Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I read about twenty to twenty-five blogs a day from agents, publishers, interns, writers and publishing geeks. Today, one blogger posted an interesting quote regarding the celebration of Memorial Day. After talking about how much he respected and admired those who serve now and have served in the past, he correctly stated that today is an occasion to honor those who have died in the service of our country. Then he wrote:
"But wouldn't it be better if, someday, we didn't have a need for Memorial
Day anymore?"

I replied to his email and wanted to post to you all what I wrote to him. I wasn't angry at him. Far from it. I just wanted to point something out. I said that if we didn't ever need Memorial Day, it would be because of the men and women we honor on Memorial Day that it was no longer needed. So, the need for it would be even greater. Because if we ever stop honoring those who have given us such great lives and tremendous freedom, then we might need to honor a whole new generation of heroes.

Memorial Day is to honor those who have died to give us that which we so easily take for granted. They don't ask for anything accept to be remembered. If we ever forget them, we will indeed have to remember others who will need to fight and die to regain that which we let slip away.

Happy Memorial Day and God bless those who have given "the last full measure of devotion."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Its a speech given dozens of times in and around Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The time is "Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor".

The speech starts out like this:

It was a glorious morning. The sun was shining and the wind was from the southeast. Up especially early, a tall bony, redheaded young Virginian found time to buy a new thermometer, for which he paid three pounds, fifteen shillings. He also bought gloves for Martha, his wife, who was ill at home.

Thomas Jefferson arrived early at the statehouse. The temperature was 72.5 degrees and the horseflies weren't nearly so bad at that hour. It was a lovely room, very large, with gleaming white walls. The chairs were comfortable. Facing the single door were two brass fireplaces, but they would not be used today.

I suggest you read the rest of it. The author of the speech is R.H. Limbaugh, Jr. He is the father of Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk show host. Ignore the political associations and read the speech in honor of Memorial Day.

To all those who have served and who do serve... thank you. You are the real heroes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Writing contest!

A new writing contest for anyone who writes for kids. Enter! You never know...

Here it is.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Self-Publishing, The E-explosion and Golf

My dad once said that pretty much everything in the world can be related to golf. Which might explain why it's such a popular sport. Because it's too damned hard to play well for that to be the reason.

I've subscribe to almost thirty blogs about writing and the publishing industry. Included in that list are blogs by agents, interns of agents, publishers, interns of publishers, and writers. Sorry, I haven't found a blog by an intern working for a writer... yet. If you read the posts from these blogs over the last two weeks, you will see an absolute tsunami of words written on either self-publishing, e-books, e-publishing, and the predicted death of tradional publishing houses. I've even written about it. Had to, apparently it's an unwritten thing that if everyone in the industry is writing something then you have to write it (Have you seen any books about using a character's knowledge of either history or some obscure area of study to find a mysterious object that will solve an age-old riddle and save the world in the process? Didn't think so...)

Most people are either saying that the publishing sky will fall in the next five years and that everyone who wants to publish a book in that time span needs to immediately start emailing Amazon or some other e-publishing group, or that they aren't sure what's going to happen and people should just wait and see (but, man those are some ominous clouds on the horizon so might want to check for an umbrella). All this fervor reminds me so much of the phenomenon that was Michelle Wie.

For those have been living under a rock for the last decade, Michelle Wie burst onto the world sports scene in 2000. At 10 years old, she qualified for the Women's U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. She'd been playing golf since she was 4, and at 10, it seemed that everyone had already crowned her a Hall of Famer, and perhaps the greatest female athlete in the history of the world. In 2002, she qualified for an LPGA tournament at the tender age of 12. Golf writers were going ga-ga, sports journalists were drooling, and the advertising agents already were on Michelle's dad's speed dial. In 2005, Nike and Sony signed her to sponsorship deals worth over 10 million dollars. She even tried to qualify for the men's US Open. But a little something happened on the way to legendary status.

Turned out Michelle either wasn't as good as everyone thought, or that she didn't care as much we did. She has never won a tournament. She has played well, sure, but all that Hall of Famer stuff is waaaaay in the future. She's not even in the Top 15 professional female golfers in the world right now.

Self-publishing sounds great. But remember, writing isn't a 100-meter dash. It's a marathon. If you want to be good at it, don't let some flash in the pan thing lure you into sprinting before the finish is in sight. Be patient.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Favorite Reads

Here are some of the blogs I read on a daily basis:

JA Konrath: Thriller (and horror) writer JA Konrath has been writing a blog on the publishing industry since 2005. He is pretty close to convincing me that self-publishing through ebooks is the way to go with at least one of my series of novels that I am working on. Great read.

Mark Terry: Mark is another thriller writer who has a "guy next door" way of looking at writing and publishing. You'll become a fan even before you pick up one of his great books.

Guide to Literary Agents: If you want to have a book you've written in your hands so you can touch it, show it off, etc. then you want to think about getting an agent. Best place to look is here.

Agents and the Blogs
Janet Reid: One of the best in the biz.

Jennifer Jackson: One of my dream agents, works with Donald Maass.

Nathan Bransford: Yes, he's the guy who sent me my first rejection letter, but he does have a great blog.

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management: Good site with good info, plus they represent my friend Jennifer.

Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room: A blog by people in the publishing industry dedicated to crime, mystery and related writing.

This list is just a start, and will increase. Enjoy and happy reading!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Love and Hate

Today I found two stories (yes, through the absolute joy that is Google Reader) that seem different, but are in fact equally fun. That is if you look for the fun in things like I do.

Esther Freud's Top Ten Love Stories in The Guardian is up first. The comments behind each selection are not Esther's. In fact, Esther would probably be upset at my comments. Oh well.

1) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: If you ask every American under the age of thirty if they have read this terrific book, they will probably give you a blank stare and whisper so as to not embarrass themselves, "I don't know there was a book, I thought it was just a movie." See what happens when the movie gets so much publicity?

2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: To me, this is in a category that includes Little Women, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Sense and Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice. The category's title is "Books Whose Movie Adaptations Must Star Either Keira Knightly or Winona Ryder."

3) Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: Never read it, but it might rank high on the "Most Mis-Pronounced Book Titles of All-Time" list as well.

4) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Apparently if you are going to write a love story, it would behoove you to include a woman's name in the title...

5) Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak: And set it in Russia. Bonus points for this one because it's my in-laws' favorite film. I've had buddies who've gone to Russia. It's cold there, and they said that 99% of the women are not attractive. And yet, they get two places on this list. Go figure.

6) The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford: Good title for a love story. Haven't read it, but I mean, if you're writing about love then pursuing it is a good place to start.

7) The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann: Takes second place in the "Weirdest Title" contest on this list. I'm sure the story involves weather... and streets... and love... It's about a girl sleeping with a married guy. If the roles were reversed, we'd be talking thrillers.

8) Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: Hey, it's the winner of the "Weirdest Title" contest! I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that it didn't translate from whatever language Jhumpa wrote in originally.

9) The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: If you pursue love and find it, then have long talks with it while watching sunsets, then perhaps you will learn all about it's past. Which allows you to write the history of it.

10) One Day by David Nicholls: This book makes the list if only because it's main female character is named Emma. It's a little known rule that every fifth book published in the romance category has to have an Emma in it. Just like a thriller's main character can't have a last name over two syllables.

Next up is the Top Ten Most Controversial Books in America. It's a list of the books parents have complained about the most to libraries all across the fruited plain. In other words, the books the kids want to read the most.

1) TTYL, TTFN, L8R, G8R: This is a series of books written in text language. I firmly believe that the only reason parents object to these books is that they can't understand what's being said and just assume something bad is going on within the pages. And no, I refuse to make an obvious text-language joke here. No, you can't make me do it. I'm not doing it!

2) And Tango Makes Three: Two male penguins raise a chick together. Or as those of us in the know call it, "March of the Penguins." You did see that dads do most of the raising, right? And that they help each other out? Oh wait... it's pushing homosexuality on kids who are already dating people of their own sex, think that BJ's aren't bad, and a thousand other things that parents would faint if they heard. But, yeah, let's kill the penguin book; that's the real problem with the world.

3) The Perks of Being a Wallflower: The website that I found these on uses different-colored darts to signify what parents think is wrong with each book. This one looks like it volunteered to be a pin cushion. Also, that guarantees it to also be known as "Bestseller." Nice job, parents. You might as well throw the book at your kid.

4) To Kill a Mockingbird: This one just plain upsets me. One of the most moral books in the history of publishing and someone actually objects to it. These are the people who feel like sending your kids to the movies is bad because someone might think they are going to the R-rated comedy instead of the G-rated talking animal story. I better stop before I get in trouble.

5) Twilight: No, there wasn't a colored dart for cardboard characters, sub-par writing, and causing other writers to go into fits of uncontrollable rage at the mention of the title. What I don't understand about these lists and the inclusion of popular books on them is this: isn't the point to get kids to love to read? If they enjoy reading something and it's not Penthouse Letters, then isn't that a good thing?

6) Catcher in the Rye: Speaking of over-rated books... Ever heard that argument that you either love something or you hate it, there's no middle ground? Catcher is that argument when it comes to classic books. If you hate it (like I do), don't ever say that you hate it front of someone who loves it (The Wife is among this number). That is unless you are really, really good at martial arts and ready to defend yourself from a possible beat down.

7) My Sister's Keeper: Made into a chick-flick with Cameron Diaz and Abigal Breslin (fresh off the tremendous Little Miss Sunshine). It's a tear-jerker, and as such, is geared mostly toward the fairer sex. It also looks like a pin cushion. But I'm assuming that most parents want to shield their children from the inevitable things in life and a deeper understand of them. Because, you know, kids should be kept from everything and anything that might help them grow up to be well-put together adults.

8) The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things: I've noticed that a writer tries to help kids deal with the difficult things that life throws at them, the book gets challenged as unfit for children. This one talks about overweight girls, and their self esteem. Apparently the parents who object think that all children should be skinny and that when an actress looks like a skeleton with a wig then she's pretty. I loathe the people who objected to this book. And not just because I like women with curves.

9) The Color Purple: Yes, it was a book before it helped make Oprah her first billion. And I'm shocked - shocked! - that someone objected to this book because of racial reasons. We really don't want our kids to grow up, do we?

10) The Chocolate War: Bonus points for this one because I read it and loved it. It's just a good book about not going with the flow. Which is apparently what a whole lot of parents want their kids to do.

So ends our journey into lists for the day. I hope you had fun. Be sure to thank your captain and please come see us again. Until then, my friends, continue to read, read, read.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Superman is real

Dystel and Goderich on their blog asked for men to put what they want to see more of or less of in books now. I responded that I was sick of the "super-soldier who can run through a shower of bullets and only get a flesh wound while trying to local some missing artifact that will prevent a disaster from some ancient civilization" plot line. This needs to be elaborated on.

First off, I love thrillers. I love adventure. I love quests. But, please don't make the hero unbelievable.

Jack Bauer has gone through eight days in which he has been nearly killed about a billion times. James Rollins, Matthew Reilly and about a hundred other writers have created "super soldiers" who can not only run through a blazing firefight in which a quadrillion (yes, I said it, a quadrillion) bullets fly through the air, but also fail to get hit by any piece of those bullets and never mess up their chances to save the day at the end. The guy on Fox's "Human Target" not only protects everyone he meets, but also never had a bad hair day doing it. Where's the freaking reality???

I've met guys who were, and are, in the US military's Special Forces. I've even met a guy who was in the British SAS, which stands for Special Air Services but the only thing they have to do with planes is that they occasionally have to jump out of them. I even count as an email friend a private military contractor who isn't allowed to use his real name. These men are not Jack Bauer, they aren't "super" soldiers in the way modern writers portray them. What they are is far less flashy, but light years more interesting if you ask me. They are dedicated, patriotic, and loyal to a fault.

Why can't we write people like that into our thriller, suspense and action/adventure stories? Why must our heroes always be "larger than life" in an unreal sense? Is "larger than life" in the sense that they are faithful to their buddies, their wives and their country too small for readers and writers? Do we actually only want to read something that's so obviously fake?

Some people call it willful suspension of disbelief. Well, judging from what's on bookshelves and TV right now, there's nothing willful about it. Seems to me that it's the norm. And that's sad.

Here's an exercise for all of us: make your hero more believable and see what happens. If we keep getting rejections, then perhaps this whole post was a waste of time. But, I'm hoping we can change the genre for the better.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Query letters ROCK! Not Really.

If you are writing a novel, then it is assumed that you understand the basics of how to put a story together. You comprehend, at least on some level, the three-part story arc and how your words are supposed to follow that path. The thought of writing a 300-page story full of twists, turns and (hopefully!) lots of action doesn't scare you that much. However, if you are asked to write a three or four paragraph query letter and you start sweating worse than a Biggest Loser contestant on week one and break out in hives.

Why is it that people who craft intricate stories that thrill the masses become Dom from There's Something About Mary when it's time to start that query? Here's a better question: why is it that agents and publishers who are looking to see if we would-be authors can turn a yarn that people will want to buy do so by seeing if we can write something that is the literary equivilant of Hot Wheel sitting next to an Imperial Star Destroyer?

Go to any agent blog on the web today, and there are thousands of them, most really well done. Do a search and I will bet you my empty Germ-X container that the most written about topic is query letters and how to write them. I find that interesting, because these agents are looking not for good three-paragraph stories, but rather 300-page stories. If anyone were to ask an agent why they do it this way, I'm sure that the response would be something close to "it's the most effcient way to tell if a story is marketable." And they would be right. They know more about their business than anyone who's not in it. But, surely some smart person can come up with a better way of doing this than something that all writers, and most agents, dread worse than life itself.

The Hard

Remember that scene in A League of Their Own when Geena Davis is about to quit playing baseball to go live with her husband whose just returned from the war? She tells Tom Hanks that reason she's leaving is that "it just got too hard," ostensibly talking about the game itself, but in reality she means the expectations on her to be the shining star of the entire women's baseball league. Hanks's response to Geena's statement is one of my all-time favorite lines ever spoken on the silver screen (or on my about-to-take-a-crap, hundred-year-old TV).

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great".

The Wife and I were watching that movie on TV when that scene rolled around. I got all excited, felt the goosebumps start to push up, and my butt sliding to the edge of the sofa. It might as well have been the closing seconds of a Game 7 deep in the playoffs. As Hanks uttered the lines, his resentment for Geena's decision to leave the game that had been his whole life spewing forth in every word, that little voice in my head started to whisper again. You know the little voice I mean, it's the one that got Thomas Magnum through all those cases as a private investigator.

My voice told me that I didn't need to totally take time off from writing. You see, I'm not only a husband, a father of a 1-year old son, an administrator at a middle school and a football coach. I'm also an aspiring novelist. I've got two novels finished, one a terrorism thriller and the other a young adult adventure story. I have the sequel to the YA story, the sequel to the terrorism thriller, and three other books at least a third of the way finished.

The two novels that I have finished have been sent out for beta readings several times. The terrorism thriller is too short and needs lots of work (read: more work than all the king's horses, men, women, serfs, and jesters could do on Humpty Dumpty). The YA adventure book has been called "outstanding," "terrific," and "awesome." As yet, no agent has even sniffed at it.

This would be the part that those "in the biz" call the hook of this initial blog post. I told everyone that I was taking time off from my writing because life had gotten too complicated. It's May, after all, and football is in the middle of spring training, which means I am gone from 7:45 AM until about 8:15 PM everyday. Also, I am not taking time away from Family Time. So, I said that I was going to put writing on hold. Sounds good enough; so good, I almost convinced myself it was true.

See, I don't have time... right now. But May will be over, and I will once again have my nights free to look over the shoulders of my characters to see what they've been doing in my absence. Only, finishing these three novels, or maybe fixing the broken one, seems to be too hard right now. The outlines I've done don't look inspired, the stories themselves don't look original... hell, the idea itself of being a writer seems fruitless with the dour news coming out of every single agent and industry blog in the world. I feel like Geena Davis saying "It just got to be too hard."

And even I have a motive that underlies the "lack of time, the industry sucks" veneer, and it's one that if they were honest, every writer screams from their Magnum, PI inside voice: Is this all worth it? Am I just wasting my time? Are people lying to me just to be nice? Do I have any talent at this?

To myself and anyone else going through these doubts in the midst of a struggling industry, bouts with a lack of self confidence, and just general malaise... take heart, my friends. In the genius words of Jimmy Doogan, that master strategist:

It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.