Friday, October 25, 2013

Crappy Editing Solves/Ruins/Creates Mysteries

If your bookshelves are anything like mine, almost all of your books come from one of five large publishing companies.  However, there are thousands of publishing companies out there.  I wanted to know what kinds of books the smaller companies are publishing.  I bought a book published by a small company.  It was horrible.  It was possibly the most disappointing book I’ve ever read.  I know that small publishers are capable of producing quality books, but this book was just bad.  It made me feel sad for the author because it’s the publishing company’s job to not publish something until it’s ready.  This book was not ready.
Here’s what happens in the book:
A wealthy business owner’s son goes missing and is assumed to have been kidnapped.  Two detectives are hired by two different people to find the son.  The detectives don’t know that they’ve been hired to work on the same case until they meet in a bar and start talking about their cases.  One of the detectives says something like, “I know what happened right before the business owner’s son died.”  The other detective doesn’t react to the news that they guy who they’re both looking for is dead.  They just end their conversation, go their separate ways, and continue looking for the missing son.  Nothing else is said about the son being dead.
I spent about two-thirds of the book being massively confused and rereading to figure out why I was massively confused.  Why were the detectives still treating this case like a missing person case if they knew that the son was dead?
Then, at the end of the book, the detectives find the son’s body and don’t seem surprised that he’s dead, but the way that the dead-body-discovery scene is written feels as if the death is meant to surprise the reader.  It wasn’t a surprise to me because the detective said that the son was dead two-hundred pages ago.
I’m still confused.  I have a feeling that the author changed some scenes, and the dialogue about the son’s death wasn’t supposed to be in the published version of the book.  I can’t come up with another reason why the detectives would continue looking for someone who they knew was dead.  It would also explain why one detective didn’t react when the other detective said that the son was dead.  The mistake led to me being confused for the majority of the book.  If I didn’t have a compulsive need to finish every book that I start reading, I would have put this one down and not picked it up again.
This is why good editing is so important.  One misplaced line ruined an entire book.  (Well, one misplaced line and about eighty distracting typos ruined an entire book).  So, edit carefully. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

How To Fail At Writing

Disclaimer: this post is my opinion.  Feel free to disagree in the comments.


I was researching the reading habits of the American public (a very depressing topic), and I came across this comment at the bottom of one of the articles:

“I write paranormal romances, so I read everything except paranormal romances.  I don’t want my writing to be influenced by other paranormal romance authors.”

I’m sorry, anonymous internet poster, but this is a horrible idea.  If you want to write paranormal romances, you should be reading every paranormal romance that you can find.

Here’s why:

Genre conventions.  Paranormal romance is a genre, and like any genre, readers of those books have expectations that the book needs to meet.  What traits do paranormal romance readers find appealing in heroes/heroines?  Does the main character in a paranormal romance tend to be a man or a woman?  How does the typical “boy meets girl” scenario go in a paranormal romance?  Do paranormal romances differ from regular romances in any way besides the paranormal element?  Do paranormal romances have traditional happily-ever-after endings?  How big of a role does the paranormal element have to play to satisfy the reader?  What are some common paranormal elements found in the genre?  Does one of the main characters have to be non-human?  Does the paranormal element typically cause conflict between the hero and heroine? 

I don’t know how to answer these questions because I don’t write paranormal romances, and I haven’t read enough of them to learn the genre conventions.  A paranormal romance writer should understand the conventions.  They should know what the readers expect.  The only way to learn these things is to read paranormal romances and see what other authors are doing to satisfy the readers.

Writers also need to be reading within their genre to make sure that what they’re doing hasn’t been done to death.  Maybe readers have seen your story too many times before.  What you think is original might be cliché to someone who reads the genre.  Maybe the market has been saturated with vampire romances, or mermaid romances, or whatever romances for the last few years, and publishers aren’t publishing those types of books right now.  You won’t know these things if you’re not reading.

Finally, being influenced by other writers isn’t a bad thing.  A lot of great ideas are sparked by reading, and it doesn’t hurt to study the work of successful writers.  So, please read within your genre.  It won't kill you.




I haven’t given you an update on All The Things recently.

All The Things = 19 books.  I somehow managed to acquire more books.

I’m currently reading A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.  I bought the book because of the title only.  I had no idea what the book was about.  Turns out, it’s a really good book.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Colorado Gold Conference Review

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference was held on September 20-22, 2013 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver.  The conference offered sessions on improving your writing, starting your writing career, writing different genres, figuring out the publishing industry, and furthering your writing career after you’ve been published.  Conference attendees could follow the “Fast Tracks” and focus on one of these areas, or they could mix-and-match sessions.  The conference also had agent and editor panels, published writer panels, critique sessions, pitch sessions, pitch coaching, and master classes.

This was my first time going to this conference.  I only went to the sessions, and I didn’t follow any of the “Fast Tracks,” but I was there for all three days.  This was the second-biggest writing conference I’ve ever been to.  There were a lot of people, but it didn’t feel overcrowded.

Everyone I talked to was nice and helpful.  I didn’t stay at the hotel, but the conference rooms and the hallways seemed clean, and the employees were helpful.  Some of the conference rooms were difficult to find.  It would have been nice to have a map of the hotel in the conference packet so that I didn’t have to go back to the hotel lobby and look at their map whenever I didn’t know where I was going.

I wish that I could have cloned myself and gone to more of the sessions.  I sometimes had a hard time deciding which ones I wanted to attend.  I thought that I’d like the publishing industry sessions the most because I’m usually more interested in editing than writing, but I ended up liking the writing sessions the best.  My two favorites were Writing Action and Fight Scenes and Writing Characters with Psychological Disorders. 

It’s odd that I liked Writing Action and Fight Scenes because I’ve written very few fight scenes; the fight scenes that I have written are all short and one-sided; and I’ve never written a battle scene like you’d find in a war or sword-and-sorcery novel.  The session was really interesting, though.  A lot of the writing advice that was given seemed to be aimed at beginning writers.  It was the type of stuff that you’d learn in an Intro to Fiction Writing class.  For example, the instructors taught us to use short sentences to speed up the pace of a scene and use long sentences to slow the pace.  They also taught us to keep things in order: “I punched him, and he fell.”  Not: “He fell after I punched him.”  For me, the most interesting parts of the session were the details about what actually happens during fights/battles.  Some people feel as if time speeds up; other people feel as if time slows down.  Some people’s brains get so overwhelmed with sensory information that the brain can’t process all of it, and they don’t remember parts of the battle after it’s over.  Some people get so scared that they really do crap their pants (that’s not a myth).  And, if you get shot and aren’t killed instantly, you probably won’t lie down and die gracefully.  You’ll scream.  And maybe flail around.  A lot.

Writing Characters with Psychological Disorders is another session that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did.  I’ve written some odd characters, but the session focused almost entirely on schizophrenia, and I’ve never written a schizophrenic character.  For anyone who doesn’t know, people with schizophrenia have hallucinations and have a hard time telling the difference between what is real and what is a hallucination.  Writing a schizophrenic character seems like a challenging thing to do, so I don’t think I ever want to try it.  I did like hearing stories about real-life people with schizophrenia.  Brains are weird.  The biggest thing that I learned from the session is that I’m hugely grateful that I don’t have schizophrenia.

This post is getting long, so I’m ending it by saying that I will definitely be going to the Colorado Gold Conference next year.  I enjoyed it.         

Friday, October 4, 2013

Short Story Collections That Don’t Suck

I promise that this is the last of these lists for a long time.  If you’re looking to get in to reading short story collections or composite novels, here are a few to get you started.  I tried to pick collections about a variety of subjects.  There should hopefully be something here that appeals to everybody.  Once again, I stole the book summaries from Goodreads and Wikipedia.  Also, I'm done fighting with Blogger to get the formatting correct on these posts.  Sorry you have to look at some crappy formatting.


In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway

When In Our Time was published in 1925, it was praised by Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald for its simple and precise use of language to convey a wide range of complex emotions, and it earned Hemingway a place beside Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein among the most promising American writers of that period. In Our Time contains several early Hemingway classics, including the famous Nick Adams stories "Indian Camp," "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," "The Three Day Blow," and "The Battler," and introduces readers to the hallmarks of the Hemingway style: a lean, tough prose -- enlivened by an ear for the colloquial and an eye for the realistic that suggests, through the simplest of statements, a sense of moral value and a clarity of heart.

Now recognized as one of the most original short story collections in twentieth-century literature, In Our Time provides a key to Hemingway's later works.

Why I don’t think it sucks: I know that this one was on last week’s list, but it needs to be on this week’s too.  Hemingway can say a lot with very few words.

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
Nine Stories is a collection of short stories by American fiction writer J. D. Salinger released in May 1953. It includes two of his most famous short stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor.”
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is an enigmatic examination of a young married couple, Muriel and Seymour Glass, while on vacation in Florida.  “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is widely considered to be one of the finest literary pieces to result from World War II.  It’s about an orphaned child, Esmé, who meets an American soldier in Devon, England in 1944.

Why I don’t think it sucks: Amazing child characters.  If you’re a writer who wants to write realistic child characters, you need to read this book.  Actually, everyone needs to read this book.  It’s one of the best books in the history of books.


The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

Why I don’t think it sucks: Realism.
Interpreter of MaladiesJhumpa Lahiri

Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.  “I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.”
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family.

Why I don’t think it sucks: The complicated relationships between the characters.

Things We Didn’t See Coming – Steven Amsterdam

It’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions.
The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain landscape. By turns led by love, larceny, and a new sexual order, he must avoid capture and imprisonment, starvation, pandemic, and some particularly bad weather.
In Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam links together nine luminous narratives through the mind of one peripatetic and resourceful wanderer who always has one eye on the exit door and the other on a future that shifts more drastically and more often than anyone would like to imagine.
Why I don’t think it sucks: For some reason, no one I’ve talked to has heard of this book.  I guess it got lost in the flood of recent dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature.  The structure of this composite novel is interesting.  Each short story features the same narrator at a different stage of his life (from teenager to old person).  This book is worth reading for the structure.