Saturday, April 25, 2009

Common mistakes checklists

Check the sidebar- I posted links to the "common mistakes beginning writers make" lists I've collected. These lists come in handy on your own work and on other's work if you are in a critique group. Some are from established writers, some from agents, some from editors, so they do vary- read them all to get a broad view.

For some reason, much of what I found was from romance writers, and who cares? Good writing is good writing. Period. Genres and markets aside, poorly written prose is something to be avoided, whether it is the leering ne'er do well in the darkened alley or crazy Uncle Gilgamesh who happens to grow fangs once a month.

Friday, April 24, 2009

NY Times bestselling author nets a whopping...$26,000 on book- don't quit your day job, but there IS a silver lining to that dark little cloud

Ah, the luscious fantasy that having a New York Times bestseller under our belts will afford us fame, fortune and a true full-time writing career...

OK, pull your heads out. Of, er, fantasy land.

Read the reality in a post on, a website generated by a group of authors of fiction, where one of "those" NYT bestsellers list authors, S. Lynn Viehl, lights a candle in the dark corners of our knowledge of the publishing payment process, and reveals exactly how much of the fantasy is real. Seriously, go read it - I'll wait.

A published author with forty-five novels in five genres, she received a $50,000 advance. Although the word advance implies in advance, and most of us think up front, more and more publishers are holding back a portion of advances even on a high midlist author such as Lynn, until the actual physical books are on the shelf. In this particular case, over 30% was held until then. After expenses, paying her agent, etc., she netted around $26,000. Oh yeah, she's living the high life!

Is reading her post depressing? No, actually, it's liberating, because she also explains that she did minimal marketing, and received little from the publisher, and yet she made it on the NY Times bestseller list. Why?

She attributes the placement to her fans. It may have taken her a few books to get there, but I find it heartening that even with minimal marketing, and a known, but not super famous body of work, she has the kind of fan base that was built the old-fashioned way- with solid, consistent, regular writing. And that is the kind of fan base that sticks with you over a writing career.

I can only imagine what someone with those qualities coupled with the resources and ability to market themselves and their work can accomplish.

Oh, and on the subject of marketing, do not pause, do not wait - RUN to the newsstand/bookstore and pick-up the May/June 2009 issue of Writer's Digest magazine. It is stuffed full of handy info. on getting visible, known, and marketing yourself to stand out to agents and editors that is quite apropos to the self-promotion issue.

Because you need to get something published, and preferably something great, to start that fan base.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jazz for the eyes: Round Midnight and Ballard Jazz Festival 2009

One of the recommendations from Mr. Origin Records (and for learning about this musical genre was to watch some movies. I already mentioned Straight, No Chaser, and this week the library line finally coughed-up the other title suggested: 'Round Midnight, from 1986 (not the same as 'Round Midnight, 2005)

This movie is total fiction as opposed to documentary, but it captures the essence of the post-war scene of bebop jazz in France versus New York, led by Americans. This movie shuffles along at a slower pace, and like the aging alcoholic musician it portrays, forgets itself in some places but is brilliant in others. Luckily, a good portion of the film is spent on the music scenes, which (among many, many other awards nominated or bestowed) won Herbie Hancock an Oscar for Best Music, Original Score. Real life tenor saxophonist, Dexter Gordon, plays the lead in this film, and does a credible job, given that parts of the character's life are parallel to his own.

I can't help but wonder if my reaction to the pacing of this film is due to the fact that I have been conditioned over time to inhale media quickly and expect a tight, zippy plot and to have everything revealed and dealt with in short order.

Maybe jazz is all about shrugging off that pace and hitting the pause button.

Anyone local who is interested in pressing that pause button should indulge in the offerings from the Ballard Jazz Festival here in Seattle this week.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Critique groups and kiwi vines- separated at birth?

My ASWAAGS writing group met last night and critiqued work for the first time. I am impressed with the knowledge and skill level of the writers that turned out for our meeting, and despite "dreading" one person's comments, (you know who you are, Grumpy Old Man ;) ) all turned-out fine and dandy.

They say you get out what you put in to a group and I put in a decent amount of effort co-chairing one critique group and trying to be a responsive involved member of two others.

This morning, I realized that growing critique groups is a lot like growing kiwi vines:

They require a decent amount of structure and support.

The vines need some initial guidance on where to grow and how to climb.

You need at least two vines, and at least one of each gender if you actually want fruit.

It may take a while to bear fruit, and it might be tiny at first, but it will be sweet.

We put in baby kiwi vines three years ago and were told that we may not get fruit because the plant people were not sure if we had one of each gender, and also that if they bore fruit at all, it probably would not happen for five years or more because the vines needed to mature.

Of our three vines, we do indeed have at least one girl and a boy because we got a teensy little nubbin of a fruit sort of thing the year after planting. We weren't sure if it was actual fruit, until last year, when we were surprised by a tiny, wholly formed, sweet kiwi.

It takes time and effort...and a little fertilizer, but sometimes your vines might surprise you with the reward of fruit quicker than you think.

Anyone for kiwis?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Comical Birthday: Boobs, Books, Boots and Bacon

Nothing says "I'm aging, but only in physical years" like going to the Emerald City Comic Con on your birthday. This latest b-day is not a major milestone birthday or anything like that-no, when I finally turn 30 (heh), I'll do something that shows I'm REALLY in denial. Like going to a Hannah Montana concert.

Until then, this serves as a nice mini denial, with plenty of the "it's work-related" excuse. I've always thought it might be interesting, and now that I'm eyeball deep in graphic novels, I figured I could keep up with any rabid fanboys. Really, though, there is nothing like it, and it was, dare I say it? FUN. LOHAL and QOE enjoyed themselves, especially when QOE traded her royal crown for a Wonder Woman crown from the DC Comicts schwag booth, and got her favorite kiddie graphic novel, JOHNNY BOO doodled and signed especially for her by the author, James Kochalka.

A brush with greatness and I did not even realize it. As it turns out, Kochalka is a seriously multi-talented guy, walking the divide between musical (he recorded one of my favorite kid songs found the Greasy Kids Stuff album that also served as the theme song for the FOX sitcom The Loop, not to mention his music videos being shown on Nickelodeon's animation showcase series KaBlam! ) and artistic genius, and the enviable position of straddling the worlds of both indie comics (Top Shelf Productions) and major publishers (Random House). I probably never would have had the guts to even approach the Top Shelf booth where he was sitting if I'd known this. I shudder now, thinking of how I told him his JOHNNY BOO work was a great gateway drug for kids to enter the world of comics and graphic novels. Let's depart from any further mortification at my complete newbie ways, and move on to...

Boobs and boots! Bacon! One of the best things about visiting a comic-con is the costumes. And this one did not disappoint. Besides the whole slew of Star Wars folks, including two Chewbaccas, and lots of storm troopers, there were ninjas, a Ghostbuster, the Comedian, and my personal favorites- Princess Leia and Jedi girl! These ladies have serious confidence. We even saw a piece of bacon, advertising Bacon salt. Mmm-mm! Porky goodness! And steampunks!
Best...comic-con...EVER! (Pop culture extra credit to anyone who can guess what cartoon I borrowed this mangled line from)

Friday, April 3, 2009

The race to characterize

MG/YA author and educator Mitali Perkins wrote an interesting article , posted on the School Library Journal's website about racial stereotypes in kid lit. She posts five questions teachers, librarians, readers and authors should ask themselves about a story, and provides real world specific evidence and examples to explain how to examine the answers to those questions.

What keeps her article from being yet another white-liberal-guilt-let's-learn-about-diverse-people-and-respect-them pontification is that she is a member of a racial minority, and instead of offering opinions and condemnation, she freely admits that she herself made these same mistakes and stereotypes in her own work, and with a character of her own heritage, no less.

That takes intestinal fortitude.

I highly recommend reading the article to any author. Take a long hard critical look at your work with these five questions, and open that dialog with yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Virus straight, with a chaser of jazz

Today, while I worked on finding ways to help my laptop avoid the Conficker virus, I started my jazz journey with a DVD documentary on Thelonius Monk titled Thelonius Monk: Straight No Chaser.

Too cool for words. What a fascinating individual, and although I was interested in the man behind the percussion-like piano style ("Melodius Thunk" as his wife called it) that gave him a reputation in jazz history, I found myself especially taken by the footage of his many pet cats in one scene, eating carefully diced raw meat. I looked among them for a match to the feline character in my "jazzman cat" story, because the cat told my main character he had hung around a jazz musician, but I'm not sure that I saw him in this crowd.

I think I am going to like this stuff.