Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cut Out the Critics

We've all encountered criticism in our writing.  Sometimes, that criticism is justified.  When someone points out that our stuff needs work - maybe we haven't properly developed our characters or the plot is too thin - that's acceptable criticism.  However, that's not the only kind of criticism we encounter.

The kind of criticism I'm talking about is the discouraging kind, where someone in our lives, usually somebody important, tried to dissuade us from writing at all.  This person might be a parent, a co-worker, or a dear friend, but the general gist is, "That's a nice hobby, but don't quit your day job."

Let me say this plainly - make it as clear as you can to this person that they need to shut the hell up, and if they don't, cut them out of your life.  There's no place in life for someone who will discourage you from even attempting to follow your passion.
(Much like these pigeons, some people will just strut around and shit on you)
I've boiled these kinds of discouraging critics into two categories.  The first group is the people that don't believe in you.  These folks will claim they're acting out of love, for they don't want to see you waste your time on such an obvious long shot.  They don't want your heart broken and are only looking after your best interests.  Sorry, but I have no room in my life for people who want to hold me back, no matter the reason.  If they don't believe in me or my abilities, then they should just be quiet about it.  However, to try and actively discourage someone from pursuing their dreams just because you're afraid of what might happen, that's the mark of an either an emotional coward or a control freak - either they don't want to see you in pain because that'll cause them pain(and they know you're going to fail, so why make that pain inevitable), or what you're doing isn't what they think you should do, so they put obstacles in your way.

The second group of people are simply jealous.  Lots of people - LOTS of people - say they're writing a book.  Most will go on and on about their stuff, all while making excuses why they haven't actually written it yet.  When you tell them you've finished a novel or two and are on the verge of publishing, they can't figure out what to say.  They just know they're more talented than you, and they can't believe that such a hack did what they couldn't.  It's really quite sad, but they'll do whatever they can to tear you down in order to minimize their own lack of success in getting their idea from their head to their novel.

Not only should you never take heed from either of these types of people, you need to boot them from your life.  Tell them to get lost, and make no bones about it being because they're a schmuck who doesn't deserve your company.  Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people who'll be happy to see you chasing your dreams.  No, that doesn't mean you should have people around you be yes-men who applaud you as the next Stephen King when you're not there yet - good friends give candid feedback - but they should help you along the journey from what you were to what you want to be.  Their criticism should always be phrased in ways that nudges you towards greater success, not in ways that are designed for you to give up.  Anyone who's been around the block more than a day knows the difference in the two.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From Traditional Wannabe to Indie Pit Bull

The five of you that have followed this blog since the beginning know that I once started out as most every other writer does.  I wanted to find an agent and sign that multi-book deal from a major publisher so that I could follow in the footsteps of Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer.  I viewed self publishing, as I called it back then, as the last resort of those losers who couldn't make it in the world of those rightly recognized for their ability.

Wow...what a difference a little bit of time makes.

So, how did I go from a traditional wannabe to a pit bull who is fully on board with the indie route?  It started with recognition that the book market was changing, and in some cases it was changing so quickly that it was impossible to keep up with the latest trends.  Along the way, I started doing some real research into traditional publishing, and the more I read, the less I liked it.  New authors were treated terribly by large publishers, with no push and even more onerous contract terms.  If there hadn't been any other options, it might have discouraged me right out of publishing altogether.
(Are you truly exploring all options on where to put your stuff?)
But in a hilarious twist of fate, as traditional publishers were getting more constrictive, indie options were opening up for the entrepreneurial minded.  Where in the past a self published writer had to put together a crappy looking product or pay thousands of dollars he likely didn't have, the rise of print on demand, as well as the e-book, mostly under the tuteledge of Amazon, gave writers a new outlet.  Further, the bevy of independent artists out there who could provide professional covers gave indie writers the look they needed to compete with products put out by traditional publishers.

The only thing missing was the distribution large publishers provided, and that means less than it used to.  Indie writers are finding their way into bookstores again, and if that takes off, it removes the last barrier traditional publishers had to the indie movement.

One would think that such a thing would give traditional publishers pause about the changing landscape, perhaps forcing them to revamp their business styles.  Instead, they've hunkered down and declared that any going the indie route was a low class hack who couldn't make it with "real" publishers.  They tightened up their contracts and refused to see the forest for the trees.

It was this level of hubris that finally pushed me over the edge.  Coupled with understanding that I would have tons more control over my career by going indie than I would by landing a traditional publishing deal, I jumped into indie with both feet, and I haven't looked back.  That means it all depends on me, but I'm much more comfortable with that than I am turning over control to a bunch of people I don't know, many of whom I know I'll never meet.

Since I don't do things halfway - my personality can't do that - I've become a huge defender of the indie movement as well, castigating those who hold onto the old ways as relics of a bygone era.  Plus, the success stories in indie publishing are no longer the rare exception they once were.  Indeed, those stories are now becoming more prevalent than success in the traditional world.

Retaining control and greater chances of success?  That should be enough to convince anybody.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Editing Revisited

I managed to finish the first round of editing on Wrongful Death this past weekend, and it forced me to re-live many of the lessons on editing I'd learned over the years.  I had to remember that I wasn't reading for enjoyment, but rather to make the writing more efficient.  That usually meant eliminating stray adjectives and adverbs, reducing the overall word count, but it didn't always mean that.  There were times, few as they may have been, where I needed to add words to help a passage be understood.

I confess that adding words during the editing process is difficult.  Not difficult from a writing standpoint, but rather from an emotional one.  Those of you who've done some serious editing on your work know what I mean - you get in a rhythm striking words and lowering the overall count to something less than gargantuan, and suddenly you put a little bit back in.  It takes some work to get past the disappointment of growing rather than trimming, but it's necessary sometimes to make the work better.

Anyway, I'm just griping now, and mostly for no reason.  The vast majority of my editing was about striking whole paragraphs and eliminating redundancy(why say the main character "sprinted quickly"?  Doesn't sprinting imply that he was doing it quickly?).  I combed through each line to make sure the story needed it.  If it didn't, it went into the roundfile.
(Eliminate a few and you still have a pile of goodness)
The biggest surprise I had during the past week was that I wasn't eliminating as many words as I did with my first two works.  At first, I thought that was because I hadn't done an editing job in a while and I'd lost my game.  Therefore, I went back and painstakingly analyzed each line to look for extraneous words.  However, I quickly discovered that I wasn't leaving too much crap behind - I'd simply gotten more efficient in my writing.  Yes, this sounds braggadocios, but I took some satisfaction in figuring out that the time I was spending on the craft was making me a more efficient writer.

I puffed out my chest on that achievement for all of five seconds before realizing no one cared or would even know, so I went back to the task at hand.  I set daily page count goals, usually after my wife went to bed.  Since the chapters in Wrongful Death were shorter than my other stuff, it was easy to get to the end of yet another chapter, and I even found myself in a trap of saying "just one more"...and then looking up at the clock and finding out it was after midnight.  For the first time in editing a piece of work, I was exceeding my goals(I love writing, but I loathe editing...nowhere near as fun).

Now that I reached the end of the first edit, taking my word count from nearly 68,000 to under 65,000, I'm putting it away for at least a month.  Looking at it again so soon wouldn't do me any good since I'm still too close to the work.  Further, too much editing, at least for me, hampers my free flowing style when I'm working on a story - I find that I edit work in progress if editing is too much on my brain, and that both interrupts the process and makes it less fun.

I'm going to work on a few short stories in the interim, but I'm already feeling an itch to start another novel.  That's hard to ignore because I love to write, but I need to focus on shorter stories and finish some editing first.  Still, it's nice to know that even a novel as draining to create as Schism doesn't rob me of the motivation to write for very long.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Posting Schedules

A buddy of mine once wrote me that he was amazed I managed three fresh blog posts a week.  He told me that his own hectic schedule limited him to two posts per week, so he didn't know how I did it.  On days like today, I see his point more than I want.

I'm now in the middle of one of the wildest months of my life, with several events happening at basically the same time.  You know about one of them - the birth of my daughter, Amelia.  However, that's far from the only life changing event this month.  Most of the rest are work related, as I'm assuming several new responsibilities that require focus.  At the same time, I know that drawing readers requires consistency so that they know they can count on a new post showing up on schedule.

So, how do I manage to consistently make new posts each week?  It's simple - I usually plan in advance.

Granted, today was not one of those days.  In fact, I haven't been able to truly plan in advance for almost a month now, but that doesn't mean I stop trying.  It's probably more important than ever now for me to plan ahead since life will get in the way if I try to wing it.  Making sure new posts get up on schedule can be challenging if I wait until the last minute, but I've found myself doing that more and more in the past few weeks.

However, what I normally like to do is prepare three posts and write them all on the Saturday or Sunday the week before they're published.  I can schedule all three of them to come out at a certain time, and I can be done for the week.  Sure, I'll always respond to comments, and I'll also be prepared to post on something new if there's breaking news that just has to get out right away, but that's almost never the case on this blog.

It takes me around 30 minutes to write a post, and I sit down and try to do all three in a 90 minute span on Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, sometimes I'm either tired, or sick, or something comes up...or I just plain don't feel like it.  And that's where I get into trouble.

The feeling of finishing a week's worth of posts is incredible, but I can convince myself I'm good if I do two posts, because then I don't have to do another one until Thursday.  Yeah - four days off BABY!

Thing is that Thursday creeps up on me a lot faster than I think it will, as it did today.  I then find myself hemming and hawing about whether anyone would notice if I skipped just this once.  I can find all kinds of rationalization to not post, but I then recognize it for the excuse it is.  I liken it to my writing schedule - skip one day and it becomes easier to skip the next day as well.

I guess that's why I push through, so that I don't fall into that trap.  I've fallen in before when writing a novel, and breaking the inertia again to get back into a flow is painful.  I can't afford that to happen with this blog or it'll fall by the wayside quicker than the Pacers' defense parted for LeBron James.  I've only had one extended absence for this blog, and that wasn't something I could do anything about.

It requires more discipline on my part so that I pump out posts in advance for the week and don't hit that wall on Thursday evening.  Remembering that I get some kind of peace of mind when my week is free to do other things, like edit one of my novels, should help spur me on.

Or at least that's what I tell myself.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Character Growth

She was at it yet again.

My latest novel sat unfinished on my desk.  There were things that were missing, and the Muse was off on another of her crazy forays, leaving me in the lurch.  Couldn't she be consistent just once?

I found her on the downstairs couch, her feet propped up as she polished off another donut.  "What do you think you're doing?"

"Catching up on the latest Breaking Amish show.  Did you know that Rebecca was a smoker?"

I looked from her to the TV and back again.  I'm sure the only thing that kept my eyeballs from popping out of my skull and hitting the ground was the retinal nerve attached to them.  Surely she felt this, but she stayed fixated on her show.

"I've got a deadline to reach and you're here watching some narcissistic kids who can't decide whether it was a good idea for them to leave an extreme religious sect?" I finally spluttered.

"Shhh," she admonished.  "I want to see why this guy hates Jeremiah so much."

That did it.  I yanked the remote from her hand and switched off the TV.

"Hey!" she yelled.  "I was watching that."

"Not anymore," I snapped.  "You've got to help me figure out why my characters are so flat.  Realism is something my readers expect, so it's time to get off your ass and start singing to me again."

Her sigh felt like a hurricane gust.  "This isn't hard to get.  Your characters are flat because none of them has depth.  They exist solely for a scene, and then you forget about them until several dozen pages later.  If you aren't thinking about them, why should the reader?"

"Why should I give a shit?" I asked, half annoyed and half curious.  "Every piece has its place."

"Maybe in your book, but not in life.  Listen, you were the one who asked me about why your characters weren't real, and now you don't like the answer you got.  These people have to develop over time so that readers can get to know each of their idiosyncrasies.  Few people care about a character they only see once, but bring them along slowly and give each a quirk of his or her own, and people begin to relate."

Thinking about this, I realized she was right.  However, I needed her guidance or all her words would be lost.  I wanted to drag her back to my room the way I'd done before, but she'd hidden in the closet a couple of times when I did that, so I decided on a different tact.

"The characters will be so much more believable if you helped breathe life into them," I said.  "You'll be depriving them of that life if you don't help."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," she said, but her tone implied it would.

"Come on," I teased.  "Don't you want to make them dance to your tune?  You do it so much better than I could."

"That's true, but if I give in too easily, you won't learn to appreciate my contributions."

"Not so," I protested.  "We've had our differences, but we make such a good team when we work together that I'd think you relished our time."

She sat up and said, "I do, but you don't let me do my own thing.  You're always trying to get me to work on your schedule.  When do I get to do what I want to do?"

"Tell you what," I said.  "You give me 5,000 good words on making my characters more realistic, and we'll DVR Breaking Amish.  You can watch it in the morning when I go to work.  Just think - the whole house all to yourself so you can listen to them scream at each other."

She chewed on hr cheek and finally said, "It would be nice to watch without distraction."

"Of course it would," I reached out my hand and she gingerly took it.  I pulled her up and kissed her on the cheek before leading her back upstairs.  I knew that my charms wouldn't always work, but I had to take the good with the bad when it came to her.  In the end, she was worth it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Revisions Begin

Ever since finishing the first draft of my latest novel, I've been taking it easy.  I've caught up on some reading, and I've been helping out a few friends with writing of their own, in addition to doing what I could for my new daughter.  However, it's time I got back to the whole writing professionally thing, and I've moved on by beginning to revise a novel I finished a year ago - Wrongful Death.
(What would you cut out of this?)
First of all, I've decided to keep the title.  I thought about going to something new when I discovered a Robert Dugoni novel of the same name, but I then found out Dugoni wasn't the only one who used it.  Since it's the strongest title I have, encompassing so much of what the book is about, I'm sticking with it.

In the past couple of days, I started the first revision.  Wrongful Death came in at 67,842 words, and based on my previous editing forays, I figured I'd be cutting at least 13,000 words out of it.  However, something interesting has become apparent while I edit - I'm writing much more efficiently.

What I mean by that is that there are fewer extraneous words in Wrongful Death than there were in either Salvation Day or Akeldama.  At first I thought that this was me simply being rusty at seeing extraneous words, so I went back through with a fine tooth comb.  That was when I found that I just wasn't using the extra adjectives and adverbs as much as I used to.

I'm wondering if this was a one time deal, or if I've really become more efficient.  While writing, I intentionally allow the words to flow freely and not try to edit as I put down my prose(it was maddening the few times I caught myself doing that).  However, it appears I've been subconsciously editing as I write and keeping the points short.  I like this development - it makes me feel like I'm growing as a writer - and I'm curious to see if the phenomenon continues with Schism.

I'm averaging four chapters a day on the first round, so I hope to be finished with the initial cut by this time next week.  At that point, Wrongful Death will go back into a drawer for at least another month so I can look at it with fresh eyes yet again.

The best thing about editing something a year after its completion - a year in which I haven't even looked at it - is that it feels like picking up a copy of an old book I used to enjoy and remembering why I liked it.  The story of Christian Gettis still fascinates me, and I'm getting a thrill finding the nuances in the novel I'd forgotten about.  Sure, some of this sounds very self-congratulatory, but I'm having fun.  As I've said, I write stories I enjoy and hope other people will come along for the ride.  It's nice to see I still like this one, and I think others will as well.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Breaking Momentum - Schism Edition

Although I've been basking in the glow of finishing my most recent novel, I've also been taking stock of what went right and what went wrong.  Writing Acts One and Two were among the easiest things I've ever done(from a writing perspective).  However, Act Three took a little more effort, and Act Four was downright rough.

Part of it may have come down to my knowing how the book would kick off.  I've been envisioning Acts One and Two in some form for quite some time.  Acts Three and Four, on the other hand, were always a bit more nebulous and required more time spent on the outline than the other parts.  Although I had an idea where the last half of the book would go, I'd never really nailed it down until the actual writing process began.

But I think I winnowed down my difficulty with Act Four, and it was a problem I've identified before but failed to take to heart in this instance until I was almost across the finish line - momentum.  I set a goal of 2,000 words per day, which normally takes me just over an hour if I'm in the zone.  Unfortunately, I almost never start out in the zone and can only get there by grinding through the first few hundred words and establishing a rhythm.

During the first two acts, I'd sit down and write 2,000 words straight.  Sometimes, I'd be so caught up in it that I'd lose track of my word count and end up at 3,000 or 4,000 words without even realizing it.  In Act Four, though, I'd sit down and pound out 400 or 500 words in the few spare moments I had, and I could never establish that all important rhythm.  Sure, sometimes there was a legitimate reason, such as starting to outrun my outline, but usually it was just a matter of not forcing myself to make an hour of uninterrupted time to write.

The final three days writing Schism, I finally just sat my rear end in a chair and slogged through to the end.  Around May 2nd, I was at 32,000 words and knew I had about another 8,000 or 9,000 to go in order to reach a satisfying ending.  The pace I was at, plus the new events in my life, threatened to make it so that I wouldn't finish until the middle of the month...and even that might have been a stretch.  Therefore, as my new daughter was asleep and my wife was catching up on dreams of her own, I sat at my computer, outline in hand, and tore into the last bit.

That was when I rediscovered something I always knew when I found a rhythm - the longer I wrote, the easier it became.  The words flowed so much easier once I was on a continuous path than they did when I stopped and started.  I thought that if I finished my muddling writing at an exciting place, I could pick up again right where I left off and it would be easy.  What I didn't realize was that the place I'd left off at was exciting precisely because I'd started getting into a rhythm and then suddenly stopped.  Compare it to peeing - once the flow is strong, don't stop, or starting up again gets painful.

I'm going to take a break from novels for a couple of months just so I can get my head on straight again, but the ideas are already starting to flow for what I'm going to work on next.  The key for me will be to take the lessons learned here and apply them to my next venture so it remains as fun as it did during the first two months and not as much of a grind as it was the last two.  Of course, maybe I could help myself by not writing an almost 160,000 word first draft as well.  I promise that my next work will be "normal" sized.

Who am I kidding?  If I knew what normal was, I wouldn't be a writer.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What is "Good Enough?"

We writers obsess over our work.  We go back through each line and wonder, Did I adequately cover the plot point here?  Which characters are fully developed, and which ones are lacking?

Such obsession is a good thing when done in moderation(I know, I know, obsessively moderate sounds with it).  It helps increase the quality of our work and lets each revision be better than the last one.  However, at some point, is the price of the qualitative increase really worth it?

Some are now shocked I would say such a thing.  "How could you?" they'll shriek.  "We should want our work to be perfect!"

That would be a lovely goal, but it's a tad unrealistic.  At some point, in my opinion, you reach a point of diminishing returns.  Holding ourselves to a high standard is a good thing, but holding ourselves to perfection, especially when it prevents us from ever releasing our work, becomes self-destructive.
(Is this good enough to watch the game on, or will you forego football until you get that 82" flatscreen?)
George Patton used to say that a good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan executed next week.  The gist is that sometimes we have to go forward with what we have.  We can nitpick every fine detail until it's pitch perfect, but I'm not sure we'd ever release our stories.

Have you ever written a story that you kept going back to over and over to revise?  Did that story ever get in front of readers?  If not, then I urge you to go back and ask yourself if your own vision of perfection was the enemy to getting readers to enjoy what you envisioned.

This isn't to say that we should be going out an intentionally releasing shitty work.  We've all written stuff that isn't up to snuff, and we know better than to put it out there since it'll crush the trust the reader has given us to produce quality.  That's not what I'm talking about - I'm talking about knowing that we have a good story that people would enjoy, but refusing to release it because we want to just make one more change.  That kind of thinking is exactly what keeps a lot of people single since they yearn for the perfect guy or gal and won't see the quality right in front of them.  This leads to regret years down the road when they realize the opportunities they've lost.

Look back at that piece of work you've been holding onto.  Is it really because it isn't ready, or is it because you keep fine tuning it into oblivion.  Remember that perfect is the enemy of good, so is your stuff at the level of good?  If so, give it a whirl and find out what happens rather than perfecting a piece that no one will ever see because you don't know when to let go.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bend Over and Take It Like a Good Little Peon

As if some of my posts haven't done enough to completely kill any chance I ever had in landing an agent, I thought, Why the hell shouldn't I do another?

Rachelle Gardner is considered one of the top flight literary agents out there, and people are clawing at the chance to get her to represent them.  In the interest of full disclosure, back in the olden days - when I thought I wanted to go the traditional publishing route - I submitted Akeldama to her.  I never got a response, but I didn't hold it against her since I know agents get inundated with queries every day.

However, a recent post she made on her site not only further validated my decision to not go the traditional publishing route, but it ensured that I would never seek her out as an agent for any reason whatsoever.  In fact, it made me silently thank God for having not been picked up by her in the first place.  In her article, not only does Ms. Gardner defend the odious practice of publishers trying to force non-compete clauses down the throats of writers, she did so in a manner which reeked of, "You pitiful wretched peasants!  You should just shut up and take it if you know what's good for you like we - your superiors - do."

For the uninitiated, a non-compete clause is one of the more anachronistic throw back contract clauses that publishers try to make writers agree to.  It says, in essence, you can only publish through them, and you can't try to sell work to anyone else on your own, even if that means you can't indie publish.  This gives the publishing house total control over the flow of your work, which they can decide to publish or not.  Decades ago, this was used to make it so that authors wouldn't publish more than one book a year(the thinking being that the public would quickly tire of an overexposed writer...Stephen King famously took this on with The Bachman Books).  However, since most writers don't create blockbusters that sell millions of copies, they need multiple books on the market so they can do crazy things like eat and put a roof over their head.  And since the expansion of POD and the digital marketplace, it is easier than ever for a writer to bypas the yearlong, or longer, process that it takes for a traditional publishing company to put something on shelves.

What the non-compete clause does is prevent you, as the writer, from putting out books on your own timeline.  The reasoning is that you could sabotage the effort the publisher has put into creating your brand and undercut their work.  However, given the amount of effort most traditional publishers put into marketing a new author, this is complete bullshit.  It's a throwback that is no longer relevant in the modern world.

However, Ms. Gardner demonstrates an incredible amount of tone deafness by defending publishers doing this.  The publisher "has an investment to protect" and self publishing something else will just "interfere with the saleability of the brand they're building."  The first part of this argument makes the absurd assertion that readers that come across your books and like them won't venture out and buy other books you've written.

Let's let that sink in for a second.

That's right - somehow getting yourself in front of an audience and having them enjoy your work will prevent them from buying more of it.  You know, the same way that having people eat an ice cream sundae will prevent them from ever ordering another one.

Second, she talks down to her blogging audience by saying that self publishing books will lead to a decline in quality.  You know my thinking on this, that publishers seem to have as much of a grasp on what the reading public thinks is quality as the Detroit Lions have a grasp on what makes a consistently winning football franchise.  In fact, her own mantra is that she and the publishers - the folks who really make this business go(you thought it was the writer?  Pshaw, that's just crazy talk!) - know what's best for you, and you should listen to them because not only are they looking out for you, but they understand quality, and some backwoods hick like yourself won't have a clue about it until you've had years of their tutelage.

But the biggest thing that sticks in my craw here is that she's defending the traditional publishing houses' most egregious power grabs, and she's supposed to be representing writers.  I expect this kind of stuff out of publishers.  After all, they have a business to run and I acknowledge that it's simply natural that they'll look after their own bottom line first.  However, an agent is supposed to be the employee of the writer, and so is supposed to work for me.

That's right - despite all this impressing an agent stuff, they work for you as the writer, no matter what they might want to think.

I have no use for an agent that doesn't get this, which is most of them.  If I were to hire a literary agent, I would expect them to fight tooth and nail for me.  If one of them tried to get me to sign anything remotely resembling a non-compete clause, I'd fire that person on the spot.  Yet here she is defending the practice.  The sheer chutzpah it takes to do so both boggles my mind and shows me she's more interested in staying cozy with her bread and butter, traditional publishers, than she is in fighting for her clients.

Ms. Gardner tried, two days later, to claim it was all a mistake and that she never meant to imply that she didn't work very hard for writers, but this was only after a deluge of negative comments on the subject.  Anyone who has read her blog knows that most of the comments to her posts have been one ass-kissing fest after another, so it was stunning to see the way people let her have it(of course, after this mea culpa, over 90% of her readers once again turned into sniveling weenies that hoped she would be good enough to notice them).  She may even believe it herself, but I don't buy it; not from her, and not from the majority of other literary agents.  I've seen far too many show where their true allegiance lies(with traditional publishers), and that allegiance simply got exposed this time.

Like I said, I fully realize what posts like this do to my chances of ever landing an agent, and if I wanted that, I'd be worried.  However, having moved beyond that, I'm unconcerned.  Much like the horse and buggy, the zeppelin, and Snooki, agents have outlived their usefulness and just get in the way of the writer and his or her audience.
(Like this cactus, I'm sure an agent is useful for something, but I can't figure out what that might be)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Schism Complete!

As you know, I've been diligently working on my newest novel since the beginning of January.  The last little bit has been challenging, and certain events in my life haven't aided completion all that much.  However, I am now proud to report that Schism is finally in the bag!

I finished up the final act just a couple of days ago.  It's entitled "Act IV:  Restoration of the Republic," and it came in as the longest part at 41,751 words.  Once done, I calculated the whole thing and discovered that I'd written a 158,611 word novel in 127 days.  Not to pat myself on the back too much, even though I'm going to, but that's a heck of an accomplishment, and one I'm very proud of.  Granted, this is just the first draft, with no editing or revision as of yet, but it gets me to six books that should be ready to go once I start publishing them.

Act IV presented quite the challenge.  I had to show what the results of a military coup following a civil war would look like.  Then I had to figure out how to bring about a satisfying resolution that didn't leave America in the hands of an unelected government.  That in itself could have been a separate book, but I needed to do it in a relatively short timeframe that allowed it to flow seamlessly into the rest of the work.

The act began with the imposition of a new order and the attempted rebuilding of America after the Second Civil War.  The general in charge directed all resources toward putting the pieces back together and preventing a new conflict.  Doing so required the restriction of several freedoms we take for granted.  Initially grateful that the violence is over, the American people gradually awoke to the new reality, and some had to come to terms that their own hatreds and apathies brought this about.

There are several things in the work I agree with, and several other things I had to write against type for.  Authors have to make leaps of faith in their work, and I'm no different.  I'm a pessimist by nature, and I could easily see the first three acts actually happening, especially in this environment of hyperpartisanship.  We all get so entrenched and emotionally invested in our "own side" that we often fail to independently evaluate each situation, relying instead on whether it comes from a person we support or oppose.  Additionally, there are so many apathetic people out there who care more about the latest version of the iPhone than they do about how the intricacies of the law affect them that I wonder if they could get involved enough to prevent the extremists on either side from pushing us over the edge.

The biggest leap of faith I had to take was in the way the country rallied to take back its government.  I have serious doubts that enough people give enough of a shit to get so involved and would be prepared to commit to the necessary sacrifice.  This is an area I fervently desire to be wrong about - I'd like nothing better than for the masses of America to once again get involved in the political process and hold both our leaders and our extremists to account, but little that I see in public discourse gives me hope.

In Act IV, it took the actions of a few motivated and inspired individuals to pull the rest of the country along, and maybe that's how it would happen.  Act IV is all at once depressing and hopeful, showing both the inevitable corruption of concentrated power and the potential of the American people to rise up and reclaim their destiny.  I wonder whether it would take something as dramatic as losing our freedoms before people decided to get involved.  Would it be too late at that point?  In Schism, the people pull this back just as things really begin to get bad, and they're aided by a cohort of people in the new government who still have a conscience.

Schism will be the third novel I plan to release.  It's a standalone that I think will satisfy both the political junkie and the person looking for a fast moving action story.  The book is more story driven than character driven, although there are several characters essential to the plot.  However, I had to work hard to not forget about people who were big players early on in the story but whose importance faded as the plot developed.

While I enjoyed writing Schism, I'm going to hold off a few months before I start a new novel.  This one became exhausting near the end; so exhausting, in fact, that I'll need to recheck it down the road to make sure I didn't rush the ending.  It also occurred to me that along with Canidae, which I finished only a few short weeks before starting Schism, I've been writing more or less continuously for the past nine months.  That fact really struck me the other day, and I need a break from novel writing.  I plan instead to work on editing Wrongful Death, as well as branching out more into short stories.  This should keep me sharp without worrying about the daily grind of getting to the end of a novel since I can write a pretty coherent short story in a day.

But that's all once I take a short break to focus more on family.  I mean, it's not like I can start another outline with a new child in my arms...or can I?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

To Kill A Mocking...Agent

As the three of you who have followed me for the last year know, I have undergone a stunning transformation from traditional publishing wannabe to staunch defender of the indie movement.  One of the main reasons for this is the distrust I've come to have, through my research, of most literary agents.  A new story in the literary world over the past week has only reinforced this position.

By some standards, Harper Lee isn't a very successful writer.  She has only published one book, and that was over 50 years ago.  However, anyone who has sat through a junior high school english class in that time knows the impact Harper has had on society, for her lone venture in the publishing world was To Kill A Mockingbird.  The impact this story has had on both the literary world and our society at large is legendary.  Even the most cynical among us is usually swept up in the drama of Atticus Finch as he defends a clearly innocent African American accused of rape in the South in the 30s.  I was blown away by the story, and it remains among my favorites.

Alas, not all is a happy ending for Harper and her novel.  She is now in court, suing the son-in-law of her literary agent for taking advantage of her to enrich himself.  The suit says that the man in question, Samuel Pinkus, failed to properly protect her copyright and swindled Ms. Lee into granting him the rights to it.

First, the reason this is even a story is that unlike in most other endeavors, when your agent dies, you as the writer aren't automatically assumed to find a new agent.  Ms. Lee's original agent, Eugene Winick(Pinkus' father-in-law) became ill and died ten years ago.  For those that don't know, once an author is tied to an agent, that relationship lasts longer than the salami you have in your icebox.  When Winick died, Ms. Lee didn't get the chance to grieve and then figure out what new agent to hire, much as we would if our lawyer or favorite personal chef died.  No, the literary agency Winick was part of simply reassigned her a new agent(Pinkus).

The process of finding an agent is long and intense, marked by many more misses than hits.  A lot of agents would like for you to think that they are the gatekeepers and are performing oversight for us poor masses who simply don't yet know the publishing world, but in truth, the writer is hiring a person to represent them.  This relationship has to be solid and nuanced, and you don't just go with the first person who shows interest(even though many writers do just that, leading to innumerable problems).

If your child's personal tutor died, would you just accept whoever was sent over without any chance to vet that person?  I would hope you'd shop around and find that right match.  But in this case, Pinkus simply became Lee's agent.

He then, allegedly, conned her into signing over her copyright to him.  I could go on for days about the stupidity I think revolves around most copyrights and the publishing industry(usually assigned for the life of the author plus 70 years...meaning your great grandchildren would be lucky to get the rights back), but it is inherently incompatible with an agent's duties to have the rights to a copyright.  An agent that owns the copyright now no longer represents the author - they have ownership in the work itself.  Such double dealing should make the hairs on any author's neck stand up.

The only reason we're hearing about this is that Lee is so famous.  Perhaps the dregs of publishing society that don't have as much success needn't worry about this because they're not as successful, but their lack of stature makes this all that harder to fight if it happens.  Ms. Lee will benefit from her stature; how would the rest of us fare?

I hope she brings this guy to his knees and gets the judgment.  I also hope a lot of writers reading this take heed and think twice about their dealings with the agent world.  I'm sure some are great, working tirelessly for their clients, but my continued research has shown me far more of these types of stories rather than of the ones of selfless agents.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


It's been a long week in the Meyer household.  My newest daughter has been doing little more than eating, sleeping, and pooping.  She's a fussy little thing, although I have no idea where should could've gotten that from.  :-P

I've tried to sneak some writing in here and there, and I've managed to come within striking distance of finishing Schism.  However, with a new child in the house, life has gotten considerably more complicated.  In addition to taking care of another baby, my first daughter still requires attention.  I've tried to devote a lot of my time to her since there's precious little I can do for the newborn besides lie awake out of guilt when her mother goes to feed her at 2:30am.

So imagine both my surprise and delight when I rounded the corner into our living room a few nights ago and saw this:
(My budding author)
That's right - Rachel decided she was going to write a book.  This isn't actually the first book she's written, but the others were just on scraps of paper.  This one, she decided, would be a coherent story on construction paper that she would "publish" by stapling the pages together once she was done.  The story is about a Chinese princess trying to capture a Chinese fairy(she's really into fairies right now) so she can watch it dance.

And this isn't the only thing she's into writing.  She's writing several songs that come to mind.  Whether they're about her new sister or a dream she's had, she churns out something new at least once a week.

To watch the Muse take hold of her and inspire her to create has been magical.  True, she's not churning out War & Peace, but she's also only seven years old.  She's getting a two year head start on me since my first foray into storytelling didn't begin until I was nine.  She's also come to me a few times asking me to read over what she  writes and give her feedback.

I'll admit, that's a hard balance to strike.  If I'm anywhere close to too hard, I risk stomping on the flame before it can grow.  At the same time, I want to gently nudge her down the path of excellence, so I need to say something.  I've tried to be encouraging, as well as an interested reader, and mostly I've only focused on her spelling at this point.  The questions I ask about the story are geared more towards exciting her imagination further rather than critiquing the content(So, what did the fairy do when she was done dancing for the queen?).

I'm really hoping she keeps on this path, and her mother and I will do what we can to encourage her to develop her imagination in this way.  We love listening to her stories and the songs she's written, and we try to ask for more.  A couple of days ago when her favorite TV show was on, I called her in to the TV room so she could catch up with the action, and I can't tell you how proud I was when she replied, "I think I'll go into the living room and work on my book instead."

This, of course, might be nothing more than a passing fancy.  After all, she's also expressed the desire to be either an engineer, a restaurant owner, or a dog groomer, but I'm enjoying the moment while it lasts.  If she decides that she wants to do more with it, I'll happily do whatever it takes to develop her interest.  And if she abandons it to go down a different path, that's okay too.  She's seven, and her whole road lies in front of her.

Now I've just got to get her to describe that road to us...
(Ready for her first book signing)