Jimmy's Got a Gun

Tis the season for agent hunting. I gots me a gun and am trudging through the vast wilderness that is the Internet, stalking agents like a jealous boyfriend. Dat don't sound right. Part of the process is reading interviews that agents sometimes do, as it may reveal something that could help me make a connection through my query letter. One agent had this to say, "You're writing not to get published. You're writing because you love the act of doing so, and you cannot imagine doing anything else." I love that.

I Have a Headache

I Have a Headache

I've heard people describe writing as an incredibly solitary act. Tell that to the voices in my head. If we as writers want to get published, or somehow get our work out there, then we need people. And to lure them into our trap, we need to do some research on how to write a query letter, how to write a synopsis, even how to write a book. Shocking!

I've also heard that writing the book is the easiest part of publishing. I've already gone through a round of rejections about four years ago, so have some idea of the difficulty. And most people don't even know that getting an agent is the first of many steps before a book is even released into the wild.

And every time I visit my brother, he asks me: What's my plan. My response never changes; I shrug my shoulders.

Career Planning

Career Planning

Like so many things in life, hunting in the wild takes a lot of patience, following your intuition, and preparation. If I run into the plains of Africa with my gun, I'll most likely scare away my prey. If I run into those same plains without being prepared, I'll get eaten alive. And if I rely solely on my instruments, then I may blind myself to the real prize.

A friend of mine didn't do any research or get any feedback on her query letter before sending it out. She received her first rejection and sent it to me, and it was obvious why she had been rejected. The premise of her story, as she had  presented it, was cliché, an innocent young woman meets a mysterious man. She didn't give away the hook; for example, the lurking overbearing vampire (Twilight), or sex addict deviant (50 Shades of Grey). I've not read my friend's book, she may be afraid of my honest feedback and it may not help in the end, but she relied on her "intuition" alone to write both her book and query letter. 

It just doesn't work that way.

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I don't care how wise a person is, I ain't lettin' anyone perform open heart surgery on me unless they know what they're doin'. But that doesn't mean that the most qualified doctor has all the answers. Many alternative and new treatments are being worked on every day. So doing at least some research is always a good idea, take in what you learn, then let that inner part of you create, or help make your choice. 

And this is the hardest part of all, I think. It's trusting that somehow everything will work out, something that my brother doesn't understand.

A couple weeks ago, I went to a party at some remote place where the bus only showed up once an hour. I use public transportation as much as possible. But by the time I realized the last bus back had left, I was having too much fun, I was stuck without a ride back to BART.

I didn't consciously say everything will work out, but I tend to live my life this way. After walking around the hotel where the party was held, I found an hourly shuttle that went to the San Francisco Airport, a BART stop. Had I panicked and yelled and cried and complained and pounded my fists, I might not have found my way home, or at the least, made the whole process difficult.

So when agent hunting, I can only do my best with what I know and learn and query these elusive creatures, and if I'm able to bait one in and form a great relationship, then great. If not, great. Either way, I'll trudge on.

Dats Some Big Ass Footprints

Dats Some Big Ass Footprints

All of life is a long road. We can't see more than a few hundred feet, even less in the jungle, but the only way to reveal more of the road is to just keep going. Sometimes the road ends quickly. Others will lead us for the long haul. All we can do is find our passions and follow them until it takes us to where we need to be.

Old Folgey

Uh They Look The Same To Me
Uh They Look The Same To Me

As a man, I’ve never told a woman which brand or type of tampon to use. The reason seems obvious. But just in case it isn't, men don’t use tampons. I know, I know. Big surprise.

So, someone who doesn’t write as a profession, or at any level besides penning a to do list, shouldn’t suggest whether I’m capable of writing or not. But this particular person's assumption is pandemic through the literary world, both expert and not.

When meeting new people, the natural question is to ask, “What do ya do?” I usually answer, writer. That’s cuz I spend a lot of my free time writing, thinking about my story, fantasizing about my characters, their emotional state, dialogue, everything that has to do with the current novel that I’m working on. Whether that makes me a professional or not, having yet to earn a living from it, is up for debate.

On an amazing hike, an older gentleman questioned whether I could be a good writer. And it wasn’t because he’d read anything of mine, but looked at me and asked whether I’ve lived an interesting life and had enough life experience. Even if all I do is work, go to the gym, write, and go out on the weekends...hmm...that is what I do...I can imagine an interesting story.

Killer Dad
Killer Dad

I could feel my ego jump outta my skin and want to rip this guy to shreds, not literally of course, just figuratively, because the notion that a writer has to write what they know is preposterous. Do writers have to do research? Damn straight. But does that mean Jeff Lindsay has to be a serial killer in order to be able to write convincingly about Dexter? I don’t know the man, but I highly doubt it. What he knows about, what we all know about if we let ourselves, is the darkness that can live within us. And with a little research, he can write a well told story about the need and addiction to kill.

So does that mean a child or a teenager is incapable of writing about darkness? No. The amount of cyber bullying and random school shootings suggests that darkness can live within us at seemingly any age.

Well, darkness and hatred is an easily accessible emotion. Having taken many years of acting, I can attest that’s true. What about love? Can youths write about love? For sure!

I Gotchu Gurl
I Gotchu Gurl

Adults call youthful lust puppy love. But that only degrades their emotion as less intense and real. Remembering my crushes during my formidable years, I was traumatized when girls didn't like me, and in some ways, that has carried over to my adult life. We know youngens love just as much as adults do. I mean, look at the young adult book market, it’s massive. And Twilight wasn’t the start of it all, but being one of the biggest best sellers indicates the voracity of young love. I've also met a lot of grown men who've yet to grow up. Trust me. We ain't dat mature when it comes to women.

There’s one main point that I’m trying to make here. Don’t argue for your limitations, and no one is an expert on you but you. You wanna do something, follow your dreams, pursue a passion, do something that people have said you can’t? Good. And fuck the naysayers. Failure is when you argue for your own limitations. Success isn’t determined for the weak-hearted. Often, it takes strength and courage to follow your dreams. Whether you make it or not can’t be a determinate of your success—says the unpublished novelist—but to quit or to not start are true failures. To use a simple example, you have to be in it to win it.

Nothing New Under the Sun

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." Ever heard this?

As a storyteller, this can be a very limiting view.  Or is it?

Romeo_and_JulietWilliam Shakespeare's version of Twilight

A prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, David Freeman, gave a seminar.  There are hundreds of seminars I could have attended, but why did I go to his?  If you go to his site, he talks about techniques in writing.  No theories.  In fact, he gave so many techniques, it was like getting a trunk full of tools.  And in any one job, it’s highly unlikely you’ll use all of them, but you’ll definitely use enough to make your story emotional, something he emphasizes a lot.

He agreed with the quote above, but in a very un-limiting way.

I love going to movies, and one of the pleasures is seeing the previews.  I hate missing the previews like I hate missing the beginning of any movie.  One movie I’m anticipating is Avatar.

When I first saw it, I thought, James Cameron stole my idea!  WTF Cameron?  How’d you hack into my PC?

As I watched the preview, his premise was different.  Similar but different.

Then an image sparked in my mind.  American Indians gazing out into the sea as English ships sailed toward them.

The story of the Native American Indians against pioneering pilgrims is a familiar one.  It’s empire building.  The conflict?  The natives don't want to leave.

Look at Braveheart.  I love that movie.  It’s the same thing.

Look at the battle of Thermopile, 300.

Look at the Mongols invading China.

Look at China’s history of the seven independent states warring against each other for power.

Look at Star Wars.

Look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We have tons of stories based on the idea of oppression.  Sometimes the story ends with unification, like China and the seven states.  Sometimes we have stories of independence, like William Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s freedom.  But they all stem from a single idea.

Avatar is no different.  A powerful force, in this case us in the far future, wants something, a valuable mineral.  To mine it, we have to “politically” move a native race.  Easy enough.  But wait!  The native people don’t wanna move.

And the story begins.

Freeman said there were an unlimited amount of stories that could be told using the story computer.  Look at any story that you love or connect to.  Find a variation.

Turn the hero into a heroin.

Change the race.

Change the time.

Change the setting.

Change anything.

Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Change the time to the present.  Make the male a brooding, James Dean-looking vampire.  Now you have Twilight.

The Princess and the Frog is a great example.  What do we expect to happen when the princess kisses the frog?  The frog should turn to her prince.  But Disney was like, “Hell no. Dat’s been dun.  Da princess should turn to a frog, sucka!”

OK.  I doubt Disney execs would talk like that.  But they used the story computer to churn out what seems like a great story.

The Seven Provinces is a familiar story.  It's about empire building.  It's an underdog story.  It's about a man trying to protect his family in a time of war.  It's about oppression, betrayal, tragedy.  And much more.

There may be nothing new under the sun.  But that doesn’t mean new stories can’t be told using familiar themes.

The Twilight Samurai

When I was doing research for my book, I'd read books on Vikings, Native American Indians and Samurais. There was also a lifetime of Chinese period soap operas lurking in my head that made its way on paper. My brother pointed out a common theme that I used without knowing it in my episodes.

Then I ventured down to individuals such as Miyamoto Musashi, Geronimo, and Ibn Fadlan.  I've also used Sun Tzu's Art of War and Robert Greene's The 33 Strategies of War.  I then obsessed over movies such as Braveheart, the events at the Battle for Thermopile and the History Channel.

The Samurai culture has always interested me.  In my research there was a movie I came across called The Twilight Samurai.  I immediately fell in love with it.  So much so that I bought a copy of it.  Not download it!  Bought.  It stars Hiroyuki Sanada.  If you've seen Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, then you've seen Sanada.  He was the one who taught Cruise's character how to sword fight.

Twilight won a dozen Japanese awards and was nominated best foreign language film in the 2002 Academy Awards.

Despite the fact that Sanada plays a low ranking Samurai, I fell in love with the character.  The character is widowed, humble to a fault, works a low paying job, loves raising his two daughters, one of the best Samurais, cares nothing for advancement, and dreams of working on his own farm.  Empathy techniques at work?

The romance in the movie works so well, tons of chemistry, and no sex scenes.  I like sex scenes, don't get me wrong, like in a porno.  But it seems a lot of movies use sex to get the movie goer to come--ahem--instead of using it as a tool to forward the romantic story.

Take The Matrix as an example.  Look at the special effects, which the movie required.  Most of it, if not all, wasn't terribly advanced or over done for it's time.  Special effects was used as a tool to forward the plot, never used to get the movie goer to come.

One thing that really caught me about Twilight is there seems to be no real antagonist.  Where's Darth Samurai?  Then it occurred to me.  The antagonist was society.  The hero struggles with money, raising his daughters, living with his senile mother and the disrespect the other Samurai.  He's constantly badgered to remarry, to advance, to succumb to everyday standards.

His response?

"I'm too cool for ya'll."

Not really.  But he does resist it all.  Then comes his childhood love.  She is the monkey wrench to his well oiled machine.  From there, the story develops well, the romance progresses with all its angst, using the sign of the times to present obstacles, and there's enough action to help the story along.  Though the sword fighting is not central to the movie.

If you like Samurai movies, rent this.  You'll love it.