My new book about the Monkees

While other kids wanted to be astronauts or doctors, I watched the Monkees and wanted to be in a rock band, playing music and having wacky adventures (because clearly the two went together). While I did eventually play in a number of bands, I never got my own TV show. And I still listened to my Monkees music even as an adult, along with my other favorites, Beatles, Elvis Costello, XTC, They Might Be Giants…  (I’d better stop here before this entire post is a list of favorites).MonkeesFrontCover_preview

I interviewed Mark Arnold here on this blog a while ago after he had written a book examining the Beatles’ music. “We should write a similar book about the Monkees,” I said.

We discussed the fact that there was already a book like that about the Monkees music, but then, after a few months going back and forth, decided that since there were dozens of Beatles books like that, the Monkees could stand to have a second one.

The plan was not to do a learned treatise, but more of a “fan’s look” at the music, by fans for fans.

We discuss each song in order in which it was recorded so the progression of the music can be seen. Mark and I come at this from different angles and disagree quite a bit; I talk a lot more about the music itself — the way the song was written, how the instruments were mixed, decisions the producer made — and that provides a contrast to Mark’s comments which hopefully makes a better read.

Then we list which Monkee played or sang on each song along with other trivia and information about the song’s position of the charts, whether it had significant covers done, and what albums you can find it on.

The book also contains a short history of the band, a listing of the Billboard charts so you can see how the songs and albums performed, a list of all their live performances and TV appearances over the years, and an extensive index so you can easily find the song or album you want to read about.

Part of the fun of doing this book was interviewing some of the musicians who were influenced by the Monkees, so I got to speak to Howard Kaylan (who wrote the introduction), Tommy James, Gene Cornish and Dean Friedman, and Mark spoke to Peter Noone, Ron Dante, and Butch Patrick. Their comments are side bits in the book.

Animation historian Jerry Beck (who assisted in the release of the Monkees’ movie Head on DVD) wrote the forward, and Emmy-Award-winning cartoonist Scott Shaw did the cover, filling it with all sorts of inside jokes for Monkees fans.

Like the title itself. There’s a Monkees song (written by Peter) called “Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?” so we used “Long Title” to start off ours as well. There’s a Monkees song called “Looking for the Good Times” and their final album was simply called “Good Times” after a song Nilsson wrote for them with that name.

The book was released a few days ago and immediately shot to number one on Amazon in the category of “Music Reference” so now I can brag that I am an “Amazon #1 Best-Seller” I suppose, if I wanted to be kind of cheesy.  Nah.

Anyway, this is certainly a special thing that won’t interest everyone but I hope if you are interested, you’d enjoy it. You can order it from Amazon or directly from the publisher (at a slightly cheaper rate)!

monkees cover

Isn’t this a great cover?

 

Advertisements

My Philcon 2017 Schedule

I’m looking forward to the Philcon science fiction convention the weekend of November 10th. It’s Philadelphia’s oldest literary convention. It’s in New Jersey.  (Look, it was cheaper, okay?)philcon_logo

I’ve been a guest at Philcon for years, and it’s always great to go back there and see so many of my friends.

I’ve got a nice schedule and it seems that they have me moderating each of the panels except one. Here’s my schedule:

MEET THE PROS (Friday 9 pm): An informal gathering where guests can meet all the panelists, writers and artists.

EYE OF ARGON INTERACTIVE: CHAPTER FIVE (Friday 11 pm):  Since everyone is usually laughing too hard to get through reading what has been dubbed the worst piece of published SF of all time, we thought we’d start where we left off last year. We’ve got a roster of pros to get it started, but after that, audience participation is expected. With David M. Axler, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Ef Deal, Peter Prellwitz, and Hildy Silverman

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR PROS (Saturday 10:00 am): More and more, social media has become valuable — even necessary — as a means of making oneself known to potential readers (and publishers), promoting your work, and engaging with fellow professionals. Which platforms work best for each of these aspects? What are some things you should be aware of before engaging with your fans in such a direct and potentially interminable way. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Eric Avedissian, Russ Colchamiro, and Keith R.A. DeCandido

HARRY POTTER, TWENTY YEARS LATER (Saturday noon): How have the Potter books and movies held up over time? What are some of the plot problems we’ve seen since then? And what will the future hold? With Hakira D’Almah, Anna Kashina, and Christine Norris

HOW TO PLOT A STORY (Saturday 1:00 pm): You have a genre-busting world, a villain to make your skin crawl, and a sympathetic main character whose life you’re about to make very, very difficult.  But how?  When should the major conflict happen, and what happens on the way there?  Every story is different, but satisfying ones tend to follow some time-honored structures that can help you shape your story long before you draft your prose. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Roberta Rogow, David Walton, and Steve Wilson

AUTOGRAPHS (Saturday 5:00 pm): In which I will be sitting with my books for anyone who didn’t have the opportunity to speak with me at other times.

GAME OF THRONES SEASON 7 (Saturday 11:00 p.m.): So, what did you think of [redacted]? Or when [redacted] ran into [redacted] again? How about the deaths of [redacted] and [redacted]?! (Warning: panel will contain actual spoilers.) With Diane Kovalcin, Rock Robertson, and Jay Wile

 

 

My Turn to be Interviewed

There’s a very nice interview with me in Local Flair magazine today.  Check it out!

 

My 2017 Capclave Schedule

Capclave is a fine little literary SF convention held near Washington DC, which this year will be on the October 6th weekend. small_dodo_transparentCome and join us and meet some of your (and my) favorite authors and editors, including but not limited to Neil Clarke, Ken Liu, James Morrow, Alex Shvartsman, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Allen Wold, and many more (including me!)

Capclave is where I spoke to George R.R. Martin a few years ago and then became an internet sensation for a week or so because of the “Hodor” comment.

Here are some pictures I took from from the convention in 201320142015, and 2016.

And here’s my current schedule (subject to change):

Friday 6:00 pm: How Not To Get Published (Ends at: 6:55 pm) Salon A
Panelists:Neil ClarkeMike McPhailHildy SilvermanIan Randal StrockMichael A. Ventrella (M)
Editors will discuss all the things authors shouldn’t do if they want to be published. For instance, submission guidelines exist for a reason. And no matter how brilliant your story is, threatening the editor will reduce the probability that it will be published to zero.
Friday 7:00 pm: Write What You Don’t Know (Ends at: 7:55 pm) Rockville/ Potomac
Panelists: Scott H. AndrewsJoshua PalmatierMichael A. Ventrella (M), Jean Marie Ward
Fantasy authors rarely get irate email from dragons saying they got it wrong. How to write characters from places and times that you don’t know but members of your audience do, and why it’s important to get outside your comfort zone.
Friday 10:00 pm: Michael Ventrella Reading (Ends at: 10:25 pm) Bethesda
Author: Michael A. Ventrella
Saturday 2:00 pm: Writing Workshop (Ends at: 3:55 pm) Boardroom
Coordinators: Andrew FoxMichael A. VentrellaAllen L. Wold (M), Darcy Wold
Allen Wold will lead a panel of authors in a hands on workshop. Learn many skills as you work on a short story. All you need is a pen and paper. Limited to 15 people.
Saturday 11:00 pm: Eye of Argon (Ends at: 11:55 pm) Bethesda
Panelists: Hildy SilvermanIan Randal StrockMichael A. Ventrella (M)
Our panelists read the worst fantasy story ever written, mistakes and all, and if they laugh or read it incorrectly, they are forced to act out the story. Just try not to fall over laughing! At some point, volunteers from the audience can participate and discover firsthand the author’s contentious relationship with spelling, capitalization and punctuation.
Sunday 10:00 am: Abusing Authors (Ends at: 10:55 am) Rockville/ Potomac
Panelists: Sarah AveryScott EdelmanWill McIntosh (M), Lawrence M. SchoenIan Randal StrockMichael A. Ventrella
Panelists answer whatever questions the audience has on writing, editing, character development, agents, and others. Includes many non-writer-parts-of-being-a-writer, such as being your own boss, setting schedules, and so on.
Sunday 11:00 am: Writing Workshop (Follow-up) (Ends at: 11:55 am) Suite 1209
Coordinators: Michael A. VentrellaAllen L. Wold (M), Darcy Wold
A one hour follow-up session.
Sunday 12:00 pm: Political Dynamite (Ends at: 12:55 pm) Bethesda
Panelists: Sunny MoraineJames MorrowMalka Older (M), Michael A. Ventrella
Writers and editors talk about how they address current events in their work and in social media–and what they don’t.

The 5th Pocono Writers Conference

Five years ago, I organized the first Pocono Writers Conference, which led to the formation of the Pocono Writers Group (now called the Pocono Liars Club). We’ve grown quite a bit since then, and this year, also started hosting a Writers Workshop for new writers.

The 5th Writers Conference is scheduled for January 20, 2018. Guest speakers include NY Times Bestselling author Kate Moretti; Publisher, editor, and writer Ian Randal Strock, author Damon Suede, agent William Reeve, and me (as host)!

It’s free to attend — you just have to reserve a spot. Each of the guests also does a more personal workshop where you can send a writing sample for critique and get individualized comments. (That costs $20).

Click the link above to reserve your spot before it fills up!

How to get your story rejected

I am currently editing the 5th Tales of Fortannis collection, and sadly am sending out more rejection letters than I’d like.Gaston

I say “sadly” for two reasons: First, I hate disappointing people and rejecting their stories (I’ve been on the receiving end of that as well, after all); and second, I need more stories (but am unwilling to lower my standards).

There are many reasons stories may get rejected. Here are the reasons I most commonly have rejected stories for this collection:

  • The author has clearly never read the guidelines, and has submitted a story that does not fit into the shared world of Fortannis. There are gods (even though I clearly say “no religion” in the guidelines); there is magic that cannot possibly exist (even though the magic system is also described in the guidelines); or there are plot matters that do not fit the already-established world. Please. Don’t waste both of our times. Read the guidelines.
  • The characters are boring. They all talk alike, they have no personality, and I don’t care that they are in trouble because they are so one-dimensional. They are the same at the end of the story as they are at the beginning, having learned nothing. Remember: stories aren’t about what you may think they’re about — they’re about the characters.
  • The bad guys have no reason for being bad guys. They’re just evil, they want to take over the world, blah blah blah, yet they have a hundred minions and soldiers who are fiercely loyal for no apparent reason. Give your bad guys motives that are just as strong as the motives your good guys have.
  • The story itself is boring and predictable. I receive too many stories that read like someone has just transcribed their Dungeons & Dragons session. Not every story has to be an adventure about fighting monsters (as I say very clearly in the guidelines).
  • There are scenes that add nothing to the story. Heading into the tavern and having dinner before the big adventure is only interesting if something happens. You should examine every scene to make sure it’s needed — if you can remove it and the story still works, then you don’t need it. And often the character development or other information given in that scene can be worked into another scene and be much more effective. This is especially true when there is no conflict or tension in that scene. Keep the action moving!
  • The story starts too late. We need to care about the story from the start, not ten pages in. Or grand, exciting things will happen early in the story but they don’t happen to the main character so they really don’t matter. Especially in a short story, you need to tell that person’s story.
  • It’s full of misspellings, grammatical errors, and just plain old bad writing. When I get a story like that, I rarely read past the first page or so.
  • The author hasn’t read my blog. Okay, maybe not mine in particular, but you will note that almost everything I listed above links to an article I’ve already written on this blog, and what I have said you’ll find as well in a hundred other blogs about writing.

And finally, there is one more reason a story may be rejected — I already have another story with the same theme. You could have written a great story but if I have two that are very similar, I really have to choose just one. For one of the Fortannis collections, I received three separate stories in which a princess was in love with the court jester. The underlying plot in each one was completely different, but that love was an integral part of the story. There was no way I could accept all three. (As it turned out, they were all rejected for other reasons, based on the criteria above, but what if they had all been really great stories? I would have had to pick one and rejected the other two.)

The first draft is supposed to suck

Here are two examples of unsuccessful writers I’ve met:

The first unsuccessful writer has been working on the book for years. They’ve never finished it, of course, because they have spent all of their time polishing and re-writing the first few chapters. Those first few chapters are great, and the writer shows real potential. But no editor or publisher is interested in looking at a book that isn’t finished.

The urge for perfection at every stage is standing in their way.first draft

First drafts are supposed to suck. You’re just getting words down as fast as you can so you can get through the story. Once the book is finished, you can step back and take a look to determine how you can make it perfect. Maybe a character needs to be removed; maybe scenes should be rearranged; maybe you can delete whole sections to speed the plot along.

And of course, you’ll need to clean up the writing. (Where did all those adverbs come from?)

My artist wife Heidi Hooper is working on a new piece as I write this. Did she pencil in the corner and then immediately start working on that corner until it was perfect? No, she drew the whole thing out, using the entire canvas, and then stared at it to make sure it’s exactly what she wants. She erases sections and redraws them. And only when she’s sure it’s right will she start to do the real work.

Your writing should be the same. Don’t worry if your pencil sketch is not what you ultimately want. You need to see the whole thing first.

When I’m writing, I use this as an incentive to finish the first draft. The re-writing part is the fun part for me — I like polishing up the dialog, inserting foreshadowing, fleshing out characters. So in order to get to the fun part, I torture myself: “You’re not allowed to do any of that until you finish!”

The reason the first unsuccessful writer is unsuccessful is because they have never finished. So stop worrying about your crappy first draft. No one has to see it, and in fact, no one wants to see it.  Finish the damn thing.

The second unsuccessful writer has finished the crappy first draft and has stopped. They don’t realize the first draft always sucks. “There, it’s done!” They self-publish said crappy first draft (because no publisher will take it) and then wonder why no one likes it.

Don’t be either of these people.

%d bloggers like this: