A Three-Book Contract? Call 911!

Remember when I said I was going to only chase one rabbit this year?

Remember when I said I hoped by the end of 2011 to have caught a big one?

Well, how about by the end of January 2011?

This, I never expected. And it can’t be good for my heart.

Amazing but true: yesterday I signed a three-book publishing contract with Risen Books, with the possibility for more if the series does well. Story in the Stars is the first in the Gannah series, to be followed by Words in the Wind and one more, each in short order.

I don’t have much else to say at the moment; I’m still in shock.

I also have a lot of work to do! But I asked for it, so I’m not complaining!

I’ll write more when I come down from Cloud 9.  In the meantime, how about some hassenpfeffer?

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Show, Plaintiff vs. Tell, Defendant

It’s the trial of the millennium, and one of the most basic and aggravating tenets of fiction writing: the case of Show vs. Tell.

Basic, because following the law this precedent sets makes an enormous difference in the result of your work.

Aggravating, because it’s difficult to define, to apply, and to even discern when you’re doing it and when you’re not.

Outside the writing world, identifying what’s shown and what’s told is obvious. You can tell people what fresh-squeezed orange juice tastes like; or you can squeeze a Florida orange, and show them. But when you’re writing, you use words for both processes; and that makes the difference harder to distinguish.

All writers probably aren’t as thick-skulled as I am, but this has always been a difficult concept for me to grasp. I read a lot of different definitions, some of them conflicting. Plus, despite the diligence of my critique partners in beating me over the head, it took a long time for the concept to filter through my ossified cranium and down into the gray matter, where it could do some good.

If you have any writing experience at all, you’ve heard all this before. How I managed to avoid a confrontation with it until my mid-forties, I don’t know. Once I was drawn into the case, however, one of the first books I found helpful was Renni Browne and Dave King’s book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. The authors have been kind enough to post an on-line version of the chapter in question here.

Jeff Gerke does a workshop on this subject at writer’s conferences. He draws the distinction between showing and telling in the clearest, most easy-to-grasp manner I’ve heard to date.  That is, if it can be viewed it on a screen, movie-style, that’s showing; if not, it’s telling.

In my last post I mentioned a book I recently read, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman argues this case too – defining the parties slightly differently, of course. But he brings out an aspect I’d never thought about before: motive. That is, the why of it all. Why is it better to show than to tell? Usually the answer I get is, Because it’s better that way. Can’t you see that?

Frankly, no. I don’t always see that. Telling can be so much more efficient, cut-to-the-chase and get-to-the-point that to me, with my practical, no-fluff mind, it can seem preferable to the often touchy-feely, round-about method of showing. Okay, so most readers – and more importantly, all publishers – prefer it; for that reason alone, I’ll do it. But I’m not quite convinced it always makes for better writing.

Then along came Lukeman, who for the first time put it all in perspective for me: among other things, showing allows the reader to make his own judgments and interpretations. That is, it provides for subtlety and ambiguity (see my post about that).  “The text becomes a mirror, a blank slate onto which readers project their own state of mind.”

Now, that makes sense. I don’t want to merely inform the reader; I want to involve her, make her think, give her something to take away and ruminate on later. We don’t always need to be in a hurry to get the point. It’s often better to give the reader time to find the point for himself.

Lukeman goes on to say: “This is what keeps the best literature endlessly fascinating.” Hey, that’s what I’m trying to create, isn’t it? Good literature, that’s truly good?

To those of quicker mind, I’m sure the reasons were always apparent. But to me, this was something of a revelation. Perhaps I was confused because we tell stories, we don’t show them. But the fact is, we do show them. At least, if we want them to be understood, we do. Understood, and digested, and assimilated, and brought to life.

The jury finds for the Plaintiff.

I should have entitled this post “Searching For a Good Book (Part III).”

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You Don’t Say

The more we learn, the more complicated we realize the writing craft is.

In my continuing efforts to improve and hone my skills, I recently read The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman.

Most of the other craft books I’ve read were written by writers, for writers. Lukeman’s perspective is from the other side of the fence: the agents and editors. It’s interesting to see some of the familiar issues viewed from a different angle – and sometimes, a topic most other how-to books neglect.

Though it’s not something an editor would see in the first five pages of a submission, in Chapter 15 Lukeman discusses one facet of storytelling that hasn’t already been parsed to death: subtlety.

This refers to delicacy, obscurity, or understatement. Subtlety requires the reader to think, to fill in the gaps with his own understanding. If the writer spells things out too pointedly, she deprives her reader of the opportunity to experience the story for herself. A tale told too plainly is forgotten as soon as the book is closed; a subtle story resonates in the mind, digs itself in, and can be enjoyed repeatedly, like a pleasant memory.

Subtlety shouldn’t be confused with ambiguity, which is where so many details are left out, the reader isn’t sure what writer’s trying to say. Of course if that’s your intent, then go for it – sometimes it’s appropriate for the reader to come to his own conclusions.

When I think of subtlety, two stories stand out in my mind. Quite a few years ago I read How to Make An American Quilt by Whitney Otto.

I don’t remember all the details, but at one point the reader is introduced to a wall made of a mosaic of broken glass. The writer leaves so many things unspoken, I became frustrated, wanting answers to my questions. Later, bit by bit, clues were revealed. The answers to all my questions were put in place like those shattered pieces, forming a picture that touched my heart.

And then there’s the short story, A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison, with a conclusion that hits you between the eyes with what it doesn’t say.

There’s a time for clarity and careful articulation. But let’s not forget about subtlety. It can be a powerful tool.

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The Year of The (Singular) Rabbit

According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Rabbit begins on February 3. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s already begun.

You may have heard the saying (one reference says it’s an old Russian proverb, but wherever it originated, it’s usually used in a business context) that if you chase two rabbits, you’ll be sure to catch neither one.

A couple months ago I ran across that adage again, and it hit me between the eyes. “Chasing two rabbits” is the perfect description of what I’ve been doing the past few years. That is, I’ve been trying to pursue two careers: as a Virtual Assistant, and as a writer.

I used say writing is my first love, but Virtual Assistance pays the bills. Lately, though, Virtual Assistance has lost more of its luster and paid fewer of those bills than when all this began. So when I read that rabbit quote, I realized I had to make a decision as to which I should focus on. Trying to do both was getting me nowhere.

As a Christ-follower, a decision like this isn’t merely matter of what I choose to do. This calls for prayer and seeking the Lord’s direction. That direction came, with everything pointing to the fact that it’s time to let my VA practice go and concentrate on running down the Writing Rabbit.

So here’s me, now – chasing one rabbit only. I hope by the end of 2011, I’ll have caught one.

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