Friday, September 30, 2005

The Truth in Writing

There have been variations on this question going around lately. There are several levels and types of truth. I'm going to deal with only one type here and that's about the 'truth' of writing realistically. It's all pretty obvious stuff. Most of you are just going to nod and say it's obvious. But sometimes I write this stuff for myself because I need the reminders that I say to others.

The question is what you owe the reader.

You don't owe the reader anything because in this case 'the reader' is a mythical creature that writers imagine reading their books, nodding at every nuance, thrilled with ever scene, and following the plot and the characters with understanding and excitement. That reader does not exist and never will, no matter how hard you work on your novel. There are, instead, groups of people who like your work to varying degrees. Some will love the stories, and they are closest to this 'mythical reader,' although there will still be times when they let you know that something just didn't work right for them. However, the majority of readers will like this part but dislike that part; some will think you were too harsh on your characters, and others who think you didn't put your characters through nearly enough hell.

Some will tell you that your world was too simple, and others will tell you that you spent too much time on the details and not enough on the plot and characters.

You cannot please everyone. We know this on one level, and yet people still sometimes look at the idea of owing the reader as though if you are 'truthful enough' you will somehow win them all over and no one will ever have reason to complain.

It doesn't work that way. People who have never even read your books will complain about your writing skills. Plots and characters that you love will be trite and childish to others. That's all right. Get used to the idea. You are not writing for them. Don't try to adapt your work for someone who complains about the very things you love.

You owe nothing to that reader or to the mythical reader.

However, there is one reader for whom you absolute have to write the best book, not skimp on any of the emotional levels, or turn aside from the hard decisions your characters have to make. You have to do the absolute best for this person, who is your first reader.

That first reader is you.

Many of us fail ourselves on some level because we don't try hard enough. I often fail because I don't put enough depth on paper compared to what I see in my mind. It is an easy laziness, and I try to overcome it as best I can.

Tamara Siler Jones is one hell of a writer. I've read her first book, Ghosts in the Snow. The depth of her world is amazing. Everything is 'real' in ways that are extremely difficult to achieve. My only problem with her books (and I've told her this) is that I don't read horror, and that's what she's written on one important level. I don't get a shivery reaction to horror -- most of the time I either get a 'shrug' or a 'yuck.' That made reading Tamara's first book an interesting experience for me because I was in absolute awe of the writing and the world, but parts that others talked about didn't catch me the way they did for most of her readers. It's just not my type of book. If I didn't know her through FM I wouldn't have read it, and that would have been my loss, over all.

Holly Lisle is another hell of a writer, but with a completely different style. Looking at Midnight Rain in comparison to Tamara's book is interesting. There is terror in Midnight Rain, but not horror. There are scenes of blood and gore, but they are not the key parts of the plot like Tamara's book. There are even ghosts, and far more dangerous than those in Tamara's book.

Holly's world building is less obvious, mostly because the story takes place in modern day and she doesn't have to create the entire structure of society and build the castle floor by floor. What she does show us is easily woven into the plot and understandable without much extra because we know places like these. She walks us through a world with enough detail that we are never lost in it.

But if I didn't know Holly, I wouldn't have read this book either. Romantic suspense is not a genre I usually look at, either. Romance novels in general just don't interest me.

If I hadn't read this book, however, that would have also been my loss. This was another one that I really enjoyed. Yes, I know that means there are likely thousands of books out there that I would enjoy if I gave them a try, but despite having liked these two, I'm still not interested enough in the genres of horror or romance to look for much more.

Both of these writers don't pull any punches with the truth when it comes to writing, and comparing the two shows that there are many ways in which you can approach telling a story. Some of the basic elements are the same -- crazed killer, ghosts -- but the way in which the novels turn on these things is completely different.

What I mean to point out is that you can be truthful with your readers in different ways. Murder need not be about gore, and just because one writer creates a scene that shows every gruesome detail to show a murder doesn't mean that, for instance, a simple dead body with a splattering of blood can't be as effective in the right story.

Write what you want to tell, not what someone else has done for her story, especially if it doesn't fit yours. You need to be truthful with yourself about what is needed for your story. Would a scene like one of Tamara's fit into your book, or would it stand out and draw attention more because it is so different rather than being 'truthful' about the murder scene? There is at least one such scene in Holly's book as well, but we are led up to it in ways that make it a natural step in the story process. It shocks the reader, and raises the sudden level of terror. Tamara's murder scenes are a mirror of her murderer, filled with clues that include the 'gore' itself. But her novel is not about gore, and these scenes aren't as shocking after the first one. They are detailed, graphic examinations of brutal murders and they are done to a purpose and for a purpose.

Use the tools needed for description wisely, but don't do it to mimic. Find your own path that may be like one or the other, or neither. And it may -- and should -- change from book to book. (Though probably not within a series, of course.)

Those are the truths you owe to any reader -- to be yourself and write in your own way. Don't write things that you don't like just because someone else said that you aren't 'truthful enough.' At the same time, though, you can't be lazy and skip things just because it's easier.

Be truthful in what you're doing. Be truthful in what you want to create and what readers you want to draw.

Be truthful to yourself about what you want this story to do and learn the best ways to do it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Sunset on the road

As many of you hanging around FM have seen, we're going to a new chat system. It's not something I really wanted to do, but it's what we really don't have a choice. Margaret Fisk has done a wonderful job of working with the one that is 'the choice.' We are 99% certain this is the one we'll be going to.

Some people are going to have problems with the new chat. We're testing it out right now and seeing what accommodations we can make for different people with problems. The great thing is that this chat has different skins, and you'll have a better chance of finding something that works for you for the 'look' but there is only so much that can be done with the actual set up.

The chat will likely not work at all for some people. The same was true of the one we have now, and the one before that, and the one before that. No system will work for everyone. We're going to try to do what adjustments we can to get it working for the most people, but we all have to face the fact that at some point it just will not work. It's unfortunate, but it's also the reality of the internet with the myriad computers, OS systems, connections, programs, security systems, etc.

We'll just continue to do the best we can and see what we end up with. My hope is that eventually everyone will be able to get in and will find the best set up for their computer.

Oh, and for those who are waiting for the changes at FM that I said were going to happen, I put them aside when I found out about the chat. Not that I've had to do a lot of work for it -- Mar has done virtually everything -- but that I knew there would be some problems with a change of this size, and I didn't want to add FM board changes in at the same time. So that will be happening either in October or in December. (We all know that nothing but NaNo happens in November, right?)

In other news…

Two of my publishers have started 'stores' through, which means some of my work will have print copies probably by the end of the year. I am oddly looking forward to this. As I've said before, Lulu does not nice work on the printing side. I just don't recommend that anyone self-publish if they have a chance of getting a 'real' publisher to look at their work. But these books of mine have gone through copy editors, and while they may not be perfect, they've at least had a chance at improvement. (grin) I'll be curious to see how this goes, though.

Russ will be leaving in the morning for the East Coast. He'll be gone for a week. We're pretty much all set to survive here. I'm probably going to spend some time in the other house cataloguing books while he's gone. This will be about the best time to get that place done since I won't be disturbing him as he works.

I have 'things' to get done tonight. Lots of things. So, off I go… probably to mess around some more!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

And more nice stuff!

I've had two bits of good news in the last couple days. First this:

I love this cover! (grin)

And second good news was the arrival of a copy of the Misfit Studios Treasure Trove # 1: SpirosBlaak Aresenal, which includes my short story, Blood of the Clan. The story can also be found on line. I wrote this years ago for them, based on cover art that was dropped before the game went to print. The SpirosBlaak game hit quite a few snags before it came out from Green Ronin, and now Misfit Studio is producing some of the extras for it. I'm glad to see it finally, really out.

So, there are two nice little publications -- one out, and one upcoming.

The new computer is wonderful, too -- but I'm having a horrible time getting caught up on everything as I get it up and going. I still can't find a couple programs, too. Russ leaves for the East Coast on Wednesday and won't be back for an entire week. I sure hope we get everything sorted out before then!

I have added 1700 books to my listing. I still haven't gotten to house #2. I think I have about 200-300 more here... as long as I ignore the paperbacks on the porch. I know some of them have been ruined (we had a leak and didn't know it), and I'm really not looking forward to sorting through them.

But, overall... nice fun stuff. I'm working on the 2YN class right now, and then I'm going to do some other writing (I've been getting between 4-5k a day lately), and then I'm going to play with Daz/Bryce. After all, it is the weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I have a new computer!

Back at the zoo....

I have a brand ndw IBM computer. This was purely by chance -- the place Russ works accidentally got an extra one and couldn't return it, so they agreed to sell it to Russ. A really good deal.

My pictures look different! And the Daz stuff works the way it's supposed to!

It will, of course, take me days to get the computer set up properly and get back to normal. But it has a lovely flat screen that's wonderful to use. I've been working with 24bit color for so long that I am having trouble adjusting to the 32bit.

I can't find my FrontPage disk at the moment, so my journal is taking a vacation until I can. It shouldn't be more than a day or so.

Is this going to screw up my 'nearly caught up on work' stuff? Of course. But I think it's kind of worth it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bad Zette -- Bad, Bad Zette

Bali Mynah

Have you ever found yourself doing something that you just know you shouldn't be doing? But you keep going back to it, just because you're having fun. You don't get other things done, and suddenly you look up and it's the 15th of the month.... is my addiction. I have 868 books added into the database so far. I should be doing any number of other things. Well, besides writing, which is about the only other thing I'm getting done outside of this madness. I have started a reworking of the FM site, moving things a few at a time late at night. And I'm editing Freedom and Fame and working on the nonfiction chapter. Ada is up to 26,000 words, so I've not completely lost track of that... but there are people waiting for things from me. People in the 2YN class whom I promised to critique. I've only done half the Vision payments -- but there's a reason for that, at least. I got the PayPal ones done, but the checks have to wait a little longer until I get a check, which should be in the next few days. So I guess maybe I haven't completely abandoned the world.

The LibraryThing is addictive to someone who loves catalogues and lists and things, and who always wanted to get her books in a database, but didn't see any easy way to do it. Since LibraryThing goes and finds them in the Library of Congress or, a person doesn't usually have to type in much. I've found that ISBNs will do the trick 99% of the time, and even for the older books, title and author will pull up the right one about 60% of the time. The others you just enter manually.

I'm going to get most of the hardcovers in without much trouble. I don't know if I'll ever get to the boxed paperbacks (30 some boxes of them). I have added a few of the paperbacks that are just hanging around here in my office -- recent buys or reads, mostly. In hardcovers I think we're going to hit about 3k. That's actually less than I thought we had, but still not a bad number. (grin)

I should be working on other things. I know I should.

The only good thing is that eventually I really will run out of books to catalogue.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Darkness and Looking Back

I spent a lot of time today considering 9/11 and Katrina. How long will it take until some of the scars go away? I don't think it will happen in my lifetime. And that's made me wonder about the term 'civilization' and when you realize the one you grew up in is not the one you are living in now. I don't like a lot of our world. Oh, it's not completely without its charms, but there is far too much dark here these days. There's nothing that I can do to change it, except on a one-on-one basis, which I try to do as best I can.

You know, everyone mocks the sixties, but at least in those days we believed that there could be a better world if you tried. The sixties were filled with optimism, and that's certainly lacking in the world of today. Yeah, we believed in a lot of unrealistic things from peace on earth, the true brotherhood of mankind, and colonies on Mars. None of it happened. So what? At least we didn't (despite the Cold War) spend all our time staring at every stranger, wondering if we could trust him.

I'd take back the naive optimism any day.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Like nearly everyone else in the world, I've been watching the news on New Orleans and the area surrounding it. Unlike most everyone else, I am not going to point fingers and shout about how it's someone or others fault. Maybe some of it is. It's too late now to make any changes and we are faced, instead, with the reality of the event. I don't care what fanatics on both sides are yelling about fault. It's long past that stage.

I've been through a few sites the last several days and saw an outpouring of sympathy and offers of aid from people all over the world. What their governments are saying isn't important to me. What Bush says on a number of things does not reflect how I feel -- and I don't expect any other government to fully represent the beliefs of all it's people, either. I certainly don't expect the fanatics of any group -- the ones who are bound to draw the attention of reporters -- to represent an entire people, either. I don't give a damn what they're saying. They've no control over the events any more than we have. They're just talk.

As for countries sending physical aid -- I don't know that the US would allow it in. Whom do we trust any more? Who would we let in with plane loads of equipment and people, and believe that they are all carefully checked, no terrorists here. Would we trust it from a country that doesn't back us on the war with Iraq? Would we trust it from Great Britain, which obviously has some problems with their own terrorists. Is there a point at which we are ever going to trust anyone again?

I hate living in this age.

My decision is to do what I can on an individual level, and for the rest to keep moving forward with my own work. The world has changed again -- there's no doubt about it. But I'm still here, and I intend to go on with my life and appreciate what I have, because once again I've seen how quickly and easily everything can be lost. Today I have my home and my office, and all my cats, dog, teddy bears, books, computers -- my life. I am not the kind of person who is now going to go into a depression because I've seen how quickly you can lose everything. I've seen it before, on a smaller scale, living in an area with tornadoes every summer. I will continue to appreciate my good fortune, and do what I can to help others. And I don't care whose at fault for any disaster of this kind. It's done. My feeling toward the people who are yelling and pointing fingers on both sides is just to shut up and do what you can to help, in whatever small way that can be.

And appreciate that you're in a position to look on from the outside, not be caught in the middle of this horrible tragedy.

Today I am starting the rewrite of Ada Nish Pura. I'm now printing out various versions of the chapters that I had edited already, trying to find the spot where I still really liked what I had. I think I've finally let it sit long enough because I'm actually excited about going back to work on the novel. A couple months ago I couldn't look at it without cringing over the entire experience. It's time to separate the experience from the novel and get it finished.

I am going to treat Ada as though it were a much older novel. I'm going to print it out and rewrite it from scratch. I know that there are major changes that I want to include on almost every page that include cultural and worldbuilding material. I think the changes and stress has to be at such a basic level that editing it in won't 'feel' right for me. I want to throw myself completely back into the story and feel it grow again. I love this novel, and 'writing' it again is going to help me rekindle the fire for it.

I also have in front of me several pages of notes for the closing chapters of Glory. It's time I finish that one up as well. I know what I want, but I keep bouncing off the chapter when I try to insert it. I have the manuscript open and I'm just going to find the best spot and start putting the new material in and reworking everything after it to fit.

So that's my look at everything on the first day of the month. I hope to have Ada done this month. I hope to have Glory done within the week.

And that's how I'm dealing with my future -- by reminding myself that I have a very lucky life, and it's time I get back to appreciating it and doing the things that I love.