Strange Magic

 

Magicians Impossible was published one year ago today, on September 12, 2017. It was quite a year, and quite a learning experience. These are just some of the things I discovered in the year since my first novel was published:

Not everybody will love your book …

This is a fact. Going by Goodreads’ own metrics, about 85% of the 800 or so people who read and rated Magicians Impossible liked it. Overall it’s at about 3 and a half stars out of five. Not bad numbers – and frankly, ones any movie producer would kill for, review-wise. But of course not everyone liked it. Some outright hated it. That’s fine though. It comes with the territory. If everyone loved it and it was getting nothing but 4/5 and 5/5 you could bet something was up because no book ever gets 100% universal acclaim.

… but some will.

I’ve had several people write to me to say they hadn’t enjoyed a book as much as they have Magicians Impossible. Some said it broke them out of a book-reading rut. Some found it the perfect escape for a period in their lives when they were struggling. All of them want a sequel (that’s St. martins’ decision, not mine, sorry). And the positive reviews have far outnumbered the negatives. So for every negative there’s bound to be more than a few positives, which are great odds.

Social media is a horrible time-suck but you need to do it.

I know I complain about social media a lot, but for an author you really need to be on it. I know from fact that many people who bought Magicians did so because they heard about it on social media and if I hadn’t made repeated mentions of the book, where to buy it, and where I would be appearing, those copies wouldn’t have been sold. But it helps to use your social media judiciously and not just be a “buy my book please” type of writer. Save that for your personal website. Also, please buy my book:

Your publisher will get your book into stores. The rest is on you.

St. Martins did as good a job as any to get the word out about Magicians. They sent out galleys, they hosted giveaways, they beat the drum. They did everything they could for it, but mine was only one of hundreds of books they needed to get the word out on that month, and after a certain point, it’s on the author, and the book to sell themselves.

Just when you’re feeling your worst someone will write to you and tell you they liked your book.

The life of a writer is an up and down one and I’m not just talking about earnings. It’s a rough ride, a tough job. You feel every negative review or comment or critique and you can’t help but take criticism personally. But then you’ll receive an email, or read a review where someone absolutely LOVED your book. And it makes a difference, believe me; not just the review itself, but one that’s posted on Amazon or Goodreads that others can read when considering whether or not they want to buy your book..

Just when you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, someone will tell you how much they hated your book.

Self-explanatory.

The things one reader hates about your book/your writing will be the same things another loves.

It’s true. I could do a diagram of positive to negative critiques and they’d probably even out. Someone loves your main character; someone else hates him. Some think the story is too fast-paced; other think it too slow. It has a great ending, it has a lousy ending, packed with brilliant writing, or just absolutely terrible writing. Without fail, for every praise-worthy review your book gets there will be one that says the total opposite. You aren’t going to make everyone happy with your book or your writing … so don’t try to. Art is at its worst when it tries to please everyone; inevitably it ends up pleasing no-one.

Take your work seriously.

Want to be considered a professional? Act like one. Set a schedule and stick to it. Doesn’t matter if it’s only 30 minutes a day, or only on weekends. Just do it. And while some writers delight in being confrontational online (because those are the posts that attract the precious clicks) remember that you are representing your publisher as well as yourself. Don’t get carried away with online drama and never, EVER reply to a bad review of your book.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Writing is make-believe – it’s supposed to be fun. If it’s not, why are you bothering? Because – and this may be surprising – there are much better, more reliable ways to warn a living than by being a writer.

The only person you’re in competition with is you.

It’s easy to look at other authors – some you know personally, some only by reputation – and compare their successes with yours. Some make the bestseller lists, some don’t. Some win all the awards, the rest won’t. Some attract a massive fan base; others will struggle to get anyone to pay attention. But really there’s only one person you’re in competition with and it’s the face staring back at you from your bathroom mirror. Because every best-selling and award winning writer began where you did – unknown, just starting out, hoping someone somewhere likes what it is you’re doing.

Being a successful/published/award-winning writer will not make you happy … if you aren’t happy already.

The things that make me happy – truly happy – boil down to two people who I share my life with. First is my wife, who’s supported me and encouraged me and believed in my when I wouldn’t believe in myself. The other is my son, who looks at me like I’m some magician every time I fix one of his toys, or take him to a museum, or just surprise him with a new book. They’re why I do what I do. They’re what gets me up in the morning, sits me at my desk, and makes me type out words. If you’re not happy in your life without writing, you never will be happy writing and that will show in your writing.

So write, but be happy.

Otherwise what’s the point of any of it?

The D Word

I want to talk to you today about the word that has become very prevalent in our modern era, particularly as it comes to the arts.

Diversity.

But the diversity of which I want to speak of is not about equality, or representation. Because, frankly, there are many, many more people out there writing about that type of diversity who are better educated, better aware, and just plan better writers than I am on that particular topic. Diverse Books is a good place to start.

When we look back at our lives, at the events, moments, and decisions that brought us to where we are today, there are certain dates that stand out where things changed. Where our particular journey turned a corner and embarked on a new direction. Sometimes these changes are forced on us; sometimes they come in the form of a choice.

For me, perhaps the pivotal moment in my life and career came between July 10th and August 9th, of 1998. Almost 20 years ago for those keeping count. That was the month of the Fantasia Film Festival, an off-shoot of Montreal’s long-running fest. It played in Toronto that year thanks to the efforts of Colin Geddes and Julian Grant. I knew both of them vaguely, but when I heard they were bringing the festival to my backyard essentially, I approached them and offered to volunteer my services with anything they needed. So I did, and they happily accepted. Over the month that followed I tore tickets, sold t-shirts, fetched coffee, saw a lot of movies, and met a lot of people.

One of those people I met was Rod Gudino. He’d just started a horror magazine and Julian had graciously offered up space in the theater lobby to sell his new magazine.

That magazine was Rue Morgue.

At this time Rue Morgue was only 5 issues in to a run that’s up to 182 as of 2018. Rod became one of those familiar faces I saw every day, we got to talking about movies and horror movies a lot, and when Fantasia was done we kept in touch, right up to the moment when he asked me if I wanted to come write for the magazine. It wasn’t paid, obviously (that came a few years later) but I enjoyed writing, I liked the Rue Crew and I’d always wanted to try my hand at print journalism.

I’ve written before about this whole experience  on the film-TV side of things, and what developed from it. Most famously, being hired by Julian months later to co-write the Robocop miniseries he was producing and thus kicking off my career as a professional screenwriter. But the other thing that came from Fantasia was that lengthy association with Rue Morgue. And from that association came, well, everything else.

Owing to the up and down nature of writing , there were peaks and valleys in the screen trade. A very good year, a slightly less successful but still very good year, followed by a couple of piss-poor ones, before bouncing back again. That’s the cyclical nature of the business; it happens to everybody. The key to surviving is by branching out as much as you can so you have those fall-backs when a project falls through or is cancelled. For much of the 2000s magazine writing became my lifeline.

Rue Morgue began paying its contributors in 2001 – not a lot, but enough to show the magazine’s stable of writers that their work was valuable, and appreciated. But around the same time I had been amassing my portfolio of work for Rue Morgue and began querying other magazines like Fangoria, Dreamwatch, Starburst etc. and I ended up penning multiple long-form articles for all of them, and that was largely due to the portfolio of work I had from RM, I was able to pitch them on articles, and features, and when I was a roving journalist for several years at the Toronto International Film Festival, amassed a lot of work. the UK mags (all gone now, sadly) paid very well, at a time the Pound was well-over the Canadian dollar value. I earned over $6000.00 Canadian for what amounted to maybe four weeks work, reporting on the TIFF in 2001.

That diversification saved my skin, on numerous occasions. And diversifying was just one lesson I learned from those years that I’ve carried with me since.

It’s no small stretch to see a screenwriter (i.e. ‘one who writes for the big screen’) branch out into TV. It ‘such more common now than when I was starting. Back then TV was largely regarded as a second-string to the theatrical experience; now all the really exciting and interesting stories are happening on the small screen. I wrote my first episodic TV in 2002 and have returned to it again and again in years since, most recently in children’s television.

I’m close friends with both of these puppets.

In 2012 I created a comic book called Mixtape. It achieved some cult status and, I’m happy to say, brought me some actual genuine fans of my work.  It was also recently optioned for development as a TV series. Oh, and guess who they hired to write the Pilot?

No comment

Of course there are novels. Magicians Impossible was published last year from St. Martins Press. It received several starred reviews, and was named Best Debut Novel by both Suspense Magazine and School Library Journal. I just delivered my next novel to my agent, and am outlining a third.

In the financial world you constantly hear how important it is to “diversify your portfolio” – that rule also applies to writing. I feel that my diversification of my portfolio as a writer is what’s enabled me to be a writer, full-stop, going on twenty years. Not only is diversification important to just be considered for the paying work that keeps us afloat, it also makes us better writers than we would be if we’d stuck to just one aspect of writing;

Screenplays taught me how to structure a story, to ensure those Act One set-ups have Act Three payoffs. To juggle plot, story, and dialogue effortlessly.

Comics taught me how to write visually, and how to convey imagery to your artist in as concisely a way as possible while letting them interpret those images.

Journalism taught me the power of words, of finding that killer opening and killer conclusion, and how less is quite often much, much more.

Books taught me how to combine all of the above into narrative. To take the tools mastered in each area of the writing world, and synthesize them into the medium that predates all of them.

I often joke to my employers that when they hire me they’re getting the whole package; screenwriter, author, comic book creator, journalist. That’s not a bad thing; if anything it’s given me an edge over writers who specialize in just screenwriting. What it communicates is that I’ve been successful across the board, that people and companies from a variety of fields and disciplines have produced or and especially paid me for my work. Hiring a writer you don’t know or have never worked with before can be daunting; it’s why you see a lot of producers and publishers keeping the same stable of writers under their roof as long as they can. Familiarity breeds confidence, in the way you take your car to your local mechanic year-after-year – because you trust them to do the job you’re paying them to, and know they’ll do it well.

Networking is certainly important. Promoting yourself, in person or online is a component of thus business that is unavoidable. But to my mind generating a portfolio of work is just as important. Everyone can talk the talk and sell themselves, but if you don’t have the track record of producing results in whatever medium is your specialty, you’re always going to have that hurdle to overcome.

So my advice to any writer out there looking for a little kick in the pants (creatively, that is), try something different. You’re a poet? Great – let’s see some short stories.Novelist? take a whack at a screenplay. Comic book writer? Think of some rhyming couplets. Diversify your portfolio and see what happens – the person you surprise the most may be yourself. And that’s a very good thing.

So yes, Diversity is important, in all walks of life, in all environments. Diversity is indeed strength.

Same goes for writing.

October Nights

They say as an author you should never read the reviews of your own work. As an author I can say with authority you can and inevitably will read reviews of your work, especially when it’s your first novel. The good news is Magicians Impossible has been relatively well-received especially for a debut. It received multiple starred reviews, it made some top ten lists, it made some Best of 2017 lists.

I got some great fan mail too. People telling me Magicians broke them out of a reading rut.Some even saying it was one of the best books they ever read.

But of course not everybody liked it. And I’m not going to address any of that because why would I? Not everything is going to be someone’s cup of tea. A book, like any work of art, is what it is; it never changes. And how a person responds to it is 100% on them.

That said there is one recurring criticism of Magicians Impossible that I would like to address.

For some readers it all has to do with how quickly Jason seems to master his levels of magic. Some seem to feel it all happens in a couple of days. Some say a week. Those who paid attention would guess correctly that it more or less takes a month.

Here’s the correct answer. Spoilers lurk within so if you haven’t read Magicians Impossible why on earth are you visiting my website?

Anyway …

I mapped out the events of the book before I put words to paper, just to get it straight in my mind. Using October 2018 (the year after the book’s 2017 release) as a guideline I made a calendar of events so I’d know what happened and when.

Damon’s opening mission takes place on Friday September 28th. His funeral is Monday October 1st. The events that transpire up to the climactic events of Murder Hill happen between October 1st and October 29th – so four weeks total.

The bulk of Part One – everything from Damon’s Funeral through Jason’s visit to the Oracle takes place between October 1st and 5th. After the Oracle, Jason is on lock-down with no further training, and spends the next two weeks honing his Adept and Archmage skills. He doesn’t next advance in levels until the Louvre mission, which takes place on October 23rd when he “blinks” on his own for the first time, showing him he has the abilities of a War Seer (Level 4). He later wields an Enchantment spell (Level 3) on the Paris metro. Since it’s established that levels of magic are cumulative, it’s not out of the ordinary for you to leap ahead a level then backtrack to master the previous one. All told that’s a span of 19 days.

The rest of the story – the Temple of Bones, Jason’s visit with Damon, his throwing in his lot with the Golden Dawn, the Battle of the Citadel and Murder Hill takes place between October 24th and the 30th. There’s a three day (October 25-28) span between Jason deciding to join the Golden Dawn and his theft of the Sphere of Destiny. In that time he hones his newly acquired skills as an Enchanter and War Seer. He crosses over to the Diabolist Level on Murder Hill.

Now some would argue a month is too quickly to learn these skills let alone master them. But those people ignore the events at Murder Hill on July 4, 1999 when Jason was 12 years old and first exhibited the abilities of a Mage. But as he never got his Hogwarts letter or was recruited into the Invisible Hand those skills lay dormant until he crossed the threshold into the Citadel, where those powers began to be unlocked, by passing through the many doors and chambers of the Invisible Hand’s fortress.

So if you yourself was questioning how someone with no training could and advance so quickly, I hope the above clarifies it. And if not, maybe the below will. This is the calendar I put together three years ago when I was just drafting Magicians Impossible. Some details may have changed but I pretty much adhered to this breakdown.

There are other criticisms I’m sure and I take no issue with any of them, not even the ones that accused me of ripping off books or video games or TV shows I’ve never read, played, or watched. I wasn’t even completely sure I should even address the timeline, but for people who surfed on in looking for answers, maybe this will do that.

B

[As a follow-up that’s not to say Magicians Impossible definitively takes place in 2018 or 2017, just that in my mind it takes place later this year]

All Is Well As 2017 Dies

On November 11th I had my final author event of the fall at Bakka-Phoenix Bookstore in Toronto. My hometown (or as close to a hometown as I’ll ever have). It was the best attended event yet, owing to the friends, family, and colleagues who came out. I didn’t have time to talk with everyone or to thank them for coming out to support me and Magicians Impossible, but I appreciate each and every one of them.

If you missed the event, Bakka has a limited number of signed store copies they’d be happy to sell to you. There’s also a smaller number of signed copies at the Indigo Bookstore in the Eaton Centre. They make great Christmas gifts, or so I tell everyone.

So, what’s next? For Magicians? For me?

Bakka may represent the end of the fall leg of the Magicians book tour, but I’m in the process of lining up more events for 2018. These will largely be centered around the NY-NJ-CT region, but hopefully we can do some ones a bit further afield. It all depends on the book’s longevity, obviously, but there’s been a little bit of good news coming in on that front I’m not quite at liberty to discuss as of yet.

[Of course, if any bookstores, libraries, schools etc. would like to have me out for something I’m always interested, and you can reach me direct through this website]

As for me, I just finished the first draft of what will hopefully be my next novel a week ago. It was a challenge – maybe even more difficult a book than Magicians was to write – but I’m pleased with how that first draft came together. Right now it’s sitting in the drawer until 2018 when I plan to open that drawer up, pull it out, and start going over it with the red pen.

In the meantime I’m beginning development on a new TV project with some producers I have a long-standing relationship with. That was another reason for the Toronto trip; to sign the paperwork and make the deal real. It too will have to remain on the down-low for now, but it’s a project I’m very much looking forward to doing. It’s based, in part, on my own life, which is probably saying too much already. Rest assured once it’s made public a lot more about what it is will be much more clear, and may even delight some long-time fans of me and my work.

Until then I’m taking a couple of weeks off – now through Thanksgiving. 2017 has been a very busy, sometimes punishing year. between fatherhood, writing this new novel, doing Magicians promo, and inking the TV deal I’m absolutely exhausted. But I won’t be sitting idle during my Stay-cation; I have books to read, movies and TV to catch up on … and ideas to put to paper. The writer’s brain is never completely at rest, and I routinely find my best ideas when I’m not at my desk, working.

It’s been a strange journey, being an author. It’s a side of the writing biz I’ve never experienced before, but it’s been fun having the chance to step out from behind my desk to meet people, to read from my work publicly, to sign copies of a thing that sprung solely from my mind. So much of writing is solitary; even more so when you’ve largely worked in the film and television fields. Just knowing that my book is sitting on bookstore and library shelves continues to amaze me.

And I’m just getting started.

October Song

What a month.

Magicians Impossible hit stores September 12. Today is October 24. Time enough to talk a little more about it.

First up, CALIFORNIA.

Short version: I had a blast.

Longer version: I had a blast.

I also sold some books!

I got to visit (and shop at) some very cool bookstores run by some very friendly people, I got to see the sites, I got to visit places I’ve never visited before, and I of course got to do a LOT of driving. That didn’t bother me so much though; traffic in California is comparable to the sprawl and congestion of Toronto coupled with the nuttiness of New York drivers, minus the sudden unannounced stops followed by the appearance of four-way flashers (the bane of any NYC driving experience).

A few days after returning from California, I had an event at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, which went VERY well too.

Reviews also been pretty solid. People have generally liked it, with mostly three, four, five stars on Goodreads and Amazon (and a share of ones and twos) The mixed-negative reviews really don’t bother me though; if anything they make the glowing reviews more legit.

I’ve come to discover that writing a book is like building a house. Your blueprint, your specifications, your taste, number and size of rooms, amenities. It’s decorated and furnished the way you want it. It’s your house, but you did all this work for other people; your guests. They move in and inhabit the house. Some stay a few days, some for a week, some for a month. And they all have a different reaction to it. Some will like the entrance and foyer, maybe it opens up into a spectacular living room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a lake. They’ll move through the house, room by room. Some will love the kitchen, some will think it needs more counter space. Some think the floor tiles are ugly, some don’t like the drapes. Some find the bedrooms too small, some think the bathrooms could be bigger. But in the end they all stay however long they need to and when they move out they have an impression, and an opinion. They say they liked it, but had a couple of issues. Other really liked it aside from a couple minor caveats, but they would recommend it to other friends. Some love it, and not only would they recommend it to others, they’re looking to re-up for another stay, or if you’ve got another house on the street, want to stay there too. And for some it just wasn’t what they were looking for, period.

That’s book writing. And that’s also book criticism.

An example of this is my current read is Stephen King’s It – a book I first read back in 1989, the same year as the setting of the recent blockbuster film adaptation. I was roughly the age of the characters in the book – the “Loser’s Club” of kids – and back then naturally I gravitated most strongly to the sections of the book detailing that fateful and fatal summer in Derry, Maine. The sections set in the then present-day world of 1985 with the kids all grown up were less than compelling. At that young age I had no inkling of what awaited me in the adult world. The successes, the failures, the disappointments. But reading It now it’s the adult sections that cut much deeper. Maybe because I’ve grown up as well, but all the things the adult Loser’s grapple with are things I or my friends have had to face as well.

A book is probably the most intimate form of entertainment there is, because of the time it demands. It’s not like watching a 2 hour movie or an hour long TV episode (or several, consecutively, if you’re a binge watcher), or listening to an album full of songs. A book will demand hours, days, even weeks of your time. Who you are and where you are in life will have a huge impact on how you respond to something; the fact I’ve had two very different experiences reading It would point to that.

But in the end Magicians Impossible is no longer my book; it belongs to everyone who has bought a copy. If you’re one of them, thank-you.

Now for some random bits of news:

I’ll be appearing at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto on Saturday November 11th at 3:00pm. Hometown store, hometown crowd; I’ve spent a lot of money at Bakka over the years, starting with their Queen St. W location in the early 1990s, so I am honored to be appearing there.

For those who missed the NY and California signings, due to time or location constraints, Turn of the Corkscrew, Book Soup, Book Carnival, Mysterious Galaxy, and The Mysterious Bookshop all have author signed copies on hand and will be happy to sell and ship them to you. Presumably, Bakka will as well, after November 11th.

And that’s pretty much it. I’m busy working on my next book, having just passed the 2/3rds mark of the first draft and am hoping to be done that by the time I depart for Toronto. It’s been going … well, though there’s a HUGE story behind it I’ll spin some day. But for now I’m just enjoying all of it; the book, authordom, the whole dang ride.

And the sunsets are nice too …