The successful miscreants that I call, “friends”

I really thought I was going to start talking about my novel this week.  I feel like I’ve been teasing my readers with hints about The Lost City of the Metal Men and my new heroine, Nifty Brandenburger, without saying anything substantive.  But then the Tony’s happened.  And my buddy’s book dropped.  And I found out about a reading.  So, kindly allow me to put off talking about Nifty for a bit longer so I can tout the achievements of my friends.

First off, the big news…congrats to PlayPenn and Paul Meshejian and Michele Volansky for Oslo, which won the Tony for Best New Play last Sunday.  PlayPenn is responsible for developing many many many plays over the years (including one of mine!), and developing a Tony-winner is a big feather in their cap.  I guess I should also congratulate playwright J.T. Rogers as well, but the truth is, I’ve never met the guy (at least, as far as I recall).  So, open invitation, J.T…if we ever run into each other at a PlayPenn event, I’ll buy you a drink.  And then we’ll work out what your nickname should be, because I have trouble calling anyone “J.T.”  How about “Slam Dunk?”  Slam Dunk Rogers.

Anywho, Paul gave a great five-minute interview on the June 13 episode of NewsWorks, last week.  You can listen to it on the podcast, starting at 8:03.

Second, John DiFelice’s new book dropped this week.  You might recall me talking about his novel, American Zeroes, last year, and he’s followed it up with a collection of short stories and poetry.  Order it now!

Playwright Robin Rodriguez

And last, I see that my friend and fellow playwright Robin Rodriguez has a reading this Tuesday, June 20, courtesy of the good people at PlayPenn.  It’s at the Drake (1512 Spruce Street, Philadelphia) and runs from 7 to 9 pm, though I’m sure there will be carousing, afterward.  As always, if you’re in the Philly area and love new plays, you should check it out.

Playwrights rock!

Playwrights are sexy!

Playwrights are dangerous, if you don’t pay attention to us!  Pay attention to us!  Do it!  DO IT!!!!!


Murder mysteries and hidden beds

The venue for a murder.

Last weekend, we were infested by a pod of Fritzes.  And, I enjoy saying that, because I happen to know that Fritz the Elder, aka Bob, aka Fritzy, is a fan of this blog.  Their infestation is relevant to this blog for two reasons:

First, we attended a murder mystery dinner theater.  Yeah, yeah, I know; it’s not usually my thing, either.  But this was being performed by the good people of Colonial Playhouse, and a few of the actors were my friends, to wit, Sam Barrett, Mark Knight, and Erin Marie Friel.  Also, the Fritz pod includes two Fritzes in chrysalis form, and this seemed like good, all-ages entertainment.  Also, also, it was performed in a tiki bar.  Everybody likes tiki bars, and not ironically, either.  If someone says to you that they ironically like a tiki bar, you should punch them in the mouth.

Captain Mark Knight, doing his thing.

Second, the two eldest Fritzes (a mated pair, no less) served as the daring test pilots of my new Murphy bed.  As you may have noticed in earlier posts, I dabble in woodworking, and I decided to build a Murphy bed in my study.  We’re all getting a little older, and the cots I keep in my attic don’t always cut it.  Also, for some strange reason, physical activity seems to allay my headaches, so I’ve been trying to break up my writing sessions with constructing stealthy furniture.  Anyway, I don’t think I’m finished with the decorative part of my latest creation, but it’s certainly functional.  I’m still deciding how to properly adorn it, but there’s no rush.

Murphy bed in stealth mode, not unlike an autobot.

There’s precious little about writing in this post, so let me wind it up by saying that I’ve spent the last two weeks plotting the next five chapters of my novel (roughly, 25,000 words or, even more roughly, 100 pages), and I’m finally diving into it tomorrow.  I’m very much looking forward to continuing the adventures of Miss Nifty Brandenburger.

Murphy bed…TRANSFORM!


Return of the blog!

Playwright Nick Wardigo and his family, enjoying the view of Salzburg from atop the fortress.

Okay.  Blog-wise, I’ve been dormant for nearly three months, and there are all sorts of reasons for that.  Some are medical, which I won’t go into too much except to say that I’ve been experiencing quirky headaches for about a year, now, and with the help of a couple of doctors, I’m slowly improving.  These aren’t crippling, rush-to-the-hospital headaches, either.  If they were, that might be easier in some ways.  On the zero-to-ten pain meter, I’ve been experiencing a level two headache for several months, which, it turns out, is enough to make you feel crazy.

But there are happy reasons for being dormant, as well.  Aurora and I spent two weeks in Austria with my folks, and we just ate our way through the whole damn country.  Also, a crap-ton of museums.  And, oh yeah, the drinking.  Beer in Salzburg; wine in Vienna.  So.  Much.  Fun.

And, while I’ve been invisible, blog-wise, I’ve been busy, writing-wise.  True, my headaches have prevented me from catching as much theater as I would like, but the new novel is proceeding apace.  I hit 50,000 words before we left on vacation, and yesterday, I finished going through all my handwritten edits and printed out my third draft, which is the draft I generally allow my wife to read.  If my outline is correct, this is the half-way point, which means I’m more-or-less on track to competing a solid draft by the end of the summer.  The Lost City of the Metal Men will be a physical entity!

Sadly, we’re approaching the end of the theater season, and there were a number of plays by local playwrights that I really wanted to see and write about, but it simply wasn’t in the cards.  But why dwell on missed opportunities?  My buddy John DiFelice’s new book, Lures, drops next month, and you can preorder it here.  And, I’ll be talking more about Lost City, which is some of my wackiest writing, yet.  I appreciate everybody who checks out my blog, and I hope to keep you guys thoroughly entertained for a long time to come.


Seagulls and Godot

The amazing set of EgoPo’s THE SEAGULL. Yes, that’s real water around the “island,” and branches in the ceiling.

Here’s the thing…it’s difficult to maintain a blogging schedule when your writing is going well.  Which is a terrific problem to have, as far as problems go.

First things first, I didn’t see Godot like I planned; I went to see Seagull at EgoPo Theatre and loved it.  The show closed last week, so this doesn’t help any potential theatergoers, but I wanted to mention how fabulous the set was.  And I mean “fabulous” in the classic sense, as in, “The fabulous Roc of Arabia.”  As you can see in the pic, it employed a lot of water, which must be a bitch.  I’ve never had to deal with such a thing in any of my productions, but I can’t imagine it being anything less than a bitch.  And because it’s a bitch, they used it to its full potential.  Actors played in it, and floated in it, and crossed it on stepping stones.  See that square “island” in the center?  For the final act, they lifted it up to the ceiling with ropes.  No foolin’.  They lifted it up, and put furniture directly in the water, and the actors played the final part of the play in knee-deep water.  I can’t say enough how gobsmacked I am.  Had to be a total bitch, and I loved it.  Can’t wait to see more of EgoPo’s stuff.

For what it’s worth, I am seeing Waiting for Godot at Curio Theatre tomorrow night, if anyone wants to say hi.  It’s closing night, so I’m anticipating lots of drinking and high-fiving afterward.

Lots of other random life stuff happened over the past weeks, which I won’t bother getting into, but one of the nicer things was Aurora’s birthday.  To celebrate, I thought I’d post this particularly fun photo of her.  Enjoy!

Aurora’s birthday morning: a homemade egg burrito, cup of joe, and mutt.


The first 25,000 words

The director and cast of INFORMED CONSENT at InterAct Theatre.

Let’s start with some local theater reporting.  The winter season has kicked off, and I’m pleased to report about some wonderful things happening right now in the Philadelphia area.  I saw two intriguing shows in the past couple of weeks: Informed Consent at the Lantern Theater and Marcus/Emma at InterAct Theatre.  Neither was perfect, but both kept me on my toes.  I saw a reading of Informed Consent at PlayPenn in 2013, so it was fascinating to see what was done with it, particularly in light of its recent popularity nationwide.  Marcus/Emma was written by local playwright (and Orbiter 3 member) Mary Tuomanen, and a day without supporting a local playwright is a day wasted, which is something nobody says.  We think it, though!  We think it.

I’m considering seeing Waiting for Godot, which opens this weekend at Curio Theatre and is directed by recent Martinis with Nick interviewee Dan Hodge.  But if Chekhov is more your thing, my buddy Mark Knight is in a production of The Seagull that opened at EgoPo Theater last week.  Choices galore!

Playwrights Nicholas Wardigo and Joy Cutler, hanging out in the lobby of the Drake.

Happy to report that my new novel, The Lost City of the Metal Men, is progressing nicely.  Two weeks ago, I finished the first 25,000 (about 100 pages or one-quarter of the book).  It took me about nine weeks; I don’t know if that’s slow or fast, but it sounds like it should be normal for your average novelist.  It might be a little fast for me, but like anything else, all the practice from the first three novels is paying off.  Funnily enough, I often say that if I can’t write a solid draft of a play in six weeks, I don’t have it.  That’s how I knew I was in trouble with my last play which took nearly a year.  Writing a play isn’t the same as writing a novel, but I’m hoping the faster pace with Lost City is a good sign.

My habit is to rewrite as I go.  A lot of writers will tell you not to do that; that you should pump out your first draft without looking at it, and then go back to the beginning with a gallon of red ink.  Speaking for myself, I can’t go more than twenty or thirty pages without itching to bang it into my trusty Mac Mini.

In case anyone cares, I write the first draft by hand, typically in coffee shops, and then on my days when I’m at home, I type it up, rewriting and researching all the stuff I left blank.  I like to think I’m going to crack up some scholar in the future as he goes through my notebooks and reads idiocy like “Look up top-ten songs of 1933,” “Research latest gramophone model,” and “What year was Bazooka Gum founded?”  By doing it that way, my typed copy is automatically a second draft.  And then, when I get a good chunk (like, say 25,000 words), I read through the whole thing and edit it to make sense.  There’s consistency stuff, sure, but it’s amazing how off-track your voice can go when you’re in the trenches.  You’ll start off sounding like a 1930s female mechanic, but a hundred pages later, you’re a 1970s soy bean farmer with a penchant for cross-dressing.  It happens.

This is the point where you’re pretty damn glad you have an outline, which is something I want to address next time.  In the meanwhile, go see some Chekhov.  Or Beckett.  Or anything.  Because theater rocks.


The pitfalls of self-publishing, part 3

Aurora and chicken...in my brand-new roaster!

Aurora and chicken…in my brand-new roaster!

In case you’re wondering, there’s no particular reason I’m attaching a photo of my wife and a chicken, other than I don’t have an image that illuminates the issue of self-publishing, and I enjoy bragging about my cooking.  My blog, my rules.

In my last post, I talked about the valid reason why an author would want to self-publish.  In this post, I want to address, briefly, the bullshit reasons to self-publish.  None of them are untrue, mind you; they’re just bullshit.

1. “You get to keep a bigger piece of the sales when you self-publish.”

This is true.  The pay rate of a publishing house is a bit complicated, but you can expect to receive 10 to 15% percent of hardcover book sales, depending upon how well it sells (less for paperback, and I don’t know what it is for e-readers).  From your cut, your agent will receive 15%.  Conversely, you get to keep around 70% of book sales if you self-publish through Amazon.  The problem is, publishing houses deal with tens and hundreds of thousands of book sales (and, yes, occasionally millions), whereas five thousand sales of a self-published book is considered a pretty good haul.  So, the math doesn’t work.

2. “Blah-blah-blah did it, and now they’re famous!”

The “blah-blah-blah” is almost certainly E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), Andy Weir (The Martian), or Hugh Howey (Wool).  I’ve had this conversation at least half a dozen times:

 

 

Fellow drinker: “Why don’t you self-publish?”

Me: “It’s not for me.”

Fellow drinker: “Really?  Well, it worked for—”

Me: “Stop.”

Fellow drinker: “Why?”

Me: “Because you’re about to say either E.L. James, Andy Weir, or Hugh Howey.

Fellow drinker: (stunned silence)

 

And again, it’s true.  All three of these authors did some variant of self-publishing, and now they’re making bathtubs of money.  But this is what’s known as the “Outlier Fallacy.”  I don’t want to go into it too much, but suffice to say, for every E.L. James, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of self-published writers on Amazon who end up selling only a few hundred copies.  “To get rich” is simply not a sane reason to go into writing, let alone self-publishing.

3. “You get your name out there.”

Okay, this one is tricky, because “getting your name out there” is critical for an author.  So, the question is: Is self-publishing a good way to do that?

Self-publishing doesn’t bear the same stigma that it did just a few decades ago, when it was called “vanity publishing,” and I credit Youtube.  Today, musicians who can’t score a contract with a record label can still get their music heard by uploading a video.  And there’s a logic: many musicians have been discovered on Youtube by record companies, so maybe an author can be discovered on Amazon.

Do agents troll Amazon, looking for clients?  Maybe.  I know that publishing houses are loath to publish a book that’s already been downloaded a lot on Amazon (it does happen, but it’s rare), but maybe, if an agent likes your book, they might ask you what else you’re writing, and you can win a contract that way.  Seems like a longshot, but what isn’t?

I guess I think of it as bullshit because there are, in my opinion, better ways to “get your name out there.”  Take my web series, Martinis with Nick, which is, ultimately, about me, whereas self-publishing is about the book, i.e., the product, i.e., what you’re trying to sell.  Martinis with Nick is an advertisement; a self-published book is the thing, itself.  To me, that’s not the same as “getting your name out there.”

And, what happens when your book only sells 300 copies?  You might chalk it up to a learning experience, but nothing goes away on the Internet.  What happens when an agent has some interest in your next book, and she googles you?  Will your status as a failed self-publisher affect her decision to take you on?  Maybe not, but it sure as hell won’t help.

 

I think the question every novelist should ask herself is, “Do I want to be a publisher?” because that’s what we’re really talking about.  For me, the answer is no.  I’m sure I can do it with some modicum of competence, but there are real, honest-to-God, full-time publishers out there who can run circles around me, if one of them ever took a chance on my book.  I don’t know if that will ever happen.  I like to think it will.  But one thing I know for sure is, my chances are better if I spend my day writing the best book I can, rather than pleading with a blogger for a review.


The pitfalls of self-publishing, part 2

Me, enjoying an after-dinner beer with my wife.

Me, enjoying an after-dinner beer with my wife.

There are a lot of reasons to self-publish, but only one that I think matters, which is, you get to control everything.  The editing, marketing, distributing, cover design…everything.  Ev-er-y-thing.  If the book succeeds, there’s no one else to credit.  If it fails, there’s no one else to blame.  Which is damn appealing to a control freak, and let’s face it, what writer isn’t?  You think normal people go around, creating universes?  No.  I’ve asked.

So, if you’re worried that your publisher might change your book title (which happens more often than you think), you marketer might insist on cover art you hate (which happens even more often), or your editor might force you to endlessly rewrite until every extraneous detail is sheered away (which WILL happen), self-publishing is for you.  Which means, if you want a prayer of your book doing anything at all, you need to hire an editor, a cover artist, and, if you have a lick of sense, a press agent or public relations wonk or all-around communications god.  It’s been a while since I’ve researched Amazon’s self-publishing rules on their website, but I seem to recall it was free (or at least inexpensive) to upload a book, and that’s true-ish, but my point is that it’s really not, unless you’re only interested in selling twenty copies to your friends and family.

In addition to money, it’s a LOT of work.  Being an author is always a lot of work, anyway, with publishing houses setting up interviews and book signings and updating your blog and getting the word out.  But now, it’s a lot MORE work, because now it’s you, calling the reviewer to convince them to read your novel.  It’s you, calling the bookstore to convince them to schedule a reading.  It’s you, looking over the proofs of the cover and sending them back to the artist with notes.  It’s all you.  All of it.

And, it needs to be said, no matter how much dough you shell out and work you do, you will NEVER have the resources of a publishing house.  You will never be widely distributed.  You will never appear in a bookstore more than twenty miles from your house.  You will never be on a shelf in Barnes and Noble.  You will never be reviewed in the New York Times.  You will never be asked to speak to the writing class in a university.  You will have an icon on a page on Amazon’s website that someone can click on, and, if you’re smart, a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter account that ties into it.

After all that work and the money you spend on your team, you might break even, but most self-published authors don’t.  Probably, the vast majority.  If it’s about money, your odds are WAY better playing blackjack at Atlantic City.  But, of course, it’s not about money.

I don’t download self-published books from Amazon, but my wife does because she’s a reading addict and self-published books are famously cheap.  In her estimation, most of the books she downloads are “enjoyable enough,” a large chunk are “awful,” and occasionally one will float to the top as “good.”  So, I don’t doubt they’re out there: good books that get overlooked by agents and publishers and end up floating in the ether, waiting for someone like my wife to relish them.  That’s the real reason to self-publish, and I think that’s valid.

There are several other reasons, which I regard as various levels of bullshit, and I’m happy to address them next time.


The pitfalls of self-publishing, part 1

All right, I want to talk about self-publishing, and I have a lot to say about it, so I’m going to break it up over a few posts.  I don’t know how many; I ramble a lot.  But so many of my friends and colleagues are asking me why I don’t do it, particularly now that I’m shelving Solomon’s Archivist, that now’s as good a time as any to address it.

I want to be a little careful because a friend of mine recently self-published his novel (American Zeroes by John DiFelice; if you haven’t bought it yet, do it know; I’ll wait).  Now, I haven’t spoken to John about it, but I suspect, before he self-published, he sent a few query letters to a few agents.  Why can I make such a wild assumption?  Because in all the conferences and all the readings and all the countless conversations I’ve had with countless authors, published and otherwise, I’ve yet to meet one who’s said, “My novel is so brilliant, I’m not going to waste it on Random House!  They wouldn’t know what to do with it, anyway!”

What I have met, are people like me who have gone to conferences, had frank conversations with agents over a martini or cup of coffee or whatever, sent a LOT of queries to a LOT of agencies, and got rejected from everyone.  Unlike me, some of these people have then said, “The publishing industry is a racket!  I’m going to self-publish!”  Which may be perfectly valid.  Maybe the industry is a racket, and maybe self-publishing is a rational response.  My point is, I’ve yet to meet anybody who wouldn’t prefer to go the traditional route, if that route was open to them.

The reasoning for that is that agents, ostensibly, know things that aspiring writers do not.  To make a comparison to selling a play script, I’ve yet to sell a play that didn’t involve me buying a drink for someone.  Sure, some of it is me pitching things over a couple of beers, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been having a drink with an artistic director, and they say something like, “What I really need is a play about a dolphin,” and I happen to have a brilliant dolphin play in my drawer that I couldn’t sell five years ago.

I think agents are like that.  They hang out with publishers, and when they got drunk with Susan from XYZ Publishing at a Christmas party last year, she mentioned that she hasn’t read a thriller about a trapeze artist in a long time.  And then, coincidentally, you happen to send your trapeze artist murder mystery to that agent.  He makes a phone call, “Hey, Susan, you still looking for circus snuff books?”  Boom.  Sale.

And, yes, you do want a publishing house to handle your book.  Even a tiny, small-press imprint that no one’s ever heard of, because a microscopic marketing budget is still better than what you’ve got, which is a dream and a credit card.

So, in a perfect world, you want to sell your book to a publishing house.  And to do that, you need an agent.  And to get an agent, you have to have a book that an agent thinks he can sell in a reasonable amount of time.  And, in my opinion, authors who self-publish are authors who have not been able to convince an agent that their book will sell.  Like me.  That doesn’t mean that the agents are right, only that they aren’t convinced.  So what’s the rational response?

For me, it’s to write another book.  For others, it’s to fork over the dough (i.e., crack open the credit card) to self-publish.  There are reasons that looks like a good option, which I’ll address next time.


Moving on…

Ringing in 2017!

Ringing in 2017!

Happy new year, everyone!

So, as promised, I’m taking a little time out from my writing schedule to give you guys an update of what’s what.  It should be noted that, as I do this, I have a load of laundry in the dryer, a second load in the wash, and a pot of lamb stew simmering away in my crock pot for tonight.  Also this morning, I’ve broken down a crap-load of cardboard boxes (the detritus of Christmas), and this afternoon, I plan to mop the kitchen floor and, if I’m feeling up to it, carry three cots up to the attic (the detritus of New Year’s Eve sleeping arrangements for my friends).  I mention all this because people sometimes ask me what I do all day, and the answer is mostly “write and cook,” but there’s all the day-to-day stuff that keeps a household running that needs to happen.  Frankly, the only reason I’m blogging and not hammering away at the new novel is that I pumped out about sixteen pages over the past two days, and I can stand a day away from it.  Having said that, I’ll probably work on it some more this afternoon.  Because I’m me.  And, if I’m being truly honest, I probably won’t carry the cots upstairs this afternoon, because they’re not really in the way, and I can bribe my neighbor to help me next week with a pitcher of martinis.

But I digress.

For the moment, I’m setting aside the marketing of Solomon’s Archivist, not because I don’t think it’s a worthwhile book or that it can make money; I just can’t seem to convince anyone else of that.  And a big part of that is that it may not be “the right book at the right time.”  And while that’s frustrating, I can accept it, because I worked in marketing for nine years, and I understand there are many wonderful products in the world that simply don’t have a market.

As many of my reader-friends already know, while I’ve been marketing Solomon’s Archivist, I’ve been working on its sequels, so an unsellable novel has ballooned into an unsellable trilogy of about a thousand pages.  It would be easy to see this as a colossal waste of time, if I hadn’t been giving myself an education at the same time, both in novel-writing and novel-selling.  My experiences at the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference alone were eye-opening, to say nothing of my multiple experiences with the Push to Publish Conference and taking to agents and on and on.  I know a lot more now than when I started, maybe even enough to set the book down and move on.

And, that’s not all I’ve been writing for the last five years.  There have been a few new plays.  Two productions.  The work on Martinis with Nick.

 

Several friends are pressuring me to self-publish, but I resist that option.  I’m happy to explain why, but I think that deserves a post of its own.  For now, I merely want to assure everyone that, while I’m setting Solomon’s Archivist on a shelf (for now), I have not given up on novel writing, and The Lost City of the Metal Men is coming along swimmingly.  God, I love that title.

All right.  Now I have to pull underpants out of the dryer.


Another Saturnalia, shot to the underworld

The Christmas tree at the Wardigo household.

The Christmas tree at the Wardigo household.

Christmas has come and gone in a very quiet fashion in the Wardigo household.  Sure, a goose was roasted on Christmas Day, which is probably more of a pain in the ass than it needed to be, but isn’t that what the holidays are all about?  Doing stuff that’s more of a pain in the ass than it needs to be.

We did go to the trouble to have our chimney cleaned this year (and, no, I am not being euphemistic).  So, I invested in half a cord of wood, and Christmas was celebrated among friends with a roaring fire, music on the jukebox, and a roasted goose with all the trimmings.

This is what half a cord of wood looks like.  In case you were wondering.

This is what half a cord of wood looks like. In case you were wondering.

Sadly, I did not take a picture of the goose, though I did take a picture of my roasting setup, but only because my neighbor and I were exchanging pics to get a second set of eyes on one another’s setups so that no one was doing anything particularly stupid.  Turns out, roasting a ten-pound bird that throws off a quart of grease can be problematic.  As you can see in the photo, I ultimately decided upon jury-rigging the broiling pan from my oven over a large, deep, disposable drip pan that’s normally used to serve catered food.  I was concerned that the foil pan might balk at ten pounds of bird, but all ended well.

The high-tech broiling-pan/drip-pan setup that made goose roasting possible.

The high-tech broiling-pan/drip-pan setup that made goose roasting possible.

Also sadly, our holiday plans precluded anything theatrical.  We did hope to get Sunday tickets to A Play, a Pie, and a Pint, but they sold out several days early.  I guess everyone else had Sunday open, too.  So, sorry I missed it, but if anyone else caught it, please give me a shout.

In the meantime, I’ve been working like a banshee on my new novel, which is tentatively titled, The Lost City of the Metal Men.  Pretty catchy, right?  As you might guess, it’s a lot less dark than the novel I’ve been marketing, Solomon’s Archivistwhich, for the moment, I’m putting on a shelf.  I’m not going to go into details just yet, because while I’m tempted to launch into a voluminous, sprawling tale of my evolving strategies to attain literary fame, I think the start of a new year is a good place to start a new chapter in my never-ending battle on that particular front.  Besides, most of you are rushing to the nearest liquor store right now, desperately grasping for the final remnants of their stocks of Tattinger Brut.  Go with God, I say.

So, I hope everyone is safe and has someplace warm and snuggly to spend their New Year’s Eve, and I look forward to sharing my latest tribulations with you, wherever they take me.

Happy New Year!

Aurora's Christmas present.  Fitting tribute to a kickass spouse!

Aurora’s Christmas present. Fitting tribute to a kickass spouse!