Monday, February 21, 2011

The Red Ink on Alex Van Helsing 3

Here's a fresh look at where we are with Alex Van Helsing #3, currently called "The Triumph of Death." At this point I am doing my third pass through the document and am about ready to turn it in to HarperTeen.
What will happen then is that my editor will read the document-- usually taking a month or so, maybe less, and then will come back to me with a letter discussing the book, complete with questions, clarifications, and suggestions for revisions. That letter is just the first in a series of revisions that occur before we get close to the final version of the book. I've had editorial letters that asked me to remove subplots making up about a third of the book, meaning major surgery.
In fact, even the version of a book that gets sent out to reviewers-- the ARC or Advanced Review Copy-- is not the final version. When the cover calls it an "uncorrected proof," they mean it.
All of which is to say, at the point I'm at with Triumph of Death, I've done almost all I can without hearing what the editors are thinking. So we're just about done with this round and ready to rest and work on other ideas.

SNL Backstage-- We need a 'Behind the SNL."

I caught the SNL Backstage special last night, and of course it was the kind of thing I'm a sucker for-- retrospectives, lots of talking heads and clips. In a pinch, that will do. But I can't believe we still haven't gotten what I'd really like to see, an unauthorized version of the same show-- interviews with the cast that could get into the kinds of things these actors like to dish about anyway-- their bosses and co-workers. You'll note that nowhere among the talking heads of last night were Anthony Michael Hall or Janeane Garofalo, and I think hearing some discussion from performers who just didn't click would be great. There was some of this-- Gilbert Gottfried's dissatisfaction with the job, Norm MacDonald's firing-- but I'm yearning for a really good documentary not produced and approved by Lorne Michaels.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vampire Rising Trailer from Shackelford Jr. High

Check out this video, an awesome trailer for Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising created by Alicia Vandenbroek, librarian at Shackelford Jr. High in Arlington, TX.
You know, I believe in trailers and I think that writers should make sure and build them, not least of which because libraries use them for book talks. But I really love it when someone out there is excited enough to make their own. Thank you Alicia!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Choosing a Voice

Lena Roy Katonah has an excellent blog post on choosing narrative voice.

I can hear my main character's voice better. She's more alive. It's so different! Such a great exercise! It is not merely changing the she to I, the was to is. Check out the one sentence I was able to work on this morning:

The ride to the airport rushed by in a blur. Memories of things said tugging at her mind, things that she would rather not think about.

Changes to:

The ride to the airport is a blur as memories tug at the corners of my mind. Self analysis has never been my friend, so I try to focus on my environment, even though we have left Manhattan far behind. I wish that we had stopped in Harlem to buy a mango-on-a-stick or at least some honey-roasted peanuts, but how could I have done that with a camera in my face?

It's so immediate, and works better for the situation. I am hearing her thoughts. And dialogue is so different too - there's no he said, she said.

I'm interested in this because I always write in third-person past tense. It's just the way I've always written, and it doesn't even feel like a lack of freedom, although Katonah clearly feels like the switch has freed her. Sometimes that happens, by the way-- you make a change in what you're doing and suddenly feel unstopped.

Still, maybe someday I'll try, say, an Alex Van Helsing first-person book, the way Patricia Cornwell goes back and forth from book to book.


FYI in case you're wondering, I've decided that for now, the Alex Van Helsing Facebook page is the official Alex Van Helsing experience online-- and I'll be doing blogging here at . This will eliminate the need for me to update two blogs.

As you were!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More Authors and Bloggers Freaking Out about One Another

Bookalicious Pam has a cool post today on another recent instance where a blogger writers a negative review and the author lashes out in a less than professional way.

Read and enjoy. But oy, sometimes I wish we could have a big roundtable and discuss all this stuff-- I get the sense that several years in, we're still figuring out the edges of this new world of book blogging. We have writers who desperately want to control the message and bloggers who don't quite grasp that the writers are always just a click away, just virtually right at the next desk.

You want to know what happens to cause the writer above to act the way this one in the blog story did? I've seen it before in writers and artists. They read a comment and a million things go through their heads: oh my god! What if someone out there were to read only one review, and this one is it? This one! And they lash out. Writers: seriously try not to do this.

Writers overreact because we perceive that web buzz about our books is important. And it is. We can't claim that reviews online don't matter when we know that seeing positive reviews makes a reader judge your book more positively, and a reader thinking of buying your book may be dissuaded by a negative review. Either social networking matters or it doesn't, and it does.

So if blogs matter, the negative reviews matter. I would hope that I personally would never freak out and say nasty things to a blogger, but what I and the author in question have in common is both of us are looking at a portfolio of reviews and we value bloggers very highly.

For what it's worth? I don't write negative reviews myself anymore; there's plenty to read out there, so if I don't like something I move on. But I'm a writer; your mileage may vary.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rewrites and Which Reviews Matter (all of them, but in different ways)

Alex Van Helsing #3 (title TBD, though I think I have it figured out) is into its next stage: rewrites of the rough draft. There to the right you can see my printout, which I let stew for a few weeks and am now going through making changes great and small. This is once again taking up the bulk of my time, and the next draft is due in to the publishers on March 1.

Meanwhile, I read some interesting blog posts on book reviews here and here. Mainly the gist is this: authors sometimes receive bad reviews, and reviewers are uncomfortable with authors taking offense.
Here's my take on reviews: reviewers and authors have different goals. Reviewers want to tell the truth about what they think; they want to be good reviewers. Authors want to sell books. They want to be good authors, but at the review stage, they want to sell books, because to sell books means to be able to publish more books. So a bad review isn't troublesome because we feel hurt-- some of us may, but really, who cares? A bad review is troublesome because we are in the business of selling books, and bad reviews don't help. Send us a good review and we can do so much with it-- we can be thrilled, sure, but more importantly we can link it, share it, send it, post it, anything at all to help sell more books. Send us a bad review and what can we do with it? Nothing.
You can't even respond, even if the review makes a mistake. Oh, on a social networking level you can: if a poster asks on a website "why on earth did the author set this book in Vermont?" it seems to me the author can answer. After all, it's a question, and the author knows the answer. Now, what I just said is in itself controversial. Some authors say no response is the rule. I disagree. We live in the age of Facebook. The writer is expected to be in a conversation with the reader. So converse! I would love to see Dean Koontz wade into a long discussion of his own books. Not that he has time, but isn't that what a platform is for? Doesn't a relationship go both ways?
But a point for point disagreement with a review is verboten, and the big reviews, the Publishers Weeklies of the world, are not identified by name anyway. The reviews there are anonymous. Those you just read and hope for the best.
A writer must not take his best reviews too much to heart. They can make us feel better in the long dark nights, but we have to remember, that's ego. The negative reviews have just as much right to our soul, if we allow any. But from a business side? Any writer will say: good ones help; send more.

If you're wondering, yes, I read my bad reviews and good reviews alike. I use the good reviews and I take the bad reviews under advisement in case there's a recurrent theme that's helpful. Most of us writers do.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cool Vampire Rising Video from Jordan Middle School

In March I'll be headed to San Antonio to visit Jordan Middle School. Have I mentioned I love school visits? It gives me a chance to find out what the students care about, what they find interesting-- in books, in life-- and I always end up learning an immense amount.

Anyway, reading teacher Melissa Jimenez built a video with Animoto that introduces Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising to students. I think it's outstanding and wanted to share it: Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising

Can I just say: This is the kind of thing that makes it worth being a writer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New blog from "gatekeepers" offers insight from editors and publishers

Writers should check out The Gatekeeper's Post, a new blog populated by professional editors and publishers. It debuted Tuesday and already there are posts on topics like book publicity and what a writer should expect and expect to do, and the strange careers of editors.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Romance of Dracula; a personal Journey of the Count on celluloid

Here's an example of a Kindle book that I loved on Kindle but would be even better on paper because you could flip through it at leisure. The Romance of Dracula; a personal Journey of the Count on celluloid is a series of essays on the key film versions of Dracula, including: NOSFERATU;
DRACULA (1931) and its Spanish version; Hammer's 1958 DRACULA (AKA Horror of Dracula in the US); COUNT DRACULA (El Conde Dracula, 1970); the 1973 DAN CURTIS' DRACULA; Coppola's 1992 BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, and more.

I really enjoyed the fact that Charles and Eddie Butler have organized their book by actors-- after an initial recap of the origins and contents of Stoker's novel, the following chapters are headed with the Dracula in question: Lugosi, Lee, and so on. Each chapter is separated into a recap of the film followed by a review. What I liked here is the chatty voice and attention to detail-- it's great to read about the limitations of the Spanish EL CONDE DRACULA and the problems of the 1979 Langella Dracula in one book. (And since this is a book that essentially studies multiple versions of the same story, the similarities and themes "pop" more for their recurrence.)

Bram Stoker's Dracula (Collector's Edition)I love that this is a new exploration of Dracula on film, so we get a fresh look at these films.  For instance, I've long wanted to see someone try to explain why the 1992 Dracula is so beloved-- I remember hating it when it came out but have softened towards it in time, but I too have often wondered why this version above all has been revered as closest to the book, whatever people take that to mean. Butler makes a sound argument that the movie's place in the canon has less to do with the obvious talent of Coppola than with the fact that by 1992, there hadn't been a Dracula in about fifteen years-- unlike in, say, 1979, when Langella's Dracula came barely six years after Christopher Lee's last outing.

I also completely agree with Butler's argument that Gary Oldman was a poor choice for Dracula, whereas giving Udo Kier a grown-up return to the role would have been a smasher. But then, but then.

This is a cool e-book; Dracula fans should check it out.
One minor note-- I wish the Kindle edition had a working Table of Contents-- that would make a huge difference in the Kindle enjoyment of the book. But you can't have everything!