April 28, 2011

God's (Book) Country

So I've had two really good posts all week but I've been so busy at work. In my off hours, I've been spending time at Book Country. It's a place for authors, aspiring and successful, to gather and share and critique. It reminds me of Authonomy without the used-car mentality or critique.org with less strict tit-for-tat rules. Or Critters (or at least what I've seen of Critters since my application went unanswered). It's in open beta right now which means there's still plenty of room for improvement. But they have a healthy attitude and a positive community approach. So far I'm enjoying myself.

April 24, 2011

Speak More

The first novel I ever finished is titled BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE. While it needs some tweaking, I still enjoy it. I actually read a few chapters a month or so back because I was in that type of mood. I posted chapter 2 (which should be chapter 1) to Liz Poole's 50-follower blogfest. Of the people that read this blog now, only LurkerWithout has read the entire story. Much like THE TRIAD SOCIETY, I have avoided writing a sequel because the first was never published (though it did receive a full request). This is also the novel that got compared to Percy Jackson, which upsets me even a year later since the two only have two things in common, that Greek gods are somehow involved in some way somehow in the plot and that they're both written in English.

I was watching the new "Clash of the Titans" movie with incredibly low expectations. The production value was surprisingly good. They put a lot into effects, setting, and makeup. Even the actors involved pull down some serious dollars. Too bad the writing wasn't up to snuff. It got me thinking, though. I had been asked for a sequel to the story for some time. I had a ghost story in mind, but really it was weak tea. Maybe a short story1. But then I'm watching this movie and I start wondering if the fates show up, the Moirae, the three women with golden sheers who apportion a person's thread of life.

Then I started thinking of a woman in a dingy New York high rise sitting at a typewriter, chain smoking and guzzling bourbon. Ham up all the classic stereotypes. Except she's not a wannabe writer. She's a Moirae (whose name is Moira). BEST SELLERS AND BARBECUE SAUCE.

No plot yet, but there's a seed there. I think I'll plant it and let it grow.


1 Which, funny enough, is how BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE was first born.

April 22, 2011

A Disturbing Thought

So if you don't make it out of the slush pile, you're most likely getting the ax by the assistant tasked with grinding the slush. Assuming the assistant wants to be an agent someday down the road, not only are you getting rejected by the agent you queried, you're getting rejected by an agent from the future! Double the rejection, double the fun1?

It's like Jet Li's "One"2 but for querying.


1 Rejection from the Spearmint twins would be easier as it would be wholly expected.

2 Which is a lame sci-fi reinterpretation of Highlander. I prefer Li in his kung fu roles like Hero, Fearless, and Forbidden Kingdom.

April 21, 2011

Ooo New Name

I don't spend a lot of time on series names. Sometimes I see people get so consumed with the idea and scope of their trilogy/series that they don't actually focus on the novel in front of them and actually write the damn thing. They're too busy thinking theirs will be the next Wheel of Time or something. But, when I have time to think on it, I'll come up with a name for no other reason than to have a folder to keep all my files in.

For THE TRIAD SOCIETY and its two sequels (THE RED SOCK SOCIETY and THE HOOK AND HAMMER SOCIETY), I had been calling the trilogy "The Reliarachic Societies." Reliarach is the kingdom these books take place in and having the adjectival be "Reliarachic" seemed appropriately difficult, much like the kingdom itself. But even I'm having trouble pronouncing it and was thinking of changing it to Reliarish or something like that.

Then I'm rereading THE TRIAD SOCIETY (damn that's a fine story) and I read a line that I wrote, "If this keeps up, they'll call us the Reliarich Society" and the lightbulb turned on bright and blinding. Well, duh. Society should be singular! Reliarach Society! That's perfect!

I like when I have a name that fits. It's like a warm blanket on a cool autumn evening.

April 20, 2011

The Five-Step Procedural

I do not write mystery/thriller, so I have no idea if what I'm about to say applies to the written word. That kind of question is better served by Jennifer Hillier. But it was the procedural drama that ended my 5-year hiatus from television1. Now the best procedurals on television today (or at least over the last decade) keep their freshness by exploring new facets of their characters. The crimes (and overall plot) follow a predictable format each episode, which can help you figure out the whodunnit before the end of the show2.

Step 1: The Crime - Show us the body. This may even include the actual murder, but usually is a "slice of life" moment where a woman or a couple stumble on a body and the woman screams. This is the piece you get before the opening credits. Also the first bit after the credits where the medical examiner arrives, takes liver temperature, tells you time of death, and the investigators point out any clues that you need to keep in mind for later. This is a lot of telling not showing...or would be if it wasn't television where they're showing you everything.

Step 2: The Science - Cue musical montage, quirky lab techs, and lots of pseudo-medical jargon that makes real medical professionals roll their eyes (or occasionally applaud in appreciation of the accuracy). This is also where criminal professionals cringe as what is happening might be scientifically possible but not in that time frame or on their budget. Lots of computers and flasks and analyzers. If you're watching NCIS, they'll have the body cut open and you can see a few internal organs. This is where the people that don't carry guns (unless you're on CSI) start telling you a bunch of stuff that basically narrows the focus down to only a few possible suspects. This is also when the people who carry guns (same people if you're on CSI) interrogate people and get their first suspect.

Step 3: The Twist - Oh no! Newfound evidence provides an alibi for primary suspect. New information comes to light that changes the motive of the crime, calls into question the victimization of the corpse, or in some way broadens the scope of the investigation so that everything has to be questioned again. Boss person or hot head detective/investigator will lose his temper here. He'll posture, maybe hit his fist on the table and threaten. But witnesses will all point fingers at each other so now anyone can be guilty. Whatever shall we do!

Step 4: The Chase - We have the break in the case we need! Grab your guns and your cars and let's go drive recklessly! We will not call for backup or in any way coordinate with the local squad cars or if we do, none of them will be able to accomplish anything other than chasing us or possibly hitting a parked car and flipping upside down. There may be a foot chase or a gun fight. Someone might get nicked. If you're one of the good guys, you might look like you got shot, but don't worry, it only hit your vest so get back out there! Oh, you were too slow. The villain got away. But the chase revealed the information you need. Now one of you knows the whodunnit. You're not going to tell anyone else, though, because if you didn't orchestrate the person's capture and then reveal their identity Scooby-Doo style, how would any of your peers know that you're better than them?

Step 5: The Capture - Through guile and wit, you trick the villain into a carefully laid trap, not only apprehending the criminal, but eliciting a confession as well. Criminals are the talkingest people out there. Shut up and get a lawyer. A lot of the time, their evidence is purely circumstantial and then you go blabbing and do yourself in (a la every episode of Monk or Psych3 ever made). Finally we get the reveal and it is...one of the non-main characters you've met this episode. The criminal is NEVER someone you haven't met before because it makes the entire thing seem like a total waste of time. If you haven't had a chance to try and guess, that's cheating. It breaks the unspoken rule between viewer and procedural drama that you should have the chance to guess before the villain is revealed. (Every so often, it's a double-twist where the original twist-causing witness is in fact the villain having sent the investigators on a wild goose chase.)

And thus, justice is meted out over our fair city!


1 So I quit watching TV in 99 and totally missed Firefly and the West Wing. I saw both on DVD and worried I had missed other awesome programming (I had not). Then I saw a commercial while I was at Burger King for a new show called Numb3rs. This looked awesome. I bought some rabbit ears for my TV and checked it out. I then saw "Call of Silence" from season 2 of NCIS and was totally hooked. I devoured TV for awhile until I got bored with almost all of it4. NCIS seemed the only procedural that cared more about its characters than the crime (or at least it did until Shane Brennan took over then that show went to crap and I stopped watching).

2 Unless one of the good guys becomes the bad guy. This will happen at the end of season 2 or 3 or if they last, around season 7 or 8 to reinvigorate the franchise. Oh no, didn't see that coming! If a case goes unsolved, it will either be a recurring villain used for multiple season finales (or mid-season breaks) or it will be one of the investigators.

3 Don't get me wrong. I love Psych and own every season on DVD but most of those criminals would go free if they didn't confess.

4 I still watch Castle every week. That's the only show I make sure to watch weekly.

April 19, 2011

Pacing, Fantasy, Authors, and Agents

I received feedback on one of my manuscripts from an author. She said the pacing at the beginning was too slow. It had been an issue during earlier drafts and I had thought I had resolved it to my satisfaction. I do not immediately agree with feedback from an agent and I don't believe you should either. You should take it for the seasoned, experienced advice that it is and then decide what's best for your story. In the end, you're the author after all.

But remember, they are seasoned and experienced (assuming they are seasoned and experienced, otherwise I can't help you there). Do not dismiss their comments because it doesn't jive with your original vision. An agent's feedback is A-list beta reading. Think of it that way. A strong recommendation to help you make the best choice possible.

It took me awhile to see it, but I finally saw where I went wrong. The pacing was off and I knew just which chapter needed to be rewritten to fix it. In fact, I there must have been a concern there from the beginning because some indescribable concern I had about that part of the book resolved itself as soon as the chapter was rewritten.

The trick is, while the agent was correct that the pacing was an issue, I don't agree with the degree to which the agent said content needed to be cut to resolve the pacing. That's making me nervous. I'm about to go back to the agent and say, "I've rewritten this part of the story and tightened things up, really improved the pacing." But if she does not agree, then that is the end of the line with that opportunity (and it's a good opportunity which is why I'm nervous).

The trick is, I know this is right. I've ditched some setting background, a little more than I would have liked, but it does improve the pacing. A lot of it was able to be shucked off and some can be introduced in later books if I have a chance to write them. Even if this opportunity ends, it made for a better book. The best book, really. Without concrete feedback that says x, y, z, I have reached my capacity for abstract revision. This is the story I want to tell.

It reminds me of a blog post Kristin Nelson made last week about her feedback to an author and how she could not quantify her concerns for the pacing. Ted Cross mentioned in the feedback that fantasy was getting shoehorned into pacing models for other genres. While I'm hesitant to allow an entire genre be an exception to a rule, in this case, I agree with Ted. At least somewhat. There are plenty of anecdotal examples of slower pacing still available in fantasy, but rarely are those examples first-time authors. New fantasists have a run-and-gun structure to their stories. Is it because of the stories we grew up on? The MTV effect? Or is it the industry imposing those standards on a genre? Or is the fan base of said genre wanting something new?

It could be all or none of those things. Sometimes I wonder if agents who represent multiple platforms might have some leakage, some preconceptions based on their work with MG/YA that imposes itself on fantasy where the world is sometimes as important as the story. (Incidentally, I don't like those books. I want the story to be more important than the world.)

I don't think it's one thing. I think it's a lot of things. A big Venn diagram of things. But I lament the difficulty of creating a slower work. Sometimes it's good to feel a story inhale and breathe life into a whole new world and culture.

For those of you who read fantasy, have you noticed anything similar? And for those of you who read other genres, have you noticed anything like that in your chosen genres?

April 18, 2011

Websites

Taken from Roni Loren's website this has to be the wittiest comic panel I've seen in awhile.



Roni is redesigning her site and like so many authors is not a web designer. I am not either. I work in media, but I am a project manager. I hire people to design content for me. This means I have more coding skill than the average mope, but I don't build from scratch1. I can modify html, xml, css, php, etc, but to varying degrees. This is why my website is hosted by webs.com. They're templates and design package worked for me when I first built my website.

Now Lori and a number of other people I know simply use a blog as their website. This is doable. I've seen it done well. More often than not, it looks like a blog and I think authors should have genuine websites that are designed with a web presence mindset and not a journaling mindset. You are selling yourself and you need to provide information beyond your daily posting and a brief "about" paragraph. This is possible in blogs like Blogspot that allows multiple pages, but all those pages are built in a blog design style as well and I'm just not a fan. That is why I have this blog but also my website. Once I have actual books to sell, the Inkwell page will not just be a collection of everything I've written but an actual splash of commercial awesome.

The problem with webs is that it is not keeping pace with the evolution of media. Its HTML features and abilities are limited and the pages are constrained to custom formatting only if I use tables2 which makes mobile viewing look like crap.

I've thought about moving, but that means revising my website and taking valuable time away from writing while not having anything new to offer. It also means paying someone else. The sites I'm seeing that offer me more what I want to create have a higher monthly cost. I'm frustrated that I can't use iframes3 on my page, but not so frustrated that I'll double my monthly hosting page.

What about you? Do you have a website or just your blog? What made you choose one or the other and where you decided to host it?

I did a "how to build your website" post a long time back. Maybe I'll bring it back as a redux. Incidentally, if you don't own [your name].com, go do that right now. Sure you may not need it for awhile, but the last thing you want is to need it and someone else has already taken it. Grab it for a year, save up, and then renew for nine. A domain name is different than hosting. It is much cheaper. Consider it on the same level of investment for your career as a computer.


1 Trick of the trade, designers rarely build from scratch either. They have templates or previous builds that they repurpose to save themselves time.

2 Mobile is the future and tables are the past. If you're using tables, your website is akin to something you would have seen nearly a decade ago. It certainly doesn't display well on a smart phone. It's time to consider mobile when you're making your web building decisions.

3 An iframe is the window you see in web pages when something is embedded, like a youtube video. It used to be an object tag < object >, but that had a lot of additional code required. iframes are quick, easy, and clean, so you can imagine my disappointment that I can't use them in my website.

April 17, 2011

GOO! (Re: Fraggle Rock)

I was cycling through the new offerings on Netflix for instant streaming. They just closed a lot of big deals and there is a lot of new content. And what do I find? Fraggle Rock. Not just a few episodes, oh no. ALL OF IT. ALL. OF. IT!!!!

This almost makes up for the time I missed the Amazon sale of the entire series for $20. My inner child is so happy he could weep. Time to go watch Cantus and the traveling minstrels!

April 15, 2011

Being Factual in an Alt History Story

I've been doing a lot of research for PATAPAN. I've nailed down most of what I needed (or what I didn't already have). I am taken aback by how many people are shocked that I would do research for an alternate history story. I'm changing the history as it's been taught to us. It's important that I get as many details as I can accurately so that readers can understand the points I'm changing are intentional changes and not just errors on the author's part.

Sure not everyone who reads it will be so into history that they know more about Benedict Arnold than he was a traitor and possibly at West Point. But it seems lazy to just write about history without keeping factual when I don't intentionally change things. A few train rides digging through Wikipedia refreshing what I already knew is enough to keep a novel set in the Missouri Territory ringing with honesty.

The story is set in the town of Arnold, Missouri just southwest of Saint Louis. The town is real (an exurb of the city) but was not founded at the time the story is set. I am writing a scene right now and the main character and his friends are crossing the river to Saint Louis. I'm curious how many people will think I've made a mistake or believe it's a change I've made for the story. Saint Louis at the time of the Louisiana Purchase was actually part of the Illinois Territory and not part of the Missouri Territory.



Here's a bit of history trivia for you. The Mississippi River didn't always flow the way you see it on a map today. The Army Corps of Engineers actually moved it, turning it from the west side of Saint Louis to the east side. If you ever go to Saint Louis and you hear about an area called Westport, you might be confused because there isn't any water nearby for a port. Well now you know. Saint Louis was the gateway to the west because leaving it crossed the Mississippi into the wild frontier (rather than being the first city you come to in the frontier as would be the case if it had been on the west side of the river).

April 12, 2011

Anything but Perfect

I'm working on a new wip and I think I've made a few mistakes in the opening chapters. Specifically, I've introduced the romantic interest a little early maybe? Or maybe I did not. I'm not quite sure yet. And you know what? It doesn't matter. Well, it matters a little based on where I go next with it, but in the long run, it doesn't matter. Why? Because I'm writing a first draft. There is a simple rule for first drafts: finished is better than good.

The purpose of the first draft is to build the framework of the house, not to build yourself a mansion that gets showed on MTV's "Cribs." It's going to suck. It will always suck. You don't publish your first draft. Never publish your first draft. You need to publish something that is mind-blowingly awesome and that is not your first draft. If you try to make something mind-blowingly awesome with your first draft, you will never finish.

All of you, I would wager, have done this when you first started to write professionally. You wrote your introductory chapters. Then you revised them and wrote a few more chapters. Then you went back and revised again. And again. And again. You just needed to get it right and that would make the rest of the book better. It was an investment, you would tell yourself. If I can make the beginning perfect, then I won't take any wrong turns later on.

Your first draft is anything but perfect. Accept that and soldier on. Don't revise the chapter you just finished. Write the one that comes after then the one that comes after that and the one that comes after that. At some point you'll get to the end of your story and then you can go back and revise.

Writing a manuscript does not make for an awesome novel. Revising a manuscript makes for an awesome novel.

April 6, 2011

Impacted: A Meme

A forum I frequent started a meme today. Write as a scene a memory that informed your life. My response was a little longer than I felt appropriate for a forum, so I decided to put it here instead.

April 5, 2011

GOO! (RE: He-Man)

I often site the original He-Man mini-comics that came with the toys as one of the largest influences of my writing career. It's very true. I was five when I was allowed to buy my first He-Man figure and those comics stirred a creativity in me that I had never known before.

...AND NOW THEY'RE ONLINE!!!!!!!!!!!

You must go read them all right now. Then you will want to write fantasy too!

The site is alphabetical. They're better in order of release. Here are the first four when He-Man was more Conan and less television cartoon product:

April 4, 2011

Reevaluating the Briar Patch

I have--to this point--been consistent regarding my opinion of self-publishing and its relevance to my own career. That opinion has not been very positive. For all the anecdotal examples that are bandied about the internet of self-publishing success, the majority of self-published work (in my own anecdotal exploration) is atrociously bad. Of course it is. There are no quality controls on self-publishing. You write it. You publish it. It's out there. It is only as good as your talent, skill, and editing can make it.

Conceding this front, the "self-publishing is the New Publishing" argument has moved to revenue. I've seen Amanda Hocking's name everywhere, but nowhere have I seen an assessment of the quality of her work, only that she's made a lot of money. And despite some popular blogs claiming that the one proves the other, here in this blog we know that to be a load of crap and will not tolerate the claim during intelligent debate.

Having friends who have already self-published, my pursuit of traditional publication was immediately met with questions of why I just wasn't self-publishing. My assertion (and one I continue to make) is that pursuing traditional publishing makes you a better author. While I've always been the best in any group environments I've participated in (classes, organizations, writing groups), this is the big wide world here and the internet has brought the best together. I am not the cream of that pile. Not yet, at least, but that's where I want to be. Self-publishing offers no hurdles, no comparative challenge for me to improve or a yardstick in which to measure that improvement. I want to query, find an agent, and sell my book preferably at auction because I have improved to the point where my work is something worth arguing over.

There is the persistent briar patch of writing and rejection, however. Writing is subjective, every agent will tell you (often including it in their form rejection). It may not be that your query or your book were bad so much as it was it simply didn't appeal to them. With the dwindling number of fantasy agents out there (not counting urban fantasy because I don't write it), the sample size is incredibly small. If your book doesn't appeal to twenty people, you're pretty much done with that cycle.

At the same time, it's an easy excuse to avoid looking critically at your own work. Was it simply a matter of taste or were you not good enough? Was your query bad? Was your book bad? Are you writing derivative, unoriginal work? Are you cliche? Irrelevant? Contrived?

It is a fine line between losing to subjectivity and losing to not being good enough (a line I find most people miss, opting for the latter scenario rather than the former).

Elsewhere in the briar patch is consistent theme or style. Do you pursue stories that run against the grain in that it could find an audience but has greater difficulty finding an advocate in a diminishing market? Are you simply too outside what is accepted? You see that one a LOT. But does that mean it can't be true? Again, a thorny question with an answer that could be one side of the coin or another.

Self-publishing as a response to rejection is avoidance, I think. The answers could be true that you are good enough and just too far out there but that a market awaits you if you only had a chance. Absolutely. But too many people use those excuses for me to ever make such a claim and actually believe myself.

That brings us back to the Konrath/Hocking Paradigm. Self-publishing as a form of superior revenue generation. There's too much anecdotal argument here for anyone not to cling to whatever argument they want to believe. But given the sheer volume of self-publication, I think if it were the superior money maker across the board, that picture would be clearer to all who looked at it.

There's a but to this. You've known it was coming since my first sentence. My company made an announcement on Thursday, one I don't know was public or internal so I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say, i've had a long-standing opinion of where publishers needed to go to survive the ePocalypse, forming their own markets and improving author royalties on ebooks. The announcement effectively turned us in the opposite direction.

Now, I'm not running around with my arms above my head saying publishing is doomed. For all its glacial pace publicly, privately publishing moves very fast. New ideas begin and die before they ever come to fruition. Five different strategies for the same solution may begin simultaneously, allowing the strongest to survive. This new direction may not make it out of the year. But if it does, if it becomes the norm, I may throw my hands above my head and start saying publishing is doomed.

This is an important moment in publishing's evolution with powerhouses positioning themselves for the future of the industry. For the first time in the past couple years, this is the first time I've seen one of the big six intentionally adjust its strategy in a way I feel cedes market positioning to a rival.

If it continues down this path, the pressure will cause the company to buckle. Amazon's 70% will represent nearly three times the royalty rate offered by traditional publishers while securing its massive dominance of the book market through digital distribution.

Sure the 70% thing's been going on for awhile, but this new pivot has caused me to sit up and take notice. In addition to becoming a better author, I've been pursuing traditional publishing with the expectation that the industry would win out in the end. This is the first sign that I might have bet on the wrong horse.

As such, for the first time ever, I'm genuinely considering self-publishing as a viable course for my career. I'm still querying agents and pursuing traditional publishing, but I'm open to alternatives. I just have to walk through the briar patch and answer some hard questions.

April 1, 2011

Big 5-0

Elizabeth Poole has passed 50 followers on her blog, leaving us little 15 subscriber folks in the dust! In celebration of this milestone, she has called for a blog fest! Take your older writing and post it to show what kind of writers we used to be! Now I've lost a lot of my older stuff over the course of repeated moves in my immediate post-college career. You can still listen to my short story "The End of Bliss".

So with that in mind, CONGRATULATIONS LIZ!

I thought I would instead post chapter two from my first completed novel, BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE. It did not get picked up by an agent because its main character is Poseidon. He's a thief. I'm told this makes the story too much like Percy Jackson. Read the following chapter and tell me if you agree.