Friday, April 25, 2008


I lived in Goleta, near Santa Barbara, for ten years, writing, and never attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I was completely intimidated. I figured that those people were real writers. I was a bad writer, writing bad novels. I couldn't go to the SBWC! That was a famous conference! So I stayed home, ten miles away, year after year.

Then my mother wrote a book (yes, it runs in the family). She and my father lived in Santa Barbara and she thought perhaps she'd try the SBWC. She was writing non-fiction, and none of us really understood the mechanisms of non-fiction publishing. So she signed up. My father suggested I go along.

Terror. I went, but I didn't say a word. Not only was I too terrified to read my work, I was too scared to comment on other folks' work. There were some flat-out geniuses there. I heard some fantastic things read. And I heard every other rung on the writing ladder. One thing I learned immediately was that all the writers who read their work for critique were braver than I.

The next year I was brave enough to comment on others' work, and the year after that I was brave enough to read my own. And people liked it. It didn't suck. Interesting.

You have to be among other writers. You have have your work critiqued. Whatever your opinion of your work, good or bad, you might well be wrong. Find a conference. A working conference, like the SBWC. Not a "sit at the pool and drink" conference.

In two months I will be attending my tenth SBWC. I wouldn't miss it. I wish I had had the courage to go sooner. I'd be so much farther down the road than I am now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Second Life Book Festival.

Turns out that this week is the Second Life Book Fair on Publisher Island. I spend a couple of bucks and rented a booth. The object with the book cover on it will give an excerpt of the first scene of the book when touched. The object on the left will open the Amazon page, and the object on the right will open my website. I'll be adding to it today-- an "about the author" and "about the avatar" part. And perhaps a link to the Iota website as well.

Here is a link to an article about the book fair:

My booth:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The website has landed. And the blog design has changed. Hopefully it is more mystery-writer-y now. I shall add the website to the list of links, but for now:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Morning's Surprise.

Was this morning's Los Angeles Times. This was the front page, but the same stock image was the entire front cover of the Calendar (entertainment) Section:

Yog's Law.

Years ago the talented and generous writer James D. McDonald had the screen name Yog Sysop, and happened in this guise to develop the most important law of publishing:

Yog's Law - Money Flows Toward the Writer.

That's it, that's all. My version is a bit more awkward: If at any time you have sent your publisher more money than your publisher has sent you, you are with a vanity publisher.

We can unpack that one a bit. When a writer pays the publisher more than the publisher pays the writer, the writer is said to be subsidizing the publisher's bottom line. That publisher is a subsidy publisher. By legal term of art, a subsidy publisher is a vanity publisher. Using subsidy publisher means you are self-published.

A subsidy publisher (let's use the kinder term) can be a terrific way to publish a book that has a limited audience. It would be foolish to expect Random House to publish a book of your grandmother's lutefisk recipes. But it might be just what every Lutheran chef in Minnesota wants. The comparison in Hollywood would be to expect Warner Brothers to produce a tiny art film. One of their divisions might, but WB can't market a film at that small scale. So know what would be a good fit for a subsidy publisher.

But if you have a book that you wish to see reach a wide audience, don't pay to get that published.

But what if you try to get an agent, and then try to find a commercial publisher, and are turned away? What if you query one hundred people (considered fairly definitive) and none of them wants your book? Should you self-publish (subsidy publish) then?

No. You put that book away and write another. You probably won't like that second book so well as the first. You're still in love with the first. It's called the sophomore slump. Try to land an agent with that one anyway. If that fails, try to land a commercial publisher. And if that doesn't work? Write another book.

If you are a writer, you will do this as many times as it takes. It took me a dozen novels to get here with number twelve. Do I want anyone reading my first novel? Oh no, no, no. And if your first novel cannot attract the attention of anyone in the world of commercial publishing, you shouldn't either.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


AKA Taking the Plunge.

There are two choices to having an author's website: having and not having. I am not Salinger. I will be having.

The next choice is doing it yourself vs. paying someone Vast Sums to do it for you. I had been trending in the Vast Sums direction.

No more. Because (1) Vast Sums, and (2) some reptilian part of my brain recently reminded me that I went to both art school and design school. Which makes the Vast Sums angle worthy of ridicule.

So in a week, when I have returned from various and sundry peregrinations, I shall sit down at the G5-- which is working on shared scientific computing projects and really does not appreciate being bothered by its owner-- and begin work on my new website. I shall shuffle my screenwriting website over to and take over for my new author's site.

Sounds so confident, doesn't it? As though I remember how I created the screenwriting website in the first place. I seem to recall that it took every last brain cell in my head, and there are far fewer of them now.

The first thing I shall do is upgrade the G5 to Leopard. With complete confidence.

I think.

P.S. I shall also redesign this blog, because yeah...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It is a heady thing indeed to see your cover art and find your pre-order page on Amazon in the same hour.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Ah, how did this whole week end up being involved in thoughts of dreams? Is it the strange, metaphoric dream I had last month? I won't describe it; the dreams of others are dull. Is it coming across the epic disaster tale of PublishAmerica and its authors/victims? Maybe it's me; I drive around Los Angeles and wonder what dreams keep alive the folks working in the manicure shops and the check cashing places and the small restaurants. Something keeps them going. Is it the lottery? Their dreams for their children? The next American Idol audition? Those screenplays they've almost finished?

In the piling-on-the-dream-theme category, I've had an unusual exchange this week via email. As background, I have a website about screenwriting. I've written a lot of screenplays, gotten an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, won a bunch of contests, had agents and managers, and had my share of near-misses. And if there is one thing that outrages me in the land of screenwriting, it's the dream shills. These are the folks who charge for classes, books, consultations, what-have-you, selling on the strength of writers' dreams. The last thing these folks want to tell new screenwriters is that the chance of selling a screenplay to a legitimate MBA signatory company is one in the tens of thousands.

So they sell a dream. They sell hope, and hope is pretty damn expensive. So I put together a website to tell the truth. I pay a few bucks every month to keep it online. And for the last few years that I've had this site, I've received nothing but positive comments.

Until yesterday, when I was accused of "trashing others' efforts." I'm not sure how a website can destroy anyone's efforts. Although the California Lottery website does continually interfere with my goal of winning the lottery by posting winning numbers that do not match those on my tickets.

Same thing applies. I'm afraid I was finally a bit harsh. I said that everything posted on my website is true, and that a dream that cannot stand up to the truth is not a dream; it is a delusion.

Screenwriting is hard. Getting into the screenwriting business is orders of magnitude harder. It makes publishing look like a cakewalk. Yes, even real publishing, not to mention what PublishAmerica is doing.

But who knows. I may see my disgruntled correspondent out on the sidewalk in front of a studio next time we go out on strike. I hope they say hi.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Win a Nobel Prize.

For literature, that is. I've figured it out. World peace and all the rest will take me a bit longer. Here's the trick with books:

No quotation marks.

I've been reading a few Nobel Prize laureates recently. Cramming your poor dialogue into giant undifferentiated paragraphs seems to do the trick.

In all seriousness, it is an interesting technique. I'm not suggesting that anyone take it as far as Saramago, but give it a try. There is a curious immediacy to it. You forget you're reading a novel. It feels like a close record of events as they happen(ed).

The book I'm writing now might be fantasy, or might fit in mainstream literature. I'll experiment with yanking out the quotation marks and see what happens.

Oslo, here I come.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Memoir Problem.

I've been reading on in the debacle that is PublishAmerica. Something in my nature likes reading disaster stories. I have books about plane crashes. I have a bookmarks file of medical blogs, and when the doctors' stories do not fulfill, I browse for patients' blogs. And now this, PublishAmerica, and the stories of innocent writers' dreams destroyed. Google your publisher, o writers. Googling can prevent neither plane disasters nor cancer (under ordinary circumstances). But walking uninformed into the embrace of PublishAmerica is an avoidable tragedy.

Is that part of the pleasure? Because the victim can be blamed? Does this make me a better American, despite my appalling lack of debt? We do like blaming the victim, don't we? "If only he'd taken the earlier flight (lazy)." "If only she'd eaten more fiber (reckless)."

The writer whose tale of woe I just read had written a memoir. The poor writer discovered that PA was incapable of placing her memoir in the bookstores in her hometown. And then it occurred to me: if you want your memoir, with your name on it, to be available to everyone you know, how interesting can that memoir be? Seriously, unless you're a lunatic or care not one bit for what anyone thinks of you, your memoir is either (a) a lie, or (b) boring.

I'm sure there are many of us who have thought of that posthumous memoir, that last blog entry that will post just as we walk off the end of the pier. That's the book I want to read.