Reading On the Screen

On my last trip, I did something unthinkable. I didn’t take any books. Print books, that is. I did have a number of ebooks on my tablet, including two that I acquired especially to read on this trip. One I borrowed from the library’s ebook catalog; the other I purchased.

My conversion to ebooks has been gradual. Except in cases when it’s the only way I can obtain a book I’m interested in, I seldom read ebooks except when traveling. Then the convenience is hard to beat. A slim, lightweight tablet versus pounds of books. The ability to enlarge the print when the lighting is poor, and to read without using those horrible glaring lights they have on airplanes. By syncing my tablet with my phone, I can continue to read on it during the twenty minutes of takeoff and immediately after when laptops and tablets must be stowed away.

Another advantage to ebooks is obvious. It cost me $13.99 to buy an ebook copy of the literary bestseller I took on the trip. If I’d sprung for print it would have cost me seven dollars more. And unless I wanted to take a chance that I could find a copy in an airport bookstore, I would have had order the book a few days ahead of my trip so it could be shipped to me.

On the downside, you are dependent on electricity to charge your device, while print is always there. Which why it’s good to have a back-up print book for emergencies, like when you leave your charging cord in the hotel and don’t have time to shop for a new one right away.

And there are other disadvantages. Reading an ebook is more tiring, since even though the print on the screen appears crisp and sharp, in fact your brain is smoothing out the uneven edges of the pixelated letters to make them appear that way. Also, for reading at night, the bright light of the device decreases the production of melatonin in the brain, so reading an ebook before bed is more likely to cause insomnia.

And even though the device shows you on every page what percentage of the book you’ve already read, going back to re-read a few pages in an ebook is much more cumbersome and tedious than flipping through the pages in a print book. If you’re reading a complex story with lots of characters, that can be frustrating. It’s like everything you’ve already read falls off into a void and disappears, and the only part of the book that is real is the page in front of you.

As a writer, I find this aspect of ebooks troubling. Many of my books are no longer available in print, unless you can find a yellowed copy in a used bookstore. Which means from now on, almost everyone who reads my books will be doing so in the digital format. It makes my stories that I spent hours and hours of my life creating seem like any other consumer product—a bag of potato chips or a cup of coffee—to be consumed and then forgotten. My story, my words, are just ephemera.

Although from another perspective, exactly the opposite is true. My print books will eventually crumble to dust, while my ebooks could potentially live on and on forever in the digital realm.

But this potential advantage is canceled out by another aspect of ebooks. According to studies, they don’t have quite the same impact and influence that print books do. This is because print is tactile, which helps our brains create a stronger memory of what we’ve read. The physical act of turning pages, the sensation of the number of pages held in your left hand versus those in your right, the location of the words on the page—all those things help your brain store the information you’ve read more effectively. My digital stories will last longer, but they have less meaning to the people who read them.

And finally, the ease of producing ebooks means that my stories are no longer competing for readers’ attention with thousands of other books, but with literally millions. My story and vision is drowned in an endless sea of ebooks.

Ebooks are like so many things in this rapidly-changing, breathlessly expanding technological world. All these innovations have made the exchange of information easier and faster, but now the sheer volume of what we’re exposed to threatens to render the actual content meaningless.

I leave you with a quote from Jim Morrison’s Lords and New Creatures: “We have metamorphosed from a mad body dancing on the hillside to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.” He was referring to people living through TV and film instead of experiencing life. Now we live through the reality of our handheld devices.

“The Silver Moment”

It's a term I made up to describe a twist in fiction that can make the "black moment" more shocking to a reader. The black moment is a part of the basic structure of fiction that has been knocking around for centuries.

  • The inciting incident.
  • The mounting tension.
  • Complications.
  • Climax.
  • The black moment.
  • Denouement.

There are as many variations on this structure as there are writers who write about writing, but roughly this is the basic formula for your plot in fiction. Everything else is a refinement on this.

The black moment is the part of the story just before everything is resolved when things seem to be as bad as they can get for our protagonist, when all seems lost and the antagonist is about to win.

The silver moment, as I call it, is infrequent in fiction but you should recognize it when you see it. It comes just before the black moment. It is the part of our story when, in contrast to the black moment, everything seems to have worked out for our protagonist, when all seems to have been resolved as it should have been and the good guys have won. The silver lining of the cloud that has been hanging over our protagonist throughout the book has, in effect, been found.

In this case, the black moment comes when the antagonist, thought defeated, reappears out of the blue with one last card to play, one last-ditch effort at accomplishing his goal, or at the very least, at destroying those who prevented him from achieving those goals in the silver moment.

Rogue Agenda by Kevin Paul TracyFor example, in Rogue Agenda the terrorists have all been rounded up by the Feds, the Al-Serhemni family have successfully escaped to Canada, and while Lainie still has an arson/manslaughter rap hanging over her head the reader knows she is innocent and, if there is justice, will be exonerated. But wait...what about the hit man who started this whole mess by trying to kill the CIA agent and has been stalking Lainie ever since? For god's sake, check the closet before you go to sleep!

Presence of Malice by Kevin Paul TracyIn th conclusion of my book Presence of Malice the villain, Dr. Gerald Gannery, is wanted by several Federal agencies and our heroes - Jet, Gregory, Patricia, and Paul - are enjoying their victory and have let their guards down. Unaware - but about to find out - that Gannery has found the brownstone where Jet has hidden his paraplegic brother and is aware of the money that his henchman tried to bribe the fixer with...and is now driven by a murderous thirst for vengeance.

The silver moment can definitely be overused. If the reader comes to expect it, it loses its impact to make the black moment come as a greater surprise and seem even blacker. But if used judiciously, it can be an effective tool in bringing a shocking and satisfying story to your readers.

IT’S BACK

red-skyI knew the second revision letter on RED SKY would arrive at some point, but I didn’t expect it the day before Thanksgiving with a December 5th deadline for turning it around.

I’m thankful I have a contract.

I read the email, but I haven’t opened the document yet. This weekend was earmarked for family and friends. It will end short—tomorrow.

I’m thankful for the three day holiday and for turkey.

One of the most difficult things for me is finding a way to balance the writing time with personal time with the business of writing time.

In the past three weeks, I’ve had three events—a presentation at Chautauqua, the Boulder Audubon Holiday Sale and a signing at the Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument this afternoon—and there are still more to come: RMFW’s Holiday Party, Colorado Authors’ League Holiday Party; a bookclub event in Pueblo; and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s “Mystery and Mistletoe” Holiday Celebration at the Denver Press Club on December 8th. Twelve of us will be reading. Margaret Coel will be honored. Francine Mathews is emceeing. The Broadway Book Mall will handle book sales. It’s from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. You should come. Tickets are $10 at the RMMWA website.

I’ve also written two blogs, updated my Facebook and Twitter pages, and read a number of books for a competition I’m judging.

The business of writing.

lightsWith the holidays, we have family in town, dinners to cook, presents to buy, a Christmas letter to write. This year we’re in a new house, and I’m excited to decorate and make it feel more like home. Downsizing has been a hard transition for me and I need to take time to put up and decorate the tree, hang the lights and fill the house with the smell of cookies.

Personal time.

But what happens when the RED SKY revision is done? The publisher is already asking what’s coming. I have an idea. I’ve done a little research, done a little plotting. I need to open a new WORD document, type Chapter 1 and put down the next 99,998 words.

Writing time.

I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, excited for the coming opportunities and busy making New Year's resolutions.

1. Work on creating better balance in my life in 2017. Or as Jedeane Macdonald would tell me — learn to say NO.

Here's wishing all of you a very happy holiday season. See you in the New Year!!

The Myth of Talent

A couple of months ago on the old RMFW blog, I talked about the Myth of Craft. The Myth of Craft promises us that if you learn how to write the perfect book, you will get money, fame, and your own purse dog.

I don’t buy The Myth of Craft like I don’t buy The Myth of Talent.

We’ve all met the talented writer. “Ooh, she has so much talent, surely she’ll hit it big. Wow, between her talent and her craft, she’ll surely land an agent.”

Maybe.

I have talent. I think most of the time my innate talent doesn’t help me because I think I’m too fancy, my books are too literary, and my “talent” gets in the way of me telling a good story. I fall in love with my words, and I don’t want to cut them. And more and more, I’m not cutting them because I like ‘em. If you don’t like my books, don’t read my books. *Insert a spit-storm raspberry here*

Then the internet laughs at me and says, “Well, son, that’s why you don’t have an agent or a big contract with a big traditional publisher. You don’t respect the craft and you think you have talent. Learn how to write and cut that purple prose.”

And maybe they are right.

But who cares?

As I’ve said before, this game is about doing it. It’s not about who has the most talent or who knows the most about craft, it’s about people who sit down, write books, edit books, and publish books. It’s about people who finish projects.

You can’t sell a perfect book you haven’t written. You can sell an iffy book that is finished. Some people will like it, however iffy, and some people won’t. It’s art we’re dealing with, people, weird, subjective, wacky art.

For example, many people have said my third book, Elizabeth’s Midnight, is their favorite. However, it doesn’t have very many Amazon reviews and it doesn’t sell as well as the others. Why? I don’t know. Art. Who knows?

Talent isn’t a bad thing, unless you fall in love with it, which I have. Better yet, talent has that mythical quality to it that I don’t think represents reality.

I love the idea of the genius writer, who sits down and spins gold with every word. And I wanted to be that. I wanted to write books in a vacuum, and use my innate brilliance to conquer the literary world. I didn’t want to learn craft, or suffer through edits, or any of that. I wanted to be a god!

Then I wrote books people couldn’t read. And then I had to learn how to tell a story. And then I had to learn about how to work with an editor. Learn, learn, learn.

Craft. Craft. Craft.

Ha, so if you wanna believe in a myth, go for the Myth of Craft versus the Myth of Talent.

My talent has helped me in one way: people have always encouraged me to write because they could see the spark I have. For a little while, the praise felt nice, but not much anymore. It’s never good enough or quite specific enough and I’d rather have book sales than praise. Oh well.

My friend Linda once told me that there’s talent on every corner and there is tons of genius writers in the world and I’m just another one. When she told me that, I kind of panicked. So my talent wouldn’t be enough???

Nope. Better than talent? Determination and courage and the will to write and publish.

I wish it were different. I wish there was magic to the talent and a guarantee of utter world-dominating success.

But there are no guarantees.

I will say this. It is nice using the talent I have and not letting it sit dormant. There is a magic to using my gifts to create, and while that may never turn into fortunes and fame, there is a feeling of satisfaction.

So use that talent you have. Write books. Edit books. Publish books.

Rinse. Repeat.

 

Grateful for the Freedom to Write

CPJ photo of journalistsThanksgiving is over. Carcasses of unpardoned turkeys have been cleared from the table, their remains packaged or put in sandwiches, their bones thrown away or placed in pots of water for nourishing soup in the cold days ahead.

And like the remains of our feasts, there is a lingering thought for gratitude—the central theme of our Thanksgiving holiday.  As writers, perhaps we can spare a moment to ponder the greatest gift we have – freedom of speech. What would happen if suddenly we weren’t able to say or write what is important to us? What if our stories were stolen, replaced only with “acceptable” thought?

Since 1981 the Committee to Protect Journalists has promoted freedom of the press worldwide, and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. Why? Because according to CPJ’s mission statement, “Journalism plays a vital role in the balance of power between a government and its people. When a country’s journalists are silenced, its people are silenced.”

If the freedoms that CPJ protects were curtailed, it is very likely that some of our best stories would also be kept from us.  Imagine the discussions that would NOT take place because stories like Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, or Animal Farm would never be published.  How rich would our lives be without Gulliver’s Travels, Lord of the Flies, or The Manchurian Candidate?

Think this couldn’t happen? On May 10, 1933, Nazis raided bookstores and libraries across the country of Germany and burned the works of Jewish and other “non-German” authors. Books by Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein all fell victim to the flames of hatred and small-mindedness. Freedom of expression was assaulted along with those books. Freedom to think became a ghost-like and fragile energy in Germany for the next 12 years.

And here in the United States, soon after the atrocities of Jewish persecution, and attacks on the freedom to write, we endured the McCarthy years, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Many writers in Hollywood at that time lost careers and family, or opted to use pseudonyms in a desperate hope to continue writing and earning a living with their words.

So yes, if there is a spare moment between the holiday shopping, work as usual, and greetings to friends and family, perhaps we can say a little thanks to those who believe that the freedom to write is paramount to a successful society.

The Committee to Protect Journalists illustrates clearly the importance and dangers of speaking your mind. Since 1992, one thousand, two hundred, twenty journalists have been killed around the world for doing what you and I take for granted—they wrote.

In gratitude I write this post today; grateful for the teachers who taught me to read and write, grateful to those who read and share my stories, grateful for those yet to come, who will impact our world with their care-filled prose, their willingness to debate. I am grateful for the words that empower me each day:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .”

My Seriously Overdrawn Bank Account

Courtesy of "The Atlantic"
Courtesy of "The Atlantic"

I am seriously overdrawn. And I have to think that many of you out there as well. No, I’m not talking about your real money bank account. I’m talking about your emotional bank account. The place where when things are going great, you’re making massive deposits, building up that rich volume of happy, fun, chipper, and all sorts of “good collateral.”

Also the place from which you make withdrawls in the form of fear, worry, anger and other “bad debt.” The election has been a serious draw on my emotional bank account. I’ve seen friends and family, people whom I love, respect, and want to be around, change into happiness-sucking, vitriolic, swearing, overbearing, bankrobbing….Whew, you get my drift, right?

I am so glad it’s over. I have absolutely no comment either way on how it went because my opinion is my own and no one else is going to change it. I also know that I’m not going to change anyone else’s. Which is how it should be.  According to Merriam-Webster, an opinion is: a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something; what someone thinks about a particular thing. Period.

As writers we have a vast quantity of words we can use. We have big, honkin’ thesaurus’ sitting next to us. So let’s focus on kind words. Interesting words. Compelling words. Thrilling words. And maybe, for just a little while, put away the swear words. Whether you are happy or sad about how things went/will go, remember that this same thing happens every four years. And every four years approximately half the people out there are in your shoes, good or bad.

I hate being overdrawn. Especially when it’s because someone else wiped out my account. I keep that account for things like a call in the middle of the night about a family member. Funerals. A fight with my husband. The loss of a treasured pet. I NEED to have that cushion in my account so that I can keep my sanity when something bad happens, and can’t afford to waste it on what might happen, what someone thinks is going to happen, what the media tells me is going to happen. I am more than willing to expend some of that collateral on behalf of others outside my family and close friends, but I have to weigh how much I’m willing to give to someone else, especially someone who may not value that sacrifice and just want more.

Photo from Jocuri
Photo from Jocuri

So please, let’s all be friends. Try to make the best of everything, and work toward ensuring no one suffers from anything we can help alleviate. Give yourself time to recoup your losses in that account so that you aren’t too emotionally depleted to write, to enjoy, to be happy to wake up in the morning.  And remember all the millions of things for which you get to be thankful, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

And then, Write On!

How I got my agent…like a noob

An amazing thing happened recently. At least it's amazing to me. Perhaps not the holy grail for a new writer, but a scaled down, still just as gleaming, slightly less voluminous cup which is but one step closer in the long and seemingly impenetrable process of becoming traditionally published.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, genders of all sizes and identifications, I have found an agent for my novel, currently titled, Deity Six. Cue brassy horns and angelic fanfare. Or, ya know, just sit there, in all statistical likelihood, not reading this and going about your day. Whatever. I don't care anymore. I got an agent! There's a "nah, nanny, boo boo," joke in there somewhere, but what do I look like, a writer?

What an agent means:

An agent is your ferrywoman/man across the rapid strewn and violent river Styx  separating you from the publishing world. First let's be clear. You don't actually need an agent. If you're highly self motivated, a great self editor, or just simply aren't seeking the external validation provided by traditional publishing, then self-publishing is probably for you. It comes with its own pitfalls, but that's an assessment for another day. A good agent will help you edit your book, make sure it fits squarely into the genre it needs to be in, review and negotiate any publishing contracts for you, and pull your head above those rough literary waters when it inevitably feels like you're about to go under. All for the nominal fee of some money off the contract and any future royalties they've managed to secure you, as well as a reasonable portion of your immortal soul.

To sum up: if you don't want to worry about self publishing, about doing your own leg work and wish to grasp tightly to the more confident leg of another person whilst they bodily drag you, kicking and screaming, through the cliche tossed waters of publishing, then an agent is definitely for you!

Some details:

My contract was fairly straight forward. One year contractual obligation on my book, wherein I would not seek alternate representation. They would do the best of their abilities to find it a good and loving home, as well as help me with some basic editing to make sure it fits the genre it's supposed to. After that period of time, if no sale/deal has been made, the rights and ability to do what I wish with (the book) return to me. There were some other things involved with it, but at that point my mind wandered off and I went in search of a cheeseburger. So, sorry about that! The contract also stipulated that the representation was for the book/novel in question, only. Not for me as a writer. Meaning, that I was free to pursue different realms of publication or representation for any/all of the other works I currently have tucked into my questionable belt.

How I actually did said agent wrangling:

For me, finding an agent had a great deal to do with connections. Keep in mind the process will likely be very different for you, as this is not a "how to" guide/one size fits all for literary agents. This last April I attended my first writer's conference where I met a super cool person (currently my editor on this blog post, as a matter of fact), who is a professional and published author. This author, who shall remain nameless *cough, sputter* J.A. Kazimer *cough, cough* became my friend. She then convinced me to attend a second writing conference. (For my take on writing conferences check out what I had to say about them here!) Now here's where it gets tricky. At this conference, this friend I'd cultivated (because, social skills), then...INTRODUCED ME TO HER AGENT! See. Personal connection. Word of your behavior and professionalism transcends boundaries. From there it was up to me. After speaking with my once and future representative, it was discovered that we got along well (an important element), she was interested in the premises of my writing (equally important), and my physical presence didn't send her eyes into uncontrollable and rather unpleasant twitching (possibly less important). Following the conference I sent her my query and some pages (I think 30, according to her request). She requested more. And upon reading my full manuscript she then showered me with lavish and much deserved praise and promises of riches, then told me of her interest in representing this book, and by default, me.

A summation to end...like, one other summation:

In total I queried in the neighborhood of about thirty different agents in the genre of my book, DEITY SIX, if I neglected to mention it before, which happens to fall under Young Adult Science Fiction. Between one third to a half of those agents queried did not respond...make of that what you will. Finding an agent, in macrocosm, is about a few things: Persistence (don't give up). It's a numbers game (also don't give up). And subjective luck. You could have written the greatest novel to have ever been written, but if you're not putting it in front of the right eyes it will still never get picked up. And to be fair about the whole thing, finding yourself an agent isn't the end...it's the beginning. The work starts there, and will probably get harder and more frustrating in many ways. So prepare yourself. I'm only just getting into the suggested edits from my agent **tee hee** and it was enough to cause a minor panic attack. So if there's anything to be taken away from this post it should be this: Don't give up. Revise when you need to. Do your research. Attend events and conventions. Be professional.

And...don't...give...up.

No Service

I have no service.

I’m writing this as I ride along in my husband’s car surrounded by Wyoming plains. Yesterday we visited the Crazy Horse memorial and Mount Rushmore (both of which I had never seen before). After, we spent the night in charming little Deadwood, South Dakota where I proceeded to win sixty dollars on an automated roulette table. This morning we visited Devil’s Tower, if you’re a fan of Close Encounters of the Third Kind then you’ve see this amazing national landmark on film. It’s hard to imagine that a tremendous pillar of stone could be so majestic—but that’s exactly what I was thinking as I stared up past the pines at this symmetrical wonder. By this evening, we’ll arrive at our final destination, Helena, Montana, and we’ll be spending the week visiting family and eating too much food.

But right now, brush, pine trees, and a delicate smattering of snow surround me. Plains stretch all the way to the horizon under a clear blue sky and there is a lone pickup truck on the road ahead of us. Clusters of deer stare out at us as we fly past them grazing on the side of the road. I suck my breath every time I see one; it’s too easy to imagine an ill timed leap out in front of us.

We just crossed the border into Montana along highway 112.

Stoneville Saloon is advertising “Cheap Drinks, Lousy Food” on a twelve foot sign outside a rundown aluminum shack—I buy myself some local beef jerky from the gas station instead. It sits at the junction where we turn onto 212, you have to pay for your gas inside, but they still let you pump it first.

It occurs to me that I’m very much enjoying having no service. I like this feeling, this middle of nowhere. Out of contact with everyone except those that are in this car with me, the ones that mean the most.

218 miles to Billings. I pour a handful of sunflower seeds into my husband’s palm. My kids are asleep in the backseat. If you were trying to call me right now, I wouldn’t hear you. I’m enjoying this tremendously. There is no email out here on 212.

I hadn’t realized how much this writer’s life would lead me to pour myself out, in small, seemingly innocuous increments, spread across a digital nonreality, a landscape that left me dry and exposed to the ebbs and flows of others, their every thought, feeling, disappointment...cluttering up my own head space.

Maybe I have been too long confused about what is required of me in the name of claiming a writer’s life. All that “putting yourself out there” while far less seems to be said about “filling yourself up.” This drive, this place has me half filled already—imagine what effect a hike might have?

That creative well, it can run dry. We can, inadvertently, dump all its rich contents out into vacuums of digital oblivions. Those virtual social connections that pull us in every direction and that all too often, especially lately I suppose, squeeze the heart, fill the head, and stress the system so that it can become close to impossible to catch the thread of a sentence, envision a scene. I have not been able to hear what my characters are saying.

Out here, I’m forced to be unconnected. I guess I forgot how amazing and beautiful that could be. All this not knowing—it feels like a blank canvas.

My husband slows the car as we drive through Broadus, Montana—my phone wakes up and cheeps at me. I have 4G, but I’m not ready to come back just yet.

It’s nice that they make these things with an off switch, I’ll be using it more often.

 

Audio Books

I love audio books.

One of the reasons is that I live alone and I like someone to read a story to me before (or while) I fall asleep. For these, I choose books I've already read/heard before (and I DO reread and re-listen to books in my library).

Like many people, I enjoy listening to books while driving, particularly on long trips.

And I also use new books and/or new audio books as a reward for doing good work, or making wordcount.

Last night I gave myself a guilty pleasure and listened to an audio book, Sweep In Peace, by Ilona Andrews.

Advice first, then ramblings. Audio books are GREAT for getting the feel of the language, of different accents and rhythms of speech from Jane Austin's upper class British to an east Texan twang.

When I first started listening to audio books, I listened to old favorites of Jayne Ann Krentz. To my surprise, the reader put the emPHAsis on different words and phrases than I did. It was both disconcerting and illuminating. There's old common wisdom that you should read your work aloud (I don't have time with the schedule my publisher wants), and we do this at my critique group. It can help immensely, particularly if you have a run-on sentence or one of the made up words (like chwisge – whiskey) to see what works and doesn't. Sometimes I won't change a very alliterative sentence or an awkward one, but most of the time I do.

The best audio books I've ever listened to are the Elizabeth Peters historical mysteries read by Barbara Rosenblat. They are just incredible, particularly the ones that have the boy Ramses growing up, Ms. Rosenblat ages his voice...(and one of the best titles ever is The Last Camel Died At Noon). The Harry Potter audio books are exceptional, too.

I won't say the worst I've listened to – mostly because of the books themselves, not the authors' best works – but sometimes the actor screws it up. I listened to one where the actor made the hero's voce sort-of upper crust nasal, this was a ROMANCE and the hero didn't sound acceptable.

My absolute favorite audio books are romances where a husband-wife team read the hero/heroine's point of view, such as Smoke and Mirrors by Jayne Ann Krentz, and Linda Howard's Kiss Me While I Sleep. When Dick Hill makes the car noises, it had me rolling...

And since I love audio books, I am more aware of dialogue in my books, providing enough tags or movement so that my narrators have the cues they need to change their voices for different characters.