Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zombie Kalen Will Eat Your Brains

Hopefully brains taste like sushi or something yum.  Whatevs.

Fair warning:  To make up for an overly extended absence, this blog post will be the lengthiest blog post in the history of blog posts EVER.  (Partly due to the unnecessary repetition of 'blog post'.  Just roll with it).

ANYWAY.  Let's get this out of the way, Kalen's been a bad bad blogger, since he hasn't touched this thing since last January and forgot his own password.  I was busy yo!  With stuff!

Oh.  You want details?

FINE!  Okay, so not this WriteOnCon, but last one, so like a whole YEAR ago, some drama and shizz went down.  Which was really unfortunate because I'd had a bunch of agents request material that I inadvertently left hanging, and plus, you know, drama.  I ended up moving cities for a year, family in crisis, blah blah blah ohmygawdWHATEVER I'm so bored.  Point is, by the time things settled down last spring and I was able to start focusing on my writing and career again, I'd had a lot of time to think and reflect and decide what I want and how I want to get there.

'Oh Kalen', those of you who know me well are saying as you shake your heads pityingly.  'That never ends well.'

No.  No it does not.

Self-deprecating wit aside, this is a Very Important Question that every writer needs to ask themselves at some point, the sooner the better.  What do you WANT?  For your book, for your career, for yourself?  What are your priorities?  Would you rather your book be commercially successful or award-winning and praised for its literary merit?  Is your dream to see it in hard cover on the shelf in a Barnes and Noble, or just to get it to as many people as possible wherever you find them?  To find a niche, build a brand, and revisit the same world and characters as often as a publisher will let you, or branch out and write in multiple genres for multiple demographics?

So I sat down (well, remained sitting, more like.  I was already sitting down) and asked myself these questions.  And asked my friends to weigh in.  And then went to the nearest McDonalds and asked the cashier what he thought, just to be sure I'd been thorough.  I started to develop a sneaking suspicion that my plans were going to have to involve self-publishing.

Those of you who've read my blog from the start aren't surprised by this, I'm sure.  I've always been curious about that road, not from any dissatisfaction with trade publishers, but because I like flexibility, and adaptability, and above all I love the chance to be experimental.  My mother calls it Special Snowflake Syndrome.  And people wonder where my flavor of wit comes from.

Most of all though - wait, I already save above all, I can't do most of all on top of that.  WHATEVER.  Point is, I like options.  The more, the better.  I have certain worlds in my head that I want to know once I publish them, I'll be able to revisit them with readers whenever I want, rather than have to depend on sales to justify further sequels.  I have a book I came up with a specific way to market, that I don't want to have to go through a publisher's marketing department for approval.  I have another book where I just don't want to leave a paper trail of the illegal subliminal messages I insert in order to recruit the youth of America into vandalizing property with the graffiti tag: THIS BUILDING IS PROPERTY OF KALEN.  ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.

And so on and so forth.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm 'giving up' on trade publishing!  Far from it!  I'm sitting on a MG fantasy about a boy who's part of a secret society of thieves who steal magic from all corners of time and space.  I fully intend to query, submit, and shop it to agents and publishers at some point with completely unreasonable expectations on my part.  But that's exactly what I'm talking about.  Every book, every author has their own path in the big, wide world of publishing.  My path, I've come to believe, involves walking down both the self and trade publishing roads simultaneously....either in accordance with or in defiance of the whole Schrodinger's Cat thing.  (I can never figure out which.  I'm an author, not a physicist, damn it.)  Being able to decide with each book whether publishing it myself or finding a publisher is best for it.

I'll admit, when I first realized that I was seriously considering self-publishing, there was a lot of neurotic backlash.  There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and my friends are saints for just tuning out the BUT BUT BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PRETTY HARDCOVERS AND EVERYONE'S GOING TO THINK I JUST WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH AND OMGAWD WHAT IF NOBODY BUT YOU GUYS EVER READS IT EVER AND AND I JUST WANT A MILLION DOLLARS AND A FILM DEAL WHAT IF I NEVER GET A FILM DEAL YOU GUYYYYYYYYYYS.

Yeah.  It wasn't pretty.  Snot.  Was.  EVERYWHERE.

But then, I started thinking.  So my road to publication wasn't going to look like everyone else's.  Wait, what DID everyone else's road to publication look like?  And then I started looking up people I knew from QueryTracker and AbsoluteWrite and AgentQuery, in the year and a half since I first started building a query list for my first novel.

And it occurred to me, another question I think every author needs to ask themselves:  Just what exactly did I expect my road to publication to look like?

Should it look my critique partner Gennifer Albin, who got seven agent offers the first week she queried, sold her trilogy in a major deal, and whose book CREWEL just released last week?

Or how about my dear friend A.G. Howard, who was on submission for months before selling her debut Splintered at auction, and has gone on to receive gushing praise from book reviewers and bestselling authors like Melissa Marr?

Or my friend of almost ten years, Corinne Duyvis, who got an agent, went on sub, shelved her novel, sold a short story, attracted the attention of her future editor Maggie Lerhman with said short story, submitted her novel to Maggie, got a new agent (the incomparable Ammi-Joan Paquette), and sold a completely DIFFERENT novel to Maggie, the amazing LGBT fantasy novel Otherbound?

Or Lydia Kang, who sold her sci-fi CONTROL to Penguin/Dial just TWO weeks after she signed with her agent.  I KNOW!  Holy shizznizz, right?

I could compare myself to Karen Akins, I guess, since she got requests for her sci-fi novel LOOP at the same WriteOnCon I did over a year ago...and then went on to sign with Victoria Marini thanks to MSFV's Baker's Dozen agent who had already rejected her original query months before, and now landed her a two book deal at St. Martin's!

Or there's Emily Murdoch, who parted ways with her agent and later signed with the amazing Mandy Hubbard, who sold If You Find Me also to St. Martin's.

And then there's Natalie Parker, who signed with Sarah Davies and almost a full year later announced her six figure two book deal for BEWARE THE WILD.

Josin L. McQuein, who we hate btw, sold ARCLIGHT in a major deal the DAY it went on submission.  Then she sold PREMEDITATED a few short months later.  If she sells another book or announces a film deal or something, I will probably have to shank her, because she's just freaky, okay?  (J/k, I adore Josin.  She's awesomesauce.)

Bethany Hagen sold LANDRY PARK in a major deal three days after she signed with Mollie Glick.  Jessica Khoury signed with her agent last fall, sold ORIGIN not long after, and it's already out in stores and has a film deal.  Her agent sibling Anna Banks had a similarly fast publishing timeline, selling OF POSEIDON a few weeks after signing, releasing her book a little over a year later, and just announcing this morning that her publisher has requested a third book in her series.  Ryan Graudin sold ALL THAT GLOWS after a relatively short submission period, at least compared to the months my good, amazing and fantabulous friend Bethany Crandell spent on sub before landing SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS at Running Press.  Mindee Arnett has sold TWO series before her first novel's even debuted.  So did Meagan Spooner if you count the BEA Buzz Book SKYLARK she wrote on her own, and THESE BROKEN STARS, the space age version of Titanic she wrote with Amie Kaufman and sold in a significant deal to Hyperion.  And you should also check out STARGLASS by Phoebe North, THE WITCH HUNTER'S BIBLE by Michelle Krys, and THE MURDER COMPLEX by Lindsay Cummings.  Kate Karyus Quinn sold ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE two weeks after signing with Alexandra Machinist, Stefan Bachmann landed a home for his BEA Buzz Book THE PECULIAR two weeks after signing with Sara Megibow, and Mindy McGinnis was on submission for awhile before selling her dystopian NOT A DROP TO DRINK.  Mindy likes to stay busy though, so while on submission she started a popular blog about the in's and out's of various writers' query and submission trials....check out her interview with RC Lewis, who landed her agent and book deal for STITCHING SNOW in a most unusual way.

So you see....even this block-headed numbskull, when confronted with facts like that, eventually realized that even if I did want my road to publication to be just like everyone else' would that even be possible?  Each and every one of the above authors was unagented when I first started pursuing writing as a career a little under two years ago.  Each and everyone of them has become successful in their own way, and no two of those ways look even remotely alike.  And these are just their debuts....who can imagine the varied shapes the rest of their careers will take?  When I realized I couldn't even pick out one specific author's road to publication to wish for mine to imitate, it became very freeing in a way.  Welcome, I realized at last, to an industry where normal means being different from everyone else!

I'd now like to bring this back around to making it all about me.  Stop groaning, it was inevitable.  I use the word ego in my blog address, you were forewarned.

So in the spirit of charting my own path, I decided at last that my debut novel will be self-published, and it will be completely unlike any of the above.  The Special Snowflake Syndrome has no cure.  I've made my peace with that.  I chose self-publishing for this particular novel for a number of reasons.  No agent or editor has ever seen the manuscript for this; I never queried or submitted it to publishers.  It's a superhero novel, or more accurately, a novel about the daughter of a supervillain.  It will be categorized under YA on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the other online retailers, but technically its more a 'New Adult', since the main character is out of high school and on her own, for thematic purposes and reasons pertaining to story.  But most importantly, it's serialized.

I've been a lifelong comic book fan, not just for the brightly colored and spandex clad superheroes, but because I'm a fan of the medium.  The different ways it plays with storytelling.  Leave aside the pairing of art and story, modern superhero comics are structured in an interesting way, frequently having 'story arcs' made up of five or six issues released either monthly or biweekly that go together to form an overall storyline.  Each issue has its own rising and falling action, some issues end on cliffhangers, some don't, but at the end of the story arc you're left with a complete resolution.  It's a format that is well suited to superhero adventures, and its that model I've chosen to imitate here.  And so 'FENCE: Sins of the Daughter' consists of five 'issues' or installments of 15-20K apiece.  Each with their own relatively self-contained piece of the overall story, a novel of approximately 90K.  I'll be unveiling my website at the start of next week, along with the first chapter as a free sample and news on other projects as well.  The first installment of FENCE will be available on all major online retailers the following week.  Each issue of FENCE will be $1.49, and new issues will be released every two weeks, with a complete volume releasing once the last issue is out.  The complete volume will be priced at $6.99, so if you wait to read the whole thing then you'll save fifty cents.  But, you know, screw waiting guys.  Instant gratification is so much more rewarding, yanno?

ANYWAY.  So that's the scoop, the buzz, the poop.  Be a gaggle of darlings and spread the news, mark it in your dayplanners, confer with friends.  Or you know, don't do any of that and disregard as Not Your Cuppa Tea.  I WILL LOVE YOU EITHER WAY!  *smothers you all with lurv and adoration*

Kalen out!


noun,often attributive\ˈfen(t)s\
a : a receiver of stolen goods
b : a place where stolen goods are bought

Two years ago, the villainous Dr. Moreau plummeted to his death from 20,000 feet in the air.  It was agreed a superhero had to be responsible; it was also agreed nobody was terribly concerned with figuring out which one.

Nobody except Cassidy Moreau.

Unimpressed with justice's selective blindness, Cassidy adopted her own ridiculous cloaked persona and set out on a revenge spree that would make her father proud.  As the Fence, she's perfected her dad's technology and uses it to strip heroes of their abilities....which she then sells to the highest bidder.  So far, it hasn't gotten her any closer to unmasking her father's killer, but at least it keeps her credit cards paid off.

It's strictly business when she targets Manhattan's literal golden boy, the teen heart throb formerly known as Kid Midas.  Problem is, Midas turns out to be more than just a set of washboard abs when he uncovers Cassidy's secret identity.  His brief spurt of brain activity is mitigated by his belief he can get his powers back by appealing to her better nature, but whatever.  Cassidy's got bigger problems.  The guy she sold his abilities to is a crazed nihilist intending to use them to destroy the city.  Who knew changing things to gold involved moving atoms around, right?

As the city counts down towards doomsday, its fate rests in whether or not one hero can convince Cassidy to give a damn - preferably before she takes the nearest bus out of town.

Don't hold your breath, Manhattan. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Sound and the Fury (of Internet Flame Wars)

So for anyone who's been on twitter in the past couple of days, I'm sure the news that there's been yet another kerfluffle in the epic YA Reviewers Vs YA Authors war comes as no surprise.  Let's call this one Round Fifty Bajillion, shall we?

Being as I have no connection to anyone in the Goodreads thread, am not yet an author, and am too lazy to actually review books, I read said thread with the kind of morbid fascination I normally reserve for viewing Joel Schumacher movies.  This isn't to say that it was a new or unfamiliar phenomenom to me - I am a hardened veteran of internet wars in other arenas and have conducted myself embarrassingly on more than one occasion.  Hell, there are certain parts of the internet where my name is used as a verb - but don't ask.  It's a long story, and I don't look pretty in it, so I'll only lie anyway.

My point is, this shit happens.  We get worked up, we say things we shouldn't, and as we have ostentatiously large vocabularies with which to arm our insults, things get ugly real quick.  We are all imperfectly evolved monkeys after all - the urge to occasionally fling our own poo at each other is hard-wired into our DNA.  (Or something like that.  I dunno.  Biology wasn't my best subject.)

Problem is, we're all so busy pointing fingers in the aftermath that we rarely bother to take a good hard look at ourselves.  But it takes two to tango, as much as we try to pretend otherwise, and there were some gross misassumptions being thrown around on BOTH sides of this most recent argument which all but guarantee that it will happen again in some form or another.  And as I'm hoping the next big internet kerfluffle is about something a little more interesting, like say, Zombie Dinosaurs Were Responsible for Ending the Vietnam War: True or False, I thought I'd point out some of those misassumptions here in a blogpost I shall inevitably regret when I sober up in the morning.  Please know that not everything I say in this post is directed at the Tempest review thread that....its simply the most recent brouhaha in a long line of YA review brouhahas and it (and even moreso, the responses to it all around the 'net) have gotten me thinking.

First off, there's a LOT of talk going around about readers and reviewers railing against authors for weighing in on their reviews, and how this is like censorship and etc, etc, etc ad nauseam.  The thing  It's really not.  And the more people say that, the more people who don't know any better will start to really believe it, and the more I will bang my head against my desk when my doctor has told me any more concussions and I'll start randomly speaking in tongues like Klingon and High Elvish, which has the potential to be mad embarrassing, yo.

See the thing about free speech: contrary to popular assumption, it does NOT equal freedom from the SOCIAL consequences of your speech.

You get to say whatever you want on the internet, this is true.  About the books you read, the authors who write them, whatever.  You get to say it however you want to, as well.  You can be angry, sarcastic, passive aggressive or even speak in rhyme.

What you can NOT do however, is dictate how people respond to you.  Nor can you dictate who composes those responses.

Look, however you try and spin it, the review that sparked this most recent argument was antagonistic in tone.  I don't say this as a condemnation, just as a point of fact.  It was about a hot button issue for the reviewer, and lord knows I have hot button issues of my own - queef me a smoke signal about bisexuals being misrepresented and I'm likely to show up two seconds later with nuclear warheads armed and at the ready.

All I'm saying is if you're going to put something like that out there you need to hold yourself responsible for putting it out there in the manner you chose.  You can't start the party off with some righteous hellfire and brimstone and then get pissed that when dissidents eventually show up, they're not wearing their Calm and Rational Discourse party hats.  You're the one that set the tone, and as like begets like, people respond accordingly.  This is basic schoolyard politics.  We learned this stuff in grade school.  You can run up behind little Sammy Stickuphisass on the playground and push him over if you feel like it, but its disingenuous to then run to the teacher and play the victim when Sammy turns around and pushes you back.  Take whatever tone you want on the internet and vent accordingly - just don't expect to be disagreed with in a kind and thoughtful tone.

But, you might say, I have a right to say what I want about this book I purchased without having to worry about the author looking over my shoulder and weighing in on what I say about it.

No.  Wrong.  You absolutely do not have that RIGHT.  The fact that MOST authors do not do this has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and their personal desire to conduct themselves professionally - with the provision that there is no single standard for professional behavior and they all have to make their own decisions on what constitutes behaving professionally.

But make no mistake, the generally accepted standard of behavior in no way gives you some right to say whatever you want about an author's book and expect that they know better than to engage you on it.  I'm not saying this is a good idea for authors - in fact, I think its a freaking godawful idea for authors.  I'm just saying, authors or friends of authors who DO take umbrage in regards to a review aren't breaking some law.  You don't actually get to go round up in the internet in defense of yourself if you crossed the lines of good taste because you were operating under the assumption the author 'knew better' than to return fire.  (And please note, I'm not actually talking about the Tempest review when I say this - I think the initial review was antagonistic but not overly so, and did not actually cross any lines into attacking the author personally - but let's not play the 'I've never seen a review that went too far' game, mmkay?)

My point here is simply that I've seen too many reviewers getting dangerously close to that line-of-good-taste simply because they know the author is going to come off looking bad if they speak up about it.  If this is or ever has been you, let's be real - you're taking advantage of social economics, not waging the war of the underdog against the big bad asshole author.  There is no actual unwritten law that protects you from authors getting pissed at you...and there sure as hell is no unwritten moral law that excuses you from behaving like a mature adult just because you dropped eight bucks on a paperback.

I'm not even going to get into the comments I've seen from people who justify their attitude towards authors in reviews and comment threads by saying 'oh they bucketloads of money from their publishing deal so they should just suck it up and deal'.  Umm yeah...that's not actually justification.  It's just you being a dick, and the less said about that the better.

But now for the flip side of the equation, the authors.

Again, look, I get it.  If you've never actually tried writing a whole book and getting it out there for public consumption - that shit will wear you down, kids.  True fact.  It's not actually an extreme exaggeration to say that by the time of publication most authors view their stories as something akin to a beloved child.  And much like sending a beloved child off to school for the first time, the temptation to 'tag along' and just see how they fare out in the big wide world by you know, secretly stalking them from behind bushes and trashcans - it can be overwhelming.  But what authors have to realize is if you give in to that temptation, sooner or later you're going to see some punk bullying your precious baby and taking his lunch money, and while running up to the bullying little shit and kicking him in his pre-pubescent balls will sure FEEL satisfying....its absolutely not going to end well for you.  Hands down, guaranteed.  And this goes for friends and colleagues of the author as well....the general public isn't likely to look any more kindly on you for castrating that smart-mouthed little asshat because you're just the doting aunt or uncle rather than the mouth-frothingly over-protective Mother Bear herself.    

Secondly, this is the internet, and Rule One of Internet Warfare is He Who Shouts the Loudest is most likely to win.  And authors on the internet have Big Voices.  The mere act of getting a blurb about your book posted in Publisher's Marketplace is usually enough to net an author an easy hundred more twitter followers than your average reviewer.  When an author says something on the internet, they say it to more people.  When an author points something out, more people look where they're pointing.  When an author says 'I'm right about this', more people respond with 'you absolutely are!'  The internet is at times an anarchistic wasteland, my friends.  We make Mad Max look like an upstanding citizen of a genteel civilization at times.  Screw the rules of common courtesy, mob rule holds sway more often than not, and just by virtue of being able to say 'I have a book', internet-math ups your chances of having at least a few sycophants at your beck and call.  It's just the way things are.

So yeah, let's not kid ourselves - you don't have to fight your own battles when you're an author.  You just have to point towards them with heavy-handed implication and you can expect friends and fans to do the fighting for you.  Just like when reviewers start things off explosively and then cry foul when it backfires, its disingenuous when an author just points a negative opinion out on twitter and then stands back with a 'oh, but I'm not going to get involved.'  Yeah, but no.  To go back to my Oh So Intellectual playground analogy from earlier, its the equivalent of showing up to a fight behind the bleachers with all your friends from the football team standing behind you.  And if you've never seen how that one ends, you've never slept with the quarterback's super hot cheerleader girlfriend, thinking they were on a break.  (I do not recommend, btw.  Not that I'm uh, speaking from experience or anything.)  But yeah.  Nobody's going to lock you up in Internet Jail if you bring your posse to each and every one of these little soirees....its just, ya know, super hella tacky if you do.

Again, just to reiterate, because pedantic is how I roll, I get it dudes.  I still hope to be published someday myself, and I can tell you right now, I'm gonna absolutely SUCK at the whole behaving professionally thing.  I mean, real talk.  I'm a writer AND an actor.  I come with a double dose of built in insecure neuroses.  If I'm ever lucky enough to land a big bucks publishing deal, the first thing I'm investing in is a tattooed, physically intimidating club bouncer to hover behind me everytime I go online and punch me in the throat if it even looks like I'm about to hit reply to a negative review or comment.  But you what you have to in order to take the higher road.  It's seriously worth it.  Get up and go take a walk everytime someone pisses you off.  Head down to the nearest ATM, withdraw a hundred bucks in singles from your bank account and bring it home, toss it on the bed and roll around in it to make yourself feel better if that's what you absolutely have to do.

....Just don't tell anyone that's how you handle criticism if you do.  That's not gonna go over well either.  Just saying.

So yeah, in conclusion to this epic the end of the day, the writer's obligation to their reader begins and ends with writing the book readers purchase.  The reader's obligation to the writer begins and ends with plopping down however much money their book cost to purchase.  It's THAT simple.  Anything and everything outside of that simple transaction comes with absolutely zero guarantees.

Writers and readers are inevitably going to come into conflict at times.  But when that happens, guess what?  Both sides bear the onus of behaving like mature adults equally.  Neither side is inherently more responsible for catering to the needs or wishes of the other - not the authors, because the reader spent their hard-earned money on them, and not the readers, because the author wrote that story they liked.  Honestly, people need to stop worrying about what other people SHOULD be doing or how they SHOULD handle themselves and just worry about the only thing they can control - how they conduct themselves personally.  And yes, I'm perfectly aware that this entire blogpost is about telling other people how they should behave and I'm absolutely a hypocrite, but like, whatever and stuff.  I'm an imperfectly evolved monkey, remember? 

Act like adults, or don't.  It's totally up to you.  But if you choose not to, accept that you played your own part in whatever follows, and don't run off crying foul to the rest of the internet because so and so hurt your feelings.

Some of us are busy playing Skyrim, thank you very much.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Five Days Left in NaNo....

So how's everybody doing with that?  I'm just checking in, because well.....remember that Critique Partner Auction Blogfest thingie I tried to do last year?  Didn't really work out and I said I'd try again after NaNo....

Yeah, so...I'm not gonna do that.  Got an epic workload in December and that's just asking for trouble.  What I AM going to do however is host a Critique Partner Blogfest for everyone who wants another set of eyes to sign up.  On the day/week of the Blogfest just post a logline and first 250 words of your MS and then click through other blogs in the blogfest in search of new Critique Partners to swap with.  Easy peasy.  So what I'm just curious about is when you think would be the best time for this?  Is December 1st too soon?  I know that even if people finished 50K in November that doesn't mean they'll be done with their book yet.  So would people be interested in going ahead and starting with a Blogfest like this first week of December or would you guys prefer to wait a week or two and give people a little more time to finish their whole books first?

Feel free to chime in with thoughts, comments and suggestions and I'll post next week with an actual date and sign up sheet for the Blogfest once people have had time to weigh in.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend all and good luck on the last few days of NaNo!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tough Topic Tuesday: Where's the Responsibility?

Hello, lovely peoples!  It is a beauteous Tuesday here in Southern California, and I have been PONDERING.

Also, whichever one of you got me hooked on alliteration (points up at post title), I suggest you start running, for I am mightily vexed.  You don't even want to know what my manuscripts look like these days.  It's like Old English Poetry decided to just take a dump all over them.


So I've been thinking a lot lately about the responsibility of an author, especially a YA author, in regards to difficult or morally gray subject matter.  A lot of YA (particularly contemporaries) tackle some pretty heavy stuff these days.  I mean, we all remember the Wall Street Journal kerfluffle, right?  But it's not subject matter that's got me thinking, but how we approach those subject matters.

Sometimes you have the Voice of Moral Authority, that heavy-handed author who ordains from her writing desk that CERTAIN THINGS ARE BAD AND YOU SHOULD NEVER DO THEM.  'Mary Ellen caved to peer pressure and smoked a joint one day and it ruined her life and broke up her family and she flunked out of school and never went to college and worked at a gas station the rest of her life and died miserable and alone, DO YOU WANT TO BE LIKE MARY ELLEN?'

Fortunately, most of us keep our Voices of Moral Authority tucked far, far away from our writing desks.

But then we have Buddy-Buddy/I'm Just Like You Kids Syndrome, that lackadaisical approach wherein we're all just good friends and its just a story anyways and kids'll make the right choice on their own.  'Mary Ellen got high every single day and it was totally awesome and she never had to be sober once all through high school and yet she still graduated with honors and had a totally cool boyfriend and they both went to law school and had two point five kids, a golden retriever and a house with a white picket fence and lived happily ever after while still occasionally getting high with their now teenage kids, DON'T YOU WISH YOU WERE JUST LIKE MARY ELLEN?'

Fortunately, this particular syndrome is rare amongst capable writers as well.

Obviously, these are two very extreme ends of the spectrum, and most of us, and most published works, fall somewhere in the middle.  The question is, where do you fall in this spectrum?  What do you see as your responsibility to teen readers?

I think most of us would like to be as true to life as possible and let readers draw their own conclusions, and decide for themselves.  But drugs are a fairly easy example.  There's not a lot of gray area when it comes to strictly illegal substances and breaking the law, so you don't HAVE to be heavy-handed as an author to still feel comfortable that kids aren't going to put down your book and immediately go in search of a crack pipe, no matter what tack you take with it.  It takes some of the pressure off.

But what about something where there isn't as clear a right or wrong?  A lot of YA deals with complex social issues like eating disorders, abusive relationships, let's extrapolate from one of those.

This is a purely hypothetical writing exercise, not based on a real book:

Say you're writing a story that involves a boy with a history of being abusive to his girlfriend - but he's not with her anymore, he's done his best to make amends, he's been through therapy, he's doing his best to be a different person, a better person...and he meets a new girl.  What does this new girl in your story and in his life do?  Does she trust herself with him, even knowing he has a violent past, believing in second chances and that he's a different person now?

What message would you, the author writing that narrative, want teenage girls to take away from reading that book?  And how much, and in what ways, would your writing of that book be shaped by the choice you'd hope your readers would make if they found themselves in that situation?


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tales from the Set

So I have officially beaten NaNo with the completion of SUNSET SONATA at 85K....and I'm off and running again with my next novel GHOST FOX GIRLS (sample and synopsis are up on the site under my KalenO profile - feel free to add me to your buddy list if you haven't already).

But I thought I'd take a break from all that for a second and revive a short-lived series from earlier in the weekly Tales from the which I give a nitty gritty view of some of the shenanigans that take place on the sets of some of the most popular TV shows and movies.

Be forewarned.  This week's installment is SCANDALOUS.

Now, aside from being SCANDALOUS, this week's tale is also from my early days as an extra, and takes place on the set of a popular medical drama...but do not bother speculating as to which show precisely it is, as I CAN NEITHER CONFIRM NOR DENY!

Unless you bribe me with books, of course.  I'm the literary equivalent of a cheap date.

ANYWAYS.  So there we were, on location at a real, actual hospital for filming.  This show had its set on one of the major lots of course, but it also used big, sweeping shots of the outside of a hospital, people going in and out of the entrance and scenes that took actors down long, hospital hallways that simply couldn't be replicated on a small soundstage.  So for shots like those, they used a VA hospital that allowed them free reign of one wing of it after 4 pm one day a week.

Now, most of the extras on this show were regulars...they liked to establish us as background doctors, nurses and orderlies so there was a familiar feel to the hospital rather than the sense that it was a Magic Hospital that contained thousands more doctors, nurses and orderlies than the Rules of Physics would seem to allow.

So we were all friendly, we knew each other well, joked around all the time, knew the cast, the fact, to the new, virginal extras who came on the show every week to be patients and visitors and never return, we seemed an impenetrable clique.

As such, in accordance with the Laws of Cool Kids Everywhere, we didn't really associate with the new extras much.  And for that, I blame society and accept no responsibility.

ANYWAYS.  So on the day in question, we were pretty much being left to our own devices while the cast and crew shot scenes on the far end of the hospital wing opposite where we were positioned.  There was a grand, Very Dramatic scene wherein a mob of doctors swept through the halls of the hospital following the lead of one doctor, and we were all positioned in that last hallway they were to walk through so they'd have people to Dramatically Sweep Aside as they passed.

However, they were taking a very long time with the scenes at the other end of the hospital, and they hadn't gotten to us for hours.  Needless to say, we were very bored.

So a group of us 'regulars' were sitting on the floor in the hallway we were supposed to be waiting in.  Playing on our phones, chatting, being silly, and rolling a tennis ball back and forth to each other.  Oh yeah.  Hollywood, baby.  You know you're jealous.

All of a sudden, one of the new extras came running up to us.  She'd been stationed in a small alcove further down the hall, and I guess due to our Unapproachable Cliquey-ness had remained there rather than come closer and join us in our highly fulfilling game of 'Roll the Tennis Ball'.  So imagine our surprise when this petite little blonde girl in nurse scrubs comes running up to us, all wide-eyed and out of breath.

"What is it, Lassie?  Did Timmy fall down the well again?"  One of us (possibly me, I admit to nothing) inquired somewhat asininely.

"So I was waiting in that alcove like they told me," she huffed, still out of breath.  We nodded along, hoping this was going somewhere good.  As I said, we were very bored.  "And I had to sneeze, but I didn't want to make any noise, you know, cuz they're filming over there!"

We nodded somewhat less enthusiastically, no longer convinced the punch line was going to be worth our attention.  She clearly had no idea how to get to the point.  It was very different from how I tell a story like this, for instance.

"So I opened the door behind me and stuck my head in to cough - " Here she paused dramatically, so I will do the same....

"And there were two people in there HAVING SEX!"

"Just to clarify, when you say having sex, you mean..." 

I received a few dirty looks at my effort to seek clarification, and shrugged.  "What?  We don't know what she considers to be having sex.  I feel its a valid question.  She could be Amish and referring to heavy petting, for all we know!"

"Well, there was a guy laying on a bed and a woman on top of him and she had no shirt on and when they saw me the woman said 'Can I help you, sweetie?'"

"Yup, that counts," I said.  I was mostly ignored.

Instead everyone exchanged wide-eyed looks and started down the hallway.  This was by far the most exciting thing that had happened since lunch, and we were all a bunch of pervs anyways.  It wasn't like we were going to look in the room or anything.  It was just that it was after 4 pm, so the only people still in this part of the hospital were members of the production like us and we were very, very curious to see who would come out of that room.

Now, since we were regulars and had been to this part of this hospital many times before, we were familiar with the layout.  And like veritable Nancy Drews we staked out all exits to the Room Behind the Alcove...and sure enough, we spied with our little eyes, Let's Call Her Helen (one of the make-up artists) and Let's Call Him Drew (one of the key grips) sneaking out of the room not long after.  Looking miiiiiiightily disheveled.

This would have been pure titillation, were it not for one thing.

Being 'regulars' on the show, we were familiar with most of the members of the crew.  Including Let's Call Him Drew.

And Let's Call Him Drew's wife.  A very lovely, very sweet woman.

Who was definitely NOT Let's Call Her Helen.

In that empty, echo-ey hallway, you could actually hear the sound of a dozen eyes narrowing militantly.

Now, here's the thing about Hollywood.

Gossip is kind of its lifeblood.  Doesn't matter how much you moan about it, or whether or not you abstain from partaking personally.  Everyone knows everything about everyone....or in the absence of actual knowledge, makes stuff up to fill in any gaps.

Even sequestered away from the rest of production in our little hallway at the end of the hospital, somehow, within ten minutes, every other member of cast and crew knew what was going on.  Except for the first AD who was growing increasingly frustrated at his inability to locate Let's Call Her Helen anywhere (she was hiding in one of the trailers)...and the smirks he was getting whenever he asked.

And for the record, there's nothing quite like watching an A-list actress and major star of a show royally ream out one of the grips for being 'a dick-weaseled ass monkey', to paraphrase loosely.

Now, the moral of today's tale is you never know who might be watching - or just sticking their head in to sneeze, so be careful what you do and say and where you do it and with whom.  That shit'll always come back to bite you in the ass.  ESPECIALLY if you're doing something interesting and observed by people who are bored.

And further for the record, that describes 99% of the internet.  Just something to keep in mind when social networking.

Oh, and just don't do the dirty at work.  It's never worth it, kids.

Unless you're getting paid for it.

(Which incidentally ties into next week's tale.....but that's a story for another time.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Productivity: Magic or Timing?

So a gchat with one of my best buds and a twitter conversation with some of my favorite tweety birds has me thinking....

I know, I know, that's never a good thing.  You can all stop groaning now.

But real talk, peeps.  So we were talking about productivity and writing speeds, and how I can be a little cray cray at times.  And my good gal-pal Linsey who has known me nigh for a decade now, allllll the way back when we were wee Roswell fanfic writers (gasp, I know, I wrote FANFIC!) was testimony to the fact that like, yo.....I used to be completely incapable of finishing a single project.  True story.  Oh, I've always written fast, I can pound out a few thousand words in a sitting, but we all know that's only half of writing.  It doesn't matter how quickly you can type, because if the words ain't coming, they ain't coming.  And that was my problem.  I'd launch into these big, sweeping epics, get 15K or so into them in just a couple days....and then I'd flounder and flounce off to a new shiny.  I'd come back to the initial project after awhile (or after I'd floundered midway through others) and add more....another massive update or two of 15-20K in a matter of days....but it might be weeks or even months between those updates.

My writing was a study in evolutionary leaps.  Stories would crawl through the mud aimlessly, and every few thousand years a sudden LEAP to give them legs....and then it'd be another few thousand years before I came back to teach that little story fire, and like, give it a plot or something.

Yeah, not the best analogy, I know.  This is my brain on NaNo, remember kids?  I warned you it wasn't going to be pretty.

But basically, I had a lot of fish in the sea, but all of them were deformed little mutant tadpoles who were never gonna grow up to be Adult Bullfrog Stories or whatever.  (Man I am just BEATING this metaphor to death.)

And to this day, most of them remain floundering around in the back of my brain, malnourished and unloved.  This is why I don't have pets.

But overtime, once I moved on to being a 'real writer' - which means you have to legitimately write THE END on a project without using the 'rocks fall, people die' shortcut - I got better at the whole finishing thing.  But it took time.

My first novel, ROANOKE, took nine months to finish.  And I wrote for it every day.  But I wrote a couple hundred words a day at times, completely uninspired.  It was like pulling teeth, but I did it.  But what I wound up with wasn't very good.

My second novel, SHADES OF ADRIAN GRAY, took two years to finish, technically speaking.  But in reality the break down went:  Wrote the first chapter in a sat for seven months....wrote the next six chapters in six days, one a day....then it sat for a year and a half....then wrote the last fourteen chapters in three days.

Later books were somewhere in between.  ESCAPE ART took around five months, with long periods of not writing at all, GEMINI took three and I managed to be fairly consistent, but with low daily word counts.

But then, with more recent books, my stats jumped again.  DUST TO DUST was finished in three weeks.  MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE took a month.  And I'm 25K into my NaNo novel, SUNSET SONATA, with another 50K projected until the end.  And my first drafts weren't...aren't terrible.  They're not just words on a page.  Oh, they're first drafts, with desperate need of revision, but they're still workable first drafts.

So Linsey and I were talking, and I attributed my speed with SUNSET SONATA to the book just coming to me easily, the story well within reach.  I picked the right story to write, I said.  And she laughed, and was like, oh yeah, because this was one of your contenders all along.  As of October 31st...four days ago, I was still debating which of three story ideas I was going to write this month.  SUNSET SONATA was not on the list.  The basic grain of the story idea was one I had over a year ago, for a short story I was going to write, an adult sci-fi short, but I hadn't even thought of it in months.  It was nowhere in the reckoning at all.  Then several hours before NaNo started, I got up from my computer, started pacing, annoyed with all three of my story ideas and my inability to choose between them....and I randomly thought of that short story idea again.  It grew and grew, I hopped on gchat and threw it out there as a possible story idea to Genn, weighed pro's and con's, the story growing all the while, and after an hour of chatting I decided, this was going to be my NaNo.  It was around 10 pm on October 31st, and I was still brainstorming titles, trying to make a cover to inspire me....

And then midnight hit, it was the start of NaNoWriMo, I tossed the words SUNSET SONATA on the top of my first page and started to write.  Three days later, I'm a third of the way done with the book at 25K.

So no, this story wasn't one of my contenders long before NaNo started.  It wasn't even a speck in my brain.  But I was still right, in what I told Linsey.  I'd picked the right story, that's why it's coming so quickly and easily.  It doesn't matter when I came up with it, or how much thought I'd put into it beforehand....I had other story possibilities, all of them viable, most that I'll still likely write at some just happened to be the right time for THIS story.

And that, I think, is my personal secret to my productivity.  I've always written quickly.  But in terms of writing full novels just boils down to this....somewhere along the line, I got better at picking what story to write at what time.  That's it.  Call it luck, call it instinct, but I firmly believe that FOR ME at least, and my personal writing process, knowing full well it's different for everyone....I can write any story at any time.  But the difference between it being a long and arduous process and a lightning fast sprint is finding that magical sweet spot where I'm writing the RIGHT story at the RIGHT time.  If I had gone with ALL HIS LITTLE MONSTERS instead of this one, would I be 25K into it?  Probably not.  Hell in fact, I can guarantee it.  Oh, I'd probably have 8K or so, still completely respectable, but it would be a struggle.  I wouldn't still be as inspired when I got up from writing as I was when I sat down.  I'd be exhausted at the end of an eight hour block of solid writing rather than exhilarated.

But when its the right story, when its the right time....10K a sitting doesn't wear me down.  Doesn't burn me  out.  Not til all's said and done, anyways, and I put THE END after that final period.   

I guess what I'm saying is....writing's kinda my crack, yo, and I'm a hopeless addict.

Somebody pass me a lighter, willya?

And just so its not all about me.....(though really, its my blog and I'll be egocentric if I want to, dagnabbit, ME ME ME, there, I feel better)....

So what about you guys?  What's your average pace like, if you have one, and does it vary from project to project?  If so, what, if anything, do you think was special about the projects that came to you quicker or easier?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WIP Wednesday

So its Day Two of NaNo and I am off and running and a little bit insane.  Just topped off at 15K for two days....definitely time for a break, but I think I can get another couple thousand words later tonight.  Not gonna aim for 5K more, as tempting as it is though.  Pace yourself, self.

Anyways, a little about my NaNo project....its a YA sci-fi space opera called SUNSET SONATA.  In it, there's a race of supremely powerful bodiless entities known as the patrons...they don't communicate with humanity or interact with them, save for when they can be persuaded to through art, the only thing humans create that they're at all interested or intrigued by.  And so in the galactic civilization of the distant future, artists wield great power - they attend rulers and command armies, as with the backing of a patron, they can manipulate the weather, destroy cities, even confer immortality.  But first they must train at the Academy, in the hopes of attracting a patron of their own....and learning, sometimes at a terrible cost, that the favors of their patrons are unpredictable and sometimes dangerous....and can vanish as quickly as they're granted.

In this excerpt, the main character Teela (a Musician) gets her first glimpse of the Academy, along with three of her future classmates, an Architect, a Painter and a Dancer.

The sky-ferry rounded the cliffs and I leaned forward over the railing, eager for my first glimpse of the Academy.  I failed to realize doing so would put me partially outside the comfort of the ferry’s artificial atmosphere.  Chill winter winds tore at my face, chapping my lips and numbing my cheeks.  I gasped and shivered and most likely caught pneumonia, but then the towering spires of the Academy loomed up ahead of us and I forgot how to be anything but awed.

It crowned the red rocks of the mountaintop like a glittering, multi-faceted jewel, walls curving and climbing at dizzying angles that defied everything I thought I knew about geometry.  Buildings shimmered like pearls beneath the haze of the Academy’s perpetual twilight, the grounds blanketed by lush, sprawling gardens said to bloom year round in an eternal spring.  A spinning crystal orb balanced atop the tallest tower.  Riotous displays of color boiled and shifted within it and splashed across the sky above, rainbow auroras crashing against banks of clouds like waves upon a shore.

“The Painter’s Moon,” Alars said.  He leaned forward besides me, eyes following the same path as mine.  His fingers twitched against the railing.  “Imagine painting with the sky itself as your canvas.”

I was no painter, but I understood the hunger in his voice all the same.  Then the temperature jumped in a span of seconds as we crossed whatever border kept the Academy in its own space and time, untouched by the outside world.  The sky-ferry picked up speed and we skimmed along the sides of the mountain.  We darted past hanging tropical gardens, the air thick and heavy with their perfumes.  Winds from our passage set delicate trees to swaying and howled through gaps in the rocks, somehow turning into haunting melodies that I recognized: Ardakoff’s Requiem at Midnight, the Dosvai Dirges, Mariroja’s Pasionada ad Infinatum….great.

Even the rocks at this place played them better than I did.

We drew level with a waterfall thundering down the cliff-face.  It drowned out whatever Mera was saying next to me.  Spray misted our faces as the ferry rose to the Academy proper. 

It was impossible to gauge just how big it was, but then, a good many things about it were impossible in general.  Like the buildings that looked as though sculpted from ice and hovering above with no support whatsoever.  Or the sweeping silver staircase that climbed so high in the air it seemed to end in the clouds.  Or the bridge of water growing out of a fountain and supporting a handful of people as sturdily as one made from stone…but then, I supposed that’s why it was called the Impossible Academy.  What do you expect from a place crafted from imagination, unfettered by physics?

“Wait, hold that pose!”  Ezra shouted behind me.  I spun to see him viewing me through framed hands.  He pursed his lips in mock concentration.  “I have my first masterpiece.  Open-Mouthed Peasant Feasting Upon Flies.”

“Ezra, move away from the railing,” Mera said with an imperious eye roll I vowed to later practice in the mirror.  She held a perfectly manicured hand between them and studied it, as though gauging its effectiveness as an instrument of fratricide.  “I’m feeling dangerously justified in shoving you overboard.”

He scowled and sulked off.

“How are you related to him?”  I wondered out loud.

“Some kind of cosmic joke, I suppose.”  She sighed.  “I don’t get it.”