Friday, April 22, 2011

No Rhyme or Reason

Everyone offers advice on how to get published and how to market and network and it's beginning to get a little confusing. Use Twitter and Facebook to talk about your book. Don't talk about your book so much on Twitter and Facebook. Be interesting, but not too interesting. Don't let everyone see how bad the days get sometimes. Sparkle, Neely, sparkle. It's just like the five rules for writing. According to Somerset Maugham, no one knows what they are, but they'll try to tell you the only way to do it is their way. More one size fits all and never fits anyone. The three bears all over without the baby bear. It's too big. It's too small. It's never just right. What works for one author may not work for another and seldom works for everyone even though they sell millions of books telling you just that: it works for everyone because it worked for me.

When I was studying art -- the painting and drawing kind and not the art history kind -- my teachers taught me to do it the way they had been taught. I followed their instructions and got good results, but I was never quite happy until I could do it my way. Instead of roughing out the face and placement of ears, eyes, nose and mouth and sketching in the hair, I began with the eyes and worked out from there. For me, everything started with the eyes. I guess that's why people always said the eyes seemed alive. In a way, and especially for me, they were.

I am more than willing to try it someone else's way, just like I've tried nearly every diet I've ever come across, but eventually I fall back into old habits and do it my way.

Write large and add all the details and then pare it down. Instead, I write tight and expand on that once I've finished the book.

Edit once or twice and leave it in a drawer for a week, then go back, read it, made small adjustments and send it out. How about I edit it as many times as I like, forget about it for a couple of years while I work on something else, and then come back, decide I did it right and then send it out, all the while tinkering away at it even up to publication? That works for me. Some stories are easy and come out fully formed and some take time to hone and for me to get into the right frame of mind to hear the voices and get them down. That's what's happening with Whitechapel. I couldn't hear the voices for a while, couldn't get the sound of their voices and their syntax, and so I put it away -- for years. I won't say how many years, but my mother keeps saying she wants to see it in print before she dies. She'll outlive me, but I doubted the book would be finished in my lifetime.

And then it happened. I opened up the file, took a look at the outline, put my fingers on the keyboard and suddenly I knew just where I was going. I heard Delilah's voice again, the way she speaks, the way she engages the world, that special sense of derring-do and vulnerability she keeps hidden from everyone, especially Henry. I have it now and I should be able to keep going. I know where I'm going at least.

In the meantime, I've written two other books, seen both published and am being buffeted by the networking and marketing gurus pulling me this way and that. I don't know if book trailers work, but there was a sale, so why not? I don't know if I should talk about my weird reading habits, like reading three or four books at a time and keeping them separate and distinct. I never mix one with the other. How could I? I'm reading a book about Van Gogh and his last doctor, who wasn't really his doctor because he couldn't practice medicine in his home town; he has an office in Paris and comes home to Auvers three days a week to be with his family and paint. I'm also reading a murder mystery set during the time of Henry II of England and it's really fascinating. I love historical novels that carry me away and put me in the time period without effort. I'm also re-reading Salem's Lot just because I had a hankering for Stephen King and that particular story. Maybe it's a way for my creative brain to tell my scientific brain that it soon will be time for me to get into post apocalyptic vampire fiction, which is what I planned anyway. I usually have to slide in sideways.

There is no rhyme or reason, at least not looking from the outside, to the way I work, but it works. I can juggle three or four (or in my case, twenty) stories at the same time and not lose touch with any of them -- if I hear the voices. No, I'm not schizophrenic; I'm a writer. It goes with the territories. If the characters aren't real to me, they certainly won't be real to the reader. I'm sure about that side of the business, just not the marketing and networking side. I'm more interesting -- and more exasperating -- in person (at times). Just ask my friends. And I leap from subject to subject without the least hesitation. It's my way.

I follow Scott Eagan, partly because I submitted Among Women to him, and this morning his advice was that he looks at the whole writer. He said he liked my story and the writing was good, but it wasn't right for him at this time. I wonder if he found my writings on dismembering corpses or the slashing prose I used when I was battling a cyberstalker? I didn't mention names -- or grave sites -- so it wasn't obvious, but maybe my bounding from subject to subject gave him the idea that I was quixotic or undependable. Could be.

My art teachers told me it was wrong to start with the eyes when painting or drawing a portrait, but I still did it. It worked for me. Don't try this at home. It might not work for you. No one wears my size any more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dueling Criticism

Ginia Bellafante talked back to fanboys and fangirls who sent her numerous emails and tweeted, blogged and in general caused a furor over her review of Game of Thrones, and she wasn't half rude.

Ms. Bellafante admits she doesn't know a single person who enjoys or writes fantasy and opines that there are few of those fantasy lovers "...who worship at the altar of quietly hewn domestic novels or celebrates the films of Nicole Holofcener or is engrossed by reruns of “House.”" Once again she is wrong. I write, review and enjoy "quietly hewn domestic novels" and I have seen Nicole Holofcener's films. As for House, I am a faithful watcher who enjoys the reruns and I understand House's axiom that everyone lies, including Ms. Bellafante.

I agree that Ms. Bellafante was the wrong audience since she obviously had her mind set before she watched HBO's Game of Thrones. She openly admitted in her review that she does not like the current trend in HBO programming since it has moved away from socially relevant themes and toward what she considers common fare in the mold of The Sopranos. "Like “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” on Showtime and the “Spartacus” series on Starz, “Game of Thrones,” is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch, even if it is more sophisticated than its predecessors. It says something about current American attitudes toward sex that with the exception of the lurid and awful “Californication,” nearly all eroticism on television is past tense." With that kind of attitude, how could she write anything but a pan of the series and the whole genre, relegating women who watch such shows as "fanboys?"

Since Ms. Bellafante seems to invite commentary on her preferences in literature and entertainment, I would like to offer mine on Nicole Holofcener's Just Give.

There was sufficient "sexual hopscotch" in Holofcener's quiet domestic drama, Just Give to render it in the same vein as The Tudors and The Borgias. Since most of the sexual hopscotch was portrayed by Oliver Platt casting his considerable "talent" on Amanda Peet's obviously uninterested and petite body, it was painful to watch and somewhat boring, and so was Ms. Peet since she leafed through a magazine while Platt was plowing her furrow, and this from a man who was supposedly committed to his family and family values. Catherine Keener's misplaced and often rude attempts at charity were even more painful that Platt's plowing. She even breaks down while checking out a local center for mentally and physically challenged young people, crying in the bathroom while one young woman with Down syndrome stands outside and asks if she is all right.

Keener and Platt are owners of a high end antique store and they supply their stock by checking out the obituaries and offering to buy whatever antiques they find worthy from grieving family members. They have bought the apartment next door to theirs in a co-op building but have generously allowed the tenant, an elderly woman about to die at any moment, to live there until she finally does die and they can scoop up her antiques and break through the wall between apartments to enlarge their own space. Peet is one of the old lady's granddaughters and she's in it for the money, having already established herself and self-involved and downright mean where her grandmother is concerned. Peet is stalking the woman who replaced her in her previous relationship and talks incessantly about her fake boobs while she wonders just exactly what she has that Peet lacks. How about compassion and a likable personality for starters?

Keener feels guilty about her wealth and privilege and tries to give it away to people on the street. In one instance, she offers money to a black man waiting outside a fashionable restaurant who turns out to be a patron waiting for a table just like she and her family. Constantly apologizing for her wealth while she scopes out the obituaries and whining about giving something back while she refuses to buy her daughter an expensive pair of jeans is disingenuous at best and patently absurd. Is Holofcener pointing up the hypocrisy of the nouveau riche or is she celebrating the sangfroid of the rich and privileged? All I do know is that the movie did nothing to improve my opinion of such poseurs or their false charity and guilt while scooping up some unfortunate family's treasures at a bargain, nor did Platt endear himself by pretending to be the misunderstood husband while sneaking out to cheat on his wife. All in all, if this is the kind of entertainment that Bellafante finds socially relevant, I feel better about disagreeing with her assessment of Game of Thrones.

I would also mention that I had seen Just Give a few months ago and was unimpressed, hence my assessment of it here.

Criticism is an art form and should have some substance. I find Ms. Bellafante's review and her subsequent defense of that review to be rude. As for what I think of the first episode of the series after having seen it twice, I'd have to say my views are somewhat changed. I enjoyed it thoroughly and have watched it twice now. I've also bought the whole series of books and plan to enjoy those even more. Seeing Game of Thrones a second time gave me a chance to pick up nuances I had missed the first time around and I will likely watching it again.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Easy Being Green

After spending the morning reading articles on digital piracy and showing that you can drive sales to your book, it seems more and more that that publishing is doing less and less and expecting more of authors. In the case of digital piracy, publishers expect authors to give up royalties, and in the case of marketing, it's about what the author can and should do to get noticed by the big publishers.

While the article on piracy mentioned Barry Eisler getting hit harder than a publisher (WHAT?) because he doesn't have the big publisher to do battle for him, it just does not wash. Either way, self-published or traditionally published, the author takes the hit, so what's the difference? The difference is the same as it always was; publishers are pushing more and more off onto author's shoulders (and royalties) and taking fewer risks. Oh, that's right, there is no difference and no change in the way publishers are doing business.

In the article on the Selling Books blog, the premise is that writing a good book is nothing in the end; anyone can write a good book. The trick is to get noticed by marketing and promoting your own work through sales, speaking engagements, promotions, etc. so publishers know you can drive sales up. My question is this: If I can drive sales to my books, then what do I need a publisher for?

Absolutely nothing.

With sites like M. J. Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hype blog about promoting your book, for a fee you can promote your book through their services, even getting the notice of thousands of libraries and book clubs, to drive sales. I would be willing to bet no publisher is going to pay the fees; that's up to the author, like paying for the cost of the publisher fighting digital piracy and getting a publisher's notice. Why? It's the same old song and dance with not a new tune in sight. It's School Days dressed up as Music of the Night without Andrew Lloyd Webber's talent for re-invention.

If I'm going to deal with piracy, the best way to do that is by not worrying about it. At 0.05% of digital sales, that's not a lot of money. That's less than one-half of one percent in total sales, and that's not even a solid number; it's a guesstimation. No one really knows what the cost of digital piracy is or is going to be. In a way, it's about the same as second hand book sales where one person buys the book and resells it so someone else can sell it again. It's money for those down the line, but the author gets paid once, and I don't see too many authors worried about that, especially with paperback books. After all, paper disintegrates and new books are needed to replace old ones, and with digital books, there is no need for replacement. Ebooks, as Joe Konrath is so fond of saying, are forever.

In the end, it's a better use of time and money to invest in yourself and self-publish than it is to let a big publisher take your money and give you back a pittance. I'm not saying that traditional publishing is dead -- it's not. Just as folk songs and nursery rhymes were used as seed for greater works (Andrew Lloyd Webber again, and Bach, and Beethoven, and Mozart, and any number of classical composers, like Liszt), there is a place for traditional publishers. As long as you can do enough work and promotion to get noticed by publishers and broker a six- or seven-figure deal and a healthy (better than the current 12%) royalty, go for it. Having one the traditional publishing route (no, I didn't get the star treatment) and doing it myself (ebook and now print), I'd rather get more of the money so I can choose and buy my own promotions and drive sales that I can benefit from. That way I can pay for future covers for new books, and my editor to keep her in Kindle books, including mine, and maybe be freed from wage slavery and build my own little cottage industry writing good books. I don't need to be halfway to getting notice by a publisher when I can be all the way toward getting notice for my writing and my books from the people who actually buy them. Fewer copies will end up in landfills that way and I prefer the green approach.

It's easier being green.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fantasy: It is for Intelligent Women, Too.

Thousands of fans, male and female, have been bombarding, tweeting, and blogging about how wrong Ginia Bellafante is when she characterizes “Game of Thrones” [a]s boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half," obviously meaning that women would not watch the epic fantasy unless there was sex involved. Not only does Bellafante throw a slap in the face of intelligent women everywhere who actually read and enjoy fantasy, but also hits back at HBO for "... ventur[ing away from its instincts for real-world sociology, as it has with the vampire saga “True Blood..." for pandering to such a low common denominator and forgetting that HBO, like all television, is also about entertainment and not just social commentary.

Viewing from her lofty perch, it seems Ms. Bellafante was the wrong person to review and comment on George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones since she has no understanding of or love for anything that veers away from the real world, a world she must inhabit alone without the touch of women who actually get fantasy and enjoy it, with or without the sex. What a bleak and colorless world she must live in.

What amazes me is how Ms. Bellafante could have missed the women who also write fantasy fiction, intelligent women who have put their mark on fantasy and on the science fiction genre for many decades, women like Anne McCaffrey, C. J. Cherryh, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton, and more contemporary authors like Elizabeth Hand, Elizabeth Moon and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. I guess they don't count either, and I could go on naming names and pointing out the rich and fertile female minds that create believable fantasy worlds and situations and even forgo hot sex and bed hopping. Ms. Bellafante needs to go back to the books and take a good hard look at what is and is not fantasy instead of pointing at the current trends in adding lots of sex and naked bodies in order to lure people into a world that has already been well received and championed by women. She mistakes the idea that sex makes everything better, including fantasy, when fantasy has done very well without such devices. The Borgias, The Tudors, Rome and other cable network fare would have been just as compelling and interesting without the sex as with it. Don't mistake a corporate decision to sex things up for the well written and complex fantasy of Georrge R. R. Martin or any other fantasy author.

While George R. R. Martin is wise enough not to respond to reviewers, at least his female fans, and they are legion, are willing to take up the banner and speak out for intelligent women everywhere that they are readers and writers of fantasy and they're not ashamed to say so.