Words Have Meaning – Reason #1592 Why Editors Drink

writing 3

As a writer, I swear by on-line thesauruses (Thesaurusi? Thesaurus’? Who knows?). It seems to most of us that we probably could not work without Google helpfully bringing up three dozen of them every time we type “synonym for _______” in the Search bar.

You know what I mean, right?

You can’t use “fear” and all its derivatives alone in the climactic scene where the heroine has been kidnapped and threatened with torture.  You need apprehension, and terror, and distress, and fright, and alarm, and panic and…, otherwise, the scene will fall flat on its face.

I get it. I do.

As a writer.

 

But as an editor…

The thing is, you need to be careful. Just because Google says it is a synonym, it doesn’t mean it is the word you want.

Not all synonyms are created equal.

 

Case in point is the use of – no, more like the overuse of  – indeed,  the veritable tsunami/avalanche use of – the word “smirk”

 

I’m here to tell you that, Nora Roberts notwithstanding, smirk is not an all-purpose word for “slightly amused” or “sort of teasing”.

Every author I have ever edited has used this word, and used it often. And wrongly.

A smirk is not a nice thing. It’s condescending. It’s mocking in the most unkind way. It’s snark to the extreme. It’s the epitome of disrespect.

But every love scene I have read in the last three years has had the male love interest “smirk” something at his supposed love of his life.

(On top of which, a smirk is solely a facial expression. It is not a dialogue tag. You cannot “smirk” words. This is important.)

If a man or woman is smirking at you, they are telling you that they have the upper hand, that you are the lesser being in this situation, and that they are enjoying their superiority and intend to use it against you, if they haven’t already.

Not what I would call “loving”.

 

It’s important because, as writers, we say we care about words. We are depressed by the idea that other people maybe don’t have the kind of respect for language that we say we do.

We say we are deeply hurt by the current debasement of words in public speech and private communication.

But we give these sentiments the lie every time we hit that on-line listicle and grab the first alternate presented to us as “more or less the same thing” without stopping to consider whether the word itself, its common usage, and its cultural baggage, make it the right word for the purpose.

And we need to be better than that.

Otherwise, people might think we care even less than they do about the language we use.

And why would they pay to read words written by someone like that?

Advertisements

The Mourning Rose (Teaser)

14915487_637845119727237_1005029642675365116_n

The Mourning Rose – First Chapter

The wind was not really that cold as it blew out along the beach, but the men clustered about the two small boats there were shivering, all the same.

“Just when,” their leader drawled, “Just when were you planning to advise me of these interestin’ facts? Eh, Peterkin? Speak up, man.”

Peterkin swallowed, hard. “Well, Jack, I just thought –“. He broke off midsentence. It wasn’t that Jack looked angry. Indeed, quite the reverse. The dark eyes gazed at him with a kind of sweet benevolence that was more terrifying than any rage might have been.

“You thought? Well done,  m’lad. I don’t believe I ever asked you to think, of course, although, my memory could well be at fault. I ask you,” and here, Jack stopped and looked around, as though appealing for help, “did I ask anyone to think?”

Collectively, they shuffled their feet, mumbling in a negative tone. Of course he hadn’t.

In general, when they were alone, they wondered just how it had come to this. How had they come to have Mad Jack as their leader?

It had happened so quickly. They’d heard of him, of course: a wild man, up for any risk, a smuggler other smugglers spoke of with awe, bringing in untold arcane treasures in the darkest of dark nights, laughing in the face of any danger, from armed troops of Excise men to the most horrific of storms – he was a legend in the smuggling world, Mad Jack of the North Beaches was.

And then, suddenly, he was there, in the flesh. Just come to help out old Joe for a few months, and wait for the heat to die down – the Customs Office was onto him, apparently, gotten a wee bit too close for comfort, and why should he not ally himself with them for a time? Brothers in arms, he’d said, comfortably, and Old Joe had fallen in with it, flattered, a bit, that such a famous fellow-traveller would throw in his lot with them.

At first, it had all gone well enough. Mad Jack was respectful, even deferential to Joe, and asked a lot of questions, as if eager to learn from them. And not a bit stingy – he’d stood them to many a mug in the taverns, and once, even, to a slap-up dinner brought in from someplace rather grander than they were used to.

But then, little by little, it had begun to change. There were quiet discussions, where he convinced Old Joe to do things just that little bit differently. There were moments when he’d simply barked out a command, and they had all, unthinkingly, obeyed.

And then that one night, when everything had gone so wrong, when it looked as if every single one of them would have been rounded up and headed for the noose, and only Mad Jack’s brazen nerve and quick thinking had saved them. They’d gotten away by the skin of their teeth, because Jack really was mad – mad with no care to his own skin or theirs, and he counted no costs.

They’d had to lie low for a couple of weeks, and when they’d met again, well, those soft words, those words that seemed so kind and reasonable, had convinced them that they had no choice.

It was time that old men took their ease, to live out their days in comfort, Jack said. Time for younger men to take the lead.

Sweet words, all of them, but there was something underneath them that struck terror into even the most stalwart heart. Because there were those other tales – those other stories, the ones about his temper, and about the kind of retribution that seemed to overtake those who crossed him. They had not quite forgotten them, not entirely, and suddenly, they remembered them much too clearly.

So much so that even Joe had looked at his feet and muttered, “Just as you say, Jack,” and now sat the watch for them, up at the headlands, and took his share like any of them, and made no sound of discontent.

Because you just never knew what Jack was capable of, did you?

“Well, Peterkin,” Jack said, still so sweetly that Peterkin began to tremble, “out with it! A new captain for the Excise men – he has a name, perhaps?”

“Harkness, Jack. Captain Harkness, was what I think they said. A real fire-eater, they said. Determined to ferret all the smugglers out, root and branch. Coming down from the City in the next seven-day. There’s a room bespoke at t’ Sun.”

Jack closed his eyes.

“Ah,” he said. His eyes opened. “Well, let’s be moving on, then. Cargo will be waitin’, don’t you know.”

 

***

 

The smaller withdrawing room at Number 4, Shalliton Place, had been given over for the use of the young ladies, and it could not be said that Lady Mayland had spared any expense in furnishing it to provide a most flattering backdrop for her daughter’s undeniable beauty. Miss Mayland’s fair locks and pale skin were set off admirably by the blue silk wall coverings and the rose velvet settee, so that she looked the very picture of an Imbrian rose. Indeed, several of her most ardent admirers had remarked upon it, and two had actually written poems, likening her to just that flower in its natural garden.

Miss Polyantha Mayland  came off rather less well. Her hair, named “auburn” by the more charitable, clashed awkwardly against the pink of the cushions, glinting as it did with strong hints of copper, and her complexion was more vivid and certainly less fashionable than her cousin’s. The very walls seemed to rebel against her, as if they would have quelled her brightness if they could.

It was early afternoon, and the pair had only just come in. Their mornings were spent with a Master of the Arts engaged specially to instruct them in the delicate practices of creating suitable Artifices for their future.

No young woman of Fashion could be said to be ready for marriage without such skills. They had formerly been taught by an extremely competent governess, learning the art of turning napkins into snow-white doves that could flutter elegantly down onto a dinner guest’s lap. They had mastered the difficult trick of the self-pouring teapots, and both had shown themselves adept at making glowing globes of coloured light float about a midnight garden with apparent ease.

The Master had more exciting spells to impart. His lessons on creating fireworks of dazzling glamour were considerably more taxing than keeping a half-dozen orbs waltzing decorously around the trees, and then there were the “silent footmen” he was teaching them to materialize, in order that no guest would ever lack for even the tiniest courtesy – well, it was all too exhausting to be imagined. Neither young lady had the least assurance that these were skills they could ever command, practice they never so hard.

Still, as Eglantine pointed out, at least they knew how it was done. With luck, they’d marry well enough to hire the Master to do it for them.

“You certainly will,” her cousin remarked. “I have no such hopes. If I cannot bring myself to latching onto some poor Scholar at the Academy, I am resolved to remain here in my single state, and be a Prop to my Aunt.”

Eglantine gave a whoop of extremely unladylike laughter. “As if she would countenance such a thing! You would quite cut her up if you did, Polly – you know she would dislike it of all things!”

Polyantha managed to retain her expression of martyred innocence. “Indeed, she would not! How many times have we heard her sigh over our come-out, and murmur about the passage of time, and how she misses our school-days?”

“Well, but that is only because we are so expensive,” said Eglantine, cheerfully. “Once we are safely and eligibly betrothed, she will not care a button for that.”

This was undeniably a fact. That very morning, the bill from the mantua-maker’s had been in the pile of letters delivered to Lady Mayland at the breakfast table, occasioning some heartfelt sighs and a long discourse on the sacrifices a Mamma must make to ensure her girls would show to advantage in their first Season.

“Not,” said Lady Mayland,” that I begrudge one copper to outfitting you both, for I do feel as a mother to you, Polly, and would not wish to stint in the least particular. But I must own, it is shocking what these people charge one, considering it is only a square of lace and a scrap of velvet, after all.”

Polly had murmured that her Aunt was all kindness, which was quite perfectly true, although it was equally true that the lace and velvet confection had, in fact, been for Lady Mayland herself. Still, considering that Polly was heir to only the merest competence and not likely, given the preference for quiet, well-mannered blondes with large fortunes, to make a particularly brilliant match, her Aunt had always been scrupulously fair in the matter of how she apportioned even the most trivial luxuries between “her girls”.

“For you must know,” she had often said to her long-suffering husband, “I counted your brother as dear as if he’d been my own, and assured him always that I would treat his daughter as one of the family, which she is, Robert! It is a great pity she is so – so high-spirited, for I am persuaded that she is the dearest creature otherwise, you know.”

“Gracious, look at the time,” said Eglantine, suddenly growing less amused. “I declare, those lessons go on and on. Is my hair mussed? You had better ring for tea, Polly. Mrs. Anwing promised faithfully to call today, and bring that new catalogue from Goderets with her. I would not be caught looking less than perfect – you know how she gossips.”

“You look adorable,” said her cousin, promptly. “Although I don’t know why you should care what the Anwing thinks. No one would believe her anyway – not even Lord Valremer.”

Eglantine blushed, looking more like an Imbrian rose than ever.

“Eglantine? You are not seriously, that is, you are not thinking –“

Eglantine’s cheeks grew even pinker.

“My dearest,” Polly began, but broke off as the door opened, and Mrs. Anwing herself appeared, pushing past the footman in a gushing excess of enthusiasm.

Polly, having been enfolded, the next moment, in a brief embrace reeking of some amazingly powerful cologne, retreated to the window seat. Mrs. Anwing’s attention was all on Eglantine now. Having clasped her to her bosom as if they had not seen each other for months, she had maneuvered her impeccably-attired and entirely entrancing self onto the settee, and patted the small space remaining beside her invitingly. Dutifully, Eglantine sat down beside her.

In due course, the promised catalogue appeared, and the pair of them began to exclaim over the latest fashions.

It was not, Polly thought, that she was in any way jealous, or even mildly envious of Eglantine’s undeniable charms. Lord Valremer might be the most eligible bachelor of this or any other Season, but Polly, having searched her heart, could find nothing that recommended him to her beyond the superficial.

Rich, he most certainly was. Attractive – even handsome – was an undeniable attribute of his. He was not young, of course. He must be all of thirty or more, although Lady Mayland had waved that away with the worldly-wise stricture that it was not uncommon and perhaps even preferable that one’s husband be an experienced man of the world.

But there was something about his lordship that unsettled her. He was known as having been, at one time, a singular and admired Practitioner of the Arcane – noted, apparently, when still at school, as being marked for Great Things.

That future had never seemed to materialize. Upon inheriting early (the Valremers were not noted for their longevity) he had embarked on a career of dissipation and debauchery.  Not, of course, that Polly was privy to any details, of course – one simply did not discuss such topics with sweetly unmarried and delicately nurtured Females – but the vague rumours still swirled around his lordship. They had been warned: he had occasionally set up some innocent as his Flirt, and engendered hopes that, alas, would not ever be fulfilled. Those games of his often led to heartache, and, more darkly, it was whispered, occasional ruin.

At first, it seemed that Eglantine had been marked out in much the same way, but she was much too sensible to have taken his overtures as anything but her due as this Season’s Non Pareille.  Lord Valremer was known to always be at the forefront of fashion – he paid his court to Eglantine along with a hundred other men, as a mere matter of course.

And then something had changed.

The entire City was agog. Had Valremer been caught at last? His behavior had moved from the merely flirtatious to the assiduous. Flowers were sent – not the gaudy bouquets of the ironic lover, but the well-chosen and meaningful posies of a man in earnest. A book of poetry was said to have been sent as well, and that had set tongues wagging in earnest.

And then there were Mrs. Anwing’s attentions.

Mrs. Anwing was a widow who had managed, for no adequately explainable reason, to remain at the forefront of Society. She was undeniably lovely, and much admired, at least from a distance. She knew everyone and had gained entrée everywhere, although what, precisely, her social attractions were remained unspoken. Her circumstances were a mystery, too, for while the late Mr. Anwing had certainly not been possessed of enormous wealth, his widow was always dressed in the latest of fashions and kept her own carriage.

She was also possessed of a scathing wit, and perhaps that was how she had maintained such a pre-eminent position. No guest list ever left her name off, and never once had anyone of note failed to acknowledge her when she drove in the Park.

There were some who sought her out over and above the merely courteous, reveling in the latest news that always seemed to come to her ear before anyone else heard a whiff of it.

There were many more, perhaps, who feared her. She was not above making cruel jests about those who displeased her, and she was quite capable of casting someone into social oblivion, shunned by all, should they happen to incur her wrath: hostesses did not lightly stay friends with the Anwing’s victims. Up until now, though, insipid little misses fresh out of the schoolroom had been very much beneath her touch.

Never before had Lord Valremer’s third-cousin-by-marriage taken even the slightest notice of any of Valremer’s flirtations, save to spread idle gossip about the girl if she lacked for other news. But quite suddenly, she had called at Shalliton Place, graciously leaving her card and an invitation to take tea with her the following week, and after this, to greet all three Mayland ladies with every sign of intimacy and pleasure whenever their paths crossed.

“And I own,” Lady Mayland said, when this began, “I do not understand it. She never paid me the slightest heed before, and I wish she would not now. My dear ones, pray, do nothing to upset her!”

As the weeks passed, however, and Lord Valremer’s attentions did not withdraw, Mrs. Anwing merely stepped up her efforts. She dropped so many hints that even Lady Mayland began to have some hopes.

Eglantine’s mother might continue to caution them both, reminding Eglantine to never be in anything even approaching a compromising situation with Valremer, or anyone else, and to treat his lordship as she would any other undeclared suitor: politely, and with good humour. She might warn them both not to permit any man even the tiniest intimacy, but these strictures were almost afterthoughts, sandwiched between speculations on how much the Valremer fortune actually was, and whether or not Eglantine would prefer to spend her days at Valremer Court down in Summersett, or preside over the staff at Orpington Circle.

Polly kept her own counsel, for once. She, too, was dumbfounded by Valremer’s continued interest: it seemed absurd. Eglantine was certainly the most lovely girl to have made her curtsey this Season, and she was as good-tempered and generous of spirit as she was pretty. She managed her would-be admirers with sweetness and tact, never allowing any of them to feel slighted, and she had, moreover, the Mayland pedigree. Not a single family in the City could have found the slightest fault with Miss Mayland as their son’s chosen bride.

But Valremer had seemed to be a confirmed non-starter in the marriage stakes. No less than twenty such girls must have swept through their Season with just as much to recommend them, and he had not fallen. Polly adored her cousin, but even so, in her heart of hearts, she could not see that there was anything so much different about Eglantine than those unknown others Valremer had passed by.

It made no sense at all.

 

 

The Mourning Rose — Coming in 2018

Manners meet magic in this tale where curses mix with curtseys, and Charm takes on a whole new dimension . Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen fans will love this romantic fantasy, set in a Regency that never was.

Eglantine Mayland is this Season’s Reigning Toast, and seems destined to make a good marriage. When the wealthy Lord Valremer, a confirmed bachelor, begins to court her seriously, Eglantine’s cousin Polyantha senses that not all is well. Too many of his actions seem to be part of a web of evil that twines itself around the Mayland family.

And why is a well-known rogue and smuggler so interested in their plight?

For Free – The double-edged sword of selling books in the digital age

angst

I rarely have my books listed as free.

I do giveaways for contests, but frankly, I’ve never seen much point in sweating over my writing for months on end, having the manuscript edited professionally, having the final words properly formatted, hiring a designer for the cover art and layout, and spending my own funds to advertise — and then not receiving even a pittance in return.

A lot of writers do have free offers. They say it works for them, and I assume they are telling the truth.

Why wouldn’t they be?

They tell me that giving away the first book in a series “sells” the rest of the series.

But then I think of the swag bags I’ve gotten at conferences and events, and how I almost never even look through the stuff that’s in there, and how most of my friends don’t either, and how we eventually, weeks later, upon discovering the unopened bag, toss it calmly into the trash.

Because the music CD, the perfume sample, the desk organizer, the 1gig thumb drive with the free video course preloaded, and the six new keychains – I don’t care about them. I know, in my heart, that the music will be amateur and boring, that the perfume will be icky and/or trigger a migraine, I hate “video courses”, and I already own a really good keychain that also opens beer bottles.

(Disclaimer: I usually check in case there’s a pen. I can always use a new pen. But I rarely read the advert printed on it.)

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that I am not unusual and that free stuff is self-defeating.

There’s some evidence that it isn’t, too.

One study suggested that “free” doesn’t equate to “undervalued”, but I question that study’s relevance to the book trade, because frankly, they used various pricing models (including “free”) for tracking usage of nighttime mosquito netting protection in countries where malaria and other insect-borne diseases were rampant.

Yup.

A known and efficient deterrent for diseases that routinely kill was offered at a high price, a high price with subsequent discounts, and for free, to randomly selected people living in those countries, and – wonder of wonders! – people who got the netting for free were just as likely to use it as were the people who were comfortable with buying the netting at a high price, even without the later discount.

It’s not hard to see that there’s a huge difference between getting a potentially life-saving item that is simple and easy and proven as worthwhile for free, and being enticed into loading your Kindle with stuff that might be trash but in no way intrudes into your life or your living space.

And as a writer, I don’t ever know who actually read that book I gave away, and who didn’t, or whether having read that book, the reader bought the next one, so the freebie in no way gives me any sort of insight into where to target market.

But way above this: we live in a society that very obviously uses money as the marker for worth. There is no way that anyone can deny this.

As long as that holds true, then my own sense of self-worth demands that I attach at least some minimal value to my work.

So: sorry, readers.

The books still cost money.

 

The Complaints Department

tom baker

 

Back in the late Neolithic, when I was at art college, we used to get life-drawing classes, several times a week.

That’s right. Naked  people. Lots of charcoal. Lots of muttered cursing under the breath.

This was a good thing for me, because I could augment my meager student funds by being one of those naked people, and then I could buy all that charcoal for those drawings.

The thing that I realized, over time, was that for beginners, the problems were utterly different than for the students who had gained some skill at this exercise.

When you were a beginner, the problems were so outside your experience, you misread the actual difficulty and identified the wrong problem.

“Could you know, like, not breathe so much?”

An inexperienced life-drawing student thinks that the problem is that the model is not perfectly still. It’s his/her fault that the artist can’t get those shadows absolutely accurate and make the drawing look even mildly like a human being, let alone the specific human being standing starkers in the middle of the room.

After a couple of years, the student begins to “see” differently. They need less perfection from the model, because they know that the problem isn’t that the model moves imperceptibly from time to time, but that they have failed to observe and transmit those observation properly. They actually do look directly at what is there, and they are a lot better at interpreting those tiny changes and accounting for them as they work.

Some people get this quicker than others.

Some people never get it.

And so it is with writers.

A beginning writer often wonders why their books are not best sellers.

They’ve done everything the way the authorities have told them to: vomited out a first draft, cut every adverb, and even shelled out the bucks for an editor and/or a proofreader.

But still….

And then they comb through the manuscript and find three typos and a misspelled word and decide that this is the problem.

The editor.

Now perhaps I am biased, being a part-time editor myself, but I think this might be the first cousin equivalent of wanting a life-drawing model to stop breathing.

It might not be the editor. It might not be those three typos.

It might just be the writing.

Oh. Excuse me? Was I not supposed to point out that just because you want to be a writer doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good one?

Why Tropes Survive

vestal

If you, as an aspiring fantasy author, decide you want to avoid all those “fantasy tropes” and create something really refreshing and new, there’s a ton of help out there for you.

At last count, Google returned over 509,000 site possibilities where those tropes are identified and explicated.

So there shouldn’t be any problems, right? You read up maybe 20 of the sites, because honestly, how many “common tropes” can there be? And if you are especially diligent, you’ll read another 20, in case there is someone with a more nuanced take on this, who can dig in and show you some of the underlying biases and frames and elucidate some of the less obvious but still no less insidious trope-isms, so you can really avoid all those pedestrian pitfalls and break some new ground.

Easy, right?

 

Except that there is one problem, and it’s not the tropes.

It isn’t that you don’t want to do this.

It’s that your lizard brain won’t let you.

It’s that your culture and your upbringing and your education are conspiring inside your head and shoving up roadblocks to this endeavor, faster than you can say “I’m not like the others…”

 

Take (for example) one trope that rarely gets mentioned, but has underlain almost every fantasy written since J.R.R. Tolkien first thought “Imma tell my kids a nice adventure story at bedtime.”

It’s that the dominant social construct in your head tells you things that are not true.

It is not true that social beings (human or otherwise) can have their emotional and psychological make-up altered by the society they grow up in.

It isn’t.

Sure: a society can make its citizens *believe* they are different from other people. A tribe or city or nation can decree that something is true, and they can inculcate successive generations repeat it, and honour it and act as if it were true.

But on the ground/in individual heads and hearts, if it goes against the grain, if it upsets every rational human response, the effect will be the same for every member of that group, no matter what they say they believe.

Take, for example, ancient Rome.

In the Roman Empire, children were considered non-human under a certain age. Parents were taught not to become attached, and even after the state agreed that one’s offspring had reached a point where they could be treated as “people”, the relationship was expected to be a rather cold one: parents and others were constantly enjoined not to get too attached, not to mourn excessively, and certainly not to mourn them as ”persons”.

Not only philosophy and social pressures supported this. Even laws and statutes reflected an official attitude towards the death of a child as being unworthy of expressions of grief.

If all you ever read were these authorized and sanctioned documents, you would assume that (unlike “us”) the people of ancient Rome did not love their children.

But then you look at the inscriptions on all those massive tombs lining the Appian Way. You read the letters parents wrote and received after a bereavement. You read the personal memoirs and journals and accounts, and your heart starts to break for these anguished parents – the countless fathers, weeping their grief onto the pages as they memorialized a beloved daughter. The friends, attempting to console mothers who have lost their babies. The terse yet poignant tributes carved into stone, as families tried to come to grips with their irreparable losses.

A culture can say what it likes about the attitude it expects from its citizens. They can teach and indoctrinate its people into believing that certain attitudes, beliefs, and responses are appropriate, and in general, people will say and do what is expected.

They will believe.

They will do.

They will respond.

But this does not mean that they will *feel* differently than any society with different beliefs or attitudes.

And it does not mean that the result – the effect – of the action will not be the same, regardless of the official party line.

People will feel what they feel.

They will be traumatized by death, even when they believe they are not.

They will carry the scars of their own actions, no matter how fully their society tells them they are blameless, or even heroic, for performing those actions.

And this is the trope that hampers us all: we think in monolithics.  We think of clans and groups and classes a single entities, and, moreover, as acquiescent sheep, who can have their human-ness overwritten and overturned by simple directives from above.

And when anyone challenges that assumption, we resist it so hard…as if the idea that we are not the only single freethinking being on the planet somehow attacks our inner identity at some base level that could irreparably harm us…

That’s why you can’t get rid of the tropes.

Because they aren’t in your writing.

They’re in your head.

Character and Identity

Annie-Hall_bordered

 

Writers are all different, and they have a lot of different ways of describing/manifesting how characters in their work come into being.

Some of us are analytical: we use character sheets, balancing the strengths and weaknesses, outlining and pinpointing traits that we then use to (hopefully) further their plots. We “map” things. We rely on graphs and probabilities and numerical data. We know in advance that if “X” happens, the character(s) will do “Y” because “that’s who they are”.

Some of us are more “fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants” – we might create a basic character (he’s a roguish-type, but with aristocratic table manners/she’s pretty but with low self-esteem) and then – when a situation comes up – revisit those basic outlines, to add habits or quirks or secret talents, that further the plot or thematic stuff as we get deeper into things.

And some of us “claim” that we let the character tell us who they are, and then we just roll with that. (This is probably more of a metaphor, because really, it is our own brain, right?)

I’m definitely one of the last group: I write mostly in 1st-person singular, and it is (almost literally) the character telling me (and the reader, presumably) what happened, from their perspective, and why.

Because they know who they are. This is writing as exploration.

 

All this actually gives you a lot of insight into what kind of person the writer is.

The first group: well, I don’t want to cast aspersions, and there is nothing wrong with this approach, but I do think of them as the “authoritarian” writers: they believe that the facts they create in their heads really are facts. They believe in the binary. They believe that people/characters can be understood and charted.

And that’s a very human way to view the world, in reality as well as fiction.

The second group is fairly flexible: they think that people are variable, that people can change to a certain extent, and they allow for the possibility of those changes within their own stories. This is most of us, I think: we like the idea of possibility, although we are a bit less comfortable with the outcomes of that reality.

The third group feels more “reactive” – we grasp that we probably don’t know what other people think and feel unless they tell us, and we tend to trust, to a certain extent, the words people give us. If you (any “you”, including, obviously, the fictional “you”) say to me that at forty-five, you realized that your entire life has been a reaction against what your parent or guardian believed about you when you were five, but now you are free of that burden – I believe you.

If fictional character/real person tells me they are male, despite not having the external or physical characteristics of a “man”, I will believe them…and act/write accordingly.

If fictional character/real person tells me that they were a different person before someone they trusted completely betrayed them at the most intimate level – I will believe them, and operate or write the story to reflect that.

If a fictional character/real person tells me that oppression in their life occurred because of an accident of birth, even though I have never experienced that in my own life – I will believe them, and seek ways to illustrate that in language.

Gloriously, identity in fiction is up for grabs. My characters may believe they know who they are, what they are, and how they feel about those things, but as they move through their world, they can and often do discover deeper and more resonant aspects of their own condition – all of which are, quite obviously, generated from my own psyche.

But the fluidity that exists in me is real, and my ability to enter into the experiences and lives of others is part of my writing process.

And this must go double for real life.

You might have noticed that I draw the connection between fiction and life a lot on this blog.

Maybe you don’t think that’s pertinent, considering that I write fiction, and *fantasy fiction*, to boot, but I assure you, it is.

The truth about human beings lies not only in the hard reality of science, but in how we imagine worlds.

The truth in our minds is the truth in our bones. It is reactive truth in all three of the approaches I have outlined, but these are truths that are *reflective* truths, as well: they show our selves to ourselves, at our most internally basic.

Everything we write is a manifestation of our truer human-ness, and how we are in the world. And how we approach this communicative craft is the evidence of that reflection.

Brillat-Savarin said “Show me what you eat, and I will show you what you are.”

I say: “Show me how you write, and I will show you who you are.”

 

On Writing Contests

Boston-magician

 

There’s a really interesting phenomenon on the internet when it comes to writers.

First, they form groups. Regularly and without fail, from the very beginning.

It used to be email bulletin board things. These were active conversations, and a lot of well-known editors and traditionally published writers were on them. You could ask them questions, get critiques on small bits of writing, and have in-jokes (mostly about what kinds of snacks writers prefer).

It was fun.

But there was no indie-publishing thing back then, and a whole lot fewer people were attempting to be writers, so it was pretty manageable.

Then came Facebook, and Facebook groups – and the ability to self-publish for next to nothing at all.

And the writing pool exploded. So did the Facebook groups (without most of the already-published writers and the actual, working editors) specifically for writers.

There are literally hundreds of them. Some are just for posting “BUY ME!” posts (which are useless because only writers frequent them, all of them sobbing “Buy my book, pleeeease!”), some are for exchanging writing tips and trying to figure out why their first chapter doesn’t “hook” anyone, and some are for learning how to market books as indie authors.

And then,  with all this, came the “Reader’s Choice” contests. There are dozens, every year, all run by well-meaning but essentially clueless folks, in a vain attempt to create some kind of legitimacy for themselves.

 

I knew, from the start, that this would do only two things: generate a lot of internet noise about “How honoured I am”, and create a proliferation of categories and levels, so the maximum number of people could have the maximum number of badges and awards to claim.

The trouble is that ninety per cent of these things are popularity contests.

The winners are not the best books. They are not even the most “popular” books.

The writers who “win” these are simply the ones with the most friends and relations willing to invest twelve seconds into clicking to a site and voting for their son’s sci-fi adventure or their best friend’s erotic romance…and then, while they are there, noticing that one really sweet-but-needy writer from the sponsoring group (you know: the one who periodically announces they cannot go on, that no one appreciates them, and thus, they are giving up writing FOREVER – or at least until enough people in the group implore them to keep going because surely massive success is just around the corner, because they are such a treasure…) and they vote those writers up, too, because no one wants to be seen as unsupportive.

There’s no way to know if any of the voters have actually read the book(s) they vote on, let alone even sampled the ones they choose to ignore.

It’s not about the writing.

It’s not about the craft, or the skills, or the sheer talent. It’s not even about dedication in the face of massive indifference.

The awards themselves are less worthwhile than the scam awards (the ones created purely for the creators to make some $$$).

Because they are purely vote-based (and anyone, or their dog, can vote) there is no minimum standard to measure the work by.

In fact, there’s no way to know whether there is anything resembling an actual “book” linked with the title, without buying and reading every single one. I have actually toyed with the idea of throwing a title out there (with maybe a few pages of unpalatable shite below it, to get it onto Amazon) just to see how many people would vote it up. Even one vote would prove my point.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t throw your hat in the ring on these things. If nothing else, one of those friends or relations of another writer might look at the title and consider buying it.

I’m saying that these “contests” do not validate your work. I’m saying that you should feel slightly soiled – not “honoured” – because all you’ve gotten is a click response – the same click-response we have for pictures of cats belonging to people we don’t know.

I’m saying that unless all you are in this for is ego-boo, you might better spend your time and energy on writing, rather than stressing about whether or not you can convince enough of your friends on Facebook to vote for your little orphan opus to make you feel loved.