Monday, July 16, 2018

SDCC Schedule

            Hey, folks.  As you may have heard, there is this celebration of the popular arts down in San Diego this week.  A convention, of sorts.  Some of you may be planning to attend.  I’m going to be there, too, and if you wanted our paths to cross, well... I figured I’d tell you where to find me.
            As it happens, though, this year all my events for San Diego Comic Con have fallen on the same day.  So I’m pretty much going to be there for Thursday and... well, that’s it.  I may wander around a bit Friday, possibly duck in Wednesday night to get one of the cool Beebo bags.
            But really, your best chance to find me is going to be on Thursday.

Signing – Crown Publishing Booth (#1515-J)
            This is just a little unscheduled thing as I scribble in copies of Paradox Bound for the Crown folks.  Please feel free to stop by, say ‘hullo,’ and pick up a book for me to personalize for you.  It is informal, so I’ll probably only be here for 20 or 30 minutes.

Writers Coffeehouse 
 (Santa Rosa Room at the Marriot)
Come hang out with me and Jonathan Maberry (author of Glimpse, Mars One, and many others) as we talk about a lot of publishing-related topics, answer questions, and generally just chat in a very casual way.  It’s a two-hour version of the three hour Coffeehouse we each host in LA and San Diego (respectively).  Which means it’ll be fun, informative, possibly a little silly, and Jonathan and I will tell

Signing –Mysterious Galaxy Booth (#1119)
            After the Coffeehouse I’ll be here signing… well, everything at the Mysterious Galaxy booth until 6:00.  I mean everything.  I think they’re going to have a ton of my books, but I’ll be signing in other books, too.  Lots of other books.  Everyone else’s books.  You can finally get that signed copy of Ready Player One you always wanted…
            That’s pretty much going to be me at SDCC this year. Hopefully I’ll see you there, and maybe we’ll get to talk for a bit.
            Until then... go write.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

I Don’t See Color

            I know, I know.  Asking-for-trouble title on this one.  Please just stick with me, though, okay?  There’s a good reason for it.
            Which I shall explain with this shocking revelation and a quick story.
            When I was in seventh grade, I found out I was color blind.  This may seem like a weird thing for someone to “discover,” but it makes sense if you think about it.  I’m daltonic (or deuteranomalous if you want to get super-specific), which means I can see most colors, but I have trouble with reds and greens.  I just kind of learned by filling in the blanks. 
            For example, leaves, Sleestaks, and the Hulk were green.  Grass is the same color as leaves, therefore grass is also green. The Lizard is the same color as the Hulk, therefore the Lizard is also green.  I just matched things up with what I learned from books and comics and Sesame Street.
            In other words... I learned just like everyone else did.
          Of course, it never occurred to me that what I was seeing might not be what everyone else was seeing. Why would it?  My vision was perfectly normal.  Nothing made this more clear than several determined childhood attempts to manifest either X-ray vision or optic blasts.
            (and maybe teen attempts)
            (...okay, last week)
            Then one day I got to Science class and the teacher had a slide show set up.  It was a bunch of those pictures-hidden-in-colored-dots things (an Ishihara test, if you were so interested).  Like that one right down there.  And much to my surprise... I couldn’t see anything in them.  Almost two-thirds of them looked blank.  Just like that one down there.  I can’t see anything in it. No pictures or patterns or anything.  If you can, feel free to say something in the comments.
            Anyway, I had a low-level, seventh grade freak-out about all the important stuff—Will I still be able to get a drivers license?  Will I have to get glasses?  What girl will ever want to kiss me knowing I’m color blind?!
          Once that was done, I spent the next day or two re-examining my whole world.  What did Sleestaks really look like?  That “grass is always greener...” thing had always seemed stupid to me, but did it make sense to everyone else?
           And that’s when it suddenly hit me.  How did everyone else see the world?  What was I missing out on?  I mean red, white, and blue Captain America looks really good to me, but how much of that was being told for most of my life that red, white, and blue were complementary?  How did everyone else see those red stripes?  I couldn’t imagine a “new” color that could fill that slot.  Would most people be horrified at what I saw?
            I spent weeks pondering this.  What were other people seeing?  How were they experiencing the world?  If red was the color of anger... was their anger different than mine?  Their envy?  What would alternate-green envy be like?  I was honestly second-guessing everything (which, granted is what most of seventh grade is, but this was on top of the usual stuff).
            Once or thrice here I’ve talked about empathy.  Really simply, it’s the ability to understand what other people are going through.  If your friend has a hangover, goes through a bad breakup, or saves a bundle on car insurance with Geico, these are all experiences we can relate to, and we can apply how we felt to guess how they’re feeling.
            But really, empathy goes beyond that.  I still have both of my parents, so I didn’t know what it was like when one of my friends lost his.  But I could extrapolate from how I feel about my parents and from huge losses I have suffered.  Empathy’s being able to relate to people even when you haven’t directly experienced what they have.
            I’ve never had that ice-water in your spine moment what I realized I’m sitting in an office with a serial killer. I’m guessing most of you reading this haven’t, either. But our job is, quite literally, to convince people we have.
            Y’see, Timmy, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say I can’t be a good writer if I don’t have empathy. If I can’t see the world through the eyes of different people—not how I think they see the world, mind you, but how they see it—I can’t have good characters.  And without good characters...
            Well, you know.
            Next week is... oh, holy crap, next week is San Diego ComicCon!  And I’m going to be there next Thursday, hosting a Writers Coffeehouse with Jonathan Maberry (he of Glimpse and V-Wars and the Joe Ledger books).  Plus I’ve got a couple of signings scattered through the day.  I’ll put up a schedule very soon.
            And next week, for the rest of you...
            Well, I’ll come up with something.
            Until then, go write.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Some Shameless Self Promotion...

            San Diego Comic Con is next week, and if you’re going it’s possible you’ve got time to kill in a car or on a plane.  Might I humbly suggest pre-ordering a shiny new audiobook to make the journey more pleasant…?
            Eight years after its original paperback release, The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe is finally available in audiobook format.  The folks at Audible have done an absolutely fantastic job with my long-ignored “middle child,” and they even got Tim Gerard Reynolds to narrate it! How cool is that?
            It’s up for preorder now, available next Tuesday.
            You  know… travel day.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Feeling a Draft

            Okay, yeah. That’s a friggin’ lazy title.  
            I’m pressed for time.  Sorry.
            Why am I pressed for time? Well. I’m trying to pack up my apartment (and my office), while at the same time finish a final polish on this book and write the ranty blog and prep for a Writers Coffeehouse this weekend and holy crap San Diego ComicCon is in two weeks.
            Now that I think about it, it’s kind of amazing how well I’m keeping up with this...
            Anyway, while you read this I’m finishing a draft of my current project and it struck me that I haven’t talked specifically about drafts in... well, a couple of years now.  So it’s definitely a topic worth revisiting.
            Some people hate doing drafts.  Others get caught in this endless loop of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and...well, you probably know someone like that. And there are folks who skip "drafts" altogether, convinced their words are NYT bestselling gold the minute they’re set down.
            What I wanted to do here is sort of a step-by-step guide of what I do to get something to the point that I’m willing to turn in to an editor.  And by “editor,” I mean “someone who will give me money for these words I’ve written.”  This is final step stuff. Here be dragons. If you think of editors as scaly, fire-breathing folks.
            Of course, all that mother of dragons stuff being said, it’s important that we all remember the Golden Rule

            I’ve mentioned once or twice or thrice before that we all have our own methods of writing.  Doing drafts this way helps me a lot, but it’s not a guarantee of success for anyone except me.  You might need to modify these steps a bit.  Or a lot.  But all things considered, I think this is a good base to start from.
            Here’s what I do.
            While I’m working on a book, I’m usually scribbling down random thoughts about the next book.  Characters, dialogue, action moments, reveals... all sorts of different elements.  I’ll shuffle these around into more or less the order I think they’ll end up.  Over the past two years or so, I’ve become a bigger fan of outlines than I used to be, but not enough that I’d say “This is the one and only true way! Bow before your meticulously outlined god!!!!”  I shuffle things around, maybe plan a few extra beats, and get a sense where I want to start and where I’m going.
            Once I’ve got all that and the current project is done, I dive into...

            Draft One—So, for me, this is the “just finish it” draft.  I just want to this draft to go from beginning to end with... well, most of the points in between.  I don't worry about typos or crafting nuances here.  It’s just the “plow through and get it done” phase of writing.
            At this early stage, I don't hold anything back.  I let dialogue, descriptions, and action scenes run on a bit longer than they probably should.  I know I'll be cutting eventually, so there's no reason to worry about length now.  For this stage, it really is quantity over quality. 
            Also, like I hinted above, if I get stuck on something at this point... I just skip it.  Seriously.  My first drafts look like old silent movies with the little “Scene Missing” card that pops up for twenty or thirty seconds. I know I’ll be able to go into the exact details of that conversation or this sequence later, so I'd rather keep moving forward and leave that stuff for Future Peter to deal with.  Again, for me, the most important thing is to get the overall framework done.  It's a lot easier to think about the little things when the big things aren't looming over you.
            Depending on the book, this process takes me anywhere from two to three months. I had one book take about six weeks, but that was pretty rare for me.  If I factor out the time I lost to some personal stuff, this last one was just over three.
            A key thing to remember.  I don’t show this draft to anyone. Not my girlfriend, not my agent--nobody.  The first draft isn’t meant to be seen, it’s just meant to give me something to work with
            I may work on something else for a day, maybe even take the whole weekend off, and then it’s right back for...

            Draft Two—So, all those problems I left for Future Peter to deal with?  I’m him now. Those need to be dealt with.  Gaps get filled in.  Characters get fleshed out a little more, and sometimes renamed.  All those awkward knots get worked out.   Now that I can see a lot of these elements in relation to the whole story, I'll usually find the answers to these problems are more apparent. 
            The goal with this draft is to have a readable manuscript.  No more little notes to myself  or trailing paragraphs that need to get connected somehow.  Someone should be able to pick this up and read it start to finish without thinking they lost a few pages or only got my notes on a chapter.
            Again, keep in mind—this doesn't mean I do show it to people.  It just means I should be able to. 
            For some writers, this would really be their first draft.  That’s one of those personal preference things—again, advice over rules.  Personally, breaking it up like this takes a lot of pressure off me, and I think that’s a good thing when you’re trying to treat writing like a real job.  No one likes a high-pressure job.
            Okay then, so... now I step away for a couple of days.  Maybe as much as a week.  I’ll watch movies, work out a little more, maybe even scribble up a few of these ranty blog posts in advance.  The goal is to push the manuscript as far out of my mind as possible.  Don't look at it, try not to think too much about it. 

            Draft Three—And now, the long night of a thousand cuts beginst.  Two great rules-of-thumb I've mentioned a few times—

one adverb per page, four adjectives

2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%

            Yeah, the second rule (courtesy of Stephen King) goes off the previously mentioned assumption that my first clean, readable draft is my first draft.
            I spend this draft tracking down adverbs, adjectives, pointless dialogue descriptors, and so on.  One thing I also go after here is common padding phrases that don't really do anything (sort of, somewhat, kind of, more or less).  One of my regular beta readers dubbed this somewhat syndrome a while back, and I still call it that.  I like to tell myself I’ve gotten better about it now that I’m aware of the problem.
            Hey, we all have the little lies that get us through the day.
            And this little stuff adds up fast.  In my current manuscript I cut 200 instances of that. Almost a full page gone, just by checking on one word.
            Again, to be clear, though—these are rules of thumb. They’re guidelines.  I want to stick close to them, but there’s going to be times I want a couple adverbs and a good double handful of adjectives. No editor will freak out if there are three adverbs on one page. But if there’s four or five on every page... well...
            At this point I've gone through the whole manuscript at least twice, so a few larger cuts should be apparent, too.  Overcomplicated descriptions that slow down the narrative.  Awkward sentence structures.  Extensive character moments that add nothing to the character, the story, or the plot.  Many of these things get tightened or cut in this draft.
            I spend a week or two doing this. 

            The Fourth Draft--This is the first big polish.  I go through sentence by sentence, looking for words that come up too often or stilted dialogue.  I also make sure all the cuts and swaps from the last draft haven't messed anything up.  Are the logic chains still complete?  Did I forget to change Gilford’s name to Gillyman anywhere?  Does Gordon have a pistol or a baseball bat in this scene?  Are there any odd character tics that I forgot to remove or add?  Does the whole thing have a good flow to it? 
            This draft doesn’t take long.  Just a day or two.  It’s just one slow, careful read of the story. And, yeah, sometimes I still miss stuff.
            Once I’ve got this clean draft, I send it off to my beta readers to get fresh eyes.   I generally use four or five friends I’ve know for years.  They're all professional writers and editors who know how to give useful criticism.  Not to beat a dead horse, but by professional I mean... they have actual credentials.  Some folks may decide to hire a professional editor at this point.  Nothing wrong with that.  The important thing is to get an unbiased opinion I can trust, even if I have to pay for it. 
            A few folks might argue that editing is the publisher’s job.  Okay, sure, you could look at it that way.  I need to get a publisher first, though, and why are they going to bother acquiring my crap manuscript that wasn’t even edited?
            Anyway... this draft goes off into the world and it may be a week or three before I  look at it again.  For me, at this stage in my career, it usually depends on deadlines.  But I don’t look at it during this time.  I try to relax a bit, scribble down ideas for later books (see above), or flex different mental muscles.
            For example, as I mentioned before, right now I’m packing up a lot of my office.  Turns out I've got a ton of LEGO and Warhammer and Gundam models and comics all piled up in the closet here.  Who knew?
            Well, okay.  I kind of suspected...

            The Fifth Draft—So, I've gotten notes back from those wonderful folks I begged/ blackmailed/ paid to read this thing.  Now I go through the whole manuscript page by page with their comments.  At one point I did this with multiple monitors.
            So, page one... what did everyone think?  What about page two?  How's page three look?  This way I can see all the notes at once and make whatever changes are required.  I've also got my own copy of the fourth draft that I’m slowly rewriting into the fifth draft as we go.
             I mentioned I ask four or five people to make notes for me.  That gives me a broad sampling on each note/ issue that comes up.  If four people like something but one doesn't, odds are I'll call that good.  Nothing’s going to work for everyone.  If three don't and two do (and of course I do—that’s why I write it), I'll sit and give it a good look.  If nobody likes it, well... I'm smart enough to admit when I've screwed up and something doesn't work.
            This draft can take another two weeks or more to finish with a full book manuscript.

            The Sixth Draft-- This one's another polishing draft, just like the fourth.   I need to make sure everything still works now that I’ve made those changes and tweaks from my reader's comments.  So, yet another line by line reading, adjusting as I go.            And at this point... this is when I’m done.  There’s only so much a given writer—in this case, me—can do with a given story.  There comes a point when further work accomplishes nothing and I’m just rewriting for the sake of rewriting.  If my manuscript’s not ready for a publisher (or film producer) by now, it probably means I screwed up something big right at the start

            Next time... well, if there’s anything next week it’ll be really quick. As you may have figured out, I’m moving, and the big day is a week from today.  And then the week after that is San Diego ComicCon!  Oh, hell-- and the Writers Coffeehouse is this weekend.  If you're in LA,stop by Dark Delicacies noon to three on Sunday.
            But, yeah, next time... I’m sure I’ll have something
            Anyway... go write.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions

            So, this may come as a shock to some of you but... I write books.  People often ask me questions about these books. Sometimes the same questions. 
            See, I’m a big fan of social media.  Yeah, there are some deplorable folks, but there are a lot of good people, too.  I love that I get to say “hullo” and chat with people about things.  Books. Movies. LEGO.  Games.
            It can fray one’s patience to answer the same questions again and again and again because some folks won’t bother to scroll down two or three posts or up through the comments.  Between this blog, the Facebook fan page, Twitter... well, that adds up to a lot of people repeating the same questions.
            Not you, of course. You just asked that one time without thinking.  You’re cool.  I’m talking about that other guy.  Him.  That guy’s so friggin lazy.  
            We all know it, I’m just the one saying it...
            Anyway... rather than get annoyed at someone for asking the same question that I already answered three times this morning in the same thread, I figured I’d scribble up answers to the ten most common questions and pin them here and on a lot of my social media pages.
            And then everybody can just ignore that...

1) What’s out next?
            Well, we just had the paperback of Paradox Bound come out last week.  Hopefully you all checked that out and left kind reviews with all your favorite booksellers.
            Two weeks from now, July 17th, my second novel, The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe is coming out as an audiobook almost eight years after it was first released.  It’s being narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds and... well, I’m really looking forward to it.  I’ve always had a special fondness for this book, but I know the period writing style didn’t thrill a lot of people.  It won’t be as noticeable in a spoken performance, so I’m hoping a lot of you will give it a try and have some fun with it.
            Then, if everything times out right, I believe at the end of the year you’ll be seeing Dead Moon, a sort of sci-fi horror story about zombies on the Moon.  No, seriously. I think it’s kinda fun and pulpy and creepy.
            I guess we’ll see if I’m right.

2) Is Ex-Isle the last Ex book?
            Hard to say, but... yeah, it’s looking that way.
            The simple truth is, every series has a limited life.  Very few people decide to start on book three of a series—they go back and start at book one.  So book one always sells the best.  Attrition says not as many people show up for book two, even less show up for book three, and so on.  It’s always a downward slope heading for that red line where things aren’t profitable.  None of the Ex-Heroes books ever lost money (thank you all for that), but all the numbers said book six...  Well, the prognosis didn’t look great for book six.
            Keep in mind, nothing’s set in stone.  Any number of things could make the series surge in popularity and get the publisher more interested.  Or, depending on how things work out, I might be able to apply a little leverage.  But for now...  Ex-Tension is moving to a back burner.  Very sorry.

3) What if we did a Kickstarter or a GoFund me to continue the series?
            Okay, look, I love the Ex-Heroes books.  Hopefully you all know that.  Those characters and stories got me where I am today.  I love that there are so many fans who feel passionately about it.  I had tons of fun writing them.
            The simple truth is, if there were enough people willing to pay for another book, the publisher would still be willing to put it out.  Sure, some people might pay twice as much to get one more book, but experience tells me four times as many people wouldn’t pay anything (for one reason or another).  There’s pretty much no way this would end up working out.
            Plus, my schedule’s set up many months in advance.  I already know the projects I’m working on until September of 2019.  Doing something like this means I have to plan on it happening, which means... a potential gaping hole in my schedule when it doesn’t.

4) Will there be another book set in the 14/Fold/ Threshold series?
            Yes!  I’ve started working on it already, and probably going to be diving in right after SDCC (see #10 down below) and the target date is to have it in to Audible by the end of the year, so they can have it out to you in spring or summer of next year.
            Also, yeah, we’re calling it the Threshold series now. 
5) Why ‘Threshold’?
            I talked about it a lot with my agent and the folks at Audible, and we bounced around a few different options (some of which originated over on the fan page) and rationales.  We wanted a good, overall title that could reference all these different books with subtle and not-so-subtle connections. Sort of like how King has a lot of stuff that falls under the Dark Tower umbrella even though there are a few specific books telling that story.
            Threshold fits in a few different ways.  A threshold is part of a doorway, and doorways figure big into most of this series. It also refers to something reaching a specific critical level—another recurring issue in these books. And, finally, it’s also a reference to an old H.P. Lovecraft short story.
            Which has nothing to do with anything, but I thought it was kinda cool...

6) Wait, why do you keep mentioning Audible?
            Yeah, about that...
            I have a fantastic relationship with Crown, but they have their own tastes and expectations.  These two books—Dead Moon and the new Threshold book—just didn’t appeal to them.  For a couple of different reasons.  And that’s fine.  Seriously.  I want to stress that none of it is negative.  My editor at Crown, Julian, has already talked with me a bit about what we’ll be doing together next year.  We're all cool on that front.
            Now, as all this discussion is going on, Audible starts gesturing to me from across the room.  I also have a very good relationship with them and it’s worked out very well for everyone involved.  There’s a fair argument to be made that the majority of my fanbase is audiobook listeners.  Heck, when Paradox Bound made the NYT Bestsellers list, it was with the audiobook version.
            So Audible made a very generous offer for these two books.  For exclusive rights to these two books.  So both of these are going to be audiobook only for the first six months they’re out.  After that, we’re talking to some folks, and I should have some answers for you by the time I update this FAQ.
            Yeah, I know this is going to make some of you grind your teeth.  My agent and I talked about it a lot, believe me (even with that generous offer).  Every other day on the phone for almost six weeks.  In the end, I really wanted to tell these stories and this was the best way to do it.

7) Will there be a sequel to The Junkie Quatrain?
            Very doubtful.  I think a lot of the fun of The Junkie Quatrain was the overlapping- interconnected nature of the stories.  It’d be tough to replicate that without feeling kinda forced and awkward.  I think we’ll probably have to draw our own conclusions about what eventually happened to those characters.  Well, the surviving characters.
            Although, one of them may have already shown up somewhere else...

8) Do you make more money if I buy one of your books in a certain format?
            This sounds like an easy question, I know, but there’s about a dozen conditionals to any answer I give.  Figure a huge chunk of each contract is just all the conditions for getting paid.
            For example... format matters, sure, but so does where you bought the book.  And when.  And how many people bought it before you. And if it was on sale. And who was actually holding the sale.  And all of this changes in every contract.  What’s true for, say, Ex-Communication may not be true for Paradox Bound.
            TL;DR—just buy the format you like.

9) Why don’t you like people talking about your books?
            To be honest, I’m still stunned and thrilled that people talk about anything I wrote. Seriously.  What I can’t stand are spoilers.
           I’m thrilled Wakko enjoyed it so much when the protagonist found that and discovered this and learned about them.  When he tells people about it, though—no matter what his intentions—Wakko’s ensuring that other folks won't have as much fun with the book as he did.  It's like if I tell you how a magician does all her tricks and then take you to see her performance.  You’re not supposed to see a magic show knowing how all the tricks work and being aware of the resolutions in advance.  It kills most of the fun, because the story structure that created a sense of wonder and discovery has been destroyed.
            This is why I avoid those questions in interviews, and why I always ignore/ delete posts that reveal information from the back half of a book (yep, that’s probably what happened to your post).  It doesn't matter if the rest of the post was positive or negative, spoilers = deleted.
            And not just my stories!  Don’t mess up other stories, either. Movies, TV—if you enjoyed it, try to give other people a chance to enjoy it the same way.
            If you suffer from the heartbreak of spoilers Tourettes and absolutely must discuss your fan theories, there are a couple secret groups on Facebook.  There’s one for Threshold books here, and one for the Ex-Heroes series here

10) Do you have any plans to attend XXXXX-Con?
            In a few weeks I’m going to be at SDCC. Later this fall I’ll be at Dragon Con in Atlanta.  I’ll give more info on each as they get a bit closer. I think that’s pretty much it.  Probably not doing NYCC again this year.
            But—things change all the time.  If you really want me to be at your local con, let them know!  Yeah, them, not me.  I’m willing to go almost anywhere I’m invited, but if I’m not invited... there’s not much I can do.  And keep in mind that most cons finalize their guest list three or four months in advance, so if your local con’s next month... odds are not in your favor.
            So, email them, tweet them, post on their Instagram account.  Reach out and let your voice be heard.

11) When are you going to make a movie/ TV series/ cartoon/ graphic novel/video game of your books?
            Okay, there’s a misunderstanding of how Hollywood works in this sort of question.  When you see a TV series or film adaptation, it means the studio went to the writer, not the other way around.  I mean, if it was just about the writer saying “make this into a movie,” well... wouldn’t most books be adapted by now?  Everyone would be doing it.
            Alas, I have zero say in whether or not Starz wants to do an Ex-Heroes series or SyFy does a Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe movie.  They’re looking for things that have piqued a certain level of interest, and so far these stories of mine have only just scraped that threshold. 
            No, me (or you) writing the screenplay won’t make a difference, unless your name happens to be Terry Rossio, Joss Whedon, or David Koepp—and even then it’s not a sure thing.

12) Wait, wasn’t there going to be a TV series based on 14?
            Theoretically, yeah.  A few years ago I was approached by Team Downey, the personal production company of that guy who plays Iron Man. Turned out he’s a fan of 14 and wanted to do something with it, and a deal was struck with his company and WBTV. 
            But...  Hollywood’s a big game of if.  If a pilot gets shot, if it turns out okay, if the various network execs likes it, if it gets picked up...  And some of these ifs are on a time limit.  WB paid to push it back once and give themselves more time (which got a bunch of us very hopeful), but... it just didn’t happen.
            Which all kinda goes with what I said up above in #11.  Robert Downey, Jr. had signed on as an executive producer and that wasn’t enough to get it made. 
            But I still get to say he liked one of my books.

13) So, is there anything we can do to help?
            Well, buying books is always a good step.  Hollywood likes to see big sales numbers and interest.  If you want to see something—anything—on the air, talk about it a lot on social media.  Producers/ directors/ actors all hear about this stuff the same way you do.  If #ParadoxBound or #DeadMoon started trending on Twitter tomorrow, there’d probably be a film deal within a week.
            (true fact—an easy way to help do this?  Don’t buy books from Amazon.  Amazon doesn’t like to report sales figures, so they don’t get included in things like the NYT Bestsellers list.  Yeah, I know, a purchase from your local bookstore might cost a buck or three more, but it’s a purchase Hollywood is more likely to notice.  Plus, then you’re one of those cool people supporting local businesses...)
            (and before you ask, yes, Audible does report sales figures)

14) Wait, wasn’t this a top ten FAQ?
            What are you, the freakin’ number police now?  Most people are happy to get bonus content.  Just go with it.
            I can’t believe you wasted one of your questions with this...

15) Will you read my story idea and tell me what you think?
            Short answer... no.
            Part of this is a time issue—if I say yes to some folks, in the spirit of fairness I have to say yes to everyone. Now I’m spending all my time doing critiques instead of writing. Not to sound too mercenary, but... writing is how I earn my living.  When someone asks me to read stuff, they’re asking me to give up a few hours of work.  And I do have this ranty blog just sitting here with over a decade of writing advice and tips.
            It’s also a legal thing.  Some folks are lawsuit-crazy, often for no reason,, and the bad ones ruin it for everyone else. Let’s say Phoebe gives me a piece of fanfic to read where she has Harry and Eli showing up at a certain post-apocalyptic film studio.  And then, a few years from now, I decide to do a big crossover story.  That’s when Phoebe sues me for stealing her material.  
            Yeah, it sounds stupid, but I’ve seen this happen so many times.  Hell, I’ve actually been subpoenaed and deposed over a case with less behind it than that example I just made up.
            This is why I’m verrrry leery when I get a long message along the lines of “Hey, you know what should happen in your next book...”  It’s why some writers have responded with cease & desist orders when they get sent stuff like this.  It's also why I'm not part of the above-mentioned spoiler groups.
           So, the long answer is also... no.  And if you send stuff without asking, I’ll delete it unread, just like spam mail. Sorry.

16) Will you be my friend on GoodReads?
            Nope.  Nothing against you (well... most of you), I just don’t like Goodreads.  I’d explain why, but I’m taking the Thumper approach.
            I post nothing there and spend as little time there as possible (which usually works out to “no time”).  If you see anything there from "me," it's something someone else posted.  I understand a lot of folks love the site and if it works for you, that’s fantastic.  I won’t be there.

17) What about Twitter?
            I’m @PeterClines  on Twitter.  Fair warning--as some of you may have figured out, I’m progressive and I’m a bit more political over there.   On Saturdays I also drink a lot and live-tweet bad movies so...  you know what you’re getting into.
            Also Loud Howard, my cat, still has hundreds more followers than me. Seriously.  So don’t let anyone tell you being cute won’t help you get ahead.
            I will say right up front I don’t believe in Twitter high school, where I’m supposed to follow someone just because they followed me. So if that’s your approach, I’ll save you time now...

18) What about Instagram
            Getting pretty good at Instagram (also @PeterClines).  Probably the geekiest of all my social medias.  How is that possible, you ask?  Well, go check it out for yourself...
            I’m still not sure if I’m really bad at Instagram or all the people I follow are.  Or maybe Instagram just doesn’t make a lot of sense and I’m the last to know about it...

And I think that covers all the big stuff, yes...?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

But If I Just Do This...

            A quick post this time.  As I mentioned last week, I’m kinda in a deadline crunch and... well, this time nobody stepped up to bail me out. Thanks again to Kristi Charish for helping out.  Screw you, every other writer friend I have.
            Naaaah, not really...
            Anyway, what I wanted to talk about this week is a bad decision I see every now and then. I saw it a lot when I used to read for screenplay contests. And I still hear mentions of it now and then.
            So... okay, look, we all love the idea of getting published, right?  Of getting some kind of recognition—maybe even some kind of payment—for what we do. I mean, it’s the big goal.  The brass carrot.  The... something. 
            I’ve already run out of humorous mixed metaphors.
            As I was saying, back when I was reading contest scripts for ramen money, one thing I’d see again and again was people who’d done a clumsy, half-assed pass on their screenplay in a feeble attempt to make it eligible for a contest.  A few cuts here. A find-and-replace there. Maybe adding in a random scene or two.  Believe me, it was very clear that’s what happened.
            Plus, talking with writers at many points in their careers, I sometimes hear ideas and plans. Cutting this novella down.  Bulking that short story up.  Maybe doing another quick draft and playing up Phoebe as a bisexual half-Asian for this one magazine. Especially if Phoebe isn’t either of those in the current draft.
            It’s really tempting.  I get it.  We all want to get published, win the prize, get the recognition.  And we’re willing to do what it takes to get there.
            I probably don’t want to make sweeping changes or cuts to my story just to fit a market or contest or trend. If a magazine doesn’t touch anything over 8000 words and my short story is 8108... okay, maybe I can snip a bit here or there. But if they don’t want anything over 5000, well... my story’s probably out.  That’s almost half of it gone.
            Likewise, cramming in a romance just so I can try to get into a Valentine’s Day anthology... that probably won’t work.  Or some hamfisted references to God and angels so I can win some of that sweet faith-based contest money.
            And I know you’re probably smiling right now, but keep this in mind...
            I’m not making up random examples.  People do stuff like this.  All the time.  I read scripts for a faith-based contest and—in the course of two years—read no less than five sex-romp comedies where characters would suddenly, for just one scene, look up to the sky and beg for God’s help.  And one of these was—dead serious--for help getting the hot female supporting character out of her clothes.
            Because that’s funny and sexy and religious.  See? Triple threat!  How can it lose?
            (it lost)
            I saw someone in an online writers group just push for “cutting your story down to meet their requirements.”  This was a discussion about an 11,000 word novella being trimmed to meet the needs of a 8,000 word market. And an amazing number of people chimed in to say “yeah, go for it.”
            Y’see, Timmy, once we’ve been doing this for any amount of time, we start to get a feel for ideas.  Some are great for flash fiction or short-short stories. Others are made to be novellas.  And some are just waiting to be fleshed out into books.
            And, yeah, some books are bigger than others.  The book I’m wrapping up is a solid 100,000 words, but I know Chuck Wendig recently finished a monster almost three times that size, and another friend who has one coming in at a nice tight 85,000.
            My point is, if I rewrote and edited and polished and my final story came in at 12,000 words... there’s a chance it’s a 12,000 word story.  And cutting 25% of it will make it... well 25% less than a good story.
            In my experience, most editors aren’t interested in 25% less than a good story.
            Likewise, if I can make major changes to a character and it has absolutely no repercussions anywhere in their story... maybe I don’t have a great character.  If making Phoebe bisexual instead of straight doesn’t change anything in my story, it’s doubtful this is the kind of story a niche market is looking for.
            As always, there’s no absolutes here.  Maybe I really can afford to lose three or four thousand words.  Perhaps my story does need a different viewpoint to excel.
           These aren’t the kind of alterations that get rushed out overnight.  They’ll have repercussions throughout the story. They’re require other changes.  And then more revisions to make sure those changes don’t cause changes.  A good story—even a short story—is a house of cards.  I can’t just pull one out and replace it and think nothing’s going to happen when I do.  Or take ten out altogether.
            I should think long and hard about forcing a story to meet a new set of requirements.  Length, style, content, whatever they may be.  When I’m done, it may not be what it was.
            Which would suck if it was good.
            And this has turned into a much longer rant than I planned.  Apologies.
            Next time... well, I just finished a draft.  Maybe I’ll talk a little bit about that whole process.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

So You Want to be a Writer?

            Okay, so I’m about neck-deep in a draft right now, racing a deadline, and was a little worried I wouldn’t have time for a ranty blog post this week.
            Then, lucky for all of us, I got a message from Kristi Charish.
           I’ve mentioned Kristi twice or thrice here before.  She’s—and I’m not joking—an archeologist turned genetic engineer turned fantasy author.  No, seriously.  She’s pretty much solely responsible for making me like urban fantasy for the first time since college.  The first book in her Kincaid Strange series, The Voodoo Killings, is finally available in the US as a paperback, so you should go grab a copy.
            Anyway, because we live in different countries with a sizable chunk of North America between us, it was a special treat to get to hang out with Kristi in person at Phoenix Comic Fest last month.  There were many drinks and meals, and much talk about writing and publishing.  Including one very interesting discussion about teaching, fueled by her much more academic viewpoint.
            And then a few days ago, as I was wondering if this’d be a skip week for the ranty blog, Kristi got in touch with me and asked if I’d be interested in that discussion as a guest post...
            So here’s Ms. Charish with her informed thoughts on writing, higher education, and success (with a bunch of random links from me to semi-related posts I’ve made here)

            Maybe you’ve always dreamt of being an author, or perhaps you’ve recently begun to dabble in prose on your off time. Maybe you’ve entertained fantasies of seeing your name on your book as you pass by the window of your favorite bookstore? Or, better yet, coming across the fruit of your imagination while surfing on Netflix.
            Fantastic! We like dreamers. Welcome to a profession that attracts a damnably eccentric mix of eclecticism!
            But you're new to the game, and like the studious person the western schooling system has honed you to be, you feel compelled to expand your education, broaden that nebulous toolbox of literary-like writing and story-telling skills the critics, pros, and amateur spectators alike keep going on about.
            You’re considering courses, a workshop – maybe even – gasp – an outright, all in, financially crippling, higher degree!
           Do I encourage pursuit of the full-fledged-degree-kind in the pursuit of writerly knowledge? Absolutely. By all means, pursue a higher education. Do a degree, ANY degree.
            …Whatever you do don’t make it an MFA in creative writing, and here’s why. 

The World’s Bestest Heart Surgeon
           Imagine you are the head of a prestigious medical school and you are a great heart surgeon – one of the world’s best. You’re so good at being a heart surgeon, you think you know the secret to training them. So much so you decide that over the next four years, you’re going to concentrate all your resources on proving you can.
            You meet with the rest of the staff (well, mostly the four other heart surgeons…) and all of you agree producing the world’s best heart surgeons is a worthy pursuit. It’s your duty as patrons of the heart surgeon caste to make more heart surgeons. You cut back on all the nonsense and distractions – pediatrics, infectious diseases, family medicine, dermatology - anything that doesn’t pertain to becoming an awesome, world’s bestest heart surgeon until the courses are all about heart health and surgery.
            500 students, a staff on board, a university endowment, plus all that tuition? It’s a bet you can’t lose! Heart Surgeon World Awards, here we come!
            Time travel four years and, low and behold, you have in your graduating class two of the world’s most up and coming heart surgeons! Everyone is gushing over their surgery technique and breathlessly anticipating the next research article. As an institution you have achieved world acclaim – Success!
            …At least until everyone starts asking what happened to the 498 other students…you know, the ones who didn’t make the World’s Best Heart Surgeon cut?
            Six other students had a natural aptitude for heart surgery. Not world’s best, but they go on to productive if not lucrative careers. Another ten aren’t cut out for surgery – the stress, hand eye coordination, can’t stand 7 hours without taking a pee – but they can teach. A couple get jobs at instructors at other universities.
            …that leaves 482 students. Students who were talented, clever, and industrious enough to get into medical school but for one reason or another didn’t make the heart surgeon cut. A lot of them would have made fantastic dermatologists, pediatricians, family physicians, nephrologists, epidemic specialists, etc, but, well, after four years listening to their professors go on about how this was the best medial school because it only trained heart surgeons, and how heart surgery was the only surgery worth performing, any other pursuit of medicine is a waste of time and meant you were second rate…Eventually they drink the Kool-Aid. Most never pick up a medical tool or book ever again, and the few who might have?
            Shame they can’t since they’ve had no other medical training whatsoever.
            But… you know… two World’s Best Heart Surgeons/500 students. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a cow…or was it an army?
            Look, we’re going to need your entire student body. Don’t ask why, just trust us it’s for the greater artistic good…
            If the Greatest Heart Surgeon Medical School was real it would be considered a resounding failure. Any program - history, life science, biology, forestry- run that way would be shut down – fast – because everyone grasps that there is more to medicine and a robust medical community than heart surgery and wasting 80% of your student body trying to mold the best isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid, idiotic, asinine, the work of a delusional heart surgery megalomaniac.
            Yet that’s what the majority of MFA creative writing programs do.
            Writing is an important communication and entertainment medium. It’s a way to discuss ideas, cultural shifts, politics – you name it – in ways that can’t be done with YouTube and FB articles. It’s storytelling. And just as in medicine where many disciplines are necessary to get the full picture, many kinds of writers and media make for a healthy and entertaining writing community. There’s no one right way or right type of novel to produce.
            Yet what I described above for the World’s Best Heart Surgery School isn’t too far off from how the majority of MFA programs are run. Damn the rest of the writing and entertainment world - we produce literary geniuses here! There’s a history there that Peter touched on in a previous post but it boils down to this: The inception of the Creative Writing MFA program wasn’t catalyzed by a desire or need for more novelists. They were invented as a Post-World War 2 tuition grab – a student holding cell. It’s morphed a bit over the last 80 years but the essential building blocks remain.
            Creative Writing Programs claim to be a pursuit of excellence in literature (FYI – probably not the kinds of book I, Peter, or anyone else who’s ever guested on this blog writes). But, funny thing, when you ask how well the writing careers are going for the majority of alumni (not the two or three prodigy examples they trot out), they tend to waffle on about how a degree in creative writing is about personal growth, not vocational training (AKA: tuition/student holding cell). 
           Well, I call bull...

You Really Don’t Need an MFA to be a Serious Novelist
            Back to the World’s Bestest Heart Surgery School, the university president has stopped by to scream about the incredibly poor vocational success of, well, most of your graduates. Like always, you hold up your two gifts to heart surgery Godhood (full disclosure: I don’t think the MFA success rate is anywhere near that high)…
            And find out that the History, Biology, and Marine Biology departments have all also produced three equally gifted heart surgeons who are outcompeting yours.
            It’s incredibly unlikely that a History program would produce a heart surgeon– there are very specific things you need to learn like heart anatomy and how to cut someone open without killing them.
            But creative writing is weird. You can learn to write almost anywhere. Law school, journalism, real medical school. Not only can these vocations inspire you, but unlike and MFA, which purports to teach you how to be literary, these other disciplines are trying to teach you something else entirely – they’re trying to teach you how to communicate the ideas you learn to the outside world. That’s priceless. That’s called perspective, and it’s what makes the writer and writing interesting, engaging.
            A great example is Carl Hiaasen, who was a journalist in Florida for many a year before he became a NYTbest-selling satire novelist. What does he write about? Corrupt politicians making scuzzy land deals in Florida, the war being waged on the beautiful everglades, and the very few and far between honest people who are trying to save his beloved state. It’s captivating, its relatable, he knows his material well and he communicates in a way that makes millions of readers care too.
            Much like the World’s Best Heart Surgery School doesn’t see the point in pediatricians, I worry that most MFA programs don’t see the merit and value of a Carl Hiaasen book.
           And he’s not the only example. Would Michael Crichton have written such a captivating novel about a deadly extraterrestrial virus or bringing dinosaurs back to life if he’d done an MFA over medical school? Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame holds three degrees in science, including marine biology, and it shows in all the science she trickles through her novels.
>            It’s a distinct possibility that my alma matter’s Department of Science has produced more successful novelists in the last ten years than MFA Writing Program…
            Claiming to teach literary artistry is all fine and well but there has to be some kind of tangible real-world, quantifiable measurement of success, otherwise it becomes a nebulous black box, a dark corner…. And nebulous boxes and dark corners are where things from 80s horror movies and Peter’s books hide, so if that’s the only reason you decide to skip the MFA so be it.
            The point is you (and your bank account) really don’t need an MFA to be a great writer. 

But I really want to improve my writing, and, you know…writing rules.
            Sigh. Let it be said that you can teach yourself writing by reading and lots of practice. There is no reason for you to spend money to become an author.
            Disclaimer aside, if you are hell bent on burning money or feel you really need the support, these are some options I can recommend.
            Cheapest/ Best Value: Writing groups/coffee house meet-ups. Free for the price of a coffee. Google your area but I hear The Writer’s Coffeehouse is popular.
            Cheap/ Good Value: Community Centers/Library writing programs. Average 6 weeks to 2 months a couple nights a week and range Free -$100. Often run by a published author vetted by the community center.
            Medium priced/ Still Good Value: Community College Writing Classes. Evening or afternoon classes that run roughly six to eight weeks and cost anywhere from $120-200. Bonus: Instructors often have teaching credentials.
            Expensive/Questionable value/not recommended: All Star/Celebrity/NYT Bestselling/Intensive Author Workshop and/or Cruise. They range from two to six weeks, cost upwards of four grand, and often boast a rotating roster of world class authors as instructors. You do get one on one time with the authors as advertised and that might be incentive enough for the odd superfan. I don’t recommend them. The instructors might be star studded novelists but that doesn’t mean they can teach and their alumni track records leave much to be desired. In comparison, self-driven, free writer’s groups have a staggering publication success rate. A new laptop and a trip to a remote cabin to write is arguably a much better return
on a four thousand dollar investment.