Thinking Orson Welles

Last week, I strolled into Bookman, a used bookstore I used to frequent back in the day. Thankfully, it hasn’t changed a bit (unlike the lately and dearly departed Acres of Books, a favorite of Ray Bradbury). At any rate, I picked up a number of good books there, including a short biography of Orson Welles the-lady-from-shanghai-orson-wellesby John Russell Taylor.

As a kid of the 80’s, I don’t know much about Welles. I remember being introduced to his work in an album about the Apocalypse, which I now think was an audio recording or soundtrack of the documentary, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. I tell you, for a young kid, listening to Welles recount the prophecies of Nostradamus with all the lights off was creepy stuff.

I have only seen one of his films, Touch of Evil on the recommendation of a friend and it was good as far as it went. But after reading the biography, I’m going to have to make a point about seeking out more of his stuff.

Coming to Hollywood as a young man, he was given total creative control over his first film, Citizen Kane. But after that, things changed (for various reasons, not least Welles’s talent for alienating the people with the money) and Hollywood execs let it be known they wanted more control. Unfazed, he decided he didn’t need the studios. He would just make money as an actor and then roll that into his next independent production in which he would retain creative control. As Taylor notes, it was almost unprecedented at the time.

“…This was Welles’s normal way of financing his own creative ventures, and even then, when he was a very well-known actor much in demand, it seldom worked out very well…in Hollywood in 1942, at the height of the studio-factory system, it was a very eccentric way indeed of proceeding.”

Welles struggled with the same thing most artists do: How do you maintain control over what you create? How do you find the money to allow you to create what you want, how  you want? Orson found his solution: Use the funds from his acting, his voiceover work, hell, even commercials (for wine and frozen peas) to subsidize what he loved to do: make movies.

For me, it’s not that different. I’m not a great actor or pitchman. I have a 9-to-5 job like most of you out there. It’s a fine job and it pays the rent and helps with lots of other things. But most importantly, it gives me the work-life balance I need to put everything aside (including financial worry) every now and then and just write. Every creative person has to find that thing that will support them and allow them to create unhindered, unedited and without constraint. I’m glad Orson found his way and it’s nice just knowing that others out there have had to do the same thing to make ends meet.

What about you? Are you a writer? Or creative type? How do you find the funds to do what you do? Feel free to share in the comments section below.


PS…The Wellesnet website has some great clips of Orson Welles from throughout his career. The site also has a look at the recent celebrations marking 100 years since his birth. See you next time!

What I Learned at RavenCon

And I’m back. Sorry for the delay. There has been, let’s see, a writing conference, vacation and now, work. So, I haven’t been able to feed ye olde blog as much as I had hoped. Let’s change that, right now. common_raven_2

Today, I want to talk about my time at RavenCon, my local fan/writer Con here in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. It was a great time, I met some old friends, hopefully made some new ones and had a great time. But for the blog I want to just focus on what I learned. Since this was my second time at RavenCon, I was able to breathe a bit more, slow down and enjoy the sessions a bit more. I looked through my notes from the Con the other day and here are my top four takeaways in no particular order.

1. Choose your panels based on who leads them

Back in college we had a saying for how to pick the right classes: “Don’t choose courses, choose professors.” That meant don’t choose courses based on subject matter, but who led the courses. Go for the professor that is a recognized leader in a field or who has a reputation as a great teacher. Instead of choosing subject matter that’s interesting or fills a specific need.

Now, this strategy doesn’t always make sense. But I was sitting there and looking at the packed RavenCon schedule and I decided to “choose a good professor” over subject matter and ended up at a panel hosted by Jack McDevitt on “How to Make Sure Your Story Gets Rejected.” That title didn’t really impress me. But Jack, a very seasoned writer, shared some great insights on what to submit and how and where. He didn’t hold back, sharing some past success and failures. What’s more, he was very friendly and accessible after his talk. Picking the professor really paid dividends in that case.

I followed the same  strategy for the rest of the Con and there were a couple of “busts” here and there, but it worked well over all.

2. My “rejection tolerance” is too low.

One of the great things about RavenCon is that it’s small enough that you can actually get picked to ask a question during the Q&A session after each panel. At one session, I asked Lou Antonelli how many rejections for a manuscript is too many? That is, how many rejections does it take for him to consider putting a manuscript aside and not resubmit it? He said that he writes down what happens to each manuscript on a piece of paper with about 10 columns each and that at about halfway through page 3—or about 25 rejections—he decides to “trunk” the piece and not resubmit it. Mind you, this guy is a top short story writer, too. My tolerance for rejections is at about 10 per piece before retiring something. If anything, my tolerance should be at least 25 rejections per piece, or higher, since I’m just staring out.

3. Submitting to mags that accept simultaneous submissions could get you published faster and give you more feedback.

I also learned that for someone at my level—someone just starting to submit stories and see them published—it might make more sense to send my stories to magazines that accept simultaneous submissions. To explain briefly: there is a pecking order in speculative fiction magazines just like in everything else. The more established magazines tend not to accept simultaneous submissions: if you send them a story you can’t send it to anyone else while they have it. They also get a lot of submissions, so they simply can not offer feedback or advice. Lower down the totem poll, some magazines will accept simultaneous submissions: meaning you can send  it to them and to other magazines at the same time. Another writer on a panel (I forgot who, sorry!) said that for starting writers those magazines might be best because you get answers back from publishers faster AND they get far less submissions so may be willing to share feedback more readily.

I haven’t had anything accepted yet by a mag that accepts simultaneous submissions, but I have sent my manuscripts to quite a few. I will definitely consider sending  them more in the future.

4. Agents and publishers are at Cons to work—and find new talent.

During another Q&A session, an agent from the science fiction publisher Tor was answering a question. This led to an interesting exchange where a simple fact came to light: agents and publishers at Cons are (generally) working when they on the floor of the Con. Meaning…they’re looking for looking for new ideas and new trends in publishing. They also want to reconnect with established talent and, in some cases, find new talent.

All the publishers and agents I heard talk said they were open to being approached (politely) by new authors with manuscripts they are ready to share. Just remember: ask them if they’d be open to receiving  a new manuscript and have your 30-second “elevator speech” about it ready to go. The upshot: don’t be shy about approaching these people if you have something to share with them. They may not look like it, but they’re at work.


That’s it for my report from RavenCon. I hope you aspiring writers out there found it especially useful. A final note: I’ll be going again next year to RavenCon and I highly recommend it. If you’re an aspiring speculative fiction author in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s really worth the trip. Before that, I’ll be heading to DragonCon in Atlanta this September. Hope to see you there! Until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius


PS…I’ll be back with my next post on May 22. See you then.