On blogging and trying to get published

April 23, 2010 Blogging, Personal, Writing Comments (0) 355

If you’re new to this blog, it shouldn’t take long to learn that I’m currently trying to find a literary agent.  I’ve completed a fantasy novel, Volve, and I’m working on a second (unrelated) novel now.  I’ve got four to six more novels simmering in my mind, some of which have been there for quite some time.

Writing has been a lifelong hobby, and something I have wanted to do professionally since I was about eleven or twelve years old.  It’s what I went to college for, and though I have a day job that I find quite rewarding for an organization I care passionately about, my career ambition remains to become a full-time novelist.  This is not easy.  It takes a lot of time and hard work, a lot of luck, and a very thick skin to break into the industry, and just getting a book published is very far from earning a living wage as a writer.

Most of the agents who express an opinion on this sort of thing  seem to agree that it is important for an aspiring writer to have a web presence.  I’m also savvy enough to realize that if I am lucky enough to be published, and luckier still enough to have readers who enjoy my work, the first thing they are going to do is take to the internet – and I’d better have some way of connecting with them, particularly during that window of time following publication of a first novel, when I don’t yet have anything else to sell.

Which brings me to the topic of blogging.  As it happens, I’ve been blogging for almost ten years.  I had a blog on WordPress called “The Hanged Man” where I expressed my thoughts about politics and pop culture and posted photos of celebrities I found attractive.  I got a couple of thousand hits a day, but it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to represent myself professionally.  So when I got serious about  pursuing publication, I made some changes.  I migrated the blog to a personal web space, I deleted all of the more juvenile posts about half-naked celebrities, and I decided to keep my posting related to my would-be profession.

Two things changed.  My traffic dropped to two visitors a day, and I stopped writing content.  My internal censor seized control of my writing brain and nixed every idea I had for a new blog post.  I was terrified that literary agents who received my queries would pop my name into Google, visit this site, and reject me because of some remark I made about David Beckham’s abs.  Nothing seemed professional enough to fit my new guidelines, and so the blog started growing cobwebs.

Eventually I changed my mind about content.  I realized that if I were going to write, I had to be myself, and that while I’m willing to work to market myself, it’s not worth giving up my personality in the interest of making money.  I’m still terrified of literary agents who plug my name into Google (and I suppose this post is really written for them more than anyone) but I’m also guessing that any agent who is going to reject me outright because of what’s on my blog is probably not going to back me up artistically if we do work together.  So while I’m not about to go back to writing posts about Jessica Alba’s behind (we do all mature, at least a little bit) this blog will be whatever I feel like it should be, even if there are some warts

So I guess what I’m saying to any visiting literary agents is this: If you can get me a contract, I’ll take this blog down in a heartbeat.

No, just kidding.  But we can talk about it.

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Querying again / Reducing word count

April 23, 2010 Personal, Writing Comments (0) 217

Every step in the process of trying to publish a book teaches new lessons.  Faithful readers may recall that I sent out nearly thirty query letters for my novel Volve in September, and met universal rejection.  I deduced, hopefully correctly, that the specific problem was my 130 thousand word length, which exceeds the upper limit accepted even for the fantasy genre.  Well, after a couple of weeks of work, I managed to cut that length down to 119 thousand words, and I have begun once again to query literary agents.

Though Volve and I have been through at least six major revisions, I had never before sat down with such a clear goal: reduce the length of the work.   I wound up learning a valuable lesson about my writing.  When I first sat down, I thought I was going to have to approach the book with an ax instead of a scalpel.  I started thinking about which chapters I could lose.  In the end, though, I was able to cut 11 thousand words without losing much substance.

I did this by cutting away unnecessary adjectives (amazing how clearly unnecessary they become when one needs to cut away a tenth of the manuscript), losing redundant information, and approaching the manuscript with one question in mind: does this matter to the reader?

I found that there were many passages, spanning from a few words to a paragraph or two in length, that communicated little relevant information to the reader.  They didn’t advance the plot or story, they didn’t reveal anything significant about any character, nor did they describe any physical aspect of the environment that was relevant to the reader.

This is the absolute best and most marketable version of Volve that I’m currently capable of producing.  It’s time to move on to other novels and other ideas.  I’m crossing my fingers that this query process leads somewhere, but even if it does not I can take something worthwhile out of the revision and rewrite process.  I’ve certainly learned why agents generally agree that a writer must complete three novels before he writes one worth selling.

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Soccer players kissing, blah blah blah

April 21, 2010 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Naked People Comments (5) 1737

Gary Neville kisses Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes and Gary Neville play soccer, professionally apparently, in a country called–wait, let me look this up–England.  Except there it’s called “football,” which I assume explains the unexplained popularity of soccer.  The British have apparently spent decades sitting around very large stadiums watching a bunch of men stand around an enormous field, wondering when the Steelers were to arrive.

Anyway, so on Saturday Scholes scored a very important goal to win a very important game, and Neville gave him a kiss, and people’s minds were BLOWN.  Bunches of newspapers in the UK ran kiss-related headlines.  Most were favorable, but still.  Someone should remind the UK that they are European, which in the US is a word that means “gayer than gay.”

But I digress.  The whole reason I took to this blog is because I love, love, LOVE the response from Guardian sports blogger Barry Glendenning, whose response is that these two guys are not nearly hot enough for a PDA.  Via Outsports (emphasis mine):

That kiss was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And before you scuttle off down to the comments section to level accusations of homophobia at us, don’t bother. If it was two ripped and dashing footballers – some Matt Taylor-on-Jason Roberts action, for example – we’d have no problem with such ostentatious public displays of man-love and possibly be even a little turned on. Hell, even if Gary Neville had just planted one hand on either side of Paul Scholes’s head and laid a shock-and-awe black-and-white movie style smacker on his lips, that would have been fine too. But it was the tenderness of the moment, the cupping of the face, the tilting of the heads, the eyes closed expectantly, the blur of ginger hair and wispy not-quite-beardness in yesterday’s sport sections that put us off our lunch. Down with this sort of thing. Careful now.

Purely in the interest of journalism, I did the research, and it appears these are the two eye-pleasing gentlemen Glendenning would rather see locking lips on the turf:

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Shitting on Phil Collins, Part Two

April 20, 2010 In The News, Personal, Pop Culture Comments (1) 362

Yesterday I explained my personal sentimental connection to the work of Phil Collins and Genesis, and how my perspective has evolved with my musical tastes.  Even with that as background, I still feel bad for the rest of this post, so here is a disclaimer:  I love Phil Collins.  He’s one of the greatest rock drummers ever, if not the greatest.  People don’t realize this because rather than stay behind the drums, Phil has done a whole lot of other stuff, much of which he’s sucked at.  Face Value is a brilliant, artistic and personal album from beginning to end.  Phil also helped create Peter Gabriel (“melt”), another of the most brilliant albums ever recorded.  Phil brought gated reverb down from the mountain, and it revolutionized music mostly for the better.  With all that said…

To excerpt from the same article I linked to yesterday, “Coinciding with Collins’s Roseland shows, on June 17th he will receive the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s prestigious Johnny Mercer Award at the organization’s annual gala awards dinner in New York City.”

I find this the slightest bit ironic.  My friend Alex and I fairly recently realized that Phil Collins does not write lyrics so much as he strings together cliches, idioms, and figures of speech that happen to rhyme.  A couple of examples:

  • From “In the Air Tonight“:  Well I was there and I saw what you did / I saw it with my own two eyes / So you can wipe off that grin / I know where you’ve been / It’s all been a pack of lies”
  • Or my absolute personal favorite example, “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”:  We had a life, we had a love / but you don’t know what you’ve got ’til you lose it / well that was then, this is now / and I want you back / How many times can I say I’m sorry?

Then, of course, there’s the album covers.  Here are the covers for Phil’s solo studio LPs to date.  See if you detect a theme:

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Shitting on Phil Collins

April 19, 2010 In The News, Personal, Pop Culture Comments (1) 380

"Ububio" is not a word!

A friend emailed this morning to let me know that Phil Collins has scheduled a three-night stand at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC.  Everyone has that first band that made them like music, and Genesis was mine.  “We Can’t Dance” is the first album I ever owned.  My early explorations into music, if charted, would show Genesis as the central trunk from which all other bands branched, which is to say I discovered Clapton because he played on “But Seriously,” and Led Zeppelin because Phil had been their drummer at Live Aid.  I spent most of my evenings, for at least a year, haunting the Genesis discussion groups on Prodigy, and to this day I aspire to one day produce the definitive annotated version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

As my musical tastes have matured, I’ve fallen out of love with most of what Phil has produced, and my opinion on Genesis now agrees with what most music snobs will say: once Peter Gabriel left, they quickly went to shit.  I do still find a certain nostalgic appeal in almost everything he’s been involved with, but that is solely because of connection to my personal life.  I saw Genesis at the Wachovia Center in 2007, on their “Turn It On Again” tour, only because I had never before seen them live in person, and it felt like something I should do.  I was struck by how much more enthralling I found the museum-quality replicas of 1970s Genesis shows performed by The Musical Box and daydreamed about what might have been if only Peter Gabriel wasn’t so resistant to nostalgia, or if the other guys had been patient enough to make the tour fit Peter’s schedule.

The first concert I ever attended was Phil Collins at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1994, when the memory of the Rangers’ Stanley Cup win was so fresh that the crowd twice spontaneously erupted into “Let’s Go Rangers” chants.  Since then, he’s toured several times and I barely took notice, but the prospect of seeing him at a smaller venue is slightly intriguing.  Allow me to annotate the article I found about the show (and his new album, “Going Back”) and my real-time reactions as I read it:

“Atlantic recording artist Phil Collins has announced the forthcoming release of “GOING BACK,” a deeply personal labor of love [me: Oh, that’s promising.  His last “deeply personal labor of love” was an album on which he played every instrument, recorded 90% of it alone in his home studio, and produced some really interesting and high quality–though not especially catchy–music.  “Face Value” was a “deeply personal labor of love,” and that’s one of the greatest, most emotionally visceral records ever recorded, the artistic peak of Phil’s solo career.] that finds the eight-time Grammy winner faithfully recreating the Motown and soul music that played such an influential role in his creative life.” [me: Oh.  Oh no.  This is going to be terrible.]

The article includes this quote from Phil: “My idea, though, was not to bring anything ‘new’ to these already great records, but to try to recreate the sounds and feelings that I had when I first heard them.”

So he’s doing an album of Motown standards, faithful to the original recordings.  Sigh.  Rod Stewart, meet Phil Collins.  He, too, has given up.

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NHL: Yet again we are talking about headshots

April 17, 2010 Hockey, In The News Comments (0) 263

Andy Sutton’s hit on Jordan Leopold in last night’s Senators-Penguins game nicely illustrates that the new “lateral backpressure” rule doesn’t address the NHL’s real problem. Skip ahead to the one minute mark for a good slow-motion look.

I have one problem, and one problem only, with this hit – but it’s a big problem. Andy Sutton very intentionally and deliberately targets Leopold’s head.  Leopold is clearly in a vulnerable position and doesn’t see Sutton coming, which means Sutton can apply any hit he chooses – and he chooses to avoid contact with Leopold’s body and hit only the head.  Notice the way Sutton spins off of Leopold into the boards?  That type of spin-off is the same you see in a head-on car crash, where one swerving driver is trying to avoid the collision and doesn’t quite make it. Notice that term trying to avoid, because that’s really what Sutton does here.  He specifically tries to avoid Leopold’s body, so that he can transfer all of his energy into Leopold’s head.

Sutton’s defenders point out, correctly, that Leopold had his head down, that Sutton kept his elbow at his side, that this is not a “lateral backpressure” hit, but a head-on (no pun intended) open-ice hit, and that based on those criteria this is currently a legal NHL hit, a “hockey play” as has become popular vernacular recently.  This is all true, but I counter that this should not be a legal NHL hit for one simple, clear reason: a hit that specifically targets the head (solely or primarily) is, and should always be regarded as, intent to injure.

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