Cruel Summer – Progress Report (And Other Tidbits)

Things are chugging along on Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer!

As things stand, book four is shaping up to be on-par with Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins in terms of length. Book one came in at 95,500 words, and book four is hovering in the 83,000 word neighborhood, and I still have quite a ways to go. It’s also going to be a significantly darker story than the first three books, which prompted one of my test readers to remark that book four will be my Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I’ll take that comparison, gladly!

To give you a little taste of what’s to come, here’s the official back cover text for book four, which I sent off this week to my trusty cover artist Patricia Lupien, along with my notes for the back cover artwork concept.

His name is uttered in terrified whispers. He’s the bad guy the good guys fear.

He is the King of Pain, and he’s come to Kingsport to put another hero in the ground.

The Hero Squad faces their deadliest foe yet, a mysterious killer that hunts within the superhuman community, leaving dead bodies and broken minds in his wake. The Squad is next on his hit list, and the King of Pain will push the young heroes to their absolute limit — and one of them might not survive the experience.

Get ready for the darkest chapter in the Action Figures saga as the Hero Squad prepares for the greatest fight of their lives — a fight in which there are no winners…only survivors.

My goal is to get draft one done by mid-December, polish off draft two by the end of the year, and get it out to my test-readers at the start of 2015 so I can get this sucker into readers’ hot little hands by March.

Not that I’m going to get much rest while my test-readers are doing their thing, because I already have half of book five, subtitled Team-Ups, plotted in my head, and then it’s on to book six, which will feature another major turning point for the Hero Squad.

On another note, I’m preparing for my second book-signing event, as part of the upcoming OtherWhere Market in Lowell, MA. I’ll be there alongside my wife, Veronica of Storied Threads, who prepared this tantalizing image for her own Facebook page. Enjoy!

Otherwhere

Sisyphus As Writer

My first-ever writing pitch was made to DC Comics way back in 1990. I stumbled across an obscure character named Dr. Occult, an early and lesser-known creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (who also created a character you might have heard of by the name of Superman), and thought he had potential.

At the time DC was keen on reviving its C-list characters and taking chances with edgier mature material — this was the era of Grant Morrison‘s brilliant relaunch of Animal Man and Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman — so I developed a proposal that brought Dr. Occult into the modern era, gave him a purpose in the Modern Age DC Universe, fleshed out his supporting cast, etc.

I submitted it to DC Comics and, lo and behold I received my first-ever rejection letter. It was on cool official DC Comics stationery and hand-signed by the editor I sent it to. Even though my idea was rejected, I had this awesome rejection letter. I still have it.

I still have all my rejection letters. Every last one. And when I finally get that letter that tells me yes, we will buy your novel/screenplay, I will buy a nice frame for my DC Comics letter (it’s that cool, people) and burn the rest. There may be naked dancing around the fire. I haven’t decided.

I admit, I am growing impatient for that day to arrive. My pile of fuel is a little too high for my liking, and it’s grown a bit — virtually speaking — over the past weekend.

Satisfied that Action Figures was as complete as it was going to get, I e-mailed it on November 4 to a prospective agent, who took eight days to send me a form rejection e-mail. I spent a day feeling lousy and drowning my sorrows in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, then got back on the horse. I sent a query out to another agent, who was far more efficient than my first victim, taking a mere two days to tell me thanks, but no thanks. So, another day of moping, then two more queries out the proverbial door.

This whole process is perhaps the most frustrating for me because of the nature of the beast. Agents and publishers get slammed with submissions, and for that reason many of them ask for just a synopsis and sample pages, sometimes nothing more than a bare-bones initial query letter in which I have three paragraphs to accomplish phase one of my mission: I have to hook the reader on the concept with the first paragraph, sell him on the concept with the second, and sell myself as a writer with the third. If I’m successful, I may be asked for a synopsis, a detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown, and/or a full manuscript.

I understand the whys and wherefores of this process, but I hate hate hate it nonetheless, because the sum total of my effort is being judged on a small sampling — sometimes literally nothing more than a one-paragraph summary. Worse, with big publishing houses the first reading in carried out by low-level editors who decide whether to bump the query up the ladder. It’s publishing triage, and again it’s a necessary evil, but it means that every given submission could be shown the door because the low man on the totem pole is having a shitty day and taking it out on writers asking nothing more than a fair chance at success.

You might argue that a stellar pitch will overcome all obstacles, but I dare say you have never attempted to reduce a full story to one paragraph. Just for fun, go ahead and pick your favorite movie and then describe it in one tight paragraph. Chances are it will not sound anywhere near as awesome as a lengthy, detailed description. More likely, it’ll sound boring, or ridiculous, or like a story you’ve seen or read a hundred times before.

If you still think it’s not all that hard to make a story sound enticing in one measly paragraph, consider: Stephen King’s Carrie? Rejected 30 times, and one publisher declared it would never sell because it was so “negative.” King actually threw the manuscript in the trash in frustration (his wife Tabitha saved it and, unwittingly, her husband’s nascent career as one of the best-selling authors in history). The Chicken Soup for the Soul series, which currently boasts about 200 titles? Rejected 140 times. The only reason J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone saw the light of day after receiving dozens of rejections is because one publisher’s eight-year-old daughter read the manuscript and loved it and begged her dad to publish it.

Do a Google search for “rejected authors” and you’ll find several lists bearing some of the greatest names and works in modern literature, and you’ll see that some of these people and their books were sent away, sometimes rudely, dozens upon dozens of times before someone decided to take a chance and give the author a shot.

What’s the take-away from this? To me it’s that talent seems to be, for good or ill, almost a negligible element in the process, because there are some truly awful books out there that someone somewhere thought were good enough to print; rather, the key appears to be persistence to an obsessive degree.

That’s not entirely fair, but I learned long ago fairness doesn’t enter into it. There are too many variables at work and you can’t compensate for them all. All you can do is, as the saying goes, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.