Tuesday, August 21, 2012

R is for Reverse Engineer

I don't often delve into craft-related posts on this blog, but I'm beginning to have second thoughts on that. The reason? A recent comment made in an article that perpetuates a common myth nowadays about the work involved in self-publishing.

I've tried my best to stay out of the arguments whirling around this particular article, and some of the comments in particular made by well-known author, Sue Grafton. One comment that seems to have many in an uproar is this:
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?

A: "Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don't self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you're too lazy to do the hard work."
Then, later:
"Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did."

Now, to credit the article's author, it is a great interview. Yet the comments above are perplexing. Yes, some comments talk about the perils of not working hard on your craft, but a distinction needs to be made between the artist and means of releasing that art to the public.

Later, of course, a follow-up commentary/apology was made, but I think this whole debate brings to light a sharp divide in the world of indie publishing. It is a world that is becoming increasingly populated with very hard-working entreprenueral types, who aren't out to "make a quick buck", but rather put extensive time into their craft, and are willing to put long hours into marketing. Several are in it for the love of words, and the love of expressing those visions with others...including myself.

Like many other industries that have undergone dramatic changes (especially due to technological upheavals) this type of debate often appears. But what about the work ethic question?

I can't speak for others, but I can speak for my own situation. I can't begin to count the number of writing craft related articles or books I've read over the years. I've listened to numerous interviews, read a great deal of fiction, and have written thousands and thousands of pages over the years.

A few years ago, I essentially "reverse engineered" six separate bestselling novels. I tore each book apart and organized my findings by a myriad of categories: page counts per chapter, characters that appeared in each scene, major/minor plot points, structure notes, etc. It was instructive, but I can't say I learned a great deal from the exercise because I'd already been writing short stories and novels for decades leading up to that point. It was interesting to see a few "writing rules" being broken with regularity, however.

I've also written hundreds and hundreds of poems over the past twenty-five years, and tried to pick the best ones out for Horizons. I added a few short stories and then exchanged manuscripts with another author, Paul Chernoch, whose book The Endless Hunt is now available via Amazon. He helped edit my manuscript and I helped to edit his. That was not a walk in the park due to the complexity of his book and considering it came in at over 100,000 words. It is a very in depth book and well worth the read.

Surely, I must have slacked off when I wrote Theft at the Speed of Light. No, not really. Four completely different versions of the book were written over a span of fifteen years. The final version parallels the Biblical Book of Jonah, which wasn't the easiest thing to do, but it ended up being the best approach. It added a whole new depth of meaning to the book and in some ways parallels my own struggle with the topic in general. Oh, and many of the characters in the book tend to mirror actual worldviews/perspectives on the topic. I also ran one of the versions past a well know science fiction writer/editor to get some help with it.

Does that make me lazy?

Did I tell you about the love story/technology novel I wrote years ago that paralled the story of the Tower of Babel? It's sitting in a box somewhere. Would you like to see all the boxes of other manuscripts?

Gathering the Wind took months of research, and it was not easy distilling over 1,200 verses into a few memorable ones all the while somehow trying to make the book as "timeless" as possible.

And what about the next science fiction short story collection I'm working on? Close to two dozen stories were written, but I'm only including fourteen of them. Of those fourteen, each one will likely be edited a half dozen times or more. I've been working on it for over eight months now.

Perhaps a better approach would have been to write one hundred stories and then just pick out one of them and market it into oblivion. Did I mention that I can't write full time for a living?

Now I know that authors like Sue will likely never read any of this or any books I have written, but the point still stands that many of us out here are working very hard on our craft and in some ways have to work harder because the odds are longer that we will get noticed. We have to strive, struggle, and stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones in an effort to share our visions with the world. The opportunities have never been better technologically to reach readers all around the planet. I'd rather focus my energy on that and telling great stories.

As I wrote sometime ago, some of us have been waiting a long time for this moment. But don't think for a second that some of us have let up on our skills our craft-building during that time. In fact, at least for me, I've been working harder than ever at it. Eventually, and I may be wrong on this point, I hope over time that it becomes clear that some of us are giving it everything we've got and have been doing so for a very long time.

May the reader be the beneficiary of all that hard work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Going For Broke

From now until the end of August, I've decided to put all of my books on sale over at Amazon. All four books will be available for a limited time at 99 cents. See my author page here for a listing of all the books.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Ripple In Time

The other day I was reading about the unusual story structure of the upcoming book-turned-movie, Cloud Atlas. The description of the plotlines struck me as being very original at least in terms of their presentation across time. In fact, it reminded me of numerous ideas I have been gathering together over the years that I think would be fun to try in short fiction, and, if the structure idea is strong enough, in longer, novel-length works.

Maybe I'm bored with the norm, but I'm determined to push the limits of story structure in all sorts of weird, but purposeful directions. I don't have a lot of difficulty conceptualizing non-linear story structures, but where it gets challenging is in the execution stage. It's one thing to draw out on a piece of posterboard how a character's story plays out, how it interacts with those around them, and where it all ends up. Putting into a readable format is another issue, however.

Perhaps I should post a disclaimer in the description of the next book or even on the cover. Something like:

Warning: Crazy Structure Experiments Ahead!

Fiction reading tends to be a very linear activity, and although some books delve into flashbacks and historical sequences from time to time, in general, most fiction travels in straight line forward in time. This is not a bad thing, but it is so common that it becomes a challenge to read a book that jumps back and forth in time or even one that has too many characters.

For example, I have a meandering story sitting around titled "The Mathmatician's Lawn". The story needs some work, but it just begs to have some kind of mathmatical structure tied into the flow of the story. Something like the Fibonacci sequence, fractals, or whatnot that would play off the theme of the story.

Another thought: what about a story whose character interactions create ripples that travel forwards and backwards in time? Is that even possible? I don't know, but it would be fun to try.

Structure experiments aside, at the end of the day each story will have to pass at least pass one test: is it readable? Time will tell...