Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Water Tower 5 Sold!

Yes, it finally happened.  Yesterday I got word from Super Agent Kerry Sparks that she had finalized a deal with Sourcebooks to publish my YA novel, The Water Tower 5, in April of 2016.  Like last time, I'll explain it all in more detail below for those readers who really don't understand the publishing world.  But really, you already know the important info - I sold my book!  So if you want to stop reading now, cool.  Just know I'm expecting you to buy ten copies of the book when it comes out.  Start saving.

But for those of you who want more details, let's resume the mock Q&A from my last post.

Wait, you just got an agent.  Now you want us to believe you sold the book this quickly?

Yeah, it really happened fast.  In the span of three and a half months: I signed with Super Agent Kerry Sparks (her official title, in my opinion), took her suggestions and turned out a revision with that greatly improved the novel, watched as the book went on submission to publishers,  and then was told yesterday that the deal was done.  So yeah, fast.  (None of this includes the year and a half of writing and revising, but that was pretty fast, too.)

I think you're either lying about selling your book or you're being catfished.  Which is it?

No, I'm serious.  SA Kerry confirmed the sale yesterday and everything.  Sourcebooks is a publisher out of Chicago, and, honestly, they're awesome.  I'm going to get lots of one-on-one support, and they're going to push my novel like crazy.  Plus, and this just thrills me, they want my input on the cover.  (Suggestion #1 - No pictures of real people on the cover.  I'm not a fan.)

Okay, so when can I buy this supposed novel of yours?

April of 2016.

Wait, what the hell?

I know, that sounds like a long ways off, right?  But it takes a year at least to: finalize the book--revisions and copy edits--design a cover, develop a marketing plan, get ARCs (Advanced Readers Copies) to reviewers, etc.  Look, this isn't a guy in his basement with a printer and Swingline stapler; it's a real deal.  Besides, there’s a 15 month waiting list on renting the Goodyear blimp which will fly around the world with my face emblazoned on the side.  No book title, just my face.  People will figure it out.  (I’m a very big deal.)

Then the book comes out and you get to stand outside the high school where you teach and tell kids what you really think of them, thereby quitting since you'll be rolling in the dough?

No, my students won't be getting off that easily.  I'll still be teaching.  I could never give that up.

But you'll at least make the students refer to you as Published Author Mr. Dinan, right?

Of course.  Along with everyone else.

So now what?

Now I get editorial comments from my editor at Sourcebooks, Aubrey Poole.  I'll make whatever changes and revisions she suggests, then turn the book back in to her.  At some point she'll come to me with copy edit suggestions, which are things like weirdly phrased sections, moments of dumb writing, and whatnot.  In the meantime, it's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff with cover designs, marketing plans, etc.  All of this, of course, excites me greatly.

And after the book is finalized?

I'll resume work on my follow-up, a YA detective novel.

Um, you do know there are minimum age requirements to being a detective, right?

Yeah, I'm trying to figure out a way around that.  Shut up.

I guess this mean you're going to be updating this blog a lot more often, aren't you, since you think you're a bigshot and everything?

Probably.  :)  I'm going to at least write about the process as it happens because as I was working toward this goal, I loved reading about other people who had sold their books.  It inspired and motivated me.  Maybe this blog can do the same thing for someone.

As if.

Shut up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Signed with an Agent Today! (Or a Slush Pile Success Story.)

So, after failing to get a literary agent for my first novel, Lucky Town, today I signed with Kerry Sparks of LGR (Levine, Greenburg, Rostan) Literary Agency for The Water Tower 5!  Knowing this process isn’t that known to people who don't write, and that I did a lot of researching the process when I was going through it and loved when people talked about how they got their agent, I’ve put together a FAQ in the form of an imaginary Q&A.  Enjoy!

Okay, first off, what the hell is a literary agent?
Yeah, I guess a primer is in order if you've never heard of this stuff.  See, if you write a book, you can’t just send it to, say, Simon & Shuster with a “Please publish this!” sticky note on it.  (Well, you can, but good luck with that.  It’ll likely go in a room similar to where the Ark ended up at the end of Raiders.)  Instead, you have a literary agent who champions your book to editors at different publishing houses.  The agent helps you get the book in fighting shape, offers suggestions, gives support, and, in my case, helps me not to screw up too badly.

So you, Kurt Dinan, major league slackass, actually wrote a book?
Uh-huh.  It’s a Young Adult novel presently called The Water Tower 5.  It’s a combination of Ocean’s 11 and The Breakfast Club.  It also proudly includes the phrase “like my balls” ten times.

Okay, so you wrote a book - probably one with a lot of pictures and small words, knowing you - but then you somehow coerced someone to agree to be your agent?
I know, right?  I’m just as amazed as you are.  Here’s the long version of what happened: On June 16th I queried Kerry Sparks of LGR Literary Agency.  Two weeks later, Kerry emailed requesting the whole manuscript of The Water Tower 5.  On August 13th, Kerry contacted me to say she was halfway through the novel, was enjoying it, and hoped we could talk on the phone when she finished.  We talked on Monday, August 18th after school let out, and I paced my classroom as Kerry talked excitedly about my novel, what changes she though it needed, and what the process would be with her.  When she said she wanted to represent the novel, I actually made her repeat the offer slowly because I was fairly certain I was hearing things.

Then you detonated her eardrum by screaming “YES!” into the phone?
Uh, no.  In fact, it was another week before I signed with her.  Eight other agents had the manuscript, and professional courtesy states I was to give them the heads up that I’d been offered representation.  I sent an email giving them a week to get back to me, and one actually wanted to represent me, too.  In the end though, I pretty much knew in my gut it was always going to be Kerry.  She’s just incredibly enthusiastic about the novel, and super easy to talk to on the phone.  Plus, it certainly helps that she has a ton of sales under her belt.

Is she like, a real agent, or is this really some dude in a trailer who is catfishing you?
No, she's a real person and a real literary agent with a real literary agency.  LGR sold Gillian Flynn's
Gone Girl (read my post on this!), Allie Brosh's brilliant Hyperbole and a Half, and rep Chuck freakin' Klosterman.

<cough>Namedropper.<cough> So when can I buy your book?
Slow down, turbo, I didn’t sell the book to a publisher, I finally got someone who will do that for me.  First I have to do another revision on the novel.

Revision?  How long will that take? 
A couple of months, maybe?  I’m not sure.  The novel is close, I can feel it and see where it needs to go, I just need to buckle down and get to it.  I have a lot of ideas for what to do to improve the manuscript, but I’ll run those by Kerry first.  Once that’s finished, I’ll send it back to her, and she’ll likely have notes for a final polish before she’ll submit it to editors at publishing houses.  I’m told that’s the real nail-biting time.

And do you happen to have a bunch of numbers to throw at me since I’m a math nerd?
Sure!  Here you go!
Agents queried for The Water Tower 5: 105
Negative responses: 66
No responses: 26
Requests for the manuscript: 13
Requests to revise and resubmit: 3
Offers of representation: 2
Agent signed: 1!

And do you have a bunch of people you’d like to thank because, you know, the Emmy’s were on last night and it’s put everyone in a speech-giving mode?

Great idea!  A bunch of people helped me during this agent search, especially my wife who was Ms. Moral Support, telling me I’d find an agent even when I was racking up five rejections a day at one point.  John Mantooth, Sam Anderson, and Kimberly Gabriel were awesome and supportive, Matt McNish gave me a great critique of my query letter and suggested I fix the first five pages of the manuscript, and Andrew Smith of Winger and Grasshopper Jungle fame gave me a kick in the ass at the very moment I needed it, basically telling me not to take shit from anyone and to trust myself.   And, of course, thanks to Kerry Sparks for taking a chance on me.  World domination is in our grasp.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Personal Rule Change

For years, I've followed a simple rule:  If I don't like the first novel by an author, I don't read the follow-ups.  The reason for this was simple--the first novel an author puts out, like the first album a band puts out, should just hum.  The story, the style, all of it honed and crafted.  The writer has had years to get that thing right, and like my friend Daryl Gregory says, the first novel is your one and only chance to make it as perfect as possible before it's published because after that, you're on deadlines most of the time.  Make sense?

So back in 2010 after I read Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects, which had received a lot of praise, I said, "Nope, no more."  I didn't like that novel.  I found the story unoriginal and flat on the page.  So I was done with Flynn books.  No worries though, plenty of other author's out there, right?

Then Flynn's Gone Girl came out a couple of years ago, and again, lots - no, TONS - of praise.  I heard of some great twist and an ending that really divided people.  My wife read it and told me she thought I would really like it.  Other people I respected said the same thing.  But nope, I wasn't going to do it.  I had a rule I followed, and I'd be damned if Flynn would get me again.

But I got worn down.  My wife continued to say I should read it.  I kept reading film updates.  And man, that trailer for David Fincher's upcoming adaptation is just fantastic.  Right in my wheelhouse.  So I found my wife's copy and read it in a couple of days.

And oh man.

Gone Girl is just excellent.  I read a lot of crime novels, but this is probably the best one I've read in years.  The story isn't anything new - a woman goes missing, investigation follows - but Flynn's handing of it is what makes the novel so good.  Flynn also pulls off one of the greatest twists I've ever seen in a novel, and this from someone who reads everything anticipating twists.  I won't go into what the twist is, but if you've read the novel, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  It's like Flynn lures you farther and farther out into the ocean saying, "See, it's safe out here.  No worries", not realizing she's taking you into shark infested waters.  I sat and thought on that twist for days, thinking about how she'd pulled it off, how she manipulated the reader's assumptions, and just being jealous as hell about all of it.  I have no idea how Fincher can make the twist work in the movie, but if anyone can pull it off, he can.

Oh, and the writing...again, excellent.  Amy's voice in the diary entries here is just dead-on perfect.  Then there's this section, my favorite in the entire book (Maybe a spoiler alert?  I don't know):

That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl.  Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they?  She's a cool girl.  Being the Cool Girl means I'm a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she's hosting the world's biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.  Hot and understanding.  Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.  Go ahead, shit on me, I don't mind, I'm the Cool Girl.

God, that's brilliant, right?  So well-written.  And so true.  Men do think that way.  In fact, there are a lot of moments in  this novel where I think Flynn must have men tied up in her basement tortured  into divulging all of the secrets of male thinking.  She nails the complexities of marriage, too.  And at times she's awesomely vulgar, which I fully appreciate.

So that old rule of mine about not reading follow-ups if I didn't like the book is just that, an old rule.  Gone.  And maybe next time I'll listen to my wife a little more.  :)  Heck, that's even one of the lessons of the book, I think, so there's that.

Go read this book now, and feel free to complain about the ending with me.  Personally, I thought it was the only possible ending.  Others, lots of them, disagree.  But that's what's fun about books, right?

Happy reading.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reality Boy: My Favorite Book So Far This Year

So far this year I've read 35 books.  (Don't judge me...three kids keeps reading time down a bit).  A good many of these are YA, some are graphic novels, and there are a bunch of crime novels.  Of these books, my favorite by far was A.S. King's Reality Boy.


The summary: Gerald Faust's life has been hell ever since his mom brought a reality TV crew into the house when he was young.   He's known as "the shitter" for having crapped throughout the house in front of the production crew, his sister and her boyfriend party naked in the basement, something his parents ignore, and he has major anger issues.  What's a former reality star to do?  Run like hell.

Okay, this is a bad summary of a great book, but trust me, it's a fantastic read.  King's written a fully-developed character who you root for to catch a break because he's been dealt a terrible hand.  And man, this book is funny.  Go read it now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Today Twitter, Tomorrow the World

Here's something funny that happened last night--working summer school has given me a good amount of time to update my blog more recently (yay me!) and in doing that, I decided to start using my Twitter account, too.  The problem is that I don't fully understand who is seeing what.  If I follow someone who isn't following me, and I post on my account, they don't see that, right?  But how do you "interact" with someone who's not following you?  By following them and ... what?  Tweeting at them?  Is that something?  Or did I make that up?

(It's actually all rather embarrassing to confess.  I mean, my parents can work the DVD player I bought them, and it always has me wondering what will I not be able to understand when I'm older.  ((I'm hoping the answer is a teleporter.))

So last night, I decide to mess around with Twitter, and one of the people I follow is Tom Morello, the guitar player who recently played on Springsteen's latest album and tour.  Don't know him?  Here he is being amazing in the last few minutes of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" when I saw Springsteen back in April: Pure Awesomeness. 

Anyway, I was looking at his Twitter account and saw a button that I guessed may send a tweet to Morello.  Here's what I wrote: Listened to a live version of "Tom Joad" tonight and my head exploded at your solo.  I'm sending you the medical bill.

Dumb, right?  But hey, it was a test to see if it would show up on his "wall".  (Okay, a wall is a Facebook thing, not a Twitter thing.  I can't remember what...oh, it's a Feed!  No, I will not go back and edit this paragraph.)  And no, the message didn't show up, so I figured Okay, who cares, go open a book.  And that's what I did.

So an hour later I was getting ready for bed and I checked my email...

Aside: I have this rule about not checking my email after 8 o'clock.  Only bad news can come after that time.  Some of the worst nights of sleep I've had have been from reading a bad email late, and not being able to sleep as a result.  However, I fail nightly at this rule.

...and waiting for me are 65 messages.  Huh?  I figure this has to be a spam thing, and I open to folder to find that the messages are all from Twitter.  The first message:



Kurt Dinan,
Tom Morello replied to your Tweet!
Kurt Dinan
Kurt Dinan@KurtDinan
@tmorello Listened to a live version of "Tom Joad" tonight and my head exploded at your solo. I'm sending you the medical bill. - 01 Jul
Tom Morello@tmorello
@KurtDinan: Listened to "Tom Joad" tonight and my head exploded.I'm sending u the medical bill.” One more reason for universal healthcare
01:30 AM - 01 Jul 14

The other 64 messages were people either favoriting this message or retweeting it.  And it's continued through the night and into this morning.   Kind of fun, especially since I really had no idea what I was doing.  But see how easy it is?  Just pick a random celebrity, Tweet at them (am I supposed to capitalize that?) and they respond.  Tom--he wants me to call him Tom, I'm sure, since we're clearly BFF's--is now probably going to show up at my house later  for beers and a discussion on the current political climate.  After he leaves I'm going to Tweet at Springteen and Stephen Colbert and Mary Louise Parker.  The four of us will likely be having dinner this weekend.

Oh, and even crazier, a couple of people, angry at the tweet, want me to explain how the country can afford to pay for Obamacare.  No, seriously.  That was their response to me.  So I'm also now a spokesperson for Obamacare...which I'm a big supporter of, by the way.  But what's funny is that my message wasn't political at all, at least not originally.  I like that Morello used it that way though-just me doing my part in support of universal health care. That's how we revolutionaries like Tom and I roll.

Viva la revolution!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Read this now: Flora and Ulysses

I'll keep this simple: If you have a 7-11 year old you read to, you must immediately buy Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures.  Or borrow it.  Or steal it.  Whichever.  Regardless, it's fantastic.



Flora Belle Buckman is a ten-year-old who loves comic books, adventures, and learning random facts.  Her life changes when she witnesses a squirrel being sucked into a vacuum cleaner.  Flora rescues the squirrel and soon discovers the traumatic incident has not only given the squirrel, soon named Ulysses, super strength and the ability to fly, but also a love of poetry.  The book is about Flora's relationships with her new squirrel friend, the odd boy next door who claims he's blind when he's not, and her recently-separated parents.  It's magical, fun, and beautifully written.  It gave me that "damn, I wish I wrote that" feeling.  The book also contains a handful of awesomely illustrated pages, drawn in comic form, as seen below.  Seriously, read this book to your child.  He or she will love it.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

We Need to Talk About Andrew Smith

There's a heinous crime being committed in the world of writing today, and it's this--Andrew Smith isn't selling millions of books.

Okay, that's hyperbole--No, not pronounced hyper-bowl, as my sophomores like to say--but I'm convinced Smith is The Guy right now in YA.  Or at least he should be.  Want proof?

Let's look at Grasshopper Jungle for a minute.

It's a book about what it's like to be a horny, confused teenage boy growing up in the middle of nowhere.  Oh, that sounds common?  What if you add six-foot-tall praying mantises?  Exactly.  It's brilliant.  It's if Salinger and Vonnegut hooked up to write a novel together.  It's brilliantly honest, intelligent, and probably the most accurate telling of what goes on in a 16-year-old's mind.  At least what went through my mind when I was 16.  Minus the praying mantises.

Or Winger.  Jesus, Winger. First, best cover of the year, okay?  Let's just put that to rest right now.
Winger is a novel about a fourteen-year-old at private school living in a dorm for troublemakers.  He's struggling to find his identity, woo his best friend, and survive on the rugby field.  Smith's achievement here is in Winger's voice, which is perfect.  In fact, come fall, I'll be using it as an example of my students on how to loosen up their stilted writing and let fly with how they're really feeling.  And that conclusion?  Man, it's a killer.  Something tells me Chris Crutcher (my favorite YA author ever) would approve.  This is pretty much the book that when I finished I thought, "That's what I want to be able to write."

Still not convinced?  Then there's this--Smith seems like a damn good guy.  I say this because when I've gone to him with writing questions or for advice, he gives it freely and balls out.  I don't think I've ever had another writer be so blunt, honest, and motivating all at the same time.  Smith's also a high school English teacher like me, so he has to going for him, too.

Oh, and then there's his awesome piece over at the Nerdy Book Club about who he writes for and why.  Trust me, it's fantastic.

I'm not sure what else I can say.  Go buy either of these books. Hell, go buy both of them.  Smith has a bunch of others, too, and for the life of me I can't figure out how he's so prolific.  Cloning, maybe.  But seriously, this is a guy to support.  I think we all secretly love it when we catch onto something before it becomes Huge.  We take pride in being able to complain, "I liked ____ before it was cool and popular."  Smith's not an unknown by any means, but if there's any justice in the world, he's going to be huge.


Thus ends the lesson for the day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Items of Note

Item #1 - Good news! Eight agents currently have The Water Tower 5.  Are they reading it yet?  I don't know.  But they will at some point, and that's the first step, right?  Followed by representation and world domination.  Simple.  :)

Item #2 - I finished Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes yesterday, and while I enjoyed the heck out of it, I found it really, really, really odd that he chose to have the protagonist on the sidelines for the final confrontation.  In fact, it was all sort of a 'meh' confrontation at that.  Lots of build up to an antagonist not fighting back, which is just odd, right?  This is a bit concerning since reading Dr. Sleep last year and thinking it was a book almost devoid of any real conflict.  I guess I've always just expected more oomph and stakes in a King novel.

Item #3 - Erin Jade Lange's Butter...the more time passes after reading this novel, the more I like it.  Butter is a great character, and Lange is the first author I can think of who has a main character buddying up to jerks and the popular crowd because he needs acceptance.  That's a hard story to tell successfully, but she makes it look easy.  I'm jealous in the best ways possible.

Item #4 - And this is why we all should bow at the awesome altar of Andrew W. Smith--http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/the-significant-burden-of-being-a-grownup-by-andrew-smith/  More on this tomorrow.


Monday, June 23, 2014

The New Query

So after doing the heavy revision, I had to rewrite the original query letter.  It wasn't that the query letter was bad, it was just inaccurate to the new draft.  I've posted it below just for the sake of semi-transparency.  It's a fairly standard query, but it's received some requests for fulls, and that's all that matters, right?

------

Dear ________,

Seventeen-year-old Max Lewis may be a high school nobody, but he’s also a heist film expert who’s memorized their strategies, tactics, and cons.  It’s a good thing, too, because Max has just been framed by the mysterious Chaos Club for vandalizing the town water tower.  Humiliated and angry, Max does what any budding mastermind with nothing to lose would do--he plots payback.

Using his heist film knowledge, Max recruits a crew made up four other prank victims to form The Water Tower 5.  The goal?  Destroy the Chaos Club.  But how do you eliminate an organization with an anonymous membership capable of trapping cows on the school roof and assembling stolen desks into a giant phallus on the football field?  By relying on what Max does best--scheming, scamming, and swindling.

The Water Tower 5 draws the Chaos Club out of hiding by implicating them in a series of pranks involving precision vomiting and R-rated pictures of the school mascot.   But it’s not like the Chaos Club is just going to let a bunch of nobodies take them down without a fight.  Soon, Max finds himself arrested, suspended, and even worse, dealing with an angry girlfriend.  With summer only days away, can Max devise a caper ingenious enough to clear his name and expose the Chaos Club?  (Hint: Possibly, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot of weather balloons.)

THE WATER TOWER 5 is a contemporary YA novel (81,000 words) combining the underdog qualities of Frank Porter’s King Dork, the offbeat relationships of The Breakfast Club, and the capers of Ocean’s 11.  My short fiction has appeared in numerous print publications including 2010’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sincerely,
Kurt Dinan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Post-Birthday Update

Okay, so I don't have anything important to pass on, but since I have the time, so here I am.

Update:
1.  I spent the last three months doing a hard revision on The Water Tower 5 that cut 13K from the original manuscript and really gets the book moving much faster.  It's also a much better, tighter book.  It's now out to agents so we'll see how that goes.

2. I'm in this weird in-between place where I'm not sure what to work on.  I have sequel ideas for The Water Tower 5, but if that novel doesn't get rep'd or sold, what would be the point in working on a sequel.  At the same time, I could start a new novel that I have the idea for but I don't want to get too far into that and have to stop because: A. an agent wants a rewrite of TW5,  B. I'm told by an agent to start working on the sequel, and/or C. okay, there is no C, but I don't want to go back and change this sentence.

So rather than do either of these, I've decided to revisit Lucky Town, which now that I'm 3 years removed from it, I'm in a much clearer place to really overhaul that novel.  I have some good ideas to make it a stronger novel, and it'll be a fun project.  I still love that story, flaws and all.

3.  Oh and currently five agents have The Water Tower 5, and one has the first fifty pages.  Fingers crossed.  There are queries still out there, so we'll see what happens.

Man, I used the word "so" a lot in this post.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Great Query Critique of a Not-Quite-There Query

So here's what happened:

A month ago I sent out a bunch of query letters for The Water Tower 5, and to date I've had an impressive 1.9% positive response on the thing.  For those of you mathematically-impaired, this is a terrible percentage.  Actually, since precise word choice is important in writing, 1.9% isn't just terrible, it sucks.  Like gold medal in the Olympics level of suck .  How's that for precise?

Logically, I understand that a as 42-year-old adult I should take all rejection in stride and put it into perspective.  I mean, I'm healthy, have a great family, and a great job.  Put simply, I have zero to complain about.  Whining that "I can't get an agent to request my manuscript" is pretty much the epitome of a First World Problem, at least with how my life is.  This doesn't mean, however, that even though I understand this logically, that I've reacted logically.  In fact, with every form rejection that's shown up in my Inbox I've been like:
                                     (Okay, so maybe not like this.  I mean, I have better teeth than that guy, but not by much.)

Eventually, in hopes of sparing my family from my continual irritation, I decided something had to be done.  I mean, I thought my query letter was pretty good - not great, but good enough.  I wondered if maybe: A. the language was too strong, B. the word count was too high, or C. that possibly ending every letter with a menacing, "It certainly wouldn't be too difficult for me to find out where you live" was the problem.  (One of those three choices isn't true.)  I started second-guessing everything about the query letter, the manuscript itself, and even my own writing abilities.  Ultimately, I had to do something before:

(Not like this would help.  I've got it all backed-up on Dropbox, and I can't just destroy all of their servers, right?  Or could I?)

Finally, sanity returned long enough for me to consult with my more rational friends, Kimberly Gabriel (go to her blog, she's fabulous), who pointed me in Matt MacNish's direction.  

Me: "Who's Matt MacNish?"
Kimberly: "He's like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of query letters."
Me: "Cool, but could he beat me up?  Because I can't be friends with any guy who could beat me up."
Kimberly: "Kurt, every guy could beat you up."
Me: "Which explains why I don't have any guy friends."
(This conversation never took place.)

So long (like really long, right?) story short, I went to Matt's blog, and saw what Kimberly was talking about.  Matt does these great query critiques, and I sent him an email asking if he'd give mine a go.  He (wonderfully and awesomely) agreed, and his critique is up today.  Go read it HERE, and then subscribe to his blog because he really is a super nice guy and gives great advice.  (Oh, and his shouting from the mountaintops about Grasshopper Jungle is dead on, too).

Now to start revising!  I'll post a (hopefully) improved query sometime next week.

Kurt

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

True Detective

So I've had a few days to process the conclusion of True Detective, and just as I was about to share my thoughts I read this article and thought, "That's exactly what I was going to say, just not as intelligently."  So without further ado...
http://www.pajiba.com/tv_reviews/how-the-true-detective-finale-demonstrated-that-its-great-smallscreen-cinema-but-lousy-literary-tv.php#.UyBYmD9dWSo

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Query Letter Madness

Okay, so after weeks of query letter writing, this is what I've decided to go with.  I'm still a bit leery on parts of it - I worry some of the language may turn some people off, but honestly, it's language used in the novel.  However, if the query letter should (in part) represent the novel's tone, then this does it pretty well.  Like my friend John mentioned, this is a tough book to summarize quickly because I don't have the space to mention the friendships that form and learning how your perceptions of people are usually wrong.  Still, the letter covers the basics - The Breakfast Club fused with Oceans 11 - so I'm happy with that.  Thanks to John, Kimberly, and my wife for their thoughts throughout, and Pat for her grammatical wizardry.  Fingers crossed.
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Dear ______,
Sophomore Max Lewis is living in a world of suck:  he’s considered a nobody for quitting the lacrosse team, he’s just pissed off a tyrant - err - vice principal, and now he’s been humiliated in the latest epic prank by the mysterious Chaos Club.
And that’s just his first day of school.
Angry, embarrassed, and tired of being victimized, Max recruits four other misfits to form The Water Tower 5.  Their goal?  Destroy the Chaos Club.  But how do you wipe out an organization with an anonymous membership capable of trapping cows on the school roof and assembling stolen desks into a giant phallus on the football field?  Easy, by relying on what Max does best – scheming, scamming, and swindling.
Well, maybe not that easy.
The Water Tower 5 lures the Chaos Club into the open by framing them for a series of pranks involving precision vomiting and indecent pictures of the school mascot.  Unfortunately, they also succeed in attracting the attention of the school’s administration and security team.  And it’s not like the Chaos Club is going to let a bunch of underclassmen take them down without a fight.  Soon, Max finds himself arrested, suspended, and even worse, dealing with an angry girlfriend.  With summer only days away, can Max devise a caper ingenious enough to clear his name and expose the Chaos Club?  (Hint: It’s possible, but he’s going to need a hell of a lot of weather balloons to pull it off.)
THE WATER TOWER 5 is a contemporary YA novel (94,000 words) fusing the offbeat relationships of The Breakfast Club with the capers and cons of Ocean’s 11.  It is the first in a planned series, but also works as a standalone.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Kurt Dinan

Friday, March 7, 2014

Our Greatest Living Writing Rock Star? That's easy.

In preparing for a class I'm teaching this trimester - Best Sellers - I re-ran across this fantastic video of Neil Gaiman espousing the importance of libraries and reading.  As I watched it again, I could help but think what a rock star Gaiman is as a writer.  Not in the I-demand-you-don't-look-me-in-the-eye-and-that-you-bring-me-only-water-bottled-by-a-virgin type of rock star, but more in the larger-than-life, just-radiating-awesomeness type of rock star.  Sometimes when I  get down about my writing, I play "Would it be nice if ______ lived next door?" where I think of who would I want to talk to about writing that would help my attitude and confidence.  The more I think about it, Gaiman is that person.  Hell, he's probably the person I'd want next door not just for writer-ly advice, but to borrow sugar from or a black trench coach should I need one.
Here's the video of Gaiman address about libraries:  http://readingagency.org.uk/news/blog/neil-gaiman-lecture-in-full.html
But maybe if you really want to see what I'm talking about with the whole rock star thing, you should watch this - his address to the gradates of The University of the Arts.  This is in my top ten inspirational pieces ever.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Water Tower 5 Update

So remember when I said I was ready to send out query letters and whatnot?  Well, I jumped the gun a little bit.  I've spend the last three weeks revising and tweaking the novel, focusing a good bit on the opening chapters.  It's close - darn close - and in another few days I'll be ready to really start the querying process for which I'm excited.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where I've Been, What I've Been Doing

So it looks like it's been six months since I've written here.  I'll bring everyone up to date:
I just finished my novel, The Water Tower 5, and have started submitting to agents.  TWT5 is  a cross between Ocean's 11 and The Breakfast Club, so it's a sort of misfit caper novel.  As much as I liked my previous effort, Lucky Town, this novel is much more me.  What this means is that it has a lot more attitude, sarcasm, and pranks.  Mass-induced vomiting?  Check.  Disrespect for authority figures?  Check.  Scheming, scamming, and swindling?  Check, check, check.
I'll try to keep a record of how things go with this one.  Obviously I'm hoping for representation and selling the book, but having been through this before, I'm doing my best to keep my expectations under control.  I have a much better feeling about this novel, I'll say that.  And if you're supposed to "write the book you'd want to read", well, I've certainly done that, too.  Here's to hoping agents think it something people would want to read as well.  While I wait for responses, I'm moving on to the sequel, which I'm excited as hell to start writing.
Now, some short book reviews:
North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud.
This debut collection has received an amazing amount of praise, all of it well-earned.  There's a painful and beautiful humanity in his stories that is missing in most genre fiction these days.  Go read "Sunbleached","S.S.", and the title story and just try to tell me this guy isn't the real deal.  Hell, I'll make it easy on you, go HERE and read "The Monsters of Heaven" for free.  Thank me later.
People Still Live at Cashtown Corners by Tony Burgess.Can I be honest?  I didn't fully understand this book.  I mean, I did, and I didn't.  It's not a book for everyone - the summary here should pretty much let you make up your own mind.  I do know this, I finished it and immediately wished I knew Burgess so I could go to his house and talk to him about this novel.  I don't think I can heap higher praise on a novel.
Them, The Psychopath Test, Lost at Sea...all by Jon Ronson.
Ronson pretty much has my dream job.  He investigates odd stories, odd people, odd going's on, and writes about it.  It's my favorite type of non-fiction - clever, intelligent, and a bit odd.  Oh look, he has TED talk on The Psychopath Test.
Anything by John Sanford.
Doesn't everyone have a go-to writer or two they go to when they can't find something to read?  That author who just always delivers, never disappoints?  For me that list is Robert B. Parker and John Sanford.  I've written about Parker on here a bunch, but Sanford hasn't gotten anything from me.  I'm sure it's not 'cool' to like Sanford - his Lucas Davenport books are always best sellers, and he puts out one or two a year, but man they always entertain the hell out of me.  He's like Lee Child in that way.  Joke about that Tom Cruise movie all you want, but Child's Jack Reacher novels are just excellently handled fun.  Sanford's the same way with Lucas Davenport, and his more recent series, Virgil Flowers.  In fact, if I'm being fair, I'm going to say I like the Flowers books even more than the more popular series.
Okay, that's all for now.  If you're feeling up to it, cross your fingers that an agent takes a liking to my novel.  Crossing your toes would be appreciated, too.
Kurt