Jan 082014
 
You might know Bryon Quertermous (AKA my arch-nemesis) from his shameless self-promotion and whining on social media. But he recently took over the editing reigns at Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books. So now, we have to be nice to him.

The two of us recently got together for a little pow-wow via Google docs (hence all of the typing references) and discussed Exhibit A, publishing, and, of course, Bryon's favorite subject: himself.

What follows is part one of the (mostly) unedited transcript of this monumental event.
HW: Ok, first question: Quertermous is a weird last name. Where’s it from?
BQ: My father.
HW: Elaborate, please.
BQ: I've heard a variety of different stories, but the most realistic of them seems to be that it's French from my Louisiana relatives. Though I'm not entirely sure someone didn't just make it up.
HW: I can already see I’m a better typist than you are.
BQ: Brilliance comes at a cost, and in my case the cost is proper typing skills. Do you use the proper setting for your hands and everything?
HW: Why, yes I do. Thanks for noticing.
BQ: My paralyzing wrist pain and elbow cramps are reminders of how awesome I am. You don't get to experience that.
HW: True. Ok, let’s get on with the “interview.”
BQ: No. My turn for a question. Tell me about your name. Holly West sounds fake. Elaborate.
HW: My birth name is Holly O’Neill. My husband’s name is Mick West. I married him so that I could have a cooler name (and he married me for the greencard). Win-win!
BQ: Sounds like true love. Holly O'Neill sounds like a 90s sitcom name.
HW: Actually, O’Neill is still my legal name. I’ve been married 15 years and I still haven’t gotten around to changing it. Which should give you an idea of how lazy I am.
BQ: Oh, I already had a pretty good idea of how lazy you were. So in the interest of conflict of interest and such we should probably mention that at one point I was employed as an editor by your publisher [Carina Press], though we never worked together. Thank god.
HW: Yes, I don’t even believe in God and I’m still thanking him for that.
BQ: You certainly weren't the reason I left, but it certainly hastened my interest in outside opportunities.
HW: Speaking of outside opportunities, you’re the new editor at Exhibit A Books. I have to say, after weeks of your shameless teasing on social media, the announcement wasn’t a total let down. Are you enjoying your new job?
BQ: The readers of this interview won't see it, but as the interview has gone on, my typing has gotten better and yours has gotten much worse. Is it drinking time already?
HW: I noticed that too, but no, just coffee (so far).
BQ: So yes, Exhibit A. I was hoping that all the build-up I got carried away with on social media wouldn't dampen the announcement, but everyone seemed to be duly surprised that a real publisher found it in their best interest to hire me. What was your first thought when you heard the news?
HW: I’m at a loss for a snarky response for once. I was surprised but also very happy for you. It seemed like a great opportunity and probably a good fit. Time will tell about that, eh?
BQ: Eh, indeed. To be honest I was a little worried I wasn't the right fit based on their initial wave of releases that seemed to be geared toward thrillers, which is not my strong suit, and less toward what I saw as the Angry Robot brand I was a big fan of. But after being assured I could mold the list in my image, just as the previous editor had done, I was sold. I also felt more comfortable when I went to the UK to meet everyone in person and realized they're just as twisted as I am.
I also have to say, that once I went back and read the early books from Exhibit A, they were less glossy and vapid than I thought thrillers generally are so my prejudice was cracked.
HW: You see BQ, your prejudice will be your undoing. And I like the line “I could mold the list in my image.” I always knew you had a God complex.
But about that list. We’ve talked about it and you don’t seem to be into historicals (which I find tremendously insulting, of course). Exhibit A has a few historicals out there. Has that come to an end with your editorship?
BQ: It's funny you mention that because when I was sitting with Marc Gascoine, the publisher of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, we were talking about this and I mentioned I wasn't a fan of historical fiction. Our larger publishing overlord, Osprey, has a long history of publishing just the sort of thing I wasn't interested in so Marc pushed me to find out if I really didn't like historical or if I was just mouthing off stupidly. It turns out, I kind of do like historicals if they're gritty and weird and not of the standard historical templates. I'm a huge fan of steam punk and diesel punk and stuff like that so there will certainly be more historicals in the pipeline as we go along.
What I would really like to see is some Civil War era crime fiction.
HW: That brings me to my next question. Your dream manuscript just flew into your inbox (by carrier pigeon). Tell me about it.
BQ: Wait, no, it's my turn for a question dammit. With your tattoos and cursing and drinking and whatnot, you seem like the least likely candidate to write historicals I'd imagine. Where did that come from and will you ever write a contemporary crime novel?
HW: 1) Yes. I will write a contemporary crime novel. 2) I’d been interested in 17th century London since I was a teenager. I’d always wanted to write about it, so I did. But I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble selling MISTRESS OF FORTUNE is that it just didn’t fit into what you call the standard historical template. My heroine is gritty and sometimes not very likeable. There’s a twist at the end that shows just how gritty she is. But the message I kept getting was that I needed to make her more likeable. I needed to make her more sympathetic. She’s not a bitch but she’s also not very nice in some respects. Girl does what she needs to to get by, you know? But agents were looking for a more charming protagonist. More Jane Austen-like, I guess.
BQ: That sounds like just the sort of book I'd like to read if you hadn't written it. Do you believe in all of the fortuneteller hocum that's in the book?
HW: Not at all, and neither does Isabel Wilde, my protagonist. She’s a charleton. I believe in science, BQ. I thought we covered that at Bouchercon.
BQ: So back to my dream acquisition. That's a hard one and people have been asking me about it A LOT lately and I'm always at a loss for an answer. I'm intrigued more by voice than anything else, but I like dark voices and quirky voices and goofy voices. I think I'm less a fan of gimmicky post-modern stuff than I was initially, but just a good story told well. Also, one of the nice things about being a smaller publisher is I don't have to wait for my dream submission. I have the luxury of taking manuscripts with potential and working with them and helping the author in a way they might not get with a bigger house and I think that's more rewarding than publishing a perfect manuscript that lands on my lap. (Though I wouldn't mind one or two of those a year to keep the budget in tact.)
HW: Ha, suddenly I’m at a loss for words.
BQ: I do that to people quite a bit. I come off all snarky and mean and it's easy to respond to that and then I hit in with some genuine emotion and it always throws people off.
I think I'll leave it on this touchy-feely note. Join us next week for part two of the chat, when we discuss digital publishing, Bryon's plans for Exhibit A, and decide once and for all who has better typing skills. - H
May 102012
 

By PD Martin

You know the saying a woman’s work is never done? Well, sometimes I think an author’s work is never done. Especially in today’s day and age, when there is ALWAYS something we could or should be doing to promote our work on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. So when should we call it a day?

About a year ago I decided I had to cut back on Facebook. As wonderful as it is, it can literally suck time from you. I’d go on to check out my friends’ latest news and an hour or two later I’d return to the Word document thinking: “No way, was I on Facebook for two hours.” But, of course, I was. So I made a new rule, which I stick to most days. I give myself about 10 minutes of Facebook in the morning and maybe 10 minutes at night.

I don’t scroll all the way back now through all my Facebook friends’ posts from the last 12 hours or 24 hours, or however long it is since I last logged on. Instead, I check out the last hour or two. Yes, I am missing things, but I figure actually writing is more important.

As for Twitter … I’ve never been a big Twitter user, but I’ve synced up my Facebook page so anything I post on my PD Martin page goes to Twitter. Which means less work. Having said that, I've created more work for myself with a slight Facebook multiple personality disorder — I’ve got my personal Phillipa Martin profile, my PD Martin page and now my Pippa Dee page.  But I think the separation of a personal profile page and professional author page is useful.

So, a writer’s work in terms of social media is probably never done. What else?

How about editing? Yes, our books go out the door and onto shelves (or databases), but is an author ever truly finished a book?  I think most of us could edit and tweak until eternity. It’s more that we’re forced to put a stop on the edits at some point—whether it’s self-imposed or from an agent or publisher.

So, authors and readers alike, how long do you spend on social media a day? Do you use different pages/profiles on Facebook? And is a writer’s work ever done?

Oh, and my BSP (blatant self promotion) for the day: The Wanderer is now available on Amazon for $2.99. Read more about The Wanderer.

Apr 182012
 

By Joe Moore

Today we kick off our annual first-page critiques marathon. This is where we invite you guys to submit the first page (350 words max) of your WIP. We’ll take turns featuring a submission on our blog posting day and offer comments. In general, this is not meant to be a line editing exercise although suggestions on misspelling, improper punctuation, and other obvious errors are sometimes included. Instead, what we try to determine is our personal first impressions on story content, hooking the reader, establishing voice, creating a setting, developing characters, and any other advice that we hope will help the anonymous author move forward toward attracting the attention of an agent or editor.

Today, the first page is from a story called LISTEN TO ME. Join me at the end of the sample for my reaction and notes.

As he sinks slowly into the chair across from me, he looks just like a doctor should -- greying hair, a well-trimmed beard with badger stripes framing his lips, and wire-rimmed glasses his wife must have chosen. They're far too tasteful compared to the terrible shirt he's wearing. On the plus side, his smile seems genuine.

"How are you feeling about today, Stacy?" His voice is too loud for the muted tones of the room - - all earthy browns and soft corners. It's his office, but he's tried to make it look like a living room. There's a broad coffee table between us, and lamps on the tables at our sides. Too bad the external door has a combination lock. Kind of kills the good-time vibe.

He's waiting for an answer. I start shrug, then freeze in place until the razors of pain ease. My stitches are all out now, but the hard pink lines spider webbing across most of my upper body are just the flag of truce for healing. Underneath I am still many layers of mangled nerve endings and fractured flesh.

Doctor hears me catch my breath and his eyes snap to mine. All that beguiling distinterest is an act. He is measuring me.

"Pain?" he says, softly this time.

"Yes. But it's not so bad. I just moved wrong." It burns and crackles under my skin until I want to scream. But I won't tell him that. He may measure me as wanting.

I will get out of here today.

His lips press together, barely visible under the curtain of heavy mustache. But after a second he smiles again. Planting his hands on his knees, he creaks to his feet, speaking as he turns to reach behind his chair.

Overall, this is pretty good storytelling. There’s a lot of mystery and unanswered questions already forming in my head. I immediately wanted to know more about Stacy, what brought her into what looks like an exit interview with the doctor, what kind of place is she being released from, why is there a combination lock on the door, and most of all, what caused her extensive and dramatic injuries. The setting is developed well as is the uneasy relationship between Stacy and the doctor. Tension is present right from the start.

Now lets take a look at the text again and I’ll include some specific impressions:

As he sinks slowly into the chair across from me, he looks just like a doctor should --

How should a doctor look? Instead, just describe him as having greying hair, a well-trimmed beard with badger stripes framing his lips, and wire-rimmed glasses his wife must have chosen. They're far too tasteful compared to the terrible shirt he's wearing.

I’m not sure what a “terrible” shirt is.  Florescent, day-glow, Hawaiian, animal skin, camouflage? Tell us why it’s “terrible”.

On the plus side, his smile seems genuine.

"How are you feeling about today, Stacy?" His voice is too loud for the muted tones of the room - - all earthy browns and soft corners. It's his office, but he's tried to make it look like a living room. There's a broad coffee table between us, and lamps on the tables at our sides. Too bad the external door has a combination lock. Kind of kills the good-time vibe.

You didn’t describe a place that has a “good-time vibe”. Unless you’re being sarcastic, in which case we don’t know yet what Stacy’s personality is, so good-time vibe doesn’t really work here.

He's waiting for an answer. I start to shrug, then freeze in place until the razors of pain ease. My stitches are all out now, but the hard pink lines spider webbing across most of my upper body are just the flag of truce for healing. Underneath I am still many layers of mangled nerve endings and fractured flesh.

Flesh is soft. I’m not sure if you can fracture soft flesh. Perhaps torn would be better?

The Doctor hears me catch my breath and his eyes snap to mine. All that beguiling distinterest is an act. He is measuring me.

"Pain?" he says, softly this time.

"Yes. But it's not so bad. I just moved wrong." It burns and crackles under my skin until I want to scream.

Is “crackles” really the best word choice here?

But I won't tell him that. He may measure me as wanting.

I will get out of here today.

His lips press together, barely visible under the curtain of heavy mustache.

I don’t think “a well-trimmed beard with badger stripes framing his lips” works visually with “barely visible under the curtain of a heavy mustache”.

But after a second he smiles again. Planting his hands on his knees, he creaks to his feet, speaking as he turns to reach behind his chair.

-------------

My advice about the typo (distinterest for disinterest) and a missing word (I start to shrug): Rule number one before submitting anything to anyone for review: Proof read it. Then get someone else to proof it. Finally, check and double check it again. A typo on the first page of a manuscript can be deadly.

Like I said, this is pretty good storytelling. A cleanup and edit would solve the minor issues I raised. I like the way the author is building suspense right out of the gate. I would not hesitate to read on and see what happens next. Thanks for submitting this, and good luck.

How about you guys? Do you agree with my critique? Any other comments? Would you keep reading this manuscript based on the first page?

Mar 292012
 

By PD Martin

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Buddha

I love this notion of living in the present (well, in theory at least). And I even think the notion of looking forward is infinitely better than dwelling in the past. What ifs, questioning your decisions…it’s never a good idea. We all know the past can be a road to heartbreak. Right? But still, sometimes it’s hard not to wonder how things may have turned out with different options or different choices during key moments in our lives. How would the different trajectory look? I adore the movie Sliding Doors for its core concept of playing out two different paths. Although I can’t remember how it ended. Did the two paths converge?

And I guess when it comes to our personal lives, I’m also a believer of dealing with the past (and perhaps it can be a fine line between dwelling in the past and thinking about it enough to move forward).

As for living in the present…well, I can’t seem to get the balance right on that one either. I’m constantly looking forward — making plans, setting goals. It’s part of who I am. And while it’s easy to say that in an ideal world we’d all live in the present, that world would actually look pretty grim. No one thinking or worrying about consequences? No one planning forward at a personal, national or global level in terms of money, resources, environment, strategy? Scary, as hell if you ask me.

I guess the key at a personal level, is not to worry about the future so much that you miss out on the present.

Recently, I’ve been questioning whether it’s a good idea to apply the notion of “never look back” to our creative lives. Yes, I have a vested interest in this. As I mentioned in my last blog, part of my 2012 strategy (yes, looking forward) involves taking a trip down memory lane and pulling out some of those earlier manuscripts that never quite made it into print. Is there enough of a spark for resurrection? I mean, everything's a draft, right?

Like many authors, I also teach writing. And in the past I’ve always told my students that their first manuscript(s) — one, two, three, or maybe even more — are learning experiences. Ones for that top drawer that will most likely never see the light of day.

Still, I think back to my road to publication and there was at least one manuscript for which I found it hard to take no for an answer. In fact, many publishers also found it hard to say no. This particular young adult manuscript went through the very many levels of an unsolicited manuscript at the four top publishers here in Australia. This little book got through the readers, through the junior editors, right up to the acquisitions editors only to be booted out the door at an acquisition meeting. The dreaded vote. Of course, it’s all behind closed doors so I have no idea in each case who vetoed my book — marketing, sales, management? And I’ll never know.

But with the whole ebook thing (remember, I’ve been a bit of a dumb ass with this) it made me wonder whether this book could be resurrected. Since I last worked on my three YA novels (which I wrote between 1997-2002) I’ve learned a huge amount about the writing craft. And I’ve written another seven books. So what would that experience bring to my earlier novel(s)?

Well, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the past three weeks. Digging out “the one that got away”. And with fresh eyes (it has been nearly ten years, after all) I could see the novel’s strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly I knew a few editorial passes would address the weaknesses.

Alexander Graham Bell said:  “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

But what if closed doors sometimes open for us, once more?

Is there anything from your life that you’ve decided to go back to, decided to “dwell” on, with positive results?

Feb 202012
 

by Pari

It’s been more than a year and a half since I started my daily writing. During that time, I’ve missed only one session. For a moment I thought about giving up, the way a dieter does when he or she pigs out on an entire chocolate cake in one sitting and then feels that everything is undone.

But I didn’t give up and now I have hundreds of thousands of words, more each day, and I don’t know what to do with them all. It’s certain that many of those words are superfluous. There are thousands of “ands” and “buts” and, God forbid, the nasties that end in “ly.” 

However, there are probably even more words that link together to make decent -- if not brilliant --stories. Again, this is just a hunch; I have no idea if the short stories, novels and novellas I’ve written hang together at all.

Before I took the Master Class, editing had always been a pleasure for me, a time to hone and redo in a better way. In Oregon, I learned that editing can often be the death of a piece -- it can suck the spirit and energy out of creative prose and process -- though the writer has the best intentions. Since I’m seriously afflicted with thinkiness anyway, I’ve avoided the whole question of how to strike a balance between doing nothing and overdoing the editing (in my creative writing only; my writing at work is subjected to microscopic editing daily). Seventeen months later, I have no answer and a hell of a lot of words that need attention.

Working more than 40+ hours a week puts a dent in the hours I have available for everything else. Those 40 hours aren’t the whole picture either. There’s transport to and from work, coming down from the exhaustion of a full-time job etc. etc. There’s taking care of the kids, the house etc. etc. etc.

Some would say, “Pari, just get up an hour earlier to write when you’re fresh.  That’ll buy you time to edit in the evenings.”

Great idea if I wasn’t already getting up at five so that I can fit in exercise. None of this is complaining; I love my job. I love that I’m writing daily. Perhaps that’s enough . . .

Who am I kidding? Once you have readers and they appreciate your work, you want more. The feeling is too wonderful! Too fulfilling! I want my fiction to be read again!

So what to do? How can I reframe the editing into something as meaningful  -- and as pleasurable -- as the joy of the creativity so that I can commit again?

Any suggestions?

(BTW: for those that don’t know already . . . the growth I referred to last week was benign. Thank you for all of your kind thoughts. I’m still in pain but it’s bearable now.)

Switch to our mobile site