Saturday, June 30, 2007

FD/FC: Coral Moon by Brandilyn Collins

This month's First Day first Chapter is Coral Moon by Brandilyn Collins.

I won't even tell you how backed up with books to read, so I haven't read this one -- but as part of the Fiction In Rather Short Takes blog alliance, I hope this first chapter preview night help you find a new book to enjoy!

So onward we go:

***

Brandilyn Collins is the bestselling author of Violet Dawn, Web Of Lies, Dead of Night, Stain of Guilt, Brink of Death, and Eyes of Elisha just to name a few.

Brandilyn and her family divide their time between the California Bay Area and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

She maintains an informative blog called Forensics and Faith where she daily dispenses wisdom on writing, life, and the Christian book industry.

Brandilyn also hosts the blog Kanner Lake: Scenes and Beans where you can read entertaining and eclectic posts about life in Kanner Lake from Bailey, Wilbur, S-Man, Jake, and other of your favorite characters from the Java Joint. Coral Moon is the second book in the Kanner Lake Series.

***

Chapter 1


Kill tonight—or die.

The words burned, hot acid eating through his eyes, his brain. Right down to his soul.

Only a crazy person would obey.

He slapped both hands to his ears, squeezed hard against his head. Screwed his eyes shut. He hung there, cut off from the world, snagged on the life sounds of his body. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.

The words boiled.

His skull hurt. He pulled his hands away, let them fall. The kitchen spun. He dropped into a chair, bent forward, and breathed deeply until the dizziness passed.

He sat up, looked again to the table.

The note lay upon the unfolded Kanner Lake Times newspaper, each word horrific against the backdrop of a coral crescent moon.

How did they get in here?

What a stupid question. As if they lacked stealth, as if mere walls and locked entrances could keep them out. He’d been down the hall in the bedroom watching TV, door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked to the kitchen for some water.

A chill blew over his feet.

His eyes bugged, then scanned the room. Over white refrigerator and oak cabinets, wiped-down counters and empty sink. To the threshold of the kitchen and into the hallway. There his gaze lingered as the chill worked up to his ankles.

It had to be coming from the front of the house.

His skin oozed sweat, a web of sticky fear spinning down over him. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair. He clung to the smooth table edge, ensuring his balance. Then, heart beating in his throat, he forced himself across the floor, around the corner, and toward the front door.

It hung open a few inches.

They were taunting him.

He approached, hands up and fingers spread, as if pushing through phantoms. Sounds of the night wafted on the frigid air—the rustle of breeze through tree limbs, distant car tires singing against pavement. He reached the door, peered around it, knowing he was a fool to seek sign of them. The air smelled crisp, tanged with the purity of pine trees. The last vestiges of snow dusted his porch, bearing the tracks of his footprints alone.

He closed the door and locked it. As if that would do any good. He sagged against the wall, defeated and sick. How stupid to think they would leave him in peace. Hadn’t he seen this coming? All the events of the last few months . . .

Shoulders drawn, he made his way back to the kitchen and his inevitable fate. Each footstep drew him away from the life he’d built, reasoning and confidence seeping from him like blood from a fatal wound. His conscience pulsed at what he had to do.

The message sat on his table, an executioner beckoning victim to the noose. He fell into the chair, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He read the words, fresh nausea rising in his stomach. No misunderstanding their commands. They had a chess score to settle. He was their pawn.

He pushed back against the chair, arms crossed and hugging himself, the way he used to do as a boy. Dully, he stared at the window, seeing only his own pitiable reflection. For a long time he watched himself, first transfixed in fright, then with the evolving expression of self-preservation.

If he just did this one thing, his debt would be paid. They’d leave him alone.

For another hour...two…he sat, forcing down the queasiness as he thought through dozens of details. How he should do it. What could go wrong.

By the time he rose near midnight, he’d laid his plans.

Gathering the necessary items, shrugging on a coat, he slipped out into the cold and soulless night.

***

Coral Moon Copyright 2007 by Brandilyn Collins.
Used by permission of Zondervan.

What Do You Do When A Comic Runs Late on Deadline?

What is an editor to do when a comic book is running late on its publishing deadline ... ?

Thanks to Val's Post on her Occasional Superheroine blog, I visited the link to DC Editor Matt Idelson's post on the DC website, DC Nation #64.

Idelson writes about the editor's dilemma when they find themselves unable to publish the comic book originally solicited to ship on a given date. Whether it was the editor who waited too long to lock someone or the storyline down, or whether it's the writers or artists who find themselves behind schedule for whatever reason (like illness) Idelson wants to know what is truly the best option to handle it when Editorial's backs are against the wall.

(Btw he mentioned colorists as sometimes running late, but from first hand experience I'll tell you colorists are ALWAYS paying the price when books are late, and are ALWAYS expected to do their work in half the time or less that's usually allotted them when there is a ship date crisis. And since there are teams of colorists who work together and can specifically help out in a timing jam like this, I'm really not inclined to involve colorists in "the book is late because of them" equation.)

Anyway, Idelson says an editor's three options for dealing with a late comic are:
1 - Run an inventory story
2 - Get another writer or penciller/inker team to fill in the SAME storyline to keep it going
3 - Leave everything as is and ship when the thing is finally ready.

About a third of us readers at any given time absolutely hate any of these options when they're used, so he wants to know which option incenses the least amount of us.

I thought it was very cool of him to ask. So, Matt, here's my two cents, in order of best to worst options:

1. (2) Get another writer or art team to SAVE the current storyline.
Yeah, us fans and the retailers will probably b---- and blog how 'the art doesn't match' and 'oh my goodness why this team' and blah blah blah. But this is the most economically viable, and least offensive way to rescue the situation, especially with how DC has its Universe currently set up.

This option works best on recurring monthly titles.

2 (1) Use an inventory story.
Again, yeah, us fans and the retailers will probably b----- and blog "WT- happened to the story from last month?" and this will be annoying to us. But the core vocal bunch are also the ones online, and they will know EXACTLY why there is a substitute being used, and there are so many ways to get the word out as to why the story is being subbed out at print time, people will just get over it and wait for things to get back to normal. Especially if the inventory story used is a good little story, and pretty to look at <--- span="" style="font-weight: bold;">this is REALLY key!

This is only an option for a recurring monthly title.

3 (3) Leave everything as is and let it ship when it's finally ready.
In THEORY it's sound and reasonable to do this.

But this option really only works and best on a mini series outside of the recurring monthly titles.

Now for the whys:

1) Sub in a team for the current storyline is the best option for the recurring monthly titles, for the title's sake.

This is because the DCU has become so profoundly linear and interconnected. Sure, before Crisis the DCU was a little messy with all the versions of the different worlds all the superheroes lived in, but ya'll also had a WHOLE lot more slack to work within. Since Crisis the DCU really now works as a one-world, single, octopus-like species of animal with many tentacles (no laughter please!) instead of an entire animal kingdom. Everyone involved is on one huge linear, interconnected storyline. There's a lot less room for imagination here, cause everything has to "fit".

This singular storyline treatment of the DCU leaves no room for inventory stories. Editorial has essentially tied their own hands with this one approach they have enforced. And the Universe gets smaller and flatter and darker with each succeeding humongous crossover.

2) Inventory stories would be cool to have as an option but again, the readers can't CUT slack for inventory stories precisely because the DCU has become so linear. But this is not a chicken and egg scenario. The DCUniverse is now linear and has been for over 20 years. Why should the reader WANT inventory stories? We are not used to them. And often they just suck anyway because they are poorly executed.

If they were GOOD inventory stories I think there would be fewer complaints from fans.

Back in the day (this I learned from Jo Duffy at Marvel's old Epic Comics line, and from Dwayne McDuffie at Milestone) there was ALWAYS at least one inventory story in the Editor's drawer JUST IN CASE a schedule jam happened. When that story was used, a new one was commissioned to keep in the drawer again.

Inventory stories was also how some editors tried out new talent, like the writers and pencilers and inkers they met at comic cons. Teams on the inventory story were put on a normal turnaround schedule to see if they could handle it, and they got tested that way. If they passed, and handed in their work on schedule, then the editor knew they could be trusted and might look out for them for another project sometime. Yes, it meant the talent may not see their work in print for a year, but on the other hand, for a person who wants to do this as a career, waiting a year is nothing. Waiting a year or more to see print in prose publishing is typical.

So YEAH, we'd LOVE this option (as fans and as potential talent) -- but the stories then ALSO have to be reasonably good.

3) Let the team finish and print when they're ready.

This approach is both really good and really bad.

Writers and artists have fans and we really wanna see their work and we really do wanna see the storyline completed by the same team. Especially when it's wrapped into and sold as a tpb later (not to mention the paperwork is a lot simpler with just one team). But this has an economic factor that nobody likes to talk about. Namely, the retailer gets screwed in the short run of this scenario, and that's really not cool.

Long story short: book doesn't ship, retailers has a hole, fan buys something else. Seems good, right? If this goes on long enough fans really do find they can spend their money on something else. I don't know if this has changed across the board but retailers sometimes don't get the option to adjust their order numbers on the title. When a title starts to lose reader interest or reader dollars, getting stuck with extra can become a hardship on the retailer.

This ideally is the option for the mini series format. (We let it slide on Watchmen and Dark Knight)

OR how about option 4, which actually combines 1, 2 and 3:

4) When a mini series-like storyline inside a recurring monthly title runs into schedule problems, create a back up storyline and then run that one for as long as you need to.

Yes, it's inventory in way but better than inventory. If the first writer knows where they're going on the story set, and they're running late, then a second writer may work along with them to write a 2-3 issue run to cover in the meantime. This story doesn't have to be slavishly in continuity post the storyline in trouble (you probably don't want spoilers in it, for instance)

Or if it's the penciler or inker running late and you don't want to break up that team by using additional pencilers or inkers on the issue (which is the usual first choice) then have the writer do something within their continuity that involves another artistic team, but which then later can be rolled in into it's own tpb, for instance. Then when the first team is back on track (and you will probably want them to get back on schedule over the next two to four issues anyway) you can finish their storyline with that team intact. Awkward, maybe. But it might work in the right hands. Most comics writers I know would hand in stories months ahead of schedule if they're allowed to by their editor anyway, so surely there is a way to handle this.

If anything, just don't leave a hole in the shipping schedule. That's the worst option of all.

Good luck, Matt. And thanks for asking.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Unexpected Inspiration ... from Fashion Mags of all things ...

I used to buy lots of fashion magazines when I was a teen ... and back then I didn't enjoy them so much. I wasn't blonde, wasn't thin, wasn't a size 4 and wasn't 5'10" (not that I'm any of these things now, but you know what I mean!). Back then it wasn't cool to be Hispanic -- or "Latina" as the phrase is coined nowadays -- and I felt inadequate for not meeting some impossible magazine ideal.

By my 20s I went totally "anti-fashion". Which is not too hard to do when every trip to the clothing store was basically a nightmare of "nothing fits correctly" or "nothing fits I can afford." (I STILL abhor shopping.)

And that was a bummer, really, because I rather otherwise enjoy hats and pretty suits and that formal look (but ya tend to look rather overdressed if you do that sorta thing, least 'round these parts!).

But now after all this time I've accepted I'm a fashion ignoramous, and I am at peace with my nerdiness. And by not feeling that strange pressure (Am I tall enough? Will my hair ever NOT frizz?) I can now enjoy and even want to enjoy looking at fashion again.

So when I started up my new subscriptions to W and Vogue I did it because I finally LIKE who I am and what I look like, and I don't feel pressured to dress up in what is currently in style. And I also made the conscious decision that the second either mag started to make me feel bad about NOT being fashionable "enough", I was going to cancel the sub and just get on with my life.

Imagine my surprise then -- now that it's been some months that I've been getting these issues -- to find that not only are the pictures just FUN to look at, and seeing the clothes is just enjoyable ... but I also feel inspired to draw prettier things ... and that was just nice.

What a nice and unexpected discovery ...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Joy and Delight: More Bugs

Yesterday, I saw a round little shape crawl up the other side of the window I was looking out of. I laughed because it looked just like a lentil creeping up the glass, so I watched it. When I shifted over, to see it from the side, it turned out to be a reverse ladybug.

I'm already very fond of ladybugs. They just have to be one of the cutest bugs, with their shiny red coverings and the polka-dot theme going on. This one was shiny black with red dots. I watched it for a bit, then its little wings popped out and it zipped up like two inches. And kept walking up the glass. La di da.

Trust Your Gut Instinct

The Gift Of Fear by Gavin De Becker.

Gut vs. Irrational.

Trust your gut instinct.

Movie Junkie: My Neighbor Totoro

For our anniversary, my sisters bought Chris and I a copy of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro on DVD. Chris had never seen it before, and I couldn't wait for him to enjoy it.

Like the rest of the Miyazaki anime we have started to collect -- we have Spirited Away, Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke for starters -- Totoro has a magical, loopy and endearing story quality that just fascinates us. Totoro is one of his earlier films, so for me it is like him cutting his teeth on the style of story he tells. I love it.

I have fond memories of my sisters and I watching it together for the very first time many years ago. I can remember us sitting in front of the TV in the living room; I think we had rented it from the video store back then. I remember being fascinated by the quality of the animation, and feeling like I was peeking into the Beauty of Life from the Japanese point of view.

So Chris and I watched the subtitled version first. I think there really is no replacing the original actors' voices when you watch a foreign film. I love reading subtitles and hearing the voices. The inflections add so much to the mood of the piece.

But on the other hand, we watched it a second time in English. The two little sisters in the movie were dubbed by Dakota Fanning and her little sister, Elle. I was so impressed with the two little girls' dub work. After having watched it in Japanese, I find they did an exceptional job. I also felt they caught the spirit of the story in a lovely way. They were JUST adorable!

If we ever travel, I would so love to visit Japan and visit Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli ...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Women and Comics: Two Terrific Comics Posts

There's been a lot of hoopla on the blogosphere about certain comics covers and statuettes solicited for sale recently that have upset a lot of comics fans. So much so, even folks who have web columns for comics and publishing sites have flung themselves into the web-fray in order to add their POV.

For larger context: the mainstream superhero comic book industry's Big Two Publishers -- you, the non-comics reading public, would know them as the folks who make the comics the movies of Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, X-Men, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four (and others) are based on -- have been increasingly writing and designing their superhero comic books to appeal to an increasingly older set of mostly male readers. This, in spite of their widely-publicized movies and licensed tie-ins (toys, posters, costumes etc.,) that are marketed to appeal to younger readers. Many parents find themselves in stores looking to buy the comics for their kids, only to find they lately often contain material that is only teen and up appropriate, or even mature readers appropriate.

Publishers/Editors have also increasingly allowed writers to use scenarios and "character plot devices", and allowed artists to depict images that (to put it nicely) increasingly demean, degrade and debase women characters. In many instances, instead of requesting art corrections on visuals that 15 years ago would have been flat out changed because they were editorially considered visually "impolite", editors nowadays let them go, and they will often be unnecessarily and/or inappropriately explicit for an All-Ages category audience.

So, enough time has passed now that disgusted fans have resorted to what they have available to let Publishers know they've had enough of what has become sloppy editorial policy: They vote with their dollars by not buying the product. They write letters to the publishers and editors explaining what was offensive in said product. They also go further and blog about the offensive point(s) in said product.

The results have been mixed so far, that I can see. (You can read for yourself at the Women In Comics links) Publishers have been understandably defensive, and bloggers have been increasingly vocal. I think we might be getting somewhere.

I wanted to post links to two excellent posts -- one over at CrazyElfGirl's blog "Dude! It's a Chick!" titled "If You Don't Like It Make Your Own"; and the other at the "Sequentially Speaking" blog by retailer Lisa, titled "A Couple Of Thoughts About The Industry".

Fact of the matter is, the mainstream comics industry's Big Two are owned by publicly traded companies. They have spent lots of money licensing, marketing and promoting their product to a very wide and all-ages audience. When comics themselves start to become dangerously exploitative of a certain section of the fan base then we are unnecessarily compromising the enjoyment of a lot of readers. (Yes, there is precedent for use of the term "exploitative". And yes, there is a certain amount of suspension-of-disbelief needed to enjoy superhero comics in the first place).

Change to this exploitative phenomena has to come from within AND without.

Fans who want to work in the industry should prepare themselves in the best, most thorough and professional way possible to work on staff or freelance. That way they can effect a direct change in what they find to be too-excessively narrow a focus within the product itself, in order to change the nature of the product.

Fans who want to remain fans should always speak up and point out when the publishers get off track and become inappropriate with what is supposed to be a widely enjoyed product.

We don't stop learning to get better once we get the job. We should get the job and improve and do it better. We are all learning how to do this better -- whether that is to be better creators, or be better editorial shepherds of product, or be better fans and enjoy the merchandise produced.

After all, publishers need fans. Fans need publishers. Let's work together to fix this.