Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Polish From the Start, or Not?

Well, I'm about six weeks into a new novel, and so far the going has been pretty good.  I've been trying to write faster than I have in the past, at least for the summer, when I have a little more time to write than during the school year.  Get as many pages done as possible by the end of August and save all revising till later.  That's the thought anyway.  As usual, despite that thought, I find myself revising and editing and doubling back on myself to change things as I go along.  I never follow a set daily word count.  Sometimes I do a thousand words in a day, other times two hundred, that two hundred, of course, being a reflection of five or ten drafts of the same paragaph to get to that final meager word count. I never do a first draft start to finish, then a second draft, then a third, etc, and have always found it hard to proceed for thousands of words without halfway liking the words I've already written. I was talking with a friend recently about her writing plans for the summer, and she was telling me how she's determined to get a complete first draft done by September.  As a school teacher, she has the entire summer off, so she'll use the time she has in July and August to get the book done in rough form.  "At least I'll have another book finished," she told me, meaning enough done to go back and get to the serious work of making all the needed fixes.

I sometimes wish I could work that way and maybe I should force myself to.  I'm trying to push myself more in that direction.  In any event, I find there's a tension between the need to polish and perfect on the go and the desire to push ahead to make sure pages accumulate.  Also, I wonder, in doubling back so often, do you stunt your own momentum as a writer?  Very possibly.  And a form may emerge in your story, a twist, a structure, just from you letting things flow.  On the other hand, I so hate forging ahead knowing I'll only be going back to fix a ton of things later. Why not fix them now, if I know they need fixing?

It's a tension well captured in these two passages by Annie Dillard, in her great book The Writing Life.  She makes the case very well for editing a lot as you go, and she makes the case just as well for not editing as you go:

"The reason to perfect a piece of prose as it progresses — to secure each sentence before building on it — is that original writing fashions a form. It unrolls out into nothingness. It grows cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop. Perfecting the work inch by inch, writing from the first word toward the last, displays the courage and fear this method induces."
"The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen. Only when a paragraph’s role in the context of the whole work is clear can the envisioning writer direct its complexity of detail to strengthen the work’s ends.strengthen the work’s ends."
Two viable ways to proceed.  Take your pick.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Let's eat Hector.

Actually, I want you to meet Hector. My friend, Hector Duarte, Jr. to be clear. He’s a fiction editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. He’s lectured at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the second and third Captivating Criminality Conferences in Corsham, England, and Theorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. A talented writer in his own right, his work has appeared in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, The Whimsical Project, Spelk Fiction, and HorrorSleazeTrash. In his down time, he teaches seventh graders and travels the world.

Hector’s love of the written word is obvious and his desire to help up and coming writers is clear. This week he joins us at Do Some Damage to drop a little truth on the editing process. This subject is front of mind for me as I’ve just reviewed a recent submission only to discover my character was holding a star-foam cooler in one key scene. STAR-FOAM! I even used a hyphen. To make it all official. Gah. Hector help me.

Let’s grab our pencils and take some notes.

The Importance of a Fine-Tooth Comb

In the spring of 2016, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts asked me to take over as co-editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. It was a flattering moment of complete joy where I humble-bragged to all my friends. My time there has been nothing but fun, building relationships in a community of supportive, like-minded people. Don’t be fooled, crime writers are some of the nicest folks out there. As a self-proclaimed hippie, it’s the closest thing matching the Phish community when the band isn’t on the road. Everyone smiling and glad-handing, happy to be in one another’s presence. 

Aside from getting to read great flash stories and collaborating with a huge community of established and up-and-coming writers, I also have gotten a few requests to read and review advanced reader copies, which to me is a huge sign of having “made it” as an editor: when someone trusts you enough with their copy to ask for your editorial advice. Any writer knows how much time, labor, and outright stress even a flash piece can consume. You’re not going to trust just anyone with it. You wouldn’t hand your kid over to any random teen for a Friday night babysitting gig, right? Same thing here.

So, for whatever it’s worth, this article is meant to serve as a caution, a quick manual; hell, a warning, about the importance of editing. You’ve dedicated weeks, months, years to this draft. It’s ready to be sent out to that important publishing house. Now, pore over the thing like it’s sacred religious text. Because that’s what it is. To you, after all.   

Many of the ARCs I get are going to indie publishers. It’s no big secret many of these indie houses don’t have huge stacks of cash lying about and the publishing game, for them, is a labor of love.

This means you’re on your own when it comes to editing. You will not have someone dedicated full-time to reading your book, making sure it’s both grammatically and factually correct. In a rush to publish, some writers are putting sloppy work out there. Sure, your plot is tight and everything connects in the end, but if the pages are riddled with simple grammatical and factual errors, there goes the reader’s attention. Because, now, they’re playing grammar police, wagging their finger at the pages, thinking: I can do better than this.

Sadly, genre writing already gets enough raised eyebrows, folks. Don’t give the haters all the more reason to hate. My suggestion? Before sending it off to the publisher, send your story to someone you know is going to be brutal. Got a friend who’s always correcting your grammar or usage over a round of drinks? That’s probably the person. In fact, I suggest sending it to someone who’s not really big on plot. Writers, for the most part, are going to focus on the story you’ve laid out, red herrings, plot twists, B stories, and dialogue. Right now, you’re looking for the person who won’t be afraid to call you out when you’ve got, “A car parked over their,” or are returning a family, “there jar of sugar.” Maybe your character is a huge fan of Sid Viscous.

These kind of minor—but embarrassing—errors happen all the time. Don’t make the mistake of trusting your eyes to catch them, either. After you’ve been crafting and editing the same story over and over again, countless times, correcting pace and continuity, your eyes become exhausted, easily glossing over these small kinks throughout the pages.

It’s impossible to know everything. There’s just no way. Even your grammar-cop friend doesn’t know it all. So keep a dictionary or thesaurus nearby and constantly check your work. It’s even easier these days. Just keep a blank tab open on your browser. That way you can quickly check Dictionary.com while poring, (not pouring), over your story.

When handing your piece over for editing, give it to someone who’s never read it before. If it can be someone who knows near to nothing about the plot, even better. This makes it easier for that reader to step into the universe you’ve created without feeling something is expected of them. Tell them it’s an homage to Sherlock Holmes stories and they might feel a need to impress you by solving the case before your detective does. What you need at this crucial moment is the high-school-lit teacher ripping your introductory paragraph apart.

In life, we’re told to avoiding sweating the small stuff. Well, when editing, I’m going to advise the opposite. You have to do a close edit of your piece when it’s done. That first edit is the most important, because after that you and your brain are familiar with the story, so, by the second edit, you’ll feel more relaxed and it’ll therefore be easier to gloss over the small stuff. Make sure a quote that is opened is ultimately closed, and vice versa. Ensure punctuation marks fall inside quotations when they’re supposed to. Start a new paragraph when a different character performs an action. Please, regularly tag dialogue throughout a long conversation so it’s easy to keep up with who is saying what. Playing dialogue-tag-Jenga is a huge distraction for the reader. 

I know what you’re thinking: Who is this guy giving me a random lesson on the most basic of editorial rules? I’m no one of importance. Nothing of mine has been published in print yet. My graduate program may even argue I’m not much of a writer.

I will attest to this, though: I care about the writing I’m given to read and edit. I want to see crime fiction and genre writing succeed because I know they get so much shit from academic and literary circles, and I can’t stand it.

The names attached to a lot of these stories are people I know, in some form or another, and that gets me stoked.

Who am I? A guy who just wants to help. Who are you? Someone who wants to put their best work out there.

Now, go to it. And remember, check your, (not you’re), shit.

~ Hector Duarte Jr.

                                                   Visit Flash Fiction Offensive

Face in a Book

By Claire Booth

Last night I had a terrific time at the official book launch for Another Man's Ground. The wonderful folks at Face in a Book, an independent bookstore in El Dorado Hills, California, were kind enough to host it.

There was time for some socializing before things got started, which was great because I was able to catch up with quite a few people, including fellow Do Some Damage author Holly West. Thanks so much for coming, Holly! Then I talked a little bit about where the inspiration for the novel's precipitating crime came from and read a passage from the book.
Then came the actual signing, which also allowed me to talk with everyone individually.
If you've never been to a book signing, take a look around at your local bookstores. They're sure to have something soon that matches your interests. And - trust me on this - it will mean the world to the author. There's no one more valuable or special than readers, and we appreciate every single one of you. Thank you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Try and Avoid [Squirrel!] Distractions When Writing

Scott D. Parker

This past Tuesday, I got a chance to see Jason Isbell live here in Houston. It was a thrilling experience and I wrote about it the next day.

And there’s where the rub comes in.

Even though it’s summer, I still wake up early to write. When I do, it is usually in a direct line: bed to kitchen (for apple cider vinegar and coffee) to office. Open the laptop and start writing. Don’t check email, don’t check the news, don’t do anything other than write. It helps with the brain and the creativity.

Naturally, Wednesday morning’s session was the time I didn’t write on my current Calvin Carter novel but I used the time to write my thoughts about the Isbell concert. (Loved it, by the way. Y’all really should give him a listen. Here he is in June performing three songs on CBS.) I knew going into the session I was doing this, wanted to do, needed to do it, and that was that.

But what came after proved a distraction.

The opening line of the post reads like this: “Have you ever had an experience when you discover something new to you, it blows you away, and you look around and see if anyone else knows about it?” I was so excited about the show and my piece that I truly wanted other people to read my post and be introduced to Isbell’s music. I put it on Facebook—both my personal account and my two author accounts. I tweeted it, three times, in fact, giving props to Isbell as well as Houston Revention Center and Radio Paradise (the online station where I first heard Isbell).

During my workday, when I have a few spare minutes here and there, that’s when I like to write a few paragraphs on the current fiction project. It is one of the reasons why I can get a first draft of a novel done in under a month. But on Wednesday, when I should have been writing, I was too busy refreshing Twitter and Facebook, hoping that Jason Isbell himself read my post. Oh! I liked one of my tweets! Yay!

Complete blew apart my writing for the day. Words written on Monday: 3545. Words written on Tuesday: 2219. Words written Wednesday: 728. See what I mean? By the end of the day, I was pretty irritated with myself for allowing myself to get distracted the way I did.

Distractions don’t always come in the form of alerts on our phones or computers. They can be purely of our own making. I made my mistake on Wednesday. I corrected myself on Thursday and yesterday, but it was a reminder that I need to maintain the focus of my writing time throughout the day.

Y’all ever get distracted like that?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Service Guarantees Citzenship

The coolest part about being a writer is supposed to be writing a perfect sentence, or seeing your name on a cover of a book - and I'm not saying that isn't cool, but I'm nothing if not honest. And here's the honest truth - the coolest thing about being a writer is meeting other writers. Beautiful, ridiculous, creative, and fun writers who always have side projects going and let you jump in and have fun with them.

I mentioned that I will be at MidSummer Scream next weekend, and I really can't wait - but wait, I must. Lucky for me, my friend Kit Power got ahold of me last week to ask me back to his killer podcast Watching RoboCop with Kit Power. If you're unfamiliar with it - it's exactly what it sounds like. Awhile back I was on to... watch RoboCop with Kit Power, and watch it, we did. We provided our own commentary track, sometimes completely off topic, and had a fucking blast.

If you missed it, you can listen here.

This time, I'll be joining Kit for a bonus episode, to talk about my favorite Verhoeven film - Starship Troopers. I'm not sure when it will air, but you can listen to us wax philosophical about the anti-Oprah in RoboCop in the meantime. This episode should be a lot of fun - I love Starship Troopers, but since Kit and I had thrown the idea of doing this around several months ago, I decided not to give a re-watch. I can't remember the last time I saw the movie, so it'll be a little like the first time all over again.

A preview of things I will more than likely say:
-Something about how Jake Busey was really popular for a moment.
-Something about co-ed showers being considered futuristic.
-Something about the bugs where I used to live looking exactly like the bugs they fight.
-Something about the USMC Commandant's Reading List.
-Something about not fucking remembering that!

And more!

Can't wait to share it with all of you, and/or jump in on your next fun side project.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

And boy are my arms tired...

I recently returned from a 13 day, 2400 mile, 7 country road trip across Europe with my wife Sarah and my friend Johnny the ginger Marine. I did the driving, they did the navigating. We had a great time, and I only visited two bookstores if you don't count museum shops.

The first was a lovely little place in Bruges called Books and Brunch. How could I pass it up? They had waffles AND books! And they had a nice selection of both. I admit only partook of the waffles, but I nearly grabbed a copy of Underground by Haruki Murakami, his interviews with survivors of the Tokyo sarin gas attack. Cheerful reading! I lugged too many books on vacation as usual, so I was given a moratorium by Sarah.

If you haven't seen Martin McDonagh's In Bruges you're missing out on one of the best crime films of recent vintage. It showcases the beautiful city very well, uses the scenery to make it integral to the plot, and stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Brutally funny.

Here's a look at Books and Brunch.

If you zoom in you can see they have good taste. Megan Abbott, Michael Koryta, Richard Price, all in Dutch. No Dutch Leonard, though. Damn shame.

A few days later we visited our friend Courtney in Maastricht in the Netherlands, and she took us to bookstore that truly worships books... Boekhandel; Dominicanen, a huge bookstore in a former Dominican church. The front door is a rusted metal masterpiece, and inside the vaulted marble ceilings make you reverent, even if you're giggling at a copy of I Love You Dick, by Chris Kraus.

Take a look:

Make a pilgrimage there if you happen to be in the area. It's not far from Aachen, Germany, home of the Aachendom, the church where Charlemagne's throne and grave sit. 

It's one of the most beautiful bookstores I've ever visited. I bought myself a fancy pen to commemorate the occasion. And I bought I Love You Dick. Because no one tells me I have too many books!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Iain Ryan on The Student

In less than 2 years, Australian writer Iain Ryan has put out 5 novels.  He started with Four Days, a fierce novel set in Queensland state in the 1980's, when police corruption was endemic there, and he went on from that impressive debut to his pitch-black Tunnel Island trilogy: Drainland, Harsh Recovery, and Civil Twilight - books in which he continued to explore the intersection between nasty criminals and corrupt cops, with the cops often being more flawed and violent than the criminals. Now he's turned in a different direction, a college campus set novel, though that doesn't mean he's brightened his material. His new novel, The Student, goes to the same dark places his Ellroyesque procedurals did, this time from the point of a view of a university student.  I asked Iain whether he wanted to talk a little about the book, and he said sure.

Here we go.

SCOTT ADLERBERG: After Four Days and then your Tunnel Island trio, four novels centered around the doings of criminals and morally compromised cops, and where those two groups often intersect, what prompted you to write a college campus novel, albeit a very dark one?

IAIN RYAN: In the 2015/16 Australian summer I needed to sit down and write a textbook for my job at a university. This was not a task I was particularly looking forward to and as I started, I soon found that I needed to write a bit of fiction to get the gears turning and warm-up. Of course, I didn't want the book to require more research than I was already neck deep in so I opted for a period setting from my own biography: a rural campus town in the mid-90s. I really love campus novels, especially The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, but I can't really remember the exact motivations for writing a crime novel set on campus. Which is all to say, I made decisions about this book very quickly, thinking the manuscript would amount to very little.

So this was a wing it as you go sort of novel, or did you plot much out beforehand? Sounds like it grew as a book pretty naturally

I always outline but it definitely evolved past the outline more than anything else I've ever worked on. And as my first book for a traditional publisher, there was a full structural edit too and I took a lot of that on board. It's one of the things that's most sold me on traditional versus self-pub/small press. I think 5 or six people ended up working on The Student in one guise or another and I welcome all the help I can get. They definitely improved the book. Definitely.

You envisioned this book from the start as a book for a traditional publisher? How did you settle on Echo Press? And having worked with a traditional publisher, do you see yourself going back in the future to self-publishing or are you going to try to stick with the traditional publishing route?

Oh no, I thought I'd self-publish the book. I came so close to self-publishing it that I had it edited and I had the cover for it. But then I got cold feet. One thing I've learned from the trenches of self-publishing is that standalone books are a tough sell. 

Self-publishing is a commercial marketplace. If you want to succeed there, you generally need to write a series and you need to hit the genre tropes square on. You need a likeable protagonist. You need a clearly resolved ending. You need the book to move quickly forward and for the style to be nonintrusive. The Student didn't really tick these boxes. 

Around this time, Angela Meyer from Echo Publishing read my first book Four Days and despite rejecting it for a local release, she asked me to send her whatever I wrote next. Figuring I had literally nothing to lose, I sent across the manuscript for The Student and that was that. I didn't formally submit anything. My entire pitch was 200 words long -- no cover letter -- and I sent the entire manuscript as an attachment. It was very informal. 

I don't think there's any real lesson for anyone in all this except that this could stand as a gentle reminder that we're not always the best critic of our own work. And that it's foolish to get to indebted to one mode of publishing. The idea that I nearly self-published the book because 'It's what I do' is something that keeps me up at night. It would have been a disaster. 

As for whether I'd go back to small press or self-publishing? I'm sure I'll be back at some point. I love writing. And putting your work out there -- however you can -- is part of writing.

I read Four Days, your first book, and really liked that, in part because you took your clear love of James Ellroy's books and used it to craft a book entirely your own, with your own feel and sound. With The Student I can see some Bret Easton Ellis influence, especially The Rules of Attraction, which you mentioned. But do you think your crime fiction influences came into play at all with this book? It sort of blends campus debauchery novel with a violent grimy crime novel sensibility and it makes for something tough but refreshing.

I still see a lot of Ellroy still popping up in this book. It's more White Jazz than LA Confidential this time round, is all. I'm not sure I'm ever going to outrun his influence. That said, I'm a bit Ellis fan too and I definitely reached for Rules of Attraction when I was planning the novel. I really like how he wrote the teenagers in that book, especially their lack of empathy -- or more generously, their underdeveloped empathy. Which is something I see all the time working with teenagers. Even as a late teen, you're not really set up to process the full spectrum of adult situations yet. In fact, that's kinda what becoming an adult is all about. The links between the two -- between Ellis and Ellroy -- are also not as far apart as you'd imagine. They're both deeply invested in how various elites perpetuate and profit from their sociopathy, be it the nameless bad men of American Tabloid or the despondent rich kids of Less Than Zero.

I never thought of them as linked, not even thematically, but that's a really good point. 

It's a awhile since you've been in college, so in portraying teens and college students, did you draw upon memories primarily or what you observe in college age students now or a combination of the two? And how much of yourself, if anything, did you throw in the mix? I assume you had your share of fun and excess in college.

I think that's it exactly. Nate is a combination of what I remember from that period of my own life combined with the young people I teach. The naivety about the world comes from me. The almost-Stoic self-determination of Nate is more from my students. No one ever really comments on this but late-teens are pretty hard-boiled. I've taught lots of young men and women who view the world as one giant bureaucratic system obstructing them (ala the 'mean streets' of crime fiction). And they don't ask for help. In the novel I put together a fairly detailed subplot as to why Nate doesn't just call the cops but I'm not sure I needed to go to that effort. Anyone who teaches has met that kid that won't ever ask for help, no matter the situation. Nate's one of those. 

As to my own hedonism, all I can say is that when you *really* think back to that moment in your life, you realize it just is a more hedonistic moment. Maybe not you, specifically, but your friends and such. University students don't behave like adults. They just don't. Most 40 year olds don't experiment with new drugs, sleep with strangers and forego any responsibility at whim but this is not overly excessive behavior for a young university student.

What do you have in the works next? Will you be going back to straight crime and dirty cops, or do you have plans to branch out, as with The Student, in yet another direction?

I'm working on another novel. I'm not going back to straight-up crime/detective fiction yet but I'm still firmly working within the genre. Part of me desperately wants to return to the warm confines of straight-up police procedural / detective fiction but my current publisher is really supportive and while I have that support, I want to turn in work that is slightly more adventurous. That said, the crime fiction scene -- even at the trade/commercial level -- is really opening up. I mean, I'm writing this stuff and looking to Megan Abbott's hard-boiled gymnasts and Sarah Gran's Clare Dewitt and Gillian Flynn's multiple POVs and such. I'm not sure I'm capable of a cop novel that can cut it with these people in the mix.

Ha, yeah.  It's always good to be pushed though, right?  Anyway, I'll be looking forward to whatever you have coming next.  

You can pick up The Student on Amazon right here.