If a Geek Writes a Book, Does It Make a Sale? The WonderCon Interviews, Part II

Geeks Get Published: it sounds obvious. At first blush, with the exception of folks like Snooki, the Fifty Shades of Grey author and Penthouse letters, who else do you imagine is getting published? Mostly geeks, that’s who! Bookworms, academicians, poetry goths, art nerds, amateur scholars, film dorks, scientists, comic book enthusiasts, pop culture obsessives, military buffs and historical rëenactors are busily scribbling, publishing and selling the most important theses and musings of all: their own.

Office of a geek writer, or a geek reader? Photo: Yellow Dog Photography
Geek writer, or geek reader? Photo: Yellow Dog Photography

With a plethora of visual outlets today, it takes a geek to stick with the romance of the written word, I know. It takes a geek to write anything today, even a Thank You note. The real trick is not getting a geek published … it’s getting a geek read. All those non-geeks roaming the planet, unaware as they are of being thiiiis close to mankind’s discovery of the God particle, have a Black Hole’s worth of activity to keep them occupied without cracking a book. Authors’ efforts are being slaughtered like Britons at the hands of marauding Vikings, slaying and slicing with a force of diversions no other generation of writers has ever suffered. Sure, it was probably easy for Chaucer to be a best-seller. What else was there to do in the Medieval era? Everybody just waiting around to die from a splinter, plus everything was dark by four o’clock. Today? It’s never dark.

21stC. authors compete with a clip-mentality, 140-character world. The Internet is a shiny keyring and the babies aren’t pulling themselves up by the bookshelf; they’re doing it with the entertainment center. You can get a human to focus and read, but it’s like getting a swordfish to hold still once you’ve brought him onto the boat. It’s not impossible, but you will get the crap beat out of you trying.

Anaheim Convention Center , view from Hilton Anaheim Photo: JSDevore
Anaheim Convention Center , view from Hilton Anaheim Photo: JSDevore

So, where can a bunch of bookworms safely go to lick their wounds and share the odd tales of literary victory? WonderCon Anaheim 2013 is a good start. Never been to a con? It goes like this. Go to the beach, open a bag of Doritos, fling them sky-high and watch flocks of frantic sea gulls descend upon the treats. This is basically a con, but with costumes and boobs: squawking, feathers and crumbs everywhere.

Rather late one Saturday night, upstairs at the Anaheim Convention Center, there sat an impressive, educated and loquacious panel called Geeks Get Published – and Paid!, moderated by vivacious and prolific writer Jenna Busch (Womanthology, Fanhattan, Cocktails with Stan). When not moderating or taking part on con panels, this Tinkerbell look-alike flits about the Internet with her wand-cum-quill scribing for over twenty sites, including Huffington Post, USA Today, AOL and Moviefone. Geek basement cred includes screen time with Stan Lee, Wil Wheaton, Grant Imahara and Bonnie Burton. A bi-coastal actress, writer and producer, she’s as easy-peasy at home writing in her jim-jams as she is doing cheesecake pin-up for Cupcake Quarterly. She is also inclined to redo your up-do, should she spy you across a crowded party floor and give you the squinty-eye. If she does approach you, stand still, let her re-pin your locks and do not make eye contact.

This effervescent power girl’s panel featured S. G. Browne (Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament), Katrina Hill (Action Movie Freak), Alan Kistler (Doctor Who: A History), Alex Langley (The Geek Handbook), and Dr. Travis Langley (Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight). Their task? To enlighten fellow writers and hem-hawing wannabes on the rituals, protocol and even plain ol’ luck of finding a literary agent and publisher. Does one need all this, in today’s world of epub? It turns out, it certainly doesn’t hurt and advances can be awfully nice. Dr. Travis Langley pontificated, “Lots of people want to have written a book. Problem is, you have to want to write the book.”

Author S. G. Browne (Lucky Bastard) spoke of his innate need to write. “If I go to bed without having written something, I feel like I forgot to do something.” Easily the quietest of the panel, Mr. Browne reminds one of a less volatile version of Morrissey. Aesthetically, he suits a vision of what a Central Casting wordsmith might be: glasses, soft-spoken, rumpled sportcoat, probably drinks Earl Grey or Guinness and has, at least once, considered being James Joyce for Hallowe’en. He is so understated and unpretentious, his Twitter handle has underscores (S_G_Browne) because he felt “SGBrowne”, no underscores, would be a little “full of himself”.

All grown-up Dennis the Menace, a.k.a. Alex Langley, excitedly urged the audience to  Write, write, write! Write when you don’t feel like it, write when you do! His identification with Calvin, of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes is clear. A precocious, intelligent and affable demeanor tells me The Geek Handbook: Practical Skills and Advice for the Likeable Modern Geek is sure to be a pleasant read. After all, when asked about Calvin’s imaginary tiger, Hobbes, Alex replied, “Well, imaginary? That all depends on how you view the world.” Clap your hands if you believe!

Abby and Calvin, a.k.a. Alex Langley. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography
Abby and Calvin, a.k.a. Alex Langley. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

The force is strong with this family, the Langleys. Besides Alex, the panel featured his father, vater, Vader, Travis Langley, Ph.D.. Dr. Langley is the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. (Little known factoid: an original title considered was Batman and Psychology: Batman’s in his Belfry. Not a favourite of Mrs. Langley, apparently.) Dr. Langley, a clinical psychologist and, as far as we know the world’s only superherologist, approaches Batman academically, focusing on his human behaviour traits and habits. He also has that geek devotion, to be sure. “Interesting how many have thanked me for writing my book … I suspect it’s about my looking seriously at something we all love.” Be warned, his work is more grad school thesis than comic book devotion. You’ll need your thinking caps for this book, kids. No pictures.

Of interesting note, there was a lengthy discourse, initiated by Dr. Langley, on “writing in the character’s universe” vs. “writing about the character’s universe”. Ex.: writing a new Peanuts adventure using Schulz’ characters is copyright infringement; writing about the 60th anniversary of Peanuts is free and clear. The main point being there exist grave, legal differences betwixt the two. Ergo, mark one in the column for traditional-publishing vs. self-publishing: big publishing houses have attorneys, you do not.

Firebrand Alan Kistler (MTV.com, Crazy Sexy Geeks) weighed in authoritatively on the topic. Author of Doctor Who: A History, as well as The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook, The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge, he knows a thing or two about approaching legends. Non-fiction, it seems, leaves a pretty wide berth for usage; fiction is a tad more nebulous. This is when things got ugly and turned to “Homage or Blatant Rip-off?”. Enter, stage-left: BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’ Elementary.

The very mention of the CBS title brought a collective snort of derision from the room. The loudest, most derisive snort of all, however, came from Mr. Kistler. “Fuck you, Elementary! Fuck. You.” A succinct directive, surely. Flipping a double-bird aloft, northward toward Hollywood, he seemed pleased, having excised and settled a score, personal, artistic or otherwise. (Dr. Langley? Your thoughts?) See, geeks are not only bookish, when they get chuffed they can be downright hardcore.

One bookish geek who doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in her lithe frame is Katrina Hill (Action Movie Freak, Fanhattan, MTVGeek). Her official moniker of “Action Flick Chick”, plus having been designated as one of “The Most Dangerous Women of Comic-Con” (along with fellow dangerous broads Leah Cevoli and Adrianne Curry), left me mildly prepared for a sharp roundhouse kick to the ponytails when we met after the panel. Approaching carefully, I found Katrina, ironically, to be almost regal in her carriage – more Jane Austen than Guy Ritchie. Of soft voice and an uncommon politeness, her lovely quintessence is as ceramic as her pretty complexion. Still … she’s like the Thomas Jefferson of action film assessors. One might have to lean in to hear her speak, but once she puts pen to paper, step aside, folks … and by folks, I mean men. I leaned in a bit after Geeks Get Published – and Paid!. Here’s what she quietly shared about publishing, writing, the double-edged sword of social media and, well, Elementary and Twilight.

Katrina Hill Photo: Action Flick Chick archives

Comic-Con Int’l Presents WonderCon Anaheim, Geeks Get Published Interview with Katrina Hill, March 30, 2013

Good to be a Geek: Thank you for chatting with us tonight. Looks like we’re the last ones in the hall.

Katrina Hill: Yeah. I think everyone’s already at the Hilton.

GTBAG: “The Most Dangerous Women in Comic-Con” meet-up, right?

KH: (laughs) Exactly!

GTBAG: We’ll make this painless so we can all get to the Hilton.

KH: (laughs) Sounds good!

GTBAG: You started by reviewing films and blogging. This lead to publishing. Did you seek publishing? As you mentioned in the panel, you were approached to write a book, yet, was this a shock, or something in the back of your mind, that this could happen?

KH: It actually was. I think even a few months before they asked me to write this, I was trying to figure out how to put all my reviews together somehow, but hadn’t formulated it in my head, yet. Then, they were like, “We have this series of books … and we want you to do Action Movie Freak. I was like, “Ahhh! Yes! That’s so perfect!”

GTBAG: I notice there’s a horror flick book …  

KH: Yes. Horror Movie Freak and Sci-fi Movie Freak and I think they might be coming out with some new ones. I’m not quite sure.

GTBAG: Did you contribute to those titles?

KH: I did not.

GTBAG: So, yours is your sole project? All you, to boot.

KH: Yes. I wrote every word. You know, I did a panel yesterday, Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con, and we talked a lot about… people still think women don’t like action movies, and we do! I still get a few men, and people in general, who say, “You wrote this?” and I say, “Yes. I wrote this.” I actually had one person ask, “So, did you have an editor or a main writer and then they just put your name on it?” I was like, “No!” This guy came up to my table and asked me that. You fucki …

GTBAG: It’s like [Bernard] Lacombe, the former, French footballer who responded to a female caller, on a French, sports radio program I believe, “I don’t talk about football with women … They should look after their pots and pans, that would be better.” As a girl, you couldn’t possibly talk about action films or gaming, right?

KH: I don’t know. (laughs) It’s 2013. Women like everything.

GTBAG: In that vein, in the way people think women don’t read comic books in the numbers men do, do you have one statement for those men whom ask, “Did you really write that yourself?”

KH: Uh, words that I can actually say? (laughs)

GTBAG: Care to quote Alan Kistler?

KH: (laughs) Uh …

GTBAG: You use social media extensively. You Tweet an awful lot and post on Facebook. It might have been easier … to have been Jules Verne and just write, let someone else do the marketing. Yet, that’s not the case today. It is 2013.

KH: That would be nice.

GTBAG: Do you find it’s easier to be in charge of your own marketing, mostly. Or, is it a double-edged sword? Is it bittersweet … being such an obligation?

KH: Yes, it is a double-edged sword. Like, I like that I’m in control. Typically, if I make a mistake, if I get a quote wrong or a fact wrong … blame me. I did it. I take responsibility. But then, it is incredibly time-consuming. I’ve actually gotten to where my Tweets are not as often. I used to Tweet all day, but now I’m writing for so many more sites now, I can’t keep up!

GTBAG: Do you set limits for yourself? Obviously one can Tweet twenty-four-seven. Do you find yourself setting parameters? This is my weekend, this is my evening. I don’t have to Tweet the coffee I’m having, I don’t have to tell everyone my instant thoughts on this episode of (pause) “Elementary”.

KH: (whispers) You mean rip on it? (laughs) (inaudible) Alan Kistler?

GTBAG: No mincing Alan’s words in the panel, right?

KH: Yeah! Well, setting limits. Absolutely! If I don’t, I find I will spend two to three hours reading people’s Tweets. I follow a lot of people.

GTBAG: You follow a bonkers-amount of people, like close to 100K.

KH: Like, 89K, but, yeah.

GTBAG: Plus, you have over 150K followers.

KH: Yeah. I like to give people a chance. I like to make friends. Why not? (laughs)

GTBAG: How do you keep everybody organized.

KH: I have lists, but sometimes they fall through the cracks. I have a timeline, but I get about 200 updates a second. I follow my lists though. You know, “Geek Girls” and “Movie Buffs” and …

GTBAG: “Going to Comic-Con”?

KH: Yeah! “Going to Comic-Con”. Yeah, if I don’t set limits, I’m a mess. Three hours later I’m like, “What did I do with my day? It’s 9:00 at night, I missed dinner, I didn’t work out and I have three articles to write by tomorrow. So, yes. Limits are a must!

GTBAG: Do you worry that, with so many people following you, whatever you Tweet … be it political or an unofficial review, just a comment about this actress or that director, do you think about offending or, conversely, thrilling 50% of your readership?

KH: I do think about that. For that reason, I try to stay out of politics; it’s not something I want to go into over Twitter. I also try to stay positive. Because, I know if I Tweet, “Blah blah sucks in this movie.”, it’s really not very constructive.

GTBAG: Miracle Laurie [Dollhouse]said this also in her panel earlier today, “All Shapes and Sizes Welcome”. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, there is so much negativity online and some of it is done with great humor. Still, to promote so much negative energy online helps nobody.

KH: Exactly.

GTBAG: Like Thumper. “If you can’t say nuthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”

KH: Right. Or, I’ll say, “This movie wasn’t for me. I’m obviously not the demographic for Twilight – well, there are other issues with that (laughs) -but, if you like this and this and this, you’ll probably like this movie. I’ll try to spin a bad review that way.

GTBAG: Very diplomatic.

KH: Speaking of diplomacy, you know, going back to my “fucki … ” (laughs) Let me elaborate on that. (laughs) You shouldn’t just immediately write off people. It’s all about education and being a representative and being out there. Yes. I wrote this book. Why don’t you look at it and see before you judge me?

GTBAG: That’s much nicer. Thank you for your time.

KH: Thank you, too. See you at the Hilton!

Hannah’s fave places to haunt on-line? Jennypop.net  @JennyPopNet & Jennifer Devore’s Amazon Author Page

6 Comments

  1. As a matter of fact, I do drink Guinness. Earl Grey, not so much. And while I was never James Joyce for Halloween, I was a very convincing John Lennon. At least visually. My Liverpool accent needs work.

    Thanks for the writeup. And for attending the panel!

  2. ‘Twas my pleasure! Guinness needs no words other than “perfection”.

    Fret not about the accent; a Liverpudlian is a tough beast to mimic. Moi, I’ve always made a fantastic Mozart for Hallowe’en … just happen to have powdered wigs lying about hither and thither. (Dr. Langley? Your thoughts?) Ha!

    Cheers!

  3. Kistler just had to go and point out that I’m Alex’s dad, not his brother. I felt so youthful! I enjoyed that mistake. 🙂 Admittedly, it’s not like we point out our connection during the panel. We’d decided ahead of time that it was irrelevant to the topic.

    Now what’s this about powdered wigs?

  4. Cheers, Dr. Batman 🙂

    You and your son are indeed a pleasurable team of grey cells to have met. I love family dynamics and find them fascinating on all levels. Being an only child, though, I am drawn to the sibling dynamic most of all, especially brothers, as I am fortunate enough to have two brothers-in-law, plus two sisters-in-law! (Biiiiig Christmases!!) I suppose I saw what I wanted to see when I saw you as brothers 😀 You seem a very nice family, however it stands.

    Cheers to you and Alex both!

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