Write a story without bad guys

There’s my advice for today.  Write a story without bad guys.

Oh, I don’t mean leave out the antagonist.  01-snidely-whiplashMake that antagonist put all sorts of obstacles in your protagonist’s way.

But don’t make “bad guys” in the way we see much too often (especially in the movies).

Writers can get lazy when it comes to their antagonists.  It’s so easy to just say “He’s the evil bad guy” and never have to explain why he acts that way.  “Well, he’s evil, so that’s why” is false and readers know it. It doesn’t make your story full.

A good exercise is to take a scene and rewrite it from your antagonist’s point of view. Why is he or she acting this way? What is the ultimate goal? Surely the antagonist wants something more than being evil and standing in the hero’s way.

Remember: the antagonist is the hero of his own story.

My favorite bad guys have what they believe to be good motives. It’s why I think Dolores Umbridge is a better “bad guy” than Voldemort. She’s not evil — she is trying to bring order, consistency, and a respect for the law to the wild children at Hogwarts. We believe that she could exist because we know people like her. And we love to hate her for it.

My next novel BLOODSUCKERS (due out in May; film rights available) has a few important antagonists. The main one is Norman Mark, the vampire who is running for President. He lives a very long time, and he has a long term goal which is very good. He believes that his power to control others will enable him to pass laws through Congress that will help all Americans, discover and remove corruption, and move the world into a new renaissance of peace and prosperity. And if a few innocent people have to die along the way, so what? He’s doing this for the good of all humanity.

There are other antagonists who are vampires wanting to keep the secret of vampires from the population. They are not evil either (in their minds) and are afraid that if people realize vampires exist, they will begin hunting them. People will suspect each other of being vampires, wars will break out and economies will fall. These vampires are trying to stop Norman Mark for their own reasons, but they are not the protagonists.

The protagonist is Steven Edwards, a reporter who has been framed for the attempted assassination of Mark and has gone into hiding. In order to prove his innocence, he has to prove that vampires exist. He was a Mark supporter and is conflicted with the problem — he knows Mark will be a better President than his opponent, but dammit, he’s a vampire!

Anyway, you can see what I’ve tried to do here. None of my bad guys think they’re bad guys. They don’t just randomly perform evil acts simply because they can. They only do them when necessary, and even then for a future goal that is good in their minds.

Remember: not counting the insane, no one in the real world thinks of themselves as bad guys.

So take some time and write a little short story from the point of view of your “bad guy”. You may discover parts of his or her personality that were hidden before. And if you’re good, you will make your antagonist a full, complete, and believable character.

Interview with Author KT Pinto

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing KT Pinto. KT has been writing since she was twelve, finally getting her first book published in 2007. She writes alternate history (The Books of Insanity series) with vampyres and alternate reality (The Sto’s House Presents series) with mutants. She is a modern mythologist and a self-proclaimed ‘fluffy goth’ who would sooner wear pink with sparkles than black velvet. She will be a guest at Balticon in a few weeks (where I also will be a guest). KT will be promoting her latest novel and participating in a book release party.

KT, let’s talk first about your latest big news. You received a grant! Tell us about the End of the Rainbow project.

KT PINTO: I received a DCA Premier Grant from the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island (COAHSI), with public funding from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs to re-write the myths from an alternate lifestyle perspective. I am going to be rewriting myths from Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, and Gaelic cultures. You could read an excerpt of the book here.

I will also be doing a reading of this book at Bent Pages, NYC’s only remaining LGBT bookstore (391 Van Duzer Street, Staten Island, New York) on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 7:00 PM.

VENTRELLA: And there’s a raffle, too?

PINTO: Yes! The proceeds from this raffle will go towards completing my End of the Rainbow grant project and the winner will be announced at the end of the Staten Island LGBT Festival on June 2nd! There will be 10 different prize “baskets” (the prizes will not actually be presented in baskets), each with a different theme. All of the basket items were donated (it’s great that people are so generous!), and the baskets range in value from $70 – $220. Details on the baskets can be found here!

VENTRELLA: MUTANTS ON THE ROCKS is about to be released and is the latest in your “Sto’s House” series. Where did you come up with the idea?

PINTO: I had been having a really hard time with my vampyre series, and I realized that being in that dark place all the time wasn’t good for my creativity, so I decided to start writing some more light-hearted stories. I took the idea from an RPG I created called Sto’s House, which is about a bunch of 20-somethings who are mutated by the toxic waste in the Staten Island Dump. They don’t want to save the world, just find the world’s best microbrew.

The characters are based on my friend Christopher Mancuso (aka Sto) and the people we used to hang out with at his house when we were in our 20s. I hadn’t planned on it becoming novel-length, but one day I noticed that I had written 10 short stories, and had enough material for a really good (if I do say so myself) novel.

VENTRELLA: How has the series been received so far?

PINTO: People seem to be having a good time with it. I wasn’t sure how it would be received on Staten Island especially, but people seem to really enjoy the humor and there are enough different characters that readers can relate to one or more of them.

VENTRELLA: You’re having a release party at Balticon. Tell us about that!

PINTO: I personally am not having the party. Dark Quest Books, who publishes my Sto’s House Presents… series, is having a party highlighting their new releases for the spring. I think four authors are being highlighted there including myself and MUTANTS ON THE ROCKS, which is the second book in the Sto’s House Presents… series.

VENTRELLA: Like me, you’re a regular on the east coast convention circuit. What are the advantages of attending these?

PINTO: Conventions give you a chance to interact with fans as well as getting together with fellow authors and networking with publishers and agents. For me, it’s also good to be on the circuit because I get a chance to see what’s going on in other genres and other disciplines (like costuming and gaming). I actually am starting to cut back on some local conventions and travel to further locations, like Pittsburgh, Pa. and Roanoke Va. because I want to connect with more fans and professionals.

VENTRELLA: These days, it takes much more to be a successful author than merely writing a good book. What other efforts have you made to publicize yourself and do you think they have been worth your time?

PINTO: I have gotten very involved with my local arts organization, COAHSI, which is a good resource not only for grants, but to meet other local artists, find out about community events, help promote you and your work and even to learn about more mundane information like jobs, insurance and other resources.

I’ve been on Live Journal for a really long time, and don’t plan on leaving it any time soon. Not only am I able to write full journal entries, but I can also link it to my facebook and twitter accounts. Facebook used to be a good resource, but it’s gotten so big (I’m up to 1000 friends) and has made so many changes, networking has become difficult.

Inanna from By Light Unseen Media – who published MARCO, the third book in my vampyre series – suggested that Goodreads may be a better site for promotions, so I’m feeling my way through that site as well.

I also have an account with Constant Contact, which helps me send out a newsletter to a mailing list that I developed by going to conventions.

VENTRELLA: What was your first professionally published work?

PINTO: My first work was “E-mails 10”, which was a short story published in Nth Degree Magazine (which is now Nthzine on-line).

VENTRELLA: You have a LARP background (as do I). How has that led to you writing fiction?

PINTO: Although I have been writing since I was 12, LARPing was what helped me create my world and characters of The Books of Insanity series. I used to own a gaming company that ran LARPs around the Hudson Valley, NY and at conventions.

During that time I created some original LARPS (ex: Sto’s House) and some murder mystery nights, the main game that we ran was vampyre LARP. So I was not only able to create evil, blood-sucking fiends, but I was able to become them as NPCs

I had created a character that was supposed to only be a one-shot ‘big bad’ that the players were supposed to kill in a one-night (possibly two-night) story line. More than a year later, she still existed, because instead of people trying to kill her, they wanted to join forces and build storylines around her.

That character’s name was Celeste, and she became the main character in my Books of Insanity series.

VENTRELLA: What are the differences between writing for a LARP and writing fiction?

PINTO: When writing a storyline for a LARP, you have to be prepared that all of your plans are going to be destroyed within the first five minutes of the game. You have to plan for different levels of gamers and prepare to lead them through a storyline if necessary. Other times your PCs make their story their own and all you have to do is keep track of the rules (in my case, the staff kept track of the rules; I was more a storyline/character person).

With fiction, it’s all on you to keep the audience’s attention and creating all the drama and action. On the upside, you don’t have to worry about almost 500 characters trying to do their own thing…

VENTRELLA: Boy, do I know that feeling. Do you prefer short stories or longer works?

PINTO: I used to dislike writing short stories, but the more I do (and the more I get published!) the more I like them. I think I have developed a rhythm to creating a short in a concise manner, unlike when I write a novel.

When it comes to my reading, my preference has always been novels. I tend to feel gypped when I read a really good short story and it ends. It always feels like it ended too soon and leaves me wanting more.

VENTRELLA: You’ve mostly dealt with mid-sized press (like me!). What are the advantages of dealing with a smaller press?

PINTO: Mid-sized presses are good because they’re more open to different ideas and you are able to communicate with the senior staff on a regular basis. You also don’t need an agent in most cases to work with a mid-sized press.

Working with mid-sized presses also gives you a chance to work with and recommend other professionals in different disciples, like editors, artists, typesetters… for example, the cover for MUTANTS ON THE ROCKS was created by Victor Toro, an artist that I recommended to Neal, the publisher of Dark Quest Books.

The downside to a smaller press is they don’t get the respect that they deserve from bookstores, reviewers, some conventions…

VENTRELLA: Do you advise new authors to consider self-publishing?

PINTO: I think self-publishing is good if you have the same knowledge as a publisher would, in order to protect yourself legally and financially.

I think self-publishing is good for someone doing a photography or art book, because it’s a way of highlighting your art form. But for me, I think mid-sized presses are a good way to interact with other writers and learn about more writing opportunities that are both with other publishers and with your own company.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about your writing style. Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in?

PINTO: It depends on my project. My Books of Insanity series happens over 2000 years, so not only do I have to plan out each book story as I write them, but also had to plan out the arch of the series (I have 13 books planned, but once you hit the world wars, that number can become bigger).

The Sto’s House Presents… series, on the other hand, is completely off the cuff.

VENTRELLA: What predictions can you make about the future of publishing, given current trends towards e-books and self-publishing?

PINTO: I think publishing is always going to stay around; it’s just going to change form. For example, we no longer write on stone or papyrus. I also think with the popularity of ‘nerds’ with all their crazy book reading, along with the eventual (hopefully) return of a good economy, the publishing world will flourish. Just not as much in the brick and mortar form.

I also think that with the healing of the economy will also come a rise in vampires again. Lately zombies and steampunk (and sometimes both) have taken over readers’ interests, but eventually it will shift back again. And then my vampyres will rise and take over the world… and my mutants will crack open a beer and enjoy the show.

Interview with Author P. N. Elrod

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am honored to be interviewing author P.N. Elrod, best known for The Vampire Files series featuring undead private eye Jack Fleming. She’s edited award-winning anthologies, warns new writers away from scams, and is open and honest about her incurable addiction to chocolate. More about her toothy titles may be found at www.vampwriter.com.

What is it about vampires that so attracts the public?

P. N. ELROD: They’re easy on the eye, have money (if they’re doing things right), and get to kick butt—at least that’s true for the ones in my books!

VENTRELLA: Why did you decide to become the “vampire specialist” with your series?

ELROD: I didn’t decide. I like writing about the characters. You write about what interests you and that passion comes through in the words. If you’re lucky your words will touch others.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on the many variances we’re seeing in vampire stories?

ELROD: I don’t have any. To each his own, let’s all have fun.

VENTRELLA: Do they bother you?

ELROD: Not even a little. I have other things on my event horizon.

VENTRELLA: Do you think this trend will die down eventually?

ELROD: I was told in the 1960s that vamps were dead. Apparently someone got that wrong and others will continue to get it wrong. I don’t pay attention to trends. If I did, then there would be no Vampire Files or any of my other books. I write the kind of stories I want to read and hope others agree with my take on things.

VENTRELLA: The concept of a vampire private eye solving his own murder must have helped sell your first novel in that series.

ELROD: The concept resulted in 20+ rejections from publishers who didn’t know what to do with a cross-genre book back then. It wasn’t a mystery or a horror and no one knew how to sell it—especially agents looking for a quick placement. It finally sold off the slushpile to Ace Science Fiction. It only took two years of shopping around—and about 20+ rewrites to get it up to a professional level. I’m glad it too so long—it resulted in a much better book!

VENTRELLA: You’ve written a sequel of sorts to Dracula. How did that come about, and what constraints did you discover?

ELROD: It is a sequel to Dracula. I’ve always thought that Quincey Morris got a bum rap at the end, and wondered how it was that he knew more about vampires than all the others except for Van Helsing. I also wondered—after V.H. again and again harped about using a wooden stake—that they bumped off Dracula with a big metal knife. Well, my hero, Fred Saberhagen deftly and cleverly dealt with the latter problem in his classic The Dracula Tapes. When I was ready to do my own take on things, Quincey Morris, Vampire was the logical result!

No constraints. I wrote the kind of story I wanted to read. I love the Victorian period, the research was a joy and still is. I’m doing another Quincey book, but it will have to be scheduled after I turn in my new steampunk series.

VENTRELLA: In my next novel, a vampire runs for President (but of course, no one believes that vampires really exist). Do you think there’s a market out there for a political vampire novel?

ELROD: I wouldn’t know. Get some feedback, polish, shop it around, and find out.

VENTRELLA: When editing, what do you look for in a story?

ELROD: As little work for me to do as possible. I expect a clean, polished manuscript from writers who bothered to proofread and use the spell check.

After that, I want a beginning, middle, and satisfying ending with characters I can relate to whether they’re good guys or bad apples, and good solid writing.

I expect an enthusiastic, cheerful, professional attitude. My goal is the same as the writer’s: producing the best story possible so readers fall in love with their words. If you’re a paranoid diva whose deathless prose that must be preserved like the Dead Sea Scrolls, move on. Neither of us will enjoy the experience.

VENTRELLA: Do you generally invite others to join your short story collections or do you have open submissions? Which do you prefer?

ELROD: These days I’ve room for only nine stories in a collection. I call on a core handful of writers on my A-list choosing about four of the nine, depending on who is available. A-list writers are busy! The publisher—who is footing the bill—naturally wants to promote the writers who have books with them, and pick the other names. It’s only fair, and they are being more than generous about it.

In past projects I could handpick all the writers, inviting ones I knew would deliver good stories. I’ve asked only 2-3 otherwise unpublished writers for work, and they did not disappoint.

Those projects were not open submission, but I got stories from other writers with more cohones than sense. I let in one based on his letter and story. The letter, I later found out (this was before Google), was a gross exaggeration of his supposed “sales”. His story required extensive and repeated line edits. After that, I put him on my “do not invite” list. I don’t deal with liars.

Here’s a clue, new writers: tell the truth. You’re only as good as your reputation for honesty. If you’ve not sold anything, it’s perfectly okay. But don’t tell an editor that you’ve sold 20 stories to various publications when you really mean you just submitted stories and are waiting to hear back. These days it’s too easy to check up on you.

After speaking with other editors who have done open submission collections, I know I’d not want to work on such a project. I don’t have the time or patience.

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about the publishing industry and what would you change about it if you could?

ELROD: They’re not cracking down on e-piracy. It’s not about freedom of information, it’s about theft of property. It’s one thing to resell a used book, but used bookstores don’t sell Xerox copies.

Contrary to popular myth, most writers don’t get paid much, and piracy cuts into the pittance they do manage to get from their hard work. Pirates are not promoting anything. If writers could make more money by giving away free e-copies of their works, they’d be doing it. Some of the more successful ones have chosen to do so, but the pirates have taken that choice away from the rest of us.

Publishers are losing millions in revenue through e-theft. If the music industry can crack down on it, so can the publishing industry. I want them to get off their duffs and shut down on these so-called “share” sites. Slap fines on the pirates and those who download from them. If anyone wants a free copy to read, go to the library. Each time a book is checked out, the librarians note that and order more from those writers. It’s good for everyone.

I believe most people want to do the right thing, so please, support your local library and the writers you love.

VENTRELLA: You’ve self published a novel, even though surely you could have sold it to a traditional established publishing house. Why did you decide to do this?

ELROD: Let’s call it commercial publishing. “Traditional” is a term used to excess by a notorious reverse vanity printer to make their customers think they’re in safe hands. In true “traditional” publishing it was the writers who paid the costs. Writers call that “the bad old days!”

I could not have sold THE DEVIL YOU KNOW to a commercial publisher, since it was always meant to be a signed, numbered, limited-edition written specifically for my fans. My publisher for that series prefers stand-alone titles—at least from me.

Commercial publishing is glacially slow. It takes time to put books through editing, copy-editing, design cover art, arrange distribution, etc. I wanted to get the book out quickly.

So I did my research of various printers, pricing, delivery times, shipping costs, got the best deal from a local company whose people I know. I did the cover myself, got a professional edit, and a lot of proofreading. The printer very kindly tweaked my interior design to cut down on the page count and thus the cost. I had some good breaks and learned a lot.

For future non-commercial venue works I’ll go through a POD service, again, doing my research so I get the lowest cost per copy, but with a professional company that can deliver the goods to the readers. While it won’t be a signed edition on acid-free paper, it will be available through my website links at a low price and won’t ever go out of print.

I see many new writers opting to self-publish—usually long before they’re ready.

Some neos think having a book finished is good enough, and that the story is so great that people will forgive any “little” errors. It’s a nasty reality check when they get bad sales and worse reviews as a result. I don’t recommend self-publishing for the new kids. I was able to get away with it, based on my experience, an obsessive attention to detail, and a sizable fan base built up over the last 20 years.

VENTRELLA: Has it been a success?

ELROD: It’s sold out the 500 copies I had printed. In self-publishing terms it was a runaway bestseller. In commercial terms it tanked.

It took a year to sell that many copies. Had it been a commercial release it would have sold that many in one day.

I was only able to do because I have a solid platform of readers. Even so, only a tiny fraction of them chose to buy. I had hoped to sell out in the first month. So despite my experience and fan base, I overestimated my sales figures. It was instructive!

If a new writer with no platform decides to self-publish, they can expect to sell 5-10 copies to family and friends, perhaps 50 if they bust their bottoms with promotion. But they can also expect the standard “If your book is so good, why couldn’t you sell it?” Unfair, but that’s how it is.

I know some writers are promoting their backlists with much success as e-books and POD copies, racking up thousands of sales. But THEY had a plenty of commercial sales that built up a good audience. At this point, writers who have pro sales, who have books in the stores, and who self-promote like mad have the edge.

A new writer with no professional sales is delusional if he/she thinks similar success will happen to them. It’s all the difference between holding a garage sale, and having a store at the mall. It’s just better business sense to try for professional publication from the get-go.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting author that you wish someone had given you?

ELROD: Get feedback, rewrite as often as it takes, and expect rejection. No one escapes.

Send your work to venues that actually publish it. Don’t send a fantasy to a mystery house or a western to a cookbook house.

Just because you worked really, really hard on a book, don’t expect anyone to give you extra credit for the effort. Publishing is a business. Your words have to be worth buying and selling. If they aren’t you get a rejection. That’s when you ask for more feedback, rewrite, and try, try again.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?

ELROD: Sending unpolished work out before they’ve gotten feedback from other writers, not just friends and family. They love you and want you to feel good.

Other writers will tell you the truth.

An amateur wants to be told how good their book is. A pro wants to know what’s wrong with it so they can fix the problems. Get the problems fixed first, then start shopping. Write the next book while you shop the first.

Don’t give up. Ever read a terrible book that still somehow got professionally published? That writer didn’t give up.

Obey Yog’s Law: “Money flows toward the writer.” Never pay to publish. It’s hard to believe, but many writers still think you have to pay to play. It’s scary how many will ask me “How much did it cost to get your book published?” I’m talking about my commercial titles, not the ones I self-pub. I’m very clear that there is a huge difference between the two! (Usually the money they make. Commercial wins out every time.)

Don’t look for a publisher online, get Writer’s Market. You cut out 99% of time/money-wasting vanity and scam operations. If you google “book publisher” most of the names on the first page are scams wanting to turn you into an ATM for them.

Go into a bookstore, find books similar to what you write, then follow submission guidelines to the letter. Scams and vanity houses cannot get books into stores.

Ask other writers to recommend reputable agents in your genre. It worked for me.

Did I say to obey Yog’s Law? It’s worth repeating. Writers get paid, they don’t pay!

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

I don’t give dinner parties. My cooking is lethal. Ask the few survivors.

If we ate out, I’d hang with my friends in the here and now. I’ve learned it’s often a good idea to keep some distance between oneself and one’s heroes. You might catch them on a bad day and be disappointed.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

To Hell With Outlines!

OK, not really.

But still, the point of today’s blog is to remind myself (and you) that outlines are not straightjackets, but road maps. And it is sometimes very desirable to veer off and take a different, more scenic route to get to your destination.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to discuss what I am learning along the way. I’ve managed to get two novels and a short story published with small publishers, but that hardly makes me a successful author. My writing still isn’t where I’d like it to be, and I am still a student of the craft. (Literally. I’m taking a writing course now.) There’s always something new to learn.

My first two novels were very organized and outlined, as I blogged about a while ago. It was very important for those two, because the plots were like mysteries, where everything had to fit in place to be explained in the end.writing

I didn’t need that kind of complexity for my current project BLOODSUCKERS (about a vampire who runs for President). I made a very simple outline. I wrote a sentence or two with every idea I had for the book and then put them in order. When I was done, I had a list of about sixty items that I felt were necessary. It looked like this:

      Democratic frontrunner finds naked girl in hotel room night before convention; she charms him into jumping off balcony

Reporter Steven Edwards woken by call from editor; turns on TV to watch coverage of the “suicide”

NY Times article about the incident

Edwards travels to convention floor and is shocked to discover that the Virginia delegation is supporting Norman Mark, even the conservatives; becomes suspicious

Hardball episode with discussion about what the Democrats will do; word gets around media that Mark is surging, everyone astounded

Mysterious conversation where powerful businessman says that Mark must be stopped or he’ll “ruin everything” – hires Karl to assassinate him

AP bio of Mark; multi-billionaire computer genius, inherited from immigrant father, never married, educated in Europe, no college, philanthropist

Edwards talks to protesters calling Mark a vampire

Conservative talk shows talk about Mark

Mark accepts nomination, gives amazing and inspiring speech, saying that unlike other politicians, he cannot be bought; pushing a very populist platform

News article about police investigation of suicide after autopsy; no drugs, no suicide note, but no one saw anyone enter the room, video shows him jumping

Interview with woman who wrote book about charisma, looks and (for men) height and how important it is in business and politics, emphasizing how Mark is very charismatic and surrounded by equally charismatic people

Steve is back in Richmond, lamenting how boring his life and job are

Steve appears on local conservative talk radio, caller discusses vampires

Karl plans the assassination, realizes he will need Nick’s help

…And so on (as Kurt would say).

I skipped a few of those points when I realized they slowed the story down too much. About ten points later on in the outline turned out to only comprise one chapter.

And even though I was following my outline, I was not satisfied.

My original idea was very political, about corruption in politics and whether we would be willing to accept an evil vampire as President if he was going to do good things. Originally, my main character Steve was to learn of the real existence of vampires at the end of Act One, and would then spend the rest of the book trying to prove that the Presidential candidate is one. But as I continued, I became less and less attracted to that idea. It just wasn’t enough fun. There wasn’t enough adventure. Where was the action? Where was the thrill?

So I suddenly moved an important assassination scene that originally had been scheduled for near the end of the book to the end of Act One.  But even that wasn’t enough. Then the idea hit for Steve to be framed for the assassination by other vampires out to get the candidate.

Now we’re talking.

This pushed the novel into high gear. It went from a humorous political satire to an action-paced thriller with political undertones. Much more exciting!

And that outline? Well, it’s still there but it’s all out of order, and a lot of new plot points have been added. The destination is still the same — I know exactly how it’s going to end — but now I am coming up with something more.

And that wouldn’t have happened if I had remained glued to my original outline.

So my lesson this time is simple: Definitely outline, but never be afraid to toss it out the window if something better comes along!

Interview with agent Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero today.

Marisa is an attorney as well as an agent. She is the founder of The Corvisiero Law Practice, P.C., a boutique law firm in midtown New York City. She is actively building her client list and focusing on science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and romance, as well young adult and children’s literature. In non-fiction, she is interested in seeing proposals for memoirs, how-to (in any industry), guides and tales about the legal practice, parenting, self-help, and mainstream science. No text books please. She’s interested in reading your query and first fifteen pages (full book for children’s books – illustrations not necessary) to Marisa at marisa@lperkinsagency.com You can visit her agent blog at http://thoughtsfromaliteraryagent.blogspot.com and follow her on twitter @mcorvisiero.

I am always surprised to find so many fellow attorneys involved in the publishing industry, although usually I am interviewing fellow authors. I’m curious as to your start as an entertainment attorney and how that led to your becoming an agent – or did the agent thing happen independently?

MARISA IOZZI CORVISIERO: Becoming an agent sort of fell on my lap. It started with a favor for a talented fellow writer. I was writing a cross genre science fiction novel at the time, and started connecting with other authors, going to conferences, joined a critique group and so forth. Eventually, one thing led to another and I found my self sending in submissions for other writers through my law firm and really enjoying representing them.

Then one day, that one talented fellow writer said that he had rekindled a connection with a friend from grammar school, and just found out that she is now a literary agent. Not missing a beat, I asked him to introduce me to this Lori Perkins person, who sounded so fabulous. So he did, and after one conversation with Ms. Perkins, we both knew that we were meant to work together. She offered to mentor me, and to share her 23 years of experience and contacts in the industry with me. She said that after six months with her it would be like having a masters. Of course I agreed, and took on this opportunity of a life time. The six months came and went, and I’m still with the L. Perkins Agency, learning from the best.

VENTRELLA: Do you think having a legal background gives you an advantage over other agents?

CORVISIERO: I think that any additional skills or knowledge that one brings to the table gives one an advantage. Lawyers are trained to spot and solve issues, analyze, strategize, negotiate and draft legal contracts. These are very important skills for an agent, but I think that one doesn’t have to be a lawyer to posses these abilities. Most good agents out there have these skills. So I suppose that being a lawyer helps me be a good agent.

VENTRELLA: A query letter is very important for an author wishing to make an impression, but it seems that the skills necessary to write one are completely different from the skills needed to write a novel. How do you overlook a poor query letter to inspect the manuscript – or do you? (By “poor query letter” I do not mean one that contains misspellings or other obvious errors, but instead one that just does not grab your attention as it should.)

CORVISIERO: Query letters are very important. They not only showcase the author’s work, but also the author as a professional. If a query is sub-par, it is an indication of many things such as lack of attention, professionalism, skills, respect etc. I’ve written an entire blog entry on titled “Don’t Screw Up Your Query: You only get one change to make a good first impression”.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the query looks good, that there are no errors, it briefly describes the novel, says something about the author, provides genre and word count as well as a brief description of the target market and why this novel would appeal to them. If all of this works and the story line does not grab my attention I will consider not reading the work. At this point I ask my self if the storyline is interesting and unique. If not, I go back to the e-mail and type up a short decline letter and tell the author why I’m declining it. If it is interesting and unique, I go on to read a few pages. After that, if I like what I read, I ask for the full synopsis and/or the full manuscript.

VENTRELLA: How important is it for you to love the work in order to represent the client?

CORVISIERO: Very important. I only represent things that I love. My time is very limited and precious. I will not waste it on something that I don’t believe in. Even if it is selling.

VENTRELLA: Do you ever accept work that you believe has potential but needs major editing?

CORVISIERO: The short answer is yes. I have taken on a few diamonds in the rough and it usually pays off in the end. I can’t do this often due to time restraints, but if I see the potential in the work and the writer, I will go out of my way to help them.

VENTRELLA: Is there any story or plotline that you are sick of? Is there anything you wish you’d get more of?

CORVISIERO: I wouldn’t say that I’m sick of them, but I’m very conservative when it comes to vampire novels. One would think that the market is oversaturated with them, but they are still selling. So when considering a vampire story, it will need to be very unique or traditional with a unique plot. I mean seriously, enough with the clumsy but smart teen that falls in love with a vampire who simply can’t resist her. Been there, done that … let’s get creative people!

Which is a good segue into what I do want to see more of. I want good science fiction and urban fantasy. Throw in a good romance or attraction between the characters and I’m even happier. I want someone to send me a well written, fresh story with compelling characters, that will blow my mind. Give me the next Matrix, Harry Potter, Avatar, Mission to Mars, Abyss, Contact. See the pattern?

VENTRELLA: Do you think the vampire trend will end soon? (I hope not, given the manuscript I’m working on now.) Do you see anything new on the horizon?

CORVISIERO: The trend itself, or “frenzie” if you will, will most certainly end. Everyone is riding the coat tails of Stephanie and Charlene. But even after the demand for creatures of the night, or sparkling creatures of the day ends, there will still be market for vampires. I can’t think of a time longer than a couple of years, when a book or movie about vampires wasn’t released. I think its almost like a cycle. Every few years a hot vampire story emerges. Remember Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Blade, Buffy, The Lost Boys, on and on through the years all the way back to Nosferatu in the 1920’s. People love vampires. And so I think that there will always be a market for them.

The problem is that vampires have been too glamorized. Made to seem almost human but for the need to drink blood, some even eat food and can go into the sunlight with an application of a special lotion (The Gates). Not to mention all the super powers. When I was reading Breaking Dawn (Stephanie Mayer’s 4th book) I kept thinking this is like vampires meets the X-men. So I think the key to a good new vampire story may be to bring it back to basics.

As for trends, we have gone from aliens, to vampires, to werewolves, to zombies, to fallen angels. Now there are talks about super heroes. I have personally seen some keen interest in mermaids. I’ve received at least two really good queries already. I may be the first to say it but I think that there is something there.

VENTRELLA: What do you love to read? Who are your favorite authors, and why?

CORVISIERO: Other than my fabulous clients, I would say that my favorite authors are Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks. Now, as you may imagine I read quite a bit and I love many, many authors, but I have to say that when it comes to Nora and Nick I enjoy them above all others. When I pick up one of their books, I know what I’m getting. I trust them. For instance, I know that any novel by Nicholas Sparks will probably make me weep and laugh, and it will provoke thoughts and promote some sort of emotional learning within me. He is fantastic at reaching the reader.

Nora Roberts is a whole different story. I call Nora “My good old reliable”. I know that I can buy any one of her books without even reading the jacket and I will like it. She is a pro at creating believable and intricate characters whom you want to follow through their journey to the end. I usually sprinkle one of her novels into my reading schedule after reading a number of manuscripts and other books. Once in a while “I need a dose of Nora”. When I saw Nora Roberts at RWA this past July I told her this, and I told her that she is one of the few writers that I trust explicitly with my time. She seemed very flattered, even though I’m sure she hears this all the time. And that makes me like her even more.

VENTRELLA: Some people advise authors to attend writer’s conferences specifically for the chance to meet agents and make pitches. Others say such a thing is useless unless the manuscript is finished. What is your opinion on writer’s conferences?

CORVISIERO: Conferences are wonderful, and writers should take every advantage of the resources and opportunities that they offer. If you can attend one or two a year, they should, even if the manuscript is not finished. Attending a conference gives authors the wonderful opportunity to meet other authors, agents, and editors. There is always something to be learned at the workshops. They are invaluable. I would however advice not to pitch a manuscript until it is finished. Also, to get more out of a conference choose one that suits the genre of your work.

VENTRELLA: How will the rise of e-publishing affect your business?

CORVISIERO: E-publishing is changing the industry to a point where sooner rather than later all books will be available as an electronic version. I’m not sure how long it will take until we stop cutting down trees to print books, but that’s something to ponder. This doesn’t affect my business significantly. Other than learning about the new e-publishers popping up everywhere, how they work, and how they like to be reached. Right now, if we sell a book only as an e-book, the advance will usually be lower than an advance from a traditional publisher would pay, but the royalties are higher, and so there is still a profit to be made for agents and authors. Either way its clear to me that e-publishing is the way of the future. As much as I love the feel of a book in my hands; the sound of the pages turning; and the smell of an old and well loved book, as well as that of a newly printed one; I still think that e-books will eventually dominate the market, if not replace it all together.

VENTRELLA: And finally, what general advice do you wish to give to aspiring authors that they may not have heard before?

CORVISIERO: I’m sure that this is not new advice, but I think that it’s good advice none the less. Writers should write what they know about, or what they are passionate about. Don’t write just to sell books, or to please people. Write to tell a good story, one that you’ve conceived. Enjoy the process, even if it means never selling your work. I know that it sounds ridiculous, but most of the great works were created by those with passion for the craft and not for money. The point is to reach the reader and whisk them into your imaginary world, where they will grow with the characters, suffer their pain, and experience their joy in the end when the conflict is resolved.

We are usually best at what we enjoy doing the most. So if you don’t enjoy writing, find a different hobby. Publishing is a tough industry. It is difficult to make good money. When you do, it’s wonderful. But don’t expect your writing to be an overnight best seller and bring you millions (it doesn’t happen that often). Don’t expect to sell your book and get an advance large enough to support you until you sell your next book. The odds are not in your favor. So don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. I had to say that because it’s always good to include a dose of reality. However, good things can happen, and they do. Just be prepared for the rejections and be persistent.

If this is really what you want to do, keep at it. Let every sentence be better than the previous one. Remember that success is a process and not a destination, so enjoy it and learn your lessons along the way. I urge you to never ever give up. If writing is your passion, and you enjoy it, don’t let anything anyone says discourage you from fulfilling your creative dream. Think big, shoot for the stars and when you look back you’ll do so to re-live your journey and not to dwell on missed opportunities!

Interview with Author and Editor Cecilia Tan

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Cecilia Tan today. Cecilia has been writing and editing professionally for the better part of two decades, both independently and for the small press she founded in 1992, Circlet Press, who specialize in material that mixes the erotic with the fantastic. She has written numerous erotic romances for Ravenous Romance, has edited anthologies for Alyson Books, Thunder’s Mouth Press, Carroll & Graf, Masquerade Books, Blue Moon Books, and others, and collections of her short stories have been published by HarperCollins and Running Press. On top of all that, she also writes and edits publications on baseball.

Cecilia, What brought about the founding of Circlet Press?

CECILIA TAN: I had written a story called “Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords” and just knew at the time I finished it that it was the best story I had written to date. It mixed explicitly kinky erotic action with a science fiction plot. Then I looked around for somewhere to submit it. There was nowhere. Science fiction magazines had explicit rules against sexual content. Porn magazines had explicit rules against both science fiction and any plot beyond “two people meet, then have sex.” The BDSM magazines of the time were either exclusively lesbian or exclusively gay, and my characters were neither. I had been working in book publishing for a few years at that point so I knew the business and I thought “this is nuts. Someone has to do this!” And of course that someone ended up being me.

VENTRELLA: Has it met your expectations?

TAN: Circlet Press has met all my hopes and dreams except for the financial one. We grew by leaps and bounds, garnered fabulous critical acclaim, excellent notice, a great reputation, helped to blow the doors off the old restrictions and show how good mixing the genres could be, jumpstarted the careers of a whole generation of writers … but once the Returns Crisis hit the book publishing industry in the late 1990s, it’s been a financial uphill battle ever since. I’m too stubborn to quit, though, and the ebook has suddenly allowed us to start reaching the readership that mainstream bookstores abandoned. So all of a sudden, there’s some cash flow! Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll turn a profit. What’s most important to me is that we’re still able to connect authors to readers, and then put money back in the pocket of the authors. That part of the business is the same as always … in fact, it’s better.

VENTRELLA: There are many examples of small press these days; do you think this is good for the publishing industry or does it tend to water down the field?

TAN: Oh no. It’s the mainstream presses, not the small presses, who are the most watered down. That’s where you’ll find the most mediocre, recycled pap being packaged and put on the shelf. Granted, it’s not 100% the fault of the big publishers — it’s also the fault of the buyers at Borders and Barnes & Noble, who just want the same thing over and over again, in the hopes that what sold before will sell again. They are all chasing the book equivalent of the Top 40 radio hit and making a lot of boring noise in the process. The small presses are more directly connected with the readership and what they actually want. The small presses occupy the specialty niches.

Another way to look at it is with a comparison to restaurants. The big presses are the chain restaurants. They’re Applebee’s and the Olive Garden and Budweiser. The small presses are that great little gourmet Italian restaurant in your neighborhood, and handcrafted microbrews.

Small presses are also the minor leagues, but for the most part the authors being published in the small press aren’t any less talented than the ones in the mainstream press. They are sometimes less experienced, or less marketable, or just less lucky.

VENTRELLA: As a small press author, I thank you for that!

Has the rise of self-publishing been good for the business?

TAN: Absolutely.

VENTRELLA: When acting as an editor, what is it you look for? What will immediately get a story chucked in the trash?

TAN: The first thing I tell my assistant editors when its time to read the slush pile is DO NOT read the cover letter until after you read the story. Far too many authors think that the job of a short story cover letter is to build you up into a froth of excitement about how great the story is going to be, thus ensuring that a) you’ll be let down, and b) any suspense or joy of discovery in the story has been killed for the reader. I think many amateur writers are confused about the difference between submitting a short story and pitching a novel proposal to an agent or editor, and some just can’t imagine that all they should introduce in the letter is THEMSELVES and let the short story speak for itself.

We get a lot less utter garbage than we used to, though, honestly, and I think the reason why is that thanks to the Internet, writers are actually better informed about how to go about submitting, and they are much more likely to have practiced their grammar and spelling skills on a daily basis. It’s that or the Internet has somehow
swallowed up the attention of most of the crackpots who used to send us wacky submissions in red crayon and the like.

VENTRELLA: What sorts of things do you want in a query letter?

TAN: Since most of what we read is short stories, we don’t read queries. We just want a professional introduction of the author, with whatever credentials they have, but if none, just a firm, no-nonsense hello. It’s professional courtesy to include a cover letter. Sticking a post-it note shaped like a heart on the story is not professional.

Actually, these days, we only accept manuscripts by email, so whenever anything arrives in the mail, I know it’s likely to be from the land of psychoceramics.

VENTRELLA: As a writer of erotic and romantic fiction, what would you advise to someone wanting to enter this field?

TAN: Both romance and erotica have a lot of cliches. The whole trick to writing something that will thrill the pants (sometimes literally) off your readers is to satisfy their expectations while at the same time exceeding them. Be aware of the boundaries of any genre that you write in, and then find out how you can play with and cross those boundaries.

That is, unless thinking about that sort of thing paralyzes you and saps your will to write. In that case, forget everything I said and JUST WRITE. That’s probably the best advice. Step one, start writing. Step two, finish what you started. You’ll get better every time.

VENTRELLA: What trends do you see in the publishing industry that excite you? Which ones worry you?

TAN: I’m very excited at how social networking is allowing authors and readers to connect directly. But the problem is how do you find out about new authors you might like if you’re a reader, when now there isn’t just a publisher-wholesaler-retail chain delivering you a limited selection to choose from? A lot of things are changing now because of that.

It worries me a little that the newer system rewards authors more based on their marketing savvy than on their writing ability … but then I look at a lot of the junk that was published that still hit the New York Times best-seller list over the past 20 years and I realize that’s ALWAYS been true. There have always been populist and popular writers who weren’t particularly great artists.

VENTRELLA: Writing a short story is much different from writing a novel. What are the difficulties you have found? Why do you think some authors specialize in one or the other?

TAN: I’ve written a fair number of both and I really think they are different arts, just like painting and sculpture are different arts. A short story writer has to have guts and brio; a novelist has to have stamina and vision. For me short stories have always come pretty easily. I grab an idea and just pound it until it’s done. A novel takes a bit more planning. The one time I just grabbed hold of a novel with minimal planning, it took six years to finish and came out three times too long to be a commercial novel. (That’s DARON’S GUITAR CHRONCILES, which I’m serializing now on the web.) The next time I plotted out 12 chapters of 5,000 words each and bam, I hit my target right on the nose.

The secret to writing outlines for me is realizing that in the second half I’m going to deviate quite significantly from the outline I wrote, but that some kind of internal logic is at work in my subconscious, so if I forge on, it will all work out. I still have to write the outline, which to me is like sketching out the map of the mountain I’m going to climb. But when I get to the top, exactly halfway through the journey, and am at the turning point, I look down the other side of the mountain… and discover it always looks totally different from the top than it did from where you started at the bottom. Some of the landmarks are the same, but how you get to them changes.

VENTRELLA: Are you sick of vampire stories yet? Is there any plot you have seen too often?

TAN: I love vampires! But even sixteen years ago when I edited my very first anthology of vampire stories, called BLOOD KISS, there were some cliches I didn’t ever need to see. Like setting your vampire story in a goth nightclub … cliche cliche cliche! It really isn’t very imaginative to think “what if those spooky kids who look like vampires actually WERE?” Not exactly an original idea. I actually had to turn down a lot of stories where the “surprise” ending was that one of the two people who met in the bar turns out at the end to be… A VAMPIRE!

I had to write rejections that said things like “It’s a vampire anthology. Every readers KNOWS at least one of them is a vampire.” Then there were the millions who tried the surprise twist: they’re BOTH vampires! Argh. Or surprise twist two: the other one is a vampire hunter! I saw literally hundreds of stories with these plots even after I explicitly banned them in my submission guidelines.

Then there are some ideas that go through fads. I kid you not. One year I received no fewer than four stories all with this exact same plot: an artist falls in love with a model in a painting (usually a Renaissance painting) and gets artistically blocked, can’t paint, is wasting away… until the day the model shows up at the door to have
fantastic sex, looking just like the painting, because s/he is a vampire. Somewhere, once upon a time, that was an original plot. Now, it’s a cliche.

VENTRELLA: How do you think your education has helped your writing?

TAN: Well aside from the actual writing courses I took, it was important to me as someone who writes science fiction to learn some high level science. In college I went right for what was cutting edge at the time, cognitive science (artificial intelligence, neurology, etc) and genetics. Anything you learn that stimulates your brain is going to help your writing. I took a fair amount of psychology in that mix, as well as literature, music, etc. … Long live the liberal arts.

VENTRELLA: Besides “keep writing” what specific advice would you give an aspiring author that you wish someone had given you when you began?

TAN: I think I must have started out with some pretty good advice, because I can’t think of anything. I suppose the advice I would give is this.

You need your reader to trust you to lead them on a rollercoaster ride. For them to trust you, you have to trust yourself. To trust yourself, you have to know your craft and be constantly improving it, constantly learning about yourself and the way your writing affects your readers. So don’t write in a vacuum because you’re afraid people won’t like it. Find the ones who do like it, and write more for them!

Interview with Tanya Huff

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Tanya Huff today! Tanya Huff lives in rural Ontario, Canada with her partner Fiona Patton and, as of last count, nine cats. Her 26 novels and 68 short stories include horror, heroic fantasy, urban fantasy, comedy, and space opera. She’s written four essays for Ben Bella’s pop culture collections. Her Blood series was turned into the 22 episode BLOOD TIES and writing episode nine allowed her to finally use her degree in Radio & Television Arts. Her latest novel is THE TRUTH OF VALOR (DAW, September 2010). When not writing, she practices her guitar and spends too much time on line.

Tanya, How did you break into the publishing business?

TANYA HUFF: I started by sending out Third Time Lucky to the digests — Asimov didn’t want it and Amazing did. At the same time, I’d finished writing CHILD OF THE GROVE (in about 80% the same shape as the published book) and sent it out as a YA to Terri Windling at one of the Ace imprints I think. It was twenty-five years ago so details are foggy. Terri suggested I submit it as an adult book.

One of the things they suggest when you’re looking for a publisher is to look at what who publishes what you read and I was split about 50/50 between DAW and Del Rey. But I had a friend, S. M. Stirling who’d sold two books to Sheila Gilbert while she was at Signet and now she was at DAW and that seemed like a sign. I was heading to NYC to see some shows and Steve said he’d call Sheila and ask if she had time to see me. Unfortunately, he forgot and when I called Sheila, she said she hadn’t heard from him in a few years but if I could get there right away, she’d just had someone cancel and could see me for about twenty minutes.

Never do this, btw. Never cold call an editor and mention you just happen to be in town. It was barely doable 25 years ago. It’s really isn’t now.

We talked, I left the manuscript for CHILD OF THE GROVE with her, eventually, a year and a rewrite later, she bought it and, in the intervening years, she’s bought another 25.

VENTRELLA: You’ve stated in the past that you decide to write a vampire book because, basically, you knew they were popular now.

HUFF: No, what I said was, I decided to write a vampire book because I was working in a bookstore and had observed that vampire readers were very, very loyal to their genre. That they’d buy anything with fangs on the cover in the desperate hope of finding something decent to read. I figured if I wrote a good vampire book, then I’d give the vampire fans what they were looking for and they’d be that loyal to me. So I did. And they are. But twenty odd years ago when I wrote BLOOD PRICE, vampires were no where near as widely popular as they are now. This was pre-Buffy, remember.

VENTRELLA: This leads to an interesting question in general: How much of writing is about art and how much is about business? Do you think most authors write for the love of writing or because they want to be successful? Are the two incompatible? And is there anything wrong in that?

HUFF: The two are certainly not incompatible. On one level it doesn’t matter what job you do, if you’re just in it for the money, it’ll show and it won’t be pretty. On another, good writing requires a piece of your soul so you’d better love it given that you’re gouging chunks out of yourself to produce it. Also, as I tell the high school kids I occasionally talk to, you’d better love it because the odds are very good you’ll never make much money at it. On the other hand, I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t have a mulitude of ideas floating about and the smart ones will look at what’s selling, try to use that to figure out what’ll be selling in a year to eighteen months when any book you may start now will actually be published, and develop the idea that has the best chance in the market. On yet another hand, sometimes you just want to tell a particular story so badly that the market be damned and it then becomes your agent or editor’s job to reign you in.

So the short answer is, no.

VENTRELLA: You ignored many traditional vampire myths in your books. (I’m doing the same in my next novel, by the way, about a vampire who runs for President.) What led to that decision? Did you get any complaints from the hard core vampire fans?

HUFF: In order for myth to remain alive, it has to grow and change. Once a myth codifies, it dies. I used the parts of vampire myth that were relevant to my story and ignored what wasn’t. So far, no one’s complained. Well, not to me anyway.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been fortunate (and talented) enough to have a TV series based on one of your series. How did that come about?

HUFF: The wonderful guys at Kaleidoscope optioned the Blood series because they loved them and then worked their butts off to bring it to the screen. All I had to do was cash the option check. They did all the work.

VENTRELLA: Were you pleased with the result?

HUFF: I loved the result. Christina Cox was one the actors I saw playing Vicki back in the early 90’s when she was on a show called F/X THE SERIES and I was thrilled when she got the part. Dylan Neal was not how I physically saw Mike — until I saw Dylan play Mike and I loved his interpretation. I’d never been able to cast Henry Fitzroy but now I can only see Kyle Schmid in the part.

VENTRELLA: Did the TV series inspire you to make changes in future books of the series? Did you care about continuity at all, or was that not an issue?

HUFF: I wrote the last Blood book in… I think 1996 so it was totally a non issue. I said at the time that BLOOD DEBT was the last and it has been. There’s been a few short stories since Blood Ties but I have no problem keeping the show mythos and the book mythos straight.

VENTRELLA: What process do you use when preparing a novel? Do you do extensive research? Do you outline?

HUFF: First I have the idea — or, more accurately, separate the idea I’m currently excited about from the herd. Then I write up a pitch for my agent to give my editor — this is a very short outline and has, in the past, actually used the phrase, “And a bunch of stuff happens in the middle.” I always know where I’m starting from and I always know where I’m going, I just don’t always know how I’m going to get there. After the book sells, I research for two to three months until the weight of information tips me over into writing. Then I start at the beginning and tell the story until I finish. Because I edit as I go, my first draft about 95% similar to the book you buy.

VENTRELLA: How do you personally create a new fantasy world, with its own rules? In other words, how much planning and background information do you write?

HUFF: When I create a new fantasy world I need a map so I know the climate, the type of food, the industry, the type of farming, the housing needs. I need to know what time of year it is. I need to know what the religon is, and I need to work out the profanity. Most profanity is very tied to religion and is often the hardest thing to come up with in a created world.

VENTRELLA: What do you bring to the genre that other similar books miss? In other words, what is different about your books?

HUFF: Well, I don’t take myself or the genre (or various) subgenre too seriously while still respecting my readers, but I’m not the only one. I like kick ass women and witty repartee, so that’s going to be included every time. I guess the big thing that’s different about my books, is that I’ve written them…

VENTRELLA: Many aspiring authors get conned by self-publishers who pretend not to be, or by “editors” who do little more than proofreading for a large fee. How does one avoid these scams?

HUFF: They’re not hard to avoid. Publishers and editors pay you — you’re creating the product. If you’re paying them, it’s a scam.

VENTRELLA: Besides “keep writing” what specific advise would you give an aspiring author?

HUFF: Put a third of every check you receive into a separate tax account. Sure, it won’t matter for years but there will come a day when you’re actually making a living wage and the goverment will want a surprising amount of it. If you’re Canadian, you have to pay both halves of the Canada Pension Plan and that’s a surprise when it hits the first time, believe me. It’s best to remember that you’re essentially a small business all year long, not just in April.

Remember that publishers, editors, and agents all talk to each other. They will talk about you. You don’t have to be a saint, but don’t be an ass. If you get a reputation as being unprofessional or hard to work with, it won’t matter if you have all the talent in the world.

And speaking of talent, discipline matters more. I guarentee that more disciplined people with minimal talent are published than talented people with minimal discipline.

Write subjectively. Edit objectively.

Have fun.

Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Rachel Caine

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing NY Times bestselling author Rachel Caine. Rachel has the Morganville Vampires series, Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series, as well as writing paranormal romantic action/adventure and many other genres. Rachel will be the Guest of Honor at Ravencon next weekend (April 9 – 11, 2010) where I am a mere minor guest! Her web page is here.

Rachel, what is it that makes a novel a “young adult” novel?

RACHEL CAINE: The way I look at it, it’s purely a matter of the age of the central characters. My four main characters are ages 17, 18 and 19 now, and as with all characters, their ages and life experience shape the events of the book. So it’s not that I deliberately target the audience … it’s that I think in order to be faithful to the characters and the story, it should naturally appeal to a young adult audience. (Although I have plenty of adult readers of this series as well.)

VENTRELLA: It seems like you have a new book out every month! How do you manage to be so prolific?

CAINE: Ha, I don’t think it’s *every* month. But definitely 3 or 4 a year, that’s true. Most of that’s driven by the YA series (Morganville Vampires) because the schedule for that is we’re publishing one every six months vs. a year for the adult novels (Weather Warden and Outcast Season). But when you add it all together, three series going at the same time does tend to add up fast.

I think I’m lucky that I really enjoy writing to tight deadlines (generally) — it’s been a really great balance against my sometimes stressful day job.

VENTRELLA: There is an ironic balance that has to be met when writing about the supernatural, in that it has to be rooted in reality to be believable. How have you made decisions about integrating the real with fantasy?

CAINE: I’m going to shamelessly quote Jim Butcher, who once said that in order to have urban fantasy that feels realistic you need to have about as much “real” as you do “fantasy.” I believe that’s true … If you look at the success of the movie “Hellboy”, I think that first film achieved a wonderful balance in that area. Sure, you’ve got a big red devil guy running around fighting monsters, but there’s so much real world complication that it makes it all that much funnier and more outrageous. I thought that in the second film, good as it was, they forgot that balance, and slid it to about 75% fantasy, 25% real world … and I think it wasn’t as strong as the first.

So I try to balance my fantastic elements with the fact that everybody, even supernaturally gifted people, have to worry about bills and dry cleaning and child care. 🙂

VENTRELLA: What is it about vampires that attracts such attention these days? Do you think this is just a trend? (I hope not, since my third novel will be a vampire book …)

CAINE: Well, I’ve actually been in the vampire field when it was cool before (in the early 90s) and when it wasn’t (in the late 90s), and now it’s cool again, which is kind of great. Vampires never really go out of style — we’ve been afraid of them for thousands of years, and writing about them in fiction for more than 100 years. The fascinating thing is that in the beginning, vampires were soulless monsters … reflecting that hidden terror that those you know and love can suddenly become monsters. And then they took on personalities and became more sympathetic, and eventually (by the mid-70s) became actual misunderstood romantic anti-heroes. By the mid-1980s, vampires had become heroic, appearing as police officers, detectives, doctors, all kinds of professions that had always been seen as admirable. Now, it seems that they’re back to the dark, romantic Heathcliff-type heroes (at least in the romance circles), but then there’s graphic novels like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT that harken back to the terrifying soulless monster vampires prototypes. So there’s lots of room to do anything you’d like in vampires, which I think is fantastic fun.

VENTRELLA: For those unfamiliar with your work, can you give a quick description of your main series?

CAINE: The Morganville Vampires series (Young Adult) follows the adventures of Claire Danvers and her fellow housemates Eve, Shane and Michael in the town of Morganville … just your average Texas college town, except that it’s controlled by vampires, and the city taxes get collected by Bloodmobiles. Once you’re in on the secret, you’ll never make it out of town alive. Not all the vampires are bad, but they’re all unpredictable, and Claire and her friends often find themselves caught in the middle of the ultimate haves-and-have-not struggle.

The Weather Warden series (Urban fantasy) features Joanne Baldwin, a sexy, sassy woman with a secret … she can control the weather, and she’s part of a secret organization that battles the forces of nature on a regular basis. Mother Nature really doesn’t like us, and only Joanne and the Wardens stand between us and total extinction … when they’re not battling among themselves. Oh, and there are Djinn (genies) who sometimes serve the Wardens, and quite often turn on them with fatal results. Trust Joanne to engage in the most dangerous kind of romance … with one of the most powerful Djinn in existence.

The Outcast Season series (Urban fantasy) is a spin off of the Warden universe, and concerns Cassiel, a former Djinn who’s been cut off from her supernatural kin and now must survive in a human world she doesn’t understand or like, with the aid of Wardens she’s never respected. But in her struggle to survive, she finds herself drawn more and more to the humans she cares for, in particular Warden Luis Rocha — which makes things more difficult when she realizes that she may have a destiny after all: to destroy the human race.

VENTRELLA: How have you planned out the Morganville series?

CAINE: I had a six-book story arc planned, and I’m making the second set of six more standalone stories. There is a certain continuity to the storyline, but I’m trying to avoid too many cliffhangers. 🙂

VENTRELLA: What do you do to create believable characters who learn and grow from their adventures?

CAINE: I don’t know that it’s a conscious process for me … the characters really seem to do that on their own. I have found that less is more in character development … the more tics and traits you give a character, the less natural they seem over time. I find that starting small gives characters plenty of room to grow.

VENTRELLA: How did you break into the publishing business?

CAINE: Not in any way that anyone else should look on as typical! I never intended to … a friend bought me a ticket to a writer’s conference and dropped me at the door. He wanted me to learn about being a writer because I’d been writing on my own (and hiding it) for more than 15 years at that point. So I thought I’d talk to an editor or two, and that would be that.

Only the first editor I talked to hired me to do my first novel. So that worked a little better than I expected, actually. That was in 1990, and I’ve been publishing ever since … with the occasional career hiccup.

VENTRELLA: Some of your earlier works were written under other names. Why did you do that, and would you advise others to do so?

CAINE: And that would be the “occasional career hiccup” referred to above. 🙂 I wrote as Roxanne Longstreet (my maiden name) when first starting out, but my books didn’t really burn up the shelves in any significant way. When my first publisher told me they wouldn’t be able to buy more from me, I changed my name to my married name (Roxanne Conrad) and tried again, with similar results. Rachel Caine is proof that the third time is the charm, I think!

I did use the name “Julie Fortune” for a media tie-in novel for Stargate, mainly because at that time the “Rachel Caine” identity was still new and fragile, and I didn’t want to risk bad sales on something so far outside of my new areas of expertise. But Julie actually has done pretty well on her own.

VENTRELLA: Of which book are you most proud? What would you like to be remembered for?

CAINE: I don’t think I’d like to be remembered for one book … more for a body of work. I can’t really say that I prefer one book over another; from my perspective they each have different characters, but mostly in the sense of where I was emotionally at the time I did the work. I’m not the best judge of that sort of thing. I’m just happy that it seems to touch people and entertain them.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on e-books? Do you think they’re the wave of the future or a step down from traditional publishing?

CAINE: I don’t think it’s a step down at all, but there are a number of people who simply don’t like to read on the screen, so I think traditional publishing will always have a place. For people who read for the experience of the story, versus collecting books, I think ebooks are perfect — portable, simple, and disposable. For collectors, nothing will replace the experience of a book.

I do think there is a real and growing problem related to ebooks … there’s a basic misunderstanding of copyright as it relates to electronic files. Buying an ebook doesn’t give someone the right to copy it wholesale and sell it on to others … and there’s a constant issue with this happening. Most of those people don’t understand that what they’re doing is setting themselves up as a digital publisher, which is robbing both the author and the publisher. Unless we can collectively get that settled, it’s going to bleed the industry dry over time.

VENTRELLA: You’ve wisely advised authors before not to self-publish. Why is that important?

CAINE: I don’t say never self-publish, but it’s not a good way to launch a career as a writer. If the person wants simply to have a book, and has no expectations of continuing to advance in it as a career, then self-publishing might be okay. But there are a lot of drawbacks to self-publishing … you’re responsible for marketing, getting your books into physical stores, and competing with authors who don’t have to do any of that for themselves. Don’t kid yourself: it takes time away from your writing, and trying to break into bookstores in any kind of volume is difficult, if not almost impossible.

Self-publishing also has a reputation — sometimes undeserved, but often accurate — of not being good quality. Often the covers aren’t very good, and unless you’re extremely good at self-editing, or employ a professional editor who knows their stuff, the product is often easy to detect as amateurish rather than professional. So you have a huge burden to overcome.

The last thing I’ll say is this: very few people have ever made decent money from self-publishing, and those that have, generally jumped to traditional publishers as quickly as possible. Don’t get fooled by companies that promise you they’ll publish your book, but then require you to pay for editorial, marketing, and other services. They make money off of you. Your chances of making money from them is pretty small.

VENTRELLA: Finally, what is it about conventions that you like?

CAINE: I love hanging out with my people. 🙂 I’ve always been drawn to conventions — where I can have endlessly fun conversations about things that I’m passionate about, whether it’s geeky obsession over a TV show or deep conversation about life, the universe, and everything (thanks, Douglas Adams!). I’ve met many of my best friends through conventions, and had some of my finest times ever.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you! Looking forward to seeing you at RavenCon!

Interview with Agent Lori Perkins

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Lori Perkins is the Editorial Director of Ravenous Romance, a new publisher of romance ebooks and audiobooks. She has been a literary agent for 20 years, and is currently President of L. Perkins Agency, which has foreign agents in 11 countries and working relationships with Hollywood agents. She was the agent for HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR: A CAUTIONARY TALE by Jenna Jameson, which made the New York Times best-seller list for 7 weeks. She was also the agent for J.K. ROWLING: THE WIZARD BEHIND HARRY POTTER by Marc Shapiro, which was on the N.Y. Times Children’s best-seller list.

As an author herself, she has produced four books: THE CHEAPSKATE’S GUIDE TO ENTERTAINMENT; THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO GETTING A LITERARY AGENT and THE EVERYTHING FAMILY GUIDE TO WASHINGTON D.C. and THE EVERYTHING FAMILY GUIDE TO NEW YORK. She has also written numerous articles on publishing for Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly.

As an editor, she has edited thirteen erotica anthologies. when she is not teaching at N.Y.U.’s Center for Publishing. And somehow she found time to be interviewed by me.

Lori, how did you decide to start Ravenous Romance, and has it been as successful as you hoped?

LORI PERKINS: As an agent, I sell the stuff that other agents won’t handle — SF/Fantasy, pop culture and erotica. So after 9/11 I became the literary agent for the porn industry — I am Jenna Jameson and Vivid’s literary agent. But I also wondered what had happened in the erotica world that I had read as a younger woman, and I was surprised to find that the erotica market was becoming more and more female-centric. I took on Cecelia Tan — who writes SF/Fantasy erotica, as well as baseball books (another passion of mine) — and started selling erotica anthologies. I started reading all these wonderful writers with excellent writing chops who made their living writing short stories, and groomed a few of them into novelists for this burgeoning erotic romance and chick lit market.

At that time, I met Holly Schmidt and Allan Penn, who were nonfiction packagers doing a lot of sex books. They wanted to start a romance publisher, and I suggested that there were enough romance publishers out there, but erotic romance was young and growing. When they examined the market, they came back and said, yes, let’s do all ebooks, and that’s how Ravenousromance.com was born.

VENTRELLA: What is currently selling at Ravenousromance.com, and what are you looking for?

PERKINS: We’ve made a name for ourselves by crossing genres. Our most popular category is M/M romance, which means gay male romance. We’ve taken popular romance classics and rewritten them in contemporary settings — AN OFFICER AND HIS GENTLE MAN, PRETTY MAN, SLEEPLESS IN SAN FRANCISCO. We will be doing the same thing for lesbian F/F fiction now, so we are looking for someone to write THE PRINCESS’S BRIDE and MUST LOVE CATS. You get the idea.

Our paranormal romance is selling really well. We have seven vampire series, and the zombie fiction does well. HUNGRY FOR YOUR LOVE, our zombie romance anthology, is one of our best-sellers, as is our gay zombie romance, FOR LOVE OF THE DEAD by Hal Bodner. And our kinky stuff does well too, such as our THREESOMES anthology. We currently have a call out on the RR blog, ravenousromance.blogspot.com for stories for a paranormal threesomes anthology, THREE’S A CHARM, and an historical threesome anthology, ONCE UPON A THREESOME. We have two more big anthologies coming up soon — FANGBANGERS, which is romance with anything with fangs and claws, and APOCALYPSE TODAY: LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, which is end-of-the-world romance.

VENTRELLA: Do you see e-books being the wave of the future?

PERKINS: Ebooks is the future of the mass market. There will always be collectors and bibliophiles, but when it comes to books as entertainment, you can’t beat an ebook.

VENTRELLA: Do you think there is any stigma attached to books that are primarily sold as ebooks?

PERKINS: Only if they are self-published. We published 150 titles this year and sold reprint rights to a third of them to major houses.

VENTRELLA: Given that it is relatively inexpensive to produce ebooks, is there a worry that some will assume that the standards are lower for publication?

PERKINS: It is not much less expensive to “publish” an ebook. We pay an advance against royalties; we hire an editor, a copy editor, a cover designer; the book has to be converted into eformats from Word, and then it needs to be uploaded to the various Estores that sell it. Plus we need an office and an accounting department. I sell subrights. All Estores (Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, Audible, etc.) take a huge portion of the sale price of the book (just like a bookstore and a distributor in print). The only part of the ebook system (with a real pubisher) that is less expensive is the cost of printing, shipping and storage, and that is returned to the author in the higher than print royalties — most epublishers pay between 25% and 35% royalties.

VENTRELLA: What will usually get a submission rejected for Ravenous Romance?

PERKINS: All erotic romance must have a happy ending or a happy-for-now ending. We might ask you to change it, and if you won’t, we won’t publish it. And then just plain bad writing will get you turned down — alternating perspectives, passive voice, etc.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever liked an author’s style and voice but rejected a story based on other grounds?

PERKINS: I am an editor who can fix things, so I can usually walk an author through a rewrite.

VENTRELLA: Audiobooks also seem to be growing tremendously. How are the ones with Ravenous Romance produced?

PERKINS: Erotic romance audiobooks do very well, because there aren’t many of them (they are still quite expensive to produce, since they must be done in a studio).

VENTRELLA: Do you think eventually the book publishers will change their pricing to accommodate a new economy model?

PERKINS: I think ebooks should be affordable, and that if they are too high they will encourage pirating. I think the print world needs to get rid of “reserve against returns”, which is an antiquated system that makes the publisher and the author a lender to the book seller. I think books are entertainment, and they must learn to complete with DVDs and games and music, all of which needs to be affordable. So a new blockbuster book should be $20, an ebook $10 and a mass market/backlist $5, IMHO.

VENTRELLA: What is your background? In other words, how did you get to become a literary agent?

PERKINS: I was journalist. I was the publisher of a neighborhood newspaper in Upper Manhattan with a degree in journalism from NYU. I became an agent becuse I wanted to sell both fiction and nonficiton, but I have always been an editorial agent (I fix the books before they go out and I often come up with ideas for my authors). I’ve also written four books and edited 15 anthologies. And I teach writing/editing at NYU.

VENTRELLA: As a literary agent, what do you see as the biggest mistake new authors make?

PERKINS: They are too eager to get published. They don’t work on their craft. They have fantasies about the marketplace that are no longer real.

VENTRELLA: How do you deal with receiving work that you think is well written but to which you don’t think the market wants?

PERKINS: I’ll tell them just that and tell them what’s selling, and if they want to rework something, fine. Otherwise put it in the trunk and get me something commercial.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best way for a new writer to find a literary agent who likes their genre and style of writing?

PERKINS: Get WRITER’S DIGEST’S GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS or Jeff Herman’s and go through the book with a marker, making a list of all the agents who sell what you’ve written. Then email the top five, wait a week, and go on to the next five, etc. You can also join Publisher’s Lunch and look up agent sales for the past three months to see who has sold something that sounds like what you are writing. Then send a query letter that starts: “I read on Publisher’s Lunch that you recently sold a….”

VENTRELLA: And finally, who are your favorite authors? Who do you like to read, and why?

PERKINS: My three favorite books are 1984, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and DRACULA, and I would say GONE WITH THE WIND is my fourth. I love Stephen King (am reading UNDER THE DOME now). I especially loved SALEM’S LOT because it was DRACULA set in America and he deftly portrayed the death of a small town. I think MISERY is his finest book — brilliantly crafted. I also love Peter Straub, who has mastered the art of telling a story like the peeling of an onion. He always amazes me.

Interview with author David Wellington

David Wellington is the author of seven novels. His zombie novels MONSTER ISLAND, MONSTER NATION and MONSTER PLANET form a complete trilogy. He has also written a series of vampire novels including (so far) THIRTEEN BULLETS, NINETY-NINE COFFINS, VAMPIRE ZERO and TWENTY THREE HOURS, and in October of 2009 began his new Werewolf series, starting with FROSTBITE. His web page is www.davidwellington.net.WellingtonAuthorPictureWeb

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Welcome David! You’ve gathered quite an impressive array of degrees from prominent universities having to do with creative writing. How has your education influenced your writing?

DAVID WELLINGTON: Only indirectly, really. The main reason to pursue a graduate degree in Creative Writing is to be surrounded by other writers–you learn a lot more from your fellow students than from the instructors. The focus is on workshops, and I’ve found you can get that from an informal writing group. I suppose there may have been occasions when someone took me more seriously because I had an MFA, but really, the work needs to stand for itself.

VENTRELLA: Do you believe good writers are “born” or is education and training essential?

WELLINGTON: It’s all about hard work, unfortunately. It took me thirty years to get to the point where my work was worth being published. Exceptional talent might cut down on how long it takes–but the only way to improve as a writer is through trial and error. You need to write, a lot, and learn from your mistakes.

VENTRELLA: How did you get your “big break”? Aspiring writers want to know!MonsterIsland_LoRes

WELLINGTON: I tried everything, of course. I tried selling short stories to magazines. I tried submitting manuscripts to publishers, completely unsolicited. Nothing worked. I was actually ready to give up — when a friend of mine suggested that I publish a book on his website. The book happened to be MONSTER ISLAND. He set up a blog for me and I posted a short chapter three times a week. At first it was just for fun — I had no reason to believe it would lead to anything. Then people started reading it. A lot of people. By the time I had a couple of thousand people reading each new post, a publisher came to me with an offer. I used to say I got into publishing through the back door — but I’ve since come to realize there really isn’t a front door. If you want to be published today, you have to get creative. Luckily, if you’re a writer, you’ve already got a well-developed imagination!

VENTRELLA: How did you get involved in the Marvel Zombies series?

WELLINGTON: Marvel actively sought out the authors of zombie novels to come up with some new ideas for the franchise. They approached three of us to each write one issue of Marvel Zombies Return. I absolutely jumped at the chance — I’d been a fan of comics my whole life, and had always dreamed of writing one some day.

VENTRELLA: How does writing for comics differ from writing novels?

WELLINGTON: It’s much more like writing a screenplay. You’re writing something that will never be seen. Your script is going to be interpreted by an artist, so you give up a certain measure of control. You have to trust your artist to interpret your vision. Luckily for me I was matched with Andrea Mutti, whose art really brought my story to life. The guy’s a pro.

VENTRELLA: You have already tackled several classic horror monsters: werewolves, vampires and zombies. All of these takes were fairly unusual in their descrpition of the monsters’ qualites/appearances, yet retaining a lot of the classic elements at the same time. How did you come by that decision?

WELLINGTON: Whenever I start a project, I want to do it my own way. Otherwise where’s the fun? I start with the traditional version, and think about how I can play with it. That way I can add something new, and hopefully something fresh. My zombies don’t just eat brains — they eat anything organic. They peel gum off the street and eat it if there’s nothing else. They’re the ultimate consumers. My vampires were a direct reaction to the romantic vampires you see so often these days. I wanted my vampires to be scary — predators in a world where we would have a very hard time fighting back. And so on.hair ablowin

VENTRELLA: What’s next? Any plans to give us a fresh take on another horror creature?

WELLINGTON: There will be two books in my new werewolf series–FROSTBITE, out now, and OVERWINTER, which will come out next year. I’d like to do a fifth vampire book, to finish the series.

VENTRELLA: The protagonist of your vampire series, Laura Caxton, is lesbian which is quite unusual for mainstream horror. Anything specific that prompted you to that decision?

WELLINGTON: There wasn’t a lot of decision-making involved. When I created Laura, I knew I had a scene where she comes home after a very nasty day at work and gets into bed. I knew there would be someone in the bed waiting for her — when I got to that scene, the other person just happened to be another woman. The character was partly based on my sister, who is gay. Beyond that I gave it very little thought–and nobody ever gave me a hard time about it. My editors never blinked. My readers have accepted it without making a big deal out of it. I was pleasantly surprised by that.

VENTRELLA: What are your favorite books in the horror genre? Favorite horror movies?

WELLINGTON: My favorite books in horror are the classics — Lovecraft, Poe, Arthur Machen. As far as movies go, I like any horror movie that plays with the genre or expands a story in an interesting way. “Near Dark” is a great film, as is “Let the Right One In,” for this reason.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever considered writing in any other genre?

WELLINGTON: When I started publishing, it was with a horror novel. But I’ve never considered myself just a horror writer — I’ve actually written far more science fiction novels than horror novels, they just never got published. I write fantasy, mystery, even literary fiction — whatever idea comes along, I pounce on it.

VENTRELLA: What’s your favorite monster?

WELLINGTON: Frankenstein’s Monster, definitely. There’s something about that character — both in Mary Shelley’s book and in the Universal films — that really speaks to me, an existential loneliness that demands answers. What am I? Why was I created? What am I supposed to do now? The monster asks all these questions, and gets no answers. That’s how I feel every morning when I wake up. Then I eat my cereal and get to work and I feel a lot better.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any specific advice you would give a writer trying to make it in the publishing business that they may not have heard before?

WELLINGTON: Keep writing — it can seem pointless, but it’ll work eventually. Something will catch somebody’s eye. Or you’ll improve as a writer to the point where people can’t ignore you any more. Try to tell stories, rather than creating great art. Keep reading books — every book, good or bad, has something to teach you.frostbite

VENTRELLA: What are you most proud of? For What would you like to be remembered?

WELLINGTON: A book that hasn’t been published yet. One I haven’t written yet. Every book I write is better, in some way, than the last. I don’t want to be one of those writers who publishes one good book and then can never catch that fire again. I want to be the guy who’s best work is always his latest one, like Terry Pratchett.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on now that we can look forward to?

WELLINGTON: FROSTBITE, my werewolf book, is out right now–you can get it at Amazon or in any bookstore. There will be a sequel called OVERWINTER, out next year. I hope you’ll like them!

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