The Biggest Lie of Them All

“I grew up in a place where everybody was a storyteller, but nobody wrote. It was that kind of Celtic, storytelling tradition: everybody would have a story at the pub or at parties, even at the clubs and raves.”  Irvine Welsh

It’s visceral, isn’t it? This calling that we’ve entered into?

It’s no wonder we take things like criticisms, rules, guidelines, reviews, and the like, so seriously. I posted a link on my FB page several days ago that led to a post written by a good friend of mine over at The Lit Lab. The heart of the post was centered around the lies we’ve allowed ourselves to believe about writing and about being a professional author (you can find that post here). Reading that inspired list led me to start thinking…what lies have we told ourselves, or allowed ourselves to believe, about what it means to BE an author—a storyteller?

*You can’t develop your voice as an author until you’ve written for years and nothing that you write prior to your first published work will be worth holding onto.

Um…shall I list all of the famous works of literature that were the author’s firsts? I’d rather not, since it would take me more room than a single post on WordPress allows. This is utter bullshit, I don’t care if an agent (or any other authoritative figure) has told you otherwise. Think of it like this: Not everyone needs to date around before finding the one they’re destined to spend their life with. Some do. Others know the moment they meet them. Some authors spend years in silence, never penning a thing, then suddenly they find their voice and set off writing like their keyboards are on fire.

*All advice from reputable sources (agents, publishers, editors, critique group members, alpha & beta readers), is good advice.

Need I mention again, Tolkien’s advice to Lewis to nix Father Christmas from the Chronicles of Narnia? Even as I type that it sounds like good advice doesn’t it? Except for all of those children who listed it as their favorite part of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. And the fact that Lewis, in his heart, knew that Father Christmas couldn’t be cut from the story.

*You MUST know everything about the craft of writing, in order to be a good storyteller.

Have you never been to a bar before? Have you never sat around a campfire and heard Uncle Whoever retell his childhood escapades in such a way that has the whole crowd dying with laughter? Have you never been to summer camp and been huddled beneath your sleeping bag in dread terror while some counselor (me), or fellow camper (also me) told you the scariest story you’ve ever heard? Do you live under a rock? Storytelling, to some folks, is second nature. I think I can safely say that I’m one of them. You likely are as well, but haven’t gathered the guts to state that you believe that for the record. And before you go there, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn the basics. All I’m saying, is that the first guy or gal who told a story, likely didn’t know the parts of the story by what would become their “proper” names. Those are merely formalities. Imagine it like two people who speak different languages, meeting and falling in love. Sure, there might be a little fumbling around in the beginning, but eventually you develop your own method of communication and everything else falls into place. If it’s meant to be, you don’t have WORK at it that hard. It. Just. Is.

*In order to be a great author, you have to be able to write outstanding queries.

I’m sorry, I can hardly type from the tears I’m shedding in laughter over this one. I’ve read this on more than one agent’s blog, and a couple of publishers, but ironically, I’ve never seen it on an author’s blog. Wonder why? Gee…hmmm….give me a second. ‘Cause it’s…you guessed it….total shit. Some of us, just aren’t short-winded. Period. Yes, it’s a fault. Yes, it sucks. YES, it means it’ll take longer to get someone’s attention if you’re in that category and you’re unpublished. Does it mean you won’t ever be successful or famous? No. Not at all. And frankly, I have no idea where this idea came from. Queries and novels are not the same thing for a reason, and the pervasive idea that if you can’t sum up your novel in 300 words or less, then you don’t know what it’s about, is LUDICROUS. And I don’t mean the band.

Seriously, this one is one of the worst bits of writing “truth” I’ve read. It’s terribly discouraging and does nothing but make writing a query harder for those of us who struggle with writing them in the first place. So, do yourself (and me) a favor and don’t spread that horse manure. If you only knew the number of NYT bestselling authors who hired a ghost writer to write their queries for them…(how do I know this? Because I know a handful of ghost writers who have written them for NYT bestselling authors).

*The difference between authors and writers, is that authors have been traditionally published.

I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. Really? I’ve read that one on writers’ sites. Shame on you! You ought to know better. Do you think that because you are published that you have the right to make others feel less worthy than you? No, writers are folks who write. Period. This encompasses everything from obituaries and classified ads, to text books and personal weblogs. Authors, tell stories. That’s all. That’s the distinction. Check out Webster if you don’t believe me. Now, I will give you the caveat that in order to be an author, you do have to have actually *finished* a novel, short story, or novella. Publication has nothing to do with it. That’s merely recognition for having done something, it doesn’t have any bearing on whether you’ve actually done the thing or not. If you’re still “researching” that first novel, and have been for the last ten years, then you’re still a writer. Only when you’re done do you get to call yourself an author. Even if your cat is the only sentient being to set eyes on it after that.

I think even Donald Maass may have stated that in one of his many manifestos on how to be a bestselling author.

How ’bout I’ll just settle for being an author, and let the cards fall where they may. Hm? K. Thanks.

*But, the biggest lie of them all is this: As an author, I am worth the value that others place on my work.

Nothing, nothing, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve told myself this one. I’m willing to bet that at some point in your writing life, you will too. There are two kinds of authors: Those who’ve bought the bullshit, and those who will. Not a single one of us is exempt from taking a reviewer too seriously, or a crit partner, or an agent, or an editor. Not a single one of us is exempt from wondering, at some dark moment, has this all been worth it? Not a single one of us is exempt from feeling, in a moment of weakness, like our hold on the English language is a tad more tenuous than we’d suspected.

Truth is, we’re all learning, and no work is perfect. No work is without its quirks. No author is free of them either, but isn’t that what makes our calling so great? No other profession in the world is quite like it. Some might come close, but they’ll never reach the heights that being an author will show you. You’ll never take another path and reach a higher summit.

Whatever lies you believe…don’t believe the biggest of them all. At the very least, do yourself, and the rest of us who will (or already do) love your writing, and your characters, and your worlds, do us the favor of having faith in your natural instincts.

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Book Review: The Replacement

The Replacement: Book Review by Ien Nivens

Brenna Yovanoff performs a rare and eerie brand of magic in her debut novel, The Replacement, drawing a translucent veil of paranormalcy so gently over the mind of the reader that—though she works in plain view, without subterfuge or distracting tricks–we do not blink, we do not look away, we do not speak up to refute a world that cannot be, because it is.  We know it is, not because Yovanoff convinces us, but because we recognize it.  The town of Gentry, with its willful blindnesses and cruelties, its churches, its cemeteries and its slag heap, is embedded, one way or another, in every town, just as surely as the living dead are embedded in every social clique and club and blood drive in America.

Yovanoff substitutes one world for another, surely, but in doing so she restores an original and ancient mystery to our dealings with life and death and the daily transactions we make with both, until the layered world she shows us becomes, once again–as it always was–the real one, living side by side or just a sidelong glance across the surface of the one we’ve been collectively pretending–all of us, all along–to be whole and plausible and independent of our dark imaginings.

Mackie Doyle is allergic.  While he cannot, for the life of him, tell the trugh, he is the most honest and reliable of narrators.  He doesn’t lie; it’s just that he has been conditioned, like most of us, not to admit certain, shall we say, rustic truths–about himself, about his kind, about the way things are, the way things…operate.

The tension between Mackie and Tate, who cannot abide his evasions, is wholly original and true.  They provide the electromagnetic current, the polar orientation, of Yovanoff’s tale.  The other members of the cast, while often serving various emblematic functions, are never less than convincingly and strikingly themselves–except for the ones who are (like Mackie) someone else.  I am thinking of Roswell and the uncomplicated loyalty between friends who’ve grown up together and do not require of one another a great deal of explanation.  And I’m thinking of Emma, whose devotion to Mackie is total, vulnerable and powerful.

Yovanoff demonstrates that the nether world of Faerie is as relevant to post-industrial America as it once must have been to the Celtic world that first brought it into common view.  That region of the imagination (if you insist) still shimmers, and it stinks.  It is vibrant, alluring, fetid and also, in its bruised, addictive way, fashionable.

Mackie Doyle’s momentary and decidedly small-time fame as bassist with the band Rasputin is reminiscent of the vampire Lestat’s open air disguise as a  rock star, and we can see traces of the Weasley twins in Danny and Drew, if we try hard, but in both cases, the references are down-sized and genuine, dressed in the unassuming charm of the local.  We’ve known these kids since they were little.

We’ve also known, since forever, the likes of the Morrigan and her sister.  Petulant, competitive child-goddesses who play at adult games if and when it suits them.  Once every seven years, anyway.

So far this year, The Replacement is the best reading I can recommend.  Yovanoff’s voice is better than original; it’s true.  It’s a voice I hope we’ll hear again and again.

~Ien Nivens

Concerning Waffles…

 

DeadlyNightshade_Gerard

Deadly Nightshade

Or rather, I should say, concerning waffling. See, I am sitting at my desk at an absurdly early hour (3:42am if you must know), feeling more than a little guilty about not finishing Nightshade or Icarus before beginning yet another project. I thought I could get over the minor annoyance that this guilt was proving to be a couple of days ago, but you may consider this my white flag of defeat. Instead of committing to pen 50,000 words of a new project in November—I will pen the rest of Nightshade, which lacks about that much. I wrote a couple chapters and a prologue for ‘Of Blood and Bone’ but the story simply isn’t ready to be written yet. I’ll know when it’s time. You can’t force these things…

 

I know what brought this on. I reread Nightshade and afterwards, sat and listened to a play list that I’d created for a second epic series that I’ve dubbed ‘Beggar King’ and remembered what it felt like to be inspired in a creative sense. That sounds more simple than it is. See, there are a few choice scenes for the aforementioned epic series that I’ve already fully fleshed out—and I haven’t committed anything more than a couple of maps, character sketches and a prologue to paper for it. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when Fable is finished (revised and proofed–they’ve been penned for more than a year), Beggar King will be the next large scale piece I work on. I know this because of how intense those few scenes are. I can taste the sweat of my main character as she sits, wounded and mute, in the dungeon of her beloved’s kingdom, accused of a crime she couldn’t have committed—her own murder. I feel equally his grief when he realizes what he’s done, only to bring her back from the edge of death and find out too late that the spell cast on her was two fold–undoing it may grant back her speech, but it will erase any memory she has of him or her alter ego (who she was accused of murdering).

Icarus and Nightshade are stand alone pieces, as I’ve said before, and for whatever reason—I like to work on smaller projects like these in between the larger, more exhausting ones. While I like the ideas, and certainly the title, for ‘Of Blood and Bone,’ I don’t feel the characters yet. I still have faith in it, but any story you write is a relationship of sorts: You can ruin things by going too fast and lose them by going too slow. I need to finish Nightshade. I have been avoiding it because of how hard some of the subject matter is—most of my work is somewhat dark in nature, especially the fairy tale stuff. Nightshade is no exception. So, I will heed my own advice and dig my heels in. It’s easy to start something else, dive into that honeymoon phase when everything is easy and flows without the woes of queries or edits or revisions or any of the things that make writing in a professional sense such a nightmare sometimes. What is difficult, is staying the course and seeing your story through till the true end.

The great and necessary solitude

What is it that beckons that inner voice? When the hours draw long and still, and the world quiets to merely a whisper, then it comes. Peace. A deeper solitude than can be found in any writing book, or literary commentary or within the tawdry lines of any blog. There is no price high enough to place on this state of mind to equal its worth.
I spent a long weekend at Oak Mountain, enjoying the crisp fall air and the smell of a campfire. I had originally intended on getting a fair amount of writing done, but found instead that the simple enjoyment of true rest was more beneficial. After a day of getting adjusted back to the monotony of city life, I am ready to write again. Its funny how much can be figured out by listening only to the silence.

For two years a question has hovered over my current project, reeking havoc on my concentration and muddying my plot lines. After listening. Really listening. I now have my answer, and it was there all along.
Tonight, I write!

The Devil’s in the details…

I wrote in an earlier blog,
“We musn’t tell them everything. Some things, certainly, but not everything. I mean this as no excuse for poor detail or fractured narrative. What I mean is this; know it, inside and out, every detail: The peoples, long since faded from memory that once thrived where your hero now treads; animals that will never wander in your protagonist’s path and ruins that are too covered with centuries of stories to be seen. Every rock, village, tide and turn. This is the foundation upon which worlds are built. These are the underpinnings of much greater things. Like steel beams in a modern building, it holds…it structures the fabric of your imagination.
Because after all, it is the utterance of a thing that makes it what it is. As an author, you will always (without fail) know more about your worlds than can be shared with your readers. Your acknowledgement of it is enough. If it is strong, it will carry through your prose and filter into the minds of those who dare dive deep enough. Those are the worlds that leave us dreaming long after the last page has been turned. Like the never ending story, some worlds will never die.”

I ran across a link today that caught my attention. http://www.bmarch.atfreeweb.com/Worldbuilding.htm This is a really detailed list of links.

Another link is http://www.sfwa.org/writing/worldbuilding1.htm Which happens to be my favorite.

I’ve heard it said that you can tell when someone is lying when they give too many details. The words sound false to them, so they try to make them believable with more of them. Like the classic rookie that calls out of the office, regaling his boss with all the glorious symptoms of a stomach flu…
As authors, we must resist this urge, just like any ordinary liar. We are, in a sense, professional fibbers. If we give too much away, the reader will know. What we must do is weave just enough to make it nearly tangible.

The written word and all its worth…

I was reading through one of my favorite blogs this morning, sifting through the archive and found this little gem: http://literaryrejectionsondisplay.blogspot.com/2008/02/one-rejected-writers-manifesto-listen.html

F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorites and I found this brief commentary powerful, heartbreaking and poignant. I also found it mildly entertaining. With my recent feelings about the state of things in the publishing world being so grim, and with consideration of how much crap is being praised as ‘fresh’ and ‘urban’, I smiled, drank more coffee and wondered how we let it get this far? Where did we give up literary value for shock factor, or merit for quick entertainment? Sure, I might get a kick for a day over reading some of the nameless drugstore drivel out there, but does it last? Do I find myself pondering over the characters or the worlds they populate, days later? Sadly, no.

It’s been quite a while since I read something truly fresh. My personal taste is for fantasy work, but literary and fantasy fiction are not mutually exclusive. But, I relent. I fear I am standing on a rotting soapbox here…