Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Where to go from here?
One of the facebook writing groups recently had a discussion about inconsistent feedback from agents they had querried. I
was impressed they got feedback, and not the least surprised that the feedback was contradictory. After all, agents are only
individuals who hope they have a knack for getting the right books to the right publishers and maybe thy have something to
do with marketing as well, though I gather maybe not so much. That would be more the realm of publicists, working for the
publisher or for the writer, depending. Being individuals, they can't help but assume that what they like, the publisher
is more likely to like, too, so any advice they give is bound to reflect their personal tastes. How many of us like exactly
the same thing, so that the advice should be consistent? Not too many.
30 may 12 @ 11:06 am
Which is why more people, more diversity in educated, reading audiences, more open-minded among readers doesn't matter as
much as it should, and why the e-universe isn't helping. All else being equal, diversity of interests should mean that every
genre and subgenre and style should be able to get an audience. if we are a good writer, we should be getting read in at
least modest quantity because we all have an audience out there who will like our stuff, who is waiting our stuff. But a
modest audience is not what publishers want, and it's not what e-pub is good at. Unfortunately, publishers want big-time
successful books, not a modest profit for each book (since they expect most books to sell at somewhat of a loss; how not when
the only way to hope for a blockbuster is to aim for a big, generic audience, and generic books tend to flop). The hope is
that the e-pub world will do better. It doesn't care if a book is a blockbuster because even very small audiences constitute
a profit: lots of books, lots of profit, even if they are all weak sellers. But there's the rub. Lots of books means weak
quality control and most I've seen so far leave an awful lot up to the author, even though books are usually improved by a
good editor, even though authors don't make the best distributors or advertisers, even though not every author knows someone
who can give them good cover art. The failure to reach out to select, appropriate audiences (has anyone found the small,
focused or eclectic little book shop that is good at finding and supplying THEIR stuff? Are there any on-line?) means that
the readers that are out there will have not an easier time finding the books likely to interest them, but a harder time than
if they could still go to their trusty little basement bookshop with the owner who understands their likes and always has
some new obscure title of interest. Instead, the e-book industry relies on the reader doing the hunting, and when the reader
does the hunting, they rely on reviews and feedback, and the power curve kicks in: the popular books get more popular, more
famous, the less general interest disappears into obscurity as if it were never published. The middle level modest profit
may be even smaller than ever instead of growing as one would hope and expect.
One blogger recently opined that the only reason to write was because one enjoyed writing, because one had a story to tell,
a discovery to share. You certainly can't sustain your writing with the hope of riches or fame, since it is so rare. Still,
writing isn't just for the self. Even most journalers have some expectation that tey will toss it onto the fire when its'
filled or when they themselves are gone, to avoid sharing. Writing is also sharing, and most of hope that eventually someone
will read and enjoy or learn from the reading. I still have hopes that the publishing industry or technology will find a
way to make it viable to reach out and find the audience that is waiting for what the writer wants to share, that the power
curve can be flattened a bit at the center for the sake of both reader and writer, with all the editors and sales and retailers
or their e-equivalent that that probably requires. The potential is out there, the means to make it work, but we haven't
found it yet.
Writer's challenge: describe the elements you think make the perfect book, the kind of book you would want to read and read
again and tell your friends to read.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Being off work didn't exactly help
Worked a lot on plant stuff - repotting, watering, watering, watering in the heat, repotting some of the seedlings. cutting
away the tree-sixed branch that fell on top of the rose-of-sharon and lilac bushes--didn't notice any storm go through, but
some wind gusts must have hit the area. Wood for the fire pot. That's one of the main reasons we have a fire pot. We always
get enough wood, and some of the logs good sized, during the course of the year. When the heat drove me indoors, I mostly
sewed, not quilting this week, but a patchwork summer skirt, and a quilt top mostly of leftovers from the past few projects,
barred and striped, bigger bars, and more stripes so that it is never quite a pattern but has a theme and almost a color theme
because of the colors I've been choosing for recent quilts, heavy on purples and these sorts of light reds that no one would
be tempted to call pink, being a bit brownish or countryish and too dark to call peach. Lots of other colors, too, but all
in much smaller quantity, real scraps. Depending on what else I work on before I get around to quilting it, I may add some
more around the outside, to make it lap sized, otherwise it will be a quilt for a doll.
29 may 12 @ 5:53 pm
Of course, I also wrote, but more journaling than fiction so far this week. Being off in the morning when it's cool, I sit
out on the porch and write, almost always non-fiction in the morning for reasons I don't question, only make use of when I
can. If I want to set myself up for a fantasy setting, I'll prod myself out in the morning and write about birds and sounds
and leaves, using exercises from writing classes to focus down on a single leaf or expand to encompass a whole neighborhood,
then I have something to work from for my outdoor scenes in classic fantasy. If I can get the right tone and mood, it's easy
to trade out modern buildings and replace them with castles or outhouses or whatever else seems appropriate. If I need a
different kind of leaf, I can trade that out, too, though it often doesn't matter so long as it's a leaf instead of a needle.
It's the flow that is hard to get right, the focusing down, the broadening of perspective, the shift between them that helps
carry the story forward across the land scape, into and out of action scenes and dialog, and sweeps the reader along in that
way that is uniquely the realm of fantasy.
Lately, though, I've been working on a science fiction piece, space fiction, with not-so-alien aliens. I've been editing
and gone through it now several times, looking for character traits, filling in notes from my "check this" and "add
this" file. A lot of times I decide not to "add this", either because it's already there or because I've already
delete the entire scene I was going to add it to, or because it's crap that seemed better when I wrote it. Trite, typical,
not new, often not even appropriate to the characters or the story line, even if it sounded really cool even now. (That's
the "delete your darlings" thing--we polish it to perfection because it has some cool aspect we really like, but
meanwhile we've missed that it didn't really belong there at all, that it didn't fit the characters or the scene or the story
line and doesn't add anything we haven't shown better some other way.)
I've tried carrying those fantasy-like descriptions into science fiction settings and it sometimes works in one or two spots,
but science fiction, even space fiction, isn't usually so much about places as it is about other things, and the places that
do matter are less often natural than highly unnatural settings, where technology, science, the things that make it science
fiction rule the day. I've added plants as natural oxygenators, air filters, etc., and because studies have shown that humans
react well to the presence of plants and parks and all, but wild places and science and technology... More often the point
is the disconnection and exclusion than the collaboration and interaction between them. And the mechanical does not tend
to invite the sort of description called for in sweeping landscapes, though occasionally some bit of science does call for
the narrow focus of describing a fallen leaf or a delicate flower bud, the turning of a scene on a single point, or a slide
into the sweep not of place but of philosophy or meta-science or a slide from the concrete to the realm of the mind, which
might follow the same tone and flow as a shift from a single leaf to comprehension of a forest. The translation from leaf
to mechanical, from broad perspective to the neighborhood of the mind takes more effort than a simple trade-out of features,
certainly not easy "change all", but the similarities area there, and practice has its place in writing as it does
in other skill sets.
Writer's prompt: write a non-fiction scene and use it in a story.
Writer's challenge: look around and pick one thing. Focus in on it , then some more, then some more, for five to fifteen
minutes. Write about it. Put it (mentally or physically) in another setting and write about it's new place in the world.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
I hate computers
They have their uses, but computers spend more time driving me crazy than being helpful. the latest thing is that they seem
to have updated a dozen different bits of software all at once and of course assume that I wouldn't want to update them one
at a time at my convenience, no, they want to tie up my phone and computer for days updating everything all at once and don't
bother to offer any convenient option.
24 may 12 @ 8:40 pm
Sigh. That kind of a week, I guess. Life can be like writing a story: you set a few characters in motion, then suddenly they
are taking over. This week (at home) itís the plants. All those tiny seeds and suddenly everybody needs a new pot, then
a bigger pot, and really, that wasnít enough for two little vegetables? I did not realize that squash plants got SO big.
Their leaves are biggere than the squashes will ever be (well, except maybe that pumpkin... it was supposed to be a pie pumpkin,
but you never know when you are taking seeds from the fruit instead of the package). And the squash vines: they just pile
up if you let them and then suddenly its a bush hiding a poor little four inch pot. Stretched out they get more sun, but
how many feet is that? And it's just getting started. They just take over everything, just like a good character. Very
annoying at times, but you just have to deal with it and adjust accordingly.
I'm hoping to catch up with my plants, the house, and other issues this coming week. Hopefully I'll get back on line more
regularly if my computer doesn't totally crash.
Writer's prompt: A plant, weather, a food item or dish, and a star: use them in a scene
Monday, May 14, 2012
Killing off characters
A friend and I were discussing Hunger Games. It's an interesting story and I've heard good things about the book for awhile,
not much more than hints about the movie, but most of the people I know aren't the intended audience, so I'm likely to hear
about that later rather than earlier.
14 may 12 @ 7:18 pm
Most of our discussion was about the real and implied violence, directed at children and teens by children and teens. The
kill-or-be killed scenario offers something of a justification for the violence, and the lead characters focus more on survival
than inflicting harm, but still, it's teen-YA and a lot of killing and I wonder what that says of what's appropriate and what
publisher's are expecting from submissions.
I've been writing for a long while though trying to get published a much shorter time, and I begin to wonder to what degree
my "adult" fiction is now acceptable, even desirable for young adult, and my "YA" almost sliding down
in age appropriateness to children or tweens, for it's innocence and lack of killing. Do publishers want us to be killing
off our characters? Has that level of violence become not only acceptable but desirable? Or is it still really all in how
the violence, whatever form and however fatal or temporary or threatened, are presented?
Those are my first reactions, especially when I hear about such books becoming particularly successful, and without the coming-back-to-life
of Vampires and such. But really, teens and young adults have always liked dark and violent books as well as lighter, more
happy-ending books: look at the popularity of horror flicks, for example, though few enough have gotten the individual advertising
of serious fiction and science fiction. And my own is not violence free, with elements of traditional sword and sorcery,
high tech weapons or low tech, with and without some "blood and guts" or crude language to accompany the violence
or to express the violent intent, all the while thinking of my books as cheerful, upbeat, and only one or two with a darker
flavor on the whole.
I assume that both still sell, both still have their place. And though I don't like to see characters dying off left and
right, in retrospect, unlikely killing scenarios with due attention given to the value of making choices that consider right
and wrong as more than survival is probably better than the equally frequent and variable sex partners that seemed to prevail
in YA pop fiction for awhile.
Writer's challenge: write a "violent" scene where no one gets hurt, or write a non-violent scene were someone does
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Still using the find function
The find function on text documents was probably the thing that persuaded me computers were better than typewriters. I spell
a lot of words wrong, consistently. Some because I didn't know how to spell them some because of typing habits, some... well
who knows why we make wierd consistent writing mistakes in both cursive and typing. (p qne q are not wierd, being typical
of left-right uncertainty, but how do you mix up s and d?) And to find sections of text for a dozen reasons.
9 may 12 @ 9:46 pm
I check to see if I've typed in some notes by querying on phrases within the notes. I check dialog by querying the character's
name or title. I fix character names, place names, titles, using global find and replace. I check formatting (usually underlines
for ship names and foreign languages) by finding the ship name or some word or phrase I vaguely remember using in a quote.
Okay, so for some things it doesn't work so well, but for some stories, it's pretty specific what I would put as being in
a different language so I can make some good guesses.
The current one, I'm still doing a few specific character checks: is this one showing his interest in his eventual love interest?
IS that obnoxious character obnoxious enough, being consistent in a particular speech style (e.g., using formal names, using
nick names, asking questions to make a point or stating a point, making a suggestion to state an opinion, or stating an opinion
as if it were fact).
I can never really focus quite as much as that might sound, except maybe the global changes. For one thing, a name might
appear anywhere in a paragraph or scene and I have to look through the whole scene for their speech elements. Thus why it
takes awhile. Not because the dialog elements are slow to review, but because I start reading. If I get into it, I read
a couple of scenes, then have to go back and do my editing. If I catch imperfections that take me out of the scene, I start
editing and revising whatever I catch, and have to do a lot more backtracking to make sure I finish the editing I started
on. Or maybe I'll stop to do some quilting while a t.v. show I like is on and I'll have to start over, (though it will go
a little faster until I catch up to myself.
Then I start over on the next item on my check list.
Writer's prompt: Write a scene that includes flowers, chocolate, or Mom.
Monday, May 7, 2012
Did you hear the one about the people who were fired for 'liking' a rival company on FB? Yeah, it sounds like something that
should have a funny punch line, doesn't it? But it wasn't that kind of punch. The judge said "liking' didn't have the
same free-speech protections as text, so, I gather, the firing stands.
7 may 12 @ 9:10 pm
So, it's better to write a blog berating your company and favoring a rival, than to like a company on Facebook in order to
get a free coupon or whatever. Good news for posters of written opinions, but really? I'm not sure whether I'm more appalled
by the judge who presumably thinks "liking" is fair cause for firing, or the company who thinks Facebook opinions
are so influential. At times, i wonder why we have so many weird laws and regs on every silly little thing on the books,
but here is a perfect example of why they are written: to allow or encourage or require better decisions in the future.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Safe and Paranoid
We are currently in one of the safest, least violent, and least dangerous era's we've known in a long time, but fear and paranoia
seems to reign as if it was the worst it has been in our life times. Child snatching is down, violent crimes are down, terrorism
is down (and NO, not because airline travelers have given up all rights to privacy, dignity along with comfort and convenience:
most of the few known planned airline terrorism plans since 9-11 have been stopped before getting near an airport due to improved
communications between agencies) but the news regularly shows interviews with passengers that say it's worth giving up everything
for safety in flight, and regularly fails to show interviews with people who are avoiding air travel because they are unwilling
to suffer through scans and searches that leave them and their otherwise-over-protected children feeling violated or as if
they were being treated like criminals. Children are hardly allowed to play outside unsupervised until they are into their
teens, teens aren't trusted to babysit until they're old enough to drive, and parents have to seriously consider whether they
might be arrested for trying to keep their children under control in public lest they be arrested for child abuse. All in
the name of safety and paranoia for events that are more infrequent, probably not because of over-protective care but because
shows like CSI and all its spin-offs shows and similar shows that display how difficult it is for a criminal to get away with
anything, or because psychological care is much more readily available than it used to be. Most threats to children come
not from strangers but from family members, and because children, like the rest of us, learn best through experience, and
there's a million to one chance that even the safest activity will turn deadly, the best controlled food source will go bad
under ideal conditions.
5 may 12 @ 5:17 pm
Food, too, is remarkable safe. The illnesses caused by raw meat and eggs are probably more rare than ever, yet we are all
told that beef tartar and 3 minute eggs should be removed from the diet, mostly because restaurants won't serve them, not
because they aren't safe by a restaurant that knows what it is doing, but because there is a million in one chance of a problem,
and a near 50 percent chance that someone will sue the restaurant if they get a little nausia if the restaurant doesn't put
warnings about rare meat and undercooked eggs everywhere. People see warnings, they assume a problem is likely, instead of
If we knew and understood the real statistics, we'd eat more raw eggs and less raw flour, we would walk everywhere instead
of driving, and we would stage a protest outside every airport for mistreatment of passengers. We would make candy and desserts
a once-a-week treat, and we would sue bread companies for how much white flour and how little whole grain they put in their
whole grain and multi-grain breads, and we would spread our real whole grain bread with butter or flavored oils.
To protect our kids, we would ban white bread from school menus, fast-food restaurants, and eliminate it from our homes, and
spend a few minutes showing six-year-olds how to play relatively safely on the available equipment in the backyard, then let
them play while we gardened and exercised. We would also take time to teach our teens how we deal with credit cards, bills,
and check-books, explain how they actually work, to protect them from credit card companies, banks, and scam artists. To
protect their futures, We would also insist that lawmakers require energy efficiency and alternative power sources in all
new housing developments and office buildings, and start their education funds on birth (their name only as beneficiaries,
else all those savings will count against them for grants and other financial aide).
Over-done and mis-directed news reports make the most of the bad-but-rare and neglect the real-but-less-thrilling or glamerous
threats to our safety, health, rights, and futures that surround us.
I went back to one of my stories that I thought was about ready for the polishing of a synopsis, preparation of a query package
etc, and discovered it needed more work yet than I realized (not surprising; I usually find that my memory of where I'm at
is wrong, for better and for worse). For one, it still has a "notes to add" file, which is where I put ideas, notes
for earlier in the book when I'm working on scenes later in the book, and most often general observations after I've gone
through a book doing other edits, scene polishing and all: things like "Did I ever follow up on Pulus's plan to teach
George a lesson?" and "Make it more clear that Cleo is switching from matchmaker to romantic interest," which
might require a few phrases of thought and a few changes to forms of address or might require the addition of whole scenes,
depending what I already have and how major the character is. Or I might decide to remove Pulus's plan or put the follow
through in the sequel, but then the note needs to be added to those for the sequel. Still, I try never to leave a "things
to add" file. Either I do something to the story (or its sequel's notes), or I reconsider and put the thing in the "not
used" file, or I decide that it has already been done and delete it.
5 may 12 @ 1:59 pm
The find function is great for the kinds of editing that require adjustments in several places: type in the character name
and work my way through to add/delete/enhance whatever trait or characteristic or subplot needs revision. Along the way i
can do a double check on whether their dialog is consistent, descriptions are in place along with reminders of those descriptions,
and do the proofing checks with fresh eyes aided by skipping around, which avoids the problem of getting too much into the
scene to see the typos and probems.
In this latest one, I realized I had a clear image but no physical description at all for an important side character, in
the process of making sure he was showing sufficiently his criminal/rogue side (always a challenge for a character that goes
from enemy to aide, and a character that I like but my protagonist shouldn't) which was one of my to-do notes. Indeed, he
was barely showing his rogueish characteristics in his speech, no more than a sharp attitude to accompany a punch or shove,
when foul language, insults, or at least sarcasm and ill manners would be appropriate.
The book also has some internal notes (annotations to add a particular scene or to add a setting for a scene that was too
much dialog or personal action but hardly offered a clue where it was taking place, how long after the scene before it, and
other elements that need to be in place in one form or another. Those are usually things I notice while doing some sort of
specific run through that I don't want to interrupt, like changing a character's rank or title or speech pattern, spell check,
or whatever. I'm always impressed by someone who can get a lot of things right the first time when they write a story end-to-end.
Myself, i usually have to work my way through the near-final draft a dozen times before I have addressed all the issues,
fixed the many serious problems that develop. I suspect it's one with that word-smithing versus story-teller types of writers:
the story teller is naturally better at plots and side plots, and I have to really work at those in order to not end up with
a lot of frayed and broken strings, whereas the word-smithing for me is just fun (and I suspect not as well appreciated by
agents and publishers of commercial fiction, which I believe fantasy and science fiction generally falls into).
I'll need to replace all of the internal notes, too, with scenes, revisions, or deletions before it's ready to join the other
books I've sent out queries for (of the six I sent out--two for each of three novels--a couple months back, I think I still
have just the two rejections, four no-answers-yet). Having worked on other things though since I worked on it last will help
me to see the problems and come up with solutions with a fresh eye, and hopefully it will be done quickly. Some of the notes
require very little, even if one or two involve the writing or rewriting o entire scenes.
Writer's challenge: Take a story you don't like the results of and change one character in s drastic way:fro example, turn
a sympathetic character into a traitor, turn a guy into a gal, or turn an evil character into a wayward soul with a chance
at redemption. Rewrite the story accordingly.
Writer's prompt: start a dialog with a lie.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I spent my usual blogging time trying to find the best place for a new blog. This one isn't working too badly (the web page
doesn't work well but the blog part does), but I had my other blogs on blogspot, which became Google Blogger, and their new
improved software seems to have brought my blogs to a standstill, taking forever to load or do anything. I've spent hours
exploring a couple of others and even trying to set up pages, but the time it took does not bode well for posting speed.
Don't be surprised if much of what I would have posted there lands here instead, though if I have to do much of that, I'll
try to post more often, to provide something for each of the sometimes very different audiences. I don't think I'll post
recipes here, but probably comments on life, writing concepts (which isn't far from the theme here, though some of it was
more philosophical, while this has lately been the practical realities and progress reports). Finance tips will probably
go with the recipes. Some of the other things...we'll see if I still need a third blog like I had before.
2 may 12 @ 6:37 pm
Sequel writing continues. You never know when the creative juices will overtake the editorial ones. I had worked my way
through the sequel I've been working on, finding out what was needed, filling some of the gaps, fixing character names and
characteristics to match the first book where needed, thought I was as far as I would get for the current rendition (little
enough left I figure I can do it in a couple of weeks, certainly a couple of months, which should be plenty of time even if
Book 1 sells instantly. Tried to set it aside, and my mind has come back to it on its own, at work, driving, cooking...
I've written several more scenes, got inspiration for one of the side stories that needed work, and how to make a couple of
the needed-later characters fit into the earlier parts of the book naturally, even in such a way as to enhance the whole book
and enhance the theme by having a couple of "unrelated" bad guys interact, each bringing their own style of evilness
into a twisted relationship with plenty of room for play.
Even if I don't do all the potential playing or incorporate it in the book (I'm doing my usual cutting a book's worth of material
as I go, some of it material for Book 3 flash backs, some of it potentially for spin-offs or other series entirely, some of
it just redundant junk), I find as a reader that I like stories where potential is left open, where I can let my own imagination
roam without interfering with the author's story line. Stories where everything locks together tightly are always recognized
as good, well-written stories, but they don't always linger with the reader or inspire the imagination, (and don't allow as
many openings for sequels, variation of the story line for different media...)
Well, I;ll let you know how the blog hunt goes.
Writer's challenge: Set aside a story that is giving your trouble and start or pick up another that you haven't worked on
Writer's prompt: Write a story or scene involving a hunt