Author Archive for Diana Rowland

23
Feb
10

Rants, whines, vents, and moans–we all haz ‘em

Happy release day to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! 

Yes, I have a backlist of TWO books now! World domination is next! As of today, Blood of the Demon is available at fine booksellers everywhere. And probably some not-so-fine ones as well. And, I’m cool with that.

Now, on to my post!

*** 

I’m fortunate enough to be on a couple of email loops or private groups with a number of published authors–some with extensive credentials and years of experience. This is terrific for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the chance to learn from authors with decades of experience in the industry.

But sometimes the best aspect of the email loop is the chance to vent, complain, bitch or just plain whine. As an author, it’s often considered bad form or uncool to make any sort of complaint or negative commentary about certain aspects of the business. Make one comment about the stress of meeting deadlines, and it’s guaranteed that some aspiring author will come back with something on the order of, “I wish I had your problems! At least you have deadlines!”  And, sure, yes, many of the problems or issues we have are great to have since it shows we have contracts/deadlines/editors etc. But, damn, sometimes it really does feel just like any other job, and it’s frustrating to not be able to vent, complain, whine, etc. Even if only for a few minutes.

But today I’ll share a few of the tidbits (anonymized and generalized) that can piss an author off. (Note: these are not necessarily MY rants or vents, but they’re ones that I hear quite a bit.)

Early releases.

Let’s say that your book is scheduled for release on June 1st. Now, if you’re a BIG NAME author, it’s most likely that you’ll have something called a “hard” release. What this means is that the release date of June 1st is firm, and booksellers are NOT allowed to sell it before that date, or they’ll suffer all sorts of dire consequences. (Don’t ask me what the dire consequences are. I have no idea. But they must be dire for the booksellers to abide by the whole thing.)  The reason for this is that the publishers of BIG NAME AUTHOR want as many as possible of the sales of HOTLY ANTICIPATED BOOK to fall in the first week of its release, because the bestseller lists look at the sales one week at a time. If a book sells 10,000 copies in a week, it’s more likely to hit a bestseller list than if it sold 20,000 copies spread out over many weeks.

However, unless you’re a BIG NAME AUTHOR, you’ll most likely have a soft release, which means that there are no dire consequences for early sales, and thus the booksellers will usually put the books out on the shelves as soon as they get them in. If this happens a few days before the scheduled release, it’s not the end of the world. But, if this happens more than a week before the release date, this can often kill an author’s chances of hitting a list, since the sales will be spread out over a couple of weeks. I’ve been lucky so far in that my books seldom hit the shelves more than a couple of days before the release date, but right now I know of a couple of authors who are having FITS because their books are being shelved more than two weeks before the release. What can be done about this? Not a whole lot, unfortunately. But, as with anything else, venting to understanding ears helps a little.

The Fan Who Loves Your Characters. Too Much. 

(Yeah, we’re getting into Misery territory here!) Best way to piss an author off (and end up in their killfile) is to argue with them about the direction the plot is going, or the actions and motivations of their characters. Trust me, NO ONE knows the characters better than the author. It’s one thing to write a review and point out flaws in plot/pacing/characterization or whatever, but writing an author and saying, “[character] would NOT have fought [bad guy]. She’s not that sort of girl!” is a great way to earn the wrath of an author. Most authors I know create extensive character profiles for their major characters, including backstory, hopes, fears, desires, and all sorts of good things that will never actually make it into the book, except in the way the character acts and reacts to events as they happen. Again, it’s very possible that the author slipped up and didn’t write a scene to make the characters actions believable, but, as much as you might love an author’s characters, trust me–no one knows them better than the author!  

The “ebooks should be free because there’s no associated cost” argument.

Holy crapsoly, but this one makes me grit my teeth. Yes, there’s no printing or distribution cost….  but that accounts for about a dollar of the final price.  The rest of the price of the book goes toward silly stuff such as paying the author, paying the editor, paying the copyeditor, paying the marketing/publicity/sales departments… Oh, and the bookseller usually wants a cut–whether it’s Amazon, or Fictionwise, or Barnes & Noble. I’m not going to get into an argument here about what the specific pricing of ebooks needs to be, but just know that there IS a cost in producing them.

Anyway, my point (I think I had one…LOL) is that yes, being an author is pretty damn wonderful, and yes, there are many people who would kill to be in our shoes, but just like any other job, there will always be things that drive you crazy. 

It’s still the coolest job I’ve ever had. And I’m very glad I have a few places to vent on those rare occasions when it’s less than completely cool. :-)

03
Feb
10

A day in the life of someone who (ahem) “doesn’t work”

Someone recently said to my husband something on the order of, “Well, your wife doesn’t work…”

Needless to say, my reaction when he shared this with me this was something along the lines of MUSTSTABKILLSLAYOMFGWTF???

Ahem. After I calmed down a smidge (and, trust me, a smidge isn’t very much at all) I considered the reasoning for the REALLY STUPID AND RIDICULOUS remark. I mean, after all, I don’t actually GO anywhere for work (except for the occasional convention, though those have been referred to as my “vacations”. Yes, more STABKILLSLAY moments ensued.) I sit at home on my butt (why, yes, that’s usually how one sits) and “play” on the computer. And, my writing-related income has been approximately $0.00 since last July thanks to the change in publishers. (Though, since the new contracts were sent back a few weeks ago, that should change very soon. Whew.)

So, since I’m not allowed to do any actual stabbing and slaying and killing, I’d like to go into what my normal weekday has been like this past month (and will likely continue to be through most of February.)  See, I have a deadline of March 1st for the third Demon book, which is contracted to be approximately 100K words. (Let’s just say that I’m not there yet.)

**

Wake up 5:30am. Let the dog out. Make coffee and toast. Get the newspaper. (Doesn’t this sound so homey and domestic?!) Drink coffee, eat toast and read paper for twenty minutes. Check email and do my blog-surfing for about half an hour. Wake the Kid and get her ready for school. Walk the Kid to the bus stop. Put the Kid on the bus, walk home. Have conversation with the husband, then kick the husband out of the house (nicely!)

By this time it’s about 8am. Respond to emails that have to be responded to. Open the file for Book 3 and skim through what I was doing the day before. Find my notes on what scenes still need to be written. Get more coffee. Start writing. Oh yeah, breakfast would be nice.

Get more coffee. Write some more. Oh, crap, it’s 10:30 already? Grab a snack. Let the dog out. Get more coffee. Respond to more emails that need to be responded to. Ignore the phone for all but a select few phone numbers. Look at the scary white board with the To-Do list on it that says “Promo stuff for Blood of the Demon.” Oh crap, I have a release coming up and I’ve done NOTHING. Also on the To-Do list is “Answer interview questions for [various blogs.] Oh, double crap. Coming up with witty and interesting interview answers takes me hours, and I’m too stressed about the status of book 3 to be willing to take the time out to do those right now. Maybe tomorrow. No, really.

It’s noon? How the hell did it get to be noon? Make another pot of coffee. Heat a can of soup up. Look at what I wrote this morning and decide that maybe it doesn’t suck too hard. Dive in to the next scene that needs work. Write some more. Snarl at dog for interrupting me simply because he has to pee. Why the hell can’t he use the cat box like the rest of the animals in the house?

2pm. Wow. Have managed to write almost 3000 words. Makes up for the day before when revisions of the previous chapter gave me a negative total for the day. Pour last cup of coffee that I can have and still maintain any hope of getting to sleep tonight. Go back through previously written stuff and realize that there is a Giant Gaping Plot Hole of Doom. CRAP! Fret and fume. Look at the clock and realize that it is too late in the day to start a total plot overhaul (which involves the majority of my living room wall, a lot of butcher paper, and many different colors of sharpies) because at 3pm I need to stop writing so that I can ride my stationary bike for half an hour before showering (yeah, haven’t done that yet) and then leaving at 4pm to go pick the Kid up from aftercare and take her to her karate. Bring laptop to karate and work on edits while Kid is doing her class. Come home and accept that there won’t be any uninterrupted time to write for the rest of the day.

Do evening stuff with Kid and Husband. Tell myself that I’m going to get to sleep by 9:30 so that I can get a full night’s sleep. Actually get to bed around 10:30. Lie awake for half an hour worrying about the Giant Gaping Plot Hole of Doom.

Wake at 5:30..

 But, y’know, I don’t actually work.

06
Jan
10

Fine, I’ll be professional, but do I still have to be mature?

by Diana

I’ve been slogging away on a short story for the past couple of weeks, and finally reached the point where I knew it was as good as I could make it and that it was time to pass it on to one of my critique partners. It should be noted that “As good as I could make it” does NOT equal “ready to send to an editor.” I knew that the story was far from perfect, but I’d reached the point where I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it… and I KNEW it had stuff wrong with it. So, I sent it to my critique partner, and a short while later she responded with the kind of critique that every writer loves and hates. The love part was that she absolutely nailed what was wrong with the story. The hate part was that she basically told me that I needed to start over.

Okay, so she didn’t come right out and say that I needed to start over. What she said was that she loved the plot and that the premise was great… but that I was telling it from the wrong point of view. And, no, I’m not talking about something as simple as “This should be in third person point of view instead of first person.” No, she was saying that I was telling the story from the wrong character’s point of view.

The seriously sucky part is that I know she’s absolutely right. Oh, sure, I could go ahead and leave it with the current narrator and get it cleaned up enough that the editor would probably go ahead and publish it, but I’d always know that the story wasn’t anywhere near as good as I knew it could be. I’d always be a little ashamed of it.

So, I emailed my critique partner and thanked her for her insightful critique. (Okay, it’s possible that I actually wrote: “You horrible evil fucking bitch whore from hell…  I hate it when you’re completely right.” ) And I’ll be a good little writer and get up early tomorrow and rewrite the story from the other character’s POV.

But I’m definitely going to pout, whine, and moan about it. I figure there are times when I’m totally allowed to act immature.

So there.  Pfffttthhhhhh.

24
Dec
09

xzcxvcxbvxxxxx and other brilliant words

Umm.. I think I was supposed to post earlier this week, but I’ve been fighting off the worst cold that any human has EVER been forced to endure. Fer real.

So, instead of anything brilliant or inspiring or even holiday-related, I’ll give you some of the brilliant inspirations that occurred to me while I’ll enduring my brave fight against the common cold.

How to continue to be a productive and brilliant writer when you feel like death warmed over:

1) Ignore that whole “needing to breathe” thing. Seriously, it’s overrated. 

2) Open the file. Peer blearily at it. Take a nap.

3) Check your word count. Set a reasonable goal.

4) Take more cold meds.

5) Get awesome and brilliant new idea for a plot twist involving olives and mentholatum. Write until the urge to nap strikes again.

6) Check word count. Realize that you managed 17 words before that whole nap-attack happened. Realize that the olives and mentholatum plot twist might not be so brilliant after all.

7) Whine and moan about your inability to breathe.

8) Move on to coughing and hacking. Settle on the couch with the laptop.

9) Wake up later to discover that you reached your word count only because you fell asleep with your cheek on the laptop keyboard and your brilliant new plot twist is xcvxvcvxvcvxcvxvcvxvcvxcvxvxvcvxvcxvcxvcvcxvcvxvcvxc

10) Roll with it and call it a day.

Happy holidays, y’all. :-)

01
Dec
09

Various thoughts that were thought while slightly fevered

Forgive the lateness of this post, please. I’ve been whining and moaning courageously battling strep throat for the past several days, and so I don’t have an in-depth commentary on anything, but rather a variety of thoughts on issues that occurred to me while whining and moaning courageously battling strep throat.

Setting goals

I’ve met dozens and dozens of people who claim that they want to write a book but just “can’t find the time.” My response is always the same: “Write one page a day. At the end of a year you’ll have a book.”  The reactions to this vary. Sometimes it’s a bit of a wince, as if I’ve called their bluff. Other times it’s a sudden appreciation for how much dedication and discipline it takes to write a book. (Yes, I’m asking you to commit half an hour every day for a year.) Other times I see a dawning enlightenment, as if I’ve suddenly handed this person the keys to the kingdom.

I know that most of these people who profess to a desire to write a book have no real desire to write a book. They don’t have the drive or passion to make such a commitment, and are only saying that they will “someday” write a book to either minimize my own accomplishments or their own insecurities. (Oh, you wrote a book? Well, I could do that too, but I’m just SO busy with Other Important Stuff that I don’t have time to show you how easy it is to do what you’ve done.)

But the last group of people–the ones to whom I’ve handed the keys–are the ones who probably scrawl scenes and snippets of story, or fan fiction and character studies. And those are the ones who’ve been afraid to tackle a novel because… well, let’s face it, it’s intimidating. A hundred thousand words is a lot of typing (and that’s just for a first draft!)

So, break it down. Don’t make your goal “Finish a novel.”  Make your goal “I will write x number of pages a day/week/weekend.”

(By the way, this applies to other areas of life as well. Instead of saying, “I will lose thirty pounds!” instead tell yourself, “I will walk thirty minutes every day.”  No, I’m nowhere near as successful with this one, darnit.)

Taking breaks

Butt In Chair is a terrific motto for a writer to live by. If you aren’t writing, it’s tough to be a writer. However, I firmly believe that once a writer has established the Butt In Chair discipline, they also need to work on the Fill The Well aspect of writing as well. I hear of writers who claim to write 8-10 hours a day, every day, and my reaction is the same as it would be to anyone who works 60-70 hours a week at whatever job they have: “Dude. Get a life!”  I think this is especially important for writers, or anyone who depends on creativity to fuel their output. Now, it probably shouldn’t be done when looking down the barrel of a deadline, but in those times when one has breathing room, step away from the computer, read some books, take up another hobby for a while, go to the zoo, or a museum… that sort of thing. IMO, your writing will be better for it. As will your mental health.

My schedule

Again, there are writers who write every day. I’m not one of them. I don’t write on weekends or during holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I do my best to be self-disciplined, and I do set goals for weekly output, but I’ve learned (the hard way) that attempting to write when family is around is an exercise in frustration, so I’ve ceased to waste my time and good humor. (The exception to this is if I’m looking down the barrel of one of those aforementioned deadlines. Then I abandon my family and take refuge at a coffee shop somewhere.)

Pie

Pumpkin. Hands down.

16
Nov
09

Something to do with all that spare time you have

I’m an information junkie. I like to know things. I don’t like to be in the dark and I want to know the rules of the game.

In other words I LOVE the internet!

I’ve ranted before about how I have little patience for writers who don’t understand how the publishing industry works. (By the way, that hasn’t changed. I still think that if you can’t be bothered to understand how this industry works, then you shouldn’t be trying to break into it. Would you go into police work without learning the basics of the legal system?)

But, I also understand that the internet is a huge and often intimidating place, and it can be hard to find the information you need amidst all the other “noise” out there. So, I’m going to get y’all started with some helpful links.

First off, some other group blogs that are almost as wonderful as The Magic District:

http://www.deadlinedames.com/

http://www.sfnovelists.com/

http://magicalwords.net/

http://storytellersunplugged.com/

http://www.ninc.com/blog/

 

Other incredibly useful blogs:

There are many sharks in the publishing waters. Read Writer Beware to learn how to avoid them: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/

The wonderful Miss Snark. Alas, she’s no longer blogging, but the archives are a goldmine of information. http://misssnark.blogspot.com/

Agent Kristin Nelson shares TONS of knowledge: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

So does BookEnds Literary Agency: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

And Dystel & Goderich: http://dglm.blogspot.com/

And Nathan Bransford: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/

 

Various posts that have fantastic info:

This post has links to a dozen other awesome posts. Read them all! http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2009/10/publishing-related-backlist.html

A good explanation of how royalties and advances work: http://apparentlyaprilynne.blogspot.com/2007/12/do-math.html

Sub-rights! http://apparentlyaprilynne.blogspot.com/2007/12/sub-rights-or-yet-another-reason-you.html

Word count limits. Why they exist, and why they matter: http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2009/06/is-there-word-count-cap-for-debut-novel.html

 

These are just a sampling of the links in my “Writing” bookmarks folder. What online writing/publishing resources do you find invaluable?

 

09
Nov
09

Interview: Lindsay Ribar

I’m delighted to introduce y’all to Lindsay Ribar, assistant to my agent, Matt Bialer, at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates literary agency. Lindsay’s been working with Matt for long enough that she has a terrific insight when it comes to queries and slush, and was willing to answer some questions for us. There’s a lot of great information here, especially for those of you who are–or will soon be–agent-hunting. (Psst.. by the way, Lindsay’s always on the lookout for potential clients!)

Thnaks for joining us, Lindsay! I’ll cut right to the chase: How many unsolicited submissions do you normally get per week?

I had to go back through my epic “Rejected” folder to get a better idea of this, because I am long past the point of reading everything as soon as it comes in.  The average looks to be around 60-75 per week via email, with an additional 30-40 via snail-mail. 

Of those, how many follow the guidelines for submission?

A surprising amount! I would have to guess that about 85% (yes, I’m making up numbers) follow the guidelines.  (The guidelines, by the way, are on our website.  They will not be different if you call me on the phone and ask me about them.  If you do that, I will merely point you toward the website.)  Some  don’t include a synopsis.  Some don’t include a separate biography.  Neither of those is really a Kiss of Death in my book.  The biggest mistake that authors make is not including sample chapters with their queries – not because it’s “against the rules,” but because it’s a wasted opportunity for the author to show off.

Think about it this way: as someone who has been reading slush (among other things) for over two and a half years, I am (a) lazy, (b) jaded, and (c) LAZY.  I do read everything that comes in (until I have read enough to make a decision), but… well, say I read a query letter that maybe isn’t wonderful, but is interesting enough to make me want to check out the author’s writing.  If the sample chapters are attached to the email, I’ll double-click it and read.  If they are NOT attached, what are the odds that I’ll go to the trouble of contacting you and asking for a partial?  Not great.  By sending sample chapters in your initial email or query package, you are saving me a lot of trouble.  Which makes me like you more already.

What are your biggest peeves?

Oh, there are SO MANY!  These are just a few that came immediately to mind – and please keep in mind that these are my own personal pet peeves.  I know a lot of people who actually really enjoy vampyres-with-a-Y.

- Query letters that pitch a concept instead of a plot

- The word “feisty” as used to describe either the heroine or the token female love interest

- Authors who use their query letters to tell me why they think fantasy (or fiction in general) is an important part of our culture

- Authors who say that their chosen genre is basically a cesspool of shit, but their novel will single-handedly redeem it

- Authors who don’t understand the subtle difference between phrases like “my book would fit nicely on a shelf next to the Harry Potter series” and phrases like “I AM THE NEXT JK ROWLING”

- Authors who pitch their book as a Guaranteed Insta-Bestseller, or berate the slush-reader for “missing out on a golden opportunity” if they dare to send a rejection letter

- Fantasy novels featuring characters with utterly unpronounceable names

- Fantasy novels featuring character and/or place names lifted directly from Tolkien, Pullman, Rowling, Lewis, etc.

- Intentionally misspelled words like “magyck” or “vampyre,” especially in urban fantasy

- Overuse of prophecies, destiny, fate, and anything else that kickstarts the action  without anything actually happening.

- Authors who quote bits of my boss’s website bio in their query letters

 Is there anything that’s an instant “kiss of death”?

YES.  Stupidity – which can often be found in the following forms:

 – Impersonal query letters, i.e. “Dear Sir or Madam”

- Query letters in which my boss’s name is misspelled

- E-mail queries that say little more than “Please see attached.”

- Queries in which the author asks permission to submit a synopsis / sample chapters / proposal

- People who insist on pitching their books over the phone

- People who call every week to follow up on their submissions

- “My manuscript is complete at 945,000 words!” Seriously. That happened once.

- Authors who include their own cover art (bonus points if it’s poorly drawn in MS Paint!)

- QUERIES WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS

- Snail-mail queries consisting of one copy of the author’s self-published book… and nothing else

- People who include the first three chapters of their book… even though each of those chapters is 75 pages long

- People who include chapters 4, 11, and 23, because “that’s where I feel my writing is the strongest.”

 What makes you keep reading?

I really enjoy finding a narrative voice that is unique, yet still accessible.  (Think Jeff Lindsay.  The “Dexter” series is an exercise in pure genius.)  It’s a fine line to walk, since stylized narratives are often a very tough sell, even when they’re done well.  My boss pegged my taste in writing right away: I like things that are “clean and crisp.”  A good example: the writing of one Diana Rowland.

I also really enjoy finding vivid, memorable characters.  Coming from the world of fandom as I do, I know how much readers enjoy falling in love with characters, because I do, too.  Now, at the risk of seeming like a total shill for the authors I work with, I’ll say to look at Rachel Aaron’s first chapter of THE SPIRIT THIEF for an example of How To Write A Character With Whom People Will Fall In Love.

So, in short, voice and character.  I like an author with a good sense of story structure, too, but if the natural talent for voice and character are there, structure can be taught.

 What makes you bounce in your chair and make “squee!” noises?

Werewolves.  Unique systems of magic.  Brand-new takes on age-old themes.  Ironic use of phrases like “DOOM!”  And, seriously: werewolves.

What are you seeing way too much of?

Vampire romance novels.  (Bet you didn’t see that one coming!)  See, the thing is, vampire romances are still selling like hot cakes, so we’re actually actively looking for them.  But the more popular a thing becomes, the more people write them – and the harder it becomes to find good ones among the crap.  Many writers pitch themselves as “the next Stephenie Meyer” (on which I will not comment, because my thoughts on her series are the subject of a whole separate essay), but I find that 99 times out of 100, those authors are rehashing the same old vampires tropes that we’ve all read a million times, without adding anything new.  And whatever you may think of sparkling vampires… let’s face it.  That was new.  It was enough to get somebody’s attention, and now Stephenie-with-an-E, Twilight, RPattz and K-Stew, Bella Swan, LOL RENESMEE, and Team Edward vs. Team Jacob are phrases that you can avoid only by moving into your very own apartment complex under the rock of your choice.

My point is this: if you’re going to write in what is arguably the world’s most popular fiction genre right now… do something different.

 It’s also worth mentioning that I am still seeing a lot of epic fantasy, and that’s just not selling well right now.  Which brings me back to “do something different.”  It’s great if your “tale of an unlikely group of companions who must band together in order to rid the world of evil” is well-written, well-edited, and well-reviewed by your friends and family… but so is everyone else’s.

What are you seeing not enough of?

Werewolves.  Let me rephrase: werewolves who are NOT Jacob.

What do you wish more people would do in their queries?

Spell things correctly.  Write in complete sentences.  Display a working knowledge of (a) the querying process and (b) the publishing business.  Sell me on your plot, your characters, or whatever it is about your book that makes you stand out from the crowd.  Most of all, be nice.  Nobody wants to work with an author who isn’t nice.

How many queries do you pass on to Matt?

When I first started working here, I passed along a few every week, just so I could get a sense of what he was and was not looking for.  He would tell me what to request – and what not to bother with.  Now that we’ve worked together for a while, though, I’ve been able to figure out where our tastes overlap (which is pretty often, at least when it comes to fantasy stuff), and I only show him things that I think have a really good chance at selling.

Does he always recognize your genius and good taste?

Heehee!  Well, we usually tend to agree on what’s good.  Oddly, we often have differing opinions on what’s NOT good.  For instance, right now he is reading a book that my (wonderful, delightful, speed-reading) intern passed along to me.  It wasn’t really my style, but he sees potential and is determined to prove me wrong.  Verdict pending.  Make your wagers now.

Do you have any advice for people trying to break into publishing?

Oh, lots.  But I think the most important thing is that if you really want to be in this industry, you have to do it for love.  It’s a slow-moving industry, and it’s notoriously hard to get a foot in the door – as it is with any creative business.  The starting pay for most entry-level jobs is… let’s say “not great.”  You’ll have to work on projects you don’t like, and you’ll have to smile while doing it.  But if you really love books, then it’s all completely worth it.  If you don’t… well, I guess if you don’t, you aren’t reading this blog anyway.

26
Oct
09

Clarity, continuity, and how many days has it been?

by Diana

Every writer has been there. You write something–whether it’s a scene, a short story, or a whole frickin novel–then pass it off to a first reader/critique group/editor, and they come back to you and say, “But this doesn’t make sense!” And you fight the urge (sometimes quite unsuccessfully) to scowl and point to the page and respond with, “What are you talking about? It’s right there! See?” At which time they will sometimes give you a withering look and reply, “Um, no, it’s not. You merely think it’s there because the story is in your head and it makes perfect sense to you. Now stop whining and fix it!”

And, likewise, every reader has been there. You’re merrily reading along, caught up wonderfully in a delightful story when suddenly you read something that doesn’t work, or is just plain wrong, and you’re completely and utterly yanked out of the story. You stop and frown and say, “What the [expletive]? Why the [expletive] would the character need to call a locksmith to get out of handcuffs? Doesn’t the author know that handcuff keys are universal? Why wouldn’t the character own a handcuff key if she owns handcuffs?” (Okay, you might say something else, but the aforementioned handcuff key issue is the reason why I stopped reading a certain popular series. I couldn’t get past this very basic research error.) Or perhaps it’s an issue where you’re not quite sure how something happened, and you find yourself flipping back through pages to see if you missed a crucial detail. Either way, you’re not in the story anymore.

Writing sometimes becomes an optical illusion. The writer knows that something is supposed to work or make sense, and so our little writer brain magically fills in what’s missing, or glosses over parts that don’t work, or ignores the fact that we’ve used the same word seventy-jillion times. I’ll say it now: Thank all the powers that be for editors and copyeditors! 

I remember going through revisions with my editor on Mark of the Demon, and reaching one particular scene where we kept going back and forth over the continuity of one character sitting down and standing up. Seems like a silly trivial thing, but if a character is sitting on the floor, and then picks a book up off a table, it’s one of those little details that could jar a reader out of the book.  There was also an issue with whether a demon could travel a certain distance, which turned out to be more of a clarity issue than one of continuity. I ended up adding several lines and adjusting some timing so that it was clearer that the characters were talking about two different demons.

Timing has been a big pain in the ass factor as well. Since the phase of the moon is very important to my main character’s ability to summon demons, I had to create moon calendars and pace out the action very carefully–sometimes running several days off to get to the moon phase that I needed. My copyeditor was fantastic here, and I can only imagine what sort of charts she had to make out to keep track of it all. And, despite the fact that I kept  meticulous track (or so I thought), she still caught a couple of timing issues where I was off by a day or two.

And then there are timing issues that have nothing to do with the phase of the moon. In Blood of the Demon, my editor pointed out that I had a victim’s funeral set for a day and a half after he was found dead. This seemed a bit speedy to her, unless the victim was Jewish and had to have a timely funeral? (I ended up adding a couple of days into the timeline instead of making the victim Jewish.)

And speaking of things Jewish, also in Blood of the Demon I had a character making a blithe comment about being Jewish, which was why she hadn’t been to Sunday School. My editor jumped on that one and said, “She’s Jewish, with a last name like [very non-Jewish name]?” (And here is where I must confess to heaping quantities of ignorance of Jewish tradition! Shame on me!) Since the character was a single female, my editor wanted me to either explain why she would have such a non-Jewish last name, or change it so that it wasn’t so jarring to people who Had A Clue. This seemed like a very minor thing at first and I was all set to take out the whole reference to being Jewish,  but then I had a little thought about the character being previously married…a very short and tragic marriage… which suddenly gave me all sorts of seriously nifty backstory to the character, all from a line that I thought was a brief little funny.

There have also been a few issues that slipped by everyone until we reached the page proof stage. A blouse in one scene turned into a scarf in another. Within the span of a dozen chapters, a manual garage door somehow became an automatic garage door that required a remote. (Scribble scribble scratch… change “he pulled the garage door up” to “he hit the button on the remote.”) One error that made me laugh out loud (and I still can’t believe none of us caught it before page proofs!) was a scene where the overhead sun cast patterns through the leaves… and then two whole paragraphs later a character makes a comment about the rising sun. *facepalm*

And then there are the issues that seem at first be matters of continuity, but are instead matters of clarity. During copyedits, my copyeditor pointed out a place where a character got into her car and drove away. “How could she get into her car? Didn’t [other character] drive her over there?” Ah, yes, I thought, but she’d left her car there earlier. Don’t you remember? But, I went ahead and inserted a couple of words on the order of “he parked next to her car” and figured that would be sufficient to remind the reader that she’d left her car there earlier.

But apparently not, because after I returned the page proofs I received an email from my editor’s assistant, telling me that Production was concerned because I had a scene where the character gets into her car and drives off, and how could that happen if she’d been riding around with [other character.]

Grr. Snarl. Stomp. Why couldn’t the readers frickin’ remember this? But, I forced myself to admit that even though it was blindingly obvious to me, this was obviously NOT CLEAR at all if it was being pointed out by more than one person. So, I went back and added another line on the order of: They went to do crime-scene stuff, but left her car at the house since it was such a piece of crap. (And if that doesn’t work, I’ll make an FAQ that explains exactly how she could get in her car and drive off, ‘kay?)

Needless to say, good editors and copyeditors are worth their weight in gold. A good editor (and I’ve been gifted with a fabulous one!) takes your book and helps you make it better. (I’m going to save What An Editor Does for another post, because that’s going to be a long post. :) ) A copyeditor takes that revised and edited book and (aside from fixing grammar/spelling punctuation errors)  makes sure that all of the details fit together, makes sure that what you’re trying to say is what has actually been said, makes sure that what you’re trying to say actually makes sense and is feasible, makes sure that you don’t actually use the same word seventeen times in the same page… (Actually, my most-overused word is “just.” It’s a bit horrifying just how often I use that word!) Also, a good copyeditor makes sure that you don’t make stupid research-related mistakes. (In the first book my CE caught an error regarding the make and model of a gun.I was horrified that I’d screwed that up, and deeply grateful that she’d saved me from looking like a bonehead.)

 

As you might imagine, I was thrilled to pieces when I managed to score the same CE for both books. Even though a new CE would have been given the previous CE’s stylesheet, my CE caught a continuity error between the two books that I doubt would have been referenced on a style sheet. (And I’m keeping fingers crossed that I’ll be able to keep her for subsequent books as well!) 

Finally, for a terrific insight into what a copyeditor does, you absolutely need to read Deanna Hoak’s blog, especially this entry here.

12
Oct
09

Guest blog: John Brown–Testicles and the Zing life

Something different for y’all today! John Brown, author of Servant of a Dark God (forthcoming from Tor, October 13–yes, that would be tomorrow!!) has consented to stop by and dazzle us with his insight. (No pressure, John!) Enjoy!

Testicles and the Zing Life

0713

Testicles do not taste like chicken.

I know this thing. At least the ones taken from cattle don’t. But this Nobel prize-winning discovery is not what’s important. What’s important is why I know this.

I’m a city boy. My wife Nellie is a rancher’s daughter. She told me she never wanted to live up in Rich County, Utah where she’d grown up. Too cold. Too boring. Too everybody-knows-everything. Nothing for our future bambinos to do but drink beer and make out. (Some folks might be thinking, heck, that sounds like paradise.)

So after college we set out to live in big cities. We lived in the San Francisco area for a few years then moved to Columbus, Ohio. Nellie was go, go, go all the time. Saw everything there was to see. But the fact that we had neighbors drove her nuts. She grew up with cows. Neighbors were things that lived five miles down the road.

In these various big city areas we had neighbors who didn’t know you could actually put blinds on windows so the folks ten feet away didn’t have to see you wake up, put on your clothes, and scratch various parts (maybe if they’d been hotties it wouldn’t have all been so alarming, although our turn to peeping tommery might have been). Neighbors who didn’t know that some people don’t want you peering over the fence at them while you eat. Other neighbors who were perfectly good in every way but who had dogs that didn’t quite know how to use their indoor voice yet. All sorts of neighbors.

For me, neighbors provide many of the charms city life offers. For example, every neighborhood has a kook of one stripe or another. And if they don’t live there, the kooks will show up. One day in Livermore, California a strange couple stopped by to baptize us, marry us, and then guide us in a beating ceremony with chop sticks. You don’t get that out in the country. Because in the country all you do is drink beer and make out, remember?

So anyway. 16 years after we both said “I do,” we moved to Rich County, Utah. And I found out that country folk do more than drink beer and make out. They also eat testicles. And they don’t do it in secret. No, they have an annual hoedown (hoe as in shovel, rake, hoe, not “ho” as in strumpet) and celebrate the emasculation. All the proceeds, of course, go to charity. It’s called the Black Gold Testicle Festival. They advertise it by telling people to “come on in and have a ball.”

Now, I had a choice before me. I could have turned up my nose. I’m an organ donor, not an organ eater. But I’m also a writer. And I know that life is full of zing. And that exploring such things can not only provide great material for a story, but also just make my few years as a carbon-based life form more enjoyable.

So I went forth and partook. Why wouldn’t I? The unmentionables were served up with a side of baked beans. We stood in two lines and moved inexorably toward the steaming Dutch ovens where smiling servers plopped the chunks of fried flesh onto our white plastic plates. The party was held at the rodeo arena. I took a spot in the bleachers. I set my can of root beer next to the plate. The can and I contemplated my fate for a few moments. But my curiosity got the better of me. The gag reflex kicked in on the first bite. But then I realized, well, shoot, this ain’t so bad after all. It kind of tastes like…

Well, I’m not telling. I’m going to let you find it out first hand because hunting zing isn’t just for writers.

And zing isn’t just made up of shock-yo-momma events. Zing is anything that provides a little electricity in your life. A zing turns you on, sparks your imagination, stokes your desire (no I’m not talking about making out again). It might be an incredible vista, a cool fact, an interesting person or tale. It could be a large hawk moth that didn’t make it back to its evening roost, clinging to the handle of the gas nozzle when you go to pump some unleaded into the car. Zings tingle your cool meter. Dude, yes, ah, oh baby, man-o-man, great oogily boogily–these are all common responses when you come across these experiences.

Most zings are small tingles. Others are zaps. Still others are freaking gigawatt monsters that shake you about and leave you breathless. And all you have to do is simply attend to them. Cherish them, even if for only a few extra seconds. They change you, kind of like fairy dust.

I once went snorkeling in Hawaii with a man because he wanted to confront his fear of sharks. We went just after dusk because he had heard this was when they feed. I was also there when a rancher was pulling a calf from its mother, assisting her in birth. I’ve held full moon festivals with my family with hot chocolate and doughnuts where we just celebrate the beauty of the rising moon. I once took the time to listen to the stories of a dying man and learned that once upon a time he’d been a bank robber, but had reformed his ways after going to the big house. When he got out, he met a Methodist girl, married her, and started a laundromat.

Each of these changed me in small ways. But I would have never attended to any of them had I not been on the lookout.

You might think your life has no zing or that it takes weird DNA. You’d be wrong.

I taught a writing workshop to teens a few years back. One week’s assignment was to capture ten zing each day. I don’t do that in practice. This was a one-week assignment to get them looking. The kids all groaned. How was this going to be possible?!—there’s not that much cool stuff in anyone’s life! One week later they all came back bubbling with what they’d found. One girl said, “It’s like I live in a new world. I used to think it was all just boring, but it [zing] is everywhere.”

It is everywhere.

As a writer, my job is to hunt down and bring back gifts to the reader—thrills, wonders, heart attacks. But even if you don’t read anything of mine beyond this post, let me give you this one gift. Winifred Gallagher wrote a great book called Rapt in which she demonstrates with science why “my experience is what I agree to attend to,” and that while you cannot always be happy, you can be focused, attending to good things.

So let me give you this. Be a hunter. Capture the zing.

And when you eat that plate of testicles, come on over to johndbrown.com and tell me what you think.

 

Happiness,

John

John Brown currently lives with his wife and four daughters in the hinterlands of Utah where one encounters much fresh air, many good-hearted ranchers, and an occasional wolf. His debut epic fantasy novel, which is set in world where humans are ranched by beings of immense power, is called Servant of a Dark God.

05
Oct
09

Just ask

I recently ran into a bit of an issue while working on the third book in my Demon series. I’d sketched out a rough outline months ago, with the idea that the central mystery would have something to do with the music industry, since music is as integral a part of Louisiana culture as food is.  I didn’t plan on going into too much detail–since I have pretty much no knowledge of music/recording contracts, etc. –so I figured that I’d do some hand-wavium over most of that stuff, and just focus on the character of the singer instead of all of the inner workings of the industry. But, I did have someone with a lot of ties to the Louisiana music scene lined up to answer basic research questions for me, so that I didn’t come off sounding like a complete doofus.

I started writing, and as I got further into the story I came up with a laundry list of more research questions that I needed answered, and I realized that “hand-wavium” wasn’t going to cut it, especially since I take a lot of pride in the accuracy of all of the forensic and police procedural details in my books. Unfortunately, by that time my “music man” had apparently dropped off the face of the earth, and I had no one on tap to answer questions.

I briefly debated scrapping the entire music industry concept (which would have basically involved scrapping just about everything I’d written so far.) But before I did that, I did what any modern writer should do: I put out a call on twitter for help. To my surprise, within about ten minutes I had two people offer to give me what help I needed–and I should note that both of these people had industry credentials that put my first research contact to shame! By the end of the week I had my questions answered in more depth than I could have ever hoped for. (Let’s just say that I now know enough about the music industry to make me NEVER want to try to be a professional singer/musician!!! LOL Holy crap, if you think breaking into publishing is brutal… Yikes!)

Now here’s the irony: I still ended up scrapping several chapters that Id already written. But this time it was because I now had a FRICKIN CLUE, and had a much stronger story in mind. Go figure, huh?

The thing is, most experts/artists/professionals are extremely eager to help out when it comes to research. It drives me crazy when I see forensics or police procedures depicted inaccurately,  just as it drives medical professionals crazy when hospital/surgical procedures are mangled in prose or on TV, and just as it drives [insert professional here] crazy when [profession] is inacurrately depicted… You get the idea. Trust me,  experts & professionals WANT to see things depcited accurately. If you have a research question, don’t be afraid to go ask someone who knows the answer. Ask nicely, explain what your project is, respect their time constraints, and give proper acknowledgment, and you’ll be quite pleased with the result.

(And, of course, the other lesson to be learned here is that social networking can be a pretty powerful tool! Thanks, twitter!)




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