WWK Blogger, Paula Gail Benson is featured this month at Bethlehem Writers Group's Roundtable online journal. Please check out her story and top ten list at http://bwgwritersroundtable.com. We thank the BWG for giving writers such as Paula this opportunity.
June's Welcome Wednesday interviews start with Sasscer Hill on 6/5. Sasscer talks about her decision to abandon her series and start a new one. On 6/12, Linda Rodriguez tells us about her second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust. Alyx Morgan gives us her final interview with novelist Simon Wood on 6/19, and WWK blogger Carla Damron discusses her social-work mystery series on 6/26. Drop in to learn about these authors and their work.
Monday, October 31, 2011
But my worst sin is one that is politically incorrect and ecologically unsound—I use paper at an alarming rate because I don’t seem to be able to revise my work without printing and reading it on paper. While emptying my trash can yesterday, I heard him say, "There goes another tree."
How do you hide your writing sins?
Friday, October 28, 2011
Hello, from the nation that won the 2011 Rugby World Cup. All Blacks forever!
Some of the things I ‘ve seen and heard about here on the other side of the world make a lot of sense and I’d like to share some of them with you. I cannot be certain that someone somewhere else came up with the ideas, but I first encountered them here. No matter what an Aussie might tell you.
Toy libraries. Well maintained used toys can be checked out for a fee and returned if they are still in good shape when your child outgrows them. Brilliant. Pull-toys, tricycles, bikes etc. have a relatively brief period of usefulness with any particular child. Whey buy new toys each time?
Small two-wheeled bikes made of sturdy wood, which have no pedals. Children sit on them and push with their feet. Improves balance, takes a licking and keeps rolling along on replaceable sturdy tires. Helps children rely less on training wheels.
Larger and a greater number of women’s bathrooms than men’s bathrooms in concert halls, shopping malls etc. In the United States women’s bathrooms often have lines of people waiting when men’s bathrooms do not.
High mileage rental cars that come already dented and imperfect. As long as the upkeep is good, why not? Less to worry about when you rent a car. No need for a “white glove” inspection when getting or returning a car. I know some companies in the U.S. like “Rent a Wreck” have this business model. In New Zealand it is standard practice.
Three trash cans. One for compostable material, one for recyclable material and one for garbage. A simple idea for a greener planet.
Pellet stoves that burn recyclable fuel and give off a cheery glow.
There is no tipping expected in restaurants, taxis etc. Workers are paid a living wage. There is no incentive for a cab driver to take the longest route to your destination or for wait staff to hurry you out of a restaurant. In many restaurants you pay first so the owners, staff and patrons can all relax.
New Zealand has a one dollar and two dollar coin. Bills start at five dollar denominations. Coins last a very long time. Also the smallest coin has the value of ten cents. Making change is a breeze. I've read that in the United States a penny costs more than one cent to produce. Whose nation is smart in this world?
Thursday, October 27, 2011
When should I decide to discard the WIP that consumed so much time and energy, that kept me awake and woke me up, and that gave me a humongous carbon footprint? The hours I invested in imaginary people and settings I could have spent socializing, doing volunteer work, or improving my professional skills with continuing education courses.
Do I place a paper copy of the story in a bottom drawer or trust in an electronic device and leave a copy on my Passport, an external hard drive? Sometimes pieces of characters, events, and dialogue can be revitalized and transformed in a new work.
What is making me put my WIP to death or at the very least into a coma—200 rejections, 300 rejections? How soon before I read a story about a writer whose career took off after her 304th rejection? Am I no longer interested in the characters and plot? Perhaps I don’t believe the story deserves more time and effort.
I can tell myself I learn from any writing I labor over. I might have even learned what I was doing wrong. Whatever I tell myself, I still have to say goodbye to hours of enthusiastic creativity, soul-searching, and stretching the mind.
Before progressing too far into my present project, I reread Robert McKee’s Story. While reading the first half of the book, I was inspired. During my reading of the second half, I plunged into despair, certain I could never create a worthwhile story.
I plan to outline with scenes—40 to 60 of them for a start. What’s the point of having great turning points, climaxes, and resolutions if the scenes in between don’t work?
Besides my decision to focus on scenes, I also learned from McKee’s book why some stories I read, rich in detail and well-grounded, don’t hold my interest. Characterization is not character. No matter what hobbies, possessions, or fascinating careers are attached to characters, true character is revealed when a character makes a decision under pressure, often choosing the lesser of two evils.
Once again, I’m involved in a WIP, passing up opportunities to do good works and finish raking the leaves. I think writers will be confined after death in a Dante-like circle of hell where they’re provided with computers with programs that don’t work and critique partners whose sole interest is destroying the competition.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I blame Casey Dorman, in part for becoming a writer. We both worked as psychologists for Orange County, California and we even shared an office for a time. Casey was writing and publishing e-novels when I had barely heard of them. I had wanted to write for a long time. He encouraged me to write. Plus he was a great person to share an office with.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background?
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, have a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Washington and was trained as a clinical child psychologist. I worked as a clinician in both private practice, university clinics and for the state and county government in both California and Massachusetts. For 16 years I was a professor at United States International University and Alliant International University, where I studied children with brain injury and published about 25 professional articles, mostly research studies, and delivered talks at professional conferences, including in England, Wales, Holland and Sweden.
More personally, I grew up in a family of three children; my sister is a college professor and my brother is now a photographer but was an accountant and computer expert. My parents are both deceased. My father was a contractor who built highways and my mother was a housewife. I have two grown children and five grandchildren. My wife, who is Vietnamese-American and I live in Newport Beach, California. She is a mental health specialist with county mental health.
How many books have you published in print and electronic format?
I published a hardbound book on brain injury in children with John Hopkins University Press, a hardbound thriller with Seven Locks Press, three paperback books, one a mystery, one a thriller and one a self-help psychology book, but the latter two are out of print. I have published one of those books as an e-book with New Concepts Publishing and published three additional ebooks on Amazon Kindle, which are available currently.
What differences have you noted between print and electronic publishing?
I have found the ebooks easier to sell, particularly those on Amazon Kindle, but less satisfying because you can’t display them on your bookshelf, they don’t quite feel like real, published books (perhaps because I published the Kindle books myself). It is easier to make corrections or updates on electronic books because the publishing is never completely drawn to a close.
What are you working on now?
I have nearly finished the first draft of a science fiction novel with a peace and ecology theme, which I strongly believe will be sellable to a publisher and I hope will become popular. I have finished a draft of another novel about a daughter and her father, which I am revising to change the location of much of the novel from Mexico to Vietnam because I am planning to spend a month in Vietnam soon and will have an opportunity to write some good location-based scenes for the book. I have hopes for that book, which I think is my best effort so far in terms of the style of writing but the theme may not capture the public’s or a publisher’s interest.
I have also recently (in the last year) turned to writing some poetry, mostly on themes about which I have very strong feelings. I have also written some short stories, although I more enjoy writing longer pieces.
I’ve heard you once shared an office with the author, Warren Bull. What is he really like?
Are you sure you want to know? For many years I was right next door to Warren when we both worked as psychologists for the County of Orange, California. Warren was a very companionable colleague and I grew to regard both Warren and Judy as friends of both myself and my wife. He is incredibly clever and funny, with a very dry and intelligent sense of humor, which he exercised continually at work. I enjoyed reading his early efforts at writing, which included Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, but also some entertaining other short novels, which he hasn’t published. I can highly recommend his short story collection Murder Manhattan Style available at http://www.ninthmonthpublishing.com/books.html
What is the Lost Coast Review? How long have you been publishing it and why are you changing to a print format?
Lost Coast Review is a quarterly literary review at www.lostcoastreview.com, which I began publishing online in 2009. It includes short stories, poetry, book reviews and film reviews as well a philosophy. Previous issues are archived on the website. I have been fortunate to have several promising authors publish their short stories and poetry in the review and have gotten a guest to do some film reviews, but otherwise, I have been forced to include a lot of my own material and to write all of the book reviews myself. I am changing to a print format, as well as continuing the online format, primarily to encourage more writers to submit material to the Review. I have also begun to pay for stories and poetry published in the Review. I am trying out Amazon’s Createspace as the printer and have started my own publishing imprint (Avignon Press – named after Lawrence Durrell’s Avignon Quintet, one of my favorite series of novels. My hope is that I will be able to sell enough issues to cover most of the cost of paying contributors for their work.
What sort of stories are you interested in receiving?
Short stories about anything - funny, serious, sci-fi, romance, western - anything. Also rhyming, metrical poetry or blank verse. I am more interested in the quality of the writing than in the subject of the stories. I am hoping for the review to achieve the quality of good literature.
What sort of stories are you not interested in receiving?
I shy away from stories that involve excessive violence, excessive gratuitous sex, excessive use of profanity or that have themes that promote racial, religious or sexual orientation intolerance.
What does the Review pay and what rights do you buy?
Currently the Review pays for short stories at the rate of $.01 per word up to a maximum of $40 per story and $15 for poems of 500 words or less and $20 for longer poems. We provide one free paperback copy of the review and a half-price discount for additional copies. The Review asks only for the right to publish a story or poem for the first time, on the Web and in print. All rights revert to the author after publication by Lost Coast Review. All accepted work will be archived on the Lost Coast Review website.
Nice to get in touch with you and Lai again. Please give my best wishes to your lovely and talented wife. Your work in progress sounds fascinating.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Focusing on books, there are many categories of ghostwriting. Some of these are: secret ghostwriters (the writer is legally restricted from acknowledging she worked on a project), credited co-authors, books published posthumously and next generation writers where authors’ children continue writing their parents’ book series.
Ghostwritten non-fiction books, especially autobiographies, are fairly common. For instance, John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, was penned by his speechwriter, Theodore Sorenson. Fatherhood, authored by actor Bill Cosby, was ghosted by Ralph Schoenstein. Hillary Clinton’s, It Takes a Village, was actually written by Barbara Feinman.
Ghosted fiction books are not unusual either. Carolyn Keene, author of the teen sleuth Nancy Drew mysteries, didn’t actually exist. The books were written by a series of ghostwriters using a template and expected style. Mystery author, Ellery Queen, (the pen-name for two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee whose names were actually pseudonyms) also didn’t exist.
Today, the trend continues with series such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell thrillers. While Tom Clancy’s name is used in the title, the books are credited to David Michaels--a pseudonym created by the publisher. Also, books “written” by deceased authors such as gothic fiction novelist V.C. Andrews, who died in 1986, and thriller author Robert Ludlum who passed away in 2001, continue to be churned out.
In an effort to keep an established author brand name and franchise alive, some children of famous authors continue series their parents began. Thriller author, Clive Cussler, is in the process of handing off his Dirk Pitt series to his son, Dirk Cussler. Science fiction authors, Brian Herbert and Christopher Tolkien continue to write the respective Dune and Middle-earth series their fathers created.
In the past it was common to brand character names like James Bond or Nancy Drew. However, that has changed and author names are now more often branded. The author most well-known for this practice is James Patterson. His current manner of working is to create a vision for each book or series, write a detailed outline then have one of his five regular co-authors who specialize in a Patterson genre, draft chapters and rewrite with Patterson having the final say. It is a streamlined process and some readers complain that his books are too “cookie cutter” lacking the emotional ride of the original books he authored.
In an interesting marketing/brand name twist, the name of Richard Castle, who is a mystery writer character from the television series, CASTLE, is used as the author name on books. On the back of these books is a photo of the actor, Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle and on the back flap is a biography of the fictional Castle’s life and family. The copyright is for Castle ABC studios with no mention of the real author. Who wrote the books? It’s a mystery.
There are advantages and disadvantages to be weighed when considering ghostwriting. Some positive aspects are that the ghostwriter gains experience, gets compensated and is not solely responsible for a book’s success. Several drawbacks are that the writer receives limited or no credit of authorship, needs to be able to write in someone else’s voice and risks being perceived only as a writer for hire.
Also, the use of ghostwriters raises ethical questions. While it is an established practice, some see it as deceitful since it’s not always transparent to the reader who wrote the book. They ask, what is the difference between paying someone to write a book with your name on it and paying someone to take a test for you? In school you would get punished for taking credit for someone else’s work.
But does this harm the reader? Research suggests that most readers don’t care who writes the book as long as it lives up to what they have come to expect from their favorite author. Other readers disagree saying they felt cheated and stopped reading an author once they found out the author was a ghostwriter. Even worse, a few demanded their money back once they discovered that their favorite author was deceased and didn’t write the book they just purchased.
One last thought--it seems the publishing field is becoming more like other creative businesses such as television, music, cinema and advertising. In those industries many people collaborate to produce a product using a shared vision. The most recognizable name or company name receives the credit. Think about your favorite movie or TV show. You probably remember the main actors’ names but it’s doubtful you know the names of everyone who had a hand in making the production including the writers.
How do you feel about ghostwriting? Have you ghosted a book? Would you?
Saturday, October 22, 2011
“Unholy Cow” by John H. Carroll. (Free)
The story contains some enjoyable deadpan humor and repartee among three evil friends who corrupt a little girl. The author doesn’t follow the usually short story format, resulting in an ending without a twist or conclusion.
“Dumb White Husband vs. Halloween” by Benjamin Wallace (.99)
Another title for this piece could have been “National Lampoon’s Halloween Adventure.” It’s a good tale worth reading with a nice twist at the end—more than worth the price.
Something Spooky This Way Comes ($2.99)
Halloween Short Story Anthology 2010
This volume contains nine tales by nine authors. Most are romance stories, and I have to admit most of them used Halloween as a prop. That’s not to say that the stories were not worthwhile reading, but if you’re looking for spooky tales, this volume won’t provide satisfaction. Most of the writers write well, but the quality varies. Changing tenses seems common in romance stories (as opposed to mystery), and a few of these stories I faulted for that reason. Perhaps, since I’m a mystery reader and writer, that aspect won’t bother romance fans. For me, the following stories were notable:
- “The UnHaunted House” by Lozi Hart-A short tale, even if the ending was expected, that was well written and executed.
- “Masked Souls” by Tonya Kappes-A well written love story, again using a Halloween party as backdrop, but it contained a nice taste of revenge that wasn’t too sweet.
- “Fireside” by J. W. Keleher-A short short-story well written and executed with a surprise ending. Bravo!
- “A Piece of her Soul” by Magdalena Scott-Another romance story, using Halloween marginally, but the ending contained a good twist. There is a change of POV at the very end that is bothersome. I understood the reason, but I also felt that the author could have handled this need without breaking POV.
- “Finders Seekers” by Jennifer Johnson-This was an unusual and well written tale set at the time of Halloween and, unlike the other tales, utilized the holiday to provide an emotional basis for one of the character’s feelings and thoughts—well done.
I don’t know of author L. S. Pierce, but she sure can write a good short story. The tale has its twists and an ending that was totally unexpected. Good show!
Friday, October 21, 2011
Ode to My Muse
Now I lay me down to sleep
I look for peace In slumber deep
Counting characters instead of sheep
My writing brain goes beep beep beep
That change of scene lies in a heap
The villain’s plan just will not keep
And he must sew ‘ere he can reap
The hero, gagged, can only, “Meep.”
“Til the heroine comes at a creep
She’ll cut his bonds and up he’ll leap
Away from lava’s deadly seep
To make the villain gnash and weep
The cobwebs from my brain I sweep
I spill my thoughts on paper cheap
So melancholic I could weep
Now turn off brain. I need my sleep.
Note: I will be touring the North Island of New Zealand for most of this week so I won't be able to respond to you comments, but please feel free to tell me what you think. I'll read the comments when I get back
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I believe most writers want to think good writing and interesting characters and plots rise to the top, capturing the attention of more readers. However, I’m not sure that is always true or even frequently true. Best-sellers have a quality that makes them stand out so publishing houses give them still more publicity. But what about midlist authors or authors trying to start a career?
Authors need to promote their own work but forums and email lists suggest writers are not sure what works, if anything. We’re bombarded with ads from womb to tomb, ads that pander to our fears and anxieties, and our desire to be part of an in-group. I don’t think authors working on blatant self-promotion for their works want to be that blatant.
Reputable publicity companies often charge high fees. Do the results from their publicity justify the expense? There are publicity hounds or propagandists who have convinced millions of people for years to believe what the propagandists wanted them to believe. Top ranking Nazis perpetuated the myth that Germans of the day belonged to a superior race, were entitled to conquer the world, and should destroy anyone who stood in their way. Vast numbers of regular people swallowed this myth. Courses I’ve taken that covered this period suggested that the publicists of the day knew people’s fears and desires and fed into these. If gentle persuasion failed (why don’t you believe us when we tell you you’re better than anyone else), there were threats and torture. Fall in line or suffer the consequences, was the cry of storm troopers.
What about the manipulations of bullies at school and in the workplace? These bullies may not be as intelligent as their followers. How does the school in-group convince others that the in-group is superior to all other groups and you’re a zero if you don’t belong? I don’t think bullies and manipulators are more astute at judging character than other people but they know fears and weaknesses and exploit these. Manipulators don’t have a moral issue with deceiving others and disrespecting individual opinions.
Maybe I’m paranoid but I think many ads lie to us. Ads might pander to our need to be patriotic. Packaging is red, white, and blue. I had a supervisor who claimed superior American loyalty by advocating hot dogs and hamburgers for those under her supervision (she could have been eating caviar and quail eggs for all I knew) and implied her dedication to the Boston Red Sox proved her soul was American to the core. I know this might be difficult for citizens of Boston to understand but there are vast numbers of patriotic Americans who do not support the Boston Red Sox.
Maybe we need to have our acne cured before a big date. There’s a lotion for that. Maybe we need to lose 60 lbs by Christmas. There’s a pill for that.
I’m not suggesting authors are into tricks and lies to promote their books but the world of publicity is not a glowing example of honesty. Now that we have the internet, I often check out products before I buy. How often is a product promoted as a wonderful new advance by retail stores and companies, and then customer reviews say something like, “don’t waste your money on this piece of crap?”
How to maintain professional integrity, that is the question, and how to make publicity work when readers and the published word are changing so fast?
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Suzanne Adair has shared a fascinating blog on researching historical mysteries with the readers of WWK before. She is the winner of the Patrick D. Smith Literature Award and author of the exciting novels, Paper Woman and The Blacksmith’s Daughter plus a third novel Camp Follower, which was nominated for both the Daphne du Maurier Award and the Sir Walter Raleigh Award. Regulated for Murder follows those works with an equally memorable story that grabs the reader immediately and provides a thrill ride like galloping on a horse through an unknown darkening countryside to escape pursuing marauders. The tension builds throughout as Redcoat Lieutenant, Michael Stoddard uses his fists, weapons, and wits in equal measure. In especially dire straights he is saved by his would-be love interest, the lovely and wise widow Kate Duncan. Stoddard survives to pursue justice in an unjust world.
First, welcome back.
Thanks, Warren I’m glad you invited me.
Second why don’t you tell us a little about your newest novel?
Here's the official blurb:
For ten years, an execution hid murder. Then Michael Stoddard came to town.
Bearing a dispatch from his commander in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat Lieutenant Michael Stoddard arrives in Hillsborough in February 1781 in civilian garb. He expects to hand a letter to a courier working for Lord Cornwallis, then ride back to Wilmington the next day. Instead, Michael is greeted by the courier's freshly murdered corpse, a chilling trail of clues leading back to an execution ten years earlier, and a sheriff with a fondness for framing innocents—and plans to deliver Michael up to his nemesis, a psychopathic British officer.
Regulated for Murder is the first title in the Michael Stoddard American Revolution series, a spin-off of my trilogy (Paper Woman, The Blacksmith's Daughter, and Camp Follower). It takes place during an event we never read about in American History texts: the Crown forces occupation of Wilmington, North Carolina, in the year 1781. Possibly we don't hear about this occupation because during much of 1781, the 82nd Regiment commanded by Major James Henry Craig deployed loyalists as an efficient fighting machine while stymieing movement of the Continental Army in North Carolina. The February 1781 murder investigation in Regulated for Murder is anchored in murderous deeds from 1771, which were covered up by Royal Governor Tryon's execution of six men who'd participated in the Regulator Rebellion that year. So you have a historical mystery embedded in a historical mystery.
When is it coming out?
The release date for the electronic version is Friday 14 October 2011. The print version will be released in the Spring of 2012.
I’m curious about why you chose a Redcoat for a hero.
Traitorous, aren't I?
I noticed you refer to a padlock, which did exist at the time. What other devices or inventions existed then that readers might think of as modern?
What amazes me about the American Revolution is how modern much of it seems. Here are a few examples of "modern" technology from that time.
- Thomas Jefferson invented a device that copied his letters.
- We had the ability to grind lenses with a fair amount of accuracy back then, so a number of people wore glasses, and Benjamin Franklin conceived of sunglasses.
- A few wealthy people had telescopes and compound microscopes, although with the microscope, no one was quite sure what those curious, squiggly things on the slide were.
- Most people brushed their teeth using a roughed up twig, but toothbrushes did exist. (Toothpaste was baking soda and salt.)
When officers in the army and navy bought a commission, from whom did they buy it? Did the king get his cut of the money? I’ve always wanted to know.
In the 1600s, it was illegal for an officer to purchase a commission. But by the time of King George I, the practice happened so often that regulations were put into place to curb the abuses. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.) Tariffs were placed on commissions. The Crown had to approve each transaction. Children could no longer be commissioned. If an officer were in the market to sell his commission, he was supposed to offer it to an officer in the rank just below his. And the government did participate in the purchase and sale of commissions.
In Redcoat: the British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket, Richard Holmes says, "About two-thirds of the commissions in the period 1660–1871 were obtained by purchase, the remainder being gained by seniority, through patronage or as a reward for long, gallant or distinguished service...In wartime the demand for officers outstripped the supply of would-be officers who could afford commissions, and in the large army of 1810 as many as four-fifths of all commissions had been obtained by means other than purchase...Non-purchase vacancies occurred when an officer died or was cashiered, or in wartime when new units were raised or existing ones augmented, although the commissions thus granted could not generally be sold."
That business adage applies here: "You can get it fast, or you can get it cheap, but you cannot get it both fast and cheap." The fast track, as you'd expect, was purchase, but only the very wealthy could afford multiple purchases. Thus Michael Stoddard, a commoner, appears stuck at the rank of lieutenant in Regulated for Murder, as his benefactors' pockets have run dry. But the landscape of war changes rapidly, as Michael will learn in the next book of the series.
Is there some question about your writing that you have never been asked, but would like to answer?
Yes, my characters often pursue actions that surprise me, and yes, I've had creepy dreams about Lieutenant Fairfax.
Finally, please promise you will come back in the future and tell us more?
I'd be delighted. Thank you for having me.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I woke up Monday, blog day, with absolutely nothing to say.
Not a single new idea occurred to me.
Now it is Saturday and I am limping along with the germ of an idea.
Usually I am good at deadlines. I would never finish anything without them. I missed a big one once when I had been contracted to write a text book. I had an outline and heaps of books in a pile, but April first was looming and I wasn’t going to make it. When I sat down to write to my editor and request an extension, I had an email from him saying the company was going out of business and neither the manuscript I had submitted and they had accepted, nor this one would be published. Anybody want a textbook on either the Industrial Revolution or the Westward Expansion?
I missed one other deadline. I had the thing nearly ready to go, and didn’t make it. In this case I could submit the story elsewhere.
So here I am up against a deadline and not a single thing is coming to me.
This isn’t writers block because I have had no trouble working on my Christmas story or my other ongoing manuscripts. I put few words on paper but I did a lot of plotting in my head.
There are lots of stories about ministers who find themselves speechless on Sunday morning. The outcome seems to be more honest interaction between minister and congregation once they get over the idea that this will not be a traditional sermon.
One common question that most writers are asked is “Where do your ideas come from?” No one has ever asked me, but I will tell you anyway. I sit down with a blank mind and write a single sentence. Perhaps the sentence occurred to me in the car, or while tending sheep. I work it and rework it in my mind so I won’t forget it before I can write it down. Then I follow that lead wherever it takes me. Sometimes into a dead end.
I know that by next week the little grey cells will be up and running again, but for the moment I will have to skip this week’s blog.
Do you think there is a time when a writer simply isn’t a writer for a while?
Monday, October 17, 2011
If those reasons alone keep an unpublished author’s book from New York fame and fortune, the e-publishing route is the logical means to get it to the marketplace. The problem of course is that unless those entities give a writer a clear-cut reason for rejecting a manuscript, the writer has no way to know. It’s rare when an agent takes the time to give criticism or advice. Their replies are usually the preprinted, form rejection letter (or email).
I’m well aware of the change in the market away from big six publishing and yet, I respect those publishers because of the publication quality. Although I may not like a book, the reason for my distaste isn’t the writing or the lack of editing or artwork, it’s usually just me not relating to the author’s work—and there is no accounting for taste—appropriately so.
My reading list is mostly comprised of midlist authors of mystery series. Reading many series, tends to make my reading list short and deep because of limited reading time. However, I recently started varying the novels I read by including bestselling authors and newly published authors by small press or self e-publishing venues—two ends of the publishing spectrum. I’ve read some wonderful books by accomplished writers in both categories, but of the latter group and perhaps because of the contrast between the two ends of the spectrum, the imperfections of newly published authors by small press or self e-publishing venues appear starkly to me.
I tend to be a forgiving reader, but it occurs to me that perhaps these writers have been published before their time. It’s hard for writers to admit that they have been rejected by agents due to their lack of mastering craft. I found the following faults in the latter groups’ writing.
• Breaks in POV and head hopping
• Omniscient voice creeping into narrative
• Overly verbose language (especially in genre novels)
• Inappropriate tense switching
• Use of impressive grad school words
• Lack of voice and characterization
• Unprofessional editing
Yes, the reasons are typical, and I’m sympathetic to these writers because I feel that although I’m a good conceptualist, I am still improving my craft, but unsympathetically, I won’t don blinders and negate reality. If I am rejected by the big six, I will seek critical and professional criticism of my work to find the reason for my rejection. If the reason is my writing, I’ll work on craft rather than lose readers because I’ve published before my time.
How have you determined to self e-publish your work?
Friday, October 14, 2011
It’s not a surprise that reviews are frequently discussed on writing websites. Negative reviews can decrease sales and reputations. Positive reviews can increase them. There are more books coming out than anyone can read. Marketing and advertising, by publishers who do it at all, are generally reserved for books publishers believe have the potential to sell millions of copies.
I respect authors who reach the level of fame and success that readers will buy the next (fill in the name of the author.) I doubt I will ever be a member of that select group.
The rest of us depend on ourselves and on our readers for promotion. Reviewing books honestly and fairly leads indirectly to an atmosphere where all books, including mine, are more likely to be honestly and fairly reviewed.
I’ve been reading that reviews are for sale from certain sources. I’ve read reviews where the reviewer noted the excellence of the book and then rated it one out of a possible five stars, possibly misreading the instructions for rating. I’ve read scathing reviews where a reviewer “flames” an author.
None of that has happened to me but one reviewer described my Murder Manhattan Style title as “misleading” apparently because based on the title she imagined a different setting for the book. If you, “Can’t judge a book by its cover?” Should you judge it before reading it by its title? The review itself was quite positive, even flattering but it was down-rated due to the title.
All of this makes writing and receiving honest review even more crucial.
I’ve been working to improve my skill at reviewing. Here are a few observations.
Like anyone else I have my biases. Although I’ve read and truly enjoyed some romance and horror novels, they are not my favorite genres. Mix in strong elements of mystery and suspense and I’m more solidly in my comfort zone. I don’t personally refuse to review books outside my particular preferences, but in an effort to be fair to writer and reader I do concentrate on reviewing elements of the books I have more knowledge about and familiarity with.
As a mystery writer I am well aware of how hard it is to hide clues in plain sight, drag red herrings across the trail of the investigation and offer plausible but innocent suspects as alternates to the actual criminal. So when I write reviews I take particular care to leave clues, surprises and unexpected character traits unmentioned out of respect for the writer’s hard work and to enhance the reader’s enjoyment. It’s surprisingly easy to get enthused and to reveal information that would detract from the reader’s experience.
As a reviewer I am writing more to readers, than writers. Often in my blogs it is the other way around. I try to write less about techniques and more about the emotion the writing evoked. I try to give a sense of the story without telling a step-by-step synopsis.
As I learn more I hope to write more about it.
Do you write reviews? If so what do you try to do?
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Man caves have been in the news lately. Supposedly, men return home from the jungle of office politics and restore their energy in their man caves. Their wives have conflicting goals that include discussions of feelings and the day’s events.
I’m not sure how easily men can establish a cave in the average household today. I wouldn’t mind setting up a woman cave. Perhaps a cave of our own would decrease our disappointment when we fail yet again to elicit man feelings.
I dream of using my deck to create a four-season room. Glass walls would let me watch a winter storm batter the landscape while I remain warm inside. A small fountain and pond would provide repetitive and relaxing sounds. Jasmine plants give off a delicate scent. My deck isn’t humongous so the space could maintain an air of intimacy.
An ergonomic chair, my laptop, and an e-reader would provide opportunities to create, listen to music, and read favorite authors and authors that I have recently discovered. I’d keep a stack of yellow legal pads and pens that don’t leak for ideas and first drafts, and shouldn’t forget a bowl of nut fudge and a bowl of Braeburn apples.
The only visitor I’d allow is my daughter who loves to read. She chooses stories based on empathetic and interesting characters. She’s not my first, only or final critic but, if she doesn’t care about a character I’ve created, I think seriously about scrapping it.
So that’s my dream cave. Meanwhile I use the writing space I have and imagine the sound of a fountain, the smell of jasmine, and a softer light.
Perhaps, whether you’re male or female, you already have the perfect cave.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
After a long dry spell (both weather and writing) I turned to some of my favorite writing teachers for advice. They all believe in the power of the muse. They advocate the Taming of the Muse by personifying it. After all, how can you demand help from your muse without giving him a name? How can you expect your muse to speak to you without first talking to or, dare I say it, pleading with her for inspiration. I tried what I imagined were the usual muse names – Agatha, Erle, Sherlock, Nancy - but nothing worked for me. I realized that unlike some of my idols, I needed to be able to see my muse and to touch him or her. I made it my mission to find my muse.
I lit one of Itty Bitty Buddha’s incense sticks and placed it atop my book shelf. I sat at my desk, hands poised over the keyboard waiting for the words to flow. And I waited. And I waited. Buddha wasn’t speaking to me. I opened the booklet and read the instructions again. Breathe slowly and deeply. Count each breath in and out. Clear all the thoughts from my head… wait a minute! How’s my muse supposed to help me if I’m not allowed to think? I wanted thoughts in my head. I craved them! Surely Buddha meant I only had to rid myself of those pesky negative thoughts rambling through my brain. I did my best to brush off all visions of failure, closed my eyes and tried again.
A few weeks and zero words written later, I went to the Houston Modern Market in search of my muse. The Modern Market is a collective of local artists and craftsmen who come together to show and sell vintage, contemporary and modern art, jewelry and other objects. I wandered the aisles for hours until I came across the answer to my prayers in the form of an angry owl! The heck with sweet, calm, peaceful little Buddha, what I needed was a drill sergeant.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
But what really caught my attention were two sections: Social News and Around Town. Social News listed parties, meetings and weddings along with the names of all attendees. Around Town was about the life of residents who lived in the Marissa area. There were pages devoted to personal detailed news like the following:
“Mrs. William Warren was a Sunday dinner guest of Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Brown.”
“Mrs. Walter Hippard shopped in St. Louis Saturday.”
“Mrs. Mildred Dickey visited three days at the home of her daughter, Mrs. C. Wisely, and husband of Oakdale.”
“James Downen was able to get around on crutches Friday.”
“Mrs. Ralph Bald will observe her birthday anniversary Sunday, March 11th.”
I was gobsmacked when I realized how similar these blurbs were to Facebook Status Updates and Twitter Tweets. I could clearly see them as a prototype of today’s social networking. Of course, there were differences. Rude language was edited out, they used formal titles and the newspaper was local and didn’t have a worldwide reach.
Also, the social news was public so anyone could view it; there wasn’t a “just friends” or “custom” setting. I could only imagine what happened when a person saw that she was publicly excluded from a party. Also, what if Mrs. X didn’t want Mrs. Y to know that she had Mrs. W over for tea? I could see this social pressure leading to hard feelings or gasp, murder.
After reading this small town newspaper I thought I understood the genesis of social networking. That is, until I heard about open auditions for town crier taking place in the city of Alexandria, Virginia not far from where I live. In the 18th and 19th centuries town criers were used to orally communicate news to the community. The modern town crier makes opening remarks, proclamations and sometimes serves as Master of Ceremony at events. Contestant, Mike Cherlow, who said he would like to bring the town crier into the social-media age, referenced the number of characters limited in a Tweet. He declared, “My characters shall not top 140, for a cry is history’s first tweet.” So the town crier must be the first vehicle for social networking.
But not so fast. After further research, I realized that Paleolithic cave paintings had functioned as pictorial message boards, recording stories and communicating ideas among various tribes who journeyed far from home while hunting. Some of the oldest and most famous cave paintings, estimated to be about 17,000 years old, can be found in the Lascaux Caves of Southwestern France. These paintings were comprised of animals, figures and abstract signs. Many anthropologists and art historians believe they were a record of personal hunting success and used to communicate hunting strategies. Perhaps this truly was the first social networking site!
The biggest difference between sharing personal experiences today versus the past is the timing of the message received. In a recent Washington Post article a reporter wrote how news travels so fast now that it can arrive before the experience. When a rare earthquake hit Virginia in August of this year, people in New York reported seeing tweets about the earthquake about 30 seconds before they felt the reverberations.
It appears that social networking isn’t a new idea but over time its form has evolved and been re-imagined for each generation using available tools and knowledge. It will always be around, in some form, in order for us to make connections and share stories of important moments (and sometimes unimportant moments) in our lives. How do you feel about social networking?
Monday, October 10, 2011
But instead of working, the drop in temperatures and the calendar flip to October brought to mind frost on the pumpkin. The change in light illuminated spider webs in the corners of my porch. A black snake sunned itself on the sidewalk by my mailbox, giving me a fright and causing my skin to crawl. All of these events brought to mind Halloween, and my fancy turned to ghosts and goblins and all the spookiness in which we revel during October.
His stories must have been pervasive in American society because in my grandfather’s house, built around the turn of the 20th century, the tiles surrounding his hearth depicted the story of Rip Van Winkle. For me the story blends with my grandfather, who enjoyed an ale or two. I can easily envision him sitting by the fire, roasting chestnuts and telling stories. The tile artisans may have had that scene in mind.
In moderation, some backstory adds to our plot. If we know little about the characters’ history, how are we to provide the reader with authenticity? How can readers enjoy that pivotal moment, when all that comes before are pivotal moments? Irving’s meandering serves a purpose I wish we appreciated. We must remember the physical aspects of storytelling; the pauses, the inflections, the raised eyebrows and hunched shoulders and when a finger to the lips and a whisper invoked a squeal from those listening.
When I think of stories read to others, the classics come to mind, like those who read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” every year. But I think that there is a reason that we turn to the classics when we read aloud. Unlike today’s stories, they were written for that purpose. We must remember that there is no set of rules in creative writing. It just has to be a great story, and getting there can be an enjoyable meander.
Do you read stories to your children and grandchildren? What are your favorite Halloween stories and why are they your favorites?
Friday, October 7, 2011
The Kindle Experiment
One of my personal goals for the time I would spend in New Zealand was to get a novel published. I did and for the first time it was self-published. I put my Young Adult novel Heartland on Kindle for $2.99.
I believe it is well past the time where self-publishing is the same as vanity publishing, Although vanity publish is still around, many authors I admire have published on Kindle. It might not be the smartest thing to publish on a new platform while I am half the world away from home but, for me, I decided it would be part of my adventure.
I knew the story was good. It was a finalist in the 2010 Young Adult Novel Discovery sponsored by the Gotham Writers Workshop. Literary Agent Regina Brooks was very helpful and comments made by the judges zeroed in on some things I needed to change. Thanks to everyone who judged the contest.
I tried to follow the directions on direct publishing with Kindle. I did not find the exact screen to set margins and indentations so attempted to do an indentation for each paragraph by hand.
Living in a university town I thought it would be easy to find a WiFi café where I could check my work before it went into final form. No joy. The university has a wireless system, but it did not allow anything as frivolous as a Kindle download.
Christchurch lost many businesses during the earthquakes. Some have reopened but had to move. Finding out where they are now is not easy. Websites have not always been updated. Information cannot keep up with changing conditions.
In the time I had I was not able to check my work before it went up. Afterward I discovered that the local McDonald’s has a WiFi café that is open 18 hours per day.
The indentations I made disappeared. And the colors of the cover I made could have been brighter, but all in all I would say it was a good experiment and I learned from it.
Preparing for my next upload, I finally discovered the page that allowed me to set margins and paragraph indentations. Tramping through the help pages so I could figure out how to check later work I planned to post, I discovered how to change work that was already posted. I was able to download, correct and re-upload the book. As far as I can tell the indentations worked this time. Having no access to outside help I’ve learned to do more things on my own.
And a small publisher contacted me. We are negotiating a paperback version.
My experiment was a success.