I called it science fiction, because I figured that readers of science fiction reader would be more forgiving of the spy stuff, than the thriller reader would be of E.S.P. But Maberry’s own Joe Ledger novels fly in the face of that assumption. They’re science fiction, sometimes they’re even fantasy, but they’re marketed as thrillers, and that’s working out pretty well for Jonathan.
These labels, man, I don’t dig them. I understand that marketing needs them to communicate to the audience, but if a book is shoved in the wrong genre that’s sales death. Part of me blames Picking Up the Ghost’s poor sales on its miscategorization (long story). Many writers get pigeon holed by their genre, or they used to. Those walls are breaking down, and cross-genre is increasingly acceptable. But they’ll still slap one of the accepted one or two word labels on the spine.
It’s easy enough to search/replace “science fiction” with “thriller” in my query letter. It’s difficult to stop thinking about the ten agent queries I sent out last week.
#PitMad is tomorrow’s event to connect writers with agents on Twitter. The writers tweet pitches. If an agent likes what they see they like the tweet as a request for a submission, a whole lot faster than the usual 40+ day wait. I don’t know if Brenda Drake started it, but she sure seems to be running it. Makes you wonder if agents are all so overwhelmed with queries because they spend all their time on Twitter.
I have ten traditional queries for The Faith Machine floating out there. But I figure, “What the heck?” The more you swing the more often you hit. The hashtags mean: #A for Adult, #SF for Science Fiction, and #T stands for Thriller. I’m luck to have such short hashtags to work with. Here are the three tweet pitches I’ll make tomorrow:
Superspy & his team of psychic agents chase a Soviet psychic weapon, from Africa, across America, & into North Korea. #pitmad #A #SF #T
A Korean-American James Bond leads the X-Men through a season of the X-Files, from Africa across the US to North Korea #pitmad #A #SF #T
Psychic agents with mental disorders. Soviets weaponized religion. Heroes chased across America. Showdown in North Korea. #pitmad #A #SF #T
The Leader vs Lancer is the core dynamic. The Leader leads and the Lancer challenges that leadership, Superman and Batman or Cyclops and Wolverine. They typically share the spotlight, which becomes a cake and eat it too situation for the author. Not everyone likes the squeaky clean hero. In fact, most people seem to like the bad boy. With this trope, we get both right out there in front.
The remaining three slots are about ability and only imply personality. They represent the three human elements of mind, body, and soul.
After some thought I came up with:
Vampire – The Leader. Vampires are the most charismatic of the undead. Skeleton – The Lancer. Who better to contrast the bloodsucker than a woman without veins. Ghost – The Smart Guy. Ghosts of folklore have access to forgotten knowledge. Poltergeist – The Big Guy. A given, Poltergeists don’t do much more than throw things around. Necromancer – The Chick. Since the Necromancer is both the person looking for help and a member of the team, her agenda is the one that brings and keeps the team together.
But this is an homage to the Seven Samurai. What about the haunted axe and the zombie? That’s where Cast Calculus comes in. When expanding on the Five Man Band there’s a number of tropes that can take that sixth and seventh slots, like Team Dad or The Mentor. For this cast, I’m going with:
Like all outlines, none of this is set in stone and I already see the Chick being the real Leader. But putting characters in this framework has already started to flesh out their personalities in my head. Even the skeleton.
As the release date of Picking Up the Ghost drifts further into the past, I’m feeling like cold product. A product that wasn’t very warm to begin with. Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work reminded me that I’ve failed to produce and failed to put myself out there.
So here’s the idea: While The Faith Machine is busy finding a home, I’ll be working on shorter pieces; seven short stories featuring the agents from The Faith Machine and a few of comic books pitches. I’ll blog the process. To teach what I know, and learn quite a bit from you while I’m at it.
This week; the elevator pitch for Dead Women. That’s a sales pitch for the story that’s short enough to tell in an elevator ride.
“The Seven Samurai, but the heroes are undead women; a vampire, a ghost, a skeleton, a zombie, a poltergeist, a haunted axe, and a necromancer.”
Unpacking: “Seven Samurai.” These two words tell the plot, the mercenary nature of the cast, and the bandit vs. villager conflict.
Two more words provide the hook, what’s unique about this story. “Undead women.” Why undead women? Is there a reason they’re women? Undead heroes? It’s an invitation to ask me more about the pitch and the angle that makes this story mine.
A pitch in two parts. Establish the ground rules, and hit them with the hook. What do you think?
How We Write – Sunday, Feb 14, 2016 11:00AM (Le Chanticleer – 9th Floor) Ever wonder how a story gets made? They don’t fall out of the sky. Our panel of professional writers will share how they put pencil to paper and build worlds from the sweat of their brows. (Anina Bennett, James Hudnall, David Lemmo, Jonathan Maberry, Tone Milazzo, Phil Roberts) Mental Disorders in Fiction – Sunday, Feb 14, 2016 1:00PM (Le Chanticleer – 9th Floor) An estimated one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, and popular culture is starting to consider these disorders beyond the typical approach of, “The Villain is Crazy.” What are the challenges of writing protagonists with mental disorders? Who has done it well? And what are some common mistakes? (Andrea Letamendi, Tone Milazzo, Janina Scarlet) Why Every Character Needs Kryptonite – Monday, Feb 15, 2016 11:00AM (Le Chanticleer – 9th Floor) We’ll discuss the Achilles heel in fiction and why it’s important. We’ll share some weaknesses of our favorite paranormal creatures, superheroes, and villains, and talk about why the vulnerability leads to strength of character. Eben Brooks, Lisa Kessler, David Lemmo, Tone Milazzo
There’s still time to get your passes for Comic Fest
It spent years in the incubator, due to day jobs and other commitments, but I can finally say The Faith Machine is a complete, readable, and finished. At least until an editor tells me otherwise.
I processed the feedback from my gracious beta readers, made cuts, fleshed out descriptions, and added a whole new chapter to show what’s at stake if the bad guy wins. At 96,993 words it’s a little on the heavy side but within the limits.
While I query agents, I’ll be working on 7 short independent pieces that follow up after this book, to build a body of work around my heroes, Project Dead Blind. Short fiction can reach into markets that a novel can’t, published or not.
But for tonight, I’m just happy to be done.
The Query letter, for the curious:
The Faith Machine is a science fiction novel of international action, espionage, and E.S.P. What if James Bond were to lead the X-Men through the X Files? Where psychic powers are linked to mental disorders, and a little bit of power means a life spent resisting corruption, and dodging assassination.
Doctor Ken Park is a Korean-American spy with a PhD in psychology. He’s the field commander of Project Dead Blind, a team of six unruly, paranormal agents. Among them is Park’s right-hand woman Ainia, a Latina who believes she’s a reincarnated Amazon warrior, Isaac Deal, who can mimic the skills of those around him when he’s on a bi-polar high, and Pollyanna, a depressed cynic with the unreliable power of positive thinking.
Sent to Africa to recover a Soviet psychotronic super-weapon, their mission is a failure. An agent is wounded and their target is destroyed. The team is scattered and pursued across America by the FBI, the Chinese Bureau of Spirit Suppression, and the mysterious Casemen.
The Faith Machine will appeal to readers of Tim Powers’ Declare, Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, and Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare at Goats. It’s complete at 96,993 words.
My first novel, Picking Up the Ghost, was published by ChiZine in 2011 and optioned for film by Breaking the Cycle Films LTD.
Thanks for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you.