Unhinged Usage

For those interested, I’ve probably started a new series. Short stories so far, but then that’s how both The Laws of Power and the Yamada series started. I’ve already sold the first one and finished the first draft of the second. Otherwise there’s not a lot to say about it right now. I’ll give more details when we’re closer to publication day. Of course things can get derailed; that’s always a possibility, but so far it looks promising.

I’ve never been a member of the grammar police (no segue for you); which is probably a good thing, as my punctuation usually doesn’t meet ALA standards, and I’m okay with that. My bugaboo, my pet peeve and constant irritant is usage. This started early. Back in the stone age there was such a thing as Saturday Morning Cartoons, and one of my earlier memories was fussing at the intro to one of my favorite cartoons which always used “transferred” when they meant “transformed.” I knew they couldn’t hear me, but I fussed anyway. Which, looking back with 20-20 hindsight, was probably my first hint that I was going to write. Mark Twain talked about usage in the context of writing effectively: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

Twain was right on this, just as he was right about a lot of things. But to this quote I’d add another: “The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between a well-oiled machine and a machine with sand in its gears.” Not “almost right” word. WRONG word. Not only does the machine not work, the sand gets into everything and is extremely irritating. Continue reading

The Joys of Revision

WRITING 02In the olden days—maybe no further back than the sixties and seventies—writers used to brag about never having to revise. “First drafts are final” was the saying. Which made sense only a little further back in time during the pulp era when you were trying to make a living writing for 50+ different pulp magazines at a penny a word. Spend too much time revising and you’d spend the rest starving. I imagine a lot of that attitude was a holdover from those halcyon days but, as a more recent wisdom has it “Writing is revising.” Also not completely true on the face of it. Without a first draft, there is no revising. It’s more accurate to say writing begins with the first draft, it just doesn’t end there. It’s called “first draft” for a reason. Continue reading

The Biter Bit

Snow-Jan-2014There was a time when I considered myself primarily a short story writer. I mean, other than the occasional review, that was mostly what I did and what I was, above all else and proud of it. This despite the fact that I had written over ten novels at the time, which of course I did not consider a contradiction. A story was a story, and some were longer than others. That was all there was to it, so far as I was concerned. However, I did have clear ideas about what was and was not a short story, none of which would fit into any academic definition. I knew one when I read one, contrariwise I knew when one wasn’t and tended to get a little miffed when I read a story in a magazine or collection, said story not living up to my own personal definition. “That’s not a short story, it’s an excerpt from a novel!” was my rallying cry.

So how did I know this? I didn’t, really. It was just something that seemed obvious to me. Someone clipped out a section of a novel, maybe smoothed the edges over a bit, emphasized the self-contained elements and downplayed those which implied matters outside itself in a cynical ploy to pick up a quick check and possibly some free advertising for the eventual book. Sometimes I’d give them a break because I knew the writer was primarily a novelist and probably couldn’t write a proper short story with a gun to their head. Ahem. As I said, it used to annoy me a little. I mean, if you’re in a short story market, write an actual short story, not this patchwork pretender!

Yeah, about that… Continue reading

Grist For the Mill

snow-eastwindowWell, I had planned to start this post in the morning, but the winter storm Orson hitting the northeast sort of delayed everything. I hear it was and is much worse further east of us, but here in central New York State it snowed all day yesterday and all last night, and part of the morning, so this morning was given over to removing about a foot of snow from our walkway, steps, and driveway. I’m starting to get the hang of it, I think, but shoveling snow is a new skillset for me. Straight-handled shovel for pushing, bent-handle for lifting and carrying reduces the amount of bending necessary. I have a little electric snowblower that works surprisingly well, but even it can’t handle a foot of snow at a time unless you shovel a part for it first so you can split off the snow in manageable slices for the blower.

Yes, I know this is old hat for a lot of you, but consider—I’m a southerner, born and raised. We only saw snow very occasionally. In my entire childhood I can remember three good snows. Three. I never owned a snow shovel. I didn’t know anyone who did. Now I own two, and a snowblower. In Mississippi, 3-4 inches of snow would have shut down the entire state, with runs on the grocery shelves because the snowpocalypse had arrived. I know the state owned a snowplow, because I saw it. Once. Never saw it being used. A little sand on the bridges was about the most anyone could think to do. Here, naturally, 3-4 inches is barely worth mentioning. A foot or more, otoh, has to be dealt with.

It’s still a new experience for me, and that’s a good thing. Writers need new experiences, almost as much as they need to sit their butts in the chair and get writing. It was once said that a writer is a person who can watch a cat stalking a mouse and then write a scene capturing what it would be like to be stalked by a tiger. I dunno about that, but in the story I’m working on now there’s a scene where our heroes(?) are trudging through snow, freezing their butts off  to get a job done.

I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble with that scene.

P.S. In the picture above, that white fog? Yeah. That’s falling snow.

Remembering Good Things

Front_cover3Now that the second file cabinet is a file cabinet and not just a pile of particle board, it was time to transfer the last of my paper files from the box they were living and traveling in to their new home. Which naturally involved going through them all during the transfer process. I’d already done one huge purge before we moved, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make more space. After all, most files are electronic these days, even if paper is still best suited for some things, aside from the recycle bin. Sure enough, several times I ran across folders full of errata that had me scratching my head. “Why, in the name of all that’s holy, did I save that?”

Yet there were many more instances where the question didn’t even come up. Like back in the day when Parke Godwin sent me an example of a novel pitch he used when selling one of the wonderful Arthurian novels he did. As I’ve said before, what little I know about writing novel synopsis and pitching, I learned from him. Or copies of (rare) fan letters, including one for my first collection, The Ogre’s Wife from one of my favorite artists. It was a boost, at a time I really needed one. As with my good fortune in marrying First Reader, and the help and encouragement—and Dutch Uncle severity, when needed—I got from Pete Godwin, you can’t always depend on those things along the way. So when it happens, count yourself lucky, and don’t forget. Pass it on when you can, but above all, be aware.

We like to talk about writing as a solitary profession, and mostly it is. So often it’s just you, putting your butt in the chair and facing down the blank page/screen. Yet now and then along the way, alongside the confused/bad reviews and rejections, odds are you’re going to get a hand up. Sure, be proud of what you’ve accomplished, since you did almost all of it yourself. Just remember the “almost” part and don’t forget to be grateful.