Yearly Archives: 2013

What the Hell is BookTube?

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“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
For those who have watched my videos on YouTube, you may have noticed that my “About” page has a massive amount of subscriptions to channels created by people who do book reviews. Most of these channels are part of an official/unofficial online community called “BookTube”. I’ve been on YouTube for half a decade and I never knew what the hell “BookTube” was about until a few months ago. As a novelist, once I understood how cool the BookTube community was, I felt it was my duty to explain it to you good people who may not know.

Now the reason I call it an official/unofficial community is because there’s no centralized “membership” to become a BookTuber. Basically, anyone can start doing book review videos and declare themselves a BookTuber and if the other popular BookTubers accept you, then you’re in. That sounds awful to put it that way. Makes it sound like some clique in junior high or a fraternity hazing or something. But like I said, it’s not an official thing. So, if the circle of people in the BookTube community decide that you’re lame or something, it’s not like you can’t keep making book review videos. You can still declare yourself a BookTuber, you just might be one who is sitting all alone at the lunch table.

A majority of the BookTube community consists of very cute college girls who read young adult books and never seem to swear. They’re adorably prim and proper in that way. Those poor girls ever become corrupted by watching my videos on writing novels, their ears might start bleeding. I’m not so sure they could handle it. There aren’t many boys who are part of BookTube (and some seem to like Depeche Mode a little too much, as a friend of mine once said, but who am I to judge?) and there aren’t many people who are under 18 or over 25. I’m not sure why that demographic comprises a majority of the BookTube community. Perhaps because girls read more than boys, they are old enough to have the money to buy books, and young enough to not be intimidated by Internet technology. There you go – not all, but most BookTubers; college chicks.

Three of the most popular styles of BookTube videos are reviews, tags, and book hauls.

Reviews are pretty self-explanatory. You read a book. You talk about it. You give your opinion. I have made quite a number of book reviews myself and have a list of many more I want to do. I don’t do negative book reviews for three reasons:
a.) Even a shitty book takes a lot of work and as an author, I don’t want to disparage the effort a fellow author has made.
b.) There are 6 billion people on earth, so if a book is so awful only one in a million people like it, there will be 6000 people who think it’s brilliant. Just because I dislike it doesn’t make it bad. You might love it.
c.) Why waste my time talking about a shitty book? Books are like girlfriends. Even if they treated you like shit, you don’t talk smack about them; that’s just not classy.

My reviews tend to be a little different than most. Often times, I enjoy going off on anecdotes and tangents and telling tales related to my own life and experiences with the book. Or maybe I’ll talk about ways in which my writing was influenced by another author. After all, to me, that’s the whole point of reading. Reading not about the book. Reading is about how that book touches your life. I’m sure some readers would dislike that style of review, but that’s the type of review I enjoy the most coming from other people, so I like emulating such an approach.

In a tag video, someone posts a question for fellow BookTubers to answer. For example, “Who are your 5 favorite literary villains?” or “Do you tend to buy hardcovers or paperbacks?” or “Which novel by Eric Muss-Barnes did you like the most?” Now when a BookTuber makes a tag video, they pick other BookTubers to “tag” and those BookTubers are supposed to create response videos and in turn tag some more people. You notify people they have been tagged however you want. YouTube messages. Twitter hashtags. Facebook notices. Whatever. By tagging and responding and passing the tag along, it creates an ongoing dialog and stronger sense of community. Tagging is a way to emulate the kind of interaction you have on a standard Internet forum wherein you post a topic and people respond. I’ve never tagged anyone or been tagged, which is a good thing because I shoot my videos in batches. Which means, if I got tagged, I wouldn’t answer for months and that would just be rude… or eccentric. Depends on your point of view.

In a book haul video, people share the latest books they have purchased. Like music lovers buying a ton of records all at once, many booklovers tend to buy books in bulk. Three, four, five, ten, a dozen at a time. Then they make a video telling you what they bought. Book haul videos are so popular, many BookTubers post more book haul videos than book reviews. Book hauls are a thing I just don’t understand. Who the hell cares which books you own? What matters is what books you’ve read. Owning books is pointless if you never read them. Right? So, book reviews I get. You want to talk about something you enjoyed or disliked. Okay. Cool. Talking about books you merely purchased but haven’t experienced? I don’t get that. Suffice to say, I will never do a book haul. I’m happy to tell you what I’ve read, I see no point in telling you what I’m planning to read.

But hey, more power to you! If you enjoy making book haul videos and people enjoy watching them, that’s great. Like I said, they are exceptionally popular in the BookTube community. So if that’s your thing, you keep on truckin’ Pippy Longstocking.

Well, that’s that. A quick overview of BookTube. Be sure to check out some of my book reviews. I like to think some of my reading preferences might broaden your horizons and open you up to wonderful tales you’ve never heard of before. And of course, I highly recommend you check out some of the channels I’ve subscribed to on YouTube and watch some of the more popular members of the BookTube community. Their videos are often fun and entertaining and clever and most important of all, you may end up being exposed to some great writing and books you never would have otherwise discovered.

Plus, there’s nothing sexier than a bookwormish girl. Did I mention most of them are cute college chicks?

The Genesis of Birthing Dawn

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“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
– Ray Bradbury
How did I become a writer?

Ah, the age old question…

Storytelling technology has advanced at a staggering rate. In the course of a mere 4 generations, the entire world has shifted. At the start of the 20th century, children had nothing but books to tell them stories. The next generation had silent movies. The next generation gained radio. A generation after that was given television. The next generation culminated all of these technologies into the Internet.

Like most kids in the latter half of the 20th century, I grew up with storybooks and movies and television. Although I had an early love for Choose Your Own Adventure tales, my love for true literary books (i.e. ones without illustrations) didn’t begin until the 6th grade when our English teacher, Mrs. Moose, began reading stories in class. She would read us children’s literature books like The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Thanks to Mrs. Moose, I started reading other books on my own, like The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and more Chronicles of Narnia. That was my first exposure to “real” books. Other than storybooks I read as a child, I had never read books for fun, and Mrs. Moose showed us just how spellbinding they could be. Her influence was where my voracity for reading originated.

During that same year, my obsession with reading faded and a new obsession began – playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Instead of reading stories, tabletop role-playing games led me to start inventing stories. Developing characters. Making up histories and plots and backgrounds. Slowly, I became interested in other tabletop role-playing games as well, such as Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes. Role-playing games are unequivocally the greatest single resource for developing creativity. Gaming with these dice and rulebooks hones skills in writing, acting, mathematics, cartography, storytelling, illustration, diplomacy, critical thinking, and more. Depending upon the level of detail you incorporate, you can learn painting and architecture and engineering and costuming. The potential for education is staggering and the benefits for sharpening ones imagination are nearly boundless as no whetstone polishes a keener edge than tabletop role-playing games.

Around the same time, I started collecting comic books. I never became a big comic book collector. I doubt I ever owned more than about 50 of them. However, comics became yet another form of storytelling to explore and savor.

Those experiences – movies, novels, role-playing games, comic books – all informed my love of weaving tales, but the idea to actually become an author still hadn’t occurred to me. Not ever. Not once.

All that changed in the summer of 1984, at the age of 13, when I saw the movie The NeverEnding Story for the first time. That film became the turning point.

In that darkened movie theatre, in Parma, Ohio, when the Childlike Empress spoke of we others sharing in the adventures of Bastian, my heart sank. The lines between fiction and reality began to blur. Where did dreams and fantasies end and the real world begin? The Empress was clearly “real” in that moment. I saw her. I heard her. The story of which she spoke had truly unfolded before my eyes. I had shared in this experience. Everything she was saying was true. This wasn’t makebelieve at all.

How could that be? How was it possible that a makebelieve movie had actually become real?

For the first time in my life, the immeasurable potential of storytelling had become evident. All at once, I understood that the power of imagination had the ability to transform the real world around us and I was astonished by this realization. Everything shifted in that moment. This wasn’t merely the birth of a dream, the spawning of an aspiration. No. This manifested as an omnipotent enlightenment, germinating deep in the very core of my consciousness. This was not a mere call to spirit. It was a definition of being.

Reading the book proved to be even more wondrous than seeing the film.

The lightningstorm. Power going out. Forced to read by candlelight with a Gmork shadow in the corner.

Most of you don’t know what any of that means. If you’re over 18, you’ve probably forgotten. One or two of you are from my tribe though, and you know. You know the enchantment of which I speak.

That was when I knew, my task was to be a savior of Fantastica. As one who had grown up loving storytelling so much, and having been telling stories without even realizing it, all of those feelings decisively coalesced in my discovery of Fantasia. At last I “got it” and all the loose ends tied together perfectly.

This was the answer.

This is what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

As human beings, we are our stories. All we are as people, our values, our dreams, our most beloved memories, wishes, hopes, accomplishments – they all manifest as stories. Talk about your childhood. Talk about your career. Talk about your family. Talk about your lovers. They are all stories. We are nothing without our stories. This is why Alzheimer’s is so heartbreaking to families – because a loved one is becoming disconnected from the stories of who they are. Memories are stories. Storytelling is the essence of all humanity. In every culture. In every age. And thereby, storytellers are entrusted to a sublime quest and elevated to the most sacred custodians of the human soul. Thus I finally understood why, to follow this path is both burden and blessing; a loathsome curse and the greatest of honors.

But one of the most important elements of the experience, the deciding factor that tipped the scales for me, was the simple fact that no one else had any fucking clue what I was talking about. Anytime I attempted to articulate my epiphany, friends and family looked at me as though I were a 5 year old with a brain injury.

“Ohhh. Poor kid. Few screws loose, huh?”

All my life, if there’s one thing I’ve learned – the more people think I’m crazy for trying something, the more I’m treated with doubt and scorn, the more I know I’m on the right track.

During and after highschool, I tried to write a few novels off the cuff. They never seemed to work.

After years of soulsearching, in 1993, I conceded that perhaps I should attempt outlining a novel first.

Three years later, The Gothic Rainbow: Beginning Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries was complete.

At that point in my life, it was my single greatest achievement. My proudest moment. I had done it. I was no longer a wanna-be novelist. I was a legitimate novelist.

The pride and sense of accomplishment didn’t last for long. Slowly, I began to feel inadequate. I had achieved something, but hadn’t done enough. Only one novel? This was so minor, so small, compared to what I felt capable of achieving when I had looked into the eyes of the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes all those years ago. No. Not only small compared to what I felt capable of achieving, but compared to what I felt avowed to achieve. Was I letting the Empress down? Was I a second-rate hero?

The most important lesson I learned in completing The Gothic Rainbow is that writing a novel is meaningless. Anybody can do that. What a terrifying thought to realize. I had not become a young dreamer, nobly forging ahead to make his wishes come true. Instead, I had joined the ranks of the tenacious failures – the ones who give up the race after the first hurdle. How many fools out there create one movie and never set foot on a filmset again? Write one novel and quit when the sales are awful? Direct a single play? Choreograph one dance? The world is full of underachievers like me – only touching 80% of our potential, because we know it put us 120% ahead of everyone else. The boulevard of broken dreams is littered with the fortitude of quitters. Any hobbyist can construct a novel on a whim. Being a mere writer is pointless. Being a prolific writer – ah, now there is an aspiration. Not to create a singular effort, but to amass a body of work. Works of substance. Works with depth and weight and valuable meaning. A lone novel is simply a cornerstone. It’s nowhere near being the entire chapel and every god of light and darkness has decreed I have a monsoon of cathedrals to build.

All my life, I thought I wanted to write novels.

I was wrong.

Such is a child’s ambition; an infantile hope devoid of vision.

What I truly dreamed was legacy.

That is what I was meant to conjure. Not flashpaper illusions. Dragonflames. Blizzardborn alone to torchbare the gift of Prometheus.

Writing isn’t about a book. I know that now. Writing was never about a story. Writing is about a lifetime. Writing is about building something imbued with transcendence. This is bigger than any book. This needed to be something that could be looked back upon in history, with awe and reverence, as legendary. That is the mark, nay the scorch, one seeks to leave etched into the Earth.

In this task, I must not fail.

Authoring a novel is only a drop, in an ocean demanding to be filled with the sacrifice of your blood, sweat, and tears.

Writing a single novel is the most irrelevant of achievements. Merely the first step on the path.

Learning that was the most vital of lessons. The moment of realization that your greatest achievement is insignificant. And you have much, much more to do; and seas of ink to bleed.

That’s how I became a writer.
“Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven’t been told a million times already – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.”
– Harlan Ellison

Guest Post on “Sumiko Saulson”

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Have guest post posted on the blog “Sumiko Saulson” for my book duology The Vampire Noctuaries. Here’s a highlight…
When I first got into music, like most teenagers, I was into Top 40 Pop Music. Between radio, and movies, and MTV, that type of music was the most commonplace. It was easy access. Simple to find. Artists being played in the American Bandstand and American Top 40 genre have evolved over the years, but those tunes have been the predominant staple of American teenagers since the 1950′s. During my high school days, I was into Madonna and Prince and Michael Jackson and Van Halen and Cyndi Lauper. That was my style of music.

Then in 1987, my whole musical world changed.
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