Hey guys! This week I was invited to guest vlog on the YouTube channel Word Nerds. I decided to talk a bit about my cinematic writing style and how I fluctuated between hating it and embracing it. At the end of the day, I just love stories, and I’m open to the myriad of ways in which they’re told. Check it out below!
I love Heather’s work! She did an awesome pet portrait for me a few years back and is so reasonably priced. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are coming up, so if you’re looking for an affordable and unique gift for your parents, her art is awesome :)
I am in a bind lately and would like to make some headway on my bills, so I’m hoping to get some freelance work to help with that. I am open to pretty much everything for the things on this f…
Before the end of the year, I will update my 2016 Movie Scoreboard. I still have to check out Rogue One and Passengers before I can complete it, so that’s the hold up :) On the whole, there were many surprises and a general lackluster performance by many movies on the card. But, that doesn’t deter me from 2017. I’d like to share a few of the movies I’m anticipating most!
Everything Super Hero
Most of the superhero movies coming out next year look excellent, and from all studios. Obviously Marvel Studios does a great job and will have surefire hits with Spiderman Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Thor Ragnarok. But FOX has finally course corrected their X-Men Universe after Deadpool, and they’ve put out some really promising trailers for Logan – the final appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. The film will have an R-rating and a much grittier, less-CGI treatment of the character. It looks like Logan will be a hardcore deconstruction of itself…and it’s about time.
I’m also cautiously optimistic about Wonder Woman, which looks both beautiful and compelling. I am less enthused about what I’ve seen of the Justice League film so far, but could DC finally have a year of winning after so many false starts? At least with The LEGO Batman Movie, WB has one guaranteed win.
(I just love that we live in an era where Hollywood can produce a sarcastic Batman movie. What a time to be alive)
Old Dogs, New Tricks
It’s the era of the reboot, and 2017 will be no exception. I think Disney has finally figured out how to make their live action fairy tales good – and yes, it requires them being musicals. So, I’m really looking forward to Beauty and The Beast…especially when that’s one of their strongest stories to adapt anyway, and Emma Watson is the best Belle you could ever cast.
4-year-old Michelle is really digging what they’re doing with Power Rangers. Movie could turn out to be kinda dumb, but hey, the nostalgia factor is there.
And then we have King Arthur, a tale so old and retold so often that it might as well be trapped in stone by now. But if anyone will breathe new life into King Arthur, it’s Guy Ritchie, who has Guy Ritchie’d ALL OVER the trailers for it.
I am far more cautious about the Ghost In The Shell remake, as there doesn’t seem to be much respect of the source material. Maybe it will be pretty?
What are we on now? Movie #8?
We’re also in the era of sequels. And sequels to sequels. Not that this is always a bad thing. Will we figure out who Rey’s parents are in Star Wars Episode 8? (More importantly, will we find out if Finn and Poe are going to be a thing, because I need answers). Why the heck is Dom Toretto going evil in The Fate of The Furious? How many octopus zombie dogs will take a shotgun to the face in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter?
And the biggest question of all – will the planet FINALLY go to the apes in War For The Planet Of The Apes? (Spoiler alert: apes win.)
Oh, another – are we sick of Captain Jack Sparrow, or will Pirates of The Caribbean 5 remind us why we fell for the scallywag in the first place?
Awesome Directors – Roll Call!
Two of my favorite directors have standalone original features coming out this year. From Christopher Nolan we’ve got Dunkirk, a based-on-a-true-story war movie that goes beyond his normally speculative wheelhouse. Then, Luc Besson brings us the stunningly vibrant Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets, which basically looks like what Jupiter Ascending tried to be.
We are rather light on book adaptations this year. There hasn’t been a huge YA sensation since The Hunger Games, so books-to-movies have petered off a bit. But we still have an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ The Circle to look forward to. Also, the very long-awaited Dark Tower movie, starring Idris Elba!
A Few Surprises Thrown In
Every year has the possibility of a breakout hit. I predict the virus-in-space flick Life could do it. I’m also keeping my eye on Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness. M. Night tries to regain his dignity with the kidnap thriller Split, which shows my boo James McAvoy exhibiting about 22 different personalities. Edgar Wright – creator of the almighty Cornetto trilogy – has a new comedy called Baby Driver coming out this summer. And while I would have overlooked Cars 3 entirely a few months ago, that visceral trailer did pique my interest.
What movies are you looking forward to this year? I think 2017 will be pretty solid. Hopefully it will redeem some of the blandness from 2016!
Maybe you call it meditation. Maybe you call it “the idea stage.” Either way, all authors need time to let their stories mentally develop before they put the pen to page. Some only need a couple of weeks before NaNoWriMo to stew on an idea, and then they jump in. Others, like myself, could take literally years before they feel ready to tackle an idea.
Paradisa existed in my head for four years before I sat down to write it. That is how long it took for me to figure out how the heck I was going to tell a multi-pantheon story, because I was quite stuck on the world building aspect.
I gave NaNo a try in 2014 with a story called Figments. I failed pretty miserably, giving up after 7000 words, because I know it hadn’t stewed long enough. Now that the idea has been with me for 2 years, I think I finally have a good grip on it.
Ideas are like people. They need to stick around for a while. I need to get to know them, so they’ll feel like friends instead of strangers. Likewise, manifesting these ideas is a lot like dating. If I’m going to commit to an idea, I need to know that I’ll be okay living with it for months or years. I need to know that I’ll accept it leaving dirty towels on the floor and letting the dishes stack up. That gives me time to know if the idea is a fleeting phase or if it has legs – if it’s something that defines me enough to nag me for years. That’s how I know it’s good.
Lately, my inspiration has run kind of dry. I have about 6 novel ideas that I could pursue next…but I know so little about any of them that I don’t feel ready to commit. I’ve been so buried in Paradisa for so many years that breaking free of that world and moving onto something new seems…odd. Uncharacteristic. It’s definitely welcome, as some ideas are very exciting and will allow me to stretch writer’s muscles I have not been able to show off yet (read: voice). But I still need the plot. I still need people. And right now, I pretty much only have concepts.
I haven’t had enough time to mull on any of it. I’ve been so inundated with other work this year, other projects, other metal noise, that I haven’t had time to meditate on any one idea. Generally this process involves developing characters and relationships, listening to music that will inspire the plot cogs in my brain to start moving, reading widely for inspiration. Or, just taking five minutes in the shower to brainstorm and let my mind wander. Inspiration is what fills the void in my brain when I have nothing else to think about. Lately, I’ve had too many things to think about – and no time to stew on what my next novel will be.
December is busy with the holidays, but I try to let it be a time of renewal and rest. And with my stadium of gel pens in hand, planning. Hopefully, I will be able to plan for mulling – because nothing delays a project more than a lack of vision.
I know it’s been a while since I updated this blog. The fall has been crazy. I’ve had a lot of editing clients piling on my with my video business, I got through Pitch Wars, and I still sustain a full time job as a chemist.
But as of last Thursday, I am officially in the query trenches for PARADISA! I was fortunate to get two requests during the agent round of Pitch Wars, one from Laura Zats of Red Sofa and the other from Brianne Johnson of Writers House.
This is my first time every querying a novel…and I definitely understand the common held despair now. I don’t take rejections personally, really. I’ve accumulated a great lot of them this year as I’ve tried to get short fiction published. But there is a certain nagging doubt in the back of my mind as I go through this. “What if everyone rejects? What if no one wants this?” The logical part of me knows this is a numbers game, and that if I’m getting a full request for every 10-15 rejects, I’m doing well. Heck, I already do have a full request, which is promising. But as a writer trying to get published, it’s easy to see your odds flaring down into a funnel shape, and only one or two gets to be at the pinpoint. Maybe 10% of people get partial requests. Of them, 10% might get fulls. Of them, 10% might get an offer of rep. You can beat out literally 998 people, but unless you beat out 999, you’re right where you started.
Still, the odds were very slim for Pitch Wars – and Michelle Hazen still picked me out of the 60+ manuscripts in her inbox. It’s a lot like dating. I dunno what Austin sees in me, and the statistical odds of finding someone as awesome as him are probably extraordinary. But it still happened.
The Pitch Wars Mentee group does a good job at alleviating these doubts. Those getting multiple offers of rep are still getting rejections. And as always, Michael Mammay and the other PW mentors are great sources of wisdom when they say that patience is a virtue and “Everything moves slowly, until it doesn’t.”
I’ve been through this before, with job hunting and short fiction and starting my business. Uncertainty is scary. But my very first rejection was a personalized response from Russell Galen, the king of agents, in which he complimented my query. In that moment I had the thought, “I think I’m going to be okay.”
My fiancé works in quality control and safety. A year or two ago, his company sent him to some training, which was based heavily on Pareto’s Principle, which he explained to me as “if you fix 20% of your problem, the results will improve 80%.” For him, I believe the principle was used to demonstrate that 20% of hazards cause 80% of injuries.
More generally, Pareto says that 20% of the cause equals 80% of the outcome, and this is often applied to wealth distribution in society or the client stable of most businesses (80% of wealth is owned by 20% of people, 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients, 80% of crime is committed by 20% of criminals, etc.) What’s funny about the 80/20 principle is how universal it is for every discipline. It is such a consistent rule of the universe that it occurs naturally like sacred geometry. It’s kind of eerie.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, some have said that 80% of your success as a writer will probably only come from 20% of your writing. The other 80% of your work might never be published or will bring you little success – except practice and perseverance are valuable things to gain from writing, period, so this really isn’t a loss. I think this rule can be used during your revision process though, to prioritize how fixing small/moderate problems can result in vast improvements. It’s a bit more nebulous, because you can’t really measure whether something is 70% or 80% better in quality, but in general I’ve found that fixing small things goes a long way to making me feel like I’ve written a totally different book.
I have been told that the weakest part of Paradisa is my characterization. I have (thankfully) not created a bunch of unlikable emo crybabies that the reader wants to throttle, but I have tried so hard to keep my characters likable that they’re bland. The emotions are told instead of evoked (darn my right brain self). They’re a little underdeveloped. We don’t get a good sense of their ordinary world. We aren’t ever sure how they’ll react in a given situation because we don’t know them well. My Pitch Wars mentor has given me some great tools for how to fix this, and it inspired me to go back to the Pareto Principle and finish this post I started long ago.
Because roughly 20% of a book is characterization. The rest is probably 20% plot, 20% style, 20% world building, and 20% everything else – pacing, diversity, research, continuity, conflict, tension, etc. We’re talking pure craft here, not how much is important to you when you pick up a book. So I’m going to treat plot and style equally, as they do matter and are judged just as harshly when you hand your manuscript to an agent.
By fixing the characterization – this fifth or quarter of what makes my book a novel – I probably will improve Paradisa by 80%. Think about it – a good book with okay characters versus a good book with great characters. One might stick with you for the rest of your life while you’ll probably forget about the other by next year. Careers are made or destroyed based on that audience response. It’s not trivial. And it’s so easy to fix, compared to that result gap. You don’t have to rewrite the whole book or reinvent the wheel. You just have to zone in on that 20% and carve it to the fullest potential.
This works for plot too. My plot stunk in Act I for several of my drafts. It felt like the characters had no agency. They were invited to be the characters of a fantasy novel and they said yes. Once I fixed the character motivations, oh man. Such a breath of fresh air. A couple of rewritten chapters and that plot was flowing like Dune spice.
Even if you don’t buy into the raw numbers or statistics, this is still a good message to take home for anyone in the Pitch Wars 2016 Revision Club, or those who are simply editing their long suffering manuscripts. If you’re staring at the page wondering why it’s not coming out right, try to focus on improving one sphere that doesn’t work. The results from that one improvement could raise the whole book to another level.
On another note, the awesome Michelle Hauck – one of the mentors I subbed to in Pitch Wars – has a cover reveal today! Check it out below.
So in case you missed my crazed Twitter ramblings last night, here’s my official announcement – I made it into PitchWars, a contest where nearly 2000 writers enter but only ~125 walk away with a mentor who will lead them to November’s agent round. If you only focus on the Adult end of the spectrum, where I was, there were nearly 500 adult entries and only 31 mentors to take them.
I still have to pinch myself.
Real talk for a second – I was always the weird one in my college literary classes. I did well in them, but I could never write the speculative fiction I truly adored there. Then, when I’d go to SFF cons and share my writing, there was always a disconnect there too. I started to wonder if the dedicated SFF fans were really my audience, or if I should consider a more mainstream audience. Or if I had an audience period. Frankly, depending on how this worked out, I may have put Paradisa in a drawer for years and told myself to move onto the next.
I’ve been writing since I was 6, and making up stories since I was 3. This is over 20 years of living in my head that’s finally starting to pay off. I’m only 24, so many from the outside suspect I’m just getting started. They don’t see the million words of Heroes fanfiction in high school. They don’t see the three completed screenplays in middle school, or my first completed book in 4th grade (it was only like 5000 words but it was a book to me!), or my short stories in college, or my half-finished NaNoWriMo book from 2012, or my year of submitting to literary magazines, or my dad’s red pen over every first chapter I ever brought him, or my binder full of juvenilia from 10 different novels I tried to start between age 6 and age 21.
It is easy to feel disheartened and impatient after 20 years of honing craft. I haven’t even hit “success” yet – I still don’t have an agent or a publishing contract – but this is a big leap forward. It’s a kernel of validation that time I’ve devoted to this wasn’t meaningless, and that I can actually use my born desire to tell stories.
I submitted to 6 mentors. 2 of them requested fulls. Both full requests came in the first 5 days of the contest, and then I waited in silence for two weeks.
Michelle Hazen ultimately picked me. Although I initially worried my book didn’t have enough of a romance subplot to catch her eye, she liked action books and we’re both kindred spirits in fandom. For me, this was less about meeting the line by line requests of her wish list (because I met very few, except bromance and axes :P) and more a sense of her as a person. As a fellow fangirl and fanfiction writer, I could tell she wanted something to “ship,” not just romance for the sake of romance. I wrote Paradisa with the goal of creating a fandom for it, and to stroke the shipping fires, since that’s the world that I come from. If anyone is my audience, it’s fangirls! To see it resonate with one is awesome.
Additionally, a note to those who did not get in this year: please do not give up. Your MS just didn’t find its soulmate this round. I was a heartbeat away from self-rejecting on Michelle because of the romance thing. Thank god I didn’t! It turns out she’s the perfect person for it. So keep at it. Knock on every door. Don’t count yourself out. You will find your champion.
What now? Michelle will send me her suggested edits soon, and then we get to work. I have until October 31st to have a polished, shiny, complete manuscript, along with a query and pitch. Luckily this falls in time for me to get my edits back from Leona Wisoker, my copyeditor. Then, in early November. I will have a 250-300 word pitch+sample combo to present to a varied panel of agents. If it catches their eye, they may request more material. Pitch Wars tends to have a run rate of 50% of writers getting offers of representation from the agent round, and I think another 10% usually find representation within the calendar year through other methods. At worst, you walk away with an agent-ready manuscript and query that you can pitch yourself, along with the support group of the entire Pitch Wars family.
I’m in it to win it, ya’ll. This book is three years of hard work deep, and I’m not quitting at the finish line. Thanks to all of you for encouraging me and sticking with me along the way. The rest of 2016 is sure to be interesting ;)
I’ve seen all these gif filled Author Bios going around, so I figured I’d get on that list as well! Having a place where I can really dig deep into my creative identity is a good opportunity, because query letters and the story itself only say so much. It’s important to know if you and your mentor/mentee will connect on a personal level and that you think on the same wavelength.
Who am I? Michelle Iannantuono, native Charlestonian of the Palmetto State, INTJ and real life Tina Belcher. I’ve been writing since I was six. I’m a chemist by day and own a videography business by night, because I really want to be a filmmaker. Therefore, film has probably had a bigger influence on me than fiction has, and you can see that in the cinematic style of my work.
What stories do I enjoy? I like books with a fantastic, adventurous spirit. Popcorn stories that aren’t afraid to have depth. Deep stories that aren’t afraid to be popcorny. Stories that exist for the world’s enjoyment instead of the author’s ego. Stories that show me a villain I see myself in, and make me wonder if I’m a good person.
As you can tell by the gifs, I am a huge Fallout 4 fan. Other games I’ve enjoyed are Life Is Strange, Heavy Rain, Hitman, Portal, Oxenfree, Her Story, and Red Dead Redemption. For books, my favorite series is still Artemis Fowl, I will always be a Harry Potter kid, House of Leaves was brilliant, and Gillian Flynn is my goddess. TV wise, I’m a sucker for Game of Thrones, Lost, Heroes, Community, The IT Crowd, Bob’s Burgers, and Harper’s Island. I never miss an episode of Last Week Tonight. Favorite movies include Inception, The Fifth Element, Clue, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Fast and Furious franchise (hey, it’s got heart!), and National Treasure (no, I can’t quote every line, what are you talking about >.>)
What do I write? Primarily speculative, but gods, everything. I’ve written fantasy thrillers. I’ve got a cerebral Nolan-esque sci fi epic in the works. I’ve self published erotica. I’ve got a political satire coming for NaNoWriMo. I’ve got some postmodernism coming for The Three Day Novel contest. I’m shopping around literary, creative nonfiction…just everything. I definitely have things that are hard sells for me, like crime novels, historical, westerns, traditional romance…but I could also give you an example of books or films I’ve loved in all of those categories. Like I said, I enjoy stories that are cinematic above all else and have an overt emotional core.
My Editing Styles/Philosophies/Whatever: I want a CP I can talk to for three hours about all the things we can tear down and rebuild and improve. I’ve been through over 10 betas for Paradisa at this point and it’s been a good exercise in teaching me what makes for a good author/editor relationship (and in some cases what makes a bad one.) For me, it’s not about whether you’re hands on or hands off as much as whether you “get” the big picture and really want to make the story the best that it can be. If you want it to be a completely different thing, then we’re not on the same page (my father wanted Paradisa to be an omnisciently narrated thriller about an emotionless, single white male protagonist. He just couldn’t let that go. Not a good beta for this project). Personally, I do like to be given a lot of commentary though. I want to know what’s going on in your head. I also like to give a lot of commentary as a CP, because I really get my hands in and dissect fiction. And if that sounds like you, well…
More about Paradisa and why I wrote it: Paradisa entertains the idea that all mythologies are true, and that deities from all faiths cohabitate in another realm. I love mythology, especially of the Joseph Campbell tradition, and took a lot of religious studies courses in college. Myth unifies us as a species, and provide an interesting way for us as humans to conceptualize and interpret the world. But Paradisa posits that gods need humans as much as we need them, and their strength and immortality can be outweighed by our free will and value for life. Additionally, Paradisa stars a diverse cast of strong women, POC, an LGBT protagonist, a disabled protagonist, and voices from cultures all over the world. We live in the 21st century and should reflect a modern world when we write.
Anything Else? Honestly, I am just super glad to be able to participate in #PitchWars this year. It’s a step in the right direction – putting myself out there, getting experience, building this career of mine. Even if I don’t get picked, hopefully some valuable feedback will come of it. And if I do get picked, then it could make my life incredibly different (for the good!).
Thanks for checking me out! Feel free to follow my blog or follow my twitter @Ladytuono.