Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sick Days and Homecomings

I had kind of a nice sick day today. I don’t have the kind of job where I frivolously miss work; vacations involve working 10-12 hour days for a couple days on either side of them, as do holidays when the business is closed. So I only stay home or leave work without advance planning when I am really sick.

I had mild food poisoning today (I am sure because husband was also sick, and we went out last night and shared dishes) – enough to force me home at lunch but not bad enough to consume my mind today. So I spent it pleasurably finishing a book I started on Sunday and then going back into my Christmas story to start the revised ending.

After I got my first reader report, I spent some time contemplating how best to resolve the family plot threads, and decided that I had been wrong to think the wedding was the epilogue to a story that ended with the proposal.  No.  The story ends with the wedding (and I doubt there will be an epilogue), and the space between the proposal and the wedding is where the denouement with the family happens.

I didn’t really intend to pick this up today–the plan was a full week of reading gluttonously, mindlessly, exclusively, to recover from pushing so hard to finish the book and then finish a costume–but when I found myself with a freebie afternoon, my writing muscles twitched. They wanted to be used. Lightly, with no pressure for results, just enjoyment of the act. So I got one scene down.  Enough to start setting up the rest of what will happen.  Enough to convince me the instinct to bridge the gap rather than re-work how things came together was right.

And picking up the story again after a full two weeks away felt like coming home. It was nice.

So, all in all, I can’t say that I completely mind whoever didn’t wash their hands in the kitchen last night infecting me. At least until, that is, I have to go in from 6-6 tomorrow just to get caught up. But today? Today turned out to be kind of awesome.

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New World Order, New Term

Or, Taking a Play from the Philosopher’s Handbook*

*Because in philosophy, if the term you want doesn’t exist, you just make it up or redefine another word to mean what you want it to mean.

Disintermediated publishing.

That’s what I’m going to start calling the kind of self-publishing that Amazon’s KDP and Smashwords and PubIt and Kobo Writer’s Life, etc.–hell, the web in general–allow.  This is in contradistinction with “indie publishing” or “self-publishing,” which are currently in vogue to mean not traditional or “legacy” publishing.

The reason I think we need a new set of terms is twofold. First, terms that existed before digital DIY publishing exploded carry baggage that threaten the clear communication of what an author is doing when they “self-publish” nowadays.  Second, I feel like the available terms that have been appropriated are not really as apt as they should be. The terms are having to be redefined in the public mind. Rather than have to explain how self-publishing now is not, you know, what it used to mean, why not use a new term that can be easily explained if someone doesn’t find it self-evident?

“Self-publishing” is often equated with “vanity publishing”–that is, paying someone to publish and distribute your book (out of pocket rather than as a profit-sharing venture, the way traditional publishing works).  Self-publishing and vanity publishing are different, as self-publishing is you setting yourself up as your own publisher, fronting all the money and reaping all the profit, rather than paying someone to do that for you and still getting only some of the profit from sales. In the mind of the average person, though, they amount to the same thing–this writer can’t get someone to publish her novel the normal way, so she paid them to; her book must be terrible.  With digital self-publishing, there is also, I believe, a perception of recklessness about it all, the idea that  many writers seem to just toss up a story on Amazon to see if it will sell, rather than taking the time to educate themselves about the process of producing and publishing a book or ebook.

This is why I want a term that is more nuanced and considered than those loaded terms from the past.  Digital self-publishing is not the same as the old style of self-publishing paper books, and many authors are doing more than just tossing up a book for the hell of it. I like the term “disintermediated publishing” because those of us who are treating our books like a publisher, except that we are publishing ourselves and taking on both all the risk and all the profit, are going directly to readers–or as directly to readers as is possible while still retaining a wide distribution. Basically we are setting up vendor accounts on sites like Amazon, which take a slice of the sales in exchange for giving us a space in its retail bazaar.

This point is an important one: the money made from sites like Amazon and Smashwords is not a “royalty.”  It is the purchase price of the goods the author, acting as the vendor, is selling less the marketplace’s transaction fee. We need to start looking at it that way and stop using terms that have no applicabiulity to the new market and the new world order. I don’t like the comparison of Amazon’s 35% or 70% “royalty” to a traditional deal of 12% of cover (or whatever), because Amazon, et al, are not controlling my rights and paying me a fee every time those rights are exercised. They are skimming a flat fee off the sale transaction.

My terminology here may seem like a semantic game (*as, indeed, much of philosophy is accused of being), but in my opinion using precise terms is important to clearly communicate one’s position and circumstances.

While “self-published author” certainly works as a term for what I’m doing, it’s not a clear picture. I am not publishing myself because no one else will have me; I am publishing myself as a first resort, because I believe I have an audience and I do not believe the benefits a traditional publisher offer me will offset what they will cost me. Because I am unwilling to pay that price, and because in the digital age I have this option, I am choosing to bypass the middle-man.  I am disintermediating my writing, taking it out of the hands of publishing and putting it directly into the hands of readers.

I am a disintermediated artist…and so is every person on the web who publishes a blog or a Youtube channel or any other type of original content without ceding its control to a media company.

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“That mythical creature called a female INTJ”

My latest foray into being reminded of my MBTI type has sparked kind of an obsession with typing. Probably because I never, not once, in all the 13+ years since I was originally exposed to it, thought to wonder if I was a rare type. It just…never occurred to me that types were not spread evenly across the population. Turns out, they’re not. Some types claim as much as 15-17% of the population (nearly 1 in 5!) while others hover at 2%.

I am, apparently, the rarest subtype of all: an INTJ female (approximately 0.5% of the US population, thus approximately 1% of the female population, thus encountered at a rate of approximately 1 in 100 females).  I may not be one in a million, but one in a hundred is still pretty slim odds. I am not sure I could name 99 other women I know well enough to be sure I was seeing their real personality (versus the construct they create for non-intimates), and I would guess that most men couldn’t, either. So while it might lack the romance of the hyperbole, in practical terms “not one woman in a hundred” is quite hard to find.

A sub-Reddit exists for 2X-INTJ’s, and reading through the posts there has been quite revalatory for me. It confirms my type–so many of the things they talk about are things I have experienced too many  times to count (being accused of having A Look, getting looked at like you’re an alien, having people react negatively to your directness,having no problem speaking to someone “higher up the foodchain” when you have an idea, being confused by normal social interactions, being bored by other women, getting along much better with men, and on and on), and 90% of the perspectives expressed on work, friendship, relationships, felt like I could have written them–but also tells me that I am not nearly as far on the T spectrum as many INTJ women. This is consonant with how I tested, which was something like 100% preference for introversion, 57% for intuition, 5% for thinking, and 20% for judging.

Someone had posted a link to an article about INTJ females in pop culture, and how Katniss from The Hunger Games trilogy and Hermione from the Harry Potter series present the two paths for INTJ, Scientific (Katniss) and Creative (Hermione). There is some contention on the main INTJ forum about whether Hermione really is INTJ, or if she is ISTJ or INFJ. Personally, I would classify her as an INTJ who has strong development of the tertiary function (feeling), but maybe that’s projecting because I have felt since book 1 that Hermione was pretty much exactly like me. Not just in the positive ways of being really smart and logical and loyal, but also the obnoxious classroom behavior of being a know-it-all and a teacher’s pet and not having any friends and constantly reading and correcting people…yeah. I really liked the article and its presentation of two types. I am definitely the Creative type as described (and not just for the obvious reason of being an author)–the part that particularly hit me was about wanting to free people from intellectual chains. I’m passionately libertarian and often write posts (politics aside) aimed at getting people to re-think the structures around them, whether they are socio-political or current accepted formula in romance novels.

I have blogged before about being concerned that I’m making a bunch of characters exactly like me. I have no intention of trying to fabricate the experience of being another type, but I do think being aware of my own type and its tics and tells can help me avoid writing characters who are all the same (AKA, me). Or, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, “I just think about what I would do and then take all logic and accountability away.”  There it is–the perfect formula for writing ESFP’s. 🙂

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“Boy, you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down”

Often when bloggers discuss historical costuming, especially 1600-1900, they bring up small clothes or “the state of undress” in contrast to modern sensibilities. They point out the obvious like it is profound, that a chemise was basically naked to them whereas it certainly looks like being fully clothed to our eyes. And, of course, since modern clothes are often worn against skin except for our brief underwear, having an underlayer as voluminous as a shift seems excessive.

I am not sure, though, that those comparisons are fair.

See, I was thinking today in the restroom at work about my own underlayer for the day (or really any day in winter), which consisted of leggings and a long-sleeved t-shirt beneath my skirt and sweater. I could be stripped of my top layer and still be fully covered…but I would feel absolutely naked if asked to walk through the office that way. Even aside from casual v. business casual concerns, I would feel undressed because those are not clothes anyone is meant to see. They are not flattering, they are not cut to hide my figure flaws, and they are not decorative. Their sole purpose is practicality: warmth and the desire to avoid itchy sweater against bare skin.

So next time you read someone trying to contextualize historical undergarments and calling out how odd they seem to modern eyes, picture not your bra and panties but the slip you put under formal gowns or the thermal underwear you put betwen your skin and every other fiber during winter. Remember the difference between being naked and being nude. One can feel as good as naked even in fabric that covers neck to toe. Our small clothes really aren’t so different, after all.

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First first reader report is already back!

Response positive enough to make me do a happy dance at my desk. Also included very excellent macro notes that articulated something I felt in a vague way was either missing or underdeveloped from the family context surrounding the lovers. It almost makes me want to go read it! But I shall manfully resist until I have both sets of first reader noted in hand. Still. File today under Winning.

And thanks again, Lady! 🙂

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A Fabulous Pair of Shoes You Forgot You Purchased

Do you ever buy something for your wardrobe–something off season, or for an event that later gets cancelled, or something tossed in with a purchase you were, at the time, more excited about–only to forget about it and then find it with surprise and pleasure and a certain self-satisfaction at your own cleverness in purchasing something so fabulous, so interesting, so precisely to your tastes?

That’s pretty much what going back to my novel feels like.

To be honest, I haven’t managed to write a word on it yet. I am still trying to pick up the threads of characterization and plot that I had dropped. That’s harder than I expected, so, note to self: don’t stop writing things anymore. Write till it’s done or write concurrently if something else demands your attention.

Despite knowing exactly what comes next, what is making going back in to  write hard is the fact that I forgot how I staged certain key events leading up to this point. I think I forgot them because they weren’t the set pieces guiding this story from the beginning, and so when I picture the story in my mind they aren’t the parts I think of. But yet these fugue-state-written scenes absolutely affect everything the hero, at least, thinks and does for the rest of the novel.

Anyway, that complaint was a rather long aside to my real point here, which was how much I enjoyed those scenes simply from a reading standpoint. I read them with surprise and delight. The part of me that analyzes romances by other people and feels annoyed when the characters do things without fully articulated reasons (either told or shown) was nodding along, thinking, yes, this, exactly, it’s absolutely no wonder he does what he does in the end.

I also did a better job than I had expected with making what her brother is up to seem really dangerous and awful. One of my paranoias about my writing (and this stems from being aware of my shortcomings–okay, I’ll use another word so as not to denigrate myself too harshly–proclivities as a human being) is the ability to evoke emotion in a reader. I am not a hugely emotional person. I mean, yes, obviously I experience the full range of human emotions, but most of the time I am pretty even-keeled, few things really enrage me or frighten me or make me so happy I forget where I am. I get annoyed or anxious or pleased…all the lesser cousins. And that’s fine. It’s who I am, and I am happy to be drama-free as a result. I don’t consider it a failing. But when I look back even at times of great distress or fear or anger, I generally wonder what I was so upset about. Once I am out of a situation, it is very difficult for me to find those emotions again. And so when I write, I have a tendency to rationalize the characters out of feeling strong emotions, because I so rarely do, and I know that is not realistic. So when I intentionally try and write about strong emotions, I feel like it’s constructed. I mean, it is constructed. The hope is that it feels natural to a reader, and the fear is that they will see the wizard’s feet sticking out from under the curtain.

So, I was really pleased that I felt truly horrified at what her brother was putting her through. I felt her fear. I felt the hero’s anger about it. I even felt the brother’s despair that was driving it. Yay! I did something right!

Reading back what I had written for a few weeks/months previous to dropping the project made me happy. I had to go back a lot further than I expected in the text, but that was fine. It just meant I had a little more reorienting to do before I could jump back in. But at least jumping back in feels like slipping on that fabulous pair of heels I bought for a party and never wore again. Until now.

Ah…delightful.

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I #AmWriting about the Continuing Relevance of Chapters in Ebooks

Yesterday I sent the rough draft of my Christmas novella off to my first readers. I realized only after I sent it that I hadn’t used chapters. While the piece is long enough that chapters wouldn’t be ridiculous, they might not, strictly speaking, be necessary. This logic was how I quieted the voice telling me to add chapter divisions and re-send the draft.

Then I wondered…are chapters necessary anymore, even with novels?

First, with ebooks, is there any reason other than mimicry of the printed form to divide stories into chapters instead of just using the extra spaces and asterisks to divide scenes? Do people reading electronically stop at chapter breaks, or do they just stop when they get tired of reading or reach what feels to them like a good breaking point?

Personally, when I read on my iPhone, I don’t bother to stop at chapters. I don’t have my finger planted ahead 5 or 20 pages to show me the chapter break where I can get up to pee or use to delay being called from the story (“I have three pages till the end of the chapter!”) like I do with printed books. I find flipping forward that unknown number of screens and then having to go back and find my place in the text again too much trouble to bother with. So I just lay the story down when I want or need to stop reading. Chapters are literally irrelevant to my experience of reading an ebook.

Second, are chapters still being used in a way that makes sense to me as a reader, or is the modern novel-writing standard antithetical to my reading (and therefore my novel-writing) aesthetic?

To me, the point of a chapter is to bring a reader to the end of a scene or a section where they can comfortably close the story to come back to later. But in many (almost all?) of the books I have read lately, it seems like chapters end right in the middle of something good. All the writing articles about chapters I found before writing this post (all three of them!) suggested ending chapters with cliffhangers to enhance narrative tension and keep readers turning pages.

I. Hate. This. Trend. Maybe I’m just twitchy about cliffhanger chapter endings because of that nightmare I had as a kid after my mom read to the end of the chapter where the goblins grab the dwarves from the cave and stopped; I don’t know. But as a reader, I want a chapter ending to indicate the closing of a section. You know, the idea that built the clichés “close the chapter on that part of life” and “start a new chapter in life.”

I understand the argument for cliffhanger chapter endings—to keep the reader reading. To me, however, stooping to such a technique smacks of insecurity as a writer. It implies that you don’t trust your story and your characters to be compelling enough to bring a reader back on their own. It assumes your reader is too distractible to keep reading without a nudge to their imagination. As a reader, I find it disrespectful. If I need a break, and none of the chapter endings are actually dips in the story, then I can’t use chapters as points to set the story down. I use scene breaks—which renders chapters pointless as a means of breaking a long story into less intimidating sections.

I can see good reasons for dividing some works into chapters. Novels which are heavily episodic, novels which are told from multiple points of view, novels which have a lot of strong breaks between scenes instead of soft transitions—chapter breaks (even, I grudgingly admit, cliffhangers) still make sense for these types of books. But a typical story? One with several scenes per chapter, no single event the chapter is built around, and no discernible internal denouement to break up the story? I am not sure there is still a point to using chapters, other than tradition.

Most printed novels will continue to default to the chapter breaks because they will lack a compelling reason not to. Any ebooks that also have a print version will continue to use chapters in order to have the same text as the print edition. But with digital only publications, I think we might see more books presented without chapters. Chapter divisions are not as necessary to the digital form as they are to the print—therefore they will likely come to be used when necessary to the story and left out otherwise.

The only argument for chapters specific to digital publishing is naviigation. Ebooks rely on the table of contents to move readers to the point they want to go in the file.

However. With digital text you can create a custom table of contents that links to whatever parts of the text you want it to. You might list the major scenes of the book and link to the beginning of those scenes. Such a list would enable a reader to go back and find a certain point in the story again, without inserting pointless divisions into the text.

For example, my chapterless novella would have (perhaps I mean will have, because I’ve quite talked myself into this idea) a TOC that looks something like this:

  • The Beginning
  • Sebastian’s Arrival
  • The Proposition
  • The Yule Log
  • Christmas Day
  • The Hunt
  • The Estate Tour
  • The Ball
  • Confronting the Viscount
  • The End
  • Epilogue

It doesn’t give away anything about the story that the “back cover” wouldn’t, but a reader looking for their place or wanting to re-read a section could easily find it.

Alternatively, I could clarify the timeline of a story, such as using date divisions that start on December 22 and run through December 30 (with an epilogue on January 5). Or I could be slightly less literal with the dates and label them “The First Day of Christmas,” “The Second Day of Christmas,” etc., or “Christmas Eve,” “Christmas Day,” “Boxing Day,” “Childermass,” etc.

The possibilities are myriad. I think digital-only books could end up becoming more unique entities than we have thus far allowed them to be. Forget all the bells and whistles of “enhanced” ebooks—let’s rethink the form of the book at a more basic level.

In other words…I think I just successfully argued myself into consigning chapters to the category of quaintly irrelevant artifacts. How novel.

Or go read it on the amwriting site.

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