Archive for June 2011

You Want Me To Do What?!   4 comments

I’ve not spoken much about my standing in the Speculative Fiction Marathon, and there is good reason for it. Thus far I have either been very good, or very lucky. In the reviews of the first three chapters I have received only one ‘No’ vote. I didn’t address the issue because it would feel like bragging to me. I hate bragging, especially from myself. Bragging seems like an open opportunity to stick your foot in your mouth, and I haven’t sucked my toes since I was about 14 months old. At least, not if I could help it.

So, why bring it up now? Simply because it appears that I will be re-writing and re-posting chapter four. The vote stands at two ‘Yes’, and two ‘No.’ (See? If I had been crowing about my ‘stellar record’, I’d be dining on that same crow right about now.)

But, I digress. This offers me a perfect opportunity to muse about re-writing, plot holes, and editing in general. It also allows me to muse about these bumps in the road leading to published author, and the aspiring writer’s near phobic aversion to them.

If you are really serious about making a career as a writer, that’s all they are. Bumps in the road. If small things like this are major disasters for you, my sympathies when the really big things hit. You’re gonna get splattered across the literary landscape like semi-truck roadkill.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am definitely NOT saying that you have to roll over for every little nit that someone discovers in your manuscript. What I am saying is there will be things that you didn’t think of, and to let them go unaddressed simply because the reviewer, critic, or editor doesn’t see your ‘genius’ is just plain s-t-u-p-i-d. 99.99% of the time, you are passing up an opportunity to turn out something of a masterpiece for the sake of your ego.

I don’t know about anyone else, but my ego isn’t the one paying the bills, or trying to get this career off the ground. I am.

Wait a minute! Isn’t my ego the same thing as me? No. My ego is that very small part of me that has a bad habit of getting in the way and screwing up a good thing. Robert L. Ringer, in his seminal classic “Looking Out For Number One”, compared ego to a dinosaur. As long as you feed it, everything is fine. The moment you reach a point where you can’t feed it; it will step on your house.

I’m sorry to say that over the years I have tested this little theory of Robert’s. Know what? There are a few crushed houses in my wake that used to belong to me. Relationships where I just had to be right, jobs where I knew better than the boss, small businesses where I was the Boss and knew better than anyone else. Sometimes I wonder where I would be right now if I hadn’t let ego get in my way.

Think I’m going to let that little S.O.B get in my way this time? Oh, Hell no! If this is going to fail, I can do bad all by myself, thank you.

The point to all this meandering? Mostly it’s been to remind myself what letting my ego get in the way has cost me in the past. But, also to let any other, younger writers know what they have in store for them by letting their own dinosaur run unchecked.

One of the trickiest areas to deal with is knowing when something is a legitimate point, and when it actually is a story destroying opinion. Most things are not. They are simply something you didn’t notice, or a way of handling something that you didn’t think of. I’ll let you in on a little secret, too.

Even the best actor you can think of has a director telling them what to do. It’s the same in the publishing world. Editors, beta readers, agents, and critics are all doing the job of the director. Actors who puff up their ego, no matter how famous, soon find themselves without work. The actors who work with the director find themselves in demand, and very often on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The same rule holds true for authors… in particular aspiring authors.

For myself, I’ll be re-writing chapter four, regardless. To be truthful about it, I’ll be re-writing the other three chapters as well. Even though they passed, there were many points made that I needed, and I’m sure going to use them. So, in the end it doesn’t really matter if I pass this week, or not. The only difference will be, if I don’t, the rest of the group will get to see the re-write before the story is finished. 😉 😀

But, before anyone thinks I’m totally wishy-washy; I will be keeping the term knight. There is ample evidence that the term could have originated with the Celts, as well as the practice of dubbing.

In The Epics of Celtic Ireland, by Jean Markale, (Which analyses the few surviving written accounts of Celtic mythology.) The Celtic God Mananann Mac Lir was often called the Knight of the Sea, and was referred to in the translations this way. Since the Celts did have a word for King, the word used to describe his title is obviously something else, and this word was translated as knight.

See? You don’t have to give up everything. 😉



Tough Enough   6 comments

Working through the AQC Speculative Fiction Marathon is an experience in itself. As a result some things have gotten away from me. The blog, for example. It’s probably not a good idea to let it lay fallow for such a long time. Assuming I still have any readers out there, I’ll try not to do so again.

Jumping back into the blogging fray, it occurred to me that one has to have an extreme degree of toughness to consider becoming a writer. Either that, or just enjoy the sensation of pain. It’s a small wonder that Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was an Austrian writer and journalist. The namesake of masochism couldn’t have chosen a better profession to feed his need. (Short of volunteering to be a human target for a knife throwing class, that is.)

All that said, I will say that I am not a friend of pain. The less I experience that sensation in any of its myriad forms the better. But, like death and taxes, it is impossible to avoid completely. In particular when it stands between you and something you want. Such as becoming a published author, for instance.

When I have often heard a non-writer, and on occasion an aspiring writer, comment on what an easy job writing is; I come to two conclusions. One being that they have never tried to seriously become an author. The other is, they need to stop eating those wild mushrooms before they loose all sense of reality, or accidentally kill themselves.

The truth is, the moment you decide to pursue the career you have set yourself up for more work, and abuse, than you could possibly imagine. Not only is your ‘finished novel’ nowhere near as finished as you think, but the task of polishing your baby into publishing quality is one long hard road to travel. Until the book actually sees print you will be rewriting, revising, and rethinking every nuance in it. In short both your baby, and your ego is in for one hell of a beating.

Don’t think for a moment that self-publishing will save your tail, either. Not if your serious. In many ways self-publishing is harder than traditional publishing. Especially if you ignore any well meaning advise you may receive on your work. Since you won’t have the aid of a seasoned editor to help you, you’ll have to take the advice of your beta readers and peers. Ignore that, and I guarantee your reviews are going to chew you a new one. If you are lucky enough to get a review in the first place.

Even better, none of this so far takes into account the massive amount of work you will have to put into marketing your book, promoting your book, and advertising your book. Then, when all that is said and done, it is still quite possible that you’ve done little more than waste your time, effort, and money. The book can still fail simply because the reading public doesn’t want it.

As I said on AQC recently, (A phrase Darke liked so much she tweeted it.): The publishing business is a dog eat dog world, and we are all wearing Milkbone underwear.

Now, I do have to say that it is not my intention to scare anyone away from a career in writing. Instead I’m just trying to give a heads up. This job isn’t the sweet, work-less deal that many take it for. It is hard and brutal. To have a chance of success you have to be tough. You must be willing to wade through Hell just to sandpaper a wildcat’s ass in a phone booth.

It all boils down to one thing. How bad do you want it?

For myself, hand me a sheet of #6 grit, and close the door on the phone booth. 😉


Critique vs Opportunity   Leave a comment

There is a line from George Lucas’ Star Wars that springs to mind here. “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

Barring the semi-cheesy source of the above quote, there is a great truth here. Particularly in the realm of writers and critiques. To be honest about it the only difference between a critique that is devastating, and one that is an opportunity, is our point of view.

One of the aspects of The Speculative Fiction Group’s critiquing marathon that I have glossed over is the vote. Each of the members who are kind enough to beta read, and critique your work gets a vote. This vote determines whether you are allowed to post your next chapter, or if you need to do a major rewrite and re-post the chapter in question.

Now, I can not speak for anyone else involved in Marathon, except for myself. I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to presume to do so. So, if this post comes off as a little self-centered, I beg your indulgence. It is only by necessity and not my intent.

So far I have been lucky enough to have my yes vote outweigh my no votes. Remember, though, that the week isn’t over yet and things can turn around real quick. Even so, I have taken every suggestion, both technical and storytelling, to heart. I will be doing a rewrite of my first chapter regardless of whether I decide to post the next, or not. Yes, even with a continuing number of yes votes it is still up to the writer whether, or not, they decide to continue to the next chapter. You are allowed to do a rewrite and post the same chapter with improvements.

I’m still debating whether, or not, to do so.

My point is; I look at every suggestion based on the merits of the suggestion. A consensus on any certain point is a red flag that I need to work on that section. The others depend on certain facts. Did I do my research, and know better from that, or personal experience. As well as the fact that I know the story, the critiquer does not.

Some of the seeming negatives that I have received have excited me. Why? Because they let me know that I have the reader playing right into where I want them to go in the story. Others have let me know that I haven’t been clear enough to drive my story into the area that I need it to go in. My point of view is what makes the difference. And none of these negative points have offended me. Quite the opposite, they have given me an edge. 😉

One of the biggest questions that I ask myself during a negative point in a critique of my work is, “Does the critiquer have a valid point, or is it just my ego getting in my way again?” You would be surprised to know the number of time the answer is E-G-O.

Fortunately, I already know I am no Hemingway, King, Wilde, or Eyre. I hope to be, but I certainly am not at this point in my career. Maybe I never will be, but that is for fate and hard work to decide.

At the moment I am reminded of an aspiring author who went ballistic over what they perceived to be a bad review from a professional critic. My fellow storytellers will know who I am speaking of, so I don’t plan on using any names, or pointing fingers.

What amazed me was the review wasn’t a fantastic review, and the critic did point out some legitimate points. But, they also had some nice things to say about the story as well. Unfortunately, this particular author chose to focus on the negatives only and threw a public temper tantrum worthy of a three year old. The result was the author lost potential sales, and their ranking dropped with meteoric speed. In short their point of view cost them a opportunity to do just the opposite.

I read the review, and what stuck in my mind was that the critic in question said, up front, that they liked the story, and was impressed with it. The author’s reaction totally baffled me. (Personally, I would have latched onto that point like a Pit Bull!)

Here was an up and coming author who was lucky enough to have a critic review their work. I would give my eye teeth for such an opportunity. And they were even luckier that the critic gave them a pearl along with the mud. But, the writer’s point of view took a potential opportunity, and turned it into a total disaster.

Hopefully, if I am ever lucky enough to land such an opportunity, my point of view will allow me to take advantage of it. If not, please do me a big favor. Put a .357 cartridge between my eyes, and put me out of my misery. Blowing an opportunity like that over a wrong point of view deserves an execution. 😀


Marathon Motivation   9 comments

As I explained in my last post, there is a measure of nervousness that goes along with putting your work up for your fellow writers to review, and critique. This is especially true when you have such a great amount of time and work poured into the piece. That is merely a human reaction. The social need for acceptance is core deep in us all. And this is where the writing game gets tough.

All my usual bull-feather slinging aside, acceptance is not my main motivation for putting my story through Marathon. My main motivation is to discover what, and where my story needs improvement. To discover what will stick out in a reader’s mind, and where they might miss something that I needed them to notice. (The technical help doesn’t hurt, either. I can really butcher grammar and punctuation at times. 😉 )

Now, I will confess that many of the critiques touched on points that I thought I had sewed up. Imagine my surprise when I found out that I needed to fix some things I thought I had down pat. Yet, there they were and all I can say is, “Thank goodness someone noticed them, because I sure didn’t!

For many aspiring authors things like this can be devastating, and that is only natural. It’s human. But, stop and think for a moment. What might be perceived as rejection is not rejection at all. It is an opportunity. It is a chance to fix things before they really blow up in your face. Which is better? To have a few of your peers say, “You have a problem here that needs fixing?”, or to have the reading public believe you have all the talent of a mudpie?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I prefer the former to the latter. I need all the readers I can get, and to that effect I have to turn out the best product I can offer to them. Few people will take a second chance on a product that breaks the first time you use it. Storytelling is no different, and you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.

I’m not saying that I wasn’t disappointed, or shocked to read some of the things that others noticed in my story. I was. But, only for the initial second, or two while my ego was trying to break out of its cage. Fortunately for me, my ego isn’t as large as my desire to be an author, and I saw what I was being given to me. Pearls. Again, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I need all of those I can lay my greedy little hands on as well.

It can be said that I’ve been lucky so far. After all, I’ve been given a passing vote by each reviewer, so far. Well, the week ain’t over yet, and who knows what the next reviewers might find? Either way, it will present another chance to make my story better for the reader. I refuse to see it in any other light than an opportunity for taking my storytelling to the next level.

See? All you Dr. Frankensteins in the Speculative Fiction Group are creating a monster. And, in this case, the monster is grateful for all your hard work.

Now, I have to get back to returning the favor.

I’ll try to keep the blog up to date, but my posting may be erratic for the summer. Marathon is far more important at the moment, and I have to do my part to try and help, if I can.

It’s a big debt to try and repay, but I’ll do my best.


Marathon Mania   14 comments

In just two short days from now the Summer posting marathon of the Speculative Fiction Group at AgentQuery Connect begins. To say the least, I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs over it.

For those of you who may not know; The posting marathon is actually a beta read/critique of a polished work in progress for those of us who belong to the group. In short you end up with several different authors critiquing your story one chapter per week.

Now I am certainly not opposed to critique by my fellow writers. As I’ve often said, I can’t fix what I don’t know about. And with several different authors, from several different levels of publishing experience, I’m sure to get a good cross reference as to what I can do to make the story better. After all, that is my main goal as a writer; to turn out the best possible work that I can.

So, why should I be nervous?

In short, good old fashioned self-doubt. Sure, I like the story. Sure, I think I have been clever, and wove together a tale that will keep the reader turning pages. Sure, close friends and family think its one of the best things they’ve read. But, if all I was after was ego massaging, I wouldn’t be bothering with editing, revising, throwing out old sub-plots that didn’t drive the story, etc,etc. I’d just keep bugging friends and family so I could hear them say, “You should publish this.”

(Bless their hearts, but they have said that about any piece of garbage that I’ve concocted over the years. And, believe me, there were more than a few stinkers in that mix.)

No, what’s keeping my shaky meter in the red are the same old nagging thoughts that plague any wanna-be author. What if the premise of the story isn’t as hot as I think it is? What if my characters are not properly defined, and my plots are actually juvenile, and tripe? Worse yet, what if my storytelling is boring?!

In a couple of days, I’ll find out.

Now, just for argument’s sake, let us suppose that the worse proves true. What then? Should I just chuck the whole mess, and start thinking about a career flipping burgers, or asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

Maybe. But, my gut reaction is, “OH, HELL NO!” No way am I going to blow an opportunity like this by turning belly up over some bad reviews. What I am going to do is learn from the experience, work on my weak areas, and take yet another running shot at it. Perhaps with a new story, if the current one is unsalvageable.

Does it bother me that I may have wasted three years on this particular story? A little. Still, it isn’t the end of the world. If the tale isn’t what I thought it was, at least I’ll know why, and that is worth its weight in gold to an aspiring writer.

All too often I’ve seen new writers who believe that their story is akin to the wealth of the Indies. They seem to pin all their hopes on a single story, and God help them if so much as a single sentence is looked upon in a negative light. Speaking for myself, this appears to be the most egotistical approach to writing that anyone could take. Just who are these people trying to please? The readership, or themselves?

If they are trying to please themselves, congratulations, they already succeeded. If they are trying to please a readership, I think they have a long hard road ahead of them.

It is true that you can not fill a cup which is already full. More often than not, this particular cup is full of itself. Hopefully, I can remain the kind of writer cum author who checks their ego at the door when it comes to the story. Fully knowing that not everything I put down to a word processor is genius.

All rambling aside, like anyone else, I’m hoping that the story will be well received. I certainly know that it isn’t perfect. Perfection is an impossibility. Yet, I would like to get as close as I can. At least I’m lucky enough to have a place where I can get plenty of feed back, and that is a good thing. 😀

I’ve two more days to polish the story a bit more, then comes the acid test.

Wish me luck, if you will.


The Easy Hard Way 2   8 comments

As it becomes harder for an aspiring author to break into traditional publishing, more are opting for self-publishing. Continuing from the last post, it should be obvious for the serious writer that self-publishing isn’t as easy as it first seems. Oh, sure anyone can do it, but it’s not just a case of putting your work out there, and sitting on your ass waiting for the bucks to roll in. That approach is a lot like trying to mow the lawn while your watching HBO on the boob tube. It just isn’t going to get the job done.

Even in today’s traditional publishing world the burden of getting your sales up is shifting to the author. Sure, you get a smaller up front advance, (which is based on how well the publisher thinks the book will sell), but most of the promoting and marketing is going to fall square in the author’s lap. The big advantage is that you will have access to a good editor, and limited access to a public relations department. Both assets are well worth the contract, but if you want your readership to grow, it’s still going to be your responsibility.

We’ve already looked at the value of beta readers, and critiques. Particularly so when they happen to be fellow writers. So, lets concentrate on the bane of any writer’s life. Editing. Before you make a mad rush for the exit, please remember that if you want a chance at succeeding in this business your going to have to do it anyway. Editing is as inescapable as death. To paraphrase the immortal Mae West, “When rape, (editing), is inevitable, you might as well relax and enjoy it.” 😉

One of my favorite self-editing tricks that may, or may not, help you is what I like to call the ‘different format’ trick. Basically, what this entails is changing what your manuscript looks like, without changing the original. Two things that will come in real handy here are the ‘save as’ command, and a PDF maker. If you don’t have a PDF creator, never fear. There is a good free one for download at SourceForge. It will allow you to create a PDF from any Windows program. You use it like a printer in Word, Excel or any other Windows application.

Once you have your PDF creator, ‘select all’ in your manuscript, change your line spacing, font style, or anything else that will make the document different than the one your bloodshot eyes have been fussing over. Then, and this is the most important part, ‘save as’ anything other than your manuscript’s name. I usually name mine test, or edit. This will save a new document, and leave the original untouched.

Lastly, create your PDF from the new manuscript, and start reading. You’ll be surprised at the number of mistakes that will suddenly stand out to you. At least it does in my case. The reason why is; you have just tricked your brain into seeing the document as something unfamiliar. Since it is no longer totally familiar to you, many editing mistakes stand out more. It makes it easier to put yourself in the place of a reader of the story instead of the writer.

I have to say here that the above method is particularly effective when coupled with the ‘let it rest’ technique. Get away from your story for a week, or two. Don’t think about it. Work on something else, then go back and do the above. I think you’ll be surprised by the results.

While I’m gearing these posts more towards the growing self-publishing industry, I’m certain you can see the advantage of doing this for any manuscript, query, or *shudder* synopsis. Besides, if you do happen to land an agent, and a publisher, never fear… they are going to make you edit it all over again, anyway. 😉

Now, I can’t say for sure that this method will work for everyone. All I can honestly say is, “It works for me.” If it can help you by making your own self-editing life a little easier, I’m glad I could help. If not, please feel free to put it all down as the diseased ramblings of a professed lunatic and ignore it.:D