New website is under construction.

Apr 30, 2009


In the show Babylon 5, there was an order of technomages, who used technology to simulate magic. Not surprisingly, there really are technomagicians like this one. His tricks in this video, according to my friend, were "done in real-time, no post-production graphics."

Edits Continue

I continue revivsions. I'm trying to follow Maass's suggestion of making certain each scene has microtension -- mini-mysteries and conflicts embedded at the sentence and paragraph level.

Also, I was stunned to discover Dindi Book 1 lacked cannibals. I've rectified that.

Apr 27, 2009

Blog Lite and Notebook Computer

It's not a notebook computer, it's a notebook which thinks it's a computer.

Blog Lite continues, I'm afraid, as I focus intensively on using the Maass book to strengthen The Corn Maiden. I'm finding book books to be extremely useful at this stage of my editing. I hope the changes I'm making will really help the book.

Apr 24, 2009

The Fire in Fiction

I'm on a Maass kick. I'm now reading The Fire in Fiction. The priciples reprise Writing a Breakout Novel and the Workbook -- this one also has "homework" at the end of each chapter -- but the examples he uses to illustrate the point are all new, so it's worth reading.

You can never read too many samples of something done right.

Apr 22, 2009

Submissions Hollywood Style

All creative people eventually have to sell their work, usually through intermediaries. For writers its agents and editors, for actors its agents and casting directors.

For your consideration, here's a peek into the submission process for actors and actresses.

Ivy Isenberg is a Casting Director with a cool webshow which views actors' demo tapes and then critques them, sort of the Hollywood equivilant of Query Shark.

Apr 21, 2009

Writing the Breakout Novel

I'm going light on blogging while I:

A) Catch up on beta reading -- which is in itself quite illuminating. So often I'll catch some problem, say, overwriting, and realize, damn, I do this too.

B) At the same time, I'm using responses from my beta readers and the Donald Maass Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook to edit my Dindi story. (Yes, again. It still has not compelled five agents to scramble over themselves to represent it, so clearly it still needs work.) I've read the Maass book by the same name, but never read the workbook before. Has anyone else gone through it?

C) Beyond mere editing, I'm still brainstorming like mad to figure out how to fig-leaf the ginormous plot hole in the middle of my series. This is not even something caught by my beta readers, because they wouldn't be able to see it until a few more books into the series. But I believe that through the mystical power of the Great Unconscious, they can already sense the Black Plothole sucking all life from the story, even this far away from the event horizon.

Apr 18, 2009

New York Times Bestseller Bares All

Lynn Viehl
reached covetted New York Bestseller list with her latest book Twilight Fall. And she's kind enough to give us the down and dirty on what this means to one's pocketbook.

My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.

She also recieved her first royalty statment (links on her blog):

To give you some background info, Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

That could change, if her book keeps selling fast and furious. Though she might have netted only 26K or roughly half, of her advance, she won't see money from royalties until those have caught up with the total amount of the advance.

* * *

UPDATE: An agent breaks it down for us.

Apr 16, 2009

Two Minds

A quote from a book I'm beta reading struck me with particular force.

"Of all the conflicts of the world, nothing can surpass the conflict between two minds wanting sole possession of the same body."

Lady Glamis, struggling with some of the same issues I am in rewrites, said, "I have a feeling that the fabric full of holes might be heavier than I think."

"Write what you know," we are told, as writers. "I'm sick of that phrase," she said. Me too. As if we need only to know a thing, and then expressing it will be easy. Ha.

We don't write to express ourselves. We write to know ourselves.

(Art by thadeoradicarlous.)

Apr 15, 2009

Are You Dancing Or Just Swaying Back and Forth?

Some of you may have already seen one of these links on Janet Reid's blog. More inspiration from Britain's Got Talent.

It made wonder. How can you tell if you should keep holding onto a creative dream? Here are two people who are well into their lives -- one 49 one 60 -- who haven't given up.

But how do you know if the world is crazy for overlooking you or if you are crazy to keep trying?

How do you know if you're dancing or just swaying back and forth?

* * *

Here's what Paul Potts, another Britain's Got Talent discovery had to say:
“I feel like I’m living on gifted time as an artist. You don’t own the time, it is given to you by your fans and public who buy your music and support you. For that I will never stop being grateful and I appreciate the journey I am on even more. In life you sometimes take a turn you weren’t expecting, you don’t know where it leads but you have to take that path. This is what happened with me and Britain’s Got Talent. I still don’t know where this wonderful journey is headed but I certainly appreciate every moment of it.

And if you think suceeding once stills the questions and self-doubt, think again. “The second album is always a challenge, when your first is such a success you cannot be complacent and believe the second will do the same. There is more pressure, you have to work harder, be bigger, better, this is the same for every artist.”

Show Me the Money

I always find it interesting to see how much money authors actually make. We all know that J.K. Rowlings is the exception, not the rule; but real dollars-and-cents figures are guarded more closely than goblin's gold.

I found this breakdown from one helpful e-publisher, New Concepts Publishing, about the average payout over three years for various Romance sub-genres:

Average payout over three years (contract period) $450.00

Science Fiction/Futuristic range: $127.89--$8455.46

Paranormal range: $78.00--$5673.50

Contemporary range: $55.18--$7913.78

Historical range: $75.16--$3863.12

Romantic Suspense range: $124.24--$1977.20

Fantasy range: $44.00--$4774.80

Remember, all of these are actually in the Romance genre, so you sf freaks, contain your jubliation unless your aliens have their sexy on. I suspect mainstream fantasy and sf sell in much lower numbers. If anyone has any real figures, ballpark or specific, I'd be interested.

* * *

Small e-presses are probably the first step above vanity presses in terms of renumeration. (Some snobs would also say in quality, and this is sometimes true, but not always; some small presses are even more particular about their books than large presses, since they have limited budgets and time.) The figures above also refer solely to royalties. (These small presses are usually royalty-only.) What about advances?

What about the big, mainstream presses? Here's what the NY Times had to say about advances (emphasis mine):

In the preface to “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Dave Eggers broke form by telling the reader he received $100,000 for the manuscript, which — after his detailed expenses — netted him $39,567.68.

...As a payment to be deducted from future royalties, an advance is a publisher’s estimate of risk. Figures fluctuate based on market trends, along with an author’s sales record and foreign rights potential, though most publishers I talked to cited $30,000 as a rough average.

...The numbers can sound much bigger than they are. Take a reported six-figure advance, Roy Blount Jr., the president of the Authors Guild, said in an e-mail message. “That may mean $100,000, minus 15 percent agent’s commission and self-employment tax, and if we’re comparing it to a salary let us recall (a) that it does not include any fringes like a desk, let alone health insurance, and (b) that the book might take two years to write and three years to get published. . . . So a six-figure advance, while in my experience gratefully received, is not necessarily enough, in itself, for most adults to live on.”

To break that down, start with $100,000. Pay your agent 15,000, and you're left with $85,000, divided by 5 years (2 yrs to write, 3 to be published) and you have an income of $17,000 a year, which doesn't include medical insurence or work-related expences -- publicist, anyone? Travel expences for your book tour? Maybe some publishers cover that, but I wouldn't count on it. This breakdown is even more fun if you start with the "industry average" (?) advance mentioned above, $30,000. Pay your agent, and you have $25,500. Divide by 5 years and your income is $5,100 per month.

A minimum wage of $7.75 per hour (the rate in Illinois) translates to $16,120 annually. Now consider the amount of education needed to hold a minimum wage job and the minimum level of education needed to write novels.

I'm just telling you what you already knew, right? The person who seems to have a hard time grasping it is my educational loan officer.

* * *

The cartoon is by this totally cool dude who doodles cartoons on the back of business cards. That is so gimicky. Don't you wish you'd thought of it first? Me too.

You might wonder if you can make more money selling business-card cartoons than blogging or selling novels, and the answer is apparently, no.

Apr 13, 2009

First Person Retrospective

Since I decided to write my Secret Novel in first person, I've been rereading some of my favorite first person novels. There are two major approaches to first person:

Immediate First Person: Sometimes this means first person present tense, which is as intimate and immediate as it gets. However, even first person past tense can feel very much "in the now"; the narrator tells what she felt at the moment she is describing, nothing more. She doesn't "cheat" by implying she knows more about what happens next any more than the reader. If she misjudges someone, this is revealed only when she herself discovers it.

I turned around when I heard the shot, crying, "Edwin, don't!"

My eyes fell on the smoking gun first, then the body, and in my shock it took me a dozen heartbeats to make sense of the French manicure on the hand holding the gun, or the fedora hat soaking in a pool of blood.

Gloria met my eyes. "That's right. I was the one who went to the pawn shop last week. You never suspected. You dismissed me -- just as Edwin did."

Retrospective First Person: Many first person books, however, take the opposite tact. They are written as faux memoirs, in a retrospective mood, in which the narrator of the events slyly or absent-mindedly refers to future events. This kind of narrative voice can compare past knowledge and emotional states with future ones (the "present" of the narrator).

When I first met Gloria, I dismissed her in one glance as a mouse. She spoke only in monosyllebles at that first dinner. Her husband Edwin boomed over the platters of greasy food, and continued to rattle the empty glasses long after the wine ran out. I paid scant attention to his tirades after the first half hour.

"We have to get together again," he promised when I finally begged the waiter to bring the check. He pumped my hand and clapped my back at the same time. "This was marvelous, we have to do this again sometime."

I would have wasted less dread on the prospect had I guessed that would be the last time I would see him alive.

There are dangers of telling too much, becoming too conversational and chatty in any version of first person. Either method, handled well, can work. The question, as always, is what works best with this story?

How does one determine whether a sense of retrospection or a sense of immediacy is preferable for a story?

In my blog about first person vs third person, I recieved some wonderful tips from the commenters.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too.

Apr 12, 2009

Death's Gift

My adored beta readers are starting to return crits to me on my extremely long manuscript for the story formerly known as The Corn Maiden.

At first, the discovery of fatal flaws in my baby drove me to despair. I planned to hack the whole thing in pieces and start all over. Further thought -- and sobriety -- offered an alternative solution, involving changes to key scenes. Hopefully this will save the whole thing from the scrape heap.

I'm impatient to gnaw on to fresh meat, so I want to get this book cooked and out of the oven.

In honor of the revisions, I toyed with a new title -- which, of course, required new cover art.

Whatdaya all think of the latest title? Is it intriguing? Think it stinks? Prefer the other one? Like the title in theory, but for some completely other book besides the one I've written?

I have two variations:

Death's Gift

Lady Death's Gift

I like the starkness of the first one, but the second sounds more like a fantasy to me.

Any thoughts?

* * *

P.S. I have covers for the Secret Novel too, but I can't show them yet! Damn!

The Secret Nature of Things

Everything looked beautiful, in the freshness of early spring. From a thicket close by came three beautiful white swans, rustling their feathers, and swimming lightly over the smooth water. The duckling remembered the lovely birds, and felt more strangely unhappy than ever.

“I will fly to those royal birds,” he exclaimed, “and they will kill me, because I am so ugly, and dare to approach them; but it does not matter: better be killed by them than pecked by the ducks, beaten by the hens, pushed about by the maiden who feeds the poultry, or starved with hunger in the winter.”

Then he flew to the water, and swam towards the beautiful swans. The moment they espied the stranger, they rushed to meet him with outstretched wings.

“Kill me,” said the poor bird; and he bent his head down to the surface of the water, and awaited death.

But what did he see in the clear stream below? His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan.

To be born in a duck's nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan's egg. He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the new-comer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.

-- by Hans Christian Andersen (1844)

Spring, and the holidays it brings, makes me think of this fairytale. Not just because it involves eggs and ducklings and blooming spring trees and swans, but because it seems to me to speak of older stories as well, of princes who are really slaves, and carpenters who are really princes. How many of the things we see around us have a secret nature, which we too often dismiss or despise? Yet if we looked closer, we would find true beauty.

May that also be true of our writing.

Apr 10, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Literate Civilization

Another typical screed bemoaning the loss of literary refinement in human civilization.

The odd thing about this decline in general literacy is that people are probably reading more than ever. Beyond the obvious ramifications of a much more highly educated populace, the rise of the Internet has upped the amount of time a person spends reading every day. But they’re not reading Sophocles, to be sure: it’s likely that blog posts and Wikipedia, despite the fact that they put more text before more eyes, have actually hurt our cultural sensibilities. Readers accustomed to short Perez Hilton paragraphs have difficulty turning to, say, the long-winded eloquence of Faulkner, and so the good stuff gets pushed aside.

It’s not even that books have been abandoned altogether. In fact, there have been some astonishing literary phenomena in recent years that probably represent the largest shared experiences of reading in history. The obvious example is the Harry Potter series, which has sold over 400 million copies in 67 languages. More recently, the Twilight books have gotten a boost from the related movie and are now seen in every teenage girl’s hands. And the seemingly unending hubbub over faux-memoirs and the accountability of authors would seem to suggest that people still care deeply about literature.

But the literature under consideration is of a deeply impoverished sort. Harry Potter and Twilight are good for a quick thrill and an occasional, broad-stroked lesson, but there’s no comparison to true art. At the risk of sounding too high-brow (and my hesitation indicates the extent to which cultural elitism has been discredited), the majority of what people read today is schlock. There’s something to be said for the pleasure of reading Tom Clancy or Dan Brown, I suppose, but their prevalence pushes aside the great authors.

This always amuses me. More people are reading than ever. How can we make this look bad? Oh, yeah, maybe they're reading but it's all puppy-poop! So there!

So let me get this straight.

Year 1309
Number of Literate People Reading Enobling Philosophical and Religious Stuff: 50
Number of Literate People: 50
Number of People communicating prmirily through the written word: 1 (primarily a nun walled into some little room with quill and parchment)

Year 2009
Number of Literate People Reading Enobling Philosophical and Religious Stuff: 50
Number of Literate People Reading Trashy Genre Books Like Harry Potter: 400 million
Number of Literate People: Apparently more than 400 million
Number of People communicating prmirily through the written word: millions (primarily geeks walled inside little rooms with a computer)

Yeah, reading has really declined in the past 700 years. Cry me an ocean.

There's been no decline, in real numbers, of those who like to read the erudite and uplifting and obscure. Those of us who are interested in flogging our souls with ink and paper are outnumbered by those who like to watch Punch-and-Judy shows, but that's nothing new.

The main complaint here, it seems to me, is that some dofus went and taught the tasteless masses how to read.

I think the entire nature of our society is changing. Consider even the lamest, stupidest trolls on the internet, the kind who post profoundly stupid comments which defy the laws of both logic and grammar.

Twenty years ago, these kind of people would have not dreamed of sitting at a keyboard to read or write something.

A century ago, these people would not even have been literate.

A millennium ago, the majority of the human population vastly superior in intelligence to internet trolls would not even have been literate.

Just consider. Even the idiots in our society now have to be better versed in the written language, just to express their stupidity, than the geniuses of ages past.

Apr 9, 2009

Amazon Sales Rankings

Dave Fortier provided some links to explain the Mystery That Is Amazon Sales Ranking.

Amazon's algorithm for sales ranking is complicated and some recent attempts to extrapolate the data have yielded some basic guidelines.

Discusses approximate sales from sales ranking. Here he mentions that a book needs to sell a copy a year on Amazon, through Amazon direct or a marketplace merchant, to have an approximate sales rank of 2,000,000. Less than a sale a year results in a larger number, or a worse ranking. A book without a sales ranking has yet to make a sale.

Similarly, Brent Sampson yields this list:

2,000,000+ Perhaps a single inventory/consignment copy has been ordered
1,000,000+ Current trends indicate total sales will most likely be under 40
100,000+ Current trends indicate total sales will most likely be under 200
10,000+ Estimate between 1 - 10 copies being sold per week.
1,000+ Estimate between 10 - 100 copies being sold per week.
100+ Estimate between 100 - 200 copies being sold per week.
10+ Estimate between 200 - 1000 copies being sold per week.
Under 10 Estimate over 1,000 copies per week

But again, being listed does not guarantee sales, and potential sales don't pay your bills.

Apr 8, 2009

Internal vs External Motivation

As I struggle with finding the
voice and
for my Secret Novel, I return each time to the characters themselves. Many of you have given me the advice, "Listen to what the characters tell you."

I pondered this wisdom deeply and realized something profound. I have no frickin' idea what my characters are telling me.

Here's the problem. I know the shape of my story well... but only from the outside. I know what happens to my characters. But I don't know what happens within my characters. I realize this is odd. Usually, I know what my characters want before I know what will stop them from getting it. For various reasons, mostly because my secret novel is inspired by real events, I know all the obstacles but none of the aspirations.

My characters have external motivation. Bad things happen to them. But what is their internal motivation? What keeps them going despite the bad things? This is what I have to discover.

I usually write characters from the inside out. This time I have to write them from the outside in.

UPDATE: Apparently, this is Vonnegut's Third Rule of Writing.

Blind Picket Author's Guild

Here's another view of the Author's Guild dispute with the Kindle.

The National Federation of the Blind's Imbroglio with the Author's Guild and their distaste for the Kindle 2's text-to-speech function is heating up. Today they took it to the Guild's own doorstep here in NYC.

Basically the story is this: the Author's Guild raised issue with the Kindle 2's new robotic text-to-speech feature, which can read any Kindle book aloud in a synthesized voice—naturally, a feature that would be an absolute delight for the vision impaired. The Author's Guild, however, saw things differently, stating that eBooks are not sold with "performance" rights and that the Kindle's read-aloud feature would cut into the sales of audio books. And last month, Amazon caved to the Guild, giving individual publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech reader for specific books.

...We're all about getting people paid for their work, but to cite lost royalties and audio book revenues as the main reason to deprive the blind community from the full Kindle archive —which, if you remember, Jeff Bezos hopes will soon include every book ever published—seems kind of ridiculous.

It's my personal opinion the Author's Guild is wrong on this -- for a number of reasons, though this is one of the more poignant. I say that as someone who would like someday to earn money from selling audio books.

Ending - Twist or Plunge

The End.

I always type those words at the end of my first draft. (Sometimes, if I'm trying to be sophisticated, I type "Fin" instead.) Fins are considered fishy these days, but I still like the taste of them.

There's a lot to say about endings, and Natalie the Ninja has some good advice on writing endings, especially for those who are nearing the completion of a manuscript right now.

My concern at the moment is a little different. My Secret Novel is not yet begun, never mind near complete. As I've mentioned before, I seldom begin a book without knowing how things will end. So, in a sense, this post is actually the counterpart of my discussion of beginnings.

Just as beginnings can be marathons or relays, so endings can be likened to the final run on a roller coaster: the Plunge or the Twist.

The plot of a book is like a roller coaster, full of of ups and downs, twists and curves. At the climax of the ride, you have to decide -- how will the ride end? Some roller coasters climb up a big hill. As your car rachets higher and higher on the track, you know it's going to have to go back down in one huge plunge which will have you screaming your head off.

Or maybe not. Some rides don't end with one big plunge, but with a final gravity-defying twist which takes you by surprise.

Now, all books, if they are any good at all, have some twists at the end, otherwise they would be thoroughly predictable. But this doesn't make them Twist Ending books. Take Lord of the Rings. There's a slight twist at the end involving Frodo and the Golum, but you don't find out that Sam is actually Sauron.

Compare with the The Life of Pi or with Ender's Game where at the end, you realize you have been reading a different book than you thought. All through the story you've seen things in a certain light, perhaps because the protagonist has seen things this way, but now you realize the protagonist either missed or withheld vital information. The revelation transforms your view of everything which went before.

The Empire Strikes Back ended with a twist. (It's become cliche now, but at the time, the boy who seeks to avenge his father but finds his enemy is his father was a marvelous twist.) Return of the Jedi ends with a plunge.

I do already know how my Secret Novel needs to end, and it isn't much of a plunge. The tension rises a bit, perhaps, toward the end, but is it sufficient for a satisfying ride? I'm not sure.

The alternative to a scream-worthy plunge is to throw in a extremely clever twist, so I'm considering that option. Problem -- I have no clue what the twist will be. And this is why I can't start a book before I know the ending, and what kind of ride the book will be.

I have a vague idea involving a postcard.

Apr 6, 2009

First Person

A friend of mine in a writing group said this about writing in First Person:

In general, I think the key to writing effectively in first is about not treating it like third person with a find-and-replace button, he or she swapped out for I in the same sentences, structures, and techniques. For first person present to be truly sustainable at novel length -- and, well, more readable in shorter lengths -- it has to be more experiential. If I'm telling a story, "No shit, there I was," I'm telling you about what I saw, how I felt, what my emotional reactions were; how I tell you and even what I tell you will be coloured by what I think of the whole thing.

So the major thing I'd put out there for writing effectively in first would be this: Think about how people actually do tell stories about themselves. What kind of language they use, how casual or formal they are, how they get across their personalities in the style and what they omit and what kinds of things they mention. Think about how they put the listener in the story with them.

I'm toying with the idea of writing my Secret Novel in Multiple First Person. I'm wondering now how different each "voice" should be. My characters are quite diverse in background and age, and I suppose that ought to be reflected in the narrative diction, but I don't want to draw too much attention to it.

Another Perfect Example of Human Strangeness

"It was such a perfect example of human strangeness that I cried."

So said the friend who emailed me this.

Me too.

Furthermore, I've actually been to the Central Station in Antwerp, Belguim.

Bad Query Contest

I entered a fabulous Bad Query Contest and my query was awful enough to warrant "highly recommended." Check out the winner and also the list of things which can go terribly awry in a query letter.

Here was mine:

Dear To Whom It May Concern,

What is the most allusive dream which is what Elenor Paige wants? But her husband has missing for forty years. Little does she know her sister knows where he is but is dead. When her sister is a ghost, the other ghosts are tyring to stop her. This is the point in the story where the villain reveals his ability to control all the governments of the world, including the Pope. And this is a conspiracy.

This is is not a stupid book like all of the crap on the shelves. This fiction novel will transforming your sole and make you glad to be life. This is a novel of the triumph of love and beauty and hope and goodness and the importance of freindship over an evil appliance of governments, religions and coroporations to control your brain and make you do what they want. This is a true story, but I change d the names so I wouldn't get sued again.

You are really stupid if you reject this book like all the other agents I quereid. But you probably will reject it because the Big Money wich is controlilng the Publishing is not really interested in wakening the sheeps but only in making people dumb. I hope you will be smart.

This book is 37,436 words long. Most of it is typed (but I had to hand write one chapter, ok?)

You may think because I am in prison I can't write a book, but you would be a fool if your really think that. This is a true story, so you should buy it. I have a good markiting plan too. I plan to be on Oprah. I think the Rock should play Bill Blade, the hero of my book, when it is made into a movie. So I will not take you as my agent unless you can promise tot get the Rock to play Bill Blade. Shakira should play Elly, but some other hot chick would be okay too.

Soon to Be Famous Author

In retrospect, there are so many things I could have done to make the letter even more ghastly. I can't believe I forgot to type my letter in inch-high pink gothic font against a sparkly orange background with red blinking hearts and dancing skeletons. Why didn't I include pictures of me, in lingerie, holding my beloved pitbull Killer Pumpkin?

Blog Notes

Urm, I have some stuff I need to do for my blog. My blog won an award -- squee! -- but I haven't nailed it to the wall yet. I want to catch up on a bunch of blogs I'm following, and I still want to post my thoughts on Endings, which is about half written. (My post on Endings has no ending. O, Irony, you kill me.)

Kids are off on Spring Break, I have a few art projects I'm going to bid on and Revenge of the Vomitous Stomach Flu has struck members of my clan again. However, I will brush up my blog eventually, and I apologize for the delay.

Apr 5, 2009

The Secret to Overnight Success

This interview with Arthur Golden, the author of Memoirs of a Geisha is ten years old, but new to me. A friend in a writing group passed the link to me, and I pass it on to you, with these thoughts:

1. This" overnight night success" took fifteen years to research, write, rewrite and sell.

2. Golden wrote a complete draft before he was able to interview a real geisha. "But I wrote a draft based on a lot of book-learning. And I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the world of a geisha was like, and wrote a draft. Then a chance came along to meet a geisha, which, of course, I couldn't turn down. And she was so helpful to me that I realized I'd gotten everything wrong, and I ended up throwing out that entire first draft and doing the whole thing over again."

3. He then rewrote the entire book again, this time changing from third person to first person.

And I also found this insight to the point:

O'BRIEN: What's it like, sitting there at the computer keyboard, trying -- as a white male, trying to put yourself into that skin?

GOLDEN: You know, I think that it's pretty much like writing anything else in fiction, in the sense that even if you sit down and try to imagine a story about somebody who lives on a street you've never seen, you really can't escape the hard work of just bridging this divide between you and an imagined other. And the difference for me was that I had to do a lot of research to put myself in a position where I could begin to know enough about that imagined other to make that leap. But the leap, I think, is the same, really, whatever kind of fiction you're writing.

Apr 4, 2009

Saving Money as a Writer

SunTiger tagged me with coming up with 3 ways to save money.

Um. I'm really the last person to ask about how to save money. Now, if y'all wanted tips on how to waste money, I'm your gal. Plus, this is supposed to be a blog about writing.

Anyway, here goes.

1. Write in the dark.

Your computer screen should give you enough light anyway, right? Turn off the lights and conserve power! Oh, wait, some of you write longhand. Well, you probably don't have electricity anyway, so you're fine.

2. Query only by email.

Why waste trees and spend all that money on stamps? Do you really even want an agent who doesn't know how to use email?

3. Drink less beer.

Buy a keg instead.

Yeah, I know. There's a reason I lost the election for Highschool Treasurer.

Apr 3, 2009


My next post was going to be on Endings. However, the thoughtful comments to my post on Beginnings made me want to linger a bit longer on the subject of Hooks.

We are told all the time, "You must hook your reader!" But what about the quiet set-up, the story which opens like a wide-shot of the landscape which shapes the story, or a close-up on a character? Must every story start with action and danger?

In short, must every book begin with a sentence as dark and striking the first sentence in Neil Gaiman's  The Graveyard Book:
"There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife."
In a word -- no.

Not every book has to begin with darkness, knives, or the slaughter of the protagonist's family.

Every story needs a hook. But not every hook involves action or physical threats.  A hook which is understated, subdued, focused on character, is perfectly acceptable in a book which is focused on character. Take the first two lines of The Kite Runner:
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the ally near the frozen creek.
The first line tells you that this will be a book primarily about a man's soul. By the end of the first paragraph, and more strongly by the end of the first chapter, we learn it will be a story about redeeming a man's soul. 

The second line further tells you that the book will explore a world of crumbling mud walls, far from the experience of most American readers.

The hook is strong because it makes the reader ask what single event made this man who he is? What was so terrible about it that he must find a way "to be good again" as it says at the end of Chapter One? And if it was so terrible a thing, how can he change or make up for it now? The hints and details in Chapter One -- mud walled alleys, kites, Kabul -- deepen the mystery by promising that to understand this man, you must also come to understand the world which shaped him.

The bait on your novel's hook depends on the kind of reader you hope to reel in. If you are the kind of reader who likes books with which run silent but deep, this is probably also the kind of book you're writing, and you will bait your hook accordingly.

Of course, it's not a rule that you can't begin a book about character with a description of the setting, or begin a book in which the world-building is the primary reward (much sf and fantasy) with a character, or a character book with a bomb. I suspect, though, it's easier to Begin As You Mean To Go On, and focus the camera as soon as possible on the theme of your novel. As for your hook,  I suspect it wouldn't work at all unless it was aligned with the rest of the book.

Apr 2, 2009

Beginning - Relay Race or Marathon?

We all know, I presume, the importance of a good hook. Many of my friends who read this blog are familiar with Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent contests, in which one has only 250 words to dangle that hook in front of an agent. She is presently running a first sentence contest, in which your hook must be in the very first sentence of your novel.

All well and good, but as I contemplate the best place to begin my Secret Novel, I would like to go beyond the obvious need for a hook and ask, "Yes, but what kind of hook?"

It isn't enough to hook the readers in Chapter One and then throw them back into the lake of lukewarm plot tension for the rest of the book. The hook has to lead into the rest of the book.

It seems to me there are two ways the hook can do this: the Relay Race method or the Marathon Race Method.

* * *

In the Relay Race Method, the hook in the first chapter is not itself the main problem of the book. It is merely the first of a cascade of problems, each one leading to the next, so that tension in the story is passed along like a baton between different racers in a relay race.

For instance, imagine a Regency Romance in which the heroine finds a dead body on her lawn -- and the hero standing beside it with a smoking gun. She thinks the hero is a murderer, and this is the first hook. By chapter 3, however, she has discovered the hero is not a murderer, but to protect him from going to prison, she pretends he spent the night in her bedroom. This alibi protects him but destroys her reputation, so they are forced to pretend they are engaged.... We may find out the true killer in chapter two and the dead body may matter no more to the story. It's served its purpose in setting off the chain of problems which drive the plot.

* * *

In the Marathon Race Method, the Big Problem at the heart of the story's conflict is the problem introduced right off the bat. The characters run and run after the solution, which doesn't come until the end of the book. There are other problems, twists and turns on the road to the finish line, but they are all basically part of the same race.

For instance, imagine a similar story to the one above, but this time make it a Mystery. Now the question of who killed the dead man on the heroine's lawn is the central question to be answered by the book. The heroine may still cease to suspect the hero by Chapter Three (perhaps prematurely) but the mystery must remain unsolved until the climax of the novel. In this version, the subplots of the heroine marrying the hero to give him an alibi/protect her reputation supplement her quest to find the murderer. (And who knows, maybe the rogue did do it!)

* * *

I know I need a hook for the beginning of my novel. But should it be a relay or a marathon?

Apr 1, 2009

My Vampire Story

I've now got the goth font and the black background... what am I really saying with my blog look? Perhaps I should be writing a vampire story. 

Well, actually....

I, too, have a vampire story. Yes. Really. April Fool's is over, and I'm not a ninja of humor, so you can trust me on this. According to Nathan's poll, they aren't passe yet. Don't worry, this isn't the topic of my Secret Novel. I haven't had a full idea yet, only an inkling of one -- the core of the story, the unique twist.

It definitely has a unique twist. Not sparkles. It's never been done before. 

Unfortunately, there may have been a good reason for that.

My vampires are unlikely to make tweenyboppers swoon. I wanted to address Lady Glamis' question about what is the obsession with zombies and vampires and other ghoulies. (Actually, ghouls are much under used.) How much of a twist do you need to justify revisiting a much-used trope like vampires (or zombies or werewolves or Americans in Paris). How far can you twist an idea before you risk losing the elements of the archetypes which make them beloved?

(Pictured: Sharon Tate as Sarah Shagal in The Fearless Vampire Killers. I saw this cheesy movie years ago. I love her dress.)

New Blog Header, Take Two

The other header, alas, really didn't work, so I've set it aside and tried something simpler.

The previous entry was, of course, in honor of the spring tradition of poking fun at ourselves. Happy April Fool's Day!

Writing News

I don't have time for much blogging today, but here's a few writing-related news tidbits.

Some of you already know that Romance writer Nora Roberts also writes as J.D. Robb. Well, apparently, she's not the only famous writer who goes slumming under other pen names. Famed horror writer Stephen King just revealed that he is actually the author behind the pen name Stephanie Meyer. That's right. The whole bro-ha-ha where Stephen King supposedly dissed the writing quality of Twilight was just an elaborate inside joke.

Boarders has been in trouble for quite some time, but the mega-book store chain has a new lease on life now that they've been acquired by Publish America.

Finally, J.K. Rowlings, who had earlier shocked fans by outting Dumbledore as gay, delivered another surprise today when she explained that after attending several reparative therapy sessions, the wizard had successfully reversed his homosexuality. She did not say whether magic was involved in the therapy, or whether the same spells would work on Muggles.