Month: December 2012

DIY in B&W

Ever since I viewed a simple but compelling book trailer created by Michelle Proulx, I just had to make one for The Friendship of Mortals, the first novel of my Herbert West Trilogy.  After some brooding, listening to lots of royalty-free music snippets, wrestling with an old version of PowerPoint (discovered on an old computer), downloading Windows Movie Maker and figuring out where to put what — ta da!

View it here

It’s also on the book’s page at Smashwords.


Reaping Without Sowing: Thoughts for the Dark Time of the Year

Warning: this post is pretty low on the Christmas Cheer Index.

I cringe when I hear the word “harvest” being used in a variety of sneaky ways, the primary one being a benign-sounding substitute for “kill.” Right now I am listening to a fellow speaking earnestly in favour of sports hunting of polar bears (a threatened species), uttering that word three or four times in one sentence. Listening uncritically, one might almost think that being “harvested” is good for the bears. The same word is often applied to cutting down trees, as in logging or lumbering. Related to the latter is the concept of “managed forests.”

“Manage,” is another benign-sounding word, behind which lurks “exploit.”

“Harvest” derives ultimately from an old Indo-European word for gathering, plucking or cutting, as is done to crops or to the fruits of wild plants. Aside from hunting and gathering societies, it has generally been applied to cultivated crops.

“Manage,” meaning “to control” or “to handle,” derives from the same root as Latin “manus” — hand.

Both these words hark back to a time when crops were planted and gathered by hand, a process involving physical exertion, hardship and sweat. That is much less the case with present-day mechanized operations intended to supply “products” to an international marketplace. Hunting, too, was a risky business without modern firearms, and certainly nothing like present-day industrial meat production.

Most of us consume the gifts of the earth without paying for them — paying in the sense of physical discomfort and effort, even suffering, because we are largely removed from the processes involved in bringing them to us. Like wealth, suffering is unequally distributed in this world, concentrated in places that have been excessively managed, their resources harvested to bring convenience, comfort and delight to the inhabitants of the fortunate “first world.” And a good deal of suffering is experienced by the creatures entrained in the machine that is industrial agriculture, a fact that most of us (myself included) are happy to ignore when sitting down to eat something roasted.

This is a complex issue and I have no answers to offer, except this: we humans need to feel reverence for the earth. We can’t survive without it. When people go into outer space, they do so inside a facsimile of earth. Despite our cosmic aspirations, we are creatures of earth. We satisfy our appetites, physical and otherwise, by drawing upon earth’s resources, often with negative consequences to other creatures or to the earth itself. At the very least we must acknowledge that.

Happy holidays to all!

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Unwanted Good Advice

A while ago there was a discussion on LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers Group about whether reading “how to write” advice is a waste of time. There certainly is a lot of advice to be had — books and courses and blogs dispensing shoulds and shouldn’ts, dos and don’ts and sententious pronouncements for those who aspire to be Writers — get a professional editor, rewrite no fewer than 55 times, bow deeply to the God of Marketing, blah, blah, blah. On this blog, I’ve dispensed advice as well as commented on it, so I’m as guilty as anyone.

The interesting thing was how many said they don’t bother reading blogs by “just anyone.” Ha! It’s kind of ironic that on a forum frequented by self-published “indie” authors there should be suspicion and distrust of advice from fellow indies. I’m not surprised though, being inclined to argue with such advice no matter where I find it. Statements starting with “You should,” or “Never,” or “Always,” trigger an inclination to challenge. Sometimes I argue myself around in a circle and actually end up agreeing with the statement. Another irony; life is full of them.

My advice to writers inclined to dispense advice — stick to your own experience, describing things you’ve done that worked or did not work. That might actually be useful to others, especially if you include the ideas behind the actions.

I suspect that 100% of writing blogs are written in order to draw attention to the bloggers’ own books. That brings up the final irony for today, which is that we are preaching to the choir — other writers. I’ll bet most people who don’t write, even those who read a lot, aren’t really interested in dissections of grammar or the details of how to write dialogue. Blog posts on how to write, therefore, aren’t very good for marketing, and if other writers ignore them, what’s the point?

That said, practical advice from someone with credibility does have value. In that spirit, I endorse a post on proofreading from Michelle Proulx, a fellow WordPress blogger whose first book is due out in January. While you’re there, check out her post from December 13, featuring a first try at a book trailer for her book, Imminent Danger.

Throwing Darts at the Moon

Toward the end of my “submissive” period as an author, I realized there is an unfathomable gap between a submitted manuscript and the preferences of the target — the professional reader. I wrote my novels with an ideal reader in mind, a receptive, welcoming reader to whom I was eager to present my fictional world and characters. The professional reader can’t be that way, for good reasons. Publishers must perforce reject the majority of manuscripts sent to them by hopeful writers. The professional reader approaches manuscripts with rejection in mind.

Manuscripts rarely return to their authors with a list of reasons for rejection. Unless an editor is almost inclined to accept a manuscript and suggests specific changes that might tip the balance in its favour, the writer is forced to guess. Even when reasons are given, they are often less than helpful. In my submissive days, I used to brood over sentences such as, “Your narrative voice slightly missed the mark at drawing me in,” wondering exactly what would have elicited a different result.

From my experience with critique groups over the years, I have realized that a piece of writing provokes a range of opinions from a group of people. Some want more backstory, others none at all. Some love lush descriptions, others hate them. Some focus on certain words or punctuation marks, others question the motives and personalities of the characters. When your opus is read and rejected by an unknown stranger, you have no knowledge of their quirks and preferences. You do some tweaking or rewrite the whole thing and send it into another black hole where it will be read by someone with completely different ideas about what constitutes a good piece of writing. For any rewrite to match the idiosyncrasies of the next professional reader is like throwing darts at the moon.

That’s if the manuscript is read at all. Most writers who have sent manuscripts to publishers have at least one story about a submission that was rejected more than a year after being sent, or received no response at all. Ever. And yes, we’ve all heard stories about enormous slush piles clogging the premises of beleaguered publishers. Shame on all of us wannabees for burdening them with our stuff. But declaring themselves open to submissions, especially with statements that queries meeting their requirements will be read within a specific time period, implies that publishers will treat those submissions with respect. But not all do. It is, after all, a “buyer’s market.”

Some years ago, I took an evening course on the business side of writing and publishing. One of the statements made by the instructor that has stayed with me was, “Self-publishing is masturbation.” In those days the only means of self-publishing was the vanity press, years before “indie authors,” print-on-demand, ebooks and Smashwords arrived on the scene. When those avenues to self-publication became available and quasi-respectable, they were taken up with such eagerness, in such huge and overwhelming numbers, as to constitute something more like a revolution than a mere trend.

Is that any wonder, given the exigencies of trying to get published in the time-honoured, submissive way? Rejections for unspecified reasons, after months- or years-long waits, repeated as many times as the writer can endure (and some of us are more patient and persistent than others), is not what any writer signs up for. Most of us writers — well, here I had better speak for myself — I want my works to be read. My novels are “out there,” not languishing in someone’s slush pile or abandoned in a drawer. If I can make a few bucks from them, that’s icing on the cake. If that constitutes metaphorical masturbation, so be it.