Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crap for Kids

I was thinking the other day about a book someone sent me a year or so ago. It was terrible. I won't mention the name, because I honor the effort even if the result is a dog's breakfast. But I have given it a lot of careful consideration, really seriously thought this over, and I honestly believe it to be the worst book I have ever read in my life. Of the thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of books I've read in my many years on the planet (and I got my own library card when I was 5) this was far and away the worst.

I don't say that lightly. I've read some really, really bad books. I've read several pirate books sent to me for review that were so bad I wanted to contact the authors families and tell them to make him or her stop. But nothing was as bad as this one.

The reason this comes to mind more than a year after the fact, the only point in writing this, is that two friends who also review pirate literature gave it tepid but approving critiques.

I was flabbergasted. It really was awful. I was so surprised by this I actually called them and asked, "How could you have said this was OK? Didn't you notice that the main character was the most unpleasant heroine in fiction? The nicest thing you can say about her is she's pigheaded. That's her best trait!"

Yes, they agreed, that was certainly true. The main character was awesomely unpleasant. Why anyone would want to spend the time to write such a character is a mystery.

"And the story was absolutely idiotic. Even if that could have happened, it couldn't possibly have happened the way she describes it! And no sane person would behave that way except because the author was arbitrarily forcing her to."

Again they agreed. And they agreed with another couple of points I made as well. In the end we agreed that the best thing about the book was that it had a good, strong binding. I know because I'd thrown it across the room several times and it held up. Really. It was that bad. The book took a licking and kept on sucking.

"So why," I asked, "did you give it such a good review."

"Well," they both said - in separate conversations mind you, they both said almost exactly the same thing. "It's for high school readers and they'll probably like it."


No no no.


Don't blithely say, "Oh, high school kids, they'll accept crap." Don't sit there and tell me that it's OK to write crap for them because they're young.

If anything, the middle school through high school readers are the ones you really want to court, give them the best stuff. Entrance them, beguile them. Woo them. You need to keep higher standards for them. You want to present them with books so well written, stories so well told, that they become hooked. They're readers for life.

But if kids are faced with too many pieces of crap like ... Well, I'd love you tell you the name, I really would. It was SO bad, deliciously awful. But I promised myself I would never do that. There's such a thing as karma. Seriously if kids, have to read too many books like that one, they'll give up. We could lose a whole generation of readers because someone said, "Oh, they're just kids. It doesn't really matter."

It does matter. It matters a lot.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Drives Me Crazy (2)

I like licorice. I do. I like it a lot. What I hate – and I mean HATE – is when people say, "I don't like black licorice, I only like red licorice."

There is no such thing as red licorice. Let me say that again – There is no such thing as red licorice!!!

ALL licorice is black. Licorice is not a shape, it's not a particular style of candy. It's a flavor, and the ingredients it's made of, mostly anise, I think, make it black. There can be different shades of black, I suppose, but licorice is always black. ALWAYS.

Those red vines that people insist on calling red licorice? They're strawberry flavored. Those are red vines, or strawberry vines. There is nothing licorice about them. NOTHING! There is NO red licorice.

And then there's this. A story in the Source the other day reported on a guy all excited about his new job. "He said he was anxious to begin the new project." Anxious? Really? He's afraid? I thought he was excited.

As I admonished my co-workers (I'm a real popular guy, as you can imagine) anxious means nervous, edgy, bordering on afraid. It comes from the same root as anxiety.

I suspect that the guy in the story is eager to begin his new job. Eager and anxious are NOT interchangeable. They have completely different meanings.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Drives me crazy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Another View on the Waiting Game

The subject of waiting for news reminded me of a blog post written seven years ago by author Keith Thomson.

I've known Keith since about the time he posted this, though we've never actually met. We've traded many e-mails and had a longish phone call once when he was exploring co-marketing strategies. Kinda guy he is, thinking ahead, looking for angles. He read and gave me good feedback on Chance.

He's also a damn good writer. His Twice a Spy recently came out in paperback, following his first thriller named (you guessed it) Once a Spy. He also blogs for the Huffington Post, but most notably he wrote Pirates of Pensacola, which I still say is as funny as any novel I've read. (And yes, I've read Terry Pratchett, Doug Adams, Dave Barry and Christopher Moore.) I couldn't find this blog online, so I wrote to Keith who sent it to me, along, with his permission to post it here. So what follows was written by Keith Thomson, NOT by me. Thanks for letting me share it, Keith. And you can read lots more about Keith here.

How Selling A Novel Can Kill You

D-Day, landing at Normandy, unsure whether you’ll live or die: that’s more suspenseful than the wait once your agent has sent your manuscript to publishers. With a good literary agent, whose recommendation can have editors reading within hours of receiving it, you’ll know whether you are an about-to-be-published novelist or not within two weeks. Two weeks that will seem like five years. If you have a crappy agent, take consolation that the process will be more months long, offering you hope relatively ad infinitum. I have a good agent. Nothing I’ve experienced was as suspenseful as the days following his sending out my manuscript to potential publishers ... I spent two solid years writing Pirates of Pensacola. Authors routinely devote half a dozen years. You hope yours will sell of course. You dream of nothing else. But if it doesn’t, not only will you feel devastated and ruined and judged as crap by an expert panel, you’ll have to face your friends—and worse, your enemies, and even the best answer to “How’s the writing going?” will still eat at chunks of your guts each time you give it. Also you’ll have to put up with your father telling you he “told you you should have gone to law school.”

Here’s how the process might, hypothetically, go:

Day 1: No sweat. You feel good actually. All 350 pages of your ms (publishing lingo, which you’re hearing now, and think is cool, for “manuscript”) have been xeroxed, boxed, and messengered out! After two long years sitting and drawing blood from a stone, a large, powerful agency is sending your ms to a bunch of great publishing houses.

Day 2: No word. You know that sometimes editors will read a hot property that night. Ergo yours is not a hot property. You’re a loser.

Day 3: Still no word. You resist impulse to be like every other client and bug your agent for word as to whether there might be word of potential word.

Day 4-5: Still zip. See day 3, multiply by five and subtract two years from your life due to anxiety. Get prescription for anxiety medicine, triple whatever amount doctor prescribes (unless doctor has had a manuscript up for option, then just double it).

Day 6-7: Weekend, so no word expected. But still, part of you hopes some editor reading it will love it and not be able to contain herself ’til Monday. So you’re discouraged the phone hasn’t rung. Then you realize it was ridiculous to have expected smart, literate, busy, busy publishing people who are deluged with books and proposals to be reading your stack of paper at all, let alone on a weekend. You go online for applications for law schools and to investigate loans. Make note to google Peace Corps.

Day 8: Monday. Agent calls and tells you there are bites per weekend reads. This is wonderful news, but you know with certainty that the Fates have it only to make the fall harder for you. In unlikely event that the Fates have finally grown bored of conspiring against you, you sit by phone like a fifteen year-old girl and eat your remaining nails (interestingly, prior to this auction, you didn’t bite your nails. Also, though you’ve been eating compulsively, you have, oddly, lost eight pounds. Likely from the pacing.)

Day 9: Agent calls and tells you to go at once to your church or spiritual equivalent and light candles or whatever you can light that a particular editor who liked it’s boss now likes it. You know 4 in 5 who have read it have not liked it, so odds that this new guy will prompt you to consider. Also, given that it’s your ms, the Fates, those bastards, will somehow ensure the guy has heartburn while trying to read it and/or his sixteen year-old son will total his car.

Day 10: You awake (somehow you finally got to sleep) to e-mail from agent that you have a publishing deal. You suspect it’s a practical joke. You call your agent and delight in hearing even the most mundane detail, like the floor number the editor works on.

Day 11-14: You notice yourself humming hallelujah a lot. And the feeling of hot chocolate warming you on a cold day? It’s 24/7.

Day 15: You get advance word of some of the edits the publisher wants. You realize the Fates were behind the whole deal from word one.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Surprise in the Story

Got back to work on Scurvy Dogs! and Wednesday was a good day, 1,490 words by noon. Good thing too, because work kept me busy Thursday. I'll be back at work on the story this morning, and am reading a couple of chapters to the kids this afternoon.

Not only was Wednesday productive, but some cool things happened in the story, including something I didn't expect at all. A character I had always assumed was something of a milquetoast, a dandy, just proved that he must be a whole lot more under the surface. That's always cool, because you like to see characters prove themselves to be more than they seemed. As long as it can be done without sacrificing the integrity of the story, and this can. It'll require very little adjusting, but this will work very well.

It's just odd, because I never saw it coming. I literally I had no idea that the tutor would end up as some kind of pirate. That was never the role I'd planned for him. But I suddenly realized that for the situation I had laid out to have happened, he MUST have been pretending all along. Now I'll have to go back and see if he gave me any clues that that's who he really is.

The best part, of course, is that if the author never saw it coming, odds are the reader won't either. Although I have always suspected that the readers are a lot smarter than I am.

I'm also reminded of the actor's maxim - If you'rew supposed to play the devil, find the angel in him. If you're playing an angel, find the devil in him. In other words, one-dimensional characters are boring. And most people aren't like that, all good or all evil. What makes us interesting is our quirks and inconsistencies. So having a foppish character suddenly turn into something else is great, even though he isn't a major character.

At least, he's not yet. But he may be one of those fictional characters who keeps forcing his way into a more and more pivotal part in the story. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

UPDATE: Just finished the chapter, 1,290 words today. Off to read.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Waiting Game

This is an exciting time. Also a scary time. Nerve wracking, even. After months of being crazy busy, now all I can do is wait.

Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter is going out to publishers this week. Fingers crossed.

I finished the latest revision about a week ago, then wrote synopses for two sequels. Not that I have to slavishly follow them when it comes time to write them. The purpose is to give an editor something he or she can get excited about and take to the publisher to offer us more money, which I think is just a great idea.

So it's all been sent off to Eddie the Agent, who start sending it to publishers this week.

I've been here before, so I'm not getting my hopes too high. Chance was out there for two years. One publisher had it in the system for nine months. This was a big house, so my then-agent gave it to them exclusively. I actually did two rewrites for them to address different issues they had. The book made it to their final meeting, the one where they decide, this is what we're putting out next year. That was very exciting. Then it just died and I never did find out why they decided to pass on it. At that point my then-agent sort of gave up, It went out to a few more houses, but I could tell from his e-mails he was no longer interested. He'd taken what he thought was his best shot, it came up short, and he fell out of love with it.

So I'm going to stop talking about the possibility that Chrissie will be the one that finally breaks through. It's good. I'm confident in that. I'm satisfied I've done my best. Now it's really out of my hands. The next time I mention how Chrissie is doing, it'll be to say the book (or books!) have been sold or are no longer in play. Certainly I hope it's the former.

And of course, I have Scurvy Dogs! to finish, There's a about seven weeks of school left, and those kids are going to get the whole story. That's a promise. It's a good story that I'm excited to work on, and it'll give me something to do while I wait.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Revision: Some Characters Now Out of Work

Sent off the latest (last?) revision of Chrissie Warren today.

The major change in the middle, telescoping the action down from one night to two, works very well, but had some unintended consequences that had to be dealt with down the line. For instance, there were two characters introduced between the two nights who now had no place to go and no role to play. I was able to find Thorne, the former privateer turned honest merchant seaman, a job as a sergeant in the Royal Marines. But his buddy Sullivan, is now gone.

Oh well, maybe I can find him work in the sequel. Which is what I'm working on today.

It's worth noting that the second draft of this book was 88,000 plus words. This is the fifth draft and it's now 75,000 plus, a 12-percent cut, but more things happen in it. It's a better book this way, tighter, moves faster. A classic case of "less is more."

But I resisted the urge to tighten the dialogue. I can hear these characters. How they talk is as important as what they say. It tells you about their personalities, their characters. Chrissie is very guarded, very reserved. Makes sense for her lines to be short, terse. But her father Dan is a raconteur, a born story teller. He'd never use four words when sixteen are available. So even though the meaning of a sentence might be the same, the difference is important. "Never fear" doesn't work. "Never you fear, me darlin'" tells you a little more about the character than the fact that he doesn't think his daughter should fear. (And "Never fear" sounds way too Dudley Do-Right.)

So anyway, it's been sent, Fingers crossed.