Thursday, August 29, 2013

Author Loyalty

If you're anything like me, you have loyalty to certain products.  You get into a routine with your favorite soda or TV show, and you do it for two reasons - that product provides quality, and it has grown comfortable.  It's no different with authors.

I love to read.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of published folks out there who couldn't write their name in the snow.  That's why I tend to stick to certain writers once I find someone good.  I'll devour everything they've written and anxiously await their next work.  In this way, I stay loyal to certain authors the same way I stay loyal to certain cleaning products.

However, author loyalty can be a complex issue once you dig beneath the surface.  While I enjoy certain writers and will usually read everything I can, I should caveat that by saying that I'll read everything they write in a certain genre.  JK Rowling is a perfect example - I loved her Harry Potter books, but The Casual Vacancy just wasn't my cup of tea.  If she writes anything more in the realm of fantasy or wizardry, I'll buy it, but just as I wouldn't go out an get a bottle of Mr. Clean to paint my walls with, I won't go out and buy an author's books where I know I wouldn't enjoy the genre.

So long as writers stay within parameters, I remain as loyal as any dog.  Harry Turtledove writes a lot of alternate history, and I've probably read every one.  William Forstchen has done some great sci-fi/civil war stuff that I can't get enough of(and I'm still waiting on him to return to it).  That's the essence of loyalty - mutual advantage.  Writers please the customer base with their stories, and customers buy new stuff.

Is all of this a bit basic, at least from an economic point of view?  Probably, but my recent reading, as well as my anticipation of the upcoming Doctor Sleep, really got me thinking about my favorites, and why they're my favorites.  Not only will I read from these writers, but I'll both defend them(when I hear someone talk about the person not being any good) and try to get others to sample them(knowing they'll get just as hooked).  Maybe that comes down to the need we all feel to have our feelings validated.

In the end, we glom onto our favorites, and as long as they don't betray us, we feel comforted by the stability they provide in the form of enjoyment.  Are there any writers, besides yourself, you feel loyal to?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who's Really the Writer?

I've decided to go the indie route for publishing for several reasons, not the least of which being the freedom I'll have when my work comes out.  I often hear friends of mine who've gone the traditional publishing route gripe about how they feel constrained by their agent, their editor, their publishing house, etc.  "I can't write the story the way I want to write it" is a common complaint.

However, I often wonder just how much of this is legitimate and how much of it is complaint about a safety net.  After all, if the end product doesn't come out the way the writer wants, he or she can say that it was the fault of the editor(or whoever last had it).  It alleviates the writer of responsibility for the end product and gives that person an excuse for why it's not a wonderful piece of work.

To me, this is an absolute bullshit excuse.  As the writer, it's your responsibility for the finished product.  Your editor or agent can cajole, threaten, and intimidate you about changing it, but that doesn't change the fact that it's your name on the cover.  If the suggestions made are going to alter your story to the point where you feel it's no longer your story, then you have a duty to politely tell them to "fuck off."

Yes, this might cost you your publisher or agent.  That's when you have to ask yourself if they were buying your story or you, and then redesigning the story you thought you were selling them.  It's one thing if an editor helps tweak your work so that you can better get across your point, but it's something altogether different if they change the foundation of what you wrote.

Unfortunately, too many author-wannabes are so grateful to have gotten a glance from an agent or editor that they'll meekly go along with changes they know to be bad for the book.  And as long as writers are willing to tolerate this rather than walk away, it will continue.  There comes a time when you have to remember who really writes the story.  I know lots of editors and agents will crow loudly about how they can simply move on to the next wannabe, but I take comfort from the fact that traditional publishing is declining and readers are finding other ways to get their fix.  It's up to us as writers to know the difference between helping a story and creating a new one, one that destroys the vision that you as the writer initially held.

So who's in charge of your work?  Do you have final say, or is it someone who would like to have written your book and wants to change it to what they'd have written?  The answer to that will say a lot about whether this is a fun occupation that you will enjoy, or if it's just another job and you're just another cog.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Recent Reading List

Writers aren't just people who like to go out an write while ignoring everybody else out there.  I'm sure we're the most voracious readers out there, and most of us are reading several things at once.  Therefore, I decided to provide a peek inside my mind an talk about what I'm either in the middle of or have recently completed.

1.  I, Zombie - I've stopped and started this one several times.  It's a good book - it's just that I haven't dedicated the time I should have to it.  Hugh Howey's look at what becomes of us after becoming a zombie is a fascinating tale of free will and the revulsion most of us would feel at being unable to change what we are.  The people who become zombies in this book are like spectators to events - they can see and feel everything, but they can't change anything about their behavior.  It'd be more compassionate to simply find a way to die, and most of the zombies in this book are silently begging for death.

2.  The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks is the current acknowledged master of zombie fiction, and this can be looked at as either marvelous or hysterical, depending on your point of view.  This book is written from a completely serious standpoint in an apocalyptic scenario, and if there was an actual zombie outbreak, this book would quickly become invaluable in keeping people alive.  Brooks talks a little about the Solanum Virus that creates zombies in this fictional reality, and then he goes into full blown teaching mode.  There are instructions on what weapons to buy(and avoid), what clothing to wear, and even how to style your hair(having longer hair makes it easier for zombies to grab you).  He then goes into detail about how to find a survival hideout and how to fortify it against attacks, both by zombies and by the rampaging gangs of criminals that are sure to be on the loose.  A fun read, and useful if the worst ever happens.

3.  The War After Armeggedon - I like Ralph Peters and really enjoyed The War in 2020.  Whether you like this book will depend on what you're wanting to get out of it.  If all you want is a fast paced adventure story, this is the novel for you.  If you're looking for a realistic premise...look somewhere else.  In this book, the United States and Europe suffered a series of debilitating attacks from jihadists in the Middle East.  The US suffers the worst of it and decides to strike back hard.  However, the terrorist strikes also create a surge towards radical evangelism that makes the US a fundamental theocracy.  There are two militaries - the regular US Armed Forces, and the Military Order of Brother In Christ(MOBIC), kind of like the Wehrmacht and the SS.  Although MOBIC is militarily inept, that's where the power lies.  Interesting political commentary, but a bit too far fetched for me.  Still, a good read if you don't want to take something too seriously/

4.  The Shining - I've spoken a lot about The Shining.  Stephen King is the premier horror writer of our time - possibly of all time - and this book has been a tremendous inspiration for me and my style.  It's about a man named Jack Torrance and his family as they spend a winter as caretakers at The Overlook Hotel in Colorado during the winter.  The hotel is psychic and wants to kill them so it can absorb Jack's son Danny's considerable abilities.  Danny is the brightest psychic around, even though he's only five years old, and this ability is referred to as "shining."  This is more than a ghost story.  King says he can write a ghost story "in my sleep," but this tale is about how Jack gets corrupted by both the ghosts and his own inner demons(mostly alcoholism and the relationship he had with his father).  When read properly, you find yourself in the middle of the terror one page and never really know how you got there.  So, if I've read it so much before, why am I reading it again?  Quite simply because its sequel, Doctor Sleep, will be out in a month and I'm revisiting this prior to picking that one up.  I haven't looked forward to a sequel like this in a long time, so I hope King doesn't disappoint.

Well, that's it from me.  What are you currently reading?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Setting Goals and Feeling Guilt

I've been working on Homecoming for around a month now, but I'm not happy with the progress.  At the end of July, I got to 14,000 words and thought I was well on the way, but life intruded, and some of my stuff went on the back burner.

This made me start feeling guilty.  I wondered how would I ever complete my novel by the end of September(like I'd originally planned) if I didn't get around to writing it?  In fact, it crippled some of my fun online - why was I surfing on Facebook or reading political periodicals if I hadn't written anything?  I began to have some serious guilty feelings.

I tried to rationalize what I was doing by saying stupid stuff like "I already have five novels ready, and a short story collection would be easy to put together in a matter of weeks" or "I've got plenty of time - my writing season isn't going to be done until December."  However, these were little but mealy-mouthed reasons why I wasn't doing what I needed to.  Besides, I didn't really want to butt up against another writing season - the schedule of it all last year was exhausting.

It wasn't anything to do with the story.  Like I said earlier, I'm excited about this novel, especially since I re-tooled the point of view.  Still, I couldn't get off my derriere and write.  That's when I figured out that I had two problems.

First, I just wasn't putting in the time.  I was going to bed when I got tired or I wasn't staying at work and putting it together in pieces during my lunch break or some such.  I decided to fix that most ricky-tic.

Second, and more importantly, I hadn't set a series of word count goals to get from A to B.  I envision Homecoming being an 80,000 to 85,000 word novel, but I didn't sit down and think about both the writing schedule and how to get there.  Therefore, I finally did that.

As you read this, I'm currently in Germany on a business trip.  I decided that I needed to be at 20,000 words by the time I left.  Once I got back into the flow, that was an easy goal to reach.  Then I thought about all the time I'd be spending in the air and broke up my hours into writing sessions, computer battery dependent.  It's a loooooooooong flight anywhere from Hawaii, so I made it my goal to get 5,000 words done during the trip to Germany, as well as another 5,000 during the trip back.  Then, once in Germany, I wanted to do another 8,000 in the 10 days I'd be there.  I can do about 2,000 words an hour if I'm on my game, so that isn't an unrealistic goal.
(He's got game!)
I have two other business trips planned for September - one to Alaska and one to American Samoa - so that's even more time to get stuff accomplished.  I've set goals for each trip(to be at 59,000 at the end of Alaska and 75,000 at the end of Samoa).  Then, after I get back, I'm having a minor surgical procedure done, after which I'm not allowed on my feet for a couple of days.  These events mean that reaching the September 30th goal is now achievable.  My biggest concern now is not outrunning my outline...again.

Setting attainable goals, and then following through, is the key to living without guilt.  If only I understood this better before now, I wouldn't have wasted all that time worrying.
(Should I be worried about the butterflies eating me?)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taking Background For Granted

If you're anything like me, you know that we writers have ideas for whole worlds locked away in our heads.  When I'm developing a story, I'll come up with everything from the characters' quirks to the history of the world in question.  It's exciting to think in terms of worlds no one else knows.

However, the problem of no one else knowing is that getting it down on paper can be challenging.  What I mean by that is that I don't just have to get it down on paper, but I have to get everyone to understand the contextual reasons why things are unfolding the way they are.

Readers are much like aliens visiting our world.  How would you explain to that alien the ethnic strife on our planet without that alien knowing the reasons behind it.  Could they really get the hatred between Shia and Sunni, or the reason for a gun culture existing in the United States but not in Great Britain?  Without the proper context, it would look absurd to them.
(Quite a cultural and fashion statement...but why?)
Our stories are the same way.  To get why we're taking a story in a certain direction, a reader must know the background behind it.  This can be range from the mundane, such as family strife set on the American frontier, to the grandiose, such as an epic science fiction novel set 6,000 years from now.  Whatever the story is, it lacks depth if the reader doesn't get the background.

I've written out lots of stuff that I've had to go back into because I later realized that I took too much for granted.  My new novel, Homecoming, is like that - the background to the story is incredibly important, but I've found myself taking so much of it for granted when writing dialogue or discussing character motivation that I've had to go back and revise.

This problem can be solved, but it takes a skilled writer to solve it in a way that doesn't bore the reader to death.  The most obvious solution is the dreaded info dump where an author gives a full explanation of the context, and it can range anywhere from a paragraph to several pages...or more.  Of course, this is lazy and makes a number of people decide the story is no longer worth it.
(Sometimes it takes a miracle to get people to stay interested)
In my own writing, I've tried to solve this by dropping in hints throughout.  For example, rather than doing a detailed explanation of the alien invasion prior to humanity fleeing Earth, I've put scattered bits in place about parents using allusions to them as a way to scare unruly children or referring in dialogue to our desire to reclaim our homeworld.  I've found that this has to be a carefully controlled process to avoid either extreme.  It also allows the reader's imagination to take root versus giving them everything.

Lots of books and movies - especially movies - take a lot for granted.  The book Battlefield Earth was a high paced sci-fi action novel, leaving aside the Scientology stuff.  However, the movie was terrible, and one of the reasons why was that it was obvious to me, as a person who read the book, that whoever made the movie not only read the book, but loved it, because they took so much background for granted.  If we fall into that trap as writers, people will discard us.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Yes, I've done a post like this in the past, but it recently struck home again just how much it still applies...or maybe even more.  It's a phenomenon known as "Too long; didn't read," or TL;DR.

One of my morning rituals is to read the blogroll on the right side of this page.  However, life events have really made me understand the value of efficiency.  I have so much to do nowadays that I have to budget my time wisely.  I know that might come across as a whine, but it's really just an observation of fact - if I'm having trouble with fitting in everything I'd like, then I'll bet I'm not alone.

I love reading interesting and thought provoking stuff, I really do, but I shake my head when I click on a link to something and find a non-stop wall of writing that goes through several scrolls.  You know what I mean - when that little roller bar on the side of the screen goes from long to extremely tiny.  When I see that, I'll often ask if the piece is important enough to me to read.

I know I miss a lot by clicking out of things due to length, and I don't always do it, but it is a consideration.  Between my new job, my writing, this blog, and my new daughter, I can't spend as much time as I'd like.  Sometimes my time is better spent reading five posts of short length instead of one post of enormous length.

There are things I'll miss as a result, and I accept that.  Unlike most folks, I'm not tied to my phone, and, in fact, I only use it to go online when I'm really bored somewhere and have nothing else to catch my interest.  I also only get online once or twice a day, and that's usually for specific purposes, so I can't spend 15 minutes on one article.  Most of the rest of the time, I'm out making something with my older daughter or trying to find ways for my awesome family and I to bond(bike riding, taking a long walk, bowling, etc.).

It can be frustrating because I know I'm missing out on some great information.  The perspective I get from other writers helps me form my own perspective.  If I could sit down all day at the computer and read the latest post from my favorite bloggers, I would, but time is a finite resource, and we can't spend all of it on someone else's work.  I do what I can, but, in the end, decisions must be made as to where to focus, and longer posts, unless they're earth-shattering, are often the first thing on the chopping block.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Enthusiasm Versus Chores

I wrote recently about how I started Homecoming over.  One of the biggest reasons for that was that the novel was starting to feel like a grind rather than a joy.  I'd started to dread sitting down to my computer each day, and that definitely wouldn't have produced a great product.

Let me be straight - if you don't love what you write, you will fail at being an author.  Most readers can sniff out work for which the writer had no enthusiasm.  If you ever want a real example of this, go into any college writing course that students have to take to graduate, and read their most recent assignment.  Once you get past the grammar and shallow mistakes made by most everyone who is young - sorry, that's not meant as an insult, but just as a fact of life...most people who are young don't write very well, although there are exceptions - you'll easily be able to see who loved the assignment and who was hoping to get out of the class with a passing grade.

When we trudge through work, we leave things out.  Our descriptions are inadequate, and our characters lack depth.  If there's something I'm writing because I have to, and not because I want to, I breeze past things and give no effort to striking an emotional chord.  And when I look back at it, I can tell that I did it only because someone made me(even if that someone is me).

On the other hand, when I'm into writing something, the emotional notes jump out from the page.  When I read a piece from someone who was into it, I can sense the excitement and care coming from it.  It becomes a page turner.  People want to read these things, and they'll seek out more.

This is why it's so important we're invested in our writing.  Authors who pump out novel after novel that they write just to have something out there will usually not find success.  That's a big reason why I take breaks when I'm feeling burned out.  My enthusiasm for my work has to be present or my best work doesn't show itself.  I'm sure some writers could get away with that, but the vast majority can't.
(Spread your wings)
I've been presented several ideas for novels that I was like, "meh."  I'm sure the ideas are fine, but I wasn't the one to write them because I wouldn't have done a good job.  The best stories are the ones I've been fantasizing about in my mind for a while and want to play out.  This keep me into the game and lets people feel the writing instead of enduring it.

Enthusiasm is the key.  How else did Tom Sawyer get that fence whitewashed?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Words Can't Say

I love to write.  Most who read this blog also probably love to write.  That said, there can be times when writing is frustrating.  I don't mean when you have writer's block or when life's distractions get in the way of reaching your daily word count goal.  I'm talking instead of when words simply aren't enough to convey the story.

Writers like to pride ourselves on hitting an emotional note with our readers, but there are times when even our best prose is inadequate to convey what happened.  Having been to combat, I understand just how true this can be.  It's difficult to get across the fear and drive that gets into you when bullets are flying overhead.  Most books talk about "intense fighting" and "battle fatigued Soldiers," but that only lets the reader experience the smallest portion of crawling through the dirt and how fast your heart beats when you're only feet from someone who wants to kill you.  If you've never held a kid's hand as they died or spoken to a grieving mother as you tell her that her son is dead, then you have no real context to understand it when described.

Most of us have been broken up with, so think back to that shitty experience.  We might describe it to others as "heartbreaking" or "crushing," but do those words really express our feelings.  I know a lot of people resort to writing poetry after a breakup, but can that ever really convey the sense of emptiness and loss we felt?
(Why is the world so cold sometimes?)
Even writing this post can be less than fulfilling.  Most writers out there will understand the piece intuitively, without the need for words.  They'll also understand just how little the words impress on someone if there isn't a frame of reference for everyone who reads it.

However, that doesn't mean we give up.  Instead, it should drive us to get even better at conveying our thoughts, for we understand just how inadequate the words will be, especially if we use the wrong ones.  We have to continually study the craft of writing so that we can get across the reality of the situation.  It takes time and skill to evoke a true emotional reaction, and that rarely comes from saying, "It was a hard day of battle."  Not only do we owe that kind of effort to our audience, but we also owe it to those we are writing about.  Otherwise their stories will simply get lost in the dust of time.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Keeping Characters Straight

I've encountered a problem as a writer, and I'll bet I'm not alone.  I'll be in the groove, everything I'm churning out going swimmingly, and I'll need someone in the story to do something when I suddenly forget the character's name.  I'll know that someone should be acting, and it's old what's-his-face, but since he or she hasn't made an appearance in 20 pages, I know have to go back through my work and rediscover them.

What was the character's name?  Were they white, black, or Asian?  Are they frumpy, or were they straight-laced?  More importantly, is this keeping consistent with their character?

This isn't an issue with the one or two main characters.  As I've brainstormed a story, I got to know those folks pretty intimately.  No, the problem usually happens with a minor character.  That person may or may not be vital to the story, but they aren't as big as the main guy, so I don't know them as well.  However, as much as I may not remember them in the heat of the moment, you can bet my readers will.

There is little more frustrating to me than when I'm editing a story and I find an error in consistency like spelling a character's name differently or finding out that I accidentally introduced a new character when I didn't need to(like maybe I needed an assistant sniper in the story and forgot, as a throwaway, that I'd already given one to the main character).  I then have to consider the impact on the story - how many ripples did it cause?  Can I just go back and change names and be done with it?  Or did that new character create a plot inconsistency that changes the whole story?

Some writers avoid this by meticulously mapping out every part of their tale, but most of us outline some and then free-write some.  It's in the editing process that we'll discover it.  I've started making a character page when I'm writing so I can reference it when necessary, but that takes I'd rather be spending writing.  Yes, that sounds lazy, but that's also the truth to how we are sometimes.  I'd love to pretend I have this great work ethic that always keeps me sharp, but everyone slips, and I'm no different.

The best way to avoid this is to know your story all the way.  Understand the interactions and introductions within it, no matter how subtle.  However, even the most intimately familiar relationships sometimes have lapses, so it's how you deal with these lapses that is important.  Or maybe I'm just getting old and my memory is fading.

On the other hand, I could just be getting old and my memory could be fading.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Most of us have, while watching a movie, said, "The book was better."  We've bemoaned the fact that fun elements we enjoyed while holding the novel were left out(like the de-gnoming scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), or that some characters weren't acting as we wanted them to.  And as long as changes were limited to stuff like that, what we were doing was little more than having our own private Bitchfest.

Unfortunately, there's another area of book-to-movie adaptations that require a harder look.  I recently got around to seeing World War Z.  I loved the Max Brooks novel, and it was that book that got me into the whole Zombie Apocalypse craze to begin with.  Therefore, even with the understanding that the movie would have to change some stuff - the novel is written as a journalistic account of the events of World War Z - I was enthusiastic about it.  Twenty minutes in, that enthusiasm changed dramatically.

First of all, let me say this as plain as I can - if you're a fan of the book, do not go see this film.  It bears no resemblance to the book in any way except for the fact that the main character works for the United Nations, and there are zombies.  Even if I hadn't read the book, I'm sure I would've hated this movie.  It's awful.

The movie departed in so many ways that it shouldn't be called World War Z.  There is no mention of the outbreak beginning in China.  There is no mention of the quarantine measures adopted to try and slow the spread, apart from barely a nod to what Israel did that, in the movie, stopped working as soon as the main character landed in Jerusalem.  And one of the best parts, the Battle of Yonkers, isn't even mentioned(the reason the Battle of Yonkers was so important was that it showed that traditional tactics wouldn't work against zombies).

There is nothing resembling The Redeker Plan, which was a central component of the way we defeated the zombie hordes.  Somehow, the way we beat them back in the movie is the brilliant idea to infect as many people as possible with some kind of highly virulent(but somehow curable) disease like Typhoid or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which will act as camouflage against the zombies so we can go in and kill them(somehow they can't detect us if we're so infected we're about to die).  Quite a brilliant strategy when you consider the short duration it can be used - if you can get over your chills and hacking long enough to shoot the zombies, you have to have a cure soon or you'll die from bacteria rather than zombie bites.  Yes, that was sarcasm...this strategy is terrible.

I'd say there's a debate about how ethical it was for the film to use the World War Z name to draw people in while straying about as far as possible from the actual story, but a debate implies a pro and a con side.  There's really no debate - everyone thought this was shameful and warned others about it when they could.  There has to be some level of fidelity in a book-to-movie translation or all you've done is slap a bright shiny label on something that bears no truth in what it claims to be.  I think there has to be a degree of faithfulness to the book, and while I know that can't remain 100%, it has to be at least recognizable.  This thing should have been titled "Just Another Zombie Movie" because it holds no fidelity to the novel.

Yes, I was pissed about it.  Wouldn't you be pissed if you read an online matchmaking site ad about a 135 pound blonde who was a fitness freak only to find she was actually a 300 pound bucket of lard whose only truth in her ad was that she had blonde hair(and hers came out of a bottle)?  But that never happens.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Homecoming Progress Report

I know that all five folks who read this blog have been waiting with baited breath for an update on how my new novel is going.  Well, there's lots of news on that front.

First, the good news.  I'm up to about 14,000 words and still project the first draft to be complete by the end of September.  I've found an interesting angle, and although I don't yet know the full path of the book, I'm enthusiastic about where it's headed.

Now the news that kept me from having more done.  To start with, after getting nearly 10,000 words in, I scrapped what I'd written and started over.  Why?  The simplest reason is that I wasn't happy with what I'd written.  Writing 1,000-2,000 words per day was starting to feel like a chore.  Further, what was on paper wasn't inspiring.  In fact, I could feel it reaching to hit the desired effect.

I spent several days trying to figure out why that was and I eventually settled on the point of view.  I was writing it from the point of view of a ship's captain who was tangentially involved in the action.  Sure, there could be lots of stuff that he could do, but he'd never be directly involved in the big decisions, and trying to put him in a place where he would be was so far of a stretch that I think I threw my shoulder out.  I grimaced as I realized that what I'd written was near worthless, but knowing that finishing it, if I even could, would produce crappy work, I decided to start over.

I changed the main character from an action oriented observer to an actual observer.  I'm still writing the novel in a journal format, but it's being told by a historian.  The mission to reclaim our homeworld by a far-future human race is so big in the novel's world that surely the fleet would want it recorded for future generations.  I made Shalliko Kai a person selected by those in charge for his historical expertise, and it's his job to watch what happens with mankind's expedition and prepare his journal to become a history book that will be read far and wide.  However, his journal is but the first draft - an important one to be sure, but still a first draft that will capture the raw emotions and action of the situation, as well as Kai's waning enthusiasm for the mission as reality starts to set in.

The book's world opened up when I made that switch.  I found storyline possibilities that were closed to me when I limited the character's world.  Now, Kai has to be at the center of the biggest parts of the story - that's his job.  He can be with the space faring fleet as it fights its way to Earth, and then he can transition to resettling our former world as people start to land.  Additionally, as humanity has to deal with the remnants of both its former enemies and an unexpected human population that still resides on Earth, the main character can watch and report without interfering in the action.  Sure, his thoughts and feelings will still be recorded - in fact, they're essential to portraying the changing nature of the expedition - but they won't get in the way of what happens.  It really has me excited about it again, which is something I thought I was losing after I trudged through the first few chapters.

Next thing I need to do is just sit down and focus on writing.  On my business trip to the mainland, I had the time to write.  In fact, I had little to do but write.  Upon my return, the realities of life have again intruded, from work to family to just being able to sleep, and I haven't been able to write as much as I might like.  However, I also have another week and a half business trip - this one to Europe - coming up shortly, and I'd like to return to Hawaii with over 40,000 words done.  If I can do that, I'll stay on track.  If not...I'll finish it when I can.  Only time will tell.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Climbing the Steps

By now, most of you know of my antipathy for the traditional publishing world.  I don't think most publishers or agents understand the market any better than you or I do, and they understand it even less than the market in come cases.  I was reminded of this most recently by a CNN article regarding Jerzy Kosinski and his novel, Steps.

Some writers already know this story.  I ran across it years ago and had forgotten.  The novel is a collection of short stories about themes of self control and isolation, and it can be violent at times.  It came out in 1968 through Random House, and it was both a commercial and literary success, winning the 1969 National Book Award.  Sounds like they found a winner, right?

The funny part comes from what a man named Chuck Ross did in 1975 and 1979 in order to prove a point.  First, for all you scolds out there, let me preface this by saying plagiarism is bad and you shouldn't go copying someone else's work and passing it off as your own.  That said, what Ross did was hysterical.

Ross believed, as many do, that it takes an exceptional amount of luck to land with a publisher unless you already have had success - good writing, despite the refrain from agents and publishers, won't get you in the door as an unknown.  Publishers and agents can say that they're hungry for good writing, but what they're really hungry for is a proven name.  Ross typed up 21 pages of excerpts from Kosinki's novel and sent it out to several publishers, all of whom rejected it.  In 1979, he repeated the experiment, except that this time he typed out the entire manuscript.  Not only did every publisher reject it, but 26 agents did so as well.

Keep in mind that these folks are rejecting an award winning novel that had proven a pretty good money maker.  Steps didn't have the fame of many novels, which is what aided in its use, but it was still a proven winner, both with opinion makers and the public - you know...the folks who plop down money to keep this whole publishing thing going.

Embarrassed that they'd been hoodwinked when Ross finally revealed what he'd done, those in the industry screamed about Ross being unethical and how he shouldn't have done it...everything but address his original thesis.  Yes, it was probably wrong if Ross was looking to get published himself with the work, but the biggest thing he did was make many publishers and agents look like asses.  He exposed a fundamental truth about the industry that good writing simply isn't enough.  I've been saying this for a while now.

If only big names with good writing got through, that'd be one thing, but given the slop we've seen on shelves, it calls into question the competence of the entire industry.  Artsy stuff is one thing, but let's not forget that this is a business designed to make money.  When I listen to people bitch about the state of the book market, what I hear is a bunch of blowhards who are wildly off synch with the people who buy the end product.  The disconnect between "publisher good" and "market good" is extreme, and Ross helped expose that in the 1970s.

And in my opinion, it has only gotten worse since then.  That's the benefit of the indie market - we can get our stuff to the public and let them decide what's good and what isn't.  The traditional market has done nothing recently but limit choice, and isn't freedom about choice, whether that choice be good or bad?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Character Development

She ran her foot up and down my leg, her long hair draped across her left shoulder and her white dress flowing gently over her body.  Here I was, staring at a blank screen, and all she could do was try and distract me.

"I still don't know why the main character has to start off so naïve ," I said.  "It makes me wonder at his grasp on reality."

She turned her head to look at me and smiled.  "Think about it - this guy hasn't done anything to be grizzled yet.  How would the audience believe he's jaded just as he's about to set out on the adventure he's planned for his whole life?"

I saw her point, but I was still frustrated.  My Muse could've just told me how to get from A to B, but she was being coy.  As usual.

She got down off the desk she was perched on and headed for the door.  "I'll be downstairs if you want to play some more," she said as her hand lingered on my shoulder.

I ignored her and went back to my computer.  Maybe without her games, I could finally get down to business and get some serious writing done.  Who needed her?  Well, after several frustrating minutes of producing nothing, I realized that I did.

Traipsing down the stairs, I found her with her head stuck in the refrigerator.  She looked at me the moment I arrived, and she smiled.  "I was looking to see if we had any more chocolate cake, but now that you're here, that kind of rush isn't as necessary.  Time for a game of hide and seek?"

Shaking my head, I said, "Please come back upstairs.  We still have to develop the lead character, and this time wasting stuff isn't going to get my work done any sooner."

"Au contraire," she said, "I give you plenty of time to think by focusing your mind on our games.  It makes sure you bring things along slowly and through action, as any good character development would."

"Just tell me," I sighed.

"Then that would be out of character for me," she said with a smirk.  "You've come to know me over the years, but if I gave up too easily, would you respect my ideas as much?"

With that, she was off.  I didn't even have time to register she was playing another game before she was around the kitchen table and out of sight.  I suppressed a growl - it was too late for this shit.

"Come out," I called.  "We're not playing this game tonight."

"Sure we are," she replied, her voice coming from somewhere indistinct.  "You wouldn't have it any other way."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  There were times I wanted to strangle this bitch, but I knew that would mean trying to find a new Muse, and getting to know a different one would take time.  So I started off into the darkness to try and find her...again.  After all this work, she'd better pay off in spades, which she usually did.

And she was right - I wouldn't have it any other way.