Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fear Itself

September 30, 2008
From Franklin D. Roosevelt's Inaugural Address:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Holy Crap! Did the HOR really do that?

September 29, 2008
Did I hear the news right? Did the House of Representatives actually turn down this bailout package? This you've-gotta-do-this-or-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-is-gonna-happen-next-week bill?

You tell me:

1. They're hugely irresponsible because EVERYONE knows that something must be done immediately or the economy will grind to a total halt and we'll all be forced to go back to a barter-for-goods economic system any day now.

2. They're responsible because the plan sucks, it's ridiculously expensive, nobody knows whether it will work or not, and the American people are getting seriously pissed off about it, so they're stand up their constituency (or as they like to say, Main Street, not Wall Street, a phrase that's starting to nauseate me in its sycophancy. Sure, Senator, divest yourself of your stock portfolio, then we'll talk).

3. We're politicians, for God sakes, this is what we're best at! We stick our heads in the sand and hope someone else will take responsibility for solving a problem that's going to be a boondoggle even if it works!

What's your vote? Or am I missing an option?

Mark Terry

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Life is odd...

September 28, 2008
Today was a recuperative day, I guess. Here's a take on my Friday and Saturday.

I got up at 6:30 on Friday morning as usual, and after my shower, checked my email around 7:30 or so. I had an email from a friend of mine I used to work with saying, basically, "I imagine you've already heard this, but Kristina Zubrickus passed away on Monday. The funeral is Friday at 10:00."

Well, Jessie, thank you so much. I got Sean off to school, walked the dog, quick put on a suit and drove to Southfield for the funeral. Here's the first of two oddities. Kristina was Lithuanian and very involved with the Lithuanian community. The church for the funeral was a Lithuanian Catholic Church. The entire funeral service--every word--was in Lithuanian. 

I'm not Catholic. Nor am I Lithuanian. It was a beautiful service and only a total ignoramus would have missed the raw emotion in one of the songs sung along with a guitarist. Still, sitting through a service in a language you don't understand does give you a lot of time to think about death and mortality and the person you're there respecting and honoring. There's humor in it, I suppose, but I was upset enough by the death of the woman to not be all that amused.

Kristina and her twin sister Regina (who I did get to express my condolences to) both stand about 6 foot 1 or 2. I had been told that they were from a very tall family, one brother who is 6 foot 7! I'm about 5' 8', maybe a little taller (in my dreams, perhaps), and I came a little late (with the coffin, actually), and it was standing room only, essentially, and I got a folding chair at the back of the church. It appears to me that Lithuanians in general are very, very TALL. All of them!  I swear, the AVERAGE height of the men--AVERAGE--must have been 6'4" and for the women (undoubtedly wearing heels) was about 6'1".

Anyway, after the funeral, back home, try to get some work done, back-and-forthing, went to a football game Ian was playing in.

Saturday, up early, Sensei Class, my oldest received his 1st degree brown belt. Then spent late afternoon into the evening at the Brandon Invitational Marching Band Competition. Oxford Wildcats placed 3rd in the Class A--their first time at the competition, they did great.

Seems like a lot was crammed in.

Mark Terry

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writers and their Agents, Research, Etc.

September 26, 2008
I enjoyed yesterday's conversation about the editing/writing/agenting/idea process. Jude and Zoe, thanks for keeping me on my toes and for helping me think through things a little bit.

As for agents and when they do or do not like things in your manuscript.

Well, an agent is supposed to be your partner in this business. Your advocate. You may not agree with them all the time, but you should listen to them. If you find yourself at odds with your agent ALL the time, then it's probably time to look for a new agent.

In fact, there are many, many reasons to seek a new agent, but this wasn't one of them.

There's a lesson in this story for all writers, though, and it's an important one. It is:

Don't take all criticism at face value.

It's nice when an editor or agent can point out something wrong with the manuscript in a very specific way, eg., your climax is anticlimactic and predictable, you need to put some sort of twist in there and raise the stakes a bit.

That's nice. That means they've put their finger on the problem.

The thing is, you're more likely to get: "um, your ending didn't really work, fix it." Or, "the ending was kind of soft."

In an essay Michael Crichton commented once that figuring out your editor's code language was part of staying sane and being successful at writing. His example was an editor saying something along the lines of, "I think your main character should be a woman instead of a man."

Obviously, that would create a ton of work and change everything in the manuscript. Crichton made the point that what the editor probably meant was the character was too hard-edged and needed to be a little softer and more sympathetic.

As I mentioned in my last comment in yesterday's post, I've been short on alternative ideas. Then I decided, since the ending of Fortress is all wrapped up in Hopi mythology and Anasazi culture/myth, that I should go back and do some more reading. And as soon as I did--really, it took me about 5 minutes--I got a good idea, one that, in fact, I had considered when I was originally writing the manuscript. I've slept on it, and promisingly, it was the first thing in my head this morning.

Is it better than my original idea and concept? I'm not so sure. But I DO think that it might be more appropriate for the age group the book is aimed at. So I've got some work to do.

And finally, I got an email this morning from a friend I used to work with telling me that Kristina Zubrickas, another woman I used to work with, died of breast cancer on Monday and the funeral is today. Kristina was in her late-40s, and her twin sister, Regina, also worked in the laboratory I worked in. She was married with two children. I would guess the kids are now in high school, possibly even college. Kristina was a lovely, lovely woman and my thoughts and condolences go out to her family and friends. What a tragedy.

Mark Terry

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'll Get Right On It, Just As Soon As My Brain Starts Functioning Again

September 25, 2008
After some dilly-dallying (how often does you read that phrase on a blog, huh? huh? huh?) I sent my kids' novel, The Fortress of Diamonds, to my agent.

Who loved it.

Sort of. Well, actually, she wants me to change the ending.

Not a little bit. A lot. Not, let's slap some paint on this-here wall and maybe lay down some new carpet, change. No, this is, lay the charges, this sucker's comin' down, clear the area, kind of change.

In fact, I found her comments to be, well, what?

Unhelpful, is perhaps the best way I can describe them. I tried making a spackle-the-holes-and-lay-down-the-primer changes to address her "it's boring and it's too long" comment, but that really wasn't the gist of her issues. 

So I went back and asked her, "is your problem with the execution or the idea itself."

It was the idea itself.

Which, as the expression goes, leaves me in a bit of a pickle. (Where the hell does that expression come from anyway?)

You see, when I wrote the damned thing, I didn't know exactly what was so significant about the Fortress of Diamonds. Just that it was hidden, that it was reported to be a place of great danger and great power, and a lunatic was determined to get there first.

That put me in a position of needing it to actually BE something of great power and danger, something very much worth stopping a lunatic from getting there.

And when I finally got my main characters there, with my adventures and dangers along the way, I understood what it was about and I wrote accordingly and I was pleased with it. And I had about 10 readers of varying ages and gender and writing experience (some teenagers, in other words) read the book and not one--not one!--had an issue with the ending.

Nonetheless, my agent's not going to market this unless I change it.

Normally, I'm very good when my agent or an editor says, "I don't like this, fix it." And yes, sometimes that's all the feedback you get, although I'm more likely to get it like that from my agent, which, now that I'm picking at this particular scab makes me wonder if we don't have a serious problem in our relationship. Anyway...

Normally, when given a criticism of that sort, I can easily come up with a dozen fixes, sort through the one I think is most likely to work and get to work.

This time I'm drawing a total blank.

I mean, really. I mentioned that to my agent and she said, "Maybe it'll come to you in a dream."

Mmmm, maybe. Actually, last night I dreamt I was back in college sharing a room with my first college roommate only this time he was a complete and total slob (unlike the 2 years when I roomed with him when he was just a really strange and weird, uptight guy, but one who cleaned up after himself). Back-in-college dreams generally suggest I'm stressed about something and I don't actually think it's about The Fortress of Diamonds--although to be fair, it could be about anything, including the economy, the war in Iraq or the cold I've got or why I can't get the e-mail function to work properly on the new iPhone I bought.

Nope, no solution there.

And I'm concerned that I just don't give a damn enough to fight my way through this. I'm concerned, actually, that when it comes to my fiction, I'm rather like a boxer who's been beat up just a bit too much and when his trainer pushes him back into the ring, thinks that going back in there isn't about winning, it's about surviving. Or as Bartleby said, "I prefer not to."

I mean, really. I've had 2 small presses go belly-up prior to publication, I've had a publisher publish one book and then go into a weird stasis non-decision mode about the follow-up, so my agent made an agreement with them to market it and it didn't sell. I got picked up by another publisher for a 4-book contract, and dropped after the first 2 books were published with strong reviews and mediocre (at best) sales. All this after a dozen or so unpublished novels and hundreds of rejections.

You know, I didn't expect to go this route in this post, but the truth is, when I think about figuring out how to solve my agent's issues with this book, I mostly feel blank or just tired. And part of that "tired" thing goes like this: why do all the work when she won't be able to sell it anyway?

That's certainly not the appropriately uplifting tone a writer is supposed to have on a writing blog. I'm supposed to be all daisies and butterflies and tell you how I'm just churning away at fixing this and I'll send it off and she'll love it and send it out and it'll get picked up for thousands of dollars...

I'm not sure who says this, but it's along the lines of: Continuing to unsuccessfully accomplish the same task the same way is the mark of insanity.

That is to say, if you keep trying to jam a square peg into a round hole and the only solution is to keep pushing at it, there might be something wrong.

Mark Terry

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wins & Losses

September 22, 2008
One of the blogs I've been reading regularly--well, as regularly as you can when the writer only posts once a week, a concept that seems promising to me--is Fitchick, aka Selena Yeager, who is a writer Bicycling magazine and author of a number of books on fitness for women. She recently completed an Iron Man triathlon (in Louisville, KY) and qualified for the Kona Triathlon in Hawaii, which is the big one everybody thinks of if they're crazy enough to think about Iron  Man Triathlons at all.

Anyway, she wrapped up today's blog entry with something that I felt applied terribly well to writing and, well, to life in general.

I keep a lyric from Public Enemy's "He's Got Game" written on my office white board: "Don't let a win go to your head. Or a loss to your heart." I try to live by those words in all areas of my life, athletic and otherwise. And I've thought about them more than ever this year, especially lately, as I prepare for this final contest of the season. It's easy to let races take on a life of their own and to let them define you, or worse, your self worth. The fact is that the game is big and unpredictable and never ending. There will always be winners and losers and everyone in between. Where you fall in that line-up is as much a matter of chance some days as it is talent and preparation. In the end it's how you play that matters most. Train hard. Respect your competitors. Try your best. And above all, enjoy the experience. After all, it's just a game.

Mark Terry

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Publishing Death Spiral?

September 18, 2008
I recently got this rejection letter:

"John passed along to me HOT MONEY by Mark Terry.  I liked it a lot, but ultimately, I couldn’t get the kind of support that we would need to successfully publish it.  I found the pace to be very quick, and I had to force myself to put down the manuscript when other things came up because there was always a new twist to keep me glued to the story.  I also really loved Austin’s voice, his debonair sense of style, his camaraderie with BB and Shelley, and his dry wit.  Unfortunately, though, the Sales Department thought this was more of a caper than a political thriller, and they haven’t sold very well for us in the past.  And without the layers of novels by bestselling authors such as Flynn and Baldacci, I just couldn’t convince them to take a chance on HOT MONEY, so I reluctantly must pass as much as I enjoyed reading it."
In some ways, of course, there's nothing to bitch about there (although I could wonder, exactly, what layers in Vince Flynn's novels he thinks are actually there). I want to also point out that I recently received an e-mail (a few months ago) about another manuscript with a vastly different publisher that said something very much along the lines of, "we really liked it, but our sales department tells us these types of books haven't sold well for us."
I don't know if this blame-it-on-the-sales-department rejection is just another arrow in the editor's quiver in the doesn't-work-for-me, liked-the-character-didn't-like-the-plot, liked-the-plot-didn't-like-the-character, didn't-quite-feel-strong-enough-to-compete-in-today's-marketplace, Choose A, B, C, D or None of the Above list of standard rejections. It's a new trend for me.
I suspect, and in this regard, shame on me for taking a rejection letter at face value, that the editor did like the book, wanted to publish it, and got shot down by the sales department. Rumor has it this happens all the time these days.
Which does not, I don't think, bode well for the publishing industry. Particularly if the sales department isn't basing their rejections on the individual books, but on some perceived overall trend.
First, I don't know exactly what my agent was selling HOT MONEY as. Yes, it could be called a political thriller. Or just a thriller. And I suppose it could be called a caper, although that would not have been my first choice. Frankly, although Austin Davis is a political consultant, he comments early on that when a politician wants a problem spun, they hire a political consultant; when they want the problem to go away, they hire him. I purposefully designed the book and the character to be very similar to a private eye novel, but in this case, his clients are almost exclusively U.S. senators and representatives. I think the sales department is probably kidding themselves if they thought they couldn't market HOT MONEY as a mystery or a thriller. But like I said, shame on me for taking the rejection letter at face value.
Second, and far more importantly and the point of this little diatribe, is that if publishing house sales departments start rejecting novels on the basis of a category or subgenre's track record instead of the strength and unique qualities of an individual book, then we're all screwed--writer, reader AND publisher.
Because I can only see a death spiral there. It's a little bit like the western, I suppose, which many publishers have dropped. And a few years ago, one of the big houses, I forget which, totally dropped its mystery line because it was a little soft. Rather than the publisher saying, hey, mysteries are strong for everybody else, let's really focus on strengthening our line and really promoting mysteries, they just decided to ax the whole line, fold a couple of their more successful writers into their "mainstream" line and sent the editors whose primary focus was mysteries into the unemployment line.
Oh well. Hence the rise of niche publishers, I suppose.
You ever heard the expression about professors? They learn more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.
I wonder if that's what we'll be joking about big publishing: they published more and more about less and less until they were publishing everything about nothing.
I can see it from Random, Inc: We Only Publish Bestsellers. (10 books, 4 million copies each).
Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Spinning Compass

September 17, 2008
You've probably seen them, if not in real life, in a movie or TV show--a compass that won't settle down, that won't land on north, that instead spins and spins... indicating that, yes, folks, you're lost.

In terms of fiction, I have felt like that since Midnight Ink told me they would not be publishing the remaining Derek Stillwater novels on the contract.

I've been flailing around a bit since. I finished a manuscript of a kids' novel since then, but haven't really done anything with it. Didn't show it to my agent, just ... sort ... of ... floated ... along.

Tried to finish other things. Get started on things. The only thing that really took off for me is another kids' novel, currently in progress, called Monster Seeker.

Then yesterday, for reasons not completely understood, but I think which are partly related to seeing that Tim Maleeny, also another Midnight Ink orphan, had gotten his next novel in his series picked up by Poison Pen Press, and I'm working on a piece for ITW about Allison Brennan, so I got my interview questions back from her yesterday and I thought she had really interesting things to say...

So I got back with my agent and told her it was time to try a couple places to see if we can sell the next Derek Stillwater novel (Angels Falling). There aren't many places to try, but let's try them anyway. And she's reading The Fortress of Diamonds now. And I'm still working on Monster Seeker. And I decided, okay, you've got 200 pages written of China Fire, you need about 200 more. If you write 2 pages a day, no matter how shitty you think it might be, you'll have a rough draft by the end of the year. Like the Nike commercials, Just Do It!

And when I started writing those 2 pages yesterday they extended to 3 because I started getting back into the story.

Hopefully I've staggered my way out of this maze, at least for a while, and my compass is pointing toward north again. (Although, I can't get Captain Jack Sparrow and his compass--"There is nothing wrong with my compass!"--out of my head. And if you don't know, aside from the double entendre, Jack's compass doesn't point north because he's not looking for north. It points at what your heart most desires).

In the interim I put a lot of my energy back into nonfiction. And I still will. But hopefully I've put this fiction nonsense back into perspective again and can enjoy the process of writing and the potential of publication without getting too wrapped up in the business and financial end of fiction.


I'm totally full of crap.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mandatory Reading For All Aspiring Novelists

September 16, 2008
My friend Tobias Buckell has a long post today on why it's hard to find his books at Borders stores. I think everybody who wants to get into this business should read this ... like, NOW.

"This is a brutal business I chose, a mixing of creativity, art, business, and luck. Back when the first book came out, I remember sitting with another author at a party and trading what our pen names would be if the order-to-net death spiral killed our first book series. We were hopeful, but realistic.

So I’m still in the mix, and quite happy.

But would I like to be doing better? Oh yes sir, of course. I wouldn’t mind moving from 60% fiction income to 100%. Who wouldn’t?"
*  *  *

And it wouldn't be outrageous for me to suggest that I was a victim of "the order-to-net death spiral," although I've called it "the three-book death spiral." I mean, really, you've got to know it's real if the names for it are known to everybody in the business.

Mark Terry

Monday, September 15, 2008

They look like they're having fun...

September 15, 2008

New links

September 15, 2008
Special thanks to Natasha F, AKA SpyScribbler, for sending me the links to my 12-part series on freelance writing for a living, all html-coded and everything to put over there on my links list. I've been meaning to do that since, oh, I wrote them, and Natasha probably knows me well enough to know that if left to my own devices, it would get done, um, never. So thanks!

While I was at it, I killed a couple links I never visit any more and added a couple that I visit all the time, via my RSS feed. Go figure.

Hope y'all have a good day.

Mark Terry

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Freelance Writing For A Living--Link

September 13, 2008
Because you asked (really), here's a link to the beginning of my multi-part series on Freelance Writing for a Living.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Working At Home--Myth Versus Reality

September 12, 2008
Deborah Ng has a lovely column today about the myths versus reality of working at home. I thought I'd address her myths in my own way.

You Can Work At Your Own Convenience
Well, maybe. If you don't have kids, a spouse, sleeping habits or clients that have schedules. That is to say, if you're a novelist living in the middle of nowhere, quite possibly. If you're like me, I'm more or less on the kids' school schedules and because I interview people, I'm often tied to their work schedules.

And I wanted to emphasize that part. There are 4 time zones in the Continental U.S. (at least). As a matter of fact, I have over the last 4 years conducted phone interviews with people in Hawaii (a 6-hour time difference, I believe), Israel, Spain, and the U.K. This is rarely convenient to someone living in Michigan (Eastern Time).

Also, I have some clients who are so busy during their workdays (they're podiatrists) that sometimes meetings and interviews are conducted in their evenings, ie., in MY evenings. I had an editing gig a couple years ago where the publication was in California and I often ended up working until 8:00 or 9:00 my time just to deal with THEIR end of workday schedules.

Convenient? Sort of, but not really.

It's Easy.
Whatever that means. I work pretty hard, I keep a steady schedule. I think by this Deborah means it's easy to keep working because you're at home. Well, I'm not really distracted by things like doing the dishes or laundry--the Internet is my biggest killer. And by the way, I've got a bad cold and have had totally crappy sleep the last 2 nights and all I want to do today is lay around the house and nap, hoping I can shake this thing. But I've got a call this morning about a potential gig (essentially they're interviewing me--and you thought once you were a freelancer you never had to do job interviews--ha!). And there have been some things I've just HAD to do. That's okay when you're talking a bad cold. It's a nuisance, but manageable. But a nice case of the stomach flu or migraines or worse? Guess what? Sometimes you still have to work through them (somehow).

So I'd say it's actually easier for me to work for myself out of my house than it is to work for someone else out of their place of business. But part of that is just my personality. I tend to resent the people I work for when I'm working at their place of business (which is why freelancing works so well for me). I look forward (somewhat obsessively) to going into my office and working.

You Can Work In Your Pajamas
I suppose you could. I never have. However, my working clothes are typically jeans and sweatshirts in the winter (with slippers to keep my footies warm in my cold basement office) and T-shirts and shorts in the summer. I know that TV writer Paul Guyot actually puts on dress clothes and shoes and maybe even a tie when he works at home, but he's nuts. What's the point of that, for god sakes? Freelancing has fewer perks than you think, but being able to wear what you want is generally one of them. (That said, sometimes you have to do site meetings or interviews that aren't on the phone and then you've got to dress accordingly).

Anyone Can Do It
No, I really don't think so. I like working alone. I don't go stir-crazy spending my day by myself, although in the summer I enjoy having the kids around (and once they go back to school in the fall I miss them, but quickly enjoy the solitude and the relative freedom to come and go as I please). Some people just can't handle that. Some people really need that water cooler chatter. (I've never worked anywhere with an actual water cooler, have you?) Some people find they're too easily distracted by things like TV, the Internet, the dishes, the laundry, dusting, neighbors, phone calls, and just can't force themselves to work. Aside from the evils of the Internet, I'm not too bad about that. My biggest issue is on nice days I want to go outside and ride my bike or walk the dog or run errands and go to lunch instead of working, but aside from that, I'm pretty disciplined, if that's the right word. It doesn't feel like discipline to me. It seems like a fairly straightforward equation:

Get Work Done...
Go Get A Real Job.

To me that's pretty much a no-brainer.

It should also be noted that a freelance or any self-employed person probably has as part of their personality a compulsion to complete things. I've always had that and I'm not much of a procrastinator either. Having that as a personality component is going to make working at home a lot easier.

Oh, and one more thought. My 10-year-old, Sean, asked me once: why do you say you work out of the house when  you work in the house?

Mark Terry

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Memoir of Hell

September 11, 2008
My son, Ian, who will be 15 next month, is working on his memoir. (I imagine it'll be short). I thought you'd like the first 3 paragraphs of what he's titled "Memoir of Hell." I've cleaned up the spelling and punctuation a bit.

*  *  *

I can describe my family in one word. Insane. My dad works out of the house. My mom works with poop and her sense of smell is shot. My brother is Mister Hyper Pants. If he could run around the world he'd be back in one second. Then he'd say, "Did you miss me?" or my personal favorite, "My new personal record--oh yeah!--I ran the Great Wall of China!" My dog, Frodo, or best known as Pudge, Idiot, Moron, Stupid, Stupid Dog, Can't Catch a Cat if it Stared him in the Face, is the dumbest dog on the planet. Then there's me, Ian, the unrational kid who won't back down.

My mom is a medtech, or as she calls it, the Lab Rat. She's the funniest person on the planet. She likes to talk about work over dinner when we're all eating. Her conversation is usually about how much she hates her co-workers and poop. Today she said she felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, but she wasn't looking for the Emerald City. She was looking for the Ruby Slippers and Toto, and instead of a basket she had a shotgun. You know, I can actually see that image. She's wearing a Jimmy Buffet T-shirt, black shorts, and a lab coat, no shoes, carrying around a shotgun with a look of "Get the hell out of my face." Then she would say, "I was looking for the Dead Witch... I found the munchkins instead."

My dad, on the other hand, is the opposite of Mom. He does not work with poop, thank God. He works out of the house. My brother described his job as typing on the computer and making phone calls. His office manager is our dumbest smart dog, Frodo. Lately the office manager has been shirking his job and sleeping on the couch. Sounds like something I want to do. Dad's a freelance writer. He writes about some science tech that goes in one ear and out the other of my head. He has a huge computer, it almost takes up the entire wall since he's almost blind. His eyesight is that bad. He also writes fiction. He wrote Dirty Deeds, Catfish Guru, The Devil's Pitchfork, and The Serpent's Kiss. He's a big action writer but not so famous. The Devil's Pitchfork and Serpent's Kiss are being sold in Slovakia or somewhere near there in Europe. I found that funny as hell.

Mark Terry 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick On A Pig

September 10, 2008
Okay, today's ridiculous political mini-furor is Barack Obama commenting (not for the first time, actually, he likes the phrase and has used it quite a few times prior to the nom of Sarah Palin) that McCain's policies are "like putting lipstick on a pig."

I want to take a second to try and figure out the thought processes.

In her acceptance speech Sarah Palin tells us that "the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull is lipstick." (Are we insulting hockey moms or pitbulls here? And really, which particular image of a pitbull are we taking here? The adorable pets when raised by responsible pet owners? The murderous, vicious animals that are regularly reported in the news for mauling and maiming small children? Or, perhaps, given that this is apparently a metaphor, someone who is tenacious and won't let go, particularly, if, you know, it's your throat they happen to have hold of. Or perhaps, given the McCain advisors' unique ability to willfully misinterpret everything spoken in the English language, perhaps they are saying that hockey moms have chains around their necks, need to be licensed by the county, are useful attack dogs and can lick their balls. But no, even those of us who are liberal (liberty, liberated, tolerant and a lot of other good things, thank you, I'll define it myself) did not need to misinterpret Palin's weak joke that got really too much airtime. We GOT IT, okay?

So a week or two later, Senator Obama says McCain's policies are like "putting lipstick on a pig."

People,  usually conservatives, freaked out.

The Obama folks say, "It's a turn of phrase, there's no connection to Governor Palin."

Uh-huh. Look, Obama's a smart guy and when someone suggested it was a slip of the tongue, I thought, "Obama sure as hell doesn't make slips of the tongue." So yes, I think he intended to make the connection between Palin's really lame old joke and and an attack on how really unoriginal and pointless McCain's policies are. As a matter of fact, I think Obama, if he hadn't been using a METAPHOR (or simile or...) might have said, "McCain's policies look like George W. Bush's policies, only with make-up them so they look different. And Palin is just like him." But instead, he was trying to be colorful and folksy. (Rather than, say eloquent and articulate, or depending on which tribe you align yourself with, glib and elitist).

The McCain folks say, "That bastard, he's calling Governor Palin a pig."

Uh-huh. Perhaps they would be happier if he called her a pitbull. Or, perhaps, a bitch (ie., female pitbull).

To which I have several responses. One is: "Oh, bullshit. He wasn't calling her a pig. He was using a METAPHOR (simile, etc) to connect her joke with McCain's wishy-washy policies that resembles 8 years of George W. Bush incompetencies.

This has got to be one of the silliest things to come up in this campaign so far.

Really, okay, Governor Palin, feel free to call Obama a pitbull. Then everybody can try to parse what you meant by it.

I mean, okay, it's not just a political rant. It's really a perfect example of how politicians manipulate the English language (spin) and if you want to be a writer, it's a good idea to have some idea how your words will be interpreted by different people. Precision is good. But for God sakes...

Mark Terry

Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell

September 10, 2008
I finished reading Tobias S. Buckell's third novel, SLY MONGOOSE yesterday. Toby's a friend of mine so this review is undoubtedly biased, but I enjoyed the book a lot. It's a standalone, although it takes place in the same universe as his earlier two, CRYSTAL RAIN and RAGAMUFFIN. You could read it without reading the other two, although I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Also, for you gamer/sf fans, Toby was recently tapped to write one of the video game HALO tie-in novels, which I believe is coming out soon.

SLY MONGOOSE takes place in a very distant future, about 50 years after the events of RAGAMUFFIN. Humans have gone out into the universe, which is a brutal, hostile place. For a very long time humans were pretty much slaves to The Benevolent Satrapy, a race of genius 100-foot-long slugs. The Satrapy have been overthrown and pretty much exterminated, humans are out doing their thing--squabbling with each other, mostly. The majority of humans that we encounter are distant ancestors of Caribbeans and Aztecs (or Mexicans, or something) who had more or less colonized New Anegada (more about them in the first two books).

SLY MONGOOSE takes place on the planet of Chilo, similar to Venus in that it's extremely hot with sulphuric clouds. Yet, way up in the atmosphere, cities float (true science, a large enough bubble of air would float in the higher levels of a Venus-like planet). Young men--young and small enough to fit in the suits--drop to the planet's hell-like surface to mine ore. In that respect we have Timas of Yatapek, a 14-year-old boy with culturally-induced bulimia (perhaps all bulimia is culturally-induced) who is a yocomotzin, one of those privileged to mine on the surface of Chilo, and incredibly dangerous job with 600 degree temperatures, sulphuric acid atmosphere and crushing pressures.

In drops Toby's recurring character, Pepper, a Ragamuffin and hero of the The Dread Council, hundreds of years old, genetically and nano-technology enhanced to be a super warrior. The ship he was on was taken over by The Swarm, a kind of bioweapon that turns people into zombie-like creatures with a collective mind controlled by, uh, maybe the League or maybe someone else.

Anyway, The Swarm also lands on Chilo, and one by one the floating cities begin to wink out as The Swarm takes them over. Pepper's job is to convince the remaining cities, specifically the Aeolians and the the city of Yatapek, to get organized and prepare for battle. It's a job that's sort of outside Pepper's comfort zone, requiring him to be a manipulative diplomat more than a warrior (don't worry, he kicks ass enough). Yatapek is inhabited by descendants of the Azteca from Nanegada and they are poor and technologically limited. The Aeolians have a sort of collective mind via technology (probably the purest form of democracy) and technology, although they are constrained by their floating cities as well.

SLY MONGOOSE is, more than anything, a fast-moving action novel with lots of battles and airships and stuff like that. On the thought-provoking side, it's got a lot to say about politics (not much of it positive) and responsibility. Perhaps even more so, and I'm starting to see this is a theme in Toby's works, there is a lot to be noted here about poverty in a rich world and that  technology can fail, particularly for poor people. Buckell does a wonderful job of creating a universe and world you can see, taste, hear, smell and feel. His internal politics are good, but I sometimes find the external big-picture politics confusing (like The League). In a very un-Star Trek way, the universe has serious limitations on travel and exploration and living on the basis of economics--anti-matter fuel for spaceships is expensive, made even more so by the destruction of most of the anti-matter factories by the Satrapy as they retreated from the Raga. On Chilo and Yatapek, they have little money to buy technology and barter for what they can get, but as time passes they struggle just to keep the protective groundsuits working that are needed to work on the surface of the planet.

Altogether, highly recommended for SF fans.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

GAD Zooks

Monday, September 08, 2008

What I Think About...

September 8, 2008
It's fine when it's warm and a bummer when it's cold. But, warm weather without rain is a desert.

Britney Spears.
Moderate musical talent, but that's not how she got where she is. She got where she is because she's got a fantastic talent for staying in the spotlight. In this respect, the U.S. public and the media are enablers. I suggest they wean themselves off her cold turkey.

Asking agents you've queried how your manuscript is doing?
If unpublished, probably not, although I would if they've had the full manuscript for 2 months or longer. If published, follow up every 4 weeks, politely and professionally.

Sarah Palin
An impressive resume if you were to meet her on the street, but she's completely underqualified to be vice president. Aside from that (I didn't realize that Alaska's ENTIRE population is less than the city of Detroit's), there is almost no issue where she and I agree.

Losing weight.
Why is this so damned hard?

Barack Obama.
I still feel he's slightly inexperienced, but the way he's run is campaign indicates he and his people are thoughtful, well-organized and cautious... perhaps too cautious, but if they ran a White House like they run this campaign, we would probably be okay.

Bookstore returns policy.
Anachronistic, inefficient, ineffective and unlikely to go anywhere.

Joe Biden.
I like him, but it's been said there's no speed bump between his brain and his mouth. We'll see.

Book promotion.
Meh. The expression "necessary evil" comes to mind. So does "largely a waste of time."

John McCain.
I liked him as a Senator. I think he's too old to run for President and he's showing every sign of being reckless in his decision-making. He's a go-with-the-gut kind of guy, which has its moments of success, but can be scary in a president.

I like it. Saturday was my 22nd wedding anniversary. Boy, did I make a good decision back in 1986 or so.

Sucks. I hate it, but I guess I'm stuck with it for a while.

Awesome. Where would I be without them?

Writing fiction.
I'm still doing it, despite knowing better. If there's a name for this disease, I haven't heard it yet.

Being a freelance writer.
I still love it. I'm still apparently succeeding at it, but this summer has been rough, which tempers my experience with it a bit.

How about you? Tell me what you think about these topics.

Mark Terry

5 Words

September 8, 2008
Today, Erica Orloff notes that her daughter's teacher wanted her to pick 5 adjectives to describe her daughter. This is the sort of assignment from a teacher that makes me want to commit acts of violence, but she has a neat post about it and asks what your five adjectives would be.

I chose:


Exasperating. (Yes, I would describe myself that way. God knows everyone who knows me or is related to me would probably agree).



Bright. (I might have said smart or intelligent, but my views on intelligence probably need a blog post all their own).

How about you? Is my asking making you want to commit acts of violence?

Mark Terry

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Best Writing Advice EVER!!!

September 5, 2008

"If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talking about writing or themselves."
--Lillian Hellman

God knows what she'd think of blogs.

Happy Friday!


Still Get Nervous Sometimes

September 5, 2008
One of the things you do as a freelance writer is interview people, at least for most types of writing. Mostly this is over the phone, sometimes via e-mail and in my particular case, on rare occasions I actually go to someone's home or office or studio and interview them.

When I first started doing this I was extremely nervous about it. After you do several hundred, you get over your nerves pretty quick or you find another way to make a living.

Because my last 4 to 6 weeks have been very research report intensive, I haven't done many interviews lately and I have 2 today, the first of which I recently finished. I was nervous prior to it.

And shortly after we got started, I chilled out and got into the swing of things.

When I'm calling or contacting someone about research for a novel, I tend to be more nervous because there's a greater level of skepticism and they often have odd expectations. 

Sometimes, when corporate PR and/or corporate communications officers get involved, you as a writer have a lot more hoops to jump through because they want to make sure their message gets out in a very specific way. God only knows what it's like for investigative journalists, but I don't do that type of work, I just want information, I'm not trying to dig any dirt.

Still, it helps to be prepared.

In fact, were I ever to give a seminar or teach a class on interviewing for journalism, I would give the following advice:

1. Be prepared by doing your homework.
2. Write down your questions ahead of time.
3. Always remember to verify name spelling, titles, credentials.
4. Check to make sure the batteries in your tape recorder are working.
5. Relax.
6. Listen.
7. And keep it short. I'm a big believer in not wasting the interview subject's time. And it's a hassle to transcribe an interview that goes too long (I don't know about you, but it takes me twice the time to transcribe the interview as it took to do the interview, so a 15 min interview = 30 min transcription--if the subject doesn't talk fast, mumble or have a thick accent or the subject isn't so technical I have to keep going back to figure out what the hell they're talking about).

I can't tell you how important #6 is. If you do enough interviews, and if you use your tape recorder as a crutch like I do, it's awful easy to let your attention wander. But you really need to listen (because sometimes your tape recorder dies mid-interview) because often you need to clarify or follow-up.

And yeah, I sometimes still get nervous.

So, I was thinking about this: Have you ever interviewed someone for a novel you're working on? If not, why not?

Then I challenge you: whatever WIP you've got, find an expert, someone who does what your character does, a cop, a spy, an accountant, whatever, or an expert on some aspect of your novel, espionage, carpentry, Byzantium history, small airplanes, rock and roll, and interview them. You'll be surprised what you learn, about  your subject and yourself.

Mark Terry

Thursday, September 04, 2008

What I've Been Reading

September 4, 2008
...because, like, I know you've just been dying to know.

Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais
An Elvis Cole P.I. novel and a pretty good one, although not great. I had it more or less figured out about halfway through, and Elvis seemed a little tired, but otherwise I enjoyed it.

Endurance by SL Viehl
A stardoc novel, the 2nd in the series, I think. (Or is it third?) SF. I like the series reasonably well, but this book wore me out a little bit because I thought half of the conflict could have been avoided if she'd just sat down and talked to the other main character--her husband, as it turns out--and said, "Hey, Dude, this is a total reversal from the last book, why don't you give me a little freakin' backstory about your earlier life among the Hsktsk."

Plague Year by Jeff Carlson
Yes, I admit it, I actually bought this book on the basis of a YouTube book trailer--the first time for that, since I find the majority of book trailers to be useless. It's a tech-thriller, horror novel about a period shortly after a nanobot (the machine plague) device meant to cure cancer runs amuck and kills almost everybody on Earth (I Am Legend, anybody?). The nanobots die above 10,000 feet, so what's left of humanity has moved into the high mountains and what's left of governments are fighting over the high places on the earth. It's a brutal, grueling story and frankly, such an awesome idea in an area of interest of mine (plagues) that I couldn't resist. On the other hand, I might be able to resist the follow-up since I found this book kind of depressing. 

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
What a delight. Nonfiction, a travel book about Australia, no less. Bill Bryson, an American who's lived about half his life in England, has the absolutely fantastic job (seriously, I'm envious) of traveling around places and getting paid to do it and writing about it. He spent something like 6 or 8 weeks traveling all over Australia and writes hilariously about it. And I mean, folks, this book is really, really funny. He's got other travel books and I intend to read all over them eventually.

The Kill Artist by David Silva
I've been aware of Silva for a while, but never read anything by him. So I purposefully went back to the first in his series about a Mossad assassin whose cover or real life, depending on how you view it, is as a world-class art restorer. It's good and I'll read more. What puzzled me most about the book, or intrigued me, was how little of it was actually from the point of view of the main character. We often saw Gabriel from the POV of other characters, which I assume was to make Gabriel seem both more mysterious and larger than life.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
I was on vacation and I've decided I wanted to read the entire series from start to finish over the next 6 or 12 months. What surprised me--and my brother warned me about this when he read it start to finish--was the degree to which the foundations for the 6th and 7th books are laid down. I mean, yes, I knew she had something of a grand plan, but I always assumed it was more of an outline. In fact, the first time we really get a notion about Dumbledore is when Ron and Harry are on the train and Harry gets a chocolate frog card with Dumbledore on it and the bio mentions he's famous for working with Nicholas Flammel, the 12 uses of dragon blood and defeating so-and-so in a duel.

Lean, Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich
The problem with a comedic writer unless they're a total genius is you understand how they structure their jokes. Janet's fine, but I have a tendency to see her jokes coming a mile away. This was fun, a good diverting beach read for a couple days, but I don't get too caught up in anybody's life. This one seemed a little weaker than others and I can't decide if I was relieved or disappointed that she didn't adopt some goofy cross-dressing transvestite or stoner or moron like she usually does. Well, I suppose there was the taxidermist and his exploding stuffed squirrels.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
Scalzi writes SF that I like quite a bit. His last novel was The Last Colony. TLC's narrator is John Perry, who also narrates Old Man's War. In Zoe's Tale, he retells the story of The Last Colony from the point of view of Zoe, Perry's 16-year-old daughter. In a lot of ways this makes total sense, because she's pivotal to the conclusion of TLC, but because of Perry's narration, we never really see what goes on at the end, but we do see the results. I think Scalzi got the 16-year-old voice about right (which isn't to say it didn't get a little tiresome by the end of the book, which makes a certain amount of sense) and I thought it added a great deal of depth to the TLC story and universe. You could easily read it as a standalone, but if you did, you'll almost for sure want to go back and read TLC. Do yourself a favor, though, and start with Old Man's War, then read The Ghost Brigades, then The Last Colony, then Zoe's Tale. They're all great and I recommend all of them.

Ark Angel by Anthony Horowitz
Young adult, one of my favorite series. Alex Rider is a 14-year-old who's been more or less coerced into working for MI6. I liked this one quite a bit, or at least it put me into my happy place for a while. You know, crazed billionaires, space stations, kite surfing, rockets, burning buildings...

Silks by Dick Francis & Felix Francis
Sort of a legal thriller. "Silks" refers both to the silks the jockeys wear, but also to the term for Queen's Counsel, which are lawyers. I'm still rather fuzzy on the difference between QCs and barristers, among other things, and I thought the pacing on this novel was strange, but I enjoyed it.

And what I'm reading now? Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell. 

Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What's Your Trap?

September 3, 2008
As a full-time freelance writer, I've been wondering if fiction isn't a bit of a trap. I think everybody has one and for the professional writer, fiction probably is that trap.

I mean, really, truthfully, take this little test.

1. Have you ever fantasized about a six-figure or seven-figure advance?

2. Have you ever fantasized about doing an interview on Good Morning, America or Oprah or The Today Show or Larry King?

3. Have you ever fantasized about a book signing where the line runs out the door?

4. Have you ever wondered who would play your main character in a movie made from one of your books?

5. Have you ever wondered what you would eat while you're having lunch with Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford or Gwyneth Paltrow?

That said, I think there are a lot of good reasons to write fiction. Um, just none of them come to mind at the moment. Wait...

Because you can.  Yeah, that's not bad. That's right up there with why climb a mountain, right? Because it's there.

And, hmmm, because it's fun. Frankly, this may be the best answer. I actually got kudos from a visiting karate master when he went down the line asking everybody why they were studying Sanchin-Ryu. People were saying, "To be able to defend myself," and "to improve myself" and I was the last one and I said, "Because I like it."

I mean, really, if I didn't, I'm pretty sure I could find other things to do on Tuesday night.

Part of what's driving me slightly (more) insane is the notion that writing novels should be part of my workday. After all, I'm a writer, it's how I make a living, shouldn't it just be part of my workday?

Well, not so much recently. I tried to write a page of a novel yesterday but today I'm totally blank on it. On the other hand, I'm working on a kids' novel in the evenings and I seem to be enjoying that most of the time. But sometimes, feeling like I MUST write fiction rather than I WANT to write fiction makes me feel like the person with their fingers in the Chinese Finger Trap up there. I keep asking myself, "What are you doing? Why are you doing this?"

Yes, I love writing fiction.

But, there's only so much time and energy to go around and...

Oh hell. Here are my answers.

1. Yes

2. Yes, Good Morning, America. I don't have a lot to say to Oprah, although I'd be glad to plug a product on her show so her cult members can rush the bookstores to buy my books, whether they read them or not. (True story, I was at a Barnes & Noble a few years back and someone was at the information desk saying, "I don't know the name of the book or the author or what it's about, but it was on Oprah this week." And the clerk KNEW which book it was!). But I'd like to meet Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Kate Snow, Bill Weir, Sam Champion, Chris Cuomo et al.

3. Sure, particularly during book signings where nobody buys a book. And if that's never happened to you, then let me assure you it's a little corner of hell reserved just for unheard of authors.

4. I'm partial to George Clooney or Nick Cage for Derek Stillwater, but I'm open-minded.

5. Actually, no. But I'd be glad to have lunch with any of them, although really, I'm not that big a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, although I liked her in "Iron Man."

Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Back To School

September 2, 2008
The boys went back to school today, leaving me home alone with Frodo. That's kind of depressing, actually. But fear not, I'll be running around chauffeuring them all over the place by the end of the day. I need to pick up Ian at school every day now, plus he has a dentist appointment this afternoon...

Mark Terry