Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar

I may have more to say later, but Avatar... wow! I'm not sure Cameron built the epic universe he was after (ala Star Wars) but man did he do something special with the world building and animation. I can't really say it was special effects because nearly the whole movie was animated, but it isn't your father's animation. I am usually as stickler for effects that don't look quite right, or animation that seems stilted or mechanical, but my goodness... there was barely a hiccup in the nearly three hour movie. It was utterly believable; like he took a camera crew to another world and filmed it. The 3D engulfed me. The flora and fauna was breathtaking. And the acting via digital performance capture was top notch. I felt like the Na'vi were real flesh and blood people, with a full culture and attitude. It was just amazing.

Now to the epic nature of the story. This is really the only area I think Avatar fell short. For what it was, the story was solid. It wasn't cheesy, or unbelievable, but was it epic? Did James Cameron create a universe with the vastness, the "bigness" of a Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Middle Earth? I don't think so. Was it a big enough universe for one 3 hour movie? Yes. But big enough for a series of movies? Big enough to become an icon, a piece of American culture? I don't think so. Again it was amazing, but more in the immersivness of the world, and animation, but not universe. Will it make a boatload of money? You bet. Will I see it again? You bet. Will it be something that defines this generation of movie goers, like Star Wars did? I just don't see it. But only time will tell for sure. What I can tell you is the bar has been raised considerably. Movies of this nature (science fiction and fantasy) will never be able to get by with what they were doing a year or two ago. I feel some regret Avatar didn't happen before The Lord of the Rings. If you could marry the effects/animation/world building of Avatar, with the epic story of the Lord of the Rings, I would probably call it the greatest movie ever made.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

30 Books in 2009

One of the things I believe strongly, is if you want to be a writer, you must first be a reader. With that in mind I set out toward the beginning of this year to read (and track my reading) as much as I could. Now I have a pretty busy life. I have several hobbies, a wife and two kids, friends to hang out with, church events to attend, a business to run, etc, etc... so what this means is I have to work to carve out time to read. That said, I feel pretty good about finishing thirty books this year, including the daunting "Einstein" by Walter Isaacson. But something curious happened in my quest to be a prolific reader. I struggled to find books that I really, really loved. In fiction, there were only two, "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card and "The True Meaning of Smekday" by D.M. Rex. This may partly be due to the fact that I felt like I had to finish every book I started. Because if I didn't, then it wouldn't make my list. So I ended up reading some books all the way through that I normally would have put down. This took up time that I could have been reading something else that I might have loved. I also read a few series that ended up being okay, but just not great. I was invested enough that I wanted to see how the stories ended, but I can't see myself reading them again.

This all got me thinking about my own writing. Am I creating something that is just okay? Something that people might add to their list of books read, but not loved? If so, am I okay with that? Obviously there are many different tastes out there. Some people may have loved the books that I thought were mediocre. So there is always that possibility with my own work. I guess in the end I need to try to write something that I love, and hope there are others out there with similar tastes.

What about you all. What books have you read that you absolutely love? I'd love to add some into the queue for next year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

50,076 Words


Well, here it is, just hours before the end of November 2009, and I've crossed the finish line. I'd like to say it was a great experience, but honestly this year was tough. When I did NaNoWriMo in 2008, I had a blast the entire time. Sure I got behind, but the story was such fun to write. This year I struggled through nearly the whole thing, and in the end I'm not sure whether it has any value or not. Sure I think there are some good points to it, my son said it was more "mysterious" than the first Noah Zarc book, which is what I was going for. But in the end I'm not sure it had any clear direction. But that is not what NaNo is about. It is about sitting your butt in the chair and typing, and that I did. If you take a look at my word graph, you'll see I really struggled in the middle. About day 16 is when my son told me he'd help me get going again by reading what I had written. So that got me moving. But by thanksgiving I really had to kick it into high gear, writing 10,000 words in only two days. When all is said and done, I am really surprised how easy it is to crank the words out. I just may have to go back to the drawing board, or keyboard, to figure out how to make those words form a story worth reading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writer's Block

I hate writer's block. I'm not saying I hate getting writer's block, I'm saying I hate the term. I've always believed it was just an excuse for not writing. "I'd be working on my latest novel, but I have writer's block, so I'll go check my facebook page instead." "The World Series of Poker final table is on, I wonder if my man Phil Ivey will take it this year." (He didn't.) You get the idea. Writer's block is an excuse to be lazy. And here I am about to get all honest on you. I had a huge bout of writer's block for several days last week and spilling into this one. You see I'm deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo, and as anyone knows, who is familiar with this insanity, there is absolutely no room for laziness. That's why we use intriguing, "You non-writers wouldn't understand." terms like writer's block. I was completely lost. I had no idea what to do next in my story. So I didn't do anything. I saw my word count deficit build. I thought maybe this year I would be the loser I always knew I was, and not finish what I had started.

Then, my resolve strengthened. No, I will not be that guy. I will not be what my friends in high school said I was. I am not a quitter. D. Robert 2.0 would prevail. So I put my fingers on my keyboard, and I typed. One painful word after another. Then the keys started clacking a little bit louder. The staccato of words on a page beat the air in rhythm to my pounding heart... Okay, that is a bit dramatic, but suffice to say, the words came. Maybe not the next Faulkner, but there are some nuggets in there. Something that won't hit the editing floor in a few months when I get back to the manuscript. So I say now, writer's block be gone. I do not condescend to acknowledge your presence.

Now, what the heck am I doing writing this blog. I still have a valley to climb out of. A low spot in my climb toward 50,000 words to make up for. 11,787 down. 38,213 to go.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing a Novel Isn't Rocket Science, Or Is It?

A couple weeks ago, after I posted about completing the latest draft of Noah Zarc, I received a comment on the post from Susan Quinn, a real life rocket scientist. She offered to read through the latest draft and give me some feedback. I of course jumped all over it and sent the manuscript off to her. A short time later she returned the document with an exceptional, well thought out, critique. The most exciting part, in my opinion, were the five "Tech Issues" that she wrote detailed remarks about. Informing me, from a scientific standpoint, where my technology was a little off the mark. Did you know that there is no "escape velocity" if you are simply trying to leave the earth? As long as you are not trying to enter orbit around the earth, you can go at pretty much any speed you are able to maintain. Duh! Susan also had wonderful ideas to improve several other areas of the story, and character development as well. So, Susan a big ol' thank you for your help.

For anyone else out there in the final stages of writing or editing a novel, I cannot say enough about the importance of finding another pair of eyes, or better yet multiple pairs of eyes, to take a look at your manuscript. Look for people who can be honest, detailed, and relentless. This isn't a popularity contest. You don't want people to fawn all over your work. You need critiquers who aren't afraid to tell you like it is. Aren't afraid to tell you to "kill your darlings". If you can find someone like that, and they also point out areas they like, how much more are you going to believe them? My wife is my biggest critic, but I can tell you when she says she likes something, that is huge. Because I know she is not just trying to make me feel all warm and fuzzy, she genuinely means it.

So get your story out there. Let the wolves tear it to pieces. Then put it back together better, and stronger than ever before.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009

I just signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I'm pretty excited about writing book two of Noah Zarc. Is anyone else out there planning on having a go at it this year? If so let me know your NaNo name so we can help push each other on. If you are on on the fence about it, I highly recommend you have a go at it. There is nothing like reaching the end of a 50,000 word novel in only thirty days. November 1 you aren't a novelist, and November 30 you are. In my case I will be a three-times novelist (if I finish, which I will baring any catastrophe). So what are you waiting for, sign up now. www.nanowrimo.org

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Noah Zarc Rewrite - Again

I finished up the latest rewrite/edit of Noah Zarc last night. I'm really excited about some of the changes. I'm gonna let it stew a couple days then send it off to some readers. The plan is to have this be the last pass. Then it is time to start submitting it. I cut about 1,500 words, but it is still just a bit over 50k. Perhaps my readers can point out a few places to cut. But if not I'm pretty comfortable with that. I don't think any agent is going to throw it out because of a few thousand words.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Writing a "Big" book.

Just when I thought I was nearing completion on the editing for Noah Zarc, I read "Writing the Breakout Novel" by literary agent Donald Maass. He makes the argument that best sellers aren't made by good marketing and sales efforts, they depend more strongly on the writing. Duh! But it is surprising how often I read on the blogosphere about marketing, and how your novel will never sell unless you spend a vast amount of time promoting your book. Maass says a writer should be writing. If an author ever wants to move beyond average sales, or dwindling sales in the case of mid-career novelist, then they need to learn how to write a "big" story. He emphasizes this does not necessarily mean a long novel, but it should feel big. I call it "epic".

So, as I attempt to apply this to Noah Zarc, I find there are elements of "bigness" in it, but the plot could use some strengthening too. Where I'm struggling at the present though is with word count. Most sources I've read say that a middle grade novel should be about 30,000 to 40,000 words in length. Noah Zarc stands at about 54,000 words. I don't mind pushing the envelope a little bit, but I feel it is probably too long already and should be cut. However, I also have some ideas that I believe will make it much bigger, much more epic in scope. Except I'm sure those additions will push the word count even higher.

As I've said in previous posts, I am a firm believer of working within guidelines. That is why I became a graphic designer instead of a fine artist. One puts food on the table, one doesn't (as easily). So I'm not going to brush off the word count guidelines only for the sake of my "art". Nevertheless, I'm feeling pretty constricted by it, to tell the story I want to tell. Perhaps the answer lies in the sequel. Hint at greatness in the first book, but then really open the spigot on the second. But then I risk not snagging my audience (agents, editors, and readers) by writing a book that doesn't really get going soon enough.

As you can see I'm pretty conflicted on the subject. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ender's Game


At the SCBWI meeting yesterday I read a page or two from Noah Zarc. Afterward one of the members asked me if I ever read "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card. He said it really wasn't anything like Noah Zarc, but my story reminded him of it. So since I was at a bookstore anyway, I picked up a copy. I could tell after about 20 pages it was going to be good, because I found myself looking at the back to see how many pages it was, and thinking that it wasn't going to be a long enough book. By the end of the day (ok 12:30 this morning) I had read the whole thing.

It was an utterly compelling story. It had all the hallmarks of an "epic" story at least how I define epic. A small child is given a choice between an easy life with his family, or the chance to save the planet. He chooses the latter and goes to "Battle School". There he quickly rises through the ranks of the other kids to become the leader that the world needed, just in the nick of time.

Ender's Game had elements of Dune, and Harry Potter (although ender's game was before HP) and it sucked me in and I couldn't put it down all day. Finally I reached about 20 pages from the end and could not figure out how the author could possibly wrap the story up in time, then wham, the he hit me with an amazing twist. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

scbwi

I am currently working on gathering a list of agents to query. In doing so I noticed that several of them were members of SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. I checked it out and decided it would be worthwhile to join. After joining I was thrilled to discover that they have a local chapter that meets at the Barnes & Noble in Fairlawn. The first meeting is this Saturday. I am really looking forward to attending. They also have a conference coming up in September. It looks to be a pretty well-planned event. At this point I don't really know what to expect, but I have my registration filled out, and my two copies of the first ten pages of my manuscript ready for critique. I will definitely let you know what happens.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Moving closer to submitting

I just sent off the latest revision of Noah Zarc to a couple of my most honest and forth-coming critiquers. The plan is to take their revision suggestions, incorporate them into the manuscript, give it one more pass for grammar/spelling issues, then begin sending it out to agents. So while I wait for feedback, I am working on getting the rest of the needed "Novel Package" ready to go. First up is the query. This is the short description of the story that will go in a letter or email to agents, hopefully "hooking" them so they want to read more. Take a look. Please feel free (or compelled) to give me feedback.

Noah Zarc couldn’t imagine life without piloting spaceships through the solar system, dodging killer robots, and saving the earth’s animals from extinction. Life couldn’t be any better for the ten-year-old time-traveler, but he soon learns it could be a whole lot worse. His dad becomes stranded on Earth, ten thousand years in the past. A madman kidnaps his mom, taking her to Mars a thousand years in the future. All while Noah is stuck on the dark side of the moon in the 21st century. His only means of transport—a city-sized spaceship, filled with animals of every size and kind—but it hasn’t moved in years. Noah, along with his brother Hamilton, and sister Sam, know they will have to use every talent they possess to outwit a foe, bent on forcing their mother to destroy an earth that only recently became inhabitable again. At the same time keeping their dad from freezing to death or getting squished by wooly mammoths in the Ice Age. Along the way Noah discovers a dark, family secret, his mother and father aren’t who he thought they were.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Writing Software

A year or so ago I was reading a blog by a published author (Holly Lisle), and she said she was using a software package called Scrivener for her writing. It sounded rather exciting. It allowed you to create virtual "note cards" with ideas for your chapters, which you could then expand upon and grow into your actual story. So I excitedly went to the website to download it, only to discover it only worked on a Mac. Well a year later I'm happily working on my new MacBook Pro which I had purchased a month or two prior when I remembered Scrivener. Five minutes later I had it downloaded and installed.

After working with it a couple of months I can't imagine writing without it. I copied and pasted my entire manuscript for Noah Zarc into it for editing. It has a couple views for different tasks. An "Outline" view that allows me to see every chapter, and every scene in the chapter with a short synopsis of each displayed. This is great for locating key areas in the story to add in new scenes, allowing me to flesh out a sub plot I'm adding to the story. The other view is "Corkboard" with the aformentioned note cards. It allows me to instantly see each scene and drag and drop those scenes in different orders. This has been invaluable as I begin to layout the plot ideas for Noah Zarc book two.

The built in help system is a bit lacking. It took me days to figure out how to get the chapter numbers and titles to print out when I exported it. (all you had to do was turn off both Outline and Corkboard views.) Also the Search and Replace tools could be a bit more robust.

I know I haven't scratched the surface with what it can do. But overall I am extremely happy with it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Great book on how to make your novel shine


I just finished Flogging the Quill- Crafting a Novel that Sells by Ray Rhamey an author and editor. I've read probably a half dozen books on editing, but this one by far has been the most helpful.

One of the great things about the book, is it can be used anywhere along the writing process. If you are just starting a novel, or have it complete, there are sound ideas you can use to make the story shine.

He's the author of the blog Flogging The Quill, that I've mentioned before, and many of his concepts can be found there, but the book goes quite a bit further and really outlines the process step-by-step. I highly recommend this, and if you order it now, he will actually do a free phone consultation, or free critique of your first 3 pages, just for sending in a photo of yourself with the book. You know I'm all over that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Visions of being King

A post over on Patricia Wood's blog, got me thinking about writing. I posted this in her comments.

My dad is a great story-teller. Not the fictional, sitting around the camp-fire ghost story kind. Just the everyday experiences of his life kind. Ever since I was a kid I can remember listening to him tell stories of things he'd done in his life. I discovered around high school that I had no such gift. I couldn't remember what happened last week, let alone what happened five years ago.

So I started to concoct stories up about my exploits. I worked at Disney World for a semester in college (sweeping cigarette butts) and I had all kinds of story-lines I doled out. My favorite one was I went to the lady who made our name tags and told her I lost mine. And I had her make me a "Chip" name tag (My first name is Dale) and I went around telling everyone I was twins. "Yeah, my parents were huge Disney fans, and they named us after those annoying chipmunks."

Another time I was working at a rock concert selling T-shirts and I convinced a group of girls I had fled South Africa during apartheid because I didn't like how the blacks were treated. (I'm white, born and raised in Ohio but I did a pretty good South African/British accent.) I even took it a step further and told them I was number 364th in line for the throne of England.

Then somewhere around the end of my college years, I started to realize something. I wasn't telling stories, I was flat out lying. My conscience started to eat away at me a bit. So I gave it up. Quit cold turkey. Got boring.

Then I discovered writing. The beautiful thing about writing is you can lie all over the place. You can make up the grandest stories, and as long as you make it believable, you can lie, lie lie. I was hooked. I guess I never really thought about it before, but this is probably the main reason I like writing so much. While I'm writing I can at least capture a little bit of that feeling, back when I wasn't so ordinary, and had visions of being King.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I'm a real writer now!

I've finally achieved something that up until now I've only read about. I received my first rejection letter from an agent. Okay, I will admit that I was a bit disappointed, but honestly only a little. As I said previously I had very, very low expectations that I would land an agent this easily. I'm excited that I did get an agent to request pages on my first try, so I'm still pretty pumped.

I am still going to proceed with getting Noah Zarc finalized, and then I'm going to start sending it out in earnest. So for all my beta readers out there, if you can get your thoughts back to me, I'm ready to go.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just how busy are agents anyway?

I just got a dose of reality today. I've read it dozens of times. I even told my friends who were asking if I heard back from the agent yet, that it could be weeks, or months. But we has humans don't seem to really believe it until it happens to us.

I got an email from the Secret Agent. "Thanks! I'll do my best to get back to you within two months."

I totally understand. We are all very busy people. I have clients (at my day job) that have to wait quite a while for me to get to their projects too. But still, two months! At least I can hold off checking my email every ten minutes... At least for a few weeks. I mean you never know, she may get to it early. :-)

In the mean time I am continuing to refine the query letter for Noah Zarc, and put the finishing touches on the manuscript. I hope to start sending out to other agents within the next month. So that'll give me something else to fret about.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Noah Zarc Book Two

Before all the secret agent hooha, I began work on the second Noah Zarc book. My son has been bugging me to write the sequel, so of course I had to comply. I'm pretty excited about some ideas I have for it. I've got the first couple of pages written, but mostly I've been mulling it over in my mind. I tend to come up with scenes in my head. Little vignettes that begin to build the plot, and give me an idea of where I want to go with the story. I think it may end up being a bit darker than the first one, but that is yet to be seen for sure.

In the mean time I'm continuing to edit book one. I want to make sure it is ready to go if the agent requests the full manuscript. I also haven't forgotten Crimson Swarm. It is off to one of my crit partners who I'm doing a full novel swap with. Could be a busy summer for writing.

Thanks to all the folks who helped whip the first five chapters of Noah Zarc into shape for the agent. Hopefully it'll pay off.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Secret Agent Results

It is official. I can't stop grinning. The secret agent chose Noah Zarc as one of the runners up in the Secret Agent contest. How cool is that? The prize: Literary Agent Kate Testerman, has agreed to read the first five chapters of the book. Yikes! That means I have to put an end to my continual editing. I need to say "It is finished" and send it out. That's kind of scary in and of itself.

She also asks for a synopsis of the whole story. I haven't written one of those yet, so I'll have to get crackin'. I did just reread the first five chapters (making yet a few more edits) and am pretty excited about it. Chapter five ends with a pretty cool cliff hanger so hopefully it'll get her to want to read even more.

I know it is a very, very long shot that I would ever land an agent on my first try, but still it is cool. And it is still worth getting excited about.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Secret Agent Part Deux

I'm pretty excited... The secret agent commented on my opening, and he/she liked it.

"Secret Agent said... Tension, action, introduction of characters: all in all, a good set-up to a possibly intriguing story. I'd be happy to read more.

Although -- Sam and Ham as matching names bothers me a bit."

It's not that I place agents on a higher pedestal than the average reader... okay, that's a lie. There seems to be this almost mythological view of agents by many unpublished authors. And I can certainly understand, and relate to it. They are the gatekeepers of sorts. If you want to be take seriously by most main stream publishers you have to have an agent. So those few words from the secret agent carry a great deal of weight. I really wonder if most agents understand the power they have. Even our secret agent had some pretty harsh words for some of the other entries... I'm sure she is a nice person and certainly has no desire to hurt anyone, but if I'm this excited about the good things she said, imagine what I would have felt to have her say she "hated" it.

I'm kind of rambling here, but I'm just trying to put into perspective how I feel about the whole experience thus far. There is some guilt for the shadenfreudian thoughts I had when I counted up the nos compared to the yeses (was she hooked?) Hoping that there weren't many yeses giving me a higher chance at winning. But at the same time, that is really how the game works. Agents receive by some accounts a hundred queries a day. As a writer you want your query to stand out above all the others. But that means you want 99 people to be hurt by the rejection, so you can be seen.

Boy, maybe I'm not cut out for this. This started as an I'm excited entry, now I'm feeling a bit down.

Well, if I happen to be one of the ones who wins on Monday, I'm sure I'll get back to excited right quick.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Secret Agent Contest

I discovered a nifty site a month or so ago called, Miss Snark's First Victim. (For those who don't know who Miss Snark is, click here.) The blog author, who calls herself Authoress, runs a Secret Agent contest once a month. It goes something like this. She lines up an actual literary agent to agree to be her secret agent of the month. Then she gets 50 wannabe authors to send in their first 250 words from a completed manuscript. These first pages are posted on the site and then everyone has to critique at least 5 entries from the other authors.

Where the fun part comes in (as if that weren't fun enough) is the Secret Agent will also critique the entries, and in the end award some kind of prize. (request to submit, etc...) This sounded quite exciting to me, and so I submitted my first page for Noah Zarc. You can see all the wonderful feedback I've been getting here: http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/2009/04/20-secret-agent.html Although honestly I was hoping for more "This part doesn't work." statements so I could make it better, my ego also enjoys a "This really hooked me!" every now and again too.

The secret agent has yet to show herself, so it remains to be seen what a professional thinks of the opening. I can't wait to hear. Well, I guess I have to, but I don't have to like it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Noah Zarc Query Letter

While I wait for feedback from my Noah Zarc beta readers, I'm working on writing a query letter. This is the first thing prospective literary agents will see. Here is version one.

Dear Ms. Agent:

I have been following your blog for years, and always find your comments helpful and encouraging. I hope you will be interested in representing my novel.

NOAH ZARC is middle-grade, science fiction, complete at 50,000 words.

JJ couldn’t imagine life without spending his days piloting spaceships through time, visiting ancient worlds and rescuing the Earth’s animals from extinction. Sure not every kid had to dodge killer robot drones, rescue their parents from the Ice Age, and save the Earth from being destroyed – again – but not every kid was a Zarc.

Nearly a thousand years in the future, humanity has moved to other worlds. The Earth, once uninhabitable, is coming back to life thanks to the efforts of the ARC Foundation. Noah Zarc, his wife Hannah and their three kids, Ham, Sam and JJ, have been given the task of traveling back in time to retrieve pairs of now extinct animals to repopulate the planet.

However dissention has arisen between supporters of the ARC Foundation who live on Mars, and those on Venus who think the Earth should be reopened to human population. The Venetian leader, Haon, has vowed to stop the Zarcs, even if it means destroying the very thing he is fighting to reclaim.

NOAH ZARC shows the power of family to overcome insurmountable obstacles, while not losing sight of what is most important, standing up for the helpless.

I am the owner of a website development company with a degree in graphic design and illustration. This is my first novel.

If you would like to see sample chapters, or the full manuscript, please respond via email at drobert@drobertpease.com, or at xxx.xxx.xxxx. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
D. Robert Pease

Friday, April 3, 2009

Beta Readers

Editing has been progressing slowly but surely. I think I'm to the point where both of my current projects are ready for beta readers. I've sent off Noah Zarc to a few readers, and look forward to their thoughts. I'm in the process of trying to line up some for Crimson Swarm too.

My goal (I know I've said that before) is to have them both ready to go in the next couple of months. I'm itching to start submitting them to potential agents. I think I've learned about all I can, at this point, about the process and I'm ready to hit the ground running.