Breaking Drawn At Borders

Last week I was hanging out with my friend in Borders at Santana Row after seeing The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor (the best straight-to-DVD release movie I ever saw in a movie theater), I noticed that young girls filled the bookstore. Most appeared normal, some had faces painted white with red lips and a few wore bizarre costumes. I asked my friend if they were there for “The Tales of Beedle The Bard” pre-order by the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, mentioned in an email from Borders a few days earlier. He said they were here for the “Breaking Dawn” midnight release party. I haven’t heard of it. When we came upon the display stand, it became obvious why I haven’t heard of it. The book was from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer in the ever popular paranormal romance genre.

Seems like every female writer is coming out with a series book that takes a standard genre (i.e., science fiction, fantasy or horror), add a dollop of romance porn, and blend well into a new genre. (Male writers don’t face the same pressure when writing a series book, but some do add a tar ball of porn that leaves the story dying on the bed sheets, and no marketing department would dare claim that as a new cross genre.) If Amazon Recommendations are any indicator over the last few years, the paranormal romance genre is getting saturated with wannabe titles that lack any trace of originality like a bad date with a vampire.

I’m a fan of Kim Harrison’s The Hollow series about a witch, a vampire and a pixy working together as independent bounty hunters in Cincinnati. The titles are variations from Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Western movies (i.e., “Every Which Way But Dead,” and “The Good, The Bad and The Undead”). There’s a strong touch of sexuality that goes either way depending on who’s in trouble. I just speed read through those parts since that’s not what I’m reading the book for. I got into this series while reading another supernatural mystery series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, about a wizard for hire in Chicago.

According to Amazon Recommendations, The Hollow series now belongs in the paranormal romance genre, perhaps because the author has written several anthologies where paranormal romance was the main theme. I get recommendations about every paranormal series out there—with some series being way, way, way out there—even though I’m not interested. Subsequently, I run away from those books like a vampire waking up at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

The Twilight series was illuminating for another reason. Not because the series is a potential successor to the Harry Potter franchise that can captured the hearts of teenyboppers worldwide that makes bucket loads of cash for the writer and publisher. The general trend in fiction publishing is to have a series if you’re not writing “serious literature” (whatever the heck that is since I don’t write that). If you’re bringing a series to a conclusion (this applies to trilogies as well), you better wrapped up the series in way that keeps the readers satisfied. The initial reaction to “Breaking Dawn” indicates that the author may have taken the easy way out that puts a stake through the heart of the conflict, disappointing many fans who expected a stronger ending. A bad enough ending can easily kill the word-of-mouth popularity for the other books in the series, including the forthcoming Twilight: The Movie.

I’m not sure if a one-shot book can get published these days. The novel that I’m working on, and the research materials I’m gathering for two other novels, all follow a general theme of humanity, morality and technology, each one is a one-shot book with no series potential. (I suspect a minor character from one book will become a major character in another book that will link the books together.) The vampire novella that I’m working on now is the centerpiece for a pair of book trilogies. Those books—if I choose to write them—will be different from the novels I have on the back burners. If I ever end up writing a book series, I doubt it will be in the paranormal romance genre.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

The Screen Writer Question

When I went to Borders this past weekend, I was specifically looking for any magazines with info on The X-Files: I Want to Believe that’s coming out next week. Amazingly, the pre-release publicity was quite thin. Unlike all the summer superhero movies with multiple magazine cover stories, I could only find two: Creative Screenwriting and TV Guide.

I was somewhat reluctant to get Creative Screenwriting since the top tag line read “Ka-Ching! Spec Screenplays Are Selling Again” for an article about the multi-million dollar prices that some scripts are fetching. When people find out that I’m a writer, they almost always ask if I write screenplays. My answer is always no, which puzzles some people.

Why not write for fabulous money? Two reasons: the odds and Hollywood.

If I was to go into screenwriting, I will be competing with every waiter in Hollywood who wasn’t trying to break into the business as an actor. I think I have better odds of being a fiction writer who builds a long-term career than chasing $50,000 USD per script that disappears like a mirage.

My current plan is to write a novel per year for the next five years, and whatever shorter pieces that comes to mind during that time. That gives me a one-in-five chance of having a breakout novel. I supposed a screenwriter would have to write two or three scripts per year for five years to have similar success. Either way, being a writer means traveling unforgiving roads at times. Some roads are easier than others, and the less traveled road is often more rewarding.

As for Hollywood: Doh! Born and raised in Silicon Valley. Enough said.

Or more precisely, Silicon Valley is not only where I live but it’s also my writing niche. I know the history of the landscape, worked in many of the top Fortune 500 companies (including eight crazy months at Google), and have a good understanding of the human dynamics that makes this place tick. I’m not aware of any other writer making a career out of Silicon Valley fiction. (There are plenty of writers for Silicon Valley non-fiction, most of whom I had read over the years.) Besides, whenever a Silicon Valley fiction book gets written, it’s usually featured in the San Jose Mercury News as a big deal. Being a fiction writer these days mean having an identifiable niche to launch your career.

What niche would I have in Hollywood? Nothing.

I recently watched Hooper on DVD with Burt Reynolds playing an aging stunt man on his last movie. There’s one scene where the writer comes storming of the director’s trailer, throwing the script up into the air, getting his into his car and backing up over the director’s chair, and burning rubber to get the hell out of there. That part of being a screenwriter I could probably do quite well.

As for the magazines, they both covered The X-Files without overlapping each other too much. Creative Screenwriting (July/August 2008) has two articles on writing for the X-Files, both the movie and the TV series. TV Guide (July 14-20, 2008) has two articles and a side bar on the characters and why the second movie almost didn’t happen. I expect more magazine cover stories after the movie is release. The Los Angeles Times has fresher material, including David Duchovny’s comment that The X-Files is equal to God in the fan community.

If you’re a hardcore Silicon Valley fan, pick up the current issue of Mad Magazine (August 2008). Not only are the summer superhero movies covered, but they do a rip on the old Calvin & Hobbes comic with a Calvin & Jobs feature. Yes, that’s Calvin with a design-savvy Steve Jobs doll. Apple really needs to come out with a Steve Jobs doll for the MacWorld Expo next year for up-and-coming egomaniacs like myself.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

The Writer’s Workflow

Writing this past month became easier when I found my natural rhythm for the workflow. Since the project manager at my job told me to walk away from work at lunch time, I been taking my lunch breaks in my mobile office—a 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix—to edit the current manuscript. As for eating lunch, I’m following a low-fat, sugar-free diet of crackers, granola bars, puddings, and yogurt that I eat during my 15 minute breaks at work.

Depending on the material I’m editing, I can usually get two to five pages done per day for 10 to 25 edited pages per week. I spend two to four hours each night after work to finish editing, updating the e-file with changes, and/or composing something new in longhand or on the typewriter for two to five pages.

The weekends are for pursuing other creative endeavors, like making Japanese Noh masks in clay, running errands, playing video games (*cough* research for my novel *cough*), and reading dead tree books. I don’t write on the weekend unless I have a self-imposed deadline or an inspiration to do so. This is working out quite well even though I want to push myself to do more writing than I have time for.

While editing the first draft of my vampire novella for a month felt like downing, editing the second draft over a two-week period went by much faster. Editing a chapter per day made a huge difference in my productivity. Whatever concerns I had regarding the other chapters relative to the chapter that I was editing, I wrote down my concerns on a notepad and made the changes later.

The second draft ended up being 97 pages long, divided into 14 chapters, and the 19,000+ word count was equivalent to the word count for the 22 short stories I had previously written. Editing the third draft starts the next week. I expect this will take two to four weeks to finish since this will be the last draft. The finished manuscript should land on the desk of an unsuspecting editor next month.

When I put aside my novella after finishing the second draft two weeks ago, I decided to restart my first novel based on my six years as a video game tester. Editing the novella taught me a few things about handling longer works.

The first thing to toss out was the poster board and index cards for the outline. I downloaded, evaluated, and bought a license for OmniOutliner, an electronic outlining program for the Mac. Working on the outline became a form of pre-writing that expanded my limited vision of the novel.

The half-dozen scenes that I had in mind for the first few chapters became separate chapters in the outline. I started rearranging the outline as needed when writing the chapters. The first chapter is already written. The second chapter will get done this week. My current plan is keep writing a new chapter every week until I complete the rough draft with 35 chapters. The manuscript of my first novel should finish by July 2009.

“The Uninvited Spook” got published in The Storyteller (July/August/September 2008). An envelope came in the mail with $3.02 USD (a quarter-cent per word) in cash for the story. No contributor copy. I’m not vain enough to order a copy that cost more than I got paid to write the story, even if it is my first published story to appear in print. The sad thing is that $3.02 USD doesn’t cover a gallon of gas or a loaf of bread in this economy.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

Editing In Creative Daze

When writing my first novel stalled out after ten pages last month, I switched gears to finish editing my long neglected vampire novella. If I can’t finish a novella with half-dozen characters, 18,000 words and 90 pages of manuscript, what business do I have writing a novel that’s four times as big?

The process of editing a novella from the first draft to the second draft made for a long month. Being in a creative daze was both exhilarating and exciting, but I wondered what was happening to the rest of my life when I wasn’t editing day and night. I had vague recollections of going to work, seeing the dentist, working out at the gym, watching movies at the theater, attending my ceramic classes, and running errands. With the exception of my ceramics class, I found myself being less creative in other areas of my life. No paintings. No drawings. No reading. I felt exhausted once I emerged from my editing daze to take a deep breath of air.

My mind was in an alternative reality where I considered two moral questions that form the backbone of my novella:

“Why would a caring God allow monsters like vampires to walk the earth?”

“Where’s the dividing line between humans and monsters?”

These questions have no easy answers. Not that they should have any easy answers. How the characters resolve these questions is what makes the story entertaining for the reader. What it doesn’t do is make the story any easier for the writer to write.

I’m letting the second draft rest for a week before I start editing the third draft. Or maybe I’m giving myself permission to rest before I jump back into that creative daze again. The next draft is to refine the story further, tighten up the moral conflicts and polish the language. One or two more drafts before I can send the novella out into a cruel world of rejection.

I’m also writing the rough draft of a new short story about a Silicon Valley investigative reporter who is chasing one hell of a story if he doesn’t lose his soul to the devil first. Nailing down the breezy narrative voice of a cynical Silicon Valley reporter to contrast a world that is both primitive and technological, while resisting the temptation to research the symbolically heavy imagery that got me writing the story, is a difficult challenge. The rough draft consists of several written pages of the first scene, and scattered paragraphs of several scenes in my writing journal. I’ll finish this story after my novella gets done but before I re-start my novel.

I’ll be in a creative daze all summer long, but it won’t be from what my next door neighbors are smoking on their balcony.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.