Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Is the Cuckoo Calling, or Was It the Kookiness of Us?

Apparently the book scans sale numbers for The Cuckoo’s Calling were all of five hundred sales in the U.S.A. despite very strong reviews. The international numbers were 1,500 total. It would not have even gone to paperback from this major publisher. A smaller publisher would have viewed the 1,500 number less critically, but this is one of the now Big Five.

 J. K. Rowling protested that she was in no way behind this revelation, exposing this Robert Galbraith debut as her own, admittedly a debut for her in the genre of detective novels. I have good reason to think her publisher, however, most likely was behind the revelation. She may not need the money, (though her ego is another factor) but Little Brown & Company would not, ever, pass an opportunity for mega-sales when it is just right there for the taking.

 I doubt that without the pen-name-then-revelation strategy the sales (now) or the reviews (then) would have been as good as they are. So it is very possible this was a plan from the get-go. Someone will no doubt write a book (or two or three) about this when some who colluded will talk about it. 
I find that in the kid-lit community, those who adore her Harry Potter books and idolize Rowling, believe her official pronouncements of innocence, and of seeking liberation from her brand name, while the rest find it depressing that it is so advantageous to be a brand-name when it comes to sales, even of a well-reviewed book.

 To end on an upbeat note, I’ll start with the bad news we garner from this affair:
 First, The thinking of a writer as a brand. (“They can only write XYZ)
Second, the holding a debut to a different standard when reviewing. (As if the debut author has not been writing for ions before they got a book accepted for publication; they are not new to writing, only publishing.)
Finally, the mega-sales, (it’s No #1 or close to now)  all because of the writer’s name and the story-behind-the-story.
Three times questionable thinking…. When will we ever learn? Never. 
But I find a bright spot in this sort of exposé.  I am chuckling, and dreaming up possibilities.  A talented author got to write what she wanted to write, and the world has one more good detective story. This is a two times cause for celebration.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer Visions

©Shelagh Duffett

Y’all know by now that I am a fan of Shelagh Duffett’s folk art. She was DS’s discovery on EBay,  and continues to set my mind and heart in the right place, years later.

Aside from her vibrant unequivocal use of color, Ms. Duffett likes symmetry, and her art has the feeling of life set straight. Things in place. Everything makes sense.

Real life is messy, and we try to arrange it to make sense. We do it when we read or write academic papers. We do it when we explain anything and everything. Some of us do it when we clean and tidy our homes, (“speak for yourself…” well, not me) and I do it in my fiction writing.

But it’s summer. I’m trying to relax a bit and allow some fraying. I put my feet up, and let a day set for paying the bills go by, without. I get dinner on the table somewhat behind schedule, and the pasta is more than a little Al Mushy. My family eats it anyway.

It’s summer. It’s OK.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fact, Fiction, and Conspiracy Theories

Summertime-- and the living is easy. I spent a whole afternoon watching a series on YouTube, from Israeli television, about various conspiracies. I was familiar with some of the theories. Once I started, it was addictive. I, too, love a good story that ties all seemingly disparate ends together.

The problem with most conspiracy theories is that the facts are super shaky. That’s what makes them  theories, and really, not much more. Real conspiracies have always existed. But without clear verifiable facts it is not healthy to accept these theories.

A conspiracy theory usually follows the same Arab world logic regarding the Jews being behind 9/11: it looks at the results, who benefited, and concludes this was the culprit.
This I know: some people who are smart are also smart enough to know that when you unleash something, you cannot predict the results. Smart people are always very cautious for this reason.

The need to make sense of everything is behind these theories. That is what we humans always do. But the variables are too many, and it is humbling to accept that what should make sense doesn't always.
 It is pleasurable to spend hours making connections using what seems like logic, but no real facts to back it. When facts are missing or contradictory, one can always hide behind the conspiracy of the major news sources to hide things. 
Some people seek comfort by not thinking about things, others by making everything fit a neat package. They delude themselves that they are the chosen ones, willing to live without the lulling comforts the rest of humanity is slumbering and snoring to. 
But the conspiracy addicts are not different in the seeking of comfort. The impulse to have everything fit is their comfort zone.
I live with my ignorance and uncertainty, sometime better than other times. But I am certain, nay, very certain, that there is no Jewish Cabal, mafia, or conspiracy. Two Jews=three opinions is a whole lot closer to the truth. We don’t agree about much, and we are an argumentative people. Also “stiff necked,” as the Torah says.

 The communists killed more of each other than anybody else. The KGB was less efficient than we feared, not more. The Israeli Mossad has had more failures than successes. Do I have facts? Every firsthand-knowledge I happened to bump into in my short life (sometimes second hand) confirmed this.

 I know conspiracy addicts are not convince-able.  Gray is not very sexy; black & white is much more interesting. I know this as a storyteller too. Gray is a hard sell.
P. D. James explained the success of her detective stories as the need to have life's puzzles fit; all the pieces in place. It’s fiction, but the need to apply this to real life makes some cross the line.

I work on this in fiction.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Another REVISION? Or- You’re Kidding, Right?

Synopsis done. Two revisions by self, and two after Beta readers had a go at it. I should be getting into submission mode. 
But I’m not submitting, or submitting to the next phase, quite yet.
No, I don’t have the jitters. Well, maybe I do, but they mix with excitement of sending my new baby out into the world. I've submitted plenty before, and it was a good feeling. It freed me to work on something new.

Rather, it’s something else. I reflect on the feedback I got to my published MG, The Voice of Thunder, and realize that what readers noted they liked most were sections added in later revisions, both before and after acquisition.

A bit of distance is golden.

It’s going to sit in a virtual drawer for a bit. Then I’ll read my WIP as a reader. Experience tells me I will make changes, and they will be good ones. No matter how twitchy my fingers are to click the key over Send, (in the old days , only a few months ago, it was the tongue licking the envelope and the sound of that envelope sliding through the mailbox slot) regardless of how good it would feel to get it out already, this baby deserves another waltz with me.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Eleventh Commandment: CATEGORIZE

I forgot the movie, but in it there’s a scene in which a character orders their coffee at one of the franchises that invented their own lingo: “May I have a half-caf, venti, soy, blended, triple-shot Ristretto, skinny no-whip Machiatto?” 
The person at the counter nods and says, “Coming right up!”

To anyone who managed to stay out of those cafés, the above is a foreign language.
Publishing queries have their own lingo. It’s meant to be informative, but making sure it is can be daunting.

When writing a query, a pitch, or a synopsis, a writer must convey what sort of story they are offering. Is it a picture book (PB)? A chapter book (CB)? A novel for middle grades (MG)? A novel for young adults (YA)? A novel for older readers, like the twenty-somethings, now called the New Adults (NA)? Just a plain old novel for folks at the age of legal consent?
Not done yet, a writer must convey the genre. Is it a concept book (think colors and shapes, or  ABC and 1-2-3) or a story picture book? Is the chapter book part of a series? Is the MG, YA or NA novel a realistic, contemporary, historical, fantasy, magical, ghost, thriller, romance, humorous, psychological, or a mystery?

Actually, my current WIP (=work in progress) is all of the above. (Well, minus the romance. Sorry, it is a middle grade, after all.) 
I can just see this Dear Editor/Agent letter: "I am offering my scintillating can’t-put-it-down magical-realism contemporary ghost/psychological thriller with an historically nuanced mystery….”

I don’t think so.

I’m trying to box this thing, and make a box as nicely wrapped as possible. This, while making it a see-through wrapping.
Now you understand the challenge.
I think I need a Venti soy full-caf thing, a little crutch to get through this wrapping business.