Mark Terry

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Writing Fun?

January 31, 2010
I spent most of the weekend at the Winter Retreat for Sanchin-ryu, the karate style I have been studying for over five years. It was at a former Holiday Inn Conference Center near Lansing, Michigan and involved 3 two-hour workouts on Saturday and a two-hour workout Sunday morning, which I didn't attend because I was more intent on sleep, breakfast, driving home, and the fact that I felt as creaky as a 90-year-old grandma.

I learned a tremendous amount. Chief Grand Master Robert Dearman, who developed the style, noted that we weren't expected to learn everything, we should keep an open mind and whatever percolated to the top of our heads was ours. Luckily, I think a lot was percolating up, from fairly esoteric things like foot placement after star steps and new approaches to a number of forms, etc.

During one of his talks (CGM Dearman does love to talk) during one of the workouts he talked about how sometimes people will say, "Well, when it stops being fun I'll quit."

He then went on to say that his response to that is, if that's how you really feel, you should just quit now and save yourself the time and trouble, because eventually, it's inevitable that you won't have any fun. Sanchin-ryu, he noted, like many things (including marriage, one of his common reference points) is not always fun. It has its ups-and-downs. It's rewarding, often entertaining, but not always fun.

Wow, I bet you clever folk know where I'm going with this.

Granted, I'm really, really tired today. I slept like crap last night after 6-hours of workouts because, well, I often sleep like crap in hotels these days, plus there seemed to be a wild party and lots of screaming children going on all throughout the hotel pretty much all night long. Whether it was Sanchin-ryu folks, the other group having a conference, or something to do with Vegas Night being held there, I don't know.

Anyway, in case you haven't heard, there's a very large brou-ha-ha (how often do you get to use that word?) going on between Amazon and publisher MacMillan over eBook pricing, to the extent that apparently Amazon, rather than negotiating, made it impossible for people to order eBooks published by MacMillan. (Which hurts MacMillan, but has the potential to totally fuck over writers, so thanks Amazon--I order the majority of the books I buy from you, but I may be reconsidering that, and I'm not even published by MacMillan; but why should I order books from a bully when I have other options?)

My reaction to this--and yes, I'm tired--was, Aw, I'm too tired to deal with all this shit. This shit being: arranging my busy schedule to write fiction, go through the rejection process continually, make precious little money off it, throw money at marketing and promotion, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

And I did think about CGM Dearman's comments about it not always being fun. And friends, novel writing isn't always fun. Even the words-on-screen/paper aspect, which I love. But the business end, the fact that we're currently in the middle of an enormous implosion of the publishing industry as we know it ... it makes me want to just throw up my hands and say, "Christ, let the publishers work it out. I'm going to go concentrate on the stuff that works for me."

But I won't. I'll keep hammering away at it, probably. Because, although not always fun, it's usually pretty rewarding.

Friday, January 29, 2010

International Pick On Stephen Parrish Day

January 29, 2010

My friend Stephen Parrish has his first novel coming out in a couple months. For no other reason than I want to, I have announced today is Pick on Stephen Parrish Day. Let's start by filling in the blank ala Lloyd Benson: I know Stephen Parrish and he's no:

Thursday, January 28, 2010


January 28, 2010
Those of you old enough to remember George H.W. Bush as president of the U.S. might remember that when he was campaigning against Bill Clinton he got into trouble for his "lack of vision." I sort of liked HW (more than his son, that's for damned sure), because I like competent administrators and technocrats in office, and that was a decent description of HW. It's not exactly leadership--that generally requires vision--but it's possible to have a leader with vision that's such an incompetent administrator that he runs his ship into an iceberg because he thinks it's unsinkable. (Oops, guess my vision had a few flaws. Sorry.)

Anyway, I sat down and did some work on my SF novel last night, A Plague of Stars, and I thought, "Whether this is good or not, whether it's publishable or not, my vision for this story is strong and clear."

I know exactly what I want this story to be (I don't know exactly what it IS, I'm finding out as I go along, but I know what I want it to be). I want it to be textured. I want it to be part adventure, part political thriller. I want the culture I'm writing about, primarily the Travoshians on Vatkan, to seem complex enough to be real. I want their religion and politics to be complicated and not one-note. One thing that often annoys me about SF, at least some of it, is how you've got a single planet with a single religion or political machine and there's no shades of gray in it. My experience with both politics and religion is that once you get more than one person involved, you get more than one version of the politics or religions. There's good guys and bad guys, nobody in between. I want a LOT of in between. I want to understand that even though these are bad guys, they're complicated; I want even the good guys to have some complexity to why they're doing what they're doing, to have some ambivalence about the path they're on. I want it to be fun--I want it to have enough action and adventure with battles and attacks and gee-whiz stuff in it to satisfy an SF geek, but have enough politics and anthropology and complexity to satisfy, well, me.

I have a vision for this book. And one of the reasons I'm bothering to write about it is because I think my vision for this book is more ambitious and complicated than some of my others. I hope that's a good thing. And I hope it will cross-pollinate to some of my other books, including the Derek Stillwater thrillers.

So. Do you have a vision?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where's the focus?

January 27, 2010
Regular readers of this blog (and yes, there must be more than two or three of you, right?) must realize that I focus, in my fiction, rather a lot on how difficult it is to make money doing it. Granted, for people struggling just to get published, their sympathy must be close to zero. Still, you can't struggle for years to get published, finally get published, get offered $1000 for something you spent 12 months working on and be completely pleased with the outcome, financially.

I think about this a lot. I suspect, even if I weren't a full-time writer dependent upon my writing for car payments, mortgage payments, heating bills, gas in my car, food on my table, and the occasional vacation, I'd still obsess about the money end of fiction writing, such as it is.

If nothing else, how much we get paid is a score card.

And yet, the other day I was thinking of Robert B. Parker's long list of books--and he was notoriously honest about working for money, the more the better--and thinking how if you keep at it and have a little luck you'll have a large body of work, a collection of your day dreams bound on your shelf, or perhaps, in the future, digitized (so one good computer crash or power outage can wipe out your entire legacy, oy vey, ain't technology grand?).

Today I picked up the book ZEN GUITAR by Philip Toshio Sudo. I read a section or two every couple days, particularly when I'm looking for some sort of emotional/psychological/mystical guidance (thanks, Spy). And today I read:

"Many people today are obsessed with the bottom line. We see students who focus on getting the right report card grades rather than learning; business executives who sacrifice research and development monies for better quarterly profits; musicians who compromise their music in order to land a recording contract.

"In this dojo, there is no bottom line. How we do something here matters more than the end result. The black-belt guitarist knows to focus on the process, not the product.

"Most things in life lie beyond our control--we can't simply snap our fingers and produce the desired result. All we can do is perform our duties the best way we know how. If we do things the right way and our spirit is correct, the results won't matter. We can hold our heads high regardless of the outcome.

"In Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, the fisherman Santiago goes eighty-four days without catching a fish. Yet throughout the dry spell he stays focused on the process--the proper way to catch a fish. He fishes the right spots. He keeps his lines precisely at the right depth. In this way, he knows the drought is no fault of his own. 'I would rather be exact,' the old man says. 'Then when the luck comes you are ready.' This is the way a black belt approaches Zen Guitar."

Recently, I got an assignment from one of my biggest clients to write a report for a private company. Essentially the client is acting as a middle man for this company. I'm being paid $10,000 for the project, but the client, in letting me see the entire proposal, inadvertently showed me that the company is paying $55,000 for the whole project. (This isn't about economies of scale and how writers are underpaid, although I suppose that's a consideration. It does put me in a position of being more knowledgeable in the future--as well as considering peddling my wares directly to customers instead of through publishers, but that's a different topic for a different day). I got a little stressed, not about the project per se, but about the fact that there was so much money on the line, that somehow this company was expecting $55,000 worth of report. Granted, the company makes about $200 billion annually, so they probably spend more than $55,000 a year on paper clips. But the point is, once I stopped hyperventilating about that, I started focusing on the actual report, on the process of doing what I regularly do. And I realized that, ultimately, I'll give them the best I can within the time limits of the project, and they'll have to be happy with that. I can't actually give them more than my best, can I? I can only do what I've done time and again, as well as I can, focusing on the process that everybody thinks delivers what they want in the first place.

So focus on being the best writer you can, telling the best story you can. And living with the results, no matter what they are. (And consider asking for more money).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That's A Career, Man!

January 26, 2010
I was directed to a blog that had a bunch of crime novelists honoring Robert B. Parker, the author of the Spenser novels (and many others) who passed away last week at the age of 77 (while working at his desk). Parker easily falls into my top 3 favorite authors--Robert B. Parker, Dick Francis, and John Sandford, I guess, although really, it's almost impossible to narrow it down. I just know that for many years I have ordered or bought their books in hard cover as soon as they come out and read them with great pleasure as soon as possible. There are certainly others in that list, including Jonathan Kellerman and Sue Grafton, although Grafton's last couple books haven't done much for me. In fact, Parker's last few books haven't fallen into his "best of" category.

On the other hand, I bothered to count--I've read 54 books written by Robert B. Parker. 54! Hell, most of us, even if we've written only 4 or 5 (or 2) that get published, the quality may vary slightly. To expect a home run every time out over the course of 60-some books is expecting a lot.

Occasionally I realize, hey, I'm a novelist. I've had published:

CATFISH GURU (a collection of 2 novellas)

and upcoming are:

and I published an e-book for the Kindle:

So I guess I'm doing okay.

But I remember opening a novel by Robert B. Parker, and having the same reaction I'd had when I opened a novel by the late Ed McBain or Dick Francis (now co-writing them with his son, Felix, since Dick is in his 80s) and looked at all the books they'd written and had published over the years and saying to myself, "That's a career, man!"

I know that a lot of us would sort of like a career like Dan Brown--5 novels published, with one being a phenomenon that launched all the other books into the stratosphere. I mean, yeah, I wouldn't mind being a uber-bestseller, at least if I could avoid the stalkers and plagiarism lawsuits. There's certainly a downside to that kind of success and I'd rather avoid that kind of infamy so I could stay out of courtrooms and leave my house without people following me or coming up to me at restaurants. Ick.

I'd much rather have a career like Parker or McBain, like Grafton and Dick Francis, like Stephen King and others. A long, successful career with a trail of books following comet-like behind me.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

When In The World?

January 24, 2010
I'm a sucker for a good time travel novel. Currently I'm reading Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt. I find it very compelling, although I don't know if I would call it a great novel.

The premise is that it's 2018 and Shel Shelbourne's father, Michael, a physicist, has invented a couple time machines, which resemble Gameboys (or Q-pods, as he calls them). His father disappears and Shel, a sort of failed PhD physicist and his friend Dave, a professor of Greek and Latin and other languages, go looking for him through time. Sort of, because they quickly realize there's a whole lot of time and places to search and the only clues they really have is Michael's interest in certain historical events and people--Galileo, the March on Selma Alabama, Thomas Paine, etc.

Now, the limits of the machines are about 35,000 years in the past and 35,000 years in the future, although they very rarely go into the future for fear of what they might find out.

Anyway, I was thinking, if you had a time machine and could go anywhere in the past, what events would you want to see? And I'm not even going to put the 35,000 year limit on it, because, well, I'd sort of like to see dinosaurs, at least if I could do so without getting eaten.

As for the future, I haven't quite figured out why neither of these guys hasn't jumped into the future to identify some Lotto numbers or stock market jumps yet. I probably would.

So anyway, top 5 historical events you would visit?

1. Dinosaurs, somewhere back there.

2. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

3. Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.

4. Anasazi at Chaco Canyon. (Maybe toward the end, when they all disappeared)

5. Continental Congress when they decide to declare independence.

I gotta tell you, it's hard to stop, and I only touched on some European things. What about you?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Come Up With A Caption!

January 21, 2010
This is my good friend (and college roommate) Andy, who sent me this photograph today. Your challenge today is to come up with a caption. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


January 19, 2010
Well, my agent got back to me and said she didn't like it, didn't feel it was at the same level as my other work (which I disagree with).


Beats me. I'm not pissed. I just had to roll my eyes, because I have yet to show her an incomplete work she liked.

I do know this. I've got 6-8 weeks to write a very long market research report that's getting off to a slow start. I've got a nonfiction book manuscript to finish by the end of April that's only 20-25% completed, if that. I've got miscellaneous other writing things to deal with.

So maybe I'll focus on paying gigs and set aside writing fiction on spec for a while. Or not.

Oh, and if you didn't visit the provocative agent blog post, you should.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Better Than Good

January 18, 2010
I was trying to pick my agent's brain a couple days ago about her thoughts on some story ideas I have. In a lot of ways I hate doing this, because if she gives me a thumb's down it'll kill the project, whether I love it or not. On the other hand, I don't have the energy these days to write 100,000 words if she's going to say, "I can't sell this" or "Doesn't work for me" and I could have had her look at the first 25,000 words.

So she asked to see what I'd done on the idea that caught her attention, but she also said it was up to me, perhaps understanding that I had some trepidation about this (and I do).

So I sent her the first 180 pages of the wip.

Today I was working on it and I took some time to start back at the beginning and remind myself what my agent would be confronting in the first 30 to 50 pages of the manuscript. And as I was reading it, I thought, "This is better than good."

And maybe it is. I can't always tell, but I do know that sometimes my own work doesn't hold my attention, a sure sign that either it's not as good as I hoped or I'm too close to the work (which might be the reverse of those people who think everything they write is golden prose pooped out by the muses, but my brain doesn't necessarily work that way). But there were a lot of things about it that I really liked and, often a sign of things going well, I think, some things I'd written that caught me slightly off guard, little details or observations or things that made me raise my eyebrows and say, "Hey, interesting." Christ, you'd think I hadn't written it myself, but sometimes it's interesting to read your stuff and find yourself being surprised.

So I hope my agent feels the same way.

How about you? Have you ever thought stuff was pretty good only to re-read it and think, "Wow, this is a lot better than I thought it was?"

And conversely, have you read something you thought was pretty good and thought it was recycled dreck?

Update: On a related note, here's a blog post about agents that, if nothing else, is provocative.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Finding The Time

January 15, 2010
This may sound surprising, but as a full-time freelancer, sometimes it's hard to find the time to work on fiction. It's the Return-On-Investment factor, by and large; I have deadlines sooner, more pressing, and more lucrative than my fiction work a lot of times, so I try to prioritize and sometimes fiction really gets squeezed. But I try to fit some time in, even if it's in the evening after dinner.

I recently took on a big, important project with a short timetable, but I definitely want to keep the momentum up on two novels I'm working on (and I need to finish some edits on Valley of the Shadows soon). Today I dropped off the boys at school, found myself slightly ahead of schedule, so I decided to give myself 30 minutes on the laptop working on one of the novels. So from 7:30 to 8:00 I worked on fiction.

Sometimes I'll give it an hour early in the day, occasionally after lunch, sometimes at the end of the day, but this new project and several ongoing projects are forcing me to be more organized about how I do things, so that's what I did today.

When I was a full-time employee at Henry Ford Hospital I typically did my writing at night after dinner and/or spending time with the family. Sometimes it would be 9:30 or 10:00 and I wouldn't feel like writing, but I'd tell myself to sit down and just write a page. Often I ended up writing more, but I knew that if I would just sit my ass down and turn on the computer, I'd get through the page in very little time at all. The bulk of The Devil's Pitchfork was actually written long-hand on yellow legal pads during my lunch break when I worked at the hospital.

So my question to you, both full-time writers and those with "day jobs," is: how and when do you get your fiction writing done?

Mark Terry

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts On Language

January 13, 2010
As writers, in theory, we should be attuned to the nuances of language. We should, hopefully, understand that some words that are often used in the same way, do not necessarily have the same meaning, especially to different audiences. Advertising, to my mind, has practically attempted to destroy the English language with the way it manipulates the language (that and the world of so-called sports journalism and marketing, and business, in that they have both co-opted military language to describe themselves, diminishing the meaning and impact of words like "war" and "destruction" and "devastation" and...).

So I give you a few examples of words, for which I do not necessarily know the difference, except to know that I SHOULD know the difference and need to educate myself on it. Feel free to provide your own, and if you're so inclined, to offer explanations of the differences.

"Love" is not the same thing as "romance."

"Strategic" is not the same thing as "tactical."

"Jealousy" is not the same thing as "envy."

"Tall" is not necessarily the same thing as "willowy."

"Confusion" is not necessarily the same thing as "disoriented."

I also offer up one more thought, in terms of language. As writers, we should be aware, perhaps only subliminally, that the use of words, and even the SOUND of words, creates certain feelings and connections in the mind of readers.





Blue. Aqua. Cerulean. Sapphire.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Culture and Research

January 12, 2010
A while back I asked on Facebook whether my various writer friends thought it was possible to write a novel set in another country where you had never been. David Hewson, who lives in the UK and writes very successful police novels that take place in Italy, gave a fairly emphatic "no." Having read one of his books, there is very little doubt when reading them that he's very familiar with Italy (and he is, he travels there all the time to do research for his books).

Jeff Cohen, who lives in New Jersey and writes comic novels that take place in, uh, New Jersey, responded with "If you can write a novel that takes place in Mars, why not in China or Russia?"

There were a few more mixed responses.

Now, I know that one of my readers here is Eric Mayer who co-writes historical novels featuring a character who is the chief advisor to Emperor Justinian in 6th century Byzantium. Although Eric tells me he's approaching 60, he still falls short of a few years to have been around in the AD 500s, and although Mary is originally from the UK, I'm not sure she's made it in her travels to Constantinople, either. And their books are quite effective, although, who's to argue?

And I'm working on an SF novel that takes place on a planet called Vatkan several hundred years in the future so I'm making all that crap up.

My problem is that I was also working on an thriller called China Fire and it takes place in modern day Beijing. I've read several travel books on China, read numerous websites, blogs, and photo shots, etc., of Beijing, keep track of Beijing stories in the newspapers and Time Magazine, etc. I struggled with the setting, but I thought I was doing okay.

Then I started reading "9 Dragons" by Michael Connelly, which involves a Triad-related murder in Los Angeles, and since China Fire has a lot about the Triads (essentially Chinese gangs, although it's a little more complicated than that), I've been reading it with interest. And growing more and more uneasy, because there are cultural things involved with the Chinese and the Triads in this book that I have not run across in my reading and research, things that would make my book seem like it was written by someone who has, as a matter of fact, not been to China and not talked to enough people who are Chinese or experts on Triads and Chinese culture. (And let's be clear, I worked and interacted for years with Chinese-Americans when I was at Michigan State and at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit).

And one of the things I've been concerned about was I was considering writing a Derek Stillwater novel that primarily took place in Russia, a place I won't be visiting any time soon. And, historically, I've worked on several novels over the years that were set in foreign countries that died for a variety of reasons, but primarily died because I couldn't convince myself I knew enough about the countries and cultures to convince readers of them.

A prominent writer who blurbed my next book had sent me a note along with it with some criticisms, and one of his suggestions was I should focus on the the areas I know or am willing to research in person, to put a real personal stamp on those settings. It's an interesting comment, because years back I was working on an adventure novel about a couple bioprospectors who traveled the world in search of potential substances to be used for drugs. So it started with a scene of rock climbing in Chile and moved to London, then Los Angeles, and later the bulk of the novel was going to take place in the Congo, which is about where the novel died both times I attempted it. I thought the scenes in Chile and London were fine (and in LA), and after all, they weren't that long, so I was able to pull it off. I had a guy who had done some rock climbing in Chile read the section I'd written and he said it was fine and my description of Chile was okay in a generic sort of way.

Generic sort of way.

That's a problem. Well, you can pull it off for a scene, and you can probably even get some meaningful detail from Internet/book research to make it less generic. But an entire book?

Some writers can do it, or seem to be able to.

Others, like Barry Eisler, go to those countries and do extensive research. And it shows.

So this can be a big problem.


Monday, January 11, 2010


January 11, 2010
Hmmm. Here's Barry Eisler's talk, which seems to kick back at my post today.


January 11, 2010
A friend of mine is a writer. He doesn't do it for a living, although he has at one time. He's had jobs/careers in a variety of areas, including journalism, computers, and marketing. He's currently an elementary school teacher, where, as far as I can tell, he's quite happy. He's had three novels published and dozens of short stories. He's also written several well-received biographies.

Recently, my friend realized that he was closing in on 50-years-of-age and time was sort of limited. He took a hard look at his publishing history, how well his work was received, how much time he had to give to it, and decided he needed to focus on one type of writing. That writing is likely to be the nonfiction books, particularly in that each one takes about 3 years to complete. His nonfiction books have received awards, critical acclaim, and decent sales. His fiction, which he likes to write more (probably) haven't received much of anything except some nice reviews and fairly modest sales with precious little money.

I spoke to him recently about this and he commented that if he tried to continue to write fiction simultaneously with the biographies, it would take him 10 years to write the next biography, and since he was 50, he was acutely aware that it was time to prioritize. It was also, he said, an extremely difficult decision.

Oh boy, do I hear him. Which is why we talked about it.

I'm fairly certain that by now most published and unpublished novelists have heard the expression: Repeatedly trying to accomplish something the same way with no success is the mark of insanity. (There must be a better way to say it).

At the very least, it's a sign of an incipient obsessive-compulsive disorder. Medication may be in order.

It's a complicated topic. Very few--some, but not many--whip off a novel manuscript and get it published. Generally they have at least a few "trunk" novels, sometimes many more. And, in fact, I would guess that most novelists have a bunch of unpublished and unpublishable novels laying around before they succeeded.

So how long? How persistent should you be?

Well, no answer. And I'm not at all convinced that my friend won't slip in some fiction here and there while he works on his next book (under contract).

I face this a lot, though. I think by most standards my nonfiction is quite successful. My fiction, although nicely blurbed by some well-known writers, doesn't generally get reviewed, is more or less critically ignored, and to-date isn't really gathering tons of readers and as a result, isn't delivering much money, either.

So how long should I keep hammering away at it? Have I, as a matter of fact, passed the point of gentlemanly OCD into What's-Your-Dosage-Land?

No answer. None whatsoever. Twenty-plus years ago an editor at St. Martin's Press "almost" published my second novel manuscript before being talked out of it by an associate. At that time we were guessing an advance would be $15,000 or so. In that I was making about $20,000 a year at the time, that seemed pretty amazing. Now, in 2010, I'd be fairly happy with a $15,000 advance, even though my income is significantly higher than $20,000 a year.

The time goes by quickly and it's sort of shocking to step back, take a breath, realize you've traveled quite a huge distance since you first tried writing novel; it's also slightly startling to realize that you set off on the journey with an expectation of a certain route and a specific destination, only to discover you wandered off course somewhere and maybe that's fine, the territory you're traveling in actually might be better than the one you were headed for.

So what do you think? Is there a point where you've crossed the fuzzy gray border of nutty behavior with your pursuit of authordom?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Getting What You Deserve

January 8, 2010
Maybe I'm cranky because I've got to head off to the doctor for some tests this morning or because we got a bunch of snow, or maybe it's a sign of my now being closer to 50 than 40, but I was reading a blog post by John Gilstrap in which he got a letter from somebody saying how pissed off and frustrated he was because his perfectly spelled and punctuated query letters weren't getting the attention they deserved. John writes about hubris. I went off and had a rant, which I'm going to post here as well. Then I'm going to get ready to go to the doctor.

A fairly well known literary agent (whose name eludes me at the moment) in an interview said something that struck me fairly hard with its truth. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "No one 'deserves' to be a published novelist."

No, granted, in my paraphrasing you can interpret that a lot of ways. But what he was saying was that publishing is a business and a business with a finite market and finite resources. When I was starting out writing novels unsuccessfully I figured "if I just get to be a good enough writer" I'll get published and have it made.

Well, although I think that statement is basically true for freelance writing (which I do for a living), I'm no longer at all convinced that's true for novels. (Sorry, newbies, this might seem very depressing).

There are many, many, MANY factors that go into getting a novel published, and even more that go into it being successful in the marketplace. Timing and luck are only two of them, but they're significant factors. Good, as many of us are finding out, isn't really good enough. Your manuscript needs to be somewhere between VERY GOOD and GREAT just to get published and even then, if you're unknown, the publisher's taking a chance on you.

Perfect spelling, grammar, format--that's a given. That's such a given I don't even think it's part of the low bar threshold. Start thinking hook, freshness, marketability, largeness of concept, excellent story telling...

And if you get all that in place, will you still get published?

Probably, although... no guarantees. That's just life. Great novels, great songs, great works of art... some just get missed and languish in a closet due to variables out of your control--a bad economy, a shift in the industry paradigm, bad timing, and lack of persistence. As they say about baseball, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose ... and sometimes it rains.

And once it gets published, does all that guarantee commercial success? Are you kidding? All you have to do is look at the number of great novels/films/etc that weren't recognized (if at all) until after the artist's death. If Shakespeare's friends hadn't collected his plays in folios, we'd probably never have heard of him; if Mozart's wife hadn't gotten a strong business-sense after his death, maybe we'd be thinking how great Salieri was.

Okay, my rant's almost over, but: nobody deserves to get published.


Update: here are two blog posts by editors showing statistics about why they rejected books last year. Totally, totally illuminating.

#1 here

#2 here

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Purty Pictures

January 7, 2009
46 years ago today my parents saw fit to drag me kicking and screaming into this world.

Anyway, as a birthday present from me to you, here are some purty pictures of waves by Clark Little.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Little Tightening Of The Gut...

January 6, 2010
Last week I was in the midst of an e-mail conversation with a couple relatively local published novelists (2 in Michigan, 1 in Ohio) about possibly doing some joint-workshops ala Getting Your Novel Written & Published, etc. It was an interesting exchange, but when I was done, I had, not a panic attack, but a kind of tense feeling, one that said, "Oh crap, here we go again with the book promotion."

Some people love it. They love getting out and meeting readers and plugging their novels. And yes, I do understand that if you're struggling just to get an agent or to get your novel published, me complaining about book marketing garners zero sympathy. Yes, I understand.

As a matter of fact, I generally enjoy meeting readers and book buyers. Granted, some of those encounters can turn pretty weird (like the little old lady who regaled me with a lengthy story about how her husband got mesothelioma from installing brake liners for one of the car companies; or the joint book signing I did where nobody showed up and neither of us sold books; or the conference I attended and sold one book during my signing; or the TV interview I did for a local public access channel that as far as I can tell never aired; like the guy who stopped by where I was hawking books and I asked him, "Do you like mysteries?" and he snapped, "No!" and walked away; or the gentleman at the panel I chaired who caught two of us afterwards and demanded to know why we put so much violence and crime in our books and how didn't we think we had a responsibility to make the world better by only writing happy books). But the time and expense and energy, well...

And today I got the invoice from my web maven for the revamping and updating of the website. And the tightening of the gut was a little more severe, since the costs were slightly over half of my book's advance after my agent fee (actually, post taxes, I probably broke even). So the voice in my head, the one that's always there whispering, "What the f*** are you doing? Sure it's fun, but it's a big time and money suck, are you nuts?" got well above a whisper this morning.

And frankly I don't have a happy message for you this morning. No positivity or optimistic message about how if you just persist, everything will turn out OK, that marketing efforts pay off in the long run. "How long, Oh Lord?" I want to moan.

This is my particular writing demon and he's a persistent bastard that rides around on my shoulder with his scaly tail hanging down my back and his withered and chapped lips pressed close to my ear. And I wish he'd go away.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I Resolve...

January 5, 2010
Back prior to 2010 on Facebook, my brother put "I resolve to..." and waited to see what people said. Because our posts to each other are usually of the brotherly smartass type, I wrote: "I resolve to evolve. I like long-term goals."

Yeah, I know, too clever.

Anyway, I was reading The Divine Ms. O's blog this morning where she discusses knowing when things are just right, rather like baby bear and the porridge, I thought, "Yeah, but..."

Because I think as writers we need to evolve. We need to try new things. To stretch. It helps to be aware of what your own strengths are and work on filling in your weaknesses.

For instance, I don't deal much with setting. I use enough so everyone knows what's what and where's where and unless my characters are interacting with their environment, I move on, concentrating on action and other senses. Otherwise I give just enough detail so the reader knows what's surrounding the characters.

Except, Dear Readers, I'm about 40,000 words into a science fiction novel that takes place way in the future on a different planet. So while writing my usual thrillers I can safely say if Derek jumps into an SUV or is running down a hallway with an MP-5 I don't have to spend a lot of time describing the vehicle, the hallway, or the weapon; if I'm doing something similar in an SF novel of the sort I'm writing, I'd better spend a bit more time on description. The question always comes down to, how much?

Here, for instance, is a section from the first chapter:

Torres ignored the command and sprinted for the ship’s bridge. The bridge door slid open. Rushing in, he was met by a vertiginous view of the blue-green sphere of Vatkan. Also in view were a half dozen Delwan destroyers, mammoth starships bristling with energy blasters.

Captain Levin was strapped into the command chair, dozens of cables plugged into his skull, a holographic schematic floating in front of him, showing the planet and every ship and satellite in orbit around it. Mathematical figures and constantly rotating gridlines calculated potential routes for The Pasteur.

“Strap in, Doc. This is gonna get ugly.”

From one of the Delwan destoyers pulsed a red starburst.

Levin, using his cortical interface, jockeyed The Pasteur into an evasive spiral.

Torres lost his balance, flailing out for a nearby chair. He missed it and hit the deck, rolling from the centrifugal forces of the ship’s movements. He grabbed onto the base of the navigator’s chair.

Through the viewing screen he saw additional starbursts.

He shouted, “Did you tell them we’re on a medical mission? Did you tell them?”

Captain Levin ignored him.

The Navigator, a tentacled Angaelian, reached down with one of her appendages, which wrapped around Torres’s waist. Without apparent effort, the Angaelian lifted Torres off the deck and dropped him into a nearby chair.

“Thanks.” Torres slapped the button that activated the safety mesh. A fine silver net enveloped his body, allowing freedom of movement, but automatically buffering him from sudden motion.

The Angaelian’s name was Valeya. She resembled a cross between a giant squid and an upright polar bear. Like most female Angaelians, her fur was white; the males’ fur were a gold color until old age, when they both turned a butterscotch color. Angaelians had six tentacles, two which were as thick as a Terran’s leg and generally used for locomotion, although Torres had seen Angaelians move on four tentacles when they wanted speed. Four of the tentacles were slender and graceful.

There's a level of description here, especially when I describe Valeya, that I wouldn't generally bother with in one of my thrillers. In this novel, as a matter of fact, I don't necessarily describe all aliens in that much detail, but Val is a major character, so I spend some time on it--yeah, a whole paragraph--even if it slightly slows down the narrative.

Anyway, the point here is, we never master anything without stretching and trying new things. Ya gotta resolve to evolve.

What are you doing to evolve your writing?

Mark Terry

Monday, January 04, 2010

What Teddy Said

January 4, 2010
Okay, let's get this year started with some other guy's great motivational quotes, in this case, Theodore Roosevelt. I think you'll find they apply to writing quite well.

"Believe you can and you're halfway there."--Theodore Roosevelt

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."--Theodore Roosevelt

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."--Theodore Roosevelt

"I am a part of everything that I have read."--Theodore Roosevelt

"I am only an average man but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man."--Theodore Roosevelt

"If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month."--Theodore Roosevelt

And the one that we should remember:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again ... who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly."--Theodore Roosevelt

So for 2010, I hope you dare greatly.

Mark Terry