Friday, October 24, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Seth Skorkowsky!

Hey folks,
 

We have a real special treat for you today and that is an interview with Seth Skorkowsky, author of the Valducan series! He's been gracious enough to sit here down with the United Federation of Charles and answer a few questions about his books. The first book, Damoren, was released April 21st and was reviewed here. 


The Valducan series follows the adventures of the titular demon-hunting organization. In a world filled with spirits which possess humans and turn them into the monsters we know and love (vampires, demons, werewolves, etcetera), the only way to permanently kill a demon is with a holy weapon. Damoren is a holy revolver wielded by anti-hero Matt Hollis in a, previously, one-man crusade against the forces of evil. In Damoren, Matt gets recruited the Valducan to find out who is destroying their holy weapons.
 

Even if many of the organization want him dead.
 

Thanks for coming by, Seth!

1. So, Seth, what separates Damoren from other Urban Fantasy novels out there?

  
I’d say that the most significant separation is that Dämoren is just as much an Action/Horror as it is an Urban Fantasy. Instead of a mystery story set in a large city, it’s a globe-hopping adventure. Most of my inspiration came from movies and anime, and I wanted to emulate the same feeling that I got from Blade or Hellsing or Hellboy.

2. Your protagonist, Matt Hollis, is a very interesting character. All rough-edges and thick-skin. How would you describe him to prospective readers?

  
Matt is a loner. His family was killed when he was very young and his only friend was his adopted father who taught him how to hunt.  Since then, his only real friend is Dämoren.  He lives in a very secretive ‘kill or be killed’ world, flying just below the radar. Matt fears what he is and he buries that fear in a full-on war against these monsters. 

3. Damoren is as much a character in your novel as her wielder. How did you come up with your first novel's titular weapon? 


The original concept for Dämoren was simply an attempt to explain how a magical gun would work.  Magic swords are as old a fantasy itself, and the concept is easy to understand.  Magic blade hits the monster and kills it.  But with guns, the gun itself never touches the target, so I wanted to show how that enchantment transfers to the bullet.  Later on, I decided that I wanted it to be an old-style single-action revolver, and then later that it was crafted from a broken holy sword.  The blade under the barrel was a last-second addition.

4. Can you describe the Valducan for readers?
 

The Valducan follows a secret society of demon hunters. Their principal duty is to protect their holy weapons, which are the only means to kill demons. Each of these weapons in unique and bonds with its owner.  In a lot of ways, the weapons are the Valucans and the people are the tools they use to kill monsters.

5. The series is named after them rather than Hollis. Do you see them as the real stars? 


Yes. There are so many personalities, both for the weapons and the hunters, and each of them has their own story to tell.  I’d grow bored if I simply kept following Matt around, doing what Matt does, when there are so many other stories that can be told in that world.

6. Your mythology is pretty binary with the holy weapons on one side and the monsters on the other. Is it ever shades of gray or it is monsters versus humans with never the two meeting? 


The monsters will always be monsters. They’re inhuman and evil.  Later stories will go into deeper details about them, but they’re always going to be evil.  However, there are other entities that won’t fall into either category.

7. Matt doesn't get along very well with his fellow demon hunters in the Valducan. Do you think it's a good thing your hero is such a loner?

  
I think it’s easier for a reader to empathize with him. Like Matt, the reader is an outsider that’s being introduced to this society and learning the ropes with him.  Matt’s specialty is working alone, and forcing him into a group, especially one that doesn't trust him, is part of what he has to overcome.  The next book, Hounacier, will follow the opposite approach.  There, we’ll take a very accomplished team-leader, isolate him, and force him to work alone.

8. What do you think is the appeal of Urban Fantasy to writers? How about you specifically? 


Unlike Historic Fantasy or Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy takes place in our own world.  We can’t fly in a starship or live in a castle, but we can walk down the streets of London or Chicago. Writers don’t have to project their adventures to some far-distant place that they’ll never see, but can put them here and now and make their own world more interesting.
 

For example, when I was first starting the novel, I spent a week in Florence Italy. My very favorite statue is Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa. I remember standing on the street, looking up at it, and how much I enjoyed it.  So in Dämoren, when Matt is looking up at it, he’s standing exactly where I was, and everything he hears and sees and smells is real.  I love knowing that in some minor way I’ve shared this experience with him. I hope to find out that a reader gets to have that experience, too.

9. Aside from Hollis and Damoren, who is your favorite character in the novel? 


I go back and forth depending on my mood at any moment, but it’s either Schmidt or Malcolm Romero.  Both of them serve as conflict characters for Matt, but in order to explain why they dislike him, I had to put the most work into how they thought and where they were coming from.  I didn't want them to be conflict characters just to be conflict characters, I needed to get into their heads and have logical reasons for their behavior rather than simply saying, “They’re just dicks.”  That made me really fall in love with them.

10. What can we expect from you in the future? 


I’m finishing the second book, Hounacier, right now.  I expect it done in the next week. It’s a much darker story with more of a noir/mystery element. We hope to have that out next year.  In the meantime, Emby Press will be releasing ‘The Vampire of Somerset’ in their Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests anthology.  It’s a 1930’s short story from the Valducan’s archives. It’s the first of my planned Archive Adventures.
 

I also have two Sword & Sorcery collections coming out next year with Ragnarok Publications.  Mountain of Daggers and Sea of Quills will follow a thief character called the Black Raven, who is kind of like James Bond meets the Gray Mouser. 

Thanks! Those sound awesome.  I can't wait to get my grimy mitts into them. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Writing History and Permuted Press part 6

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

    Permuted Press responded to the allegations against it fairly well. As mentioned, they agreed to let anyone out of their contracts with "no harm, no foul" who hadn't already had work done with them. This wasn't something which helped those who were already committed to series with Permuted Press but didn't want to do ones without physical book copies.

   They also wouldn't budge releasing print rights back to the authors. It was all or nothing. Some authors had even suggested getting a third party for authors who were willing to pay for having their books formatted for POD release.

   Again, not happening.

   Permuted Press, eventually, came to an agreement with the HWA about modifying their contracts to better reflect what the latter felt were amicable to authors. Permuted Press was clear, though, that previous contracts would remain binding and there would be no "update of terms." I don't blame them for any of this but it occurred to me that I probably could get myself a better deal elsewhere.

   Or could I?

   The biggest blow from Permuted Press' decision was not financial but to many first-time authors' pride. Permuted Press was (and still is) a fan favorite with many independent horror authors. For quite a few, the new terms felt like they weren't believed in anymore and that Permuted Press weren't sorry to see them go. The overstuffed release schedule even made some believe this was a way of doing some sort of Office Space-style plot to force unwanted authors to quit.


   Which is ridiculous.

   For these authors, quite a few panicked and believed they would never be able to find another publisher ever. Self-publishing, despite being five times as profitable for authors as often as not, was somehow less in their minds. They felt strong-armed into either remaining with Permuted Press or never seeing print ever.

   Which is unfair to both them and Permuted. You need to believe in your product if you're going to make it in this decision and never stick with a deal you're unhappy about. If you do, you're only going to end up hurting yourself as well as your publishers in the long run.

   For me, it was a business decision to end my professional relationship with Permuted and I intend to continue reviewing their books here on the UFoC. For others, it was a personal decision. Friendships were lost, professional associations ended beyond just publisher and author, while others still just became distant.

   It got ugly. Game of Thrones ugly.


    People were forced to choose between what they perceived as a Permuted Press family versus Ex-Permuted Press friends. My reaction to this was to consider this just the latest bump on the road to my professional writing success.

   I'm a professional.


    I don't have anything against Permuted Press. I might if I lost money on the deal but I benefited from my time with them. I learned about social media, I found a lot of great contacts, and read a lot of free horror novels I might not normally be exposed to.

    If nothing else, my social media platform went up from non-existent to something which may someday qualify as the Glass Joe of the reviewing world. I'm an orc, not a Kobold, and maybe someday I'll be a Troll if not dragon. My books will see print because Permuted Press, for better or worse, was willing to print them and that gives me the confidence to know people will want to read them.

   And I wish everyone on both sides of the issue nothing but the best.

My Writing History and Permuted Press part 5


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 6

    The person hit worst by Permuted Press' decision was Gabrielle Faust who was formerly their marketing woman before she found herself let go due to wanting someone in Nashville, TN versus Texas.

    There's more to this story but separating truth from hearsay is problematic. One thing to note is Gabrielle Faust is an author with a very large web-presence. In the world of Goth, Gabrielle Faust is a Baroness if not Viscountess.

    Gabrielle's series, Eternal Vigilance (the first book reviewed here), was something that she was doing a good deal of self-promotion for. She even took pre-orders for the series that she would buy the physical copies thereof with her author discount and then proceed to market directly to her fans.

    The cessation of POD publication hit the Eternal Vigilance series hardest because of these pre-orders and also the fact there were already physical copies out there which wouldn't be continued into future novels.

    The fact she had to refund the money out of her own pocket along with inform her fans they would not be getting their physical copies of her series was compounded by the fact Permuted Press was willing to return published  rights to all of the authors who wanted them back (voiding their contract) BUT with the caveat authors would have to pay for any work they'd already done on them.

    In Gabrielle's case, that was a significant amount of change. Another author I knew had a similar amount of charges because editing, covers, and so on added to a four figure number if he wanted to pursue self-publishing his own POD. Authors, like me, who wanted out would be able to do so for free because work wouldn't begin until Summer of 2015.

    People were unhappy.

    All of this was legal by the contract signed with Permuted Press. Technically, they didn't even to publish our books. They were contracting to right the publish our books when and if they wanted to (and that no one else would).

    The contract did, however, mention free ten paperback copies of the book and if they didn't have to do POD then they certainly implied they would. There was a general sense that Permuted Press had gone from being bean bags and cappuccino to this:


    Hyperbole? Certainly.

    However, authors thrive on drama and the situation was getting media attention. Brian Keene, an indie horror celebrity, weighed in and groups like the Lovecraft ezine. Gabrielle Faust's outrage was made public and drew attention from her not-inconsiderable fanbase.

    The Horror Writers Association (HWA) became involved as well, which is like the Teamsters for horror writers. I'm a unionized author but due to what my previous works were before I moved to horror, I'm loathe to admit who I belong to.


    I swear I'll move as soon as my new books come out!

    Shana Festa (The Bookie Monster, Time of Death, At Hell's Gates) and myself found ourselves in the position of neutral arbitrators during this dispute. Having reviewed a lot of horror novels in my time, it turned out I was something of an expert in the field. If nothing else, people actually respected what I had to say on the subject. Which was a strange feeling to tell you.

    My opinion was authors didn't have to be happy with this situation and it was important to protect your rights. The thing is, of course, if you felt you were getting a bum deal then I suggested it was better to show yourself out the door rather than try and force the issue.

    I respected Permuted Press' right to do what they were doing but I also knew it was perhaps a deal which I didn't want to be part of anymore. I wouldn't mind ebook release alone if it weren't series I'd devoted three or four years to perfecting and knew were good enough for print release.

    Permuted Press said it would publish series they felt were worth marketing and gave a decent but achievable number for a POD release but as an author I had to prepare for the worst. I decided I'd wait to see how they handled things before announcing my departure.

    That's when things got interesting. In the Chinese sense of the word.

Concluded in Part 6.

My Writing History and Permuted Press part 4


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5
Part 6

    The Kerfuffle is the big thing in the news with Permuted Press lately. There's the initial post from Gabrielle Faust (here), a follow-up post by Brian Keene (here), a rather explicit post by Sean Hoade (here), and some well-written works by Paul Mannering (here). The Lovecraft Ezine did its own discussion of the subject (here).

    But if you DON'T want to spend hours discussing this, here's the basic rundown. Permuted Press took note of the fact that 93% of their income came from ebooks and roughly 7% of their income came from Print on Demand volumes.

    Furthermore, roughly 42% of their income was spent on preparing the print copies of their book for Print On Demand services. For those of you who aren't writers, that's books which get printed per order versus the big "bulk orders" which end up in stores like Barnes and Noble (i.e. the Platinum line).

    Michael L. Wilson looked at those figures and decided that it would probably be a good idea to discontinue Print on Demand books for their titles which weren't selling. In layman's' terms, that means that the majority of Permuted Press books (esp. the under-performers) would be losing their print runs. This would be a massive savings for Permuted Press and have, literally, no downside in terms of dollars and cents.

    Except, of course, for the author.

    You see the dollars and cents above is very much a no-brainer from Permuted's end but the author gets hit terribly hard. While 7% of Permuted Press' profit is a small sacrifice for Permuted Press if they save 42%, that 7% is entirely profit from the side of the author as they don't pay for any of the 42% cost which goes into formatting their book for POD.

    In short, the choice to discontinue POD would consist of an almost 10% pay cut for all authors who weren't part of the Platinum series or who had their books already formatted (and would be keeping them in print).

    Imagine how telling all of the workers at a plant they'd be taking a 10% pay cut would go.

    Authors (particularly in the horror scene) are very big on having physical copies of their books. Amongst other things, there's a thriving convention scene where it's kind of hard hocking ebooks. For many, the physical act of holding a book was one of the "stretch goals" to writer success.

    The absence of it was telling.

    The issue was compounded by the fact the release schedule would be frozen until 2015 and the release schedule would be subject to delays. This was so Permuted Press could avoid the market saturation and focus on making sure every book got the attention it deserved both in marketing as well as editing/proofing/etcetera. There were other changes as well, which included that Permuted Press would not longer be giving authors final say in their covers as well. A lot of changes there.

    All effective immediately.

    Most of this didn't effect me too much. I don't go to cons. My first release date was in September of 2015. Which might as well have been a lifetime away for my enthusiasm. I trusted them with my covers too. The lack of a print copy was troubling, though. So was the pay loss from a PoD market.

    A lot of my family don't "e-read" and it was troubling enough to get them to take my author profession seriously. Hell, my parents don't even have the internet. It was enough to start making me reconsider my deal with Permuted Press. Overall, though, I was fairly neutral to mildly unhappy about the whole thing.

    I, it turned out, would be the odd man out.

    In part 5 we'll discuss those affected worst by the change and what the general reaction was.

My Writing History and Permuted Press part 3


Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

    So, I was now an accepted author publishing with a reputable publisher. The guys who did the SAW movies versus, say, the guys who did Harry Potter but I've always been an iconoclast anyway. I was the Goth who wore colors in high school after all.

    Hehe.

    That was a heady feeling.

    I was so excited by it, I submitted Cthulhu Apocalypse directly to Michael despite the fact I'd been convinced it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. Except, well, I decided to do some more rewrites. With fresh eyes, I found out, "hey, this is actually really good." This time, Michael responded within the week and said he LOVED it.

    He wanted a seven book contract for it.

    Wow.

    It was around this time I got acquainted with Permuted Press' style of doing things. Basically, it was of the "bean bags around the arcade-game-filled office" versus corporate drones. The Permuted Press author group was a collection of truly colorful and fun guys. Michael L. Wilson would often comment and give advice. We also had a wonderful tele-conference where Michael explained:

    1. What Permuted was.
    2. What is its marketing strategy.
    3. Where we fit into all this.

    We also had another teleconference with Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn) who told us about how to market out books. Awesome lady, btw. I really need to need her "Lara Croft meets Christian artifact" books sometime.

 

    What's interesting in all of this is Michael L. Wilson told us a lot about what was going on in Permuted Press but quite a few authors, flush in the promise of success, weren't exactly paying attention to what was being said.

    Myself included.

    What was said by Michael L. Wilson during the teleconferences were that Permuted Platinum was very successful but the primary focus of Permuted Press was going to be its ebooks. Print was a dying industry, in his opinion (and the investors) so they were going to focus all of their efforts in that respect. They were going to be exploring other avenues like their own indie film studio and audio books but ebooks were where it was at.

    EBOOKS.

    Remember EBOOKS.

    Ebooks are the Kobolds in publishing's Monstrous Manual. Everyone uses Kobolds and the game couldn't function without the little trap-laying bastards but no one really LIKES Kobolds. They're not like orcs. Everyone loves killing orcs. Even if Kobolds are the source of EXP you need when you're low-level, you really just want to get to killing orcs.

    I've lost you with my D&Disms, haven't I?

    It gets worse as Permuted Press was something of a bind because while ebooks are a great source of money for both publishers as well as authors (more on that later), quite a few of them were under-performing. Permuted Press was doing great with their top-sellers but a great number of the catalog just wasn't selling what they'd hoped.

    There's reasons for that but I think it boiled down to a number of factors: market saturation, inexperienced authors with no social media platforms, massive competition from other e-publishers, and Permuted Press' own quick-release schedule. Either way, Permuted Press was both doing well and not what they needed/wanted to be doing.

    What did the authors hear? Films! Audiobooks! Platinum for the top sellers (which will include me-obviously)!

    Which brings us to the kerfuffle.

    In part 4.

My Writing History and Permuted Press part 2


Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

    The revelation Permuted Press was going to be sold didn't actually fill me with all that much dread. After all, Jacob Kier was an artiste and selling his company was something that would improve the lot for the authors involved.

    Greater exposure, greater money devoted to making sure they got into the hands of readers. This was a contrary viewpoints to doom and gloom posters on the soon-to-be-no-more forums who predicted Permuted Press was about to go belly up under faceless corporate overlords.

    If you want to see what Jacob Kier has been up to since then, I recommend you pick up The Pen Name (see my review). I won't say what his relationship to that book is but it's a wonderfully dark and twisted story about an author eaten alive by his publisher.

    Hmm.

    Anyway, I submitted Esoterrorism to Permuted Press and I waited.

    And I waited.

    And I waited some more.

    Amusingly, my first interaction with Permuted Press' new overlord was a rejection letter but not for Esoterorrism. It turns out, much to my surprise, The Rules of Supervillainy had been accepted for publication by Jacob Kier but the new owners were reversing that decision. They had no interest in "superhero" novels and were kind of annoyed they had an acceptance for a book they didn't want so, after discussing it, decided they didn't want it.

    I was pretty okay with this because The Rules of Supervillainy needed a lot of rewrites.

    Also, I'd forgotten I'd even submitted it.

    (I was still suffering from "your old books suck, only new books are awesome"-itis).

    Still, I was hoping they'd be interested in Esoterrorism.

    Six months later.

    Yes, yes, they are!

    If I'm making the new owners seem callous, please understand I thought anything but of them. It turned out the Faceless Overlords actually did have a face and that was Michael L. Wilson.


    Michael was a former social media hawk (he worked for Taylor Swift at one point) who was part of Permuted Press' buy-out because he and his fellows were tired of the big company rat race--yet wanted to continue publishing what they loved. They'd bought Permuted Press because it was an established presence in the indie scene with a noted catalogue they wanted to expand.

    How would I like to be a part of that?

    Sure, I said!

    This was about the time that New PermutedTM revealed their goal. They were going to take the indie out of independent Press and make us a part of the big pleasures. Which, if not part of the big five publishers, would be still in their weight class.

    Albeit, Glass Joe for Punch Out! fans.

    We would have Permuted Platinum.

    Permuted Platinum was a program designed by the new owners to reach deep into their pockets and pull out the dough necessary to pay for physical print runs which would end up in Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and other major chains.

    With the closing of Borders, it was unlikely I'd get to see Permuted books in my local bookstores (which no longer existed), but it was the very definition of "the big time" for a lot of authors. If not published by Warner Brothers or Fox, you'd at least be New Line Cinema back when it was making Freddy Krueger.


    Now there's a catch to all of this. Permuted Platinum wasn't the "Standard Rich and Famous Contract" offered the Muppets (and I'd be a dumbass to get into WRITING to be rich and famous--that doesn't happen until you sell your books to Hollywood).

    It was only for already-successful books published by Permuted Press or ones they really believed in. Michael L. Wilson was very clear about all of this.

    I'd like to stop and say I like Michael. He's a stand-up guy. The man wouldn't be in charge of Permuted Press if he didn't believe in publishing scary, spooky, and horrific stuff. He got put in a nasty position later on but I never felt he was an absentee owner or publisher. Any guy who buys an open bar for his authors BEFORE delivering bad news, at least has his priorities straight.

    But we'll get to that in part 3.

My Writing History and Permuted Press part 1


Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

    Today, I dissolved my contract with Permuted Press. This was a hard decision because I had a contract for ten books with them. Seven books for Cthulhu Apocalypse and three books for the Esoterrorism series. These books are still coming out, thankfully, but they won't be with Permuted Press anymore.

    I have a great deal of gratitude to Permuted Press for taking a chance on a first time novelist but our situation wasn't satisfactory to either party anymore. I could leave it there but this is a very big decision on my part and the purpose of blogs is, at least last time I checked, for unprofessional types like myself to ramble.

    Some background for those who are unfamiliar with Permuted Press save through my extensive reviews on their books. Permuted Press is a independent horror publisher founded by Jacob Kier a number of years ago in order to publish some zombie fiction which couldn't get published anywhere else.

    This was before The Walking Dead took off and zombie fiction was popular. It was a labor of love for Jacob and he soon found himself publishing other books which caught his fancy. Eventually, he published the first edition of John Dies At The End and Ex-Heroes.

    Enter me and my writing.

    In 2010, I was just beginning my writing career or perhaps I should say re-beginning. To say I'm a first-time writer is both true and misleading. I have been an author since I was six years old and actually had been involved in writing novels since I was twenty. The problem was my first publisher was, well, smoke and mirrors.

    It wasn't a scam, per se, but they misled me a great deal in their enthusiasm to appear better than they were. I got arrogant, myself, and tried to bring on some friends and the whole thing turned out so poorly that I didn't write anything for another four years.

    The writing bug, however, would not die. I had a new manuscript, eventually, which led me to go attend an author's conference in West Virginia. There, a Literary Agent talked about how to get into publishing. She explained to me that I needed to do two things if I wanted to make in the publishing industry:

    1. Get thee to a writing group.
    2. Try Permuted Press.

     Heading to Permuted Press' website, I found them open to submissions for a lot of things I liked. They loved Cthulhu, zombies, post-apocalyptic fiction, and more. Sadly, I wasn't quite ready to publish with them yet. You see, I'd written a lot of books but none of them were really GOOD per say. I also signed up for two writing groups. One of which was Permuted Press' "Pendulum" group that was for authors looking to get published with the host of their forum.

    What happened next would change my world.

     Putting aside my old manuscripts, I decided to write a book exclusively for Permuted Press. I wasn't a big fan of writing zombies, even if I loved reading about them, so I went the Cthulhu route. Thus, were the seeds of Cthulhu Apocalypse born. I would spend six months writing it and incorporating tips from my writing group.

     I'd also resign from the other writing group as I found they were less interested in pointing out my mistakes than congratulating each other on every sentence. I would also branch out and write a "funny" novel in The Rules of Supervillainy and later the first volume of my Red Room series, Esoterrorism.

    You may wonder why none of these books are out yet because this was all in 2010 and I had four years to get all of this in place. Well, the answer is that I was interested in making the best book possible versus doing something that was adequate. Jacob Kier had only a small window every year for accepting new publications and by the time I was ready with my first book, I decided I could do better. There's an old saying that your first million words are always going to be crap. Well, I thought that.

    And I was wrong, but we'll get to that.
   
    It was 2013, almost three years later, when I finally had improved my novels and writing skill to the point I wouldn't be embarrassed to see myself in print. Other stuff had happened during the meantime like getting married, graduating with my Masters degree, and publishing my Tabletop RPG Halt Evil Doer!.

    I was determined that Esoterrorism (Red Room 1#) would be my first REAL book. Which was a stupid thing to think because there's no such milestone. Every author views their last book as horrible by and large while thinking their NEXT book will be perfect. I would learn this lesson the hard way. Anyway, I was ready to get Esoterrorism published with Permuted Press.

    Which is when the company was sold and the forums where I'd learn to hone my craft all this time were about to be shut down.

    Oh boy.

   Continued in part 2.