j_cheney: (Default)
Recently there was a post made in the Daily Beast that talked about how you should write every day or just go ahead and quit.

Now most people who took exception with that article took exception to the bit about writing every day.

I agree. It's a dumb rule. Art is art, not science. It's helpful if you write frequently, but putting an "EVERY DAY" rule on it is neither helpful nor realistic.

Or the part where he says he hates all other writers. That was hyperbole, I think.


However, the thing about the article that bugged me the most?

This part:
What is certain is that on that same day, whichever one it is, one thousand other people will start their novels. In order to publish mine, it has to be better than theirs.

I don't know if that was also supposed to be some form of hyperbole, but here's what I heard: Publication is only for the BEST BOOKS


Not true.  

We all know that. We all pick up books and go, "How did this get published???"


There are a lot of factors that influence publication:

1) Talent, but also...
2) Persistence
3) Luck
4) Marketability  
5) Connections

Sometimes things are actually published because the writer knows the right people. People pull strings for each other.

I recall purchasing a book from an author who seemed perfectly nice. His debut novel was published by a MAJOR publisher, part of a trilogy released in hardback, ebook, and paperback. Fancy Schmancy.

Not far into the novel, I figured out that it was Full of Tropes. Painfully so. And the writing had some issues, like having the POV character's head explode...and yet that scene continued....somehow. 

The blurbs were admiring, but the reviews weren't. Publisher's Weekly was downright...well, it wasn't pretty. 

Notably, there wasn't a second series.

It was not the Best Book...but somehow, this person had gotten a lucrative 3-book deal with a major publisher. Instead of #1, the writer had 4 and 5. He was young and good looking, and a protege of some old-school Big-Name Writers. He was connected in another industry. And there may have been luck involved. I don't know. 

But I still remember reading that book in my hotel room, over a decade ago now, and thinking of some of my friends who'd written truly amazing books. And they weren't published (or were having trouble selling books at that time.) 

I wasn't at that time, either. I had written Dreaming Death a couple of years before that, but had only gotten form rejections from agents at that point. (Including one from my future agent!)

My whole point being that the assumption that his books are the Best Books because he's being published is a false one.  

It's entirely true that his books might actually BE the Best Books. They could be.  

But every day the Best Books are languishing on an agent's desk. They're being rejected by publishers. They're being left on computers because the writer's health is too bad at the time to deal with sending things out.  Or they don't have enough spoons. Or they have to work too many hours to pay bills and keep a roof over their heads to learn the systems of submitting and querying. And they surely don't have time to go to a conference and pitch to an agent/editor.  

And you can say that those people just aren't trying hard enough, but if you can say that, you may be suffering from privilege. For most people, keeping a roof over their head isn't an option. Trying to keep their health isn't optional. 

(As an aside, this isn't a statement about self-publishing. I'm only talking about traditional publishing and the assumption that the gatekeepers choose the best books. The self-publishing discussion is one for another time and place.) 

So while a lot of people took exception to that article for other, very valid, reasons, that was the thing that annoyed me. I dislike the automatic assumption that any book published by a Big Publisher is going to be great...or that all the books that didn't get there are inferior. Look around and you'll probably find dozens of great books that are published by smaller publishers, or indie-published.  And, on occasion, you'll find a real lemon under the hardcover jacket at the bookstore. 

Voice

May. 28th, 2017 03:50 pm
j_cheney: (Default)
I've been looking at putting out a single-short-story ebook of The Bear Girl, so today I read through it for the first time in a long time.

Now, with short stories, it's not hard to do a voice. Especially with shorter stories, since they're only a few thousand words. I imagine it would be hard to keep up over a very long manuscript. In my novel-length work, I never do a 'voice'.

Bear Girl has the narrator speaking in a child's voice, more or less. Not because she's a child any longer, but because she has neither education nor social skills (living on her own for 15 years does that.) There are things for which she just doesn't know a name or understand the consequences.

I kept wanting to rewrite lines in a more 'mature' (normal for me) voice. I resisted that for the most part, but I always wonder what the reader thinks when they come across a story that's different from the author's normal voice.

So as a reader, do that bother you? A short story by an author you like, but it sounds very different?
j_cheney: (Hurry...)
Since I often write in actual existing places (the "Iron Shoes" stories in Saratoga Springs, the Of Blood and Brandy novels in Porto, and the Russian novella outside St. Petersburg, for example), I have to do a lot of research.

Now my work is fantasy, so I'm actually writing a form of 'alternate' history. I can change things, including geography, within reason. I like to have a reason behind those changes, though, and I tend to obsess about making things fit.

I want to get the trees right. I want to get the birds right. I want to get the cobbles in the road right....so I research waaaay more than is likely needed by my readers.

For "Iron Shoes", not only did I procure as many period books about Saratoga Springs as I could find, but I also went through blogs. I dug through web-sites. I read diaries about horse-racing stables. I ran down costume books and catalogs so that I would have my characters dressed appropriately. I purchased a movie DVD because it was partially set in a Saratoga Springs hotel that was subsequently demolished. Google Street View. Google Maps.

I had also -visited- Saratoga Springs. From the train I watched the trees and undergrowth as we passed so I would know what trees I would find in the forest there. I tried to remember what kind of birds I'd find there.

I've just returned from Portugal, where I noted that there are 2 kinds of seagulls in Porto (brown and white). The pigeons of Porto are uniformly dark, while down in Lisbon, there's a lot of variety (white, brown, gray, mixed). There are also super-cool little diving birds out on the Douro River that made a little popping sound when they broke the water (although we only saw two...and I haven't figured out yet what they are.) It can be drizzling and then suddenly raining in sheets...and then stop again a moment later.

But St. Petersburg? No, I'm not visiting there any time soon, so I have to research on paper.

One of the things I like to use is stuff written by the people who lived there and then to give me that background. I've read some biographical work for this story: The Pearl and A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii (still reading), both tales that talk about the relations between the slaves and masters in pre-emancipation Russia.

A lot of things can be found via your library. Other things aren't available that way, especially books written decades ago (if they're not popular, they're removed from the library eventually). The used-book market can be useful here. Also, a lot of it, if published before 1923, is going to be available on-line via Google Books or Project Gutenburg. If you can put up with the iffy OCR, you'll find a lot of things are still out there.

But these days web-sites are also your friends. Google Maps and Google Street View are awesome resources. I've used the archives of the New York Times a lot. You can also use the internet to contact librarians...which I've done. I communicated with the public library in Saratoga Springs on a topic where I couldn't find the answer, and the librarian tried her best to find the answer for me. (In that case, she didn't have the answer. I found the answer in the NYT Archives and ended up sending that link to her so she could stick the article in her file for future reference).

I'm a bit obsessive about this...and no matter how hard I've looked, there are some things I've had to fudge. But I'm still going to keep trying...

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J. Kathleen Cheney

July 2017

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