Thursday, June 27, 2019

Google Search: How NOT to choose a title for your book, but check this out

What's in a name? When it's the title of your book, pretty much everything. While the right title doesn't guarantee the success of a book, it certainly doesn't hurt. Look at the Harry Potter series. The title is so important, the title of book 1 is actually different in the US because the publisher was afraid Americans wouldn't pick up a book with the word "Philosopher" in the title. So, while the book is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone pretty much everywhere, it's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in America. Would it have been successful with the original title in the US? We'll never know...

But it got me thinking about titles for today's post, which is my turn for a Google Search. Besides asking everyone you know for title suggestions, what if you take to the internet? So...I did.

Turns out...not very helpful. Many of the same results come up, even though certain phrases look like results will include use of keywords or plot points. I focused on the results that included romance titles - Heart Full of Stars anyone? - and while most of them are pretty generic, they might spark an idea or two? Even the ones where I input a few keywords were way too general. And, if I'm honest, a lot of them were downright bad.

So the title generators were a big a fat no from me. But what was a HUGE yes was Fantasy Name Generator. You guys, it has everything! Need a name for a Scottish hero? You'll get first and last name combinations here. How about a name for your fictional film studio? Lunarlight Entertainment could work.

There's even a swear word generator! Shoodlepoppers! Paltry parasite. Honestly, this seems like it could come in handy if you have a toddler at home and are trying to watch your language, as well. We're past that in my house, but I might go with the riddle generator.

What belongs to you, but others use it more than you do?

Any guesses?

Come on. Have a think.

(Your name!)

Which brings us back to what's in a name. (Like how I did that?) Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to finding the perfect book title. Lauren Layne, one of my favorite romance authors, schedules time in her day to brainstorm ten titles at a time. While ten feels like a lot to me, I also see the merit in it. because one idea sparks another and another. The title generators can even help with this, but the likelihood of finding your forever title here is slim. The name of your fictional library, however, using the above tool? Google's definitely got you covered.

Monday, June 24, 2019


A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, fresh off a red-eye from California and completely zombified as a result (it doesn't help that I didn't get much sleep over the weekend either... friend's wedding, jet lag, flights booked to minimize hotel stays but also as a consequence minimize sleep...). Anyway, what better time to make a hack job out of a back cover description, right?

For those who don't know, Back Jacket Hack-Job is a recurring series on Across the Board where we take turns describing books terribly. Partly because I'm too brain dead to think of anything else and partly because I'm vain, I'm going to pick on my own recently released YA steampunk fantasy, Stronger Than A Bronze Dragon. Here we go...

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, but probably not the one you were thinking of, with European-style castles and knights in shining armor, but one that steals ideas and aesthetics from 19th century China and faffs around with them because why not have bronze automatons wandering down the street and completely historically inaccurate versions of mythology...

... there lived a teenage peasant girl in a tiny village. Her life was tough. Like, really tough. But she was also really pretty. So when a rich man came to town and saw her, he was like "OMG I'm going to marry her and make her royalty." And she was like "fine." And they all lived happily ever after.

Just kidding, this isn't actually Cinderella. See, the girl in this story, Anlei, is a village guard who spends her evenings fighting shadow demons. And the rich man, a viceroy, actually just wants a magical dragon's pearl owned by the village. So he's like, "Hey, give me the pearl, and I'll protect your village from shadow demons." And he has all these powerful magical steampunk dragons that can blast those suckers back to Hell much faster than a few peasants with swords can. So the village headman is like, "Okay, sure. But I know that rich dudes have zero qualms about taking from poor dudes and then reneging on their promises, so to seal the deal, you have to marry a local girl." And the viceroy's like "Okay, sure. That one's hot -- I'll marry her." And "that one" is Anlei, who's like, "Hell no... oh crap, the whole fate of my village hinges on my saying yes to the dress, doesn't it? Fine, dammit. I hate everyone."

But the day of the wedding, some punk named Tai steals the pearl. And Anlei's like, "Ugh, without that thing, what's the point of any of this?" So she goes after him. And chases him literally to Hell and back just to get that stupid thing back.

Must be some pearl.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

This is the book that never ends...

🎶🎶 This is the book that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friends. Some writer starter it, not knowing what it was, and she'll continue revising it forever just because...🎶🎶


🎶🎶 This is the book that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friends. Some writer starter it, not knowing what it was, and she'll continue revising it forever just because...🎶🎶

Welcome to June, folks. In my neck of the woods, the weather is wet and the kids are home. School has ended and I find myself STILL trying to edit a novel and also parent at the same time. It's a mixed bag of Hell if I'm gonna be honest. It doesn't help that there are no snacks in my house and I find myself tossing croutons at my kids to appease them. Here, eat this.

Until recently, I'd never truly been in the query trenches. I queried a novel in 2013. Sent if off to 25 agents and then hit small publishers where it got picked up. I queried another novel in 2016, sent it to five agents, where is got representation only to have had that agentship fall apart soon after. Now I'm firmly in the trenches where most days it feels like rats are feeding on my face while I sleep (WW1 reference) and it's (understatement of the year) difficult. Because while I am the deepest I've ever been in the process, I still feel so far away from my goal.

Agents are (rightfully) finding flaws with the book. Things that must be addressed. And this novel has been revised a trillion times already. I've gone from two points-of-view to one back to two, and then to four. Agents (who offered feedback) said the same thing: I didn't connect with one character's POV and the pacing needed work. Also, it was too long.

So I cut it down to one POV, making sure my antiheroine was the focus. But then I ran into issues with her motivation and character development. And one agent suggested I consider changing the verb tense.

You might think, well, this is your book. You're free to make changes where you see fit. And that is true. But what also is true is that you want your work to feel accessible. Everyone says that it only takes one yes to get an agent. One yes to get a publishing deal. But the more yeses I get from agents, the more yeses I'll get from editors. The more yeses I might get from readers. I want yeses. Otherwise all this work will feel in vain. At least, to me.

My friend recently took a Twitter poll to find out how long it took authors to write and revise a novel before it sold to a publisher. For most, two years+. I'm going on sixteen months. This book is a toddler.

Some days, it doesn't feel worth it. Some days, I think, just chuck it. Shelve it. Start anew. And when I take too long a break, I feel like my characters are haunting me. Peeking out from behind tree trunks to scold me. Get-r-done.

In the meantime, as I go back to my revisions, I'll sing my version of the Shari Lewis Lambchop song with the hopes that this will eventually end. Because there's another book ready to take its place.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Escapism, Bollywood, and the Shirley Temple Effect
More often than I probably should, I question the value of my art. As an author primarily writing fantasy, who, for example, dwells on what the Norse gods would be doing in the 21st century, I often wrestle with justifying the time, expense, energy, and emotional work I put into my stories. Shouldn't I be directing that effort into something "real"? Something significant and consequential?

The world we live in is not now nor has it ever been easy. Existential dread on a national, generational level ebbs and flows. I think most of us would agree that right now, as a nation, the U.S. is experiencing an especially high level of emotional distress. It's a constant hum in the background of our daily lives and frequently jabs into our collective consciousness with the news of the latest mass shooting or civil rights violation or attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman making us wonder if yet another overseas war is imminent. It's times like these, though, when escapist entertainment proves its relevancy and reveals its unquestionable value.

No matter your age, you're undoubtedly familiar with Shirley Temple (if not, you should rectify that deficiency right now!) Thanks to my grandparents, I grew up on her movies: The Little Princess and Heidi and Bright Eyes. Sure she was talented, and charismatic, and the cutest ball of curls ever. But her appeal can also be attributed to another powerful factor: a national hunger and appetite for escapism, particularly stemming from the troubles of the Great Depression.

"As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right," President Roosevelt declared. "When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles."

I'd argue the popularity of super-hero films is the U.S.'s current equivalent to Shirley Temple. We're all looking for distraction, and we're all wishing there was someone out there with the power to really change the world, to defeat evil once and for all with their inhuman strength or with a blink of their laser-beam eyes.

My own Twitter bio confesses I'm a super-hero fan, and yet... I've been so dissatisfied lately. No, not everyone's definition of escapist fantasy is the same, but for me I'd argue the current offerings in T.V. and cinema are falling short of distracting me in a satisfying way. I'm not including novels in this complaint because, as a fan of romance, I'd say the genre is having a renaissance. It's more popular than it's ever been. Why? If you don't know the answer, re-read everything I've just written, above. If only Hollywood would understand that many of its consumers are craving, but are probably having a hard time finding, the sort of escapism romance novels are providing. Hollywood still seems to be focused on "gritty realism" and "prestige", and some of us (probably many of us) want something completely opposite of that when we're looking to soothe our fraught and weary souls.

For example, I don't want to watch The Handmaid's Tale seires on Hulu because that stuff is happening in real life RIGHT NOW. I don't want to dwell on it, I want to escape from it! And this is where the Bollywood part of this post comes in.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Bollywood is an amalgamation of "Hollywood" and "Bombay", now called Mumbai, which is the home of India's Hindi-language movie production industry. What does Bollywood have to do with escapism? Oh, believe me, it has EVERYTHING to do with escapism, and  I'm here to tell you about it, starting with a little back story.

About a month-and-a-half ago, I happened upon a tweet posted in response to the hashtag #BeMyLi or "Be My Love Interest." It's an event co-hosted by romance author, Prerna Picket (@prernapicket) in which a theme for that week's posts is chosen and participants post images or .gifs in response. That particular week, the theme was "Be my brown-skinned love interest," and someone posted this .gif without much context other than a name: Ranveer Singh. And my life has not been the same since.

Don't tell me love at first sight isn't a real thing. As soon as I saw that image, I had to know everything about Ranveer Singh. And once I discovered he was a star of Hindi cinema, I had to watch all of his movies. And I did--with a sort of embarrassing amount of obsession. The first movie I watched was Padmaavat because it looked beautiful in its trailers, and it was readily available on Amazon Prime.

Padmaavat scratched an itch I'd been trying to satisfy for the last I-don't-know-how-many years (probably at least since the recent administration took office). It was SPECTACLE. It was PAGEANTRY. It was DANCE and SONG and MELODRAMA. It was ROMANCE. It was all those things in a way American cinema has rarely attempted since the Silver Screen classics of yore. And, oh my, how healing it was for my aching heart. I cried from the relief, the catharsis of it. I was hooked, infatuated, addicted. I probably need an intervention, but if you take these movies from me I'll bite you--I'm not above fighting dirty.
Shah Rukh Khan--Those eyes... Swoon!
I've since moved on to devouring the movies of current legends like Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, and the indomitable Shah Rukh Khan--aka King Khan--one of the most prolific actors in Bollywood's history and deserving of every bit of his fame and notoriety. He can do tortured young ingenue, slap stick comic relief, and brooding, sexy romantic hero with equal aplomb and a mischievous sparkle in his eye. If you ever want a list of  movie recommendations, hit me up on Twitter.

Part of me regrets it took me so long to "discover" Hindi cinema, but I'm not sure I would have been as receptive to it as I am now. No, the movies aren't all as delicious as Padmaavat  (some have been DNFers, to be honest). Not all of them are grand displays of romantic exhibitionism, either (horror fans, you really need to watch Tumbbad. You'll thank me for it.). I could write a whole series of blog posts on the things I've researched and studied in the wake of my Bollywood awakening to get a better appreciation for the historical, political, religious, and cultural references permeating these movies, but at their core, the themes of Hindi cinema are universal. They just tend to be presented with a lot more unabashed and unapologetic joy, passion, and romance. India has continuously embraced escapism in a way America generally hasn't (and yes, there are many socio-economic reasons for the popularity of escapism in India, but that's a whole other issue I don't feel qualified to discuss). What a loss for U.S. movie goers--especially in these troubling times--that we have so few English-language cinematic equivalencies.

I don't know about you, but I could use a little more joy, passion, and romance right now. And that's why, when the voice of doubt whispers in my ear, urging me to write with more gravity, more realism, more "importance,"  I'll tell that voice shut-up and go watch another Hindi movie.

Monday, June 10, 2019

How I Edit

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!

I'm pleased to admit that I'm not struggling right now in the same fashion I was last year because that means that, amongst other things, a good friend of mine didn't set himself on fire.  But I am still a bit swamped with work, which I may just have to accept as the new normal.

That being said, I'm in the middle of a few projects right now.  And I thought to myself, "You know, you could just do some work, show your thought process, and call that a blogpost.  It's not even technically cheating!"

And since all of my work right now is editing existing pieces, how about a glimpse at how I go about editing?  Let's start with a few sentences from a novella I'm working on right now, THE THING UNDER YOUR BED.  This is pretty much a spoiler-free excerpt from the work.  You've probably intuited from the title that there's a monster under someone's bed, in this case, an unnamed little girl.  In this scene, the monster has been shouting to prove that her mother will not be coming to help her.

The Thing continued for a solid thirty seconds after she had already stopped. She hadn’t given up so much as simply let herself trail off.

“What…but what’s the matter?” the Thing asked, in mock concern. “She doesn’t seem to be coming. Do you think we should try calling for her a little more? Here, I’ll get you started…Mom!”

“Stop,” she said.

Her voice was back to normal. She was grateful for that, at least. Her pulse had stopped racing, the fear had all fled her in fact. It seemed that in their shouting match she had burned it all off. Her situation was no less precarious, but at least she was back to thinking like normal.

Okay, so many writers differ, but my methodology is to write out more or less the entire work, then go back and self-edit once before turning it in to my publisher for a professional edit.  I wrote this passage sometime in the last six weeks or so.  It's a good practice (if you write this way - again, some authors edit as they go) to let a work mellow for 4-6 weeks before attempting to self-edit.  Otherwise you're not really looking at it with fresh eyes; you're still trapped in the thought processes you were writing with.

First, the bird's-eye view.  Some of the things I'll ask myself while editing are:

1.)  Does this section need to exist?  

Whereas in life random shit happens all the time, in fiction every scene (every word, really) needs to have a purpose.  There are two fundamental purposes: advancing the plot or fleshing out a character.  If a section doesn't do one of those two things, cut it.  This process is sometimes referred to as "killing your darlings."  In other words, even if you find something beautiful or perfect, if it isn't functional, it needs to go.

In the section above, I'm doing two things.  First, the child is doing something that anyone would do in her situation: finding out that there's a real, flesh-and-blood monster under the bed, she calls for her mother.  If this section wasn't here, people would wonder why not.  If I left it out, that would've become a plot hole.  

You know how everyone always says, "Why didn't Frodo and Gandalf just fly to Mordor with the eagles?"  That's a classic example of a plot hole.  

It's important to avoid plot holes whenever possible by having the character attempt to solve the problem the way any normal person would.  This comes with a caveat: if the character does not do what a normal person would do, then you, as the author, need to establish why.  Perhaps the character is agoraphobic, which is why they don't just leave the haunted house, for example.  

When you're desperate, one final way of fixing a plot hole is to "lampshade" it - that is, call attention to the issue so that the reader is aware that you, the author, are also aware of the plot hole but you're just going to leave it in for entertainment's sake.  Lampshading is usually too cutesy for serious work, but you can get away with it sometimes in comedy.

So, I'm heading off a potential plot hole by having the little girl call for her mother.  I'm also establishing that the monster under the bed is a mean, sadistic creature.  He's taking pleasure in tormenting the little girl, even going so far as to shout for her mother along with her, to prove how hopeless her situation is.  This is an important character beat for the monster.

So, yes, this section is carrying weight.  It needs to stay.

2.)  Does this section belong here?

Assuming the section needs to stay, is it properly situated?  A good example is describing a person, setting, or object at the right juncture.  Now, normally the time to describe something is when it's first introduced.  However, you may be pulling a "Pulp Fiction" on us, and it's best to avoid describing something until it becomes pertinent.  

The important thing, though, is that you the author know why you're describing something and when.  Readers often complain, for example, that they have already visualized a character in chapter one, so if the author waits to describe them until chapter two, it's too late.  The reader's already visualized them with green eyes instead of blue, or whatever.

In this particular spot in my narrative, I'm trying to establish that the little girl has attempted to deal with the monster on her own, and is now truly freaked out and begins to call for help.  The sample section is properly situated for that.  And, you can also see how where I placed the section could be a character point.  My main character doesn't just roll over and call for help immediately.  She tries to deal with the problem on her own first.  This establishes that she's got a little backbone.  So, overall, it's best to keep this section where it is.

3.)  Is this section properly paced?




Yeah, annoying, huh?  All right, I'll stop it with the spacing games.  But bear in mind that when you write, words are not the only tool in your arsenal.  Punctuation, as much as we may hate it, is vital to understanding a work.  Are you speaking in a conversational, jovial tone (in other words, a spot where parentheses could be used?)  Is your character trailing off...?  An ellipsis might be perfect.  

Or you might be leaning on ellipses too much.  Or you might be using run-on sentences.

Now, don't get me wrong.  A run-on sentence is perfectly fine in certain scenarios.  Any time you have a character who is trying, actively trying, to work something out, just bashing their head against the wall trying to work something out, either in the action or in their head, you can certainly get that point across by just running on and on and on.

However.  When it comes to action, short and to the point is key.  He opened the door.  A vampire stood on the other side.  The time for sizing one another up was over.  Now was the time for battle.  Short, declarative sentences keep the reader reading, and thus, keep the action flowing.

Spacing is key, too.  Is it time for a section break?  Chapter break?  New paragraph?

Is it because there's a new thought?  

Are you just trying to highlight something, is that why you're giving a single sentence its own paragraph?

Overall, the spacing in the sample section is how I want it.  I considered combining the last paragraph with the last dialogue tag, because I want to focus on the fact that the little girl lost her voice and now it's back.  But after closer review, I think it's better as-is.


All right, now that I've looked at the macro, let's look at the micro.  This is called line editing.  I'll highlight additions in red and deletions with a strikethrough, then go over each change in a bullet list.

The Thing continued shouting for a solid thirty solid seconds after she the little girl had already stopped fallen silent.  She hadn’t given up so much as simply let herself trail off. 

- Okay, so I know you blog readers can't see this, but it's been a paragraph or two since I mentioned the Thing Under the Bed was shouting.  So without an immediate antecedent, I inserted the verb "shouting" again.  
- I think "thirty solid seconds" sounds stronger here than "a solid thirty seconds."  
- It's also been a while since I referred to the nameless girl as anything other than "she."  (It's a tightrope walk referring to characters by name often enough to be make it clear who's taking action and by pronoun often enough to not seem like you're not just in love with the sound of their name.)  
- "Already stopped" is clearer now that I've inserted what she was doing ("shouting") but overall "falling silent" is clearer than "stopped shouting."  And clarity is king.

“What…but what’s the matter?” the Thing asked, in its voice dripping with mock concern. “She doesn’t seem to be coming. Do you think we should try calling for her a little moreagain? Here, I’ll get you us started.  Mom!” 

- I could have gone either way with "What...but what" versus "What."  The monster is trying to be a dick, after all.  But reading this sentence out loud (another useful trick for self-editing) I can picture him saying "What's the matter" sarcastically, but the stuttered version doesn't seem quite right.  
- In the dialogue tag, I want to get across that the Thing is faking it.  "Mock concern" is clear either way, but "dripping" adds a little extra layer that makes the sarcasm more obvious.
- Now that I've added "shouting" and "falling silent" back to the last paragraph, it's more clear what the monster is talking about.  So we can eliminate "calling for her" altogether.
- Since he said "we" in the last sentence, it's better to say "us" instead of "you."  I understand why I wrote it the first way initially, but this is stronger.  He's still being a dick, implying that they're in this boat together, when really he's the one who's causing all of the little girl's torment.
- Ellipses should really only be used when characters are trailing off.  I'm often guilty of misusing them.  Here I don't think it makes sense.  I could have used an em-dash instead, but I think a new sentence is the stronger choice.

“Stop,” she said. 

Her voice was back to normal. She was grateful for that, at least. Her pulse had stopped racing,.  All her the fear had all fled, her in fact. It seemed that in their shouting match sShe had burned it all off during their shouting match. Her situation was no less precarious, but at least she was back to thinking like normally.

- The third sentence ended up becoming a run-on, and there's no real reason for it, so I broke it up.
- In the new fourth sentence, this is a stronger construction.
- In the new fifth sentence, "it seemed" weakens the overall sentence, and with that gone, it seemed (ha!) stronger to move the first part to the end.
- In the final sentence, yes, I know, people hate adverbs, but I had initially said "like normal" to simulate a child's mode of speech, since we're in close third person here.  Upon re-reading it, though, I think the baby talk's too distracting in this case.  The adverbial construction is clearer, and clearer is always better. 


Well, that was probably immensely boring to everyone involved.  But what are your thoughts on editing?  What's your process?  Best practices?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Test of Time

By Cheryl Oreglia 

I recently had the privilege of viewing the new Elton John film, Rocketman, currently in theaters. I think we can all agree he is an extraordinary artist, but as a culture we have a tendency to love or hate creative types, especially the ones who live on the edge like Reginald Kenneth Dwight (birth name). Elton says, “I'm not everybody's cup of tea. But sometimes criticism can be hurtful. Be respectful. I'm a good piano player, I can sing well, I write good songs. If you don't like it, fair enough. But give me a break.” Sound advice when evaluating the impact of someone's work. 

Like many of us he struggled to define his identity, but he had to do it in the public eye, which is all the more confusing. Elton said, “I never thought of myself as being handsome or good-looking or whatever. I always felt like an outsider.” But his stage presence was so magnetizing, I believe it scared him in a way, and his solution was to numb the shit out of himself with drugs and alcohol. Those substances almost took his life. What a waste that would have been.
“I was more ashamed that I couldn't work the washing machine than the fact that I was taking drugs.” Elton John
Maybe we search for our own answers in the lives of celebrities? We admire their irreverent lifestyle but also fear that kind of vulnerability? I privately cheered him on as he overcame his addiction to drugs and alcohol, then celebrated the fact that he has remained sober going on 28 years, bravo Elton John. 

I think everyone is creative, we write our own lives by the way we live day in and day out, deciding what we will, and will not present to the world. Imagine if that discretion was taken away from you because of fame?

Elton John has a gift and I admire the bravery, or maybe it's the generosity, with which he offers it to the world. I suppose what attracts me the most to his music, is not only his outrageous talent and stage presence, but his ability to show us who he really is. It takes enormous courage to reveal ourselves fully to one another. This is what makes relationships so difficult. Sometimes we hold the most important parts back, choosing never to disclose our true selves, but not so with Elton John. 

I love observing how creativity leeks out of people in the most extraordinary ways, such as a cook garnishing a plate with an elaborate insignia made with sauce, the gardener who trims a boring hedge into the shape of a fallen star, or the teacher who provides creative and empowering curriculum so her students not on learn but thrive. It seems to be more about how you do things than what you actually do?

As writers we are charged with writing our truth, maybe it doesn't work for everyone, but writing from your deepest most authentic self is what matters. Bernie Taupin is the songwriter for Elton John, he's written some of his most famous lyrics, including such songs as "Rocket Man", "Levon", "Crocodile Rock", "Honky Cat", "Tiny Dancer", "Candle in the Wind", "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", "Bennie and the Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", , "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", and 1970's "Your Song", their first hit. 

In one of the early scenes Taupin is sitting at Elton’s mother’s breakfast table, intently scribbling lyrics onto a sheet of paper. He hands it to Elton (“It’s got tea on it,” Elton complains) and heads upstairs to take a shower. As Taupin is contemplating a shave, Elton has dressed the words with the perfect melody, flawlessly finishing the piece. Collaboration at its best. The song, of course, is John’s eventual smash hit Your Song.

Your Song was written in the early days of their partnership, John and Taupin were just beginning to realize their complimentary skills as song writers. “Your Song was one of the first songs we wrote when we really got locked into writing and when we had really honed our craft after writing all the sort of early bits and pieces that never surfaced,” says Taupin in a recent interview. 

The lyrics might sound naive, because Taupin was only 17 when he wrote them, and was inexperienced when it came to romantic love. So he imagined what it might be like and put it to paper. "It's got to be one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music," he told Music Connection in 1989. "But I think the reason it still stands up is because it was real at the time. That was exactly what I was feeling. I was 17 years old and it was coming from someone whose outlook on love or experience with love was totally new and naïve," claims Taupin.

I suppose that is what we're all hoping to do as writers, that our work will stand up to the test of time, because it's exactly what we were feeling at the time, our truth as we only we can see it, and write it. Nancy Slonim Aronie says, "creativity is the process of souls expressing themselves, it has nothing to do with selling, or reviews, or results, or commercial success. It has everything to do with taking charge, being honest, experimenting with what feels right. This brainstorming of the gut will nourish your innards." 

What do you do as writers to nourish your innards? Share some thoughts on your experience with the creative process and how you maintain your authentic voice.

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Five Reasons Why Some of What You're Reading Probably Sucks

That book you're reading right now? It probably sucks. I see folks on social media every week complaining that they can't find a book that holds their interest. On the other hand, at least half my friends are excited about what they're reading as I man. I sat down and studied the differences between these two groups (something I had already done once in 2013 for an article I wrote for the now defunct ManArchy Magazine). Anyway, maybe you belong to the lucky group and your current read is amazing. That's great. However, if it sucks and you belong to the large group of readers in this country that are unhappy with what they read, this is for you. If your current read is mediocre, I bet it's also an overpriced and awfully-written formulaic mess full of clichés. Before you start screaming in defense of your book or decide to come looking for me with pitchforks and offended scowls because you love all you read, remember what I said: maybe what you're reading is awesome. We cool? Then here are five reasons a bunch of books out there suck. 

1. The book business is...well, a business

Here's an unsurprising fact: the obscenely large publishing companies that rule the market print books they think will sell, not awe-inspiring literary gems that will make you cooler and smarter just by reading them. Every Big Five publishers puts out a few gems every year. They publish stuff that changes the literary landscape and make readers everywhere happy. Sadly, those tomes are not the majority of what they do. Publishing is a money-driven machine that worries about profits, not great literature. Sure, the major publishing houses, as I mentioned above, put out great books every year, but compared to the barrage of celebrity memoirs, big name rehashes, pedestrian thrillers/erotica/horror/etc., and the simply unbelievably dull junk they put out there, the percentage is very small. Think of it in gastronomic terms: the largest chains sell the most burgers, but they don'r make the best burgers, do they?  

2. Self-publishing

If you want to start an argument that will end in bloodshed, mention self-publishing around writers. As a book reviewer, I try to read and review as many indie authors as possible. If you can get a book at the grocery store or COSTCO, that author doesn't need help spreading the word about his work. Sadly, trying to help out self-published authors means reviewers often have to read unedited books. While there are superb self published novels out there that deserve best-sellers status (and some actually get there with re-releases), too many authors think their manuscript can skip the editing process. They're wrong. No one can skip the editing process. Did you read that? No one. I say this online once in a while and a hundred angry authors tell me they do it all the time and they're great writers and editors and I'm wrong and blah blah blah. You can pay attention to them. The best writers I know? Well, they thank their editors at the end of the book. No money to hire one? Get a friend to do it. No friends? Ask your significant other for a pair of fresh eyes. Got $20? There are editors like me who charge a pay-what-you-can amount because we know how poor most of us are. Even the greatest editors need a good editor once in while. Editing is a tedious and painful process, but it's crucial for any manuscript.

3. Agents

Believe it or not, literary agents are human. As such, they're full of that nasty thing called subjectivity. They choose to represent stories they like and work with authors whom they think will make them money (besides subjectivity, most humans also have bills to pay). Sadly, agents have the power to get the wrong manuscript in the right hands. The result is thousands upon thousands of terrible books being published and promoted. I won't give you any titles here (that would only make the priggish, pitchfork-wielding readers run faster in my direction), but most awful wastes of paper out there came to be thanks to an agent. Conversely, some of the most astonishing, award-winning books I've read in the past decade were repeatedly rejected by dozens of agents and eventually published by indie presses or found an agent that believed in them wit all their heart and soul and made the book happen. This doesn't mean agents are the only ones to blame blame for the vast array of horrible literature occupying shelf space out there; it only means that agents play an important role in getting authors who can't write a decent paragraph to publish trilogies. Likewise, they get people like Paul Tremblay and Josh Malerman into the mainstream, and for that we love them. Most of my favorite writers have agents, and that speaks for itself. 

4. Lack of focus

Many authors, old and new, have lost focus. John Skipp, best-selling author and editor extraordinaire, talked in his blog years ago about the qualities of the fiction he likes to publish and wants to see more of: "exciting, provocative, tightly-focused, plot-driven, character-intensive, shockingly original cliché-hammering tales with ass-kicking endings that make people sit up and take notice." Unfortunately, stories like that are getting harder and harder to find. Many authors know what is selling and thus favor formulas over insightful writing and think agents are looking for writers who fit whatever current mold is making money instead of idiosyncratic voices. This landscape leads to unfocused authors writing what they think will get their name on a cover instead of the stories they would really like to share with readers. I'm dirt poor, but I write what I want to write.

5. Your own nauseating complacency

While all of the above are good reasons why your current read could be dismal, this last one is the most important reason of all. You have the power to read outside the best-seller lists. You can look around and find a plethora of amazing indie presses that are putting out unique books by very talented writers. If not reading is a self-imposed neurodegenerative disease, then reading whatever rubbish is on sale at the pharmacy is a volitional cancer. The previous four reasons can be easily circumvented if you get rid of your fucking contentedness. Don't blame agents or publishers or writers: what you crave is out there if you look hard enough. If you spend more time thinking about what coffee to get than you do picking your next read, you're part of the problem and the only one to blame for the fact that you're reading garbage. Just because it's readily available doesn't mean it's the best thing around. You know, just like fast food joints. If you want to read great books, you have to go and get them.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, professor, book reviewer, and journalist living in Austin, TX. He is the author of ZERO SAINTS and COYOTE SONGS. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.  

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