Monday, March 29, 2010

Progress Report: 3/29/2010

I've been doing my Penelope impersonation this week, unraveling my previous work and re-weaving it. According to the advice I've gotten about the matter, it seems that writing a novel in present tense will make it more difficult to sell. So I've had to go back to Thunderstruck and shift what I'd written so far to past tense.

The convention in current publishing is that present tense is all right for short stories, not so much for novels. And when you're not an established author, it's not a good idea to give any prospective agent/editor an easy reason to chuck your manuscript on the junk pile.

Really, it's not too bad. While the first chapter was ideal for present tense (which is why I went that way in the first place), the rest of what I've written wasn't really enhanced by it. Present tense, I believe, gives the story more immediacy and more tension. The downside is that it feels like it gets tiring to read after a while, which is not a good thing for a novel.

Speaking of Thunderstruck, one of the things I feel like I skimmed somewhat in the comic version was Sharon's (and to a lesser extent, Gail's) experience immediately after her miraculous healing, when she was trying to go the scientific route of understand what had happened to her. I am gnawing around with different ways to flesh that part out. It isn't a speculative stretch to say that her case would be written off as anecdotal, no matter how incredible it was. There are, and continue to be, spontaneous recoveries that happen all the time. On the whole, they're ignored. The generous version of why they are ignored is that it's impossible to reproduce these events in a clinical setting (much less a lab), so there's no point in studying them. The less generous version would say that it's because science deliberately does not want to look at certain things that could upset a reductionist worldview. I think it's a bit of both, myself.

Just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is not what you'd call a gentle book, and I couldn't put it down. Roger Ebert recently reviewed a film version out of Sweden which he thought was quite superb. I have mixed feelings about wanting to see the story in cinema. On one hand, there's some very nasty stuff in there that might be hard to take on the screen. On the other hand, it's a damned good story.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Progress Report: 3/22/2010

Nothing like the joy of doing one's taxes to get the creative juices going. Or not.

Still waiting to hear back from the prospective agent for Rose & Jade. Having never gotten this far in the process, I don't know if the fact that he's taking his time is a good or a bad sign. So I sit gnawing my fingernails and generally trying not to dwell, since it doesn't particularly help.

To take my mind off things (and since my Thunderstruck writing wasn't getting anywhere this week), I did a little fanfiction. I found from George R. R. Martin's blog that there is an amusing little contest going on where fantasy and SF characters are pitched against one another in a "cage match." I'm sort of a sucker for these things, and since it was especially challenging to figure out how Martin's one-handed knight, Jaime Lannister, could possibly prevail over Cthulhu, I ended up writing a story to explain how it could be done. A silly exercise, I know, but I enjoyed it.

Speaking of writing... does anybody have opinions out there about using present tense as the narrative structure of a novel. I don't think it's done very often. I know Neal Stephenson did it in Snow Crash, and I thought it worked, but that doesn't mean anybody can get away with it.

I ask because it's something I've run into with Thunderstruck that's giving some doubts. I wrote the first chapter in present tense because it was perfect for what was going on. However, after that, it seems to be a kind of take-it-or-leave-it stylistic choice. What I don't know is if it's considered un-kosher by most publishers right now. That is to say, I don't know if I'm hurting my chances of getting it published by writing in present tense. And if I am, I don't want to get too far along, then need to go back and re-write in normal old past tense.

Anybody have any insights on this?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Progress Report: 3/15/2010

For writing, the exciting news this week is that I've gotten a nice tug on the line for Rose & Jade from an agent. After reading the first chapter, he wrote back and asked to see the whole manuscript. This is a first for me.

So whatever comes of this development, I feel like it was time well spent going back and re-writing the first chapters of the story. I know that I feel more confident sending them along now. I have to admit there was a kind of nagging doubt in the back of my head before whenever an agent asked to see the first chapter(s) to get an idea about the book as a whole. I kept trying to figure out excuses for sending later chapters along, since I feel the story picks up a lot of momentum as it goes. Of course, nothing makes sense unless you read the earlier chapters, so that was never really an option.

Anyway, I don't feel that sense of doubt anymore. Funny thing is that it didn't take huge changes to make the opening chapters better. Although it took a fair amount of time to come up with them.

In other news, I am an uncle again! Congrats to my older brother John and his wife, Teuta, on their second child. His name is Erik. Apparently, all the details are on Facebook, and I think this means I'm going to have to break down and get on Facebook myself. This is something I have resisted for a long time, but the sheer social gravity of this thing is overwhelming.

Also, it's perhaps my least favorite time of the year, which is the time shift forward. I despise Daylight Savings time. Pick a time and stick with it, damn it. Enough of this mandated jetlag.

Here's compromise: set the clocks back permanently half an hour and be done with it. Sure it'll throw off all the international time zones and inconvenience the hell out of the rest of the world, but we're Americans! That's what we do! Rugged individualism and all that.

Eh, maybe it isn't such a hot idea.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Progress Report: 3/8/2010

Think I'll take a little time off work this week and try to get more writing in. Last week was kind of poor for productivity.

More agent submissions in, more irons in the fire. A tip for aspiring writers: Some agents don't ever write back. They all claim they will on their website, which is nice of them, but I wouldn't take it to heart. Right now about 25%-30% of the agents I submitted to never responded. I'll take that as a "no."

Let's see, in terms of books I've been reading, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is Free: The Future of Radical Price by Chris Anderson is an excellent read. This is the editor for Wired who also wrote the essential book, The Long Tail. In Free, he lays out a very thorough overview of how the digital age economy got to where it is today, and perhaps where we are going with it. The book offers some solutions as to how one can make money by giving away things for free, which is the core conundrum of the web. Some folks have made a killing doing it right, like Google. And some folks, like YouTube and Facebook, are immensely popular but haven't actually made a dime (unless you count being bought).

The best part is that if you go to Audible, you can get the download of his book for free. So he puts his money where his mouth is on this.

(I always appreciate a good non-fiction writer, because so many of them are full of interesting information but can't seem to deliver it in an engaging way. Science writing suffers from this problem worse than any non-fiction field. Good science writers, like Carl Sagan and Robert Bakker, are a treasure.)

Okay, now the bad news.

Since I've got a book to sell in the Young Adult market, I like to check out some of the successful authors in this genre. I already know enough about Twilight not to touch it, so the next big book-turned-movie story was Percy Jackson. I started up The Lightning Thief and chugged along for a while. It wasn't exactly wowing me—definitely a Harry Potter knockoff, featuring a downtrodden hero with a secret birthright, hints at some kind of big destiny, and a summer camp that was clearly a bargain-bin Hogwarts ("Camp Half-Blood?" The Greek gods create a sanctuary for their offspring and the best they can come up with is "Camp Half-Blood?" Ooookay...). I also thought it was a mistake to choose 1st-person narrative for this story.

It was going along tolerably up to a point, and then WHAM. I'm out of the book.

(Let me see if I can explain this without spoilers. I'll call this a Spoiler Warning, though, so reader beware if you're planning to check out the book.)

Fairly early in the story, something terrible happens to Percy. He loses someone important. This should be a moment of defining tragedy for him. For maybe two paragraphs, he's thinking about this tragedy.

And then he gets a magic milkshake, and it's all better!

Seriously. His friend gives him some kind of energy drink that tastes to him like cookies, and he's all fine again. He's ready for his next adventure. No more tragedy for little Percy. He wanders off into Camp Half-Blood, meets a bunch of people, and even his favorite teacher-friend doesn't even bother to console him on his loss. Why should he? Magic milkshake solved the problem, after all.

Pop! I'm out of the book, just like that. I can't even think of Percy as a person anymore—I can't even dislike him. The story has been ripped away, and all I can see is the author, Rick Riordan, banging along on his keyboard and making a colossal mistake. I put it down and went on to the next thing.

I suppose there's a chance that someone out there has read this thing from start to finish, or has seen the movie, so perhaps you can tell me if Riordan provides any excuse later on as to why the Magic Milkshake basically cored Percy of his human soul and turned him into a Stepford Boy-God. Perhaps Riordan redeems this scene later on in some way, and I was simply too put off by the whole thing to wait around for the payoff. Or perhaps not.

Anyway, if this is the sort of thing that qualifies as a big success story in the Young Adult Fantasy market, it shouldn't be that hard to break in.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Progress Report: 3/1/2010

And the Winter Olympics are over. Sad to see them go, although it does mean I will be getting a proper amount of sleep. I got the eerie impression that the coverage on NBC was all designed around a conspiracy to force viewers to watch bobsled. I like pretty much all the events except the ones where they have to slide down an ice chute.

So with regards to writing, I have entered Rose & Jade into a 1st novel contest on Wordhustler. Wordhustler is a writer networking site for finding agents, editors, etc., and does a bunch of other writer-related stuff. It seems a good service, though I have my doubts about the name. A "hustler" to me is either a con artist or a rather skanky porn magazine, and neither of those is the association I'd want to draw for my business. Oh well.

Much of my energy went into my job work last week, so not a whole lot of time for writing. Besides, my inner naysayer has come for a visit. The inner critic is an essential part of writing, but the inner naysayer doesn't have anything of value to add. This is the voice that just says, "It's terrible! Everything you've ever written is all terrible! Give it up!"

Anybody else get that? I expect it's not all that uncommon.

I've learned not to get worked up about this voice. I don't meet it with much struggle, just a kind of acknowledgment: "Oh, there you are, naysayer. I see you." It goes away on its own before long. Kind of difficult to work with it clattering around like a noisy neighbor, but as long as I know it isn't actually correct and that it's just a little bundle of insecure nerves that fires off every so often, it doesn't do any real damage. I'll see if it's quieted down this week. Meanwhile, more agent queries on the way.