Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Editing: An Overdue Hug For My Dirty Old Man

The worst son of a bitch I ever worked for was an old rascal named X: a chainsmoking elderly richnik who dreamed of becoming a media baron in Toronto, Canada.

I hit the jackpot--so I thought--when a Hapkido classmate got me a writing position on X's special new project: a magazine called Odyssey. Salary: the then outrageous amount of $500 a week. After years of failure I lived the good life, I'll tell you. But at the same time I spent money like a drunken sailor I saw the writing on the wall a bit more clearly every day: X shot down every idea I proposed. Worse, he shot down stories on ideas that he'd proposed: "Jesus, kid you're brilliant--an article about a new gas tank that will reduce auto gas consumption...when some of our lead advertisers are involved in gas and oil. Moron!"

And so it went, for two hellish months, while I collected my heavenly checks, wondering why he'd hired me and exactly what he did want. At the end of month two I was fired without notice. The Hapkido classmate who'd got me the job told me that I was the third writer hired and fired in the last six months. And off the record we agreed on two things: the magazine appeared to be either a tax write-off or a vanity project. And: only a failed writer could enjoy trashing young writers that much.

Stop there: if we dare to start off with back story, we'd best have something worth the wait. So let's cut to the present and get to the point: Over the years X has evolved from a hateful memory into a useful interior ally as my Senior Editor. Oh, he's nowhere in sight when I start, that's for sure. It's party time, at the beginning, for the Muse and me. We make mud pies, we horse around, not a thought in our heads about making mistakes--or the extra time we'll have to spend to remove the kitchen sink that we keep throwing in. We ignore all thoughts of angry shouts that we're not cost effective. Party time, party time!

However, at the second draft, it's time for the Dirty Old Man. Let the brutal bastard 'fire' words, phrases, even entire pages if they're slacking on the job or if they can't carry their weight. Unlike the younger self who ate doody for $500 a week, I'll engage in knockdown fights with the current DOM about lovely descriptions or wonderful quips that he insists on cutting. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But I've come to find a balance between my calls and his.

And, with a sigh, I have to say I dig the brutal bastard. Still, I won't let him within a country mile of me during the first draft. Brutal bastards have their place--but they don't belong at a party.

Monday, April 22, 2013

On a 25-year Reunion with My First Published Book

August will mark the 25th anniversary of my first novel, The Suiting. Published in hardback by Tor, under the name Kelley Wilde, it went on to win a Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was soon after optioned for film. For some I'd been thinking of a special ebook edition...but had been stumped by how exactly I would make it special. A short story at the end? An interview? An essay on the transition from Kelley Wilde to MacRath? 

Still unclear, I approached the book with some trepidation. After all, it had been my biggest trad-pubbing success. And I'd gone through hell in The Desert after my fourth book. My only plan when I began to was to 'tweak' the novel as I proceeded to retype it. (No computer way back then.)

But within two pages, I had my work cut out for me. For over the course of those twenty-five years, I'd learned to write more clearly...developed a good sense of rhythm...come to better balance short and longer sentences, etc. I thought of calling this: The Perfector's Cut. But I make no claim to perfection. Instead, I've set out to transform a better than average first novel into a much smoother read. One true in every way to the original story--but rewritten, using skills that I didn't have at the time.

 Talk's cheap. Example:

 Original text: p. 31: 
 A rare Saturday in April. The last traces of the previous night's snow had vanished from the walks an hour ago. The air was cool and dry; it caught at the top of your throat, each breath a tiny reminder that until tomorrow there were no complaints. 

Revised: 
A rare Saturday morning in April. The last traces of the evening’s snow had already melted. The cool, dry air caught at the top of your throat, each breath a rest from old complaints.

Because this is precision work, I expect to spend the next two months doing far more than retyping. I think you'll like the version I'll tag '25 years Young'.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What the devil do I call him now?

The name game's a tough call in writing: deciding and re-deciding as we go along what to call a character.

 I've read books by some very fine writers and watched them wrestle with the same conundrum. On one page--or in one paragraph--they may call a character by his full name, his first name and his surname. I understand the drive to do this. The inner ear is at work and sending out a signal that the repetition of names is too much and variety is required. Or, possibly, the author is sending out a very subtle signal that this character is shadowy or fluid.

Similarly, if one character--let's say a very tough one--has been called by his last name throughout...then in a vulnerable moment is referred to by his first name, the new sense of intimacy can take us by surprise. And it's generally a wise idea to get the character's full name out upfront.

 That said, I found myself doing a three-name as I typed the first draft of my new fall thriller. Boss, the hero, calls the villain Robert Johnston...then RJ...then Johnston. Sometimes he refers to him by his position: majordomo. I could chalk this up as boredom with name repetition. But something else may be at play: either Boss or I have failed to form a solid take on RJ...or Robert...or Johnston...or the domo.

 We'll see. The most likely solution, at this point, may be: Introduce him as the don's majordomo, Robert Johnston...have him tell Boss, please, just call me RJ...have Boss think/write of him as Johnston or the domo...then, at a critical moment, address him as "Robert". 

Somehow I'll contrive a way to wed my instincts and my inner ear. Cheers!

Friday, April 12, 2013

My second interview

I'd done one interview, with Becky Scarberry. And I'm proud of the job that we did. But recently a complete stranger asked to interview me and I said yes. I'm glad I did! 'Jason Bourne', his Twitter handle, put me on the hot seat and then kept probing till he'd gotten exactly what he wanted: Reb MacRath Unchained. You should have a look at this. Me, I plan to rest a while before I do another.

http://tinyurl.com/cpt2w65

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My first Unretired Review

My first new review has gone Live on Amazon.

Subject: a stunning little story by Rebecca Scarberry, entitled Rag Do..It's a quick but memorable read from a rising star. Have a look! 


http://tinyurl.com/chpcbhp

                                                    -------------------------


Now, then, the review:

It's always great to watch a terrific new talent at the start of his/her career. Rebecca Scarberry began with a novella (or, I'd say, a short novel) starring--you ready?--a pigeon. And the author turned some heads with her blend of YA/Mystery/Suspense/Humor. Now., for her follow-up, she's scaled back still further in length: a short story that can be read easily in a single sitting. Rag Doll tells a story of love, infidelity, betrayal and loss with great simplicity and power...then caps it off with a twist worthy of O. Henry. In scaling back, this author seized the chance to nail down the narrative basics, pacing and tone, before moving on to her first full-length novel.

I enjoyed this sprint immensely--and look forward to her first marathon run.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

In which I rrrrrreally retire from retiring from reviewing--my way.

I have zero interest in trashing other writers' books or in harming their prospects for sales. But I have a good deal of interest in helping promote books I dig.

I plan to reduce the number of my Amazon reviews. I'll do them rarely and those I do will be my call. More often, I'll review books on this blog, where I'm free of the 'star system'. Here I'm free to shine my light on qualities that I admire without flogging an author for flaws I perceive.

I'll do more of the 'roundups' I did way back when and supplement those with bulletins of new books coming soon.

In general, I'll play it by ear and hope for the best. The first new review will appear this week and a second in the following week.

Till then!

Reb

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On Gifting vs. Giveaways

I've spent most of my life as a writer learning how to take readers by surprise. But I've done something totally different with the launch of APRIL YULE: I've finally taken myself by surprise.

Did I hear someone ask: How'd you do that? Thank you, friend, for asking.

To celebrate my first anny as an ebook author, I did the exact opposite of what I'd done for the previous four ebooks. For each of those I'd staged repeated Free Events, sometimes for just one book and sometimes for two or three. I'd succeeded in giving away about 50 copies for #1, The Vanishing Magic of Snow. Numbers improved a bit with each event until, last December, thousands of downloads resulted. A groundswell of interest had started to build.

Then again, I hadn't made a penny from the books. I'd experimented, for a couple of months, with lowering the price point: from 2.99 to .99. Impact: none at all. Undaunted, I rewrote my Amazon product descriptions, paying far more attention to keywords. Too soon to say yet if that tactic will work. While I waited to see, it made sense to ponder if consistent giveaways might have been costing me sales.

If readers had grown accustomed to getting free giveaways of all my work, why would they bother to pay?

April Yule had special importance for me--and I chose to not give it away. What if I paid for the privilege of getting this book into the hands of writers whose work I had come to admire? What if I did this without any strings--no requests that they review the book, no sense that they owed me a favor? I wanted the gifting to have a sense of purity about it. And I could accomplish this more easily if I paid to send it as an ebook, not Word doc.

I have a clean feeling about this. Rather than giving away the store, I staged a sort of open house for as many groovy writers as I can afford to feed.

Drinks on me. Enjoy the book. I'm glad I got to know you.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Coming Wednesday: Gifting vs. Giveaways

A warm and cozy, candid chat about why I chose not to stage a giveaway event for APRIL YULE...and to pay for the privilege of gifting copies to writers I admire instead.

There'll be ample food for thought...so come hungry for a short essay on a radically different approach. From the heart and not the head or any online marketing primer.

Till then!