Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why all are doomed except Guess Who

At least two writers I know of have written the same blog post: telling aspiring ebook writers that the game is a crap shoot in which most will fail. Talent, persistence, pluck, strategy-- not all of these together can do much to better your chances...they say. The writers are successful, well reviewed and well positioned. Their motives may be noble. And yet I can't help but observe that the more of us who grow discouraged and quit, the better off they'll be.

I seem to be the only who has your best interests at stake. And so I'm about to blow the whistle and tell it like it is. All of you are doomed unless:
--Your first name has three letters and it rhymes with Deb.
--Your last name has seven letters, two of them capitalized.
--You have a seventh ebook to be published before June and an eighth before December.
--You are soon moving to Seattle with a purple steamer trunk.
--Your first novel picked up a major award.
--You love black cherry ice cream.
--You read Roman writers in Latin.
--Some ladies call you Spice Boy and Lord Wickedness.

Sorry, but it doesn't look at all for most folks. But one of us can make it if you'll send your dough to Amazon for a good book by Reb MacRath.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How to maintain interest in a limited, somewhat occasional blog

For your consideration...

The new blog I've started, chronicling my move to Seattle this fall, presented three challenges I had to meet.

1) I envisioned a series of 'blocks', each block about a separate theme--moving, job hunting, timing, etc.--and stacked up very nearly with the oldest at the bottom. The blocks would start now and end either with my arrival in Seattle or by the end of the year.
2) In order to maintain the block structure--and ease of navigation--I had to post new blocks at the start of every month, with occasional short updates as the month progressed. In this way, the Archives section would show readers clearly the separate blocks and their titles. One month for this and one for that. Easy-shmeasy. BUT: I had to keep the blocks down to a length that was not too imposing.
3) Followers would only be notified when a new block posted, not a new entry within an existing block. So...how could I keep up their interest with thirty days between blocks?

Here is my solution, for now. I'm always open to feedback!

http://tinyurl.com/q9rtaqt



Friday, March 21, 2014

Welcome to my new Moving to Seattle blog!

It's launched early, actually, and not by design. I'd been tinkering with content and format for a week--when things just came together. 

If you have any long-range goals, do drop in from time to time. The blog will be compact than most of the others you say--as tightly packed, with luck, as a purple steamer trunk. So, even if you're not planning to move, you may also be longing for something that requires preparation, planning, patience and strategy.

The blog's still young, but have a look. It would be cool if our quests merged in this friendly little spot:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Literary Factories 2: Should a book go full throttle or work on all eights?

Two men I respect have raised good points about speed in the creative process. Russell Blake makes a strong case for turning out novels in 4-6 weeks by working almost round the clock. And his sales figures do seem to bolster his case. Photographer Paul Cotter argues that creative speed is relative to talent, temperament and drive: some brilliant musical albums have taken years to produce while others came about over a wild weekend. And Mozart was said to have heard completed symphonies in his head before he wrote a note.

Agreed. And I'll take the argument further: I enjoy reading pulp fiction that I know was written in days. Further still: long before Russell Blake, there existed a lengthy tradition of popular writers who worked at great speed: from Dumas to Balzac to Dickens, from Agatha Christie to Erle Stanley Gardner. And many of these writers' books are still being read. Other once-famous factories made excellent livings by writing far more.

ROLL CALL
--Ned Buntline, the pen name of Edward Zane Carroll Judson, wrote 400 novels in the 1800s--including one 600 page novel written in 62 hours. He earned the then royal sum of twenty grand a year and lived as a country squire.
--His contemporary, Prentiss Ingram, whipped out two novels a month for a grand total of 600 books. Lived as a Southern gent on $16,000-$18,000 a year.
--Meanwhile, Gilbert Patten went on to write 1,000 novels under the pen name Burt  Burt L. Standish
--Frederick Faust, a.ka Max Brand, outdid them all in the 1920s--publishing 25 million words of fiction under 20 pen names. At least twenty typed pages a day, every day. He could write  a novella in a night, a short story in an hour, a short novel in less than a week. Annual income from his books and film work: $100,000.
--And the list goes on.

But the success they enjoyed raises questions:
1) What exactly do we want from the more prolific writers--sparkling literary style and profound insights into character or consistent excellence in plotting, pacing and visceral fun?
2) Can good writers take too long to write?
3) What might we expect from a book by a writer who works at a much slower pace?
4) Why does Quentin Tarantino spend years on his films when spin-off can be done in months?
5) Could the ideal reading diet be a mixture of factory-style productions and books that  are more custom made?

I read Russell Blake with great pleasure. At the same, I treasure books that took Ira Levin a decade to write.

In part three, we'll explore the benefits of breakneck pace in writing.




Friday, March 14, 2014

A very special announcement

Literary Factories 2 will appear next week. Till then, here's a little news that you'll soon be able to use:

In April I will launch a second blog, this one devoted to the fall Seattle move. The surface subject will be the strategies and actions involved in a cross-country move by one man with little money and no job lined up when he gets there. An adventure story with me playing Liam Neeson, taking on the inner demons who say it can't be done.

But the theme within that subject is where you come in. You may not be planning a cross-country move, but there's something big you'd like to do...and just maybe the thought scares you silly: you want to write a novel--or, now that you've written it, find a first-rate agent...you want to quit drinking or smoking...you want to lose forty pounds...etc. Now, you may not be strapped for cash--but the odds are very good that you're strapped for something you need to succeed: confidence, faith, knowledge, will power. And in your own way, you'll have to start planning moves as if you were Julius Caesar.

In addition to giving this blog a new look, I'm taking pains to structure it so that it's easy to follow and easy for you to apply to your needs. For instance, one entire part will deal with the trashing of garbage and clutter, the fine art of traveling light. And this part will contain updates. At the same time, a part called Applications will suggest correlations between this and other parts to some other quests: e.g., parallels abound between packing and editing a book...

Other parts will concern the campaigns to land a job and place to stay before the actual move and to orchestrate the timing.

Stay tuned for the April blog. My own struggles should entertain you. But the blog will find its wings through our connected stories.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Did Fat Elvis Murder Princess Di?

The blue suede truth will be revealed n my 3/12 post on the Authors Electric blog. Link to be provided. Grab hold of your socks, kids.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Prose and Cons: Literary Factories 1

There's a world of difference between a prolific writer and a literary factory. In fact, there's another world of difference between a literary factory and a literary factory superintendent. The distinctions lie at the heart of this new series, Prose and Cons, whose main theme is writing from a reader's point of view. So, to keep the debut short, let's start with the distinctions--and a thought about the different demands of the three classes of readers.

1) The prolific writer. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton readily come to mind as present-day examples. Any writer capable of turning out a book each year, or every other year, should have their name on this list. King proved prolific enough, years ago, to have had to resort to a pen name for his surplus novels. But the key points distinguishing prolific writers from factories is: their concern with quality and their abiding conviction that they are serious writers. Readers still expect quality from these writers and are capable of criticizing work not perceived as first-rate.
2) The literary factory. Quantity for this group overshadows quality. The legendary Frederick Faust could be their patron saint. Faust, who wrote as Max Brand and at least eight other names, turned out more than 500 novels and as many shorter stories. Total lifetime output: 25-30 million words. Speed: 12,000 words in a weekend. You'll have names of your own that belong on this list: Edgar Wallace, Isaac Asimov, Erle Stanley Gardner, ebook writer Russell Blake (25 books in 2 years). Some wrote for money, some wrote for fame...and some wrote, I believe, because they could not stop. The process of production, not the quality of the end product, drove them to put out again and again. Variety is welcome by readers as long as it's seen to run true to the brand.
3) The literary factory superintendent. Alexander Dumas caused a fury when his habit of 'farming out' parts of his books became public knowledge. No one minded his having a staff of researchers and assistants. But readers felt duped by his practice of having others write the parts that bored him or were beyond his ken. The Dumas brand, however, proved far stronger than the scandal. And I wonder how many readers today would be alarmed to know the practice still runs strong today. Publishers and agents are silent on the subject while they agree it does exist--and that readers would be shocked if they knew how prevalent it is. James Patterson deserves a good deal of credit for tearing down the Chinese Wall...and listing the names of his 'partners'--aka, employees. Readers of this last group's books want repetitive experience. They don't want a new book from James Patterson in the sense of something different. They want the same book as the last one they read, but with a different cover. Above all, they want the addictive formula: the third person opening that segues to the first person...short chapters...snappy sentences...by-the-numbers characters...etc.

In Part 2 we'll have a look at the likely differences between a novel written in a year and one written in a month.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

What do you want in a mystery series?

It strikes me that the bookstore shelves, physical or virtual, could be filled with better books if we were more decisive about what we want. Decisive and enlightened. To that end, I'll offer my want list for example. With luck, though I'm dealing with mysteries, you'll find some carryover into other genres.

What I want in  a mystery series:
--Speed in production without sacrifice of quality. I don't want to wait 5-10 years between entries of 800-1000 pages. But then again I don't want sloppily written, badly edited, by the numbers trash that might have been cooked up by chimps on the sauce.
--I want a book with some meat on its bones but one I can quickly digest. So when it comes to series entertainment, I want something in between Umberto Eco and James Patterson. My series favorites: Lawrence Sanders, Brad Strickland writing as Ken McKea, Micheal Connelly, Valerie Laws, Diane Rapp, Chris Longmuir, John Sandford, Bill Kirton...
--A strong and polished style, neither florid nor banal. The writers whom I follow are stylistic Yoga masters, able to adapt their prose to the particular business at hand: now gritty, now sexy, now suitably lush.
--I want mysteries that test my hero's wits and mine. I don't want to be ten steps ahead...or behind.
--What really floats my boat is Amateur Razzmatazz: amateur detectives in over their heads sometimes but drawing on pluck and vast stores of resourcefulness. Police or trained detectives thrill me less than Lisbeth Salander, Miss Marple, Stephanie Plum...or Boss MacTavin.
--A series lead with real Jenny say Craw. That's a French expression often mis-written as  Je ne sais quoi. Though I don't know who Jenny is or why she says Craw, I do know the expression means a certain something we can't define. And the best writers have it.
--The sexy thing. Young or old, flush or poor, thin or plump, male or female, the characters I want to hang with have qualities that turn me on. No sullen drunks or quitters will find any room in my heart.
--Crackling wit and dialogue. These two things are hard to nail, but here is where we separate the first-rate from the second. So much dialogue we get is dull or forced or precious. Even pack horse dialogue, loaded with prosier details, should have some spring in its step. As for wit, make it sparkle or leave the quips out.
--Next to last, for now: suspense. Tough to swing in a first-person series, but if we love a character we're prepared to imagine the worst. Over and over and over again.
--Finally, I want a lead who grows from book to book without ever losing the spirit I love.

Now I need to return to my hero, Boss MacTavin, and try a little harder to put these points to work.