It’s About Time!

After keeping the same site format for almost seven (7) years, I’ve finally updated my blog! I like the simple format and the clean look. I may tweak it here and there yet–for instance, I’d like to find a good photo to set up as the featured image, if this template will allow me to do that. But because I haven’t posted anything since March, I’m letting it go out into the world despite its immature state.

As you might notice, I’ve made small revisions to my “About” page as well as the tab for the Gateway to Gannah series. And I’ve added three new tabs:

  • One for my upcoming speculative fiction series, The Four Lives of Jemma Freeman;
  • Another for the tiny house novella series;
  • And a third for the new publishing company I’ve recently created, Gannah’s Gate.

Check them out! What do you think?

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Publication Primer: 15 Points to Ponder

You can’t hang out in writerly circles more than a minute or two without hearing the topic file0001336424447of traditional publication v. self-publication discussed. It’s big; very big. And for a very good reason.

Used to be, it was a matter of pride, vanity (hence the old moniker “vanity press”), and bucks: if you wanted to see your name in print and had the money to see it happen, you paid someone to publish your book. You could be pretty sure no one would ever buy it, and it was also a good bet that if anyone ever did, they’d be sorry. The quality was notoriously bad, from the printing to the binding and usually the writing itself (because if it was worth anything, a traditional publisher would have eventually accepted it), and the cost was notoriously high. The companies producing those vanity books seldom offered editing services, and if they did, their input was minimal. I’ve heard of books being produced with missing pages, upside-down pages, and other glaring errors, with the author having to pay for a re-print if he wanted them corrected. Not good.

file6681269982727Traditional publication is usually defined as publication through a company that pays you to publish your book rather than the other way around. In recent years, traditional presses have been going under at an alarming rate, and at the same time, with the advent of personal computers and easy-to-use writing software, authors are churning out manuscripts like never before. The result is a raging flood of authors seeking publication in a market that’s only equipped to handle a trickle. Not good.

Enter Amazon. On one hand, we might blame this Internet behemoth for the publishing world’s bleak state, as its innovations have changed the face of the industry forever. But it must also be acknowledged that this user-friendly site has made it possible for anyone with a moderate amount of computer savvy to produce a good quality book—print, e-book, or both—for NO INVESTMENT WHATSOEVER. And to sell it online to a virtually unlimited number of buyers worldwide, paying Amazon only a small sales commission for each book sold.

Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Producing a book through CreateSpace, the publishing division of Amazon, is a bit more difficult than waving a magic wand and chanting a spell. But it’s not only possible in the real world, but practical, which is why I’m gearing up to do it this year. Twice.

A writer friend was recently going through the Valley of Despond we all go through uponfile00055331537 having our manuscript rejected by our publisher of choice. I’ve read the book she submitted, and it’s a good one; I wouldn’t say that if it weren’t true. From the acquisition editor’s comments, it was apparent (s)he didn’t “get” the story. Since it’s nothing unusual or complicated, the editor was probably too hurried to take the time to see what it was all about.  (See my statement above about the glut of authors vying for the small number of traditional publishing slots.) Understanding that, though, doesn’t make the rejection hurt any less.

I have a great deal more experience trying to get published than succeeding at it. But I’ve been traveling through the writing world long enough and rubbing shoulders with enough successful authors to have learned a few things.  Based on that experience, I offered my friend some words of wisdom. Okay, maybe the words aren’t all that wise, but I thought I’d share them with you all here on Ys Words anyway. There’s nothing new or startling in the list below, but here’s more or less what I told her:

1 – Everyone has his own ideas of what’s good, what he likes, what he doesn’t like. Just because someone in high places doesn’t happen to like your story, that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

2 – Every writer thinks she’s the cat’s pajamas, that her writing is worthwhile and meaningful, and if someone doesn’t understand it, they’re missing the boat. Even if her writing truly stinks.

3 – No writer is in a good position to judge his own writing honestly. See above.

4 – The writing professionals see a lot of garbage and can recognize quality when they see it; if they find fault in it, chances are it’s not very good.

5 – The writing professionals see a lot of garbage, and every time they see a proposal, they expect it to be more of the same. They take a quick look, and if nothing pops out as being exceptional, they make a snap judgment as to the whole thing.

6 – At one point, after a certain number of rejections, every good writer thinks he’s been kidding himself and can’t really write after all. He’s wrong.

7 – At one point, after a certain number of rejections, every lousy writer thinks he’s been kidding himself and can’t really write after all. He’s right.

8 – Remember #s 2 and 3 above? We all need outside feedback from people who know something, not just people who know and love us.

9 – Caveat to the above: see Point #1. Don’t take anyone’s opinion too seriously; nobody’s God but God.

10 – The one who quits is finished. There will be no more chances for the writer who won’t take them.

11 – Being traditionally published is better than self-publishing. Anyone can self-publish, but being traditionally published is validation that you actually deserve to be published.

12 – Self-publishing is better because you have complete control. You can write what’s on your heart in your own unique style and not worry about having to please a publisher. Moreover, instead of getting a small royalty from the publisher, you keep the bulk of the earnings and give a small royalty to CreateSpace.

13 – Traditionally published books are more prestigious and are overall better quality than self-published works (except for the self-published books that are better quality than some of the traditionally-published ones).

14 – Traditional publication is a great learning experience. But now that it’s becoming easier and more profitable, self-publishing is a good option for those books that are not quite mainstream.

I didn’t tell her this next one, because she’s been around the block enough that she didn’t need me to. However, I’ll add one more point for these purposes:

15 – Generally speaking, writing is not a money-making proposition no matter how you do it. In both cases, the hardest part is selling the book once it’s produced. In both cases, the author who makes millions at it is the exception, not the rule. Write only because you can’t not write, not because you need the income.

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Oops…

MessMy previous post about learning from the greats is a great demonstration of how great I’m not. That post was as big a mess as the kitchen in the picture.

(That’s NOT my kitchen, mind you. I searched MorgueFile.com for a picture of “mess” and chose that from the results. Just so you know that…)

Back to that messy post: it had been a long time since I’d updated my blog and I didn’t want to delay any longer, so I was determined to do it that evening, one way or another. Problem is, I was falling asleep as I typed, so it’s not surprising there were a lot of errors in it.

The next day I went back and fixed them, or so I thought. Then it dawned on me today that I’d given the wrong name for the Stephen King book I’m reading. It’s not The Shining, but rather, The Stand. Sorry about that!

I got this particular copy from the Paperback Swap Club, a group I participated in for a few years, and this one happens to be the “complete and uncut” edition. That means all that stuff the author originally wrote that the editor made him cut when he first submitted the manuscript? He later put all that back in because he was by then a big-name big-bucks author and he could indulge himself in that way. This version weighs in at a bloated 1141 pages.

As I indicated in my last post, there are many things about this book that make it stellar. Conciseness is not one of them. If I were the editor, I’d have made him cut a lot of this stuff too. I don’t love all the long, involved stories and backstories that lead up to the climax — which, though I’m on page 590, is still far in the distance.

What I do love: his characterizations. I can’t really say I love the characters, because many of them are sleazy and disgusting. Some are likeable. But they’re all believable, multi-faceted, and vividly described. He gets perfect scores on this.

The delicious similes and metaphors, such as: the flesh over a terrible burn, now healing, is “hairless andThe Stand pink, like the skin of a cheap doll”; a backpack “hung askew on his back like a shutter on a haunted house.” Describing a terrible realization occurring to one of the characters: “… a polar thought slipped up through the floor of his mind like an icy stiletto blade.” Stars gleam in the clear night, “bathing the desert in their cold witchlight.” An exhausted man plods along, “his head hanging like the bloom of a dying sunflower.” After drinking his fill of water at last, he moves on, “sloshing like a filled goatskin.”

I found all this in just a few pages, and I’ve been delighting in it.

Yes, much of the book is gross, creepy, and/or revolting. But some of it is moving in a different sort of way. Here’s the snippet I wanted to share with you last time but I was too tired.

The character is a young black woman in 1902, the daughter of freed slaves who had moved to Nebraska to farm. Not all the other farmers were willing to accept a black family, but enough of them did that they were able to prosper. On this occasion, she has been asked to sing at the Grange Hall — something wholly unheard-of for such a one, and she was a basket of nerves over it. But she agreed to do it and psyched herself up for the performance. Now, let’s listen:

And so she began to sing “The Old Rugged Cross” into the moveless silence, her fingers picking melody. Then picking up a strum, the slightly stronger melody of “How I Love My Jesus,” and then stronger still, “Camp Meeting in Georgia.” Now people were swaying back and forth almost in spite of themselves. Some were grinning and tapping their knees.

She sang a medley of Civil War songs: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Marching Through Georgia,” and “Goober Peas” (more smiles at that one; many of these men, Grand Army of the Republic veterans, had eaten more than a few goober peas during their time in the service). She finished with “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground,” and as the last chord floated away into a silence that was now thoughtful and sad, she thought: Now if you want to throw your tomatas or whatever, you go on and do it. I played and sang my best, and I was real fine.

When the last chord floated into silence, that silence held for a long, almost enchanted instant, as though the people in those seats and the others standing at the back of the hall had been taken far away, so far they could not find their way back all at once. Then the applause broke and rolled over her in a wave, long and sustained, making her blush, making her feel confused, hot and shivery all over. She saw her mother, weeping openly, and her father, and David, beaming at her.

I’m going to skip a few paragraphs to save time and space, and now let’s resume:

She finished to another thunderous ovation and fresh cries of “Encore!” She remounted the stage, and when the crowd had quietened, she said: “Thank you all very much. I hope you won’t think I am bein forward if I ask to sing just one more song, which I have learned special but never ever expected to sing here. But it is just about the best song I know, on account of what President Lincoln and this country did for me and mine, even before I was born.”

They were very quiet now, listening closely. Her family sat stock still, all together near the left aisle, like a spot of blackberry jam on a white handkerchief.

“On account of what happened back in the middle of the States War,” she went steadily on, “my family was able to come here and live with the fine neighbors that we have.”

Then she played and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and everyone stood up and listened, and some of the handkerchiefs came out again, and when she had finished, they applauded fit to raise the roof.

It was the proudest day of her life.

Well. I don’t know about you, but as a writer, I want to hold my readers enchanted, as the character in this scene held her listeners. I want them to feel as if they’ve been taken away, so far they can’t find their way back all at once.

One way to learn to do that is by studying the masters. Even if they do sometimes creep me out.

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Learning from the Greats

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl

I don’t indulge in five-star dining very often because of the cost. But on the rare occasions when I can enjoy that kind of food, I really, really enjoy it. Great chefs are called great for a reason.

Similarly, I don’t always read books that I’d rate five stars. If the average title earned that honor, it would be meaningless, and I only give five stars to the truly stellar books. But when I do read a great book, I really, really enjoy it. The great authors have, by and large, earned their reputation.

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China

True, there’s the question of personal taste. Hemingway’s considered one of the greats, but I never particularly cared for his writing, whereas my favorite authors (Athol Dickson comes to mind) don’t always make the “Best” lists.

Most of us writers will never be great, but shouldn’t we each strive to be the best we can? Awhile back I read a comment by an indie author posting to a group discussion who said, “I just sent my book off today. It stinks, but it’s time to get started on the next one.” Why would a writer be content to publish a book which, by his own

Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains

admission, stinks? Does he wonder why indie authors are, or at least have been until recently, held in such low esteem?

There are differences between eating at five-star restaurants and reading five-star books. The biggest one is the cost; a great book is no more expensive to read (especially if you use the public library) than pulp fiction. But it’s a great deal more nourishing.

You know what happens to your body when you eat junk food, right? Fatty fiction has a similar effect on you brain — and if you’re a writer, on the development of your craft.

Great Scott
Great Scott

I suppose the same principle holds true in any endeavor. A serious artist studies the work of the masters. An architect, a tailor, a French hornist, a photographer, an ice fisherman — anyone interested in improving his skill at his chosen endeavor would be advised to pay attention to what others have done before.

100StephenKingBooksPDFThat’s why I recently started reading The Shining by Stephen King. I’d previously found King to be a superb writer, and someone recently recommended it as his best, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I think it’s the third book he ever published (or thereabouts), and the style is a bit dated. I doubt, for instance, he uses so many adverbs these days. I don’t care for some of the language, and I can’t say I really love the story. But I tell you what — that man has a wonderful way with words. I enjoyed one section so much I was going to copy it here and share it with you, but I decided not to because I’m too lazy. So, sorry, you’ll just have to wonder what it was.

Some Christian writers are reluctant to read secular books because they’re not comfortable with the language (as in the case of Stephen King’s work) or they’re concerned about the possibility of questionable content. I’m not here to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t read. But I do believe we grow taller from walking among the trees.

 

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Call 911

Screen shot 2013-02-21 at 10.01.00 AMAlmost called the ambulance for Granny Grammar a little bit ago.

She was happily browsing the Internet while sipping her third cup of black coffee when her eyes bugged out, then she let out a shriek and fell off her chair to the floor, where she lay twitching and moaning.

I went to call for help, but she sprang up and grabbed the phone out of my hand. “Stop! They don’t like it when you call in an emergency for imaginary people.”

“But Granny! You seemed to be having a fit of some sort. What was I supposed to do?”

True, with her grip on my arm like a vise and beady eyes flashing behind those wire-rimmed specs, she seemed pretty healthy again. But criminy, she’s old as the hills, and when someone so ancient keels over like that, it’s a little alarming.

“I’ll be okay.” She sighed, and the energy that had propelled her from the floor seemed to swirl away like water down a drain. Her grip on my arm relaxed and her shoulders drooped. “I just need… I’ll go lie down for a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll be all right after a rest.” She shuffled off, and I haven’t seen or heard from her since.

Curious as to what had caused her apoplexy, I looked at the computer. Here’s what she’d been reading: http://tinyurl.com/ocap7ph

Now I understand. Poor Granny. I hope she’ll pull through.

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Granny Grammar’s Test #1: Answer Key

Screen shot 2013-02-21 at 10.01.00 AMHere are the answers to Granny’s first test. How’d y’all do?

 

1. An apostrophe is kinda like…

  • A chicken
  • A water balloon
  • A helium balloon that floats to the top of the line and sits at the ceiling
  • One of those long, skinny balloons that you can twist and make things out of, like a wiener dog. (Can you really twist a wiener dog and make things out of it?)
  • Other (please specify)

2. Which of the following sentences is NOT correctly punctuated?

  • I like to eat apples and bananas.
  • He’d rather eat apple’s than bananas.
  • I like to ite ipples and bininis.
  • Oo look to oot ooples oond boonoonoos.
  • Other (please specify)

3. What is Apostrophe Rule 1a?

  • Always return RSVPs.
  • Always return RSVP’s.
  • “I” before “E” except after “C” and when sounded like “A” as in “neighbor” and “weigh” and also some other weird instances.
  • When two vowels go walking, one of them’s likely to turn an ankle.
  • Other (please specify)

4. Which of the following IS punctuated correctly?

  • Mind your P’s and Qs when taking this test.
  • What are you planning to do with all those PHD’s you’ve spent your life collecting?
  • What are you planning to do with all those Ph.D’s you’ve spent a fortune collecting?
  • What do you think about this quiz, that its too silly?
  • Other (please specify)

5. Which of the following statements is both true AND correctly punctuated?

  • Apostrophe’s are pushy and rude.
  • Apostrophe’s are gentlemen and let other punctuation go first.
  • Apostrophes are frequently used to form possessives.
  • Apostrophe’s are possessives’ best friend’s.
  • Other (please specify)

6. Which of the following sentences is NOT correctly punctuated?

  • It’s hard to say how often its meaning is misinterpreted.
  • If you’re unsure when to use an apostrophe, it’s not permissible to rephrase the sentence.
  • The cat’s back wasn’t as dirty as I’d expected after Freddy threw it in the mud.
  • It’s feet and legs were plenty muddy, though.
  • Other (please specify)

7. Which of the following statements is both UNTRUE and INCORRECTLY punctuated?

  • Craig and Yvonne’s house is smaller than their breadbox.
  • Craig’s and Yvonne’s breadbox is bigger than their house.
  • Craig’s and Yvonne’s ideas of good TV are not the same.
  • Craig and Yvonne’s grandchildren live in a different state.
  • Other (please specify)

8. Which of the following sentences IS correctly punctuated?

  • How do the new Academy of the Sciences’ policies affect the United States’ economics’ paradigm?
  • How many politicians’ are of different species’?
  • How many orangutan’s does it take to run for political office?
  • How much ground would a groundhog hog if groundhog’s could hog ground?
  • Other (please specify)

9. Which of the following sentences is NOT properly punctuated?

  • Curious as to the Ganges’s source, he shrugged and walked away, being embarrassed to ask.
  • Curious as to the source of the Ganges, he asked the tour guide.
  • Curious as to the Ganges’ source, he followed the mighty river upstream until he got bored and googled it.
  • It’s never occurred to me to wonder about the Ganges’ source.
  • Other (please specify)

10. What is Rule #7 of Granny Grammar’s apostrophe rules?

  • To avoid drama, check the Chicago Manual of Style to be sure.
  • To avoid a tragedy like one of Euripides’, embrace Camus’ brave new world of proper apostrophe application, for goodness’ sake.
  • To avoid a tragedy like one of Shakespeare’s, buy Camus’ Brave New World and circle all the apostrophes.
  • To avoid using your limited time wisely, create a survey like this for fun, relaxation, and review of apostrophe rules.
  • Other (please specify)
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