Monthly Archives: October 2013

Matchbook is live!

We received word yesterday that Amazon’s Matchbook program has gone live. When a publisher signs up for Matchbook, they are able to offer the Kindle version of a title at a discounted price to people who purchased the print version from Amazon.

The publisher gets to set the price for the Kindle version. And since we think it’s kind of rude to charge you twice for the same book (especially when there are no costs to us for the Kindle), we’re giving The Long Way to you for free!

That’s right: Anyone who purchases (or has already purchased) the print version of The Long Way from Amazon can now download the Kindle version at no additional cost.


Austin Film Festival 2013 recap

I returned home last night from the Austin Film Festival and I’m still buzzing with excitement and inspiration. I can’t wait to get back to work. But first, a review.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Austin Film Festival is esteemed for its associated writers conference, which brings together some of the best—okay, the best—screenwriters in the business, putting them face to face with aspiring writers and filmmakers in a long weekend of panels and parties. Along with the writers there are producers and agents and studio execs and actors and every one of them is as friendly and approachable and supportive as can be.

In addition to the conference, there’s also the screenwriting competition—more than 8,000 entries this year—and the awards banquet. This year’s honorees were Callie Khouri, Jonathon Demme, Vince Gilligan, Barry Josephson, and Susan Sarandon.

As an aside, if you learned one thing at the festival this year, it’s what you heard over and over again from everyone who met him: Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, is the nicest guy in the world.

Here’s how I spent my time at the festival:


Salt Lick Barbecue

I arrived a day early for a massive meatfest with old and new friends. I think there were thirty or forty of us. The place is BYOB, so we arrived trailing coolers from our car. There are Salt Lick Bar-B-Que outlets in the city and even at the airport, but the one in Driftwood is one of the wonders of the world. The word at our dinner was that Jerry Bruckheimer has even flown Salt Lick out to California to cater his own parties. Mmmmm, pork rib.




After the opening remarks at noon, I headed over to the

Nerdist Writers Panel

Moderated by Ben Blacker (whose Nerdist Writers podcast I must start listening to), this session featured a conversation with Ashley Miller, Kell Cahoon, and Kelly Marcel.

Miller told a fascinating story about how he met his writing partner during an online Star Trek argument in the mid-90s. For the first two and a half years they wrote together from opposite sides of the country without ever meeting or even seeing pictures of one another. They’re still writing together today, having produced over one hundred hours of television, and having expanded into feature writing with credits such as X-Men: First Class and Thor.

Cahoon was very funny, doing Larry David imitations as he talked of the first success he and his writing partner had with a pitch and a story for Seinfeld. Marcel writes alone and made it sound almost as if her success came easily (selling her first two television pitches in one week) but I think she was also a bit self-deprecating about the work she must have put into her projects—especially with her chaotic writing methods.

Nerdist might have recorded this session. I’m not sure. Listen if it shows up. It’s worth it.

A Conversation with Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor is the writing partner of Alexander Payne for such films as Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, and Citizen Ruth. I’m a huge fan of Election, so I was a bit disappointed that this talk didn’t spend much time on that film. And the moderator was a bit dull, too often steering the talk back to his planned questions and away from more interesting sidetracks. On top of that, Taylor’s own speaking style isn’t especially exciting, so they weren’t the greatest match.

I wished I had gone to see the Elaine May conversation (moderated by Phil Rosenthal) instead. I heard that was excellent.

Austin Film Commission Opening Night Reception

Free beer and free gourmet grilled cheese at an open air bar on Nueces. This was a nice place to make new friends and to catch up with old ones who I hadn’t seen since my last trip to the festival four years ago.

WGA West Late Night Welcome Party

Loud and crowded. We arrived on time and left after twenty minutes. We heard that other people waited over an hour to get in.

Late Night at the Driskill Bar

The beautiful old Driskill hotel is home base for the conference, and it’s where everybody congregates after hours. The conversations go on all night, but pace yourself if you want to make the 9 a.m. panel the next morning!


Quick-Witted Action

Umm … this was good? Was I late? Was I still half asleep from the night before? I wish I had taken notes because I don’t remember much. But I can guarantee you that Shane Black was a hoot, because he always is. I do remember the panelists made a few good jokes about the Chicks With Bics panel going on at the same time, referring to their own as Dicks On Flicks.

(I did hear that Chicks With Bics was very good.)

10:45 a.m.

The next session was a tough call. I passed on the Script-to-Screen: Brick talk from Rian Johnson because I wanted to go to Pixar’s Story Development Process. But that was in a small room and by the time I got there it was shut out. So I fell back to one called The Unreliable Narrator featuring John August and Jim Taylor. Okay, Jim Taylor again … but this time he talked about Election the whole time! Yay! And John August focused on his Big Fish. The moderator was good this time and it turned out to be worthwhile. But dammit, I really wanted to see that Pixar session.

1 p.m.

There was a Script-to-Screen: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Shane Black, which I would have loved to see, but I needed lunch. So I ate and then headed over to

Deconstructing Alien

Ashley Miller and John August again, talking about and playing clips from the movie. I enjoyed this but I overheard some film students later who weren’t impressed with the analysis. It wasn’t that the analysis was bad, I think, but that the film students were young and already knew everything, or thought they did. Anyway, what stuck out for me was that both Miller and August first saw Alien on videotape, already coming to it with foreknowledge of crucial scenes, because they were too young to have seen it in the theaters when it first came out. I saw it in the theaters. Does that make me old?

Anyway, the best part of the panel was the last ten or fifteen minutes when the door opened and they brought a woman on stage. It was Veronica Cartrwright, fresh off the plane from London. We got to hear some good stories about her audition and the filming.

The Rewrite with Terry Rossio

This was pretty fascinating. Terry Rossio talked about his rewrite process, covering a number of aspects of that, but also did some script edits of scenes that had been sent in ahead of time by session attendees. “Sorry if I’m being a dick,” he said, as he made cuts and changes and told us exactly why he was doing what he was doing. His edits mostly consisted of finding ways to condense the action and dialogue to its core essence. He told me later that he had been hoping the submitted passages would be a lot worse so that he could take more drastic action, but they were all in pretty decent shape already.

I did get something out of this that I hadn’t expected. He brought up a concept he called “Performance Dialogue.” It’s something I hadn’t come across in my time studying screenwriting. Maybe this is common knowledge and it’s just a blind spot for me. It’s something that has occasionally bothered me in my own writing, but I never really knew why or even that I should do something about it. Basically there are two things:

  1. When your dialogue is a question, it forces the actor to deliver a line in a certain way. It limits the performance options. When possible, consider rewriting the line so that it’s not a question. For example, an exchange like “What’s your favorite color?” “I like blue.” would have so much more life if you did something like this: “I don’t believe in favorite colors.” “I like blue.”
  2. It can be difficult for actors to time and play a line that ends in a dash— (when that dash signifies an interruption from the line spoken by the next actor).

I tend to use those dashes often enough, but I don’t think too often. That doesn’t concern me so much since I’m writing books these days and not screenplays.

But the question thing has been bothering me for a while. It often nags me and doesn’t read correctly in my mind when I write a question. Maybe I’m subconsciously recalling my brief time as an improv performer, where asking questions was a big no-no. But this rewrite session has really given me a new way to approach this.

Film Texas BBQ Supper

Catered by the Salt Lick. We were all looking forward to this one. So when we showed up and the meat was already gone, we were pretty disappointed. Whoever organized this thing seriously undercounted the number of attendees. So it was beans and bread and potato salad and a couple bottles of wine. But the conversation was great as always.

6th Street

There was a late party scheduled for that night but we forgot to go because we were having too much fun bar hopping and watching the Halloween decadence. We spent time with a mechanical bull but mostly we hung out at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, which is an absolute blast. The music is non-stop and those guys can play just about any song you request.

I am not allowed to tell you who rocked the penis-shaped beer bong.

Late Night at the Driskill Bar

Here we go again.


The Neo Noir

With Shane Black and Brian Helgeland. Such a tough choice. I skipped A Conversation with Vince Gilligan for this. I heard that was great (such a nice guy!) but I’m glad I went here. Here’s a better write-up than I can give you:

10:30 a.m.

I wasn’t interested in any of the sessions, so I had breakfast in the Driskill Cafe. It’s a shame they no longer serve the awesome breakfast burrito I ate there four years ago, but they do a great Texas-shaped waffle.

Veronica Mars: From Small Screen to Silver Screen

With creator Rob Thomas and Piz (Thomas told the actor Chris Lowell, when he cast him as Piz, that “everyone will hate you” for being the guy who comes between Veronica and Logan. And I did.). Lowell showed up a bit late because he was at the awards banquet, accepting a trophy for the film Beside Still Waters, which he directed.

[Can I just say that Austin has some of the most beautiful trophies ever? I came soooo close to winning one four years ago. Seeing them again makes me almost regret my decision to stop writing screenplays. Almost.]

This was a great session. They talked about the movie and Kickstarter and they debuted a featurette, but they only said the words “Party Down” once. Come on, Rob, the Veronica Mars move is practically finished. Where’s my Party Down?

A Conversation With The Awardees

I tried to see this, but the line was crazy so I just wandered around and ended up chatting in the bar.

A Conversation With Jonathon Demme

And not just Demme, but Paul Thomas Anderson. It was a mutual love-fest, which was pretty cool. These guys are both great, and they’ve done some amazing films. The problem is that right at the start, a friend mentioned something about donuts and fried chicken and honey just around the corner. Totally broke my concentration. I couldn’t focus.

Driskill Bar

The official Conference Wrap Party was being held all the way on the other side of the river, so I just hung out at the Driskill again. More writer talk, more good times.


Hair of the Dog Brunch

Food. Talk. My writing partner saw a guy who seemed familiar, but she couldn’t place him. It was bothering her so she went up and introduced herself. He thought she looked familiar, too. Turns out he was a patient of the dentist she used to work for; he was also Nick Kazan.

Vince Gilligan Presents: A Special Staged Script Reading of 2 Face

This was at 2 o’clock, but we had to line up at 11:30 to make sure we got in, so we missed a session or two. This was the hot ticket of the day—maybe of the whole festival—because, you know, Vince Gilligan. Did I mention what a nice guy he is? Among the actors on stage: Will Ferrell, Thomas Haden Church, Linda Cardellini, Giancarlo Esposito. Rian Johnson directed. Richard Kelly stood in the aisle doing sound effects.

The script itself was something Gilligan wrote in the early ’90s. It was nothing like Breaking Bad. It was a semi-dark comedy about a man with a split personality. By day he was a redneck racist; but every night at sunset he became his loving, tolerant alter-ego—a time-traveling spaceman from the future named Rodeo Bob. The concept was fun and at times it was very funny. Will Ferrell was excellent in his role and it would be great to see him in the movie if it were to get made. But overall I thought it ended flat and too preachy.

It seems almost sacrilegious to say this, since Vince Gilligan is such a nice guy, but I came out of this thinking that, wow, my last script was better than this.

Driskill Bar

It was like Ten Little Indians that night in the bar as we watched our friends leaving one at a time. There were so many people I didn’t get the chance to talk to at all, and so many more I would have loved to meet.

But next year? Yeah, next year. We’ll be back.

An author’s guide to book bloggers: review

The Author’s Guide To Working With Book Bloggers by Barb Drozdowich. This popped up on my Twitter feed today, and as we’re beginning our approach to book bloggers for reviews of The Long Way, I figured it was worth a look. For just $2.99, I’m not disappointed. It’s basically a common sense overview of things you need to know, but it’s nice to have it all consolidated into one easy to read book. It’s a good review for the beginning of any author’s promotional campaign.

The book is the result of a survey that Drozdowich sent out to her fellow book bloggers. It’s nice to get a realistic look at some of the numbers that authors are up against — in particular the overwhelming amount of book review requests that the average blogger receives each month, and the size of the “to read” piles on their desks.

I found the sections on guest posts, interviews, and blog tour companies particularly interesting.

If you’re an author looking to promote your work, check it out. It’s at least worth previewing on your Kindle before deciding whether to drop a few bucks.

What’s on my book shelf, part one

I’ve read a lot of books. I won’t try to put a number on it. In junior high school and high school it was mostly science fiction and fantasy, and I treated those books as objects of art, handling them delicately and never cracking the spine or creasing the cover. This was the mid-’70s through the early ’80s. At some point after college, I let my parents unload them all at a yard sale. I had moved on to other things. From the story they told me later, Comic Book Guy from the Simpson’s came by that Sunday morning and just about had a joyful heart attack as he bought the entire collection at some insanely low price.

In college (the first time around) I majored in English. That’s where we all ended up when physics or architecture or whatever couldn’t hold our attention. We just wanted to read. It was mostly Western canon stuff then, which I didn’t mind. If I wanted to read something else, I did. I had the time. It was not a difficult major.

I saved every book I read. I’d add it to my shelf in the proper place, and when I moved at the end of the year I’d box it up and bring it right back out in my new apartment. But after a while that gets old. How many times have I moved over the last twenty years? How many pounds of books have I lugged up and down stairs? I’m amazed that I don’t have back problems. I’ve learned to love my Kindle.

So a few years ago I boxed up most of my library and put it into storage. I kept enough to fill a single IKEA Billy bookcase. There’s no sadder reminder of life’s regrets than a room full of IKEA furniture.

The books that I still have with me are favorites, or books that I need to refer to for one reason or another, or books that have landed in my life more recently. I thought I’d run through them in no particular order other than the order in which they were thoughtlessly arranged after the last unpacking:

Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres. I don’t remember much from this book apart from the beginning, where the doctor removes the ancient pea from the old man’s ear, which forces him to listen to his wife for the first time ever. I liked that.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I often have a hard time getting through Ishiguro’s books, and this was no exception. I find myself putting him aside for six month before going back and trying again. But it’s always worth it in the end. This book was incredibly sad and moving. And this is one of those rare instances where I loved the movie just as much. But that’s not easy to watch either.

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. My favorite from him. There are three novellas in this volume, and they’ve made so-so movies out of the first and last. But it’s the middle story, “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” that’s a strong contender for Best Thing Ever.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. Back in the 1980s, when I was an official student of English literature, this is what passed for a “modern novel.” Copyright date? 1927. Still, it was good enough to keep.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maybe they were teaching Garcia Marquez somewhere in my school, but I never ran across him there. Instead, my introduction came from my membership in the Book of the Month Club when they sent me his then-new Love in the Time of Cholera (my favorite of his). I wonder what happened to my copy of that?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Confession: I liked the movie better than the book.

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. How many times did they try to make me read Madame Bovary? Too many. I hated it. I had no interest. And then on a lark (maybe a conure?) I picked this up in a London bookshop in 1987. All I wanted to do after reading it was go back to Bovary again and again.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. I’ve read most everything of Ondaatje’s and will continue to do so. But this, paired with The English Patient, are by far my favorites. Oh, Hana …

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. This was the bullseye to my generation. Growing up in Southern California, I wasn’t one of these people, but I knew them … and the seeming ease with which Ellis shot to the top for this left us all envious and sometimes even angry. We got over it.

Keep the Change by Thomas McGuane. My favorite McGuane. When Joe Starling discovers the truth behind the inspiration for his most famous painting, his only real accomplishment? Priceless. Just read it. Hell, I’m going to go read it again myself right now. It’s been too long.

The Bushwhacked Piano by Thomas McGuane. After six years of college I had never heard of Tom McGuane; I had to travel all the way to Europe to discover this most American of authors. The Bushwhacked Piano was my gateway drug. I don’t know why people read Tom Robbins when they could be reading this instead.

Nobody’s Angel by Thomas McGuane.

The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane.

The Public World of Parable Jones by Dominic Behan. An absolutely hilarious novel of Irish literary and political life from the brother of Brendan Behan. Stumbled across this one in Dublin in 1990. Buy it if you can find it.

The Laughing Sutra by Mark Salzman. It’s been years since I read this, but thinking back now I see some superficial parallels to my own novel—at least in the Chinese magic and the movement of the story from China to California. A lighthearted, enjoyable fantasy.

The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig. Edge-of-your seat historical fiction (based on a true story) about a mid-19th century escape from Alaska to Oregon by canoe. Intense.

Bliss by Peter Carey. From comic debauchery to tragedy to apocalyptic redemption. My favorite Carey, and one of my favorite books.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. I can’t think of McCarthy without thinking of Blood Meridian, but this is also very good.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. If I had read this when I first heard of it in the 1980s, I would have devoured it. Instead, I first picked it up a couple years ago and lost interest. Oh well.

Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney. I discovered Seamus Heaney when one of his poems was featured as part of London’s “Poems on the Underground” series many years ago. I don’t read much poetry, but he was fantastic.

Ninety-Two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. Would I sound like too much of a hipster if I bragged that I’ve been into Murakami way longer than you?

An Outside Chance by Thomas McGuane. A book of non-fiction essays. Worth it for “The Life and Hard Times of Chink’s Benjibaby” alone. That story is the inspiration for a chapter in a novel that I’ve been working on for years, and will be working on for years to come.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Another of the “modern novels” from my old modern novel class.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. When I got rid of all my old science fiction and fantasy, I kept only four or five books. Three of them were by Ray Bradbury. Do I even need to explain?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré. This is the best. I bought my copy from a newsstand in the south of France in 1987.

Fools of Fortune by William Trevor.

The Bass Saxophone by Josef Skvorecky. I read this over and over in the ’80s as part of my Czech obsession. We all had a Czech obsession back then. I still don’t know how I didn’t make it to Prague when all the dominos started falling. I wasn’t much more than a train ride away.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. A few years ago I bought one of the lesser, later Rushdies at Barnes & Noble. The checker had never heard of him. I thought she was kidding. I was kind of a dick about it, but I didn’t mean to be. Sorry.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Ditto the Skvorecky above.

Independent People by Halldor Laxness. I think I discovered this through a Jim Harrison review. This is an amazing (but depressing) piece of literature. Read it if amazing (but depressing) is your thing.

To the White Sea by James Dickey. From the author of Deliverance. A harrowing story of an American airman shot down over Japan during the closing days of WWII. I’m holding on to this because I have a novel of my own (still to be written) with a sequence set under similar circumstances.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. Viking adventure!

The Long Way by Michael Corbin Ray & Therese Vannier. Oh, look, it’s an ARC and a final proof copy of my own novel. Wow!

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. My favorite Murakami.

To be continued …

Kirkus Reviews on The Long Way

Kirkus Reviews has added The Long Way to their list of Best Book Recommendations with the following review:

In Ray and Vannier’s debut fantasy novel, a young girl flees the hardships of 19th-century China for America, chased by a cruel Englishman who seeks to obtain a dragon.

Twelve-year-old Leung Chi-Yen, sold to a brothel eight years before, finds a means of escape during the unrest instigated by the Opium Wars. She secures passage to the United States, along with a young warrior, Tam Sin-Feng, and his master, Liu Kun, both from the all-but-destroyed Temple of the Seven Dragons. The men are protecting their temple’s last remnant: a small, mysterious box desperately sought by the nefarious Basil Malvenue, who claims to be on a mission for the queen of England. He believes the box contains a dragon egg. Once the characters reach America, the fantasy tale becomes credible, assertive historical fiction; the trio not only experiences the gold rush and the Civil War, but also meets Chinese laborers working on the First Transcontinental Railroad. Chi-Yen is also constantly challenged by Liu Kun, an alcoholic opium addict and, at one point, is even snared by a sheriff’s posse. Although the story contains little humor, Liu Kun’s perpetual inebriation is sometimes played for laughs; for example, he sleeps through a storm at sea, his body rolling with the ship. Sporadic appearances by a dragon, however, keep the fantasy element alive, including a scene in which Chi-Yen is unnerved by glowing eyes in the dark woods. Although the dragon is a stunning creature and spectacularly described—with scales that change “from pale wheat to tan to umber to the color of rich, fertile soil”—the authors make sure that the young protagonist is the most mesmerizing character here. At various points, she disguises herself as a boy by shaving the top of her head and tying her hair, boldly tells the brutal brothel manager, “You shall not beat me again,” and earns a boat ride to America by teaching her fellow passengers English.

A fine historical fantasy tale featuring a memorable, tenacious protagonist.

The original review is available here at the Kirkus Reviews site.

The Long Way now available in the iTunes book store!

We were happy to receive news today that The Long Way has been approved for sale in the iTunes store for iBooks, the excellent book app for Apple devices such as the iPad and iPhone:

As a reminder, it’s already available from several other sources, so however you read, we’ve probably got you covered:

We’ll work on getting it up on Smashwords next. Are there any other places where you’d like to see the book made available? Please let us know. Thanks!