Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ComicCon for writers

There's lots of classes for writers at ComicCon.  Some are awesome. Some are disappointing.  Some are thinly veiled kickstarter campaigns.  And there's a lot overlap, in both subject and schedule, so how do you choose?

Of course the most important things to check out are your favorite pop culture idols.  That's what this pilgrimage is all about.  And the masquerade.  You'll want to see it.  It's quite a show.  But if you have large patches of time, here are my recommendations based on past shows.

Things not to be missed at ComicCon if you are a writer.

Anything called something like "What's new at [publisher]" - These are raffles where they hand out copies of upcoming releases before you can buy them, but that's not why.  The audience is the best and most vocal focus group anywhere  See which titles get the loudest screams.  Find out what plot summery get people humming.  Learn what the people sitting next to you would give their first-born to win. 

Comic Book Law School - It's not just for comics.  I highly recommend this for all writers, but it's an absolute MUST if you are thinking of selfpublishing.  Real lawyers and law professors teach all about copyright law, merchandizing laws, intellectual property laws, contract negotiations, public domain, nastygram letters to cease and desist. etc...  Find out the difference between parody and satire.  (Hint one will get you sued.  The other will not.  Ok, that's only a hint at how important the correct answer is.)  Just because you have an airtight case doesn't mean you'll win, and if you don't have a case, you're in big trouble.  Think your book on Smashwords is too small to show up on the radar?  Think again.  They talk about publishers racking up $85,000 in court costs to recoup $5,000.  Why?  If they let one smallfry steal, they have to let everyone steal.  It's best to know the law so you can stay out of the courtroom altogether.

Classic festival of Animation - "Huh?" you say.  "What does that have to do with writing?"  Simple.  The crowd gets to vote on what they get to see.  Remember how agents are always telling us you need to grab the reader in the first five pages.  You'll see that in action here.   Nothing will get the audience booing faster than a slow setup.  Come here and study the stuff that gets them cheering.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

San Diego Comic Con 2014

Only two short weeks until Comic Con.  I start getting excited about it in July...of the year before.  If you don't know what Comic Con is, or do know and don't care, consider yourself lucky since it's devilishly hard to get into.   Nine million try to get tickets, 120,000+ succeed. People who knock Comic Con by calling it things like "Geek Pilgrimage", "Nerd Prom", or "Nerdapoloosa" are trying to make it sound uncool so that they won't have to fight you to get tickets. 

(Either that, or it's sour grapes because they are trapped the whole time in a 6x9 booth, stampeded by every form of humanity, listening to everyone walk by marvel at how nice the cast of Game of Thrones are when you get to meet them up close.)

I'm lucky.  I'm enough of an industry insider to get a golden ticket, but not so much that I'm stuck working the aforementioned booth. If you're lucky too, and have never been, here are some tips to get the most of your trip:

  • If you absolutely HAVE to see something, get there at least two hours before it begins.  Especially if the line starts *outside*.  If you're at the end of a zigzagging structure, they might as well have a sign like the ones at Disneyland saying "The wait from this point is approximately one hour."  Heaven help you if you have to go through two zigzagging structures.  I got stung because I had two hours to kill so I figured I'd catch the cast of Sherlock.  (I didn't get in, but then again, they weren't there either, so I just checked out the clips they sent on YouTube like everyone else.)

  • Most of the rooms have drinking water, but food here is really expensive for what you get.  If you want a good deal you'll have to leave the nearby vicinity, but that's easier said than done.  The swarm of people around the convention center extends for blocks.  I plan on bringing meal replacement bars.

  • The seats are really uncomfortable.  If this might be a problem for you, do what I do:
    1. Go to Target, Costco, Wal-Mart, etc... and buy a memory foam seat cushion.  You know, about two inches thick and sold in a pack of two. (You might bring both, the back isn't any more comfortable than the seat.)
    2. Bring it with you.
    3. When you arrive, you'll get a HUGE bag for swag, more than big enough to smuggle out Peter Dinkledge, if you so desire.  Toss your cushion in and wear the bag like a backpack.  This give you the added bonus of acting as a bit of padded armor for you and your swag in the crush of the lucky 120,000+
    4. At the start of event, pull the cushion from your bag and have a seat.  Trust me, nobody will even notice.  This is Comic Con.  I guarantee the seat cushion won't be the most eye-catching thing in the room.

  • If you want to see the masquerade costume contest Saturday night, you have to get a ticket. They run out quickly.  However, they have a live broadcast to a party at the sail pavilion with music, keepsakes, and food.  HOWEVER, the food is stuff like cupcakes and nachos.  And the show is hard to hear at times since you have the laughter from the big screen and the laughter of the pavilion.  If you want to see a show and dance the night away, go to the sail pavilion.  If you're there for the costume contest, get your ticket before they run out.
More tips for how to get the most out of Comic Con if you're a writer coming in the next post.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The secret life of the slush pile

Those who know me realize I'm no stranger to the query letter.  As an author I'm agented more than once, give advice, classes, etc...  I realize firsthand this can be a terrifying road, fraught with peril.

So when given a chance to screen query letters, I jumped at it.  After all, I can empathize with the person writing the query. I know how nerve-wracking it is put yourself out there like that, to set the story you've worked on for years and years up for rejection. To spot a typo about two seconds *after* you've hit send.  So I thought this was the chance to pay it forward.

Well, let's just say I'm going to have to pay it forward by explaining things from the other side.


1)  Getting my name wrong - Seriously, so many people spell my name wrong in real life (including my agents) this doesn't bother me.  Yes, it would be a show of respect to get my name right, but I understand you're nervous and scared, so I chalk it up to stress.

2)  Calling something a 'fiction novel' - Yes, if you have a Phd in querying you should know better, but not everyone reads blogs.  I'm far more annoyed by 'awesomesauce', but I wouldn't block someone just for that.

3)  A typo - Again, nerves.  If the author doesn't appear to have a decent grasp of the English language, that's a problem.  But one typo?  I think the first query letter I wrote had two and I still got requests.

4)  Telling me your family and friends love your writing - Not a red flag for me.  It actually gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.  It doesn't help, because of course your loved ones think you're a great writer.  I'd been more concerned if you told me they think you're a terrible writer.  (Don't laugh, some people do that)

5)  Comparing yourself to a blockbuster - it may get an eyeroll from me if the comparison is a stretch, but your work is being judged on its own merits.

Pretty easygoing, huh?  You'd think I greenlight quite a lot. 

Not even close.

Most query letters have problems far worse than the ones mentioned above. 


1)  Talking about yourself and not the novel - It's great that you quit writing to raise eight wonderful children and seeing your book in print is a lifelong dream, but agents and editors are not fairy godmothers.  They take good writing and find a home for it.  They need to know what it is you're trying to get published.

2)  Not following instructions - If an agent asks for 50 pages, send 50 pages.  If page 50 ends at an awkward place, you can send a little more or a little less.  But nobody is going to punish you for sending exactly 50 if they ask for 50.  However, if an agent asks for 50, don't send them 10, and don't send the whole thing, saying you think that would be better for everyone.  If the agents want to see 10 pages instead of 50, they'll ask for 10 pages.  Sending 10 when they ask for 50 is like getting an audition as a singer and announcing you're going to tapdance instead.  You're wasting everyone's time and showing them it's a mistake to give you a chance.  If you're going to start the relationship by following your own rules and nobody else's, how can she ever trust you to honor a contract?

3) Getting cute - Like coming up with a quirky bio or telling the story from the POV of a character.  Trouble is, the agent can't tell if you're joking or if you really think you're Zombie Napoleon.  Agents won't tell you this, but they receive a lot of hate mail and threats from people they've rejected. Some of these people are pretty unstable. Getting a wackadoodle query is like getting a love letter written in blood.  It's not cute or original, it's scary.

4)  Begging for pity - Nobody gets out of the slush pile because people feel sorry for them.  Really.  You want to get a book published because people have abused you your whole life?  People are going to abuse you even more when you have a book published.  Complete strangers are going to tell the world how much they hate your writing, and you have to sit there and take it.  Even if your pleas for pity are just false modesty or you're fishing for compliments, neither one is a good habit when trying to prove you are professional enough to enter into a business partnership. 

Basically, the query letter serves two purposes:

1)  To get me interested in your story.
2)  To prove you won't be a nightmare to work with.

That's it.  It's not to dazzle me with your talent and creativity.  That's what your pages are for.
Your ultimate goal is not to 'stand out'.  Trust me, don't do anything of the things I don't want to see, and you will stand out.  In a good way.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Q&A with Kathryn A. Kopple

This week's Q&A is with Kathryn A. Kopple, poet and author of the acclaimed Little Velasquez, a rich historical tapestry set in the rule of Spain's most influential monarchs, Queen Isabel and King Fernando, as experienced through the eyes of their court jester.

Q:  This is a novel about the reign of "Isabella and Ferdinand" who most people know only from their elementary school history books as the couple who financed Columbus. Further study reveals they were the driving force behind some much darker stuff, to the point of genocide. And yet Queen Isabel has been always been treated very well, both by contemporary and modern historians. Comment?

Much of the legend surrounding Isabel has to do with the chronicles (of which there are a number dealing with her reign).  We have to understand that the chronicles—and much of history up until the Middle Ages and even through the Renaissance, were not objective.  History, as the old adage goes, was made and transmitted by the victors.  Also, given Isabel’s reputation as a queen determined consolidate her empire under the name of Catholicism, it’s not surprising that many Catholics consider her a saint.

Q:  When did you first become interested in history and historical fiction?

As Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.”  No doubt, Shakespeare meant that our fate is pre-determined.  My sense of history is not quite as fatalistic, but the more we know about the past—the richer we become in cultural awareness.  History is an excellent teacher. 

Q: Have you ever been to Spain? Tell me about your adventures.

The first time I went to Spain I was two years old.  My parents, caught up in the 60’s social revolution, sold the farm (literally, we were living in Schenectady, NY on a farm), and, with my eldest sister and me, set off on a Russian freighter for an artists’ colony in Ibiza, Spain.  We lived there for several years.  When I was in college and graduate school, I would return to Spain. I’ve lived in Andalucia and Madrid.  While there, I travelled as much as possible:  Spain, Morocco, Italy—all through Europe.

Q: Your writing is so rich than I can open up to any page and feel transported, and yet none of it seems stilted or costumy. What is your secret?

It’s wonderful, as a writer, to hear that—and I really thank you.  I wanted the book to have a comedic yet tragic feel, but it wasn’t until I found Velasquillo, the protagonist (who is an actual historical figure I discovered in a footnote) that I was able to achieve it. Velasquillo set the tone and the style.  Without him, I don’t think the book would have been finished—because it was seven years of research, writing, and then throwing out one draft after another.

 Q:  Tell me about the reference materials you used for your research. How much of the story was based on fact and how much was invented?

The research was a joy for me. Libraries are some of my favorite places. When you are dealing with the Middle Ages and Renaissance history, it’s important to realize that much of what was written (the chronicles) are not history in the modern sense of the word. Chronicles are not necessarily objective; they are homages for the most part and easily romanticized. I wanted to actually show that in the novel. I also thought it important to list all of my sources—historical and current research.  Of course, when it came to telling Velasquillo’s story, I had only a footnote to go on—nothing more.  I became intrigued, and began to ask myself how he managed to gain the favor of two of the most powerful monarchs of the era. Those questions because the basis for the novel.

Q:  The princess Juana strikes me as a bright girl, but a little too sensitive for her own good.  Rumor has it she loved her husband so much she refused to be parted from him, even after his death. I've seen her depicted as many things running the gamut from demented madwoman to innocent pawn.  Where does the truth lie?

Juana of Castile, who is the third child of Isabel and Fernando, was raised to marry a foreign prince (or, in her case, a duke—Philip, the Fair of the House of Burgundy). Until she married, she had no title, no household of her own, although she received an excellent education. Unfortunately, she was ill-prepared for the life that awaited her, especially as the wife of Philip IV.  He was proud, far more connected to France than Spain, and very distrustful in his in-laws. When Isabel I passed away, her chosen heir had died. Juana inherited the empire—or would have, except that Philip declared himself king. In today’s parlance, you might call it a coup d'├ętat. The dark legend you refer to originates in those years after Philip’s death. He wasn’t king very long when he succumbed to a fever. Juana was determined to have her husband buried in Granada alongside her mother—the main reason being that it would grant legitimacy to her children (whom she wanted to inherit the crown). Thus began the bizarre odyssey in which Juana accompanied Philip’s corpse from one city to another, asking that the coffin be opened so she could kiss his feet, and often said to weep uncontrollably over her dead husband’s body.  Eventually, she collapsed—and Castile was thrown into disarray.  Fernando, her father, then resumed control of the government and ruled until his death.  After which, Charles V, Juana’s son, inherited.  In this, she succeeded.     

Q:  In the course of your research, have you run across any interesting facts that you ended up not using since nobody would believe it’s the truth?

Not at all.  I intentionally sought out the most interesting material.  Otherwise, the book would a re-hash of everything that has been written before on the subject.

Q: What inspires you? Do you have any writing rituals?

Recently, I posted on Facebook that some writers do so because they have rich fantasy life.  I write for the opposite reason.  My mind comes alive during the writing process. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Q & A with Katherine Gilraine

Welcome to my weekly series of author interviews.  I intend to interview a different author each week, until I run out of authors who are willing to be interviewed. 

First up is Kathrine Gilraine, author of the popular SF series:"The Index"


Q: Tell me a little about the saga and the worlds it takes place in?
The Index is a chronicle of what happens in the lives of a group of people in charge of keeping the universe in order, and as it happens, their own histories and the histories of the people in charge end up being the root of their conflicts. And as they unravel the past, they have to also deal with consequences of their futures.

The worlds are multiple, and are as varied as they can get. Earth figures, naturally, but is shown across two time periods, 2008 and 3400, and the other worlds serve their own purposes, and so do the countries in them, and all of them - the planets, solar systems, and worlds - have to work together. . For instance, Rovillus, the main character's world, is a bit of an ice-cube tray with its ten countries (or sectors, as it may be), but every ice in the cube thrives only because it works with others. Sometimes you have a world like Mikarra, which is best known for being a city that stretches over half of the planet. Or Kio Jonu, which exists as a massive shipping hub. And all of those worlds, each and every one of them, have issues that sometimes require outside help to resolve.

Q: The thing I like best about the series is the relationships between the character, and the different powers each of the different types of characters have. At one end of the spectrum you have Mages whose powers involve energy generation and at the other end are the Vampires, who absorb and negate. It’s not your typical Whitehat vs. Blackhat story. Sometimes they work together, sometime they work against each other. How would you sum up the underlying conflict?
I see the series as less of good vs. evil and more of ends vs. means. Everyone has a purpose in their lives, some of it malevolent, some of it a very twisted way to "heal" certain things and right certain wrongs, and the big question is, how far is one person willing to go, and how much of it is really justifiable? That's the common thread in all the arcs and sub-arcs of the story. Shourron I dogfights for the universe - but why, and is he really the one in charge of this? And if he isn't, then who is, and why? It's all about the reasons.

Q: What made you interested in SF? What did you enjoy as a child? When did you first come up with the idea for the novel?
I loved, loved, loved adventure books as a kid, and not just any adventure: 19th Century adventure. I was the only girl I knew who read Mark Twain, Jack London, Capt. Thomas Mayne Reid - all those old stories based heavily in adventure, and the entire person vs. nature concept. It was all about character and thinking with those stories, and why people went out into the wilderness. It just fascinated me.

Honestly, I cannot tell you what exactly started my love of science fiction, but that adventure groove that I had since I was a kid is primarily responsible. When I was thinking about what book to write, I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, something that had a ton of adventure in it, but not really limited to the past. I love technology as well, so sci-fi was the de-facto genre of choice.

I tried to write it at various stages in my life, but until I was about 21, I didn't really know how I'd write it. NaNoWriMo in my senior year of college was a perfect way to start the first book.

Q: Movie or miniseries?
Both, honestly! I would love movies, but I think it would get way too long, if Book 1's script version is any indication.

Q: If you were casting a movie, do you have any idea of whom you might cast to play any of the characters? Or would you rather see it as an anime?
Maybe anime-noir, but I think I would like to see it live-action more than anything else. Anime has been saturated with outer-space adventure stories enough as it is, but live-action is more welcoming, especially considering the trend for sci-fi/alt-universe/fantasy series.

And okay, be honest with me: how odd is it that I have my cast kind of picked out already? :) I would love to have Serinda Swan star as Arriella; she has the right build and perfect face for it. Annabelle Wallis or Holliday Grainger for Rena; I've seen them both in Showtime historical fiction series (The Tudors and The Borgias, respectively), and both of them would do well. Colin Firth, or maybe Liam Neeson for Shourron I. Jude Law and Alexander Skaarsgard as Shou and Kian, respectively. And Chris Noth would be my only pick for Lord Kirare, Viceroy of Underworld; I kid you not. He had very inadvertently inspired the character, so it would only be fair. :)

Q: What is it like writing a series? What would you say that your biggest challenges are? Does it get harder or easier? Do you have to refer back to your notes? Do you ever wish you could go back and change something in one of the earlier books?
It gets a lot harder as you go along, and the biggest challenge is, without a doubt, keeping canon and continuity. The truth is, until I finished about 2/3 of Book 1, I had no idea it was going to become a series, and until I started writing Book 2, I had no idea what the first arc was going to wrap up as.

The temptation to go back and adjust the back books is immense, but the way that the story had turned out, across all four books, even the first - and I'll be first to admit that my first book is less than 100% stellar - the entire arc wraps up into a very neat package. Every little detail in the past books that I could possibly stretch and make relevant in the conclusion of the arc, I have done so. I'm sure there's some small quirks that I missed, but I can always incorporate them into the later arcs of the series.

I could go back and change the prior books, but I will not do it apart from reformatting and additional editing. Maybe, just maybe, I'd add a scene or two that plays into the later books. That's the best part about self-publication: you're free to do as you see fit.

I'm lucky, though, that the second arc is being edited simultaneously, so the temptation to revise an already-released work is hopefully going to be that much less!

Q: Are there any scenes you really loved that ended up on the cutting room floor?

Oh, I've thrown out plenty! Most notably, I ditched the entire beginning to Book 1, primarily because it was way cheesy and too...underdeveloped, conceptually speaking, but there was one scene where I wrote Arriella's abilities surfacing as a seven-year-old girl. It was a great scene, but the entire beginning, 100% of it, had to get thrown out. It just didn't jive with the story.

Q: Do you listen to music while writing, require total silence, or can you write through a zombie apocalypse? Describe your typical writing environment.
I need to write at night, and/or away from home, oddly enough. Some of my best writing has been done in hotel rooms, where I drew the blackout shades and got to work. Quiet music is best; I have a deep love for jazz and classical, and can write to it anytime I feel like, pairing it with rock, depending on the scene. And I can never write without tea or coffee - usually coffee - next to me. Coffee makes my world go round. And most crucially, I must not be interrupted when I write. Once I dig into a scene, it takes some serious pliers to get my brain away from it.

Q: What are your plans for your next book?
Well, let's just say, things are about to get complicated. My characters have come out of a major battle, and now they have to reap the consequences of their actions, and they're about to find that some people do break where they do not, and when they break...anything can happen. Plus, you're about to see ambition taken to a whole 'nother level: one of the characters whom you would think downtrodden completely by now is about to show that giving up is not even close to an option. And most crucially, there is the loss factor. Arriella had lost someone very precious to her, and she has no time to deal with that before the conflicts around her demand her attention. Like as not, she is a person as well as a leader, and the second arc will show exactly how she deals with those two separate sides to herself.

Q: What’s the most heartwarming feedback you’ve ever gotten from a reader?

Hmm. Best is probably for Book 4, where someone told me that I have a way of making the readers feel everything my characters feel. One of the best things I heard, really.

Katherine Gilraine has been writing The Index Series since her senior year of college. A New Yorker of twenty years and counting, she loves contemporary jazz, graphic design, and photography, and combined her loves into KG Creative Enterprises, a boutique company that encompasses her various creative skills. She is known to travel for contemporary jazz, and continues to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), crediting the nationwide challenge with providing the necessary motivation to finish each book in the series.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Some learn by seeing, some learn by hear, some learn by doing.  I learn by reading satire.  Interesting article on physical attribute tropes that you can apply to  your fiction.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hello and how are you?  I'm the author of "How to Get a Literary Agent in Two Murders or Less".  Don't me how to get an agent in real life.  I'll talk your ear off.  Really.  I'm obsessed with all things publishing.