Books In Progress, And Other Happenings

Thing the First:

Rough Passages WILL be releasing as a collection this year. Hopefully at the end of October because I’d like to have copies for WindyCon (which I will once again be attending as a helper at the Games Plus table with a little display of my own books.)

First new book release in over two years means promoting said book on social media & elsewhere. It means begging for review readers. I means shouting this book’s praises to the rafters and the sky. It means asking brave, loyal, amazing fans, to go that step beyond reading it yourselves to sharing  it with more friends, co-workers, acquaintances, total strangers, and mortal enemies. It will mean talking to people. 

And that’s hard. I am not a Peppy Person. I don’t rally troops. Cheerful, pushy perkiness gives me hives.  I’ll ask nicely and often for support and sing my book’s praises with honest, passionate enthusiasm–but I know myself well enough to admit I’ll get crabby after banging my head against the apathy wall once too often.

Why mention that downer? Full disclosure. I do not paint smiley faces around slashes in my heart to make the pain look prettier.  I might cut off at the knees anyone who suggests I should minimize my troubles and “look at the bright side” instead. It isn’t a healthy coping strategy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Mute or disassociate as needed.

So I beg you, bear with me as I stumble through the trials of a New Release Phase in my own uncomfortable way, coping with sarcasm, bitter humor, and occasional flailing.

Thing the Second (a cheerier thing, I promise)

I’ve been keeping this one under my hat for almost a year.  I’m helping a friend publish some books she wrote for her grandchildren.  It’s taken 10 months of false starts and setbacks, but I finally feel confident enough about the project’s success to share a little bit about it.  <cue confetti & balloon drop>

The books range from simple 8-10 page picture books on topics like counting and animals to a couple of  delightful tales written at about the first-grade reading level.  They’re heartwarming and adorable, and –importantly–  beautifully written.

The sticky part was that the books were hand-written in journals or constructed with photocopies & stickers.  Cleaning digitizing the content alone  is no small challenge.  I gave formatting at try . (Mistake. Big mistake. HUGE.)  A artist friend with graphic design experience offered to help but got sidesiped by technology issues and job demands.

Serendipity stuck at Dragon Con. I met a wonderful book designer, we hit it off, and now she’s digitizing and polishing up Grandma Mitzie’s awesome words and illustrations to the shine needed for print publication. They’re going to be real books soon, available to the whole world for parents to buy & read and for kids to hold and enjoy.

Thing the Third

I aim to finish Heartwood by the end of October. Why set myself a dreaded deadline? Well, for one thing, I always set myself deadlines. I just ignore them when they fly by. For another thing –biggish news!

I have an outline for a new novel I plan to write during NaoNoWriMo this year.  Sort of. I don’t do word counts, so I can’t really NaNo. But I also don’t usually do outlining, so why not double-down on the wackiness? I’m tripling it, really, since I’m working with a writing partner on this project–a partner who gets final say on the story’s eventual shape. It’s not at all my usual “chip at the ideas until strands of story emerge and then weave them together” approach.

I figure why not tackle the new fresh thing in a new, fresh way? Yup, I’m stretching artistically.  New challenges. Excitement. Good times.

No, I haven’t been replaced with a pod person, I swear. I’ve wanted to do NaNo since its very first year.  Business travel and the demands of the retail cycle in general made it nigh-impossible the first few years, and after that NaNo started to feel like a big commercial enterprise defined by social interaction and burdened with an ever-increasing focus on metrics and reporting.  Metrics and reporting are not fun, socializing is hard work, and I have nothing to prove. Zero appeal.

Doing it my own way, writing with a simple end-of-month completion goal in the privacy of my own writing cave–that’ll be my kind of fun.

Now you’re up to speed on everything that’s going on in my authoring world.

 


Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers, or you can take free peeks at them on this page here. 

Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices! Here be direct links to the published stories that have escaped the confines of Amazon. 

Extraordinary books2read.com/u/4N19e6
Powerhouse books2read.com/u/3kZ1VW
Nightmares books2read.com/u/3yPExv
Lockdown books2read.com/u/3GM2Xn

A Grumble on Suspenders & Belts

Subtitle: a mini-rant on redundancy. 

 Lately I’ve seen a lot of writing-related posts consigning repetitive description to the Bad Writing Dung Heap. Here’s my contrarian take on the topic: redundancy isn’t A Bad Thing.

Picture someone wearing tights, a peasant skirt, a kicky overskirt plus a belt and scarves. (Assume underwear.) This might look awful or spectacular depending on the viewer’s personal tastes, but no one would call it “redundant dressing.” Any one or two items on the list would cover all necessary parts,  but the selections together make a larger fashion statement.

The same principle applies to writing. No, really. It does. If someone’s story seems sluggish and cluttered, the writer might be doing a lousy job of saying what they mean. It might also be a bad match between my taste and the creator’s aims. Descriptive repetition and exuberant adjective use are not always villains.

Critiquing, workshopping, and developmental editing can all buff the rough spots off writing. The processes are all based on the same premise: making a story better equals increasing its appeal to more readers by applying proven presentation standards. That’s the justification for polishing out everything that does not “serve the story.”

Here’s the challenge: smooth isn’t always better, and better isn’t always right. Some writing is downright grotesque. Some stories are so full of wordy bumps that I can’t see a glint of the precious core within. Bad writing is ugly. Polishing off extraneous bits can reveal inner beauty.

Problem is, great writing can be ugly too, or seem so on first read. Think of all the brilliant writers (and musicians, artists, etc.)  who have the same backstory. They fought tooth and nail for the integrity of their work. Endured rejection after rejection. Pushed back against criticism after criticism delivered with all the best intentions. All the True Originals had to hold firm against a world that insisted their things needed changing, smoothing, and polishing until the originality was gone.

Here’s my reading litmus test for “is it me, or is it bad?”  If find myself thinking, “That was a rough read, but it improved as I went along,” I must conclude there was nothing wrong with the writing in the first place.  NOTHING.  The way it was written was a new experience. My brain had to work to learn a different story process. Once I got used to it, I stopped noticing.

I’m a critical reviewer who often reads clumsy, awkward, painfully hard-to-read writing.  I express my opinions.  If I’m critiquing a work before publication, I feel I have an obligation to point out lumps that don’t appeal to me. But the emphasis must always be on that qualifier. To me. I do not have the right to say, “The author needs to change the way they do this too much or that not enough.”  

(disclaimer: “this & that” refer to matters of structure, phrasing, dialogue, and so forth. Flaws like multiple spelling errors per chapter, basic grammar and punctuation mistakes,  factual inaccuracies…that’s a whole different ball of worms.)

The never-ending declarations of “This is bad, and I know what I’m talking about” get under my skin because we writers should know better. We know the creator alone decides if their work is broken or the product of a broken mold because we are creators.  No one had to express their ideas the way someone else likes to read them. It’s a simple principle.  In practice, as some people gain experience they become invested in their way being the best way. And so I read remarks like, “Well, sure, you can do it that way, I suppose, if you want,” All of them carry the powerful implication that only a fool would want to do the thing.

A lot of immensely popular, critically acclaimed writing leaves me cold. It sounds choppy and harsh in my head, and the predictable variations on the same old archetypes bore me. I like my prose to stand center stage with frills on, where it belts out an aria or two and does little dances. I like to build stories like Neuschwanstein Castle, all kitschy and mashed up. So that’s what I do.

Reading my books is like visiting The House On The Rock on a rainy Saturday in August. They’re crowded with weird distractions and full of unpleasant strangers who interact without introduction, and the signs never take you where you expect. The stories can be exhilarating or baffling, but they are never easy reads nor conventional ones. NO, I don’t think I’m brilliant. I don’t have the ego to believe myself A True Original. But I reserve the right to say, This weird prose? It is beautiful to me.

And that is why I am  careful about assigning value judgments to the creative choices of others. And why I rant about the phenomenon every so often. Like this.

Thanks for reading.

Breaking Rules pt 2: Wait. Don’t.

storysculpting header 2 brushes and paints

I did a rant post about rules last week. Premise: there no RULES to writing any more than there are rules for speaking. This is the rebuttal. Yes, I argue with myself.

Let’s start with the chorus: no one has to know any damned rules. There is only one imperative to writing–WRITE. The entire learning process is this and only this: write, (share) judge whether the results met your aims, repeat.

The parenthetical share applies to those who write to be understood by others. Many people don’t ever do that. Writing can be private. Much of it is never shared with other eyes. And that is why rules can be ignored. If you’re the only audience, do as you will, (an’ it harm none and all that.)

You can also ignore rules without consequence when you know with certainty that you and your audience share every possible communication preference and convention. Whole communities of happy writers and readers exist all over the interwebz, reveling in writing so bad it horrifies other audiences.  But how can it be bad if everyone involved in  community loves it? Only by comparison, and any comparison is inherently flawed by a lack of shared premises.

But there is a coda to the ‘there are no rules’ song: all knowledge exists for a reason.

See, the conventions and practices people call rules for writing exist for a damned good reason. Yes, they’re malleable, changeable, audience dependent, and inconsistently applied at best, yes, it’s absurd to call them rules,  but they exist because there’s a gap between reader and writer. That big ‘ol chasm of assumptions and expectations needs bridging.

Rules are meant to be gap-spanning bridges, not walls. They become fences between good and bad because humans divide everything that way. (There’s reasons for that, too. Again, good reasons and bad, but I’m not getting into philosophy.  I’m only talking about practicalities today.) Suffice that the reason we set fences around writing is that communication takes two. When two or three gather together, someone will start making judgments.

So, then.

Once you choose to share to a wider, unknown audience, you’d be wise to dig deeper than “what you mean to say” with your writing. Compare your words against the words of the widest possible audience,  judge for yourself whether your words meet the broadest, mostly widely-accepted conventions of communication–and then decide how or if you want your words to change.

Now, as I’ve discussed in many another rant, it’s always your choice to make. Not the choice of some expert rules arbiter saying writing  must be designed thusly to qualify as “acceptable.”

But your decisions will have consequences. The judgment of your audience may not be kind or accepting. When you defy convention, be braced for your readers’ appreciation of your writing to differ radically from your own.

When you write what you want, however you want, others are more likely to reject it because they don’t share your assumptions, they don’t like your departures from traditional approaches, or even because they can’t parse your elegant sentences. Those are the risks you take when you go to war with the rules.

And here’s another important fact: it’s far, far better to be prepared for war than to charge into battle unarmed and ignorant.

THAT’S why good people suggest knowing the rules first before you beak them. Not for the writing part at all. It’s all about weathering the process of sharing your non-standard writing with others.

In the final analysis there still. Are. No. RULES. Writing, like speaking, is learned in the doing, and the rest is naught but accepted conventions and shared preferences.

Insisting everyone write according to certain plot structures or obey specific grammar guidelines keeps a lot of writing advice columnists and self-proclaimed protectors of language employed, but it doesn’t make their advice true for writing.

It does make it useful for predicting how people will judge the completed written work.

My big conclusion: writing rules aren’t rules, they’re conventions, and those conventions apply to reaching the audience, not to writing as an act of creation.

Okay. I’m done.