Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Changing Titles ... The Uncool ...

Along time ago in a life now far, far away, I once worked for a large company that was in the business of conducting Market Research for the Film and Motion Picture Industry. How I came into such a job is a bit foggy, but it was both an interesting and strange occupation for sure. I thought it would never end when I was headlong in its employ, but looking back it felt like a moment that never really happened even though I have the scar to prove it.

It was the spring and summer of 1999 and I was living in a large one bedroom apartment on McCadden Street in Hollywood which overlooked the intersections of Sunset and Highland. Lounging in the front room all day and night you could lock yourself fully into listening to the continuous traffic, car crashes and people on the street five stories below and never get bored.

Part of my job with this marketing company was to analyze screener cards from the free viewings of the general public and minor press members who would attend out of interest in seeing either an almost complete film with their favorite star and starlet in, or a rough cut of something big before it hit theatres. Nowadays things are a lot more secretive and these free screeners of major blockbuster films are almost non-existent. Independent and minor titles though, probably still create the bulk of the workload for these folks now.

When the audience would attend a pre-release film, they would receive a screener card that was a quick questionnaire that had a variety of carefully worded and carefully chosen questions. For example:
  1. What did you think of the title of the film?
  2. What did you think about the name of the main character?
  3. What was your impression of the Period Costumes?
Some were direct, and some were not. The Producers and the Writers were often looking to gauge very specific things to test the quality of the storyline or find out how it might fare in opening weeks. These companies have often been derided in the industry for these practices as foolish, meddling, art-tampery and so on, but as an overall statement, they've probably done Hollywood more good than harm at the end of the day. My experience was a little different.

Often between 150-200 people on average would see these pre-release films and my job would entail counting up hash-marks made every time a box was filled, or something specific was written.

“Goddamn, this film sucks ass!”

The longer I worked there, the better my duties became and I went from hash-mark counting Grunt to an Organizer. This person would begin to consolidate these hash-marks into an overall report and total everything up into a two page document that looked an awful lot like an excel spread sheet. After too many months of that, I was then promoted to do what I've always thought I was born to do (write) and I was then put to the task of making a one page written statement that would resemble Don Draper-esque Ad Speak to satisfy the Studio Execs. I thought I had arrived and someone was finally giving me my shot. It was beautiful.

Except it wasn't, because the majority of the films were completely forgettable and worthless. Most of them I barely remember even today, but after all this time – one film stands out above all of them and it was this particular film that got me fired from this job. Yes, it goes all downhill from here.

Let me say that the culture of this company where I worked was a bit weird. The employees were pretty much split up into a few main groups. A lot of the people who did the grunt work counting hash-marks were folks that seemingly played in Rock Bands late at night, after hours, had really long hair, wore Megadeth t-shirts and always had a glazed over appearance. There were approximately thirty odd people in this pool, and it was really evident that the bulk of these people were just happy to have a sit down office job inside a big building with AC. These people were the burn-outs and people came and went rather quickly. The turnover was pretty bad.

There was another sub-set of this company, both Grunts, Organizers and the Writers who all had a very strange penchant for wearing pajamas to the office several days a week. Several of them wore pajamas to the office every damn day. I had quickly figured out that if you wanted to advance – you needed to fit in – and wear pajamas. It was a fad started by a couple of the older, crafty, college-educated girls that had banded together and began rising up the food chain quick. Others followed their lead creating an almost 'new generation' or hipster feeling in the office.

Let me say, as an Honorably Discharged Marine who saw battle in a foreign land, this idea was about the most bizarre and frightening thing I had ever faced. I knew if I wanted to advance, I would have to swallow this pill and get over it. When I explained what was going on to my then-first-wife, she was equally shocked and thought I was joking. It did sound like a really bad joke. However, she was always resourceful and very practical. She said this, and to this day I can still hear her voice in my head, saying these words forever:

“Well, Steffan, if you have to wear pajamas to work, So be it. But don't be a slouch. Go to Nordstrom's, buy five pair of dark blue, pinstripe, two-piece jammies and I'll make sure that they're dry-cleaned and pressed so you don't look like a complete fool.”

She also recommended buying me a pair of slippers with hard soles, which in 1999, weren't as ubiquitous and normal as they are today. This situation occurred about a year to nine months before the craze had actually swept across the nation and became something of a running joke until just after the turn of the century where it was clearly time to let it go.

And so, I did exactly as she suggested and I purchased five sets of pajamas from Nordstrom's at the Beverly Center and had them all dry-cleaned. If this was the culture, and it meant me getting more money per-hour, I was going to embrace it.

Then, a film entitled The Uncool written, produced and directed by Cameron Crowe came to us. The office was pretty excited landing the project and everyone went above and beyond trying to get as many people into the theatre seats as possible to capture a well-seasoned and hopefully accurate gauge on the film so that the Studio execs would be grateful and utilize us further down the line. It was at this time as well, that Market Research firms were getting bad press because of this intrusion, so the company rightly felt the threat to their livelihood.

When all the cards came in and all the hash-marks were counted by the Grunts, and the Organizers had done their job, they passed the football to me to write up a report. Then it happened.

I had been working there for over a year now, eight hours a day, sometimes even at the theatres helping to collect the screener cards and I had witnessed some of the Execs in action and I knew what would set them off. When I saw the remark listed on the Organized report. I about came … un-fucking-glued.

In almost 350 screener cards, two people had written the following statement:

“I don't understand what the title means.” and “I don't like the title.”

Having already seen the movie numerous times and having had fallen in love with it – as is, and completely understood the title, which was based upon a telephone speech in the middle of the second act of the film by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I cringed with fear that some dull spark would grab onto that and panic needlessly and then campaign to change the title based upon two people's lazy remarks on a screener card. Yes, I felt it was time to strangle someone.

So what did I do? Instead of doing the lazy ass thing and letting it sit and ignoring it, I grabbed my pencil and erased the two lines from the Organized Reports and then spent over an hour looking for the two screener cards that were buried somewhere deep within the pile. I found them, shit-canned them quickly and never looked back. This all went down on a late Friday afternoon and the office was about as dead as a doornail.

Monday came around and I had to go into a board room, in my pressed pajamas, with several other pajama clad individuals and read my results in a salesman-like tone to Cameron Crowe and about eight different Studio execs and Producers all attached to the picture.

I was asked several questions, as I was now the front man for the Grunts and Organizers on this project. One of them was this:

Faceless Exec: “What was said about the title of the film?”
Steffan: “Nothing was said about the title. Everyone remarked positively in regards to Philip Seymour Hoffman's speech.”
Faceless Exec: “Wait. No one said anything about the title? How many people were screened?”
Steffan: “Approximately 350 screeners were collected.”

And then the bomb went off.

Faceless Exec: “Wait, I remember seeing one screener card I collected on the night at the theatre and I saw the remark myself that the person didn't understand the title or something like that.”
Steffan: “No, we didn't have any cards like that at all. They're all here for you to look through.”
Cameron Crowe: [paraphrased obviously] “Why are we focusing on the title over one remark. It's my title and I think it's the best title for the project, and even though complaints have been voiced by a few in production, I see no reason to change it.”
Faceless Exec: “But I remember the screener card. So we need to find it and it better be in the stack. I'm not mistaken. I even circled the remark with a red pen.
Market Research Boss: “Steffan, can you please wait outside.”

That Faceless-Exec had actually circled the remark in red pen. I was caught, and it was now only a matter of time before I had to come clean and eat crow. The meeting broke, but the first order of business after lunch, we reconvened into the office and I was questioned about it.

I didn't lie. It was time to 'man up' and exhibit some self-worth.

Steffan: “I tore them both up and threw away the screeners card Friday. Those two comments were made, but they were stupid and not reflective of any of the data collected. I knew it would cause a problem.”
Faceless Exec: “I knew it. I knew he was lying.” [this guy had a really annoying voice]
Steffan: “And let me tell you something, I would do it again, you Jackass!” [at annoying guy] “Why the hell would you tamper with such a perfect title of a film unless you were that stupid as well? Obviously, you don't understand your own title!”

It got heated quick. I wasn't the only one yelling. The room was a complete mess.

Market Research Boss: [defeated tone] “Steffan, you're fired. Please take your things and go.”
Faceless Exec: “Go back to bed, loser!”
Steffan: “Bite me, you fucking crack-baby!”

And that was that. I was fired from my pajama wearing Market Research job to defend a Cameron Crowe film title and guilty for destroying studio and company property. I got a letter about it almost a week later to the day and showed it to my then-wife. She just laughed.

“Steffan, sweetie, seriously. Don't even waste a moment thinking about it for a second. You were wearing your pajamas to work. Get it?”

Later, when I saw the film poster show up sometime later on the marquee at the Mann Chinese on Hollywood, I was agitated and just shook my head. I did my best to fight for Crowe's original title and I threw myself on the tracks. I had little to do with the change and the outcome, but I was just a witness to break-down of it.

In the end, and after all these years, I still think that The Uncool is far better than Almost Famous. They scrambled for that title and took it from the marquee of their tour bus that was shown in a single shot. The substituted title was never as good as the original. The Uncool was honest and unmerciful, to quote the film.

I'm dredging this story up a whole thirteen years later a simple reason. I'm in the middle of an equal dilemma with my current book Shitbird, or Fugue State … or …

As you can see we haven't quite landed on a title. Shitbird causes obvious distribution problems. Fugue State causes confusion if you've never studied psychology or music. For the people that have read the book, they all reported that Shitbird is the greatest and most appropriate title, but I'm not on a suicide mission, so the search goes on. I was reminded of this strange piece of my history after a phone call the other day and felt obligated to write it down before it slipped back away into the file-cabinets of things forgotten.

We'll all be around for the update later down the line.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”  -- Lester Bangs.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I find it difficult to offer advice about writing. Instead, here's a story about a friend of mine called Claire. It may be helpful to know that aubergine is another word for eggplant.

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She's the author of Alison Wonderland and six other books. She has a blog here. Come and say hello.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hate Amazon? Well Read About What Random House Did to Me and My Family...

I thought I was done writing about this particular subject... the subject of the old guard and establishment writers/MFA profs, publishers, and booksellers ragging on Amazon Publishing because, oh gee, they are doing something the old guard can no longer do: sell books.

This past week while I've been away, bestselling author and fellow Thomas & Mercer (Amazon) author, Barry Eisler, was invited to do a live chat with some Seattle Times reporters and the bestselling literary novelist, Richard Russo. Russo, whose books I like but who is also a huge hater of Amazon. And the Seattle Times has just run a scathing 4-part series on Amazon, picking them apart like they are Satan.

Maybe they are Satan (if you believe in that kind of thing) but more than likely, they are not. They listen to both authors and writers and so they now are able to offer great books at low prices. And yes, it's putting big publishers and bookstores out of business. I know, I'm supposed to cry for these people, but they had a chance to survive and in fact thrive in today's digital book publishing world, but they haven't. And now they are going the way of the 8-track.

Bon voyage.

The third edition of As Catch
what???? Or what's now better
 known as 
The Innocent....
I'm not as knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the publishing industry as Eisler and, say, J.A. Konrath are, and I've never self-published a book, although one of my indie publishers is entirely based on the self-publishing model even if my deals with them are agented. But I have also been published by the majors and once more, I've just signed a 7 book deal with Thomas & Mercer (an imprint of Amazon Publishing) for a "very nice" advance, part of which I'm spending right now in Italy and Paris, where I've been for the past month.

Ok, maybe you think I'm bragging?

Maybe so.

But while Eisler goes on to defend the obvious author/reader benefits being provided right now by Amazon publishing, try and consider for a brief moment just how Big Six Publishing not only tried to crush my career a few short years ago, they literally cost me a marriage.

Once more, I'll bullet my near suicidal relationship with the Big Six and, in particular, Delacorte Press...You know, the supposed "good guys" of the industry.

  • I was contracted in 1999 for mid-six figure two book hard and soft deal.
  • I was told to change the name of my novel, The Innocent, to As Catch Can, because another author in their stable was publishing one of the same title. As Catch what?????
  • While the hardcover was being produced, talk around the office centered on Delacorte being swallowed up by another publisher. They more or less dropped attention on As Catch what???, and rushed a very poor front cover into production...Yup, an insider pulled me aside and admitted the cover was a total fuck up....Oops, it's just people's lives we're dealing with here...
  • I was promised ads in The New York Times and support for a Northeast tour. I got neither.
  • Delacorte shut down and was indeed swallowed up by the new publisher only weeks after the publication of As Catch what????
  • I was suddenly the bastard child of the new publisher.
  • They reneged on the contract and only agreed to publish the second book in the deal in paper. It as of course my right to sue them. But who in the world wants to sue a conglomerate cartel like Big New York? The big wigs laughed at me and went on vacation in the Hamptons.
  • The second book was printed. Not published. Not even the B&N around the corner from Times Square had one in stock. It was around this time I met my then editor for a drink in NYC. In her words, "You didn't hear it from me, but they are preventing you from selling books."
  • Now that I didn't sell out my 250G contract for no fault of my own, another publisher wouldn't touch me if a gun was pressed to his or her temple. And at one time, the most powerful agent in the world was repping me: Suzanne Gluck. I must assume that an agent of her caliber chooses only manuscripts she sees tremendous potential in.
  • Delacorte (Random House) refused to release my rights...even though they remaindered my books. An evil, self-serving move if ever there was one. "We're not going to sell your books, but ahhh, neither can you!" Hitler comes to mind here...Too harsh? Okay, at least Uncle Joe Stalin.
  • I went broke.
  • I had to sell my house
  • I lost my wife
  • My children had to move, quit their schools, give up their friends
  • I nearly lost my reputation and my sanity
  • I could have quit writing
  • But I didn't...
  • I wouldn't let the motherfuckers beat me
  • My new agent, after 8 grueling years, was finally able re-secure the rights to my two books
  • An indie, StoneHouse Ink, took on As Catch what??????, changed the title back to The Innocent. It sold almost 200,000 E and paper Books. Plus they published several other novels of mine that have also sold in the hundreds of thousands, primarily in E-Book, of which I was making a 50% royalty as opposed to the 12.5% of Delacorte.
  • My career not only shot back up, I could have easily made up Delcorte's advance plus plenty of change.
  • Thomas & Mercer signed me to a "very nice" seven book deal.
  • The Innocent (formerly As Catch what?????) is about to published in its third edition. 
  • I got my wife back.
  • I travel all the time and write fiction for a living.
  • I make more in royalties per month than most editors in their paychecks--the same editors who went on to reject me after the Delacorte train wreck...Rejected me because they had too.

Of course, I could go on and on, but those old time writers like Russo who teach at the MFA programs and think that they themselves are not a part of a money making racket designed to lure would-be writers (or no talent writers) into a "literary writing program" that costs tens of thousands of dollars, had better take a good fucking look in the mirror.

You know who you are.

I've been taught by you, criticized by you, ridiculed by you and now I am feared by you. You are old and gray, teaching the same tired lecture. You're also short of breath while climbing the stairs to the next workshop you've been hired to preside over at one of those garden variety low residency MFA programs that are springing up all over the globe like reality TV and Pampers.

And for all you editors who couldn't take me on because I didn't sell out my advance while my rights were held hostage? You can work for me as a freelancer....if the price is right.

Payback's a bitch ain't it?

Ok, off for some steak frit... It's Saturday in Paris... In the springtime.

This post was originally published at The Vincent Zandri Vox in slightly different form.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Boogers versus Books

In the classic war of boogers versus books, boogers win. Every time.

Like most of the writers I know, I have a job outside my writing career. In the past, this meant that I would get up early to write, clock out on my lunch break to crank out a few scenes, or scotch-tape my eyes open and write late into the night. Now? Well, not so much. See, I’m a new mom, so my days are spent getting up early to feed my little guy, clocking out on lunch to run that desperate errand I’ve been putting off for two weeks, and scotch-taping my eyes open simply to make it through dinner without nose-diving into my mashed potatoes.

I have one day a week for writing. Unfortunately it's also the day that I get to play stay-at-home mom, so all bets are off. Take today, for example. It started off promising, I managed to get mostly dressed and eat something before my son woke up (though I may or may not have brushed my teeth).

I had planned on spending the morning reworking the first three chapters of my manuscript. Instead, I found myself wondering exactly how much poop can fit into a belly the size of a grapefruit. Answer: always more than I expect, and definitely more than one diaper can hold. Okay, shower off, regroup, sit down—time to write.
Guess again.

This time, I get sidetracked by feeding the baby. Alright, no problem. So now he's calm, he's fed, he's ready to be put down and I'm just about to open my laptop when he throws up down my cleavage. And let me tell you, nothing quite compares to a vomit-soaked bra.

It's now 10 o'clock and I haven't even opened my manuscript. No nap insight, I do the next best thing to writing: thinking.

My mother used to say that when it comes to getting things done, it's all in the getting ready. For me this means a clever combination of e-mailing myself scenes from my phone (thumb-typed in the dark as I try to stave off sleep), voice recording notes one painstaking sentence at a time, and routinely escaping into thoughts of writing.
So on days like today when I find myself wondering if that sticky substance on the back of my son's head is bananas or boogers, I take refuge in thinking about my writing. I think about my characters, the current events in their world, their favorite foods, where they're coming from and where they'll go after our story is through. I rehash conversations I've had with beta-readers, go over writing classes I've taken, and recall notes I've made to myself along the way. I build mental soundtracks, pick color swatches that invoke the story’s tone, and even snip photos from magazines that remind me of scenes I’ve yet to write. And on days when I’m really desperate, I plop down on the floor next to my son and flip through the photos while listening to the music, telling myself that murky triphop is just as good for his development as any other music, and that a few mouthfuls of paper never hurt anyone (much).

Not every day is perfect. Hell, most end with my laptop sulking in the corner while I get doused in one bodily fluid after another. And because boogers beat out books and diapers outweigh drafts, my writing is often forced to take a back seat. But it’s never on the back burner; writing is always there – simmering, stewing, waiting – so that when that rare, beautiful moment of opportunity comes, the story and I are ready.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Angry Pig Breeder

I'm English and I live in London so I'll be posting using British English grammar conventions and spelling, as well as the usual smattering of mistakes you will have come to expect from hastily-written blog posts, if you read a lot of blogs.

The craziest thing about British grammar, if you're not used to it, is that it's quite intuitive: we don't put punctuation with fragments of text inside quotation marks or parentheses, for example. We do what we feel. And I feel that the Oxford comma is loathesome and unnecessary, so I never use it. I use comma splices, too. They're perfectly acceptable over here. Sounds good? Come on over. It's crowded but friendly. There's too much litter in the streets but the historical buildings are gorgeous. The weather's nicer than you'd expect if you have never visited, too.

I have a personal blog here and an online detective agency here. I don't keep up the second one much, as you can see. What I really need is another blog to contribute to, to use up my novel-writing time. This one should do nicely.

I met some of the other contributors to this blog at an Amazon Publishing party at BEA in New York last May. There are write-ups on my blog here, here, here and here, together with several photos of me standing with my hand on my hip in various locations. My daughter advised me to stand like that because she said it was slimming, and I adopted her advice to good effect, as I hope you will agree.

Unfortunately when I got home I got into the habit of standing with both hands on my hips in photos, so I looked as though I was trying out for the part of 'angry pig breeder' in a children's film about escaped farm animals. It has taken me nearly eleven months but I think I have finally managed to shake the habit, so let's celebrate that today, if nothing else.

Further musings about BEA and the London Book Fair (which ran from 16-18 April) here. The UK agents use the fortnight or so before the LBF to broker important deals (never call your agent then) and the week of the fair to announce them. One of the many interesting pieces of news to come out was that Amazon Publishing had acquired the North American rights to Ian Fleming's books and Thomas & Mercer will be publishing the James Bond series and Fleming's two non-fiction book in summer 2012.

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She's the author of Alison Wonderland and six other books. She has a blog here. Come and say hello.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When we dream of Hell ... I hope it's not like this ...

While suffering greatly from illness once again, something that typically and suspiciously appears to be pneumonia, I fell into a fevered state of lucid dreaming - inclusive of music, reflections of myself in the mirror and a hovering OBE (out-of-body-experience), or Google map point-of-view for the less informed and the worst possible realization regarding Hell.

I was driving through some non-descript looking desert in the middle of the day, driving what appeared to be one of those boxey Toyota FJ cross-over vehicles (sign you're in hell - red flag number 1) and listening to the radio which was playing one of the most obnoxious songs in recent memory (not Aqua's Barbie Girl), which strangely for me is a U2 number called Vertigo, and if you've ever heard it, you'd likely agree (red flag number 2). It has the tinge of a desperate, overweight 45 year old's mid-life crisis written all over it. Perhaps I've just heard too many older, balding white men blaring that song from their drop-top piss yellow Corvette, wearing Ed Hardy clothes at the stop light to ever have a warm and cozy spot in my heart for that song ever again. Maybe it's just me. The radio played:

"A girl with crimson nails - has Jesus round her neck."

I knew there was reason to be frightened imediately. I looked up from staring at my hands on the steeringwheel (yes, Carlos Castaneda, I know what this signifies) instead of out the windshield and on the road that was glaring in at me, saw my face in the rearview mirror, and could see that I was about twenty years older; not good (red flag number 3). Prophetic visions while sick are never good, no matter what one says. I want to see real, long-range data to back up any claims to the contrary.

A moment later, I realized that I was now working as a Real Estate Agent (red flag number 4) and going to either show a house to someone or check in on one. The thought of it repulsed me so much, that I could feel a cold chill run down my spine lying there asleep.

While I do currently know several people, who are friends and family, who make their living at this trade, it is my contention that Real Estate sales is actually one of the worst jobs on the face of the Earth and sales in general is a troubling, fraught filled trade that has more lost souls than any other -- much like Hell. 

A person could spend their entire lives chasing down sales, trying to culminate a worthwhile lead list, develop a name for themselves, ad naseum, all while getting absolutely nowhere. The chase of the ideal with zero return is probably the most debilitating thing I know. Christianity does something similar, but at least promises you a grand afterlife. Sales, is almost the same thing, except no heaven at all; either here or later. Just more coffee and the promise that someone will come in later and give you a 'motivational lecture' where you'll likely leave feeling less worthwhile than when you went in.

So, when I say that my version of Hell on Earth would be to be involved in Real Estate sales, I mean no offense. I've just worked in sales for enough years in my life, to know that it would be a crime to wish that career choice any any one. I worked in car sales for quite a length of time, sold a respectable 15-20 cars a month for the dealership, but could barely ever afford anything more than cat food for myself because of how crooked and dishonest most car dealerships are. If you're not in the inner circle of salespeople, regardless of how much you sell, you won't share in the rewards. I guarantee it. I also worked in door to door sales, where you usually only make enough just to keep you afloat and hungry. Did the same thing in software sales and telemarketing, too. But that's the whole point of sales, from Upper Management's perspective, isn't it? 

"Keep the body -- in the wheel, turning, burning or screaming." - Zig Ziglar  / Pope Urban II

If you die and go to Hell, the general thought (by most theological scholars, like C.S. Lewis for example), is that you probably wouldn't know it, because half of the joy of Upper Management, so to speak, is delude you into believing that you're actually not in Hell. A perverse and sadistic sense of gratification will always be present in those kinds of relationships. 

I read an article recently that spoke about it in terms of what is known as Gaslighting -- which, this would be Gaslighting, but with a completely opposite desired effect. Instead of telling your partner that they're completely delusional or crazy, you would be told that you're perfectly sane, wonderful and living in Paradise. You would be getting gas lit and motivated to keep chasing something that just doesn't exist. That's evil, people. Pure evil.

C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity, that you make your own Heaven or Hell for yourself here on Earth. It's merely my opinion, but Sales is probably the fastest most direct route to the latter. He also states that little by little, after many years of working against yourself, you will actually find yourself in Hell and likely not recognize it. In my copy of the book, it's somewhere near page 70, but don't quote me.

My dream ended with me hovering over the desert, staring down at the buildings and seeing the traffic moving and people walking around, oblivious to me and for some reason all I could notice was the pricing numbers that were showing up in glowing white figures on top of the buildings and all the property was strangely devalued to about 60% of what it is now - if that's any indication for you as to what I foretell for the future. I don't know how that sits with the current thinking about a Kondratiev Winter, but it was just a dream. More Nyquill, please. Less Mitch & Murray. No Steak Knives, either.

As a sidenote, as I was writing this blog post, my sister posted a video for me to see on Facebook which involved Vivaldi (whom I love immensely) and U2 (whom I also love) -- but as a mashup of ... you guessed it ... Vertigo. Red Flag number 5.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"$#!+," writers say.

When I'm not writing my latest novel (or hiding from said novel with a good game of Sims 3), you can find me working with author Kristen Tsetsi on an episode of the writer-centric YouTube series Inside The Writers' Studio. Back in February we hopped aboard the "$#!+ [these people] Say" band wagon with this offering. It features cameos by a plethora of writers, including ZonAuthor Craig Lancaster and New York Times best selling author Caroline Leavitt.

As Inside the Writers' Studio discovered, writers say a lot of $#!+. Writers, as you'd probably expect, have more $#!+ to say than most people.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Everything John Hughes Wrote Was True

Each generation can be defined by its icons and the maxims they gave us. In the sixties, the Beatles promised us that “All you need is love.” In the seventies, Network gave us permission to yell out our windows, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!! (and we wouldn’t be arrested for it). And then, in the eighties, there was John Hughes. Paddy Chayefsky nor Paul McCartney he was not; but he gave voice to a teen culture that was too busy wanting its MTV to care whether it was being heard, and did all but canonize Molly Ringwald.

Both friends and readers know how proud I am to be a card-carrying member and product of Generation X. Evidence of it is openly displayed in each of my novels. My adolescent life was far from a bed of roses, from dealing with parental separation to poor body image to being bullied at school. What saved me, however, were those very icons that now serve as rose-colored glasses. I put them on and see the eighties as a more happy time, full of color and vitality and a lot of synthesizers. All of these things not only shaped me as a person, but as a writer, and I owe some of it to John Hughes. Thanks to his movies, I learned some important things about life, and I’ll share a few examples here, in no particular order.

From The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”
This is totally true. Mine died when I turned twenty-nine, I think. I don’t listen to all that eighties music now because I like it; Apple created a special device that hooks up my iPod to a pacemaker and keeps my heart artificially beating.

From Some Kind of Wonderful: “The only things I care about in this goddamn life are me and my drums and you.”
Also totally true. Except by “drums” I mean “chocolate,” and word to the wise, ladies: jonesin’ for Eric Stoltz will keep you terminally single.

From Sixteen Candles: “Whassa happenin’, hosstuff?”
Best. Pickup. Line. Ever. (Hint: it only works on fellow Gen-Xers. The rest of the population will think you’re stupid. And speech impaired. And racially ignorant.)

From Pretty in Pink: “I’m not particularly concerned with whether or not you like me, because I live to like you and... and I can’t like you anymore.”
Best. Breakup. Line. Ever. It’s the “I live to like you” that makes it art, because nothing says co-dependence like “I live to like you,” and nothing scares men or women away faster.

Also from The Breakfast Club: “I’m not a nymphomaniac. I’m a compulsive liar.”
This might explain why I had so much trouble getting into college when I was eighteen. I wrote this on my applications.

From Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: “Those aren’t pillows.”
That one is self-explanatory, yes?

From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car!”
Would you like to see pictures of my Volkswagen Beetle? I call her Lola.

And finally, honest to God, here’s the one Hughes really got right:

Also From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Honda recently did a commercial for the Super Bowl with Matthew Broderick reclaiming his iconic role, and it was quite delightful, I must say. I’m sure that following the release of this movie, truancy was at an all-time high, and maybe playing hooky from work was, too. High school was, and still is, a bunch of bullshit. Sadder still, too many people work in jobs they find unfulfilling. Trust me. This one is worth its weight and gold.

So, the next time you meet a Gen-Xer, spike up your hair, scrunch down your socks, and instead of saying hello, just give them the secret password: “Yes. I always carry this much shit in my bag. You never know when you have to jam.”

Elisa Lorello is the author of three novels: Faking It, Ordinary World (the sequel to Faking It), and Why I Love Singlehood (co-authored with Sarah Girrell).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Welcome to New Wave Authors!

In 2009, I self-published my first novel, Mercury Falls. The book was a modest success, selling nearly 5,000 copies over the next year.

About six months after self-publishing Mercury Falls, I was contacted by an editor at AmazonEncore, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. At the time, Amazon was just getting into publishing, and I had never heard of AmazonEncore. I thought that maybe it was some sort of add-on service to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service, the digital equivalent of a vanity press. Boy, was I wrong.

Amazon Publishing is a full-service publishing company, no different than any other publishing company. Well, they are different in a few respects: their parent company is the world's largest bookseller. Since signing with Amazon Publishing, I've sold a lot of books.

One of the most unexpected benefits of my association with Amazon Publishing, though, has been the opportunity to meet many other "Amazon authors" from all over the world, whose novels span a wide variety of genres, from mystery to sci-fi to literary fiction.

During one conversation with a group of these authors, I floated the idea of a website that would serve as a sort of hub for Amazon authors -- a place to talk about our experiences with writing and publishing, to keep readers up-to-date on our works in progress, and to reach more potential readers. To say that the idea was met with enthusiasm would be a significant understatement. I spent my spare time over the next several weeks building a site that would meet those goals. The result was this site, New Wave Authors.

To be clear, although the content on this site is produced by authors who are associated with Amazon Publishing, New Wave Authors is in no way affiliated with Amazon Publishing or Amazon.com. The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors, and don't represent the views of all Amazon Publishing authors or Amazon Publishing itself.

Simply put, New Wave Authors is a community of Amazon authors who have come together to talk about our experience with writing, publishing... and pretty much whatever else we feel like talking about. This site is about our books and our stories. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoy writing them.