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How Real Life Can Color a Story’s Reception

Romances are not my usual viewing fare because they tend to be ridiculous, shallow, or boring — yes, my opinion is showing 🙂 — but since this series is only sixteen episodes long and stars some of my favorite Korean actors, I thought I’d give it a try.

4703_TheTimeThatILovedYou7000Days_Nowplay_Small

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Summary on the website:

Jang Ha Na (Ha Ji Won) and Choi Won (Lee Jin Wook) are incredibly close platonic friends: throughout 20 years, they’ve braved it all through thick and thin. As Ha Na’s 30th birthday approaches, Won extols the virtues of aging as a man—like a wine—while explaining that women are like grapes that shrivel into raisins. Determined to prove him wrong, Ha Na strikes a bet on which of the two will marry before turning 35. Based on Taiwan’s hit In Time With You, can these two friends make the ultimate leap?

Characters in their thirties allow fear and misunderstandings and all sorts of other obstacles keep them from telling the truth to themselves and to each other. There’s a hint of My Best Friend’s Wedding, but without the mania.

It took me a few weeks to watch the first seven episodes, but that was sheer stubbornness rather than actual interest.

It’s not that the writing is terrible or the acting is stiff or that I didn’t like the characters. Perhaps I expected — I don’t know — more spine or mental strength or maturity from the characters. Perhaps I expected me.

When I was thirty-something, I was interested in more than friendship from a close friend. I know the fear and uncertainty of declaring myself. And, when I did, the worst happened: the friendship fell apart. However, I mentally prepared myself for that rejection. It still stung, I still felt as if my lungs had been crushed, but I gave that person room to be true to self. Granted, I was not prepared for the anger that accompanied the rejection — “You’ve ruined a good friendship!” — but the uncertainty was suffocating and I needed to move forward. If that person chose to come with me, wonderful. If not, I had to straighten my shoulders and walk on.

That was years ago, and sometimes the sadness springs out from the shadows, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom and all the good things that have happened since.

So watching fictional characters drag their feet for more exaggerated, soap opera reasons than those I experienced in real life is torture, not entertainment.

The ratings (overall 4 out of 5 stars) give evidence that viewers without my jaded, curmudgeonly perspective consider “The Time That I Loved You” must-see TV. Good. Whatever kinds of writers we are — screenwriters, TV show developers, novelists, playwrights — there’s the story we tell and the story the audience views or reads. Our experiences inform what we write, and theirs color what they see/read. Stories interact with the audience in ways even the creators may not expect.

 

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Scathing: Receiving Criticism, Avoiding Labels, and Redacting a Review

Scathing: Receiving Criticism, Avoiding Labels, and Redacting a Review

Ever been labeled something that puzzled you?

Recently, a fellow writer wrote that I was unethical. At first, I thought she meant someone else, and thought, “What does she mean? That’s not true of that person,” but then realized she referenced a blog post I wrote last year regarding how pride can get in the way of receiving feedback or criticism. No names were mentioned. In fact, the only person readers knew was involved was me, and I admitted that even now, after decades as a writer, my pride is still sometimes stung by harsh criticism.

Hey, even the most thick-skinned of veteran writers still wants his work to be liked and read, no matter how many bestsellers he has behind him. (I’d like to have at least one bestseller, but that’s a goal yet to be reached.)

Another label put on me in the past — this time by a publisher — is “the editor who makes authors cry”. That is not an appellation of which to be proud. By no means. My goal has been and always will be to help authors produce their best work. Sometimes, they can be so in love with their creations that they cannot see flaws or weaknesses, missed storytelling opportunities, or clunky sentences. When an editor tells them what needs revising, they don’t receive the news well.

There is an implied compliment in the fact that someone else is taking the time to not only read one’s work, but to help one improve it. However, we writers often react with affront, with offended pride and scathing words toward the “clueless”, “high-handed”, “overbearing” editor. We don’t see his/her true intent. All we know is that we didn’t receive the praise and the rubber-stamped approval we desired.

Before we slap labels on folks and burn bridges we might need to rebuild, might I suggest a bit of reflection? Some distance? Perhaps a walk, a rant to a friend, a scribbled diatribe in a journal? A good night’s sleep? Prayer? Something that allows us to grow calm, to be objective, and not to say or do something we’ll regret. (Related reading: “What’s Your Filter?“)

We may find — as I did while editing Dragon’s Rook — that snarky, scolding feedback that shoots wide of the mark can still contain something valuable. When I stepped back and looked at the advice with cold objectivity, I saw a couple pieces I could use. As a result, I tore apart one scene that had been troubling me. The reconstructed version is many times better than the original.

So, then, what should I do when I’m now the one giving the ugly, scathing criticism?

Write it all out, and then don’t say most of it.

Recently, a PR firm requested I review a new novel by a young author. After reading the back cover blurb and the dark, well-written prologue, I had high expectations for the book. Below is the review. For the author’s sake, it will not be posted elsewhere, and has been edited here to obscure the author’s identity.

~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~

Although marketed as contemporary literary fiction, this novel could also be described as speculative fiction, a mix of modern and futuristic, of post-apocalyptic dystopian and the quest for utopia-via-enlightenment, of a perverse coming-of-age/search-for-meaning story with a science fiction existentialist-absurdist tale.

Try saying that ten times, fast. 😉

[Story synopsis, character list, and website links have been omitted to preserve author anonymity. However, quotes from the novel text remain unaltered, but for the characters’ names.]

It is not often I write a review like this. I want to write only the positives, but the cons are weighty. To be blunt, this book needs an editor, for content as well as mechanics.

It runs the risk of being “a tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5). The writing is often preening and pretentious, but that could be the result of a conscious stylistic choice on the part of the author, matching the attitudes and egos of the characters.

Yet it sometimes feels like the writer is trying to make use of every high-sounding turn of phrase he can conjure or every word he can find in the dictionary. One is left wondering if, by the sheer volume and length of words, the author believes he has communicated—but, perhaps, I am not the audience for this work. I can wax lyrical with the most poetic of the poets, but prefer straightforwardness to roundaboutation.

Macbeth^Orson Welles

Orson Welles as Macbeth

As Macbeth might say, “Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly,” (Act 5, Scene 5).

Despite proofing errors (the repeated use of “causal” in place of “casual”, for instance) and some awkwardly-constructed sentences or phrases (what are “cathartic muscles”?), there remain many quotable lines:

“I take it you’re the self-proclaimed chosen one?” (Leroy) asked. “Prophets are rarely successful. Even when they are, society kills them.”

(Walter’s) thick lips gave way to a line of crooked teeth. “Hence, it comes that all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed.” (p77)

Later in the same conversation:

“The day is not calm when you discover humanity to be ripe for the taking.” (p78)

And some lines read like refugees from a modern-day “Jabberwocky”—they have a sound and a rhythm, and therefore the reader might almost think he understands their meaning or the author’s intent. But repeated readings reveal, no, the words really do make no sense.

This paragraph on page 121 transforms from poetic imagery to lyrical nonsense:

The notes of a distant piano played a melodic Bach and a blue Chopin to the beat of Kerouac. The sounds were unremitting as they’d always been in her mind. Real, but at the same time not real. Resonating. Vibrating. For she was a lollipop made of cherry and petrol, more given to the depths of trench coats and dark alleys; lethal-red lipstick, rocking a tear that was not a tear, but moisture secreting the nostalgia of an instinct held away from mankind by the missing link. From the real show and state.

Thank you, Google Translate. Sense to make, you do not.

The novel’s subtitle—[redacted]—is a clue to how readers are expected to view this work. The publisher’s mission statement, as well as the author’s explanation for the story’s existence, seem overly earnest, betraying a certain immaturity and youthful desire to ‘make a difference’:

[mission statement redacted]

Below is a quote from the introduction:

In the novel you’re about to read, I do not seek to victimize technology, nor to condemn our evolution, but to instill the realization that we are the product of our own thoughts, our own ideas, our own dreamed of reveries. We are the discomfort and leisure of humanity, the bright flame and its grey ashes. By nature we are born free.

Can’t argue with that last line. No doubt the author and I would find agreement on several other points. But how does one “victimize technology”?

Confession: I skimmed the second half of the book. Perhaps the story improved as it progressed. However, despite seeing interesting passages, I was not compelled to continue. The green-visored, cigar-chomping curmudgeonly editor who lives in the back of my brain could tolerate no more, and he suspects that publisher, editor, author, and the originator of the “editorial review” on the back cover are one and the same.

Nonetheless, [name redacted] is talented and intelligent, and is definitely an author to look for in the future. Give him time.

And his website waaaaay outclasses mine.

 

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“So What? Who Cares?”: Unintentional Writing Advice

“So What? Who Cares?”: Unintentional Writing Advice

So what? Who cares?

Those words were spoken to me with a shrug and a flounce by a fellow writer many years ago, and though they may not have been intended kindly, those questions are some of the best writing advice I’ve encountered. In fact, I’ve co-opted them, writing them in the margins of my clients’ manuscripts and including them in critiques.

You’ve probably heard advice about cutting anything that doesn’t advance the plot, establish the setting, develop character, etc., and may have wondered how to know what to keep and what to cut. How do you know which actions develop character, or which piece of description is unnecessary? That’s when you ask, “So what? And who cares?”

Not a hard-and-fast rule: Don’t ask these questions of your work until you have a completed draft.

Suggestion: Maybe hold off asking these questions for the second draft, too.

Recommendation: Drafts three or four, when the editing and revising is getting serious and nitty-gritty, is probably the best time to demand of every scene, descriptive passage, line of dialogue, even every sentence, “So what? Who cares?”

As an editor, I have had the difficult and sometimes heartbreaking task of telling a writer to cut a beloved passage because it’s a distraction, a rabbit trail, or carries no storytelling weight. It does not serve the story.

Littlest studying an intense game of air hockey (c2014, KB)

Littlest studying an intense game of air hockey (c2014, KB)

Sometimes it’s a detailed description of a house or a dress or a car, but the described item has only a passing place in the broader story, and we never revisit it.

However, if the writer can somehow link that description to the place where a character grew up and how rosy memories compare with reality, or to an impoverished character’s love of couture and her scrapbook filled with magazine cutouts of fashion shows, or to the nostalgia a character has for the classic cars his dad used to drive, then the passage may have a reason to remain.

It may still need to be revised or moved, but at least now it helps tell the story by revealing character.

So what? = Why does a scene exist? What point does a character serve? Why does a character say a line of dialogue, make a particular gesture, believe one thing and disbelieve something else? Why do readers need to know the bakery is across the street from the post office?

Who cares? = Who will care if the dog dies, the car breaks down, the grandmotherly neighbor’s house is invaded? If the reader is supposed to care, the characters must care, and before the characters can have an emotional stake in what happens, the author must be invested in the story.

Everything’s connected.

Characters need dimension beyond cardboard cutouts that merely serve the plot or the action. Think of all those superhero flicks where buildings, cars, and streets in New York are destroyed, as if all the people living or working or driving or sauntering there are not worth as much as one superhero saving another superhero from the villains. Hey. People matter. Characters matter. You — their creator — must imbue them with worth. There must be consequences for their choices, for their lives or deaths, for the other characters who encounter them.

And by consequences, I don’t necessarily mean negative events (punishment, resentment, etc.). Consequences can be emotional attachments, such as a childless couple adopting a child, or consequences can be new perspectives, such as when a classroom full of know-it-all teenagers meet a teacher more interested in their futures than they are. Consequences can be questions, answers, new directions.

So, when your story has been through a round or two of revisions, rigorously apply So what? Who cares? and watch the story gain a tighter plot and a greater emotional connection with readers.

Littlest reaching out for a hug (c2014, KB)

Littlest reaching out for a hug (c2014, KB)

 

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Excellence v. Mediocrity

Excellence v. Mediocrity

From an article by novelist Athol Dickson on his site, discussing excellence v. mediocrity in writing:

It’s true many novels by Christians are poorly written. That’s also true of many other kinds of novels. In fact it’s true of most novels of every kind, but it’s not a particular indictment of mediocre writers or the readers who enable them. Most people don’t really care about excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting, or dance . . . or government, commerce, marriage, or anything else in life that ought to matter.

What interests me, is why. In our discussion about the “Worst Books” list, some of my author friends speculated that so many people dislike those novels because they were forced to read them in school and disliked them then. But these books truly are works of genius—most of them are, anyway—so why didn’t we love them in the first place?

It’s a thought-provoking read, not only for writers who happen to be Christians, but for any writer who strives for excellence.

As an editor, I am constantly confronted by the “good enough” work of fellow writers who just want me to sign off on their manuscripts rather than helping them shape those manuscripts into polished books. The constant fight to challenge other writers toward excellence can be wearisome, but it’s not a fight I can ignore.

Just this past week, I had an e-mail conversation with a rookie novelist whose work is being published soon. He acknowledges that it needs more crafting, but it’s been praised so highly by so many people—I was his only negative reviewer—that he’s going ahead with publication, because (as he put it himself) it’s good enough.

Not to sound overly pessimistic, but I’ve been feeling like the “lone voice crying in the wilderness”—and then I read Mr. Dickson’s eloquent, thought-provoking post. I’m dropping a copy into my archives so I can pull it out whenever I need encouragement. Or a kick in the pants.

originally posted October 18, 2012

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence,

 

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How to Write Your Best Story: a rambling review

How to Write Your Best Story: a rambling review

edited & reposted from Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten years old, and I’ve lost count of the writing conferences, seminars, and classes, and groups I’ve attended, but the greatest learning has come from the simple act of writing (and revising — a lot), and the best advice has come from sitting down and talking to other and better writers. Reading How to Write Your Best Story is rather like one of those conversations: down-to-earth, intelligent, understandable, and useful.

Shortly before publication, Philip Martin, a fellow writer and editor, asked me to read through the manuscript for How to Write Your Best Story: Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale (128 pages, $14.95, Crickhollow Books).

My first conversation with Philip Martin was several years ago at a writers conference. I attended his session (I forget the topic), then asked him to autograph my well-read copy of his recent book, The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon’s Lair to Hero’s Quest, a Brothers Hildebrandt painting of Smaug on the cover, which just makes a good book that much cooler. I’m not usually the groupie / fanboy type, and I certainly don’t go around asking other folks for their autographs, but this time, it just seemed like the thing to do.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

HowToWriteYourBestStory“Never judge a book by its cover” is old advice that isn’t always true. After all, most of us have seen plenty of cheesy science fiction covers with awkward robots or scantily-clad alien women, or trashy romance novels decorated in shirtless men with impossible hair or women in torn bodices. We look at those covers, and we pretty much know what we’re gonna get. The whimsical cover art (by the late Marvin Hill) for How to Write Your Best Story is the reader’s first clue that the contents are written by someone who knows and appreciates a good story, and probably read his share of them.

What I like best about this book of advice is that it’s less about rules and more about principles of good storytelling:

Good storytelling exists in a world outside of formal structural elements of literature. It has intangible aspects, like a beautiful melody or an appealing fragrance. It exists in imaginary worlds you know well, like the 100 Acre Woods, or Narnia, or Lake Woebegone, or in mostly real worlds, such as a humorous journey on the Appalachian Trail with Bill Bryson — or in any number of great books based as much on storytelling as anything else. (p9)

And

(F)or a good number of years, I’ve pondered the question: is there a way to teach good storytelling, in the fashion of Kipling, Steinbeck, C.S. Lewis, O. Henry, Tolkien, or other beloved writers classic and modern — successful authors who we’d all agree knew a good story from a hole in the ground?

What do readers look for in a good tale? What specific techniques do I find myself most often recommending to emerging writers to boost the quality of their stories? (p10)

That’s what Martin endeavors to do in the rest of the book, and he does it with a whimsy to match the cover art, by telling a story interwoven with instructive chapters. After the Introduction, for instance, is the beginning of “The Princess & the Apple”, followed by Part One: General Things about Good Stories, followed by the further tale of “The Princess & the Apple”, which is interspersed among these chapters: The Case for Intriguing Eccentricity, The Case for Delightful Details, and The Case for Satisfying Surprises.

Included are many quotes from the works of famous authors and poets, including this quote from Joyce Carol Oates:

“Storytelling is shaped by two contrary, yet complementary, impulses — one toward brevity, compactness, artful omission; the other toward expansion, amplification, enrichment.” (p25)

That’s a push-pull war in which I constantly engage: what to leave out, what to add, what must be spelled out, what can be implied, what’s trivial, what matters.

A few more examples of advice from the book:

throw out the thesaurus (pp26-30),
juxtapose or fuse two ideas to offer a unique intersection (pp50-51),
listen (pp55-56),
use more senses (pp68-70),
ask what your characters want most (p93),
don’t dodge the difficult ending (pp104-105),

and much more.

How to Write Your Best Story is chock-full of good, perennial advice, but it’s also fun to read. This book will remain in my permanent library, and that’s just about the best recommendation I can give.

 

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Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

(originally posted September 4, 2010)

As a writer, I have no discipline.

That could mean many things:
1) I don’t have a specialty.
2) I can’t control my hands while typppppppping.
3) I write all over the place, and prefer markers on freshly-painted walls.
4) Uniquely constructed sentences I make.
5) 5:00 in the morning is meant for sleeping, not writing. (Unless, of course, one is on a creative spree, and has not yet been to bed.)
6) Focusing on only one project at a time is imposs- Squirrel! (Squirrel Removal in 12 Easy Steps — HI-larious!)
7) I give great writing advice but rarely follow it. (Write to the end then edit.)
8) I find all sorts of activities that keep me from writing, when writing is all I really want to do.
9) An outline is not the Ten Commandments, and is a lot of hard work for something I’m just going to ignore anyway.
10) Planting butt in chair and creating is not something I generally do on command. In fact, there are very few things I do on command, and even then I might pause to think about it.

And the list goes on, but I’ll end it there. (End not to be confused with aforementioned butt.)

Yesterday, I sat on the couch, felt-tip pen and scrap paper in hand, stared into space while a DVD miniseries adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel played in the background, and wrote a couple good pages of material. All rough, of course, but solid.

As I wrote, I thought it was brilliant.

Then, some time later, long after the pen had been capped and I was no longer under the heady influence of Sharpie fumes, I read it again.

Meh. As I said, rough but solid. I can work with that.

As for discipline, well, that’s a concept that looks different to each writer. What really matters is the outcome: What is produced? Regardless of a writer’s method — laptop in the park, legal pad in the coffee shop, scrap paper on the couch — words must be written. Stories must be told.

Bring on the Sharpie!

"Presented in Cinemascope!" facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

“Presented in Cinemascope!”
facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

 

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What’s Your Filter?

Two or more people can look at the same object at the same time, and although they are seeing the same thing, they are not perceiving it the same way.

The filters of experience, prejudice, understanding, philosophy, religion, age, appreciation, comfort or discomfort, good day or bad — all color the way we see the world.

Below are several versions of a photo of the statue of the grieving Christ outside the Oklahoma City National Memorial, commemorating the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. Each image is affected by various filters imposed by photo editing software — each filter is overlaid the others, until the image underneath is far different from the original.

Christ (c2015, KB)

Christ (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)

See how unexpected interferences or cooperations change what the viewer perceives?

The order matters, as well. If trauma colors our world at a young age, we will view it through a different filter than we might if that same trouble arrived when we were older.

Below, black-and-white and Cinemascope effects were applied in different orders. When the movie effect was applied first, then the monochrome, the image looks crisp. However, when the order was reversed, the image takes on a sepia cast.

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)

Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)

Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, then "Cinemascoped" (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, then “Cinemascoped” (c2015, KB)

Is there something in life you’re not seeing clearly?

Are there colors you think you’re perceiving, but your friends, colleagues, loved ones — or perfect strangers on social media —  do not view?

Before we impugn one another’s intelligence, reputations, abilities, etcetera, it might be wise to step back and consider the filters through which we — and they — view the world.

 

 

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Brevity is the Soul

Brevity is the Soul

Of all the genres of novels I’ve edited, I most enjoy Westerns and mysteries, but the one in which I’ve the most experience is romance. Therefore, a person might be forgiven for thinking I might be able to easily incorporate romantic scenes into my own stories.

No. No, not without much cursing and gnashing of teeth.

And when one of my alpha readers squinches her eyes and purses her mouth and shakes her head — despite her best efforts at remaining courteously noncommittal — I know I’ve failed.

(spoiler warning for those who have not yet read Dragon’s Rook)

There is a reunion scene in Dragon’s Bane in which a couple meets again after he thought she had died. Each being of a reticent nature and possessing a painful past, they have never declared themselves, so the scene required the showing of deep affection but also deep restraint:

He embraced her, and through the fabric he felt the ridged scars on her back. She turned her face into the hollow of his shoulder.

Nay, lass, do not hide.

If you knew the truth—

He drew a deep breath. What can you say, Maggie Finney, to change my mind?

She grabbed handfuls of his tunic, pressing her fists against his lower back.

In earlier drafts, the pair talked about what happened after her “death”, and of the events that brought him back to the outlaw camp to find her grave, but it was boring, anticlimactic, cliched, and lacked the trueness I sought.

Several paragraphs were rewritten and rearranged and finally cut until only this one remains:

Maggie had fallen asleep standing up. Kieran guided her to the ground. She slumped against him and he eased her down, grabbed the blanket, then lay on his side, pulling her to him with an arm around her waist. She sighed. He tucked his knees behind hers, felt her heartbeat through her back, smelled the warmth of her neck. He had neither the wherewithal nor the desire to move. No matter the roof over his head, this was home.

It says everything I wanted to say, and in far fewer words than were written in effort to achieve it. Sometimes I need to blurp hundreds, maybe even thousands, of words onto the page before I know which ones I don’t need.

Brevity, as the bard said, is the soul of wit. Sometimes, brevity is also the soul of an entire scene.

 

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Think Before Typing

Driving into a storm, Wyoming, August 2013 (KB)

Driving into a storm, Wyoming, August 2013 (c. KB)

At the end of May this year, I responded to a suspect question via e-mail as if it were legitimate instead of snarky: A potential reader called into question a synopsis of my novel, and asked how a plot point could be possible, given the circumstances.

Well, read the book, was my first thought, but — to be fair — that particular part of the story is actually central to the second book, so it’s not broadly explained in the current novel.*

On the other hand, there was a distinct tang of antagonism to the question, and it made me not want to respond at all.

However, giving the inquirer the benefit of the doubt, I answered honestly and unemotionally.

I won’t reveal either the question or the answer, because they don’t really matter. The problem was the attitude underlying the question, and with the confrontational way in which the question was posed.

One would think that — with all this proliferation of faceless, voiceless communication that has the potential to inspire online disputes and conflagrations over even the pettiest of misunderstandings or disagreements — folks would take care with their words so their intentions are not misconstrued.

Or perhaps, sporting a nifty avatar, they think themselves immune or powerful. As a friend says, “People are brave behind that perception of anonymity.”

————–

* The Lost Sword duology consists of Dragon’s Rook (January 2015) and Dragon’s Bane (coming in 2016).

 

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Honesty, Marketing, and Why There Are No Sex Scenes in Dragon’s Rook

KB 2011

KB, 2011

It’s a strange world.

We’re told not to blow our own horn (don’t brag), and yet we’re told to market ourselves (tell people what we offer and what we’ve accomplished).

It has occurred to me that, while I have been honest about my writing, I have not been its best marketer. Rather I feel like I’ve become a social media spammer — something I hate.

I don’t want to puff up my work and make it seem like this spectacular thing, the answer to every reader’s quest for the next great novel, because it isn’t. Dragon’s Rook is not a book everyone will enjoy or understand or read once a year like they do the classics. In that, it is like myriad other books that fill libraries and bookstores and private shelves.

Nor am I ashamed of this book. It has a few typos (dangit!), but I can say — without braggadocio or falsehood or hype — that it’s a good book. It’s well-written, has interesting characters, and isn’t frenetic in its efforts to capture and keep the reader’s attention.

I figure the readers who choose this book don’t need pretty-pretty lights and flashing colors and constant noise in order to be entertained. They don’t need someone to do their thinking for them.

Dragon's_Rook_Cover_Keanan_Brand_Susan_TrouttDragon’s Rook unrolls at a different pace and with a different focus than many other fantasy novels. Though it does feature a few teenage and child characters, it is not a coming-of-age story. Many of the supporting characters are elderly or middle-aged, and have interesting stories of their own. The main characters are in their twenties, maybe thirties, and are established in their skills (shepherd-turned-soldier, blacksmith, seamstress-laundress-healer, scholarly daughter of the king), but they know there must be more to life than what they’ve been given.  The soldier wants to rest from war. The blacksmith is restless for adventure. The laundress wants a home and acceptance. The king’s daughter longs for freedom.

Readers of all ages identify with these and the other characters, but Dragon’s Rook (and its companion, Dragon’s Bane) is primarily epic fantasy for grownups.

It is not, however, adult entertainment. While there is romance in the story, readers will find no explicit sex in its pages. Anything that happens is off-stage, not described. I’ve edited my share of erotic romance novels, and I’m just not interested in writing that stuff. And there’s no need to stop the story for the literary equivalent of a porn flick.

I understand that may be a turn-off. After all, erotica sells. But it would also make Dragon’s Rook an entirely different story.

That said, the second book — Dragon’s Bane — will feature two weddings, and two wedding nights. The reader will follow the characters up to a certain point, but there will be no vicarious carnality.

Just sayin’.

And the folks who have heard descriptions of or read drafts of those scenes tell me the effect is more sensuous than any outright sex scene.

Which reminds me of a scene — Darcy’s ill-worded proposal that becomes an argument — in the Joe Wright-directed version of Pride & Prejudice, in which something happens in the movie that was never in the book, and it turns an already iconic moment into a heart-pounding revelation: Darcy leaning forward and Elizabeth sketching the same movement in reply, an almost-kiss that reveals more than their shouted words would lead us, or them, to believe.

Just as no one needs to think for us — we’re smart folk, and we can do that for ourselves — no storyteller needs to reveal every act, word, thought, or detail, because an effective part of storytelling is allowing participation in the tale by leaving room for the readers’ imagination.

 

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