August 30, 2006

Where, oh, where, oh, where, is my agent?

I’ve been researching and compiling a long list of agents over the last couple of years in my effort to find somebody to represent "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog". I still haven’t found representation, but I certainly have a pretty big list of agents which is not doing me much good till I finish my second novel and start querying them again :)

So, I thought, why not set up a page online which lists all these agents and publishers so that somebody else can benefit from my research as well? I originally wanted to add an export feature to WriteTrack (I keep agent information in WriteTrack, my submission management software) so that I could export the database to HTML. But the more I thought about it, the less efficient an HTML page seemed. It would be a long static list of agents/publishers which would take forever to load and would be hard to search.

So I began thinking about a way to quickly code up a nice little interface to access and manage the data and to even provide a way for users to give feedback on the agents/publishers. The first thing I thought of was – Adobe Flex. Basically, it’s a new development environment (as well as a suit of technologies) which uses Flash to provide a spiffy interface which is also extremely fast to design and develop. I had not used Flex before but I had been meaning to and after about a day of mucking around, I came up with this page.

The page works fine but it takes a little bit of time to load and needs Flash 9 to work. While I am happy enough with the interface for the moment, I am considering going the AJAX route and redoing the interface so that it loads even faster and doesn’t depend on third-party technology so much. Since the data will remain the same, you can continue to use this interface till I do something new which will hopefully have even more features and will work even better :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:05 am  |  2 Comments

August 25, 2006

Space jocks and good books

I finished reading Simon Haynes‘ "Hal Spacejock" today and I must say that it was a darn good read and something that I completely enjoyed reading, after a long time :) What was interesting for me while reading the book was to note that I was hooked by the time I was barely a quarter of a way through the book and usually, it takes me much longer to be truly invested in a story. For instance, Terry Pratchett is my most favourite author and the last few books by PTerry took me at least till the middle of the book before I was really engaged in the story and could not put the book down.

Am I saying that Simon is better than PTerry? Not really. (Sorry Simon :p) But I’m saying that Simon’s style is very easy to read and to get into and that it is very different from that of Terry Pratchett – I enjoy books by both but I find that Simon’s is a much more easier page turner for me much more earlier on :) But I’m not going to compare one author to another, that’s really not fair to either since each author has their own unique style and they bring completely different values and qualities to the table.

I know Simon. I have read his story of how he got published and I admire him for his determination, tenacity and courage :) I wish I could call him friend but I don’t know him well enough and he doesn’t know me well enough. But he certainly is somebody that I wish was my friend. So, it’s a bit harder to review one of his books objectively. If it was somebody who didn’t know me and somebody who I didn’t know, I’d simply say what I thought. But when it is somebody I know, I always wonder whether I’m being too nice (or too harsh :p) simply because I know them.

So I shall not go into the nitty gritty stuff :) There are things which annoy me about the story … OK, maybe "annoy" is too strong a word. It’s more like that there are some elements in the story which offends the nitpicky obsessive compulsive in me – the one who wants every t crossed (and for it to be exactly perpendicular) and every i dotted. For instance, I find the robots to be entirely too human and the humans a bit inconsistent at time. But what’s important is that while the inner-nitpicker complained bitter about these things I was still busily turning the pages. So I guess he was still doing something right :)

Basically, I enjoyed the story. It came together well and by the time I completed it, I wanted to get my hands on the sequel, "Hal Spacejock: Second Course" and continue reading. That’s all that an author can ask for, right? :)

August 22, 2006

Of comics and cars

Still working on the idea of developing a comic based on the characters from "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" :) There were a few things that I needed to put together first though – for one thing, I wanted a landscape which reflected the turmoil and the destruction of the bygone eras. This was fairly easy to do.

Then I needed a hover car. I created one by modifying an existing model of a sports car and while I did like it, it didn’t have quite the futuristic look that I would have liked. Then I found another model which provided just the look I wanted but it had some other issues with how the final setting looked. A few tweaks and changes later, that too was fixed.

I thought I was ready for my final test render before I introduced my characters but that was where I hit the biggest snag of all :p And it was something rather simple as well – the road. I have two of my test renders further below (one showing the sportscar hovercar and the other one the later version I used) and if you look at the yellow hovercar picture, you will notice that the road is really smooth. I didn’t like that. Besides that, it wasn’t really following the contour of the land, which was rather tumultuous :) This was because I wasn’t sure how to do the road in 3D.

I’d first tried a road which was a modeled object but it would not (as I mentioned above) fit to the contour of the land. Not only that, in some places, the road would actually be several feet above the land – though I’m not really sure if you can see that in the image :p I spent several days trying out different techniques to get the road to lie on the land instead of under it or above it or through it and finally, met with success today. The second hovercar shows the results.

So, onwards and upwards! Next, my adventures with creating characters :)

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Posted by Fahim at 9:53 am  |  No Comments

August 17, 2006

A horse with no name

I’ve been playing with the idea of self-publishing "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" again. In considering the process and what needed to be done, I also thought about doing the cover myself. Of course, me being the kind of person I am, thinking about doing the cover meant that I went overboard on the whole idea and started collecting 3D objects and images and meshes and what not even before I had actually figured out what I was going to do.

In the middle of all of this (and learning about various 3D software to boot), I thought, "Hey, why not do a comic strip about Normal and Johnny?" In case you’re wondering, Normal and Johnny are two of the characters from "Honest" :p There was only one problem, I hadn’t really gotten everything together for doing the comic yet. Being the impatient type, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. So instead of a comic about Normal and Johnny, I came up with a cartoon which involved (of all things) a crash test dummy and a scorpion :)

I made two versions of the cartoon – one for Simon Haynes, because he’s such a great guy, about his Hal Spacejock and the other my original idea for the cartoon. As to whether it’s any good, you can judge for yourself :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:22 pm  |  No Comments

August 10, 2006

Hal Spacejock Support Crew

Simon Haynes (yes, the same guy I’ve talked about a couple of times before :p) has got a rather nifty marketing idea over on his blog :) Given that he’s already given me one of his books for free (join his contests) and I’m in the running for a copy of his other book(s), I figured I might as well join the support crew – you know what they say, if you can’t get your own book published, help somebody else market theirs :p

I joined Hal Spacejock’s Support Crew
I didn’t pay anything,
I didn’t sign anything,
and I didn’t read the fine print.
Just like Hal!
No space pilot can exist in a vacuum (hah!), and behind every successful pilot there’s a talented and dedicated support crew.
Hal Spacejock is one of the least successful space pilots in the history of the galaxy, and a worldwide support crew is needed just to get him off the ground.
Join now for free Hal Spacejock goodies!
Join the team
– – – – – – – – – Hal who?

August 9, 2006

Signs of the times

Does popular culture reflect the fears and phobias of the time? I remember a few decades back when stories (in books and movies) abounded about how the US president (or his wife or his vice-president) is replaced by a look-alike. I didn’t think that reflected the paranoias of the time at the time, but now I’m not so sure.

We’ve watched (or are in the process of watching) two US TV series from 2005-2006. They both show the leadership of the US as being morally ambiguous or corrupt. The shows? "24" and "Prison Break" :) (Incidentally, "Prison Break" is my favourite new show :p) In "24", it’s the president of the US who has no care for his own countrymen (and women) in his quest to do "what needs to be done to secure the nation’s future". In "Prison Break" the vice-president will go as far as to frame an innocent man (and kill several others) so that she can win the presidential election. All for the "good of the nation".

Is this how entertainers (and a good portion of the population) view their leaders? Or are these stories just coincidental to the current political/social climate? Here in Sri Lanka, nobody would dream of using mass-media to criticize their leaders. Sure, there are shows which are critical but the criticism is more covert. For the longest time, if you dared criticize the government, you could expect a call from the goon squads and it wasn’t going to be a friendly visit either. However, the people do express their opinions of the government (and the opposition and of politicians in general) fairly openly. The problems crop up only when you start expressing your opinions to a lot of people via the media :p That’s kind of weird, I know.

On the other hand, I get the impression that in the US, the media will lambaste politicians while your average Joe, the man on the street, will not care enough to discuss these matters. Here, politics is more of a topic for common discussion than the weather. Over there, I get the impression that it’s the other way around. The only similarity that I see is that in the end, whether you speak out or not, whether your discuss corruption or not, the apathy remains. We keep electing the same bunch of crooks (or their counterparts) come election time. Sure, we might justify it by saying that one side is less crooked than the other but if we know that they are all crooked, should we be making a distinction as to how less crooked one side is than the other?

August 3, 2006

Critical eye for the writer guy

As many a publisher’s site will tell you, if you are done with your manuscript, then you should consider working with an online critique group to further polish your manuscript. But does a critique group actually help you? Personally, I believe that depends on the kind of critter that you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to get.

When Laurie first suggested that I try a crit group, we both looked around a bit and settled on one. They suggested that you read the Turkey City Lexicon. We both did that. And then we started critting. Our first critting experience came from the work we did on that particular crit group. However, we left soon after because we didn’t agree with their particular methodology.

Since then, I’ve been critting manuscripts for different people on a one-on-one basis. I’ve slowly been formulating my own ideas about crits and what is useful to me personally and what is not. I’ve also seen the critting styles of various people and have come to formulate some theories as to the different styles out there.

One thing I’ve come to notice is that there are a lot of "professional" critters out there – people who seem to soullessly follow the "rules" of writing and look for adherence to the rules or the breaking of the rules. The story does not matter to them. What matters to them are these amorphous rules. The problem is, most of these rules, while good rules if followed with a smidgen of common sense, become an albatross around your neck (and on the figurative neck of your work) if you stick to them mindlessly. For instance, I had a critter tell me that I should take a chunk of backstory which comes out in a conversation between two characters and have that whole backstory be the start of my story because the conversation was "telling" and he wanted me to "show" the whole thing. Personally, I don’t think it would have added any value to my story whatsoever to do it that way – sure, it would have made the story about forty pages longer but it would have started at a point where nothing much was happening and would have made for a much less interesting opening.

There, I believe the critter was simply looking for an excuse to pinpoint the "show don’t tell" rule – he wasn’t looking at the overall story. This is the problem with some critters. I’ve come to appreciate those critters who love the story. They will read your book not out of a sense of obligation but because they enjoy the story. If they don’t enjoy it, they tell you "hey, I don’t like this one" and that is fine – that at least lets you know what you’re doing wrong.

Face it, the reader is not going to be reading your novel looking to see if you tell instead of show, or if you use too many adverbs or if you head hop. (Mind you, I’m not saying that these rules aren’t important – they are and you should look out for these things when you’re writing) But when I look for crits, what’s important to me is to know if the story and the characters grab the reader, if they keep you engaged and what points in the story draw you out of the story. This is what is most important to me. Of course, what you want might be totally different. I guess the bottomline is, find critters who can give you the kind of feedback you need, not ones who just crit for the sake of critting :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:16 am  |  No Comments