Friday, April 29, 2011

The Review's the Thing

To my great surprise the other day, Smashwords notified me that another review of my novel was posted. That review is only the second one, so I immediately dropped everything I was doing and went to read what this reviewer thought.

He gave me three stars like the first review.  The reasons for a mediocre review were several: first, the novel starts slowly.  And yes, that's true.  I've known that all along.  In fact, the current revision I'm working on addresses that.

Next, the reviewer states that the characters in my novel were a little flat.  I disagree.  The characters are not flat; I specifically made a pass through the book to fix that exact issue. Once all the characters are engaged in the story, I am constantly showing their reactions and behavior.  I don't show all the characters all the time because that's not needed to tell the story. Additionally, I give detailed information on all the characters, some more than others.  But you have to read carefully because for several characters I only mention these details in passing.  More details will be forth coming in later books.  But, of course, the reviewer does not know this.

Lastly, the reviewer says the conflict between elves and humans in the book was vague. Again, I disagree. The conflict is well stated.  The characters even spend time discussing it a little.  I show the reason for the dispute too.  So in what sense is the conflict vague?  Do I require the reader to do a little work to fit the pieces?  Yes, a little, but not much since I make the point that one group of elves blames humans for events that happened thousands of years ago, even though the current human kingdom is not related to the humans that caused those events in the past.  It is true I don't say why that is but I don't think it is hard to guess.  I can't really show why that is in this story as it is not relevant but I suppose I could offer opinions on that point.  Hmmm.

Nevertheless, the reviewer was satisfied with the story and willing to read the second book.  Based on this, I judge the book successful.  And in a few weeks I hope to resubmit the book to the publisher who expressed interested in January and sell it. I'll blog on this as soon as I can.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Holistic Writing

Recently, I've been reading blog posts about holistic writing.  The views expressed generally state that all parts of a story need to work together, that the story is an organic whole. and that characters need to fit the plot and the plot needs to fit the characters.

Well, Duh?

Where have these people been?  All writing must be holistic or it fails.  It does not matter if it is an essay, a work of fiction, instructions for assembling the next big thing, or a letter to Mom, the writing must be conceived in its entirety and executed as a whole.  This means different things for different forms of writing.  In fiction, it means the characters and the plot are a unified whole.  The whole character vs plot discussion (about which is more important) has always struck me as pointless because all writing needs to be holistic.  You need both characters and plot and they have to work together or the story fails.

Example:  If Romeo is from a different family, not the mortal enemy of her family, does it matter whether he falls in love with Juliette?  No, of course not.  In fact, the story is not nearly as interesting because it transforms the tale into a simple love story, not a tragedy of star-crossed lovers.  But because the characters and the plot are tied together, the entire story is transformed from a simple love story to a major tragedy.

What this means is you need to select characters that fit the story and have a story that fits the characters.

Example: In my first novel, I spend time introducing the main characters.  Daniel, an orphan, is looking for members of his family.  He was rescued by elves and raised by them.  He knows his last name but little else.  Daniel is also a master of elven martial arts and revered by most elves.  When Iriel, an elf in town, meets Daniel, she offers to help him because to her he is almost a religious figure.  James, Iriel's lover, is also sucked into this plot, not because James wants to help but because Iriel wants him to and asked him to help.

I spent time setting this up so that when the magic gem in the novel communicates with Daniel and asks for his help, it starts a process that affects all three characters.  Here, plot and characters are partners each pulling their own weight to move the story along.

Now some may say, "But that's contrived."

Yes, of course it is.  All art (and writing) is contrived.  I've purposely selected details to tell the story I want to tell.  If I don't do that, you get a lot of irrelevant details and you don't have art, you have... reality TV or something equally noxious.

So if you are oohing and aahing about holistic writing, I think it is time to go back to basics and remember what makes fiction work, what the elements of fiction are, and get over any sense of novelty.  Holistic principles aren't new; they are as old as writing itself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Being an individual

A friend of mine recently told me that I was an individualist. By this I think she meant that I like to do things my own way. This is true. I have strong sense of self and have never been much of a joiner in clubs or gangs. This makes it hard for me now to join a writers group even though I ought to.

I suppose this is why I self published too. I seem to be on a road to go by own way whether I want to be or not. And yet, can I gave up control over my work? Yes, I think so. This isn't a control issue; it's more an issue moving forward despite positive feedback from any publisher. It is an issue of who sets the standards of what is published. To me the answer is clear, I do as an individual author writing the best story I can. 

And in my case I was right. Feedback from several sources tell me that I have a good story. This gives me the convocation to continue on.

But I am concerned that I am so strong an individualist that I can't join with my fellow writers or my readers. I don't seem to encourage this. I certainly don't get many comments in my blog. So I stay alone and disconnected.

I am reminded by anthropology that humans come together in many ways. One way is to share food and, ironically, tell stories. Ancient man did this after the hunt; they retold the tale of the kill while eating the beast. This helped to bind the clan or tribe together.

This is not something I can emulate.  Here in the 21st century the best I can do is blog and tweet and share content up and down the Internet in the hope of making a connection. Somehow it doesn't seem the same, nor do I have an answer for how to improve it. Part of the problem is the sheer volume of content being generated by people worldwide. And part of the problem I am unknown to many.

But part of it is also I enjoy being alone; it gives me an opportunity to write. Still I would like some social interaction with writers and readers.  And this is clearly a case of try to have a donut and its hole at the same time, something Douglas Adams referred as a sense of intelligence.

Perhaps, for now I'll opt for being alone so I can write.  There'll be time for others later.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I Wish Stories were like Weeds

It's April and my daffodils are blooming and many other plants are greening up waiting for warmer weather.  Not to be outdone, the dandelions have popped up too.  I've seen a few of their yellow heads scattered about the yard.  But I'm ignoring them.  I've got books to write.

It does make me wish, however, that my stories were more like weeds.  In this model, I'd have a bunch of ideas in March and be writing drafts of these stories in April, May, and June.  Then the over the summer they would all be published and in the autumn I would reap the benefit of the stories (money, interviews, etc). and then have vacation over the winter.

I like this notion mostly because winter is hard enough most years by itself.  A writing vacation from December to February appeals to me.

But, of course, this is just a dream.  Ideas take longer to develop and so do most stories, which is kinda too bad.  After working on such long projects as my novels (and with no end in sight) a few shorter projects would be nice too.

Perhaps some poetry is in order.  Perhaps poetry is like weeds.

Excuse me, I think I feel a poem coming on...

Friday, April 15, 2011

On the Verge

The revision of my first novel (the one I will resubmit to the publisher that is interested) is nearly complete. I'm down to two chapters and some miscellaneous edits.  So I'll be writing to her soon and asking how to resubmit the story.

In the meantime, I'll not we wasting my momentum.  It's onto the second novel, which continues the story. I should be able to pull that book together over the summer and get it out.  Let's keep our fingers crossed on that one, boys and girls.

The real challenge is novel 3.  I only have a very rough and very old draft and lots a new material to write. Not sure how long that will take.  I would love to finish it next year but that may not be realistic.  I'll have to wait and see how it goes.

Even though I've been at this point in my schedule and writing projects, I notice a difference this time.  That's because I'm not rushing anything.  And if novel 1 does not sell, I will release it as a self-published novel through all the channels I established a few months ago.

And because I know what I will be doing and how I will handle the release of the book, there's less stress and more a sense of the routine which helps to keep me calm and prevents rushing.

So I should have an announcement about book 1 in a few weeks one way or the other.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is Social Media Really an Improvement?

As a thought experiment, I found myself wondering the other day whether social media is really an improvement for writers and our readers.  Here's my thinking on the subject:

For readers, social media is large improvement because of all the information about writers and novels that is now available.  You can find your favorite writers' blogs and learn about new work that will be releasing.  You can also subscribe to blogs and newsfeed for your favorite booksellers and learn about special events, author signings, author readings, and when new novels that might interest you will be available.  For readers, there's a treasure trove of information, a literal glut of data of the subject.

The picture isn't as rosy for writers in my view.  For writers, social media is both good and bad.  For example, social media let's you tout your work and attract an audience.  That's good because it should mean sales.  Without sales, we won't last long.  But promoting your work can also be bad if you find it a chore or have no marketing skills.

Likewise, blogging, tweeting, and all the rest can be good or bad depending on whether you have something to say or not.  As writers, the natural assumption is that we do have something to say or can find something, but the simple fact is some people are more comfortable with it than others.  Some people are naturally shy and would prefer a quiet room to write in than composing a tweet.

Another concern is loss of privacy.  To a certain extent, writers need to make themselves public figures so that readers can learn about them.  That's good; when readers connect with writers the potential for sales goes up.  The problem is some people might use that information inappropriately.  So writers need to be careful about the information about themselves that they release to the public.

Bad reviews and ill-informed comments are another issue. Dealing with the public can really suck.  Ask anyone who has given technical support or who has to answer phone calls all day.  With social media, all these comments are visible and public.  Depending on the site you might have control over these comments and you might not.  So be careful and remember everyone has a right to free speech, even if the comment being made is lame or silly.

Lastly, there's the risk of intellectual property theft.  By this I mean social media enables such theft to go viral.  A stolen book on a torrent can spread around the world is seconds.   There's not much you can do about this if it happens to you and you can't really protect yourself either.  All it takes is one person paying for one legal copy to post your work on a site and recommend it highly.  Other avid readers/computer users will do the rest.

But even though I cite many drawbacks stemming from social media, the truth is all these things existed before.  Writers are always facing a loss of privacy as their recognition increases and they become more popular among readers.  Likewise, bad reviews have always been an issue; they used to be printed in the newspaper now they are electronic.  So you'll need to learn how to deal with the criticism.  And theft of our work has always been an issue.  It is easier now because of the technology but corrupt people at print shops have stolen the work of popular writers for years.  That's why there are copyright laws in the first place, to help protect us.

So where does that leave us?  Well, when I came out of my reverie, I realized that is not social media that is the issue.  It is people.  That no matter how much change we endure and what the tools we are using, people are still people, good, bad, and indifferent. And the struggle of getting along with each other has not stopped, it's just changed a little.

Friday, April 8, 2011


One of the hardest challenges a writer faces is staying motivated.  Sure, you were excited when you had the idea for the story and you wrote the first draft in no time at all.  But now, after all revision (and rejections) the story is stale and you want to move onto something else.

Or: you've been working on your novel for a year, no, two years now.  You think it is ready,  but you keep getting feedback that there are problems with it.  Character A seems flat.  You need some better description in chapter ten.  The ending isn't quite right.

Or: you've sold a few stories or a novel and you don't know where to go from here.

What can I tell you except keep writing.  This happens to all writers.  Sometimes I skip a day or two on my novel or current project.  I do that either to think about it some more or because to many other things distract me.

Distractions are rampant these things.  Shall I tell you how many games I have in my phone that I play daily?  But I need this time to rest and recharge.

And then there's the house, dogs, car, computers, wife, and my own personal health that all need attention. And all are important.

But none of that matters.  Keep writing.

Some writers need inspiration to write.  I certainly need a good idea or general notion of what I want to say or what the plot is before I sit down at the keyboard.  But this isn't a requirement if you are just trying to keep your skill sharp.  Free write.  This is a technique to let the juices flow that I learned to college years ago and it works well.

How does it work?  For a period of 15 to 30 minutes write about whatever comes into your mind.  Don't edit it.  Just write.  If you think 30 minutes is too long, start with 15 minutes and add a minute or two each day.  Before long you'll be writing for 30 minutes or more.

What you might find is that issues that you are unaware of are keeping your motivation at bay.  You might be scared of success or failure or something else.  You may have a personal issue that is sucking so much of your energy your motivation to write is gone.  Or you may hit on an idea that will propel to your next big project.

So try it and see. And above all keep writing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April is National Poetry Month

One of the great losses of the 20th century, in my view, is the decline and interest in poetry.  In the 19th century, many famous writers wrote poetry at least until the novel and the short story became popular. That trend continued in the 20th century and rules our lives today as well.

One reason for this is probably that poetry is harder to understand and takes longer to absorb and we don't have the time for this.  I know that in college I struggled all through my poetry analysis classes to really understand Shakespeare sonnets and modern poets.  I thought there was something wrong with me, but I know now that it wasn't me, at least not entirely.

It's the nature of our lives.  The reason movies and computer games are more popular than novels is that it takes less effort to appreciate.  They are immediate.  Novels (reading) takes effort.  If you make that investment, you want a payoff for your time.  A novel of genre fiction can do that more easily than a poem with deep and hidden meaning because the novel is more immediate.  You read it, you understand it, and you are done.  No deep thought, no deep meaning.

Of course, this is a misconception.  Many poems are easy to understand and have no deep meaning.  My poems, for example, generally don't have a deep meaning (or at least I'm not aware of any).  And poetry can be classified by the same genres that fiction is.  I think many people associate poetry with literature which they avoid.  That does a disservice to poetry because a poem can take many forms.  All you need is some imagery, maybe a metaphor or simile and you are well on your way.

So let's get out there and write some poetry.  Experiment!  Take some risks with it.  See what happens. With luck, we can spark a poetry renaissance and kindle an new appreciation for the art form. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

How Often Should One Blog?

I don't think there's a correct answer to that question.  I've read that you need to blog at least twice a week.  But I know people who blog daily or as the mood hits.

The point of blogging twice a week is to keep your audience, assuming you have one, interested and to keep your name in their short-term memory.  Once your name is in short-term memory long enough it goes into long-term memory, which is where you want it so people will remember your name and recognize later.

Of course, this assumes you are writing a novel and want to sell it later.  Frankly, I started blogging for my first novel way too late.  You should be blogging when you start your first draft because, as long as it takes to write a book, it takes even longer to bring an audience.  So you want to start that process as early as possible.

But it is important to remember there are no rules with blogs.  So when you start and how often you post to it is really up to you.  On the other hand, once you set a rule, stick with it.  For example, I decided to blog twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.  And for the most part I've held to that.  This lets the people reading my blog know when to expect it and when to check it.

The downside of this is that I get little activity mid-week but I live with that because I'd fall over dead if I had to blog more than twice a week.

See you Monday.