I heard the SDSU Writers’ Conference was a good place to land an agent, and that was my agenda. The place was crawling with industry professionals and I did get some interest from one of the advanced readings, but for the most part I’ll have to chalk this one up as a learning experience.
On Friday there were panels on pitching and query letters. I needed a pitch, so that panel was really useful. As for the query letter panel, well I can’t trust anyone who has never seen Star Wars.
Saturday was the day for advanced readings. I sent in 10 pages and $50 dollars for some face time with some agents. One liked the concept of The Faith Machine enough to ask for more. Boom! But all of them said my opening was too exposition heavy. Point taken. I rewrote the first scene with less back story any more animosity. That was a valuable bit of feedback and the rewrite will strengthen a weak plot thread.
I also met a few cool, speculative fiction writers, other attendees. And I attended a few panels that didn’t tell me anything new, but it was good to know that my knowledge of social media and blogging is still up to date.
I’d thought that being published would have given me a bit of a leg up, put me in a position where to attract an agent as a proven writer. But no, I’m probably still going to have to write the second book on spec before most agents will consider a look. However, of all the agents that I pitched too, none of them said that it was a dumb premise and should be abandoned so I got some encouragement out of it, that was worth $600 right there.
In Liberia, Park allows street urchins to pick his pocket while on his way to the US Embassy. Inside, he uncovers information on an abandoned facility that might be the Faith Machine installation as well as information on The Baptist, a local religious leader who may be at odds with whomever is operating the Faith Machine. Outside, he’s confronted by the teen-age leader of the street urchins. The oldest boy’s face is covered in blue from the dye pack that was in Park’s wallet. Park cons the teen out of his knife and recruits the two child pickpockets as guides. They set off to find The Baptist’s ministry in the slum of West Point.
In a luxury hotel Isaac wins a game of poker against wealthy Liberians and Chinese businessmen. After the game he’s threatened by four rough looking thugs from General Mamba, a warlord turned crimelord left over from the civil war. They intend to kidnap him. Isaac calls their bluff, they won’t try anything inside the casino. He casually tosses his poker winnings in the air, escaping in the chaos.
In Kentucky, the team’s newest agent, Gabby, is in a domestic dispute, chasing her ex-boyfriend down a dirt road with an ax. In her anger she’d forgotten that she has the power to stop him in his tracks by talking to him.
In Atlanta, Park and Ainia find Agent Isaac Deal in his luxury apartment, expertly playing a sitar, an instrument he’s never practiced or purchased. Isaac acquired the sitar, and the ability to play it, by mimicking the skills of his neighbors. Park appeals to Isaac’s vanity, and he agrees to come along.
In Cincinnati, Agent 97:4 feels that she can do more good working in a soup kitchen than she can aiding Project Dead Blind, especially after their disastrous last mission. Anticipating her reluctance, Park has 97:4′s family Bible, and the promise of being close to the book compels her to accept the mission.
In Pennsylvania, they find Agent Pollyanna trying, and failing, to use her power of positive thinking to rig the lottery in her favor. She’s too cynical and self-hating, her power turns against her. Pollyanna agrees to the mission for the money.
The teenage Agent Exposition Joe slides into Park’s backseat and accepts the mission with the grace of someone who sees the future. Ainia has misgivings about Joe’s loyalty.
In a Washington DC park, Agent Ken Park (imagine John Cho as James Bond) receives his orders from his spymaster, James Ensign. Ensign has spent years investigating the Faith Machine, a series of Soviet installations that weaponize religious beliefs, and has uncovered the last remnant of the program in Africa. While Ensign follows a lead in China, Park will go to Liberia, a country still recovering from years of brutal civil war, and he’ll be taking Project Dead Blind’s six primary agents with him.
Park travels around the country activating his agents. In Philadelphia, his second in command, Agent Ainia, is working her day job as a stunt-woman. A Latina who believes she’s a reincarnated Amazon warrior with the grace and brutality to prove it. Ainia is eager for some real action. She accompanies Park as he contacts the others.
A new year and a new phase for The Faith Machine. Finished the outline and the first three chapters yesterday. I’m waiting on some last feedback for the chapters before I submit. I plan on posting the chapters to my Deviantart account, in the meantime here’s the query letter:
The Faith Machine is a science fiction tale of international action, espionage and E.S.P. Imagine James Bond leading the Alphas against a being that claims to be God.
Ken Park is the field commander of Project Dead Blind, a team of powerful, but unruly, psychic government agents, sent on an investigation of the remnants of a Soviet psychotronic weapon program in Africa. But the investigation goes bad, and the agents find themselves scattered and pursued by the FBI, China’s 13th Bureau, a cult of America’s political elite and the mysterious Casemen armed with weaponized brains. They dodge arrest and murder while figuring out what put them on everyone’s hit list, undertaking an investigation that leads them to an underground laboratory in North Korea.
My first novel, Picking Up the Ghost, was published by ChiZine in 2011, is available as an audio book on Audible.com and was optioned for film by Breaking the Cycle Films LTD.
Thanks for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience.
Sincerely, Tone Milazzo
I know I’m supposed to blog more but it’s almost been two years since Picking Up the Ghost and it’ll probably be another two before The Faith Machine sees print. So building an audience doesn’t feel like a real priority. The more blogging I do, the less writing gets done. And between the day job, night classes, the PMP certification and working with Comic Fest, time for writing has gotten precious.
That said, writing is happening. I’m 56 pages into the current draft/redraft. Melissa and I were invited into a new writer’s workshop which means I have to produce ten or so pages every two weeks or I feel like a slouch.
Workshopping as I go has already been helpful. On Ghost I pounded out the whole novel without any input. Consequently, when it hit the workshop I had to rewrite the second half. On Faith I’ve already cut three scenes that failed to move the plot forward resulting in a faster moving story. The feedback has also made me take a closer look at some of the scenes that remain. Did I really need the Soviet clones, frozen brains of psychics, the Gnostic poem and the personality upload operation all in the first 6 pages? Nope.
On the horizon, a deadline looms. I plan to land an agent at SDSU’s Writers’ Conference in January. Having at least 40 polished pages ready to go is part of that plan.
So less blogging, more writing.
Picking Up the Ghost is now on Audible.com.
Beyond signing the contract I wasn’t involved in the process. I was worried that they’d get an English woman to do the reading but thankfully Audible is smarter than that. After listening to it I’ve some thoughts and feelings:
This is proof that someone has read the book, that is unless Brandon Massey is some kind of sophisticated AI.
Boy, I used the n-word a lot. Brandon Massey’s a black man so every time I think “I just made him say that.” This may not be a unique emotional experience but I’m guessing you can count the number of us who’ve felt this way on one hand.
A lot of the names were pulled from African folklore and I honestly had know idea how Akotun, Eshu Wara, Olamide and others were supposed to sound so now I have a pronunciation guide.
There were three sentences that made me cringe. “In the hallway the goatman was asleep at the end of the hallway.” was one of them. The other two were worse. I’m going to be more careful when I proof read next time.
Getting my story out there in another medium is a damn good feeling.
Breaking the Cycle Films has optioned Picking Up the Ghost for a screenplay. This means they’ve bought some time to get a movie rolling. There’s a list of acceptable criteria for this. Since I’m still new to contracts I’m not sure what I should make public and what’s a secret so I’ll just leave that vague.
What it really means is that a complete stranger read my book and liked it enough to want to make a movie out of it. And that feels pretty good.
Fifteen pages into The Faith Machine and it was clear that one of the plot threads was hopelessly convoluted. A kidnapping without an explanation, and the recovery of a lost cellphone from those same kidnappers while a car battery was being stolen for reasons that made sense in the outline but fell apart once words starting being put to paper. It was only one of three opening threads but unfortunately it was the core plot and the entangling had ramifications on all the others. Out of those fifteen pages I think I can keep one.
Nobody spins gold one the first draft. I can’t remember how many times I rewrote the opening to Picking Up the Ghost but it was more than four. If it was later in the book that plot might have been saved. But the first chapter should be about introductions, character, setting, style, genre rules. It’s not about plot twists, there isn’t a plot to twist yet.
It’s back to the outline and I more confident at this pass. Every pass makes it better. And it’s better to get the rewriting in now than after the polish.
First drafts suck, both the production and the product. That’s easy to forget after being in a state of having had written for over a year.
I’ve been plotting The Faith Machine for over a year and it’s time to start actually writing. Plotting is addictive. Not only does it take research, which is fun, but it’s easier than writing prose and, since no one will ever see it, immune to critique.
In this interview with Tim Powers he advised to pretend that the first draft was written be someone else and it’s now your job to fix it. I’m going to use that to get some distance when I go into editing and as reassurance that these words will get better after I can fix them.
I hope you get something out of this post but isn’t for you, it’s for me.