Essay–The Slow Burn

 Some thoughts on "slow burn" fiction.

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Written and performed by Paul Elard Cooley.

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Essay–Fear of Publishing

 A brief essay on publishing and why it led me to stop writing…

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Written and performed by Paul Elard Cooley.

Music by Nine Inch Nails from their album:  The Slip.  Please visit their site at

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Essay–The Cost Of Free

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There has been a lot of noise lately about whether or not giving away content for free is a bad idea.  A certain podiofiction author of the most successful podfic series in history, has decided to throw in the towel on the podcasting for free model.  He's decided that he's not getting enough back for how much he's putting in.  I can completely understand why he feels this way.  It's his decision and I support him in that.

Writing stories, recording narration, editing, mixing– these are all extremely time intensive endeavors.  Imagine working 10 hours a day, then coming home and working for another 5.  That's what this life can be like, if you let it.  Of course, I'm the lazy, good-for-nothing unemployed asshole who has all the time in the world right now.  Right?

Sure.  Let's say that.  Now let's talk about the people who AREN'T out of work and bust their ass every single week to bring the masses content.  Don't they deserve something for all their hard work?  Shouldn't they get some love?  Some cash?  Some help?  Some support?

I've been an open-source developer.  I worked on pieces of software that I wasn't going to get paid for.  Period.  They were things that I needed to use, and therefore I said "fuck it, other people probably need it too."  But I didn't think it was worth someone buying.  Why bother?

I coded because I loved it.  I loved the idea of creating things and putting them out there for free.  If people used them, fine.  If they didn't, that was okay too.  But there was no expectation for remittance.  There was no expectation anyone would even want it.  And that didn't really matter to me.

So now let's look at the podcasting model.  It basically follows the same premise as open source development.  Some open source developers get very well known by the coding public and are therefore infinitely hireable for consulting gigs and etc.  Podcasting, on the other hand, doesn't exactly lead you to high priced consulting gigs.  You write.  You record.  You edit.  You mix.  You toss it up on the internet.  You pimp.  And if you're lucky, very very lucky, you've written something that people like.  You've recorded something people like.  And you'll get lots and lots of wonderful fans who might occasionally talk to you via twitter, facebook, or your forums.

When I first started podcasting, I was horrified to discover that although lots of people were downloading my work and visiting my site, no one was saying shit.  No comments.  No community interaction.  Nothing.  For a while, I wondered if I was really fucking something up, if I had done something to piss everyone off.  It's very difficult to remember that this is the internet.  Some people like to interact, others not so much.  So I stopped having expectations about hearing from my fans.  I stopped wondering if I was doing something wrong.  I was in awe of how many junkies Sigler has and how many clones Hutchins had.  I finally realized I will probably never have that kind of fanbase.  I also realized, that was okay.

I use podcasting as an excuse to keep writing.  I would love to get published.  I would love to actually see my name on the spine of book sitting in a Barnes and Noble.  That would be the impossible dream come true.  It's the dream I've had since I was about ten years old, and it's the reason I have written so many novels and stories that I promise you will never see the light of day.

So what are my chances of getting published?  What are my chances of making enough money as a professional writer to never have to work a day job again?  The chances of the latter I are far greater than the former.  Even if I were to have a million listeners, there's no guarantee any of them would purchase a single book of mine.  There's no guarantee any of them would be willing to put up a single dollar of hard currency to repay me for my hard work.

All of it's a crap shoot.  So here's the question.  If the chances of my making a single dime from this endeavor are so small, why the fuck do I keep doing it?  Am I fucking mental or something?

Well possibly.  Perhaps it's just my level of narcissism knows no bounds.  Maybe it's because I just like to hear myself talk.  Maybe, just maybe, it's because I enjoy doing it.  And the longer I write, the better I get.  Plus, some of you do actually send me email, talk to me on twitter and facebook, and tell me you like my work.  There are those of you who are patrons in the true sense of the word, contributing money to the cause.  For those few, I can't thank you enough.

This is the beginning of a business, so to speak.  I'm going to be putting my work out there for people to buy at some point soon in the future.  Hopefully it will eventually bring in enough money per year for me to pay the mortgage.  I think that's actually sort of realistic.  It's not enough to build a retirement on.  It's not enough to buy cars, fancy houses, or anything like that.  But it's enough to make a start.  And perhaps I'll eventually be able to move past that and make enough money a year from my writing to dodge a full time gig.  It could happen.

But am I counting on it?  Hah.  Fuck no.  I'm going to keep giving my content away as long as I have an audience.  I don't expect anything from you except the occasional kind word or complaint, and, if you like my writing, to tell others about it.  Pretty low expectations, don't you think?  So yeah, I'll tell you that donations are good if they pay for my hosting costs.  I'll tell you to please consider purchasing my books when they come out.  I mean, shit, I need the cash.  But I'm not going to demand it or hold my content hostage.  You, the audience, you decide what you're going to pay for and what you're not going to pay for.  But I have decided that it's your decision.  My decision is to keep it free and keep it coming.

Written and performed by Paul Elard Cooley This presentation is copyright 2010 by Paul Elard Cooley.
Music provided by Nine Inch Nails from their album: The Slip. Please visit their site at
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Essay–Genre Bashing

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Horny housewife novels.  Senseless slaughter fests.  Space operas.  Braindead action.  Tolkien ripoffs.  Genre bashing.

Yeah, you heard me, genre bashing.  I don’t care what kind of genre is your favorite, I guarantee you you’ve bought into the stereotypes of certain kinds of literature and movies.  God knows I have.

I was talking with Michelle Bekemeyer this morning about genre bashing.  When I told her I was holding back from bashing her genre of Romance, she gave the FiendMaster a rather friendly warning.  In other words, she didn’t snarl at me, but certainly thought about it.

Now why on earth would I have something against romance novels?  Well, hmm…why would I?  Oh, yeah.  Jackie Collins.  Danielle Steele.  Whatever horny housewife novel of the week is currently making its way to Lifetime.  Formula, my fiendlings, is the death of anything.

There are books out there, no shit, check’em out, in every “writing” section of every bookstore that can teach you the formula for writing horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, or romance.  Or you can just look at the most popular pulp books, read them, and instantly know what you have to do to make a brain-dead audience buy them.

Unfortunately, many of the presses out there want exactly this.  It may be a mediocre written book, but if it follows the formula to a tee, then they’ll push it.  Why?  Because it’s been successful.  This is one of the major problems I see with the publishing industry in general.  I also think it’s one of the many reasons they’re dying.

So back to genre bashing.  I haven’t read Twilight.  Any of the books.  There are a large number of reasons for this. First and foremost, I am fucking sick to death of vampire fiction that brings nothing new to the table.  I am fucking sick to death of yet another teenage coming of age tale.  Just sick of it.  It’s tired plotting, no matter how great the writing might be.  Just fucking tired of it.  But I’ve also read enough reviews from people who’ve read it or seen the flicks, and I, well, I have no interest in mysoginism obscured by urban fantasy.

Well, how’s that for genre bashing?  Regardless of what you think of Twilight or the fact I’m making judgements without having experienced it, the media buzz around the series has killed any objective opinion I might form.  I got into Harry Potter (the books) because a friend of mine told me it was a very fun, fast read.  I read it.  A fucking Scholastics book at 30 years old.  And I loved it.  Every single word of it.

And I went on to read the entire rest of the series, even though the first three books followed the exact same formula.  Seriously, they were all the same story. And then, as the books were aimed at older audiences, the plots became more complex, the emotions more serious, and the backdrop much darker.  Perhaps this is why I don’t re-read the first three books, and instead start with “Goblet of Fire” and work my way through.  Those books hold a reflection up to our world instead of just trying to create the same old fantasy horseshit.

I’ve no doubt someone will argue with me about the Twilight series and say I’m not giving it a fair shake.  My wife hasn’t read them and she tells me to quit bashing the series until I’ve tried it.  Sigh.  At some point I’ll have to go to the library, check out the book, and hurt my mind with it.  Or, who knows, maybe I’ll find mysoginism fun.  It could happen (NOT).

Let’s move on.  So @michbek writes romance.  She’s combining literary sensibilities, a la Jane Austen, into her romance.  Fantastic.  I’ve read several Jane Austen’s books.  Hate to say it, folks, but The FiendMaster liked ’em.  They are great tales (even without zombies).  So yeah, it can be done, and done in a refreshing new way that people can enjoy them.  Re-invigorate the genre, I say.  There is no shame in this.  None at all.

But how do we move past our prejudices?  I don’t want to read anymore about dwarves, elves, wizards, and etc set in some epic fantasy world.  I’m done with it.  For the most part it’s always the same old shit.  Everyone feeding off everyone else.  Epic fantasy died for me with Terry Brooks, and good riddance to it.  I have great respect for the writers that write it, but it’s very seldom I find anything new in the genre.  And worse, epic fantasy tends to try and wow you with the world rather than with writing and characters.  That kind of shit drives me nuts.

I don’t care how great the universe a book has if the characters are wooden stereotypes.  Oh, he does this because that’s what elves do.  Or he does that because that’s what dwarves do.  So?  Break the goddamned stereotype.  Make it interesting.  Have your elves be cannibals.  Have your dwarves be massive sex perverts.  For god’s sake, do something new and cool with it.  Alas, that’s not what the market wants.

Horror has a lot of the same problems.  The idea I have to come up with a really cool killer that’s different from everything else out there is obscene.  I don’t come up with killers.  I come up with characters.  If they happen to be monsters, that’s great, if they happen to be serial killers, that’s cool too.  But I’m more interested in who they are than what they do.  I just am.  I guess that means I might be forever relegated to the back-shelves and never see the light of day in the traditional publishing world, but those are the kinds of stories that interest me.

I love, simply love, the Dresden Chronicles.  Yes, the novels tend to follow the same formula, but Harry is such a fantastic character, the plot is secondary.  I’m much more interested in how he reacts to the world around him.  He’s a great character because he’s still trying to figure out who he is and what he cares about.  He’s the gray walking the line between polar opposites.  That excites me about characters.  That makes stories and series interesting.

Science fiction, like fantasy, suffers the same world building malaise.  Without characters, these stories mean nothing to me.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning genres here.  I love science fiction, when it’s done well.  I love fantasy, horror, thrillers, etc, when they’re done well.  But for me, I rarely find much written these days that interests me.  At least on the bookshelves.  I find the podiofiction that my compatriots write so much more fascinating than the dribble coming out of the publishing houses.  Perhaps that’s because we’re allowed to really experiment and commit ourselves to some rather unconventional tales.

So, genre bashing.  It’s not fair, but we all do it.  We all engage in bashing genres because of their stereotypes.  While this is a horrible travesty to commit against some very good stories out there, it is inevitable.  Too many cliches, too many of the same movie or book being made, too many of the same television show, leave all of us with some sort of expectation that’s difficult to live up to or live down.

I’m not a hypocrite.  I engage in it as much as the next person.  But before we commit ourselves to hating on a genre for the sole purpose of hating on it, perhaps we should consider that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s what we want to read or see.  Experiment.  Take a chance on something new, something that may not be as popular.  You might very well find a story that surpasses not only your expectations, but elevates itself beyond its own genre.

This has been a presentation of, written and read by Paul Elard Cooley, and is copyright 2010 by Paul Elard Cooley and licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribute, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives 3.5 license.

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Essay: A Monster's History?

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We love monsters.  Whether it's the foot pounding destruction from Godzilla or Hannibal Lecter staring into our minds with his red eyes and cold intelligence, we love them.  Horror movies make millions and millions of dollars every year, regardless of how shitty most of the films are.  Stephen King belches, and hundreds of thousands of copies of his latest fiction fly off the shelves.  We have shows like True Blood and Dexter, where the monsters are portrayed in a very sympathetic light.  The fantasy of the monster somewhat crumbles under the weight of these narratives.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hypocrite.  If you're listening to this, chances are you have already sampled some of my Fiends collection, so you know that I take every opportunity to give my monsters their own voices.  The narrator in Momma, casually explaining his philosophy to his mother, or the artist in Canvas waxing poetic about his own insanity.  I don't think I try and paint these as sympathetic characters, however, although do try and get to why they think the way they think.

But that's not really the point here.  I want to talk about our incessant need for origin.  If you go back to the earliest mythologies, you invariably find that some deity shat the universe out its ass and then for some reason thought it was a good idea to put us on this planet.  Although they believe different flavors of this idea, billions do believe exactly that.  And the religion doesn't matter.  I call it myth because a myth is universal, not because I'm degrading religion.  Before you get pissed, just think about it.

And this relatively universal tale highlights our obsession with origin.  We as human beings have a curiosity.  We want explanations.  Whether it's the first Greek philosophers describing the gods responsible for all that their science could not explain, or the incredibly gifted and intelligent scientists who are today smashing atoms and unraveling our genetic code, humans are obsessed with discovering how they came to be.

This drive, I believe, leads many story-tellers with the urge to write monsters that have a past.  Buffy always had her library to describe nearly every creature she ever came in contact with.  Stephen King stories usually end up with one or more characters researching and finding out where their monsters came from.  We have tons and tons of serial killer novels, Thomas Harris' works might be the best example, where the killer's story is laid before us to explain what they are and how they came to be that way.

In many ways, I enjoy these tales.  They give the monster a personality, even if seen from afar.  But I always feel as though it cheapens it.  HP Lovecraft wrote some stories that hint at obscure mythos, but don't explain them.  For several characters, they witness horror and the supernatural, but they don't understand what they're seeing.  And in many ways, neither does the reader.  Yet we're still chilled by these visions perhaps because we aren't given the backgrounds.

Sometimes monsters just are.  Sometimes characters don't have the ability to discover what it is they're facing, only that they are facing it.  The don't have some magical tome to tell them a creature's weaknesses and habits.  There is no bible of information for them.  Even the internet may fail to provide clues.  Ha, there's a shock.

We may never get into these monsters' minds.  We may never hear them speak, only witness their actions.  Our understanding of their motives is cut down to only the most primitive comprehension by what they do, not what they are.  These are the monsters I think we fear the most–those beyond explanation. 

Horror movies are the most guilty of providing strained and forced sub-plots to explain what these monsters are and why they are.  I very rarely see a film where things just are.  There doesn't have to be a backstory.  You want a sequel, bitches?  Have the next damned movie give the backstory from the monster's perspective!  John Gardener's "Grendel" is a great example of this, telling Beowulf from the monster's point of view.

The Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises (pre Rob Zombie) scare us and are popular because they focus so much on the murder and mayhem, but not about the deep thoughts of the antagonists.  Those monsters have no personality.  At all.  They don't speak.  They don't dialogue about their evil plans or why they kill.  They simply are.  If the fucking plots of those flicks weren't so tenuous and predictable, I might really get into them.  But, sorry, I've grown up.  I want protagonists that are three dimensional, regardless of how boogeymanish the monsters might be.

So do we need backstories in horror?  How about fantasy?  Short stories are a great example of when backstories just cease to be.  By and large, they are skimpy at best.  You must infer most of it.  Phillip K Dick in one of his stories tosses out "The Negro Protection Act," but doesn't explain what it is.  You are left to infer what that means and how the world is different from our own.

Tossing out these little tidbits leave readers to use their imaginations and don't take away from the pace of the characters as they try and live their lives, regardless of the trials they face.  Think back to when you were a child.  Did the Tooth Fairy have a backstory?  What of Santa Claus?  What of the boogeyman?  There are no backstories that I can remember, except those made by television and film.  Our parents didn't explain these make believe creatures.  Only that they existed (or don't).  A child doesn't give a shit about how the boogeyman came to be, only the fear that the fucker is in the closet and ready to pounce on them.

Our most base childish fears come from not knowing what it is.  Only that it is.  Knowing something's backstory can defang it.  It can destroy the dread that is.  This isn't to say there aren't stories that do it well.  I'm simply saying you don't have to have a backstory for the monster.  Sometimes they just are.

Zombies are always tracked back to a plague, a virus, or some kind of alien gas.  Shit, these days Vampires don't even need a backstory at all to explain why they're vampires or how vampirism works.  We just know.  There are exceptions, of course, but rarely do we even give a damn.  Unless the main character is some kind of scientist trying to figure out how to save the world, it's often unimportant why things are, only that they are.

I've written monsters who tell their stories, or their stories are told by others.  But some of my monsters will just exist.  Just plain be there.  Be terrifying by their existence, not by how they grew up, were made, or born.  They just are.

So the next time you pick up a horror novel or watch a horror film, think about this.  Look for the sections where the author or screenwriter spends their time focusing on the why and not the what.  Ask yourself:  does it need to be there?  If it does, then the writer did their job and did it well.  If it doesn't, then chalk it up to our morbid need to explain all that is around us.  Meanwhile, some of my creatures will be tearing out your fucking throat and they won't tell you what they are, or where they came from.  Their sharp talons drawing the blood and rending the flesh from your bones will be the only explanation you need.

Essay: Why Publish?

Some thoughts on modern publishing, and why writers write.

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This presentation is copyright 2009 by Paul Elard Cooley

Music provided by Nine Inch Nails from their album "Ghosts" via a Creative Commons License. Please visit their site at

Visit for more free stories as well as my rant casts.

Contact me:


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.