Monday, July 30, 2012

So you want to write A novel?

I can't say it any better than David Kazzie and note that Kazzie has done an great job of promoting his book The Jackpot with this video, which was re-posted on Facebook via Writer's Digest.

Authors who have published in the last few years know that only half the work is done once the book is published. The next step is promotion, getting your name and book out there, readings, signings, conference appearances. Making one's living as an author is not for the faint of heart; though you can be almost cripplingly shy, like an author I worked with. She hired me to do the phone work and schedule readings and signings; I introduced her, she read, signed books; afterward I'd send out her sweat-drenched clothes to be cleaned.

I met Betty in the steno pool (remember those?). I was a temp, a filing clerk, the filing cabinets I worked with were by Betty's desk. I'd see her writing in shorthand on a steno pad that she tucked into her bag and realized that it wasn't company work. One afternoon I scrunched down by her desk and asked what she was writing. "A novel, about a pale undertaker's assistant who prefers to work with the dead," she whispered.

Isn't that a great character description? I was hooked. We had our lunches together and talked about Jane, her heroine; we'd whisper about plot when we could get away with it at work, she'd pass me notes. At the end of the temp assignment I promised to look for the book when it was published.

Six years later I saw the book in softcover in Tower Books, but I would have missed it if I hadn't picked up the book and read, "Janet, a pale undertaker's assistant who prefers to work with the dead..."

The story had a new title and Betty was using a nom de plume, but I was sure it was her. I sent a letter to Betty via the publisher (we're in the years before email and web sites). Betty wrote back and asked me if I could work with her on her book tour. We had a good time, and the book sold modestly well.

I asked Betty if the stress of public appearances was worth it and she said, "If I were a really good author, maybe I could get away with never being seen, like JD Salinger or Harper Lee, Thomas Pynchon--not that I'm comparing my writing to theirs. But the writing should speak for itself, don't you think? Why do people need to see me?"

That's a question I still can't answer -- yes the writing should speak for itself and no, I don't know why many people want to meet the author. A friend says it's to reassure us readers that authors are real people; which she says is why so many people think they can be authors. They've had experiences, they have an idea for a book, there are a zillion books out there, therefore it shouldn't be too hard to write a book.

But we know that's not the case.


Next week: it's all the same story.

I would love to link to Betty's book in this blog, but the book is out of print and I cannot find it anywhere; and there's a new horror film out with the same title. If anyone has a copy of "Dead Shadows" by Sandra Pharnetton I'd love to buy it from you!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Author Sued

I wrote about the perils of multiple submissions in an earlier post. A few days a friend emailed and told me the publishing house she worked for sued an author for breach of contract over multiple submissions.

The facts: one manuscript, accepted by three publishers with whom he signed contracts that stated specifically that they were now the sole publisher.

Three publishers were working with the manuscript: meantime, three editors were editing, three ISBNs had been assigned; three sets of files were being prepared for POD and eBook. And the author decided to self-publish.

The publishing business is truly smaller than you'd expect. During a casual conversation, my friend and another editor realized that they had been working on the same manuscript; it took a two-minute online search to find the third publisher and the self-published manuscript. A short time later all three publishers were suing the author; a short time after that another author stepped up and said that the manuscript was his -- it had been plagiarized. He added his lawsuit to the mix.

My friend said she and the other editors had to provide depositions, the author tried to contact them to tell them what to say. The author said he'd drop the suit for a cash settlement -- he had to be reminded that he hadn't brought the suit, the publishers had.

And why? There's soap opera here about rivalry and "getting published first". The two authors had been in a workshop together and made a friendly bet about whose manuscript would be published first, over the next year or so the rivalry accelerated – or so they said.

The publishers won the suit, though we don’t know what the settlement was.

My friend and I wonder about the authors’ professional reputations. They were emerging writers, so I imagine neither got a chance to establish a reputation, at least under their real names. I did a quick search and can find nothing about either person, though they both might be writing under pen names -- heck, they might be comrades-in-arms.

Was original manuscript any good? My friend says it was a solid Western, a good read, She recalled that it needed a lot of editing, because there was a shifting POV, a story told from the POV of two people on opposite sides of a range war. She thought that the two authors had worked on the manuscript together, maybe in the workshop; if that was the case, she couldn't figure out why they didn't submit as co-authors.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Induced Comma

I like offbeat punctuation marks, like the interrobang. I can see the crying need for the sarcasm point (an inverted exclamation point) and the pomma --“you’ve been punk’d” – point (an exclamation point lying on its side).

And I come up with the occasional oddball typo – this week it was “She was in an induced comma.”

How does one induce a comma?

Starting with a definition of terms -- because I was on the debate team in high school and the defintion-of-terms was always the first step in research. I get to visit my old friend, the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD). I love the AHD because I am a geeky closet linguist -- my, but that sounds naughty -- and the AHD gives the Indo-European roots of many words.

Induce means “1. To lead or move, as to a course of action, by influence or persuasion. 2. To bring about or stimulate the occurrence of; cause..." (There are other meanings for biochemistry and genetics). [Middle English inducen, from Old French inducer, from Latin indcere : in-, in; see in-2 + dcere, to lead; see deuk- in Indo-European roots.]

Finding the root words in English is a fun puzzle and deuk- is one of those roots that has dug in all over the language, forms the root of everything from the Middle English tuggen (to draw or lead) to the Latin ducere -- dock, deduce, introduce, it is also the root of the Latin educare -- lead out, bring up (educate) -- and intriguingly, the root of the Old English team (family, descendant, race, brood).

The definition of a comma, again from the AHD: 1. Grammar A punctuation mark ( , ) used to indicate a separation of ideas or of elements within the structure of a sentence. 2. A pause or separation; a caesura. 3. Any of several butterflies of the genus Polygonia, having wings with brownish coloring and irregularly notched edges. [Latin, from Greek komma, piece cut off, short clause, from koptein, to cut.]

And "coma" is from the Greek koma, a deep sleep. As in American English, a single "m" separates a pause from a sleep.

With my induced comma: I can lead, move or education people to – pause.

And as for using commas, I can't say it any better than The Comma Project --

“Put a comma in whenever you take a breath.

Almost everyone I know has heard that particular comma rule, or some variation of it, and that is unfortunate because the rule is unreliable at best and, at worst, simply wrong. But the rule does make sense in a historical context, and that may explain its longevity.

In antiquity, texts were usually read aloud or recited from memory by orators, and so the rule that you “put a comma in whenever you take a breath” can be traced back to the earliest days of reading and writing. Some of the words that we now use to refer to punctuation marks, such as comma, colon and period, originally referred to subparts of a text, differentiating them according to their length and complexity.

Before the arrival of alphabets, ancient texts could not be written out—they were memorized and passed along through an oral tradition. Once texts could be converted into written symbols, they were usually copied down letter for letter—with no punctuation, capitalization or even spacing between words.

Punctuation marks got their start as a way of sorting out the confusion by, for example, breaking material into longer and shorter sections. Back then writers didn’t have to worry about punctuation, which was determined not by the person who composed a work or copied it but by the one who spoke it out loud..."


For more on punctuation:

Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss

Pause and Effect: Punctuation in the West, by Malcolm B. Parkes

(This is an academic reference and is expensive!)

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Don't Read, I Edit

I edit everything I read. It's a horrible habit, one I understand I share with other editors, writers, librarians and English teachers. (I might be doubly cursed because I was an English teacher too.) I start making mental notes about character development, arc of action, verb tense. If it's non-fiction I look for citations and cringe if I see they're from Wikipedia and no where else.

Don’t get me started on punctuation.

One of the few books I don't want to edit is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; every word, scene and action seems to be as good as it can be. I read the book aloud to my AP English students in 1990, shortly after it was published in the US. I told them nothing about the author and asked them to formulate hypotheses about who the author might be; they were astounded to find out that the author was not a retired butler, but a born-in-Japan, lives in the UK author who as far as we knew, had never been a butler.

One of those students is now a screenwriter. Though she said not to dignify her work as “screenwriting”. “I prefer... hack,” she said in her email this morning.

We have been discussing editing. She says she’s the servant of many masters, over-edited to the point of paralysis. We couldn’t decide which was worst – too much or too little editing. How do we know when the editing is “just right”? I‘d like to say that we know it when we read it, and I do know that it is a collaborative process between the author and the editor.

Unfortunately it is far too easy to “publish”. Don't Publish That Book! includes a hilarious interview with Lou Morgan, who can't stop reading his first written-as-a-teen manuscript because it is just... so... awful. Morgan and the others chatting on Suw Charman-Anderson’s blog thought their writing was so great -- and it wasn't -- and that they were glad that self-publishing was very difficult back then.

Suw Charman-Anderson writes, "If there’s a common flaw in self-publishing, it’s that too many books are published too soon. Experienced voices across the publishing world continually advise self-publishers to get help with editing, and not just copy editing but story editing too. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to properly edit your own work. But the siren call of the Kindle store is often too seductive. The urge to finish your first draft, chuck it through a spellchecker and release it in to the wild is often far too strong for eager writers to resist.

But resist you must. Not resisting results in your name being married, permanently, to sub-standard work which doesn’t show off your talents to their best. Do you really want, in five or ten years time, to look back on your early work and cringe? More to the point, do you really want your first act of publishing to result in the irreversible blotting of your copybook with your potential fans?"


Next week: the induced comma and other typos...

Monday, July 2, 2012


What happened to the wedding and the anniversary couples? Is there a coda, an epilogue?

I looked for their names on Google, checked their hometown papers, did some searching using and found – not much. The anniversary couple lived to celebrate their 75th anniversary and passed away with a few months of each other a few years later. The wedding couple stayed married, or at least they were as of the last census in 2010. Not much, certainly not enough for an epilogue.

When I hear “epilogue” I always think of the TV show “The FBI”*, which was divided into acts and ended with an epilogue (OK, they spelled it "epilog") that showed what happened to the criminals featured in the story. I always made sure that watched the epilogue; I wanted to know what had happened to the bad guys. Were they sent to prison? I could be pretty sure that they were, but I watched anyway.

The “Als” (see post, from May 20, 2012 ) did not like epilogues or prologues. Al insisted that stories begin in the first chapter and end in the last, no exceptions.

For example, let's say there's a man on the run. He writes ARTXCV in the dirt of the garden bed where the protagonist is about to plant carrots and runs away. His actions start the story -- the author uses a prologue, we are dropped right into the action, the reader is omniscient. We know slightly more than the protagonist does.

However, the Als would have me edit the prologue out: Chapter One, sentence one -- the protagonist finds ARTXCV in her garden and “wonders what the heck”? We’re dropped right into the action but we don’t know any more than the protagonist does.

Most of the time, and for most genres, I agree with The Als. I have seen far too many manuscripts where the prologue is ten pages of backstory and the epilogue ten pages of “…and after that, they….”

In contemporary fiction, the prologue and epilogue should be almost inconsequential. They add a spice and depth to the body of the story, but if they were taken away, the story would still be complete. The author shouldn’t be framing the story in the prologue. The premise of the story shouldn’t be in the prologue or the resolution in the epilogue. Those things -- frame, premise, resolution – happen in the meat of the story.

However, if you happen to be writing in the style of an old drama or opera, then the prologue is where a performer will summarize the action to follow (see definition below). Though I would quickly edit out text that read, “Here we are in the wasteland to tie Prometheus to the rocks ‘cause he made the gods mad….” – this is how classic Greek drama starts. Prometheus Bound (Aeschylus, 430 BCE)

In opera and older stage drama, a performer will also often summarize the action in an epilogue. Think of Hamlet in which Horatio starts his epilogue with: “The rest is silence. Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince/and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” He then speaks with Fortinbras and the play is summarized in about twenty lines.


prologue often US, prolog [ˈprəʊlɒg] n

1. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms)

a. the prefatory lines introducing a play or speech

b. the actor speaking these lines

2. a preliminary act or event

3. (Music / Classical Music) (in early opera)

a. an introductory scene in which a narrator summarizes the main action of the work

b. a brief independent play preceding the opera, esp one in honour of a patron

[from Latin prologus, from Greek prologos, from pro-2 + logos discourse]

epilogue [ˈɛpɪˌlɒg] n

1. (Performing Arts / Theatre)

a. a speech, usually in verse, addressed to the audience by an actor at the end of a play

b. the actor speaking this

2. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) a short postscript to any literary work, such as a brief description of the fates of the characters in a novel

3. (Communication Arts / Broadcasting) Brit (esp formerly) the concluding programme of the day on a radio or television station, often having a religious content

[from Latin epilogus, from Greek epilogos, from logos word, speech]


* For more

For the opening