Thursday, December 23, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
So I was already ambivalent about the retreat when I broached the topic with my wife. Mary was very supportive of the idea of my going away to write, but pointed out that at the price, she could put me on a deluxe cruise far cheaper.
And then it occurred us, well, why not? Mary went into travel agent mode (her chief hobby activity), went online, and immediately found me a 7-day cruise to Alaska for $700. It was perfect!
Now to get an Alaskan cruise for $700 dollars, you have to know how to find the best deals, book early, and take whatever cabin they assign you. So the joke was that Mary had booked me in the worst cabin on the ship. Not only was it an inside cabin (i.e., no window), but the reviews (thanks to the Internet, you can actually find reviews of your specific cabin, believe it or not) had complained about the engine noise and constant vibration. But here's the thing: The novel I happened to be writing was about a group stuck on a starship for a year, and one of the elements I happened to struggling with was getting the atmosphere of shipboard life. So a cabin next to the engine room was exactly what I needed, the various clanks and thumps working their way into the novel for my hero to experience exactly as I was.
The Alaskan cruise gave me the same or slightly more majestic scenery (e.g., the Mendenhall glacier) as the Banff Center, and an equally quiet place to write, but at one-fifth the price and with the advantage of way better food.
I'd write in my cabin for most of the day (or night -- with no window, there was no light to disturb me, so I wrote when inspired, slept when I wasn't) come out for meals (or sent down for room service if it happened to be late) and for exercise. Blocked on some scene, I would walk the promenade deck, or hike through town or forest if we happened to be docked. It was fabulous.
That first trip, Mary also arranged for a 'behind the scenes' tour of the ship -- bridge, kitchens, environmental and so on -- which was just what I needed to flesh out the background details for my starship. As it happened, I was the only one who signed up for the tour that trip, so I was able to ask questions nonstop about the navigation systems, officer training, and so on, all of which triggered analogous details in the novel.
On the whole, the experience was a great success.
So, Mary has booked me into a couple of writing cruises since. It's been great, and I'm just now approaching the total of what that one Banff workshop would have cost.
Mary tried to book me onto a couple of more interesting cruises, notably the 21 day Panama Canal cruise before they widen the canal, but I had to turn those down as too potentially interesting. To work, I need a cruise that won't be too distracting. (The Alaskan cruise is great, but I'd already done it twice previously with family, so didn't feel I was missing anything by not doing the excursions or watching every passing conifer or going to the shipboard entertainments.) I am also not allowed to take the repositioning cruise from LA to Hawaii, as my kids have made it clear they will plot to kill me if I ever try to go to Hawaii without them.
I have therefore been contemplating organizing writing retreats around specific writing projects, and inviting 10 or 12 or more other writers to join me. The advantage for the writers, in addition to the obvious opportunity to go on retreat, is that they could get a tax deductible cruise out of the deal. I am not much interested in having other writers critique my work, or vise versa (see Stephen King quote on workshops here) but I do like the idea of being on a ship with a table load of writers who could intelligently discuss the writing life, etc. at lunch and supper. The two barriers to this project are that most of the writers I see as potential participants are either too broke to participate, or have day-job schedules that conflict with the timing of the cruises. (Not going during high season, is of course, the first principle of achieving affordable cruise-retreats.)
In contrast, many beginning writers / grad student argue back and try to explain why I don't understand their 'vision', that their mom and fiancee thought it was really good the way it was, and that making the revisions I'm suggesting would take, you know, a lot of work. For example, guy a while back wanted to self-publish a collection of short stories, and when I pointed out flaws in about half the stories, he explained that I had obviously missed the point of the story. Okay, in one case that was even true -- but if I miss the point, is that because I'm dense, or because he hadn't written the story clearly enough to get the point across? (I am, of course, inclined to the latter interpretation.) He also pointed out that all the stories in the collection had been previously published, so obviously those editors had loved those stories. Okay, well and good, and its true that all the stories showed talent and promise. But getting published in ezines and small press lit mags is not the same as getting paid for your stories, so if you actually want to sell books (to someone other than your Mom and fiancee) you have to up your game. The only people reading ezines are other aspiring authors; if you want to reach actual readers, have to move up to the next level. Stories good enough for non-paying markets may not be good enough for paying markets; for every hundred writers getting published in Ezine Monthly, there is only one making a sale to a pro market. Helping authors move from 'good enough to get published" to "good enough to get paid' is what development editors do.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
I note particularly Giggs' failed attempt at apology: "I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently [sic] it wasnt enough for her,” she wrote, before saying “You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…" which observers correctly pointed out was a fine example of "blaming the victim" and "compounded the situation and merely confirmed Judith’s misunderstanding of the anger directed at her." As I stated in my previous post, Giggs likely sees herself as the hapless victim here of people who just don't understand...rather than being chagrined for being caught out as an idiot and thief...
See also Kathy E Gill detailed timeline on the disaster. Fascinating stuff!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
But I not sure this is the end of her.... this sort of fraudster tends to crop
up again with another project/website a few months later. They are too
stupid*, too arrogant*, too self-absorbed to really get why other people are
complaining. I'm sure she sees herself as the hapless victim of a mean
spirited, unprofessional writer who stirred up an angry mob against her for
no reason; that all these emails (I doubt she is looking at the Facebook commentary and comments, Twitter etc) are just from people who "don't get it", outsiders
who don't understand the publishing business. It will be business as usual
at her next stop, because the business to her is selling advertizing and
finding suitable content on the web -- I'm sure she saw herself as providing
a valuable service for her readers by gathering content from all over and
presenting it conveniently in one spot. Writers should be flattered that she
chose to reprint their stuff. The idea that a writer should be paid for
content is self-evidently stupid to her. If you didn't want her to print
your stuff, why post it on the web where she could get it so easily?
Most of my students/colleagues get that stealing writing from the web is
wrong, because that represents someone else's work. But almost all of them
routinely download art without a second thought. Because, well, how else
would they illustrate their powerpoints or whatever? Because they themselves
can write, they recognize that writing is work and valuable. But when it
comes to art, since they can't do it, they think it is okay to take if off
Google images, because, you know, it's on the web. So while many of us are
incredulous over the attitudes of this editor, I don't have to look very far
to find other examples of such ignorance, arrogance, and thievery....
See some of the coverage at: http://howpublishingreallyworks.com/?p=3450
Original post that started it all.
(*I don't use the words 'stupid' and 'arrogant' here without some basis: see the editor's original email comments to the initial complainant. Outstanding example of ignorance and arrogance....)
Sunday, October 31, 2010
that never were. Tell us where we'd be today if the ether had turned out to
exist after all, or if light really was made up of corpuscles emitted by the
eyes. You don't have to be scientifically accurate, but the more convincing
your story, the more likely it is to win!
Your story should be no more than 350 words long, including the title - do
watch your word count, we hate having to disqualify good competition entries
because they're just a bit too long - and should not have previously been
published anywhere else. Only one entry per person, please.
Details at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19561-flash-fiction-competition-2010-forgotten-futures.html
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
The website was spectacularly slow when I accessed it Friday night, but maybe they had huge volume as the issue launched, eh?
Submission guidelines say they pay 6 cents for fiction, $20-30 for short non-fiction. Canadians citizens or residents only at this time. Have a look!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Dress in a steampunk costume (optional) and enjoy an enchanting evening of:
Madcap Music and Magic:
With slide guitar virtuoso Ellen McIlwaine.
Parlor prestidigitations by Richard (the magician) Rondeau.
Experience the amazing balloon sculptures of Big D. Wilson.
Tomes and Trivia:
The pseudo-Victorian parlor game that doles out trinkets, trophies, and tea.
Ripped from the Pages:
Listen to a smattering of our new books - read by the actors of Gas & Light Productions.
Attend a command performance of poet Christian Bök.
Enjoy the story telling tales of Lana Skauge and Tom Doyle.
Munching and Crunching:
Finger food for everyone.
Enjoy the latest in steampunk libations from the mad scientists in the EDGE lab.
Be certain to try our special EDGE elixir!
Secret judges will declare (at evening's end) the Lord and Lady of the Steampunk Social.
Fun for all:
Get photographed in your costume - steampunk accessories provided!
This celebration takes place in Calgary's historical Aeronautical Space Museum (4629 McCall Way NE, Calgary) on November 20th. Doors open at 6:30 pm with wandering entertainment, and light refreshments. Performance parlor shows begin at 7:30 pm.
Please RSVP by emailing email@example.com, or by calling EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing at 403-254-0160.
For further information please contact:
Marketing and Events
EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing
Monday, October 25, 2010
While helping a friend clear out her parents' effects, recently, I
stumbled on a tatty old pre-war tome called "The Monster Book for
Girls". It was adorned with pictures of jolly school lasses wielding
hockey sticks and was full of “thrilling adventure stories for girls”.
I loved the title so much I’ve stolen it for a new Exaggerated Press
First it is not a book for teenagers or children.
What I’m looking for are stories inspired by the title, whatever
(within the realms of decency, the title does, I’m afraid lend itself
to a bit of nudge-nudge, wink-wink- sordidness) springs to mind and
kick-starts the creative engine.
It doesn’t even have to be of the horror/fantastical genre. What is a
monster anyway? Slipstream, thriller, romance, a mixture of genres
would be interesting, whatever floats your (and my, of course) boat
Be warned; I don’t want (or like) teenage vampires, vampire angst or
zombies or any other over-their-sell-by-date beasts. High-ish fantasy
might be okay as long as it is original and features no grumpy dwarves
or ethereal elves. Please don’t hurt children or gratuitously torture
women (or men come to that).
Length: 5000 words max, but I will negotiate if absolutely necessary.
Submission deadline: 27th February 2011.
Submit as an RTF attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Time: 7pm to 1am
Location: The Augusta House, 152 Augusta Avenue, at Dundas West (between Bathurst & Spadina), 2nd Floor
First 50 people there get a free drink ticket. (Note: cash bar otherwise, no debit or credit cards, though there is an ATM on site.)
Books they are launching:
Nexus: Ascension by Robert Boyczuk
People Live Still in Cashtown Corners by Tony Burgess
Sarah Court by Craig Davidson
In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay (illustrations by Mara Sternberg)
The Hair Wreath & Other Stories by Halli Villegas (HC frontispiece by Daniele Serra)
Major Karnage by Gord Zajac (HC illustrations by Maxwell Atoms)
Readings from most of the authors, and a raffle to win a Kindle loaded with CZP ebooks.
Monday, October 18, 2010
My favorite webdesign so far is Peter Atwood (Ottawa) whose logo is a photo of a piece of movable type, an uppercase letter 'A'.
Very simple, very classy, professional look. Color and font scheme makes one think of large cherry wood desk, with leather desk accessories. Very impressive.
Favorite business name so far is "PenUltimate Editorial Services" a very serviceable pun. Her website is fairly standard design, especially for women authors & editors, featuring prominent photo of the editor, and slightly more emphasize on the personal and relationship side of editing. Tag line is, "the last word is yours".
Favorite slogan so far is "We love words even more than you do." from Be Creative Communications. Nice clean web design (I might steal two-tone button effect), simple typeface logo, but it's the slogan 'pinned' to the page by a pushpin that sells the page.
Runner up for best name is "Cranky Editor", whose logo is a crabby looking laptop correcting the logo by scratching out the 'e' in "Crankey Editor". Hilarious!
Monday, October 4, 2010
Krista Ball is an Edmonton speculative fiction author. Her short stories have been published widely in anthologies, magazines, and fan favourite collections; and she is one of the pioneers of the digital generation's movement into e-publishing and self-publishing. She is also a regular contributor to Merge Magazine (Edmonton). Her most recent (October 1) release is the paranormal historical fantasy Harvest Moon from MuseItUp Publishing. This interview is part of her virtual book tour to promote the launch of Harvest Moon.
Krista will be making in-person appearances at Con-Version (Calgary) and Pure Spec (Edmonton) this month and will also have a vendor’s table at Pure Spec, where we are told there will be copious amounts of free chocolate.
Robert: Your latest work, Harvest Moon, is based on elements from aboriginal culture. Why aboriginal culture?
Krista: I worked at a homeless agency in Edmonton’s inner city for three years. I wrote Harvest Moon while there, in fact. Edmonton’s homeless has a large aboriginal population and, thus, you end up being exposed to their cultures, traditions, and even language just as part of your day-to-day living.
Robert: Do you ever worry about charges/issues of cultural appropriation?
Krista: Any charge against culture appropriation would be valid and invalid at the same time. I am white (nearly translucent white, in fact). However, several members of my extended family are Métis. I feel that I am writing a family story as much as a historical fantasy. On top of that, I think it’s important to be able to write about different kinds of peoples, cultures, and traditions. It would be no different if I wrote about the ancient Greeks, or Jews during WW2.
Robert: Some of your work has some pretty violent imagery in it. How have audiences reacted to that?
Krista: Right now, I have a fantasy novel for consideration at a publisher and another science fiction novel nearing completion. Both are quite dark and violent. My beta readers (and, even slush readers) have commented how they felt the violence always fell on the edge but never went into the “gore porn” that some pieces fall into.
But here’s the interesting thing. Out of my published and unpublished works, I have had far more stink kicked up over sexual orientation, sex, and alcohol use. In “Space Sucks” (a short story in Bardic Tales and Sage Advice II), I had several people tell me that they didn’t like that a woman was an alcoholic in the story — “women don’t drink like that.” Others have commented on Bearclaw in “Harvest Moon” being bisexual, saying that bisexual people didn’t exist before the modern era (clearly, they’ve never read ancient Greek poetry).
Robert: You're kidding me! People actually said that? Because a lot of plains cultures had quite specific, culturally acceptable roles for gays, so bisexual is hardly a stretch. Indeed, there's a lot of cultural anthropology to suggest that bisexuality was only problematic to a minority of Western cultures. So it's hard to think anyone would object to that in a story about pre-contact native cultures.
Krista: The total amount of bisexuality talk in "Harvest Moon" consists of probably 30 /11000 words total. Two of my reviews have already put a “bisexual references” warning. Then, I get an email who said that he was very bothered by the fact that one of the character was not straight. He also said it was a really good story, other than the “gay thing.”
It’s odd that brutal, graphic violence decapitation of toddlers and having them nailed to a doorpost is fine; but anything outside of rigid gender roles and expectations are not. It’s weird.
However, nothing has made me as happy as the first piece of hate mail arrived last week. I still show it off proudly and think I might frame it. It was like being in high school again, only with better fashion sense.
Robert: What do you hope readers will take away with them from reading your work?
Krista: I really just want people to forget their lives for a few hours and sink into the worlds that I’ve created. For the light-hearted stories (i.e. "Flying Kite, Crashing Ship"), I want to make people laugh. For the more serious works, I want people to feel that they could live another person’s life for a few hours. I don’t want anything more complicated than that, really.
Robert: What do consider the best piece you've ever written?
Krista: This changes all of the time. I generally like a piece when it first gets submitted and, after several rounds of content or line edits, I want to rip the work to shreds and never read it again!
Robert: Anything you now regret?
Krista: I sometimes say that I wish I hadn’t stopped writing when I left high school. Between 18 and 30, I barely wrote. At the same time, I wasn’t in a place to be producing the kind of work that I do now, dealing with the business end of things, and the other parts of being a full-time writer that people don’t realize. I honestly thought after I’d publish a couple magazine articles and a book, I’d be living like Danielle Steele and wearing mink coats (eww! What was I even thinking?). There was no way I could have handled the business side.
Now, I have enough corporate conditioning behind me that my writing is a career, a job, whatever you want to call it. I get a rejection and the story is back out the door somewhere else in under 3 minutes. I couldn’t have done that when I was younger. So, perhaps, it’s just as well I stopped when I did.
Robert: Do you read a lot of SF, or do you read a range of genres? If I were to ask you what you read in an average month, what would I find on your bookshelf?
Krista: I read or have read pretty much everything. In September, I read a romance novel, a light horror short, a m/m erotica novella, a m/m/f erotica novel, a mystery short, and four books of a fantasy series. And a Star Trek novel because I read one of those a month.
Robert: Star Trek? What do you think makes that series such an enduring read?"
Krista: My favourite is Deep Space Nine, where it combines the alien worlds and customs with everyday people. Even the aliens had crappy days sometimes. I like that a lot. It combined the wonder of space with the mundane everyday.
Robert: I remember that I discovered John M. Ford from his two ST novels. Who are your favorite ST authors?
Krista: I found David Mack from his ST novels. He writes other tie-ins and also has his own work out. I love his writing and would never have found him otherwise.
Robert: Any genre you don’t like/read?
Krista: I can’t read most horror. I’ve tried, but I either end up with nightmares or rather nauseous. I generally read more short stories than novels these days. I like the shorter time commitment with them. Also, with an e-Reader, I can purchase all different lengths of works and enjoy as I see fit.
Robert: Who are the big influences on your writing? Who are the SF writers who’ve had the greatest impact on you / your writing?
Krista: Here is a confession – I hated speculative fiction for most of my life. I loved science fiction on TV but I hated most of the books that I picked up. The only ones I liked as a teenager were Star Trek novels and a military assassin series (I can’t remember the name of them). I wanted so bad to read about girls like me slaying dragons and invading planets, but I couldn’t find those stories. They always had boring girls (if they even had girls) and it was the guys that did everything. I hated it. So, I gave up on the genre.
Skip a decade and I began to find so many new authors that I love, who write the works that I wanted to read as a kid. Jim Butcher, Diana Pharaoh Franics, Elizabeth Moon...Then, the world of ebooks opened up an entire new world for me, where I could find all lengths of books on all kinds of things that I’d never find in a store.
In the end, I began writing what I have because I didn’t like what was out there for most of my life. I write the works that me at sixteen was desperate to read.
Robert:As a Canadian, do you see your writing as particularly Canadian, or is your fiction more accurately described by genre labels?
Krista: Oh, I could go on and on about this one. I am genre-based, but I make it a point to be as Canadian as possible (and as Newfie as possible without needing to provide a dictionary and footnotes). I’m sick of stories set in New York City or LA. I’m sick of governments and laws all being based on US systems. Canadians do things differently and I want to include that different point of view.
For example, I created a First Nations tribe in Northern Alberta for Harvest Moon. Some of my beta readers are American and were really confused by the “six month winter.” They had just assumed the story was based in the US. I went back and edited a scene early on where Dancing Cat actually pinpoints where the story is taking place, without actually saying it (since “Alberta” doesn’t exist yet in the book).
Robert: Have you noticed a difference generally in the reception your stories receive from readers/reviewers/editors from outside Canada?
Krista: Most of my beta readers are American. It can be really annoying when basic things like weather, culture, socialized medicine all need to be presented in an American manner or else you are told it’s “wrong.” I’ve even had my spelling corrected by beta readers; one told me that I needed to learn to spell “colour” before I could ever hope to become published.
I’ve been lucky in that most of my editors have been Canadian or British. However, even Americans have told me that my stories have challenged them to not assume the stories are American-based. I take it as a compliment, as I never want people to assume anything when they start reading my work.
Robert: I'm always interested in a writer's process. Some writers write by just sitting down at the keyboard and letting things develop as they may; at the other end of the continuum are those that don't set pen to paper until they have a completed outline, a white board filled with timelines and thematic analysis, and a stack of index cards detailing each character, his/her growth, and their interaction with every other character.
Krista: I have used all forms of outlining, including no outline! I generally write out a paragraph about what the story is about and go from there. Usually, I stop halfway through, re-evaluate and either start over with a basic point-form outline or finish to the end because the logic is working already.
Robert: You mention rewriting one chapter nine times. How can you tell the difference between necessary revision to get the story right, and obsessive polishing to stall from tackling a piece of a project you've been avoiding?
Krista: If I’m at the stage where all I’m doing is line edits, I stop. For me, if I’m still adjusting plot, character development, setting and texture, then the story isn’t done. If I’m merely fiddling with words, the thing is done.
Robert: Is writer's block ever a problem for you?
Krista: The cure for writer’s block is to write freelance. You learn pretty quickly that either you write or you starve.
Seriously, though, sitting my butt in the chair and writing even when I feel “blocked” is the key. Because, really, I’m not blocked. I just want to be doing something else. I don’t want to write the difficult scene, I don’t want to write myself out of the hole I’ve dug, I don’t want, I don’t want, I don’t want. That isn’t a good enough excuse for me. I write for a local magazine who give me monthly assignments. I might not always feel like working on an article but flaking out isn’t an option. I have to do my work.
I see my fiction the same way. I have a responsibility to treat it with the same professionalism.
Robert: You've described novels as long term relationships, and short stories as affairs. It's a fun analogy, but do you prefer one format over the other? Does one come more easily than the other? Is writing a novel the same as art as writing a short story, or is there a difference besides simply one of scale?
Krista: Without short stories, I would go insane. Without novels, I would get bored. For me, the short stories give me a chance to write on a small scale. Basic character compliment, tight setting, one plot, one conflict. It really gives my brain a break. I can be naughty and silly in short stories. My novels right now tend towards the dark. The stories give my emotions and brain a release of tension. They are a different skill set, though. Novels require a well-developed plot that can withstand several bouts of conflict, characters in and out, etc. Short stories are smaller, taking only a snapshot in time.
Robert: So why do you post stories for free? Is it a marketing thing for your more major works?
Krista: A lot of my published work is non-fiction articles (i.e. I am a regular contributor to Merge Magazine in Edmonton), so people who don’t read the local Edmonton works don’t really have a sense for my writing style. Also, non-fiction and fiction read rather differently. The free stories offer people a chance to see if they’d like my style without having to pay.
Robert: You have pretty decent blog/website. Did you design it yourself?
Krista: Thanks! I’m sleeping with the webmaster ;) We used a basic template and then my partner customized it for me.
Robert:How important do you think it is for an author to maintain a presence on the web?
Krista: I believe that authors need a web presence, depending on what works best for them. If you are really new, it isn’t that important. I think blogs are a good idea for new writers simply because it gives them practice on how to blog and figure out what kind of blog they want. I went through a couple of blogs before I settled on my current one. It was better to do that early, as opposed to now.
But, if an author hates blogging, I recommend just setting up a website and posting news every couple of months so that there is updated content whenever it’s available.
I also freelance on top of fiction, so I do try to keep an active blog and website. It does help keep readers up to date – and they get to hear me rant on a regular basis.
Robert: Do you think blogs and virtual tours and so on are effective? Or are they losing their novelty?
Krista: I am rather concerned about the growing trend for unpublished authors to have extensive blog tours, guest visits, “my book is debuting in 2011” (meaning they will be hopefully done writing it, not that it’s been published), etc. I think they should be focusing on writing.
Robert: How does keeping your blog relate to your writing? Does it relate, or do you see these as completely separate activities? Is it strictly a promotional tool, or is it part and parcel of your writing? Do you ever use blog postings as a kind of ‘warm up’ activity before starting in on the day’s fiction writing? As a ‘cool down’ exercise? As a coffee break when ‘blocked’?
Blogging is just another part of my writing days. I usually blog first thing in the morning or really late at night. There’s no reasoning for that, other than that’s usually when it comes to mind. As for the why I do it, it’s mostly as a means to keep me connected to people who enjoy my work or writers just starting out who want to follow someone who is also just starting out.
Robert: Some authors have told me that they use their blogs to vent, so that they keep whatever this week’s hobbyhorse happens to be out of their novel — that without the blog, they find their characters suddenly holding forth about the importance of table manners or the War in Iraq or whatever, whether or not it actually fits the book. Have you consciously used your blog this way?
Krista: That wouldn’t work for me. If something needs to be vented about, I am quite happy to either include it in a current work or slot it for another work down the road. Short stories are often my way to vent about the world.
Robert:I notice on your website you have progress counters to track how many words you've written on your next novel, or whatever. And I was struck by the fact that you've formatted that as X number of words out of 90,000. But how can you know how long a story/novel will be before you write it? How can you possibly know it will take exactly 90,000 words?
Krista: Doing freelance writing work really forced me to learn how to write for a specific word count. Add into that mix my history degree, where I had to write mountains of research papers, all with specific page counts. I discovered that fiction could be approached the same way. When I figured that out, my “waste” writing (i.e. the 3 chapter tangents that do nothing to progress a novel) vanished. Now, I only write paragraph-length tangents!
Generally, I can estimate within 10% of the final word count. I decide the type of project first, be it novel, flash fiction, short story, whatever. Then, I take one of my idea that will fit that word length. I make a couple of notes of how many scenes I think I need, what the risk will be for the story, and I start writing. My first draft will be significantly shorter than the final count. When I go back and edit, I add the texture of the world, clean up the plot, clarify things, and flush out the scene transitions. And lo and behold, I’m close to my target writing count.
It isn’t a huge deal if it goes off, though I rarely do. It’s mostly a tool I use to focus my writing so that every scene is focused on addressing the risk of the story. Keeping that in my mind and being mindful of the target length of my pieces really help focus my writing.
Robert: Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview!
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
(The actual interview is on page 2, after the historical intro, so be sure to hit the 'next page' button at the bottom of the page.)
First, the outline (which would have come after a long period of thinking of the story before committing an outline to paper) is dated March 17, 1975. So that means I have had this novel in my head for well over 35 years. The original outline is very close to the current version; as close as I would likely stick to any outline in the actual writing stage. (My characters are the sort who insist on saying what they want, even when it means going off script.) So that's pretty amazing to me considering I haven't seen this outline since filing it in this filing cabinet when I first moved to Lethbridge, 20 years ago. I've added the character of a young boy sometime in the 1990s (because Sean Stewart told me it is next to impossible to write good action SF with kids in it; so, you know, wanted a bit of a challenge) and I added a dog during the actual writing (because I got a dog during the actual writing, and because, you know, the boy needed a dog). So considering it's all just been scenes evolving in my head all those years, bit surprised to see how close I am to original idea.
Second, the two pages of opening scene (all that existed aside from the outline) are hand printed on strips of lined paper stapled to an 8.5 X 11 sheet. That is, I had written a bit, then changed my mind, cut the sentences I wanted to save out of the page, and stapled them to a new sheet, to continue writing; then cut bottom off that page, and stabled surviving paragraph to a new sheet; and repeated this several times until filling the page. Which is how one did word processing, circa 1975.
Third, the initial outline is on a 5X3 index card hand printed in such tiny letters I cannot read it without a magnifying glass. I recall that I used to keep all my notes that way. Unbelievable -- and unreadable -- to me now. I hereby solemnly swear not to take typing for granted again. Long live the keyboard! (If I thought typing 90,000 word manuscript was hard, I cannot imagine what it would have been like writing a novel by hand.
Fourth -- and this really hurts -- are lines like this piece of dialog: "Frayer is well into his fifties, but don't let that throw you, he's a damn good officer." Questions of literary merit aside, it's a little annoying to have one's younger self send such a clear message to me now, saying I am of such an advanced age to be officially over the hill and my competence suspect. *Sigh*
Fifth, re-reading this outline, it appears that I didn't have any ideas back then either for what comes next. I have about three scenes left to cover on the original outline, and then I'm on my own.... 36 years and I still don't know how the stupid book is supposed to end.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
I'm disappointed I had to change the programing of the menu buttons because they don't look or work as well this way, but one cannot have a site that is incompatible with explorer, whatever the cost. So that's done.
I also fixed a lot of other little errors I noticed while I was at it, and then spent the last couple of days bringing http://www.sfeditor.ca/reviews/ up to date. I know the review site probably won't attract a lot of visitors, but then it wasn't a lot of work to put together, and may generate some traffic for Sfeditor.ca, NeoOpsis, and the various authors/publishers mentioned. At the very least, gives the reviews a second life as I doubt many copies of the print version will find their way to new readers, whereas anything on line can be found by relevant audience.
With the sfeditor.ca site, I just have a few articles on the thesis page and a 'tips for writers' section to finish, and then that site will be ready to launch. This may take a couple of months though, as Monday is back to teaching and research full time and back to editing part-time, so I'll just have the odd hour here and there to work on the site. No hurry as I already have as much editing on my desk as I can reasonably handle.
Priority for Sept is a paper I am presenting in Toronto in October on the history of schooling in Alberta over last 75 years. I'm hoping that this paper will be the culmination of about 25 years of research for me, so hopefully following feedback and revision from the conference, I can send it off for publication in an 'A' journal. Then that's that for that particular line of research.
Approached by an author/academic to work on particularly interesting line of research...Opens up a new line of research for me, but one much more relevant to SFeditor.ca and future direction I wanted to move, so pretty exciting. So that's lined up for October.
And am doing NaNoWriMo in November; wife is already booking a retreat for November for me. She is a genius at finding fantastic retreats for a fraction of the price of what most people consider when they think of writing retreats — real outside the box thinking.
And sometime this week, have to pitch another major project, tentatively slotted in for May 2011, to my publisher.
Monday, August 23, 2010
So back to the drawing board. Wish I'd found the problem before building 31 different pages all using the same nonfunctional structures -- looks like I'll have to recode something on the order of 300 links before they will work for Explorer PC.
I still code everything by hand. It makes for tiny files that load instantly, and they are (usually) compatible with everything because I keep things basic. Given the purpose of the site, SFeditor.ca doesn't require flash or java or anything very sophisticated, just plain old text. And they are similarly easy to maintain and update. And if something goes wrong, it is usually easy for me to figure out because I know what all the code I wrote does. Using something like Dreamweaver never really worked that well for me because when the program did something unexpected, one can never really figure out what the hell the software thinks it's doing.
I have noticed a trend to try to make many of the commands I use obsolete and to make web building more complex so that the professionals can exclude the kid in their parent's basement from competing. A classic example of Ivan Illich's deskilling hypothesis. But most of what I've written over the years is still up and still viewable even in the latest browsers, so I'm still good. [My site on test design still gets 600-900 hits a month a good decade after I last touched it; my curriculum site on the Acadians still gets about 2,500 grade 2 students (or about 100 Grade 2 classrooms) a year using it, so I'm pretty pleased with that.]
Anyway, back to re-coding.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Did enjoy editing the last three manuscripts, though, all of which were by professional, full-time authors. It is a pleasure dealing with professionals because when you say "this has to go" (and explain why) they say, "okay, right, how about this instead?"
In contrast, many beginning writers / grad student argue back and try to explain why I don't understand their 'vision', that their mom and fiancee thought it was really good the way it was, and that making the revisions I'm suggesting would take, you know, a lot of work. For example, guy a while back wanted to self-publish a collection of short stories, and when I pointed out flaws in about half the stories, he explained that I had obviously missed the point of the story. Okay, in one case that was even true -- but if I miss the point, is that because I'm dense, or because he hadn't written the story clearly enough to get the point across? (I am inclined to the latter interpretation.) He also pointed out that all the stories in the collection had been previously published, so obviously those editors had loved those stories. Okay, well and good, and its true that all the stories showed talent and promise. But getting published in ezines and small press lit mags is not the same as getting paid for your stories, so if you actually want to sell books (to someone other than your Mom and fiancee) you have to up your game. The only people reading ezines are other aspiring authors; if you want to reach actual readers, have to move up to the next level. Stories good enough for non-paying markets may not be good enough for paying markets; for every hundred writers getting published in Ezine Monthly, there is only one making a sale to a pro market. Helping authors move from 'good enough to get published' to 'good enough to get paid' is what development editors do. But, you know, only if they take the advice.
So it was refreshing to work with a couple of professional writers for a change. In one case, I shredded the manuscript, not pulling too many punches, and the author's response was an enthusiastic 'Great! Finally getting some input I can use!' Brain stormed some alternative approaches back and forth via email for awhile, and she has now come up with a very workable structure that promises to be best thing she has done yet. Really looking forward to next draft.
Of course, I say all this from the perspective of an editor/prof. When it comes to my own novel, I fully expect to defend each scene, line and comma to the death. Well, that's human nature, isn't it? I have already identified the two editors and two writers I'll be sending the manuscript to for scrutiny as soon as I'm finished, and while my brain is fully aware that at all four are going to shred it and demand I do better, in my heart, I am secretly hoping they will tell me how brilliant I am and tell me the book is perfect as it is.
As if. In the real world, that never happens. If an acquisition editor doesn't ask for any changes, its because the manuscript has already been vetted by one or more competent editors (usually other writers).
I do have one published author who has routinely sent me manuscripts with which I can find no fault (I was able in one book to identify a confusion between the SS and Gestapo, but that's so minor a correction as to hardly count) but his wife is one of the finest editors around, so it's not like I'm ever seeing a first draft from him. I've only ever met two authors who were strictly first draft writers (one an SF author, the other an academic) and all I can say is that the rest of us are consumed with jealousy.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Turn off the phone functions on your cell (often called 'airplane mode') but set the alarm clock function to ring in 15 minutes with a phone-style ring. If people are around but not coming over to your tale, answer the alarm clock ring and say "Yes, this is John Smith. Yes, the signing is on now at [give address]. Well, it is quiet right now, but I'm told to expect a crowd at [insert time about 45 minutes from now] once church gets out [or "school gets out", or "the cinema gets out",or insert other credible explanation]. Well, that's nice of you to say. Yes, I can put a copy aside for you, but I have already reserved quite a few copies (place hand on largest stack of books) so I could only hold it until, say [insert time 2 hrs from now]. Life changing? Why thank you! That's quite a compliment! I actually like this book even better than that one, but it is always nice to hear from people who enjoyed my previous work. Thank you! I look forward to seeing you. Be sure to introduce yourself. Goodbye.
Evil shilling idea #2.
Find a couple of friends with an impressively bulky video camera and tripod (or rent one), and have them show up about an hour into the signing. Have them 'introduce themselves' to you, then start 'setting up the camera'. This should take a while as the camera guy looks for the best angle and so on -- but every time a customer comes within range, the camera guy or the interviewer should wave them towards the author saying loudly, "It's okay, we'll be a while yet setting up, you go right ahead sir/madam!" As first couple of people are helplessly herded towards author, others will see a line up and a camera crew, and Bob's your uncle! If no one is coming in range at some point, camera crew 'rolls tape' and 'interviewer' interviews author about why he is coming to these small locations when obviously he is a much bigger draw, and author answers that he likes to mingle with his readers, etc. Interview refers vaguely to "given all the rave reviews you've received, how do you keep it all from going to your head" and similar traditional shilling. Once a crowd gathers to view interview, go into signing mode. Once that starts to dissipate, camera crew goes around to other customers asking if they can just get a shot or two of them with the author, thus funneling more people towards your table. Camera crew and interviewer eventually exit with much loud "it's been a total honour to meet you, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your last book" etc. etc.
(Five River Chapmanry)
Revised and adapted by SFeditor.ca
- Dress appropriately: casual business. Studies prove people are attracted to a professional, good-looking person and will often rate a person’s performance or product higher based upon that appearance. Sounds unfair, but it is a fact.
- Show up for your signing about fifteen minutes early. Introduce yourself to the manager. At the very least introduce yourself to the handiest Customer Service Representative (CSR) and ask that they let the manager know you’re here.
- If necessary re-arrangethe table you’ve been assigned so that some books are upright, face out, so customers can see the covers, and try to stack as many as possible to create visual interest by varying heights. Marketing studies prove that customers prefer to purchase from areas that appear to be well-stocked, rather than ones that are sparsely arrayed. Stacking and elevating your books gives the appearance of abundance, and therefor success, and therefore something worthy of the customer’s time and money. Make sure not to place any stacks directly in front of you, however, as that creates a barrier between you and the customer and gives the impression of your unapproachable. You need to make yourself open and accessible.
- Bring several good quality pens. Pens have to be suitable to the task, so one that isn't going to smear or leave unsightly blobs of ink. Bring several in case one fails or goes missing.
- Bring your own signage in case the store doesn't have a sign for you. At a minimum the sign should say your name, and who you are:
John DoeBring tape to hang the sign from the table; or use cardstock to create a triangular stand for your sign on the table top.
Posting the hours of the signing is optional.
There may also be occasions when a larger sign could stimulate interest and conversation by providing a prompt. E.g., If signing a book about drugs: "Ask me how to talk to your kids about drugs". If selling a Romance novel, post "Ask me about how the modern Romance novel has changed". And so on. Make it easy for the customer to approach you by giving them the opening line, so they don't have to do any of the work or feel awkward.
During the Signing
- When doing your signing remember you are there for two purposes only:
- promote your name and your books
- sell books
- Engage customers as they approach. Try to establish eye-contact, smile disarmingly, ask them how they are, introduce yourself as the author du jour and give your name. Encourage dialogue. Just as the key to getting a date was starting a conversation and keeping it going, the likelihood of a sale is greatly increased if you can get the customer talking.
- Have a mental synopsis for your books prepared so that it will be easy to give a pithy, hard-to-ignore pitch to the customers once they finally do stop.
- Hand a copy of the book to customers during the conversation or encourage customers to pick it up. Studies prove that if a customer handles a product, they are far more likely to purchase than if they don’t handle the product.
- Always offer to sign the book a customer purchases. Ask to whom you should make it out, and enclose a bookmark featuring your website / other titles.
- If you have to leave your table for any reason (bathroom break) let a store clerk know where you are going. They will often cover for you while you’re gone.
- When your time is up leave the table, seek out the manager, or if they are not available a CSR, thank them for having you, for putting on the event (even if the event sucked), and mention that you look forward to working with them again. Make it clear you consider yourself part of their team. It will go a long way toward fostering a solid business relationship upon which future promotions can be built.
Things to Avoid
- Do not eat while doing your signing. It creates an unprofessional image and you need to maximize your public appearance to make that all-important sale. Having bottled water, tea, coffee, or jucie at hand, however, is acceptable.
- Do not read or visit with friends or use a mobile device while doing your signing. It gives the appearance you’re uninterested and simply putting in time. If you are not interested, and do not demonstrate enthusiasum and interest in the customers, why should they be interested in you and your books? You cannot expect a customer to wander over to your table and purchase your books simply because you’ve committed the act of writing. They don’t know who you are, and frankly couldn’t care less. You’re not Atwood or Clancy, King or Rushdie. There are no line-ups to indicate you are someone special and worthy of their time. There are no media or paparazzi present to indicate an event of newsworthy proportions. To them you’re nobody. For all they know you’re just a store clerk attempting to sell them something they don’t want. It’s up to you to win them over with charm, grace, and wit, get that book into their hands and at the cash desk.
- Don’t shop or wander. Glue yourself to that chair, engage the customer, sell the books. There’s nothing that will turn off a store manager more than an author who doesn’t do everything possible to sell the books the manager has purchased specifically for that event.
By following these guidelines you will realize not only increased sales numbers at your events, meaning more royalties, but engender the good will of managers. And that good will is all important, as it determines how likely they are to keep your books beyond the required 60 days after a signing. It determines how likely they are to face your books on the shelf. It determines how likely they are to encourage staff to read the books and recommend them. Very often it is the follow-on sales that count the most. And you, after all, would like to see a healthy royalty statement, wouldn’t you?
Over the past three years, I’ve developed and used these practices, and have completed 30 successful signings. Sales during my signings usually account for about 50 to 75% of the event stock being sold during the event, with less than 1% returns, and subsequent invitations from store managers to return for special events. Usually any remaining stock sells out within the next six months, and in about 30% of the cases have meant buyers have listed my books as regular inventory for that location. That results in restocking orders. And that results in better royalties.
Lorina Stephens 8/10/2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
One area I am having trouble finishing is the Testimonial page. I included a testimonial page because Paul Lima recommends it in his excellent book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelancing which I happened to be copy editing when I started this project. His logic was sound: generate business by having satisfied customers recommend you.
Unfortunately, I hadn't thought the implications completely through for my own situation. I'm sure that that is a great idea for freelance writers generally, but freelance development editors (and I'm guessing, ghost writers) have the problem that many of our clients do not wish anyone to know that they have availed themselves of our services. Most writers are okay with acknowledging copy editors, but less so with admitting they had to get help with writer's block, or logical flaws in plot, or weak character development, or etc. I have seen the acknowledgment page in books by beginning writers thank the in-house editor for assistance, but that is apparently an entirely different matter than acknowledging a freelance development editor. As one author I approached explained it to me, "Publishers are happy to hear you were able to take feedback from another publishers' editor, because they want you to take direction from theirs. But if I tell people I had to have help from you to get my manuscript accepted in the first place, they might think I can't write very well on my own." I don't see that distinction myself, of course; I think publishers are keen to know a writer is open to — and even seeks out — input, and certainly the consumer considering a self-published book would feel more confident to buy if they knew the book had at least gone through a competent editor. But I do get that some people do not want to advertize they ever needed help.
The other problem is, when I was the in-house editor years ago, I naturally handed all my records over to the publisher, so I can't even remember the names of any of the writers I helped from those early days. And now I'm doing some in-house editing again, I'm reluctant to ask for testimonials from any of the authors I have edited for Five Rivers, as that could be seen as a conflict of interest, given they are likely to be submitting to Five Rivers again in the future (and therefore might feel pressure to provide a testimonial.)
Similarly, I wanted some testimonials from former graduate students re thesis supervision, but it turns out to be really difficult to track down former graduate students. Once they graduate, they move away, particularly when you teach at the University of Lethbridge — not a lot of opportunities for graduates in a small city like Lethbridge. I did manage to track down a few and am awaiting their testimonials, but they are now of course busy professionals themselves, so it may take awhile.
So, not too many people left I can ask, but we'll see whether I can at least fill up the page. If I can't find enough people, that might in fact send the opposite message to the one intended!
Monday, July 19, 2010
I also started editing a new manuscript for Five Rivers this week, and am responding to a resubmission from a couple of months back. Which makes three manuscripts on the go for a period I had intended to have 0 so I could concentrate on teaching. I have another manuscript coming in August 1, and two more for review (as opposed to editing) came in yesterday. I'll try not to take anything else on for August, as I will need family time and vacation before university starts up again in Sept.
Friday, July 16, 2010
And, unfortunately, there have always been truly terrible books that have been published by 'editors' at vanity presses.
In the old days, vanity presses were slowed down by the fact that actually printing copies of books cost money, so it was fairly obvious when the publisher asked you, the author for the money, that you were dealing with a vanity press. (Legitimate publishers pay the author, not the other way around.) Lots of still people got sucked in, but most could be warned away by friends and family.
Now, with epublishing requiring very little money (or talent) upfront, many more individuals have set themselves up as epublishers. Some of these are legitimate publishers with high standards putting out excellent product; especially those who also do POD. Five Rivers Chapmanry would be a good example of an excellent print-on-demand publisher who also puts out e-editions.
Others, not so much:
I don't know about you, but the titles alone scare me.... take for example Patricia Backora's SciFi series with titles like "Beam Me Back to Bible Days", "Forbidden Love in Christ's Millennium", or "Tough Love in Christ's Millennium: Part I" Gosh, I wonder why titles like these could not find a legacy publisher?
This is not to suggest, I hasten to add, that I have something against Christian SF. There are plenty of great Christian SF authors (Donna Farley comes to mind), but these titles are not promising.
But publisher Chris Fayers does have standards! Here, quoted from Chris Fayers' twitter feed: "Now is a great time for the unpublished! We will publish your fiction! Just make sure it has commas and full stops and that sort of thing." In another tweet he says "I had a book in the other day which had no paragraphs, not even at the end of chapters. The author said she was not computer literate." Well, okay then! Sentences! Paragraphs! Where else in epublishing will you find that kind of demanding expectations?!!
Remember Fanthorpe readings? Where aspiring authors would sit around at writing workshops taking turns reading selections from Fanthorpe's (he wrote under a number of pen names) books aloud because they were so appallingly bad it gave everyone in the room encouragement, on the grounds if this clown could get published, anyone could.
(If you are not familiar with the Fanthorpe phenomenon: he had a contract to produce a book a week back in the early 1960s, the publishers' only requirements being that (a) the manuscript be typed and (b) that the manuscript be exactly 109 (or whatever, I forget the exact number) of pages long... Fanthorpe managed the first requirement because his mom operated a typing school: he would walk up and down the rows dictating his novel aloud to the students, and then put the manuscript together from the best typed pages. Not a lot of editing and revision going on there! He managed the exact page requirement by stretching out or cutting short the final scene based on feedback from the typing students over how close he was to the last page. In one memorable case, the hero takes three pages to turn the doorknob to open the door to reveal the final scene because Fanthorpe had three and a half pages to go. Memorable writing, I tell you!! I actually have a pretty fine collection of Fanthorpe because they are incomparable works! Thankfully.)
Patricia Backora and some of the other authors sold at ebooksforpleasure, are, I'm guessing, the new Fanthorpe.
I also love that these books appear to be sold only through "http://www.ebooksforpleasure.com/bookstore/sci-fi" because one of Chris' tweets says "Authors, don't get lost on Amazon, we are looking for new fiction" which suggests to me that these books aren't even sold on Amazon....
A correction from Donna McMahon (author of Dance of Knives and second childhood) :
OK, I just have to make a few corrections here. Lionel Fanthorpe wrote pulp novels for Badger Books (in England) in the 50's. He was in his early 20's at the time. They wanted 50,000 words, so he would write to 50,000. If there was still plot happening at 49,000, he'd come up with a deus ex machina and wrap everything up; if he was running short, he'd pad. "I say, Fred, this alien invasion problem reminds me of the Punic Wars...." And then the character would deliver three or four pages of description of the Punic Wars. He also made extensive and creative use of the thesaurus. He dictated his books and they were typed up by his mother and sisters. Nobody, including Fanthorpe, is sure how many books he wrote since they were all under pseudonyms, but the figure cited is that he was averaging a book every 12 days. The sheer, raging ridiculousness of them spawned a small but dedicated fandom.
Two of these fans are Paul and Debbie Cross, who run a bookstore in Portland, Oregon. They used to hold regular Fanthorpe readings at Orycon back in the 1980's. One night about 2 am, Debbie's phone rang. She answered it and somebody says "This is Lionel Fanthorpe calling." She said "Oh, yeah, sure," and hung up. But he phoned back, and it was indeed Mr. Fanthorpe, who'd done his time zone arithmetic incorrectly. He said he'd heard that the convention featured his books and he wanted to attend. And there ensued much trepidation--would he expect people to take his books seriously? (This being before the internet, there was really no information to be had on him.)
Well, the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe (he's an Anglican clergyman) turns out to be a charming, funny character with a great sense of humour. He's every bit as eccentric as you might imagine--he's into paranormal research, martial arts and UFOs and hosted a British TV show.
You can enjoy some of his Badger book covers here: http://krustelkram.blogspot.com/2009/11/lionel-fanthorpe-badger-book-cover.html
His style is rather well captured in this short excerpt:
"Everywhere was dark, dark darkness. Blackness. Black. Black blackness."
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Right to Left: Keynote Speaker, Dr. Stewart L. Tubbs, The Darrell H. Cooper Professor of Leadership and former Dean of the College of Business at Eastern Michigan University; Dr. Turan Senguder, Conference Chair and CEO The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge; and Robert Runté, Keynote speaker; the International Business & Economics Research Conference, Los Angeles, June 2-5, 2010.
I won't normally talk about my day job in this blog, but I got to be one of two keynote speakers at this conference, which was an interesting experience for me -- liked being in such elevated circles! At first glance, an education professor giving one of the keynots at a business conference may seem odd, but I was talking about the "assurance of learning" process, which is a hot button issue for business schools these days. I also presented a paper on my research on professional workers, which I co-wrote with my wife, who is a business prof. It was a very enjoyable conference, with some great discussion. Even the banquet was exceptionally good -- better banquet food than I usually get at Education conferences, though this conference was at the Beverly Hills Hilton, so you sort of had to expect great food and service.
Anyway, thought I'd show you what I look like on the job, for once.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I've been talking about this for awhile, so time to put money where mouth is. Publisher Lorina Stephens has been encouraging me for quite some time to start marketing my services, as we've discussed our vision of the future of publishing and the need for, and potential role of, freelance development editors. Final push came from editing Paul Lima's new book on freelancing -- reading his chapter on how to run the numbers got me thinking about how I really could turn this into a viable business. Well, we shall see.
In the meantime, I will slowly be developing the SFeditor.ca website.
(and that's SFeditor.CA, not .COM. SFeditor.com is Gail Mallimson, a San Francisco film editor.)