Saturday, April 23, 2011

Finding a Favorite Stick

Scott D. Parker

Yesterday, my family and I took a trek through some trails near my Houston home. Whenever I go for a hike, I always find that special companion with which to share my journey: a stick. This one wasn't a tall walking stick, my preference, really. It was short, about twelve inches long, thin, and weather beaten, all the bark gone. It fit in my right hand, with a little knot that separated my index and middle fingers. In some respects, it made me imagine a sword handle, a thin foil at the end of the thing and me the Musketeer. Throughout my walking, my hand learned the feel of the stick, becoming familiar with its shape, texture, and how best it fit into my hand. The wood become comfortable. By the end, when I neared my car, this inanimate object seemed like a part of me.

Then, as much as I loved holding that particular stick, I threw it away and left it in the woods. Next time, I'll find another one.

We're all readers here. We love books and the stories within them. We find a favorite author and devour everything he or she has written. If its a particular series, the joy we get when reading the latest exploits of the central character is like that stick I carried yesterday. It's comfortable. It's familiar. We love it.

But do you ever throw away the author?

Earlier this week, NPR Music ran a survey about bands with whom listeners have fallen out of love. You know what they're talking about. A band you absolutely loved, Loved, LOVED and bought anything and everything they ever put out. One day, however, something changed. Perhaps they did, perhaps you did. Nonetheless, you stopped listening to that band. You moved on.

Anyone ever move on from an author? Stephen King is one for me. I used to read everything he wrote and everything that was written about him. Somehow, gradually, I just stopped reading his stuff. My wife recently read--and loved--Under the Dome but it doesn't ring any bells for me. I will certainly watch the Dark Tower movies, however. Along the way, I've picked up new authors and I'm really digging them.

There are some, of course, that I picked up sometime in the past and they're still with me--Conan Doyle, Dickens, Burroughs--and I can't imagine I'll ever throw them aside.

Y'all ever pick up and discard authors?

Drink of the Week: Sun Tea. Now that it's 90 (!) in Houston in April (!), I can again brew sun tea. It's my absolute favorite drink for hot days. Sweetened, of course. Brew up a gallon. It tastes and smells like childhood.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Fiction?

By Russel D McLean

There’s always the one guy. Usually at a party. The one who overhears that I’m a writer (I try not to bring the subject up myself, if I’m honest) and says, “What do you write?” The one who, when I tell him I write crime fiction says, “I don’t read fiction. Who has time for that?”

I wouldn’t mind if he stopped there. But he usually doesn’t (and believe me when I say its usually a man and he’s usually desperate to tell me all about what he does for a living which actually makes my life sound rather exciting even if all I really do is swear at a computer screen most of the day). Usually he goes on to explain how one learns nothing from fiction (and he’s desperate to tell me its not just genre fiction like I write, its any fiction). How there’s no point to it. Its an indulgence and really what does anyone get out of reading?

Today’s post is for That Guy.

Because I really don’t want to say it to his face.*

Because he won’t listen. And it doesn’t matter what I say, he’s made up his mind.

But, at the risk of lecturing** I think I need to get this off my chest. I think I need to talk about the value I think fiction – any fiction – has in our society.

Because fiction – not writing it, but reading it – is more essential than one might realise. And not just because it’s sometimes a fun way of slipping learning into life. After all, everything I know about jail I learned from reading STONE CITY and everything I know about New York I learned from Lawrence Block and Charlie Stella. And by God I’ve never been to Louisiana, but James Lee Burke makes me believe I have. And let’s not get started on the fact that watching The Sopranos**** taught me to be a better cook.

But all of that’s neither here nor there. That Guy would argue sure, but a guide book or cookery book would probably be a lot more accurate.

So then what’s the point?

The point is that fiction, at its heart, is about emotional narrative. Fiction is about people dealing with situations. Fiction is a way for the reader to see the world through other eyes, to react to someone else’s story. To figure out the world.

Fiction removes us from reality. But not in that negative, lazy way that so many people think it does. No, fiction allows to step back from life and start to examine it in an indirect way. It can clarify our lives in unexpected ways. Fiction allows to ask questions of character and situation in a safe environment and take the answers to those questions and apply them to reality. Fiction – reading fiction – is a kind of therapy, I suppose. It is not an escape from the world so much as a way of dealing with it.

Crime fiction is of course the perfect example. By examining people in extreme situations, we can engage in a dialogue with the text about a number of issues that may affect us in real life. How to deal with loss, betrayal, anger, hatred. Reading is not a one way street. Whether we accept it or not the way we interact with stories has an effect on us when in our daily lives, in our thoughts and attitudes. Sometimes its subtle. Sometimes it’s a clear and definite thing. Look at how many people were affected, for example, by Catcher in the Rye.

Fiction, in whatever form we can get it, is essential to our lives. It allows us to figure the world, to look at it from another angle.

And if nothing else, it’s just plain fun to read.

With thanks to Rachel Marsh for stepping at the last moment when I realised I couldn’t write last week’s post.

*Can I also point out That Guy is many guys and I haven’t run into them recently, thank goodness, but then I haven’t been to many parties recently…

**Sorry, Dave White***

***Also, sorry for the footnotes… I know you hate those.

****Yes, its television but its still a form of fiction. Deal with it. And, yes, Ralphie was spot on about mixing the spaghetti with the gravy for thirty seconds before serving…

Thursday, April 21, 2011

You know what? Talk to me, don't lecture me

I don't really read blogs anymore.

I mean, I pick and choose, here and there. But pretty much I don't read crime fiction blogs anymore. You see, I overdosed on it. Made myself sick. Got too worked up.

And because of that, I got a new perspective on things. And here's what I know.

Blogs... they don't work for what you think they're working for. Mr. Stringer's got it nailed and he beat me to the punch. If you're talking about promotion and how to promote and what's a good way to promote... you're not going to promote.

You're going to get a bunch of people on your blog who think they can learn something from you and go away. They're not going to buy your book.

Same goes with writing advice. Just posting some advice like this is the end all be all of writing is wrong. And yeah, I know I'm guilty of it sometimes too. But again... I'll figure out my own way how to write a sex scene. Don't tell me.

No, the best way to run a blog is the same way to use Facebook and Twitter. Make it a community. Talk about what you love.

I love when Jay Stringer goes off on Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's one of my favorite movies too. One of my favorite writers, and good friend, Duane Swierczynski is so good at this as well. Without his blog, I'd never have found Hickey and Boggs. Or half the books I actually do check out.

A good blog is like a friend who loves something. They should be able to get your into it as well. Talk about stuff and debate it with you.

Not lecture.

And there are wayyyyyy too many lecturers out there right now. Well, in my opinion.

Right? Thoughts? Am I wrong?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Myth of Depth and Caring

John McFetridge

Brian Lindenmuth tipped me to a blog called Et tu, Mr. Destructo and the post about the new cop show, The Chicago Code called, “The Myth of Depth and Caring.” It’s well-worth reading.

The argument is that The Chicago Code is a bad show because, “It boils over with caring, a constant churning sincerity that refuses to stop declaring itself. While it is nowhere close to the unintentionally hilarious earnestness of Law & Order: SVU, it easily dwarfs that show in its commitment to constant self-affirmation and re-affirmation.”

It’s true.

The blog also points out that, “Eighteen years ago, NBC aired the first episode of Homicide: Life on the Street and, by rights, should have created a sea change in the structure of police procedurals. It explored a conceit fundamental to police station houses, one amply demonstrated in David Simon's non-fiction book, on which it was based, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The conceit was this: caring is mostly a myth. Yes, granted, there are cops out there who want to bust bad guys because they want to make a difference, clean up the city, bring solace to victims, etc. But by and large, cops are like people in any other job.”

Well, not exactly like any other job. The governor of Wisconsin knew that cops are more important for his plans than teachers or nurses and needed to be exempted. I don’t know about the US, but in Canada no cop has ever been laid off, they’ve never been downsized, the cops have never lost any benefits (medical, drug plans, etc.,) and their pensions are safe.

It’s actually a pretty good job. And lots of cops are very, very good at the job.

So how come on TV it’s always a crappy job and the only cops who are any good at it are damaged people with lousy personal lives and broken families and for whom it’s always personal?

Partly, I think it’s because we’re still stuck on the lone hero trope. Even though cops are the only group whose collective bargaining seems to be important, we still can’t see them as members of an effective team. We don’t see police work as being like football with a really good offensive line, good receivers, running backs and a decent QB all working together for the same goal – TV police work is... well, tennis or golf, I guess, but some weird tennis or golf where even your own coach doesn’t like you much.

The Chicago Code is by the same guy who made The Shield and it serves pretty much the same audience – the only audience TV networks seem to think exists for cop shows. People who don’t see any gray areas, have no faith in the system or in their fellow citizens, people who, for some reason, feel it’s okay for the hero to break all the rules as though that can somehow happen in isolation and have no real consequences.

I guess there isn’t much overlap between the people who like a really good football game - and can see how the team that plays best together always beats the team with the couple of superstars who don’t get along with the other players - and people who like cop shows.

I wonder if literature, storytelling and entertainment have something to do with this. I’m working on a cop show right now and the network notes are already all about making the heroes fight the system, stacking the odds against them and making the stories personal. The cops need to “care” about catching particular bad guys, not because they’re professionals who take pride in their work and want to do a good job, but because it’s personal. The opposite is never brought up, the idea that if that cop’s mother hadn’t been murdered in some awful way, she wouldn’t care about crime or be interested in police work or catching bad guys or anything like that.

Et tu, Mr. Destructo mentioned Homicide and then, inevitably, that leads to The Wire and he says, “And while there were and are thousands of bozos who love The Wire because "Omar rules—Omar comin', y'all!" the heart of the fanbase celebrates it for its Dickensian scope, its testament to the corrosion of the American dream, its humanizing of the underclass, its indictment of the drug war. Meanwhile, you could refresh chat threads on TV message boards and watch the post-rate explode as Shield fans squeed and ooohed like 'shipper fangirls whenever Vic Mackey used precious, precious guns or did something vicariously ‘badass.’”

(I had to look up “shipper,” but luckily there’s a Wikipedia entry that explains it as being, “derived from the word relationship, is the belief that two fictional characters, typically from the same series, are in a relationship, or have romantic feelings that could potentially lead to a relationship. It is considered a general term for fans' emotional and/or intellectual involvement with the ongoing development of romance in a work of fiction. Though technically applicable to any such involvement, it refers chiefly to various related social dynamics observable on the Internet, and is seldom used outside of that context.”)

Do we move too quickly to satisfy those people on the message boards looking for “badass” cops full of self-affirming “caring”? Do we leave out any, “testaments to the corrosion of the American dream,” any “humanizing of the underclass,” any “indictment of the drug war,” too easily? Do we look at complicated social situations and find the easiest, most immediately emotionally satisfying ways to tell the story, even when we know we’re being dishonest with the material?

Or is that just me?

I remember leaving the movie Pulp Fiction and going to the washroom and overhearing seventeen year old boys going on and on about how “cool” it was and trying to talk like Samuel L. Jackson and using words like, “bitch” (they had to contain themselves from using the word “nigger,” knowing just enough to not let that one slip out) and motherfucker. They were giddy with excitement but I was too old for Pulp Fiction. Raised on Dasiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard and even Robert B. Parker, I was the age these kids were when Taxi Driver came out and it never made me want to talk like Travis Bickle. Oh sure, some guys stood in front of the mirror and said, “You talking to me?” over and over but they always knew Travis Bickle was crazy – and doomed. And part of a bigger society that was going through some, as we said at the time, “real shit.” Taxi Driver didn’t play out of time sequence so that we could walk out of the theatre looking at an alive Travis Bickle. No, there was no walking out of that theatre giddy.

Does this refusal to look at context or any larger issues trap us in an endless cycle of “personal” stories with no greater meaning? Does that even matter?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Preaching To The Choir

By Jay Stringer

I don't think about marketing all that often. I've written about my aversion on here before. It's not a lack of confidence, it's simply that I don't want to get sucked into doing that at the cost of my writing. But there are important issues that will jump into my head, set up camp, and start a picket line in front of my attention span.

One of these is 'preaching to the choir.'

I've been bugging everybody with it. My agent. Friends. Co-writers. That guy who lives in the back of my fridge. I called up a woman who was my teacher when I was six years old, just so that I could whisper "preaching to the choir" at her and then hung up. Creepy, I know, but these things need to be done.

I was talking to some of my favourite British writers last week and found out that they're having similar thoughts. Well, not about the old lady thing, I can't back that one up with facts.

Here's my basic question;

What do we do, as writers, to expand beyond preaching to the choir?

8 of us come here to blog about crime fiction. We have a blast. We enjoy writing the site and engaging with readers, just as we hope you folks out there enjoy coming to the site and engaging with us. The christmas noir in particular showed us how many people out there are not only enjoying the site, but are willing to get up and show it. So none of this is an attempt at biting the hand that feeds.

The online crime fiction community is a wonderful thing. It's full of some of the most friendly and supportive people on the net. Just look around at all the various crime blogs, ezines and message boards, and you'll see this community coming out in force, commenting, supporting, reviewing and buying.

But where do we find the new readers from? And can we sustain ourselves as writers in this modern age by relying on the already established community?

Lets take a look at comic books.

Once upon a time (cue music) comics were sold in their millions on news stands. Mothers, fathers, uncles, kids, total strangers who wanted to win your affection; all of these people could and did pick up comics as they went about their daily lives. They could be impulse buys, purchases of convenience, but they were out there on the news stands and thousands of new readers were sucked in. It's cigarettes and drugs, baby. But then the direct market was created. It was hailed as revolutionary, hailed as the decision that would take comics into the new age. They vanished off news stands and were sold direct to specialist comic stores.

And then the industry started to die.

Some comic stores are brilliant. In fact, the majority of comic stores I've been to on both sides of the Atlantic have been filled with helpful people who want to talk about the product with passion. (special mentions here to Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham, England, and to St Marks Comics and Jim Hanley's Universe both in Manhattan.) But the very idea of going in a comic book store is intimidating to a lot of people. Parents aren't always sure they should let their kids go in, and parents themselves might not want to go in and get lost amidst all the thousands of titles, or to ask at the counter for fear of getting laughed at HIGH FIDELITY style.

The very act of sending the product direct and only to these places limited the market. The industry was now preaching to the choir. You could sell comics to people who already bought comics. To get in new readers? that was alchemy. In the early 1990's there were a few titles that reached the magic number of selling a million copies, now the bestsellers tend to be between 20-80,000. And this is an industry with a leg up. Marvel, Sony, Warner Brothers and Paramount have been releasing billion dollar blockbusters based on these characters for years. There are toys, cartoons, video games and lunch boxes. But the sad thing is that The Dark Knight didn't save the industry. Iron Man didn't save the industry. The new readers aren't flocking into the niche stores to buy new comics. And those that are coming across are going on Amazon and buying trade paperback collections of the classic stories from ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

Everyone who was cool when I was a teenager was watching Batman: The Animated Series. But a generation later talking to these cool people is likely to get you, "Well everything I know about Batman comes from the cartoon." Because the cartoon was their version of Batman. Just like the films. Like the toys. Like the lunch boxes.

Where does the industry get new readers?

Am I saying that crime fiction is in that trouble? Nah. Not nearly. We've not gone down that direct market blind alley.Crime specialist bookshops are wonderful places, but they're essentially there to cater to geeks like us, and they're not the only place for a generation of readers to buy crime books.

But the fences are there. In the general bookshop itself it's already a case of preaching to the choir as far as the people willing to walk into the section marked 'crime.' It's at the front of store that we find the casual readers, the new readers, and they're at the whim of whichever books are on promotion unless there's a great bookseller around to leave blocks of cheese that lead to the sections.

On sites like AMAZON the key is to get your title onto that bit that says, "other people who bought this title also bought..." But the trick is to get onto that list in the first place.

We all, writers and readers, need to be expanding our net, widening the conversation. But how do we do that?

When my book comes out, it may well have some great blurb from some great crime writers. But does this help? As much as I love reading the likes of Bruen, Rankin and Pelecanos, I don't think I'll pick up a book and think, "well I was gonna spend my money on food, but if these guys say I need to read this book..."

Those if us in the crime fiction community already have our tastes, we already know how to tell if we want to pick up a book, and we know whose opinions we trust. That's what this whole net community is about. The blurb isn't really going to make a difference -unless you guys tell me otherwise.

Ian Rankin is a mighty fine writer and I don't for a minute mean to say anything else. At the same time, how much of his Uk-dominance is down to the fine content of his books, and how much is down to the fact that the national newspapers give decent coverage to his new titles. Big reviews. Press. National radio. National TV. People who weren't even sitting there thinking, "what book will I buy this month" are suddenly sitting there thinking, "they tell me that Rankin book is good to buy."

So lets take the principles of social media. Let's get out there and expand. Find people who aren't going to walk over the section in the book marked "crime," or who may not even be in the bookshop in the first place.

I give SCALPED regular love on here, and you should all be reading it by now. It's the best comic on the stands. It's a noir-tinted crime drama of addiction, betrayal and duty, all centred around an angry young man from an ethnic minority. Which, incidentally, is pretty close to the pitch for my debut novel, OLD GOLD. Scalped sells bout 11,000 copies a month. You can bet I'll be nagging Jason Aaron for a blurb. My story is set in the midlands, which is the stomping ground of film director Shane Meadows. Hell, why not.

Why aren't we out there chasing blurb from the guys who make the million dollar crime movies, or the actors who play sexy mobsters on TV?

What could a Ray Banks novel do with some blurb from Billy Bragg or Ken Loach. What would benefit our own Russel Danger McLean more, a blurb from a top British writer, or a blurb from Dundee's very own Brian Cox? Which is more likely to get someone of similar leaning or tastes from another 'community' to think, "well, I'll give this guy a go."

So that's whats picketing my brain at the moment.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sometimes, Life Doesn't Give Second Chances

By Sandra Ruttan

The school the kids attend has a vision: be a safe and nurturing learning community focusing on academic excellence, open communication, and the needs of all the students and staff.

It's on the home page of their website.

They also have a mission, which is also on the home page of their website. To prepare successful students who think strategically, demonstrate the 4 R's, and strive for academic excellence.

Sounds excellent, doesn't it? Except that they have a punctuation error in the mission. Rs isn't possessive, it's plural, so the apostrophe shouldn't be there.

The four Rs. Respect. Responsibility. Be Ready. Re-think.

Sounds catchy, doesn't it? It isn't just the politicians who know how to coin a soundbite and develop what amounts to a campaign slogan. We're a society that's all about glossy deception, while few pay attention to the lack of substance beneath the surface.

Yes, I have some harsh words for the school right now. There are a number of issues that have come up over the past few years, including a substitute teacher striking a student - her own son - in Child ZZ's class. And this past fall a boy in the same child's class brought a knife to school. It's really reassuring when the kids haven't even reached an age with double digits. I mean, we don't live in the city. The kids go to school in the county. The whole reason is to avoid the types of problems that plague city schools.

I'm going to focus on one recent incident. One of my stepchildren was supposed to remain after school for a club. Permission had been granted, child had been signed up, and I was to pick them up at a specific time at the school for dismissal of club.

The school's been extremely rigid about student dismissal this year. Although last year the kids could ride the bus home or to our sitter's (different bus) per our instructions, changing buses and arrangements hasn't been allowed this year. Even when their mother had to work and needed the kids to come to our house, the school wouldn't allow them on the bus.

Which would leave them waiting at the school for nobody to pick them up.

And so I had to leave work early, because in their infinite wisdom, parent pick-up and the arrival and departure of all those cars happens before they start letting buses leave now. It used to be after.

So when we agreed to the after school club, we clearly understood the pick-up time and the arrangements and the school's policy for dismissal. I grew up at a time when they didn't check names off of lists for buses and there wasn't any such thing as first or second bus wave. Now, they don't let the kids leave until someone with authorized ID picks them up from parent pick-up, or they've been placed on the bus they're assigned to.

Yes, we thought we understood the procedures. Until the day our child didn't stay for club and just left the school.

What makes matters worse is that said child did not do this without school knowledge. The homeroom teacher, also one of the club teachers, saw our child and reminded them about the club.

This is where I'll interject with the fact that the homeroom teacher should always know of a change in dismissal for a child. The office communicates with them to ensure the child goes where they're supposed to go when they leave. Last year, we emailed the teachers any time after school arrangements changed. This year, that open communication the school says it strives for? Yeah, not so much.

No parent had changed our child's arrangements. But when our child said they weren't staying for club, our child was allowed to leave school with no parental notification.

The problem? I was expecting to pick up the child from school an hour later.

An hour.

And the school let our child leave on a bus on a day our child wasn't supposed to be on the bus, with no parental authorization, or parental notification.

Imagine this was an only child. Imagine I'd picked the other child up from parent pick-up. Imagine we were out running errands. Imagine I didn't leave a key out, because I didn't expect anyone to need it.

Imagine the bus was in an accident, or someone snatched our child from our driveway because our child was left standing outside because they were supposed to be at the school. Placed in a club and entrusted to the care of the school for a full hour after regular dismissal.

It isn't hard for us crime fiction fans to start to imagine all the things that could have gone so horribly wrong.

As it is, none of those things happened. Thankfully, our child is safe.

None of that changes the fact that we were upset with the school for how this was handled, and we had a right to be concerned.

But our concern about the lapse in procedure that day, regarding our child, is nothing compared to how I feel about the school's response to our concerns.

We played it cool. Sent a simple email, outlining what we understood had happened, and asked what could be done to make sure it didn't happen again. Didn't ask for a head on a platter. Didn't point fingers and say anyone was incompetent.

The response? Basically, thanks for bringing this to my attention and I've asked the homeroom teacher to be in touch, take care.


Really concerned. Really focused on open communication, and actually answering our question about how we could be sure this wouldn't happen again.

Then it got better. The homeroom teacher scrawled a note in the child's school agenda and first claimed the didn't know our child was leaving on the bus, then said they saw our child leave for the bus but didn't know our child didn't have permission to leave on the bus.

If the homeroom teacher doesn't know, it's pretty disconcerting. Who should know? The kindergarten teacher? The cafeteria staff? No. I'd expect the teacher of the classroom the children are dismissed from... their homeroom teacher.

Another follow-up with the school was issued, detailing our disappointment about how this whole situation was handled.

And still, we did not receive an answer to our original question.

And since we couldn't trust that the school would ensure proper dismissal of club children, our child was taken out of after-school club.

Because we need to know. Because if I didn't show up here and something happened to our child, you better believe I'd be investigated.

Which is why I think the school should be accountable as well.

I do firmly believe that, but the thing I keep coming back to, above all else, is their vision and their mission, and the four Rs.

Respect. Responsibility. Be Ready. Re-think.

The absolute failure of the school to offer a sincere and genuine apology shows their lack of respect for our children, us, and our concerns for the safety of our children.

Thing is, I've worked for a lot of schools and programs with children over the years, and sometimes lapses in procedure happen. They aren't malicious, and they aren't even necessarily unprofessional. My first concern is not necessarily that there was a lapse; it's that we acknowledge what went wrong so that we can determine how to fix the problem and keep it from happening again.

And, you know, in my opinion, that's part of taking responsibility.

How can I expect the school to guide children to take responsibility when they refuse to take responsibility themselves?

Clearly, whatever happened that afternoon with our child was something they weren't ready for, and their reluctance to address our concerns professionally suggests they haven't rethought how they're ensuring the safety of their students, or how to address legitimate parent concerns.

My conclusion is that the school has failed to model the 4 Rs they list as one of the three key components of their mission.

The glossy surface looks good.

But beneath the surface, it's a different picture.

And that's part of the reason I keep coming back to crime fiction. Because in this world there are so many who will exploit our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities, and will cut right through the façade we hide our truths behind, and rip our lives apart in the process. So many people go through every day and get lucky - lucky because the bus wasn't in an accident, lucky because they did leave a key outside. Lucky because a trustworthy neighbor saw to the needs of their child...

That's something I remember from my own childhood, when my mother was in a car accident. Mrs. Zorich, coming out to the bus when it stopped at our home and making us feel safe and secure until my mom was able to come home.

Can you tell my anger still burns hot over this? And it's a few weeks old now. But as someone who's worked in a professional capacity with children for over a decade, I am appalled. There's nothing I take more seriously than safety, as anyone who's worked with me knows. And that doesn't mean I don't let my kids climb trees. It means I expect them to use common sense when they do it and learn how to do things properly so that they won't be hurt.

Something my stepson once said about me. I'm fine with anything as long as it's safe.

Not quite, but I appreciate the sentiment. He gets I'm anal about safety.

We got lucky. But our luck doesn't mean that the school was right, or that this issue should be ignored, and one day, when my rage over the response of the school has subsided I already have the opening scene for a story that will, and should, strike fear into the heart of every parent.

The way this incident still strikes fear in my heart.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Practice makes perfect? Maybe not.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

The more I write, the better I get at the craft of writing. That makes sense, right? Practice makes perfect. However, maybe it is just me, but I’ve also found that the more I write the harder it is for me to discern whether or not the story is any good.

I just completed my 9th manuscript. The first 4 will never see the light of day, which is a good thing. Some should never be read by anyone. Others are in genres I really have no interest in writing in again. They were great practice, but I don’t really want readers to flip through the pages. Four of the other books are either published or under contract. This most recent one is not. Is it good enough to be? I really don’t know.

When I started writing, I assumed that my ability to judge my skill level would improve. And on some level that is true. I am much better at judging the pacing of a scene, or crafting quick dialogue and choosing my words carefully to create the setting. But somewhere along the line I lost the ability to judge my own story. I can tell you if the individual pieces work, but no matter how much time passes, I can’t seem to make a judgment on whether the overall story comes together.

I felt this way when revising my 8th manuscript – MURDER FOR CHOIR – and was terrified when I sent it to my agent. I thought I had too much going on in the book and that she was going to tell me it sucked. Every day that passed between sending it to her and hearing the verdict made me chew my nails and even more certain that the book was terrible. Turns out she loved it. Several editors felt the same way.

Yay! The book sold fast.

Crap! I learned that I no longer have a clue if what I am writing is any good.

Now here I am revising my 9th book trying not to despair at my lack of ability to see the forest through the trees. Do I think the idea for the story is good? Yes. Am I doing it justice? The hell if I know.

So, I guess my question is this – do you ever have trouble gauging the quality of your own work? If so, can you tell me how you get through it because at the moment I can use all the help I can get.