Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chasing the Boom

            Just a quick post this week.  I’m on my way down to Dallas for Texas Frightmare Weekend.  If you’re in the area, stop by and tell me I’m a hack.  I’ll be at booth #155 in the Made In Texas room, sharing space with the amazing Eloise J. Knapp.
            Anyway, I wanted to talk about the difference between a genre and a boom.  I think it’s important to note the difference because which one I focus on really affects what I’m writing.  And why.
            So, with that in mind, let’s consider superhero movies.
            Superheroes have been insanely hot in Hollywood for the past few years.  There were a lot of good and notable movies and television shows before, but I think we can all agree Marvel Studios really created the current climate with the success of Iron Man, the Avengers, and the many movies before and after.  Christopher Nolan just stoked that fire with his Batman trilogy.
            Naturally, everyone in Hollywood wanted in on that action.  So the “superhero” label got slapped on lots of things.  Even things that weren’t really in the superhero genre.  Because superheroes were hot.
            A few years back zombies kind of exploded. Shaun of the DeadThe Zombie Survival Guide.  The Walking Dead.  And then tons of people were diving in the pool and a lot of folks slapped the zombie label on everything they could.  Because zombies were hot.
            But now people are saying superheroes are on the way out. And zombies are done.  So are vampires.  Witches... witches are probably the new big thing.
            These people are trying to chase the boom.  They’re trying to figure out how to make an easy buck with “what’s hot” rather than focusing on something good in a chosen market.  They’re confusing the genre with the passing fad.
            If I write a good story, people will want to read it.   No one’s ever said “well, I though it was fascinating and nuanced and really touched me on a personal level... but I’m sooooo sick of these superhero movies, so I’m giving it one star.”
            Y’see, Timmy, superheroes aren’t “done” any more than sitcoms or mysteries or crime procedurals or biographies.  Harry Potter’s come and gone, but the young adult section is still pretty full at my local Barnes & Noble.  Come to think of it, so are the graphic novel and horror sections.  Lee Child seems to be doing okay with his Jack Reacher series, despite the fact that thrillers haven’t been hot for something like twenty years.  And just a few weeks ago—right around the time I was handing in the latest Ex-Heroes book my publisher had requested—the CW premiered iZombie, another zombie television show (there seem to be a lot of them, yes?) where the characters actually made a joke about “hey, do you think zombies are ‘done,’ like everyone says?”
            Don’t waste time chasing the boom.  It’s almost impossible to catch, and far more people stumble into it than anything else.  Just focus on writing the best story you can. Revise it, polish it, and make it better than anyone else’s.
            Next week, I was thinking of hanging some art.  In the execution sense.
            Until then, go write...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

            Both of you who are still here, many thanks for your patience during my long absence.
            The title’s a pop culture reference to some band my mom listened to a lot.  Garfunkel and Oates, I think...
            Okay, I’ll warn you right up front, this post is going to annoy some of you.
            I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes about cooking.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, cooking and writing are great parallels.  There are certain rules that must be followed, but there’s also a degree of personal style and taste involved for both the creator and the consumer.  We also understand that while almost all of us can do it on a simple, day-to-day level, there’s a big difference between that and cooking on a professional level as a chef.
            In cooking, we understand there are certain time elements that can’t be changed.  A three minute egg needs to boil for (big surprise) three minutes.  I can’t bake a cake in half the time by turning the temperature up twice as high.  Trying to speed these things up doesn’t improve them.  We all get that.  We all understand it.
            This is true in a lot of things.  If I’m building a house, I need to let the concrete in the foundation set before I start working on the frame.  Doctors often need to do procedures in multiple steps to give the patient time to heal.   It’s boring as hell, but sometimes you actually just need to watch paint dry. 
            Likewise, I think there’s a time element in writing.  The more it gets rushed, the more I end up with... well, a burned cake.  Or a crappy foundation.  Or severe hemorrhaging.  Or a lot of smeared paint.  Pick your favorite metaphor.
            That being said, there’s a lot of pressure to rush through writing these days.  I’ve seen more than a few would-be gurus pushing a business model of quantity over quality.  The ease of publishing through Amazon has made the idea of moving slow seem... well, clunky and antiquated.  It draws comparisons to, dare I say it, dinosaurs.  And with the raw amount of stuff being e-published, I think all of us have a lurking fear that if we don’t get our idea out there now, someone else is going to have it out there first thing tomorrow.
            But the most important thing, above all others, is for me to write well and write something good.  Churning out 6000 words a day or 300 pages for NaNoWriMo is an achievement, yes.  But it’s better to have 2000 good words and 200 polished pages if I want to do something with them.
            Odds are, that’s just not going to happen in my first draft.  Or my second draft, especially if that’s just a quick pass with the spellchecker.  Or my third.  Maybe not even my fourth.  Oh there’s always a chance that my first book is just pure gold on the first pass, but the majority of us just don’t have the ability or the experience to put out material that doesn’t need work.
            Yes, us. The book I just turned in took six months, start to finish.  It went through four drafts, and there’s no question in my mind it’s going to get another.  In the end, I even asked my editor for more time.  Because it needed more.  A lot of my word choices, my phrasing, my structure... it was all first-pass stuff.  It wasn’t really bad, but it also wasn’t good. Definitely not great (although I like to think there were still a few moments of greatness in there somewhere).
            Writing takes time.  Like the cake or the surgery or the paint, I can’t rush through an edit draft in a day and expect to get the same results as someone who spends three weeks going over their manuscript line by line.  My first draft is never going to be as good as someone’s fifth or sixth draft.
            Because of this time factor (ready for more angry comments?), I often find myself questioning people who say they wrote a book in a month.  Or even six weeks.  I completely believe a draft can be written in that amount of time.  I wrote the first draft of 14 in about six weeks.  But a finished book manuscript?  Something ready to hand off to an editor?
            You’ve probably heard of Stephen King.  You probably also know how often he’s been mocked and criticized numerous times for the speed he puts out books.  I mean, he’s got to be putting out how many novels a year?
            Two.  That’s it.  Less than that on average, really (although he did have a bit of a dead zone (zing!) after getting hit by that van).  In forty years of professional writing, he’s barely had fifty books published.  And so many people still call him a hack because he churns stuff out at such a fast rate...
            Now, going slow isn’t an ironclad rule.  Just a few weeks back I pointed out that some folks go so slow they pretty much come to a dead stop.  And sometimes everything just lines up and a draft takes a few days.  No two projects are the same and no two writers are the same. 
            But if every draft of every project goes fast... maybe I should take an effort to slow down for a while and see how it affects my writing.
            Because the goal for all of us is to be great.  Not to rush toward good and stop when we get there.
            Next time I’d like to have a quick chat about zombies.  And vampires. And mysteries.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Instructional Promotional Offer

            So, I’m just finishing up my last polish of Ex-Isle, which means no real post this week. Sorry.
            However...  My publisher, Crown, just started a promotion for my new book, The Fold, (out in hardcover two months from today).  Pre-order the book now from your favorite local store (if you haven’t already), enter your info over at my other website, and you’ll get a free galley copy, one of the early, unedited trade paperbacks that was sent out to reviewers, some book stores, and so on.
            What does this mean for you, reader of the ranty blog?
            It means you’ve got a chance to see an earlier draft (the first layout, essentially) and the final novel side by side.  You can read the book, then go through the earlier version and find all the places my editor and I changed things. Every tweak and adjustment as we prepared the book to go to the printer.  And there are a lot of them, so it’s a worthwhile exercise. And all it costs you is... well, pre-ordering the book.
            And heads up—there are only about a hundred or so galley copies available for this, and I think over a dozen of them have been claimed since this promotion started yesterday.  Also, just because it needs to be said... you can’t “pre-order” the book once it comes out.  So there is a time issue involved here.
            Finally, for the record, I’m doing signings at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles, and Borderlands Books in San Francisco.  So pre-order your book from them and then come back so I can scribble in it.
            And next week... back to our regularly scheduled ranting.
            Until then, as the Trickster would say, write, write, WRITE!