Sunday, February 19, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
So at last the hard comes to a boil ... I'm grateful to those of you who stuck with the slow start of this thing, because it really was something I wanted to try. Mysteries, especially series mysteries, are about character, and in this case Hal is pretty embedded in a community, an idea the police procedural guys developed very heavily, but it's there in all the hardboileds -- look at Crumley's vivid town of Meriweather, Montana or at the world surrounding Matt Scudder. So I resigned myself to starting a slow one and hoping some people would find the permanent cast interesting enough while they were meeting them. But the wheels have turned, the spring is sprung, and from here on there's going to be some action.
Special nod to Ellyn X, not her real initial, who dropped me a note saying that she just liked the characters and didn't care if the mystery EVER got started. Me too, Ellyn, but who are we two against so many?
So, see you all next week, and till then, happy mayhem!
Sunday, February 12, 2012
About models and math, semiotics and stories, global warming and sequestration, and my next book (Part I of a series)
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
For those of you hoping for some violence, we'll be getting to that next week. Meanwhile, one more episode of muttering creepiness and potential evil and all that. But we'll have some good old honest brutality soon.
The effect that I'm not sure about, but trying for, is sort of borrowed from the genre of fairy tales. Famously, and pointed out by everybody since the mid 1800s, fairy tales begin in a mundane world (wood choppers and huntsmen and all that) and then lurch into the magical realm (or romance, to use the older word for "a space where everything is complex and meaningful and symbol is fused onto reality.") So what I'm trying to do here is to give Hal a too-complex, too-busy, ordinary life, and get a large cast of characters introduced because that's the kind of social world Hal lives in. That means a slow start, which is assuredly uncommercial. Thanks to all you patient people who have kept reading ... really, truly, we are almost at the Gates of Romance.
Meanwhile, though, here's more of Hal and Stacy and the surrounding cloud of impending ominous mystery.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
It is an odd fact that ebooks with covers sell better despite ebook covers being somewhere up there for uselessness with male nipples, but perhaps I am underrating visual variety and the capacity to amuse.
For those of you coming in late, you can find the logically named John Barnes Short Story Collection, which currently has 7 titles:
direct from me here (mobi (Kindle) or epub (most other readers))
here on Amazon
or here on B&N.
The collection will be on iBooks eventually, too, I think, but for the moment the direct epub versions work fine on iPhone and iPad, and are easy to download.
So ... after much thought, I've come up with a formula: three story-relevant objects will appear in a still-life kind of arrangement over a story-significant background. The title will be up top, "John Barnes" below the title, and the Metrocles House trademark across the bottom.
This leads to the problem of coming up with three objects and a background, all story-relevant, for each short story in the collection. And as I looked at it, I thought to myself (it's actually quite hard to think to other people unless you are telepathic), "Self," I thought, "the readers may have better ideas than this." So here's the chart of the 7 already released and the 3 soon to be released short stories, and what will be on their eventual covers; please feel free to kibbitz in, particularly if you know the story and can see a better idea already. Obviously I need the most help with the ones labeled "something or other", but all improvements are welcome suggestions.
I'll keep you all posted on this, and for those of you who have already bought short stories, I'll figure out some arrangement so that you can get an "update" with a cover when those become available (thanks to the miracle of modern electronics, I can verify who you all are ...), just in case you're one of those folks who would like it better with a cover. (Hey, that's another note I'd find interesting -- why do people like there to be covers on ebooks? Anybody got a thought about that?)
Symptoms and diagnosis:
The editor complains that "the story ought to be gripping but it's so sentimental I want to puke."
The agent says, "I've been trying to sell it, every editor says it's way too sentimental, and I kind of wonder about my own taste because I like it so much."
Readers of all sorts, professional ones and supportive friends, say, "I was really into it till it turned all sentimental."
One way or another, every outsider reader slings that dreadful word sentimental at the work. And the writer says, "But how can it be sentimental when it's exactly what I feel? Am I supposed to write stories without feeling it at all? Or just be so cool that I bore myself? Why am I not reaching people with what I think is the most important thing in the story?"
When anyone tells you your work is sentimental, they are likely (but not certain) to be right. Many readers have excellent radar for sentimentality, in my experience. The trick is to understand what it is, nail its exact cause in this case, and see why it's presenting the way it is. Once you do that the fixes are obvious to the eye (but may be miserable to the glandular system).
This one took forever, even though it's the shortest one so far, because it's the least mechanical thing to fix. One person's emotional intensity is another's sentimentality, but some people have better judgment than others for it, and so there's kind of an uneasy three-corner-or-more deal between the writer, reader, and middlefolk (like editors, book doctors, critics, etc.) to get to that "enough but not too much" point. And explaining "enough but not too much" takes more thinking than just laying out a procedure that will move things along. So it was a battle the whole way to make the ideas reasonably clear, and I'm not sure I won.
If you write, and you've written a lot, you'll have been picked on at one time or another for sentimentality; see if there's anything over there that helps.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
"Well, Holmes, are we stymied, then?"
"Not a bit, dear fellow! If you will begin sharpening your excellent scalpel, and perhaps heat it a bit in the lamp, I shall remove Dr. Attlee's clothing and tie his knees apart, and then with simple procedure I believe -- why, Dr. Attlee, you appear to wish to tell us something. Let us remove your gag."
One of many inspirations for Hal Dimmesdale was what I thought a reasonable question: what if Archie Goodwin had despised Nero Wolfe, which I always thought would have made a great deal more sense? Or what if Mike Hammer had had Archie Goodwin's job?
But I was trying to run this idea through a whole Wolfe pack at my agent's office, and every time I did a draft, the complaints multiplied, because people wanted Breit to be attractive, and eventually lots of scenes that should have been at shorter lengths had swollen to 3500s. (Which is probably my favorite scene length of all). And now, as I delightedly mow back the mess, and various scenes shrink to better lengths, Breit returns in all his slack-jawed-gaping-at-women's-chest-ed-ness, Hal can honestly loathe him, and I'm still having fun. I hope you few but increasing followers are too.