Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why Editors Matter (or, How I Lost 3 Hours of My Life That I'll Never Get Back)

Sorry it's been so long since my last post. If you must know, I was out of town, visiting  Yellowstone Park with my family and geeking out the whole time because Yellowstone is where the climax of The Shifting takes place. It was so cool to look around and see where Sarah and Thomas and Ryan ran and hid and fought, even though none of that actually happened and the book isn't even out yet. Still, I felt kind of cool and sort of powerful. I wonder if that's how authors feel when their books become movies: like they have the power to create things, or in my case, at least reappropriate them for their own purposes.

This is the location, as it looked to where I stood. It's Geyser Hill. Old Faithful is off to the side, to the right. This is where my heroes fight evil at the end. Um, is it okay if I take a few minutes to hyperventilate like a fangirl?

I'm back. Now, to the main message of this post. I normally try not to come on here and bash books. I like to take good books and talk about what makes them good. But today I am going to talk about a book I think may be the worst book I've ever read: The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. Yes, that Chris Colfer. I thought about withholding the name out of respect for the author (I don't like insulting books), but you should be warned. I grabbed the book because I mistakenly thought it was written by Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl books, which I love. (Eoin Colfer does have a new book, so my mistake, I think, is understandable.)

After realizing my mistake, I decided to read the book anyway. The title was intriguing, and I wanted to prove a point to myself. I have a bias against celebrities (read, actors and musicians) who decide to write novels. This is why: some people think that because they can take a pencil and scribble out a coherent phrase it means they can write a novel. Writing takes more than the ability to string words together. There is a certain craft to it. A writer has to consider character development, pacing, stakes, audience, poetry of language, etc., etc. I'm annoyed by people who think what I do is easy.

The biggest reason I'm annoyed by celebrity writers is because while I and other no-name writers have to beg and plead and bend over backwards for years to get our books published, people who already have a name can get anything published, because the publishers already know they can sell those books. A little bitter of me, yes, but I don't like thinking of all those people who are good writers who nonetheless aren't getting published.

Anyway, I know I have a bias, so I decided to give Colfer the benefit of the doubt and read the book. It could be good. I was wrong. From the first twenty pages, I could see the pacing was off. The story didn't truly begin until page 60, and even then I wasn't sure why I should care. Throughout the book, I never engaged with the characters enough to feel urgency in their quest. There were also logical problems, like the heroes having a knife (and using it), and soon after getting caught in a net and NOT thinking to use the knife to cut themselves free. On top of that, there were sentences like "Her lips wrinkled and looked me up and down." Her lips did WHAT now?

Now I feel like a bad person. I'm sorry. There were good points in the book. The story had some very imaginative elements, and I saw some word play that was pretty good. The good parts, however, drowned in the mediocre storytelling and straight-up painful to read moments.

I'm not bashing the author here, although it sounds like I am. Every writer produces a load of junk before writing his or her first good novel. I have a novel I wrote in high school that no one will ever see. Ever. It's cliche and didactic and poorly written and everything I've learned to move away from. But we all write one of these. Well, most of us do. I won't speak for the literary giants among us. I call it my "apprenticeship novel", and while, at the time, I wanted it published because it was awesome (HAH!), I'm very, very grateful that it wasn't.

Which brings me to my main point. I'm not here to insult the author of this book. I'm here to insult his editor. This book should never have been published as it was. It needed a lot of work. Not taking the time to improve this book just because the name would sell any old garbage was a disservice to the writer. I can tell you, I'm not going to be reading any of Colfer's future publications.

I was blessed to work with an excellent editor who told me everything that was wrong with my novel, and while it hurt to hear, he was right. The story is much better now for his help. I've come to see the collaboration between author and editor as a team effort; both are trying to produce the best possible work. Publishers and editors also should work as gatekeepers, preventing bad books from hitting the market either by rejecting them or by helping the writers improve them.

So, I'm angry over this book, but not so much at the writer. I remember the thrill of completing my first novel. It's hard not to print out a zillion copies and send them to everyone you know, plus a hundred publishers. It's the publisher I'm mad at, because even celebrities should want to produce work they can be proud of, and careful editing helps with that. If Colfer rejected his editor's help, well, that's another thing, though I think the book should still not have been published.

And yes, the bias against celebrity writers is still very much intact, more's the pity.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Backburner is Cooked

Hey, everyone. This is my 100th post! Hooray!

So, for those new to the party, I've been working on this middle grade novel about a preteen thief-for-hire named Jeremy Wilderson for about a year. That doesn't sound like that long, but I write fast and a middle grade novel isn't very long. Besides, this story is basically my idea of playing while I write. It's been my backburner project, the one I work on when I want to keep writing but don't want to manage the more complex plots and characters of my other works. But, in any case, the backburner has finally been finished and is in the stages of reading/revising. I decided to get a jump on the next stage (sending/rejecting) by writing the query letter. You may read the meat of it below, though I cut out the parts about me as a writer and some info on the length/genre of the book:

Sixth grade isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s harder (though a lot more fun) on the wrong side of the law.

Eleven-year-old Jeremy Wilderson is not a thief; he is his middle school’s one and only retrieval specialist. Confiscated cell phones, stolen lunch money—he’ll discretely retrieve it before the last bell rings. Business is good, and if it weren’t for the meddling of preteen private investigator Becca Mills and the fact the Jeremy has gotten so good at retrieving that his work has become boring, he’d be happier than a gym teacher on dodgeball day.

But a new job shatters Jeremy’s comfortable lifestyle. Now, thanks to Jeremy, the master key to the schools’ lockers is in the hands of an aspiring crime kingpin who doesn’t exactly have Jeremy’s strong moral character. Jeremy must retrieve the key before not even combination locks can protect his classmates’ belongings. It’s too big a job for one crime fighter, and there’s only one person Jeremy knows will want the key returned as much as he does: Becca Mills.

Lockers are being robbed, the teachers are looking for the culprit, and Jeremy’s only ally is the girl who has been trying to nab him all year. If Jeremy isn’t careful, he’ll end up in detention until his high school graduation.

This is still only a rough draft of the query, so suggestions would be great. I hope, though, that it expresses the plot and voice of the book well enough to represent it to agents and publishers.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Roster of Fandoms

It has been suggested to me, by my roommate, that I ought to list the fandoms I belong to. This is probably a good idea, since it may allow me to quantify how bad my problem is. I'm defining "fandom" as the group of fans who follow a particular movie, book series, or TV show, who think about it and talk about it when not watching/reading, speculate on character and plot subtext, and write fanfiction. Fandoms make their favorite stories part of their lives. They may even come up with a cool name to designate themselves.

Anyway, here is my list:

Fandoms in which I am a full, card-carrying member:

The Whovians (Doctor Who)
The Sherlockians (Sherlock)
The Merlin Fandom
The Psych-Os (Psych)
The Browncoats (Firefly)
The Potterheads (Harry Potter)
The Avatards (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra)
The Janeites (Jane Austen)
The Tolkien Fandom
The Avengers Fandom
The Leverage Fandom
The Star Wars (Episodes 4-6) Fandom
The Olympians (Percy Jackson)
Disney/Disney Princess Fandom
The Tributes (Hunger Games)
Pixar Fandom
Divergent Fandom
Chronicles of Narnia Fandom

Fandoms to which I do not belong, but am at least fluent in their language (whether or not I plan to join):

Bronies/Pegasisters (My Little Pony)
Once Upon a Time Fandom
Delirium Fandom
MSTies (Mystery Science Theater 3000)
Trekkies (Star Trek)
The Downton Abbey Fandom (Note: I may become a full member soon)
The Legend of Zelda Fandom
Twihards (Twilight)
The Brotherhood (Game of Thrones)
The Supernatural Fandom
The Portal Fandom
Big Bang Theory Fandom
Pokemon Fandom
Batman Fandom
Battlestar Galactica Fandom

Things that aren't really fandoms (yet) but should be, and if they were, I'd belong to them:

How to Train Your Dragon "Fandom" (Books along with movie; no one reads the books)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs "Fandom"
Rise of the Guardians "Fandom"
Spider-Man "Fandom"

Anything based on any of my favorite books by my favorite writers (Ally Carter, E.D. Baker, Jessica Day George, Orson Scott Card, Brandon Mull, Lois Lowry, Diana Wynne Jones, Bruce Coville, and Margaret Peterson Haddix, to name a few).

Anything based of anything I've written, because it would be nice to no longer be alone in geeking out over my plots and characters. Sadly, I may have a few years (or decades) before this even becomes possible.