Saturday, January 23, 2016

From the Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-This-Before Department for Revising

So I’ve been struggling to revise my second completed novel. Well, by “completed,” I mean I made it to the end of the first draft. It’s something like 110,000 words. Pretty cool, eh? At one time, I thought that WAS the battle. Writing a novel WAS: Writing. The. Damned. Novel. You get from beginning to middle to end, you were golden. Right?

But, no. Oh, it’s a great thing to do, and it’s essential to being a novelist, but it’s only the first part of the battle. Next comes the dreaded revising/revisions.

So why is revising hard for me? Well, it’s about making choices. Sure, you make some when you’re writing your first draft, but once the words are down, you have to decide whether to keep or reject them. And then, as you’re rewriting, you have to choose whether the new words are better than the old words or not. How do you know which ones to go with? And do the new and old parts fit well together? Or do they appear stuck together with chewing gum and tape? Will readers notice the “seams?”

Anyhow, one bit of good news recently: I read an article about using Google Docs that gave me a new perspective on revising. I will have to see if I can find the link, because I’d hate to not give the writer credit. He (I think it was a he) helped me quite a bit. I’m still struggling, but I’ve made some progress, and, what’s more, I have a new way of looking at the process that should continue to help me in the future.

EDIT: I found the link, and here it is: How I Use Google Docs for Writing

Here’s the gist:

First, he looks at it this way: the first draft is the author telling himself the story. The second draft is taking the story - that the author now understands - and writing it so that other readers can understand it. Simple? Probably, but it gave me a new way of looking at the two drafts. How to explain? Well, the first draft mainly has to make sense to you, the author. The second is perhaps less about writing the story again as it is translating it for someone who isn’t inside your brain to read/take in.

The second bit is that he opens two windows while revising - one for the new content, and one for the old. I have found that it works best for me to just rewrite the whole thing, even the parts that I’m keeping … I mean retype it in. That way, you’re running the new and old words through some part of your mind together, so you can get a sense how they’ll fit together.

I am still running into some problems, of course. I still have to make choices, but maybe just having the new and old side-by-side on my screen helps me make judgments. I’m not done yet, but, so far, it seems to be helping.

Another thing I'm doing with this novel ... not sure how much it's helping, but I am hoping at least a little ... is grabbing pictures from the Web which inspire me and are related to the kind of work I am creating (or jiggering with, as the case may be). Here are a couple I'm using:


Got any revising tricks/methods that help you? I’d love to hear ‘em!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wrapping Up the Year ... and a Few Other Things

Well, I haven’t managed to keep blogging as often as I’d hoped, but I’m sure you’ve read that on other blogs before. And you’ve probably read blog authors saying they plan to “do better” from here on out. Yes, that’s me. I am hoping to blog more often in 2016. BUT, I will note that, as an author, I will always choose my fiction work first. If I was a full-time author, maybe I could budget time more easily for fiction and blogging, but... 

Anyhow, I think blogging is worthwhile to do, so I will keep trying my best, and I hope my best means posting more consistently in the future. 

What got in the way? I got sort of a dream job. Well, my dream job is writing full time, and it’s not that. But it’s a good (and good-paying) paralegal job. Now, I already had a job, so the end of my year involved winding down at the old job and jumping in (with no break) at the new one. I have a lot to learn, and that’s kept me busy and frazzled for the past couple weeks. But I keep telling myself: IT WILL GET BETTER! 

It also means my fiction writing – mainly my rewriting/revision of my novel, Cosmic Ray: A Science-Fiction Mystery Adventure, has had to go on the back burner a lot. But I’ve been inching along on it, and will continue to do so until I have a second draft ready to be beta read.

I also signed up for a challenge – 85K in 90 days – which means I’ll be working on a new novel from January-March, trying to get approximately 85,000 words done on a first draft by March 31st. I CAN DO THIS! (Though I should note that I have a ghost story due, too, by January 15th, so I’ll be making that the first part of my 85K words.) 

So, with all that out of the way, a few last things for 2015:

1. Accomplishments this year: Big one is finishing the first draft of Cosmic Ray. I began it in mid-2013, but barely worked on it during the first half of 2014 (was in school full time). It’s 111K words now. I also completed first drafts of a few short stories, but they need some serious revision.

2. Irritating trend this year: People lecturing each other online. I hear people getting upset about a phenomenon they call “mansplaining” quite often (this is when a man feels he must explain a topic to a woman because, as a man, he knows more, and she needs help), but I’ve seen it go both ways this year (on Twitter and Facebook, mainly). Yes, this means women addressing posts to “men” and telling us things with the tone of a mother scolding a child because, you know, we are all big, stupid, sexist brutes. My point isn’t so much about the sexism part, but ... what makes people feel they ought to go online and lecture about this or that? I guess I probably have done it, too (maybe I’m doing it now?), but I am working to avoid doing it, AND to avoid reading it (or, my usual fatal mistake, arguing with the lecturer). I hope we, as a species, will outgrow this confrontational, belittling crap at some point.

3. Finally, I don’t think it makes one racist to express surprise and/or disappointment about there now being a black Hermione Granger in Harry Potter (or that her true appearance has been revealed, if you prefer). This is different from the ire that happens when one finds out a black actor has been cast as the Human Torch, I believe. I think the surprise, at least for me, comes from the fact that an actress who happens to be white – Emma Watson – played the character in eight films and made the role her own. I think she and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) both became the faces of those characters for a lot of people. I would be surprised to see another in the role of Harry as I am with Hermione. There’s nothing wrong with it, of course, but, sure, it’s a bit jarring. Also, one wonders why Ms. Rowling never spoke up before. I had thought she’d had input into the films. I’ll admit, I’m not overly well-versed in this particular controversy, so if I missed something, feel free to educate (without lecturing, please) me.
I think that’s it for me for 2015. I may do a “looking back/looking forward” post on Facebook later, and I might copy/past that here. We’ll see.

I wish you all a healthy, happy, enthralling 2016!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Shame on All of Us

Can nothing of worth come from someone who is racist, sexist, or homophobic? Should we reject any writer or artist – refuse to read/see/hear/acknowledge his or her works – because he or she holds views we find repellent? Should we have some sort of tolerance threshold, some level of flaws we’ll allow in a creative person before we say, “No more!” and refuse to consume any more of his or her products? And, in the age of social media, should we publicly call out these artists? Should we “shame” people for continuing to enjoy their art?

The question is often phrased this way: Can or should you separate the art from the artist? But I think it’s more complicated than that. There are so many other issues surrounding this central one.

The genesis of this post for me was the recent decision by the board of the World Fantasy Awards to change the look of the award statuette it bestows upon fantasy authors each year. Since its inception, the award has been a bust of the author H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, though revered as a writer (mainly by horror fans, I believe), is what you’d called “problematic.” He held racist and xenophobic views. These were evident in his letters, which may not have been made public during his short lifetime, but were also painfully obvious in a few of his stories and poems. So one author started a petition to have the World Fantasy Award bust changed, possibly to a likeness of author Octavia Butler (Lovecraft is known mainly as a horror writer, Butler as a science fiction author, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose). The petition was successful, and the bust will no longer be of Lovecraft. You can read more about the story here.

Now I love some of Lovecraft’s stories. I don’t usually write horror, but I would say that, by reading his works, I learned some things about the craft of writing, for which I am eternally grateful to him. I even based a recent short story of mine – “Polarity” – and one of his (“Polaris”). Yes, absolutely, when I read some of his racist words, my gut sank. It was disgusting, frankly. But somehow that didn’t – for me – taint all his writings.

Of course there have been times when a creative person’s public persona has made me feel unable to enjoy his/her output. When Charlton Heston became an enthusiastic booster of the NRA, and made his “cold, dead hands” speech, I’ll admit, my joy at watching “Planet of the Apes” or “Touch of Evil” was diminished. And sometimes it’s easy to “give up” a particular artist: if you’ve never been interested in Orson Scott Card’s books, for example, it’s not that difficult to boycott a big Hollywood production made from one of them (Ender’s Game).

What seems “newish” to me, though, is the many people who take to Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets to “call out” or “shame” anyone who continues to enjoy the work of one of these problematic creators. You need to be “schooled” in why it’s wrong, they say. “Continue to read so-and-so,” they offer, “but at least admit you’re supporting a racist/sexist/homophobe/etc.”

I suppose this sort of thing is a valid tool for change. Of course the shame merchants have the right to say what they do. And peer pressure can make people either change (at least publicly) or expose their darker natures. But some of it has this strange air of “I’m more pure than you.” You must meet the shame merchant’s standard or you are flat out bigoted and worthless.

So what’s “right” here? What is the right thing to do? I still read Lovecraft and admire his writing. What do I do? Do I admit I’m a racist? I don’t think I am. I am guessing most human beings have some racist aspects within their beings, whether they are conscious of them or not. But I don’t believe people are different/inferior/superior because of their skin color. So then am I supporting a racist? Well, I could point out that Lovecraft is long dead, so is getting none of my money. Would I read his works if he were alive and able to profit from them? I don’t know, truthfully. Should I be shamed for liking his writing (to be clear, that which does not contain racist themes)? If so, should I work to shame others for their likes as well? The argument could go round and round – someone criticizes me, I could find out what they like and why they are not as pure as they hold themselves out to be. “How can you slam me for liking Lovecraft, when you like [fill in a name here]?”

I’ll end by linking to some articles about some problematic authors. Are any of your favorites among them? Well, should you stop enjoying their work now, or what? Toss it into the dustbin of history? What would we gain and what would we lose?

And this is just Norman Mailer!

Monday, November 2, 2015

To Write to Market or Not To Write to Market ... That is the Question!

Writerly musings: Lately I’ve been dogged a lot by the question of whether to “write to market” – to try and write what will sell – or to “write what I love/feel/know.”

Of course it’s not entirely a choice. Maybe I can’t write a bestseller, even if I want and try to. Maybe I can only write what I love, which, who knows? Could turn out to be a bestseller in the end. Or maybe I’ll never have anything else published, no matter what I try.

But I guess it centers on what I want to try for. I’ve seen some of the popular works – maybe not the million-sellers, but series with followings, and which seem to have new volumes added just about every six months to a year – and I think, “I could maybe do that, couldn’t I?” And part of me wants to give it a go. Even if I want to keep writing my personal, idiosyncratic work, it might not hurt to learn how to write what sells, right? If I can, I mean?

What do you think, fellow writers and readers? Writers: do you wrestle with this at all? For you, is being a writer and a success synonymous with making sales and being famous? Or would you be happy writing what you love, no matter how weird, even if few people ever read it?

Readers: Do you take chances on obscure work, books and/or movies or TV shows you’ve not heard much about? Would you rather read books in extensive series, in established genres, by authors you’ve heard of, whom you might hear interviewed on NPR or something?


Writing news: We went to Rockport, Massachusetts, for the Halloween weekend, and the folks at Toad Hall Bookstore were nice enough to take a chance on a few copies of our books. So, if you happen to be there, or like to order from indie bookstores, AND you’d like to check out our books, consider Toad Hall. They don’t make too many like Toad Hall anymore!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Can You Admit When You Were Wrong?

I was thinking of trying to start a new tradition (if someone hasn't beaten me to this one). I’d call it “Make Amends Day,” or “Admit Your Mistakes Day.” Maybe it could even be observed monthly. The idea being that you would get to unburden yourself (seriously, it’s a good, helpful thing to do for yourself and others) by saying, essentially, “I’m sorry I screwed up.”

Some background: I felt I had to apologize to a fellow writer today for being overly critical of some of his work. I realized I was being harsh because of a personal issue. I don’t like the idea of “writing to market,” i.e. seeing what trends are “hot” and trying to craft a novel or piece of writing that will fit the trend and ride it to success. Think about how many imitators of Harry Potter, the Twilight novels, and Fifty Shades of Grey there were. There are certain “marks” a writer should “hit” to make a work more likely to be published under this philosophy. Whole categories have been created by marketers to excite the public into buying books: “paranormal romance” comes to mind. And the latest one I’ve heard: “new adult fiction.” According to Wikipedia, it’s designed to appeal to 18-30-year-old readers. I’d always thought those were simply “adult readers,” but what do I know? 

But that’s me – I realized that, just because I don’t like things, that doesn’t make them bad or wrong. So I felt I had to apologize to my fellow writer. Some of my criticism was at least tinged with my dislike for what he was doing: writing to market. I realized I should really focus on how he is writing, not what he is writing.

Beyond that, I am getting excited for the Local Author Fair I’ll be attending (as one of the guests) this Saturday. I don’t really know what to expect. I will have a table with some books to sell, but I hope people will want to chat, too. There’s been conflicting information on whether we (the authors) will be reading from our work, so I will prepare something just in case. And, to add a plea to readers her, I HOPE people will leave reviews of our work somewhere! Sure, authors are their own first audiences, but we do hope others will read and get something out of our works. Short of talking to an author in person, the best way to acknowledge you liked (or disliked, for that matter) their stories is by leaving reviews. Please do so, even if they are short or not grammatically perfect. It really is the thought that counts. 

With that, I’m off, back to revising my novel. If I can, I may read a bit from it at the Fair!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Circling the Task

Hello my writing and reading friends!

So it's Halloween month in Salem, MA, which means crazy times here. We've been through the madness uptown a few times - vendors, people in costumes, eerie music coming from everywhere, and the Terror Fantasies Art Show. Quite fun, and good exercise (getting in my "steps" quite a lot this month).

It also means things like this come back to haunt me - Photoshop projects from when I was in school for Publishing Arts from 2007-2009:


And finally:

These were all the result of collage, made by merging several photos. I could put images up of the individual photos if anyone's interested.

Anyhow, things have been slower on the novel-revising front. I've tackled it and been pushed back a few times. But I know it's just a matter of keeping at it. I even got some advice from my uncle who's a writer, Marshall Cook, that's been helpful.

Meantime, since I've found revising at work next to impossible, I'm working on a new story. No idea if it'll become a novel or what, but it plays with campy superhero tropes a la Batman (1960s TV show). More news as it becomes available.

Finally, getting ready to put up posters for the author event my wife, EC Hanlon, and I will be working at on October 24th. Excited and nervous!

And that's the news from sunny, autumn-chilled Salem!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Book Recommendation: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

As I'm rereading and preparing to edit my current novel-in-progress (and getting towards the end of the reread), I'm thinking about facing the terrors I have over revision and rewriting. It's about making choices - what do I throw away? What do I add? Is the new stuff I'm writing better than the old stuff I'm replacing it with?

It's nearly enough to paralyze me!

A friend came through with a recommendation - a book to read to help me focus while revising on things to look for.

The book is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Sure, some of what they say I've heard before - "show don't tell," "use more active verbs," and so forth. But they give LOTS of examples and they show before-and-after bits, showing selections with "mistakes" and how they'd rewrite them.

I'm sure I won't remember every piece of advice when I get to the "dreaded task," but there are enough nuggets in my brain that I think it will help when I wade into it. It makes me a little more hopeful anyway!

Any fellow writers have advice on how to revise?