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.