42 – The Meaning of Life

For those who don’t know, that title up there is a bit of a literary reference. I had a rather significant birthday last weekend, as far as idols and inspirations go. I met Douglas Adams at the Miami Book Fair back in…92? 93?…something like that. Clive Barker was there too. Two of my favorite writers growing up (along with Michael Moorcock…you’d think I was British, huh?).

Douglas Adams taught me that you can write genre fiction that’s intelligent AND funny. He made me want to be clever. Vonnegut reinforced that feeling in me, as did Twain and Klosterman and Coupland and even Bret Easton Ellis.

I now have a delightful “42” tattoo on my left wrist (my writing hand) to remind me why I’m writing.

Nothing much to report on that front. Book #3 has been with my agent for over 3 weeks now without a peep. I’m not bothering him. I’ve got football and beer to keep me company through the season. I’ve begun sketching out the two main characters for my next book. Still a long way to go before I put pen to paper. That should be a mess.

If anything happens, I’ll let you know.

Keeping the Plates Spinning…

One month later and there’s still no word from the West Coast. All I know is that the producer has given the book to the director. From what the agents tell me, this is Step #1 on a list of steps that continues to grow as the days go on. Apparently, from here, the two of them decide if they want to pursue the book as a movie without paying me up front for it. If not, then we’re back to square one and my agents will re-submit it to the next producer on their list.

If, however, this producer fancies it, then we move on to the next step which also does not involve me getting paid. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where on this list of steps that payment to me actually comes into play. It’s the thickest onion, layers-wise, and it’s already making me cry.

From what I can gather, the producer then shakes my script at some studios, some investors, maybe even a famous actor or two, and sees who is willing to throw money at it. Then there’s a screenwriter involved. Some casting decisions. Maybe a caterer. I dunno.

I won’t lie. It’s both a fun process and an infuriating one. When book #3 stalled a bit, the non-action on Sleep Suits Irish was driving me crazy. I have no patience. Now that I’ve gotten back on track and only have about 100 pages left in the new book, my focus has returned and I feel better about things.

Plus, you can’t help but be excited when you know that the producer-director team responsible for one of the most famous late 80’s action-comedy movies is considering adapting your book for the big screen. I mean, the film these two did basically created a new genre when it exploded onto the scene. It was the biggest box office success of the year, even garnering an Academy Award nomination.

We shall see.

In other news, I’ve got pages of notes for book #4 and I’m very excited to start writing it. I’m going to be exploring some new formatting and digging into some of my favorite childhood pasttimes. Book #3 is rounding the last corner and getting ready to hand off the baton.

Also, the wife and I are heading to Portland, Oregon at the end of the month. We’re on a bit of a recon mission, hopefully considering a relocation at some point. If anyone has any places we should check out, please let me know…

And Now We Wait…

Edits, tweaks, new chapters, punched up dialogue…ALL the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish are done. AGAIN.

The whole thing ended up being just over 77,000 words and 352 pages. Sent it off to my agents (in NYC and LA) Wednesday night. The waiting is the hardest part.

If you think about it, I’ve already been through a long, drawn-out round of rejections, and now I’m setting myself up for it again (when I spoke to the LA folks I think I heard mention of sending the book out to 20 or so producers). That’s like asking the cute girl out to the prom, having her say no, then going back the next day and asking her sexy but crazy best friend when the cute girl’s out of earshot.

Now I need to decompress and get my mind right to climb back on that horse called Book #3. Hopefully a weekend of mindless drinking will do it!

I used to think, if I didn’t have to have a “real” job, that I could easily write two books a year (maybe even 5 in 2 years). Now, with the rewrites and the mood swings and the regrouping and the dashed dreams and the Phoenix rising once again, I’m thinking maybe one and a half. It’s all so draining.

But hey, that still gives me time to catch up on entire seasons of the Rockford Files on DVD, so I guess there’s a silver lining…

 

It’s All Different a Few Days Later

Right off the bat, I have to admit that being rejected sucks.

You don’t even realize how much it sucks until a day or two after it finally happens. And it’s such an odd phenomenon, because when your book gets sent out, it’s not to one person at a time. There’s no receiving line where an editor shakes your hand, reads your book, and hands it back to you with a snort or a disapproving head shake. No, your baby goes out to a dozen or more editors at once…the “Big 6” publishers, smaller imprints, some indie houses…and the rejections trickle in over weeks or months. If you’re anything like me, you do a quick Google search on the editors your agent has submitted to in order to determine if you recognize any of their back catalog, if any of the books they worked on are staring at you from the shelves across the family room. You may ultimately have a favorite or two that you’re waiting to hear from and the others don’t matter as much.

The range of rejections is understandably odd too. Some editors just say “Sorry, it wasn’t for me” while others praise your strong voice and solid writing and go in-depth about what they liked and how much they liked it but there’s that one thing they didn’t like (that’s probably easily fixable) that made them pass. Some rejections you shrug off and others you go back to and re-read over the course of a couple days, trying to parse some hidden meaning from them.

When that closing day hits though, and you know you’re not getting any more rejections or offers, it’s a dismal feeling. I had held out hope for a month that the one editor would come through. He seemed to really champion the book over the phone. He was as excited about it as I was when I wrote it. When it didn’t happen it was like getting punched in the gut on the school playground and being left gasping for air while the other kids went off to play dodgeball without you. Not that that ever happened to me…

Basically, I was in a funk for the past week or so. Couple that with the fact that I hadn’t written anything substantial on Book #3 in a month, and you may be able to understand why I’ve been feeling like a failure, like nothing will every change, like I’m not even spinning my wheels but rather sitting on the curb staring at the parked car instead. My first two books went nowhere. My third book isn’t moving forward. Things look bleak.

My shiny little ace-in-the-hole is the fact that the agency’s LA office still likes the book. There’s still a window to sell it to some producer somewhere. The setting is gritty. The characters are complex. The plot is unique.

Well, I just got off the phone with the LA office and I can tell you they REALLY like the book. We had a great conversation…up to the point where we started talking about rewrites and I hemmed and hawed a bit too long for their comfort (I think). Last night, I had re-read a chapter of Book #3 and I had discovered an angle I didn’t see before. My interest in writing Book #3 was back on track and now this phone call happened.

My mind flashed back to writing Book #2 when I was doing rewrites on Book #1 and how odd and disjointed it all felt. My last blog post talked about how Book #2 was in the past now and I was moving forward.

Well, like any good writer, I lied.

Rewrites for Book #2 are happening NOW. I’m going to fix the ending, to satisfy the LA office. I’m also going to implement some of the changes that the one editor and I had talked about. I sent an email to the LA office telling them to give me two weeks. It may not be a full, comprehensive rewrite, but it should be adequate to fix some issues and reposition some characters. If I do enough, my agent may even send it back out to a few editors who gave us rejections along the lines of “I may have liked it more IF…”

Bottom line is: I’m rejuvenated.

Let’s see where all of this stands in another two weeks…

What’s the Next Step?

Project #1 was pitched last year. There seemed to be one editor interested in it. I went away on vacation in August, hoping to get a call from my agent that never came. That project has now been tossed in the archive…maybe some day, if I ever get published, someone will want to trot out a collection of my early work. If not, it’ll just rot.

Project #2 has now run its course. At least at the “Big 6” level. And at least through its first round of submissions. The question now is what to do with it next. Like I mentioned yesterday, there’s talk of trying to sell the film rights. I’m waiting to hear from the LA office about what that might entail. I’ve heard they want a “happy ending” for Hollywood, instead of the realistic ending I slapped on it. My question is, why rewrite it at all? Aren’t the film people going to just do whatever they want with it once they secure the rights? Maybe they’ll like my current ending. Maybe they’ll like everything. Hell, maybe they’ll go in and change all the characters names and ethnicities and have it take place on a cruise ship in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. At that point, check in hand, what do I care?

On some level, my agent is thinking about asking me to do a more substantial rewrite and try to re-submit it to the two or three editors who said “I might be interested IF…”, but I’m not sure I have it in me. There’s an old saying that’s been attributed to William Faulkner (or Twain or Fitzgerald or King or Christie or Nabakov) that says “Kill your darlings.” It’s meant as a warning to writers to not hold on to some bit of plot or character or dialogue just because you may like it. Don’t try to wedge it into your story because you think it’s so clever. If it doesn’t work, scrap it.

After having an idea in your head for more than 10 years and finally getting it out on paper, there’s a finite amount of additional time you’re willing to spend with it before it bores you, angers you, or disappoints you. I’m approaching that limit faster than a greased seal going through a bobsled course. When I conference called that one editor, and he was feeding me ideas for making the book stronger, I was all on board. When that editor ultimately failed to come through with an offer, I was deflated. Not sure I see the point of going through it all again on the slim chance it may succeed.

That brings me to Project #3. I just finished writing chapter 7 and I’m at 22,000 words and 98 pages. By the time chapter 8 is finished, I’ll be a third of the way through the book, which feels perfect for where the plot is headed. The second third gets into the meat of things. And then the final third brings it all snowballing downhill gracefully. I’ve been a bit lax with reading chapters out loud and marking them up. I still need to do so with 5, 6, and now 7. And, in a haze of rejection, disillusionment, and general laziness, I may have stepped on a few plot points that I wasn’t ready to accelerate yet. May need to go back and re-plot the next few chapters to cover it…or “kill my darlings” of dialogue and character interaction that I wrote. As long as I can keep busy, I’ll be able to slough off the frustration of having two novels fail to make it to print.

Oh, the fragile ego of the lonely writer.

At least I can look back at my past work and know that my writing is getting stronger. Maybe Project #3 will be the one. If not, I’ve already got numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7 germinating in my head (and in my notebook).

I hope to make these updates more often. And I hope to have some good news soon…

Offers, Rejections, and Other Distractions

Well, my agent put a “closing date” on reads for my second book. That closing date was today at high noon. I was slightly shocked to learn that no offers came in before the deadline, but I’m even more intrigued by what happens now.

Two or three quick rejections popped in today. Nothing out of the ordinary. It’s who we didn’t hear from that was intriguing. The editor I had spoken to last month never got back to us. Last I knew he was giving my book to other people in his office to read and give feedback on. My agent tells me that the last he knew, that editor had taken my book to his editorial director…so far neither of us knows the outcome of that endeavor.

So, my agent is trying to get back in touch with him to see what happened. He’s also inquiring about another editor who had shown interest earlier on and told us to come back to him if any revisions were in order. There’s still a small chance that either of those editors will bite on the book under the premise of revising and refreshing. And they’re both with “Big 6” publishers, so that’s something.

The other avenue that’s more interesting to me is kind of a shock. My literary agency has an LA office and they’re evidently keen on trying to sell the film rights to my book before it ever even becomes a book. It’s kind of the backwards way of doing this business thing and it means less money at the beginning, but it’s still pretty damn cool. Shopping the film rights would only require a tweak to the ending of the book, which is less involved than the rewrites I had jawed about with the other editor.

Possibilities still abound.

As far as the third book goes, I’m over 20,000 words now and nearing 100 pages. I sat down to write for the first time in three weeks (vacation, parenting, videogames, etc.) and was able to punch out another five pages. Scheduled to put pencil to paper again today.

Fingers crossed…

Building a Brand

I accidentally logged into my LiveJournal page yesterday. Didn’t even know that place still existed. My last post over there was on May 15, 2009 and I was unemployed and entering screenplay competitions. Seems like a lifetime ago. Also: makes me feel not quite as bad about neglecting this blog for over two months.

So, quick update: rewrites to Irish were finished before Xmas. After my agent gave a thumbs-up, our first “advance” submissions went out nearly three weeks ago to two specific editors. Just got my first rejection today…nothing but nice things to say about my writing style (compared me to Chuck Palahniuk) and the theme of the book, it just wasn’t quite there for him. He expressed interest in reading whatever else I produce though. That’s something.

Still have fingers crossed for the other early reader…he works for my all-time favorite publisher.

In the meantime, I’ll be putting pen to paper in another week or two on the third book. Spent a day earlier this week “on location” in the tiny village I plan to spotlight, just taking notes and soaking up the vibe of the town. Characters are forming, plotlines are beginning to knot themselves together, it’s almost GO time.

Other than that…wife…3 kids…trying to refi the house…going to Disney World soon…two good friends were diagnosed with cancer…my school’s basketball team is poised to take over the world…I let my subscription to SAVEUR lapse…uh…tacos for dinner tonight?

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I mentioned it last time, though neither of the people reading this seemed to notice, that my Tumblr is now active. I try to update daily (except weekends and holidays) with photos and quotes and tidbits that influence me or inspire me in some way. Think of it as a subconscious personality index.

And my Twitter is still going, though I’m not as quippy as I used to be.

And there’s this blog.

And my Facebook page if you know me in somewhat real life.

Basically, you can find me on all the major platforms under the moniker of deadbeatJONES.

That’s what we used to call synergy in the ad biz.

I think.

It’s been a long time, and I used to drink A LOT, so…

Blah Blah Blah Rewrites

I’m on to Round Two of rewrites for Sleep Suits Irish.

My agent really likes the book, but I needed to expand on some of the characters and give them more situations to screw up. I added 70 pages in the first round of rewrites and it looks like I’ll be adding maybe 20 more in this round. More importantly, I’m simplifying dialogue and adding more description.

Hoping to have it all wrapped up by the end of 2012 so we can start shilling this one to publishers in the new year.

I’m sure that means nothing to anyone outside of the six or seven people who have actually read the book, so I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that I’ve finally activated the Tumblr page that I created three or more years ago.

If you’d like to see some of the stuff that inspires me, some of the research I’m doing, or if you just like to stare at things on the internet, hop on over to deadbeatJONES.tumblr.com.

 

Book Peddling Update #2

I promised you a photo last time, so here it is:

I’ll explain in a minute.

First, I want to let you know that Disco has hit a “dead phase,” meaning that all of the editors my agent thought would be immediately interested in it have passed. The other editors still have the book and have been nudged by phone calls and/or e-mails to no avail. We’ll just have to wait it out now.

BUT, on the plus side, my agent finished reading Irish last weekend and seems very enthused by it. Said it has a strong story. Said he knows editors who are looking for “guy books” like this. Said it compared favorably to Chuck Palahniuk’s work.

And he also said I need to add another 20,000 words to it.

Eep.

So, I’ve got a list of changes/rewrites/suggestions taped to the inside back cover of the Irish notebook. Need to brainstorm some scenes and rearrange some stuff. I also need to strip out some dialogue and replace it with more descriptive prose. I seem to write for movies instead of books. Not sure if that’s a weakness or a strength, honestly. I think I’ve mentioned before that I tend to think in terms of soundtracks and casting when I’m coming up with plot ideas and scene structure. For instance, if there were a silent prologue to Disco, it would be the opening strains of “Game Show Host” by Doomtree. The first car crash scene in Irish takes place with The Faint’s “Posed to Death” ramping up in the background. Irish’s best friend is Mos Def, his brother is Jared Leto, and his love interest is Michele Monaghan.

Oh, and that picture up there? That’s the waitress at a truck stop diner who inspires the main character of Spinner Rack to shake his boring life and have an adventure. Sadly (or happily), that story has to wait a bit longer while I revamp Irish. My agent wants to talk again next week, so I’m thinking this is probably a priority for him now.

Book Peddling Update #1

The process so far: My agent sent my first manuscript out to an editor, as an exclusive “first look,” and then he submitted it to 7 or 8 other editors. That first editor eventually turned it down, calling it a “near miss,” but graciously said that I am “an imaginative writer.”

After that, we got 4 or 5 more passes…all without comment. In the meantime, for every rejection, my agent seemed to throw 1 or 2 more submissions into the wind. Gotta keep the plates spinning.

Then, on the eve of my recent vacation, my agent e-mails and asks if I’ll be around the following week to possibly jump on a conference call. Seems that one of the editors is quite taken with the book. He’s passing it around his office for what the industry calls “second reads.” He’s asking my agent about “comps” (other books that have been recently published that may have the same audience).

And then…nothing.

I e-mail my agent halfway through my vacation and learn that this editor has now passed as well. Evidently, I’m a “strong writer,” but the book is “a bit too niche.”

Now here’s where my ears perk up. Going into this process, I was well aware that my book was unique. There isn’t a lot being written about wandering chefs in a post-apocalyptic future trying to stop a snack food company from commandeering the nation’s food supply. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. And I told my agent as much. He assured me that this is a good thing. The book is easily explained. The logline (that one sentence description I just scrawled out) is solid.

However, when no one is able to find any comps, the publishing world panics. How can we sell this book if we don’t know in advance who’s going to buy it? When I worked in advertising, “new” was a pretty strong selling point. Technology updates constantly. Red is the new black. Status envy drives sales. Concepts are king. But when it comes to reading? No one wants a challenge. They want the same. They want comforting resonance where they don’t really have to pay attention to the words themselves or how they’re delivered. That’s why back-of-book blurbs always mention other authors who have blazed the trails before us, from Hemingway to Faulkner, from Crichton to King.

Some people out there say “Why don’t you just self-publish if you believe in the work so much?” And I could. Anyone could. That’s kinda why I don’t want to do it (not to mention the fact that I have a contract with my agent). I want to do it the traditional way because it’s more difficult, because it’s more of a challenge and an accomplishment, and because it’s probably more lucrative since I’m not the most social guy in the world (real life or on the internet).

Yeah…I have something to prove…to…somebody, I guess.

So, I promised updates. From what I can piece together so far, Disco has been rejected by 5 or 6 editors (including two close calls) and is still being read by 7 or 8 others. Meanwhile, my agent is on vacation this week and has promised to start reading Irish. Interestingly enough, Irish is a much broader story, more modern, more identifiable. And I’m fairly confident that comps for it will be easy to point out.

It could be that I end up selling my first book by first selling my second book. Meanwhile, I’ll start writing the third one in a week or two. I stumbled across a photo that blew open the plot for me and everything started falling into place, but more about that next time…