Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Next In My Series On How To Get Published

Or: more rubbish from me.

Stuff not to do unless you're in love with the idea of being rejected and want to marry it:

1. Go on your blog and do a big rant about how everyone in the publishing industry is a massive idiot. Then name names, and describe why they're an idiot. The description will usually include things like "because they rejected my book" and "because they rejected my book" and then it'll finish with "because they rejected my book". It does not. Make you. Look good.

Not only that, but doing stuff like the above will only cause you drama. And drama may seem cool when you're fanficcing on livejournal and everyone has a big fight because someone said summat idiotic like "gais r baddies", but it is not cool when your career depends on something. It will make you ill. Stay calm, don't get involved in internet fights, don't respond horribly to reviewers, try to keep your crying about stuff to a minimum (that last one I fail at horribly, but I do my best. Twitter is forever but it's less forever than a ten page blog post).

2. Start your novel with a massive info dump. Agents and editors will forgive a lot of things, but I rarely see them forgiving this. And why should they? If they've got book A starting off "The world of Tengongtwon is a big pizza floating in space and on it live all these people called the Pizzonians and Mary is one of them. She lives in a big house by a lake and she has blonde hair and big boobs and she's 5"10..." and book B that starts "Mary looked up at the sky and wondered if there really was a Pizza God, the way everyone said" they're not going to pick book A. They're just not. Book A leaves nowhere for them to go. Nothing for them to find out. Also, it sounds like nonsense - where as book B at least sounds like it might be going somewhere interesting.

And don't try to hide your info dump, either. "Mary flicked her blonde hair and adjusted her top over her double D boobs and then noticed how tall she was in the window next to her" is just as bad. Pace your information. Focus on the action.

3. Query letter and formatting mistakes. If you write a query letter that's ten pages long, and has the synopsis on page nine, and doesn't include any pertinent information about you (publishing credits, area of expertise related to the novel), and then your first three chapters are in font size 18 with pink Gothic lettering and eight million typos, you know what's going to happen? Your masterpiece will not even be read. That's a fact. That's not me exaggerating. I know this has actually happened a million times over - just read Query Shark.

Agents and editors don't have time to read something from someone who hasn't done the barest minimum of research into querying, MS production and publishing. Think of it this way: if you owned a business and someone filled out an application for a job that ranted for four hours about how much they loved burgers when what you made was pizza, would you really want to hire them? Could you even be bothered to give them an interview? I don't think so.

4. Send a sci-fi book to an agent/publisher who only deals with historical novels. Same thing as the burger/pizza analogy. It's just not going to happen. They're not going to change their minds for you. All you'll end up with is another rejection that whispers to you in the night that it wasn't because you sent a sci-fi to a historical publisher. It was because you're shit, you'll always be shit, no-one likes you and you should go die in a fire.

5. Write a book over 120k for your first submission to publishers. Stephen King gets to publish novels over 120k. Because he's a living legend. It's not even taking a chance, to take a chance on him. Publishers are taking a big chance on any first time author, and that chance gets a million times great every K you go over 120.

Though I should add, here, that there are books that have gone over 120k and been published by first time authors. There are. Hell, I'm sure there are books and authors who've broken all these rules and still gotten a deal. But the thing is: why be the exception to the rule? Do you know how hard it is to be the exception to the rule? It's the exception because it's rare and tiny. Why aim for rare and tiny?? If you've written a book and honed it and loved it and worked on it for a thousand years, then someone says to you right, you now get to make your own bullseye and once you've hit it, you win, you don't make a bullseye a milimetre across eight thousand miles away.

You make it as massive and close to you as you can. You make it two inches from your face and fifty feet across. Don't make things hard for yourself. In this case, you're not being cool by trying to be the exception to the rule. The rules are there to help you be awesome. Don't fail to be awesome.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mancandy Monday: The Beast

Yeah yeah yeah I know I keep saying I don't like alphas. But another one slipped through the cracks, okay? Maybe if he wasn't the most perfect representation of an alpha male to ever exist, he wouldn't have. But tough titties because he is and so here we are, with me drooling all over a cartoon character from a much loved Disney movie. That's right. This guy: I mean, for a start he's still somehow handsome. Even though he looks like a cross between a bear and a lion. Can you imagine having sex with a bear-lion? Can you? It'd be like doing it with a lawnmower. A hairy, hairy lawnmower. Not cool, brain, not cool.
Though I suppose the wider question should be: how on earth am I going to have sex with him anyway BECAUSE HE'S A CARTOON. What's wrong with me? Why do I want a cartoon? I mean, I'm fully aware that none of the men I crush on are real in the strictest sense, but at the very least Armie Hammer does actually exist and if I was mad I could fly to Hollywood, break into his house, and sleep under his bed. I could take pictures of him while he was sleeping, and prove his existence.
How the fook do I prove the Beast from Beauty and the Beast's existence? He's a drawing. He was made with pencils. I don't even know what's going on in my head, swear to God.
And yet I still find him sexy. I like that he's a total asshole at the beginning, but here's the kicker: he has plenty of reason to be an asshole. That's what makes him great! All the alphas who are just assholes for no apparent reason whatsoever: FOOK YOU! Check this guy, man.
He's lived in a cold abandoned castle of a kingdom that doesn't seem to exist for about a zillion years, with only a teapot and a candlestick for company - a candlestick and a teapot who used to be, like, his best friends, until an evil witch TURNED THEM INTO HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS BECAUSE HE WAS A BIT OF A JERK ONE TIME.
No, no. That's really what happens. And she doesn't stop there, either. Just as he's thinking Jezzuz Crist, man, you just turned a little kid into a teacup you psychopath, she turns him into a bear-lion. For the terrible and most heinous crime of refusing her offer of a flower for a stay in his luxurious five star castle.
I mean seriously. Can you imagine turning up to the Hilton with a bunch of daisies in your pocket, expecting a suite?
Didn't think so.
Really, he has every reason to be a bit pissed. Plus, you know. He's a bear-lion. All his shouting probably comes across much louder than it actually is, because bear roar x lion roar = some fookin sound I can't even imagine. He's probably actually like a T-Rex inside.
So how much more does it mean when Belle melts his heart? Loads more, that's what. He's justifiably angry, he's lonely, he's some kind of terrible dinosaur hybrid, his only friends are things you more typically drink tea out of. I can't even do the math on this one - it's incalculable odds and yet he falls for her anyway and even starts throwing snowballs at her and dancing in his Sunday best. Plus he lets her read millions of books, which is really all I want out of my eighteenth century castle dwelling beast-man.
What can I say? I have realistic expectations. Of cartoons.
Oh, and also: he's hot when he's a dude, too. Shut up, he is. I'd somehow convinced myself that the beast was way hotter but I watched the movie again last night and I realise my brain has been lying to me all this time. His nostrils are perfectly reasonably sized, and he has lovely Armie Hammer coloured hair not horrible weird Hercules hair.
And so now I can totally bring all of this into the realms of reality and have Armie Hammer charging about a giant drafty castle after me, wearing nothing but a cape and a pair of shorts. Because I swear to God, that's all the Beast wears throughout the film. Just that. Nothing else.
Yeah, I paid attention. What of it?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Things You Can Do To Help Get You Published

1. Practice writing for years. And yeah, I know there are many, many writers who started five minutes ago and want to be published tomorrow. But unless you're some sort of incredible Mozart-like prodigy, you're gonna find it tough. Don't get disheartened if you did start five minutes ago and still aren't published tomorrow, or even the next day. Or the next year. Everything you're doing is money in the bank. Every moment you spend writing is not a moment wasted. If you end up with ten unpublishable books, that's okay. That's your groundwork. I mean, I could cry about the "waste" of the ten million pieces of X-Files/Harry Potter/Smallville/Buffy/Vampire Diaries fanfic, and then the further three hundred half finished and in some cases completely finished horror/fantasy novels I wrote. But at the very least those folders and textbooks filled with rubbish meant I can now type 80 words a minute.

2. That thing over there...I think it's called the tinternetz? Use it. You know how writers got published as little as twenty years ago? By looking in a giant book for a random publisher, or seeing some submission guidelines in some magazine somewhere randomly by chance, or because they knew someone. That's about it. They didn't know anything. Twenty years ago, people were still sending in handwritten submissions because they had very little access to the knowledge that publishers wanted things typed.

But that doesn't have to happen anymore. Hell, we don't even have to pay seventeen quid for the Writer's And Artist's Handbook thingie. We can just go online and google "call for submissions". We can actually look up agents we think will represent us, and find their personal guidelines for submission. We can research them at places like Absolute Write, Romance Divas, Preditors and Editors and find out who's really running some kind of bizarre Mickey Mouse scheme whereby you pay them a million dollars and they send you a pamphlet they made out of your book.

We are so lucky to live in this age of information. Don't get caught out. Exploit that information.

3. This is really a separate point, but kind of the same as before: use the tinternetz to find out information about writing. Again, this is something we could never have done before. Not unless we paid £10 for R J Sherman's Guide To Writing Excellence or went on some bogus course that's really just a massively expensive holiday in France. But now, you can just google previously alien terms like show don't tell and it comes right up! Jezzuz Crist! Every rule on writing, every tiny little thing that any agent or editor could possibly be looking for is right there at your fingertips, to the point where you start doubting everything you've ever done, eventually go crazy, and wind up writing I Am A Fish eight thousand times even though you're sure you've just written the erotic masterpiece equivalent of War and Peace.

I know, because this has happened to me. It still happens to me, all the time. OH MY GODZ I USE THE WORD JUST ALL THE TIME I AM FOOKED etc etc.

But it's still better than fumbling in the dark like a monkey with its eyes poked out, not knowing what the word "subtext" means while being unsure of how to find the font button in Microsoft Word.

4. Don't write a blog post entitled "Things You Can do To Help Get You Published". You'll only piss people off. They'll all whisper about you behind your back: what the fook does she know, anyway? Or they won't, you'll just think they will because seriously, what do I know? I don't know anything. If there's a formula, I don't know it. I get rejected all the time. Being published once doesn't secure you against it. Nothing secures you against it - not even being LJ Smith. I mean, she should be on top of the world, right now. Her books have been made into a massively successful TV series. And yet what happens? HER PUBLISHER DROPS HER AND STARTS WRITING HER BOOKS WITHOUT HER. Holy shitballs, man - but hey, that's the real world. Do your best to keep going, no matter how much that last fact sucks. And it will suck and you will hurt and you're allowed to be hurt, but after a certain amount of time you pick yourself back up and you keep going.

Which is probably really the best advice I can give you. And know this, too: if you're out there, and you're not sure what the fook you're doing, and you can't find an answer on the thing you need and feel you've got nowhere else to turn, ask me. I'm right here. You can ask me. Demanding I send your manuscript to a publisher I don't have any connection to might piss me off, but asking me a question that I would have killed to have answered back when I was flailing in the darkness: yeah, I got your back for that one.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mancandy Monday: Stephen King

You know what I love about Stephen King? It's not the beard, in case you were wondering. I mean, I'm sure by now you know I have some kind of perverted beard fetish. And he does look better with the beard, as you can see from this handy diagram full of maths and stuff:

But it isn't that. There are so many men with full bushes for me to choose from, should I feel the pull of fecund hairiness. No, my love for Stephen King stems purely from the fact that more than any other writer, he makes me believe.

I mean, think about it. No really, just think about what some of his stories are about. Here, I'll create a handy list of them.

1. A car that comes alive and kills people.

2. A shit weasel.

3. A cellphone signal that turns everyone into rabid crazy murderer zombie things.

4. God is, like, a giant turtle.

5. A magical Kindle. Yeah, that's right. As in, the ebook reading device.

I swear, all of these things happen in his books. They really and honestly happen or are a part of actual published novels of his. I'm not lying. I'm not even exaggerating a little bit. I mean, I was going to say a "haunted Kindle" but the Kindle in his story is not actually haunted - it just shows you books from a parrellel dimension. So I think "magical" covers it.

And yet, I totally bought the premise. I didn't want to. I started reading it thinking: he's gone too far, here. This is ridiculous even for him. And then halfway through I did this big, disbelieving laugh because God-dammit. He only went and had me believing in an ebook reading device from another dimension.

The man is a legend. And if there's one lesson I've taken away from any writer, it's the lesson he's taught me. It doesn't matter who or what you write about, as long as you make it real. You can tell a story about a woman who falls in love with a goat, as long as every word that comes out of her mouth and every move she makes is consistent, grounded, believable. As long as she thinks before the reader does: God this is weird.

Because that's what people do. If a reader thinks God this is weird, than fook knows how weird the character would find it. And that's the beauty of Stephen King. He gets there before the reader does. Before you even know the characters should be doing something, he has them do it, or feel it, or experience it.

Like at the end of Desperation when the kid unfolds that little note, and everything in me is thinking man, God is cruel. Everything is cruel and awful and endless, and nothing will ever be good again. In my own life I'm thinking that right now, because although I haven't seen my family killed by a demon inside a man-skin, things just seem very bleak and full of casual cruelty.

And then I read the note. And it says:

God is love.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mancandy Monday: Fat Jesus

Or as he more typically goes by, "Zach Galifianakis". Though to be honest, I'm suspicious of his so called real name. It's why I've put it in quotation marks, because I'm not sure I believe it. I think his name actually is Fat Jesus, as the movie The Hangover openly acknowledges when that dude goes "not you fat Jesus".

I mean, let's just assess the facts, shall we?

1. He has a beard. Jesus had a beard. In all honesty, I'm not even sure if Jesus had a beard as magnificent as Zach's, because in all of the probably non-accurate portraits of him his beard looks decidedly pointed and slender. Whereas Zach's beard is full and lush, like a great blossoming mushroom on the bottom portion of his head. As though the bottom portion of his head is warm and moist, and a new species of fungi simply had to nestle there, pulsing and growing and providing sustenance to my aching soul. My soul aches for your beard, Zach Galifianakis. It aches.

2. Jesus was really well known for playing the flute like this, while dancing with his feet pointed outward in a pink jumpsuit.

I'm pretty sure. I mean, don't quote me, or anything. "Exodus 47:92 and lo Jesus didst playeth thine flute with his toes doth pointed". But yeah. I have a strong feeling about the total truthiness of this one.

3. I'll confess, I'm out of similarities by this point. I mean, Jesus was a really cool and nice guy, and I suspect Zach is also a cool and nice guy. But no-one has written a book that could at least be partially true about Zach and how he healed the lepers that one time. So you know. Jury's still out.

However, I would like to stress that whether he is similar to Jesus or not, Zach Galifianakis remains sexy. It's the furry eyebrows, hovering over his weird burning animal eyes- as though THIS is what a real werewolf would look like, should it actually exist. Yeah- we're all there, clicker clacking at our keyboards, sure that we've got it right with our seven foot tall werewolf hunks from the planet Manboob, but in reality we all know real werewolves would look like Zach.

Short and stout and furry looking, with lots of room inside for wolf bits to grow.

But I like all of his room inside! I like his little round tummy, so soft and inviting. I like tight t-shirts pulled over it like this:

Because why should he hide? Why should he hide his glorious real werewolf shape, as though it's something to be ashamed of? I often wish slightly plump to massively fat women didn't have to hide all their bits and pieces, beneath voluminous tent-like contraptions.

Zach never wears a tent-like contraption, and I love him for it. He's my little fat Jesus, and I want to bury my boobs in his beard.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mancandy Monday: Troy McClure

I'll confess: I desperately, desperately wanted to include the bit where Troy confesses to Selma that he likes to bonk fishes in my last post about great Simpsons moments. But the trouble is, it's not funny enough. It's really more disturbing than anything else - though it's disturbing in that uniquely Simpsons way, that surreal, somehow-you-still-believe-it-way.

And it's also orsum. Oh my God it's orsum. A Fish Called Selma is hands down my favourite ever Simpsons episode. And it reigns supreme because of one man, one towering, brilliant, B-movie star parody of a man:

Troy McClure.

God, just look at that almost sweater-vest. Check out the dazed desperation in his eyes. How I love Troy McClure! I love everything about him, from his resume that includes such films as:

The Erotic Adventures of Hercules
The Verdict Was Mail Fraud
The Revenge of Abe Lincoln
Leper In The Backfield
Here Comes The Coast Guard

To the fact that he's so clearly based on every also-ran actor to ever exist. He symbolises that grey, terrible, not-quite hopelessness that I feel on a daily basis, like some awful reminder of the mediocre limbo the majority of people fall into. We can't all be Brad Pitt. Some of us are just Scott Valentine, or literally any guy who had a mullet in some TV show in the eighties.

But that's okay, cos you know what? I love Scott Valentine. And I love Troy McClure. I even love that he likes bonking fishes and stars in infomercials where you squeeze juice out of an orange with your eye. I love the fact that he needs lens as thick as bricks in order to see, and has all of these creases around his eyes.

But most of all, I love that he was voiced by Phil Hartman. Phil Hartman, who seemed like the gentlest, loveliest, funniest guy in the world. I don't often miss dead celebrities, because, well...they're not actually really here in my life. But I do miss Phil Hartman, if only because there's some terribly sad part of me that always knows I'll never again hear a new you may remember me from such films as...

Friday, March 4, 2011

I Have Been Mostly Watching The Simpsons

And so here are my all time favourite Simpsons moments:

1. When Homer is driven from Moe's and finds a dive bar, the surly bartender gives him a beer and Homer meekly asks for a clean glass. To which the bartender utters the most divinely sarcastic, rude, aggressive line: "Grrrr. Here you GO, your MAJESTY." I routinely say this to people in real life, in that exact same big hairy man tone, when they ask me things like "Charlotte, please can I have my clothes back?"

2. "The goggles do nothing." As internet-meme as this has become, the whole moment is truly a masterpiece. The fact that they'd ludicrously decided to do it all in one take and Millhouse somehow isn't there, the real acid, the use of goggles to somehow hold back something that melts an entire metal room... And then the capper. That Rainier Wolfcastle actually somehow believed the goggles would save him, and feels like commenting on the insane fact that they don't.

3. Even when The Simpsons started to go down hill (around season ten, I'd say), there were still shining moments of loveliness. Like when Homer says the following: "This is a very, very proud day for us, especially me. Your father, me, beat city hall. It's just like David and Goliath, only this time, David won." And we turn to Lisa, eyes narrowed, her mind murmuring to her: "I know. I heard it too. Here's some soothing music." Oh, how many times have I wished for some soothing music, to drown out a world that starts hero-worshipping woman beater Charlie Sheen.

4. The best guest star to ever grace The Simpsons is not Michael Jackson. It's not Albert Brooks, though he does play one of my favourite ever Simpsons characters. It's not Aerosmith or any other number of big names, like Alec Baldwin or Elton John. No-the best guest star The Simpsons has ever known is indisputably James Woods. It just is. Everything - from Woods' timing to the ridiculous writing of him as an insane method actor who can travel through time, to the way he's been drawn and how flawlessly it captures some of his facial expressions - is pure glory. My favourite part, though, is when he asks Jimbo if he found him believable as a Kwik-E-Mart employee, and when Jimbo won't comply he says "Hey. Don't. JERK me around. Fella." With one crazy eye on him, as big as a moon. Again, I feel this reaction applies to my everyday life, almost constantly.

5. The escalator to nowhere, from the monorail episode. This fairly small side gag so brilliantly embodies the genius of The Simpsons. How it can take one fairly simple idea - that the town builds stupid things like a monorail - and then pushes it to its most absurd and yet somehow logical, reasonable conclusion. You still believe it. That's the majesty of it. It's ridiculous that a town would build an escalator to nowhere, but with Marge's practical, earthy voice over the top, and the visible evidence so carefully put on a screen for the viewer- it's magical. It makes the cut aways on Family Guy look like something a four year old did.

6. And now we come to a version of the above done to its most extreme, nth degree. The episode with Scorpio. That's right. Homer somehow ends up working for a supervillain, but doesn't know it because the villain is an orsum, progressive boss who treats his employees like gold. And then the final, most logical and wonderful conclusion of this: Homer sadly telling Scorpio he has to quit, while around them both the world he's just threatened to destroy fights back, complete with orsum Bond villain control room, bombs going off, nukes- the works. Though that isn't really my favourite part of the episode. No. My favourite part is after Homer and family have gotten home, and everything's normal, and then you hear on the news that Scorpio has siezed control of the East Coast. Just like that! So throwaway, so barely there- you hardly even hear it! And yet such a flawless conclusion to a brilliantly executed joke.

7. "Remove the rock of shame. Attach the rock of triumph."

8. When Bart is forced to wear support shoes, and then finally he's told he can take them off. He kicks them - and herein lies the beauty of the gag, because he makes a little noise as he does so and I can forever hear it in my head "uh uh" he goes - and the shoes fly off and through the Flanders' window. Ned quite calmly asks Rod and Todd if anyone prayed for big shoes and, of course, one of them pipes up that he did.

9. Another example of pushing things to their absurd yet logical conclusion. Homer agrees to donate a kidney to his Father. But the night before he's scared, and he says to Marge that she has to promise him one thing if he dies. Naturally, she agrees - and you can hear every movie or TV show that ever existed ringing in your head at that moment, every single one where the husband or wife asks for a promise like that and it's always something sappy like "kiss the kids every day for me". But of course, Homer then says "blow up the hospital". Though that's not the funny part. No, the funny part is the absurd, logical conclusion: Marge saying "well, I said I'd do it, so I guess I'll have to". Completely matter of fact. Flawless perfection.

10. And finally, my all time favourite Simpsons moment. It is the ultimate in progression through absurdity via logic. It is resplendent, magnificent, it pushes until you're sure there's no more juice to be had from this joke and then suddenly, there's a glorious world of funny you never knew existed. It's the Russian doll of gags. It's perfect in every way. And it's done in about half the time than any other TV show and it's funniest gag. That's the true beauty of The Simpsons. It doesn't pause for you to laugh. It knows that you can catch up.

And that is my entirely incomplete list of total Simpsons love. I've missed out stuff - Lenny carving Carl's face into a mountain, Homer imagining some weird creature when it says "pearls and a lot of blue hair" over the police radio, the slow reveal that the lawyer we're seeing on screen turned into the crazy cat lady, Troy McClure's secret vice, Homer's inability to respond to his new witness protection alias, Frank Grimes, Super Nintendo Chalmers, Moe kicking out an obviously disguised Homer only for it cut to outside where Homer's stepping over the "fake" one, the many times something blows up or sets on fire though there's no earthly reason for it to, Homer's bare ass dragging up that glass church just as the preacher commands the congregation to stare up at God's miraculous creation, the show's blase acceptance that CHUDs are real, Homer in the sensory deprivation tank, all work and no play makes Homer something something...

God, how I love The Simpsons.