The Birth of a Novel

Fueled by Starbucks, I sat down at the computer and resumed worked on Creatures. The working title is actually Creatures of Knucklehead City, but that's purely to keep me amused until I come up with the real name.

Anyway, I've got to say I'm pretty happy with it so far. It's a true Young Adult urban fantasy, about mythological creatures living among us. The protagonist is a sixteen-year-old attending a city high school. Oh, and he isn't human. Here's a snippet from chapter one:

I fingered the stone hanging from the black rope around my neck. “Hey there. So my name is Zydeco, and I am a recovering mythological creature.”

Oh, yes it’s true. Now, here comes the part that cracks me up.

As one out-of-tune voice, they answered, “Hello, Zydeco.”

It didn’t used to make me laugh, but after hearing it about eight hundred times, it gives me a chuckle. I swear, sometimes I think they’re sheep -- the weird, legendary kind that flies and craps rubies. Don’t get me wrong, I think these guys are great and everything. They’ve been there and done that, and for a heck of a lot longer than I have.


There are a couple of things I'm loving about Creatures so far. First, this is really a character driven story. You need to understand that this is big for me. The Children Of Midian is commercial fiction. It is plot driven. I had the story in mind before I knew my characters. I've still got more books in the Midian series to write, and they driven by plot. Granted, I know the characters much better now.

Before I wrote one word of Creatures, I went into meticulous detail (for me) about each of the characters, and as I did so, I found the relationships developing and as a result, the plot developed. This is pretty cool. The characters are wicked fun for me right from the start.

Second, I've written Creatures in first person. I am constantly in Zydeco's head, and it's an awesome place to be. This is so much fun! Of course, I haven't hit that spot in the book where I'm used to zooming off into the the bad guy's head. I'll need to figure out a way to make the evildoer three dimensional from Zydeco's point of view.

Lastly, being a pop culture aficionado and a movie buff, there are small influences all over the place, from Ghostbusters to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Here's where it gets interesting, faithful reader.

LOL - What a Stephen King thing to say. I'm so ashamed.

Anyway, here's where it gets interesting. As Creatures evolves, I'm going update this blog with bits of info about each chapter. It could be about how the characters are developing or how the plot is moving. I might talk about the fun or I might talk about the frustration or at least the challenges I'm facing. I might even drop a few hints.

So, if you check back, you'll get to experience the slow birth of a novel. It should be fun!

Go on to the next post in Birth of a Novel.


The post office doesn't want me published

I think I've lost confidence in the USPS. You know who they are? The postal service? Rain, nor slow, nor even sleet and all that fancy talk? Or maybe it's the particular post office I used? Dunno.

Why, you ask? I just received confirmation that a partial I sent out for Midian never reached its destination. Fortunately, this very nice agent is cool with, and actually prefers that I resend it via eMail. Shame, that I didn't know that before I shipped it off.

But it doesn't stop there. Last year, I shipped off a query with accompanying chapters and synopsis to a well known editor of a well known publishing house. I had met this editor at the SCBWI conference in New Jersey last year. There's been no response and she always responds. It may take time, but she responds. Common thread? Snail mail from this same post office.

Argh!!!! From now on, everything goes via eMail, if possible. If I have to send via snail mail, I'm shelling out the extra cashola for delivery confirmation. Oh, and I'll definitely use a different post office.


Facebook? Me?

Facebook? What's facebook? Alright, so I know what facebook is, but honestly, I was holding out. Sure, I blog and tweet and tweet and blog. Then one day, my son says, "Dad, can I get a facebook?" He's fourteen and now he's trying to keep in touch with kids from the summer college program he met - they're from all over the world, come to lil' ol' old western New Jersey.

What am I going to say, no? I already say no to lots of requests, so... okay. But this means that now I need to keep tabs on him. So.... me and the wife, well, we sign up for facebook. Apparently we were also the last of our friends to do so, because she had numerous pending requests to befriend her friends.

Do they ever make it easy to sign up! And they find everyone you know, have ever known, are likely to know at some point, or really don't want to know. Jeez. Everyone was there. It seemed like every person I work my day job with were waiting for me behind some trash cans in the dark alleyway. Yeah, that's what facebook is. People you know lurking behind stuff ready to jump out and say BOO! and WELCOME TO FACEBOOK!

Yeesh. My brothers were there, my friends, people I've worked with or gone to school with and people in my writing community. It's totally freaky, and it's a world unto its own, not much smaller than our slowly/rapidly warming planet.

Naturally, I checked out my high school, and dang if there weren't just tons of people I knew. All those kids I spent my adolescence with - their pictures get sliding past my eyes like in a shooting range. All I had to do was pull the trigger and click the magical *Add as Friend* link.

But, did I really want to? Two of my best friends - one I already keep in touch with, and the other - well, no idea where he's gone to. He went from Brandeis University to somewhere in Chicago, to rumored sightings in Texas and then Pennsylvania. But he's not on facebook... unless he's assumed the alternate identity of Bruce Banner. He's hard to track down, because he shares the name of a celebrated television series director.

Anyhow, I'm rambling. Facebook? Yeah. I'm on it now. Why? To keep an eye on my kid, which happens to be the same reason as somebody I used to work with gave, before succumbing to the collective. That's right. Facebook is the Borg.


The Muse Returns

Short entry tonight, but I'm feeling pretty darned excited. The "idea muse" came to me last night and told me to set Midian aside for a while and focus on something else. And then she told me about someone in a city high school, someone who is not quite human (no, this person is NOT a vampire).

Said person knows he is not human, and in fact knows plenty of folks who aren't human, but they all play human roles for reasons only known to them. I see "non-human" support groups. I see one of those political wonks in the mayor's circle as the bad guy, one who will put all our non-human friends at risk.... for his or her own motivations.

I see.... the YA urban fantasy I've been dying to write. This is way cool - I need to go hang with the muse a bit tonight and see where she leads me.


Me, a Judge?

Recently, one of my colleagues at work (my *day job*), who knew I was also a writer asked if I would serve as one of the judges in a writing contest for kids. Proceeds from the contest, as I understood it, were destined to help educate children in India living in some poverty.

I was really touched to be asked to do this, honored, and just a little bit freaked out. You see, I've never been asked to judge anything in my life, and certainly not the writing quality of kids from elementary to high school.

Sure, I review my own kids' writing homework. I supposedly have two talents for which I am expected to provide my services at home. When my son or daughter has some essay or report, the wife looks at me and says, "You're the writer. You look at it." The other skill I possess has to do with scooping ice cream, having worked at a Carvel ice cream shop in high school. All ice cream in this house must be scooped by me, although this is not my general idea.

So, there I am with a thick manila envelope chock full of essays about what somebody would do if they were president, or what they think of their parents, and so on. Rubric in hand, I set to work. How did they do? Well, kids are like adults, only younger. Some do a great job, and some mail it in. I can't help but remember the essay accomplished via one paragraph, somehow spanning three pages. Quite impressive, really.

Being a writer, and not a teacher, I really had to resist things like "Too many adverbs!" or "Watch the passive voice!" Fortunately, I simply had to grade them on a rubric, and in the end this was all for a good cause. There were some really intriguing ideas in those essays, especially the one about forcing parents to work much shorter weeks so they could be with their family, while still making beaucoup bucks. I'm ready for that.

This was great, though. And as a writer, if anyone asks you to do something like this, I highly recommend it. Now if I can just get my own kids to edit their own writing as well as some of these kids did.


Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - The Experience & Review

I saw it on Wednesday evening with my wife, 10 year-old daughter, 14 year-old son and his two friends. We bought our tickets this past Sunday and arrived an hour before show time, just to make sure we had good seats. Frankly, the only bad seats in a stadium seating theater are those few whiplash rows way down below the screen. It was playing in a few theaters at a time and the lines were huge.

The sister of my son's friend was at the midnight show eight hours earlier. Apparently, the movie was shown on fifteen of the sixteen theaters, and the lines wrapped around this gigantic building twice by 10pm.

So, to all those concerned that the Harry Potter franchise might be in doubt what with the written series at its completion.... It's just fine, thank you very much.

One note - there was a trailer for the upcoming Twilight film, during which there was much chatter followed by giggling, girlish applause at the end. *sigh*

On to the 2 1/2 hour movie (yes, it's long, and... ***SPOILER ALERT***)
Favorite bits:
Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. His facial expressions were absolutely priceless.

Alan Rickman was terrific as usual as Snape. But, here he really leaves the moviegoer unsure of his intentions in the penultimate scene. And does he ever enunciate e-v-e-r-y lassssst syll-a-ble. *grins*

Ruper Grint as Ron was really funny, especially when under the influence of a certain love potion.

The teenagers-in-love theme was sweet. They only stayed semi-faithful to the book, but still handled it well. Hermione crying over Ron while asking Harry how he feels when he sees Ginny with Dean was quite touching and well acted. I did prefer how Ginny and Harry hooked up in the book, but the movie version worked nearly as well. I definitely saw chemistry there.

Other delights: Jessie Cave as Lavender Brown. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. Borgin and Burkes. Hermione just a little tipsy when returning from Hogsmeade.

Creepy bits: A cursed Katie Bell. Fenrir Greyback. Tom Riddle, both of them.

Wishes not granted:
The climax. Ah - we can't have everything. They cut some of my favorite parts. In the book, prior heading off with Dumbledore, Harry gives Hermione & Ron the Felix Felicis, asking them to share with Ginnie. This turns out to be important later for the old members of the DA. Speaking of this, the death eaters don't simply leave the castle. They wind up fighting the Order of the Phoenix while still at Hogwarts. Little felix keeps the DA safe from harm, but not so Bill Weasley, who suffers a bite at the hands of werewolf Fenrir Greyback.

As for Bill, we don't get one of my favorite scenes - the one in the hospital wing with Fleur Delacour and Molly Weasley, where Fleur says, "I am beautiful enough for both of us, I think." This scene also leads to the Tonks & Lupin love affair. They do address this last part earlier in the movie, during a scene that doesn't actually take place in the book.

And there is no funeral. I would have liked the funeral scene, with all those folks from the books coming by, and with Grawp showing up dressed nicely. They accounted for Fawkes the Phoenix, but not with the phoenix song at the funeral. Without the funeral, also, we don't see Dumbledore's final resting place, which is extremely relevant in the final book - wonder how they'll manage that?

And while the movie does have Hermione & Ron telling Harry he's not looking for Horcruxes by himself, it misses the bittersweet end of the book, where Harry tells Ginny he can't see her anymore because of the certain dangers ahead. I don't think the movie took their relationship as deep as the book did. There is some emotional investment in the HBP book that carries over into the Deathly Hallows. It will be interesting to see how they handle the next two movies.

Overall: Loved it. Hopefully, I'll convince the wife to go see it in IMAX later this month.

Reason to be excited:
Two more movies! And Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour! Ever since Love Actually, I have been a big fan.


Voldemort versus Frank N. Furter

Harry Potter Mania. Okay, I am a Harry Potter maniac. I admit it. The movie debuts in about 3 1/2 hours from right now (as I write this). I will not be attending the midnight show, mind you. I have to haul my carcass out of bed and get to work in the morning, and going to bed after 3AM isn't going to work for me. Plus, the whole family wants to go, and even though my son is all up for seeing it at midnight, my daughter's birthday is tomorrow, and as young as she is, she doesn't need to be zombified for the big day.

Rocky Horror Picture Show in the 1980's - That's the last time I did a midnight showing, and it was a regular weekend deal. Ah, to be a teenager. I knew all the lines. "That man has noooo neck!" Jeez, I think I still have the Audience Participation album with Sal Piro and everything. Yes, this was an actual round thing made of vinyl. Some friends and I listened/shouted along to this sucker on a drive from Long Island up to Binghamton, NY in 1986.

By the way, the most fun ever had at a Broadway show was the Rocky Horror Show at Circle in the Square in 2001 with Daphne Rubin-Vega, Joan Jett, and Dick Cavett, among others. We were three seats from Mr. Cavett. The show was UNBELIEVABLE!

Whoah - how did I get so off track here? Harry Potter? Rocky Horror? Hmm. You know, I think Lucius Malfoy in Azkaban probably would look something like Riff Raff, and Magenta has a definite Bellatrix Lestrange thing going.

Enough of that. Yes, I admit, I'm a Potter-phile. I was devastated when they delayed HBP's release last year. The kids like going in my car, even though it's not the family truckster, because I invariably have one of the Harry Potter books on tape/CD playing. No drive down to Florida would be complete without it.

When HBP & Deathly Hallows came out, we were there at Borders till midnight. Deathly Hallows night was insane. The lines were ridiculous, and we eventually bailed and went home around 12:30, but friends of ours - equally insane friends - stayed, bought us a copy and left it in our mailbox around 2am. At 2:15, I climbed out of bed, went outside and grabbed the book. I only managed a couple of chapters before I realized I needed to get up in the morning.

I've monitored all internet sources for each and every trailer for HBP, and of course will be watching for both Deathly Hallows movie trailers. Where will we be in 2010? At Universal Studios Florida for the new Harry Potter World when it opens.

Sick? Sure. But at least I haven't tried Twilight. A person has to have limits.


A submission and the ten year old editor

I've done it. I've submitted The Children of Midian directly to a new small press publisher. Risky, I suppose, but I'm willing to give it a shot. Let's see what happens. I've done a bunch of research on Absolute Write, which is key to a lot of my decision making. They are not on P&E yet, so let's see how the ride goes. I'll let you all know as soon as I know anything.

I've spent nearly the last 24 hours researching small houses. It seems like many of the newer and successful smaller houses got picked up by or merged with others. Front Street Press joined Boyds Mills Press about five years ago after a very successful ten year run.

My about-to-be ten-year-old daughter has been reading Midian, and she's proved to be a terrific editor. I renamed one of my characters a while back, and in one of the later chapters, she spotted the old name listed once or twice. A little background makes this an interesting lesson to learn.

The leader of the children in Midian goes by the name of Mara. There's also another primary character whose name was Sarah. There are a few scenes in which these two have a lot of screen time with Elliot, and I found that the rhyming was a bit off-putting. So, I changed Sarah's name to Rebecca, wanting to keep it biblical.

I relied on the ol' global search/replace of MS Word. It worked great! Except in the two instances where I had spelled Sarah's name as "Sara". She was Rebecca everywhere except in this one section of the book where she was Sara twice.

Thus commences a "nearing bedtime" scene the other night between daddy and daughter.

"Daddy?" asked my girl. "Who is Sara?"

"Sara?" I said. "There's no ... oh, crap."

Lesson? Don't rely on global/search and replace AND when searching for names, look for ALL spelling variations.


Even the best agents can struggle.

This truly blows my mind, but is an indication of the publishing industry. There's this author I know through WDC - she's literally one of the first folks I interacted with and pointed me in a number of good directions. She writes awesome, and I mean truly fantastic science fiction, both novels & short stories. She's had her shorts published in real print magazines. She has a following of sorts as well.

This awesome writer got signed by a very well known, well respected, big time New York agent.

It's been two and a half years, and no interest from any publishers.

Can you believe it? All I can say is.... Damn.

You spend years trying to get an agent, and then the economy just plain tanks. The big houses are being incredibly selective. At BEA this year, word was many houses are looking for so-called can't miss books. Celebrity-penned books are in with big advances. Of course, when are they never in?

I think I'm going to start looking at the smaller publishers.

By the way, if you're still curious about the difference between YA & Middle Grade, here's another good link. But, I love this one on Literary Lab, courtesy of Tess Hilmo.


Know your genre

I received a form letter email rejection today from an Jessica Regel. Mind you, I thought this had the potential to be a reach. She is cool with fantasy if it's YA/Middle Grade, however, she seems to prefer Contemporary Fantasy versus other forms of the genre. She likes her stories rooted in our world. While I like to think of The Children of Midian as contemporary fantasy, our world plays a role only initially until Elliot stumbles through a portal into the parallel world Midian. So, technically it's High Fantasy.

The classification of stories into genres is a topic, which I imagine both frustrates and challenges writers to pigeonhole their stories. I once had a short story rejected by a magazine because it was too sci-fi for them. This was in my very early and naive days of writing and trying to get published. I had honestly never thought of my short-story-on-the-verge-of-novella in terms genre. It took place here on earth with regular people, only the planet turned out to be a computer simulation that needed rebooting periodically. In retrospect, I suppose it was sci-fi.

I've gone to three writing conferences over the last three years and I've learned two often contradictory lessons.
  1. If you want to get published you might want to know in which hole to stuff your pigeon of a story.
  2. The story and good writing is what's important. So, just send it.
The problem with #1 is that, like most things in this world, not everything is black and white. It is often difficult to typecast a novel into one tidy little spot, plus that tiger actually grows new spots over time, and his old ones have to shift around to make room. Make sure you get it right and make sure what you query with matches what you say it is. Don't bother sending a query about your urban fantasy to an agent who is looking for that genre, and then include a synopsis in which a farm boy rides a dragon as it does battle with a Krakken in the North Sea. She might notice.

As for #2, well, not everyone agrees with it. Secondly, someone has to actually read a few of your chapters to get a feel for the quality of the story and the writing. In many cases, you need to get past the query and onto a partial for this rule to apply. If you make an unbelievable pitch in your query, you've at least piqued their interest, and it's also a good sign of your writing skills, or at least your sales skills. :-)

This of course goes beyond genre or literary category. If you write books for kids - well you've got numerous categories there - Middle Grade, Young Adult, chapter books, transition books, and so on. There is even rumor of a new category that is somewhere between Middle Grade and Young Adult. You see? A new spot on the tiger forcing the other spots to get out of the way!


Random notes on Independence Day

It's July 4th, so not much to write today. Random thoughts then:

The smell is still here. yechhh. I plugged in the air purifier we had stored away in the basement. No water stains or mold spots anywhere. Whatever is dead in the walls - will it finish decomposing already? By the way, google "smells like something died in here" - the number of hits is HUGE.

Queried Jessica Regel last night for Midian. I ran out of time before I could pitch to her at BEA. Fingers and toes crossed.

Really interesting post by Cheryl Klein on her blog. She's thinking of self publishing a collection of her various talks (I've read most of them - they're really good). She gives some really interesting and valid reasons for self publishing the book, despite the fact that she's a well known editor working at a well known house. You might say one of the reasons she's going to self publish is because of her editorial skills. Anyway, what I found most interesting was the use of kickstarter as a means to gauge interest for publishing. I recommend checking it out.

Happy 4th of July to all my U.S. based friends and family! To those in the U.K. - I love Neil Gaiman's tweet last night - "We Made The Colonies Independent and Let Them Spell Colour, Axe and Aluminium with Missing Letters Day."


Querying exclusively

Normally, I will only query to an agent or editor who accepts simultaneous submissions, meaning they are okay with me querying other agents/editors at the same time, as long as I let them know if another party is interested. There was one notable exception, though.

Last year, I attended the New Jersey SCBWI Conference where I was fortunate enough to sit in on a session on character development given by Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic). I even thrust my hand in the air and asked a question that she graciously answered.

And then I went up to her and complimented her on her web site, with its many wonderful writer's resources. By the way, her new site is still a bit under construction, but her blog is quite good. I am fairly certain I must've appeared to be a stalker the way I walked up to her in the conference, and had to rush off as the next speaker commenced. Ah, well.

Anyway, I submitted The Children of Midian to her in a query packet via snail mail (which she prefers) last October, with SQUID written on the envelope (if you ready her submission guidelines, you'll understand why), and a series of SCBWI conference stickers affixed in a few prominent places. She also prefers not to receive simultaneous submissions, but will accept them nonetheless. I took the hint and submitted exclusively because, in this case I really thought it was a fit and she was the editor I really wanted to work with.

Well, it's nine months later, and no word. Based on what I know and have read about her--she always responds--I wonder if my packet got lost in the mail. If so, I guess I'll chalk it up to a lost opportunity. I mean, I had the stickers and everything! (I think they help keep you off the slush pile or something.)

But if not lost in the mail, a few months back I assumed that no response meant "no", so I began to query again. I'm not big on sending a reminder eMail or letter to an editor or agent, unless they explicitly say to. The one time I did, the "no" came back fast! I'm sure the "no" would've come back anyway, but I'm superstitious about such things now.

I haven't given up hope, though. Onward, I say!

Have any of you had similar or related experiences?