Monday, July 19, 2010

Progress Report: 7/19/2010

Mostly a few odds and ends this week.

In writing news, I'm back on the path looking for the right agent. Another submission, another rejection. Most agents say something to the effect that they'll get back to you within six weeks, three months, etc. In my experience, they tend to get back to you in a couple of weeks or not at all. It's the "not at all" ones that are more frustrating, of course.

Got a short story gearing up that I'm enjoying working on. However, I think it's going to work a lot better in first person. That means some rewriting, but I'm confident it'll be worth it.

I loved Inception. Curiously, we met some of our neighbors as they were walking out of the theater, and they said they didn't enjoy it (or rather the wife said that... I got the impression that the husband enjoyed it more, but knew better than to argue). Their conclusion was that if you liked The Matrix, you'd like Inception. I can see why they'd suggest this, but I found it to be a flawed premise on many levels. The movies bear certain thematic similarities, but the execution is very different. And it's all in the execution, folks.

(I'm an oddball regarding the Matrix movies, in that I feel most warmly towards the second one. Most people I've talked to decry the second for its overindulgence in pointless style-over-substance, and I can't argue with that. What I liked about it was that in the end, it seemed to suggest that the entire Zion reality, the "real" world, was simply another level of Matrix, and that Neo wasn't a human being at all. I thought that redeemed the whole thing, since nothing about the Zion world made the slightest bit of sense if it was supposed to be real. It left the door wide open to take the third film in some exciting and unexpected directions. Unfortunately, they backed off that premise in the third film, which cemented Zion-reality as really-real and dissolved into a boring muddle. A pity.)

I'm going to be gone next week for vacation. When I go on vacation, I like to go as offline as possible. There are many ways that our work can follow us around via our various auxiliary brains (i.e., laptops, iPhones, etc.), so it becomes harder to truly extract oneself from normal life. I do all I can to make a clean break. So I'll miss next week's progress report, and I'll hopefully have some good writing time over vacation.

For Candi and me, we are approaching our 17th anniversary! This is the occasion around which the vacation pivots. Unlike birthdays, which tend to accumulate a coating of melancholy (and perhaps even dread) as they accumulate, anniversaries just get sweeter each year.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Progress Report: 7/12/2010

Success! Of a sort.

So, there is a small press publisher who reviewed Rose & Jade and was very impressed. In fact, he was so impressed that he informed me that he didn't feel he could do the book justice with his fairly limited distribution network. This is an agency that mostly publishes directly to Amazon and doesn't have much traction in the brick-and-mortar distribution networks.

The bottom line is that he would be willing to publish me, but thinks the book is good enough for a bigger, more mainstream launch than he could provide.

And that's pretty encouraging. It means back to the grind in looking for agents and publishers. On the other hand, if I can't make any headway, I do have someone I can go to that would publish the book on a more limited scale. With enough of a track record in a smaller market, it is possible to get noticed in more mainstream circles.

(The classic example that everyone likes to point to of this is John Grisham, who was rejected by every publisher and agent in this quadrant of the Milky Way, and printed up the book on a small press and sold it out of the trunk of his car. He sold so many that he was able to convince a publisher that yes, people are interested in reading his stories. And thus a star was born. It should be noted that for every John Grisham, there are plenty of other writers who don't end up with that kind of success, and there are ways that starting small can backfire on you. Still, the Grisham example shows that it can be done.)

All in all, it's pretty cool. I debated going with the small publisher and talked to a number of my friends and colleagues about it (I have the advantage of working at a publishing company, albeit one that does not publish fiction, so that gives me some valuable resources for getting advice). Ultimately, it seems like casting my line for an agent again is the way to go. It's nice to have a fallback option, though. It means that one way or another, this baby will see the light of day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Progress Report: 7/6/2010

Long weekends are nice, but not necessarily great for getting work done. So the "progress" side of this week's progress report doesn't really look like much.

So let's have a couple of shout-outs instead.

First is for Marian Call. I first became aware of Marian because she won a contest for writing the best song honoring the character Saffron (or possibly Yolanda) from Firefly. This is a pretty obscure kind of endeavor, but it turns out Marian is really cool, and I enjoy her music immensely. She's in the midst of a 50-state road tour right now, and came through Boulder, so we got to see her this weekend. She plays tiny little venues (we saw her out behind a popular coffee shop) and asks only for donations. If you're keen, check her website out. She's still on the move and may be coming your way.

Look, anyone who can get a peaceful, idealistic crowd from Boulder singing "We're Out for Blood!" at the top of their lungs has something going for her.

Second shout-out is an excellent book called Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. If you ever find yourself on the defensive end of this argument about whether media violence turns kids into murderers (as I have), this book is an invaluable resource. It's also very well-written and an excellent read.

The author, Gerard Jones, takes the seemingly obvious but daring route of asking "Why?" That is to say, if violent stories and images are so bad for kids (and adults), why are we so attracted to them? What is fantasy violence actually doing for our minds? Turns out there's a strong case to be made that it helps us control our tendencies for real-world violence... the opposite of the "it turns kids into killers" premise. Jones lays out his evidence very well, and the book is worth a read.

I haven't finished the book yet, but there's one study I'm reminded of that I think Jones probably doesn't mention, because it doesn't actually have to do with children. In one of these experiments where they taught sign language to chimps, there was an interesting side-effect that was unanticipated. When the chimps got mad, they developed this behavior of coming up to each other and making the sign for "bite" or "hit." So a mad chimp would come up to another chimp and basically say "Bite you! Bite you!" instead of actually doing it. If memory serves, this accompanied a reduction in actual fights between the chimps.

Fantasy violence working on the primate level. Maybe it even helped us survive.