Thursday, November 29, 2012


This week Hall Bros. Entertainment closed up shop.

This is significant news because HBE was scheduled to publish Yoshimi.  It was actually scheduled to publish the book back in July, and so that's just one of the many reasons HBE no longer exists.  I've got a long relationship with Hall Bros. #1, A.C. Hall.  We both wrote for the comics website Paperback Reader (which also no longer exists).  Ace (as I always like to call him) has a long history of writing cooperatives.  At one point (after another of his ventures closed up) I decided it might be a good idea to start a literary journal with him.  That was fantastic for about half a year, but that ended too.  When he and his brother (naturally) opened up HBE, I finally found a home for some legitimate publishing.  As one of those ever-present links on the right suggests, I got a story in their Villainy anthology that Ace chose as his editor's selection.

Yoshimi did not exist as a concept until I came up with a pitch for a book that I thought HBE might publish.  Most of my fiction is incredibly cerebral.  Yoshimi was my shot at doing something different. It's basically Kill Bill meets Harry Potter.  I wrote the majority of the book during an extended period of unemployment.  It's safe to say that if I didn't have that book to work on at that time, I might have gone crazy.  I turned in the manuscript to HBE and started the waiting process.

The waiting process turned out to be a waiting process.  I guess this sort of thing happens all the time, at least as far as small presses go, delays in the schedule.  Except this was no delay.  This was a slow march to oblivion.

I'm sad at HBE's fate for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the contract that is now no longer exists.  Yoshimi was going to be my first legitimately published book.  No matter the book sales, this would have been a huge step for me.  My blogging friends seem to have a lot of this in the bag already.  I've been working at maybe possibly theoretically being a full-time writer for years now.  It was my stated goal on graduating from college ten years ago.  I had no idea how to accomplish that goal, however.  Cerebral fiction does not sell well.  Publishers damn sure aren't interested in it.  Readers?  I have no idea.  I've never gotten the chance to find out.

I've self-published a few books (actually, Monorama the Kindle Edition was free on Wednesday and I completely forgot to mention it), but I don't have the resources to truly promote that stuff.  Some writers have the ability to sell themselves.  Some writers, like me, simply hope the work will sell itself.  They believe that this is the way writing should go.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people who want to sell books, but preferably their own, which makes it very hard for the people who want to sell other people's books to make decisions on who to select for that honor.

I had HBE.  Emphasis on "had."  I suppose the fact that I deliberately shaped Yoshimi to be anything but what I normally write might make it easier to find another publisher.  And maybe I simply haven't been as aggressive in my search for publishers to begin with.  Some writers can deal with rejection.  Some of us really hate form responses (or no response at all).  Some of us find that downright insulting (and unprofessional).

Anyway, this is just to say.  My life as a writer, as many writers can say, is not an easy one.  Thanks for being there, Ace.  Maybe we can try and do business again some time.  Although you'll forgive me if I approach the next opportunity more cautiously.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I've been talking about my oddball status as a Franco American and how it both has and hasn't informed my life as a writer.  I'm going to conclude those thoughts on a perhaps unlikely note.  Today I'd like to talk about The Da Vinci Code.

The Dan Brown book was released in 2003 and quickly became one of the biggest publishing blockbusters of the century.  I was working at a bookstore when the third book, The Lost Symbol, was released, so I have an idea what it was like to experience the frenzy over Brown's work (comparable to Harry Potter).

But this isn't about the book.  Many commentators have already noted that Brown weaves a better story than writes one.  I'm referring instead to Ron Howard's 2006 adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, famously starring Tom Hanks and a mullet, but also featuring Ian McKellen and Audrey Tautou (known best for the best-known French film of the millennium so far, Amelie).

As a self-professed Roman Catholic (see the confession in the last post), I am supposed to be hardwired against the controversial claims of this stuff.  If I were judging the story only on the book, I probably wouldn't take it seriously much less care one way or the other, but it's the film that does the religious themes justice, notably in the alternate ending in which Hanks breaks through his own skepticism, in effect finally doing what Robert Langdom's inspiration Indiana Jones only imitated with good guy piety.

My favorite parts of the film involve McKellen, who made his name with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films (and soon to reprise the role of Gandalf, much to this fan's delight), as the genius who figures everything out but how to avoid becoming the villain.  He's the one who shows Hanks the presentation revealing the crucial Last Supper image of the Holy Grail, which is not a cup (there's none on the table!) but rather Mary Magdalene, mistaken all these centuries for the apostle John.

Anyway, I'm not talking religion.  What I really enjoy about The Da Vinci Code is how my elusive French heritage turns out to be one of the most popular yet controversial destinations of the modern era.  The title of this post, "Sangreal," is French for Holy Grail, also the subject of Indy's Last Crusade ("He chose poorly."), and is one of the many clues Hanks must unravel (at its heart Da Vinci Code is just an elaborate mystery).  In the aftermath of 9/11, international relations were stretched when America chose to declare its War on Terror and picked out Iraq as its second target.  The French were the leading opposition to this decision, and as you may or may not recall, some people started eating "freedom fries" and such.

The French have a complicated relationship with America.  It's likely the United States wouldn't exist today without its French allies during the Revolution.  Yet in modern times roles began to reverse, not the least when the British won Roosevelt's support during WWII.  The French today are known for the Eiffel Tower and their passionate lovers (and yes, their wine).

Sure, "Les Miserables" remains one of the few titles left untranslated in world literature (and soon to be another Hollywood blockbuster release), but the hidden heart of The Da Vinci Code represents what I've come to understand about myself.  I don't know how my family got a last name that seems to suggest a writer of some kind in its past.  Somehow Jesus Christ, who strictly for the record died a violent death and inspired one of the world's largest religions, ended up with an heir in France, at least according to Dan Brown and others who've told that story through the years.

It's the idea of strange associations that you don't expect but somehow feel right that I'm talking about.  I know of no other writers in my family today.  It's a struggle to be the first of anything, to begin something rather than continue it.  Where Howard's interpretation emphasizes the possibilities of the future inherent in The Da Vinci Code, I find myself paying respect to something far greater than myself, too, a tradition that I stumbled into but found would not let me go, no matter the obstacles that have ended up in my way.  Some people will look at The Da Vinci Code and see only the sensation of it.  I ended up seeing something past that, an affirmation, exactly what Hanks attempts to tell the viewer in the end.  I see my efforts today as an affirmation of my younger self, who had no idea where his ideas would lead him.

Like Howard's film, the direction forward for me is filled with the unknown, but I'm interested to see where it goes.  I have no idea what else a writer should do with their work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Franco American without a home

As a writer I sometimes wonder where I fit in.  I don't tend to write in specific genres.  Even the book I'm writing now, which is in many ways very much science fiction, I'm writing more from the perspective of the characters than what you would find in the kinds of books that usually feature the kinds of scenarios that they inhabit.  That's happened in every book I've written.  The first one was about superheroes but doesn't focus on the action so much as, you guessed it, the characters.  When I wrote a vampire novel, I wrote about the characters.  This is what I do.

I think part of this is an extension of my cultural identity.  I've never really known where I fit in.  My immediate ancestors came to America from French-speaking Canada, and yet for the most part the only Franco Americans I've ever known have been from my own family, and in my own generation we've already lost most of what it means to have such a background.  We didn't learn to speak French in the home, and there were no specific traditions that came from this lineage except perhaps a strong Catholic faith.  My oldest brother was named Pierre, but I ended up with St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost things, as inspiration.

I was raised on entertainment that rarely featured anything relevant to my origins.  Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, was French but played by a British actor.  Beauty and the Beast was most French in its villain.

Writers derive the most support from their own kind, and yet as a thoroughly American, melting pot kind of writer, I've stirred so many influences into my work that it's difficult to find anyone who relates enough with my instincts to see me as a kindred spirit.  I'm not talking about readers.  Readers are forgiving.  They're the only step in the process that can possibly offer me redemption.  The writing industry is not made up of readers, however.  Maybe that's a problem.

My family likes to suggest I do things they'll understand, like write about my family.  Like any writer, I do write about my family, constantly, yet always through the lens of whatever story I currently have in mind.  I think the readers who are interested in the familiar dominate the industry, not so much as writers but as editors looking for manuscripts.

Does any of this even make sense?  I wonder if I should embrace this Franco American existentialism. Is there a place for writers who don't have a culture but yearn for one?  I always believed that this was the definition of a writer.  Yet there seems to be a pervading belief that a writer ought to know better than anyone where they belong.  A writer should transcend the circumstances around them, not be defined by them.

If Picard was a Frenchman who was barely French, is that meant to be a statement about cultural identity in the future?  Malcolm Reed, Pavel Chekov, these were characters who were almost parodies of their countrymen.  Scotty was all but a stereotype.  And yet Miles O'Brien and Julian Bashir fought every cliche.  Star Trek in its best moments always strives to overcome the mundane.  Trip Tucker and Tom Paris revel in pop culture, but they're also some of the best if most complicated officers Starfleet ever had.

If I have any identity as a writer, it's something like that.  Perhaps that's why I've always liked Star Trek, entertainment like that.  My instincts match my heritage and my interests.  It's all so gloriously convoluted it can only be called modern.  I'd like to believe that my problem is very much a cultural one.  We're all trying to figure this out.  The only thing I know for certain about my writing is that through it I'm constantly trying to figure it out.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tony did an interview!

The title is 100% true.  I did an interview.  Brooklyn Daily reporter Chuck O'Donnel was kind enough to ask me a few questions about the Orbit: Mikhail Prokhorov comic I wrote for Bluewater.  You can read the results here.  For the record, it's absolutely my first interview, although I've been on the other end before when I wrote for the Academic Advocate at Lisbon High School, as well as an unpublished one for the Merciad at Mercyhurst College (I was ultimately unpublished in my tenure at that student paper, so I gave up quickly, although I was regularly featured in the Soap Box opinion section of the Maine Campus while attending the University of Maine, so don't feel too bad).

What I appreciated from O'Donnel was that he was very forthright about the whole process, including the deadline he was under and the selection of questions that showed he knew exactly what he wanted (which plays out well in the subsequent piece) out of them.  It was also pretty cool to see my name written in around the quotes.  I'm someone who's flirted with using a pen name in the past ("Laplume" translates to feather or pen in French, so it would be pretty ironic), so seeing my name not just listed in a comic book's credits but in the press is surreal, a test of all the old ideas of whether I was comfortable with a fairly uncommon name.  The French don't get a lot of publicity in the States.  My family has its roots from French-speaking Canada dating back a century in the country.  At the time of my grandfather's ultimate rooting in Woonsocket, RI, he only grew comfortable when like every other immigrant he settled in with others like him.  As my mother tells it he tried to move here several times but it never felt right.  Growing up French was something that was a frequent element of my childhood, but I never learned to speak it.  In school (high school and college), I attended classes meant to teach me the language, but I'm not sure teachers in these classrooms understand how to do such a thing.  I left with a better appreciation of the film Au Revoir, Les Enfants, which was screened at both levels, but that was pretty much it (it's a great film!).  Other than that, there was also the local writer Denis Ledoux who made a link to this part of my life that had nothing to do with my family.

Anyway, needless quasi-cultural musing aside, I was interviewed!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Orbit: Mikhail Prokhorov gets press

 My Bluewater bio comic, Orbit: Mikhail Prokhorov, has been released, available nearly exclusively in e-book format, though you can get a print edition at Comic Flea Market.

The official press release has been making the rounds.  Geek the News has a giant shot of the cover, Comic Book Bin does it pretty standard, Atlantic Yard Reports covers the same material with a link to factual corrections that I'll use as its coverage here, Comic Book puts the giant shot at the very start, the New York Times writes about it on its website, SNYNets joins in the commentary on the apparent link between Prokhorov and Nets mascot the Brooklyn Knight, while Comic Book Frenzy is named Comic Book Frenzy.

If you have no idea who Mikhail Prokhorov is, he's a Russian who made international news by running against Vladimir Putin and buying into the NBA team Brooklyn Nets (this season relocated from New Jersey).

For your amusement, here's some news on another Nets development, Marvel Comics turning its mascot, the aforementioned Brooklyn Knight, into a superhero.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Monorama Kindle Edition Free on Saturday (11/10/12)

Assuming I did not boff it up, as the title of this post suggests the Monorama Kindle Edition will be free this Saturday.  That's in two days.  Free means free.  Unless I boffed it up.  That is all.  Feel free to either take advantage of this or ignore.  Your choice!  Democracy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to Write a Novel

Part of this can be explained by a very strange modern word: NaNoWriMo.  Those familiar with it (and in my Interweb journeys over the past seven years, I've discovered few communities unaware of it) know that these letters stand for National Novel Writing Month, which rolls around each November, and is a challenge to write 50,000 words within its thirty days.

This was something I first did back in 2004.  The story as I famously recall it goes that I had been intending to write one story for weeks leading up to November, but came up with something else entirely on the 1st.  This is fine, because as part of the challenge you're supposed to do all of the work during the month, including outlining.  Somehow I survived that first NaNo.  Naturally, when I repeated the process during the next two years, I cheated, by continuing the same story (which eventually became The Cloak of Shrouded Men).

My method for success was simple enough.  I calculated the exact number of words I would need to write each day, assuming that I was able to set time aside each day, in order to end up with 50,000 at the end of the month.  With that total (1,667) in mind, I started writing.  At some point I started figuring out what I wanted to do with the characters I'd created, where they needed to go, what needed to be revealed about them, but in such rough sketches that I wonder how I survived and succeeded.  There was only a small amount of additional planning in succeeding Novembers.

The interesting part is that the daily wordcount became something of a guidepost.  I regularly missed days and had to catch up.  By 2006 I wrote far fewer than thirty chapters (one a day with that specific wordcount) because I ended up doubling up so often.  By that method I started to realize the potential to get away from the wordcount goal and to simply start writing.

If that sounds simple, then I'm only half-serious about my success in that regard.

In 2007 I had my first unsuccessful NaNo.  I got behind early and tried to catch up, but it just wasn't working.  I gave up and walked away from the story, and still haven't gone back to it.  Perhaps tellingly, I never officially participated in the event again.

As far as writing goes, I should probably admit at this point that I had never written a novel, or attempted one, before NaNo in 2004.  I'd written short stories, and not the short stories that I tend to write now.  I even started writing short stories in installments, which is something I still do now.  Yet it had never occurred to me to try a novel.  When I graduated from college in December of 2003, I had the vague notion of writing one, but other than what I wanted to write, I had no idea how to start.  (It probably explains my general lack of success.)

NaNo gave me all kinds of inspiration, and confidence to know that I could actually do it.  I wrote my first non-NaNo novel (although come to think of it, shouldn't Chris Baty, or someone else, launch the imprint National Novels already?) in 2009.  It was Finnegan, and I wrote the same general length and in the same general increments that I'd learned writing Shrouded Men, but instead of over the course of three years, over the span of months.  I made all the plans in the world on this one, or so I thought, and it ended up being almost completely different than what I'd expected.  This was how I learned what kind of novel writer I really was.  It directly informed my experience writing Ecce Homo (or, Minor Contracts as I've since renamed it) the next year.

Last year I wrote Yoshimi, but this time I was determined to rewrite my own rules.  I wrote it with a publisher in mind, and knew that some of my old tricks wouldn't fly.  One of the rules I rewrote was the wordcount per chapter, and for me it was a radical change that took a learning curve to master.  Once I did, I surprised myself again.  As I've said, I tended when I started to write a relatively small amount of words per day, and that would be a chapter.  With Yoshimi I determined that each chapter would be 10,000 words.  You see the difference?

Well, trust me, it was a big difference.  I had another outline for this one, and I was determined to stick to it. I'd put a lot of work into it, and thought for sure that I knew exactly what I was going to write this time.  (I was wrong, mostly, about that, too.)  I rewrote the opening of the book several times.  I'd done that before, with short stories.  The tone, the approach, doesn't seem right.  (I've even redrafted after completing a manuscript, for the record, changing chapters after the fact.)

Eventually (and let's be honest, because at the time I had the time), I struck on the ability to write each 10,000 word chapter in a single day.  It completely revolutionized the writing of that book.  I'd never done anything like that before, not even on those desperate days when I thought writing a mere two 1,667 word chapters in a single day was a big deal.

(I don't remember exact wordcounts for any papers where I wrote in similar marathon sessions at college, so we'll just pretend I'm awesome and leave it at that.)

This year and since last month I've been writing Seven Thunders, a novel I've been planning since 1998.  I realize now that the book I needed to make of it wouldn't have been possible if I'd attempted to write it earlier.  The learning curve I've been describing has been absolutely essential, plus many other things I've learned since that year.  I've cut the 10,000 chapter wordcount by half, and so far that has been going fairly well.  I cannot lie and say writing novels isn't still scary at times, not the least for the fact that I still have not successfully made a career of selling these manuscripts as easily as I've learned to write them.  There are still moments where I ask myself if I'm still just pretending to do it rather than actually succeeding.  I'll find out eventually.

I've learned that for me, the idea of writing every day is not only not possible, but counterintuitive.  You don't force writing.  If you do you probably should regret it.  The approach you need will not always be apparent, and writing without that inspiration and hoping to revise around it me sounds like the worst idea imaginable.  Give yourself a timetable and the way to reach it, and you'll get there.  Unless you're on a specific deadline, it doesn't even matter if you miss that timetable anyway, but it'll make you feel good to hit it.  The writing will work itself out.  The story will shape itself.  Even if you have the most comprehensive outline possible, if you stick only to that, then you've probably again sabotaged your own efforts.  Novel writing should surprise you.  I don't know how to emphasize that more.  If the shape of your story isn't organic, your reader will notice.  If they don't, they're not much of a reader.  So I just said that.

It seems as if most writers I read about these days depend on beta readers more than they do their own abilities to know if they've succeeded.  A beta reader is still a reader.  They can suggest changes, but they're still a reader.  Unless you're in a position where you absolutely must satisfy someone else's perspective, yours is the only one that counts.  You're the writer.  Deal with it.  If you can't, you ought to find another calling (though that's a funny thing to say, isn't it?).

That's it, then.  That's my thoughts on how to write a novel.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Digital proof that my comics career is moving forward

I've been mentioning my work with Bluewater Comics, a couple of biographies that I've written for the publisher.  One of them is getting that much closer to becoming a reality.

See here, here, and here for digital proof that I've got a profile of Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian superstar, in actual comics reality.  (There's also an American version of the Amazon UK listing here.)

Not only do I have digital proof, but for all you digital fans, it's also in digital format, which is apparently what all the budding writers are doing these days.  (I'll remind you that all my books are also in digital format, even if I myself prefer actual real material that's more than just a piece of plastic that you're reading off of like you think you're in Star Trek or something, with less Okudagrams.)

I guess that means I really will have to do that Dr. Seuss bio for Bluewater.  It's the one I'm most interested in, because I plan to do it in true Dr. Seuss style, all rhymes, so I've run out of excuses.  I hope they didn't find someone else while I procrastinated...
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