Writers Co-op

QUOTES 2016

The first blog on WritersCo-op.com was Curtis Bausse’s “Here we are!” of April 26, 2016 announcing the site. It was aptly tagged, “BLOGGING, BOOK PROMOTION, COOPERATION.”

Comments included Jill Barth’s, “Looking forward to collaboration, meeting other writers & reading stories.”

Success will be judged in due time. As the optimist who fell off the roof could be heard saying as he passed windows on the way, “So far so good.” So far, many writers have shared good information, their insights and their stories.

Here are a few from our first year.

Curtis Bausse
The Book a Break short story competition
“And overall, there’s another, slightly unexpected aspect – you may think it’s corny, but I found that providing the impetus for writers to create stories is quite enchanting. Some of them, perhaps, were already there in people’s minds, and might have found expression anyway; others came into being for the occasion. Either way, I find it almost as satisfying to have nurtured that whole process as if I’d written them myself.”

GD Deckard
Writing Charms
“Writing charms are plentiful and inexpensive to acquire. They can appear in unexpected places and abound in second-hand markets from estate sales, antique shops, consignment shops, pawn shops, flea markets and garage sales. As symbols, they don’t have to be the real thing. They only have to focus your thoughts on your story.”

Atthys Gage
The Women Men Don’t See, Indeed.
“For those who don’t know, James Tiptree Jr was the pseudonym of author Alice Sheldon. A noted recluse and ‘mystery man’ during the seventies, she published numerous stories in the science fiction magazines of the time, including the story Houston, Houston, Do You Read? which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.”
“A lot of readers weren’t sure what to make of it. No one knew that Tiptree was a woman at that point, though there were apparently some who speculated she might be. Robert Silverberg, in his introduction to the anthology featuring the tale, insisted that Tiptree’s writing had to be the work of a man, that there was “something ineluctably masculine” about it. To his credit, when the truth came out, he congratulated Tiptree for fooling him so successfully and said “You’ve given my head a greatly needed wrenching.”

DJ Lutz
Writing – A Team Sport?
“Gone are the days of waking up at 907 Whitehead Street, dropping a Spanish onion into a glass of chilled gin with the requisite splash of vermouth, putting paper into the typewriter and cranking out an iconic piece of literature as a seven-toed cat wanders between your legs. Not anymore. Today’s writer must do it all: write something worth reading, sell it to an agent or publisher, create a business model and social media platform, market your work and you, sell again, this time to the consumer, and then deal with insurance and taxes.”

Perry Palin
It’s All Personal
“How do we get people to buy our books? In my experience, it’s all personal.”
“I have sold dozens of books through local shops. Not bookstores, but shops where the owner is willing to display my books for a share of the revenue. This requires direct selling to the owner. Telephone contact doesn’t work; I have to walk in the front door with the books in my hands.”
“I was asked to speak at a meeting of a regional environmental group. My presentation was not about my books, but I had a box of them along. I prepared carefully, tried to be entertaining, finished my presentation by reading a story, and sold a few hundred dollars worth of books when the meeting was over. That was a good day for me.”
“None of this easy for me. I have to work hard to sell myself and my books. But it is what works best.”
“I believe that successful marketing, especially for emerging writers, is all personal.”

Jack Penny
Nonsense and Stuff
“Fantasy is a genre that creates a world in its entirety. There may be no gravity perhaps, or maybe people eat milk and drink cheese, but whatever world is created is bound by an established set of rules. What separates nonsense from the more popular genre of fantasy is that there is no bounding set of rules. There is a surprisingly deep, and playfully intellectual nature to nonsense that lifts it above gibberish.”

Sue Ranscht
Selling Your Baby
“Ultimately, marketing your book is far more than posting ads and links and waiting for the royalties to roll in. It’s about connecting with your potential readers and engaging them in your story’s world. We have a pretty good idea what doesn’t work, so take a look at all the successful marketing around you and make it work for you.”

Carl E Reed
POV Explained
“The big deal is that every time you jump into another character’s head to directly reveal the inner life of that character you steal focus from the scene’s focal point character, thus injecting emotional distance into your text by diffusing empathy and muddying the over-all clarity, dramatic pacing and concision of your scene. A clean line or chapter break when switching amongst POVs will help to keep your reader focused, involved and empathizing with the most important person in the narrated scene.”

Mimi Speike
Anything Goes.
“We sit around waiting for the world to come to us, we’re gonna be waiting one damn long time.
To quote Mark Knopfler: It may be a game but I won’t play to lose.
Don’t scorn the old-fashioned basics. Don’t depend on the web to spread the word. Flyers, mailers, I’m going to try it all.
I’m researching bumper stickers. I see not only bumper stickers, but magnets, decals, and labels in a variety of sizes and shapes (like those I Voted Today labels you get on Election Day) for a modest price.”
“I recall that the artist Keith Haring started his career by defacing posters in the Manhattan subway tunnels. Mysterious doodles, unsigned, got him a lot of attention. People were mad to know what the Radiant Babies meant. When he finally revealed himself, the press jumped on it.”

Tom Wolosz
Publishing Through a Start-up Independent Publisher
“The final step was working with the line editor. This guy was not as bad as my first editor, but was close. I’m pretty sure he had written a book himself, which only added to his know-it-all attitude (granted to be a writer, myself included, you need a pretty large ego), and he did make some valuable comments (I do greatly overuse ‘that’) and corrections. Unfortunately, he had absolutely no concept of science fiction. In some cases I politely explained his mistakes, in others I just ignored him. He was also in love with a computer program which counts the number of times a word is used and highlights perceived overuse. I do know I often “fall in love” with words and overuse them, but recognizing this foible I work to correct it. Unfortunately, many times there are only a limited number of choices. My line editor would apparently run to the thesaurus, find a word I had not used and substitute it for mine. The problem was he ignored the first rule of the thesaurus game – when you find a nifty synonym check the dictionary to make sure it really fits. I must admit there were a number of times my annoyance was curbed by my chuckling at the words he chose. In the end I accepted about 10% of his suggestions.”

==========
All falls end and in this universe, as in life, we are all falling. But our first year feels like we are in for a very long fall. I “Whoosh” us all a very Happy and Productive 2017!

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About Writers, writing technique

Order, Please, Mr. Adjective.

Not so long ago I caught a bit of a podcast from Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl, talking about the correct order of multiple adjectives in an adjectival phrase. (I know. Sounds like a wild party, but let’s try to focus here.) When using more than one adjective to modify a noun—and for the purposes of didactics, let’s ignore the fact that you probably don’t want to do that most of the time—how do we decide what order to put them in?

Most native speakers have little difficulty with this task. We tend, without even thinking about it, to follow the same basic order for the most common types of adjectives:

Opinion
Size
Age
Shape
Color
Origin
Material
Purpose

Most of these are second nature to us. We would never refer to “a yellow, stupid shirt” (color before opinion) or “an Armenian, old carpet-seller” (origin before age). These examples just sound wrong. There is some give and take—shape and color can sometimes go either way—but the basic litany is pretty well fixed. We might refer to “a dismal, mud-grey, slack-shouldered, American, polyester leisure suit,” (opinion, color, shape, origin, material, purpose) but surely never “a polyester, mud-grey, American, slack-shouldered, dismal leisure suit” unless purely for comedic purposes.

But…how do we know to do this? Is it only that we are accustomed to this ordering, or is there an intrinsic sense to it? In all likelihood, the custom is too well-ingrained for us to objectively establish anything inherent about it, but let’s examine the list and see if anything jumps out at us.

First guess: There seems to be a movement from more-to-less subjective. Opinion is, of course, the most subjective of all. We are offering a judgement as to the quality or value of the object. By the time we get to purpose, the adjective has almost become part of the noun (leisure suit, drinking fountain, voting booth), which is why it wants the nearest proximity. Similarly, material is (literally) built in. If our suit were made of camelhair rather than polyester, it would still beg to be called a “camelhair leisure suit.”

But what about color and shape? There’s no question of subjectivity there. Red is red. Square is square. But what about oblong? Or cloudy? Or pale? Or sloping? All would qualify as color or shape descriptors, but they don’t tell us much. At least nothing very specific.

The more I think about it, the more I think the pattern awards specificity with proximity. The more specific (and perhaps necessary) the descriptor, the closer to the noun it gets to sit. We might refer to “a big, old, black, oak credenza” (size, age, color, material) but we would probably say “a big, black, oak, Victorian credenza.” (At least I would.) The specificity of Victorian (as opposed to old) trumps the vaguer descriptors like big and black. Okay, maybe “a big, Victorian, black, oak credenza” sounds just as good. But part of the problem is that comma between black and oak. We read “black, oak” but we hear “black oak”—thereby turning “black” into a modifier for “oak”and marrying the color adjective to the material adjective, making it more specific, more intrinsic. Here’s another way of looking at it. If we are referring to a Siberian pochard with a red crest, we can call it a “red-crested Siberian pochard,” but if all Siberian pochards have red crests, then we’d tend to call it a “Siberian red-crested pochard.” It becomes part of the bird’s name, therefore both intrinsic and specific.

But maybe I’m thinking about it backwards. It feels natural to refer to “a creepy, old, black oak credenza,” as opposed to any other order, but creepy is the only word that really interests me in that description. Why should a credenza be creepy? Maybe we should investigate before Lord Manners comes back and finds us rummaging through his credenza drawers. We probably don’t really need to know that the creepy piece of furniture is old or made of black oak, * so maybe the first word in the list is really the important one. I suppose it depends how you look at it. Maybe the intrinsic, specific modifiers stay close to the noun, while the more subjective ones keep their distance. There does seem to be some prioritizing going on.

Anyway, unless you’re planning to use stacks of adjectives, then none of this matters much. Adjectives, of course, are much maligned by the doyens of literary style. Voltaire said “they are frequently the greatest enemy of the substantive.” Clifton Fadiman called them “the banana peel of the parts of speech.” And sure, they can be abused like most anything else, and I’m all in favor of erring of the side of less. But plainness shouldn’t be fetishized either, or your work may turn into a drab, nondescript, pedestrian, colorless, amorphous, purposeless bore.

In fact, I find this rather trivial question of proper adjectival order interesting specifically because we native speakers follow it without being taught, without even questioning the why or the wherefore. And that’s intriguing. Where did it come from? What does it mean?

Any thoughts?

 

*Try googling “creepy credenza.” You’ll get eight results, four of which are in Italian.

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Writing DaysZ 8

Ever wonder why billions of dollars have been spent to help Haitians and they still live in three-sided hovels? It’s because the Haitians never got the billions of dollars. And no, their president didn’t siphon it all off. It was mostly kept by the companies, foundations, charities, NGOs and international agencies that provide disaster relief. The people they help are helped at a high cost. That’s some scam, that disaster relief.

Bob Vs the Aliens
To read Writing DaysZ 1-7, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

The Haiti Scam

+++“There,” said Old Spice. For two days, the Alien had been sitting at a hole in the floor of the rail car working on something attached to the undercarriage. Now, the hole was covered and he was standing.
+++Piper, working the hand pump with Bob, faced forward. She looked past him to the Alien in polite inquiry. Bob glanced over his shoulder. “What?” Neither knew what Spice had been doing.
+++“You can stop pumping now.”
+++“Oh,” Piper smiled at him, “We’re there?”
+++“Where?” Bob looked around at the Alabama countryside, seeing only oak trees, littered fields and an occasional home.
+++“No,” said Spice, looking around with Bob. “We’re going to Colorado. I mean you can stop pumping now. I fixed the batteries.”
+++“Batteries?” Piper and Bob backed away from the hand pump. The rail car picked up speed.
+++“Wow,” Bob sat down and leaned his back on the pump housing. “Great!” He rubbed his arms. “My arms and shoulders are killing me.”
+++“Wimp,” Piper said, although she was smiling and rubbing her own arms. “Thanks, Spice.” He had picked up Lisbeth, the ventriloquist dummy. Piper told him, “See if you can learn how to throw your voice, Spice,” and whispered to Bob, “He needs things to do. He’s been depressed since the other aliens left him here.”
+++“Really,” Bob replied to both.
+++Spice turned one eye on them while turning the other inward. “I found ventriloquism on the Internet. The ‘Net’s slow though, now that power is going out everywhere.”
+++“That thing is designed to survive a nuclear war.”
+++“Look, a park,” Piper pointed ahead.
+++“Could be a golf course,” Bob thought aloud.
+++“It’s a cemetery.” The Alien had the advantage of built-in GPS. “We can spend the night in the Caretaker’s Shack.”
+++Bob looked at Piper. He wasn’t going to admit an unwillingness to sleep among the dead and from her expression, he surmised neither would she. “Fine.” Together, the two slowed the rail car and braked to a stop where a gravel path crossed the tracks. Poppies lined the path leading them to a small cottage. Inside, they found a front reception area lined with chairs and a side room, apparently, a gift shop.
+++“I’ve figured this thing out,” Spice indicated Lisbeth, now sitting on his arm, just as the back door opened and a man came in.
+++“Figured out what?” the man asked. He wore a suit and tie and carried a briefcase.
+++“Me,” Lisbeth smiled at the man. Spice explained, “I’m often misunderstood when I am trying to express myself in human language.” He glanced pointedly at Bob and Piper.
+++Lisbeth nodded. “Poor baby.”
+++“Therefore, meet Lisbeth, my official translator.”
+++Lisbeth offered her hand to the man. He stared at it, then shook his head and turned to Bob and Piper. Several other well dressed men and women were entering and taking seats. “Alien humor,” the man half-laughed. “I’m glad you could make it. This is a very important meeting. I’m Tyrone Kuuhn. You can call me Ty.” He shook their hands and turned to greet Spice but was met instead by Lisbeth’s outstretched hand. “Uh,” he waved at the other people, “We are here to facilitate the Aliens’ outreach to Earth.”
+++“Outreach?” Piper smiled.
+++“How could you possibly know we’d be here?” Bob wanted to know. “Is there a bug on that railcar?”
+++“Not exactly,” Ty said. “But there is a GPS locator on all railroad cars. They are needed for inventory control. So, when the Sheriff of Gay Camellia, Alabama reported a hand car missing right after you three had attended their diversity celebration, those of us who own railroads put this meeting together.”
+++“This is an outreach planning meeting?” Piper sounded interested. “Oooh. What does your group do?”
+++“Disaster relief. Always lots of money to be made there, but this! Well, civilization is collapsing. The potential boggles the mind.”
+++“How do you make money from disasters?” The well dressed people looked at Piper as if she were a child inquiring about sex.
+++“The money’s free,” explained Ty. “We use donations and taxpayer money to restore everything the victims need. Medical services, infrastructure, housing, even government. We do it all.” He smiled, “At a profit, of course.”
+++“Well, while you’re at it, why not improve things for the people?”
+++“Oh. No. That would bring a storm of criticism. Our donations would dry up. People might say we’re profiteering.”
+++“You are,” Bob said.
+++Ty winked but his eyes were cold, “No one thinks about profit as long as we leave things no better than they were.”
+++“So,” Lizbeth folded her arms. “Just what is this ‘outreach’ you have in mind?”
+++“Well,” Ty told her then caught himself and addressed Spice, “Everybody’s losing everything, so we cannot count on donations. We are going to have to raise taxes. That is why we need you.” Ty ignored Lizbeth’s raised eyebrow. “Governments find it is easier to raise taxes when the people feel threatened by an outside enemy. That’s you, my friend.” He smiled and placed a warm hand of friendship on Spice’s arm which Lizbeth promptly bit. “Ow!”
+++“I am not your enemy,” Spice told him.
+++“No, no! Of course not!” Ty glanced at the little bite marks on his hand. “We know that. Don’t we?” He waved at the other people in the room who all nodded assent. “And we don’t want anything to happen to you, do we?” The other people all shook their heads.
+++“If something did happen to us,” Bob’s tone was reasonable, “You’d lose your number one enemy and tax revenue would drop.”
+++“Exactly!” Ty beamed as if, finally, he was getting through. “Look at what happened to defense spending when the Soviet Union collapsed. We had to replace the Military-Industrial Complex with the Foreign Policy-Industrial Complex. Now, we rebuild nations!”
+++“But,” Piper asked Ty, “If people think we’re an enemy won’t we be in danger?”
+++“Not to worry, my good lady.” He handed her a slip of paper. “Log on to there. That website on the dark ‘Net will have threat information. It will alert you to incoming danger. And, it will let you know where to find food, water and shelter along your route to Colorado.”
+++By now, even Piper was suspicious. “How do you know we are headed to Colorado?”
+++“We do have contacts in the government. For some reason, DARPA has been investigating you.”
+++“Stene!” Piper’s hand flew to her mouth.
+++“Yes. That was the contact’s name.”
+++She turned to Bob. “Bob?”
+++“Stene tried to kill us already. Did you know that?”
+++It was impossible to tell from Ty’s face whether he knew or not. “Really! Well, don’t worry. Like I said, we can forewarn you of incoming danger. Once Old Spice downloads that URL I gave Piper, he will receive warnings, alerts, resource locations and other messages as needed.”
+++Piper held out the slip of paper. Lizbeth took it and showed it to Spice who read it with one eye, the other eye turning inward. “OKAY. Got it. Say, speaking of incoming, there’s a missile coming at us now. It’s about 80 seconds away.” Lizbeth did a doubletake at Spice’s face and screamed, “Incoming!” She kicked him furiously. “Get me out of here! Now! Now! Oh, damnit. Go! Go!”
+++Out the door they ran, down the path to jump onto the rail car. Spice jiggled the hand pump and the car lurched forward, picking up speed as the missile whooshed up the flower-lined path to disintegrate the Caretaker’s Cottage and some people in suits and ties and some briefcases.
+++“Faster Spice!” cried Piper. “I don’t want people raining down on me again!” She buried her face against Bob’s shoulder, “No, not again.”
+++“It’s OKAY,” he held her, whispering, “It’s OKAY, Piper.” He caressed her hair. “Ty Kuuhn bolted out the back. The rest, hell, it’s OKAY if some of those people died.”

It is amazing how many activities, rituals and products are credited with accomplishing something they have no effect on. The nostrums and quackery of the medical, diet and belief industries are well documented. But the social and political rain dances continue as if no one recognizes the sham.

 Rain Dancing
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-7, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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About Writers, Stories

Operation Anthology

cat-tales-851-pix

A short while ago, D.J. Lutz told us of the advantages of participating in an anthology. Well, I haven’t done that myself, but I recently compiled, edited and published one. So following on from Carl’s recent POV Explained, this post is from a different point of view.

What do you need? First of all, obviously, stories. I was fortunate here in having plenty to choose from. With 75 entries to the Book a Break short story competition, the difficult part was deciding when to stop. Naturally, quality was the main criterion, but not the only one. I was keen for variety too, so rather than treat them all as finished products, I did select a handful on the basis of potential, knowing that a fair amount of work would still be needed. This might have meant that some more polished stories didn’t make the cut because they were too similar to others. Entirely my fault: the competition prompt was too restrictive. This year’s is far more general.

Whatever your criteria, though, the beauty – and occasionally the pain – of an anthology is that practically every story has room for improvement. Which is where it can start to get tricky. The Book Country experience helped – we gave and received peer reviews, and learned how to do it in the process. Only up to a point, though, because here you’re not just critiquing (where it’s no big deal if the author accepts your points or not), you’re editing. And you want the product to be as good as possible.

There are as many different ways of reacting as there are writers. Some will argue their corner with pugnacity; others will be happy to go with whatever you say. Corresponding with each author, I quickly sensed the sort of writer I was dealing with, adjusting my comments accordingly. There’s a difference between ‘I suggest deleting’ and ‘Delete’, and the question mark can come in handy too – ‘Delete?’

From the editor’s point of view, one big advantage is being able to call on the contributors themselves for second or third edits and for proofreading. Half a dozen helped with this, which didn’t just make for a lighter workload but was also reassuring – you’re not making all the decisions alone.

Mistakes, I made a few but then again… Actually, only a couple stand out. I tried to be democratic, for one, especially with the title. Asked for suggestions, organised a vote which triggered a revolt, and ended up with the initial result overturned. Brexit, Trump, The Book a Break Anthology – 2016 has shown just how dangerous democracy can be. So next time round, the title will be imposed. Which is fine by me. I’ve often fancied myself as a dictator. Benevolent, natch.

The other mistake was waiting till the stories were practically edited before working on the cover and illustrations. That probably set back the release date a couple of months. It doesn’t much matter, but next time I’ll aim for a shorter lag between selection of stories and publication.

Formatting – not as horrendous as I’d feared. Maybe because I got myself into the right frame of mind. Take a deep breath, tell myself it’s not going to work, set all other concerns aside, stay calm, be prepared to spend as long as it takes. Formatting a book is like DIY.
The result has just appeared and to be honest, I’m quite chuffed with it. So all that remains is for me to plug it here:

What happened to the cats? In these 21 submissions to the first Book a Break short story competition, cats of many different kinds appear and disappear, roam far and wide, behave in mysterious ways. From dark and chilling to light-hearted and humorous, these stories focus on the power and mystery of cats. From ancient Egypt to modern Japan by way of war-time Crete, the cats you’ll meet here will entertain you, frighten you, intrigue you and surprise you.

Each of the 21 stories is accompanied by original illustrations and the collection is prefaced by Smith, the terrifying tabby from Taunton who, when he’s not fighting other cats, likes nothing more than to read.

The prize-winning authors of these stories come from many countries and backgrounds. Some are starting out as promising young writers, some are confirmed authors. All used the prompt for the short story competition to craft a highly original tale.

The proceeds from this book go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation.

The 2016 Book a Break short story anthology is available now in print (black & white, $9.50) and as a kindle ebook in colour ($3.99).

A PDF colour version is available directly from this site by clicking below. Alternatively, you can donate directly to one or other of the two charities supported by the anthology, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. Forward their thank you email to me (curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com) and I will send you the PDF file straightaway.

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writing technique

POV Explained

another-point-of-view

POV Explained

Let’s differentiate point-of-view (POV) in the simplest, most direct manner possible.

The first distinction to be made is to identify what perspective your story is being told from: first-person, second-person or third-person. Examples:

First-person: “I walked into the bank . . .”
Second-person: “You walked into the bank . . .”
Third-person: “He walked into the bank . . .”

First- and second-person POVs are fairly self-explanatory, but there are sub-categories within third-person POV that need to be elaborated on for purposes of clarity.

The secondary distinction to be made in third-person POV is along the “subjectivity/objectivity axis”: whether or not the writer gets inside the head (or heads) of the characters he or she is describing.

If the writer confines himself to describing the behavior, emotional reactions and thoughts of one single character at a time while other character’s observed emotions and conjectured thoughts are only described as externally-perceived phenomena, you are writing in third-person limited POV.

If the writer confines herself to describing only the actions and sounds of a scene, you are writing in the third-person objective POV. You are chronicling the scene as if you had a good camera and recording device trained on the action. No character thoughts or emotions are directly revealed or described.

If your narrative has a single, god-like viewpoint from which we view all other characters and perspectives—or you talk directly to the reader—or your narrator travels freely backward and forward in time—or the narrator can transfer their all-knowing perspective into animals or inanimate objects—you are writing in the third-person omniscient POV. (Much frowned upon today, though a very popular POV in 19th-century novels.)

—Sharon was angry and confused. (You are making a flat declaration of fact about Sharon’s interior emotional state, hence are writing in third-person omniscient POV.)

—Sharon looked (or seemed) angry and confused. (You are confining your description to only those facts an objective, not omniscient, narrator might observe or know; hence you are writing in third-person limited or third-person objective POV.)

Q: What if I describe the actions, conjectured thoughts and observed emotions of, say, five different characters in a scene. Isn’t that the omniscient POV?

A: Nope. You didn’t declare anyone’s emotional state as a flat declarative fact (hence talk directly to the reader), nor did you reveal anyone’s inner thoughts. You are still writing in a third-person POV, but now it’s a multiple third-person POV. If no one’s thoughts or emotions are directly shared or revealed, it would be an objective multiple third-person POV. If you reveal or share the focal character’s thoughts or emotions with the reader you are writing in the third-person limited POV.

Here’s where things can become muddled: You “head-hop” into another character within the same scene and directly reveal their emotions and/or thoughts to the reader. This does not mean that your narrative has necessarily shifted from third-person limited to a third-person omniscient viewpoint (remember: the omniscient viewpoint is an over-arching, unifying viewpoint that contains all characters and perspectives), but rather that the focal point character has shifted within the scene. A writer can use multiple viewpoints in a work of fiction, true—but it is strongly recommended that the text show a clearly-demarked line or chapter break when you switch amongst multiple points of view.

Q: My focal point character—the one I’m following most closely in this scene—reveals his inner thoughts and emotions to the reader. But the other four people in this scene do not. Since I’m only directly revealing the thoughts and emotions of one of the five people in this scene, I’m writing in third-person limited POV, correct?

A: Correct. If you didn’t directly reveal the thoughts and/or emotions of even one character in this scene, you’d be writing in the objective third-person POV. (Camera and sound recording device only, remember?)

Q: My reviewers are accusing me of head-hopping. So what? I’m writing in multiple third-person limited POV; what’s the big deal?

A: The big deal is that every time you jump into another character’s head to directly reveal the inner life of that character you steal focus from the scene’s focal point character, thus injecting emotional distance into your text by diffusing empathy and muddying the over-all clarity, dramatic pacing and concision of your scene. A clean line or chapter break when switching amongst POVs will help to keep your reader focused, involved and empathizing with the most important person in the narrated scene.

First-Person POV: allows for the closest reader identification with your narrator. Drawbacks include: (a) the narrator is strictly confined to discussing what he or she directly experiences or observes, (b) first-person voice can come across as comically narcissistic and melodramatic, and (c) first-person voice is not the easiest (or most credible) stylistic vehicle to use when describing the thoughts and motivations of others.

Second-Person POV: almost never used, for obvious reasons. (Who’s this joker telling me what I think and feel and do?!)

Third-Person POV: has the most credibility with the reader.

(a) The third person omniscient narrator can move backwards and forwards in time; talk directly to the reader; inhabit the bodies and psyches of animals, insects, toasters and toys—but this can come across as mightily contrived and corny to a contemporary reader.

(b) The third person limited narrator must confine his description of directly-revealed thoughts and/or emotions to only one character at a time in any given scene.

(c) The third person objective narrator mechanistically chronicles the scene like a camera and sound recording device, never entering his character’s emotional or cognitive lives.

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book promotion, book reviews

This Way Madness Lies, But So What?

There is probably no more ill-advised pastime for a writer than to engage with his or her negative critics. Reviews are what they are, and any response on your part will only make you seem thin-skinned and defensive. Not everyone is going to love your books, so get over it and let it go.0

Nevertheless, I’m presented here with a rare opportunity. Friend, fellow writer, and notorious gadfly Mimi Speike found fault with my new book, Whisper Blue. Now this, I promise you, is not an attack on Mimi, who I love and admire. In fact, I appreciate and cherish her honesty. Nor will it, I hope, degenerate into a series of mere ripostes and touchy rejoinders. Mimi and I have already exchanged opinions via email and remain the best of pals. Her criticisms are insightful and thought provoking. Do I agree with them? Well, no, because I have my natural arrogance to fall back on, not to mention a fair number of favorable reviews to take comfort in. So why am I focusing on a bad review? Just naturally a contrarian, I guess.  But dissent will nearly always spark a more interesting discussion than agreement. So, what the heck. Let’s rumble!

Mimi: “Your prose style, as usual, is flawless. (I had to include that bit. -AG) I do have some problems with the plot. The uncomplicated style says to me YA, and I do believe Miles’ rather mumbo-jumbo rationale for the odd business would fit nicely into the mouth of a fascinated-with-psychic/not-overly-critical teen.”

A fair point. I wrote back: “If Miles’ explanation for Whisper’s manifestation seems a little addled, well, he’s a little addled, and it seems like exactly the kind of explanation he would come up with. (He needs an explanation, because he’s a rationalist.) It may not make a lick of sense, but it’s at least a self-consistent construction (really, almost more a science fiction explanation than a ghost story one, which fits Miles’ personality.) In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you or I find it believable, just so long as Miles (nearly) does. It’s a bandaid on the gaping wound that has sundered his reality. The fact that it barely works is, well, just as it should be.”

I didn’t add, but will here, that I think Miles’ explanation is actually pretty good, certainly well in line with some of the norms of paranormal fiction. But therein lies one of the bones of incompatibility betwixt Mimi and myself. She really doesn’t care for paranormals, and I obviously do.

Mimi: “I do not find gut-wrenching emotion, that jumps off the page. You tell us that your characters are stunned, upset, all that, but where is the out-and-out frenzy? (On Marieka’s part. We’ve already written Miles off.) Especially with a first-person telling, it would be so easy to show.”

Yes, and I’m afraid there isn’t a lot to say on this point. My natural tendency is to soft-pedal emotion and to minimize introspection, even in first-person. It’s just a personal preference, which Mimi astutely recognized later in her critique, saying: “But that means interior stuff, and I understand that is not your impulse.” And she’s right. It really isn’t. Too often, the examination and explanation of why-my-characters-are-feeling-what-they-feel only clutters up the landscape, making it more difficult for readers to feel what they feel, which is more what I hope will happen. Some people can do the introspection thing very well and to great effect. Me, not so much. I won’t walk away from a poignant moment, but I prefer them to be few and far between.

As far as me telling rather than showing, well, I don’t actually have a problem with telling. It is part of writing. But as far as me telling rather than showing the emotions of my characters, particularly Marieke, I disagree. For the most part, I think I did as little of either as I could reasonably get away with.

Mimi: “Taylor James says, ‘The story is fast paced.’ I would think that fast paced here is not a desirable thing. I say you need to immerse your kooks in a slow-simmer soup, and let them stew in it but good, with plenty of reflection. Instead we get mysteriously matter-of-fact reportage. Everything moves too fast, for my money.”

Again, we are simply at odds here. I love a slow-simmer, and I expect nothing less from Mimi’s own epic cat-o-many-tales, Sly. But…that isn’t Whisper. I wanted something agile enough to slither and scurry up the lattice of plot and emerge with a “what just happened here?” feeling. So fast-paced pleases me. As does “mysteriously matter-of-fact reportage.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Mimi: “I buy that a once alive girl might be called up from the dead, but a totally made-up one? I wish at least that Miles had found a mention of a child who had actually existed, and had created additions to the story that just happened to be very close to the truth. (Wouldn’t that be way stranger? And it would solve the problem of reporters digging into a lie.) A demand, by a side-branch descendant of the clan, to know how he came by a piece of information that had never been disclosed, a connection he is able to verify, may be what sends him over the edge.”

A fascinating angle, and in a conventional ghost story, a wholly valid point. But Whisper isn’t really a ghost story. And…well, I’ll quote from my own email reply: “The book isn’t about voodoo or mental illness or even about the madness of the internet crowd. It isn’t even about Marieke and Miles and Mama Jay. It is about the relationship between fiction and reality. The central metaphor of the book is that a fictional character can become as real as a flesh-and-blood person. This is an emotional truth, of course. Who hasn’t experienced that? In Whisper, the metaphor is made real (that’s what paranormal and fantasy fiction do, they treat the metaphorical as if it were an actual thing.) In Whisper’s case, even the meta-metaphor is made real. It’s a work of fiction about a work of fiction coming to life. That, really, is what I was interested in. Miles’ fiction—particularly Wisteria’s diary—the reports on the web, even Stokes’ stories about James Randi are all stirring this same pot. For that reason, it’s absolutely essential that Whisper be fiction, not a real girl. That would completely undermine the metaphor.”

Of course, that metaphor didn’t work for Mimi, and I have no one but myself to blame for that. Assuming we really need someone to blame, which is arguable.

Okay, one more point. Mimi: “We never get a satisfying resolution, just a hook-up with the professor. Okay, I guess the gris-gris around her neck is the resolution. Marieka has caved. She is a convert to tinfoil-hat beliefs, is now generating her own delusions. It’s either that or a mass-hypnosis situation. A buy-in is the easiest, neatest option.”

And that, I guess, was a swing and a miss on my part. Marieke’s gris-gris never smacked of tin-foil hat conversion to me, partly because I don’t regard voodoo as any more delusional than most of your standard religions, but also because Marieke’s appropriation of one of its trappings doesn’t necessarily make her a believer. In her own private way, she’s trying to deal with what she has seen and experienced. If I were to sort it out (and no, I never did, because it seemed perfectly natural to me) I’d say she wears it out of respect for Whisper, and maybe for Mama Jay as well. But if that didn’t come across to Mimi, then perhaps I could’ve done better. But people who go to my books looking for satisfying resolutions are probably going to be disappointed. Emotionally satisfying? Well, I hope so. But plot-resolution satisfaction? Not always one of my priorities.

And, perhaps, this just wasn’t going to be Mimi’s cup of tea, no matter how well I prepared and presented it. Near the end of her email she apologized for “being anal about making sense” and that, may be the crux of our failure to connect. There are things about Whisper Blue that don’t make perfect sense. That’s not an accident, it’s a choice. Paranormal fiction appeals to those of us who like floating in that shadow realm between the real and the other. We are drawn to those uncanny lands, where the various layers of reality rub up against other, twining about, until they become, maybe, interchangeable.

I can’t say whether I achieved that with Whisper Blue, but if you want to find out for yourself, it is available at Amazon,  Kobo,  Barnes and Noble, other places as well. I think it’s good, but I’m open to discussion.

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A Path

Lots of great ideas here but they are only ideas unless we put the time, effort & sometimes money into them to make them happen. Take the idea of WritersCo-op.com becoming a kind of wiki created by writers who have something to offer other writers. That would take time, effort & eventually, money.

Time, first. Members can keep posting articles until we have enough to seed a wiki. Then effort. I think I can find writers to create a wiki but that must be done. And we’d probably have to pay a server host to maintain our site online. I’ve set up websites since 1998 and I know we could find a home on the ‘Net for our wiki at a cost we’d be happy with.

The beauty of this path is that we do not have to decide right now. We can keep on blogging as we are doing.
When we have enough blogs, or articles, we can consider turning the site into a wiki.
If we end up with a wiki, we’ll figure out a way to fund it.

We can become a site where any writer could log on and find information on just about anything they are looking for regarding writing – from creating stories, to practical working advice, to shopping for agents, working with an editor, the publishing process, marketing tips – all on one website created by other writers:
The WritersCo-op Wiki.

What do you think?

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