Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category
Claire Fitzpatrick is a writer, an editor, all-round awesome human being. Recently, she launched Oscillate Wildly Press .
We caught up on good ol’ Facebook recently whereupon I asked Claire some questions and invited her to respond to a statement. This is what happened …
Pete: What led you to creating your own publishing press and what are its goals?
Claire: In early 2015 my novel was accepted by a small North American publishing company. Naturally, I was elated. Over time, I worked with two editors, and the novel went through various stages of evolution. However, a few months ago, I found out the publishing company had closed, without any warning, or correspondence to me.
Pete: Ugh! I am truly sorry to hear that!
Claire: I was furious. I didn’t want to let all that hard work go to waste. Time passed, and I started looking for potential publishers for ‘The Body Horror Book,’ another project I am working on, and when I couldn’t find one I thought best matched the project, I realised I could just publish it myself. At this time, I started thinking about my novel again, and instead of giving up, I decided to create my own company, and proceed with publishing my book as well as ‘The Body Horror Book.’ Of course, I could have simply self-published it, but I realised there was potential for a new small publisher in Australia, and that I would have the support from the Australian Horror Writer’s Association.
I am a massive fan of The Smiths (I have a framed poster of Morrissey and Marr in my lounge room with Johnny Marr’s guitar pick he personally handed to me!) and I wanted to incorporate something from my obsession into the publishing press. I chose ‘Oscillate Wildly,’ as it is a pun from Morrissey’s enigmatic hero, and also the song was recorded without lyrics as Morrissey believed the song could stand on its own. This idea of a song standing on its own motivated me, and gave me the courage that I didn’t need my former publisher to release a successful book. I hunted around for a few editors-people I 100% trusted-and with that Oscillate Wildly Press was born!
Its goals are simple! I’m planning to focus on anthologies, and release perhaps one or two novels a year. Nothing big, nothing overwhelming. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself or my little team. 50% of royalties will go to authors who choose to publish with us, as a book is part of someone’s soul they choose to share, so they should reap the benefits. I’d love to focus on horror and science fiction, but we’re open to anything and everything! (My own novel is a combination of historical fiction and horror).
Pete: That sounds likes a fascinating blend, Claire. So, what excites you most about Australian speculative fiction?
Claire: There is such a massive market for Australian speculative fiction! I’ve been writing non-fiction for Aurealis since late 2015, and I love reading ‘The Year Ahead in Australian Speculative Fiction.’ It reminds me of the amazing talent in Australia, and keeps me in check with what people want to read!
There are many amazing writers in Australia, and I love that speculative fiction means more than just science fiction, fantasy, and horror – it’s everything in-between that writer’s might have felt wouldn’t fit anywhere, and it gives people hope their ideas and stories are wanted. One of my short stories ‘Yellow Death’ was deemed speculative fiction by the editor of Heater magazine, and I felt like I had tapped into something I had been working so hard to get to. Made me feel all warm and gooey on the inside.
I think the Australian Shadows Awards is also fantastic for speculative fiction. Yes, I’m biased, as I’m this year’s Award Director, but it really is an excellent chance to showcase all the amazing, talented stories produced by Australian writers. NZ might have Lee Murray, but Australia has Kaaron Warren! So there!
Pete: What are your own writing goals for the next year or so?
Claire: I need to release my debut novel, ‘Only The Dead.’ I can’t move on from it to something else until I release it. I write short stories in between, but I can’t seem to work on another novel! I’ve written two novels in the past that are god-damned awful, and I’d like to revisit them one day. But maybe I’ll burn them. It’s infuriating haha. But ‘Only The Dead’ will be out very soon. At the moment, I’m working with artist Shane K. Ryan on the cover, so when that’s done I’ll be able to start on the promotional side of things! (Shane also illustrated my eBook ‘Of Man And Woman.’ Check out his work, it’s amazing).
I’ll also be releasing ‘The Body Horror Book’ early next year sometime. Marc McBride-illustrator of Emily Rodda’s ‘Deltora Quest’- has come on board to illustrate a few chapters, however he can’t get stuck into the project until January. But that’s not really a setback, since I want everything to be perfect before it’s published. I’m hoping to enter it in next year’s Shadows Awards for Best Non-Fiction. Fingers crossed it’s worthy!
I also have two short stories in ‘Remixing The Classics,’ an anthology printed by the University of Queensland Writer’s Club. That’ll be out soon, which is exciting. My stories are horror versions of Peter Pan and Hansel and Gretel.
As for other things, who knows? I’m working on a story specifically for an anthology at the moment, so I have to get crackilackin’ and get it done! Life gets in the way. I wish it would move off the sidewalk and let me through!
Pete: Beef, chicken or vegan?
Claire: Vegan. Save a cow, eat a human.
Pete: You get dumped on a desert island and you can only take that one book, that awesome book, the one you could read over and over for years to come. What is it?
‘Black Foxes’ by Sonya Hartnett. It’s been my favourite book since I was a teenager. Sometimes I think all my characters have a bit of Tyrone Sully in them. I would cut off one of my fingers if it meant I could interview Sonya Hartnett. Joking! But maybe not.
Pete: Please respond to this statement: horror is not real literature
Your mum’s not real literature!
Seriously, though, horror is amazing. Horror can be philosophical, artistic, political….it can incorporate so many different elements. The world is a scary place, and horror often reminds us there is light within the dark, if only one knows how to turn on the light (and it’s one of those quirky Goosebumps book lights from the ‘90s!).
These interviews are purposefully short but occasionally I conduct one with someone I could talk with all day. Claire has interesting ideas, projects and experiences! If you want to connect with her, look her up on FB or at www.clairefitzpatrick.net.
And Claire, I speak for all of us when I say, “Get that novel published, dammit! I wanna read it!” 😉
- Interview with Peter Cooper
- Author Interview: Kevin Ikenberry, author of Sleeper Protocol
- Keith C Blackmore: 5 Questions & a Statement
- Devin Madson: 5 Questions & a Statement
- Sharon M Johnston: 5 Questions & a Statement
- Michael Pryor: 5 Questions & a Statement
- James Jackson: 5 Questions & 1 Statement
I have heard people say at Cons, “The only people reading short stories are writers” or comments like this. I’m not sure that’s true at all. But I would certainly accept that novels/novellas outsell short stories. Readers prefer long fiction to short. This is the way of things.
So I present a defence for the short story and why we all should spend more of our money on magazines and anthologies that publish them…
Short Stories are a Quicker Read
Can I put it any simpler? I can fit one or two short pieces into my morning train ride whereas I’m only ever going to get a few chapters of my novel read. That means reading something (or somethings) from end to end between stops, covering off an entire story arc, having closure, taking the story with me through the day to ponder. In a short piece, I get a world + a character + plus a challenge the same as I would a novel, but it’s resolved quickly and I’m on with my day.
Short Story Collections Expose the Reader to Multiple Authors
Nothing beats burying myself in my favourite author’s latest 400-page novel, savouring a long journey through a new world toward the resolution of conflicts and quests. But an equal-length anthology enables me to meet 10 or 20 different authors with a variety of styles and creations and themes and characters in the same amount of pages and time and $$. There are some incredible writers out there who are only writing short fiction. I mean this. If I didn’t read shorts, I’d have been deprived of ever discovering them.
Short Stories Maintain Tension and Pace better than Novels (mostly)
It’s tough to maintain high tension and high pace on every page of a 450 page paperback. But ten or twenty pages of short fiction can do just that.
Short Stories = Exposure for Authors
Many many authors get their start in short fiction before selling their first novel. Story sales and readers for them create a meaty portfolio, enable them to develop their art and platform, bring them into community with other great writers and editors. Whenever you or I purchase a short story magazine or anthology, we support this “farming” of talent.
Where I’d start reading if I was starting on short fiction now…
Writing groups. Love them? Hate them? Love to hate them? Whatever the case, we all need feedback as writers.
I was amazed to meet a couple of writers last year who never showed their work to anyone. While showing my writing to other writers is scary, confronting and only occasionally unhelpful, by and large it’s been the #2 thing that’s kept my writing improving over the past few years. (#1, of course, is actually writing).
I must say, though, that in the early days, I did allow a few people’s opinions to really get me down. But that was largely because I cared too much, and because those particular people weren’t actually adding anything constructive to the mix. It’s been helpful to me to make it clear to my critiquers what kind of feedback I want from them, and also to keep my selftalk in the vicinity of “Learn from everything they tell you”.
- Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping by E.J. McLaughlin
- Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 5: Writing Groups
- Riding the Wave of Critique Groups @ QueryTracker
- Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good? by Kristen Lamb
Great characters make great drama, great fantasy, great adventure.
So where does the writer draw them from? For me, it’s from one of two places:
1.Copying them from other works of fiction.
This is — as I’m sure you’d expect me to say — not a good idea. And yet, how often do we see Indiana Jones and Bridget Jones dressed up in a different costume and given a different name? How often do we see cliches such as the expendable yet funny African American repeated over and over? This is, I believe, often unintentional; the writer simply saw a character they loved and reproduced it. Lazy writing.
2.Drawing them from one’s own inner world.
The characters I love creating are usually subconscious in origin but occasionally conscious.
The subconscious come from the real-world people/behaviours that make me angry (usually the abuse of power in some form); combinations of my own philosophies/flaws/strengths/aspirations; ideas I’d like to explore.
The conscious ones: I find myself more and more attempting to stretch myself. Say I want to write a story about a swordsman. I’ve done it. Thousands of other writers have done it. It’s a well-used character/type. But dammit, I have a good idea for a story about a swordsman. So rather than reinvent a Kurasawa or Martin character, I will try to find some points of difference for mine. He may have diabetes (though it wouldn’t be thought of as such back then). This will drive certain behaviour, create inner and outer conflict, create need in his routine. He may also have lost something he wants to get back — another common trope. Well, this time, how about I don’t make it his wife, or his son, or his magical item? What if it’s his horse? No wait. What if it’s his dog?! He loves that damn attack dog that the raiders stole. It’s not just great breeding stock; it saved his life as a boy; it’s his best friend. You’ll see, already, just by tweaking some things about him, I’ve created lots of scope for a deep emotional story. … And what if I made him a her? Or transgender?
Try it. Pick a character and tweak them. Make em different. See what you come up with.
When Pete put this question to me, it took a bit of time in hospital for me to fully grasp it. The question wasn’t the cause of my medical issue, but laying there without much to do besides think and dream gave me the chance to realize that there are three ways that science (hard or speculative) has fueled my fiction.
1. Endless possibility.
We live in a time where major scientific advancements that will affect our future generation happen nearly every day. We may not hear of them for years, but they are out there. Whether it be a medical advancement in the treatment of a disease or a proposal for a hyper loop transportation system, we may not see the fruits of those labors during our lifetimes, but our children and their children will know them as the norm. Take a look around you.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the idea of a computer in your hand was absurd. Computers during those days still took up portions of large rooms.
Or, consider that humanity went from the first powered flight in 1903 to the moon in 1969 and you’ll see what I mean. Imagining the progression of our current norms toward the future breeds endless possibility. We may get a portion of that future right based on what we know of the science now, or we may botch it enough that our future generations will read our work and laugh at our innocence.
I tend to look at our sciences today as a keyhole to the future. We cannot unlock the door, but our understanding of things now provide us a way to see into the future and what might be.
2. The occasional moment where your idea becomes reality (in a way).
Several years ago, 2009 in fact, I wrote a story entitled “Digger Girl” that took place on an asteroid converted for interstellar flight. The idea seemed logical to me. The heavy shielding necessary would mostly be in place, depending on the thickness of the asteroid in question. Propulsion would have been an issue, but the orbital mechanics of speeding up an asteroid to fall towards the Sun and receive a gravitational assist from several planets were sound. Attach a reaction control system to the beast and a theoretical propulsion system that could perpetually thrust the asteroid forward and a mission to proximal could take a couple of hundred years. The asteroid became a generation ship without the nasty business of lifting all of that mass to orbit.
Imagine my surprise late last year when a scientist postulated the same thing and it reached the press. For that brief moment in time, I knew what it must have been like for Clarke and others to have predicted something that became reality (in a way). To me, that’s one of the thrills of writing science fiction. Your dreams have a chance of being reality. To me, it doesn’t matter that this scientist proposed the same thing, and for all I know it was postulated a long time before 2009 (remember, all good science fiction stories have been told before).
That brief connection to a possible future made my day, and I hope to have many others before I reach the “clearing at the end of the path.”
3. Science is how we take destiny by the horns.
I’m inspired every day by some aspect of science, especially when I look at the collective mess we are as a species. Without waxing political, I worry about the future that my children are growing up into. We live in a world that still thrives on conflict to no end. Our world, the very ecosystem, is in chaos. This may be the cyclical nature of things or it very well could be manmade, but the argument is the same nonetheless. I am a firm believer in a statement from Tsiolkovsky that “the Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Time is against us. The Sun is going to die. It doesn’t matter that it may be billions of years until then. We have a lot to do as a species before then, and I believe we will get there, but the goal must be to leave this planet behind.
Science provides the progress to change our basic human needs – longevity, better shelter and clothing, better foods. I try to look beyond the political machinations and global profiteering of our current society in the hopes that science has the impact it should, to take our destiny by the horns and propel us to the stars. I will never see it, but I can dream about a time when the world pulls together and all of humanity reaps the benefits versus a tender few. That motivates me to write.
In all, I tend to tell very human stories that hopefully reflect how science is a benefit to our ever-changing humanity. Science inspires me because it continues to move forward. It does not stagnate. There is always someone, somewhere, thinking and postulating and experimenting. Let us hope that never changes. If science stagnates, humanity will stagnate. Bringing a bit of science to the forefront reminds a reader how much that science has changed their lives. We take our technology for granted now, when a few decades ago, we had nothing of the sort. That progress came from science.
Think of where we can be in another hundred years. I know I do.
It’s incredibly humbling when you read back through your first draft and realise just how truly craptacular some of your initial writing was. The only other process that brings you face to face with your flawed- humanity-as-a-writer (apart from editing your own second draft) is the first time you send the project out for critique partners to give feedback on. Then you get questions like, “Why has this character inexlicably changed clothes (or gender?)?”, “Didn’t this character die two chapters ago?”, and “Shouldn’t you stop saying ‘He saw’ every third paragraph”. (Oh, and comments like “Way too many adverbs dude.”)
In today’s post, I thought I’d share some not-so-gems from my own editing of my first drafts – things I came across and changed wearing a scowl on my face as I contemplated my own craptactularity as a writer:
- she smiled vaguely – what the hell is a vague smile, Pete? Is it a smile or isn’t it? (I cut the word vaguely)
- he was hit with a cacophany of odors – I know what I was going for here, but cacophony just wasn’t the right sensory word. I change it to collision for the moment, but I’ll still have to go back and finesse.
- Donnici’s backside found his chair once more, expression incredulous. – er, Donnici’s backside had an incredulous expression?? Note to self: don’t make people’s bottoms the subject in a sentence.
Thank God that in writing, unlike real life, we get the chance to redraft…
A talented writer and artist, Jason Franks is the energetic force behind comic series such as McBlack and Left Hand Path, as well as the novel Bloody Waters (which I am halfway through at-time-of-writing and absolutely loving). I’ve been lucky enough to pre-read the first two chapters of next year’s release: Shadowmancy which kicks butt…and I’m doubly lucky to belong to the same writing group as Jason.
I caught up with him recently and pitched five questions and a statement his way …
1. Can you tell us something of your creative process: what happens between the genesis pool of ideas and completed, polished projects?
Usually, an idea will roll around in my head for a while before I start writing. Unless I’m working on a commissioned project with a deadline, this process will usually continue for months, or even years. I let my subconscious do most of the work at this stage. Mass accumulates–more ideas adhere to initial thought–until there’s a story there. Then, suddenly, I need to get it out. I guess it’s like a kidney stone in that regard.
The joy is all in the first draft, for me. I like to write my way into the characters and settings and they often surprise me. I do not generally outline my stories, but I do almost always know where they’re going and I just strike out towards the destination.
Then, the long hard slug of editing and polishing. I’ve completed some of my more recent stories in four or five drafts, but I’ve been known to do 15 or 20 before I am satisfied. I am currently looking for ways to streamline this part of the process.
2. Apart from the pictures, what’s different about writing for comic/graphic novel and writing pure prose (short story or novel)?
It’s a very different discipline. You can’t really say ‘apart from the pictures’ because 90% of a comicbook IS the pictures. Even if you’re not drawing them yourself, you need to communicate to the artist how to visually tell the story–how to break it up into images. As a comics writer you may or may not contribute to page composition but you will usually control pagination and panel density, and those are they key elements in pacing. Learning to pace a comic with a fixed pagecount is very different from learning to pace a prose story.
Comic script has that increased overhead and requires more planning, but you don’t have to worry as much about polish–so long as your descriptions are clear to the artist your script does not have to be beautifully written. Copy that will appear on the comics page is only a tiny fraction of the writing. With prose every word needs to be perfect, which for me requires a lot more editing. Usually I will nail a comic script on the second pass.
Also, comics works tend to be shorter. You will usually have a limitation in the amount of page real estate available and that limits he amount of story you can tell. Detail belongs in the artwork.
3. McBlack remains your most popular comic work: what’s it about and what’s the inspiration for it?
McBlack concerns the metafictional adventures of Whiteface McBlack, a freelance thug. McBlack will take on any kind of dirty job: detection, skip tracing, sabotage, arson, murder–provided it promises the opportunity to shoot some dudes or blow up some stuff. This is me smashing genres together to see what breaks. In the first book, McBlack is hired by a dame to find her missing husband. He’s assigned the role of a Phillip Marlowe (hero of The Maltese Falcon), but his behaviour is closer to that of Angel Eyes (the villain from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). You’re expecting a noir mystery, but instead McBlack rides the story roughshod over tropes more familiar to the SF, fantasy, horror and western genres.
What was the inspiration? Well, I noticed how many independent comics writers go directly to The Maltese Falcon when they need a plot (“It’s the Maltese Falcon–but Marlowe is a Samurai!” “It’s the Maltese Falcon–but Marlowe is a Talking Cauliflower!”) and I decided I was sick of it–so I guess this was me over-reacting to that. (“It’s the Maltese Falcon–but Marlowe is a bodiless murderer with a grudge against the Fourth Wall!”).
The colour one-shot stories are discrete missions, in which McBlack takes on different modes of storytelling (video games; dreams) and different tools employed in comics (voice-over captions; thought balloons).
Lady McBlack, the new series, is a continuation of the main story–this time looking at romance in these genre stories. (Yes, really!)
4. How much of your own interests and experiences are in Bloody Waters? (My son has a guitar with a Floyd Rose Tremolo, btw, just like Clarice).
Well, I guess it’s fairly obvious that I’m a music nerd. I play the guitar–badly–but I’ve never been in a rock band. I’m interested in writing music, but I completely lack the desire to perform in front of an audience.
I’ve never tried to summon the devil, but I do have a particular interest in villain characters and Old Scratch is pretty much the logical endpoint of that line of inquiry, so he turns up quite a lot in my fiction.
I did play trumpet in various high school bands, so a lot of that stuff comes from life. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging around in guitar shops and reading guitar magazines and I know a bunch of people who have and do play in legitimate rock bands, so hopefully my descriptions of the gear and the music is reasonably accurate.
Aside from that, I guess you can see a bit of the creative artists’s wish fulfillment in there. I wish I was as good a writer as Clarice is a musician. I wish I had the kind of career she does. I wish I was as talented and driven and confident. I also wish I was as laid-back and patient and pleasant as Johnny. There’s a bit of me in all of the principle characters–and that most certainly includes Satan.
5. What can we look forward to in next year’s novel Shadowmancy (and what’s the title about anyway)?
Shadowmancy began as comic serial which was to run in my regretfully short-lived Terra Magazine. It’s a ‘dark urban fantasy’ about a damaged boy who is enrolled in a magicians’ Academy after his disgraced father is kicked off the faculty. It’s more Ursula Le Guin than Harry Potter–by way of Cormac McCarthy, maybe. This is not a book full of whimsical hijinks; it’s about damaged families and institutional power and coming of age and… well, it’s about magic. I wanted to take a deep dive into the discipline of a magician. The story is written in the first person, by a protagonist who has some pretty heavy duty baggage, so there’s a lot more introspection than spellcasting. I want to give the reader a taste of what it feels like to have power, but to yet be powerless. It’s not for children. I hope it’s not boring.
The title refers to magic that is based on the manipulation of shadows–literally, metaphorically, and all of the Jungian stuff in between.
Statement: “It’s impossible to make a living as a writer in this day and age.”
I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult. During the years in which I was pitching Bloody Waters I noticed more doors in traditional publishing closing than opening and I think that continues to be the case as the big five struggle to come to terms with the evolving market. There are more opportunities than ever to get work out there, via small press and self-publishing, but that also means there’s more competition. I hope it is still possible to make a living as a writer and I wish I could–but I am certainly not at that point yet.
A true gentleman of the publishing world, Geoff Brown/G.N. Braun is an author, an editor, the irresistable force behind Cohesion Press and Cohesion Editing, as well as a prolific Facebook status-poster.
I caught up with him recently and pitched five questions and a statement his way …
Geoff, what made you a writer? (As opposed to a fireman or astronaut or short order cook).
I don’t think anything really made me a writer. I’ve always loved to read, and I’ve always written. When I was in high school, I did best in English classes, and my creative writing stuff always earned me high marks. I’ve always been a storyteller, whether vocally or writing things down, so I think I have always been a writer, and it just took over my life as I grew older.
What lead you to become an editor, in addition to writing?
I’m a grammar ninja. Always have been. The reading that I mention in the first answer was always a case of noticing the errors and typos in books while I read them. After I started getting published, I worked with editors and saw the job from the aspect of a writer. Then, I completed a full-time Diploma course at TAFE – Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing – and the editing side of things was something I just felt was natural for me. As anyone serious about their writing knows, there is little money to be made in books unless you are King or Patterson or Child, so the natural thing for me was to move into a field where there was money to be made while working with the things I loved the most – words.
Tell us about your last release as G.N. Braun. What was its genesis and the thing you’re most proud of?
Well, my only full-length release so far has been Hammered: Memoir of an Addict, and it holds a special place in my heart. It’s the true-life account of my early life as a substance abuser who mixed on the edges of criminality for many, many years.
It shows my history as a drug-user throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s in Melbourne, Australia. It tells how I was first introduced to drugs in my mid-teens, the lifestyle I led while using and selling drugs – from marijuana through to speed and heroin – and how I finally gained the strength and conviction to get off drugs. Hammered is available from Amazon as a Kindle book (http://www.amazon.com/Hammered-Memoir-Addict-ebook/dp/B007F2851W) and in print (http://www.amazon.com/Hammered-Memoir-Addict-G-N-Braun/dp/0987159267) and on all the standard online sales points, including Apple, Nook, and Kobo. I’d read many memoirs of addiction. I loved A Million Little Pieces until I found out it was mostly rubbish embellished by the author. I struggled through The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx, mostly due to the fractured narrative set up in diary form. Best of all, I read William S Burroughs’ timeless memoir Junkie, his first published book. I fell in love with his writing. It was both dead and alive, just like I was. There were all the standard junkie tropes, but there was something more. An undercurrent of blandness and focus that only another junkie could relate to, yet put in a way that it would be somewhat apparent to readers of all stripes. It rang of my truth. I tried for the same subtext in Hammered. I’d like to believe I rang that bell.
I own a copy of that book and found it compelling. I gave it a 5 star review on Goodreads…Tell us about your publishing house. What inspired it?
I already had Cohesion Editing and Proofreading running, so it wasn’t too hard to incorporate the new direction into the current business. It really makes me feel good to put new and established authors out into the world, to help spread the word about great writers, either Australian or from another country. I wanted to show what I thought was great writing. We’re not in this for short-term gain. We offer some of the best royalty percentages in the business, and for me it’s all about the writers making as much as they possibly can, while still leaving us enough to cover costs and promotion of the books.
What annoys you in the publishing world?
I see it all the time, all over Facebook. The ‘author’ that claims to be an editor and then charges people for sub-standard work that does little to nothing to improve the manuscript they work on.
I studied full-time for two years at college level, gaining a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, and upon graduation was awarded two ‘Student of the Year’ awards, for Christ sake. I opened my own editing business halfway through the course, and it has built up to the point where I subcontract to a number of highly-skilled professionals. Yet I see all these untrained people calling themselves editors and taking money from people and offering no real expertise in the field. I look at their (usually amateurish) website, and I see no list of qualifications. At least, nothing that really applies to professional editing. It really galls me that so many people think that just because you can read and write it means you can also edit. For God’s sake, people, go and get some proper training and then come back.
Professional editors get trained and educated. Professional editors work so hard at improving their skills that they bleed sweat every single day learning the difference between tenses, the minutiae of grammar, the many and varied plot elements, characters, story arcs, and everything else that makes a great book. Editors constantly stay abreast of new skills and styles. Editors have an eye for design, an eye for voice, an eye for a unique narrative style, and they have qualifications to show this. Yes, there are some naturally-good editors, but they are few and far between. For the rest of us, the skills are learnt, every single day of our lives. Most of all, editors read as much as writers should read.
Just because someone can self-publish and open a Facebook page doesn’t make them an editor. And it never will.
Statement – please respond: The overabundance of sub-par (and poorly edited) novels and short fiction online nowadays makes it more difficult for readers to find and purchase quality fiction.
Apart from untrained editors (who contribute a lot toward this problem) my other bugbear in the publishing word is authors who rush through a novel, write the second draft after untrained beta-readers have given some feedback, and then upload to Amazon an unedited work that is full of typos and mistakes. They usually top it off with cover art that looks like a bad cut-and-paste job done in Microsoft Paint, or like someone has given a few pencils to their talented five year old child.
Every book needs an editor. Writers, no matter how great, need a new pair of (trained and experienced) eyes to look over their work. Writers see what they believe is there, yet editors provide the fresh eyes that see what really is there. No matter how great the writer, an editor, a good editor, will find the flaws, the problems, and the blind spots that the author can’t due to being too close to the story to see what is really needed to make the manuscript great rather than good. And get professional cover art, too.
I will say, however, that the abundance of bad cover art makes it easier for readers to sort out the good books from the bad. You always hear not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s what we do. It’s a fair assumption that an author who didn’t spring for a great cover likely didn’t spring for a great editor, either.
Geoff has kindly offered the following as prizes to eager readers! There are five ebook copies of Hammered (epub or Kindle), and five of Martin Livings’ Carnies (also epub or Kindle and published by Cohesion Press).
To win a copy of Hammered, post an answer to the following question in the comments section of this blog post: What’s the name of G.N. Braun’s first short story listed on his “bibliography”? First five correct answers win the prize.
To win a copy of Carnies, post an answer to the following question in the comments section of this blog post: In what year was Carnies originally published? First five correct answers win the prize.
Note 1: Don’t be a putz. Please. This is a competition in good faith. I decide which victors receive the spoils and I will do my best to be fair and just.
Note 2: Yes, you will need to click a few links and do a bit of “research” to find the answers. The links below will no doubt help you in your quest for knowledge.
Last weekend, a good friend (during one of his frequent diatribes) looked me in the eye and said, “I’d prefer to read a good biography, because novels in the end are just fantasy, they’re not real and they don’t offer anything helpful.” In the context of his diatribe, he meant that fiction does no one any good except to switch their brain off for a while (as if that wasn’t worth something in itself). To be fair to my friend, he’d obviously forgotten what I write — he wasn’t attacking me, he was just being … honest … and a little oblivious…
Back in February, during coffee with another close mate of mine, he politely asked me how my writing was going and with glazed eyes and fixed smile he endured a couple of minutes of me telling him. It’s been obvious for several years that he just doesn’t “get” why I’m pursuing writing fiction. When I mentioned that I’d once tried to write a self-help book, he perked up and said, “Yeah? Would you concentrate on something worthwhile like that?”
Worthwhile, huh? Sigh…
So. Of course I’m a little irritated. But I’m also stirred to think through what good is speculative fiction? Am I wasting my time by the hours I spend writing it? Reading it? (Watching it?)
Ian Welke (author of The Whisperer in Dissonance) recently wrote:
John Shirley has been one of my favorites ever since his “Song Called Youth” trilogy came out in the 80s. “A Song Called Youth,” helped save me from depression then. Before I read it, I was depressed and angry. After I read it, I was still pretty much depressed and angry, but I at least felt like someone saw things the same way, and felt not so alone.
I want to say here that this nails one of the major “advantages” great sf/fantasy/horror (fiction) has over self-help or biographies — namely that teenagers actually read it!
Many many people have said similar things to me over the past few decades, about how a story has improved the quality of their life, gotten them through a hard time, helped them see the universe in a different light. Ian’s written comment here (used with permission) puts it beautifully.
Fiction also fleshes out values, concepts, ethical dilemmas, life stage issues and so on and so on. In ways that enable the reader to engage at a wholistic (right brain) level. And yes, I added a “w” to “holistic” — I meant to.
In fiction, people get to do things we don’t have time to do in real life, namely focus 100% on the problem that’s confronting them. This can be enormously helpful to process our own painful feelings, tough decisions and general stresses.
Fiction can inspire the positive in us. Star Wars A New Hope inspired me at 11 years old to make my life significant, to affect the world. Grandiose at 11, sure. Thirty-whatever years later, I find I’ve worked hard to be of service to others and to refine myself to be the best me I can be. This yearning was captured and inspired by a “religious conversion” at 16, but it started at age 11 with a science-fantasy epic…and I believe God was behind me watching that movie too.
Rant over. Final word: fiction rocks.
…Maybe I should have written this as a story…
I have to admit, I’d never read or heard of Ronald Malfi before picking up the Kindle edition of Cradle Lake.
But I’m bloody glad I have now.
I’ve just finished the novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great fiction should not only thrill you, it should take you inside a character’s personal problems with empathy. And thrill you. Cradle Lake does both. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work into the future.
I caught up with Ronald recently and assailed him with five questions and a statement…
PETE: What did you read, growing up?
RONALD: I read everything I could get my hands on. Genre didn’t matter, the author didn’t matter. When I was about eleven, I found a box of old books in my grandparent’s rec room and spent the summer reading everything from Reader’s Digest condensed novels to Lolita by Nabokov. I cut my teeth on Stephen King with his fantasy novel, The Eyes of the Dragon, and later discovered the wonderful prose of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the rest of the Lost Generation.
PETE: Tell us about Cradle Lake: what was its genesis? What are you most proud of in it?
RONALD: Cradle Lake started out as a subplot that was ultimately excised from my novel, Floating Staircase. I really liked the relationship between the husband and wife, and their back story with the miscarriages and the wife’s subsequent depression, but it didn’t really fit with the themes of Staircase. So I cut it out and worked on it as a separate project, which quickly took on a life of its own. My wife was pregnant at the time of writing it, so my mind was already a mess with fears of becoming a father for the first time, and all the things that could go wrong in pregnancy. I’m most proud of the relationship between the two characters, how the husband has become so obsessive about taking care of his wife that he loses sight as to whether he’s actually helping her or hurting her.
PETE: Exactly what’s engaged me the most in this novel. Where are you heading next in your writing?
RONALD: In May, my novel December Park will be released. It’s a coming-of-age novel about five teenagers growing up in the nineties who vow to stop a killer that’s murdering children in their hometown. It’s marketed as a thriller, but I feel it works just as well as a mainstream novel about childhood, friendship, and growing up. I’m very excited for this book to come out; it’s very personal to me.
PETE: What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
RONALD: This is a tough question. Advice is a tough thing, particularly in this business, where there is no sure way to success and everyone’s experiences are different. There is one constant, though: to succeed as a writer, you must read and you must write. Every day.
PETE: What are you “into” (reading/watching) at the moment that you think the whole world should be into also?
RONALD: I don’t watch a lot of TV, though when I do, I enjoy independent films, genre and otherwise. I have very little interest in what Hollywood is doing. As for reading, I continue to read everything I can get my hands on. I’ve recently read John Fowles’s The Collector and Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which was fantastic. I prefer fiction that challenges the reader, that is artful in its presentation and eschews the familiar tropes of specific genres. That said, I find myself reading horror fiction less and less nowadays, as much of it is formulaic and disappointing.
PETE: What are your thoughts on this statement? “Every character, no matter how noble/depraved/deranged/outrageous, reveals something of the author who created them.”
RONALD: By virtue of the craft, the author will always bring something of himself to the work he creates, to include the characters, but I think it’s presumptuous and somewhat simplistic to assume an author will either deliberately or subconsciously invite his own personal traits into these characters. Some authors do indeed use their characters as a pulpit to pronounce their own convictions, but I don’t think that’s most authors. I think it’s just the opposite—a good author will create real characters with real views about life that may or may not be completely in contradiction with the author’s.
Cradle Lake is available in paperback and ebook.
You can visit http://ronmalfi.com/ for more about Ronald’s other novels.
MORE 5 QUESTIONS POSTS: