Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

True And Good

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about happy endings lately (stop sniggering). I could go into why I think they’re important, which is rooted in my philosophy of literature and my view of the way literary fiction functions, but that’s a really long post. What I believe about happy endings and how I think they should function are two separate talks, I think.

So in this case it’s less about happy endings, about doing them right, or about how they can be done right. It’s more about why doing an ending right is important.

You can’t just slap any old ending on a story. It has to have the ending it was meant to have, or perhaps more accurately the ending it has been building towards. There is a school of thought which says that because our lives aren’t narrative in the way our stories are, there are no real “endings”, and the job of the writer is just to find a stopping-point that’s appropriate. And to some extent I believe in that. In an overall sense, I believe more in a phrase I used in a story once: Make it true and make it good.

“Make it true and make it good” is much more difficult than it seems. Writers have an amazing amount of power over their little worlds, and it’s easy to write something that merely gratifies the self. It takes discipline to write something that gratifies the work, something that is true to the spirit of the story, satisfying, and at least a little tidy.

There’s nothing more disappointing than the wrong ending on a story: an ending that’s too fast, because you got bored of writing after you hit the climax, or an ending whose note rings false. Or the infamous fix-it ending, where someone or something swoops in at the last minute to solve the problem of the rest of the book.

Mind you, if you do it right, a fix-it can be appropriate. Douglas Adams used to deliberately write himself into corners so he’d be forced to create ways to fix things, and once in a while he had to go pretty far out there, with results that were both creative and amusing. Sometimes a fix-it can be a satire of our desires for neatly-tied packages. But most of the time it’s a sign that the writer was tired. Which I understand. I get tired too.

I believe in the power of true-and-good to remind us even when we are tired that the story is what we serve. It’s not a technique in itself, but sometimes knowing the law of the craft is as important as knowing the craft itself.

Forgive Me My Letters

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

I’ve been writing review solicitation letters in the last few days. Is there anything more intimidating than asking favours from strangers?

I think most writers probably aren’t good at writing letters, because when we write fiction we always have an inkling of how two people interacting are going to behave. In non-fictional existence, we sometimes don’t have a very good idea of how someone else is going to see our prose. And we worry we sound stupid, because as writers a fair chunk of our ego is tied up in the idea that we’re trying not to sound stupid when we write something.

There are two major hurdles to get over when asking people to read and review your book. The first is that there aren’t really model letters out there for this kind of thing. Not for self-publishers, anyway. When I’m applying for a job (or, once upon a time, sending manuscripts to agents), I have a model to work from. There’s a format that you know is generally accepted by your addressee, so you don’t have to sweat the structure. That’s not as present in this situation, so it takes a bit of assembly to get a normal letter together.

The second hurdle is that book reviewers can be scary people. I don’t even mean during the review. During the review, anything they can back up is fair game. But if you’ve ever gone to the “about” section of a book blogger’s website, it can be pretty stern.

I get why. They get a lot of books and can’t possibly read them all, and it’s difficult to say no when someone asks you to do something you do professionally or semi-professionally. I don’t blame them for…wording things strongly. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying to go toe-to-toe with a person who sounds like they’re waiting for a chance to reject you and tell them you think your work is worth their time.

But you know, the thing is, in original writing I build a world, I make up people, I give them problems to overcome, and I sew everything up into a coherent story. That’s a lot of work and a big accomplishment. I made a thing, and I like my thing, and why shouldn’t other people?

So yesterday I wrote to Cory Doctorow and Teresa Nielsen Hayden and asked them to read my book. Both of them have linked to my work before, and Teresa in particular was recommended to me as someone who might have interest in further reading. Today I’m emailing a bunch of strangers to ask the same. Nerve-wracking, definitely, all of it, but I have confidence in my work, so I write the letter and I wince a little as I send it off but I send it off anyway.

We’ll see what happens.

The Drain Of Writing

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2011 at 11:55 am

It’s been a crazy few weeks for me lately. I’ve just put Trace to bed, I’ve just started a new job, and I’ve been managing my budget very closely because the new job means I skipped a paycheck in late October. So lately I’ve found myself sitting in front of the computer in the afternoons, staring at GoogleDocs or a text file, and just feeling way too exhausted to write anything.

It’s a little bit of a lie, because in that moment I’m not too exhausted to answer email, respond to the needs of the people I work with, cook dinner, or go see a movie or play. But anyone who’s a writer knows that it takes a different kind of energy to write as it does to do those things — it comes from some separate source, one that’s easy to drain, like we take energy from there first. For a while, I’ve been wanting to go over my techniques for getting over this weariness, and since National Novel Writing Month is coming up, I thought I’d share them here.

These are the ways I get past that fuzzy-headed, apathetic, weary feeling when I want to write.

1. Eat something. But not in front of the computer. When I want to revitalize a little I get up, walk away, get something to eat, and sit down somewhere else and just focus on refueling. It doesn’t have to be a meal, it can just be a banana or a bowl of popcorn, and obviously one shouldn’t do this frequently. But it helps to focus on something else, and the food can give you an energy kick.

2.Time yourself. Give yourself a brief time limit within which all you are allowed to do is either write or stare at the cursor. Staring forces you to think, but the limit means there’s an end in sight, so you know you’re not going to be staring endlessly. I prefer fifteen minutes, but even as little as five might help. And if staring’s all you do, that’s okay. You only had to do it for fifteen minutes today.

3. Go to a movie. I say “go” only because if you watch a movie it should be something you haven’t seen before. Twenty minutes into any film I see at the cinema, I’m dying to get back to writing. When I’m in a dark room with someone else controlling my input, I get twitchy. I do my best writing sometimes after seeing a movie. If you’re watching at home, you can even pause the film to start writing, and go back to it when you’re tired again.

4. Write something else. If you want to write but don’t want to write what you have to write, write something new in a new window for fifteen or twenty minutes. Sometimes it gives you the kickstart you need; sometimes it gives you something to avoid; sometimes it turns into something enjoyable and you can finish that and go there, I finished something.

5. Love what you write. You don’t have to love it all the time, but if you’re not engaged in the story you’re telling, why tell it? If you can find love even when you’re tired, it’s easier to keep writing. Re-reading, for those not obsessed by proofing, can also help. Find the scene you love, either written or unwritten, and re-read it, or dream it up like a fantasy. You don’t have to write every scene in order.

6. Do research. Researching what I’m writing always gives me new ideas, and if it doesn’t make you want to write, you’ve at least done something meaningful while waiting. It doesn’t even have to be on what you’re writing; wikiwandering is a great way to get ideas.

7. Find your time. Most people have a time of day when they’re at their peak and do their best writing. My pal Christian is experimenting with new times right now, but I recall a time when he got up at three in the morning to write, because it worked for him. Nameless was written entirely between the hours of ten pm and midnight. But your time can depend a lot on other aspects of your life, too. When I had more spare time, I could write anytime; right now my best writing gets done either mid-morning or late at night after I’ve had time to come down from the day. Don’t assume your “best time” is static, but once you find a time when you’re productive, try to work your schedule around it a little. Most of my actual work gets done later in the day now, because I schedule morning time to write. Everyone else at work is too sleepy to notice.

So those are the ways I cope.

I should get back to doing some of them again…

Kiana Davenport and the Terrified Penguins

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm

One of the stories I’ve been following in my oh-so-copious spare time lately is the rapid outward ripples caused by Kiana Davenport’s burgeoning legal battle with Riverhead Books, a branch of Penguin.

Davenport’s blog entry about it is a little dramatic, but perhaps the event deserves the drama, and certainly she does not lack perception.

Essentially, Davenport signed a contract with Riverhead to publish her novel, “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter”, receiving a $20,000 advance for the rights to publish. In the meantime, she had collected a series of short stories she’d written into an anthology, “Cannibal Nights“, which she self-published. She’s very clear about this: self-publishing a book of unrelated stories didn’t break her contract, and it’s a little astounding that the publisher didn’t laud her for building a platform, for the “hustle” we’re told as writers we should have if we want to succeed.

Instead, apparently Riverhead Books totally lost the plot:

So, here is what the publisher demanded. That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that’s about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback.

Davenport’s plight is pretty incredible — she’s now in the position of having to hire a lawyer and fight a legal battle to keep money she was paid in an unrelated contract for a totally different book, simply because she chose to self-publish a series of stories which had been published in other formats previously.

New York Times writer David Streitfield has some cultural context to offer: mainly, that publishers are terrified of Amazon. Because Amazon, at least in the public eye, killed the big box bookstore, and in the coming year Amazon will be publishing, publicising, and distributing over a hundred books. It’s coming for the publishers.

That terrifies me too, I’m not going to lie. I don’t like when a single company tries to control the entire process of information distribution, and I include fiction under that term.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, the company’s chief executive, referred several times to Kindle as “an end-to-end service,” conjuring up a world in which Amazon develops, promotes and delivers the product.

Doesn’t that give you a chill?

Especially since it’s Amazon, who have not been known, in the past, to be either evenhanded or transparent in their dealings with individual writers or with subject matter that doesn’t fit a patriarchal heteronormative mold. Google Amazonfail and you can see what Amazon thinks of gay people, and of women’s reproductive health.

But Riverhead clearly has no clue what the internet is about — they want her to delete Google hits — and I will say this for Amazon: Amazon gets the idea when it comes to the point where the internet and the printing press intersect. NYT quoting Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives:

“The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

I’ve been saying for three years now that we should be readers and writers, not buyers and sellers.

I don’t want to trust Amazon, because they’ve proven to be utterly untrustworthy. And certainly it looks as though trad publishing is catching onto the change in the wind and losing its everloving mind in fear over it. Lulu, while I love them and use them regularly, is in selfpub to make money; the same is true for essentially any selfpub website. The money’s not in the books but in the services novice authors are willing to pay for. So even small sites like the one I use are a bit like a zoo tiger — only safe as long as you know how to handle them.

These are not placid waters, and the change is coming. This is not the last we’ll hear about this, and the fight between Amazon and the trad publishers should be awesome to witness. They both scare me, but hopefully the carnage will produce something that’s to the benefit of the rest of us — the readers and the writers.

ePub A Go Go: Charitable Getting

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Yep, Charitable Getting is now available as an ePub!

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to make Microsoft Word and the internet talk coherently together. It’s like Word is the last native speaker of some ancient tongue; I have to treat it nicely or it won’t cough up the goods.

That metaphor may have got away from me. The point is, Lulu makes “chapters” in ePub documents by looking at a Word document and saying “Oh hey, this is called Heading #1, that shall be the title of the book. This is called Heading #2, and it shall indicate chapters.” But Word has both “Header” and “Heading” #s 1, 2, and 3. And only one of them works. And if you use the other one, Lulu is all “Dude, you have fewer chapters than expected, what’s up?”

Lulu would, incidentally, be 100% less frustrating if they threw in some occasional surfer slang. I wouldn’t grit my teeth so much if sometimes it said my file was gnarly.

At any rate, I conquered in the end — I took a book with four different fonts, multiple images, a couple of tables, and one misplaced cake (can’t forget the cake) and turned it into an ePub which is totally rad and a steal at $3. If you’d like a copy, just click on the button below!

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

Other People Can Smell You On A Computer

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided when Lulu released their new epub converter that I would do my level best to get all my books into epub format. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it this quickly, but this afternoon I released the epub version of Other People Can Smell You. If you’re interested, you can buy it here:

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

Once upon a time I knew a lot more about  computers than I do now, but I don’t think I would ever have been able to grasp the intricacies of ebook production. I’m just not wired for programming. So when Lulu announced their epub converter, I got very excited and promptly did three things:

1. Caught bronchitis.
2. Changed jobs.
3. Took a week’s vacation in Texas.

Sometimes I need time to process, I guess.

At any rate, now that I’ve got the hang of the minimal formatting required for epub conversion, I’ve done a test run with Other People Can Smell You, my college guide. This was a top priority as I’ve always wanted it to be affordable, and now the digital version is available for half the cost of the print version — and for every sale I’ll make three times the profit.

Truly, we live in a remarkable era.

Trace is coming!

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Colin Byrne is a pickpocket, an artist, and an occasional consultant for the police. He’s also an ex-felon, an initiate into the feral, unspoken magic that only prisoners know: how to vanish, how to tell fortunes, how to steal souls. Now the man who put him in prison wants him to return to Railburg State Correctional Facility to help investigate a case.

Colin has some allies at Railburg: his mentor Gutierrez, who talks to God, and his friend Noel, the best ink artist in the prison. But another powerful prisoner that Colin helped put away is slowly poisoning the food, and there’s impulsive young Laney to protect from the Aryan Brotherhood. With mysterious forces aiming to incite a riot that will wipe Railburg from the map and from human memory, Colin has bigger problems than the one he went to Railburg to solve…

The official release date for Trace has been set: Saturday, November 5th. (It’s not exactly a coincidence that this is Guy Fawkes Day…)

At 10am on November 5th, the Trace sales pages on Lulu.com will go live, both for the print edition ($12) and the epub edition ($3). A PDF version will, as ever, be available for free from the print edition sales page.

A reminder will be posted here at WordPress, but if you’re looking for something special, you can also keep an eye on LiveJournal, where Sam will be offering signed copies to benefit charity. $30 will get you a signed copy of Trace including postage, and all profits will be divided between two great causes: The Innocence Project and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

See you on the 5th!

Inaugural Post

In Uncategorized on October 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Well, holy crap, then one Saturday I made a website.

It’s still a bit under construction but the front page is functional — everything but the “sales” pages really. Not too bad for five hours of work.

I think most people use this space to blog in, but I already have a blog (technically I have four), so this will be used mainly for news blasts, press releases, and other publicity announcements. Really this post is just here so I can make sure my posts are going in the right place on the front page…