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 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 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.


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:


"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 :)