Welcome to the world of Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Journey: Struggle



In our previous installment of The Journey, we learned about different business types. We also learned that the world loves it when Brian gets laryngitis. Let’s see what else we can learn when it finally comes time to form the business….

The Journey
 “Struggle”

With most endeavors in life, there are two ways you can do things – either the cheap and difficult way or the expensive and easy way. Walking to work is very very cheap, but probably not the easiest thing to do. Driving to work will save your sanity, but cost your wallet dearly. Starting a corporation is no different. Since both Chris and I are college graduates and my alter ego is an accountant (my superhero identity, of course, being “Sasquatch: Devourer of Mass Quantities of Food!”), we thought we could take the cheaper way to start a corporation. We’re no strangers to research and/or a little hard work, and I don’t seem to have the same phobia as most of society toward paper work (another super power, perhaps?), so we decided to roll up our sleeves, show some American spirit, and do it ourselves! Well, it was a good idea at least.

The biggest problem we faced was where to begin. We were ready to fill out any and every form we could find. But which ones? And in what order? Of course, federal forms and state forms are different animals. That are untamable. With sharp, pointy teeth. We went to our state’s website, but that only helped to a certain extent. It listed all kinds of forms, but it told us neither the specific forms we needed nor the proper order in which to file them with the state. And the federal government? Fahgedaboudit!

We did manage to figure out how to file for a fictitious name, though. Filled out the form, wrote out the check and off it went. The interesting thing about that was our lawyer later told us that the procedure wasn’t in place to protect us, but it instead protected the public FROM us, letting the good citizens know that we would be operating business under the name Fortress Publishing, Inc. A piece of paper and a small ad in the local newspaper were supposed to protect the public from Chris and me? The comedy just writes itself: Two bald men went on a rampage in south, central Pennsylvania, drinking all the beer and eating all the hot wings the region had, but before all hope was lost, they were thwarted by… an official government document!

As you can probably surmise by now, Chris and I caved in and took the easy, but expensive, way out. We hired a lawyer to create, and file with the state and federal governments, the Articles of Incorporation, the agenda for the initial Board of Directors meeting, and corporate by-laws. We then had an accountant friend of ours help us get our tax ID number, sales tax numbers, and “S” Corporation status elections, for both state and fed. It was certainly a lot of paperwork considering we live in a paperless society. However, we did find solace in knowing that we had experts involved. Certainly, we would have overlooked a form or two or filed them in improper order, undoubtedly creating a scenario very similar to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”

In the meantime, our third partner decided not to participate in the corporation. Of course, his money wasn’t going to participate in the corporation either. The true beauty of the situation was he decided to tell us AFTER we put his name on the Articles of Incorporation, elected him to the Board of Directors, and made him an Officer. So, for our first official Board of Directors meeting, we had to un-elect him from all of the above. Remember, as a corporation there are certain rules you need to follow, including the occasional Board of Directors meeting with legible minutes, election of officers, issuing stock, yadda yadda yadda. However, we hold all our business meetings at the local Hooters, so they aren’t quite as boring as they may sound. Before you ask – yes, the local Hooters is very conducive to conducting official business. We may now be CEOs and Presidents and all kinds of official sounding titles, but we’re still writers at heart and we find the environment very emotionally stirring.

One of the more exciting (and I use that term very loosely) things about becoming a corporation is the “corporate kit.” Chris and I are men, so when we heard the word “kit” we immediately translated it to “cool toy.” Tools come in kits. When you buy a grill, it comes in a kit-like box – and there are very few toys cooler than a grill. So, we were pretty amped up when it came. It was basically a large notebook with a sheath. There was a section for minutes, record keeping and the corporation’s stock certificates were located in the kit as well. SWEET! There were only twenty certificates, so we decided to use only two (one for Chris, one for me) and not all twenty. There was one item that caused the clouds to part and a ray of light to shine from Heaven upon it – the corporate seal. It looks like any standard paper crimper that any Notary Public would have. But it was OUR corporate seal! We paid for this! There was a certain sense of pride we had discovered in following through with the creation of a corporation. We showed that pride by putting our mark on any piece of paper we could fit between the plates. Every scrap paper in my office, every one of my son’s pieces of artwork on the fridge, every receipt I could find. I was so maniacal with it the dogs ran and hid in any room I wasn’t.

Even though it was quite a struggle (that we eventually solved with our checkbook), starting our own corporation was kind of a rush. We get to honestly say we own our own publishing company. And no matter how hardcore “down with the institution” you are, you can’t help but have an extra swagger in your step knowing you are legitimately a President or VP of a corporation. So, now what…?

Next Issue: “Foundation.”

Post Script: This article was originally written well over a decade ago about events that occurred even farther back in time. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made significant strides in making information about starting a small business readily available, especially with their recent website, business.pa.gov.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Deconstructing the Second Novel, Part 2 – The Devil’s Grasp


BRIAN SAYS:

I have four Red Sonja statues and two posters in my house. I once knew the real names of all the female American Gladiators. Don’t bring up Tonya Knight or Cory Everson around Chris unless you have a few hours to listen to exultation. He and I would watch Xena while wearing giant foam fingers that read: “#1 Warrior Princess.” We both like strong women – physically strong women – so there was no way we would write a high fantasy novel without having one. In The Devil’s Grasp, we have Dearborn Stillheart. 

Dearborn is the Sergeant in the king’s special band of soldiers called the Elite Troop. As the daughter of a blacksmith who lost his wife, Dearborn gained muscle very early in life, and after an accident in her father’s shop left him struggling for money, she decided to join the army where she could use her size to her advantage. Being taller and more muscular than many of the men, she climbed through the ranks until she found herself second in command of the Elite Troop. She’s great at what she does, and that makes her feel uncomfortable.

With Dearborn, we wanted to explore some more modern issues that many of us, especially women, feel in our day-to-day lives. We all have our talents, special skills that come to us a little easier than to others, and sometimes we feel uncomfortable about that, maybe even a little guilty. Dearborn has great success as both a fighter and a tactician, skills that she seems to be blessed with. As a modest individual, she doesn’t like to better the men in her Elite Troop, but she will if she has to.

Another modern concept that we explore with her is career versus family. Most modern adults face this dilemma, one particularly affecting many women. All of us try to balance the two, but inevitably there are times when we feel like we have to sacrifice one for the other. With Dearborn, career is thrust upon her, because she feels she has no other option, no chance at family. She’s beautiful, but she is physically larger than most potential suitors. Even though she has the ability to better any man she meets, she lacks the confidence that a man would be able to look beyond warrior fa├žade and see her for who she is.

Dearborn may be a warrior woman in a high fantasy novel, but she has plenty of qualities to make her many readers favorite character. How does it turn out for her by the end of the book? Well, we certainly aren’t going to tell you that here!



CHRIS SAYS:

I love to read. In fact, I have always loved to read. My educational background is a hodge-podge of various literary styles and traditions, timeframes and points of origin, but my earliest and longest running love of reading is rooted in fantasy and science fiction. By sixth grade I had discovered role playing games, a burgeoning love affair that continued to blossom long after college had ended. It should probably come as no surprise then that the paths of my early life led me to discover Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K LeGuin, and Michael Moorcock, with the later additions of Raymond E Feist and David Eddings. All of these writers drew upon the strength of a central core of strong characters (usually human characters), but they also created wonderful support with their use of non-human characters.

Bale Pinkeye is an ogre. He is also a bumbler of great proportions, not just in terms of his physical size, but in relation to his bumblings, as well. He and his band of compatriots provide an excellent foil (and sometimes motivational point) to a group of ne’er-do-well thieves even as they provide us with some comic relief, not all of which is intentional on their part.

Bale isn’t exactly the brightest of fellows, so we needed to find a suitable motivation for him to stay involved with the proceedings of the book. Nevin and his friends provide that. Bale can’t stand to see the group of thieves “one up” the ogre and his little group, so he is constantly trying to think up ways to get one over on the elf, Nevin, and his human friends. Brian and I wanted their spatting back and forth to be fun and light-hearted, but as the thieves become more embroiled in the happenings of the book, then Bale, too, had to remain integral to the plot for more than just a mispronunciation of a word here and a stepped in road apple disaster there.

In order to do that, we created a character that was, at his core, meant to be likeable. He’s not formally educated, but does have some gems of “a priori” ogrishly wisdom that he occasionally shares with us anecdotally. He’s not a kind hearted sap, but he’s very content to keep his competitiveness non-lethal. If anything, he admires Nevin and his group and yearns to be more like them. And, as we learn throughout the book, despite his often gruff manner, he cares very deeply for his friends and displays an unwavering loyalty to them.

When it comes to throwing around his weight, Bale isn’t opposed to dishing out a backhand slap or breaking a limb or two. Intimidation is ultimately not his strong suit, though, and so he usually abandons the strong arm tactic in favor of something less suited to his physical attributes, which we hope lends itself to more fun for the readers. Occasionally he finds himself in the right place at the right time, though he’s usually standing on the wrong foot when he does. How does this all work out for him? Well, as the ogrish philosopher, Liber Praelectio, was fond of saying, “If you want to know how a book starts, read the beginning. If you want to know how a book ends, skip to the end. Those who actually want to learn something between the beginning and the end of the book read the middle.”


Friday, April 13, 2018

Deconstructing the Novel, Part 3 – The Shattered Visage Lies


BRIAN SAYS:

Chris and I always tout The Shattered Visage Lies as an ensemble piece. Yes, the last time we discussed this book, we agreed that it had a protagonist and antagonist in the forms of Michael and Marvin. But we could also argue that they aren’t the only ones. There are more characters than just Michael going through life trying to accomplish individual goals, and Marvin isn’t the only one trying to stop them.

In The Shattered Visage Lies, people are waking up with super powers. We really wanted to examine what different people would do when bequeathed with these new abilities. We also knew that we were tackling some concepts that have been done many times before in comic books over many decades. We wanted to put our own unique spin on it, so we decided to give super powers to a woman in her mid-sixties and a girl who was still in elementary school.

In Emma, we have an active widow with strong Christian values. Her husband died as a firefighter and she never felt the need to remarry, always content with helping her community. Then one day she woke up with the skills to become a perfect killing machine.

We found Emma to be an interesting character because she wanted to view these new abilities (enhanced speed and reflexes with precision accuracy) as a gift from God, but she was unsure how to use them. She quickly learned that there were other people out there who would be more than willing to take advantage of her and her abilities. Her faith was being challenged. Sometimes in speculative fiction, especially stories with horror elements, a religious character is, or is quick to become, a zealot. Emma was not a zealot, but a person who was steeped deeply in her religion, and found it challenging when her faith wasn’t providing quite the answers she was looking for. Sure, Michael viewed her as a zealot, but that was mostly his viewpoint, one where organized religion was not a priority in his life. And, obviously, Chris and I had a fun time writing any scene where Michael and Emma had to interact. It’s always fun to annoy Michael!

Haley was definitely the most tragic character of the book. Sure there were other characters who had to deal with physique altering mutations, but Haley was too young to truly understand what was happening, let alone have any concept of how to control it. Especially since she could turn people to dust with a mere thought, making her one of the most powerful characters in the book. She was different things to different people. A cautionary tale to most. An advantage to others. A humanizing factor for Michael.

As we discussed last entry for The Shattered Visage Lies, Michael was the reluctant hero. For most of the book, the emphasis was on “reluctant,” but when he learned about Haley, he shifted to “hero.” As a family man, he loves his daughter more than anyone or anything, and Haley was about the same age. He knew very well how Haley must have felt, because he knew how his daughter would have felt had she gone through the same thing. It was because of that Michael went toe-to-toe with Marvin, and why he had to deal with the outcome of the situation despite doing all he could trying to avoid it all together.


CHRIS SAYS:

All of the characters in the book go through a period of growing pains, as they learn about their abilities and decide how these newly found powers change or don’t change who they are as people, but one stands out to me: Derrick.

None of the other characters go through a learning curve quite like Derrick does. His power is less definable than the rest and he’s not really sure what he is actually doing through most of the book. It’s true that he does learn how to harness it, but in the back of his mind he always has some doubt that things will work out the way that he expects them to resolve. This is a character that Brian and I agree is both fun and necessary, especially if there were going to be future books. We wanted to set a “power precedent” that makes possible the introduction of some less classical, more fluid abilities to intrigue the readers and for characterization aspects, as they certainly keep the characters themselves a little uncertain.

Derrick also struggles with others. Not just because he’s a slightly awkward young man, but he seems very sure of the role that he needs to fulfill. He wants to achieve the greatest good possible and he’s both dismayed and perplexed by characters like Michael who are very reluctant to take an active role in improving society. Derrick is a very outward thinker who simply refuses to allow Michael to shrink back into the crowd, making him a useful motivational tool.

Brian and I were also intrigued by the thought of a low-level thug using new talents to topple the hierarchy, which led us to create Stone. A big guy who was destined to run into a bigger guy sooner or later, Stone got as far as his brawn could take him. But what if the brawn gets amplified? Unbreakable skin shields his nerve endings, rendering him nearly impervious to pain.

Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t make him any smarter, but now he can walk out of a sticky wicket with the best of them… and unscarred to boot. The heightened fear factor alone makes him an attractive underground boss. It also makes him a force to be reckoned with as a character. Our heroes certainly have their hands full with this juggernaut. And how does his special power affect his personality, you might ask? It amplifies his thirst for a fight, naturally. And it leaves even me wondering if anyone can quench it.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Deconstructing the Stories, Part 5


BRIAN SAYS:

A sequel. That’s what we needed, a sequel. Okay, I’m using the term “need” very liberally, but after we successfully put together The DrunkenComic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness and The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in:Scary Tales of Scariness: Reflux Edition we decided to do a sequel. So, now what? Science fiction, of course! Thus, The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: ScienceyTales of Science Fiction was born. Obviously, we wanted to evolve, to do more with this book than just rehash the same jokes over and over again. One of the ways to do that was Jeff.

Even though each story in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness had an antagonist – more times than not, Chris and I acted as our own antagonists – we felt that there was something missing by not having a more specific, overarching bad guy. Jeff fit into that role perfectly! As editor, Jeff has to wear many hats, especially when dealing with Chris and me. Sometimes he needs to wear many hats as disguises to hide from Chris and me. After reviewing our antics from the first book and the extended edition, we realized that Jeff has PLENTY of motivation to want to kill us.

Having Jeff as a villain (at least to our characters), it created a sense of continuity with the stories, and it retroactively fit with The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness. Even the stories without Jeff now had the feel that he could have been behind the scenes influencing the events. Ultimately, this idea led to one of my favorite stories in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction — “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Mad Scientists.”

Throughout both books, and the extended edition, Chris and I crossed paths with more than a few mad scientists and (usually by no fault of our own) thwart their plans. In “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Mad Scientists” Jeff decides to act as the unifying factor, gathering the many disgruntled scientists to join forces for the singular purpose of destroying Chris and me. What makes this one of my favorite stories? Chris and I aren’t even in it. Yep, the influence of The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys is so great that we don’t even need to be in the story to affect its outcome. What about the goat, you may ask? Yep, he’s there, too!


CHRIS SAYS:

A sequel? Why in the name of anything that’s good, worthy, or even slightly wanted by anyone, would we do a sequel? I’m glad you asked! The most obvious answer is that we had so much fun with the first book. Throughout the writing process of the first book, our snickering and giggling about what we were doing was a contributing factor in waitresses asking us to leave more than one location of a well-known restaurant chain (but I digress…). More importantly, though, there were still things that we hadn’t tried and we were in agreement that we needed to try them.

In The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness we mostly stuck to tropes for a variety of reasons. Using a “type” of monster not only increased the chances of greater reader familiarity, but it allowed us to jump right into the story without needing much background for setup. Not to be vain, but we really did think these stories were about “us.” Since short fiction was one of the goals of the project, we saved word space through the trope technique.

In The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction, we wanted to break out of that mold a little bit. We considered for the first time some character re-occurrence, so it made sense to give them a slightly more specific background. As such, we created each story with the backdrop of a much more famous story in mind. This helped us with the organizational details of the stories and kept us directionally pointed towards a proper story “ending.”

It’s always difficult for me to pick a favorite from any of our collections. “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs The Center of the Earth” appeals to me because of the attempt to show the camaraderie that Brian and I share. Plus I just find the concept of fighting the center of the earth one that allows for a great deal of interpretation. “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs The Moon” is another story that really allows for a great range of writing freedom, conceptually, and it is based on one of my very favorite books of all time. Every story in this collection is a doppleganger of a much more famous piece of fiction. Take the challenge and see if you can guess them all!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Deconstructing the Stories, Part 4

BRIAN SAYS:

For this installment, the stories that we’re going to deconstruct are four that can only be found in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness: Reflux Edition. From here on out, we’ll just refer to it as Reflux. What is Reflux? Other than that burny feeling your insides get when thinking about either Chris or me? It’s the special edition of The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness. This limited print run can only be purchased directly from us at any of our various appearances (check here for where we might be next), or from our website, here. What makes Reflux different from the original edition? Well, we added three stories, rewrote four stories, and after EACH story is a behind the scenes look of what we did or drank to come up with the story. It’s like the special director’s commentary DVD of your favorite movie. Why did we rewrite four of the stories? Well, we’re glad you asked.

One of the stories I decided to rewrite was “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. The Wendigo.” Chris wrote that story in the original version. He did a fantastic job with it, continuing our adventure from our time in Tijuana chronicled in “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. La Chupacabra.” However, when we first brought up the idea of our characters facing the wendigo spirit, we each had vastly different takes on the subject. Chris portrayed the spirit much like Algernon Blackwood did in his tale many years ago. It lent itself well for what Chris did with the story, but my favorite versions of the wendigo were always the more Hollywood style – the ravenous creature possessing a person, turning them into an insatiable cannibal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Algernon Blackwood version of the wendigo. But after we released the original version of Scary Tales, we learned that many people don’t know what a wendigo is, and even fewer have heard of Algernon Blackwood. When we decided to do Reflux, I jumped at the chance to tell a story using one of my favorite spirits not sold in a liquor store. I also took the opportunity to make a few jokes about Canada. Because, you know, Canada.

The other story I rewrote was “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Zombies.” This concept was actually what started the whole nonsense of us writing ourselves as characters in horror stories. At the time, I was not a fan of zombies. Over the decades, the typical zombie story evolved from inept young people struggling to flee from shambling corpses that can somehow utter the word, “Braaaaaaaaains,” to a more sophisticated study of human nature where survivors could be more dangerous than the zombies themselves. When Chris wrote the original, he did a fantastic job of taking the zombie story to a unique place (the zombies in question were not actually undead, instead they were under the mind control of the nefarious Potato People) as well as tell a compelling story using dialog only, with zero narrative. Even though I enjoyed his vision, I still wanted to see a traditional zombie story filled with traditionally stupid characters. Namely, Chris and me.

Since the characters of Chris and Brian spent so much time in a restaurant thinly veiled in fiction called Melons, I thought it would be funny if Chris and I won a “golden ticket” to visit the headquarters. Little did we know it would be much like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory! Not only did I want to up the fun factor, but I also wanted to add to the body count. Scary Tales is a book about horror stories, and zombies are always eating people, so the zombies in this version of the story eat people. Of course, they deserve to be eaten since they do what the characters do in the zombie stories of yesteryear that I detested – drop weapons right after successfully using them, or sacrificing themselves for the rest of the group when there’s another option that would allow everyone to escape unscathed. Of course, I also decided to have fun with the source of zombie-making contagion. Yes, you guessed it – the goat.


CHRIS SAYS:
  
…And cut. Ok, that’s a wrap, guys. Good job and we can continue filming tomorrow… Oh, hi! I didn’t hear you back there, you sneaky creepers! Thanks for visiting us on the top secret Fortress lair… oh, wait… it’s top secret… so, what was Brian going on about? Reflux? Yeah, I know a thing or two about that. Come on over here where we can talk.

Four stories from the original collection got a complete makeover in Reflux. Brian wanted to tackle Zombies and The Wendigo because he simply envisioned them as something other than what they were in the original edition of the book. And I’m glad that he did. He took both stories back to their more Hollywood roots and it brought out more of that delightful lunacy that you all know as The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys.

For my part, I wanted to try to work a slightly different angle with “Spider.” The original is classical zaniness and a favorite of ours to do at readings. I’m always a sucker to twist up a good classic into knots, so I wondered what would happen if I made “Spider” follow a traditional European fairy tale format, complete with a stranger and gifts and all of that. As we had begun to work in Jeff Young more as an antagonist, I thought it would be great fun to continue this theme (it wasn’t until Brian and I met after the first round of story re-writing that we found out that we had both taken this tactic). The framework of the story is largely autobiographical as Brian had told me just weeks earlier how he had blown up two mowers in a span of a few days. For someone who only mows twice a year, this is no small task! Brian’s accountant, financial justification for the events of the story… well, that just makes me laugh a little bit on the inside. He’s read it. He still hasn’t denied that he would rationalize it similarly….  


“The Blob” was a story for which I had no reference. There is no literary equivalent that I’m aware of and I have never seen the movies pertaining to it. I enjoyed Brian’s take on things (who doesn’t love a good mad scientist?) and I stopped to wonder what semi-autobiographical reference I could use in which we were mad scientists… hmmm… oh, yeah… at one of our Fortress excursions we may have relived the good old college days and some of our less than wise mixologies. At the forefront was some good, old-fashioned, gummy candy. Couldn’t possibly cause any harm, right? So I threw in a little Ghostbuster humor and mixed it with a few fifty piece wing platters and voila! Speaking of gummy candy, I think it’s… ummmm… clean out the pantry day! National holiday, you know. Gotta go! Bye!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Journey: Reconnaissance!

In our previous installment of the journey, we learned all about printing. Well, we learned a little about printing. And we may have learned that Brian might not be Batman. Ahhh, who are we trying to fool? We all know that Brian is Batman. So, let’s take a peek at what happens when we try to educate ourselves about starting a business….

The Journey
“Reconnaissance!”

One of the more difficult things about being regular working schlubs like us trying to step outside of our preordained caste and start our own publishing company is finding time. There’s never enough of it to do what we need, to muddle through the regular day-to-day activities such as work, pay bills, spend time with the family, pay bills, feed the addiction to eBay, pay bills, do the chores, pay bills, etc... Then add to the pile, “small business start-up” and the pile becomes perilously close to toppling over, crushing all beneath it. Jac fell victim to such circumstance, no longer able to commit. Fortress was now down to three.

However, we bravely marched forward (to the beat of our own drummer, of course) and other things were starting to come together for us. We formed a “to do” checklist and slowly checked off each item as they became “to done.” At the top of the list was, “Come up with ‘to do’ checklist.” That pretty much entailed visiting a lawyer and harassing our CPA friend. We wanted to keep our time with them limited, so we tried to answer our own questions first to sound like we knew what we were talking about. Our first stop was to the local area Chamber of Commerce where we picked up a book entitled “Starting a Business in Pennsylvania.” I doubt every state in the nation will have the same book, but I’d wager that you could find something similar. Being the people person that I am, I much rather sit down with someone to get information. Being the cheap-o that I am, I much rather do it for free. Well, the “Starting a Business in PA” book helped, in the form of SCORE.

SCORE stands for Service Corps Of Retired Executives. They are just like their name implies, executives long since retired available to the public to assist in business workings. Free of charge. Interestingly enough, they’re located in the same damn building as the local area Chamber of Commerce. But the service is free and I’d be talking to executives, people who may have possibly been in the same situation we found ourselves. As luck would have it, laryngitis settled itself in the very day I had the time and opportunity to visit with them. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that me getting laryngitis is God’s way of saying, “I’m sorry you have to put up with this guy.” Normally, I wouldn’t have minded, except for the fact that I’m a working schlub who doesn’t have enough time. So, the louder I tried to talk, the fewer audible words came out of my mouth. The particular gentleman who met with me had not one, but two hearing aids. Comedy ensued. You don’t need to be Karnak to see where this is going.

“Hi. I’m st_rting up a b_sines and w_s wond_ring where to start?”
“What?”
“I’m s___ting up a b___ness an_ wa_ won____ng wher_ to sta__?”
“What?!”
“I_ s_____g up a b______s a__ w__ w_____ng wh___ to st___?”
“WHAT?!”
“I_ S_____ UP A B_____ _ND W__ __NDER___ W____ TO __ART?!”
“Are you on drugs, man?!”

After some time, and the decision for me to communicate via pen and paper, I got the answers we were looking for. Even though the meeting cleared up some things, there were still a few questions we needed to ask a lawyer.

Upon our first meeting with the lawyer, Chris and I quickly learned how monkeys at the zoo must feel as patrons stare at them. As we cartoonishly shuffled through papers looking for our research findings and subsequent questions, the only possible thought he could have been thinking was, “These two knuckleheads are starting their own business? They shouldn’t even be allowed in public.” Once we calmed down enough to be mistaken for human beings, Chris and I had one major question to answer: what business entity were we going to be?

We gave a brief overview in a previous article, so we won’t bore you with those details again. But we had our choices narrowed down to General Partnership, LLC and S Corporation. After one of the most intense meetings of our lives (only about 30 minutes, but sitting in a lawyer’s office always brings out the “fight or flight” reaction) and extensive note taking, Chris and I ran (literally) to the nearest bar after meeting’s end. Luckily, it was just across the street. After a jolly round of chiding remarks from both my future business partner and the waitress about my proclivity toward drinking beer that requires some form of citrus to be found floating in it, we reviewed our options.

A General Partnership is easy to form and easy to get money in and out of. However, there is no liability protection involved whatsoever. According to our lawyer, an LLC depends upon what state you’re in. In Michigan, they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread (hey, he’s a lawyer – they’re not known for having the greatest cliches), but in Pennsylvania, they are run very similar to Corporations. Although it’s easier for the members involved to get money out of a LLC, it still didn’t offer all the liability protection we were looking for. Plus, if it’s going to be run like a corporation, we may as well form a corporation, even though it may be difficult getting money out. Let’s not forget, Chris and I would be shareholders, and just like being a shareholder of any other corporation, we simply can’t take assets whenever we want to. Just because you may hold some shares of Wal-Mart doesn’t mean you can walk out of the store without paying for the merchandise and say, “I’m a shareholder. I own this.” Those rent-a-cops hit harder than you’d think and pepper-spray to the eyes doesn’t feel as pleasant as one might imagine.

So, it was decided! Before we hit the bottom of our first pitcher of beer, we decided that we needed another pitcher. However, it was shortly after that we decided to form an S Corporation. We wanted the protection, and thanks to the “S” status, all of the profits or losses flow through the tax forms to our own personal taxes. That means any money we earn gets taxed only once and (the more likely scenario) any money we lose, we get to deduct from our personal taxes.

The moral of the story is – if you plan on starting your own publishing company, or any small business for that matter, take full advantage of the free resources offered to you. Trust me, there are plenty of them. Start with your local area Chamber of Commerce and see what happens. Just make sure you clear a spot in your working schlub schedule for a bought of laryngitis first….

Next Issue: “Struggle.”

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Deconstructing the Second Novel, Part 1 – The Devil’s Grasp

BRIAN SAYS:

Tom looked at me, nodded his head toward Chris, and said, “You know he writes, right?”
I replied with, “Ummmmm… no.”
Turning to Chris, Tom pointed to me, and asked, “You know he writes, right?”
Coincidently enough, the reply Chris gave sounded oddly familiar. “Ummmmm… no.”
Tom then summed up the future partnership that Chris and I would form with one word: “Idiots.”

That little tale about the endeavoring spirit of human nature took place almost fifteen years ago, about ten years after we first met. Yes, I just said that it took ten years for each of us to figure out that the other wished to be a professional writer, which only happened by the assistance of a third party. Not only is it a testament to how well men actually communicate with each other, but even if the conversation somehow came close to the subject, then inevitably something would distract us from it. One time Chris and I accidentally forgot to go to the local bar to pick up women [The Ferrell/Kattan skits you’re envisioning now really aren’t too far from the truth], because we got past a difficult level in the latest Star Wars video game and wanted to keep playing. Why is any of this relevant? Because the first thing Chris and I worked on together was The Devil’s Grasp. 

Of course, before we put the proverbial pen to paper, we sat down and compared notes: How long we’d been writing, where we’d gotten published, what we liked to write, how many more levels there were in that damn Star Wars game, why the beer pitcher was always empty. We discovered that we were in the same stage of our writing careers – a few things published in small magazines. So, the next obvious step was to write a novel together.

By this point in time, I had already written two novels; one solo, one with another writer. Neither amounted to anything more than experience, beer drinking, and good times. Luckily, I was able to bring all of that to the table when Chris and I FINALLY stopped playing Star Wars and started talking about the novel.

CHRIS SAYS:

Testing! Testing! Is this thing on? It is? Well, hi, folks! Let’s see here… video game… beer pitcher empty… be right back! I’m not so sure this thing truly holds 64 ounces!

While we were walking around the used car of our writing aspirations, randomly kicking tires and jumping through open windows, we discussed genre and found that we both have a keen interest in fantasy, though we had largely gotten there via different paths. As a kid I had read the “classics” and many of my days had been wholly consumed by them. Tolkien, Le Guin, Leiber, Howard… they made me want to swing a sword, to hurl spells of magical creation, to be the size of a mouse running from dark wizards, or to be seeking the advice of an alien seer. Brian was familiar with more modern, but not less important, works found on the cinema screen or comic book pages.

As we were discussing tropes and quests and magic, we also confessed to each other that we both had an interest in horror and here seemed to be a way to differentiate our piece from other more mainstream fantasy. As all of this involved far more discussion and learning about another dude that either of us had done in quite likely our entire collective lives, we took a break and went to our respective homes to do more thinking. We both typed up a short page or two – essentially of list of “do’s” and “don’ts”.  This is really how we began the process of collaborative writing. Passing chapters back and forth, each trying to outdo the other by putting characters into perilous situations and challenging the other to save them.


Over the next few weeks, we established goals and outlined chapters. Afterwards, we each picked a chapter that we wanted to work on and set monthly word count goals. On the designated day, we would meet up and go over what we had done and where we envisioned the characters going next. We always outlined a good 5-6 chapters in advance and worked on different chapters, writing towards the day of the inevitable passing off of a chapter to the other person, back and forth until revision time...<shiver> I still get chills thinking about revisions… slimy, putrid… out of what miasma they crawl, I know not, but they are certainly welcome to go back whence they came! <shudder> I think I got some miasma on me….