Thursday, July 30, 2015

Me no understand the maths.

Time is just my perception of movement in the space/time continuum.  (I feel like I should add a Dudist "man" to the end of that.)

Blows my

If I understand this at all, which I probably don't.

I like to read the occasional popular science book, even though they make me feel as dumb as a bag of hammers.  I'm currently reading Coming Of Age In The Milky Way, by Timothy Ferris, which is a history of astronomy.

Sometimes I get just an inkling of what I'm reading, like I'm licking the frosting on a cake and getting a taste sensation.  But I'm not sure I really understand it.

The book went from Newton to Einstein in two successive chapters, as I understood less and less.  But, you know, I get a glimmer, man. I get a sense of it.  I get a small clue. 

It's something I wish I understood better.  But not hard enough to really work at it. 

You know, when you're talking to your cat and it seems almost as if they can understand what you're saying? 

I'm the cat, man.  Dude, what you're saying sounds really important, but...whatever.  I've got a hairball to worry about. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Getting ahead of myself?

I asked Mike Corley if he would do the cover to The Last Fedora: The Gangster Golem Chronicles, and he agreed to do it.  Which is kind of him, considering he has a brand new baby. 

Since I haven't even offered this book to a publisher yet, I might be getting ahead of myself a little.  (The publisher is responsible for the cover, usually.)  But I just want this book ready to go, ready to be put into an available slot.  I'm doing it on my own dime, which is probably crazy.

I really like this book.  It has a lot of heart, I liked all the characters in it, the bad guys as well as the good guys and the good guys as well as the bad guys.  (Since it sometimes harder to write interesting good guys than interesting bad guys.)

I feel like it's different, quirkier, than anything else I've read.  I know there is probably other supernatural noir out there -- of course there is -- but this feels a little different.  Not sure there are many Golem books out there.

It's been done for some time now, and I've been sitting on it trying to decide what to do with it.  As I said, I really like it and I want to find it the right home.

Interestingly, I had a cover in mind:  A fedora in the middle of a puddle of blood.  I almost suggested it to Mike, but then thought, No, Let him come up with the cover.  He's the professional.

He came back with the idea of a stone fedora in the middle of blood.

So great minds think alike.  He finessed my idea by having the fedora be made of clay or stone but more or less the same idea.

Thing is, even if the basic idea is similar, I know Mike will pick the right font, and size, and design, and I bet it will look very cool.

This book is coming out one way or another.  Like I said, I'm very, very proud of it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A small deserved break.

I finished Gargoyle Dreams on Friday.  On Saturday I tried to put it together and immediately ran into problems.  I decided to put it aside, let it sit for awhile.  Nevertheless, I have a feeling it can be a good book.

Night before last, I went to bed I feeling oddly satisfied.  That little bit of euphoria lasted the day.  This is a weird feeling for me.  I'm usually vaguely anxious and dis-satisfied.  But I'm feeling proud of myself right now.

As I Twittered/Facebooked yesterday.  "I'm happier with my books than I thought I'd be.  Not bad, man. Not bad."  And I mentioned how grateful I was for the support.

This isn't my usual way of expressing myself.

Andy was in the store on Thursday and said,  "You're funny.  You're always pointing out your faults."

Well, I don't think of it that way, but yeah.  I'm harder on myself than other people are, usually.  I've discounted my writing because it seemed to me that it was risky to be too proud of it.

I set out to see if I could just finish another book. To get it published was a bonus, to have it read by people was a bigger bonus, and to have some of those people like the book was the best bonus of all.  Then to write more books, and to feel like they are good solid stories.  That is enormously gratifying.

Every time I finish a book, I somehow try to keep going, and then almost always realize I don't have to, that I can take a small break.  Letting it all sink in.

So that's where I'm at right now.  A small deserved break.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The value of "midlist."

"Midlist is a term in the publishing industry which refers to books which are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication (and likely, further purchases of future books from the same author)."  Wikipedia.

I'd like to expand that definition to any kind of product that has those characteristics. 

Frankly, Pegasus Books is based on midlist.  Very few things can be bestsellers.  Even when that happens, here's the result.

1.)  The book or product is hard to get.
2.)  The big chainstores will discount it to nothing.

I don't even look at the bestseller list.  These books will be at the feeding trough in Costco, or emblazoned with "SALE!" stickers at Walmart.  Even if I discount by 20% (roughly 50% of my profits) I'm going to be considered overpriced even though I am exactly the regular marked price.

So...even if I were to have Go Set a Watchman on my shelves, I would have to "explain" to the customer that it can be got elsewhere cheaper (eliciting strange looks) or risk them getting mad at me, or thinking poorly of the store, or even returning the product.  

Anyway, the same thing is true of all high sellers.  So my strategy over the years has been counter-intuitive.  Fill the store with midlist product, the more neglected by the big players the better.  There are often bargains to be had, as well.

And some of these books are good books.  In fact, ironically, they were often earlier bestsellers.  I also don't look at sales trajectory.  Selling something four or five times in a year is rare for me.  Often I don't sell things more than once a year or every two years -- or never.

But my strategy was to absolutely fill my store with the best product I can get that is reasonably priced, not being cut-throated elsewhere, and readily available.

If I get The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, I know that I can sell it every few months and replace it easily.  I've got a satisfied customer, and I have the added bonus of making my store different and unique.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I think the publishing industry has made a huge mistake shedding themselves of midlist.  They will regret it when others (Amazon, for one) fill that need. 

It's a mistake to go only with bestsellers.  You're vulnerable to any number of factors.  And the temptation is to go for gimmicks.

Frankly, I think the new Harper Lee and Dr. Suess books are gimmicks and I don't intend to carry them.

But there you go.  Proof that midlist is viable.  Because I can say No Thanks to the biggest sellers in the industry and still thrive.  

I doubt publisher or the big chainstores can say the same.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

God, I wish I liked rewriting.

In some ways, Gargoyle Dreams turned out better than I expected.

However, it originally was going to be a different book.  It was going to be a "gothic love-story" with only two characters and one setting.

I just didn't have the chops to pull that off. 

I need my genre hooks to keep things interesting for me -- and I assume the reader.  So I brought in other characters -- even other POV characters -- and other settings.  I liked what resulted.

I have to wrestle it into shape now.  As I always say -- it's easier for me to write new material than to work on old material.  I let myself write the chapters as they came to me and as needed, but not necessarily in order.  Which can be dangerous.

But I know in my head that everything I wrote belongs, so now the job it to find a way to make it all flow.  Just requires adequate transitions, basically.  I came up with new ideas right to the end of the book, and so the rest of the book has to be brought up to speed. 

So it will be work.  God, I wish I liked rewriting.

The writing was choppy from about 70% of the to about 90% of the way, so that will need to be worked on.

I want to change a couple of names -- add some description of gargoyles and the cathedral. But I should have it ready for Lara when she returns Tuskers III.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Coming up with the "WOW!"

Yesterday I talked about trying to come up with a "process" for rewriting that works as well as the process I've arrived at for first draft.  Taking into account that I'm lazy and really don't like rewriting.

I've talked about this before, but maybe it's time to pop up with this anecdote again.

Long ago, I read a book by or about Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, in which a single short story is used as an example of his process. In the course of the book, we see three separate versions of the same short story

1.)  The first version is pretty good.  You know, you'd probably read it and go, "nice."

2.)  But Mr. Gardner isn't satisfied. So he mulls it over, tweeks it in different ways, and produces a second draft.  This version is much better, so much that it is kind of astonishing.

3.)  But still Mr. Gardner isn't satisfied.  The story needs something stronger, some twist, some revelation, some surprise, that will unleash the potential of the story.

Sure enough, he comes up with the corker, and you think, "WOW!"  It improves the story dramatically.

Anyway, this always stuck with me.  I've tried to a greater or lessor extent to keep it in mind when I write.  I've been lucky in that I think I usually can come up with a satisfying conclusion to my stories, sometimes with a nice twist.  But I haven't rigorously made myself sit down and think about how I might really up the level.  Partly because I think it's dangerous to mess with a story once it's down.

I have sort of been doing something similar, however, to the first third of a book. In the course of writing the first draft, I've learned that if I pause about a third of the way through and ask myself, "What's missing?" I often come up with new elements that complete the story.  Maybe I'm missing an adequate villain, or love-interest, or sidekicks, or settings, or...any number of things.

Throughout most of my career of owning a bookstore, I would go to sleep at night asking myself two questions.

1.)  What am I doing that I shouldn't be doing?  And even more importantly....

2.)  What am I not doing that I should be doing?

It was amazing how this clarified the problems and often gave me the solutions. So I've taken to asking the same things about my stories.

So my latest epiphany is that I need to apply the same thinking to the last third of the book.  What plot developments can I come up with that will surprise, or move, or wow the reader?

For instance, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Murders is pretty good as it is.  I like it quite a bit.

But I decided that I'd like to try to see if I can't come up with at least 3 strong improvements in the last third of the book.  Just really give it the Erle Stanley Gardner treatment.  What sort of crux points can I put in that will make the reader go, "WOW!

Almost immediately upon thinking about this, I came up with a couple of changes that will improve the ending.  After mulling them over for a couple of days, I've realized that these two changes aren't the "WOW!" I'm looking for...but they are an improvement.

They are also just a beginning.  As soon as I get the manuscript back from Bren, I'm going to spend as much time as it takes to try to come up with at least one "WOW!" and hopefully a couple more.

Thing is, even if they aren't "WOW!"s, they will probably be improvements, and that isn't a bad thing.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I'm intellectually lazy.

I'm two chapters from the end of Gargoyle Dreams. When I'm done, I'll need to work on some continuity problems.

I've decided I'll do all that next week.

Today, I started thinking about my process again.  Long discussions talking to myself.  I have a vague idea of what I'm trying to do.  By thrashing it out, I can usually clarify those ideas.

When I came back to writing, I'd thought for 25 years about what I'd gotten wrong with the process the first time.  I had a set of rules and/or guidelines about how to write.

These ideas were mostly borne out.  I've figure out a very efficient way to write that first draft.  I'm happy with that whole process, and I've refined it over time. 

But what I hadn't really thought about during the interregnum was the equally important process of rewriting.  Other than the rule that I not let a book go until I think it's ready. (No more "good enough.")

I'm intellectually lazy.  Rewriting is mostly an intellectual process.  So combine those two facts, and it's like matter/anti-matter: they cancel each other out.

I generally believe that most of my stories could benefit from a little more description.  More fleshing out. Just more.

I've tried all kinds of tricks around that.  I find if I stumble across a sentence or paragraph by surprise, I can see what needs to be fixed easier than if I try to systematically go through the book.  So I give myself time to just randomly drop in on a book.  I look for certain triggers -- a paragraph that is almost another line, and search the paragraph for some detail I can add.

Just tricks.  They work, but they are spotty. 

I've learned that messing with the continuity is usually a mistake, but sometimes has to be done.

I've learned that adding and subtracting is usually all right.  If I start out the story without enough ingredients, than adding those ingredients later is only smart.

Course corrections are fine.

The more thinking in advance I do, the less rewriting is necessary. However, I discover story by writing, and there is only so much outlining that is useful.

Writing new material is easier for me than changing existing material.

Here's the thing.  My first drafts, plus my cursory editing, plus professional editing and suggestions from beta readers, I think usually make my books "good enough."  So it's easy to just go with that.  I've tried to hold my feet to the fire to get better than that, and with the books that have so far been released, I think I've mostly succeeded.  But it is a constant struggle.

The latest trick I'm using is to read a chapter, then go off and let the poetic part of my brain work on it, and just start jotting down what comes to me.  Then go back to the chapter and see if any of the stuff my subconscious has come up with is an improvement.  Usually, there are some nice thoughts and phrases I can use.

Today I came up with what I think is another improvement in the rewriting process.

More on that tomorrow.