Monthly Archives: January 2022

Don’t wait for the band wagon

CLIMB ABOARD NOW WHILE THERE ARE STILL GOOD SEATS

It is axiomatic that there are no overnight successes.

Why?

Because it takes huge amounts of determination and preparation to be ready to respond well when an opportunity finally comes along – and if you’re not ready, it will leave you in the dust and move on.

Take your American Idol singer

The pipes that astonish are not natural, spur of the moment, magically angelic. Nope. If so, they are most likely to freeze at the first sign of stress.

The singer not only sings a lot in the shower, but has had parents paying for individual teachers, has been singing in the church choir, has spent years listening to music, and has been through a whole list of roles in the school plays.

Being on stage in front of a bunch of strangers and wowing Simon Cowell is not a fluke.

The illusion that it is sudden and unexpected and a direct blessing from Heaven is for the AUDIENCE. The ones who want to jump on the bandwagon as it goes by because, “I’m just as good as she is.” It keeps them buying the advertised products, watching the shows, purchasing tickets for Kelly Clarkson when she comes to town.

Even the little Wow! stories are the product of hours and hours and hours of cameramen recording every remotely possible candidate practicing in the hall – to be scrolled through for the exciting bits AFTER the winner has been chosen.

It matters only for the individuals

The producers don’t care who wins – they have SO many contestants that their triage is stricter than that after a major accident: they may let a few charismatic duds go through a few levels they aren’t qualified for – one leaves in the random possibility because crowds are fickle, but the staff’s job is to make sure that the two or three possibles culled out of each thousand who apply are usable.

They have no investment in a particular candidate. It’s dangerous to have one because talent and stardom are unpredictable beasts.

But the individual candidates, those who want to win, have to be ready to win – if it happens.

Artists need support BEFORE

before they are recognized as somehow ‘good.’

before they get discouraged and stop producing amazing work.

before everyone else discovers them.

It is even more important for those who are slow, or for whom doing the work is a great mental and/or physical effort.

I know that I will never forget the earliest responses on Wattpad from other writers, the ones who kept me cheerfully sharpening my nose. Because they KNEW – and SAID so – BEFORE others.

Peter Hyland, one of my characters, says,

“None of my friends are perfect. And most of them are irreplaceable. They provide the mirror when I get too big for my britches. New ones are hard to find.” He squinted at the dying sun. “I need them far more than they need me.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY, Chapter 13

It is hard for people to commit, to say, “I’ve found this new writer/photographer/painter…, and you should look into their work” to recommend someone to a friend. What if the friend doesn’t like the new artist? Easier not to say anything, and just nod wisely.

But once the wagon is full, one more supporter isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Getting started is hard – but up to the writer, who is the one to make the decision when something is first ready to be released to the public.

But keeping it going is much harder still, and that’s when the support can make the difference between someone going on to do creditable work – or quitting.

Why now?

It may or may not be important, or a stepping stone of any size, but I’m saying thank you to all my readers who have been saying, “I like what you write,” since I started putting Pride’s Children out in serial form on Wattpad.

You may or may not have noticed the new badge on the sidebar.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY has been named Indies Today’s 2021 BEST CONTEMPORARY novel, and I’d love it if those of you who read mainstream fiction would pop over to my other site, the one for the books, and sign up to follow that blog as I get ready to finish and publish the second novel in the trilogy, Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD.

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Setting fiction in worlds with calendars and clocks

GOING TO ABSURD LENGTHS TO MAKE TIMES AND DATES WORK

There are two parts to verisimilitude: characters and plots.

When you graft a fictional character onto a world in a historical context – changing the name of the president, for example (still missing President Bartlett of the West Wing, not so much the Presidents Underwood of House of Cards), is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, because FICTION.

But there is a significant difference between an alternate history – one which answers what if? questions about what would happen if something changed due to that fictional occurrence (President Lincoln survived the Civil War) – and one which aims to change only a few features of an event, without completely changing the chronology of what happens after.

Because, within wide parameters, most people aren’t important enough to change history, and writing things a little different to end a personal story in a particular way is a perfectly valid fictional technique: you don’t imagine the 1950s differently, but your sleuth solves cases in them.

My fictional world is the real world

I want you to think, when you finish reading my WIP, that you’ve read something that really happened.

But because I chose Hollywood (and Bollywood added to it in the second volume of the trilogy), I need a worldwide stage for some parts, which has resulted in characters at times in very different time zones being aware of or communicating with each other.

Or traveling from one place to another and back.

Or of something they do affecting a different character somewhere else.

Stories aim to give you the flavor of reality

Stories – even very long dense epic stories – give you only a tiny part of what ‘happened.’

Try to document your day. In just one 24-hour day, you perform thousands of actions, make hundreds of decisions. Even listing them in a recording as you go through the day would take forever.

So the writer in a novel has to give you enough of the right kind of scenes so that you think you’ve lived with the characters – but are actually seeing a tiny fraction of what real people would do in that time.

The RIGHT tiny fraction. To give an illusion of time passing and being present.

The writer has to know a lot more than the reader

Or readers will notice the gaps. Call them plot holes, inconsistencies, anachronisms. Or my favorite: refrigerator moments. Because you’re at the refrigerator at 3am and suddenly it occurs to you that there was no logical reason for something that happened in the plot, but you were swept away by the action, and didn’t notice. It may have been Lawrence Block who mentioned no reason for the Estonians to be eating chocolate chip cookies (my memory is very vague on the topic).

Well, I don’t want any of those.

I don’t want readers to say, “Wait a minute – that couldn’t happen!” Because it would pop the ‘suspension of disbelief bubble, and damage the flow.

So I go to a lot of trouble to make sure something might have happened that way.

MOST readers will never notice the hole, or if they do, care.

Funny thing: in my mind, that doesn’t absolve me of the requirement to make sure there aren’t any I can see.

In practical terms in NETHERWORLD

It means that when I do my complicated alternation between characters, and something has to happen on a close timeline, I spend effort making sure that timeline is actually possible.

If two characters alternating are on different continents (a recent example), and there is a plane flight from one of those continents to a place on a third one, I use a lot of convenient time/date software (what time is it in Berlin when it’s 3am in Shanghai?) in coordination with other software which tells me how long the flight will be for a particular aircraft.

Sometimes I’ve had to reset the time for a particular sequential scene.

Other times I’ve had to start a scene earlier or later, build in a gap, or have it end at a different time.

The interesting thing to me has been that when I get that involved in the details of ‘could it work’, I find myself feeling more like a detective than the plotter of a novel.

I’m discovering what happened rather than creating it.

It has been eerie how real the timelines are – and how I’m able to fit the changes in without it rippling through the rest of the scenes.

Some scenes are anchored in REAL TIME

I’ve chosen to insert a character into an actual historical event, so I have to make sure a barrage of physical actions happen around that exact event.

I don’t want a reader to remember something – that year that award ceremony happened on a Monday, not the usual Sunday – and me have gotten it wrong.

It’s enough fiction that I’m putting my characters into that ceremony.

I want the reader to have the spine-chilling thought, “Hey. Wait. Am I remembering it wrong?” because my fictional part fits so well into the past reality.

And it’s not that many years ago.

Next time I may pick something without these real-world anchors!

Or in a fictional universe.

I never realized how much work it might be until I was up to my neck in alligators in the swamp.

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As a reader, what do you do when the glitches are so obvious you can’t ignore them?

As a writer, am I crazy to worry about these tiny details?

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Is labeling mainstream novels literary counterproductive?

A REVOLUTION HAPPENED AND NOBODY NOTICED

Amazon tries; it really does.

To satisfy its customers, to make searching for what they want easy (easier), to supply it efficiently.

By revolution I mean both also that things turned around – 180° – from where they were, sort of, before.

Because before this all happened, ‘literary’ was a separate category in bookstores.

And literary meant a number of things:

  • Difficult to read, requiring great attention
  • Small in scope – One DAY in the life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Elitist
  • Using difficult flowery language
  • Very detailed – a navel closely observed and described
  • Slow and languid
  • Somehow not for everyone
  • Requiring a large SAT vocabulary
  • For people with an MA in English or Literature
  • Suitable proof for a doctorate
  • A credential for teaching English or Literature
  • With a limited audience
  • Special
  • Art
  • Cliched
  • Maybe French or translated from Italian or Russian
  • Not commercial
  • Often not ending anywhere near happily

Add or subtract from my list what comes into your head when you hear ‘literary novel.’ Please feel free to mention them in a comment.

What’s the revolution, you ask?

That ‘literary’ now means ‘traditionally published good stuff’ on Amazon, and is seen as almost the exclusive purview of, you guessed it, the traditional publishers large and small.

The books that are vetted by agents and editors at publishing companies (excluding the celebrity stuff), and are therefore both ‘better’ and ‘not for the hoi polloi.’

The other similar term is ‘historical,’ which is a little fuzzier and often about WWII, sometimes about WWI or the American Civil War.

Because the term ‘mainstream’ disappeared, and is not the same as ‘contemporary,’ which can be attached to, say, a Romance and a worldview: ‘Contemporary Christian Romance’ is a searchable thing.

It is considered presumptuous to label your own work ‘classic.’

And ‘General Fiction’ is not a category, but a garbage can.

‘Psychological’ is filling the empty slot somewhat – almost all novels for grownups are psychological, but is confounded by ‘thriller,’ ‘horror’, and ‘women’s fiction.’ With, of course, nothing actually labeled ‘fiction for men.’

It used to be possible to find mainstream fiction by looking for ‘a novel’ on the cover. No more. It now means only ‘book of at least 50 pages.’

It doesn’t matter for mainstream because

I’m convinced readers of mainstream fiction who use Amazon come there to find a good price on something they’ve already decided to buy.

I don’t think they search on Amazon. Not beyond maybe being attracted by something similar being offered by the ‘also read’ bots. There is just too much stuff.

They get their recommendations elsewhere – book critics (who rarely do SPAs*), reviews in the few places which still have book sections (print journalism has taken a lot of hits lately, too), and the publicity material put out for their best-selling authors by the traditional publishers (other authors get bupkis from traditional publishers – return on investment isn’t worth it).

So the market is saturated and sopped up by the same few titles which keep those offices in Manhattan open for the publishers (and their unpaid interns).

I’m hoping for virality. It can make the huge difference to a start – and then the writing must maintain the quality so that future books, even if widely spaces, are eagerly awaited.

Feel free to help kick that off – if you like mainstream fiction.

Don’t let ‘the system’ keep producing same old, same old – and then complain you can’t find anything you like to read.

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Thank you for listening to the daily rant. Now, if I could just manage to do it daily! 🙂

Oh, and the answer to the title question is yes: ‘Literary’ has too many negative and restrictive connotations in the minds of too many readers.

‘Literary’ is not a good substitute for such terms as mainstream, ‘big book’, epic, blockbuster, or commercial novel. It isn’t the same. Even when the intent is to make it a synonym with ‘well written.’

IMNVHO (In my not very humble opinion,)

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Final note: Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is taking part today and for the next few days at a promotion at HelloBooks – which has many other wonderful bargains for serious readers of General Fiction (its category) and many other genres.

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*SPAs = self-published authors, sometimes known as indies or independent authors