2017 Book Charity Drive – Wrap-Up Post

It’s been a few weeks since the charity drive I was running with my book finished up. You might have noticed I’ve been a little slow to write up a post about how the charity drive went. There’s a reason for that.

Before I get into this year’s drive, I want to provide a little context with how things went last year. During last year’s drive, those who purchased my book raised $24.28 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. While it wasn’t the number I wanted to hit — it fell just short of one-quarter of the goal I was aiming for — it was still something and it still went to a good cause. This year, I decided that instead of doing a 50+ day long charity drive that I’d do a one week long drive. Considering the fact that about one-third of the sales that happened during last year’s drive happened within the first seven days, combined with the fact that I had more people helping me out promoting the charity event this year in comparison to last year, I figured thing would go close to as well as last year1I didn’t set any charity drive goals, but I was honestly expecting a similar result in terms of money raised..

About that.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the Kindle sales. As a reminder, the drive lasted from November 12th through the 19th.

That’d be one copy purchased. Total. At least it was on my birthday? Well, no matter. Most of my sales historically have been from the paperback side, which is (currently) tracked through CreateSpace. How did that go?

Oh2Fuck..

As for final totals, I was able to pull that from the Kindle site.

Needless to say, I’m not making a donation of $2.06 to UNICEF. I’ll be donating more than that3I don’t feel a desire to divulge how much. Sorry.. That’s not the point though.

It took me the better part of two weeks to write this post because I found myself at a loss for words. I didn’t know how to say what I was feeling without sounding like an entitled prick. There’s a pair of thoughts in my mind that I can’t completely reconcile in a way that I can phrase them quite in the way I’m thinking them.

On one hand, I really want to see my work become successful. Whether that success is through acclaim, through the admiration of a small but devoted fan base, or through actual financial success is something I haven’t fully figured out my desire for. But I want to be successful with my work. Specifically, I want to be successful with my writing4Because frankly, my actual work isn’t particularly fulfilling..

On the other hand, I recognize that by raising money for charity with my work, the important person here is not me. It’s the people the money will be going to help. I’ll be fine. But there’s a lot of people who won’t be if they don’t receive the help that charitable organizations give. Hell, I likely wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the work of charity in my childhood. So to see this event fail when I’m not the recipient of the proceeds is disheartening.

I’m going to be taking a break from writing for a while. I don’t particularly want to stop writing, but I also don’t feel like my writing has a purpose at this point. Maybe I’ll change my mind at some point. There’s a handful of blog posts I’ve pre-written that’ll still go up on this blog each Monday (as per normal). In theory those will last until around the end of the year. I have a few ideas that will likely be content here early next year, though I haven’t gotten around to writing those yet. As for my long-form/story stuff, I think I need to reassess where I’m at there.

6 Songs That Need Covers

I’m a huge fan of music. For large portions of my life, music helped me mentally get through the day. I have tons of musicians and songs I love, including some songs I’ve listened to on a daily or weekly basis. That said, I also recognize that the best version of a song may not necessarily come from the person who originally wrote it.

Take, for example, “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails.

It’s a good song. I love Nine Inch Nails. I love dark songs. You’d think I’d find this to be the best version of this song. That said…Johnny Cash exists.

If Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” isn’t the single best cover of any song ever, I’m sure it’s at least in the discussion. There’s plenty of songs though that need covers that either don’t have them or don’t have them in the style that they need to be covered in. For today’s post, I thought I’d go through a handful of songs I think need covers in different styles, different vocal ranges, or by certain artists.

“The Waltz” by Neverending White Lights

I enjoy hearing orchestral instruments in a good rock song. This song is one of my more recent discoveries, however I’m fairly sure I’ve listened to it pretty close to once a day since I found it. I really need to sit down and listen to this whole album straight through at some point to get the full experience. That said, something’s off about it. It’s a good song, but it needs a cover by a different vocal range to be effective. I’m thinking a contralto/alto female voice would make the song a bit more haunting. Perhaps something along the lines of Joss Stone or Rachel Sermanni. I get that Sermanni in particular drifts into alto quite a bit, particularly in the song below, but I think she’d be a good fit.

“Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga

I like Lady Gaga as much as the next person. That said, this song is one of the few she’s written that’s just better as a cover. Take, for example, this cover where Lady Gaga’s vocals are paired with instrumentation by Andy Rehfeldt.

Paparazzi is just meant to be a non-pop song. And as much as I love heavy metal, I don’t think it’s the best option for covering this song. Personally, I’d like to see Paparazzi done in a slow jazz/lounge style. It’s been done well before…see Jessica Lea Mayfield’s cover of Nirvana’s Lounge Act for an example. Lady Gaga has done quite a bit of work with Tony Bennett. Why not have Bennett himself cover this song?

“Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies” by Biffy Clyro

This song has been my favorite song for the past three years or so. Nothing else has come close. That said, I’ve only heard it done in one of two styles — either exactly like Biffy Clyro did it, or with a single acoustic guitar. Both of those ways are fine. After all, it’s an amazing song. But there’s something missing. That something is a piano.

In the event you’re not familiar with Vika Yermolyeva, she’s a kickass pianist5It’s at this point that I’d like to mention that looking up one of Vika’s videos has led me down a rabbit hole where I binge watched two hours of her piano videos in one sitting. While doing nothing else. I am CONSTANTLY multitasking. Her piano work is ridiculous.. While I don’t think she’d need to be the one to do the cover of this song, I do think this style of music — where the entirety of the instrumentation is covered by a single piano can add power to a ton of songs. It’s not like Biffy Clyro’s music isn’t suited to piano, as there’s hundreds of piano covers of their songs. That said, the intricate parts of “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies” make the song more challenging, but potentially more rewarding.

Need another example of how this can be done well? Take a listen to Norah Jones’ cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”.

“Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani

I just need this covered by My Chemical Romance or Panic! At the Disco. I have no shame.

“Shadow on the Sun” by Audioslave
“Hands in the Sky (Big Shot)” by Straylight Run

I want to end with both of these songs combined into one idea, as when I hear both songs, I immediately think they need big, powerful voices to cover them. I’ve tried singing “Shadow on the Sun”. It is easily the most challenging vocal song I’ve ever attempted. Meanwhile, “Hands in the Sky” is an exercise in vocal restraint, especially as you’re slowly building up to sing with the most powerful voice your lungs can muster. Chris Cornell and John Nolan, respectively, use these two songs as vehicles to show off the amazing talent they have with their voices.

I really want to hear both of these songs done in a female voice. While there’s a lot of good options out there, the singer with the vocal range and style I think would work best — Amy Winehouse — isn’t around anymore for this to happen. That said, there’s a plethora of excellent female vocalists that could do these songs justice. Lzzy Hale of Halestorm seems like a good place to start. Halestorm’s already done some good covers, so they’ve got a leg up on others.

Have a suggestion for a great cover in your mind? Suggest it in the comments.

A Quick Podcast Note

Hey all. The Everyone Is Funnier Than Us podcast has come to an end. Even though it wasn’t totally official, I’ve known the writing was on the wall for nearly two months now. Hell, I even hinted at it in this post.

I’m looking to start a new project in the not too distant future. We’ll see if it happens. I do want to thank everyone who took the time to listen to us, to share your feedback, and care about what we had to say. It really was extremely appreciated.

Writing Diversely From A Non-Diverse Standpoint

A few weeks back, someone posted a thought on Twitter that can be summarized as such:

Dear white people: Please stop writing minority characters into your books. You’re taking away readership from POC/minority writers.

I remember not being particularly caught off guard by the tweet. After all, it came from a writer who identifies as a minority writer in many ways (race, sexuality, religion…those are the ones I can recall at least). And part of me gets the point. There is definitely a gap between sales of books from white authors and from non-white authors, whether we’re talking about children’s book authors or otherwise. There’s a need for diversity in writing, not just in characters, stories, and points-of-view, but also in authorship. That much is very true.

And yet, I can’t do anything about the fact that I am writing from a white, straight, English-speaking, higher-educated male viewpoint. I want to write in a more diverse manner. It’s a goal I put forward for myself after publishing An Epilogue to Innocence.

I do think there are some things I did well in AETI. I tried to make the book less about good guys and bad guys and more about people — regardless of their gender, background, or religious views. Yes, religion, sexuality, gender, and mental illness were addressed in the book to varying degrees. And yes, there were shortcomings I had with the book. In particular, I wanted to find a way to make my future writing more diverse racially and culturally.

As an example, I recently wrote a story that I think has a lot of potential. The story is intended to introduce a larger world and as such, there are very limited deep details given about the main characters in the story that will be reappearing in later iterations of the story. You know, world building and what not.

One of the characters is supposed to be a woman of Filipina descent. I actively chose not to introduce this facet of her character in the first section[1] of the story because I didn’t want her race to become the focus of her introduction. While her race is part of who she is, in the world in which she exists, what causes judgement and discrimination is not race — it’s something else entirely[2]. Yet, at the same time, I feel as though it’s not only important that I have an understanding of the discrimination that any minority individual goes through in order to write my story effectively, but also in order to grow as a writer, I need to better understand how to write characters who are culturally different from me.

So I look to you, my readers, for advice. Many of you are also fellow writers, hence hoping to pick your brain on this topic. How do you write more diversely when you write fiction? What tips, tricks, and recommendations would you have for me as I look to become a writer that writers not just about those I know, but also those I hope to better understand?

The Not-So-Serious Anime Awards (Round 2)

A couple of years ago, I decided to talk about anime in an award list parody post. You can read that original post here if you’re so inclined. With the news of a live action Death Note film coming out, I decided to take a look back at that post, only to realize I wrote the post well before I had watched Death Note…or a lot of other shows for that matter.

While I still like most of the things on the previous post (or at least hold similar opinions that I held on that post), I’ve watched a good bit more anime in the nearly two years since that point. With that in mind, I’ve decided to update my previous list where more recently watched content changes my answers in some way — be that the overall winner of the category or the honorable mentions. I’ve also added a few new categories, as there were a couple of categories I made no changes to.

No Changes: Worst Overdubbing, Worst Series Ending, Best Series Ending, Best Anime Film, Creepiest Moment[1], Worst Villain

As was the case before, spoilers abound from here on.

Changes to Honorable Mentions Only

Best Film/Series – FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I get that Ranker and a bunch of other sites have Death Note above FMA: Brotherhood, but if I’m looking at an entire series, I care more about just the battle between the main protagonist and antagonist. Hell, that’s over 2/3 of the way into the series in the case of Death Note. FMA: Brotherhood has excellently written minor characters, a compelling storyline, and an ending that isn’t completely anticlimatic[2]. Plus you’ve got two of the saddest moments in anime[3] in this show. I’m not sure what else you could ask for from an anime.

Honorable Mention: Soul Eater, Death Note

Best Series Music – RWBY

Despite a bit of a dip in season 3, RWBY far and away has the best music of any anime (or hell, any animated show) out there. Of the categories from my original list, this is the only one where the category winner actually managed to increase the gap between it and the honorable mentions. Soul Eater stays on the list by virtue of having the single best intro song in an anime, while Black Lagoon makes an appearance on an anime list for something other than Revy’s assets/her ability to kill people.

Honorable Mention: Black Lagoon, Soul Eater

Best Intro Song – “Black Paper Moon” by Tommy Heavenly6 (Soul Eater, Seasons 2-3)

See above. That said, if you picked any of the honorable mention songs here and said they were your favorite, I wouldn’t be too upset. Two of the four songs in this group played at our wedding reception. Anime has good music. Usually.

Honorable Mention: “This Will Be The Day” by Jeff Williams and Casey Lee Williams (RWBY, Season 1), “Unravel” by TK (Tokyo Ghoul), “Red Fraction” by Mell (Black Lagoon, Seasons 1-2)

Best Villain – Medusa Gorgon, Soul Eater

I expected so much more out of Cinder Fall when I wrote my last list. But come to find out she’s a mid-level henchman who manages to go from a sadistic badass to the weakest written character in RWBY in the matter of two episodes. I have hope for Salem, but until then, Jessie and James replace Cinder. As much as Light is the main villain of Death Note, Misa is a much better villain — or at least a more interesting one. Neither holds a candle to Medusa from Soul Eater though.

Honorable Mention: Jessie and James (Pokemon), Misa Amane (Death Note)

Most Unexpectedly Good Anime – Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Reminder: Naked throne of creepy sex ladies. Still a damn good anime though. Most of the other animes I’ve watched in the last two years have either been already well-received series, series that were incredible disappointments, or both. Even so, both Black Lagoon and Death Parade are worth the watch. Be warned though…Death Parade’s theme song will get stuck in your head.

Honorable Mention: Black Lagoon, Death Parade, also…can we count Adventure Time here? No? Please? It’s good despite being fucking weird.

New Award Winners

Best Main Character – L, Death Note

Sorry Weiss. When you’re not even the best main character in your own show now[4], you can’t top this list. When I wrote the previous list, I hadn’t seen Death Note, hence L’s absence. That said, after a handful of suggestions to watch the show, I finally got why so many people are drawn to L. He’s just so…strange? I think that’s the best way to describe him. Plus, he’s a good guy who doesn’t win in the end. I always find characters like that interesting.

Honorable Mention: Roy Mustang (FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood), Tsubaki Nakatsukasa (Soul Eater), Yang Xiao Long (RWBY)

Best Secondary Character – Riza Hawkeye, FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I had a bit of a change of heart on this one within weeks of posting my previous list. While Excalibur is funny and entertains me in his occasional appearances, Riza is one of the best written female characters in film or television, regardless of format. As a side note, I’d watch animes that focus on the lives of Roberta and James. Roberta’s back story prior to her encounter with the Lagoon Company deserved to be fleshed out a bit more, while James is clearly the most loved Pokemon trainer in the series, at least by his Pokemon.

Honorable Mention: Excalibur (Soul Eater), Roberta (Black Lagoon), James (Pokemon)

Worst Character – Rock, Black Lagoon

In my last list, I failed to make a distinction between worst villain (read: horrible human being) and worst character (read: OMFG SHUT UP AND GET OFF MY SCREEN). This is how I feel pretty much every time Rock talks after the first three episodes of Black Lagoon. On top of that, at least Third Kira moves his story line forward and at least Brock is useful sometimes. Rock is just painful, yet he’s supposed to be the main character[5].

Honorable Mention: Brock (Pokemon), Kyosuke “Third Kira” Higuchi (Death Note)

Most Entertaining Character – Bewear, Pokemon

After picking up Pokemon Moon, I decided to check back in on the Pokemon anime just to see what had happened since I’ve been gone. Much to my surprise, the first episode I watched featured Team Rocket actually defeating Ash for the first time in the entire series. All this happened just in time for the Bewear they were living with to show up. Hilarity ensues[6].

Honorable Mention: Greed (FullMetal Alchemist), Near (Death Note)