Archive | March, 2011

What is an amateur, anyway?

30 Mar

A few weeks ago, there was a photo feature on the web, with the head-line:

Dramatic images captured by amateurs (gasp!)

As if the thought of amateurs doing anything wonderful was just totally incredible. Totally incredi-bull! What a great lot of it.  Bull, that is! Many amateurs are better than a lot of pros, especially when the pros get a wee bit too full of themselves.

Time was, the distinction between professional and amateur was real. Professionals were paid for their talents and endeavors, while amateurs did whatever it was for the sheer enjoyment of it. This was most notable, of course, in the world of sports, where the quadrennial Olympics readily separated the pros from the amateurs. Heaven help the so-called amateur who took money (or other goods) from any supporter before the official declaration of turning pro was made. The athlete in question was embarrassed, stripped of any relevant titles and flung out into the wilderness.

Well, maybe not that last item, but close. Such an athlete quickly became a pariah to his or her sport, and frequently sank beneath the level of recognition.

It was not an easy thing to do – to be a world class amateur sportsman. I’ve always loved and followed ice skating, in particular. I was devastated when the compulsory figures were removed from the competition, as that, to me was perhaps the most graceful element of all of them. To see a top-notch skater pains-takingly carve a symbol onto the ice with one blade, then the other, many times over, while maintaining the edges just so – it was gorgeous.  Many a medal was lost because one particular figure or another wasn’t quite perfection. And they counted for a large part of the total score.

After every Olympiad, we’d anxiously wait to see who was going to turn pro this time! Once that decision was made, there was no turning back, either! You were either amateur or pro, but never both. Once you had made that declaration, that was it. For ever more, the athlete in question was forbidden any more amateur competitions.

Then next came the notion of ‘well, maybe we should let them come back a time or two.’ I didn’t think it was fair then, and I don’t now, either. But nobody asked me! They made a farce of the bigger ‘pro’ sports competitions by letting pros compete against the amateurs of other countries in basketball, baseball, soccer and who knows what else?

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ve never been staunchly against self-publishing. Sometimes, that’s the only way to see your book in print. After all, not every book needs to sell a million copies. Or garner a million bucks in royalties or advance, for that matter. It would be nice, that’s for sure, but some books are important even though they have a limited audience. As long as the author knows this going in, why is it then wrong to go ahead and self-publish the book?

I know many published authors who think it’s absolutely stupid—and pitiful—to publish your own book. “If it’s worthwhile, there’s a publisher for it somewhere,” they bark in a snide tone of voice.

“Yes, but where?” I always ask. Perhaps once upon a time, that was true, but no longer. I’ve read a good many self-published books lately (reviewing some of them, even) and I’m constantly amazed at the excellent quality of the writing and story-telling to be found within them. Generally speaking, the editing has been at least as well done as most commercially-published books these days, although that’s not always saying much. Mostly, it’s better! The main problem is – these books stubbornly resist being easily categorized and stuffed into a ready-made niche.

And isn’t that a good thing? Look at the top best-sellers sometime. Copy, copy, copy! An original thought would surely find itself in an unknown world, did it venture there. If you don’t happen to want to read ‘techno-thrillers’ or ‘vampires’ what else is there? Oh, right. Legal thrillers.  Horror.

Well, one size doesn’t fit everyone, as we all know only too well. If you believe in your work (and yourself!) then, go for it. I do advise doing your homework first, however, by investigating the several possibilities that currently exist for getting your book into print. Some of these places will do everything for you – and charge you mega $$$ for the privilege – and others will let you do as much as you can by yourself with their guidance, for a very small investment of $$, but a good many hours on your part. That may be a fair trade-off for you. The one area, however, in which you must not stint, is the editing.

Writing and publishing the book yourself will not brand you as amateur. Sloppy editing and/or typing absolutely will! A good editor might cost you $500. or more, or less. However, it could prove to be the best investment you ever make in yourself.

I’ve been doing a bit of research about the various companies out there, and I’m really amazed by the wide variances I’ve been finding. Good for us, I say! When I have it all together, I’ll let you know, and make it available only via e-mail. (You’ll have to ask me for it.) I won’t post the info on the blog, as there will be some who’ll take exception to it, and I’m not ready for that sort of battle, thank you very much. Some of these companies offer POD (print on demand – the book isn’t printed until it’s paid for) and some produce real paper books, which have to find a physical home somewhere, generally in your basement or garage. Print runs are from 50 copies to infinity, and are priced accordingly. It’s all very interesting.  But if you want to publish, the more information you have at your fingertips, the better.

Happy Writing!

Are you a writer nearing the end of the writing portion of a book, and wondering how to find an editor/proof-reader? If so, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my editing services.  Write to me at:  bookmechanic@wordpress.com

 

 

Unveiling Ardenwycke

23 Mar

As it happens, this week’s post is about hatching a book that never in my wildest dreams did I think I would or could write. At that time, the premise was nowhere near my realm of possibility. Anyway, serendipity brought this article to my attention as I was sitting down to write my own story. I’m sorry to say I’ve not yet read anything by the author profiled here (but that will change, I promise) nor have I seen the movie. But I found the creative process to be fascinating and I hope you will, too.    http://www.washingtonpost.com/rw/WashingtonPost/Content/Epaper/2011-03-20/Tx1.pdf

The day after I finished writing Secret Shores happened to be the Saturday of an RWA meeting, and the featured speaker was Silhouette editor Leslie Wainger. Part of her talk was about a new line for which she was then accepting submissions. ‘Shadows’ would encompass all sorts of spectral things, ‘with a chill on every page’ she said, followed by a chuckle. She wasn’t exactly sure at that early date exactly what she did want, but ‘she’d know it if she read it.’  Seemed reasonable to me. To this day I don’t know what it was that she said that triggered my creative genes, but WOW!!!

I began to wonder about the possibility of a young woman in an old, old house, and what if there was one particular place in that house that prompted her to faint every time she went near it.  Hmmm.

During the 45-minute drive home after the meeting, Ev and I chatted about various things (who knows what at this late stage? – this was December 1991, after all.)  But, I could hardly wait to get upstairs to my computer and start making notes about this new book that I called That Room at Ardenwycke.  From that point on, for the rest of that month, my life was driven by this book. I’ve seldom experienced anything even remotely like it. (Not even Bertie, because after all, I’d been reading Regency novels for some 30 plus years before I wrote her story, which actually took 3-4 days longer to write, with  about the same number of words.)

When I left for work that first evening, around 6:30 —  approximately 4 hours after I’d arrived home – I knew the plot of the book, where the story was set, all the characters by name (!) and exactly what would happen when. I was dumbstruck, because I’d never even been to that part of New York State, and I knew absolutely nothing about sculpture as an art form, much less how a sculptor actually worked.  However, there was a local woman whose work I’d seen on several occasions, and greatly admired. So, the following Monday, I picked up the phone and called her! She graciously agreed to let me visit her, and inspect her studio. She gave me all sorts of helpful information, for which I’ve been everlastingly grateful to Charlotte Lees. She is still sculpting—brilliantly!

Some of my research for Secret Shores filtered through my consciousness, and created the family history in Oregon, from where the heroine originated before heading east to New York state. My own background in the auto biz influenced Max’s work and the paint job on his car, which still makes me laugh every time I read it. Otherwise, it all just simply fell out of the sky and into my computer.  I still have no other explanation for the ghost, etc., as for the most part, I didn’t much go in for ghostly stories. Still don’t, actually.

Mostly, it was a case of hang on tight, and just write down what was whizzing past my eyes – from the inside of my head!  My primary work at that time (free-lance, to be sure) slacked off drastically during that month, but would usually pick up again in January.  (Which it did, thank goodness!)  The timing was most fortuitous! Eighteen days after I started the book on December 16, 1991 — on January 2, 1992, I typed those happy words “The End” and sat down to read what I’d written – 70,000+ words.  I’d been so busy writing, I’d not read it as I went along, just printed it out and put it in a notebook.

Well! Talk about surprised! I was one startled reader. I’ve already related the tale about Clarissa and her lack of dialect, so I was at least prepared for that, but the rest of the story just blew me away. Truthfully,  I have no idea in the world where it all came from, but there it was. I did very little tinkering with it, mostly just correcting typos and such.  I did have to correct the town name, as it had moved because of mosquitos (!) from one location to another in the late 1700s!  (Or maybe 1800s, I don’t recall now.)

In January, 1992, I sent the ms. off to Silhouette, and it was not accepted there. Nor at Harlequin, nor Berkley, nor any of the other places I sent it.  Oh, the writing was good, and it was interesting —  ‘it held my attention’ – but where would it go in their lineup? Nowhere. So it sat. And sat. And sat some more. I still liked it however, so after Bertie found a home at Cerridwen, I asked my editor if she might like to read my ‘weird’ book. Bless her heart, she said yes, and very soon thereafter, I was offered a publishing contract for the book.

They changed the title slightly – to Ardenwycke Unveiled – but otherwise did very little to it before publication. I was thrilled by both the e-book and the print versions.  Even all these years later, I remain very fond of it.

Cover for the new Blush Imprint from Ellora’s Cave Publishing

An interesting note about the title. Remember, when this book hatched was late 1991, long before the days of Google. The name Ardenwycke is purely a figment of my imagination. But – if you Google that word now, you’ll find a few more than 200 references to it – and they’re all MY BOOK!!!!  Isn’t that neat?

Are you a writer nearing the end of the writing portion of a book, and wondering how to find an editor/proof-reader? If so, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my editing services.  Write to me at:  bookmechanic@wordpress.com

Inconsistencies, impossibilities and inaccuracies!

16 Mar

Contests, anyone?  Sharpened pens at twenty paces?

If you’re just getting started at writing, especially genre fiction, you should take advantage of a fabulous tool for folks just like you! It’s called ‘Contests!’ A word to the wise, however. You really need to be in the right frame of mind for this – be able to accept the resultant criticism. It can really, really be helpful. On the other hand it can prove to be a real kick in the pants. Not a happy kick, either. (Note: If you’re writing in a rather esoteric genre, it might be worth asking beforehand if there are judges familiar with that genre, otherwise, you might receive really low scores because of the unfamiliar judging.) Better not to enter than to risk such a happening.

I think nearly every writer’s group going these days has a contest of some sort or other. Depending on the scope (and the size of the group) and the judging panel, contests can be a terrific learning experience.  Of course, should the judge(s) assigned to you be incompetent or just having a bad day, you might not benefit all that much. A discreet word to the contest coordinator might at least get your entry fee refunded to you.

Whatever you do, DO NOT (repeat NOT) write snarky, sarcastic, belittling notes to the judges. They’re a lot like elephants – they’ll never forget you or your entry or that note. And I do mean NEVER!!! Not good. Unfortunately, some judges really are incompetent, and have no business judging, which is why you should take your complaint to the coordinator.

When I was first starting some 22 years ago, my first contest provided me with some excellent feedback, constructive criticism, and marvelous suggestions for improvement. It remained my story – no one impinged on it, but the helpful tips were of great use in what became Bertie’s Golden Treasure. It seems  I knew NOTHING about the Regency era. Oh, of course, I thought I did! Hadn’t I been reading Georgette Heyer for 50 years? And Barbara Cartland for nearly that long?

What I didn’t know then would fill several sets of encyclopedias. Now, of course, I think I know everything. Just kidding. But at least now I know what I don’t know, and generally speaking, I know where to find the correct answers!

A really neat side effect – some of my judges were published Regency authors,  who willingly signed their names to the entries they judged. Oh, joy! To know that someone whose books I’d read and loved thought my story showed promise! Wow. It doesn’t get much better than that! Well, maybe when the judge falls in love with your hero – just like you did.

But, right away, I also learned that I knew nothing whatever about viewpoint. I didn’t even know what it was. Boy, did I ever not know! Eeegads. One comment that has remained with me all these years (I came across it again the other day) was: If he’s staring at her back, how does she fall against his chest so she can feel his heart beating?

Well, um. She has an ear on her shoulder blade?  How would I know such things?

Still – I’ll bet you’ve read books like that. Full of inconsistencies and impossibilities and other inaccuracies! Sometimes the writer is having a bad day, and when the editor gets it, he or she is experiencing the same sort of distraction. If there aren’t enough pairs of eyes proof-reading it, glitches like this slip through the cracks, and you end up with a book you’d like to bounce off the nearest wall.

These books are actually responsible for a good many published authors today. Credit goes to the old ‘I can do better than this!’ motivation. Some of those writers could, and some could not. It isn’t easy writing a book. Believe me. It can be very satisfying to hold your own book in your hand, but regardless, it’s never easy to have finally and successfully shepherded your baby to that point.

Good luck to all!

Are you a writer who’s nearing the end of the writing portion of a book, and who might also be wondering how to find an editor/proof-reader? If so, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my editing services.

Note 1: because of the strong  response to last week’s post about the passing of my dear friend Ev Dodrill, I decided to leave it on the front page for another day. It will stay on the site, however.

Note 2:  In an earlier post I wrote about how much I love reviewing books and how much pleasure I usually derive from that activity. Well, here’s another benefit! Today, an opinion piece I wrote about being an author and reviewing books was published by both sites. It’s the same at both, but I’ll include both links here, just in case.

http://www.sanfranciscobookreview.com/viewpoints-weekly-columns/3-16-11-my-bookworld-view/

If you have any questions about anything on this blog, please write to me at: bookmechanic@gmail.com

Everett Dodrill – 1926-2011

9 Mar
(One week ago today, I lost a very dear friend, who died at the age of 84. I’d known him a bit less than 25 years. His wife died 7 years ago, and since then he’d been my theater/concert/opera/dance buddy. As a reviewer I received two tickets, and since he loved the performing arts, he enjoyed going with me, and I enjoyed the company. He took me to have my cataract removed, and I happily drove him places when he was recuperating from tumbling off his bike. I’ll miss him a lot. I wrote this for his daughters, but since he was a writer, too, they said I could share it with you as well.)

When I first joined RWA in 1988, the monthly meetings were in Brecksville – a long ride from Cleveland Heights. It was suggested that I call Everett Dodrill (who lived about six blocks from me) to see about sharing the trips. I wasn’t sure my ears were working correctly. You see, RWA stands for Romance Writers of America, and Ev, was, well—a guy!

But what a guy he was! He was funny and brash and slightly sarcastic and tender and witty; curious, intelligent and marvelous at everything he tried. And he tried nearly everything at some point.

I was very impressed by his writing background: he’d been a successful free-lancer in publicity and marketing for a good many years, but had also collaborated on several books. Of course, learning  all that was like pulling teeth. Ev was very good at illuminating everything and everyone else – but not himself. I only discovered one of the books he’d co-authored, by accident while doing research for my own books.

One night at a concert by the Cleveland Orchestra, I opened my program book and there was Ev – a handsome  model in the advertisement for one of the city’s biggest banks!

Those trips to and from Brecksville were wonderful and not nearly long enough! We talked about so  many things: I learned that he and Marji had met on the stage of the Chagrin Valley Little Theater, where I’d once worked. Dumb me! I’d been around theater for a while, but I never realized Ev’s Marji was that Marji Dodrill who so lit up the city’s various stages. Or whose voice was frequently heard on commercials. That Ev filmed or produced, of course.

When in the early 90s the free-lance market sort of diminished, and he was sort of looking around for something to do, I happened to mention him to a friend who worked out at ASM International in Novelty. Ev went out for an interview and they hired him – on the spot! He made countless training and educational films for them, even as we laughed about ‘how he could make heat treating into a glamorous topic.’  Well, if anyone could do that, it would be Ev.

When I started another writing group that met in Solon, we again shared rides and talked about lots of things,  especially daughters.  Ev loved his daughters as I loved mine, but they didn’t always do the things we thought  they should do, or at least not in the way we thought they should do them.  But still, we loved and cherished our girls. And were proud of them.

Ev deprecated his acting skills, but I saw him as Mark Twain at Cain Park and will forever carry the  mental image of him in white suit with his aureole of white curls floating around him as he danced around the stage. He was a courtier in Richard III. And I couldn’t even begin to say how many times he appeared in the Marilyn Bianchi Kids  Playwriting Competition at Dobama Theater. A  good many of those very talented young writers seemed to need a Grandpop and Ev suited those roles to a T. With wit and wisdom, he treated their words with the same respect  he’d accorded to those of Shakespeare.

Ev loved to cross-country ski, especially out at Holden Arboretum, and vigorously rode his bike around the city, until a catch basin in Cleveland Heights threw him rather rudely into a gutter after first bouncing him off the curb! He loved to travel, and cherished the memories of the trip he and Marji had made to Alaska in the mid-90s, and then off they went to China!

Along about that same time, he joined me at the Cleveland Sight Center, reading newspapers over their closed-circuit radio station. Even after I gave up that activity, he stayed on for another year or two. He was a brilliant photographer, and an even more brilliant  visual artist – in paint – and ceramics. I’m very proud to own a somewhat sardonic set of Comedy and Drama—and a gargoyle-like version of Ev! That latter one makes me chuckle each time I see it – it‘s so him!

A few years ago, I needed a bit of architectural help for a book project – to calculate the floor area in a structure somewhat reduced in size from the original which had the dimensions clearly marked on it. I showed Ev my drawings, etc., and carelessly asked if he knew how to figure out the new floor sizes. Well, he’d think about it. Turned out he knew exactly where to get that help – his 15 year-old grandson Max. Thanks, guys!

In the late afternoon of last New Year’s Eve day, a good friend and I were invited to visit Ev for some tips on acting.  He was thin, yet vital as always, if a tad slowed down. But when it came to expressing emotion, he looked off into the distance, gathered his thoughts and absolutely tore into a hair-raising  version of “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Although he said it had been years since he’d really thought of it, the observer would rather have thought it had been only yesterday when last he’d said those words. His blue eyes blazed with white heat as he went through the famous poem. It was an acting lesson—and experience—never  to be forgotten.

As we reminisced briefly before leaving, he told us about having just recorded A Christmas Carol by  Charles Dickens, for son-in-law Mark at WJCU-FM.  On leaving, he gave me a copy of the CD. I listened to it again just last week. I’ll treasure it always.

I will miss Ev the writer, and Ev the actor, and Ev the ceramist, and Ev the clown. But most of all, I’ll miss Ev – my friend. I feel so privileged to have had him in my life.

Bon voyage, old friend.

For more about this outstanding life, here’s the official obituary. Wow!
I don’t know how long it might be there, but I’ll try to keep track of it.

http://obit.brown-forward.com/obit_display.cgi?id=900379&listing=Current&clientid=brown-forward

Do you listen . . . ?

2 Mar

. . . when your characters talk to you? Do your characters talk to you? The first few times that happened to me I was astonished. What did this mean? Authors hear voices in their heads all the time, but usually the voices are not coming from the person you’ve just created on your typewriter or computer. Are the voices real? Are they some kind of electronic phenomenon?

None of the above. I think what it means is this. You’ve done a great job in creating a character who talks, walks, thinks, and has a personality just like real people do. As such, they won’t put up with any nonsense from a creator who thinks they should do something totally out of character for them.

The first time this happened (at least the first one I listened to) was Windsong, the mother of the hero in Secret Shores. As I wrote in my piece about creating that story, I knew going in that the hero’s mother would be an Indian and his father French-Canadian. They matched the demographics of the time and place, so why not? What I was NOT expecting was for her to try to take over the book! I couldn’t believe it, actually, and I was the one putting those words on the paper!

My writing method is to write for several days, then print, and when I have 15-20  typed pages, I sit down and read it, make corrections (edit), then print again and put the pages in the proper binder for the book. I won’t read them again until the book is done. Thank goodness for computers, if I need to check on something, I can search electronically a lot faster than re-reading 60-100 pages looking for that missing factoid or whatever.

It didn’t take me long to realize that what I was reading was not what I thought I’d written. Oh? After several days of saying to myself (and sometimes out loud) ‘where did that come from?’ or ‘why did she do that?’ I finally tumbled to the fact that these instances always seemed to revolve around Windsong.

Of course, I did like her – a lot. She was an early feminist, to be sure, but within her time, and with a husband who dearly loved her. (Lucky girl!)  She was strong-willed, knew her own mind, and what she wanted out of life. Oh, and did I say ‘forceful’?

Finally, I came to realize that she was taking over my book! And this book was NOT about her, it was about her son, Jacques Little Otter Nicolet. So, one night while I was at the computer, and she started pushing her way into places where she had no right to be, I finally stopped and said to her, “Stop that!” I spoke out loud, just to be sure she’d hear me. “This is NOT YOUR BOOK!” I continued. “This book is about your son, Jock. And you know it, so just bug out!”

And then I had a brainstorm.  “I’ll tell you what. If you behave and do as you ought in Jock’s book, I’ll do your book next, okay?”  I smiled at the computer. “And if you don’t behave? I’ll have to start over again, and eliminate you completely!”  It was probably that last sentence that captured her attention, and she silently vowed to be good. She kept her word, admirably.

So, once Secret Shores was finished, and I asked my editor about the next book, she replied they were looking for Indian romances.  I said, “Oh! What about Windsong’s story?” She agreed, and so it came to pass that I wrote Windsong.  And this impetuous couple (Windsong and Etienne) just completely took over the book, totally ignored my very nice synopsis, and proceeded to do just exactly as they wished. From the time they met on page 6 of the book, it became their story, not mine. I just sat back and typed the story I was seeing in my mind as it  just zipped right along, in the most unbelievable way. I still get chills just thinking about it, and that was more than twenty years ago! (The story of Windsong will come along in a few weeks. But first, I was interrupted by the creation of Ardenwycke Unveiled, which—much to my surprise—was written between these other two other books. And — in three weeks, yet!)

Here was another character talking to me. Yelling, actually. (And I can’t say as I blame her!)  The actual story about writing Ardenwycke, will be along in a week or two, but it’s a weird one, to be sure. The book is set partially in both the 1790s and today, in a house built along the Hudson River in upstate New York, where I’ve still never been. I’m not at all sure where the idea did come from, but I knew that in the late 1700s, the Dutch settlers in that area kept slaves.

So, the young daughter of the family, Marike, had a maid who was a slave whose name was Clarissa. These two young women were the same age, and had lived their entire lives (to that point) together. They were 17 or so at the time of the story. For whatever reason (probably ignorance on my part) I had Clarissa talking in dialect. There was absolutely no reason for this – she’d never lived in the South. If anything, she should have had a Dutch inflection, as that was the language of the area.

Well, Clarissa did not like speaking in dialect. Not one little bit! And so, one night, very suddenly she yelled at me. “What are you doing, making me talk like that?” I could see her in my mind’s eye shaking her finger at me. “I don’t understand you. You know I went to school with Miss Marike — YOU sent me there! – and I can talk every bit as nicely as she does, so don’t you go making me sound ignorant. You hear?” Her voice softened a bit as she went on, “Now Jamesy (the outdoor slave and her husband-to-be) is not educated, so he does talk that way. But I don’t, and I never did, either, so you fix those words.” She stood there, hands on hips and raised her voice to be sure I received her message. “Do you hear me?”

I was so embarrassed. Truly I was. I promised to amend my stupid ways, and did indeed go back and fix all the places I’d messed up. Apparently Clarissa approved of my fixes, as she never came back again. But she was always proud of the fact that she’d been taught to read and write – and speak properly – right along with Marike.

Sometimes, however, when characters ‘come to life’ like this, they turn out to be someone I don’t know and/or can’t like. So, I put the manuscript away and go on to the next thing. That’s probably just one of the reasons I have so many unfinished projects.

I really need to learn how to assert myself and not let characters take over my books! And that’s that.