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A Muse a Day

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Everyone who writes, writes for somebody. Today, I’m writing for people who wear corsets and prosthetic ears.

Two of the Three Graces as Muse.

Aglaea and Euphrosyne looking to see where Thalia is bestowing her charms.

Don’t know what gets your keel out of the sand, but I just finished two chapters and I think these two young women will like them.

Written by Alan

September 20th, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Writing

I have met the enemy, and it is I

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My first name actually is Donald, but don’t tell anyone. Sign found at the RF in NY. Donald, whoever he is, never appeared, so I assume like so many storytellers, he had his elbows on the bar and was whining about his editor, at the mead hall.

Writing isn’t hard. What’s hard is taking criticism from your wife.

Especially when she’s right.

My manuscripts exist in a state of prelapsarian perfection when they’re hot off the printer. Which is to say, before anybody else looks at them. Much the way my downhill skiing is a study in feline grace and power when I have a slope to myself and nobody pointing out that I lean back when I’m in trouble. I no more lean back on the tails of my skis than I over-use passive sentence structure, not, at least, in the mogul fields and manuscripts of my mind. It is possible that the pages I turn over to my wife/editor are not quite the Platonic ideal of the perfect story in which I am never using passive verbs. But they’re close.

And why would I lean back on my tails when I’m never “in trouble”? Black Diamond is my middle names.

All of which is to say thank you, Cheryl. You’ve given me notes on 270 pages so far and you don’t even like science fiction.

Written by Alan

September 12th, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Posted in Writing

I found my audience

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Spent last Sunday at the New York Renaissance Faire which might soon be renamed the We Accept Your Longing For Transformation Faire. As I understand it, the Renaissance spanned the 14th to 17th centuries.  But it turns out to have also included the Third Age of Middle Earth and the Shire,  the Edo Period and Star Dates 48916.0 through 53745.7. Everything from Wee Folke to dueling royals, fairies, ninjas and Romulons must have been pretty thick on the ground during this time period, not to mention pirates, belly dancers and tawdry, heavily armed wenches with dirks in their boots and breasts served up like quivering Jello(c) on corset platters.

That might sound sarcastic, but while I’m typing this I have a StarFire Sword catalog open in front of me and I’m weighing the benefit of a new rapier (how much use would I really get out of that if I didn’t also have a doublet?) versus some leather-plate armor (how often would I walk around in it if I didn’t have a rapier??)

The Renaissance Faire is great. It’s like 15thCentury++, all the stuff that should have been there, and would have been there except that nobody had thought up steam punk yet, and the Popes would probably have had all the belly dancers rounded up and brought to Rome for questioning.

(by the way, my own photos of the RF were pretty lame, so all the low-res photos on this page were lifted from an excellent photo site of Renaissance Faire Fairies and pirate maides, royals, nymphs and other Wodelynd Creytures here: http://www.flickriver.com/groups/1212688@N20/pool/interesting/).

But as the post title says, I’ve found my audience.  My writing is all about transformations and the desire for transformation, and the Renaissance Faire is the energy vortex, the Axis Mundi of alternate realities, of people who reject, well, the whole time and situation into which they’ve been born.  Or rather, borne.  That urge, I suppose, can be pretty shallow, but it can also be pretty deep, and you can tell which is the right way to go when you’re walking around the faire.  The guy who bought a sword and some devil’s horns, but is still wearing his Green Bay Packer’s sweatshirt and Sansabelt slacks, is sort of pathetic.  But only because he’s trying to stay halfway in the real world..  The girl in rainbow layers of skirts, with a leather corset and broadsword?  She knows which reality she’s heading toward and it’s not the one that has cubicles and 401Ks.  And the guy who’s gone the full retard (in the parlance of “Tropic Thunder”) with the doublet, hose, rapier, stuffed baby dragon on his shoulder and enough leather to get him a free pass at any Chelsea bar?  He’s cool, man.  He is so so cool.


Written by Alan

September 11th, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Writing

Gaiman & Palmer / Palmer & Gaiman

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So, Neil Gaiman was great and generous and funny and wildly entertaining last night at Bard. He read two poems, one silly and outrageous and the other dark and outrageous, and he read the new fairy tale, which was the purpose of the talk and it was so crowded there was no time to ask him questions, get an autograph or otherwise become a total PITA to him.

And then, as a special present to all of us for listening, Amanda Palmer, aka Amanda Fucking Palmer got up on stage in a rock-em-sock-em-robots pose and belted out her “Ukulele Anthem”. I taped it, but the jerk in front of me was distractedly playing with his fingers and hair the whole time (please develop a little body consciousness, people; maybe take up yoga or mediation. peace out. namaste.) so my video is awful because it’s just so full of this guy playing with himself.

But personal whining aside, here’s a version Palmer did with Gaiman, back when she hadn’t quite memorized her own lyrics yet (last night she totally nailed it). And Mr. Gaiman kicked back in the background last night rather than being up close & personal with the page-holding.

Great night was certainly had by me. And I’m pretty sure by the other 600 or so people in the concert hall as well.

Written by Alan

September 6th, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Writing

American Gods

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Am off to see Neil Gaiman tonight — he’s reading a new story and says he’s looking for comments. Hope “Neil, you’re amazing!” counts as a comment, cause it’s probably all I can bring.

Still, great excuse to hear him speak and to hang at the beautiful theater at Bard.

Check out Gaiman’s blog entry, here: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2012/08/if-you-are-anywhere-near-bard-come-and.html.

And here’s Mr. Gaiman, giving himself away for free on the lawn at a local yard sale:

Can’t give it away on 2nd Avenue…

Written by Alan

September 5th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Writing

Compare and Contrast

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Just came up with a plan for the next few months.

While my newly completed YA novel is out being read by agents, I’m going to publish another novel as an eBook via Smashwords.

There’s the minor issue of having to *finish* that second novel, but it’s completely outlined and half-written (144 pages as of last night, and it should come in at about 300), so… nothing that a caffeine drip and those terrific little blue diet pills can’t solve.

So that’s it. Traditional agent versus eBook, in a no-holds-barred cage match.

eBook throws Traditional Agent from the ring in round 1 of Diacritical Match 2012.

Written by Alan

September 3rd, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Writing

To E or not to E

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So, why get an agent at all? Good rhetorical question, dude. A literary agent should do three things: First, they should find you work. Second, they should negotiate a better deal for your work than you could negotiate for yourself. And third, they should help you make good career decisions while also respecting who you are as a writer. I’d love one as well who was a great lunch companion, told terrific anecdotes, didn’t talk about golf and paid for their own coffee. But now I’m getting greedy.

Hemingway responds to a gentle reminder from his agent about a looming deadline.

Implicit, is that an agent should open up your world. You should get a wider, not a narrower view of your possibilities as a writer and your agent should push you to explore and express yourself in as many ways as are open to you. Sure, the agent’s purpose is to make money off your writing and to help you make money off it as well. But an agent should never lose sight of the fact that your job consists of laboring alone over empty sheets of paper, and that you can only concentrate on this lonely task because you depend on them for agency — which is to say action — in the world of media and publishing. It’s worth paying them 15% of anything you make because it would take much more than 15% of your time to do what they do, and you lack the contacts (and if you’re like many writers, the nice clothes, social skills and ability to maintain eye contact with another human) to get the results they can get.

If you want to publish an eBook, you don’t really need an agent. All you need is a finished manuscript, some cover art and an account at a place like Smashwords. Smashwords distributes your book to the Apple, Nook and Kindle stores as well as others, you promote it on Facebook or your blog. At worst, you can probably manage to make a few thousand dollars of family, friends and the mildly curious, and at best, your book takes off and you sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of virtual copies.

eBook publishing sounds so easy, and the returns appear so automatic, that you have to ask why you’d bother with a traditional agent and the traditional publishing route. I’m asking myself that question right now, as I go through the traditional process of submitting my YA novel to agents.

For me it’s all about expanding my range. I had an agent in Hollywood — he never sold anything for me, but I consider that at least partly my fault for being young, unable to recognice good advice when it was handed to me and, eventually, for not writing enough. But while Richard worked on my behalf he made things happen on the west coast while I was laboring away on the east. He went wide with scripts when they were ready, he called me with updates, he hooked me up with production company and studio story development execs. I got phone meetings and actual meetings, all arranged by the magic hand of agency, thousands of miles from where I sat. There was no way I could have made any of that happen on my own. It would have been a whole career just building the contact list.

Of course, this predated electronic submission of books and screenplays, and it predated eBooks. Electronic submission makes it much easier to put material into circulation. And eBooks make it possible for your material to be in circulation almost immediately, rather than waiting the 6 to 18 months traditional publishing usually takes.

But none of that gives me that little rush of having a thinking person working on my behalf. An eBook will never have lunch with an editor who casually mentions a movie producer who wants a certain type of book to develop. Smashwords won’t recognize that there’s a huge market for your work in Asia if it were translated. An eBook doesn’t know when a great editor splits off to form her own publishign company and is looking for manuscripts in your genre. An agent would see all that, and would work those angles both for you and for him or herself. Computers never have to sleep, which is a great and powerful thing. But a more powerful force is enlightened self interest, and a computer doesn’t really care all that much about your shared success, the way an agent, with a mortgage or kids in college, or an online poker addition, will.

Written by Alan

September 3rd, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Writing


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One of these guys could get the job done for you.

I’ve been contacting agents for my recently finished YA novel and it’s been an interesting mix of responses so far. Interesting because I’ve been rejected by all the ones I’ve submitted to casually, but have received enthusiastic reviews and notes from three agents who were my top picks anyway. Each of these agents has offered notes and has asked me to resubmit after a rewrite. So the weird part is, I’ve been rejected by agents who have average reputations, but given encouragement and an invitation to re-submit from three giants in the world of NYC literary agency, each of whom represents top writers whom I idolize.

It’s like being accepted to Yale, Harvard and Brown, but turned down by 7 different state universities. It’s like being picked last for a casual backlot football game, while at the same time, three NFL teams are considering drafting you as a rushing linebacker.

When scientists get this sort of mixed signal, they throw out their test instruments and just start over. Or change their emphasis to philosophy.

I started my agent search with the latest copy of “Writer’s Market” and by contacting several friends in the publishing industry and at Hollywood studios. One Hollywood contact landed me a nice response from her favorite NYC literary agent. The other agents on my contact list came out of “Writer’s Market”, though I didn’t contact any of them until I’d read about them on the web, checked out their submission policy, figured out who they represented and took a look at their recent sales.

My top-top-top pick is a woman who ranks high in all these categories. Her assistant read the first two drafts and offered detailed notes on each version. The third draft is about ready to send back to her now, pending any notes from my in-house reader (my wife, sitting up in bed right now, reading the manuscript as I waste time here on my blog).

Here’s the other odd thing: the three agents at the top of my list all responded instantly to my query, two of the three read the manuscript within weeks (the third one just got it the other day), and responded with notes and an invitation to resubmit.

The agents who rejected the manuscript were casual about responding to the query, took their time about reading the manuscript and either responded after months had passed, or never responded at all (some, in fact, say on their website, “if I don’t respond in 3 or 4 months, just consider it a ‘no’.”) We all have part of our lives we put on autopilot, so I understand that, but I actually find this one a bit odd: reading and accepting or rejecting manuscripts isn’t just ‘part’ of an agents job, it’s the seed for the whole business. Maybe that’s just me being a compulsive communicator.

I had a similar experience years ago when I was looking for a agent for screenplays. Most were rude, slow, unresponsive or some combination of all of those. The ones who gave notes back or at least sent a nice, personal rejection, were all the top agents in Hollywood. Remember Michael Ovitz? He founded Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and was, in the early 90s, the most powerful and feared of Hollywood players. I just knew that he was an agent on the WGA signatory list with heaps of recent sales, so I sent him my script. Within two weeks I got a really polite rejection letter gently informing me that Mr. Ovitz was pretty chock-a-block full with is current client list and not looking for new clients (any idiot could read between the lines of this note and catch the “unless you have a Pulitzer Prize play under your belt…”. But I hadn’t yet risen to the level of ‘idiot’).

So, my experience is that top-notch people tend to be top-notch because they’re on top of things. They read their mail and respond. They don’t act arrogant to newbies. They have a polite response to even the most naive approach, and they give you a hand-up if it looks like you have a bit of talent. Even if it means they’re letting themselves in for more reading.

As William Goldman famously said about the screen trade, “Nobody knows anything.” As soon as you put your work on the market you start to understand what that means. You think there’s consistency of opinion amongst people who make movies or publish books, and who have seen the variability in the flood of submissions, but in fact there’s no consistency at all. One person’s literary masterpiece is another person’s doorstop. Your work is ready-to-go from one point of view, still-needs-some-tweaking from another, and not-worth-the-effort to a third.

In an age where you can easily skip the whole process and just ePublish when you decide, for yourself, that your work is ready. is it really worth all the rejection and hoop-jumping of looking for an agent? Financially, it may well not be. But artistically it forces you to measure up and to reach for something better than your first idea. That’s what public art is all about.

Written by Alan

August 31st, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Writing

Stella. Stella, Stella, Stella…

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Stella, shown here wtih the inventor of the ‘disapproving Southern Incumbent whose afternoon Julep has been interrupted by an uprising in the fields’ look.

“The only excuse for not coming to a class or a performance is death.” — Stella Adler (from a review of her book in yesterday’s NY Times).

Well, yah. Ditto getting your writing done.

Written by Alan

August 31st, 2012 at 9:21 am

Posted in Writing

Write every day

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I finished a novel last November, got some really nice notes back from both agents who would be my top choices if one of them (eventually, hopefully) decides to take me on as a client. I’ve spent the past half year rewriting to those notes and I’m about to send the manuscript out again. If the agents aren’t wild about it this time I’ll probably ePublish at Smashwords or go directly to the Apple, Kindle and Nook stores. Because I’m wild about it, and the few readers who have given me feedback are wild about it, and I want to get it out there. Whether it’s traditional publishing or ePublishing, I should have my YA novel out sometime soon. So I’ve decided to switch my blog over to writing about writing, starting with my basic philosophy of putting words on the page.

A classic instrument of fine writing, on which you could write your one page a day.

I have friends who are successful writers, and I’m not sure how they manage things because I haven’t asked. My impression is that some of them work on bursts of inspiration and others put their head down every day for a specified time and bull out what they can.

But for me, the only way I can get anything done is to have one simple rule: write every day.

I don’t have a specific time or place where I write. I don’t have a favorite pencil (mostly I write on my laptop). I don’t have a routine because the other pressures on my time don’t allow it. But at the end of the day, I don’t go to bed unless I’ve written at least one page of something. It might be one page of screenplay, one page of a novel, or a page of a one-act play. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write a page. Every day. No matter what.

If you set the bar low enough, it’s tough to fail. And that’s why it works for me. Lots of small successes pile up to a finished work. Once you experience failure, it’s tougher to face the blank page knowing you failed at it yesterday, so my writing rule allows me to skirt failure by redefining success as something not much harder than getting out of bed and scratching out a few words. It’s sort of succeeding downward; placing the target so close you could hit it with a potato chip (go ahead, see how far you can throw a potato chip).

It’s like an exercise program. If you run every day, then being in shape becomes a habit. Sounds simple, but the psychology is pretty complex. I know, because I’ve spent most of my life running to stay in shape and I know what happens when you let your running program slip. What happens is you no longer feel like you own it. You think about putting on your running shorts and shoes and heading down the road alone, and it feels like something you used to do, or something other people do, but not something you do anymore. It feels foreign. But if you get up and run, even a half mile, each day, you’ll start to look forward to it. Stretch your run a bit, even if you have to walk a little, and you’re on your way. it’s part of your day. It’s what you are. You’re a runner.

So skip emptying the dishwasher if that’s what it takes. Stay up an extra half hour. Mow the lawn tomorrow. Decide that your one page a day is just as important as responding to every e-mail, and far more important that gaming or Facebook or keeping up with the news. One page a day is a a novel in a year. It’s 3 to 4 screenplays in a year. It’s any number of one-act plays, short stories or novellas. Little successes pile up and become finished manuscripts, and finished manuscripts make you a write. It all starts with writing that one page a day.

Written by Alan

August 28th, 2012 at 2:35 pm