It’s Starting to Sing

I’m giddy. Smiling a lot. Fingers twitching.  Desperate to type.

I got me a story.

I’ve been playing with a few different ideas ever since I turned in Book 2 on December 1–500 words on this one, 1000 words on that one, 750 on this one over here–waiting for one or the other or the other to grab me, shake me down like a rough gangster demanding his 100% interest, and possess my soul.

A few moments ago I realized I’d been working on one and only one of these ideas for a few days now. So I sat back and asked myself:

“Self? Do you want to go and work on one of the others for a bit?”

And Myself answered, “Are you freaking kidding me? Shut up and get back to typing!”

I can be cruel when it suits me.

So yeah, it has occurred to me that I may have found Book 3. And I’m totally jazzed. The winning concept is–like most of my projects–based on older, less-formed ideas. Characters from here and there, situations from there and here. A keen eye for brand and marketing. Lots of opportunities for sequels.

To this point I have not pitched this to anyone. For all I know, Awesome Agent may hear the idea, roll his eyes, and drop-kick me into the new year. But I’ll cross that bridge when I arrive at the toll booth. Right now, I’m writing, and it feels good. I’ve already fleshed out the plotline, the stakes, and the main characters. And as I write, they all come alive.

So, yeah. Giddy. Smiling. Twitchy fingers. All good.

Of course, there’s every chance that I’ll write a post in a couple of days about how I’ve torn everything up and started over, this time on a new idea centering around a horde of man-eating walleye who develop the ability to breath air and so come out of the world’s waters to get their revenge on mankind.

You just never know.

The Art of Art

I just finished a very good book.

Being a Middle Grade author, I read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, and I just finished the MG adventure The Zodiac Legacy, Book One: Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, with illustrations by Andie Tong. I enjoyed it, found myself driven to finish it (and I don’t finish every book these days–just too many books to read to waste time on something that doesn’t hold my interest).

The book comes with a ton of illustrations, and as you might guess from the name Stan Lee, they are very much illustrations in the ‘comic book super hero’ style of art. It’s good art, and the illustrator is obviously talented.

But the book would be better without them.


I have nothing against illustrations in a book. My own, forthcoming novel Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) has over a dozen very cool illustrations within its pages, and plenty of great books have great art that adds to the overall experience.

The art in Zodiac, however, didn’t add anything. In fact, it detracted. There is a disconnect, for me, between the story and the art. And I think this falls into the larger issue of how and why you add illustrations to a book in the first place.

The first question to ask is, do you need illustrations? In the MG genre, they are quite common. You’re dealing with readers who haven’t been reading chapter books for all that long and you’re weening them from picture books to the wonderful world of text. Good art can really help the reader solidify the images he or she is creating in their head, particularly if there’s a visual picture the author/illustrator team is trying to convey.

Also, in this particular case, it’s Stan Lee. He’s kinda known for comic books. So you sort of expect there to be illustrations. But I question the art direction. Many of the images are chaotic, confused jumbles that make it difficult to place oneself in the story. Also, the themes played with in the book were much cooler in my head than they were in the pictures. In some ways, the illustration limited the scope of the adventure by showing me things I was imagining. A number of times my response to the art was:

“Oh. That’s what it looks like? Huh. I thought it was way cooler than that. Bummer.”

As a general rule, you should never have anything in your book that makes people think “Bummer” to themselves.

Also, I question the choice of which scenes to illustrate. There were a number of set pieces that sounded very cool and I would have liked to see them, but instead we’re given image after image of the characters fighting each other as if standing in an all-white studio with nothing around them. There’s little sense of place in many of the drawings, and for me, that’s important.

I don’t mean to bash on the book. As I said up front, I really liked it and would highly recommend it. And the artist is certainly talented. But they looked to be illustrating a comic book, not a novel. You could almost see thought bubbles above the characters’ heads.  In a comic book, the art is fluid, moving from one frame to the next to tell the story. You don’t need a single frame to capture a moment as much because it is only part of a sequence of images.

But in a book, we get snapshots of time. The single image has to convey a lot more, has a lot more responsibility. And as we all know, with great responsibility comes great… I screwed that up, didn’t I? Oh well.


We Need More Silly!

So I maybe, possibly, perhaps have my next book in mind.

Like many projects that eventually find their way out of the logjam that is my imagination, it is a mash-up of a bunch of other concepts and ideas I’ve tinkered with over time. The other day, a few of those crashed up against one another the way random electrons do when circling an atom and this time the resulting brand new element caught my attention.

So I wrote a first chapter. Then I wrote a second chapter. Then I went in and outlined the entire story. Then I went back and erased the first two chapters and started over. Then I wrote the first chapter. Again. Then I sat back and smiled.

This just might work.

The thing about my particular writing process is that it tends to be plot-based. I will generally start with the concept. Something like “What if there was this big, natural disaster that turned all the walleye against humanity?” Then I carve out a series of events. First, we show the disaster that turns the walleye against us. Then they start their war. Some people die. Mankind finally understands the nature of the threat and fights back. More people die. Then… cool stuff happens and we get to the end. Or something like that.

Then I need to go back into it and find out who the characters are. Maybe the hero is a waste disposal expert who takes an interest in the walleye. Maybe one of the walleye is actually the hero. It could go either way. When you think about it, a concept like this pretty much writes itself, right?

So back to my possible third book. I like it. It feels right. The story is there. And more importantly, the options for multiple stories is there so that when it becomes a huge hit I can keep churning them out. The problem for me was that it wasn’t writing itself. It was slow going. I knew what I wanted to happen. I knew who I wanted the events to happen to. I knew where I wanted them to go. But the execution–putting the words down on the screen that will take us on the journey–was excruciatingly slow, like I was churning molasses or something.

I didn’t know what the problem was, and I wasn’t about to give up. So I’d braced myself for a fight and was ready to hunker down when it struck me.

It wasn’t silly enough.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the plot or the characters, I forget to bring my special brand of silliness to the table. Without it, the book may as well have been written by somebody else. That was why it wasn’t flying out of my fingers at light speed, it was just another cool story. So I went back to that first chapter and upped the silly.

And the story started singing.

No guarantee that this will ultimately catch fire and I’ve found that elusive third book, but suddenly it reads like it was written by me. And that’s a good thing.

Because I wrote it. Am writing it. Will be writing it.


The Last Little Edits

If you’re read any of my previous posts, you know that my debut Middle Grade horror-adventure-comedy, Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom, is coming out this coming August.

I’m kinda excited.

The timeline of the book’s creation and sale has been an educational experience.

August 2014 – I get the idea for the book and start dabbling.

September 2014 – After toying with it and a couple of other stories for a bit, and after an encouraging word from Awesome Agent, I get obsessed and dive into Dr. Fell wholeheartedly.

November 2014 – I finish the First Draft and send to friends and readers.

December 2014 – I finish Second Draft and send to Awesome Agent.

January 2015 – Awesome Agent likes it and starts sending it around.

April 2015 – Crown Books for Young Readers purchases Dr. Fell. I dance and sing and leap up and down like a little kid on an unending diet of sugar.

May 2015 – Excellent Editor sends it back with a ton of notes, including typos.

June 2015 – I finish Third Draft. Excellent Editor has more questions. I make more changes. We fix more typos. I eventually send in Fourth Draft.

September 2015 – The Copy Editing department goes over it and sends it back with a ton more notes and typos and questions.

September 2015 – I answer more questions, fix more typos, make more very slight changes. Call it Fifth Draft.

October 2015 – I receive Advanced Reader Copies. Totally freak out. These copies are based on Fourth Draft.

December 10, 2015 – I receive email asking me to OK typo fixes on 6 separate pages.

How did any typos remain undiscovered through all of that to December 2015? When you think about all the times I’ve gone through it, all the times Excellent Editor has gone through it, all the times the Copy Editing department went through it… it ought to be impossible. Yet there they are, plain as day. Six pages, each with an obvious typo or issue on them that needs to be addressed.

This is why I am no longer surprised when I find typos in published material. My book is only @215 pages or so. 45,000 words. The latest Rick Riordan is three times that length. Even going over it with a microscope, toothbrush, and metal detector, typos are going to slip through. They are literature’s little gremlins, and cannot be stopped, only contained.

Worse, I can almost guarantee (thanks to the inevitable law of human cluelessness) that there will be a hidden typo somewhere in the final, printed and published and on the shelves version of the book.

And my children will point it out within ten minutes of opening the book up to a random page.

Be strong.





Being Rejected

I got a very nice rejection email today.

I submitted a short story of mine entitled “Ascension” to be published in an upcoming anthology. They held the story for quite a while, then just yesterday I receive a lovely, personal email stating in part:

“Our apologies that it took so long for us to reply to you—we had far more submissions than we ever hoped, and yours stood out in a sea of worthwhile pieces. Thus we held onto your story until the editorial team was absolutely convinced of our choices. Alas, “Ascension” still wasn’t quite right for the collection. We loved, loved, loved this story, and we hope very much to see more from you when we reopen for submissions.”

How do you get upset with that? (Well, aside from, you know… being rejected and all.)

As a publisher myself (you’ve purchased your copy of Legends of Sleepy Hollow already, right?), I know how uncomfortable rejections can be. People have sent their baby to you and they are on pins and needles, hoping and praying that you’ll like their work and validate their existence. But sometimes…. well… their work is just…. so…. bad!

A lot of places just send out a form letter.

“Dear Author. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for right now. Best of luck in the future. The Publisher.”

And that’s fine. It lets the author know that their work was read by a computer program that sifted through the grammar and vocabulary to see if it was even worth passing on to the human overlords. And it wasn’t. Sucks to be you.

Others get really desperate, and you can smell the guilt oozing off the page.

“Dear Wonderful Writer. Thank you so very much for allowing us to read your marvelous story. We wanted to like it, we really did. And we tried. Because it’s really good. Honest. If it were a perfect world we’d totally publish it. But, well, you know… with the whole Syria crisis… and climate change… it’s not a perfect world. Please don’t hate us. We feel really bad having to say no (and by the way, we’re saying no, hope you understand) and wish there was something we could do. But our hands are tied. It’s not our fault. And it’s not your fault, because you’re a great writer. It just didn’t work out between us. Please don’t go off binge-drinking or anything, OK? Send us an email every now and then to let us know you’re OK? Please? Sincerely, The Publisher.”

That way, you know your story has been read by someone with very low self-esteem who really needs a hug right about now.

Me, I tried to be constructive in my rejections. I told myself before I started that I’d send some sort of personal note when rejecting a story. It’s the least I could do. Having been on the other side, I knew how important it was to at least feel like my work had been read.

For the first few rejections I made, I held to this. Complimenting them on the parts of their story I liked, making suggestions or explaining what it was about the story that didn’t work for me. But the submissions kept coming in. And coming in. And coming in. And some of these stories were just plain awful. I mean come on, people! I wouldn’t have submitted some of those things to my third-grade teacher, let alone a professional (as far as they knew) literary outlet. It’s cliche to say people should use spell-checker but… come on! Use spell-checker for Christ’s sake! You don’t even have to do anything! Do you have a bunch of words in your story underlined with squiggly red lines? That means they could very well be spelled wrong! Open your friggin’ eyes!

There were a number of times I really, really, really wanted to send this rejection email.

“Dear Person How Pounded a Keyboard Randomly With Their Meaty Fingers. Are you kidding? This is a joke, right? You’re not seriously hoping I’ll print this garbage, are you? Did you even read it yourself? I tried, because that’s sort of my job, but I couldn’t get past the first fifteen or so words without vomiting all over my computer. Look, I’ll be blunt. You suck. The story sucks, yes, but more than that, you suck. If you honestly think this story is the best you can do, you should not be writing. Anything. Not fiction. Not non-fiction. Not a grocery list. I would go into detail on what was wrong with your story, but I have a life. And you, quite obviously, don’t. Best of luck with the whole ‘breathing’ thing. I’m guessing it might not come naturally for you. Oh, and just in case you haven’t picked up the hint, I’m rejecting your story. I’m rejecting you. Because you suck. Sincerely, The Publisher.”

But I didn’t. Instead, I generally sent something like this.

“Dear Author. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for right now. Best of luck in the future. The Publisher.”

All of this is simply my way of acknowledging the very nice people who rejected my story in such a kind, humane way. They did it the right way. Probably better than I would have been able to do.

Ironically, I’d already marked down that the story was rejected by them last month, and submitted it elsewhere. Huh.


The Feel of a Book in Your Hands

I started a new book the other day, The Zodiac Legacy by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong. I like it fine so far, but have found myself drawn to it with a need to pick it up and just feel it in my hands.

It’s a thick, trade market-sized paperback and I bought it new. It just feels so good. Concrete. Solid. My rather disturbing fetish for the physicality of this particular book got me thinking. First, I’m wondering if they, like, coated the cover with some sort of opiate you absorb through your pores. But second, how much less I would enjoy this book on a Kindle or other e-Reader.

I don’t for this post to be a book review on this one title, because my revelations herein are more global in scale. However, this is the book I’m reading right now. As you might guess from the name of one of the authors (Stan Lee), there is a lot of art in the book–pages and pages of beautiful, comic book-style art interspersed between the pages of text. I don’t think the art would have as great an impact on me were I seeing it on a screen.

Having a book in my hands is a freeing experience. It signifies I’m about to set off on an adventure, journey to another land or another time or another world. Sitting down with a device does none of that, because it could just as well mean I’m about to read an email or pay my bills online. Not quite as freeing.

When I started writing and selling short stories, I sold them wherever I could find them a home. This included a number of online publications, some of whom pay just as much or more as print publications. But it was never as satisfying as when I’d sell to a print anthology. The story felt temporary online. I’d link to it, read it, then the page gathers electrical dust on some long-forgotten server in the bowels of some long-forgotten server farm. An anthology exists in a state of permanence. It’s on my shelf. I can point to it. Take it down. Open it up. So now I only submit to print publications. And every time one of those anthologies shows up in my mail box, I relish ripping the collection out of the package and feeling the weight in my hands, smelling that wonderful New Book Smell, seeing my story right there on the page.

A couple of months ago, I got the ARC (Advanced Reader Copies) of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) and my heart did backflips while wearing those freaky leg-extenders the Cirque Du Soleil guys were wearing on The Wiz. Glorious paperback copies of my book, with my name right there on the cover. For the first time, it hit home. This was happening. My book was being published. I had the proof in my hands.

I don’t own a Nook or a Kindle or anything like that. I don’t tend to read books on my iPhone or computer. Reading a book is an escape. An escape from technology, an escape from the pressures of the day, an escape from the everyday stress of life. I want to hold it in my hands, feel the pages beneath my fingers.

I’m weird that way.

Now What?

Finished book 2! Turned it into the publisher! Am waiting to hear if they liked it! Will probably carve out my intestines if they don’t!

The excitement of the looming deadline had me on a high. Granted, it was a high of nervousness and anxiety, but a high none the less. Somewhere around four or five days out, when I realized I was going to  make the deadline, the world turned golden and sunny, the birds sang in four-part harmony, and the Golden State Warriors became invincible.

OK, obviously not, but it felt great knowing that I was…. what? The Golden State Warriors are currently 20-0? Huh.


Sending the book off on December 1 made the day the greatest day in the history of days since the last greatest day.

And it made December 2 suck.

A wise man or woman once said “A writer writes.” So I, being a writer, need to write. Only one problem. Write what?

After living with book 2 for so long, while also preparing for Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom to come out this coming August 9 (pre-order your copy on Amazon today!), the idea of starting something new is daunting. Well no, daunting is not the correct word. I am not daunted. I am merely… finicky.

See, I don’t know what to write. I currently have three concepts kicking around in my head and on the computer that have all had pages written. I am not in love with any of them at this moment in time. But then, I was not in love with book 2 for a long time until I pushed myself to get on it (had a deadline and all) and then suddenly everything snapped into place and I fell in love and it came churning out. So any of those three ideas could catch that spark at any time. I also have other, less-formed, less-written ideas dancing in front of my eyeballs. But nothing that is daring me to write it down and bring it to life. There’s also the question of sequels. Will there be a call for a second Dr. Fell? For a second book 2? Should I put my energy into one of them?

And what about my first novel? The one that got me an agent but has yet to sell? Should I go back to it and refine it and get it ready to go?

Or do I spend some time writing some adult horror short stories for a change of pace? I’ve had a bunch published in anthologies over the past couple of years, but they took a backseat when the novels heated up. That being said, I still have a couple that will be published in 2016 and a few others I’m waiting to hear back from. So maybe diving into that world for a bit just to flex my horror muscles would be a good idea?

So many directions I could go, so little magnetic pull toward a final destination. It’s not Writer’s Block, it’s Writer’s Chamber of 32 Doors (bonus points if you get the reference).

And then, of course, there’s the fact that with book 2, I’ve come to the end of my vaunted 2-book deal. Which means if I want to be a professional writer beyond August 2017 (when book 2 is due out), I need to write something new and then SELL it. Or else I’m just a footnote in the annals of history.

I know, I know. Neurotic much?

I’m so glad we’ve had this conversation. I feel much better.