Last Friday’s Five

Last Friday’s Five Questions for LJ.

What is your favorite type of food? (i.e., Italian, Mexican, etc.)
I love Italian food, but now that I have to avoid tomatoes, onions, and most pasta, it’s kind of ruined. *Until we learn how to tolerate acid again* I like Tex-Mex, but, again, there are a lot of flour tortillas, and that means CARBS. (sigh) We like fajitas when we do a special lunch. I think the Blue Mesa Grill’s Adobe Pie is wonderful.

What is the name of your favorite restaurant?
It’s really a tie between the Blue Mesa Grill and the old Taste Of Italy, which has closed all its locations except the one that’s farthest from us. I used to love The Filling Station in Dallas for its ambiance. We sat under the neon pegasus and made jokes out of the names of the menu items. A High-Beam was a fancy burger, a Low-Beam the low-fat counterpart, Hi-Test was a spiked drink of some sort, Nuts and Bolts were fried mushrooms and fried zucchini slices, and a Lube Job . . . well, all the names on the menu were amusing. It was located in a 1920s service station building, both bays. Alas, it is long gone.

Do you like fast-food?
Ugh. We end up eating fast food too often because of time constraints and the frustration of not being able to eat so many things. Hamburgers without the bun or the pickles or the onions or any ketchup seem to be OK for all three of us, but ugh . . . grease! I used to adore the personal pan pizzas you could get at various places, but now I can’t have the tomato sauce or any of the really good toppings. It’s nice that fast food exists so that people on the run can get something, though.

Do you prefer to be alone or in a group when you eat out?
I wouldn’t eat out alone. “Look at that fat slob! Nobody will even eat at the same table as her for fear she’ll slurp up their plates. She has no shame!!” I prefer to be in a group. Even when the group gives constant recommendations on what I should or should not be eating. I ordered a Cobb salad with Caesar dressing and a few subtractions the other day, and some of the yahoos in the peanut gallery said that it was more fattening than eating the burgers that they were getting. I needed the roughage, though.

Do the waiters/waitresses at your favorite restaurant know you by name?
They know Hubby and his co-workers over at On The Border because they go twice a week or so for lunch! Otherwise, they sometimes recognize us but really have no idea what the name is. What irritates me most is when they exclaim, “You’re brother and sister, aren’t you?” No, we’re an old married couple who has come to look alike. People grow to look like their pets and their spouses after twenty-plus years, didn’t you know? Someday I’ll probably just smile and quote, “Vice is nice, but incest is best!”* It gets tiring to JUST smile when they say that EVERY time we come in and I correct them. Yes, I’m a fat ugly old hag of a slob failure and I couldn’t POSSIBLY be married because I am such a loser, but hey, guess what, I *AM* married, and he’s such a good breadwinner that we actually want for very little, and I don’t have to work like YOU do but get to waste my time writing and waiting on my little old lady hand and foot, and he actually supports me AND my mother, whom he cordially dislikes, the poor man, but HEY, see the hand? It wears a ring. Sheesh.

* Shouted at showings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” See, Riff-Raff and Magenta are brother and sister. It’s like in the Ring Cycle. My husband and I are not related, not even 25th cousins. Oh, never mind.

CRAFT: Somebody else’s work that’s market-ready for a change

Guess what? We’ve had a lot of navel-gazing and analysis of my writing here, complete with rejectomancy and market bashing. Feel like something new?

I’ve decided to take a look at a current contest’s top five and do a bit of signal-boosting for those authors. You can even vote on which of the five you think should win the contest, if you follow the links given. I’ll look at each one in turn (you have to follow the link to the Reading Room site in order to read them, though, because they’re copyrighted and I don’t have permission to have them here.)

Two questions loom in my mind about these.

ARE THE WORKS COMPLETE? If the books are indeed finished (and they seem polished, but I’ve seen authors who carry around three chapters that have been polished to a high gloss by endless workshopping, with no book behind them), these authors should be querying the agents I’ve just been talking to. All five of these are surely the sort of books that they’d snatch up, yelling, “This I can sell!”

But I could sit down and pound out some really dark and foreboding or intriguing opening of a few paragraphs, heedless of how I would develop the story or what I was implying and promising to a reader, if I never intended to go on and make a complete and satisfying tale out of it. It’s easy to make up something if you’re not looking forward to how you will fulfill the promises you are making to readers.

Truth be told, in ALL FIVE of these cases, these promise to be stories with either grotesqueries or horrid events happening, and I could not live with that for the year that it would take to develop and perfect such a story. I could not “become” these characters who scare me and who are unlike what I like to escape into. I find real life challenging enough, and maybe that’s why I gravitate towards stories with less dark settings and happier “developments.” I don’t mean that it has to be all fluff and cottontails, but I can’t bear things where pets are being zapped and people are killing themselves in order to dedicate themselves to the dark side or preying on others and all that jazz. I mean . . . can’t we escape to something amusing, happy, funny? REAL GENIUS and A CHRISTMAS STORY instead of the dark stuff? THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and STAY TUNED instead of all the seriousness? Maybe it’s just me. It almost certainly is.

But! That’s why I never address such subject matter. I can’t live with it for ten minutes, let alone slip into these characters’ skins like a good little Stanislavski practitioner. It’s nice that these authors can . . . I guess.

And this leads me to the next question.

WHY SO DARK? DO YOU REALLY HAVE THAT VIEW OF THE WORLD?

Because if you do, that may mean that a successful author of today needs such a view unless he or she wants to write nothing but romances or slash fanfic. I see so much stuff that’s really dark and/or deals with depressing tropes. So many things on the SF channel and in the stores seem to be about dead souls or the undead or “death dealers” or whatever, things that I don’t feel drawn to and which I wouldn’t dare to write about myself (because we do not KNOW the truth of the situation, and we should not speculate about this stuff and mislead others into thinking that is the reality of the situation–that’s because it relates to people’s spirituality. I have no problem with people speculating about the future or space travel or aliens or mystery lights and all that. Go figure.)

Frex, here’s a deal that just went down and was reported in the trades. “Debut author Lanie Bross’s FATES, the story of an Executor sent to earth to bring about human destinies, who finds herself unaccountably experiencing human emotions, leading to an epic romance set across multiple worlds, to Wendy Loggia at Delacorte, in a significant deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal.”

Wow! A two-book deal, significant, pre-emptive offer. What a dream! But . . . again, it is not the type of plot I would read or write. Possibly I’m a religious fanatic or some kind of weirdo. But still. What’s an “Executor”? It’s going to be, most likely, a thing like they had in the TV series “Dead Like Me,” leaving most things vague. Or they’re going to be Angels of Death. Or whatever. I’ve seen that many times before. As for the immortal being falling in love with the mortal *yawn*, that has been done SO OFTEN that it is on the The Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés. I’m sorry, but it’s true. This is not particularly original except in the details and in the actual characters/settings/turns of phrase. Would I feel comfy writing about such a thing when I don’t know how things really are in the other planes of existence related to the afterlife and eternity? No. Which you may see as oddball because I have no problem writing about astral projection (into the astral plane) or about various other physical and ethereal planes in fantasy. But still, there it is. That’s something that publishing is excited about. Mega-congratulations to the clever author who would think this up and could execute it and charm the editor, even so. Once you’ve hit the best-seller list with it, you can pull off other projects that might be closer to the book of your heart, whatever that may be.

(If you enjoyed the Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés, take a peek at their other pages, including The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. Hee!)

Is the world so dark? Have we pretty much given up hope and begun looking for a good fantasy?

But anyhow. LONG POST, so the actual analysis or reviews or whatever went under the cut. It’s more like a discussion of why I don’t think I would make up stories like these, because this blog IS all about me, thanks, but there might be a few other points made. Click through if you’re curious. Thanks for reading!

WHY COULD I NOT WRITE STUFF LIKE THIS

Hurricane Daze–Thinking of y’all and sending positive vibes

It’s pretty frightening to see that hurricane and hear the weather people’s predictions. The FOX weatherman said, “I’ve never seen these computer models all agree like this, and they’re better than ever at predicting now.” They all seem convinced that Goodnight, Irene will make landfall and cause a real mess. All the way up to NYC, they fear.

Wow. I’m thinking of you all and sending you good wishes. I remember when Carla and then Camille hit the Gulf coast when we lived in Houston. Daddy boarded up the huge windows in our Midcentury Modern contemporary. Rain beat down on us sideways as he finished up the “securing” of the place. We evacuated. It was really an experience for a little kid. I hope this one fizzles out like the other one did. You don’t even really need the rain!

My neighbor’s child said today, “I heard that people are going to shelters for the hurricane time.”

“That’s right,” she replied absently, working on the sprinkler head that her mowing people had run over and crunched. I was outside trying to figure out if any of our sprinkler heads had been affected on our property line. (This was a new guy . . . don’t know what he was doing to break a sprinkler head.)

“Why?”

“They can’t stay in their houses. It’s too dangerous.”

“Why don’t they just go to the Holiday Inn Express? The pool is so awesome! It’s so fun!”

She smiled at him. “They can’t afford that.”

“They can just put it on the credit card!”

Such innocence. It’s nice that their family, as well as ours, *could* if pressed put a couple of nights in a hotel on a credit card. I left it to my neighbor to explain The Poor and The Middle Class and The Wealthy and The Illuminati Determined To Ruin Us as I came back inside out of the heat.

Sometimes there are consolations in not having children . . . I don’t have to explain why God let the squirrel get run over in front of our house, for example, or why Susie can’t just get her mother to write a check so she can join Scouts and be on the team and so forth. Susie’s single mom can barely afford to stay in her condo in our neighborhood; I noticed the church came last week bringing them school supplies and food, and I’m thinking perhaps they should be the beneficiaries of my closet clean-out if there’s anything they are interested in–if I can figure out some non-insulting and non-condescending way to say, “You look about my size. I have way too many clothes–want some of these before I send them off to consignment?” If I offered to pay for Susie to be in Scouts, I’m afraid it would come across all wrong and they wouldn’t let me do it anyway. Perhaps if I could do it anonymously. But I need to be sure she really does want to be in Scouts. So if I ask, wouldn’t they suspect. . . . (sigh)

It’s all too much for me. I could PLAY with my kids and have lots of fun, but when it came to the tough stuff, I fear I might be one of those bad parents who doesn’t have answers that console children. MY mother didn’t have answers to console me every time, and look how crappy I turned out!!

ANYWAY–first an earthquake, and now a hurricane. Texas needs that rain more than anywhere! This is poor planning on the part of the weathermen! This is their job–why don’t they DO IT RIGHT and send the rain here!! Oh . . . the weathermen don’t make the weather? Dang. What a drag.

Broke the record again today–107F–time for stolen humor

*SNRRRRK*! Can’t resist plagiarizing passing along a copy of part of Evil Editor’s blog post.

Typical schedule of Angel-in-Training:

8 AM – 10 AM: Harp lessons
10:00 – 10:15 AM: Morning break
10:15 – Noon: Glee club
Noon – 1 PM: Lunch (angel hair with diavolo sauce)
1 PM – 3 PM: Flying lessons
3 PM – 3:15 PM: Afternoon break
3:15 – 5 PM: Praising God (who tries to remain humble)
5 – 7 PM: Dinner (babyback ribs)
7 – 8 PM: Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune
8 – 10 PM: Acting lessons for appearances in film and TV
10 -11 PM: Polishing other Angels’ halos

He adds:
“God appreciates attitude–but not too much attitude. You saw what happened to Satan.”

*SPLURT*

Much funnier than the query he was critting. But anyway.

CRAFT: maybe it IS changing your voice–decide

Today I was sent a link to an editor’s blog post about how she doesn’t feel that she is changing an author’s voice (or style, if you will) when she changes passages or “tightens them up.” I couldn’t get the Blogspot software to accept my comment, although I tried with my Google ID, my LiveJournal ID, and with Open ID. It kept crying that the cookie was invalid or whatever. Bad blogspot. No cookie!

What’s interesting is that the justification she gave for tightening or condensing things was perfectly rational. I just didn’t think that the way she implemented it had “no effect” on the book as far as how it came across to the reader, which is what we mean ultimately when we speak of voice or style. I will argue that she didn’t realize that she was indeed making a major change, one that I would object to (and suspect that others would, as well).

Well, anyway, I found the point of that post intriguing, and I wanted to respond. So here’s the original post that you can go read:

http://omnificpublishing.blogspot.com/2011/08/editors-corner-youre-stifling-my-voice.html

Basically, the editor is saying that she revised

“Fred saw her walking down the lane toward him. Now, Fred was no idiot. Everyone who knew Fred constantly talked about how smart Fred was. He was really smart, and being so smart, he wasn’t about to let her walk past him without taking the opportunity to speak to her, as any intelligent man would.”

(Yes, it’s very over-the-top. It sounds like part of a satire or parody, frankly, something that would have Fred being sort of a fool who thought he was smart, and a character who’s there to screw things up as a type of comic relief. I would expect the next line to be some kind of ridiculous thing he would say to her that sets off an explosion in the plot.)

to

“Fred considered himself an intelligent man, and when he saw her walking down the lane, he knew he couldn’t let her pass without speaking to her.”

(Which, IMHO, is straight narrative that encapsulates the action as just plain old action with no “spin.” There is really no suggestion, to me, that we as readers are supposed to start getting ready to laugh.)

May I play the devil’s advocate here for a moment? (Some might say the Devil him/herself.)

A major change has taken place in this revision. Let’s look at the original. It sounds like something written in, say, the 1930s USA at the latest. Herman Wouk’s first books, or Sinclair Lewis at his most twee. It’s almost a Jane Austen-esque pastiche: “Fred considered himself an intelligent man, and, as such, he thought he was pretty good at thinking and that sort of thing. Thoughts came to him as freely as M&Ms to a Mars, Inc., employee on break.” It’s kind of a telescope-out tweaking of the genre. (Don Westlake was the last writer who really got away with this type of thing–look at the late Dortmunder novels and the sort of thinking that his minor characters do–and he was allowed to do this because he was already a best-seller and an acknowledged GrandMaster.) Our market no longer approves of such books, or so they claim. Therefore, we can’t allow this example passage to stand as is.

The passage does have appeal, in that it lets us imagine the internal thoughts of the character–and it’s not dry narrative. (Narrative is too often something that readers take very seriously.) I know it SOUNDS like Victorian authorial intrusion, but because we’re in Fred’s POV, this comes across more as a musing he is having, despite naming himself in third person. “Now, Fred was no idiot. Everyone who knew Fred constantly talked about how smart Fred was. He was really smart, and being so smart, he wasn’t about to let her walk past him without taking the opportunity to speak to her, as any intelligent man would.” Waaaay overkill in non-humorous fiction, because of course “smart” is not the reason we stop to speak to a looker. “Lust” is more like it. But anyhow, the implication here is that Fred thinks he is smart. He’s kind of obnoxiously smug about it. That’s the connotation of the lines.

“Fred considered himself an intelligent man, and when he saw her walking down the lane, he knew he couldn’t let her pass without speaking to her,” is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, different in tone, and takes itself far too seriously. It doesn’t convey the twee-ness of the guy thinking to himself that he’s SO smart and he wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass him by. It’s not funny. The change makes the line into something that the reader is expected to take seriously, IMHO, and takes all the “setup for a punch line” out.

What’s the solution? Not turning this into strict narrative. What about something else?

Fred spied Ella on the sidewalk coming towards him. This was his chance to show her how sharp, how clever, how HOT he was. He racked his brain for a smart greeting, but came up with nothing but gamer codes and lame puns. “Does your butt hurt where you fell out of Heaven?” No, that one had been done. As she approached he licked his lips and found his mouth a desert. As she made her final approach, he turned away so as to appear not to have been watching her. He heard her heels clicking nearer, and at the perfect moment, he whirled. . .

(And we expect him to end up in a Jerry Lewis faceplant.)

This is off-the-cuff and twee, but it retains the sort of tone that the author intended. It gets across to the reader that Fred is kind of a fool and we can laugh at him as well as WITH him when she says “Hello” and he splutters out, “Connie!” when he knows perfectly well what her name is. It doesn’t sum the bit up into narrative. I suspect the objection made by the original author was that the edit made this bit into condensed narrative, whereas the author (for whatever reason) felt that there should be an aside that amused the reader and drew him or her closer in for the punch line.

The revision steps away from a cozy voice or tone. That’s probably what the author means. If the industry in general is unable to comprehend this distinction I’m making, either because it doesn’t exist outside my mind or because irony is now lost on the post-postmodern generation (which wallows in irony, so I can’t believe that’s the case), then I won’t be able to connect with the powers that be, either.

If you as editor need to reduce wordcount and you don’t think the bit is funny, then tell the author to take it out completely and replace it with something that IS funny and DOES add to the story by indicating the relationship between Fred and the woman. Don’t bother with mentioning it at all if it isn’t going to make Fred display some character trait that we want readers to know about. If it’s not something that builds to a crescendo, then do something different. If it IS a setup, I don’t see what’s wrong with doing a bit of buildup. Maybe BETTER buildup, but still. I don’t see the value in making it encapsulated narrative.

You’ve got to decide whether you want to “be published” so badly that you will let messed-up prose go out under your name, or if you will withdraw your offering if you can’t come to terms with the changes. You don’t have to nod politely and say eagerly, “Of course that didn’t mess up my voice! I’m just being a prig!” You can retain your artistic integrity. Although it probably won’t take you to the bank.

That’s my take on it.

CRAFT: plot, story, and the usefulness of words

Today I’d like to quote the late Lisa (LK) Madigan, via April Henry on her LJ. I didn’t know her and I haven’t read her books, but this rings true (from private e-mail).

“I would have to be presumptuous enough to class myself as a ‘good writer,’ when I have no verifiable evidence to that effect. But what the hell!! I’ll go ahead and own it. I FEEL like a good writer. But then I worry that maybe I’m like this character in a Wilkie Collins novel (“Hide and Seek”) who devoted his whole life and soul to ART . . . studying it, suffering for it, painting like mad. The problem was — he just wasn’t very good.”

Interesting bit of self-doubt. You can’t help but have this thought when everyone around you is rolling their eyes and saying your stuff is dreck.

“I don’t think good writing can be taught. I hate to get all New Age-y on you, because I am so NOT . . . but real writers are born with ink in their veins. They wake up every day anticipating when they can sit down and read, read, read, as if books are food. Words are so important to writers that they THINK about words all the time, the way some people think about sex. They cringe when people use the wrong words. They also fantasize about their next date with The Muse, mentally calculating hours and minutes when there will be time to spill their thoughts out on the page. AND they also don’t just wait for a convenient time for the Muse to strike: they demand time to write, like greedy toddlers.

“People can be taught to write in a clear, journalistic fashion, I believe. But the kind of writing that pours out like music – that can’t be taught.”

Truth! I DO BELIEVE that the kind of writing that pours out is better than the journalistic, no-style kind. Yes, even if it has *gasp* adverbs. Maybe it’s eloquent, and maybe it’s evocative, and maybe it’s cadenced prose; it could have a subtext that isn’t being recognized, and it could be tossing off a clue that the author is using to set up a major plot event later (instead of just “this can be deleted because I don’t immediately see its direct significance to the paragraph that it’s in and therefore claim that it has nothing to do with the story because I am shortsighted.”) That’s one of the differences between me and the carnival of young agents/editors who clamor for the no-style style and the concise EVERYTHING and the omission of anything that they don’t think “furthers the STORY,” when they don’t realize that the STORY includes more than PLOT.

Yes, STORY and PLOT are two different critters. A “plot” is a sequence of events that occur in a story: “what happens.” You’ve seen plenty of plot summaries that don’t get across the POINT or WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. “Story” is what the work is all about, encompassing the characters’ growth and change, all the themes (“Crime doesn’t pay” and “love conquers all” are two common themes, simplified here), the resonances (“It was like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘A Christmas Story,’ but also reminded me of ‘A Tale of Two Cities'”), the archetypes explored (“Gram is the moral compass of the story, the crone with the wisdom, but the Helper was Peter, and the Call to Adventure was really when she was cast in the play”), and the subtext (“That opening scene where she’s bespelled by Raz was really a virgin seduction”). It’s about evoking an emotional response in the reader or viewer (even if it’s only an adrenaline rush and a Beavis-type “wow!” that you’re seeing on the surface). You always hear that properties must have a good “plot,” but if you read those blurbs on the backs of even the most silly vampire books, you’ll see that there’s a lot of emotional action implied or expressed.

E. M. Forster (as quoted in Janet Burroway’s text on writing fiction) says that plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. This is more at what I mean by “story,” but not quite. The significance of the events and how they’re ordered or arranged isn’t really all of it.

Story encompasses so much MORE than just bare PLOT. It always amazes me when non-writers/non-“sensitives” come out of a movie or close a book and then recite a few plot points, thinking that is all they have experienced. If you vocalize some of the other things that must have come out of the experience for them, they’ll sometimes acknowledge that, but it’s mostly subconscious stuff, apparently. Notice, though, that when a film or book is LACKING in these other components of story–if characters do not grow and learn (“I learned something today,” as Kyle says in “South Park” episodes), or if there’s no causality or problems with causality (“She would never have done that–she only did it because it was in the script, but it wasn’t true to the character!” and “That was a HUGE plot hole, but the scenes were moving too fast for anyone to analyze it until afterward”)–you’re going to hear about it from the audience, and the book or film won’t have lasting value and will be a flash in the pan.

Often I find myself trying to explain why I value the experience of story. “It’s just dumb made-up stuff. Nothing but entertainment. Better than sitting and watching reality shows, or playing yet another computer game,” people will say. That’s not my reason for needing story. I believe human beings need story to help them make sense of this crazy world. I think there is a human need for stories. You’ll see drunks “swapping stories” in a bar, or people bull***tting in a locker room or at a party or around a water cooler. If what you have is nothing but a plot that doesn’t evoke emotions in the reader or viewer, then you won’t have a lot of lasting fans.

When the story is mostly just unadorned plot, as in the James Bond flicks and in other action movies, what do you remember when the final credits roll? Is there anything left out of your experience of the past couple of hours? Or do you feel a vague sense that something was missing? Do you remember the characters, or just the actors? (In films, very often the actor makes up for lots of deficiencies in the dialogue or plot events just by being a charming beauty or a very strong personality who’s basically playing himself and winking at the audience. Actors create a character that is far more than what was on the page. Deficiencies are more obvious in books.)

Perhaps the difference between the fiction that is now being termed “the kind we can sell” and the “other stuff” has something to do with this.

After all, words created the world.

And continue to do so, pretty much.

Signal Boost: Return of the DDoS and why you can help by STAYING

Originally posted by at Signal Boost: Return of the DDoS

Many of you have talked about moving to Dreamwidth (where there are problems of other sorts) or other forums for your blogging. For those wanting to know more about the recent DDoS attacks, yes, it looks like it was the Russian government trying to shut down the dissidents again.

As was said last time, while it’s frustrating not to have access, LJ is a lot more than a social network platform. From the article:

“LiveJournal isn’t just a social network. It’s also a platform for organizing civic action. Dozens of network projects and groups mobilize people to solve specific problems — from defending the rights of political prisoners to saving endangered historic architecture in Moscow.”

So while I know many are considering the move over to Dreamwidth and other such sites, supporting LJ is a way we can help support those who use it for more than a writing/roleplaying/social venue.

Also, as a FYI, LJ is giving paid users who were AFFECTED (not “e”) by the outage two weeks of paid time as compensation.