Monday, October 29, 2012

Tea or Coffee-- The Writer's Dilemma

I just wandered into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. In putting away the dishes I forgot the tea, started talking to my roommate, and then found myself sitting back at my desk to write this blog post. Sans tea.

I'm getting old. Senior moments already!

With the cold weather approaching, I thought it'd be appropriate to address a topic of much argument and tears and bloodshed over the decades. Tea....or coffee?

I used to be a strict tea drinker. Coffee, ugh. Nasty, awful stuff. Then college hit, and I began to drink tea obsessively (you should see my cabinet. It's a bit, er, full. I think I have a good 20+ flavors in there, in various forms of bagged and loose leaf, with various grades of roll and density and cure). But, despite my strict loyalty to tea, I also started to drink the occasional coffee. I'm sorry, tea! Forgive me!!

I've gotten a bit of a taste for the stuff, but I still like to have a little coffee with my cream and sugar. It has to be practically white, and really sweet for me to be able to truly enjoy it. I also like cream and sugar in my tea, old English way. There are definitely a vaster variety of teas that I like, as well, which provides a better playing field for taste.
Some of  my favorite teas include chai flavors, oolong, flavored greens, flavored rooibus, mate, and various blacks, including your standard earl grey to such strange tastes as wine flavored tea. It's my spring tea, but I drink it year round.
So beyond flavor, what are the health benefits of tea? Well, they're pretty extensive, especially green tea, oolong tea, and rooibus tea (which is naturally caffeine free). All tea has less caffeine than coffee, so if you're trying to kick that caffeine addiction, switching to tea just might be your thing.
Tea has amino acids, vitamins, polysaccharides, anti-carcinogens or anti-tumoric properties, an immune system boosters. It's good for your intestines and your skin, it's good for your teeth, normalizes blood pressure, prevents against heart disease and diabetes, prevents against various bacterias, and just plain tastes good. What kind of flavors would I recommend in your vitamin-in-a-cup?
Earl Grey is a good one, especially if you find a mix that has bergamot in it or vanilla. Chai tea, for the cold, is very spicy if you make it strong (as I always do). Any of the 'berries' are good in a tea-- strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry. Raspberry oolongs are fantastic. Chamomile is a soother. The first time I drank chamomile I fell asleep in an easy chair and almost dropped my empty mug. It's very good with honey. All teas come 'unflavored' but you can get flavored versions of anything and everything. Where to start, really? Well, shameless plug, you can go to and check out their online shop. Or you can visit them in person in Chamblee, GA if you live in the Atlanta area. Their Earl Grey de la Creme, Iced Berry Wine, and Ceylon Raspberry black teas are to die for (and available on the website, go figure). Their Magnolia Oolong is delightful if you want something slightly sweet but greener. They also have several chocolate flavored teas. And they have over 160 flavors of tea in the shop, including food and desserts and meditation.
But what about coffee? Coffee has a more negative association with the great amounts of caffeine it possesses-- caffeine addiction can be very unpleasant when you go through withdrawal. I've seen it first hand, but luckily have never suffered it, having never been a regular coffee drinker. I'll stick to my tea. But in moderate amounts (you can drink all the tea you want, just so you know, but you should also keep hydrated while doing so, because both tea and coffee are diuretics, meaning they dehydrate you) coffee has been studied with results suggesting positive affects, such as reducing the risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease, diabetes, gout, etc. Coffee also has anti-oxidents, just like tea. But the pros are far less numerous than those associated with tea.
I would say that it's a fair contest, but, along with my bias, I think I'll stay with tea, thank you very much.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Question of Rights

Oh, the politics of publishing...

So there's a great fear when working on publishing your book surrounding the question of contract...will you get jipped, or taken advantage of? Will you entrust your brain child to a publisher who really has no idea what they're doing, and if you had just known 'the signs' you could have avoided it!!

The truth is, you're not going to be an expert on everything. Now you could do a ton of research and read all the books, blog posts, articles, and referendums in order to get as much knowledge on the subject as you can. Or you could hire a lawyer to read through the kinks and loopholes with you. Either one is the extreme side of reaction to that publisher saying yes. Perhaps you don't need a lawyer, but you should at least have a clue about what it is you're getting in to.

For example, the question of money. If a publishing company or an agent ever asks you for money to read your work, run in the opposite direction! I believe I've mentioned this before on occasion. Unless they're an editor whose services you are hiring, you should not pay dime one for eyes to look at your book. Publishers like this are called 'subsidy publishers'. You pay them to 'publish' your book. What this should actually be called is 'self-publishing-with-help'. Most self-publishers you pay a fee, they print the book and market it for you. Subsidy publishers, guess what. They do the exact same thing. You should never have to pay someone for the privilege of publishing your book. It's the other way around. You don't pay to give up your art-- they pay you.

So contracting comes around to set down the rules and regulations concerning your book. Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes an incredibly in-depth and informative article, "Rights Reversion", in which she outlines information about contracting and rights. One of the most important initial facts she divulges is this:

"Here’s the truth of it, folks. You—one writer—can have twelve book contracts with the same company, and each contract might have different terms from other contracts. In other words, you might have spent your entire publishing career with one publishing house. You might write the same type of book year after year, and you still might have twelve different contracts, with twelve different terms, including twelve different reversion clauses."
 Rusch makes it clear from the start that you have to decide for yourself what's best for you, because no singular example is going to be 'the way' to go. Sound familiar? Boy, when does anything get solidified in the writing world.

Are those crickets I hear?

Rusch does, however, manage to list off some generalities about contracting and reversion clauses that are helpful. Now I guess it's important to generate a definition for a reversion clause. A reversion clause essentially dictates when the rights of a book return to the author (as opposed to the publisher). Once the book ends its contract with said publishers, it goes 'out of print'. From there the author can negotiate to have the book reissued or the rights returned, in which case the author can do as or how they like with their materials.

A good thing to keep in mind about the publishing business is this: it's a business. A publishing company is trying to make money, not distribute heart-warming or inspiring novels to eyes and hearts (though they may indeed be doing that, that is not their primary goal. Their primary goal is to eat and keep the business running, whatever they may say to the media. One thing journalism has taught me is that no one ever sounds as good as when they are quoted. Then whatever speculative, introspective, philosophical joy they can relate can be edited and smoothed to sound really, really nice.)

As Rusch puts it, "if contract terms can be bent or stretched to the publishing house's favor, the publishing house will do so."

Check out the article-- I definitely learned something about contracting from it. And it could be you'll need that knowledge sooner than you think. Today could be the day, after all...

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Plot Device

So most writers have at some point stumbled across Campbell and 'archetypes' and the ever popular story plots. There is nothing new under the sun. Everything has been written before, just in a different way. Yes, there is truth to this. But here's the question-- do you embrace it, or do you reject it?

One could argue that if you follow the pie chart, you'll get the desired results. Kind of like a production line. Consumers like blue cars. Therefore you buy blue paint, spray it on said car, and sell it. Your customers are happy. But how far should we go in terms of art? How much does this inhance or cheapen the forms of artistic expression?

For example, recently Target in association with the Warhol Foundation has come out with themed Campbells soup cans. You can get them in vivid colors of bright yellow and california blue, or magenta and orange. All in commemoration of the famed screen printer and modern artist Andy Warhol.

Now don't get me on my soap box about Warhol to begin with. I could say a few words, at least. Back to the point. Commercialization. Does it help or harm? You look at commercialized and churned out art-- posters, prints, magnets, mugs-- and compare it to seeing the real thing in the museum. Art for the masses. In the same way those cheap romance novels in the airport or the back of the book store...does this help or harm authors trying to get their books published? Does it drain water from the pool and bring us all to a Harrison Bergeron level of equality?

In the end, it doesn't get that forceful. We can write whatever we want. But unfortunately we are at the mercy of our audience. We are trying to sell our work, to make a living. If we just wanted to write for ourselves we could do it. In fact we do do it. But that won't put food in our mouths.

Knowing the story tropes that exist, is it wise to follow them and give our audience something to chase after and recognize or do we simply write. Don't worry about the hero, the adventurer, the call to purpose or the resolution. Write, and the story will figure itself out. These 'tropes' existed before they were labeled, and they'll sort themselves out.

Maybe it'd be a really interesting idea to try and write a story that purposefully has not a single trope to it. Then again, maybe that'd be the most boring story known to man. And then consequently it'd be hailed as the next best thing to Freud.

Challenge. Outline the tropes found in your book. It could be amazing, or amusing. And then try and write that short story that has not a single trope to it. Chances are, you'll fail, or you'll succeed and someone will find tropes in your story via their own interpretation. Isn't that funny how everything can take on so much meaning depending on the set of eyes looking at it.

Whether science fiction or fantasy or horror or nonfiction or self help books, the archetypes and tropes of literary and artistical concepts will find us.

They're watching...they're always...watching...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Next time! on Maudlin's Shoes

I have come upon a conundrum.

When writing a blog, writers come to the point where they have to decide how often they are going to write. And it's not as easy of an answer as it may seem.

For one, how much time can you put in? You want each post to be good, meaningful, and interesting. Probably some of you reading this who aren't bloggers are checking off each of those chategories and wondering why I'm writing this in the first place. But it does bear some thinking on. You want your posts to come out regularly so that a potential readership isn't constantly waiting around for a new post, only to be surprised and miss one when it does come out, or simply forget about you as too much trouble to keep up with.

At the same time you don't want to overload your readers with so many posts that they just don't keep up out of surrender. They only have so much time to dedicate to your writing, too. And you don't want your blog to consume everything else you do, unless you're earning enough from it to make a living and enjoy it that much.

If that's the case, well, good for you. Keep on doing that. Maybe let me know what it is you've got hidden up your sleeve.

As for me, I've been doing bi-weekly posts until now. I have recently decided to shorten it to once a week. Why? Well, my 'writing-days' which are thrice-weekly have been consumed on those two blog-days by the blog, leaving me only one day a week to work on my book. And I write so slowly that that really isn't enough time to get things done. My writing has been a crawl through the semester so that I don't think I've added more than thirty pages since August.

So I'm slowing my blog posts to once a week. That still maintains the regularity that any readers (and frankly I) need, while giving me that extra day to work on my own writing. Frankly, seeing as how that is what I want to spend my life doing, I think it's a better priority.

But I don't regret my bi-weekly posts. Sometimes in order to get into the habit of a thing you have to do it more frequently than you would if it were already a habit. I will have no trouble at all writing once a week after being used to writing twice a week, whereas before I started that strict regimen I was lucky if I wrote once every three months. The desired affect was required.

Fridays will be my new-release day. Keep your eyes open for the latest post. Halloween is just around the corner, and you know you want to hear me talk about vampires and pumpkins and how it must, must, have something to do with the publishing industry. Oh dear. Now that I've raised that challenge, it must be met. Hmmm. This will be thought upon.

Next time! on Maudlin's Shoes, and all that.

In fact, that's a good title.

Friday, October 5, 2012

To Travel...

Well, I'm off to Seattle, Washington in just a few hours. Going to walk the mile to Marta, take the train to the airport, and (hopefully...standby, donchaknow) get on a plane to the other side of the country.

I really can't wait to smell the air. You can tell the difference the moment you step off the plane. Here it's all pine and oak trees, but there...there it's all fir trees and the heartier evergreens that people draw inspiration on when making room and car fragrances. Not to say that the west coast smells like a new car. It's nothing at all like that. It's clear and fresh and green smelling, and the pacific ocean also smells nothing like our hot-blooded Atlantic. You can smell the cold coming off of it and imagine coasts in Alaska, Candada, and the Arctic where this same seawater has washed before.

The beaches, too, are different. No white sand glimmering beneath bikini bodies-- it's stones. Round, slippery stones in colors like charcoal and burnt umber and sienna and blood crimson. There's big warty seaweed that could be the shed skin of a troll or a goblin, if trolls or goblins ever had the inclination to shed their skin. And it's almost impossible to go to the beach and not see the teeny little crabs that live there in abundance, scuttling around, or get nearly knocked in the head by the pelicans and gulls that swarm around.

I'll enjoy watching the huge white ferries plough by through the water, in daylight and at night, from the nearness of the beach and from the huge, towering peak of the hill on which my great grandmother's house rests. She has a large bay window that overlooks hill, sound, and mountain range altogether. It's one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen in my life.

And I'm sure nothing has changed in the 7 years it's been since I was there...the little silver spoon collection will still be hanging on the wall, the card table will still serve as gaming platform and dining table, because the huge actual dining room is too cumbersome to bother with. I'm sure the kitchen will still smell like gramma-bread and good food, because after years of use you can't really get that smell out of the wood, the seams. The fire hydrant I used to perch on outside will still stand tall. Maybe I'll sit on it again for old time's sake. The rock garden with its chinese/japanese themed plants, the old water heater downstairs that used to scare me, the little cove of trees out back in the yard that always seemed so huge but is actually rather quaint, the hippo toy that I used to be small enough to use as a riding steed, the coal shute that is now a laundry shute to the basement where I used to sleep when visiting...all will still be there, my great grandmother presiding over all.

It'll be good to be back...if only for a short while...

Monday, October 1, 2012

To Edit, or Not to Edit...That is the Question!

So here's something of a conundrum that one can come across when getting ready to publish/submit your manuscript for the first time. You've just slashed off the final page, you're feeling good and dandy, you've got the query letter written and your pile of potential agents and publishers all mapped out...

Uh one else has looked at this beauty yet. It hasn't been edited.

Ah. Ok, so first things first. Do you need editing?

The answer is always and unquestionably a resounding YES. No matter how carefully you read over your work, you are always going to miss something. Perhaps you descriped the "beauty of love as lovely" or wrote "hte" instead of "the" or "an" instead of "and" (especially if you're using Microsoft Word, whose grammar and spell check functions are about as useful as a rock). You are going to have mistakes in there, from the very basic of typing errors to larger grammatical errors you didn't even realize were there to simply awkward diction and sentence structure that you wouldn't notice with your eyes, because you wrote it.

There are several tricks to editing on your own that can get you very far. For one, do a first read-through. Then do another read through, this time reading aloud. When you read aloud you force your brain to work differently, and you also force your ear to hear what the words are going to sound like to someone else. You can also get a keener tuning on the flow and rhythm of what you wrote and discover awkwardly metered sentences.

Another trick that I've heard of and have only partially tried once before is to change the font, size, and color of your manuscript and read it that way. This also tricks the brain (by tricking your eyes) into thinking it's reading something for the first time, and will allow you to catch more errors that your eyes merely slipped past the first or second or third time.

But even then-- even then-- you need someone else to read your work. I can tell you from personal experience: my own manuscript has been through the editing ringer. Not only did I essentially rewrite it at least a dozen times, but I edited it just as much for a period of time longer than a decade. And even then, after that I had my twin sister edit it for me, rigorously. That red ink came flying. And you wouldn't believe the mistakes, awkward diction, name errors, and plot points she picked out. Imagine if I had sent that off to an agent? Oh wait...I have.

So that answers that question. You need to edit. Another pair of eyes have to look at your manuscript.

"One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand" ~Quintilian
 But here's the follow up query-- whose eyes?

Now, I would highly suggest you don't get your entire family and your friends all to read your book/short story and give you their opinions. For one, it will drive you nuts and you'll never get anything done. The whole everyone's a writer mentality here will bite you right in the butt. You can't please everyone-- there will be people out there who won't like your book, perhaps will even despise it, and people who will adore it as the best thing in the world (just look at Twilight, for instance. Or maybe don't. Don't look at Twilight.) You can share your writing just for fun with as many people as you want. But limit your editors. Limit the amount of opinion you have to deal with.

You also want to get someone who has an eye for the thing. Not just someone who is a good writer, but someone with an eye for the industry. I'm luck in that my twin sister has the same goals as I have and the same industry experience (such as it is) that I have. We've both interned at a publishing company and have worked at editing/approving manuscripts. So I've got it made as far as editing is concerned.

But if you don't have someone like this (and even if you do...weigh the costs and the gains before you decide) you can consider looking for a professional editor.

If you're on a budget but want someone to give you a professional job, I have just the person for you. Over the summer I had the pleasure of interning at the publishing house I have mentioned before with one Ms. Flannery Winchester, who (guess what) just so happens to have a professional editing service. She calls herself The Word Weeder and provides several services, including:
  • Copyedit
  • Developmental Edit
  • Sample Edits
  • Quality Follow-ups
She will also give you a cost estimate and a time estimate up front.

Now remember this distinction. Never, ever, ever, NEVER pay anyone to read your manuscript. If an agent or a publisher requires a reading cost, run far in the other direction. Run as fast as your little pages can carry you. Editors however will and can charge for their services, because they are offering you more than a pair of eyes to glimpse the words on the page. They can check your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanical content.

In Ms. Winchester's case, if you go with her Developmental Edit, she can reorganize paragraphs and chapters to maintain a logical flow, ensure sentence and dialogue clarity, maintain consistent tone throughout the manuscript, and offer suggestions on strengthening character development or aspects of the plot, all while preserving your original voice and tone.

She offers to do all of this for an I'm-broke-and-in-high-school-or-college. Or as she put it, "I-can-swing-this-in-less-than-one-paycheck affordable. I’m-a-teenage-author affordable. I’ve-only-got-sixty-bucks-but-my-manuscript-needs-some-help affordable."

 Well. What are we waiting for? If nothing else, give her a ring, see what's what. As writers we are excellent at querying and asking questions, so don't let anything stop you in this case. Don't let that one weak sentence, paragraph, or character stand between you and a manuscript you can wholly and utterly confident in.