Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some thoughts on fame, comics, and contracts

If this looks too long, all I ask is that you read the bottom two paragraphs.

After watching this really great video blog by Jackson Pearce, I've been thinking about the concept of wishing. Wishing isn't just important to characters—it forms a large part of not-so-fictional people's lives, too. Many of us are wishing for fame—watch any "reality" TV show, and you'll see a range of people struggling for their fifteen seconds.

When Andy Warhol spoke about the 15 seconds, society operated at a slower pace than it does now. As our lives become more and more "real time" with the internet's ability to near-instantly deliver information, the pressure to obtain that fifteen minutes multiples. We want to be famous, because we are surrounded by a culture of fame—everyone is made a celebrity in America. No longer just film or music people, we lend celebrity status to almost anyone that can supply fodder to the 24 hour news networks. Politicians, rich teenagers, reality tv "stars," writers and artists.

Lately, it's been comic book artists. San Diego Comic Con used to be a geek haven, but now it's one of Hollywood's circle-the-date events. Hey, I'm as happy as any other comic reader to see SDCC getting the star treatment that used to be reserved for the Oscars, Emmys, or Golden Globes. With the popularity and "cool" factor of comics ever-increasing, many people are being exposed to a medium that was a social taboo not more than 10 years ago.

It's even spilled over into the not-so-illustrated novels—see the fantastic Vicki Pettersson's Signs of the Zodiac series, about a troupe of astrology-based superheroes patroling the streets of Sin City. What makes Pettersson's work stand out from all of the other urban fantasy novels on the shelf is her original mythology—but, perhaps more importantly, at the heart of the series is a damn fine author who knows how to put sentences together. That's what makes a novel endure and last in its relevancy beyond a six month shelf life.

The truth is that the world changes. We don't have the attention span we used to. We've become less text-based and depend more on visual stimulation. Hopefully, our publishers are going to change with it, but maybe this uncertainty and fear of what the future brings only adds another degree to the need we feel to be The Next Big Thing younger and younger. Part of that search for younger "stars" is the media realizing that it's teens and tweens who have the money to spend on music, books and movies. (Plus all the tie-in merchandise.)

With their finger on the pulse of this youth-market, one of the companies attempting to change the way comic publishing works is TOKYOPOP. They've started this sort of America's Next Top Manga Idol program on their website called "Manga Pilot." (TOKYOPOP has shifted their focus from in-store sales to driving people to their youth-orientated website, which is a combination store/online community.)

The online comics professional community has flooded this week with wave after wave of backlash against the Manga Pilot program and TOKYOPOP in general. You can read why on Anime News Network, PW's The Beat Comics Blog or at Bryan Lee O'Malley and Lisa Hernandez's livejournals. TOKYOPOP offered this statement as a response.

After educating myself on the situation and discussing it with professional artist friends, I've drawn the two following conclusions:

1) If you wish to be involved in the Manga Pilot program, no one has the right to take that choice from you. However, I stress this as a professional who has experience reading and writing contracts—please, have a legal representative go over the contract you are given for any publishing deal. Whoever writes a contract makes it so it is advantageous for them. It may seem "sneaky," but it is just how the business world works. You need to be aware of this and ensure that you're looking out for your interests. Protect yourself. If you can't find an agent*, please seek out an entertainment or creative/intellectual property lawyer. Your peace of mind and future security are worth their fee.

2) Support your fellow creators. It's not just enough to raise the issue of the contract; the artists and writers who are with TOKYOPOP need our support. So do the independent comic stores that rely on selling those artists' titles. Visit the creators' personal websites. Shop their Cafe Press stores. Buy a print of their work from their deviantART page. Go into your comic shop and ask to try something from Seven Seas or Del Rey or Viz if that's what you need to do in order to feel like you're taking a stand.

Peer support is the answer to all of this. Not just financial—emotional support and mentoring to provide education and assistance to those who need it. That is what the online community exists for. It's time to show people that we are professionals by behaving in a positive, professional manner.

*Graphic Novel is a selection in the "Fiction" drop-down menu of Agent Query's search tool. When I searched this morning it generated 42 results.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Manuscript status update

As I was reminded by Renee, who gave me a happy squeal today when I realized she has "The Rainy Season" listed on her books read list, I'm overdue to report in on the status of my adult manuscript. I would guess the last time I mentioned it, if I mentioned it at all, was to say I'd sent revisions off to Agent M. (The reason I call her that is because it makes her sound like she's a superhero.)

Aside from a few words my computer ate—including snacking on just the 'n' in a "didn't"—there was a single line that ultimately didn't need to be there. I also needed to add a little to the synopsis for book 2 to clarify something that didn't make sense to anyone who wasn't me. I also gave the Sword of Kannon a task in book 3 that wasn't described as "doing, Kannon-y." (In all fairness, sometimes he is doing things that are not Kannon-like at all.)

The bottom line is that Agent M loved the revisions and is eager to get the manuscript out there. Very exciting. So exciting that I should have blogged about it sooner, but I must have been doing spot fixes for the work-for-hire then I was putting more words into my YA draft. Rather demanding characters in that one.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls

Midnight. The courtyard of Hollywood's ArcLight Cinemas is filled with people—a large percentage of them in brown fedoras. We're searching for the sign that says "private party," and someone finally spots it in the upstairs bar area.

My friend Suzanne has worked her magic to get us invited to a private screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls at 12:45 AM on Thursday, May 22nd. Not that we're at an advantage, every one of the ArcLight's 14 screens are playing INDY 4. They'll keep playing it all night long to meet the demand of generations of movie fans who want to be "the first" in their social circle to see Harrison Ford* resume one of the roles that made him famous.

Our difficulty in locating where we pick up our tickets is just another bump in the road. Suzanne ended up being unable to attend the screening, and after our group does finally get to cinema 11, we learn that it isn't a private screening. It's a semi-private screening. Nor do any of us win the raffle.

But the lights dim, the crowd applauds**... and a trailer for The Dark Knight begins. Suddenly, it's all going to be fine. The crowd cheers for (the departed) Heath Ledger, the batmobile, and Christian Bale. Usually this kind of enthusiasm is only seen in the Grauman's Chinese Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. Even then, not before the feature presentation and not after the opening credits.

But this is Indiana Jones, and Spielberg can weave a magic all his own over the audience. More applause—for the retro Paramount screen, the title credits, and the first glimpse of Dr. Henry Jones Jr. Laughter follows, cheers for when he delivers a punch and the first crack of the bull-whip. Because this is more than just a movie—it's a return to childhood. To when we still believed that archelogists spent their time in the field having adventures in the undiscovered places.

Is the screenplay brilliant? No. It has issues, but I maintain, those issue don't matter. It's Indiana Jones, after all, not Citizen Kane. Does the movie entertain and add to the franchise? Yes, it does. Do I regret the admission price or not getting home until 3:15 AM? No, I don't. In fact, I'd do it again tonight if someone asked me to.

Sometimes all a movie has to do is entertain.

*Is he really 65?

**Seeing a movie in Hollywood is like attending a play anywhere else.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Binge Writing

I added something like 3000 words to my YA manuscript yesterday. Likely, there were a number of factors in this unusual event, as I am not one of those authors who consistently churns out 3000 kept words a day.

1) It is too damn hot in California to do anything but hide in the AC and write. (Ok, yes, I could go to the beach or something, but seriously, how am I going to write in the ocean?)

2) I am on a productivity binge for the YA manuscript. Attaining 30K before I get line-edits for that work-for-hire project would be wonderfully, and I believe it's entirely doable.

3) I am finally over the 25K bump, which means I am going to finish a draft this time.

4) My agent says she's looking forward to reading it. (Based mostly, I think, on the fact that she's loving the revised adult manuscript I sent her.) I confessed my love of the YA and its world to her on the phone on Friday.

All these are great reasons, but I think the real motivation came from when I met C Leigh Purtill at her signing last weekend. I don't just mean the way the YA market opened up to me after she assured me that Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Mirror Mirror weren't misplaced in the YA section of Chevalier Books. Or how she told me that her wonderfully brilliant and fun and truthful All About Vee was repositioned as a YA novel when she'd written it originally for the adult market.

No, what happened was Leigh remembered that I'd mentioned (in late 2007 probably) that I was trying to write a YA fantasy novel, and she asked how it was going. I replied honestly: Not well. As I had become so focused on the idea of writing for the young adult market, I began second-guessing every decision I made about the manuscript. (Was it something a young adult would do? Were they discussing things that young adults cared about? Did the voice of the narrator sound young enough? Could they swear? Could they have weapons? What if I sounded like I was advocating violence? And, oh my, were there enough female characters or scenes set in school?)

I told Leigh that'd I forgotten to trust the story and that if it wasn't YA, it wasn't the end of the world. As I was saying this, she got a very knowing smile on her face... and I realized I'd just explained to myself why I was having so much trouble.

Yes, marketing plays a vital role in book-selling, but generally speaking you don't a sell book before you've written it. When you're writing a book, you shouldn't be thinking about how to market it. That has no place in the creative process. That belongs to promotion, which comes after you have a product to promote.

I know that. I tell other people that, but—like everything else in this crazy business—I sometimes forget to tell myself the same thing.

(Oops, forgot to have blogger post this entry.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

I shall send you to Jim's Notes for this week's images.

Photos from the West Hollywood Marriage Equity celebration last night.

A week of celebration—I just sent in my revised draft.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Love is Love

So I was going to share the result I got from doing a test about what your taste in chocolate says about your personalty, but there's something much more important to comment on.

The California Supreme Court has overturned the state's gay marriage ban.

I respectfully acknowledge that there are reasons people don't support gay marriage. However, I believe in equal rights. That means regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Love is love and if consenting adults want to get married to symbolize that love, they should be allowed to.

Now, there's one more place where they can.

Monday, May 12, 2008

All About Vee signing

This past Saturday, from 2–4 pm, YA author C. Leigh Purtill had a signing at Chavalier Books in Larchmont Village. As Leigh sometimes attends the Mid-Wilshire writers group, I thought it was important to go and show support to one of our fellow members. Christina and Rachel O were drafted to help.

We had a great time with Leigh! She is an incredibly talented author, as well as a very kind and personable individual. Her latest novel All About Vee is about Veronica "Big Vee" May—a beautiful, confident plus-size actress who moves to Los Angeles to try and get her big break. Leigh discussed how she was inspired to write the novel when she began to wonder what it would be like for a talented woman of such confidence to face the prejudice of Hollywood against the idea of a larger leading lady. It was important for Vee to not give in and become thin, as Leigh saw many TV and books had the make-over theme in them, and Leigh wanted to pursue the notion that you are good enough as you are.

Speaking as someone who is neither tall nor a size 0—I can tell you that this is a tough town on ladies with anything resembling curves. I had a peek at chapter one on Amazon, and I have to say that I fell in love with Vee from the first page. The novel is sitting in my TBR pile, and I'm hoping to dip into it as soon as I finish Gibson's Neuromancer.

C Leigh Purtill is also the author of Love, Meg.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Various happenings (but mostly about comics)

Chronologically speaking, this was last Saturday at Free Comic Book Day. That was that highlight of my day—free comic books. (The X-Men was pretty decent, the Tiny Titans seemed cute, I don't understand Hellboy—I only got it for a friend—and Project Superheroes, the new Alex Ross-run thing, has some interesting world elements.)

It's funny that I'm posed in front of the Superheroes thing, because really, I don'
t read a whole lot of Superhero comics. In fact, I generally don't read a whole lot of Western comics—unless they're pressed into my hands by a trusted source who knows I'll enjoy them. I used to read Ultimate Spider-Man and the other Marvel Ultimates one where all the Marvel heroes would come and make Spidey look like a loser. (Really, Spider-Man exists to make the reader feel better about their life.)

Anyway, I've got my favorite superhero in my hands there—the first five issues of Buffy Season 8. Observe the powerful "hand gun" I am using to help her defeat that lizard demon monster thing. Yes.

Thursday night, I went to see Iron Man. I wasn't if I wanted to see the movie—mostly because I can't remember ever being compelled to be an Iron Man fan. What I'm learning is that this is best reason to go see movies, because it allows you to treat the movie as a completely separated entity from whateve
r inspired it. You don't get caught up in the expectations or pre-conceived fandom needs.

The movie was made of awesome—Robert Downey Jr was brilliant, and I left feeling like the summer had already begun. It wouldn't be fair to say I liked this movie for the reasons I liked Transformers, because frankly I liked Transformers because it was what most people would consider "awful." In fact, I've already decided that Speed Racer will be the Transformers of this year. (In that awful, but brilliantly awfully because it doesn't realize it's awful way.)

No, Iron Man was intentionally amusing. It had robot suits, things going BOOM, and Tony Stark had a much more powerful hand gun than I do. So you should see it. (It'll help you forget Spider-man 3.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


As I said on my Facebook status, I'm not in Revision Hell, but I've got a good view. (That's a great video of an original song by the wonderfully talented Rhona Westbrook.) That means my revisions for this paying gig aren't that difficult, but there's still a great deal of work involved.

This comes from if you change a detail in chapter 2, all references to that detail thorough the manuscript have to change. It ripples. Sort of like that theory that if you swatted a fly in prehistoric times, you could negate your existence in the future/present. (No, I don't have the energy to fact-check whether or not there were flies in prehistoric times.) My point is that time travel is generally a bad idea, unless you're a Time Lord, and what you think is a simple matter of revising a scene often has repercussions all through a manuscript.

Oddly, though, revisions are usually the period of writing where I feel more comfortable. I know the story, it's been internalized, and I'm just working on making that story stronger/better/clearer. However, in the doing of that, there's usually at least one minor plot point that becomes the bane of my existence. Not in the first pass, but in the second—when I'm wondering why no one else has noticed that Character A has forgotten something told to them by Character B a few chapters earlier and completely fails to repeat the information to Character C, despite that Character C is clearly pointing out a need for the information to be repeated.

I used to paint—digital painting more recently—and a painting starts with the flats—the undercolors. That's like your first draft. Then the fun begins, because you go in and transform a flat shape of color into a form that has the illusion of being three-dimensional. That's what revisions are, they're transforming mere words and ideas into a story that has the illusion of existing within a living, breathing world.

That's rather exciting—once you're finished. While you're doing it, it's really just a messy, messy bunch of brushstokes in various places, and you don't see the effect until you step back and look at the whole canvas. Or better, show it to a CP or an editor who hasn't seen the process and can just tell you whether or not you've done what you needed to do. (Your Companion for the journey, if you like.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to put on my smock, squirt some ideas out onto my palette, and get back to making a colorful mess inside my head.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Day in Vegas

Here I am, enjoying the "magics" of wi-fi access in my hotel room in North (Las) Vegas—thanks Starbucks, for the out radius of your t-mobile hotspots.

The trip has gone well, aside from security in LAX needing to see a keychain because they thought the dangley metal bits on it might be a weapon. I refrained from telling them that while my characters could likely do some damage with an enamel moon and three stars—all less than an inch in length—I couldn't. Airport security don't appreciate humor.

I spent the day with my mother, as it was her birthday, and we had a lovely time. Wandered through the Venetian to have lunch at an Italian place in St Mark's Square of the canal shops. We were trying for the Bouchon French bistro, but they close during the early afternoon to prepare for the evening set. Did manage to get the famous TKO cookies from the bakery, but I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to get them back to LA.

After going to the Fashion Show mall and feeling a little underwhelmed, we went to the outlet stores downtown and found a couple really fantastic deals. Then it was time to check in and find a place to have dinner.

The fabulous Vicki had offered a few suggestions on the north side, and we chose the Grape Street Cafe. It was perfect! Can't say enough good things about the ambiance, food and staff. Mom was super happy.

Today, I'm supposed to go have lunch with Danne, who is also in town to celebrate her birthday.