Monday, December 31, 2012

Prototype 3

This is the raw images that will make a novel cover. What's left now is a few more modifications and then final filtering, which is what defines the artwork (or so I'm told).






*The "Q" in the word Quantum is an illustration of Kendra's Spirit Seal.

*The middle background is a stylized representation of downtown Los Angeles; the real life placement of the buildings differs depending on the viewer's point of view.

*The iconic cover art to A Clockwork Orange served as an inspiration to what will become the final image of the soldier, Miles Trevor.



LC


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Editing, 4, the process

This is a more technical post that addresses strategies I utilize when editing my own work--to me this is not the same as revising. To see how I pull off a revision, see the page in my blog called On My Mind.

These techniques may not be effective for anyone else, but the discussion about them will at least kill some of your time if you have some time to kill and Youtube isn't doing it for you.

Like always, I will refrain from using such child-like terms as "show" and "tell" when discussing fiction and techniques. Instead, I will refer to the elements of fiction.



1) Objectivity


This is the big hurdle when editing your own work. When I read a manuscript from another writer, my mind goes to work and objectivity comes easy. I see the elements of fiction at work. Sometimes, I come across elements that I feel were ineffective, like stale dialogue or confusing descriptions of action or setting. 

I like to think that I'm very effective at critiquing the work of others. Yet, it is very difficult to critique my own work in an editorial capacity. 

But, to help with that I came up with a thought experiment.



2) The Thought Experiment


Like I mentioned above, the problem I faced before editing Absolution was that I needed to look at the work with fresh eyes, the eyes of someone else. Here is the thought experiment I performed to help me: What if someone else had written the novel, someone I was not acquainted with?

What this means is that I asked a number of questions as if this were the work of someone else. Say, if like me you wrote an Urban Fantasy/Detective story, what would you say in  your review if it had been written by Jim Butcher? Or by Mike Resnick (who wrote Stalking the Unicorn [an influence])?

The key for me was to be intentionally cruel and picky. My comments became less of a novel review than a pseudo-editing session with the novelist (Jim or Mike).

Here is what I noticed about Jim/Mike's new novel, Absolution. They ventured into subject matter that they had never gone into before. It was a little more controversial than the usual fare for Jim Butcher.

But not for Mike Resnick, who has written novels using pen names that have been called everywhere on the internet, "adult." It hints at something that can't be mentioned, but what that is I can only guess at. The term "adult" usually refers to erotica and maybe that's the case with Resnick.

The treatment and development of the main character is more in line with Butcher, but not with Resnick. In the end, Butcher's main character, Detective Adams, grows as a person.

This information is invaluable if you are a writer trying to break into a field dominated by giants like Butcher and Resnick. How much do you want the novel to emulate their work and how far are you willing to deviate from it? The answers you give will alter the editing comments.

For example, I'm a fan of Butcher and really wanted to write something that emulated his Harry Dresden novels. But Absolution deals with situations not found in any Dresden story. It is bolder, less inhibited. My editing comments would then say something like, "Tone down this element," or "This is too much for this type of novel."

This is a vague flavor of the most important questions I asked. Let me be a little more specific.


3) It's all in the reading...

Continuing the thought experiment, I ask all manner of questions about the novel, which help me understand the vision of the novelist and help me place the work in its appropriate place next to other, similar, published works. 

I spent two months editing Absolution (this is before the copyediting process). For volume one of The Quantum of the Past, I needed less time (since it is so short). If you recall, in the second installment on Editing, I mentioned the enormous amount of reading the editor must do.



a. Methodology


The editorial reading will give the editor a glance at the methodology employed by the writer. Here, I assume a mystery, like Absolution

How do they start the novel? Who is the protagonist? If a mystery, how do they issue clues? How does the manuscript's length compare to the average length of other mysteries? Prologue or not? Level of realism?

In other words, what strategies does the novel employ to tell its story? I mentioned the average length of mysteries just now, but how did I get that number?

I "acquired" pdf versions of novels that were a representative sample of mysteries--written in a number of eras. Then I turned these into MS Word documents, using the presets I have for my own manuscripts. I compared these. Mind you, this is only a guess at how long the original manuscripts were. But it did give up invaluable information.

Note: I do the same with Fantasy novels.

Note: It's not pirating if I own a physical copy of the books in question!

Continuing methodology: One of my professors once told me that a novel teaches you how to read it. I think they ripped that off of someone else, but this observation applies here. When you read a novel, it tells you about its methodology.

Once the manuscript has given me all that information, it is essential that I analyze it.



b. Quality Control 


Once the editor has a handle on the methodology of the novel and the vision, it's time for quality control.

In production, quality control is a way to ensure that the product adheres to certain standards (its quality), as defined somewhere else and by someone other than the producer.

In fiction, the "standard" is twofold.

There is the vision of the novel, which the editor must grasp or have some understanding of.

The editor, in theory, must help the manuscript achieve this vision further or must help to strengthen the vision if it is weak. A way to do this is by making sure the methodology of the novel helps and does not hinder.

For example, if you envisioned your mystery novel to be the next The Big Sleep, and the editor catches on that you're trying to do more than help your reader kill time, then this might be a quality control comment: You focus too much on the action (too much running around), and not enough on the inter-relations between the protagonist and his city, which is a staple of other, complex, fiction of this type.

The other standard is the existing novels of the same type, genre.

After reading dozens of mysteries and working with authors to develop novels in the genre, you will know when a new mystery author lacks something his/her contemporaries do not. If your plot is clumsy and you make too obvious who the killer is, for example, then this might be a quality control comment: The plot pace is too slow (or fast) and the clues make too obvious who the responsible party is and sometimes they rely too much on chance, like when the detective stumbles onto that store clerk who happened to know the victim and shared valuable information.

Here are some of the editorial comments I made for the revised first volume of The Quantum of the Past:

*The protagonist is not sympathetic enough; he at times feels bigoted and homophobic, when he should come off as a war torn soldier whose frustrations project onto the diverse city he lives in. The key is to explore the true source of his frustrations. 

*I am not getting a sense of the Kendra Lepree character; she seems different than the Kendra in the other story, The Sprite

*The Prologue is of a different nature than the other, non-linear elements that introduce volumes 2 and 3. As it stands, there isn't a sense of unity in the whole, as if the writer has no sense of it or it is too underdeveloped. 

*Expand the events where the protagonist spends time with the Kendra Lepree character to develop their friendship further; it seems rushed now.

*Make the protagonist a tense character, who others think will go postal at any moment; this will foreshadow what happens later in the story. 

Notice that one of the comments had to do with another story I'm working on, The Sprite. The characterization was not the same in both works, which bothered me. Another thing that bothered me was how Miles came across once I implemented the new vision I had for the novel.

These problems came out when I went through the thought experiment. The authors I chose for the experiment were G.R.R. Martin and Tolkien (don't ask why).

As a Tolkien work, it differed in its treatment of magical "races" that are a part of the fantasy world. It's also not as sophisticated in its linguistic morphology, and world building. But I don't want to beat myself up too much. Tolkien's goal with Middle Earth differed than my own. He wanted to build a mythology, whereas I want to explore certain socio-cultural elements, like race relations and sexual orientations.  

As a protagonist, Miles Trevor is dissimilar to the protagonists in Tolkien's best known works. Bilbo and Frodo suffer from different ailments than does Miles. The problems of my protagonist are rooted in our contemporary world, particularly the urban landscape of Los Angeles. But the humanism in Frodo and Bilbo is something that I wanted to inject into Miles. A decent person is a decent person no matter what world they are in--at least this was my logic.

The tone of the work does match the tone in many of G.R.R. Martin's works. It is dark and the level of realism is gritty. I like to think that if magical phenomenon were real, they would exist as Martin draws them.

I wasn't interested so much in the magic system as the style of it, which was something that Martin shares with Tolkien. If you've read both, then you know what I mean. This decision influenced the editorial comments I made regarding the magic in Quantum



4) Implementing Comments

The editor made comments, now implement them.  Naturally, since these comments may alter substantially the elements of fiction in your novel, it follows that you must read over the thing again to make sure it is in harmony--like it was at the end of the revision process.

Now, this reading is unique in that you won't have the luxury of changing anything else that you now feel is problematic. It means you (the writer) need to discuss these new issues with your editor (you).




And folks, that is all for now.


LC

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Back to work...

So ends a very difficult period. I'm in a temporary place now after the move. It's cold there but at least I can get back to work. This was a very difficult semester for me; I'm older so I felt the strain. In another month I start a whole new semester.

But...

It'll be different for me.

Until then, I can get back to work on my personal projects. I'm giving the first volume of The Quantum of the Past to test readers this week, along with The Sprite.

Also, I'll finish the fourth installment of the editing posts, to finish that out.

***

Here, I'll say that no matter how miserable my nights are, it does not compare to what's happening to the parents of the children murdered in Connecticut. News like that always reminds me that things could be so much worse than they are now.

This is why I find it difficult to truly be depressed. There is always a place in the world that has it so much worse than where I am. So, instead of coming home to whimper, I draw up what strength I have.

The Sprite is coming along well and so is the other project, The Wizards.



LC






Thursday, December 6, 2012

Prototype 2

Here is the title and cover before artwork and final filters. My final choice for the cover was to represent the portal the main characters enter at the end of the volume.



This being the second step, ended.




LC


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Winter and Reading

I have to move in a week. I was told today and boy isn't that a rude awakening. But it was a long time coming so I'm feeling okay about it. I'm actually looking forward to it.

The end of November came and I didn't get half as much done as I wanted. With the semester closing, I can blame it for my failures--it really was demanding! But I still got work done.

During the next few weeks, I plan on catching up on some reading as well as finishing a few stories and a novel. Next semester won't be near as demanding as this one.


Here is my reading list for the weeks following the end of the semester:

The Pain Scale by Tyler Dilts




He is one of the writers who helped shape my craft. I enjoyed his first book, A King of Infinite Space, and will try this one.

***

Sandpaper Fidelity 11-16 by Elizabeth Barone.



I want to see what's been going on with these characters since the last time I read an issue.

***

Vaempires: Zombie Rising by Thomas Winship




This is another Evolutionary War novella by Tom. The reviews for it are pretty good so I think it'll live up to the other two installments I've read so far.






LC

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Editing, 3, the vision of the novel

You and I have decided to edit our own work. Bad decision. A writer is the worst editor of their own work. Ironically, this same writer may be very effective at editing the work of others.

We're still going to do it, aren't we? Then let me discuss the vision of the novel for a moment.


1) The Vision of the novel

Vision (Websters): A thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.

I meantioned that we authors only capture about 70% of the vision we have of our novels. There is something fleeting about that first glimpse I get of my work. For a novel, this vision doesn't come in words. I get images, colors, sounds--very primal information. So, it makes sense that I lose some of it when trying to cram it into words, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

But this vision drives the novel. And it doesn't always work. 

For example: I mentioned before that The Quantum of the Past is a rewrite of an older story. The problems with this earlier version could be summed up as follows: The execution was in direct conflict with the vision. I envisioned a dark story with dark themes. It didn't help that just before I wrote the draft in question, I read the entire Harry Potter series.

The result was that J.K. Rowling saturated my voice. There were other issues too, like that I was unable to make up my mind about how the magic worked. But, deciding on a rewrite was not an easy decision. I had drafted a second story that followed the first and was deep into drafting a third story. All that work is now obsolete.

Another example: Brad Listi told us during a workshop that he envisioned his novel Attention. Deficit. Disorder. to live up to the idea of someone with ADHD, or a lack of attention span. The chapters are really short. There seems to be a lack of focus; although the plot does follow the scheme in the title: Attention; deficit; and disorder. There are even non-fiction tidbits thrown in there. 

When he submitted the manuscript, the editorial comments challenged this vision. What you won't see in the published novel is what the editor told him did not work. Originally, Listi told us, he had shifted the verb tense in every chapter; some chapters were in present tense, some in past tense, etc. The editor told him this might confuse readers. He suggested he keep the novel in one verb tense.

Note: Here, Listi's editor made a comment about what readers might experience. Whether it's a valid statement or not is irrelevant. The editor noticed something that his/her experience said was problematic and made a comment about it. 

Do you see the dilemma? Readers might have been okay with this original vision--they may have even loved it. I like to think that if you give readers a chance, they can surprise you with their tastes. And Brad Listi could have argued this very point. And I also like to think that most self-published authors would have kept the original vision of the novel intact, lacking enough objectivity to see the problematic nature of the variable verb tense. 

What complicates this further is that there is no right answer. Right and Wrong don't apply; no one is correct, not really. 

Yet, these comments are essential to the development of any writer. It is crucial that someone challenge the vision of the novel to shake away that sense of glory that invades a writer after they finish a lengthy revision. Why?

You did not write the perfect novel.

You will never write the perfect novel. 

No one will ever write a perfect novel. 

The perfect novel does not exist. 


2) A quick word on "Marketability"

If you submit your novel to a big publisher or to an agen--in hopes that they will get you in the door of one of the big publishing houses, then you will likely worry about this word: Marketability. 

Publishers need to sell books. Novels are products to them. What you are writing will supply a demand

This influences the editorial comments for a manuscript. I read years ago an article published in one of the Writers of the Future anthologies about this very issue. In it, the author related how the manuscript for the Fantasy novel she had written was at first accepted by a publisher, but then, because of the market trends, was told to alter it to fit these trends. She did and her novel was accepted. How did it do? Well, the fact that I can't remember the author's name or the title of the book should say something about that...

And it isn't just lesser known authors that worry about it. PC Cast was given the idea for the House of Night series by her agent, because this agent noted that vampires became hot after Twilight

Why do you think there are so many Urban Fantasies out there? They sell right now. This is also true for Romance novels. Mass market genre novels supply a demand. 

This means looking at trends, and how the novel in front of you deviates from these trends. If you read Amanda Hocking's blog, you'll see that one of the first things she did was look at a store's bookshelf to see what was popular. 

If you are business minded and wish to self-publish, then your editorial notes need to address marketability. 



3) A slow word on "Marketability"


There is a difference between wanting to write best-selling books and wanting to write decent novels. That's a little crass, don't you think? The word 'decent' is judgmental. What I mean is that a writer will have goals and fantasies. The goal is to become an effective writer. The fantasy...now THAT takes many forms. 

I know of a writer who, while in the waters of a well-known river, asked the heavens to let him become a "great" writer. Others ask for the idea that will produce a best-selling book. Others want to become as prolific as Stephen King or James Patterson. Others want their work to be in par with Faulkner or Hemingway or (fill in the name of a writer that academia esteems). 

Marketability is part of the fantasy of becoming a best-selling author. The belief is that there are certain strategies you can employ to make your book appealing to the masses. But who saw Fifty Shades of Gray becoming a best seller? Just prior to that, the Twilight novels pushed genre writers to produce teen, vampire romance clones, so it was random for a book about sadomasochism to hit the top of the charts.

Look at other books in recent memory that became as popular as Fifty Shades of Gray: Twilight; The Davinci Code; Harry Potter. 

What do they have in common? Wizards and vampires and academics and BDSM. What drove each of these books to become what they became was different in each case. For Fifty Shades of Gray, it was the sordid-curiosity factor that helped it. But this type of curiosity was not what drove scores of fans to buy that last book in the Harry Potter series; J.K. Rowling cultivated readers, adults and young adults, and wisely put restrictions on the movies about her books. 

The point is that there is no formula for success. 

Therefore, marketability is not on my mind. I don't have the pressure of a publishing house trying to make money. I am not desperately trying to show the publishing industry that I can sell tons of books and therefore, they should publish my future books. 

Some writers do have these concerns. Like I said, there is no Right or Wrong here. There are only writers who work towards their diverse ends.

There is something else I'm working towards though. While editing, I isolate my brain from certain things: How readers might react to this or that; how the market will react to this or that. What's left is the work in front of you and whatever talent you have. 

Then, the editing process becomes a quest to bring out the potential in the manuscript. I think of that poor writer who had to change the genre of her Fantasy novel to satisfy the publishers. What potential did it have? Manipulating a novel to make it more marketable does not help it reach its potential, but may destroy it if altered beyond recognition.


4) What's next?

So, what are the nuts and bolts? For most editors it's easy; they do what they do "best." For a writer trying to edit their work...well...it involves much contemplation.

I'll save this contemplation for the last post on editing.





LC

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prototype 1

A cover in various steps. Here is how the title appears before placing effects:







This being the first step, ended.



LC

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gobble, Gobble!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I finished my edits on the first volume of The Quantum of the Past and am moving onto the copy-editing. But that has no real completion so I didn't put up a progress bar. I'll probably be copy-editing until the day I release it--it's a never-ending process.

Ah, but how different Quantum is now than when I conceived it long, long ago. Now, I must work on the appendices, and art for the cover. Yes. Well, done. Happy turkey day to me.



LC

PS:



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mid November

Go look at the Urban Fantasy page on Wikipedia and you'll see that it's back to the way it was before I tried to edit it. It took them all of a few days to do this. I had heard of those obsessive volunteers, but it was a different experience dealing with one.

The main issue was this: I altered some content because it was verified by links to the personal blogs of unknown authors--people like me. This is problematic since these authors, like me, make a number of well-opinionated statements that aren't meant to verify anything. They are just our opinions and preferences; the person in question (the wiki-volunteer), not using his real name, changed it all back.

I tried to change some content again and this person changed it again. I questioned him about the validity of the links used to verify the information and he said that it was a valid verification, in line with Wikipedia's standards; in other words, Wikipedia allows their volunteer editors to use opinions found in blogs and other such websites to verify statements made in their articles. And I was told by this person that until the information was proven incorrect it would remain there.

And that was the punchline to this whole ordeal. You can't prove or disprove an opinion.

Ha! Prove this wrong: What makes coffee beautiful is its rich dark hue and potent smell.

You can't. In other words, that Wikipedia article is going to stay the way it is; it's a shame since I was planning more extensive revisions to it. The silver lining to this is that I can now focus on the projects I'm behind on. Really, that's what I should be focusing on. 

***

I will complete the editing for the first volume of The Quantum of the Past over the Thanksgiving holiday, which is good news because then I can finally get going with Ascension. It haunts me that so much work is on my shoulders right now and it all seems to be slipping.

I miss having time off.


LC

Editing 2, the editor

Before I discuss "the process" of editing, let me unveil the editor. Who is this person? What are his/her qualifications? What skills allow them to make those novel-altering suggestions?

Beneath all the ambiguity about editors lies a person. This person has a certain amount of and type of experience that allows him/her to make the comments they make. In a very abstract way, the editor is like a creative writing workshop member. This person must read your work and comment on it, using logic and/or their expertise. The most basic aspect of this reading involves looking for and marking simple grammar problems, which most non-writers think is what editing is all about.

But the editor is not one of your community workshop members. Workshop comments and critiques are far different than editorial comments. When you submit your work to a workshop or a critique, you only supply some of your work, a piece of your novel or a short story. You supply the entire work, the novel, to the editor so they can appraise it.

Where does this expertise come from?

Here are the qualifications for a job posting for an editor on Monster.com:


Requirements
·         Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, English, Technical Writing or equivalent required
·         Minimum 1 year of experience in Business Editing/Writing or Journalism in related field
·         Must be proficient in the use of AP Stylebook guidelines
·         Must be self-motivated, and have a passion for journalistic and investigative endeavors, fact finding, and creating well-written, accurate and detailed reports
·         Must have an interest in today’s Business Climate, both regionally and globally
·         Extensive knowledge of and experience using MS Excel, Word, Power Point, Outlook, and Access
·         Experience in accounting or financial services a plus



This is obviously for a job a special form of editing, but those first few requirements are nearly identical on all postings for editors; also, it would not surprise me if there were not other special qualifications for an editor seeking employment in one of the Big 5 publishing houses.

An editor for a book publisher will likely be an English or Journalism major, one of those kids who took the time to write for their high school or  college newspapers and then moved on to edit their university paper or get an internship working along the staff of the literary journal sponsored by their university--if their institution has one. Some universities have their MFA students run their literary journals, including that editing position.

What this experience is meant to give is perspective and an appreciation for reading and working under the oppressive nature of "the deadline." Reading the unpublished work of others gives the editor perspective--it becomes very clear that the work of some authors is weaker than others in various areas; it also exposes which types of stories appear frequently; and it creates reading endurance, a way to consume vast amounts of work. This experience is invaluable when having to read manuscripts that are at times hundreds of pages long.

But here, some of you might say that, hey, you've been doing that all along while reading your favorite novels! You're halfway there. I'm sorry to say that it isn't the same. What the editor reads is a possible version of a novel; what the reader gets is the finished novel.

How does an English degree help? Remember all those novels they made you read in your high school English classes? In college we had to read a ton more and then analyze them; sometimes you enjoy them, sometimes not. The undergrad and graduate English student writes extensively about these novels so that their literary tastes are diverse, their knowledge vast.

The editor of today also has to work with other editors to decide what to acquire. So, all those team building activities in their college years helped. All of this is done while simultaneously consuming other types of novels, genre works--the kinds of things we read for pleasure.  

The ideal editor is a database of all this reading, of published and unpublished work. When they turn their eyes onto your pages, there is an extensive history behind them. Maybe your work will remind them of Hemingway or Faulkner or if you write genre of O. Card or maybe George R. R. Martin or Raymond Chandler.


And so, there is your editor.



LC

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wikipedia Fun

Yesterday I received an email telling me that my story didn't qualify for the third quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. This upset me so I took it out on several wikipedia pages. Do you remember when I said I would edit those damned pages? I actually kept my word!

If you notice, the urban fantasy wikipedia page now bears some of my work. In particular, I added the section on Etymology, Hardboiled Urban Fantasy, and edited the Characteristics section; I plan on lengthening the History section and refining the other sections. It isn't perfect, but it is a start towards something more substantial. Hell, I might even start my own wikipedia page!

Ha!

Ha!

That cheered me up. But what does that mean for my work?

I don't know. I'm still upset, but maybe the type of stories I write aren't meant for that contest. In particular, what the previous judge said is that the stories sent should be PG-13 or for a high school audience--since one of their biggest customers is the highschool creative writing classroom. If you've read any of my work, you know this is not what I write.

I'll admit it now. Writing a story in a matter of two weeks was probably not very wise either. If I send in stories in the future (no pun), I will give them an extra month after completion before sending them to whatever quarter is open.

I need to meditate on this further.

***

I just have two more chapters to add to The Sprite before I can revise it and then turn my attention to Ascension. I decided this because I hate leaving that story the way I did.

As for The Quantum of the Past, I feel I can finish what needs to be done for the first volume by the end of this month. It's just very difficult to do with school work and my job. But I will manage.


LC


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Moby Dick, a review

I was very curious about this novel, which is why I decided to take a semester on Melville. But I have to admit that what I envisioned before I read it was completely different than the actual work, in a pleasant way.  Melville, it turns out, is very relevant to today's literary market.

More relevant still--to me anyway--is the many lessons to be learned from his career. Melville started off a vast success with his first novel, Typee, and by the time he died was forgotten. His best known work, and the subject of this review, Moby Dick, helped to sink his career.

Here is a titanic work, whose power made authors like Faulkner wish they had written it, and it was poorly received. What happened 19th century folk? Were you blinded by your love of sensational urban fictions, your gothic and sentimental romances, those dime novels that sold well? The romantic in me wants to believe that in your era there were more pertinent issues, like trying to abolish slavery, to care about the experimental work of a once popular author--I mean Uncle Tom's Cabin did sell well in that same period. 

Needless to say, Melville did not take the book's failure well.

This man knew that there are constraints on the creative powers of writers. He was free of the Elizabethan constraints that festered Shakespeare; the Declaration of Independence helped American authors escape political censorship. But he had to contend with a different form of constraint: Supply and Demand.

Here, I won't be simple minded and say that Capitalism is the prime culprit; my belief is that human greed is at the heart of all of our social ailments and not a theory of economics. Supply and demand is the lifeblood of our society.

There was a demand in Melville's time for fiction that could be digested pleasurably, at one's leisure; so the romantic, the gothic, what we would call genre today, sold well. Melville had to bend his creative power to meet this demand. With a family to feed, it was inescapable. But Melville was too much an artist to do this right--in letters he showed frustration over wanting to write popular fiction, but being unable to. 

This constraint, of supply and demand, defeated him. He denounced most of his work as the type of labor one must do to earn money, just jobs to fill his belly and pipe.

And here I wonder what he might have written had he been financially stable--if his family's old wealth had been available to him. What Moby Dick might we be reading today? 

But these are the wistful thoughts of fools, those of us who long to know what was lost in the library at Alexandria. 

***

Overview: 



A sailor known only as Ishmael and a harpooner named Quequeg unknowingly join the mad quest of Captain Ahab to bring bloody vengeance to the white Sperm Whale known as Moby Dick.

Genre: Literary

Edition: Kindle app for ipad







What didn't work for me:


What worked for me:


Overall:

I intentionally left the other two portions blank. It is silly to try to review this. Not since reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, has an author removed the floor from under me like this. 

Notice in the overview how the plot of seems simple, generic even. And it is. The novel moves this plot of revenge in a linear fashion. But there are other directions this story moves in and this is why Moby Dick is an ambitious gem. 

If I suppose that the vengeance plot moves in a linear direction, then I can also suppose that the other elements in the novel move in a non-linear direction, in different planes. The text of this book reaches out in multiple directions from the beginning, so that the end result is a three dimensional shape. 

A perfect novel of this sort would have all branches of its text reaching outwards in identical distances and the end result would be the ideal sphere. Moby Dick is not perfect, in part because of those constraints mentioned above (Melville did try to make this into a sea-faring adventure). It isn't quite that sphere.

But those odd elements, those moments of Shakespearean delight, the non-fiction information on whales, those portions of theater--all that seems to not belong in that linear plot of vengeance--they are the life of this enduring work. It is bold too. Not only does it dwell into homoerotic relationships long before the word homosexual came into popular usage, but its modes of storytelling helped define an American Literary identity. Who else experimented with form like Melville in the 19th Century? 

And the characters are memorable in their own way. Ishmael works as a character during those linear moments where a set of eyes is needed, and as a pair of meta-eyes when the story reaches out of the page with its beautiful observations--my favorite was the chapter on the Whiteness of the Whale and a close second was where he discusses the few laws that whalers have, the fast-fish and loose-fish laws. 

Captain Ahab, the tragic hero, draws you in as he does his crew. We are all Ahabs in a way, trying to control our destinies, unaware of the cruel truth: We're on rails and no matter how much we shout and wave our hands, there is no deviating from the course and its ultimate end, Death. 

There are many more characters to enjoy, the weakness of Starbuck, the practical simplicity of Stubb, Quequeg and his idol, Moby Dick...so many and so unlike the stock characters of lesser fiction. They all have their trivial pursuits matched against the titanic nature of what Ahab wishes to accomplish, which is no less than to pummel the gods.

Here I can go on and on, but I'll stop with these last thoughts. Long after those best-selling, popular works of fiction have lost their many gray shades of splendor and been replaced by new faddish novels, Moby Dick will still hold its strength. 

And I predict that in the future, many decades from now, the works of some unknown Melville of OUR era will be discovered. Again, those who care about literature will wonder how his/her masterpiece could have gone ignored. 



LC




Saturday, October 27, 2012

October

I'm trying to create some distance between my mind and the first volume of The Quantum of the Past. It will help me edit it later in November.

To do this, I decided to draft the missing chapters of The Sprite. That should take me a couple of days--I got into it yesterday. This seems like a good route to take before committing into Ascension.

What's also helped me create distance is the amount of school work I've had to complete. I'm almost done with Moby Dick--and I plan to write something on it--while reading another of Melville's works, Pierre, which I just now finished. And then there is the work for the Engineering Department...

And I'm fumbling through the art for the cover of the first volume of Quantum. It's all very interesting though I wish I had a better background in the subject.

October is gone! And with it ten years. Ten long years.



LC

Friday, October 19, 2012

Editing, 1, an intro

I told you I would write it! Bartholomew, you had no faith. Here it is, that post on the differences between revising and editing. Except that rather than just ramble on about the differences, I would rather discuss things as they become relevant in my own editing of the first volume of The Quantum of the Past.

Alas! Something this enormous requires an introduction and here it is:


***
Reading the one star reviews about any self-published novel, one thread is common: It needs editing. It is known that Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Smashwords don't assign an editor to "Indie" authors (unless they buy the service packages provided by some of those sites). The result is that most self-published novels available at ebookstores are just revised manuscripts--some so poorly revised that you wonder if the writers even bothered to use their word-processor's spell/grammar check feature. An editor would have helped them, like the reviewers say.

What does that mean though?

It probably means that the reader found an abundance of typos or formatting issues in the text. Since to the world at large the words edit and revise and copy-edit are synonymous, it makes sense to say that a novel needs editing when it is poorly formatted or has abundant typos or when the grammar needs help or when it is so redundant that it is painful to read. To a writer, the words editing, revising and copy-editing encompass different worlds. Crossing the t's and dotting the i's is not what an editor does--not entirely.

Okay, so why not just hire someone who can comb through the manuscript and rid it of those annoying redundancies and other buggers? If I were to hire a freelance editor, I would look for more than someone who can find my typing errors. What's so special about an edit and an editor?

Many authors just haven't had the pleasure of working alongside an editor to improve their novel...

I told you my sarcasm just doesn't come through. That was meant to be sarcasm. Before self-publishing became what it is now, writers would come forward with stories about what it was like to work with editors. Let me share something with you that Tyler Dilts shared with us during a workshop.

The joke goes something like this:


Two men wander through a desert, dying of thirst. One is a writer and the other an editor. In the distance they spot an oasis with a small pool of water. The two men rush to it and rejoice. They are saved!

Before either can take a drink, the editor pulls down his pants and starts urinating into the pool.

Horrified, the writer says, "What are you doing?"

The editor smiles and says, "Don't worry, I'm making it better."


Oh, good, you got that the pool of water is a metaphor for the prospective novel. Harsh isn't it? Just what is it the editor does to arouse such criticism?

In my experience, self-published writers see the editing process as just another version of the revision process, but it is not.

Why? Here are some results of the editing process:


  1. The editor strengthens the vision of the novel.
  2. The editor rejects the initial vision and helps the author reach the potential of the novel.
  3. The editor helps the novel become more marketable.


Yeah, I know what you're saying. This is what the revision accomplished, no?

Consider that when a writer finishes revising, they have created logic or emotional reasoning for each element included in the final draft of their manuscript. The revision of a novel is sometimes grueling. We have beaten away unnecessary elements and subplots and even characters that we fell in love with. So, the revised manuscript an editor gets is often a Pyrrhic victory.

Do you see the problem?

Editors will sometimes make comments that challenge the vision of the novel--that hard earned vision hammered into submission during the revision process. If the writer is the editor, how can they convince themselves that the vision has problems after working so hard to shape it?

This is what makes the editing process so vastly different than the revision process. The writer has built the structure and taken steps to strengthen it. Now an independent survey team comes along to test it. This independent survey team is cold, calculating, and does not care about your work, not the way that you do.

They want to see if your structure is sound and if it isn't they give suggestions on how to make it sound and if it isn't up to par, they will tell you to tear it down and start again.

How many of us would have the heart to tell ourselves THAT after spending so much time working on our novels? Some of you are answering this question. The right answer is, "I would be objective enough to start anew if needed." The honest answer is, "I don't think I have the strength to do that."

But who am I to tell you what you can and can't do? There are all those internet articles on credible websites that tell you that you can and that it's easy to edit if you just follow some simple rules! And I am a hypocrite after all--I self-edited my first novel, Absolution.


What I want to do is demystify the editor and what he/she does. At the same time, I'll tell you what I did while editing Absolution and The Quantum of the Past.

Here are the first couple of requirements of my Editing process: A completed manuscript; an acceptance of the statement.

"Completed" means that I have revised and refined the manuscript to the best of my abilities. This is a point that many of my contemporaries do not understand. An edit requires a whole structure.

The "statement" is this one: I acknowledge that no matter what I do to the manuscript from here on out, I will NEVER succeed in bringing into existence more than 70% of the mental image I have of my novel.

That means that regardless of my skill and willingness, the novel in my soul and the novel I publish will only be 70% identical. The novel I publish will always lack something. It is a sad reality that no writer is so skilled that they can perfectly transcribe that ideal novel that lies on the border of here and there--that place at the tip of your tongue; that edge that borders on consciousness.

And if you ever come across a writer who says otherwise, pity them; they are unaware of this fact or in denial or blind with arrogance.






LC

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Good tidings

With the month of October more than halfway gone, it seems a fantasy to say that the first volume of The Quantum of the Past will come out at the end of November. I might be finished with all the necessary elements to publish it--completing the cover; finalizing its revision; editing and copy-editing--but alas!

My publicity efforts would come up short; the people who run the Blog Tours require time to prepare. This is understandable. It's a set-back though.

It is also another fantasy to assume that I am working on Ascension as of yet (which I should be already). But do not think me a lapse individual; I am gathering the elements necessary to make that novel work. The more of this preparation I complete, the easier the revision will be.

Set-backs, set-backs, and here I titled the post, "Good tidings." What good tidings are these? Well there are some.

I learned the other day, purely by chance, that the iBookstore--which I had completely given up on--now carries Absolution!

Yippie!

And here is a most pleasant bit of news: The library I work in deemed Absolution worthy of its collection, so now it will carry two copies of its in its stacks. I will be grouped with other local authors, which is a rare treat. I was shocked at first, but now feel a glowing joy.

I leave you to do the happy dance.


LC

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Revision, 3

And here we are again, you and I. My time is like one of those pie charts, with little slivers going to many different places. Therefore, though I should have finished this sooner, it was impossible to do.

Very soon I will begin to post about my progress in drafting Ascension, all the while I edit volume one of The Quantum of the Past. And then, in November, I will publish that work. And in between all of that is the series of posts about the Editing Process.

And so, here is my second revision.

***

The Second Revision


As you recall, my manuscript was rough around the edges after I trimmed thirty-two pages off of it and several chapters; all to give a total page count of 498.

Well, the task shouldn't be so difficult now, right? All I'm really doing is repeating the first revision steps.

No.

That's not what I do during a second revision. Naturally, it involves reading. Lots and lots of reading. I read the manuscript of Absolution about forty times before I published it (not an exaggeration)--mostly during the Copy-editing Process, which left me with a novel 99% free of typos and other like blunders.

The second revision focuses on the following areas:

  1. The elements of style
  2. Analyze the story, refine the plot as needed
  3. Presentation

This doesn't mean that I'm abandoning the steps in the first revision; errors will still pop up every now and then. It means that my concern has moved to other areas of storytelling. I will return to the steps of the first revision, but only when I have a working draft.




1. The elements of style

No, I don't mean the book by William Strunk Jr. later revised by E. B. White. I mostly use that book for its tips on grammar usage and composition (I personally avoid that last chapter, An Approach to Style, which is nothing but a collection of preferences).
Here I have to finish what I started in the drafting stage. It's time to worry about more than the grammatical correctness of the language. This is where the novel becomes my work--the refining of the author's voice.



NARRATIVE STYLE

Consider The Hunger Games and Pure. The voice of one novel is almost indistinguishable from the other; they use a garden variety narrative style. But anyone who has read both works knows there are differences: The way the authors use their narrative voice to present the story.

In my opinion, Suzanne Collins is far more effective in The Hunger Games. This doesn't mean I will emulate her. I want the voice of my novel to be as unique to me as the story elements.  

In the section of this blog called Chasing the Coyote, I have shared more than one version of the prologue of The Quantum of the Past, and they were not all in the same verb tense. Why? Style.

It had to have these: Grave, not dark, descriptions; a sense of immediacy in the events; a devastating look at war. It was an introduction to the way I would later approach action, setting, and events within the main plot. Of course, it also kick starts the plot, but that seems irrelevant--almost.

Here is an earlier version of a piece of the prologue:


A flood of stimuli. The searing heat suffocates him. The ringing in his ears is like the scream of a banshee. In the air is the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh. This prompts his eyes to open and before him spans a desert as vast as the universe. And when the pain on his every muscle and bone finally registers, he convulses and vomits. A feeble groan dies in his throat as he tries to let out words. But what words can express any of this? 

Everything crashes back into place: The thunder of the machine guns from other Humvees; the guttural commands soldiers shout into the ether; the buzzing of bullets everywhere that is so much like the sound of mosquitoes that he tries to swat them.


And here is how some of that in the prologue after an obsessive second revision:


Stimuli awaken his senses in bursts--not all of it is understandable. The calidity of the air bathes him and he thinks that he is either in a furnace or his soul is forever damned in hell. The heat prompts his eyes to open and before him spans a barren landscape as vast as the universe. The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh comes next, surely from the casualties near the Humvee, but is actually the product of the burns that now cover most of his body. And when the pain finally registers, he convulses and vomits.


I removed the reference to the ringing in his ears and added the detail about the burns on most of his body. Why? The first version was acceptable and I could have published it like that. But my inner writer's voice said it wasn't right. Now, that nagging voice is a little quieter about the prologue...



OBSESS OVER THE LANGUAGE

During the second revision, I obsess over removing redundancy. Here is an example from my book:


Every step was fire that dried their throats and eyes and drained them of vital fluids.

Do you see what's problematic about this sentence? Here it is revised:


Every step was fire that dried their throats and eyes.


It was redundant to add that the heat "drained them of vital fluids." Here is another example:


Half of the Sprite’s face had rotted off and what flesh remained was leathery, with the white of the skull showing in places and only ripped pieces of his wings remained. The bedridden man turned to Miles and he extended a healthy hand to him and a decrepit smile formed.

I underlined the problematic aspects of that passage and highlighted an unwanted repetition. Here it is revised:


Half the Sprite’s face had rotted off and what flesh remained was like leather, poorly concealing his skull beneath. The bedridden man formed a decrepit smile and extended a hand to Miles.


By eliminating needless information, like that "he turned to Miles," the sentences became less redundant. Also, by eliminating the second instance of the word "remained," I added variety to the phrase.


CLICHES AND OVERUSED ELEMENTS OF WRITING

Cliches are generally seen as unwanted elements in a narrative. I am not so quick to judge these. Depending on certain elements of fiction, a cliche could enhance a text.

In daily speech, we make use of cliches to carry our meaning across when other forms of explanations fail or are insufficient. I consider this when writing dialogue and sometimes include a cliche if I feel it is within the boundaries of characterization (would this character use a cliche?).

I try to avoid the most obvious cliches when writing Third Person. For stylistic reasons, however, I may include them. What does that mean? There is a difference between including a sentence like, "She took the bait, hook, line and sinker!" and elevating a cliche into a theme or an extended metaphor.

For example, a theme of many Romance novels is actually the elevation of a cliche: Of love, better late than never. But you will rarely see one of these novels blatantly write it out (maybe in other ways towards the end)--wasn't it Hawthorne's advice in The Scarlet Letter to be true to your heart? Another example of elevating a cliche is the title of my novel. The Quantum of the Past is a reworking of the very common cliche: Don't cry over spilled milk.

In First Person POV, the use of cliches depends on whether I feel the character would use cliches. Again, I try not to just include cliches. In Absolution, the main character uses cliches in his narration and dialogue because it is thematically relevant.

What about those long lists of terms and phrases that you should avoid because they are overused? You've seen them on websites that offer writing advice. The payoff for searching and deleting/substituting these is not enough for me to justify the work. How does my novel benefit from eliminating the word "pleasant" or "Big/little" or "kind"? I guess I could go nuts with a thesaurus, but why? To appear sophisticated or verbose? Come on...

What I always consider when looking at those lists is my voice. Worrying about using "a lot" or about the number of adverbs per page hinders the development of my voice.

Note: If I know ahead of time that an Agent/publisher dislikes certain phrases, then by all means I delete them, only because it's part of the publishing game.


2. Analyze the story, refine the plot as needed

The plot is the sequence of events in the story. To me, the story is not the same thing as the plot. I may revise plot elements, but the story remains the same. It follows that if I revise the story, the plot must change.

There are several version of The Quantum of the Past. I mentioned that I wrote it last year when I meant to send it in to publishers. That version of the novel is obsolete. Now, I want to include subject matter considered taboo, like I did with Absolution. Why would I do that? To be original? As a response to reviews of Absolution? Social justice?

No. Because I can. I can satisfy my creativity without restraint. That's the beauty of self-publishing. (I will post about this lack of restraint in the future).

The reason Quantum was giving me such a headache was because of a shift in story. I had to revise some of the plot--erase some characters, create others, adjust events, settings, and characterization--in order to align the novel with this new vision. It is a shitty thing to do to a novel nearly complete, not just because of the extra work it created for me; it is a procedure that can go awry very easily.

But it has been done with legendary results. Herman Melville's Moby Dick is said to have been influenced in such a way that two distinct novels were the result (an amalgamation of text). There is debate about whether this is true and who or what influenced Melville to alter his novel into what it became. The romantic in me likes to think that Melville tried to do something different with the novel at a late date and the result is what you read in English classes today.

Did I succeed? I still have time to decide that.



3. Presentation

The main goal of the presentation step is to analyze the manuscript and transform it into a novel. So, I dot the i's and cross the t's. It involves analyzing.



ANALYZING CHAPTER CONTENT

If you remember, I mentioned in The Revision, 2, that the chapters I had compressed would be messy. During the second revision, I had to clean them up. One of the tasks involved is looking closely at chapter content. This takes time since you have to consider all the events in a chapter and whether they carry a tone across. If one or more events disrupts the balance within, it's time to relocate them; I may need to move content up or down a chapter.

I will summarize one instance of this in Quantum. There is a chapter titled The Battle of the Raven Mountains, which includes fighting between armies. But in a previous draft of the chapter, there was content of a different pace, interactions that developed the dynamics between the characters. So, I moved this content to an earlier chapter, which had a similar pace. It wasn't hard work and the overall effect is that the The Battle of the Raven Mountains has a darker, uniform tone throughout.



THE FORM OF THE NOVEL

It is a misconception that the novel has to be linear; that is, the events cannot linger away from the plot; and the presentation of content is out of the ordinary/experimental. But some of the most memorable novels in literature are non-linear. Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and James Joyce's Ulysses are examples of non-linear forms.

Creating an effective non-linear form is tricky in a genre novel; too much deviation kills momentum. For example, The Quantum Thief includes interlude chapters that deal with events that take place prior to the events of the plot. These are confusing; only a second reading of the novel helped me appreciate their usefulness. And even that didn't help me connect with the main character any further.

This doesn't mean it can't be done: The Fellowship of the Ring starts off with an aside about Hobbits and The Return of the King ends with a "history" of the fates of the characters involved in the trilogy; G.RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire introduces a flurry of linear forms instead of just one, each colliding with others at different points in the story.

Why complicate things further by messing with the form of the novel? I mean, The Hunger Games is a vastly successful work that doesn't stray even an inch from a traditional form.

This is where writers differ. For a writer like me, who is not content with common modes of storytelling, creating non-linear elements is a must--one of my mottoes is to write the fiction that challenges my creativity.



ANALYZING THE STRUCTURE OF THE MANUSCRIPT

Creating a skeleton of the novel helps me do this:

Section #: Title
            Prologue:  Title                                     pg#
            Chapter #: Title                                     pg#
            Chapter #: Title                                     pg#

And etc. all the way down to the Epilogue. Examining the novel this way gives you an appreciation for volume per section and volume per chapter. It's a bird's eye view of the whole thing that reveals areas of bulkiness and areas starving for content. This would help me if I sought a certain uniformity in content presentation--like if I wanted all the chapters to be 10 pages long.

But the true value of the skeleton lies elsewhere. How many pages after the climax is the end of the novel? If the number of pages is excessive (as defined by a careful observation of other like novels that are successful), then it is essential that I trim content. I don't want the novel to end 200 pages after the climax.

Also, using the skeleton I can highlight events that help build up to the climax and see if there are wide page-number gaps between these--the goal is to have a steady progression of tension.

Note: I could have done the Presentation step during the first revision, but that would have been a waste of time. During the first revision and most of this second revision, the manuscript is in flux and it only solidifies during this step in the revision process.

What does it mean when I say that a manuscript "solidifies"? Well, it takes on a different identity and I treat it differently as a result. After the Presentation step, what I'll have is the novel, for better or worse.

Note: There is one more thing I like to do after the novel solidifies, which is also part of the Presentation step; reading content aloud and looking for areas where I pause. My philosophy is that the first 50 pages should be as smooth as silk--I also read important places in the story. But because I'm self-publishing, I'll save this step for the Copy-Editing Process.

***

After a strenuous second revision, The Quantum of the Past came out with 71 chapters (two more than it had before I completed the first revision), but it only gained 5 pages total--now it is 503 manuscript pages long.

What I'm left with is what I call a Working Draft. Because I'm publishing this myself, and in three volumes, I split the Working Draft.

Now in the Works in Progress page, it shows that each volume is only at 75% complete with the second revision. Wasn't the novel solidified?

Yes. This only means that there is additional work to be done. But it is very precise. I already have areas in mind to refine: Specific chapters; battle sequences. Only serious errors would motivate me to destroy its integrity.

The key word after completing the Presentation step is refine. Whatever ideas I come up with from here on out won't alter the elements of the novel but refine them. For example, the prologue, which I've toyed with incessantly, already dissatisfies me; I'll have to go back and look at that first paragraph again.

And so, the revision process will settle down to make way for editing.




LC

PS: This is a work in progress too. This means I'll add subjects as time passes.




Saturday, September 29, 2012

Taking a breather...

At last, I finished the second revision of The Quantum of the Past! But not really. If you notice, in the Works In Progress page, all three volumes are at 75%. What does that mean? I'll explain that further in the post about the second revision (which is complete, but I was waiting to finish the second revision). 

Now I get to move on to the editing of the novel. Volume one comes first and then I'll publish it. Then I'll have three months to work on Volume two and three months after that to work on Volume three. 

I've been aching to write Ascension! All that built-up tension from working on Quantum has left me with a need to write. I hope it goes as quickly as Absolution did. I finished that in two months. 

Note: The drafting of one of my novels is considerably shorter than what comes after. 

I think I will post about that too. The drafting of one of my novels. 

But dear god, let me take a breather!




LC

Sunday, September 23, 2012

One year ago...

Well, one year ago I was in the same predicament I have been in for the past couple of months. The Quantum of the Past sucked the life right out of me and it took most of my strength to finish it. What made it more challenging was struggling with the tone and voice.

Not much has changed since then. I'm struggling with it now for the very same reasons. Although I have to say that reading Melville's Typee has given me fresh ideas. I'm reading Moby Dick now, so we'll see what ideas emerge from that.

I finished the second revision of volume two today though. Volume two was the most difficult (during the drafting and revising).

I care less and less about audience expectations and more about aesthetics. I love what I do.

***

The Fall has not been very pleasant. During June and July, the weather was bland, not very exciting. Enter August and it's suddenly a walk through hell. Yikes! Today it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm barely keeping up with my commitments everywhere and part of that is because of this heat. 

But this period is not all work and heat. Not that long ago I went with a group of Bartholomews and watched a production of Bonhoeffer. It was a remarkable story, made more so by the wonderful performances--I'm happy to be a co-worker with one of the cast members.

A week or so after going to see that play, I attended a murder-mystery party where the guests were given a role to play in the sordid crime. After many bears and guessing and back stabbing, it was revealed that I was indeed the killer. I did a fair amount of tampering with the evidence (and did some things that I never thought I would have to). But they got me in the end. Bastards!

I went to the Getty yesterday and discovered Klimt. His "Medicine" was particularly intriguing, as were the many studies he drafted to prepare for it. Because of the darkness, I didn't bring my camera (and I was unsure of whether I could use it in the museum at all). What a pleasant experience! 

And in this way I've carried on with work and classes and artistic work. 


LC

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September

The Quantum of the Past is being a royal whore. Whore!

But, this is the longest work I've had the pleasure of revising. It has much to do with the complexity of the story. Volume 1 is about ready for the last stages before I put it out. But it's Volume 2 that pesters. I won't get into any particulars here; I'll reserve my ramblings for the third post on revisions.

My timetable has shrunk. I have to execute that short story for the Writers of the Future Contest in a few weeks; much like I did with the last entry. In all honesty, I will probably skip this quarter in order to focus on getting volume one of Quantum ready for the end of November. But who knows, inspiration might hammer me the way it did last quarter.

***

It's been an interesting month so far. I'm currently exploring a few ideas for the cover of the three volumes that will make up The Quantum of the Past. Working with designs is helping me develop a part of my brain that has remained dormant so far.

Just look at the quality images I'm producing:







LC