Thursday, 27 May 2010

My PC Won't Start

I experienced the worst message a writer can find when they press the 'On' switch on their laptop - 'This compuer is unable to start'
What! You were fine half an hour ago, what's going on?
A screen came up saying 'Attempting repair-this may take a few minutes' So while a blue line scrolls across a blank screen, I made another coffee and sat there biting my nails while several scenarios went through my head:

1. My backups are a week old, and I have written several thousands words and done some edits since then, including an entire chapter rewrite.
2. This laptop is only 18 months old. I cannot possibly tell the husband I need a new one - I am on my third machine in five years as it is! The fact he bought a new desktop mac and a netbook in the last six months is immaterial - his is 'real' work. Meaning it pays!
3. I have hundreds of research files on this machine - I risked viruses, phishing and trojan horses to get those - I will never find them all again.
4. I don't have another machine, not even an old one - when I kill them, they stay dead! Apart from getting up in the night and sneaking onto husband's machine while he's asleep - I'm screwed. Not that its practical, he wakes up if I turn over too fast!
5. Perhaps I could slip him some extra strength sleeping pills and -

What's that? 'Repair complete?' Great, panic over - now where's my backup pen drive, I'm not risking this happening again!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Mainstream or DIY?

Firstly, thank you to those who e-mailed me this weeks asking if I am OK because I haven't blogged since ....oh a week or two.

I'm fine, though not much is happening on the writing scene, for me anyway-other than I am slogging away at my 17th Century novel. It has become clear that there is so much happening in the second half, I am going to have to go back to the beginning and start trimming the first half!

Word count rules! Well it does for us unknowns anyway!

Being an historical fiction writer is not a route I would recommend to anyone in this current climate - mainly because I cannot stand the competition! Then again, it isn't the writing that's the hard part, but getting published.

I have spoken to several this week, care of Skype - thanks only to technology that provides free trans Atlantic conversations - and a surprising number of them are considering Self Publishing. Not as a last ditch, 'I have worked so hard on this if I have to publish it myself, I will', but as a serious, considered business move. The logic being if they can make some sales and get themselves recognised as authors, maybe a publishing house will notice them too - and if not, maybe the sales will do the work if sufficient hype and promotion goes with it.

These ladies, and so far they are ladies, I don't know how the men feel, agree that today you are expected to do 90% of your own promotion, no matter who publishes you. Editors don't edit any more, you are expected to present your publisher with a one hundred percent perfect novel ready to go to the printers. Although there are some self-published authors out there who are doing very nicely thank you.

For myself, I am still hoping for that call from my agent saying a publisher not only likes my work, but wants to publish it. It's very demoralising to be told I have written a 'promising novel', but they still won't publish it. Where does that leave me?

What angers all of us in our 'waiting to be discovered and working hard to learn the craft while we do so', circle, is that we all read plenty of mediocre or even plainly badly written books that are on Barnes & Noble and Book Depository websites - we have even reviewed some of them for review blogs! Publishing fiction is apparently about time, place and a lot of luck - and personal taste.

One thing we all agree on, is that no matter what comes of those manuscripts gathering dust on shelves above our computers, is that we will continue writing - because there isn't an alternative. It's what we do and who we are. We are doomed!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Writing Blunders

When my Writers Digest pops up in my e-mail, I usually scan it briefly to kid myself I am keeping up with the publishing world. But sometimes an article catches my eye and this was one by Jerry B Jenkins: [A summarised version-the original is here, and it's well worth a read]

1. Morning-routine cliché - How may times have you seen a book begin with a main character being "rudely awakened" from a "sound sleep" by a "clanging" alarm clock? Speaking of clichés, been there, done that. We all have. Don't ever do it again. Compounding that cliché is having the "bleary-eyed" character drag himself from his bed, squinting against the intruding sunlight. And compounding that is telling the reader everything the character sees in the room. Then he'll pass by or stand before a full-length mirror, and we'll get the full rundown of what the poor guy looks like.

2. Answering-the-phone cliché - This happens even in the movies or on stage. Be aware of yourself the next time your phone rings. It's such a common occurrence that we don't even think about it. But one thing you likely do not do is look up, startled. You don't turn and look at the phone. You know where it is; it's been there for years, and you've heard it ring before. You simply rise and go answer it.

3. The clutter of detail - Here is another problematic phone scene, from an unpublished manuscript:
The tinny ring echoed through the dark house. The shiny white receiver waited on the stone countertop. Another outburst. Chester, handsome, dark-haired, and taller than normal, craned his neck to look at the ringing reminder of his loneliness. After the phone's third cry for attention, Chester stood up and strode purposefully toward the kitchen. His long legs were encased in brown corduroys, which swished in the silence as he moved toward the phone. Ring four. He knew the machine would click on if he didn't move quickly. He plucked the receiver delicately from the cradle with his bronzed hand and said in warm, resonant tones, "Hello. Chester here."

Give your readers credit. If you tell them Mary phoned Chester, they can assume he heard the ring, stood, moved to the phone, picked it up and introduced himself.

4. Skip the recitals of ordinary life - We all get dressed, walk out to the car, open the door, slide in, turn the key and back out of the driveway. If your character backs into the garbage truck, that's a story. Just say it:

5. Don't spell it out - One of the clichés of conversation is feeling the need to explain more than once what's going on, as if the reader can't figure it out on his own. Other writers have a character respond to a diatribe from another with "Yep," or "Nope," or a shrug. Perfect. You learn about personalities this way. The character is a man of few words. But too often, the author intrudes, adding, "he said, eschewing small talk."

6. Pass on the preachiness - If your whole reason for writing is to pontificate on the dangers of certain habits or lifestyles, you risk sounding preachy. Many manuscripts are all talk, straw men, plots contrived to prove a point but little that grabs and subtly persuades the reader. If the theme is the danger of alcoholism, tell a story in which an alcoholic suffers because of his bad decisions and give the reader credit. If the story is powerful enough, the theme will come through.

Even as a child, when I heard the story of the boy who cried wolf, I got it. I didn't need someone saying, "So you see, if you lie often enough, no one will take you seriously when you're telling the truth." That's the beauty of morality tales; they make their own points. Put yourself in the skin of your reader. Read your piece to yourself and imagine how you'd feel at the end of it. Does the story make its own point? Has the writer [in this case you] added a sermonette to the end? When in doubt, cut it out.

7. Setting the scene - The reader's mind is infinitely more creative than what a filmmaker can put on the screen, so be visual in your approach. People buy tickets to the movies or subscribe to cable channels hoping to see something they've never seen before. A good novel can provide the same, only—because of the theater of the mind—millions of readers can see your story a million different ways.

However, avoid too much description. I loved it when great potboiler writer John D. MacDonald described a character simply as "knuckly." A purist might have demanded hair length and color; eye size, shape and color; height; weight; build; gait. Not me. "Knuckly" gave me all I needed to picture the man. And if I saw him thinner, taller, older than you did, so much the better. MacDonald offered a suggestion that allowed his readers to populate their own scenes.

8. Coincidences - In real life, I love coincidences. In fiction, more than one in each novel is too many, and even the one has to be handled well. (In comedies coincidences are fun and expected. How many times in "Seinfeld" do the characters run into the same people they tangled with early in the story?)

As I said, an article worth a reading as he makes some great points