Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I have been working very hard at finishing up my current WIP (work in progress), so have not been blogging of late. And now the holidays are upon us, and that is a distraction as well. Therefore I think I will wish everyone a very happy holiday and an awesome new year, and sign off officially for a week.

So . . . Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you all have a lovely time, and get the chance to play in the snow (or if you are somewhere where there is no snow . . . play in whatever flora you choose)!

And for any Jane Austen fans, a little gift: a friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I think it is just brilliant. Read it all the way through, even though at first you might think to yourself, "I get the idea already." It's a very satisfying read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Guess what I got today?!!

The American version of Timothy and the Dragon's Gate, in all it's glorious hardcover wonderfulness!!! Yes fab readers, I officially am the author of TWO books. And they look so pretty together!

It is really hard to describe how amazing this feels. I got the book last night and sort of cuddled with it all evening, took it with me from room to room. Even broke my own rule and read some of it (which I am now regretting, I've already seen several things I wish I could now change). It's very overwhelming, and amazing, and I really can't quite believe it. When I think back to all the hard work, all the grief and problem solving . . . it's so hard to imagine that it's all done and sitting here, in book form. It's still also hard to believe that I am a real life author. But that's something I have to deal with on a daily basis . . .

Anyway, it looks a lot like Alex. The same size (though Timothy is a bit bigger), the pages are rough along the edges. The cover is a combination of matte and shiny and the title is embossed. What is even cooler is that when you remove the cover you'll notice that Alex is blue and Timothy is red, which makes a lot of sense as those colours are most prevalent in the cover art of each. In all, Weinstein Books did a fantastic job, and I am so grateful to them! Thank you guys so much!

And now, as any proud parent would, PICTURES!

The cover!

The spine!

The Back!

Timothy and Alex hardcovers - together at last!

Side by side . . .

And now I ask that all small children be removed from the room as I present, for the first time for both of them - Alex and Timothy . . .


One Further Note: I was interviewed by the lovely Emily Mathieu of The Toronto Star this week, and the article is out today. It was a really fun one, where we walked around my neighbourhood and I showed her the places I like to go to etc. Anyway, if you are interested, check it out here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

On Editing

Yes yes, I promise before the holidays to write another "So You Want To Get Published" about what happens once you have that book deal. But as I've said before, it is a very time consuming kind of post to write, and I want to give it due diligence.

But right now I am going to do a shorter post on the art of editing, which sort of fits into the larger post of once you have a book deal. This one however is slightly more philosophical in nature, not quite as technical.


Every author has to do it. Whether it be self editing and going through one's own draft and making things better, or working with beta readers, or working with your agent or editor. Your writing will always be edited.

Often I see questions about editing, "How do I know if I should do what is suggested? What if I disagree?" And this is what I would like to address. How does an author contend with outside suggestions, especially from someone of some status within the industry? How do we edit while still retaining our integrity?

This is where I go back to my obsession with thoughtfulness. When someone offers you an editing suggestion, it isn't enough to just listen to the suggestion and then decide if you like it or not. The most important thing about an outside opinion on your work is to understand the spirit of the suggestion - what is the person trying to articulate to you.

We are human, we are imperfect. When it comes to something as subjective as writing advice, the person sharing it with you is doing a combination of things: she is going off a gut feeling, translating that feeling into practical action, and then attempting to share with you this advice in as clear a manner as possible. This is a tricky translation to make, and not always accurate. My point is that often a suggestion isn't something written in stone, but a something an editor is trying to convey with the best words they could choose at the time. Thus we can't always take each word they say as the letter of the law.

Often you'll get a suggestion that is bang on the money, "D'oh why didn't I think of that?" You might feel a bit stupid, you might be slightly defensive, but in the end, you realise that fulfilling the suggestion will totally make your book stronger. And so you do.

But what happens when you get a suggestion that just doesn't sit well with you? This happens too. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes the editor just made a mistake: "No I can't have her ask her father that question because I killed him off in chapter 2." But sometimes you just don't want to do what the editor suggested, because it just doesn't sit well with you. What do you do then?

This is when you examine the suggestion. This is when you try to understand why the editor wanted you to do something in particular, why they chose the words they did to articulate it, and see if there is a way to do something totally different, but achieve the same effect.

Let me use me as an example.

In Alex there is a sequence on a train. Now my book is episodic, not everyone likes this, but that is the kind of book it is, small mini-adventures within a larger story, a middle section that is an homage to Alice in Wonderland. And the first of these mini-adventures takes place on a train.

I was originally told by my editor to get rid of this sequence.

Needless to say, I didn't really want to do that. But it's tricky when writing something episodic. The point of the episodes are the episodes themselves, not the main thrust of the story. What is the purpose of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, how does it serve the greater story? Um . . . it doesn't really. But that's not the point. The point is to have a good time in the moment of it. At any rate this means that in theory, yes, I could have easily highlighted the entire train sequence on my computer and deleted it with little affect to the greater plot.

But, as I said, I didn't really want to do that.

So I had to figure out why the train sequence? Why not one of the other episodic moments in the story? What was striking my editor as "off" about this particular bit? What wound up being the issue was the pacing of the sequence. It was simply to slow and too long. It took up far more chapters than seemed reasonable for just one episode in a greater adventure.

I began to cut. At first I just edited out words, but then I realised I had to restructure the events as well. I took out several characters. I took out several meal cycles. I even gave the meals themselves a fast manic pace, where the second a plate of food was put in front of someone it was whisked away again. I made the entire sequence a whirlwind where the reader really couldn't catch his breath until it was over.

And it worked. Suddenly the train sequence was no longer a dead weight on the book, but a breezy, frenetic episode that was over almost as soon as it had begun. I was happy, my editor was happy, and the book was better for it.

This is what we as authors have to keep in mind when working with other people. First of all it is very important to listen to everything that we are being told, but secondly it is important not to automatically dismiss the ideas that seem just so wrong to us. We need to take stock of them, really analyse them, and then if we really disagree, dismiss them. But more often than not there will be some small grain of truth worth taking away from a suggestion.

We also must attempt, though it is hard at times, not to panic. We need to take a calming breath and just see how we can achieve the exact same suggestion but in a way that suits us as well. I had a lovely correspondence with a fellow MG author who shared that his agent was telling him that he had too much philosophising in his book. He really didn't want to get rid of the philosophising and was feeling a bit frustrated. My response to him was that it is quite likely the agent didn't want him to remove all the philosophising, but rather it was possible he was just being a little too long winded about it (being a long winded individual myself, I could empathise). I suggested that he go through his work and see where he repeated the same points over and over, maybe wrote an idea in a slightly too convoluted fashion. Basically to see where he could go that would not remove any of the actual philosophies, but change the manner with which he delivered them.

Because it isn't an all or nothing situation. It's about working with someone at finding the best of all possible worlds.

And having a bit of fun with the act of problem solving.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Getting Headshots

So I'm finally back to a normal (ish) schedule, which means I am back to my good old fashioned blogging self. After a crazy week of intense rehearsals, a week of show, and a week of recovery, I am feeling pretty ready to share my wonderful self with you all again. Aren't you lucky!

Today I thought I'd be the Actress, and talk a bit about one of the necessary evils of the acting world, and that is the joy of getting headshots.

Whether you have an agent or not, a headshot is probably the single most important thing for an actor to have, probably even more so than even a resume (though a resume is still pretty darn important). The business of acting is one based hugely on looks, and not just good looks, but a kind of "look". Gritty cop, pretty secretary, world weary doctor, queen of a fantasy land . . .

Casting directors go through hundreds of headshots and resumes a week trying to match up the look in their heads, with that of a real live actor, and they do so at a pace:

"No, no, no, maybe, no, no, absolutely, no, no . . ."

Your headshot then, in a brief second, must not only represent the best of you (and it had better look like you because if you then show up at the audition looking completely different, they ain't gonna be that happy about it . . . ), but be eye catching enough to stop the casting director to take that extra second to put you on the maybe pile.

It's kind of how authors only have their query letter to sell their writing, actors have their headshots. And in fact it is way worse, because a headshot can't tell you if the actor can act or not, whereas a query letter can tell you if an author can write.

So headshots are very important. They also cost a lot. In Canada they are on average (at least this year) around $500, with some photographers charging less, others more. I was told, however, that in places like New York, they can be upwards of $1200. Uh . . . wow.

A headshot needs to capture you. Thus they are incredibly annoying. Because "you" can be many different people, and to capture all aspects of who you are in one picture . . . well it's tricky. That's why most agents request three different shots that they can then choose from depending on the role they are sending you out for. Still . . . three ain't a lot. And let's not forget how tricky it is to just be yourself in a picture, not making a goofy smile, not rolling your eyes at the camera. . . or even how if you are yourself it might not actually be a best representation of you. I smile so broadly that in my pictures I can look pretty crazy . . .

Though . . . maybe that is me after all . . .

Considering how expensive headshots are, considering how important they are, and considering how difficult they are to get right . . . you can bet that then makes the actor's life even more tricky at the photoshoot itself, trying to relax and be as natural as possible. There is a lot at stake, and I know at least I personally feel the pressure.

So . . . how do headshots come about.

1. If you have an agent, chat with her. I had a nice conversation with mine who expressed that what she really wanted from me was two looks - youthful, and buisness smart. She also wanted, to be blunt, prettier pictures of me than the previous headshots (though she was quite sweet about it, saying that I looked better in person than in my headshots, and we needed to rectify that). She noted my huge smiley problem, and how, on the other end of the scale, I could look a bit standoffish. These were things I was to take note of.

2. I then met with several photographers. Some recommended by friends, others by my agent. I spoke with them and looked at their portfolios. It's tough to say what I was looking for. Definitely comfort, as I am not naturally at ease having my picture taken. I also wanted to see their work, to see their consistency. I expressed the issues my agent had raised and listened to how they planned on resolving them. After all that, I made my choice.

3. The photoshoot:

The day of the shoot you pack up a bunch of different outfits and head over to the photographer's studio. Ideally you want clothes that are solid colours, necklines that suit your build, and a variety of choices that get across different aspects of your personality. Upon arrival you try on outfits for the photographer, and come up with three different options (most photographers take three different sets, though if the cost is prohibitive, you can take only one, or two or whatever). Then you get your hair/makeup done. Most photographers have a hair/makeup artist they like to work with. This is, of course, extra in cost, but very much worth it. Makeup for photographs is not the same as in everyday life. You think you are wearing far too much, and then you look at the picture and can be hard pressed to see any at all. It's a skill in and of itself.

Once you are dressed and in makeup, the photographer takes you to where they plan on doing the photos. I have been photographed in the stairwell of the building, hallway, outdoors, and in the studio itself in front a variety of backdrops. You hold up a little sign with your name on it, so the photographer can keep track of who he is shooting (see pic at the top of this entry). And then . . . it starts.

I am always very stiff at the beginning. But if the photographer is any good, he'll lead you through some poses, often changing them in very small increments. After the first dozen snaps you start to feel more comfortable, and things finally start to go smoothly.

Then when you are done the first set, you change into the next outfit, get some touch up on makeup and hair, and do the next. Etc. And then you are done, exhausted, and you trudge home on the subway with your entire wardrobe in tow.

4. Maybe a week later the proofs are ready. These have changed greatly even in the short time I have been in the biz. It first used to be a page full on maybe two inch tall thumbnails of all the pictures the photographer took. Basically the negatives, but printed as pictures. Several years later, the proofs then became photograph size pictures, each one detached from each other, like you are looking at your pictures from a vacation. These were great because they were large enough that you could see the fine details. Nowadays a lot of them come on CD, which is nice because you have digital copies of them all, but tricky as you can't really spread them out on a table before you to compare them to each other. At any rate, it is now your job to choose, out of maybe 100 shots, 3 that you think are best. And some are so close to each other in appearance that it seems impossible to tell which is better. At this point often your agent will get involved and just tell you what she wants, which makes your life a bit easier.

5. Once you have selected the headshots you want, you tell the photographer and he does minor touchups on the images, before sending them to be printed as 8 x 10s (the standard size of a headshot).

6. Then you pick them up, deliver several to your agent, and voila! You have headshots!

And here are the final pics (after hours and hours of trying to choose . . . oy . . . ):

My "youthful" look.

Serious, but not "standoffish".

Smiley, but not . . . you know . . . crazy . . .

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Romeo and Juliet - Tempest Theatre Group

Okay okay okay . . . I have been MIA . . . but again I have an awesome excuse! The production of Romeo and Juliet that I was co-directing (and playing Lady Capulet in), went up last week and while it was all consuming . . . it was totally awesome. I am now suffering a bit postpartum depression since it closed, but I thought I would post some pictures from the show to share with you all and maybe also help make me feel a little less sad!

We set the show in an Edwardian Music Hall (because we happened to be performing in an Edwardian Music Hall) - and we had just the most fantastic sets and costumes. The acting was terrific, the fights (as always) spectacular (we had an amazing gun that shot blanks and when it went off in a cloud of smoke and fire, literally, someone would scream in the audience every time). Even the dance in the party scene was just gorgeous, with Paris and Juliet dancing together, and the rest of the boys partnered with dresses.

Anyway, here are some pics from on stage and off . . .

Steven Burley as The MC (an amalgam of the Chorus, Prince, Apothecary, Servant, Friar John)

Me as Lady Capulet

Casey Hudecki played Juliet, but because she is also an awesome fighter, she was a boy in the opening brawl. This is her in her "boy costume" hugging some roses sent her by her significant other. Aw!

Lesley Livingston (the Nurse) hanging out in her makeshift dressing room, aka the shower. Don't she look purty!

Patrick Whalen (Paris) being punched by Luc Forgeron (Romeo), while Casey looks on.

Chris Sironi (left, Tybalt) and Scott Moyle (right as Benvolio), just chillin' by the sinks.

Luc at fight call practicing with the gun: "This shall determine that!"

Fight call on stage. Todd Campbell (left, Mercutio), Chris Sironi (Tybalt)

Death of Mercutio

Jonathan Llyr (left, Lord Capulet) and Patrick Whalen (Paris) watching fight call from the side.

Casey Hudecki (left still as boy) and Alex MacDonald (Balthasar - or as we liked to call him, Thasar) in the opening brawl.

Paris arresting Romeo in the tomb.

A nice picture of the stage just before the show starts. Yes, it is meant to look that disheveled.

The Prince and his kin - left to right: Patrick Whalen (Paris), Steven Burley (Prince), Todd Campbell (Mercutio)

Capulet Family - left to right: Me (Lady Capulet), Chris Sironi (Tybalt), Jonathan Llyr (Lord Capulet), Lesley Livingston (Nurse), Casey Hudecki (Juliet)

The boys - left to right: Scott Moyle (Benvolio), Luc Forgeron (Romeo), Todd Campbell (Mercutio), Alex MacDonald (Balthasar)

left to right: Louis Adams (Friar), Lesley Livingston (Nurse)

Most of the cast cozy together at the cast party - left to right: Stevie Baker (our gloriously fabulously sensational Stage Manager), Alex MacDonald, Lesley Livingston, Patrick Whalen, Luc Forgeron, Casey Hudecki, Chris Sironi, Me.

Me and a couple of my boys, Luc and Chris.

Friday, November 07, 2008


thoughtful |ˈθôtfəl|

• absorbed in or involving thought
• showing consideration for the needs of other people
• showing careful consideration or attention

On the night the first African American President of the United States was elected, hopes were beyond high for his acceptance speech. We had learned much of the man over the last two years, his policies, his background, his hopes for the future, and the thing that stuck out most for everyone was what a wonderful orator he was. So it was that when Barack Obama stepped onto the stage and crowds around the world cheered, the anticipation of his following words was palpable.

What he did next surprised some. The man who had rallied millions with his rousing orations, spoke soberly, calmly about America's future. Even the repeated rhetoric of his now signature phrase, "Yes we can", was spoken quietly, and plainly stated each time. No rising to a crescendo, no final point delivered, each word punched as if it was its own sentence. No. He spoke of the challenge ahead, of this not being an end but a beginning. Of a need for everyone to work together.

In his first press conference today he spoke of a need for "deliberate haste" in forming his cabinet. Of an understanding that speed was required, but not at the expense of putting careful consideration into the decision making process.

And that is what has inspired this particular blog post. Oh there are many things I could write about today that this man has inspired, not only in me, but around the world. But this particular issue is rather near and dear to me. It is possibly not quite as grand seeming, but it is of incredible importance, at least, in my opinion.

There is a word I have found myself repeating more and more these days. You have probably read it in many of my posts, typically the posts in which I offer what advice I can on the various industries in which I am involved.

And that word is "thoughtful".

I have always firmly believed in this idea of thoughtfulness. Though I must admit to having as passionate displays of emotion as the next person (probably at times even greater than the next person), the concept of thinking things through has always been one of the utmost importance to me.

Being thoughtful encompasses so many wonderful ideas: empathy, intuition, logical reasoning, but most of all it represents just sitting back for a moment and taking pause. Not rushing to any decision in the heat of the moment.

Thoughtfulness is understanding subtext. It is not just reading a law, but interpreting it. Understanding why something exists in the first place. It is looking at the submission guidelines for an agent and understanding why that agent felt she needed to create them. It is understanding the rules of writing, why they are there, and how they help make a story stronger. And in this understanding comes an ability to see where the rules were meant to be broken, how and why.

Thoughtfulness is being the devil's advocate. It is understanding another perspective, no matter how much you may disagree. It is being empathetic to another's problems no matter how distant from your own. And forming decisions based on all the facts.

It is listening to the opinions of others, and not dismissing them as foolhardy no matter how much they may appear as such to you initially.

It is thinking.

There is a danger, of course, in too much thinking. There is always the danger of inaction. But in my opinion the truly thoughtful people out there understand that there is a time for thought, and a time of doing. That there is a time to be careful and a time to be spontaneous. To be moderate, to over indulge. I once told a friend, "Everything in moderation," and she added onto that: "including moderation". I really love that idea.

No one is perfect, and no one will make all the right decisions. We have yet to know how well or poorly Obama will do in office, and I would prefer not to make any judgments quite yet (considering he isn't exactly even the President yet). But I would like to offer up the suggestion that at least in this we could try to follow in the example he has set. I truly hope the time ahead of us is one of consideration and intelligence. Of empathy and understanding. Of thoughtfulness.


It even takes some thought to say it. You really have to use your whole mouth to articulate it clearly.

Good word that.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Becoming an Actor

In response to my last post, djpaterson asked the following question:

My 17-year-old niece's ambition is to become an actress, and as such she is thinking of going to University (here in the UK) to study theatre and drama. What would you say are the practical steps to becoming an actress if you want it enough?

I thought the answer might be of some help to others so I'm going to answer it now in this blog post.

Fact is, there is no one true tested path in becoming an actress, especially in the world of tv/film - people actually do get discovered on the street.


I have always felt that if your goal was to truly become an actor, as opposed to "famous". If you truly want to play different characters, say fabulous words written by fabulous people, be directed and keep learning every time you do a new production. . . If being in the presence of great directors/actors/writers is enough for you that you would be happy to be second servant on the left. . . then I believe you should have training.

There are so many skills that an actor needs to learn, so many tools to bring to the table. You don't want to go into a production and have your director feel he/she has to teach you the basics. So many actors I see today have no concept how to literally just stand on a stage. To be fair however, learning how to stand on a stage is actually very very difficult.

So. To answer the question.

It all depends of course, but I would highly recommend one of the three year conservatory schools. In the UK, in particular, that would be RADA, LAMDA, Bristol Old Vic etc (there are actually many more than just those three, all of which are quite excellent). The tradition in the UK with theatrical training is fantastic, it is almost a prerequisite and creates, in general, a very high level of professionalism in the acting community. In attending one of these schools you learn about all forms of theatre, as well as have film/tv training. You learn dance, singing, stage combat. You work on your physicality and your voice. It is intense, it requires a great deal of self discipline, but can be very worth it.

However, some find such institutions constraining, too much like highschool. For others it makes more sense to take independent courses, or to learn by watching. This requires in effect even more self discipline to practice on your own. Unfortunately the time of the touring rep companies in the UK is now gone. There was a time where an untested young actor could join a company as a stage hand, learn by being in the presence of great actors and slowly work their way up the ranks. This really doesn't exist anymore.

There is also the option for those who while very devoted to acting, still would like to attend University and study other courses as well. This is actually the option I took. I went to a University where I got an Honours BA in theatre. It was intense, though not quite as intense as a conservatory programme, and to be fair mixing academics with the arts is VERY time consuming. After I finished at University I did a one year programme in classical theatre in London at LAMDA, which was just perfect for me. This in fact is another option, attending a University, studying the subject of your choice, and THEN going to a conservatory programme with a bit more maturity behind you.

In the end though, there simply is no true path. After all the training is done, no matter how you did it, you all still have to get an agent, still have to go to auditions. Going to these schools does give you an advantage in that you will also meet very important people in the industry, you'll make some great contacts. But even that might still not be enough. At the same time some people find that they did horribly in drama school and then flourished upon leaving it. It truly depends on your upbringing, your personality, how best you work. You have to understand yourself and what you need to get where you want.

However I will say after having gone through auditions now as a director casting a show, I will tell you that training makes a world of difference. So many people came in who might have had some nice raw material, but there was simply no way they were ready to stand on a stage and do Shakespeare.

It would be really nice if prospective actors saw their future careers as a real art form. Dancers work hours everyday to perfect their technique, what on earth makes actors so different from that? The problem is so many people look to television and see people desperately seeking their 15 minutes that they want to fast track the process. If all you want is to be on television, then apply for reality tv. But understand that to have a career with longevity you are going to have to have skill and abilities beyond looking pretty in front of a camera. And don't think being a host for a tv show is a quick easy way either, I have many friends who are on-air hosts, and I can tell you that takes a great deal of ability as well.

There are quick ways of getting your 15 minutes, but if you want that 15 minutes to extend to a lifetime, you need to put in the effort. Heck, even Paris Hilton keeps working out new ways to keep herself in the public eye.

It ain't easy, is the point. But man is it worth it when you finally do get that job.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Interview with Yours Truly

I did an interview for insidetoronto.com which is up here.

The interview is of a type they post monthly, and is meant to be read by young people looking to see what requirements are necessary in pursuing various professions. I really like that idea, and while it is incredibly difficult to explain what kind of training you need as an author/actress, what kind of salary you might eventually make, and what is "success" in these fields, I endeavored to answer these questions as best as possible. In general it's a nice basic overview if you are interested in becoming either or both an actor and author, which some of you might find interesting.

Anyway, thought I would share it with y'all!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Week of No Posts . . .

A week has gone by and I neglected to post. I am very sorry. It's not that I don't have many wonderful post ideas, it's just that I'm just so overwhelmed with other stuff that blogging seems secondary. Aside from writing that mystery YA project of mine, the theatre company I have been with for two years, Tempest Theatre, has started rehearsals on Romeo and Juliet. This time not only am I playing Lady Capulet, but I am also co-directing the production. And here's the thing about directing that I sometimes forget . . . you have to go to a lot of rehearsals. Nearly all of them, I would say. Still, it will definitely be worth the effort, the show is really coming together nicely!

Anyway, I do plan on being a better blogger this week, and here are some ideas I am mulling about writing topics on:

The Writer:

- On Editing
- So You Want to Get Published - from acquisition to book! (yes I am still keen to continue with this series, it just takes a lot of time and effort to write one of these posts . . .)

The Actress:

- On Getting Headshots
- On Putting Together a Show (this may be divided into smaller sub-sections - "Casting A Show", "Rehearsing", "The Technical Side", etc)
- The difference between Acting and Directing

So these are some posts I am keen on writing. Are there any other topics youse guys would be keen on reading? I always really do love hearing from you all and what you're interested in!

As ever, apologies for the bad week - I'll try to make this one a bit better!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Timothy and the Dragon's Gate UK Cover!

What an international week of show and tell we are having! Today I am very pleased to share with you all the UK cover of Timothy and the Dragon's Gate! I absolutely love it, it's so full of energy and whimsy, and what is interesting is that it is the same artist who did the GERMAN cover for Alex (and once more I adore the rendition of Giggles). So check it out:

And here is the German cover of Alex:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Discovery Channel Commercial

I've been seeing this commercial for the Discovery Channel on television for weeks now, and it is seriously one of the few ads that I will sit and watch in its entirety every time. It's just so darn inspirational, and considering a lot of what's going on in the world today, I dunno . . . it's nice to raise spirits every now and then.

Simple. Sweet. Funny. Awe inspiring.

What more do you need?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Alex et le Tresor de Wigpowder!

Oui, c'est vrai! Maintenant nous sommes . . . en francais!

Yes ladies and gents, the French version of Alex is out very soon and I just had to share the cover because it is fantastic!

I love how heroic Alex looks, and how suspicious Giggles is. I love that it is shot from below, and especially the choice of font for the text and the way it is placed on the picture. Altogether just fab! So a thank you very much to all who were involved, and serious props to the artist him/herself. It's brilliant!

Friday, October 03, 2008

On how literary agent Jessica Faust reads

Excellent excellent excellent blog post over at BookEnds today. Not only just well written, clear, concise, easy to follow, but a must read for anyone in the process of submitting to agents. Literary agent Jessica Faust talks of how she reads different things submitted to her, from the lowly query letter all the way to a requested full manuscript. There is a different quality to reading each of these different forms, and truly, well it is very enlightening.

So what are you waiting for? Go go, check it out now!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Addendum to "Chasing Trends"

Lately I've been stumbling on a fair number of blogs that are telling me (yes me specifically, the titles of the entries tend to read, "Yo Adrienne, Adrienne! Over here! Read Me!" - and yes I did just use a Rocky reference on myself. I am allowed to do that. Others are not . . .) that what I am writing right now is very hot at the moment.

Now I'm talking about this new project I have been working on, you know the one . . . the one that has been keeping me awake at night, causing my back to go out, and preventing me from posting here as often as I would like? Yeah, that one. I'm not talking about my middle grades, but this new YA that I've been trying to get through.

Anyway, I've read on a couple agent blogs lately that the kind of stuff I am writing is really quite hot these days.

And I wanted to let you know how that makes me feel.

Not a whole heck of a lot better.

See here's the thing about chasing trends (to read the blog post to which this is an addendum please go here). If someone says something is hot right now, that really doesn't help an author who is writing a book at the moment. What is hot right now is what publishers were buying two years ago. Now how exactly does that help me not having even finished my current work, let alone sold it?

It doesn't.

So what do I do?

I keep writing.

If I was the kind of person who truly chased trends, then I would in this moment give up on my current project and desperately seek out what might be cool in two years. But how can we even know that? That's a problem with this industry. We can speculate based on some pretty sound evidence, but in the end, speculation is all it is. Inevitably we find ourselves scratching our heads wondering why a certain book that broke all the rules is the number one bestseller when, dude, it's like about cats and I was so told cats were passe.

Further to this idea of speculation I want to add one thought about the current economic slow down and the affect on the publishing industry.

Much like with chasing a certain trend, authors are very focused on whether people are buying books at all in the first place. They want to know what this new economy means to them. And much like with trend chasing, people can speculate with the given evidence, but there are no conclusions that can be definitively drawn.

Most agree the industry will slow down.

Most agree fewer new titles by new authors will be bought.


What are you as a writer supposed to do about it?

Are you going to think to yourself, "Ah well, I'm just going to stop writing" then? "I'm just going to give up on this project I've been working on for two years"?


You are more likely to think, "Well I have to finish this book. If it sells it sells, if it doesn't, it will be sad. Either way, I'm not giving up on it."

That is why I would recommend strongly that you don't think too much about the current situation. With trends, with the economy, with all aspects of writing I will say what I always say. Yes it is important to understand what is going on in the industry, of course it is. But I liken the knowledge to understanding the "rules" of writing (you know the ones I'm talking about, 'no head hopping', 'no passive writing' etc).

We have to understand all of these elements, true, but then we also have to forget them and just write.

Because after all the speculation is over, after you've attempted to predict the future and found far too many exceptions to the rules, the only real thing we as authors truly have absolute control over is our writing.

And that's actually a pretty comforting thought.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I've been tagged!

I've been tagged by the lovely Catherine! And I in turn tag . . . PKWood, Lesley and JM Mcdermott. Take it away gang!

What are your nicknames? I'm not really one for nicknames, but for a year in highschool I was called Colgate because my last name sounded like another brand of toothpaste. Other than that, usually I'm just called Adrienne. I like it that way.

What game show and/or reality show would you like to be on? I'd love to do "The Amazing Race" only I'm not sure I could actually do it, that is to say if I have the constitution for it. But that one definitely looks like the coolest. And you'd get to travel the world and do strange and wonderful (and disgusting) things . . .

What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD? Oddly I remember this. Up until this point I had always got my movies as presents and then in grade nine I bought the original three Star Wars on VHS. I was a bit late to the game, but I had just discovered how awesome those movies were!

What is your favorite scent? So I am not a fan of perfumes/colognes at all. Nor flowers in the home. In fact I remember watching a news article about a woman angry that she had been thrown off the bus for wearing too much perfume and even though I was supposed to be on her side, all I could think was, "Well done Mr. Bus Driver, well done." But I do love the smell of things baking (not that I bake myself). Bread, cake, something with apple in it. If they made a perfume that smelled like that, I'd be all over it!

If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it? Eh, it would probably go into savings. Being an actress/author means I save every little penny I get. But . . . to be interesting . . . it would either be for an amazing trip (or several amazing trips) or a beautiful home with a library that was two stories and had a ladder in it and comfy leather chairs.

What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to? I have been to Italy twice and I just want to keep going back. I know there are all these other places I should check out, but it was just so beautiful and . . . sigh now I want to go back like right now . . .

Do you trust easily? I do but that has made me not, if that makes sense. I used to trust very easily until I realised people would play on my trusting-ness and play jokes on me and stuff. Now I still trust but I worry.

Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think? Way too much thinking before acting in my life. In fact this can be taken incredibly literally because even as an actress I've been told to stop thinking as much when I'm acting. But in general, yup, I am not very spontaneous.

Is there anything that has made you unhappy lately? Feeling like a lot of my life depends on luck. It is a very frustrating feeling.

Do you have a good body image? Um . . . if I wasn't an actress, yes.

What is your favorite fruit? Grapes. And cherries.

What websites do you visit daily? AW, Backspace, Verla Kay, several agent/editor blogs

What have you been seriously addicted to lately? The West Wing. I've been borrowing the seasons on DVD from a friend and I think I've started to think of the characters as real people.

What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? Talented, Sweet, has a cool aesthetic taste . . .

What's the last song that got stuck in your head? Ballroom Blitz. And I don't really even know it.

What's your favorite item of clothing? I like my stripey sweater dress.

Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy? Yes. But Rice Krispy Squares are gross.

What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground? "Should I pick this up? Should I take it to the convenience store and instruct them that someone lost it and may come looking for it? Will someone come looking for it? Should I just keep it for me? Should I leave it where it is so it's easier for the person to find when they come looking for it? What if I leave it and someone else takes it? Is this the kind of thing you turn into the police? Should I just take it? Man I wish I'd never come across the stupid thing!!"

What items could you not go without during the day? Computer, comfy ugly grey sweater, tea, cheese . . .

What should you be doing right now? Writing. Obviously. Sheesh.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stephen King On Writing

In case you are unaware there is a very popular book about the craft of writing by the man himself, Stephen King, called "On Writing". Do check it out if you get the chance.

However this is not what this post is about. This is a brief post sharing a short YouTube video of Mr. King answering the question about what advice he could give to aspiring writers.

His advice is great, but it's what he says at the end that really struck a chord with me. For a long time I read books in awe, I just could not fathom how authors could put that many words on the page, and so well, and such cool ideas . . . and then, one day, I read a book, closed it and thought, "Hmm . . . am I going crazy or was that published book I just read not very good?" It was a very strange moment for me, and I think it is so awesome that Mr. King points out what a big deal that is when that moment happens. I have never heard anyone else mention it before, so I just had to share this clip. Enjoy:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On humility

Okay okay okay, get mad, please, I am so sorry I haven't posted in so long. I have been quite busy with my current writing project, and I have had a lot of strange events in the past few days. The film festival was in town as some of you may know and I have a few friends in the television industry who dragged me out to some parties . . . sounds glamorous but when you don't know anyone there it is more like otherworldly.

Anyway, excuses excuses.

Now to the act of posting!

What I wanted to write about today was something different about the publishing industry, but definitely something I have learned over the last year or so and I wanted to share. As I am wont to do.

When you are an author you start getting opportunities that you never had before. Suddenly you are inundated with invites to book launches (which for the most part I suggest you accept because they are usually a lot of fun), you are interviewed and reviewed (seriously amazing and terrifying at the same time), and also . . . you may be asked to do panels at conferences, give readings, or something of that nature.

It is the latter request I wanted to discuss today.

I have already written a four part series on tips for reading aloud (you can find it in my sidebar), so that isn't really what I want my focus to be on. What I wanted to talk about with you lovely folks is humility.

Or rather that "why on earth are they asking me to do this and I really shouldn't be here and I feel really stupid and any second now they are all going to realise that I am a fraud and I should really just go home" feeling.

Humility is always a good thing. But paralysing insecurity . . . not so much.

So here's the important lesson for today. When you are asked to give a presentation, or sit on a panel, or do a reading, you have been asked because the person doing the asking wanted you there. You may not understand why, you may think you were a last minute replacement, but the fact is someone wanted you up in front of people sharing your words of wisdom.

We may think we have no words of wisdom. Or we may think we have a few, but that that might come across as arrogant. We may think nothing but just feel absolute terror. So here is my recommendation: Instead of thinking of how woefully inadequate you are, or how nervous you are or whatever, think of that person that asked you to present. Think of your audience that put in the effort to come and see you. And think how insulting it would be to them if you told them, "Actually your judgment is way off. I am not worth your time, and the fact that you came here to see me is a huge mistake."

Yup, we audiences really love being told we are stupid, have no taste, and make a huge errors in judgment.

So what do you do? You suck it up. You realise that despite your own insecurities there is a reason you were invited to this event and you will make sure the people who were so gracious as to come are given the best darn speaker in the history of time. You thank them for attending, for being such a great crowd and then . . .

You speak with authority. You tell stories of your road to publication. You offer the few tidbits of knowledge you have gleaned along the way (*like this post*). You read from your novel.

And afterwards when people come up to you and tell you what a great time they had and how well you spoke, you say, "Thank you." You don't say, "Really, because I don't think I was clear about how that cow totally destroyed my car . . ." Again, don't insult your audience by letting them know that they were wrong in enjoying your talk.

Of course it is nice if you get the chance to ask them some questions, to have a real dialogue, at this point. We don't want this non-humility thing to turn into hubris (something about which I will blog next time).

But still.

Say, "Thank you."

Then you can go home, leap onto your bed, and sob into your pillow remembering all the mistakes you made in your presentation, and how you tripped up onto the platform and your hand was so obviously shaking holding the mic.

But at least you honoured your audience and host with respect at the event. And that's the most important thing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Timothy's first review!

Well ladies and gents, Montgomery Van Murphy the Third has garnered his first review courtesy of the lovely Alice Loweecey over at BuddyHollywood.com. You may recall my posting about her awesome review of Alex, and commenting that aside from it being a very positive review of the book, it also was just really well written.

There is real craft in writing a review, and Ms. Loweecey excels at it.

At any rate, check out her great review of Timothy and the Dragon's Gate here!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The new and improved Hardcore Nerdity!

Very short post today folks! I'm still recovering from a weekend of sheer geekitude at FanExpo here in Toronto.

Some of you may remember that I am a part of a site called Hardcore Nerdity. Well we have taken it to the next level, and this weekend we had a table at the convention trying to promote it.

Basically the site has evolved into a sort of Myspace but with a nerdish twist. We've got this whole social networking aspect now, while still including the content (news, reviews, podcasts and interviews). The idea really is to create this network where everyone shares scoops with each other. If you post a cool review or pictures or whatever on your page and send us a note, then we can feature it on the main page. Really it's about fans helping fans. It's pretty cool. For more info about the site check out this old blog post.

Anyway . . . there were adventures a plenty (I got to meet Edward James Olmos and I melted into a little puddle when I did), but mostly I am posting this so you guys can check it out, and if you feel so inclined, join up! It's pretty awesome, and is taking off quite nicely!

So yes . . .check out the new and improved HardcoreNerdity.com!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So You Want To Get Published . . . from agent to publisher

The second entry in my series "So You Want To Get Published". For those just joining us, please also check out Part 1 - Getting An Agent.



Here's the thing.

With all of this, this whole basics of publishing thing I'm doing here, nothing is straightforward. I really hope I am getting that across. Authors get published in the most interesting and unusual fashions, at times it comes out of the blue, at others the author has been working decades before anything happens. Anything I write here is simply "typical". The usual, boring, tried and tested path. The one that works most predictably. But you must understand that this mission, should you truly choose to accept it, is weird, counter intuitive at times, at others incredibly impersonal, and at others so intimate that everyone you meet becomes your closest confidence.

Just so's ya know.


We last left off with getting an agent! Yay, we finally got an agent!! We celebrated in however manner we chose to celebrate, we called everyone we knew, posted on every writer forum we belonged to, and bought a new pair of shoes.

What next?

Next it is likely you and your agent will get together (either in person or over the phone) and discuss a game plan for your book and career. At this point (finally) you can discuss the idea of sequels, or series.*

*It is important to note that when submitting to agents, you must make sure to stress that your novel can stand on its own. There is no point for a new author to attempt to sell a series at this stage in the game. You need to prove you are capable of holding a reader's attention through one book, let alone several. Now if you do have a series I would recommend writing something like this: "My Amazing Book is a stand alone novel at 80 000 words with series potential." That's it.

Anyway . . .

Your agent may have some ideas how to pitch your work, may even use some of your query letter. She may ask for a short biography, possibly even a photograph. You may be asked to write a short snappy synopsis. Or she may feel it best to do all these things herself. At this stage you should realise that you are a team. You are allowed to give your input, ask your questions, and even disagree. But remember, your agent has been doing this a long time, you agreed to work with her. Trust is kind of important here too. But not blind trust.

Remember, always be thoughtful. That is key.

Then your agent will send your work out on submission. This is where you feel a bit like you are starting all over again. Only this time you aren't alone. This time when you get a rejection your agent gets one too. This time not only you, but your agent gets frustrated at that.

It's actually rather nice.

So . . . again . . . no two roads to publication are alike . . . there are many different paths that can be taken.

There is the nothing but rejection path. That sucks. That's where after a year or two you and your agent have a heart to heart, discuss other projects you have going on, maybe it's time to just bite the bullet and put the MS away. Maybe the agent will keep submitting it, this time to smaller houses, but thinks you should focus on the new novel.

There is the rejection from several publishers with constructive criticism path. This can be useful. If you start hearing the same stuff from all the publishers, you and your agent may decide it's time to revamp the MS. Give it a serious long look, and a serious long edit. You may stop the submission process at this point, go back to the drawing board, and then come back for round two.

Then there's the interest path. Which also has other paths off of which there are yet more.

Because when an editor shows interest, that isn't the end of it. The editor likes it. So he has to take it to the higher ups. They like it. So he has to present it at the acquisitions meeting - where not only does he have to convince the creative folks how awesome a story this is, but the marketing folks how awesome it will be to market, and the accounting folks how much money this book will make.

And each step will likely be reported back to the agent, who may (or may not) then report it to you.

So you wait.

And take each baby step. And cross your fingers.

And feel totally and utterly out of control of the situation.

And then . . . you get an offer. Chances are with this offer your agent will attempt to negotiate a better deal, things like a higher advance and an increase in royalties should you sell, say, more than 25 000 copies of your book.

There also may be other things in the contract, like which rights you retain, and which you give to them (a topic which I think deserves a blog post of its own), that will also need to be modified.

And then, finally, you have a deal! And you have a publisher!


Hold on! But that's not the only successful path my friend. Now we must rewind, go back, to the fourth path and that is . . .

The multiple interest path.

Your agent sends out your MS. Not only does one publishing house love it . . . but FOUR publishing houses love it. They love it so much that they are willing to fight each other for it. And though it would be awesome to see them duke it out in the boxing ring, trust me you want them to fight the way they fight in the publishing industry.

And that's with offers.

It is at this point that your agent will decide to hold an auction, where the publishers go a couple rounds trying to outbid each other for your work. Then you, the author, get to choose. How rare and wonderful to be in such a position !

Now you may think the choice is simple, go for more money. But it isn't just about that. The publishers will detail marketing strategies for your book as well. This is incredibly important, as I am sure you can imagine. They will also talk about their passion for your work, which, though very pleasant to hear, is also very key for an author. This is because you can tell from what caught their interest etc if they are in the same place as you with your book. If they truly "get it". Which though kind of artsy, is rather important, seeing as they will be editing your work, designing a cover for your book, and building advertising around it. You'd better hope they are as passionate about it as you are.

And then, you choose which publisher to go with.

And now you've got a publisher (whether through auction or not - still pretty cool)!

(As ever, this can be a VERY long process . . . some books take years to sell. The first Harry Potter was sent everywhere for a year before anyone was interested. Just keep that in mind.)

The money thing:

I mentioned money earlier. What do I mean by that? How does an author get paid? In the simplest terms it works as follows:

The way an author makes money is from "royalties". Royalties are a percentage of book sales. This can vary in percentage, but a typical royalty for a hardcover book ranges from 10% - 12% off the book's price. However, publishers kind of get that it takes a while for a book to come out, a year at least, and they don't really want their author to starve. So what happens is typically an author receives an advance (not always, especially if the publishing house is smaller) on royalties. Once you get this money you do not earn any more money when your book starts selling until you have made back the advance. Then you begin to earn royalties on top of the advance

So. Let's say your publisher pays you a $10 000 advance. Let's say that your books will be priced at $10 and you are getting 10% royalties. That means you would earn $1 off of every book sold. That means you have to sell 10 000 copies of your book in order to make back the $10 000 advance. Once you sell 10 000 copies of your book, you start earning money on top of that.

Now logically you would then suppose that if you didn't sell 10 000 books, you would technically owe the publisher money because they gave you the money as if you had. But you don't. The author does not have to pay back the advance.

Score! Well yes and no. Yes because the money is yours, but then things can get . . . political.

And this is where the debate over large and small advances comes in. Is it better to have a small advance, earn out, and make royalties, or is it better to get a large advance with the chance of not earning out?

The advantages of the small advance:

- more likely success rate of earning out
- if the book does really well, exceeds expectations, you will still get the money you would have got with a large advance
- earning out will impress your publisher and they will probably be very keen on your next book

The disadvantages of the small advance:

- less money
- if your book doesn't do very well, if you don't earn out your advance, you have a small sum of money and the publisher might not be that keen on your next book.

The advantages of a large advance:

- more money
- with more money invested, the publisher is likely going to put more effort into making it back. That means probably more marketing and more push to sell your book.
- you still can earn out a large advance, and then well, your publisher will love you for that and be keen on your next book
- even if you don't earn out, you've still made a lot of money

The disadvantages to a large advance:

- less potential to earn out, meaning no added income on top of the advance
- if you don't earn out, the publisher may be less keen on buying the next book from you
- depending on the size of the advance and the marketing buzz, there is a potential for being a big flop that most everyone in the industry knows about, not helping your chances at getting published with another house
- basically: the bigger they are, the harder they fall

Now keep in mind that a small advance doesn't mean you won't get marketing attention. Some houses will funnel money towards publicity that otherwise would have gone to a larger advance.

Also keep in mind that publishers do the figures expecting that most books won't earn out, so if you get the big advance and don't earn out, it isn't necessarily the end of the world.

Remember everything I am writing here are generalisations, things to keep in mind. Nothing is an absolute in the publishing industry and rules are broken every day.

And now a story:

I know an author who got an agent. Yay! Together they spent a year submitting her MS to some interest, but no luck. Then the agent met with an editor asking if the agent had a client writing in a particular genre because that was something this editor really liked and was looking for. This agent returned to the author and asked if the author had anything like that. The author thought about it, and then wrote a sample chapter and sent it to the agent. Who sent it to the editor. Who really liked it.

The editor, agent and author worked together for several months firming up the first few chapters and plot synopsis. Once the editor thought it was brilliant she took it to a meeting where everyone else thought it was brilliant too. The publishers made an offer. On three books.

The author was very happy.

The end.

Moral of the tale . . . not one step in this story (aside from the editor taking the book to a meeting) was a step I outlined above. Everything happened for this author in an unusual way. This author was unpublished and writing on spec as if she were a famous author already. If you have been published many times, you get to a point where all you have to do is submit a proposal and maybe a sample chapter and you can get a contract that way. Still, this author did just that. Even though she had never had a book deal.

So you see, there is simply no right way to get there. As I said at the beginning there is the most predictable method (which if you will read my road to publication journey, linked in the sidebar, you'll see was my method - I am dull that way, what can I say?), but sometimes things work in mysterious ways.

Even so, you'll notice how the author put in a lot of work on the MS before even signing a contract, before even knowing if the rest of the publishing house was going to be interested. And you also see how she listened to the people in the industry, took their advice, and respected their opinions (what you might not see, because I didn't tell you, was that she also found a way to make the subject her own to the point where it was no longer just writing on spec, but also writing for passion). And yes it did take a bit of luck. But we all know what the key to luck is right? You have to be prepared when it strikes. You have to be ready to grab it and run with it.

Because luck can only open the door. You're the one who's still got to make that grand entrance.

So there we have it! From agent to publisher!

Next time . . . the making of a book!