I did that on Thursday morning, but figured I’d get in the words come lunch.
Until I got to the office, logged into email, and discovered I had to attend a meeting from 11:00am to 1:00pm. Well, there went the lunch writing time, leaving Thursday’s word count very low.
Think I’ll blow off the morning writing session again anytime soon? Nope.
AUDIOBOOK OF THE WEEK
Let me be frank: Scott Brick is my favorite narrator. I might even pay to have him read the phonebook. I have listened to many books he’s narrated, but two authors stand atop my list of great writers + great narrator = awesome experience. One is Clive Cussler, specifically the Isaac Bell adventures. The other is Brad Meltzer. I am listening to Meltzer’s THE FIRST CONSPIRACY: THE PLOT TO KILL GEORGE WASHINGTON. I hold two degrees in history and even I barely knew this story. Seltzer tells an utter engrossing story so well, you forget you know the end of the story. Seltzer’s words as spoken by Brick is magical. I’ll provide a full review when I’m done, but this is already the book to beat for Best Book of 2019.
BLOGPOST OF THE WEEK
Second-Hand Sales” was posted on Tuesday by Dean Wesley Smith on his blog. He discusses how it’s a good thing to have our books in print and available at used bookstores. Ultimately, if you have a decent back catalog and you earn a fan via a used copy of your book, it’ll give your writing career a boost.
Give it a read. Comment if you want. He moderates all comments but lets almost all of them through.
That’s it for this week. I’m already starting on the publication process of the next Calvin Carter book, HELL DRAGON. It’ll hit stores on 1 March. Ditto for my next standalone western, THE LAW ALWAYS WINS.

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 2

The first full week of 2019 saw two interesting things. One was business related, the other involved writing.
PROOFING THE HARDCOPY
The big news this week was the arrival of the paperback proof of EMPTY COFFINS. On sale in ebook form since 1 Jan, the paperback lagged behind, largely because of the holiday schedules of both me and the POD companies. But Ingram Spark did a great job at getting me the hard copy proof and it arrived Thursday.
First of all, as a writer, there are few things better than getting a paperback of your book in the mail. It never gets old. But as soon as the pride beamed through me, I inspected the book.
And found flaws. The text on the spine is not precisely centered. The text on the back cover is a tad too large. The cover, on the other hand, looks great and exactly as I planned it. Inside, I scanned the intro pages, then the back. Sure enough: I found a few errors. One of them was in the “Also by” section where I switched two covers. I also read through my “Origins of Calvin Carter” essay and found a few tweaks I needed to make. Oddly, on my “About the Author” page, I noted the actual links to my Facebook and Twitter feed were missing.
It’s all the little things.
As an indie writer and publisher, you are responsible for every aspect of your business. Sure, you can outsource some parts of your business, but you’d still have to QA whatever the third party did. Or not. You can trust the third party completely, but would you really do that? Wouldn’t you just want to make sure on your own?
I’ll be making the cover changes today. I made the interior changes on Thursday night in the Vellum program.

UPDATING EBOOKS
I noted the Call to Action in the paperback had my request to join mailing list and receive WADING INTO WAR as a free gift. Well, if you read my post from last week,you’ll know I’ve changed that. So I need to update all my ebooks. All of them. Four mysteries, six westerns, and EMPTY COFFINS. Eleven files in Kobo; eleven files for Amazon, and eleven files for Draft2Digital. Yes, this makes the case for having a service like D2D be the sole source, but as I wrote last week, there are reasons I want to keep a direct line open to Kobo and Amazon.
But this time, I’ll have my Call to Action be more generic, and direct all traffic to my webpage. Then, if I change what I offer, it’ll only be at the website, and not 33 different ebook files.
WRITING THE NEXT BOOK
I am having great success writing this new book. Until late this week, I’ve been using my old draft as a jumping off point and using vast swaths of that content in the new draft. It works welluntil it didn’t.
Twice this week, I felt my new creative voice stymied by the urge to go in a different direction. Usually, these little nudges consisted of adding a sentence here or there. Very low key. But what was pulling me this time was a new direction for the story, a direction my newer, more seasoned creative voice was telling me I needed.
Turns out, the creative voice was correct. One thing it said was the story needed a prologue. That thought drifted into my head when I was writing chapter 7 and it went on for way too long. Something in the back of my head whispered a prologue could solve lots of problems.
So I wrote a prologue. Boy, did those words spill out. Almost in an entire session at lunch this week. And they were pretty good. I read the prologue to my wife—a fantastic first reader because she’ll call out anything that takes her out of the story. She liked it.
I learned to trust the creative voice and, from this point forward in writing this newly re-written novel, don’t be such a slave to the existing original draft. Let the story flow.

BLOG OF THE WEEK
When it comes to writing, you can get a degree from a traditional college. For writing and selling fiction, however, there are tons of resources out there. Like I mentioned last week, I created my own curriculum in fiction writing by reading lots of blogs and listening to tons of podcasts by writers who are ahead of me on the writing journey.
Dean Wesley Smith is one of the best. A veteran of the writing business for over forty years, Smith has likely seen it all and written it all. In just the last decade, he has made the jump to independent publishing.
And he’s never going back. He lays out what he’s learned and how we writers can navigate this new landscape. He’s great for blowing up the myths surrounding the writing business—note the second word—and encouraging us writers to take ownership of our careers. His daily posts are almost the first things I read every day after my writing is complete. He had some great posts today, one of which I sparked. Smith’s blog is literally a graduate-level course. You could learn so much just from reading and studying what he himself practices.
Give him a read. https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/ 

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 1

[I've decided to cross-post these blogs here on my legacy blog. So I'm catching up today.]

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were safe and fun.
For readers of this particular blog, I hope to provide something new.
I’ll admit: there are days in which I ponder what I’m going to write every Saturday. Sometimes, I’ll scour old posts and re-post themwhich isn’t horrible because we’re always getting new readers. But I think I have something special for 2019.
I’m an independent writer and publisher. I enjoy it that way, accepting all the challenges that come my way as learning experiences. I’ve mapped out a rather interesting plan for 2019 when it dawned on me that I have a perfect medium for new, engaging series of blog posts every week: write specifically about my experiences as an independent author over the course of one year.
Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Also yes. Exciting? For me, yes, and, I hope, educational for those fellow writers in the publishing world. Over the past four years, I have learned a lot from those writers ahead of me on the writing/publishing journey. I’m thinking of Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Katheryn Rusch, Joanna Penn, the guys at Sterling and Stone, the interviewees at Kobo Writing Life, and dozens more. I’ve learned a lot–and I keep learning–but I thought it might be interesting to catalog what goes on here at the home offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio for a calendar year. At the very least, it’ll give me a record of everything I do. And, in the future, I can collect these essays and publish them in a book.
Solet’s start.
THE PLAN FOR 2019
I have a rather ambitious publishing schedule for 2019. I am introducing railroad detective Calvin Carter over six books this year. The first, EMPTY COFFINS, was published on New Year’s Day. Here’s the link to the main book page where you can see the cool cover, read the description, and have a look at all of Chapter 1. I have to admit: it’s one of my favorite chapters I’ve written. You get a good sense of who Carter and his partner, Thomas Jackson, are and how Carter conducts his investigationswith flair.
I have five-and-a-half books written, and they’ll be published every other month starting in January.
In addition, I have other books complete and ready to go. I’m still making decisions on when they’ll be published, but there’s a good chance I’ll be publishing them on the even-numbered months.
Busy, busy year.
And I’m still writing. Just started a new book on New Year’s Day. My goal is to publish it in August.
DISTRIBUTION
I use the following three methods for ebooks:
  • Kobo Writing Life for Kobo ebooks
  • KDP for Amazon ebooks
  • Draft2Digital for everything else, including Apple and Barnes and Noble
Why not just use Draft2Digital for everything? Ease of use. Kobo and Amazon are really straightforward when it comes to preparing files for publication. Plus, I’m a part of Kobo’s promotional program, and the KWL folks are wonderful with any questions I have. D2D is also straightforward–maybe even the simplest out there–but I’m comfortable with the systems so I’ll just keep on this way unless circumstances necessitate a change.
Late in November 2018 (barely six weeks ago), I got word from Draft2Digital and Kobo that, due to the holiday season, if writers wanted books published in early 2019, final files needed to be submitted by early December. That took me by surprise, so I quickly stopped writing the sixth Carter novel and jumped on prepping EMPTY COFFINS. It took a few days, but I got all the files in on time.
But what about the paperback? Well, I’m trying IngramSpark for 2019. I’ve never used them before, but for extended distribution reasons, I thought why not give them a go. I used CreateSpace for my existing four paperbacks over at Amazon. I’m slowly converting them over to KDP Print.
So far, I’ve been very pleased with IngramSpark. One great thing is being able to purchase an ISBN number via their system. Not only is it cheaper, but it avoids the issues that came up in 2018 with the existing provider of US-based ISBNs. All I had to do was create a print-ready PDF, get the proper page count, submit all the metadata, and create a title in their system. What you get back in a template you can use to create your paperback cover.
Here is where Ingram shines. The template is easy to use. I just insert it into Affinity Designer and created my cover with little headaches. I submitted the files to Ingramand it got rejected. It seemed some of my text ran into the no-fly zone. I fixed and resubmitted. Viola! Accepted. Unlike with CreateSpace, there is a $49 charge to set everything up at Ingram, but I think that’s a small price to pay for greater visibility. I’ve approved the e-proof and am awaiting the paper proof. When I see it and see how everything lays out, I’ll be more likely to simply approve the e-proof in the future.
WEBSITE
On 31 December, I updated my website to include Calvin Carter. I’ve posted the covers of all six novels. Between you and me, there’s a chance a couple of them might change. That’s the beauty of being independent: change at will.
I use Houston’s Host Gator to host my website and WordPress to run it. I’ve also purchased the Divi theme because of its WYSIWYG nature. Thought everything was good…
until I checked the links New Year’s Day. All were wrong. So I spent an hour that morning fixing everything. Again, not difficult, but time consuming.
That’s the theme for much of what I do as an independent. Most of the tasks are not difficult–or just a Google search away for the answer to most questions–just time consuming. As a person with a day job and a family, time is precious. But every now and then, you just have to knuckle down and fix links.
NEWSLETTER and INCENTIVES
I have not been as diligent with my mailing list as I should be, but that changes in 2019. I plan on being quite active with my newsletters, building up the list, and interacting with readers along the way.
I have a specific goal of discovering 100 new subscribers this year. It’s a discrete, doable goal with specific metrics: 8-10 new subscribers per month.
Most authors give away a free book as a thank-you gift for joining a mailing list. I did that, too, but I had two lists, one for mysteries and one for westerns. With Calvin Carter–a character who can bridge both these genres–I decided to merge the lists into one. But if I have potentially two audiences coming into the one list, what kind of incentive could I offer? Mystery readers might not like a western, and vice versa.
So I created a catalog sampler. In this ebook, I have my four mysteries, the opening chapters of my six Carter novels, and excerpts of my existing western stories. It is my hope that readers will read through the samples, find a few things they like, and read more.
And I threw in a couple of incentives. If a reader buys a book of mine, let me know and I’ll provide them with a free book. Buy one, get one free. In addition, if an existing subscriber gets another person to subscribe to the list, the existing subscriber earns a free story. So, potentially, for the price of one book, a person can get three stories.
Is that a good idea? Not sure, but that’s the best thing about being independent: I can experiment and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and adjust. I see few downsides to this equation.
Want to join? Head on over to my website.
To distribute the free catalog sampler, I use BookFunnel. I upgraded to mid-list plan so I can have multiple pen names and numerous books on file. From there, I can create various landing pages with various giveaways all the while collecting emails for my newsletter. Win-win.
SUMMARY
So that’s how I’m starting 2019. It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out, but I’m excited. I know there will be slumps of enthusiasm along with mountaintop highs, but that’s all part of the marathon that is writing and publishing in 2019.
Each week, I plan on updating everyone with my weekly accomplishments. If y’all’ve got questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll address them. Or you can always head over to my author Facebook page and interact there.
Here’s to a fanTAStic 2019!
What are your goals for the year?