The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Guest Authors at my Kids’ School

So at my kids’ elementary school, they have authors come in for talks.

Seems like this happens about once a year. It’s great for the kids because they get to meet the people behind the books. And I’d be boosting this even if I wasn’t an author. It’s important to learn that products don’t come out of thin air — it takes hard work, research, patience, and teamwork. It’s like going to a farm to understand where their food comes from — it doesn’t just appear in the grocery store. That we eat other living things and that’s okay — that’s the food chain.

It’s good for the authors too because they get to promote their books. And it’s always a delight to meet your audience. I know if I had a traditionally published book, I’d be trying to contact schools. Yes, I want love and attention. Why do you think I’m trying to be a capital-A author?

But sometimes the ones who get to speak aren’t always… well, they misrepresent what an author is. Last year, they got to meet David LaRochelle. He talked to my eldest’s third grade class (which is a bit unusual because he’s a picture book writer. Aren’t you into chapter books by this time?) I actually have one of his books in my Kindle. And although he’s not on my radar, it’s still cool to see the connection to “angels singing choir, golden light, floating on a pedestal PUBLISHED book” and the mere mortal who composed it.

But then the year before that was an author of a self-published series of books about otters. Self-published. That means he didn’t go through the vetting process. He didn’t work with an editor. He didn’t have to submit query letters. He didn’t do anything that I’m trying to do. I’m not saying he cheated the system — I’ve self-published myself. But I don’t think this is the person to present as a real author.

Whoa there, buddy. Let’s not paint stripes on a donkey and call it a zebra.

But the teachers neglect to mention that when the speaker comes in. It’s like saying you’re a professional chef because you sold your crumpets at a bake sale.

This bothers me because it gives kids A) the wrong impression about what it means to be an author and B) does not focus on one of the key aspects of growing up. That you can put in the hard work, the sacrifice, make no mistakes, and still lose. That is life. Now maybe that’s NOT what should be told to kids. (I’m pretty sure I would leave out the fact that it’s a 98% rejection rate on a good day). But you can at least leave a moral that this stuff doesn’t just get handed to you.

The self-published author doesn’t truly know how a manuscript becomes a book. I know that because I don’t yet know how a manuscript becomes a book. Not yet, not truly. And if they do, they can’t admit that’s how they got their book published or it takes away all credibility. They can talk about challenges, but never about conflicts between you and the editor/agent/copywriter/cover maker/promoter/marketer/drunk bookstore owner/anyone else involved in the industry.

Problem is, the kids don’t have enough experience to challenge these claims. That’s the whole point of school — to educate the base stuff so you can think critically later. If you misrepresent a job, you leave a lasting effect on them. One that may not be the values you wish to impart. And no amount of royalty change from your Amazon KDP bookshelf can repair that.

Why I Try and Keep My Writing on the Down-Low

I recently discovered the “What People Think I Do” meme and found this little gem. It got me thinking about why I’m so shy to tell people that I’m a writer. The first reason is that I’ve only been published in a few magazines and anthologies (like “Live and Let Undead”, now at fine bookstores everywhere). But I feel that until I get a novel on the bookshelf, I’ve earned no legitimacy.

I feel that when most people, myself included, learn that a person is a writer, the first thing they ask is if they’ve been published. The perception of being published versus not is the difference between this

and this

You just need to look at a sampling of query letters received by agents to see why (QueryShark and SlushPile Hell have a fine selection of sample #queryfails). You’ve got people thinking they were deigned by God, therapy fodder, blatant plagiarists, and dozens of dull, unoriginal stories. And that’s just the people who can string together basic sentences. Which only represent 40% of people who say “I’m a writer.”

Fact is, unless you’re someone like Tobais Buckell, Suzanne Collins, Jim C. Hines, J.K. Rowling, John Scalzi, Seanan McGuire, Neil Gaiman, Sherwood Smith, Patrick Rothfuss, so on, so on, i.e., someone who identifies him or herself as a writer, you are just a sad person in the basement, with the glow of the monitor as your only light source, writing centaur erotica. Or god forbid, fan fiction. Imagine that, someone composing fan fiction calling themselves a writer.

And I don’t want angry comments, because I am that guy in the basement right now. The problem with telling people you write is that it opens a lot of question you may not want to answer. I foolishly put “Write science fiction and fantasy novels” on my resume under other interests. Of course, this was a bad idea, because it only intrigues the interviewer to ask questions.

Embarrassing questions like “What do you write?”, to which you hem and haw until you finally gasp “Different… kinds of… stuff…” and foolishly admitting that your last novel, after finding the best way to put it in laymen’s terms, was about “The Little Mermaid” crossed with “Waterworld”.

Judgemental questions like “Are you published?” Well, you can hang your head shamefully at that one while you reply in the negative. And then wonder whether this guy knows anything about how the writing world works, that the best authors can get 500 rejections, that most people don’t sell their first novel, or even their second.

Personal questions like “Can I read your writing?” that either won’t work because what you’re writing isn’t finished yet and, unless you’re presenting it for critique (which you are not because A) you don’t trust this person B) this person doesn’t have the literary merit to give you the information you need to improve your work), you never present an unfinished product for show OR what you’re writing is inappropriate for friends (see aforementioned centaur erotica).

Can of worms questions like “Have you ever thought about self-publishing?” and that while the idea sounds good on paper, where people like Amanda Hocking and Christopher Paolini make headlines as the exception not the rule, self-publishing is in its infancy and that while the world sorts through the sea of the aforementioned plagiarists and writers “on a mission from God” (spoken in a Dan Aykroyd Chicago accent) it’s not a viable option for a novice with neither the time or money to push the marketing that it would need. Of course, you can’t say this to the person you’re asking for a job.

It shouldn’t be embarrassing, but for an introvert like me, it invites the possibility of personal questions and new angles for judgement that I just don’t need.

Faulkner vs. Hemingway

faulkner hemingway black and white

I was reading this today and found these quotes, which I found rather amusing.

William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

In 11th grade, I took 20th Century Modern American Literature.  For the first half of the semester we focused greatly on Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.  So much so that the teacher made it seem like these were the only two authors writing between WWI and WWII (but all props to Mrs. Susan Hentges.  You were awesome, hope you’re enjoying retirement).

Hemingway was all right.  He wrote simply, understandably.  But I felt a lot of the themes in his works were based on conjecture and circular logic.  You had to be thinking that “Hills Like White Elephants” is about abortion in order for it to be true.

Faulkner is just incomprehensible.  His sentence structure is lurid, discursive, and nothing a sixteen-year-old can relate to or even wants to read.  He’s artsy for the sake of being artsy, like today’s hipsters.  Slap poop on a wall and call it art.

And our final paper was to compare and contrast Faulkner and Hemingway’s writing styles.  Pretty easy to do, but didn’t make it fun.  So it’s nice to see these two disliked each other’s writing as much as I did.  But I think they disliked a lot of things anyway.

I Can Be a GoodReads Author

One of the nice things about being in the Roll the Bones anthology is that I am now in a book. A book with an ISBN number, a cover, and everything. This means that I can be listed on certain sites as an anthology author or co-author, in some cases. One of those sites is GoodReads, which you can see, I’m a member of on the left.

But now I can also be listed as a GoodReads author, and it’s nice that they make this so easy. I just sent in a notice, and they have to review my application and such. I’ll be able to add a photo, create a profile, and probably do lots of other things that’ll make me feel like a legitimage author. Which I really need right now, because it’s rejection city over here in AuthorQuest-ville. I’ve come to the part of the quest where I need to grind in order to level up.

The Books I Read: September – October 2010

bookshelf books


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is an excellent book. It was on everybody’s “Best of” lists for 2009, but I never considered reading it because it wasn’t in my genre. And to be honest, it sounded a little Gone With the Wind for me. But my mom had it and liked it, so I borrowed it.

What book is is females with no junky romance (well, a little), no weak women, and lots of Bechdel test successes.  This is a book about black housemaids in the 1950’s in the south and their white women employers. The novel takes it from multiple perspectives, and there are good and bad guys, and not everyone wins. There are so many different relationships, but the funny thing is that, despite a clear line between boss and employer, there’s never a clear line between who needs who. That’s a terribly interesting paradigm, one that’s rarely explored, and it’s great to read a story about it.

This was the best book I read these past two months, and it’s interesting that it’s from a debut author, made so many best of and bestseller lists. To be honest though, I don’t think her sophomore effort is going to be as good because 1) that’s traditional and 2) a lot of The Help was based on her own experiences. So either she’s going to write more about black maids and be called unoriginal, or shove something out the door and be called poor quality.  These are the hard things about being an author.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (unfinished)

I don’t know why this book is so popular. I read a hundred pages and stopped because it was so boring. I kept asking “when does the story start? When do we get to the inciting incident?” I stopped because I had so many other books I wanted to read, and I do not want to read books that are popular or critically acclaimed just for the sake of saying I read a popular or critically acclaimed book.

There’s no story here, it’s just people having conversations about what happened before. From what I read, one-third of it was financial explanation, one-third was family history, and one-third was narrative regarding the other two-thirds. All of it was exposition and all of it wasn’t worth my time.

Plus the fact that I’d already been soured on Let Me In–Swedish people are long-winded. I’ll learn a lesson from the vampire book and wait for the movie.


Feed by Mira Grant

It’s either one zombie or one apocalypse novel per quarter for me. And not because I have to, but because I want to. What drew me to this one was that this is a story of what happens after Zoe, Louis, Francis, and Bill get picked up by the helicopter and carried off to safety. After World War Z is over. It answers the eternal question of “what happens next”.

What happens next is a lot of medical paranoia. But rightly so, as a single zombie can infect a building full of people faster than you can say “George Romero”. People live in tight-knitted communities, and can only enter buildings by continuous infection checks (virus-scanners, retina scans, cognitive tests).

The other part of the story is about journalism. And not just any journalism–blog journalism. See, when the zombies broke, the mass media dropped the ball because zombies are kid stuff. Meanwhile the Internet takes this shit seriously, since most of them have zombie contingency plans, and rose up as legit because they didn’t have any big business telling them what to report. A brother-sister news team goes out to follow a candidate’s run for president. Along the way, they uncover a bad news bears conspiracy to assassinate said presidential hopeful, using biological weapons (guess which ones) that have some pretty horrible consequences.

This a pretty good book, maybe the second best I read these two months. But my biggest problem with it was that there weren’t enough zombies. The zombies only showed up during sporadic action sequences. I was expecting more of a David Wellington style book where zombies take a front-and-center. Whereas in this book, they act as a macguffin for “medical horror epidemic”. This is the first in a trilogy, but I can’t really see myself finishing the series. I feel that all the story I wanted to know was told in this one. I liked the characters enough to dive into their world once, but not for a second time.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

A re-read of a classic. I sped through it. I still say the movie does just a good a job as Dahl does in this version, if not better. The movie has some things the book needed (like better pacing, visuals), but the book has things that the movie needed (non-Disney-fied ending, tangents that Dahl is famous for). Fortunately, it’s easy to enjoy both.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

My wife picked this one for our college friends book club. It’s about a boy with a never-really-described disorder, but it seems to be some sort of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome or both. The kicker is that it’s written from first-person perspective, so you get to see all Rain Man’s wacky insights, like how he numbers his chapters in prime numbers, and that he has a bad day if he sees four red cars, and that he wants everyone in the world to die so he can be alone. But in a good way. I like this book because I think it provides a terrific insight on what it is like to be a “savant”, with the reality of information overload and inability to socialize.

What bothers me is that the author throws up his hands when it comes to claiming the protagonist’s disability (there’s a touching scene in the book where the main character equates himself with someone’s need for glasses). Ge claims he knows very little about the conditions the main character has and is “thoroughly irritated” that the book cover uses these terms, as he knows nothing about autism and did no research about it for the book. Despite the author blurb saying that he worked with autistic individuals. So I don’t know whether this is an accurate portrayal, or something that seems to hit the mark because people “say” it does.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A re-read. If you want, you can read my original review here. I rarely re-read books, but I wanted to refresh myself on the world in anticipation of book 2 and 3. The first time it was so good, I read it kinda fast. It’s just as good the second time, and I think it was a good thing I re-read it, because there were quite a few things I forgot (like Avoxes and Mockingjays). Now the problem is getting the time to actually read book 2 and 3.

One Thing I Didn’t Think Of For E-Books

sony ereader

This post by Agent Kristin of Pub Rants made me think of something I haven’t considered for the future of eBooks.

How do you get your eBooks signed?

This customer apparently thought signing the back was appropriate. And while I like the idea of a single tablet signed by your favorite authors (the equivalent of a guitar signed by the band) there’s only so much space on the back. These eReaders are intended to hold thousands of novels.

Apparently, getting your book signed by the author is a big deal in the reading world. I never understood it myself–a signature is just a signature. But I do know why people do it. Reading is a pretty solitary activity. Humans need social interaction, even the most introverted of us. So book signings are a way for like-minded people to meet, make friends, talk about something they have in common, and meet the person who’s talent brought them together.

And authors are probably one of the most accessible of all the celebrity types. They’re never on location shooting in Australia. They’re not in the studio working on their next album. They don’t have entourages or security to turn away people. In fact, they have to be friendly, because they’re self-promoting. They’re the sole producer of their work (marketing, publishing, distribution, etc. is peripheral), so they have the biggest stakes in loss or win. Work don’t sell, author don’t eat. The marketers, publishers, and distributors will find another book to read.

But back to signing. I’m sure this isn’t a make or breaker for the eReader, but it is something that should be considered by their manufacturers. Maybe you could have a file in memory for signatures. They can be signed on the digital pad, like that credit card thing you use in the grocery store. Then you could save them all in the eReader and show them off to your friends. You could collect them like trading cards. I thought of this, and now you must pay me for my idea.

Authors I Would Like to Have Dinner With, Vol. 2

Peter David – I want to talk to this guy to figure out how to get his career going. He’s one of the funnest writers I’ve ever read, but he’s stuck doing Star Trek tie-ins and occasional comic book. He’s a kitty in a burlap sack named obscurity, and he needs to paw his way out. Besides that, he’s one of the few people whose writing style really strikes me. I find that comic book graphic novel writers make great novelists — Neal Stephenson, Richard Kadrey, this guy. If I can find out what he does and incorporate that into my writing style, I can develop my voice more.

I don’t know what kind of food he likes and I don’t know his nationality. He’s a big guy so maybe he likes hamburgers, or pasta. Maybe we can go to the Rennaissance Fair and share a leg of mutton. I think I’d like alcohol to be involved though. I can see me getting a good beer buzz and then doing some duet karaoke together. Or bowling.

William Shakespeare – Assuming the guy existed, it would be hard not to take up an offer to dinner with El Bardo. I’m really more interested in the guy for his plotting skills than his command of the King’s English. Not that I consider him a master plotter. Some stories like R&J and Othello were really great. Other stories like The Tempest, not so great. And I want to find out if inserting those bits of comic relief, like the clowns who make fart jokes in Othello, were required by the patron or he did it on purpose. Imagine what would happen if he had to put product placement in. Everyone would be driving Toyota Highlanders and using iPhones.

And of course, we’d have to have some of that olde style English food. Because there’s no way a guy from the 1500’s would be able to stomach a Big Mac. If it wouldn’t be the flavor, it would be the fat and sodium content that makes him hurl. I don’t want to be known as the guy who made Shakespeare vomit. (Let’s see if that keyword gets me any google hits.) So that means we’d be eating things like blood sausage and steak & kidney pie. It’s probably not as bad as it sounds, as long as I don’t get the plague.

Wil Wheaton – Dude, what couldn’t we talk about? Star Trek, video games, comic books, childhood memories of the 80’s. How awesome would it be to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons from him? The guy is one of the flagship geeks of our generation. A leader for our time. If he married Felicia Day and had babies, the Singularity would occur.

There’s a lots of good places we could go, but Mr. Wheaton’s always talking about places with neat food and Arrogant Bastard Ale, so we’d go someplace like that. Then we’d go to the arcade. Good times.

Douglas Adams – The guy wrote both a top ten must-read science fiction novel and a top ten must-read comedy novel. The guy’s got a fantastically dynamic history as a writer of many mediums. Historic are his exploits as a deadline-misser. I recall hearing somewhere that, for the final episodes of the “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio broadcast, he was writing script pages as the cast was on the air. They were reading their lines for the first time. I always wondered how he could get away with something like that. I’m way too work-ethic to pull that kind of stunt. Or I’m not impudent enough. Maybe I could a little something about that from the man.

Lot of English authors here, and I’m sick of eating English food. Let’s get some Taco Bell. I’m sure he’d have something to say about it. And Taco Bell’s always been on board with science fiction movies. Remember when Phantom Menace premiered and Jar Jar Binks was on frickin’ EVERYTHING?

The 2010 Hugos and Where You Can Find Them

So every year the Hugos and Nebulas come out and I try and read them all. Of course, it’s hard to read the novels, but they do have excerpts. So at least you can get an idea for what the book is about when they talk about it in the blogs.

This year, I thought I’d let you all in on what I find too. Share the wealth, that’s what I say. So here are all the links I found to this year’s Hugo nominations online. Some are full and some are excerpts. I usually didn’t include Amazon if I didn’t have to, but that’s another resource you can use.

Now I’m not 100% sure all of these online publications are legal. So if I put up a link here, and it’s not supposed to be there, let me know and I’ll take it down. However, no one likes a Narc.

And for those of you that didn’t put your work online–shame, shame. You’re ruining a good chance for people to read a sample of your work and possibly buy more. Just keep that in mind.

EDIT: I’ll also include a thumbs up or skip it rating, not that you care about my opinion

EDIT 2: Noted all the winners!

BEST NOVEL

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Excerpt – Prologue) Thumbs Up! WINNER! (tie)
The City & The City by China Miéville (Excerpt – Chapter 1) Thumbs Up! WINNER! (tie)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (Excerpt – First 6 pages) Skip it
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Excerpt – Chapters 1 & 2) Either way
Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (Excerpt – Chapters 1-12) Thumbs Up!
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Excerpt – Chapters 1-9) Skip it

BEST NOVELLA

Act One by Nancy Kress (Full) Thumbs Up!
The God Engines by John Scalzi (Excerpt – Chapter 1) Thumbs Up!
Palimpsest by Charles Stross (Full) Skip it WINNER!
Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow (not found)
Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald (not found)
The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker (Excerpt – Chapter 1 & 2) Thumbs Up!

BEST NOVELETTE

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky (Full) Skip it
The Island by Peter Watts (Full) Either way WINNER!
It Takes Two by Nicola Griffith (Full) Thumbs Up!
One of Our Bastards is Missing by Paul Cornell (Full) Skip it
Overtime by Charles Stross (Full) Thumbs Up!
Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster (Full) Either way

BEST SHORT STORY

The Bride of Frankenstein by Mike Resnick (Full – audio) Thumbs Up!
Bridesicle by Will McIntosh (Full) Thumbs Up! WINNER!
The Moment by Lawrence M. Schoen (Full – audio) Either way
Non-Zero Probabilities by N.K. Jemisin (Full) Either way
Spar by Kij Johnson (Full) Thumbs Up!

Authors I Would Like To Have Dinner With

Neil Gaiman – We could go out for tea (authentic British tea that doesn’t suck like American tea, or so he says) and real sushi (which I never get because my wife is afraid of raw food, so I have to get the kind from the supermarket). I could ask him about all the cool stuff he’s done, like movies and have a panda on his lap. And how he did his writing with his kids around and what it’s like living a public life as a writer and private life as a parent.  I want to talk about how he plots, because he has a talent for making every page interesting.  Also, I want to figure out some stuff from Sandman, because there’s a lot of neat stuff that seems like I should know where it comes from.

Stephen King – We would eat Maine lobster, because, I suppose, that’s what you eat when you’re in Maine. Or clam chowder.  Unless that’s Boston.  Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be happy because I love seafood, and I never get it because my wife is allergic to seafood preservatives.

Our conversation might be a little more antagonistic because, although I admire the guy and he’s the first of my inspirations to become an author, he’s done some pecuiliar stuff.  But first of all I’d ask him why he’s such a proponent of free speech (“you can have my book when you pry it from my cold dead hand”), but then he goes and pulls his own book “Rage” from printing. And then I’d talk about his addiction and how it affected his writing, mostly because I want to know how you could write a novel in three days and not remember any of it. Also how he got away with having a sex scene with children in It.  And there’s lots of other questions I have. 

Also, he’s a Sox fan, so I’ll have to rag him on his team while promoting the Twins.

Charles Dickens – I suppose we could have something British. Whatever they ate back in the day.  Blood pudding? Bangers and mash?  English muffins? Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t very good, but I want to maintain authenticity.

To be honest, the only two works I’ve read of his in full are “A Tale of Two Cities” and “A Christmas Carol”. I partially read “Great Expectations” (semester ended before we finished), and I’d hardly call “A Christmas Carol” hard reading. But this guy made the modern novel and wrote a lot about social reform.  He created some great stories and great characters.  And I’d like to know what he was thinking when he did so. Also, how/why did he make those ridiculous names for his characters.

Hans Christian Andersen – Super Grimm Bros. get all the credit for the fairy tales, but Andersen created a bunch of greats that he never gets proper credit for. I have some Danish blood in me, and sometimes I fantasize that I’m his descendant.  Plus, if you look at his bio on Wikipedia, the guy sounds like a riot at get-togethers. Apparently, he and Dickens were great friends, until he came to stay at Dickens’s house and got on his nerves (hmm, that should be another question for Charles). I have a feeling he’s a guy who’s a ball to hang out with for a few hours, but longer than that, and you get sick of him. 

What do they eat in Denmark? Pancakes? Pancakes would be good. I could bring some American maple syrup. Then afterwards we’d go party at the tavern, sing old Danish sea chanties and talk about mermaids and snow queens.

Michael Crichton – How awesome would this guy’s brain?  He was a walking wikipedia, probably the smartest author I’ve ever known. He wrote books on dinosaurs, DNA, medieval times, time travel, global warming, computers, space, monkeys, deep oceans. Everything a geek is interested in, he wrote out and added the science. It’s so terrible that he died before his time that I wonder if it wasn’t a government conspiracy. But then again, I’m paranoid.
 
I have no idea what we’d have, since he came from America in modern times. I’m sure he knows a fancy expensive restaurant that he’d pay for, since he’s so famous.  Maybe we could get into one of those exclusive restaurants that you can’t get into unless you know something, and he has “a table”.  I wish I had a table.  I have to eat of cardboard boxes I find in the alley.
 
That’s my list for now.  More to come…?