Links: Fire in Cairo

This week’s been like living through the 1980s all over again, except that this time around we don’t have Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev, or Lech Wałęsa, or CND, or LOAF (that’s Libraries Open And Free, all you young folk out there), or a sound-track by The Cure. This time around, it’s the Egyptians throwing off the yoke rather than the Poles and Eastern Europe waving goodbye to Communism; Barack Obama and the Brit Twinset wringing their hands and hoping for the best, rather than the Big Three of yore claiming victory and a splendid future for democracy. The leaders of the new rebellion are non-existent or invisible; the umbrella protest groups we all joined or marched with back in the day are long gone; and Lady Gaga sings the songs.

Charlie Stross is curiously optimistic over this week’s events in Egypt. I wish I could feel that way too.

We had a hurricane in 1987, much stronger and more damaging than the gales plaguing Britain this week. Not quite as strong and as damaging as Cyclone Yasi, though. Pity those who left the UK for Australia because of the weather; even Perth managed a bad week, with wildfires raging through her suburbs as Queensland and Victoria continued to submerge. The Americas suffered too, with a major snow dump that reached the parts other snow dumps cannot reach. Like, Northern Mexico.

Nathan Bransford brought more bad news from North America in his weekly publishing roundup. Borders is rumoured to be facing bankruptcy, and Canada’s biggest book distributor declared this week. Not the best time to be a Canadian writer, one way or another.

Still.. on with the remit.

It’s become increasingly clear that new authors these days must engage in promotional activities in order to sell their books. A change in the job description if ever I saw one (although Dickens and Shakespeare may not have agreed.) In a thoughtful post on Murderati, J T Ellison wondered whether modern social networking obligations might not get in the way of literary art, or indeed the act of writing itself.

Usefully, Janice Hardy has now reviewed the book sales figures and blog traffic levels she achieved during her blog tour last October, and wondered if it had been worth the effort. (Spoiler: in those terms, no it wasn’t.) However, when Elizabeth Spann Craig offered up her own thoughts on book promotion techniques on Mystery Writing Is Murder, she concluded that blog tours were both enjoyable and effective. Different things work for different authors, then, or so it would seem.

While we’re still on the theme of writer-as-social-animal, I should mention Natalie Whipple’s brainwave earlier in the week. She basically offered to host classified ads for critique partners on her blog. The idea proved more popular than Natalie had anticipated, and she has now closed her books–at least for the time being–since running such a service manually is likely to prove labour intensive. She has started looking into the possibility of creating a more permanent critique partner matching service, which sounds like a most excellent plan!

But enough of the social networking already. Let’s look at some of the writerly advice doing the rounds.

A number of bloggers focused on the smallest building blocks this week, starting with Gail Carson Levine’s post about finding the perfect vocabulary level for your reader base, Just Words. Janice Hardy similarly put the humble sentence under the microscope when she looked at the use of adjectives–harmless-looking syllables that can either wreck your prose or bring it to glowing life. The inimitable Juliette Wade wrote about the importance of the grammatical subject, and how getting it wrong can mess with the reader’s perception of a scene. Domey Malasarn of the Literary Lab explained how paying attention to small details slows the pace of a piece of writing, and Janice Hardy–who had an exceptionally busy week online–illustrated the need for variety in sentence structure in her post, Feel the Rhythm of the Words.

That’s the microcosm dealt with, then. How about the bigger picture?

I’ll start with Janice again. This time her post is about the inciting event; “the moment when things irrevocably change for the protagonist“; the event from which the story springs, leading inevitably to the core conflict. Janice is an exponent of the Three Act Structure, and it works well for her. Read and learn.

Anna Stanizewski wrote about the importance of layering conflict, which seems a fairly similar idea to me, but I could be missing something. Domey Malasarn came up with a nice post about consciousness and the recurring image; all I could think of, while I was reading his piece, was the haunting film of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now.

Lynn Viehl posted an item about “multiversing” in which she looked at the idea of parallel universes from a number of perspectives, including the means by which two people can witness the same event in very different ways.

Michelle Brower of Dead Guy wrote about what not to write about, in a post rather wonderfully entitled Blood and guts and bludgeoning, oh my!

Kristen Lamb put on her book-doctor’s coat to demonstrate how a practised agent or editor can diagnose a problem novel just from reading the first few pages. An edifying insight if ever there was one. Back at the Literary Lab, however, Michelle Davidson Argyle reckoned we should all take the reams of writing advice out there with a very large pinch of salt indeed.

I’ll leave the final word to Natalie Whipple’s agent. “Write what you love,” she advised Natalie in a moment of crisis. “That’s your job.

If you like Inflatable Ink’s round up, or want to read our links as we research them, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

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Links: About characters, mostly

As you’ll be aware, it’s been a bad week for Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka, with heavy floods displacing millions and causing the deaths of many. Two of the Write Anything columnists live in Brisbane, and the blog’s team are putting together an anthology of flash fiction to raise funds for those affected by the Queensland floods. Submissions are invited, and you’ve a fortnight to get yours in.

We’ve less to worry about here in the UK, now that the snow’s more or less gone. (I keep finding frozen heaps in car parks and our local pond only thawed out today, but basically… it’s over.) There’s nothing to distract us now from the swingeing cuts that have been foisted on our local councils by the powers-that-be, and–as in the USA–libraries have been first in the firing line in many areas. Following proposals to replace paid librarians with volunteers, John Harris protested in the Guardian that “librarians do so much more than shelve books and say shhh!“, while Jen Brubacher–who is a librarian–took it on herself to explain her current research project.

On to the writerly stuff.

A lot of our regulars picked this week to focus on characterisation, one way or another. Darcy Pattison posted on Fiction Notes about differences in levels of development between major and minor characters. KM Weiland sees things differently, and argued that it pays to know the backstory for every minor character, even if you’re never going to use any of it. Juliette Wade agreed, pointing out that a well-rounded secondary character can easily become a reader’s favourite. Janice Hardy stepped in with a post about the relationship between point-of-view and character development, and Alison Janssen of Dead Guy reminded us that sometimes the development of a character is the story. Meanwhile Lynn Viehl had been testing a piece of freeware intended for genealogical research, and reported that it’s perfect for keeping track of fictional character data.

There are other areas than character to explore, of course. Kay Kenyon posted an item about the importance of a strong plot, along with some pointers to resources for learning plotting skills. Cheryl Ossola, getting into some resources of her own, wrote about non-linear plotting and the hidden story. Way over my head, but it may make good sense to you. Julie Eshbaugh posted a piece on Let The Words Flow about anagnorisis–the moment when the hero learns something that changes everything.

Talking of things that change everything brings me smartly to critiquing. Elizabeth Spann Craig wondered when is the best time to offer helpful suggestions, while Janice Hardy wrote about putting critiques to good use. Charlie Stross was more interested in finished works, and published an item that should go some way to take the sting out of poor reader reviews. John Gilstrap went one further and attempted to make sense of Amazon’s sales rankings. Good luck with that, pal.

Over at The Kill Zone, Kathryn Lilley wondered whether a sugar placebo could really banish writer’s block? (Spoiler: it seems it can.)

Scott GF Bailey of The Literary Lab shared a thoughtful piece about the courage needed to create original art, but Tawna Fenske reckons originality is overrated and a piece of art doesn’t have to be all-new to be good. Indeed. (Check this one out just for the Obadiah Parker clip, I promise you won’t regret it!)

Two pieces of stellar news this week from our regular linkees. First, The Pain Merchants–the UK version of Janice Hardy’s YA novel The Shifter–has been shortlisted for the 2011 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Second, Lynn Viehl made the Times extended list with her latest release, Frostfire. Congratulations, both!

And finally.. here’s cartoonist Matt Bors on the cleansing of Huckleberry Finn.

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Links: Another year, another planet

First it was Christmas, and I got lots of Christmas and birthday presents. Then not much happened. Then it was New Year.
(My diary for this week, 1972)

I’ll start this week’s roundup with the not-much-happened part, since this is chiefly a blog about writing and nobody, but nobody, writes anything much when the entire family’s dropped by/there’s a party going on/the turkey’s about to burn. Matt tweeted away like a good’un throughout the week, and left a scattering of links to items ranging from a thought-provoking article about the nature of copyright, to a brief note about a trope, to a couple of pieces about Star Wars <sigh>. Well, this is his blog!

The best part about Matt tweeting as he surfs is that he finds a very wide repertoire of beguiling–and sometimes useful–sites. Two of this week’s batch I hadn’t come across before, edittorrent and Quick Writing Tips, regularly publish thoughtful and original pieces on the written word. All grist to the mill, as they say.

When browsing in more familiar territory Matt and I often find we highlight the same items, give or take the sci-fi articles on io9.com. So it was with Janice Hardy’s re-post this week about the mid-point reversal, and Nathan Bransford’s about the courage a character needs before s/he can determine their own fate. (It seems it’s re-post season, this week when not much happens.) We also pounced on Kristen Lamb’s long, cool look at the ways in which a traditional critique group can help or hinder a novelist. As Matt paraphrased it, “Get your writing group to critique your outline, not your prose.”

Julie Eshbaugh of the Let The Words Flow team is another Christmas baby. She celebrated her birthday this year with a reflective post explaining why she writes exclusively for young adults, and offered several pointers to help you decide whether your own writing future lies in the same market. Natalie Whipple was equally deep in reflection, albeit for different reasons. She reached back into her memories of childhood and pulled out a rather lovely metaphor about how the way you view the past can affect your life.

One of the things I like best about following Natalie’s blog is that she always comes across as very human. It’s totally in character that her post telling us to look for the bright spots in our dismal past was followed a day later by a heartfelt farewell to the Year of Suck. Judging by the number of posts I’ve seen on the subject, she’s far from alone in that sentiment!

From a publishing industry perspective 2010 wasn’t so much sucky as transitory, according to Nathan Bransford. From a literary perspective it wasn’t even that; Anna Staniszewski and Jen Brubacher both listed their favourite reads of the year online, and it was positively a good year for the short story, according to the Guardian‘s Chris Power. Also in the Guardian, Kate Figes interviewed publishers about books that had failed to meet their expectations in 2010, and the book on the market they most wish they’d published themselves. Meanwhile Suzannah Windsor Freeman kept the flag flying for the new writer with her top ten fiction writing articles of the year on Write It Sideways.

The New Year marked the end of Barbara Poelle’s humorous weekly blog posts for Dead Guy, and a celebration for Jodi Cleghorn as her latest story was accepted for an Australian anthology. Over at Lit Drift, Alison Leiby agreed with Natalie’s assessment of 2010 enough that she came up with a couple of humour books to add to your 2011 reading list.

Kristen Lamb posted about New Year resolutions and how to give yourself the best chance of fulfilling them, and the Guardian‘s Kathryn Schulz wrote about why it’s better to make even a crazy, unattainable resolution for the New Year than none at all.

And finally, Scott G F Bailey over at The Literary Lab celebrated the New Year by posting an appropriately seasonal poem penned by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Ring Out, Wild Bells. Tennyson was Poet Laureate for over forty years, which probably explains why much of his poetry lacks passion. This particular poem was published in 1850, the year Tennyson became Laureate. Vive la différence!

Happy 2011, everyone, and may your camels increase!

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Links–and a Google e-bookstore review

The biggest online news this week has to be Google’s e-bookstore launch. Admittedly, this is bigger news in the US than it is anywhere else, but there are hundreds of public domain works available globally from the get-go. I gave the web-based version a try on my netbook, since it’s free.

Sadly, I have to report that the quality of the e-books is extremely variable; Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, for example, is represented by a poor-quality scan of a much-abused library copy, and is not adaptable to smaller screens. To be fair, there is a warning with regard to the optimal screen size on the book’s homepage; but it would have been nicer of Google to ensure that everything in their bookstore was available in their own e-format, which does work nicely on a netbook, prior to launch. These scanned books aren’t even capable of providing a working index; and the downloadable PDF version of The Woman in White is still worse, in that both body text and image are missing from the first page(!). Best to stick with the Gutenberg Project for the poorer quality offerings, then. However, the properly formatted e-books are a whole different matter.

Where Google’s real e-books score over Gutenberg is that the text is broken down into screen-sized chunks, so there’s no frantic scrolling and no chance of losing your place; plus you don’t need to stay online to read a novel. Once the entire book is cached, you can disconnect and walk away from your modem if you like–useful when your internet connection is sporadic, or when it’s charged by the minute, or both. (I’m looking at you, East Coast!) If you stay connected while you’re reading, though, Google will ‘remember’ which page you last read and open the book at that page the next time you access it. The service would be better still if Google would make it possible to download e-books in their proprietary format for local use via the browser, and synch on connection to provide the page-keeping service; at present you need an initial internet connection for a few minutes every time you want to access a book, regardless of whether you already cached it.

All in all, Google’s e-bookstore is not quite an alternative to the mighty Kindle; but it does have the potential to offer another use for a laptop or netbook, and I definitely will be using it on long train journeys!

Some of the authors we regularly follow on Inflatable Ink have their own news, too. May I offer heartfelt congratulations to Susan Dennard of the Let The Words Flow team, who happily announced her first publishing deal this week. Scott G F Bailey hasn’t quite got that far yet; he shared with the world his struggle to synopsise a complex novel which is full of ambiguity. Cheryl Ossola, meanwhile, had a productive time on her weekend retreat, and posted a nice piece about the lessons learned.

Bad writing happens to all of us from time to time (and to me today, by the looks of things.) Elizabeth Spann Craig blogged on Mystery Writing is Murder about why you should keep on writing regardless of quality. Natalie Whipple concurred, given that editing is a primary function of the author. Janice Hardy approached the subject of poor writing in a different way, focusing on the plotting problem she termed “Nice Writer Syndrome“. Kristen Lamb went one further with the subject of plot as part of her series on structure, stripping back to fundamentals to illustrate why there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.

PaperbackWriter Lynn Viehl published an article, aimed at this year’s NaNo participants, which effectively covered the basics of editing in a single helping. Janice Hardy used her Re-Write Wednesday slot to focus on cutting back the number of characters in those early drafts. Others were more concerned with the quality of the characterisation, with Alexandra Sokoloff musing on the essence of character and Elizabeth Spann Craig looking into the difficulties that lie in creating an enigmatic fictional personality. Sarah LaPolla of Glass Cases posted a thoughtful piece, too, in which she compared writing about emotion with method acting.

Over at the Self Editing Blog, John Robert Marlow offered a helpful guide to putting together a beatline as a fiction-writing tool. He used The Matrix to illustrate the technique. Juliette Wade wondered on her blog, TalkToYoUniverse, whether–and why–and when–writers should follow the rules, and when it might be OK to break them. And in a guest post on Men With Pens, one Tim Brownson shared an unusual approach to workload prioritisation that has particular resonance for writers. Be warned, though, this does involve nose-blowing.

And finally: The Guardian are publishing a podcast in which an established author reads one of their favourite short stories, every day between now and Christmas. Enjoy!

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Links: No More NaNo!

So. Finally it’s over. Yay. Heartfelt congratulations to all the winners, heartfelt commiserations to all the rest, and praise be to God that there are nearly 11 months before we all (probably) go through it over again!

There are, of course, a few blog posts about NaNoWriMo this week–mostly from winners, it has to be said. Savannah J Foley posted a nice piece on Let The Words Flow about coming to terms with NaNo amateurism; Jen Brubacher celebrated with a contest based on the writing prompts she’s been posting throughout November; Anna Staniszewski wrote about the need to be accountable to someone other than yourself in order to keep the momentum going; Jennifer Blanchard wrote, in a guest post on storyfix.com, about her conversion from pantser to plotter (sorry, Matt) during the NaNo month. Lynn Viehl and Kyeli Smith–a guest writer on Men With Pens–both wrote about their experience of failure.

A number of the sites that come up on my radar highlighted this… er… deluded teddy bear? Not that this belongs with the NaNo links, really. I hope.

So that’s that then. What else has gone on this week?

Our winter patio

Oh yeah, there has been weather. For us Brits, at least. We’ve never seen snow over here before… at least, I was 3 years old the last time we had snow this deep and so don’t remember it. My mother started reminiscing about how winter used to be in the 1940s after the first few days. Short version: Much like this.

A couple of of ‘our’ people posted their stories about the current white-out–Charlie Stross from Edinburgh, which is as far North as trains were able to reach last time I checked. Lynne Patrick was snowed-in in Derbyshire and very grateful for her laptop. I was snowed-in too; after the first foot of snowfall there was no public transport in or out of Sheffield, the main routes were blocked by abandoned cars, the minor roads were simply impassable and the local buses stopped completely for the best part of two days. At least Lynne still has a milkman! And internet access, but let’s not go there.

Other tidbits that caught my eye this week included NASA’s discovery of an entirely new life-form; the death of comic actor Leslie Nielsen, of Airplane and Police Squad fame; and, naturally enough, the annual Literary Review Bad Sex Award ceremony. This year’s winner was Rowan Somerville’s novel The Shape of Her (extract here), and not–as confidently predicted–Tony Blair’s A Journey. Rowan later wrote an interesting piece for the Guardian about how it feels to achieve this dubious literary honour.

Natalie Whipple made waves online with her very honest post about being on submission… for a very, very long time. She followed up a few days later with a related post about lessons learned from the experience.

Nathan Bransford (wasn’t he supposed to be quitting?) ran his annual e-book poll, and reported that for the first time in its four year history the e-book was ahead. That doesn’t mean more e-books than print books are being sold; it just means that more people are receptive to e-books than of yore. Including Kathryn Lilley’s 82-year-old mother. On The Divining Wand, guest writer Jenny Gardiner explained why she was happy to publish her most recent novel as an e-book. Still, new technology always has its teething troubles; Lynn Viehl has been keeping her eye on this one, and reported yet another e-reader scam this week.

On the fiction writing front, Janice Hardy posted two useful pieces on The Other Side of the Story: one about emotional clarity, and one about the ‘red flag’ words that mean you’re telling rather than showing. Victoria Mixon came up with an interesting piece entitled The 6 Degrees of Show vs Tell, Rated by Quality. On Write It Sideways, Suzannah Windsor Freeman gave us some more red flags, this time warning against those too-perfect characters. Gail Carson Levine posted a two-pronged article in which she discussed the impact of poetry on writing prose, and whether/when comedy is appropriate in fiction.

And finally: You really don’t want to write fiction without running it by any readers.

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Links: Better late than never

Hundreds of people posted Thanksgiving cards et cetera online this week, which means that large chunks of America are more or less missing from the blogosphere. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

For the last time this year (yay!) I’ll open up this linkfest with a few NaNoWriMo links. It’s probably unkind of me to note at this point that there are a darn sight fewer NaNo links this week than there were in Week 1, but then most of the entrants (including myself) didn’t make it to the end for one reason or another.

Kristen Lamb apparently did, which announcement caused me to go and re-read her blog entry from last week which appeared to state otherwise… Aha. Yet another idiom fails to make it across the Pond intact. I read “I still have 2,777 words” as “2,777 words completed”, whereas Kristen intended us to understand that she still had “2,777 words to go”. Big difference there, and congratulations Kristen!

Lynn Viehl’s only a third of the way through, but that’s OK because we know she has the self-discipline to continue until her first draft is complete, regardless of the NaNo deadline. Mary Jo Campbell’s almost to the halfway point and toying with her stats, wondering whose stupid idea this was anyway. Jordan Rosenfeld is further on, contemplating 35,000 words of “dreck” that would normally have taken her three or four months to produce.

Natalie Whipple didn’t do NaNo–she just wrote 37,000 words in 2.5 weeks anyway, bringing her completed first draft to a total of 58K presumably not-entirely-dreck words. She seems fairly pleased with it, despite the speed. Jeff Cohen termed this the most dangerous moment in the life of a book, and urged much caution and even more editing. In similar vein, James Chartrand of Men With Pens likened frequent writing without attention to the craft to frequent driving without improvement beyond the basics. And we all know how many bad drivers there are out there…

So. Editing time, then.

At Let The Words Flow, Julie Eshbaugh wrote about Chekhov’s Gun (read: foreshadowing), which is one of the many, many things that should go into a novel somewhere between the first draft and submission.

On The Other Side of the Story, guest writer Juliette Wade explained that there is a difference between revising a scene and fully rewriting it–with examples.

For all those of us with truly awful writing habits, Write It Sideways are planning a 31-Day Makeover Challenge. This set of tips and tricks–but mostly tips–will be published daily throughout January 2011, and will include items with themes as disparate as finding inspiration and writing on a budget.

Terry Pratchett is presiding over a contest to find unpublished SF/fantasy novelists living in the UK (are you listening Matt?). The deadline is December 31st, and the full work needs to be entered, so if you don’t happen to have an unpublished SF/F manuscript lying in a drawer somewhere already you’re probably too late. That said, the prize is a juicy £20,000 advance–enough to allow most of us to do nothing but write for a full year–which might spur some on to NaNo-like efforts.

Lynne Patrick published her must-read exposé of the economics of publishing a week or so back. She followed up this week by answering comments that had been made in response to her original article. Pop over to Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room for a dispiriting insight into the costing of a book, and much more.

Even though there’s very little money to be made through it, the urge of authors to be published remains strong. Lynn Viehl produced a list of ten current submission opportunities across the board, from novels to poetry, online and off. She also provided a resource link. In similar vein, Gary Smailes over at Bubblecow started a series highlighting publishers who will consider submissions from writers without an agent.

Meantime, there are scams a-plenty to avoid. Like the one James Frey perpetuated on the MFA students of America. Or like less high-profile, but equally damaging, idea thieves.

The Guardian ran a piece this week about the King James Bible, just about to reach its 400th year and never out of print yet. It’s always a shock to realise how much our mundane communication is spattered with biblical references… and they never seem to go out of fashion, which isn’t the case for most. Speaking of which, Kathryn Lilley of The Kill Zone discovered SaveTheWords.org last weekend, and ended up adopting the word snollygoster.

And finally, some food for thought from 101-year-old Dutch author Hans Keilson. His 1947 novel Comedy in a Minor Key was published in translation in the USA earlier this year, but has just been published in the UK for the first time. A New York Times reviewer hailed Hans as a genius back in August. “Genius?” he mused. “I’m not even a proper writer!”

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Links: Sex and criticism (so just like real life, then)

OK, so I put “sex” in a post title again. Ease off, though. At least let’s get the NaNoWriMo posts out of the way first.

The bits of the www I’m monitoring at present seem to have finally quietened down on the NaNo front, you’ll be relieved to hear. Maybe that’s because everyone actually doing it has no time to write blog posts on top–mostly–or maybe it’s because Thanksgiving happens around now, ish? Whatever the reason, I only have four NaNo links to share with you this week. There’s one from Anna Staniszewski, who wrote about Beating the Lazies; one from Mary Jo Campbell, who posted at the half-way point; one of the three items posted by Lynn Viehl, who has had a particularly rough week and tried to talk herself back into caring about NaNo in the middle of it; and one from Kristen Lamb, who appears to have given up on NaNo altogether.

All four women are published authors, albeit with varying degrees of experience. It’s interesting–and something of a relief, since I’m pretty sure now that I’m not going to make the deadline myself–to see that none of them have 25,000 words under their belt at this point. Lynn keeps a record of her NaNo output online, though, and it’s very evident from her archives that NaNo isn’t usually so much of a problem to her as it has been this year.

I’d never tried to write a sex scene until the moment it became unavoidable in my NaNo project last week. I’d heard a lot about the difficulties of making it believable and yep, every last one of those advisories was correct. Jen Brubacher added her voice to the choir even as she published an erotic photograph as Thursday’s writing prompt. She couldn’t resist that old gag about size not mattering, though.

Randy Susan Meyers (that’s the lady’s name, not a description) posted a thoughtful article in which she explained that a well-written sex scene can be useful as a means of offering a window into a character’s soul during a vulnerable moment. Tawna Fenske, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys sex and gets a real kick out of ramping up the heat in her writing. The only thing holding her back is that she doesn’t know whether her readers want monkey sex or tortoise sex. Gosh. Where to draw that line?

Elizabeth Spann Craig had similar issues in her blog post this week. Not over the tortoise sex, no. Just over how much she should tailor her story to her readers or, in the case of her young daughter, listener. Torturing fluffy kittens was never on the agenda, but a character that isn’t allowed to have anything bad happen is… probably not conducive to an interesting tale.

The problem of catering to the reader has ramifications when it comes to handling criticism, too. Susan Dennard posted a short article on Let the Words Flow that should, I think, be mandatory reading for every fiction writer who ever asked someone else’s opinion. In her article, she explored two ways in which authors can–and often do–misuse the criticism they receive for their writing.

As if to back up Susan’s experience, Larry Brooks chose to post an item two days later about the real meaning of rejection. He explained, quite rightly, that when an agent or publisher says “no” to a book, what they really mean is they don’t know. Quite rightly, because–as with Tawna’s monkeys and tortoises–whatever turns on Reader A may well be anathema to Reader B; and Agent C needs to convince Publisher D, who is probably hoping to sell books to both readers (and a few more besides.)

There are times, though, when critique partners or even groups aren’t thinking in those terms and will say “no” simply because they aren’t sold on an idea, which can be quite hurtful for the author. Cheryl Ossola wrote this week about a friend’s “rather skewering experiences” with writing groups, which in turn makes her appreciate her own current group, and especially its leader, all the more.

And finally: If you thought the only way to make it as a poet was by starving in a garret, here’s some food for thought.

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NaNoWriMo Diary: Week 5 – My garden’s looking good

The NaNo pep talks from OLL central and my local Municipal Liaison keep on arriving in my inbox. I have to say I prefer the local version; my ML was only a thousand words ahead of me at the last count, which is always cheering to read. (Believe me, I read and re-read emails that cheer.)

Confession of the week: We’re past the half-way point, and I haven’t reached five figures yet. Shhh!

I should point out that I haven’t really been giving NaNoWriMo my all, and will probably continue to not do so even unto the final week. Little things… like hospital appointments and googling what they’re planning to do to me next… planning how best to avoid a future stroke…. working out what caused the last one…. monitoring and diarising everything I eat or drink or smoke or exert energy towards… I’m discovering that ill health takes up a whole lot of time, not to mention a wholly unattractive level of self-obsession.

So, just lately I spend most of my days out in the garden, muscling bramble roots out of the soil (today’s winner was almost an inch thick and three feet underground), or planting next year’s fruit crops, or building and filling raised beds for the vegetables I plan on planting in the Spring, insh’Allah. I come into the house tired and aching when it goes dark at 4.30pm, resist the temptation to pour a stiff whisky and puff my way through several cigarettes, make myself a nice cup of tea instead and sit down to figure out what it is I should theoretically be eating for dinner that night. Sometimes it matches up with reality, oft-times not–too much salt, tonight, by far. But something is changing despite it all, if slowly; my eyesight’s finally back to full strength, after three weeks of living in a blurred universe, and I don’t have to avoid strong light any more.

I’m watching a lot more TV than usual–God I hate TV, it sucks the soul out of us all–but despite this waste of my evenings I do write something most nights when I turn in, whereas I’d normally be reading or re-reading some novel or other until it dropped from my unconscious hands. This small concession to the literary lifestyle is one concession more than I have been used to making over the last few years, and I’m happy to report that even such a miniscule amount of daily effort is starting to show results. I can now churn out a thousand words without taking hours over them, which means I’m half-way to my personal NaNo goal. Yay!

It’s taken a while, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I really would like to write the novel I set out to write for NaNoWriMo 2010, one day. It won’t happen in a month, though–far from it. It’ll happen at a nice, comfortable pace, somewhere nearer five hundred words a day than two thousand. Even assuming I do eventually regain the ability to write two thousand words in a day, I still wouldn’t want to write the first draft of a novel I cared about at that kind of speed.

Here’s why.

Firstly, I cannot for the life of me switch off my inner editor. I worked as an editor for so long that I couldn’t get any pleasure out of reading for over a year after I quit. I still automatically note the errors in every page I read (and I’m talking about published books here); I can, now, get past the urge to fix the errors and concentrate on the story instead; what I still can’t do is write anything at all without fixing my own typos and rearranging the paragraphs to flow better as I go along.

Secondly, I find it impossible to write something that requires research without actually doing the research! It’s not so many weeks since I wrote here that it would be very freeing to lose that restriction, but actually the opposite is the case. Then again, my NaNo project was based on an historical subject, and while it might be OK to imagine scenes and invent personalities to some extent, it did actually require in-depth knowledge of several key dramatis personae, for example. I’d no problem imagining the protagonist back into life, nor any member of his family, but I was all at sea when it came to his friends and colleagues.

This wouldn’t, of course, be a problem in a novel that had no basis in historical fact. Probably, my choice of subject matter was my first and worst decision when it comes to speed-writing.

Future NaNo-ers, take note! and be sure to write pure fantasy.

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Links: Just a quickie

As we’re approaching the midpoint of NaNoWriMo 2010, naturally the blogosphere is crowded with it. And for much the same reason, I’m pushed for time! Noteworthy elements only, then.

Mainly this week’s news is about the NaNo backlash. Matt actually emailed me when Cheryl Ossola joined the ranks of the disaffected, but it seems to have started with an article by Laura Miller, who is a senior writer at Salon.com. My immediate response? Any web editor worth their salt would kill to have a senior writer like Laura. Someone who can set all the nerds a-twittering. That said, it was the blog entry Ann Aguirre posted on Writer Unboxed that gave everyone a space to make their feelings known. Things got so heated in the feedback comments that blog co-founder Kathleen Bolton was compelled to upload a kitten. (We’ve all had bad days at work, right?)

I find myself liking Lynn Viehl more every time I read her blog. Not only is she not too scarily far ahead of me in her NaNo wordcount–because she’s had health and family issues, too–but her response to the backlash kerfuffle was to walk away from the computer and bake a pie. When I do that, I feel as pathetic as a cold smelly failed star; when Lynn does it, I feel a whole lot better about everything. It’s that long list of publishing credits she has that does it, I think. That, and the heap of juicy fiction-aiding freeware she shared with the world earlier this week.

Anna Staniszewski was one of many who claimed that Week Two is the hardest NaNo week, but I liked her post because she explained so accurately why that is. There was no disputing Mary Jo Campbell’s analysis either.

Outside NaNo, I don’t have a lot of writerly links this week. Janice Hardy gave us a conflict post that Matt deemed “useful”; Alison Janssen reminded us that no character is an island; Natalie Whipple offered sound advice for new writers. The inevitable Scott G F Bailey finished his Hamlet novel and posted an interesting piece about the modifications it’s been through over the last three years (NaNo-ers, beware! Here be dragons!)

Back to Janice Hardy, who has been blog-touring in recent weeks and is now ready to share her thoughts regarding the experience. She offered good info for anyone thinking of using their social network as a marketing tool.

Next up, a rant from Lynne Patrick–probably the first person to mention the Net Book Agreement since I started helping out Matt on this blog. I’m with her, by the way; I worked in a few independent bookshops, back when we still had them in every town in the UK. The loss of the NBA really did change publishing immensely, and not for the better. In similar vein, the Guardian Books Blog highlighted concerns about the dismantling of the Public Lending Right, a tiny but useful quango which ensures that libraries pay authors when their books are read.

Eh, if I’m going to be old and curmudgeonly tonight I might as well link to Charlie Stross’ piece about cars too. We’re almost ready to ditch ours because we finally live in an area where the public transport’s good enough to manage without–for most journeys. There are still a few of our regular journeys that, like Charlie’s, are simply too awkward to contemplate without a car, and too short to justify hiring one. Still, I’m not sure his robo-cars are quite as good an answer as a better bus service..

I’ve somehow managed to get this far without even mentioning the other literary scandal on the intertubes this week. Not sure I want to, either; I’ll let The Kill Zone‘s John Gilstrap do it for me.

And finally–Write to Done are asking for nominations for the top ten writing blogs of 2010. Submissions by December 1st please!

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NaNoWriMo Diary: Week 4 – The present imperfect

They did warn us, all those nice writers who fill out the web, that signing up for NaNoWriMo could make for a stressful November.

I really didn’t expect to land up in the stroke assessment unit at the local hospital in the first week of NaNo, though. Not without some warning symptom in advance, like high blood pressure or obesity or throbbing arteries or, y’know, anything at all really. And definitely not before I’m out of my 40s.

Still, there it is. A few days of dodgy vision in an eye that’s always worked–I now know–better than most eyes ever do, turned out to be a mini-stroke (actually two mini-strokes in quick succession, judging by the much-more-frightening dead hand syndrome that I put down to anxiety.) Bleh.

So here’s me, this person who never takes pills, eats & drinks whatever & whenever she likes, only gets one cold per annum, goes hillwalking on a regular basis and hasn’t bothered a doctor in the last 25 years, and I’m suddenly forced into contemplating the evils of lard, salt, whisky and–you guessed it–cigarettes as I munch my way through enough aspirin to make any willow weep. I have to say, this is definitely not the month I’d have chosen for giving up smoking! I’d planned on doing it before next Spring, though, so it’s not a major adjustment in the way it would’ve been, say, at any other time in the last couple of decades. Just a bit inconvenient for the little things we normally take for granted, like thinking.

I’m still writing my NaNoWriMo novel, albeit not as fast as I should be writing it. I had to take a couple of days out for sanity’s sake when the hospital got their hands on me, but I’ve no excuses now. The one good side-effect of all that aspirin is that all those middle-aged aches and pains we all learn to live with as we get older are completely gone from my life. Also, I can see out of both eyes this week, which is a definite plus!

The local Municipal Liaisons have been great, pouring useful info into my inbox like the nearest “meets” every week (unfortunately these are always timed to clash with my only evening class!) and pep talks that say things like “I only had 2000 words by November 7th last year but I still made it past the winning post, and so can you!” That particular email was a real boost for me, I have to say; I really thought I’d already blown it until then.

I can see myself giving up on the novel I started to write, though, because obviously I’m obsessing about other things right now and they keep bubbling up into the story. Thankfully, the remit I gave myself at the start wasn’t necessarily to come up with a novel (certainly not a saleable novel); it was simply to get into the habit of writing 2000 words a day, give or take. This being something that used to come easily to me a decade ago, but which no longer does. If I only start meeting that target by the final week I’ll be more than happy because I’ll have achieved what I set out to achieve, but in the meantime–of course it would be nice to be a NaNo winner. And at this stage of the game, that’s still possible.

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