October 23, 2009
One would think that, after editing, re-editing, proofing, and re-proofing, that a book would be perfect, ready to go, error free.
I got the proof for One Too Many Blows To The Head on Monday. It was thrilling to see it in print. However, despite the fluttering of my heart when I looked at it and flipped through its pages–pages laced with the heavenly smell of printer’s ink–I knew I had to push past the honeymoon phase and get to readin’.
As I opened it and read the first paragraph I realized one thing . . . I was really getting tired of proofreading. After all, writing is the fun part. Writing is what makes my heart sing. Writing is what I do. Proofreading is like washing dishes or vacuuming. It’s a job to me.
But read it I did.
And I found errors. Nothing embarrassing, like changing a character’s name halfway through the book, but errors in punctuation or spacing that were noticeable to me and would certainly be noticeable to a reader.
So another proof has to be ordered.
Am I disappointed? Sure I am. But not as much as I would be if Eric and I had let it go to press with all the errors inside.
I constantly remind myself that I shouldn’t let impatience govern my decisions . . . and that is so important in the writing world. Patience is what gets a good copy. Patience is what gives you time to start marketing and pushing forward. Patience is what it’s all about, man. Well, and writing something worth reading.
So here I sit, impatiently (despite my self-chastising) awaiting my next proof and reminding myself that it too will need to be read and approved by both Eric and me before it goes to press. My fingers are drumming but I tell myself this is what it is to be a writer . . . it is to learn to love your art enough to get it right . . . no matter how long it takes.
June 2, 2008
Last week, I interviewed a new talent in the fantasy writing field. Mark Murray is experienced in short story writing and runs the e-zine Arcane Twilight. Today’s post is a copy of his interview.
Tell us about Warders of the Gate. It’s part of a trilogy, correct?
Warders of the Gate is part of a planned trilogy, yes. With Warders of the Gate, I’ve set the stage for the war and introduced some main characters. The background to the warders is that elves have built four magical gateways from their world into the land of Rhillai. To keep the gates secure, the elves have magically altered humans into being able to shape-change into animals. These shape-changers are the warders for the gates and only they can open the gates.
Rhillai has nine duchies and two dwarven kingdoms. The duchies are ruled by a High King. But, the seat of the High King is vacant. Warders of the Gate sets up the war for someone to be High King. To make matters worse, a mage, Alisandra, has opened a gateway to another world to allow an evil army,
the Hylnan, to enter Rhillai. The second book, War of the Gates, deals with the alien Hylnan conquering everything in their path, five dukes uniting to take control of the other duchies and the gates because a one in five chance at High King is much better than one in nine, and lastly, there is one duke fleeing with her army to eventually join with a small band of dwarves, warders, and dragons. I have one strong female lead in Warders of the Gate with Alisandra, the mage behind letting the Hylnan through. And I have one strong female lead in War of the Gates with Duke Rachel Iorion.
But, the idea that I keep throughout the whole story is that no character is safe. Some will be killed.
In addition to novel writing, you are also an accomplished penner of short stories. Do you have a preference for writing short stories vs. novel length fiction?
I actually don’t have a preference right now. I continue to write both short stories and novels.
The hard part is finding the time to get them all done.
When you’re not writing, what do you read? I really love Robert B. Parker‘s writing. I’ve read all the Spenser novels at least twice and I’m trying to read the rest of the Jesse Stone series. I used to love to read fantasy, scifi, and horror, but now that I’m actually writing them, I find that I don’t read them as much. It’s weird. I used to go into bookstores and head straight for the fantasy/scifi section. Now, I tend to just roam around looking for something to pique my interest. And I read online forums that pertain to martial arts like aikido and kali/silat.
Let’s talk about craft a little bit. As a writer, do you prefer to tell your story in first person or third person…or does it depend on the work? Do you prefer single point of view or multiple point of view?
Um, yeah. I’m really bad about first/third person and single/multiple views. For me, it does depend on
the work or story. And after reading tons of books from unknown authors to bestsellers, I’ve seen all
kinds of variations. That tells me, in the end, that what matters isn’t the view but the story being told. If you can convey a great story in just first person, it’s still a great story. If you can convey a great story
using variations, it’s still a great story.
What are you working on now? Do you ever find yourself working on multiple projects?
I’m working on:
1. War of the Gates, the next book in the Rhillai series.
2. The second book to Power Play, no title yet. Power Play is mysecond written novel,
but it hasn’t been published yet.
3. A western novel, no title yet.
4. Short stories for DargonZine.
5. I have a horror novel started, but it is on hold right now because of the above projects. I have a scifi story in my head that’s been waiting years (probably ten or so) for me to sit down and type it out. So, yes, I work on multiple projects. I have stories floating around in my head that stay there until I type them out. And I don’t write with pen or pencil or typewriter. I’ve never been able to do that. I’m weird that way. I can only type them onto a computer.
Tell us about your web-zine Arcane Twilight. How did it come to be?
I was writing for DargonZine and wanted another outlet for stories. DargonZine is a great place to write, but it is a shared world and as such has boundaries. Stories are set within that shared world. If anyone ever wants some great experience with writing, including getting your stories critiqued by all other writers, then DargonZine is a great place to be. My writing improved dramatically because of DargonZine. So, yes, I plug it when I can because of the value. On the down side, if you want to write scifi or horror, you have to go
elsewhere. So, another writer, Carlo Samson, and I decided to start an E-Zine for fantasy, scifi, and horror stories. In fact, we’ve even showcased artwork. Arcane Twilight was started as a personal outlet for writing other stories and it grew from there. You mention you are working on several other projects, including
Do you find you prefer writing in one genre over another?
So far, not really. With fantasy, I don’t have as much research to do. With the western, I had quite a bit more but that’s because there are real events, real places, and real people in the setting. You just can’t make it all up like in fantasy. While I don’t have a preference, I am finding that other genres can have significantly more research time.
Do you still have a “day job?” or have you attained what all writers want…the ability to write full time?
It would be great to write full time, but alas, I’m still one of the majority that has a day job. I’m thankful that it’s mostly Monday-Friday though. I also have martial arts a minimum of four days a week and sometimes five. Toss in regular chores, family time, book signings, seminars, etc and I really could use more hours in the day.
Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for writers working toward getting published?
I’ve found two major things. The first is keep writing. I know it’s silly and it’s what a lot of other authors say, but it’s a basic truth. Most professional athletes practice insane hours of the day and week. Olympic level athletes go beyond that. Top tier musicians live and breathe their work. Why should writers be any different?
Enter contests, write for fun, join a writing group, submit pieces for publication, take a writing class, etc. I sent a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley long, long ago for her MZB Fantasy magazine. It was rejected, but MZB sent a handwritten note in the return letter. I had understood exactly what my story was about, but as a new writer, I didn’t let that come through in the story. Naturally, MZB hadn’t understood the story either, but her reply helped me to realize my errors. I kept writing and trying to get better, but had I not sent that in, then I might not have realized I had a big hole in my writing.
The second is don’t give up. Just because a publishing house has rejected your work doesn’t necessarily mean it is badly written or not worth publishing. Publishing houses are businesses and they look for specific trends to publish. Your piece might not fit that trend rather than it being horribly written.
May 26, 2008
He works in produce under a cloud of vegetable matter, avoiding shopping carts filled with all the things you can get at Super Wal-Mart. He is an island unto himself, never making eye contact with shoppers, never speaking to co-workers except through the subtle arch of an eyebrow or the barely perceptible lift of one shoulder. Screaming children do not faze him. Obese women on cabbage diets do not deter him from his goal…restocking the bananas.
Wheeled carts stacked to the toppling point with boxes bearing the DOLE BANANAS logo make their way from the back room, propelled past the nuts, garlic, potatoes, and onion bins to the enormous banana island that holds the place of honor in the center of the produce section.
One can feel the envy of the other produce workers as Banana Man maneuvers his load through throngs of customers ready to start their Memorial Day drinking early…tapping their toes as they await the latest shipment of non-organic bananas from Cuba…or somewhere. “If only I could be Banana Man for a day,” the other workers, shelving pre-packaged spinach and field greens say to themselves.
But Banana Man doesn’t hear this. He pushes back the top of the first box, his eyes focused on a point on the horizon somewhere over behind the seafood counter, and pulls bunches, two at a time, from the box. He moves quickly, nothing but a torso and legs in his dark blue shirt and khaki trousers…his hands are nothing but a blur. He turns on his heel and is gone, already on his way to fetch the next cart as the banana crowd sighs, “Oh my. Look at this, thirty-three cents a pound.”
I didn’t realize I noticed him or the ritual “unpacking of the bananas” until he was gone. And I didn’t realize I missed him until I saw him last week, back in produce, handling a tomato. “What,” I wondered, “debauchery is this? Where has he been and what is he doing with a tomato?”
I don’t know what he was doing handling that tomato. Chances are I’ll never know. But he is a character I’ve come to rely on here in the great state of Virginia. He helps to define my new home and he gives me something to wonder about. I’ve made up his whole story… where he came from and what he does after he goes home, where he was raised and why he likes produce so much.
Banana Man, what I know of him in the real world, appears to be anti-social. He does not smile. I’ve smiled at him a few times, desiring to know more about this bearer of produce. But he shuns me as he shuns all other shoppers, preferring instead to do his work…and only his work.
So why am I telling you about Banana Man? Because he is fascinating…like so many other people who carry out their jobs day after day…unnoticed and underappreciated. And because he inspires me. He reminds me to look to my environment for inspiration. Amazing people are everywhere…and it is imperative that a writer remember that.
May 15, 2008
Apollo likes to walk. We take him out with Rocky while Adrian stays at home. (Yes, our dogs are named for the Rocky movies.) Being a Doberman, with a splash of Black Lab thrown in just to keep us on our toes, Apollo isn’t satisfied with just “walking.” He thrusts his nose deep into the ground, snorting up anything that will fit into his blow-hole sized nostrils. And he’s not satisfied to walk leisurely. He wants to trot or run or anything really besides walk. There is always something more interesting just beyond the end of the leash.
How does he compensate for this restriction in mobility? He turns circles. He trots for five feet, sniffing and snorting, then turns a circle. To the right. Always to the right. Apollo can’t turn left…except for this one time, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Rocky is an Akita with a splash of German Shepherd Dog thrown in for more dignity and a greater ability for condescension. He holds his head up regally, toenails elegantly clicking on the pavement in a perfect cadence, while his tedious companion slobbers and runs in circles, bounding from one dandelion patch to another…circling to the right, pacing, circling to the right, pacing…on and on and on.
But there was a day. One walk out of thousands, when my middle child and I were out walking the dogs…and I saw an Eastern Bluebird. Being from Nebraska, I don’t have much experience with the beautiful birds that flutter around our neighborhood here in Virginia…all different colors and songs….I’m not used to it. “Son, did you see that?” I asked, pointing. My son stood beside me, laughing. When he stopped, a grin plastered to his face, he said, “I know, Apollo just turned left.” Zoolander, eat your heart out!!
My dog turned left…and I missed it. I’ve watched diligently on every walk since then, waiting for him to repeat the act. But Apollo seems more comfortable turning right. It’s unnatural for him to do anything else.
So I find myself once again taking a lesson from this monster of a canine. Do I want to be the sort of writer that “can’t turn left?” Or do I want to do more? Be more? I’m in the second book of my Detective Baker series…and I’m happy with the way things are shaping up. But other stories…set in other times in other places…are tickling the back of my mind. And I find myself wanting to test the mysterious waters where these other ideas swim. I nursed the characters for The Deputy’s Widow for years, coddling them to maturity and, eventually, publication. Suddenly, that obsession isn’t there because I accomplished my goal. I’m published. And I’ll be published again with the sequel, provided my editor likes it. Trying something new doesn’t feel comfortable just yet. But, unlike my dog, I have higher brain function (sometimes) and I think I might give “turning left” a try. So I’ll keep watching Apollo, hoping he’ll overcome his multi-directional challengedness…and I’ll consider shooting off in a new direction myself on occasion.
May 9, 2008
Insomnia is a fickle thing. At times I’ll go for months unmolested by thoughts refusing to stay below the surface as I sleep. At other times, the beast rears its ugly head and I spend the night awake, tossing and turning and worrying about things over which I have no control. As I age, alongside my husband of 16 years, I can’t help but notice he’s afflicted with this condition on occasion as well. And even more interesting than this, is the fact that, once in awhile, we are afflicted at the same time.
I’m not sure which is worse…lying awake in the middle of the night as the clocks tick in an endless cadence, marking time that passes too slowly…or awakening an hour or two before dawn, wondering if going back to sleep is even worth the trouble.
Gone are the days when four in the morning felt like the middle of the night. Now I think about walking the dog or writing a chapter or blogging or answering e-mail. I think of all the productive things I could be doing with my time besides sleeping.
Last week, as my husband and I suffered a case of co-dependent early morning insomnia, we stumbled downstairs and cranked up the satellite as the coffee pot percolated and the dogs found comfy places on the sofa—clearly, insomnia is never a problem for a dog—to go back to sleep.
Infomercials dominate the airwaves before dawn, taking advantage of bleary-eyed insomniacs with promises that “This product will make your life easier…or your money back.”
Well, I love my Swiffer, but I can’t exactly say its made my life easier.
But that was before I heard about Tater Mitts. Have you heard of the Tater Mitts? Have you reserved your pair yet? Tater Mitts are a handy pair of gloves with steel wool on the outside. Just put on the gloves, pick up a potato, squish it around in your hands and…PRESTO!! The potato is free of that filthy peel.
I’m so stupid. All these years I’ve been using a potato peeler which could have flown out of my hands at any given moment and lodged in my neighbor’s eye. It’s true. I’ve been endangering the whole world with my reckless method of peeling potatoes.
Wouldn’t it be nice for writers if the reading public was as gullible as the infomercial quacks believe the entire world to be? I could say “Read my book-it will change your life.” Or I could pay people to say “You won’t believe the amazing things this book can do for you.” Or how about, “I never knew my life was so empty until I read “The Deputy’s Widow””
Nah, come to think of it, I wouldn’t respect an ignorant reading audience. I prefer readers who say, “I would have done this differently.” Or “This part was good, but try this.”
Writers live in a world where their product has to stand alone. The purpose of fiction can be one of two things: to prove a point, or to entertain. I prefer to read fiction for entertainment and I try to write fiction that accomplishes the same. I can’t promise a reader a good book and then not deliver. Why? Because readers are smart. And they read to be entertained. And they write reviews.
The morning of the Tater Mitts infomercial was rare. Normally, I pick up a book when I can’t sleep. I pick up a book and let myself sink into its world…because a writer is someone who delivers. There are no money-back guarantees. There are no paid celebrities with overly tight faces telling me this book will change my life. There’s just a writer’s work…and I know a little something about that…the sweat, the agony, the pressure.
You can keep your Tater Mitts. I’ll use a potato peeler and read a good book, thank you very much.
April 29, 2008
April 29, 2008
The power went out over and over again shortly after we moved here. It’s a problem, I’m told, with being close to the forest in an area where it storms. The soil is rich, but loose. And when the spring rains come, trees fall.
It is unlike Nebraska, my home, where the branches are snapped from the trunks and tossed about. Here, in Virginia, the branches hold but the tree falls…onto power lines. No power means no water…as our supply comes from an electrical pump. So last year, when the spring rains came, we bought a generator and waited for it to rain.
I believe last summer’s drought was the worst in quite awhile. Our garden died. Atlanta’s water supply threatened to dry up. And that damned generator sat…a $700 dollar investment taking up space once used for children’s bicycles.
It stormed here last night. The soil, unable to keep its grip on the enormous roots of tall trees, let go. And trees fell…on top of cars, houses, fences…and power lines.
Our generator worked on the first try. After a year of sitting in wait, it started…finally of some use. It’s back in the shed today, resting up for the next storm, no doubt.
But I can’t help thinking about that generator today as I sit down to write. I have notebooks filled with drafts I’ve tossed aside, taking up space on shelves I could use for other things. And yet, like that stupid generator, they are an investment; of time and of creativity. So I’ll let them stay where they are to remain exactly what they are…a cache of ideas and inspiration for days when my power goes out.