Saturday, October 21, 2017

Proofing Hardcopies is Essential

Scott D. Parker

When you are an independent author, it means you have control over all aspects of the writing. It also means you are an independent publisher and, When it comes to hardcopies, you have to match what the traditional publishers do all the time.

For my four mystery novels, I created new Second Edition ebook covers. Those came out back in May. All four now have a unified look and feel and, moving forward, future books in this growing series featuring three characters will all sport similar covers.

But I hadn’t updated the paperbacks. I removed them from CreateSpace back in May with the intention of focusing on ebooks. But now, in the fall, I’m revising the paperbacks. I updated the covers with Adobe Illustrator and revamped the interior layouts with InDesign. Those files looked very good on the screen in those two programs and they even looked good on CreateSpace’s online viewer. Nevertheless, I ordered hardcopy proofs. I still get a charge when I open a box from the mail and see my books inside.

Despite how good they looked initially, I dove into their pages. I wanted to verify all the minute details were perfect before I approved them for the public.

Boy am I glad I did.

Little things that my eyes and brain easily missed when looking at a computer screen were easily spotted on the printed page. No, it wasn’t with the novels themselves; it was with all the extra material I included within the two covers. For example, in the back of each book, I include some excerpts of other novels. Well, the fonts for the titles of those stories were slightly different across all four books. Easy to miss when you examine each individual file but glaringly obvious when you have all four hardcopies on a table in front of you each turned to the same respective page. Ditto for the “About the Author” sections. One cover’s image was off by a couple of millimeters. Again: it was something I only would have noticed with a hardcopy.

The end result—after some tweaking to the files and re-uploading them—will be better, more cohesive books that will equal those from traditional publishers.

Now, I suspect some of y’all reading this will have the same obvious conclusion: of course this is what you’re supposed to do. I know it and have done it time and time again. But when it comes to a series of books that have a unified look-and-feel, I advise all authors out there to place all the books in front of you, laid out on a table. It will only be then that discrepancies show themselves, discrepancies you might have missed upon reviewing each book separately.

Have y’all ever had an issue like this?

Friday, October 20, 2017

On Stress, Writing, and Writers

My friends and favorite people in the crime fiction community know I've had a hard run of things these last few months. I won't lie, it was crushing to have so much loss, stress, grief, and general insanity smashed together in such a short time. But the light at the end of the tunnel was Boucher Con. I didn't realize until I was there, that being around all the wonderful people who've made writing less lonely, reading more exciting, and life more tolerable was exactly what I needed. I brought home a bag of books and have been reading them two at a time (something I rarely do), trying to hold on to that fleeting feeling.

I got to ride the high a little longer in Pasedena at The Battery, a cool used book shop with a killer podium, where Scotch Rutherford set up a Switchblade reading. I realized after I arrived that I'd actually never done a reading in Southern California. I've read quite a few times in the Bay Area, and once in New Orleans, but there's something special about reading close to home - and getting a good response.

Being around my favorite people, my favorite writers, always invigorates. Reading the books I lugged home, inspires (Ragged: Or The Loveliest Lies of All by Chris Irvin, Young Americans by Josh Stallings, Grand Trunk and Shearer by Ian Truman, Blacky Jaguar  Against the Cool Clux Cult by Angel Colón, and more, more, more). Some of the big stresses have lifted, and some will linger (grief is terrible and lasts forever in different degrees) so I am promising myself more.

More reading, more writing, more supporting my fellow writers.

So keep an eye on this space.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dietary Tips from Balzac and Highsmith

What writer doesn't like to read about the writing routines and general peculiarities of other writers?  I certainly do, and I recently came across a couple of curious tidbits when I was reading a piece from The Guardian online.  Some people reading this post may have seen the article, called Bacon and eggs for every meal: absurd diets of the rich and famous.  Killian Fox wrote it, and the excerpts come from his book, The Gannet’s Gastronomic Miscellany, due out next year.

One extract concerns Honore de Balzac, famous, as far as his dietary habits go, for his huge consumption of coffee.  As the piece says, “Coffee is a great power in my life,” wrote Honoré de Balzac in 1830, “I have observed its effects on an epic scale.” Indeed he had. When in the grip of one of his “orgies of work”, the French novelist and playwright would get up at 1am and write until 4pm, with a 90-minute nap in the middle. To fuel himself, he imbibed as many as 50 cups of coffee a day. He also dabbled with “a horrible, rather brutal method” which involved eating pure coffee grounds on an empty stomach. When he did this, he wrote, “Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages.”

I'd known that Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee a day (and to think my son gets on me for drinking 4-5 cups a day), but I never knew about his ingestion of pure coffee grounds.  I'm intrigued.  It may be horrible and brutal, as he describes it, but it's legal and easy to at least try.  And if the results, in terms of stimulating ideas, is even close to what Balzac claims, it may be worth it.  This is especially true for a writer like myself, someone with a full-time job.  It's important to have the mind clicking at once during those precious two or so hours one has to write each day.

So thanks, Balzac.  Thanks very much.

(Though keep in mind that Balzac died of a heart attack at age 51).

As for Patricia Highsmith, she too didn't exactly stick to a diet that did her body any favors. But the sheer oddness of her routine is appealing:

Novelist Patricia Highsmith ate the same thing for virtually every meal: bacon and fried eggs. She began each writing session with a stiff drink – “not to perk her up”, according to her biographer, Andrew Wilson, “but to reduce her energy levels, which veered towards the manic”. Then she would sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, coffee, a doughnut and a saucer of sugar, the intention being “to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible”.

The obsessiveness here, how she eats the same food every meal, doesn't surprise me about Highsmith, but her determination to avoid a feeling of discipline does.  After all, she was very prolific and hardworking.  You have to admire her spirit of fun, though, health consequences be damned.  

It does seem that she did well in the gene department.  With all that bacon fat and grease and cholesterol and nicotine and caffeine and sugar, she lived to be 74.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday: Meet Nicola Murphy

The thing that got me about this one was the emotion. My emotion, I guess. I was uncomfortable as hell, but emotionally invested. And the payoff felt like something real-life might deal out. Great story.

Tom Pitts – Author; AMERICAN STATIC, HUSTLE, KNUCKLEBALL. Editor, Flash Fiction Offensive.

We've run a lot of terrific pieces since Tom and I took over, but I have to say this one is special for me.  Like Tom, I found myself emotionally invested and riveted, and it has stuck with me.  A goddamn gem.

Joe Clifford – Author; LAMENTATION, DECEMBER BOYS, GIVE UP THE DEAD, JUNKIE LOVE. Editor, Flash Fiction Offensive.

English author Nicola Murphy serves up twisted tales with seriously sordid overtones. The words are dark, personal and likely to make you think long after you finish reading them. If you like perfectly crafted tales with heartbreaking details you should seek out the work of Nicola Murphy.

I’m not the only person who loves your writing, but I wish more people knew about you. There are simply not enough of your stories in the atmosphere. It seems you are very careful in terms of beginning the process and seeking publication after. I wonder, what inspires you to sit down and commit?

I wish that inspiration was consistent, that it showed up each morning to clock in at 9, but it doesn’t. It can be a snatch of conversation at a café, or on the radio – the most fully formed ideas I have usually start with ‘ooh, that’s interesting’, then carry on with ‘what if?’.

On my first writing retreat I shared a room with a very nice American lady. She was going through a hard time with her man, and we joked how it was a pity he was not allergic to something. That turned into a VERY short story about a woman who gives her husband anaphylactic shock by luring in the neighbor’s cat. So, the ideas come from anywhere.

I find that having word limits, e.g. 1000 words on Flash Fiction Offensive, can shape a story and how it turns out. And once I get typing the inspiration seems to flow. For a while.

Your tales are dark and personal. The characters you create are so real and human, they feel like friends or acquaintances. Do you get emotionally involved with your stories? Do you walk away from the page you are writing feeling anger or sadness? Revenge?

Ha! Some of the stories I’ve read out at my writing group have had the best reaction when the dialogue and emotion has come from real life – I wrote about a crappy weekend away where the protagonist had an argument with her OH, that was almost verbatim – and it went down very well as they could sense the emotion rolling off the age.

In other stories, especially for FFO, I have to imagine what it would feel like to be a serial killer, or to be abandoned and left to die by your seemingly best friend. That’s where trashy real-life magazines come in as my real life is (probably luckily) quite boring.

I’ve included your most recent piece and your most popular on this page. “Witch” and “Daddy’s Girl.” Most of your work is about the female experience. Are you aware of that commonality while writing?

For me, that’s just the way it is – it’s not deliberate, I’m just trying to tell a good story. Does that sound trite?

Not at all. I understand. The tales you tell have women at the core, the fact there is neglect or abuse in the setting or the character’s history reflects a sad truth in our world

“Are you a feminist?” I had three young ladies ask me this question recently. How would you answer?

Absolutely. There’s a lovely quote from Caitlin Moran on this. “So, here is the quick way working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. A.) Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.” That’ll do for me.

If I want to be girly, or wear pink, or have multiple piercings and dance around to the Sisters of Mercy, then as a feminist, I can. If I believe that things should just BE FAIR, then I’m a feminist. That doesn’t stop me from asking the OH to open a bottle of something because I can’t get the lid off. It means I question a lot of the patriarchal bullshit that’s been splattered around for far too long.

Who are the writer’s that have inspired you?

That’s not fair! My favourite character and author can change from week to week – however, I do have a crush on Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, and Stephen King rarely disappoints. Of course, there are the writers that aren’t yet famous, but should be (like a certain Mr. Joe Clifford). But at the moment I’m loving the books by Liane Moriarty: definite page turners and with very clever plots.

What are you reading these days?

Right beside me is THE ETYMOLOGICON by Mark Forsyth, a circular trip around the history of words – it’s funny and clever, and if you’re a nerd, like me, it’s invaluable.

Tell me what you are working on?

I’m working on a series of long stories/novellas which feature a female DI with loads of baggage, a must have for all successful detectives, and each story invokes a murder on a reality show. The first one is “Cooking Hell”, where the foul-mouthed host of a cooking competition (think “Masterchef”) is found brutally murdered. Of course.