Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ROW80 Update and Change In Posting Plans

First, there's a change in posting plans this week. I've been too busy to prep the point of view post I mentioned. It's really a multi-part post anyway, and I'll do those next week.

Instead I will kick off the discussions about Artisan Writers and craft with a post called "Absolutely Right, Except When Wrong." A lot of what I am going to say in the next month or so will seem in opposition to Heinlein, and to what Dean Wesley Smith will tell you -- and since I believe that the very best advice for writers comes from Heinlein's Rules and DWS's blog, I should address that.

Then on Friday I will write about what made this book take so frickin' long to write, and what worked for it and not. This book is, I think, a great example of where the artisan concept diverges from the Heinlein model. But it's also an example of how writing slow can screw you up.

A Round Of Words In Eighty Days Update

I kinda knew I wasn't going to get done tonight. And Wednesday is the day from hell. So unless we end up having a snow day, I'll be finishing this up on Thursday.

Sunday Day 56 - 272 minutes. On a roll.

Monday Day 57 - 226 minutes. Okay, finished through Chapter 24. Really wanted to get further today, but had some issues. And unfortunately, Chapter 25 is one of those chapters which will have to be retrofitted with new information. At this point, though, I don't have to disguise any information (which was an issue earlier) so it should go faster.

Tuesday Day 58 - 126 minutes. Woke up with the realization that I had one revelation too many in Chapter 24. I wrote that a long time ago, and now that I've set it up, I don't need to hit Karla over the head with a clue-hammer. I need to just move up the Big Reveal at the end of the chapter to the middle, and let Karla's intuition do the rest. That's mostly cutting, so not too hard. (But it will change the rhythm of her explanation scene.)

I'm determined to get this thing done before the end of the day Thursday. (It would so help if we had a snow day on Wednesday, but I fear that is not going to happen.)

See you in the funny papers.

For your browsing convenience, here is a Linky list of the others who updated today:

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Man Who Did Too Much - Random Excerpt 2

A very short excerpt, chosen by the randomizer in my sidebar.

George has had a very very bad day, and it's partly Karla's fault. He shows up at her house, in need of support.

* * * * *

The Man Who Did Too Much
from Chapter 15 - What Do You Do With A Spurned Recovery Agent?

"WOULD YOU LIKE some orange juice?" said Karla.

"If it's got vodka in it. And you can hold the orange juice."

"What about a brownie? It's got so much chocolate, it's practically a controlled substance."

Karla went into the kitchen to get the brownie. Behind her the music changed, mid-song, so George must have changed it. Edith Piaf. Je Ne Regrette Rien. I regret nothing.

Well, that was a good sign.

She cut a brownie and put it on a plate and wondered exactly what she was going to do with him. This was why she didn't like dealing with strangers. You do just one quick little favor, and you end up with a love-sick James Bond in your living room listening to Edith Piaf.

I hope to be done with this sucker on Thursday.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekly Preview and ROW80 Update

I went to see HUGO this afternoon. It was wonderful, and for some of us, it was a stunning box of surprise treats. It's a magical, fanciful tale about an orphan boy who lives in the walls of the Montparnasse railway station in Paris in the 1930s. He maintains the clocks and works on a broken robot his father left him.

And the magical mystery he is trying to uncover turns out to be a piece of real history that not many people know. It works great as just a fanciful story, but it's a jewel for those to whom the real story means something -- especially if you didn't see it coming. So I'm not going to say more. Just... go see it.

A Round Of Words in Eighty Days -- 7th week wrap up.

Wednesday Day 52 - 0 minutes.

Thursday Day 53 - 0 minutes.

Friday Day 54 - 61 minutes. I had a really really great half hour session, but when I went back to it, I hit the wall. I couldn't even keep my eyes open. I think I have more resting to do than I thought. I managed to eek out a little more decent work, though.

Saturday Day 55 - 167 minutes. Getting onto a roll again. I've got two whole days I hope to devote to this as yet. We'll see how far I get.

Preview of coming week:

I know I said I'd hoped to get back to more regular posting, but I'm really wrapping up this book, so the blog has to wait.

  • Monday - Random Page Excerpt
  • Wednesday - ROW80 Update
  • Thursday - Intro to the Point of View Series
  • Friday - IF I'M DONE, I'll do a post on Friday about what it used to be like to be a beginning writer, and what that might mean to beginners today.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Video For Thanksgiving: Alice's Restaurant Illustrated

I posted a shorter version of Alice's Restaurant in an earlier post about "told" stories.

But since it is a great Thanksgiving story, I thought I'd embed it for all to watch. This is the full version, and it also has funny cartoon illustrations to go along with the words.

(Caution to those of the conservative persuasion -- it's an anti-war, anti-draft song/story from the sixties.)

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Sale!

Just to let you know -- my Thanksgiving Sale has begun:

I've put two of my novels on sale for 99 cents at Amazon until December 7. (And for those who use other formats, or just don't like Amazon, here are the coupon codes for 85 percent off at Smashwords.)

Have Gun, Will Play
Smashwords: EQ44H (Note: you MUST have the code to get the discount)

The Adventure of Anna The Great
Smashwords: XJ33W (Note: you MUST have the code to get the discount)

But wait, there's more!

Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! Five Short Mysteries is currently free at all vendors except Amazon. Amazon usually matches a low or free price, but they just haven't gotten around to it yet. You can wait around for it, or you can get it now for free at Smashwords, the B&N Nook Store, and other e-retailers. If you like, you can "report a lower price" on its paget at the Amazon Kindle Store.
* * *

This is a last chance to get a cheap price on the novels for a while. I'm going to run an experiment in charging a price closer to the big publishers for a few months. So sometime after midnight December 7, I will be raising the price on these to $6.99.

This sale is also an experiment: I am promoting it only in a couple of limited ways. This post, and perhaps some other mentions here. A couple of announcements on Twitter. And a few ads on Project Wonderful sites where I have advertised before. I am not making a special banner, nor have I contacted any cheap book sites to get it listed.

I had been hoping to use this as a launch promotion for The Man Who Did Too Much, but the timing just won't come out right. Still, new readers from this sale should trickle over to that book eventually.

See you in the funny papers.

ROW80 Update - Crap Dance

What's a Crap Dance, you ask?

A crap dance is when you first say:

"Oh crap, this boring little bridge scene just got more interesting and I have to tear out all the seams and do it right."

And then you break into a dance because, you know, the boring little bridge scene just got interesting and added to the wonderfulness that is your story.

And on to the ROW80 Midweek Update:

Sunday Day 49 - 90 minutes. Got myself halfway to where the scene needed to be -- so it was just the "oh crap" part.

Monday Day 50 - 91 minutes. Crap Dance Day. Hard on the brain stuff, especially since I had a headache coming on (not sure if it was migraine or simple sinus + eye strain) AND I had to go picket for my job. But I am delighted that this chapter which should have been done in five minutes is blossoming under many hours of work.

Tuesday Day 51 - 0 minutes. I knew today would be a challenge, but I didn't realize how much of a challenge. The graphic design students had projects due, and the printers were revolting. (No seriously, they formed a drum circle, and you could hear little voices inside yelling: "Whose network? OUR network!" ) I was running around all day. And then we did our last round of holiday shopping (because Wednesday is the LONG day). I got home late and zoned out, and it was only few minutes ago that I felt ready to do anything. But when I looked at the clock, I saw it was after midnight. I could do a little work... or I could update this post, do a little reading and go to bed. (Guess which one I'm choosing?)

Tomorrow is my long long day. However, even if the printers are still camping out in the park complaining about capitalism, I think the students are pretty much done and ready to go home and occupy some turkey dinner. I might get a little work done tomorrow, and maybe even on Thursday, but the next target date for real work is Friday.

Given how long this has taken, I think I have to give up on my hopes of publishing this in December. Aiming for New Years Day. And that means the target date for finishing it is now December 1. "Six-Gun Santa" is just going to have to wait until next Christmas.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

ROW80 sunday update

I've got some fun upcoming posts, but I don't have time to polish them up and post them this week. This week is going to be hectic, and I'm far from where I want to be on the book.

But I still might be done by the end of the day on Wednesday. The main thing holding me up are the sections that need replacing. They don't necessarily need to be completely replaced, but they needed massive thinking.


Because they were utterly static. They didn't drive anywhere. In one case, the premise of the scene was contrived. There wasn't a motive for the character doing it that way. So I hammered it out and hammered it out... and eventually came up with a reason for the scene that threaded perfectly with earlier work and drove the scene to a better conclusion, and set me up for the next segment.

But I'm going to be very busy every day between now, and, oh, next Christmas? Maybe the one after that?

Wednesday Day 45 - 0 minutes. Usual day off.

Thursday Day 46 - 90 minutes. Spent too much time watching Occupy Wall Street on livestreams.

Friday Day 47 - 91 minutes. Spent most of that time pulling out the seams on a boring chapter of investigation. I beat it out again, and now there is some narrative drive, and George has a reason for doing what he does, as opposed to me having the reason.

Saturday Day 48 - 120 minutes. Still had at least an hour's worth of beat work to do, and I lost track of time, so that's approximate.

But it's after 3 am and I've got to get to bed.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Readers May Not Want Self-Published Writers To Get Editors

In all the posts I did this past week about editing and self-publishing, and those I did in the week before, I didn't write about one very very important consideration:

The Reader.

Frankly I thought this issue was obvious and clear, but it seems writers are a little too self-involved to see it.

Too often the advice an unskilled writer gets goes like this:

"Get an editor to fix your mistakes! Oh, and polish up those first chapters in particular, because readers use samples to judge whether to buy a book or not."

Do you see the problem here?

Readers do. You hear it from them all the time.

"But I tried using samples to sort out the bad from the good, and it didn't work. The sample would be really polished and professional, but the book just fell apart in the middle and I couldn't even get to the end."

The more we use editing as a short cut, or as a marketing tool, the less effective it will be. Readers will be forced to find other ways to find good books. The power of the sample will be dead.

Remember folks, beginning writers don't know what it takes to write well.  They need to learn to write first.  They need to learn to do their own editing.  And then, if they choose, they'll know if they need an editor or not.

Friday, November 18, 2011

With Enough Courage, You Don't Need a Reputation

The "Do Indies Need Editors?" post prompted an interesting conversation on Twitter between me and Jason Black (aka p2p_editor), who disagreed with my statement that the consequences of failure for the self-published author are next to nothing.

Black is an editor, but I don't think he was disagreeing on the basis of fear of unemployment -- whether indie authors as a class need editors or not, there's plenty of work for a good editor out there. (As I said, they are to be prized above rubies and chocolate and bacon.)

(Added Note: Didn't realize that this was the Jason Black who runs the Plot To Punctuation blog. A LOT of good material on that blog about craft. Sometimes more into the "editing" thing, but hey, he's an editor.)

What he specifically brought up was a fear that self-publishing has a bad name.

My first reaction to that was... and how is this a problem?

My second reaction though is to ask a question that gets more to the heart of this:

Self-publishing has a bad reputation among whom?

Hate to burst publishing's bubble... but only writers and publishing people care who published a book. Some readers who are publishing groupies will care, depending on what their specific heroes think.

Like it or not, "indie publishing" is not a brand. For that matter, publishing house brands are barely noticed by end readers either. Sure readers have heard of them, you will never hear a reader say "I'm gonna get me one of those books from MacMillan!" Or "I'm never going to read a Simon and Schuster Book again. They suck."

Readers look for genres and authors.

Sure, right now, with all the indie authors running around trying to turn "indie publishing" into a brand, there are a few small groups who think of indie publishing as a genre. But that's just growing pains. The solution to that is to stay away from those people. Try not to promote your books in the same venues, so that your books don't come up with only indies in the "also boughts." Stay away from tagging clubs and don't use promotional short cuts the way they do.

But most of all, quit worrying about your reputation.

Any reputation except the one you earn yourself is overrated. And even that is less important that people think: Somebody is going to sneer at you no matter what you do. It's just not worth the trouble.

And it distracts you from what you really need to do:

Be brave, be fair, do good work.

In the meantime I'd be happy to discuss with anybody the ins and outs and specific ideas and questions in the comments. (Discussing complex things on Twitter is tough.)

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Aggh! This is what I was talking about...partly

You know how I mentioned yesterday that established traditional publishing people seem to be just as locked into a shallow, "editing makes it better" idea of craft as unskilled indies?

I saw a link to a post about "deep point of view." I am extremely interested in point of view issues. It's one of those issues which I have studied since I was in grad school, and still feel there is so much more to learn. (I won't tell you how long it has been since grad school.)

So I clicked eagerly on this link. I didn't expect a dissertation. Even some shallow insight can be useful....

And I found the author actually didn't know what deep point of view was. She thought the difference was editing. Take out the "he thought" or "she felt" phrases in a sentence and voila, it's different!

No no no no no no no NO!

I'm not against taking out "he thought" or "she felt." They're not necessary, and depending on narrative voice and sentence clarity, you probably want to cut most of them out.

But by themselves they don't actually affect the voice or the reading or the immediacy of the sentence. They're like tag lines; mostly invisible to the audience, except they are so frequent they clutter up the story and dilute the voice.

But weeding them out is editing, not voice. It's not a matter of substance, and it will not give you more control over your point of view.

But there's also a Yes yes yes yes YES.

Later in the article, the author actually did get into substantive things. Once you get to the part headed "Inside Out, Outside In" her advice is good. I don't agree with all of it, but she tells you about how to write in the voice of a character, and that is incredibly important to deep points of view.

So here's the link: What is Deep POV?

This inspires me to write more about the theory behind point of view, and how, like tense, a lot of smart people get it wrong. But not now.

See you in the funny papers.

Do Indie Writers Need Editors?

(Note: I wrote three posts to set up context for this -- Editorial Standards, eHow and Pulp Fiction, Slush Pile Thoughts Part 1 - Teaching, and Slush Pile Thoughts Part 2 - Levels of Writers.)

I was prompted to write this post by two things:

One: the reason I quit Kindleboards was because so many indies think that editing = quality, and they cover their ears and scream when you want to talk about actual craft. And Two: I read a series of rants by various more traditionally oriented writers saying, basically, "you indie writers need to get editors!" And even they were talking about typos and usage, and not about craft.

But my thinking has evolved since I first drafted out this post. Here is the introduction to what I was going to say:

First, I want to make two things very clear:

1.) A good editor, like a good housekeeper, is prized above rubies, chocolate AND bacon.

2.) Every writer -- I'm talking 100 percent of writers -- started life as a mewling, puking baby who not only had zero words in his or her vocabulary, but also no sense at all of dramatic structure, characterization, or even the ability to recognize what a book is.

And guess what?

Item #1 is not the solution to Item #2.

I still believe this is true. I haven't changed my mind on it. So why don't I care to say that any more? Because I was caught in the same trap as those who annoy me.

In traditional publishing, you can, with some assurance, tell people what they need. There are so many hoops to jump through, that the arguable issues of higher literature don't matter. Every writer -- from pulp to literary -- has to jump through those hoops, so you can safely yell at them for doing a bad job at it.

And I am as stuck in that mindset as anybody. The original thesis of this post was going to be "... and if you want to really learn to jump through those hoops as an indie, you don't need an editor, you need a teacher."

And that's still true, but as the old joke about the lost helicopter goes, it isn't relevant.

So do indie writers need editors?

The problem lies with the word "need." And (given that) the answer is, always was, always will be for all writers, and cannot be anything else:


That's a no-brainer. Of course we don't need no stinkin' editors. We don't need no stinkin' apples either. We may like them, we may find them beneficial and tasty and all that, but we don't need them.

We think we need them (editors, not apples) because in traditional publishing the editor is critical to the process. The editor is responsible to the publisher and to the booksellers. And the writer needs publishers and booksellers, so they need an editor. QED. But in that system, the writer doesn't have any responsibility, except meeting the contract terms and expectations of the editor.

(But but but, a writer always has a responsibility to write a great story! On a moral level, before the judgment of the Gods, maybe. But in traditional publishing, the writer's responsibility is only to meet the needs of the editor.)

With Great Responsibility Comes Great Freedom

In self-publishing, the writer is the one with the responsibility. It's a responsibility greater than any editor ever had, because it's total responsibility. Even if you hire an editor, you're the editor's boss. The buck stops with you, end of story.

This is terrifying for many people. I can understand why it leads to so much screaming about the need for a safety net. After all, if an editor fails, it not only threatens her welfare, but also that of a whole lot of people down the line. But the consequences of failure for a self-published author these days can be next to nothing. You don't need a safety net. You can fall, and fall and fall, and still be okay.

The great freedom that total responsibility gives you means that you can go after any market you want. Not just markets which will be profitable for your boss, or those which please the booksellers. You can even build your own.

Earlier I posted three essays to set up context for this post:

The point of my first context post (Editorial Standards, eHow and Pulp Fiction) was to point out that different markets have different standards. Electronic publishing has just expanded the market exponentially. What we consider "publishing" today is a tiny fragment of the number of markets and forms that are already in play. And new forms and ideas are cropping up all the time.

The two later posts about the slush pile were to illustrate that good writing isn't about good spelling, and good spelling is certainly not about great writing.

"But but but, are you actually advocating bad spelling?"

A week ago I would have replied, "Of course not!" But now... I can only say:

Advocating is a strong word, but, um, yeah. I am. Sorta.

What I'm advocating for is learning the standards appropriate to your venue, and excelling that them.

For instance: Some top notch New York writers I follow on Twitter have taken to using all those texting shortcuts that we decry as a sign of the downfall of literacy -- because they have something important to say with only 140 characters. And I've read long, funny essays written entirely in LOLcat-speak.

"Oh, but those are sophisticated writers who know how to write correctly, so they get a pass!"

No, they're smart writers who know how to use the tools they have to communicate the effect they want.

Consider this:

Back in the 70's and 80's breast feeding became all the rage among the upper classes, and someone did a cultural study among the doctors who were pushing it. What they found was that the very same doctors who advised modern, rich white women to breast feed, turned around and advised non-white immigrants NOT to breast feed.


Because those ignorant immigrants didn't know how to raise a baby the right way, and must be trained out of their raw and uncivilized habits first. Breast feeding is only for the most sophisticated of mothers.

Sound familiar?

You don't need to be able to spell correctly before you can write something funny in LOLcat-speak. You just have to understand how LOLcats think.

Like it or not, the wall has come down between LOLcats, online chat, blogging, fan fiction, and you. You can't go around telling others the right answer any more. You can only look for the right answer for you. So....

Do you need an editor?

That's up to you.

If you lack time and have money, absolutely -- hire someone to take over the annoying proofing jobs.

If you are an unskilled writer, however, an editor won't fix your lack of skill. And if you're not ready for it, neither will a teacher or a critique group. What you need is experience.

Get writing, make mistakes. Make intentional mistakes. Learn from them. You need to get those million words under your belt. (They don't all need to be fiction.) And if hiring an editor helps you get on with writing those words, that's fine too.

In summary:

1.) Kittehs doant needz no steenky editurz.

2.) And writers need to stop having kittens at the prospect of all those unskilled writers out there who don't listen to them. (Because they don't have to listen, so they're not gonna.)

Thus ends the rant I hope to put behind me....

Next week I want to get on with this concept of Artisan Writers. The idea of a writing movement focused on craftsmanship really jazzes me. I might go back to posting 5-6 days a week. I might write and post a Manifesto.

Stay tuned, and see you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ROW80 Week 6 - midweek update

It's going slow, but it's going well. I'm seeing places where clue exploration and red herrings can expand out. Really good clues are all red herrings, and really good red herrings are clues to the truth. And because of that, they are important to the basic pacing and tension of the story.

Sunday Day 42 - 72 minutes. My brain is slightly worn out. I had to do what I did in ten minute spurts.

Monday Day 43 - 129 minutes. Very slow going, but really good progress. Could have done better, but the union sent out a confusing note which lead me to believe I had to be at an important rally today. (We've been working without a contract for a year.) I had rearranged my writing schedule for it, and then realized that the date was wrong. And then I ended up screwing around too much.

Tuesday day 44 - 0 minutes. My brain just ran off the rails today. I think it started on Wednesday. I rallied yesterday, but today.... pffft. It's sort of like having a silent migraine. I can't even proof read. I look at the words, I know what they mean (I think), and I might even notice what's wrong, but I draw a blank on what to do about it. And okay, I draw a blank sometimes on what those little hen scratches on the screen in front of me are for. (Reading? That's what they're for? How do you go about that activity?)

I've had some very good progress, especially on the thinking level, and I think I just burnt out my brain. It's tired. Implementing subtext and emotional texture and weaving clues is like calculus. I would like to talk about all the cool things I'm learning about those things, but brane no lik wurds naow. Brane can haz sleep.

C U in da funy paperses.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Man Who Did Too Much - Random Excerpt

I have been having fun with Amazon's "random page" feature lately. So I decided to give you a random page from the Work-In-Progress:

The Man Who Did Too Much
is an old-fashioned mystery adventure, featuring Karla, a movie-obsessed small town "spinster," and George, a compulsive secret agent only slightly less neurotic than his PTSD-suffering girlfriend (who eats nothing but cheeseburgers).

In this scene, Karla has just had a run in with a pair of thugs who were after her missing friend Maria. George is also after Maria, but since he rescued her from the thugs, Karla is willing to let him make his case for cooperation....

* * * * *

Excerpt from Chapter 6 - "Poppins and Bond, Together"
from The Man Who Did Too Much by Camille LaGuire

WHEN SHE CAME out of the bathroom, her new friend George had most of the contents of the first aid kit laid out on the table. He held up a tube of triple-antibiotic creme.

"These are all expired," he said, accusingly.

"Not all," she replied. "I just bought some last month."

"Perhaps one should throw away the old ones when one buys new."

"Perhaps one should," said Karla. "But some of the old ones are still good too. At least they were when I bought the new one."

"Clearly you don't use so much that you need to save every last drop."

"You never know what you're going to need."

He gathered up a dozen or so tubes and dumped them in the trash.

Karla picked up the fresh tube and began to apply the antibiotic to her chin.

"Shouldn't we call the police?" she said. "I mean, now that guns are involved?"

He paused and then came back to the table slowly. He sat down and started digging in the first aid kit again before answering.

"I won't discourage you from calling the police. Your house has been broken into, and you will need a police report for your insurance claim."

"That will just make my rates go up, and the police would mean trouble for Maria."

"Maria is the person you're protecting?"


He turned his attention to a roll of gauze tape.

"You don't have scissors in your kit."

"I've got a pocket knife with scissors," she said. But it was in her left pocket, and her hand hurt too much to squeeze into her jeans pocket. He pulled out a knife of his own, and cut some gauze, and then held out his hand to her.

"Hand," he said. She hesitated, but it's really hard to bandage your own hand. Just watch that scene in Casablanca where Paul Henreid tries to wrap his hand in a towel and goes around and around and around. She gave him her hand. The bruise had blossomed into purple and red and bluish highlights in just the short time since he had looked at it down by the shed.

"My god, that's beautiful," he said. "We should ice that before it gets worse."

"There's a bag of frozen okra in the freezer. It's too woody to eat."

He fished it out of the freezer while she got up and dampened a towel to wrap it in. She pressed the okra compress to her wrist and turned to him.

"So now it's your turn," she said. "Why don't you want to call the police?"

"The police have a tendency to do awkward things like enforcing the law and arresting people. I'd rather call on them when I'm sure that's what I want done." He looked like he might want to say something more, but then he sat down and marshaled the many different varieties of bandages she had. "You need a larger gauze pad, I think."

Karla put the okra aside and sat down. She pulled out her pancake bandages. They were big and round and printed to look like pancakes, complete with melting butter. She handed them to him.

"You have bandages shaped like pancakes?"

"And bacon. I think I have some gumdrops too. They're smaller."

He stared at her for a moment, and looked again as if he might say something, but didn't. She smiled.

"You can get them down at the Dime and Dollar."

"Do they have cheeseburger bandages?"

"I think so. I know they have hot dogs. Do you like cheeseburgers?"

"No, I despise cheeseburgers. I really truly despise them. But I know someone who considers them to be the ultimate comfort food."

I hope to have The Man Who Did Too Much available in December in ebook format (in January in paper). (I am still looking for a few more potential beta readers. (Contact me at maudecat at gmail dot com if you're interested.)

Until then you can check out "Revenge of the Peeps" a flash fiction story featuring George and Karla in the Pink Snowbunnies In Hell anthology. Twenty stories in many different genres, inspired by the theme "Pink snowbunnies will ski in hell before..." 99 cent eBook available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in multiple formats at Smashwords.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review-Preview and ROW80 Update

Phew, this was an interesting week. Thursday's post about the slush pile went viral (slightly) and I had a lot of interaction with various folks because of it. Let's see if this Thursday's post lives up to that.

Upcoming Posts:

This week, just the minimum three while I scramble to finish this book:

I'd like to expand quite a lot on the subjects of Editors, Writing Quality, and Artisan Writers, but I really can't do much more than once a week on it for now.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Challenge Update: Did I finish the book?

Well, gosh if I didn't sorta do it!


I didn't think I had. There is way too much work to be done to make it readable. Scenes that switch locations in the middle, other scenes which were written so early in the process that they need to be completely rewritten.... but now that I have all the little pieces in place, I find that it's all actually there. Except for one or two little factual scenes.

But there is still a lot of work to do to roll those lumps into a smooth whole. But in celebration of getting this far, I am posting an excerpt from the WIP on Monday. It's a page chosen at random (though I allowed myself to waffle on the exact start and end point).

Wednesday Day 38 - 0 minutes. Usual day off.

Thursday Day 39 - 128 minutes. Yes, I met my goal. No, I'm not happy about it. I had some good material going in my head the day before -- I had gone to bed with all sorts of ideas, which I had to keep sitting up to take notes on.

But then I woke up with a cold -- and not an ordinary sneezing and sniffling cold, but one where the various parts of my sinuses take turns feeling bloated and raw. It always makes me feel like my brain is swollen. So it was very hard to hold more than one thought in my head at a time, and though I got two hours in, they were not my most productive two hours. Fizbuttle!

Friday Day 40 - 155 minutes. The cold turned out to be of the 24-hour variety and I was able to get back to productive work. So today I took a fun but dorky scene and made it less dorky while trying to maintain the fun. I succeeded.

This is the halfway point in the challenge. I am happy that I did meet and exceed the dare goals, but and I am much behind where I want to be on the book.

Saturday Day 41 - 161 minutes. I spent most of today beating out the remaining scenes, and getting them in the right order. I have a couple of small factual scenes to write, and the emotional resonance of one scene to deal with. But the rest is all timing, transitions, and factual matters.

I really should document the work I'm doing on transitions, so I can post about it on the Spoilers Blog later. A lot of interesting issues cropping up in deciding where to cut away from one point of view to another, and where to have chapter breaks. Balancing cliff-hangers and natural/logical progression, and revelations.

Goal For The Coming Week:

I'm going to continue the 720 minutes goal for this week, at least until the darned thing is done. Which really had better by next Sunday, is all I can say.

See you int he funny papers.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Write Better Stories

Dean Wesley Smith just added a little note on the end of the comments on one of his posts from last week (emphasis and paragraphing mine):

Beginning writers who use the excuse that they don’t sell well because they are not known forget why a writer becomes known. We become known, under sometimes many names, because we have spent the time and energy and millions of words of writing to learn how to tell a good story. We are trained story-tellers. It has nothing to do with the name on the cover. Sales have to do with the writing inside the book.

You folks want to sell more copies or more books to traditional publishers, write better stories. It really is that simple.

...and how you write those better stories is to keep writing. Don't scoff at the "millions of words" idea. Don't scoff at the power of TIME.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Slush Pile Secrets Part 2 - The Bell Curve

One more post to give you context before I get to my "We don't need no stinkin' editors!" post:

The Slush Pile Bell Curve

I don't have a typical experience of the slush pile. My experience comes from three areas -- teaching (which I talked about last week), script analysis for a couple of managers and small producers, and judging competitions.

These three jobs have one thing in common which is not a part of the normal slush process: You have to read every single solitary manuscript carefully from beginning to end, and then analyze it. Every. Stinkin'. One. Every. Stinkin'. Page.

I never had a job where I got to stop reading after the first couple pages and stick a rejection slip on it. No matter how bad or inappropriate the manuscript was, I had to do a full and fair analysis with ratings according to a specific rubric, and very often detailed explanations of those ratings.

This gave me a learning advantage over those who could stop reading and reject as soon as they saw a manuscript wasn't right for the list. I think they got a warped view of what they were rejecting, because they never really had to think about it -- even when they did read the whole thing.

Me, I got a look at the bell curve, in detail. Actually, make that several different bell curves: I judged some competitions for published fiction, as well as those for writers with no sales or production credits, and most of my script reading clients were not open to unsolicited submissions. (But they were open to illiterate Hollywood types with connections.) And as I said last week, in education, I saw manuscripts which would never make it into the slush pile. So I got the full spectrum.

For this post, though, I'm going to stick to the kind of stuff I saw in competitions open to unpublished/unproduced writers. That is, approximately what you'd see in publishing's slush piles.

Level 1 - Maybe 5-10 percent were complete non-starters. Major major issues, and didn't even feel like a book or screenplay. Just rambling in an unrecognizable format. Signs that the writer had never read a book or screenplay, or seen or film, and was possibly crazy -- but the writing was too bad to actually tell.

Level 2 - The next 25-30 percent had major issues, but the author had some sense of story. I would classify these as like beginning student stories. The manuscript might have formatting or serious language issues, but mostly these writers could spell and form sentences and follow directions -- at least to the extent that you could figure out what they meant. And the story had scenes and dialog and a structure and some kind of character arc, though these items were fragmentary and often went off the rails. In other words, the rudiments of a story were there, even if they weren't done well.

Up to this point, things like cliches and shallow characters or poorly thought-out ideas really didn't matter, because the problems were more fundamental than that.

Level 3 - The middle 25-30 percent tended to be more correct in terms of formatting and usage, and showed more mastery of those fundamentals. But the stories seemed to struggle for consistency and follow-through. They might begin to show signs of more advanced elements, like pacing and subtext and voice, but were pretty shaky. And here is where the writing was just good enough that cliches, weak character motivations and poorly thought out ideas were obvious.

Level 4 - The next 25-30 percent had all the fundamentals in place, plus the characters were better defined with proper motivations. The author showed an ability to use pacing and timing and tools. But there were still problems with cliches and shallowness. And though they might be developing a voice, it wasn't well developed -- and might be generic or imitated. And these stories often lacked subtext or subtlety. But the main thing these stories suffered from, especially toward the top of the batch.... polished ordinariness.

This level seems like a choke point in the development of many writers. While some catch fire at Level 3 and zip right on through to Level 5, way too many writers, I am sorry to say, stall when they get here. Level 4 is where you get to be the big fish in a small pond. It's where you have learned all the rules and have learned to apply them. And if you have learned to stifle your own voice -- stifle your uniqueness -- you will never get beyond here.

Level 5 - The top 5-10 percent or so were stories which I would like to read if they fit my tastes. Here is where the characters were complicated and had motivations which drove the story. If there were cliches, they had a little more oomph to them and strayed more into the area of archetypes. Here the author had a voice, and the story had a theme and subtext. The voice, theme and subtext might not be fully developed, but it was there and gave the story some weight.

The really interesting thing about this top tier:

All the other levels showed authors making progress in fundamentals. Spelling, sentence structure, formatting, neatness, following directions. Understanding and implementation of any rules (like avoiding passive voice or adverbs or using "show don't tell"). All that got better as you progressed from Level 1 to Level 4.

But at Level 5, fundamentals took a step back. Oh, not a big step back. Nothing at this level was embarrassingly bad. But they were almost always more sloppy than Level 4. They were not as tightly edited, and the authors were more likely to let it all hang out, and use all the adverbs they wanted to, and get creative with capitalization.

This seems related to the fact that these authors had a much more developed voice. And they could express what they wanted to express much better than the polished and pretty sentences of the top Level 4 writers.

Now that may sound ironic to you, but I remember hearing about a phenomenon like this in competitive skiing and biking:

I'm told that if you take any skiing competition and line up everybody in order of how well or badly they did, and then looked at their equipment and training and such, you would find a similar break down as above. Those at the bottom had crappy, hand-me-down equipment. Those in the middle had better equipment, and those just above the middle had spectacular equipment, and those at the top -- the very best athletes who won competitions -- had equipment which was good enough but not great.

Great skiers don't look for an edge in things they can buy. They know it isn't about the skis. It's about how well you know your skis and how they differ subtly from other skis, and how much control you have over your body, and how observant you are about snow and geography and physics. How strong your legs are, how flexible your knees and back are. And how well you can compensate for any of these being a little off.

Now, given that this post is context for a later post about quality and editing of indie writers, I can hear some disgruntled voices in the background:

"Well, sure a brilliant writer may not proof his own work fully, but that's because those errors are always corrected by someone else in traditional publishing! So it's no excuse for being even a little bit sloppy!"

Mmmmmm maybe.

Consider this:

The writers in that top group who did a sloppy job? They did it in spite of the fact that they've already been told not to. They aren't listening. So they're gonna do it anyway.

And screaming and ranting and frothing at the mouth is not going to change that.

Because, and let's be honest here, their work is better than the group below them, and their attention to voice and story, rather than editing, is one of the reasons it's so good.

I'm just sayin'.

Next week, though, when I get to the "We don't need no stinkin' editors!" post, I'm going to talk about those in the lower ranks, and how editors are not the way they move up.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

ROW80 Week 5 - update 1

A Round Of Words in 80 Days

My brain is a bit foggy, but I'm keeping my nose above water....

Sunday Day 35 - 126 minutes. Starting in on the last 11 chapters. I have identified a couple of tough gaps. These, as with the previous section, will probably need multiple runs. The secret here, I think, is not to get too bogged down. Skip forward and work on easier parts when things get too sticky.

I had hoped to do much more, but unfortunately, I had my emotions jerked around by a great movie. Sarah's Key -- a French film about one little story in the holocaust and it's continuing effect all the way to today. Heartbreaking, and hard to get over.

Monday Day 36 - 120 minutes. This, unfortunately was an approximate time. I kept forgetting to turn on the timer, but looking at the clock I know it was at least two hours. Tonight I worked on one of the gaps. It was a tough scene, a critical scene for the emotional arcs. It catches fire in little snippets but fitting them into the right arc is hard. I've probably written four times as many words -- or more -- as I need for it, but some of those words will be usable in a later books.

As with yesterday's "multiple pass' thoughts: I need to remember to not overthink. Just move on once I've stopped making useful progress. I notice I make very good progress for short periods each time -- so I need to keep coming at it and moving on.

Tuesday Day 37 - 111 minutes. So the next set of chapters weren't as done as I thought. I think this is going to be the issue for the rest of the book: facts which have changed as the story developed. Which in turn requires more rewriting. Otherwise... chugging along. I'm behind, but not as behind as I could be.

Nothing else clever to say. My brain is sore, so....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

eBook as Artifact, William Morris and Me

Recently, Mike Shatzkin wrote a blog post about "True do-it-yourself publishing successes" (which he thought would become more and more rare in future). As a long-time publishing guru, he is focused on best sellers, which, imho are irrelevant to the new world of indie publishing. (See Passive Guy's excellent response as to why he's wrong even if you do focus on best sellers.)

But the phrase "true do-it-yourself publishing" went ker-boing! in my head, because it brought to mind a book we had when I was a kid. It was a collection of tales by Nathaniel Hawthorn: hand-bound in red suede with interesting, rustic typesetting and illustration.

I never got into the stories, but the book itself was just plain COOL.

It was an artifact. A product of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which came to a head a little over a hundred years ago. (Think Tiffany glass, and those gorgeous bungalows in Pasadena, like the Gamble House.)

Now, the Arts and Crafts Movement doesn't seem like it would have anything to do with ebooks or indie publishing. It was anti-modern, anti-technology, anti-industrial. And they were all about hand-made craftsmanship. Weaving, glass cutting, carpentry, metalwork...and bookbinding.

For them, a book was an artifact, a work of art. Every detail of binding, paper, and printing took as much care -- and was as individual -- as the writing of it.

When I see things like Shatzkin's article, I stop and think what William Morris would have thought about this idea that an artist would have to put work into an industry system to succeed.

It's true, the Arts and Crafts Movement did not bring down industrialization. That wasn't their goal. Their goal was to promote something they saw as lost in the modern society -- human artistry in every day things. And both industrialization AND the Arts and Crafts folks thrived.

As a matter of fact, if you draw a comparison between the situation in publishing and the effect of industrialization on handmade crafts, it makes for a really great analogy:

Personal craftsmanship was first destroyed by industrialization, and then revived and blossomed when William Morris and a few other Pre-Raphaelites got together and realized they can do without modernism in the ordinary decorative arts as well as in high art. And now, publishing was hurt by the consolidation of the industry, but an awful lot of writers are getting together and realizing they can do without the publishing industry. That doesn't mean all of them will, just that all of them can.

That's the irony of modern technology, the internet, and of ebook publishing in particular: everything is possible. The field has widened so far beyond what it was, I don't even want to use the word "industry." We're well beyond the industry. As with the artists of the A&C movement, we don't have to limit our artwork to a canvas. Their art is on doorknobs and wallpaper and staircases and posters and rooftops and clothing....

I think Steampunk is an early indicator of our version of this kind of movement: it's not just a literary genre, it's a style. It's music and clothing and artwork. It's blogging and social events.

A lot of indies started out in completely different ways: via audio podcasts, via blog or even newsletter. For many of us, our blogs are a part of our art. There are people selling handmade books on Etsy.

And a few of us even see ebooks as artifacts. Virtual artifacts, but still something to fuss over, something to perfect as more than a collection of words. It's cover, it's layout, it's copy editing choices. And they are choices, not rigid perfection of manufactured goods, but true individual expression. Warts and all.

For me, the handmade love and care, by me, is important. The art, the blog, all of it. If I want to hit a best seller list, I would have to sacrifice that. Why would I consider that to be "success"?

I have the feeling that the reason Mike Shatzkin thinks "true do-it-yourself publishing success" is so unlikely in future is because he doesn't get what true do-it-yourself artisan success is.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Covers For New Books, and Maybe Revamp Old

I may seem inordinately jazzed about my covers for The Man Who Did Too Much. What pleases me is subtle, and has two elements: One, I feel these really are my first professional level covers, and Two, they're very much mine.

(I feel the same way about Wife of Freedom, but that style only suits a certain kind of my work, less retro and more old-fashioned.)

For the first time, I'm thinking about redoing the cover for Have Gun, Will Play. Conceptually, it will be similar to what I've got -- featuring a gun and a doll. But from the design itself, I may only keep the Mick and Casey silhouettes. I may use the stylized butte in the background as inspiration.

Here's the problem with the current cover: I love it. I think it's a fine cover template for the series... if I were an art director and had the budget to do photo shoots and do exactly what I wanted with that top picture frame. But as it is, as long as my design depends on photographs, I'm stuck with what I can photograph myself, or what I can find on stock sites, and frankly, that doesn't work out for a western. The costume, the right gear, the right pose, the right kind of horse.... Photoshop can only do so much.

I swear half of what blocked me on Old Paint; Dead or Alive is the thought of coming up with a decent cover for it.

But here's the thing about the Mick and Casey series: It's a pop western. Not historical, not literary. Both the mystery element and the western element comes from the more mature end of each genre's classic period: 50s and 60s. A little lighter, a little sillier, a little more hip and self-conscious, but not satirical.

So I think that stylized retro-modern look could be really suitable. Furthermore, it would tie the branding of both my mystery series together.

And I want those covers to really be MINE. The look is my brand.

Now... the question then comes as to whether I should redo the short stuff, and for the moment, I think not. I'm okay with a somewhat homemade look. It distinguishes them from the novels, making it easier for the audience to see what they're getting.

In the vein, my miscellaneous books can have different looks: a friend is doing the cover for my high fantasy novel. I don't have much else in the vein, but if I write something, and if she has time, I'll ask her to do a cover for it. Anna the Great? I'm leaving it as is for now. If I decide to do more stories in the series, I may revamp it too.

And that illustrates why I am concentrating on writing just now, and not marketing or even keeping my website up to date: when you have a wide range of stories, it takes a while to build a foundation for each flavor of the brand. At first, it just looks like a hodge podge.

But that hodge podge allows for a lot of learning experiences. You get to practice on lots of different cover types. You get to find your strengths. Branding is not just something you do. It's something you develop over time.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review-Preview ROW80 Update

Oh, fudge! This is taking longer than I expected. (So what else is new?) Still on track, but I took the blinders off for a moment and realized I've got projects stacked up like planes in a blizzard. Sigh.

BUT... I like the work I did. It was worth all the trouble. And I find I hit the halfway point a little early. (Not as early as it seems, since I scheduled in a week off in the middle.) I forgot to flog for beta readers, but I had a few trickle in.

Now I'm ready to dive into the last 11 chapters, which should constitute the last third of the book. I think this will go faster, but I may have some "placeholder" scenes in there which have to be rewritten from scratch. (Shifting facts, development of minor characters into a more important role, etc.)

Can I do this in a week?

Tell you what; I think I can. It might take another week to get it ready for Beta readers, but I think I can get it whole and all the placeholders replaced in one week. And for that reason, I'm upping the minutes goal for this week. Two hours minimum every day except Wednesday. 720 minutes between now and the next Sunday update. And I'm going to aim at three hours most days.

(EDIT to add: this goal is just shy of 4000 minutes -- so this week's motto is "4000 Minutes or Bust!"

As for progress:

Wednesday Day 31 - 68 minutes. I managed an hour of read/editing, even though I usually take this day-from-heck off. Liked what I read.

Thursday Day 32 - 102 minutes. Busier day than I expected. I meant to go see Psycho, playing a real theater, but I ended up skipping it... and then not making good use of the time. Pttthp!

(And after I updated, I had some great "off the clock" time while brushing my teeth. One more tiny thread which would make some weak spots in the last act work great.)

Friday Day 33 - 165 minutes. Working working....

Saturday Day 34 - 140 minutes. ... working, working.

Upcoming posts:

  • Monday: Revamping Covers A look at the whole set of Man Who covers, and how it is inspiring to revamp some of my older covers.
  • Wednesday: ROW80 Update
  • Thursday: Slushpile 2 - The strata of the slush pile, as I've experienced it, and a little discussion on skiing competitions.

See you in the funny papers!

Friday, November 4, 2011

eBook Experiment Update - Prices Prices Prices

Okay, it's probably time to stop calling it an "experiment" but IMHO, life is an experiment that never ends, so there.

I am continuing my hiatus from any real marketing efforts while I concentrate on writing. However, the layoff itself has made it easier to look at my stats and understand them. Besides, I get bored and like poke at business things now and then.

Free Books

I've been downloading all the weekly numbers from Amazon to keep in a spreadsheet. Amazon gives you figures for "Prior Six Weeks' Royalties" (love that they use the apostrophe right!) but the old numbers expire as new ones come in. I use a little Firefox plugin called Table Tools to copy the data into a spreadsheet every couple of weeks.

Just the other day I decided to put my stats geek hat on and look at those numbers. Oh, boy, was that interesting. I like to make sure I have at least one free book all the time now. I rotate among the 99 cent collections and novelettes.

Most of the time, free gives a particular book a boost in profile, and it sells better for a while after you raise the price back up. Related books also might get a temporary boost... but this seriously depends on the book.

But here's something that I never would have noticed if I hadn't had all that weekly data: When Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! is free, ALL of my other books do a little better. My numbers are low enough and the difference is slight enough, that it's invisible in monthly data, and in data which doesn't cover a long period of time.

Here's the interesting thing -- it is not my most well-recieved book. If you look on Goodreads in particular (but to a lesser extent elsewhere) some people are pretty upset that it's a collection of short stories, or that some of the mystery stories are westerns. Furthermore, I never had returns until I offered free books. (Who returns a free book?)

As Kris Rusch noted in her blog recently, free and low-priced books tend to bring out a higher proportion of disgruntled customers. People's tastes differ. The more exposure you get, the more people who don't like your work will be exposed to it -- and will react to it.

But if you have work, like mine, which people aren't sure if they're going to like or not (like a mystery western), then broader exposure means you also hit more people who DO like your work. And free short stories are a VERY low threshold for people who are on the fence about whether they might or might not like to try it.

But why does Waiter work better than the other shorts?

Well, I think the secret is the title. It's a very accessible title - everybody is attracted to it. This is partly a downside in that it attracts people who have a narrow taste range as well as those with broader interests. So if they don't read the description, they think it's a themed anthology about funny food mysteries.

But the people who DO read the description think "hmm, maybe... oh what the heck it's free." And among them are people who like my writing, even though they might have a bit of resistance to the idea of how I mix genres.

Higher Priced Books

Dean Wesley Smith has finally convinced me to try the 4.99 price point for full length novels -- and a part of me wonders if I shouldn't play around with 6.99.

(Actually, I've already raised Have Gun, Will Play and The Adventure of Anna the Great to $4.95 but Amazon takes a while to raise price raises, so I don't expect the change to take effect until after my Thanksgiving sale -- during which they will be priced at 99 cents.)

Maybe it's time to go into my theory on how to price an ebook:

First: pricing your book wrong will not cause the horrible screaming deaths of thousands of puppies. And pricing it right will NOT make you a bazillionaire. So if the subject of pricing raises your blood pressure, find a way to get over that. It's damaging your health for no good reason whatsoever. Channel that energy into something else.

Why I'm raising the price

A price isn't just a value thing -- it's also information. And when I say that, I don't mean the old chestnut about perception of value. A low price doesn't always communicate "low quality" or a high price "high quality." Forget value for a minute and think about identity.

At first glance the customer sees cover, title and price, when they are shopping online. They don't see the blurb, they don't even see the category much of the time. So when they don't know anything else about the product, they will use the information they've got.

If you see a dragon on the cover, and the title is "The Mythos of Aatuarnia" and the price is $6.99, your brain not only signals "High Fantasy" it also signals "New Mass Market Paperback."

That is, unconsciously, 6.99 isn't just a value, it's like the smell of popcorn in relation to the movies -- it triggers associations. For books, sense memory associates price with format. It helps answer the question "What is it?"

And that is critical online, because people have so much information coming at them so fast ALL THE TIME, that they have unconscious filters that cause them to not even focus on things that don't fit their preconcieved notions. That's why it's important for a book cover to have that approximate 6x9 size/shape ratio. You do a search on Amazon, and odds are a few non-book products will appear in the results, and so your brain automatically filters everything out that doesn't look like a book. You might not even see those other products.

Price is not as extreme as that -- but it is one more thing that goes into those automatic visual filters.

Now, here's my conundrum: 6.99 looks like a midlist paperback. A number of indie writers have used that price point to blend in with commercial books in their genre -- with success.

By my not at all scientific polling, the mystery genre seems to be particularly rigid in the pricing structure of commercial mysteries, even back list classics are 6.99 for novels. Indies seem to cluster at 2.99 or 99 cents, even more so than other genres.

I picked 3.95 as my price because it feels right as the price of a used paperback -- it's what people like me are used to paying for a treasured book. (I.e. a used book is a classic, and that makes it better than new.) But mainly I picked it because, economically, it makes sense. I suspect my audience is made up of people like me -- heavy users of libraries and used book stores, who can't afford to buy a lot of new books.

I'm wondering, though, if that means I'm losing the advantage of a price that means something. Is it just sending a mixed message, or no message, about what kind of book it is? Might I be better off to price at commercial prices, and then have periodic sales for people like me?

I just don't like the 6.99 price point. It's too high for casual reading and it doesn't give the added value of a keepsake paper book. It's much better than those $14.99 prices publishers used to set, but I still think it's too high.

So that brings me back to the 4.99 price point. It's a fair price, discounted from premium but not such a discount that it feels like a different kind of item. It's generally not used by people who are trying to build their success on price (which is one group I want to avoid -- there are good writers in the group, but it's also where the junk tends to accumulate).

It's also the price that Dean Wesley Smith is pushing, and a lot of authors like him -- well established midlist authors self-publishing their backlists, and small publishers -- are starting to use that price. It may not mean anything to the audience now, but if that group holds, it will. It will mean something very much like "use book" means -- classic, maybe esoteric, but a good read.

So ultimately, that's likely the price I'll want. The question is only whether I want to experiment with 6.99 to see what comes of it. This seems like the best time to do it, while that is still the standard price among so many commercial mystery publishers. (And all of Agatha Christie.)

In the meantime, the book sale will start approximately November 23 and end approximately December 7. I will announce with greater fanfare and detail closer to the event.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quick Note - Upcoming Book Sale

I'll take any money you give me, but I should warn folks that I am going to have a book sale around Thanksgiving. Have Gun, Will Play will be offered for 99 cents on Amazon (and for other formats via Smashwords coupon) for 14 days. I may include one or both of my other novels.

Also, my mystery short story collection Waiter, There's a Clue in My Soup! is free everywhere but on Amazon -- and therefore should become free on Amazon any time now....

(Feel free to click on the "Tell us about a lower price" button on the book's description page. They'll want a link to say where you found it for a lower price: try Barnes & Nobel or Apple iTunes. Or your favorite major ebook retailer of choice.)

I'll talk more about this next week, in an update on what I'm doing, business-wise, while I'm not doing anything business-wise.

Slushpile Secrets Part 1 - Teaching

I'm still building up to a post about why I think most of us -- indies and traditionalists alike -- have the wrong end of the stick on the subject of writing quality and what we need to do about it.

Frankly, I think the emperors of both sides of this issue ain't wearing any clothes, but those who are most nekkid are those who are sticking to traditional ideas.

The problem, as I see it (aside from fear and defensiveness) is that everybody makes assumptions about where everybody else is coming from. So before I say much, I want to give you some context.

Last week I brought out an old post about
pulp fiction and editorial standards, and how different markets have different needs. eHow didn't need perfect spelling. Pulp Magazines didn't need literary grace as long as giant earthworms attacked buxom women.

This week, and next, I'm going to talk about my experiences with the slush pile.

The Slush Pile's Dirty Little Secret

When I started writing, I was told time and again about how those of us who took the time to learn manuscript form and to proofread our work were far ahead of 90 percent of the slush pile. We were told horror story after horror story about manuscripts which were written on pizza boxes, and authors who sent nude pictures of themselves, or threats to the editor's life, or nude pictures with threats written on them which were included in pizza boxes.

Most writers submitting over the transom, I understood, did not type their manuscripts neatly in black ink on white paper, double-spaced, single-sided. And most could not spell or put a sentence together to save their lives.

I heard this from everyone -- editors, agents, well-established writers, teachers, and especially my fellow new writers -- and I believed this so completely that once I was published and got a job teaching writing, I passed it on to my students.

Eventually I did get some experience with the slush pile, and what I discovered is that it was not nearly as bad as I was led to believe. Sure, there was a lot of really bad writing, and mediocre writing. But not that many personal threats or pizza boxes, or even all that many which were single-spaced on pink paper with red ink.

I'm going to talk more about that tomorrow, when I discuss the actual breakdown -- level by level -- of what I saw in the slush pile.

What I want to talk to you about today is what I saw as a teacher.

Because frankly, those editors who complain about the slush pile are wimps. Seriously, they never see the worst of the worst, and they don't have to take it seriously, word-by-word, the way a teacher does.

Most of the students I had in teaching Introduction to Creative Writing never submitted a single manuscript to an editor, and are not self-publishing either. (Not unless their teachers are making it a part of the class to do so.) And the very worst stories? Never got finished. I noticed this even in advanced classes.

What really interests me, though, is the best writing I saw. (Most of which I doubt was ever submitted to a magazine either, for reasons I'll mention below.)

Generally, as a teacher, I was dealing with raw material. Unstudied, untutored. Sometimes students who had never read fiction or poetry at all. Even so, I've got to tell you that I did learn something:

I believe in a thing called talent. (And it ain't what people think it is.)

First year of teaching I had one class with two very different students. One student -- I think of her as a little girl, not a woman, because she was small and shy and immature. She couldn't spell, and did not naturally write in grammatical sentences. She was, however, very bright, and had got into college in spite of that. The other student was a very well-schooled and intellectual young man. He always got top grades, and he was artsy too.

The first assignment in that class was to write a descriptive poem -- to use visceral detail to show something without telling. The intellectual wrote a "poem" with no physical detail at all. He told us what to think of his subject, and that, to him was "describing" it. He did a good job of writing a clever essay, perfect in language use and presentation, but it was a lousy descriptive poem.

The shy "little girl" wrote a poem in which every third word was misspelled, and it took effort to figure out the sentences in a few places, but even so... that poem grabbed you by the gut. I'm trying to remember what it was about. I think it described the clothing of a humiliated child or something like that. Oh, my God, she zeroed in on exactly the right details in every line.

The intellectual never learned a thing in that class. He was as smart as he wanted to be, and his stuff was all perfectly proofed and presented and he resented not not getting an 4.0. (His last project was a screed attacking ignorant young women who get favored treatment for their asinine emotional girl poetry.) But he was smart and driven, and he knew what he wanted out of life, and so if anyone in that class grew up to be a writer, he probably did.

The young woman took the criticism of her spelling and grammar seriously, and improved dramatically. She went to tutoring to deal with it, and by the end of the class, she was handing in properly proofed work. The high impact of her writing never waned, but I suspect she did not go on to be a writer, because the spark that made her writing so good was not limited to writing. She was a "noticing kind of person." She saw subtle details and understood what they meant. She also had high empathy, and I suspect she went on to be a crusading lawyer, or a doctor... or a teacher.

The difference between these two students was that the shy kid was more mature than the arrogant young man. That's what talent is. She could see further. She had her eyes open so she could learn.

Now, I bring this up for two reasons -- there are two lessons here. One is the above lesson about what talent and potential are. The other lesson is the poem itself.

When you're reading raw student work, you don't often get pleasure out of the writing itself. You get the intellectual pleasure of digging out potential instead. But those poems that young lady wrote -- in spite of the spelling and grammatical problems -- were worth reading just for their own sake. If I wasn't required to read them, I would still enjoy reading them, spelling mistakes and all.

That young lady may have needed a tutor to get a decent grade or be respected by fellow students and potential employers, or to be traditionally published. And if she were self-publishing, she would need a tutor to help make her presentation more... well, presentable.

But her poetry did not need an editor.

Next Thursday I'll talk about my experience of the slush pile, and the way manuscripts stacked up within it. And also a curious factoid about skiing competitions which lines up exactly with what I saw.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ROW80 - Midweek update

A Round of Words in Eighty Days - Fifth Week, First Check-In


I just got done with the toughest part of the story. This was tricky and set me back at least a week.

And as I look ahead, I see another event cluster heading my way -- not a serious event cluster, but enough to slow me down a little until Sunday.

In the meantime, I realize that one of the things pressing at me is that I would like to get some readers to look at this before I move on to publication. It will take a while for people to read and get back to me, so I really want to finish the darned thing ASAP...

But wait! The first 19 chapters are ready for readers. The rest is darned close to ready.

So... I changed horses midstream, and put my energy into buffing up these recent chapters. Now I need to see if there are any alpha-beta readers out there with time an interest to get started earlier on reading it.

I'm mainly looking for comments on pacing -- i.e. do I, or my characters, go on and on too long about kumquats, or does something happen too fast and is confusing. Also interested in comments about anything that makes you hate or just get really annoyed about a character. Any other comments are welcome too. The first two thirds of the book take up about 57-58k, and will be ready to go out Thursday. The remainder should be ready in a week or so.

I will be sending notes to people who contacted me last time I thought I was going to be done soon, but if you're interested in reading The Man Who Did Too Much (read awful rough draft blurb here) you can write to my feline secretary: maudecat at gmail dot com.

On to the update:

Sunday Day 28 - 269 minutes. This would be a good day, but this was all on THE most critical, tricky part of all. I had it 90 percent there, but it took a lot of effort to get all the way through. Is the rest going to be a piece of cake? I don't know. One has to watch out for the tired brain which can't make sense of anything, especially not pacing. (And as someone who takes comedy seriously, pacing is all important.)

Monday Day 29 - 90 minutes. Today I pulled back and looked at what I have and came up with the plan outlined above. Finished up some work I was doing on Chapter 19.

Tuesday Day 30 - 162 minutes. Today I finally went back and started the last edit for readers on the middle section. I found things to work on, but I am pleased with what I've got so far.

I hope to have this section ready for readers by Thursday, if not before. The rest should take about a week to ten days. So goal is next Wednesday's update, but I'll be happy with a week from Sunday.


In the meantime, I did come up with a more colorful version of my new retro cover. I played a bit with color, looking for ways to tie it to the modern cozy style by making the background pastel instead of white or something. I played with colors, I played with gradations. I was not happy.

And then I drew this selection box, to try to make for a framing gradation... and I just instinctively liked the shape. This really goes with the retro feel of the body, I think. And I really like what it did for the covers of future books, but I'll show you them later on.

It doesn't feel cozy, but as I've said before, I'm going for the more retro cozy look anyway. Still got to mess with some minor tweaking of placement, but I do think I've found my cover.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Showing, Telling and Naturalism - Story Notes for "Death and the Writer"

One of the things I really like about the blogosphere, and now about indie publishing, is the resurgence of the "told" story.

The first rule we learn as writers is to "Show, Don't Tell." (And if you haven't learned it yet, you need to learn it now.) Don't just tell the reader about something, don't summarize, show them the immediate visceral experience of the story.

Though yesterday's story, "Death And The Writer," is a told story -- like a joke or folktale -- the best stuff in it is when you get to watch the characters behave, as opposed to just hearing about them. That's where all the punch is. And the weakest part is, alas, the ending, where there isn't a live "scene" of characters interacting.

Even so, I am exceedingly fond of the told story as a form. It's the natural way we tell stories and jokes and anecdotes to each other. It's unstudied, and keeps the focus on the point. There is a certain amount of social pleasure in the voice -- the author is there, relating the story to you, and taking responsibility for it instead of hiding behind a literary curtain.

However, the very naturalness of the form is one of the reasons why teachers and mentors have to push like mad to get young writers to "Show, Don't Tell!" Showing, the part which gives the story all of its life, doesn't come naturally to us the way telling does. It takes practice, like learning to hold a paint brush or a violin in the right way. We can do it adequately by nature, but until we get the habit of doing it right we are limited in what we can do.

IMHO, true mastery comes when you move beyond doing it the right way, and can do something any way you please: I remember, when I was a kid, a friend of my sister's was a violinist. Most of the time he held his violin exactly right, but he also played guitar, and could do a good impression of Arlo Guthrie. We'd bug him to play Alice's Restaurant all the time, and when he didn't have a guitar on hand he'd just pull out his violin and play it like a ukelele, plucking and strumming to make exactly the sound he needed.

The goal with a told story, imho, is to reach a state of heightened naturalism, where you tell the story as it naturally comes, but you have the experience and understanding to bring artistry to it -- to be able to use a violin as a guitar.

And if you want a great example of a bit of story-telling which both tells and shows, you could do worse than Alice's Restaurant. (For those who have never heard it, Alice's Restaurant is a short song and a long spoken story about one interesting Thanksgiving and its aftermath.)

Here is a slightly shortened version (at 16 minutes) as Arlo performed it at Farm Aid a few years ago:

Who knew the phrase "twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one" could be such a great example of showing?

Tomorrow, the mid-week update for ROW80.

See you in the funny papers.