Saturday, October 30, 2010

Writing and Rules

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading around in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, all available installments in the Richmond Tweed Regional Library.

It is interesting to me that every so often I get hold of an excellent read, in this case six so far excellent reads, and it breaks a lot of the writing rules I’m learning to negotiate. For example, the one that says adverbs are a no-no. I did recently read someone on their blog doing a pass over their latest w-i-p, cutting out adverbs and replacing them with ‘stronger’ verbs.

I’m frequently stuck for ‘stronger’ verbs and I’m forever looking for a verb dictionary. If such an species exists. Yes, the thesaurus is good sometimes. But I also find myself making up words (another no-no) and making them up from nouns (n apparently serious no-no) or retrieving words gone out of use. Anglo-Saxon is a good source. Reading an old dictionary is a favourite way to spend the odd spare ten minutes

So far, one of my favourite retrievals is “scaum”. I love it for its contradictions. In English it looks like “scum”, meaning a kind of “dirty foam”. In Dutch it looks like “schuim” meaning “a clean white foam”. It is obviously related to Dutch, my first language/mother tongue, and meditates on the way Dutch and English are close cousins, probably… I’m extrapolating here … by way of Anglo Saxon. I’m using it as one of the signature words of one of the people’s in my novel Lodestar, using the word’s Dutch-like meaning.

I wonder sometimes how writing rules get their currency? Bujold started her series in the 1980s. In that decade it seems to me nobody writing science fiction and fantasy worried about adverbs and adjectives.

Bujold uses plenty of adverbs, eg in Komarr, page 80, a random pick, … Exquisitely slow motion; He wanted a drink desperately; merely dead; universally used; No, unfortunately; accurately at the site; speedily fruitful direction; magically powerful; publicly released; leaked yet either, amazingly … And as for adjectives … shall we say about twenty two or three on that same page?

But the thing is, of course, that most of Bujold’s verbs are not run-of-the-mill either and a lot of the adverbs are part of Miles’s (main character) way of speaking/thinking, as well as being part of a particular style of communication even now popular in real life … that kind of know-it-all, trying to be funny but being slightly ironic style of talk.

I’m going to put this up though I had planned to write more. This last week has been top stress in real life with my mother, aged 85, falling over and breaking her “good” hip. She had a hip transplant, it’s the only treatment, due to the broken-off bit dying through lack of blood supply.

For me, us, her children, it means much driving up and down over the state border between Queensland, where they don’t go in for summertime daylight saving, and NSW. Constant change of time zone, even just an hour, is quite confusing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Digital Publishing

The Next Text seminar (at Northern Rivers Writers Centre, Byron Bay) was a little like a cyclonic wind picking up and disarranging all my previous ideas about digital publishing …

Kate Eltham, CEO at QWC and of IfBooks Australia, after a short history of the book so far explained how content is being separated from container, and all the different ways the content can now be contained – and it is the early days yet.

While books as objects (first editions, art books, limited editions, etc) are still important, Kate says, content released from the constraints imposed by print enables a much closer relationship between readers and writers. Eg blogs, websites, alternative reality games, social media.

The book as a never ending conversation – Kate’s question, will it still be long form narrative? Who knows. But it was great to have my ideas confirmed. All I have to do now is work out how to make it happen.

Things to talk about, for readers: access, ownership, new cultures. For writers: getting paid; platform, wider reach; new audiences; new forms.

Mark Coker, who began an ebook publishing platform has ‘published’ (he wasn’t calling it publishing but I don’t know what instead) 21,000 books so far this year. He quoted that in the US, ebooks are now 9% of what is being published, or approx 100,000 units.

He said print publishers are reacting inappropriately. He also said that print publishing is broken. He distributes to at least nine ebook platforms, including mobile phones, more are in the pipeline.

His seven secrets to success on

1) Write a great book. [I'm working on that] Make sure of quality, use beta readers, edit exhaustively, get a great cover image. [Thinking about this]
2) Write another great book. Build a back list

3) Maximize distribution by getting a distributer or five, sell in as many ebook stores as possible.

4) Give (some) books away for free. EG Free by Chris Anderson on His own about marketing.

5) Trust your readers and partners, ie don’t practice paranoia. There’s always going to be piracy.

6) Have patience. It might take a year for your book to take off. [What’s a year, I thought, compared to the two and three years a book can be in the pipeline at publishers, without even the light of being published at the end of the tunnel?]

7) Start marketing your book yesterday. Contribute, share and support, don’t spam, give your readers tools to read your work eg, provide your book in both US and UK spelling.

IN TOTAL: Be an architect for virality, ie virus spreading, word of mouth still most important. Eliminate frictions by making your work widely available, by providing sampling and a couple more points I missed. Probably available on the website.

I’ve printed out the marketing manual and am studying that. Blogging, see here, is my first step.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Novel: Boys of Blood and Bone

The contrasting treatment of the two protagonists, Henry and Andy, in Boys of Blood and Bone made me aware, again, how writerly writing can add depth and meaning to a character’s point of view.

A great title. The plot is awkward to say the least. My problems reading it began with Henry. He comes across as such a lightweight. What he thinks and does seemed unnecessarily weak. Anything would contrast with Andy’s theatre of war and blood and guts and mud and cold. Trot, a secondary character in the modern arena, is much more his own man.

Henry, driving through the countryside breaks down and must seek help at the nearest little town. Trot gives him a lift in and introduces Henry to Janine, Trot’s girlfriend, and Miss Cecelia, Andy’s fiancĂ©e all those years ago.

Henry is drawn into a mystery about Andy. Janine encourages him to read Andy’s diary and he seems to agree out of mere politeness. Andy’s diary is non committal to the point of being uninformative. As a carrying device into Andy’s story, the modern day part of the plot doesn’t really work for me. Jean Ringland, in her family memoir, A Ghost at the Wedding, manages the intervention of war much more naturally.

The sections written from Andy’s POV glow with layers of meaning. He thinks it himself at one stage, ‘his mind layered it over like a pearl.’ Probably boys in the first decade of the twenty first century cannot be seen as layering things in their minds like pearls. However, what Andy experiences and how he experiences were what kept me reading. Andy on board the ship taking him to Europe, ‘watched waves march on by, each armored with a steely sheen.’ (p58). His whole life is enriched like that, with extended metaphor and simile. Writerly.

Henry and his friends, talking about their surf, compare it consciously, in speech, to freight trains and haystacks. (p84). Though Henry gets a bit of the poetry here and there, ‘the swells lifting him [were] like broad black road humps’ most often his perceptions are empty of colour eg ‘the waves beyond were amazing’.

It seems to me Andy’s character is built up using a sensual writerly style of writing. Henry, being brought to much shallower life, with much less drama perhaps, is the poor cousin as a result. Because his feelings and perceptions are impoverished, we reading his story, are much less ready to identify with him.

I found the two styles in one book idea interesting because I’ve been writing a novel using a similar strategy, writing the main chanracter's parts in a ‘fantasy’ style; and using a ‘modern’ slangy prose for the supporting character's stories, in an attempt to help readers differentiate the groups.

I see now that there’s a danger that one tribe gets more of the goods. So that’s another thing to look out for come the structural edit!