Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Autumn Cometh

Posting will be sporadic for the next week. Quarter break! Woo hoo! To celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, among other things, I am going on a self-directed retreat this weekend. Got a motel room about 45 minuites' drive away. It's supposed to have fridge, microwave and broadband Internet access. If that comes through, I will hole up Friday afternoon and not come out until Sunday morning. Time to come to grips with that beast of a novel that's hanging around my house and whip it until it begs for mercy. Or something. At any rate 48 hours of no interruptions to concentrate. My wife will be the only person who knows where I am, and she understands what "emergency" means.

Would you like homework in the meantime? No? Tough! Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to write about how you blog and why. Important points to cover will be:

  • Do you post your first draft or edit?
  • Why?
  • How much time do you spend thinking about and preparing a post before it goes online?
  • Anything else you'd like to add?
Just write a post about it and put a link in the comments, if you dare. I'll get things started.

I usually post raw first drafts with only a most cursory proofread. Book reviews are the most frequent exception. You may have noticed misspellings, typos, and really stupid writing tricks that would never appear in a polished essay. I do this for several reasons:

  1. I am practicing composing a more polished first draft. Practice makes better.

  2. I like the spontaneity of stream-of-thought essays. I can't always tell where the post is going to wind up until I get there. Sometimes I discover things that I didn't know were there.

  3. Spontaneous posts are more personal, as a blog should be. If I wanted this blog to be distant and oh-so-very-polished, I would edit the hell out of everything before it hit the screen.

  4. I might chicken out on controversial topics if I stop to think. That would probably be a good thing, sometimes, but mostly it's better to go ahead and get it off my mind.

  5. Talking "out loud" this way gives me a chance to think. Oddly enough, I think better when I am talking about something, even if no one else is present. This does, of course, lead to the occasional strange looks and evasive maneuvers on other people's parts.

  6. Composing on the fly is letting me develop a more conversational tone and voice in my writing. Coming from an academic background, I find that I too often get pedantic and lecture instead of telling a story. Blogging really helps me break through that barrier.
I often decide on a post topic in the morning and think about it all day before actually posting in the evening. This gives me a chance to get my thoughts somewhat organized, though my mental outline almost always goes out the window as soon as I start typing. Thinking it through ahead of time also gives me a chance to figure out what I actually do think. Sometimes I have to change my mind after I have thought about a topic for a couple of hours.

That's my opinion. What's yours?

Threads of Malice

Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones
Bantam Book, due out October 25, 2005, 498 pages, $6.99.

Dubric Byerly sees dead people. More specifically, he sees the ghosts of those who have been murdered in Faldorrah. As Castellan, Dubric is responsible for bringing their killers to justice so their spirits can peacefully depart. The sight of murdered people and the headaches they bring are prime motivation for Dubric to solve their murders and quickly. Unfortunately, in a world with barely medieval technology, forensic investigations are difficult at best. Dubric, his squire Dien, and his two pages, Lars and Otlee, are learning the art of forensic investigation as best they can, but sometimes, that is just not enough. When Dubric learns that young boys have been disappearing in the Reach, a remote area of the kingdom, he leakds his team squarely into a mob of ghosts and an evil so profound that Dubric doubts his ability to defeat it.

Threads of Malice is Tamara Siler Jones's second published novel and a semi-sequel to her first, Ghosts in the Snow. It is a sequel in that it is set in the same world with many of the same characters, it is only semi- in that it does not continue the story in Ghosts. Threads is a stand-alone story, complete unto itself, though reading Ghosts first will give you some deeper insight into the characters and the world they inhabit.

Those who enjoyed Ghosts as much as I did should be warned that Threads of Malice is a much darker and more dangerous story. While Ghosts often showed a delight in its wickedness and even turned whimsical at times, Threads is a serious look at some deeply-rooted soul-rot. It looks at some subjects that are extremely distasteful and does it unflinchlingly. Readers will encounter pedophilia, torture, murder, and putrid corpses, among other things. Threads of Malice is a book of mud and blood, a book of storms, where the sun seldom shines for long, a book of unending pain and cruel death. Be warned.

Tambo Jones is one of a rare breed of writers who are willing to put their characters in real danger. With most novels, you can erad with the assumption that everything will turn out all right in the end. The hero or heroine will save the day in the nick of time through heroic efforts and purity of heart. At some point in Threads, and it may be a different point for you than for me, you will come to a horrible realization: the danger is real. People are grievously hurt, both physically and psychically, people suffer, people die. People you have to care for suffer. Some of them die. Bring no assumptions to this book.

Among the many themes that weave their way throughout Threads of Malice is the theme of good versus evil. I guess it's safe to say that most novels explore this theme to some extent, but maybe not as closely as tambo does. In her world, evil is absolute, black, utterly ruthless, uncaring, pure. Good, on the other hand, is murky, flawed, and faltering. Human. Her heroes have feet of clay and are standing in a torrent that is quickly eroding them. Each of the characters carries his or her own burden of fear and guilt. Sometimes the burden becomes too heavy. Heroic acts are hard to come by, and safety does not exist.

With Ghosts in the Snow, tambo Jones staked out her place in dark fantasy, inventing the subgenre of forensic fantasy, and unveiled herself as a rising star in the field. With Threads of Malice, tambo secures her place as a serious writer with a voice that will be heard. The depth and intensity of Threads of Malice make this a must=read. The questions raised, the answers given or not given, are rich food for thinking readers. Though the price of reading this book may be high, the gains are worth it and more.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Market Research

So you're looking for a market for your latest magnum opus short story. You've looked over Ralan, maybe Spicy Green Iguana, definitely duotrope, what next? RTFG and RTFM.

Read the Friggin' Guidelines! It never ceases to amaze me how many writers apparently either cannot or will not read. Every editor and agent in the business can tell you. Well over half of what they receive is formatted incorrectly, addressed improperly, sent by e-mail when they don't accept e-subs, sent outside reading periods, etc., etc., etc. Reading the guidelines is common courtesy and common sense. Why would you waste time and money on a submission when it's just going straight into the shitcan without even being read? That's just stupid. Follow instructions and give your story a fighting chance.

Read the Friggin' Magazine! Why? Two reasons.

First, you need to know if your story fits the market. reading the guidelines helps with this, too. There's no sense sending a fantasy story to a market that only accepts literary fiction. Also, you can tell a lot about an editor's tastes and preferences from reading the stories he/she/it has chosen to publish. Again, if your story doesn't fit, move along. Don't waste everybody's time submitting inappropriately. You can also save your reputation a serious black eye by just paying attention.

Second, and this is something I don't remember ever seeing addressed anywhere else (how's that for a value-add?), weigh the content against your own personal standards. I see a lot of magazines, especially e-zines, that suffer from terminal illiteracy. I don't want my name associated with a magazine that is full of typos, bad grammar, incorrect word usage, and just plain shitty writing. I try to go the extra mile to be sure my writing is clean and error-free (as much as possible, nobody's perfect), and I want to see it presented in a way that does it justice.

Like the saying goes: You can't soar with eagles if you're lying with pigs. Or something like that, anyway.

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