Dog Ear
Killing them softly (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 20 December 2012 00:00

Flutter, flutter, went the flag, first to the right, then to the left.

This was a childhood awakening moment for me, the point in true literature (not kiddy literature, aka whatever passed for Harry Potter back then) when I leaned that people could die in books. Quick. Fast. Unexpectedly.

The line comes from HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. The flag is a white flag of truce. The people holding it aloft are scientists and peace-seekers. And the beings on the other end of the leveled heat ray? Martians, with intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic. A moment later, they turn the flag-wavers to cinders and then sweep the commons, frying dozens of onlookers.

That was the first time I’d seen death dealt so casually. And that characters I knew (i.e. Oglivy the Astronomer) died. Until then, the most dangerous things I’d read were when the criminals tied the Hardy boys up in the back of the shack.

Death, and not just mook-death but character-death, is an important tool. Without it you end up with nothing more than Star Trek, where the same tired group faces empty dangers week-after-week, until it ceases to register (and don’t get me started on that do-ever where Spock dies and comes back). With death, the story is harder, more realistic. There is also a change as characters fill in around those absent, their relationships altering. In its most basic sense, death of a character is the most honest thing a writer can do.

I mentioned in my review of Game of Throneshow taken I was by the author’s ability to kill of major characters with blunt practicality. No heroic measures, no martyrdom, just a guy tossed across a block and getting his noggin whacked off. Shit happens, and death is the ultimate shit.

In my upcoming book Indigo, I took this strongly to heart. In the final dogfight between massive formations of crows (at night, in a hurricane) I killed off pretty much every main character I had. I wanted epic, EPIC, not “well, that was exciting.” And when characters face death and fall before it, your perils are all the more real. After this, your readers will be off-balance, exactly where you want them to be. They won’t know what to expect from you and will keep reading.

Think about killing off characters. All the great literary figures did it. Few of the popular ones do.

Your book will be the better for it (but not your cast).


Last Updated on Monday, 17 December 2012 22:26
One year later (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 13 December 2012 00:00

Hard to imagine, but its been a year.

I was sorting through the knotted Christmas lights, wondering when they'd last been untangled. What, a year? No, wait. Last Christmas, we took a break from all that, spending the Christmas week in London. It was the year before.

But as I teetered on the edge of the ladder, stringing the now-untangled lights, my thoughts went back to that last year. No, Christmas wasn't a worry, nor the trip (we've done bunches of those). No, it was getting Early Retyrement between covers, as they say.

If you'd have told be way back in, what, July (just went back and checked my elance history) that it would have taken six months, I'd have thought you mad. My first effort, the cover, was perfect. Mike Metcalf, my artist, hammered out exactly what I wanted in two weeks. Each time he posted it was better than before. He even researched Persian foot-gear to get it right. How could it go wrong?

Then I got my editor - a disaster. We spent months (September through November) fussing with it. Everything was wrong - the icons didn't line up, the page numbers didn't line up, there were scripting commands imbedded in my work, problems, problems, problems. I remember feeling sick every time I got a new update from my contractor. I'd go through 400 pages of draft and find even more things wrong. Finally we parted unhappily (I had a scrambled manuscript and was out $400 so of course I was unhappy). And suddenly Christmas was fast approaching, gift time, book time, and what better time to release a book than this merchantalistic season (you think it was about the Christ child? No, it's about the gold, frankincense and myrrh).

I was already playing with the Kindle version myself (it was actually easier than I expected - over one Friday night I got further and was happier than I was with my former contractor) Further, I hired DedicatedBookServices to finish up the paper version. They did it in four attempts, which means four days. I was very happy with that. By now, it was going into December.

There was a little worry about the rights to the icon I used for the chapter headings. I tracked down where I'd gotten it on the web, only to be unable to get in touch with the creator. Given that it came off a carving, I had Mike Metcalf draw it out on the fly. The irony was that I was worried about a tiny graphic and missed the point some song lyrics would play after release. Oh well.

I still had three weeks to Christmas, two weeks before the trip, plenty of time, right? Then I submitted it into Createspace. And found at that it could take two weeks, even longer, to get approved. So I sat, and waited.

By now, it was a little too late to really blitz for Christmas. I might make some sales among friends, but really, I had no network in place. And so finally the trip came and it had to wait until I was overseas. I actually used my brother's laptop in the hotel lobby to click the final checkbox and release the book - and that was two days before Christmas.

If I learned anything, it's that writing a book is the easy part. Getting it produced (even self-published) is hard. Very hard. Think well, warriors, before you enter into this pact.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 11:55
Three Cups (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 06 December 2012 00:00

I remember reading Three Cups of Tea and enjoying it - good book, and nice to know that good things occasionally happen.

Except to people involved in this story.

There came the allegations of fiction, that Mortenson, the adventurer whom the story centers on, had a "fluid sense of time" that "made pinning down the exact sequence of many events in this book almost impossible". And class-action suits against him and his Central Asia Institute, with claims that he perhaps profited from his charity and that investors were swindled.

And now the co-author (who parted with the hero in a less-than-friendly manner) just killed himself. It seems that David Oliver Relin felt that his career suffered from his association with the Tempest in Three Cups disaster.

This whole thing saddens me. Like I said about, I'd read Three Cups on a recommendation and liked it - happy ending and all that. Now there are doubts raised whether this was any different from any other Hallmark happytale, that maybe a lot of it never happened at all.

But really, look at Relin - he wanted to break out with Three Cups - his first novel and all that. Then came the recriminations and counter-recriminations and suddenly his reputation was tarnished and what could he do but check out?

Part of this goes back to that sleepless-night syndrome, I suppose - the same sort of thing I went through when I thought I was going to get hammered for a copyright violation. Your troubles can look so big when you stand at the base of them and look up.

But really, what's the point of killing yourself because your writing career is in the crapper? News flash - almost every writer's career is in the crapper. We start in the crapper, and have to write  and suffer and push and beg to maybe (if we're really lucky) get a book into print. And even after that first book goes out, there is no promise that you won't be a one-hit wonder, that some off-base review won't hit you between the eyes and strike you dead, or that  your co-author won't drag your name down in legal squabblings. Outside of mega-writers who can jot down directions to the corner store and have them show up on the NYT's best sellers list, most of us have careers that start in the crapper and remain there for our entire lives. It's where 99.44% of the world's writers are.

But to kill yourself over your lack of success is, to put it gently, silly. You would rather die than dig a ditch?

Seems like a waste of one's only shot at earth, normally a short 40-80 years, now made even shorter by his own hand.

Because of Three Cups?



Last Updated on Thursday, 06 December 2012 07:58
Dung sellers (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 29 November 2012 00:00

This always happens. It's my birthday and I'm driving to Home Depot to pick up some caulk and tar to patch our roof (what a birthday!). NPR's media show is talking about publishing and I'm getting more and more depressed. It's all about how writers really need to market themselves, to find a niche and strategy, to come up with clever ways to gain notice, fans, and bandwidth.

Shit, that's marketing. It's not writing.

So trust me, I'm not going to make a comment that publishing should go back to the way it was, that as a writer, I should study the great works and develop my craft, that I should meet and shake hands with my agent, that I should chat with the publisher, that I should know my editor and work with him. It will never go back to that. In this, I am like the plains Indian on his worn pony, looking off the bluff at the town that has sprung into being, the railroad, the telegraph wires. Just like the Indians, there is no way I'm ever going to gather a war party big enough to sweep the palefaces off my land.

Ain't going to happen.

But it's depressing to listen to critics talking about self-publishers playing their shrewd games, making millions by producing a number of attention-deficit-coddling short books a year, none of them well written, working the angles on a stunted reading populace. Or Pottermore, part of the Potter Empire, doing all sorts of clever things to thwart the Amazon dragon. Or fifty-shades, which is nothing but fucking vampire fan service.

Yeah, I'm bitter.

Me no likum palefaces.

This new publishing world comes down to dung selling, those people who collect urine from the horse stables, who collect shit and entrails and everything else, who make a fortune at selling crap to a Inumb population. And then there are the ones who ship it in gigantic five-star ox-carts, where beasts are whipped to drag their overloaded wagons of sludge. And over it all hangs a stench of foulness. It can't be fought. Used bookstores fold. Potters become parks. Online sales (with their manufactured and bogus reviews) flourish. And away from all this shit, this foulness, this degeneration of art is the lowly writer, still hammering out his ideas, searching for a shared human truth that will carry those few honest hearts to a higher human order.

Yes, so I'm pissed that I'm not recognized. That's fine. I'll accepted the doomed Indian motif and play it that way.

But there is a thought that there will come a future arrangement of publishing, one that will sweep away the crummy exchange of bad books to Eslobs. The victors will in turn be defeated. Imagine that the doomed Indian could see what was to come, where the railroads fall to airlines, the livery stables to gas stations, the brave little towns to sprawling suburbs. And here will live millions of palefaces, all turning their sad faces to the charcoal, starless sky, all suffering the anguish of living with a dead soul.

"Told ya' ", the Indian will think with a wrinkly smile.



Last Updated on Thursday, 29 November 2012 00:08

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