Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First look at Toturia

It took many months, but we're finally done with the matte paintings! Here's a look at the entrance of Toturia, a vast underground city hidden under the mountains of Vermont (no, really!).

Above is the depiction of an important scene. Here's the actual passage:



11. TOTURIA


As soon as the elevator doors opened, a gush of warm air rushed in the cabin. It flew over me, through me, like I was being cleansed. I took one step forward and lights came on. They might have been on all along; I was just beginning to get a sense of the place. I felt the uneven ground under my feet, but it wasn’t rock. My senses finally became more attuned. My nostrils picked up the scent of humid air. My nose swore it smelt trees and yet, my head knew it was impossible. No vegetation could live so deep underground. I looked up, perhaps instinctively, trying to look for a window, or something. All I saw was darkness: an opaque, black wall of air. I finally noticed the stone pathway that lay before me, serpenting towards a mist of bright light. I looked over my shoulder at Emilie, who nodded. She looked so calm and composed; it was all the reassurance I needed.

I began walking. The further I got, the stronger the scent was. I was panting, not out of fatigue, but exhilaration. What could possibly lie ahead, hidden under the mountains of Vermont? As soon as I crossed the mist, it was all unveiled, and I almost shit my pants.

I first saw feet. Big ass feet made of stone. The statue they belonged to was at least one hundred feet tall. Its body was definitely human, but the head was feline with prominent teeth. Two big red rubies took the place of its eyes, and the right arm held what looked like a sword made of diamonds. I was transfixed into place, unable to look at anything else but the gigantic sculpture. Once I overtook the shock, I saw it. And when I say it, I mean the sight of a lifetime.

An entire city stood in front of me. It wasn’t a sinister or dark place like I would have thought, but a glowing sight of beauty that could only take your breath away. The sound of running water finally reached my ears and in one instant, everything became alive. It was, quite simply, immaculate.


Click here for full resolution image of Toturia!

Holiday!

December 10th was my birthday, and December 9th marked the first year anniversary of my writing endeavors. For it was on the ninth that I wrote the first page of TRINITY. A reminder of said anniversary came in the form of a huge-ass snowstorm. It is white here, friends. White, white, white. I’ve gotten used to the whiteness after living in and around it for twenty four years, but once in a while, I’m still moved by the sheer beauty of snow. Then I remember why I resent it when I need to spend fifteen minutes shoveling to get to my car.

It’s now been seven months since I began querying, and since a new year is upon us, I thought I should compile stats from QueryTracker.

Queries sent:
92 Sent
15 Still Out
3 Partial Requests
2 Full Requests
58 Rejections
14 Closed / No Response

Sadly, all those manuscript were rejected save one, but I’m not holding my breath. I did begin to write something new, but I’m finding it hard to move on and leave that first novel behind. So I might not. I might explore other alternatives. As a matter of fact, I already have explored, I just need to make a decision. In any case, I’ve decided to keep querying until I hit one hundred (yes, 100) rejections, and then I’ll consider the project KIA. It’s been like a love affair, and I hear love affairs are hard to end (anyone can chip in on that?).

On top of thicker skin, I did get a lot of knowledge out of this entire experience. If anything, it has helped with my patience development. Nothing like getting a request for a partial, waiting three months before nudging then receiving an auto-reply that states the agent in question no longer works at agency X! Sadly, it has rendered me immune to excitement over partial/full requests as well. Whether this is a positive or negative thing, I’m still not sure. What is certain is that I’m a much stronger person now.

What about Nathan Bransford leaving the agenting business, huh? I admit I never saw that coming. Maybe he’ll help CNET’S write better reviews! Moonrat also closed her blog, which came as very depressing news to me aspiring author eyes. The Rejectionist announced she’d be taking some distance from writing topics. Finally, The Intern also closed shop! All four blogs were fantastic and they’ll be dearly missed.

The holiday is the best time to be writing for me, so I wish all of my author-friends a good writing season!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Breaking Radio Silence

OMG! I cannot believe it's been two months since I last wrote here. Argh! Well, a crapload of stuff happened in the past two months ladies and gents:
-Had a full time summer job to complement the photo and website business
-Began new program at new university (which was ranked #1 University in Canada and #19 in the World, thank you very much! McGill FTW!)
-Sent more partials following requests
-Started writing novel #2
-Thoroughly enjoyed True Blood until the bitter end
-Thoroughly enjoyed StarCraft 2, a game my geeky self had been waiting for for over 11 years and which was released on July 27th.

I have to say disconnecting myself from the literary world completely for over six weeks did me a LOT of good. I did not look at any blogs, my MS or even sent new queries. I took a break, and man, was it awesome!

For those interested, I received four partial requests over the summer and the full was rejected, sadly. I should be hearing from two of them in October, and I'm preparing to send new batches of queries soon as well. I am not even close to giving up, although I felt that way in July after the full was rejected. The break help as well on that side. Learning Colleen Lindsay was leaving the agenting World was a big blow for all SF/F writers, but I wish her well in kicking that cancer's ass! As Hannah Mosk put it, "if I were cancer, I'd be scared shitless of Colleen!".

Going from medical school to a joint B.Sc/B.Ed. program has been quite a change, too. Save the fact I have to get up at 5:30AM to make my 8:30AM class (don't even ask), I like my new university quite a lot. I've seen a lot of freshmen who came over from the States and celebrated their new beginning by buying a crapload of alcohol... yes, you can drink at 18 here, so these kids who don't have to wait until they're 21 went wayyyy overboard the first two weeks. I was laughing my ass off when, on a Monday morning, this guy arrives at 8:29AM looking terrible. He sits down and throws up in the trashbin beside him a minute later. His friends come up to him, laughing, and exclaim in chorus: "told 'ya you couldn't finish a 25oz on Grey Goose alone!". SERIOUSLY? How about getting alcohol poisoning? Whenever a new Fall term starts, I'm sure the SAQ (Socitété des Alcohols du Québec, the only authorized chain of stores that have for mandate to sell any and all alcohol in the province) sees its sales go up by 100% within that month, courtesy of over eager American kids celebrating 0ur liberalism.

I did begin to write the sequel to Trinity, but only to keep my mind off Trinity itself. Now that I have a few partials out, and the bitter taste of a full rejection is gone, I began revising and re-writing again. I have one other full out, but I heard on QueryTracker that agent quit the agenting business as well, so I have very little hope for this one.

I'm still digesting True Blood's finale. I was disappointed to be honest, but since House is coming back next Monday, and I got myself a new DVR (never had one before... I LOVE IT!), it will be easily forgotten.

I'll be blogging a bit more regularly now that routine has returned. I have to admit I missed quite a few of you. I hope you guys had a great summer as well?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fabulous Bru

The fabulous Bru, also known as February Grace, has been doing serial interviews with many aspiring writers. She not only has GREAT tastes in sci-fi and fantasy, but she's just amazing and grounded.

She sent me a fun little interview (and my first!!!!!!) of four questions. You can find the result here.

Thanks so much for the fun Bru, I'm thankful I got to meet you on those fabulous orange forums we visit!

Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm a daddy of four!

Sort of... Tonight at 7:15PM, our F7 marbled Bengal, Maya, began the delivery of quadruplets.

It was the first animal birth I witnessed and I dare say I prefer human deliveries... here are four snapshots taken a few hours after they had all came out.





All four babies are kicking and alive, but the mom is definitely exhausted from all the work. Considering she's a F7 Bengal and she is extremely wild, I wasn't sure if the maternal instincts would be prevalent, but they are. After she seemed to understand it was a baby coming out of her vagina, she became a mom really quickly in her behavior. From what I could tell we have two males and two females. Two are spotted with tawny yellow coats, two are marbled like their mother. One of the spotted might be a snow, not sure yet (the father is a marbled snow Bengal).

This is the end of my little reality capsule, back to query work :D

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book cover photoshoot: behind the scenes

Last week, Hannah Moskowitz blogged about her latest book cover, Invincible Summer. She felt the need to clarify some things as she had already received some criticism (and read discussions on forums or comment sections elsewhere) regarding the cover. More importantly, some people said that whenever they saw such covers, it made them feel bad about themselves and the cover had an overall negative effect on their self-image.

Each time I read something like this, it breaks my heart a little. I've done many photo shoots in the past few years, one or two at least destined for a fashion agency, modeling agency or a sexy magazine ad. I know the truth about these things and if more people knew, I strongly believe a lot less people would feel bad whenever they'd see covers like this.

Before you hit me with the "don't start with the 'it's the inside that matters' bullshit, we don't want to hear it," I promise this isn't what this blog entry is about. Mainly because I don't agree that looks don't count, especially in business. Sadly, for things like photography, looks are much more important and personality, if you have any, becomes a marketable commodity. Let me elaborate further.

How a shoot like that often works is:
A company will hire their own photographer or a freelancer and makeup/hair artist separately. They will usually have scouted a location first if done outdoors and if I need an assistant (depends of the shoot) I will hire one and charge them for it.

Makeup girl usually arrives on location with the model before I do. They can spend up to two hours on the chair. Two long hours. I arrive later to evaluate the exact spot and prepare my lighting setup. Takes me a good hour. I've spoken with the client days before and have already sketches and poses in mind.

I have NEVER seen a picture perfect model right out of the box. It. Does. Not. Exist. Sure, I've met some naturally beautiful ones with a personality (and they usually know it and the agencies who own--I'm sorry, I meant represent--them charge a premium for it because yes, personality shows through camera AND IT'S A CHARGEABLE COMMODITY) but most are fake bimbos with too much Botox in the lips and there is more matter in their boobs than their brain.

Five minutes before we're ready to go, makeup girl (usually a girl or a gay guy... have yet to meet a heterosexual guy who does makeup, but that's a detail) makes the touch-ups, takes care of the spray, etc. If for lingerie or clothing ad, there's usually a stylist there as well.

Experienced models become a robotic but expressive human the moment they lay down or take whatever pose I asked them to take and from here on out, they require very little direction. They know what to do. If you ask them "give me sexy", "give me fierce", they know which muscle to work to make it happen. There's not much art to it. With all the makeup, the sometimes unnatural poses and the often exotic decor, nothing feels real about a shoot. It's all bling.

Between each segment (a drastic change in place or pose), the sand on the model will be touched-up. The makeup, the hair right up to the little curl are redone and we go again. You'd cringe if I told you some of the trick we use to make stuff "stick" or "pop". All I'm gonna say is that most of those camel toes are 100% fake and some fruits are sometimes involved. Moving on.

When I'm done (can take 2 hours, half a day or an entire day. It depends how much the company paid and what they wanted) I say goodbye to everyone, pack-up, the model gets transformed back to a regular looking human and we go to POST-PROCESSING. Post processing is when I download the negatives from my camera to my computer and spend AN ETERNITY (real time estimate: 5-20 minutes per photo) touching them up. This means:

-Brushing the skin to make it smooth "BUT NOT TOO SMOOTH PLEASE PHOTOGRAPHER NOT TOO SMOOTH. Make it nice photographer, please. You know what we mean."
-Remove all pimples, blemishes, imperfections, birth marks, sometimes even beauty marks. Sometimes their whole fucking face.
-Whiten the teeth.
-Remove any possible love handles that cropped up due to totally unnatural looking positions (I don't work with model sizes 0-1-2 'coz it makes me sick to look at their rib cages right through my 2000$ camera hole so it does happen, and it should).
-Adjust lighting if necessary.
-Color processing (we don't shoot in B&W ever these days... we transform color to B&W in Photoshop and there's no one button to do it... each color channel is adjusted individually, noise is added, etc.)
-Then the thing is usually cropped and resized for better preview experience.

I can have up to 1000 shots for a one hour shoot, but usually 20 per the same "setting pose" and only one of them is retouched. Then I make an online gallery to present all my edits and the original shots to the client. Then client makes assessment and I edit what is required.

Total time spent from start to finish for the one perfect shot on a book cover or magazine ad: up to 60 hours for my part, plus all the gazillion hours the styling crew spent on the model.

Another newsflash: most of the models I've worked with are unhappy. Most I've worked with don't like the job much. They do it for the money, not the fame or to be pretty in an ad. Most models are treated like property or animals by their agencies. When on set, they have no say. They're robots. When the magic wears off, they look like the rest of the regular girls but they're just more skinny. Rarely have I seen truly beautiful girls. Most are fake.

So why do they do it? Because society IS fake. "Sex sells". That might be true, but it's not worth shedding tears or forging complexes over. It's a stressful lifestyle that is usually fueled by bad habits and drugs and sometimes, wild after-sex. It's not glamorous and there's nothing magical about it.

It doesn't mean you don't have the right to be unhappy about your body image. Just don't do so over a cover because frankly, you might just be a lot happier where you are now than the model on the book.

However, having said all that, I do like the cover. I think it works because there is no face. Some might say "omg they have reduced the female to just a nice body" but she wears a cover-all bikini and the suggestion isn't erotic. 99% of covers that feature a human portrait or photo usually involves very weird/bad face expressions, spandex, a pack of overly defined six-abs or bad lighting/overall photography. I've yet to see any cover with full featured "humans" that I liked.

This cover reminded me a lot of a picture and an actress I love. Evangeline Lily is a fabulously beautiful woman. I've seen her in person once and she is even more stunning without makeup on. A smile that will make you melt and she's just natural.

I think the above E. Lily portrait shows that she's just that: laid back and natural (that's what I meant when I said personality shines through) and Invincible Summer's cover has the same general "laid back" quality. Simon Pulse could have had the model curve her back to enhance the erotic quality, but didn't. They could have showed some "hard nipple" (what a terrible expression tbh) or more of her ass. They didn't.

It's a sexy and curvy (yet appropriate) photo of someone laying on a beach. It's simple and clean (like the Twilight cover). The color palette is warm and perfectly balanced. The teal/beige sand/brown tanned skin all complement each other and the entire package easily conveys the message "here's a laid back book about an adventure at the beach where things might go wild" without being inappropriate, offending or overly sexy.

In a word: perfect. If I were Hannah, I'd be damn proud of that cover too. This could have went bad and tasteless really quickly, but it didn't. It's the mark of a good artist with taste. They were just smart enough to hint at a topic that sells (sex) without being bold about it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hannah and the #MagicGayFish

Hey guys! I'm super excited about today's entry: YA writer Hannah Moskowitz has agreed to an interview! YA isn't my genre at all, but Hannah has an amazing voice (very reminiscent of JOHN GREEN's stuff I find) both in her first novel Break (Simon Pulse, 2009) and her amazing blog. Plus, she got her first publishing deal at only seventeen years old. All of us knee deep in rejections know what an accomplishment this is, so I couldn't be happier to have Hannah as my first interviewee!

F: Hello Hannah! First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! People might know you from your hilarious blog or your first YA novel Break, which was published by Simon Pulse in 2009. When did you officially tell yourself "I'm gonna write about a boy who makes it his mission to break every bone of his body and I'll have it published"?

H: By the time I wrote BREAK, I'd already written seven manuscripts, so publication was a shiny beacon in my head from the start. The idea for BREAK came to me in a few parts. I knew that I wanted to write about a boy on some kind of crazy mission. That was going to be the hook that made the book stand out--that it was a mission no one else had done yet. I didn't think of anything good until my head suddenly stuck on, "I'm going to write about a boy who wants to break all his bones." So, really, it's exactly as you said!

So I never set off to write a book about self-injury, and I still don't look at BREAK as your typical self-injury book, but of course once I thought of the idea, the next question in my head was, "...why?" Which is the same question that inspires a lot of people to pick it up, I think. You want to know why someone would do that. So I built Jonah's plot and character to answer that question.

F: As I'm sure you remember, unpublished writers always love to hear stories from those who actually made it. If you don't mind, would you mind sharing your query stats and how long it took to land your agent, Suzie Townsend? Ballpark numbers are a-okay too! How long did it take from the time you wrote the first page to the day you landed a book deal?

H: Okay, so my process came in many distinct waves, haha. Suzie is actually my third agent, so a lot happened before we even hooked up.

I queried four different novels at various points. One of them, the earliest of the four, got quite a few requests and quite a few rejections off those requests, but I kept querying because I loved it
and I was getting a pretty high request to rejection ratio. I started querying that one in February 2007.

Two of them, the ones I wrote between the first one and BREAK, were hideously unsuccessful, maybe one or two requests each, nothing good. I phased out querying both of them.

In November 2007, I wrote BREAK, and I started querying that in the winter in conjunction with the first ms I loved, which at that point I'd been querying for nearly a year. BREAK did very well in the querying sense--I forget the exact number, but somewhere around 2/3 of
my query responses were requests. In February 2008, I suddenly got four offers--3 for BREAK, 1 for the earlier ms. Because the earlier one was my favorite, I went with that agent.

Except after she read BREAK, she decided that was the one to sub first. We went out in April 2008, got interest from Simon Pulse in June 2008, and closed the deal in July 2008. I wrote INVINCIBLE SUMMER that July as well.

A year later I split with that agent, signed with Brendan at FinePrint pretty quickly, and he sold INVINCIBLE SUMMER, my second novel, also to Simon Pulse in about a month, in August 2009.

In January 2010, he left to go be an editor (go Brendan!) and Suzie snatched up a bunch of us orphans, haha! I wrote ZOMBIE TAG that in April 2010 and we sold that in June. And here I am now!

You might be wondering what happened with that other manuscript I was querying? It eventually went on sub unsuccessfully, so now it's just...sitting...I might release it as a free ebook at some point, I'm not sure.

F: You recently declared you no longer wished to be called a teenage writer (and why should we call you that? You are an adult officially. Nineteen is enough to get legally drunk where I live!).

Many agents recently blogged about an increase in queries coming from young writers. Was there any point in the process, from querying to finding an editor or working with the publisher, when you thought you were being treated differently because of your age?


H: None of the agents who offered on me, either the first time around or the second time with Brendan, knew how old I was. But I did mention it in a few queries scattered here and there, just to see if I got more or less requests. It seemed not to matter.

To be fair, I was querying largely before the big influx of teenagers...at least as far as I know. Most of the comments from agents and books from other teenagers I didn't hear about until after BREAK sold. So I felt pretty alone at the time, though I guess a few of the teenage musers were also querying...but I've always understood that the musers are not representative of the real world.

F: You are known to have colorful ideas.Was there ever a time when an editor or your agent asked you to tone it down?

H: Suzie did recently ask if one of my books could have slightly less rape...but no, not really. Suzie is very supportive of all the crazy shit I throw at her. And she claims to like it. I dunno.

F: Your newest book, Invincible Summer, is due out for release in 2011. Can you give us your elevator pitch for this one? (FYI: Hannah is currently running an Invincible Summer ARC contest until July 17th 2010! Enter here.)

H: I'm so incredibly excited for INVINCIBLE SUMMER to come out. It's a story about a boy named Chase and his family over the course of four summers. Chase has to deal with his deaf little brother's refusal to learn sign language, younger sister's mad descent into "womanhood," older brother's tendency to run away, and the birth of one more sibling than the family could probably handle. In the meantime, he's falling in lust with his brother's girlfriend across the street and falling in love with the French philosopher Albert Camus. It's very gritty-sexy, like getting it on in the sand, and it's darker than the cover would have you believe, I think.

F: You have over 44k posts on the AW forums and post a lot on Twitter. All your followers also know about secret project codenamed #MagicGayFish, the sequel of which I suggested you name #MagicBiFish: Bigger and Grandeur. On top of your YA writing, you are also working on your first MG piece. Finally, in a time where series are so popular, you chose to go with standalone stories.

Just where the hell do you find all these crazy ideas before you turn them
in awesome literature? Has your online presence been important to the fleshing out process of these ideas?

H: People I know online have been absolutely crucial in helping me develop ideas. I can't count how many times I've gone on twitter and been like, "THERE'S SOMETHING HIDDEN IN THE BASEMENT! WHERE IS IT?" when I can't figure out where an object is, or "YOUR FRIEND JUST SAID THIS TO YOU. WHAT DO YOU DO?" when I can't figure out what a character's reaction should be. And I always get fantastic ideas.

The internet really recharges me, to be honest; it's so incredibly helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through and understand how exciting it is when you reach whatever goal you've set for yourself. It's so entirely motivating.

Ideas usually come to me in pieces. I have a hint of something in my brain for a while, the way I did with BREAK--"I want to write about a boy on a crazy mission," and then I tuck that away in my brain and wait for something to come that I can mash into it. A lot of times, they don't fit as neatly as they did with BREAK. My third YA, THE ANIMALS WERE GONE, coming in Spring 2012, came from the union of the two ideas, "Boy/boy romance during the D.C. sniper shootings" and "tons of escaped animals."

F: WTF is a Muser? Is it related to a vuvuzela?

H: We do love vuvuzelas. Nah, the Musers are this group of writers...we're more like a family than a writing group. We've been together for about three years and we are, to put it plainly, madly and passionately in love. There are about 25 of us, and we share everything writing-related in our lives, but it goes a lot beyond that. We talk about our jobs and our families and our roommates and our kids and our boyfriends and we really know each other as well as I know any of my friends in real life.

Nobody ever wants to say this out loud, but the writing world, particularly the YA writing world, can be a sort of unfriendly place. You have so many great people, but there's a lot of resentment under the surface and a lot of jealousy, and it can also get very, very cliquey. There are lot of published writers who only look at unpublished writers as inexperienced fans. It can get very frustrating to watch these amazing writers--and amazing people--get caught up in some of the drama. I'm definitely not immune to it myself.

The Musers aren't like that. I'm not saying we don't have our share of drama--what families don't?--but we are honestly incredibly happy for each other's success and we celebrate it like it's our own. There's no competition. We're all very aware that none of us are on exactly the same path. And one thing I really love is that we have people from all stages of the publishing process--multi-published authors, debut authors, writers on submission, writers querying, writers revising to query, writers writing to query, writers who couldn't give less of a shit about querying...so we have a lot of different perspectives.

We read each other's manuscripts, but because we are interested in them, not because we feel obligated. There are enough of us that there's always three or so who feel a draw to whatever you're working on, so you just read whatever interests you. Except I'm a shitty beta, but I help with their query letters!

And when we first got together, only one of us even had an agent, so it's pretty exhilarating that we are where we are. We counted it up yesterday, and among the 25 of us, we've sold 18 books. And I, for one, know that I couldn't have sold mine without them. Okay, I've babbled way too long on this one, but it's because I love those bitches. A bunch of us are on twitter...if you want to know who a few of us are, just ask. But we can't reveal all of us at once... Have to maintain some secrecy.

F: Thanks so much for your time! And damn... 18 books. That's some powa!

You can find Hannah on her blog or Twitter.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pepping yourself out of misery

I want to wish a Happy 4th of July to all my American friends and writers out there! Enjoy the fireworks and festivities and take a day off this tiring writing business!

The incomparable Jessica Faust blogged about a very interesting topic this last Friday: dealing with rejections. Though I must have read over five dozens of these posts, I really liked this one for a very specific reason: the camaraderie that was displayed in the comment section (as well as the advice) was truly amazing. It is obvious the person who submitted her question to Ms. Faust truly seemed affected by all the rejections she's been piling. I was lucky enough to get a full request really early after I began querying (though since that time almost two months ago, it's been dry dry dry) and to be honest, if all I had accumulated were rejections so far, I don't know how I'd feel.

Tally so far: 47 queries sent. 2 fulls (still out), 1 partial (form rejected), 24 rejections, 20 still out. Some days are a lot demoralizing than others. I recently heard of someone who received a form rejection for both the partial AND the full she had out there. Having my partial rejected was difficult, but my hopes weren't really up. Let's not try to think what will happen if I get two fulls rejected in a row on the same day. That would probably mean early happy hour for that day! LONG ISLAND ICED TEAS FOR ALL!

So, what do you do to pep yourself out of a deep state of depression? I:
Watch Glee re-runs (Jane Lynch is so fucking hilarious there are no words)
Watch this multiple times.
Consume an insane amount of cappuccinos
Listen to Trailer music
I work (websites, photo shoots, etc. Anything except writing)

What about you?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Critique partners: YMMV

First of all, Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canadian writers and friends! Enjoy the holiday and the festivities :)

Today's topic was prompted by an angry e-mail I received this morning from a critique partner I have been exchanging material with since late May (May 25th 2010 for you PI out there). Before we continue, let me preface this by saying I don't really believe in online critique groups. I even joined the OWW SF&F for the trial period to see how it works out and read some of the material. I feel like exposing my MS on the entire internet to people I have never met and don't know at all to be uncomfortable. Not that I worry about plagiarism, but I read many critiques and most were overly general and not really worth the monthly price versus my discomfort with sharing a part of my soul (that is what I feel my novel is). In my opinion of course! Plus, my good friend Lisa who was an editor a few blue moons ago really discouraged me from joining online workshops. I wouldn't be opposed to trying a local one, but the only one I know doesn't cover much sci-fi. Therefore, my option was to find critique partners online on a case-by-case basis.

So, Anette (we'll call her Anette) critiqued my first four chapters and provided amazing insight (I referenced to her in an early blog post) and I critiqued her four first chapters. I thought we had a good relationship that was a also dichotomy of sort: while we both wrote sci-fi, her writing skills were much superior than mine prose-wise and we had very different settings. Though her weakness was character dialogue and the authenticity of it, it is my strength. It was a nice dynamic and we both agreed this process required brutally honest feedback for it to work its magic, so for the first three chapters we both each time insisted on keeping it that way.

I sent her an e-mail on June 10th that I was having personal problems and that it might slow me down. A few days later (6/13) she sends me an e-mail saying she critiqued my chapter 4, but I couldn't find any file attached (either she forgot, my AV ate it, e-mail black-hole, who knows? Shit hits the fan constantly on the interweb). I wanted to get back to her but it fell through the cracks, then on 6/29 I send her an e-mail telling her I had needed a break and was now ready to critique some more of her work if she wanted me to (with the fourth chapter attached and critiqued, or so I thought).

This morning, as my Happy Canada Day present, this is what she had to say (this is the full, unedited and unabridged e-mail):



Hello, Francis:



I’m glad to hear that you had a good report on your health and hope
that things continue to go well for you.



However, I can’t exchange any more writing with you. I’m a member of
the OWW, the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and
Horror, and exchange work on the site, plus with a critique partner
outside the site. You are the only writer I’ve encountered who doesn’t
say thank you after a critique, or even acknowledge receipt of the
critique. Every other writer says “thank you for the feedback,”
whether they agree with it or not. That’s the protocol. It takes me a
couple of hours to read a several thousand word chapter and then go
over it line by line, and when I don’t receive a thank you or even any
acknowledgment that it came through the email, it makes me feel like I
wasted my time. The same thing goes for taking a several week break
after you ask to read a chapter. For the future, just tell the next
person you are taking a break for a few weeks and will get back to
them when you can. It’s the professional way to treat your fellow
writers. Also, you said you sent me a critique of my last chapter,
but you didn’t attach anything (and don’t worry about it now).



I wish you the best of luck with your writing.



Anette








The passive-aggressive attitude was quite obvious and it made me think: have I really been this much of an asshole? Have I never said thank you when I got chapters or acknowledged their receipt? I was raised a lot better than that, I just can't believe this would be true.

I had to make sure. I went back to my inbox and ran some stats. From 5/25 to 7/1 we exchanged thirty e-mails, twenty-four of which were critique related. I read them all, hers and mine, one by one.

Never said thank you? Here are unabridged quotes from each e-mail that followed an e-mail with one of my critiqued chapter or when she sent me one of hers. All of these were said by me:



"Thanks!"




"Thank you for allowing me to read it!"




"Thanks for the clarifications!"




"Thank you SO MUCH for your feedback and critique!"




"Thanks again for your amazing feedback, it will be EXTREMELY useful!"




"I will read your next chapter for sure, and provide feedback as you've requested."




"Very nice page, thanks"




"Thanks for the time you give me, it's appreciated"




"Thank you for your amazing chpt 2 critique, again. Very insightful." Followed by an offer to host her website for free (or make her one) on my own server as a token of my appreciation.




"The more brutal you are, the more I love you."




"You're like an angel that fell from the sky" (in regard to some insight she provided)




"Thanks for the words of encouragement."






Now I don't know about you, but I think it shows I was truly thankful for her time. Maybe she was having a bad day? I sent her a somewhat sarcastic message and ended it with sincere good luck in her future endeavors.

What really annoyed me is that she preceded her message with "I’m a member of
the OWW" as if it gave her higher moral grounds or a "Free to be a diva" card. The OWW is open to any and anyone, and unlike the SFWA which requires pub credits to join, all the OWW requires is money. It means nothing other than you are open to online critique groups.

Second, telling someone you've exchanged work with "you are the only writer I’ve encountered who doesn’t say thank you after a critique, or even acknowledge receipt of the critique" like I'm some ungrateful little jerk, especially when it is clearly not true, is truly insulting.

"That's the protocol" she says. As far as I am aware, there are no official protocol that I was aware of or that she wanted to discuss. She knew I was not part of any online group and clearly my 14-days OWW trial wasn't enough for me to acquire these "basic rules". If she was so annoyed by my supposed thankless e-mails, why did she wait over a month to let me know?

Two-faced agents, like two-faced critique partners or two-faced ANYTHING really irritate me. The civil way of handling any matter of discomfort is to calmly bring up the issue as soon as it arises, not one whole fucking month later. I was told taught letting your partner know about something that bothers you before it explodes and makes the issue unrepairable is the way to go.

I waited two weeks and a half to message her back, and that was the once exception out of thirty. Why didn't she follow-up? It was clearly out of character for me not to respond within a few days. She rather waited until I remembered and then decided to write a condescending and pompous piece of advice?

That's not how this works where I live. Communication, I'm told, is of extreme importance in this business, but things do fall through the cracks at times.

As you can see, YMMV a lot with this whole critique partner thing. I think I'll stick to my trusted beta readers whom are capable of patience and comprehending that sometimes, things do come in the way.

It's such a shame too, because it ended a relationship that so far was a good one. She could have just easily ended it by saying she was uncomfortable with the wait time or needed someone more responsive, or that she didn't feel I could help her anymore. Why end it so abruptly with so much tension and ambiguity? Truly sad.

I'm really curious to know what your experience has been like regarding critique partners and online critique groups. I could always use pointers, too :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Self-published Nazism

The current HOT topic of the publishing industry these days is the upcoming (supposed) apocalypse that will hit us on the head just about anytime now. The Gods have spoken: the world of e-book will revolutionize publishing and authors will let go of the gatekeepers (agents) and self-publish all the way, hence realizing their dream. Evil agents who can't see real talent even if it'd hit them in the face will finally be punished for their shortsightedness, right? Allow me to administrate myself CPR before we continue.

There have been many discussions going on Twitter about what the role of agents will be, whether or not they will become obsolete and how they will survive if all authors go the self-publishing route. As a still unagented writer, I'd like to add my perspective to this whole debacle.

There have been many awesome posts about the agent's side of things. In my opinion, the question isn't what will happen to agents in a world where e-books and self-publishing rule them all--it's what will happen to the consumer in all this? We can't really forget the writers either, but we should also look at the motivation behind the excitement they have for this new way of doing things.

Every day, some writer proves he or she is too stupid/unprofessional to make it using official means (query, get agent, submit to editors, get published). Suffice to say, self-publishing isn't going to fix his problems. I certainly don't believe most writers are asshats, but there are a few out there. Jennifer Jackson, a very well known agent in the world of sci-fi and fantasy, recently blogged about how 52% of the queries she receives do not follow submission guidelines. According to her stats, that's anywhere from 90-100 people each week who send in queries and get an automatic form rejection because they couldn't follow simple guidelines. All she asks for are the first five pages and a short synopsis pasted in the body of the query, as many others do. Why is this so hard?

The most vocal ones are usually the complainers. Want to bet that a high percentage of those who so loudly complain will be part of that 52% who often get rejected because they can't be bothered to follow guidelines? That's already a huge part of the problem.

I'm pointing this out because a lot of the folks who are so pro self-publishing seem to be people who are irritated by the current process and frustrated by the amount of rejections that are piling up. I received five rejections in the last four days. My first request for a full came three days after I began querying, a second one a few days after, and since then... rejections, rejections, rejections. I know folks who got a rejection for both a partial and a full on the same day. It's a tormenting process for sure, but that's how it has been for decades. Is technology going to make it easier for everyone? Unlikely, because the medium isn't the part writers have a problem with.

Let's take all the other writers. Those who follow submission guidelines and have done their research, have written a good query and are hanging in there. (Apparently, we're not even the majority). I firmly believe no debut author will consider self-publishing without first trying the query approach... why? We're flimsy little fishes swimming in a tank full of sharks and piranhas, and we know it. Big fishes who will eat you alive if you don't know what you're doing. I once met a woman who overheard me saying I was writing a book while visiting my dad at the hospital... she explained how proud she was when she drove to NYC from Montréal to have a meeting with an editor... who charged her 1200$ for the 10 minute session and a 250 words manuscript critique that took months for her to receive.

Scammed? Yes. Was she even aware it was a scam? No. Did I tell her? I chose not to. She was sick and I overheard the doctor 15 minutes prior to my discussion with her as he delivered a bad prognosis. I didn't want to be the one to give her a heart attack by telling her someone had taken advantage of her time and money by playing on her dreams. How many have been played?

How many crooks will take advantage of the poor souls who want to be published so bad, have been rejected by over 100 agents, and who will turn to self-publishing? How will one navigate those waters without an ounce of experience? It will be a fucking mess. A bloody mess.

I was once "scammed" by Amazon when I bought a book covering a sexology topic. I was doing research for my sexology minor (which I never completed) both because I have an interest in sexology, sexuality and sex altogether and because it complimented my main studies well. That was years ago, I had no idea how the publishing industry worked. I based my purchases on reviews (both off and on Amazon) and that one book had over 70 five star reviews. The cover was horrible, but I thought, it has so many good reviews, let's give it a try and I shed the 20$ to buy it.

It was one big joke. The information was obviously not researched, unfounded, the backcover told blatant lies (you can't see a backcover on Amazon), there were a million typos and the formatting of the book was just amateur. It SCREAMED "self-published", but since I knew nothing about how books even get published, I did not know self-published books could be sold on Amazon and I trusted the system. I trusted a system I thought could be trusted and was royally screwed for it.

I wrote a review to expose the scam that the author was. I tried to find his contact info... I never could. He used a pen name and I could never find a way to contact anyone involved in the creation of this "book".

For some reason, Amazon removed my review. It contained no inappropriate vocabulary and was 100% objective. It took months and many exchanges with them before it finally appeared. I also started a discussion topic to alert buyers that the reviews were totally fake and that no single educated person would learn anything or benefit from the book. It was on this discussion topic I met others like me who had tried to warn the Amazon buyers and each time, their review was removed. I don't know what the fuck happened at the time, but if this is a shape of things to come, consumers should be TERRIFIED of a world where thousands of new self-published books will swarm in and appear beside "real" books. Especially in a world where reviews are so easily manipulated, and I'm not the only one to have noticed this.

Let us travel ten years forward, in a world where self-publishing has taken over.

What will it look like? Consumers will be exposed to the slush pile and after just a few bad experiences (like the one described above, which happened in 2006 by the way, long before people spoke of an e-book revolution) there will be an outcry. Consumers will feel scammed and ask for a way to identify the "real" books from the self-published ones. Will self-published books get a star beside their title to satisfy the angry customers? Are we going to see the rise of some kind of self-published/unagented Nazism, where debut and unrepresented authors will be forced to be publicly identified by the big sellers to alert the customer of the risk?

The idea sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? DOES IT? Really? I don't think so.

There is ALREADY a stigmata against self-publishing, but this one was brought on by the publishing professionals. That's what writers now say, anyway... what will happen when that same stigmata will be amplified to biblical proportions by angry customers? I'm willing to bet my air conditioned ass writers will scream bloody injustice and the shortsighted ones will no longer be the agents, but the customers, according to these same writers. Buyers will demand a way to identify the "real" books from the self-published ones, because reviews cannot be trusted. I'm sure new sites will pop out to help consumers identify the good ones the honest way, but not before some damage will be done.

We're all frustrated and tormented by the wait and rejections, my fellow auteurs. If you truly and really believe self-publishing and e-books will be the next best thing since sliced bread and open the gates to the millionaire league, I'd pace myself and try to see the big picture. Some authors are going this route, but these are writers with years of experience who already know the ins and outs of the industry.

Simply put, my unagented and unpublished writer opinion is that the world is not ready for the revolution that is suppose to come. A lot of people, customers and writers alike, will be swindled. Time will tell if more good than bad will come out of it at the very end.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Outlining


Each Friday, the great QueryTracker releases its success stories in a database. Some people are even interviewed (they fill out a form if they want to) and all of us can read them. Most of the time, they're either inspiring or encouraging. I'm always interested in reading about other writers' writing process. There seem to be two main clans: those who outline in advance and those who write on the fly. I belong to the first group.

Hello, my name is Francis and I am an outliner.

During the research part of my writing endeavors, I read many books on the topic of writing. One of them was Stephen King's memoir ON WRITING, which is both an autobiography and a book dashing out tips. King requires no introduction. He's so successful that he asks for a 1$ advance and starts collecting royalties from the go. The fact he can even make that request and be indulged is proof enough of his stardom. He's also successful enough that he can diss Stephenie Meyer's writing in public and get away with it. That might just be the mark of a very successful writer? Who knows. All I know is that I liked his book.

King isn't an outliner. In fact, he says plot is secondary and not important compared to fleshing out the characters. He just starts writing without a plan and sees where it gets him. I've read a lot of writer blogs, and the amount of outliners versus let's-see writers seems to be split 50/50. Try as I might, I could never not outline.

As you can see by the picture of my notes above, I tend to be overly organized in some things. Though it took a few months, I had the entire trilogy outlined before the first draft of the first novel was done. As of now, I know how the 2nd and third book will end (and I'm only 10,000 words in the 2nd book), I have all the backstory figured out and already know what some of the bigger plot twists will be.

I'm not sure exactly why I do it. Probably security, but also because I've read a few posts warning about sucky endings and cop outs. The anonymously fabulous INTERN blogged about the issue a few months ago. I personally take a lot of satisfaction when I watch a movie or read a book that is meant to end a trilogy and all subplots come full circle with dignified answers.

And what I mean by "dignified answers" is when the resolution of whatever the problem is DOES NOT appear to have been pulled out the writer's ass at the last minute because he or she couldn't figure out a better way. Some examples...

Darth Vader: the black costume was cool, but it served a purpose. Though we didn't find out until Episode III in 2005 how Anakin got his burned look, Lucas already knew in 1977 that it was Obi-Wan who had in fact defeated him during a duel on a volcanic planet. Hence, the line Vader delivers during his duel with Obi in episode IV, "I've been waiting for you Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. When I left you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master", finds a lot more meaning. I love that kind of insight, for some reason.

Underworld: Kate Beckinsale starred in the first two Underworld movies as Selene. Rhona Mitra took over for the third one as Sofia, which is in fact a prequel to the first two installments. What I found really interesting about the third movie is that it brought the first two to a full circle. Already in the first Underworld, Sofia's existence was already alleged. We saw flashbacks of her death that would be revisited in the third movie six years later. There was no way to do that unless the backstory was already figured out, if only partially when the screenplay for the first movie was being written. The second Underworld movie hinted at Selene's past and it's link to Sofia even more. Finally, the third Underworld movie showed us what actually happened in the past with Michael Sheen returning as Lucian.

They did get a detail wrong, though. In the flashbacks of movie #1, Sofia is a blonde. In movie #3, Rhona Mitra has black hair. That's a direct contradiction, and though it is a very small detail and most people probably never even noticed, it did bother me a little.

I admit it is completely unimportant in the greater cosmic order of things, but I like it when there is no contradiction. I realize it is entirely impossible to plan years in advance when it comes to screenplays and casting, but I'd be extremely uncomfortable getting into a three books deal without having a satisfactory ending in mind. I would hate to resort to purple goats to resolve a high tension plot I spent three books building. Doesn't it defeat the purpose?

I don't have all 400 pages of each book figured out of course, just the main plot and some subplot resolutions, but what I find really cool about outlining is that you can set up certain plot twists in book 1 that will only come out in book 3. You can hint at things that seem ordinary or meaningless in book 1, then in book 3 come out with an answer that will be that much more satisfactory because all the pieces of the puzzle were there for you to figure it out.

This leaves the risk of having smart readers dissect it and figure it out in advance before you want them to, but c'est la vie. To be honest, when I find myself wondering just who character X really is, that's when I know I'm immersed.

Case in point: I spent hours after hours debating just who the final Cylon was on Battlestar Galactica. I wasn't alone: on certain discussion forums, threads could go on for twenty pages about who the final Cylon might be, with facts and quotes from passed episodes to support the poster's hypothesis. Incredibly nerdy and geeky--yes. Incredibly cool--yes. I could only be so lucky if a novel I wrote would be enticing enough to warrant such interest... but in my opinion, that's the mark of a good story. Ronald D. Moore is right up there with J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon as far as I'm concerned.

What is your writing philosophy? Do you outline, or write as you go?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Speaking your mind

In this section of my website I talk about my inspirations in life and one of them is Carrie Fisher. There's a video interview I posted there when she was on Letterman in November 2009 and I love to watch it once in a while so much it makes me laugh.

Now, I follow a lot of blogs: writers, lit agents, lit agencies and other publishing professionals. I have about three dozens of them in my Google reader, but one I like a lot for its voice is this one. The writer is Hannah Moskowitz and she was published at seventeen. She has another book coming out this year too, with some steamy cover art. She's also writing a new story with gay and bisexual fishes. Where am I going with this?

She just did a blog entry about professionalism and I thought, upon seeing the Twitter update about it: great, another blog entry telling us to shut up, be nice, never retort, never say bad words, become a cookie-cutter writer and you might get published.

BUT NOOOOoooo! It was a wonderful post, which came down to one thing: be yourself, respect yourself, respect your readership and you'll be a professional. I agree 101%.

Hannah's blog can be quite funny because it has a great voice: the voice of authenticity. There's no attention given to political correctness or rose petals thrown in the pool to soften the opinions that are about to fall down the sky... she just says what she means and thinks and the water rolls off her back. I think it's awesome that, in 2010, you can act like yourself and still be published or considered a professional (even if you are young).

The parallel with Carrie Fisher is quite obvious to me, though you'd have to know a little about her life to understand why. Until I saw Hannah's post today, anytime I watched Carrie Fisher talk on interviews (the funniest ones are on Craig Ferguson), I envied her for having earned the right to speak her mind out loud without having to worry about the repercussions. Because I think this is an earned privilege. I think so.

When I was still in medical school I was on a two weeks internship in a hospital. We followed doctors around and it was meant to get us acquainted with working in a hospital (this was the first year). One day, I was working with a super-cool young and hip doctor, with whom I forged a strong rapport with because of how down to earth she was. She asked me at the nurse station how my internship was going so far (after I'd spent 3-4 days with her and we were on a first name basis) and I said something like "It's been really cool so far, but it's heavily dependent on what kind of people you hang around with. If you get to follow a a fun doctor the experience is ecstatic, if you end up with someone bitchy it's not so much fun."

It was a general statement. It was the truth, and I felt like my relationship with that doctor would allow me to be so frank about what I thought. She laughed a lot and said this will be true for my entire career.

Fast-forward two days later. I had not yet been in the company of a bitchy doctor. Just stuck-ups and arrogant snobs who might have thought they were the center of the little world they live in, but nothing so bad you want to quit.

I was apparently overheard and reported, only to have my ass summoned into a room with two other doctors to tell me how inappropriate it was to call the doctor in front of me a bitch. The doctor with whom I had spent less than 4 hours with, whom I had already forgotten and didn't even remember her name.

To this day, I'm still trying to understand how she could have known I even said the word bitchy and furthermore, how the fuck she thought it could have applied to her. I didn't even remember her name or who she was because she was as interesting as a blank canvas. Self-involved comes to mind. I later learned she had found me to be too outspoken in my private discussions with her when we had been together a few days prior and since she's extremely introverted, it obviously got to her.

I used my PR skills to make nice, apologized profusely for the misunderstanding and the next afternoon, I was scheduled to hang around with the cool doctor again. Suffice to say I was a little shaken. I had never in my life been summoned in a room to be disciplined. This wasn't me. I was being punished for being honest with someone who had asked me my personal opinion about my experience so far.

The lesson stuck with me, and will stick with me forever. It caused me a lot more trouble down the line too by the way, all of it because of a misunderstanding. It's kind of sad, and a counselor I saw sometimes also thought the whole affair was utterly ridiculous.

The moral of the story is that you can say what you think whenever you want, but there might be repercussions down the line. Carrie Fisher's been in the business long enough to be able to say whatever it is she wants and get away with it. She earned it, she survived through Hollyweird and unstable parents for decades. Hannah Moskowitz got published and still is getting published because she proved that she could work through all the steps and deliver a kick-ass final product.

I don't think I've earned my right to speak my mind out loud about whatever and whenever I want, but I still don't think I should become a cookie-cutter nerd who acts like the well raised mama's boy. Until I hopefully get published one day, I'll find an in-between and walk the fine line with the agility of Peter Parker.