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A 31st century tragicomedy about control, justifications for violence, and the slippery nature of truth.

For a woman who has spent nearly a century living in a bucket, I think I'm remarkably good-natured...

So begins Puppet Theater, a novel chronicling our first -- and likely last -- attempt at escaping the confines of Earth and traveling to the stars. Resources have all but run dry.  The world economy is in free-fall.  A million colonists set out on a years-long pilgrimage to reach an energy-rich distant planet, hoping for a new start. What they discover, however, lies far beyond anyone's expectations.

Our vat-dwelling narrator weaves three stories together to create a vivid tapestry upon which her own tale comes to life. A reclusive executive at the mercy of his CEO's whims.  An alcoholic second-rate evolutionary biologist.  And at the center of it all, a teenage girl with a smart mouth and a planet-sized chip on her shoulder.  Each unique perspective drives the reader further along a dark path, upon which the characters' humanity will be tested and laid bare, and the question of who is manipulating whom becomes increasingly murky.  Through it all, the unsettling story line explores violence and its justifications, moral absolutism, free will, and the slippery nature of truth. 

Please visit http://www.mightypenpress.com for details about this novel.

* * * * *

The Project

I began writing this novel in December 2010.  The fact that it has been a year and a half and I still don't hate it is a good indicator that it is worth some additional time and effort.  :)  Early responses from professional editors have been overwhelmingly positive and gratifying:

"It’s funny, it’s shocking, it’s a sure glimpse of the future, it’s inventive, human even though it’s android-y and bucket-y… The writing is terrific and confident and engaging."

"It's by far the most creative novel I've come across in a long, long time."

"I'm half afraid that if I keep reading, everything else will go to hell."

There are some challenges, however.  The novel is currently 170,000 words long, which translates to around 600 pages.  Because of the narrative structure, it would be difficult to revise into a shorter form that might appeal to traditional publishers.  Unless the manuscript absolutely rocks, it will likely wind up in the trash before an agent or publisher reads a single word.

My goal is to make this the best work it can be, not meet a specific page count so that a mainstream publishing house will take it.  If it's long, it's long.  But I'd like a professional editor to help me make that assessment.  If I have an opportunity to shorten it and improve the work in the process, I'll embrace it.

Current Status

I completed my first official draft in June 2012.  Writers have different ideas about what constitutes a first draft -- in my case, I consider it to be a first draft when it is largely free of technical and logistical problems, the voice and characters are well-established, and the narrative brings out the critical themes in the work.  The focus of the next edit should be on making improvements to substantial elements such as dialogue, description, and strengthening the story and its themes.  I'm a tidy writer, and I don't usually leave errors behind as I work, so I won't perform a proofreading pass until the very end.

I'm currently running through the manuscript, doing light edits to prepare it for turning over to an editor.  My wife, Laura, is reading and providing some feedback, mainly to check and make sure everything adds up. I want the next set of eyes on the work to stay focused on my editing objectives and not become tangled up in technical details.

As the project moves forward, I will provide regular progress updates so that you can see how your pledges are being used.

The Plan: Phase One - Editing

First and foremost, the book needs an edit by a whip-smart editor.  I believe I have found one -- she has edited both fiction and non-fiction, and has been working in the industry for 30 years.  She understands how to get the most out of a story without mucking it up, and has a nuanced and precise view of language that I think is appropriate for this work.

But hiring an experienced editor doesn't come cheap, and it's tough to find someone who can do more than just proofread terrible vampire novels.  This editor's work process is highly consultative and collaborative, which is critical for a novel of this type.  I firmly believe that this is what it will take to get me from the good novel I have to the excellent one you deserve to read.

This phase is scheduled to begin August 15.

The Plan: Phase Two, Part A - Seeking Representation

Once the editing process is complete, I will start looking for an agent.  An agent takes a leap of faith when selecting a manuscript to shop, and good ideas alone are rarely enough.  The work has to be credible, too.  Having a professionally edited manuscript removes a barrier to faith, making the manuscript more attractive.

That said, good agents are hard to come by.  Whether or not I find an agent willing to take me on, I will likely self-publish (see Phase Three) so that I can fulfill rewards and have a product out this year.

The Plan: Phase Two, Part B - Seeking Traditional Publication

If I find a traditional publisher interested in the work, I will go along for the ride, influence what I can, and thank my lucky stars that I beat the odds. 
Kickstarter funds remaining at this point will go toward marketing (see Phase Four).

Note that if a publisher insists on editing the work down to 120,000 words just to make it cheaper to ship, I will decline to enter into a contract.  The decision to cut is mine to make, and I'm only going to do it if it serves the story. 

The Plan: Phase Three - Self-Publication

Unless by some miracle a publisher suddenly descends from the heavens with a contract and a golden pen, I plan to avail myself of one of the many self-publishing options that have emerged.  The publishing industry is changing fast.  Once a dead-end proposition, self-publishing is favored by more and more writers as a means of cutting out a costly middle-man and getting their product to market faster.  And because the author retains complete ownership of the work, there are few obstacles to transferring publishing rights to a traditional publishing house down the road.

Self-publishing requires a small initial investment to run enough books for marketing purposes, develop e-books, and meet ancillary expenses. Other elements include cover art and interior layout.  I have lined up an excellent artist for the former.  Strangely, she wants to be paid as well.  I prefer to handle the interior layout myself; typography is an essential part of the connection between the content and the reader, and if possible I want that under my control.  One of the self-publishing services I'm looking at does their own interior layout, though, so this may not be an option.

The Plan: Phase Four - Marketing

Regardless of how I publish, I will need to pay for much of my own marketing.  It would be nice to have the backing for this, so if it funds and you're still interested in supporting the project, I will definitely make good use of the money.  

It's worth noting at this point that most writers -- even best-selling ones -- don't get rich writing novels.  It's a common misconception that hitting the best-seller lists means you've struck gold.  In traditional publishing, a first-time top 20 author might wind up making $10-20k after expenses.  If that.  Self-publishing is about the same, with five times the marketing effort.  Writing and selling your work is a labor of love, and very few writers get to quit their day jobs.

The Plan: Phase Five - Keep Writing!

I have three other ideas I've been dying to wrap my brain around.  Even if this book doesn't sell right out of the gate, a successful second or third or ninth book can drive readers' interest back to an author's earlier work.  I don't look at sales as an indicator of success or failure as a writer -- I just need the opportunity to begin building my brand. 

* * * * *

The Rewards

The pricing covers the costs associated with fulfilling the rewards (with shipping), Kickstarter's 5% cut, Amazon's 5% credit card processing fees, and tax. These pledges reflect the probable list price of the book when it hits the market.  (If they seem expensive, recall that the book is long and the prices include shipping.)  The travel mug is actually priced well below retail, so packages that include it are a good buy.

After ALL of those costs are met, the remainder will go toward paying the editor's fees.  It won't be enough to cover everything, but it will take a chunk out of it, making it much more manageable for me.  If the project funds, please don't let that stop you from pledging -- every little bit helps.

The rewards are intended to be fun -- if you think I should include something else, or address a particular price point, let me know and I'll try to accommodate you.  Rewards that are limited will not be compromised, however -- if there are only five of something available, I won't release five more of the same thing later on.  It just wouldn't be fair to reduce the exclusivity of a reward.

Shipping books and mugs and such outside the U.S. is expensive, and will need to be accounted for in the pledge amount.  Here's the cost schedule. Add: $1 for a mailing containing only a bookmark; $10 for books only; $15 for books with travel mugs.

* * * * *

Note to Parents

Puppet Theater is a work of fiction aimed at adults.  Two of the principal characters are in their teens, but the novel is not teen fiction.  It is completely inappropriate for young children.  Parents of tweens and teens might prefer to familiarize themselves with the book's content -- the book contains challenging moral themes, violent imagery, and language that might be considered objectionable.  Please read responsibly.

* * * * *

The Author

I've been writing in one form or another since the moment I picked up a crayon.  I sat down to write my first play when I was five.  Sadly, it ran over budget in production (I found a nickel under the fridge) and was roundly panned by the critics (my puppy ate the script).  My ego shattered, I continued to hone my craft privately until I was twelve, when I won my first essay writing contest.  At age thirteen, I focused my attention on rewriting fairy tales and not so much on school work.  Eventually I found my way into the fiction writing workshops at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where I learned to love language.  From there, I entered Sarah Lawrence College, where I learned to dislike other writers.  Eventually I earned a degree in philosophy at the University of Houston, where I learned to love thinking.  After a decade in the workforce as a writer, graphic designer, and consultant, I decided to go to graduate school, where I learned, finally, to dislike philosophy.

Now I'm in my 40s.  I have twin boys who are potty training, a messy house, a demanding career, and a wife who loves me enough to pick up the slack while I try to carve out enough time to write books.  I did it by cutting out television (except for Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine), movies, and any other media that got in the way of writing.  I get up every day at 4am and write for two to three hours, regardless of my mood.  Work, pick up kids, eat dinner, go to bed, repeat.  I rarely break from that schedule, and I am grateful every day for a family who understands that writing is food, and if I don't do it, I starve my soul.

I strongly encourage you to consider supporting this project, not just because it's good work, but also because there are even better ideas waiting.

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    I would just like to say thanks for even considering pledging more than $150 to my humble project. In exchange, I will provide the same travel mug and bookmark, plus a hardback edition of my novel, signed by me, with a paw print by my cat, Oliver. You will be listed in the "Oliver's Friends" section of the book. I have limited this reward to 20 because Oliver is afraid of people.

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