Saturday, March 2, 2013

James Bond x 2

Scott D. Parker

(I was going to have a nice, long take on "Skyfall," the newest James Bond movie mainly as a different outlook to Jay's fantastic post of Thursday, but I have run out of time. On the whole, I agree with many of his points, but, like many comic book superheroes, Bond is ageless and just rolls with the decades. I like that, but I also like the idea of a beginning, middle, and end. For that, truly, we'll need a Bond version of "The Dark Knight Returns." Instead, I'll give you my shorter take (taken from an email to a friend) on the film. Then, so y'all don't feel short changed, I'm posting my October 2010 review of the Bond novel, Devil May Care, by Sebastian Faulks. I've left the text of the review as is.)


I really enjoyed the film. It took from Brosnan's The World is Not Enough (trying to kill M; explosion in MI6) and Goldeneye (former spy turned bad guy), but, THANKFULLY, didn't have a plan for world domination. Just a simple murder. I half expected M to get captured and tortured (a la Colonel Sun, the first non-Fleming book written pre-John Gardner). I loved the in jokes (we don't use exploding pens (Goldeneye); the Goldfinger car), and the obvious imagery of the Asten Marten being blown to bits. Loved the new flinty repartee with the new Q.

Taken as a whole, I think this trilogy of films establishes a new "origin" story for the 21st Century Bond. At beginning of CR, nothing is like every other former Bond film. And Craig, over 3 movies, gets to get back to where all pre-Craig films start/stop (the martini, the introduction, the quips). So, with SF, you end with Bond, coming into the office, chit-chatting w/Moneypenny, going through the padded door, and talking to M for his next case (BTW, saw "Mallory-as-M" a mile away). And, in the closing of the film, we finally get Craig through the gun barrel + music, and the credits roll comes complete with "James Bond Will Return." And, with that, we are on our way to the next 50 years, having come full circle. In fact, and I'll need to watch all 3 Craig films to make sure, I think Craig/Bond was actually lighter/funnier in this one than Craig has ever been. Note the scene when the henchman, in the komodo dragon pit, picks up Bond's gun. Bond actually smiles and says "Good luck with that."

There were lots of homages to other films in this movie. Well, homages as *I* took them. Bond, M, and "Alfred" prepping for an assault = Saving Private Ryan; bad guys walking down the road to the Bond manor = Witness; numerous The Dark Knight ones; Silva's island = Russian junk yard from Goldeneye; more that I can't remember but noticed them while watching.

Oh, and another thing: Taking a cue from Nolan's Batman (most obvious), Mendes has a lot of shots of Craig just standing there, in relief to the background, staring into space and guarding the realm. With Craig's size, it works. Don't think it would have worked with any of the others. And the fight w/the neon sign in the background, making the fight just silhouette, was great. I very much enjoyed the visuals of that scene.

Devil May Care

Bond is Back! And he's...different*.

To celebrate what would have been Ian Fleming's 100th birthday, the estate commissioned literary novelist Sebastian Faulks to write the "thirteenth" novel that Fleming he never wrote. (For those keeping score, there are fourteen Bond titles published under Fleming's name. Two of them, For Your Eyes Only and Octopus-y were story collections. Thus, Fleming only wrote twelve novels, the last one being 1965's posthumous book, The Man with the Golden Gun.) By choosing this course of action, Devil May Care eliminates some forty years worth of novels written about James Bond by other authors. You could think of it as the literary equivalent of a reboot, just as the movie version of "Casino Royale" was to the films.

Faulks, born in 1953, the same year the first Bond book, Casino Royale, was published (coincidence?) is better known as a literary writer. I haven't read any of his books so I can't comment on his own style. However, other reviewers have commented on Faulks-as-Fleming is pretty dead-on. I've read the first five Bond books (check out for the true novel order) and I can tell that Faulks did a good job at emulating the style of the late author.

*In the opening sentence, I said that this Bond is different. He is only different if you've never read any of the Fleming novels. The Bond of the books and the Bond of the movies are different creatures. Heck, the movie Bonds themselves are different creatures. Differences can be good. Let me put it this way: the movie "Casino Royale" knocked my socks off it was so good. This book is better than half the films--easily--but not as good as, say, the movie or novel From Russia With Love.

Like most Bond films, Devil May Care starts off with a "pre-credit" sequence. Here, an Algerian drug dealer in France gets his tongue ripped out with pliers. Cue Theme Song. Next, we see Bond at the end of a three-month sabbatical after his encounter with Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. (Again, judging by the movie version, my first question was "Really?" Perhaps the book is better. Couldn't possibly be worse.) Bond stays on Barbados and learns tennis, travels in France, and ends up in Rome. One day at an outside café, he sees a man with a large left hand wearing a white glove. Odd, thinks Bond, I think that chap is up to no good. (That's foreshadowing, by the way) With two weeks remaining on his sabbatical, he has a decision to make: return to the field or be benched behind a desk for the rest of his career. A lovely woman catches his eye and, after having dinner with the married woman, declines her invitation to go up to her room. Yes, I said declines. Yes, this is a James Bond book. It's okay. Just keep reading.

For Bond, that refusal of a sexual encounter is proof that he's lost the edge. Well, until he gets a cable from M ordering him to report back to London. Here is where Faulks demonstrates that he's read all of Fleming's material. And it's part of the book's charm. If you have never read the Fleming novels, you are missing a lot about the fictional Bond. When Bond returns to London, Faulks takes you to Bond's house and you get to see his housemaid--and she ain't one of the tall, slim, scantily clad ones either. In the novels, the second book, Moonraker, shows you Bond's house and his habits for the first time. Faulks lovingly throws in snippets of details that the die-hards will already know and new readers--perhaps those who only know Bond from the films--will find appealing. Faulks has Bond remember past adversaries throughout the book and this plays like a greatest hits.

M dispatches Bond to investigate Julian Gorner, a pharmaceutical magnate suspected of importing heroin into the West. And, lo and behold, if Gorner isn't the man with the large left hand that Bond just happened to see in France one day. (I'll be honest: I rolled my eyes on that one. Too coincidental and unnecessary.) Bond lands in France and is met by Scarlett Papava who just so happens to be the same lady Bond refused to sleep with back in Rome (roll eyes again). This time, she's being her real self and wants Bond's help to rescue her sister from the clutches of Gorner.

Every Bond story has to have the inevitable battle of wills between Bond and his adversary. Think golf with Goldfinger, shooting geese with Drax, or that horrid video game in "Never Say Never Again." This time, it's tennis (eye roll again because that's just exactly what Bond took up in Barbados during his sabbatical. Good thing, huh?) I think you can guess who wins. Which brings up a question: in almost all these films with the egomaniacal villain who think that they are so superior to Bond, why do they always feel the need to cheat?

I'll admit that the eye rolling stopped here. Once Bond makes his way to Iran (a first for Bond), the scope of a typical Bond story rolls along very quickly. He meets up with Darius Alizadeh, MI6's man in Tehran. He's a great character and as staunch an ally as Darko Kerim Bey in From Russia With Love. And you get a real sense of what Bond likes to eat, something that is usually skipped over in the films. Soon, Bond discovers the Caspian Sea Monster (as told by a man not unlike Quarrel from "Dr. No" who thinks the tank in that film is a dragon) and Gorner's plan to bring Britain to its knees (like in "Goldeneye" and "Die Another Day") in a manner not unlike Elliot Carver in "Tomorrow Never Dies." Got all that?

One thing that surprised me was the climax. It wasn't at the end; it occurred about three-fourths of the way into the book. But, like "The Spy Who Loved Me," the #1 Henchman returns and, well, you could have guessed that. And if you're wondering if Bond and Scarlett end up together...come on! It's a James Bond story. What do you think?

You get past the opening, slower sections and the book picks up a head of steam that barrels it way to the end. I listened to the book and the reader, Tristan Layton, does a fine job. He even nails the stereotypical Texas accent of Felix Leiter (bet you didn't know Felix was a Texan if you just watched the movies).

I certainly enjoyed the book and look forward to reading others as they are released. I'm up to Book 6 in the novels, Dr. No, and, after reading Devil May Care, I might tackle the rest of the Fleming books soon. I always hesitate to plow through novels by authors who are dead because there are a finite number of books to be read and I want to savor them. But if the Fleming estate continues to commission books as enjoyable as this one, we'll all have our constant fix of James Bond for years to come.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Books Like People.

 By Russel D McLean

Last week I spoke at a school as part of their Book Week, being held right before National Book Day hits here in the UK. National Book Day is all about getting kids reading, because we should all be concerned about literacy rates.

One of the things I talked to them about (and I covered a massive variety of topics, so all of the stuff that follows is an expansion or exploration of some off the cuff comments) was the fact that we don't have to read books to "better" ourselves. Yes, we should talk about books. We should talk about issues raised in books. But in the same way that we do that with movies and computer games and other forms of narrative entertainment. Books are always being touted as being somehow "better" than other narrative forms, but I sometimes think this translates into books not working as hard as they could, as though by the very nature of being prose they've earned some slack.

Not true.

Look, books (we're talking fiction here) are about entertainment. Like movies, they can be about deep, provoking entertainment or they can be about relaxing us in some way, helping us escape reality. Sometimes, on rare occasions, they can do both. One of the reasons I love crime fiction is that I can at once thrill to the excitment of what I'm reading, but I can also talk about issues raised, whether its about the nature of crime, the culpability of criminals, the society that creates certain types of crime, or whatever. But the fact is that I seek out books I enjoy and that speak to me.

I see no shame in not enjoying a book.

And just because I don't enjoy it doesn't mean its bad. This was one of my other points: that we should not be afraid to say we didn't enjoy a book. It just means that, as with people, we suffer from a kind of personality clash. There are some people out there who are perfectly nice that we just don't get along with. And its the same with books.

Me and Agatha Christie don't get along too well. I appreciate her intelligence, her influence and the way she so cleverly creates these perfect little plots where the guilty are caught, but the fact is that we don't have anything in common. Me and Raymond Chandler on the other hand, have a little magic on every page and care about atmosphere and character over plot, which is why we get on so well (and why neither of us really care who killed the Sternwood Chauffeur).

You shouldn't be afraid to dislike a book. But you should be able to say why that is beyond "I didn't like it." By examining the reasons certain books don't appeal to you, you start to discover more about yourself and who you are.

I think we need to talk about books. But not just about how they better us. We need to talk about them on the same level as movies and other narratives. We need to talk about them not as special objects but simply as things that are. They're another delivery method for stories and fictions both good and bad. They're not innately special compared to these other methods, but they are different and unique in their own way, capable of delivering a certain kind of experience in a way that movies cannot in the same way that movies deliver a certain experience books cannot.

A good story is a good story.

A bad story is a bad story.

And there are millions of good stories between paper covers or glowing out at us from the screens of our e-readers.

Let's talk about them.

Let's agree about them.

Let's disagree about them.

Let's discover them.

Let's read them.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


By Jay Stringer

I watched Skyfall for the first time over the weekend. I really didn't enjoy it. I had a pretty bad year last year for films, there were a number of movies I'd been looking forward to that ultimately let me down. I'm not looking to go into specifics of Skyfall. Seems most people dug it. I've seen reviews calling it the best Bond movie ever. If folks enjoyed it, good for them. I don't feel the need to scientifically prove that they're wrong. Different tastes and all.

But watching the film did set a part of my brain whirring away.

A question I asked of my wife during the film, and a few times to friends afterwards, is what is left to say about modern Bond after Casino Royale? And from that I thought, maybe these films just aren't for me anymore.

We change. It's possible.

Just like anybody who's grown up near a TV screen in the past few generations, my first exposure to James Bond will have been the films. The first actor I can remember seeing play the role was Roger Moore, and I also know that the pre-teen version of me really didn't like Sean Connery's version. That changed.

But Ian Fleming's novels were one of my many gateway drugs to adult novels. I read them at the ideal time. That is to say- I read them when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Somewhere in the years before Goldeneye, I went from knowing nothing about Bond to having read everything. Some of them passed on to me from my Grandfather, some hunted down in second hand bookshops, some of them the new shiny editions that (Coronet? Penguin?) were putting out.

And I loved that there were no more Fleming books. I liked that there was a period when there was James Bond, and that the books then stopped. I read the continuation novels. I loved Colonel Sun at first read (It was one of the first Bond books I read, my grandfather had a battered copy of that along with a couple Flemings and one of the Gardners) and found it sloppy and dull when I went back as an adult. I read the Gardner and Benson books, and they were fun, but I never re-read them in the way I did Fleming.

And something I can see, looking back over the last decade or so, is that I've drifted away from the cinematic Bond and really only tend to think about Flemings version. The damaged, ageing, alcoholic relic of the 50's and 60s. That is Bond to me. If I were ever to pitch a Bond novel, it would be that character in that era.

I realised I don't really engage very much now with the idea of the timeless, ageless character. Fleming's Bond aged. We can say he probably didn't age in exact real time, and he may have conveniently stopped ageing completely if Fleming had lived on and kept writing, but as it is we have a ten year period where an experienced agent of the British government gathered moss. Hurt, grief and wounds traveled from book to book.

I like story. And for me (this isn't saying it has to be for everyone) that means a beginning and an end, and consequences in between. And I don't mean death. I mean that a story has an end. Long before I stopped reading DC and Marvel comics, I had started to feel at odds with the culture of these large franchise characters who don't age. A story without end. It feels to me like a first draft in which nobody ever takes the brave step of typing The End.

And I think Bond suffers more than most from this timelessness. He's trapped by it.

Reinvention is fun. Just as we write novels about distant worlds or future times with the aim of examining something about our current world, it can be fun to take a character from an older time and tell a new story, to see what that character tells us about ourselves. But with franchise characters, this can be more about money, more a case of just because. I enjoy Sherlock on the whole -with a few dodgy episodes thrown in. And I think a show like Doctor Who has an inbuilt device that makes it be able to constantly renew and refresh. And the worlds and time periods the Doctor visits can address something relevant about the world of the people watching the show. Sherlock has been a fun reinvention, taking an old character and seeing how he could fit into the modern day. The secret joke of the show is that he doesn't. We have to overlook a lot of logic and a lot of police procedure, and to buy into the fictional world they created, in order to buy into him having a place in the modern world. But it's fun, and they usually get away with it.

But for many of these timeless characters it begins to feel for me more like we use them to tell us who we were rather than who we are. And in the case of James Bond, who we wished we had been at some point. There is a moment in Skyfall when the villain has Bond captive and gives him a long speech about how Bond is fighting for a fading empire. And I realised that scene has been in many Bond films. And each time it seems to have been done as if it was honestly meant to be relevant, as if it revealed some hidden truth about the modern world.

James Bond was a fantasy character. Something running through the subtext of those original books was that he was a relic of a world that didn't exist. The whole "defending the realm" thing. He was Fleming's schoolboy fantasy of a figure fighting for a world that had ceased to exist in the decades before. So the big villainous speech about Bond fighting for a fading empire had relevance in the 1950's, as an echo, as the fact that the empire had already faded. In the 60's and 70's it was a mix of nostalgia and delusion. But to still be making this point in 2012, and to devote a monologue to it?

The failure for me of many of these timeless characters now is that we don't honestly use them to tell us something about who we are, or who we can be. We use them because it's easy, and we already know there is an audience for them, and because we can reverse engineer the modern day to fit the story. We can pretend that the Met would have a "consulting detective," who is allowed to access all of their information. We can also pretend that he is world famous, because the real world obviously cares so much about the people who solve crimes. We can pretend that there is a vital ongoing debate about the role in modern society of a secret agent who never existed, and that Britain is some glorious fading empire just on the cusp of the sunset. Cinematic Bond has become a time bubble, where the colours and clothes change every few years, but the basic story remains the same and the modern world is really only there as set dressing. We've seen three films now, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to make, that have essentially been an exercise in throwing Bond into a fantasy version of the modern day, and then slowly pulling everything back until he is in the same office, with the same secretary, and the same boss, and is going to be sent out on the same missions to defend the same long dead empire.

Phillip Marlowe drank and drank and had an occasional hangover.
Matt Scudder drank and drank and became an alcoholic.

Batman saw his parents murdered and put aside all of the 20th century's advances in psychology to don a Bat costume and wage a financially unsustainable war on crime that has been ongoing since 1939.
Rorschach used childhood trauma as a spur to don a trench coat and become a psychotic loner, who's pursuit of an unsustainable war on crime led him to a fast and lonely death after years of living alone.


Beginning. Middle. End.

You know what's so great about- for example- Greek mythology? It has those four things. We remember the characters because they burned fast and bright, then they burned out. The story of Robin Hood has an ending. The story of King Arthur has an ending. Even Gods used to die. One of the reasons all of the major religions have tales about the end of days is not because anyone really thought that is how things were going to go down, but because they'd learned from millennia of storytelling that all good stories have an ending.

But Bond doesn't get to have one.

Poor fella.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that lack of ending is his relevance. Maybe there is an ultimate joke in the  weary civil servant who can't afford to retire because there isn't a pension waiting? He's forced to go on, forever.

Crying Over Crime Fiction

The smart folks at The Millions have a nice piece about John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.
I began to feel uncomfortable about my relationship with this book. It’s a sad book, to be sure, about two teenagers who meet in a support group for kids with cancer, but it’s also joyful, hopeful, wise, funny, romantic, and genuinely inspirational. So why, in my efforts to share this joy and hope with other people, did I keep saying, go be unspeakably sad for as long as it takes you to read a 300-page book?
Does crime fiction do that to you? Do you connect with the characters in that way?

Or do you mostly just wince when the beatings start?

Of course, we have the policey-thriller that masquerades as crime fiction -- the little girl walking along with her mommy, snatched and beaten. Maybe we get close-ups of the grieving parents.

But what is the last piece of crime fiction you read that sent you through sadness and joy and romance and all the crap like that?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Piss and the fire in your belly - a memoir of sorts

By Dan O'Shea

My debut novel, PENANCE, is the first story I ever finished. Not the way it’s supposed to work, I know. I’m supposed to have some amateurish piece of crap stuffed in a drawer somewhere, maybe a couple of them, the training-wheels novels on which I cut my teeth, sharpened my craft, paid my dues. I don’t. Fact is, at this point I’ve written three novels and sold all three of them. Sold another one I haven’t written yet. Written 20 or so short stories and sold all of them, too – except for a couple I’ve donated to charity anthologies.

If that sounds like bragging, let me clarify. That drawer my crappy novel is supposed to be stuffed in? I’ve got other shit in there – like a couple of wasted decades.

I’ve dreamed of being a writer since I was a kid. I’ve always had the imagination for it and I had a flair for the mechanics of stringing words together, the editorial side of it. It was that flair, maybe, that got me off track.

I married young, had kids, had to earn a living. Stringing words together was the only marketable skill I had. So I got some editorial flunky jobs – started out as a proofreader in the bowels of a major accounting firm. The proofreader’s charge was clear. We were supposed to fix the mistakes – the misspellings, and any clear abuses of grammar. That was it.

But so much of the writing was just ugly. Sentences were wordy and unclear. Transitions between ideas were awkward where they existed at all. Evident opportunities to invest the copy with a little style, sometimes even a little wit, were missed at every turn.
So I started fixing that stuff, too. Good thing. Because, as anyone who has read my blog with an eye for detail can attest, I’m not a very good proofreader. Pretty good at the grammar stuff, but I’m a horrible speller. And this was back before spell check.

I’d only been on the job a couple months when the big boss called me in – the guy who was a couple levels above my supervisor. Seems she was tired of my missing the mistakes I was supposed to catch and really tired of my trying to fix things that I was supposed to leave alone. Seems she was looking to get my ass canned, so she copied a mess of the stuff I’d marked up and passed it up the chain of command. The big boss told me I sucked as a proofreader, but that I was actually a pretty good editor. Said he either had to fire me or promote me. He promoted me.

Which lead to a long career in financial copy, first as an editor, then as a writer. Turned out to be a profitable little niche. Once you get a track record for being able to translate crap like the tax code into English, you can charge a pretty penny. So I did.

Bingo. I was a writer and making a pretty good living at it. I just wasn’t the writer I’d dreamed of being. Nobody dreams of writing about the tax code.

You know all the excuses. The job takes time. The kids take time. Everything takes time. And, for a long stretch, I was freelancing. Seemed like the smart choice after I got some experience in and found out what the freelancers in my niche were making. A novelist? Seriously? Be a grownup, I’d tell myself. You really gonna spend time writing make-believe on spec when you could spend it chasing real work?

That’s the kindest thing I told myself. Behind that, though, was a lack of faith, was the idea that being a novelist was beyond me. The idea that kids dream about a lot of things. They dream they’re going to be Bart Starr or Ernie Banks too, but they grow up, recognize their limitations and get on with the business of being adults.

So I pissed on my own dreams. Pissed on them long enough to damn near put the fire out entirely.

Then people started dying. You get to be my age, that happens. My best friend, my aunt, my dad. And it hit me that I could just keep paying the bills and marking squares off the calendar until the squares ran out or I could actually take a shot at this novelist thing.

What I learned was this. The time thing? The last five years or so, the only five years where I’ve seriously written fiction on a consistent basis? I’ve been every bit as busy as I was for the three decades I pissed away before that. I’ve watched a little less TV, read a little less than I used to, Spent a little more time sitting on my ass writing and a little less time sitting on my ass doing nothing. I always had the time, I just didn’t have the discipline.

Also, I learned I’d already sort of written that stuff-it-in-a-drawer novel. See, while PENANCE may be the first novel I finished, it wasn’t the first novel I’d started. I’d written bits and pieces of shit over the years, had these fits and starts where I’d swear this time I was serious and I’d plug away for a week or two. A couple fragments from those efforts are in PENANCE somewhere. And I’d been writing PENANCE all along in my head, toying with the same characters, the same ideas.

In fact, at one point back in my mid-thirties, I had about 30,000 words in the can. Liked most of them, thought I was getting somewhere. Then I did something stupid. See, I had no idea how long a novel was supposed to be, and this was back in the pre-internet days, back before you could Google that shit. I’m sure there was a book at the library where I could have looked it up, but I got the itch to know late at night, so I grabbed a book off the shelf, figured I ought to be able to work this out easily enough. I counted up the average number of words in a handful of different lines, multiplied that by the number of lines on the page, multiplied that by the number of pages in the book. The number I came up with was 300,000 words.

Maybe I was only counting full lines and not allowing for all the fractions of lines – the dialog, the ends of paragraphs, whatever. Maybe I grabbed a Stephen King novel. Maybe my math just sucked. I dunno. But the idea that a novel was 300,000 words got stuck in my head and opened a yawning pit of despair. Those 30,000 words I liked were only a tenth of a novel? I’d never finish one. Never. I hardly wrote fiction at all after that, not for years.

It was such an obvious mistake, so clearly wrong. For chrissake, I’d written books. Not fiction, granted, but a manual on oil and gas taxation, a guide to doing business in the European Economic Union, a manual for boards of directors of not-for-profit corporations, a handbook for family business owners. I knew – or I should have known – that the 300,000 number was complete bullshit. But I chose to believe it. Why I can’t say. Maybe I needed a new excuse to justify not chasing my dreams.

Anyway, people started dying, I had my little epiphany, Google had been invented, and I found out that 70,000 to 100,000 was the real finish line. Only took a year after that for the first novel. Took about three months for the second. I wrote the first draft of my thirds in 34 days. (If it makes you feel better, I’ve spent more time cleaning up the second novel than it took to write the first draft, but that’s another story.)

The point of all this? I’m publishing my debut novel at the age of 53. I don’t have any more talent now than I had when I was 20. Sure, I’ve been writing professionally for a pile of years now, I learned shit doing that, I’ve got a training base laid down. And yeah, if I’d actually cranked out a full novel at 20 or 25, it probably would have been an amateurish piece of crap. But the next one would have been better. And I sure as hell could have written something publishable by 30 or so.

Gotta wonder sometimes what would be different if I had. Doesn’t matter, though. I didn’t.

Writing advice is all the rage. I’m suspicious of it, personally. I find the process to be highly personal and esoteric. What works for you is what works for you and that’s all you have to know.

But there is this. You have to actually write. And you can’t let anyone piss on your dreams.

Especially yourself.


How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice. Practice.
How do you get onto the Best Seller List?
Write a great book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Care and Maintenance of an Author

By Joe Climacus

Today, we would do well to look at the care and maintenance of a writer.

First, we should note that we are using 'writer' to mean one who writes creative works to share with the public. That is to say one who writes poems, stories, or novels.

It has been suggested that their is a discrepancy between the term 'writer' and 'Author.'

A writer, it is said, is one who writes whatever it is that he or she wants, without any threat or pressure. A writer is one who 'only writes.'

An Author, unlike a writer, is one who has been proven, one who has achieved publication; therefore, the Author is the one who is known to squeal with glee when a box of ARCs arrives and to complain with suicidal overtones as a deadline approaches. An Author is one who must manage promotions and book tours and contests. An author is one taxed with working on the craft, one who crafts the resulting taxes into quarterly installments.

In so far as we can appreciate the author, therefore can we show that appreciation.

1) Provide reviews and ratings of balance.

Authors are often bombarded with five-star reviews. A book whose praise is of the highest nature can be suspect in that a casual observation might conclude that the reviews listed are "some bogus fucking bullshit." In order to counteract this difficult matter the author, through no fault of his own, finds himself in, a conscientious fan would do well to craft a two-star review or, if the reviews are generally of a five-star level, a one-star review. A book that receives dozens of low reviews is not one that can be suspected of being faked by family or sock-puppets.

2) Encourage continued success.

Most writers are required to "push" their current projects, despite the probability that the ninth book in the series is merely a rote attempt at completing a contract. It is incumbent on the conscientious fan to provide support and encouragement for those previous books that are clearly superior. When posting reviews on your own blogs or on Amazon, make clear that the earlier books are far better than these later books. It is only by encouraging past successes that we can help the author to achieve future magnificence. Use of the phrase "increasingly disappointing series" is suggested.

3) Financially support the author's work.

As a conscientious fan, it is extremely important to financially support the author's work. If you have ever been in a large book store, often called "chains" because of their inability to move with alacrity or finesse, you have seen stacks and stacks of books in the front. These books have been reduced and are often in possession of a black mark along the bottom of the pages. These are the books that you should purchase. Before purchasing any new works by a favorite author, the conscientious fan will purchase these "remaining" books. As book stores have limited amount of space, they are unable to stock new works while these old books are still available. Much like the boxes of frozen cream in your ice box, these older books will inform the manager that there is no need to stock newer product. With the vast amount of promotion and marketing every author receives from a book publisher, the new work will take care of itself. The conscientious fan will focus on purchasing a copy of one of these discounted books.

4) Focus your efforts to support the author.

You might also locate the author's personal email address and share that on your own blogs and social media accounts, so that the author can keep in touch with readers. Or you could call the publishing houses and speak with as many editors as you can, extolling the author's great works and how often she or he has touched you. Though you might currently read many authors, as a conscientious fan you owe it to the author to devote your time and energy. Make phone calls. Send emails. In the past few years, author have begun to publish more and more works, pushing novellas between novels and short stories between novellas. Encourage that. With each review you post, explain how you read the current work in one sitting and demand something new immediately. Show your passion for the author.

5) Provide creative help for the author's publisher.

The past few years have not been good for the publishing industry. This is all the fault of internet pirates and no fault at all of anyone in the world of publishing. Also, Amazon. Show your support and offer your help by creating your own covers for upcoming books by your favorite author. Just as we all became writers when typewriters were invented, so too are we all artists. Whether you have MS Paint or Corel Draw, you have the same tools that expensive "artists" use to create book covers. Your advantage is that you know the author's work. You have read the author's work, driven by her house, edited her Wikipedia page. As a conscientious fan, you must take the next step to helping create future book covers for the author. You can then post them on your blog, on the blogs of others, even on Goodreads and various other forums.

As we move further into this new era of publishing, the conscientious fan does whatever he or she can to help support a favorite author. No one has ever gone wrong by trying too hard to help. If you believe in something, you should do something. If you have a favorite author, show your support by doing whatever you can think of to help. The only bad ideas are the ones you don't act on.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Fine Art of Editing... and More Editing... and Rewriting...

On the weekend, the boy started his pottery classes. Brian got a great video of him, at the wheel, with his instructor, working on shaping the clay.

Something happened.

A little too much pressure, and the mold broke.  The instructor said not to worry, everything was fixable.

And they started again, from scratch.

It was interesting to me, because I was recently asked a question about editing your own writing.  How do you know when to fix what's there or when to get rid of it and write it again from scratch?  How do you know when it's enough or when you still have more you need to change?

Joelle might phrase it by asking how you know when it's time to stop tinkering.

Now, the truth is, sometimes there is no right or wrong answer, but that's not a very helpful answer.

For me, when you're working on a scene, there are certain things to ask yourself.

#1.  Does the scene reveal what I want it to reveal about the character?  Does it accomplish the job I've set out to do with this scene?  Do I unintentionally say things about a character that I don't want to suggest?  (This becomes an issue with writers who are trying to force characters into a plot that isn't a natural fit for them, and are using them as placeholders rather than letting them take on their own life.)

#2.  If the scene's focus isn't character, the question is whether it advances the plot in the way you intend (or contributes to the overall story development by setting the scene).

If you're torn between going in a few different directions, and both options serve the purpose of #1 or #2, or both, then it may come down to an artistic choice.

Sometimes, you need to have the ability to see four or five steps down the line.  Ask yourself what the logical result of option A is, and then compare it to option B.  And then get your big girl panties (or boxers) on and make a decision.

And remember, everything is fixable, until the book goes to publication.  For newer writers, this process may not have settled, and it's more likely that you'll do more rewriting, because you're learning so much about the mechanics of writing, as well as plot and character development.  As you go through the editing process on manuscripts, you'll start to know what to look for as you go, and hopefully, it will make the rewriting process a little more bearable.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's all about the tinkering....

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I have a major personality flaw.  (Okay, technically I have dozens of astonishingly large personality flaws.  However, for the purpose of this blog post and to keep my therapy and chocolate bill down to a minimum, I’m going to just pretend I have just the one.)  I like to tinker.  Okay – now you’re probably rolling your eyes at me.  Lots of people like to tinker, right?  But, for me, tinkering is a major problem.  I feel the need to tinker with everything.

If I’m making Cambell’s soup out of a can, I add garlic, pepper or sometimes even cream to it.  And if I make dinner from scratch (which more often is the case) I never make a recipe the same way twice.  I have to add a bit of this and a bit of that to see how it tastes. (This drives everyone who knows me nuts because I never have a recipe to hand them if they like what I make.  I can make a good guess, but I’m never totally sure I remember exactly what tinkering I did.)

I’m also a tinkerer around the house.  If my husband cleans the house (kind of a big “if” but it does happen), I always have to go around and fix what didn’t get cleaned exactly right.  Books in bookshelves get rearranged frequently.  Knickknacks and picture frames are moved from place to place.  I’m no the best housekeeper in the world, but when I get into the spirit, I find myself fiddling with just about everything.

And don’t get my students talking about the tinkering I do in voice lessons.  I’m a huge perfectionist with their tone and their dynamics.  During a lesson, I might stop them a dozen times during the course of just one musical phrase adjusting this and that until it sounds just the way I think it should.  And then I do the same thing with the next phrase.  And once the music sounds great I start to fiddle with their acting choices.  There are days I think my students are ready to deck me.  Thankfully, they haven’t succumbed to the temptation – yet.

Yes.  When it comes to tinkering I am an “A” type personality.  Which is probably why it comes as no surprise that I tinker A LOT when I write.  There is always a word (or hundreds) that I can change and adjust and make better no matter what stage of the process I’m in.  This means I tend to fret and worry when a new book comes out that I didn’t do enough tinkering.  Yes, I need professional help.

As I approach THE END of this current book, I am already getting the urge to tweak and change and alter things, which is good, because no matter how much we pay attention to our craft when writing a book, there are always things that need to be fixed.  In this case, I know that I have to play with the opening to make sure it starts with the biggest bang I can.  After that – well, I’m guessing just about every sentence will be analyzed, adjusted and maybe even deleted. 

Yep…fun times.  Of course, for the tweaking to start, I have to first hit THE END.  Wish me luck, because by this time next week I should be reporting that this manuscript is done.  Here’s hoping I’m right. 

How about you?  What things do you like to tinker with?  And if you are a writer, what is your goal for the week?