Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing is Easy!

Anybody can do it!

Heck, I'm planning on doing it myself!

I am not writing this blog because I think there's anything very special about me as a human being.  I'm not an elitist.  I am, however, a specialized human.  I know there are people out there who shop at a near-professional level.  There are people out there who feel the joy of the angels when they cook.  I have several close friends who have a distinct urge to visually capture a moment either by paint or photography.

As an example of the specialization I'm talking about, I'm going to bring my husband through the muck of my analysis for a minute.  My husband is a human being specialized for making music.  He's fascinated by science and mathematics, and, by extension, tempo and rhythm.  He listens to the timbre of voices and explores the range of what's audible wherever he is.  On one of our first dates, he took me to a city park and asked me to tell him everything I could hear.  I heard the traffic, the sighing whisper of cricket noise, a far off dog barking, chatting humans, and a trickle of water from a creek.  He heard much more, and pointed out to me the music drifting in from an open car window, the rustle of leaves from people walking past, and a breath of breeze stirring the trees and making the wood creak slightly.  It was a symphony, one I never heard before him.  He heard it every day, every moment.

It's this tendency towards sound and music that helps him make music, and makes it seem easy.  He has a gift that drives me insane: He can hear an album, and within an hour he can play back any bass track on the album.  His pitch is perfect.  And like any true artist, he looks for the challenging music.  While I'm content (for the most part) with syncopated pop music and I don't personally think slick production is the work of the devil, my husband looks for the innovative, the slightly-off, and feels deep respect for artists who can use music to challenge his own artistic bedrock.

I was born to write.  I am a student of human behavior, including all of the broken parts, because that's where plots and stories come from.  When I read, I'm constantly copy-editing, shifting words around and diagramming in my head.  I listen intently to my friends when they tell me their stories, because stories feed my brain and blood.  In my bored moments, alone and with nothing to read, I find myself scripting dialog.  Sometimes I even act it out (*blush*).  I read salacious accounts of tragedy, terror, and humiliation, because I've noticed that while everyone professes to want to hear good news, it's the bad news that sells -- both newspapers and books.  I watch a sunset and try to figure out how to paint it faithfully with adjectives, metaphors and broad poetry.  No matter how much I practice my skill, I know my place.  I read a good book and both celebrate the talent of the writer and my own inadequacies.

Again, this doesn't make me better than anyone else.  I'm lost in wonder when my best friend bakes a cake for me.  I'm mesmerized by a well-negotiated deal, or a party that seems effortless but was pulled together by a master.  I only want people to know what a writer is, and why we do what we do.

And if you come across a writer who makes it look easy, take a closer look at the writer.  See if you don't see in them what I see: Students of the world and their fellow humans.  You know, nerds.  Then consider this: Those nerds are feeding the monsters in their basements, the demanding ones who will someday roar back all the knowledge and blow your mind.

Okay, that's all I'm saying.  Carry on, dear world, carry on.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Do the Right Thing for Your Write Thing

**Disclaimer:  What is the right thing for me to do is not the right thing for everyone.  It very probably could be said it is not the right thing for most people.  It is right for me, however, and I feel the need to share these thoughts before I hear too much more snootiness or pity directed at me.  Thank you for understanding.

Now for some industry-related thoughts.  It's come time, I think.

I am not represented by a literary agent.  That route did not work for me.  It wasn't lack of trying.  I queried dozens of great agents for my first, ill-conceived novel (whose name shall not be shared), and over a hundred for my darling Corona.  I received some interest, and even got semi-serious with an agent I would have been delighted to work with.  In the end, I was not able to change my manuscript enough to suit her needs, and we parted amicably.

I also was possessed of an idea for getting my book out that I needed to move on, and fast.  I want to make sure it's clear, here and now, however: I have nothing against agents, and I do feel that if I had been patient and willing to go through a few more rounds of queries, I could have found the right person for me.  I am not a disenfranchised, whiny writer who thinks that they're entitled to an easy victory, and the fight isn't worth fighting if I can't have what I want.  I'm not a sell-out defeatist.  To all my writer friends still in the hunt, I wish you the triumph and match-made-in-heaven you seek.

I decided, instead, to go direct-to-publisher and have had the joy of seeing my first novel published with Canonbridge, LLC.  Canonbridge is what is referred to in snooty, insufferable writer-elite circles as a "small press POD."  And what does that mean?  Let me explain.

Small press:  There is a horrid misconception, apparently, that only the bottom of the barrel of writers are willing to stoop to being published by a small press.  Small presses have integrity.  They won't publish garbage.  They are, however, harried and put in far more hours than most of the staff at the big publishers.  They do more with less, and the reason why is they want to produce the best product they can, both for themselves and for their writers.  And, of course, the reason for that is so their writers can realize their dreams of being published, and can realize maximum return.  The contracts from small presses are beyond generous, by industry standards.  No advance?  No problem -- advances are speculative, anyway.  I'd rather know that I've EARNED every dollar I receive in mailbox-money.

POD:  And what exactly is the BFD with this, anyway?  Is this not the environmentally-sound way to handle the problem plaguing the big publishers?  Why should they have warehouses filled with books they can't sell?  I am just as much trapped by the über-clearance section at the bookstore, but I know what those books really are: They're the overstock of books that couldn't sell at full retail price, and they have to be moved NOW to allow for fresher titles.  Churn and burn, baby, that's the name of the game, and in the meantime, that's a lot of paper being churned.  Every book sold by my "small press" is destined for a loving home and a history of being read by friends.  If it's passed on, great.  But I don't like the thought of waste at all.  I'm not a slavish tree-hugger, but the more I know about the industry, the more I understand about the practice of print runs, and the less I like it.

Besides, it seems to me this practice of advances and large print runs may be one of the reasons the cherished big publishing houses find themselves in a period of upheaval.  It's not such a practical methodology anymore, not with the advent of numerous environmentally-responsible e-readers and audiobooks available.  Their ledgers are full of advances paid out and not fulfilled.  I know the concept of the advance made me drool when I started seriously persuing writing, because it releases a writer to do just that -- write, concentrate, and produce ever-better works.  But -- then again -- there's something to be said about the beautiful things writers create when they're under pressure, with a full-time job and a full-time family and a dream all running the lab in their minds.

Finally, let's talk about bookstores.  I don't know a writer who doesn't profess to the fantasy of seeing their book in print on a bookstore shelf.  It is, honestly, one of the most intoxicating dreams I have.  But I have to say this, and in no uncertain terms: Unless you have given an editor at a big publishing house a literary joygasm, you will not be guaranteed any bookstore time.  They have to see the buying trends of the public (is your book filled with sparkly vampires?).  They also have to weigh the season (does your 700 page philosophical coming-of-age tale work with beach-reading season?).  Finally, the publisher produces catalogs that are sent to bookstores, and the booksellers make the decision.  Granted, most of them are going to go with the joygasm-producing books, but -- they won't take ALL of the publishers' recommendations.  Since there's not guarantee at all that going through all of the motions of agent + big publisher = integrity-backed bookstore presence, I dropped out of the dogfight.

That doesn't make me a dropout.  It just makes me less a dog.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Character Interview: Tom Strausser

Recently (like, several minutes ago, or more accurately, as I go) I met with Tom Strausser, one of the heroes in my first novel, Corona.  Tom took some time away from his active tour schedule.  He felt he had no choice.

TS:  I didn't have a choice.  You're the Creator.

MJ:  Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Put that trash to rest.

TS:  You know I can't.  I survived the adventure, after all.

MJ:  Are you sure it really happened?

TS:  What -- the Corona thing?  Of course it did.  I wouldn't have met Rose if it hadn't happened.

MJ:  Are you sure?

TS:  Wait -- what are you implying?

MJ:  Well, you and Rose keep telling people you met on match-dot-com.  Are you sure that's not really what happened?

TS:  Is this the interview?  Cuz I gotta tell you, it stinks to high heaven.

MJ:  Okay, fine.  Let's leave existentialism off the table for now.  Did being in Jaenrye teach you anything?

TS:  Uh . . .meaning what?

MJ:  Tom, come on.  Did you discover the hero inside you?


MJ:  Stop that!

TS:  Come on, don't ask me questions like that.  You know I'm not comfortable with them. 

MJ:  Why not?

TS:  They're goofy.

MJ:  Fine.  How about this one:  Do you have to curse so much?

TS:  What the fuck are you talking about?

MJ:    Okay, it's clear I'm not going to get you to say anything significant, so let me just ask you this:  Are you looking forward to the adventures facing you and Rose in CRUCIBLE?

TS:  Sure!  --Oh, wait.  Shouldn't I be?  Aww, man, hang on, what's going to happen to us?

MJ:  Okay, that's all for now --

TS:  WAIT!  You can't just leave me hangin' here.  What happens?  Shit.

MJ:  Tom, thanks for joining us.  I'll see you soon, and you'll find out what happens to you guys then.  Kiss kiss!

TS:  SON of a bitch!  You are just not right.

Well, that was fun.  :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Jaenrye Beatified

beatification (N.):

  • blessedness: a state of supreme happiness
  • the action of rendering supremely blessed and extremely happy
I mention the term Beatification in the book I've been cuddling all evening.  In the book, Beatification is all the people trapped in a dying world want, without knowing they actually want it.  The concept of the word as used in the book refers to the release of the imaginary, fantasy world into the greater consciousness, through efforts to become published.  Once a fantasy world is shared with and enjoyed by other people, the fantasy world is spared from being abandoned and forgotten by the Creator.

Tim and I placed separate orders for copies of this book.  I placed a bulk order (to satisfy obligations for contests and such), and apparently that slowed fulfillment quite a bit.  Tim ordered one copy.  It was scheduled to arrive yesterday.  When I got home, I checked all the standard places (mailbox, front door stoop) to see if it had come in while I was at work.  No dice.  So I settled in to try to calm my nerves.

The doorbell rang.  

I blogged about expectations recently, and I feel the need to follow that up with what I was expecting to feel in this moment.  Was it going to change how I saw myself?  Was the notion of my immortality going to enter my head?  Would I be proud, or humbled by the hard work so many people contributed to this process?  Would I want to giggle and make everyone feel just as silly as me?

I got up, and please don't think I'm being cheesy when I say that a dozen voices suddenly cropped up in my head.  They were jubilant, celebrating with laughter and song.  It made me a little dizzy.  I met the UPS man at the door, and my heart skipped to see him holding the box with the sideways smile -- the box.  I signed for it and took it inside.

It never even occurred to me to not open it.  It was Tim's order, and we're not in the habit of opening mail or packages addressed to the other, but I knew he'd understand in this case.  I was careful and slow, and the party in my head grew more complex.

Then I saw it, my book, the cover designed by my wonderful cousin staring back at me from its box.  I smiled.  I teared up.  Oh, goodness, it was silly and clichéd and -- one of the most sublime and amazing moments of my life, because I knew right then, as I lifted the book out of the box and felt its girth, its solid presence in the real world, that I'd kept my promise to the characters I'd been building since childhood.  They were liberated from the hidden places, the forgotten places, and were now Beatified, set free in the world to be known by readers.  

You see, that sweet moment wasn't about me at all.

That is how I feel right now.  It isn't that this is my shot at immortality, that my ISBN numbers (one e-book, one print) are recorded for posterity.  It isn't that I'm no longer uncomfortable to call myself a writer when I'm introduced to new people.  It isn't about me or how it affects me or how it makes me feel about myself.

Okay, that last part isn't true.  I feel better about myself, but that's only because I kept an old promise.  This whole experience, however, at its core, is about the people and creatures of Jaenrye.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those people who helped me make this happen: Liz Czukas, my beta reader (and a damned fine writer herself); Wilette Youkey (cousin first, kick-ass cover designer and writer second and third); Maggie Stewart-Grant (publisher and slave to words); Tim Heiser (husband and eternal supporter); and my dear friends in the Inkslingers and everywhere else.  

It's time to party in Jaenrye.  :)