Monday, July 21, 2014

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Danielle Smith

For more than six years Danielle Smith has been the well-known blogger behind the online review site There’s a Book, voted the BBAW’s Best Kidlit Book Review Blog and host to over two-hundred thousand page views per month. Her children’s book reviews have also appeared in top online and print publications such as Parenting Magazine and Women’s World.
Smith’s expertise in children’s literature led her to serve as a judge for The Cybils Awards from 2010 to 2012, and as a board member of The Central Coast Writer’s Conference and the BEA Book Bloggers Advisory.
Danielle comes to Red Fox Literary after a successful stint at Foreword Literary where she sold Julie Falatko’s highly anticipated picture book Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) in a pre-empt to Viking Children’s Books.
As the latest addition to Red Fox Literary, Smith will be looking to further expand on the sterling reputation she's built within the children’s trade publishing world. Her client list includes both authors and illustrators working in genres from board books to picture books to young adult novels.“There is something magical about working with children’s books,” says Smith who still cherishes the time she’s able to read with her own two children each day.
And now Danielle Smith faces the 7 Questions:

Question One: What are your top three favorite books?

Only three?! Wow. Well, here goes! Three of my current favorites:

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander, Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington and Socks by Beverly Cleary (the first book I ever loved).


Question Two: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

You really know how to make a person think, don’t you? Three is so tough! Here goes, my top three current favorites:
BBC’s Sherlock, HBO’s True Detective and The Lord of the Rings movies.


Question Three: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

The qualities I look for most, but aren’t a “requirement” by any means are passion for their own work and children’s literature, patience, persistence, talent, trust, savviness and knowledge about the industry and perhaps most important of all, humility.


Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

If I could get a manuscript that featured diverse characters the way that Kim Baker’s Pickle does with the magical realism of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me in a well written middle grade novel I’d be delighted.


Question Five: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing would have to be working with my clients and watching them grow through the process. More specifically being a part of their success. I’ve always been the type of person that enjoys giving others the tools to shine in the spotlight and that makes this one of the very best jobs for me personally.

Getting rejections for books I love would have to be my least favorite thing. We all get rejections, at every stage in this process. For me, I only take on projects and clients I truly love and am passionate about. So receiving a rejection hurts almost as much as if it were my own writing. 

That said, one or even a dozen rejections on one piece doesn’t mean the end. There’s always more and it only takes one editor to love a piece to make things happen.


Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

My biggest piece of advice would be to be patient and don’t rush things. I get a number of submissions that, for a number of reasons, aren’t ready and it’s clear the writer was too excited to get the manuscript sent off that they neglected important details. Sometimes we get second chances to try again, but not always. Be sure to put your very best foot forward by paying attention to details and researching prior to submitting. 

And then, be comfortable with patiently waiting. During those waiting times keep writing and improving because your career will be filled with them, even after signing an agent and especially while waiting for books to be published. Stay busy and keep improving your craft!


Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Another tough question! I feel very fortunate that in the past few years I’ve had lunch with a number of the authors I love and admire, but at this moment I’d have to say Patrick Ness. I’ve met him before and we know each other, but since the time we last saw each other he’s published a couple of books that I have big questions about, tough questions. He’s someone I really respect and I’d love to pick his brain and get to know a little more about his writing process and journey in general.

If I could pick another, someone that’s no longer living, I’d pick Homer. I studied Classical Literature in school, and loved studying The Iliad and The Odyssey. What would it be like to sit with someone from that time? I can only imagine. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi


Laura Biagi joined JVNLA in 2009. She is actively building her own client list, seeking adult literary fiction and young readers books. She also handles the sale of Australian and New Zealand rights for the agency. She has worked closely with Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz on their titles, as well as Jennifer Weltz on the submission of JVNLA's titles internationally.

Laura's writing background has honed her editorial eye and has driven her enthusiasm for discovering and developing literary talent. She studied creative writing and anthropology at Northwestern University. As a writer, she has participated in workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. She is the recipient of a Kentucky Emerging Artist Award for fiction writing.

Laura grew up in a small town in Kentucky and maintains a fondness for Southern biscuits and unobstructed views of the stars.

Follow her on twitter.

And now Laura Biagi faces the 7 Questions:


Question One: What are your top three favorite books?
   
Oh gosh, I can't list just three!  The Harry Potter books will always top my list because they made such a huge impact on me.  The level of world building J.K. Rowling did for the books and the incredible story she wove never fail to astound me.  I think Rowling was the first to prove to me everything books could be.

I'm very eclectic in my taste, but strong writing and incredible characters are the most important to me.  So, in the adult realm, I'd place Blindness by Jose Saramago among my top favorites; it's a dark, literary apocalyptic novel.  I'd also put The Shipping News by Annie Proulx up there; Proulx creates amazing characters.  And I loved No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July.  It's edgy and kept surprising me, taking me further than I ever expected it would go, brilliantly.

Other books on my favorite list in the kids' realm include Bringing Nettie Back by Nancy Hope Wilson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.  All have wonderful character development and are well-told stories.


    
Question Two: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?
  
I love the madness, the lushness, and the great story at the heart of Moulin Rouge.  Slumdog Millionaire is another favorite because of the thrilling story it tells and its social and cultural insight.  And I think Proof, the movie starring Gywneth Paltrow based on the (also amazing) play, is a fantastic psychological tale with pieces that slowly unfold, fitting together like a puzzle.  It's incredible.

The TV shows I love usually do a great job of pairing character crises with plot crises--using both to illuminate the other.  TV-wise, past favorites include House M.D. and the early seasons of Glee.  A more recent favorite has been Graceland, which has some fantastic character development and twists.


Question Three: What are the qualities of your ideal client?
 
My ideal client would be someone who's persistent and creative.  I also want someone who can keep challenging themselves creatively, someone who understands we're a team, and someone who treats writing professionally.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?
 
Well, adult-wise, I'd love to get more literary fiction, especially something of a magical realism bent and/or surrounding social or cultural issues.  For me, literary fiction usually has to have a strong plot, too, in addition to great writing and characters.

Kids-wise, I'm looking for a great story with great characters that's well told.  It sounds generic, but it's true.  Again, I'd love something that has a bit of a magical realism flavor (which doesn't mean straight fantasy), a bit in the vein of another of our agency books, Amber House by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed.  I skew more toward the literary side of YA rather than the commercial side.  



Question Five: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?
  
My favorite thing's got to be discovering that submission that stands out from all the rest, that makes me want to keep reading and reading, that makes me feel like the characters and their world are real.

My least favorite thing is probably the various administrative odds and ends--they can sometimes be menial, but everyone has to do them to keep business functioning!


Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)
 
Keep writing and don't let yourself stop.  Even if you do have to take a break for a bit (because life does get in the way!), find a time to keep going, and write.  Your first novel or picture book, etc, may not be the first one to make it out there, but if you keep writing, reading, and leaving yourself open to learning experiences, then you're that much more likely to make it.  And don't keep reworking the same piece for too long.  Your writing can only grow if you give yourself new things to write--much like a plant can't grow bigger if you keep it in the same pot.

Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Hmm, well I suppose it would have to be J.K. Rowling.  I'd love to pick her brain about how she created such an astounding, complex world in the Harry Potter books and what her inspiration was.  And I'm curious to hear, in her own words, how she was able to keep persisting as a writer--she has quite an amazing success story!  And of course I'd also ask about her adult books, the writing process for them, her inspiration, etc. I guess this would have to be a long lunch!



Thursday, July 10, 2014

7 Questions For: Author Jessica Lawson



Jessica Lawson holds a BA in Spanish and an MS in Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resource Management. She’s worked in the nonprofit sector (with charitable-giving foundations), as a preschool teacher, at a dude ranch, and on National Forest trail crews. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children. The Actual &Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is her first novel. - See more at: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Jessica-Lawson/414413200#sthash.aKeh1vOK.dpu
Jessica Lawson holds a BA in Spanish and an MS in Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resource Management. She’s worked in the nonprofit sector (with charitable-giving foundations), as a preschool teacher, at a dude ranch, and on National Forest trail crews. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children. 

The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is her first novel. Click here to read my review.

And now Jessica Lawson faces the 7 Questions: 
Jessica Lawson holds a BA in Spanish and an MS in Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resource Management. She’s worked in the nonprofit sector (with charitable-giving foundations), as a preschool teacher, at a dude ranch, and on National Forest trail crews. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children. The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is her first novel. - See more at: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Jessica-Lawson/414413200#sthash.aKeh1vOK.dpuf
Jessica Lawson holds a BA in Spanish and an MS in Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resource Management. She’s worked in the nonprofit sector (with charitable-giving foundations), as a preschool teacher, at a dude ranch, and on National Forest trail crews. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children. The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is her first novel. - See more at: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Jessica-Lawson/414413200#sthash.aKeh1vOK.dpuf


Question One: What are your top three favorite books?

That’ll change every time you ask, but right this instant I’ll stick with kid lit and say Rumer Godden/Barbara Cooney’s picture book The Story of Holly and Ivy, Roald Dahl’s Danny, The Champion of the World, and Beth Hilgartner’s historical middle grade novel A Murder for Her Majesty.


Question Two: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

Not as much as I’d like! I try to find an hour or so during the day to write and I read about thirty minutes to an hour at night. My preference would be to write in the early morning, but babies tend to put a damper on preferences. As do 5-year-olds. With kids, it’s really just about writing and reading “in the cracks” and finding time wherever/whenever it presents itself.


Question Three: What was the path that led you to publication?

I was a stay-at-home mom who was watching too many reruns of Gilmore Girls, so I started writing in the summer of 2009 as a hobby—at least that’s what I told myself (it helped to keep my expectations low, which comes in handy when amassing rejections). 

In the fall of 2009 I started querying. My first effort was a women’s fiction novel set in a small town eerily similar to the one featured in…Gilmore Girls. Needless to say, that manuscript was trunked and padlocked. I soon realized that, as a woman who was still re-reading Where the Red Fern Grows in my 30s, maybe I should try writing for a different audience. 

I wrote/queried several other manuscripts (both middle grade and young adult) before writing The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, the manuscript that landed me both an agent and a book deal. Middle grade literature is my comfort zone and the resting place of my heart, both in reading and writing. 


Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I’d say both. There are writers out there who were born to write—the people who seem to innately live the written word and it pours out of them compulsively, whether they want it to or not. As for me, it feels like a return to something that always fit me well, but that never really registered as a possibility for a career.

I’ve put a lot of effort into learning more about writing in recent years, but I still feel like a raw scrapper—more of a Rudy-type, who got really lucky with publication because of persistence, practice, love of books/writing, and the ability to take a lot of rejection without giving up, rather than because of a pure, natural skill.


Question Five: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is finding a character who seems special—who makes me want to discover and write their story. 

Least favorite thing is feeling guilty when writing takes me away from personal family time.


Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like) 
 
Set deadlines for the writing goals you want to accomplish as motivation, but don’t worry too much if those deadlines get extended…and extended again. 

Concentrate as much on the learning process and on writing the best story you can write as you do on rejection/request ratios. 

Find a solid critique partner or four who will give you honest and helpful feedback, keep you accountable, and join in your struggles/successes.


Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Barbara Park. When I heard about Barbara Park passing, my heart hurt so much. The genius of her Junie B. Jones books is that they appear so effortless, but that voice, my goodness. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and Ms. Park was an understated master of blending laughter and truth. I would like to be able to tell Ms. Park that the joy she’s brought to several of my family members, both in easy times and times when we all could really use a smile, is immeasurable. I’d like to personally thank her for that.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book of the Week: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson

First Paragraph(s): My left leg twitched at the tickle of another night-boy. Hidden by the wide trunk of a river sycamore, I shifted in my crouch and reached a hand inside Jon’s overalls to trap and smack the creeping skitter. Darn things had been a considerable nuisance since I settled myself along the Mississippi to have a look-see at the grounded steamboat and its crew. 
The men had piled onshore and hauled sitting logs from the brush while I played at them being pirates and me being a stowaway. With the help of passed flasks and a roaring riverside fire, they’d gone from grumbling to mighty spirited in the last hour, and before long I got sucked in by a story one of them was reading from a tablet of writing paper. I was tolerably invested in the tale of a dimwit and his ornery bullwhip—the dimwit having whipped himself nearly to tears while the bull watched—and barely had time to react when the listener nearest me rose with a chuckle and a belch. 
While the crew applauded the story’s end, I deepened my crouch and slunk farther behind the tree, checking to make sure Jon’s marble sack was still stuffed into one of my hip pockets. 
The belching man stumbled around the fire with a happy laugh. “You mean to tell us,” he said, lurching at the storyteller, “that you put those words together in your own head?” 
 “That’s how writing generally works,” the story man said, standing and stretching. “Think up a few lies, put them to paper. I imagine any of you liars would make a fine writer." 

Esteemed Reader, I'm so excited to tell you about this week's book as it was written by an Esteemed Reader such as yourself and it's one of my new favorites. Jessica Lawson is a long time friend of the blog and a fan of the world's finest zombie fiction (mine, naturally). When I learned she had a book coming out, I was curious. When I found out it was a middle grade novel set in the world of Tom Sawyer, I absolutely had to read it.

I love Tom Sawyer almost as much as I love Huckleberry Finn and it's a wonder to me that a Becky Thatcher solo book wasn't already a thing. It's one of those ideas that's so clever you have to wonder why no one else has done it. I'd be hard pressed to think of a concept for a book more likely to appeal to agents, editors, teachers, librarians, and finally readers, than a new story set in Tom Sawyer's world. What I said to Mrs. Ninja when I first saw the book was "all Jessica has to do is write a story that doesn't suck, and she's golden."

Jessica Lawson has done a lot better than simply "not suck." Her writing is fiercely funny and written in the style of Mark Twain while making itself a bit more accessible to the younger readers of today. Does she have the same wit as the literary giant whose shadow is cast over all modern literature and who is remembered as a greater writer than even he could have possibly been? And that there question, which readers are bound to ask, is probably the reason why this book hasn't already been published. Comparisons between Jessica Lawson, debut novelist, and Mark Twain, literary god, are inevitable and just to make certain, her publisher has boxed her brand-new book with Twain's classics.




The marketing is a double-edged sword. It's a swell promotion opportunity for a new writer, but it puts her in the hot seat, not to mention her middle grade story for modern readers is set is Missouri 1860 when slave owning was still a thing (American prison statistics suggest it's still kind of a thing). This tells us that Jessica Lawson is either one of the bravest writers who ever lived or crazy. Well, she's not crazy. She is, however, extremely clever. 

That fellow above in the first few paragraphs of the book is a steam-boat pilot passing through by the name of Sam Clemens. No spoilers, but you long-time Mark Twain fans can be assured that Lawson pays homage where homage is due and includes a very fun plot device that declares her book not to be official cannon before anyone else can. By acknowledging within the story that she is clearly not Mark Twain and her book is its own separate thing, Jessica Lawson skirts around the comparisons and lowers the guard of feisty English majors everywhere.

As for slavery, Becky and her family have Miss Ada, a "colored woman" (alas, there are no n-bombs dropped) who lives with them and cooks their meals and is technically their slave, although the family is from the North and they don't think of her that way. She's with them of her own free will and genuinely cares for Becky, but there are dynamics to that situation wisely left unexplored. Miss Ada is a lot like Alice on The Brady Bunch, an unofficial member of the family. If there's anything that gives me pause about The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, which is a wonderful book, it's this white-washed fence of a portrayal of slavery as "not that bad." You long-time Esteemed Readers may recall I've taken a strong stance on this in the past.

If I wrote this book (why didn't I write this book!?!), I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of writing about the harsh realities of slave owning (even a nice family from the North might change when moving to the south to discover they can own a person and more people if they like).

And it would be a mistake.

Slavery is a scene steal-er and you can't have just a little of it in your story without it taking over. How will modern readers sympathize with the Thatchers or any of the slave-owners in town if we think of them as true slave-owners? It would put a barrier between us and create a situation that the plot would have to address, drawing focus away from all else.

As I've said, Jessica Lawson is extremely clever. She doesn't deny the reality of slavery, she simply acknowledges it without wallowing or allowing it to become the main event. She does this primarily by limiting the perspective of the novel to Becky. Becky sees Miss Ada as a sort of surrogate mother, not property, and that makes us care for Becky, which is priority one. And besides, Becky Thatcher has plenty to deal with outside of slavery, such as the very real possibility that the Widow Douglas might just be a witch (love this passage):

Sid scowled plenty. “I reckon we’re not. See her red-tipped tools? Might as well be a devil’s pitchfork in that mix. She’s always outside with her crazy weeds and herbs.” He stared at me again, jutting his chin out for good measure. “Evil weeds and herbs. For her spells, I imagine.” 
I squinted at the herbs. One looked like  lavender to me. And I saw a bunch of mint for certain. Miss Ada says it spreads like gossip. But I knew it wasn’t polite to argue too much when a new friend is pointing out the town witch. Besides, those red-tipped tools were a dead giveaway. Everyone knew red was a devil color unless it was on clothes, strawberry jam, the American flag, or Christmas decorations.

I laughed all through The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. It's a fun story with a new take on familiar characters readers are going to love. Younger readers probably aren't going to care about the authorial acrobatics Jessica Lawson is performing. They're going to care that this a witty tale of fun similar to Tom Sawyer, while doing it's own thing.

Becky gains a new best friend in Amy Lawrence and the two give Huck and Tom a run for their money in the adventure having game. I'll let Ruth explain the particulars of their unique relationship:

Ruth ignored her and jabbed a finger toward the stream. “Why don’t you go sit with Amy Lawrence? Her daddy being the town drunk and your daddy being the town judge, you’re bound to run into each other soon enough.” She smiled sweetly, but her eyes stayed as mean as a trapped raccoon. “Oh, and her mama’s dead and I hear your brother’s dead, so you can talk about dead people too.”

For all the fun and excitement, this story has a lot of heart. Becky's brother Jon, who she sometimes called Huckleberry--which becomes important later--has died months before the start of our story. As if this weren't enough grief for one eleven-year-old girl, Becky's mother is severely depressed and has retreated to her bedroom full time, leaving Becky to fend for herself.

Becky has plenty of emotional baggage to unpack by the story's end, but she's also got a problem. Tom Sawyer is a no-good tattletale and needs to be dealt with. Oh, and there's the little matter of traveling criminals on the loose:

Straightening my posture so I looked good and grown-up, I stepped into Daddy’s home office to say goodbye. My eye caught on a poster sitting on his desk. Daddy was nowhere to be seen, so I let my shoulders drop and roll into a hunch while I leaned forward to read. 

WANTED: 2 PRITCHARDS (Billy and Forney) 
Wanted for train robbery, bank robbery, and possible murder. 
Description: Billy Pritchard~near 6 foot tall. Forney Pritchard~considerably shorter. 
Few teeth, longish dark hair, fondness for liquor and tobacco. 
Generally filthy.

Goodness me. I hope those Pritchard boys don't become an issue for Becky and Amy later on:) I'd tell you more, but this review is already too long, so I'll just say that any Mark Twain fan should snap up this book at once. If you're not a Mark Twain fan, you haven't read him, so read this book and then read his and you've got yourself a wonderful weekend ahead:)

Jessica Lawson has penned a truly impressive debut novel that brought me a lot of joy. I respect her as a writer whose considerable skill I can appreciate, but I also like her as a storyteller. The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is a great tale and something extra special readers don't come across that often, but always appreciate when they find.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher:

“Makes me think of John 8:32.” “Jon who?” “It’s a Bible verse, dear. John 8:32 says that the truth will set you free.” “Yes, ma’am,” I said, thinking two things. First, that instead of setting him free, the truth would most likely get Danny Boggs a whipping or scolding at home. Second, I guessed that my brother Jon and the Bible’s John probably wouldn’t be friends up in Heaven, having different opinions on what sorts of things made a person feel free.

His lips fell like someone who’d opened up a present and found a pile of cat poop.

That’s a beautiful and dangerous thing to have in a best friend, one that’s not inclined to lie. Daddy would probably plunk honesty in the category of being responsible and grown-up, but telling the plain truth didn’t suit my lifestyle much. I’d been gradually convincing Amy that most lies were right nice, because you were telling people what they wanted to hear, and what could be wrong with making people happy?

“Brought you half a pie,” I whispered back. “Miss Ada made extra.” Maybe it would cheer her daddy up. I heard that misery loves company, but I suspected it would get along with pie, too. Also, I figured Amy was an inexperienced mischief-maker, and it didn’t hurt to balance the idea of bad-doing with a reward of something good-tasting.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn't happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A "Foreword" for ALL RIGHT NOW: A SHORT ZOMBIE STORY (Part Two) Hemingway and Flying Saucers

WARNING: This ADULT novella is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. It is a gruesome, repugnant tale sure to warp young mindsSeriously.

This is the second part in a two-part afterword for All Right Now: A Short Story, which I'm calling a foreword because I'm writing it at the same time I write the story. It's filled with spoilers and you should probably read the novella before reading this, and you should start with part one.

It's now March 27th and I'm at 16,775 words. If I was going to write another zombie story, I of course wanted it to tie into the universe of my existing zombie novel (marketing 101), which meant I could revisit old friends and write my own fan fiction. This has proved a bit tricky. As All Right Now takes place during the same time as All Together Now, my current characters get entangled with past characters, some of whom I can't kill because I killed them in a specific way in the previous story, parts of which take place after the events of this story. The whole thing makes my head hurt and feels a bit like the third act of Back to the Future II.

It's also a lot of fun. If there was one character in All Together Now I wanted to know more about, it was the Reverend Brian Hopstead. What an interesting fellow he is and I've always been sorry we didn't get to spend more time with him. We're spending half the story with him this time around and if I ever write All Done Now (not likely as I'm pretty zombied out at this point) I might have to bring him back for another round. I always suspected there was more to his relationship with Sister Rachel than we had time for in ATN and in ARN we get to observe them before the zombies come. The reverend and Sister Rachel give me the creeps:)

I'm also thrilled I got to give the reverend a speech about UFOs as the UFO speech in ATN got cut. I promise the previous speech made sense to the previous story, it was just placed in an unnecessary scene. But ATN was primarily about conformity and I believe the vehemence with which "practically minded" people deny the likelihood of flying saucers appearing in our skies despite the unbelievable mountain of evidence they're up there to be a prime example of social conformity.

No one wants to appear stupid or to be a sucker and absolutely there is a lot of BS in ufology (the subject of another post I'll probably never get around to writing, but one should never believe everything one hears, particularly if it involves cattle mutilation for which there is a known, disgusting, natural explanation).

However, it is the fallacy of composition to say that because some UFO stories are BS, all UFO stories are BS. It's easier to deny until official disclosure occurs and you deniers are not being looked at the way I imagine some readers to be looking at me in this moment. It's okay. My friend, Ashfall author Mike Mullin rolls his eyes at me when I mention flying saucers and he's really, really smart. But with such a disturbing amount of smoke in the form of astronauts, presidents, and top military generals going on record about UFOs, I'm betting there's some fire.

Like the good reverend, for the purposes of this story I don't care if you're persuaded by UFO evidence or not. That's another type of book than the one I'm writing. Should I later appear as foolish for taking this subject seriously as Sir Author Conan Doyle appears for making inquiries into the existence of faeries, so be it (I'd love for someone to make any kind of comparison between us).

My world's more fun to live in as we're on the verge of a paradigm shift that could change everything, most importantly the way we view ourselves and each other. What difference do earthly heritage or race make when there are infinite galaxies of new folks to meet? Also, my feeling the need to qualify my views on this subject despite the clear evidence in my favor that something is going on demonstrates the forces of social conformity at work even now:)

This isn't a story about UFOs and they're not mentioned beyond the one chapter. Who cares about occasional visitations from aliens when very real zombies are beating down doors:)

It's now April 27th and my rough draft is nearly complete at 21,889 words. I should be writing the final two chapters of ARN, which means as you're reading this, provided the UFO stuff didn't sour you, you've already read the novella's ending and I haven't:) Every time I start to write actual fiction,  Little Ninja fusses and whines and I have to stop to address his needs. Alas, I'm a father first and an author second. So I'll save those two chapters for nap time and work on this foreword instead:)

Granted, I took some time off in the middle of this story to revise, polish, and publish Pizza Delivery. Still, ARN has taken almost as long as ATN to write despite being less than half the length. I'm typing this one-handed so my left hand can feed the baby. ARN is not just a story of my becoming a father, it's also the story through which I proved to myself I can still swing this writing thing while being a dad.

I've talked at length about my inspiration for both ATN and ARN and my love of zombies. Still, I can't finish this foreword without discussing three authors whose brilliant work provided inspiration, all of them white and male, like me:) The first and most obvious inspiration is Robert Kirkman, whom I named the soda company for. The Walking Dead is awesome, yadda, yadda, yadda--I've said all that before and it's still true. The tone of both my zombie stories is a reflection of what I loved about Kirkman's graphic novels. 

I can't ever discuss a horror story I've written without mentioning Stephen King. I talked of my love for his work in this post, so we'll get right to his short story, Home Delivery, which I discussed at length in this post. But I very consciously modeled parts of ARN after that story as its the finest zombie fiction I've ever read and I imitate nothing but the best art for my readers:)

In college after a break-up with a girl who broke my heart (there were a few), I read Ernest Hemingway's The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, which was the perfect time to read that misogynistic story. I don't remember the particulars of the relationship (all the girls who weren't Mrs. Ninja sort of blur together), but I remember that story and I reread it every so often. 

I find myself thinking of it at odd times. And the moment I realized my protagonist couldn't survive the zombie apocalypse no matter what he did as he was already dead in ATN, it was Hemingway's story I found myself thinking of. And why not? Without spoiling (much), Hemingway's protagonist is also a marked man, but before he goes he overcomes his fear and gets to experience the triumph of being a fully realized man, which is why his life is happy in addition to being short.

At once, I realized my character's name must also be Macomber and I even found room for a Margot (though my Margot is kinder than Papa's version, which is why her last name is Wilson). Richard Macomber may not kill any lions or buffaloes, though there are gratuitous references to both as he kills zombies, making ARN my most pretentious story to date:) But Hemingway's proposition as interpreted by me is that all men die, not all men truly live. I say many men produce offspring, not all men become fathers. Fatherhood requires at least the same amount of courage as shooting an animal and more because you only have to shoot a thing once. Being a father is an every day and forever task. 

As a father, I'm disgusted by the number of depictions of fathers in popular culture as clueless oafs who only just barely avoid killing their children. Somehow, America has gone from celebrating Father Knows Best to Homer Simpson. But I say it takes courage and strength to be a father and it's a worthy occupation, even if we're all eventually dead. I think that's a theme that's a tad more encouraging than the theme of All Together Now and a nice note to end my time in the zombie apocalypse on.

Never say never. I might just think up another zombie story some day. For now, I'm content to leave the walking dead behind me after just two tales in favor of more pleasant subject matters. But I had a lot of fun with these zombies and I hope you did as well, Esteemed Reader.

I can't end without mentioning my favorite zombie video of all time (aside from that Zombie shark fight). If you haven't seen it, I recommend checking out the trailer for the video game Dead Island. It was a swell game, but its trailer accomplishes so much with so little and is just an outstanding example of storytelling. It could be a coincidence that ATN is non-linear and ARN focuses on a father saving his child though the reader knows he can't, but I listened to the music from this trailer at times during the writing of both my zombie tales and I'm sure it made a difference: