Good News/Bad News

Yesterday evening I found out my screenplay 20 August made the Top 20 in the Fempire Screenplay Contest. The news came in a rather surprising way, actually:

So that was fun.

I’ve been trying to get 20 August made for years now. I’ve had indie directors pick it up and then wander off to do other stuff, which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been told I should just make the movie myself, which is also frustrating. If I could—and if I really wanted to—I would. But I’m a writer. And yet, in the indie world, it seems that’s not enough any more. Indie directors mostly write their own material now and aren’t looking for outside content.

The Good News: 20 August has been recognized yet again as a good screenplay.

The Bad News: I’m not any closer to getting it made.

I’ve often heard, “If you wanted it badly enough, you’d figure out a way.” But life doesn’t work like that. We can want things badly—need them, even—and there’s sometimes no way. People who say there is always a way are the same people who say that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed. And that simply isn’t true. You can work your ass off and still fail. That’s life.

I’m not even sure why I still send 20 August into competition. I guess I keep hoping someone will see its potential and magically pass it up to someone able to make it happen. With the rise of indie Oscar winners like Moonlight, I fantasize that my little movie could also be a winner. But the truth is, I write very few screenplays any more. It’s too difficult to get a “yes” from all the people required to say “yes.” Hell, it’s too difficult to get the damn thing in front of the people who have to say “yes.” Books are simpler.

Still, I had an indie director contact me the other day asking me to write a script for a specific location. Um . . . I’ve written stuff for this director before and he has yet to do anything with it. So is it a waste of my time? I’ll probably never see any money for all the work I’ve already done, not only on stuff for this director, but any of my screenwriting. It’s a losing proposition.

Yet I won’t rule out writing something. Hope springs infernal, after all.

Actions Speak

As a rule, I try not to be political on this site. The point of this site is to focus on writing, publishing, books, and other media. But I was talking to someone the other day who seemed genuinely surprised and aggrieved to have had friends ghost her after political discussions. This person had voted for Trump and couldn’t understand why she and these friends couldn’t simply have “a difference of opinion.”

Usually, a mere difference of opinion wouldn’t be enough to make a friend—depending on how close the relationship is, I suppose—bail. I mean, I’m the only one of my friends who likes Matchbox Twenty and Jimmy Buffett (and I don’t like metal), but no one has dumped me for my dubious musical tastes yet. That I know of . . .

But voting is not just an opinion, it’s an action. And when you vote for someone whose policies are designed to oppress entire groups, then I think it’s probably a valid response for some people to not want to associate with you. You’ve basically acted against whole sects of society, which is the same as saying, “I don’t care about you. I don’t think you have rights. I don’t think you should exist.” Your actions have words behind them, whether you speak them or not.

Think about it in more mundane circumstances. A person who runs a red light is “saying” any or all of the following:

  • My time is more important than yours.
  • The rules don’t apply to me.
  • I am entitled to do what I like.
  • I am distracted and therefore should not be driving.
  • It’s fine if there’s no authority figure around because who is going to stop me?

We all hate that person because their actions speak to a disregard for everyone else.

All this said, I’m not condoning dropping your friends based on who they voted for. I’m just saying I can see why someone would do that. Certainly, we need to remain open-minded and have a willingness to discuss issues. But we should also think about how what we do impacts others. We’re a society, a community. We don’t have to agree on everything—we don’t even have to like everyone—but we do need to show basic human kindness and respect. To everyone. When you take an action that doesn’t do that, that in fact does the opposite, you can’t be surprised when people react badly.

Romanticizing Darcy

So I read this article today about how Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy is a less worthy hero than Bhaer from Little Women. I’ll admit here and now that I love Jane Austen and never could get into Louisa May Alcott, so I’m probably biased from the get go. But I also am not the type to enjoy “bad boy” stories, alpha male romantic interests, etc. And so I think this article misses the mark.

One of the fundamental assumptions of the article is that Mr. Darcy changes personality over the course of the novel—Lizzie changes him. I agree that in fiction I find the woman-makes-him-a-better-man thing annoying and problematic. But I’ve never read P&P that way. To me, Darcy doesn’t change. He’s always himself. He just has a really hard shell and a gooey center. Lizzie doesn’t change him, she cracks him open in a way only those close to him have ever been able to do.

Take it from Darcy’s side. Here is a man who (a) must fend off women on a regular basis, and (b) also has a young sister to worry about. He has many responsibilities and a lot on his mind. One can hardly blame him for knowing Mrs. Bennet for who and what she really is—a grasping mama. He’s surely dealt with his share of them before coming to Netherfield. He’s learned to be wary, and he’s put up necessary defences that make him standoffish and seemingly rude. But that’s a matter of self-preservation, really.

I’m probably making excuses because I so adore the book, but I still believe my argument is valid. On the flip side, I do prefer nice men to dominant alphas, which is why there are scads of books I don’t read. I don’t find the alpha male trope hot or romantic. Which is why you won’t find them in anything I write, either. And yes, I think it’s possible to write a nice guy character that is still interesting. (Well, they’re interesting to me, anyway. But maybe I’m alone in that.)

What do you think? Darcy: yea or nay? Is he just a Georgian-era bad boy? Who are your favorite romantic heroes?

Book Covers?

I wanted to start a new Pinterest board of great book covers, but . . . For whatever reason, I wasn’t finding any I liked enough to pin. Maybe I’m in the wrong frame of mind, or maybe I’m just jaded. Or maybe my tastes run contrary to trends. I tried looking up “best book covers” but those that were pictured just didn’t do it for me.

Looking at my bookshelves now, it occurs to me I do really like the Peter Grant series covers . . . And the Shades of Magic covers are nice, too . . . But nothing is igniting my soul at the moment.

So now I’m asking you to show me your favorite book covers. Tell me what you like about them, too! I know I’ve seen gorgeous covers, so where have they gone and why am I not finding them now?

Thank an Author?

I’ve seen a resurgence of posts saying some variation of: “The best way to thank an author is to write a review!” I’ll admit I’ve even (re)posted these from time to time.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think readers are looking to “thank” authors.

I’m not saying readers are ungrateful. I just don’t think couching it in terms of gratitude is useful. An author does his or her job by writing what hopefully is a good book. A reader then purchases that book. To many readers, that’s the end of the transaction. Readers figure that when they buy our books, we’ve made our money. They’ve done their part. And then we go and ask for additional work from them and tell them they should be grateful we’ve done our jobs and entertained them.

You don’t see posts saying, “The best way to thank an actor is to write a review!” Or, “The best way to thank a band is to write a review!” Why do we do this for authors then? Do we really think it will motivate readers? In my experience it doesn’t.

I would very much appreciate more reviews. But I’ll equally admit that, after closing a book, my first thought is seldom if ever, “Gee, I wish I could thank that author!” In fact, it’s human nature to be more likely to write a review complaining about something bad than one praising something good. We expect good; we feel entitled to it, particularly after spending our money. When something isn’t good, we’re angry and want others to know it.

(I do write reviews, btw. I post them on my spooklights blog and on Goodreads. If I were a better person, I’d also post them on Amazon. For some reason I can’t seem to ever remember to do that. So I guess I shouldn’t complain when others don’t do it for me either.)

The big question is: How do we motivate readers to leave reviews? We can try explaining the importance of those reviews—that without them, authors can’t afford to keep writing and publishing books. So if you like an author’s work and want more, show your support by reviewing. I don’t know if that would work, but I do believe people like to believe they’re helping, that they’re contributing to a worthwhile cause.

Then again, even without reviews, there will always be authors writing and publishing. So readers aren’t going to lack for books if a few under-reviewed authors fall out of the machinery.

Asking for applause is a tad gauche. And that’s what reviews are: textual applause. (Or boos, if the reviews are bad.) How can authors instill the habit of reviewing in readers? We all know to clap after a live performance; sometimes we even give a standing ovation. But theatre has been around for centuries, and when watching something live, we can see the hard work going into the show. How can we help readers appreciate the same for writing?

I don’t pretend to have answers. I just think it’s worth posing the question. In order to get more reviews, we need to examine the culture around writing and publishing and reading—we need to figure out how to add that final step of reviewing to the chain so that it becomes a regular part of the cycle. And to do that, we need to understand how people read and what motivates them. If and when they review, why? Only when we have a clearer picture can we hope to make better progress . . . and get more reviews.

Luck & the Ladder

This morning, author Chuck Wendig posted a really nice Twitter thread about maximizing your luck as an author. Here’s the first tweet:

If you click on it, you can then read the entire thread.

Chuck (if I may be so informal) makes a lot of good points. Writing isn’t a meritocracy. You can work really hard and still not succeed. In a society that has shown us again and again in movies, television, and yes, books, that hard work always pays off, this can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Luck plays a pretty significant role in success . . . of any kind, really, but we’ll stick to writing for now. But as Chuck also notes, you can maximize your chances. Write a really good book, or better yet, write several.

Now, I’ll admit I always bristle just a little when an already successful person tries to pat me on the head and give me advice. I suppose they think it’s helpful, but it’s a little too diffuse to be truly useful. “Go write some more” isn’t some great kernel of knowledge. Still, I know Chuck and his ilk mean well when they hand down their opinions and musings like gods spitting peanut shells from their thrones in the clouds. So I try to take it in the spirit it’s intended.

One piece of advice he gives, however, is to write more. And besides the fact that pretty much everyone gives that advice, it only serves to kick people like me—slow, deliberate crafters of tales—in the gut. I write 1-2 books a year. I know I should write more and faster, but I simply cannot. It’s not for lack of trying, but you might as well tell a fish to climb a tree. It isn’t going to happen.

Does that make me a bad writer? It’s an honest question; I have no idea.

Chuck also points out that writing to market rather than writing what you want to write is probably not the best choice. And he talks about helping other writers by talking about them and their work, introducing them to agents and editors, building community . . . But I’ve written in the past about how a bunch of new writers can’t really help each other much. They need established authors, editors, agents to reach down the ladder and pull them up a bit. And yet it seems like once someone gets a few rungs up the ladder, their interest in helping those below wanes. There are a few reasons for this. Some people, once they’ve made it over the hurdle, feel like others should have to do it themselves. I did it and no one helped me, so why should I help anyone?

Others feel like it’s a zero-sum game. They think if they help anyone else, they’ll lose their chance at making it all the way to the top. They’re afraid helping others will pull them back down a rung. They’re afraid of losing the tenuous position they’ve worked so hard to establish. They begin defending their territory rather than opening the borders.

And some are just frightened and overwhelmed by the cries for help. I imagine it looks a bit like a scene from a zombie movie. Say there’s a mass of people trying to make it to the ladder that leads to safety. They’re swarming around the bottom of this ladder, desperate. And if you make it partway up, and you look down into this mass of humanity, it looks pretty scary. You wouldn’t even know where to begin to help any of them. If you reach down, they’ll hungrily grab at you, may even rip your arm off. As it is, they make break the ladder before you can get to the top. So maybe this feeds into the previous observation, that need to defend your space lest you be dragged back down.

Then again, maybe you build more ladders. Maybe you throw some ropes over that wall so lots of people can climb.

Actions, amIright? I know we’re writers, but sometimes we still have to do instead of relying on our words.

It’s one thing to post a long Twitter thread cheering people on. That’s nice and all, but even if the thread is true and reasonable and posted with the best possible intentions, it’s no ladder.

It’s fair of you to ask at this point, “Okay, so what do you do to help other authors?” Well, I’m not all that successful yet, but I still try to help those coming after me, or even my peers. I give workshops on the writing and publishing process. I let fellow authors know of opportunities I think they may be interested in. And I’m an editor, so I help my selected writing groups by giving feedback that I’d normally charge for. I do what I can, and hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to do more. If the zombies don’t get me, and so long as no one pulls up the ladder before I can get there.