Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What IS "Writing to Market"?

I got pretty sick after my mother-in-law's funeral last week. So sick, I ended up in the ER. I'll spare you the disgusting details. Unfortunately, I lay my recliner for three days with my meds and a fuzzy brain.

Which meant all I accomplished was talking about writing, not getting much writing, or editing, actually done.

Being limited to e-mail, my friend Jo and I had an interesting discussion last week about what most indies call "writing to market". The term is used as an umbrella device to cover a couple of different concepts.

1) Following Trends

This is one where a writer produces a work to capitalize on the latest hot selling genre/type of book. Fifty Shades of Grey is perfect example. When it hit the bestseller lists in 2012, writers and publishers flooded the market with billionaire/virgin/BDSM books.

Since FSoG itself started life as Twilight fanfic, there's the requisite romantic triangle. In fact, you can't sell a YA book to a big publisher unless it has a romantic triangle.

A few weeks ago, I re-read one of my favorites, Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Rising. The primary protagonist is Kelson, a fourteen-year-old who's about to be crowned king, assuming he survives various assassination attempts and challenges for the throne.

As I pointed out to Jo, Ms. Kurtz would never be able to sell that book as-is today. Kelson would have to be older with two girls after him at court. And that's assuming the editor didn't insist on his father's closest advisors, Duke Alaric and Father Duncan, having an illicit affair.

If you need another example, how many of you put out an adult coloring book last year after sales took off during the Christmas 2015 shopping season? Come on, don't be shy. This is exactly what I mean about following a trend.

The point is writing/publishing to whatever flash in the pan is hot at the moment is not always a sustainable career move. I've met too many writers who are burning out because they're bored producing stuff they have no passion for.

2) Hitting the Tropes

Jo advocates the "writing to reader expectations" point-of-view when it comes to writing to market. In other words, hit the tropes or at least, your version of the trope.

As in, a romance should the Happily Ever After regardless if you're writing a heterosexual, homosexual, or even an alien relationship. A mystery needs to introduce all the suspects during the course of the story and reveal who the culprit is very close to the last page. Your science fiction doesn't have to have spaceships and/or little green men, but it needs the effect of some type technological/biological/etc. advancements on the human race.

In other words, if you're writing in a genre you consume and love, you're more likely to understand the rhythms and tropes expected of that type of story. And you're more likely to continue as a career fiction writer.

I can hear y'all out there asking, "What about trends that become tropes?"

Hey, I admit it does happen, but I strongly suggest that you should aim to be the trendsetter, not the trend follower. Or even better, aim to have fun with your writing!

(P.S. If you want to check out Jo's books, here's his website.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

DH and I actually went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 nearly two months ago. In the drive to finish the Bloodlines series, I totally forgot to post my thoughts. I figure it's not too late since it's still showing in a lot of theaters.

The real question is whether the sequel lives up to the first, and I have to say, "Sort of."

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1) Great performances from the original cast. There's some character building, but not so much that it alienates viewers. Whereas the first movie is Quinn building the team out of necessity, the second movie is more the team saving Quinn from himself.

2) Kurt Russell was excellent as Peter's dad. (Though please note, the MCU takes liberties. Pete's dad in the movie is not the same character as in the comics.)

3) The adorability of Baby Groot cannot be measured!

1) I got really mad about the ending, and it took a discussion with another writer/comic fan to figure out why. The character who was supposed to deliver the emotional payoff couldn't because he spent most of the movie with other members of the Guardians than the one member who was the receiver of the emotional payoff. It was basic lazy story telling, which is something the MCU normally gets right. It was even more ironic since DCEU finally got their own storytelling shit together four weeks later with Wonder Woman.

Overall, I'd give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 8 stars out of 10.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Moment of Silence

Due to a death in the family, Wild, Wicked & Wacky will be dark for the next week. Thank you for understanding.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When Unsolicited Advice Hurts

New writers are often hungry sponges, who want to soak up the wisdom of the more experienced in the industry.

Which, don't get me wrong, is a good thing. Most of the time.

2017 is the ten-year anniversary of Amazon's Kindle. Like many tech advancements, it wasn't the first of its kind on the market, but it was the game changer, especially in the fiction side of the publishing industry.

So what does the Kindle have to do with new writers?

The newbies are getting a lot of advice from folks who've been in the trad publishing system their entire career. They're also getting a lot of advice from the indies who've been in digital publishing since Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing in 2009 (KDP had a different name when it first started).

I'm not saying this is all necessarily bad advice. But what both sides fail to take into account is that we're still in the middle of the digital disruption. Things are in no way settled. They are still changing. Ironically, my unintended vacation from publishing 2014 through 2016 makes the constant churn more painfully obvious.

If you're a new writer, you need to take a brutal look at what you want out of publishing your work, aka a solid goal. If you want awards, that's one path. If you want your letters (aka New York Times or USA Today bestseller attached to your name), that's a different path. If you want a long-term career, that's a third path. If you want a way to cover your costs when you compile Grandma's recipes into a book for the rest of the family, that's a fourth path.

I could keep going, but you get the point. And that's not to say some of these paths never cross. They can and do. However, your focus needs to be on your primary path in order to get what you want. And if you say you want Path One, but keep bringing up Path Two, you need to re-evaluate what it is you want.

The problem comes in when the more experienced writer tells the newbie "You need to X, Y, and Z to succeed ." However, X, Y, and Z are predicated on Experienced Writer's chosen path and their experience. If Newbie doesn't start with a solid goal, they can get sidetracked for years pursuing a goal that's not theirs. Not to mention, one experience does not automatically equal a second.

I've been the sidetracked newbie. It's frustrating when you realize your mistake. I've been the experienced writer, who's let their excitement overwhelm a newbie. And I've felt guilty when I realize that mistake.

For now, I'm trying to be the wise writer. If someone asks for help, I'm trying to ask questions to discern what the newbie really needs rather than what I think they need. Sometimes that pisses off the newbie, who thinks I'm hiding the secret handshake.

Folks, there is no secret handshake. And with the digital shake-up, it's a brave new world for all writers. Anyone who tells you different is lying, to themselves as well as you. The last thing I want to do is harm a new writer by giving them unsolicited or non-useful advice.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Spy

Spy is one of those movies I really wanted to see, but missed thanks to the summer of the niece from hell. Once again, I managed to record it over April's free HBO weekend.

Personally, I think Melissa McCarthy is freakin' hysterical. I've thought that since her days on Gilmore Girls, and I'm ecstatic that she's broken out from the Sookie mold. However, it's sad when a movie equitable between the genders is considered a feminist diatribe. And that seems to happen a lot with Melissa's films.

You'd think studly action star Jason Statham would have brought enough testosterone. And he did, to the point where he made fun of the type of guy he usual plays. In fact, Jason has some incredible comedic chops, and I'd love to see him and Melissa work together again.

Anyway, here're my thoughts...

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1) Paul Feig's script was a brilliant skewering of the spy genre without relying on cheap shots, like fat jokes.

2) Rose Byrne was deliciously catty as the antagonist Rayna Boyanov, who's selling a suitcase nuke but is a spoiled brat who could care less about who buys the nuke, much less who uses it. Rayna and McCarthy's Susan develop an odd frenemy relationship that is hysterical.

3) Jason Statham's Rick Ford was brilliant! Ford quits in a huff after he's outed as CIA, tries to pursue the case on his own, and repeatedly gets in Susan's way. The end scene with Rick and Susan is worth the entire movie. Jason's comedic skill is on par with Melissa's, and I really would like to see them together in another film.

4) Allison Janney was pitch-perfect as Susan's boss. Encouraging without being a cheerleader.

5) I have to give a nod to Will Yun Lee. I've been a fan of his since Witchblade. His turn as Timothy Cress, one of the outed CIA agents, could have been expanded because he's funny as hell.

1) I have nothing against Jude Law personally. I've found his turns as Watson in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes series an utter delight. Unfortunately, Law's straight guy in this movie doesn't quite work. I'm not sure if it's the writing, directing, or Jude himself, but there's no reason and absolutely no chemistry to believe that Susan has a crush on Jude's Bradley Fine. And the times he's onscreen make me want to fast forward to the next scene.

Overall, I have to give Spy 9 stars out of 10. If you love Melissa or Jason, download it today!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Adorable Moment

Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins have way too much fun at their job...

Friday, June 9, 2017

Status Report - June 2017

I haven't done a status update in a while, so here's what's happened since I posted my April list of things to do:

1) No, I haven't started the edits on Ravaged yet.

2) The first draft of Sacrificed was completed on May 25.

3) I started back on Resurrected on May 26, and realized there were a couple of major issues that would turn into expositional crap if I dealt with them in this novel. So I plotted two short novels that will take place between Sacrificed and Resurrected, and started writing them. I post word count updates at my reader-oriented website if you're curious.

4) The non-related short stories are done, but when they will be released is open to question with the new short novels for Bloodlines.

5) Proofing the Bloodlines paperbacks is taking an inordinate amount of time, far more than I anticipated. But I have to get them done because I will be at an author's signing event at our local library next month. More on the signing will be posted closer to the day of, which is July 20. In the meantime, they've essentially been moved to the top priority spot.

6) Needless to say, updating the Seasons of Magick series has been pushed back once again. It may be swapped with #7

7) I gotten more e-mails/PMs about A Modicum of Truth, so based on demand, it will need to take priority post-Bloodlines. It's good that a work is wanted, but it's a little nerve-wracking as well. I'm blaming the demand on the new Wonder Woman movie.

So that's what's happening in my world. Hope everyone has a great summer!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The George Lucas Effect

In the old days of movie-making and publishing, the original creator didn't have a whole lot of control over the final packaging of the product. There was only one version of a movie or a book. We didn't have the director's cut or the extended version or the author's preferred text.

In some ways, that control is a good thing. The extended version of Suicide Squad makes a hell of a lot more sense than the theatrical version. The same with the author's preferred text of American Gods. Both of these expand on the original versions without changing the essential character of the work.

Then there's George Lucas.

*sigh* He's changed the original version of Star Wars so many times it's become an embarrassment. The most egregious of these changes is the "Who shot first" question. By changing the Han-Greedo confrontation, George turned Han from a bad-ass space pirate to TSTL joke.

And therein lies one of the dangers to any artist who cannot let their work stand on its own merit. By trying to "fix" something, which was frankly the best possible art for your age and/or experience, you can end up ruining it.

First of all, I would hope that ALL artists improve as they practice their craft. And most of us do.

The problem is when we look at our first works, our older selves see how amateurish our older work is. To us. The mistakes and miscues are glaring. To us. And there's a part of us that wants to "fix" the problem so we don't look too stupid. To us.

Unfortunately, "fixing" those problems insults our readers. What we're really telling them is "You're such an idiot for buying and loving my shit work".

The other side is maybe our work wasn't shit to begin with. Sometimes, it's the inner or outer critic who enjoys pissing on your art really talking. And that's someone you want to ignore.

So what brought this up?

I'm going through the paperback proofs of my novels. Yes, there's some typos that weren't caught by any of the five editors or myself six years ago when the book was first published. But that's akin to when the boom mike accidentally gets caught in the shot. With today's digital processes, boom mikes can be edited out of the film. Typos can be fixed.

But what you really need to do is resist the urge to change the story itself. You do your fans a disservice by telling them the story they loved is "wrong". You do yourself a disservice by not acknowledging and accepting you have grown as an artist. And you turn into the crazy politicians who want to redefine "truth" every time Winston Smith blinks.

When you're looking at your older works, resist the urge to change shit. Otherwise, you could turn your hero from a badass to TSTL, and that ruins the story for everyone. Relish the imperfection because they show your path as an artist!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Monday Movie Mania - Wonder Woman

Finally! Finally! Finally! The Amazing Amazon made it to the big screen!

And you know the scene in The Big Bang Theory where they guys collapsed in their theater chairs, totally satiated, after viewing The Force Awakens?

Well, that wasn't the folks in the theater at the very first showing Thursday night. We wanted MOAR!

Apparently, we weren't the only ones considering the $223 million that Wonder Woman raked in worldwide in its opening weekend. (That doesn't count the roughly $11 million WW picked in the handful of markets where it opened in May.)

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1) Moving Diana's origin from WWII to WWI was an excellent stroke, considering the brutality of trench warfare and chemical weapons used. It didn't detract from the story. Otherwise, we still have the original comic book origin of Steve Trevor's plane crashing on/near Paradise Island/Themiscirya and the innocent Diana rescuing the first man she's ever seen.

2) David Thewlis as Ares was a non-traditional choice, but the gentleman, formerly Professer Lupin of the Harry Potter franchise fame, made it work.

3) Robin Wright as General Antiope was fucking brilliant!

4) I can see why Chris Pine turned down another movie to play Steve. The writers gave Diana and Steve matching redemptive story arcs.

5) As I said in my review of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot more than redeemed herself in her previous cameo. She fucking rocked here as the younger, more innocent Diana.

1) Uh, not enough Amazons and Etta Candy?

2) [Edit to add] I was expecting a post-movie teaser for Justice League, but there wasn't one.

As the first critically and commercially successive DC flick, this movie goes to show that Zack Snyder really needs to keep his hands off the fucking DCEU franchise. Warner Bros. needs to turn it over to Patty Jenkins. The woman has a clue on how to make a superhero movie.

This one definitely gets and 11 out of 10 stars!

Saturday, June 3, 2017