THE LAST TOWN #2 Released!

November 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Hey crew, in case there’s any interest… THE LAST TOWN #2: PREPARING FOR THE DEAD is officially released! Treat it like a vote… buy early, buy often! ;)

Now on to the next project…

THE LAST TOWN #2: Single Tree Gets Its First Zombie!

September 12, 2014 2 comments

Unedited at the moment, but the final should be rolling back to me by the end of next week. :) PO Hailey, of the Single Tree PD, has just arrived at a drugstore where a customer dropped from a coronary. Aside from this being incredibly bad news for a pharmacy, it also serves as an entre for a certain Rex Morte Articulus
TLT2

The AED chirped, and then began issuing verbal instructions on how to place the pads. Hailey didn’t wait to listen to the automated instructions. He began attaching the pads to the man’s chest as the pharmacy assistant finished with his assisted breathing and sat up.

“Okay, let’s shock him,” he said, wiping his mouth.

Old Man Whittaker bolted upright then, startling everyone. Hailey instinctively lurched away, and he fell on his ass, his back slamming into the side of a display. Packages of condoms pelted him, and he wondered if he should pick up a few boxes, in case he met up with Suzy later. The assistant pharmacist laughed and grabbed Whittaker’s shoulders as his wife sobbed.

“Hey, hold on there, fella!” the assistant pharmacist said, laughing again. “Got some juice in you for a guy who’s ticker just stopped!”

Whittaker’s head snapped toward the pharmacist, and for a moment, the old man just stared up at him. Hailey pushed himself back to his haunches, and he thought the expression on the old man’s face was odd. Blank, sort of shell-shocked, without any sort of awareness of what had just happened. Hailey wouldn’t be surprised if the old man didn’t remember a thing, and any second now, he was probably going to ask who the hell had been hitting him in the chest with a sledgehammer.

Old Man Whittaker asked no such thing. He just grabbed the assistant pharmacist’s head with both hands and pulled him close, as if to give him a bear hug, or perhaps a kiss on the cheek. Instead, he sunk his teeth into the man’s neck and ripped out a huge chunk of flesh. The pharmacist let out a scream that quickly turned into a gurgle as a small fountain of blood covered his chest and Old Man Whittaker with crimson droplets. The old man actually chewed the flesh in his mouth and swallowed it convulsively before pulling at the pharmacist again, his mouth opening wide, exposing blood-stained teeth. The pharmacist tried to tear himself out of the old man’s grip, mewling like a lost kitten as he pressed his right hand against the horrible wound in his neck. Blood pulsed between his fingers in arterial spurts. The old man hissed and redoubled his attempts to pull the man toward him.

The Last Town #2…

September 6, 2014 1 comment

Coming soon!

The Last Town #2: Preparing for the Dead

The Last Town #2: Preparing for the Dead

Galactic Dangerous Razor Wars: An Auto-Generated Plot

August 20, 2014 4 comments

Whilst goofing around on the innernets, I found a page that allowed me to enter in a number of key words and generate a story outline. As such, I present you with:

Galactic Dangerous Razor Wars
– a science fiction novel

by Stephen Knight

A long, long time ago in a dangerous, dangerous galaxy…

After leaving the ravaged planet Earth, a group of people fly toward a distant speck. The speck gradually resolves into a dirty space base.

Civil war strikes the galaxy, which is ruled by The Law, a snooty fairy capable of lust and even violence.

Terrified, an idyllic pixie known as Leona Eklund flees the Empire, with her protector, Scott Mulligan.

They head for Shanghai on the planet Klendathu. When they finally arrive, a fight breaks out. Mulligan uses his dangerous razor to defend Leona.

Mulligan and Pixie Leona decide it’s time to leave Klendathu and steal a SCEV to shoot their way out.

They encounter a tribe of old folk. Mulligan is attacked and the pixie is captured by the old folk and taken back to Shanghai.

Mulligan must fight to save Pixie Leona but when he accidentally unearths a violent sandwich, the entire future of the dangerous, ravaged galaxy is at stake.

It even gives reviews!

Praise for Galactic Dangerous Razor Wars

“I really, really, really hope that Mulligan saves Pixie Leona because I love this story soooooo much!”
- The Daily Tale

“A snooty fairy, a tribe of old folk and an idyllic pixie – haven’t we seen this before somewhere?”
- Enid Kibbler

I think this could work, with some help! Well…maybe not, but the violent sandwich part has potential.

All right, back to work for me…

Categories: Writing Tags: ,

When Bias Leads to Stupidity

Just a quick hit on this one. Everyone knows the Bowe Bergdahl story is a chaotic one, but when one of the Big 5 publishers elects to pass up a potential of millions of dollars in gross revenue to protect a lame duck president, it’s not an honorable, principled response.

It’s just stupid.

“I’m not sure we can publish this book without the Right using it to their ends,” Sarah Durand, a senior editor at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, wrote in an email to one of the soldiers’ agents.

“[T]he Conservatives are all over Bergdahl and using it against Obama,” Durand wrote, “and my concern is that this book will have to become a kind of ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’” — a reference to the controversial book that raised questions about John Kerry’s Vietnam War record in the midst of his 2004 presidential campaign. (Durand did not respond to requests for comment. “We do not comment about our editorial process,” said Paul Olsewski, vice president, director of publicity, at Atria.)

Look for Amazon to step in and buy the rights, and watch our for more letters and self-serving New York Times ads from the likes of Preston, Patterson, and King.

More on Hachette v. Amazon

It’s actually not a court case, but in the end, it comes down to one of the Big Publishers of Yesteryear wanting to fix prices so they can charge more…which might eventually result in another anti-trust filing. I’m all for the latter, myself. Check out what able watchmen Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler have to say:

David Streitfeld: An Embarrassment to the New York Times. It’s worth a chuckle or two, just for the copious snark.

In the meantime, Amazon wrote to a lot of us authors and divulged the following:

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at http://www.readersunited.com

It’s true that folks like Patterson and Preston and even, disappointingly, King are One Percenters who are involved in trying to shove this stuff down readers’ throats. And it’s all about money–Hachette doesn’t need Amazon, they’re owned by a multinational. But here they are, trying to squeeze blood from stones. Go figure.

Categories: Writing

THE GATHERING DEAD Trailer

July 24, 2014 1 comment

Okay, let’s get to it. Here it is, and I recommend watching in HD:

THE GATHERING DEAD Trailer from Stephen Knight on Vimeo.

For those who can’t stand Vimeo, here’s the requisite linky to YouTube:

Work on this began in February 2012, initially with a team of artists from the former Rhythm & Hues effects studio. That fell apart in March 2013, when no significant progress had been made beyond some initial previsualizations and two mostly-rendered shots. A combination of Maya and MentalRay were used, and as such, none of the created footage could be salvaged.

A new team was selected in April 2013, and Cinema 4D would represent the build environment. This team was significantly smaller than the first, which meant I had to pay more attention to the development and production process–basically, I was directing the trailer, albeit from afar. I have a wealth of project management experience, so I brought the required aptitude to the table. While the vendor was mostly professional, I found that the same evasive tricks were occasionally deployed when the schedule had been blown–”internet issues,” “rendering issues,” etc., etc. There’s not a lot one can do about this, so I adopted a stiff upper lip that would have left the British proud, while I and my partners merely continued to pay the bills. Finally, by January 2014–almost two years after the project began–I had a trailer that approximated about sixty percent of my vision.

I decided I could live with sixty percent.

One element hit one hundred percent, easy–Sean Beeson‘s score. The guy blew it out of the park, and he demonstrates a professionalism that’s pretty rare. Sound design was a very tricky component, and I’d have to rate that at sixty percent as well. I had to jump in and go hands-on in that regime, which is not my forte, but I found that Adobe Audition was easy enough to learn, and came with enough filters that I could use to at least approximate the sound quality I was going for. More learned listeners, such as the accursed Scott Wolf, will doubtless be aware that some sound effects are simply faked–they’re not real. This is where the true artistry comes in, as an experienced sound designer could take something almost totally unrelated and massage it into a sound effect that would fit the scene or sequence seamlessly. While I’ll give myself some small credit, there are simply some things that reverb, distortion, and amping can’t overcome. A sound engineer named Joe Cosgrove, who also voices Army Special Operations Command (designation RAPIER) in the beginning, lent his skills to the effort. I wish he’d had more time available, but he did what he could with what time he had.

Editing was quite simple, as I have Premiere Pro at my disposal. (For a guy who’s been relegated to the backburner of the industry, I have all the professional tools I need.) One tie-up was that Joe used the competing product, Apple’s Final Cut, which prevented seamless transfer of sound files. We got around that by using common file formats, but some signal degradation was inevitable. As such, some effects, such as the alarm system in the Black Hawk, became barely audible after the score was laid in. I’ll consider this a casualty of war.

Other items that bug me: the Black Hawk interior is totally fake in the sequence where McDaniels, Gartrell, Safire, and Regina react to the helicopter being hit by window divers. It’s a much more complex environment than what is displayed. The pilot (voiced by Sean Beeson) is sitting in the left seat, when he should have been in the right. The helicopter was spinning in the wrong direction, and for some reason, the compositor just couldn’t fix it (he did one version where the rotor spin was reversed, but that was about it). The troops’ helmets are modified bump helmets, and as such, are not exactly the right look…but this is splitting hairs. Real life operators will doubtless find fault, but given that the SF soldiers are fighting zombies, I’d say adherence to one hundred percent reality was never going to be achieved. Some buildings look unfinished, but other buildings look simply fantastic to me. Despite my complaints, there’s a lot here that’s right.

Total negative cost: in excess of $15,000. If this was going to be just a book trailer, even the big boys don’t spend this kind of cash. At more than one point during the evolution of this product, my partners and myself began to doubt our sanity. Fifteen grand is a big chunk of change. This expenditure wasn’t made lightly. That money could have gone to a lot of other things, like additional behavioral therapy for my son, or an interest-bearing CD for my partners. But fate rarely coddles those paralyzed by indecision, and this isn’t meant to be just an amped-up book trailer.

Its general utility is going to be in generating interest among potential investors, either for a live-action feature film or for a AAA video game. For a feature, the “real” entry point is upward of $35 million. For a AAA game, it’s at least $11 million. Either one of these is a huge, gigantic, incredible longshot. But if either pans out, the rewards will obviously eclipse the $15,000 payout.

So the trailer is the first step in a long journey, but at least there’s something to show for it. I hope you’ll agree, watching the trailer makes the material an instant “get”–good guys are down in the city overrun by the dead, and they have to find a way to survive inside the Verbatim office building. I think that’s all I need to convey at this point–hook ‘em and land ‘em, then torture them with the full script and additional production design stuff. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get my old friend Andy Clement at Creative Character Engineering to provide some makeup effects designs to sweeten the deal–tough to argue against a guy who’s the most talented special effects makeup designer to hit the scene since Rick Baker. Not to mention Jeroen ten Berge‘s upcoming pre-production poster, which threatens to be even more eye candy.

Some more about this. Obviously, everyone thinks their creative work merits a film. Just a decade ago, such a dream would have remained just that–a dream. Now, newer technologies make that dream more of a possibility. For a few thousand dollars, I can personally buy a camera that can shoot film-grade quality product, and one that doesn’t go through magazine after magazine of film. It uses data cards instead. I can output to 1080p, 2K, 4K, even 5K. I already have the software to do editing and compositing (not that I consider my skills up to the task, but if push came to shove, I could do it). New revenue outlets such as streaming are beginning to flex their muscles–Netflix alone posted earnings of over $1 billion on streaming alone. I don’t consider these new revenue generators to be sufficiently mature enough to replace either the domestic or international box offices–how many of you think that The Avengers brought in more money from pay-per-view versus theatre ticket sales?–but as supplementary streams, they most certainly add power to the punch.

Difficulties, and here I concentrate more on film: Hollywood thinks zombies are on their way out. Despite the success of The Walking Dead and that overly-polished turd World War Z, folks in Tinseltown don’t want to hear about any more zombie properties. To them, he genre has always been a fringe one, and even though it’s super-hot right now (and has been for the past few years), like their less well-dressed brethren in the publishing industry, they think the genre is too low brow to really seriously consider. Regardless of what’s going on in the real world, this is a drawback. The industry maintains control over the distribution outlets, and those they don’t control would still rather distribute another Transformers movie than some low- to mid-budget zombie action flick written by some guy no one has heard about. Despite diminished output from the major studios, their controlling hands aren’t very far removed from the scene. I’ve made several runs at the industry (and received some excellent advice and kindly mentoring from the deceased Tony Scott), but the fact is this: Hollywood isn’t interested. Even when the profits are huge, if they don’t like the genre, or if they don’t know the guy making the pitch, their first instinct is to pass. “No” is the default answer, because if someone says yes and it blows up in their face, then they pay the penalty in reputational and perhaps even financial costs.

I would note that this isn’t just prevalent with zombie properties; the same could be said for post-apocalypse stories as well, such as those by Joe Nobody and A. American. Even though I haven’t read works by either author, they have sold quite well, but for some reason, they and properties like them don’t get the time of day in Hollywood.

I know this because I’ve had more than a handful of folks wave me off already. I’m not some young buck who’s full of blind faith–I’m a middle aged guy who knows how the world works, and the bottom line is, no one gives a damn. (Now if I was 22 and looked like Jessica Alba, I’m certain things might be different.)

So the only option is to make it another DIY project. Legally, if I were to encounter individuals who met the criteria as Class A investors and who were willing to take the risk, I’d have to form a separate LLC for the venture and offer the film through a Regulation D filing. This would convert the film from a neat idea and a fun project to an honest to God investment vehicle, which means it would fall under the governance of the SEC. I understand all of it, and it’s not a hard thing for me to do—I can file the paperwork and cover the fees myself. It’s going to be an interesting ride, that’s for sure.

Now that this is complete, I need to huddle with my partners and determine what the next steps will be. Crowd funding for more dollars is always an option, so the trailer can be refined, or another one can be developed, along with more pre-production materials. I’ll likely have next steps in the coming weeks, but for now…I hope you like the trailer.

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