Friday, August 9, 2013

The Seat of the Problem

My butt hurt Thursday.

That simple. I'd spent so much time Wednesday glued to the kitchen chair covering on the web that Senate meeting from hell that when I tried to get to work Thursday it was just too uncomfortable. Could not sit still. Back on the island I had a nice desk chair, which got left behind and my behind regrets it. We recently got some new kitchen chairs around the table, and they're better than the old ones they replaced. But they're still not ergonomic desk chairs, and my rapidly aging body resents it.

So I took the day off. Dangerous, I know, with the deadline looming. But with so much of writing is keeping the butt to the chair until the day's quota is met, it really wasn't an option. Tori told me to take the day off, and I did.

But the day wasn't a waste.

I had a phone conversation in the afternoon with Eddie the Agent about Chance. He was encouraging, but realistic. And he had advice that made sense.

When the old agent had it out at a handful of publishers, the one common critique I heard was "it starts slow. Get to the pirates faster." I understand, and I sure tried, taking repeated hacks at the first third of the book until it was about the first 20 percent. But they still passed.

Eddie saw it completely different, and his advice makes total sense. The problem, he said, wasn't that the pirate didn't show up soon enough or that the action dragged, the problem was that the title character, 14-year-old Chance, was the only young character in the whole first half, and one of only two in the whole book. It kind of made it an adult story observed by a kid – a bright kid, but the only kid. Young people like reading about the adventures of people their age, they like books where they can imagine themselves in the action, or their peers. Good food for thought.

So, while there needs to be interesting action and rising stakes, it's not about "getting to the pirates faster." Eddie was able to point me to the real issue, and we discussed ways of addressing it.

We tossed around a couple of other ideas, and I asked some questions about a couple of other things I'd thought about. He's going to send me some notes, but I probably won't get them until September.

We also talked about Scurvy Dogs! and he sounded really excited. I've been promising it to him for months and months, but explained that these new ideas keep occurring to me, I've been seeing ways to ratchet the tension and raise the stakes and make the backstory more effective.

And the best thing, in terms of our earlier discussion, the main characters are two 13-year-old boys, a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old girl. There's also a drunken bastard grandfather, and a vicious pirate and a snooty tutor and a dog – but the story is about the kids. Totally about the kids.

And I told him something I’d just written the day before, which had surprised me, didn't see it coming, and it illustrated just how really bad the bad guys are. And Eddie said, "Oooooh!"

So that was good.

I also finished reading a really excellent YA novel called Paper Towns, by John Green. Max is into his work, and Max is right. Green is terrific. I had read his earlier An Abundance of Katherines, and my god, the guy can write! He's writing about contemporary teens, and any teen would want to be in that car, be at that party, know that girl or that guy. I hope I can make my characters from 300 years ago as interesting as Green's. Anyone trying to write YA needs to read him. Anyone who likes a good book needs to read him.

I also did an interview with a reporter from a London magazine. It's approaching that time, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, when we got inundated by requests for interviews. We enjoy doing them, and more importantly, you've gotta feed the franchise, gotta build the platform. I know I'm mainly considered "somebody" because I have that on my resume, one of the two guys who created Talk Like a Pirate Day. We've got the website, we've got the Facebook page, we keep spreading the word. Millions of people around the world know of us. We are constantly amazed that people think we're interesting, and want to talk to us. But talking is something both I and my friend Mark do very, very well.

People often ask how long we're going to keep it up. We always say, "As long as it's fun."

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