Category archive: Editing

Priest Forces My Hand

The first hint of trouble came from a friend who had read and liked my vampire novels.  He sent an e-mail with a link to the website of the movie, Priest, and asked me if it sounded familiar.   The tone of the e-mail indicated he already knew the answer.

Three of the main components of that movie trailer are in my novel: walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.  Aside from that my novel is very different, but I know people will draw parallels between the two.

I admit vampire armies is not that original an idea.  I mean, if you make two vampires and they make two vampires and so on it’s pretty obvious that eventually humans will have to wall off their cities and fight swarms of vampires.

As for my protagonist belonging to a quasi-religious order–well priests have been fighting demons for centuries, and Hollywood has exploited that idea many times.

So I had to decide: slink away with my Priest-like vampire novel or go for it.  Then it occurred to me that this is a marketing dream.  When people ask what my novel is about, I can say that it’s Priest meets the Battle for Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings.

Okay, some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but the fans who would buy this type of novel will know exactly what I mean.

I can’t wait to see Priest, because I’m pretty sure that the movie’s high-tech take on vampire fighting is very different from my post-apocalyptic novel, where gunpowder is so scarce that people carry swords and cross bows as supplementary weapons, and gasoline engines are a thing of the distant past.

I’m also betting that I have the better story, but I’m judging the trailer so that may not be fair.

So here’s the plan: run my novel to my editor (God help me) and hire a cover artist.  This novel has already been through several readers, so hopefully Fogel won’t totally gut me.  By the release date of Priest, May 13th, I intend to launch my novel on Amazon.

It’s going to be a tight deadline, especially since the Toronto Marathon is on May 15th and I’m training five evenings a week, but it’s exciting.

Will Authors Start Using the F-word to Generate Buzz?

For Marketing.  It seems the Charlie Sheen school of publicity has hit the indie publishing scene in a big way.  Author Jacqueline Howett took great exception to book blogger Big Al’s review of her indie novel.  Big Al’s crime?  He complained that the typos and grammar errors made the novel unreadable, although he apparently read all the way through and said that the story was actually good.

Keep in mind that this critique came from a man who reviews indie-published e-books as a preference, so he’s probably seen some typos and grammar errors in the past.  Even Amanda Hocking admits that she needs better editors, which is one of the reasons she signed that seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

But Howett’s response was scripted out of a road rage incident with a drunk driver.  She says Big Al didn’t download the re-formatted novel AS SHE ORDERED!  Wow! Who orders around a reviewer who does this job for free?

But the crazy part is that big Al wasn’t complaining about the formatting, but the grammar and the sentence structure.  He gave examples that she didn’t refute; in fact, she claimed there was nothing wrong with her writing.

Now here’s the scary part: after this exchange began her sales spiked.  I guess people were curious to see the train wreck.  I wonder if it was intentional that she dropped the f-bomb in the comments of Big Al’s blog after that.  Twice she stated, “F–k You!” in response to comments.

I checked her Amazon ranking and it’s actually at 41,000.  Way down from the top 1000, yes, but higher than it apparently deserves.  Given the multiple bad reviews, I’m guessing it should be down around the 100,000 level.

So I have to decide: would I go rude and ballistic to make a name for myself?  No.  I just can’t do it.  I was raised to be polite and respectful–especially to people who are doing me a favor.  I’d rather be known as courteous by a few than as an asshole by many.  Oops.  That just slipped out.

 

Burning Moose

I’ve gone nuclear on my Microsoft Word document; I’ve loaded Mobipocket creator to the PC side of my MAC, since Mobi doesn’t make a MAC version.  Finally, I photoshopped  the spiffy new cover you see on the left.

Yup, I’m finally ready to re-launch my Sioux Rock Falls Short Story, Burning Moose.  This was the first of a series of stories that appeared in Storyteller Magazine between 2002 and 2006.

Yes, re-launch.  It’s been up there on Kindle for months, but friends and fellow authors who purchased it warned me that despite my best efforts, the formatting was corrupted.  There were no paragraph indents at all, which is really challenging when reading fiction.

This week I’m going to put up a detailed how-to menu item for those who want to e-publish well-formatted shorts or novels.  This may sound dull, but in the very crowded indie e-publishing industry, authors will need to stand out from the junk.  Just like with submissions to agents and publishers, the first thing that can get you tossed in the trash is a sloppily formatted story.

I certainly don’t want to lose sales because a reader checked out a sample on Kindle and then didn’t purchase my story because the formatting looked amateurish.

So enjoy the story!  Coming next: Railroaded, Beer Truck, Jumpin Jack, Fire Retardant and White Metal–the whole Sioux Rock Falls series.  I’m already working on a fake Sioux Rock Falls website, complete with ads for the True North Cafe, the Spin Cycle launderette and Elite Bar and Grill.

This is going to be fun!

Failed Communication Leads to Correct Decision

Life is full of surprises, like discovering that someone you were communicating with was having a totally different conversation.

When Fogel stated in her crit of In a Country Burning that there were, “Too many shoulders in this novel,” I took the comment as metaphorical.  I thought she meant that there were too many characters.  This lead to a decision to cut four characters, which also cuts the length of the novel quite a bit.

Here’s the big surprise.  It turns out that Fogel literally meant “too many shoulders.”  Too many people were patted on the shoulder, too many people shouldered their back packs, too many shrugged their shoulders.  She was trying to get me to use other body parts occasionally in my descriptions, which is good advice.

Yet now that we’ve cleared that up, I have no intention of putting the love interest and her family back into the novel.  It works without them.  It’s shorter.  It’s better.

So I’m sorry Rachel, Clare, Hugh and the collateral damage, Richard.  You guys will have to find a different novel, maybe in a sequel.

Are Male Readers from Mars and Female Readers from Venus?

My novel, In a Country Burning, is about redemption, about accepting fate and even a little romance, but mostly it’s about war.

It’s about the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and highlights two of the ten years of bloodshed and genocide that took place during that occupation.  Let’s not even get into the disaster the Soviets left behind for the rest of the world to clean up.

So I have to ask myself: will women read this book if I manage to squeeze in a little romance?  I’ve been told women read a lot more than men.  Any expert in the publishing industry will tell you that women are an important audience if you want to sell.

But Fogel says, “there are too many shoulders in this novel.”  She means that I’ve got too many characters, all vying for attention and all fighting to make it into the final scene.  So as I rewrite, it occurs to me that I could ditch the love interest and her family and go straight for the war story.

But will women read a war story?  How many girls snuggled up on the couch with their guys to watch Band of Brothers?  I’m guessing not many.  There will still be one woman in the book and even a heavy bit of amorous action, but for the most part it becomes a novel about men at war.

Which is what it always was about.  I made a desperate and painstaking stab at making it more like The English Patient, but I’m afraid it’s actually closer to The Hunt for Red October, but without all the cool technology.

So sales be damned.  This novel needs to be shorter, sharper and more focused.  Will it sell better?  Well, if I don’t rein it in it won’t even make it to market.

So to all the female readers: I’m sorry.  I don’t think it was going to work for you anyway.  To all the men: put down the remote or the game controller and start reading again for heaven’s sake!  I’m writing for you here.

By the way: if anyone feels slighted because they don’t like being squashed into a stereotype, well then read my book when it comes out.  It’ll be available to both Martians and Venusians.

Looking Outside the Box for the Juicy Gossip

I opened that hideous box last Monday, the one containing my perfect manuscript now covered with Fogel’s scrawls.  There’s a lot of work to do on my novel, no doubt, but the comments that concern me the most are the ones I got by e-mail before I received the box.

One of Fogel’s main complaints is that I don’t have a clear picture in my own head of my characters.

What!  I’ve written and re-written this novel more than ten times.  These characters are like very close friends.  I thought I had a clear picture of them in my head, thank you very much.

But when I calmed down and thought about it, I had each character in a specific box of time and place.

So I started thinking about my real friends in real life.  I know where they went to high school.  I know where their parents dragged them to church each Sunday (and which religion) until adulthood.  I know which ones still go to church.  I can recall career successes and failures, drunken nights on the town or weekends camping.

Life’s big and stuff happens.  I think of my dad today because it’s Remembrance Day, a paratrooper at too young an age, scarred for the rest of his life not just by the war but also because he lost his mom to TB near Christmas of 1945–before he even had a chance for that well-earned moment of peace, to feel safe back home.  What if I didn’t know that about him?  Would I describe him just as a old man, recently deceased?  There’s so much more there.

As for my friends, I know what they had hoped to become and how that turned out for them.  I know whom they slept with and whether it was a good idea.  Sure, I don’t know these intimate details for everyone I’ve met.  I’m just talking about close friends, because I’d better know my characters at least that well.

So I began asking questions and had to spend two days answering them, and it took a lot of research.  I not only had to fill out biographies for them, but their parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters.  Who got along in the family and who hated each others’ guts with the intensity that only sibling rivalry can inspire?  Who was a disappointment to their father/mother/son/daughter?  What caused friction in the family?  Who went to war and who dodged the draft? Who refuses to go to mass at Christmas despite his mother’s pleas? Who got a good job and who had the bad habit?

You get the idea.  I need to know what they smell like after a hot day of work.  I need their biographies from birth to death, even beyond the time frame of my novel.

So damn if Fogel isn’t right again, because as I fill in these details, many of which will never appear in the novel, my characters, their motivations, their likes and dislikes become clearer with each new tidbit of juicy gossip.

Many of you writers already knew this.  I thought I did.

But now I’m trying to think outside that box.

The Fogel Speaks Again

Guest Post by Melanie Fogel

Here’s the thing:

I’m a great believer in writing from the inside out. What that means is that, although good story is more important than good writing, writing is the only means you have of conveying the story.

So at some point, you stop writing story and take a hard look at the way you’ve used the words. You aim for the lightning rather than the lightning bug (I assume you know Twain’s quote on the subject). But if you haven’t got the story firmly anchored in your head–the character, the setting, the meaning of the climax–then you can’t come up with the lightning words.

In one of the great climactic scenes in Caryl Férey’s Zulu, he uses the word “totem” to talk about the stillness of the protagonist. He could have used “statue,” or “carved figure,” or “rock,” but believe me, “totem” is killer lightning. It took everything that happened in the novel prior to this point to make “totem” so striking (pun intended).  And you gasp, not only at the brilliant writing, but at the significance of the sentence to the story.

Honestly, I could teach an entire writing course based on that novel.

Mike’s Note: This article will find a permanent home under “The Fogel Speaks.”

Monday I Will Open The Box

There’s a box with a manuscript in it sitting on my desk.  It’s the manuscript where each neatly printed page has been marred by The Fogel’s harsh scrawls.  In a sense, I have already opened it, because The Fogel sent me her notes on Chapter one by e-mail, and her comments strike like a hammer, over and over again.

My day job has been busy over the last few weeks, which is good because I needed time to decide what to do about the novel, one that has taken up so much of my life.

Go to my website, www.michaelmcpherson.ca and you’ll see my smiling face and the photos I took of the men I traveled with in Afghanistan.  Back then Reagan was president and the mujahideen were still described in the press as “freedom fighters.”

How things have changed.  I watched on TV as the twin towers went down, and as word came out that the terrorists were trained in Afghanistan and called themselves mujahideen, I knew the media would never again refer to them as freedom fighters.

Yet that is how I still feel about the men I traveled with, and I wonder how many of them are alive today.  They were generous to me.  I trusted them with my life.  They had hopes and fears, children and wives and grooming advice.  The commander said I should shave my wispy beard because I couldn’t grow a proper beard.  He was clean shaven himself.  We’re not talking Taliban fanatics here, at least not back then.

I can’t let them go.  I want the world to see them as human beings.  I want the world to understand what the Soviets did to that country.  It was the one thing I promised myself I could do for them, although the commander’s son would have preferred that I’d bought him new boots.  I missed the opportunity to do that, and it haunts me.

So Monday I have some time off from my day job, and I will open that box.  I will endure all of The Fogel’s comments.  I will rethink plot and story, characters and events.  I will struggle and rewrite.  Somehow, I will finish what I started.

It’s the least I can do.

Am I a Closet Luddite?

I think of myself as a tech using guy, but with technology changing so fast we’re always tested.  I hope I will never catch myself using expressions like “new-fangled.”  I’m determined to march through middle age without saying, “Back in my day we didn’t need…”  Refer to latest gadget here.

So I was surprised by my gut reaction to this link sent to me by The Fogel. She describes it as a toy for reviewing my novel, and her point is that there are some words I use with monotonous frequency.

This toy is designed to search your text, find those overused words and put them up in fun graphic displays.  The more you use a word, the bigger its size.

But Hemingway, Fitzgerald,  and all the greats didn’t have this toy.  I can’t imagine Margaret Atwood needing it.

Then I remembered my creative writing teacher at University of Toronto.  He told us that he prefers to write with an IBM typewriter, the way Hemmingway did back in the thirties.  I had to repress a derisive snort.  Hemingway used a typewriter because it was the word processor of his day.  I’m sure he had contemporaries who preferred to write long hand, and I bet they had all kinds of excuses like: the pen flows with my thoughts; the typewriter is too jarring and loud.

Hemmingway was using the modern tech gadget of his day. Writing a play with a quill won’t make me William Shakespeare.

So I will put my novel through this toy, because I want to use all the tools at my disposal to make it effortless for the readers.

But I admit I’m worried about the word brown.

A Necessary Evil

The second time I met The Fogel, we decided to chat while sitting on a bench in front the Marriott in Ottawa, the concrete cover above providing shade.  The Bloody Words Mystery Convention was winding down, and the authors who had packed The Fogel’s workshop were spilling out to hop in cabs and cars, waving to us as they headed home.

We’d worked together for years by e-mail but had only met briefly once before, so it was strange and pleasantly surprising to discover we liked one another in person, even after all the excruciating edits of the Sioux Rock Falls short stories.

The Fogel chained smoked while we talked, which didn’t bother me since the fumes from the cabs were way worse for my lungs than second hand smoke.  She’s a tough lady with a gravelly voice and the energy of the Eveready Bunny.  And you’d want her beside you in a bar fight.  She’s no bullshit.

Still, I’d prefer life without an editor.  They’re bossy, grumpy and snarky.  They have no hearts and don’t care about your feelings one bit.

They’re also damn necessary, unless you’re the literary equivalent of Mozart.

The Fogel has sent me a few links and notes about writing in the last few weeks, so I’ve decided to start a separate page, The Fogel Speaks, for anyone who wants to know more about writing.  I’ll add to it as the links come in.

But remember: rules are good, but sometimes they need to be broken.

When we finished our chat and got up from the bench, we discovered we’d been sitting in front of a NO SMOKING sign.  Yup, you heard me, a no smoking sign in a covered drop-off area, cars idling away, coming and going.  Now that was bullshit.