Archive for January, 2012

All of us have been influenced, in one way or another, by other writers.  When I first started out writing I thought that the influence of other writers might color my own writing, but I don’t think it has.  Perhaps when one is very young that might be a more likely outcome.  At that age one might be more inclined to copy the voice of a favorite author, but as one gets older it may be easier to find one’s own voice.  I think that is so my case.  However, I would like to discuss a few of my favorite writers and why they tickle my fancy so.

First is the adorable Jane – Jane Austen, of course.  In many ways I feel perhaps most influenced by her.  We certainly share similar circumstances.  Both of us wrote on our own, somewhat sequestered away, writing about the world we were observing around us – based on characters we were familiar with in a limited setting.  Her world was rural England in the late 18th, early 19th century.  Mine is 20 – 21st century, small town Santa Fe, NM.  I most admire her subtle satire of manners and mores, done with love and compassion.  Even her villains deserve your respect and understanding.

E.F. Benson, an English writer of the early 20th century is another writer I much admire.  His series of novels, collected together as Make Way for Lucia, are based on dominate women in rural England villages.  They delight me no end, and have given me inspiration for my own novel Divas Never Flinch.  He is little known, but should be more recognized.  I highly recommend checking out his writing.

Ethan Mordden is a contemporary author whose work throughly delights me as well.  He wrote a series of books on gay life in New York City that captures a time, place and a culture quite wonderfully.  I particularly admire his quirky sense of humor.  His work grew darker as the AIDS epidemic set in.  And has stopped writing this series completely, although he is still active in writing about opera and the theatre world.

Michael Cunningham is another writer I greatly admire.  Best known for his Pulitzer winning novel The Hours, I have read most of his work and find he is a beautifully descriptive writer.  Not the humorist like my other favorite writers.  But there is one passage in his book, Flesh and Blood that just takes my breath away with its evocative writing.

In all honesty I don’t read nearly enough, since I work a job and need to do my writing on weekends.  But I did want to share a few of my favorites.

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When I wrote screenplays a few centuries ago, I would spend a lot of time developing character and story before I even wrote the first “Fade In.”  The form of the screenplay breaks down into three acts, and has very specific lengths for each act.  In order to successfully design your plot one has to have fully developed characters.  A lot of thought went into character development, because the main character had to drive the story to its very precise conclusion.  And there had to be a protagonist and an antagonist – very structured.

However, when I started writing narrative fiction I found that my very precise character development ahead of time just did not work in that form.  And I have become endlessly fascinated by how a character can take over its own creation and development.

When I was writing Divas Never Flinch, my first novel, I had not written narrative fiction before.  I did have my main characters in mind and a list of supporting characters sketched out, but none with any full development nor any idea how they might play out in the story.

It was fascinating to see how each character took on their own life and demanded their own trajectory.  In fact I was nearly halfway through the book before a third major character suddenly presented herself and demanded to be a part of the story.

I quickly learned not direct the character myself, but to let the characters reveal themselves to me in their own good time.

Let me end with an example of a novel I am working on now.  I have a major character who is very strong, opinionated and demanding – a US President in fact.  I was writing a scene where he had just learned some devastating news and had not been able to react to it fully.  The event demanded strong action from him.  However, he had to bottle it up and go to a formal banquet first.

I was having some difficulty seeing the direction that the scene at the banquet would take, and struggled to find the next moment for the scene.  When that happens, I try not to push an external idea about how the scene should go, but try to let the character direct me.  Much to my surprise, and without any forethought on my part, the character suddenly collapsed just before he was to give a toast.  It was the perfect end to the scene, and a complete surprise from the character.  I had never dreamt that the scene and character would go in that direction.

I guess this is why I love writing.  You get to meet the most interesting people.

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Gotta admit it.  I’m a first class goon.  As an author my publisher pleads with me to get out there and work the social media.  She advises me to go to the Yahoo groups and get in there and work them with sizzle and shine.  She wants me to blog – which I am doing right now,  don’t ya see – she wants me on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest.  But I am totally helpless and clueless.  I have shunned these exercises like they were infected with a twelfth century plague.  We seem to be undated with a constant wash of personal agendas all screaming IN CAPITAL LETTERS demanding our dwindling attentions.  I really don’t care about what you had for lunch or if you brushed your teeth or not.  And I am for damn sure no one cares what I do about these activities.  Am I crazy?  Am I alone thinking like this?  But…but…but I’m a reclusive writer.  All I want to do is work on my latest book or story.  How am I expected to do that if I have to be doing all this other stuff as well?

Sigh.  I should have been born a whole lot earlier, or at least started writing earlier.  I know, it’s an age thing.  If I were twenty I would be all over it, but I’m 70 for chriz sake.  Leave me alone in my stupor and backwardness.  I can’t be out there pushing myself like a used car salesman.  Give me a personal break.

So, I shall make this blog mercifully short and hopefully sweet.  I have had my little say.  So if  I disappear into the cyber void so be it.  For those of you who are adept at these activities I wish you well, and forgive this goon who continues to stumble along in the darkness.  But hey, I did learn to write on a computer.  That’s gotta count for something.  Right?

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It seems to be the general industry practice that a traditional publisher will not consider an unpublished manuscript unless it is solicited by the publisher, or is presented by an author’s agent.  It would be a waste of time to try to query publishers directly if you are looking to get your book published.

The exceptions are the self-publishing houses that solicit manuscripts from authors who then pay the full cost to get their manuscripts published.  This is not recommended unless you are looking to publish just a few copies of your book – for instance, for a family history where there will only be a few copies needed, and no sales or promotion required.

However, the new trend in publishing is what is called subsidiary publishing.  In this arrangement you submit your manuscript to the publisher and they evaluate it just like a traditional publishing house.  If they believe the manuscript warrants publication they will offer the author a contract for publication.  With a traditional publisher the author might be offered between 8 and 10 % of the royalty.  However with subsidiary publishing the author can receive up to 50% of the royalties.  A big advantage.  However, the author will be requested to put up a certain percentage of the publishing costs as well – about 17 to 18% of the total publishing costs.  A number of major publishing houses are now offering this type of contract as well as smaller houses.

My first novel, Divas Never Flinch, was published in a subsidiary publishing agreement with Brighton Publishing.  Their website is www.brightonpublishing.com.  There is a lot of good information on their site about the various forms of publishing and it is certainly worth a look if this is a route to publishing you might wish to consider.  They also tell you how you may submit manuscripts to them.  My experience with Brighton has been very positive so far, but we are still in the process of rolling out the printed version of the book.  Of course, e-books are the new wave of publishing, and Brighton seems well versed in this process as well.  You will certainly want to consider a publisher experienced in e-book publishing.

I consider my experience with the publishing world to be modest at best, and I am certain there is much more that could be written on this subject.  However, this is my experience and I wanted to share it.

I am certainly open to comments and additions from any of you if you care to contribute.

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