Friday, July 30, 2010

Gone to a Writer’s Conference Lately?


Today I’m trying to sort of poll fellow writers out there across the country and see what kind of writing conferences you have gone to in the last 6 to 12 months. There’s quite a bit out there and after attending my first writer’s conference up in San Francisco this year, I’m interesting in attending others. There are medium sized ones down in southern California around L.A., San Diego and Palm Springs, and there are also small ones like the one-day conference out in Half Moon Bay or the slightly bigger East of Eden Conference in Salinas. And of course there are the big time ones that take place in New York and other major cities across the world. But what I’d like to know today is…are any of them worthwhile?

I don’t really have an answer to this, that’s why I need you. For myself, I can say that the San Francisco Writer’s Conference was certainly valuable both as a chance to learn about the industry and to make contacts with everyone from authors to editors to agents. I suppose that would be my basic prerequisite for attending another conference, i.e. does it meet those same basic necessities of networking and continuing to grow in both art and business. I also realize that travel is involved when doing conferences farther afield, so I definitely wouldn’t want to venture all the way to Hawaii or Paris or somewhere else if it wasn’t really a guaranteed worthwhile experience.

So what do you think? What have been your most enjoyable conferences and your not so worthwhile ones? What do you look for in a good get-together of likeminded writers? Some people I know aren’t too crazy about conferences in general and I fully understand this feeling, but I feel that the potential pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to broadening oneself. So let me know your thoughts, and hey, maybe I’ll see you at the next writer’s conference!  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Reading and Rereading

I know that many of you have probably already started getting into the mood of summer reading, and with all of these extra hours of daylight, why not? But I’d like to make an amendment or a humble suggestion to my fellow book-lovers out there on a way to augment your summer reading that I’ve found exhilarating since I started doing it several years back. Each summer now when I get the bug to start some summer reading I stop myself a moment from the usual need to conquer a completely new novel or story and instead opt to reread a book I’ve previously read, maybe from even years earlier.

I know what some of you might be thinking. Aren’t there a zillion books already out there? Why use your precious time reading over something you already know? It may sound counterintuitive, but give me a moment to explain. The great thing about your favorite books is that unlike a news article or even a movie, you can continue to see it anew and delve into the story as you never before could. Also, by taking yourself out of that normal conquest mode we sometime get into with a new book (i.e. I got to take it all in, figure out the plot, and get to the end of the book), you can just relax and enjoy the story from a perspective that can only be reached by rereading.

Look at it as meditating on a larger scale. Pick out a favorite book from your shelves that you haven’t read in a while and give it a go. See what emotions and ideas it brings up. Then try a book from your shelves that you enjoy, but make sure it’s a long one. I know, sounds counterintuitive again, but try it. Really give yourself over to an epic or two and dissolve into its pages. Then once you’ve done this and really gotten into the rereading mood, try rereading a book that wasn’t a favorite of yours. It doesn’t have to be something you disliked, just something you felt indifferent about. It may not always work, but I find that half the time I end up really liking a book I previously couldn’t get into as easy, because I simply wasn’t in the right state of mind for it. You can of course modify this basic process for yourself as we all read at different paces, and maybe you’d prefer to alternate between an old book and a new book during the summer. But for now, just go ahead and try it. As a major lover of books myself, I’ve found summer rereading to be one of the most rewarding pastimes ever and constantly urge others to give it a go and see what they think for themselves. After all, what have you got to lose? 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Marketing Tips


Today, I’d like to offer up some praise for a blog I’ve been following for a while now, Tony Eldridge’s Marketing Tips for Authors. This online guide to marketing your own written work has provided insight and inspiration to wide variety of users out on the net, myself included. A healthy mix of common sense methods and insider strategies, Tony’s blog enables budding authors the chance to reevaluate their work in terms of marketability in the wider publishing world.

Tony manages to garner a fantastic variety of guests on his blog, posting direct information and advice from seasoned experts in the industry, publishers, published authors, and other writing-related occupations from across the spectrum. Tony not only provides a well rounded approach to marketing your work on his weekly blog posts, he also has his own newsletter and videos for sale that can enable writers to take their manuscripts to the next level. So whether you prefer to just take in great tidbits on his site or wish to invest in his detailed programs, there is something for everyone.

And, of course, Tony is a writer himself. He has published a novel called The Samson Effect, and has had it reviewed by none other than Clive Cussler. Pretty darn good marketing if you ask me. That’s just some of the great things you’ll find on Tony’s blog. I’ve found his posts to be both useful and heartening, because Tony practices what he preaches. He’s also a real nice guy. So check out his blog today, and enjoy your weekend!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Keeping Positive


Keeping positive can be tough sometimes and I know a lot of my fellow writers out there, myself included, are not unfamiliar with sting of having their manuscripts rejected. Its part of the game, for every one glimmer of hope a would-be writer may have with one agent, they will probably have a hundred rejections along the way. We know to anticipate it and always keep pushing, but that doesn’t make it any easier when something you’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into ends up not seeing the light of day. So, what keeps a writer going when they’ve lost traction and they feel they can’t make any headway in this dog-eat-dog publishing world? 

First off, you usually don’t have it as bad as you think. Really, think about it. There are lots of would-be authors out there right now living in some distant place where they can’t even get food and water, let alone pen, paper, or a laptop. In some countries the government will take you away for writing what you think. These are all obstacles we do not have, thankfully. Second, and possibly most importantly, you’re a writer. So write! If you’re having trouble marketing you current book, take a break from it and go write something new. There are a lot of different gateways into the publishing world and sometimes one book may get you in when another wont. That doesn’t mean that once you’ve established yourself you can’t go back and try to publish that older manuscript that you knew really had something, but was just too risky for literary agents to want to take a chance on at first. Thirdly, persist, persist, and persist. I like to use the analogy of a rash when pursuing avenues for publication…hey, agent, you better scratch me, because I’m not going away.

I suppose I could wrap all three elements of perspective, work, and persistence into the overall umbrella of keeping positive. Stay happy, it’s so much more worthwhile than the alternative. Right now, you’re paying your dues. Tony Bennett once said, about singing and art, that when looking back the part of your life when you paid your dues ends up being the most important. It’s there when you’re the most starving and hungry that you really develop your craft. And there’s no shortage of great authors who had to deal with this adversity. On of my favorite examples, is when Remarque tried to find an agent for All Quiet on the Western Front, probably the greatest war novel ever written. One arrogant agent told him flatly, “who on earth would want to read this?” And that was back in the 1920s. So keep a stiff upper lip folks, and turn to your favorite books because those authors will help sustain you just as they too were sustained through their hard years by inspirational authors who came before them. As the saying goes amongst sailors when caught in a squall…never say die.     

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bono is Back!


Super awesome good new folks, despite Bono’s previous back injury, U2 is back on tour with rescheduled events coming up next year. I’m definitely stoked! I know that rock bands may not seem directly related to writing, but in my world songwriting certainly counts just as much as poetry and novels.

After hurting his back, Bono was barely able to finish up that leg of the European tour. Needless to say, after undergoing surgery, U2 had to postpone their entire American tour. Thankfully, it’s back on, although not for almost a full year. It will be strange to show up to an event in 2011 with a ticket from 2009. Oh, well, better late than never I suppose.

On an interesting side note, Bono himself has always professed his interest in writing, i.e. books. An avid reader and a dedicated songwriter, he has often said that if he ever stopped playing music professionally he’d seriously consider writing books. A few memoirs and biographies, of course, have come out, but he said that he’d like to explore other facets of writing if he had the time. See, even rock stars can’t do everything! But U2 has come a long way from their humble beginnings in Dublin. And I know that many artists, both in fiction and otherwise, continue to draw inspiration from this unrivaled band just as I do. So put on a few U2 albums and listen to some tunes to get you through your Monday. Rock on.    

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tips from Authors

On my last blog post some of you inquired as to the types of tips and advice that some of the professional novelists I had written to had given me in their responses. I’d say if I had to boil it down to one phrase it would be: Knock on Every Door. Valerie Martin, author of Property, told me this one. Basically, it means that you should always investigate every possible opportunity, ask ever possible person, in essence knock on every door looking for a chance to take your manuscript to the next level. Of course, easier said than done, but there are ways to practically applying this technique.

For instance, writing to authors like I have was something that Valerie Martin praised. Even though both she and Jeff Shaara admitted that they were swamped with their own projects, they still wished me luck on mine and reminisced of the feelings still vivid in their own memories of trying to start out as a writer. They also brought to light something I had not expected, namely the fact that just because they’re well known authors doesn’t mean they’ve figured out the secret to the publishing industry either. Valerie Martin, in fact, admitted that despite her success, she hardly knows any other literary agents out there other than her own. So even at their stage of success, they still continue to knock on every door. That means pinging literary agents, talking to other writers, and attending writers conferences.

In essence, it all boils down to you as a writer. This was something that a lot of speakers at the San Francisco Writer’s conference emphasized too. It’s like running a small business by yourself, and the product is your books. You will always be the main promoter, mover and shaker of taking your writing to the next level in the publishing industry. Just like the stock market or real estate, the selling of books remains an unpredictable business. Even agents and editors who have worked in the industry for decades cannot predict what will make it big and what wont. It’s really up to the masses, with plenty of luck/fate involved. But you can always make sure that you’re done everything to the fullest on your end. I believe as the saying goes, give a hundred percent all the time and never have to look back and second guess yourself. I hope that this helped answer some of the questions regarding the business side of things for those budding writers out there like myself who continue to seek out knowledge and inspiration wherever and whenever we can.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writing to Writers

You may think bestselling authors only exist behind big walls in a New York high rise or far out somewhere in a mountain cabin. But they’re often just people, like you and me, living lives with families and friends, trying to earn a living at what they do best. Now I’ve always thought about the old cliché brought up in English classes, the idea that imagine if you could go back in time and talk to famous authors, who would it be? But I got to thinking, aren’t there plenty of famous authors alive right now…and only an email away?

So I decided to write to a couple of major authors whose books I loved and whose writing renown reaches far and wide within their own genre communities. After all, there’s already a sort of established tradition of young unknown authors writing to other, more seasoned writers. A young (and at the time unknown) James Joyce used to write to his favorite playwright, Ibsen. Hemmingway and Dos Passos were friends for years. And speculation goes on about how well Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe maybe have known one another. Far be it from me to consider myself in the same ballpark as these people, but I figure that the same idea should hold true.

With that in mind, I wrote to Jeff Shaara, probably the most famous living novelist on the American Civil War today, and to Valerie Martin, a renowned women’s writer and also a great historical novelist as well. Well, the weeks went by and for a time I figured that these people were probably far too busy to answer my correspondence. But low and behold, they both wrote back! Despite their busy schedules, both authors really made an effort to give thoughtful responses to my email and tried to give me some encouragement and hope in the endlessly dogged enterprise of trying to get a first time novel published. Needless to say, their positive attitudes struck me immediately as both a mark of their good characters as well as probably a secret to their own determination and success. On top of it all, they turned out to be really down to earth, nice people. Can’t ask for much more than that. So after receiving a few tips and some metaphorical pats on the back I have returned to writing regularly with the hope that I can continue to push my work forward and actually accomplish something with it. Until then…keep writing.  

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Historical Novel

So for those of you who haven’t guessed, historical fiction is my genre. There’s an awful lot to choose from out there in terms of genres and I personally enjoy reading and writing in many of them. Unfortunately, with the way marketing goes in the book world a writer has to make a choice (at least when they start out) regarding which particular genre they will pursue. Now you can have fun with sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction and many more, but the reason I prefer historical so much largely reflects my own background and interests in the past and my belief that we often forget in our everyday lives the realities of life in the daily rat-race of the so-called “real world.”

I’ll give you some examples of what I mean. Ever have a killer test or final you dread the next day? Heck, I still have dreams about tests and I haven’t been in school for several years now. Or how about your job? Dying to get that promotion, can’t handle the daily grind of monotony, or worse you’ve got an evil boss or snippy customers/coworkers? Sounds real enough, right? Well, that’s where I think our perspectives may be somewhat off. When I have a tough day at work, I think to myself well at least no one shot at me today. I didn’t have to scavenge for my food. I’m not in a war. I’m not a farmer who just lost his crop. Or a little child that just lost their mother. These things are real and they bring out real human emotions and dramas in a way that our success-driven, ego-centric culture today often ignores. That’s why I turn to historical fiction.

In my civil war novel, The Long Defeat, I follow soldiers from both sides of the conflict who must put their lives on hold, some forever, in the hope that they might see a better day. I’m also currently toying with another story I’ve started writing about the colonial frontier in backwoods Virginia, chronicling the trials and tribulations of a family of farm children trying to survive with only the barest necessities. These are the types of things I consider real, and these are the types of things that interest me. I, of course, not only love to write historical fiction, I love to read it. And I know many of you out there reading this blog also engage in some really fantastic historical writing, so I’d be curious to hear your thoughts as well. What inspires you with regards to the genre of historical fiction? 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not-So-Serious Friday

Well, it’s time for another of my not-so-serious Fridays where I mix up a quirky questionnaire based on some of my (and your) favorite literary and pop culture classic characters. Hope everyone had a decent week getting back into the groove after the 4th of July. For now, just have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week.

  1. Which would probably be the least successful matchmaking dinner date?
    1. Peter Pan and Dear Abbey – Grow up already.
    2. Hans and Franz with the Invisible Girl – We can’t tell, are you fondling our muscles yet?
    3. Alien and Predator – Come on, they have so much in common.
  2. Who would be most likely to graduate from college?
    1. Superman – X-ray vision lets him pass all the tests.
    2. Edgar Allen Poe – So depressing they’d probably pass him just to get rid of him.
    3. Queen Victoria – Frumpy, but she comes with good references.   
  3. In an apprenticeship, who would you prefer to work under?
    1. The Godfather – It’s an offer you couldn’t refuse.
    2. Batman – You can be fierce and still wear tights.
    3. Medusa – Must pass the eye exam to begin work.
  4. Which one would make a good candidate for California’s next governor?
    1. Garfield the Cat – Known for fastidious eat and sleep program.
    2. Emperor Nero – Great supporter of the fire brigade.
    3. Helen of Troy – The face that launched a thousand votes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Full Manuscript

In the waiting game of dealing with literary agents there are several levels. The first entails initially sending out a basic query to an agent online, in a letter, or discussing your book in person. At this initial introductory stage most of us would-be writers out there often get a variety of replies: “Sorry, I’m too busy right now to take on new clients,” or “This isn’t the type of genre I’m looking for right now,” or sometimes you hear nothing at all. Usually, these all culminate in the same negative answer…“No.” But that’s all just part of the game. If you can get an agent further interested in your work the next stage usually involves sending them your synopsis and a “partial” of your manuscript (usually 1 to 3 chapters worth depending on the agent and the length of your book). I’m glad to say that I’ve had the fortune many times over to reach this stage, which exciting as it may be to have part of your novel in the hands of an actual agent, it doesn’t always end up meaning you’ve gotten any further.

However, I’ve just recently received a request from an agent for a copy of my full manuscript. This is after I had already provided the agent with a partial of my newly edited and revised version of my Civil War novel, The Long Defeat. Needless to say, I’m definitely excited to have sparked enough interest that I actually have an agent reviewing the entire manuscript for consideration. Most agents are so busy that they only rarely ask to see an entire manuscript, and it is usually because they think it has a good chance of not only impressing their own literary agency, but getting in the door with the publishing house that will ultimately publish the book. If and when an agent chooses to sign a contract with an author and back their book, they truly are out on a limb, because they must not only convince their peers in their own agency of the value of the book, but they must successfully pitch it to the publishing houses that can make or break any novel before it hits the shelves at your nearby Barnes and Noble or Borders, etc.

So, we’ll see how this next stage in my literary endeavors pans out. I’m hopeful and optimistic, as always, but it’s important also to remember that trying to publish fiction is a constant struggle against the odds. But then again, as my favorite fiction scoundrel (Han Solo) always says, “Never tell me the odds.”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Anniversary of Gettysburg


This week it’s the 147th anniversary of the famous Battle of Gettysburg, the largest, bloodiest, most pivotal battle of the entire American Civil War. On July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the year 1863 approximately 150,000 soldiers total, North and South, met to do battle for three successive days in the sweltering Pennsylvania summer heat. When it was all finished the clashing armies left over 50,000 casualties in their wake. Although approximately halfway through the war, after Gettysburg the South would never come so close to victory again.

Gettysburg features prominently in my novel, The Long Defeat, and I devote several chapters to the battle. Yesterday, July 1st would have marked the opening shots of the conflict where both armies almost accidentally collided with one another. Today, July 2nd marks some of the heaviest fighting as Confederate assaults raged up and down the Union lines, making famous place names such as Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill, and Devil’s Den. Tomorrow, July 3rd, is the anniversary of probably the most famous action of the entire war, Pickett’s Charge. Needless to say, when the fight was over both armies simply gazed exhaustedly at one another across no-man’s land on July 4th. The Southerners would later retreat that night.

With the 4th of July soon upon us and everyone putting out flags and fireworks it’s definitely important to remember so many of the events that have shaped this country, from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to Gettysburg to our ongoing nation today. So I hope all of you have a wonderful 4th of July and enjoy your barbeques and summer weather. Happy Independence Day!