Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Just When You Think You've Got It All Together...

We all have plans.  I have all sorts: plans for my family, plans for my life, and sort of at the top of the list at the moment are the career plans.  I'm at the point in my life that I'd always said I would get around this age: devoting myself to my writing. (Yeah, I'm editing too, but that goes hand in hand with it.  Every manuscript I edit makes my own writing better--I see my own flaws on someone else's page. At any rate) And right at the moment in my personal journey when I'm ready to break ahead and take that next step, something happens to screw it all up.

As life-altering changes go, this one isn't THAT bad. The artifical disc that was supposed to last forever and eliminate my back pain didn't do either. I have to have another back surgery--a fusion to stabilize the broken prosthesis.  A few days in the hospital, a few months in a back brace with very limited physical activity, probably a year or so of physical therapy--and a best case scenario prognosis for the relief of 60% of my pain.

Maximum. More likely? Less than half.

The surgery isn't optional; it has to be done. The broken prosthesis can't be removed. I'm stuck with it. And, as a result, will always have pain.  None of that really bothers me.  This is how stupid I am: I'm worried about not getting the WIP done on schedule--a self-imposed schedule at that. I'm not worried about dying on the operating table or the pain (although that isn't pleasant to consider) or anything else except how long it will take me to be able to stand sitting at my computer and getting back to my story.

Yeah, I realize that for the first week at least, more likely two, I'm not going to give a rat's ass about the story, and with a big incision in my back I'm not going to want to lie down with the laptop either.

But three months????



So. The best I can do is to write as fast as I can now and hope for the best.  I figure I'm within 100 pages of the end.  Maybe...just maybe...I can get this done.  And even if I can't, I'll spend a lot of time thinking about it, reconfiguring it, twisting and turning it.

And yes, I find the fact that the story is about Jack the Ripper quite ironic, thank you very much.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of Kittens and Keyboards

Since we lost Impy a few weeks ago, the kitten, Thor, has pretty much taken over the house.  Kittens have a habit of doing so, mostly because they're so curious that they constantly get into trouble.  Unfortunately for Thor, his favorite pastimes get him into trouble.

When he's really spunky, he's swinging from my curtains or the furniture or the top of the bookshelf, wailing piteously for rescue.  That's funny and cute--except on the curtains, which now have a plethora of teensy little claw marks, or the furniture now that I've finally trained the big cats to avoid. (they associate claws in the furniture with a water gun. Heh.)  Thor, unfortunately, loves water.  He jumps into the bathtub without checking first, which has resulted in several episodes of dripping kitten.  He plays in the water bowl.  He turns on the kitchen faucet.  Therefore, he is impervious to the water gun and thinks I'm playing with him when I hose him down.

Poor Thor.  Since he loves water, he gets punished with timeout.  He gets put into the bathroom with a stern, "NO!" and left there, to meow and yell and wail for a few minutes until I take pity on him and let him out.  Then he jumps up on me and purrs and chin rubs and cuddles before he takes off to get in more mischief, which usually involves torturing Elf, that cat who most claims me as 'his human.'

But that's not the worst of it.

Thor has several favorite napping places, but his unquestioned favorite is the keyboard of my laptop.  He's still small and lightweight so when he lies down he doesn't depress the keys, but it's damn hard to write with a kitten sprawled out over qwertygfdsacx and z. If I move him, he complains.  If I try to type around him, he yawns and takes up uiohjkb and n as well.  Sometimes we compromise, and he gets right up beside the back of the computer or underneath it when I'm writing on the couch or the bed.



He's starting to lose that kitten fuzz now, and is more properly an adolescent cat at almost five months.  But he still acts like a kitten, and I have the horrible fear that he's always going to prefer napping on my laptop keyboard.  In another year or so, he'll weigh fifteen pounds and the only letter I might be able to hit is the / or the ' or ] -- which would totally suck. 

But then again, I know now what to do with this laptop when I retire it in favor of a new one. Some cats may like their soft little animal beds, but Thor will always sleep on my old, dead laptop.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...

...a not quite as serious post.  Ye olde blogge has been a little on the grim side as of late, so tonight while I loosen up my mind for a big writing binge that'll probably end up being an all-nighter, I thought I'd try to lighten things up a little bit with some random thoughts.

Random thought # 1--Just got done watching The Voice.  Christina--FIRE YOUR DRESSER. Child, you don't have any business prancing around in THAT outfit. EVER.  Those thighs were eating those pleather shorts. Seriously.

Oh, the singers?  For me no contest--the two bald ladies on Christina's team and the two guys on Blake's team. Best singer of the night--Beverly. Best performer of the night--Frenchie.  Best moment of the night--Ce Lo singing Queen. 

Random thought # 2--Two great things happened for me in the world of sports today. First, Tyrelle Pryor has ditched Ohio State for his senior season. (there is a God)  Then, Mike Hamilton, the alleged athletic director at my beloved University of Tennessee resigned. (there is a God who wears orange and white) Personally, I think this is a great thing for both schools.  Tennessee can now hire Phil Fulmer, who at least has integrity and knowledge of the area, and Ohio State can have the ultimate honor of me condescending to appear at one of their football games--which I swore I'd never do as long as Tyrelle *Mika Vick* Pryor played there.  That being said, now there are serious grumblings in Columbus on the nightly news about tens of thousands of dollars Pryor allegedly accepted, and people in Knoxville are tossing pictures of Lane Kiffin into bonfires built with Hamilton's office furniture.

Ah yes, a great day in the world of college football.  Now, if they'll only strip USC of their 2004 BCS Championship, my week will be perfect.

(Perfection attained in 3...2...1...)

Random Thought # 3--Right now, the cats are have a demolition derby in my living room.  The favorite and current points leader is Thor, the 5 month old kitten, who is outweighed by the next smallest competitor by at least four pounds.  The cats are all fine--it's the living room that's demolished.  Thor was chasing Sapphire, our sedentary, portly Siamese and they hit a pile of mail and papers on the desk.  Right now, our floor looks white instead of a warm, mellow aged oak color.

And because this is a perfect week, thanks to USC being stripped of their title, someone other than me is picking everything up.

And finally, Random Thought # 4--If I stick to my current writing schedule, What A Pretty Necklace will be completed in 6 days. Right now, Jack the Ripper and my ultimate villain are plotting the demise of my heroine--who, unfortunately for them, has developed a weapon they'll have no defense against.

Ah, steampunk!  I think I'm starting to like you.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Why You Need To Think Twice Before You Self-Publish

Lately, I've been overwhelmed by the foul tempers prevailing in writing forums on any thread that has to do with self-publishing.  I'll admit it--this is partically my fault.  I'm so sick of hearing sad stories from authors who "just wanted to hold my book in my hands" and then are faced with the consequences of their decision to self-publish that are dismissed and scoffed at by people who are absolutely certain that self-publishing is the end of the traditional publishing industry.

But before we begin, a caveat: I BELIEVE (capitalized for emphasis) that in SOME cases, self-publishing is an appropriate choice-- such as books for niche markets, poetry chapbooks, non-fiction with a limited target market. I ALSO BELIEVE (again, capitalized for emphasis) that in the case of fiction, self-publishing should be the LAST choice, not the first.

Now before the self-appointed SP cheerleaders start to divebomb me with their pom-poms, here's why I believe this way...in a bulleted list for your reading ease and comfort.

(Yes, I'm feeling a little snippy)

1. Self-publishing burns your first rights.
2. Self-publishing at this point is consigning your book to the bottom of the publishing pond.
3. Self-publishing doesn't equate with 'published.'
4. Self-publishing companies don't care how many books you sell. Their purpose is to get as many books as possible.
5. Most self-published authors suffer from the stigma of not being legitimately published.
6. 90 % of self-published books are crap, and that figure is low.

Now that I've pissed all of them off, let's elaborate.

First publishing rights are a huge deal.  You aren't going to land an agent or a trade publisher (read: NY publishing house) with a self-published book UNLESS you have immense sales and maybe not even then. Yes, yes...Amanda Hocking. I know.  She had over a million sales, right?  Okay...that's ONE author out of how many?  According to Bowker, there were over 760,000 self-published books in 2009.  Now think--how many other authors have you heard of with sales like this?

Right. And why is that?

Because a self-published book sinks right to the bottom of the publishing pond.  The books that sell the most are the ones that get publicity--trade published books, independent press books and e-published books.  The self-published books that break through those to rise to the top either have an author with a well-known name (like Stephen King) or a well-known platform (either because of a built-in readership or through the marketing efforts the author puts into the released book).  Most self-published books don't get that.  They get bought by family and friends, who leave glowing reviews on Amazon that nobody reads.  Self-published authors also find it difficult to get reviewed, one of the traditional methods of getting people interested in their books.  Do you know why?

Right. Because most people don't equate self-publishing with actually being published.  Agent Rachel Gardner said it best on her blog in a November, 2009 post:

The lure and the prestige of getting a book published has always been based on... what? Exclusivity. It's exciting to get a book deal because many want one, and few can get one.

Published books have always been respected because of the many gatekeepers they had to go through to get on that bookstore shelf. Numerous people had to agree that the book was worthy of publication. Large companies had to invest money and time. All of that added to the value of each book.

Writers had to endure rejection, and be persistent. They had to keep trying harder, improving their writing, to get to the point of being published. And they had to impress a lot of people.

With no more gatekeepers, no more exclusivity, no more requirement to actually write a good book, won't published books lose value? If anybody can get a book published, doesn't that diminish the perceived status of all authors?

That kind of sums it up. The majority of self-published books are pretty awful, to be frank.  Obviously, I haven't read every self-published book in the world but come on, already.  How many of those self-published books are in reality unedited first drafts, thrown out there by people who stupidly buy into the myth that "You, too, can be a publisher author on the road to fame and riches!!!!" by self-publishing companies who don't give a crap what they're publishing.

What?  Oh, of course I have cites for that.

“It used to be an elite few,” said Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, a print-on-demand company whose revenue has grown to $30 million, from $1 million, in just two years and which published more than 300,000 titles last year. Many of those were personal books bought only by the author. “Now anyone can make a book, and it looks just like a book that you buy at the bookstore.”

See what I mean? It looks just like a book that you buy at the bookstore.  From the same article, there's this too:

Indeed, said Robert Young, chief executive of Lulu Enterprises, based in Raleigh, N.C., a majority of the company’s titles are of little interest to anybody other than the authors and their families. “We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind,” Mr. Young said.

Pretty scary. Especially when paired from this quote I found on How Publishing Really Works:

Lulu.com, one of the most popular and cost-effective of the POD services and still independent despite the apparent trend toward consolidation among POD services, is explicit about its long tail business model. In a 2006 article in the Times UK, its founder identified the company's goal: "...to have a million authors selling 100 copies each, rather than 100 authors selling a million copies each." A Lulu bestseller is a book that sells 500 copies. There haven't been many of them.

Doesn't that just make you throw up a little in your mouth?  It does me. Why would you want to consign your novel to a company that wants ten thousand more of you only selling ten books to your family and friends...or yourself?

And if you only sell to your mom and dad and the other eight copies are bouncing around in the trunk of your car, then are you legitimately published?  Are you put on the same level as...well, shall we say, an e-published author?

No.  Because of one line you can find on many major review sites:

We do not accept self-published material for review.

Not too long ago, that line read: We do not accept e-published or self-published material for review.

Again--you sell a million copies, and you get to shed the self-published stigma.  But let's face it: any schmoo who ekes together some kind of guide for pedophiles and self-publishes it on Amazon, then causing a controversy as outrage ripples throughout the www is going to manage to sell 50 books.  Most self-published books don't sell half that number--and the self-publishing companies like it that way. Again--read what those execs had to say. They don't care that because you've self-published your book, people are going to automatically assume it's crap. They LIKE crap, particularly the kind of crap that a deluded author is going to pay premium prices for their ultimate services. But the inescapable sad, tragic fact is that most self-published books ARE crap.

Look, I don't have a motive here unless it's to ease my own conscience.  Over the past year, the number of queries I've received from self-published authors who genuinely believed they could bypass the whole submission process and have a bestseller is staggering.  I looked through my records today, and approximately 40% of the submissions I've received since June of 2010 fit into this category.  These authors are upset and looking to rectify their book's invisibility through any means possible.

"I thought self-publishing was the way to go, but I've only sold five copies in eight months..."

"I really believed that once people started to review my book, I'd get the exposure I needed..."

"I invested almost two thousand dollars into this book and I have to find a way to recoup my losses..."

And so they send those manuscripts to me, hoping that somehow I'll be willing to overlook the fact that their first electronic rights have been burned irrevocably.  And because I'm a sucker, I'll request the whole book. And without exception, those books aren't in any condition to be turned over to my staff for editing much less out there on display for the whole world.  Out of those submissions, I have not accepted one.

Not. One.

So, yes--I'm damn good and mad about this!  I'm inundated with those self-publishing popups everytime I hop online. I could open any website right now and there will be that damn ad I've seen every stinking day for three stinking months.  I really wish I could spam them all with an email that reads, "I'M NOT STUPID. THANKS."

But I can't. My situation is different too. I'm an established author with a very decided career plan, one that I work on every single day for eight hours a day. Self-publishing is not an option for me at this stage of my career. Perhaps later, if I reach a certain undefined level of success, I may self-publish my earlier works when the rights revert to me.  Who can say?

But YOU--the writer who's just finished your first novel and are trying to make a decision as to what's best to do. (and this doesn't apply to people who just want to publish for their own pleasure)  Aside from following my mantra of "write, edit, rewrite, rewrite again, rewrite some more, edit, proof, repeat" (meaning don't ever send out a first draft as a finished product), what else should you do?

If you want a career as a writer, why consign your book to the bottom of the publishing pond?  Start at the top and work your way down.  Try for an agent first, then smaller presses, and then e-presses before you decide to self-publish. Why be one of thousands of writers selling only ten copies?  Strive to be one of ten authors selling thousands...MILLIONS of copies.

Always, always reach for the top of the game, not the bottom, and I'll do the same.  Perhaps we'll meet there someday. I certainly hope so.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sunburned the Brains Right Out of My Skull

So the big news in the Summers household this week is the new pool.  We all discussed it and decided that not only would a pool be great for the baby (so I can teach him to swim) but also for me.  My back limits a lot of exercise, but if I just walk in chest-high water, I'm getting five times the benefit as if I was walking on the road.

And never breaking a sweat.  That's important to a lady.

*Yeah, I just said that. Now shut it with the laughing.*

At any rate, so the pool is in and we filled it up earlier the week, braving the ICE COLD water just because...well, hell-we have a POOL.  We've spent the time since then (now that the solar cover is warming the water up) lounging in and around the pool, taunting our unfortunate neighbors with the glorious blue jewel glistening in the back yard by splashing, squealing and playing with water toys as much as possible.  My daughter, her daughter and I all now have glorious sunburns--the kind that gives you color without hurting too badly.

Except on our legs. WTF is up with that?  Audrey and I can get all kinds of sun on our faces, arms, backs and shoulders, but both of us are still sporting pasty white legs, damnit.

So I rigged up a little writing area for me on the back deck, thinking that I could switch back and forth between the pool and working on the WIP.  It's nice, with a comfortable chair and a table for the laptop (and an outlet--very important)--far away enough from the pool that my computer won't bite it from a misplaced splash but close enough so I can monitor my non-swimming daughter and her twenty-month-old baby.

I completely forgot about how hard it is to see a monitor in the glare of the sun. Or how quickly you can get really, really hot while trying to write outdoors.  Or how distracting things like the neighbors' boxers when they get let out of the house and want nothing more than to howl at whoever is splashing in the pool.  Or how little Aurora wants her Nana right there in the water with her and has no qualms about running over to where I'm sitting with the computer and lifting her arms to be picked up--while spraying chlorinated water all over my computer.


Yes. This vampire's first exposure to the afternoon sun in about twenty years must have fried every last bit of common sense right out of my echoing head.  There's a REASON I haven't been hanging out at poolside in recent years.  Okay, several.  First off, I'm a redhead. Yeah...I don't tan, I BURN and then MOULT like a freaking snake.  Second off, I'm creeping up to the midway point between forty and fifty. (It's perfectly okay to tell me how young of a grandmother I am, by the way.) The reason I don't look like a grandmother is because I haven't exposed my face to the sun willingly in decades.  Third off, I can't work outside. I don't like the heat. I don't like barking dogs. I don't like the sounds of traffic. I don't like the people across the street.  And while I LOVE the pool, I don't particulaly relish the thought of people driving by and wondering how that bizarre red-and-white whale got beached in Ohio.

So yeah, I'm staying in today to work. I'll hit the pool later when it won't affect me as much.  Like maybe midnight or something.

The sacrifices I make for my art.

Oh, by the way--I'll be a grandmother of THREE sometime in mid-December.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bigotry in Writing

This week, Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul stirred up a big stinky pile of controversy. Here's the jist of what he said, as reported by Bookseller.com and initially from the Telegraph:

"Women writers are different, they are quite different. I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." Naipaul said this was due to their "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". He added: "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too. 
"My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way."
On Jane Austen, he added that he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world".When asked if he considered any woman writer his equal, the 78-year-old answered: "I don't think so", the Telegraph reports.

Now, as a woman writer, I find that pretty offensive. Interestingly enough, however, the editor whose work he dismissed as 'feminine tosh' is acclaimed author and biographer Diana Athill, of all people!  I've read Athill's Somewhere Towards the End, and I'm absolutely positive that it's NOT 'feminine tosh.'  Athill's response to Naipaul--also from the Guardian--is worth noting:

"I was a 'sensitive editor' because I liked his work, I was admiring it. When I stopped admiring him so much I started being 'feminine tosh'," she said this morning. "I can't say it made me feel very bad. It just made me laugh ... I think one should just ignore it, take no notice really."

Naipaul has "always been a testy man and seems to have got testier in old age", said Athill. "I don't think it is worth being taken seriously ... It's sad really because he's a very good writer. Why be such an irritable man?"

It's not the first time the pair have clashed. When Athill told Naipaul that his novel, Guerrillas, did not ring true, the move led, indirectly, to his departure from André Deutsch. And Athill has previously said that, when she needed cheering up, "I used to tell myself: 'At least I'm not married to Vidia.'"

Amen, my sister. From some of the horrors I've read about Naipaul's marriage, I think I'd be able to say that to myself in jail.

Okay--here's my point: there's a longstanding and inherent bias against female writers.  We are dismissed instantly as writing 'bodice-rippers' or 'feminine tosh.'  When I tell people I'm an author, their first question is usually, "Oh, romance?" with an intonation in their voices that just drips disdain.  It's like no one can imagine a woman writing strong, relevant, gripping literature.  This is insulting on several levels. 

First off, women write in all genres and not just romance. Look at some of the powerhouse women in fiction right now. Can anyone dare to dismiss female writers when the most successful writer in history is JK Rowling? Can anyone honestly sneer at the work of Barbara Kingsolver? The Poisonwood Bible is one of the toughest books I've read in a long time--and absolutely lovely.  And then I think of some of my friends and acquaintances in speculative fiction, like Kelly Meding and Gini Koch, and I have to kind of laugh.  These ladies don't waste their time on feminine tosh, not when their heroines are kicking everything's ass in sight.

Second off, romance books are NOT EASY TO WRITE.  I've tried to write a straight-up contemporary romance novel; I can't. I'm not wired that way.  And when you look at some of the greatest classic pieces of literature, those books were romances written by women.  Jane Austen? The Brontes? And those writers aren't equal to Naipaul?  Come to think of it, I'm reasonably positive Naipaul would chew off his own leg to have a fraction of Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele's sales.  The Nobel prize is nice and all, but you can only eat off it for so long. But Naipaul doesn't see it that way:

Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world". 
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am the complete master of MY house. Even the cats acknowledge that.

But finally, and most importantly, the main reason this disturbs me is simple. Naipaul, as a Nobel prize winner, has a platform--one that will reach millions of people.  He's used that platform in the past to denigrate third world countries, including his native Trinidad, and to express his loathing for people of color.  Now, he's using it to sneer at the accomplishments of women in literature, setting himself up on a pedestal and proclaiming the inherent inferiority of female writers. 

(In the interests of transparency, I've read some of Naipaul's work.  I like his earlier stuff; am not quite so fond of his later stories. I've found an underlying strain  of bigotry permeating his work, and felt that as he aged he got really, really preachy.  I've felt that way for years, which is a shame because I found A House for Mr. Biswas a lovely, evocative work.)

As writers, we should all be aware of the power of the written word. What we write can influence people, sometimes beyond anything we could possibly hope to expect.  Ever see a movie theater on opening night of a Harry Potter movie? Or, even stranger, the day a Harry Potter book was released? It's crazy. Did you witness the Team Edward/Team Jacob madness a few years ago?  Yes, writers have power.  We have the power to entertain, to inform, to invoke thought. Unfortunately, we also have the power to promote bigotry and prejudice through the employment of the language of hatred.

It's easy to dismiss Naipaul's comments.  After all, the gentleman is getting on in years and there's every chance that he might just be batshit crazy. This could just be jealousy rearing its ugly head, from a writer who once was very important and pissed away his momentum by alienating people in the industry and his readership.  Or, he could just be stupid.  Considering that eighty percent of the fiction-reading public are women, a writer would have to be an idiot to go out of his way to piss all those book-buying women off.  A writer on a forum I frequent made the mistake of saying that as this was just Naipaul's opinion, it was okay.

But it's not okay.  The language of hatred is NEVER okay. When a writer with the acclaim and notoriety of a V.S. Naipaul dismisses women at all levels of the publishing industry, it's most empathically NOT okay.  I mean look at precisely what he said: Sentimentality. Narrow view of the world. Feminine tosh. Not a complete master of a house. Banality.

Are women writers his equal? "No, I don't think so."

Come on.

Naipaul was slipping into obscurity before this interview, resting on the laurels of his prior acclaim and out of the public spotlight.  Now he's right back in the middle of it, but at what cost?  Even his authorized biographer, Patrick French, described Naipaul as, "bigoted, arrogant, vicious, racist, a woman-beating misogynist and a sado-masochist."

As writers, we need to be aware of the potential power of our words. Always.  Even a spec fic genre hack like myself can wield influence in the world--probably never at Naipaul's level, but some.

Very rarely, I'll find myself so disgusted with an author's political views that I won't buy his/her books.  Orson Scott Card is a good example of this; Ender's Game is one of the greatest spec fic books written in my lifetime, and yet his blatant hatred and prejudice of the gay community will keep me from ever putting a dime into his pocket.  It's sad, really, that V.S. Naipaul is now floating along in the same boat with Card.  That boat now has a Nobel Prize for an anchor, but it's powered by the sails of bigotry, hatred and prejudice.

Sail away, gentlemen. Sail far, far away.