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 . . .