Monday, June 29, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...Meet the Spartans' Hangover

That's the concern, anyway, from some people I've seen tweeting about AMPAS' decision to extend the Best Picture Oscar pool to ten nominees instead of five. Reaction is mixed, I'm seeing. Some praise the Academy's move with the hopes that deserving movies that don't necessarily fit the Oscar mold (*cough* The Dark Knight) will finally get a shot at the big prize, while others aren't exactly looking forward to seeing Oscar night turn into Oscar morning when the ceremony is extended. Mind you, the plan is to expand one category, not all of them, and thankfully that won't require more musical numbers.

Take note, movie lovers, this isn't exactly a radical change. Take a look at the Best Picture nominees for 1939:

Gone with the Wind
The Wizard of OZ
Dark Victory
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
Wuthering Heights

Hell of a lineup there. As late as 1943 you saw more than five films make the cut. Granted, look at the films made in that time. Could you go back in time and actually whittle away titles to meet the current standard of five nominees? These days, it may seen we're hard pressed to come up with five titles at all, much less ten, for the big prize. Consider, too, the avenues of promotion used now for movies. The 1930s and 1940s produced their share of crap films, too - they just didn't have MySpace or Twitter to help ingrain them in the memories of filmgoers. This is why we can look back to last year and think of Epic Movie and Scary Movie 12 and Lesbian Eskimo Movie and wonder what the Academy is smoking if they'll let any of those wastes of celluloid though the gate.

They won't, I'm sure of it. As a movie fan and Oscar trivia ho', I applaud this decision. Some proponents note this as a step into modernization for the Academy, but I see it as an opportunity to truly give quality, underachieving films their due. It's not uncommon for films to receive a boost at the box office after nominations and wins are doled out, and if critics' award associations can generate top ten lists, why not AMPAS?

Here's what I think we'll see in the future:

Recognition of quality animation: Yes, there's a Best Animated Film category, but I don't think there's anything in the rules that says a movie can't final in this and Best Picture. Foreign films have vied for Best Foreign and Best Picture before (Life is Beautiful for one), so this opens the door wider. I'll be shocked if UP doesn't make the top ten this year. It was better than most live action movies I've seen.

Recognition of minority filmmakers: John Singleton was the first African-American director to receive an Oscar nomination, but Boyz N the Hood did not get a Picture nod. Perhaps under these new rules, we'll see the also-rans helmed by minority and female directors pop up more often. If only the Academy would re-evaluate the Best Director category...I still think this award should be given in tandem with Best Picture.

More foreign films: Foreign countries are only allowed to submit one movie for the Best Foreign Film category. Think about the output of countries like France, Italy, Japan, etc. and decide if you want to be the one who makes that choice. This expansion may allow for higher visibility of good foreign language movies and move them from the art house to the megaplex.

Acknowledgement of change in the industry: We've seen a bit of it already - a nomination for Brokeback Mountain, the Lord of the Rings finale as the first ever fantasy film to win. Critics argue that when it comes to nominations, the Academy plays it safe. Now there is opportunity for wiggle room and to acknowledge that a good film doesn't necessarily have to be a dry historical drama.

Recognition of quality comedy: For years people have lobbyed for a category for comedy films, or at least a comedy performance statue. Funny films make the cut, yes, but's rare, and can anybody actually remember the last film that won? Forrest Gump might be a stretch, because it had weepy moments. There are great filmmakers who specialize in the genre - they should be recognized, too.

Here is what I'd like to see in the future for the Academy:

The tandem Picture/Director trophy: See above.

Recognition of voice actors in acting categories: Not everybody phones it in, and face it - animation is a growing force in the industry. With it comes actors who breathe life into characters. We don't have to see their faces to know they're deserving.

Return of the child actor award: The Academy used to give a special award to exceptional child actors over the years, then quit the practice when they folded child actors into competitive categories. Yet how many do we actually see make the cut? I'm not saying give Hannah Montana an award, but celebrate the talent of those who make the most out of challenging roles.

Bring back Hugh Jackman next year: Seriously.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ich will Nahrung

Because it's summer and I don't have enough to do (ha), I've decided to take on a few personal projects - some items to check off my wish list. The first is the print version of Love's DoMINion, if ever I can get the cover specs squared away. I may have to hire on help to assist with that. I want the book available for a few fetish fairs we plan to attend, like the LF&P in DC and the FFF in Charlotte, as well as a few carry-in gigs I have for late summer. Watch for news.

The second thing: I've longed to have a foreign translation done. I've approached agents about it and can't quite get the wheels moving, but since I retain foreign language rights to my works I've decided to try it myself. Naturally I plan to start with the German version of Truth or Dare and see if it's worth the time and effort to translate the rest of Dareville. I'm really excited about the possibility of selling in another language, and I minored in German in college. I understand there is some interest in romance among German readers, which I find interesting given the language never seemed to fit the racy nature of certain stories. It's difficult to cuss in German, not like French or Spanish.

I considered hiring on a Spanish translator, but I'd heard of the complications involved in that, since one must consider the styles and dialects of the language. A Spanish speaker in North America may use words differently than a European speaker. Same with Chinese. I had a friend who spoke fluent Cantonese, but couldn't translate for us in a Chinese restaurant because the waiter spoke a different dialect. Not quite like how Northerners look at us weird for saying "y'all," but you get the idea.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In case you're keeping score...

Let the record show:

1) I am a published author.

2) All of the publishers with whom I am aligned are primarily digital (eBook).

3) I do intend to pursue acquisition of an agent for the purposes of placing a book with a "traditional" print publisher.

4) The royalties I earn monthly in eBook publishing are the equivalent of a part-time salary. If I didn't live in a community where rent/expenses are so high, I could continue in ePublishing and only work part-time and be comfortable.

5) The stance on ePublishing RWA takes apparently will not change, therefore I see no reason to continue my membership. I will not renew when my membership expires, and will not join RWA again until there is a shift in this view.

6) I've worked for a non-profit before, and know how badly a decline in membership effects the oganization as a whole. Turning a blind eye to new innovation isn't necessarily a good thing.

...actually, as Willy Wonka might say, "Strike that, reverse it."

I might be persuaded to keep my RWA membership if there is a chance the membership will vote this person out of office and replace her with somebody who is more open-minded. We'll see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Word from Your Sponsor

The other day I approved the artwork for a premium promotional item to be distributed at the Authors After Dark conference this October. I'm pumped - I'm going halfsies with Phaze Books on this sponsorship, so technically this is my first ever author sponsorship at a major event. I don't count the after party Phaze held for the Virginia Beach EPPIEs because - though I helped with planning - I didn't really put up money for it. This time, I'm cutting a check.

Anyway, I won't tell you right now what we're giving out, only that I hope it's well received. The AAD people seemed thrilled, so here's hoping the mojo spreads. Maybe one day, too, I'll get to host something at RT - if only I had the money for it. Given how much it costs just to be on the Faery Court there, a whole party is beyond my reach right now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Erotic Romance, Now With 50% More Cowbell!

With this Halloween short, coming in October from Phaze Books, comes an interesting left turn through Dareville. Like Dulce, which only alluded to characters in the series (and I may bring back the principles of that story for something new), this story should not really be considered part of the Dareville canon. In terms of chronology, it will be set after the events of A Winter's Dare, and if you're paying attention that would put this work in October of 2006.

I understand when readers are into a contemporary, there comes the tendency to apply the action to the current day. Because Truth or Dare released in 2004 and the subsequent novels are set almost immediately after each other, time passes more slowly in Dareville. Nobody is Twittering quite yet, and W. is still the President. I have to be very careful with cultural references when writing these stories so everything remains accurate. If you read the Kinsey Millhone mysteries by Sue Grafton, you'll notice it's set the same way. A is for Alibi came out in 1982, and Grafton has it set so subsequent stories are happening one right after the other. Of course, it doesn't make sense for a detective to work only one case a year. I'm assuming Kinsey doesn't use Twitter, either.

Eventually I'll have Dareville catch up to the rest of us, don't worry.

Another point about Reaper that sets it apart from the rest of the series is that this one is sort of a paranormal. I'll let you figure it out from the blurb in progress:

En route to a sexy Halloween soiree, Cal and Sue Briscoe are involved in a car accident and...die?

Stranded between layers of the veil, they cling to each other with the hope that whatever happens, they will stay together. As the Grim Reaper - a handsome fellow introducing himself as Gil - tries to discern their fate, the Briscoes take advantage of the moment out of time to celebrate what could be their last chance for love...or the beginning of a new life.

Still tweaking it, I hate blurb writing. I will say this, however: it ends well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Silence isn't always golden

If I could say anything to the aspiring author seeking advice for forging a successful relationship with an editor, it would be this:

Silence isn't always golden. You may be new to the arena, but it doesn't mean you have no voice, or that you have to jump through hoops to earn one. During any part of the process, should you feel uncomfortable, speak up. The longer you hold silence, the more others around you are apt to think you are not bothered.

If you are offered a contract, it means somebody found value in your work, and you should be proud to know that. When an editor is assigned to work with you, it's with the belief that this person is best qualified to assist you in polishing your voice so it resonates. Note: polish, not change. If you are not comfortable with a major change in your work, and no explanation is given behind the change, ask for one. Editing is not one-sided. Don't think you have to accept every change for fear your contract will be voided. The process of publishing is a team effort, where everybody on the team has input. To go along with changes with which you do not agree does a great disservice to yourself and your creation.

The longer hard feelings fester, the more you wait and hope things will turn around, the more difficult it can be to recover from a blow. This is your writing, your work. You are allow to steer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Like bunnies, they multiply

I see in the eBook world we are to expect two new houses:

Quartet Press is making the Twitter rounds today, announcing their submission guidelines for romance and erotic romance, preferably novel length. It appears the house is run by people with some clout in the industry, and experience in digital media. The site, while sparse, looks clean and is easily navigable. It's not difficult to see it's a Wordpress site, but I'm familiar with that type of CMS and know it's easy to use. They are interested in reprints for digital rights as well. Almost tempting me into digging up Little Flowers, if I can find a copy. That's not an erotic work, though, and no way in hell could I revise it to lean that way. Looks like a company worth watching, we'll see.

Crimson Moth, I see from the title tag, is to be the erotic imprint of Wings Press, Inc. If you're not looking that high, however, you wouldn't know it from the site. The About Us page is empty - only the submission guidelines are active, and there is no name attached. Definitely, I would consider getting this information up ASAP, as two of the most important pages on any site are the contact form and the About Us page. If I'm to send you my novel, I want to know who you are.

I was once published with Wings under my real name - all those books are out of print. During my association with them, they did not publish erotica, though I proofed a number of their works which could be considered heavy sensual - Harlequin Blaze level if you need a guide. Looks like they are finally setting foot into the erotic arena. One thing to note, and this may have changed since I left, is that Wings charged authors a fee to go to POD, and they did not use Lightning Source, which means no listings. Maybe that's changed and somebody can confirm; if so, I'll happily retract. All I do know is that it made it difficult for me to sell my prints there - relatives would call bookstores to order, to learn the book was not in their system. I couldn't even order books for a signing through a store and they wouldn't let me carry in. Something to consider.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Don't Dump on Your Book

I struggled for a bit to come up with a title for this post that didn't sound disgusting. Hopefully this one won't attract people looking for pics of weird sex practices. Yeah, who am I kidding?

I wanted to talk about something I notice more in submissions lately, a practice in fiction that I personally do not like, and would wish to wish go away. I've talked about it here before, but it bears repeating.

If you've been in the game long enough, you may be familiar with the term "info dump." An info dump in a story occurs usually in the first chapter, sometimes as early as the first few pages, where just about everything you need to know about the main character (and often stuff that isn't important) is revealed. In the example linked above, Danielle Steel's novel Rogue, the story begins with a fashion model about to skydive off a plane. She does, and everything seems to go swimmingly, and it's around this time Danielle decides to cut away to give us the model's life story. So here she is, suspended in mid-air, while we learn about how she met the guy with whom she's diving, and how he made all his money in his thirties, about his MBA from Harvard, blah blah blah, and I'm reading this and asking myself, "The f--- do I care about all this now?" This is an action scene interrupted by information that isn't pertinent at the moment.

It's not that I'm expecting the supermodel to pull the ripcord and release an anvil a la Wile E. Coyote, but I'm of the school that teaches when you write something like this, stay in the scene. What's going on through this girl's head - she just jumped out of a frickin' plane! Were that me, I wouldn't contemplate my jump partner's MBA from Harvard, I'd be thinking Holy f---in' s---, I just jumped out of a plane! What the hell was I thinking?

If you survive, ponder the guy's millions at a bar.

So I've read through a few submissions this past week, and I see similar info piles loaded up front. Now, some may feel it's necessary to have the dossier on the main characters so the rest of the book makes sense. While it's important to establish a sense of place and being with characters, information overload can hurt the book, and your chances with an editor or agent. Be careful, too, if you're the type who likes to weave the exposition into dialogue. Conversation between characters should read and sound natural, not like narration of a documentary. Example.

Mary shelved the book and reached for another one. "So, Jane," she said, "how does it feel to have worked so hard for eight years to earn your Master's degree in Library Science at the University of Georgia? I bet you're glad to finally be on your own, too, after moving out of that apartment with those loud roommates who partied every weekend."

For one, I'm sure Jane knows where she went to school and for how long she went. If it's not pertinent to the story, the reader doesn't need to know. If it needs to be known that Jane has an MLS, it can be worked into the story more smoothly.

Another thing to point out, surprises in fiction rarely make sense if there's no explanation. Let's say two hundred pages into the book, Mary is cornered in the library basement by ninjas looking for the Book of Evil (just work with me there). Throughout the book, Mary is portrayed as some meek little gal who owns a cat and likes watching Ace of Cakes. Wouldn't hurt a fly. All of a sudden she goes postal and whips some ninja because the writer decided at that time to reveal that Mary has a black belt in some kind of martial art, trained at the feet of some ancient sensei while on a personal journey in Japan.

Yeah, I don't buy it, either. This is what is known as deus ex machina. In Latin it means "god from the machine," but another translation could be "getting out of a painted corner." If it's necessary that Mary be a ninja-slaying superstar, seeds should be planted throughout the story to make it a more believable trait. Maybe her belt hangs from her closet door, or maybe she catches a glimpse of a framed photograph on her coffee table as she reaches for the remote. Something!

For a book recommendation on how the distribution of information on a character is given well, read Sophie's Choice. Sophie has secrets to hide, and they revealed in a gradual way that is believable and fluid. It's one book anyone wishing to write should read, regardless.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Now in Print: Metropolitan Passions, Volume 1

I'm a bit behind on the promotion train - the to-do list exploded again, but I found three minutes for self-promotion here...

Metropolitan Passions, Vol. 1
Phaze Books, $12.95
M/M, Contemporary
Click here to order.

Together in one volume come the best of Phaze's M/M stories from the Urban Phaze line! Grab your GPS and discover passion in some of the greatest cities in the world. This volume includes Leigh's thrilling Why, Why, Zed?, her first M/M release in print!

A cryptic phone call to Cameron "Zed" Zedmore's cell reveals a plot to steal away Zed's live-in love, Nick. Devastating the thought of infidelity is, Zed realizes he can't blame Nick for being tempted to stray, as Zed's work has kept him in the lab, and out of their bed, for long hours.

Nick loves Zed, but isn't crazy about being a "house husband" anymore. He has needs Zed won't meet, and when another friend offers help in that department, Nick is tempted to accept. But then Zed comes home early...

You can still get Zed in eBook, too!

P.S.: I'm on Twitter now! See what I'm up to at @LeighEllwood.

Leigh Ellwood

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mundania Press acquires Hard Shell

It's probably safe to announce it now, since all authors involved have been informed: Mundania Press is going to acquire Hard Shell Word Factory. If you've been keeping score on eBook publishers, you'll know Hard Shell is the granddaddy of them all, having launched in 1996. It's one of the oldest, anyway, I still don't know if DiskUs Publishing has a claim to the title or not. Anyway, the chain of events by which Mundania came to accept ownership of the company are quite tragic. If you also know the history of the house's present owner, you know what I mean. I don't know how much of that is public information, so that's all I'll say about it for now.

Hard Shell, whether it is the first ePub or not, has quite a legacy. Romance fans will know about Kate Douglas and MaryJanice Davidson...some of their earliest works were released here (some are still available). Take a look at their current roster and you may recognize more names.

Anyway, I am happy our parent company is able to step in to keep Hard Shell running. Given the industry's condition these days, it's better than losing another house altogether. To the HSWF authors joining us for the transition, welcome.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What La Popessa Can Teach You About Networking

Sister Pascalina was better known through the latter half of her life (and almost exclusively since her death) as "La Popessa." She was a very devout German nun who took her vows seriously. Even as a child, she showed a propensity toward saintly behavior, and discouraged debauchery. In one biography, it's said she once refused to bake her father's favorite pie because he had this habit of bathing outdoors for all to see. Mind you, this was in the early part of the 20th century and probably a common practice in the old country. Alas, the things you do for pie...

Fast forward several years, and Pascalina becomes the head of household under the pontificate of Pius XII. Her devotion to Pius no doubt equalled her feelings toward the Big Guy Himself. Many compare the relationship of Pascalina and Pius to a marriage, they were that close. If you wanted an audience with the Pope in those days, you had to get through Pascalina. Some dare to say she ran the Vatican herself in this time, thus earning the nickname.

Not everybody did get to His Holiness. Once a cardinal came to call, and was promptly kicked to the curb by the nun. She didn't much care for this man, and was a bit free with her words of dislike.

Fast forward to 1958: Pius XII dies, and a new pope is selected. The new boss is Cardinal Roncalli, that same holy man who incurred Pascalina's wrath years prior. Only now he is Pope John XXIII, and Pascalina is no longer head of household and needs a place to live.

What can we learn here? First and foremost: you don't know that the person next to you isn't going to be in a position to help you later on in life. You may think he's a bozo with no talent, but somebody else with power might not feel the same way.

How does this apply to publishing and networking? Consider this: maybe you get a rejection from an editor or agent of Podunk Productions, or maybe you read a book you don't like from Rinky Dink Press. You decide the world must know, so you blog and you Twitter and you Digg and you name names. You're cute, you're witty, and the peanut gallery is all thumbs-up and "Hell yeah haz cheezburger"! Click send and it's imprinted forever. It shows up in vanity Google searches - people know.

Let's say down the road you have a novel ready to go. You have dreamed about taking it to Big Shot, LLC and being offered a contract. Let's say this manuscript winds up on the desk of somebody who used to be an editor or agent with Podunk Productions or Rinky Dink Press, or even the BFF of that same person you maligned and...see where I'm going here?

Think carefully about what you write, in blogs and even in private forums. If you receive a rejection, I'm sorry. I don't like when it happens to me, either. I bite into a cloth, cuss silently, and go back to work, because I know no amount of online badgering and insult-tossing is going to help my career. I can tell you, too, rallying friends and relatives to carry picket signs in your behalf will likely not help your cause, either.

Learn from rejection slips, and don't consider it a failure if you get one. The only failure comes in giving up your dream. Yet be careful of how you react, lest you unwittingly damage your chances of achieving that dream.