Friday, June 25, 2010

Carbon-Copy Sells?

Anybody who's been in a bookstore in the last ten years knows that people know what they want, and authors are more than happy to give it to them.

When Harry Potter came out, we were smashed with 5,000 other titles highlighting the in's and out's of the wizarding world told from various perspectives, some more successful than others, none of which touching JK Rowling's runaway hit.

She's the only one that could spin movie deals and merchandising unseen since KISS made everything from lunchboxes to condoms.

Even now, we see spin-off type genres I'd consider fitting like, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Sorcerers Apprentice hitting box-offices at the moment.

Twilight is another beast entirely. Bella Swan and some dark character named Edward have become a generation's touchstones, spawning an entire genre usually referred to as Paranormal Romance. Crazy.

It's gotten so bad that editors on website listings outright say that if they get another vampire romance novel submission, they're apt to drink the magic Kool-Aid and call it quits.

I can't blame them.

It begs the question - which is better?

To pave bravely on in a genre that has been saturated with every Jim, Bob and Sue crossing editors desks with similar queries, or to try something new that isn't known to sell well?

Hell, no one ever would have thought the journey of a nerdy teen in a magical world based on a typical Hero's Journey framework would have the success it did. Likewise, in a world of tanned celebs, nobody could have guessed a pasty Robert Pattinson would become a sex symbol. Both authors crossed into territory previously unknown (at least to the mainstream reader) and hit the jackpot.

It must be taken into account that both Twilight and the Harry Potter series were targeted towards the Young Adult market - impressionable and seeking something new - which was obviously the wise choice.

I guess at the end of the day, we'll just have to sit back and wait to see what new genre will emerge.

I'm terrified.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Getting Back to Basics

I've recently found myself faced with something I'm sure many experienced writers hit -

The Wall of Writing Rules.

It stands high above the manuscript, ominously foreboding.
And It's gotten me down.

After perusing forums on AbsoluteWrite (among others) I feel as though I've finally been overwhelmed by the amount of 'rules' I've learned about writing a novel. They deal with wordcounts, page-lengths, word-choices - even titles. They've finally piled up in my brain to the point that even thinking of my manuscript-in-progress elicits a small twang of pain.

I've been Pavlov-ed in the most rudimentary sense - I think manuscript, I feel dread.
And shee-it, it sucks.

I'm not sure what other writers / agents / publishers may think on the matter, but has writing a novel finally come down to a formula where x + y / c = a sellable work? Are there really rules that dictate what is and isn't appropriate in Young Adult fiction? How about too extreme / not extreme enough in Horror? It seems for every question that comes to mind, four different answers from four different authoritative resources rise to meet it.

My goal for the coming week - to get back to writing, and to do it soon.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Small Screen Musings

What a wild ride the past few weeks have been.

From achieving publication a little over a month ago until now, things have definately been turned on their heads from my previous comfortable little life.

Wednesday, I had my first televised interview (available online at for Cogeco Niagara Channel 10. It was a three-minute whirlwind of an experience, made all the more surreal by the lovely lavender background supplied.

It was strange talking about the book, that much is for sure. I wrote the novel mostly spurned on by red wine and boredom while watching TV in my living room, and here a reporter was asking me questions about the work. Absolutely ridiculous.

It was a great learning experience, and hopefully one of many to come in the future. Practice makes perfect, and I really hope I get more chances to work on it in the future. Many thanks to Darryl Day, producer of the show, for his patience and dilligence in helping me out with the endeavour!

Any writers seeking publicity for their work? I offer this advice.

Don't stop.

I sent out in the neighbourhood of 50 emails for interviews before recieving a single response. It's like querying for an agent all over again, and can be equally disheartening. Keep your foot to the floor and don't give up - you never know what emails you might find in your inbox the next day!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Beginnings & Crossroads

Inspiration has made itself more apparent in my writing than ever before.

When I finished GREY DOGS & THE WILLOW, I wondered what was next on the table for me to tackle. I'd written the first of a hopeful series / trilogy (at this point) and felt on top of the world. It was the culmination of a grand slew of work and toil to get the novel done, a feat which many never achieve. It felt great and I felt triumphant, but I was itching to get to town on another work.

I toyed with two ideas - one, to develop a standalone work, or two; to get down to business and start the sequel to GREY DOGS immediately.

All in all, I think I made the smart decision.

I decided that GREY DOGS & THE WILLOW, being my best (and first) work to date, it needed some time to cool before tackling the huge task of writing a followup that would meet or exceed the first. The world-building was already done, the characters very much alive and kicking, and the storyline directed. I felt that to start too hastily into the second would be a bad choice, that I would ruin what I'd created with a half-assed scramble of words that would never live up to my own expecations.

I decided instead, after a quick, feverish outlining session, that I would begin work on a standalone. A work that would reside in it's own world with it's own characters - CRIMSON LETTERS FROM KANDAHAR PROVINCE. I wrote it quick, and I wrote it hard. Four or five weeks from beginning to end.

And it was difficult.

I found myself past the halfway mark struggling more with characters I didn't really like the way I did Carey Cardinal and Roman Tindall. I found myself overwhelmed by what seemed to be an unreachable word-count goal, an impossible summit. The work became just that - work. I struggled to finish it, but end it I did. I came up short, requiring padding and extrapolation of ideas to hit the 60k word mark - the publishing minimum requirement to truly be considered a 'novel,' and a short one at that.

Looking back, I like CRIMSON LETTERS, but I like GREY DOGS more. After finishing CRIMSON LETTERS FROM KANDAHAR PROVINCE and giving it a quick polish, I sent it out to agents on the query-go-round and so far haven't found much in the way of a promising response. My publisher, Severed Press called it an 'interesting idea,' and added the possibility of releasing it later, and I thank Gary for his kind words.

However, now that CRIMSON LETTERS is trunked in purgatory until a later date, I began almost at once the composting phases for the sequel to GREY DOGS. I find that without a project on the go, I feel lost. I sit infront of my computer and check forums on AbsoluteWrite and wait for rejections in my Gmail inbox, but do little else in the writing world besides push my existing publication.

Not being able to wait any longer, I began work on the sequel, and it came effortlessly. I threw around some ideas, but it really came as a strangely easy task. I can honestly say that CRIMSON LETTERS was good for what it was, but it really served another purpose. It allowed me to develop as a writer. It allowed me to play with ideas and concepts outside the world of the original work. Most importantly, it let my subconscious work on the events of GREY DOGS II (obviously not the working title, but I'm not giving that much away just yet!)

The now-completed, very detailed outline for GDII is a marvel if I do say so myself. It's undoubtedly the best framework I've written to date, and I'm quivering with the anticipation of writing it.

The only questions that remain now are these - do I wrap most things in GDII and leave only a few trails for GDIII? Do I aim for long word counts and consider a fourth novel?

Either way, get ready.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Promotion: Win v.1

Well, a little bit of tenacious work finally paid off.

Today, a rather unflattering picture of this mug circulated onto the doorsteps of three Southern Ontario towns, front page. It feels surreal to see the online version, but I haven't yet gotten a copy of the print. 

The article is available online at if you're interested to see the original, otherwise find it below.

Master of Macabre

Avid reader pens his own zombie tale

Tales of terror. Ian Sandusky recently had his first horror novel,Grey Dogs and the Willow , published through the Severed Press out of Australia. It should be on Chapters' shelves this fall. Staff Photo/Susie Kockerscheidt

Ian Sandusky finishes our sentences

• My guilty pleasure is ... watching Sex and the City. I will just come out and admit it.

• The best flavour of ice cream is ... tiger tail.

• If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be ... Chuck Norris, just because he is awesome.

• If stranded on an island, I couldn’t live without ... my BlackBerry, original iPod mini and the Stephen King anthology.

• The TV shows I watch most frequently are ... Bounty Hunter and Criminal Minds.
• My favourite book is ... Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse.

Ian Sandusky couldn’t find a book to fulfill his passion to read, so he decided to write one.

The 22-year-old Holland Landing resident has always been an avid reader.
At a young age, he was miles ahead of his peers, reading novels faster than his parents could provide another one. There was nothing better than curling up with a novel and allowing his imagination to run wild as he quietly turned the pages.

“I’ve read all my life and I’ve always liked post apocalyptic, pathogen-type novels,” he said.

He remembers when his fascination with the horror genre began; his cousins showed him the opening scene of Resident Evil, a PlayStation video game based on the concept of a virus turning the human population to zombies. For months, he would lay awake in bed, wondering what was causing the strange bumps in the night, again allowing his imagination to run wild. 

Over the years, he has been attracted to the writing of Stephen King and Dean Koontz and novels such as The Cell and I Am Legend.
“I had just finished a book and realized I hadn’t read a good, pure zombie novel in a while,” he said, sitting in his family’s living room. “So I thought, I know what I want, why not just write it?”

The former Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School student admits it was an odd choice for someone who never excelled at the written word. 

As a pre-teen, he tried to write a story, but lost interest after one page and he laughs at the poetry book he made as a child, which he deems an awful display of talent.

“At first, I tried researching and found there are as many ways to write a book as there are strands in a haystack,” he said, rocking back and forth in a recliner. “So I started with a really rough outline and character profiles.”

Not having the background of a typical writer, with boxes of journals and short stories to prove his passion for writing as a child, he surprised himself with how quickly the words began to fill the pages of his first novel, Grey Dogs and the Willow, which is to hit the shelves of Chapters in the fall, having been picked up by Australian publisher Severed Press.

He completed the 326-page novel in about six weeks. His tactic was to throw his developed characters into situations and let them do the talking rather than try to force the plot and characters to react in a way that didn’t fit their nature.

The novel takes the reader on a journey of survival through the eyes of protagonist Carey Cardinal and the story’s secondary characters, twins Keila and Roman.

Men. Women. Fathers. Daughters. Wives. Brothers. All are susceptible and the viral infection is a death sentence. One hundred percent communicable. One hundred percent untreatable. It’s making people insane, turning them feral. Zombies. No end is in sight, and Carey Cardinal has run out of options, Severed Press writes as the introduction to the new author’s work.

“I didn’t really have high hopes for the manuscript and, believe me, I had my share of rejections from agents and publishers before it was picked up,” he said. “When I got the news, I was jumping around in my living room like an idiot and I must have called and sent a text to everyone I know.”

Once word got around in this Brock University student and bar manager’s circles, some found it hard to believe Mr. Sandusky had written a full manuscript. He doesn’t seem the type. 

As a music lover who plays the guitar, more would have guessed he would follow a different path. 

Over the years, he has earned a second-degree black belt in Kempo Karate after 10 years of training with Robinson’s Karate and also holds a police foundations diploma from Niagara College.

“Most people are surprised, heck even I’m surprised,” he said. “I’m already done the second novel and think this will probably be a trilogy.”

His advice for others looking to write: if it strikes you, do it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Planning Game

Oh, how I've missed thee.

You little enigmatic bastard, casually named 'outline' in a folder reserved on my netbook for your future habitation.

I'm of the opinion that great books are written before they're written, if you follow. To you writers who can sit down at a blank screen and create a well-paced, intricate, multi-layered piece of work with multiple subplots, characterizations all within one well-organized manuscript suitable for publication after a few edits, I salute thee.

Unfortunately, I cannot grace your ranks.

Writing for me comes at a cost - time, effort, and proper planning. I try to keep in mind the P-6 adage when sitting down to pen a new work. Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. Let's hope it rings true.

I'm currently hunkering down to begin work on my next manuscript, the sequel to GREY DOGS & THE WILLOW (to be released through Severed Press in late 2010, if you're new here - welcome!) and it's certainly becoming a trying ordeal fairly quickly.

You see, here my problem lies. With GREY DOGS, I swung once at the fences and came up with a home-run, as far as nailing down publication went - easily considered the most pivotal battle in any writer's career. Next will come the struggle to sell it to the reading public, but that's another post all together.

With the currently-untitled sequel, I'm tasked with a difficult endeavour. I have to now continue the story of Carey Cardinal, the main character of the first work, into and through another saga interesting enough to measure up to my original novel. When they say writing the first book is hard, the second near-impossible, they ain't lying.

With GREY DOGS, I tried hard. I really put my back into it. I spent hours meticulously crafting a piece of fiction without any idea what the hell I was doing or how to reach the end of the road. In my ignorance, I threw away ninety percent of the rules I have learned about writing since then, which I attribute to its free-flowing nature. It worked. It really worked. Now, as I sit down to begin my toil on the currently-nameless sequel, it's damn near overwhelming.

In any case, back to the original aim of this post - planning. Drawing a roadmap from start to finish. With my last finished work, CRIMSON LETTERS FROM KANDAHAR PROVINCE, I can say without a doubt I jumped headlong into a quick outline and ran with it from there. The result was a work coming up way below my aimed to almost a tune of 10,000 words. No big deal, a story is done when it's done - no arguments - but a bit of a disappointment nonetheless. With this sequel, I'm not taking any chances. I'm going to fully flesh out character profiles as I did with my first. I'm going to outline until my damn fingers fall off. I wrote GREY DOGS in the span of under two months, and CRIMSON LETTERS in about three-quarters of the time. GREY DOGS isn't due for release for at least three or four months, so I'm not in any dire straits when it comes to a deadline.

At current, I'm suprising myself. Pleasantly, at that.

Over the course of CRIMSON LETTERS, this upcoming work hung in the back of my mind. Over the last month or so - even more in the weeks since I signed my first publication contract - I've been unable to go long without dwelling on it. In all my musing and pondering, I found nothing concrete on which to build. No pivotal climaxes, no scenes springing forth from the ether. Hell, I'll admit I still don't know what the big near-end height of tension is going to be.

However, on sitting down to begin tapping out the original outline (which will see endless modification beyond the first chapter, as it always does) I've really been amazed at the subtleties that have made themselves arrogantly apparent. Subplots. Themes. Ideas. References. Apparently my subconcious has been hard at the grindstone with this one while I've been as still as a smooth lake on the surface with this project.

All this aside, I still have a long, winding road ahead before I get into the narrative.

And yes, I'm excited despite the intimidation.

New Braniff, we hardly knew ye.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Distinguishing Viable From a Waste of Time


Market Tenure.

Agency Suitability.

Nice industry-jargon terms for 'no thank you.' It's always been a bit of a paradox for me. Take this posting with a metric ton of salt, this is one authors opinion on agencies dealing in the literary field, but it's something that has perplexed me nonetheless. The fact I just used two words in that paragraph beginning in 'p' met somewhere with an 'x' is also a bit of an enigma at present, but on we press.

When I first got to the 3/4 mark on my first manuscript, GREY DOGS & THE WILLOW, I got bees under my skin. I began feverishly reading forums about the publication process, and how to attain the seemingly unreachable in such a cuthroat industry.

One thing stood out in stark contrast to all the bitching about how cold the publishing field was - you needed an agent. You needed them to look over your contracts, you needed them to negotiate every kind of right under the sun, and if you didn't have one you were selling yourself short.

"Great!" I thought. "Let's get us an Agent!"

I sent out about fifty half-assed query letters to every agent I saw (to whom I would like to apologize for the experience) without regard to anything but conveying the fact that I needed them, desperately.

Unsuprisingly to anyone who's made the same mistakes, I got about ten form-letter rejection slips back in my inbox, and still haven't heard from the other forty. Disheartening, but even then I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I went back to the drawing board, continued working on my manuscript and making it the best piece of unfinished work I could.

I wrote query after query, each better than the last, but the answer still came back a resounding "No."

Finally, I began including a synopsis in with my letters. Quite foolishly, I famously included the line, "Although my synopsis is rather lackluster, I assure you that the finished work shares none of it's faults." Good job, Ian. Sink your ship before you build it. I finally had one agent send me a personalized reponse, and he tore me to shreds - rightfully so. He identified that the only part of the query he liked was the part where I identified my synopsis as being sub-par, and that the only thing a writer has is his ability to convey ideas through writing.

Seems simple, but the short, cold note spoke volumes.

I went back, took the time to write the synopsis I had been so dreading with care, and tried the same agent again.

The answer was the same, but he was happy with the synposis all the same. He said it was good, but the project still didn't strike him as something he'd like to work with. Damn.

Regardless, after the fact, that agents callous rending of my work I directly associate with the work subsequently being picked up by Severed Press for publication - had he not told me how it was, how ever could I have turned the tarnished piece of steel into something worth buying? Sounds deep and silly, but that's the truth.

Now, I find myself entering the ring of literary agents, waving my flag and begging for attention once again.

It may not be easier to get an agent, but take solace in the fact that even us unrepresented folks do have a shot at finding a home for our written prose - it just takes more work.

Well, here's to hoping.