Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Jon asked me to come by and talk about my views with regards to editing as an indie author. Oh, yeah, hi, I'm Zoe Winters, and I'm an indie author. I don't think there is a support group or anything for that, but there probably should be.
One of the biggest stigmas against self-publishing has to do with the general quality level of the work being put out. No book is perfect. Even NY published books have editing problems. In my reading, I've caught more NY pubbed book errors than I used to. I'm not sure if this is a lessening of the general quality, rush jobs at the publisher, or the fact that I'm so much more tuned in to the issues of editing now.
I suspect it's the latter. It's sort of how when you get a blue car, suddenly every car on the road seems to be blue.
Because of the stigma, if you decide to self-publish, or "go indie" as we super-cool-awesome people like to call it, the most important thing you have to worry about is not living up to the stereotype. Your book needs to have a professional or professional-level cover, and most importantly, good editing.
That cover thing can make or break you, but if readers get past the cover and see problems in the first few pages, all you did was put lipstick on a pig.
Indie authors generally are on shoestring budgets, and most can't afford to hire super-expensive editors. That doesn't mean you can't have a well-edited book. For myself, my editing process for a book is as follows:
After the rough draft, I do as much as I reasonably can do on my own. I use techniques from books such as "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". I pull out my little "Elements of Style" and "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" (which is seriously the funniest book on punctuation ever). I use an editing software called "Editor" that is produced by Serenity Software and catches all kinds of things beyond your basic grammar and spell-checker in Word.
I have critique partners who help during the developmental stages. Susan Bischoff and Kait Nolan. They're both indies (I think I corrupted them), and very talented writers whose work I admire. Kait also does professional editing at her job. Susan and Kait help me work out any story issue that's not about "how I say it" but "what happens". (I do that before the nitty gritty stuff with the editing software).
Once everything is as clean as I can make it, I bring in crit partners and beta readers. Then when I've gotten back and applied all reasonable feedback (there is always that one wacky request from someone that I just can't follow, that is more about how "they" would tell the story, than an actual empirical problem), then I send it back to Kait for a line edit. I pay her for this service.
And that's the process. The result is not a perfect manuscript, but a professional one that can, in my opinion, stand next to books published by other publishers.
The biggest challenge with editing (and actually cover art, too), is that you have to have an eye/feel for what's right and what isn't. You can hire a "professional" editor or cover artist and they just not be any good if you can't tell quality editing or cover art from crap. Plenty of people charge for their services in both of these areas, who quite frankly, should not be charging.
When I work with a critique partner, or beta reader, or editor, I have to be able to surround myself with people who can actually write and/or edit, who are literate, who understand grammar and punctuation and sentence and story structure. It's not just "quantity" as in... many eyeballs looking at it, but the quality of those eyeballs. There are people like my CP's/editor who I fundamentally trust. I take about 95% of their suggestions. And what I don't take isn't grammar or punctuation related.
Sometimes I'm wrong about advice I don't take. And I have to take responsibility for that. In Mated, the third novella in Blood Lust, there was one line in the first chapter that turned out to be a pretty local colloquialism. I thought it was a normal thing to say, but Kait caught it and said something about it. That was in my 5% of ignore. And I was wrong. Because I got feedback from a few early readers. If more than two people say something it definitely gets edited no matter how much I like it. One confusing colloquial line is not the hill I want to die on. I edited it after that, and thankfully we hadn't gone to print yet, so it wasn't a costly error.
For other betas sometimes I take less than 95% of the feedback. It just really depends. Usually when I don't take a lot of advice it's because the beta is trying to "rewrite my voice." It's not issues with something being wrong, or unclear, or in the case of story: illogical or poorly paced, but... just not how they personally would write it. And it's a problem you can run into with people who haven't done a lot of beta work before, or people who have but haven't had anyone pull them aside to mention the issue.
When in doubt, I run the advice by my primary CPs. This is important because you can end up with an overall weaker book than when you started if you don't choose your council wisely.
Anyway, for what it's worth, those are my thoughts on editing. I think it's very important for indie authors, and no matter what your budget is... barter, trade, sell your soul... get your editing taken care of. The last thing you want to do is reinforce the stereotype of what it means to be self-published.
To me, being self-published is honorable and a point of pride. That's because I work very hard to produce the best possible book, and I don't take shortcuts. There is no shortcut to awesome.
Also, this week I'm running a promotion for my latest release, Blood Lust, and I'm giving away a free Kindle (maybe two).
Monday, August 30, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
I once wrote a newspaper profile about a guy who claimed to have personally imported about 80 percent of the species of tropical bamboo available in the United States. He was a hard fellow to reach, and once I finally got him to agree to an interview, I had to find his bamboo grove hidden in the subtropical scrub in South Florida. When I pulled up, the place looked deserted, but I figured I was in the right place because I was surrounded by towering stands of bamboo.
I honked a few times, and finally the man himself emerged from his octagonal house on stilts (no kidding). He reeked of weed and wore unlaced construction boots and a filthy white T-shirt. He talked about how his competitors had stolen all his best techniques for bamboo propagation, how he traveled through China and Asia, collecting rare tropical bamboo. He showed me where he had built his own USDA quarantine facility for newly introduced bamboo.
As we talked, he drove me around his property—and I was blown away. I fancy myself a little bit of a snob when it comes to tropical plants, but I'd never seen anything like this place. He had plants that weren't even named yet, in some cases, plants that were literally the only specimen of their kind in the Western Hemisphere. Giant green timber bamboos with stalks as thick as my leg. Glossy black bamboo with green pin striping. Blue bamboos. SIlvery green bamboos. Buddha bellies. Gold. Yellow.
One moment stood out. He had stopped his golf cart in front of a clump of rare black bamboos and was regarding the plants thoughtfully.
"I probably know as much about tropical bamboo as anyone in the United States," he said without a trace of arrogance. I got the feeling this wasn't something he bragged about. Rather, it was a piece of knowledge that he carried like a sack full of rocks. He was wistful and isolated all at once, because really, how could I have possibly understood?
Such is the nature of monomania, and I'm powerfully attracted to it.
There are two kind of monomania in books. Books about monomanical people, and books by monomaniacal people.
The first category is pretty much owned by Malcolm Gladwell nowadays, but Mary Roach makes some impressive forays into the land of the monomaniac, and Jon Krakauer has been circling that particular orb in pretty much every book. In his day, Herman Melville wrote perhaps the word's best novel about a monomaniac—in the process, penning my favorite book.
But I think the best books about monomania are the ones actually authored by the crazed lunatic who has devoted his or her life to an obscure mania. These books are like candy and I crave them. I have a book on artisan breadmaking that is so infused with the love of fresh, hand-made artisan loaves that flour virtually puffs from its pages. I have another on fern allies that could only have been written by a person who must be single and unfit for polite society. And I once spent months searching out a particular book on Szechuan cuisine because the book itself is a taste sensation to read, even if the dishes are beyond the reach of any Western cook.
It's no secret why I find myself so attracted to books about monomania—I envy people who have fully given themselves to their passions. I think it must be freeing to give yourself over completely to one corner of this wide world. It must be like a form of security.
One last story: when I was in seventh grade, I entered my butterfly collection in my school's science fair. Typical of seventh grade, I wasn't the only butterfly collection in the fair. But I'm not bragging to say there was no collection like mine. I had butterflies from thirty states. I had case upon case of carefully mounted and labeled butterflies. I'd pretty much lived with my net in hand every summer since fourth grade. I had devoured countless books and field guides on butterfly taxonomy and habitats. This was no throw-it-together on the weekend project—this was the organizing and stabilizing influence of my life at a time when things seemed unstable and disorganized.
Of course I won. Within a year, I'd hung up my net for good and moved onto other enthusiasms—each of which is reflected in my book collection to this day. In a very real sense, if you know my books, you know me.
Friday, August 20, 2010
As far as opening gambits for novels go, here's a good one: a man with no memory and the inability to feel pain shows up in a small Texas town and goes to work for a two-bit carnival that barely puts twenty paying butts in the seat every night. The man, who has no idea how he showed up in Texas bloody and wearing a suit, starts an act where he shoots nails through his hands every night to the delighted, squeamish satisfaction of the growing crowds. He doesn't know his name, so they call him Numb.
Meet Numb: A Novel (written by Sean Ferrell, Harper Perennial, 2010).
As Numb quickly rises up in the circus to the main act, the other circus freaks have mixed opinions. One, a strongman known as The It, thinks that Numb is just spectacle. He's not a performer. He's a human pincushion who shoots himself full of nails.
It doesn't take long before Numb attracts a more sinister kind of opportunity to exploit his unique condition. A wealthy Texas oilman offers a large sum of money to see him wrestle a lion. Numb agrees, but he's not exactly sure why he's doing this.
Throughout his early adventures, Numb remains surprisingly rooted in the real world and feels very human ... despite the almost garish and painful subject matter. In the first half of the book, Numb loses so much blood, it’s like a horror flick. This poor guy at one point is nailed down, hands and feet, to a stinking bar while strangers pay $100 each for the privilege of driving another nail through his flesh.
Of course Numb is a metaphor—or at least it works like one. In Numb the man, people find a perfectly exploitable human being. Since he cannot feel, and since he is so very different, he is the ideal canvas on which others can paint their ambitions, cruelties and sick fascinations. It's true that the metaphor is carried a bit far; after relocating to New York City, Numb is recruiting by an agent who makes him famous. Yet aside from his freakish nature, it's hard to understand exactly what qualities or talents propel Numb to fame. A great deal of thematic energy is spent on the idea of Numb as an artist, but the exact nature of his art is harder to understand.
But still, I really liked this book—rather, I should say this book really stuck with me. Numb is so perfectly passive, so immune to the world, that when he does awaken, it’s especially sweet and heartfelt. The writing is clean and has moments of pure ambition and insight. And the central conceit—a man who is victimized by his own indifference and unique nature, then slowly awakens to the realization that he is the central actor in his life—is instantly recognizable.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Friday, July 2, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Passage is the story of a government experiment gone terribly wrong. In its quest to create a super-soldier, using a vampire virus, the U.S. government unwittingly unleashes the apocalypse. But this virus is different from other literary viruses: it's victims become vampires. They are fast, they are strong, and they are bloodthirsty. They don't just nibble at necks, and they don't moon around over teenage girls. These vampires tear people apart literally. At one point, a solider "experiences the sensation, utterly new to him, of being torn in half." As the virus spreads, a plague of bloodsuckers draining the continent of people, the world's hopes reside in a young girl named Amy, who is introduced in the first sentence as the Girl from Nowhere, the Girl who Lived a Thousand Years. Amy doesn't talk much, but she shares a bond with the vampires that confuses and confounds the few remaining survivors.
The first act of The Passage is nearly perfect. Cronin is a hell of a writer. He takes time with his characters; he builds them and we know them. The tension is palpable as we wait for the hammer to fall, because we know it must. His observations are razor sharp, and the book possesses a specificity of detail that is staggering. It's complete, thorough world-building—you literally go down the rabbit hole as the vampires take over.
After the virus, or AV, the survivors hole up in a walled compound known as the Colony where they light the night with powerful banks of lights to keep away the virals (or smokes or dracs). At this point, the narrative leaps forward almost a century, and every character we met in the first act is gone. Now the book's debt to its predecessors becomes more plain. We are treated to snippets of the familiar: the paranoid, fearful waiting of I Am Legend, the savagery of 28 Days Later, the mysticism of The Stand and hopelessness of The Road. Unfortunately, Cronin never establishes the same visceral connection with his new batch of survivors—except perhaps Alicia Donadio, who he obviously has great affection for. Nevertheless, the strength and ambition of the original idea propels the book relentlessly for hundreds of pages, so even if the characters themselves sometimes melt into their own narratives, the fact that the virals are out there in the night is never far away.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Along the same lines, I'm keeping this blog and blog title, but I'm retired LurkerMonkey as my name. Why? Oh jeesh. The thing is, I'm feeling the urge to consolidate all the various chunks of my personality. You know how it feels to stare into a cluttered closet and it just looks like a pile of crap? That's a little how I'm feeling about the whole Internet thing right now, like I've got little pieces of myself scattered all over the place, but it doesn't hang together. Like a continuity editor would look at it and their head would explode.
So there you go ... and from now on, when I comment or post, I'll be doing it under my own name.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Kim attracted a fair amount of attention in her small town—she said it used to creep her out when her dad's friends hit on her. But nothing compared to this story.
Kim's house was a single-story ranch house in a wide open neighborhood with wooded lots between the homes. Her bed was pushed up against the wall, facing a large vanity across the room. She slept with her head toward the wall, just under a large window that let in the moonlight and summer breezes when she kept it open.
Her senior year, Kim started to get funny vibes. She couldn't explain it exactly, but she started to feel like she was being watched, that sometimes a car would pass her house a few extra times, or that someone—she couldn't say who—was watching her when she got out of school. Then the phone calls started. It was mostly heavy breathing, but sometimes he would groan into the phone.
Now she was scared. Her dad got involved. The police got involved. Even her boyfriend got involved—I believe he threatened to kill whoever was stalking his girlfriend.
One spring night, Kim awoke in the middle of the night. She said she didn't know why, or what woke her up. But she had the strong feeling something was wrong. She opened her eyes and looked down her bed, to the vanity mirror across the room. She saw the reflection of a man in the mirror, just outside her window. He was less than two feet from her head, separated from her only by a pane of glass. Watching her sleep.
Kim screamed, and he ran.
Later, the police found a footpath to her window, leading out from the trees on her property. It was well-worn.
The next day, her dad installed a motion-detector outside her window that triggered security lights and an alarm. But still, she couldn't sleep with her back to the window anymore. She had to move her bed. Nights, in fact, were terrifying for months afterward, as she watched the darkness outside her window for the flare of light that would mean he was back and had tripped the security lights.
Going to college was a relief for Kim, because it was over. They never found out who it was, and once she moved away, it all stopped. No more phone calls, no more weird feelings, no more stalking.
Erica Orloff recently asked what episode from real life we've used in a story. I used this one in a middle-grade horror-lite story. And you know what? Every kid who read the manuscript made a point to mention that this scene in particular was terrifying.
As for Kim? She didn't end up marrying that guy after all, but by the time she was on the market, I was off it.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
"Rob Kornwise died," she said. "In a car accident."
It took me a minute to understand what she was even saying. Rob sat next to me, and Rob and I weren't really friends, but we shared one thing in common: we both wrote. I'd read his stuff, and I was impressed. In another life, Rob and I might have been friends. We should have been friends.
As best I can remember, the accident happened during a concert. Rob was in a car full of kids, waiting in a line. Another car tried to cut into the line and rear-ended Rob's car. He was tall, so his head stuck up above the seat-rest. His neck broke and he died instantly.
When a high school student dies like that, the whole school stops. Life seems to stop and mortality makes an unwelcome appearance in the grim halls. For a while at least, all the normal activities are suspended and there is a palpable, dull sheen over everything. I remember seeing girls crying in the hallway.
I didn't go to the funeral. I felt like I hadn't really earned it, because Rob and I weren't very close after all. I was afraid I had no right to show up. But I wrote his parents a letter. "You don't know me," I wrote. "You've probably never heard my name, and I'm just one of the kids who drifted in and out of Rob's life. But I wanted to say that Rob meant something to me. He was a writer. I'm a writer. He was so good, and I'm so sorry for your loss. I would have loved to see what Rob could have written."
Of course, I knew from class what Rob was writing. He was working on a fantasy novel. It was patterned after his favorite author, Piers Anthony, and Rob was serious about publication. When he died, his book was halfway done. In one of those remarkable stories, his friends sent the manuscript to Anthony with a short note about what happened and how Rob loved Anthony's books. Piers Anthony read it. And liked it. And finished it based on Rob's notes. You can order the book on Amazon. It's called Through the Ice, and Rob Kornwise is given co-author credit with Anthony.
I've thought about Rob a lot over the years, with a mixture of sadness, inspiration and regret. I never mailed the letter I wrote to his parents. No one ever knew how much Rob's death shook me—because I didn't tell anybody, and because I didn't really understand it myself. I spent most of those years skipping school and flunking tests, frequently face down, obsessed with my girlfriend, and dreaming of running away. But Rob wasn't running away—he was running toward. Rob had already identified what he wanted in a way that I hadn't and couldn't at that age. He had already engaged in a process that I didn't even know existed.
Ms. Tyman pulled me aside after Rob's death. She was perhaps the only other person who knew that Rob and I had formed this tenuous, classroom connection as writers. She had seen it, and she had nurtured it. She made us writing partners and encouraged us to share our work. I think now that Ms. Tyman hoped Rob had something to teach me—and I can only hope that she also thought I had something to teach Rob. Ms. Tyman had almost made a career out of trying to reach me.
"Are you OK?" she said.
I nodded because there was no way I could tell the truth.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Then I thought some more, and realized that I might be a deeply weird person. To wit:
I don't own a cell phone. I have no desire to own a cell phone. It's true that I work from my house, so my need for a cell phone is somewhat obviated, but still. Not including my five-year-old, I'm literally the only person I know who doesn't own a cell phone.
I don't own a watch. I think the last watch I owned was a black plastic digital watch in fourth grade. I hated the way it made the skin on my wrist smell. LIke a belly button, but worse.
I wear no jewelry at all, except a wedding ring. And I didn't start wearing my wedding ring until 3 months ago, after almost ten years of marriage. I don't wear necklaces, bracelets, sunglasses, or earrings either.
I can't stand elastic in almost any article of clothing, and I won't wear clothes that have printed words or images on them.
Given the choice, I'll cut my hair twice a year—so it goes through stages. Very short, almost buzzed, then longish, then truly long. Then I cut it.
I'm terrified of cameras—and yet I've recently discovered that I actually really like doing TV. Somehow, that's not intimidating or scary, but exhilarating. I make weekly TV appearances on a local morning show, BUT I have trouble watching myself back on screen, so I often don't.
Even I think I have bad taste in music, but what can I say? I have the musical taste of a 15-year-old English raver. I like loud beats.
I like extremely spicy food, motion in all its varieties (spinning, roller coasters, even "the spins"), swimming in cold water, and being outside in rainstorms.
People often think I'm distant, which is true, but not for the reason most people think. I'm not unfriendly, shy, introverted, arrogant, or anti-social. The truth is, I'm usually distracted by what else is going on—and by what else, I mean what's going on in the immediate environment. I'm less interested in people than is perhaps socially acceptable.
And it goes on. If I was writing myself as a character, I'd look at this list and think they're mostly quirks. But there's a common theme that runs through all this. My wife would say I have sensory issues; I would say that I'm focused on experience rather than relationship, and I'm overaware of sensory input. This is why I can't wear most jewelry, or carry around things like phones and beepers, why I like strongly flavored foods, and why I have trouble focusing on conversations right in front of my face. It's all too distracting. I can't concentrate when I'm constantly playing with a ring or watch. On the other hand, strong sensations tend to focus me on the moment, and it's nice.
Isn't it like this with characters in books also? What looks like a collection of quirks and oddities is in fact united by a common thread ... a fundamental personality type that has both positives and negatives. It's true that I sound slightly autistic, but I'm also hyper-observant. I rarely miss anything going on around me, even at the expense of the conversation I'm currently sort of having.
So that's what I'm looking for as i write: a uniting thread with my characters that pulls together all the little quirks.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
But before I go there, I'll say this: I have no doubt, zero, that the old business model for publishing is on its last legs. It will morph into something new, in the very near future. The traditional role of agent/editor/publisher will change, and at least for now, individual authors have unprecedented access to mass distribution. A window of opportunity has opened for people who are well-positioned to take advantage of it, and it's exciting to see authors empowered and a new urgency around the book industry. I love it, and I'm even working on a few of my own projects for this brave new world of publishing.
And yet ... I've had this niggling unpleasant sensation about the e-revolution and self-publishing wave. It's like a toothache, but less specific. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what was bugging me. I'm an entrepreneur by nature, right? I love it when writers get paid for their work. I love the idea of writers finding their own audience and the ability of technology to democratize publishing. And yet ...
I read JA Konrath's post yesterday about an article Publisher's Weekly ran about his deal with AmazonEncore. He called the article an "epic fail" and went on to detail some significant factual errors in the article. Worse yet, in a way, Konrath himself wasn't quoted in the article, and the reporter took some significant liberties with her editorializing. I'm a reporter myself, so I know a lousy article when I see it, and that was a lousy article. And yet ...
Then I read the comment thread and I had this very strong image. I pictured a whole football stadium of jilted girlfriends, all yelling at once about how their ex-boyfriends all got crabs and ha ha, sucks to be them. It's a toxic mixture of triumphalism, thin-skinned pique, gloating, and I-told-you-so. I was almost moved to comment, but then I figured there was no point in setting off an argument on someone else's blog. I wondered how many of those angry commenters have been unable to place books with traditional publishers. Then I realized it was probably all of them.
Like I said, I think this technological revolution is amazing and awesome, and there's no pretty way to create a new future. You have to break some crockery. But I have a feeling ... just a little tickle ... that all of this triumphalism is premature. There is a window of opportunity right now, as e-readers proliferate and people rush to stock up their new gadgets. But let's be honest ... this isn't how markets really work for long. After a while, they organize. After the initial rush passes, they consolidate. Before long, someone will figure out how to control and monetize the distribution channel.
And even if I'm wrong about all that, even if "they" are right that we stand on the threshold of a new era and New York publishing is truly a sinking ship that will soon be vaporized by a million $1.99 e-books, I still think it's a dangerous thing to drink too much wine made from bitter grapes.