An Early Opportunity

In honor of Nanowrimo, and of the onset of the winter heating season,† I’ll be running a seasonal sale on editorial and critique services from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend.  My usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel goes down to $1000 for the duration, and rates for epic-sized doorstops will be similarly discounted.

As always, you can purchase a gift certificate – as a gift for a friend, or for yourself – to be redeemed at a later date.


The snow that fell last Friday? Is still here.

The Free Speech Bargain

Every so often, a voice from the back row asks the plaintive question, “In today’s publishing climate, what am I, as an [insert identify marker or lack of one here], allowed to write about?”

Okay.  Here’s the deal, at least as far as the US of A goes*:

You’re allowed** to write about anything you damned well please.

And everybody else – your mom, your best friend, all the other people in your writers’ group, your editor, the New York Times Review of Books, and total random strangers on the internet – is allowed to say out loud and in public what they thought about it.

The thing about the deal, you see, is that it goes both ways.  And a writer who can’t handle the deal is probably better off pulling an Emily Dickinson and keeping their stuff locked up in their dresser drawer for posterity.


*The world is a large and varied place, and I make no claim to pontificate for all of it.

**With the usual narrow exceptions involving nonexistent fires in crowded theatres, and the like.

 

Some Useful Thoughts from Outside the Field

Eric Owyoung is a composer and musician who performs with his band as Future of Forestry.  Like many another creative type, he also does teaching gigs (hey, my co-author and I have done them; it’s a way to even out the income stream), and he blogs about a recent one here.  It’s got some good insights, not least this one:

Do you have a creative goal like making an album of ten great songs?  If so, the worst idea is to try to write ten great songs. Set a goal to write 60 or more songs… no matter how bad they are, just barrel through them.  Chances are that 10%-15% of them might turn out pretty good. Learn from your mistakes.

Handy advice, I think, for the sort of writer who tends to obsess over crafting the perfect sentence in the perfect paragraph in the perfect story, only to end up crafting all the life out of it.  (The fast-and-slapdash types have, I sometimes think, an easier row to hoe:  They only need to learn how to do second and third drafts.)

And if you’re interested in Mr. Owyoung’s music, you can listen to some of it on his web site.

Summer’s Lease Isn’t Up Yet

Any day now, though, the maple tree by the foot of our driveway will show its first patch of color.  August up here is almost as much the start of autumn as it is the last of summer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I lived for long enough in Texas, where July and August are fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk months; and I spent three and a half years in the literal tropics when my husband/co-author was in the Navy and stationed in Panamá, where you got a choice between hot and rainy and hot and not-rainy (but still humid), six months on and six months off; and believe me, seasons are good, and New England seasons suit me fine.

(Granted, January and February are a frozen hell, but my theory is that no matter how much you like the climate where you are, there are going to be a couple of months out of the year when you pay for it.)

My favorite seasons, which also happen to be the best ones for writing in as far as I’m concerned†, are spring and fall, both of which proceed up here in a leisurely fashion, with subtle gradations along the way.  Fall, for example, goes through early fall and first frost to peak color to waiting for the snow-that-sticks, and runs roughly from mid-August to late November.

Meanwhile, it’s summer, and any day now I expect that the local gardeners will be palming off their excess zucchini (there appears to be no middle ground between no zucchini and too much zucchini) on anyone who will take it, and I will be making lots of zucchini bread.

 


Obligatory writing reference!

It’s Dr. Doyle’s Question and Answer Time!

Q. Are you really a Doctor?

A. Yes.

I got my Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, back in the Dark Ages 1981. My primary field was Old English, and my cognate field was Old Icelandic, which makes me the sort of person who once stayed up until 2 in the morning reading a book on historical linguistics for fun. Old Icelandic is a great language – we get “to egg (somebody) on” from there, as well as “ransack”, plus a wonderful verb that we don’t have in English but sometimes I wish we did, ydda (“to show the point [of something] on the other side [of something]”; as, for instance, a sword and someone else’s back.)†

Q. What on earth are you doing here, then?  Shouldn’t you be off in an ivory tower someplace, instead of writing fiction and editing other people’s novels for pay?

A. Hah.  Don’t I wish.

I finished my degree at about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young.  The need to hire lots of new-minted scholars every year to teach the glut of baby-boomers and draft-avoiders was coming to its end, and colleges were starting to use spreadsheets and do the math and figure out that they could hire adjunct faculty (aka “temps with doctorates”) and avoid the extra cost of insurance and other perks, and tenure-track positions got scarcer and scarcer.  (Also, colleges realized that you could dangle the prospect of tenure in front of a new hire, and they’d run after it like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit for five or six years of high toil and low pay, and then you could turn them down for tenure and start the whole process up again with the next victim.)

So I became one of the science fiction and fantasy field’s renegade medievalists, instead.

Q.  Well, that explains the writing, I guess.  What about the editing?

Money, at least in part.  Writing can pay well, but it always pays irregularly, and almost all the writers I know do a lot of other different things to fill in the gaps.

As for why this, in particular:  Teaching (and marking up essays) was something I learned how to do as a grad student and teaching fellow at Penn, and while at the time I thought I didn’t like doing it very much, I eventually figured out that what I actually didn’t like was working on stuff written by people who didn’t want to be writing it.  (I’ve graded freshman essays, and I’ve read slush – unsolicited manuscripts, for those not conversant with the lingo of the trade – and I’m here to tell you that as bad as slush can get, at least it’s all written by people who are willingly putting words onto paper or pixels onto screen.)

Working with people who are actually interested in improving what they’re doing is, on the other hand, fun.

Q. Do you only work with established writers and self-publishers?

A.  Heavens, no.  I’m just as happy to work with writers who are at an earlier stage of their development.  As I say on my “about” page, I can’t promise that their  work will publishable when we’re finished, but I can promise that it will be better than when we started.

Back when I was laboring the the fields of freshman composition, under whatever name it was being called at the time – Introduction to Rhetoric, Expository Writing, or plain old English 101 – I often found that while working with the one or two natural A-level students in the class was easy and refreshing, at the end of the semester I got more satisfaction from having helped a high-B+ student move on up into the A range, or from helping someone who started out as a C- lift themselves up to a good solid B.


†I’ll freely admit that I picked Old Icelandic for my cognate field because I liked all the bloodshed and violence in the great sagas. But my geekhood is safe – my other big interest was subordinate clauses in Anglo-Saxon poetry.

A Source of Amusement and Some Good Advice

I first encountered Wolcott Gibbs’s “Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles” in James Thurber’s The Years With Ross, Thurber’s memoir of the early days of the New Yorker magazine.

In many ways, it’s a relic of its moment in time (1937, to be precise); it was an internal memo, intended to bring new fiction editors up to speed on the magazine’s general style and tone.  Unlike most such documents, though, it’s fun to read.  A few samples:

Our writers are full of clichés, just as old barns are full of bats. There s obviously no rule about this, except that anything that you suspect of being a cliché undoubtedly is one, and had better be removed.


Mr. Weekes said the other night, in a moment of desperation, that he didn’t believe he could stand any more triple adjectives. “A tall, florid and overbearing man called Jaeckel.” Sometimes they’re necessary, but when every noun has three adjectives connected with it, Mr. Weekes suffers and quite rightly.


Among other things, The New Yorker is often accused of a patronizing attitude. Our authors are especially fond of referring to all foreigners as “little” and writing about them, as Mr. Maxwell says, as if they were mantel ornaments. It is very important to keep the amused and Godlike tone out of pieces.


The piece is available in its entirety here, and I highly recommend it.

Springtime Seasonal Special

It’s time again for my traditional springtime special offer:

Sample Spring Gift Certificate2017

Yes.  From today through the 16th of April, my usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a typical 80,000-100,00 word novel drops to $1000 (or $1030 for PayPal, to cover the fees for a non-personal transaction; using Google Wallet, if you’re set up for it, avoids this problem and is faster as well.)  You can purchase a springtime gift for a writer friend, or for yourself, and redeem it at any time between right now and whenever.

(If you’ve got a 100,000+ word doorstop of a manuscript, and still want to take advantage of the season, contact me and we can work out an appropriate discounted price for a longer work.)

Why Authors Go Mad, Reason Number I’ve-Lost-Track-By-Now

Author Seanan McGuire (who is also Mira Grant and I think somebody else I’ve forgotten) has just received — on a tight deadline, of course — a beyond-the-copyedit-from-hell copyedit: The copyeditor did a global search and replace of “which” with “that.” Among other gross incompetencies.

And there isn’t time to scrap the copyedit and send the MS back out to somebody better.

People wonder why authors sometimes drink heavily. The amazing thing, actually, is that more of them don’t.

My Theory on Villainy

All good stories need a villain, or, more properly, an antagonist.  (“Villain” is so judgmental, really — not to mention classist, since its origins lie in the Anglo-French and Old French vilain “peasant, farmer, commoner, churl, yokel” (12c.), from Medieval Latin villanus “farmhand,” from Latin villa “country house, farm.” As always, the city folks write the books.)

An antagonist is simply one who opposes the main character, also known as the protagonist.  They’re often “the bad guy,” because readers like to identify with the main character, and prefer in most cases to identify with someone they can think of as “the good guy.”  It doesn’t necessarily need to follow that the antagonist, in their role as “bad guy”, also has to be a bad person; all that’s required is that they present a strong and believable opponent for the protagonist to, in most cases, overcome.

What’s primarily required in an antagonist, then, is competence — or, barring that, the kind of sheer unpredictability that makes them hard for an orderly protagonist to comprehend.  They can’t be insane, or at least not the kind of insanity that precludes an ability to function in the real world, and they can’t be stupid.  Otherwise, they become pushovers, and pushovers are boring.

On the other hand, an antagonist shouldn’t be endowed with the kind of supernatural intelligence that lets them make elaborate plans with lots of interlocking parts that somehow never fall prey to sheer bad luck, unforeseen acts by random bystanders, or the incompetence of minions.  (I see more of these than I’d like, especially in the visual media but also in books, so it’s possible that a lot of people disagree with me on this.  But I’m right and they’re wrong, so there.)

And finally, an antagonist should be a fully-developed character, with virtues as well as flaws, because nobody in the real world is ever all of a piece.  This means that as a writer, we have to inhabit our villains — empathize with them, if you will — as much as we do our heroes.  We have to know what it is they dread when the lights go out; we have to know their petty vices and their secret good deeds; we have to know the source of their greatest sorrow and their greatest happiness; in short, we have to love them even as we bring our protagonist in to destroy them.

If we don’t do this, we risk turning our antagonists into mere mustache-twirling marionettes, when they should be human beings.

(Or aliens, or elves, or self-aware computers, as the genre requires.  In short, people.)