Monday, February 17, 2014

The End of Story Surgeon and the Beginning of My Career!

This will be my last post on the Story Surgeon General blog. 

Far from being a sad event, this is wonderful news! I have several incredible announcements, but I'm going to start by saying THANK YOU to all those that pledged their support of my app.

(Gin Nixon, Jeffry & Dawnita Brown, Heather Burdsal, Jeff & Rachel Brown, Kristy Barreto, Paul Black, Christian Dadino, Ami Clayton, Andre' Bernhardt, Shannon Hernandez, James Plotkin, Desi Lewis, and Cadmar Larson, YOU ROCK!) 

Even though the Kickstarter campaign didn't raise the amount needed to fund the Story Surgeon eBook Editing App, it did cause quite a stir in the blogging world. Because of all the controversy and resulting articles, I was made aware of a similar company, who is also just starting out. (Except they have more resources and marketing know-how.) I contacted them, we had a few meetings, and we've decided to merge our efforts! They've put me in charge of their social media and blog. (Which is one of the reasons I'll be discontinuing this one.)

So without further ado, I introduce you to:

I'm ecstatic to be working with these guys. They're talented programmers and have great business sense. They'll be focusing more on hiding specific content of eBooks rather than adding your personal notes/edits, but the fan fiction aspect is definitely on the the agenda for the future. Please check it out and share with your reader friends.  

The second reason I'll not be able to keep up the SSG blog, is that:

I signed with an agent and got a book deal!

That's right! I'm thrilled to be Candace Charee's first client, and my YA sci-fi, AN UNCOMMON BLUE will be coming out Winter 2014 from Cedar Fort! I'll be keeping my friends updated on my FB fan page, so please stop by and Like it. :)

How it Happened (from the beginning)

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Thuftedal told my mother I was going to be a writer, but it wasn't until after college that I thought it sounded like fun.

In 2004 I'd recently finished Half-Blood Prince and several Roald Dahl books and was suddenly filled with the desire to write my own story. I wanted to touch other people's lives as Rowling and Dahl had mine. So I started on THE EXITOR, a story of an overweight girl who learns to stop her heart and send her soul out to spy on the neighbors. It was slow going. I didn't know how to write and usually ended up playing video games instead.

Meanwhile, life happened. I got married and had a couple kids. Still, I plodded away on my story. I got some books on writing and devoured them. (Most helpful were Story by Robert McKee and Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.) I learned many things I'd been doing wrong and a few that I'd been doing right.

My wife Jaida read most of my work and loved it. (She claimed that had my writing been crap, she would've discouraged me at the start.) It was mostly because of her support (and because of the overwhelming urge to create) that I kept going. Several years later I'd finally finished my 200,000-word mammoth of a novel.

I queried the heck out of SLEEPING FATTY - Book 1 the EXITOR SERIES. Over a hundred agents. I received a few partials and one even liked the partial and requested the full, but in the end I was nursing my injured pride and trying to think what I could do to fix the manuscript. Jaida suggested I put my paranormal epic on hold and revisit a story I had written a few months back. (I had thrown together a couple shorts for publishing credit, but Cricket Magazine didn't want them.)

So I started on AN UNCOMMON BLUE, turning the 2,000 word story into another whopper of a novel. (Over 100K words.) This time, however, I was a little more savvy with social media, I'd made a few friends in the Query Tracker forums, and heard mention of a pitch contest. That was the first I'd heard of blogger query/pitch contests and I was immediately hooked. In addition to my querying, I submitted my baby to tons of contests and received all kinds of great feedback. Here are a few of the entries I was able to find cluttering up cyber space.

Pitch Madness March 2012
Writer's Voice May 2012
Entangle an Editor July 2012 (I entered both my stories in this one.)
Teen Eyes Contest August 2012
YAtopia September 2012
An Agent's Inbox September 2012
Backspace Writer's Conference Scholarship Contest 2013 (My entry is at the very bottom with 4 votes.)
Query Combat May 2013

I know there are more, but I have to finish this blog post sometime before Christmas. :)

During these contests/critiques I received tons of feedback that helped to reshape the pitch, query, and first page. With each contest, my story grew stronger. The most notable contests, ironically, were some of the first ones I entered (the first two on the list), because an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) resulted from both of them. Both Sara Sciuto and Gina Panettieri helped me identify problems with my manuscript and were extremely helpful in fixing them. I owe them both so much! If it hadn't been for the time they took to help out an amateur, my story would probably be shelved, collecting dust. The Wilde's Fire contest was also exciting because it resulted in an offer of publication from Curiosity Quills Press! I wanted to accept the offer right away but the agents I was working with at the time (Louise Fury gave me some great advice) said I should get an agent first and then they could decide which publishing company would be best for my career. So I declined the publishing offer (CQ was very gracious and said the offer stands) and continued to query.

Meanwhile I reconnected with Mrs. Thuftedal, who was pleased to learn of my writing goals and quickly fell in love with An Uncommon Blue. She even wrote an incredible letter to Ellen Degeneres in an effort to get me on her show. (I may share that letter at some point.)

Sara eventually passed on the project, but Gina stuck with me. In fact, since that contest in March 2012, I've been in regular contact with her at Talcott Notch and she's been awesome! At one point I thought I'd snagged her (when she set up a time for a phone call) but we just talked about how she'd liked my changes and how I needed to solidify my world by getting the history down as well as a series outline. Because Gina was such an awesome (and experienced) agent she was exceptionally busy. At times I wondered if my submissions had gotten lost in the shuffle. Curiosity Quills was still anxious to publish me, and I was torn between waiting for Gina and starting the process with the small press.

That's where I was last month when my wife's friend Candace told me Cedar Fort was looking for submissions. Candace goes to our church and is a producer for Frame 7 Productions as well as a talent manager. Before she'd even told me about the call for submissions, she'd contacted her friend at Cedar Fort and told her about my book.

I submitted An Uncommon Blue, and a week later received an offer of publication! Now I had some seriously hard decisions to make.

I had two publication offers (actually three, but one seemed suspicious) and an awesome agent (Gina) who I assumed would eventually take me on. But at the moment it was Candace who had naturally fallen into the agent role. She seemed as excited about the offer as I was, and with her contacts at Cedar Fort, was already finding out specifics about the contract and what it would mean to sign with them.

After thinking and praying about what to do, I decided I'd rather have an inexperienced agent with loads of enthusiasm and time for me. I asked Candace if she would consider being my literary agent. After doing a little research, she agreed, and that is how I ended up signing two contracts in one day. Candace has been an awesome help getting my social media up and running and Cedar Fort hopes to have AN UNCOMMON BLUE out for this Christmas!

I will forever be grateful to Curiosity Quills, Gina, and all the other professionals and bloggers that took the time to help me along my journey. I'm especially grateful to my second grade teacher, who--a quarter century ago--knew what was in store for this shrimpy little blond kid.

This photo was taken last year when I visited Mrs. Thuftedal's class. She's since retired after many years of inspiring students to do great things. :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Way of Kings - (PG-13)


Weighing in at a whopping 1007 pages, this is not an undertaking for the novice fantasy reader. Nor is it a novel for children. Although the language is tame by usual adult fiction standards, there is enough violence to give your twelve-year-old nightmares.

Although parts seemed to drag on, Sanderson generally does a great job of keeping the stakes high and the characters flawed (yet likeable). I'll definitely be looking for the second in the series. I still haven't figured out at what point I'll let my children read it, though.

The Way of Kings gets a (PG-13) rating for content.  

Three stars. 

The Star Ratings on this site are inversely based on amount of mature material found in the books. 
The less objectionable, the content, the more stars it earns.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Morality and Thomas Jefferson

Until February 15th, the newly constructed Mormon temple in Gilbert, Arizona, USA will be giving inside tours to the public. This is noteworthy because, once the building is dedicated only those members of the church who are in good standing can enter.

So what do we do in there that's so secret? Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints visit the temple to be instructed and to renew promises we've made to God. (Such as keeping the commandments and trying to emulate Christ through service to others.)

Inside (and only inside) we wear distinctive clothing that symbolizes our relationship with God and our duty as His children. We treat this apparel with great respect and keep it private because of its sacred nature.

In case you're wondering, I'll be making my point soon.

Last week I went with my family and some friends (not Mormon) to tour the interior. It was a very peaceful experience, but coming out of the parking lot, my wife and I noticed a man on the corner of the busy intersection. He was wearing the distinctive white temple clothing over the top of shorts and a t-shirt, while holding a sign that read: THE DEVIL'S HOUSE.

It was an unpleasant shock to say the least. My wife felt sick for a while afterward. It was disturbing to see something so special to us being made fun of.

Now the point. What the man was doing was perfectly legal. He wasn't hurting anyone.

But was what he was doing moral?

Depends on who you ask. The man surely thought he was doing the public a service by warning them against the Mormons. To me and my wife, it felt very amoral, indeed. The vast majority of people, however, would probably not have an opinion one way or the other.

Here's another example:

Should the paparazzi harass celebrities the way they do? Is it morally right?

Depends on what we're doing at the time. In movies, when a star is pestered by impolite cameramen, we think, "What a bunch of jerks. They shouldn't be allowed to do that." Meanwhile, on our coffee table, sits the latest issue of US Weekly.

Trying to define morality is like trying to determine whether the metric system is more useful than feet and inches. Everyone has an opinion and each thinks theirs is right.

Author and blogger Victoria Strauss (among others) has expressed concern that the Story Surgeon eBook Editing App may violate the moral rights of authors. She suggested that because my reasons for developing the app were moral in the first place (I wanted it to take the mature content out of books for my kids), that it was time I addressed the moral rights of the authors who's works this app would affect.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. The very definition supplied by one of my detractors, illustrates how illusive the concept is. "The scope of a creator's moral rights is unclear, and differs with cultural conceptions of authorship and ownership..." The Moral Rights Basics page goes on to list what may be included in the author's moral rights, such as preventing her work from being altered without her permission.

In other words, a three-year-old with a crayon may violate the author's moral rights. A mother changing Bilbo's gender for her daughter, may violate them as well.

According to the Berne Convention (which was quoted to me with great enthusiasm in the comments section of Victoria's article) if an author feels any of these acts are "prejudicial to [her] honor or reputation" she can bring legal action to the perpetrators. In Europe at least, they can apparently prevent a ten-year-old girl from putting stickers over the bad words before she lends the book to her friend.

Are you starting to see why the Berne Convention isn't recognized in the US? It's an ethereal concept that's impossible to define fully or enforce. (Unless you're going to install cameras in all the books to make sure there's nothing going on that would adversely affect the author's vision.)

The one who tauted the Convention's ideals made it sound like Europe was on the cutting edge and it was only a matter of time before the US recognized how important it was to legislate the enforcement of an author's moral rights.


The US is very familiar with the Berne Convention. (It's been around since 1886.) The reason they don't enforce it is the same reason the don't send the police to arrest the man with the DEVIL'S HOUSE sign. It's the same reason they allow the US flag to be burned in public.

We may not agree with it. We may think it's in poor taste. It may infuriate us. (It does me.) But to a mother who lost a son in Vietnam, it may be the most moral thing she knows.

So what does the Story Surgeon App have in common with a teacher skipping pages of a book as she runs out of class reading time? Everything.

Yes, my app allows readers to make changes more easily, but they still do it. Through the act of searching, downloading, and applying the filters, they are making these changes to their own property. Will the authors feel that this is prejudicial to their honor and reputation? Maybe. But at least in the US, that's beside the point.

Now in the first half of this blog post (that's right, it's only half over!) I've no doubt come across as an extremist, prone to hyperbole, with no sympathy for an author's feelings or rights.

This is not accurate. I feel passionately about our rights as Americans, but I also feel passionately about writing. As an author of three (unpublished) novels I know how our works become like our children. We are protective of them. If I'm honest with myself, the idea of someone not appreciating my vision and possibly changing my words is disturbing.

But just as I didn't yell out the window at the guy on the corner, I won't delude myself into thinking I can control how people receive my books.

Almost done, I promise. There is one other reason I think The Story Surgeon App is All-American.

As someone recently reminded me on Twitter, Thomas Jefferson was dissatisfied with some parts of the Bible. He didn't just move on to something else that interested him more (as some have suggested I do) he took the time to make changes to someone else's work because the book already meant so much to him. Although I don't agree with what he did in a religious sense, (and I certainly don't use the Jefferson Bible), I know exactly why he did what he did. And he had every right to do it.

For that matter so does every religion that has their own distinct copy or "translation" of the Bible. If Moses and Paul could see all the changes that have been made to their history, they might feel their honor and reputation had been harmed. They certainly wouldn't be happy about it.

But it is precisely because so many people copied the book and made it their own that is has become the single most widely read book in the world. (Of course I think the content also had something to do with that.) But the Bible was the original "living" book.

The only difference is, if Story Surgeon had been available in the first century, in addition to having all the various versions of the Bible, each one of us would have the original, and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would be trillionaires.

Neil Gaiman seems to understand the importance of giving fans a little freedom of their own to create. Although he was speaking of fan fiction, the principles are just as applicable to Story Surgeon Filters:

".... I do understand that there are gray areas, and I think of fan fiction as existing in them. I know authors who love fan fiction based on their characters. I know authors who have formally attempted to stamp it out. I'm just sort of [shrug] about it.....As long as no body's making money from it that should be an author or creator's, I don't mind it. And I think it does a lot of good." 

And most important:

"But I'd hope you'd see it as a privilege and not a right."

Great authors have used their talents to inspire and teach the entire world. There are very few who can do (well) what they do. Despite my tough talk about entitlement and my own rights, I have a deep respect for artists and authors in particular. And I will comply with their wishes in regard to their works.

If the Story Surgeon App is determined legal and becomes a reality, it will not allow users to make filters of books who's author has expressly denied their permission. Also, to prevent misuse and piracy, the app will not allow the user to save the filter any place but on the main sharing site, where illegal filters will be flagged and removed.

Some people will be satisfied with this. Many won't. But until the world can decide on which version of the Bible to believe, I'll be making each book my own. Be it with a complicated app, or a Sharpie.

Thanks for the picture
Thanks for the paparazzi pic.
Thanks for the flag pic.
Thanks for the pic of Jefferson
Thanks for the pic of the scroll

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Most Important Blog Post I Will Ever Write

Photo: Happy 90th Birthday to my Grandpa Hancock!  One of the hardest working, humble, full of faith, men that I have ever known.  So proud to call him Grandpa!

I just returned from my grandpa's 90th birthday party. This is him as a Merchant Marine in WWII.

Here's another picture of him taken about a year ago. One day I hope to be half as amazing as him.

Sadly, while Grandpa Chuck was recounting war stories this evening, it was hard for me to give him my full attention. I was thinking about Victoria Strauss's article and feeling mildly sick. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually grateful Ms. Strauss took the time to write such a thorough analysis of my Story Surgeon App idea. Copyrights, censorship, and fan fiction are all very touchy subjects and it seems my kickstarter campaign has stirred up a passionate debate.

The Writer Beware blog presents a compelling argument against the legality of my app, while others on TeleRead and The Digital Reader claim it successfully skirts the copyright laws. (While author Cory Doctorow says "There is no way that it is a copyright infringement--or even a bad idea--for readers to choose, privately, in what order they read the books that they lawfully possess." Find his response to Strauss's article here.)

To me, the question of whether the app will be (or can be used for) copyright infringement is moot. If the court (or a lawyer I trust) tells me what I'm proposing isn't legal, I'll cease and desist. The real question is what authors feel they have to lose by "allowing" this app to exist.

When I explained the debate to my dad tonight he seemed confused. "What's in it for you?" he asked. I think what he meant was, "Why are you putting yourself in the line of fire and setting yourself up for possible litigation when you're not even going to charge for the app or the filters? Why would you risk that?"

I gave part of my answer in my last blog post, although perhaps I was a little harsh on Mr. Rothfuss. Despite my dissatisfaction with parts of his second novel, I still enjoyed it immensely. (I gave it a four-star review.) But what this book brought into conflict was my love of great literature and my love of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I hesitate to bring religion into this since many do not share my beliefs or values, but I think to understand why I would champion such an "app for copyright infringement" as Ms. Strauss called it, one needs to understand my dilemma.

There are many people that are passionate about books. They live and breathe the fictional worlds of their favorite authors and those author's words are sacred. Even if those words are disturbing or vulgar.

There are many people who are passionate about keeping their minds and bodies pure. They believe this life is the time to prepare to meet God and as such, try to avoid (or help their kids to avoid) amoral influences or media that could make it difficult to feel the Holy Ghost to guide them. For them, the answer is a no-brainer: Stay away from books with mature content.

The problem I'm facing is that I'm firmly entrenched in both groups and feel like I'm being ripped in two. There is so much great literature out there (especially when you read books intended for adults) that has profanity, graphic violence, and explicit sex. Things the majority of the literary world would just shrug at.

For years, the way I coped (and the way I believe many other conservative readers cope) is to buy exclusively YA lit. Generally books written for young adults have less mature content than those for an older audience. However, this is becoming less true of late. In my own reading, I've noticed a significant increase in adult content in books marketed toward teens. While some applaud this as a triumph for free speech, others (like this WSJ children's book reviewer see this is as lack of judgement on the part of adults).   

This app idea (I thought) would be the tool that bridged the two sides. Why complain to the school and get The Color Purple banned, when you can simply download a filter that will tweak the content to make it more appropriate for your child. Isn't that what the TV networks do when they substitute "freak" when the movie character is obviously saying something else? Young students can still learn the great lessons and appreciate the historical (and social) significance of this powerful book without being fully exposed to the darkest sides of human nature. When they've matured, if they choose to read the original, it will be an informed decision. Not one forced on them by teachers who don't hold their values.

I was selfish in developing this app. I wanted to find the best books out there and tweak them a bit, so my friends and family (most of whom are very conservative readers) can enjoy them as much as I did. In my own mind, I was helping to enlarge the market for authors such as Patrick Rothfuss. (It makes sense to me, seeing as how owning a Clearplay DVD player allows me (and thousands of others) to watch movies I wouldn't otherwise rent.)

So the question isn't "Why is Ryan Hancock trying to mutilate these authors' visions?"

Rather it should be, "Why would Ryan Hancock choose an author's vision over the teachings of his God?"

The answer is that I wouldn't. Despite my love of great stories, if I was told I could not develop the Story Surgeon app I would have to give up many of my favorite books. Neither would I feel I could recommend them to my friends. Many will see this decision as extreme or fanatic, but if I'm forced to choose, God will always win. This may seem trite or even offensive to some who worship a more liberal God, but the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or Mormons) are not exactly ambiguous. We need to stand up for values that have long since been devalued by the world in general. I intend to do that. And I intend to do it legally.

Despite the heated opposition, I believe this app to be legal and what's more, to be of benefit to authors and families in particular. If you don't agree, I'd appreciate hearing your side. Please feel free to share your reasons in the comments section. For those who agree with me, please make your voice heard. There aren't a lot of us out there feeling torn between our books and our beliefs, but there are enough.

And I hope there are enough people out there who although they might not share my particular beliefs or values, can at least see my Story Surgeon dream not as hate mail to all those published authors, but as the most sincere and heartfelt fan letter I've ever written.

(Thanks to for the picture of Christ)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How a Shoddy Sequel Inspired Me to Spend $15K

It all began with The Wise Man's Fear. The book is the second in Patrick Rothfuss's fantasy series, and he completely botched it. He took the character I loved and turned him into an unrecognizable thief and womanizer. He filled an obscene number of pages with obscenities and completely random sex.  The first book could be considered PG, the second was R, bordering on NC-17. Even the violence had suddenly crossed genres into horror.

WHY!? I asked myself many times. It could have been my new Harry Potter. I would've shared it with the world. (I already had shared Name of the Wind with everyone who would listen to me.) But this? How could Rothfuss think this was a sequel?

Over the years I'd searched for a eBook "clean-up" service akin to Clearplay (for DVDs) and been disappointed. It was Wise Man's Fear that clenched it for me. There needed to be a way for me to make the sequel into the book it was supposed to be. There had to be a way for me to clean up my favorite novels, so I could let my mom and little brothers read them (without losing their innocence.)


There wasn't. But there will be. I started my own development company. I've hired a team of programmers that assure me this can be done. On a small scale at first. IPad only, with file sharing on Dropbox or GoogleDrive. Then we'll branch out. We'll get our own servers and make sharing easy. I know it will change the way we read books. The only question is when.

If I manage to raise $15,000 in the next thirty days on Kickstarter, I'll add $1,500 of my own, then the app can be finished by May. It will be available free of charge for an extended period allowing the user base to grow quickly. More users mean more great filters, more ratings, more platforms.

But if my grassroots campaign isn't enough, it will take longer. I'll take out a loan. I'll have to charge for the app. The user pool will grow slowly. There won't be as many shared filters to try out. I'll become obsessed with creating the needed filters and neglect my family and job. I'll be fired, lose my home, computer, and most important, my internet access. The Story Surgeon General Blog will fizzle and with it, a dream that might have changed the world.

And so I ask for your help. Not to donate, (although do that if you want) but to spread the word. The most important thing is to get this to people that feel as passionate about it as I do. People that have been looking for a way to live in their favorite books, or to protect their kids from mature content in literature. You find those people and they'll make sure this happens.

Here is the Press Release

Here is the Kickstarter Campaign

In the meantime, I'll be the one trying desperately not to neglect his job and family. 

Another Guest Review - His Majesty's Dragon - (PG) - and My First Page

If you're interested in reading or critiquing the first page of my YA sci-fi novel, check out this blog contest:
Miss Snark's First Victim: January Secret Agent #4

Tomorrow marks the start of the Kickstarter campaign for my eBook editing app, but today I'm excited to post a review by a new Guest Surgeon.

Dr. Burdsal is Executive Editor and Co-founder of Wordshop Editing. Here's her SSG review of His Majesty's Dragon:

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)


His Majesty's Dragon is the first installment in the 9-book Temeraire Series.  The characters were well-rounded, and there are some unique and lovable aspects of the world (specifically the relationships between the captains and their dragons). The setting was excellent, complete with historic realism in dialogue.

Language - None

Sexuality - Mild

Violence - Mild

Adult Themes - A few

Since it is set in the British military during the Napoleonic Wars, some sections read like a war report. Discussions on battle can get a little heavy and hard to follow. This makes the book ill-suited to younger readers. 

Swearing in the book is limited to antiquated British slurs, like "blast." There is no explicit sexual content, but there are adult themes like illegitimacy, as well as some innuendo that leads to a relationship of "sleepovers." The author tastefully skips over any nighttime scenes.

His Majesty's Dragon gets a (PG) rating for content.  

Four stars. 

The Star Ratings on this site are inversely based on amount of mature material found in the books. 
The less objectionable, the content, the more stars it earns.

Special Thanks to Dr. Burdsal for her review. You can follow her on Twitter or Goodreads.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Filmmaking Debut - and Two Awesome Websites for Parents

The greatest thing about blogging is connecting with incredible people and learning new things. This past week I've learned of two separate companies (Clean Teen Publishing and Focus on the Family) that are dedicated to helping parents make informed decisions about literature for their kids.

Sound familiar? Turns out they do a much better job than Story Surgeon General. The timing couldn't be more perfect, however, since with the launching of my kickstarter project on January 16th, this blog will focus less on book reviews and more on the iPad app and filter sharing. (Although I still plan to spotlight specific books and their content.)

Although I'll be discussing the Kickstarter project again in a few days, I wanted to share this promo video that I made with my kids. (I think you'll see why I wasn't accepted into the BYU film program.) But at least it explains a little about how the eBook Editing App works (and what it is NOT.)