Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Day Job Writer and Multiple Sources of Income

Scott D. Parker

I am a day job writer. You know what I mean: fiction writing is not how I pay my bills. The day job as a technical writer does that. Fiction writing is the thing I do on the side. But recent events have me very aware that the revenue I derive from fiction writing could, one day, become a lifeline.

In the past couple of weeks, my day job suddenly became shaky. Yes, I’m still employed, but the project on which I worked was cancelled for the remainder of the year. I have a fallback project that I’ll begin on Monday, but the news of the cancellation was a shock to the system. It broke apart the great team with whom I’ve worked since last October. It also put my personal finances into peril.

It was then, surprisingly, that I realized my fiction writing must act as a bulwark against the ever-changing nature of the day job. In many, many places—podcasts, blog articles, and interviews—independent authors talk about the necessity of multiple streams of income. Typically, this talk circles around the choice between going exclusive to Amazon or making our books available widely in as many different bookstores as possible. Amazon exclusivity has its place, especially for short-term discoverability. But long term? Going wide is the optimal way to ensure any disruptions can be weathered.

Imagine you are exclusive to Amazon and they decide to change a feature without notice. What might you do if you find yourself the victim of Amazon’s crackdown like these folks? You have little to no recourse. Unless you have other sources of income. The concept is so strikingly obvious in the fiction world. Why had I never truly considered it for my day job?

Not sure.

But as I plan my publishing and writing schedule for the rest of 2018 and into 2019, I have an achievable goal: amp up the success of the fiction writing so it can act as a second source of income in the event my day job falters. It only makes economic sense.

How many sources of income do you have?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Jim Jones and writing villainy

We all know the saying about how you can boil a frog without it noticing if you put it in the pot while the water is cold. We also all know the saying "Don't drink the Kool Aid."

Reading The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn, the first idiom plays on a loop in my head. Guinn's handling of the complex and often baffling story of Jim Jones and The People's Temple has a lot to offer. First, he lays out the facts, seemingly without judgment. In 2018, we all know how the story ends, but Guinn allows us a frank and often surreal look at how a story like this happens at all. Before you ever encounter the Jim Jones who told people he was God, had a harem, and eventually killed 900 of his followers, you encounter the Jim Jones who took a rough, confusing childhood and turned it into a career of civil service. When you read about his passion for racial integration, the nursing homes The People's Temple ran, and all the activism and real work they did to make the cities they lived in better places, it's hard to imagine that their leader (as shady as he was when out of their eyesight) would be the same man who became infamous for leading a suicide cult. It's hard to believe that many of these people were part of the 900 dead in Guyana.

Worst, it centers the truth in the reader: these weren't gullible, weak willed people giving money to a huckster. These were intelligent, progressive, hard working people who believed in doing good.

As a consumer and frequent critic of true crime, the story is compelling because it seems that it is an irrevocable part of our culture and, at the same time, something mostly forgotten about.

As a writer of crime fiction, I can't help but look at the lessons this story, and the way Guinn approaches it, has to offer - specifically, in writing villainy. Of course Jim Jones is a realistic villain because he is real. I don't intend to dismiss the horror that the survivors of The People's Temple and the loved ones of those lost are still facing. Even as Jones built nursing homes and integrated white neighborhoods and all the objectively good stuff he did, he was meeting with another cult leader to learn lessons in leadership, performing false faith healings, and engaging in all sorts of shady practices. No one noticed any of the bad stuff because he hid it behind all the good - and he spun what he couldn't hide.

There isn't a cult leader in history that wasn't charismatic - so that's not really the important thing. What I find so important, from a writing stand point, is that even the most horrifically evil man you can imagine, could do good things, put up a good front, and get good people to do good work for decades. If Jim Jones were fictional, he'd be a well rounded villain. As a historical figure he's terrifying and baffling in equal measure.

Many biographies on Jones present him in his early days as nothing but a fraudulent evangelist, taking all his congregants' money for himself. Because Guinn isn't afraid to write on the objectively good things The People's Temple did and spent money on, the reader doesn't just get closer to the facts, the reader gets closer to the truth. There are a few truths Guinn communicates in this book, but the one I'm going to focus on is: Powerful bad men don't get power by being cruel and egotistical. They get it by making people like and admire them. They maintain their power in cruel and often evil ways, but only after convincing people to follow them.

 If Jones had started out with a harem of women and young men he liked to fuck, a drug habit, and calling himself Jesus Christ - he'd have gotten nowhere. Not even his own wife would have gone along with it. But Jones started out as a preacher with a mission to do good work here on Earth, to promote racial integration, to get kids off drugs and take care of the elderly. He got his power by doing shit people wanted done. He kept his power with lies, manipulation, cruelty, and violence - but he got it by amplifying the parts of his persona that people saw as "good." The bad shit came slowly, bit by bit, his followers frogs in pots full of cold water that was slowly warming up.

Almost anyone can write a cartoonish villain who is pure evil. But can you write a villain with charisma? Can you write a villain that your reader will find themselves thinking "Shit, if I were there, I might have worked for that guy..." Of course, in Guinn's book, we know how it ends. Jim Jones isn't, and shouldn't be, known for building nursing homes or influencing politicians to be more progressive. He's famous for cyanide punch and nearly a thousand dead, including hundreds of children. But to write a book where the reader knows all of this, and can still step back and wonder if they, too, would have wanted to hear more of what Jones had to say - that's miraculous. Guinn's skill is unlikely to be matched in this arena, and that's fine. But writers of fiction would be foolish not to read this work and take notes on how to write a villain that leaves the reader questioning themselves.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Interview with Stephen Mack Jones

By David Nemeth

Back at the beginning of 2017, Stephen Mack Jones's "August Snow" was published by Soho Crime. It took some time for me to get to it, okay, over a year, and damn was it worth it. I wrote that it was "a fine private detective novel filled with great writing and a timely mystery." If you haven't had a chance to read it, buy it or check it out of your local library. You will not be disappointed.

Stephen Mack Jones
David: A recent review or interview called your book a “sleeper hit.” I don’t know about the hit part, it was much more of a hidden gem. But a lot of that has changed now with the awards: winning the Hammett Prize for Crime Fiction and nominated for the 2018 Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye Novel and Strand Magazine Critics Awards Best First Novel. How did you come to terms with writing what you know was a good novel and then hearing only crickets to the buzz that “August Snow” is getting today?

Steve: I came to peaceful terms with the sound of crickets early on, D.  Frankly, those sounds are the only way I can focus on the job at hand and that’s to create vivid, emotionally engaging stories.  I think any writer who puts the noise of fame, fortune and millions of cheering worldwide fans at the forefront of their storytelling is bound to be sorely disappointed. To be honest with you it was enough for me when my agent called to tell me a publisher made an offer for AUGUST SNOW! I mean, the offer wasn’t nearly enough to nab me that little six-bedroom champagne-and-shrimp shack on the coast of Ibiza—but, come on! Somebody wanted to buy words I’d strung together! And in a traditional publishing world that’s becoming more top-genre exclusive, bestseller-driven and, in some ways, myopic in terms of creative investment, that to me was a major accomplishment. The traditional way to the bookstore—producing the story, finding an agent, trusting that agent to find the right publisher for your work and pocketing an advance—can be a long, hard slog. Fewer and fewer folks find they have the patience for that slog in an age of digital upload and e-book download instant gratification. The traditional way to the bookstore is like choosing to be Sisyphus—the query letters, the rejections, all in an effort to push that 80,000-word manuscript up and over the crest of the hill. I guess my point is, I was well prepared and frankly happy to have sales of the book top out with my mom, brother and maybe a cousin or in-law. At a family discount, of course. Enough copies to say, “Look! I did it! I finally pushed the rock over the hill!” That the book is getting “buzz” these days—curtesy of Soho’s marketing efforts, the Hammett Award and other nominations, and film interest—just gives me a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude.

David: You come to the novel writing game late in life––you’re giving a 50-something blogger some hope. How has your age helped or hindered you with the publication of “August Snow”?

Steve: I consider myself the poster-elder for AARP and second careers, man! Listen. Everybody knows this is a youth-obsessed culture—and that youth obsession puts a lot of pressure on a person to “succeed” by a certain age. If you haven’t reached your creative and economic life-goals by 25 or 30, then your dreams and ambitions are just fodder for the scrap heap. Might as well just settle in to being a cost-accountant to feed the baby and meet the mortgage. I used to feel that pressure and its awful. It's especially awful if you’re a college-educated minority and you’re hitting walls and pitfalls set up only for you. Something happened to me when I hit forty; I found I really didn’t give a shit about anybody else’s limited timeframe for my success! Success for me after forty simply became a matter of staying true to myself, my family and my writing—whatever came of it. And that’s the attitude that helped me stay true to the storytelling of AUGUST SNOW.

David: The character of August Snow is half African-American and half Mexican American. He grew up outside of both cultures and is always having to prove himself. When we meet Snow, he’s an ex-cop who has turned on crooked cops and now he’s out of that group. In the creation of Snow, you’ve seemed to have isolated him by making it difficult to be part of a group. I thought writers were supposed to like their protagonist. What did Snow ever do to you?

Steve: August and me, we cool, D! Seriously, though, isolation is sometimes the best way to find out who you truly are. Mentally, spiritually and physically. Isolation can help separate the wheat from the chaff so that you become stronger and possess more clarity of purpose. August has certainly walked through fires. And in walking through those fires he has more clarity of who he is: He’s a guy who doesn’t see himself as an ethnic anomaly or racial dichotomy; rather he embraces the best of his two familial cultures. And while his experiences as a Marine and as a Detroit cop may have tested him morally and ethically, he found a way to incorporate the best of both into his personal way of life. So, yeah—I may have knocked him around a bit in AUGUST SNOW and maybe a little bit more in the upcoming LIVES LAID AWAY, but I think he’s a better man for it. Did that sound like something a strict Catholic father would say about a son?

David: Before writing “August Snow”, you’ve written poetry and plays as well as read extensively. At the beginning of the book, you name drop a lot of writers, but one struck me and that was Rudolph Fisher. I have since gone out and purchased “The Conjure-Man Dies”. Can you talk about your writing influences and, in particular, what influenced the writing of “August Snow”?

Steve: You got a couple minutes? I mean, ‘cause a whole bunch of folks have made an impact on me over the years. Everybody from Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin to Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert B. Parker and Walter Mosely. And then there are the poets. Always the poets! Frederico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Rainier Maria Rilke and Seamus Haney. Reading poetry is where I learned—and continue to learn—the weight, color, music, and nuances of words. In some ways, I’d like to think of August Snow as the love-child between Robert B. Parker and Octavio Paz. (That image is going to be in your head for a very—long—time.)

David: I read that your father, who is in his nineties, is a prolific reader. What was it like handing him a copy of your book “August Snow”? And, did he like it?

Steve: My father passed away in 2003 at the age of eighty.  Thirteen years before August Snow. That being said he had an insatiable appetite for reading. From William Shakespeare and George Eliot to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Studs Turkel and The Wall Street Journal. Not bad for a blue-collar guy who quit school in the tenth grade so he could work to financially help out his mom and dad, brothers and sisters.  My mother is, at the age of ninety-three, still a prolific reader.  I’ll never forget visiting her maybe two, three years ago.  She spent nearly an hour regaling me with the many reasons I should read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Abraham Lincoln biography TEAM OF RIVALS!  Yeah, to be honest with you, I was a bit nervous about my mom reading the book. She’s Catholic and a Puritan at heart. Alcohol and profanity do not cross her lips. Conversely, alcohol and profanity are familiar companions of August’s.  So, yeah—I was afraid she might say, “Your father and I spent a lot of money on your education—and this is how you squander it? Writing about alcohol and guns and sex, never mind the profanity!”  But her reaction after reading the book was very positive and in line with what I’ve heard from a number of other people:  She enjoyed the story, the intrigue and the relationships that are built between the neighbors on Markham Street in Mexicantown. And the food I mention throughout the book made her very hungry!

David: There’s a lot of love for Detroit in “August Snow”. As much as Snow’s life would have been better in Europe where he escaped to after leaving the police force, he felt the pull to come back to the city. For many of us who have only seen news footage of abandoned buildings and talk of debt, can you tell us what makes Detroit so special?

The GM Renaissance Center in Detroit

The national news media seems stuck in a mid-to-late-sixties time-loop when it comes to their shorthand assessment of Detroit. They love the pious sound of their own studio voices as they spout unctuous pity for Detroit and its residents: The pervasive poverty. The “ruin porn” of burnt out houses and shuttered factories. The unbridgeable black-white divide. The incompetent and corrupt mismanagement of city government.  The only thing missing from their nightly news assessment of Detroit is black-and-white footage of a concrete wall topped with razor wire and the Stasi scanning the area for defectors trying to escape to Chicago!  Yes, there’s poverty and burnt out houses and shuttered factories—but not of the bizarre all-encompassing magnitude the news media might have you think. To begin with, the city that gave you Motown in the ‘60s and ‘70s has since given the world EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and Techno in the ‘90s and the 21st century. I very much doubt you’d have Diplo, The Crystal Method, Massive Attack, Deadmau5 or Koan Sound if you didn’t first have Kevin Saunderson or Juan Atkins or Derrick May. Artists living on the edges of society: Marginalized black communities. The LGBTQ community. Young people in search of a new audio stimulus.  And from Detroit’s recent bankruptcy woes came a new model for economic sustainability and membership expansion for art museums across the country based on the innovations-by-necessity from the Detroit Institute of Arts. I guess what I’m getting at is the fact that Detroiters are tough. Resilient. We’re fighters and our creativity is at its best when we have to fight. If you’re not from Detroit it’s easy to think one right hook and we hit the mat. But the count never gets to ten because we get back up, bloodied and bruised, and with a smile, we say, “Is that all you got?” Everybody wants the story of the fall. The truth of Detroit’s spirit is how we rise.  Every day. All day.

David: Can one really get good Mexican food in Detroit?

Steve: Oh, hell yes, you can get good Mexican food in Detroit! You can also get good Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Italian and Brazilian!  You want really good Greek souvlaki or Lebanese baba ghanoush? Yeah, we got that! Soul-food from the American South, soul-food from the south of France and the soul-of-soul foods from Nigeria—yeah, no problem.  Did I hear you say sushi? What’chu want, man? California Roll? Spicy Tuna Roll? Come and get you some! Vegetarian and vegan? Try Seva in Midtown, Detroit Vegan Soul on the East Side or The Nosh Pit in Hamtramck. And speaking of Hamtramck—where else you gonna go for really good Polish and Hungarian food? This ain’t a town that makes it easy to go on a diet, ma brotha!

David: Let me give you a chance to promote your new book which is coming out in 2019. Tell me about “Lives Lead Away”. (Pre-order)

Steve: Ya know, D, the last thing you wanna do is give an ex-ad guy a chance to promote something. But since you swung the door wide open, yes, January 8th of 2019 will see the release of the next book in the August Snow series, LIVES LAID AWAY. After the body of a nineteen-year old undocumented Hispanic woman dressed as 17th century French Queen Marie Antoinette is dredged from the Detroit River, August finds himself up against a “lake rat” neo-Nazi biker gang and a rogue Immigration & Custom Enforcement (ICE) unit, both neck-deep in human trafficking. This outing is going to cost August a lot in terms of neighbors and friends, especially when an old nemesis from his Detroit cop days named Marcus “Duke” Ducane plays a dangerous game of up-jump-the-devil. Things get very personal very fast in LIVES LAID AWAY which plays out against a suffocating 90-degree/forty-percent humidity Michigan summer.

David: Give me five books to read, genre doesn’t matter. I was going to ask for only poetry books, but I didn’t want to limit you.

Steve: To begin with I highly recommend either of two non-fiction books by Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University: On Bullshit or On Truth. Compact volumes that are amazing studies of—well—bullshit and truth.  I’d also suggest Anna Leigh Clark’s tremendous non-fiction and profoundly moving investigation of the Flint water crisis titled The Poisoned City.  And any time’s a good time to dip into a poetry collection by Seamus Haney, Rainier Marie Rilke or Octavio Paz. Taken in small bites with a nice Pinot Noir, I’d suggest Jim Harrison’s last collection of essays A Really Big Lunch.  Is that five books? I think that’s just four. Okay, last book. For whatever reason I find myself almost on a yearly basis going back to Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos. Couldn’t tell you why. Don’t know. It just is. And so it goes . . .

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Angel Colon on Pull and Pray

Angel Colon revisits today, and the reason? He's got a new novella out, Pull and Pray, the second in his series about professional thief Fantine Park. We first met Fantine, if you remember, in No Happy Endings (2016), which featured a heist gone wrong in New York City during a once in a century hurricane.  Now she's back for a new robbery, this time out in Arizona, which is like a foreign country to her.  The leader of the crew is her aunt, and with all the unresolved family issues Fantine has, it's all she can do, pro though she is, to keep her mind on the job at hand.

Angel and I, e-mailing each other at night and in the morning hours before work, talked about the book:

SCOTT ADLERBERG: First a basic question, but one I’m curious about: What are Your Favorite Heist Novels? 

ANGEL COLON: Here's where I say a bunch of stuff everyone else says but if I'm going to be honest, I'll lay it out: I didn't read any heist novels until I saw the movie Payback. I fell in love with the Parker character and THEN I read the bulk of that series in turn finding out about Dortmunder (and also having my mind blown that Richard Stark = Donald Westlake).

That said, I adore The Hot Rock but I think Bank Shot is my favorite (and I drew a tiny bit of inspiration from it for Pull & Pray).

Now, movies? My grandfather was a cinema junkie and exposed me to a lot of what I love. I watched The Killing, Rififi, and many others when I was a kid. That said, I probably draw a lot more influence from movies like A Fish Called Wanda, Set It Off, and Bottle Rocket.

Were there any specific models you had, in books or film or anywhere else, for Fantine as a character? 

Fantine was heavily influenced by two people; one fictional and the other non-fictional. The first is Enid Coleslaw from Ghost World - cynical and impulsive beyond her years. The real person shall not be named or hinted at. All I can say is she was real and probably two people in the whole wide world have recognized character traits (and a line or two) that are distinctly this semi-awful human being.

You’ve written about  an Irish guy with Blacky. But you had a lot of experience with Irish guys growing up in the North Bronx. You knew them first hand. How did you decide on Korean for Fantine? And in this era of identity sensitivity and the question of what is appropriation, did you have any hesitation making her, a Korean-American,  your main character?

It was a very difficult decision to land on Korean for Fantine and I took great pains to avoid appropriation. From the very jump, though, this character popped into my head as Korean-American, and I couldn't pull away from that. This is why I drew quite a few parallels between her and I when creating her as well. Fan's from a military family that's very mixed - which I draw direct inspiration from because that's my upbringing too.

Fun fact: my father remarried when he was stationed out in Seoul, Korea throughout the 80's and 90's. I've got a Korean stepmom and a Korean stepsister. It doesn't give me carte-blanche, but I'm not entirely ignorant. (bonus: my half-brother's afro-latinx - Mia Farrow would have a stroke if she saw my wedding party pictures).

Bottom line: I wanted to present a character that we rarely see in this genre of crime fiction and I wanted to present a person of a different culture that was completely American. That part was very important to me.

I worry I don't land the notes all the time but I'm of the belief that writers should present the world as it is - to a fault. I'm not going to touch on anything heavy with this character and if I did, I'd probably go out of my way to pay for a sensitivity reader or potentially harass my family out in California.

A lot of writers, and good ones, don’t land all the notes when they’re writing about people they know, in their own “group”, as it were.  That’s just writing, it seems to me. Who lands “every note” in anything? Not many. Of course there’s that extra element of sensitivity, especially now, when you write out of your own “group”.  But I get the sense you feel anyone can write about anything or anyone if they do it well, going by your output so far. Or am I wrong about that? 

I'd say a writer can write about anyone but not anything. I don't think any amount of sensitivity readers or editors is going to help a white writer write about what it is to be black in America today with complete perspective. I don't think I'd be able to speak about the Asian-American experience as a whole either. I can speak a little more for a marginalized character, obviously, but not the whole.

Books like Blacky Jaguar or Pull & Pray aren't about identity as much as they're pulp adventures. For me, that's fine to play with the casts as I see fit. Now, if I wanted to put together a book that leaned heavily into social concepts and injustices? I go Latinx all the way then because that's what I am and I can speak to that experience with more truth and nuance.

I can see how this is talking out of both sides of my mouth, but a subject like this can't be two-sided. Diversity's important and so are #ownvoices stories, but writers need to have diverse casts and characters too. If not, we run the risk of segregating our stories. If I'm being honest, that tends to be one of my biggest worries - that diversity in fiction is kept penned into it's 'own thing' long enough to be deemed a marketing fad and shut away because that's exactly the kind of shit that always happens.

The Blacky books and the Fantine books are definitely unabashed pulp adventures, and I like how they all have a sense of fun and a lack inhibition. Also, no worries about “good taste”.  

Before you wrote these books, was this the kind of stuff you long wanted to write? And in terms of pulp, in books, film, whatever - what is some of the key stuff you might call influences or favorites? I know there must be a lot, but in particular, when you were younger, works that made you think I want to create those kinds of stories and I could do that.

I've always been big into comics and pulp stories, so while it wasn't entirely in the cards, writing Blacky and Fan felt right for me. I've got a long list of things I'd like to do - horror, maybe something a little more serious - but it took me a long time to find my voice and be confident in that voice. That voice just happens to be snarky and fits comfortably within my current genre. Not to say it can't change, but it's a pretty big step to find yourself as a writer and be happy with that. Too often do people let themselves be molded by trends or feel like they have to "slum it" in another genre before going where they truly want to go. 

That works for me also. The sense of experimenting. But coming back to the heist novel, or heist stories in general,  for a second. They definitely have their own set of technical concerns. You talked about seeing a lot of heist movies growing up and coming to Stark/Westlake novels later. In movies in particular, something like Rififi, you see a lot of prep work without getting the full picture of how the pieces will all cohere when the robbers do the actual job. The best heist movies do that so well. Heist stories are so much about process. The Richard Stark novels, the ones I’ve read, are loaded with process. How do you work that divide, how much pre-plotting and outlining, so you show the reader enough to be intrigued without showing them what the whole heist picture will be? 

It's funny. The short answer: It's really fucking hard to plot out a heist - especially one that works.

Long answer: I decided to write a character like Fan because she is very much NOT the mastermind. She works locks - a job, that when things are planned well, shouldn't take her very long or too in the reeds in plan details. Fan is very much an instrument of whoever hires her. I thought it would be fun to focus on a character that sometimes isn't privy to the whole picture, just like the reader, and since she misplaces her trust in these endeavors, finds herself needing to improvise way more than she should have to.

That said, Fan's coming into her own along with me and as we both realize there's only so many jobs where she should be caught unaware of details, there seems to be a need for Fan to grow into her own thief, doesn't there? I wonder what it would be like if she took it on herself to become the 'boss' for a change (ooooh, I'm dropping hints).

I like hints.  And teasers. So yeah, let’s have that Fantine story where she’s leading a crew. Being a boss of anything brings its own set of problems, and they may have nothing to do with difficulties of the actual job. Lots to work with there, it sounds like. 

Next up, from what I’ve heard is a novel? Will this have a similar kind of tone- pulpy, snarky - as the novellas so far?

Yessir - I've got a novel coming next year called Hell Chose Me. I've actually got me some back cover copy:

Bryan Walsh is a killer for hire.

He is haunted by those who have fallen by his hand.

He will stop at nothing to avenge his brother’s death.

When a lifetime of bad karma finally lands on Bryan’s doorstep and leaves his brother dead, he must survive long enough to find the killers and get his revenge, but as the path only grows bloodier, Bryan may not be able to handle the steps he’ll need to take against his enemies.

As he becomes more unstable and his past crashes into his present, Bryan must decide if vengeance is worth becoming the monster he always denied or if he could find a another path; one that could lead to something like redemption.

Hits all the points, right? The copy's pulp to hell and covers all the tropes. I'm hoping folks find that the inside doesn't. I tried to marry all the weird grindhouse concepts I loved with a little bit of literary flair and outlandish shit I've always wanted to write. There's definitely a something in there for Blacky Jaguar fans (or fan, I can live with that) to enjoy, too.

I will definitely be looking forward to it!

You can get Pull and Pray right here.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Chicken Diapers for Dinner

When I’ve written something that really excites me and I can’t wait to send it to a publisher I am often tempted to rush the procedure. Just push it through spellcheck and glance over the story looking for grammar and punctuation mistakes. This is my current state, but before I proceed I need to commit to a real process.

When I proofread…

I need to remind myself that I am proofing, not editing. While proofreading I will not change the meat of the work. I’m checking to ensure there are no errors within the text.

Get rid of distractions and potential interruptions. Switch off the cell phone, turn off the television or radio and stay away from email. Just say no to Instagram cats and sloths.

Read the text out loud. This should help me discover any awkward or dull spots in the text and story. It should highlight the flow of the story, as well.

Proofread a printed copy of my work. It’s easier to spot mistakes in print than on the computer screen.

Take a break for a few hours or even overnight. Reading with a clear head helps. Oddly, I find this part of the process pretty easy.

Read the completed text several times, looking for grammatical errors I tend to commit. I keep a list of the errors from past edits. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of the best editors and proofreaders review my work. It would be foolish not to take notes. Dig?


Contractions and Apostrophes


Check the Numbers

Fact check

Have a trusted friend read the work for me, looking for both context and grammar issues. I need to look for specific examples regarding context.

Clarity and Content. Is the story understandable? Does it create a connection to the main character? Is the tale even worth telling?

Cohesiveness. Does the story work as a whole? Is there a segment that seems out of left field? Does a situation seem out of place for the setting or does an action seem out of place for a character?
Continuity. Does every segment of the work flow smoothly into the next or are their portions so rough that the reader is pulled from the story? Does it run to a natural and believable end?

Proofreading is not the most exciting part of writing, but it may be one of the most important. What is your proofing process?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Smoky Skies

The light is orange. It slants through the windows in the morning and turns everything the wrong color. The cloudless skies are overcast and shadows look like they've been altered by an Instagram filter.
Northern California is on fire. Almost 40,000 people in the city of Redding had to be evacuated this week. Six people have died. The intense heat and dry brush spawned an extremely rare fire tornado that ripped through part of the city. To the south in the Sierra Nevada, another fire has burned nearly 81,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park. The danger has caused officials to completely close the park to visitors. 
Fortunately, there aren’t any fires too close to where I live in the Central Valley. But there is a lot of smoke. It’s doing what you’d expect—producing hazy skies and spectacular sunsets. But it’s also creating more subtle conditions. Like the sunlight. It’s just off. Different. Disorienting. Like the funky shadows during a partial eclipse. They’re not how they should be, and it makes the world a little off-kilter.
After a few days of being forced to literally look at the world in a different way, something occurred to me. Isn’t that what writing fiction is all about? Seeing things in a unique way and then figuring out how to communicate that with the written word? Examining, interpreting, describing—so that readers can experience something in a way they never have before?
This realization has sparked some new creativity with my work-in-progress, which has been great. What about you? Even if your sky isn’t full of smoke, try taking a look at it differently and see what new writing you come up with. And if you’re able, send good thoughts to all the people who have fled or lost their homes in this awful California wildfire season.