Saturday, February 28, 2015

Perspective

by
Scott D. Parker

I had it all planned out.

Last week, I wrote about the smooth and seamless acquisition of my DBA for “Quadrant Fiction Studio” and the business checking account. By the end of last weekend, I had successfully published on Barnes and Noble after previously publishing on Amazon and Kobo. I had even set up my new monthly newsletter. I was ready for the Big Announcement on Wednesday. I was going to announce via Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

Well, things did not go according to plan.

This past Monday, my boy was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pains. The doctors and nurses quickly zeroed in on a possible cause: appendicitis. After three different folks conducted painful ultrasounds, the general consensus was that of a ruptured appendix. He had a successful appendectomy and is recovering very well.

What was great, especially for my wife and I having to keep the worry at bay, was how efficient everything went. I got the call from my wife at ten, we were in the ER before eleven, and he was in surgery at half past three. There were no other surgeries planned so we had the pre-op room and waiting room to ourselves. A little over an hour later, he was in recovery and soon moved into a cozy private room where he’s been ever since. With good test results, he might be able to go home on Saturday.

Needless to say, the announcement of my first published book was pointless beside my son’s health. He’s already one up on me in life experiences as I’ve never had surgery other than the removal of wisdom teeth.

Sure, I wanted the Big Announcement to be this past Wednesday, but, then again, I wanted to have the book published in January and I missed that mark, too. And the only person, at this stage of my fiction career, who cares about publication dates is me. To the rest of the world, it’s just there.

Perspective. It’s a good thing.

Be that as it may, WADING INTO WAR is now available, live and worldwide, at Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. The new cover link over there on the right takes you to the book webpage at Quadrant Fiction Studio. The author page is also up and running. It'll be the place from which I blog from now on. From there you can sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The best thing about making the announcement today? No longer does it just fall on a random Wednesday in February. It now coincides with my son returning home after a week’s sojourn in the hospital.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Shocking Series


Series characters are tricky.

When Dennis Lehane finished Prayers for Rain, he said that Patrick Kenzie’s voice went away from him.  He didn’t hear Kenzie and because of that he moved on to other ideas—Mystic River, Shutter Island, and so on.  Eventually he came back to Kenzie—or, rather, Kenzie came back to him, and Lehane wrote Moonlight Mile.

Back in 2007, I was working on the Jackson Donne series.  Jackson Donne started out as the typical private eye, someone mourning the death of his fiancĂ©e Jeanne.  She drives the series, motivates Donne and some other characters. 

The first Donne novel, When One Man Dies, was about to be published and I was working on the sequel The Evil that Men Do—which would be published in 2008.  I was deep into Donne by then, his voice throwing ideas at me left and right.  And then, just weeks after Evil came out, my publisher dropped me.

I needed to reboot, try something new.  I wrote Witness to Death, a book set in the same universe as the Donne series, but with nary a mention of Mr. Donne.  I moved on to other things, and even briefly considered leaving writing—focusing on my teaching career.  I got married, had a kid,  and went back to grad school for a while.

Jackson Donne didn’t stop talking to me, I stopped talking to him. 

Somewhere in there, I self-published Witness to Death and it did quite well.  And for while, I thought about what I would do next.  I’d start a short story and stop it.  I’d scribble some novel ideas down.  Things weren’t going anywhere.  Occasionally, I’d think about Jackson Donne, and wonder if the series was over.  I had no ideas from him.  I was different now, much different than when I wrote about him.

Series characters are tricky, and it’d hard to surprise readers form book to book.

One afternoon, I sat down to watch Doctor Who.  It was during Matt Smith’s second season.  I remember this very, very clearly—mostly because Steven Moffat, the writer of the series, surprised the hell out of me.  He took a character that had been around for 50 years and managed to do something that I didn’t expect.

Steven Moffat killed the Doctor. 

An astronaut came out of a lake and shot him dead, on screen.  Now, we all knew that the Doctor wasn’t really dead.  That somehow, Eleven would find his way back to life somewhere over the course of the season.  But that particular moment came out of the blue. 

And that’s when I really started to think about Jackson Donne again.  About series characters, and about how to surprise readers.  Suddenly, I had it.  The moment that would turn the series on its ear. 
Jeanne wasn’t dead.

I sat down and wrote a chapter.  Then another.  Then another.  I mentioned the idea to Jason Pinter—my original editor at Random House, and now the founder of Polis Books.  He loved Jackson and he loved the idea.

And, as I wrote the book, Donne himself started to surprise me.  He was no longer the typical private eye—actually wasn’t even typical in When One Man Dies.  He’d grown, changed, and evolved in the years since I’d wrote about him last.  He was talking to me, and I was talking to him.

Now, after a 7-year absence, he’s back in Not Even Past, trying to find out why and how Jeanne is still alive.  I’m talking to Donne again.

Yes, series characters are hard—because each book has to be the same, but different.  However, if you’re willing to dig deep and try something different, you can mine new angles and still be shocking.

And, just like Doctor Who surprised me, I hope Not Even Past will surprise new and old readers alike.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Living Wage and the Book Business

by Holly West

Recently, a beloved Bay Area bookstore announced it would be closing in March 2015 due to the increased payroll costs caused by San Francisco's recently passed measure that increases the city's hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2018.

I support the living wage. I hate the idea that a person working 40+ hours a week must still live in poverty and/or take a second job to make ends meet. Of course, I've heard the argument that able-bodied adults with households to support shouldn't be toiling in minimum wage employment in the first place. "Get yourself a skill," opponents say. "Those jobs are for teenagers looking to earn some pocket money." But we all know that "getting a skill" this isn't always a feasible option and that even educated workers often find themselves in positions that require them to take minimum wage paying jobs.

You might call me an idealist (hell, I call myself one), but to me, the real people living in a dream world are the ones who espouse the idea that all it takes is hard work to get ahead in our society or that intervention by the government isn't sometimes needed to ensure (as best it can) that all people are given a fair-ish shake. The playing field isn't even and never has been and if you've managed to somehow convince yourself that it is, well, I respectfully disagree.

It's a complicated subject, and not one I'm willing to discuss in depth in this post. But I bring it up because it's directly related to what I do want to talk about. The bookstore in question was, by their own account, doing relatively well for an independent bookstore. We all know the struggle that these establishments have faced in recent years, but this particular store had successfully weathered many financial storms in their 18 years in business and were optimistic about the future. Then, the minimum wage increase hit and once everything was taken into consideration, management came to the reluctant conclusion that their only option was to close.

And this is where I begin to question, if only slightly, on my support of the minimum wage increase. The issue, for me, isn't whether the concept of a living wage is a good thing (clearly, I think it is), it's whether certain businesses should be exempt from such increases.

The problem, as put forth by this bookstore, is that the book business differs from others in that they can't raise their prices to cover their new payroll costs. Publishers set the price of a book and it's printed right there on the cover. Furthermore, even if they could raise their prices, consumers don't want to pay retail for books in the first place, and with large online retailers and big box stores offering huge discounts, they don't have to.

The pricing "quirks" of the book business and the competition brought by ebooks and online retailers have been an issue for independent bookstores for years now. Some have managed to continue, and even prosper, while others have had no choice but to close. But what happens when an independent bookstore has managed to stay afloat amid all of these challenges, only to be derailed by a government-mandated minimum wage increase?

Some would say it's the cost of doing business (literally and figuratively). It's no different from anything else that affects the financial well-being of an establishment and if it can't find a way to make up for the losses, then so be it. Kind of the free market argument turned on its head, given the circumstances. But this isn't a case of fat cats getting fatter off of the hard work of its low paid workers. This is a small business that has itself worked hard to keep their heads above water. When do they catch a break?

Lordie, if I had all the answers to life's complicated questions, I'd be writing this post from my yacht in Capri. That's where people with yachts take them, right? But I'm really just a simple country girl (I can say that now that I've left the big city) trying to make sense of complicated issues that so many people seem to want to make clear cut. They're just not.

And so I turn to you, dear reader, for your take on this matter. The bookstore I'm talking about recently set up sponsorship opportunity for customers who'd like to support the store. When I learned about this, I was dubious for a number of reasons (a topic I might take on in a future post) but as of this writing, it seems as though they've been successful enough to remain open for the rest of the year. That, to me, is a good thing. Perhaps, with a bit of time on their side, they'll come up with other viable ways to keep the business going. I certainly hope so.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Thanks Jeff VanderMeer!

It was great to see Jeff VanderMeer's Area X books rampage across the book universe last year.  I've been following him and his work for more then a decade and this level of acclaim and popularity is well deserved. But today I just wanted to take a moment to thank him for his years of book recommendations. He wrote an Amazon Listmania List! (remember those) called Entertaining But Different: Strange Fiction that came along at the right time for me and opened up my eyes to new books and authors. Around that same time he wrote an article called The Shadow Cabinet (which I stole for my Mulholland Books article) that again pointed me towards many books and authors that I just wasn't that aware of.

Authors are told to read read read if they want to write. This means read widely and deeply. I think this is good advice for anyone regardless of any writing aspirations that may or may not be present. I try to do both of these things as a reader and I think that, in part, it's a philosophy I owe to VanderMeer.


So thanks Jeff, for all of the book recommendations over the years.

A selection of the books and authors that Jeff VanderMeer put me on to (or made me bump further up my TBR) plus his latest work which you should read if you haven't yet.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tales from the Query Trenches: Dream Agent

By Kristi Belcamino

Happy Sunday!

*I dropped the ball this week so I'm recycling an old blog post about being in the query trenches.*

When I first started querying my novel, Blessed are the Dead, I didn’t yet have a “Dream Agent.” I’d heard other writers talk about the Dream Agent, but I was such a newbie, I didn’t even know how to choose a Dream Agent.

Until I came across her. The more I read about her, the more convinced I was that she was my Dream Agent.

This agent killedslaughtered, took hostages, in the crime fiction market, pulling in spectacular book deals with the flip of a wrist.

And on top of that, she was hella cool.

Soon, I was day-dreaming about hanging out with her at bookish events, closing out the bar at Boucheron — and of course — me on a kick ass book tour after she sold a boatload of my books.

Her clients actually had a name, a Team Name. And they were all friends. And I was the wallflower wanting to hang out with the popular kids. More than anything I wanted to be part of her team.

But as nice as she was – and she was extraordinarily nice AND helpful — turns out that my writing wasn’t her thing.

It happens. Fair enough. We all have different tastes.

So I switched my allegiance to a new agent – this one, SHE loved me. That became my new criteria for a dream agent — an agent who LOVED me back. Screw that one-sided love.

This agent saw a future for my books. Then why wasn’t she offering representation? I was confused.

I’d been wooed and left in the dust before. I’d had two hour long conversations with agents who told me how much they loved me and then dropped me like a hot potato.

Total radio silence.

Without any explanation. Not even a response when I emailed to say I’d had an offer of rep from another agent. Fickle people these agents.

I call it the agent tease. I’ve seen this flirtation between other agents and other writers and the outcome has been nothing more than a tease – no offer of representation to seal the deal. Agents on Twitter who become BFF’s with writers and say, “Send me your work, darling. I love you so much.” And maintain a Twitter relationship for years talking about how much the agent LOVES the writer, without ever responding to the writer about the manuscript she or he sent.

Luckily, I avoided that toxic relationship.

So back to the agent who became my new Dream Agent.

Like the other agent, I wanted to hang out with her. And this agent had more in common with me than the other one. The more I got to know her, the cooler she became to me.

So much so that I wanted our families to hang out and our children to grow up as best friends. I imagined long nights in New York City having great discussions over wine and good food. Basically, I wanted us to be new BFF’s.

I think she felt the same way. But still – no commitment – just a flirtation.

So, I didn’t put my eggs in one basket. I kept flirting with other agents, sending out my manuscript, seeing if they liked me.

Then one day, my dream agent told me she wanted to talk on the phone about my book. I didn’t think too much about it (see agent above who spent nearly two hours telling me how much she loved my book and then dropped off the face of the earth).

But this time, Dream Agent offered. I was stunned. I was thrilled. I was so excited to be BFF’s with her. All my dreams would come true. Our kids would be friends. We’d exchange holiday cards and talk on the phone like gal pals.

But I didn’t accept immediately. I’m a rule follower.  I’d studied up on what to do when you got an offer – let all the agents who had your manuscript know about this. (Including the one agent who’d had it for 18 months and kept in touch with me without rejecting it. I’m NOT kidding. She liked the the book, was waiting to see what others had to say about it, yada yada.)

So I sent out emails to all the agents who had my manuscript. I told them I had an offer and was going to respond to the offer within a week and wanted to give them a chance to review the manuscript first.

Then, the ego flailing part happened – agents started dropping like flies – bowing out, wishing me luck. Holy smokes.

This scared the crap out of me. I was on cloud 9 so I hadn’t expected the crushing ego blow of people bowing out. I had no idea this would hurt. Let’s face it, rejection is rejection, any way you dice it. Even when an offer of representation is sitting there on the table, rejection still smarts. But a few agents didn’t dump me.

On Friday night, I got a message from an agent I hadn’t stalked (lucky her, I guess) who said her colleague had passed the manuscript on to her and that she wanted to talk on Monday.

And the agent who had the manuscript for 18 months also emailed to say she’d get back to me, as well.

My ego was stroked. Two other agents besides Dream Agent might like me. I felt like a schoolgirl with multiple offers to the prom. I was “popular!” Who cares about all the agents who dropped off and bowed out when I told them I had an offer. I had the love of THREE agents. My ego was restored.

That was all it meant to me at the time — because after all, I already had established a love affair with My Dream Agent. I am a loyal person. It’s my nature. So, I knew I was going to accept her offer. She knew me, she loved me, and I loved her back.

But then on Monday, I talked to the new, heretofore unstalked agent.

And everything changed.

Not only did I realize there were other Dream Agents out there, but also I knew by the time I hung up the phone with her that there was no possible way I wouldn’t sign with her.

I was, frankly, stunned.

During one phone conversation, she had completely won me over.

Her sales pitch and her personality and her attitude were everything I hadn’t even known I wanted until I talked to her. She was the one.

My choice was clear.

Immediately, I was flooded with guilt. What about my love affair with my so-called dream agent, the one who had wooed me for months?

Part of me tried to justify breaking up with her, saying, well, she could have made an offer to me months before and I would’ve signed with her. But in her defense, she probably was also feeling out the terrain to see if we’d be a good fit.

But the bottom line was that I felt awful dumping her. I was sick to my stomach before I called her back to tell her I was going with someone else. But I had no choice. Every bit of my gut and mind told me this new agent was the right one for me.

So, I made the call. It was one of the hands down shittiest moments of my writing career. I felt like a heel, breaking up with a really wonderful person. But I knew I’d made the right decision – for me and for my career.

Don’t get me wrong — I still want to be BFF’s with the other agent. I really do. I still think the world of her and would love to buy her a drink one day and talk writing, but I have no doubt I made the right decision for my career and for my writing.