2009 Highlights

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It’s the end of the year, and the end of a decade. What were my favorite projects of 2009? What did I have the most fun working on?

Murder in Ocean Hall

I can’t help myself, I like to write fiction. People have asked me how I could leave my job and then spend countless hours alone, in a coffee shop, writing a novel. I’ve offered advice on setting a schedule and being committed, but the truth is that writing a book is a huge sacrifice and something that you must really, really want to do. And something that you must enjoy doing more then anything else. Continue reading “2009 Highlights”

Writing About Creativity for the Pink Line Project

I’m going to be writing for the Pink Line Project.  What’s Pink Line?  Describing itself as “a catalyst for the culturally curious”, the site is a guide to DC’s art and cultural scene.  If you’re looking to attend fun art parties in Washington, and learn more about the arts, it’s a great site to check out.

From watching rollergirls arm-wrestle to dodging skateboarders at a photo exhibit, I’ve enjoyed the Pink Line events immensely.  It’s an unexpected side of stuffy Washington that’s much more interesting than some boring Capitol Hill cocktail party. Continue reading “Writing About Creativity for the Pink Line Project”

The Disintermediation Moment

With the advent of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader and the growing acceptance of e-books among readers and writers, it’s safe to say that we’ve reached what I’d call the Disintermediation Moment. This is the time when industries collapse, driven by changes in consumer behavior and expectations. Technology offers new solutions, eagerly adopted by ordinary people, but resisted by middlemen and gatekeepers who want to retain their status, control and income. Continue reading “The Disintermediation Moment”

Murder in Ocean Hall – Where'd the Idea Come From?

Since I finished writing Murder in Ocean Hall, I’ve gotten questions from friends and family regarding the book. Creating something from nothing seems enough of a magical act to inspire some questioning. The question I’ve gotten most is:

Where’d you get the idea from?

I originally planned to write a much different book, something much more serious and literary. It’s a manuscript that I’ve worked on for three or four years and exists on my laptop as a mix of disparate scenes and ideas that have never quite come together. The novel that I had in mind was a much grimmer story, about DC during the summer before 9/11. The book is about people chasing success, unaware that their world is about to be undone.

Finishing that big serious book was my plan. It’s why I decided to leave my government contractor job. Continue reading “Murder in Ocean Hall – Where'd the Idea Come From?”

Murder in Ocean Hall – Almost Done!

I’m in the final stages of my book, Murder in Ocean Hall. I’ve spent a lot of time at Caribou to get this far. Right now, I’m busy proofing the book. I’m done writing it, have edited a couple times already, and am going through the book once more. I’ve printed all 235 pages and and am closely reading the book to catch any mistakes.

Am I really done with the book? Hmm. I could probably spend the rest of my life tweaking it but eventually you have to send it off into the world. “Real artists ship,” to quote Steve Jobs.

Am I happy with the book? Yes. It’s got a beginning, middle and end, interesting characters, some good info on ocean exploration and urban life in DC, and a couple of plot twists. It might meander at times, a bit.

Is it perfect? No. Nothing is as perfect as it is in your head. By putting your idea to paper, you take it out of the ideal world and put it into the real one. This fear of sullying your own creation is a cause of writer’s block. It causes many people not to write anything because they know it won’t be perfect.

What’s next for my book?

Plan A – The Traditional Route.  Look for an agent, try to sell the book to a publisher, and then wait for it to appear in bookstores.

Plan B – The Nontraditional Route. Self-publish it using Lulu or Blurb. Sell it online using one of these print on demand services.

The first path is more prestigious and accepted but the print publishing world is in really bad shape these days. The second road is much easier – I could have a paperback version of the book next week- but it’s more of a DIY project.

Five Ways to Find an Agent

Paige Wheeler is a literary agent and founder of Folio Literary Management. On February 22, at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, she gave a wide-ranging talk about a host of topics pertinent to writers such as the publishing process, how the downturn has effected the book industry, the economics of writing, contract pitfalls and the advantages of having a literary agent on your side.

But how do you find an agent? She provided five really good tips:

  1. Attend writer’s conferences. No matter what genre you write in, or where you live, there’s bound to be a conference for you to attend. Conferences offer opportunities to network with writers, editors and agents. Fellow writers can be a good source of information on agents and what they like. Also, the writing business is based upon relationships and attending conferences are a way of making those connections. 
  2. Contests. Agents and editors judge writing contests. Winning a contest could lead to a book deal. Be sure to check out who’s judging the conference to make sure it’s reputable.
  3. Guides to agents. Your bookstore has several guides to literary agents, such as Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide.
  4. Dedication pages of books. Does your favorite author thank their agent in their acknowledgements?
  5. Online sources. AgentQuery, AAR Online, Mediabistro and Publishers Marketplace were all cited by Wheeler or members of the audience as good resources.

Wheeler strongly suggested doing your research before querying an agent. Few things irritated her more than a query letter pitching a project (like a screenplay) that she doesn’t handle.

This is just a fraction of the valuable information she provided in a two-hour long session with a lot of questions and answers. Wheeler is a new member of the Writer’s Center faculty and will be conducting a workshop in the spring.

Friday's Links

Here’s what’s interested me in the last week:

How Phony is Shepard Fairey?
There’s a fine line between art and plagiarism. 

Apple Store Design Hits a Glass Wall Again
Who is the Old Georgetown Board and why are they holding up Apple coming to DC?

How Will We Survive Battlestar Galactica’s Radioactive Future?
Some practical suggestions.

Christian Bale, Hero of the Set
I find this a little hard to believe – a movie set being terrorized by a DP?

Writers Need to Promote Their Books
Seems obvious, but just because you’re published, it doesn’t mean that your work is done.

What Do You Write With?

powerbooks at SXSW
People writing (maybe) at SXSW 2007.

This poll got me thinking about the endless debate (among writers and techies, that is) about the best word processing tool. As a writer, you think I would have a strong and absolute preference for one software program over another. After all, an easy to use writing tool is vitally important to my trade.

However, like most writers, I’ll write with whatever’s available, whether that’s a clay tablet, pen and paper, or software program outfitted with the latest features. Here’s what I’m using now:

Word 2004 for the Mac – you really can’t escape Word if you work in an office these days. Like Starbucks, it’s ubiquitous. I use it because it’s on my computer at work and I have to. I hate its constant, distracting whirr of activity, the noisy autosaves, the stupid autocompletes, the aggravating formatting issues.

TextEdit – a lovely little program, ideal for short bits of text to dump into web pages, email messages, Word docs and Scrivener (see below). It’s a perfect word processor for laptops because it’s not a resource hog. With it, I’ll write text for my novel that I then paste into Scrivener.

Google Docs – the successor to Word. Google is the company that will dominate our work lives like Microsoft once did. Deal with it. I use Google Docs for things I want access from home and work and to share with others. For example, I have a doc of furniture I want to buy, complete with links and photos.

Scrivener – a program that causes well-deserved spasms of joy among Mac novelists. Though it was created by a non-programmer, it’s a nearly perfect example of a Mac program. It keeps you organized and gets out of your way when you want to work. It’s doubled my productivity through it’s ease of use. I spend every weekend in it, working on my novel.

Pages – my next love. I took the first couple chapters out of my novel and dropped them into Pages. I quickly created a book cover and, my god, it looked like a real book! That’s inspiring.

For me at least, my workflow would go TextEdit -> Scrivener -> Pages.

However, all this debate over the perfect word-processing tool is a distraction, like discussions among photographers over lenses. In the past, I’ve written with incredibly primitive tools, like manual typewriters. What matters most is writing.

Salman Rushdie: 1989 and Now

Salman Rushdie was recently awarded a knighthood by Britain, an act which caused more than one anti-Western rant from the medieval ayotollahs of Iran and Pakistan. The usual threats of violence from the usual dark quarter of the world. This honor by Britain reminded these hateful clerics that Rushdie is the author of The Satanic Verses, a novel considered blasphemous (by some) to Islam.

Rushdie has been under a sentence of death since 1989, when the book was first published and the clerics of Iran took offense. Only recently has he felt safe enough to emerge from hiding.

What’s been forgotten over the years is that the hostage-taking Ayotollah Khomeini wasn’t the only one outraged by The Satanic Verses. This excellent article in the International Herald Tribune reminds us that the book was published to great controversy. Like the recent cartoon conflagration in Denmark, not everyone stood behind the right of free speech in an open society.

In a March 1989 Op-Ed article in The New York Times titled “Rushdie’s Book Is an Insult,” Jimmy Carter argued that “The Satanic Verses” was guilty of “vilifying” Muhammad and “defaming” the Koran. “The author, a well-versed analyst of Moslem beliefs, must have anticipated a horrified reaction throughout the Islamic world,” Carter wrote. While condemning the death sentence and affirming Rushdie’s right to free speech, the former president argued that “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated and are suffering in restrained silence the added embarrassment of the Ayatollah’s irresponsibility.”

It’s just a novel, words printed on the page, a novel that billions of people will never see or even bother reading. A novel cannot violate a religion. A basic tenet of Western civilization is the right to offend people – we must not go backwards on this.

I had heard of Rushdie in 1989, after reading his book Shame in a modern literature class. The fatwa by Khomeini made The Satanic Verses a bestseller. I remember racing through book stores in DC, looking for a copy. I wanted to buy it to show my support of free speech, to show the Ayatollah that we wouldn’t be intimidated. Your religion doesn’t dictate what I can read.

I couldn’t find one anywhere – it was the iPhone of its day 😉 After I got a copy from a friend who worked in the publishing industry, I started the book and found it incomprehensible, a wild magic realism narrative that I couldn’t understand. All this trouble for a book?

Since then, I’ve gone on to enjoy other Rushdie novels, especially the brilliant Shalimar the Clown.

Looking back, it’s tempting to believe that America and Europe supported the absolute right of free speech. However, when faced with the very real threat of violence, people don’t always live up to their ideals and seek to justify censorship.

What will we do when the next of these conflicts arise?  Will we stand firm or compromise our values?