Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Comes Early To The Zeleznik Compound

I'm not going to beat around the bush...I have an agent! That's right, rub the eyes and check your glasses. I am now a fully represented author. So who is the lucky agent? First, we celebrate:

Okay, now that it's out of our new agent is:

Bob Mecoy

To say I am giddy is an understatement. It's all very exciting.

Now, I won't bore you too much with the story. It's really quite simple. It was a Hail Mary pass. No, really. I had shelved Winter's Discord and was moving on from it, leaving it out where it was still out. I was perusing the internet and saw something about a new book coming out in January called Seven Princes that had similar concepts, themes, etc. as Winter. I researched the author, John R. Fultz and noticed that his agent was Bob. Poking around, I discovered that Bob was someone that I hadn't queried, so I shot him an email. That was late September. The next day Bob wanted to see my first three chapters. A few hours later, the whole book. After some back and forth with Bob, he offered to rep me yesterday!

Now starts the hard part: working towards publishing, getting my ducks in a row so Bob can get me a deal. It's daunting and exciting and I can't wait to begin! The next adventure begins. December is a good month.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trope of the Week: Award Bait Song

Had a very, very lazy Saturday. Pretty much sat around all day, playing video games, watching television and doing a lot of nothing during the day. I managed to pry the television away from my daughter in the middle of the afternoon and watched some football but I caught a glimpse of something on one of the HBOs from my formative years: "The Three Musketeers." Now this is the Charlie Sheen/Keifer Sutherland/Chris O'Donnell version. Y'know, the one where they all have amazing hair and where Charlie Sheen plays the pious Aramus and as cheesy as it is...I LOVE this movie. No, really and I could go on for pages and pages why I love it, but let me focus on the Trope of the Week:

Trope of the Week #2: Award Bait Song

Take it in, read, prepare to discuss...I'll wait.

Now those of us that like our movies the way we like our books (big and epic) fully expect one of these to be tacked on to the end of the major motion picture we just shelled out money to see. Usually it involves Celine Dion, Bryan Adams (the patron saint of this trope), Barbara Streisand, Sting or Whitney Houston and it winds up as some kind of motif in the score of the film (Titanic beats you over the head with this!). Anyway, watching the Musketeers this weekend, I stayed for the credits? Why? Here's why:

It's Bryan Adams, Sting AND Rod Bloody the same song. This is my THESIS MAN!!!! Seriously. Enjoy the cheesy goodness, revel in it.

What does this have to do with writing?

I'm not sure. I just think it's fun.

Look, there are many of us that love listening to music when we write. Sure, we all cut our teeth on scores and soundtracks, but you can only listen to "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" so many times, as a fantasy writer, before you need something new. Why not play around with these ballads? Especially when writing those all important relationship scenes that we either pay too much attention to or not enough to. How about some good old rock and roll for those actions scenes? The scene in "Old School" where they play the opening bars of "Master of Puppets" is so successful and is a minor example.

The other question is this: if they were to make a movie/tv show about your book, who would you want to sing the award bait song? I think my answer is fairly obvious: Bryan Adams. If I were to pick someone contemporary (seriously, when did the 90s stop being contemporary, damn you for getting old I guess), I'd say maybe Adele. If I wanted to go outside the box a little, can you go wrong with Tori Amos?

What do you think? What are yours?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Trope of the Week: Loads and Loads of Characters

The very first trope of the week. Walk around, breathe in that new blog feature smell. Like the floors? We spare no expense in providing for your comfort in this new blog feature. My team has thought of everything, so enjoy.

Trope of the Week #1: "Loads and Loads of Characters"

One of my all time favorite tropes. It is also the easiest to figure out because it is what it is. Peruse the page for as long as you like.

For the very small handful of folks out in the world that have read my work, be it from the old BWB Writer's Group reading The Falling Dark to my present slew of betas that took a crack at Winter's Discord, you KNOW how much I LOVE this trope.

Now being a fan of epic fantasy doesn't imply the importance of loving this trope, it necessitates it. I can recall a writing professor once saying that I came from the "Cecil B. DeMille school of storytelling" with a "cast of thousands" and I could not disagree. Martin, Jordan, Erikson, Sanderson, etc. all use this trope. But it's not the only place. Comic book fan? X-Men? Justice League? JSA? The Avengers? Name your poison and there you have it. Television? Battlestar Galactica, Lost, The Sopranos, Oz, your Star Trek of choice, Scrubs, The Muppets, The Simpsons, Family Guy...would you like me to make this Loads and Loads of Loads and Loads of Characters? It's a tried and true trope of modern fiction and done well all the time. So to quote one of my favorites from the above list: "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again."

As I stated earlier, I've always thought in terms of big casts and epic stories (shocker). I try to think about where is comes from. Why do I think in big terms? Well, obviously my love of mythology and Star Wars has a lot to do with it (talk about loads and loads of characters, mythology is RIFE with them). But there are two things I think that clearly influenced my use of this trope (beside my love of epic fantasy): soap operas and GI Joe. No, really.

I would stay up and watch my mom's shows at night with her. Dallas and Dynasty spring to mind. Lots and lots of characters in those shows (and I defy you, besides setting, to tell me the difference between Dallas and Westeros). Plus, during the summer I would, more than often, I'd watch my mom's daytime soap operas with her. (Days of Our Lives for the curious.) Again, lots of characters. I always found it enjoyable and entertaining. And in terms of story, I think the same way.

Do you remember GI Joe? I'm talking the 3 3/4" Joes. Perhaps the greatest toy ever and where I expanded my story telling chops by miles. I came up with the stories and the special missions for our GI Joes and I assure you I probably came up with better stuff than the writers of the movie. Again, lots and lots of characters. (And I was good, I could come up with whole story arcs concerning the mine sweeper seriously.)

It only made sense that I was attracted to books with massive casts. And it's no wonder I write stories with big casts. I admire people that can write intimate stories. My friend Mike Winchell wrote a wonderful MG story that only has a small handful of characters. I can't do it. I think entirely too big. Even my short stories wind up with too many characters.

Looking at a very rudimentary character list I have for Winter's Discord there are about 150 named characters on that list and there's another list of participants in a significant tourney in the story that contains 96 characters. And I KNOW there are more. That's about 250 characters. It's a number I'm comfortable with and each of those characters have a role to play in the grand scheme of things. I intend to have a character list in my book (either a la George RR Martin-esque family lists or family trees or both) just to help folks follow along.

Sisters of Khoda doesn't have as many characters (I think, I haven't tried to count them), but it has a lot. I have no list for that book and not sure if I am going to have one. But then again the story is less epic and more adventure, so it makes some degree of sense.

I don't have a strong closer for this new feature. It's bound to get better, but here's what I have in mind:

So, I'll have my lists of characters in my book for my readers to fumble and fawn over, trying to make sense of it all in context of the story, what are you going to have?


Sunday, November 27, 2011


Publishing is a funny, strange and weird business that is a mystery to anyone outside of it. I always think of the time, when mentioning that I'd finished writing my book, my mother asked me why I was bothering rewriting it. I should have an editor do it. Poor, naive mom. Most people in my life have no understanding of the business of publishing. They think it's simple. Hell, I THOUGHT it was simple in the salad days of my youth.

I can remember being 21, slinging soda bottles and bags of chips on the shelves of the grocery store I worked at telling anyone who would listen that I was going to be on the NY Times Bestseller list by 26 with my brilliant literary fiction novels and write my epic fantasies on the side for fun. Naturally, my brilliant literary fiction novels were thinly veiled semi-biographical stories of my life while my epic fantasies were merely quest-based thinly veiled semi-biographical stories about my friends and I growing up in a fantasy world.

Part of my problem was that the internet was in it's infancy and I was a neophyte. I had no connection with the writing world beyond what I read in the writing books at Barnes and Noble (oh, what wasted money those were). I had no one else that aspired to write as I did. Most people tolerated my carrying on and on. Most people still do. (That's another blog entry for another time.) Even as I prodded and poked around the Internet and found friends and companions and kindred spirits, I was still entirely too full of myself. But I was starting to get a feel for where I came from as a writer and found others that were even more like me.

In this day and age of Twitter and Facebook and blogs, it's easy to find mates like that. Thanksgiving weekend, in the turkey-and-stuffing-and-pumpkin-pie induced malaise, I began to think about my contemporaries. The men and women that I share a common bond in experience when it comes to writing. Many are well-known, published and successful and yet I consider them contemporaries. What does that mean?

I am part of Generation X. I was born in 1973. My formative years straddled the ever-popular 80s and 90s, but I consider myself a "child" of the 90s. My love of fantasy came less from Tolkein and more from Dragonlance. There was no "young adult" category when I was younger as there is now. There as no "middle grade." The library was split into three parts: reference, nonfiction and fiction. That's the list.

There's lots of ways to organize varying groups of contemporaries and I'm sure that each of our lists would be very different if we were to push ourselves to decide which authors were contemporaries to another, but I wonder, who are my contemporaries? Who would I be most associated with when the day comes that my book is out in the public and I wither in the bright lights of my shining fame?

So, who do I count among my contemporaries?

Well, first and foremost, my rabid fandom around George RR Martin makes me hope that I am deemed a good enough writer to be called a pretender to his throne of greatness. (Yes, lofty and egotistical!) There are other legends I hope I am associated with: Tamora Pierce, Bruce Coville, Neil Gaiman and John Flanagan come to mind.

But realistically? First there is Mike Winchell. We're Warriors (our HS mascot) but only met via the internet. He writes primarily MG, I write fantasy with some YA. But he has been a friend, sounding board and adviser in the last year and change.

Who else? I'll make a list:

Peadar O Guilin
Blake "More Cowbell" Charlton
Myke Cole
Peter V. Brett
Jon Sprunk
Sam Sykes
Arthur Slade
Kristin Cashore
(I'm sure there are more. The lack of women on this list bothers me on some level.)

Who would you consider your contemporaries? Why?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trope of the Week: A New Feature

Hello everybody, I hope you all had as wonderful a Thanksgiving week as I did (sort of, Tuesday sort of sucked at work, but this blog isn't about griping about work so I'll stop right there). I didn't get nearly as much writing as I'd hoped, mostly because I was lazy and didn't want to. I'm conceding NANO now, because in order to finish on time, I'd have to to write about 7200 words a day and, I assure you, I don't have that in me. I'm going to do some writing tonight and possibly do a "finish the book by Christmas Eve" challenge. It worked once for me, so maybe it'll work this time. Anyway, I was, as I often am, thinking of the process of writing and had a thought.

I've made decent progress on The Point Guard and the Space Princess. I'm over 20k total words and have a feeling that like Sisters of Khoda this book is going to get bigger than I thought it was going to get. Some things are already happening that are bulking up what I'd originally planned. Not that I'm worried if it does, I think the story is solid. But as I was writing, I realized I was writing something I'd seen in a different variation several times before. I was playing with the "training montage" trope.

Now, one of my favorite websites on the ENTIRE intraweb is Television Tropes and Idioms. If you are not familiar with this site, then shame on you but good for you too. It is perhaps the largest time sink in the history of the web, especially for nerds and geeks. I can, and have, spent literally hours perusing the pages, leaping from one trope to the next. I did this several times in the last few days as I was wallowing in my Thanksgiving break lethargy. (That and Madden when I could pry the TV away from my 3 year old and reading.) As I was thinking about it, I realized how valuable a tool this page is to me as a writer.

I know what you are thinking, how can a webpage that is admittedly a total time sink be a valuable tool? Simple, bouncing around that website, you can research the tropes you are playing with (and, folks, as original as we all think we are, all we've done is create a new version of a toy that was created a long time ago) and see if you are crossing the line from "trope" to "cliche," which is a fine line. Ask any genre writer with longevity how hard a task that is. Plus it might give you some new toys to play with.

A new weekly feature (starting Sunday) I'm going to do on my blog is going to be my "Trope of the Week." I will discuss the trope, examples of the trope from beloved sources in my experiences and, most importantly," how and why I used that trope OR why I LOVE that trope.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Read My Book For Only 99 Cents And Is A Retailer of Choice #1 Best Seller for YA Epic Science Fantasy About Samurai Elves That Wet Their Beds

If you haven't figured it out, I love Twitter. It fits my snarky, smart ass personality. And I've done some great networking, got to know some great people, my tweets published on my local paper's website on multiple occasions, had great conversations with fellow writers about genre and the process and even made some professional connections with people. That being said, I've noticed something lately that's driving me nuts: the number of writers (especially self-pubbed/vanity press types) inundating my feed with the Twitter equivalent of the cell phone/body cream/hair extension kiosks at the mall.

We're writers. Can we do a better job of marketing our work on Twitter than "Buy my book for $.99." You want me to buy your book and that's the best you can do? Even the high school drop out cell phone salesman at the mall kiosk trying to convince me to buy his smartphone by yelling at me, "Excuse me sir, do you have a cell phone?" is better. (I respond usually by saying "No" and when they go into their schpiel, I show my iPhone and say, "I have an iPhone.") And you're clogging up my feed.

If that's your Twitter "marketing strategy" then guess what, I have no faith in your ability to write a coherent story. I don't care about price. I don't care about it being best selling in whatever little niche category you've painted yourself into on Amazon or Smashwords or whatever path you've decided to take. I don't care if you're giving it away. I'm not interested. Not in the least. If all you tweet is: "128,000 words of space fantasy goodness for only $.99 on Kindle" (An actual tweet), that tells me you are a lazy writer and why would I want to read a lazy writer?

Now, if they only reason you use social networks is to get me to buy stuff, then you are using it wrong. I use social networks to do exactly what it says, network socially. I like connecting with readers, other writers, editors, agents and other writerly types. I don't want to harass someone with endless, uncreative messages shilling my work. But hey, that's just me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's In A Title?

If you haven't picked up on it yet, I am a high school English teacher. This year, I find myself teaching Freshman after six years of teaching primarily upper classmen. It has been a big change. But the purpose of my blog isn't to whine and carry on about the day job, it's to talk mostly about writing. Being an English teacher, I have to be a writer as well and impart that on to my students. Well, I just began "Of Mice and Men" with my Advanced students and we had a discussion about titles. So, I thought it might be a good idea to blog about titles.

Titles are important to me when I'm writing. To me a project isn't "real" until I've given it a title. Many projects begin simply as a concept listed in my writer's notebook with maybe an incomplete puke sheet completed for it. If I can't come up with a title for something I am writing, it means I don't have any idea what I'm writing about and that never ends well.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. I KNOW titles change and I am prepared for that but without them, I cannot focus on a project.

Titles are the hardest "synopsis" you can create. You need to essentially boil down what the book is about into 3 to 6 words. That's crazy, right? Yet we all do it. We have to. Untitled rarely sells. Think about the great titles of the books we love:

  • A Game of Thrones: Perfect title, tells you exactly what the entire story is about in a few words.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Harry Potter and the....well, you know.
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Empire Strikes Back
Winter's Discord began life as Winter's End. It was a bad title, based only on a festival mentioned in the first draft of the outline. It changed at someone's suggestion. I forgot who suggested it and changed it. I literally typed "conflict" into an online Thesaurus and it came up with Discord. It fit and stuck. The series title, Seasons of Destiny, is admittedly a little cheesy but it works for the title motif I'm going for.

Title motifs are important to me. They have to fit. I think of the Dragonlance series of my youth and those books were immediately identified by the title motif. So I decided each of the books would include a season in the title. Plus, it's an allusion to the books I loved in my youth. (Look at Mr. English Teacher throwing around all kinds of literary terms and elements around like I know what I'm doing.)

Sisters of Khoda was harder, by far. It began life as the "Young Jaiman Zaracheck novel." I took the MC from a trunked novel and decided to tell a story from his teen years. I struggled for a long time to nail down a title and it took almost a year and a half to finally nail down Jaiman Zarachek and the Sisters of Khoda. I cut out the first part for now and just kept it simple.

Point Guard and the Space Princess is a simple title. I'm not completely happy with it and I wonder if that is the reason it has been so easy for me to get stalled on the project.

So what about titles? What works for you? Are they as important to you as they are to me?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Keep Up The Pace

As many of you know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NANOWRIMO. To some, it's a pretty big deal. To others, not so much. I get hot and cold when it comes to NANO and have thrown my hat into the ring several times, never "winning." But from NANO came both Winter's Discord and Sisters of Khoda, so I guess that's a good thing. There is also a pile of bones that were poorly thought out novel ideas in the scrap heap that never even close to the required 50k to "win" NANO. I don't even think I signed up last November. I decided that this year I would participate again. The reason? Well, partially the fact that September and October were so busy at school, I didn't make nearly as much progress on the latest writing project as I would've liked, so I decided that November would be a good sprint to get a good chunk of what I'm calling The Point Guard and the Space Princess done. (YA scifi alien invasion) I wanted to blog a bit about NANO, but I know there are people that look at NANO as a silly endeavor. Then I was over at my good buddy Mike Winchell's blog reading about some of his writing habits and I thought why don't I talk about my writing pace. First, go read his blog...I'll wait.

I'm blown away that Mike can write 45k in 3 weeks! No, really I am. I wish that I had that drive, focus and fortitude to commit to that. I don't. I am the poster boy for adult ADD. No really, oooh look, I'll be right back.

Anyway, the most I've ever written in one month is 46k. This past summer I wrote about 41k this last August. The most I've ever written in one year is 200k. I don't think any of those numbers are bad, but I think of all the time I've wasted.

Now, I will confess that I am a complete Twitter whore. I love Twitter mostly because it's one of the few places I can socialize with other writers (and sports fans and pop culture junkies). In addition, I teach high school at an inner city school and I have taught three "preps" every year that I've taught, sometimes four, meaning I have to prepare for four completely different classes. It can be exhausting. This year has been worse because I am teaching all Freshman in 3 different courses, including a literacy program that I am still wrapping my brain around. It has taken so much energy to even be adequate in teaching the class. Combine that with the five years of football coaching I did and an active, precocious three and a half year old, it's a miracle I still can write at all. But I've still found time and energy to write. Not as much as like, but still write. I sacrifice things like sleep, but I figure I'll have time to sleep later. So, now that I've whined about why I don't write, let me talk about actual writing.

I'm a streaky writer. I go through long stretches where I write a lot. I also go through long stretches where I DON'T write. Not anything coherent anyway. Those times are getting to be less and less because that time has become so valuable to me with all that is going on. But when I write, I WRITE! I think my 90k summer was pretty good. I'm still convinced one of these summers I will meet my goal of writing 250k from June to the end of August.

Anyway, how do I write. Well, it all starts in an old fashioned composition notebook. No really, I'm not joking. Two summer ago, I participated in a writing institute for rising freshman through Syracuse University and we kept writer's notebooks. I adopted it into my writing. So here's the way I write.

I do a "writing plan" every few weeks based on what I've been doing and what I want to do, this is what my most recent writing plan looks like:

This gives me a general gauge of where I want to be as far as my writing goes, including suggested word counts and tentative titles. Things obviously change as time goes on.

When I focus on a particular project I do something called a "puke sheet." It's a technique that I am so enamored with that I modified my novel puke sheet into an essay puke sheet for my students. Essentially, a puke sheet is 1-2 pages of ideas, characters, random scenes, themes, symbols, world building, etc that I need to know for a book. Named so because it's like puking all those things on a sheet of paper to be cleaned up later. Here's the puke sheet for "Down the Line" project #5: "Epic Christmas." I wanted to actually use that book for NANO this year but Point Guard has taken precedent for now. That project can wait. Essentially, "Epic Christmas" is a Christmas story similar to the movie "The Santa Clause" but applying the tropes of epic fantasy to the story. (Lost heirs, fighting over a throne, etc.) (Ignore the purple daughter got to that page, it was in a different notebook and she decided to color!)

From the puke sheet, I outline the story. Outlines are usually the chapter, the POV of the chapter and anything from one sentence to a short paragraph. I hold the right to deviate from my outline any time that happens, as did with Sisters of Khoda this summer, where I plotted the novel out to be about 80k, yet it turned into a 94k novel! Anyway, here's the most recent outline I did for the sequel to Winter's Discord, Spring's Tempest.

Then, I write. Now, I'm not going to insert a picture of what that looks like, you know that already.

Now, editing and rewriting are another blog post altogether. So, now, I have a NANO project to work on. Do you have any writing routines you follow?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WOW Books

As a writer, English teacher and bibliophile, I love talking about books. Some books excite me more than others. Obviously if I hear someone even whisper the name George R.R. Martin, I butt into said conversation in a heartbeat. The TV show had even more people talking about it, which would send me into a Matt Foley-esque tirade about the awesomeness of beheadings, infanticide and something called (SPOILER ALERT) the Red Wedding. There was a creepy moment earlier this school year when talking about what happened (allegedly) to Prince Aegon during the Sack of King’s Landing with a fan of the TV show with an ear to ear grin that made one of my colleagues look at me very, very differently. While GRRM and “A Song of Ice and Fire” have had a major influence in my life and my writing, there are other books that blew me away and made me say “WOW!”

A book that makes you say “WOW” is special. It not only blows your mind away, but it causes a physical reaction. A reaction that can be as subtle as having to put the book down, to hurling the book across the room out of frustration, anger or shock, to feeling as if someone has just hit you in the face with one of those cartoon sized mallets. Now, I’m not going to carry on and on about “A Song of Ice and Fire,” I’ll do enough of that over the course of my career/this blog as time goes on. For now, I want to talk about some recent books that have completely blown me away.

In no particular order:

1. “Ship Breaker” Paolo Bacigalupi

From the opening pages of this book, I was hooked on the story and the further I read, the more I wanted to read. Nailer and his friends lived in a scary, alarming, almost hopeless but all too real feeling world that I was completely drawn into. Every moment of that book had my heart racing and my eyes twirling as I tried to keep up with the story and absorb everything that was happening to Nailer. Really a remarkable and amazing book that is easily among my top 10.

2. “The Hunger Games”/ “Catching Fire” Suzanne Collins

Now, I loved the Gregor books. Thought they were brilliantly fun and exciting (something I think is lacking in YA fantasy right now….but that’s another blog entry). I was hesitant to read “The Hunger Games” because of my disdain for 1st person POV (that’s yet another blog entry), but I got a copy of it with my SFBC membership, so I picked it up one day and started reading it. And read. And read. I was drawn in and couldn’t stop reading. It was such an amazing story. I bought “Catching Fire” and put it on the TBR pile, choosing it for last year’s vacation. I read it on the red eye home from Vegas. The whole thing. At the end, I was sick. I was not ready for the ending and felt as if I’d been punched in the face. I stared at the people next to me on the plane who had no idea why I was gaping. The book has left such a scar on me, I still haven’t read “Mockingjay.” I’m not emotionally ready for it.

3. “The Lies of Locke Lamora” Scott Lynch

Scheming priests of a scheming god in a eldritch, alien city. Nice. You’ll notice a certain love that I have for world building (yet ANOTHER blog entry) and there hasn’t been a world that wowed me the way Camorr did. Lynch’s storytelling, the use of flashbacks intermixed with what they characters were going through, is one of my favorite’s I’ve seen in a long time. And while Locke is the main character of the story, it gave me one of my most favorite characters in a long time: Jean Tannen. I’m a big guy. I like big guy characters, what can I say.

4. “The Hunchback Assignments” Arthur Slade

The steampunk adventures of a teenaged, hunchbacked, shapeshifting spy in Victorian England. Why didn’t I think of that? Really? I found this book by accident and hunted local bookstores for it. I found it at my now deceased Borders and LOVED it. Such a simple concept, one that I feel I could come up with, and executed perfectly. All the hangups of being a teenager with the lack of realization of just how badass he really is, Modo is a character I can sympathize with…not just because of my own crooked spine!

5. “Aurelia” Anne Osterlund

Pretty sure I’m not the target audience for this book, but since “Winter’s Discord” and my “Seasons of Destiny” books have a lot to do with courtly intrigue and I’m aiming for a YA audience, I thought I’d give it a try. It was perfect for those purposes. The character Robert helped mold a character I really liked but was becoming less important to the plot into something that was very crucial to the plot.

I’ve included links on all of them and encourage you to try them out. They are books that have really helped me as a writer and books I think that are just AWESOME!

What are some of your “WOW” books? I’d love to hear about them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Blog's Name

Seems that I'm getting some traffic...and that makes me happy! That being said, I'm realizing that my blog's title might be a little off-putting to those in the YA/MG world, so let me explain.

First off, I need to tell y'all a little about me. I am a big boy. Always have been. I've been six foot tall since 6th grade. I'm presently, as the joke goes, between 6 foot and 6 foot 2 depending on which convenience store I'm walking out of. I weigh well past the 300 mark and am built like an out of shape football player. Kind of like a John Goodman. I've reached the point where trying on pants makes me nervous. We're talking sweaty nervous. (This actually happened at my mother's house a few weeks back.) Anyway, I've reached the Constanza level where I really would rather just be able to walk around in sweatpants or athletic shorts all the time. But society says I can't because that isn't part of my school's dress code for classroom teachers. So I am forced to wear pants.

I told you that story to tell you this one: a few weeks back one of my favorite people I've met via Twitter, Myke Cole tweeted this:

"Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America Industry Reception tonight! My first as a pro. I will wear pants."

I responded accordingly;

" See my ultimate goal as a writer is to never have to wear pants again."

Seems Mr. Cole and I have a kinship in that and he said so later. Anyway, that conversation inspired my blog title, because really, all this writing is about one thing: me not having to wear pants ever again.

Off to sleep.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward Blogfest

So, it seems that some nice folks have decided to get some people reading other people's blog and I am all for it. So here are some blogs about writing (and other stuff) that I follow fairly religiously:

1. Beanstalks and Bookends
Mike Winchell and I went to high school together....but didn't know one another. (You go to a school with 3,000 kids and see if you know everyone you went to school with!) We wound up getting together via Query Tracker about a year or so ago and became fast "Internet" friends, though at some point he and I have to get a beer together, hopefully to celebrate our first publishing victory!

2. University of Fantasy
Eleanor and I have known one another for a long time. We were both neophytes at writing, but she was 15 and I was 20 something. She from that funny little island England, me from the States. I've watched her come a long way as a writer and it's interesting to see the evolution. The Internet is a beautiful thing.

3. TK42One
Perhaps my most trusted beta and friend on the Internet. Has kept my head above water many, many times over the years.

4. Hoover's Corner
Kenneth Mark Hoover is a brash, opinionated scifi/dark fantasy writer.

5. Rene Sears, Slush Reader/Editor/E-Book Guru
Pyr Books editor and slush reader and one of my favorite Twitter conversationalists about all things bookish and geekish!

Give these wonderful folks a chance, will ya?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Dance With Dragons

So, it is well known that I am an unabashed George RR Martin fan/sycophant/apologist and I will be until it is known that Samwell Tarly is the Prince Who Was Promised and he rules the Seven Kingdoms atop the Iron Throne with Danaerys at his side as his queen along with his seven little princelings because his seed is that strong. (This is merely my own theory and can be debunked by a thousand other members over at Ran’s board!) Because of George, I am the writer I am today…well partially, it’s not his fault I am yet undiscovered as a talent. This last summer was a very exciting one for me and many other fans of the classic series, as we were allowed to return to the world of Westeros and catch up on some fan favorites (Dany, Jon Snow and Tyrion most notably), while having some supreme questions answered and getting perhaps my most favorite POV character in the entire series: Barristan Selmy. Now some complained it was dragged out and it took too long for anything to happen, but I disagree completely and the book jolted me into a realization about my own writing, Winter’s Discord and the other books of Seasons of Destiny especially, that I needed to address immediately. Namely, back story.

Series, especially fantasy, need back story. Think about it. Can you name any fantasy series that doesn’t have a complex and deep back story? Tolkein, Brooks, Eddings, Martin, Jordan, etc. All of them have intense and layered back stories involved in them and they are completely necessary.

Now, the perils of writing a series are pretty self-evident. But that seems to be what publishers are looking for and from a business perspective that makes sense. Stand alones make money one time; series can make money multiple times over. So most of us that choose to write in the speculative area realize that we very much need to write series in order to entice publishers (and agents) to our work and we write series. But we have to write that first book and almost frame it as if it is a stand alone (a paradox of the publishing industry). Now, Jon Sprunk had a great article about the difficulty of working on a series and I was faced with that recently when an agent made a subtle request for an outline of the series.

I don’t like to be unprepared, but the only outline I had was a very vague outline of “Parts” of the following three books with the POV characters who had something to say in that section in my writer’s notebook. Actually, they were literally cut from the loose leaf paper they had been written on and PASTED into the notebook. The outline for book 2 was missing. (Damn my organizational skills) So now I’m piecing it together bit by bit, but it’s a painstaking process. Why? It’s a complex story with a lot of back story necessary for me to know in order to write what happens next. Now, I told you this story to talk about back story and A Dance With Dragons.

Dance is loaded with back story. Important back story that is necessary for what happens in the last third of the novel to make sense. (I’m not going to spoiler anything, so put the “NO SPOILERS” signs away!) Reading it inspired me to actually plot out what happens BEFORE Winter’s Discord in a sort of narrative outline of a prequel trilogy. (How’s that for being arrogant, I’m planning the prequel before I finish planning the series I am trying to sell!) But it was a practical endeavor because, unlike George, I cannot keep everything in my head. It is impossible. I forget where I put my car keys and wallet more often than I should ever admit in a public forum, how am I going to remember the significant events of something like Robert’s Rebellion or the War of the Ninepenny Kings? So after I finished Sisters of Khoda, I set about doing what I was calling a “macroplan” for the entire series. I was going to plot out the “prequels” (complete with titles and tentatively titled The Prince’s Folly) and then transition into Seasons of Destiny. Then school started and the overwhelming of life began.

I’ve been peeking at what I wrote already and doing some rudimentary outlining of the next book of Seasons, Spring’s Tempest, but I’m still working at it. The odd thing about Spring is that I wrote it once already. Really. But it’s a completely different book now and very little of what is in that draft is even part of what’s going on in this book. The interesting thing is that there are parts of Spring Draft 1 that may actually work for book 3. It’s crazy, but some tweaking and a lot of that book might already be written. I’m going to try and hit some of it tonight. It’s another big book and very different than the first version of it I wrote 4 years ago. So for the second time, George RR Martin has moved me forward in my writing. Currahee!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Greetings and Salutations

Welcome, friends old and new. Some may know me as John Zeleznik, some may know me as Ebenstone and others still will know me by the Chooch or Pepperoni or a hundred other silly handles I’ve gone buy but you all know me one way or another, either in real life or via the electronic Intraweb. Anyway, this here is my writing website. My intent is for this blog to stay in the realm of my writing. Sure there may be an occasional comment about my work as an English teacher, something going on in my personal life or the occasional post where I get political, but for the most part I intend to use this medium as a place to talk about my writing. I’ll talk about everything from inspiration to process.

So, who am I?

Well, I am a father, a husband and a high school English teacher from Syracuse, NY. Oh, I am also a writer. Kind of like how Henry Hill always knew he wanted to be a gangster, I knew I wanted to be a writer. As I sit here thinking about writing and my history, I tried to think back to my childhood and all of my reading habits.

I know that I was an obsessive reader of nonfiction picture books about everything from nature to the military. But the first fiction I can honestly remember influencing me were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Glass Elevator. To this day, they are still two of my favorites. They are probably two of the things that pushed me towards speculative fiction. Roald Dahl is a genius and the work he does is amazing. And reading more and more about him, the more I realize that he was an early inspiration to me as a writer.

It was that and a love of certain independent film called “Star Wars” that my first attempts at writing and storytelling began. I created the adventures for our action figures (or sometimes ourselves), continuing the story of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie. Those same skills served the purpose of creating special missions for our GI Joes growing up, always following what the file cards said to the letter. It was my earliest lessons at characterization and canon.

The first of the books that were “top of the head” influences on me as a writer had to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Shocker!) I don’t think I need to go into a long speech about this. I’ve read them numerous times in my life…the first time as a sixth grader…and they truly are the great granddaddy to all the fantasy writing that is being done today.

In 7th grade I discovered a series that I’m sure many out there would agree probably had more to do with their love of fantasy than LOTR…The Dragonlance Trilogy. A classic that I reread numerous times in my early and mid-teens, which alongside The Icewind Dale Trilogy stand as beacons of late 80s fantasy adventure goodness. While trying to reread them recently I felt that they were too “gamey” for me. That doesn’t mean I still don’t love them, because I do. I think when we look back on “tie-in” literature; it’ll be compared to the pulp stories of the 20s, 30s and 40s!

My first fumblings at the written word were poorly veiled pastiches and imitations of these early books. I remember a planned ten book epic about a group of heroes questing for seven tablets to defeat a dark lord. I think there was a half-elf ranger as a hero for that one. I know there was one idea that involved my friends and I with our neighborhood adventures acting as the basis of a heroic quest. I’m almost kind of glad that one has gone away, buried in a landfill somewhere or incinerated into oblivion.

In high school and college I discovered “literature” and immersed myself into some pieces while violently resisting some. And in college I discovered the works of William Shakespeare and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I dropped out of college (the Dark Times) and was kind of listless in my reading. Then I discovered, based on a recommendation in the old Barnes and Nobles science fiction/ fantasy booklets they released every two months, a series called The Deathstalker Series, a rollicking space opera loaded with starships, swordsmen, disruptor rays, vicious AIs, rebellious clones and looming darkness at the edges of space. I own the second and third books of the latest series, but haven’t gotten to them yet. I loved the originals.

It wasn’t until I graduated from Oswego State that all things changed. It was a brutally cold afternoon on my last day on campus (December 2000) at the school before I graduated. I had some money in my pocket from selling textbooks, so I was going to get some pizza at Cam’s NY Style Pizzeria and decided I wanted to read something, so I went to The River’s End Bookstore a few doors down. I picked out a thicj mass market paperback with a long haired lad riding a horse with a massive castle in the background, surrounded by snow and trees. The book? A Game of Thrones. And that day my life changed. I ripped through the available books, devouring them with gusto. A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords became part of my personal canon and inspired my to finish my first novel. While not as great, but still very good, A Feast For Crows is necessary.

As I dove back into writing epic fantasy, in 2003 I was sent an offer for a free half of a new book called The Briar King by Greg Keyes and I was hooked. The funny thing is for all my “inspiration” because of ASOIAF, my first novel “sounds” more like Keyes than Martin. The entire Kingdoms of Bone and Thorn are all on my recommended list, even if the series fizzles at the end instead of rising to the occasion.

At this point, I’ll admit that GRRM spoiled me and I became very snobbish about what I read…that and I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. This meant the classics and now that I’m teaching, I’ve been introduced to a whole new view of books and the classics.

Now I haven’t abandoned my love for epic fantasy, I’m just very picky now. Too many favorites to pick out now, but if you look over at my Good Reads page (where you can friend me if you like), you can get a taste for what I like.

For now, I am a unagented author, focusing on fantasy, mostly young adult. At present, I have one book out on submission, Winter’s Discord. Winter began life as a “break” from what I thought was going to be my opus (don’t we all think that about our first complete novel) trunk novel. It turned into much more. It is the first book in a four book series called The Seasons of Destiny and the first piece I ever shopped. Presently, it is semi-trunked, though under submission with several agents and editors. I pitch it as “A Game of Thrones meets 90210.”

The summer of 2011, I finished a YA version of my trunked novel called The Sisters of Khoda. I’m very happy with it, but it needs a rewrite. I pitch it as a “boy” Graceling. (You will notice a motif in some posts about my passion to write more “boy-centered” books.)

I was working on a new project with the questionable title of The Point Guard and the Space Princess, a YA scifi book. I’ve pushed it back to November for NANOWRIMO and I think I’m going to work on some editing, planning and rewriting for the month of October.

So, welcome and enjoy the ride.