Monday, May 24, 2010

Full Steampunk ahead for Kate Milford's "The Boneshaker"

For weeks I was a complete lunatic trying to get my purple mitts on an ARC of a book that sounded so wonderful I was searching for a DeLorean so I could jump ahead in time to grab a copy of it. Apparently not all DeLoreans are not equipped with a flux capacitor. They left that part out in the sales pitch. Now that those bitter weeks have passed, the day has come. As of this moment you should be holding a copy of Kate Milford's The Boneshaker in your hands, reading furiously without any urge to stop, except only for the urge to read what she had to say about her debut novel here.

Do you remember when the muse hit you to write The Boneshaker? What were you doing at the time?

Kate Milford: Not specifically…I know I was working at Williams-Sonoma at the time, and that I was living in a sixth-floor studio apartment with Sprocket, a miniature American Eskimo who had moved in with me about six months beforehand. I was commuting by car from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Short Hills, New Jersey, so I bought audio tapes of Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Golden Compass, which both helped put me in the right frame of mind for it. Then there was this article in the New Yorker about the Jamaica Ginger epidemic, and all this research I had done into Victorian medicine that I hadn’t found a home for…I wish I could tell you something specific, but it was more that this collection of stuff kind of came together in my head.

Can you talk to me about your writing process? How do you prepare for the difficult task of writing that first draft?

KM: I come across things that I think are interesting, and I sort of save them up. I might not know what I’m planning on doing with all that reading I did about Faraday, for instance, or Coney Island in the late 19th century, but then I’ll find something else that interests me and it’s the missing piece and then all of a sudden it all starts to coalesce. Then at that point, I just go for it and start writing.When I hit a brick wall, my husband and I go out for lunch or dinner and he scowls at me while I try and talk through a story problem. Inevitably he interrupts like five times (and they’ll all be great ideas, but totally irrelevant to my current problem, so I write them down and a couple weeks later they solve unrelated problems I didn’t even know I was going to have). I yell at him to focus on the issue at hand, and he gets very crabby and sits and glares at me some more and then I finish and we sit there for five minutes and then he asks if he’s allowed to talk yet and I say yes very snappishly and then he asks a question or two and I answer them and suddenly I realize I know what to do to get through the brick wall.

I also keep big computation notebooks where I map things out—notes on characters and places, very, very poorly drawn maps, lots of little arrows going all over the place. You know those giant quad-ruled notebooks with the red-brown covers and page numbers printed inside? I love those. Completely obsessed with them. But I’m terrible at outlining. Really, atrociously bad at it.

What is the hardest part about writing for you?

KM: The toughest part for me, at least right now, is that there are so many things I want to write and I struggle to manage my time. I want to be writing constantly, but it appears I still need to show up at work 40 hours a week, sleep at least four hours a night, and somehow find some time to exercise and behave as though I know my husband and dogs exist. I generally have three projects at any given time that I’m actively writing, too—which is not the least stressful or the most efficient way of going about things. So I find all of that difficult. I just need more time. MORE TIME!!! I love it, though. I’m not happy if I’m not writing. Even the tough parts are pure joy.

Kate, I am so glad you said that. I am cut from that cloth. I have three projects going at the same time. I think my brain is moving so fast sometimes, it is the only thing that I can do to keep the cogs spinning.

Bringing steampunk to middle-grade readers is a wonderful idea and what I love about this book (from reading the synopsis) is that your protagonist, 13-yr-old Natalie Minks, is really into automatons. What influenced you to put your story in this world?

KM: Well, if I’m perfectly honest, the mechanical weirdness in this book sort of got there by a different route than via steampunk. I love steampunk; I devour it; but most of this book was written before I had read a lot of it. I’m going to get a little nerdy for a minute here, so I apologize in advance. This is where my husband, when he reads this, is going to roll his eyes and ask just how much whisky I’d been drinking when I wrote it (I notoriously do my best geeking out after a few glasses) but I swear to you I’m writing this at noon and I’m still finishing my first pot of coffee. No liquor involved.

One of my favorite writers is E.T.A. Hoffmann—I love a lot of his stories, but there are two in particular that I got a little obsessed with back when I started writing The Boneshaker: The Sandman and Automata. Right at about the same time, I went to Strand Books and found this old book on the collections at the Museum of Automata in Grenoble. It’s in French, and I can’t read a word of it, so it’s just this big pictorial full of creepy old mechanical oddities.
I just like mechanical things. I think they’re beautiful. I also think they’re creepy as hell, which brings us back to Hoffmann. In Hoffmann’s works, there’s this pervasive fear of the double—of something being mistaken for something else—that I find really compelling. Freud wrote a really famous essay on the uncanny that argues that it’s not actually the fear of the automaton passed for a human or the doppelganger passed for its twin that really creates a sense of the uncanny, but the feeling in Hoffmann’s stories that one can’t quite tell if the protagonist is experiencing the real or the fantastic. If it’s the real, he’s going a little bit mad. If it’s the fantastic, he’s got even bigger problems. Also, the familiar becomes terrifying when suddenly something happens to render it questionable, unfamiliar. This is what happens to Natalie when she discovers machines that behave in impossible ways. To her, machinery is beautiful in its logic, its reliable cause-and-effect. It’s comforting to her, familiar even though she’s still learning about its intricacy. Jake Limberleg’s machines are motivated by forces outside her experience, which is so powerfully frightening for Natalie that this alone is enough to tell her there’s something wrong with the Medicine Show.

I think kids experience this sense all the time, this feeling of the uncanny. I know I did. My grandmother used to collect antique dolls, and I was always absolutely sure those things with their weird mobile eyes were watching me at night. I went through a stage as a kid where I was positive—absolutely positive—that everyone in my life had been replaced by lookalikes that were pretending to be my family. (By the way, I never grew out of it—I just decided one day that if they were all in on it and they had their stories together well enough that after however many weeks or months of trying to catch them out in their lies I still couldn’t prove anything, then what difference did it make? Might as well just give up and go along with it. So don’t think you ever fooled me, Dad.) The whole point is, I think kids are very open to the idea that their world might not be as simple or as straightforward as their parents claim.

Are there traces of a young Kate in Natalie? (It's okay if you had a large robot collection, you can still keep your girl club card!)

KM: Yes, I think so—I was raised by folks who loved building things and who loved collecting things. My father always had basement workshops when I was a kid; I remember sitting on a rolled-up rug listening to Orioles games on the radio while my dad repaired old TVs, oscilloscopes, whatever. My mother’s parents were antique dealers for a while, and their house was full of things to discover, and my father’s mother is just absolutely unable to throw things away, so as kids we used to treat a trip to her attic like a trip to the museum, only way more interesting because you just never knew what you were going to find. Plus it was an unfinished attic where you had to walk on the boards across this sea of fiberglass to get to the most interesting boxes, and there were only like three bulbs with pull-cords to light the whole thing. It was a total adventure. I had a chemistry set, and I had this weird electrical board that you could use to do circuitry projects with, and I think my bicycle had a name. But I didn’t really get obsessed with mechanical things until later in life. I don’t know what started that, but somewhere along the line my husband stopped bringing me flowers and started bringing me Ziploc bags full of motion-picture camera parts. Last time I was home, my dad gave me a box of old radio tubes. I keep them in bud vases. So I guess it’s more that there are traces of a current Kate in Natalie.

Did you realize that you were writing a story that would appeal to both girls and boys?

KM: I had no idea, except that I did ask a couple of boys (namely my husband Nathan and my neighbor Ray) to read it at various times during its writing and they didn’t seem to get too bored. In fact, now that the book’s actually out in stores, I’m really looking forward to hearing from kids who read it. Up to this point, I’ve mostly only heard from adult readers. Which is maybe a good place to say, write me! I can be reached by email at kate(at)clockworkfoundry(dot)com. Let me know what you think. I may take a little while (see the above mentioned full-time job), but I promise I’ll write back.

What are you waiting for!? Write to Kate already!

You've conquered the completion of the book, landed publishing, and have people anxiously waiting to get their hands on it (like me). How long has this journey been and what would you do differently (if anything)?

KM: Five and a half years or so, I think, if you go from the first draft through the release this week. That’s two years spent writing, a year and a half to find an agent and for that agent to sell the book, and two years from the sale to the release—with time spent revising and editing at every stage. I think that’s right. So far, there’s nothing I would do differently, but right now I’m finding that I need to keep really focused on doing the writing of my next book. I don’t want to look back a year from now and think, man, I really should’ve gotten moving on that other book a lot quicker. Things I think I did right were finding a really wonderful critique group and getting involved with a few online communities during the revising and submitting of the book. I think it’s really easy to feel like you’re writing in a void, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Plus the really mind-bendingly frustrating parts like writing and sending query letters and waiting for responses are much easier when you have people to talk to about it who are going through the same thing.

Now comes the promotion stage. What did you do/have you done to prep for this part of the journey? Any tips for other writers about to launch a book?

KM: Well, I knew Clarion was making some fairly beautiful arcs, so I started thinking early about who I wanted to send some to. I reached out to writers I particularly liked and/or who I thought were likely to find The Boneshaker interesting and maybe have something to say about it, and asked if I could send them copies. They were all really gracious in their responses and several were kind enough to blog about it, which send some traffic and some new reviewers my way. I set a few copies aside for contests and giveaways, which was fun. I tried (and for a little while, I think I succeeded) to participate in things like online chats, visiting and commenting on other writers’ blogs, staying active on message boards that I’d found useful like the SCBWI, SFWA and the Blue Boards, which I do think is really, really important, because writers love, love, love to talk about books they like and to help promote peers that they have good relationships with. For instance, I wrote a series of posts on the Nebula Award finalists, and honestly the main reason I decided to do it was that I’d read six or so of the finalist pieces and knew an additional three finalists in some way or another and I was so excited to crow about their nominations. Right now, though, I’m really struggling to keep active between the book launch and finishing the next book.

So to summarize, I guess here are my tips:
  1. Start thinking early about what contacts you have and what they can help you with, both in your writing network and in your life outside it. I’ve found people are very eager to help get the word out about the book, which is wonderful and has opened avenues up for me that I didn’t even know were there.
  2. Build yourself a network and participate in it. Spread the word about other writers you like and other books you like. This will be most helpful to you if you do it because it’s a good thing to do and it helps others, not because you expect to get something out of it.
  3. Be gracious and polite and genuine at all times. I’m hoping I’ll commit fewer faux pas if I keep this as my inner mantra, because the whole book promotion thing is about asking people to talk about my book and about me, which (speaking as somebody with fairly severe social anxiety in the first place) I’m genuinely uncomfortable with.
  4. Social media is great, but don’t let it—or anything—take up so much time that you don’t get to the actual writing and revising of your book.
Can you spill any beans about new stories that you are working on?

KM: I suppose so! The one I’m revising like mad right now takes place in a city called Nagspeake. ( It’s a city with a very tenuous relationship to its own history, much of which is unknown, and here and there throughout it are structures made of semi-animate iron that nobody really knows much about. Charlotte, whose mother is a ferroculturist studying Old Iron and whose father is a nautical chartmaker, accidentally stumbles on a hidden city in Nagspeake. Chaos ensues. There’s also more to Natalie’s story, but I think I’ll save talking about that for another time.

Are there other steampunk stories out there that you are reading that you can recommend to new fans of the genre?

Oh, there are so many good ones. Just a few off the top of my head--

For teen readers:
Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan
Arthur Slade’s The Hunchback Assignments
Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a fairy-tale with some steampunk details and sensibilities to it and is just gorgeous (and it just won the Andre Norton Award, and you can get it online at Ms. Valente’s website.

For adults:
Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age
Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology
Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker

I’m restraining myself from getting up to look at my bookshelf now. Plus there are about a million on my to-read list, like Philip Reeve’s Larklight and Hungry City Chronicles, K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices.

I'm with you, Kate. The stack of books to be read are ginormous and it doesn't stop growing. This was a blast for me and I can't thank Kate enough for stopping by the Asylum and sharing her wonderful stories and amazing tips. I have a feeling that we are going to be reading her stories for many years to come. To learn more about Kate, read more interviews, and check out her blogs go to: The Clockwork Foundry

Monday, May 17, 2010

The KILLER COWS are here! RUN (to your local bookstore)

So I'm catching up on Twitter the other day and one of Mary Cunningham's tweets grabbed my attention and hurled me into a large grassy field among the grazing cattle. Okay, maybe it wasn't a field, but more like the Echelon Press website. There, thanks to Mary, I discover a book that had the odoriferous smell of awesome all over it. I'm talking about D.M. Anderson's KILLER COWS (2010 by Quake, an imprint of Echelon Press).

D.M. is a 7th grade language arts teacher and newly minted author with a great passion for monster movies, books, and heavy metal. When I read his bio, I said this is a guy I have to talk to. Being a listener to the heavy iron myself instantly bonds us into a brotherhood. Of course I had to know more...

Your debut novel Killer Cows sounds wonderfully creepy and hilarious. Can you give us a little blurb on it and what made you decide to make this your first book?

I have discovered lately Killer Cows a hard book to describe. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel that does indeed involve killer cows (from space, of course), but it’s also about a lonely ninth grade kid who’s trying to fit in, and failing miserably. Things get more complicated when he discovers a flying saucer under his house, left there hundred of years ago by an alien race. It’s eventually up to him (and a few other misfit friends) to save the world. I wouldn’t say it’s ‘creepy’ (though it has a few creepy characters), but I think some of it’s pretty funny. Then again, you might say the whole premise is funny, because it’s so ridiculous. I didn’t consciously intend it to be my first book... it simply evolved into one because I liked the characters and didn’t want to let them go.

I know that a lot of my writing has been influenced by my love of monster movies and books. Were you influenced by these types of stories?

Absolutely, I was influenced by those things. As a kid, I loved monsters, aliens, car chases and things blowing up... in movies as well as books. I loved stories by Richard Matheson and Stephen King, as well as rampaging animal flicks. The idea of "Cows" was definitely inspired by movies like "Star Wars" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still," as well as such movie cheese as "Night of the Lepus," which was about giant killer rabbits, the only animal less terrifying than cows. I thought it would be interesting to combine the type of realistic YA fiction popular today with some of the more outrageous flicks I loved growing up. You know, something different than all the emo-vampires-in-love thing.
There are many writers out there trying to get their first book done. What is your writing process? How do you get through that first draft?

Getting through the first draft is everything. I know, because I’ve started more books than I care to count. As for my process, I don’t intentionally begin a story with the intent of making it a novel. Some stories are novels, some aren’t. For me, the only way is to get into the characters and decide if they are worth sticking with. I figure, if I like spending this much time with them, maybe readers will, too. Finishing that first draft also takes a ton of self-discipline; you have to work on it all the time, even on the days when you don’t necessarily feel ‘inspired.’ My routine is that I try to spend at least a couple of hours per day working on my stories, even if it results in me hitting the delete button afterwards.

Can you talk to me about your adventures in submitting the book and the journey getting KC into Echelon's hands?

I’m actually lucky Echelon decided to offer me a contract at all, considering how much I bad-mouthed them in an online writer’s forum I visit. I queried lots of agents and publishers about Killer Cows before Echelon Press asked to see the entire novel. Naturally excited, I sent it to them, then heard nothing for nearly a year, even though I kept inquiring about it. During that time, I got increasing angry that they didn’t bother to respond to a novel they requested to read. I started bad-mouthing them on a writer’s forum website to go to, spouting off how unprofessional they were. Then one day I got an email from another writer on that forum, telling me Echelon Press had been trying to find me for months to offer a contract. It turned out I didn’t include my contact info on my submission, so they had no idea how to find me. Still, despite all my trash talk, Echelon’s CEO laughed it off.

How has being a teacher helped you with your writing?

It has helped me immeasurably. Until I became a teacher, I assumed young adult fiction consisted of all the same old heavy-handed stuff I resisted when I was a teenager. Now, after reading so many modern YA novels and checking out what kids are into, I realize the only real difference between YA fiction and mainstream novels are the ages of the characters and the style in which writers approach the material, which is different than mainstream adult fiction, and a lot harder to do well than most people think. I hate to cite Stephanie Meyer, because I’m not a fan of the "Twilight" series or her writing style, but I’ve got to give her kudos for one thing... not only does she write about teenagers, she remembers what it is like to be one. I think that, more than anything, is why her novels click with so many kids (adults, too). And that’s what’s so cool about young adult fiction. There are no real boundaries, no taboo subjects. I’ve learned that young adult readers want to read about themselves.

Do you write for the age group you teach?

Yes I do, but I do not alter my writing style too much from the more adult-oriented material I sometimes pursue. I don’t remember who said this, but it is totally true...the best young adult novels aren’t simply written for them, they are written about them. Kids don’t want something preachy or dumbed-down. They want characters they can identify with, written by someone who knows what it’s like to be that age, no matter what genre of the book. Look at the Harry Potter series; those books are challenging reads for kids, but they’ve captivated millions, strictly because J.K. Rowling created characters people love (or hate).

Can you tell is what you are working on next and how is the process going?

I’m still trying to place my next novel, "Shaken," with an agent. Like "Cows," it is equally influenced by movie genres I love, in this case, disaster films, only told completely from the teenagers’ point of view. I’m also currently working on "The Dark Ride," a full-blooded horror novel, even though it is still aimed at young adults. I may be biting off more than I can chew with this one, since it’s extremely violent for a YA novel. On the other hand, I know I lot of parents who let their children watch the "Saw" films, and my book isn’t nearly as graphic or violent as those. Considering the YA books I’ve read dealing with suicide, shootings and sexuality, I’m hoping I’m right in assuming most teenagers have read and seen worse. And, like my other books, it is inspired by films I’ve always loved.

In this case, it’s a cross between Disneyland, "Westworld" and "Night of the Living Dead." After that, the good lord willing, I’d love to write a sequel to "Killer Cows." But that depends on how well "Killer Cows" sells. There’s no point in writing a sequel to a book no one reads, so right now, it remains in the outlining stage, so I’ll shameless plug "Cows" by saying you can order it at Amazon or as an ebook at Fictionwise.

Dave, you may want to be careful there! It could be a Killer Cow! Sure the cow is cute, but so were the bunnies in Lepus and in Monty Python (that's how they get you). I want to thank D.M. for stopping by the Asylum and sharing all of this wonderful info with us. We hope that Killer Cows is a great success and there will be more to come.

And lastly,

They say that life's a carousel
Spinning fast, you've got to ride it well
The world is full of kings and queens
Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Literary Warrior & Agent - Bree Ogden

Being a writer without an agent and fighting against the literary PTB's (Powers That Be) can be an overwhelming feeling. Having the magical confidence that an agent brings to the relationship puts you under a stable wing, like Skywalker with Yoda or Potter with Dumbledore. They are the unsung warriors in your fight.

I've recently had the pleasure of meeting such a great warrior in the lit battle, and her name is Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management.
I could go on for days about her amazing background and how well educated she is and what a rising star she is becoming. But I won't. Because as writers, we all want to know, what have you done for me lately? Why is it always about us? This writer wants to go on the other side of the desk and find out about the daily life of an agent. So here we go...

How involved are you with your writers (from editing, notes, story development), and how important is this for you?

Bree Ogden: It all depends on the writer. I’ve had a few clients that didn’t need anything from me other than to sell their book. I’ve had some clients that I’ve suggested significant changes to their manuscripts. I’ve had other clients that I have walked through the entire process from basic book description to book proposal to marketing plan to mock book covers. I don’t do much editing though. I would never take on a manuscript that needed significant editing. I talk to most of my clients several times a week, both phone and email. It is very important to me that my clients and I are always on the same page. I want my clients to succeed, so that means being there for them as much as they need me.

Put me in the agent chair, what are some of the day to day hurdles of being a lit agent? What do most people/clients not know about the hard work you do?

Bree: Well my agent chair is black leather with a tall back, quite comfortable. While I sit in this quite comfortable chair, some of the hurdles I deal with are making people angry if I turn down their manuscripts, making people sad if I turn down their manuscripts (I can handle angry. Sad, not so much). Another hurdle is that editors are very picky now a days—and for good reason. As an agent, you want to please everyone, your client and the editor... but unfortunately it doesn’t always come up roses.

Writing these days is not just about turning over a manuscript and hoping it sells. What do writers need to do these days to really help make a career of writing?

Bree: Wonderful question! Writers need to know how to get themselves and their book known and build their platform. But before that, writers need to know how to land an agent, and that can be trickier than it seems. I know several agents who will reject a query letter one sentence into it. Two marvelous books that I recommend to every writer are Publish Your Nonfiction Book: Strategies for Learning the Industry, Selling Your Book, and Building a Successful Career by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco and Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform by Christina Katz. I also suggest to writers that they really utilize their agents. Marketing is part of our job as well. Writers: don’t be afraid to take full advantage of your agent. They want your book to succeed just as much as you do. But some quick tips: blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages are always a good place to start. And make friends with fellow authors. Cross promote each other.

Let's say I'm a writer that wants to write graphic novels but I don't really have the artistic chops to back it up. Are agents and publishers open to reading gn scripts without art? How difficult are they to sell?

Bree: Absolutely. I am selling two graphic novels right now without artwork attached. Publishers have artists they employ for graphic novels just as they do for children’s picture books. But as a graphic novelist, you should definitely have an idea of what you want each panel to look like, and you should indicate that in the manuscript. You might want to go as far as showing editors artwork that you think works well with the tone of your manuscript. Another book to check out in regards to this is Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: Everything You Need to Know to Create Great Graphic Works by Mike Chinn. It is a wonderful resource for every graphic novelist.

A lot of people think that it is "easy" to write for children. What advice can you give to someone who wants to write for children? Is it that easy?

Bree: I’m assuming people who think it is easy to write for children have never written for children. Just because the mind is fresh and new doesn’t mean it will soak up whatever is placed in front of it. Or worse, it will soak up everything placed in front of it…and what is placed there is garbage. It may sound easy because the writer is working with a less sophisticated lexicon…but think about the impact that a book has on a young mind. With children’s books there is pressure on the writer to entertain, teach, encourage, inspire, and create within a child’s mind a whole new world. So let’s ask it again, “Is it easy to write for children?” Absolutely not. My advice is to get to know children before you write for them. Their minds are beautifully tangled mysteries. And it is a kid lit author’s job to wiggle in there, create, inspire, and enhance.

We read and hear a lot of agents talk about building your platform. Can you break down what that is for those who don't know? How important is this for writers looking for agents? How important is this to agents?

Bree: Platform is tricky. An author’s platform is basically their influence over book buyers and how they intend to use it. It’s human marketing at its most basic. Platform is very, and I mean very important when you are writing nonfiction. And the Publish You Nonfiction Book I mentioned above talks all about building your platform (it is possible to build one if you are not already equipped with one). But platform is not as important in fiction. It is important to get yourself as known as possible—through blogs, Facebook, Web sites, Twitter, guest speaking, etc. But people read fiction based more on the premise of the book, whereas people read nonfiction based more on the writer. Who wants to read a nonfiction “How to Score a Chick” book from some guy with no Don Juan Platform? So to answer your question, my associate Sharlene Martin who only reps nonfiction will tell you that platform is very important. Whereas I rep fiction, and I will tell you that I think it is fabulous if you have a lot of followers on your blog.

Biggest turnoffs for agents with novice writers?

Bree: A pretty big turnoff is if they are unwilling to take advice or constructive criticism. That’s really it. Most of the time, novice writers are so eager to please, they are awesome to work with.

If you were to write a literary mash-up, what would it be? (ha ha - had to ask)

Bree: Ahhh! Haha. Well played, my friend. Okay let’s see…How about Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Anacondas! Or Dante’s Inferno and The Kraken! I’m hereby copyrighting these. Don’t even test me Seth Grahame-Smith!

If you could be any comic book/literary character, who would you be and why?

Bree: Hands down, without a doubt in my mind, Wonder Woman. I know that sounds like such a cliché answer for a chick. But have you read The OMAC Project? Ahh She is bonkers and incredible and risky!

Oh but it would be so much fun to be Harley Quinn as well. So delicious!

Well you named two of my all time favorite comic book vixens.

Literary - I would love to be any female character from any Chuck Palahniuk novel. Sometimes it might just be nice to go off your rocker and be totally fine with it.

Bree it has been awesome having you here. Thank you for all your insight. I have a title for your mash-up, how about Kraken's Inferno (sounds pretty cool, right?). If you want to learn more about what Bree and Martin Literary Management are looking for and their submission policy, please go to their website HERE.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Frankenstein Syndrome

Until I decided to follow my bliss and put my energy and focus into my children's writing, I was pitching to the mucky mucks at Hollywood film and television studios.

In the land of glitter and broken dreams, one can really die of encouragement. Everyday you here how fabulous you are and how great your ideas are, BUT they really aren't what the collective "we" are looking for.

Exec: "We want a family film with lots of fun and action?"
Writer: "Yes, I have this great idea about these kids..."
Exec: "Wait! Kids don't want to watch kids. They want to watch adults in the lead roles."
Writer: "What about Race to Witch Mountain, Bridge to Terabithia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?!"
Exec: "They only went to see Johnny Depp and The Rock. Write a family script that doesn't have kid leads and come back to see us."

These are the kind of conversations you find yourself a part of and wonder when Ashton Kutcher is going to pop out of the closet and Punk you.

I learned quickly that I was a rare breed of people in "the biz" that actually wanted to write about kids and tell kid stories. Why was I beating myself up constantly pitching kid ideas to execs who weren't all that excited about original ideas? I was slowly dying of encouragement and everyone around me could see it. Then one night, it hit me like a blistering meteor from sector 47. Maybe my stories aren't meant for scripts. Maybe I should be writing my stories for kids in the formats that I grew up with and loved. Books!

So I dug through the old files of story ideas and found that I had oodles of stories to tell. I turned some of them into short stories that got published, I turned two of them into books that I am currently working on, and then I came across two ideas that I pitched for cartoons right before the WGA strike happened and they got the kibosh. I was beginning to feel like a dog that knew the rattlesnake would strike but still tried to play with it anyway.

So I dug up a few images from an idea that I (like the great Dr. Frankenstein) will bring back from the dead. This is what I call The Frankenstein Syndrome (TFS) (insert lightning here).

The first project in my TFS is The Galactic Adventures of Space Weeze and Dangerous Hank is the story of two bumbling space pirates trapped in a far off galaxy collecting junk to try and resell to a grumpy old Octopus named Slogbert (sort of Jabba the Hut type) so they can repair their spacecraft to get back home. During their journeys they meet several interesting characters that you can see in the line up above.

A Space Weasel?

And his unknown species best friend with a can opener for a head? What's not to love about that?

Break out those old ideas and dust them off. Maybe there is some life to be brought to them. Stay tuned for Part II of TFS when I uncover Ballistic. 

(Space Weeze Images (c) D.M. Cunningham, Illustrations by Ryan Hungerford)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rhonda Hayter casts a Witchy spell

The next full moon is May 27th and there is already a whimsical sense of magic in the air. Rhonda Hayter's recently released book The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams (Dial Books) is already casting its spell over readers of all ages. 

Being the curious person I am, I asked if she would share some fanciful tidbits from her Book of Shadows.

Can you talk to me about any research that you may have done for the book? Did you need to do a lot of reading up on your witch and werewolf mythologies?

Rhonda Hayter: Well I might have gotten kinda lazy on my witch and werewolf mythology... I just made it all up. But you’ll be happy to hear that I redeemed myself by researching Thomas Edison very diligently, with extra focus on his childhood. And when it came time to give my 13-year old Thomas Edison a voice, I turned to Mark Twain, to find idioms that were contemporaneous with Edison’s time as a boy. 

I'm a monster fan and I love that you have Abbie's younger brother Munch turning into a lycanthrope. Were you influenced by scary stories or movies growing up? If so what were some of your favorite tales?

RH: Did you ever see Children of the Damned?

Let me interject here for a second, Rhonda. Yes I did see it and I was afraid of blond kids for weeks. Okay, please continue...

RH: I had to have the lights on for a week after that one. And I grew up with the Christopher Lee Dracula, who was all elegant and refined and very attractive, I thought. But Abbie’s little brother turning into a werewolf was really influenced by an observation I made myself one day, when my generally cherubic, sweet-natured six-year old son had a screaming, ranting tantrum that was just like seeing him morph into a werewolf.

(Christopher Lee is rather dashing below. Although someone should have told him about the ketchup dribbling down his chin)

I love that you bring historical figures into such a fun story. When I read that Abbie's cat was an enchanted 13-year old Thomas Edison I flipped out (in a good way of course) and was chomping at the bit to read the story. I've read that Abbie 2 and 3 will have some historical figures in the storylines. This is one of my favorite ways of telling a story.

What brought about the idea of making the cat Thomas Edison?

RH: I laughed out loud when I read this question, because the answer is, I have absolutely no idea. Whatever chain of thought I had that led to it, is completely lost to me now. I do remember having painted myself into a terrible corner with a couple of sub-plots and having to sit down and brainstorm ideas that could get me some forward motion again. I think the idea might have come to me then.

What historical figures will you bring into the next books?

RH: I’m in revisions with Book 2 and I’ve got a good jump on Book 3, so I can tell you. Abbie and her best friend Callie will go back in time to see Harriet Tubman conduct her passengers to freedom in Book 2. And in Book 3, Susan B. Anthony will come into our time and start kicking rear ends and taking names.

Are you a history buff? What is the fascination with historical figures and why is it important to you to have them be a part of your stories?

RH: I’m not really so much a history buff I guess, as I am a biography buff. I love reading about the lives of interesting people and it’s been so much fun bringing them back to life, to walk and talk again in my books.

I'm a 12-year old boy (well, not really, maybe in my mind and spirit!) and I am looking for a great fun book to read, why should I read your book? What's in it for me? (I'm standing there in the store, arms crossed, looking at the adorable cover).

RH: Well, as much as I love the cover of my book, which really catches the tone and fun of it I think, I fear that boys may be put off by it, because it’s got a girl on it. Boys can be a little snobby that way, I’m grieved to report. I wish they wouldn’t be though, because there are some great male characters in the book and some pretty good climactic action too, if I do say so myself. My youngest boy, the one Munch is based on, is after me to write a series from Munch’s point of view. He thinks boys might be more inclined to read something like that.

If you could have dinner with a historical figure who would it be and why?

RH: Well if I could only pick one, from all the research I’m doing, I would just love for it to be Susan B. Anthony. Because she was very sly and wickedly funny too on top of being brilliant, brave, and indefatigable. I would love getting the dish on what she really thought of the people who opposed her back then.

Last question - everyone talks a lot about the writing process, getting an agent, and all that good stuff. I want to know what you did as a writer to prepare for the launch of the book?

RH: Absolutely the best thing I did was join the Classof2K10. It’s a group of YA and Middle-Grade authors who are all debuting in 2010. If it hadn’t been for the writers in the group, and for being mentored by a member of the Class of 2k09, I wouldn’t have had the first idea of how to help with the promotion of my book, gain web presence, or network and it’s been lovely having people to share all the ups and downs of new publication. I liken it to my pregnancy yoga class... it’s such a unique and magical time in people’s lives, and the fellowship of people going through the same thing, is a great gift. Joining something like that would really be my most urgent advice to anyone with a first book coming out.

I certainly hope that I can be a member of that class in the near future. Maybe Rhonda can share some of the magic with me. If you haven't had the opportunity to read about Abbie, go check it out and beware of the moon, stick to the road, and stay clear of the moors. Rhonda, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. I am looking forward to more Abbie adventures.

RH: Thanks for having me.

Anytime! You are now an inmate at the Asylum.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May the 4th Be With You

In spirit of the unofficial Star Wars Day (May the 4th) I have decided to do a little flashback to 1977 and share a few articles that I found very interesting about my beloved franchise (which I am still on the fence about Episode 1 & 2).

To the left is one of the original newspaper ads for the film. Funny how there were only 3 showings on a Saturday. I'm pretty sure I went to all of those or at least I tried to drag my mother to them. The first time I saw the film we stood in line for what felt like an entire month. It was probably an hour, but when you are a kid an hour is an eternity.

The following article was a review posted in my local newspaper The Gazette Telegraph about the film. Very interesting to read how the film was thought of as eye candy and that it didn't have much substance. Based on Joseph Campbell's  The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I would like to disagree with this reviewer. How many stories and movies have been influenced by Star Wars and its impact? Too many to list here.

The next piece of amusement comes from another article lumping Star Wars in the growing fad of clothing and memorabilia. I love the first statement saying that Darth Vader lives but will he be bigger than Farrah Fawcett - Majors (who was married to Lee Majors at the time. If you don't know who Lee Majors is - check this out - The Six Million Dollar Man). Wouldn't it be great to show the writer what Star Wars has blossomed into? How it is has become such a part of our culture, it's like the marriage of butter on toast.

And finally, a great ad for T-shirts at the amazing price of $2.99! If I had a DeLorean I would jump in it right now and load up on some serious iron-on goodness. Who's with me?!

May the 4th Be With You! And may the memories remain strong, just like the Force.