Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Zack Jernigan and The Next Big Thing

Apparently there's a meme among writers called The Next Big Thing. I was unaware of this until this morning. My buddy, Zachary Jernigan, who's debut novel, No Return, is out next March, has included me in his whack at it. Go here and read what he's written about me and some other writers I know who actually have a shot at being the next big thing.

By the way, that's the photo of Zack from his Amazon author's page. I just had to include it because he's freaking adorable. Zack's the baby, right? Good, that's what I thought...

And look for my attempt at this meme in the nearish future.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Zomburbia update

C. S. Lewis. Mr. Lewis received some 800
rejections before any of his stories saw print.
The last time we spoke, or, perhaps more accurately, the last time I talked at you, I'd just acquired an agent and she was preparing to send out my novel, Zomburbia, to a number of publishers and editors. I just wanted to bop over here and give an update on that situation. Just like the title of this post says. Truth in advertising, kids.

True to her word, Ann prepared a submission packet and sent it off to eighteen publishers. That may seem like a lot, and it is -- it's more than she would normally query, but she's not known in the YA field and she wanted to cast a wide net. Of those eighteen, six have gotten back to us with some version of no thanks. Most of these have said something along the lines of, "It doesn't sound right for us" or "It sounds like something we already have in our pipeline." Two have mentioned that they think there's zombie fatigue in the market. That's a bit worrying, but I'll address it in a moment.

But it's not all bad news: So far, five publishers have asked to see the full manuscript. Those aren't bad numbers, right? Six said no thanks, five want to read it, and seven still need to respond. Ann and I feel confident that if folks read the book, the voice of the main character will win them over. For "confident," you may want to insert "hopeful." Whatever, we think we have a good shot at attracting at least one publisher. We may need to wait a while to find that out, however. The reading/approval process is a long one and there's the Christmas/New Year's holiday at this end of this month, so it will probably be drawn out even longer. I'm doing my best to be patient.

Here's where I want to talk about zombie fatigue. A couple of years ago, when I had first started writing what would become Zomburbia, I had a chance to talk to an agent about my writing and she asked to see the opening chapters of the book. She was mostly negative about it, mainly citing that there were too many zombie books on the market. This was two years ago, mind, and the field hasn't become any less crowded. She then suggested I write something else, something very specific. For a time, I abandoned the manuscript and tried to write what she'd asked for, but my heart was never in it. I later came to realize that she was probably only ever interested in this one thing she wanted written and was looking for someone to write it for her. Even after that realization, I didn't pick up Zomburbia again. Her comment about the saturation of the field gnawed at me.


But I couldn't get the book out of my head. Courtney, the main character spoke to me, delivered long speeches in that voice of hers, speeches that made their way into the book once I got back to writing the stupid thing. Because I realized that no matter how saturated the market was, this was a book I had to write. It was a book I wanted to read and it was about characters and situations that I wanted to know about. I wanted to see how it all worked out in the end. And isn't that what you're supposed to do? Aren't you supposed to write books and stories that you want to read, market forces be damned? Well, I sure as shit hope that's what you're supposed to do. And I hope that those five editors who now have my manuscript can sense the urgency I had when I wrote it.

I think that might be the book's only hope, and I think it's a good one.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trouble, and a moment of self-discovery

It was a rough week over at Casa Kreutz Gallardo. My youngest developed a high fever that lasted a week and culminated in two-night hospital stay. On top of that, there was worry that the fever might have affected his heart. Thankfully, two cardiographs show everything is normal in that department -- we all hope that future follow-ups will continue to be positive. He's all better, too, thanks for asking. Just as frisky and ornery as ever. The sense of relief of everyone in our circle is palpable.

And while that was happening, my agent was asking me to get material to her so that she can start shopping my novel to publishers. Nothing like rewrites, which are all done, thank God. She needed a synopsis, a bio, and a few other things. I know I could have told her about my circumstances and begged a few more days from her, but I decided not to do that. I wanted to do my best to give her what she needed in a timely manner.

And it occurred to me that after I'd got everything to her that will probably be what life as a freelance writer. Not the hospital visits, but trying to fit work in among the life moments that tear at me constantly. And it made me realize that I am probably up to the task. Which is reassuring to me. I know that if the situation is ever very dire, I'll bow out, but for now, I was happy to get that shit done. Off the plate and to my agent. In the past, I've looked for excuses to not work. That's done with. Now it's time to be serious about this writing thing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Achievement unlocked: agent acquired

Scott Pilgrim art by Bryan Lee O'Malley.
It feels strange sharing good news when half the country is being knocked around by a hurricane, but I guess that if I waited for a period of calm and peace then I'd probably never get to share this.

Just so I don't bury the lede: I now have an agent who will represent me and my novel, Zomburbia. Ann Collette of the Rees Literary Agency has decided to add me to her roster, for which I am very grateful. I wrote previously about how I met Ann.

Even before signing with her, Ann helped me a ton by giving me notes on my novel. Is this something agents do? Help authors with their manuscripts even if they don't have a formal relationship? I have to admit that handling the rewrite felt a bit like an audition. I guess I got the part...

For now, I have a few more rewrites -- minor stuff -- and I need to write a bio. Ann is beginning to put together a list of publishers/editors to whom she'll submit the manuscript. She thinks she should be submitting it around the middle of November. I hope I'll have good news soon after that. Either way, I plan to use this space as a means of recording the book's progress through the hurdles of publishing. Wish me luck.

You know, I really should write that post about query letters...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is there still room for the punk in steampunk?

The Tesla Rangers pin that I proudly wear 
on my jacket. It's from the steampunk comic, 
Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

Here's something I'm pondering these days as I start to once again work on a steampunk novel.

It seems to me that when the original steampunk writers began to explore the world of alternate Victorian history, they had a definite political bent in mind. And by “original,” I mean James Blaylock's Homunculus, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates and K. W. Jeter's Morlock Night. Jeter, of course originated the term. And, yes, I'm aware that he may have been riffing on the term “cyberpunk” and probably had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he came up with the name, but that doesn't take away the fact that the original group to define the subgenre used their novels, in part, to address some social issues. Their immediate antecedent, Michael Moorcock, was also interested in exploring an opposing view of imperialism with his Warlord of the Air trilogy and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, part of steampunk's second wave, carried on this tradition with The Difference Engine. So, I think it's safe to safe that the bedrock of the subgenre has a political substrate running through it.

Which seems not to be the case anymore. And before I go any further, I'm going to admit that my knowledge of the field is not exhaustive, nor am I deriding steampunk works that contain little or no political commentary. I am simply asking if today's audience will still accept stories that do.

Having said that, a lot of steampunk I read today seems more concerned with the neo-Victorian aesthetic more than anything else. And there's a large section of the subgenre that features supernatural elements, which seems strange to me, but I'll admit that it might just not be my cup of tea.

So, here's the question: Are there modern works of steampunk that feature political commentary? That's it. I'm not trying to stir up any controversy, I don't hate on one aspect of the subgenre versus the another. I simply want greater exposure to a subgenre that interests me. That is all.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joe Kubert 1926-2012

Sgt. Rock by Joe Kubert.
Copyright DC Comics.
I learned today that Joe Kubert passed away at the age of 85. I know there will be a lot of articles written about his passing, but I felt the need to saysomething. Kubert was a legend in comics; he began working in comics at the age of 12. He's most famous for his work on Hawkman and the DC war comics, especially Sgt. Rock -- I remember pouring over issues of Sgt. Rock and Weird War Tales as a kid. Later, he founded the Kubert School which has become a Mecca for fledgling comics artists.

I worked at Dark Horse Comics when they released his book, Fax from Sarajevo. I was especially proud that the company would associate themselves with Mr Kubert.

And he never stopped working. He's got a book out now; Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, which features him inking over his son's pencils. He really is an inspiration. Geeks of Doom has the first write-up on his passing that I've seen.

The world doesn't seem as nice knowing that he is no longer with us. Rest in peace, Mr. Kubert.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Listen to this: Now Now

This single by Minneapolis trio Now Now has been in heavy rotation as I've been writing lately. It's a minute, forty-three seconds of pure pop bliss. The whole album is good, but I keep returning to this song. I love the "get in, wreck the place, get out" feeling of the thing. The band seems to be catching the attention of others, too, if you want more opinions than just mine. Allison Weiss, on whom I previously admitted to having a huge musical crush, loves them, and NPR have featured them in there Field Recordings segment.

Enough of me -- listen to them already.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book talk: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 Library Edition Volume 1 HC

They were just so young. First season 
promo photo. Copyright 20th Century
Fox Television.
I've never made a secret of my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A big, huge, titanic-sized reason for that love is the dialogue of series creator Joss Whedon. Whedon makes the language his characters speak dance, do jumping jacks, and do the shimmy. And for all of that, he has a rare ability to get at emotional truths like few other screen writers I can think of. (And I know there are people out there who don't like Whedon's writer. There's a term for these people. That term is: "wrong.")

Previous attempts to bring Buffy to the comics page failed, in my estimation, because try as they might, the writers couldn't quite capture the voice of the TV series writers. And there were some good writers on that original comics series, Andi Watson among them.

And so, we get a new comics series that starts where the TV series ended, and its original arc is written by none other than Mr. Whedon. Glory be! It's really nice to once again be visiting the world and the characters he created, and to have him, initially at least, at the helm. And Brian K. Vaughn, who takes over after Whedon leaves, does a good job of maintaining that voice.

The art by Georges Jeanty captures the likeness of the actors who played these characters on the show without being slavish to them, and he has a fine eye for storytelling. A bonus, for me at least, is that Cliff Richards gets to draw a stand-alone issue in this collection. Richards was the regular artist on the original back when I was its assistant editor. Seeing his art again is like a blast from the past. In a good way.

The whole tone of the comic just feels right. Seriously folks, this is as close as we're likely to get to another season of one of my favorite shows. And that's close enough.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Let the great agent hunt begin!

This is the first of a number of posts I'm going to write about the process of (I hope) finding an agent and (who do I have to kill to make this happen?) getting my book, Zomburbia, published.

I mentioned a few days ago that I was preparing a manuscript to send to an agent. Why? How? Wha? I thought it might be of interest to some folks to talk about the process o finding an agent.

First, why would one want an agent? Simply put, agents are the first line of gatekeepers you encounter as you try to get your book published. Publishers will often not consider un-agented books -- the fact that you have a manuscript strong enough to attract the attention of an agent tells the publisher two things, I believe: 1) That you have a strong, well-written manuscript (a lot of agents will actually work with a writer to further polish a book prior to sending it to a publisher) and 2) that you play well with others. If you're a jerk, no matter how good your book, an agent will not want to work with you. Especially as a beginning writer. So an agent vets you in the eyes of a publisher.

(Why one would want to go the traditional publishing route at all since the advent of self-published ebooks? That's a different topic, maybe one for another blog post. Suffice to say that with this book, Zomburbia, I want to go the traditional route and I believe I have a strong shot at achieving that.)

So, on to How. Step 1, FINISH YOUR BOOK. For serious, if you are a first-time novelist, do not start the search for an agent until you've finished your manuscript. And by finished I don't just mean you write a manuscript of at least 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo and then, December 1st, you start sending out query letters. I mean, you write, have some folks read it, then rewrite, have some more folks read it, then rewrite some more, then polish. Make it as good as you can -- have it at a place where you believe it can be published. Once you've done all of that, then you can begin the process of looking for an agent.

There are generally two ways to look for agents: 1) Know someone in the publishing business and have then recommend (and hopefully introduce you to) an agent. 2) Do a ton of research from a variety of sources and decide on a list to which you want to send your query. What are you looking for when you research an agent? You want to make sure they represent the kind of writing you do. If you write paranormal romance and the agent states on their bio that they don't handle fantasy; that's a bad fit. You want to make sure they've made a sale in your area in the near past. Make sure they don't charge a fee to read your manuscript. Most of these things can be discovered on the agent's web sites.

But how do you find an agent to even begin doing your research? There are a number of guides you can check out. The one that springs to mind is Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents (which can be found very cheap as an ebook on Amazon). These guides list working agents, who and what what types of writing they represent, recent sales, etc. With one of these in hand you can find a list of potential agents whom you can query.

I'll get to the query in a later post, but for now I want to talk about how I found the agent whom I am currently courting. I mentioned that there are generally two ways to find potential agents, introductions or research, right? Yeah, I didn't go either of those routes. As you'll probably be aware if you visit this blog, I just finished up my creative writing MFA at Stonecoast. One of the things Stonecoast does for its graduation students is to bring in an agent for them to speak with. We may also send them a query and sample of our work so that they can address our viability in the market. Any time you have a chance to get your work in front of a professional, take it. I saw this as an exercise since a quick check of her web site showed the agent in question didn't handle YA, which Zomburbia most definitely is. But I wanted a chance to have my query letter and sample chapter critiqued by a professional. And I'm glad I did.

The first thing she said to me (well, the second, because the first was, "Which one are you?") was, "Come to Momma!" Turns out she really liked the query letter and sample chapter I sent and she wanted me to send her the entire manuscript. I wish I could have done it immediately and, under different circumstances I would have been able to, but I needed to finish a final polish before it was ready to be seen. And the only reason it wasn't all set to go is that wasn't expecting this agent to want to see the thing. That makes sense right?

Okay, that's my personal personal story, and probably a good place to stop this. I think that next time I'll write a bit about the query letter. And I'll end by mentioning that if you ever have any questions or there's some topic you'd like me to address, please either leave a comment or feel free to me email me at the address found in the about section.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Promises, promises

Listen, I've been readying my novel to send to an agent and reading a piece that I need to critique by tomorrow. But when I'm done -- tomorrow or Friday -- I swear I'll write something here. I swear.

Have I ever lied to you...?

In the mean time, didja notice that I switched hosting for the site from Blogger to... something that isn't blogger? That's something, right?

More soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book talk: Distrust That Particular Flavor

Gibson reading at Powell's in 2010.
Photo by Adam Gallardo
In his last three novels, William Gibson has written about the everyday world as if it were science fiction. He exposes the strange incongruity of life in the early 21st century. He's always done this, he claims, he just used to say that his stories were set in the future. So it should come as no surprise that the essays collected in this book sometimes come off like SF vignettes.

Gibson claims to have no talent for non-fiction. His toolbox is that of the novelist he says, but it's that eye for narrative and telling detail that makes these pieces so readable. And so recognizable as Gibson's creations.

The pieces here are culled mainly from magazine articles and talks. Most deal with the author's vision of the future (as a SF writer he gets asked to talk about the future a lot), or with his somewhat uneasy relationship with technology. It's somewhat disconcerting to read about the man who coined the term "cyberspace" slowly coming to grips with the Internet via an addiction to ebay.

At all times, Gibson's humanity and sly sense of humor shines through in these essays, as when he describes Singapore in the essay "Disneyland with the Death Penalty."

"Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation. If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore." (72)

Some of the stronger pieces in the book feature Gibson turning the novelist's observant eye inward. He writes with a sense of wistfulness about his own past and his development as both a reader and writer in essays like "Rocket Radio," "Since 1948" and "Time Machine Cuba."

If there's a complaint to be leveled here, it's that many of the essays are too short. Just as the reader begins to truly engage with a piece, it's over. But I don't know that being left with wanting more is necessarily a bad thing.

I'd definitely recommend this book to any fans of Gibson's fiction, but those unfamiliar with his work might find these nonfiction pieces the perfect gateway to his fictional worlds.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I've been a bad blogger

After having promised to write about my experience at my final Stonecoast residency, I've found myself without reliable wifi since I left the Portland airport. I guess I'll have to catch up once I get home. Sorry.

In the meantime, have a picture of some of my MFA buddies as we walked to lunch yesterday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

One last Stonecoast

In a little less than 24 hours, I'll be boarding a plane to head out to Maine for my last Stonecoast residency. Stonecoast being the MFA program I've been attending for the last two years. Next week I will graduate and I shall be a master of all fine arts.

I've written little about the experience of completing an MFA, and less about attending an actual residency. It occurred to me that I should document this last trip for posterity. Who knows, maybe someone out there will actually think this is interesting.

For today, I'll link to an older entry where I explained why I wanted to get a creative writing MFA in the first place.

See you all again tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Print porn -- 3/28/12

This is a  short, beautiful video of a book being made using traditional methods. Too short, I think. I could watch this all day long. I think if I ever win the lottery (I'd better start playing the lottery), I'll buy a traditional print shop...


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New music -- Girl in a Coma

I was working on rewrites for my thesis manuscript all day yesterday. A task that, frankly made me want to weep. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a new band that saw me through those dark times. Girl in a Coma is a trio of Latinas from Texas who make sweet, sweet power pop.

A bonus for me was to see so many Latino faces in their videos. It was like visiting family in Southern California. Minus the chance of getting caught up in a brawl...

As a special bonus, you should check out the Tiny Desk Concert they did for NPR.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Some Zomburbia news

I had a lot of time on my hands one day...
I've really been slacking off on this blog. Yikes. Well, I finally have something to write about and I'll try and recommit myself to detailing the contents of my navel moving forward.

My novel, Zomburbia, has advanced into the quarter finals of's BreakthroughNovel Award contest. It's one of 250 YA novels that have advanced. I'm quite proud of that. An excerpt of the novel, the first chapter, is available to download and read. It's in the .azw format so you'll need a Kindle or Kindle emulator to read it.

When the results were first announced and the excerpt posted I was in a frenzy to get people to read it and to comment. I thought that comments would play a part in deciding what books advanced to the next round. Apparently, they do not. But I still want people to read the excerpt. Listen, I spent a year-and-a-half writing and revising the novel and that opening chapter may be all that ever sees the light of day. So, do me a favor, please: Visit the excerpt's page on Amazon, download the bad boy and give it a read. And then please let me know what you think. And if you want to leave a comment on the Amazon, that'd give me a special ego bump. Which we can all agree I need.

I'll be updating this blog in about a month to let folks know whether or not Zomburbia makes it to the next round.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chipping away

I got 2,000+ words today on the story I'm writing, which isn't bad considering I'm sick like a dog and was working my part-time job. Actually, working the part-time job is probably the only thing that made getting that many words possible. And I say "story," but it's really a draft of a novella called "The Dedication to Magic." A Novella being between 15 and 40 thousand words. "Dedication" will be on the shorter side of that, probably 15 or 16 thousand words, though it may grow longer in the rewrite. My stories tend to do that because I gloss over things in a rush to finish the initial draft.

2,000 words may not seem like a lot -- it's roughly eight pages -- but like with so many things, I'm a plodding writer. But in the time, get my ass in the chair, and I'll slowly build up a reserve of words. I managed to write a novel in four months by wracking up one or two thousand words a day. And I plan to do it again once I'm done with my thesis.

So, once done with this draft of the novella, I'll need to rewrite three short stories and then I'll be able to give my mentor, Liz Hand, everything for my creative thesis (more about Liz in a later post, I think). Then It'll just be a matter of rewriting everything I've given her. A task that makes me feel sort of weak.

And that is enough for one night.

The image, by the way, comes from Life magazine's online archive of images and is licensed for personal, non-commercial use. I reckon this qualifies.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The return of print porn

It's been a while since I posted one of these, or anything for that matter. However, the fine folks at Laughing Squid posted this lovely short documentary about letterpress. I always regretted that I while I was learning lithography, I never took the time to also learn letterpress. Ah, wasted youth...

Upside Down, Left To Right: A Letterpress Film from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.