Life Gets in the Way

Sorry for the delay in posting.  I’ve been enacting the role of homeowner over the past week, rather than author.  We’re making some necessary renovations to the house, everything from decluttering to powerwashing to laying new floors in the kitchen and three bathrooms.  I have to say, it’s a hell of a lot of work (and God bless her, Dana’s doing most of it–by choice, lest you think I’m both useless and lazy).  It’s also worth it.  We’ve been in this house for twelve years now, and it was new when we moved in.  Time and entropy have a way of stealing the newness.

But I’m pleased to report that renovation and order have a way of restoring it.  And good thing, too.  The way things were, we were getting tired of the look of it.  We certainly don’t want to move out, so an enthusiastic refurb is a good and happy exercise.

It did cost me the opportunity to go to Fandomfest in Louisville last weekend, where I hoped to get a photo with my identical twin, Saul Rubinek.  If you don’t believe me, Google both our pictures.  It’s kind of scary.  But we had too much to do, and I couldn’t go.  I pouted–a little–and only briefly, but then I got over it.

We’re finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, finishing up the last projects in the next few days.  By the weekend, our lives should be our own again, and I can continue with regular postings and webisodes.  I’ve got a good webisode series in mind, which I’ll begin as soon as the first series is complete.

So thank you for your patience, those of you who may be reading this.  I actually got a glimmer of hope this morning for the series coming to television.  A very patient and enthusiastic agent has got a certain cable network interested.  Can’t say more yet, and can’t get my hopes up, but every glimmer adds light to the day.  Here’s hoping.

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THE MESSENGER WEBISODES

Episode 1.3: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

As I’m driving the streets of Boston, on my way to the Charles River, I pause and realize—for the first time all day—what the date is.  It’s January 1, the start of a new year.  Last night, millions of couples stood together, counting down the seconds until the end of 2007, and at the stroke of midnight, they kissed, ensuring, so the legend says, a year of bliss together.  I was asleep at midnight last night, alone in my room.

Studies show that depression worsens around the holidays, which I’m sure is true.  Only I’m not depressed.  I’ve reached a state of Zen with my circumstances, including the solitude that comes with them.  Would I love to be draped with beautiful women—or, more realistically, reasonably attractive woman?  Sure.  Wouldn’t say no to that.  But the absence thereof doesn’t leave me beating me chest, shouting, “Pauvre, pauvre moi!” (Which I don’t know why I’d do, as I don’t speak French.)  Most of the time, I’m just Tristan-all-by-his-onesies.  And that’s okay, particularly given the nature of what I have to do.

As I drive, I watch people enjoying their day off.  Most look happy, but I also see some couples who look extremely put out at the thought of being together.  I can’t read their thoughts, of course, but if I could, I imagine some of them would be thinking, How did I get stuck with this person?  It’s a shame, really.  Starting with a love that’s strong enough to unite two souls, and watching it dissolve into such bitterness, such animosity sometimes; I barely understand it.  A thin line, indeed.

Daylight is fading as I approach my destination.  Midwinter in Boston can be bleak, and today definitely qualifies.  A thick cloud cover paints the landscape in hues of gray, with snow threatening at every turn.  It is a grim and dismal place and time to die, so I really hope that I can prevent these three children from doing just that.

I get out of the car at the designated place and realize at once that there are no children in sight, let alone children on sleds.  I check my watch; still half an hour to go before the scheduled tragedy.  I confirm the location; this is the place.  I must have arrived before they did.  It’s a bit of a relief, actually, not having to race over and stop this from happening.  I can catch my breath, mentally go over what I’m going to say and do.  It’s crucial in this instance not to come across as a potential threat.

But how do I do that?  Rule one of being anywhere: look like you belong there.  Okay, lovely, but how does one look like one belongs at the edge of a river?  Looking around, I spot park benches close to the bank, and I move over to an unoccupied one that gives me a clear view of the exact spot I saw in my vision.  As I sit down, I still feel conspicuous, like this isn’t my proper place.  I feel like I need an activity, something to motivate and explain my presence here.  Reaching into my coat pocket, I find a small bag and pull it out.  The airline pretzels that accompanied the beverage service.  I hadn’t wanted them at the time, and now they might be just the reason I’m looking for.  I crumble them within the bag, open it, and slowly begin tossing the crumbs to the few nearby birds that lack the good sense to be someplace warmer right now.

A lone man on a park bench, feeding birds on New Year’s Day.  That’s … moderately less creepy than before.  We’ll go with that!

I scatter the crumbs on the ground and wait patiently, watching as sparrows and other small birds get brave enough to snatch them up and fly away.  To my surprise, the activity does have a calming effect on me, blunting the anxiety I’ve felt all day.  Could it be that I’ve had access to this soul-soothing activity all along and I just never knew it?

Several minutes later, on the verge of feeling truly tranquil, I see them arrive—three children and a woman in her early thirties.  They park an Audi in the parking lot, and the woman opens the trunk to take out three wooden sleds with metal rails; clearly designer-made and very cushy, with padded seats, so the young can plunge to their deaths in comfort.

No, no, stop thinking like that!  I’m going to save them.

As they go from the parking lot to the grass of the riverbank, the children are remarkably well-behaved.  They don’t dash forward, racing away from their guardian; they don’t shriek with anticipation.  They quietly and properly walk toward the river, two boys and a girl, just a few steps ahead of the woman who drove them here, each carrying his or her own sled.  The youngest struggles a bit with the bulkiness of the object and eventually puts it on the ground, dragging it by a short tow-rope.

They pause at the river’s edge, and still I sit on my bench dumbly—both in the mute sense and the stupid sense.  I suppose I’m hoping the woman will figure it out for herself, and I can supervise.  Come on, read the scene.  Look around you.  Diminishing daylight, temperature not that far below freezing, nobody on the river.  That, in itself, should be the clue that this is a bad idea.

But no.  She’s protective enough to adjust their coats and make sure their hats and gloves are secure, but after that, she steps back and gives her unspoken permission in sending them on their way.  My hopes of passive observation are dashed.  It’s up to me.  Standing up from my park bench, I look directly at the four of them and call out a single word.  “Wait!”

In addition to my writing, I spend my

In addition to my writing, I spend my days as managing editor for Penguin Random House’s Author Solutions, where I see a lot of manuscripts.  Part of what I examine is the author’s back-cover text.  It’s harder to write than you’d think, so I put together some guidelines, with the help of my colleague, Megan Schindele.  Below are some ideas to help you write back-cover text for your book, including some things to avoid.

Marketing Headline

The Marketing Headline (keynote) or “elevator pitch” should consist of one or two sentences (twenty-five word-count limit) that succinctly tell readers what the book is about and why they should buy it.

 

Imagine you have only ten seconds to tell someone about your book and convince him to buy it. What would you say? Be sure to avoid clichés. Also, it’s often good to compare your book to a well-known author, title, or film to give a reader a point of reference. For example, “A veteran crime reporter delivers a hardboiled whodunit with Die Hard-type action, set in modern Chicago.”

Example:

A novel of suspense, wry humor, and the paranormal, as two relative strangers take a cross-country road trip to save others in peril.

 

 Key Words

Key Words will help people find your title through retail outlets.

When you go to the library and search the card catalog by subject, or when you enter keywords on the Internet, you are using key search words. Key search words for a romance title might be: love, betrayal, romance, love affair, paramour, Paris, and the type of romance (i.e., gothic, regency, contemporary, historical). There is no minimum number of words required, but the more words or phrases you provide that have a direct relation to the subject matter, the more opportunity people will have to find your book.

  

Paperback Back Cover Copy

 The Back Cover Copy is a brief overview of the book that entices the reader to browse and purchase the book. The ideal length is 150 to 200 words.

 

Think of this copy as a movie trailer or commercial—provide highlights, tease your audience, but don’t give away the ending! This should not be a detailed, straightforward description of the book, but rather brief, pointed selling copy that is your promise to the reader: Here’s what my book is about; this is how it’s unique, and this is why you should buy it.

 

In all marketing copy (back cover copy, author bio, and keynote), the following guidelines apply:

 

● Do not refer to the book as “the book.” Use the book title, set in italics, in most cases.

 ● Avoid underlining words and using all caps.

 ● Do not refer to your audience as “the reader” or “readers.” Write the copy in a manner that incites the reader to take action. For example, instead of “Readers will learn how to improve relationships with their pets,” write, “Learn how to improve your relationships with your pets.” Or use a more direct statement, such as the following: “Learn how to improve your relationship with your dog, cat, or even parakeet.” This approach lends a specific range and a casual tone to your book that can draw in the reader.

 ● Break up the back cover copy into paragraphs. One long paragraph is very difficult to read. Bulleted lists help to tell the reader what’s included in the book at a glance. If you include a bulleted list, make sure that you have a lead-in sentence followed by a colon, and that each item in the list has parallel construction.

 

For example:

o Create …

o Learn …

o Motivate …

 

Not

o Create …

o Learning …

o Motivation …

 

● Avoid clichés such as “a must-read” or “This book will change your life.” The back cover copy is not a book review. It is a preview of the exciting world within.  Don’t tell readers how they’ll feel.  Nobody wants to be ordered to laugh and cry.  Let them feel what they feel.

● Keep the verb tense consistent throughout.

● If you need additional examples or ideas, look up books that compare and compete with your title and read the book descriptions on Barnes&Noble.com (bn.com). Better yet, go to your local bookstore and browse the section in which your book would ideally be shelved. Read the professionally created back cover copy of the bestselling titles in that genre; this will give you an idea of what readers will expect to see on your back cover.

 ● If you have advance praise (quotes, endorsements, excerpts from advance reviews) you can include short excerpts with a credit line of the person who gave you the endorsement. Rather than just a name, provide the person’s title or credentials as well; for example, for a book on speed walking you could list a quote from Cathy Smith, President, Northern California Speed Walking Association. It’s best to use endorsements from people or periodicals that relate to your book in some way.  Don’t include praise quotes from friends and family unless they’re experts in the field, and avoid anonymous or first-name-only quotes.

● The last paragraph of the copy should compel the reader to take action; it’s the take-away promise of the book.

 

Example:

Tristan Shays is on a mission he doesn’t understand. For two years, he’s been plagued by terrifying images of strangers in peril and given orders to warn the victims before it’s too late. If he ignores the directive, he’s stricken with unbearable pain until he finds and helps the people from his visions. 

On a September night in Key West, Tristan warns exotic dancer Rebecca Traeger that she must quit her job and return to college in Ohio or risk grave consequences. The last thing Tristan expects is for her to hitch a ride with him. During their journey, he discovers that she may hold the key to his understanding of the mysterious assignments he has been receiving. As the assignments continue, Rebecca finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations, by just being with Tristan.

On the trip to Rebecca’s home, Tristan receives dire warnings for several more people, all of whom have a connection to Rebecca. He is torn between his role as her driver and her protector, and he finds himself becoming more and more enmeshed in her life as his fascination with her grows.

But if she’s the one for him, why is he being warned not to fall in love with her? Should he follow his true feelings or heed the warnings?

 

Author Biography

The Author Biography should be no more than fifty words and should consist of three key elements:

1. A few statements that communicate why you are qualified to write the book. Are you an expert in this field? What unique insights or experience do you have that give your book credibility? For example, “Jane Smith is the founder and president of C-Cat, the leading online magazine for ceramic-cat collectors in the United States.”

2. A statement that moves from the qualifications above to something more personal. For example, “Her collection of ceramic cats now numbers more than 5,000.” This personal information should relate to the book in some way.

3. Where you live and something about your personal life. You don’t need to be specific; your listing can be as general as the state you live in, although the city is also preferred (consumers often lean toward buying books by local authors). For example, “Smith lives with her husband, her three children, and her three real cats in Lincoln, Nebraska.”

 

Example #1:

Joel Pierson is the author of numerous award-winning plays for audio and stage. He spends his days as editorial manager at the world’s largest print-on-demand publishing company. Additionally, he is artistic director of Mind’s Ear Audio Productions, and also writes for the newspaper in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.

 

Example #2:

Joe Author, currently a basket-weaving technician, has a bachelor’s degree in basket weaving from Any University. He has previously published two other books, Baskets and You and Weave Your Way to Success. He and his wife, Mary, have four children and live in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

Hardcover Copy

To conform to book-industry standard, we suggest the following:

Front Flap:

• Back cover copy from paperback edition.

Back Flap:

• Continuation of front cover copy, if necessary.

• Author photo (include credit if necessary); or author photo may instead be placed on the back cover.

• Author bio from back cover of paperback edition.

Back Cover:

• Author photo, if not used on back flap (please specify the preferred size).

• Endorsements (praise for a previous title or advance praise for current title with bylines).

• Fiction: A short passage from the beginning of the book that sets the tone or pulls the reader into the story.

• Nonfiction: A brief excerpt from the manuscript that shows the reader some key components or benefits of the book. Or, if the chapter titles of your book are particularly interesting or explanatory, put the table of contents on the back cover (with chapter and page numbers omitted). If you choose this last option, be sure to introduce the list with a phrase or sentence, such as the following: “Including the most complete, up-to-date information on advertising techniques: … ” then list the chapter titles or an adapted version of them.

Just when you thought it was safe …

Part of my efforts with the Messenger novels has been the pursuit of a weekly dramatic television series.  I think the books would lend themselves to it.  Expand each chapter into a week’s episode, and bang—you’ve got almost six seasons right there, ready to go.  And believe me, if somebody offered me a TV contract, you bet I’d keep writing.

Television is my vice.  With respect and gentle apologies to my parents, it kind of helped raise me.  Sure, I’ve read plenty of books, but I loved losing myself in a sitcom or a drama or a game show.  This was the 1970s and ’80s, before reality TV immersed the world in fecal matter.  It was the age of Happy Days and Hill Street Blues, and a lot of good stuff in between, and it came into our home on about ten channels, in nineteen inches of glorious color—or, if you were well off—a full twenty-five inches.

Thus began my lifelong love affair with the boob tube, which predated the love of other boobs by many years.  Not even college could keep me away.  On Friday nights, my socially awkward friends and I would eschew the beer parties to find an unoccupied TV lounge in one of the dorms and watch Doctor Who.  Yes, I know.  And I regret nothing.

Years passed, and I had two opportunities to write for television, one better than the other.  The good one came during my days at the Agency for Instructional Technology, during which time I was paid to script a ten-part educational series called The Voyageur Experience in Global Geography.  Local high school students were flown to countries all over the world to learn about their cultures, and I wrote the interview questions and the narration for the shows.  It was a great time.

The not-so-great experience happened years before that.  I wrote an episode for a weekly series called Northern Exposure.  You may remember it.  My efforts were like fan fiction, only more serious.  I was all of nineteen at the time.  I got an agent, and the script was actually put before the producers of the show.  They liked it, they were interested, and my agent told me things were looking good.  Then they found out that I wasn’t a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, and I wasn’t going to be.  Suddenly, everything was different.  They dismantled my episode and used elements of it in three different upcoming episodes, changing the dialogue but keeping the basic ideas.  I wasn’t allowed to be paid for it; I wasn’t allowed to get an on-screen credit, but wasn’t it fun seeing my ideas on TV?  Thanks, kid.  See ya around.

And so I learned a valuable lesson: Hollywood, that beautiful lady with the siren song of fame, can also be a bitch goddess who spits you out whole.  But hey, I’ve been in relationships.  I can be brave.  I picked myself up, and I’m trying again.  I firmly believe that there’s room in Hollywood for quality scripted entertainment.

Then I learned about Sharknado.  Do not adjust your computer; you read that word correctly. Sharknado.  As in a tornado full of sharks. FML.  This masterpiece will air on the “Syfy” Channel, the worst-spelled channel on the dial.  I won’t tell you when, lest you accuse me of helping you to watch it.  But suffice it to say it will be soon, and it will be terrible.  And thousands of people will watch it.  Let’s recap: a tornado … filled with sharks.  And when the sharks fall out of the tornado, they don’t do something reasonable like scream or die horribly or think, Holy shit, what am I doing in a tornado?  No, they start eating people.  On land.  Tara Reid is our only hope of salvation.  Clearly, we are doomed.

I can’t really blame the Syfylys Channel for making these movies.  They cost about $72 to create, and for some reason that defies reason, people watch them.  And I can’t hate a network that gave a home to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  But my soul does cry out just a little bit each time my hopes of TV series-dom for the Messenger get raised and then dashed on the rocks, while movies like Sharknado (and if it does well, the inevitable sequels Octopusicane and Tropical Squidstorm) eat up valuable airtime.

I will be brave.  I will be patient.  I will look forward to the day when I get the magical call that says, “They said yes!”  And I will do a little dance at my desk (space permitting).  Because on that day, I’ll know that justice is served and I get my shot at the big time.  Until then, I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep spinning—like a shark in a goddamn tornado.