Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rejected Manuscripts

It's been crazy in our house for the past two weeks. We've put an offer on a condo and are putting our house on the market in January, which means de-cluttering and, most of all, clearing things out since we've decided to update the carpets --whatever's left, which isn't much-- and freshen up the paint in the basement.

Clearing out 21 years of accumulated junk is more than daunting. Sometimes it's depressing and sometimes downright heartbreaking. We're going into a much smaller place so we have to be ruthless. Both my husband and I are pack rats, for different things, but we both love books. Getting rid of our books has been a wrench and we've already kept more than we should. What the heck, we figure we'll cull again once we see what kind of space we have.

While sorting books, I came across Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and André Bernard and while I go through it giggling and being amazed at people's lack of foresight, I thought I'd spend a couple of posts talking about rejections and reviews, interspersing them with some of those same from authors about authors (we are our worst critics), from publishers, newspaper people, etc. taken from the book mentioned above.

My work in progess (what we call, in writer's parlance a wip) is quite different from what I usually write. It started during NaNoWriMo this year and has taken a life of its own so I decided I'd like to see if I can find another publisher for it. This is like not putting your eggs in the same basket principle; I'm not, however, looking forward to the process.

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865: "We fancy that any real child might be more puzzled than enchanted by this stiff, overwrought story." Children's Books

Looking for a publisher, or even an agent, can be an exercise in frustration. As a writer, you believe in your story, in your writing. You want to put it out there because most writers write to be read. (Any writer who says differently should be journaling instead). The fact that most writers would like to write full time and can't is a source of frustration. Writing full time means giving up food and shelter because, unless you sell a lot of books, you basically make little if no money.

"But... aren't writers loaded?" Ha! There are literally tens of thousands of writers, fiction and non-fiction, and I'm talking only in the English-speaking language. If you chop the heads off the J. K. Rowlings, Stephen Kings, and Doctor Phils, who allegedly rake in millions, the average yearly salary for a writer is in the four digits.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain, 1934: "...I think it is only a matter of time before you reach out into more substantial efforts that will be capable of making some real money as books."

So when you send out your manuscript to a publisher and agent, it's not only your hope that it will be published that goes with it, but also your hope that, maybe, you'll be able to afford one day to do what you love full time.

The disconnect comes right here: publishers are strictly a business. They don't exist to help up-and-coming writers, or to present new, talented writers to their readership. Publishing must be, to survive, a low risk business. That's why publishers would rather publish well-known writers (that's why you see so many reprints) than throw good money after bad on an unknown. There are additional factors, as well, of course, such as the sheer volume of --often very bad-- manuscripts they receive. The number, let alone the quality, would daunt and discourage any editor. Add to that a decreasing readership and the disconnect between hopeful writer and publisher becomes the Great Divide.

So are we silly idiots or great dreamers? Depending on the day, I feel like one or the other. Or both.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tiles, loaves, and plots

You don’t mind if I carry over a topic from my other blog here do you? Thanks. My stollen I was baking yesterday when I wrote an entry in the other blog, turned out fairly well. Quite edible even if they didn’t close up around the filling. My wife says to reduce the amount of filling (sugar and cinnamon) and I think I might also double the amount of yeast, but not too bad a result from interpolating across two book recipes.

Having a busy writing life, you might be excused for wondering how I have time for such flights into the wild unknown. Well it’s all the fault of the tile setters. They were to come to lay tile in the bathroom on Wednesday . . . then it was Thursday . . . then. Well, they arrived this morning. With the threat of having to cross my legs for a whole day hanging over me I just couldn’t settle down to working on the next chapter of the novel in progress. I did manage some material in trial introductory chapters for the next novel in my Iskander series, but I’d been mulling that over for weeks – months even.

They are using Quick-set for the tiles and promise the whole job will be completed early this evening when they come back to grout. I had intended to tile the bathroom myself – even bought the tiles about ten years ago – but just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to start. Well, we’d laid about 500 sq ft ourselves some years before that and although everything came out well, it kinda dampened our enthusiasm for doing more. There still is more to do but what the heck, the house was built in 1984, so leaving a few jobs for later is a minor detail. I’d much rather be writing.

Talking about trial introductory chapters, you wouldn’t happen to know an early test to indicate whether a plot and scenario is going to work, do you? Each one of the three novels published or under contract for the series has a somewhat different dynamic. Deadly Enterprise, the first release has Gisel Matah my feisty security officer acting as a guy’s bodyguard, pursued by enemies as she takes him to an enemy city. (Think Frodo making for Rivendell.) The second, The Wildcat’s Victory, has her as a director of events when she leads troops into dangerous action. (Aragorn becomes the King of Gondor.) The third, Arrival, is a prequel when she’s a sixteen year old brat who grows up into this competent warrior over the course of an eventful five months. (Merry and Pippin coming of age.) For the next novel I want to show her in an executive position, military governor of a turbulent city, while she struggles to keep the lid on the plots of a host of enemies – and become a new mother at the same time. This time my protagonist doesn’t have an objective and a plan, other than to stay alive, while a number of antagonists assail her position as governor from all sides. It seems backwards from the general structure of hero struggling against outer forces to attain a goal, but perhaps its not too different to work.

Will close with season’s greetings to all.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Swimming against the Current.

Thanks for the intro, Dom.

Hello, I’m Christopher Hoare, the new addition to the writers of the blog. Trailowner is the name I used to sign on to Blogspot for the blog I started back in 2006. It was supposed to be an advice and commentary site for people traveling off-road, since I’d been involved with off road travel since 1959, first in the British Army and then oil exploration in the Libyan Desert, Canadian mountains, bush and the Arctic. That direction for the blog didn’t attract attention – I guess there’s a certain machismo attached to getting stuck in mudholes that prevent the participants from seeking experienced input. I quickly switched the blog to my rant site whenever I needed to let off steam about public affairs.

I live in a small hamlet in southern Alberta tucked up against the Rocky Mountains at the entrance to the Crowsnest Pass. Looking north from our place one sees first the CPR Crowsnest line, then Highway 3, and down in the bottom of the valley the Crowsnest River on its way to meet the Castle and the North Fork to become the Oldman River. Retired from surveying in oil and gas exploration I now write full time.

The community is classic western, filled with cows and cowboys, and with a European outlook I’ve never pretended to fit in. That consideration was moot until my first novel, Deadly Enterprise a sci-fi adventure, was released this July. People are interested – I’m known fairly well, my wife and I have been here for 32 years – but the first questions usually is, “Is it a Western?”

Not exactly. It’s a story blending the future with a 17th century alternate world and the action takes place in an alternate Europe – a journey from what we call England to a city at the mouth of the river that today forms the boundary between Germany and Poland. It doesn’t have cows or cowboys, but it does have horses – and the female protagonist is somewhat of a swordfighting equivalent of a gunslinger.

I’m pleased to have placed or sold about 35 copies locally in the past three months, but most of my promotion is conducted on the internet to cajole readers to the e-book site and the POD paperback site on Amazon. I have to wonder what the response would have been if I’d worked on a historical western along the lines of Fred Stenson’s “Lightning” – that incidentally closes at a location on the Crowsnest River below the community where I live. (Fred described the place at a reading I helped organize for the Alberta Centenary.)

I have used the view from my deck as the basis for the map of Rast, the location for a fantasy novel that will be released in a year or so by Zumaya Publications. The Livingstone Range has become the Foghead mountains and the Porcupine Hills the Meronin Hills. The transition to prairie and the whole sweep of the land as far as the patriarchal kingdom of Easderly (Ontario & Quebec) has become the Undulains. I resurrected Palliser’s assessment for the land south of Hwy 3 because I needed a desert, which I imported from Cerenaica in Libya, complete with the Sebket es Sahiba – a salt marsh that now covers the Blood Indian Reserve and the town of Cardston. I hope I’m not visited by a lynch mob from the area when this new geography is revealed.

Those thoughts lead me to pose a question. Science fiction and fantasy writers do not write regional fiction, but how strongly does the geographical and demographic location of the writer figure in their output?

A new contributor to the blog

If you looked at the right side of the blog, you'll see that there is someone new there: Trailowner. I'm not quite sure why he calls himself that, but Chris Hoare is a fellow Canadian Writer whom I invited to contribute to the blog.

If you read his bio, you'll see that life has definitely been a ride for him, so he should provide us with some interesting insights into the world of writing and life in general, especially since he lives somewhere in the boonies (well, it is a small village) in Alberta, Canada, a province whose face has changed many times over the years.

If you want to read more about what Chris is doing or thinking, follow the road to

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Airbrushing pictures

The Digital Photoshop Retouching site here shows how it is difficult, and how it will become more and more impossible, to know the truth through digital photographs.

Some of these "improvements" are quite dramatic and supports my contempt for Hollywood's beautiful people and those who think that what they see is the real thing. It's all a fake, guys.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hook, Line and Sinker: Blogging Basics

Well, at least I don't have to tell you what a blog is; you're reading one right now. But if you're thinking of starting a blog, or have just started and wonder where to go with it, this post's for you.

The first question you must ask yourself is why you want to maintain a blog, and the key word here is maintain. I don't have any statistics on the time it takes time to get a blog established but you're not the only one out there, so it won't happen the first time you write a line. In 2004, ClickZ Network reported that there were over 4 million blogs and that this number was doubling every two months. Technorati is now tracking 81.3 million blogs. Kind of a needle in a haystack, isn't it?

Here are a few tricks that may help you bring readers to your blog and, more importantly, get them to come back.

The Hook: Determine what your blog is going to be about. Is it a personal journal you want your friends to read, do you have political ideas you want to disseminate, or do you have a field of expertise you want to share with others? Or do you just want to communicate about a topic in particular such as books, cars, Elvis? As broad or as narrow your subject is, you must then stick to it. Some people maintain two or more blogs because the topics they want to discuss are incompatible with each other.

The Line: Now that you've decided what you want to write about, then you have to add content. Blogging can be a work-intensive, time-consuming endeavour. A blog is made of a series of entries or posts, to each of which visitors can comment. There are several important aspects about posting:

  • Frequent posts: You must post often, at least three times a week or on a regular schedule. The beauty of a blog is its dynamic nature. If you have little to say on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, then a website, which has more static information, might be better suited to you. If you don't post often, if you have no new content for weeks or months, people will give up on you and go elsewhere.

  • Keep posting: It may take one or two years before you develop a faithful readership. That means posting without much feedback on whether people like what you say or not. It can be discouraging and disheartening (like a lone voice in the desert). If you have a very busy life, and barely have time to surf the net, then blogging may not be for you.

  • Use tags efficiently: Tags are a way to categorize what you write. Search engines such as Google use semantic algorithms that search on keywords for websites and tags and keywords for blogs. Carefully select the tags for each of your post so that people searching for your topic will be able to find you. You'll often see what are called "tag clouds" (see right beside this post). Those are all the tags used on a blog; the larger and darker the letters, the more posts pertaining to that tag. Try to find tags that are used by other people. For instance, I found that the tag SF was used by very few people, but that sci-fi is the most used tag. Although my books aren't exactly hard sci-fi, I use this tag because it will lead more people to my blog.

  • Use web syndication services: Web syndication is "A publishing format that lets people view headlines of the latest updates from their favorite blogs and Web sites all from within a single newsreader program. The major syndication formats are RSS and Atom, and most newsreaders support both formats. See RSS and Atom." ( Most syndication services are free ( is one). Bloglines will be able to show you what the RSS for your blog is, then you can add it to your blog so that people subscribe directly to your blog and are told when you updated it (still, you have to post often).

The Sinker: So you've done all that and you're ready, or you've improved what you were already doing. No doubt you've thought about starting a blog because you'd been on others and decided it was a neat thing to do. But there's one thing that no one talks about and may make the difference between seen as a nice, cooperative blogger or as an opportunist: netiquette. Netiquette is short for Net etiquette (in the same way blog is short for Weblog). Here are some important dos and don'ts:

  • Capitals and bold letters: On the web, typing your words all in capital letters or in huge, bold letters is the equivalent of shouting. Don't do it unless you mean it.

  • Hyperlinks: There's noting more annoying in a post than when someone gives a url (a website address) without the hyperlink or hot link. A hot link is an address you can click right away that leads you directly there instead of you having to cut-and-paste the address. A hot link requires either simple html code (we'll talk about that in another post) or you can use the smart editor that most free blog hosts, such as Wordpress , provide. To be live, the address requires http:// before the address. Make sure it's there.

  • Linking to sites, blogs or pictures: Give credit where credit is due. If you read something on another site or blog and you want to repeat that information on yours (even if it's only a link to another site), thank the person you borrowed it from in your post. As part of the Web2 social network, it's standard practice to spread news this way, but you must give that person the credit. As far as pictures, do not link to the address of the picture. This is considered very bad form. If you want to use a picture, copy it instead of linking to it (after making sure the picture isn't copyrighted). When you link to a picture, you're using someone else web resources (they're paying for those) so essentially you're stealing from them.

  • Double- or triple-dipping: So, you reason, I wan't to get my name out there so I'll have three, four, fifteen blogs with the same information. Ha! Someone's already ahead of you, especially the algorithm-writers of search engines, like Google. Since search engines use interpretive semantics and volume of visits to rank websites and blogs, you'd be doing two major things wrong by doing this. First, you'd be spreading your visitors over several blogs, reducing your volume ranking. Second, when Google and the other major search engines look at exactly similar content on several sites, they decide it's either advertising or spam and discard all the sites from their ranking. So you're worse off than before, and you'll never appear on a search. It's not enough to change a word here an there in each post; the posts have to be substantially different to be picked up separately. Google also does something interesting; one mention (such as the url of your blog) on a high-traffic blog is weighed more heavily than a hundred mentions on blogs with little traffic. Food for thought, and a future articles on strategies in blogging.

So, there it is: hook, line, and sinker. Now go catch'em.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Follow-up to brain zaps

It's been five days since I wrote about brain zaps, and I'm still getting them. I also still have that tuba playing in my ears, and nausea. A couple of other symptoms I developed I hadn't associated with Effexor that I forgot to mention:

  • cramps in my legs and arms: they're akin to the brain zaps as it's very acute pain shooting down my legs and arms
  • muscle twitches: sometimes so pronounced the muscle caves in. It's kind of fun to watch and it doesn't hurt (much) but it can get annoying.
  • mood swings: I' m not the most patient of people in the first place but these days everything is pissing me off. I know it's because the serotonin and norepinephrine levels in my brain are readjusting, but that makes me a real bitch to live with.
Will it ever end? Everything I've read had at least a couple of people saying they tried to stick it out but went back on it. I totally understand it now. I'm tired, I feel ill, I want it to be over.

I mean those damn symptoms, not life in general. No, I like life. It always takes you for a ride. This one's a hell of a roller-coaster.