Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Arrgh! I Been Pirated!

Well damn!

You may recall I wrote a book or two about pirates.  It didn't start out that way though.  My original idea was about a band of pirates so bad at what they did as to be laughable.  The only way to convey it, I believed, was as a stop-motion animated movie in the style of Wallace and Gromit or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I was convinced it would be a huge hit, bigger than Finding Nemo, which was a huge hit at the time.  Alas, I realized I was not a Hollywood writer and even if I were, I was savvy enough to realize that whatever I wrote would wind its way through massive re-writes, multiple re-writers and the final project would end up looking nothing like my original idea.

So I made it a book instead.  Which has gone through massive re-writes, although with only one writer, but the final product ended up looking nothing like my original idea.

But somehow, my original idea ended up getting made, although not by me.  Which makes me wonder if I wasn't too loose-lipped somewhere down the line and my idea found its way into the ears of the fine people at Aardman Animation Studios, which is set to release The Pirates: Band of Misfits.

To be fair, from what I can tell, they have done it much like I would have, so I can't be too disappointed.  Heck, I'll even watch it with my son when he's old enough to realize Dad once had a good idea someone else made some money off.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Eric In The Myst

My old critique group in Florida had a great mix of folks who wrote a variety of things and offered fantastic feedback.  We also had a fellow I'll call Eric.  Eric passed himself off as the real author of the group because he'd had a book published.

The problem with Eric was that he attempted to turn every group meeting into Eric Night.  It may have been subtle at first, but still annoying.  Eventually, he actually suggested we only talk about his writing.  Someone finally let him have it and Eric stopped coming to the group.

My new group in Michigan appears to have its own Eric.  Again the "published" author who makes every critique an opportunity to point out what he did in his "published" book.  He's loud.  And boisterous.  And pretty naive.

I got a chance to look at a query he'd written to a local publisher.  It was pretty bad and subsequently rejected.  New Eric took offense to this rejection, pointing out the great market that exists for his subject matter and if this publisher was any kind of salesman they would have been able to sell thousands of copies.

I was not the first in the group to point out the tried and true, "but if they don't love it themselves," line, but New Eric would have none of it.  He was the expert.  He should be winning Pulitzer Prizes.  He will continue spouting off his greatness and the others in the group will continue licking it up.

I sense my days in this new group are numbered.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Whitney Houston Story

At the age of 16, I traveled with the family to visit some relatives in New Jersey.  (Yes, I have relatives in New Jersey.  I don't like to talk about it, but...)  My mom's cousin made himself out to be some big time New York City lawyer, only he worked in Newark and pronounced Joe Piscopo as Pis-COP-o.

But he did live down the street from Whitney Houston.  This was 1989, I think, so she hadn't yet become a train wreck but she did have a birthday party coming up and had sent out posters of herself as invitations.  My cousin had one.  I saw it.  Nothing egocentric about it.

Anyway, my cousin was having a pre-party party but was out of ice.  You'd think a big time Newark lawyer could afford an ice maker but he sent me next door with a bucket.  However, as I headed through the woods, I couldn't help but think of a better place to borrow ice.  So I headed up the road to Whitney's house.

This was a pretty hilly and woodsy neighborhood, with winding streets and stately homes barely visible through the trees.  It was the kind of place people respect privacy and where you would never expect to find gawkers or paparazzi or anything else to make you feel unsafe.  And in the middle of it all was a walled compound with a front gate, beyond which one could make out no evidence of a house on the property.

I rang the buzzer.

"Yeah?" came a burly voice.

"I need to borrow some ice," I said.


"I'd like to borrow some ice.  For Frank's party."  Silence.  "I'm Frank's cousin.  He's having a party and we're out of ice.  Do you have any we can borrow?"

More silence.  Then, "Hang on a minute."

Hope sprang forth.  Could it be?  Was it actually possible that I would be graced with glace a la Houston?  Might I slurp that magical, frozen beverage and be blessed with those same heavenly gifts as Whitney herself?  Why, she was probably bringing it to me herself, in hand blown crystal.  No doubt, she'd be so taken with my cool confidence, she would invite me inside.  We would become best friends and she would dedicate her next album to me.

Instead,  a dark-skinned brother standing 6 foot a hundred and weighing well over 250, bulging out of a too-tight Whitney T-shirt came waddling up to the gate.

"What you want again?" he asked.


He nodded and trudged back toward the house.  A few minutes later the buzzer buzzed.

"We don't have any," he said.

And that was that.  Whitney Houston did not always love me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Critiquer's Responsibility

In my last post, I mentioned the new critique group I joined.  While everyone was very nice and it was good to meet new people, I didn't get a sense of anyone's writing, because nobody read anything.  That, in itself, makes it hard to judge whether this group will be a good fit.  It does get me out of the house at least once a month and with my second meeting coming up, I'm left wondering what my responsibility to this new group of writers is.

I've been added to their emails and over the past couple of weeks gotten some things that really left me wondering what I should do.

The first was a query letter one of them was sending to a local publisher.  This particular guy seems to be the "published author" of the group.  I did some research.  It smacks of self-publishing, which don't quite cut it with me.  The query he wrote was pretty off too.  I realize I'm no expert, but I have gotten requests for partials and fulls, which is kind of the point of the query, I think.  Still, I'm the new guy in the group and, having met these people only once, I don't want to go in there tearing up everything they do.  At least not until they get to know me better.

The second thing I got was two chapters of what the writer describes as her first attempt to write a book.  It needs work.  Lots of it.  But with this, I can help.  The fact that it is a very rough first draft might allow me a bit more freedom with my critique and I don't see any reason not to dive in and help to the best of my ability.

I believe a good critique must contain an honest breakdown of the piece in question.  I don't want to sound harsh, but I want the writer to improve where needed.  I was once told that a good critique will have bad stuff sandwiched by praise.  In other words, "You did this well.  You can improve here.  I really like this."

But this group has been together 7 years and I'm still not sure how they operate.  So I ask, what is my responsibility as a critiquer in a new group?