Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rejection Dejection

Tony Hillerman’s agent told him, ‘Get rid of the Indian stuff.’”

Number of times various books were rejected...

Harry Potter (12)
Carrie, Stephen King (30)
Diary of Anne Frank (16)
Dune, Frank Herbert (23)
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (38)
M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker (17)
And the all time winner, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (104)

How would you like to be one of the 12 dumb asses who rejected Harry Potter?

Thriller Guy is still letting Allen Appel write the posts...

As outlined in the last blog, my famous agent sent out Cross, my novel about a human/chimpanzee child/creature. The rejections began to come in, and they were pretty much all the same. I have learned, after writing a dozen or so more novels, many of which have earned their own fair share of rejections, that these things all follow the same formula.

“Mr. Appel is one whale of a storyteller! Not quite right for us.”

“The Catholic church is going to hate this one! Not quite right for us.”

“Wow! What a story! I'm sure someone will pick this up, though it's...”

You guessed it, “Not quite right for us.” After about 10 of these rejections, the agent gave up. I gave up as well and went back to what I was doing, which was being a photographer and illustrator. I wasn't bothered by the rejections, I just figured that it was sort of cool to have a big time agent and sort of fun to have had all these places reject me. Hey, I was young, what did I know?
So, an ex-girlfriend of mine was dating a small independent publisher in New York, Kent Carroll, who had his own company, Carroll and Graf Publishers. Kent had come up with a great idea: he was publishing reprints of famous old pornographic books, stuff written so long ago that the copyright had run out. These books sold well, (remember, this was around the mid-eighties, Internet porn wasn't really widespread yet) well enough that he took the money and used it to publish more literary stuff. He also had a line of Luis L'Amour westerns that had slipped out of copyright (he got sued on those and eventually gave them up) that he made money on. Kent asked me if I would do the covers for his line of porn, and I said sure. The pay was crappy, but I needed the money, and I certainly didn't have any scruples about porn. Still don't.
While doing the porn books, I told Kent about my foray into publishing with Cross. He asked to see it, I sent it to him, he liked it, but wasn't willing to take it on (hey, wait a minute, you do porn but you can do Chimpanzee/human sex?) So he asked me, would I be willing to write three chapters and an outline for an idea he had? What's the idea? I asked.
One night while he was riding home on the train to his house on Long Island he was thinking about where he'd like to go on vacation. He'd been all around the world, pretty much everywhere, and he thought where he'd really like to go was Russia in the year 1918. So he asked me, could I write a novel about a guy like him time traveling back to that place and time.
Why not? What did I know?
So I wrote three chapters about a guy Kent's age who was a history professor at the New School who goes back in time. Kent takes the pages, and goes to Dell and sells them the paperback rights for $20,000.00, gives me $10,000.00 and uses the other $10,000.00 to pay the production costs on the hardback when I finished the book. Time After Time and a series was born. The point here is, you never know how things are going to turn out when you write a book. I wrote one, it was rejected by a lot of folks, but it showed another publisher that I had the skills needed to write a novel, in particular the novel that publisher wanted written.
Kent Carroll was a genius. Eventually, I'll get to the story of why we broke up our publishing relationship, but I loved the guy then and had a great time writing what became a series of four books with Carroll and Graf.
Meanwhile, here's one of the C&G porn book covers I did.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Time After Time by Allen Appel

Thriller Guy has turned the blog over to me this week. I asked him to put in a plug for my latest endeavor and he muttered something to the effect of “Do it your effing self,” so here it is.

I have put Time After Time up as a Kindle book, the first in my series of time travel books known as the Pastmaster series, featuring Alex Balfour, a mild mannered history professor who lives in New York City. Even though the books have been out of print for many years, I still receive weekly, if not monthly, kind letters from readers who read the books long ago or have stumbled upon them recently in libraries and used bookstores. There are four published books in the series, and one unpublished; I intend to eventually get all of them up as Kindles. Because many of Thriller Guy's readers are writers or are trying to be writers, I thought I would outline how the book, and the series, came to be. I have written some of this in earlier blogs.

In the mid '80s I was working as a free lance illustrator for the Washington Post, specifically the Post Magazine. I was pals with many of the writers there and eventually met my present wife who worked in the Style section. An agent from New York had come to Washington and signed up a lot of these folks to write books and for several months it seemed like everyone had scored a book deal. I remember sitting in the magazine offices one day and looking around and thinking, none of these people are any smarter than I am, all they know how to do that I don't is how to structure a book. I'm a good storyteller, why can't I do this? And so, armored with my own naiveté and fueled with clueless energy, I pitched right in and began to write.

I had an idea. I have always read lots of science books and had been reading about the early days of genetics. I knew that the genetic similarity between human and chimpanzee was very close. And so was born (pardon the pun) Cross, the story of a human/chimpanzee creature born in the African jungle. Truth be told, I can't remember much of this book, but there's a copy of it around here somewhere.

I quickly found that I had a facility with dialogue, so I wrote the entire first draft in dialogue with only a few sketchy passages about setting. I wrote in a white heat and finished the first draft in a couple of months. After resting up for a few days, I looked at what I'd done and realized I was far from anything approaching a novel. I started reading, almost at random, other successful novels to see how it was done. I quickly figured out the way you established a scene then worked within that scene. The physical aspects of moving characters around. I ripped through another draft in another couple of months. This draft was closer to a real book, but still not there. I read more, paying attention to how the authors created real characters. Another several months went by as I gave my characters backstories, hopes, dreams and lives. This time when I finished and read it over I realized I was getting closer to something that resembled a real novel. But even though I had the basic elements in place it needed to be smoothed over, it needed to flow from one page to the next and it needed a subtext, it needed ideas, it needed heart. So I rewrote it again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

A year had gone by, and after seven complete drafts I had a novel, and it was pretty good. Not knowing any better, I sent it off to one of the biggest agents in New York. And it was accepted. And she began to send it out.

And thus began my life as a novelist. Born in the simple notion that I was just as smart as everyone else, fueled by the energy of youth and buoyed by hope, which as we all know, springs eternal.

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." James Michener

Nest week: The rejections.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

No Blood, No Guts, No Problem

Sometimes Thriller Guy puts down one of the books he's reviewing and has to go take a shower to get the blood and brain matter off his splattered person. Not that he's complaining, bloody violence is pretty much a given when it comes to thrillers. But recently TG read an excellent book, indeed a thriller, where only a few deaths occurred and those were off the page.

Before I tell you about the book, let me repeat my standard assertion about my recommendations. First of all, they aren't recommendations, I'm just here to tell you what I thought was good or bad. Repeat: what I thought was good or bad. Me. I. Thriller Guy. Your milage may certainly vary. So don't write me and tell me I'm a dumbass because I recommended a certain book, you went out and bought it, read it and thought that it sucked. Please. Thanks.

Trigger Point, by Matthew Glass. Glass writes what I can only classify as economic/environmental/political thrillers. Ultimatum (2009) is about environmental disaster with China as the enemy, in End Game (2011) the US and China face off in a naval battle off the Horn of Africa.

In Trigger Point, the Republican President of the US decides that a recent atrocity against American citizens in Uganda cannot go unpunished. Not only is taking action the morally correct thing to do, doing so will go a long way to burnish the president's image and give a boost to his approval ratings. Meanwhile, over on Wall Street, a hedge fund manager, Ed Grey, gets a tiny piece of insider information from a guy who works for him. Ed thinks they could use the info and earn some quick cash by shorting a bank. The bank, Fidelian, is actually in financial difficulties and the shorting causes even more difficulties. At the same time, the Chinese government is pissed at the US because they have interests not only in Uganda but in the Fidelian bank. Pretty quickly the dominoes start to fall, and it becomes more and more clear that when the last one goes over, the world will be facing a nuclear war.

That description doesn't do justice to this exciting, intelligent book. It's sort of like a cross between Seven Days in May and Dr. Strangelove. You see the action unfolding from all the separate points of view, which allows you, the reader, to understand how each point of view can be based on a complete error but how those closely involved can't see where the mistakes are because they lack certain information, because of cultural differences, or because there are differing goals at stake. It shows how Wall Street guys and politicians can be the bad guys and, at the same time, be the good guys.

It's fascinating to watch Glass take the emerging pieces of a very complex puzzle and fit them together to create a chilling picture of a coming disaster. It's a real nail-biter.

TG has to wonder if people in power -- in this case in the world's capitals and economic power centers -- ever read thrillers. They could learn a lot from not only this book, but lots of others that TG reads as well. The point is, Trigger Point is a fascinating read. It will scare the bejeezus out of you and the only blood involved is that which is hemorrhaging out of the stock market.

So if anyone out there knows the president or leader of some other country, tell them they should add perusing The Thriller Guy to their regular pile of required reading. Who knows, doing so just might save the world.