Books I & II of The Lova Chronicles is available now!

The Lova Chronicles kicked off with The Earthen Shroud in August 2013!

Want Your Book to Read Like a Movie?

Check out my book trailer and see how I did it!

Author Book Signing

I've only done this once, but I had the time of my life! You can too; see how.

Food-Inspired Art

Check out my guest post on Notebook Blogairy about how food inspires my writing.

Pages From My Diary

I started a new blog series: awesome, intimate, legendary.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing the Previously Unwritten

"If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."-- Toni Morrison

There wasn't a day in my life that I wanted to do something other than write.  Even when pursuing my "illustrious singing career", I wrote my own material.  I had a voice I was always desperate to use, and not using it was never an option.  I've written in a journal for as long as I can remember, and when I couldn't hash out exactly how I felt there, I wrote prose, verse by verse, until the universe understood me.

My work became very dark and brooding.  I couldn't figure out how to convey exactly what it was I was feeling, but I understood that feeling was never very...happy.  Love was always unrequited, I was always invisible or underappreciated, and my self-esteem was poor, to say the very least.  I found my favorite authors were those who wrote about death and mystery, primarily Edgar Allan Poe.  I was confused about my identity, and due to some dark happenings in my childhood, I frequently debated if I was a child or an adult--and this confusion was evidenced in my writing.  But my work was praised by teachers and fellow peers alike.  My first real criticism didn't come until college.

Quite frankly, my creative writing professor cited my work as "troubled", saying: "Musing about one's dark and embittered past is not only cliched--it is boring to its very core.  Find your center and write from there."  I got a C+ in that course--my first C in anything other than math or physical education.  And I was crushed.  Because not only was I passionate about writing and had never conceivably failed at it, but I was also (and still am) very much the perfectionist and anything less than a B in a subject I adored was crippling to me.

Edgar Allan Poe
This led to a determination to hone my craft.  Truthfully, honing your craft is something you never actually finish; it's an ongoing feat of perseverance.  I found a mentor who has been a major factor in the development of The Grim, and of my writing.  I discovered that all the unaddressed elements of my childhood I had suppressed were surfacing in my work, much in the same way as it was understood Poe's did.

I am still compared to Poe by my mentor who finds my work just as thought-provoking and macabre as Poe's haunted tales.  A short story I wrote, The Haunting, was compared to Poe's Tell-Tale Heart, which of course is one of my favorite Poe stories.  I wrote The Haunting as a contest submission for a major writing magazine.  The premise was to write a short story, no more than 15-pgs single spaced, retelling an old classic in a new way.  The classic could be a short story, play, poem, movie or novel--just as long as it was older than 1960 and had been legitimately lauded as a "classic" in its industry.  I took second place.  I chose--well, I'll let you read it.  Comment below and tell me which classic you think it is...

I am in my millionth edit of The Grim, motivated, as always, by my first real criticism--and the desire to tell a story I hadn't heard before.  I never expected the story I'd tell though would be my own...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Short Stories to Film

So I've been working on a short story collection, and it got me thinking about the short story greats.  And because I so love film as well as the written word, that got me thinking about short stories that were made into films.  Yes, we've kinda talked about this before--we all know there's no shortage of incredible novels made into movies.  But being that short stories are so often underrated, I thought it would be interesting to find out what short stories (or novellas) had been recognized by the film industry.  That being said, the market was kinda loaded--by Stephen King.  And why wouldn't it be?  His work is the stuff of written genius, whether or not you like being terrified to death.  So here is a short compilation of amazing short stories successfully converted to award-winning film.

1.  Securing Tom Cruise as your leading man seems to be the first ingredient in the recipe for success.  In Minority Report, he surfaces as a futuristic, ambitious chief of police of the Precrime Unit, eager to clear his name when the "pre-cogs"-- psychic beings who detect premeditated murders--foresee him killing a man he has never met.  The film is only loosely adapted from a short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
      The movie is a home-run of sci-fi excitement, satisfying with both action and drama.  The author is also responsible for the movie adaptations of Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford, based on his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; and Total Recall (1990), based on another sci-fi short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.  Philip Dick is known for his engaging futuristic sci-fi premises, and captures audiences with inventive plots and mutant characters living alongside their human counterparts.

2.  Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been adapted for film so frequently that I think even the industry has lost count.  The short story is about Ichabod Crane, a lanky school teacher in the town of Sleepy Hollow who is abducted by the Headless Horseman, a phantom ghost rider whose favorite pastime is swiping heads off innocent townspeople.  Each adaptation has different variations due to producer vision, and none ever sticks very closely to the original work.  However, my two favorite versions are Sleepy Hollow (1999) starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, and Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), a short film combining Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) and Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
      The Johnny Depp version is so appealing for its dark comedic wit, typical of its director, Tim Burton, with whom Depp has worked frequently in his career (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland to name a few).  Being a big kid at heart and a huge fan of animated films, I largely enjoy the Disney adaptation, delightful for its colorful characters, narration and innovative music.  The video included is of the signature song in Ichabod, sung by Brom Bones, the town bully, about the Headless Horseman's yearly visit to the Hollow.


3.  Everyone is pretty familiar with Stephen King's work, but there are many who don't know that King is responsible for many works which don't have fear and horror as an undertone.  Fall from Innocence: The Body is a novella originally published by King in his compilation work Different Seasons in 1982 and spawned the cult classic Stand by Me (1986), starring Corey Feldman and the infamous River Phoenix.  In the story, the narrator reminisces about he and his childhood friends finding the body of a missing boy on the outskirts of town.
      There are some who feel the King work is done little justice in the movie, but I beg to differ.  Of course, I feel written works allow for more detail and integrity, but that doesn't imply that done correctly a movie can't emulate both visual and poetic mastery.  Stand by Me certainly holds up to King's novella and adequately earns its placement in cult history.

4.  Stephen King again accomplishes creative genius with Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, also included in the Different Seasons compilation.  Many critics find this novella to be King's greatest work: the story is about Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover.  Told through the eyes of Red, a fellow inmate and eventual friend of the banker, Andy's life, ambition, and influence on the prison and inmates is illuminated.  The film, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), starring Tim Robbins (Andy) and Morgan Freeman (Red), is also lauded as one the greatest films in history, earning seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
       I am in love with this movie, easily one of my favorites--and mostly my favorites are musicals!  This film has so many great moments and the cast blends magically.  Tim Robbins really demonstrates his acting chops in this film, and the drama of the character's struggle is emotionally engaging.  While the film deters in many places from the original story, both are classic depictions of the human heart and soul.

There are, of course, a few more short story/film conversions that I'd love to include here, but for now, these are enough.  I'm sure you've found plenty here to comment about, and I can't wait to see and hear what you have to say!

What are some of your favorite short stories?  Which do you think should be or have been made into film?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friendship Anniversary

At first, I struggled with this post.  I didn't have any idea what I was going to write about.  And then, yesterday, I celebrated a 13-year friendship with a remarkable woman.  The Tigger to my Pooh...

My best friend and I have been friends since senior year in high school.  She was the new girl (as she often was since her mother was military), and she was in four of my seven classes.  It started feeling like she was following me around because I saw the girl everywhere.  So after a few weeks of this, I finally decided to approach her.  I wasn't at all diplomatic about it (smile), and surprisingly, she was receptive to my forward confrontation.  We've been friends since that day, October 11, 1998, and neither of us has forgotten it.

Now, I know it sounds odd to celebrate a "friendship anniversary", and we may be one of the few people on the planet who do it, but there's a method to the madness.  You see, she and I had an amazing senior year together, and there were some incredible memories generated in that small amount of time.  But, when graduation and senior week were over, and all the graduation parties had either been crashed by unsuspecting parents or broken up by bored night cops, it was time to say goodbye.  My besti has been in the military since the year we graduated; I see her one week a year, usually around New Year's--until the war started, and she found herself headed overseas every 14-18 months.

This last separation from her has felt the longest because both incredibly wonderful and horrible things have happened to me in the last year's time.  I've struggled with the inability to reach her in moments of great distress or happiness, and harbored animosity with the U.S. government for taking her from me, especially when I needed her most.  The majority of her duty stations have been 3000 miles away, and when she's deployed, the distance is horrifically longer--communication is almost non-existent.  She missed the birth of my son; I missed her college graduation.  It feels like we're light years apart.

And then there's these incredible moments where we'll get an unexpected care package from each other: I'll send a Christmas deployment package; she'll send me Valentine's Day cupcakes special delivery.  It's these endearing moments that carry us to the next time we see each other, and I remember why she's my besti--because she's thinking of me no matter where she is, and I am always thinking of her.

We don't celebrate our "anniversary" just because it's something cheesy to do; we celebrate it because we recognize that every moment of our time on this earth together is precious.  Any deployment could result in a Marine knocking on my door with his hat in his hand and a somber grimace on his face.  I know while I'm sleeping, she's watching the borders for me and the millions of others in this country who take our freedom and our liberties for granted.  And when I start feeling embittered about our separation, I remember the sacrifice she's making and instead try to be grateful that she is one of few who was willing to take the risk.  She has re-enlisted two or three times since the war began when she could have taken herself out of harm's way.  Instead she chose to remain in service, and that courage and conviction reinforces our friendship every day.

Thank every veteran or serviceman you see.  You never know the sacrifice their families and friends endure at the expense of your freedom.  So happy 13th anniversary, Besti!  And may God grant us many more.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Choosing the Right Self-Publisher

I had a conversation with a fellow writer, Sally*, who was discouraged about self-publishing her next work.  She had made so little money on the first novel and didn't feel it was worth risking the start-up costs on a second.  Sally's quarterly royalty checks were only coming in for a dollar or two--when they came at all.  I agreed to look at her publishing contract (yes, self-publishers have those, too), and, right off the bat, I highlighted all her problems.

There are several points to look for in a self-publishing contract, if you're allowing them to handle all the pre-publishing (designing your cover, formatting, editing, royalties, etc.)  Some sites, like Lulu, don't charge you to upload your work if you'd like to handle the formatting and cover design yourself.  But most indie authors who want to have print books as well as e-books like the benefits that come with pre-publishing, and there are definitely some pitfalls you can avoid if you know where to look.
All self-publishers have a standard theme of offers: creative control, retention of exclusive rights to your book and its copyright, and print on demand distribution.  Certain points are industry standard; when you compare the standard packages at each company, there are certain aspects of production each publisher provides--like your book's ISBN.  However, there are several points to consider: printing costs, price setting, and start-up costs.  The variation in these few points will dictate how much money you make on your book--or if you make none at all.

Low printing cost = big profits
It's a common reaction to look for the self-publisher who's making you the cheapest start-up offer.  When their website is screaming, "Publish your book for $599!", you can't help but reply, "Well, sign me up!"  But cheaper isn't always better.  That $599 sounds great, and who wouldn't want to make good on that?  But if that $599 also means never making a cent on your book, then maybe you'd like to look again.  The first thing you want to know is the price of printing.  The formula usually looks something like this, and varies based on your print options: per unit cost + cents/per page.  For example: at Publisher A, the cost for printing a paperback book without color inserts costs $2.00 per unit + $0.02 per page.  If your book is 300 pages after formatting for print size (5x8, 6x9, etc), then $2.00 + (0.02 x 300) = $8.00.  This is how much it's going to cost you each time Publisher A prints your book.  Each publisher's price varies.  Maybe Publisher B is offering $1.50 per unit + $0.02/pg.  You just saved 50 cents.  Or maybe Publisher C is offering $2.25 per unit + $0.017/per pg.  Do the math; is Publisher C cheaper?

Why does this matter?  Well, your printing costs dictate your book's retail price.  And your retail price dictates how much you make in the long run.  Be very leery of a publisher that is unwilling to tell you their printing cost formula.  Setting the right retail price for your book will be based primarily on your printing costs, so know that root number.  Most self-publishers offer distribution on the major online networks (ex. Amazon, Barnes&Noble).  These networks generally take 40% of standard book sales and 30% on ebook sales.  Now, a customer goes to one of these online sites and purchases your book.  The retailer takes 40% (of the retail price), your publisher takes their printing cost per book, and what's left is considered author royalties.  If you fail to price your book sufficiently, you will make little, if anything, off your standard book sales.  Generally, you want the retail price of your paperback to be 2.5 times the printing cost of your book.

Do the math
Say we went with Publisher C; each book costs us $7.35 to print.  Two and a half times that brings our retail price to roughly $18.40.  The online retailer takes 40% (18.40-7.36), your publisher takes the printing costs (11.04-7.35), and you're left with $3.69--a decent amount to make per book.  If you sell 20 books in your first quarter (a quarter is roughly three months), you just made about $74.  Now, for the down side.  Say you feel $18 is just too high to charge for your little 300-pager.  Perhaps you decide to charge $12 a book.  The retailer takes 40% (12.00-4.80), the publisher takes the printing costs (7.20-7.35), and...uh oh!  You owe your publisher 15 cents.  Say you sold the same 20 books that quarter; you won't get a check because your publisher is showing a red $3 deficit on your account.  Sure, $3 doesn't sound like much in this scenario, but imagine that happens every quarter.  That $3 will stack up, and you just spent start-up costs on a book that's making you absolutely no money.  Because of this, make sure your contract allows you to stipulate the retail price.  If the publisher dictates the retail price and sets it too low, you'll be owing them every time a customer purchases a print copy of your book from a retailer.  And no amount of sales or promotion will erase that hole, because every purchase of your printed book is putting you further into debt.  (You might make it up in e-book sales, but that's a topic for another day.)

Be sure your chosen publisher has a fair direct rate as well.  Direct rates are the price you, the author, pay to the publisher to order your book directly from them.  Ideally, the direct rate per book should be the pre-determined printing costs only (this doesn't include shipping).  Anything more than that, and you're essentially paying retail (even if it's discounted retail) on your own book.  This is also why it's so important to establish an online presence.  If you can purchase your book for a flat direct rate from the publisher, you can set your own, cheaper price on your website of choice; selling your book at any price above your printing costs equals profit for you.  In this way, you can undercut the set retail price and still make a profit per book.  Now, mind you, if your set retail price causes a deficit of payment to your publisher with each purchase, you'll have to pay those arrears before your publisher will sell you anything directly.

Compare packages feature-by-feature
Now that you've compared each potential publisher's printing costs and price settings, you can start scrutinizing start-up costs and features.  How much are they giving you for your money?  For example: is e-book formatting standard or extra?  How much promotion do you want the company to do for you, and is their marketing package reasonably priced?  If you wanted to use their editing services, how much does it cost and how long will it take?  What's their rate of speed for production (industry standard for pre-publishing is about 3-4 months)?  Decide early what you have to have in your production package and what you can live without (or can do cheaper or free elsewhere).  Then, based on printing costs, price settings, and package pricing, decide which company is best for you.  I will warn you that self-publishers with super low package prices are generally the companies that make their money elsewhere (like in printing costs and direct rates) so make sure you do your homework before you jump on the cheapest price.

As I said in my So You Want to Write a Novel series, writing a book is an investment if nothing else, so invest wisely!  If you do, your pockets will most assuredly thank you.

*Sally is a fictitious name for a real acquaintance whose publishing troubles inspired this post.