Sunday, October 7, 2007

Giving Up.

No, not on the novel. The novel is rolling on through production just fine, so far as I know. I mean giving up on screenwriting. Quitting has always rattled around in the back of my mind. I'm certainly not achieving any kind of success. It was put to me this morning that the soundest decision I could make next year is packing up my apartment here in L.A. and moving home to Hawaii. A very good idea. I have a house there and staying here is something like pouring money down the drain.

I had so many dreams when I rented this place. I spent a lot of money (and a lot of my parents' money) getting a Master's degree in screenwriting at UCLA. And I spent eight years chasing this lunatic dream. Eight years. I'm ashamed of the waste and the failure and how stupid I've been. And I'm sad. Ah, well. I knew the day would come.

All's well that ends.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Writing Blather

I've decided that, from time to time, I'll run off at the mouth on the subject of writing. Heck, the only person reading this is my mother, and she doesn't mind.

Writers are funny people. But people who want to be writers are often really, really weird. Here's the strangest thing I've observed about them: some of them don't read. Yes, it is true. I know it's hard to believe. I've gone to conferences, met Writer X who is working on a mystery, and discovered that Writer X can't name a mystery writer other than him or herself. Kooky talk.

Here's where it really gets toxic: the erstwhile writer who hasn't read much since college. This is where you get novels replete with "reporter" characters, relating the actions of the main (interesting) characters. This worked for Pushkin and Balzac. Heck, it worked for Fitzgerald. You can stop now. Go out and buy some contemporary literature. Go read some Palahniuk, some Chabon, some Lethem, some Safran-Foer, some Steven Hall. See what's working for agents, editors, and readers today.

College professors just can't buy that many books.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

To Blog, Blog Again...

Found my blog again! Aren't I clever? I do better elsewhere in the Internet, I promise. I'm having a fab-u time in Second Life. Built an entire copy of Bag End! Any time you're in world, don't be a stranger! My SL name is Rusalka Writer. I cannot think of a better tool for procrastination, and a writer can't have too much of that.

Delivered the novel! The bulk of rewrites are done. The publisher is going ahead on the cover art, and I am to start thinking about cover copy, acknowledgments, dedications, and a bio. This is where I wish I had spent more time having an interesting life. Ah, well.

Off to Austin October 10th for the film festival and screenwriting conference. I'm a finalist in their contest this year. I was a semifinalist last year. Austin is a four-day party with a few talks and films tucked in here and there. Can't wait!

Wrestling with the new book. Sending my character to Purgatory took less time than expected. From here it's back to his ordinary life, kind of, and then off to Hell. If it's Tuesday, it must be Hell! But shorter seems to be better, even in genres known for producing doorstops. Either way, I'm approaching the halfway point. I think.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Your Editor

Soon after you sell your novel, you will be assigned an editor. This is frightening. Who is this person? Does he or she read your genre? Does he or she like your genre? Does he or she understand that Mystery is modernist epistemology, while Science Fiction is postmodernist ontology? In short, you panic.

Then it gets worse. You've probably never even talked to your editor on the phone and suddenly he or she sends you Notes on your book. And the flop sweat pours forth. Your perfect book! How can this editor know how much effort you put in to this flawless and sparkling gem of fiction?

Okay, maybe you're not that bad, but you definitely wonder what anybody liked about the book. And does your editor know how much work lies ahead? That one little suggestion can unravel months of work and careful plotting? How will you answer all these issues and still make your deadline?

And then: Enlightenment.

Here is who your editor is: he or she is the representative and voice of your reader. The reader who will not be able to ask you to clarify your intent. Who will not be able to question you about that plot turn. Whose only defense when something goes wrong is to put your book down. To not recommend it, and you, to other readers. The editor stands between you and doom.

Listen to your editor. Do whatever it takes to get yourself out of your funk and into a collegial mood. I'm not saying to do as you're told; I'm telling you to listen. Yes, sometimes your editor is wrong, or doesn't understand, or needs to read something again. So do you.

So a big thank you to my editor, Kimberly Cameron. You are intelligent, you are patient, you are an ally.



Is there anything worse than a vanishing blogger? No defense, dear reader(s). Other than the rather awkward systems in place for logging in to Blogger. In short, I lost my blog. This is the third attempt to find it in as many days. The problem is that my gmail email account takes over from my earthlink email account, and soon the blog has vanished. 

But these travails are now behind me and I have bravely recovered my blog. Since my last entry I have also experienced the adventure of having an attorney go three rounds over the publishing contract, completed my major rewrite and a polish, contemplated a publicist, and joined Second Life.

Did that last item stick out a bit? Well, for those who don't know, Second Life is an artificial world that takes place entirely inside a vast series of computer simulation servers. You join, create an avatar to represent you in-world, and go about your travels and adventures. Yesterday I spent a bit of time at a beach mall talking to a seven-foot-tall gentleman sporting a kilt and a pink mohawk, then strolled next door for a tour of Beijing's Forbidden City.

Today I attended (or rather, my avatar attended) a lecture by an erotica writer. Her topic was promoting yourself and your writing in Second Life. Invaluable, if a little strange. At least four of the attendees were furries (who go through their life at least partly transformed into animal form), and one was wearing a Star Trek uniform. In short, a place where a science fiction novelist feels very, very welcome. My people!

Come on down, basic memberships are free. Take the plunge, give it a whirl, I think you'll love it.

Let's see, what was this blog about? Oh, yes, writing. Well, actually, the topic I wanted to discuss is too important to append to a ramble, so I shall add a second entry. *Gasp*!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Fifteen Tries Later...

Logging in to Blogger is turning out to be a good metaphor for breaking in as a novelist. There is a great deal of head-pounding involved. Blogger keeps forgetting I exist. I feel like I'm sending a query letter into the void every time I try to log in. Oy.

I'm in a bit of a void book-wise as well. My attorney, who did a fantastic job going over my contract, is dealing with the publisher directly. I don't particularly want to play phone-tag and I'd like this part to go as fast as possible. I want my story notes!

I spent the last three days re-reading the book and cleaning up things here and there. I shouldn't mention how long it has been since last I read it; suffice it to say it was one graduate degree ago. I was pleased. I was surprised. I have claimed that writing screenplays for a few years made my writing lean; turns out it was plenty lean back then. 

So what's the #1 problem I see now? It's more a publishing problem than a book problem, since, heck, I like the book. The book is working. It's a "good yarn" as one of my writer friends would say. The problem is the dreaded genre mix. It's a science fiction mystery. I had no idea until I read the press release about the publishing contract. In my mind it was always pure science fiction. My mother, who reads more mysteries than the folks at the Edgar Awards, spotted it right away. Mystery!

The deuce you say!

Is this why agents in the past have said they didn't know what to do with the book? I don't know. Is crossing genres a good idea? Well, for a first-time novelist, probably not. Is this probably the one chance I had to get this book published? Yep. Am I going to do whatever it takes to get the book ready and launched? You bet. Where will it be shelved? I have no idea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Last week was the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and as usual it went by too quickly. Anybody interested in a real, working conference? This one's for you. I was cranky some years ago when SBWC added an Agent and Editor Day, but these things happen. I prefer a pure, working conference, but the lure of pitching to agents is real, and it is fun to watch the mania from afar.

As for my agent-less self, progress continues. I like my new attorney a great deal, and he has told me the contract looks good. A few minor changes and we'll be good to go with rewrites. Still haven't seen any story notes, so happiness lingers. I am in that post-conference mania for reading and writing. I'd love to get back to work on the new novel, but I should save that good energy for rewriting the old. Sigh.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Agent

I have a screenwriting agent, for the moment. He's starting film school in the fall, so he will not be active as an agent for much longer. I hope to keep him as a friend. We haven't had success in selling my scripts, but there's certainly nothing unusual about that. Screenwriting is a much tougher enterprise than most people imagine. Here's why I like my agent:

1. He's a great guy. He's fun to talk to, fun to email, fun to have lunch with.
2. He gives good notes. He's smart. He's hard-working.
3. He has one characteristic that is so unusual in an agent that I can't even tell you, and that is this: he knows his own opinions. If he likes a script, and sends it out, and it is rejected, he does not stop liking the script. If someone else has a criticism of the script, he will consider it, but he will not suddenly toss the script aside as hopelessly tainted because someone else didn't like it. He has a strong and integrated personality. He knows himself and understands that other people are different. People like that are very rare. Find them.


I may well have the goofiest agent stories in the free freaking world. Is it wrong that my agent stories in screenwriting are less weird than my agent stories on the novel side? Yes it is.

Agent #1 loved my first book. This is wrong, and it shouldn't happen, ever. I shouldn't have sent my first book out. I shouldn't have sent my first three, four, maybe five books out. But I had first-book-itis, and off it went. Agent #1 signed me. Two weeks later, Agent #1 went out of business. Ah, well.

Agent #2 loved my seventh book. I liked it, too, and felt good about this agent. Agent #2 got fired two weeks later.

Agent #3 did not love my seventh book. Agent #3 was Agent #2's boss. Can you say "bad sign?" I knew you could. Book number seven got handed upstairs to Agent #3, and Agent #3 was Not Amused. He told me to send along my next book and "we'll see."

Note that about this time I was having an unusual reaction to Agent #3. His name was familiar and I didn't know why. This was pre-Internet and pre-Google. Turns out that Agent #3 was also a writer. A writer in my genre. A writer whose work I had read in college. A writer whose work had won pretty much any award in the genre that you'd care to mention. I worked very hard on book eight.

Agent #3 was run over by and SUV on Fifth Avenue on the day I mailed off book eight. His assistant called to break the bad news a week later. Agent #3 was off work for six months. He came back to work and the assistant called to say they had lost book eight. Could I re-send?

I mailed book eight to Agent #3 on a Monday. On Friday I got the rejection letter. The first line was "I think you are an extraordinary writer." I don't remember anything after that. Some part of my will to live is still lying in a puddle on the floor of a 628-square-foot apartment in Goleta, California.

Agent #3 rejected novels nine through eleven, as well. The usual pattern was sending the novel, doing some rewrites, and then him saying "well, I don't know. It's different from the other things I'm seeing. I'm not sure where I'd send it. Let's put this one aside and see what happens with the next." So I did.

I wrote the first thousand words of novel number twelve at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1997. Actually, I wrote most of it on a crappy Sun Country DC-10 on the way there from Hawaii. When I got home I sent the opening to Agent #3. His reaction? "There already is a science fiction book with a plastic surgeon main character. I think you should move along."

Picture me lying on the floor again. Yes, I was entirely aware of K. W. Jeter's _Doctor Adder._ I love it. Published in the early 1980s, I believe. But I couldn't quite believe that science fiction has room for only one story about a plastic surgeon. There would seem to be an abundance of starship captains.

Two weeks later Agent #3 was fired. I wrote to his boss. Were they still interested in me as a client? I never heard back. I took that as a no, and wrote novel number twelve.

Agent #4 was in the same firm as my mother's agent. She gave me some terrific notes and I did a substantive rewrite of number twelve. And then timing intervened. I started film school and she started directing plays. I put novel number twelve away and started writing screenplays. Until last week, I was a writer with twelve novels, twenty-one screenplays, four teleplays, and one stage play, and nobody wanted any of them.

None of my agents ever sent one of my novels to a single editor.

Crazy Writer Thoughts

It's not easy being crazy. All writers are, of course. Usually in a good way, but not always. We're living with strange people in our heads, we're rarely mentally in the same place we are physically. It's a kind of fugue state. The distressing part of facing publication is having to deal with reality. Some onrushing bits of reality:

—Story notes. I know these will be along before too long. The publisher said he didn't think there would be any major notes, which is a nice thought, but in reality only the writer can truly judge what is a minor note and what is not. I once had a producer deliver the "tiny note" that a certain screenplay should take place over two weeks, rather than six months. He said "So that's just a find and replace!" Not exactly... But I haven't read the book in a while. I look forward to these notes.

—Editor's notes. Not too worried about these. The manuscript is fairly clean, but I have room to learn from a good editor. Should be enjoyable.

—Cover art. I went to art school and design school. I hope I'm not a huge pain to all involved. I found a blog about cover design and I am learning. There's a great deal that is counterintuitive. A buyer for Costco said book covers have to work lying flat on a table. Not that I expect Costco, but it is an interesting thought.

—Web site. I found a web designer who does a lot of author web sites. Nice work, too. All her designs look good. I'll probably hire her.

—Contract. I'll need to hire an attorney. I'm a member of the Independent Writers Caucus of the WGAw, and there are a lot of novelists in there. I bet one of them can recommend an attorney.

—PR! I haven't talked to the publisher yet, but I would like to hire a PR firm. Already have one picked out. They do a lot of book publicity, and are located in Los Angeles.

Let's see— have I spent my advance ten times over yet? Yep. But a first novel is never about a first novel. It's about starting a career. The effort must be made and the money must be spent. I stand ready. Actually, I lie on the couch ready.

Which leaves one final thought: an agent. Hmm... Perhaps that is a good subject for another blog. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Happy Book News

The day has come, the press releases are out, and I can finally post the good news. Here is the link to the book's publication announcement. I hope this works. I posted the URL and it popped up somewhere below. Ah, well. Science fiction writer wrestles with technology. News at eleven.

Edit: no, that didn't work. www.bijouresearch/IotaHome.asp

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Overnight Success

I'm writing this five days after receiving a phone call from a publisher telling me that my first book will be published early next year. I can't say much more than that until tomorrow, when the press releases go out. But I thought I'd better start a blog in order to record the journey from manuscript to book. Before anyone thinks I'm an overnight success, a few facts:

-Total books written: 12
-Order of this book: #12
-Number of agents over the years: 4
-Number of agents who ever sent any novel to any editor: 0
-Current agent: none
-Years from starting first book to publication of #12: 22

More to come, but I thought I should first deflate the myth of the overnight success.