Monday, December 20, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A short primer on introducing a character and a setting

Check this out; it's the intro cinematic to a video game called Fable 3. Impressive short-form storytelling, with no words. You immediately get a sense of this environment and this character trying to persevere against the hopelessness of his plight

Who says video games aren't art?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Want to write a novel?

I didn't acknowledge NaNoWriMo, and I am not going to write a post about it. Look at this instead:

The part that really resonates with me is when the one dog-thing says "I wish I could kill you and get away with it."

Monday, November 29, 2010

No Signal

A thread over at Absolute Write discusses how to handle plot complications that are easily solved with technological devices such as cell phones.

Some of the posters there are of the opinion that the easy solutions to these problems can be circumvented with plot contrivances like these:

I disagree.

The cell phone dead-zone is a lazy device and a dumb cliche.  A problem that can be solved with a cell phone is a stupid problem to have in a contemporary setting, and a character who is unequipped to solve such a trivial problem is unworthy of reader sympathy. It is sloppy and artless to have a plot that relies on the unavailability of a commonplace object.   You owe your readers better than that, and agents and editors aren't interested in working with lazy people who write stupid stories.  If that is the best you can do, why even bother?   

There are no cell phone dead-zones.  Cell phone networks have blanket coverage throughout the developed world, and widespread coverage everywhere else. Your cell phone will work on top of a mountain in a snowstorm. Cell phones are used in remote parts of Africa where there are no conventional phone lines, and people charge their cell phone batteries with generators because there are no power lines. I think the Amish keep a few cell phones around in case of emergency because their religion forbids being connected to the world through phone wires.

Children have cell phones. The elderly have cell phones. Homeless people have cell phones. Everybody has a cell phone.  If your character implausibly broke or forgot his cell phone or the battery died, everyone else in the world still has one.

The only places cell phones legitimately don't work are in subway tunnels and other underground spaces (unless there are signal repeaters built into them), in hospitals, and inside casinos (for some reason). A phone plausibly might be unable to get a signal in an enclosed space with thick walls, like a bank vault or a bomb shelter.

Anywhere else, you should assume every character is carrying a phone in a contemporary story, because readers will expect them your characters not to behave implausibly or stupidly. In fact, you should assume everyone has a smartphone with a camera and GPS and access to the Internet, and you should not fabricate problems that are easily solved with devices that people commonly carry in their pockets.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Letter From the Editor

Dear Readers:

Over the course of the past several weeks, we’ve had thousands of angry posts on our Facebook page, hundreds of letters and e-mails and dozens of phone calls accusing us of plagiarism and worse.  At first, we were angry and confused, but we’ve come to understand how this happened.

It seems people are conflating us with another, unrelated publication that has a coincidentally similar name.  We are printing this letter in our magazine and posting it on our website and social-networking pages to make it clear to people who are unfamiliar to our magazine that we are not affiliated with Cooks Source Magazine.  We do not share Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs’s lax editorial policies or bizarre views of copyright rules.

We have never published any version of Monica Gaudio’s article “As American As Apple Pie – Isn’t.”  Indeed, after a careful review of our archives, we can safely say that we have never published any article dealing with or touching upon the subject of pie, because our magazine is not about food or cooking.  We are, like, a whole different thing.

For those people, previously unfamiliar with our work, who have found us because of our erroneous conflation with the Judith Griggs Internet scandal, we’d like to introduce ourselves: we are Cocks Source Magazine, an enthusiast’s publication dedicated exclusively to the subject of cocks.  Our content is one-hundred percent original, and we obtain all rights and permissions for our freelance articles and photographs.  Our contributors are compensated for their work.

We’ve won numerous awards for our incisive coverage on a wide range of subjects such as: “The Thicker, The Better?” “Kinks and Bends: Coming At You From Odd Angles” “Foreskin? More Skin!” and “Veiny Denizens of the Himalayas.”  Our diversity issue “Many Cocks, One World” won praise from various organizations for raising multicultural awareness of cocks.

Once again, we are not Cooks Source.  We are not plagiarists.  We are innocent lovers of the cock, in all its myriad shapes and forms.  There is nothing offensive about who we are or what we do.  So stop spamming our Facebook, please.

How To Be Awesome.

If you want to know about writing, the best thing to do is see it done well.  This is a short dialog exchange from "True Grit" by Charles Portis, in which the narrator, 14 year-old Mattie Ross, is looking to recruit a Federal marshal to pursue the man who killed her father:

"Who is the best marshal they have?"

The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, "I would have to weigh that proposition.  There is near about two hundred of them.  I reckon William Waters is the best tracker.  He is half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign.  The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn.  He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking.  He loves to pull a cork.  Now, L. T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive.  He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake.  Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men.  Quinn is also a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot.  He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner.  He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have."

I said, "Where can I find this Rooster?"

I'd explain everything that's right about this for you, but I am pretty sure it's self-explanatory.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Forbes Releases List of Hollywood's Most Overpaid Actors

"Papa's gotta bring the cheddar to afford his many leather-bound books"
Because people on the Internet enjoy reading lists of things, Forbes Magazine now makes a list of the most overpaid stars in Hollywood.  Will Ferrell has topped the list two years running after Universal paid him a huge amount of money to prop up its poorly-conceived and incompetently-executed epic remake of a shitty Saturday Morning children's television program devised by dope fiends.

Here's how overpaid stars get overpaid:

Step 1: "We've already sunk a lot of money into preproduction on this God-awful piece of shit, and now we realize nobody wants to see God-awful pieces of shit anymore."

Step 2: "I have a great idea to save this God-awful piece of shit. Let's get a Big Movie Star to be in it. Everybody wants to see big movie stars."

Step 3: "I'm a Big Movie Star. You'd have to pay me a metric fuckton of money to be in this God-awful piece of shit."

Step 4: "Here's a check, Mr. Big Movie Star." 

Step 5: Roger Ebert: Big Studio's new summer blockbuster "God-Awful Piece of Shit" starring Big Movie Star is a God-awful piece of shit.

Step 6: "Sup, dude. Do you want to go see a movie tonight?"
"What's playing?"
"We can see 'God-Awful Piece of Shit' at 7:45."
"Is it any good?"
"No. It's a God-awful piece of shit."
"Meh. I'm not feelin' it tonight. I think I'll just stay home and masturbate to old episodes of Glee.'"

Step 7: "God-Awful Piece of Shit" disappoints at box office.

Step 8: According to Forbes Magazine, Big Movie Star is overpaid.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Blurb Love for DON'T EVER GET OLD

Lisa Brackmann, author of ROCK PAPER TIGER offers this praise for DON'T EVER GET OLD, a novel that she gets to read, but you still can't because it isn't coming out for, like, a year:

"Skin that bruises from the slightest bump, muscles no longer able to throw a punch and a brain suffering from "mild cognitive impairment" aren't enough to stop retired homicide detective and WW2 vet Baruch "Buck" Schatz from embarking on one last mission—capturing the Nazi war criminal who nearly killed him and got away with a fortune in stolen gold. If this sounds like serious business, on the one hand it is— old age ain't for sissies—but on the other, Schatz' comic but clear-eyed misanthropy and stubborn refusal to quit make the journey laugh-out-loud funny as well as surprisingly poignant. 

Kudos to Daniel Friedman for giving us a nearly ninety-year-old hero who's not going gently into that good night—he's going out with guns blazing, F-bombs flying and a pack of Lucky Strikes." 

Friday, October 22, 2010


Bestselling author Nelson DeMille has provided the following blurb for DON'T EVER GET OLD, a novel that I wrote. You will have an exciting opportunity to buy this book in stores in about a year, so start saving your money:

"Baruch "Buck" Schatz is an 87 year-old cigarette-smoking, foul-mouthed, very funny Jewish former homicide detective who is on the trail of an equally ancient Nazi war criminal. And I guarantee you, once you start reading this wonderfully original and totally engrossing story, you'll do what I did: keep reading, mostly to see what comes out of Buck's mouth next. When I'm 87, I want to be Buck Schatz.

Thank you, Daniel Friedman, for creating an octogenarian wise-ass who's earned the right to say and do whatever he wants."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Message from Lord Byron

This is from the second canto of Lord Byron's masterpiece "Don Juan."    
"Hair of the dog."
     Few things surpass old wine; and they may preach
     Who please,—the more because they preach in vain,—
     Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
     Sermons and soda-water the day after.

     Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;
       The best of life is but intoxication:
     Glory, the grape, love, gold, in these are sunk
       The hopes of all men, and of every nation;
     Without their sap, how branchless were the trunk
       Of life's strange tree, so fruitful on occasion:
     But to return,—Get very drunk; and when
     You wake with headache, you shall see what then.

     Ring for your valet—bid him quickly bring
       Some hock and soda-water, then you 'll know
     A pleasure worthy Xerxes the great king;
       For not the bless'd sherbet, sublimed with snow,
     Nor the first sparkle of the desert-spring,
       Nor Burgundy in all its sunset glow,
     After long travel, ennui, love, or slaughter,
     Vie with that draught of hock and soda-water.

Hock, incidentally, is a British term for German red wine, which doesn't seem like a good thing to mix with with soda water.  But cocktail culture had not evolved to a high level of sophistication in the early 1800's; people mostly lived in their own filth.  And if you spent too much time trying to engineer a balanced cocktail, Lord Byron would seize the opportunity to sleep with your wife.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


"What up. Small step 4 a man, y'all."

On September 9, 1956, Elvis Presley played the Ed Sullivan Show.  Sixty million people watched the King and his hips that night.  Some were awestruck and some were scandalized, but none of them were ever the same again.  Popular culture was transformed.  Music was transformed. Elvis changed the world.

On February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Sullivan Show, before an even larger audience, and reshaped the world again in a monumental debut that heralded the start of the British Invasion.  Rock was, once again, fundamentally altered.  Tectonic plates ground uncomfortably against each other.  Parents didn't understand, but their daughters certainly did; it was a revolution, and the only appropriate thing to do was scream, and scream and scream.

On July 20, 1969, the world watched in hushed silence as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the lunar lander, and left their footprints upon the face of the moon.  The event signified mankind's conquest of nature; it was a kind of miracle and a kind of immortality, broadcast live.  Everyone watched.  Everything changed.

In the 1960's there were only three television channels, so a single major cultural event could claim the whole of the viewing audience.  Today, cable gives us hundreds of choices, and television competes with numerous other media.  A mass audience for a network television event today is barely a quarter of the size of the one that watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, even though there are now twice as many Americans as there were in 1964.  We are segmented.  Isolated.  Lonely.  The closest thing to a uniting cultural event my generation has is the tragic terror attack of September 11, 2001.

Until now.

Because now, we have "First Step 2 Forever," and, by God, it's magnificent.  Those naysayers who crowed about the death of publishing never could have imagined books still had the power to seize the cultural moment and define it, but they never could have imagined this particular book.  The significance of the thing is so massive that it's difficult to conceive, like the inevitability of death or the notion of the infinite.

He is risen.
Indeed, the mere marvelous fact of "First Step" strikes one dumb, yet reading it provides perfect knowledge and oneness with the universe.   That problems that have confounded the world's religions for millennia are resolved in the two hundred and forty heavily-illustrated pages of this slim little memoir. We have, at long last, been led from the Cave and shown the staggering and irreducible beauty of a pure Platonic form.  This book completes you spiritually, and, when everyone reads it, we shall enter a new age of global peace and prosperity.  For all the world's people are more alike than different, and all of us love Justin Bieber.

If you ever felt like everything that ever happened was leading up to a particular moment, let me tell you, you aren't alone.  Nobody ever has to be alone again, because Justin is with us.  We are entertained by Justin.  We are fulfilled by Justin.  We are nourished by Justin.  He's like Elvis, Britney and 9/11, all rolled up into one.  He is like Proust's madeleine, soaked in ecstasy.  His brilliance is so blinding, it hurts a little to look at him, but nobody dares to look away.

To many people around the world with limited resources, though, Bieber has long been something of a tabula rasa, beautiful and remote, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, covered with a trucker hat.  But as a user of Twitter, an outlet whose sole purpose is spreading the gospel according to Bieber, I am not new to the kind of glorious exultation that I am now dubbing "Justinlightenment."  Thanks to Twitter, Justin has been sprinkling my days with 140-character nuggets of joy for some time, but I was, until now, a little worried that his wisdom would not be preserved on the ephemeral medium through which he broadcasts.

Thankfully, "First Step" collects the most momentous of his pronouncements, spreads them to a larger audience beyond his six million Twitter followers, and preserves them for posterity.  That's so important, because Justin belongs not only to us, but also to the ages.  It is our responsibility to preserve and cultivate Justin Bieber so he can be enjoyed by future generations.

But, lest my insufficient words fail to capture the splendor of this man and his beautiful truths or the magnitude of this singular cultural moment, here is Justin:


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Note on First Chapters

First chapters are important because they are the first impression agents and editors get of your work.  These are busy people, they are culling a huge volume of submissions, and they're looking for an excuse to stop reading yours.  From this fact, various myths about first chapters emerge.

For example, the idea that one must start with (or in the middle of) an action sequence is pervasive and wrong.  It's a mutation of the adage that something must happen in those first pages (as opposed to back-story, world-building and other exposition).

Similarly, the idea that a first chapter can or should be markedly better-written or paced than the rest of the book is a canard.  Every chapter should be your best work.  Revising your first chapter should require much less time than making sure your middle section doesn't drag.

The hardest aspects of writing a novel are sustaining tension over an extended narrative, transitioning between plot-points, and providing necessary information and character development without bogging down in exposition.  Compared to these challenges, first chapters are relatively easy.

The purpose of a first chapter is generally to introduce a primary character and a problem that will drive the plot.  So, if you know who and what your book is about, the first chapter is halfway written.

Introducing a protagonist is easier than introducing a secondary character, since you have much less time and space to spend developing the secondaries, and they still need to seem three-dimensional.  And introducing an initial motivating problem is much simpler than handling complications and twists later on.

The reason agents feel comfortable rejecting you based on a first chapter is because a flawed first chapter indicates a flawed manuscript.  But just because those first pages can knock you out, it doesn't mean they can get you in.  If you stick a polished first chapter on a poorly-written or plotted manuscript, that's not going to get you an agent.  Your narrative should be polished and engaging throughout.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If you enjoy magic wands, then you will love this shotgun

You’ve got a problem.  See, your bad-ass Avada Kedavra murder curse requires a six-syllable invocation, and those kids you suck so much at killing figured out that they can stop you with the four-syllable expelliarmus disarming charm.  Now that everyone knows your greatest weapon can be countered by the first spell baby wizards learn in magic pre-school, you are kind of a fucking joke. Nobody gives a shit anymore about how you’ve tapped into the dark and forbidden arts, because the dark and forbidden arts are too slow on the draw.

"You meddling kids!"
And I’m not even afraid to tell you that you look stupid, because you don’t scare me anymore.  If you try to use your death curse, I’ll just pop your wand out of your hand, and laugh right in your pale, damp, perpetually-scowling face.  Your reputation has been downgraded from “He-who-shall-not-be-named” to “that-asshole-who-is-always-dropping-his-wand.”  Your black robes and your death’s head mask don’t look that intimidating when you’re on your knees trying to fish your weapon out from underneath the sofa.

I know you Death Eaters are all about hating the Muggles and the crude tools they fashion. But, whatever else you can say about Muggles, they are very good at committing horrific atrocities, while your own techniques are dated, at best.  When Muggles set their mind to slaughtering a bunch of children, they don’t spectacularly and repeatedly fail, unlike the Death Eaters.  You people kill fewer children annually than the common cold.  But I can sell you some exotic Muggle-crafted tools that are far more efficient than your antiquated forbidden curses. 

This pretty little thing right here is the TEC-9 semi-automatic machine pistol.  It carries a 32-round magazine, and can be easily modified to fire full-automatic.  If you want to be faster than a disarming charm, this is your new best friend.  In the time it takes to say “Expelliarmus,” this thing can spread a kid’s face across a wall like raspberry jam on a motherfucking scone.

But, since you tend to self-destruct in a spectacular deus ex machina fireball whenever Harry Potter wanders into your general vicinity, you may be worried about the tendency of semi-automatics like the TEC-9 to stovepipe while ejecting spent cartridges, causing the weapons to jam or backfire.  Well, in that case, you might like something like this .45 Magnum revolver.  It has a slower rate of fire, but it’s still faster than magical invocations.  And it does a lot of damage, which I think you will appreciate.  This puppy can blow a hole in a human torso the size of a half-giant’s fist.  You know that problem you keep having, where you think you killed somebody, but then they dramatically turn out to still be alive, and they show up at the last minute to save the day?  Well, that wouldn’t keep happening if you double-tapped those bitches with a goddamn .45.

Remember that time you tried to use Avada Kedavra, and you got colossally wrecked by a baby? Remember how it turned out that Avada Kedavra doesn’t work on anyone whose mother loves them? Everybody’s mother loves them, dude.  That’s why you always lose.  But, what I have right here is a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun.  If you skipped Avada Kedavra and used a shotgun, you’d be the king of the wizards.  Instead, you’re spending most of your time sitting in a basement someplace wondering where your nose went.  Let me tell you something about a shotgun: a shotgun doesn’t care how much some baby’s mother loves him.  A shotgun will fuck up that baby’s shit.   

And if you’re really ready to lay down some galleons, I’ve got a case of something called rocket-propelled grenades.  You won’t believe what one of these bad boys will do to a unicorn.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Indistinguishable from Magic

I saw a blog post recently from literary agent Kristen Nelson, in which she mentioned that "urban fantasy" is hot, and "science fiction" is not.  I have no doubt that this is true, or perceived as true by acquiring editors.  But there's no reason this should be so, since science fiction and fantasy are actually the same thing.

Some small subset of science fiction is actually about science or technology.  These stories focus on possible future problems that authors extrapolate from the possibilities of contemporary science.  What are our responsibilities to a self-aware robot?  What happens if some wealthy people are able to create super-children through genetic engineering?  How will humanity relate to alien civilizations?

But the bulk of science fiction uses the high-tech future as a setting rather than subject matter.  "Alien" is about people trapped in a haunted house with a monster.  "Back to the Future" is a wish-fulfillment fantasy.  If you replace "abracadabra" with "one-point-twenty-one gigawatts," you haven't transitioned into a different genre. "A mad scientist did it" is the same concept as "a wizard did it."

Similarly, there's no reason why southern vampire mysteries should be more popular than robot-noir, or whatever.

I am particularly fascinated by the categorization of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story as "science fiction."  The book takes place in a vaguely hyperbolic near future, and I would call it a literary social satire.   The only thing that's even close to a science fiction concept is the main character's company, called "post-human services," which promises immortality to the rich.  But what they're peddling seems to be nothing more than plastic surgery, macrobiotic food and yoga.  Oh, and the characters have slightly-better iPhones than the ones currently available.

One reason "urban fantasy" might be popular right now, though, is that "urban fantasy" is often actually structured more like a romance novel than a fantasy novel.  Mean, rapey werewolves looking to be fixed by the love of a good woman are essentially the same as mean, rapey Fabio pirates and mean, rapey nineteenth-century British aristocrats.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Line I Found In My Notes For My WIP

I love finding something awesome I'd forgotten I'd written:

Rationality, I think, is the enemy of romance.  It grounds one in one’s flesh and anchors one to the earth.  This sad condition is inevitably fatal, and its devastating effects can only be delayed by the regular consumption of powerful intoxicants.   I know writers who never partake, who put pen to paper in a state of stony sobriety.  They’re terrible. 

The new project is called "Fouler Lips Than Thine."  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Creamy Cliches and Sticky Adverbs

Courtesy of Awful Library Books, here are a couple of hilarious pages from a "Romance Writer's Phrasebook."

Every single example here is bad.  You would think that, statistically, someone spewing this much stuff would come up with one evocative phrase.  But the figurative language never once manages to be novel or clever or particularly apt.  This is like a field guide to telling-not-showing.

Also, some of these phrases get bonus points for improper grammatical construction.  

This book, incidentally, is not merely an anthropological or historical artifact. While the copyright date of 1984, it is still in print. Readers are powerless to resist.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If competent adults existed in children's fiction

"I don't care if this is your side of the mountain. You can't live in a tree, kid."

"I'm from child protective services. We heard there were children living in a boxcar."

"Fudge almost ate Peter's turtle, but I stopped him because I am capable of providing proper parental supervision."

"I'm Count Olaf. I want the children's inheritance." "I'm their attorney, the executor of the parental estate, and court-appointed guardian. See you in court."

"What'd you do today, Hardy Boys?" "We went to school."

"Pevensie children, please stand back from the platform when the train is approaching."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Unboxing 6th Gen iPod Nano

This isn't ordinarily my style, but I know these things are popular, and I need more blog hits so I can feel like I have friends.

I am a BlackBerry user, so I am a big fan of iPod standalone music players.  I like to be able to sync my device into iTunes and I prefer to have a sleek music device to carry when I run or work out, instead of using my phone to listen to music.  I don't want to carry something like the iPod Touch along with my BlackBerry, so I am a fan of the iPod Nano.  This morning, I picked up the latest generation of the device at the 5th Ave. Apple store.

Apple cut the size of the Nano roughly in half compared to the previous model. The video playback function, which has been a nano staple since the third-gen device, has been removed; this thing now just plays music.  Apple has replaced the click-wheel interface with a multitouch screen. 

Here are pictures of the packaging:

As you can see, the Nano is now very small; nearly as small as the iPod Shuffle.  This thing has come a long way since the iPod Mini.

This is the new Nano compared to my 4th-gen model.  As you can see, it's much smaller, and about half the weight.  However, some of that size reduction has come at the expense of screen real-estate.  Also, since the interface is now multi-touch, you have to select albums or songs with a finger, so each name or title in your list of artists or albums has to be larger.  That means that, while the old Nano could display ten names on its screen at once, the new device can only display three.  For what it's worth, though, the multitouch display is very responsive. 

This photo shows the profile of both devices.  Apple has added a clip onto the back of the device which is convenient for working out, but it adds a little bit of thickness.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dialog is hard to write

"So, you tell me about chaos theory, and I'll tell about dinosaurs."
"Dr. Goosepimple, I'd like you to meet Mr. Hardwick. He'll be your security chief for the expedition."

"We're peaceable scientists and we know how to comport ourselves in the jungle. We don't need to be escorted by armed men."

"Yes, but the enigmatic Baron Von Sinister is funding your research, and he believes security is a top priority."

"I spent seventeen years in the bush, Doctor. And you may think you know your way around the woods, but these ain't like any woods you've ever seen. There are guerrillas, gorillas, and space-panthers. There are mosquitoes with six-foot wingspans."

"Do you even know anything about our research?"

"I'm just paid to shoot things."

"Wonderful. We'll have to stop periodically and explain what we are doing to you and tell you what our incomprehensible jargon means."

"And I'll probably have to tell you about my guns, so that when the attached grenade launcher on my H&K MP5 becomes relevant to the story later, the reader will already be aware of it."

"Yes. It seems our ignorance of each other's specializations is going to be a helpful expository device."

"I think we shall be the best of friends."

Here is some helpful advice for writing dialog from someone who provides helpful advice.  Here

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Why the hell are you tweeting instead of reading my manuscript?"

"I told you, Glenn Close, standard response time is six to eight weeks."

Here's another for the "don't-be-crazy" query file: an author asks agent Jessica Faust why agents are on Twitter when their attention should be focused on the majesty of the thing he has created.

As a writer, it really helps not to seem like an awful person.  That's true with regard to editors or agents who might be considering working with you.  It's true with regard to readers who might be considering spending money and investing time to see what's in your head.

Submission, whether to agents or to editors, is emotionally taxing, and it will make you a little neurotic, even if you are a balanced person.  But try very hard not to be a jerk.  There are other things going on in these people's lives besides your manuscript. That's true even if you are a client. 

You need to understand what demands on an agent's time and attention are reasonable.  It is not reasonable to ask somebody to set aside everything in their life to pay attention to you immediately.  If you respect your agent and recognize that their time is valuable, they will like you better and work harder for you.  It's good to have confidence in your work, but expecting extraordinary special treatment, especially prior to signing with the agent, marks you as difficult and potentially crazy.

Also, keep in mind that prospective clients are an agent's lowest priority.  Waiting a month to six weeks for an answer on a full is considered fast turnaround; two months is industry standard.  Agents won't move you to the front-burner unless there is a time-sensitive issue like another offer on the table.

Also:  Yesterday, Nathan Bransford had a helpful post about how to deal with conflicting query advice, after several agents gave different answers about whether authors should query under pen names.

My advice on the subject:  The only rational response to conflicting query advice is to disregard all of it and do the opposite. Specifically, you should:

Query as your main character Pen name? Real name? Forget it. Query in character. Especially if your character is a sex offender, a serial killer or an angel. If you open your query with "I am an Angel of God, sent to Earth to serial-kill the women who won't date me," there's no friggin' way an agent won't ask for your pages. That's what they call a 'baller hook' in the biz.

Insult the agent If you can diminish their sense of self-worth, agents will become desperate to associate with you, so that they may shine with some of your reflected glory. If you tell an agent that you think he is an idiot but that he can prove you wrong by representing you, he will be filled with an unquenchable desire to prove he is not an idiot. That's just psychology, or something. 

Mass e-mail queries You're busy and your book is a hot commodity. Let everyone know it by sending your query to everyone in Writer's Marketplace in one e-mail with the salutation: "Dear Sir or Madam." That way, they know they have a lot of competition and they had better get around to requesting your full immediately.

Good luck to you, Noble Writer, and godspeed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

McSweeney's! And, the real best pickup line ever

"Did it hurt?  When'st thou fell from Heaven?"
Today, I have a piece at McSweeney's, which I am very proud of.  It's about my second-favorite Shakespeare play ever, Richard III.

On a related note, Richard was the uncontested greatest player in literature until Hannibal Lecter got himself into Clarice Starling's pants by feeding her some dude's brain.  And Shakespeare gives us the greatest pick-up ever written, when Richard makes a pass at a woman immediately after murdering her father and husband.

This would be tough even for the smoothest of pimps.  And this guy doesn't have the advantage of being super-handsome like me.  Poor dude is a hunchback.

Gloucester is, of course, Richard.  He does not become Richard III until later on, when he ascends the throne.

It is said that the high-five was invented for the express purpose of celebrating the unadulterated pimpitude of this specific moment.

My helpful annotations are in parentheses.  And all caps.  And bolded.  And italicized.

What, do you tremble? are you all afraid?
Alas, I blame you not; for you are mortal,
And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body,
>His soul thou canst not have; therefore be gone.

Sweet saint, for charity, be not so curst.
Foul devil, for God's sake, hence, and trouble us not;
For thou hast made the happy earth thy hell,
Fill'd it with cursing cries and deep exclaims.
If thou delight to view thy heinous deeds,
Behold this pattern of thy butcheries.
O, gentlemen, see, see! dead Henry's wounds
Open their congeal'd mouths and bleed afresh!
Blush, Blush, thou lump of foul deformity;
For 'tis thy presence that exhales this blood
From cold and empty veins, where no blood dwells;
Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural,
Provokes this deluge most unnatural.
O God, which this blood madest, revenge his death!O earth, which this blood drink'st revenge his death!
Either heaven with lightning strike the
murderer dead,
Or earth, gape open wide and eat him quick,
As thou dost swallow up this good king's blood
Which his hell-govern'd arm hath butchered!

Lady, you know no rules of charity,
Which renders good for bad, blessings for curses.

Villain, thou know'st no law of God nor man:
No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.
But I know none, and therefore am no beast.

O wonderful, when devils tell the truth!
More wonderful, when angels are so angry.
Vouchsafe, divine perfection of a woman,
Of these supposed-evils, to give me leave,
By circumstance, but to acquit myself.
Vouchsafe, defused infection of a man,
For these known evils, but to give me leave,
By circumstance, to curse thy cursed self.
Fairer than tongue can name thee, let me have
Some patient leisure to excuse myself.
Fouler than heart can think thee, thou canst make
No excuse current, but to hang thyself.

By such despair, I should accuse myself.
And, by despairing, shouldst thou stand excused;
For doing worthy vengeance on thyself,
Which didst unworthy slaughter upon others.
Say that I slew them not?
Why, then they are not dead:
But dead they are, and devilish slave, by thee.
I did not kill your husband.
Why, then he is alive.
Nay, he is dead; and slain by Edward's hand.

In thy foul throat thou liest: Queen Margaret saw
Thy murderous falchion smoking in his blood;
The which thou once didst bend against her breast,
But that thy brothers beat aside the point.

I was provoked by her slanderous tongue,
which laid their guilt upon my guiltless shoulders.
Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind.
Which never dreamt on aught but butcheries:
Didst thou not kill this king?
I grant ye.
Dost grant me, hedgehog? then, God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed!
O, he was gentle, mild, and virtuous!
The fitter for the King of heaven, that hath him.

He is in heaven, where thou shalt never come.
Let him thank me, that holp to send him thither;
For he was fitter for that place than earth.
And thou unfit for any place but hell.
Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it.
Some dungeon.
Your bed-chamber.

I'll rest betide the chamber where thou liest!
So will it, madam till I lie with you.

I hope so.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Homemade Salsa

I'm too lazy to offer writing advice today, so I am going to talk about what I am eating instead.

You can buy beautiful juicy field-grown tomatoes at any grocery store or farmers' market in the city right now; August is their peak season and they're plentiful and cheap this year.  So I bought a bunch and made salsa.

This is actually a pretty simple recipe, but it's just fantastic (and cheaper by volume than the store-bought stuff).

You core about four or five tomatoes, depending on how big they are.  You throw the inside part of about a tomato and a half into the food processor to make your liquid base for the salsa, and you throw the rest of the cores away (or if you're like me, you just eat them).  You dice up the tomatoes, and you mix those with the liquid part.

You squeeze the juice from half a lime and a quarter of an orange over this.  Add a spoonful of olive oil and a little salt.

Then you add peppers, green onions and a handful of cilantro, either finely chopped or diced in the food processor.

Depending on how hot you want it, you can vary the kind of peppers you use, as well as the quantity.  The hottest part of a jalapeno pepper is the core with the seeds.  You can throw that part away if you want a mild salsa, or mix it in for medium. I use two whole jalapenos for salsa made from four large tomatoes.

If you're adventurous, you can get some habanero peppers, which are extremely hot.  I tried them once and thought they were unpleasant.

This is what you end up with:

It beats the shit out of any store-bought salsa.  It's best if you let it sit for an hour or so after you make it, to let the tomatoes soak up the other flavors.  But you should eat it within a few days and keep it refrigerated.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Band Names That Reference Stuff

The band in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" is called Sex Bob-omb, which is hilarious.

Here are some more awesome names for bands that are also references to stuff.  

Band names that reference David Cronenberg: Brundle-Fly; Flesh Gun; Viggo Mortensen's Junk

Band names that reference Woody Allen: Vicky Cristina Bossa-Nova; Paul Simon Stole My Girlfriend; Anything Else

Band names that reference Hitchcock: High-Angle Shot; Woman With Glasses; Alfred and the Cool Blondes; Cary Grant and the Crop-Dusters

Band names that reference JRR Tolkien: Council at Rivendell;The Ringwraiths; Smaug's Horde; Viggo Mortensen's Junk

Band names that reference Orson Welles: Deep Focus; F for Funk; The Rosebuds; The Third Men; Frozen Peas

Band names that reference video games: Starman; Falcon Punch; Warp Whistle; Tuesday is Raid Night; Kael'thas and the Setbacks; Spawn More Overlords; Mega-Buster and the Situational Upgrades; Deku Nuts; Day of Lavos; Call of Booty; Splinter Cello

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thoughts On Literature

Agree or disagree:  Existential crises, relationship trauma and childhood wounds are all more interesting if the character has to deal with them in the middle of a murder investigation, jewel heist or starship battle.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Old people are the new sexy vampires

My agent's pitch letter didn't include much biographical information about me, so when my editor first read the manuscript for "Don't Ever Get Old," she thought it had been written by an author who resembled the protagonist, an 87 year-old WW2 veteran.

I just turned 29 last week; the voice is based loosely on my grandfather, and also on old Dashiell Hammett novels.  A lot of people who read the manuscript seem to be surprised that I would write a book like this, and want to know why I picked this character and this story.

One reason: old people are awesome.  Last year, Wall Street analysts failed to recognize the awesomeness of old people and they predicted Pixar's "Up" would be a box office turkey.  That was embarrassing for them.

You can't really blame people for being late to the party on this one, though.  If someone had told me three years ago that teenage girls wanted to hook up with werewolves, I would not have believed it.

Anyway, here is the latest proof of that old people are trending; a viral video in which comedian Rachel Bloom begs for sex from 90 year-old author Ray Bradbury.

This could lead to another exciting new trend in which women pretend that they want to have sex with dudes who write books, which sounds like it might be fun for me, but would ultimately wind up being confusing and frustrating..

Maybe she should follow this "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" with: "Stab me, Norman Mailer,"  "Shoot me in the face, William S. Burroughs," and "Drink yourself to death while I die in a fire, F. Scott Fitzgerald."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Birthday Present

Only one person really loves me; the person who bought me the flat-panel and the PS3 and the awesome watch.  Thanks, Dan, for another awesome gift.  You're welcome, Dan.

I needed a carry-on size bag that I made me look cool while I lugged it through the airport

Behold, gentle readers, is the Temple U-Zip Duffle Bag, a case study in concentrated awesomeness.  A minor genius named Steve Opperman came up with the idea to sell hand-sewn bags made from army surplus fabrics from World War II.

Basically, this is the manliest bag since God invented scrotums.  It's got a very distinctive look, and it's cool; it's the thing that someone cooler than me in a cool movie would fill with cooler stuff than the stuff I've got.

The Money Shot:

Brass hardware:

Inside is lined with raw canvas:

The stenciled letters are apparently original:

Here are videos showing how this thing gets made:

Cool, right?  They also make iPad cases.