Month: April 2010 Page 2 of 3

Author Interview: Todd Newton, Part 2

For those of you who missed it, Part 1 of this interview “aired” on Wednesday.

Aaand we’re back. So, Todd, let’s hear how 9A finally got from brain to bookshelf.

The Ninth Avatar started as an idea for a trilogy, and once I had the first “book” written (what became the first “half” of 9A) and ran it through a few rounds of edits and beta-reads, I did what a lot of writers do. I went straight into the query process.

Not that this is an outright mistake or anything, but I can say now that neither I nor the work was ready. We each needed more of a chance to mature. My numerous synopses and query letters were pretty lame, so I got a lot of form rejections. I wasn’t just sitting on my hands, though, because I wanted to continue the story into “book 2” and I also had another project I was working on (which eventually became my religious satire, Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell).

About halfway through writing “book 2,” I realized I didn’t have enough story for a “book 3.” This may sound odd, but it was one of those instinctual notions; I didn’t want to try to stretch the story, I wanted to keep it tense and coherent. So, two books became one, and I wrote all the way to the ending I thought it deserved. After a few more rounds of edits, I figured it was time to submit again.

I got more of a reaction this time, but it was mixed. One agent thought the MS was too long (at 154,000 words) which is a valid concern, especially for a debut author, and I received some more form rejections. I decided that, while I continued to work on other projects, the best way to move this one forward was to self-publish it. I figured the worst case would be a few people might read it, and maybe it would get my name out there. I never meant for self-publishing to be my “ultimate” goal, merely a stepping stone to other things, but I put as much effort into it as I could.

Months later, through a contact at my critique group I heard about Trapdoor Books and contacted the head of the startup publisher directly. He read both of my completed works, Thomas Redpool and The Ninth Avatar, then had others read them as well, and offered to acquire and publish the latter. After more rounds of edits, a new cover, design treatment, and months of discussion, the final version of the book is in its first print run of 5000 copies (including both trade paperback and hardcover) It’s also available in various electronic formats.

The story’s come quite a ways from being nothing but a hand-drawn map, a ton of concept art, and a meandering “summary” of chapters, and hopefully still has a long journey ahead of it.

Whew, I’ll say! But it seems to be well on its way. ^_^

Now that you can look back on this whole crazy journey, what was the hardest part of writing 9A?

The constant creeping suspicion that I had no idea what I was doing. More than anything else, we writers need confidence in our project and our process. I’m very lucky to have people around me who push me forward, like my wife and other writers, but during your first novel there is a lot of room for doubts like, “Can I really do this?” I obsessed about a lot of things that, in retrospect, proved to be far less important than people in the industry purport them to be. I should have been focusing on just getting it done.

Mmm, I definitely hear that… Well, on the flip side, what was the best part of writing 9A?

For me, the best part is when people read my work and have some kind of emotional reaction. Whether it is a resonance with the characters, agreement or disagreement with the concepts and conclusions, or just plain honest criticism, nothing beats the accomplishment of having created a coherent story that people respond to. Smaller victories include nailing a scene, not just getting excited that I wrote something the way it came together in my head but also that elation of “Now I get to have the character do this!” Writing is and always should be fun, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. That’s just the bottom line.

Writing is always fun, eh? I must be doing something wrong… Help me! What is your process like?

Disorganized. I am the epitome of a Type B personality, so I tend to write “organically,” which is a nice way of saying “by the seat of my pants.” Expanding on ideas as they come, focusing on the creativity aspect of writing; these are a few of my favorite things. I’m terrible at outlining, and I tend to under-write during my first draft, many times ignoring my responsibility to “describe” a scene in favor of just getting to the point. To write, all I need is a comfortable chair, my laptop & headphones, and a place that minimizes distraction. It also helps if I don’t have access to the Internet, which is why you can find me a Starbucks when I really want to get some work done on a project.

Ah, now I know the secret!

Well, hopefully this isn’t a secret: Do you have any other books or projects in the works?

Now that The Ninth Avatar is finished, the marketing push is ready to begin. The publisher and I will be posting on the Trapdoor Books blog with news and updates, and hopefully there will be something to tell soon about a possible “alternate reality game” as well as an iPhone app. But these are still under development.

My second book, Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell, is finished but not published in any form just yet. I’m kicking around the idea of doing a Podiobooks version of it. I’m also working on another Fantasy novel, a standalone separate from 9A’s universe, called Scions of the Shade. It’s coming along, but don’t get the idea that subsequent books get any easier to write (or finish!).

I do plan to return to 9A’s universe, though. After I finish Scions, I want to try my hand at writing a prequel & sequel in tandem, to be released that way as well. It should be fun and a challenge, which is everything a writer needs.

Indeed! Thanks again, Todd, for taking the time to tell us about your debut novel and all the hard (but fun!) work that went into it. I’m really excited for you, and I know 9A’s going to do great!

Readers, if you have any questions for Todd, I’m sure he’d be happy to field them in the comments section. Don’t forget to visit him on the web and/or order your copy of The Ninth Avatar!

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Author Interview: Todd Newton, Part 1

My last interview was for my high school newspaper staff, so I think Todd Newton deserves major props for being my first victim guinea pig interviewee in a while. I forget how exactly we met, but Todd is a fellow writer, and we’ve become blog-buddies over the past year or so. His fantasy novel The Ninth Avatar has been on a very interesting journey, and he was kind enough to take a few moments to tell us about it.


Todd and his book

Alright, first thing’s first. Who is Todd Newton?

I’m originally from a small town in Northern California but I’ve moved around a lot over the years, eventually ending up here in Denver where I plan to stay. I’ve been an avid Fantasy reader since about age 12, and have been trying to write my own since around the same time. As for hobbies, these days I enjoy smoking cigars, playing KOEI’s Warriors games on my Playstation, and traveling as much as I possibly can. I’m married to a wonderful, beautiful lady named Micah, and we have two dogs named Leonidas (aka Leo, named after the character from 300) and Suki. Both the pups are full grown at around 18 pounds, and they’re mixed-breed rescue dogs.


Suki & Leo!

Aww, they are the perfect size to play with Riley, who is also a mixed breed rescue dog! Too bad there are no such things as online puppy play dates.

Alright, second thing’s second. What is The Ninth Avatar?

Well, don’t let the term “epic fantasy” fool you. The Ninth Avatar is very much a story about characters and how their lives intertwine and connect. The main protagonist, Starka, has a lot to deal with as an outcast priestess already, but when she receives a prophecy that seemingly has nothing to do with her religion, her simple life turns incredibly complicated.

While she’s on this journey of self-discovery to keep the prophecy from coming true, characters like Cairos (a wizard) and DaVille are seeking revenge for betrayals against them, while still other characters are seeking justice for their demolished homelands.

I think the two major themes in this work are that war is cataclysmic, and that the role of religion should focus more on bringing people together than keeping them apart. The swords and magic are fun and exciting, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot more going on in the story than that.

Is “9A” the first book you’ve written?

Yes, it’s the first book I started that I was able to finish. Like a lot of the writers I’ve met (through my critique group and otherwise), I had quite a few false starts over the years that turned into learning experiences.

Ooo, any lessons from those false starts that you can share with us?

The biggest things for me were to relax, don’t obsess about word count or whatever else the industry or the books you read say “you must have.” Just write the best story you can, then edit it to make it better. Find a way to take yourself and your work seriously without becoming a complete maniac about it.

(Haha, good advice for me right now…)

Along with that, think of writing a novel like building a house. You want to build a house that you’d actually live in, right? Don’t expect other people to live in it if you wouldn’t do so yourself.

I love that analogy. So, are you “building any more houses” now that 9A is done?

I’ve since completed one other book and I’m currently 2/3rds of the way through a third. For anyone who’s curious on how to finish a novel, the secret is writing a story you truly believe in, especially because finishing the writing part is not the final step. An important step, to be sure, but not nearly the end of the process.

Hmm, sounds like you know a bit about long processes. Can you tell us about 9A’s journey to publication?

Do you have a few hours? (Seriously.)

Haha, alright, let’s start at the beginning then. How did you come up with and develop the idea for 9A?

When I finished getting my BS in Computer Science, all I wanted to do was design video games. Ultimately I ended up with somewhat of a “garage” design group and I was enlisted to write the story for their game. When the project later fell apart, I figured why not turn it into a novel, so I bought half a dozen books on writing and gave it a try. As I worked more on it, my confidence about it grew, and I decided this “writing books” thing was something I really enjoyed.

Funny, I studied compsci for a while too…

Alright, folks, that’s it for today. Don’t forget to come back for Part 2 of the interview on Friday. That’s when Todd will spill the beans about 9A’s special road to publication, as well as his writing process and future plans!

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A little break from me

WIP update:
• Did not hit 30k words this weekend. -_-
• Did finish writing Chapter 7 though! ^_^
• Am considering upping my weekday quota to 1k words each, and my Sat/Sun quota to 2k words each. o_O

This weekend was beautiful, despite my allergies and the gnarly headache I got on Sunday. Andy and I played 9 holes of golf, checked out the iPad, and ate at a new restaurant downtown. For the record, yes, the iPad is very cool. Andy is even thinking about getting one. Personally I’d prefer the Verizon iPhone rumors to be true, buuuut I’m not gonna hold my breath.

Other than that, I just did the usual: read, write, sleep, play with Riley, and eat too much (particularly of the chocolate variety).

My life is fascinating, isn’t it?

Oh, it’s not? Well… okay then. Maybe you’d like a little break from me. Maybe you’d like a glimpse into someone else’s life? Maybe you’d like me to blog about something other than myself for once?

Done!

This week I’ll be posting a 2-part interview with blog-friend and fantasy author Todd Newton. His book The Ninth Avatar has just been released by Trapdoor Books, and he kindly took the time to tell us a bit about the book and its (unique) journey to publication. He also has some great thoughts on writing, and pictures of his 2 adorable pups.

Sound good? Great! Then stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll be at the driving range working on my swing. ^_~

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Friday is for smiling

Me (on Twitter): Taking my multi vitamin with Pepsi seems… oxymoronic.
Friend: I feel the same way when taking my birth control pill with beer.

For all my big talk on Wednesday, I didn’t kick the funk. In fact, it got much worse that night, and I was still pretty “funky” yesterday morning. But last night I talked to Andy, cried a bit, and finally, finally felt better. The worst had passed.

(And no, I never figured out what the cause of it was. Weird.)

Sleeping 10 hours sealed the deal and now I’m good as gold again. Well, maybe not gold. But like, pyrite at least.

The funny thing is, because I was feeling so down, I gave myself the day off yesterday. I wasn’t going to do anything but the bare minimum I had to do to get through the day — not even write. However, by 1 p.m., I felt incomplete. Unsettled. Unsatisfied.

So I wrote, and I felt better.

I’m not gonna get all omg-it’s-destiny-can’t-you-see-I’m-totes-a-writer?! on y’all. But hey, it’s a good sign, right?

(By the way, I do not actually say “totes.”)

Also a good sign: after applying to be the “voice of the Unpublished” for Writer Unboxed, I did not win the position, but I was a finalist, and I was asked to be a Guest contributor a few times each year! The company I’m in over there is INCREDIBLE. Case in point: this week agent Donald Maass posted a great bit about inspiring awe. Since reading it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the four questions he asked, and how they apply to my story (as well as my life).

Speaking of my story, the WIP is marching on. I’m at about 27,000 words, and my goal is to get to 30,000 by the end of this weekend. Truth be told, the quality of my writing in this first draft is waaaaay below my norm, and that’s hard for me. I’m used to reading my writing and thinking, “Hey, I like that!” Definitely not the case here…

But the flip side is that I’m 1/3 of the way through the first draft in just 8 weeks! Not as fast as I’d like, but waaaaay faster than my norm.

Thus I can already see where I want to push myself on my next WIP*. In other words, I can look behind me and see how I’ve improved as a writer, and I can look ahead of me to see how much more I will continue to improve. It’s a nice place to be, here in the middle of the road. Even if I sometimes get frustrated or impatient with the journey.

*Specifically: 1,000-2,000 daily word minimum, but also better quality writing.

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Get ya head in the game

Uuuuggghhh. Waaaahhhhh. Meeeeeehhhh.

That’s pretty much what my brain sounds like right now. On repeat.

Maybe it’s because I just started reading my first zombie novel ever, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. No, you don’t think so? Okay, fine, probably not.

(But is her title awesome or what?!)

The truth is that I don’t know why my internal soundtrack sounds like a moody, sleep-deprived toddler. Also, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve let myself wallow in the inexplicable funk for a couple days now, and I’m done. I got sh*t to do, books to read, and most importantly, books to write!

(PS: This is totally not how I thought this post was going to go. I had planned to whine and vent and then go eat some chocolate. Oh well.)

While I get my butt back into gear, here are a few fantastic insights into writing and the creative process/life:

Listen: novels are beasts. Especially in the revision stages, they metamorphose into creatures their final shape will likely hardly hint at. The trick is trusting that the detail work, those microscopic changes made with your nose to the grindstone—that all of it, really, the heartbreak and the bruises, translates into something that ultimately succeeds.

“Behold the Beast” by Aria Sloss, via Glimmertrain

“Hey, this isn’t singing in the shower.” There were a few baffled giggles. A couple of slouchers sat up straight. Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I continued: “If you’re only writing for fun, then stay home and write a million pages. Nobody is going to read them, so who cares how good they are? I assumed you signed up for this conference because you want to have readers, because you want to come out of the shower and onto the stage, and start singing for someone other than yourself. You’re right, it is hard. And more fun than you can imagine.”

“On Singing in the Shower” by Paul Michel, via Glimmertrain

It’s called a plateau, and if you achieve any level of success in your life you will become familiar with this deadly geography.

The plateau happens to everyone. We can’t know when it will end, but there are things you can do to climb the mountain. I could have made an effort to form a band, learn jazz guitar, do something completely different for a concert. Instead, I panicked and shut down. Ninety-nine percent of creative people give up. There’s no shortage of musicians, artists, writers in this world, but there are only a few who can live up to their dreams. My advice: let go of the pride and get to work. There is one reward for failure, but there are multiple outcomes when you try.

“Music and Me” by blog-friend and screenwriter Jon

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