Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    Friends, neighbors, and kin there is great danger out there for the would-be-published writer. Just like this selfie, the self-published book is likely to fall victim to the vagaries of amaturism.
      If a professional had taken the above photo, they would have at least suggested closing the bathroom door. Though I am relieved that my bathroom looks fairly clean. There would have been a suggestion that I comb my hair and put on a little make-up. And, without a doubt, the photographer would have made my face the focal point of the portrait. There may even have been an attempt to catch some facial expression other than this wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look of surprise. How I could have been surprised when the camera flashed, I cannot explain, since it was I who pushed the button.
      I bought a book yesterday from a self-published author. He was selling them cheap because his wife found some typos in them.
      I had high hopes for him and his book and terrible fears. I am completing my own book Murder on Ceres and plan to also self-publish. Oh, bless his heart, if the only problem with his book had been some typos.
      I believe writing a book is like building a house. You can build a house without experience or training as a carpenter, plumber, or electrician. But having always lived in a house does not qualify you to build a house that works. The same is true of writing a book. True, reading books is essential to writing them, but it's not enough.
      Where to begin? Desire always comes first. Always. Because everything else is hard, lonely work. Next is a good teacher. That can be expensive both in time and coin, but if you're serious, you will make arrangements. That's where desire comes in.
      I had the good fortune to find William Bernhardt. And it's not important what the teacher writes, only that they do write. And that they understand the mechanics of writing inside and out and upside down. Otherwise, unless you are a much quicker study than I, they won't be able to explain it so you can understand it.
     And then you have to listen to what they say. Personally, I do not like to be told. Anything. So my first reaction to any kind of instruction is negative. I never follow instructions until I discover for myself that my way won't work. After all, without the concept of mid-course corrections, we'd never have made it to the moon. And my mid-course correction involves arguing with my teacher, going away and thinking about what he said, and finally seeing that he is right. Then I apply it to my work.
     Bill Bernhardt has several pet sayings, one of which is "show, don't tell." The author of the book that started me on this rant, spends pages dropping brandnames and fancy places to tell us that his hero is rich and cool. There are ways to do this in a line or two. When an older woman is announced by her butler as "the Dowager Countess," we know we're looking at old, English money. When the hero climbs out of a natural gas powered Humvee, we've got a pretty good idea he's a former California-governor-type and his first name may be Arnold.
     If your hero's socio-economic status is not the main point of the story, please don't bore us with constant reminders of it. I promise we will remember that he drives a brand new Lexus even without your saying it every time he gets into or out of his car.
     Oh, yes, and that can easily get to be too much choreography. If he starts the page in Manhattan and ends two pages later on Long Island, we don't need a turn-by-turn narrative of his trip. Unless it somehow shows up later in the story and we were supposed to remember it because the bad guy takes a different route. In which case, the writer will have to make this clear some other way, because I will not remember all those turns and probably won't continue reading long enough to get to the bad guy. 
     There are lots of other opportunities to fall on our butts when we self-publish, but you're probably as tired of reading this right now, as I am tired of writing it. Besides, I have a re-write to finish.
     Bill has a website with his seminars listed and he has several good books and videos on the art and science of writing. Check him out at www.williambernhardt.com/

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Editors! Who Needs 'em?
   I do. That's who. Everyone who writes for public consumption does. And we need editors for lots of reasons.
   This is a picture of a page from Murder on Ceres, my science fiction murder mystery. Please note all the red ink. That's from my editor. The green is mine.
   I use Spell Check, Google, The American Heritage Dictionary, and Microsoft's Synonyms. I read Isaac Asimov and John Lescroat. I watch Neil deGrasse Tyson and Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS. I am prepared to write (and rewrite) this book.
   Still my manuscript comes back from the editor with blood all over it.
   I read and watch lots of other things, all of which increase my vocabulary. A large vocabulary, unfortunately, does not guarantee clear communication. The picture above is an excellent example.
   In this scene my protagonist is verbally assaulted by his aunt as she takes him in to talk to his uncle. I wrote, "Unaware of his wife's broadside, Dmitri stood and extended his hand."
   My editor wrote in red,  "of her what? It sounds like you're talking about her butt."
   Obviously my editor was crazy. Where did she get THAT?
   Did I mention that I have a long history of reading naval war books?
   So, enter a twenty-something man. I read to him the passage as I had written it, assuming his reading background was sufficient to make familiar to him the term "broadside." And he blurted, "What did he do to her butt?"
   Definitely a laugh-out-loud moment.
   I think my choices are to change the word or send a copy of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander to all who buy my book with the requirement that they read it first so they will be properly prepared to read my book.