more whingeing

…about how long it’s taking me to get this blasted novel done.

It’s lost the spark, and added to that I have two new stories rattling around in my brain.

Write me, they whisper. Come on, come and write me. You know you want to.

Would people stop with saying things that spark new stories in my head? On Podcastle (old episode) someone was talking about a book that gets back to the myths about elves, how they were universally regarded as evil. It’s our relatively modern mythologising that has made them the postive role models they are in LOTR and elsewhere. And that triggered a whole story, about an evil elven society where humans are the slave class, about an elven man who buys a female slave. He seems all right as an owner, until she breaks a plate (that had huge emotional value to him) and he beats her until she is close to death. The meat of the story is in how they rebuild some kind of relationship; her despairing and suicidal, him freaked out by the realisation of how violent he can be. There’s room for a meditation on slavery – she chooses not to be involved in a slave revolt, because the freedom on offer doesn’t look particularly enticing. He has always regarded himself as a progressive, until he’s forced to confront the fact that he’s absorbed beliefs about slaves that run counter to what he knows to be true…

Anyway, there’s enough there for a longish short, and I desperately want to write it, but I can’t. I have enough unfinished stories to keep me busy for a year.

And then there’s Confluence, an idea for a SF multi-part short story series, which links in to the 200 000 word novel I wrote back in the 90s. Species wars and AIs and interdimensional gates and Intelligences aaannnd it’s all getting immensely complex and interesting.

Sometimes, when people tell me they couldn’t create a story themselves, I feel like Sherlock, and have to stop myself from saying Can’t you see? Dear god, how boring it must be to exist in your heads.

Anyway.

The First Time They Met, Season of Singing and Pride and Precipitation are all creeping towards the finish line, but dear FSM, it’s like pulling teeth. And when I’ve finished those, I have the rest of Stormwatcher 3 to write, currently standing at (only) 49,000 words. TFTTM has a cover already done, as does Stormwatcher, but I’ve tried three covers for Season of Singing, and they all scream ‘self-published!’

Oh, well. Nose to the grindstone.

[cross posted to Lyssa and Me]

Reviews

After the Greek Seaman debacle, most writers are (and should be) wary of responding to, or criticising, reviews of their work. I have, however, noticed one type of review that unerringly gets on my wick is the ‘This should have been something else’ knockdown.

‘This prose poem should have been a short story’

‘This literary novel should have been a genre book’

‘This novella should have been a family saga’

Just because the reviewer would have preferred a different type of work does not, I feel justify a negative review. Saying “This is a genre book padded with pretentious description to allow it to claim it is literary” is a valid criticism. “I wanted this book to be twice as long because I wanted to know more about the characters” isn’t. It is an opinion, certainly, and it is how the reviewer felt. But criticising a book for being not what you wanted is like going to a shoe shop and complaining that they won’t sell you fish and chips.

 

Blogging woes

It goes like this:

I wanted to keep myself anonymous, as I write books in several different genres. So, I thought I would keep this blog for only one book. I would put my initials and surname only on the covers of my books, and no one would know my first name.

Well, that worked.

By the second Amazon review someone had my full name. I suppose it’s not that hard to find; for a start it was on the email I sent to the first reviewer to thank them.

Conclusion:

This anonymity thing is harder than I thought, and I’ve blown it already.

But why bother, anyway?

Well, ever noticed that a number of female writers only put their initials on their books? And ever wondered why?

The answer lies in part in a study I read about a decade ago (still trying to find it online; grateful for any help). It showed that while female readers don’t care much whether the author of a book is male or female, relying mainly on blurb and cover design to choose a book, 98% of male readers would not read a book if they knew it was by a woman.

That’s right, 98%.

And that’s not 98% of all men, that’s 98% of men who habitually read.

So, if I put ny first name on my book covers, I lose half my potential audience. Instantly. And it’s not helped by mysogynist writers (I’m looking at you, Banville, and you, Naipaul) constantly dismissing women as incapable of writing literature of merit. Now, you might say that what John Banville thinks of literary writers has little to do with those of us who write (predominantly) genre fiction. But these kinds of attitudes have a trickle-down effect. Theey contribute to a chilly atmosphere. And they reinforce the barriers that stop men from picking up a book with a woman’s name on the front cover and actually walking with it to the till, then taking it home and reading it.

Cause it’s got a girly name on the cover. And eeew, that’s embarassing.

See also:

Robin Hobb
JV Jones
KJ Parker (theoretically)
JK Rowling

Fantasy Manuscript Panic

I like editing.

I’ll say that again.

I like editing.

I have to keep repeating it because, faced with a manuscript that (single spaced) is nearly two inches thick, I’m beginning to feel a little…anxious.

Fantasy Manuscript Panic (FMP) is a newly recognised anxiety-spectrum disorder.

I think, discounting A Dance to the Music of Time, this is a syndrome that is specific to fantasy. There is so much worldbuilding, so many stories running on parallel timelines, such a profusion of walk-on parts that it reaches a tipping point where any one part of the manuscript feels frighteningly distant from much of the rest.

FMP starts to occur once the story passes the 80 000 word mark, and recurs regularly thereafter, and its diagnostic feature is that it’s the one writer’s dilemma for which there is no advice on the internet.

Nil. Nada. Not a flaming sausage.

So, as a service to allĀ  first time multi-book fantasy writers out there, may I say: You are not alone. We are all there with you, cowering away from the MS as it quivers and mutters to itself on the edge of your desk. You can tame the beast – witness the number of published writers who have done so. It can be done.

The first watershed was when I realised that it was all right to spend a day (or several) reviewing the story. You do not have to spend all the time on the actual words. In fact to do so will actively harm your tale, in most cases. Divide it up into chapters and lay it out on the floor.

This was the point at which I realised that I need to sell this manuscript in order to buy a bigger living room, but that’s another issue entirely.

Anyway.

Lay your story out. Then work through each chapter at a time, checking that it holds together as a whole, that those pesky scenes all have some sort of narrative reference to each other. If they don’t, you have a problem, but not as big a one as your reader will have. A few scene shifts here and there – not a problem. If each chapter is a sprawl of unrelated scenes, then you’re going to have to either rewrite, or work through the novel in sections, switching scenes around to regain coherency. Fortunately, most manuscripts have some sort of linear coherency, and this is a manageable problem, though possibly a time-consuming one.

Next, look at the chapters. This is especially important if you have multiple plotlines. I usually find that this is the point where the timeframes of my subplots bear no relationship to one another, and have vanished off into an alternate dimension of time and space that would make Einstein weep.

FMP usually strikes, low and hard, as I look at the sheets of paper all over the carpet. It is followed by at least two cats, who add their own interpretation of linearity in plotting by racing across theliving room and vanishing under the bed.

Pick up the chapters, trying not to get distracted by actually reading them. Reorganise them so that the chapters line up in such a way that temporally related events will actually make sense to your reader.

At this point you will likely find that book one has about 130 000 words, which will fall neatly into the required count when you’ve added a few linking scenes and edited. Book three will be about 50 000 words, but that’s all right, because you haven’t written all the subplots and battles into it yet.

Book two has 200 000 words, and you haven’t got anywhere near putting in everything relevant yet.

This is the point at which you get up, chase the cats from the room and sit down with alcohol, caffiene or whatever your relaxant de jour is. FMP swirls around you, making you feel dizzy and sick.

Breathe deeply.

Repeat to yourself:

Book two is always a nightmare. It can be fixed.

Now, without letting yourself think any further about book two, go and finish book one. Book two is a figment of your imagination until you have had an agent or publisher nibble at book one. Book two can be sent to John jarrold, so that he can hack through the forest of prose and rediscover your plot. Start saving for the editing fees right now, if necessary. But it’s all academic until book one is finished. You will, by now, have a better sense of the shape of your story, and what needs to be in that first book. You can even add a bit more to book two, for light relief, weeping hysterical tears as you do so. But do not allow anything to distract you from finishing book one. Without it, all is mist and magic.