Living in St. Jude, a 110-year-old dying city on the edge of the Mississippi, is tough. But when a letter informs fourteen-year-old Cinque Williams of the passing of the father he never met, he is faced with an incomplete past and an uncertain future. A curse meant for his father condemns Cinque to a slow death even as it opens his eyes to the strange otherworld around him. With help from the ghost Willy T, an enigmatic White Woman named Iku, an African Loa, and a devious shape-shifter, Cinque gathers the tools to confront the ghost of his dead father. But he will learn that sometimes too much knowledge can be dangerous—and the people he trusts most are those poised to betray him.
Nominated for the 2012 San Diego Book Awards.
First four chapters are free, depending on how good you are at solving puzzles.
Reviews – What’s Being Said About Tone Milazzo & Picking Up the Ghost
African magic and folklore color this unusual coming-of-age story . . . . [T]his debut entertains with an original approach and mix of breezy humor and dark fantasy.
If Salvador Dali were an author, his work might resemble Tone Milazzo’s Picking Up the Ghost. Okay, maybe Milazzo’s book has a little more structure than Dali’s melting pocket watches. But there is no doubt that Milazzo can paint a world with words, and the surreal setting he created for this coming-of-age adventure is both dazzling and terrifying. . . . [E]ven if you’re not an urban fantasy fan, I definitely recommend this book. Milazzo has unique style that is downright weird, but has a literary quality to it. I think we can expect more great stories from him.
Problem: I have a team seven protagonists and this isn’t an origin story. Since they all know each other, they’re mobilized right away. Originally, the team leader spent two chapters traveling the country and activating his agents in a sequence not unlike Ocean’s Eleven.
However, that’s a lot easier to pull of in a visual medium. No one watching a movie is going to confuse Bernie Mac with Brad Pitt. In particular I had two women on the team that readers were confusing, Polly and Gabby.
Initial solution: Clearly, the spellings of Polly and Gabby are too close, so I replaced Polly with the full name Pollyanna. I also increased Pollyanna’s potty mouth and her a love of literature (dropping lit references in conversation) while cleaning up Gabby’s language and dumbing her down a bit.
Further solutions: 1) Cold Open: I’m going to extend the book with an action sequence at the beginning that’s loosely related to the rest of the novel, like in some James Bond movies. That’ll give me 2000-3000 words to introduce three of the four characters before jumping around the country for the other four.
2) Character Dossiers: Since this is an espionage story I can write up one page reports on the protagonists from the point of view of the spy master. They’ll come in after each character’s introductory scene and if the ink bleeds into the edge of the page readers can easily use them as reference. Like how fantasy novels used to have a reference appendix.
After this rewrite, I’ll try it on another series of beta readers. If they’re not confused then I’ll know if it worked.
Another year and another instance of San Diego’s primary contribution to culture, Comic Con.
A respectable 11 inches of books for under $500. That’s counting money spent on food and drink, and not including the statue of Krypto because that’s cheating. I’ve read all of this except the two novels and two of the graphic novels. Expect a future post on the best of the Stack.
I’ll also have a future post on pitching; the act of selling a publisher or other investor on a story. I learned a lot about pitching that weekend, that was my main takeaway beyond the books. Excellent timing too, since I’ll be doing just that at the SoCal Writers’ Conference in September.
I’m going into Comic Con in a good head space with baggage cleared.
One the software front, I released the Android version of Texts From Jesus last week. Software is never really done. We have plans to add multiple languages to the app starting with Spanish. Once we have all the major languages covered… Texts From Buddha
In fiction news, The Faith Machine is almost at the end of its second draft. I’m working shopping the last three chapters tonight. I have a few more versions to make, plot and character threads to cut or tie off, and a cold open to write, but if all goes well and if Con leaves me as creatively charged as it usually does I should be into third draft next month.
I’ve been attending Jonathan Maberry‘s Writer’s Coffeehouse meet-ups at Mysterious Galaxy. It gives me that same creative charge Con does, but in a more manageable amount. Like an IV drip.
What I don’t have is a series of good pitches for Comic Con, a skill I really need to work on. But there’s two days until Con and who needs sleep anyway?
How about you? How are you doing?
The Faith Machine first draft… done. 88,227 words is a tad on the short side. But I have a lot of scenes in the last act that need fleshing out beyond the dialog. And I plan on throwing on ten action packed and unrelated opening pages, ala a James Bond movie. Not to mention everything I forgot to write. That Hellfire missile I foreshadowed in the second act, totally forgot about it in the third. And I never showed the consequences of the villain’s success before he was defeated. That’s got to go in there somewhere.
Next: I take a week off to clear my head, even do some camping. Then I give the entire document a few pass-throughs. Like an iron pressing out the wrinkles. I’ll be looking for plot threads that changed or were lost over the last year. There used to be three clones floating around in tanks, now there’s one. Most importantly, make sure everyone’s agenda leads them to the climax. And I’ll be looking for opportunities to foreshadow elements I thought of while writing the last half.
I like the second draft. This is where I pretend that someone else tried to write my novel and it’s my job to fix it. I mean look right here, he forgot about the Hellfire missile.
To celebrate Family Literacy Day (Canada) Between 8AM and 8PM today, January 27, 2015, ChiZine Publications is making PDF copies of these eBooks available for FREE, including Picking Up the Ghost
To celebrate Family Literacy Day (US) they’ll be giving out DVDs.
And the only one who can do anything about it is me. So I gave the Magic Spreadsheet a try (almost). The gamification of writing.
The rules as I understand them:
- Write at least 250 words (equivalent to a page) everyday. Every 250 words is a point.
- Keep score with continuous blocks of goals met. Ex. If you’re written 250 words a day for a week your score is 7. 500 words a day for a week, 14. But if you miss a next day your score drops all the way back down to 0.
As this chain builds and your score gets into the two or three digits it taps into the compulsive part of the brain, the seed of game addiction. Using that nasty bit of neurology for good instead of evil.
So far I’ve only played by the first rule with a macro-less spreadsheet. Eventually I aim to write a full web app to calculate the score. In the meantime I’ve written up this basic version using ZingChart.
Setting a daily goal of 500 words a weekday and 1000 a weekend I managed to get 27,922 words written these last two months. That’s almost half of my total words written so far and I didn’t make my goal everyday, not by a long shot. I was only a third in, now I might be done by mid February. The desire to fill cells on the spreadsheet is a great motivator.
(Note: This isn’t a fair comparison. I was work-shopping as I wrote the first 40,000 words. They’re in their second draft, while everything I’ve written since November is a rough first draft. But the goal is to get the first draft done since that’s the hardest part.)
The Third Act is my Complication
No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy and neither did my outline survive contact with the third act. Changes I made in the first act invalidated large parts of the third. Major characters had their roles changed and needed to be replaced. Motivations no longer lined up with actions. Moles reconsidered their treason. Characters that died lived and vice versa. The warranties expired on my MacGuffins. I hit that wall and I spent Christmas weekend re-plotting the last five chapters. Gotta blue that print, measure twice, and proper that planning if the words are to flow.
Because done… done is beautiful.
It took a lot of raw meat and a lot of grinding but the San Diego Comic Fest schedule is finished. As much as a schedule can be finished. No plan of attack survives the battle.
As Programming Coordinator for San Diego Comic Fest I saw an opportunity to bring the process into the 21st century. A lot of conventions are still relying on email and MS Word:
- Collect availability and panel ideas via email
- Create a list of programs
- Send this list in a Word doc to all the panelists with a pair of square brackets, , by each item
- Spend days processing these docs by hand, figuring who’s interested in what programming and juggling the availability of over a hundred people
The bulk of the time is spent manipulating clusters of guests and their schedules, trying to avoid conflicts, and keeping it all in your head. But me, I like to crowdsource and I use computers to make my life easier. Here’s my process:
- Collect availability and panel ideas via Google Forms
- Schedule the panels
- Release the schedule on a second Google Form to the guests. They manage their own availability. This is the step that saves the most time
- Upload to Sched.org which handles future communications and all presentation.
That’s saves a whole lot of data entry. But there’s a lot of transitioning between mediums. From Google forms, to post-it notes, to Excel, to Sched, and email, email, email. Sched is good for presentation, but not for inception, and it could be a whole lot better at conflict recognition. I think there’s room here for a better tool. One tool to take the convention from conception through presentation with support for print.
I know what I’ll be working on this year.
But this year I’ll be Moderating How We Write on Friday at 2pm and Pop Culture Professionals: Writers Sunday at 3pm. The main upside to scheduling a con; putting yourself on whatever panel you want.
Hopefully I’ll see you there!
This week I won a course in Contract Management in a raffle. My biographers will pinpoint this as the moment the thug life chose me.
Man, I thought it’d be cool to live in a loft and swing down on a rope.
At 7 or 8 I was all about Mork & Mindy. My first non-fiction book was a cheesy, 80 page, paperback biography of Robin Williams. There wasn’t much to it. What was there to say at that point in his career? “Robin grew up, went to school, performed stand up, and landed on a hit TV show.” But I still carry the memory of that book. Robin’s been there my whole life.
From Mork to the movies and TV stand up specials. I never had to follow Robin’s career, he was always there. A ubiquity that I should have worn its welcome. The rapid fire pop culture references in Aladdin should have played out after a single viewing, but I still pop in that DVD at least twice a year.
Like most stand ups he was public with his troubles. The manic performer had a depressive private side. Recently, there’s been money problems, then there was the Parkinson’s disease which comes with it’s own bag of depression. Darkness on all sides.
It’s right there when Mork & Mindy met Robin Williams..
Robin: "I guess I want people to like me, I hate myself for that."
Mindy: "If you learned to say no you'd have a lot more time to yourself."
Robin: "Maybe that's the last thing I want."
Entertaining people was how he felt loved and valued. With the onset of Parkinson’s he must have felt those days were coming to an end. If he couldn’t entertain us anymore he’d lose us and have only himself. He’d always been giving; USO tours, Comic Relief and stories of him stepping into people’s lives, just to make them happy, make them like him.
It’s tragic that he drowned in a pool of depression so deep he couldn’t see we’d never abandon him.
It was an amazing Con. I learned a lot and got to see Con friends. Spike’s brain was ripe for the picking on Tumblr techniques. Accidentally wandered into the Grant Morrison Multiversity panel, scored a Map of the Multiverse, and turned it into Reddit Karma. Bore witness to a recording of Pop Culture Happy Hour. Possibly broke a toe on Saturday morning. Did that stop me from walking the Con floor for the weekend, fuck no it didn’t. Of course the one TV panel I wanted to get into left me standing outside, typical Venture Bros.
The Pro Lounge used to be a barren wasteland of free coffee and empty tables, but this year I met someone every time I stopped for a rest. I’m going to spend more time there next year.
The high point, what really recharged my battery: I asked Geoffrey Thorne about leveraging my novel work into comic and TV mediums. His said not worry about that, keep producing quality content and the work will find you.
I’d better get back to writing.