Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Never Remember

Hope you all enjoy this excerpt from a fantasy novel about a woman with amnesia, who realizes she might not want her memories back after all. It's by college senior, Monica Eaton, who studying the odd combination of literature and criminal justice - should make for some good fiction :)

Never Remember
By Monica Eaton

It was just a normal house at first, but as soon as she stepped over the threshold it changed. The porcelain vase on the table to her left with the flower print stayed as it was, except that it changed from porcelain to a mirror. The wallpaper was also replaced with reflecting glass as was the wooden furniture and even the rugs and flagstones.

Devi walked carefully across the floor and wondered where she was supposed to go or even what she was supposed to do. As she moved forward through the corridor she became increasingly conscious of a steady pulse. When she finally came to the grand hall of the house she saw the source of it. Devi looked at the large mirror standing in the center of the room. It appeared to be moving, like ripples on water and she realized that this must be the heart of the house. She grinned and thought how much Ing would love this. She stood before the mirror, thinking it was the one that would show her what she needed to know. She wasn’t sure how long she waited, but somewhere in between beats an image of a stair case appeared. It was difficult to make it out since it was obviously one that was somewhere in the house. The image stayed longer and Devi could sense the mirror becoming impatient. She left it and went to find the stairs. She became wary when she found them. It was strange to be walking on glass and she was sure it would break and she would plummet through the mirror floors to her death. Her foot steps made soft plinking sounds against the glass. It made Devi so nervous that she took off her shoes and carried them the rest of the way. When she looked back there were no smudges where she stepped on the stairs or where her hand slid along the railing.

She turned into another corridor and came down it. Now all the mirrors around her reflected another set of stairs and she searched for it. The beating was less intense now that she was moving away from it, but she was still extremely aware of it. It seemed to be the only sound in the house.

When Devi came to the end of the corridor there was a door in front of her. She assumed that it was a bedroom and turned down another hallway. Immediately all the mirrors changed and she jumped when a hand appeared in them. They were pointing her back the way she came in a manner that suggested they were irritated. She thought it strange that she could sense the emotions expressed by these mirrors and their reflections. They didn’t have faces that could be read, but she didn’t need to see expressions to know what the house felt. Devi realized, then how like the Dreamer the House of Mirrors was. It had no time for anything but business and when that was over the relationship between itself and whoever was inside was over.

When she came back to the first hallway the hands changed and pointed in the direction of the door that she’d previously ignored. She walked through and even though what she came into was clean and not very different from the rest of the house she had the sense that if this was a normal house this would be the dusty way that led to a cluttered attic. It occurred to Devi that she was climbing to the brain of the house and the thought startled her. When she came to the top of the stairs there was one more door and she knew that was it. On the other side was everything she’d been waiting for. Devi inhaled as deeply as she could and counted the seconds it took to breathe out. She opened the door and walked inside.

It was like any other attic. Wooden floors, old bureaus, wardrobes and chests lined the walls. The only difference was the mirror that stretched from floor to ceiling that stood where a window should have been. Devi thought that if the mirror was not being prohibited by a ceiling it would be taller. As she looked at it she began to think it wanted to be. She walked toward her reflection and met the bewildered gaze of her own eyes. She stood before the mirror with the plain wooden frame. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it. Devi tentatively reached out a hand and as soon as she touched her reflection she was knocked backward as the entire room changed. All the furniture was gone and when she looked back to the mirror it seemed different; larger. In fact, it covered the entire room. Where all the rooms downstairs were made of multiple mirrors standing side by side there was just one to this room. There were no more floor boards, dust, even all the furniture was gone and there was still no window where one should have been. Devi got back on her feet and was reminded that they were bare by the iciness of the reflective floor.

“What do you want from me?” A voice echoed through the room.

Devi covered her ears as it resounded off the walls and became louder. “My memories,” she said when the voice finally faded

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taking Advice

I saw this list of quotes from Stephen King today, and immediately thought "YES!" when I read the first one: "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."

As you know, I give writing advice a lot. I speak from a Bachelors and a Masters in creative writing and (more importantly) as a professional in the publishing industry. I'd like to think I'm pretty qualified to give writing advice, as are many other publishing professionals who offer advice on a regular basis. All we can do is sit back and hope people listen. (Mostly so we don't have to repeat ourselves.)

That said, I understand why some writers don't take our advice.

With so much subjectivity in the field, how does one differentiate between personal taste and unarguable truth? The thing is, there are always going to be exceptions to rules, so nothing is ever set in stone. But! For the most part, especially for a debut author who's way less likely to be able to break any rules, there are some things you'll just need to take an editor's word on.

Bringing me back to adverbs. Poor, poor adverbs. The thing is, they can be used in moderation, but no one ever uses them sparingly enough, so they get ruined for everybody. Adverbs are words that seem to be universally hated by writing professionals, and yet writers continue to use (and abuse) them. It makes me wonder who is listening to writing advice out there.

So I ask you, fair writers:
How often do you listen to writing advice from professionals, either via blogs, conferences, or Twitter?
How many second opinions do you require before you're able to think of suggestions as "rules?"
When something is as frowned upon as adverbs, are you still able to write it off as "personal preference?"

Thanks, friends :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

What's In a Name?

To answer my own question - a lot.

I'm a big fan of titles. A clever or evocative title is what makes a reader - myself included - pick up a book off the shelves. In fact, its title first drew me to The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the rest, as they say, was history.

Titles, like books themselves, can have trends, which I've spoken about before. Right now, for example, one-word titles or thought-provoking "The [something] of the [something]" seem to be the hot new things in marketing. These things change, but what never changes is the importance of a title that will grab a reader's attention.

It's very hard to come up with a good title. I've heard writers say they don't bother coming up with anything too creative because "the publisher is going to change it anyway." Honestly, this is sort of true. Depending on the way the market is going by the time your book comes out, or what hip new trends are popular, the publisher will input their expertise based on what will make your book more eye-catching to a buyer. No one is out to stifle your creativity or make you think it's unappreciated. But sometimes that's just the way it is. It's about selling your book.

Publishers don't always change your title on you though. And what's more, from an agent's point of view, seeing an unimaginative title, or one that doesn't capture the spirit of the book, makes me think you're not trying hard enough. If you slap a lame title on your book, who's to say your writing isn't unimaginative too? Is that a fair statement? No. Is a good or bad title a deal breaker? Absolutely not! But I'd be lying if I said it didn't run through my head, even if just momentarily.

So, what do I mean by "bad" title?

- Ambiguous verbs that can be the title of any book
- Titles that evoke no emotion, image, or intrigue
- Titles that have been done before. (It's true, titles are not protected by copyright law, but use your best judgment. You can't name your book after a bestseller or popular film. Song titles are also a bit cringe-worthy, but there's more wiggle room there.)
- Unnecessarily long or hard to say out loud. (See "Rural Juror" episode of 30 Rock - it's very important to read things aloud before committing to any kind of phrasing or word choice)

Conversely, a "good" title is one that grabs a reader's attention without giving too much away. It should encapsulate the book in a way the reader doesn't understand yet.

Sure, your story is what matters most, but those little things can add up in your favor too. Titles are hard, but don't shy away from them because you think they're not important or will get changed. You know what else is hard? Writing. And we all know that gets changed in the editing process all the time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Shy Man Cometh

Hi everyone. I am pleased to share some non-fiction for you today from a Glass Cases alum, Cynthia Watson. You may remember Cynthia's last piece, from her YA paranormal romance Wind, that was published here last spring. Today she is sharing a true story about her encounter with the legendary Joey Ramone (!).

Cynthia's writing has also been featured on ShortStoryBook.net, and Women Writers, Women Books. Wind made it to the 2nd round in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. You can follow Cynthia on Twitter and read her blog, here. Enjoy!

The Shy Man Cometh: My Encounter with Joey Ramone
By Cynthia Warson

When I was seventeen, I hand an encounter I would recall with fondness many years later. It was the night I met Joey Ramone. Actually, it wasn’t just Joey; Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy were there too, but it’s Joey I remember.

It was 1977. Jimmy Carter was President; serial killer, “Son of Sam”, was terrorizing New York, the first Apple computer hit the stores, filmgoers line up for hours to see a new movie called “Star Wars,” and Elvis Presley would die that August. But for me and my friends, newly sprung from the confines of a private, Catholic all-girls high school, it would be a summer of music, cool clothes and fun.

Disco reigned supreme, but suddenly, out of the excess of thumping, and reverberated vocals, came a new music. While the rest of the world was listening to the Bee Gees, I had found a new sound—Punk Rock. Punk was fast, hard-edged, stripped-down, with an anti-establishment message; a welcome diversion for bored teenagers. The punk attire du jour was skin-tight, straight-legged jeans (when mainstream fashion was still dictating bell-bottoms), ripped T-shirts adored with safety pins, stiletto heels, inky eye shadow, and the garment de rigueur, a black leather jacket.

The only Punk club in Toronto in those early days was the “Crash 'n' Burn”, submerged in the basement of a downtown warehouse. It was frequented by kids dying to hear the new sound from local bands like Teenage Head, The Diodes, The Dishes, The B-Girls, and The Viletones. But bands playing larger venues would stop in after their gigs; bands often hailing from the Mecca of North American Punk—New York City. I recall meeting Deborah Harry from Blondie. Debbie was beautiful in an ethereal way—as though sprinkled by fairy dust—and smaller than you might think. One night I found myself in a deep conversation about motherhood with a heavily pregnant Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads. But the night I remember with the most clarity is when The Ramones stopped in for a post-show beer.

Joey wasn’t hard to spot. He towered over everyone like a gentle giant (he was 6’ 8”, apparently). He was dressed in the official Ramones “uniform”: straight-legged blue jeans, shabby T-shirt, white Converse sneakers, black leather jacket. Joey looked lost in the throng, like a child who suddenly finds himself separated from his mother in a crowd. I approached him. Joey was sweet, polite, and shy to the extreme. Wearing his trademark rose-colored shades, he said he was enjoying Toronto, and was amazed at its cleanliness, especially in comparison to the Bowery, the Manhattan neighborhood in which he lived. Joey revealed his favorite band was a New York-based group I hadn’t ever heard of—The Cramps.

Joey and I chatted, shouting to be heard over the raw guitars screaming furiously from the small stage. Thrilled at meeting my teenage crush, I could not seem to leave his side, as though my feet were glued to the beer-splashed concrete floor. Eventually, a friend tapped me on the shoulder, and then shouted in my ear, “You don’t have to stand with him all night, you know.” I flushed, embarrassed at my foolish schoolgirl zeal. I reluctantly said goodbye. Joey leaned down from his rarefied atmosphere, virtually bent over double, hugged me, and with a shy, half-smile, said goodbye.

I wound my way through the bopping crowd to the make-shift bar; a large, ice-filled aluminium tub, the kind you’d find in any garage. I reached in, my hand quickly becoming numb as I fished around for a bottle of beer. Glancing back, I saw that Joey was still standing alone, shyly watching the mayhem surrounding him, like an alien from another planet, sent to observe our way of life.

I was truly saddened when I heard about Joey’s death from Cancer in 2001. Thirty years later (it just can’t be that long!), I was surprised when I heard a long forgotten, but familiar beat coming from my sixteen-year-old daughter’s bedroom. I tapped on her door, and then entered the incense-filled room. Yes, it was, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”, blaring from the small speakers connected her minuscule iPod, so unlike the once state-of-the-art plastic turntable I had possessed and been so proud of, so many years ago. I began to sing along, amazed the words came easily. My daughter stared at me wide-eyed, as though really seeing me for the first time. As we sang together, I became aware of the music becoming a timeless connection— a lyrical conduit of my daughter’s youth and mine. I moved the clump of clothes perpetually strewn on her bed. Sitting down, I began to tell my daughter about my teenage encounter with Joey Ramone. She was amazed, delighted. It was the first time I recounted it to anyone. This is the second.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Personal Politics

If you've been in the blogosphere and Twittersphere today, you may have heard about this article, which told the story of two authors who were told by an agent to "straighten" their gay characters. The authors, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, weren't sure if the agent in question had a personal stance on LGBT people, or if the decision was about LGBT characters who, in his or her opinion, might have been marketing liabilities. After you read the article, and this blog post, please check out the #YesGayYA hashtag on Twitter. Agents, editors, and authors who write and accept LGBT characters have been saying some very reassuring things over there. (While I have yet to contribute to the hashtag, let me just say that I am one of the agents who seek out LGBT characters!)

This introduction is my way of talking about a larger issue. It's one that I've been thinking about for a while. Like the authors of the article, let me just repeat that I do not know, or even assume, that the agent's political or religious beliefs affected their decision. I choose to believe that the agent thought straight characters would gain a larger audience, which is a little sad and misguided, but it's not sinister or even homophobic. Still, I think it warrants the question, should someone's personal politics affect their business choices?

Like I said, I've thought about this before today, and to me the answer is no. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume, based on things I say in real life and online, that writers are aware I'm a liberal. It's part of my personal belief system, and while I try to keep it at bay in a professional setting, things do slip out. I don't ever want to get into a political discussion on my blog because that's not what it is for, so allow me to explain why I bring this up.

Sometimes I get queries that have agendas. And sometimes writers will query me with them because they think I share their desire to spread that agenda. I don't. I never will. It's true that I wouldn't feel comfortable representing a book whose purpose is to promote a belief I don't share - particularly if it's one I feel strongly about. However, there are other queries that clearly have an anti-Republican stance, and the fact these writers think I'd want to spread that stance is insulting. On the other side of it, some projects might even have a story about a specific "liberal" cause I personally believe in, but I have absolutely no interest in perpetuating something so overt. These types of books are sometimes called "issue books," and plenty of agents represent them. They even seek them out. But those books make me uncomfortable most of the time because it's hard to talk about a specific issue without choosing a side. Good fiction, in my opinion, should come without political motive. When a story is good, the reader will interpret their own meaning from it. One person's cautionary tale is another person's happy ending.

There have been books I love - even projects I represent - who have characters who think in a way I do not, or have underlying themes that aren't always in keeping with my personal philosophy. It's an important part of this business to know what will offend vs. what might be disagreeable. If the hero of your story happens to be a religious man who thinks marriage is between a man and a woman, then he can still be a hero to me even if I disagree with him. However, if your story is about a religious man who tries to stop a gay marriage law from being passed in his home state, then to me he is no longer a hero. It's a fine line, but it's there.

If you're ever in a situation - and hopefully you're not - in which an agent or editor tells you to change a character in a way that fundamentally alters that character's livelihood, then don't be afraid to ask why. If they claim a marketing standpoint, then go do market research to try to prove them wrong. Or look for other agents and editors who might think differently. (Note: I mean look to see if they exist. Don't leave your agent on the spot.) If it seems unanimous that the agent might have a point (or mostly unanimous since nothing in this business ever is), then try to consider their suggestion.

But if you think the agent or editor is imposing personal politics on you, then you have every right to reject them. If they aren't willing to compromise their morals, then you shouldn't be the one who has to.

The article I linked to is sad, but it doesn't speak for all of us. I think most agents and editors do put aside personal politics for the greater good. Stories are what matter. Writers are what matter. Readers are what matter. If your work speaks to readers, we will find a way to work with you.