The Management asks that you please wait to throw your fruit till the end…

Brace yourselves, I’m diving in again.

Earlier this week we talked about the dust-up over authors stalking reviewers and reviewers stalking authors and people just generally not being all that nice to each other on the internet.

And to go along with this whole theme of me falling into pits on the internet (or jumping into pits on the interenet) I’m going to tumble into another one today. Why not. I’m having an ambitious week.

The general caveat here is that this is basically going to be one big long string of opinion, and I’m not claiming Kate or pretty much anybody else under the sun agrees with me.


 
I stumbled my way across the internet this-morning to a cartoon outlining the distance between intent and effect, specifically in the use of racial stereotypes in sports. Which I could just explode all over about, but that’s not the point I want to talk about. The link that got me to the cartoon was about how it applied to blindly diversifying books.

And that’s a line as a publisher and as a writer that means something to me. I fully support the concept of diversity in publishing in pretty much every context, but my intent pretty frequently, to me anyway, feels like it falls flat of the effect I’m trying to have.

Because I can shout that I’m trying to be inclusionary, and honoring diversity until the cows come home. If the effect is that I’ve insulted someone I’ve obviously failed. If I blindly ‘find and replace’ gender, or sexuality, or race am I really honoring those people, or pandering? Generally I feel like I’m pandering, and like most human beings I go a long way not to feel like an idiot, so it doesn’t happen.

Also, I’d just like to state that I am a human being randomly stringing words and worlds together as they pop into my head. If you expect that to instantly get over an entire lifetime of people pretending race isn’t a thing anymore, I’m sorry.

Which leaves me staring at a book and whispering why are they all white?

Now I can justify this (and I picked that word on purpose because at best it’s a justification and I know better) by saying that I fully support diversity in books, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s my place to write them. Which is true, to a point. I couldn’t write a book like Their Eyes are Watching God or The Learning Tree (which was written by a guy from–and about–my home town) with any kind of honesty or truth, and I know it.

But equally, I don’t happen to be a space-ship pilot, or a mercenary, or a time-traveler (shh, that part’s a secret) either and I don’t shy away from that. I’m not male, or gay, or bi-sexual, or religious at all. I’m not running away from those either. Well, maybe a little that last one, out of respect and the fact I don’t have much nice to say.

So, since I’ve given you all that, and told you this is a giant block of opinion, I’m going to be utterly honest here about something that at it’s best is unflattering and unattractive.

When characters walk up and introduce themselves to me, about 80% of the time they’re white. Even in a universe where they could just as easily be freaking blue with sideways eyelids, they’re white. They also, equally as frequently, walk up as fully formed people. People who sit on my shoulder and make snide comments when I’m looking for inspiration that fits the vision in my head (I don’t look like that, what is wrong with you? No. That facial hair looks ridiculous Jules, fix it.) or when I’m writing character bios (I would never say that. He completes me? Are you serious?).

Now that other 20% is just as staunch, about making me find the right things that represent them too. Does that negate the problem?

Not even a little. And I don’t particularly feel like that commitment to character relieves me of the burden of stretching for more diversity. Usually it means when it’s time to fill in the people around the edges, that haven’t walked up and introduced themselves, I start muttering. “Alright, I need a Latina lesbian and somebody of non-European decent and who else have I missed in the last couple of books?”

Which still feels a little like pandering, but I’m trying.

And arguably that’s the point I’m trying to make here. Because I still feel like a lot of stories aren’t mine to tell, but maybe if I make a little more space the people who are supposed to be telling them will find it?

 

It’s like a log ride–with books!

We’re taking a short break from the Stalwart Writer series. Kate’ll be back next week to talk about endings. Until then…

It’s been a rough year in the publishing world. I was going to list out the scandals and strange happenings that have marked 2014, but honestly I think it’d take way too much time. From bloggers behaving badly, to authors behaving badly. Amazon, and Hatchete, and Penguin. 2014 has been a strange beast.

A friend forwarded me a blog post–I started to call it an article, but to me there’s a very real difference between blog posts and articles–from Dear Author the other day. Basically, it was a response to Kathleen Hale’s despicable behavior outlined so ‘charmingly’ in The Guardian. Now it’s not really a surprise, if you’ve been reading my posts on this blog or any other, that I very rarely pick one side or the other in a debate. It’s not even some half-hearted attempt to be the peacemaker. It’s more an honest internal representation of people’s crappy behavior having consequences, and those consequences being unjustly harsh not negating the fact their original behavior was crappy.

The general response to Kathleen Hale’s Guardian fiasco, specifically from book bloggers, has been abject horror that an author thought it was okay to stalk a reviewer because of a bad review. And I don’t disagree with that. There is utterly no part of Hale’s behavior I agree with, except maybe her initial unwillingness to walk away from the situation because everyone told her the reviewers would ruin her if she responded.

I’m the sort of person who digs my heels in, in situations like that too. I’d like to think I’d keep my sanity well enough to not start calling someone at work and misrepresenting myself as a reporter, or digging for their home address, or any number of other really scary things.

There’s an inherent distance between Writers/Publishers and Reviewers. And somehow, especially recently, it’s started to feel like an unbridgeable gap. The honest fact is publishers and writers, doubly small pubs and new writers, need reviewers. We need honest reviewers with good circulation, because nothing will drive book sales like someone’s trusted opinion saying a book is awesome, or even just good enough to be worth the price on the cover. We don’t have the departmental where-with-all or the budget to take out full page ads in the New York Times, or commercials on television. We need word of mouth, and ideally from a community that isn’t doing it for us, but for themselves.

Arguably a large chunk of the strange power dynamic in the relationship comes from the fact reviewers don’t really need publishers and writers. Sure, people with book addictions need things to read. But that’s a personal need, as opposed to a professional one. They need a reputation for being honest, and decently above board. That’s pretty much it. Generally book reviewers, especially the book bloggers at places like Dear Author and Goodreads aren’t getting paid–even in ARC copies–for what they do. It’s a hobby, and if push comes to shove, if things get too hard they’ll probably leave.

They’re doubly likely to leave if the “professional” world accepts the stance that it’s okay to nuke a reviewer for giving a bad review.

Now, I don’t spend a lot of time deep in the reviewer community online. I did once, quite a while ago, but it wasn’t a good place for me. I’m sure somewhere there are reviews still floating around for the books I received ARC’s from, but I wouldn’t suggest looking. Let’s just say they were all bad and leave it at that.

What baffles me is that no one in the reviewer community seems to be talking about the fact the vast majority of the actual people in the author community find Hale’s behavior equally as abhorrent. Now maybe a few of them are peppering those opinions with all the times to their knowledge reviewers have been genuinely horrible to authors they didn’t like. Routinely it takes a dust-up like this to remind me the two groups don’t generally mingle.

So maybe that’s the problem. Maybe instead of circling our wagons and splitting the book community even further apart, we need to start pulling it together. And also, for the love of Pete, people need to learn to be nicer to each other. Even when they don’t agree. Especially when they don’t agree.

That being said, if you don’t agree with me you can stuff it.

Preferably, if you can do it kindly, you can stuff it in the comment box down there.

Cross posted to Words and Wonderings, for Well Written Wednesday.

Stalwart Writer #4: Endings

And so, dear writer, at some point, we must all shut up and let the characters live their lives.

The fairy-tales we grew up with usually ended “And they lived happily ever after.” Personally, I prefer the German: “If they have not died, then they are living still.”

That does not mean that one is better or worse than the other. They just work for different genres.

Happily Ever After

Happily ever afters work for romances: a wedding in the last reel.

Or for some adventures: the intrepid paleontologists and kids escape from the dinosaurs and go home only slightly traumatized and more than ready to forget the whole ordeal.

Even cozy mysteries: She solved another crime in Cabot Cove and the sheriff is coming over for pie and lemonade.

But then, you have your grittier stories.

If They Have Not Died, Then They Are Living Still

This is where nior lives: the hardboiled detective goes home to the bottle and lonely office to wait for the next femme fatale through his door.

Or the literary novel where the characters have circled back into the same trauma live they had before, but a little wiser.

Cliffhangers

“To Be Continued” (Actually, this could probably be an entire post on its own.) Cliffhangers are the endings which aren’t endings. The books do not stand alone. For example, if you jump into The Two Towers without reading the Fellowship of the Ring, you are going to be in serious trouble. You need all the books in the series in order to get the story. This is different from a series ending.

Series Endings

In general, a series ending ties up the plot of the book. This means, the adventure is over and you didn’t need to actually read the book before it or after it to enjoy the story.

However, in a series, there are over-arching things that are not tied up in a neat little bow at the ending. The main couple doesn’t get together. There’s a tension in whether or not the partners are going to be in front of the review board. Or, there’s a villain hiding in the shadows who hasn’t been confronted. Our heros may believe that the story is done, but they have only finished part of it. Series are not cliffhangers though. Cliffhangers are when the main story is not completed without the next book.

So How Do You Actually End a Book?

The facetious answer is that you simply stop writing and type “The End” on the page. (Or FIN or STOP – These are very old school and apply to journalism rather than stories. FIN/STOP were to let the person on the other end of the wire know that the story was complete and could run.)

The harder answer is — are you done with the story? We’ve all read books that seems to have pages just added on to the end of the story to drag things out. And we’ve all had cliffhangers that we didn’t know were cliffhangers pop up on us. (This is not as common as it once was because fewer publishing houses are willing to take the risk.)

If you’re done with the plot, but not the characters, then you need to leave a few openings for the next story. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” This is the ending for a series. You could follow-up Casablanca by following Ilsa Lund’s character. Or you could follow Rick and Louis into the French underground. The characters can go on to another adventure, but the first one is done.

Sylist has a list of the best 100 closing lines of books. I’m going to snag a few to discuss here.

Happily Ever After

“But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” – The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

This ending lets you continue to imagine Christopher Robin and the rest playing happily in the woods. It’s a true fairytale ending where nothing bad will happen and everyone will continue to live happily ever after. This is indicated in the sweeping lines of “wherever” and “whatever” and “always.” This is most commonly found in kid’s books and fantasy stories. 

“With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.” – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

This is a more calm version of the happily ever after. We remained best friends and loved each other. Life went on and you get the sense that in general it is a happy ending with little heartache, but what generally happens in life.

They Are Living Still

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

This is a death speech. It is famous. It is powerful. It isn’t a happily ever after, but it is a firm ending of the story. We have followed the character to the grave.

“I wrote at the start that this was a record of hate, and walking there beside Henry towards the evening glass of beer, I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever.” – The End of the Affair, Graham Greene

Life goes on. It’s a dark and deadly life at this moment, but it continues. And maybe it will get better, but maybe it won’t. That’s okay for now. Bitter and dark like stout, it’s an old man who’d had enough of life, even as he knows that he’ll keep on living it.

“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.” – Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx

Again, if they haven’t died yet, then they are living still. There isn’t a solution to the problem, but our character has accepted that and is moving on into life.

 Cliffhanger

“Then shouldering their burdens, they set off, seeking a path that would bring them over the grey hills of the Emyn Muil, and down into the Land of Shadow.” – The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien

The story is obviously not done and now we need to see what the Land of Shadow has in store.

Series Close

“After all, tomorrow is another day.” – Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

I call this a soft close. It’s an ending that’s looking at a new beginning. The characters are compelling enough and the times interesting enough that if the author chose to, she could continue. However, the story is ended for today. Tomorrow starts a new one.

“She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.” – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,Stieg Larsson

This is a call to read the next book in the series. He’s been let into her life – what will happen now? Is this good or bad? There are questions open that the character(s) can answer in the next book, but the main mystery is done.

So, let’s look at our character Billy-Jo. You remember her right? She started out handcuffed to a bomb that didn’t explode in our openings post?

Happily Ever After: “Come on, let’s grab a beer at Paddy’s,” Piper said, “and you can tell all the drunk old Irishmen that you were nearly blown up.”

The story is neatly finished. Piper is helping her deal with the situation with her usual aplomb and a lot of beer. There may or may not have been major consequences of this story, but this is the signal that everything is just fine.

They Are Living Still: “Finally,” Piper muttered as Billy-Jo finished adjusting the prosthetic hand again and squinted down at the release papers from the hospital.

There were major consequences, but Billy-Jo survived and she plans to keep going even though she now has to learn to deal with those consequences.

Cliffhanger: “Oh, Jesus H. Christ, help me!” Piper screamed while Billy-Jo sawed through the rope that held her while the timer on the bomb continued to count down.

Nothing is yet resolved. Tune in next time when Billy-Jo says, “I swear to God, if you don’t listen to me this time, I will lock you in the trunk!”

Series Close: “Piper, come on, it’s just a free vacation to Bermuda. What’s the worst that could happen?” Piper just glared over her glasses.

We’ve resolved the bomber story, but set up the fact that Billy-Jo is going to Bermuda… and she just cursed herself by asking what could go wrong. If we want to spend more time with Billy-Jo and Piper, then we travel with them in the next book. Otherwise, we’re happy enough knowing that the problems have been solved and the characters will continue to have a life.

Whew! There we go. All finished up. And yet… Oh, I don’t know, I think this calls for a “Next Time” on Stalwart Writer. 

What do *you* think we should discuss? 

Stalwart Writer #3: The Worst Opening Sentences?

The American Scholar chose what they consider to be the 10 worst opening sentences.

I’ll agree with a couple of them:

It was like so, but wasn’t.

—Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2

It must have been 1963, because the musical of Dombey & Son was running at the Alexandra, and it must have been the autumn, because it was surely some time in October that a performance was seriously delayed because two of the cast had slipped and hurt themselves in B dressing-room corridor, and the reason for that was that the floor appeared to be flooded with something sticky and glutinous.

—Penelope Fitzgerald, At Freddie’s

The first because it’s just freaking annoying. It’s one of those weak openings that makes you want to shake the author and say “what were you thinking?”

The second is just over-wrought and over-full. A good editor would have grabbed this paragraph and given it either some order or some periods. I’m not against long sentences – no matter how much my own writing ends up sounding more like Hemingway than China Meiville. But, I despise sentences that aren’t clear. It can be long and compounded (463 words is the record for sentences I’ve read through.) It just has to be reasonably clear.

But I have another sentence I hate more than any of their choices.

“A squat grey building of only forty-two stories.” – Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World

Let’s begin with the fact that it isn’t even really a sentence. I leaves you dangling like a hero off of a cliff. Secondly, well, that’s a personal one. I was in a class wherein we discussed “a squat grey” for an hour and a half.

AN HOUR AND A HALF PEOPLE. This is what happens to students when you write sentences that aren’t sentences.

And lest you think I am making this up, I have witnesses from that class with whom I still speak. I will rustle them up if I have to.

But, after an hour and a half, I will say that “grey” is a “nasty little four letter word” right up there with “blue,” “love,” “true,” “hero,” and “hate.”

So what has this all been leading up to?

Openings

Let’s look at what I consider a great opening: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Why is this a good opening?

Because immediately I have questions. What is a hobbit? Why does he live in a hole? What sort of hole is it? Is he like a rabbit or something?

Your opening should draw the reader into the story.

I am a sparse writer. My sentences are short, merely because I have an over-reliance on commas, which I attempt to restrain by forcing myself to use smaller sentences. My opening sentences, are thereby also sparse. If you’re writing a high fantasy novel? By all means get a little flowery. I will never cite you as wrong for indulging your voice or your genre. Just make it clear, understandable, and interesting.

I’m not talking about just the first sentences either. But if you haven’t hooked me in the first few pages? I’ll close the book. I read a lot of fiction. I am a dreadful biblioslut. (Def.: n. One who reads multiple books at one time.) But on occasion, there are authors who catch me and I read the whole thing in one sitting. How do they do it? They keep me asking the question, what next.

Let’s try an opening I’m making up strictly for this example.

“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Billy-Jo muttered, pulling angrily on the handcuff attached to her right wrist, as the bomb’s timer clicked down to zero and nothing happened.

This is the sort of opening that makes you ask a lot of questions:

  • Who is Billy-Jo?
  • Why is she handcuffed to something?
  • Why is there a bomb?
  • Why did the bomb not go off?
  • Oh, Gods, is the bomb going to go off?
  • Am I going to hate the author within the first ten pages for killing of a snarky character I thought was the main character?

There is a journal devoted to the idea of first lines. They give you the initial sentence, then you create a short story to attach to it. Maybe that’s something for us to explore in a future episode.

Question time then:

What is your favorite opening? (Could be a scene from a television show, a book, a poem, a movie – anything with a narrative.)

Stalwart Writer #2: The Many Lives of Marty and Mary Sue

TV Tropes defines Mary Sue as something that pertains mostly to fanfic circles. And while that’s certainly the most oft used example, Marty and Mary Sue get their day in pretty much every type of art you can think of. This is, in general, self-insertion at it’s worst. This is the male character who is a normal man working a city job, but turns out to have blah blah blah unforeseen ability. He is not particularly attractive, but every woman wants to be with him and every man is jealous of him. This is the plain girl who has spend twenty years being ignored by everyone when suddenly the college football star decides she has worth.

I’m sure we can all remember once, one book or story we really really liked, until Mary or Marty showed up. That moment when we stared at our reading material in utter bafflement and actually said, “are you freaking kidding me?” But how many of us really look for that in our own writing?

We’re going to cover the three most egregious transgressions (in my opinion) of Mary/Marty Sue-ism, and I’m going to pretend I can’t name at least twelve self-examples.

“She punched me in the face once. It was amazing.”

The easiest bit of character perfection to notice is the way everyone else in your fictional world relates to them. Is your plucky, plain lab assistant beating the men/women/sentient jellies off with a stick? Just how attractive is your nerdy newspaperman without his glasses?

I’m not saying these people can’t encompass those things. Maybe your plain Jane lab assistant is refreshingly pagan and utterly unafraid of hitting on the men around her. Maybe they think she’s fun. Maybe your newspaperman hit puberty late and the way people react to him makes him uncomfortable. I’m a huge proponent of ‘write whatever the h*ll you want.’

Nothing smacks of bad writing as badly as the villain who screams at the end “I just wanted to be your friend and you wouldn’t talk to me!” Whether it happens in real life or not isn’t the point. I’m convinced your better than that.

“I can do that!”

You just yelled that in a Russian accent, didn’t you?

The thing is, the reason that scene works–when Chekhov is rushing through the ship because this, this is the thing he knows!–is because we’re excited right along with him. We’ve all had that moment where we’re suddenly, surprisingly competent. It feels amazing.

But imagine if it’d kept happening. If every single time they needed anything Chekhov suddenly knew how to do it, we’d all get pretty tired of his inexplicable competence. The best way to tackle this is to remember the quintessential theater direction. “If you leave a gun on the mantle in act one, it needs to go off in act three.”

The reverse of that is if the gun’s going to go off in act three it needs to be on the mantle in act one.

Hehe. It’s called Chekhov’s Gun.

“But Neo, you are the one!”

This last one doesn’t just happen with Marty and Mary Sues. It happens with all characters, absolutely, but it seems to be even more prevalent with self-insertion characters. Like we’re all stumbling around on this pea-sized rock hurtling through space trying to figure out what it’s all about.

And the answer is, it’s all about me.

Generally speaking, this is the most forgivable gaffe. The easiest one to write your way out of. Generally it just requires someone who’s motivation doesn’t have anything to do with your main character.

And the lesson for today is…

Listen, like I said up there a couple of chapters. I’m a huge fan of the idea that you should write whatever the crap you want. Write me a story about a kid who gets bitten by a radio-active wallaby and goes on to save the world. Write me a story about a plucky lab assistant who sleeps with everybody she can get her hands on and she’s freaking good at it.

But for the love of all that’s holy, find a way to appropriately ground it.

Becoming a Stalwart Writer

At some relatively quick point the problem with running more than one blog becomes content. Even I, erudite and fleet of mind as I am, can only be clever so much.

Also, there are only so many posts I can wrangle up about marketing, or more or less anything else business related.

So in an effort to keep my sanity and your attention, we’re going to do a set of themed posts. We’ll call it a free web-workshop. Over the next two weeks there will be four posts where Kate and I (shhhh, it’s a surprise and I totally just volunteered her for this) will endeavor to share with you something about how to make your writing stronger. Then, because workshops are all about participation, down there in the thing-a-ma-jig you share with us a bit of your writing that fits, and we’ll give you a critique, or ask a question, or whatever–within reason–the spirit moves you to do.

We’ll call it Becoming a Stalwart Writer.

So. Are you ready?

Part 1: Which came first, the forest or the tree?

I’m relatively sure I’ve mentioned on here before that in my other life, as a crazed writer with more ideas than time, I have a problem with world-building. I could gloss over that, and give you a workshop post about how overbuilding is bad and should be avoided at all costs, but there’s this karmic(religious, pick your poison of choice) principle that says throwing rocks from a glass house is bad.

I also don’t actually think world-building is bad. Even, to some extent, overbuilding. So what’s the line, when are you fleshing out your universe and when are you counting the spots on a space-whale? Well, settle in and lets get started.

First, I want you to stare blankly at your screen for a second and come up with the book you recall reading (or trying to read) that had the most egregious world-building you can think off. Don’t just settle on one that had it, most of us hated the genetic coding in Jurassic Park but I bet you can come up with a better option than that. Got it in your head? Good. Now, on a piece of paper, or a computer note, or a spare bit of flesh–yours, preferably–write down the 5 things said book did you just couldn’t stand. Really reach for it, because we’re going to go back and use these later.

We all world-build. It’s a thing we do as authors literally every moment we’re putting pen to page/fingers to keyboard. Or I hope it is. I’m not sure I’d want to read anything someone wrote without creating a world. That being said, there’s a point where world-building becomes quicksand. And that’s what we’re going to talk about right now. How to identify when you’ve strayed from the path and are steadily sinking into the swamp.

“Let me explain you a thing.”

“Explaining the thing” is the world-building that happens most in Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is where the writing takes you down a twelve page diatribe on the purpose of a ‘thing’ that is comprised of sheets of ‘thing’ that bear writing that the people of ‘planet’ use for the purpose of reporting their stories so they may be passed on to future generations.

Now, most of us are capable of getting ‘book’ out of ‘the thing’ absolutely. Even when ‘the thing’ is something more complex, like a space-ship or a marriage ceremony, or the exact genetic coding to splice out of a frog for your new baby velociraptor. Our ability to understand isn’t the point. Any more than an author’s skill at telling us is. The point is you’ve just used up a giant chunk of the reader’s mental energy on ‘book.’ How much more are they likely to give you before they walk away? And how much time do you want to spend balancing that?

There’s a fair amount of danger of this in historical fiction too. Court customs in high-society Scotland may be endlessly fascinating, heck your reader even agrees probably. But it’s a little unrealistic to expect your reader to take in all that information, and hang on to the plot too. It’s like watching a movie with too many lens flares. We all love lens flares, and they are fascinating. They look really pretty. But when they’re done I always feel like I’m trying to figure what people were doing while they were happening.

But but but…I love the thing.

I wrote a book once about sheep. I like sheep. They’re fuzzy, and they’re interesting, and I have a serious obsession with yarn so there’s that too.

Tie a rope around your waist here, the quicksand gets a little deep.

See the book wasn’t about sheep.  The book was about a man in 2124 who owned a sheep farm he refused to modernize, and walked out one day to check the pasture to find a mysterious woman unconscious in the middle of it. That sounds more interesting than sheep, doesn’t it?

But I like sheep, and he liked sheep too and somehow every time we started a scene we needed to talk about the sheep. I spent hours researching exactly how he was likely to run his sheep farm, and how long his ewes would be lambing for, and acceptable livestock loss numbers due to illness or predator. I wrote whole scenes on how he counted his sheep, and how he got ready for the spring.

Here be quicksand. The caveat to “write what you love” should be “but remember maybe the rest of us don’t care so much.”

The best test for this is to imagine you’re telling whatever you’ve written, or the plot of a movie you love, to a friend over dinner. Would you start skipping ahead because their eyes just glazed over? Yeah, maybe leave that bit out.

But the thing means (insert vague hipster ramblings about the state of the human race).

I know, I know. You’re gasping and grabbing your chest, because theme. I get it, I do. To many people theme is the soul of a book. Theme is that mote of perfection that ties everything together and just..how…but…incoherent flailing commences.

But from my perspective Theme always feels like world-building. And not happy, fleshing out the universe so it feels real world-building. Egregious ‘here have six pages of genetic coding, and a star map, and a couple of mineral deposit reports, oh and an entire new language complete with historically accurate vowel relationships’ world-building.

Still with me? Just checking.

Theme, theme that you’ve worked in from the word go and agonized over and agonized over and built into THE POINT, is the essence of trying to hard. And it’ll make me put down a book faster than literally anything else you could do. Your main character is a jerk? Well, those happen. You misuse commas and have an unhealthy relationship with the elipsis? Welcome to the club.

If you smack me over the head with Theme we’re through.

So what does all this mean?

It’s a good question. That list we did, back up there at the top, look at what you wrote on it. I bet the things you listed back there were the big things. Were ridiculous character names and made up languages. How did those books do in other places? Did they hold their narrative energy in reserve until it was most useful?

Now look at your work. How are you balancing the amount of energy you ask out of the reader? Yeah, we could all probably do better at that.

Come back on Thursday for…

Part 2: The Many Lives of Marty and Mary Sue

What now?

Achievement: Sense of accomplishment received October 1st, 2014.

We managed to get our first magazine out and about! This process started months ago.

We found cover art. We set up submission guidelines. We sent *out* submission guidelines.

We sifted through the submissions. (So many good. So many bad. So many meh.) Then, we put it all together.

We learned about the ISSN and the strange dichotomy of the Library of Congress wanted a hard-copy application and print of the journal, while responding to the publisher in an email.

Where do we go from here?

Well, we’re looking for new achievements:

  • Sell >100 copies
  • Sell>1000 copies
  • Get journals into bookstores
  • Produce Volume 2
  • Produce 1st YA Journal

The real next step, is – as always – promotion of our products. We can annoy people on facebook and set up twitter blasts, but the honest truth is that we need to get into schools. We need to reach out to librarians, school teachers, homeschoolers, parents, and PTO’s to get the book into the hands of the only demographic that matters, the kids.

So, here’s the actual next step – get an off-set print run and start selling them. One at a time at first and then multiple copies. Spread the word to other blogs. Trumpet their presence to all of our local bookstores and send press releases to our local papers.

I promise not to spam the blog about this, but you will probably hear me kvetching about finding actual people to send press releases to and making a list of reporters we’d love to be interviewed by, blogs we’d love to be featured on, and magazine racks we want to be placed on. Please bear with me.