Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Outside the Zone

Lost my first attempt at this blog so...buyer beware.

I recently had reason to remember my own advice about reading outside of your comfort zone.  I get a lot of books for free in exchange for reviewing them, so sometimes I select book I wouldn't normally read.  This is fabulous for finding new authors and sometimes, if you are an author, you also get that buzz of creativity that convinces you to try something different.

Not that I really need to try anything different.  I already have a computer-full of manuscripts I will probably never sell because there doesn't seem to be a market for zany murder mysteries with a touch of romance set in early 19th century England.  Who knew no one else would like such a thing and publishers wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole?

Be that as it may, I recently agreed to review a book by Charlie Huston called "The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death".  It gave me a crazy new idea for yet another book that I'm sure will not sell--but what-ever. 

And although socially, I will claim until my dying day that Huston's book is totally outside my comfort zone, to be perfectly honest, it is not.

It is not the kind of novel a 15-year-old girl should admit to reading, especially to her parents.  (And no, I don't fit into that category.)  It is also not the kind of novel anyone would expect a fifty-something professional woman to be reading.  (And I'll never admit to fitting into that category.)  In fact, I can't think of anyone who could comfortably admit to reading this book to any member of his/her family.  Unless the reader is homeless and has no family members who can read.

But I loved this book.

I mean, any book that begins with the hero engaged in an argument about who is the bigger a$$hole is, well, it's funny.  I know it should not be, but it is.  (I'm trying to clean up my language so that it will match my prim-and-proper exterior, but it's hard when there is so much amusement to be derived from seeing the look on people's faces when a well-dressed, polite, soft-spoken fifty-something woman sprinkles in a few choice swear-words.  It is irresistible.  Sorry.  I digress.)

So I should start by saying, this book is not for you if...

If swearing is offensive to you.

If the thought of exploding bodies fills you with disgust.

If you have no sense of humor (but it has to be a sort of sick, cynical humor).

If you don't find yourself laughing at hopelessly inappropriate moments.  (This is a terrible fault of mine that I can't seem to control.)

If you can't stand to read books with experimental punctuation.

This book is not for the faint of heart or the remorselessly, politically correct crowd.  Or those who insist the normal rules of grammar be used.

And the book is about those marginal characters you see hanging around in the alleys behind tatoo parlors.  So if that disturbs you, this is not the book for you.

Did I mention that I love this book?

It is not, however, without flaws.

Flaw 1:  There exists a certain set of authors who believe that our existing rules for punctuation and grammar are not good enough for them.  They insist on creating their own rules.  (I read a great deal of experimental fiction, so I am not speaking from an uneducated, "never-seen-this-before" perspective.)  They believe this enhances the immediacy of their work.  Or whatever they believe in their supreme over-confidence.

They are always wrong.

Huston obviously believes his system makes the dialog "more real".  He is wrong.  It makes it annoying.  I liked the book in spite of this, not because of it.

In fact, although I got the hang of his punctuation after a couple of pages, there were several places where I had no idea, after reading the section three or four times, which character was saying what.  But, did I mention that I still loved it?  Despite this, I still loved it.

Note, however:  I loved it despite, not because of, the peculiar punctuation and grammar.  It did not help.  In fact, it hindered.


So anyway, in order to present a useful review of "The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" I read a few of the other criticisms.  If at all possible, I wanted to present some new perspective to help potential buyers make the ultimate decision to plunk down their hard earned money.

Some reviewers remarked about what they considered to be a meandering, slow-to-start plot.  I have to disagree with this, vehemently.  Yes, if you only consider plot to be external events and "stuff" that happens to a character.  Web, the main character, is initially occupied with sleeping and sponging off his best friend.

The initial plot is to dig the hermit-like Web out of his comfortable stasis and make him face life.  While action-wise he spends an inordinate amount of time having extremely funny and snarky conversations with a variety of people, there is more happening than that.

He gets a job and realizes he actually wants to work.  He wants to live again.  And we see the process, in all it's quirky, funny glory as he begins to work, finds himself in a relationship, and is forced out of his shell.  We find out about the trauma he suffered that made caused him to escape into his shell to begin with.

It is about his character development, not about external events/action.

And as with any good novel, once he starts to try to re-enter the world, all sorts of bad things happen to him.  Hence the mystery aspect.

So I have to agree that the first part is slow.  It is what it has to be for Web to break out of his suspended animation and move forward.  In fact, I was so enthralled and jazzed by this book that I had to stop reading it at bedtime and had to actually read it during the day.

Web was endearing and funny and his predicament was so agonizing that I could not stop reading it.  And despite the exploding bodies and gore and things I know I should not laugh at, I read it with a stupid smile on my face and laugh at the back of my throat.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Start of a New Year

Can't believe it's been so long since I updated my blog   but I have a good excuse.  I've been working insanely on several manuscripts.

Over the holidays, I got a good rejection and that's next on my "to-do" list.  If you're scratching your head (or other body part) about the concept of a "good rejection," then here's the deal.

Bad Rejection:  Dear Author, Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we can't possibly be expected to respond to every query with the sort of personal rejection we'd prefer.  Thank you for your submission, but it does not suit our needs at the current time.  We wish you good luck submitting it elsewhere.

Now I don't know about you, but when a rejection ends in "good luck submitting your work elsewhere," it always sounds a little sarcastic to me.  Like yeah, good luck there, sport.

I did get some of those, too, over the holiday season.  Some were sent with a painful apology at sending a rejection just in time for Christmas.  Others are waiting (I can feel them out there) to send rejections after the holidays are over, when you're suitably depressed, anyway. 

But in the midst of all the well-meaning sarcasm, I also got a good rejection.

Good Rejection:  Dear Amy, thank you for your submission.  We read it with interest and although we cannot offer a contract on it at this time, if you would consider revising it, we would love to see it again.  ...And then they list the things they'd like me to think about revising...

Yeah.  I can do that.  You betcha.  And this time, I'm not even close to being sarcastic, because that's the opportunity I've been waiting for.  Maybe not the opportunity, which would be a multi-book contract with nice fat advance, but it is definitely a good opportunity.

Now, not all rejections like that are "good".  In some cases, the changes requested not only don't improve the book, but they actually may lead you down the road to ruin.  (Been there, done that, wrote the book, went broke.)  So you can't just accept any rejection requesting changes as an opportunity you want to pursue. 

If you're sure your book is exactly the way it has to be, and you can put your ego aside long enough to be able to determine this truthfully, then that rejection letter is just a rejection.  Move on.  Submit the book elsewhere until there are no more elsewheres to submit it.

But if the suggested changes ring a bell with you, and you think, Yeah, that's what I wanted to do when I wrote the book in the first place, then you should pursue the opportunity to the fullest extent the law will allow.

Word of Warning: There is no guarantee that you will make that sale after you modify your manuscript.  You may edit it to death or just downright ruin it.  (Been there, done that, too.)  Editing can sometimes make things worse, not better.  And the suggested changes are often just someone's idea of "what I would have done if I had been the author".

In my specific case, I read the changes with a sensation of relief.  Because the editor somehow divined what I was trying to do with the manuscript and suggested I do that.  I won't go into why I went down a different rabbit hole with the manuscript, but suffice to say, I really liked the editors suggestions.

So now I just have to make the changes, polish, and resubmit.  It's exciting and a little intimidating, because I know how easy it is to drop my little glass unicorn of a manuscript and break the horn off, turning it into a plain old glass horse. (To borrow a bit from a much more famous writer.)

And I'll probably be fairly quiet because before I start work on those revisions, I'm working on some other revisions that I need to finish by the end of January for another project.

No to mention that I want to start writing "A Feng Shui to Die" which is going to be a lot of fun.  Seriously.

Then, I have all these submissions I need to start sending out, so that I can start collecting more rejections for 2009.  I've got a goal of at least 100 rejections in 2009.

Hey!  I have a goal!  And I didn't think I was going to have any goals or New Year's resolutions in 2009.

Cool beans. Oh!  Jumping up with excitement  I also want to thank the wonderful folks (or lady) at Book Utopia who put my book, I Bid One American, on her list of best books in 2008!  Not to mention, she noted one thing about me that is just the best!  She said there was a whimsical quality to my writing!  Thank you!  (Sincerely and without sarcasm.)  I love her.  (But not in that way.)

I love whimsy.  And the whimsical.  That's why I like P.G. Wodehouse and Piers Anthony's XANTH books.  And Charlotte Macleod's Convivial Codfish.  Whimsical is fun and funny, and it makes me feel good to know that others see that lovely quality in my writing.  If I thought editors would accept it, I'd be even more whimsical than I am.  Whimsical and sarcastic.  Dark chocolate with an ooshy-gooshy white chocolate center.


So, see ya around, and I'll try to keep up with blogging and the occassional e-mail.

Good luck to everyone out there in Cyber-land.  Best wishes to all!