Thursday, August 31, 2006

WC2006 Panel Notes: Is "Realistic Fantasy" an Oxymoron?

Panelists: David Keck, Ellen Klages, Robin Wayne Bailey, James Gurney, and Tim Powers (moderator.)

The keys to "realistic fantasy" are realism and believability. How can you accomplish this?
• Try to limit the number of fantastical elements is one way.
• A better way is to ensure that your "real world" details are accurate.
Do your research.
• For example, when swords contact their metal surfaces become knicked and dented.
• Your research creates "the stage." That's how you build your set pieces.
• Exercise restraint and don't cheat on the details.
• Use "props" to get descriptions right.
• Draw floor plans.
• Draw simple scene plans for spatial comprehension.
• Use photo books for foreign places if you haven't visited them.
• Your reader needs the set-up to be believable. So have them buy the world so that when the fantasy enters, they just go with it.
• The goal is to create that numinous feeling—the sense that "I think I remember this from a dream I had as a kid."
• We want to believe, so use that desire to draw in your reader.

The most important piece of advice: Read broadly so you can write broadly. The panel warned against becoming one of those writers who only reads the genre they write. This puts you at a disadvantage. Read everything you can—including non-fiction.

+

Panel: Editing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Panelists: Peter S Beagle, Laura Ann Gilman, Betsy Mitchell, and Tim Powers (moderator)

Um, this is the panel where I spent most of the time trying to decide how best not to sound like an idiot when I tried to ask Betsy Mitchell about Del Rey submissions afterwards, what I was going to say—if anything—to Peter S Beagle, and tried not to let the rude person beside me touch me. So I barely took any notes for this one...

• Don't make your characters stupid for the sake of the plot.
• Spelling and grammar in your manuscript are very important.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WC2006 Panel Notes: The Business of Writing

Speakers: Gay Haldeman (moderator,) Rebecca Moesta, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Eleaner Wood, Kevin J. Anderson.

I'm trying to translate my hasty scrawlings into something literate, so most of these are point form. If I've misunderstood something, hopefully one of my kind readers can clarify it in the comments?

Book contracts
These often contain common "mousetraps." An agent works to help you avoid those traps. The panel discussed the following points:
• Hold on to your rights. This includes audio and translation rights, as well as distribution/printing in other countries (like the UK, for example.)
Royalties—sometimes you can negotiate for more, but not always. Smaller press publishers may not.
• It's always good to sell a license to the publisher instead of selling them the rights, if possible. That means you retain ownership of your work, but they have purchases "permission" to use/print it.
• Consider selling your book, then getting an agent. But don't sign anything—an agent can't help you if you've already entered into a contract.
• Read all your contracts carefully. Have a professional go over them with you.
• The proper response to a publisher's offer is "thank you, I'll have my agent talk to you."
• Out of print rights—try to have the rights of publication returned to you when your book goes out of print. (Then you can try to resell if you want.)
• Be wary of the Print on Demand Clause that is often worked into contracts now. It allows a publisher to let a book go out of print, then retain the rights so they can print more of the book if/when there is a demand.

Advances
Treat writing as a business. When you sell your first book, you have just started your own small business. So know how to do your taxes. (Sorry, all of this is American Tax information. I don't have any figures for Canadian or European.)
• Your advance is against your profits. It is a "front." The majority of publishers will not hand over a cheque for your selling amount when you sell the book.
• Advances can be broken up into many payments upon meeting certain goals like:
- Signing the contract
- Submitting a manuscript outline
- Submitting the manuscript
- Release of the hardback
- Release of the paperback
- One year after the release of the paperback
• So it's very important to budget.
• Set aside money for taxes. Put this money in an account that you cannot touch.
• Now for some math:
Let's say you sell a book for $10,000. Your agent takes 15% (or $1500, which is deductible) and 25-30% is paid in taxes ($2500–$3000.) You really only make $5500–6000 for your book.
• You're taxed on the amount you receive in one fiscal year.
• Look into foreigner exemption when the rights to your manuscript sell in other countries.
• Your publisher will give you a 1099 report form. This is necessary for tax purposes.
• You can consider incorporating—applying for a tax ID—but shouldn't do it until you start making a profit.
• Con(ferences) are deductible, so save your receipts.
• If you can show rejection slips, you can possibly prove intent to be published and write things off. Someone said you can do an indefinite show of losses.
• Sales reps decide your advance, based on how much they estimate your manuscript can make the publisher.
• Don't go crazy with your advance. Don't change your lifestyle or start massive spending. Make the money last as long as you can.
• Put money aside.
• Invest in GICs (sorry, not sure if that's what they're called in the States,) stocks, etc.

Royalties
• Most royalties average 7%–8%. (I was told 10% by a smaller publisher, because they aren't selling by volume. With them you traded a smaller print run for a larger royalty percentage.)
• Simon & Schuster was mentioned as being really awful about paying royalties on time.
• In October and May you get a royalty statement from your publisher.
• These statements cover December–June, and June–December.

Promotion
Your publisher will want the book to sell itself.
• "You are responsible for your own career."
• Large publishing houses only give the top 5% of their books advertising budgets.
• Advertising is expensive, so you want to work on promotion. Write press releases, try to get interviews and local exposure.
• Do a Drive By Signing. Go into your local bookstore and offer to sign copies of your work. Talk to the owners and managers to arrange signings, contest, etc.
• Turn your books on the shelves so they're "cover out."
• Romance writers were always expected to do their own advertising. So they're great to pick the brains of. Ask a romance writer for promotion advice.
The best promotion you can do: write the next book. Keep going and looking forward. Don't fixate on a single book—remember, you're building a career.

Final Words of Advice
• Have a website/web-presence. Yes, a blog counts!
Look at Rachel Vincent, she's already got many of us foaming at the mouth for Stray, and it doesn't come out until summer 2007.
A small print run and lack of distribution will kill your book.
• Don't let your blog take away from your writing time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

WorldCon 2006 Recap: Sunday

Cons are exhausting.

That's a note for y'all. If you ever want to meet me at a con, try to do it within the first day of my arrival. Unless it's the hypothetical situation where I'm a panelist and you want a book signed. Then show up whenever. In fact, if the hypothetical situation occurs and I am a panelist in the future, I want the power to invite someone fanatical enough to dress as one of my characters to join the panel.

I think a cosplay posse would be fantastic. (Anyone looking for ideas for the 2007 masquerade? Boy, have a got an ensemble of characters for you. Several sets, actually.) Scary, yes, but fantastic.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Sunday. Right. My friend Rae came out to WorldCon for the day. Here's her blog about it. I think she accurately describes my mental state at 9:00 am Sunday morning.

The first panel we attended together. It was "What is it about Buffy?" It was an interesting panel, but the panelists had already been set a prepared set of questions by the moderator so it operated more like a lecture. Still it was well-done, and brought up a lot of thought-provoking points. I would consider it an example of a good fan panel.

Afterwards, Rae and I parted ways. She went to the Firefly panel and I went to the Battlestar Galatica panel. Unfortunately, the BSG panel served as my example of a bad fan panel. It started well, with a trailer for season three and the disclosure that not all of the characters were going to make it to season four. Then the floor was opened up for questions.


Eugenia Home came wearing her uniform
recreated from the original BSG series.


Now, for a show with such intelligent writing, there were some really odd questions being asked. If you ever find yourself a Q & A fan panel, I suggest you sit close to the stage so you can see the looks the panelists give each other before they try to answer questions like:

1) When they get to Earth, will there be a conflict between their polytheist society and our monotheist society?

2) Since the first show was really black and white about who was the bad guys and who was the good guys and this show is very gray, don't you think with all the threats of today the show should be more black and white about who are the bad guys and who are the good guys?

3) Where are the accountants and auditors in the show? I want to see a Cylon auditor show up on New Caprica and give someone an audit. That would make the show real for me.

I would just like to point out that these were all very serious questions. If the third was meant to be a joke, the poser of the question really needs to work on their delivery.

After our panels, I took Rae to the Dealer's room to meet Brian Hades. That sparked a lovely conversation which caused us to miss the other panels we planned to see, but I think it was well worth it. That's what cons are supposed to be about, aren't they? Have interesting conversations with interesting people?

Rae and I concluded our day by attending a K.A. Bedford reading from Hydrogen Steel. It sounds interesting and he did an excellent job of reading.

WorldCon 2006 Recap: Saturday

Saturday started out right: with a vanilla latte.

Oh, and Saturday I hunted clues and tried to solve the mystery of "why do I keep getting bored halfway through all certain panels and not others?" I solved that mystery Sunday.

The first panel was "Is 'Realistic Fantasy' an Oxymoron?" I thought it meant realistic fantasy as in contemporary/modern fantasy/urban fantasy/mythic realism. Um... not really, no. 3/5 panelists had never written any modern fantasies and wanted to discuss people not having done their research about medieval medicine. Tim Powers and Ellen Klages, who had written urban fantasy, were funny. David Keck was also very entertaining.

The next panel was "Editing: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly." I thought this would be about the editing process—a "how to," if you will. It was more a gossip session about editors and writers. A little bit of information, but one really had to search. That's ok, because of two things:

1) As Peter S Beagle signed my copy of The Last Unicorn, his girlfriend told me I had a pretty name.

2) I got to introduce myself to Betsy Mitchell, an editor at Del Rey. Once she realized I wasn't going to try to stick a manuscript in her hands—do your research, people! Del Rey doesn't take unsolicited manuscripts—she was cool about answering a few questions I had regarding the Del Rey submission process. (Yes, via Agents only. Yes, the agent should know which editor to address the submission to. Yes, they're doing original English language manga. Yes, an anime influenced novel sounds interesting and would be something they might want to look at.)

Oh, this was also the panel were some obnoxious man who smelt like he'd not showered since arriving at the Con (Wednesday) came in late and decided he should sit next to me. Then that, fifteen minutes later, he should leave. Then that, twenty minutes after that, he should return and proceed to fall asleep during the panel. Were it not bad enough that I was almost sitting in the aisle to prevent him from sleeping against me, he snored. Just as I thought that the panel needed to end or I was going to stab him with my pen, he woke up and began to obnoxiously contradict and "correct" the panelists during the last few questions they answered. Of course, he was ignored.

The afternoon panel I attended was "The Care and Feeding of the Creative Process." It offered some good info, but not really anything I hadn't already heard in college or from other writers. Notes about this panel:

1) Laura Ann Gilman is a riot.

2) There was a mini-panel held previous to the panel between some of us in the audience. A new writer had come with hopes of getting advice. At the end of our mini-panel, she informed me that I'd given her better advice than the official panelists.

After this, I stopped by the Trailer Park, to check out all the movie trailers they were offering. I was gifted a pack of Scientology—I mean L. Ron Hubbard playing cards upon entering. Movie trailers of note:

1) Flushed Away—by the folks who did Wallace & Grommit
2) Ratatouille—a movie about a gourmet-loving rat in Paris.
3) The Prestige: Batman and Wolverine duke it out to be the greatest magician in um...olde-timey time. Batman can do real magic, Wolverine can't. I'm going on record right now: I declare the twist to be Christian Bale is a demon. Surprise me, movie. It'd be nice if something could.
4) Spiderman 3: I swear this was longer on the internet.
5) Transformers: Not just robots in disguise. Robots in disguise living on Mars!
6) Neil Gaiman's Stardust is going to kick ass.

It was dinner with my roommate and two of her friends after that, and no, I did not go to the Hugos. Instead I went to the Asian Film room and watched the majority of Death Trance. Which is a $3 million beautifully constructed cinematic Japanese bit of action swordplay that I think was about a coffin containing the goddess of destruction. It kind of had a non-ending, but hey, it was pretty to watch and had good-looking Japanese men. And um... vampire ninja spider monster thingies. Watch it sometime if you have a chance to see it for free. It's a good 2 hours of mindless entertainment, which I needed.

Oh, and I rode the elevator up with one of the women from the award-winning Harmony and Discord Masquerade ensemble (that was the fairy girls with the fantastic butterfly wings.) Let me just say, her costume up close was amazing. She was the one with the black and white harlequin-esque one, complete with mask and blue wig. Really lovely person, too, she said they never expected to win, they just wanted to put something together to have on stage.

WorldCon 2006 Recap: Friday

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig. Ok, I was actually home last night. We left around 4:00. (No, I did not go to the closing ceremonies.) Let's do a little overview, and I plan to do separate posts of information gleaned from the panels—which I kept mistakingly referring to as "seminars" all weekend.

Friday
The arrival to the Anaheim Hilton was delayed. Not wishing to enter "Culture Building 101" halfway through, and not entirely sure where to find it, instead I went to the dealer's room with hopes of finding Edge Publications.

The dealer room was large, packed with people, and reminded me a little of the pre-Christmas Arts and Crafts sales held in the arena of my various Canadian hometowns. There was that sort of feel to it. Artisans hawking their wares, the promise of finding a distinct, hand-crafted treasure. Except this was the first Arts and Craft Sale I've ever been to that had people in Star Trek uniforms.

I managed to locate Edge via spotting a large poster for Rebecca K. Rowe's Forbidden Cargo. If you have not read this book, open a new browser window and go order it off Amazon. It remains one of my most-loved reads this year. (Ok, it's sharing the spot with Charles de Lint's Widdershins and Sophia Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess.)

The wonderful people at the Edge booth made this convention. I have never felt so welcome. It was much like visiting family. Ok, in the back of your mind you start to wonder if you're distracting them from other important tasks like doing the laundry, but it's hard to leave such a friendly and inviting atmosphere. So thank you to Brian and Anita Hades for being such gracious hosts.

Anita introduced me to my roommate, Heidi Lampietti the editor at Red Jack Books.

I spoke with Lynda Williams, whose actions revealed some important insights into promotion: just be yourself. Lynda's passion for her Okal Rel Saga and readiness to discuss it with anyone was one of the key reasons that I decided to give her first book, The Courtesan Prince, a try.

Brian appeared shortly after that, and we had a wonderful conversation. Let me tell you, there is no bigger confidence boost than when someone seems excited to find out you brought them a synopsis.

Brian introduced me to Rebecca K. Rowe. She's probably one of the coolest authors I've met. Not only has she been to Japan, but she's lived in Paris, too. Go read Forbidden Cargo, because she's working on the sequel.

I did make it to one panel Friday: The Business of Writing. After that, I ate some delicious sushi at the sushi bar in the Hilton.

The Masquerade was ok. Some beautiful costumes.

A brief stop by the Anime Room afterwards made the raw children's anime party look good. That was the party where the only people who weren't staying in the room or friends of the person staying in the room, was my friend for the evening, Kara, and I.

Then we stopped by the takoyaki party. That's...uh...fried squid-tentacle thingies.

Hang on, a little backstory: I hate squid balls. Imagine putting something in your mouth that's soft and vaguely tastes of egg, only to crunch into a devious hunk of squid tentacle that's lurking in the center.

I now hate takoyaki for a whole other reason. Being handed something with no warning that putting it in your mouth will sear your flesh is not very nice, Daicon 07.

Aren't you guys thrilled that I make myself look stupid on a regular basis? Who else provides you with such exquisite writing material?

Highlights of Friday:
1) Meeting Rebecca K Rowe and Lynda Williams
2) Seeing the lovely people of Edge
3) Sushi
4) Beautiful costumes at the Masquerade
5) Being informed that I was the "most normal person" someone had met all day.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Review: Buso Renkin vol 1

Those who know me well, are probably aware of the deep affection I feel for Nobuhiro Watsuki's brilliant masterpiece Rurouni Kenshin. I adored the manga,and let's just say I was very unhappy when it finally reached the end of its North American release in July, 2006.

Viz, always looking to profit, announced it had the rights to distribute an English version of Watsuki-sensei's Buso Renkin, and the first volume was released this month.

Now, I had my reservations. I wasn't overlly impressed by the preview that appeared in the final volume of RuRoKen. The dialogue seemed sloppy, and the art seemed to lack the cohesion of the Kenshin series.

Buso Renkin first appears to be very different from Rurouni Kenshin. RuRoKen is a beautifully constructed historical manga set in the Meiji Era with stong undertones of romance, morality, and redemption. It's a very mature series. Buso Renkin is set in modern day, with high school students. It's aim seems to be for a younger audience.

If you're going to read Buso Renkin, you have to leave your disbelief at the front cover. The first volume opens with the "death" of protagonist, Kazuki Muto. This somewhat silly "space cadet" is then pulled into a world of monsters and monster hunters that exists within our own. Sounds typical, yes? Did I mention that the root of these monsters isn't paranormal, but scientific? Rather, as "scientific" as Alchemy ever is in Japanese comics.

Watsuki has jumped on the Alchemy craze that swept through Japanese comics—started by Full Metal Alchemist, no doubt.

This isn't a knock-off comic, though. He's created a personal science that functions well with the story, and helps to create conflict. The villains in the book are humans-turned-monsters, each based on an animal or plant. This leads to varied and interesting character designs.

Not to spoil what happens, but the first book is hardly the slow-paced general introduction that most first volumes are. Watsuki immediately kicks the story into gear, creating a time-limit and sense of urgency for his first arc. This urgency motivates Kazuki and we can already see his character developing.

Kazuki's lovable, light-hearted and a bit of an idiot. He pulls it together for a fight, but Watsuki remains true to the character and has Kazuki get his ass handed back to him a few times. True, he has the standard "will become a great warrior" thing going, but Kazuki's going to have to make that happen.

He's partnered with Tokiko, a "warrior woman" character that Watsuki has always wanted to write. (He's personally referred to her as a female Battousai, and I can see the similarity.) She's cold, vicious, and appears heartless. When appropriate, Watsuki shows her softer side. Tokiko, quite frankly, kicks a lot of ass and manages to look ridiculously cool regardless of the fact that her weapon is called the "Valkyrie Skirt."

Other characters are Kazuki's roommates and his sister, Mahiro. So far their main purpose has been comedic relief, or to act as bait. They're necessary, but they're mostly there to move the story along. The main protagonists are clearly Kazuki and Tokiko. Their interactions are the most dynamic, and I look forward to watching their relationship as "Alchemist Warrior" and "Alchemist Warrior Apprentice" grow and change.

Volume one ends with a conclusion to the first small arc, but doesn't resovle the main conflict that's introduced. This leaves readers hungry for more, while giving them an appropriate place to pause until October (when volume 2 will be released.)

The rough start smooths out to an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an effective threat to the characters that provides a believable motivation. A promising start, and I look forward to seeing where Watsuki takes Kazuki and Tokiko in future volumes.

Rating: A