Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Traditional Publishing: Achievement Unlocked! I'm Signed with Skyscape!

I’ve been holding out on my readers since about December 4th, and it’s time to come clean.
I really don’t remember much about December 4th. The calendar says it was a Thursday. I know that was a “stay at home and write” day, or at least it was intended to be. Maybe I wrote. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember.

All I remember is this email that turned up in my inbox, with the subject heading, “Hello from Amazon Publishing!”

Kindle and Amazon send out mass emails, of course. They happen. I didn’t expect this to be anything different, but when I opened it up, I found this:

Hi Elliott,

I hope you’re well! I’m writing as an editor for Skyscape, Amazon’s traditional YA/new adult publishing imprint. I encountered POOR MAN’S FIGHT while browsing the Kindle store, and was instantly drawn in by your fantastic description. I purchased the book immediately and read it over the course of one night…

Have you enjoyed your self-publishing experience? And have you ever considered traditional publishing? 

I responded, of course. I had some hopes. But I’ve also learned not to get my hopes up too high since I first started writing these books. I have been contacted by agents before, including agents from very big and reputable companies, and one time a guy in Hollywood working for a yes-for-reals television agency inquired about the rights for Poor Man’s Fight…but usually it’s just a very brief query that doesn’t go far beyond that. So I responded, I mentioned it to some friends, and my hopes perked up more when Miriam (the editor) and I arranged a phone call. But again, I didn’t let those hopes run away with me.

As it turned out, Miriam said pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear: that Skyscape wanted to take Poor Man’s Fight and Rich Man’s War under their label for traditional publishing!

The deal is signed. We’re full speed ahead. I’m actually reviewing copyedits of Poor Man’s Fight now, and I’ve just filled out the first little bits of paperwork for the audio book.

What does all this mean for Poor Man’s Fight, Rich Man’s War, and the following book(s)? Am I gonna have to Young Adult this thing up and take out all the swearing and face-stabbing? Do I have to slap on a WB-style makeover for the characters and set everything to a mopey emo soundtrack? WILL THERE BE HUGE CHANGES?

No. Well, not HUGE changes. The one big change I’m looking at is a name change, because let’s face it, I made a goof when I named Allison, Alicia and Andrea. That’s one too many A-names to track, especially given what they have in common. Allison’s now looking at a name change. Past that, we’re just looking at fixing some editorial mistakes, and I’m very grateful for the help I’m receiving.

However, the action is still there. The language is still there. Tanner is and will remain a serial interstellar blasphemer. Casey is still Casey. Janeka is still Janeka. The books will remain available on Amazon as they currently are until Skyscape re-launches them, which at the moment looks like June of this year. And I’m extremely happy about all of it.

My other books, for the record, are untouched by the deal, and will remain as they are. I don’t find that disappointing at all; I like them just fine as indie-published works. My racy, not-for-kids urban fantasy line will continue. I need to finish with Volume Three of Well, That Escalated Quickly: The Tanner Malone Story (still no projected date on that yet!), and then it will be time to assess where I go next.

The only real change I’m looking at here is the prospect of reaching many, many more readers, and what writer doesn’t want that?

THANK YOU to all my readers—to everyone who left reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, to everyone who mentioned the book to a friend and who emailed me privately to give their thoughts. This ride just keeps getting better, and I’m so truly grateful for all the support!

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's like that joke about God sending boats to the dude in the flood...except totally not.

(This may well sound grumbly, but I swear things are going well for me overall.)

Probably the first rule of becoming a writer is Don't Quit Your Day Job. If it's not, it should be.

I have a day job. I've had the same day job for ten-ish years now. I won't tell you what it is, but it's one of those socially responsible jobs that our society desperately needs to function, and yet going into said job means you often won't be treated society. The job has plenty of drawbacks. You tell people this is your job and they make a face and say, "Wow, I couldn't do that," but they know it needs doing. It's also the sort of job where you need a college degree, and then you need more college after that, but good luck paying it all off on the salary you'll probably make.

For a long time, I liked the job, even though it could often be a drag. My actual time commitments were pretty malleable, though the low pay meant that I worked as often as I possibly could and still didn't really get far ahead. I tried to get more entrenched in my job, in the hopes of both professional growth and improving my economic standing (again, low pay, no benefits at all...not a lot of security). I didn't get very far. Part of that was the downturn in 2008; part of it was just the nature of my field; and, sure, sometimes I got beat out by better candidates. It happened.

I never lacked for dedication, or talent, or diligence. It just didn't get me anywhere. It certainly didn't help my wallet. The truth of the American Dream is that it still involves a lot of luck. I think my favorite quote in the last ten years is from George Monbiot: "If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire."

Writing wasn't a thing I ever planned on doing for a living. It sounds like saying you're gonna grow up to play in the NFL or be a rock star. It doesn't seem practical. I wrote for fun, and things have sort of grown from there.

I still have my day job, but I don't go in a whole lot anymore. That's a wonderful thing, too, because as the years went on and the growth never really happened, the day job became more of a drag than a calling. Good Intentions helped a lot when I went through a brief and entirely predictable bit of seasonal unemployment. Poor Man's Fight pretty much changed my life. Occasionally, a reader or a reviewer will say that Tanner is a bit too heroic, and I think, "Tanner bought me out of debt, paid for multiple book covers and my appendectomy and gave me the best summer vacation I've had in ten years. You're damn right he's a hero!"

The thing is, I'm not what you'd call rich. I'm just finally making what a college-educated guy who just hit 40 should maybe make, contrasted against a pretty modest lifestyle developed from years of not making all that much money.

Again, the rule is: Don't Quit Your Day Job. And I've more or less followed that. I've taken a lot of time off the day job to write, because I love writing and because the writing is demonstrably more profitable. But I haven't quit the day job...I just don't go in a lot anymore.

I went in this week, partly by request. I drove to work today in the car that I bought this summer, the first new car I've ever owned, the car that I could only afford because so many people have been so good to me and my writing.

...aaaaand I got rear-ended about a block away from the office. Trunk and bumper are just smashed. I'm okay, the other guy's okay. He got out of his van and passed along his insurance and he was cool, and given how common hit-and-runs seem to be in Seattle, I'll take that as a blessing. But still: I went in to work like a real person, and naturally my car took the hit.

I think the universe is trying to tell me something.

General updateness:

Tanner: Well, That Escalated Quickly (Book Three) is currently at 33,000 words, and this week I managed to get over a particularly concerning plot point, so I feel like it'll keep rolling along well. I have no projections as to when it'll be done. I desperately WANT to be done by early summer. The last time I shot for that, however, it wound up being late August, which as it turns out isn't the best time to release a book.

I've received confirmation that I'll be an attending pro at Norwescon this year (April 2-5). As the website will tell you, it's the Pacific Northwest's Premiere Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. All these years of being a regular attendee, and now I'll be a panelist!

I'm also working with a few different artists (mostly discovered at conventions or through DeviantArt) for some illustrations of Tanner, Casey & Co. that I'll share once I have them. I've wanted to get some more such pieces done for a while now. It's in the works. Hopefully we'll all like what we see.

As it's a common question, I'll just state here again that yes, I will someday write another book in the Good Intentions series. Maybe after the current book is done, maybe not. I can't say. I love those characters. I feel like there's much more to do with them. But I'm sticking to one book at a time right now.

There's other good news to relay, but I kinda need to keep it under my hat for a little longer just yet.

Couple last bits: I've finally taken to Twitter and Tumblr. Not all that much on either yet, but if you follow those outlets, I'm @ElliottKaybooks on Twitter and I'm on tumblr, obviously. Fair warning: I don't do a whole lot of advertising there. Just a little more of my regular voice getting out into the world.

Take care, everyone!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Good News, for a Change

Not exactly a serious blog post. Book Three is progressing for Tanner. Not much more to tell on that score right now.

But I feel like this should be shouted out from rooftops:

Christian Science Monitor: In a US first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

I'm sure the program will have its flaws. I have no doubt that some vets will slip through the cracks. But the fact that this effort is being made and is having genuinely good effects is wonderful.

Like pretty much anyone, I want to see homelessness ended, for everyone, period. Veterans or not. Salt Lake City is apparently doing great things in that regard. But just from the standpoint of having to start somewhere, this is a beautiful thing.

I drive past homeless people all the time in Seattle. Sometimes I give to panhandlers. Sometimes I don't. But it kills me every time. And I know that Seattle isn't exactly doing nothing, but...I'm so glad to see cities making progress. Here's hoping it spreads.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Best Christmas Gift Ever

I read the news and watch my usual internet haunts and I keep thinking what a crummy year 2014 has been for a whole lot of people.

I could go off about Gamergate and racism and political paralysis and torture, but I sort of doubt I'm going to add anything to those subjects that hasn't been seen elsewhere. I don't think anyone would be shocked to find where I stand. Not if you've read my blog before now, at least.

So, yeah. Ugly year. There were also some good things that might easily go unnoticed, but good news doesn't often make the biggest headlines.

And yet, 2014 was a great year for me on a personal level.

I've had some wonderful developments that I'm not ready to talk about just yet. I can say that I'm hard at work on Book Three for Tanner and Co., and I have more good news to share on the horizon. But for now, I just wanted to share this, because it arrived just in time for Christmas. It's pretty much the best thing I've ever received at Christmas time.

Dear readers, I did exactly as I promised with Poor Man's Fight profits after Rich Man's War came out. Thank you so, so much for all your support. I realize it's all just fun and silliness and space pirates most of the time, and usually that's all I'm after -- but I'm so glad that we could turn some of the profits from all this popcorn into something worthwhile. The letter below is the result of a whole lot of people giving me a shot, and for that, I'm eternally grateful.

Thank you. Happy holidays, and I hope 2015 is a good year for everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Casting Call, Part II -- And Info on Paperbacks!

First things first: paperbacks for Rich Man's War and Natural Consequences are now available through Amazon! I apologize for the wait on NatCon -- to be completely honest, I got very focused on putting RMW together and so that project languished despite my having a printed proof to work with for a good long while. At any rate, if anyone's looking for, oh, holiday gifts or whatnot, I've got four books to offer...  :)

On to sillier business!

I wanted to let the "casting call" question hang for a bit to see if I'd get any bites on it, and I got a few. I'll confess that I did this in part because I wanted to hear some ideas, and I found a few in the comments that I found intriguing.

This question kicked my ass for two reasons: First, I just plain don't watch all that much television or film. I'm very often That Guy Who Hasn't Seen That Thing (OMG!), and often I'm still not interested no matter how many people tell me I totally have to watch/see/read this. If the dust jacket or the preview or the Netflix descriptor doesn't interest me, I can be very hard to motivate. The second, perhaps more interesting reason that this question was tough for me is that a great many of my characters are drawn from people I know. Rachel and Wade from Good Intentions, Gunny Janeka, Cpl. Brent Collins and a great many others from Poor Man's Fight--these are all based heavily on people I know or have known in the past, and that's part of how I bring them to life.

But I'm gonna go ahead and try to come up with more recognizable options for this.

Also, for what it's worth, we have to remember that actors get older, but we don't necessarily remember that because we think of work they did ten or twenty years ago. A lot of the characters in both my series are pretty young people, making them tough to cast. Hell, it's even tougher when you consider the longevity treatments that keep people younger longer in PMF/RMW; remember, Andrea is supposed to be in her early sixties, but she only looks twenty-five or so.

So here goes:

Poor Man's Fight / Rich Man's War

Tanner Malone -- Argh. That's a problem right out of the gate for me. My gut answer is "go for an unknown, maybe Latino, maybe Caucasian." The role would require a serious tan; Tanner is literally tanner than most of the people around him. But my first choice would be a young Shane Taylor, who played Eugene "Doc" Roe in Band of Brothers. Beat up, demoralized, almost empty inside but still moving and still feeling...if I can get that performance into my books at any point, I'll have won at writing.

Someone suggested Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the new Star Trek films) for Jason from Good Intentions, and I honestly think it might be interesting to get him a good tan, buzz down that hair and see how he'd do.

He's not named for the tan, btw; that's just a happy accident. Tanner is named for a Harry Chapin song I heard years ago called Mr. Tanner. It's about a man whose talents don't match his passions. And I can more or less promise you that I'll never write anything as sad as a Harry Chapin song, but the name stuck with me!

Casey -- Wow, so the James Spader suggestions really surprised me. I haven't seen his more recent stuff, though. It's certainly an interesting thought. From the beginning, though, I always envisioned Casey as a blend of Ian McShane as Al Swearengen (NSFW!!) from Deadwood and Michael Wincott's Top Dollar in The Crow. (Also NSFW, really) Either one would make me really happy.

Lauren Williams -- Uma Thurman. Versatile actress who can convey confident experience and is clearly comfortable with a stabby role.

Also, at least one of the pirate ensemble would have to be played by Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead. Because why wouldn't he? Hell, he could just be there as himself. He's Lemmy. Needs no other explanation.

Darren Mills -- James Franco. Heh.

Gunny Janeka -- My first thought is Angela Bassett, because her performance as Tina Turner really blew me away. However, the suggestion of Jada Pinkett Smith also works pretty solidly for me.

Chief Everett -- A somewhat younger Bruce Greenwood (Capt. Pike in the new Star Trek films) would kick ass in this role, but to be honest, he's one of the best parts of those films. He may just kick ass at everything.

Admiral Yeoh -- She's straight-up named for Michelle Yeoh. That one was set in stone in my head the moment I started writing her.

Allison -- Eliza Dushku, maybe? This one's still somewhat open for me because I see someone I knew years ago.

Andrea Bennett -- Eva Green. Done.

President Aguirre -- Mark Consuelos, maybe aged up a bit. (btw, if you have Amazon Prime and you're not watching Alpha House, you're missing out. It's amazingly funny.)

Vanessa Rios -- Rosario Dawson or Michelle Rodriguez.

Einstein -- Um. Honestly, I'm at a loss on this one. Damn.

Alicia Wong -- I wince while I write this, but I really think of Rinko Kikuchi. That bothers me a little bit because Rinko is Japanese, while "Wong" is a pretty clearly Chinese name, and I don't want to sound like I don't know the difference...but if you saw Pacific Rim and didn't absolutely fall in love with Rinko, I feel you may need to take your soul in for a diagnostic. Hell, maybe Alicia has some blended Chinese & Japanese ancestry. Who knows? It's never been spelled out...  :)

Sanjay -- Inspired by Sanjay Seran, vocalist for Delhi 2 Dublin -- an amazing band to see live. I kinda doubt the guy does any acting, but that's who I see in my head.

Booker -- Oh, man, can we get Anthony Mackie? I thought everyone in Captain America 2 was amazeballs, but Mackie just stole scene after scene that I thought had already been stolen by somebody else.

Lt. Kelly -- Here's where my West Wing fanboy comes out (you'll see plenty of it). I'd want Allison Smith in her earliest days as Mallory (Leo McGarry's daughter). I haven't seen any of True Blood, but I liked the suggestion of Deborah Ann Woll, too. She's definitely got the look.

Harris -- Brian Bloom (Pike from the ridiculously fun A-Team film)

Jesse (Jessica) Baldwin -- I like the Ellen Page suggestion, but I also think of Kat Dennings.

Good Intentions / Natural Consequences

Again, we run into the youth thing here. Also, this is a much racier story. I have no clue if any of these actors & actresses would want in on such roles. But, to my thinking, It's Not Porn. It's HBO. (NSFW language and goddamn hilarious.)

Alex Carlisle -- As with Tanner, I'd be happy to go with a young unknown. Otherwise...if we could get a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I think we'd be set.

Lorelei -- Changed in my head so many times while writing those books I can't even articulate it. One minute she was Sophia Loren, the next minute she was Morena Baccarin. But in the end, the voice that came through strongest for me and kept selling it over and over again was Claudia Black. I also think that Polly Walker (Atia from HBO's Rome) would knock this out of the park.

Rachel -- Another one that is basically someone I know. However...Emily Procter, who played Ainsley Hayes on the West Wing could totally have fit this role. My other thought would be: get Taylor Swift and have her do her Kesha impression. Done.

Drew Jones -- Dulé Hill. Done. (My West Wing fanboyness coming out again.)

Wade Reinhardt -- Again, I already know him, but you don't. My girlfriend recently got watching Supernatural, which I'd (amazingly) never watched despite the things I write. Having seen some of that over her shoulder, I think Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) would be great in that role if we could, y'know, roll back the clock about fifteen years on him.

Jason Cohen -- I'm kinda back to the Anton Yelchin suggestion here.

Taylor -- Summer Glau.

Onyx -- Kat Dennings.

Molly -- Natalie Dormer (as suggested). I don't watch GoT, but I've seen the pics, and I remember her brief moment in Captain America. She'd be great.

Vincent -- Kevin McKidd (If I'm not mistaken, he's already played one angel...)

I think that's all I can handle of this for now. At any rate, Book Three for Tanner's story is in the works! I'm only recently through with the prologue & pushing on through Chapter One, but I wanted people to know that I'm not wasting a whole lot of time there.

Talk to you again soon!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Casting Call?

In a comment on my last post, Sean asked,

Kind of off topic for this post, but if you could cast both of your series as movies, who would you choose for the main characters? (no budgetary constraints, it's perfectly okay to choose all A-listers) 

...and I'm absolutely interested in hearing what anyone else would have to say!I'll come up with my own answers here tomorrow-ish. But feel free to throw out ideas!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inclusion By the Numbers

As I noted in a previous post about "Milestones and Principles," my third rule for Tanner's world is that it is not all that white. I never set down a ratio formula or anything like that, nor did I go through the text and start changing names or inserting descriptors for the sake of diversity. I just tried to keep diversity in mind as I wrote, but I also knew that on some level I'd be doing this out of habit. There are three reasons for this. One is that I grew up in Phoenix and Los Angeles, so I'm used to diversity to begin with. Second is that I can't look at things like global population growth and think that the future will look anything like it does on American television. The third factor, though, is that I genuinely believe inclusion matters. It matters a lot. And it doesn't come without a healthy, sometimes jarring bit of introspection.

So, yeah. No statistical formulas or anything. Just a general principle that I wanted to include as I wrote. I don't plan on establishing any sort of ratios in the future, either, but lately I've done some small bit of unscientific analysis of my work and seen room for improvement on this score.

It's worth noting that a great many readers (certainly American readers, at least) will presume that characters are white unless shown otherwise through descriptors or names with obvious ethnic origins. It's easy to assume that Joe Smith is a white guy, when of course he could be anything (or maybe even a she), but it's also pretty reasonable to assume that Takashi is probably Japanese. Yet sometimes readers will even assume whiteness when told otherwise, as was the case with Rue from The Hunger Games. (I still haven't read the books or seen the movies. Yes, I know that's a crime. I'll get to 'em. I hear nothing but good things.)

It's also worth noting that a lot of writers have unfortunate habits in describing people of color. I don't claim to be free of this myself. I know I've used "mocha" to describe skin at least once, probably more.

Recently, I've completed a project of going through Poor Man's Fight and Rich Man's War to draw up a continuity database (technically a spreadsheet, but whatever). The primary purpose of this was, as noted, continuity: I didn't want to lose track of who had red hair or a scar on their cheek or who hadn't survived from one book to the next. It might be a bit embarrassing for someone who died in Rich Man's War to show up alive and well in my next novel. I also needed to make sure I was keeping track of names, lest I use one repeatedly for different characters (and I've caught myself doing it once already).

The exercise gave me a chance to tally up some numbers on that concern for inclusion, just to see how I'm doing for myself. I shared this with friends. I figured I'd share it here, too. These numbers, by the way, come mainly from me staring at my database and counting out loud. I don't have fields for gender or ethnicity. I just try to keep track of that through names and by writing down physical descriptions when they appear (again, I wanted to keep things like hair color consistent).

To offer a quick but very important caveat: MANY names in these two books are only names thrown out a couple times over the course of the book. Things like ethnicity and gender are never really specified, and left open to interpretation. In my head, a lot of characters are of mixed-race backgrounds -- it's a couple hundred years in the future, after all -- but if it's not specified, I believe the default assumption many readers will make is that these are all white males, which I think is worth remembering when looking at the numbers.

Poor Man's Fight has 138 named characters.
44 of those named characters are explicitly killed by book's end.
7 more (named character) deaths are strongly implied, but not explicit.

18 named characters are (explicitly) women. Almost all of them speak and most play significant or major roles. PMF passes the Bechdel Test, though it could've done better there.
The cast includes only one named character whose homosexuality is explicitly referenced. The character is of great significance, while his sexuality is pretty much irrelevant to the story. This is by design -- I wanted to establish that these things are not such huge issues in Tanner's day as they are in current society, but it is also how I originally imagined that character. Nobody is a "token" representative of anything. 1 other major character (female) is hinted to be either bisexual or homosexual.
Only 2 characters (Gunny Janeka and Ravenell) are specified as black. Several others were black in my head but it's not explicit in the text.
19 names are Hispanic (including Gomez and Other Gomez). Obviously there's some potential crossover there between Latino and European Spanish, but in my head they're overwhelmingly Latino.
18 names are East Asian.
5 names are South Asian (Indian, etc).
11 names are Arabic/Middle Eastern.
3 characters are known by nicknames without ethnic details, though easily inferred to be white males. (1 is Latino, actually, but I never made that explicit.)
...aaaand 74 names are presumptive white Europeans.
6 characters are straight-up Tuckers (people I actually know inserted into the book).
16 other characters are strongly based on people from my past, including the entire crew of St. Jude (minus the protagonist).

Rich Man's War adds 111 named characters, bringing the total to 249.
30 characters who appeared in RMW are explicitly dead by book’s end, along with 6 deaths of characters who first appeared in PMF.
RMW has a far bigger body count in unnamed “on-screen” deaths, and then there are a couple little matters of planetary bombardments/invasions, but do those really count?  J

Additions by gender and ethnicity:

RMW adds 15 women, along with giving a female face/identity to a character mentioned only by name in PMF.  RMW passes Bechdel repeatedly.

Still only 1 (explicitly-noted) homosexual character, but he appears again in this book, along with the 1 strongly-hinted bisexual character from PMF. RMW also features a prominent bisexual male character, which becomes a point of conversation and an opportunity for the protagonist to stick his foot way, way down his own throat. Of all the books I’ve written, RMW places the least attention/relevance on sex and sexuality. No time for love, Dr. Jones!

Black characters: Both from PMF return in RMW to greater prominence. RMW introduces at least three characters whom I imagine as black but whom I left un-specified (Lt. Booker being the biggest example), but only one new character (not of those three) is specifically described as black (Capt. Bernard).

16 new names are Hispanic/Latino.
5 names are East Asian.
5 new names are South Asian.
1 name is Arabic/Middle Eastern.

9 characters are Tuckers (people I actually know whom I made into characters), though two are just name call-outs. There are 2 other semi-Tuckers, in that I cast them in my head as people I know, but changed either the first or last name because reasons.

So as for inclusion: There’s a definite downturn in overall numbers in RMW compared to PMF, but it’s masked in part by how many of the women, people of color and gay/bi characters return from PMF. This also doesn't reflect the attention placed on those characters over the course of the narrative, which goes well beyond what those numbers show. Still, I definitely feel like I could do better.

Also, for what it's worth, Tanner Malone himself isn't entirely white European by descent, either. That's something I've known from the beginning, but it hasn't worked its way into the narrative yet.