Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 2 of tLBE (the Last Big Edit) and the first day of the rest of our lives.

Seriously, was almost disappointed that the world didn't end. Would have saved me a lot of work.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Saturday, May 21, 2011

And so it begins

... thought i'd come out somewhere public with my fancy pants new macbook air to start the Last Big Edit. That wasted an hour. And that was after I wasted an hour looking for a laptop bag that would fit the unique 11' form factor, as well as the hour I wasted this morning story boarding a book trailer idea. I was well on my way to wasting another hour just then reading blogs and everything else I waste time online with (redit, metafilter, i09 ect...) when I realised that I should bloody well just make a start. 

So here goes. The Last Big Edit starts now.

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Friday, May 20, 2011

Final cut.

So as part of my day job I have the responsibility to teach children stuff. At the moment, that stuff for one of my classes, is film theory and production. In the past I've doen the typical thing; looked at some great works, talked about the directors as auteur, and then thrown them in the deep end. This year I decided to come at it from the side, and began with a brilliant documentary on editing.

Here is a list of names: Sally Menke, George Tomasini, Thelma Schoonmaker,

Don't know who they are? Well without them the chances are that the names Tarrantino, Hitchcock, and Scorsese would be unknown too.

By starting with the documentary, and looking at film production through the lens of the editing room, my students saw that at the end of the day, what matters is what the audience sees. You can have the greatest script, the most famous A list actors with the best sfx department behind you, but without the objective vision of a good editor, the project will be nothing.

A good argument has been made that the reason the Star Wars prequels sucked so much was that lucas took control of the editing floor. There is even a moment in the aforementioned doco where Lucan extolls the virtues of digital film making because of how much more control it gives him as an artist. It is interesting to contrast this opinion with the section where Thelma Scoonmaker talks about editing Raging Bull. The very limitation of the film coverage they had due to the improvised scenes between De Niro and Pesci led to the power of the final cut. Essentially, throwing everything in isn't often the best choice.

As writers, we are faced with an even harder divorce between our manuscripts and our novels. Film must be collaborative, and will continue to be so even when cameras and computers become so cheap that your iphone shoots imax. But writing by its very nature is isolated, independent. Today, with the interwebs, its never been easier to write, format and (maybe even spellcheck) and then publish. But this, for myself at least, would have led to too many Jar Jar's and not enough Han Solo's.

So, I come to the real point of this post: I got back my manuscript from my editor yesterday, and I was glad my heart was fortified by thee glasses of red wine when I opened the attachement. He had added 2 full pages of notes at the start, summing up the changes that are to come. Then I started to look through the actual markup, and realised that what I had thought -- hoped -- would be a polish, will in fact be more a re-write. Oh. God.

But the twist of the knife is, he is right.

I have spent nearly 5 years writing and re-writing my story. People have read it, and their changes assimilated. Most recently I paid a colleague with a background in copy editing to do a clean up, and I firmly believe I would not have got a contract without his help. But even after all that, to see how much still needed to be done was for a moment too much to bear.

Then I remembered one of the behind the scenes features on star wars episode 2, where Lucan walks into a room of scaled clay creature design models. Each one was a unique alien design, sculpted by a young artsist, and each one, by itself, would have worked. But Lucas -- so far beyond the humble indie filmaker he once might have been -- steps into the room, picks up two of the creature designs, and tells the creative team that he wanted a bit of this one, and a bit of that one. The result? One of the worst characters ever.

I'm about to go into my manuscript one last time, but this time, I have someone at my back reminding me that sometimes, your hero has to shoot first.



"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A map, a map -- my kingdom needs a map!

So about a week after I had calmed down from the realisation my book was really and truly going to be published, the reality of what a book actually was started to sink in.

They're a bit more than words you see... In another post i'll talk about why I am now a firm believer in the old fashioned publishing model, but lets sum it up for now that I am someone who often needs someone else to tell me what to do. One of the things my editor reminded me about was that stories like mine need maps.

The mix of joy and fear quickly filled my chest at this, for one of the things I have loved about the genre since childhood are the maps that both tease you with a new world, and can be studied later once those lands are well traveled by the heroes and their readers. A much better analysis of all this can be found here and if you follow the links at the end of this quite thorough investigation into fantasy maps, you will start to understand the anxiety that quickly replaced the joy in my heart: Maps are final, and they'd better look good.

That's two problems (and again I have to point out these are both filed under "problems I'm glad I have") that only the author of the work can really fix. Even if my publisher had the budget to pay someone to design a map, i'd still have to give some pretty detailed drawings (and don't forget all those place names) to the artist. But here began a sub-problem: even though I am an Art teacher by day, cartography has never been a skill I posses. So I did what any rational mind would do in 2011, and turned straight to google. And who would have thunk it, even though many people think that beyond the clear waters of the face books, the interweb is marked with "here be dragons" there are still many thriving communities that come together not to update each other on their latest thoughts, but in the case of the Cartographer's Guild, bond over their shared passion for a skill I desperately needed to acquire. 

One particular photoshop tutorial that didn't immediately fill my heart with dread was discovered, and like Captain Cook stepping onto a new land, I set forth to plunder the wealth of knowledge found within. 

Here was my first attempt:

The basic land was made following the tutorial (minus the steps with colour of course) and the mountains were made with a small icon multiplied and resized until it covered the relevant places. I even had a go at the rivers, but it was then that I began to despair. Hand drawing the rivers seemed like too much work, and then there was the scale. At this size it was going to need over 100 towns, villages and cities to even get close to reality, and believe me, I have not made up (or even imagined) 100 places in my book.... There had to be an easier way.

Take 2:

Things started to look more manageable when I cropped the map down to the lower right corner of the central continent. I'll mention here how much it bothers me in fantasy maps when the entire world seemed made of one island the size of tasmania rimmed in snow capped peaks... I'm looking at you Shannara I wanted something more realistic in my book, and so this scale seemed something that I could manage populating with the places from my book, but also large enough to hint at the rest of the land spoken about, but not seen in book 1 of the Magickless trilogy.. oh and the rivers? I grabbed a topographic map of a very famous river system and magic-wanded out the bits I wanted. Photoshop win. 

But still a lot of work to do, and highest on the list. Place names.

So here is step three...

The names lifted directly from the book were easiest of course, and places unknown were marked with xxx. I sent a copy of this to my editor to show him that a map was starting to exist, and he questioned if "xxx mountains" were suitable for my target audience. I told him that's were the climax of book 2 happens, and not to mess with my precious creations. This was also a test to make sure my editor has a sense of humour. He does. 

I also sent a copy of this to an ex student of mine, a young genius who's art folio for his last year of high school was to render fantasy worlds in 3d. More on him later when I talk of book covers again and the idea of book trailers, but the point of this is that he was luckily able to point out that the font I had chosen for the map -- a font I was quite fond of I must say -- was actually the font used in the "monster energy drink" logo. Sigh. Can't be havin' my world tainted by corporations just yet. I'll wait till the lego merchandising for that sell out thankyouverymuch..

My editor also made the point that the ratio is all wrong for a two page spread inside the book... well if you're giving a man two pages, you know he'll use 'em.

Step 4:

Lots added here, but though I was happy with the new font, I was still not so happy with a title at the bottom of the map... looks too much like a post card. Also, the forest seemed to work, but I wasn't so sure. So when one problem gets too hard, move onto something else: Names. I ain't going to give away where I got all my names from.... thats for me to know, and someone else to google.

Step 5:

You can see I'm also playing with the adjustment layers in photoshop with abandon. But something still wasn't right. This indecision led me back to the place where I had first found the tutorial, and I asked the cartographers guild for feedback. 

So, without further ado, here is the latest in a long line of maps I have titled "final Chninovur map" I'm guessing it won't be the last.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Oh shit. Deadlines.

So in the excitement of signing my first writing contract, I gleefully ignored the bit that said: (b) The Author agrees to return such proof to the Publisher with his corrections within fourteen
(14) days of receiving it.

don't get me wrong, I ain't complaining, and like my editor said,  weather they give me 14 days or 60, i'll use em all. And then he said something nice about how there is little structural editing to do, merely stylistic, so that 14 days should be plenty. But aside from that, 14 days should be fine right? right? I mean look at what can happens in 14 days. You can get to the moon and back, a flea can be born, procreate and die, and god could have made the earth twice... so doing a final edit should be a piece of cake. right?

Problem is, i've lived with this manuscript for over four years now, and never have I once had to consider an end -- a final goodbye. I've dreamed of it sure, but not considered it, actually thought about it as a real thing. And now I'm freaking out. I want to hold on a little longer, have a little more time to worry... but thats' just it, more time = more worry, and if I keep picking at it, it'll never get better. I have to go in with guns blazing for one last slaughter of precious words, and then let it go forever. Oh. Shit.

Got an email from my editor a little while ago, said he almost sent me the hand written markup on an actual physical printout of the manuscript. Dear lord! that much paper just wont fit into my slimline leather man-bag I bought specially for my new macbook air -- the computer I justified because you know, i'm a real writer now.

So thank the gods that in that same email my editor also said his wife reminded him it was his birthday, so he was forced to take a little break from editing, thus giving me some more time to freak out and finish my hand made fantasy map... the project I am using to keep my mind off deadlines, much the same way I used angry birds to keep my mind off writing.

Next post: hand made fantasy maps.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

the last rejection letter...

Just thought I'd post about the last rejection letter I received the other day. It was last for two reasons, firstly  it was the most recent of many many rejection letters I have been collecting for my query and so it is last in the way we say "last week" or 'last year", but the celebrated reason it was last is that after I signed my contract the other day, it is the last one I will ever get.... for this book at least... 

But this post isn't about gloating (although I couldn't help myself and sent back an email (not suposed to do this btw) to the agent thanking her for her time, and informing her to keep a look out for my book in stores this christmas.) What I really wanted to write about was how everyone thinks the world of books is changing; that soon we'll all be reading everything on the latest micropod ebookupload link subscription device, self published from amaztunes or whatever. 

I think change is a commin', but what I don't believe is that we are all going to burn our books and start reading each others self published masterpieces of un-spelchecked drafts online. What will change, if the music industry can really teach us anything, is that there will be less and less need for middlemen.

Producers will always be necessary to the creative process, and as I'm finding now, an editor is to a manuscript what an education is to a child. Sure you can home school, and for a while the kids might be alright - but eventually they'll either start finding their cousins too attractive or discover the release of self harm and moonshine. 

Agents, on the other hand, really don't fit into the model. Its not that I want these fine gatekeepers of literature to be unemployed -- like everything in the new marketplace -- they will simply have to re-structure their position. Why? because I believe publishing houses need to change their lockdown approach to unsolicited manuscripts, and to deal with the flood that will follow they will need to employ all those lost agents as slush pile editors -- a job most argue they perform already.

 It seems almost like I'm just re-drawing the line in the sand, but the fact is at the moment, there is a strange guessing game that seems to take place between an agent and the marketplace. They claim to know what publishers want, and most probably do, but the big question is do publishers really know what the market wants until they try it? A strange thing happens when one group of people make assumptions about another group of people's desires... kinda like chinese whispers (racist much?) The message is both corrupted and in a strange way strengthened by the signal loss, so that a mild assumption on the part of the agent about a publisher's knowledge  gets turned into some hard and fast rule of acquisition and rejection.

If the success of self publishing teaches us anything, it is that the market can move in all kinds of directions agents and publishers can neither control or predict. Like I said, self publishing will never be the way to great literature (unless maybe some of those now out-of-job agents turn to free lance editing) but the current model of write a manuscript, hope an agent likes you, and then hope they can sell it to someone else who will then sell it to the world, doesn't seem to make much sense.

As for me, I think the true change will occur with independent labels, the smaller press who chase the long tail of the market, specializing not in mass audience crowd pleasers, but in specific genres and styles that in todays shrinking world can still keep everyone fed and in a job. These indie labels have the double benefit of being able to survive with a smaller turnover, but also in todays landscape, if they do find they have a hit on their hands through word of mouth and online marketing, then scaling up their production isn't as hard as once it was.

So sorry agents, your days are numbered. I know three other writers through friends of friends. One, like myself has no agent and is getting published this year having signed with a house directly, the other, who has had one of the best agencies representing her work for nearly 2 years, still hasn't got a deal.

The world is changing, and the good news is people still love to read, but writers don't need to live by ponds to write, and editors don't need an agent in new york filtering what is in or out this season.

Okay, that was longer than I thought it would be.

Next post: Oh shit! I now have a contractually agreed deadline.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The problems i always wanted to have...

Be careful what you wish for, which is to say; make sure you know what you want. I think too many people read the first bit as a warning not to want anything, but that's just plain old crazy. I like to think of it less as a zen thing and more of a capitalist axiom: Make sure you read the label.

I am now in the middle of all the problems I always wanted to have. I got a cover design draft today that at once made this whole thing feel real, and at the same time freaked me out in the direction the publisher wants to take the book. As my friend at work said, 'its very litteral'. ie, the subtitle of book one in the Magickless trilogy is 'The Dragon and the Crow' and you guessed it, there is a dragon and a crow on the cover. I never imagined this, and even the font choices and the textured background kinda looks more Dan Brown than the David Eddings type cover I had imagined. But I know as much about marketing a book as I do about cricket, so who can say.

Also, pretty soon my editor will return to me a markup copy of the manuscript, at which point my contract kicks in, and bam, i'll have 2 weeks to put my last changes on a text I have been picking away at for nearly 5 years... I likened this at first to what i imagine it will be like when my son (he's two right now) is all grown up and leaves home. But another colleague pointed out that children leave their parents emotionally when they hit puberty. So I've reformed my metaphor and have decided that right now my book has become a teenager, but either way I'm running out of time to influence it to be the creation I always wanted it to be.... let go... let goo.....

In the meantime, back to making a map. Is there such a thing as too much forest? Never.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Monday, May 9, 2011

Okay.... it is on.

And just like that. I've got a book deal. And my first blod follower! Its a big day.

More details to come.

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain