C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

News Flash: Allan Stratton’s sales are about to go way up (even more)

Cover of "Chanda's Secrets"

Cover of Chanda's Secrets

This e-mail just in from my friend Peter:

The film Life Above All based on the lovely book Chanda’s Secrets by the
lovely Allan Stratton is on the Oscar nom short list. Fingers crossed!

Go see the movie and better yet go buy the book and see if you don’t blat before you finish!

I’ve met Allan Stratton and can confirm that he is indeed lovely. We had dinner at Garlic’s and then went to the Grand to see one of his plays. Lots of lovely all around. Yes, indeed, read the book! See the film!

For more information, follow the link from the press nugget below:

LIFE ABOVE ALL (CHANDA’S SECRETS) has made it into the Oscar finalist
pool of nine films from which the five nominees will be selected for
Best Foreign Film. Nominees announced tomorrow.
http://www.allanstratton.com
http://allanstratton.blogspot.com

Filed under: authors, links, Media, movies, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Writers, , , , , , ,

Kevin Smith strikes out…on his own (explicit video)

Kevin Smith introduces Indie Film 2.0:

Self-distribution

“True independence isn’t making a film and selling it to some jackass.”

Kevin Smith is rejecting The System.

Writers:

What can we learn from thinking sideways?

People tell you shouldn’t go indie.

Think about what their motivations might be.

Filed under: DIY, getting it done, Media, movies, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, Writers, , , , , , , ,

Friday VIDEO Reward: Aspiring Writer Meets Writing Advisor

Filed under: Intentionally Hilarious, Media, movies, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Unintentionally hilarious, , , , , ,

Writers: Craft your pitch carefully.

DSC03939

Image by Nitin Parmar via Flickr

It’s very difficult to summarize your novel. When we pitch a story, we talk about broad strokes and the rest is about theme. The reason is that when we summarize in depth, the story often sounds dumb.

Let’s try it with a popular movie and you’ll see what I mean:

In the mostly great and totally watchable  A Few Good Men, a Gitmo soldier is killed and two Marines are charged with his killing. So far, so good.

The base commander goes to great lengths (all behind the scenes) to cover up his part in the crime. The rest is about how a young lawyer who has never stepped inside a courtroom goes against the military establishment to get the commanding officer to admit in court that it was he who ordered the Marines to attack the soldier as a training exercise. The commanding officer will admit his guilt proudly and then be surprised he’s under arrest. The two Marines don’t go to prison but do get discharged dishonorably. The young lawyer feels good about himself in the end. And no, he doesn’t get to sleep with Demi Moore.

Were you to pitch it like that (and if you aren’t actually Aaron Sorkin) it’s very hit-and-miss…uh, no, actually it’s all miss. The context and detail is necessarily missing in a summary. The person you’re pitching won’t know about the nuance that the young lawyer will try to live up to his father’s courtroom legend. The clever sarcasm won’t be much on display to sell the idea of the script.

You would pitch about visiting the base and the sinister base commander. However, the subplot about the deputy-commander who can disappear because he’s former Special Ops (and turns suicidal) stretches credibility. It’s a spot where you could easily lose your audience. The pitch won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the interplay among the defense team. Kevin Pollak is the glue, but his role’s power would be difficult to flesh out in a short meeting and could derail you. 

When you pitch a movie, play or book, the odds are stacked against you in a huge way. It is statistically very unlikely someone will invest in your art. Put a lot of time perfecting your query letter (or your pitch) so you cram in your art and style.

The inherent difficulties of the pitch reduce your work so you want to look for ways to show your competence and still stay within the parameters of the pitch (e.g. format, brevity and economy of communication must be balanced by characters whose motivations are compelling and narrative arcs that make people want to hear more.)

If you don’t pitch it well, they won’t get it. If you have no track record, the only evidence that they have that you can articulate and execute an idea is confined within the straitjacket of a pitch meeting or query letter.

That’s why so many unknown writers, directors and artists of all sorts stay unknown.*

*Or, as we’ve frequently discussed, you could reject the premise of The Man’s hierarchical paradigm and find a way to DIY. (See yesterday’s post for further thoughts on that.)

UPDATE: Here’s a great survey on the things that drive agents away from you.

Filed under: authors, DIY, Editors, manuscript evaluation, movies, queries, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

Douglas Adams VIDEO on The Hitchhiker’s Guide

Douglas Adams said the best, most exciting time was when he was penniless and sleeping on couches. His success was a total surprise to him.

Filed under: author Q&A, authors, Books, movies, Science Fiction, Writers, , ,

Bookstores are disappearing. Time to sell my book collection.

Malcolm Ingram, Canadian independent film dire...

Image via Wikipedia

I came to two realizations about books today:

1. We aren’t being brave enough.

and

2. It’s time to sell my book collection.

Two film directors (Kevin Smith and the guy behind Donny Darko) talked on a podcast about cross-promotion with their movies and how five years from now there will be no bookstores. Though they are both authors as well, their main focus is film so they could be dispassionate about our sick industry. Contrary to what you may have heard, that’s a reason to take their assessment of bookstore extinction more seriously, not less. People inside the publishing industry often have their judgment clouded.

When confronted with such dim prospects for bookstores, many inside the book industry answer:

1. Nonsense! Horrors! Unthinkable!

or

2. It won’t happen that fast. We still have lots of time to bleed the old paradigm dry.

But five bookstores a day are closing across the United States. E-book sales are growing faster than most publishers anticipated. It won’t be long before even your Grammy is buying her books in an electronic format. At first she’ll hold back on buying in, but when the variety of large print books diminishes—they always were a marginal asset—those electronic readers that allow her to easily bump up the text size will push her over the edge. The rise in e-book reading tells me we’re already past the time when digital book consumption is only about the early adopters. That goes double once Christmas morning hits.

Sure, there will still be specialty bookstores, or rather, premium collectibles bookstores. You’ll come for the books, but it’s the coffee they sell which will make the serious money.

I write this without glee. I love bookstores. They are my last retreat. Where else besides my office, will I go willingly? Bookstores and libraries are to me what graveyards and remote girls’ schools with lax curfews are to vampires.

I hope many bookstores find a way to survive. A bunch of them may do it, but those will be digital books on the shelves, mocked up to look like tree books. Yes, grandfather, there will still be tree books, but you’ll pay substantially more for them. Big print runs keep the unit price low by producing large volumes. Those print runs are about to be cut (further) so that paper book you’re so attached to will be a specialty item. (Have you noticed the rise in the prices of buggy whips lately? It’s crazy.)

Then I listened to another podcast. Blowhard’s Malcolm Ingram was speaking with a porn actor/director. Ingram observed that the skills are transferable to mainstream film. (Insert your own joke here.) But he was talking about technical skills. Then he mentioned that it’s never been easier to make a film. It’s true. The cameras come fancier and cheaper than ever. YouTube is a young filmmaker’s playground (search Nigahiga and you’ll see what I mean.)  Technology has democratized filmmaking. “I’ve directed two documentaries,” Ingram said, “and I’m borderline retarded.”

That, ladies and germs, is indie spirit.It’s brave. It’s what we’re lacking.

What’s true for film is also true for publishing. Becoming an independent publisher has never been easier and the technology to make a book and market it is only getting better. People have done it. A bunch of industry experts with their own agendas are holding with opinions which were once valid. They get less valid each day (and another five more bookstores go extinct.) They have their reasons to mistrust self-publishing, but if they’re still confusing self-publishing with vanity publishing…frankly, now those people are boring me.

We’ve already hit the iceberg so stop wringing your hands about whether we’ll make it to New York harbor. Honestly, your obstinacy is titanic.

Oh. That other dire conclusion? Paper books are on the way out. I have thousands of them.

It’s time for me to sell them while someone’s still interested in buying them.

 

Filed under: Books, DIY, ebooks, getting it done, Media, movies, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Can an artist produce too much?

Close up of Allen's statue in Oviedo (Asturias...

Image via Wikipedia

When comedy screenwriter superstar Ken Levine wrote An Open Letter to Woody Allen‏, he got a lot of feedback, positive and negative, on his blog. I encourage you to read his post, but basically he told Woody Allen to slow down and take a break in the hope Allen will make fewer movies, but better movies.

Here we have one artist telling another, I used to love your stuff, but your recent work disappoints me, so stop. I’m a bit sympathetic to that sentiment in that I’ve expressed some frustration here over the work of Jeff Lindsay, creator of the Dexter character.

The first Dexter book was great. Then the series went downhill (though I have yet to read the very latest so I’m hoping for the author’s redemption.) My objection in a long ago post was that in book three of the series, the lovable serial killer was doing very dumb, unbelievable things. The protagonist was sucked into a supernatural story and taking his elementary school-age kids to gory crime scenes as little serial killer apprentices.

I suspected that, since the Showtime series Dexter is such a hit (and well-deserved), maybe Lindsay’s agent and publisher were pushing him to make hay while the sun shone and pump out those books to the ravenous masses! (The reviews on Amazon backed me up on this. I wasn’t the only one who felt the author lost his way.)

So, while I understand Mr. Levine’s plea, ultimately, writers write for themselves first. If Woody Allen is happy with his script (and is still making money, employing people, finding financiers etc.,…) then he can do what he wants. I heard a rare interview with Woody Allen recently. He was shooting in London and having a great time doing it. He writes and directs to suit himself first and, if you want to play, follow along, too. Otherwise, go enjoy something else. No one’s forcing you to go to a Woody Allen movie. A lot of people don’t go now who used to, but I’ve read that most of Allen’s movies make the majority of their box office outside the United States. (There is a hint of Americanocentrism in Mr. Levine’s post, so perhaps that’s what informs his stance.) 

When I saw one artist tell another to produce less, I realized that I was guilty of the same thing with Jeff Lindsay. I love the Dexter character. I mistook that emotional investment for ownership of the character and its author. As long as the books are still making money and Mr. Lindsay is enjoying himself, it’s not up to me or anyone else to tell him to stop or slow down. It’s up to me to say, “Well, sadly, that’s not for me anymore. Too bad. Fortunately, there are millions of other books to read so I’ll go check those out…and console myself with the excellent TV show Jeff Lindsay’s work spawned, Sunday nights on Showtime at 10 p.m. EST.” 

Filed under: book reviews, Books, getting it done, Media, movies, , , , ,

Hilarious video on getting script notes…from morons.

Go check out this great video!

Filed under: agents, movies, Rejection, scriptwriting, web reviews

Is Your Writing Fresh?

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Image by illuminaut via Flickr

 

After listening to an interview with Charlie Kaufman, it struck me how formulaic art often is. Kaufman, an iconoclastic screenwriter whose work sometimes gets meta, bucks that trend and makes memorable art that challenges its audience. Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Can you say you had seen a film much like that before he came along? Remember watching Adaptation and wondering, “Where the hell is this going?”

I thought a lot about what sets his work apart from so many other movies. My answer? He writes about themes that are important to him.

Are you writing about things that matter to you, or is your plot more like a checklist? As you touch all the bases as you run through your story’s acts, will you have a home run at the end or will you have a story that looks, sounds and feels like dozens of other stories? It’s okay to have a plot that’s similar to other work. In fact, that’s common. But is your take fresh? Are you saying something in a new way?  If not, try rewriting until you do.

I know it’s hard, but that’s how you’re going to stand out from the crowd. Writing isn’t easy. On the plus side, it can (and should) be a lot of fun.

Filed under: movies, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , ,

Writers: Choose Your tense

Cover of "Bright Lights, Big City (Blooms...

Cover via Amazon

 

In yesterday’s post I lamented some choices I made in an earlier draft of a story called The Dangerous Kind. In my latest revision I chose to change the tense. Let’s explore that. 

First off, let’s be clear: some people despise short stories and novels written in the present tense. They would prefer no writer ever did so again. Those people  are demagogues espousing that there’s only one way which just happens to be theirs. If present tense and a little risk aren’t your taste that’s fine, but to declare no one should dare to write in first-person, present-tense or second tense is a declaration against art. Art takes risk and if it plays it plays. 

I loved the novel Bright Lights, Big City. Before it was published I bet there were a lot of people who said, “A whole novel that’s second-person? You do this. You do that for a couple hundred pages? No way.” 

Answer: Way. 

 Jay McInerney wrote Bright Lights, Big City in second-person and made it  great. Don’t turn down a nontraditional way of telling a story because it’s unconventional. Cut it when it doesn’t work. Recently an entire novel which I scanned but can’t say I read was written in first-person plural. It was a brave choice that worked for a lot of critics. (I didn’t read it because of the subject matter, not because it was “We, we, we” for a couple of  hundred pages.) 

So back to my editing problem: In earlier versions of my story, I wrote the whole thing in first person, present tense. The advantage of present tense is that things are unfolding moment to moment before the reader’s eyes. Present tense makes the action immediate. The Dangerous Kind is about two brothers who do not get along. Soon after losing their father to an industrial accident, they go hunting for deer in the woods of Maine. Dire complication ensue. I chose past tense first because of the action involved in the deer hunt and also because the piece lent itself to an uncertain ending. Would the protagonist survive? 

Necessary side note: You can tell a story in first person and still kill off your first-person narrator. I won’t say don’t do it, of course. The only solid rule should be, if it plays, it plays. However, a caution: It has been done a lot so, for it to succeed, it must be done very well. That’s a trick that’s harder to pull off with longer fiction because it’s a downer to read a couple hundred pages and have your hero killed off. It worked in the movie Sunset Boulevard spectacularly well because you’re already disappointed in the narrator’s choices and end up entranced by Gloria Swanson

Back to editing The Dangerous Kind: After getting a rejection on the story from a magazine, I reread the piece with fresh eyes and realized I could shift it into the past tense. The story is ultimately about the choices we make and how even when things work out terribly, maybe that could work out for the best. (I realized recently that’s a theme in much of my fiction, but that’s another post for another day.) Once I decided that the climax of the story wasn’t a murder but an escape, it was okay for the reader to assume the protagonist survived. After that, I opened up to dumping present tense for the more traditional past tense. (I kept the first-person perspective.) 

However, in the final scene, there’s a subtle twist that I think works well. The bulk of the story basically unfolds over the course of a single November day. At the end, I gently switch to present tense so the reader realizes the protagonist is recounting this story, deciding where things went awry and what he’ll do next at the end of that day. He’s sorting out what the day’s events and choices mean to the rest of this life by retelling the story to himself. The conclusion is one-third bitterness, two-thirds hopeful. Because of the shift in tense back to the present, it makes the story more immediate as it closes. 

Tomorrow I’ll show you an excerpt from an earlier draft and how I edited it to make the plot’s engine work. 

Filed under: Books, Editing, manuscript evaluation, movies, My fiction, rules of writing, , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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