Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to enjoy the latest HOT Internet meme: THE NEXT BIG THING! That's right it's where your talk about your next big project. Now, as with all memes, there's some open interpretation to what exactly that means. I've seen some writers talk about the project they are working on now, the one they are editing/revising/rewriting now, the project they are going to work on next, the project that's out in the wild seeking representation or being shopped to takes all kinds.

The thing that makes me happiest is that I was actually TAGGED by another author. Jeff Salyard, the author of the very good looking epic fantasy series The Bloodsounder's Arc, tagged me. (To be fair, it's on my reading list and I should be getting to it soon.) I'll talk about who I'm going to tag after I finish the meme. So, here goes:

I'm going to go with WINTER'S DISCORD, the first book of my YA epic fantasy series SEASONS OF DESTINY. It's been a while since I've talked about it, so why not give it a shot.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Winter's Discord

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
The actual genesis of the book, the first thought was simple. I had just bought and was reading the brilliant THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND and wanted to write something that was kind of a deconstruction of a lot of the ideas in that book in a story very similar to George RR Martin's A GAME OF THRONES. I was sitting in the parking lot of St. Joe's hospital waiting for my wife to finish her shift at the gift shop where she worked, looking over the city of Syracuse and the hills to the east of the city. The opening scene of the novel popped into my head. I know, it sounds cliched (and a lot like the GRRM story about AGOT) but it is true. I scrambled around my wife's car looking for a scrap of paper, found one and started scribbling away. Now that scene is very, very different in a good way.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
YA fantasy with an epic taste.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
 The main POV characters are all teenagers and I have to be honest, I'd want all unknowns to play the kids. But for the adults, I'd seriously want the Frat Pack to play most of the adult roles. No, really. For the Bachelor Prince I'd want Ben Affleck, his brother the King would be Vince Vaughn. Ben Stiller would maybe play the spymaster Yvan. It's very hard not to try and cast Sean Bean as my Ned Stark expy Thomas Grange. His lady wife Emma would be played by Christine Taylor. I'd pepper in all the other Frat Pack/Apatow guys into different roles. The only teen role I'd cast by someone somewhat famous would be Veronica Maglore, who HAS to be played by Allison Scagliotti. She was who I imagined in that role when I wrote it.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ben Grange and his friends are thrown into a dangerous situation they do not entirely understand and made to pay for the transgressions of their fathers and mothers as winter of discord threatens to tear apart everything they love.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am represented by the amazing Bob Mecoy.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About seven months. Rewrites took much, much longer.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. The Seven Kingdom's Series by Cinda Williams Chima. Dragonlance Series by Hickman and Weis. Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. The movie Your Highness (no, really).

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The desire to write a young adult epic fantasy worthy of the title "Game of Thrones for teens." 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Come on, it's Game of Thrones meets DeGrassi...what's NOT to pique your interest????

As for tagging, I have plenty ideas of who to tagged, but I didn't want to go nuts and impose on anyone, so naturally I asked two of my closest writing allies: Mike Winchell and Kenneth Mark Hoover. If anyone else that reads this here blog and wants to do the meme, feel free to "tag" yourself. Enjoy. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Time Has Come

When I started this blog I had made the decision that, unlike my old blog, I was only going to blog about my writing and things associated with my writing. I wasn't going to gripe about my job as a high school English teacher at a difficult inner city school in upstate New York. I wasn't going to complain about the trivial minutia of married life, being a dad, why old people leave their blinkers on for miles and miles after they've made their turn. I wasn't going to put up random posts about my favorite goofy video of the day. I wasn't going to pontificate about the things I think I know more about than you like politics or sports. I was going to keep this about my writing. And I've done a pretty good job of that so far. But this week is a weird week and I'm excited about it. On Thursday, I'm having my hip resurfaced. I won't chronicle the lead up to this here, but if you're interested, here's a link to the old blog where I talked about it. My hip has gotten to the point where I am in constant, unrelenting pain and it effects EVERYTHING I do. It sucks and I'm miserable. So, finally, I'm getting it fixed.

Now, this means for the next 3-10 weeks my life will consist of recovering, reading, writing, matching movies and playing videos games. It's very exciting that this is happening and while I'm nervous about what will happen to my freshman while I'm gone, I'm looking forward to feeling better.

And I'll be able to blog more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fear Leads To Anger, Anger Leads To Hate, Hate Leads To Suffering

In the past few weeks, I've been smacked in the face with hate and I thought I'd blog a little about it because, quite frankly, it's bothering me. First, from the real world.

Do you ever read the comments section of anything posted online, especially newspaper/news outlet comments section? If you want to be able to identify where and when Western civilization began to fall, you'll be able to pinpoint this as the beginning. An anonymous place for the ignorant, bigoted and downright evil people to comment on something, whether it be people on Welfare or people that are just different than them. The catalyst for this was this article in my local paper about our Muslim Student Association. It was a beautiful piece that represents everything that I love about where I teach. It was also the most commented article on the paper's website the day it came out. Reading the comments makes you understand just how messed up our country is. Sure, there are great comments in it, but most are just deplorable. It upset me greatly. We fear anything that we don't understand and then lash out at it, but we do so under the guise of an internet avatar. It just fills me with sadness. We will never be happy as a country or a world until we learn to respect and love one another. Bigotry and inequality are far more concerning to me than what's happening in our economy...because if society falls the way everyone is predicting it will, all we'll really have left is the way we treat one another. That's all I have to say about that.

A few days later, I'm trolling around the Internet, checking out some of my favorite blogs when I come across a review for a book from a reputable reviewer that I respect a great deal. I'm not going to link because normally I don't see this from the site. Now to be fair, they review mostly traditional genre books, meaning "adult" not "YA." There were a few things about this review that bothered me. It came across as particularly snarky, angry and bitter. I get that reviewers can't love everything, but the way this reviewer seemed to go after the author and the book they wrote just rubbed me the wrong way. If you don't like the book, fine, but that doesn't mean you have to trash the writer as much as you did. Then the reviewer took a swipe at YA, suggesting the book straight out of a "how to" book for writing epic fantasy for the teen audience. (I'm rephrasing and paraphrasing here.) The suggestion that YA can't and isn't as sophisticated as more adult oriented fantasy. (I dare the blogger, actually TRIPLE DOG DARE him to walk up to Tamora Pierce and say that.) The most annoying part about this is that his review was based on "skimming" not reading the book. Well, that's highly effective reviewing right there.

Why are people so afraid of young adult? Is it that they think it somehow distills "traditional" or "adult" literature? Is it because they fear that people are going to mock them or treat them differently for reading it? Is traditional or adult fantasy that much more acceptable than YA? Didn't Tor try re-packaging the Wheel of Time books as YA books in a blatant money grab a few years back? Didn't it backfire because most of their target audience was already buying the books?

I go back to something that Blake Charlton once blogged about and, what he called, the "crossunder" effect. Books like Wheel of Time, or Charlton's Spellwright, or Rothfuss's Kingkiller series or most D&D tie-in books be considered crossunders? Or would that be insulting the authors? Or is it more insulting to the readers?

I found this great list of the Top Ten Tropes in YA. Pay attention to #2. It brought out the comments (well, a few of them). Listen, ladies, I get that for 400 years, men have dominated the business of publishing. I get that the male perspective has been dominant for longer than yours, but that doesn't mean you have to be so angry about it or decide that there is no longer a place at the table for it anymore. Look, I'm a white, heterosexual man, so I'm pretty much EVERYONE'S villain right now (If I were a WASP, I'd definitely be EVERYONE'S villain!) and I have to word everything carefully right now because I don't want to appear sexist, misogynistic or anything like that. But as much as you don't want to hear it, the modern female protagonist has become something of a trope. It's hard to differentiate between Katniss and Katsa sometimes and I'm not just talking about their names. The basic framework is there with some tweaking based on the setting but other than that it's becoming the same character in every book. And being a trope is not necessarily a bad thing, either.

But what's wrong with a male protagonist? What's wrong with the idea of a "boy book?" But that's not the Pandora's Box I want to open right now. That's another entry.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cry Havoc and Let Slip The Dogs Of War

I love Shakespeare. I mean in every way possible. I don't care that he might have been and was probably a thief. The man knew how to write! So I stole today's blog title from Big Willy.

It's November. It's hard to believe is over a year old already (and I didn't celebrate at all last month). And so much has changed...and stayed the same. Anyway, I've decided to wade into NANOWRIMO...again. I'm mildly suicidal sometimes, but I decided I needed something new to write since I've sort of been in this JAIMAN/SEASONS cycle for the last year or so. I needed to get away from those projects for a little while to look at them with fresh eyes. Sort of.

I'm about 3/4 of the way through a pretty good rewrite of THE SISTERS OF KHODA. I think I've added some required depth and scope to the story that I was asked to do so. The only problem is that I think the end was something of a mess, which means I'm setting very large charges and blowing up huge chunks of it. Almost a whole new rewrite. I'm thinking that last quarter or so is going to be in the 25-35k range, mostly of all new words. I rushed that part of the novel and I need to work on it. I'd like to spread that out over November and December and have it off to Mr. Agent man by January. That's the plan. I'd love to get it done earlier and then work on something else in December (I'm going to talk about December in a's very exciting).

As for the NANO project....I don't have a title yet, but it's YA contemporary SF. I was strongly considering a very contemporary YA/ Tobias Wolff-esque fictional memoir kind of thing but changed my mind (for now, though writing this out that is suddenly much more appealing to me). Instead I'm thinking something like a Kyle XY/teenaged supersoldier/football kind of book. And the scary part of me is that I'm pantsing it. I have no plan. No outline. I'm just going to write. I've been reading the brilliant Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix and thinking it could be very, very similar to those books in length and structure. I'm aiming somewhere in the 60-70k range. Keeping it simple, one POV with some "interludes" of official documents, emails, etc related to the MC being a supersoldier. It's very nebulous, we'll see how it plays out. (I'm on the NANO website as Ebenstone, my old handle.) I'm going to try and cap my daily writing at around 2k a day and try and finish the whole thing in November. We'll see how that goes.

As for December, I'm finally getting my bum hip fixed. Surgery is slated for December 6th and I cannot be more excited. I can't wait for this pain to stop and I'll be able to do things again. The super exciting part of it is that I will be home for the entire month of December. A whole month of reading, writing, playing video games and catching up on TV shows. It's like I'm going to be one of the 47% that just mooches of the rest of you SUCKERS!!!!

I'd like to dive into one other project during this time period: my epic fantasy Santa Claus story. The Elevator pitch for that one? The Santa Clause meets Game of Thrones. I'll tell you more later about that project.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Song For Every Story, A Story For Every Song

What started this music kick for me wasn't just The Ring Cycle, it was a simple, innocent tweet retweeted by someone I follow. The tweet simple said: "If you could adapt an album or song into a movie, which would you pick?" I tweeted two quick answers back, but thought about it for a little more and came up with a list of songs that might make good stories and the story I would tell.

1. Let Her Cry by Hootie & The Blowfish.

I love this song and think that Hootie is highly underrated. This is their best song and I could see me writing one of my melodramatic modern fiction attempts from my early 20s. I think I tried a story like it with a character named Finbar with a floozy-ish girlfriend that kept breaking his heart.

2. Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton

Fellas, we all know the frustration while we wait for our ladies to get ready that Eric was feeling in this song....but I once lived this song many, many moons ago and I still think that there's a short novel in it somewhere for me. A friend has a big party where big things happen (first kisses, admissions of love, infidelity, etc)....with big consequences.

3. All Along The Watchtower by...well various.

The very definition of epic-ness in rock music. Written by Bob Dylan but made famous by Jimi Hendrix, my favorite version is probably the live version as performed by the Dave Matthews Band. My second favorite? This version by Bear McCreary for the classic television show Battlestar: Galactica, mostly because it became a motif within the mytharc of the story:

The story I would tell? A big grand epic involving the siege of a great city and how two prisoners may be the key for the Princes of the realm to survive.

4. Two Step by The Dave Matthews Band

I am an unapologetic fan of DMB. I love this song and freak out when I hear it live. The version above is a classic version recorded live during a thunderstorm at Giants Stadium. I remember reading something about this song being about two people in love and one having to go to war. In my mind that's what it always was to me....and in my mind that became the story: a young man and girl are in love, courting one another. The boy is sent to a war in a faraway land while the girl is left to deal with loss and what is going on at home, meeting another boy along the way. It works right?

5. On The Turning Away by Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd is another one of those bands that are incredibly important to me in general, but for some reason this haunting song left a mark with me. The story I would tell is actually in the same world as my trunked novel THE FALLING DARK and the present rewrite SISTERS OF KHODA. It would be a NEW SPRING like prequel novella, but not even as recent in that world's history as NEW SPRING was in Randland's history. "By the Turning" is a curse in my world based on an event called "The GReat Turning Away," where a king turned away the refugees of a war that would eventually swallow that nation. I think it works more in my mind more than it does written out.

Would YOU buy these? DO they sound like good stories? If they do...don't steal them!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing

Welcome to the Music Extravaganza Weekend. I'm going to try and blog for four days in a row about music and writing.  

Last week, I carried on and on about Wagner's Ring Cycle and how it was moving me towards inspiration. Well, I started thinking really deeply about the influence of music on my writing and was preparing an entire blog post about a "soundtrack" mixtape I made many, many moons ago for a trunk novel I'd written...the one that I thought was my opus back in the day. I remember sharing it with my girlfriend at the time...we're talking close to 20 years ago, by the way. It was a mix of soundtrack stuff and modern songs even though the book was an epic fantasy. The funny thing was that the book wasn't even done. In a lot of ways that soundtrack was a very abstract outline of the story I wanted to tell. It's amusing and the only reason I thought of it was a conversation I had with a friend about Pink Floyd....I was really into Pink Floyd at the time and had included a lot of their music in the soundtrack. Oh, the halcyon days of the early 90s! Mixtapes were a romantic concept that has gone the way of the love letter.

Now a days, I know there are authors that post their writing playlists on their blogs so people know what helped put them in the mood for writing. I'd never done that, usually relying on Pandora radio to set me on my way or set my iTunes up for Shuffle and whatever comes up comes up. I've used You Tube as well, creating whole playlists heavy on Bear McCreary's Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. But recently I discovered Spotify and set up an entire writing playlist for me to listen to when I'm in the throes of writing. I've included all my favorite soundtracks and a lot of my favorite artists to get me in the mood. My playlist is made up of everything from Mumford and Sons to James Horner, the symphonic Pink Floyd and John Williams. I've shaken my curmudgeon-y shackles and moved into the modern era. Will I organize a WINTER'S DISCORD and SPRING'S TEMPEST soundtrack? Maybe, just for fun in the next couple of days. Who knows?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Waiting SUCKS

Seriously? Three days of blogging in a row? I'm hoping this means that there is a loosened mechanism somewhere in my head that is going to start the machine that all of us teachers have to get rolling every September. This is the problem with going from long block classes to shorter periods....I really can't get anything overly constructive done during my free blocks....48 minutes and my wonky hip prevent me from doing things like walking up to the main building for stuff and the canned curriculum I've been handed doesn't need much in the way of copies, so....wait, I'm whining about teaching and that's not the purpose of this blog. I want to talk about writing and maybe the worst part about being a writer: waiting.

To say that the publishing industry works at a glacial pace doesn't do justice to how slow it really works. I think of the line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Kirk is asking how long it will take the Enterprise to be up and running...and no, I'm not talking about KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! (It's hard to believe how hard it is to find that clip on You Tube!)...and Spock says, "Admiral, if we go "by the book". like Lieutenant Saavik, hours could seem like days." Well, each day feels like a million years passes and it's just awful.

It was probably worse when I was still seeking an agent, but it's just as frustrating now that I am represented by an agent. I know I probably drive my agent insane with all my little email notes about what is going on. I'm working very hard at avoiding sending him something unless I absolutely need to. But it's hard. I'm not patient and this is my first run through on all this, so naturally I have questions about what the heck is going on. But it's part of the game. Trust me, people aren't laughing at you, saying "Heh, let's see how long I can keep this sucker strung along." It's just the nature of the business. It's expected to be this way and you just have to sort of work through it. I'm not saying it's easy and it helps when you have something to work on, but sometimes it wriggles past all that stuff and works it's way into distracting you from getting work done.

The worst days are the ones when there seems to be a flurry of reports on deals on the various places where those things are announced: Twitter, Facebook, Galley Cat, etc. Now, I don't subscribe to Publishers Marketplace...and thank God for that. I would probably be homicidal reading about the deals being made and that is even less productive than sending the email equivalent of those notes you used to write to girls in class back in the day: Do you like me? Check Yes or No. Today seemed to be one of those days where people were talking a lot about book deals. But, if my recent eagerness to blog is any indication, I may have found a second writing wind and may be at the edge of a writing flurry for the rest of 2012. 

So, it's time to take a deep breath, dive into what I need to do and really contemplate if my daughter deserves a co-author credit on my YA version of Wagner's Ring Cycle....

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inspiration Comes From the Craziest Places

This evening I was charged with cleaning the living and dining rooms after everyone went to bed. There was nothing on television, but my friend Kenneth Mark Hoover had been live tweeting PBS's broadcasting the Wagner's The Ring Cycle. I was very excited about this and turned it on to play in the background while I cleaned. Now Ken did a nice job of tweeting some of the basics for noobs like me to understand but a funny thing happened while I was watching. My daughter Natalie, who I thought was asleep, came down stairs.

Now, Nat is a precocious child and stared at the screen, watching intently for a few minutes before she strung together about a half dozen really good questions about what I was watching. I answered as best as I could, using my old friend Wikipedia, Ken's answers and what I'd cobbled together watching. Nat then took it and ran with it, doing a pretty good job of cobbling a story together with the help of my occasional commentary of what was happening in the opera. And I have to be honest, I kind of like her version better.

I have to say this, my daughter has some pretty good story telling chops. Listening to her play, she's meticulous when it comes to the story, consistent in her characterization and comes up with some pretty interesting stuff...enough to make me put aside what I'm doing to listen to her because it's pretty clever. Now, she needs some work on her magic systems (she uses some combination of incantations that may or may not require rhyming and the use of some kind of a focus, be it a staff or a wand....I don't want to stifle....she'll figure it out!) and her male characters need some work, but she's definitely cut from the same stalk as he father in that area.

Now, I know what you're thinking...I'm her dad, I have to think this. And I do, but there's more there.

I was sharing what my daughter was saying with Ken via Twitter and I think he was just as impressed at her story as I was. There might be a darn fine YA fantasy in this, if I can manage the story Natalie's dictated to me.

The only question is: does she get a co-authoring credit or not?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Running On Fumes: An Update

With a heavy heart, I announce that summer is officially over. School has begun and I welcome with open arms the class of 2016 into my bosom. It's still a science fiction number in my head and I think that when, in 4 years, I welcome the class of 2020, my mind just may implode. There's lots to complain about when it comes to the start of school, but the purpose of this blog is not for me to lament on and on about the ills of working in education at the dawn of the 21st century, but to talk about writing, so I will.

It's been over two months since my last entry and what a two months it's been. Thanks to the surgery, I've dropped about 60 pounds and I'm feeling pretty darn good. Last week I was finally given a surgery date to get my damaged hip fixed, which in and of itself is a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. (December 6th if you are wondering, almost a year to the date that I decided to get my stomach surgery.) Summer wasn't nearly as productive as I would've liked it for it to have been, but it was productive nonetheless.

I scrapped on project and started work on another. I had to back burner that project (ROAD) to work on a second rewrite on a previous project (SISTERS). My agent felt SISTERS was a good story, but it needed some depth, so I set about working on that bit by bit, making August a darn fine writing month, but school came up and kind of put that aside. Couple that with the start of school and September is usually a month I don't write much since I am, as the title of this post suggests, running completely on fumes the first month of school. But I'm pressing on.

So what are my plans, you ask? Here's what I'm thinking the rest of 2012 is going to hold for my writing:

I'm going to give a real go at the SISTERS rewrite once I get the routine of school down. It's the fourth new schedule we have in four years, so every year there is some new adjustment time. I'm about a third of the way done with the rewrite and I think that I can make a run at fixing the draft and making it better. SISTERS is an epic flavored adventure story and the first in a series that I've always imagined as being standalones....but I think they may have to change some of that to make it salable. I guess I can compare it to Arthur Slade's "Hunchback Assignments" series in that they stories are connected but stand alone-ish. Good thing the fourth book is coming out this week to help guide me.

After that, I've got some choices to make and I'm going to have to talk to Bob (my agent) and see where I should focus my energies in the coming weeks. The best part about the surgery is that I'm going to be out for the entire month of December, which means I'll be writing my butt off. (I hope!)

I want to make a run at finishing my SPACE PRINCESS book and then I'll be free to move on to a new project, either ROAD, the last SEASONS book, the EPIC CHRISTMAS book I've been planning for years OR a big huge traditional epic fantasy book. Who knows?

Plus, there's always the chance that the first two SEASONS books sell and they become a priority. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Making The Call

I'm not there yet, but I was wondering today about my fellow writers, aspiring and published, what was your "making the call" to tell people you got a "deal." I've thought about this a lot. Here's mine, in order

  1. My wife.
  2. My mother, who will in turn tell my brother and sister.
  3. My father.
  4. Wife's grandmother.
  5. Mine and my wife's aunts, uncles and cousins via mass text message or email.
  6. Betas and writing supporters. (Y'all know who you are.)
  7. Some close friends, either email or text massage. When I know they all have found out, then I got to #8.
  8. Facebook/Twitter friends.
  9. Blog entry for the whole world.
So, what's your order?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

That Was The June Of Our Miscontent

I'm looking at the calendar and realizing that June ends in 3 days. See, as a teacher, the summer is prime writing time for me, but the last two Junes have been weak entries for me. Last June I was in a funk of epic proportions because of school nonsense and, while I thought this year was going to be different, it wasn't. I did finish my rewrite and sent the second project off to my agent, but I've been stalled as far as new writing is concerned. There are some pretty legit reasons for that, I think. First was that the newest project I was planning wasn't working. (That's a whole other blog post though) But I think there was one thing that was really gumming me up.

I am obese. I have countless health issues directly related to my weight, the biggest looming for me is a severely arthritic hip that needs to be replaced because I'm damn near immobile. I've always been big. I've been 6'1" since about 6th grade and I have never weighed less than 220 pounds since middle school. My weight has always plagued me. I've yo-yoed for years and as of December 2011 I weighed nearly 360 pounds and decided to do something drastic. I opted for gastric sleeve surgery.

This wasn't an easy decision and after several starts and stops, I committed to it. The hardest thing to get over was that, in my mind, I viewed the surgery as "quitting" and not a smart health decision. But as my hip got worse and worse and other things began to compound health wise, I came to a tipping point. And it tipped sharply in one direction.

 It was a long process that took 6 months, which included losing weight ahead of time, seeing a therapist and attending group meetings. It's been weighing on me for months and when they scheduled me for June 25th it became very, very real to me. And that has caused a bit of a jam up in my head because I've had this all on my mind.

Today's the first day being home from the hospital and I'm a little sore, but feeling good. I think I've narrowed down a good project to move on to and I'm getting excited about it. I've got two solid months of writing ahead and if I've proved anything, I can produce when I'm motivated. And I'm motivated now.

Let's just say I'm headed down a new ROAD.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Didn't You FINISH Your Book?

I have a great idea for a new book. The title: "Stupid Things People Say To Piss Writers Off."

Earlier this week, while hanging out with my extended family, I pulled out my trusty writer's notebook and began to outline my next new project that I intend to work on. I got a good chunk done and continued working on it at home, when my wife asked me what I was doing. When I told her, she asked, "Didn't you finish your book?" I stared. I gaped. I glowered.

My wife doesn't support my writing as much as she tolerates it.I won't go into the sordid details because the reality of it is that she's an amazing woman and the last thing I want to do is publicly embarrass her. But she's not the only one that I just stare at and shake my head when they respond to my writing. Most people don't, especially when it comes to the business of being a writer.

It's a funny business, we all can agree on that. And "normal" people don't understand. Quite frankly, the majority of people trying to break into the business don't understand the business. Don't believe me? Look at the Comments sections on Query Tracker or on any number of message boards or blogs where someone has come up with a clever pseudonym and spends their time blasting agents and legacy publishing. We really are an entitled bunch! A few "nos" or someone not telling them they are special and people tuck tail and run away, loudly proclaiming that people in the publishing industry are evil and that traditional publishing is de....uh-oh....I'm starting a rant here that wasn't the intent. I'm trying to be a kindler, gentler me.

Anyway, I can remember my mother once asking me what was going on with my book. I told her I was done, but it needed an edit and a rewrite. Her response? "Just send it to an editor, that's what they are for."

Nearly crashed the car after that one. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, why wouldn't you?), you can probably guess my politics with little or no effort. As with many of us, I'm slightly more complex than being identified as a Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. I identify myself as being a socially liberal, fiscally moderate centrist Democrat. Now, some out there would call me wishy-washy and I'm okay with that. Extremes scare me to death and I like to apply a degree of logic and personal experience to every thought I have, so even though I identify myself as a Democrat, I will gladly cross party lines when need be and have voted Republican on numerous occasions. I tell you this because I'm going to be pseudo-political for a blog post and that is not the intent of this blog. The intend it to be about my writing, not about what I believe, but I wanted to reflect on something I noticed in my writing, directly related to something going on in the country today.

A few weeks ago, President Obama (of whom I am a staunch supporter of, no matter the heat that I will often be given for it) came out in favor of gay marriage. I was remarkably happy. I have long supported gay marriage and believe gay and lesbian couples have every right to be as miserable as the rest of us married folk. (Enter laugh track here.) My purpose here is not to debate this. If you don't agree with me, good for you, move along. We can agree to disagree. I want to talk about writing, not debate ignorance...I mean your personal beliefs.

I've always wanted to write a GLBT character in one of my stories but I haven't. I'm not sure why. I don't want to feel like I'm forcing it. Then I wonder (and get intimidated by) how I am going to treat it. Is it positive? Is it negative? For a straight, married white male, it's somewhat daunting. (John Scalzi just wrote a terrific blog post about being a Single White Male that I'm recommending to just about everyone. It really is like playing a video game at the EASY setting.) How do I approach this without sounding like I'm trying to force it or being heavy handed.

Presently I'm reading Cinda Williams Chima's brilliant Seven Realms series and loving it. So many similarities to what I am trying to do in my writing and yet completely unique. Remember me blogging about fun, well this series is fun and I am green with envy over it. (I won't link to past blog posts, but I think you get my point.) In the second book, Cinda introduces a gay relationship. It's mentioned almost in passing without being heavy handed and it was so brilliantly done, I was, for a moment, insanely jealous. It was a lesbian relationship and considered part of the culture. They were called "moonspinners." There was mention of a religious nation not liking it, but other than that it was presented in a perfectly normal and acceptable manner.Then again, there are aspects of the world that Cinda's built that suggest many of the nations in her world have a healthy respect for women that shows in the story. And I loved it.

I think the TV show GLEE has done a nice job of doing this. (Don't get me started on how GLEE has insulted the HELL out of teachers...that's another post!) They've created TWO different cultures: McKinley High and Glee Club, where the characters can exist in different levels of comfort and ease. In the Glee Club, the characters can be themselves and comfortable, to some extent. In the school, there is an inherent hostility towards anyone that is "different." I have my issues with the show, but the Karofsky episode earlier this season was powerful display of the effects that this pressure has on students.

I had wanted to do something like it for my JAIMAN setting, but closer to another brilliant example of how it can be done well in the genres and that was the television show CAPRICA, where there was polygamy and multiple family units. Gay marriage was acceptable and there were no closets to hide in. It was an aspect of the show I always liked and would have loved to see what they would have done with it had they been given more time.

In fantasy, we can stretch ourselves a little and take issues that affect us today in and out of our work, often explaining it with a simple handwave. It's obviously harder for those writers that write in the real world. The closet continues and too many are forced into it. I just have to figure out how I want to handle it. Do I closet a character because it might make a better conflict OR do I create a more equitable setting where such behavior isn't treated as deviance and more in line with my beliefs?

Heavy thoughts, huh?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Let The Past Be The Past.

It was absolutely gorgeous here in the Cuse Friday night. Mid-70s, sunny, not much humidity....just one of those great spring days that make you wish school ended in early May as opposed to June. After dinner, the family and I sat down on the back deck. Now, I live in the city. Granted Syracuse isn't NY, Chicago or anything like that, but I do want to clarify that I actually live in the city....not the Syracuse area. I have a small house and a small yard, but I have a very nice back deck that faces the middle school that is practically my backyard. We don't use the deck as much as we should, but last night, we decided to sit on the deck. I brought my Kindle out on the deck and sat watching my daughter riding her bike under my wife's supervision. It was very Norman Rockwell. (Well except for the Kindle maybe!)

My wife rummaged through a garbage bag in the garage that was from my car, filled with stuff that wasn't all garbage, but wasn't important enough that I missed it. In the bag was one of my coaching hats. Every year from my second year teaching, I was an assistant coach for the school where I work, so I had a couple of hats kicking around. (My favorite, a tan hat with orange "N" on it, was chewed by my dog and ruined.) My wife threw it up to me on the deck and I put it on. She laughed and said, "Now, there's the John I knew."

It got me thinking. I used to wear hats all the time. It was my trademark, so to speak. I used to have a pretty impressive collection of hats. But those days are gone. I don't wear hats much anymore. I don't like them anymore. But it did get me thinking about the "old" vs. "new" me.

Old Me

This is my "Dirty" Johnny phase. I couldn't tell you exactly when this was, but it was some time in the mid-90s. I dreamed of being a writer and thought that I would be a writer just because I thought I was going to be a writer. I didn't know nearly as much as I know now about the craft and the business. I look happy in this picture, mostly because I was immature and carefree but underneath I was a seething, angry mess. I would tell anyone that listened that I was going to be on the NY Times Bestsellers list by the time I was 26 and that I would write these meaningful literary books about 20-somethings while writing my big, sprawling epics on the side for fun. I was delusional to say the least. Can't say I blame no one from believing in me at the time. This also happens to be one of my favorite pictures of me, I think it's actually the closest to representing my personality, though I'll be this one is close to what I really am:

Angry, probably glowering at a relative thinking they were funny. Still the old me: feeling entitled. I wanted to be a writer...why did no one recognize my greatness? Oh, yeah, cause I was more in love with the idea of being a writer than the act of being a writer. I was too busy spending time reading books about writing and not writing. Not studying the craft by practice. Not reading and studying what other writers did. Instead, I relied on "The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction" and books like that.

New Me
Slightly more together. Nice tan. A little less hair, not that you can tell because I'm wearing a hat in all my other pictures. I look content. Life is good. Outside distractions are fewer. I'm reading the works of my chosen genre. Studying them for my "how tos." I'm concentrating on writing now. Just writing. And that is making me a better writer. How can I tell?

My writing is pretty good. No, really. My friend (and ALPHA beta reader) Neil pointed out that I had "matured" as a writer in the time that he's known me. We've never met face to face. Never talked over the phone. (There's a blog post about "internet" friends coming at some point.) But he's read almost EVERY word of writing that I've ever written. And without his input, I don't think I'd be where I am. I'm gushing. But, back to my point.

Last summer, I took a couple of characters from a trunk novel I had written about 10 years ago and took the characters back to their teenaged years. In the trunk novel, they were in their early 20s. I thought what if I could write these characters as teens in a YA tone. And I wrote it. It was a project that took a long time to get moving after several starts and stops over the course of a year. Last summer (June, July & August) I wrote 90,000 words of the new draft, then put it aside. I hadn't looked at it since the end of August.

After discussing "what's next" with my agent, I settled on rewriting that book before banging out another summer project. This evening I poured over the draft. And damn, it's good. I think it's darn good. Needs a good polishing, that's for sure, but the story itself is solid. The Old Me wouldn't have had this success. The Old Me would still be talking about being a writer, not actually writing.

One more picture and funny story for you all:
John Popper-esque right?

A buddy of mine at school mentioned me to his class. When working through a question in response to a reading passage one of the answers was: "All writers live interesting lives." My buddy then says to the class when they agree that the statement isn't true: "Look at Zeleznik. Comes to work every day on time, goes home at the end of the day, plays with his kid, makes dinner and eats with his family every night, puts the kid to bed, writes late at night and goes to bed....BORING. Nothing interesting."

No, my friend, much more interesting.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's Next?

On Sunday night/very early Monday morning, I finished and submitted a revised draft of Spring's Tempest to my agent. It was a very strange and rewarding feeling. I think that I did some of the best writing I've ever done in that book. I also think there are some parts of the book that will be eviscerated by an editor...and I mean that in a positive way. But comically, it almost felt anti-climactic when I finished it. Now, I wait.

On one side of the coin is the anticipation and nerves of waiting during the submission's process. It is totally out of your control, even more so that when querying a book to an agent. You at least have some sense of control over that. But now, I'm waiting for my agent to read it and send it to editors. It's a mind numbing experience.

The other side of the coin, perhaps the more exciting side of the coin, is the process of deciding what to do next. It's a daunting task that I needed to clear my head over in order to do properly.

I took a few days off from writing. Doing some reading (both professional and recreational). About 11 % into Cinda Williams Chima's The Demon King and enjoying it (Curse you Kindle Fire for not telling me page numbers). I'm feeling some of those pangs of jealousy that I've talked about before while reading it, which makes me want to read more. But that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about the next project.

I made a list of 5 or 6 things I might want to work on next, including the project from last summer, Sisters of Khoda, that needs a solid edit and rewrite, and the started and paused Point Guard and Space Princess project. I sent the list to some readers, friends and my agent to see where I should go next. Got some terrific feedback from all of them but I'm not nailed down to anything yet.  It's exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. I'm leaning towards a rewrite of Sisters in May and something else for the Summer. Maybe the follow up to Sisters, maybe a fresh project.

We'll see. All I know is that life is very exciting right now. Let's hope I can keep up my energy levels for the next month plus of school.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Single Greatest Piece of Writing Advice....EVER!

Now that I'm an almost published writer, I figured I can start pontificating to those of you still saddled with the "aspiring" label in front of writer about what it takes to be a writer.

So, instead of doing a series of blog entries building up to the most important "rule," I decided to go right for the gusto. So here's my advice, which will join all the terrific advice that's out there.


It's complicated, but here it is:

  1. Sit down.
  2. Shut up.
  3. Write.

Any questions?

See steps 1,2 and 3.

Worldbuilding you say?

See steps 1,2 and 3.

What about research? What ab...

Ah, ah, ah....see steps 1,2 and 3.

You are welcome.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rambling About Writing, The Perfect And The Underrated

Finished draft one (actually two, but don't worry about that) of book two: Spring's Tempest. I'm very happy about it and I am delving into a very quick rewrite of the draft to submit to my agent in a few weeks. I think I've gotten better as a writer and this book shows it. I have some ideas popping on what's next. I'm going to take a stab at finishing my YA scifi that I was working on last fall, then maybe take a rewriting pass on Sisters of Khoda, do some outlining for book three of the Seasons series (which is going to be shamefully long) and book two of the unnamed series that Khoda was part of then plan and write a really kick ass YA idea I have that is so good I don't want to talk about it publicly. Seriously. Going to be a busy few months for the Z-man.

But that's not the real reason I wanted to blog tonight, I wanted to blog about something else. Two ideas about things that I've been thinking about recently. The idea of perfection and the idea of being underrated. Let me explain.

I'm a movie buff. The older, the better. I love talking about movies and debating merit and worth with people about movies, in particular how a story is told in the course of a movie. I have two lists that I love debating with people and it's a list that often confuses people. One is the list of "best" movies while the other is what I call the most "perfect" movies. Let me explain about the latter because I think the former makes sense. PERFECT movies are flawless at what they do. They understand the story they are trying to tell and execute it in a manner that is just without flaw. My 10 most perfect movies in my opinion are:
  • The Godfather
  • The Godfather, Part Two
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Hangover
  • Ocean's 11 (2001)
  • GoodFellas
  • Back To The Future
  • Se7en
  • Casablanca

It's a tough list and it will be different for each of us. Feel free to debate in the comments and remember these aren't the "best" movies, they are the most "perfect."

Now the other thing I want to discuss is the idea behind underrated. Now, when we look at fantasy in film, Lord of the Rings set the bar pretty darn high. And with the terrific production of "Game of Thrones," the bar is set really, really high. I think because of that, some pretty damn good fantasy movies have been overlooked because of it.

I was really excited about the movie "Your Highness," because it sounded as if it harkened back to the cheesy 80s fantasies that I cut my teeth on. It didn't, but I really, really liked it. I actually thought if they'd taken it a little more seriously and cut out some of the stoner jokes it would have been a pretty darn impressive story. I discovered some amazing parallels in that movie to my own writing. (No, seriously.) Wastrel hero. Father-son relationship issues. Relationships between men. Betrayals. Search for true love. Ancient prophecies. I really enjoyed it. But it made me think, what other fantasies of the last few years have been "underrated" because of LOTR? I contend "Your Highness" is one of them. So is "How To Train Your Dragon." I really enjoyed the "Clash of the Titans" remake and I still think that the TV show "Avatar: The Last Airbender" doesn't get the credit it deserves. Any thing in your genre of choice that you think was underrated? Same thing in comments.

(I'm going to write a longer post on "Your Highness" a little later on. That's how much I loved the movie....and want to write the sequel.)

(I have to go watch Gladiator now.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Just got Kicked In the ****!

We all have those moments in a book that we are really enjoying. You know, where you think the protagonist has done what they set out to do or you just settle into really, really liking a character and getting used to their voice when....

You all know the feeling I'm talking about. My fellow BWBers know EXACTLY what I'm talking about because the High Priest of this is George RR Martin. I mean: Ned Stark's fate, Jaime's hand, the Red Freakin' Wedding, the end of AFFC. The man mastered the art of kicking his readers squarely in the junk...and we love him for it.

Suzanne Collins proved to be another master of this literary technique. I was sick to my stomach at the end of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire left me so emotionally scarred that it's been almost 2 years since I read the book and I still can't read Mockingjay, I just don't know if I can handle it. Seriously.

I write this because I think that I wrote my "kicked in the ****" scene last night and I was so jarred by it, so to speak, that I actually couldn't move on to the next chapter because I needed to recollect my thoughts. Seriously.

Now, I know mine isn't the steel toe to the soft parts that the above mentioned examples are, it's more of a catching the corner of the lab table in biology class, glancing blow kind of a thing, but it still has a degree of impact in the story. It's the moment in the story when it feels like the stakes have changed, usually for the worse. There is even a part of me that thinks my betas will read the section and think that I'm overestimating the gravity of the scene, but it really feels like I've done something I've never done before in my writing.

Last night I hit the point in the book where suddenly the risk has become very real. I don't know if I've ever written anything like this and it made me squirm a little. Not in a bad way, but a way that made me very, very uncomfortable. All of a sudden, my little book about kids dealing with the sins of their parents switched from being indirect to direct. They were now involved. And that changes a lot about the story itself.

The next chapters are going to move much faster. It's not going to take me a shorter time to write them, but they are going to be in a constant state of movement and action. The stakes have been raised now and my characters are going to have to do things that they might not have done earlier in the book. And I don't know if that was my intent for them, but it's a good thing that's what they decided to do.

As anxious as I'm painting myself in this, I'm excited too. It means I'm taking risks as a writer. (A motif in my life for the last seven months, by the way.) It means I'm growing as a writer.

I start the second chapter of this section, the beginning of a cycle of, as one of my betas called it, PB&J sections rotating around the three main characters. (Oooh, maybe a return of the trope of the week and talking about the number 3????) Sprinkle in a mad princess (should I have said SPOILER alert) and a new threat and Spring's Tempest will be done!

Victory is mine!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Green With Envy

It's March. For some it means going in like a lion and out like a lamb. For some it's time to start thinking about Spring. For others, it is time to think about St. Patrick's Day (making an obviously offensive Irish joke would be to easy so I'll say the following) and drinking Shamrock shakes. While others it means college basketball becomes the center of the universe. For me, March is a combination of the latter two with one other thing: it's the doldrums.

For those of you that don't understand what I mean, let me explain in an old fashioned SAT analogy: March:Teaching as August:Baseball.

March is the longest period of time between breaks for us in the educational world and if not for Good Friday and a screw up by the NYS department of Regents, it would've been even longer. It's the time when you tackle something long and time consuming that usually involves the students working independently.

March is also going to have to be a HUGE month for me as a writer. HUGE. And while I started off gangbusters, I haven't written a word in three days. THREE DAYS! Considering the roll I was on, that's a lifetime. Part of the hold up is my impending review observation that has consumed a massive amount of time. The other is something completely different that has me thinking if I'm beginning to doubt myself. Not in that fatalistic, staring up at the heavens as the dog is doing her business in the morning before school thinking "what the F**K was I thinking becoming a teacher?" kind of doubt. Well, not exactly, but close. I'm in the midst of reading two books that are messing with me a bit.

The first is one that I am just starting, Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon. I'm only about 30 pages in and I am really impressed. It's a great story and one that I almost feel like I could've written. And I mean that as a compliment. It's brilliant and fun (see prior post) so far and I'm jealous of it.

Myke Cole's Control Point is the other one. I'm just finishing it up and insanely jealous of what the book. His ability to write action and fight scenes has me angry at my own relative ineptness at writing such scenes. His world building is brilliant and his inside knowledge of military life isn't heavy handed.

Last time I felt like this? When I read Arthur Slade's The Hunchback Assignments. That was a book I should've written and I will always be jealous of him for writing it before me!

I consider these guys contemporaries and I hope to sit alongside them on panels at cons in the future. For now, I am grumbling and growling about how awesome these guys are and how good their books are. And it makes me wonder if this is the reason why I've been in a bit of a rut the last few days. Maybe I'm doubting my own ability. Maybe not.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi May Not Crave These Things But I'm No Jedi

It's Winter Break. That lovely time of year where there is no school that dates back to the 70s oil crisis when schools were given a week off to alleviate some of the heating costs in the northern part of the country. Winter break is writing time for me and I'm hacking away like crazy at Spring's Tempest. I think I've got a handle on things and I really think I can have this beast in some kind of decent shape by April. It's not going to be easy, but I know I can do it. And I figure it's time to return to the blog.

Winter Break is also one of those magical times you remember as a child because there were loads of adventures and excitement that often took place during that week. (Spring Break is another beast altogether!) I have fond memories of Winter Break. Getting in all kinds of exciting adventures (see what I did there?) hanging out with friends. So much of my high school days revolved around skiing during that time of my life, I always associate Winter Break with it. Because of my physical condition (bum hip and back), I haven't skied in close to 20 years and miss it terribly.

Life changes, we all know that, and instead of skiing, I'm hanging out with my little girl (almost 4) and my niece (4 1/2). We watched the movie "Up" this afternoon and, when I wasn't weeping or laughing, it got me thinking about the idea of the adventure story. Now, I seriously think that "Up" may be the best adventure movie I've seen since "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Raiders is an old movie. 31 years old, truth be told. And you want to know holds up. I recently did a lesson plan on suspense in writing and showed the opening 5 minutes of "Raiders." I had two classes full of inner city HS freshmen mesmerized by it and BEGGING to watch the rest of the movie, which we eventually did and they were just as mesmerized by it the second time. It fascinated me on many levels as I tried figuring out why a 30 year old movie with no CGI in it appealed to them on such a level.

What is it that makes a movie like "Up" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" appeal to me? What is the appeal of "adventure?"

There's plenty of things to list, I'm sure. There needs to be excitement. There needs to be urgency. There almost certainly needs to be a McGuffin. There also needs to be some stakes. Without the stakes, there isn't much that adds any tension that is so important in the adventure story. But there was one thing that both of said movies had that I think is sorely missing in a lot of adventure stories now a Really. We've become so consumed, especially in YA lit, with addressing "issues" in our works that the fun of being a young person is completely overlooked. The fun of adventure is often sacrificed for some misbegotten message or theme the author is trying to cram in our cram holes.

YA isn't the only place this is happening. My first literary love, fantasy, is falling victim to this. The pursuit of "grittiness" and "realism" has sacrificed the sense of fun in the genre.

Fun doesn't mean you can't be serious. Fun doesn't mean you have to write something humorous. though there might be more of that in your story if you do. Fun has become like the word Romantic in a lot of ways. You absolutely can be serious when you write something is "fun" but you can

I want people to call my books "fun" when they are done reading them. I think Winter's Discord, while playing with some pretty serious themes at times, is a fun book. I think Sisters of Khoda is a book rooted in the concept of a "fun" fantasy. I think my YA scifi I was working on clearly embraced the concept of fun.

Where have I seen this recently? Well, I think Arthur Slade's Hunchback books do a hell of a job. They are fun books even though there is a clear sense of danger in all of them. Scott Westerfield's Leviathan books are the same things. Obviously, the above mentioned Up and the timeless Raiders are terrific examples. One other example I can think of is my friend Mike Winchell's book that I had the honor of reading. It had all the benchmarks of a good adventure story and was most excellent. It made a flight to Orlando a lot less boring.

Think of the adventures of your youth. Of your adolescence. Of you early 20s. They were fun on some level, right? Especially when there was law enforcement involved...okay, maybe you didn't have the same kind of fun I had when I was growing up.

Okay, back to writing.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Busy Busy Busy

It's hard to believe I haven't posted since my big announcement, but with said announcement comes the hard work of doing what needs to be done with the submission process and writing the second book. It's strange how things have changed now that I'm another step closer to being a "professional writer" and I'm not just doing this as a "hobby" anymore. I got off to a stumbling start over Christmas break. I'm married to an Italian, which means the 24th to the 26th are nonstop food days. And they were great. I even managed to hammer out 1200 words on the 26th using Google Docs on my phone. I'm all business.

I'm just going to have to really buckle down in the next few months. I've got a lot of plates spinning. I'm a HS English teacher too. It's been an already insane year that has been compounded by a few things that have been thrown on my plate this month. I'm going to be working with an education professor colleague from Syracuse University that I've worked with the last few years in a professional development manner directly in my classroom. We'll be co-teaching and working hand in hand at improving writing for urban students. It's exciting and daunting. She's a pretty impressive lady. It just means my planning has to be stellar. The bonus being she and I will be planning together and it's already going really, really well. On top of that, we're going to be working with the social studies teacher on my team (we team teach Freshman) at integrating and rolling out the new "Common Core" that we're switching to. It's SUPER daunting considering some things that I won't talk about publicly. That alone means I'm going to be busy. Add on to the fact that I am planning not one but two major surgeries this year (I will blog about them in the near future) and I'm slowly integrating working out back into my schedule.

And I've promised my agent I am going to try and write a very big book in 90 days! I wrote up my writing plan and think I have outlined and planned enough that if I keep myself to task, I could get in a sick amount of words (750k).

And I want to keep blogging (Trope of the Week and add some more features.)

And I want to fire up a sports blog.

And I have never been more excited about my life.