Vampire Syndrome 2009-2019: The Long, Strange, Epic Circle-Trip

On June 13, 2009, I conceived the world of “Vampire Syndrome”, the adventures of a young man with Down Syndrome suddenly thrust into the hidden underworld of Earth’s Vampires.

It’s now June 13, 2019, the tenth anniversary of the idea’s conception. If I hadn’t conceived of this saga, I’d be…

… exactly where I am right now, but with less Facebook friends. 😈

In 2009, I thought all this could be my ticket out of the mundane “worker bee” world. Ten years later, though, I’ve discovered some intriguing similarities between my “work path” and my “creative path”, where lessons I learned in one also applied equally to the other.

First, “work”. I’ve never been one to let a “standard job” (a position that can be performed by another person) define who I am. I didn’t hesitate to leave a job I’d held for 26½ years, even though I incurred some notable losses to do so.

The reason? I saw firsthand what happens when someone’s regular job did define who they were. I watched a man who could have retired with a full pension in 2007, and who had a paid-for house and six figures in the bank; who instead chose to literally work himself into the grave, just because he enjoyed his duties on a clinically psychopathic level. Even after he became so debilitated that his doctors prohibited him from working, he drove several miles past several other stores, just to shop in ours.

In our seniority-based system, his refusal to retire also kept those of us under him “down a notch” for six years, all just so he could soldier on in vain until the doctors said he couldn’t.

Thanks to him, I swore I’d never be a “deadwood” in any endeavor, just taking up space when I could move on and let others rise up the ladder, as they should.

Turns out that 2007 would have been the perfect year for my co-worker to retire, for other reasons. Our employer and our store went into a tailspin in 2008/2009. Not notable in itself, as this happened “almost everywhere” at the time. The real problem was, we never recovered from the Great Recession. By the time I left my employer in Jan. 2016, we had less employee hours and sales that we did in January 2009! The saddest part about my co-worker’s fate is that his demise directly resulted from the increasing stress he had to endure from 2008 onward as our employer and store declined. I believe 100% that this man would still be alive and healthy today, if he had retired after 33 years of service in 2007 as he could and should have.

So, then, why did I stay as long as I did? To vest for my full pension credit, at 25 years of service. Becoming a “deadwood” is not for me, I will collect *my* pension the moment I can, and not a second later.

Once I had hit that 25-year mark, our employer had been bought out in a merger with another chain. Two once-big names, joining together to “increase their economies of scale.” Sound familiar? It should. Studebaker (America’s earliest mass-production vehicle manufacturer) and Packard (America’s premier volume luxury car brand before WWII) joined in this manner in 1954. Sears (America’s largest department store and catalog-order retailer for decades), joined forces with Kmart (America’s largest discount store chain, for several decades) in 2004.

Studebaker-Packard ceased auto manufacturing in 1966, twelve years after their merger.
Sears/Kmart; well, if you live in the United States, you already know how that’s turned out. 😈
CNBC Article “Sears was toast since KMart merger”

Thus, after the merger, I expected our new ownership to tout the new company’s “increased economies of scale”as being our salvation, and enabler of future growth. Also known as the inevitable “warning cue” that the new merged-out-of-necessity company will eventually die at some point in the future, because the resulting combined company doesn’t have the size scale that even one of its halves had at their peak (as with Sears/Kmart and Studebaker/Packard, among others).

Problem was, this time our “new” company wasn’t even pretending anything would improve (at least here in Denver), so I knew it was time to get out of there, “yesterday”. 😈

Indeed, by all accounts related to me by current employees and customers, conditions have become even worse since I left. I now suspect the company’s Denver arm is a prime candidate to be bought out by Amazon, who is starting a new conventional grocery chain to supplement their premium chain, Whole Foods. Amazon is slated to open the first stores in the new chain by end of 2019. And Amazon lockers are now popping up in my former employer’s stores, possibly a “clue in plain sight” as to their fate. I could have been out on the street next year, and lost out on seven years’ worth of pension payments, had I not left when I did back in 2016, when the getting (out) was good.

***

While all this unfolded, a parallel development occurred in my life. In early 2009, a co-worker lent me the four Twilight Saga books. I thought to myself, “I could write something better than that.”

So I did.

Without any objective analysis of whether such project would be commercially viable, or could even reach its intended audience.

Since I also wanted my project to be “Better than Twilight” on an actual technical writing level as well, I enlisted in a highly regarded professional writing critique group, and refined “Vampire Syndrome” to the Nth degree for three years, whilst during this same time period E.L. James was beginning to post the fan fiction that eventually begat her “Fifty Shades Of Grey”series.

Perhaps my goal should have been to be technically “worse” than “Twilight”, not “better”, but that’s another story. James’ story, to be exact. 😈
Don’t #AskELJames , Don’t Tell

Once “Vampire Syndrome” was completed in 2012, every ‘creative’ person I encountered gushed over this “million-dollar idea”, and I received nothing but encouragement to seek publication for it. The major New York publishers all passed on it, in their search for the next big cash cow (which turned out to be, you guessed it, “Fifty Shades Of Grey”!).

A small press, PDMI Publishing, LLC, picked up “Vampire Syndrome” in 2013, and it appeared at least I could make some sort of mark with it, in spite of the Big Five’s lack of enthusiasm for so-called “million-dollar ideas”.

The problem there was, the local bookstores for whom the small presses had traditionally looked to as targets to distribute their books to, started to turn their collective noses up to any books not published by the Big Five, dooming hundreds of small presses to their demise within a few years. In a stunning irony, the decline of national chain bookstores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble enabled the local bookstores to take their place as relentless pushers of “Big Five books only”.
How Indie Bookstores Are Killing Indie Books

In an even higher level of irony, the local bookstores’ hitching their wagon exclusively to the Big Five also means they are quite dependent on Barnes & Noble’s continued existence as well. If the new owners of B&N ever decide to liquidate the chain, the Big Five will take a huge hit, likely shrinking to the Big Four or even Three to blood-let down to the level where local bookstores and mass retailers would be able to support what’s left of them. Which will also greatly reduce the diversity of the books on local’s shelves. The perfect karmic payback for their rejecting the small presses. All the small press books and authors they could have been selling have long since gone off to Amazon, taking with them the shelf diversity local bookstores once prided themselves on.
Kristen Lamb:
Play to Win: Authors, Empires & Why Amazon is Killing NYC Publishing
Barnes & Noble SOLD: Goliath has Fallen & What This Means for Writers

With the Big Five New York publishers’ acquisition standards becoming more and more restrictive and formulaic as time marched on, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing became inundated with books, making “discovery” a huge problem for all non best-seller authors. Just type in “vampire” into Amazon’s Search, and you’ll see what I mean. And now the Big Five’s standards have tightened to the point where authors will only send them the type of projects they think will be the next “trend” for the Big Five to acquire. If “bullying” is the next perceived trend, literary agents’ inboxes will soon be filled with queries for “bullying” novels. We have reached a point where authors will not even bother to query the unique works they created from their “heart”, leaving those works to the vast, in-discoverable voids of Amazon, and we are all the poorer in creative reader and author spirit for this.

So, once PDMI closed its doors, my two completed Vampire Syndrome Saga novels headed for Smashwords, because I admire Mark Coker’s business model and his dedication to the true spirit of independent author voices, which the Big Five publishers and their local bookstore “pets” have long since foresaken. It also doesn’t hurt my “discoverability” that there are only half a million or so books on Smashwords, versus twelve-million plus on Amazon, meaning someone is “24 more times likely” (in general statistic terms) to discover my book through a keyword search.

I did mention that other ‘creatives’ such as fellow authors, just loved my “million-dollar idea”. One of them was Joel Eisenberg, Hollywood development producer and author of his own “The Chronicles Of Ara” book series. Joel, a former teacher for special-education students, loved my character Jack Wendell, a young man with Down Syndrome, and how Jack dealt with the challenges of being accepted into a world of Vampires who were biased against him to the point of ordering Jack’s assassination.
Joel Eisenberg Review of “Vampire Syndrome”

So Joel, God bless him, pitched “Vampire Syndrome” as a television project through the inner hallways of Hollywood.

Which turned out pretty much like I suspected it would. Hollywood, like the Big Five, goes for the easy money cash cows. Sequels, reboots, etc. If nothing else, at least my project left a few Hollywood execs hunched around Beverly Hills meeting room tables scratching their heads going “WTF?”, during pitches that briefly interrupted their plans to reboot some other very-well-known property for the eighth-zillionth time. 😈

Same thing as the Big Five. The ‘creatives’ loved it, but as far as the “suits” are concerned, my “million-dollar idea” won’t buy me a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The unique curse of my “million-dollar idea” was that only some other creatives were excited about it, when I had really written it to reach John and Jane Q. Public. People said they wanted something “better and more original than Twilight”; I built it, but they didn’t come. The “suits” and the public went for Fifty Shades and the endless reboots instead.

Not exactly encouragement for me to write any “hundred-thousand-dollar” ideas, is it? 😈

So, as I close the chapter on the Chapters and move on with my life, I can reflect on my epic, strange circle-jerk to “nowhere”; a Hunter S. Thompson-worthy grand hallucination that somehow came full circle to where I started, leaving me with a new and profound appreciation for how good my “normal” life really is. If I wish to indulge in some “vain hope” in the future, I can just buy some lottery tickets. After all, the odds are about the same as making it big in the publishing world, and it doesn’t consume a year or more of all your free time (plus editing, formatting, cover design, promotion, et.cetera, afterward!) just to write a lottery ticket. 😈
Finally, I have a well-reasoned comeback for anyone who ‘critiques’ me for buying lottery tickets. A few seconds each time of handing over $5 every now and again, or years and years spent writing tales that are ignored? Damn, I might be too rational to be an author, now that I think about it. Authors always seem emotionally attached to their creations, their characters; but if no one else relates to your characters, what’s the point?

There I go making sense again…

If anything about all this disappoints me, it’s that my saga had the potential to raise general awareness about people with special needs, and possibly have opened/changed minds of some of the prejudiced. But it could not do this without reaching wide distribution, and without the ” suits’ ” support, this will never happen.

Thus, the time I would have spent writing “in vain” is much better spent by volunteering for Special Olympics and other organizations that make a real (not fictional) difference in the lives of those with special needs.

Instead of “writing to make a difference”, I will make a difference in the real world. The “sword” (physical action) is now mightier than the “pen” (ideas/concepts), in this case.

And, unlike so many other blogs from the “early 2010’s heyday of blogging” that just ceased after some random post, this one gets a proper closure.

Thank you to all who supported me over the ten years of this “trip”.

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Vampire Syndrome: The Spotify Playlist

All over the map, just like my Vampires.
Vampire Syndrome Playlist – Spotify

“Vampire Conspiracy” now available on Smashwords.

Dean Vampire Conspiracy Cover

Jack Wendell’s battle for survival continues in ‘Vampire Conspiracy’, book two of the Vampire Syndrome saga. Jack finds himself at ground zero in the never-ending battle between Human Vampires and the space-alien Pures.

The other Human Vampires discover Jack’s secret power. A power the Pures covet. Jack leverages his power as a bargaining tool to start uneasy peace negotiations between the Humans and the Pures.

Jack’s desire for peace with the Pures is thwarted at every turn as the Pures kidnap Human Vampire leaders, including Jack’s girlfriend Zetania Vinescu, Chief Venator (law enforcer) of Romania.

Jack knows that ending a war which has raged for thousands of years will not be easy. But what Jack doesn’t know is that another powerful enemy waits in the shadows, endangering the lives of both the Human Vampires and the Pures.

Can Jack defeat an adversary he knows nothing about, yet knows everything about him?

Vampire Conspiracy ebook on Smashwords

David’s Haunted Library: Ancient Enemies

Ancient Enemies: A “vampire book” that transcends the genre. I wish I delved into the inner politics of my vampires like Brian does for his!

HorrorAddicts.net

The world’s governments are a place of secret agendas and backstabbing politicians. It’s even worse when the ruling class is made up of vampires called the order. Their ruling council is called the Hegemony and they have been in charge of world politics for centuries. Every continental territory is ruled by a Hegemon, the Hegemon in charge of North America is a vampire scientist named Caroline.

Ancient Enemies by Brian McKinley begins with Caroline about to leave for a summit meeting of the Hagemony to talk about the future. She is leaving her lover Avery in charge of their home. Avery has been developing psychic powers and has been feeling out of place in Caroline’s world. Now with Caroline gone, Avery is faced with trying to protect Caroline’s scientific secrets and he has found a new woman who is attracted to him. Meanwhile, Caroline is trying to keep her position of…

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Now signed for TV development: “Vampire Syndrome”

“Vampire Syndrome” has been signed for TV development by Joel Eisenberg’s company Council Tree Productions.
Vampire Syndrome Dean Cover (small)

Historical Division: Uncovering the Underworld by Brian McKinley

Tracing history can be hard when the subjects didn’t want to be traced…. 😈

Mystery Thriller Week

UNCOVERING THE UNDERWORLD

When I began planning my historic gangster vampire novel Drawing Dead, I knew that I was in for a lot of research. However, what surprised me was the amount of digging and sifting through contradictory information I had to do. I’d always been interested in the gangsters of the 1920s and 30s, and I thought I had a fairly solid grip on the major figures of the period.

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How Indie Bookstores are killing Indie Books

The last sacred cow of the book world is planting the seeds of its own irrelevance. The untouchable, most holy of institutions, hailed as the prime literary taste-maker and engine of new discoveries, no longer holds its touted powers, yet none dare voice out loud that the ‘Emperor’ is no longer wearing their clothes.

Until now.

Once upon a time, in the blissful days of the pre-Internet literary world, local independent bookstores played a crucial role in discovering and publicizing new books. Great books on small presses could win the attention of literary agents and major publishers, and the then-Big-Six’s ‘hidden gems’ could find the accolades they deserved.

For the last fifteen years, the Web has been usurping the indie bookstores’ ‘power of influence’. Countless literary review sites and blogs, and book retailers’ online reviews, have, for the most part, taken over the role of “taste-maker and engine of discovery”. Yet, everyone in the literary world still treats the local indie stores as the most sacred of cows.

They shouldn’t.

indie-bookstore-meme

Yes, one of their biggest issues can be summed up nicely in a meme. Yet, the problems here go much deeper than that. Indies are backing away en-masse from “local author” programs and even stocking any books released by small presses. With the Big Five’s ever-increasing risk aversion, and honing of commercial formulas, how much “literary discovery” can the local indie stores really do, when they restrict themselves to carrying only major-publisher books?

Soon, the indie bookstores will be forced to recommend books by “James Patterson” his hired writers, because they’ll be the only titles left on their shelves.

james-patterson

A slight exaggeration, but you get the point.

Due to the aforementioned risk aversion, increasing numbers of excellent books will never be published by the Big Five. And those books have to go somewhere.

Over the last five years, many have headed for self-publishing. The preponderance of best-selling self-published books has long since proven that the Big Five’s commercial formulae are missing many #1 New York Times (e-book) best-sellers, and even “The Martian”, a novel that served as the genesis of a hit movie. No indie bookstore could have discovered or championed “The Martian”, because it was never on their shelves in the first place.

And the indies’ lack of shelf diversity is creating an even bigger problem for themselves.

Given the relative ease of self-publishing, it is safe to say that any author who signed to an independent publisher after, say, the year 2010, was an author who was committed to having print versions of their books available for sale at bookstores.

With the local stores turning a blind eye to small press books, in the process they also shelf-block the authors who committed themselves to the more difficult path of traditional publishing, just to have print versions of their books, that the typical indie bookstore will now no longer stock. In other words, the indies won’t stock the books by the authors who gave up full creative control and self-publishing’s higher royalty rates, just to get print editions for stores that will no longer carry them.

Not a great way to make friends of those authors. Or, for that matter, their independent publishers.

In the face of this trend, some great small presses have had to shut down (R.I.P. Booktrope). Others, like my own publisher PDMI Publishing, LLC, have moved on to targeting large book retailers. For the last several years, PDMI has been holding its author signings at major chains such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, which have proven to be more receptive to the small press, its authors and its books than the typical local indie bookstore.

Other small presses still vainly holding out hope for the indie shelves will probably go the way of Booktrope, sad to say. And once all of their authors realize the “local indie Emperor” is no longer wearing their shiny book-championing armor, they’ll be free to move on.

Once again, their books will have to go somewhere.

“Yes, self-publishing,” you say, “but what about print? Print isn’t dead.”

Which is precisely why Amazon is venturing into brick-and-mortar book retailing. If the indie bookstores thought CreateSpace was bad, “they ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Once Amazon’s brick-and-mortar infrastructure is in place, any “Kindle” that catches fire can be on Amazon’s bookshelves in a couple of weeks. Are the Big Five and their self-appointed ‘indie’ taste-makers ready for a world where books that bypass them entirely can become #1 New York Times PRINT best-sellers?

Another hypothetical question: What would happen if more independent publishers followed the path of PDMI and focused on large retailers? Unlike the Big Five, smaller publishers could sign exclusive deals with large retailers, in return for print book shelf space. A “Barnes & Noble Exclusive” title could easily reach #1 NYT best-seller status, if carried in enough stores.

And, given the local stores’ current exclusionary climate, would any of the publisher’s authors really object if their publisher went “Barnes & Noble Exclusive”, especially if it meant their book got shelf space at B&N’s across the U.S.?

One thing is sure to continue. Once Amazon entries are regularly populating several places of the Top Ten New York Times print best-seller list, the indie stores will whine and complain about it. Yet much of the ‘blame’ will rest with themselves, for turning a blind eye to the smaller publishers and their authors, all parties involved who had dedicated themselves to the difficult task of producing print books, only to be rebuffed at virtually every turn. Killing off some of the geese that laid the golden eggs, but those eggs have to go somewhere.

Straight to Amazon’s waiting nest. 😈

UPDATE 9/08/16: A quote from this excellent Observer article The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists :

“(For the N.Y.T. list) a hardcover copy of your book purchased on Amazon.com is counted differently than the same hardcover book purchased at indie bookstore X.”
Here may be a more valid reason why people are still treating indie stores like sacred cows.
Yet, if you could sell a million books at Wal-Mart alone, you may not make the N.Y.T. list, and you definitely wouldn’t make the W.S.J. list, as Wall Street Journal doesn’t even tally Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club sales, which is a ‘hole’ big enough to drive literal semi-trailers full of books through….

UPDATE Aug. 2017: Alas, PDMI Publishing, LLC also fell victim to the realities of the book-retailing climate, but their later focus on major retailers was the correct thing to at least attempt to do, even if it didn’t save the company.