Friday, October 28, 2005

'Tis better to have loved, and lost

We all know that’s total bunk, we just don’t let it stop us. Which is why I decided to work up one of my novels and submit it. I’ve got nothing to lose but a bit of pride, and we all know that’s no good for anything other than tripping us up, right?

I’m just wondering if there’s a fundamental difference between a writer who knows his/her work is crap, but submits it anyway – and a writer who believes his/her work is ground breaking, when it’s really crap, and submits it ignorantly.

I can promise you all, I’m the former, not the latter. As I go through this novel, altering, correcting and generally feeling embarrassed at the occasionally (violently) poor quality, I’m constantly hounded by the deep understanding that this – and consequently me – is never going to live up.

Let me assure you – I’ve been around the block.

In fact, I’ve been around the block, down the road and up the path.

I know how to submit to publishers. I know how to locate them. I know the ins and outs and the cold realities. I know only agents will tell you you’ll need an agent. I know “not accepting unsolicited manuscripts” means bugger right off, we have a slush pile five miles thick already.

I know the formats, I know the prejudices, and I know the tricks to getting read.

I know where the hoops are, I’ve just never been able to jump that high.

See, the trick to getting anyone to read your work isn’t your work – I could be the second coming of Shakespeare himself, but without the PERFECT summation letter, no one would ever read me.

The trick – the one and only way to get anyone to hesitate between opening your envelope and tossing it in the shred bin – is to WOW them with the summation. It’s the one and only thing they’re going to read, and it has to introduce you, and explain in brief but amazing detail, your entire novel – in one page.

Imagine seeing a movie that has you buzzing – you loved it, can’t say enough about it, but you realize none of your friends are going to like it one bit – so you try to describe it to them, giving the entire plot away in a manner that will make them NEED to see this movie, and you only have five minutes to explain it all.

That’s how you get read. It’s not how you get published, but you won’t even get read if you can’t wow them with the letter.

And that’s after you’ve found one or two you can submit to in the first place. As we all know who’ve been around this block, down that road and up this path, each and every publisher out there has a slush pile filled with people ten times better than you. They’re not hurting for books to print, and they’re not at all desperate to read yours.

In fact, they’d really rather not.

Sure, they’re all looking for that next big money maker - - but anyone who visits a bookstore can see, very few books fit that bill. So these publishers have been taking all these risks already, on all these other duds. Why should they care to try yours?

So on days like this, as I’m nearly finished refurbishing this novel and fretting over the extremely daunting task of a summation letter that might - - just might - - have a chance, I try not to think about all that Love and Loss crap.

I just think about Jose Saramago, who published his first novel at the age of 60, and now stands as the Portuguese Noble Laureate.

Maybe I have more blocks, roads and paths to go around before I get there, but at least I’m walking !

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In Xanadu . . .

Did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure-dome decree . . .

Way back in High School – a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – I had to memorize that poem and then recite it in front of the class. To this day, I can still recite the ENTIRE poem, word for word.

I don’t know why that stuck in my head, when I have trouble remembering what it was I wanted at the store once I got there. But stuck it did.

I believe that’s the reason there’s no room left inside my memory-keeping section for the little details of my own tales. Like how many months a trip took the characters, or exactly how old I may have said someone was. I’ve even been known to forget the hair color of recurring characters, or what floor an office is on.

Some say memory loss is a problem of age, but I say it’s due to an overly-filled brain.

To compensate, I’ve tried many things, from jotting down notes to using a PDA – only I found I couldn’t be bothered digging out the PDA, turning it on, then hunting for the little factoid (all the while risking completely forgetting what it was I was looking for in the first place because along the way I saw something shiny). Notes are simpler, but they bring up an entirely NEW can of larva . . . Namely my innate and frightening need to organize everything ! I figure, why have notes if you’re just going to jot them down in random order as they come along – how can something written down in that manner help at all, when it’s not categorized, ordered and easy to reference?

So I’ll start jotting things down – as I am now during my revision of one of my better novels. I start out okay, taking down some simple facts of one character as I come through chapter 1. Innocent enough, you’d think.

But then chapter 2 comes along, with entirely new facts cropping up regarding an entirely new and equally important character.

And suddenly, interspersed in those chapters about those characters, are minor players who will be recurring and growing in their relevance in later chapters.

So I look at this jumble and realize, suddenly and with great horror, that the facts are mixed up all around the paper, with lines and crossed out bits and recalculated timelines . . . then it starts.

Creeping into my conscious the way dust invariably finds your nose.

Before I know it, I’m more concerned with how my notes are being recorded than the progression of the actual novel. I’ll find myself spending hours sitting here, thinking of ways I should organize the notes, with subjects and facts – perhaps some color coding. I’ll seek out various notebook styles to no avail, then move on to little pocket-sized notepads that ultimately don’t do the trick.

Then I’ll get an idea for a database, easily searched, cross referenced and marked – only what should I use? Excel ? Access? Something simple in Word, perhaps? Ah, but I don’t have Excel or Access at home, only here at work – not the appropriate place for such a database.

And then this little voice inside will laugh at my foolishness. After all, how likely am I to stop what I’m doing and look this information UP in any database? Perhaps the answer is simple . . . perhaps just use the colored highlighting feature of the word processing software to mark important facts. Ah, but again, how difficult would that be? I’d have to scroll incessantly to find what I was after.

Then the real issue pops it’s ugly head up over the top of the compost pile - - Actually looking at this information ! Typically, as organized as I like to be, while I’m writing I fall into another dimension entirely – and the idea of looking up a fact or verifying some data never even enters my mind.

Don’t get me wrong – I know my characters intimately. I know how they dress, how they look, how they smell. I even know their favorite foods and strange habits.

I’ve been writing in some capacity longer than some of my coworkers have been alive. So how could I possibly EVER forget something as simple as right hand vs left hand? Blonde hair vs Auburn locks? Five years ago vs Three years ago? A two-day trip vs a four day journey?

It’s easy.

In Xanadu, did Kubla Kahn
A stately pleasure-dome decree.
Where Alph, the sacred river ran,
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down, to a sunless sea. . . .

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Potential Humiliation

Now that the new page is up, and the newest story has been posted – receiving thus far positive review – I’ve delved into a new project, involving an old one.

Namely, I’m completely and for dual-purpose, rewriting one of my favorites.

Keeper is getting a remodel.

I say for dual-purpose because – technically – I’m going to try something I haven’t tried with any of these stories before . . . and for good or bad, I’m going to let everyone with any mild interest follow along. That is to say, I’m going to try – to the best of my meager ability – to get Keeper published properly. Not self-published, not vanity published, not fly-by-night published, but Honest to God, real publishing company Published.

I don’t think it’s going to work. I believe, truly, that I will fail fully and completely.

But I’m going to try, with honest effort and a mind that's open just enough to let the bugs in.

Anyone out here who has been tossing around the notion of being published, or wondering how, if and where, might find these future misadventures educational. The rest of you will just be mildly amused.

And those of you wondering why in the hell I’d come out here and announce all this will just have to keep scratching your heads.

There’s a benefit to anyone who enjoys my novels – and that is, regardless of my success or failure, you’ll eventually be reading the version of Keeper that I’d always intended to put out. Bigger, Bader and Better ! Beefed up with the detailed backstory I wanted to include originally, more description, more action, more edge. The story I always new it could be.

I’m not ignorant. I do realize the novels as written currently, while popular with some people, are not what an industry publisher is going to give a crap about. They have to be “updated” in order to be of any interest to the “general public” as it were. Let’s face it – even if you like my work, you have to realize it’s not what you’d be picking up off the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Then again, much of what you would be picking up off the shelves of Barnes & Noble is, in point of fact, utter crap.

With that said, they’re not changing to the point of being unrecognizable. They’re just getting a shot of steroids, as it were. To change them would be to write completely different stories – and I don’t want that. I love Keeper, and the sequels that story spawned. Whether anyone of importance will agree remains to be seen.

So basically, what I’m saying is – let’s all go on an adventure, shall we? Let’s find out what it takes to beef up an otherwise mildly entertaining story, and what it takes to start a collection of rejection letters from publishing companies !

And let’s do that here, on the blog, in full view of you good folks on the world wide web, so the humiliation can be complete!

I’m figuring on one of three outcomes:

1) This doesn’t work, I’m humiliated and disgraced, laughed out of offices nationwide and made a mockery of on the Internet. I’ll hide my head in shame, cry in my rum and coke, and go back to doing what I’m doing now – maybe with glasses and a fake nose on.

2) This doesn’t work, no one notices my failure, I put on the glasses and nose, delete the posts from this blog to hide the evidence, and continue what I’m doing.

3) This works, I become published, do a happy dance, and those who were following along gain the courage they needed to give it a go themselves.

3b) I then sell the movie rights, write sequels that all become huge blockbuster hits, and can finally afford that root canal I think I probably need.

Well, you know what I always say . . . Hope springs eternal, but fate always piddles on your shoe!

We shall see.