Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Book Week: I'm a little late with this...

but, better late than never. Yes, I'm blogging today about Banned Book Week. I've been poring over the lists and statistics of banned books and I'm amazed. There are some real party poopers out there that want to ruin the fun that literature brings to people. Mainly, these people that challenge a book's worth and merit are parents. They do so because they are supposedly looking out for their child's best interest. Well, that's pretty noble, I guess. I have three boys of my own, but I've never taken to the streets or written my local library or school board because of what my kids are reading. Hell, I'd love it if they showed more interest in reading! Here's some of my opinions about such behavior.

First, be proud that little Jimmy or Sally is reading at all! It's bad enough for books to compete with cable television, movies, video games, and cell phones. Most kids that I know only read a book when it is assigned in school. I must admit, I used to be the same way, shirking the reading assignments my teachers gave me. Now, however, I would be lost without a good book to read while I lay in bed before dozing off, or sitting on the back deck during a pleasant day.

Second, stop whining about what your child is reading (be glad they're reading at all-see first point above). The statistics for people intiating the banning of books show that the largest percentage are parents. Like I said above, trying to protect your child from profanity and sexually explicit material is noble, but do you really need to try to get a book banned because it has the words damn, hell, and ass inside? I think not. Also, I think that shielding your child from such expletives adversely effects them when they get out into the real world. I happened to look at the list of banned and challenged classics and I was amazed at some of the books on the list. There were books that I've read and never would have imagined being targeted for banning. One was To Kill A Mockingbird. I believe it was challenged because the intiator thought the content promoted racism. All I can do is shake my head at such narrow-mindedness.

Third, most of the reasons for these challenges against the books are brought up by people who want the world to see things as they see them. They majority of these people might be religious fanatics, I don't know, but I do know that they want to squash intellectual freedom by imposing their views on the rest of us. Why is it that because someone out there disagrees with something, they have to get up in arms and start a crusade? Reading is just like watching the TV: if you don't like what you're seeing or hearing, turn the channel! In the case of books, close the cover and return it to the library or get a refund, but do not try and ban the book and ruin the entertainment value for the rest of us. Just because we don't see eye-to-eye doesn't mean I have to do things your way, and vice versa.

Now that I've had my say and gotten that off my chest, here is a link to the banned books week website: Banned Books Week

Monday, September 28, 2009

Eschew obfuscation: Why do so many writers try to sound so literary?

I received an anthology the other day in the mail. I ordered it online from a publisher where I wanted to submit a story. I wanted to get a feel for the type of writing the editors published. All of the stories in the anthology had been published on the publisher's website, but were also winners out of other stories. I opened the cover and began reading the first story. It was horrible!

I will compliment the author on her immense vocabulary, but did she really have to try to use all of her big words in that one story? Was she trying to impress someone? The use of so many uncommon words made the story artificial and labored. I suffered through the story, trying to quickly get to the next. When I finally reached the next story, it too, used flamboyant words throughout and I don't mean one or two scattered liberally here and there. I mean, every other word (well, not quite, but pretty damn close) was some obcsure word to lend the prose some kind of descriptive literary merit. It was horrible and painful to read!

Okay, you may be thinking that I'm being too critical here, but seriously, why must writers go out of their way to sound so literary? Having a large vocabulary is great, don't get me wrong, but do you have to bludgeon readers over the head with your fancy words? I had the problem myself, of trying to hard to sound literate with my earlier writing and occassionally it tries to creep back into my writing. Luckily, I have a constant reader that tells me when I'm trying too hard to sound literate. I was completely unaware that I was doing this until she pointed it out to me. I just knew that when I reread some of my work it was stilted and jagged on the ear, but I couldn't pinpoint what the problem was until it was brought it to my attention.

Now, when I finish writing something, I sit down with it and look for any places that rub me the wrong way. Usually, the places that tend to do this are where I've tried too hard to sound like I'm trying to impress my readers with my words. Falling into this trap is bullshit, and doing so will show in your writing, sticking out like a turd among the flowers. It is my opinion, however, that some authors can actually pull off this feat. If you pick up a book by one of these successful authors and read it, pay close attention to the flow of the narrative. I bet you any amount of money that the author will write as casually as they converse even if they have an extensive vocabulary.

I'm not saying to disregard all of your eloquent words. I'm just reiterating something King said in his book, On Writing, use the first word that comes to your mind. If you do this then you will more than likely write prose that flows unencumbered and doesn't jag on the ear. If you haven't read his book about the craft, I encourage you to do so. It's very informative. In it, he says that language doesn't always need to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. I agree. As you're writing, if you stop to think of a more impressive word to use in place of your small words, you'll come up with one. But, really, do you want to use a word that's only cousin to the word that first came to your mind? It's powerful stuff, that bit of advice. The only writer that really blew me away with the use of his extensive vocabulary without ruining the story I read was T. C. Boyle. He is one of the exceptions to the rule, however. He still manages to deliver beautiful prose wrapped inside those large words, but that is because he knows what he's doing. He's been doing it for decades. If you doubt it, then by all means, continue to write obfuscated prose and feel literate. As for me? I'll read something much less like a college dissertation, thank you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Will a lofty advance sink your writing career?

I'm still in the revision process for my novel, The Shadow People, and before I get hard at work editing everyday, I like to read blogs from literary agents, publishers, and other more notable authors to see what's happeing in the writing/publishing world. Basically, I'm looking for knowledge to get me over the hurdle of finding an agent to get my book published. I mean, what writer doesn't daydream about making it big by landing that glorious book deal and large advance so they can tell their boss to kiss off, right? Well, my daydream is becoming more and more tarnished the more I read about the publishing process. First, there are stats that say only so many books submitted are published (can't remember the exact figure, but it's pretty intimidating) and then there's some conflicting information I recently read about advances, which really got me to thinking.

One of the literary agents I follow is Rachelle Gardner. She is an agent with WordServer Literary and she recently posted blogs about advances paid to authors, most importantly, debut authors. I read both of these posts, which can be found here (part 1) and here (the followup). I urge you to read these blogs, they are a little daunting, especially the first one's title. After you read these, there is another blog you simply must read, here by an author saying not to accept any advance a publisher offers you because to do so would undoubtably wreck your writing career before it even gets off the ground.

Now, I'll admit, I read the first two blogs by Rachelle and felt slightly disappointed. I mean, I highly doubt my first book will be something that knocks the socks off literary agents, publishers, or the reading public, but I try to keep telling myself that it might get a warm reception and do fairly well on the bookshelves. What writer tells him or herself otherwise? To do so means that you've already thrown in the towel and declared defeat. What motivation would you have to continue if you thought that way? After I read the third blog, by Joe Quirk, I was dumbfounded. Whose advice or information is right? I mean, I'd listen to Rachelle because she is in the publishing world and I would trust what she has to say. On the other hand, if Joe isn't blowing smoke, then that would logically mean that since Rachelle is working for the publishing world, she would encourage authors to stick with traditional publishing so she could make her cut of the money. Is what Joe says a strategy of the pulishing industry to keep the competition fierce? Do they really share financial information about an author's sales with their competitors? If so, then this is some scary news!

I've got to say that, in his blog, Joe sounds quite bitter toward the large publishing houses. Maybe he got burned early on. Maybe he's like a lot of "writers" out there who think they are stellar literary types who only manage to produce swill when they put pen to paper. Who's to say? I'm simply offering these few links to you so that you can read and compare as I have. I intend to do more research into this to better determine how I might react when I get to this point in my writing career, and I urge you to do the same. It's better to be forewarned when approached with a publisher's offer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A life of rejection...

Okay, well, that was a bit strong, but I received two rejections this week. One for a flash story I wrote called Intruder and another I submitted to an anthology for nautical horror called Mark Avery's Final Voyage.

I've got several stories out there, waiting for some kind of response from editors. It's a painful thing for a writer to create something he/she really believes in and then send it out into the world seeking validation from others as to whether it is any good. On top of that, the waiting is nearly unbearable. I realize editors are inundated with large piles of manuscripts, so I understand this. I am not a very patient person, however, but I am learning to be more patient.

Intruder was a story that came to me one night as I was lying bed. I hurried to my computer and wrote down the idea so I could flesh it out the following day, which I did and then revised several times. I had no market in mind when I wrote the story, just a feeling that it needed to be written, to receive life, so to speak. Finally, I found a publisher of flash fiction tales and thought my story was a worthy candidate. It took about a month and a half before I received the rejection email from them. I was disappointed, but at least it's closure and I can still send it out to other editors.

On the very next day, I received word from the editor of the nuatical horror anthology that my story just wasn't right for them at this time. Again, I was disappointed, but I have set it aside until I can find another market for it.

I have three more stories waiting for some response from editors and the wait is killing me. In the meantime, I've decided to just knuckle down and complete the 3rd revision of my novel, The Shadow People, and create more short stories. This time when I write a short story, however, I am going to try to create something more cerebral than the last couple of yarns I've spun.