Monday, August 21, 2006

Reading Ahead

Well, now that I've finished reading Kelley Armstrong's very entertaining "Women of the Otherworld" books, I've now started into reading some of the novels on my University reading list. Yippee! A Sweetness in the Belly is to be read first - for no other reason than the green, beige, and pink stripe format of the cover caught my eye about a hundred times when I was working at Coles. Bad memories? Nah - I loved working there. It was getting fired that sucked.

Anyway, I'm already loving it. I adore books that begin with a language or a style or a story that immediately grabs me - these books are like waking up on a Saturday, when you know that there are two days of glorious non-work, or non-school ahead of you. Here, when a book begins well, it's wonderful because I know there are at least three hundred pages of similar goodness to go.

Granted, I have come to love good books that begin more slowly, but they're more like schooldays where they start with some trepidation (because I know that there are math classes, and social studies classes, and science classes ahead), but then as I progress I find out that we have a substitute teacher in math, we're watching a movie in social studies, and science is cancelled by a fire drill. All in all, it ends as a pretty good day. Still not quite as good as waking up on a Saturday, though.

Anyway - I finished the T.A. Barron Great Tree of Avalon series, and it tried my confidence as a reviewer, at least a little. I had very good reasons for the critique I gave of it (negative), and I think I backed them up very well, but when I read the blurb sheet presented in the press kit that has quotations from Madeleine L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander (two YA authors I love and have loved since I was eight) lauding a work I dispised, it's a bit of a kick in the teeth. I want to be like L'Engle and Alexander, I think they're wonderful writers, and I certainly don't want to question their taste by hating on a book they seemed to have enjoyed. But that book was so very unpleasant to read.

It's also a blow to the ego when yet another book I reviewed badly (Od Magic, Patricia A. McKillip) ends up nominated for a major fantasy award. Again - I had good reasons for not liking it, but sometimes I feel badly about it.

I wonder, everyone else seems to have liked it - I must have missed something. Or my favourite authors like it, so who am I to say it's bad? The fear of being too superficial or unintelligent a reader to catch the positive points that so many other people seem to have gotten from a novel can be daunting. I love Madeleine L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander, but T.A. Barron, you are no L'Engle or Alexander. Not even close, in my estimation.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Battle of the Blogs

As most you of know already, I am writer (soon to be published), who wishes to eventually hold a fantasy novel in my hands with my name on the cover (and maybe a few World Fantasy Awards and Hugos as well...-_-;;). Well, I've been reading blogs written by people in the publishing world in order to stock up on tips on how best to go about shopping my novel around (once I get around to finishing one that I deem good enough, of course). And man, did I come across some different opinions.

The two writing blogs that I read the most these days are Miss Snark's (, and A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss' Writer Beware blog ( Snark is a literary agent who doles out advice to writers about how best to win over an agent who will give their work the attention it deserves (or more than it deserves, on occasion). Ann and Victoria are science fiction writers who began the page Writer Beware ( and the blog after that, in order to keep tabs on bad agents and literary scammers - the kind who ask writers to pay to be represented, then cut and run without producing any results.

Ann and Victoria, and by extention, Snark - give advice to writers so that they might not make the same mistakes that others have made before them. What proper materials to send to a agent, for example, or which writing contests are legit and which ones are formed just to collect the entry fee and cackle their little scammy heads off.

However, some people don't like the actions that Snark, Ann, and Victoria are taking. Personally, I like Miss Snark, because she's entertaining and gives out good advice without being completely patronizing. Personally, I adore Ann and Victoria because when I knew next to nothing about agents (to the point where I felt I had to find an agent who lived NEAR ME, instead of near New York or Toronto), they replied to my e-mail explaining why I didn't need to get a local agent, and that the local agent I was considering was not a very wise choice at all.

Well, SammyK, from A Gent's Outlook ( also claims to be an agent. He, to put it politely, does not agree with Miss Snark (although he claims to know her 'true identity' and to have probably slept with her at some point or another). From what I've read of his blog, he's angry at Ann, Victoria, and Snark for several reasons - one being that, basically, he feels they're spoonfeeding the unwashed masses information they would be finding out on their own if they were really talented enough to be published.

Now, while I myself am rather annoyed at the picture of writers as people who are so engrossed by 'the crahft' that they are ignorant to how the real world works, it seems rather wrong-headed to believe that just because someone is ignorant, they can't be a writer. Ignorance, unlike stupidity, is easily fixed. Which would be better - the amateur who sent out her manuscript willy-nilly, convinced that the heartbreaking greatness of her work would be enough to get her foot in the door; or the amateur who did research, asked for advice, and gathered information?

Another vibe that SammyK gives off is that the scammers and bottomfeeders have their uses - namely, that if a person is stupid enough to fall for their bullshit, prideful enough to accept their empty flattery, and lazy enough to believe that his/her work of "staggering genius" will get noticed regardless of the reputation of the agent, these "writing wannabes" are obviously not qualified to write, and that somewhere in the world a real editor has been spared having to reject another awful manuscript, and a real writer now has less competition when shopping their novel around.

Basically, these scammers work as shitfilters, a net that lets the smart writers who research their field through safely while snagging the idiots who contribute nothing to the world but a bigger slushpile. In a way, he kinda has a Darwinian point, and one of his issues with Writer Beware and Miss Snark is that they are killing the scammer lions who used to thin the writer-herd by picking off the weaker, clueless writer-gazelles who were holding the writer-herd back anyway.

However - one of the reasons I like Writer Beware and Miss Snark is because they educate people on how the publishing world works so that they are no LONGER ignorant. That's the issue I take with SammyK. Stupid and ignorant are not the same, and just because someone is ignorant enough to get caught by a scammer, does not mean they aren't worthy of publication.

On the same note, even if a puffed-up peacock of a "writer wannabe" is spared the obstacles of scam artists, and given enough information to query an agent properly - if his writing still isn't any good, he's still not going to gain representation even if he goes about it the right way, is he? Sure, he can write a good query letter now, and he knows a good agent from a bad one, but if a good agent sees that his writing isn't going to pay out, he's going to be rejected. So I hardly think Writer Beware and Miss Snark are to blame for supposedly 'lesser works' being published while 'true genius writers' are starving in the streets.

Another issue that SammyK takes with Writer Beware and Miss Snark is that he believes they are using their watchdog groups and blogs to gain celebrity for themselves, to the point where they are no longer helping writers. From what I've gathered by reading his blog, the celebrity gained by their loud protesting and advice-giving garners them unfair book deals ("unfair" in the sense that they are "lesser" writers, and especially unfair to Miss Snark, whom SammyK insinuates is not as successful and intelligent as she leads people to believe) that fill up slots on publisher's books lists that could have been filled by the supposedly "better" writers these woman are giving advice to.

What? Considering the vague possibility that SammyK is completely right, and OHNOEZ! Three slots filled! No more room for ANY publishers to publish ANY books of ANY merit ever again! My knee-jerk reaction to SammyK was that he looks at the world through shit-coloured glasses, seeing selfishness and greed in the actions of every person he sees. Giving money to the poor? "She's only doing it so people can say how charitable she is." Building houses for the homeless? "He's only doing it for the self-gratification, and it looks good a college resume." Reading to the blind? "She just likes to hear the sound of her own voice." Maintaining websites that give advice to writers? "They're only doing it to get publishers to pay attention to their own books and literary pursuits."

In any pursuit, be it selfish or selfless, if one does it effectively one will get a certain amount of attention, and the rewards that come with such attention. It's inevitable.

My last point - rumours and words are meaningless. Actions and reactions are key. If, as SammyK says, Ann, Victoria, and Snark are getting unfair attention to their own writing thanks to their websites, they've still managed to help a large number of writers overcome the spreading epidemic of ignorance of the publishing field. They've helped people learn how to properly get their writing looked at, and if SammyK believes that crappy writing is now getting attention it doesn't deserve, well, tough beans. Agents and editors and publishers don't have to accept poor manuscripts just because the writers used the proper methods to get them sent. If stressed agents are finding more slipshod manuscripts on their desks thanks to Writer Beware and Miss Snark, there's a good chance they are also finding a few more gems that would have been left in the rough if these women hadn't given the writer a fair warning.

Still, I'm going to go back and read more of A Gent's Outlook, because in his own way he's doling out his own advice to writers, albeit of a more "hard knocks" type of education. He hates lazy writers who aren't willing to work to get their writing noticed, or who make unfair demands of their agents, editors and publishers because they don't know their ass from a manila envelope, well, so do I.

And so do Snark, Ann, and Victoria, I'm thinking. Which is why they are always telling people exactly how to remove their ass from that couch to get started on their writing careers.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Huzzah! Laptop minus internet equals more writing!

It's not like I haven't known that I write more when I'm not hooked up to the internet, the self-updating playground of nerdy delights. At times, I'm more interested in reading the blogs of published writers, than actual writing so that MY blog will eventually become the blog of a published writer (in about a year, when "My Brother's Own Words" shows up in CICADA).

Unplugging the modem cord just hasn't worked, because I can only write about a paragraph before I wonder (has Ronny Shade replied to my post at Has Elizabeth Bear made a new post on her blog?), plug the cord right back in, go off to check, and end up clinking on a new link and discovering a deflightful new website that takes up the rest of my time.

So, over the weekend, I just took my laptop AWAY from where it has been languishing for the last three months (in the basement). Before, I was too lazy to move it. It was plugged in to both power and internet - why carry it around? Well, once I moved it to the living room, or the porch, or my bedroom, I was able to write a great deal - most of it on "Magic Doesn't Grow On Trees", where I am finally coming close to a conclusion.

If you'll pardon me for discovering yet another metaphor for writing, it's like following a scent. If I have an idea in mind, following through on that idea by writing it leads me along a path to yet another idea, and then another, and then another - so long as I keep following the path of my narrative while it's fresh. If I leave a story alone for a while, the trail gets cold, and I become loathe to start it up again because at the moment I have no creative way to keep it going. The act of writing inspires creativity, as I've always said - which makes me wonder about those authors who take ten years to write a book. How do they keep coming up with ideas if they write "one good sentence" a day?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I've been trying very hard lately to make myself write, but it's very difficult to do without being distracted. Even when I yank out the modem cord so that I'm not constantly checking, I can only last a few minutes before I plug it back in.

I'm a lazy writer. I have to force myself to keep writing if I want to make any kind of living at all doing it. Nora Roberts has written more than six hundred books in her lifetime. Ditto Danielle Steel. How can I keep up with that? I'm not saying I want to write a novel a week or anything, but I don't want to be that author that comes out with maybe one book every ten years. And it's going to take that long if I don't get writing already. I try to use my acceptance with CICADA as encouragement, I read and re-read the updates section of my Locus magazine that show all the other books that working authors have been turning in for five-, sometimes even six-figure advances. Lucky. I'm not interested that much in the money (I've adapted to the idea that I'll probably be having to do some real work, possibly in a library, on the side while I write) - but I know that I can never even hope of getting a six-figure advance if I'm not writing.

Anyway, I've changed some ideas with The Boy Who Would Be Queen again, changed the time and the setting. Basically, I'm going to try to make it as weird as possible, so that I can have some modern conveniences (which are, I'll admit, easier to write, and according to my parents - better received) but still keep some of the medieval parts that I like about all the other books that I read. That's one of the upsides of writing fantasy. Don't know enough about the medieval world - but writing about modern times is boring? Do both, then.

I'm thinking about dusting off Reading the Willow King, a novel idea that I've adandoned of late. It still has a lot of promise, and it keeps coming back to me when I find myself writing lines of it in my head when I fight with my sisters (primarily because the three main characters are based on myself and my sisters).

I've also been working more on "Magic Doesn't Grow on Trees". It's going to need some serious trimming once I've finished the first draft, but it's coming along, and I think I'm succeeding at making spoiled rich girl Ravine a little more sympathetic and kind without being too obvious about it. There's nothing worse than when a pampered character acts like a bitch to everyone, but on the next page suddenly exclaims, "Oh! I've been so rude! My entire life is unsatisfactory, even with all of my material pleasures! Hop in my limo and let's go volunteer at the nearest soup kitchen!" I'm determined to have Ravine continue to adore her material wealth at the end, but she'll be more considerate of other people's feelings hopefully. And hopefully, people will find her mindset funny, rather than repulsive.

I'm also re-reading some of my books for Green Man Review. With my hunger to read new stories and new books that other people insist on publishing, even when I don't have the time or money to read the mall, I've found that I've rarely re-read any of the books that I own. The exceptions are Robin Hobb's books, Patricia Wrede's, Joanna Bertin's, and Tanya Huff's, but I still have the three books of William Horwood's Duncton Wood series, which I've read once, adored, and promptly never read again. And I've had them for nearly eight years, I'm pretty sure.

I think it's about time to start recirculating certain old books into my to-be-read pile, like, every bundle of three new books should be separated by one old one, or one old series. Right now, after I finish Kelley Armstrong's Broken, I'm reading Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn series for review.After I read some more new books (the new ones on my pile include Child of a Rainless Year, Crime and Punishment, and Nicholas Nickleby, to name a few), I might try going back to reading The Wild Road and The Golden Cat by Gabriel King. Both are (or were when I last read them) very weird books about cats and magical cat highways and the bizarre things that humans did to them. Who knows how much I'll enjoy them no.