Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Abuse of Typography

Is it just me or is this getting worse? Some of this stuff makes me wonder when the writer is going to be graduating from high school.

Dear Writer:

Calling your characters "Wharrior" and "Frehnzy" doesn't make your story cool. Neither does a reference to a "childe" or a "songe" unless your story is set in a period when that spelling was used. "Sylvyr" and its permutations don't impress me either. Spell things correctly. If you want to be different, use foreign names, or for SF and fantasy you can make something up from scratch. The universe should charge a nickel -- per letter, multiplied by the number of copies of the book/story printed -- for every extraneous "H" and "E" and for every "Y" pasted on where another vowel should be.

Apostrophes, linguistically, indicate a glottal stop. If that's not what you want, don't use them. Anne McCaffery gets a pass because her dragon riders actually shortened their names when they got their dragons, so her apostrophes indicated legitimate contractions. If your word isn't a contraction and doesn't have a glottal stop, leave the apostrophes out. Names like "Jo'nathan" or "T'revor" don't look cool. Making up a name doesn't help -- if you pronounce "Lerin'elia" the same way you'd pronounce "Lerinelia," leave out the apostrophe. And seriously, there are so many writers nowadays who think throwing in a pointless apostrophe is just too cool that even if you do mean to indicate a glottal stop in the middle there, most people will assume you're a teenager trying to sound cool anyway.

Capitalizing a blah noun won't make it any less blah. If your character is carrying the Cup, the Candle and the Flask into the Hall where the Warrior will perform the Ceremony, you need to go back and rethink a few things. If something is that special, it'll probably have a name. Think of one and then use it. If it's not, then it doesn't require a capital, so don't use one.

Caveat: if you're using a chunk of a longer proper name, you can capitalize that. So for example, I'm from the United States of America, and calling it "the States" is legitimate because "States" is part of a proper noun. Having your hero wield "the Sword," though, just makes me eyeroll unless you told me earlier that it's actually "the Barliman Sword of Truth" or whatever.

Putting an English word into italics doesn't make it sound foreign. If your character speaks a foreign language -- either a realspace language or one you've made up for your SF or fantasy book -- then either use that language with italics or translate it into English without italics. English in italics just makes it look like you're going through the text with a hilighter, marking the cool parts for us so we know they're cool. It doesn't work.

Yes, I've been reading. This has been bugging me more and more recently, and I just ran across Nathan Bransford's post on readers' pet peeves. My comment got kind of long [cough] so I brought it back here.

I'm expecting to see a Syl'vyr Childe named Cuhr'se wander through the Door with an engraved Knife any time now. [headdesk]


Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Just checking in. [wave] It was a wild ride, but we're okay. Some stuff fell off shelves and tables and such, but there was no actual damage.

I was born in California and have lived here all my life, and usually I just sit wherever I am and enjoy a quake, but this one felt big -- hard and long and rolling. It reminded me very strongly of the '89 quake up in the Bay Area, and I actually got up and stood in the doorway for this one. Turns out it was a lot smaller (they're calling it 5.4; that one was 8.1) but also a lot closer (I was in Sunnyvale for that one, about 60km away from the epicenter, whereas this one was about 35km or so away).

We didn't even lose power, though. Everyone was sort of O_O and then it was over. I haven't even felt the aftershocks, although there were a couple of 3.8s.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Evaluating the Data

Do you care who it is who's commenting on your writing?

I never have, and have always had a hard time understanding people who react negatively (and sometimes obnoxiously) when they get feedback from someone they don't personally know, or someone who's not a writer, or someone who otherwise doesn't have whatever qualifications they feel someone must have in order to comment.

To me, any constructive criticism is data and it's all useful. Even if I examine it and end up deciding that the commenter simply isn't a member of my target audience (someone who thinks I should get rid of the romance in what's clearly a romance novel, for example [cough]) and decide not to act on the expressed opinion, I now have a bit more information about reader views and tastes than I did before.

Comments are either useful or not, in and of themselves, independent of who's making them. A well-stated and reasoned comment, which clearly has some knowledge of craftsmanship behind it and which refers specifically to a line or paragraph or other specific chunk of a particular story of mine is always worth getting, even if it's written by someone who's "just" a reader, or a stranger, or a nonymouse. On the other hand, if one of my very favorite writers in all the world said, "Seriously, this needs some work," I'd probably thank them for taking the time to comment, but wouldn't value the feedback very much because, wow, vague. :/

Some writers get personally offended when someone offers concrit to a story which has already been published. I don't get this either, because pretty much any mistake I made once, I might well make again and hearing about it even after the fact lets me make a note of it and take care not to make it again next time, even if I can't edit the story which was just published. Learning from my earlier mistakes is always desirable, and I honestly don't care who it is who points me toward the lesson.

Maybe it helps that I "grew up" as a writer in some fairly intense workshop environments. When you get serious pros and intense hopefuls all in the same bucket and have them tearing apart each other's stuff, with the idea that it's better for your workshop peers to spot something than that editor you're hoping will offer you a contract, you learn pretty quickly that concrit is gold and that excessive ego does nothing but block you from any hope of being published. (And in all honesty, the old GEnie SFRT was not for the faint of heart nor the thin of skin, whether you were in the workshops or not.) I grew an adamantium hide in the early years of my online participation as a writer, and while I'll admit that's an advantage which not everyone has, I can only suggest that anyone who wants to be a professional writer grow one of their own as quickly as they can manage. This is not a good business for the delicate or sensitive to be in.

Maybe it's the fact that I value my writing, my skill and my hope of improving both, much more highly than I value the delicacy of my writerly feelings. Sure, I wince for a moment if someone says they didn't care for one of my stories, and I get horribly embarassed if someone points out an obvious flaw I missed. But I want to learn and grow as a writer more than I want to avoid those wincing embarassments, by a few orders of magnitude. I want to know what people think and why, and what they think is problematic or just plain wrong, and the why of that too.

Anyone who can clearly explain what they liked and disliked, what they thought was going on and what they thought was going to happen next, where they laughed or winced or gasped, where I fooled them and where they saw right through my attempted misdirection, what they think worked or didn't work with specific examples and reasons for it all -- anyone who gives me that kind of feedback is going to be one of my favorite people ever, and I don't care who it is or whether I know them or whether they're a writer or whether they're someone who wandered by and posted anonymously. It's the data I value, not the source. Good, clear, useful data is always valuable and always makes itself obvious; I don't need an attached name or title or resume to help me decide whether the data is useful.

Or at least, that's how I see it. How about you?


Monday, July 14, 2008

Review of "A Spirit of Vengeance"

I got a wonderful four-flute review of "A Spirit of Vengeance" from Singapore Sling over on Cocktail Reviews!

Josh, an artist, comes home from an exhibition and learns that his lover, Kevin – also an artist – has been murdered in the home they share with Josh’s actress sister, Kat. The killing appears to have been done by a homophobic gang, but the police can’t find anything to go on.

While he’s coming to terms with his grief, Josh hears Kevin’s voice and feels a wind blowing around him indoors. Kevin urges Josh to catch his killers and get revenge. At first Josh thinks he’s gone crazy, but soon Kevin is coming to him in dreams that feel very real. Kevin reveals that Oscar, his agent, murdered him when Kevin started to suspect Oscar of defrauding him.

Can Josh find a way to unmask Oscar as the killer – or will listening to the advice of a ghost lead him and Kat into danger?

This novelette had a most interesting premise. The opening was powerful, full of raw emotion as Josh struggles to deal with Kevin’s death. The ghost story begins tentatively, with Kevin’s spirit at first so full of rage that he scares Josh. Kevin’s frustration with his new spirit form and his desperation to make Josh believe what’s happening is both sad and touching.

Josh is a likeable hero, numb with grief yet still able to reach out to his sister, Kat, and share in her small triumphs. His longing for Kevin is one of the driving emotions in this story, and his fear of letting go and losing Kevin forever is very moving.

Ms Benedetti gives the reader a different yet satisfying story. My only complaint is that I wish there’d have been more of it – this could easily have been a novella!

This is so awesome, I'm going to be beaming for days!


Friday, July 11, 2008

Still Playing the Zero-Sum Game

I read a blog post today which really annoyed me. I'm not going to link to it because it's not that particular writer who's the problem; this was just the last breeze that pushed me over the cliff. There are plenty of people trodding this well-paved path, and I'm not going to point a finger at the person who had the bad luck to be the most recent traveller.

Everyone knows the frustration of having their own favorite kind of book (or anything else) fall from favor. A year ago, or a decade ago, the stores were full of your favorite read and you could wallow around in it as much as your wallet could bear. Then later on, the market changed, trends wended their way onward and suddenly the abundant flow narrowed to a bare trickle. We've all been there, and yeah, it's upsetting.

Why is it, though, that whenever someone complains about the problem they're having finding their own favorite kind of book, they do it by ranting about how there are "too many" of whatever other type is currently popular? Instead of just saying that they wish there were more books about lawyers and bankers, they grouch that there are too many books about vampires and pirates, implying that most of this trash should be cleared away to make room for the good stuff.

As someone who likes vampires and pirates (or whatever) I find this rather offensive. Why do people who complain that there aren't enough of their favorite books always come and attack my favorite books?

The writer who set me off allowed as how it's acceptable for there to be "a few" of these other books that she doesn't care for, the historicals and paranormals and fantasies and SF books, so long as they're unique and well-executed. (By her own standards, I assume.)

Wow. Generous of her. I'll have to remember to send her a thank-you note for declaring it allowable for me have "a few" of my favorite subgenres to read, and for looking out for my reading pleasure by policing the quality of those few books.

Personally, I'm not at all into media tie-in books. I used to read some of the old Trek Classic novels when they first started coming out, but I drifted away long ago and never got into any of the newer series novels, nor any of the D&D novels or the novels based on computer games or anything else of that sort. And yet tie-ins are... [squint/cogitate] I think it was three shelf sections of the SF and Fantasy area, when I was in a Borders last week, and maybe four. That was at least a third of the entire space allocated for SF/F books, and I wasn't interested in any of it. The situation has been the same for quite a number of years, tie-in books having become more and more popular over the last three decades or so since I first noticed them.

It's never occurred to me, though, to complain that the store shouldn't carry so many tie-ins, nor that the publishers shouldn't publish so many. If there are people who read them, that's enough reason for them to be published and sold. What I want are more of the kinds of books I do like. If I can't find them in that bookstore, then I'll find them in another, or at Amazon, or somewhere else online. If there aren't enough being published then I can complain to the publisher (or just rant to the blogosphere) that there should be more. But I'm not going to point my finger at the media tie-ins, or any of the other genres or subgenres of fiction I'm not interested in and say, "There! Give me their space in the bookstores and their spots on your publishing schedule! I don't like those books, therefore you should dump them and publish/sell my favorites instead!"

I mean, seriously, that's just obnoxious, you know?

I get what it's like to want publishers to sell more of a certain kind of book. My column on Wednesday was based on the idea that the New York publishers should be selling gay romances, that there are plenty of readers who want them and the publishers could make some good money selling them. But it never crossed my mind to point a finger at some other subgenre within romance that the publishers should sell less of to make room for them.

This really isn't a zero-sum game. If there are audiences for books about vampires and pirates, and for books about ranchers and doctors, then any financially sound publisher will be able to publish both without eliminating either, given a few years to work up to it. Having more kinds of books, all of which sell, is good for the businesses, as well as being good for the readers. And if there are more books being sold than the bookstores can carry, they can build bigger stores -- bookstores the size of Borders or B&N didn't exist when I was a kid, but someone along the line decided there were enough books being sold to justify building them -- or they can sell online. There you go -- room for everyone.

I really hope the woman whose blog post got me going today gets more of her own favorite kinds of books. If she likes more "normal" romances, grounded in reality and telling stories about the kinds of people she might know herself, then that's cool and she should be able to read as many as she likes of those stories. I can hope the publishers do start selling her more of them soon because I know that they can do that without having to eliminate the romances about vampires and aliens and mages that I like to read. It's not a zero-sum game, and we should both be able to have what we want without trying to stamp out each other's favorites.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New Column


I just posted a new column on Romancing the Blog. This time around I'm talking about an issue brought up during a discussion on Torquere's Yahoo group regarding the reasons why the editor-in-chief of Ace and Roc thinks there's no print market for m/m romances. She's just repeating the party line which is passed around the New York publishers, but it seems to me that the basic premise behind that party line -- that women won't buy m/m romances because they want to insert themselves into the story in the heroine's place, and since m/m books don't have a heroine there's no part for the reader to "play" -- is deeply flawed. If it's impossible for the (presumably female) het romance reader to enjoy an m/m romance because there's no female protag, that implies that it's impossible for anyone to enjoy reading a book where there's no same-gender protag. Am I the only one whose eyes cross at that particular piece of logic...? [squint]

Aside from the fact that most of the m/m romances being sold right now -- in print as well as e-pub -- are purchased by women. [cough]

Anyway, I'm collecting data from readers -- come give me your two cents' worth. :)