Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Edits can be fun

Phew! After a whole day working on the new draft I deserve a little letting-off-steam time. Got through about twenty minutes ago, but I think I can see where I need to write a whole scene I
handled by having one character tell another- very briefly. I need that scene to give the whole a better balance. So tomorrow it is back to the drawing board and thinking caps on.

However, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed Janet Mullany's The Rules of Gentility. It's a Regency, but a Regency with a difference and a sly sense of humour. I must admit I've tried it before - only once - and put it away after the first few pages. But this time I must have been in a better mood, or a mood that matched the writing, and I loved it.

The opening lines will give you a taste of the style - after opening with the "truth universally acknowledged" line the heroine veers off into this: "I consider the pursuit of the bonnets and a husband fairly alike - I do not want to acquire an item that will wear out, or bore me after a brief acquaintance, and we must suit each other very well.....and of course, with a gentleman you cannot replace the trim from another to make the perfect object..."

I've begun Labyrinth (Kate Mosse) but I'm not sure about it as yet. It seems to take pages and pages to get at a chunk of story. Already I've begun to skip over the descriptions (endless, it seems) of food. And the little vignettes of everyday life in Caracassone. I may find they all tie in to the main storyline, but so far I doubt it. If I turned writing like this in to my critique group, I'm sure they would be wailing Too much - info dump - cut to the story. Yet because I enjoyed Sepulchre, I picked this volume up with great eagerness. Let's hope I get into the long swing of Labyrinth before too many more pages.

PS If you saw yesterday's photo, you should recognise today's close-up!

Monday, 30 March 2009

All work and no play

All work and no play at the moment, so I'm a very dull person.

I am working hard on editing KT and doing it carefully so as to increase pace. Some subtle plot twists are going in too, minor things, but important. Motivation, where it is lacking, I am firming up. It takes a lot of concentration. Writing first drafts is so much easier!

A kind friend loaned me a copy of Writing Romance by Vanessa Grant and I wish I'd read this before I tried to write for Mills & Boon! So much became clear as I huffed and puffed my way through. My reading was full of little light bulb moments as things I thought I'd understood became clear at last. It explained pacing, too.

I want to get this draft finished and sent off before Easter, and I should manage that. If I work hard and concentrate.

The picture is of All Saints church on Akenside Hill, taken from the Quayside. The body of the church is circular in shape, which is rather unusual. It was built 1786-96 to replace a medieval church on the site which dated from the 1200s. Deconsecrated in 1961 it was converted to offices and auditorium in 1983-84. I don't know what is happening to it at the moment, but it had scaffording around it not so long ago. I can sense another walk in the offing...

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Customs and Excise


HM Customs and Excise in Sandhill is responsible for collecting and administering customs and excise duties and VAT, and Commissioners of Customs were first set up in 1671. So, we have the office and badge on Newcastle's Quayside. The old building is tucked away further down the quayside.

There is mention of custom levies of 6 shillings and eightpence upon 300 wooollen skins, and the same for a sack of wool, in 1281. Henry le Escot and Peter Graper were appointed keepers of the king's customs in the town in 1298. There is a long history attached to the port of Tyne. Some day I might explore it. But not tonight.

We've been celebrating with a bottle of wine as the kitchen refurbishment is just about complete. New worktops in place, looking superb, sink plumbed in, and only the new hob to connect to the gas. Dh expects that will be an hour's work tomorrow.

I see interviews and documentaries on authors who write with a glass of wine to hand, but I can't do it. I can't concentrate. I'm fine for browsing blogs and catching up on gossip, but as for writing - no can do. I can even write blogs - as you see!- but the real stuff - no.
Looking north from the Quayside up to the All Saints church.

My reading lately has been ecletic to say the least. Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen I got though only by dint of skipping many, many pages of gore. Important to show the cause of transmitting infections, I agree, but not for me. Jo Beverley's Dark Champion I enjoyed on my Sony Reader. Jayne Ann Krentzt's White Lies I enjoyed too, but if you had hidden the book in a plain cover and taken off all the identification, I'd have guessed I was reading Nora Roberts. The styles are very similar. PTQ in abundance, good characterization, interesting story, bitingly modern, and very American. I must try and get the third of Ms Roberts' Pagan Stone trilogy and get to the end of the story, though I fear Ms Roberts has no very clear idea of the demon hidden in the Hollow. There was also a good deal of padding in the second volume. Oh, it was interesting enough, but not absolutely vital. If I thought certain paragraphs and pages were added to reach a word count, I wonder if I'd be called cynical?

I have a good haul of books from my library this time. (I also noted that Northumberland has gone all PC and included a book on Lesbian romances and a book on Gay romances. I smiled to myself as I saw that each was absolutely pristine and untouched by borrowers hand.)

Monday, 23 March 2009

Edits and kitchens


A lone fisherman on the banks of the Tyne no doubt hoping for a spring run salmon.

After six days of reading everything I could lay my hands on, I think I have a handle on what I need to do with KT. Cut for pace as they say in the trade. I have cut. I've also improved what was there by re-writing some dialogue, sharpening up the interaction between the characters, by having the hero share info on the villain much earlier. Now when the readers meet him, they will already have expectations of him. The heroine, of course, isn't privy to the information. So, I'll let that simmer for a couple of days and then go back to it.


On other topics, I'm happy to see that Nadal has won the championship at Indian Wells in California. Murray did well to get to the final and can be happy he beat Federer on the way even if he couldn't handle both Nadal and the 40 mph wind.


On the home front we are having new counter tops installed in the kitchen as I write. The sink has been out of action since Saturday morning as hubby wanted to be sure he could isolate the water supply - which means we have water everywhere else but the kitchen sink - without any hitches. He succeeded, and I can't tell you how many times I've turned to empty coffee dregs into the sink and realised just in time that it isn't plumbed to the waste outlet any more. Grrr.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Ouseburn and pacing

More bridges, this time where the Ouseburn runs into the Tyne, less than a mile and a half from the Tyne bridge, but tucked away out of sight. Although the pub looks as if it is sitting on the bridge, I assure you is not. The strange ovoid shaped piece of white metal is part of the barrage they are busy putting into place to keep the water level constant upstream. At low tide the banks of the burn are an unsightly mess of mud. Once the barrage is in place, it will look much better.
Before I forget - I have an excerpt on Unusual Historicals today - or maybe yesterday now! Do have a look. It's a bit from Dark Pool, my story set in Viking Dublin.

The weather has been so good this week that I've been out gardening every day, but now it is time to get back to work. I've been having doubts about the opening chpaters of KT so whilst gardening I've been simmering about what to do. I've had the old notebooks out, checking the words of masters like McKee, Bransford and Maas on things like pacing and conflict. I've pickedup some lovely quotes along the way. "Pacing is the rhythm of a novel." Well, yes, but it doesn't tell you how to achieve good pacing, does it? "Pacing is the length of time between moments of conflict." That gives me a clue. "The rate the reader reads." "The speed at which the novel events occur and unfold." What speeds up pace? Dialogue. Now we're getting somewhere.

Bradbury says: "Start where things start to go wrong." So, I'm rethinking the opening pages. Much as I love them, there is no real hook there to grab the reader, no hint of plot. Of course, this book started out as a romance, pure and simple. Now it has morphed into something else. Since I'm a start-at-the-beginning-and-work-through-to-the-end sort of writer, then those first pages are the oldest bits of writing.

Bransford says "without conflict the book is DOA." His way of putting things is sharp and dead on the money, and I must now go back and look at my beginning.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Work and bridges

Work is progressing nicely. I'm still fiddling about with KT as it goes through the critique group, but the real concentration is now on reworking Shadows into something more worthwhile. The original word count was 54,000 and that seems way too low, and I think even lower than that for the original Triskelion publication. No wonder one reviewer called it a novella.

But a writer's life is a constant learning curve. What seemed fine then seems weak now. The surprise is that it is only two years ago, maybe three.

Right now I'm working out the plot on a Snyder-style sheet and it is going well. Lots of scope for using coloured pens, which makes me feel industrious and creative. But seriously, the conflict is definitely beefed up and it is easy keeping track of plot-points via the worksheet. Sometimes it can be hard to remember exactly where in the story an important move is made, but this way makes it easy. No longer am I wondering 'did he say that before she went into town, or after she fell in the pool?' Now I check the sheet and there it is.

I'm debating changing the KT title to something more explanatory. Someone asked me what Keep Trust meant, what kind of story did it hint at?
It is the motto of an old Scottish house and of course it means that if you make a promise you keep it.
Originally I thought that would be quite clear, but now I'm not so sure. Perhaps Shadows deserves a new title, too. I wonder how much has to be re-written before it is classed as a "new work?" I suppose there will be a definition somewhere out there. I'd better go check.

I hinted a few days ago that Newcastle was a city of bridges. Well, here are a few shots to give you a taste. The one to the right is a shot from the east end of Newcastle Quayside, looking west towards the Sage (the silver slug) and the newest Millenium bridge.
Behind that are the older bridges.
The shot through the trees is of the iconic Tyne Bridge (1929).
The third picture show the the Swing bridge (1873) and the High Level bridge (1848) with a train going over the top. The road runs on the lower level. Behind that is the Metro Rail bridge, otherwise known as The Queen Elizabeth Bridge (1981).
There's another bridge beyond that - the Redheugh Road Bridge pronounced [ˈrɛdhju:f]) opened in 1983.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sacrifice

Sharon J Bolton is the author of the book - Sacrifice - I most enjoyed recently. I suppose it slips into the forensic thriller genre. This is not one I dip into regularly, though I have read Tess Gerritsen recently and the less forensic, straighter horror novels of Stephen King and Dean Koontz some time ago. Usually I find a little goes a long way and I don't need a regular supply of horrors.

The story is set in Shetland and the heroine is Tora, a consultant obstetricain who longs for her own baby but seems destinied not to conceive. In chapter one she unearths a corpse, obviously murdered. Well, the heart has been removed, so it seems a reasonable assumption. The woman gave birth days before dying. Her body bears runes carved into her back - runes Tora has seen carved into the mantel in the cellar of her house.
Small incidents escalate, rattle the nerves and arouse Tora's fighting spirit. What happened to the woman, and the child? What is the connection to the house she lives in? Why is there a strange reticence among the population of Shetland to discuss the problem? When she hears of other women who have disappeared when pregnant, she cannot leave the problem alone.

It is beautifully written - the sort of writing you don't notice over much because it is so fit for purpose. The deeds are spine-chillingly awful but the author does not describe gory details, for which I give thanks; to hint and leave to the imagination is often better than blood following the knife. The grand final is nerve-biting and kept me turning pages to find the answer, reading late into the night. As a first novel, it is astonishly good. I shall be looking for the next title - Awakening.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Rejections and book prices

Rejections - who likes 'em? No one I know, especially when they come back as a pre-printed slip with a two boxes, one ticked, and thereby supposed to offer some sort of explanation for the rejection. It may be me, but "carefully considered but not something we wish to pursue at the moment" is not especially helpful. That they don't wish to pursue is inherent in the mere fact that the submission has been returned. But one has to accept these things and move on. I still have 3 more replies to look forward to in the near future. Oh, joy!

After a dearth of good reading matter, I've found something that is holding my attention. Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton. New author, not anyone I know anything about, and a thriller rather than a romance. Hints of the paranormal, or is it men up to no good? Page 199 and I can't tell yet. Tell you more when I reach the end. So far it had me reading till almost 3am last night.

I bought/downloaded one of Jo Beverley's titles yesterday. It is ages since I read one, and now I have my Sony reader, I really ought to download more. However, I find I get annoyed when publishers expect me to pay the same price for a download as I would for the paperback. To my mind, that is not on. The paper, printing and distribution costs have vanished, so why is the item not at least half price? One effect of the recession is supposed to be that people will turn back to reading as a relatively cheap form of entertainment ~ as opposed to a meal out, a cinema ticket, a few drinks at the pub. Another is that it will also favour e-books, as they are cheaper still. I may be alone in this view, but if the cost of the download is the same as the paperback, then I'll wait and buy the paperback. Then at least I will have a real book in my hands.

Having never read Mrs Gaskell, Larkrise to to Candleford is a real joy to watch and brightens my Sunday evenings. Something tells me I ought to read the original, but in a way I'm almost afraid to in case I don't enjoy it. Every library I've ever worked in had a copy on the shelves, but few ever borrowed them, and hey - I never read what I was supposed to read. I was the one always delving in odd literary corners to find the unexpected. I've managed to get by without reading Dickens (except for A Christmas Carol), most of Thomas Hardy (only the Trumpet Major) and instead found small masterpieces such as Farewell Gul'sary, A Speckled Bird, Oblomov, The Small Dark Man by Maurice Walsh and many more. I really must look them up and see if I can still find them, even if I can't remember the name of the authors.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Fictionwise and Barnes and Noble

Believe it or not the three seagulls lined up beside the ice-cream van at Whitley Bay were not the man's only customers. As we drove away a woman went and bought a fistful of ice-cream cornets. It made my teeth ache to think of eating it on such a cold day.

The news yesterday ~ Barnes & Noble have bought out Fictionwise. I have two titles there and so do many other e-published writers.

Here's a few sentences from the press release:
Barnes & Noble, Inc. the world’s largest bookseller, has acquired Fictionwise, a leader in the e-book marketplace, for $15.7 million in cash. Barnes & Noble said it plans to use Fictionwise as part of its overall digital strategy, which includes the launch of an e-Bookstore later this year.

Headquartered (another of those noun into verb contortions I've been noticing lately) in New Jersey, Fictionwise was founded in 2000 by Steve and Scott Pendergrast. Barnes & Noble intends to keep Fictionwise as a separate business unit and the founders will continue to operate the business.
Barnes & Noble, Inc. operate 799 bookstores in 50 states and (http://www.bn.com/), one of the Web’s largest e-commerce sites.

It seems that the bookworld in general is in favour of the move and sees it as another big push for the e-book market. Nathan Bransford, if I'm interpreting his blog comments correctly, sees the worldwide recession as a boost for e-books since they cost considerably than paper books at a time when people have less dosh to spend.
So, maybe a good thing for authors to keep a foot in both camps.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Switching and pitching

The cold weather is back again, and this cold grey pic of the Tyne estuary says it all, I think. My toes are cold while I sit here in our smallest bedroom (easiest to keep warm, and my study) and type this because we are trying not to use the central heating overmuch. It is expensive now to run it like we used to. I am trying to ignore the fact that I have to visit the dentist this morning. I can safely say I am not looking forward to that.

So, I concentrate on working. I have three completed stories and I'm working on them all.
It's not exactly revision, except for Shadows. An e-publisher in the States has asked if I can escalate the internal conflict between H/h, so I'm going through and giving the pair of them a tougher time. Keep Trust lacks plainly stated goals/motivation on the page, according to my critique group, and I think they're right, so I'm going through and doing that before (I hope!) I get any bites from the partials out on the story.
Happily I finished my final revisions on Till The Day Go Down yesterday and it is with my publisher awaiting his comments. So now I'm working on two stories instead of three. It works quite well, for switching, I find, prevents boredom.

I read an interesting comment yesterday about the difference between marketing and publicity. The former is mostly selling what you don't have and teasing peoples' interest in it. The latter is selling something you do have. So once a book is published, Marketing becomes Publicity.

Marketing is the interesting bit. We're told to Pitch to Editors - should we ever see these rare creatures. If I lived in London it might be a possibility, but here in Tyne & Wear I doubt there's two to meet together. There is a poetry publisher - Bloodaxe Books - and I remember the man who runs it was at uni when I was there. There's also Myrmidon and Ed Handysides, but I hear little of them and he is not into publishing romances.

Back to the main point. Pitch to Editors. Boil our story down to a couple of sentences we can tell others and get them interested. Invent a catchy slogan or a tight logline that hints at the beginning, middle, and end of our hero’s adventure, and this will give a better chance of selling the project. They say the discipline of doing this makes the writing of the story so much better as well, but since I haven't come up with a good logline yet for any of the three books I've written, I can see that disaster looms on the horizon.
So, life was never so easy as to cross a field.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Literary and commercial fiction

OK, so here's what I've learned in my exploration of fiction and its definitions.

First of all, fiction divides into literary and commercial.

Commercial fiction is broad and covers subgenres such as mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, and so on.
Examples: John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, and Jackie Collins.

Literary fiction appeals to a smaller audience. It can fall into subgenres but excellent writing, originality of thought, and unusual style makes it different from commercial fiction.
Example: Charles Frazier, Toni Morrision, Barbara Kingsolver, John LeCarre, and Saul Bellow.

Mainstream fiction describes both commercial and literary works. Usually set in the 20th or present-day 21st century and with a universal theme such as family issues, coming of age initiations, courtroom dramas, career matters, physical and mental disabilities, social pressures, political intrigue, and more. Regardless of original genre or category, most of the novels that appear on the bestseller list are considered mainstream, whether the author is Sue Grafton, Arundhati Roy, Michael Crichton, or David Guterson.

Popular fiction has defined categories of appeal to specific audiences. These are classed as genre fiction, each with its own set of rules and conventions.

Mystery
Mysteries focus on a crime, usually murder. subgenres include spy, detective, and crime stories. Examples: Carl Hiaason, James Ellroy, Robert Parker, James Lee Burke, and Elmore Leonard.

Romance
Romance, the largest, most diverse, and most popular of the commercial genres diverts and entertains women. Romance novels contain elements of fantasy, love, naïveté, extravagance, adventure, and a hero who overcomes impossible odds to be with his true love. Subgenres of romance include regency, historical, bodice rippers, and contemporary. For historical detail and settings, read a regency or historical romance. For tempestuous relationships you want bodice rippers .
Example: Barbara Cartland, Jude Deveraux, Victoria Holt, Daphne Du Maurier, and Danielle Steele.

Women's fiction
Publishers and booksellers have identified a category within the mainstream that they classify as Women's Fiction. Some key characteristics include a focus on relationships, one or more strong female protagonists, women triumphing over unbearable circumstances, and the experiences of women unified in some way.
Examples: Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anne Rivers Siddons, Alice McDermott, Judith Krantz, Anne Tyler, Rebecca Wells, and Alice Hoffman.

Category fiction is often used as a synonym for genre fiction such as Westerns or Thrillers. " Category romance are short and published in clearly marked categories, often labelled sequentially. Harlequin/Mills & Boon is the biggest publisher of category romances, releasing 500 titles a month in 25 different languages.