Monday, June 24, 2013

The Dark Contest

Last week I heard about a contest that made my inner child squee. The Jim Henson Company in partnership with Grosset and Dunlap are looking for someone to write a YA book in the world of The Dark Crystal.

I love The Dark Crystal.

In my opinion, it's one of the few kids movies that has gotten better with time. The story and characters are solid, the world is short it's one of the few sandboxes (that aren't mine) that I'd love to play in. When I heard about the contest I thought this would be my chance to do just that. Well....

After reading the official rules I had to take that desire out back and shoot it execution style. It was for my own good, really. You see, according to the rules, all entrants have no independant rights to their entry, name, image, or anything else in conjunction with the contest. I understand why they don't want the entrants to sell their work independently. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Brian Froud worked very hard to make the world of The Dark Crystal what it is and I can't blame the company for wanting to protect that, especially in light of the recent fanfic ruling. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to let them have the rest of those rights. If I sent in a short story and I won, the story would become their property and there's nothing I could do to stop them. The simple act of sending an entry means that I would have agreed to ALL the terms and conditions. There's no room for exceptions or negotiations. It's a package deal.

But oh! It doesn't end there.

The winner is contracted to write a YA novel that may or may not be based on their winning entry and there's no mention of payment. Grosset and Dunlap also reserve the right to not award a prize if they don't think the entries are up to snuff. Take a moment to think of all the twisted implications of that. They will have all those entires -- and the full rights to said entires -- that they can publish to their heart's content and not only do they not have to pay the author(s), they don't have to award grand prize to anyone. Everyone loses but the publisher.

Now, I may not have much of a love life, but I'm not that eager to be screwed.

If there's one thing I took away from the Superstars Writing Seminar (other than the importance of reading contest rules and contracts) it's that it's impossible to make a living as a writer if you throw your rights away like rice at a wedding. The old sayings "Look before you leap" and "Cover your ass" need to be tattooed on the back of a writer's hand. Heeding those two phrases will prevent a lot of pain and heartache.

I do want to make perfectly clear that I'm not writing this post to tarnish the Jim Henson Company's good name. I love what they do and the passion they have for their work. But they're puppeteers and artists, not publishers. If this worst case scenario plays out the blame will be on the publisher for screwing over the unsuspecting entrants. Granted, I don't have proof that they're going to screw anyone but Grosset and Dunlap (and their parent company, Penguin Group) have been doing this long enough to know exactly what they're doing. I sincerely hope that their intentions are good and they do intend to award the prize and a contract that involves more favorable terms (including payment) to the winner. However, I'm cynical and wary enough that I don't want to jump into bed with a publisher without a pre-nup.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dona eis Requiem

This weekend I finished reading Requiem by Ken Scholes. The book comes out tomorrow (6/18) and it's the fourth book in The Psalms of Isaac series. I love this series, I love Ken's writing, and this book doesn't disappoint. It's hard for me to gush about someone else's work without going into Spoilerland but I'll do my best.

It continually amazes me how much better Ken gets with each book. The Psalms of Isaac isn't a simple tale, it's a Whymer Maze that spans millennia. Each installment shows us a portion of that maze while giving us tantalizing hints of what is yet to come. In Requiem, Ken brought together the events of the previous books in delightful, heart wrenching, and surprising ways. There were a couple parts that creeped the hell out of me but again, that was because Ken did his job really, really well.

One thing that this book has that the others didn't is a handy, dandy glossary. If you're one of those people who skims glossaries before reading the book, I strongly suggest that you don't do it on this one.  Some things shouldn't be learned too early. Trust me on this. However, do refer to it while reading. As I said, it's very handy. I even referred to it a few times while finishing Antiphon. If you want a bit of extra insight into Requiem and the Psalms of Isaac as a whole, read AWeeping Czars Beholds the Fallen Moon and The Second Gift Given. These two short stories will bring a lot of things to light.

I will confess that I have one teensy problem. Now that I've finished Requiem, I have to wait for the next book. Wah! Ok, reading the first four back to back to back may have spoiled me a bit. I guess that'll give me lots of time to commit Requiem to memory.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Time makes the pen grow sharper

Last week I started editing a novelette that I wrote last year. In fact, it was exactly a year ago that I wrote Expendable. I had a lot of hopes for this story when I sent it to The Writers of the Future Contest. It was the best story I'd written to date and I was a nervous wreck while I waited for the results. Well, the story was rejected and coincidently my heart was broken.

I'm not talking about the "I'm never going to love again" kind of broken. That kind of heartbreak is too pink and fluffy for my taste. It also wasn't the "My life is over and I'm never going to have a career" kind of heartbreak. I'm not that emo and I had no desire to use all of my black liquid eyeliner in one night. This was the "What did I do wrong this time?" kind of broken.

I did multiple passes on the story to make sure everything was clean and complete, I passed it around both of my critique groups, I even e-mailed NASA to fact check some things (they never responded, by the way). After all that work it still wasn't good enough. What got me through, other than encouragement from a couple good friends, was the knowledge that Dave wouldn't have rejected it without good reason. At the time I had no idea what that reason may have been, just that somewhere in the document was a flaw.

Those of you that have followed my blog for a while know that I had to revisit the story during NaNo because I wanted to write the sequel novelette. That's when I found a couple of big typos of the "I can't remember what this character's name is" variety. It was humiliating but it dispelled the mystery around the rejection.

When I revisited it last week, it was with the intent to improve the opening and do one final pass to make sure I didn't overlook anything else before I sent it out into the world again. I spent two days on the opening to make sure all the changes fit in seamlessly. Two days was a little longer than I wanted to spend on it but it wasn't unprecedented. Besides, it was all worthwhile in the end. What I didn't anticipate was spending the next week cleaning up the first half of the story. That's right. It was just the first half. What's worse was that I spent two days on six paragraphs. Six paragraphs!

If I'd known how rough it was I wouldn't have submitted it in the first place -- which is the point of this blog. I didn't know. My skills are more refined than they were a year ago. All the purple prose and unfinished thoughts that I've been fixing were invisible to me back then. Heck, they were invisible to me back in November when I re-read the story. This has left me in a strange state. Usually I detest editing. I do it because it's a very necessary step, I'm just not masochistic enough to enjoy it. However this edit has been a joy because each mistake reaffirms how much I've grown in a short amount of time. It's actually made me excited to dive into my flawed short story from March.

When I've finished editing Expendable I'm not going to resubmit it to the contest. Instead I'm going to send it to market. Why? Because I still believe in this story. Despite all the flaws of last year's draft it's still a damn good story and I'm very happy that my increased skills have allowed me to once again make it my best short work to date.

Monday, June 3, 2013

When a house party really is a house party

I finally saw Iron Man 3 this weekend. My friends have been raving about it for a month and now I know why. It's fantastic! I'm still on the fence as to whether it's better than the first, but man, does it blow the second out of the water. I know I'm probably one of the last people in the US to see it but just in case...


The pacing of this movie was, for the most part, right on. The story moved quickly and things that needed to be foreshadowed were without bringing the narrative to a dead stop. The action sequences were top notch, both in regard to the storytelling and the special effects. It had just enough humor, Pepper got to kick ass, Tony had to pay for past sins, and it had a spectacular red herring (I love me a good red herring).

The best elements, in my opinion, were in regards to Tony's PTSD. With a conflict as FUBAR as New York was in The Avengers, someone on the team was bound to get it and there's no reason why it wouldn't be Tony. He has the least experience with weird, life threatening alien stuff. Watching him deal with those issues throughout the film grounded it in reality and made the regenerating/exploding people easier to accept. The kid was also a brilliant addition. His innocence, and uncomplicated view of the world was exactly what Tony, and coincidently the story, needed to help Tony see past the trauma and what he couldn't do so he could regroup and use the assets he did have. That never would have happened without the kid.

There were a couple things that I wish were explained a bit better. One of them being the mark 42. When Tony put the suit on Pepper I assumed that he'd already implanted the ID chips in her body under some sort of security protocol ruse. When he put the suit on the Mandarin, that theory was thoroughly defenestrated. I get why they did it. 42 was a handy solution for those perilous moments when Tony had to do something incredibly clever to save his (and Pepper's) ass. I just wish they had laid a clear foundation for what the suit's requirements were for transfer. I can only hope that a deleted scene will demystify the mark 42.

Another element that bothered me was the regeneration aspect of the DNA modification. If it can regenerate lost limbs, why then would it not repair permanently damaged and discolored skin -- A.K.A. tattoos? The Mandarin's tattoos were cool, but there was no reason for them to be there.

Of course both of these faults are nit-picky, "show me the science" stuff and no one goes to a Marvel movie for the science. We go for the "Hulk smash" moments and to see our favorite heroes and heroines on the big screen. In that regard, this movie is full of win. I applaud the scriptwriters on a job well done. They delivered what we ultimately wanted while answering the questions that needed to be answered to move the overarching story along.