Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What keeps you awake at night?

What keeps you from sleeping at night? When was the last time the boogieman kept you awake?

Last week I was hit by the flu. I was beat down and left for dead; nothing more than a miserably heap of pink bathrobe and used tissues, permanently stuck to the couch. I was too out of it to even write, so I did what any self-respecting pile of mucus would do; I ate soup, I slept, and I watched a lot of TV.   

I started off my binge with Night of the Living Dead and continued it with Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and How to Train Your Dragon (yeah, I know it doesn't really fit). After a few movies I moved onto a number of TV shows and eventually landed on American Horror Story. It got me thinking about times that I have really been terrified by something I watched or read.

When I was a kid, Fire in the Sky kept me up for weeks. It made me physically ill and impacted my ability to watch scary movies for years to come. Thereafter, every time I watched a scary movie, particularly with aliens, my stomach would drop out and I would succumb to nausea that would keep me up all night long. That, my friends, is fear.

It took me years to get over the experience and conquer my association of horror with nausea. Once I got over it, I found that I was left with a very strong stomach and a tolerance, even a love, for the gory and horrific. As an adult I find that I read or watch on with fascination, rarely experiencing the terror I knew as a child. Demons and monsters frequently make it into my dreams, but they provide a sense of adventure and never do I wake up in a sweat trying to escape. A few weeks ago I dreamed I had survived a zombie horde only to realize I had forgotten a ring in a hotel room. Clearly we had to go back for it. When I woke there was no sense of panic or fear, just curiosity that I (of all people) would go back for a ring.

I am now going to take this opportunity to share with you the monsters that have managed to break through and remind me of my childhood fears.

28 Days Later - I don't care what the zombie purists say, they were mother fucking zombies and scared the crap out of me. A friend and I set up my laptop and watched it one weekend in my college dorm room. Fast zombies. What the hell?! My roommate was out of town for the weekend and there was no way I was sleeping alone with fast zombies flashing in my head. I moved my pillow and sleeping bag down the hall for the rest of the weekend.

The Ring - On Halloween in a sold-out theater filled with jumpy pumped up teenagers. The tension was palpable. I had never before had such an intense movie-going experience. At every twist and turn the collective jumped and screamed. I went home that night on edge and seeing monsters in every corner, only to find that the blanket on my bed proudly displayed an image of a tree with a ring of a moon above it. That blanket lived in my closet for weeks.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose - I think that was the movie. The movie itself does not matter, it was what followed that left a lasting impression. My boyfriend at the time was a complete pansy; jumpy and easily spooked. He made me stay over after the movie and not because he was trying to get lucky; he was legitimately too freaked to sleep alone. By the end of the night he had twitched, started and cried out so many times, that I thought he would have to be exorcised.

Rising Tide - I know what you are thinking. What a shameless plug for your own book. But seriously, I have never been more freaked out than I was from writing Chapter 9. The setting was perfect: alone in a hotel room during a thunderstorm (tornado alarms even blared that night). And when you write horror, your mind twists up and wanders down all the dark and dirty corridors of your imagination. Only a fraction of the monsters you create make it into words on a page, the rest plague the darkness behind your eyelids. If you are looking for a truly good scare and are bored with the movies and books available, try writing. It's a guaranteed sleepless night. It took me more than two hours of Storage Wars to get the demons calmed down enough for me to sleep.

Just a few of my most memorable spooks. So, what has kept you awake lately?


Friday, January 18, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion

Self-promotion. It's a topic of discussion that has been on my To-Do list since I first started conceptualizing this blog. A post I saw by Byron Rempel, a fabulous zombie artist I follow, prompted me to put a check mark next to it sooner rather than later. So here goes. 

How does one go about promoting a product or service? Easy right? Buy an ad in the newspaper, stick a commercial on TV during the Superbowl or get some celebrity to drop your name and you will sell millions of widgets. But what about the little guys? What about independent writer or artist? What about that guy making custom car parts on his lathe in the garage or that woman with a small pizza joint? How can these people leverage social media and the ever changing realm of advertising?

It seems like, these days, everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon of social media and figure out how to gain customers and increase sales using the new technology. Unfortunately, from what I have read on various blogs and posts, and from my own experience, most have been unsuccessful. 

Some months ago I heard a story on NPR about a pizza place in Brooklyn trying to use Facebook advertising to gain customers. They spent a lot of money very quickly only to find out that most of their new "likes" were from people well outside of the New York area and would never actually translate into sales. 

As a page manager for a local store, I have learned that Facebook pages are fine for managing relationships with current customers, but do not result in new customers. Global social media is too big for a small brick and mortar store, the target audience is too small and too specific. Traditional media and word of mouth still seem to be best for your Mom and Pops.  

Facebook is no good for brick and mortar. But what about virtual stores? What about products and services that are transportable and shippable? Things like an e-book that can be sold anywhere in the world and your target audience is virtually limitless. This was the thought that I kept in mind as I began to promote Rising Tide

After I built up a basic Facebook presence I started to advertise. At first it was just one $5 ad. It added some "likes" to my page so I pumped in more money. I started testing out different types of ads and different audiences. 
  • Generally, you choose between paying per impression (number of people who see your ad) and the number of people who click on your ad. At first you think impressions are the way to go, because they are so much cheaper but then you realize it takes a lot of impressions to result in a "like" or a sale. So you switch to the more expensive pay per click.
  • If you are looking for "likes", pay per click is the way to go. I added a bunch of followers this way. But because you are paying for actions, Facebook is targeting people that are likely to take action. The result is a bunch of followers that are click happy and have "liked" everything on Facebook.
  • Linking my ads directly to Amazon (instead of my page) was as good as lighting my cash on fire. Advertising for external pages gets very expensive, very quickly and provides limited insights.

Don't get me wrong, my advertising did result in a number of positive interactions with fans who are actively interested in my posts and writing. Just not $300 worth. I ultimately quit advertising on Facebook because even if I have a bunch of fans, I have no way to interact with them. The social media site has throttled back our feed so that only about 10% of our fans will actually see our posts. If you want to increase that, you have to pay for it. As an independent author, I can not afford to pay advertising to get fans and then again pay for them to see my posts. 

About the time I started getting fed up with my Facebook ad campaign, I started looking into Google +. So far, as a promotional tool, it has exceeded my expectations. There are no prohibitions on contacting new or unknown people. You can post publicly to access a huge audience and with the new communities you can access specific audiences. My blog viewership is up over 400% since I joined at the end of October. And the best part? I haven't spent a dime. Suck on that, Zuckerberg.

So to now come full circle and actually comment on the post I mentioned above. Don't be disillusioned, I am using G+ for the sole purpose of brand growth and self-promotion. Apparently, there are people out there who don't like that artists and the self-employed are using it for this purpose. To me, this is mind boggling. 


Yes even you. When you post that picture of your cat or your spaghetti and meatballs, that is brand promotion. You are promoting the idea of you. You are selling your personality and competing with others to say "I'm interesting, you should care about what I have to say and what I do." So, don't be surprised when other people try to get paid for it. 

That is all. Thank you Mr. Rempel for compelling me to check the box. Keep on doing what you do. Hurrah!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013


This is a topic that has been on my mind for a few weeks now and I think Sunday's post is a great segue into the subject.

Back in October I wrote a short story for a horror contest inspired by the splatterpunk genre. I had just finished reading Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show and was really in the zone. Gratuitous sex, violence, and language. True-Self was the result of spending a week in Barker's twisted mind and then immediately setting out to delve into some of the darker parts of my own mind. I was pleased with the story that emerged.

True-Self is the graphic, gory, and sexually explicit tale of a young woman coming to terms with herself. Ironically, it has also become my greatest liability.

Rising Tide: A Novel is a touch tamer, as it is intended for a wider audience. I would hate to lose a fan or reader because I had offended them with a more extreme version of my writing. There is a fine line to dance between censoring yourself and producing something that could damage your brand.

Ultimately, I opted not to remove True-Self from Surviving the Apocalypse on account of 50 Shades of Grey being one of the most popular series in the country. Though I haven't read it, nor do I intend to, I hear it is quite graphic. And if that can pass as appropriate book club reading, I think I am OK.

I did however remove True-Self for about 12 hours for another reason. Shortly after I revealed my pseudonym, book, and blog to my family, I panicked. I immediately had buyer's remorse and feared that my friends and family would be appalled.

After reading it over and over again and staring at the unpublished piece, I finally said "Fuck it!" and re-published it. I said it in Sunday's post, I have said it before and I will say it again: having a twisted imagination does not make me a twisted fuck. If my family can't handle what I write, tough, because they are the ones that have pushed me and encouraged me to embrace my passion. I will not censor myself for personal reasons.

I have already risked my self-esteem, confidence, legitimacy, and career by publishing Rising Tide and posting my short stories and thoughts for the whole world to see. Why stop there? Why not push to the edge? Go big or go home.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

These kids are not the problem

This morning when I checked my Facebook feed I found a number of comments and posts related to an article in the Portland Press Herald about USN Films. Apparently, this small group of teenagers is stirring up controversy in Brunswick, Maine for the "graphic violence" depicted in their films. People are associating their films with the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other mass shootings of late. And people ask me why I write under a pseudonym.

Though I only watched one video, I saw no difference between these young filmmakers and myself. They tell their stories through a different medium, but they are no more violent than the imagery in my prose. These kids have found an outlet for their creativity and are now being ostracized by the community for the form that it takes. 

These are not the kids that go out and commit crimes, these kids are socially involved (evidenced by the fact that were capable of coordinating such a large group effort). The time and effort required to put together even a short film indicates a level of creativity, intelligence, and skill that conflicts with the disturbed loner personality that is usually responsible for actual violence. I've said it before and I will say it again. Having a twisted imagination does not make us twisted fucks.

Likely, I will follow up with this post and discuss further, but I was so motivated by the article that I wanted to get something out quickly. Good luck guys, keep doing what you do. 

*** UPDATE ***

Yea these are some dangerous kids. Honor students. Eagle Scout candidates. Early acceptance to the US Naval Academy. Lock 'em up and throw away the key. We definitely do not need creative and entrepreneurial youths running amok in society. 

"We didn't really try to hide it. We didn't sneak in and try to film a video and get out. There was a librarian on site who knew we were filming. The library was open."

Hooligans! Next they'll be getting jobs and being productive members of the community. Where does the madness end?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

To Tell or Not to Tell

Deciding to write a book was easy. Deciding who to tell, that was like climbing Everest. Now that some of my friends and family know my secret, they have trouble understanding why I didn't tell them from the beginning. This is my attempt to articulate the logic and evolution of my silence.

In the beginning, to put it simply, I didn't want to jinx it. If you don't ever tell anyone, there are no witnesses to hold you accountable for your actions (or inaction). My secret was a preemptive strike against "whatever happened with that book you were gonna write?" We are all guilty of it; we have all made grand public declarations about one thing or another, only to later be reminded of our failures by our loved ones. Rising Tide was too important to allow it to be sabotaged by the pressure to commit.

So, I decided I would write a book and then I told exactly one person. My roommate. I had to for logistical purposes. There was no way I would have been able to hide the obsessive compulsive behavior of writing a novel from him. I swore him to secrecy and threatened to cut off his balls if he told anyone. Only twice did he earn a swift kick in the shins for hinting to family members that I was up to no good.

Upon completion of my first draft, I added my editor to the list. Again, a logistical necessity. At this point my need for secrecy shifted from performance anxiety to feelings of inadequacy. I began to doubt myself. What if it was crap?

Slowly my fears were allayed. My editor (and friend of more than twenty years) liked it, even admitting it was her first zombie read, and has been bugging me for the sequel. It's OK if I make an ass of myself in front of strangers, but I only have so many friends and family members. The staunch approval of one of my closest friends drove me to the next step.

We cleaned it up and made it public. Eventually, I got enough positive support from complete strangers that I decided I should bring some others in on the secret. As my confidence grew, my need to have support in my corner outweighed my discomfort. And so I added a half dozen friends, whom I knew I could trust, to act as sleepers to occasionally "like" my Facebook posts and casually bring my book up in conversation.

Shortly thereafter, I opted to tell my mother which resulted in a rabid cat escaping swiftly from the bag. I asked her not to tell anyone, so naturally she told my father. Within 12 hours I had a voicemail from my grandmother wanting to know my pseudonym and how she could get a copy of my book. My hand was forced and I issued a family press release, notifying them of the good news and that they should not use social media to congratulate anyone other than Leigh Fischer.

At this point, I have received enough positive feedback that I am confident I have done the right thing. I know it's not perfect and it has problems, but I am satisfied that I have not completely humiliated myself and that I need to keep trying. With this confidence, I now keep my list at a minimum simply because there is no point in having a Nom de Plume if everyone knows your true identity. No one would call him Batman if they knew he was really Bruce Wayne. Where is the fun in that?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Problems with Facebook

In April of 2012 I decided I needed to start developing an online presence for Leigh Fischer in anticipation of a summer release of  Rising Tide: A Novel. I had been on Facebook for years and had watched it transition from strictly college students attending an "approved" university to everyone and their uncle. I watched as it grew from a place to merely keep in touch to a one stop shop to see what your friends are doing and buying every damn moment of their life.

Personally, I have some issues with Facebook. On a personal level, I really don't care to see what someone is eating for dinner. Most of the time it looks like a pile of slop; I don't think I have a single "friend" that is a chef and "plates" their dinner in a way they warrants a picture. But this constant insight and constant feed is what made Facebook attractive to me as a brand. All it takes is one person clicking "like" on my book and dozens if not hundreds will see it.

I had some experience managing FB pages for various clubs and activities, I had also managed my personal page since '05. How difficult could it be to create a page for my pseudonym? Turns out, bloody hard. 

FB has come a long way from the days when you had to have an approved .edu email address, but they have recently prohibited aliases. Apparently, it is to maintain the integrity of FB and protect users. What it actually does is make it difficult for people operating legally under an assumed name. The amount of personal information that you have to enter in order to get an account forces you to develop a back story and fabricate information for your pseudonym. This, I do not like. As I have said, my nom de plume is for my own protection and to assuage my own insecurities, it's not because I get off on lying to my readers.

Making Friends
If you are a FB user, you have seen a spammer profile. We all know what they look like: one picture, limited history, completely random friends, no personal information. I am not a spammer. I have a legitimate goal of providing a product and service to an interested audience.

Getting my account to where it is today, took a lot of patience. FB makes it nearly impossible to make new friends. As I tried to reach out to potential readers, I got flagged and locked. The first time my account got locked it was for two days. Then 5 days. Then 2 weeks. The last time my account got locked, I could not contact new people for 30 days.

With patience and no help from FB, I currently have more than 200 "friends", regular content and updates, wall and post interaction from "friends", and a small amount of organic friend growth.

Fan Interaction
I also maintain a product page on FB for Rising Tide. Advertising has contributed largely to the growth of that page (to be discussed in a later post). What I do want to discuss is the restrictions placed on page managers trying to contact their fans privately.

Before I went exclusive with Amazon, I was providing free copies of my book to people that "liked" my page and made a public comment about me or my book. This was fairly effective but holding up my end of the deal became difficult. FB does not let a page initiate a private message with a fan. The fan could message Rising Tide and then I could attach the book in the response. Or the fan could friend Leigh and then I would then have full access to contact the fan. Or the fan could email me a request.

These options all add an additional burden to the fan and also raise privacy concerns. I do not ever want to be seen as a spammer or a risk to my readers, but FB policies make it difficult for you to not come across as creepy. Ultimately, I ended up shifting solely to email distribution for free copies and have gotten some of my most effective and interactive readers from this method.

FB does not want you to use a pseudonym (which is perfectly legal providing you are not committing illegal acts and you are prepared to disclose it to authorities). Instead, they direct authors, celebrities and other alias users to create a product/group/service/company page, but then they restrict the interactions page managers can have with people that have already indicated their interest in the product or service. In conclusion, Facebook is crap for meeting new people and developing meaningful interaction between a brand and a fan.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nom de Plume

Using a pseudonym, for me, was an obvious decision. In anonymity, you gain a freedom that allows you to experiment and take risks that you might not otherwise consider. Though using a pseudonym was the easiest choice I have made, it has also forced me to learn lessons that would not have emerged had I opted to use my legal name. The impact of my nom de plume will show up regularly throughout this blog.

My Top 6 Reasons for Remaining Anonymous

1. As I have already said, my only reasons for not publishing were built on a foundation of fear. If Leigh Fischer crashes and burns miserably in a flaming ball of excrement, no one really has to know. 

2. I have a day job. It's dull and painful but it pays the bills and allows me room to dream. My employers are a bit conservative and might misunderstand my style and interests.

3. Everyone assumes you are writing about them. I do not need my supervisor seeing himself in my antagonists (especially if he might be there). 

4. When I was in middle school I found myself in quite a lot of trouble for writing things that were sexual in nature and/or suicidal. In reality, I was neither. It was the cool thing to do and it was an outlet for me to be a stupid kid. However, I have no desire to repeat that experience. Twisted creatures roll around in my head and sometimes they do naughty things. I do not need people confusing me with my characters. Having a twisted imagination does not make me a twisted fuck. 

5. I admit that zombies might not work out for me. I am a fan, but they are not everyone's cup of tea. Furthermore, my interest in zombies generally diverges from most zom fans. I love developing characters and the zombie apocalypse offers so many fabulous ways to experiment with the human response to stress (at some point I'm sure I will dedicate at least an entire post to the subject). Many zom fans prefer what I call the 3Gs (Guts, Gore, and Guns). My work contains the 3Gs but only as a means to the end, they are not my focus. 

6. Closely related to Number 5, non zombie fans shy away from the genre and I may need to put Leigh Fischer in a closet when my other friends come over to play. Who knows? Maybe someday, I will want to write a legit biography about Ronald Reagan. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Stars Align

1. I was bitten by a bug.

One day, on my way into work, I heard a news report about a young woman who had self-published and been one of the lucky few to make it big. I had never even heard of self-publishing. A seed was planted and I started noticing opportunities.

2.   I spiral into madness. 

Every few months I lose it. I lose interest in my job. I lose faith in the system. I lose sight of myself. Whenever this happens, I start looking for new jobs, applying to other positions, and scheming up ways to get out of the rat-race or at least get on a different racetrack.

3. I envied the ninja. 

I watched a friend give up her career and move across the world to do something she loved. Six months later, I watched her do it again. I envied her ability to take the risk of doing something different. I have never been much of a risk taker.

4. I read my first zombie book.

I imagine it would have been my last had it been anything other than World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. For months it had been showing up in my Amazon recommendation list and I had been ignoring it on the basis that zombies are low brow with nothing more to offer than poor writing and blood and guts. WWZ proved me wrong, it hooked me and set me out on a mission to find more like it.

5. I paid $6.99 for the worst book I have ever read. 

While trying to expand my zombie reading list, I stumbled across a truly awful series. I will not mention it by name out of respect for the author, not that I respect him as an author but that I respect him for trying. The first book was a freebie. It was rife with errors, which can be expected from a book that was originally self-published. I can forgive technical problems, particularly now that I have published.

What I could not forgive was the content. It was dull and poorly written. The characters had no depth and were seemingly superheros. Even so, the book was well rated among readers and I had found it on a number of "Top Zombie Book" lists. I forced myself through the first book and then wrote it off as an author's first attempt; surely the sequel would be better. It wasn't. I couldn't even finish it.

I wasn't sure I wanted to continue my search for zombies, if this was the best the genre had to offer.

6. I watched Twilight.

I had read the books. They are terrible and Stephanie Meyers has a love affair with the word incredulous. Bella has no personality and across four books and some 600,000 words she never develops beyond a whiny little girl that (and yes I mean that and not who) sits around waiting to be rescued. Granted they were entertaining, but I have some serious issues with Meyers' portrayal of women. I had never considered myself a feminist in any sense of the word until I read this series.

The movies put me over the edge.

7. I found two fabulous heroines. 

I got hooked on The Hunger Games Trilogy and the Newsflesh Trilogy. Both had strong female protagonists who were deeply flawed and human while still being able to be a role model for young women. I began to search for other such protagonists and came up wanting, particularly in the genres of horror and zombies.

The Stars Align

With these seven ideas, experiences, and frustrations rolling around in my head a crazy thought began to form. Why not me?

All of my excuses were lame and grew from fear of rejection and failure. Five years ago cost was a legitimate excuse but with today's technology, my only limitations were those that I placed on myself.

Why not me?

Saturday, January 5, 2013


My name is Leigh Fischer. Well, sort of.

Let's try this again.

I am a writer. I have always been a writer.

In the fifth grade for a school project I wrote, illustrated, and bound the first complete story within my memory. I'm sure there were other short stories that I had written, but the sheer amount of effort and interest required to produce the story sticks with me.

In middle school I was in a lunch time creative writing class. Few kids would choose additional homework and additional class time over their friends and lunch. Yea, I was a nerd. Still am.

In high school my electives were creative writing and film, which I excelled in, while I dropped out of the AP English classes and coasted my way through basic English. I barely survived the required reading lists and the monotony which is high school. I lacked the dedication and motivation required to pontificate on the meaning of Shakespeare and Steinbeck. I prided myself on the number of books I managed to not read while still passing.

It wasn't until college that I began to gain respect for my literary skills. I funded many of my liquor purchases by editing and even writing papers for my classmates. My scholarship essays never failed to produce funds for my education. I also ghost wrote three speeches that were delivered by local notables; a mayor, a US Senator, and the Governor.  

Following college I took a job that largely entailed technical writing. I have been praised by my colleagues and supervisors for my ability to "tell the story." Though it is a very dry story, I have performed well.

My friends, family, and colleagues have always claimed that I should write a book and be a writer. But as I have already said, I have always been a writer. What they have been really asking of me all these years is that I become an author.Until recently, I have laughed at them and told them being a writer would be irresponsible. Writing silly stories and doing what you enjoy does not pay the bills. But then the stars aligned, the right series of events occurred and I gave in to their demands. I became an author.

While Surviving the Apocalypse is my blog where I do my "author thing" and promote my novel and short stories, this blog will focus on the trials that I have encountered as I attempt to transition from being a writer to being an author.