Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thrilled by the Rejection Letter

Received the most prompt, well written and informative rejection of my short writing and querying career the other day. Mr. Mecoy is an agent for John Corrigan, a mystery novelist who writes stories that revolve around the PGA. I thought he would be a perfect match for my manuscript Toe the Line. He explained about the marketability of such mysteries in his rejection:

"Thank you for the opportunity to consider your novel for representation. While I do appreciate the widespread interest in the sport, I am afraid that I do not feel that sports and mysteries mix all that well. Over the years, I've done baseball mysteries, Formula 1 and NASCAR suspense novels and, yes, Mr. Corrigan's golf books and none of them have broken out. I don't know if it's the genre's gender bias or the fact that people who love to get out and do or see these things don't want to read about them. Unfortunately, mystery editors as a group (at least the ones I know) share my prejudice against this sort of novel. So, I regret that I can only offer you all my best wishes for your future success with an agent who hasn't had my experience and who can find an editor who hasn't been infected with this particular sort of cynicism."

A few posts ago I asked which was more important, marketability or writing. I'm beginning to think that marketing is more important. I'm also beginning to think that a change in writing tactics on my part is called for.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo Idea #4

First, I think this is silly. Although I don't own one, I would like a Kindle cover. I've seen other's with covers and think that it would be a good addition to my Kindle library. But I don't want one that makes my Kindle look like a book. First, I like having a thin Kindle. You put a huge book-like case on it, and half of what I like is gone. Secondly, it smacks of putting a flat HD TV in one of those old school television consoles with the tubes in the back. Sure, a Kindle may be becoming an antique in the e-reader and i-Pad world but I don't want it to look quite so ancient.

Now for the NaNoWriMo idea. This one was inspired by a police video I watched at work that showed an officer getting beaten to death and then shot by a fireman who was out in rural Oklahoma cooking meth in his trunk. It was a gruesome video. I thought it would be interesting to have a main character compelled to go and help the department retrieve the damaged video and then help track down the murderer. It's a bit one dimensional at the moment, so I may not use this one either. Also, I think NaNoWriMo should be for flexing ones muscles, trying new things, and enjoying the writing. Maybe I should go back and revisit those thriller ideas.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo Idea #3

First, saw a great site for mystery writers. Looks like it could add some needed verisimilitude to my mysteries and for any fellow writers. It provides a top ten list for crime scene investigators, a checklist of sorts. If your detective aint doing these things, perhaps he should.

Secondly, another NaNoWriMo idea that is not meant for this year.

I had this idea several years ago. If you ever saw the movie Sneakers with Robert Redford, Sidney Pointier and Ben Kingsley, then you're already familiar with the plot. Ex-Army dude is contracted by the FBI to devise plans for a terrorist operation in his city. He's told it is all part of a plan by the government to get fresh ideas for enemy operations they might not immediately see. It's only after he submits his plans, is almost killed by the people who hired him and is arrested by the real FBI that he realizes the organization he gave his plans to was a terrorist cell. Naturally the FBI thinks he's a part of the terrorist group so he has to escape and track down the original group and stop them before they carry out any of his plan, all while evading capture and avoiding being killed by the terrorist cell. I think it would make for a pretty exciting thriller novel, which is why I am not doing it. Not a thriller writer at the moment.

Another Look At Nook

The Barnes and Noble Nook is now in color, see here.

"The new touchscreen Nook Color, priced at $249, costs about half as much as an entry-level Apple Inc. iPad—but almost twice as much as an entry-level Kindle from Amazon.com Inc. and Barnes & Noble's existing monochrome Nook device."

The above quote hits at the one thing I like about my Kindle . . . it's all about reading. When I sit down with my Kindle there is no chance that I'll get distracted by games or the internet or anything else. I can't.

A reader commented on my post from a couple of days ago on how important she feels color is to the reading experience. I agree with her. But beyond giving the Nook a color display there is another advantage that the Nook has over the Kindle.

However, I have just finished working on a project at work. The CEO of my company was interviewed about our product and he brought up the touchscreen interface advantage. He likened it to a cell phone with touchscreen capabilities to one without. He ends his statement by asking, "if you were investing for your police department, for the next several years, in a technology, which would you rather invest in, the one where changes and applications can be made via software, or the one with the hard wired buttons?"

Were I buying an e-reader now I'd seriously consider the Nook. If I was buying a tablet, I'd get an i-Pad. Where's that leave the Kindle? Better step your game up Amazon!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo Idea #2

The second idea I discounted came by way of my indefensible brother.

Leveraging my military experience and my desire to write a thriller, David wanted me to write a novel depicting two Special Forces units involved in hostilities in "the Ghan." I believe that some of this idea came about as my brother was watching a show that showed a Spec Ops unit all hepped up on testosterone refusing to be called off from the objective. The idea would be to have the two units involved in a long range fire fight neither of them knowing that they are actually shooting at one another. Each unit could call in air strikes on the other and continue to escalate the battle without ever realizing who the enemy is. It was my addition to have a native, enemy, unit watching the battle and instigating action when they see it starting to lull.

Some of the themes that might be fun to play with include out running the lines of communication in battle, a la Pat Tillman, the intransigency and stubbornness of Spec Ops operators in regards to mission completion, and the splintered chain of command in the Spec Ops community. This last has always been a bone of contention with me.

I discounted it due to the fact that I still haven't fleshed out the idea enough to make it anymore than a novella or short story, and I don't know if it would be a good topic for my first thriller novel.

Two Things of Note in the e-Publishing World

First, to carry-on the discussion from yesterday’s blog about the ability to lend Kindle e-books comes this story about how Starbucks will begin offering free e-books to Kindle users via their wi-fi network. Years ago, when I frequented Starbucks more than I do now, I was always getting my boxers in a bunch about the lack of free wifi. Why shouldn’t I be able to get an access code with my receipt that entitles me to use their wifi for fifteen minutes or thirty minutes after my purchase. IHOP could do the same thing for those damn study groups that always show up and take over booths. This new lending of free e-books will not help me in this regard, and I kinda doubt if I’ll ever use it. Still, nice to know that someone out there is trying to integrate e-books into their business plans.

The second story is this one, from PC World. Adobe is trying to provide the ability for greater ease in e-publishing, not just for novels, but other publishable material.

"The publishing industry is reinventing itself and a new era of editorial and advertising innovation is upon us as publishers target new mobile hardware platforms," said David Wadhwani, a senior vice president at Adobe. "By leveraging the InDesign CS5 workflow and the services of the Digital Publishing Suite, professional publishers can design and commercialize a new class of innovative digital magazines to create a richer and more dynamic reading experience that will attract high-value subscribers and advertisers."

Then they’ll also have a distribution platform as described below.
"The Distribution Service stores, hosts, and distributes digital content across tablet devices and desktops. Publishers can publish and fulfill issues across devices and screen resolutions with cross-platform viewers and notify readers when a new magazine issue is available for purchase or download.”

Again, nice to see that some businesses are keeping up and staying in front of the e-publishing and e-reading wave.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lendling

Amazon has announced that Kindle owners and readers who use Kindle apps will now be able to loan e-books to other users (story here).

"The online retailer announced the upcoming feature in a discussion forum for the Kindle on its website Friday, saying that later in the year it will start letting Kindle users and people who use its free Kindle apps loan books to others for a two-week period. During the loan, the book's owner will not be able to read the book, Amazon said."

Not a bad start. Why only two weeks is my question. If I can't read it on my Kindle, why does it matter how long the friend has it. I think it should be indefinite.

Did not know this:

"The Kindle will not be the first e-reader to get a lending feature; Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nook e-reader also has such a feature that lets users loan books between other Nooks and gadgets that have the free Nook software."

Had I known this about the Nook, I might have gone this route instead of toward the Kindle.

2010 No Id for NaNoWriMo

For those not NaNoWriMo literate let me explain the title. Novel Idea's for NaNoWriMo. I have several. Now that it is a week away I had to decide on one. The next few days, leading up to the start of NaNoWriMo I'll detail each idea I had and in the case of the first few, why I decided not to use it.

First - Soul Food
I've been wanting to write Soul Food for years. It is a Sci-Fi story about an astronaut who bungles a mission in space, falls into a coma, and wakes up twenty years later and sees the changes happening on Earth all around him. Prior to his slipping into this coma he thinks he sees an alien force or being causing the catastrophe.

As an astronaut his projects were all about "off Earth" living, but after his coma he sees that surface dwelling capabilities have exploded, that religiousosity is a new, overwhelming fad, and that there have been great leaps forwad made in ensuring contentment in old age as well as longer living. It is only becasue he has as an alternate perspective due to his coma that he begins to see that all of these advancements are a product of the alien entity and he surmises that the alien is harvesting human souls for food. How the hero discovers that Aliens perfer the taste of old souls in a manner similar to human's like corn fed beef is still a bit of a mystery.

The original title was Soul Ranch. Soul Food is more tongue in cheek but far more catchy. Could be a comedy in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but sadly I have no comedy writing experience. It's a pretty nebulous topic for a novel. Hard to write believably. Plus, what would the ending be?

Would have been fun to explore themes like religiosity keeping the herd docile, the ability to increase population in a manner similar to a cattle ranch being taken over by new ownership and turned around. All fun, but tough stuff to get across easily.

Needless to say, this idea goes back in the cellar for more aging. Not suitable for NaNoWriMo 2010.

Virality

I just met my fourth blog follower. Saw him at the zoo. Does having four blog readers make me viral yet?

All tongue and cheek of course. I have far more than four. Found out today that I'm actually making money off the blog as I have several subscribers to the blog via Kindle. How's about that?

Virality coming soon!

Friday, October 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo

As my indefensible brother likes to point out NaNoWriMo is next month.

Yes, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is a silly name. Personally I think the founders could have done themselves a favor by calling it NaNoMo (National Novelling Month) but, my brother loves to mock the name, so he’s out there saying it, so perhaps their marketing is working.

NaNoWriMo is an online contest whereby aspiring writers “compete” to write 50,000 words in the month of November. If you complete a 50,000 word novel in the month you “win”. It’s really a lose interpretation of winning and competition as I could fake the whole thing and still “win.” However I have not faked the past four times I’ve won.

Although I’ve spoken to several writers who think that writing in the NaNoWriMo style is not for them, I’ve found it’s a terrific avenue for getting the rough draft out of the head and onto the paper in as short a time as possible. There is also an opportunity to meet and write with fellow writers. The NaNoWriMo website offers the ability to connect with other writers in your area and “meet up” to write together.

I’ve already started outlining my NaNoWriMo entry for this year and am looking forward to starting it next week. If you’ve ever felt like writing a novel, need a kick in the pants to get going, and are looking for an opportunity to do a brain dump over the course of 30 days, then go visit NaNoWriMo on the web and sign up. I’m a proponent.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wordle

I went to a a new writing site (Publishing Online) and there was a link to another site that generated images of words used in writing (wordle).

So, following the instructions, I pasted in my manuscript and it generated the following image.


Mostly I see character names. I thought about that last post I wrote about the critiquer who found so many redundant words in my manuscripts. Sounds like a great application for him.

More On Critique Groups

For the title of this post I was trying to find a way to use the quip: "If you don't have less on you have ???? critique groups" but I couldn't figure out a way to do so without completely disparaging my critique group. Guess I'm not as talented a writer as I thought. Either that or I'm less abrasive than I think.

So, just a day after writing about how much I enjoy my critique group I received another round of edits for my next manuscript. I like them even more now.

I enjoy the fact that there is a degree of detachment. It's so much harder to take and give criticism when in the presence of the author or editor. I get my critiques online and have never met these editors. It's nice that way. They can be more liberal with their edits, I can read them at my leisure. Yet another reason to enjoy the online critique group.

Secondly, I'm already seeing how these critiquers focus on different aspects of my writing. One critiquer likes to point out how poor my manuscript formatting and punctuation is. I'll admit, there are times when I use a comma instead of a period, but once or twice (even thrice) in a chapter, . . . I guess she's right . . . I'll work on it. Another fellow likes to point out redundant word use. I've read these suckers several times before I submit them. I never see these redundancies. He does. Good to have that fellow around.

Finally, I think it's funny when someone will edit something and be completely wrong. I wrote the word "preternatural" at one point in the story. The critique wrote, "What is this? I think you mean supernatural." Actually I didn't. Preternatural, according to M-W.com, means: existing outside of nature, exceeding what is natural or regular and inexplicable by ordinary means. That was exactly what I meant. Sadly, I can't go back and tell the critiquer what I meant. Another? I wrote that the character's one "sop" to comfort was his chair. Sop, again according to M-W.com means: a conciliatory or propitiatory bribe, gift, or gesture. The critiquer wrote: "Sop? You mean Standard Operating Procedure?" Actually, no. That makes less sense than supernatural for preternatural. The process isn't infallible.

So, long and short. Love the group even more, despite the fact that I can't clarify when I need to. For anyone hoping to join, find the critique group here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Critique Groups

I went to a writing class here in Houston in 2001 that morphed into a critique group. This was my first experience with a critique group. I saw the advantages, chapter edits, new viewpoints and ideas, a mentor's leadership, but I also saw the disadvantages. The local Sugar Land critique group has been less advantageous than that first one. I've found that this is due primarily to the modus operandi of the group.

For that first group, we students were asked to read one another's work and come prepared to discuss our edits and ideas with the author of the work and the rest of the group. It was a lot of work. Not just the reading, but also producing a new short story for the group each week. The Sugar Land critique group hosts a less strenuous atmosphere. The entire group reads chapters or stories each week and the manuscript is discussed and debated right then. In terms of homework, the second group is easier. Sadly, it offers far less in terms of expert edits and good ideas. I would gladly trade some of my free time for this group to change its methods and require that the group do some homework. Additionally, who wants to give up five hours on a Saturday morning to a bunch of fellow writers whose edits and suggestions are well thought out or worthwhile. Naturally, I don't go to the Sugar Land group anymore.

I found an online group a few months ago and I am extremely pleased with it. Members are asked to download, edit, critique three stories by other members in exchange for uploading one of their own. It's been tough sometimes to keep up the pace of reading and keep track of the administrative duties involved in the little online group, but I'm finally seeing the same advantages that I'd hoped to find from my local group. I've discovered that the edits I'm receiving are well thought out and constructive, conversely, the other writers have written to tell me that they appreciate my own edits and ideas on their work. The only thing missing is a mentor to help guide the work and provide a firm, stabilizing presence. But, I'll take that over the quick edits of the Sugar Land group.

In Stephen King's book On Writing that I read last month, King discussed critique groups. He feels that they are wholly unnecessary. He has beta readers and friends and family who help him write and edit, but as far as a group of contemporaries who help him mold and craft his stories, there aint one, and he didn't necessarily advocate having one in his book. I'm happy that I've finally found a critique group that combines many of the advantages of the first critique group with the ease and simplicity that I was looking for.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Novel Marketing

One thing that came up when I was sending out queries last year, and came up with my interview with Nicholas Croce this past Saturday, was the idea of how marketable Toe the Line is. I wonder if marketability trumps voice and writing style or the other way around. No matter how good the writing, if there aint no audience, there won't be much selling.

As I sat across from Mr. Croce I could almost see his brain firing away on whether or not my book was marketable. I mentioned to him that in the past two decades the focus on health and fitness has intensified in our society. This industry has gained a foothold in non-fiction books, periodicals, television media and other materials. That Toe the Line, and other manuscripts I have outlined, developed and written weave this aspect into a mystery in order to bring a more compelling and fresh look at this type of lifestyle. Not just for fitness enthusiasts to read but also for their wives, husbands, parents and others to help them relate to the sport. To provide a glimpse into this world for those not commonly associated with it. My only data to back this rise in interest was the fact that when I raced in triathlons in college or the Army, they weren't as packed as they are now. Now it is common for the organizers to have to limit the number of entries. I doubt that was as true in the 90's. At one point Mr. Croce mentioned that many of the people who would do this type of racing would be wealthier with more disposable income for buying books. Like I said, it was fun to see him start marketing off the cuff.

What's the take away? I need to do some research. It would behoove me to find out more about the marketing potential behind every book I write. It just might be as important as or more important than the writing itself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Three Minute Vs Hint

I spoke to a contemporary at the writer's conference, an engaging and intriguing play write from Katy. We talked about short fiction. She told me about a "three minute fiction" segment that she heard about on NPR. I countered by talking about "Hint Fiction." See below for more:

HOUSE HUNTING by Gary A. Braunbeck
The fence is tall. Good. The mother is typical white-trash, too loud. But the kids … they seem frightened and quiet. Good. Easier that way.

DEPARTURE by Donora Hillard
The terminal is unkind. You watch me go through security. In six months, you’ll say “Tell me about the nightmare,” and I promise I will.

PROGRESS by Joe Schreiber
After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him “daddy.”

PEANUT BUTTER by Camille Esses
He was allergic. She pretended not to know.

THE MALL by Robley Wilson
What he liked best about the affair was not the shopping, but parting the tissue wrap to remove the clothing that had first enticed her.

A SNAP DECISION by Jamie Felton
Her finger tapped against her teeth, “I don’t think it’s going to work.” He sank slowly underneath the surface. She could still see his eyelashes.

Hullabalog

Have written a couple of articles for a blog run by Aggies (Link). The next one I expect will be about the importance of flexibility in a changing market place. Example, the e-readers impact in the publishing world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Writer’s Conference (or Snoozerfest 2010)

The writer's conference was exactly what I expected as it was pretty much the same as the last two times I went. In fact, the key note speaker this year spoke at both of previous conference and was just as unimpressive at this one as she was at the other two. This time she brought a pie as a visual aid. The pie was the best part of the speech and even it didn't look that good.

But, this post is not going to turn into a compendium of aspects of the writer's conference that I felt were lacking, instead I will accentuate the positives, eliminate the negatives and not mess with the in between (thank you Johnny Mercer).

I got to speak with Nicholas Croce of The Croce Agency. Naturally I performed a bit of due diligence and checked out their website. Due to what I felt was an under-representation of my genre on their webpage, I approached Mr. Croce with some consternation and a distinct lack of confidence. Surprisingly he asked me to send him a synopsis and first 50 pages. First, I was stunned. A 5 to 10% hit rate with agents via queries equaled a one-to-one success rate with Mr. Croce. Kinda says something about the efficacy of meeting someone in person. Secondly, I'm a realist enough to know that probably each of the two hundred people who got to meet with him (and I told him I was impressed by his stamina) probably got the same reception, but it's better to be in the positive response group than in the negative.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Running’s Not a Plan, Valentine.

Anyone who has seen Tremors will appreciate the title of this post. Those who have not should see it. Worthwhile the first time. Even the second.

A reader of this blog, not my mother, has asked when I'm going to actually publish my tome. Here's the plan.

I'm working toward a December release of my manuscript, Toe the Line on Smashwords. In order to make this happen I'm releasing a website to help publicize it as well as trying to get reputable authors in the same genre to review it and post their reviews. Why December? Why not do all this right now? Cause I still am holding out hope that the writer's conference I'm attending this weekend will bear some fruit. I would still much rather publish or perish conventionally. It seems like it would be a bit more fun. E-publishing or e-perishing is a last resort.

So, anyone wondering, you will be able to download Toe the Line for reading on iPad, Kindle, or most other e-reader devices or order a copy through Smashwords come December 20th. Just in time for Christmas. Also, during that same time frame you'll be able to link, forward and gush about my new website. Just FYI.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recent First Line

"Jeeves – my man, you know – is really a most extraordinary chap."

P.G. Wodehouse – My Man Jeeves

I've had the pleasure of reading My Man Jeeves at least once before, again, while living in Belgium. Loved it then, still do. Wodehouse gives his narrator such a great voice and tone. Turns out that Jeeves was not a common "man's man" name prior to the publication of Wodehouse's stories. It was Wodehouse that provided the popularity for the name being used. I find that remarkable. I'd love to be so popular that one of my character names becomes a part of the lexicon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weekend Workshop

This weekend I get to go to my third Houston area writer's conference.

The first writer's conference I went to I was sorely unimpressed. It featured a writer of historical romance, a lady from whom I had once taken a novel writing class. I left the class in mid-term. I should have left the conference in mid-stream.

The next writer's conference I attended was better. The featured speaker was David Liss, writer of historical mysteries. Much better presenter. Still, I wasn't too impressed. If not for Liss I would have counted it as 8 hours of wasted time.

Based on my past experiences I wasn't going to attend this Fall's conference, but there will be agents there. Thanks to my judging the local novel writing contest I have a free meeting with one of these agents. I've read that meeting an agent in person offers a far greater chance of success than query writing alone. I'm looking forward to it for this reason alone.

I'm sorry to say that if the agent meeting doesn't live up to its billing, I might just give up on conferences. The track record thus far is woeful.

Monday, October 4, 2010

FOUND: Interesting Article, 5 Columns, Approx 500 words

I read a couple of great articles this weekend in the paper. One was an interview with Phillip Roth. I expected to really like this article, so I was surprised that I didn't. The second article, about writing, I only read on a lark, I was happy to discover that this article stimulated the old grey cells far more than the Roth article.

Two facets of the article stood out. First, a quote from The Great Gatsby.

I've said as much to my own students, in the course of asking them, say, to describe a lawn. They shrug. Blink. "It's green," one of them invariably says. "Grassy." Here's how Fitzgerald describes one: "The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run."

The lawn ran? The lawn jumped? Is it an ill-tended lawn? Obviously not, because it's so sleek and swift, in such a well-groomed hurry to dash over every obstacle and splash itself festively against the bricks. Burning gardens? Why not be specific and tell us what flowers grow there, or vegetables perhaps, the colors and so forth? Well, because the lawn is moving too fast and can only glance—whoosh—as it passes: burning!

This is writing that makes us see the world afresh—the kind of writing that is better than actual living. Or rather it makes us want to live better, in every way. I cannot read about Gatsby's parties without wanting to drop everything, go for a swim, get plastered and dance the Charleston.

Why did I key in on this paragraph? I have written before, most recently about Catch-22, that I think too much editing tends to ruin prose. I feel certain that had I written that a lawn ran, my editor would have noted it and said something along the lines of "lawn can't run." Nota bene to self, don't trust your editor too much.

Secondly, I read this at first and was confounded momentarily. Once I read on I found that is the best description of the maxim that writers hear so often "show don't tell" I have ever heard.

"Action is character," Fitzgerald wrote in his notes while working on his unfinished novel, "The Last Tycoon." Many times I've written the same motto on my chalkboard, in the same emphatic capitals, and said to my students: If one of our greatest writers had to exhort himself with that phrase, right up to the end, it must be pretty important.

Don't, therefore, simply tell us that a character is "arrogant" or "blasé" or whatever; show her reclining on a divan "with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall," as Fitzgerald gives us Jordan Baker in "Gatsby," or show her "revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air," as one will forever remember the vulgar Myrtle Wilson.

Action will suggest the most salient qualities, along with myriad ineffable others, until finally you've earned the right to pronounce explicit judgment—and thus the moral implications of "Action is Character": "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

I love being pleasantly surprised by an article. Went into expected nothing, came out with two nuggets of info I'd previously not had.