Thursday, January 29, 2009

Telepaper (Dear Diary)

Awesome San Francisco newscast from 1981 that I lifted from readerville on the two local newspapers who were offering downloads of the text of the daily copy of the paper (a "telepaper"). Best quote: "At $5 per hour usage fees, the $.20 per copy print editions have nothing to worry about." The irony: now 28 years later, and the pricing tables have inverted between the two media.

Very timely, I think, given all of the discussions going on this past couple of weeks around alternative delivery for books, stories, poems, etc. 

To that end, here is my soapbox/Dear Diary train-of-thought treatise on the subject:

We all have a common problem: we want to make enough money at writing that we can pursue it full-time (or part-time); i.e., to move it from the domain of hobby to profession. The traditional route of writer>agent>publisher>reader is littered with Punji traps and ferocious beasties and misleading signs, and it is well known that very few will survive that way; and those who do survive may not make it in the same shape they may had once hoped for. For every J.K. Rowling, there are ten thousand Brian Keenes; for every Brian Keene, there are a hundred thousand Jeremy D Brookses.

But, let's consider that path. Why does everything need to flow in that direction? Because, I guess, despite all of the obstacles and heartbreak, it is still the path of least resistence (and on that path will be found electricity, water, and we humans). So what options do we have? There's the real question. Not question: discussion. Because that's what markets are: discussions between parties, each with a consideration and a need. 

At its most fundamental level, what is the discussion between writer and reader? You want to be entertained; I want to entertain you. You will pay some amount of something (time, money, used furniture, green stamps, back rubs) to be entertained; I want to be compensated for my work. 

Strip it back to the essentials, and the path of least resistence does not flow through Manhattan; not really. In fact, historically, and even moreso moving forward, the path to Manhattan seems like pushing water uphill. New York is full of brokers--and I don't want to in the least discount the value agents and editors and print publishers add to this chain. Their expertise and resources and specialised skills are part of the value-add chain. Without publishers, there is no marketing, no distribution, and no upfront royalties; without editors, our output isn't as good as it can be; without agents, the door to publishers is closed. But, times are tough; many publishers, large and small, are shuttering their operations; the ones that are still open are buying fewer (if any) books.

And it will get better, over time. Eventually. My day job is with a large bank; I've had all the gloom-n-doom I can take for one year, and it's not even February. It will get darker before it gets lighter; but it will, absolutely, get lighter. But none of it will look the same once the sun comes back out.

And I've only just begun to fight my first skirmishes of the publishing wars. And I'm still enjoying it. And I won't succumb to negativity or obstacles.

To that end: my personal goal, in addition to continuing to write my little ass off every night (or, if your eyesight is any good, my big ass), research agents and publishers, send out queries and submit to traditional markets, is to consider, strongly and aggresively, other ways to go about it. E-books, POD, vanity, PDF chapbooks, micro-payments, pay-as-you-read, pay-what-you-want, blog-stories (a la Blood Routes)...I think at this point in the game, everything is on the table, and the time is right to find other paths--provided that the output is as good as it would be coming out of the other end of the Manhattan meat grinder. Because bad output makes us all look bad.

So, that's my soap box report for the day. Back to work.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ladies of light, and ladies of darkness

Neil Gaiman posted links to some early reviews of his new children's book Blueberry Girl this AM...well, I suppose it sits on the children's book shelf, but it seems like more of a book for a parent to read to a daughter and explain the words like "paradox" and "never-you-mind"; my girls are a bit old for this level of book, but it reminded me that he read it aloud at the book fair here in Vegas last year (I think he read it in most cities on his tour, and told the story about how it was a gift to Tori Amos for her yet-to-be-born daughter).  It also reminded me how wonderful poetry can be when it's accessible to philistines like myself, and gives me renewed respect for those who can pull it off:

Help her to help herself, help her to stand
Help her to lose and to find
Teach her we're only as big as our dreams
Show her that fortune is blind

I sent the first 26k of so of Mojave off to Mari Adkins this week for a critique. Not sure how long it will take, but I've decided to take a few days off before I dig back into that story and knock out a short. In a similar manner to what Aaron posted today, I was inspired by a building this week. I've had this vague notion of a story in the back of my head, but couldn't figure out exactly what the story was about. At lunch Wednesday I took a walk downtown and found an abandoned building (there are no shortage of those downtown in Las Vegas), looked in the window, and thought about the things that may happen there during the day, and the things that may happen there when the good people of the world are asleep. So, I started on that creepy little tale last night, written from the perspective of one of the residents of the building. It promises, so far at least, to be one of the more disturbing things I've written.

In other news, I got my first rejection for the new year from AGNI at Boston University. Next week I'll re-work that story a bit and keep bouncing it out to literary markets (I'm trying to stick to my "start pro and work downward" strategy...we'll see how that works out, and if my fragile ego and resolve can take the endless string of rejections that path holds).

Friday, January 16, 2009

On Reading

I have recently become addicted to PaperbackSwap. There is a referral linkie on the left nav of this page if you want to check it out (disclaimer, if you sign up with that link, I get a credit towards a book...feel free to use this link (  instead if you don't want to click through the referral link). It is a smorgasbord of books available for trade...It's been kind of a struggle for me deciding on what to get. 

(There was a long story here in the middle that I wrote and deleted, because it was, well, long. Synopsis: I used to read a lot, but stopped for close to a decade.)

On starting to read again after college, my inclination--having been bitten by the writing bug--was to start with what I thought of as standards and classics, hoping the magic would rub off on my fingers. I read Virginia Woolf, and although I loved her unusual style, I found it almost unreadable. I read Hunter S Thompson, and became a lifelong fan. I choked on Rand's Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and, although I really liked them both, found them too inky and preachy to finish. I read The Great Gatsby and thought it was OK (maybe I read it too fast and didn't get it); I really liked Twain's classics, as well as Morrison's Beloved. I threw in some King, Rowling, Gaiman, Barker, and Adams for balance.

So, now with Paperbackswap, I'm faced with that question again: what to read for a balance of good, solid writing and entertaining fiction (spinach and ice cream); what will inspire me to be the best writer that I can be in the way that Cormac McCarthy and Ernst Hemingway do, but be entertaining enough to keep momentum towards fifty books read this year?

So far, I've ordered (and received almost all of): King's Needful Things, McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, Goddard's In Pale Battalions, Russo's Empire Falls, Robinson's Gilead, and Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Of the books posted, I guess these made up the first round of what I considered to be modern literature's A-list. I have a few more on my wish list that aren't yet available. I probably need more "popcorn" authors, like Grisham and Koontz.

PBS has reminded me, in the way that visiting Barnes and Noble still does, how much I love books.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pardon the delerium

I should really, really be in bed. But, I was so happy that I did 2300 words tonight on Mojave (although it took me to 12:30 to do it) that I had to post (and then spend twice as much time correcting typos in said post).
That is all. Except for this cool, creepy song I found on Youtube from the Dresden Dolls. Tells an interesting story...I might have to write a tale called The Gardner someday. I also need to learn how to play guitar, drums, and sing at the same time. Shirtless.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Nice Problem to Have (I guess)

Still grinding away on Mojave...I'm really getting the urge to stop and work on a short story or two, but I'm moving toward a deadline and don't want to stop.

No acceptances of rejections yet this year, but I still have 3-4 weeks on the four pending before their self-stated SLAs are up (I'm not counting Hotel Guignol's screenplay the time they were getting 300 per day--yes, day).

I just got the latest issue of Cemetary Dance, and there was an interview in there with Brian Keene. The interviewer asked him if he considered himself a sell-out because WalMart asked Random House to ask Keene (insofar as WalMart "asks" a potential supplier to do anything...they say sign here or find another channel to sell your crap in) to make a major change to his story because it might be offensive--I haven't read the book (Terminal), but apparently there is a child character who is the second coming of Christ, and the MC caused his death. Walmart didn't like it--so Keene changed it.

My wife said that's ludicrous, you wouldn't do that...would you? And I hesitated. I had to think about that, and I still haven't decided. Given my station and goals, I would have to consider it long and hard, but my gut tells me that I would probably toe the line on that. Keene's defense was that mainstream fiction is not art--it's entertainment, and must meet the demands of the supply chain. But, as the title of this post suggests: how great would it be to even to have the chance to answer that question?

Highly speculative (but hey, that's what we do!), but, what would you do in Keene's situation? If you had a rock that said "my writing is..." and two buckets, one said "demand-driven entertainment", the other "my artistic expression", which bucket would you toss into?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Se7en things...

Tagged by Natalie for this, the first Intermeme© of 2009!

Share seven facts about yourself, and tag seven people at the end of the post.

I've had to do this before in meet-n-greets and offsite meetings, and like to choose the things that I may not be the most proud of, but the ones that are the, I guess (but wouldn't put me in hot water if a prospective employer were to find this post). Might be hard to hit seven, though, I'm just not that interesting...also, I find it weird talking about myself (blogging is a big step outside of my comfort zone).

1. Although far from virtuoso, I am a self-taught guitar player who started playing at age 13...despite that, I didn't join my first band until I was 34, and quit following our first gig six months later after an onstage row with the drummer (in the middle of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb). It was a fun six months, though.

2. I have been stung by a Bark Scorpion, the most toxic scorpion in North America (and I'm sure I will be neighborhood has no shortage of the little darlings). It's like being injected with liquid fire that doesn't go away for 24 hours or so (in case you were wondering).

3. I dropped out of high school at the mid-point of my sophomore year. High school was too dramatic for me...I hate drama. I worked for many years, and in my early 20s aced my GED, got an A.A. in business, B.A. in Marketing, and an M.B.A.

4. My first 'real' job was at Old Tucson, a movie studio-cum-amusement park in Arizona. I drove a tour train around the town giving a speech about all of the movies that were filmed there. Fun job for a teenager.

5. I have worked for a bank for over ten years, and am the only person I've met there (at least in management) with full-sleeve tattoos. I also have Mr. Gosh on my right leg (done by the Hart and Huntington studio in the Palms Casino).

6. Being towed by a friend driving a hatchback, I have done 55MPH in a shopping cart. And I have the scars to prove it.

7. Before pulling my head out of my ass and figuring out what I was going to do with my life, I spent about five months in my seventeenth year homeless in Portland, OR, sleeping on the banks of the Clackamas river, or on random couches, or backyards of vacant houses, or the backseats of cars, or a wildlife preserve that inexplicably sits in the middle of the city. I'm sure there's a story in there, somewhere...

OK, not sure who hasn't been tagged, or who regurly reads this; but, stabbing in the dark:

Side rant:

I'm livid with Blogger...I spent four hours messing with Blogger themes this weekend, four hours that could have been spent writing. I can't seem to get any themes I like to work properly, so I'll probably keep this one for a while and change some of the side nav stuff...blogger seems to have problems with the blogger roll widget, and there are several blogs I want to add that won't show up (mostly some Wordpress and Livejournal blogs), so I'm having to track everyone's blogs (I follow about 25 or so) in Outlook. End rant. Sorry, had to vent.

**Updated...forgot the linkies to the bloggies...***

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Back ta woik, ya bum.

It's been a nice, relaxing winter break, visiting relatives in Arizona, watching lots of movies (we are extremely grateful that the kids are getting older and we can watch grown-up movies like Benjamin Button and Valkyrie while they're still in the theaters, and the kids can go watch their movies in the next room).

But, it's time to go back to work.

I gave myself a deadline of 1/15 to get my ~30k MS off for Mari at Apex to critique, and I still have some work to do to prepare. 

To that end: I took Robert Swartwood's advice when we got back to Vegas and ran down to the library and picked up a David Morrell book on fiction writing best-practices. It's been very valuable so far (thanks a bunch, Robert). One of the excercises I found particularly telling to guage the strength of a story early on in the process is a kind of self-dialogue to 'discuss' the story...with the assistance of that as a vetting mechanism for my next steps, I've decided that I want to continue on with Mojave with some additional development work, and will build that out to use as my MS for Mari (as opposed to Seattle Pizza, which I still like but will focus on later). Here is an excerpt from my discussion with myself on Mojave (this was not only a valuable excercise, but actually kind of fun to do):

Why is the Vegas compound an interesting topic for a story?

It would be interesting to watch it grow as a commercial, well-funded petri dish experiment.

Why is that interesting?

Because it explores commercialism and greed as a lord of the flies-type microcosm outside of government oversight.

Why should anyone besides sociologists care?

Because it helps people explore their own personal feelings about greed, society, rules, roles, and beliefs.


Indeed. Word.

...and so on for several pages, until the story and characters (and holes therein) really start to take shape in a much stronger way than just writing front-to-back or working off of an outline. You basically have to convince yourself that it's a story worth reading.

As for 2008...I decided I wanted to (attempt to) become a writer, against all odds and rational judgement. Since July, I have written eight short stories and a short screenplay, submitted them collectively to seventeen markets, had two published, one take the silver medal in a contest, and still have five of the seventeen submissions pending. I started two novels, and have aged close to seven years in the last six months. And I have learned that the stinging backhand of a rejection letter is all part of the process and, I've heard, it does, eventually, get easier. Or numbs faster. Either works.

And I have met some great and helpful folks in the literary blogosphere. Here's to all of us getting fat book deals in 2009, keeping our sanity through the economic turmoil, and generally having a great year.