Category: Guest Blog/Interview 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!

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!

A big plunge (no, not the toilet kind)

Today it is my distinct honor to present the Sassy Ginger, aka Mandy, aka Anyrandomword. (Trust me, that will make sense later.) She’s a redhead with a wicked sense of humor and her very own column about the horrors of modern relationships. I never fail to laugh and/or think in acronyms when I read her posts, like the one about the dude who signs all his texts “Batman” (WTF) or the one where she recounts her night via pictorial (LOL). In fact, I like her so much that I’ve asked her to be the LONE blog-sitter while I’m in Ireland this week. So y’all be good for her, okay? And be sure to comment so she doesn’t think I’m a friend-less loser. Thanks.

Seriously, I’m super stoked to have Mandy guest blogging for me. Thanks a bunch, girl!

gingerHey, kids! GingerMandy here. I’m going to do my best at invading Kristan’s space in the most gracious way possible. It’s nice here, if you guys were wondering. She keeps her place very tidy. Mine’s sort of a mess… Hopefully my crazy readers and I don’t turn this place into a dive before she gets home from IRELAND. Lucky girl!

Anyjealous, I always get super excited when people ask me to guest blog, then I lock up. Actually it’s not that bad. I’ll just picture you guys naked to take the edge off.

The thing Kristan and I have most in common is that writing is our passion. If you read her blog you obviously know she rocks at it. [Kristan’s note: Mandy does too!] Well, I recently made the decision that I am going to quit the day job that’s sucking my life dry in order to write full time. I’ve got a few sites I write for, a few companies that hire me to work on projects, and a few independent projects of my own, and I know that if I really work at it I can stay busy, make enough money, and do what I truly want to do. Plus, if my dedication stays intact and things go as planned, there is nowhere for me to go but up. Up, up, and way. Kind of like Balloon Boy, except I’ll be in the balloon… and in control of it. I hope. And hopefully I won’t be a big hoax, either.

Since Kristan is a writer, I’m assuming quite a few of you guys are as well. So I’m going to go ahead and name some of the thoughts I’ve had about this plunge I’m going to take, and hopefully hear some of your thoughts on them.

1) I write for a few websites. Some that I find excellent at their niche and others I find to be total crap but stick with them to pay the bills. That being said, am I really doing something worth a damn? Or am I cluttering the internet with more mindless and diluted information? I’m definitely not an expert in every topic I’ve written about. In fact, a couple times I simply Googled the information to write an article. Am I insulting people who are actual experts? I guess it isn’t a huge deal that I’m not a hair extension or skin care expert, but I know I’d rather get a how-to from a professional stylist than… me.

2) What if the total crap websites go under and that causes me to lose tons of jobs and money? Looks like I’ll be becoming a barista for awhile!

3) I am going to sharpen one VERY important tool: aggression. I am good at getting where I need to be and figuring out what to do, but I’ve never been good at figuring out exactly how to go in the direction that completely outshines all of my competition and shoves the rest of the thwarting, hungry writers out of the way. (No offense, it’s strictly business!) Or taking a risk and pitching my work, asking someone to look it over and :gasp: publish it! I’ve done it, but it is very intimidating. Another sad example of this: the other day I was on a flight to Orlando, and the 7-ish year old girl next to me kept staring at me and smiling. She had paper and crayons with her, and I wanted to ask if she wanted to play hangman, but I didn’t because if she said no I’d be really disappointed. SHE’S 7! And I was scared to ask! I JUST WANTED TO PLAY HANGMAN!

4) What if I start realizing how much control I have over my life? On a normal day, before you know it I’m sleeping in until 10 a.m., lying around watching daytime TV, making unnecessary plans, and then realizing the day is over, I did nothing productive, and I spent half the afternoon snacking on Club crackers dipped in chocolate frosting. I am bad about this. Today, for example, I planned on organizing my closet and getting together all of my clothes for donation, but all I’ve done since I’ve been home is take a nap.

Truth be told, I think of all these things — as well as several other worries — every single day. However, I also think of how hard I’ve worked to get to this point and that it’s normal to freak out and wonder how it will all spiral. Really, I think the blogging community keeps me sane when I get to this mindset because it shows me that there are tons of other people out there with worries and wonders about the future. That’s what we’re all here for anyway, isn’t it? To keep our sanity? No? Just me? Alright. Maybe I should go look for mine because at this point I don’t know if there’s much left.

What Kobe Bryant can teach you about writing

Today’s guest blogger is none other than Andy — my roommate, puppy daddy, former-RA, and oh yeah, boyfriend of 3.83 years. Although Andy wrote the “nonfiction novel” New House 5, he claims he is not a writer. Although he claims he is not a writer, he is constantly telling me what I’m doing wrong. (Just kidding!) No, in truth Andy is extremely supportive of me, serving both as cheerleader and butt-kicker, depending on what is needed. Plus he cooks! What more could I ask for?

It makes me really happy to have him guest blogging for me today. (Maybe it can even become a semi-regular thing?) Thanks, Andy!

I never used to think about writers. After all, I’m a businessman. We don’t have much time to think about “creative” professions. I negotiate for a living. I manage millions of dollars every day. I bought my first share of stock when I was 15. What do I care about writers?

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writers and more specifically, writing as a profession. I’ve lived with a writer for two years, and I admit, I’ve learned a lot. Being a professional writer isn’t the relaxed hippie lifestyle I imagined. It’s a harsh, demanding, unforgiving industry. If you can get an agent to like you, and an editor to like your agent, and a publisher to like your editor, and the bookstores to like your publisher, and a penny-pinching consumer to shell out $8 for the words you so meticulously crafted, you might be able to afford to feed yourself.

So the businessman (and the closet psychologist) in me began to wonder: what makes a successful writer? I stumbled upon one answer while watching the NBA finals. As the announcers talked about the fanatical work ethic and incomparable talent of Kobe Bryant, the avid sports fan in me began to put the pieces together. The characteristics that make a successful professional writer are the same traits that make a successful professional athlete.

The more I thought about it, the more similarities I found between people who try to make careers out of creative skills (writing, acting, artistry) and those who make careers out of athletics – a group I’ll refer to collectively as “Artists.” Some Artists are simply more talented than most others. I call these people “Gifteds” – those with pure, natural ability. There is a lot that coaching and practice can improve, but you can’t teach a basketball player to be seven feet tall, and you can’t teach a writer to imagine Harry Potter. Then there are Artists who eat, sleep, and breathe what they do – I call these people “ESBs.” ESBs shoot 2,000 jump shots a day during the off-season, or write until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish a story.

Gifteds who are not ESBs rarely become celebrities. They may get one book published, or play professional sports for a couple years, but ESBs who are not Gifted generally don’t end up at the top of their profession. They end up as coaches or professors. It’s the very small percentage of people who are Gifteds and ESBs that become household names. I call these people “Kobes,” after NBA star Kobe Bryant, an Artist who personifies the combination of sheer talent and unwavering dedication that I am talking about.

Bryant has the innate ability to put a round ball into a circular hoop from a variety of distances and angles. But he’s not a superstar just because he has a gift; he became a 4-time NBA champion because he is consumed with playing basketball and improving his game. If you Google “Kobe Bryant Workout,” it returns 320,000 results. Bryant’s famed “666” workout stands for 6 months a year, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day (which includes conditioning, cardio, weight-lifting and basketball). This is in addition to a grueling 82-game schedule. How intense are Bryant’s workouts? In an interview with Men’s Fitness magazine, Bryant says, “The key is to push yourself to a level where you’re hurting… you want to spit up blood, that sort of thing.”

If you’re looking for a writing analogy, you can easily replace “Kobe” with “King.” Stephen King is one of the most prolific and commercially successful writers ever. This is partly driven by his incomparable imagination (which some attribute to his witnessing of a friend being killed by a train when King was just a child), and partly because he is an ESB. King is one of the most disciplined writers in the industry, setting a daily 2,000 word quota and not allowing himself to stop writing until the quota is met. Writing is not just a job to King, it’s a lifestyle. In response to the question of why he writes, King simply says, “There was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.”

This observation goes beyond creatives and athletes. Doctors and lawyers and businessmen are ESBs and Gifteds as well; they’re just less visible than Artists. There’s a perception that “traditional” professions are more conducive to ESBs, “creative” professions more to Gifteds. A closer look shows that regardless of the profession, there are always ESBs, Gifteds, Kobes, and everybody else.

There are a couple points to all of this:

1) To all of you Artists out there, I commend you for trying to make it in such competitive industries. I have a newfound respect for you.

2) Regardless of your profession, it’s important figure out if you’re a Gifted, an ESB, a Kobe or “everybody else.” I’m not saying you can’t have a fulfilling and successful career if you’re not a Kobe, but understanding where you fall, and understanding what differentiates Kobes from the rest of the world, provides a reference point.

A final thought from the Eagle Scout in me: Be Prepared. The one constant for all successful Artists is that they took advantage of their opportunities. The humble Artists (as well as the disgruntled ones) attribute this to luck. I carry a fortune cookie paper in the liner of my baseball cap that reads, “Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.” Good luck to all of you.

Meditations on Being Asian

Floreta and I met through the 20-Something Bloggers group, and I was instantly captivated by her way with words and images. (Also her little panda logo is pretty cute!) She’s a poetess, and such a bold and free spirit. She’s not afraid to be a strong woman, nor to bare her softer side.

I’m so excited to have such a smart, sassy, talented girl guest blogging for me. Thanks, Floreta!

I am a first generational immigrant to the United States. My mom and me moved from the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest when I was only three and I have lived here ever since. Living in predominantly white suburbs all my life, I have had the unique experience of growing up “white” in brown (yellow?) skin. At first, it was tough because I didn’t lose my accent until about the 5th or 6th grade. Generally, I didn’t encounter much hatred or racism towards myself that I was aware of. I would think of myself as an American, and even though I knew I was Asian, I thought and viewed the world from a “white” Caucasian lens. I was (and perhaps still am) a white Asian.

There was an extended period in my life where I hated being Asian. I hated where I came from. I hated being Filipino or Filipino-American. Why? I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps it has something to do with Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Simply put, I wanted to be white and beautiful. I wanted blonde hair, and blue eyes. I wanted to be taller. I wanted to be someone I’m not. I truly thought I was ugly and felt deeply ashamed of my heritage. Even though I have a different nose than most Filipinos, I hated the way my ethnicities flat-nose looked like and being associated with it. I hated my chinky eyes. I hated the way the language and intonations sounded like. I hated the loud, boisterous tsismis gossip. I hated the gold bling jewelry and potlucks. I hated it all.

Not surprisingly, this coincided with the pre-teen/early teenage angst years, and somewhere along the way, I began to bridge gaps and be proud of who I was and where I came from, without being ethnocentric. All the things I hated turned into things that I loved and embraced about myself and my culture as I realized this served as part of my uniqueness and personal experience. This was my history and where I came from. I realized that I should embrace it, not hide it.

Lately, I have been wanting to bridge more gaps and come back home. I mean home to my island. Cebu. I have not been back in six years. I want to watch my cousins grow up, or at least be a part of their lives, so that they can know who I am. I want to become fluent again, since I was too young to remember the language once I learned English in less than a year. I want to become more Asian. Even though this would be a boldly brave move of independence, I want to experience the sense of community that comes with Asian culture rather than the American Rugged Independence that is such a paradigm here. Most importantly, I just want a change, and change of pace and to be able to travel Asia and journey to self-discovery. I am writing it here, now, so I can commit it in writing, on digitalized computer screen. I am scared. Scared shitless of making giant leaps. Scared of taking action. Scared of making a commitment. Scared of a lot of things. But the time has come to take risks and blossom, rather than remain tight in a bud. I don’t know how or why, but I have a strong feeling and intuition that this needs to be my next step. Everything will work itself out as long as I start the momentum. It is that start that I have a hard time with.

This is me trying for momentum.
All that I say and think should not be for nothing.
Momentum has to shift and action has to take place.

Step 1: Commitment
Step 2: Research
Step 3: Visa application
Step 4: Apply for jobs/ Get interviews set
Step 5: Sell/move my Stuff
Step 6: Purchase one-way ticket
Step 7: Pack
Step 8: Get on plane

Or something like that.

Is it really that easy?

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