Monday, March 28, 2011

Vox Populi - Or you know, your character's voices. Whichever

So there’s been a lot of hullabaloo made of late about that ever so elusive ‘Voice’ thing.  So being the trendy monkey that I am, and that people seem to be saying they think I’m halfway decent at it, I’m-a gonna follow up on that whole ‘Know your Strengths’ post of mine and write a little about my voice-ifying methods.  Hang on to your hats, folks.  This isn’t likely to get pedantic AT ALL.

So let’s start off slow.  What exactly is voice?  I think lots of people define it differently, but I’ve always found it easiest to relate it to dialogue, as to me they go hand in hand.  The voice is the narrator’s internal dialogue.  So by extension, a strong voice evolves naturally from strong dialogue.  In my not always humble opinion, you can’t separate the two.

So how do you go about getting better at dialogue?  You absolutely have to know your target audience of course – are you writing for kids, teens, or residents of nursing homes?  Whichever demographic it is – how much time do you spend around them?  Do you know how they talk?  Take a minute some time to just lurk, all creepy like, around members of your target audience.  Eavesdrop shamelessly.  Take notes!  Just try not to do it in a way that will, you know, get you arrested by the police for being a middle aged creeper lurking around a high school campus.  If you have kids, listen in on their phone conversations instead and when they protest tell them ITS FOR THEIR OWN GOOD AND THAT’S FINAL. 

Writing AND parenting tips today.  I’m on a roll.

Once you’ve got some stolen dialogue to review in your head, insert your characters into the conversation.  You’re writing about sassy teen girls at the mall?  Listen to some sassy teen girls at the mall.  Play that conversation back in your head.  And then just drop one of your characters into the middle of the conversation and see if you can keep it going.  Does your character fit?  Does she sound the same as the other girls?  If not, what can you do to tweak her dialogue, to fit in more?

When you’re confident your main character sounds like members of the audience you’re writing for, with authentic speech patterns and little character quirks – have them start telling their story.  Pretend you’re not writing for eventual editors and readers.  Pretend he or she is just relating their story to a group of their peers, like venting, or confiding.  Your narrator isn’t telling their story just for the sake of telling it.  That’s flat narration, and boring.  It stays on the page.  Even if you never actually spell it out, your protagonist has a PURPOSE to their story.  What is their reason for sharing it, for telling it?  Forget about your place as the author invisibly pulling puppet strings for a moment – you ARE your narrator, this is YOUR story – why are you telling it?  What do you want from your audience?  Do you want a sympathetic ear?  Do you want forgiveness or absolution from your audience?  Do you want advice, do you want to give a warning, or are you trying to prove a point?

Pull out a couple of your manuscripts and read the first couple of pages and ask yourself – what does your narrator want from the reader, and does that come through in the narration?

Next step in voice-ifying.

An active character is ALWAYS better than a passive one.  This is as true in narration as it is in dialogue and actual – well, action.  You don’t want your narrator to just deliver pertinent information.  Kill two birds with one stone.  Have them react to it as well.  If you’re giving information that doesn’t garner an emotional response from your character, why would it garner an emotional response from your reader?  And if it isn’t meant to garner a response, how necessary is it?  Sure, you need to include little details about your world and your plot to have a fully fleshed out manuscript, but to have a fully fleshed out world and plot, remember that your character, just like a human being, does not live in a vacuum.  He or she reacts to everything around them, everything that affects them.  In small ways just as much as large ones.

In Dust to Dust, its important that the reader learn that Micah’s from a family of magical children, each with their own unique gifts.  But its equally important that the reader learn how this affects him.  So yeah.  I could have introduced that information like this:

A midnight black hand reached for my ankle, but like all my siblings I had my own magic.  Trent could kill with shadows. Serena could drown you with your own tears. Alice walked through mirrors, Dennis could pull blood from a stone.  Instead, I pulled dust from every corner of the room and it stormed the air in furious clouds.

Yawnsville.

Instead, just give Micah an emotional reaction to being just one of many uniquely gifted siblings.

A midnight black hand reached for my ankle and I tapped my own magic. Dust raced from every corner of the room and stormed the air in furious clouds. The shadows kept coming, undeterred - and Mom wondered why I had insecurity issues.  Trent could kill with shadows. Serena could drown you with your own tears. Alice walked through mirrors, Dennis could pull blood from a stone, but me? Oh yeah. Fear the mystic might of my magical dust bunnies!

It’s the exact same information, but suddenly, the narrator is insecure and uses sarcasm to cover that. 

Not to mention it’s the easiest way I know to fake-out the dreaded info dump.  Pull your three favorite books off the shelf, the ones with narrators that grabbed hold of you the tightest, and get a notebook.  Flip through different parts of the book, and look at how they impart information in specific scenes.  How did they show you what their surroundings looked like?  How did they tell you what they themselves looked like?  How did they describe their love interests, their enemies, and their central conflict?  You’re not looking for the words they used, or the language, but the HOW, the delivery system.  Look at how a narrator with a strong voice describes a monster – and how they weave their emotional response to that monster into that information.  Then look at your own manuscripts.  Are you doing the same thing?  How could you do it better?

Now for the biggie.

Diversifying your voice.

This is especially crucial with first person POVs.  First person POVs are awesome.  They’re like cheating!  First person POV is literally tailor made for getting you right into your protag’s head and talking with their voice.  The danger here is that it makes it very easy to mistake your character’s voice for YOUR voice.  When everything you’re writing is I said this or I did that, it’s easy for the line to blur between your character and you and bits of you to start leaking into your character’s voice.  Different 1st person manuscripts start to sound alike.

So how do you differentiate? 

Insert the NAKED MAN TEST.

I put it all in capitals because it’s that excellent.

The trick of a unique voice lies in knowing your character inside and out, all of his or her little quirks – the things that make them stand out.  Everyone reacts to the same situations differently.  We say hello in our own unique styles, introduce ourselves differently, approach conversations differently.  We might have the same butt-kicking demon slaying powers, but a demon comes at us, and we’re all gonna react differently.

HOWEVER.  We don’t always react THAT differently.  Most of us are still going to introduce ourselves with a casual hello.  We approach conversations similarly, the standard rules of society and etiquette don’t have us as perfect clones of one another, but given that their whole purpose is to streamline interactions so that radically different people can find common ground, they aren’t the best place to start when trying to make your character different.

So skip the little day to day stuff, and test your characters with extreme, radical, completely off the wall scenarios and see how they react to THAT.

The naked man test is so named because the premise is simple:  dump your character, male or female, good or bad, young or old, in a room with a naked man and see how they react.  And err, keep in mind, this test was not designed for MG writers, so use your own judgment and adjust the parameters accordingly please.

But you get the idea, right?  It’s such a ludicrous, out of the blue, unprecedented scenario that there’s no pre-programmed rules or etiquette for how to deal with such a situation.  Your character has no choice but to react honestly.  Do they ridicule them?  Are they embarrassed for them?  Are they insulted, offended, just completely weirded out?  Are they more concerned with what might have happened to the man that he’d be in this situation in the first place, do they show this concern honestly or mask it with humor or do they huddle up in a corner and rock back and forth because they’re so freaked out by full frontal male nudity? 

Then take that character out of the room and dump another character in.  Do they react the same way?  If so, ask yourself, do you really KNOW your characters, are they fully fleshed out, or are you just having them react to your plot and your story the same way YOU would react to it?

And finally, for a last test, take the first page of your manuscript, like the 250 word sample of Dust to Dust I posted last week.  Swap your main character out for the main character of another one of your manuscripts, and see how it reads.  The idea is to change as few words and lines as possible – while shifting the story to fit your other MC properly.  Less is more.  You want your voice strong enough to shine through in just a spare line here, a little emotion there.

The main character of my adult urban fantasy - Good Intentions - is named Carter Daniels.  He’s pretty much everything Micah isn’t.  They’re both fairly snarky, yes, they use sarcasm in similar ways.  But where Micah is self-deprecating, Carter is egotistical.  Where Micah’s insecure, Carter thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Which he’d probably try to convince you he invented.  So let’s take a look at what happens if I were to write Carter as the main character of Dust to Dust, with the same backstory as Micah, the same age, the same powers – but keeping his own unique voice and personality.  The real version, in Micah's voice, is HERE.  Then read Carter's version right here.

**************

For my sixteenth birthday, my idiot brother tried to kill me again.

I was at Starbuck’s getting a celebratory scone when the shadows peeled off the walls and came for me. I yawned and used the fat Wall Street exec next to me for a shield. The hot chick I’d been eyeing as a birthday present to myself turned, eyebrows raised over heavily made up eyes.  Her perfect lips parted and I waited for her to breathe her phone number to me.  Wait, nope, that was actually her screaming because magic shadows were slashing through the fabric of her Grateful Dead t-shirt.  Well, I suppose the knight in shining armor routine could help set the mood.  Thanks for the assist, big bro.

I grabbed her leg and yanked her down to the floor with me. Terror was the coffee shop's new special of the day as patrons and employees stampeded towards the lone exit. I suffered a few accidental kicks while crab-walking me and my damsel in distress under the nearest table. Which was of course brimming with shadows.

Hmm.  Might not have thought that one all the way through.

A midnight black hand reached for my ankle and I tapped my own magic. Dust raced from every corner of the room and shaped itself into the knife it’d once been part of.  I slashed at the shadows and they reared back, startled.  Typical.  The others were always so impressed with themselves.  Ooh Trent could kill with shadows.  Serena could drown you with your own tears.  Alice walked through mirrors, Dennis could pull blood from a stone, but me? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Everything came from dust.  Everything returned to it.  Do I really need to spell it out?  Fear the mystic might of my magical dust bunnies, suckers!






******************


So.  Anyone else want to play?  Its fun, I promise!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Importance of Being Egotistical - Or Earnest (Whichever)

First off, I want to just wave to all the new people (waves) and say thanks tremendously to the AMAZING responses I've been getting to Dust to Dust, both here, at Brenda's blog, and at MissSnarksFirstVictim's Secret Agent Contest.  Wait.  That's three places.  Both does not apply.  I'M A WRITER NOT A MATHEMATICIAN WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!?!  But seriously.  Y'all are blowing me away.  I'm blushing here.  Seriously.  Possible spontaneous combustion is in the forecast, there's so much heat in my cheeks.

Which brings me to today's topic, or: The Importance of Ego.

This of course comes with a big, heaping helping of caveat, because as with all aspects of writing and being a writer, less is more. 

But the fact of the matter is, writing - as with any creative pursuit - ultimately boils down to subjectivity.  There is no quantitative formula to measure how successful a writer is at his or her craft.  A New York Times bestseller averaging seven figure advances can be criticized for the quality of their work, while a critically acclaimed award winner can struggle to move more than five thousand copies of a book.  Which is more successful?  Even the measuring stick by which we judge ourselves is entirely subjective, so how can we possibly give equal weight to every reviewer, agent, editor, reader and piece of criticism or praise they levy our way?

Simple answer:  We can't.

Realistic answer:  We creative types are inherently neurotic beasts, and thus rational objectivity does not help when the blog with ten followers hacks our precious book to shreds, the Dream Agent tells us our manuscript is too rough to publish, or our mother hesitates just a second too long before reassuring us 'No, really, I love this!  It's your best work yet!'

And that is where the ego comes in.  Because it is OKAY and even necessary to have it in appropriate doses.  This is a business where you need to believe in yourself first and foremost, because if you can't convince yourself that you have a worthwhile product, then how can you expect to convince an agent and an eventual readership of that?  Some say you need to have a thick skin to work in a creative field, but I don't know that that's precisely accurate.  You don't want to just shrug off negative feedback that comes your way.  By doing that, you keep yourself from growing or benefiting from the parts of their feedback that are accurate, even if they're not framed in the most constructive way.  Instead of focusing on cultivating a thick skin, cultivate genuine confidence in your strengths.  That way you can hear criticism and soak it in, make use of it - without detracting from the things you know you're good at.

Of course, easier said than done.

Slight hop, skip and a jump over to put on my actor hat for a second:  True story - I once had two auditions in the same day.  For the first audition, I was told to my face (very few casting directors believe in sugar coating things, hah) that I was too ugly for the part.  For the second audition, not two hours later, I was told that I was too attractive for the part.  Insert slight confusion.

But of course, skip to the end of the day, and which was I obsessing over?  The casting director who'd told me I was too ugly.  Doesn't matter that not two hours later I'd been told I was too attractive for a role - that was out of sight, out of mind.  Instead, I was obsessing over this one particular casting director and a role I didn't even really want that bad, and her entirely subjective judgment call on something I couldn't change even if I wanted to.  On the surface, I said I was over it, I'd dismissed it, I had a thick skin.  With my friends I laughed it off, made jokes about her being bitter and came up with scenarios that would explain that kind of reaction, made me look good and her look very very bad.  But really, all that proved was I didn't actually have a thick skin at all.  It meant no matter what I SAID, it actually bothered me very much.  When our first reaction to criticism - deserved or not - is to lash out or hit back, we should always stop and think for a second - you know, there's GOT to be a better way to respond to this.  And sometimes, the best thing is to not respond at all.

And that's where genuine confidence comes in, and why there's no substitute for it.  And why its okay to be a little egotistical.  False modesty isn't actually modesty at all.  Find your strengths.  Hone in on them.  And believe in them, and hold tight to them.  If you KNOW you write kick-ass characters and you get negative feedback on your plot you can say, honestly and securely - okay, this guy didn't like my plot.  That doesn't mean I'm a bad writer, because I still KNOW I write kick-ass characters and he didn't say anything about that, so let me take a look at this plot and see if I can make it deserving of these characters.  You have more than one strength, guaranteed, so find them, big, little and in between.  So that even when someone says something needs improvement on what you consider a strength, you still have other things to fall  back on and take support from.

If you write great descriptions, trust in that.  Find things that AREN'T as subjective, get as factual as you can about what you're good at.  If you've done your homework as a writer and are familiar with what's on the shelves right now in your genre and you KNOW there's nothing else like your MS out there, then nobody can tell you your idea isn't creative and original.  If you've logged the hours and done the research you need to bring your setting or time period or protagonist's skillset to life, then you KNOW you've busted your butt and people can second guess the end result - but they can't make you doubt that you did the work and you put in the effort.  If you are truly passionate about what you're writing and KNOW that you're writing it because it resonates with you, and the emotions are pure and raw and you're not just trying to cater to market trends - then you can make it all the way to the NYT Bestseller list and have thousands decry you as a sell-out hack, and you can smile politely and thank them for reading because thick or thin skin, you can say with confidence that they are not right.  You know why you wrote your book, and nobody can do or say anything that actually changes that. 

Did you know that con artists and con games used to be called confidence men?  Confidence games? Because the people they conned, that's what did them in.  That's what got them hooked.  The confidence.  The complete seeming conviction in what they were saying, what they were saying.  By leaving no room for doubt in the 'con' they were running, they convinced their 'marks' that there was nothing to second guess.  People didn't think things through, because the confidence man gave them no REASON to think anything through.  What they were proposing was just so obvious, so clearly matter of fact, there was just no room for doubt.  There's a phrase, 'fake it til you make it.'  As an actor, I live by it.  Walk into each audition like you own the room, even if you're a total basketcase of nerves on the inside, and people are already impressed.

The casting director meeting you for the first time sizes you up with her professional eye and thinks: 'Huh.  This guy's not nervous at all.  Maybe he knows something I don't know.'  And she pays just a little bit more attention to your audition.  You stand out just a little bit more from the pack.  And in time, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  By pretending to be confident, looking the part, you get the role, and your actual confidence grows.  As a writer, conduct yourself professionally, don't let agents or blog readers or publishers see that you're nervous, that you're uncertain how your query will go over or if they'll like your manuscript.  Do your best work, put it out there, and trust in your strengths.  And if you can't quite do that yet, then just PRETEND PRETEND PRETEND.  You'll get there in time.

Now as to that big heaping helping of caveat from earlier.  There be danger in these waters, as it can be really easy to take this to the wrong extreme.  People start to believe their own hype.  That's why its important to be honest with yourself, surround yourself with people you trust to be honest with you and not just say what you want to hear.  Keep yourself and your ego in check.  Don't be afraid to make fun of yourself.  Whenever you hold tight to a strength of yours, take a second to make fun of a weakness, remind yourself its there, that you have room for improvement, but remind yourself in such a way that you rob it of its power to hurt you.

The example I gave earlier, of the casting director that told me I was too ugly for the part - I've heard similar things since then.  Hollywood's a brutal business.  And it always stings a little bit, before rationality has a chance to take hold again.  But ultimately, I can say I don't really let stuff like that linger and bother me, because I know better.  I can remind myself I've heard enough responses to the contrary.  So that even if I can't factually, quantitatively say those casting directors are wrong, I can factually say that plenty of other CDs have a contrary opinion.  And when you can reaffirm yourself with FACTS - baby, you're golden.

But just so I never get too full of myself or just start listening to the people singing my praises versus the ones with some (potentially valid) criticism, I remind myself to take a little time to make fun of myself every now and again.  Like when I have a new headshots session, like I just did yesterday (whee!  new headshots are the actor's version of a brand new manuscript all ready to query - like, oh, hey, Dust to Dust ), I do my best work, and try and get the best possible shot to show myself off to casting directors and agents like this:


But before I start looking at my own headshot and thinking oh god yes, Kalen, you SEXY BEAST YOU, I make sure I have a shot or two in there like so:


Because its really hard to take yourself too seriously when you're giving the camera your best Blue Steel, Kalen, you GIANT FREAKING DORK.

And thus all is right with the world.

So let me hear your strengths!  I want self-validation people, and I want it NOW!  The next time you get a rejection on a query or a partial or a full, or a reader gives negative feedback or a publisher doesn't chomp at that submission quite like you hoped, what are you going to tell yourself?  Let's hear it!

Monday, March 21, 2011

YAtopia

Well seems to be the season for contests, but I'm finding so many fun ones lately that I can't resist.

Because you know, I have so much willpower to begin with.

So this one for those unaware of it - and I think most people aware of the Show Your Voice Blogfest are already in this one too, haha - is hosted at YAtopia, and its simply a two sentence pitch and the first line of your manuscript.  And since everyone seems to like the first line of Dust to Dust and I put boiling my book down to a two line pitch on the same level as Spanish Inquisition type torture, I decided I'll give this one a whirl too.

Dust to Dust

Micah is the youngest child in a family gifted with magic and cursed with a compulsion to kill each other on sight.  And in his family, being the baby doesn't cut you any slack - it just marks you as weaker prey.

If you're not already completely tapped out from 'contest season', head on over and try and get your entry in as well! 

On Competition

So participating this week in the Show Your Voice Blogfest and trying to get into March's Secret Agent Contest at MissSnarksFirstVictim (didn't make it this morning but I'll try again this afternoon), it had me thinking about the nature of camaraderie versus competition.

The thing is, going through the other entries in the blogfest (and I've made it through maybe thirty so far with about ninety left to go, haha), and in past secret agent contests, I'm astounded by the level of talent in everyone else's writing.  There are a lot of REALLY FREAKING GOOD manuscripts out there being shopped to agents and aimed towards publication.  So many of the resources we use when researching agents and publishing trends make it look like a numbers game.  We find our dream agent and then we go to query tracker and we see how many queries they request partials on, and how many they reject, how often they request a full, and how they maybe only sign one or two new clients a year now.  And with all that in mind, writing towards publication is a very competitive field.  No, its not a zero sum game.  Most agents and publishers don't have a quota cutoff -I'll sign this many clients and then ABSOLUTELY NO MORE EVER!!!! - good writing is good writing, and an agent isn't going to pass on a manuscript that absolutely bowls them over just because they signed someone the night before.  But that doesn't change the fact that every time we read on our dream agent's blog that they just signed a new client, our heart sinks a little because it seems our chances just took a hit.

(And ps, its totally okay if you're reading this and shaking your head as in 'no, I don't agree at all.'  Remember, I use the royal we a lot.  I could just be talking about me and my multiple personalities here.  Err, I mean pen names.)

So what's got me ruminating today is how none of this runs through my head when I'm reading the other entries in these contests.  And that's weird right?  It should be the opposite - why be intimidated by faceless statistics instead of the contest with clear parameters and set winners and going up against writing that you can see and read and consider to be REALLY FREAKING GOOD?

The answer of course is obvious - there's something that trumps the sense of competition and winner versus loser that pervades writing contests and blogfests, and that's camaraderie.  Its precisely because the other entries AREN'T faceless statistics, but aspiring writers struggling through the same ups and downs we are, someone we can identify with.  How many of us pick books off the shelves at Barnes and Noble and put it back after flipping through just a couple of pages thinking god that's awful, and how did they get published when I still can't find an agent?  Come on.  It happens.  And compared to that, when we see people we identify with showing writing we like and even fall in love with - wouldn't we rather see their books on the shelves on Barnes and Noble?  So we can think to ourselves, well I may not be published yet, but at least I feel this person deserves it.

I'm not sure I've entirely nailed why I feel this way and if my reasoning is sound here, but it definitely is an interesting phenomena I've noticed before, and not just in the writing world.  For those new to my blog, I'm an actor as well as a writer, and its the same thing there.  Acting is a HIGHLY competitive business, there's a finite number of PAYING roles in today's industry, given the poor economy, tight budgets, and high concentration of actors in LA.  And its a much smaller industry than most people realize.  Pretty much everyone in Hollywood at any level of the 'game' knows each other or has met each other in some capacity or another.  People move from one set to another with such regularity that the joke is everyone in Hollywood has their own version of 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' connecting them to each other - only its more like two degrees rather than six. 

Actors on a similar 'level' tend to get sent out on the same auditions too.  Our agents get a breakdown of available roles to submit us for, and we're submitted pretty much solely on physical characteristics.  If a role is looking for someone matching my look or type, I'm getting sent out on that audition.  So inevitably, there's a circle of actors who match my type or look who are all ending up at the same auditions as me, time after time.  We all know each others' names, we kill time outside the audition rooms catching up with what's going on with each other even though the only times we ever see each other is when we're competing for a role.  We have a very weird kind of friendship that is predicated entirely on our competition - we wouldn't even know each other if it weren't for these occasions of going out for the same job, essentially, and yet its almost a relief in a way to get to an audition and see the same four or five faces there.  Its like, okay, I may not get this role, but hopefully it'll instead go to one of these guys I like and know to be talented.  I've beaten Rob out for the past three roles we both auditioned for, but he beat me out for the one movie role I really wanted - but there's no resentment on either of our parts because competition becomes an entirely different animal when you're confident your rival is worthy of the win.

Honestly, I'm not really sure what my point is with this post or if I even have one, it just seemed an interesting topic worth devoting a little thought to.  What say you all?  Any thoughts?  Personal anecdotes?  Drink recipes?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Show Me the Voice Blogfest

So thanks to Lori's blog, I noticed this particularly awesome looking contest at Brenda Drake Writes


It's a blogfest for critiquing the first 250 words of a manuscript, and well, why the hell not? So without further ado, hop over there to get the details, and here's the first 250 of Dust to Dust.

Now Edited to show the changes most people have recommended so far!


For my sixteenth birthday, my oldest brother tried to kill me again.

I was at Starbuck’s getting a celebratory scone when the shadows peeled off the walls and came for me. I cursed and dove for the floor. The hot chick waiting in front of me turned, eyebrows raised over heavily made up eyes.  Her perfect lips parted and for a split second I fantasized she was about to ask what I was doing later.  Wait, nope, I wasn't getting laid anytime soon.  That was actually her screaming because magic shadows were slashing through the fabric of her Grateful Dead t-shirt.  Yet another reason to hate my brother. 

I grabbed her leg and yanked her down to the floor with me. Terror was the coffee shop's new special of the day as patrons and employees stampeded towards the lone exit. I suffered a few accidental kicks as I crab-walked me and my damsel in distress under the nearest table. Which was - wait for it - yup, full of shadows.

Brilliant, Micah.

A midnight black hand reached for my ankle and I tapped my own magic. Dust raced from every corner of the room and stormed the air in furious clouds. The shadows kept coming, undeterred - and Mom wondered why I had insecurity issues.  Trent could kill with shadows. Serena could drown you with your own tears. Alice walked through mirrors, Dennis could pull blood from a stone, but me? Oh yeah. Fear the mystic might of my magical dust bunnies!

Lame.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Genre Madness!

Hark!  A post on actual writing topical-ness!  Let angels sing!

Or you know, not.  Whichever.

So I was musing on trendiness the other day.  Or this morning.  It was one of the two.  I'm not the best at keeping track of time.  Anyways, I was thinking about the whimsy of trends in general, and publishing trends specifically.  What's hot and what's not, and for however long that lasts.  Vampires and werewolves and paranormal romance are all the rage these days, urban fantasy's not going anywhere any time soon, but then I got more specific then that.  To the really niche genres, and I started wondering where these trends come from, what about them appeals to audiences and writers alike.

For instance - the punks.  Cyberpunk, and of late, steampunk and clockpunk.  I have to be honest, I don't get them.  Oh don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them, I've enjoyed many of them - but they deliberately evoke such a specific tone that I read them and wonder - what it is about our current zeitgeist that yearns for THIS tone, right here, right now?  Why has steampunk latched onto the writer/reader mindset so much more deeply than any of the other experimental genre-bending books of years past?  I don't know that there is an answer, its just something I've been pondering.  Are you pondering what I'm pondering? 

I'm sorry.  See?  The Animaniacs references, they just slip out whether I want them to or not.

Anyone have any specific trends from decades past that they miss and would like to see make a comeback?  I've got to admit I was a big fan of the seventies/eighties trend of fantasy/sci-fi blends.  The sci-fi books that came across as fantasy, or else fantasy with sci-fi explanation and world building at their core.  Janny Wurts, Roger Zelazny, Riverworld, etc.  Again, I have no idea what it was about that particular trend that latched on and produced so many derivative works, or what about them appealed to me so much, but there it is.  And you all?  Or else any trends you'd really LIKE to see catch on?  Maybe trends in your own work!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Breaking Radio Silence

So I've been a little incommunicado this week, primarily because of Powering Through the Pain, as I kept my nose to the grindstone to distract from migraine city, before seeing the dentist on Wednesday finally.  So hooray, that hurdle's jumped, my teeth look great, and oh yeah...

I totally finished Dust to Dust last night.

Clocking in at 75,000 words, the tale of a dysfunctional family of nine with myriad magical abilities and a curse that has them all hell-bent on killing each other, this might actually be my most polished first draft yet.  I did a cursory read through, and while I'm gonna let it sit for a bit before edits, I really don't think this one will take much.  It's quite astonishing.  It came out looking on paper mostly like it did in my head.  I even think my super dooper plot twist works.

Huh.  I'm pleased as punch.  Go figure.

Anywho, taking a little breather before editing that and I think I'm going to push back starting Hypothetical of Being til mid April or so, at least until after I get going with Anonymous, being a few chapters into posting that.  In the meanwhile, as you all know, I've been thinking a lot about the whole subject of self-publishing in conjunction with traditional publishing.  Using a project that wouldn't work well in the traditional publishing arena to build a quicker fanbase and backlist, rather than expecting to get rich quick off it.  Although that would be nice.  

So to that end, I was looking at one of my sci-fi novels, Gemini, and pulled out a file from yeeeeeeeears ago.  It's a series of trunk novels I never told anyone about, because I wasn't sure what if anything I was going to do with any of it, called Year of the Zodiac, a YA sci-fi series.  I ultimately broke Gemini off into its own book, seeing it as the only viable storyline, not because the series was bad, but because I couldn't really picture it ever getting picked up by a traditional publisher.  They were a lot of fun to write, it was back before I was writing to try and impress anyone so they were just balls to the walls action, adventure, end of the world chaos one breakneck chapter after the next, everything I personally wanted to read.  But by the time I stopped writing them, I was convinced I knew enough about publishing to know they'd never go anywhere, at least not without years of success under my belt to parlay into the right deal, so I took the Gemini book and tweaked it to be a far future sci fi standalone and put the rest away.  So basically right now I'm just looking through the series again, playing around with it, seeing if its tweakable, editable and ultimately self-publishable - I honestly don't know.  Not even close to deciding.  Its just fun to read them again.  I honestly haven't even thought about them in a couple years.  I might be sending the first one - Ignition - out to a couple people in the next few days or week or so to get some opinions.  And I did always greatly dislike the idea of having it all just sit there.  So we'll see.

In other news, I was reading QueryTracker's latest success stories, and saw this one:

http://querytracker.net/jane_kindred.php

And I was like, holy crapola, I need to read that like now.  So how about you guys?  Anyone else heard of any upcoming stories or deals lately that they're just salivating for?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Exploiting Your Babies

No, I am not talking about black market sperm and egg sales, although those may or may not have their place in funding an aspiring writer's struggle towards publication.

I'm talking about your Baby, the Big Idea, the Grand Poo-bah of your Creative Aspirations, the Summation of all your Writerly Hopes, Dreams and Fears, etc, etc, blah blah blah ad nauseam.

I'm talking about the story that made you want to be a writer, the one that you had to tell so badly that it was worth it to put up with all the trials and tribulations that come with being a professional writer.  For most of us, our Baby is not the first story we publish or even the first story we shop or seek an agent for.  For a lot of us, its not even the first story we write.

Because it has to be done RIGHT.

There are a lot of ingredients that go into the successful crafting of the Baby, because its the story we're least willing to compromise on.  We don't want to write it before we're ready, because sometimes we don't have the necessary skills yet to tell the story the way it deserves to be told.  We don't want to be told readers will be more receptive to it if we do it this way, we don't want to hear that market trends are leading away from it.  We really don't want to hear that the brilliant plot twist five years in the making doesn't work the way we think it does.

We are very possessive parental types.  Nobody tells me how to raise MY child.

And yet, like all proud parents, we want to show our Baby off to the world, share their glory and beauty with everyone and put all the other monkey-faced babies to shame by comparison.  You know the ones I'm talking about.

So the question becomes - how far are we willing to compromise, to share our Babies with the world?  Do we self-publish, to retain full creative control?  Do we bargain - make deals where we will write what our publishers, agents, audiences want us to write, if they will let us write this?  Do we just write it for ourselves and our friends, and let that be enough if external forces demand too much change to its core nature?  Do we just say screw it and write it however it needs to be written to make it out onto bookshelves, just because the need to share it in SOME form is so pressing?

My personal Baby has not yet been written, though the time is coming up, hence it being on my mind currently.  It's actually what I plan to write as soon as I'm done with Dust to Dust, and I've dabbled with it before, made some attempts at writing it but could never find the right place to jump in.  That's because my Baby is more like the full line-up of a Midwestern Christian family with highly fertile genes and a religious opposition to birth control.  I'm Octo-mom.  One of the first compromises I had to make in regards to the epic story I've been dreaming up since I was fourteen, is to recognize that there's no way I could ever actually write everything that was in my head in regards to it.  The physical restraints of time, book size and shelf space won't allow it.  It's an epic fantasy universe I refer to as the Citadel, in which a common origin and mythology resulted in over fifty different worlds with their own unique cultures, geographies, magic systems and mythologies - and stories.  (My rough outline for the Citadel universe is 100K and rising).  I could easily write stories in all those worlds, even whole series, and then more to tie them all together, but its just not practical.  Not even with all the time in the world. 

So instead I plotted it as separate, individual standalone novels spread across the various worlds with little hints and references to each other, common threads that tie characters and histories, timelines and storylines together behind the scenes, but don't actually require that say Deluge be published in order for The Lords of Consequence to make sense.  There are two actual series, a prequel one and an 'endgame' series that ideally would bookend all the standalones and tie everything together, but if they never get published, I'll still have a goodly chunk of the Baby out in the world.  Plus splitting it up into separate, manageable chunks means even if I have to compromise with editors, agents, publishers etc on specific standalones, it still doesn't necessarily alter the Big Picture of my Baby.

So my question of the day is, what's your Baby?  Have you written it yet?  If not, is there a reason you haven't yet, and if so, what compromises have you had to make or are looking at making?

(Quick plug: I am in fact looking for new critique partners starting with Hypothetical of Being, which I'm ramping up to start as soon as I finish Dust to Dust.  It'll be epic fantasy, but YA, and most likely a trilogy.  It's set on the massive world of Seln, which was created by the Sky Mother with the aid of twenty Sacred Birds.  Upon completion of her creation, she transformed the Sacred Birds into the first humans out of gratitude for their aid, and before moving on to other worlds she named them Regents and imbued each of them with an aspect of her power.  Seln is a world of giant, elevated landmasses like continent sized plateaus miles above the Ground, which is a thing of myth and legend.  Travel between landmasses or Regencies is done via mystical Sky Trails, large domesticated birds, or magically propelled airships.  A mystical Tarot deck, used for divinations, shows the faces of each of the current twenty Regents, plus the 'Joker', Dian, the dark counterpart to the Sky Mother who some say was her lover, son, father or brother, but remains a presence on Seln, determined to corrupt her Regents and steal her power. 

Every copy of the Tarot deck in the world changes magically whenever a Regent dies and is replaced by the new Regent, randomly chosen by the Sky Mother's whims and elevated to Regency and bestowed with her power, becoming a font for the magic type associated with that Regency.  For instance, the Swan, Regent of Grace, is linked to the gravity of the world, as is its counterpart, the Ostrich.  The Robin and the Vulture are linked to entropy, the Dove and the Shrike to electromagnetism, the Hummingbird and the Crane to time, the Cormorant and the Raven to thermodynamics, etc.  Hypothetical of Being is predominantly the story of a young girl who wakes up in the jungle Regency of Altera to find she has become the Hummingbird, (Regent of Joy, Passion and Vitality, counterpart to the Crane and font of all time magic) and must struggle to balance ruling a country with warding off Dian's dark temptations, all while coming to terms with the fact that no Hummingbird Regent has ever lived past the age of twenty one.  Thing I look for most in CP's, and am best at in return, is acting as a sounding board, to bounce ideas off of, hunt for plot holes, and hack ways out of corners.  Just throwing that out there.)  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Giddiness and Other Drugs

Woke up this morning to find my first response to a query letter - one I just sent out yesterday, to one of my Big Three Dream Agents, and its a request for the first fifty pages and a synopsis.

This makes me happy.

Also scared, nervous, insecure, anxious, hopeful, cynical, and a whole host of other emotions.  It's a plethora of emotions.  We're a cornucopia of emotions over here in Kalen land.

So pardon dear writer friends and readers, for any incomprehensibility as I switch hats briefly to think about acting things to distract from nerves and fears and OMG I SUCK AND SHE'S GOING TO HATE ME AND I'LL NEVER GET PUBLISHED NEVER EVER EVER.

So we shall distract ourselves by bitching about the acting unions.  Well, more specifically, union dues.  It's that bi-annual time again, time to pay union dues for AFTRA and SAG, and just further proof that the two unions just need to hurry up and merge already.  It's been inevitable for the past couple years, given AFTRA's rapid growth and rise in power, and the fact that all new shows seem to be going with AFTRA contracts instead of SAG, and its not exactly a surprise to anyone.  And I firmly believe its for the best as an actor, because last year was a bitch and a half trying to find work because SAG kept threatening to go on strike as part of the new contract negotiations and a whole crapload of productions either shut down or never even started up in the first place because they were afraid of that possibility.  When in actuality, it was never really a possibility, as the second SAG did go on strike, everyone with an AFTRA card (which is most of SAG anyways) would have been more than happy to swoop in and take all those jobs.  You can't threaten strikes as a negotiating tactic when you have a competing union willing and capable of doing the same work as you.  Does not compute.

Plus, trying to make enough hours to earn our benefits is practically impossible when the work is so evenly split between SAG and AFTRA contracts that nobody can get enough work in either union to make the minimums.

So yeah, more than ready for the unions to merge at this point.  Their contracts are practically the same these days anyways, so its not like it was even three years ago when an AFTRA contract was going to lock you into a much lower rate than a SAG contract.  Now the only lower rate contracts are Disney and Nickelodeon ones, and I don't see that ever changing much really.

So basically - just hurry up and merge already so I can just pay dues for ONE union instead of two, please?  I get where all the other SAG actors are bitching about having had to earn their union eligibility the hard way when all you have to do to join AFTRA is pay up, and now all those AFTRA members who've never worked under a single SAG voucher or been Taft-Hartleyed or gotten so much as an Under Five contract will now be considered on the same level as them, but blah blah blah get over it.  The voucher system has been broken for awhile now, there's no rhyme or reason to getting your SAG eligibility and they need to just start from scratch and figure out new eligibility requirements that actually have something to do with acting experience, talent and skillset, rather than just being in the right place at the right time when a union extra doesn't show up for work.  The merge is going to happen, deal with it, and worry more about making it happen quickly already so we can stop shelling out twice the money for half the work, alright?

(Actually what I'm most interested in seeing is how they handle initial joining dues.  I had to pay sixteen hundred to join AFTRA and twenty six hundred to join SAG.  Is the merged union's initial dues going to be the joint sum of those dues?  Are AFTRA members who aren't currently SAG going to have to pay another twenty six hundred to keep their union status current and active and fully paid up?  I mean, honestly, I would be pissed if it ends up I had to pay an extra twenty six hundred that actors in the 'new' union don't have to worry about and yet still be considered on even footing with them.  At the same time though, if I were an actor who had been completely comfortable being simply AFTRA for years now and had no aspirations to join SAG despite their eligibility, then I would be pissed as hell if I were told I had to pay another twenty six hundred to keep my AFTRA status active.  Don't get me wrong, I completely get that this is a colossal headache and a lot of people are going to get a lot more pissed before things get any better, but the problem isn't going anywhere until its dealt with.)

There.  Now I feel better.  It helps sometimes to remember that as messy and nerve wracking and confusing as the literary publishing field can be - it could be worse, haha.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Books Are Awesome

We are all agreed on this, yes?  Good.  You may keep your heads.

I'm in an Alice in Wonderland kinda mood.  Odd day.  Moving on.

So we write because we read and we read because we write and the twain are forever intertwined and so I for one am always looking for new things to read.  And I am always reading new things and wanting to shove them down the throats of everyone I know because they are just.  That.  AWESOME.

But lots of people recommend books and do book reviews on their blogs, so I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to do something that runs the full spectrum of things I read, which is to say middle grade, young adult, and adult, all of which I enjoy reading and writing.  And while there are a lot of very good books being published every day...there are a lot of equally amazing books that were published ten, twenty, forty years ago and have somewhat vanished into the mists of yore.

Enter a weekly (perhaps biweekly) installment of recommending THREE books.  One middle grade, one young adult, and one adult.  And of those three, one shall be published in the past, one be on shelves right now, and one to be published in the near future.

Quirky, no?  Let's see how it goes.

So first up is my middle grade recommendation for anyone with kids (or an inner child) hungry for something new to read that they probably won't find unless they go looking for it:



Dragon of the Lost Sea, the first book in a four book MG series first published in 1988, is awesome sauce.  I freaking loved this series as a kid, and its well worth tracking down.  In a lot of ways it was ahead of its time, and in a lot of ways, its just proof that the stories being published these days aren't all that different from those of twenty years ago.  It's a first person narrative told from the viewpoint of a shape shifting dragon princess named Shimmer, who is rude, abrasive, argumentative, and basically kinda a bitch.  Instead of the standard European tropes, it draws from Chinese mythology, and features a witch who makes magical servants out of origami and steals the dragons' ocean and stores it in a pebble to use in her revenge against her abusive river god husband.  There's a body-snatching villain, the witch gets redemption, the orphan boy who tags along with Shimmer has a grand destiny that doesn't make you hate him, there's family conflict, exotic locations, great action, and a Monkey Thief/Sorcerer who can't quite decide if he wants to be a good guy or a bad guy.   Fantastic books, well worth a read.


Bleeding Violet  is just wrong on so many levels.  And I mean that in nothing but good ways.  Quite possibly the most twisted YA I've read (or written) to date, its just bizarre.  And disturbing.  And made me want more more more more more.  So you know, good thing its the start of a series, the second of which I believe just came out.  The main character is biracial, bipolar, and her thought process is the stuff of head-shrinkers' nightmares.  The town she comes to live in is literally the stuff of everyone elses' nightmares, as its full of doors to other dark dimensions which can be opened by keys made from bones.  There's a love story with the demon hunter she becomes obsessed with, a family story with the mother who doesn't want to know her and is hiding quite a few secrets, and then there are her random hallucinations, habit of talking to her dead father, and well, the evil nightmares demonic 'lures' that go bump in the night.  So twisted, so glorious, so absolutely cracktastic.  Go.  Buy.  Devour.  DO IT NOW.


Southern Gods  rounds out the last of this week's recommendations, as the adult title I most can't wait to read when it comes out this August.  I don't know much about it, other than this: 

When Lewis “Bull” Ingram returns to the states after World War II, he finds himself working as muscle for a Memphis mob boss, performing collections. But when a man hires him to find a pirated radio station broadcasting music that may or may not cause insanity, impregnate women, and raise the dead, Ingram ventures into the strange and backward Arkansas of 1951 on a course to discover old gods warring to re-enter the world.

But umm, seriously?  What else do I need to know?

In other news, Lori M. Lee gave me this shiny bauble:


It seems it comes with certain stipulations and requires the recipient to share four guilty pleasures and pass it on.

So thanks, Lori!  And as for my four guilty pleasures, well umm, most of them aren't fit for sharing with Civilized Folk, so keeping it PG, I will say I have an unhealthy addiction to

1) The CW show The Vampires Diaries (its not my fault!  they suckered me in with bare man-flesh, actual plot, characters who aren't stupid and then they kept KILLING ALL THE CHARACTERS I LIKE AND NOBODY IS SAFE AND I MUST WATCH OR ELSE WHEN CAROLINE DIES IT WILL BE ALL MY FAULT.  Ahem)

2) A weird addiction to fruit snacks (I stock up on Scooby Doo fruit snacks like twice a week)

3) A disturbing addiction to making the drive home each day in LA traffic more tolerable by devising ways to write the douchebag who just cut me off into a starring role in the next murder scene in one of my manuscript

4) And a I REFUSE TO APOLOGIZE FOR IT addiction to any superhero cartoon ever.  I don't give a crap if I am a grown-ass man, I will sit on that couch in my boxers and eat my Scooby Snacks and watch my damn X-Men the Animated Series episodes whenever they come on cartoon network.  While mentally transcribing the death of my roommate in my next manuscript should he be stupid enough to go anywhere near the remote.

And now I pass this on to KV Taylor, Sue Penkivech, Corinne Duyvis, and Linsey Schmidt.

Hey, I don't make the rules, peeps.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bookstores vs the Digital Bazaar

So recent rumblings on the rigors of writing - or some other alliterative way of saying people talking about Highly Important Matters Pertaining to the Publication Process - have had this author in training pondering the age old debate:  print versus ebook?  Perhaps age old isn't the proper descriptive for something that's only been around less than five years total, but let's not quibble over semantics.

Lately there's been a bit of a hullabaloo about upstart authors making millions by forgoing the traditional publication route.  Instead they're just releasing Kindle editions of their manuscripts themselves for a much lower price point than major publishing houses offer ebooks for.  They're able to do this and turn a profit by cutting out the middle man.  That is, the dozens of employees at the major publishing houses who are active participants in getting your book from emailed manuscript to glossy covered book in bookstores.  Let's face it.  Paper is really not that expensive.  Nor is the art of printing on paper.  The reason books are so expensive is the same reason publishers aren't offering digital versions of those books for vastly reduced prices when common sense would dictate that releasing something electronically would require virtually no capital at all. 

That is to say, when you buy a book or an ebook from a major publisher, the price isn't just meant to reflect appropriate compensation for the author's labors plus the price of printing/packaging.  No, there's all kinds of overhead built into that price point.  You're also paying towards the salaries of all the editors who worked on that book.  The artists whose work was used on the covers.  You're paying for distribution fees, and marketing, and proofreaders and ARC copies and galley copies and even the rent for all the buildings the publisher uses for their offices.  These are all parts of the publishing package, and money that needs to be recouped for the publishers before they can turn a profit from a book or ebook.  And the publisher has to recoup their investment and show a profit before the author can, otherwise its simply not cost effective for the publisher to act as the middle man between author and audience.

This then, is why e-publishing independent style can potentially be so lucrative.  Cut out that middle man, the big honking publisher and all his built in fees, and you can charge a VASTLY lower price for it, take home the lion's share of the profits after paying off your much smaller, individual overhead, and get a lot more sales based on the economic principle known as People Like to Buy Cheap Things.

However, you see the catch here, right?

By cutting out the middle man, and all his built in fees, you're also cutting out the benefits of the services the publisher charges those fees for.  So what are the pros and cons of this?  You're cutting out editors, but you can find quality editors on your own, probably have friends who could do just as good a job, right?  You're cutting out cover art, but you can probably commision quality cover art on your own, right?  So far doesn't seem like a problem, no?

But then you have to consider the intangibles.

Just to focus in on one aspect, you're also cutting out all the publishers' contacts.  You're cutting out its distribution model and its ability to get your product in the hands of a LOT of people on a very large scale.  You're cutting out its marketing department and its ability to get a LOT of people hearing about your product and seeing why its something they absolutely should be shelling out their money for.  You're talking about taking this Monolithic Titan with literal decades of experience and thousands of employees dedicated towards constantly finding the most efficient and expansive ways ways of making your work reach the maximum number of people possible - and doing all that work yourself. 

Marketing your book, building interest, spreading word of mouth, these are all things PUBLISHED authors constantly comment on and even complain about taking up such a large part of their day to day work schedule - time they'd much rather spend writing.  And that's with Mammoth Marketing Departments and distribution managers all doing a lot of the legwork for them.  And that's all a part of the industry that's never going to change, whether people are buying their books on paper or e-readers.  It's the nature of commerce and an industry built on consumers' disposable income.  You have written a book.  And it might be a great book, its probably an amazing book, I'll lay down Vegas odds that its actually THE BEST BOOK EVAR!!!!  But its still just one book.  In a sea of millions.  And to the average consumer who's got a limited amount of disposable income and a VAST array of choices on what to spend that income on, enticing that little fishy to come chow down on your baited hook instead of all the others is easier said than done.

For a time, as in RIGHT NOW, while the publishing industry is in the midst of major change and people are trying to figure out how best to colonize this new frontier, the entrepreneurial sort has a major opportunity in going it themselves.  Being able to offer the same quality product for anywhere from five to ten bucks less than the competition is an INSANE incentive when it comes to enticing little fishy consumers to try your product over others.  But what happens when enough people see how lucrative that is and decide that's the way to go?  And suddenly you have hundreds of like minded authors releasing their works themselves for a paltry 1.99?  And once again, the little fishy consumer is faced with a sea of baited hooks and no way to differentiate, and more, the fishy consumer has decided it finds that 1.99 price point far more reasonable than anything else, and he's not going to be suckered in to paying more than that ever again.  Well, suddenly, some bigshot calling himself a 'publisher' telling you for a share of your profits, he can package your stories in a way that'll reach more people and appeal to a wider audience and set you apart from all the other authors shooting their works into the BIG BIG VOID that is the internet and hoping for the best - well suddenly, that publisher guy is going to look VERY appealing.  However, giving that publisher a percentage of 1.99 ebook price point vs an 8.99 ebook price point....not quite as appealing.

Plus, while popular opinion is saying that bookstores may be going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo, that by no means we in any way want to contribute to that Extinction Event.  Amazon's algorithm based search functions and hand-picked 'If you like this, you might also like THIS' links can't yet replace the push your book can get from sitting alphabetically on the shelf next to the Big Bestseller a person went in to buy when your bright shiny cover happened to catch his or her eye.

Hey, that rhymes.

Kinda. 

In essence, what I'm saying is this:  I don't think a lot of people complaining about the Big Bad Publisher and the Outrageous Prices of Ebooks and talking about STICKING IT TO THE MAN are quite understanding what stick it to the man means.  Or how certain precedents can be dangerous in the long run.

HOWEVER.  Note the capitals.  That means I'm emphasizing a big BUT here, for those of you playing along at home.

HOWEVER.  This is not to say that the independent route doesn't serve its own purpose.  This is something that I've pondered a lot with indie writer friends.  This is not to speak in absolutes, PERIOD.  This is only to say that you can't just be a writer, you also have to be a business person, and you have to look at the big picture.

We writers, as a People, are an incredibly warped lot.  We all, every last one of us, have Issues.  Lots and lots of them.  That means that occasionally, we write VERY VERY WEIRD THINGS.  The kind of things that while they may appeal to us to write them, will never appeal to more than the small group of readers out there who are similarly warped in very specific ways.  Likewise, we writers, as a People, tend to be very very FULL OF OURSELVES.  Wait, what do you mean, no?  That's just me?  Hmm.  Regardless, there are those stories that are simply too precious to us, too personal, too closely intertwined with our core beliefs, values, ideas, to ever respond well to a major publisher's attempts to tailor or even neuter them to make them 'more marketable'.  There are those stories where the very suggestion of such a thing is enough to make us reach for our hand carved shivs and shank a bitch. 

Now these books then, are ones that are never going to benefit from a publisher's intangibles.  All the marketing in the world isn't going to get your 'The Greek Gods Were Actually Genetically Modified By Martians To Star in The Extraterrestial Reality Television Show: As The Earth Turns' historical romance trilogy to move in bestseller numbers.  The book that describes the (mostly) true story of your passionate high school romance with your One True Love is never going to benefit from a well-meaning but market-obsessed editor suggesting that maybe adding a vampire and making it a love triangle would move a few more copies.  But that doesn't mean they're not good, quality works.  And that doesn't mean that if you publish them yourself on the internet for a much lower price point and virtually no overhead, you can't find enough readers for them that you can still turn a profit.

So my question then is....why not do both?  Why must it be one or the other?  Why can't you sell your Epic HarpiesAretheNewVampires Trilogy to the masses via a major publisher, while going the independent route with the novel idea your agent told you was too niche to get publishers to take a chance on, or too 'last year'?

There is a certain DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER risk in the latter, of course.  There's the chance of seeing the internet flooded with authors' trunk novels and books that simply couldn't make the cut at publishing houses due to quality concerns.  And a plethora of crap can sour the consumer and hide the bright shiny bauble that is your independent novel.  But it can also make your Bright Shiny Bauble novel stand out all the more.

So my question then is, who out there has novels or stories worth telling that they know are quality enough to publish, but just not something a major publishing house would be interested in at the moment?  And do you think you could find ways to release them yourself and market them in such a way to at least turn some profit, while at the same time still going the conventional publication route on your more mass market appropriate stories?

And how would you differentiate between the two?

PS - A certain author named Katey should not feel the need to answer this question.  It's all her fault in the first place, after all.

PPS - These thoughts were also a major inspiration for the Great Grassroots Novel Experiment.  I'm interested in seeing what kind of numbers my own humble internet marketing can produce in regards to readership of a free ebook - and if that can be translated into future ebook sales with a dollar or two dollar price point for any other novels I have in me that turn out not to be suited for conventional publishing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Great Grassroots Experiment!

So….I am officially, finally, penultimately, at long last on safari.  Yes, it’s true.  I am plunging over the falls in a barrel, bungee jumping into the great blue yonder, motor bike jumping through rings of fire – all this melodrama is to say, I am risking all (well mostly just my ego) in pursuit of that most elusive of beasts.

I am Agent Hunting.

Queries are off and away!  Or at least most of them, as I’m rotating based on whether the agents in question accept snail mail or email queries, pacing them according to response times and trying to have them all in the right hands at roughly the same time.  I’m a wee bit anal that way.

Insert the Kalen sleeps with men jokes here. 

Now that we’ve all had a chuckle, let’s attend to my state of extreme vulnerability here, shall we?  I’ve only been putting this off for oh say, forever, because I - like most authors - exist day to day in an extreme state of neuroses.  A state, I might add, which is not at all helped by the knowledge that YOUR ENTIRE FATE AND FUTURE HAPPINESS all depend on that damn query you spent weeks on and the manuscript you suddenly realize is not half as good as it should be and who do you think you are querying the Donald Maas Agency anyways?

Does anyone have any good drugs they might be willing to share at the moment?

Err.  Ahem.  Anyways.  After eons – nay, virtual epochs – dedicated to researching the best possible agent for me (re: the anal traits referred to above), I’m actually not querying that many agents.  I’ve got a finalized list of I believe twenty-two agents total.  Not a lot in the grand scheme of things.  But I’m not big on settling, and much like agents are all known to say they can’t justify signing an author if they’re not completely fired up and passionate about that author, I figure the reverse holds true.  If I’m not completely sure my future agent gets me and can do for me what nobody else can do, I’m not really doing myself any favors by pretending otherwise, right?

So not only am I Agent Hunting, I’m Big Game Agent Hunting.  What?  People are surprised that the writer who writes novels and comicbooks and screenplays and also acts and occasionally produces his own short films when he’s not doing stunt work or song writing in studios is overly ambitious?

Go figure.

So now We are doing everything possible to distract ourselves from said Agent Hunting process, given that is a lengthy and nerve wracking one.  And that would be the Royal We, for those not paying attention.  Or perhaps I’ve finally gone all Sybil on y’all and I’m speaking directly for the Voices inside my head as well.  Was bound to happen sooner or later.

Anyways.  So that means, the acting’s getting a big bump in priority, got a couple of sketch comedy shoots scheduled for the next couple weekends.  On the sixteenth I’m FINALLY getting my dental work taken care of which means no more pain (yay!), return of energy reserves (yay with double exclamation marks!!) and healthy/attractive looking teeth and smile (woot with THREE exclamation marks!!!)  Of course, that means immediately after I shell out the big bucks for that I have to shell out for updated headshots too.  That gets a boo.  And then of course, that means its time to go hunting for a new theatrical agent, ugh.

But you all don’t care about that.  So in regards to what’s going on writing wise in the meanwhile, ‘Shades of Adrian Gray’ and ‘Good Intentions’ are officially done and edited to death and will NOT be touched again until I actually have an agent who says do this and that and this.  I’m going to wait on editing Vagabond until I find an agent as well, and the same with the rest of my completed manuscripts.  Currently I’m about 40% through a new WIP, ‘Dust to Dust’, a YA urban fantasy with no vampires, werewolves, or fallen angels, and that’s coming out quickly so its getting most of my attention.  The rest of said attention going to FINALLY finishing ‘Lay Down Your Burdens’, the novella I owe kvtaylor.com.  About half done with that, but it should top out around 25K, so I’m shooting to have it done by the end of the week.

Now, as to the rather cryptic title of this post, I give you…..

The Great Grassroots Experiment

What is this?  Well this is what happens when booksellerchick.blogspot.com and I hatch nefarious schemes.  Tonight we plot to take over the world, that sort of thing.  We were discussing the ever changing battlefield that is the publishing industry, the uncharted territories that are e-publishing, and the fact that Marketing is King and I have More Ideas Than I Can Shake A Stick At.  All these factors By Their Powers Combined added up to something potentially a little more marketable than poor Captain Planet ever was.

You see, one is no longer dependent on traditional publishing to get one’s works out into the ether.  If one wants to make money off one’s works, then yes, this is still rather key.  But if say, one were to write a serialized novel EXPLICITLY for the purpose of attracting interest to one’s works, with no expectation of eventual publication of it, no need to worry about first publication rights or anything like that….why then, one could simply post said serialized novel to a website or blog, and update regularly with additional chapters.

This one is going to stop talking about himself in the third person now, as the novelty of that has worn off and I’m pretty sure everyone here gets that I’m talking about posting an original novel to my blog one chapter at a time and trying to build a fanbase that way.

I know?  MADNESS, right?  Except this isn’t madness, this is Sparta!  Complete with non-airbrushed six packs!  I’ve been hitting the gym lately! 

Okay, so its not quite a six pack yet, more a four, four and a half, but still.

Still.  Seems to make sense to us.  Logic dictates that if I think my writing’s good enough to be published in national book store chains and the masses would be interested in shelling out hard earned dollars for it, then there’s no reason they wouldn’t be equally interested in reading another book by me for free – or at least for the low, low price of merely telling a friend and passing it on.  And given that the time between signing with an agent, selling a book, and seeing that book hit shelves could feasibly span the length of a new Ice Age, that’s a lot of time that could be filled up and put to use finding an audience for future traditionally published works.

So at the end of the month, I will begin posting a chapter a week of a new novel, specifically for blog publication and for the sole purpose of getting potential readers interested in my work.  It’ll be a full length stand alone novel, one I firmly believe I could interest an agent or publisher in if I wanted to go that route with it.  Once I settled on this, it was fairly easy to figure out which concept to do.

I wanted to do a standalone novel for certain – not wanting to risk tying up anything with series potential in murky first publication rights negotiation.  However, most things I write I leave open for possible continuance, so I decided on a prose superhero novel.  That way, I can always continue it as an actual comic book, the further adventures of so to speak, as the comic book industry doesn’t give two shakes of a rat’s ass about first publication rights and would be thrilled to see something already had a built in fanbase.  Everyone goes home happy!

I feels smart.

So now I’m working on adding an official website to this blog, and in the process of commissioning fancy shmancy character designs/art work from my comic book artist friends (totally stealing that page from kvtaylor.com’s book) and stockpiling a few chapters to start things up, and as of Friday April 1st I’ll begin posting a chapter a week of:

Anonymous

The story of one of the world’s most famous teen superheroes after he’s betrayed by his best friend - his secret identity revealed - and ambushed by his entire rogue’s gallery and presumed dead.  In actuality, he survived, and he and his family are given new identities and relocated via the Witness Relocation Program.  Being a hero was easy.  NOT being a hero, however, turns out to be more than he can handle, and before long he adopts several new personas and returns to costumed crime fighting.  But this time, its not the villains he has to worry about hiding his identity from, but his family.  He already put them at risk once, and made them give up everything for him.  He’s not so sure they’d be willing to do it again…

Check this space between now and April 1st for samples, teasers and art from ‘Anonymous’!

Friday, March 4, 2011

On Validation

Since I've recently started querying in earnest, I'm feeling all vulnerable and stuff, and that's simply no good.  The Ego will not allow it.  So in the spirit of self-validation and faking it til you make it, two staples of the actor's toolbox, I propose a meme of sorts.  Pick something from your writing that you KNOW you excel at, whether it's character description, snappy dialogue, killer last lines or an awesome hook.  Then just post samples from your manuscripts or WIPs, and show off those skills.  You're going to be a published author someday, and here's why:  Insert proof here.

I for instance, kinda write a hell of a first line.  It's interesting though to note the evolution of my first lines.  More important to me than the fact that I think I write a great opening, is that I can definitely see where I've improved from manuscript to manuscript. 

She leaped off the roof, speaking words of sorcery that changed her jacket into wings and falling, began to fly. - Roanoke (YA Fantasy) 

This is how the story ends. - Shades of Adrian Gray (YA Contemporary) 

I glared at the vending machine until it started to shake. - Vagabond (MG Sci Fi) 

My dead boyfriend appeared between me and the doorway and raised his finger to his lips in warning. - Voodoo Streets (YA Urban Fantasy) 

I was still kneeling (naked) over the coroner's dead body when the security guard found us. - Good Intentions (Adult Urban Fantasy) 

I felt my brother dying on the other side of the universe. - Gemini (YA Sci Fi) 

Sally Ride's teleport brought them in low and fast. - Slipstream (YA Sci Fi)

And then my current WIP:

For my sixteenth birthday, my oldest brother tried to kill me again. - Dust to Dust (YA Urban Fantasy)
 
 


See?  Feel better already.

Now you!

On Cannibalism

So I’m finally getting around to establishing more of a web presence because I’m finally getting around to pushing my writing and acting to the professional level it needs and deserves to be at, after a series of false starts.  I blame MissSnarksFirstVictim for most of this really, as her blog contests lured me out of the blogosphere with their shiny enticey-ness and gave me such a kick in the ass that I felt it was officially time to announce that KALEN WAS HERE.  These would be the narcissistic tendencies I was referring to earlier.  In the head of Kalen, all major epiphanies, revelations, and major life decisions are accompanied by trumpeting fanfare and a need to share said epiphanies, revelations and major life decisions with EVERYONE EVERYWHERE WHO DOESN’T CARE EVEN A LITTLE BIT.  I wasn’t hugged enough as a child or something.  Whatever.

So this blog will be about my fumbling efforts towards fame, fortune, or really just enough success that I can afford to do nothing other than write and act (because it is my passion, my life, my nirvana, See Intro Post for more details).  Mostly though I’m going to write about random writing related topics as they occur to me and hopefully get thoughts on said musings from others in the blogosphere, meet cool people, interact more with the cool people I already know, and plot to take over the world.  I’ll have some posts about the acting side of things in here as well, which might or might not be of interest to people but I’m far too lazy (I mean busy) to have two blogs and Its My Blog and I’ll Blog If I Want To.

So without further ado – actual topicness.  Today’s topic is On Cannibalism, as its something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

And no, not the actual literal eating of human flesh as I’m not QUITE warped enough to muse on that overly much.  I’m talking about writing cannibalism, or the consumption of plots, characters and ideas from earlier manuscripts or WIPs.

If you’re anything like me, firstly I’m sorry.  That’s not a cross anyone should have to bear.  However, if you ARE, then you occasionally have brilliant, stupendous, orgasmic bursts of inspiration.  Ideas that can only be referred to as THE GREATEST IDEAS EVER (capitals required for proper emphasis).  And you write those ideas, and instead of the fireworks you were expecting, you’re instead confronted with erectile dysfunction while standing in front of the most beautiful person in the world.  Alanis Morisette would call that ironic, I believe.  I would hand her a dictionary and file it under Things That Just Plain Suck instead, but point is, something somewhere went wrong. 

However, sometimes it’s not the idea itself that’s the problem.  It is after all, THE GREATEST IDEA IN THE WORLD.  Sometimes, instead, it just wasn’t the right fit for that novel or project.  Maybe it was an amazing character…but just not a character that belonged in that particular novel.  Or plot point, or magic system, or whatever.  So the only thing you can do is grab a scalpel, extract it, and put it in a jar for a later, more fitting project. 

Sometimes, the idea or character or whatever fit perfectly into the novel you first wrote it into – and for whatever reason, the novel itself didn’t work, or get finished, or needed to be shelved indefinitely.  I once wrote a MG fantasy novel called ‘Boy Nature’, about the twelve year old son of Mother Nature, and the dysfunctional relationship that ensued from being born the wrong gender because the position of Mother Nature always falls from mother to daughter, and Mother Nature can’t be a boy because boys just aren’t nurturing enough to do the job right.  My MC was great, and I loved writing the relationship between him and Mother Nature and what it let me examine about gender roles.  The problem was, I never finished that novel and never will, because I realized 3/4ths of the way in that I was writing it for all the wrong reasons. 

You see, I wasn’t writing it because it was something I wanted to read but couldn’t because nobody else had written it yet and jeez I’d just have to do it myself and MY LIFE IS SO HARD.  No, I was writing it because I’d just read Rick Riordan’s ‘The Lightning Thief’ (about the son of a Greek god) and basically wanted to write my own version without being perfectly obvious about it by just using another mythological pantheon instead of the Greeks.  Now, there are good, quality novels that can come from reading something that resonates so strongly with you that you can’t stop thinking about how you would have done it if you had been the one to write it.  But when I consciously think how can I do the same thing as this guy without looking the same, that’s pretty much the definition of derivative.  And that conflicts with my being the Special-est of All The Special Snowflakes, so you know.  That book ain’t ever getting finished.  But the character and the dynamic with his mother, etc – that stuff was gold.  And deserves to be in a book.  I just haven’t thought of the book for it yet.

But then there’s the third kind of writing cannibalism.  And this is the one that’s had me thinking lately, and where things can get tricky.  Sometimes, the idea or character or plot point works perfectly in the novel you write it into.  But you must remember it is in fact, THE GREATEST IDEA EVER.  So you discover – it also works just as well, if not better, in another novel.  It’s that great.  You can insert it into any novel and thereby turn book crap into book gold.  IT IS THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE OF IDEAS.  An alchemical id, if you will!  And so you have a manuscript that’s been languishing unedited for awhile.  Not because its horrible, but just because you can’t think of what to do with it at the time.  And then you have this new, shiny WIP.  And you’re stuck on a certain plot point, or at a lull, and you remember TGIE.  And you think to yourself, what a shame that TGIE is just laying there with that manuscript you’re not doing anything with, where nobody can see its brilliance (and thus tell you how brilliant you are).  And you think to yourself, self, this is a grave injustice.  You are doing TGIE a disservice.  Why, if I were your muse, I would take personal offense to how you’ve abused her gift of TGIE and NEVER GIVE YOU ANOTHER ONE!  Panic sets in.  You break out in hives.  And then, looking around furtively to make sure no one is watching BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WRONG – you grab a knife and cut a big honking chunk out of your initial manuscript and stuff it in your new one.  And it works!  The graft is an unqualified success!  Your new manuscript is finished, its great, its brilliant, and all your family and friends and people you’ve paid to tell you that do so.  You bask in your own amazing-ness – but only as much as you can, with the wounded eyes of your abandoned first manuscript staring judgmentally at your back.

This, dear readers (or empty blogosphere), is my current predicament.  Many moons ago, I wrote a YA fantasy called ‘Roanoke’.  And then I stuck it on a shelf and wrote many other things.  I always intended to go back to it someday, but someday turned into many days because I had lots of Bright!Shiny!New!Ideas demanding my attention, and it needed a lot of work.  It wasn’t a bad novel by any means, it was just that it was my first.  And you know how those things are.  It had great characters, great world-building, awesome magic and action and adventure, it just also had First Novel Flaws and needed a lot of line work and pacing adjustment and general rewrites and I LOATHE rewrites with a passion.  So instead I wrote another new novel called ‘Good Intentions’ an adult urban fantasy, and I lifted TGIE ever from ‘Roanoke’, a major plot twist and villain motivation that pretty much was the inciting conflict for that book, the thing that made everything else fall into place – and I stuck it into ‘Good Intentions.’  And it worked if anything, even better there.

So now ‘Good Intentions’ is off in the wilds of query/submission lands.  There’s no taking it back, and I wouldn’t if I could.  The book rocks.  It's totally deserving of TGIE and did Papa proud.  It’s got a con artist who uses faith and superstition to power his spells, a Chinese movie star and incubus and his werewolf cop boyfriend, a shapeshifting dragon who at various points in history has been both Helen of Troy and Marilyn Monroe and its got the Spirit of Los Angeles haunting a hotel downtown.  And none of that would have been possible without TGIE.  But ‘Roanoke’ too, now that I return to it with fresh yet seasoned eyes, has the potential to be amaze-balls.  Even without TGIE.  But how do you go about rewriting the entire core of a novel’s plot, without taking away the little details you loved so much about the novel as a whole?  Is such a thing even possible?

Is it, as Alanis Morisette might say, ironic?

Or does it just plain suck?    

Thoughts, recommendations, non sequiturs, personal anecdotes and drink recipes all welcome.

First Post

Welcome to the inaugural blog post of well, me!  For those of you new to the wonderfully narcissistic ramblings of well, me, a brief introduction with all the relevant statistics:  At the moment, I’m a twenty six year old writer and actor living in Hollywood and generally being a great giant cliché.  I say at the moment only in regards to my age – I expect to turn twenty seven at some point and thus that will change.  I do not however ever expect the writer or actor thing to change, because part of my being a great giant cliché is ‘I can’t imagine myself doing anything else’, ‘I’m in it for the art, not the money’, ‘Writing/acting is my passion, my life, my nirvana’, blah blah blah ad nauseam.  Yes, I’m THAT guy.  Insert groans here.  And now I’m going to stop referring to myself as a great, giant cliché because its making me feel fat, and we’ll talk about what makes me a special snowflake instead.

I’m generally more of a genre guy, with scifi and fantasy being my staples, though I do occasionally dabble in other genres (as with my first novel, a YA called ‘Shades of Adrian Gray’ which ended up with zero paranormal elements despite my best efforts).  I write across a variety of mediums, trying to break into the screenplay and comic book formats as well as the novel publishing biz.  Some common tropes that should clue you in you’re reading a novel by me include an insistence on trying to reinvent the wheel (even when the wheel would work perfectly well), highly dysfunctional family relationships, an apparent obsession with dead boyfriends and girlfriends and the ghosts thereof, a lot of action and adventure, and diverse casts.  The reinventing the wheel comes from my need to be the Special-est of the Special Snowflakes, the dysfunction and dead boyfriends come from Having Issues and too many viewings of The Sopranos, the action in every chapter comes from the ADD, and the diverse casts comes from being bisexual and bored with the usual.  I write ideas that I would like to read, but can’t, because no one else has written them yet.  It’s that simple.  So when I write a gay main character, or a bi main character, or a Latina character or an Asian character, I’m pushing the ‘Well I would really like to READ about this character but I can’t because no one else has written them yet so I guess I’ll just have to do it myself.  Jeez.  MY LIFE IS SO HARD.’ Agenda and no other.

I also like flowers and chocolate and long walks on the beach – just kidding.  Flowers make me sneeze, chocolate makes me fat and long walks on the beach make me tired and get sand in unpleasant places.  But you get the idea.

So.  Introductions over.  Moving on….