Friday, August 26, 2011

Short story "Adrienne and the Angel" -- enjoy

Strangulation is a hell of a way to die. I ought to know, I've seen it up close many times, just recently, in fact. Sheriff's Deputy Sandra Dietz was on a manhunt for an escaped felon, and as lucky as she was--her cohorts called her "Rabbit"--she was unlucky enough to be the one who located him trying to hide in a barn, all by herself.

Prisoner number 1270011 was an escapee from a moderately strong penal facility in Iowa. He had a massive temper, and relished in using it against others--which is why he was in prison. His favorite method of dispatch was with his bare hands. Now, he wasn't a particularly large fellow; no, he was rather lanky, but in his hands and arms he possessed a wiry, uncanny grip that once locked on was near impossible to break. His method was keen and simple: go for the throat. In court, he more-or-less testified against himself, saying "It doesn't matter how big you are, or if you know karate, or even have a gun. If I can get my hands on your neck, you'll see." He garnered a bit of a reputation after that, and the press called him "Lockjaw," which was, I assume, supposed to be funny. I don't find it funny, and neither did any of the victim's family members.

Iowa doesn't have the death penalty, something that makes me pretty happy--there's too much of that already, I'm only just me, and I can barely do it all myself most days. I don't need an artificially created backlog, thanks.

As he was beginning to choke the life out of her--as he knelt over her like a lion on prey--I was standing there, behind him. I watched, patiently, silently, unseen, as he made the light begin to fade from her eyes with that insane-strength of his. Her face was turning red and purple. Froth was forming at the mouth. Tears of fear pooled at the corners of her eyes. She reached--well, tried to reach--for her pistol, but when Lockjaw noticed he applied more pressure; she stopped that attempt and tried to break his impossible grip again, which was a mistake she'd never live to realize.

I can't intervene, that's not my job. My job is to clean up the mess afterwards. It's not something I really enjoy--how can you? It's just what I have to do. I'm good at it, too. I've been doing it for a while now.

I could see, even at my standing-distance, the memories flashing in her mind--future "memories," too. The hope to see her children grow up, marry, and start families of their own. Wanting to see her husband again under the night sky on their camper's roof. The taste of strawberry flavored ice-cream on a hot summer day.

It's strange the things I see; stranger still the things people think of when they begin to fade. Of course, that's the remorse and loss kicking in one last time. It'll pass, it always does.

I think it was at that moment she first saw me. Then she got it. That first look I get is not my favorite. It's a mix of shock, disbelief, horror, and understanding. Mixed emotions? Yes, very much so. It's how people are when faced with the facts of this magnitude. People amaze me.

She passed as the tears streamed down her face; and the tears present in dying were there after death as she appeared to stand beside me. We both looked down at the scene as it fatally played out before us. She, in a pall of silence saw the last gasp escape as Lockjaw released his hold. He could still save her; he has a minute or two before it's too late. He could try CPR, he could call for help--the other deputies are less than a football field's length away. He could be the one that took life then gave it back. He could still save himself.

He didn't. And as the last possible moments ticked away. She turned and looked at me. Tears semi-frozen on her cheek. She wasn't wearing the uniform anymore, but a white dress. This happens; it's from the best possible memory as well as a mix of residual self-image. It is the "perfected you," if that makes sense.

When she faced me finally, she was no longer afraid as she had been when she was lying on the dirty, straw strewn floor of that barn. This is the serenity that soon follows. That happens, too.

Normally, I would leave this place, and I was preparing to do so, but just then something changed. I could feel it on the wind. I had to wait, and that meant she would wait too. After all, she can't just go without me. That's not how it works.

Two other deputies came into the barn with weapons drawn. Lockjaw was unlucky today, as well. I could joke about a rabbit's foot here--considering Sandra's nickname--but I'm not in a mirthful mood; and jibes at superstition can rub some the wrong way.

The only way out for Lockjaw was past the two officers, and they weren't going to let him by without a few shots being fired. Oh, he tried, all right. But four bullets from two different guns will drop a man in, as they say, "a New York second."

He collapsed right next to Sandra's body. Final victim and final end nearly conjoined. Poetic, really.

I watched him, as the last twitches of pain raced through his body. He turned his head, and I think he saw me too.

Same fear, same amazement, as always. His was a bit more of a surprise, as I think he didn't think I was real. Regardless, same result.

Soon thereafter he appeared next to Sandra and me. He looked like a kid, much younger than he was as he crumpled in the dirt. He was, I'd guess, sixteen or seventeen at most--a stark comparison to the middle-aged man that was shot in front of us.

The wind's change had passed; and to Sandra I said, "Come." We started toward the door, beyond which a super luminous sun filled the sky.

"Hey!" He cried, "what about me?" Lockjaw asked, as he tried to grab my arm. He was standing there, befuddled, with a "Where do we go now?" look on his face.

"You? You wait here," I replied as I turned from him, shaking him off and taking Sandra's arm in mine. She was light as a feather, and it was a pleasure to hold. The light would do well with her.

As she and I exited the barn, behind us we could hear his unmanly screams. They came for him, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion--but it's not my place to pass judgment. The weight of his actions--this last one, and all those previous--held him down, sank him beneath many weights, as it were. Like a stone he would fall into an ancient abyss.

I never know if they hit bottom. Frankly, I don't care. Caring isn't my job: escorting the worthy dead is. There are parts of my job I like, this is one of them.

As soon as I take her to the light, she turns to me, slightly afraid. "It's all right," I try to reassure her, "this place is much better." She smiles; I take my arm away from hers, and she and the light become one.

The next thing I know, in a flash, I am standing at the foot of the bed of some poor elderly man in a hospital. Machines are beeping, tubes are connected to every orifice and needles are poking into every available vein and artery. Miserable situation, this; and he's lucky to be unconscious through it all.

I hate hospitals: they're the worst kind of place to be. The sick often go here to die. It's not like in "the olden days," when people died at home, surrounded by family and friends. That environment was welcoming to me, warm and cozy; here it's just cold, stark and lonely. I hate hospitals.

He's close to going now, I can feel it. I just know. After this many years of doing this, I can tell. It's not a feeling I relish, either, "calling forth death" is what some have named it--I don't call for anything, I just let it happen, as it is supposed to unfold.

So, there I stand, waiting, silent, unseen, for this poor wretch to breathe his last, so I can do what it is I came here to do. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a movement. Rotating my head to examine it, I see there is a nurse standing in the doorway. She's wearing a brightly patterned smock. It's white with yellow, orange, and red bell peppers. It's quite a cheery look for this place of gloom. She's holding a tray made of steel. On the tray is a syringe, and next to the syringe is a glass phial labeled morphine.

I look at her, and I see that she has a dreadful expression on her face. She's not looking at the man in the bed: she's looking at me.

That is simply not possible; I cannot be discerned by men! I am the Angel of Death, after all. I try to convince myself that I'm just seeing things. That's rich, I think, an angel that hallucinates. That'll be the end of me in this job.

She is standing frozen, still looking at me. I'm convinced I cannot be seen, so I simply do what it is that I do: stand silently.

Then she speaks. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Oh, shit. I freeze stiffer than I've ever dreamed of freezing. I check my surroundings, my settings if you will, and I know I cannot be seen with the eyes, nor heard with ears, or smelled, or --

"Angel, you're not fooling me," she says, "I can see you."

Oh shit! What to do, what to do? Not possible! Not possible! I close my eyes and swallow hard. Take me away, take me away, someone else is dying someplace else--I can go there and not worry about this one for a while.

"Give it a rest; I have always been able to see you. I remember you from my mother's wake."

Who? Who could this person be? I scanned her face and my memory returned.  This was Adrienne Marcus, and her mother died twenty years ago. Adrienne was ten years old, at most. I remember her!

"Oh, God…" I paused. "Hello again, Adrienne."

"So, you here to take Mr. Phillips, like you took mama?"


"Good then, I won't waste this pain medication." And she put the tray down on a side table, next to some flowers.

"Will it be soon?"

"Yes." I don't know why I was answering, I was shaken. She should not be able to see me. She shouldn't be able to hear me either! I would dearly love to know what's going on.

"God works in mysterious ways," she replied, almost in answer to my innermost thoughts.

Don't I know it!  This is all too weird, too new, and I want to know what's going on; and as soon as I perform this escort, I'm going to go and find out. But before I can, I have to wait. This is going to get awkward.
Follow me for a moment, won't you?
  1. Ink costs money.
  2. Paper costs money.
  3. Cover design/art costs money.
  4. Binding services costs money.
  5. Packing costs money.
  6. Delivery costs money.
  7. Shelf space costs money.
Does anyone so far see anything wrong with any of those statements? No? Good, let's continue.

The reason I am taking us on this weird adventure is because a strange thought occurred to me. First, go look at the books on your shelf or at the bookstore. See all those "mighty tomes?" They're almost always at least an inch and a half thick.

That paper, and the ink, and the shelf space for it all costs money. More money per unit, in fact, in comparison to thinner books. With that in mind, I wonder if there will be soon a swing to less meaty books, in order to capitalize on the dwindling shelf space, and to save money on paper, ink, etc...

I wouldn't be surprised. After all, publishing is a business, and they need to cust costs and yet still manage to get their product out there. (Ebooks don't count in this, as they're not "on the shelves," so to speak.)

Just wondering what you all might think of this...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Discussion time!

Go on over to Joe Konrath's latest blog post and read it.

Back? So soon? Cool! Ok, so, here's the question--is he right, and if so why; and if not, why?

Personally, I agree with him: e-distribution will eventually be the main and hardbound sales will be the niche that collectors go to for the rarities. Writers deserve more than the 17% they get, I understand marketing, shipping, and all that--but at some point you have to look at the picture and say "No way, baby." That's how Locke got his deal, and they (S&S) folded to that pressure. They WANT the sales. Badly. And if someone wants something that bad...they'll do anything to get it. As a result, Locke "won."

Can this be a repeatable trend? You tell me, I only work here....


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

POSSESS, by Gretchen McNeil -- Kirkus review is available

Kirkus (the review people) have released their review of Gretchen's book, and you can read it here. I'm going to dissect what they think, giving running commentary. It'll be fun!
Debut author McNeil redefines the fallen-from-grace tradition in this paranormal tale of warring angels, demonic possessions and first loves.
See that? The opening sentence says she "redefined the...tradition," you can't beat that with a stick! That is a great way for a review to open. I'd love to be a redefiner! So far, excellent!
In the wake of her father’s murder, Bridget Liu hears the voices of departed souls and performs exorcisms with two of the priests from her parochial high school. Porcelain figurines thrash about and shatter under the influence of otherworldly entities in a doll shop, where Bridget begins to understand benevolent spirits are trying to reach her amid a cacophony of evil. The unlikely assistance of her 8-year-old brother sheds light on the muddled messages they transmit, and even tougher to believe is the ease with which Bridget scores a visit with her father’s killer, a schizophrenic psych-ward inmate to whom the specters direct her.
Ok, this is just filler, telling you the plot--which you probably already know: demons, possession, exorcism, all that. Good stuff, paranormally good stuff. Nothing worrisome here.
Their convoluted warnings about the ill intentions of a priest don’t leave much room for surprise, despite a planted red herring.
Ok, this is the first "ouchie" for me. Basically, saying, "Gretchen, you told us something and we picked up on it too early or too easily. Your attempt to fool us was not met with success." And to that I say...  So?

Not bad as a critique, IMHO.

But now, we come to the real hit they deliver...
Weak character development among supporting cast members such as Bridget’s school friends undermines any sense of loss when one turns up dead, though Bridget’s blossoming romance with a baseball player from another school flutters the heartstrings appropriately.
"Weak character development," is a stab in the heart of any writer. Gretchen, I'm terribly sorry for that! Ugh. I feel your pain. "...Undermines any sense of loss..." UGH! Come on! That's just sort of mean!

Now, read that last bit, "...Flutters the heartstrings appropriately." Sweet! They liked (well enough, and thankfully) the emotional depth displayed. That's the kind of thing that, I think, every author struggles with, and Gretchen pulled it off! Kudos!

But...not willing to let things end on a positive slant, they conclude with...
Readers for whom spooky encounters and brushes with violence suffice in the absence of rich characterization and fool-proof logistics will race through the pages.
Aww, come on! Another stab in the freakin' heart! But you know what? Screw 'em. They're going to be jaded, reviewers get like that after a while. It's all about what the reader thinks; and there's lots of positive press out there for POSSESS, so I (and you, and Gretchen) should not let this knock the wind out of the sails. I still plan on picking this up and reading it--and giving my own, open impression (I'll also get my wife to read it too...she's what you call "voracious" when it comes to reading paranormal stuff!)

Looking back, as a whole, on this review, the overall tone is still more positive than not. And that's the bottom line.

Monday, August 22, 2011

POSSESS, by Gretchen McNeil

Tomorrow, Gretchen McNeil's debut novel, POSSESS, will come out. I've been telling you all to go get it for a while now, and here's one more chance. After this, it's left into the hands of fate. So, once more and for all, here's the link!

SO... Have you clicked that link yet? No? Whatchamean no? Look, this is your chance to get in on the ground floor of a great new author. Go, do, and tell your friends to do so as well. Don't worry, I have it on very good authority that Gretchen does not bite... Well, not hard, anyway. ;)

Seriously, this is the time to support a new author in a budding new career. You can actually make a difference here by showing that paranormal stories are not dead, and that the new blood represented here is worthy of publication--and that there's an audience waiting, wanting, willing to go the distance for a good tale. Let's do this!

Ok, I've done my bit, and I hope I've expressed appropriately my enthusiasm for POSSESS. I haven't read it yet, but I sure as hell will.

Gretchen, I salute your success; and I shall lift a drink to your new book's honor later tonight. Behold! A new star on the horizon! Let's set sail by it and see where the ship shall take us.

Scrath-n-sniff ebooks

Let it be known by one and all that I am the originator of the idea of scratch-n-sniff ebooks. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

2001 Hugo Award winners

Here's the list, thanks to Wired, and I think you might want to read a few of those....You know, because they're awesome and all that. Congratulations to all the winners!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

10 Commandments for a Happy Writer by Nathan Bransford

Just ran into this fine list. This is great advice, and my favorite is point two:
2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It's tempting to try and beat the system, whether that's by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you're not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don't do it.
 In essence: write you. Write what you write. Write who and what you are. Let the chips fall where they may. More solid advice I doubt you will ever find, ever.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Plan Z and preparations

While waiting to hear back from my recent PLAN B excursion, I have been working on PLAN Z, which is release on Nook/Kindle and call it good.

To that end, I've been formatting the text, designing a cover, and in all ways doing a lot of "grunt work" on getting Memories of the Dead epublication ready. Which leads me back to an old post I made. To PDF or not to PDF, that is the question.

PDFs are indeed great, they keep formatting the way the author intended it, is extremely cross-platform, and everyone knows what they are, thanks to PDF being ubiquitous in the world of computers/Internet. So, I'm leaning in that direction rather than ePUB format--which is highly adaptable.

The problem with PDFs is that they don't scale well at all. Here's what I mean: take a PDF of your favorite novel, say Frankenstein, and put it on your ebook reader. Looks good, right? Yay! All is well. But lets say that the font is just a wee bit too small for your eyes--you might be nearsighted like me and like things just a smidgen bigger (blast my eyes!)

So, you hop into the side-panel that controls your ereader output and you select the option to increase font from "normal" to "large." Poof! Should work, right?

Well, it will make the print bigger; but the formatting will be all kinds of whacked out of alignment. It'll be really really screwy. Almost unreadable--that kind of screwy. Anything that can be done about it? Nope. Thanks to how PDFs display and are encoded, every PDF-able reader will have this issue, as near as I can tell.

This is why ePUB is the format of choice. It's really nothing more than plain HTML in a compressed file with some supporting configuration files that are specific to display setup. HTML, as you may know (or maybe not, depending on if you care) is very scalable to any resolution you want, and formatting is pretty much kept in check. Sure, it's not perfect, but damn, it's close.

So, logically, I should choose ePUB, right? Well, yes, but formatting under ePUB is more complicated than with a PDF. I can save literally hours of work just by hitting the button "Export as PDF" rather than "Export to HTML," which would require me to open the source document, and reformat practically every page independently.

And even then, the problem becomes this: not every ereader is the same size. Books, for the most part, are 6 inches by 9 inches (give or take). If I set my PDF preferences properly, I can emulate that size exactly, and when I export to the PDF, it's all as if it were to be printed on the appropriate sized paper. Which naturally looks correct. The only issue is the simple resizing of fonts.

PDF support in ereaders is still craptacular, but getting better. It's an honest and logical solution to take the format that has the longest legs and go with it, and wait for the future devices (like Kindle version 3 or Nook version 3) to keep up.

Every ereader now supports PDF natively, but not all ereaders support ePUB.

Ease of use, with a minor caveat, versus more work and less broad ability.... Hmmm. I think I'm going with PDF. Plus, you can transfer the document to your computer and read it there too...ePUB is harder to transition--there's special crud involved that most people don't have and don't really want to go find, but Adobe Acrobat Reader is installed on most PCs today.

So, I'm banking on PDF being acceptable in the event that PLAN B falls by the wayside; and if all this work, thought, and figuring all is for naught, I still learned a lot--and that's not bad.

Heck, I even designed a rather striking cover, if I do say so myself! You'll all get to see it if the time comes. But not now, not yet. There are miles to go before I sleep...and before you see what I've managed to do. I can only hope you'll all stick around and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Plotting & Detail -- This is how I roll, yo.

If you know me, you know that I don't plan out every little detail in my stories. Much of the minutia I let fly because--to be honest--that level of control isn't attractive to me, and (frankly) it's immaterial to the plot.

If I say, for instance, that Character A is a "redhead," provided I am consistent, it doesn't matter. The character could be blonde and it wouldn't matter to me in the least. That's what I'm talking about.  In Memories of the Dead, there's minutia that don't matter at all, but that doesn't mean it's there to just up the word count or to take up space; no, it's there specifically because they need to be there... it's just that the specific content was unimportant.

It's a little like auto-detailing: the pin-striping on a sports car. It doesn't add to the car's muscle, it doesn't make it faster, or sleeker, or more anything. It's just a small line of paint, but without that the car just wouldn't be the same.

Get it? That's where I'm coming from.

In essence, when I come to that part of a story where I know I need to describe something in greater detail, but the detail isn't plot-important--I let my mind go. I find out really interesting things about characters that way. It's all in character, of course, and I believe that my brain pulled that information out of the cobwebs to fill in the missing info as needed, and nothing more. The BIG PLOT is important--not if I tell you Juliana's eye color...which I never do.


Some details that a reader might like to know I specifically leave out, like Juliana's eye and hair color. But why do I do that? Simple, I do it so that the reader's vivid imagination can fill in the blank for me.

Here's what I'm talking about: I've had several people read my book, and when they're more-or-less half way through it, I ask them something like "So, what do you think Juliana looks like?"

The answers are always different. Always. It's all based on how they read, their mindset, personality...everything about a particular reader makes them fill in the blanks themselves. Sure, I give some vague descriptive terms like "gossamer" or "radiant," but none of that really tells you "Hey, Juliana's hair color is..." Nope. I don't do that. That's for your brain to fill in. In a way, you're writing a better scene than I ever could. And you're doing it for me--for free. Why? Because your brain, just like mine, likes those little details, too.

The minutia that isn't important, but your brain wants it. Yes, I could have said something like "She's blonde" or "Her brunette tresses fell to her waist." But that would potentially break the spell that I hoped to weave. It's unimportant to the overall tale. And if anything I said breaks the spell you're under--if it takes you out of the story--then it's wrong and broken. It means I failed. So, I leave that up to you. Each of you knows who Juliana is the moment you read about her, and your "Juliana" is different than mine.

And that's perfectly fine! As a matter of fact, I encourage it!

Oh, I'm positive there's an editor out there screaming right now: UGH! WTF? Phil! YOU GOTTA HAVE THAT STUFF IN THERE!

No, you don't. How much detail did Stephanie Meyer put into descriptive terms for Edward and Bella? Edward is described in very general terms--like "perfect", and Bella...we'll she's just clumsy and hardly talked about at all. Why? So the reader can put in whomever they like--themselves, perhaps--and the story takes on new meaning and new life with each potential reader. Sneaky shenanigans from Stephanie? No, it's a simple trick, and one I took to heart: let the reader dream with you.

I'm cool with that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lyrics express how I feel

Another dream that will never come true just to compliment your sorrow.
The above line is the opening stanza for the song Prayer, by Disturbed, and it is exactly how I feel a lot of the time when going through the whole "let's see if we can get published" game. It's a maddening circle of events that begins with an idea and then twists and turns, returning inward for reflection's sake, and then branching out again with little or no course or direction. When you think you've made it to one level, you actually haven't, and you always--always--end up back at the starting point no matter what you do.

Like I said: maddening. But to not undertake the journey is a mistake. Each and every person, and I firmly believe this, has at least one good story in them. One tale worth telling, and worth the attempt to publish. The question is: is the current work the "one good story" or not? Hard to tell, you have to leave that up to the agents and the publishers; all you can do is write it as best you can, edit it to within an inch of its life, and release it unto the masses to see how far the thing will fly. You never know.

If you're lucky, you have more than one good tale--but even so, that doesn't mean publication is in the cards, as we all know. It's a dirty business, and it's all about sales, sadly. But this is to be expected, publishers are in the business of (a) selling books at a profit. [There is no "b".]

Yes, yes. I know. You're all thinking "Hey, weren't you all pumped up and positive not that long ago? What up, dude?"

I'm still positively charged, that hasn't changed; however, what I think at any given moment can change, and I am in the mood currently that--well--what if the scenario as depicted by the lyric I quoted at the opening of this post is the fate destined for me? What if this is all just a dream that will "never come true"?

I can only strive onward, of course, as I don't know about fate or futures, all I know is that I want to try--to see this through to the bitter (but hopefully sweet) end. Waiting to hear back from the publisher is toil in-and-of itself. Waiting is a game of which I am not particularly fond.

I suppose, I ought to inform you of what publisher I submitted. Just for your own morbid curiosity. Very well then, I sent a packet to Tor Forge Sci-Fi. Yes, the Macmillan/Tom Doherty company. Tor, if you didn't know, is a New York City based publisher that is noted for its science fiction and fantasy books. They are, in fact, one of the real "big boys" when it comes to sci-fi, and may very well be the biggest of the big boys. They have a range of titles and authors and styles like practically no other, which is one of the reasons I chose them. The other reason is that they take direct submissions from folks just like you and me. This is a handy plus, in my opinion.

On their own page it states I'll need to wait 4 to 6 months for the submission to be seen, viewed, categorized, and ultimately accepted or rejected. I'm hoping for sooner rather than later, and acceptance rather than rejection (obviously), but that's entirely up to their staff to determine. It's fully out of my hands the moment I dropped the mailing into the blue USPS box. And so, I wait, patient and impotent for the day my SASE comes back to me. That day will be the culmination of PLAN B, and I hope the wait is fully worth it.

But in the mean time, I sit, ponder, work on MINIMAL, and above all, worry. I worry that the lyric above is true in my case, I worry that I have followed the correct path; I worry about a lot of things. But strangely, I no longer seem to worry about if the public will like the book. You can't please everyone, so I only work to please myself, those I love, and those who chose to find themselves as my potential audience. I don't write "literature," and frankly I would not chose to knowingly and willfully do so--I write what I write how I write it, and that's going to be good enough for me. (And hopefully you as well.)

I just hope I don't fall into a form of depression before the whole ordeal is over. After all, this all started as just a bit of fun for me and my family. No reason to become a sour-puss about it! :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

The packet of doom (part II) & another shot at helping Gretchen McNeil

Last night, I completed the journey of the packet of doom, by dropping it in the mailbox. From yesterday, 4 to 6 months must pass before I know anything. The waiting will suck, totally. I can only hope that it's worth it. But I look at it like this: If I'm picked up by a publisher, I'm ok with that; if I am not picked up, I am ok with that too. I am not diminished in any appreciable way by the lack of being published. PLAN Z looms big on the horizon, and I can follow it at my leisure. The only concern--and it's so minor as to be worthless--would be if the ebook would even sell at all. And even then, I still am unharmed if it doesn't. It's ok. It really is.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that you still have time to buy Gretchen McNeil's debut book, POSSESS, before release day. Here's that link, yet again, so you can go do that voodoo that you do...

Calling out an agent & possibly burning bridges

I tend to take what the fine folks at BookEnds, LLC say on their blog very seriously and carefully thought out. That is, until today. This morning this post was on their blog. Here's the quote:
The problem with querying every book at once (either in the same query or three or four queries in a row) is that after reading and rejecting one I tend to feel I'm not the right agent for your work and automatically reject the others. If you query different books over time I will assume your writing has evolved and you've moved on from the books I've previously rejected.

Now, to an aspiring author, such as myself, this is kind of insulting and a big let down. So, one query was sucky. OK, that happens, we understand. But to deny all of an author's work because of one fumbled attempt is just plan dumb, and I just as much said so when I posted a reply:
Jessica, while that is a very human thing to do--reject out of hand--it's also, in my opinion, the wrong thing to do. Each story is unique in-and-of-itself, and to whole-cloth deny a person because one query might have been "lame" is the height of both arrogance and folly. Not to insult or sound rude, but that's how I feel. I would much rather you know how I think on these things than to remain silent. It is, in short, very wrong to do this, and I can only admonish you in the strongest possible tone. I hope this does not color any future relationship we might have.
I have no illusions that Jessica or any of the other folks will see what I said and have a change of heart; but I think it's highly important that they know when they say or do something that is, even in my admittedly minor and perhaps uneducated opinion, just plain wrong. Sure, one query could be weak or just plain bad. Hell, it even could be that the material just isn't a good fit for the agent/agency--that'll happen--it happens all the time! No harm, no foul.

But each story is different, unique, and each query with it is equally so. Whereas book #1's query could be bad, that doesn't mean that book #2's query is not going to be stellar. But rather than possibly read on, Jessica thinks it's fair to just call it as she saw it and deny them all. Not cool. Not cool at all.

Would she be offended if every author out there who submitted to her, and received a "no, but thanks" reply, then decided they'd never query her again? That's putting the shoe on the other foot, is it not? How hurt do you think she'd be if someone posted on an international message board that it was not good to waste time with her or her agency once a "no" had been received--and if potentially multiple thousands of authors took that word to heart?

Wouldn't she be, in short order, out of a job?

So I ask, why kill the hopes and dreams of authors with stuff like this? Even if it is honest and off-the-cuff, it's coming across as yet another mindless barrier to entry that new authors have to endure. It is, in a word, and please forgive me if I am too strong in this: bullshit.

I'm sorry, Jessica, but what you said is wrong, insensitive, and in ways insulting. And that's bad. Really bad.

Please note that I said "I hope this does not color any future relationship we might have." I have a feeling that it will. No matter what I say it is all a matter of perspective, and in this it is Jessica's perspective that will matter, not mine. I can't force her to change her mind any more than I can force her to alter her religious beliefs (if any.) All I can do is what I'm doing: calling out the mistakes as I see them. All that I ask for, when I submit a manuscript for potential approval, is honesty. That's all any aspiring author asks for. All we ask for is a chance--and honest, real chance--at acceptance. This is the only thing any new author is craving: opportunity. And to have the door prematurely shut on a person's face like this--even if it's not me--is a grand disservice to not only the reading public at-large, but to the industry as a whole.

Sorry, Jessica, but you're wrong, and I hope you understand why I feel that way now.

No hard feelings.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The packet of doom

The first direct-submission packet--the aforementioned "packet of doom"--has been prepared. Now, all I need is some postage to send it off. On the upshot, I do not feel as sick as I did when I sent off my very first query, so that's a good thing. The bad news is...once I mail it off, the butterflies begin and won't stop for months.

Crazy--and understatement of the totality of emotion and mindset--is how I feel. But, as Seal sang: We're never gonna survive unless...we get a little crazy! ;)


How triumphant of a statement is that title, huh? Man, I wish I had the ability to declare something totally awesome--bringing it into the world with powerful words like those. That would be cool, so very, very cool.

But, alas, I can't. What I can say is that, as of this very moment right now, no lie, the process is beginning on PLAN B, which is the "direct submission to publishers" phase of my (potentially) devious master plan. Will it work? Heck if I know. We'll all learn about the same time on this.

What I do know is that once I mail (physically) the submission packet, I get to wait four to six months for a reply. Yippee. But I can use that time to get further along on my current Work-In-Progress, MINIMAL, which I hope to finish before I get a reply (hopefully positive, naturally) on the submission of Memories of the Dead.

Now, if PLAN B fails epically, I still have PLAN Z...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sometimes, I hate my brain

A new idea for a story popped into my noggin. Making this, what, the bazillionth time this has happened?

Anyway, here's this idea--let me know if it sounds interesting:

Imagine you come home from some summer camp outing to find your mother and your maternal grandfather sitting at the dining room table, looking very concerned, upset, and scared. Before them on the table is a large manilla envelope that has been opened--the contents piled onto the table before both of your loved family members. Among the pile you can see old photos, some crappy photocopies, and what appears to be the only "new" thing on the table: a letter, neatly typewritten on off white cotton-bound paper.

Grandfather sips his tea carefully, slowly as you walk in the room. Mother sees you, she's clearly been crying recently--but you don't know why. She's trying to hide it, but she's still visibly upset. 

"What's going on? What's wrong?" You ask as you approach the table. 

There is no reply from either. Drawing near you see more clearly some of what lay before them. One is a photograph from clearly long time ago, it's of your grandfather. Clearly younger, much, much younger; in fact, it's from World War II.

And he's wearing an SS uniform.

How would you react to discovering that your loved grandfather is, in fact, not who he had said he was all these years? Now that his secret has been discovered, and he's still a wanted man, how would a teenager deal with the legacy that comes with being the descendant of what might possibly be the last Nazi?

Just an idea.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tomorrow, at 3:30pm CDT

Tomorrow, August 10th, 2011, at 3:30pm CDT, the options for all available queried agents expires. At that point, the much aforementioned PLAN A will have come to a complete and utter halt; and PLAN B will commence.

For those of you who are new to the game, PLAN B is submission to a few publishers that accept direct submission of manuscripts. They each have different wait-times for acceptance or rejection, so PLAN B is sort of a really big "wait and see what develops" scenario. I wish I could say something like "it will take exactly eight weeks," but I can't. Heck, I can't even say exactly how many months PLAN B will be!

It's a darn shame the world doesn't run on my time-schedule, ain't it? ;) Such is life. After all, I am just a very small cog in a very big machine over which I have no control.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My next book ... I don't know yet, but I'm honing in on the signal

Yes, I know...I'm not even remotely close to the finish line with MINIMAL, but my mind works in weird ways--and I've already been thinking about what to do for the next book once I am done. Now, mind you, I won't actually finalize anything or make even a close to final choice until MINIMAL is at least through the first write-through; but I'm thinking about my dystopian sci-fi story.

Yeah, I hadn't mentioned that yet. It hit me a bit ago just perusing, and as you know I like to hang out on some of those forums they have. Anyway, the whole idea is this:

Would you purposefully choose to be a slave? Would you be willing--mind, body, and soul--to give up your dignity, strength, honor, and discipline to be entwined, perhaps forever, to someone that controlled you, owned you, stole from you, and possibly even hated you? Are you so sad, poor, alone, or desirous of love and affection that the idea of giving in to that lack of responsibility is attractive? No faith so strong, no god so powerful, that you will be able to break free once the applied drug--aptly named Servitus--courses through your veins. Unerringly, you would be chained by physiological and psychological reactions beyond your control and condemned to obedience in order to divest yourself of all previous choice for your actions: All future thoughts would be made for you. All ideas expressed by your master would become your compelling command. It is so easy for someone to give in to it, as it makes the every waking moment bliss of unparalleled magnificence. Therein lays the hope it brings to the masses. In accepting the terms of the indemnitude, all debts are wiped clean, all crimes forgiven; and the so-controlled are then assigned an owner, called a "Handler": a person utterly responsible for their actions from that point forward. The servant is free to do anything they like, provided it's what their Handler desires and commands them to perform. Normally, this servitude is for a specified period--month, year, or more--but there is usually an end-date wherein the drug-induced subjection comes to conclusion; but this is not always the case, as some prefer the freedom gained and have no remorse for their lost cognizance. Regardless of the time-frame, your Handler controls the drug, and the drug, in turn, controls the servant; and the will, the essence, the mind of the servant is locked away, fully aware but unable to act, in the cage that is his own mind.

That's it's opening--in a nutshell. The low-down is this: There's a girl, named Claire, who has been for the last few years under the "spell" (if you will) of the drug Servitus as punishment for past crimes. Her "Handler" (i.e.: Owner) is one of the wealthiest men in New York City, a man named Alan Furer. And Alan is about to release Claire from the drug because her sentence is served. (And Alan's bored of her.)

Claire is released back into general society, which is not a good thing. Society in the latter-half of the 22nd century consists of two castes: the insanely wealthy, and the poor. There is no middle-class--they were destroyed by the rich, which simply drew the line of "who is poor" higher up in the income ladder. In essence, if you're not rich as Midas, you're poor as dirt--and chances are you might even be "blank."

Blanks are people who are so low on the economic scale they don't even register as people. They don't have identities, not even an ID card. If you're found by the police to not have an ID...that's a crime. But to get an ID costs money, and if you don't have money... Well, see where this is going? Anyway, the penalty for being blank is to have an identity assigned to you, and Servitus applied, and an owner as well.

You're a slave that cannot resist.

The world population is approximately 16.2 Billion people. NYC alone has more than 45 million people. It's a madhouse--a veritable sea of faces from which you can't really escape. And all but a literal handful are destitute, and close to a million are blanks.

But be this as it may, some people would rather submit willingly to Servitus than be nobody. Even if they were a slave, or a plaything for some rich person. That's better than being homeless. It's better than being a blank.

And all your worries become someone else's problem. But as bad as it is for blanks, it could be could be a Hiver... And those are the folks you definitely do not want to be. Hivers are the only people on the strata lower than a blank; and that's bad news for them--but great news for everyone else! (I may explain Hivers more later, but this post is already insanely long, so I'll curtail it here.)

Well, that's the idea. We'll see how it goes. Heck, I might chuck this for another one in the interim. Like I said: don't know, we'll see.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Get Gretchen McNeil's POSSESS

Look, I've told you about Gretchen McNeil's new book POSSESS more than once now, and it 'tis coming down to the wire. So, I am letting you know that, once again, you need to pre-order this book now! Below, is a handy-dandy click-me-and-order thingy. Click it, buy it, and get it in your hands on (or maybe before) release day! You know you'll enjoy it.

And, oh, hey! Here's a review of it!

Here's another review!!

And in case you didn't know what this particular tale is about, how about this:
Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her mom, by the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, it turns out the voices are demons – and Bridget has the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. 

Terrified to tell people about her new power, Bridget confides in a local priest who enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession. But just as she is starting to come to terms with her new power, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the demons' plan before someone close to her winds up dead – or worse, the human vessel of a demon king.

You know, that's a great summary, which is why I stole it! ;)

But where are my manners? I forgot to link to Gretchen's blog! And she's got contests going on RIGHT NOW where you can win fabulous stuff! Get POSSESS, and get over to Gretchen's place and win some cool stuff.

Joe is right on the money (again!)

Ok, you know I've got a man-crush on Joe Konrath. He's eloquent, and more importantly, he tells the truth about self-publishing--all based on his experiences. He doesn't candy-coat anything. He is, in short, the man.

Here's his latest entry. It's about the same old arguments against self-publishing that keep cropping up. And, as usual, he debunks them all in style--and with a bit of grace, if you ask me.

I told you he was the man. Go you now and read...and perhaps do likewise unto others.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Fast and the Furious movies

I've seen all five now, and there are some serious questions they need to answer, such as--  The character, Han, dies in Tokyo Drift, yet there he is in Fast Five. Ok, so it's a temporal thing. But that begins to break all kinds of other stuff. Don't get me started.

I enjoy the movies, I do, at some primitive shootem' up/drive like the wind level; but I keep hoping there will be something "more" going on, and I've pretty much come to the conclusion that there isn't.

The reason I mention this is this: story. It's all about plot, and following it to the logical ends. The FF people have the barest of plots, and keep throwing more weirdness on the top like so much mulch without really dealing with the underlying base.

For instance: Dom is a car racer/thief. Why? He had, from the hints we get here and there, a good family life. But why did he jump to the thievery? Don't know...nobody knows.

Letty is Dom's'd they meet? Don't know.

Letty died...or did she? But she's shown living at the end of Fast Five. How's that possible when we pretty much saw her die and there was a funeral. Don't know.

Will Fast Six--or wherever they're going to call it--answer these? I bet, no. Why not? Because they keep making insane amounts of money on the movies. Enough that the production house sees a good thing and doesn't want to ruin/change the formula. So...why answer questions when we can introduce The Rock?

But still, grab the popcorn and turn off your rational thinking. "Relax. It's just a movie." That's what I tell myself. I should take that mentality with my writing, too. After all, it's just a book. No need to get so worked up about it, even if I did write it.

Huh.... Maybe I learned more from these movies than I thought.