Tag Archives: writing

The writer comes from somewhere

Ernest and Pepita Butcher

THE BEST START ON LIFE YOU COULD GET

Life has been biting at my ankles this year, and I’m almost at the point of telling you you can have 2017. I don’t want it.

Mother, 94, has gone to Heaven to be with Daddy, who died three years ago at 91. We  imagine them dancing together again. We all thought they would be here forever, even if diminished from their prime of being one of the most vital and alive couples we ever knew.

My sisters and I, growing up in Mexico City, agreed many times that they were the best parents we knew, and we wouldn’t trade them for anybody else’s parents.

So many stories we can tell, and will remind each other of, but I’m sure everyone has their own family stories, and I can’t do them justice. But they SHOWED us what love is.

And we hope we are passing it on.

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Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly

LET ME SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR FLY

Let me show you around.

Let me show off the carefully constructed room I have created for myself, and I want you to see.

Constructing the tough scenes

I have spent over two weeks crafting the scene I just finished.

I have known for almost all of this century what would happen here: this scene has ONE main job.

It is a pivotal scene: without this one scene, the second book of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, comes to a screeching halt.

The way I write, though, that is not unusual.

Perennial preparation

Outside my window a pair of goldfinches is systematically eating every single seed on the drying heads of the coneflowers planted just, it seems, for them and for this purpose. I never see them at other times of year – the little yellow and black birds, tiny compared to the big fat robins that eat the worms, tinier still compared to the crows and pigeons, and microscopic compared to the hawk that lives around here somewher (in themiddle of suburban NJ!), but bigger than the hummingbirds whose feeder I need to replenish today.

But for the goldfinches to have this feast, a whole host of details must have gone perfectly: the perennial plants were introduced years ago, the weeds have been removed (now by my assistant, as I can’t do much of that any more), the fertilizer was applied, and, most importantly, I have kept that same assistant from removing the drying seedheads of this year’s crop as garden debris. Yes, it would look a lot tidier, but the whole point of the garden was hummingbirds and butterflies – and the other wildlife that eats the various seeds and drinks the different flower nectars.

It is still a surprise to the writer

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m an extreme plotter. Hundreds or thousands of pieces have pre-planned scenes (yes, there is a bit of give – I’m not a psychic) where they will ‘happen.’

This particular scene had the regular mix of other bits attached – some pieces are identifiable as recommended by Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s books for screenwriters, and others come straight from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction.

I have known about the details for the past two years.

But the details as executed, oh!

And it was still very hard work – three weeks of it – to turn this collection of plot points and character bits, events and revelations, new leads and old connections – into something that I felt would take me there, and be so real I couldn’t imagine changing any of it (now – the weeks have been nothing BUT changing the HOW).

So I can take a reader there with me, invite that reader into this scene, one of the rooms on this long house tour of mine, and have the reader feel at home and comfy in the plush padded armchair whose footstool has a hand-embroidered tapestry cover.

It is finished now

And it is real, and reliably causes my brain to load the experience.

So it’s ready to eventually share. Here’s a taste:

Andrew snippet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What? Where? Why? I promise it all connects.

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.

 

 

The slow posts of summer 2017

THE SUMMER SLOW DOWN IS ACTUALLY A SPEED UP

This is a stub, a placeholder, a tente-en-pié (keep you on your feet), an appetizer – lagniappe?

Any one of those words that means a quick update and not a thought-out post with a point.

Why? Because when other bloggers stop blogging, I worry a bit.

Don’t want you to worry. There have been no recent crises – Yay!

On the To Do list:

Writing NETHERWORLD. Yup. Main A1 priority that keeps getting a day here, a day there (the least efficient way for me to write). And publishing Too Late.

Finding a permanent place to live – for which I have, up to now, processed more than 110 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities), most of them in California, to see if we can 1) afford them, and 2) find a community we’ll fit into.

Paperwork for my Dad’s estate, too long on the to do list, but the IRS has made each simple step complicated. I will persevere.

Getting healthier. Here I would like to report slightly better walking capacity (after days and days and days of lower back strengthening exercises), and continued cardiac rehab (though I haven’t been able to increase it much since I started, I’m now into my fifth month, which is some kind of record).

Dejunking the house prior to getting it on the market. This means the Christmas tree came down this week. You may applaud.

I think that’s the major ones.

CCRCs in California

The why? It’s drier (humidity and I don’t get along), and the places we’re looking at have better weather. I have been warned – not all places in California have ideal weather. The spouse put me onto the idea of getting an idea of each city from Wikipedia (who knew each has a page?). If there is a Climate section, the little graphic illustrates temperatures, rainfall, and sometimes humidity for a year – which is exactly what I need to compare, say, Sta. Barbara and Bakersfield (nice, not so nice).

I now have had hour-long conversations with about 21 salespeople (the shorter list), along with getting electronic and snail mailed information, and followups. I learned a lot.

The basic information on the websites seems to be 1) we have apartments and/or cottages, and 2) we are the best CCRC in California. So there’s some hype.

Considering that one of the major decision factors is cost, you’d think they’d be a bit more up-front, but if there is information at all, it is usually, ‘from (quotes entrance fee for tiniest unit and monthly fee for one person in it.’

Not very useful or realistic, and I hate to hang up the minute someone tells me the actual numbers (which implies I couldn’t go). The reality is that we have some choice in the matter, but a place is going to have to be perfect for us to go for the higher costs (and most of the for-profit places in the San Francisco area are simply not an option).

I’m to the point of running numbers past a calculator and guesstimating some scenarios on how long we’ll live (always a fun exercise) and how long we’ll need what kind of expensive assistance to do so.

Dejunking is slow going

Not because I can’t get rid of stuff, but because doing so requires me to give my assistant (who’s been a little erratic due to real problems) permission: ever single item in this house not in my husband’s office is my problem.

And some of it has to be kept around so the house doesn’t look razed when we show it.

My brain will tackle that problem far better when it doesn’t need to do phone calls and financial calculations with its little bit of energy, and we have a very short list of places we would willingly move to tomorrow.

And when the heat and humidity abate a bit, and we can stand to dejunk the garage some more.

It’s amazing how much stuff goes when an assistant takes it to its next owner for you (or makes it disappear). Until you get down to family photos and the CD collection you always meant to put on a hard drive.

Exercise, walking, etc.

Here I have to be extremely careful. We CFS folk can overdo things in an instant – and have to pay for it with days of getting nothing done, and huge amounts of extra rest.

I’m so far over capacity already with all the extra stuff on top of what I had before that all I have to do is go to a meeting with the financial advisor (a short meeting, he said – ’twasn’t) to lose two days.

I’m looking forward to living in a CCRC where the plan will be: write in the morning; get more fit/relax/float in the pool/do a short stint in the gym/walk to dinner, in the evening.

I swear.

Meanwhile I have to keep the spine from insisting on more surgery (so far, so good, and I don’t trust any of the surgeons I’ve seen). This requires daily exercise and stretching. Lots. The stronger the spine gets, what do you know: the easier the walking has become.

But we’re talking micrometers. I know – husband can’t even tell. And it’s made me do things I shouldn’t have done (leaving the walker in the car for something that turns out to be a longer walk than I planned is the #1 problem).

And the perennial: removing a few pounds from the joints would probably help; meanwhile, don’t add any.

Removing all cardiac meds made a huge difference to all of the above – zombies aren’t good at becoming healthier. Doctor doesn’t even want to see me for six months; BP and HR are behaving themselves nicely with meditation and rest and the rehab (I guess – had to tell).

The career as novelist

Taking a bit of a beating right now, but moving.

The biggest other time-eater is learning and running Amazon ads. I find I don’t do well when the sales are way down (depressing) because I’m not hand-selling, and going viral isn’t happening on its own.

Which means advertising. The last email I got (review pending) had ‘Loved it!’ four times in a row, so I do have a tiny tribe, but I have no reach – and everyone else on the planet (with energy) is writing bunches more books and ads.

I’m trying various targeting ideas. If any of them work…

But the very best time I spend, exhausted or not, is when I’m in Bianca’s skin (today) or Andrew’s skin (last week) or being Kary for a while (right before that). And that’s still good, if a little claustrophobic: I have to get awfully close before I can write them.

Drop a line

How’s YOUR summer going?

 

 

 

 

 

Writing in a niche market is fraught

AND CAN BE VERY HARD ON THE EGO

When feedback is rare, because, as an author, you haven’t ‘taken off’ yet, the individual pieces that come your way can carry far more power than you expect. And do more damage, or, in my case, make you a lot more stubborn.

What is the niche? INDIE NON-GENRE fiction

Classified – or should be – as General Fiction, ‘literary’ only if the quality is up to the standards of readers who specifically choose to read literary fiction (and omnivores).

That quality is subjective, to some extent. There are so many ways for a novel to fail, from poor characterization to too much characterization, from implausible plot to none at all, and from the habit of stopping the story for minute description of details to an overreliance on flowery language.

I amused myself for a while reading the negative reviews of popular literary fiction, until I realized that the authors were doing quite well – and their fans often didn’t bother to leave feedback (how many ways can you say ‘I liked this book’?), but their detractors did, so the ratings tended to be skewed.

These authors long ago learned to ignore the critics, write the next book, and feel confident it would be bought in reasonable numbers.

I have not. Yet.

Stubborn I have been since a small child

I was the kind of ugly duckling people hesitate to pick on. Unkindnesses were not uncommon, but outright bullying requires the consent of the bullied – or their physical inability to resist – to work properly, and that was not me.

I had a family to back me up (“our ugly duckling, right or wrong”), who loved me and still do (thanks, guys!). I didn’t have any of the easy pickings, gayness or excessive weight (though I was on the stocky side) or scandals in the family or dimness. It wasn’t much fun to pick on me, if I even noticed it, so I was mostly left to my own devices.

And I didn’t CARE about other people’s opinions (except my parents’). We felt we had the best possible parents compared to all our friends, so it was a serious failing not to be up to their standards, and we tried very hard

Why mention this unlovely trait? Because it affects not my writing directly (I’ve pretty much settled into a voice and style, at least for this set of books), but my mood.

Making my mood conscious, and then removing it if inconvenient, takes up some of my daily time. Sometimes the process results in reflection, and you get a post.

I’m trying to improve both sales and reviews/ratings

The plan was to have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY selling quietly at some rate in the background, with borrows from Kindle Unlimited a separate small stream of income, justifying the writing.

I tell myself that writing is a business, not a hobby. One may become a talented amateur painter, for example, but no hobbyist-painter spends every possible moment painting.

The difference is both the intention – and the time and effort put into the endeavor.

Which has led to me spending time looking at the means for promotion available to those pesky self-publishing indies.

That’s where the niche part comes in.

If you write, say, Science Fiction or Category Romance, you have a lot of company (writers) and a defined (and large) audience of potential readers. Within these genres, there is a sense of camaraderie, and a sharing – on the indie side – of information about which means of promotion work, and how to go about them.

What works for INDIE GENRE promotion?

I am well read on the methods – indie writers are very generous with information.

Nothing is a slam dunk, of course – people who think you just throw a book together, repeat at three-month intervals, set the first book to permafree or 0.99 and pay off your mortgage, find the field harder to plow than they expected. There is work, and savvy, and exploiting the available avenues, and marketing, and spending your money wisely on ads and promotions.

But a new indie writer – or one tiring of the traditional dance and swallowing her distaste and trying self-publishing (usually because traditional publishing has huge problems for genre writers, including skimpy advances (if you get one at all) and very low royalties) – finds many ideas to try.

Follow the methods. Write your books. LEARN. Cross-promote. And if you’re energetic and confident and prolific – and can write worth a damn, especially within genre conventions – you can make a career.

Stealing fire from the indie gods

I’ve been reading all this since I started reading the self-publishing blogs in 2012, and educating myself to the business side of writing.

And every thing I read was cause for reflection – and me looking for the other side to the idea, the one that might work for me. Because I knew, from the very beginning, I was different.

I doubt traditional publishers would take a chance – that pesky heroine, and some of those ideas – not at all ‘more of the same.’

And I also knew that ‘prolific, ‘energetic,’ and ‘genre conventions’ were not going to work for me.

I have been welcomed in many places, even as I bring in my weird differences, simply because most indies are welcoming people. Their success doesn’t depend on keeping me out of a traditional publisher’s catalog slot. We are competitors in only a very general sense.

The one I am trying now has to do with Amazon ads; I’ve joined a FaceBook group whose purpose is to learn how to master Amazon ads in two ways:

making you comfortable with advertising on Amazon – and teaching you how to create the ads, and

fine-tuning the ads to find a comfortable rate of return for your advertising dollar.

The people I share this group with are mostly indie (a few hybrid authors do traditional + self-publishing). And most of them are very firmly genre writers: thrillers and cozy mysteries, paranormal Romance and Christian Romance, SF and fantasy.

I haven’t found many ‘literary’ or mainstream or general fiction authors identifying themselves as such. So I’ve been mostly alone in my plan to see what I can adapt from genre techniques of marketing, reading every post with the intention of turning it on its head if that would help ME.

The HOW

I have a very specific set of techniques in my plan.

It may not be doable.

It may be doable, but so expensive that it’s not worth it.

I won’t share unless it works, because the techniques are also very frangible and friable and delicate. I can see them working – and then not working if even a relatively small group people decide to try to follow suit.

What I’m NOT happy with

This is the hard part, and I’ll illustrate it with two bits of feedback I received in the past two days:

Negative:

Readers’ Comments
‘Interesting in many ways. The characters have considerable
depth and the plot is interesting. It could do with a good
editor in parts to ‘cut it down’ a little. Also, parts of it
are difficult to follow. I had to re-read the first chapter to
understand all of it. But, if you are prepared to work, you
will find here a fascinating story populated with strong
characters. Just a note, the cover’s a bit flat.’ Male reader,
aged 42
‘Powerful characters – yes. Interesting plot with plenty of
twists – yes. Well described setting – yes. Very complicated
and a hard-to-follow writing style – yes. This probably needs
an editor with a red pen to cut it. If that happened, it would
be a top-notch EPIC!’ Female reader, aged 56

‘A bit too ‘wordy’ for me. If you read it, have a dictionary
handy. I’m guessing this was a huge job to write. And for
this, I congratulate the author. Her knowledge of her settings
and characters is stunning, and the illness of the author is
well-handled and adds a further element of interest. I enjoyed
it, though it was a rather exhausting read.’ Female reader,
aged 59

‘The stream of consciousness is interesting but killed the
book for me. It just over complicated the story and made it
difficult to follow. Personally, I would encourage the author
to cut the length of this story considerably. The characters
are interesting and well-handled, the plot is powerful with an
excellent ending. It just needs editing a little.’ Indie
Publisher, aged 51

I.e., Change your writing – it’s too long and too hard for me.

Positive:

Thank God for positive!

I have long finished your book and loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. It was entirely to my taste. “The Essex Serpent” had this kind of pacing as well, and I found myself absorbed in the balance between internal monologues and external events. I ended the book wanting to know what happens to Kary, Andrew and Bianca next.

I.e., I like it the way it is and want more.

Why point out only some people like it?

Because when you write to a niche, but there is a much larger pool of readers who won’t like what you write, or won’t quite ‘get it,’ you have to be very careful NOT to attract those other readers – who will then leave the exact kind of reviews you don’t want to be associated with, lower your rating, and attempt, in their kindness, to ‘fix’ you and your writing.

And when the readers you DO want to attract by your ads are firmly convinced that no indie author can write the right kind of novels, because if they could, these writers would go through the traditional gatekeepers and be blessed and vetted, the least thing can scare those readers off from even trying to read your book.

Ergo, fraught. Writing in such a niche. And even more fraught, is trying to find a way to do it indie anyway, including advertising. And still find readers.

The topic is esoteric to the point of madness

For which I apologize.

But I had to find SOMETHING to do with the feedback which showed up in my inbox, and with the well-intentioned comments (change your price, get a professional to edit your work, get a professional to design your cover, make it shorter, CHANGE your book) which has been my fare lately.

So I share it with my friends.

You’re already used to me.

Depression: unavoidable consequence of life-altering surgery?

Bird flying into the sunset. Text: How far away are the Grey Havens. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH LOSS

I don’t want to have to write this post, but I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the final ‘tail’ I have to deal with.

I don’t want to believe that it may be a consequences of having my life saved that, for a year, the last drug I’m on may dog my steps, make me wish I hadn’t made it, drive me to a different place where it isn’t worth getting up in the morning.

Maybe I’m writing this prematurely, but even if the whole experience disappeared tomorrow into a (tiny) burst of continuing ability to write, it HAS existed. It is REAL. And I’m probably not alone in having it.

Why would a platelet control drug (Effient) cause problems?

Because one of its side effects is ‘low energy.’

I thought getting the drugs with the major side effects out of my system would take me back to where I used to exist, in my low-energy CFS state that allowed a couple of hours a day for writing fiction – my ‘good time’ – if I did everything right: got enough sleep, took my naps, didn’t eat until after writing (to avoid diverting blood to digestion I needed for thinking), didn’t eat carbs, didn’t leave the house much, kept the adrenaline low by suppressing most of the effect of emotions…

What this actually means is that I need to achieve an energy level somewhat above bare-existence levels for part of the day, and don’t have much of a margin of safety. Many days, especially if something else HAD to be done, by ME, I had to use it for something other than writing fiction. But most of the time – maybe 5 or 6 out of 7 days – I could count on that piece of my old mind hanging around for a bit.

And now I’m down to 1 or 2 out of 7 – and it’s simply not enough to keep me from getting depressed – and then having to use some of those days and some of that energy to drag myself out of the pit of despair.

How do you handle depression?

A long time ago, when I first got CFS, there was some evidence that taking small quantities – about 10% of a regular dose – of antidepressants, and my doctor at the time tried four or five of them over a period when I was desperate to get some of myself back.

And the reaction to medication that still is with me – overreacting to small amounts, and usually not being able to take enough to reach a therapeutic dose – happened back then. None of the drugs I tried had any positive effect; all had side effects which made me beg off them; and on none of them did I reach even that 10% dose before this happened.

It seems to be my version (I’m far from alone in this among people with CFS (PWCs)) of this d**ned disease.

But because of this experiment, I won’t try anti-depressant medications again.

Long ago I learned Cognitive Behavior Therapy – from Feeling Good: the new mood therapy, Dr. David Burns. It takes time, involves, for me, a fair amount of writing it all down and dealing with it on paper.

But it has the advantages of:

  • no drugs for my system to deal with
  • no side effects
  • available in the middle of the night – or any other time and place
  • completely under my control
  • always works for me (eventually)
  • doesn’t need a therapist, a doctor, or a pharmacist – or a prescription
  • no cost

I can’t tell you the number of times in almost three decades that I’ve realized I’m getting overwhelmed, started writing about it, figured out what the important threads were, and worked my way out of depression that was making my life uninhabitable.

I don’t push this on other people – many other people can handle a drug just fine, don’t get many side effects, and just need their brain chemistry adjusted; or, if in a major depression, need far more help than they can manage this way. But it’s what I’ve used all these years, and it works for me – if I put the time and effort in. Which I always end up doing because I can, I don’t like inflicting this self on my family, and depression ruins what life I have left – and bring my fiction to a standstill.

Back to the life-altering part

It is characteristic of many events in life that change you from one person into another – love, marriage, a child, getting kicked out of school, divorce, joining the military, losing a parent… – to make you reassess what is important to you, what you are doing with your life.

Having stents installed, and finding out you might have been heading for a heart attack otherwise, changes you. It is a curious ‘surgery’ because there is little in the way of cutting and healing from that (except in my unlucky case, where I blew a gasket in the hole in my femoral artery – I still have the damage from that).

But that almost doesn’t matter, because I KNOW I am now another person/body. For one, I am now a ‘cardiac patient,’ with the implications of doctor supervision, meds, visits to the cardiologist, tests, and whatever changes these things may force on me.

And of course there is the mortality thing – events remind you time is limited.

It helps to focus you.

But I had ONE thing left to me, writing fiction, and I am dealing with not being able to do that ONE thing.

The rest of life doesn’t conveniently take up the slack

In addition to writing book 2 in the Pride’s Children trilogy, I am trying to market book 1. This has slowed to a standstill – I am hand-selling a couple of copies a month at best. It takes me a lot of time and many emails to get someone to accept a free copy for a possible review – which I’m happy to do when I can, but is happening very rarely lately.

I’m running Amazon ads (thanks to Brian Meeks for getting me started where I couldn’t figure out the basics); so far, since Feb. 4, Amazon tells me I’ve spent $30 on ads, and have sold one copy (though I think they may be responsible for a few more, but possibly not directly from someone clicking on my ads, which is what they track). I can leave that running in the background, and hope for a groundswell in the future.

I am also trying to finish putting up a short story prequel, Too Late, so that those who don’t want to read it here on the free fiction tab – or who prefer their own copy managed by Amazon for their Kindle – can have it for 0.99. Or people who get to my Author Page can select a low-cost alternative to the outrageous-for-an-indie price of $8.99 for an ebook (compare to big publisher prices which are higher) to read to see if I can write. Or even so I can make it available for download to anyone joining my newsletter or following my blog.

And of course there is cardiac rehab – and its attendant paperwork. I don’t even want to tell you how much time I’ve wasted on that, and I haven’t even started yet. When it happens, in a few weeks, it will also sap my energy by making me leave the house two more times per week, and expend energy I don’t have. The hope is that it might also eventually help. Not in the conventional way: I can’t do aerobic exercise, so there is no ability to increase aerobic capacity; the best I can hope for is a tiny increase in ‘fitness’ over time that might offset the decline I’ve been in.

If nothing else, it will shut the cardiologist up that I’ve tried it.

I’m not blogging as much – have nothing interesting to say other than to relate my experiences with the medical system as I’m doing – another indication of low energy.

And I’ve started going for the heart-rate limited slow walks which I’ve been trying to get to for ages (and may have been made more difficult by that blockage) – the only way I know for a PWC to increase fitness on her own. That is, I got ONE walk in – to the middle of the next block and back – when it was 66 degrees the other day. We’re back in the 30s, so I can’t do that for a while again, but will try to find the energy in the hopes that there might be eventual improvement in something, anything.

I still have to finish things such as my mom and dad’s tax returns (he died in Aug. 2014, I got the paperwork to do the next year, and the IRS has stymied my every effort so far to get the right information by… well, you don’t need the horrible details; sufficient to say it’s not done yet).

We want to get this house on the market – and move so husband doesn’t have to deal with me by himself in the future. And because it is so much work just to maintain a home and yard, and I’m not capable of helping any more.

Moving will be its own can of worms – as will finding the right place.

So, more stuff on the to do list – and less to do it with

I’m not surprised to be depressed under these conditions, but I’m not managing to get control of it, because the one reliable thing I had that helped – writing fiction – isn’t coming back fast enough.

I should be happy to be alive. I am grateful, but not happy. All it does right now is remind me how I’ve lost another huge chunk of me, and I can’t figure out how to get that miserable chunk back.

I don’t think most people realize how tiny my life is already. I haven’t had the energy to go to church, or to sing at the Princeton chapel, or to go to the Folk Music Society sings and concerts – the few things that used to get me out of the house.

I have an assistant – so she has been getting some of the backlog things, and the recurring things, done – we need to move to the dejunking, final fixing, getting rid of, downsizing and losing even more things from your life to fit a smaller place. I barely manage to work with her by giving her instructions when she comes. I’m no help any more lately.

There is such a thing as too much loss.

I’m perilously close to that point.

Comments?

Spent today pitching a movie never to be filmed

READING SCREENWRITING BOOKS IS GOOD FOR NOVELISTS, TOO

It counts as research.

I’m reading – rereading in many cases – Blake Snyder’s three Save The Cat books.

These are well-known screenwriter tools, as is the Dramatica I use for plotting and character development.

The many similarities between the different forms of presenting a story allow significant crossover: a story is a story is a story. Each form is also very different from the others, because once they go out into the real world, a book and a play and a movie script are implemented differently.

But plotting Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was not the reason for the reading. Plotting is all finished, and in the scene I’m working on right now, a movie is being pitched to one of our actors. I’m using the device of a pitch meeting to get all the information needed to understand this particular movie into the story in the most efficient way – without seeming like an info-dump.

Isn’t writing a whole movie a bit much as backdrop for a novel?

Of course it is, but you know me: if it’s going to be in the plot (and, with actors, you’re going to have movies in the plot), and I can give it verisimilitude (the appearance of actually being real), I can make you believe the one or two not real points in the rest of the plot.

Machiavellian, you say? Why, thank you.

But I’m not the only one to do things like this – heck, people in fantasies invent whole worlds and religions and ecosystems.

What attracted me to the idea is the fact that Snyder says, of the pitch:

“Poster. Logline. Simple story spine. Eager and inspired telling of the tale. Ten minutes, tops. That’s the pitch.” (p. 123, Save The Cat Strikes Back)

Which fits perfectly into my scheme to sketch out enough of this particular movie to last for the first half of NETHERWORLD, without taking up that much space in the book. After all, I’m writing a novel, not a movie.

I can trust that most people who read have seen plenty of movies, and, given the highpoints, will see a movie where there is only a ghost of one. My readers want to see people working (I hope), but they have no interest AT ALL in seeing the enormous amount of work and time it takes to produce a major motion picture.

Blake also says:

“Regardless of how you organize your story, once you’ve finished your pitch… shut up! The first one to talk loses. If you give into temptation and can’t help spewing more stuff after you’re said ‘The End,’ you are indulging in a pitching no-no called Selling Past the Close.

Shutting up

I’m going to follow his advice. What do you think of it?


*** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for 0.99 until 1/30/17***


Thanks to Quozio for easy quote images.

My morning walk through my Internet village

A pink-soled sneaker being tied onto a foot; Words: Every morning I take a walk and stop to say hi to all my Internet friendsSURFING? OR FREEDOM FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T GET OUT MUCH?

What other people do so easily, would be impossible for me: I’m technically retired now, though the last 25 years of my working life were spent on disability, and I can’t just ‘go out for a walk’ like healthy people my age.

I’ve recently gotten to the place where I can walk more, but it isn’t easy or fast or convenient or unassisted, not like when I used to go out the front door, turn left (or right if I wanted to add an extra bit around the cul-de-sac), and just go, walk wherever I happened to decide, and come back when I’d had some exercise.

But I do something similar when I get on my computer in the mornings, and, while I’m waiting for the morning’s caffeine to decide if there are going to be working brain cells today, I walk around my Internet neighborhood – the sites on my navigation bar – and see what’s up.

Procrastinate first, except for the rare days when there’s something my limited brain can do in the writing department before it is warmed up. I’ve tried – nothing seems to work – so I’ve decided to enjoy my morning walk, do it as efficiently as possible, and not fret about the time wasted/spent. Angst is not helpful, so I don’t bother any more. And I almost never add any new stops to the navigation bar.

HOME COMPUTER: Email first – well Duh!

I check email several times a day, and make sure to deal with what I can asap, as friends write, and several newsletters show up with something new, and often a quick response saves much time and effort later.

Plus, as you can tell, I like to write back. Gets the brain moving and the fingers wiggling.

Sometimes I find responses I needed from missives I’ve sent out to friends or other sources, and know I’ll be able to move something forward.

Occasionally, I have to do something, such as go to the basement and read the numbers on the meter for the solar power system, near the first of the month. They can’t do their paperwork until they have my input, so it gets a high priority.

FIREFOX: First stop on the Internet are my own blogs

I refresh the page, and the thingy in the top right hand corner will tell me if I have visitors, and if they’ve commented. New comments on the blog always get first priority

First stop after 9AM – TPV; if much earlier, do this later

I stop by The Passive Voice for the morning publishing news (and several times more during the day because Passive Guy puts up five or six posts every day). It’s like a visit to a cafe where you get good commentary, and rude people aren’t tolerated. We mostly stay on topics related to publishing and books and such, but David has an interesting mind, and gets stuff from lots of places.

Extra points if posts have a comment at the bottom from our gracious, handsome, and intelligent host – his wry humor and delicate satire are things for joy.

People send him stuff. He is a good host, posting an excerpt – and a link to the original. He is careful not to ruin the original post, while giving you enough to decide if you’re going to visit it.

On most blogs, comments need supervision, and are often not worth the time to scan them; if you don’t read the comments on TPV – and subscribe so you get the late ones – you’re going to miss things. Useful things.

WU – ‘about the craft and business of fiction’

I stop by Writer Unboxed most mornings, at least to get a quick look at the topic and the post’s byline. I skip Flog a Pro – kind of hate the idea of people feeling they can freely trash work they couldn’t produce; mean-spirited and negative some times. Not me. Other bylines or topics I know I won’t respond to from the title or a bit of the post, I skip; otherwise, I read the post.

I consider whether there’s anything I’d like to add to the discussion (there’s usually a question or two at the end of the post as a prompt); I leave my little addition to world literature or my (usually different) take on the subject, read those of other people I recognize, and maybe pop back later; I like posters who bother to come back and join the discussion better, but not all of them have/take the time.

FB – for friends and support groups

You get out what you put in on FB. You are a contributing member of a community – or not. Since one group is a support groups for people I know have extremely limited energy, that group’s members get a pass – some can only afford to post when desperate, and we all respect that.

My group of friends is small, and I don’t sell or proselytize much – that’s not what friends are for. My blog posts automatically on my personal FB page; if there’s anything that the groups might find useful, I cross-post them on the group page. A little goes a long way.

I check out any friend requests – most are obvious spammers – easy to tell (and block permanently) if I take a peek at their page. I’ve even reached the point of checking with the ‘friends in common’ if a friend request is odd and unexpected in any way.

I have no author page – yet. It would be one more thing to maintain – maybe if it seems a good idea later.

CHROME: GR and my British friends

A daily stop, maybe several times, is a nice bunch of people on Goodreads in the UK Kindle group who have made me feel welcome. I’ve read enough British authors in my life to practically qualify on that alone. Occasionally there will be something in my inbox from a GR friend.

I usually save those for later response, but almost always read them right away.

The notifications function provides a quick way to keep track of the threads I comment on or read.

The comics – and Dear Abby

And I’ve had my bit of entertainment for the day; I have them set up for easy refreshing on the Chrome browser, and can update and read and pass on good ones to friends with a few minutes’ effort. Doesn’t that happen to you? A comic just makes you have to send it to a particular friend?

Extra points when the friend later emails back that it was especially appropriate or welcome.

The daily brain puzzles – measuring brain speed (if any)

Usually the last stop on my little trek, I set up a few hard sudokus, maybe do one or two, to gauge whether my brain is starting to work the way I need it to work for writing fiction.

I’m looking for a completion time below seven minutes; and I monitor, with a partial brain, how the math processing is going. I can literally feel it when I’m not tracking – I can still do them most of the time, but they feel like slogging through mud, and take forever. The CFS brain fog is clearly at work here; sometimes it won’t go away. I can work a bit, but it almost isn’t worth it without a brain. I’ll get ten minutes worth of writing done in three hours.

Yahoo news

If it makes it to Yahoo, I take a quick scan; other news items will show up in paper (The Economist and other magazines), or someone will boost them on FB, so this is really a desperate measure to find SOMETHING to read before I have to (want to/have to) get to work.

The end of the walk – home again, home again, higglety pen

After a final quick check of the emails, and possibly TPV depending on timing, and a superquick and usually pointless visit to Amazon’s pages that show book sales, I grit my metaphorical teeth and start up Freedom or Anti-Social to block the internet for my available writing time.

Then have chocolate protein shake, and take First Nap (sounds counterproductive, but isn’t – search for ‘mental dialysis’ posts), and when I wake up again and come back to the computer, the writing is sitting there ready to go, I’ve checked out that the whole world is okay until I have time to look again, and I don’t even think about all my friends for hours.

Turning into a routine makes it much more efficient than it used to be.

Keeps me sane.

And productive.

And connected – the most important part of all. My internet friends are REAL friends. I just maybe don’t really know how tall they are.


Thanks to Stencil for images I can create or edit.

Do you have a morning computer routine?

Rhetorical questions in fiction: good or bad?

Healthy dessert with grapes, cherries, and granola, with the words: What do you think? 3 question marks. Good? Bad? and Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSHOULD YOU USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS WHEN WRITING FICTION?

This was a shocker.

When working on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, I came across a note:

Sue Coletta: don’t use rhetorical questions. They take you out of the story.

Like all other blanket prohibitions, this one is wrong.

But it sounded good. And I had stored it away for a reason, specifically to make sure I didn’t do something that took my readers out of my stories.

How many rhetorical questions are too many? One? Two? In how much ‘scene’?

I had just finished writing the first scene for one of my main characters, and it seemed a good time to 1) check to see if I had many rhetorical questions in it, and 2) to go back to Book 1, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, and see if I had that problem there, too.

I startled myself: this main character, Kary, had TWENTY-SEVEN rhetorical questions in her new scene. Wow. Certainly too many.

So I check a different main character, Andrew, and found he had a couple. (My scenes have 800-1500 words in them, typically.)

I went back to Book 1 and found Kary had another huge number of rhetoricals in her last scene. Andrew, only had a few in his last scene in Book 1.

And I realized how different I had made these characters in how they talk to themselves – and I didn’t even know I’d done it!

One of my ‘go to’s on my Left Brain righT method is to ‘Become the character’ before attempting to write the character’s next scene. It includes going back and reading that character’s last previous scene, and possibly a few before that, to get into the character’s voice and mannerisms.

This turned out to have a vastly different style in something I prized, the interior life of the character – and I didn’t even do it on purpose.

Characters are different – duh!

I’m not sure whether I’m channeling or inventing these characters.

But it spooked me.

I don’t know when this happened, and yet there it was.

I just knew they were different, and I knew how they were different (from spending years living with them in my head and in my notes), and the characterizations came out by themselves.

I like things like this in my writing, but I always thought I did them deliberately.

About those twenty-seven rhetorical questions that Kary had? I couldn’t change a one.

Takeaway?

Sue’s admonition – Don’t ask rhetorical questions because they take you out of the story – needs to be changed.

To: ‘Don’t ask the READER rhetorical questions.’

Because it takes the READER out of the story.

It’s fine for the CHARACTER to ask herself questions without answers. How often? As often as she would do it if she were real.

Is she?

Dunno.

What is real?


Do you ask rhetorical questions?


Thanks, Sue. You made me think – and that’s always, uh, interesting.


If you find any of this intriguing, and/or want to see rhetorical questions in action, you can find Kary’s scenes in Pride’s Children at Amazon US, written by the same person who writes these posts. Note: the link leads to the reviews; the product page link is in the right sidebar. Don’t you like to see what other people think about a writer before considering buying?

PS I’m depending on word of mouth right now, as I can either write, it turns out, or market. Or you could go out and find a cure for CFS, so I can do both (might be a wee bit harder).

5W+H newspaper method gels writing beat

different wayI HAVE SIX FRIENDS THAT HELP ME WRITE

Every once in a while I get myself into a jam, and, though I think I have every thing I need in writing a piece of a scene, it fails to gel, I feel frustrated and tied in knots, and I keep going at it from all directions, starting and restarting the section without getting to a coherent flow.

I tried an old newspaper trick this morning.

Newspaper reporters have to make it fast and easy for a reader to engage with a story, get the basic information into the reader before she does the pre-computer equivalent of clicking on something else to read: giving up on one story, and finding either another one to read or moving on to the rest of her day.

Your English teacher probably taught you this, too (I didn’t have an English teacher, so maybe that’s why I came to this in a roundabout way).

It’s called 5W + H.

And it means, you recall, supplying the six pieces of information the reader needs to lodge the basics of the story in his head:

  • Who – people present or necessary to the story
  • Where – setting
  • What – is going on (the plot)
  • When – time, time frame, sequence
  • Why – are you telling this story? Why did they do it?
  • How – the plot reaches resolution, and the information is transferred securely into the reader’s head.

The order doesn’t really matter as long as, after a very brief period, the reader has enough to interest him to keep reading the details.

TV news people usually drag this out as long as possible, especially if there have been little advance hints all day (news at 11) – and now they have to supply the goods. They tease you along with the less interesting bits, finally supplying the actual meat of the story (which is often anticlimactic – I waited up past my bedtime for this?) after as many commercials as possible, when they could have ‘informed’ you the first time you heard about the story.

Writers can’t afford this – the reader won’t stick around.

For the writer of FICTION

The problem for a writer is when the dramatic pieces want to come first – the startling headline, the shocking news – but they won’t make sense without the more informational bits.

Readers have an empty gray-goo area in the brain, a formless void, when they approach a new story, and it has to be filled in quickly.

If you don’t reveal that this shocking dog’s death occurred, not in their neighborhood, but in Manila, they will 1) assume it’s local, and 2) be annoyed at you when they find out it’s not.

So the system is: shocker, fill in the absolutely necessary stuff to orient the reader, more shocking details.

But it’s not the reader’s job to avoid the confusion: it’s the writer’s job.

LEAD with the emotions

Life is boring – readers need vicarious experiences.

We are, as Lisa Kron says in Wired for Story, primed to absorb new information that we need.

Need is critical: grab readers by the emotions, and supply the details as quickly and efficiently as possible, and they will follow.

What I figured out was that I’m relatively good at doing these steps in a normal scene – hook, set the scene, supply story, leave cliffhanger of at least one question so the reader will read the next scene.

But not when I get tricky – for good story reasons – and try to cram a lot into the piece of scene.

Then I need to stop, make sure the 5W+H are provided asap, and choreograph the presentation of story information in the most effective way I can. Deliberately. As if I had a news desk editor with a lot of experience to satisfy, and the pickiest readers.

The contract with the reader

Lead the reader down the garden path, as it were, until we find the dead body.

If you can do this in a tricky case, it improves the facility for doing it in normal situations.

It comes down, after you’ve identified the 5W + H:

DON’T CONFUSE THE READER – FOR VERY LONG.

Just as soon as the reader starts to think all this is a bit too much, it GELS.

Because the critical information is all there.

And the reader is no longer confused, the dreaded info drop has been avoided, and the story is firmly lodged (one hopes) back in the reader’s brain.

The analytical side of my brain is very pleased with itself – the artistic side is chomping at the bit.

The details? You’ll eventually have to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD to grade my performance, but I can tell you the bit is the beginning of the second scene; it involves four people and four different settings; there is a tiny necessary shift in the timeline; the formatting helps (Lord knows how I’m going to do this in the audiobook version); and, if I do it right, it will bring you right back into the story with very little ’splainin’ (think Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy: “Lucy! You got some ’splainin’ to do!”).

Trust me, the other way was long and boring.

What say you? I love discussion.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images for posts.

 

Mainstream: when your writing category vanishes

mainstream

THERE USED TO BE THREE GENERAL CLASSES OF WORK: MAINSTREAM/COMMERCIAL, LITERARY, AND GENRE.

Where did the mainstream go?

Caveats

I’m writing this post to dump the contents of my brain* about what has happened to the classification of novels on sites such as Amazon BECAUSE of the desire to categorize everything into smaller and smaller bins so the reader can find exactly the kind of book he is searching for.

It isn’t meant to be a scholarly discussion of any merit – and I welcome differing ideas, but would appreciate a general sticking to the question: Where did the mainstream go?

Mainstream fiction – as opposed to what?

This is a serious question. Type ‘mainstream’ into your Amazon search box and you won’t find the novels you expect. Maybe I should say that I’m older, and these aren’t the novels I expect.

‘General fiction’ brings up so much stuff I would consider genre fiction that it’s useless.

Although very well written genre work elevates a good story to a literary quality – which is where such novels as Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale are, in my opinion – it doesn’t make it mainstream or general fiction – the story is, in my mind, literary SF.

What IS ‘mainstream’ (IMHO)?

Mainstream fiction is meant to be appropriate and engaging for a majority audience.

Some books which I would call mainstream:

Love Story

The Thorn Birds (when it came out)

Gone With the Wind (ditto)

On The Beach and Trustee from the Toolroom (Nevil Shute)

Airport (and many of Alex Hailey’s other books)

Hawaii (ditto, Michener’s work)

Exodus, QB VII (and others by Leon Uris)

Authors such as Sidney Sheldon (The Other Side of Midnight) and John Fowles (The Magus)

The Bridges of Madison County and the novels of Nicholas Sparks

Some of these books are now classified as ‘classics,’ but were mainstream when they came out. Others are currently classified as ‘historical fiction,’ but the same applies: they were meant for a very large audience of literate people, an audience that went from children/young adults to older people, male and female, and encompassed much of the educated population.

There were no conventions; this audience could handle a WWII novel, a novel about finances, or The Key to Rebecca. Or Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Mainstream. Commercial. Epic. General fiction.

Or simply what used to be called ‘a novel.’

And the category used to cover what was called a ‘big book’ – books with large casts of characters and elaborate plots, whether or not they were well-written, encompassing a spectrum of writing quality from Dan Brown to Ken Follett and Mary Stewart’s Arthurian legend novels starting with The Crystal Cave.

Mainstream novelists. People who wrote for the broad center of the complete reading public. Writers for whom plot and characterization were important.

But most importantly, people who did not want the reader to have to stop because of the language. The writing quality was sometimes awkward, generally competent, but stopped short of going into literary rhapsodies – because that would stop the readers’ flow.

Literary fiction then and now

A category which used to encompass everything from Proust (A la de temps perdu) to The Color Purple, ‘literary fiction’ used to mean stories that were intended for a more discerning audience than mainstream fiction, one with a more educated group in mind – and people who were comfortable with and appreciated language and description and minutiae and nuance. People who expect literary allusions and epigraphs and quotations from English poets, who can read Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day with pleasure.

I can’t. That kind of fiction, with its exaggerated precision and lack of plot (on the more literary or experimental end), makes me itch. These books are often taught in English and American Literature classes (the box where I found my husband’s copies had a large number of books of that kind) as ‘good for you’ and requiring study. It often meant work that was tinier in scope and more enamored of language than most readers were looking for.

Oddly enough, ‘literary’ as a category on Amazon is now used heavily by the big publishers to indicate that their books are better (and worth the much higher prices charged). When Data Guy puts out the quarterly charts of book prices by genre, the columns above 9.99 for ebooks are labeled literary and occupied mostly by traditional publishers: big 5, medium and small presses, and university presses.

Worse, literary is now the keyword associated with work which is the same as everything else, only better written. Literary fiction writers are probably screaming about that.

The problem with ‘literary’ as a category:

On Amazon, ‘literary’ has come to mean ‘mainstream.’

Now, ‘literary’ means anything not in a specific genre such as SFF or Romance or Thriller.

I’m sure authors of true literary books are not pleased to find their category invaded by everyone who thinks they write better than average prose.

The rise of genre fiction, partly propelled by Amazon and search categories

Books such as Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy were clearly science fiction. And The Lord of the Rings has always been fantasy.

Romance is a relatively recent category, but Pride and Prejudice is not a Romance; it is mainstream. Jane Eyre is now called ‘literature,’ but was mainstream when it came out.

Thrillers, mysteries, and such have always been genre – and some of its practitioners have elevated these genres by writing so well that we could probably call them literary mysteries, etc. – but the general audience I’m trying to delineate wouldn’t call them mainstream.

NOTE: there have always been omnivorous readers (I was one) who read anything they could get their little hands on, but we knew what we were reading when we chose a mystery or a science fiction story like Dune. Same stuff – only very well written.

Amazon provides all these categories and subcategories and sub-subcategories, but it doesn’t curate the lists. If you write ‘literary’ on your fantasy novel, it says ‘fine’ and shows that book with the literary novels and the fantasy novels, depending on other things like reviews and sales.

Nobody curates these lists online – it takes too much human time and trouble. Algorithms do it.

But it renders categories almost useless when anyone can put a paranormal romance with werewolves into general fiction. Or call their work literary. And I’ve had writers tell me they do this because their appropriate category is too crowded. Aargh!

What to do about this – assuming anyone cares?

And I do care – because I WRITE mainstream fiction, and I aim for the literary end of the writing quality spectrum – careful language. With the very strong warning to myself that it is NOT allowed to stop the flow.

I label it ‘literary’ and ‘general fiction’ and ‘psychological’ and ‘contemporary Romance’ (it IS a love story.

And I cringe when I do it.

I want my mainstream back. I probably won’t get it.


NOTE: If you’d like to see what the heck I’m talking about, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the first book in my mainstream contemporary love story trilogy, is available on Amazon US in ebook and print. For other countries, it’s easiest to type in the book’s name.

Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images. I use fewer than 10 a month, so I have one of their free accounts. When I need more, they have very reasonably priced services with a LOT of flexibility.


*How and why I noticed the disappearance of the mainstream

I’m ideally positioned to answer this question because of an accident: for the past twenty-seven years, most of the energy normal people use for reading and writing fiction has been denied to me due to the energy-sapping disease called CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In the beginning, merely surviving the illness and coping with the children took everything I had. After a number of years, things improved a bit (or older children require somewhat less intense mothering), and I started thinking how to stay sane, not merely alive.

Writing was the answer – something I could learn to do and had always wanted to and planned to do.

We won’t argue names and etiologies here, but CFS has a constellation of symptoms, and my worst three are:

  • Brain fog
  • Exhaustion
  • Pain

The relevance of this is that I don’t have energy for reading AND writing, and, because I wanted to write, and had a story to tell, I have spent most of that time on the debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY. And I didn’t read much during that period. When I woke up, ‘mainstream’ had vanished.

It’s a subject close to my heart – as I write mainstream fiction, and, as an indie, I’m having a very hard time connecting with the right readers. A collection of terms such as ‘literary’ and ‘contemporary’ and ‘romance’ does NOT add up to ‘mainstream love story which deals realistically with disability, fame, and integrity,’ does it?

‘Write the book you want to read’ is then followed by ‘find the people LIKE YOU who want to read the same book but can’t/don’t write it.’ The problem: I have no idea how I would attract ME to my book. And the categories aren’t helping.

What say you?

To get where you write, know where you start

then write

SATURDAY MORNING REDEDICATION AFTER A WEEK OR TWO OFF FROM WRITING

Every morning I wait for the wits to gather, for the two usable neurons to click on and do their job, for the moment when (IF) the minimum amount of brainpower is available to make the decision: block the internet so I can write.

I am fortunate: I have time for writing. I actually spend each day at the computer, where, if I can write, I write. Many other people have to snatch their writing time from a busy life with a day job and children and the dog and… I don’t. I could write all day every day – if I could get the brain to cooperate.

It’s frustrating. I always wanted to write when I retired, back in the days where computational physics took my daily energy – and I gave it gladly; programming with the purpose of filling the space between experimentalists and theoreticians is the best use of the kind of brain I had back then. Connecting the measured reality with the equations which explained them (if the equations were right, which is what I was ascertaining) is a joy reserved to few, and calculating theoretical parameters from experimental data was a trip. I could do it; I did it; it was useful and appreciated, and the way I had planned to spend my life.

So now that I am retirement age, and all finished with even the possibility of going back to do useful physics, and have the time, I have to wait to get the neurons clicked on (both of them), and see if I can make them think for a little while. Frustrating.

You see, they don’t want to turn on. What a joy it might have been to write with a right mind. For that matter, what a joy it would have been lo these many years to do almost anything with a right mind, I will never know.

But life is what happens when you’re making other plans, and this is mine, and I write with it, and I know that if it doesn’t come on today, this brain of mine (or, much of the time, that it is not urgently required to do something that only I can do), it will come on tomorrow, and I will get a few more words out.

Why? Why do all that work when I could sit around and eat bonbons (we can afford it)?

Because the story of Pride’s Children, of Kary and Andrew and Bianca, was VOUCHSAFED to me, as a whole, and it’s not finished writing yet. It’s such a lovely word, ‘vouchsafed.’ It means, roughly, granted to ME, because I am the best person for it. It came as a whole, this story ‘of obsession, betrayal, and love,’ and I know where it ends, even as I discover some of the side paths it takes to get there, NECESSARY side paths.

I won’t stop writing, finishing the remaining two books in the trilogy, until I am finished – or I am stopped.

So all the ‘life events’ and distractions and bonbons have to wait, because I have work to do, it is important, and it isn’t finished.

And because, by starting, I have promised my readers.

And because I can. Eventually. Most days.

And that will have to do.

Structure is necessary and integral to fiction

without structureDO YOU WANT A TALE – OR A STORY?

I’m not only an extreme plotter, but I’m a structuralist.

I’m working on the first scene of Book 2. And making very, very sure that it works structurally, with the book, with the beginning, with the plot, and especially with the ending.

The brain craves storytelling, but it craves more than content, it craves analysis.

And analysis is structural. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. My mother used to drive me crazy when she’d tell me about someone, and then, when I’d ask, ‘what happened?’ she would say, ‘I don’t know.’ or ‘that’s all I heard.’

She had illustrated a point, given me information, but wouldn’t give me a resolution I could hang onto.

She was telling me tales, and for those, the fact that it happened is enough.

Story is much more than that.

How is structure important?

Here’s an example from non-fiction:

Imagine I’m talking about the root causes of poverty, illiteracy, whatever, and you’ve come to hear me because I’m supposed to be an expert.

But I tell you about four contributing factors, and I do a short one, a VERY long one, and then another two short factors, briefly, because I’m running out of time.

What are you left with?

NOTHING you didn’t already know.

And it drives you crazy because I told a tale, took your time – and didn’t make a point.

Now, imagine I started with the smallest point, continued to the next shortest, then the next, and finished by spending my time telling you about one of the causes. Wouldn’t you expect that to be the most important cause I have to talk about? And wouldn’t you expect me to say something significant and important about it?

By giving it space and time, I have made it important – and the rest of my presentation had better support that.

Or I could start with the important point, spend time on it, and then tell you in quick succession other possibilities, followed by a quick conclusion. Wouldn’t you end up wondering WTF? Did I run out of time – or why did I not eliminate the easy ones first?

How does this work in fiction?

Storytelling is presenting information in such a way as to emphasize WHY you’re telling the story.

I expect you to reach a conclusion, tell it to me, support it, and teach me something I would otherwise have to figure out on my own.

Structure is intentional. If you need to tell a story in chronological order (a common requirement), you still have to choose which parts to tell, and how to make them fit a structure that will let the reader absorb it. Or you are getting in your own way, and are telling an anecdote.

So it is very important that I consider the structure I’m going to foist on the reader, from the very first scene. Or the reader will notice. And not like it.

That’s not what I promised.

Are you happy when you notice a story has no real structure?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics for these posts – I use the free account, but they have far more capabilities if you get the paid one.


Remember, if you like a blogger’s prose, consider that the blogger’s fiction is written by the same person. Try it – you might like it.

I’m trying to get myself to put up some short stories; it’s on the To Do list.

Pride’s Children. On Amazon.

The indie author’s artistic integrity is prime

mine THE BUCK STOPS AT THE INDIE AUTHOR, AND IT SHOULD

I am in an odd position. Someone said something about my cover, in a negative way, claiming they said it as ‘tough love.’ As a ‘friend.’ It hurt – because I am very proud of that cover. To have someone suggest, literally, that ‘I still think you’re shooting yourself in the foot with that cover. I’m pretty sure that a mediocre but professional looking cover will outsell a far more evocative but still obviously home-made effort every time.’

For the record, I disagree.

I had to think about it. To figure out why the response was so visceral to something meant kindly.

Bad covers are UBIQUITOUS

I knew, when I created them, that my two placeholder covers were ‘bad.’ Definitely amateur. But I hadn’t yet done ANY studying about design or cover elements or what a cover telegraphs to a potential reader. I knew those were not going to be published, because I also knew I was going to spend the time to learn how to do covers properly.

As I have taught myself to write properly.

But the comment was about the actual cover I published, and for which I spent an entire summer studying graphics and design and covers, and reading books and blog posts. After accumulating at least a year of studying the CONCEPT of ‘cover’ and of looking over the sites of many ‘professional’ cover producers – not one of which I liked. There were plenty of covers in that sample – thousands that I looked at. I added new sites every time a blogger I respect suggested a cover designer.

I’m not even going to mention bad traditional covers; that is shooting guppies in a teacup.

CAN an indie learn cover design?

In the same way I found ONE photo of a woman out of the thousands that I looked at which would do. At ALL. Because of nuance I would never be able to explain (to anyone except a professional photographer I then wouldn’t be able to afford).

The cover I compared to every set of covers I could find on the books I believe are my ‘comps,’ the ones I want to sell with, and whose audience I believe will like my work. And compared to every set of covers I did NOT want (from too literary to too Romance to definitely genres like SF, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers). Because if you signal ‘Romance’ to a reader, you had better be providing a proper Romance between the covers, or you’ve already lost the marketing war.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

More and more I’m believing that the choices in the indie world are UP TO THE AUTHOR. And they REPRESENT the author. That the whole thing, beginning to end, is an exercise in learning what choices to make, in making those choices, and in standing by those choices because you ARE the Author. The artist. The creative. The creator.

If you choose to use a commercial editor – with all that entails, from finding one to paying one to accepting the edits – it is your choice, it was hard enough to make, and no one has the right to second-guess you.

If you choose a cover, you yourself will decide exactly what you want, even if that means you want to abdicate the responsibility for the cover to someone else. Or you want to learn Pixelmator and do it all YOUR way. Or you want to paint an image from the book. Or you want pale blue letters on a black background, or yellow on green, or WHATEVER.

The COVER is part and parcel with the BOOK now.

I’m starting to believe that when the author gives someone else responsibility for or authority over a part of the production, whether or not money is involved, it is the author’s choice to do so, and the author’s right to revoke that when and if the AUTHOR decides that is necessary. And it is a precious gift.

Whether or not the results SELL is not the validation. It is how the author FEELS about whether the product represents the best the author can do (assuming that’s the goal) that validates.

Now, more than ever before, when you buy an author’s product, you are getting the PURE author, warts and all, artistic judgment and artistic sensibility and esthetic sense all rolled up into a big ball of product. The consumer may like or dislike it, occasionally even returning the product for a refund; the consumer may give the product a bad review – reviews are up to the consumer.

This product has always had the writer’s name right there front and center.

[Whether the writer was a pseudonym or a ghostwriter has never mattered to READERS. And few people even notice the publisher’s name or logo.]

But other people don’t have the right to judge the product – the book – per se. They only have the right to say, “I liked it.” Or, “I didn’t like it.” They will never have the right to say, “It’s wrong.”

———–

How do you feel about the covers you see, if you’re a reader; or have on your own books if you’re a writer, too – whether or not you design them yourself?

From PLAN to PUBLISHED, writers make events HAPPEN

well structured fictionPEOPLE FORGET THAT WRITING IS WORK

It’s the most fun work I can think of, being mistress of all I survey, but sometimes it’s still work, and it takes time, and is subject to all the interruptions Life has to offer.

For all that I didn’t start polishing Book 1 (Pride’s Children: PURGATORY) until I had a complete blueprint and a rough draft of the whole story all the way to the end of Book 3, I’m finding that the original blueprint – even the one from the Great Reorganization – is merely a sketch compared to what I need to actually sit down and write every day.

Suppose you’re building a house, and you have this nice little plot of land on a hillside, and you sit out there and draw a few lines of what it might look like when it’s finished, with a porch here, and a big window in the kitchen with a view of that magnificent dogwood tree…

The house is no more real at that point than a dream, and you can’t go into the bedroom which doesn’t even appear on the drawing, and take a nap.

There’s a bit of work to be done first.

The road from dream to reality is a long one

Once the house is built or the book is finished, it has the solidity that belies its complete lack of existence before that sketch, and somehow it doesn’t FEEL any different than the sketch did, but the concept has absorbed an enormous amount of human time and energy (and money or opportunity cost).

In Spanish we say, ‘Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho,’ which means, ‘From words to action is a long way.’

Many books never get written.

Well, the reason I haven’t had much to say lately is that I’m just down in the trenches, doing the work, and it isn’t all that exciting.

But it’s incredibly necessary.

Blueprint/outline/storyform – don’t proceed without it

I’m a structuralist and an extreme plotter, partly by nature, and partly because, working on one tiny piece of the quilt at a time as I do, I have to know the pieces will fit together when I finish them.

Book 1 proved the worth, to me, of my methods: I did it exactly the way I said I was going to do it, and it worked and came together and connected and made sense.

Now for Book 2

The blueprint that I have, my Dramatica storyform and its ‘encodings’ – the sum of everything that I’ve put into the little text boxes which are the result of figuring out the structure behind this WIP, or what you might call events illustrating each structural point – was complete in concept, and even had placeholders for everything.

I had two choices: use the long-ago blueprint, and try polishing the rough draft.

Or go through every single piece and decide if it was still the best way to do that part of the story – or if it needed replacing with something better.

A lot was already good and connected and made sense.

What happens during writing?

But I’m more experienced now, and the first part of the story, a developing friendship that left its characters at a particular point with no obvious way forward, is finished.

The characters – big surprise – grew in the writing. Not changed. Grew. Things only hinted in my rough draft and master plan – happened.

That’s the only way I can describe it: until they are written in their final form, things haven’t ‘happened.’

And the blueprint for the next part needed a thorough going-over before being used to make the next set of things ‘happen.’

The eternal problem: picking up the story in the next book

Instead of choosing to understand and execute what I had planned back then, even if it was somehow part of the whole – which would have meant examining every choice I made in the storyform, and reading every bit of text I put in a text box so that I could write that better, I chose to delete most of it.

Not because it was ‘wrong,’ but because making it mine again as a whole would require that I remember why I put it there in the first place, and then that I take the time to decide if I still wanted it quite that way.

I foresaw that it would actually take me longer to go through the steps, for each entry, of figuring out what I meant back then and then deciding whether I still meant it quite that way and changing it to reflect Book 1 where necessary – than to trust that I have enough of the story encoded in my brain as a whole, and just answer all those prompts again from that gestalt.

This, I hope, will have the side effect of making the ‘new’ more connected when I start, and making the revisions – complete rewrites in most cases (as it was in Book 1) – easier when I’m working on my quilt squares.

I didn’t do that in Book 1, because I was too deep in revision by the time I really needed that one-ness, and so I found myself having to figure out whole sections AS I went.

I think this will be easier in the writing phase because I’m putting so much work into the planning phase.

And since I really need to write faster – and a major part of my time in writing the scenes in Book 1 was spent figuring out what and why – this may help me complete the next two books faster, so we can all have the whole story sooner.

Will this help Book 3?

Yes, this means I’ll have to do the same thing again for Book 3.

I naively thought I could do 2 and 3 simultaneously, and then pick up at the end of revising Book 2, and just move right into writing Book 3.

Until I realized how much work the re-planning is.

Book 3’s will have to wait.

I took extensive notes, and I’m feeling out my whole system (I’m not planning to stop writing after I finish the trilogy), and it shouldn’t be nearly as hard as for Book 2, since I won’t go through most of this questioning again, and just do it.

Learning to write is a process of finding out everything there is, and then selecting YOUR writing best practices, and finally getting practice doing it your way.

Even with refinements, and especially when you start out older, this system, if it works for you, is not going to get a lot of future change. This is one of the benefits of being more mature as a LEARNER. [And if some of you are out there, laughing at me because I’m STILL naive, so be it.]

Progress on preparing for writing again?

Those little text boxes for the Dramatica prompts? There are 71 of them, if you don’t count the character appreciations.

I’m almost finished with re-filling them, and I’m pleased that both nothing has changed – and they are filled better and more consciously and, what’s more important for me, more coherently.

They are forming a better ‘set’ than they would have, had I merely tried to remember what I was doing.

And – phew! – they have not hugely changed anything in the story that I care about.

And I have answered a bunch of niggling questions in my mind that I was putting off until ‘later.’

Character appreciations? What is she talking about?

The remaining ones, the character and character relationship apps? There are a LOT of them, but they tend to be shorter and smaller and more obvious – and require only a bit of thought or dialogue to reveal in the final version. Plus many of them carry over from the first book.

Only a few characters change from book to book. I use the Dramatica technique of handoffs: if character A represents something in Book 1, and then dies or leaves or the story moves elsewhere, then someone else is needed to represent the same thing in Book 2 or 3, and may express the ‘something’ differently.

To put that in more understandable terms: George has to go home at the end of Book 1, which will leave Andrew, just at the point where many things are heating up, without the childhood friend he trusts as a sidekick. Who will his replacement be – and how will the replacement deal with the pressures of the job – and will the replacement have the right stuff – and what will the consequences of the change be to Andrew? All questions important to the final end – and all planned in.

Hint: how is Nahrendra like George – and how is he George’s antithesis?

I’ll stop here, having talked forever about something few people will have any interest in.

But if you wondered why there weren’t more posts in between, when I have so many other things to write about, this is the reason: I’m putting in the work, and I need to stay focused until it’s done.

But trust me. It hasn’t been boring.

And it’s all necessary.

What say you? Does structure bore you or bear you up?

 

Pride’s Children’s first Kindle Countdown Deal

Pride's Children ~ KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL

Pride’s Children ~ KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL

AND LAST MARKETING EFFORT IN 2015

Dec. 15 to Dec. 21. It is live now – and the KINDLE Countdown Deal widget, should you choose to visit, tells you how long you have before the price goes back up to its regular price.

Remember, only the EBOOK edition is on sale. (Amazon may occasionally discount the print edition, but I have no control over that.)

I’m doing the simplest possible sale: 0.99 for a week – if you were planning to get the ebook, now is a good time to grab it.

You can give it as a gift – if you buy during the Kindle Countdown Deal. And you can recommend it to a friend – at the deal price – but only until the timer runs out.

If not (or you already have it), please excuse the marketing overflow – this is the last one for a while. I’m going back to writing.

BACK TO WORK

Book 2 isn’t writing itself.

And I’m a writer, not a graphic designer or a publisher, all the trappings to the contrary.

I’ve had my fun. I never realistically examined how much time all this publishing effort would cost a beginner (or I never would have started). That’s the way of all new things, and I’ve been very glad to challenge the brain with all of them, and manage to learn them.

Did I go WAY overboard? Yup. That’s me.

But I figured if I didn’t do it now, I might never get the chance. And I might always think it was too hard for me.

Being too SLOW for me didn’t occur to my fogged brain, and of course that’s what it turned out to be (though my lovely AND kind mentor, J.M. Ney-Grimm, says I’ve learned quickly).

Will I do additional marketing?

Probably – next year – but I could easily dump all my good time there, every day for the foreseeable future, requesting reviews, looking for every little opportunity to self-promote, being active on the social media where reviewers congregate.

Healthy people can afford to do that and still write (recommendations are to use your ‘less good’ (evening?) time for promoting) – but we all know I can’t.

So I will depend on the kindness of friends and new friends – and go do MY job.

My contract with readers has always been to lure them in – and then finish the story. Right now, I’m the only one who knows it.

My daughter has insisted that I finish it out in summary form, in case something happens to me. That I will do – she can publish it if I get called home, ah, before I planned to go (another thing beyond my control, thank God!).

Those of you who’ve read and said all the lovely words: you don’t want it to stay only in summary, do you?

Encourage the nice lady. Even if you’re an introvert, tell your friends – and tell them while they can grab Pride’s Children: PURGATORY for $0.99.