Pixar Mostly Makes up for Cars 2 with Cars 3 by Ryan Hill

 

When Disney purchased Pixar, the animation studio pledged to make a sequel every other year. It’s why there’s been a Monsters University and Finding Dory. Neither Monsters, Inc. or Finding Nemo needed a sequel, but in the quest for the almighty dollar, they happened. Pixar’s list of sequels also includes the worst film they’ve ever made, Cars 2, which should have put the franchise in the garage.

Get it?

Because it’s a series of films about cars?

Anyway. Considering around $10 billion of Cars merchandise has been sold to date, not to mention the combined $1 billion the first two entries earned worldwide at the box office, why wouldn’t there be a Cars 3?

This time around, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is the aging veteran struggling to hold onto relevance in the Piston Cup circuit. Once Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a new, more powerful racer, enters the scene, its curtains for McQueen and his contemporaries. McQueen tries to hang on, but a horrific wreck sends him back to square one. Working to get back to a championship level, the racer butts heads with the smart but insecure Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonso), who once had dreams of being a racer herself.

The best thing about Cars 3? There’s racing. Lots of it. The opening race in Cars was stunning, and the lack of speed in a franchise about a race car has been more than disappointing. That’s not the case in Cars 3, thank goodness.

Cars 3 is completely unnecessary. After Cars, there wasn’t a lot of room for an organic sequel. How many movies about cars can there be? It helps explain the ludicrous premise of Cars 2. Cars 3 does its best to remedy things, forgetting all about the first sequel and building upon themes from the first film, especially the relationship between Lightning and Doc Hudson. Scenes from the original Cars are used in flashback, including Paul Newman’s voice. There’s even new material featuring Newman, with Pixar using alternate takes and behind the scenes conversations from his voice recording sessions during the first Cars for the new material.

The addition or original material from Newman, who died in 2008, only adds to the nostalgic and bittersweet McQueen/Doc relationship, which lies at the heart of Cars 3. Newman’s presence also makes up for the absence of Michael Keaton, who voiced the first film’s villain, Chick Hicks. Keaton has been replaced by Up co-director Bob Peterson. This time around, Hicks hosts a racing show, getting digs in at McQueen every chance he gets.  

Cars 3 isn’t as good as the original Cars, but it’s cute enough entertainment. Outside of Toy Story, Pixar has struggled with sequels, and Cars 3 doesn’t solve that issue. The threequel gets it right for the most part, For the most part, Cars 3 gets it right. At least, as much as a Cars sequel can.

Put THE MUMMY Back in the Tomb by Ryan Hill

 

The first reboot of The Mummy in 1999 was silly, cheesy popcorn entertainment. It wasn’t anything special, but it grossed more than $400 million worldwide, spawning two sequels of decreasing quality. The franchise, like the Mummy itself, was left for dead in 2008 after the disastrous third entry, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Like any good member of the undead, the Mummy is back after 11 years, this time sporting Tom Cruise and the kickoff to a cinematic universe of classic movie monsters.

Even with a megastar and an entire universe behind this dark and dreary version of The Mummy, it doesn’t hold a candle to the bright and colorful 1999 version.

Cruise stars as his typical cocky self with Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Jake Johnson and Sofia Boutella as the title character. The plot is a rehash of the previous Mummy films: a mummy wakes up, sucks up people’s life for regeneration, then goes on a rampage as epic as the CGI and budget allows.

The decision to create a cinematic universe out of a group of monsters that were at best loosely connected to begin with reeks of money, but that’s a “no, duh” statement. Dubbed the Dark Universe, this is Universal Studio’s attempt to cash in on the cinematic universe craze started by Marvel and copied by DC, now Universal, and soon Paramount’s Transformers universe will hit theaters.

The funny thing about the Dark Universe is Universal tried it once before with the horrific, awful, please God burn the negatives of the print Van Helsing. That Hugh Jackman monstrosity – phrasing – combined Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and a werewolf, much like this new Dark Universe. The Mummy is meant to be the start of that universe, which also includes a Bride of Frankenstein film, The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

But why kick things off with a new Mummy? It’s lazy. More to the point, why would Cruise star in the film? Sure, The Mummy tries to be a “Tom Cruise” movie, giving his character the typical, “cocky a------e turns good” arc that defines most Cruise films, but it fails in spectacular fashion. If Cruise’s arrogance isn’t fun, or in the case of Edge of Tomorrow leads to a series of deaths, there’s no point. The Mummy has neither, instead featuring the most unlikable Cruise character since … ever? Maybe Lions for Lambs?

Alex Kurtzman, making his directing debut, seems lost behind the camera. Every decision made feels like it was done to appease a studio suit, editing out everything that isn’t loud or goes boom. The result is a near-incoherent mess with massive gaps in logic and questionable character motivations that never go unanswered.

If this Dark Universe – which is such a big deal, the film has a logo for the universe before the opening credits – is to thrive, things better improve. Because if The Mummy is any indication, this universe will get sucked into a black hole before it even has a chance to untangle its bandages.

 

Wonder Woman is DC's Finest but Still Can't Touch Marvel by Ryan Hill

 

In the time it took to get a Wonder Woman film on the screen, we’ve seen:

  • Five Spider-Man movies, including a hard reboot after Spider-Man 3
  • Nine Batman entries, including Batman v Superman and one version done entirely in LEGO
  • Six X-Men’s
  • Three Wolverine’s
  • Deadpool
  • Doctor Strange
  • Ant-Man
  • Two Guardians of the Galaxy's
  • Suicide Squad
  • Two Kick-Ass’s
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Three misbegotten Fantastic Four flicks

And that isn’t including the terrible Green Lantern experiment with Ryan Reynolds or Jonah Hex, which clocks in at about 80 minutes – including credits.

What the heck took so long? Was it fear? Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable properties in comics, and arguably the most popular female property. Maybe sexism? The thought that a woman couldn’t open a film like Wonder Woman? I don’t know, but it’s ridiculous it took this long for the world to finally – finally – get a Wonder Woman film. Maybe duds like the Halle Berry starrer Catwoman and Elektra scared off the studio, despite having a pre-Avengers Joss Whedon ready to make a Wonder Woman film (he’s now doing a live-action Batgirl).

But I digress.

Gal Gadot reprises her role of Diana Prince, first introduced in the mess known as Batman v Superman. Instead of moving the DC Universe timeline closer to the next potential mess, Justice League, Wonder Woman moves the action back 100 years to World War I to tell Prince’s origin story. Believing Ares, the God of War, to be responsible for the War to End All Wars, Prince travels to London with superspy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to take him down and end WWI.

Wonder Woman is far and away the best of the new, interconnected DC Universe films. For starters, it’s competent. That’s a huge step up. There are some truly entertaining sequences in the film, and the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is fantastic. But, it’s also painfully predictable – even character twists are obvious within two minutes of them appearing – and suffers from a third act riddled with bloated CG effects and weak storytelling, like most superhero films. Factoring in the Marvel films, Wonder Woman ranks in the lower half of the recent superhero films to come out.

Wonder Woman almost feels like a moment more than a film. It can truly open the door for not only female-led superhero films, but more women at the helm of these big blockbusters. Director Patty Jenkins is only the second female director to have a budget of more than $100 million to work with, the other being Kathryn Bigelow on K-19: The Widowmaker back in… 2002. The film itself may be hit and miss, but hopefully Wonder Woman will open the door for more unique voices in Hollywood today.

Those a-holes, the Guardians of the Galaxy, are back with Vol. 2 by Ryan Hill

 

In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was an outlier for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nestled between Captain America: The Winter Solider and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the little-known property caught everyone by surprise. And how could it not? It starred Chris Pratt, the doughy doofus from Parks & Recreation, featured a talking raccoon and a tree that only said, “I am Groot,” and was directed by James Gunn, who’d found cult success with Super and Slither, but little else. As everyone knows, Guardians was a massive hit, made Pratt one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and gave the world the wonder that is Baby Groot. After three years, the a-holes are back for Vol. 2.

Set three months after the original, Pratt’s Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel’s Baby Groot are living off their victory against Ronan and the Kree in the first film, taking high-paying jobs across the galaxy, like protecting batteries for the Sovereign, a race that has gold, well, everything, and considers themselves superior to the rest of the galaxy. After Rocket steals some batteries for himself, the Sovereign are hot on the Guardians’ tail, looking for retribution. They’re rescued by Peter’s long-lost father, Ego. The living planet.

It makes sense, considering Quill’s ego, that his father would bear that name and be a planet that can manifest itself as a bearded Kurt Russell. That’s what we in the “biz” would define as ironic. Their father-son relationship sets the course for Vol. 2, which doesn’t get a good foothold until Russell appears.

For all that Vol. 2 does right, especially in the sense that it’s a sequel, it falls victim to a few sequel pitfalls. With all the characters established in the original, Gunn dives straight into the action, relying on the audience’s familiarity more than setting the stage for what’s to come. That familiarity gives Gunn more confidence in his direction, building off the visuals of the original for even more fantastic shots.  

Vol. 2’s marketing focused heavily on the characters and with good reason. For a film carrying a budget well north of $200 million, Vol. 2 is more character driven than anything else. One reason for sequels is to give audiences a chance to spend more time with characters they enjoy and Gunn has taken that to heart. He’s fleshed out fringe characters from the original – Yondu is fantastic – even going so far as to give Nebula depth.

Nebula!

The character who did nothing but shout generic lines in the original!

Even she’s fleshed out!

(That’s amazing).

Those character moments define Vol. 2. Yes, there’s big action and great special effects, but the heart of the original beats through every frame of Vol. 2, and the emphasis on character makes the sequel the most poignant and emotional in the entire MCU.

In some ways, Vol. 2 surpasses the first Guardians. The third act is more than CGI porn and there are even more character moments than the original. Vol. 2 also struggles to gain momentum out of the gate, and doesn’t establish a primary villain until late in the game. The emphasis on character may disappoint those who were hoping for a more rollicking adventure, but with time and repeat viewings, Vol. 2 may end up a more satisfying film than its predecessor.

Ask a Demon - Easter Edition by Ryan Hill

 

It goes without saying that a demon* like myself isn't a huge fan of Easter. Nobody associated with Hell likes the holiday, which with Good Friday thrown in, is a THREE DAY HOLIDAY THAT TAKES UP AN ENTIRE WEEKEND EVERY YEAR. It's bad enough having to face Easter Sunday, but Easter weekend? That's like watching the Alvin & the Chipmunks movie, then somehow getting roped into watching its three sequels. 

Pure

Unadulterated

Torture

But to every cloud there is a silver lining, and Easter is no different.

To draw attention away from what Easter really is, a few demons got together and decided to "kill 'em with kindness," which in this case entails bunnies, eggs, and candy.

The Easter Bunny is a symbol people can get behind that isn't, well, you know. Throw in the candy, which is terrible for people and causes cavities, diabetes, noxious gas, weight gain, and the occasional heart attack, and Easter weekend is almost bearable. 

Almost.

For those who look forward to the weekend, try not to O.D. on jelly beans. Or do. I know I'll be drowning myself in them.

 

* So I'm currently an ex-demon. Tomato, Tomahto.

On to the questions... I mean... question.

Danny Danny Danny asks...

You know my mind and desires, where is what I seek?

A fortune cookie kind of question merits a fortune cookie kind of answer: In bed.

Need advice from Bartholomew? Want to know what movie to see this weekend? Send your question to ryan@ryanhillwrites.com.

Drew Hayes talks villains, FORGING HEPHAESTUS in the Authordome by Ryan Hill

 

Drew Hayes is pretty awesome. His novels are fun as hell, he's wearing a beer can helmet in his author photo, and he's a really nice guy.

Does that sound like a man crush? Nah...

Does it, though?

Just kidding. Drew is a great guy/author/friend, though.

Drew does have a new novel out, Forging Hephaestus, which is all about villains. It's also rated 4.8 out of 5 on Amazon after 68 reviews, which is stupid impressive. For contrast, my novel, The Book of Bart, is rated 4 out of 5 after 77 reviews.

* = Yes, this is a shameless plug

 

That said, Drew has strapped on the armor, chosen his weapon of choice (a bachelorette party straw), and is ready to step into the Authordome for a record FOURTH TIME. 

Will he survive? Absolutely. This is all virtual/not in the real world.

Two authors enter.

Two authors leave.

Welcome back to the Authordome, Drew! This is your fourth time entering the infamous arena. Do you think this time will be more Fury Road or Batman & Robin?

I'd say more Kung Fury than anything else.

You have plenty of experience writing superheroes with your Super Powered series, but Forging Hephaestus is a bit of a new direction for you, focusing on the villains instead of heroes. What made you want to look at the "darker" side of superheroes?

I’d say it was less about wanting out and out darkness, though the nature of the tale does lead to a more violent tone than some of my other works, than it was just wanting to try something really different. Villains get to have more fun, take the pragmatic path over the moral one, and generally get away with things no superhero ever could, which made the idea of writing about them really interesting. Plus, there was no way I’d get away with a superhero named Johnny Three Dicks, that’s solely villain territory.

Ryan note: Johnny Three Dicks is one of the best superhero names EVER

First thing that comes to mind. Favorite superhero movie/TV show. GO!

For movies, it’s either Deadpool or Batman Begins, both were great films overall. TV shows… if we’re being really loose with the term “superhero” then I’d go with the short-lived show Limitless, which was way more charming and fun than it had any right to be. If we’re sticking with classic superhero properties though, then I’d say Justice League Unlimited.

Villains always have the most fun, but they can be difficult main characters because you need something to anchor the story. How did you approach that in Hephaestus? Just make the main character boring? How do you go about writing a story about a villain with other villains there?

I think the book, and the series as a whole, are anchored on the basic idea of survival. That’s why the villains even have a code (the series is titled Villains’ Code after all) and why they enforce it. Because none of them want to die or be sent to jail, they have to do their villainy with intelligence and care, hence why they’re able to function around other villains and not launch stupid schemes every week. Those villains do exist in the world, mind you, and they are another source of potential antagonists for the main character villains. Lots of potential enemies!

Who is your favorite villain? If you say the Joker, you must use 150 words or more to explain why. I'll also laugh and point at your answer as I'm posting it on my site.

Right rogue’s gallery, wrong villain. I think Mr. Freeze (the version from the '90s Batman Animated Series) is one of the best villains ever written for one simple fact: he isn’t even really a villain. Victor Fries is a brilliant scientist trying to save his wife, only to be betrayed and mutated by the head of the company he worked for. Rather than go on a straight-up murder spree, he focuses on robbing people to get enough money to continue research on curing his wife. And what stops him? A billionaire with ultra-tech protecting his wealthy corporate buddies.

Dumb question of the interview: Is Forging Hephaestus set in the same world as Super Powereds?

No, it is not. This story was about playing with the worlds and tropes of classic comic books, which are more reality-removed than the Super Powereds world. Rather than messing with my existing property to fit a new mold, it made more sense to build this world from the ground up and make it exactly the way it needed to be.

What's next for you? Another entry in your awesome Fred the Vampire Accountant series?

If all goes as expected, that should indeed be next on the docket. Fred No. 4 is written and in REUTS hands, so ideally it should be out in summer as usual.

Last but not least, sell us Forging Hephaestus in haiku format.

A guild of villains
Capes, mechs, mutants, and lies
What more do you need?

Thanks again to Drew for being a good sport in the Authordome. You can read more about him and his works at his site, which is chock full o' goodness.

Whole 30 Update No. 4 - Rebellion by Ryan Hill

 

This Whole 30 demon, "life style change," whatever you want to call it, is a never-ending pit of despair and hopelessness that would make even the most peppy person's butt hole cringe. On Saturday, my wonderful fiancee and I - led by me - went into full on rebellion mode. 

rebel.jpg

For the day.

And it felt glorious.

I've mentioned before how food is not only for the body, but the soul. After a day of ingesting all the junk and alcohol our bodies could stand, I can say that good food is almost as important for your spirit as your body.

So what if I gained three pounds that day? WORTH IT.

This week has been more of the same. A little cheating here and there, but trying to keep it under control. Whole 30 is no longer running/ruining the lives of my wonderful fiancee and myself. We've applied some lessons learned, but the program as a whole? (Phrasing). FINITO.

That program can eat a bag of pig's feet covered in grass and dirt.

 

Whole 30 Update No. 3 - Brain Games by Ryan Hill

 

It doesn't seem to matter if my wonderful fiancee and I include some cheat meals here and there to appease the beast known as Whole 30. That evil, sadistic, greasy bastard still finds a way to mess with our heads.

Both my wonderful fiancee and I want to eat everything in sight, like a couple of hungry, hungry hippos. Or a vampire that hasn't drank blood in however long it takes them to get uber cranky and hangry. THAT'S WHERE WE ARE.

It's getting to my wonderful fiancee in a myriad of ways. She can't eat her beloved cheese. Enjoy her favorite Starbucks items. She's - and she'll be the first to admit it - a bit of a germophobe, and doesn't entirely trust our dishwasher, meaning she washes all dishes by hand. When cooking extravagant (by Whole 30 standards, though some stuff has been amazing) meals every night, the dishes pile up. Some nights, she's on her feet for at least two hours, cooking and cleaning. I'm allowed to help with drying the dishes and putting them up, but my wonderful fiancee's Celiac disease has left her in a position where she only trusts herself to get everything clean. This won't always be the case, but it is for the moment.

A lot of our mental anguish comes down to the age-old adage that PEOPLE WANT WHAT THEY CAN'T HAVE. This diet is so stupid restrictive, my wonderful fiancee and I are dying a little on the inside as time goes on. It stinks, we hate it, but on the other hand... 

I'm down seven pounds since we started Whole 30 almost two weeks ago. 

Whole 30 Update No. 2 - Sweet Lord Chipotle by Ryan Hill

 

It's quite possible my wonderful fiancee is struggling with the Whole 30 devil more than I am. She dreams of tacos, specifically Chipotle. We drove past one the other day and she reached out, begging for the Sweet Lord Chipotle to take her in his warm embrace, filling her stomach with all sorts of burrito goodness.

That's not even mentioning the sugar withdrawal. Sweet Lord Chipotle, someone get us out of this sadistic diet!

I've spent a lot of Whole 30 trying to accept the fact that I'm not going to get a lot of joy from food for a while. My wonderful fiancee HAS come up with some amazing meals, but that doesn't mean I don't miss... you know... good/processed food. Because I do. A lot. The first night on Whole 30, I dreamt of Diet Sunkist. No joke. 

Below is a dramatic recreation of an actual pre-Whole 30 conversation with my wonderful fiancee:

MWF: Why can't you give up soda for 30 days?

Me: I don't want to.

MWF: Why? It's terrible for you.

Me: Don't take this away from me. I love my soda. It's my happy place when I get to work.

MWF: Your happy place?

Me: Yes. Drinking it in the morning makes me happy, so I need it.

MWF: Yeah. You don't sound like an addict at all.

Me: ...

After a cooking mishap Friday night, Week 1 of Whole 30 broke my wonderful fiancee. Her love for Chipotle was strong, and so we partook in the Whole 30 sin of burrito goodness. It was glorious. 

Although...

After five days of going o naturale, both my wonderful finacee - especially my wonderful fiancee - experienced stomach issues, to the point Chipotle has been put in the time out corner for the foreseeable future. 

We also drank some wine on Saturday. Again, it was nothing short of glorious.

Because of our transgressions, my wonderful fiancee decided last week was more of a "soft launch" for Whole 30. So far, this week has been back to strict Whole 30, but once the weekend comes, things change.

The weekend is a time to unwind from the work week. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Food plays into that. It's not only nourishing, but good food can lift a person's spirits. Not that my wonderful fiancee hasn't made some flippin' sweet meals on Whole 30 - she has - but going out, eating food prepared by someone else just has a different vibe to it. Basically, it seems we're going to have some sort of cheat system built in. So it's not Whole 30, it's Our 30. 

To which I say...

Whole 30 Update No. 1: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly by Ryan Hill

 

The first few days of the Whole 30 program have come and gone, and somehow I'm still doing this thing.

Does it have to do with my fiancee's ultimatum that if I don't complete the 30 day program that I can never complain about gaining weight again for the rest of my life? A little.

Does it have to do with early results? A lot.

Now, I haven't magically dropped all the weight I want to, but I have dropped enough to make me curious what Week 2 will bring.

As for no soda/alcohol/pizza/enjoying life? That part is more out of sight, out of mind. So long as I don't talk about it, I'm okay. The second I start talking about it, I become a puddle of immaturity, kicking my legs in the air and begging my fiancee to let me off the hook. 

Of course, she won't let me off the hook.

I'm still getting used to drinking coffee with this ghetto Whole 30 approved creamer and the soda thing has been - so far - not too terrible, thanks to a supply of La Croix berry flavored soda.

I did try this gingerberry flavored Kombucha. It smelled like antiseptic. Tasted like it too.

Overall, I'd say Whole 30 isn't bad. But I still have the weekend to come, and that's when I like to let loose a bit.

Stay tuned.

The Fiancee and I Started the Whole 30 Program by Ryan Hill

 

On Monday, my wonderful fiancee and I started - at her request - the Whole 30 program, a super-strict version of the paleo diet that causes sadness, despair, hunger, and potentially some weight loss.

The gist of the program is that for 30 days, it's all about the natural foods - meat, vegetables, fruit. Nothing processed. Nothing with sugar. No bread. No pizza. No alcohol. The program is nothing short of an evil scheme to make people like me suffer to no end. And lose some weight. 

Honestly? It's not that bad. I try to eat well, so the eating part isn't too bad. I will miss pizza. And popcorn. And chocolate. And all these other things that are awful for you.

Like soda.

Diet Sunkist is my happy morning drink. I'm not huge on coffee - NO CREAMER FOR WHOLE 30 BY THE WAY - so DSK puts a smile on my face. My wonderful fiancee feels my soda "dependency" needs to be broken. I disagree. But that's not even the worst of it. Zero alcohol can be consumed during this program. 

None.

Zip.

Nada.

That reason alone makes me think whomever created the Whole 30 program should have to dip themselves in honey and sprinkles, then lets ants crawl all over them. All the while listening to a never-ending loop of Creed. That way, their mind, body, and soul will all be attacked, giving them an idea of what this program - on its third day, no less - is doing to me.

I'll provide updates as this goes along, but for right now, I MISS FOOD.

New Year, New Plans, New Hopes by Ryan Hill

 

Welcome to 2017.

Are you excited? Petrified? As wild as 2016 was, 2017 could be an even crazier ride. Somethings, LIKE GETTING MARRIED, I'm very excited about. Others? Cautiously optimistic... emphasis on cautiously.

But one area I'm excited about for sure is books!

There's going to be a lot happening in the world of books this year, and by "world" I mean myself. These things are happening for sure:

  • Bart of Darkness: The Book of Bart - Verse 2 (May 23) - Yup! It's happening! All I can really tell you about it at the moment is Bart and Sam are both back. Quite the tease, amirite? LOLOLOLOLOLZER 
  • New branding - Everything from my website to swag to book covers is getting a face lift. All of it. The covers are going to look uniform, like they came from the same author. The website/author logo stuff will probably have a similar feel. I can't say for sure, because a new logo image hasn't been selected!
  •  A Book of Bart prequel starring Sam - This short story has been on the back burner entirely too long. I'm currently polishing it up, then unleashing it upon the world. It basically shows how Sam came to need Bart's help in Verse 1. This will most likely be a free download for anyone who joins my newsletter.
  • Utopia Con 2017 - I'll be back in Nashville this year with my amazing fiancee for the latest iteration of Utopia Con, which features WARM BODIES author Isaac Marion as the featured speaker. Will I bring my copy of BODIES and it's sequel - coming soon - for him to sign? There's a fair chance. 
  • Oct. 29, 2017 - Save the date, cuz I'm gettin married!!!

These are the things I want to happen, or at least I'll start on them on 2017:

  • Bart's Inferno: The Book of Bart - Verse 3 - Oh... oh my. Did I just reveal a third Bart book and it's title? I think I did.
  • Another Bart short - I'd like to do one or two of these a year. We'll see how well that works out.
  • A super secret collaboration with my fiancee - No, this isn't the wedding. Yes, that's super, but it's not a secret. No, we're not eloping. Yes, we are working on something together. And it's going to be pretty awesome. At least, I think so.
  • Blog more - It's bound to happen at some point... right?
  • Attend more book conferences - Money is the big obstacle here, but I hope to attend at least three this year. 
  • Read more - Because everybody says this.
  • Lose weight - I need to. And because everyone says this.

That's it for me. Hope everyone has a great 2017!

Ask a Demon - Holiday Shopping Edition by Ryan Hill

 

For some of us, the holiday season is the worst time of the year. People spreading good will and cheer, the annoying songs that are impossible to avoid, not to mention non-spiked egg nog. Who drinks that straight?

For the rest of us, the silly season is just that: silly. However, there's a dark underbelly to the holidays, one nobody dares speak of for too long, lest they fall victim to it.

I'm talking about present shopping, of course. People fight over each other to get some marked down piece of electronics that's obsolete, flip each other the finger over lost parking spots, and the stress of finding the PERFECT PRESENT for that SPECIAL SOMEONE.

Not to fear, for Bartholomew is here! 

Timmy from Astoria asks:

Bartholomew, what should I get my Dad for Christmas? He likes golf and this yucky brown drink.

Great question, Timmy! I'd suggest giving your dad photos of your mom with her younger lover. Barring that, a pack of pink golf balls, since you're not old enough to get the "yucky brown drink." The measure of a man is his willingness to play golf with pink balls his son gave him as a present.

Susan from Seattle asks:

What do you get the man who has everything?

The "man who has everything" is a house of straw waiting to burn into ash. If you want your man to stay "on top of the world," get him a Swiss bank account. Or a rigged paternity test, so nobody can legally claim him as a baby daddy.

Are you insecure? Afraid you'll lose this dreamboat? Get some work done on yourself. 

If you're not insecure, remind him that he's got everything and doesn't need anything else, because he's got you.

Ugh, that last answer made my stomach turn. 

Jerry from Tulsa asks:

Bartholomew, I can't wait any longer. I want to divorce my wife. I know it's the holidays, but is there a way to do this without ruining the season for her?

Well Jerry, chances are she wants out of the marriage too, so there's that. You could also completely own the divorce and give her the news on X-Mas day, with a written letter. It can either be in an envelope or in a gift-wrapped luggage bag. Hopefully, she'll get the metaphor.

Need advice from Bartholomew? Want to know what movie to see this weekend? Send your question to ryan@ryanhillwrites.com.

 

Ask a Demon - Halloween Edition by Ryan Hill

 

Can you hear it?

Angels blowing their horns?

No?

That's because it's HALLOWEEN!

The greatest day of the year, or any year. A day when demons can shed their human facade, revealing the true form hiding underneath, and walk around in our birthday suits. Nobody would bat an eye, freak out, or wet their pants. They'd say, "cool costume bruh," or give us first prize in costume contests.

Me? I look way too sexy to drop my human appearance. I don't feel the need to show the world my demon form and not be judged. I'm secure in my exquisite looks like that.

But I digress.

Halloween has shifted a bit over the years, going from the Irish holiday of Samhain, where humans greeted us with food and alcohol in exchange for letting some of their dead relatives hang out for a few hours. Eventually, the bribes stopped, and the holiday became the one day of the year where it was okay to get mad over receiving a pack of raisins over some candy. Scratch that. It's always acceptable to get mad over getting a pack of raisins. They're disgusting. Worst use of grapes ever.

On to the Halloween questions!

Cinnamon from West Virginia asks:

Why are some costumes called slutty? Most of them seem okay to me.

The companies that make Halloween costumes are morons. Aside from selling outfits named "Slutty Nurse," their business model makes zero sense. They only sell their product one month out of the year! Is that an organization that should be passing judgment on what's considered slutty? Methinks not.

Besides, dressing up as a nurse - especially when you aren't one - is pretty much the equivalent of wearing a nurse costume. The only difference between an official outfit and the "slutty" costume version is a couple of inches.

Have a question for me? Send it to ryan@ryanhillwrites.com.

Jake from Austin asks:

Is it okay to put razorblades in candy?

No. No, man. Don't mess with kids. Ever. The worst parts of Hell are reserved for people who mess with kids: right next to everyone who thought elevator music was a good idea.

Tim from Atlanta asks:

Bartholomew, is there any costume you wish more people wore on Halloween?

That's an easy one. Birthday suit.

Need advice from Bartholomew? Want to know what movie to see this weekend? Send your question to ryan@ryanhillwrites.com.

Blaze Pub's Haunted Halloween Tour with Case Maynard! by Ryan Hill

 

October is the month of fears, and we're going on tour with some of our favorite authors to talk about what their main characters are afraid of. What keeps them up at night? What nightmare has them waking in a cold sweat? Each day, we'll feature a new main character and delve deep into their subconscious to see what they fear. And each day, you'll have a chance to enter to win some awesome prizes! We met Vee from our recent dystopian release The Surrendered, but now we're getting to know her a bit better by finding out what haunts her each night when she closes her eyes... 

My name is Vee Delancourt, and my biggest fear is all about failure. In a world where the nation abuses its children in unspeakable ways, losing this fight just isn’t an option. I hope I can prove myself worthy of the trust so many have put in me. I hope I can one day redeem myself for the mistakes that I’ve already made. . .and for the lives that have already been lost.

She’s here, my old friend is. Stalking my sleep again.

Well, not her exactly, but some version of her. While the pale skin is the same, if maybe a shade lighter, the hesitant smiles I once marveled at have disappeared. A twisted scowl now decorates her gray lips. Grayish. Not quite blue; not quite white. The color of death.

“You,” she snarls at me, one thin finger aimed in my direction. “You killed us all.”

I shake my head, backing until I come in contact with something. I don’t have to look to know it’s the big covered truck from Hopkins Farm. I’ve been here before, in these very Mills, on this very day. It’s the day that everything changed. The day I escaped the System and set into motion a chain of events that would forever change the lives of so many people. Not all for the better.

My ethereal pursuer continues to advance on me, and my heart races wildly in my chest. “I didn’t mean to!” I cry, pleading with her to understand. “I didn’t know so many would die!”

“Die, die, die. We’re all dead. We died. We’re done. Dead.” Babbling is her only response.

My chest squeezes. Something’s not right. Isn’t there supposed to be peace in the beyond? A great releasement of all the bad experiences? A big screw you to all who did you wrong? This is unfair.

 She hesitates in her advance, her feet floating stationary over the dirt path for one moment. Her head tilts slightly, as though listening to sounds in the distance. She grimaces, shudders, and then moans. “They beckon. They call. . ..” She throws her head back, wailing, “No! I will not go!”

I cover my ears at the thunderous howl, releasing a scream of my own. “Let me help you! Let me fix this!”

Another murderous shriek sounds as I step toward her. “I don’t want to go! Make it stop! I WILL NOT GO!”

I sob, the gasping sounds ripped from my chest as I struggle to stay upright. I feel the blackness trying to take me even now. “Please. Please let me make this right.”

Her head drops forward, drool running from her mouth and over her chin. Colorless eyes swing back to me, and in them I see a sorrow unlike any I have ever witnessed. “You’ve done enough, little rebel. Selfish. Unthinking. Ignorant, rebel. You killed us all.”

“No.” My head continues to deny, but my heart twists at the knowledge that she’s. . .right. She’s dead because of me. Tears overspill my eyes, tracking marks through the grime on my cheeks. I choke. “But I was only trying to help you.”

Her bark of laughter startles me and I jerk in surprise when her finger points again, this time to my left. “Fail. Failing. Failed.” She cackles. And what of them? Will you help them too?”

My head turns.

They’re all there. My dear, sweet friends. Ann and John William. Cason. Matthew. My father. The Overseer. The Master. Asa. All the children. There are so many of them, both known and unknown.

All with the same murderous intent.

To make me pay.

about the book

 

After a financial collapse devastates the United States, the new government imposes a tax on the nation’s most valuable resource—the children.

Surrendered at age ten—after her parents could no longer afford her exorbitant fees—Vee Delancourt has spent six hard years at the Mills, alongside her twin, Oliver. With just a year to freedom, they do what they can to stay off the Master’s radar. But when Vee discovers unspeakable things happening to the younger girls in service, she has no choice but to take a stand—a decision that lands her on the run and outside the fence for the first time since the System robbed her of her liberty.

Vee knows the Master will stop at nothing to prove he holds ultimate authority over the Surrendered. But when he makes a threat that goes beyond what even she considers possible, she accepts the aid of an unlikely group of allies. Problem is, with opposing factions gunning for the one thing that might save them all, Vee must find a way to turn oppression and desperation into hope and determination—or risk failing all the children and the brother she left behind.

Now available!

Amazon - iBooks - Barnes & Noble - Kobo - Signed Copies - Goodreads

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Blaze Pub's Haunted Halloween Tour with... Me! by Ryan Hill

 

October is the month of fears, and we're going on tour with some of our favorite authors to talk about what their main characters are afraid of. What keeps them up at night? What nightmare has them waking in a cold sweat? Each day, we'll feature a new main character and delve deep into their subconscious to see what they fear. And each day, you'll have a chance to enter to win some awesome prizes!

Bailey is the sixteen-year-old protagonist of the Paranormal Comedy THE CONCH SHELL OF DOOM by Ryan Hill. When Bailey isn’t fighting off sea monsters, he’s fighting off his friends’ snark, a healthy fear of rejection, and anxiety. But rejection isn't the only thing he's afraid of...

What am I most afraid of? by Bailey Southwick

What am I not afraid of is probably the better question. I’m afraid my friends will find out who I have a secret crush on- actually, let’s leave her name out of it. If they ever found out, I’d never hear the end of it. I know a lot of people say, “Oh, I’d never hear the end of it,” but I’m serious. Marshall and Tim would hound me until I moved to Allakaket, Alaska, population 107. Even then, I’d still get texts, emails, and even real mail from them with more jokes. To top it off, one of them – most likely Marshall – would make sure the crush knew I liked them in the most public and humiliating way possible.

Maybe Allakaket isn’t the worst idea.

I’m also afraid of goblin sharks, sand soldiers, and having some bad guy’s head put on my body. Definitely the last one. No, my body isn’t the most athletic, but I’m still growing into it? Also, it’s mine. I don’t want some gross head taking control, rendering me basically dead. No way. That’d stink.

Also, I’m afraid of my anxiety. It pops up at random moments and causes all kinds of problems. I do my best to manage it, but that can only get me so far sometimes. I wish it weren’t the case, but it’s the lens through which I view life. It makes me who I am, and it can make me my own worst enemy.

about the book

Bailey didn’t mean to catch his parents plotting to unleash the sinister Trenton Maroney and his powerful oceanic army on the world. It was an honest mistake. Now, he’s got the horribly disfigured Mr. Lovell on his trail, which is doing wonders for Bailey’s anxiety.

His only ally is Franklin, a burn-out several decades past wishing his brother Trenton was destroyed for good. Franklin has battled his brother for two thousand years, and has nothing to show for it except his beloved Mustang.

To stop Mr. Lovell from awakening Trenton, Franklin and Bailey will have to get past his parents, a one-eyed stoner, crooked cops, giant Scotsmen, and Trenton’s army, which can only be summoned by one thing: the mysterious Conch Shell of Doom.

Amazon

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Blaze Pub's Haunted Halloween Tour with The Carver's Jacob Devlin! by Ryan Hill

 

 

October is the month of fears, and we're going on tour with some of our favorite authors to talk about what their main characters are afraid of. What keeps them up at night? What nightmare has them waking in a cold sweat? Each day, we'll feature a new main character and delve deep into their subconscious to see what they fear. And each day, you'll have a chance to enter to win some awesome prizes! Read on to find out what our dear friend Peter Pan Pietro from Jacob Devlin's The Carver worries about at night...

Hey everybody! Pietro Volo here, your favorite character ever from The Carver and the handsome, dashing alter ego of your favorite Lost Boy, Peter Pan.

Friends, I know what they say about me. I’ve seen the movies. I’ve listened to the songs. If I’ve understood them correctly, the stories ask you to believe the following:

  1. That I am still a ten-year-old boy.

  2. That I need a bottle of Gorilla Glue to stick my shadow to my toes.

  3. That I’m going to fly into your children’s windows and whisk them off to some isolated world filled with man-eating gators and pirates, kinda like how I picture Florida.

There was a time when all of this might have been true, but it bewilders my brains to believe that all these stories handle this so casually. The songs are slow, soulful, and even a little touching. But now that I have a fifteen-year-old son? Dude, I’m freaked. What if there’s another me flying around world and he’s determined to snatch moody teenagers right out of their beds and zoom them off to a place where we can’t get a hold of them because AT&T doesn’t reach that far? This is scary. Zack doesn’t even wear pants to bed.

*clicks on flashlight and points it under my chin*

That is one of my worst nightmares. The other one is a terrible dream that I have all. The. Time. You know who else likes to fly through your window while you’re sleeping? The Sandman. He’s supposed to bring you some nice REM, but when he gets sick, we all get these recurring fever dreams.

You’ll never guess what my nightmares involve. There are some tiny changes from night to night, but they always involve one freaky element that kicks me--hard, I’ll have you know--right in the Assassin’s Creed parts I and II. One time, I was on top of Mount Everest. Don’t ask me how my lazy bum got up there, but then there was an earthquake that brought the whole mountain down. Another night, I was standing on top of Clocher de Pierre, the bell tower offering the best view of Florindale, and my shadow took a torch and lit the base on fire. I’ve also been on a tightrope across two skyscrapers, and my wife and kid are at either side holding Santoku kitchen knives. How fair is that, Sandman? But my least favorite is probably the Ferris Wheel, which is clearly falling apart as I swing back and forth at the very top by one hand.

But wait! you say. You can fly! I get that a lot when I talk about nightmares. You can fly, you can fly, you can fly. Well, hey. You ever have those dreams where you’re being chased by like, a leathery winged demon, or a dude with a bloody axe, or an animatronic orangutan from Disneyland? And sometimes, your feet plant roots into the carpet or you suddenly weigh a hundred thousand pounds? That’s me. That’s Murphy’s Law. When the Ferris Wheel crashes into dust, you don’t get to fly.

Yeah, the Sandman’s a friggin’ jerk. You should hear about how many times Prince Liam’s had to fight off a dragon with a toothpick, or Snow White’s twisted dream where her feet turn into apples. Hansel? Pretty sure his nightmares are drizzled on a graham cracker and loaded with a generous coat of pure sugar. Hey, that might be a beautiful dream for you and I, but that guy probably wakes up plastered in sweat. Gross!

I wanna share something a morally grey, shady magical fairy once told me on one of the scariest nights of my life. Do not be angry when your shadow eludes you, she said. After all, shadows are born from the light. The world can be a real scary place sometimes. There’s violence and pure hate. There are hateful queens, chameleon wolves, and aquamantulas. There are deceptions and cancers and poisonous fruits, and Space Mountain breaks down when you’re in line. And the Sandman doesn’t care. But, I’m here to remind you that it takes a light to cast a shadow (unless it’s my shadow--this thing doesn’t obey me or physics or anything.) Find your light source. It can be anything. Family. A hobby. A good book and a Netflix show to binge on. Or, you know, me… But whatever you do, I really hope you don’t turn to a mirror to solve your problems. I mean, you can, but good things don’t usually happen. That’s another story for later.

Happy Halloween, Lost Children! BOO!

about the book

 

THE GIRL IN THE RED HOOD has been looking for her mother for six months, searching from the depths of New York’s subways to the heights of its skyscrapers . . .

THE PRINCE looks like he’s from another time entirely, or maybe he’s just too good at his job at Ye Old Renaissance Faire . . .

THE ACTRESS is lighting up Hollywood Boulevard with her spellbinding and strikingly convincing portrayal of a famous fairy. Her name may be big, but her secrets barely fit in one world...

Fifteen-year-old Crescenzo never would have believed his father’s carvings were anything more than “stupid toys.” All he knows is a boring life in an ordinary Virginia suburb, from which his mother and his best friend have been missing for years. When his father disappears next, all Crescenzo has left is his goofy neighbor, Pietro, who believes he’s really Peter Pan and that Crescenzo is the son of Pinocchio. What’s more: Pietro insists that they can find their loved ones by looking to the strange collection of wooden figurines Crescenzo’s father left behind.

With Pietro’s help, Crescenzo sets off on an adventure to unite the real life counterparts to his figurines. It’s enough of a shock that they’re actually real, but the night he meets the Girl in the Red Hood, dark truths burst from the past. Suddenly, Crescenzo is tangled in a nightmare where magic mirrors and evil queens rule, and where everyone he loves is running out of time.

Amazon - Barnes & Noble - Signed Copies - Goodreads

Notes from a query reader 2 by Ryan Hill

 

My previous Notes from a query reader post was very much a brain dump, an overview of what I've learned while reading query letters and manuscript excerpts. These excerpts are almost always a novel's first few chapters, and in the last post I stressed the importance of having a James Bond-type opening. Something that grabs the reader (in this case, me) by the throat. 

I can't stress this enough. Get into the meat of the story later. Be sparing with your details. If you're introducing a character at the beginning, do it with actions, not descriptions. 

One item I'm starting to see over and over again is a story starting with the main character getting out of bed, starting their day.

Does that sound exciting? Does that make you want to read more? Gee, this character just got out of bed! What will happen next? Stretch? Yawn? GO BACK TO SLEEP?

Don't do this. I'm begging you.

The only author - off the top of my head - that can get away with starting a novel with their main character waking up is Dan Brown. All of his novels start with Robert Langdon being waken up in the middle of the night by a phone call to help with some situation. That's... okay. Something is happening. 

Look, when you've sold a bajillion books like Brown, you can start a novel that way. Until then, show your main character in action. Make them proactive. 

Maybe a lot of writers start novels this way because it happens a lot in movies. The catch is there's energetic music that can be played, and often the opening credits are also rolling, so a lot of filmmakers keep things simple during that span. Novels don't have the luxury of a booming soundtrack. All they have is words. Make them count.

HOOK THE READER. For someone like me, who only reads queries and maybe the first three chapters, don't save your best for last. Put it front and center so I'll want the higher ups to look at the query. 

GOING ROGUE Author Drew Hayes Returns to THE AUTHORDOME by Ryan Hill

 

Two authors enter.

Two authors leave.

Few know this premise better than Drew Hayes, who's gone toe-to-toe, author-to-author, beta male-to-beta male more than anyone else in the known universe. Why does Drew keep coming back? Is it to shamelessly promote himself and his latest release, Going Rogue out today? An innate desire to see how far he can push himself before breaking? Maybe Drew craves competition. Maybe he knows there's no other place that will test his wits like the Authordome. 

Nah. He just enjoys the Authordome, and the Authordome enjoys having him!

Thanks for stepping into the Authordome. You were a part of these interviews before they became the Authordome? Does it feel any different, knowing you've stepped into a post-apocalyptic world of questions and answers?

I mean, I live in Texas, so we’ve pretty much got the amped-up cars and gun part of the post-apocalypse down pat. The only parts we’re missing is worse weather and less traffic. 

Going Rogue is the third in the Spells, Swords, & Stealth series. Do you have a set number of entries in this series, or will it go on and on until it loses steam, like Seinfeld? In other words, the series is about non-playable characters. How long can you play with non-playable characters?

No set number, I’ve just got a general story in mind, and however long it takes to tell will be the series. I doubt it will go past 10 though, I have a hard time imagining it would be fun and fresh in the double digits. But since I’ve got an endpoint in mind, I’d say it’s more Gravity Falls than Seinfeld. Also, you know Seinfeld went out when it was still on top, right? If you want something that limped across the finish line, maybe start using Spin City or That 70’s Show.

Authordome note: Meh. That last season of Seinfeld was butt. Season Nine wasn't so hot either. The rest? GOLD, JERRY!

A lot of series tend to have "threequelitis," where the second sequel in a series pretty much jumps the shark. There's Veronica Roth's Allegiant, Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave series fell apart at the seams, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest couldn't recapture that Dragon Tattoo magic, and some would say Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay was a far cry from The Hunger Games. Even the Authordome is play on Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which suffered from threequelitis. How did you go about avoiding threequelitis, or did Going Rogue succumb to the evil?

I think the key to avoiding that issue is to specifically avoid trying to recapture past magic. Don’t try to grab what you once held, instead focus on making it the best story for the characters as they are now, having grown and changed over two previous books. That was my strategy, anyway. Like all authors, I’m too close to give an objective opinion on if it worked, but all the beta-reader feedback so far has been pretty darn positive, so it’s looking like I may have dodged the threequelitis bullet.

Full disclosure: I haven't read any of the Spells, Swords & Stealth series. Does that make you want to lop my head off with a broadsword?

Nah, everyone who knows you is aware that you have terrible taste. Not surprising that you’d have missed this gem of a series.

Is there anyone in the series that's a badass on the level of Brienne of Tarth? Any badass heroines at all? 

It’s hard to compare direct levels without an actual fight, but I have a heroine who is a barbarian wearing demon-hide armor and swinging around a cursed axe like it’s going out of style. I’d say she’s at least a contender for equal badass grounds.

In thirty seconds or less, tell us why your series is better than Game of Thrones. I won't be timing you, so this is on the honor system. Go!

When I promise dragons, damn it I deliver on them. No long waits required.

Now for every other book in the fantasy genre, because I can't think of another series off the top of my head. Go!

Well, I promise I don’t spend entire chapters describing intricate systems of trade and macroeconomics for the fictional kingdoms. That’s got to put me above 70% of the genre right there.

The Authordome can sometimes feel a bit one-sided. Is there anything you'd like to ask me?

How’d you get someone as big as Drew Hayes on your blog?

Authordome answer: Every dog has its day? The sun even shines on a dog's ass everyone once in a while? Something to do with dogs...

Per Amazon, this is a list of the top fantasy authors. In the known universe.

1. J.K. Rowling
2. Shannon Meyer
3. Bella Forrest
4. Diana Gabaldon
5. George R.R. Martin
98. Drew Hayes

Thoughts?

Holy shit, I’m in the top 100? I was not expecting that. Haven’t even had a release in months. Um, I guess to put my thoughts concisely: Woohoo!

Sticking with this, your name recently popped up on author Christopher Moore's Amazon page in the "Customers also bought items by" list. As of Oct. 7, your name seems to have been replaced with... Christopher Moore. Tell me. How does this make you feel? Happy? Sad? 

Honestly just the fact that it happened at all was pure encouragement. I was not expecting to be sharing an audience with Christopher Moore yet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a career goal and something I’m working toward, but one day I plan to take that spot for good. Still, it’s an uphill battle, and there’s no sense in claiming victory before I’ve earned it.

What about the fact that I'm not even on your author page under the same section? Personally, that one stings.

Aw, don’t worry man. Keep at it, and one day you’ll get there.

In haiku format, tell us why we should read/buy/steal Going Rogue:

Five Adventurers
Hijinks, battle, monsters, and gold
Also there’s a pig

 

Notes from a query reader by Ryan Hill

 

A couple of months ago, I started reading query letters/excerpts for a publishing house. The responsibilities are simple. If a submission is good, I recommend that the higher-ups take a closer look. If a submission stinks, I flush it down the toilet, just like that author's hopes and dreams. 

MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

But I digress.

I'm not here to gloat. I'm here to help.

Query letters are a mixed bag. I don't care if you've had other stuff published. A publishing history in a query gives me hope that the excerpt will be solid, but it's no a guarantee. A query letter needs to sell the manuscript first, yourself second. It doesn't matter if you won third prize in a beauty contest. 

This is what I'm looking to be sold on:

  • Can you write? A poorly written query letter typically spells doom for the excerpt. Just sayin'. One usually begets the other. That query needs to be edited to within an inch of its life. Make it snappy. Give it a voice. A unique voice. I'll talk more about voice later, but you're selling your book. DO THAT TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITIES.
  • Is the story good? Some queries... ugh. Awful, terrible story ideas. Other ideas are solid, but the writing isn't there. The story needs to stand out. Is it a fantasy? Then give a fresh take on the genre. Not just a different world with a hard to pronounce name, a whole new perspective. LIke Deadpool. Heck, even if the story isn't right for the publisher, good is good. I'll pass it on and let the powers that be decide what to do next. 
  • Does the story have a strong voice? This is what can give a story that edge. Push it over the top. Like Samuel L. Jackson says in Pulp Fiction, "personality goes a long way." An editor can work around a strong voice. A so-so story can be tightened up if the voice is there. The argument could almost be made that voice is more important than the story. Anyone can write in a neutral style, but it's the voice that can really set a manuscript apart from the others.
  • SWEET! Good story, strong voice... but can the publisher sell it? This is like the boss level for query submissions. The final battle. A story can be intriguing, the voice is there, but a publisher may not know how to sell it, etc. This has happened to me a few times. It's the way she goes. The story has to be different enough to stand out, but familiar enough to be relatable to a mainstream audience. It's kind of a Catch-22. 

Most of the queries I pass on tend to have the same problems:

  • The author isn't there yet. Keep writing, learning, and improving. You'll get there if you put the work in.
  • The manuscript isn't there yet. Maybe the manuscript is sloppy and needs more editing. Maybe the writing is lackluster and missing a voice, i.e. the author isn't there yet. Regardless, and I can't stress this enough. FIND YOUR VOICE. Mine is sarcastic and silly, with a bit of anxiety thrown in here and there. Hemingway's was terse and soaked in booze. WHAT'S YOURS? Keep writing, learning, and improving until you find your voice. A lot will start falling into place once you discover your voice.
  • The story isn't appealing. It has a been there, done that feel. Probably best to chalk up this submission as experience gained and move on to the next one.
  • The story is appealing, but not what the publisher is looking for. Such is life. If the manuscript is good enough, it'll find a home. Or it can be self-published. 
  • Everything is there. Story, voice, marketability, all of it. The problem? The excerpt is drowning in exposition.

Besides poor writing, too much exposition is the biggest killer of queries. World building is difficult. I know. Basic rule of thumb: only reveal parts of your universe when it's absolutely necessary. If it isn't important, leave it out. More often than not, exposition kills all narrative momentum. In screenwriting, the first ten pages are by far the most important. If a script doesn't don't grab the reader by, that script is going in the trash. Same goes for book submissions. Want to hook a reader?

GIVE YOUR EXCERPT A JAMES BOND MOMENT.

Throw the reader into the middle of the action right away. It's okay to let the reader try to wrap their mind around what's happening. That's called ENGAGING THE READER. Think about Harry Potter. The series begins with Harry as a baby being dropped off at his aunt's house. All the reader knows is Harry's parents were murdered and magic was involved. That's. It. The reader doesn't need to know anything else at that point. J.K. Rowling was so smart with her world-building. She eased the reader into that world, spending TWO WHOLE BOOKS ON SIMPLY ESTABLISHING HOGWARTS AND THE CHARACTERS. It's only in the third entry, Prisoner of Azkaban, that Rowling opens up the world. 

Look, too much exposition at the beginning is something I've been guilty of myself. But think about it. Remember the Star Trek reboot? That opening was AMAZING. The audience didn't have a clue what was going on until it was necessary. The only real exposition (that it was George Kirk's ship, his wife was on board, pregnant with James) comes naturally in the course of action, not because the film stopped to tell the audience about these people.

Ever see The Matrix? The first half of that film is fantastic, featuring one of the best cinematic twists of all-time. What comes after? The exposition. EVERYTHING comes to a stand-still so Keanu can learn about this new world. 

When it comes to exposition, start small. Work your way out. Not every piece of the universe you've created needs to be established right away. Not all of it even needs to be revealed to the reader. If it doesn't advance the plot, it doesn't matter - especially when trying to hook a reader. Exposition, taken as a whole, slows the action down. 

When trying to impress a reader with a query submission, focus on the action. You've got a finite amount of story to impress someone like me. Don't waste it on exposition. Trust me. I WANT TO BE IMPRESSED. I WANT TO MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR THE POWERS THAT BE TO CHOOSE WHICH MANUSCRIPT TO PUBLISH. I MAY HAVE AN EVIL CACKLE, BUT I AM ON YOUR SIDE.

One big item to remember: EVERYTHING IS SUBJECTIVE. One submission I recommended a pass on wound up receiving a publishing offer from the powers that be. Everybody's tastes are different. Just because I'm not in love with a submission, doesn't mean the next person will feel the same way.

Don't lose hope if you get a rejection or two. Keep at it, KEEP GETTING BETTER, and eventually the worm will turn. The sun will shine on a dog's ass. The broken clock will be right. All it takes is one yes. The only failures are those who give up. The rest are still working toward their dreams and goals.