Monday, July 25, 2022

Extras for a Book?

I finally picked up a copy of Atomic Habits by James Clear this week. Well, my own copy, a hard back no less. I’ve been reading through it via my Kindle and my local library, but the book is in such a high demand, I only get 14 days to read it…and I’ve never finished. Now, I don’t have a countdown clock ticking and I’ll be able to finish the book.

Naturally for any new-to-me author, I check the website. is laid out nicely, effortlessly guiding you through his introduction, the offer for his habit course, and a sampling of blogs and newsletters. You can sign up for his mailing list and get Chapter 1 for free. There’s a separate email list for a 30-day guide to building better habits.

In the footer, there is a link where you can see all the places you can buy the book and all the different formats and languages. What struck me was Step 2 of this process: Claim Your Free Bonuses. They don’t leave you in the dark as to your bonus content. You get a guide to how you can apply your atomic habits to business and parenting, a cheat sheet, a companion reading guide, and a habit tracker.

The only thing you had to do is buy the book and prove you bought the book. You do that via your purchase receipt.

I snapped a photo of the receipt on top of the book (to be doubly sure) and sent the photo to a unique email address. Within minutes, I received a confirmation email with links to the bonus content.

It was seamless and I felt I got more than I paid for when I bought the book at Target.

That got me to thinking about how to apply this concept of bonus material to fiction. I suspect there are a good number of authors who offer bonus content to readers, but up until now, I’ve only experienced it via Kickstarter.

The “How” of getting that bonus content is straightforward. I’ve done a version of it myself where I offered any reader on my mailing list a free copy of a book in exchange for an objective review. Done and done.

But what kind of content would a reader want from an author? Bookmarks? Shrug. Those are not always effective and you can’t spend $X.XX dollars to mail a bookmark to someone. Let me rephrase: what kind of digital content would a reader want from an author?

Some things jump to mind: A PDF of a particular chapter, an early draft all marked up with changes and edits. That would be interesting to see. Maybe a handful of chapters. What about research? Maybe a PDF of some research material an author used to write the book, especially if it’s an historical book. What about some peek into the internal process, like an early outline or a Beat Sheet a la Save the Cat.

As a reader, these would be interesting to see.

As a writer, would I want to divulge that kind of information? I don’t think I’d have an issue with it. The book’s done and published after all. But fellow writers, would you be willing to do something like that?

Monday, July 11, 2022

When Did Characters Become Meta?

When did characters in stories become self-aware of all the story tropes they are in and comment on those tropes during the story? In short, when did characters become meta?

I’m not quite sure how to pose this question so let me tell you how I got there.

In my SF book club this month, we discussed John Scalzi’s the Kaiju Preservation Society. It is a wonderful B-movie concept: there is an alternate earth where kaiju (i.e., giant creatures like Godzilla) developed and humans did not. The humans from our earth can travel between worlds and said humans study the kaiju and, well, preserve them.

The story takes place in early 2020 and is populated by a bunch of characters, most of whom are nerds. As such, they say and understand a ton of SF in-jokes, jokes that most of Scalzi’s readers will also get. Not a problem. It’s like writing for the choir.

But one of the book club guys made a point: at no time in the book did any of the characters have a Wow Moment, a sense of wonder moment reminiscent of that scene in Jurassic Park when the characters (and viewers) first see the dinosaurs. He went on to posit that basically up to the 1990s, many characters in movies (and books) seemed to exist outside of the present pop culture moment. That is, many characters didn’t have a handy shorthand list of references to speak about.

For example, in the Scalzi book, when something odd came up, all the characters in the book had to do was reference an existing movie moment and everyone (readers included) would know. (I did the same thing when I name dropped Godzilla a few paragraphs ago.) You could make the argument that Scalzi was not bothering to expound or explain something, but I actually don’t mind the shorthand at all.

We started commenting that many movies in at least the last decade+ are populated by characters like this and we tossed around the idea of when it started. Naturally, we arrived at the first Scream movie (1996) where all the characters knew all the tropes of horror movies and actually riffed on them and tried to overcome the killer by using those tropes. The movies of Kevin Smith are full of references like this, and some of the Marvel films reference Star Wars and other properties.

That got me to thinking about the mystery genre. Were there films, books, or TV shows that fit this type of story? The first thing that came to mind was the TV series “Only Murders in the Building.” I’ve not seen any of season 2, but season 1 had the characters basically do what Scream did for horror: narrate, in a meta way, the story they were in, commenting that in a normal true crime podcast cast, this is where a twist would occur…right before a twist in their own story happened. “Castle” had some of that mainly because the main character was a writer.

So, fellow mystery fans, I challenge y’all to help me out: what are some mystery stories of any medium where the characters basically comment on the story their in using tropes of the mystery genre?

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Release Order is Best…Or Is it?

Over here in America, PBS just dropped the eighth season of Endeavour, the prequel series to Inspector Morse and its spin-off, Lewis. My wife and I have enjoyed this series quite a bit, especially the interactions between the two lead actors. Shaun Evans plays a young Endeavour Morse while Roger Allam plays his superior officer, Fred Thursday. Their chemistry is fantastic, really serving as the backbone of the entire show and cast. That the show is a period piece—1971 in this current season—just adds to my love of the show.

But we’ve never seen either of the original shows.

Which is completely fine. For whatever reason, we only arrived at these characters via this prequel a couple of years ago. But it wasn’t until this week that we both agreed that we’d like to circle back and give the original show a look.

I was the one who voiced what we were both thinking: which characters, if any, appeared in the original Morse show? It was actually in relation to the Fred Thursday character. I wondered if any of the 33 original shows ever had the older Morse visiting with an even more elderly Fred Thursday. A brief glance at the Wikipedia page for Endeavour likely proves the answer. No, Fred Thursday does not appear in the original program.

That’s too bad, but it gives me hope that with the upcoming ninth and final season, the writers will tidy everything up and explain why Thursday isn’t in the original series. There’s the obvious answer. Maybe that’s the arc of Morse’s character. In this current season, he’s drinking more and becoming more aloof, telltale signs that is probably how the older Morse acts in the original.

This got me to thinking about someone in my situation, coming into an existing universe of stories during a prequel. Most of the time, the creators have to invent some new characters and not just have younger versions of the older/original ones. Star Wars did that—a lot—and many of those prequel characters get their own spin-offs.

Star Wars is a special case, of course, but if anyone ever came up to me and asked me where to start, I’d say follow the release order of the films. In that way, there are Easter eggs and shades of what’s to come sprinkled throughout the prequels. I suspect there are more than a few Easter eggs in Endeavour that longtime fans of Morse and Lewis pick up on that we don’t. That’s just good fan service. I wonder if a Morse fan from the jump—the first season aired in 1987—would have told us to start there just like I how I would introduce Star Wars to someone.

Be that as it may, my wife and I finally arrived in the Morse Universe—that’s a thing, right?—and we’re glad we’re here, no matter the route we took.