Wednesday, December 28, 2011
CES I have to admit I let myself think like a bottom-feeder for far too long. My work sharpened up considerably this year; it is nice to be in demand as a reporter. It's even nicer to see blogs run by The New York Times and The New York Observer piggyback on stories that I break. This is a whole new landscape for me and I am enjoying the journey. I'm working in a different stratum than before and it is great to have that competitive hunger back.
If I continue on my current trajectory, I will move much closer to New York though probably on this side of the Hudson River. Jersey City is one of many possibilities.
As far as my fiction writing goes, I think Black Saturday throws people off because it's urban fantasy that dares to use a hoodlicious setting with a protagonist who is not all ripply-muscled and tattooed. The whole rich vs. poor struggle might also be too heavy for some who expect a romance novel dressed up in vampire's clothing.
One pretty savvy agent called Black Saturday "good writing and I enjoyed reading it" however she was at a loss how to sell it. And yes, she read the whole book. Editors have also praised Black Saturday (and requested my other work) so it is frustrating this story has not found a home yet. It ends up being about getting enough traction in the market.
Root Haven (a.k.a. Riding Ten Thunders) has found new life, which is surprising for me. Rewrites continue, editors and agents who want to see it will have to wait until I've worked on it a lot more.
I do worry that the market is obsessed with copying successful books with pale imitators. I see a lot of Hunger Games-clones that may sell a few copies initially but offer no long-term prospects for their authors. Give it a year and the clones will be forgotten.
I am not in this for the quick cash in or hope to be some kind of overnight success. In fact, I don't "hope" for much these days; I believe. Hope is similar to "someday" and if you read Black Saturday you know my feelings on that particular word.
I believe 2012 will be an extraordinary year with a lot of hard work ahead and I am thankful for the people who are on my team.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
There are folks who spread misinformation and stir up anger through their words yet feel no responsibility for what they may trigger. If you believe rhetoric that is flavored with hate and aggression does not foster violence, you're out of your mind.
So see this is as a land of liberties where you are not free to run amok as you please. You cannot scribble "$1,000,000" on a scrap of notebook paper and call it legal currency. You cannot randomly walk into other people's houses and eat the chocolate cake sitting in the fridge. Actions have consequences and rightly so. The trouble these days is we look to government to embody highly individualistic ideals. Even in a democracy, government cannot meet every need raised by everyone. But it can create forums for the citizens to find their own answers.
For example, I think matters of faith are best discussed by clergy, theologians, and followers. Religious expression is guaranteed by the Constitution however government should not take sides. I want government to serve as a moderator when opposing religious groups make demands that conflict with each other. Government is about seeing that the citizens have the means and opportunities to practice their respective faiths, or not, and maintain the customs and beliefs that they are devoted to.
Because this country is an intersection of many ethnic, cultural, religious, and intellectual ideologies . . . we are not going to agree on many details. My question is, must we force government to adopt one way of thinking for there to be prosperity here?
Consider what would happen if I ran the United States with all the powers of say---Doctor Doom in his homeland of Latveria. Please pardon my ensuing sarcasm. Even if you think it would be a lot of fun, you would hate the United States of JP.
For example, I could march into your home tell you how to pray, when to pray, punish you for disagreeing with me even if I am not actually well-versed in my own faith.
Let's look at it a different way. What if I dictated what food you could eat? Gumbo for everyone, every day with double peanut butter brownies even if you were deathly allergic to peanuts. How about I pass a decree that requires you to love my favorite TV shows? And don't even get me started on the dress code! This all sounds like a crazed island nation run by a madman.
Maybe the problem is that neighbors don't talk to each other enough to sort out their differences so they turn to government to resolve the argument for them. I rather see citizens solve their own issues and not make it the government's concern.
Rather than push an agenda either for or against more taxation as a fix for the economy, I believe we need to change the dynamic of the question. At the onset of the recession, a variety of special programs emerged to help the average citizen better handle their financial situations. The problem with special programs is that over time people tend to erroneously believe there is no more cause for concern and the lessons are forgotten. Eventually these special blue ribbon programs just go away.
I will reiterate what I said in a prior post: We need a national education standard that requires every high school student to understand fiscal responsibility and private finances. No one should be handed a high school diploma if they cannot budget and prepare for real world situations at a variety of income levels.
Before you say this is too much to ask, let's consider a few points. When someone graduates high school, they are typically of age to vote, drive a motor vehicle, and serve our country in the armed forces. However, there is no guarantee they know how to plan to fiscally fend for themselves.
We assume that kind of lesson will be taught at home by their families, but that may not happen because their family has no idea how to plan for their own future.
Some will argue that it's a "free country" and people must learn to stand on their own. I am not arguing against that---for the most part. My issue is that we are not all trained to thrive in this society. We don't all learn to function with the same kind of financial responsibility and I am sorry but there is nothing instinctive about it. Patting people on the head and saying "Now remember to pay your bills" just does not cut it.
We would not be having such heated discussions these days if that method worked. Furthermore, we have already proven that having hordes of people build up debt that can never be repaid can crush the system.
You can't wish away people who are in debt and out of work---unless you believe we should roundup such people (I don't want to finish this thought because it sickens me).
Imagine for a moment that 90 percent of the graduating high class of 2012 nationwide knew how to balance their own personal budgets and prepare for layoffs, salary cuts, medical emergencies, and other surprises. I would love to see high school students take classes that made them apply their math and other lessons in real world cases:
How do you provide for a family of four with a single income of $30,000 per year? What do you do if you are high-net worth individual with multiple homes that are heavily financed and the market value of your properties suddenly plummets? You're a business owner who just lost your primary customer and no new contracts are coming in; what do you do?
Eventually this nation of high school graduates would become employees, supervisors, businesses owners, and politicians. In other words, fiscal responsibility would be the standard in both the private and public sectors. Companies would know not overreach their means and government, at all levels, would expect to be held accountable for its spending.
That would turnaround the argument about "handouts" and "bailouts". Some people willfully abuse economic support, others are frankly clueless and scared even though they watched their problems mount up. But if we all were exposed to the same fiscal preparedness, the discussion changes.
What if before a private citizen or business requested temporary financial assistance they were required to lay out a plan to recover and thrive on their own? What if they actually had a real idea what to do?
It astounds me that this kind of critical change is not part of the national debate---but I know why it happens.
Those who already understand this scream: "You should already know how to play this game!"
Those who never had anyone in their family or school lay out the rules of fiscal responsibility shout in response: "You never told me how!"
At the moment, parts of Wall Street are occupied by throngs of people protesting for change but their demands---the few that have surfaced---are too nebulous to address.
Instead of trying to speak for them, let me share a little truth from my perspective. At the beginning of this year I had an abrupt change in employment. Having already endured one mental breakdown in my life, I decided I would not let this situation to plow me under. I also had squared up my own personal finances in advance so I had no outstanding debt anywhere, not even credit cards. That still did not make it easy to get by. I could not simply apply for new jobs; I had to revamp my skill set and that would not have been possible without having saved up. I busted my hump taking classes, learned knew skills, and applied for jobs until I got lucky.
Had I been living the way I was a few years prior, I would have been at a total mess. Things changed only after I faced the fact I had no idea what I was doing financially. Sure, I had a college degree and a job but I had no instinct for fiscal responsibility. We NEVER talked about it in my family. It just never came up. Even my Dad, who owned his own pharmacies before I was born, did not really know how to manage his finances. This became clear to me later in life and more so after I had to sort out matters after he passed away. There were times when I asked him why he handled things as he did and he looked at me quite honestly and said: "I didn't know."
Maybe he didn't want to admit it to himself, maybe he really had no idea what he was doing. But there was a definite disconnect from financial reality.
If we are going to move forward, this country must first admit that many of its citizens are trying to go about their lives without first understanding how this system works. And those citizens must be willing to learn the lessons they either overlooked or were never taught.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
That tells me while I can write well, the agent did not see a place she could market the book. I have received this kind of rejection before where the agent says they loved some things but they didn't know what to do with it.
That is fine because in the end you want the one agent who will go to bat for you and help you seal the deal with the right publisher.
The same can be said about life; you need people who will tough it with you no matter what. Everyone else, though they may take a passing interest, is not going to be there for the long haul.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Though I did not directly know anyone lost on Sept. 11, I remember how I felt that day. The morning started with confusion as I listened to the radio while I drove to the offices of my old newspaper. Details were sketchy then; no one in the news media knew exactly what happened at the onset. The usually hokey morning radio shows took on hushed, muted tones as the on air personalities disseminated information rather than jokes. None of the frivolities that typically preoccupied our lives mattered.
By the time I pulled into the parking deck on Church Street in New Brunswick, I heard enough to know it was a deliberate attack. After I left my car, I bumped into a coworker and shared a moment of mutual shock. There was little for us to say to each other; we heard similar broadcasts. One of the managers from Old Man Rafferty's, a local restaurant the guys in our newsroom frequented for lunch, also emerged from the parking deck and said, "I just heard; they hit the second tower."
At that point I already knew about the second tower, however to hear someone say it in person brought more tangibility to what was happening.
Detailed accounts from eyewitnesses can be found around the Web; rebroadcasts of news footage can be viewed on television, but we must each decide how we reflect upon that day.
There are dangerous emotions that can run through our veins in response. It's not for me to decide what is the best way to react; I did not lose any loved ones. The day hit me like a mule kick to the chest as if someone stole into my backyard and snatched away part of my community. However, you will not find me going along with vitriolic negativity disguised as jingoism.
I don't stand on a mountain anymore to look at Manhattan now that I work on the other side of the Hudson River. I won't pretend that I am some newly-minted New Yorker just because I sometimes hunt for a spot to sit down with my laptop at cafés outside of Columbus Circle. I am proud to walk the city's streets and wait for the express subway train that never seems to arrive when I need it.
We live in a world of opportunity that is also fraught with events we might not be able to control personally. Rather than ascribe to the notion that "everything happens for a reason", I believe how we deal with such times defines us better than those who seek to assail our way of life.
Friday, September 2, 2011
I know I said that "Project X" was my new hot idea and it still is---as a short story. Every time I try to shape the concept into novel-length material it gets out of hand. You can overcook an idea and turn it into a genuine mess. That may change but not right now.
So I am going back to the New York Pitch Conference this month armed with "Ten Thunders." I trimmed the title from "Riding Ten Thunders" in anticipation of the changes the editors would likely recommend. Right now I am weighing different comparable titles to mention in the hook when I pitch the story.
And that is the part I really hate. On the one hand I understand the desire among editors to know who the novel will appeal to but they must be tired of hearing how your story is the next [insert title of any bestseller].
While some folks have compared "Ten Thunders" to "Things Fall Apart", I know that will go over like a lead balloon at the pitch conference.
Where does that leave me? Here's one hook I have kicked around but it makes me grind my teeth: "If Shaka, king of the Zulus, drafted the competitors from 'The Hunger Games' to fight in his tribal wars, the story would be told in 'Ten Thunders'."
Yeah . . . sure. Big winner there.
I have more material to review as I refine the pitch; I need more comps to work with.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Shorter fiction can deliver a serious punch. You have scant time to waste with characters feeding ducks at the pond unless those ducks represent a major metaphor. The reader is frequently left with a lot of questions to ponder but that is part of the point. It's not always about giving the reader a neat little story wrapped up with a bow. It can be about evoking an emotion or an idea then leaving it up to the audience to sort out.
This story is about free speech, forum trolls, and socio-political issues; revealing more details would dampen the story's effect. My intent is to shake people up not just enterain. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
I will pay my respects to my father today. It's his birthday. Going to the cemetery with some family.
Later this evening is my high school reunion. Twenty years. I expect the day to be filled with history and reflection but perhaps fresh memories will be born as well.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
I could pitch Riding Ten Thunders; it fits in the YA category but from a different perspective than the usual Hunger Games clones on the market. Ten Thunders needs some deep rewrites and I do not want to slow down on the new project. I will give myself two weeks to decide.
I am pretty jazzed about this new project; it's high concept enough to make money for publishers and it still satisfies my need for thought-provoking literature. Just because I am writing to a genre does not mean I must eschew logic and reason. There is room for upmarket books. Look at the Song of Ice and Fire series (the source of the Game of Thrones HBO series). That is primarily character driven with the genre elements there for spice.
Because the new book idea is sooo new I won't share more details on this public blog at the moment. However, those of you who are in my Facebook posse will get more info.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Anyway I am working on "new book project X" (I have a title, I'm just not tellin'. No sir, not gonna do it).
Next week will be interesting . A Dance with Dragons finally gets released AND I am going to the book signing in New York to see George R. R. Martin himself! Exciting stuff. I am very pleased with the audience reaction to Game of Thrones. It is such a strong character-driven series. We need more of that in the genre over the fluff.
There will be more excitment next Saturday at my 20-year high school reunion. It will be interesting to see who makes it. The world changed considerably after the 2001 reunion. I've been through quite the evolution myself. I never imagined I would stomp around Manhattan writing news but I am enjoying the new gig.
Time to go, need to check on some people and get back to business.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Anyway, on to new business.
Began my next book today. Nothing to tease about it yet, I am barely past page one. But the concept is pretty slick if I do say so myself. My other work is still out their under review with editors so it is time to get cracking on the next project.
It's a new setting and story, not a continuation of any other material. This stage is like diving into a fresh field of snow and discovering what is hidden beneath the pristine blankness.
I will say this much; this story will test my versatility in adopting a different type of voice. Definitely outside my comfort zone in terms of character. But you can't succeed by always playing it safe!
Friday, June 17, 2011
As of Friday I shall be thirty-eight. I recall my nineteen-year-old self trying to sort things out and not doing a very good job of it. This is not to say that I magically came up with all the answers since then. My desire to tell stories remains strong as ever though and I finally have my work in front of book publishers (still no word yet but these things take time).
Next month is also my twenty year high school reunion. Should be interesting to see what folks are up to. I am a little concerned that social networks such as Facebook have, for some, trumped the experience of really connecting with people you have not seen in years. Status updates and tweets are okay but are not tangible.
I know some folks hate reunions; they don't want to be bothered with people not in their current circle. But what does it hurt to spend some time with folks who were part of your community? Maybe you are at opposite ends of the world these days but at one time you borrowed a pencil or they copied your history notes.
That is next month. My birthday is all about ME. Once in a while you have to remind yourself of your importance. So yeah, today is for me.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
I guess I was looking for more in terms of problems I was not already aware of though. I need that objective opinion to pick out the things I have not noticed. Show me stuff I overlooked.
I made substantial rewrites before the evaluation came back and it looks like I am already on the right path.
To summarize part of the evaluation, I got high marks for style and believability of the characters. The editor did suggest making the manuscript longer or separating some of the plot into a second book.
While my intent is to launch a series, I am juggling too many balls in this one. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the positive points:
"This book is definitely an entry appropriate for the adult side of the [urban fantasy] category and may even get shelved in the horror section at times, along with series like Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan books or the Sookie Stackhouse novels—but that’s a good thing."There are some gruesome, raw parts in the book. Stuff happens. I am glad it works for grown folks. Last fall when it was suggested that I gear the book for the young adult market; I am glad I stuck to my guns.
I must work on tightening the plot and do some fierce copy editing, but I was encouraged about my prospects after I read this:
"Black Saturday has an immense amount of appeal for its particular take on urban fantasy in that you’ve got the supernatural elements and the just-under-the-surface-of-normal stuff going on that “regular” people consider fairytales, but you’ve done it without falling into all the cliché traps of vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc—and most of all, you’ve dealt with magic and spirits in such a way that we haven’t delved into old, tired “witch” territory and have found new (at least, new to the genre) ways to talk about magic that I think will have very broad appeal."
Monday, April 25, 2011
That is commonly asked when meeting friends old and new. Listening to travel stories can offer a look at places one has not yet visited. I wonder if some people cling to their passports as crutches for their own inner character.
It is easy to rattle off a list of destinations with exotic names and the journey may have offered new opportunities to work on a sun tan (I admit I have some bias against the whole tanning trend, but that's not central to today's discussion).
A tourist by nature only gets small samples of local culture. You don't know what residential life is like because you are intentionally steered to the "visitors' section" of town.
Maybe it is safer and I am not encouraging anyone to go looking for trouble in unfamiliar territory. But the smug way I hear people speak of places they have visited really irritates me. The glamour of travel is ostensibly the reason for many journeys. No one markets tours to landfills.
Based on the shallow self-centered accounts I tend to hear, people often miss the relevance of the ground they stand on. They may as well be eating a candy bar. After the wrapper is disposed of and the contents devoured, the experience will only be remembered for the sugar-induced rush.
It saddens me when I hear people talk elaborately about recent destinations yet their own character has not evolved.
Friday, March 18, 2011
This is helping me structure another book project. For a moment I thought I might work it as a trilogy but I think I can tell the story in one book. Publishers like concise work. Fewer pages cost less money to produce.
If I give the Algonkian Conference another shot this summer, I can pitch Riding Ten Thunders. But I will also solidify my other concept. I think I have it nailed and yes, it can speak to the YA audience... if that is where I want to go with it.
I just worry that the market is getting saturated with stuff that will turn off the YA audience to books en masse. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have devoted legions . . . but those are the rare picks from an overflowing crop.
I'm not here to be an also-ran. I'm here to make something happen.
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, I am seeing such mindless reactions based on politics that I have the urge to hit someone.
First I watch pundits on television say the United States should not send any funds to help Japan recover because, as they claimed, Japan is wealthy, no one helps the U.S. when it is in trouble and "we're broke".
Then I find angry trolls on the web lambasting the President for not sending humanitarian aid when in fact we DO have military personnel actively working around the clock on rescue and recovery efforts.
There was a time when the world praised the spread of media tools to the public as a means to elevate communication. We all became part of a global conversation.
This is not a conversation anymore. It's a jaded argument built on misinformation, slipshod rhetoric and unsubstantiated hearsay.
Just because you have an opinion doesn't mean you know what you are talking about. Stop looking for villains where none exist.
Yeah, I'm annoyed.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I've spent so much time in Randall Toussaint's world, reclaiming Jagantha's voice is not going to be easy. I may have to do a full rewrite of Riding Ten Thunders. The right elements are there but the way the story unfolds isn't doing it for me.
There is an upshot to redoing this story: tailoring it for the YA audience. Originally I simply wrote on impulse. I got to know the characters, put them through their paces, but I wasn't aiming for a particular audience. I am more focused now.
I am kicking around a better pitch for the story, one that nails the "high concept" though I dread making comparisons such as "It's like The Hunger Games meets Shaka Zulu in a land where children are bred for war."
But that is how the game is played. I doubt I will use that exact pitch. I am fairly certain EVERYONE compares their books to The Hunger Games these days just like they did with Twilight and the Harry Potter series . . . but with a twist!
I am putting aside Untriggered Magical Devices again. I just don't see its potential beyond the solo story. It's a tight idea but it feels very derivative. The high concept? "It's like The Hurt Locker in the world of Harry Dresden." Just writing that makes me weary.
Stratum, on the other hand, is something else. That's my kick in the teeth with a steel-toe boot. It is the kind of story that will make enemies out of people that don't even know me but that ironically is the point of the story. The mechanics framing the story are tricky, still working out the logic and rules of the setting but it does have me pretty excited.
Meanwhile, Black Saturday is in the first editor's hands. As soon as I get feedback, I'll let you know.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
More than one year has passed since I last let my mind roam the tall elephant grass of the Nahali Plains like the great lions stalking herds of wildebeests and zebras. It's time to return.
Taking a guage of the popular trends in media these days, it seems the zombie apocalypse is big money. Comic books, TV shows adapted from said comic books, video games . . . zombies are everywhere.
I think vampires have peaked, especially in terms of saccharine romances with vamps.
Superheroes also have cooled after some notable entries. YES, there are more movies on the way with the likes of the Dark Knight and his peers. It would be foolish to presume they will all be Oscar-caliber productions.
There is talk of aliens being the next "big thing". I question the value of some recent arrivals in the genre, such as "I Am Number Four". The book and movie adaptation were created with the goal of creating a lucrative franchise. In short, they are making money fast food-style. Don't believe me? Production began on the movie before the book was even published and established a fan base.
The book was on The New York Times Best Seller List for children's books for six weeks. The movie seems to have made back its production budget after about a month in theaters. That's not a great return on investment given that the movie has already dropped off the radar with audiences.
In terms of other movies in the alien genre, "Battle: Los Angeles" comes out next week which depicts a large scale invasion of the planet. The much derided and similarly themed "Skyline" was released last year. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", due in July, also has an invasion-theme. And today I saw a commercial for a TV show called "Falling Skies" coming in June.
I am not hitching my wagon to any of these concepts. You have to look further out to the time after these trends ebb.
There is another, almost radioactive idea that I've got for another book. I think the concept is pretty timely but polarizing. Stay tuned.
On a side note, there's a Celtic Woman concert coming up at Radio City this month. I have taken a shine to the fiddling of Mairead Nesbitt.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Adding one new chapter to help wrap it up, then will reread it for edits and cohesion. I call this a plateau because it must then go to an editor for their suggestions.
Then will come more rewrites. After that, at long last, it goes to the publishers that wanted a look.
Yes, I am exhausted. I have plenty of other things to do on top of all this, but it is nice to see some results. Things feel more tangible than they have in a long time and that is a great place to be.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The epilogue gave some nice closure to the series and better connected the story to the rest of the Battlestar Galactica franchise. The epilogue also shows some of the unrealized potential Caprica held.
I confess, along the way I lost some of my interest in Caprica. The pace was too slow and few characters kept my attention.
Even the final episodes themselves did not get me excited. But the epilogue, which may have been produced after the official cancellation, woke me up.
Unfortunately, the story laid down in that epilogue was not the show we had been watching. If they had gotten the viewers to that point much sooner, Caprica would have continued strongly.
Caprica suffered the flaw of a decompressed plot that lacked memorable antagonists. You can tell a character-driven story, but you also need worthy villains to keep you at the edge of your seat.
Look at LOST for example. That show was highly character-driven. Even as characters delved into their personal stories, you had villains who did some real damage. The Others, Charles Widmore, the Smoke Monster... all of these antagonists struck fear in the audience. Getting caught by any of them frequently meant someone would die.
Caprica needed more palpable antagonists. Too often the characters spent their days drinking, smoking and lamenting about their lives. More risk and decisive action is needed, even for a drama.
The pilot episode of the series really built up the tension but the balloon soon deflated.
The political conflict among the 12 colonies needed to be more compelling. Tauron should have gone totally rogue when the show started. You could still make the show about the daily lives of the main characters, but you would keep the ominous peril of civil war looming over them.
A more intense human vs. human conflict with the threat of a military draft and conscription would have made the development of Cylon robot troops even more vital to the story.
It would also make the animosity for the Taurons living on Caprica more tangible. The conflict with the Soldiers of the One also could have been more intense on both sides.
I know it was supposed to be a family drama in a sci-fi setting, but as the epilogue showed, people wanted to see the real conflict that evolved into Battlestar Galactica.
And finally, the franchise mythos needed to open up more. That shot of Zoe emerging from what looked like a hybrid/resurrection tank shook me. Gave a whole new perspective on what we thought we knew. Also, there could have been more elaboration on how humanity came to the 12 colonies in the first place, reflecting on the cycle of growth, decadence, destruction and renewal. Tie the overindulgence of the colonies link back to the fall of Kobol.
Those elements make the franchise dynamic and unique but were sadly not tapped to their fullest extent on Caprica.
Flame and Bone
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away