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In an era where musicians routinely sell out their musical souls for their 15 minutes of reality TV fame and a shot at the big time, the music documentary Back From The Dread offers a refreshing portrait of a band doing it the old-fashioned way: earning their fans one gig at a time. Stream it now on Amazon.

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Order a hardcover edition of Midlife Mouse, and Wayne will scrawl his name in it for you.

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Produced by Self-Proclaimed Entertainment, Duke Bardwell’s album You & I features live performances from the award-winning documentary, Duke & The King, directed by Wayne Franklin and Kris Wheeler. Get yours on iTunes.

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Underachieving genius Bill Durmer is in over his head in this satirical Southern fantasy by Wayne Franklin. When Bill suffers the mother of all midlife crises, he runs away to Walt Disney World, seeking his destiny. Pirates and princesses, moms, morticians and man-beasts have a stake in Bill’s future. And those are the good guys. Get a copy on Amazon.

Unreliable news and questionable opinions from writer and filmmaker Wayne Franklin:

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That’s less than a buck for the book readers and reviewers have called “magical” and a “hilarious.” And you don’t even have to use Amazon’s new delivery drones to get it. It downloads “automagically” to your Kindle or other device through the miracles of 3G and WiFi.

If you’ve been waiting to get a copy, or if you’ve already read it and just want to share the magic, now’s the time!

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holiday-sale-post2Midlife Mouse, the Disney-filled, Amazon best-selling satire novel by Wayne Franklin, is available at great prices for the holiday season. Now through the end of the year, get paperbacks for $9.95 and the Kindle edition for only $.99!

That’s less than a buck for the book readers and reviewers have called “magical” and a “hilarious.”

If you’ve been waiting to get a copy, or if you’ve already read it and just want to share the magic, now’s the time!

Follow @midlifemouse on Twitter or like Midlife Mouse on Facebook.

Source Article from

Orlando Trip Report, Part 2: Simulator-A-Go-Go


The Universal Studios entry – far more impressive at night.

The Universal Studios entry – far more impressive at night.

In part 1 of this trip report, I talked about our family’s first visit to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We had planned to catch some of the concerts at Universal Studios that evening, as part of the Rock the Universe Christian music festival. However, with a steady rain and sporadic lightning, we called it a night when IOA closed. On Day 2, we decided to try once more.

Again, we spent our morning in the pool and arrived at Universal in the early afternoon. It was a bright, sunny, hot day – nothing new for Orlando in early September. Being the responsible people we pretend we are, we all slathered up with sunscreen before entering the park. My wife and son had no issues with the sunscreen. For my daughter and me, however, applying the Banana Boat SPF 30 face lotion was like torture. It felt like the tube had been heated to 400 degrees, infused with shards of broken glass and rusty needles, and then smeared onto our skin with a hot iron. My daughter started fighting back tears immediately. I, on the other hand, was fighting back a torrent of words that I’d rather not introduce into my kids’ vocabulary just yet.

As we traversed the nine-plus miles of moving sidewalks and the gaudy, cavernous gauntlet that is CityWalk, my daughter and I fought over my son’s portable misting fan, trying desperately to get some relief from the Banana Boat burn.

The tickets for Rock the Universe came in two varieties: the weekend package that allowed you to access both park for three days, plus the concerts and the concert-only tickets that allowed access only to the Studios after 4 pm for two days. As we entered, we noticed that many large groups with the concert-only tickets were entering the park several hours early. We were in for a crowded afternoon and evening.


In the queue for Minion Mayhem. I really wanted to sit in that rhino chair.

Sure enough, this proved to be the case at our very first attraction: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I had used my membership at to create a custom plan for tackling the attractions on our agenda for the day. The website grossly underestimated the wait times, however. For Minion Mayhem, for example, the site had estimated a wait time of about 8 minutes. The posted wait time at the attraction was 30 minutes. The actual wait time was more than 45 minutes. We took advantage of the wait by having my wife get wet paper towels so my daughter and I could wipe away the smoldering lava that had encased our faces.

The theming is fairly good at Minion Mayhem, if a little inconsistent. The entry is styled like the foyer of Gru’s house, but then leads you into an outdoor queue area (covered and with fans — a lesson Sea World should apply to some of their attractions, but that’s another story) that is themed more like a bomb warehouse … or something. The story behind the attraction is that visitors have volunteered to become minions in Gru’s employ. Video screens in the queue line run a loop of recruitment videos that combine original animations with clips from the first film. I know these screens are intended to break the boredom of a long wait time, but I’m not sure it’s entirely effective. When you stand in line long enough to see the loop repeat several times, it only serves to remind you how long you’ve been waiting.

Once the queue takes you inside, the theming is much more fun, recreating some of the more outlandish decor items from Gru’s house. From the living room area, we were then corralled into a pre-show room in which Gru gives some story set-up from a series of screens mounted high on a wall, meant to look like the control room of a factory floor. There are some good gags here, including a moment where he accuses a certain portion of the crowd of not showering and puts their image on one of the video screens. I was smack in the middle of the that group. Guilty. A quick shot from Dr. Nefario’s fart gun and we were escorted into the theater.

Did I mention there were 3D glasses? Yea.

The attraction itself is combination of a 4D theater experience and a simulator. The audience sits in ride vehicles (I use that term loosely, as they don’t go anywhere) arranged like auditorium seating. Each vehicle is simulator ride unto itself, with the difference from other simulators being that there is a single, huge projected image for the entire auditorium. The simulator vehicles move in unison as we go through many of the same gags we saw on the Spider-Man ride: climbs, free-falls, wide swings, bumping into other objects in mid-air, teetering on the edge of a precipice, falling from the precipice only to be caught by a deus ex machina just before hitting the ground. The jokes are as funny as you would expect from the Despicable Me franchise, and the 3D simulator gags are fairly routine for Universal. It’s a fun attraction, but not one that had any of us clamoring to queue up for another go.

Leaving Minion Mayhem, we crossed the street to check out the Shrek 4D attraction. had estimated our wait time under 10 minutes. The posted wait time was 30 minutes. The reality was closer to an hour. This is the problem with going to a theme park when hundreds of large groups are in attendance. Wait times don’t grow incrementally as they would with a normal crowd. Instead, you have 12-20 people entering the line all at once. If just a handful of youth groups choose the same attraction, the wait times can double instantly.

After what seemed like an interminable wait and multiple repeats of the queue line video loop, we entered a room themed to be a dungeon in Dulac, the kingdom from the first Shrek film. Then came a ho-hum pre-show involving some shaking boxes on the wall, meant to be the imprisoned three little pigs, and a Pinocchio locked in some sort of iron maiden so that (conveniently) only his nose and legs are visible. I say conveniently, because it meant only the most rudimentary of animatronics were necessary. (This reminded me a bit of the Donald’s butt conclusion to Mickey’s Philharmagic.) I honestly can’t recall the story from either the pre-show or the Shrek film. What I do remember is that the seats in the 4D theater jerk and rock you about to the point of  being annoying. Of all the attractions we experienced on our trip, including coasters of every variety, this is the one that left my wife with severe back pain. Moving on…

By the time we left Shrek, we had been in the park for two and a half hours and only experienced two attractions. It was obvious our touring plan was not going to work. With a thunderstorm raging, we sought cover, got a drink and a couple of snacks, and regrouped. This was the first time I had a moment to take in more of the theming of the park as a whole. It should surprise no one that Universal Studios shares some thematic elements (and some of the same problems) as Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Both are designed to hearken back to the Hollywood of old with areas that represent Tinsel Town’s commercial districts, movie studios and backlots. Like DHS, Universal has also lost its purpose over the years. There are very few attractions now that celebrate the magic of the movies or the business of making them. It is no longer a working studio, and many soundstages have simply been painted to advertise the attractions they contain. Transformers, Despicable Me, Shrek and others are little more than attractions in a box, necessarily devoid of the landscaping and exterior show you would find in other parks.

After re-assessing our plan, we eliminated the Twister attraction from our list. Only two days earlier, our son had mentioned to us that his greatest fears were the dark, lightning and tornadoes. Taking him to Twister would be just plain cruel. We also eliminated the Mummy indoor coaster for similar reasons. We decided to make our way to Men in Black and check the wait times for Transformers along the way. With a 90-minute wait time on the latter, we chose to keep on walking. We never did ride it, but based on YouTube videos I’ve seen I can describe it pretty well: it’s Spider-Man with robots.

The posted wait time for Men in Black was 45 minutes, but we chose to dive in anyhow, as the crowd only seemed to be getting larger as the afternoon wore on. As we were waiting, an employee came through, asking everyone to show their wristbands. The wristbands in question indicated who was ticketed for the concerts that evening. We didn’t have ours, yet. When I told him this, he told me to keep my tickets handy. What we soon figured out was that he was gathering all of the day pass ticket holders and ushering them to the front of the line, so they could wrap up their day and get out. Rather than take advantage of the situation, we chose to be honest, but sometimes holding to one’s ethics comes at a price.

The lone highlight of our attempt to ride Men in Black.

The lone highlight of our attempt to ride Men in Black.

For the next 45 minutes, we endured some of the loudest, most obnoxious, rudest, most inconsiderate teenagers I have ever been around. I learned a valuable lesson (one I should’ve already known) that night: just because kids are in a church youth group doesn’t make them good, respectful kids. I don’t think anyone was more appalled by the behavior than my 12-year-old daughter. She’s active in our church youth group and spent a week this summer at a junior high youth conference with thousands of other kids. She said she had never seen this kind of behavior in her life. And some of the adult “leaders” with them weren’t much better. When a big group of kids emerged from the exit door — breaking in line some 45 minutes into what had now become a 90-minute wait — we were done. We have never left a line for an attraction before, especially after that long of a wait, but the time had come.

(By that point, it should be noted, we were pretty underwhelmed with the attraction anyhow. When my son spotted “the twins” in the MiB control room, he asked what they were supposed to be. My wife reminded him of the two aliens from the film. He looked again at the rather pathetic animatronic figures and back at her with a look of “You’ve got to be kidding.”)

Ducking out an exit door (followed by a dozen or more guests, mostly other teenagers – the “good” ones), we found ourselves in a backstage area. Following some signs labeled “Return to Park,” we soon encountered an employee on her smoke break. She didn’t put down the cigarette or even bother to get up. She just pointed in the right direction. We wove around until we were back in the guest areas of the park. All I could think the whole time is that Disney would never allow guests to experience that much broken show.

By that point, we had been at the park for more than four hours and still had only experienced two attractions. We desperately needed a win. Seeing the Simpsons area was equally crowded, we moved on to check out the E.T. attraction. Like many other attractions at Universal Studios, it is of the attraction-in-a-box variety. But what awaits you inside is so much more. Call us old school, but this is what a theme park dark ride should be.

After a brief pre-show film with Steven Spielberg explaining the backstory of the ride, we gave our names to an employee then proceeding through a queue line that immediately immerses you into the world of the film. The queue weaves through the forest near Elliott’s home, where E.T. reunited with the ship to take him home. We boarded ride vehicles themed like Elliott’s bike (naturally) and began to ride the overhead track through the forest, past the government employees bent on capturing E.T., and then skyward into space and onward to E.T.’s home world. Along the way, the production design is impeccable, there are many excellent animatronics, and the transition from the sublime forests of earth to the wacky, colorful landscapes of E.T.’s homes is an unexpected twist. As the ride ends, E.T. is there to thank us all by name — a nice touch.

Without fail, everyone in our family — from the 7-year-old to my old 43-year-old self — found this to be the most entertaining and delightful attraction in the park. And there wasn’t a simulator to be found anywhere! I haven’t researched the history of this attraction, but I assume Spielberg had a good deal of creative control over its design. Unlike so many of Universal’s newer attractions, which favor simulators and projected images over actual, physical characters and design elements, this one had the feel of something handcrafted, something special.

With an unmitigated victory under our belts, we decided to check on the wait times in Springfield again.

I used to be a huge Simpsons fan. I think the first ten seasons are some of the best comedy writing in TV history. For years, I would slip into the various characters’ voices in normal conversation. It was annoying. That being said, I can honestly say I never had any desire to step into the world of the series. The Simpsons has always been an ugly, satirical mirror held up to modern suburban life. We don’t have to enter the world of the Simpsons — we live in it. It was fun, however to see Moe’s Tavern (never did get a Flaming Moe), Krusty Burger, a Duff’s Brewery bar (complete with topiaries of the Seven Duffs from Duff Gardens), the Quik-E-Mart, Lard Lad Donuts, etc.

On the Twirl & Hurl, you'll find only mild twirling and no hurling.

On the Twirl & Hurl, you’ll find only mild twirling and no hurling.

With a 15-minute wait time, Kang and Kodos’ Twirl & Hurl seemed like a good bet. There were more video screens with more cartoon clips. More rude teenagers. And another wait time that was twice as long as the estimate on the sign. All of this for what is a standard issue Dumbo-style ride. With a name like Twirl & Hurl, I was really hoping the ride vehicles would spin, a la teacups, at the ends of the arms. Somebody get to work on that.

By then, we were five hours in and in need of food. All of the counter service restaurants had extremely long lines, so we hoped to find a table service place. Wasn’t happening. The table service restaurants in the park were being used exclusively for youth group leaders. We could either stand around for 30-45 minutes to order our meal — and risk another hypoglycemia incident — or we had to leave the park to get dinner. We chose the latter. That was the one and only time I was grateful for the existence of CityWalk. We ate at some NASCAR-themed restaurant, because it was the first one we came to. I remember nothing about the meal, except that there was beer and a comfy banquette. That was good enough for me. After dinner, we debated whether we would go back into the park. We decided to give it another go.

We hoofed all the way to the back of the park, toward Men in Black and The Simpsons Ride. The wait time for Simpsons was down to 20 minutes, so we queued up. Standing in line, my son asked, “Is this going to be different from all the other rides?” What he meant was, would it be something other than a simulator. Sorry, kiddo.



In this attraction at Universal SimulatorLand, you board a ride vehicle with seating for eight. Or maybe twelve – can’t recall, don’t care. The boarding room looks like it will propel you forward through a set of swinging doors in classic dark ride fashion. Instead, the mechanism lifts you up into a screening room above you. Images (3D, of course) are projected onto a concave screen in front of the vehicle. The ride, as expected, has all the usual simulator gags we’ve mentioned above.

What’s funny about The Simpsons Ride is — well, actually there’s a lot funny about it. It is The Simpsons after all. But all of the jokes would work just as well in an episode of the show. None of them are dependent on the ride experience itself. The story of the ride is that you are a visitor at Krustyland. Sideshow Bob is on the loose, trying to kill the Simpsons. Mayhem and hilarity ensue. Ironically, the Krustyland rides are spoofs of classic theme park attractions like wooden coasters, It’s A Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean–style dark boat rides, etc. —  exactly the types of rides you won’t find at Universal. In a strange way, the ride film serves as an indictment of Universal’s simulator-heavy approach to theme park attractions. Spoofs, by their very nature, riff on the standards of a genre or industry. It’s as if the ride is giving you a wink and saying, “Yeah, we know this isn’t a ‘real’ theme park.” (I guess they figured spoofing people riding a bunch of simulators wouldn’t be very funny. Go figure.)

With the hour getting late, we chose to do one more attraction. We chose Disaster!, a tongue-in-cheek, interactive look behind the scenes of making big-budget disaster flicks. In the pre-show area, guests are chosen to play certain archetypal roles in the film. Then the whole crowd moves into a theatre room that gives us a look backstage at the fictional studio. A live actor interacts with a projected image of Christopher Walken as director Frank Kincaid, the fictional master of disaster. I  don’t know how, but the projected Walken moves in front of, behind and around an actual physical table — an impressive effect.

Next, everyone moves on to the studio, where the extras chosen in the pre-show shoot their scenes in a funny, rapid fire style. From there, everyone boards a tram. The tram cars move forward and disaster ensues: the tram rocks to and fro, sections of the ceiling collapse downward, a tanker truck explodes, fire, floods, etc. Once the “filming” is over, the audience gets to watch the resulting film trailer in all its cheesy glory — including the scenes shot in the studio and on the tram only seconds earlier. As someone who routinely spends days editing a single 30-second commercial, I was curious about the system used to make the whole thing work. It is a fun, often dryly funny attraction. So it shouldn’t surprise you to hear there are rumors of its impending demise. (Hey, you could probably fit two more simulator rides in that space!)

globeWith that, our day at Universal was done. More than ten hours, only six attractions, half of them simulators, and thousands of annoying teenagers. Considering that only one day earlier, my son had passed out at IOA and my wife had a similar fainting incident in Sea World a few years ago, I don’t say this lightly: Worst. Theme park day. Ever.

Fortunately, Islands of Adventure did a good deal to redeem the Universal name the next day. We’ll get to that next time…

Wayne Franklin is a filmmaker and author of Midlife Mouse, a satirical novel that takes readers on a fantastical trip down the mousehole of Disney fandom.

Orlando Trip Report, Part 1: Taste is Not Universal

Allow me to apologize for the length of this trip report, but I wanted to give a detailed account of my impressions. And to think this is just the first installment…



I'm pretty sure these dolphins were judging me.

I’m pretty sure these dolphins were judging me.

Two weeks ago, my family and I took our first real vacation in nearly two-and-a-half years. It was much needed, trust me. Our original plan had been to do our typical Disney trip: stay on property, hit all the parks at least once, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT at least twice and eat on the Disney Dining Plan. However, our 12-year-old daughter is a certifiable Harry Potter nut, so we knew a Universal trip was in the offing.

There are two types of vacationers in our family. My son and I like to be constantly on the go, moving from one thing to another. His motto in life is “What’s next?” My wife and daughter are homebodies. They like to relax, take it slow and pace the activity with ample rest. To satisfy both types, we rented a VRBO in Kissimmee with a private pool. Most days found us lounging in the pool in the morning, then heading to theme parks after lunch. Everybody wins. Sort of. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Before I go any further, I should point out that while I am a Disney fan, I only came into that fandom in recent years. I went to the Magic Kingdom in 1977 and again in 1985. I didn’t visit it again and never set foot in EPCOT, the Studios or Animal Kingdom until we took our daughter for the first time in 2006. We visited all the Disney parks again in 2007 and 2010. In 2011, we spent one day in the Magic Kingdom. That’s it. That’s the sum total of my Walt Disney World experiences. I just wanted to clarify that I’m not someone who has been to the parks dozens of times over my entire life. With that limited exposure to Disney parks, I think I could be fairly objective about my Universal visit. (For example, in 2010, we also visited Busch Gardens and Sea World. The former we loved and the latter was a completely miserable experience.)

Both Disney and Universal had their annual Christian music festivals going on the first few days of our trip. Though I disdain the category of “Christian music,” we are a church-going family and know the music of a few of the acts at both events. So, the concerts seemed like a nice bonus to our trip.

Disney’s Nights of Joy is ticketed similarly to their other after-park-hours events, like their Christmas and Halloween parties: if you want to spend your day at the park, you pay for that separately from your admission to the concert. A full day at the Magic Kingdom, including the music festival, costs you almost as much as two separate days in the park.

Universal, on the other hand, offered a package deal for their Rock the Universe festival. For little more than the cost of one day in one of their parks, we got three full days in both parks and the two nights of concerts. This was a no-brainer.

Boy does it...

Boy does it…

Our first theme park day found us at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. But before we could get into the park, we had to endure the process of actually getting there. That process made me wonder if humanity should be sentenced to extinction. First we parked in what has to be one of the largest parking garages in the world. Not a bad idea, really. Universal has but a fraction of the acreage of Walt Disney World, and using as little of it as possible for parking is smart. Plus, with your car out of the hot Orlando sun, you might actually be able to breathe the air within when you return.

Then came the moving sidewalks. About nine miles of moving sidewalks, it seemed. You take a few to get you from your area of the parking garage to a central point. Then you take more to bring you to a large rotunda, the purpose of which I still don’t quite understand. Then you take several more. Yes, you can also skip the moving sidewalks and just hoof it. However, with a seven-year-old and a wife with extreme back issues, the moving sidewalk was the way to go for us.

Once you’ve traveled half-way across the city on moving sidewalks, you are dumped out onto the entrance to Universal’s CityWalk. Yes, before you can get to either of the Universal theme parks, you have to walk through a strip mall. Mock Disney for making you exit through the gift shop on many of their attractions all you like, but Universal doesn’t even allow you to glimpse the parks first.

That’s an important point, too. The crowding of obnoxiously themed chain restaurants and shops into the area leading to both parks dimishes the impact of the parks themselves. The gateway areas of parks should act in much the same way as the proscenium arch in a theatre of the bezel on a television screen. It is the portal through which you experience into an imaginary world. In theme parks, however, you are allowed to pass through that proscenium and break through that screen. The entryway should allow the visitor to feel a sense of wonder as they become immersed in fictional entertainment made real. Universal robs the visitor of that sense of wonder by assaulting the senses with commercial messages until you are within feet of the gates.

Once you escape the sensory overload of CityWalk, you cross a small bridge over a lushly landscaped river (man-made, I assume). There are launches that take guests from their resorts along the river to the parks. This is the first hint that there is (or at least was at some point) some taste involved in designing the Universal property. It’s quite a sublime touch, one that would make me consider staying at one of the Universal resorts.

The river and the two bridges that span it at either end of CityWalk act as a visual and thematic break between the shopping mall (Universal can call it an entertainment district all they like – it’s a mall) and the parks. At least, I think that was the original intent. The problem is that the mall continues on the opposite bank, filling every square inch between the two parks. This is a shame, because the entire first impression of both parks is overwhelmed by the Hard Rock Cafe, NBA City and other over-the-top commercial storefronts. The overall visual impression is that the parks are merely a diversion from your shopping and dining.

Once CityWalk was out of my periperal vision, I could finally focus on the first impression of IOA itself. The entry area was beautifully themed and landscaped with soothing, exotic background music. I felt as if I were being beckoned to a true island adventure — the kind that results in tales being swapped over Scotch and cigars at New York City’s Explorer’s Club in its heyday. The theming gets even better as you enter the “main street” of IOA, Port of Entry. Here, the shops and restaurants are elaborately and tastefully themed, transporting the visitor to an exotic Near East bazaar, around the turn of the 20th century I would guess. One can imagine an intrepid young explorer leaving his hometown of Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA to find himself halfway around the world in this place. Port of Entry raised my expectations for the park more than a little.

Like most IOA visitors these days, our goal was to go as quickly as possible to the far side of the park’s central lagoon to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (I learned that Harry Potter fans don’t like it if you refer to this land as “The Lizarding World of Henry Porter.” Especially if the fan in question is your 12-year-old daughter. And you say it loudly in a country accent. Just FYI.) To get there, we could go clockwise through the Marvel area, Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park or go counter-clockwise through Seuss Landing and something called The Lost Continent. We chose the latter.

The cropping almost makes you believe this area is tasteful.

The cropping almost makes you believe this area is tasteful.

Let me preface this next section by saying this: I’m a big Dr. Seuss fan. Theodore Giesel was a true American treasure. His works were one of the delights of my own childhood, and my wife and I have passed that love of Seuss along to our kids. I read Oh, The Places You’ll Go to my daughter nearly every day for years, from the time she was in the womb. One room of her nursery was Seuss themed. Later, she had an entire bedroom of Seuss murals that I hand painted. That being said, Seuss Landing was a disappointment.

In working very, very hard to capture the whimsical shapes and colors of Seuss’ work, the designers forgot one crucial ingredient: the negative spaces. Rarely is a page of Seuss’ work crammed full of detail. Even when a page is full of color — as many are in Places, for example — it is in broad swaths and large, flowing shapes. Seuss Landing, however, is a mess of layer upon layer of Seussian shapes and colors. Even moreso than CityWalk, Seuss Landing is an assault upon the senses. No attraction or thematic element is allowed to exist without being crowded by more of the same. In an attempt to create context, the designers robbed this land of exactly that. Details are not context.

The pathways through Seuss Landing are narrow, and many of the thematic elements that adorn the facades of shops and attractions are not only oversized, but often tilted inward and downward toward the visitor. The result is not immersive, but threatening.

I think this is a fuffelnutter.

I think this is a fuffelnutter.

Individually, many of the attractions here are delightful. The carousel (or Caro-Seuss-el, to be precise) is not only populated with a managerie of Seussian creatures, but many of them are interactive, allowing for control of head movements. It is also one of the fastest carousels I’ve ever ridden.

Cat in the Hat is an entertaining, but ultimately forgettable dark ride, much in the way the Pooh ride in the Magic Kingdom is. However, Cat uses a good many animatronics. The sophistication of those animatronics is on par with some of Disney’s oldest attractions, like Pirates of the Caribbean or It’s a Small World. Many are what I would call the “jittering puppet” variety: a figure with very rudimentary mouth movements and a slight jitter, shake or arm movement. Some are “moving statues” like you would find on Pooh — unarticulated figures that move in a single dimension. However, the combination of dozens of these single-movement animations (like you see in the clean-up scene) is somewhat impressive. I can’t really put my finger on why, but I was more aware of the ride building itself while riding Cat than I typically am in a dark ride, which proved to distract from the ride itself. Perhaps it was the width of the pathways on which the ride vehicles traveled or the heights of the ceilings above the scenes themselves. It could also have something to do with the color palette. Again, I’m not sure.

The High in the Sky Trolley Train Ride is a cute, slow moving train ride across the rooftops of Seuss Landing. The views are nice, and there are some nice bits of story along the rooftops. Overall, however, it just served to cement my opinion that this land is cluttered, noisy and overdone. Shame. (We skipped One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish — a Dumbo-type ride — because there was lightning in the area, and the ride was closed.)

What I haven’t mentioned is that we didn’t ride any of those attractions until after we had already paid our first visit to Henry Porter. As you exit Seuss Landing, making your way to Hogsmeade, you enter a land called The Lost Continent. We never got the chance to experience any of the attractions here. From what I understand, this was a much more involved land pre-Potter. Now it’s just a restaurant, a Sinbad stunt show and a “special FX tour” of the world of Poseidon. (I have no idea what that means.) The theming is pretty good here, but once again, the designers favored size over employing elements of forced perspective. The result is once again a little threatening and, in the case of the Mythos restaurant, with its waterfall pouring forth from a graven stone face, slightly absurd.

Finally, we arrived in Hogsmeade. In a word, it’s awesome. I had been told by many friends that I’d leave with the impression that it was an amazing land, but that I would ultimately wish it had been done by Disney. The truth of that emerged pretty quickly in one of those mundane little details at which Disney excels but isn’t “sexy” enough to make headlines: crowd flow. As you work your way through Hogsmeade toward Forbidden Journey, the flagship ride in the flagship land of the entire park, Universal does the unthinkable: they narrow the walkway. This is compounded by the fact that both Flight of the Hippogriff and Journey are on a dead-end spur off the main path. The result is that everyone going to or coming from both attractions must be funneled through a bottleneck in the walkway. The problems with crowd flow continued as we entered the bowels of Hogwart’s Castle to ride Forbidden Journey. (I also learned that Harry Potter fan don’t want you to call it “Warthog’s Castle.”)

Storm clouds gathering over Hogwart's Castle. Should've known it was a sign.

Storm clouds gathering over Hogwart’s Castle. Should’ve known it was a sign.

As you enter the attraction, employees instruct you to have one member of your party take all bags and loose objects and place them in a free rental (oxymoron?) locker. They instructed everyone else in the party to continue on to the queue and that their “bag person” (my term, not theirs) would catch up. Right…

After standing in the queue for just a few seconds, it was obvious to me that the line would move on rather quickly without our designated bag person, my wife. So, I pulled the kids aside into an alcove to wait for her. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people moved ahead of us as we waited for her. The locker room was small, cramped and not designed for efficient ingress and egress. People ahead of her had difficulty understanding how to use the biometric rental sytem. It took her at least ten minutes to get a locker and get back to us. Then she had to weave through the sea of humanity that included people trying to rent lockers before joining the queue, people coming off the ride to retrieve their items before entering the gift shop and the non-bag people crowded at the rear of the queue line. Here again, in a place where crowd flow should be at its peak, Universal creates another bottleneck. There are no words for how short-sighted and stupid that is. And all this time, the Universal employees simply stood back and watched the confusion unfold.

The crowd, the heat, the humidity and the incessant standing around finally caught up with our son as we moved to join the queue. He began to sway a little bit as he walked, we saw the color drain from his face and … he passed out. Just like that, with his mom still holding his hand. She was able to gently sit him down, blocking the queue behind us. A few curious visitors glanced down, but no one bothered to ask what was wrong or if they could help. All they knew was that four less people were between them and Harry, so they quickly moved around us and filled the gap.

I carried him aside to the express line and let him recline against the rock wall. (Did I mention that the theming of the queue line to represent the lower reaches of Hogwarts was quite impressive? No? Well, it is.) It was obvious he wouldn’t recover his strength without some food, so we headed over to Three Broomsticks for a snack. (Did I mention that our son also almost drowned in the pool that morning? No? Well, he did. Needless to say, he was not having a good day.)

Apparently, the Three Broomsticks uses antlers in all of their decorating, too.

Apparently, the Three Broomsticks uses antlers in all of their decorating, too.

The restaurant was one of the highlights of the entire Wizarding World, in my opinion. While my wife and daughter ordered us a rib and chicken platter, a couple of waters, a Butter Beer and a Pumpkin Juice to share, I convinced restaurant employees to let us have a table before we got our food (usually a non-starter) because of my son’s situation. Fortunately for us, that employee didn’t know of the park policy to escort any children with medical emergencies to backstage areas for immediate transport to the ER. We knew his issue was brought on by hypoglycemia, so we quickly got some protein into him. The food was quite good. The Butter Beer was as tasty as I had heard and better than the Pumpkin Juice, which we also liked. The theming of the restaurant was exquisite, but I did wish there were a little more “magic” in the place.

With the little man re-energized, and a thunderstorm brewing overhead, we decided to try Forbidden Journey again. We braved the bottlenecks, the locker room, et al and finally made it into the queue line. The line was just as long as before. One thing you learn quickly about Universal wait time estimates: they are rarely correct and often grossly underestimated.

After a short run in the dungeon levels of Hogwarts, the line takes you outside, where you see … an asphalt walkway. And the backside of Jurassic Park. It wasn’t horrendous, but it did pull you out of the show for a moment. However, I thought theming the outside portions of the queue as the herbology greenhouse from Hogwarts was a nice touch. After winding our way through the greenhouse — slowly, very slowly — we entered Hogwarts again.

A statue of some dude in Warthog's Castle. I call him Captain Warthog.

A statue of some dude in Warthog’s Castle. I call him Captain Warthog.

I’m no Potter-phile, so I have no idea what the story is behind the huge statues as we enter, but suffice to say they were well-themed and felt as if they were straight from the world of the books and films. We were fully immersed in the show again. From here forward, the queue is as much a part of the attraction as the ride itself, taking you through Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and various corridors lined with portraits. Many of those portraits come to life, as they do in the films, with astonishing effect. We also see projected images of Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione, meant to appear as if they are in the room with us. It’s not a convincing effect, especially when one is moving, but it’s still fun.

Finally, the queue ended in the Room of Requirement, where you board your ride vehicle. The vehicle is a four-seat carriage not unlike you would find on an inverted or hanging coaster. Restraint arms come down, securing each person individually to their seat. The carriage is mounted to an articulated arm that itself rides along a track, allowing for about 90 degrees of three-axis movement on the arm as the entire vehicle continues along the track path. That’s a lot of movement in a lot of different directions. Don’t ride this one on a full stomach.

The ride takes you along with Harry and company as they fly on their broomsticks to a Quidditch match. Through a combination of animatronics and projected scenes, we follow Harry in, out and around Hogwarts, encountering a dragon, Aragog and other giant spiders, dementors, baselisk skeletons and even the whomping willow. (This is one of the more impressive animatronics for its sheer size. One can only hope it doesn’t become the “disco willow” in the future.) Overall, it was a truly great, if a little stomach-churning, dark ride. Between the queue line and the ride itself, I notice a heavy use of video screens and projected images. At the time, I thought maybe this was unique to Harry Potter, as all of the uses seemed appropriate to the attraction. I would learn differently.

A wand of holly with a dragon heart string...

A wand of holly with a dragon heart string…

Afterward, we knocked around the gift shop a bit. Our daughter wanted a wand, so we headed over to Ollivander’s Wand Shop. We saw that there was a queue line for the shop, but we had no idea why. The line was short, so why not? A few minutes later, we found ourselves in the shop with a couple dozen others. A costumed character, the Wand Keeper, descended a rickety flight of stairs into the shop, the walls of which were lined floor to ceiling with wand boxes. He then selected a random person to be the wizard whom a wand will choose, hearkening to the scene in the first book and film in which Harry is chosen by his first wand. Imagine our delight when the Wand Keeper selected our resident Potter fan, my daughter! He then went through a scripted routine in which he tried various wands for her with amusing animated results around the room. Once the proper wand “chose” her (based upon her birthday, I later learned), wind blew, magical lights shone and the orchestra swelled. Though she was about to explode with excitement inside, she remained a cool customer throughout the whole thing. She had planned to buy Ginny Weasley’s wand, but how could she turn down the wand that chose her?

With the lightning lingering, Flight of the Hippogriff (my alternate names, “Flight of the Hypocrite” and “Flight of the Hippopotamus,” elicited more than a few eye rolls from my daughter) was still closed. So, we headed back to Seuss Landing and did all the attractions I mentioned above. Having reached our fill of Seuss, we tried again with Hippogriff to no avail.

A little more shopping yielded wands for both kids and a chocolate frog from Honeydukes — thanks to a $10 gift card for spending $50-plus on the wands. The park was approaching closing time by then, so we wound our way in the rain through Jurassic Park — a beautifully themed land — Toon Lagoon — an obnoxious sensory assault with many of the same problems as Seuss — and Marvel Super Hero Island — which draws its rather flat and uninspired design from the source comics and cartoons rather than the live-action films. There are good reasons for that: 1. the land predates the latest run of Marvel films, and 2. promoting the films would mean promoting Marvel’s parent company, Disney.

Before the park’s closing, we quickly hopped in line to ride the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. The queue line takes you through the offices of the Daily Planet … or the Daily Bugle … or Daily Whatever. (I get my comic book worlds confused.) The line monotony is broken by video screens running loops of cartoon news reports of an attack on New York by a cadre of villains led by Doctor Octopus. Again with the videos. Finally, we are given the newspaper’s new Scoopmobile or some such to bring back the story on the villains’ attack. And we get to wear 3D glasses to do so. I hate 3D glasses, but I’ll go along.

The ride then whips you around the building, themed to look like the alleyways, streets and rooftops of New York. But there’s not much happening in the building itself. All of the action is projected on video screens in 3D. Basically, it’s a moving simulator ride. Sometimes it works to great effect, as when you turn a corner to see what you think is a painted brick wall break away as Doc Oc attacks. Other times, it’s standard simulator fair: you teeter on the edge of something, finally go plummeting down and are caught at the last second by the hero. (This gimmick is repeated ad nauseum in the attractions nextdoor at Universal Studios.)

As with Forbidden Journey, we all enjoyed the ride, so much so that we planned to ride again two days later. However, this was before we realized Universal’s over-reliance on simulators and projected images. We’ll get to that in the next installment.

Wayne Franklin is a filmmaker and author of Midlife Mouse, a satirical novel that takes readers on a fantastical trip down the mousehole of Disney fandom.

The Midlife Mouse Sequel You (Probably) Will Never Read

9780988835917.PT01I never planned to write a sequel to Midlife Mouse. Really. Now that I’ve started writing one, I may have to start over.

As I started thinking about the characters and where they would be today, three years later, the ideas for a sequel began to take shape. Many questions were left unanswered at the end of the book, and those questions form the starting point for a follow-up story.

Over the last few months, I’ve made halting progress on the sequel, Midway Mouse. Beyond the five or six chapters that are already written, I have done a good deal of research and plotted out most of the story. At least I thought I had. As it turns out, I may have to scrap most (not all) of that work and start over. Why? Disney.

No, I haven’t been sued (though some of you out there seem to have a sick fascination with the possibility). What happened then? What happened was Disney began to develop a new film, Tomorrowland, and a related alternate reality game (ARG) called “The Optimist.” The story points, as we know them so far, are awfully similar to my planned plot for Midway Mouse. In fact, some of the story points are awfully similar to Midlife Mouse, too.

Before we go any further, if you haven’t read Midlife Mouse, consider this your obligatory



The story of Midway Mouse would have grown primarily out of this passage in Midlife Mouse. At the time I wrote this (2010), Disney was still planning a Tomorrowland film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. As Bill Durmer is being tested by a group known as the Tomorrowlanders, he pitches this alternate idea for a Tomorrowland film:

Another questioner, a thirty-something man in the most current costume, gave Bill the lowdown on a planned Tomorrowland film starring a former professional wrestler as a modern astronaut who finds himself in a Utopian future. He wanted to know Bill’s thoughts on the film. “Well,” Bill began, scratching his chin, “I’d scrap the whole concept and start over.”

“Why?” the man asked.

Bill explained his belief that the drama — or more likely comedy — would arise from the conflict between the protagonist’s cynical view of humanity and the idealized future in which he finds himself, making the view of a better future seem a quaint joke, an unattainable pipe dream. “Besides,” he added, “Tomorrowland is not about attaining the future. It’s about always reaching for it.” More nods and whispers.

“What would you do?” Tomorrow Man asked.

Bill smiled at the older man’s leading question. In deconstructing the announced concept for the film, he had already begun to concoct his own. For a moment, he wondered if any of the Tomorrowlanders worked for the studio and were simply fishing for script ideas. How would he defend himself if they did steal his concept? Somehow he couldn’t imagine standing in front of a judge and trying to convince her that his copyrights were infringed upon by a secret group of Disney fans who called themselves the Tomorrowlanders, followed a man in fishbowl pajamas and believed Bill to be the Chosen One. That testimony would end only one way: with Bill in a padded room. But he decided to go for it.

“Well, assuming that the film needs to be created in the first place,” Bill began, questioning internally whether it did, “I’d start by changing the setting. Tomorrowland would be a place, but not a place in the future. It would be a community, sort of like Walt’s idea for Progress City, a place where the best minds could come together to invent and innovate. Maybe a private island. It would be owned by a reclusive scientist and inventor, Dr. Tom Morrow.” Bill had evoked the name, because he knew the PeopleMover audio once had a reference to a Mr. Tom Morrow, and he liked the cheekiness of it. This choice, however, elicited a chorus of gasps from his audience. He wasn’t sure what it meant, and no one bothered to explain. So he continued.

“Then you could borrow a page from the Pirates playbook and have two young protagonists, maybe teenage children of scientists who have come to work at Tomorrowland. They discover who Tom Morrow is and the three end up in some kind of an adventure, probably defending one of his inventions from outside forces. It should be something unique from what you see in the parks. Expand the mythology right from the get-go.”

“Like what?” The question came from one of the rank-and-file Tomorrowlanders in the outer circle, clearly a breach of etiquette since those in the inner circle scowled at his audacity.

Bill shrugged, indulging the question, “I don’t know… How about The Eden Bubble? A device that creates a bubble of space free from the purported effects of the biblical fall. Essentially a bubble that is free from brokenness. Nothing within the bubble will ever break down. Or die. Or decay. He sees it as an opportunity to advance medicine or test theoretical impossibilities. Others want to steal it for more nefarious purposes.

“I could see it as a trilogy. The first film ends with Dr. Morrow revealing to the young protagonists his next big thing: a building that houses a wormhole or a space-time bending device, allowing him to travel throughout the universe without ever leaving the building.”

“Space Mountain,” Tomorrow Man said, beaming at Bill like a proud father.

“Yeah, Space Mountain,” Bill confirmed. “The third film would involve Morrow’s efforts to take the ideas he and his team have perfected to the wider world and the powers that be trying not only to stop him, but to destroy Tomorrowland for good.” He shrugged, “That’s right off the top of my head, so it could certainly be developed further.” They all seemed quite satisfied.

As it turns out, Disney did, in fact, scrap the plans for that version of Tomorrowland and launched a new project built around the ideas of Walt’s hopeful futurism. (This is not the first idea mentioned by Bill Durmer in the book that has since come true, by the way.) The film is being written by LOST‘s Damon Lindelof and EW columnist Jeff Jensen, and being directed by Brad Bird. I’m a fan of all these guys, so I have high hopes for the film.

Midway Mouse would have had Bill discovering that his spitballed movie idea was closer to reality than he could have dreamed.


Let’s break down the similarities between Midlife Mouse/Midway Mouse and Tomorrowland/”The Optimist”:

  • As we see above, in Midlife Mouse, Bill spitballs an idea about Tomorrowland being a real city of the future (not in the future) run by a reclusive scientist who must team up with two teenagers to save it from nefarious forces.
  • Based on information known so far about Tomorrowland, the film, it will be about a real city of the future (perhaps in an alternate dimension) and a scientist who teams up with two teenagers to save it from nefarious forces.
  • In Midlife Mouse, Bill discovers a secret organization (the Council of the Nine) that includes groups like the Tomorrowlanders and the Small World Society, who have ties to Disney’s work at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.
  • In “The Optimist” ARG, players discover a secret society with ties to Disney’s work at the ’64-65 World’s Fair.
  • In Midway Mouse, Bill would have discovered that his father was part of an even more secret organization that had followed through with Walt’s plans to create Progress City, his original concept for EPCOT.
  • In “The Optimist,” the fictional protagonist has learned that her grandfather was part of a secret society with Walt and that they may have had plans to make Progress City a reality.
  • In the Mouse books, we have One-Eyed Jack, a living animatronic.
  • In “The Optimist,” clues point to the idea that the animatronics created by Disney have intelligence and may be “more than they seem.”
  • In Midlife Mouse (and even more so in Midway Mouse), One-Eyed Jack is referred to often as “the small man” or “little man.”
  • In the Tomorrowland D23 app, the project to advance animatronics beyond what we see in the parks is called “Project Littleman.”
  • In Midlife Mouse, there is a secret WEDway PeopleMover hidden within the PeopleMover ride enjoyed by millions of guests annually.
  • In the Tomorrowland app, there are plans for a secret “ride within a ride” in It’s A Small World.

So, where does that leave me on Midway Mouse? The good news is that the first five or so chapters can remain. Where I go with the story from there will have to change, however. All of this speaks to the fact that Walt Disney left a unique legacy, and many people long to see his dream of EPCOT/Progress City become a reality. To move forward with Midway Mouse, and to be sure that the story is unique, I will need to rely less on actual Disney history and more upon the mythology established in the first book.

As a little teaser, here are some of the questions you should expect to fuel the storyline in Midway Mouse:

  • Would the shareholders of a major corporation really allow an outsider to assume a major leadership position based solely on an alleged prophecy?
  • Where is Bill Durmer three years later, and what is he doing?
  • Despite the advanced (perhaps even futuristic) technology, how can One-Eyed Jack truly be alive?
  • Who made Jack?
  • How did the attractions that confirmed Bill as a candidate actually work?
  • Was the system rigged in his favor?

Follow @midlifemouse on Twitter or like Midlife Mouse on Facebook.

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Life Outside the Boxes: The Quest for the Perfect Category

There are certain questions in life that simply must be answered. “What motivates you?” “What do you believe is the purpose of your life?” “Who ya for?” (That one is particular to the state of Alabama and can only correctly be answered with either “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide.”) And for authors, it’s “What’s your category?”

In a recent review, a reader suggested Midlife Mouse was miscategorized and should be consider YA (young adult). For those unfamiliar with the vagaries of publishing categories, young adult is defined as

… fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent, rather than an adult or child, as the protagonist. Themes in YA stories often focus on the challenges of youth, sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.

Admittedly, I wrote Midlife Mouse with the hope that it would be something families could read together. To that end, I tried to keep the language a “soft PG” and, on the advice of some of my Beta readers, made the verbiage a bit more accessible. Those qualities alone might make it read like a YA novel. So, the point is legitimate in that regard.

However, I don’t believe it is YA. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the average 13-year-old will identify with the struggles of a 39-year-old man going through a premature midlife crisis after failing at his business. Then again, kids do grow up fast these days…

That begs the question: if not a YA novel, what type of novel is it? This is the million-dollar question for every author. (Warning: we’re shifting gears from art to commerce here.) Books, like any other products are most effectively sold when they can be marketed to the specific tastes of customers. If your goal is to go a traditional route by getting an agent and a publishing deal, this is doubly important. In fact, the process of finding an agent and/or publisher begins with finding those who best match the category of your book(s). If you want your book to sell, you should write to a specific category.

I didn’t. I probably never will. I’m stubborn that way.

When I think of Midlife Mouse, I consider it first and foremost a satire. Fortunately, Amazon has a category for satirical fiction, and that’s where the book has performed best. Most stores and book-related sites (like Goodreads) do not. For some reason, humor is a legitimate non-fiction genre, but not so in fiction.

One of my Beta readers pointed out to me early on that he felt the book was primarily a fantasy. There are no dragons, wizards, elves or orcs. So the classic definition of fantasy is out. There are, however, prophecies, spirits and other elements of magical realism that would seem to place the book in the contemporary fantasy category. But it’s not a perfect fit.

One aspect of the book that doesn’t sit well with certain readers is its sympathetic portrayal of protagonist Bill Durmer’s Christian faith. Other readers, who happen to be adherents of Christianity, have reacted favorably to this same aspect.

Does the non-mocking portrayal of Christian characters make it a “Christian book,” then? I am not really a fan of that particular label, but marketers are. Just as an experiment, I have changed my secondary category on the Kindle store to “Christian fiction.” However, just as many non-Christians have enjoyed the book as Christians, and I don’t want to limit its audience.

Since I wrote it with the intention of making it a family novel, perhaps that’s a fitting category. That is, it would be, but the category doesn’t exist. Like humor, it exists only in nonfiction. Once again, I’ve managed to write a book ideally suited to a nonexistent category.

If you look at the Amazon recommendations associated with Midlife Mouse, you will see that most of the people who have purchased the book have also purchased books about Disney history. There is a heaping dose of real Disney company history mixed into the book’s story, but it’s not a history book. It’s not a Disney vacation planning guide or a behind-the-scenes look at “the Magic,” either. There is not even a non-fiction category for Disney-related books, much less fiction. but there probably should be. It’s a big market. (That makes three non-existent categories, for those keeping score at home.)

Then there is the Southern angle. The story is set entirely in the Southeast, with half of it taking place in the fictional Alabama town of Decent Chance. More than just the settings, the book has a decidedly Southern feel. As a native Alabamian writing Southern characters in their Southern towns, it should. As a newbie author, I was surprised to find that there is no category for Southern fiction. To me, it’s as distinct a genre as horror or mystery. (Four.)

Where does that leave me? It leaves me wishing for a category for satirical, semi-Christian, family friendly, light contemporary fantastical, Disney-fied Southern fiction. I’m fairly sure if that category existed, I would totally dominate it.

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Life Outside the Boxes: The Quest for the Perfect Category
Wayne Franklin’s Blog
Wayne Franklin’s Blog

Voluntary Indignities: My Adventure in Self-Publishing, Part 2


Last time, I talked about how I came to the decision to self-publish my first novel, Midlife Mouse. (I could mention that the book is currently on sale for only $1.99 at the Kindle Store, but that would compromise my integrity as a blogger. So, I won’t.) Today, let’s take a look at what that choice meant.

The first question any self-publishing author must ask himself is: What was I thinking? If the answer to that question leads him to continue along the indie publishing path, the second question he must ask is this: What kind of self-publisher am I? These days, the possible answers to that question seem limitless.

It used to be that if one wanted to self-publish, he would employ a so-called vanity publisher. And they are called that because that’s exactly what the traditional publishing industry (and their traditionally published authors) thought of anyone who dared to forego the system. For the most part, they were right. Many vanity published authors were simply rich guys with little to no talent who have decided the world needs to hear what they have to say.

They stand in stark contrast to authors like myself, who are part of the new indie publishing revolution brought about by emerging technologies like e-books and print-on-demand services. We’re poor guys with a modicum of talent who are absolutely certain the world needs to hear what we have to say. Clearly, we have the moral high ground.

There were the occasional success stories from the old world of vanity publishing (the tale of John Grisham peddling a trunkful of copies of A Time to Kill before he was picked up by a publisher comes to mind), but they were few and far between. These days, however, the media jump on every story of a supposedly self-made bestselling author. It would seem that publishing for e-books is this century’s equivalent to the California Gold Rush. Truth be told, those stories are few and far between, too. Most successful self-published authors are like my colleagues Rob Kroese and Stant Litore. Both started out self-publishing and were later picked up by Amazon imprint 47 North. Stant (which is a pen name, by the way) still works his day job while pursuing his epic Zombie Bible series in his spare time. Rob was recently able to leave his old career as a software developer and focus on writing full-time.

Then there are guys like Leonard Kinsey. Leonard made a name for himself as an urban explorer known for his unauthorized “backstage” tours of the Disney parks. He turned his misadventures first into a self-published non-fiction book, The Dark Side of Disney, and then a novel based on some of those ideas. That novel, Our Kingdom of Dust, is like the dark, evil twin of Midlife Mouse … but in a good way. (While Leonard is considered persona non grata by some in the Disney community for his exploits, I should point out he has been nothing but a gentleman toward me: generous, helpful, enthusiastic and supportive of my efforts to publish Midlife Mouse, now on sale for $1.99 on the Kindle Store.) Leonard set up his own publishing imprint and is now publishing the works of other indie authors.

Working from the advice and example of these three authors in particular, I set out on my journey. There were still a multitude of choices to make. Whether or not to publish in e-book format was not one of them. E-books have been the biggest catalyst to the indie publishing revolution. It’s the ultimate democratization of literature, allowing an author to distribute his work to the entire world via the Internet without having to grovel, beg or heel at the boots of publishing industry gatekeepers. More importantly, it’s cheap — cheap for the author and cheap for the reader. So, you just write your book, click a few links and voila! Book published! Right? Not exactly.

First, you must decide which e-book formats to embrace. Stant and Rob, because they are signed with 47 North, are exclusive to the Kindle. That’s not really a problem for them, because the Kindle format is now accessible to so many more devices than just the Kindle e-reader itself. With Barnes & Noble now opening up their NOOK e-reader to Google Play, you can even install the Kindle reader app for Android on that competing device. (So, really there’s no reason any of you should not take advantage of the $1.99 sale on Midlife Mouse. Is there?)

With Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, authors can keep 70% of every sale priced between $2.99 and $6.99. Compare that the to the single-digit percentages first-time authors get with the Big Six publishers, and self-publishing makes even more sense. However, I wanted to make my book available to as many people as possible — and some people just don’t like Amazon. That meant in addition to formatting a version of the book especially for the Kindle, I had to format it for other e-books as well. I also had to figure out the best way to make that happen.

The answer was a service called Smashwords. The name doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s as if the Big Six named this thing themselves, poking fun at vanity publishers’ penchant for pulverizing the language. Visiting the Smashwords store doesn’t help much, either. It’s mostly bad erotica. Midlife Mouse, a family-friendly satirical fantasy, is definitely not erotica. However, Smashwords provides an incredibly valuable service: they distribute your e-book to Kobo, Sony, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Store and others. I just had to remind myself not to send people to the Smashwords site indiscriminately. (Seriously, a whole lot of erotica. It’s embarrassing.)

hot-new-releases2So it was settled. I would publish for the Kindle through KDP and for everything else electronic via Smashwords. (The only major player left out of this equation is the Google Play store, but I’m working on that soon.) Then there were the print editions. Once again, Amazon was the first stop. Through their CreateSpace service, publishing a a paperback is surprisingly easy. Once published, your book is available alongside every other title on Amazon. In my case, I’ve been featured alongside the likes of Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Helen Fielding’s latest tome about that minx Bridget Jones.

However, if you want to get your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores, that could be a problem. Many independent bookstores, unhappy with what they consider unfair practices by Amazon, are refusing to stock CreateSpace-published books. The shortest way around this obstacle is to set yourself up as a publishing company and purchase your own ISBNs. ISBNs are the 10- or 13-digit numbers associated with a particular edition of a particular book. It’s like a cross between a fingerprint and DNA for your book. The ISBN not only tells someone the title and edition of the book, but also the author, publisher and other key metadata. If you get a free ISBN through CreateSpace, then CreateSpace is forever listed as the publisher of that edition. Get an ISBN through your own imprint, and you might have a little more luck getting the local bookstore to stock your title. Is it silly? Yes. Is it arbitrary? Absolutely. Is it something I did? You betcha.

With my paperback and e-book editions all squared away, I began to do some light promotion for the book. I created a Twitter handle and a Facebook page for the book. I created a website with a blog. I started to invite friends to the Facebook page and engage with Disney fans on Twitter. And what was the first question I got? It wasn’t about where to get the paperbacks or what e-book editions I would offer.

It was, “Where can I get a signed hardcover?” Sigh

And with that, I was off on yet another mission in trying to bring this book to reality. Next time, we’ll talk about what I had to do to create a hardcover edition that didn’t end up losing money, and we’ll also take a look at the many missteps I’ve made along the way. In the meantime, buy yourself an entertaining summer read. I could suggest one that is called


“hilarious and brilliantly executed”

“part Big Fish, part Disney lore and all heart”

“filled to the brim with charm and graceful humor”

I could even tell you that it’s only $1.99 for the next week. But that would be in poor taste, so I won’t.

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Voluntary Indignities: My Adventure in Self-Publishing, Part 1

MM-cover2_v6Needless to say, we (and by “we,” I mean “I”) haven’t been posting here much over the last few months. There are a number of reasons for that. Many of them have to do with my efforts to self-publish my first novel, Midlife Mouse (now available at most online retailers, including Amazon).

Why self-publish, you ask? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself with increasing frequency of late. When I was still in the throes of writing, I didn’t think I would self-publish. In fact, an imprint of Simon & Schuster took a liking to the first five chapters of the book and asked for the rest of the manuscript. There was only one problem: there was no rest of the manuscript. (Needless to say, there is a rest of the manuscript now, and you can buy it at most online retailers, including Kobo.)

It took me about three months to finish the book, writing feverishly over the summer of 2010. Once the first draft of the full manuscript was complete, I passed it along to the editor at the imprint. She seemed eager to read it. Then … nothing. Radio silence. She stopped taking my calls. She stopped responding to my emails. It felt like one of those situations where you’re dating someone, and they suddenly learn all your dark, horrible secrets by looking up your name with the Googler and reading your arrest records and all the news stories that you could probably explain away if only you were there with them at the time, but now you’ll never get the chance, because they’ve moved away and changed their phone number and their legal name, and they’ve hired a large Swedish bodyguard named Sven just in case you find them and show up to peek in their windows, just to see if maybe they’ve simply left the phone off the hook. Yeah, it was like that.

To this day, I have no idea if it was something I did. But this editor who had been very high on my writing, based on a five-chapter sample, had suddenly disappeared. Maybe the first word of Chapter Six suddenly changed her opinion. The first word of Chapter Six is the name Katherine, by the way. Maybe the editor had bad associations with the name. Maybe she was attacked by a pack of wild Katherines as a child. It happens.

Then again, perhaps the answer is a darker one. Perhaps she died. I find that many editors lose interest in their work posthumously. It’s a well-known, but rarely discussed reality in the publishing world. Someone should do a documentary.

The process of garnering interest from Simon & Schuster had been so easy, I was convinced that the power of my writing would cause editors and agents alike to swoon (just as it will make you swoon, as soon as you purchase it from one of many online retailers, including Smashwords). I could see the six-figure advances and seven-figure movie deals flowing in like … I don’t know, something that flows. What am I, a writer?

So I started the process of querying. It’s a queer word, querying, and the process itself is even queerer…er. You try to sum up 97,000 words of your blood and sweat and heart and soul in a couple of paragraphs. You try to make yourself seem witty, debonair, charming and exceedingly prolific so as to ensure repeats of your impending success, and you have to make all that happen within a single page. Then, you send it out into the ether. Well, not the ether exactly, but when emailing editors and agents, it seems that way.

In my case, I was very strategic with my queries, only choosing a dozen or so agents to whom to send the work. Those were carefully chosen after weeks of poring over thousands of agency listings that gave some indication of each individual’s tastes in books, previous successes and current needs. I followed them on Twitter and liked their Facebook pages. I read their blogs. There are few things in the world less interesting than a literary agent’s blog, I assure you. I learned their personality quirks, their favorite movies and their shoe sizes. Then I sent out the letters.

Next came my favorite part: the waiting.

No one warns you about the waiting. You’ve spent months — in my case, about three months spread out over the course of a full year — writing your book. You’ve labored and sweated, hoped and fretted like an expectant mother. By the time you finish the work, you are completely convinced that it is simultaneously the most glorious piece of literature ever achieved by mortal man and the most insipid, insignificant wad of twaddle ever slapped on a page. You’ve researched your potential market. You’ve mastered your “elevator pitch” and refined your one-page summary. You’ve prepared yourself for every eventuality. Except the waiting.

Some of those agents I queried rejected me within a couple of weeks. Others within two months. Others still haven’t responded. After two years. More Katherinephobes, no doubt.

From the time I wrote the book to the time I decided to self-publish, I kept myself plenty busy. I created this site (partially inspired by the things I was writing in the book, now available at most online retailers, including Diesel), completed a couple of music documentaries, experienced highs and lows in my TV production business and moved my office and home. Twice. Once time allowed, and it became perfectly clear that some of those agents simply couldn’t be bothered to reject me, I decided to take on the world of self-publishing.

I could have done like many writers have and queried dozens, if not hundreds, more agents. As I read more about some self-publishing successes (like my friend Robert Kroese), I became convinced that self-publishing was a legitimate, and perhaps even preferred, choice for my first novel.

That being said, the thing you need to know about self-publishing is this: in the greater publishing world, self-published authors are regarded as being slightly more respectable than personal injury lawyers but significantly less respectable than your average ex-con. This is odd to me. I come from the film world, where the label “indie” is worn as a badge of honor, proof that you have the chutzpah to eschew the gatekeepers of the industry and sneak your way in through the back. Or simply kick down the gates. Not so in publishing.

Most literary journals still won’t review the works of indie authors. There are literary societies (in my home state of Alabama, for example) that you cannot join, nor can you attend their events, unless you are “traditionally published.” While e-book retailers and print-on-demand services have made self-publishing easier than ever, getting your self-published books in actual brick-and-mortar stores may be harder than ever before. You can reach the entire world by self-publishing through Amazon. But just try getting that Amazon-printed title into your local independent bookseller. (Did I mention that my book, Midlife Mouse, is now available at Amazon among other online retailers? I thought I might have.)

Nevertheless, I took on the challenge. In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a closer look at the sausage-making that is indie publishing. In the meantime, might a recommend a stellar addition to your summer reading? It’s this little book about one Southern man’s midlife crisis. It’s now available at … well, you know the rest.

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New Five-Star Review from Jeffrey Lee!

fivestarsWe always love getting a new 5-star review of Midlife Mouse. Each one is like a little Christmas morning unto itself. You know by the five stars on the wrapping that it’s going to be good, but you have no idea what will be inside.

The latest 5-star review, posted by reader Jeffrey Lee on Amazon, did not disappoint. Jeff turned his focus to an aspect of the book that other reviewers have briefly mentioned, if at all: the weaving of real Walt Disney Company history with the book’s invented mythology.

“The real genius behind this story is the fictional underground World of Disney that Wayne has created for Bill’s journey. Wayne has done such extensive research on the REAL Disney franchise, both historical and current, that when he weaves in the fictional back story you are often not sure where the line has been drawn, which adds to the intrigue of the story and keeps you engaged from front to back.”

To read Jeff’s full review, head on over to Amazon. Buy yourself something pretty while you’re there. There’s a certain book we could recommend…

Follow @midlifemouse on Twitter or like Midlife Mouse on Facebook.

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Hear Author Wayne Franklin on The Bookcast!

Wayne-w-MickeyIf any of you have ever wondered what Midlife Mouse author Wayne Franklin sounds like (and really, who hasn’t?), now’s your chance to find out. Wayne was recently interviewed by host Bill Thompson for The Bookcast, a podcast dedicated to interviews of indie authors.

Now all of your burning questions can be answered: Does Wayne have a Southern accent? Does he lisp, because he writes like a lisper? Does he pronounce the word “oil” as “earl”? Does he even say the word “oil” in the interview, so we’ll know?

The answers to all these questions and more await you on the Midlife Mouse edition of The Bookcast.

Follow @midlifemouse on Twitter or like Midlife Mouse on Facebook.

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