Monday, September 26, 2011

Query letters

I just finished the rough run-through on Chapter 23 of MINIMAL, and then when I was pleased (for now--as you know the editing and fixing never ends) I headed over to Absolute Write's forums and took a peeky-poo at the top/new posts. Naturally, there's a query letter posting in there.

It was a good query, if you ask me. I'm not going to relay details, as that's unimportant to what I want to actually talk about.

What I want to blog about today is the fact that all query letters are beginning to all look the same.

They start out with "The <blank descriptive> about <insert character name> is..."

Boring. Utterly boring. I would not be surprised if agents start railing against this model, asking instead for some LIFE in the intro. As soon as I see those cut-n-pasted, uninspired openings I get pretty bored. I know it's functional, it's what you need to do, but dammit! It's dull as hell.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My next "to read" book is "The Night Circus"

The Night Circus, By Erin Morgenstern, is my next novel to read. It's been getting a lot of positive praise lately--and a movie deal is in the works--and I figured, heck, if this is the current state and cream of the crop of YA novels I should be stealing from it what I can learn--right?

Right! So, I am going to begin in earnest next week. All is in readiness, and so it shall soon begin.

I hope it's good.

The next chapter

I've not been just sitting on my butt lately, I've been plotting the next chapter; and I know what's in it, and what happens...but the thing is this: I needed a chapter name. I couldn't go forward without it. (Once you read the book, you'll know why.) Well, finally, I got the name of the chapter, "Confrontation."

Simple...and it just sort of hit me. And I know that the chapter after that is called "Money."

I'm a weird guy, but all this will make a lot of sense later on, I promise. In the mean time, if you're bored...why not email all the agents you know and tell them that "There's this great unsigned manuscript called 'Memories of the Dead,' by Phillip Hall, and I think you should look at it!"

Just kidding...don't spam them--they'll kill me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


If you know me, you know I'm not superstitious in the least, but today on the way to work I saw a shooting star and wished upon it... Some things don't change from youth, but the wishes might.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Amazon pulls e-novel for use of Oxford comma

I don't know if this story is true, but it's interesting (and weird.)

Here's the link to the original posting (quoted below)
« on: Yesterday at 07:27:16 AM »

Allow me to blow off some steam....

Until now, I have had nothing but great service with KDP. But this morning, I got the following message:


Dear Publisher,

During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s):

Title has punctuation and typo issue in it. Few examples are mentioned below:

*Location 811; Unnecessary comma - "a sofa back, and"
*Location 813; Unnecessary comma - "solid-brass, boattail"
*Location 1088; an appropriate word could be used in the place the letter "J"

Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it.


"...before republishing it"Huh?

Now, I find that my book  is listed as in "DRAFT" status on my KDP Bookshelf! This book has been published and selling very successfully since June 21.

I have to assume that these two events -- plus my inability to get sales statistics for hours -- are related. I just sent a fuming letter to KDP making the following points:

Whoever on the KDP "quality assurance" staff sent this message needs to go back to school.

I'm a professional editor and a lifelong professional writer. My book was heavily proofread by multiple individuals prior to publication. My use of commas in a series conforms to "The Chicago Manual of Style," in which the next-to-last item in a series is followed by a comma. And my use of the letter "J" was in the term "J school" -- an abbreviation for "Journalism School." It was used in dialogue and intended as slang during a conversation.

I am astonished that staff at KDP (a) are wasting time proofreading books, and (b) do not have the basic skills that such a job requires. If this staff member's incompetence has caused my book to revert to "draft" status, that individual deserves to be fired.
Ok, if this is true and serious, I have to ask: Is this Amazon's job? Because if it is, then they suck at it. There are tons of e-books I've gotten that have far worse grammatical errors in them--and yet they pick on this guy? What the heck?

Amazon: listen up, boyo: editing an e-book isn't your job, just providing space upon which to market/sell the book is your job; leave the editing/error checking to the author.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Form of trespass upon ideas?

I was just at the local Wal-Mart, perusing the books available--you never know what cool on-sale item you can pick up--and while looking though the books there, each one I picked up had a little card/flyer in it about Jesus returning soon.

Every. Single. Book.

It didn't matter what the topic or style or genre. They were all equally "spammed" in this manner.

Here's the thing: as a would-be author, I was a bit put off by this, as I didn't expect it to be there, and what's more I thought "What if this was my book? How would I feel?"

Well, I came to the opinion that this sort of spamming is a form of literary trespassing. If you want to evangelicize your beliefs, don't foist a card on someone--rather invite them. I found this form of spam troubling. Needless to say, I didn't like it.

So I took all the cards I could find quickly to the customer service agent and complained a little--I wasn't a jerk about it--but made it clear that this sort of thing was not necessarily "cool."

Were I were to have found this sort of thing in my book--a book that deals with some occult concepts (hey, it is fantasy after all)--I think I would have been relatively incensed. Even though I write fiction, still my words aren't to be diluted by someone else's ideas. Nor should my reader, nor myself, be subjected to an undue interference with something even as passive as a card talking about Jesus' potential return.

I don't know, am I overacting? You tell me...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What are the odds?

As you know, I submitted my first book a while ago to a lot of agents/agencies. The total number of submissions was 101 (like the number of dalmatians.) In hopes that you might find it interesting, here's the breakdown.
  • 101 queries sent
  • Total number of replies (any) 49
  • Total number of no reply (any) 52
  • Total percent of agents/agencies that didn't reply at all 51.4%
Seriously. Just a smidgen over 51% of agents/agencies chose the "no response = no interest" methodology. Now while I understand their reasoning, and have spoken about that very topic before, these agents/agencies need to understand something important.
Agents and agencies that responded in any fashion whatsoever will get first "dibs" on any future submissions, and agents and agencies that chose not to respond will not receive a submission in the future.
That's an important thing they're missing. See, sure, perhaps my first novel didn't grab 'em, I can dig that. Not all things are meant for everyone--we're not talking the mythological chameleon here--we're talking about a story; but what if my next book is a million seller? What if, because of their unwillingness to put forth the extremely simple effort of firing back an email that says "No, but thank you," they get nothing? Does that not mean that some other agent does receive the "glory" of the find?

Yep. That's what it means exactly.

Now, I'm not saying my next book will blow you out of the water--I have literally no way to know if that's the case--but it makes you wonder a little why agents would chance a guaranteed future failure to acquire against the ten seconds it takes to reply with a negative acceptance.

At least, I wonder about that. And I wonder about how many mistakes of this sort it takes for them to realize the error of their ways--or is it that they simply don't care?

Agents, those of you who were so kind as to reply in any manner at all, I thank you from the bottom of my stone-cold heart. I truly do. But for those that fail to take into consideration that simple act, I wish you well on your journey, but I will not be joining you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This is deeply upsetting

First go read this.

Ok, I see you're back. Coolness, let's begin.

What the flying fuck is that agent doing? Either the story is good enough to deserve representation, or it is not. The "gayness" of characters is immaterial. If it's a matter of that agent not agreeing with the gay lifestyle, that's fine, but be professional enough to be detached. If it's a matter of bigotry, that agent needs to be eliminated from the "pool" of prospective agents immediately.

Look, I have a lesbian niece, and I love her dearly, and there's no way in hell I would eliminate all the characteristics of a character just because I might sell a copy or two. This would not only offend my sensibilities, but the sensibilities of my niece--and would cause her to potentially rethink our relationship which I value a great deal.

And here's the kicker: there's more than one agent saying "change that or else."

Hey, I don't know who that agent is, but he/she can fully and royally go screw themselves. That's just plain wrong. Either the manuscript stands on its own or it does not. End of line.

Now, I'd like to quote directly from the article:

We are avoiding names because we don’t want this story to be about one agent who spoke more bluntly than others whose objections were more indirectly expressed. Naming names can make it too easy to target a lone “villain,” who can be blamed and scolded until everyone feels that the matter has been satisfactorily dealt with.

Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.

Ok, point one: No, out the dude/dudette. If they're doing this, they're in the complete WRONG and need to be scolded and re-educated. Is this not the 21st century?

Point two: That's just plain wrong. There are lots of gay youth who are being disenfranchised--apparently by agents playing these childish and stupid games--purposefully because of some fear of a gay planet. Did they never think that there's a BUILT IN AUDIENCE for well-written gay YA books? No?... Looks like they're stupid.

My suggestion to Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith would be to self-publish and use this article as free advertising. Gear toward, target, and sell to the gay YA reader. You're better off and don't have to put up with bigotry, stupidity, and nosey nobody's trying to filter/lessen the hard work you've done.

Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere

Over at Gretchen McNeil's v-logs, her current video entry talks about how a seemingly weird choice of a book was, in fact, the reason she decided to give the whole writing thing a go. On the outskirts of it, it is a weird choice--Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" is not what I would call "inspirational."

But for Gretchen it very much was. She liked/loved the voice of the writing, calling it "over educated snark," which appeals to her personality greatly. Indeed, upon reading her debut novel, Possess, I became quite aware of her level of snarky goodness. (And I alluded to such in my review.)

This made me want to talk about why I wrote my book, Memories of the Dead, which I hope one day you'll all be able to read. I wrote it not because of any book, but because of a person: my wife, Tammy.

You see, my wife would sit at home bored out of her gourd, and being a voracious reader, she would often run out of books to read--bought or loaned, it didn't matter; she would devour them quicker than I could imagine. Which is a good thing, especially since I can ask her "Hey, is that any good?" And she can go off to explain the text in pretty deep detail to me--allowing me to determine if I need to stick my nose in it or not. Good stuff.

Well, one day, while she was home, bored, I wrote what would eventually become chapter one of Memories of the Dead, and posted it on my Facebook account. I even said that I didn't know if I would continue it, as it was intended as a mere distraction and nothing more. But she liked it and asked me to continue. So I did.

I was absolutely sure the story was about five thousand words in full length, and nothing more; so I figured, why not, I can do a little here and there and presto-chango...a little diversion for her. No biggie, right?

Well, I was wrong.

Each week, I would write on either a Tuesday or a Thursday, and put it up on my page. And quickly I learned that five thousand words is nothing--I shot past that supposed limit with ease, and the tale was still not anywhere near complete.

Uh, oh. Looks like I keep going...see where this all leads. So, that's what I did. Soon, there was twenty thousand words gone: not done. Then forty thousand. Then when I hit 50K, finally I could actually see the end in sight!

Afterwords some polish and cut out some "shiz," grammar fixing, and--poof--at approximately sixty-eight thousand words, I had a book. All in all, about thirteen months from begin to end.

Not just a book, but a novel, I thought. I was sort of shocked. I searched every Google-inspired link to see "how long is a novel," and discovered that there's no clear consensus, but pretty much everyone agreed that 50K is "novel" length--albeit kind of short.

Dumbfounded, I had--through no real intent on my part--just so I could amuse and distract my wife, written a novel-length story.

WTF? How did that happen?

It happened because I wanted to amuse/distract/make happy someone whom I love. It wasn't about what I read, it was about who I wanted happy. That's where my motivation came from--she is the reason: she is my inspiration.

So, when you pick up a copy for your Kindle or Nook, and on page one you see "For Tammy," know that that is the most literal thing there is I can say. It was, is, and will always be her story: I wrote it for her.

Where you get your motivation or inspiration from can be anywhere or anything (or in my case) anyone. As a writer--published or not--it behooves you to cultivate inspiration around you. From interesting places, things, or people. Family, friends, loved ones of all sort. Each of these are a story in-and-of-themselves just waiting to be set free. Heck, I have a story brewing in my head because I saw some almost-ready-for-harvest corn stalks.

Yeah, corn. You know, the om-nom-nom kind you buy and boil and eat? Yeah, that corn. Someday, be sure to ask me about it. It's weird.

Motivation and inspiration, my glorious friends, can be found anywhere; and that's where you need to go.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Package Delivered -- a short story with no real purpose.

Carrying a single bag, the young man is traveling alone at his whim with no particular destination in mind. The bag isn't his; he's just the delivery-boy, sent on an ageless journey through time to find the one who is to open it. The destination is unimportant, only the recipient matters. As he walks, he will find him, it is only time that counts the journey; and he has an eternity to locate the one.

What's in the bag is unknown to him--only the sender knows;--and as the messenger walks through the rough-hewn cobblestone pathways that lead from and to all destinations, the bag grows weighty in his hands. Heavier with each passing step, each passing year, and each passing destination that was searched and found empty. None of them were where the one could be found.

He was told, "Do not open the bag, it is not for you."  To this he would remain true even though some force from within his slender frame wished to peer into the bag, to see what wonders might be within. His master's works were always awe-inspiring, and perhaps he'd get to see the contents.

Every step he takes clacks upon the stones at his feet. The sound echoes off the walls of nearby buildings, rebounding staccato and returning diminished. Far into the unseen, foggy distance the footsteps fall away. Still, he does not know his destination; only that he was given the identity of the recipient--a Frenchman--and the year to which he was to travel, 1789.

Walking through time is not difficult, it is traveling to the correct point in time that takes effort; and each decade through which he had to trek saw misery, pain, fortune, and life--but none of them were where his package was intended to arrive, and none of them were homes to the one who would open and reveal what might lay within. Surely, they were all worthy places in their own, but none of them were the one to whom the bag was intended. He must carry on, though the weight became perilous.

Heavy is the load he carries; and heavier still is the air around him. It is near nightfall, and now is the time when the air is more oppressive than ever. Windows are opened to let in any breeze that may be, but the tenants of this block are without even that hope; and so they are mired in their own humid thoughts, from which the fog seemed to emanate.

From across the stone courtyard a single man approaches. There is no haste in his steps; rather, they are carefully kept, and easily repeated. The heels of his knee-high boots similarly careen off the stones, and the sound is like a rifle shot, repeated with every forward move.

Toward one another they nod. Here is his intended receiver, the messenger can tell--his face, unremarkable; his eyes, drawn like tiny flames reflecting off the midnight waters. Now was the time, and here was the place where his performance made complete. In unison they step to one another; and with each of these final steps the weight of the bag becomes heavier, harder, and more impossible to carry.

When he had set out, it was easily held in one hand; but now he must use both to continue. Another step and he must carry the parcel closer to his chest lest he topple over. Another step and it is as if he carries a thousand pounds or more as the messenger struggles to maintain footing and is nearly stooped over by the profound mass the package represents.

Together at last, mere arms length apart, the two stand. The boy heaves a mighty lift with all his remaining power, and the man--was he truly just a man?--with great ease took the bundle and held it close to his face.

From within the bag, a glow emerged, pulling, pawing, and tearing at the seams. The package seemed to shake and shimmer with life. On its own as tiny beams of light poured out like the first rays of the sun upon an unsuspecting morning.

"The package is delivered," said the boy, "my duty is done."

"Indeed," the reply with a smile. "And a ponderous gift you bring!"

The boy looked in wonder at the lights on display that came from the bag.

"Did you not open it?" He was asked.

"No, it was not for me or my eyes to see."

"Pity," he said, "you could have used some of this."

"What is it?"

"Revolution and freedom," the solemn reply.

And the boy, bowed low his head, turned and walked to return to whence he came, just like the good slave that he is. He did not know what he had until it had left his care. The freedom was not meant for him.

Reading fiction "improves empathy"

Well, that's a very cool thing to learn today, that if you read fiction, according to this article, you're improving your empathy. Makes sense, and I'd never even considered it before.

Think about it: you're reading tales of woe, misery, love, life, laughter, sadness, pain, horror, and all kinds of other things. If the writer did a good job, you actually care about the characters. This would, logically, engender a feeling of sadness or happiness depending upon what happens in the plot. The author, in this way, has done more than entertain you--he or she has added to your emotional depth. Increased your levels of empathy, almost as if it were a tangible item, like fuel in your car, as if more were simply added.

Good words, well chosen, can indeed change the world--one reader at a time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My review of "POSSESS" by Gretchen McNeil

I'm not a professional book reviewer, but I have experience in reviewing video games, so I hope that knowledge comes into use and serves to be valuable.

Having said that, this review is about the debut novel POSSESS by Gretchen McNeil. Now, for those of you who don't know anything about this novel, you could go look it up or you can read the following blurb, which comes from the publisher:
Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her over-protective mom, by Matt Quinn, the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, the voices are demons—and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. Literally.

Terrified to tell her friends or family about this new power, Bridget confides in San Francisco’s senior exorcist, Monsignor Renault. The monsignor enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession, but just as she is starting to come to terms with her freakish new role, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. And when one of her oldest friends is killed, Bridget realizes she’s in deeper than she ever thought possible. Now she must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone else close to her winds up dead—or worse, the human vessel for a demon king.
That's the set up. "Bridge" is a teen who really just wants to be normal and left to her own devices--nothing new there--but therein ends normalcy. See, she can hear demons and has the power to send them back to Hell, which is a good thing. She's under the tutelage of a pair of Catholic priests for her burgeoning exorcism alter-ego, after-hours lifestyle. I can't really tell you more or I give so much away.

The story has some great imagery, some creepy, some mundane. Gretchen tells us all about the all-pervasive fog as if it was almost a living thing.

There are some characters I wanted to slap the crap out of. This too, is good.

....aaaand it sets itself up for a sequel, should she choose to lean in that direction. Peachy keen, jelly bean. Sequels are good too.

Is there bad? Well, I have to say...yes. And the bad is that I figured out who the "bad guy" was before it was told to me. Why? I don't know, just all of a sudden I was like "Hey, that dude is not cool." I ended up being right. But, if this is all that's "bad," and it is, then there's not much to worry about is there? (I admit, one character I thought was a "write off annoyance" does prove to be didn't see that coming.)

How do I rate it? Well I will be using the same method I use when I rate a movie: on a scale from 1 to 10. And as tradition will have it, 1 is sucktastic, and 10 is "OMG, you totally killed it out the the park and I never need to read another book ever again!" Ok, so that's overly dramatic, but you get the idea.

Here's the scale:

1 -- YOU SUCK! DIE!! No, seriously, go off someplace quiet and end yourself.
2 -- Did you even try? At least you didn't get a "1", so you get to live!
3 -- Wow, you really put in a terrible effort; but thanks for the attempt.
4 -- If you'd only had tried a little harder, I would have been entertained. I'm sorry you just barely missed the cut.
5 -- I was entertained. This would be a solid "C" grade in school, or a 3 out of 5 stars from anyone else.
6 -- This is good stuff, Go read this. You'll be happy you did. Easily 3 and a half stars.
7 -- This is inspirational, awe inspiring, new genre-defining stuff! Whoa, dude, like whoa... 4 stars.
8 -- Important literature goes here. Cream of the crop. Top end. This is 4 and a half star awesome.
9 -- Practically perfect in every way. Love is too mild a term for this! 5 stars. Damn! Just plain, DAMN!
10 -- Nobody gets a 10, that's impossible. You can try, but you will never be this level of flawless. Ever. It's impossible for humans to obtain.

I give Possess a  "6" -- This is the kind of thing I hope my first novel can do. Gretchen McNeil, you did good, girl; and I'm happy I read the book. You set a high mark,  this is a solid book, and I think you'll like it. No wonder she got a deal for another tale! :)

This is a solid "Buy!"

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ebook cover finalized!

I'm happy to report that not only do I have the ebook version (epub and mobi) both done, I have also finalized my ebook cover! Yay! However, in the interest of giving Tor/Forge their fair chance, I will not release it until I hear back from them. I mean, I submitted to them, so why not treat them with the respect they deserve and not pull the rug out from under them.

So if you’re a writer out there who is tired of being rejected, don’t fret. Just publish your work yourself.

So if you’re a writer out there who is tired of being rejected, don’t fret. Just publish your work yourself. 

That is the point of the article, and it's right. Read the whole thing, it's worth it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

PLAN Z preparation

Although the beginning of PLAN Z is still months away, I have been working behind the scenes to get things in order--just in case. I have successfully formatted my book into PDF, ePUB, and Mobi (Kindle) format. This will allow me to make the book available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and pretty much anyplace I like. So far, so good. But there's still hope that Tor/Forge decides my book is worthy--at which point, this all becomes an exercise in "learning how to do it," and that knowledge is never bad to have.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Short story: Peerless

Peerless was her name, and in every way throughout her short, thirty-three year life, she was a paragon of excellence--just as her name might imply. Valedictorian, Rhodes Scholar, possessing prefect penmanship: everything about Peerless was without flaw, including her exactingly cerulean blue eyes that never saw a moment of bloodshot.

Her honey-blonde coif was always neat, with never a hair out of place; and today it was held nicely in French braids, without a fray in view. The stylish shoes she wore were never scuffed; and the seams of her white stockings were always straight as an arrow from her heel up to beneath the neatly pressed skirt that covered areas polite ladies simply do not discuss.

In her, perfection was personified; but the problem of perfection is boredom. For Peerless, nothing ever went awry; nothing unfolded in any way that wasn't exactly as it should. Though perfect to external eyes, she dreamed of new discoveries that didn't exist in her world--a world which made her weary. Even now, while sitting on a park bench, contemplating her end, she showed impeccable posture. Try as she might, she simply could not slouch. This was typical Peerless. Even the gun she brought with her was polished to an unearthly sheen. She had only one bullet--after all, she wouldn't need more.

Aiming at her chest and pulling the trigger with her thumb she fired, and felt no pain. As she calmly set the gun beside her, she felt the eyes of many upon her, but she was used to that, sadly. Looking down, the perfect rosette of blood formed on her white blouse, and not a single petal of the red unfolded in a manner unbecoming her legacy of exactitude. She had hoped for irreverent chaos, splatters, or gore. Instead she was a picture-perfect soon-to-be corpse as the blood billowed outward in circles; yet not a drop fell on her skirt.

"Dammit," she said, "I can't even screw this up."

Then she closed her eyes as if going to sleep and breathed her last. Peerless left nothing out of place for the police and paramedics as they rushed in moments too late. In the end she got what she long desired, just not for herself: a chorus of glorious noise surrounded her body as it quickly grew cold.

Someplace, wherever it is that spirits go, Peerless found some satisfaction in the mess she finally was able to make.

Do it yourself ePUB manufacture or pay some dude....

Over the last couple of days, I've been busy with family medical issues; but I feel ready now to tackle my rantings again! Yay!

I contacted, on a whim, a company that will format your novel into an ebook for you--in every format you could possibly desire--and asked them for a price quote. Nothing major.

They get back to me: $299. And if I want an ISBN-13 number to go with it, that's an extra $100.

Are you kidding me?

Look, for those of you who do not know, an ePUB file is nothing more than...ready for this?...a zip file with html and a couple of documents that define layout, and a jpg for a cover.

Really. Grab one of your ePUB docs. Change the extension from .epub to .zip, and open it up.

The HTML page is just plan ol' text, nothing more fancy than bold or italics in use. And the supporting documents are, frankly, pretty plain and simple too.

So...why the big cost?

Simple: they know most people do not have the time or energy to do it themselves. It's a pain in the butt, to be frank, but it CAN be done. Pretty easily, in fact. Here's how.

Save your novel as a text file, RTF (Rich Text Format) or a Microsoft Word document. Then, from within Microsoft Word, or any of the competitive similar products (like Libreoffice), open the novel and then resave it as HTML.

Poof. Formatted. Not all the formatting is done for you to perfection, but you can reopen the HTML and tweak it a bit to get it just right.

And that, my friends, is apparently worth upwards of $200. Seriously.

If your novel is in PDF format, there's a program you can DOWNLOAD FOR FREE called Calibre, and here's the link for it, that will do a lot of the work for you...for free.

DOn't be suckered into these people's work-flow--and I really tried to avoid mean words like "scam," because it's not a scam, they actually do what you need--they're just overpricing things, in my opinion. Learn a little technobabble and you can do it all yourself.

"No way?" You say?