Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Week in Writing #166 - Report From The Front - Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference 2017

This was a week in writing where craft took precedence over practice. My son, Paul, and I attended the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The conference, which was mostly programs devoted to Craft, Character, Genre and Beyond (Revisions, Querying and Publishing), was a chance not only to learn from other writers and professionals but also to mingle with other writers. (Being the introverts that we are, the mingling not so much.)

Being in the seemingly endless round of revisions on the oft-discussed Familiar Stranger, I found the conference to be really informative and energizing. I would find myself sitting listening to someone talk about the inciting incident and then couldn't wait to get home to start moving chapters around to get to the first hook in the story.

I attended the following programs: Ten Ways to Create Compelling Characters (Even Unlikable Ones) by April Eberhardt [Character]; Make Your First Chapter Matter by Sophie Littlefield [Craft]; Page-Turning Secrets for Thrillers and Suspense by James Scott Bell [Genre]; Your Submission Questions Answered by Laurie McLean, Holly Root, Patricia Nelson, and Taylor Haggerty [Beyond]; Plotting for Pantsers by Rachel Herron [Craft]; Making Your Setting a Character by Susan Meissner [Character]; Mystery/Thriller Panel with Liz Fenton, James Scott Bell, David Corbett and Nina Sadowsky [Genre]; Writing Conflicted Characters: How to Dramatize Mixed Motive & Other Contradictions by David Corbett [Character]; Fearless Writing by William Kenower [Beyond]; Writing the Perfectly Imperfect Character: The Character Cues Technique [Jordan Rosenfeld]; and The Four Perspectives: A System For Revising Everything From One Chapter to a Whole Manuscript by Jennie Nash [Beyond].

Not all programs are created equal and some are more informative than others. Many seemed to have to rush through their presentation, one presenter said that she normally takes 6 hours to do this hour-long lecture. Several seemed rushed or cut-off. One presenter seemed very disorganized. Most seemed to at least have a book or two or three to sell or promote, several of which were not surprisingly available for sale at the convention. That, however, is par for the course as that is also true at Comic-Con.

Perhaps the most inspirational was William Kenower's Fearless Writing, trying to free the writer from worrying about what someone else will think while you're writing. It's supposed to be easy to write, but many writers hamper themselves by worrying about what someone else will think. Try not to do that. And part of the fun is not necessarily knowing where the story is going, so let yourself be surprised.

Several things were repeated over several programs, including common sense items like the three-act structure, though one pushed it to four by splitting Act 2 in half. It may seem like a formula, but it works. As James Scott Bell noted, you won't make an omelet with a watermelon. Readers have certain expectations that as a writer you should be addressing.

Characters were also discussed in several programs. The more you know about your main and secondary characters the better, though I'm not sure I want to interview them or write extensive biographies about each one. The important thing is not to tell the reader everything about them in a block of exposition, but to let their flaws and strengths come out through dialogue and action.

I'm too much of a pantser to do that much planning, but I've been working with my two main characters long enough and over several unpublished efforts that I really think I know them pretty well. But being reminded to tell and not show never hurts.

I also got a better perspective on agents. Hearing them speak made them seem more human. They don't want to necessarily reject you, at least the ones who attended this conference said they didn't. But a new agency, two of the agents of which were there, said they got 300 queries a day for the first couple of months. That seems like an impossible feat to get through. They did stress that the query guidelines on their websites should be followed since that's how they're pipeline works. As an example, if they ask for no attachments, it's because it slows them down to have to open them. A good lesson is to try to give them what they're looking for as far as genres and submissions.

The Romance Writers of America was touted more than once as an organization worth joining, even if you don't write romantic fiction. There were also several other conventions and websites mentioned, too numerous to mention here, but I guess there is always strength in numbers. Unfortunately, I'm more like Groucho Marx and wouldn't want to belong to any organization that would have someone like me as a member. Heck, I didn't attend any of the mixers that the conference offered. For me, I just don't feel like I'm ready for that sort of immersion, at least not yet.

For the most part, the attendees to these kinds of conferences tend to be on the older side of things. A few like my son bring down the average age, but I would imagine the median age was somewhere in the high 50's or low 60's. A lot of gray hair. And while there were quite a few men, women were in the majority here as attendees as well as presenters.

Having attended the conference I'm more excited about getting back to Familiar Stranger and have a new desire to dig in and make it better. I would recommend attending this conference or a similar one if you have the time and money. It will make you a better writer.

There was other news this week: Our search for a new colorist for Powers Squared continues. We sent out invitations to four candidates and so far one has returned their sample and one other has contacted us about what format to return it in. We gave them two weeks, so there is still time.

Trophy Unlocked's Saturday Morning Review was the final horror film review for October: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). We also published a review of the video game Abz├╗ on Sunday. So some things never stop even with a conference.

This next week, I'm hoping to get back on the horse and get on with Familiar Stranger, though I do have a review to write, but I'll save that for next week.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Week in Writing #165

The week got off to a not-so-great start when I got an email from ComiXology on Tuesday morning showing our sales figures, or lack thereof. Since Powers Squared was published in July, we have sold exactly 8 copies, 6 of the first issue and only 2 of the second. I must have given away 3 times that many. Now some would take the lack of success as a sign to quit and I can say that is a tempting idea.

Partly, I blame ComiXology since they did nothing to promote the book when they published it, even though they promised to do that. Their make-do is to promise to promote the third issue, which we seem to be forever close to finishing. In the meantime, not even all the members of my own family have bought copies, so that's depressing as well.

I had hoped that nearly weekly mentions in this blog might have generated a sale or two as well, but that doesn't seem to have happened either. I know there's a great temptation to assume that someone else is buying it and I guess I hoped that someone was. So, here comes the pitch, again. Powers Squared Issue #1 and Issue #2 are available for sale at ComiXology. Just follow the links.

I did check in with our contact at ComiXology on updates about the book, even asking for his opinion. So far, radio silence. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound. And I'm sure "he's really busy blah blah blah." Not really an excuse. Do I sound angry?

Our artist is definitely back to his old ways. He started the last four pages about three weeks ago. We did see pencils for page 20 this past week, so I guess there is hope. Everyone else is idle while we wait.

We're going to start in earnest our search for a new colorist this week as we have a list of people interested.

The rest of the week was sort of problematic. I had been diagnosed with a sty in one of my eyelids and the prescription was to put a hot compress on it. Very hard to write when one hand is holding a hot washcloth against one of your eyes. Really slowed me down for a couple of days. I did in that time watch The Letter (1929) and write a review for it.

Published I Walked With a Zombie (1943) on Saturday morning as part of Trophy Unlocked's Halloween horror salute. Later that day, the family went to see Wonderstruck, which was also reviewed and published on Sunday.

As far as Familiar Stranger, I did make some progress before I was told to sit and hold a compress to my eye. Always want to do more.

This coming weekend, Paul and I will be attending the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena. We will need to spend some time this week getting ready. So, hopefully, there will also be time to work on my own novel.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Week in Writing #164

Well, I've survived, but there was a lot of life going on this week, which means less time for writing. My wife's birthday over the weekend led us to spend Friday at an amusement park, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Saturday doing other birthday activities, including going to the Getty Museum and out to dinner. A good time was had by all, but there were two days where very little actual writing got done.

That's not to say that other activities didn't happen. We posted two reviews on Trophy Unlocked this weekend, the Saturday morning review, Predator (1987) and a game review, Inside + Limbo Double Pack for PS4, on Sunday. Getting that done, at least with Predator meant I spent most of Monday night prepping that review for publication, so one more day down.

Finished a future review I had started for Side Street (1950) and wrote one for I Walked With a Zombie (1943), a film we managed to squeeze in after dinner out on Friday night. Thankfully the film was short. Spent part of the day Saturday and Sunday writing and prepping that review for next Saturday; part of our salute to horror films in October.

I'm pleased to see pageviews are up so far in October after a major dip in September. Some of that I attribute to colleges being back in session. I can tell when that's happening because pageviews of Romeo and Juliet are up.

As far as Powers Squared is concerned, we're still reeling and looking for a new colorist. We went back to our previous one, but she couldn't do it, so we took up our current one on her offer to help us find her replacement. That process started on Saturday night and we already have two possible prospects. We're thinking of having them color a page from the comic as a test.

Our artist is reverting back to his usual timetable, which means after a week, we have seen three pages as layouts and only two of those pages as pencils. We have decided on what we want the cover of Issue #5 to look like.

This week, I need to check in with Comixology and let them know where we are in the process. As always, I thought we'd be done by now, but that's the nature of collaborative art.

A surprise, I was able to do some editing on Familiar Stranger, the oft-written about rewrite I've been engaged with for what seems like forever. Most of the hard work is still ahead of me, but I feel at least I did something on it this week. I'm also hoping, that having put up the review for I Walked With a Zombie tonight it will free time next week so I can work on my novel.

Still, need to do some prep for the Writer's Digest conference later in the month. I haven't had a chance to listen to the webinar I started last week.

So my goal for the next week is more work on Familiar Stranger with some work no doubt on Powers Squared; that project never seems to stop.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Week in Writing #163

So the week went from okay on Monday to feeling like I had gotten a kick in the gut by Sunday afternoon. More about that later.

Never really got into the groove this week as much as I wanted to. I did write, but not as much as I had planned on. Did a little writing on Familiar Stranger, but sadly very little. I had wanted to really work on it this week, but other writing took persistence either through bad time management or for other reasons.

I did try to prep for the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference that's coming up later in the month. There was a webinar where a writer explained how to prepare for it. While it happened during the day on Tuesday, I tried to listen to it. Usually, I can go whole days without talking to anyone, so I thought I might be able to listen while I worked. But about ten minutes in one of my co-workers wanted to discuss work stuff and a few minutes my boss called me into her office to discuss more work stuff. So needless to say, I never had a chance to listen to it and still haven't but there are still a few weeks to go.

Spent some time working on posting a review for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1950), including finding photos for the review and, believe it or not, trying to correct grammar. I spent some time later in the week going over the review again before I asked Paul to edit it. He apparently still found things that needed to be changed. That review appeared as Trophy Unlocked's Saturday Morning Review and is the first in this month's Halloween salute. Still, need a fourth film. We watched the Final Cut of Blade Runner on Friday and while it may be boring, it doesn't rise to the level of horribly so.

But put away your wallet, that wasn't the only review we posted. Based on a showing we went to over the weekend, I posted one for Loving Vincent, a new film that uses 65000 oil paintings over a live-action film to present the story in the visual look of Van Gogh's paintings. It's an experimental film that also manages to tell a story with good acting.

Started on for Side Street (1950), but haven't so far gotten further than an introductory paragraph. Watching that movie, on Thursday night, also took away from writing, though I wanted to watch it to remove it from our DVR. We've had it since TCM's Last Summer of Darkness, along with a boatload of other film noirs we recorded but haven't yet watched. Sometimes, your desire to watch films outdistances your actual time to do so.

Tried to work with Final Draft for the first time on a future script for Powers Squared. Maybe it's me, but it seemed rather clunky. I'm used to writing in Word, but I thought I should learn to at least get a feel for the software. There goes a couple of nights work. I also realize that I need to update the website with more information about the upcoming issues, so that's work for another day.

More pages from the artist, layouts for pages 17 through 19 of issue #5. Those came in on Friday, but it was Sunday before we had the time to look at them; that's the way it goes sometimes. Also received four pages from our colorist, but those were accompanied by the kick in the gut. After three issues, she's notified us that she has to quit. Another career opportunity for her will take too much of her time. While we're happy for her, it really hurts to lose her.

Next week, I hope to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Week in Writing #162

Okay this week, I didn't feel like I really did much writing, at least not on what I wanted to work on the week before, Familiar Stranger. Instead, I busied myself, when I was writing, on a script for a future story arc for Powers Squared, what would be Issues 8 and 9.

I said when I was writing because this was officially the kickoff for birthdays in my house. Mine was on Monday and my sons were on Thursday. I wanted to do more on my birthday, even taking the day off work, but all I got through was a future review of the original X-Men movie. A good portion of the day was spent "celebrating" and on Monday night there was a Dallas Cowboys football game, cake, ice cream, and gifts. So not a lot of time for writing then.

That scenario was sort of replicated on Wednesday night. Since Trevor had a class on his birthday, we went out to dinner that night and then again there was cake, ice cream, and gifts as well. So two days no real writing. That's what happens when you have a life.

Working on the script seemed an easier alternative than working on Familiar Stranger. When I get around to that, I really want to concentrate on that. I was pleased with the progress I made, getting it down to two issues with 20 pages each, though there are still edits that need to be made and a version to be passed on for Paul to edit.

Still putting the final touches on the script for Issues #6 and 7, so there is always work to do.

We're getting closer to the end of Issue #5. Our artist delivered the penultimate set of pages for Issue #5. Our colorist delivered what we'd sent her and Trevor has started in on lettering the issue. There are still missing pieces of Issues #3 and 4, so we still need to deal with them. I'd like to get all three issues squared away before moving on to Issue #6. Partly, it's a workflow and a cash flow issue. Paul will be taking classes on Mondays and Thursdays, so that will impact how much we can handle during the week; best to get a control of it before jumping into more.

This Saturday, Trophy Unlocked celebrated the publication of its 800th review, one for the video game Persona 5. It seemed fitting that it was written by Paul since he started the blog all those years ago now.

With Halloween approaching, we usually publish reviews of horror films during the month of October. I have three ready to go, so I was looking for a fourth. We chose to watch Tobor The Great (1954) since it promised to be about a Man-Made monster, at least that's what it says on the poster and DVD box. But that was not to be. I did finish a review this weekend for the film, about 2000 words, but it is not going to make it as part of our annual Halloween salute. So, we're back on the hunt for a fourth. Halloween starts on the blog next Saturday.

So this week should be back to normal, so to speak. We'll see what actually gets done.