Palaver’s Hands vs. WNCMysterians.org

The members of WNCMysterians.org, my critique group, were pleased to hear that I’d come to the end of the novel’s first draft. Unfortunately, most of them feel that the protagonist, Danielle Palaver, is unsympathetic, naive, and unfeeling. Well, I wanted her to be naive, at least at the beginning of the story, but they feel she needs some growing up and to develop a realistic awareness of what she is doing. After hearing this from them on several successive occasions, I am no longer resisting and now believe that I have to do something about it.

The WNCMysterians group has some very savvy members. Even though three good analysts were absent last night, there was solid in-depth discussion about the material I had submitted this round, and what to do about the problems they saw. I want to let the story lie for another week or so before going at it again. I need to come to it with a fresher eye.

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Project Updates

The Extra Body was sent to CreateSpace several times and I finally had it the way I wanted it… or so I thought. I ordered 35 copies, but when they arrived I discovered I’d overlaid the back cover text with a dead black spacer. I fixed the problem in PhotoShop, resubmitted the files, waited impatiently until they arrived, and then took off on a selling trip to Virginia as soon as they arrived. This time they were correct. The first batch is being used as promotional giveaways to friends and other folks, and they’re all being told it’s a collector item because of the graphics error. Oh, well.

Palaver’s Hands is the best thing I’ve written so far. I am beginning to understand now and learning how to structure a story around a character. I was worrying about how to resolve the character animosities when I went to bed one night, but I woke me next morning at 3am with the dialogue playing in my head. By 5am, 1600 words later, the first draft was complete and I was feeling good… until postpartum depression settled in. Anyway, the book is set aside for my WNCMysterians crit group to read for story and character, after which I’ll dive back in for a rewrite in which I plan to enrich descriptions of people and places, and correct any logical or continuity errors. I’ve shot a cover image and know what to do with it, but haven’t yet begun to work with it.

Sisters in Crime in Eastern North Carolina has put out a call for NC and SC SinC members to write sexually oriented short stories for an anthology project. I’m sure many will be submitted, but I’m equally certain that my story will be selected. It’s so frightfully clever, don’t you know. Deadline for blind submission is June 30, and I’ll tell you about the story after that date. I don’t want to spill the proverbial beans just yet (he, he, he, and a twirl of the old mustachio).

The Extra Body – completed (sic) – Tues, Mar 26, 2013

Cover 3 - approved

The Extra Body got started as a NaNoWriMo challenge to myself. I wanted to break myself out of the over-plotting that trapped me and my characters in corners we couldn’t get out of. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an online promise to write a 50,000 word draft during the month of November. I did it back in 2012. I never reached 50,000, but I got a nice story of 35k+ words out of the experience, and came away with the habit of writing every day and the confidence that I could write without a fully formed plot at the front end. It’s now four months after beginning with only a vague glimmer of a first sentence and no idea what to write next. I simply sat down and wrote. Before I knew it, I had several good characters and they were in a tricky situation.

My writers group, WNCMysterians.org, has been through the book, and they were a great help. They clarified characters and plot issues, as well as the specific English language expression of my ideas. When I thought it was ready, that I’d caught all the errors, I sat down and read the entire book from start to finish aloud, looking for any bumps in the reading. I found several more incorrect word choices, and smoothed out the aural rhythms.

The Kindle version was the first step for me. I didn’t know until later that CreateSpace would provide a Kindle option. When the Kindle was done, I went to CreateSpace and started building the physical book. The pdf was accepted with no problem, but I knew that the cover would take a few hours. Once I had the body of the book defined (size, paper, number of pages), I downloaded the provided cover template and built my cover using the template for the bottom layer. I have lots of layout experience, so the process, though long, went fairly smoothly. When it was done and uploaded and the book was in the review process, a friend discovered two spelling errors on the rear cover. I fixed them ASAP but couldn’t upload the revised cover art because the book was “in review.” Patience is an issue for me, and it was several days before I could upload the revised cover and order a proof copy. I’m expecting it to arrive today.

Yes, an ebook is an accomplishment, but there’s something about holding a physical copy of your book in your hands and flipping through the pages that beats the ebook experience by miles. It’s the final reality of your effort, of the month of writing, the anguish of not knowing what the characters are about to do and the problems that will be created by their actions, the months of revision, and finally, the building of the book on CreateSpace.

Later: Surprise! The proof was waiting in my mailbox this morning. I ripped into it, finding all sorts of problems. Called CS and talked with a woman who didn’t ask the right questions to solve my problems. I needed to go back into the text and completely reformat the entire book. Frustration. I want the world to be simple, but how can it be? Now it’ll be several more days of chipping away at the mountain before I can order another proof.

Waiting for Your Muse – Fri, Mar 15, 2013

If you postpone your writing in a wait for the notoriously recalcitrant Euterpe, the Muse of music and lyric poetry (or choose your own personal Muse), you’ll still be waiting when the Grim Reaper comes to collect you. She isn’t coming. That’s her way, and you’d better understand that from the start.

As for inspiration, there’s no such thing. There are ideas that seem to spontaneously spring forth, like the title that you’ve worried about for two weeks, or the nugget that propels you into three months of sweaty work on the next novel. But ask any professional journalist, reporter or writer. A “real“ writer should be able to sit down anywhere at any time and crank out however many words are needed. Are you a writer? Prove it.How do you prove it? By sitting yourself down at the computer, typewriter, with a yellow pad and pencil, chisel and stone tablet, or whatever you prefer, and putting down words, thousands of words. You might have a problem getting started. The refrigerator might be calling you. The lawn may want mowing and the gutters may need cleaning. Ignore them. Ignore your friends, your spouse (spice?), your children, your job, that pending law suit. Once you start writing, you’ll find a groove and the words will start to flow, faster and faster, until you reach your 90,000 word goal. Then you’ll turn around and find that your Muse has been watching your progress over your shoulder. You see, it’s you that has to inspire her, not the other way around. Tricky, huh? You’d better believe it. It took me years of artistic suffering to figure this out.

As I read the above blog post over, I thought that it took a rather hard line. Okay, so I’m a pedantic didact. So what, if I’m right. My “rules” might not fit you. I’ve come to them from my own experience. That’s part of the problem of being a writer: everyone has plenty of advice for you, but in the end, it’s an individual journey and you have to figure it all out for yourself anyway. A writer’s life is fraught with danger.

(The first few paragraphs of this post are a rough excerpt from the how-to-write-a-mystery book I’m working on, Mystery Mastery. It will be available through Amazon by summer, if all goes according to plan.)

Thoughts on Rejection – Tues, Mar 12, 2013

The Cat Eater was rejected. Let’s face it: rejection is the writer’s bane, and it’s been so since the first caveman (caveperson?) made the first mark on a cavern wall.

“My work, the product of my rich and fertile imagination, was rejected by those ignorant fools, those illiterate slobs who have trouble reading hot dog stand menus, those Philistines. I’ll never subject my work to their insults again. I can hardly wait until I’m dead so I can finally become famous.”
And so it goes, time after time, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, lifetime after lifetime. What insight can I bring to this ongoing and thoroughly depressing phenomenon? I doubt I’ll be able to shed any light in the gloom. All I know is that every time they do it to me, I sink to the same depths as I ever did.
But these days, knowing that I’m a whole lot more experienced, and being far more confident in my writing than when I was just starting out, I at least don’t feel like quitting the writing altogether. These days, I know my writing is strong and that I’ve got plenty to say about the state of things, people’s psychology, situations I’ve seen or extrapolated from reality. They can hurt me, yes, but they can’t stop me.
It’s true that I’d only submitted it to one magazine, but it was rejected. And that knocked the wind from my sails, which are merely tattered rags after all these years of buffeting anyway. My writing cohorts tell me to submit again. That’s what we’re all told, right? “Keep the blasted things in the mail. Your work will never see daylight if left in a desk drawer” (or a computer file these days). That’s true enough, but it drives me nuts.
Here’s what I did in the past. After years of courting magazine editors to get my photos and articles published, I got fed up enough to start my own magazine (Shooter’s Rag – Nature Photo Magazine). I moved to the other side of the desk. I no longer had to convince an editor that I was his/her ally and sell, sell, sell. I could, and did, write whatever I wanted, and I had a slush pile of other writers who were suddenly trying to sell their work to me. The foo was on the other shoet. (BTW, I treated other writers as colleagues, not as adversaries.)
The world had changed by the time no one was interested in publishing my Ben Bones novels, and I was able to go to Smashwords, Amazon KDP and CreateSpace to do it myself. Sales aren’t great, but I’m not beholden to anyone, and I’m not begging editors for the opportunity to help them fill their publications.
So now I’m again thinking of self-publishing. Not only The Cat Eater, but a book of my short works. I have a title for the collection and need to develop a cover. Now I have to weigh the possibility of no sales on my own, or postponing self-publishing in the traditional hope of a cash sale to magazines that are cavalier about my precious output. What a dilemma! As I’m wont to say: a writer’s life is fraught with danger.
Yeah, I know, I have a bad attitude. What can I say? I’m a child of the 60s.

On Rewriting – Sun, Feb 24, 2013

I spent the morning rewriting parts of Palaver’s Hands that my crit group, wncmysterians.org, ripped apart at our last meeting. As much as I dislike having my work torn into like that and all the homework I have to do because of it, if I address the issues they identify, the work is always much better in the end.And that’s what a critique group is for, isn’t it? We writers are always too close to our work. We don’t see the little details like punctuation errors that make us look only semi-literate instead of brilliant.But we also miss the bigger structural issues, the gaps in the story telling that have nothing to do with literacy. These larger errors are the ones that show us to be ignorant, grunting cave people who can’t tell our brethren (and sistern) which way to go to find the mammoths our lives depend on.

I am greatly and regularly indebted to my fellow WNCMysterians. Humbled, too.

On the topic of precision in writing, I think it was Blaise Pascal who wrote, “I am sorry I have had to write you such a long letter, but I did not have time to write you a short one.”

Another of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain. He said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

Yikes! Could you have said it more succinctly? In the face of such comments, how can any writer dare to be arrogant? Every word, sentence paragraph, and page is a life and death struggle.

The Cat Eater – Tues, Feb 19, 2013

Over the weekend I submitted my story The Cat Eater to a magazine. Besides my crit group wncmysterians.org and several close friends, the story hadn’t seen much daylight. I’ve been holding it back because I want to release an ebook of my short pieces. At the same time though, I want to get some magazine publication. Submission means waiting months for their positive/negative response, but that’s life, ain’t it?

I’m not sure where the idea for the story originally came from. Mostly, I think it came because I was stuck on my larger novel projects and was looking for a shorter story I could knock out quickly in the meantime. Did I say “quickly?” I must be kidding. Even the shortest project becomes an involved research quest and an attenuated writing effort of several weeks. It was the same with The Cat Eater.

The research started with a Google search for “cat recipes.” I was surprised when hundreds of hits showed up, and I was able to get some very cool stuff. Some of it was satirical but much of it was real, including the info on cultures around the world that relied at least partly on feline protein.

The title of the piece was a major problem. I went through The Cat Burglar, The Cat Bungler, and Cooking Cats.

In the end, I settled on The Cat Eater, a title that some people find so unsettling that they refuse to read the story. I feel bad about their refusal, because I think that the story shows some excellent writing and has twists and turns that make it thoroughly macabre. My critique group agrees. By the way, one of the refusing readers is in that group.

Another little known fact, is that my cat, The Half Montie (a fixed ex-male), hasn’t read it either. I don’t want to upset him.