Your Baby Is Ugly

We all think our own babies are beautiful. Our extended families do, too. Perhaps they—and we—see something beyond the physical. Perhaps we add the preparation and labor to our overall vision of this baby and, because of all that went into having the baby, we think it must be beautiful. We could not imagine a world where all that work resulted in something . . . if not downright ugly, possibly subpar, or at best average.

Why are we talking about this? you wonder. Because your manuscript is your baby. And, sweetie, it’s ugly.

At least, it’s ugly when it first comes out. Then it gets cleaned up a bit, and looks a little better. Once you start really caring for it, your baby might not be model material, but at least it no longer looks like an alien. It looks, you know, babylike.

For all of you birthing novels during NaNoWriMo, keep this in mind. Your first draft is ugly. That doesn’t mean you can’t show it to anyone. You don’t have to throw a blanket over your baby’s head and hide it from the world. Actually, what you should do is show it only to people you trust. People you know will tell you the truth about it—but gently. By which I mean, find a critique group. They’re a “parenting group for writers.” Some of them have experience because they have a lot of children themselves. Some don’t. But they’re all there to support you.

And if you’re a member of one of these groups, remember to first compliment the baby! “She has beautiful eyes,” you might say. “Look how blue!” Do that before pointing out, “But her feet are deformed. You might want to do something about that.”

(I’ll admit, coming from an editing background I sometimes forget to do the complimenting part. But I do try to remember!)

Bottom line: every baby is born ugly. They get cuter as they grow. Just be sure to take good care of it, and seek advice from other book parents as needed.

And Then . . .

The publisher told me today Peter is going into formatting and (fingers crossed) will be up for pre-order early next week. Huzzah!

Yes, I’m the kind of person who says “huzzah.”

Meanwhile, I continue to fight my way through Changers revisions. I’ve cut a lot from the beginning of the book, but not as much as my critique group suggested. It’s a careful balance. I do feel the need to establish the characters and their world a bit before shaking up the soda bottle of their lives. In this day and age, people want things to happen right away, but that’s not life. I’m sorry so many have short attention spans, but while I’m willing to make some concessions, I can’t just start the book with an explosion. Because then the reader has no reason to care about the characters either.

I realize there are many modes of thought on the subject. These are mine. I mean, I’m a character writer, so I like establishing that. And I’m a world builder. And then some stuff happens and the world and characters change. That’s how I write. It’s not for everyone. People who want plot, plot, plot will probably be disappointed by what I write.

Which isn’t to say my books have no plot. They do. But they aren’t written from plot point to plot point, bang, bang, bang. That’s not my style, and I hate books and movies that are like that. They feel so superficial to me.

I like deep things. (Venus in Scorpio.) I need to connect with the characters and the world, have a sense of who they are and where they are coming from so that when I see where they’re going it feels like an actual journey.

Rick Riordan (for example) shortcuts, but he can do that because he’s starting in the “known world,” our world. He can write under the assumption most people reading his book have a working template for “normal.” And so then things get all crazy and not normal. But Changers takes place in a future that is very different from our now and our normal, and I feel the need to establish that for my readers. So that when the main characters’ reality starts to change, the reader sees the contrast.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to balance my critique group’s notes (the few I have) against what I feel is right for the book. I’m tightening, and I’ve cut a lot, but I don’t think I can cut out as much as they seem to think I should. We’ll see how it goes.

In other news, don’t forget the Rafflecopter giveaway! Enter to win Peter or a copy of The K-Pro, among other great prizes!

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My First Podcast

I just participated in a workshopping of a 10-minute play as part of the Ten Minute Play Workshop, and the workshop was audio recorded for podcast. I’ve never been part of a podcast before. (Yes, I realize for many of you it is a routine way of life, but not for me.) As someone who can’t stand to hear or see recording of herself, I doubt I could make myself listen to it, but for friends interested in (a) playwriting, (b) theatre in general, and/or (c) what I sound like here is the link. (There is also a blog write-up if you don’t want to listen.)

Wherefore

Something I read today made me wonder: Is it important to know why a writer writes something?

(I’m thinking fiction here, mind, since I feel the nonfiction answer might be different.)

My rule is that good writing should communicate whatever it needs to communicate in the absence of authorship. That is, a good author is able to remove himself from the work and the work itself should stand on its own. And so, strictly speaking, it shouldn’t matter why someone writes something.

Now, that aside, I do agree knowing more about the author can often give a work additional depth. At the same time, however, it might ruin the pure enjoyment of the work by coloring it in a way the author never intended.

A lot of my writing has themes I never consciously considered but were pointed out to me later. When someone says, “Oh, I see what you did here,” my response is usually, “Did I? I hadn’t noticed.” I guess literary critics find this to be a good time, and I don’t have anything against it except when they put words in my mouth or attribute some kind of agenda to me that I never had.

In school, of course, we’re taught to deconstruct text. In film school, the movie was the text. Stripping things down, then, becomes easy, even habitual. But are we honestly enjoying the book or the film if we’re tearing it apart at the seams in our minds?

Sometimes themes are so glaring one can’t help but notice them. But otherwise, unless I’ve been assigned to break something down, I’ll generally try to keep to the basics. And if I happen to know a little something about the writer, director, actor, whomever—if there’s some trivia lodged in my brain—I’ll try to remember that while it may have bearing on the story, it may also be more subconscious than conscious . . . Or it may not have any bearing at all.

Freelance Editor? Yes or No?

At the San Francisco Writers Conference, there was a small herd of freelance editors on offer—you could meet with one that handled your genre and he or she would give you feedback on, say, the first page of your manuscript. I did meet with one, though I didn’t have a page to show her. Mostly I was curious. I practiced my pitch on her (she liked the idea for my book, said it sounded very unique, not like anything she’d heard before) and asked her what genre she thought it might be, based on the description. (The seeming consensus over the whole of the weekend, with my asking various editors about genre, is that K-Pro is paranormal and/or fantasy but maybe not kissy enough for romance, and so: paranormal women’s lit or fantasy women’s lit . . . If there is such a thing.)

All right, but here’s the thing. When, if ever, is it worth it to shell out hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on a freelance editor?

The agents seemed to think it a good idea to have a freelance editor help you polish your manuscript and get it ready for submission. And of course the freelance (or “developmental”) editors think you should hire them! For nonfiction books, they can help organize the information, even help research the points, check facts, sort the end notes and citations. And for fiction they’ll help you suss out your plot and point out where your characters aren’t quite right or something.

Now I’ve worked as a development editor . . . Though that was for textbooks, which is a bit different. (Well, it’s nonfiction, anyway.) But let’s just say I’m pretty confident in my abilities to write relatively clearly and spell and punctuate properly most of the time. And yet I’m also aware that every writer is a bit myopic by nature when it comes to his or her own work, so there is definite value in having other eyes look over it. But how much is it worth?

Maybe if one of these editors could guarantee that an agent would sign me . . . Or if s/he had a fabulous track record of authors who’d gone on to be published . . .

But in any other case, I think that I could use beta readers and test readers to the same effect, and for a lot less money! I have done, in fact. And even Guy Kawasaki said in his keynote that you should “tap the crowd.” (But still hire a good copyeditor—which is somewhat different from a developmental editor.)

So I don’t know. The way the conference suggests things be done is: you write it, the freelance editor helps you rewrite it, then you send it to an agent who (if he or she signs you) will suggest even more edits, and if that agent gets publishers interested, the publishing house editors will probably want more edits . . . It’s just mind-spinning, to be told it should be perfect when you submit it, but then it will have to somehow be made “more perfect” as things go along.

Nowadays some agents offer “consulting” services similar to freelance editing, but only to clients they don’t sign (in order to avoid conflict of interest). I guess with all the changes to the industry, everyone is trying to keep their jobs by remaining valid in some way. Publishers can only afford to put out books that will sell lots of copies, preferably with minimal marketing and publicity, which cuts a lot of writers out of the equation; a mid-list author is now just lost money and wasted time to the publishing houses. This is why so many of them—and also so many agents—want authors to have already built up their fan bases before they’ll even consider taking them on.

But that’s another discussion for another day. As it is, I can’t afford to hire a freelance editor, so I’ll have to continue to rely on my fellow authors and friends to read my drafts and offer advice. On the whole, they’ve done right by me—and they’re a very supportive clan to boot! And they don’t usually cost me anything but a free copy of the finished product. So thanks, guys (& gals) for that.

The Problem of Not Being Black Listed

I really would like to try putting my stuff on this new Black List. Problem? I have a short and a television spec, and they’re only taking feature scripts.

While I certainly understand that features are what Hollywood is most interested in, and therefore it’s to the Black List’s benefit to focus on them, I do mourn the fact that by doing such they are shutting out a wide swath of potential talent. I mean, I probably could write a feature script, and one day I might. But others whose hearts are in television or whatever? Are they expected to write a feature simply because that’s what people will read? I don’t think it’s a good metric when these writers’ best works may very well lie in other forms.

As for me, I know having a short is not particularly helpful. It’s at best a writing sample, since no one is really in the market to film a short. Sigh. But even so, it’s a good, solid sample, so why shouldn’t it get to be put on the Black List so it can get read? Hrm.

Right now the Black List FAQs suggest they may widen their scope to other forms some time in 2013 . . . But since they’ve already had a fair amount of success just managing feature-length screenplays, I have to wonder whether they really will bother to stretch open their arms. I can hope. I’m on the mailing list. Let’s see if some of us writing orphans can get a little love.

Feedback on My “St. Peter” Screenplay

I submitted my screenplay version of “St. Peter in Chains” for feedback. The script is only 40 pages long. It was originally 50 or so pages, but in order to qualify as a “short,” I had to cut it quite a bit.

I was worried the feedback would be painful, but was pleased to discover it was kind, courteous, and encouraging. Everything the reader wrote makes sense. If I could add all she suggests and still have the film count as a short, I’d certainly do it. Alas, adding more will make it too long to be a short and too short to be a feature. Hmm. I must think about this . . .

I’m going to share here the whole of my feedback, in part because it pleases me to hear my dialogue is good (at least I’m honest), and in part so other screenwriters can see what feedback looks like. Maybe then they won’t have to quell in fear like I did.

I have read a bunch of shorts recently and for the most part they have been very disappointing. It was a pleasure to read your script—not only was it well written but it was a mature, thoughtful story that grabbed my attention and kept it until the very end.

Your descriptions are vivid and detailed. You take the time to really set the stage and provide in depth information about the settings and the action in the scenes. Movement is laid out precisely so that the mind can very easily create a mental picture of what is being described on the page. Even the smallest of gestures and body language is included so that we can see and feel what the characters are doing and what they are going through—which becomes important at the end of the script.

I loved the flirtation between Peter and Charles first at the party and then at the bar. It was rather unexpected yet felt very natural in the context of the story. I also love the way you handle the relationship that develops between the two men. I like the way Gordon and even Gamby to an extent do not judge Peter because he is gay. If anything, they question his judgment in choosing a possible spy and security breach as a partner. The character of Charles could just as easily be a woman and you would not have had to alter much of the dialogue or plot to accommodate the change. Yet at the same time, the short would not have the same dramatic power or emotion that it does. I found your handling of the subject to be very mature in terms of attitude and very skilled in terms of craft.

The dialogue is excellent. It sparkles in every scene and stands out as crisp and natural. The lines flow with a realistic rhythm and the conversations have a good back and forth flow. The banter between Charles and Peter at the bar particularly stood out. The two are flirtatious without overdoing it but their words are also tinged with a bit of humor and sarcasm—while at the same time displaying that nervous energy of two people realizing they share an attraction.

That feeling continues to the next scene where Charles comes back to Peter’s apartment and they share wine. The dialogue continues to be spot on. The small talk masks their anxiety as they wonder what will happen next. These characters are very human and very real and one can pick up their emotions through their words even though they are fumbling and nervous. I like how the scene actually becomes romantic at the end as they realize they are sharing the same feelings and become comfortable with where their evening is going.

There is a great sense of humor to the short that is very witty. There aren’t really jokes or funny lines that elicit a laugh. Instead, there is a light touch—almost romantic—that displays the easy-going attitude of two people falling in love. Often, the dialogue is tinged with that sarcastic style that isn’t insulting but rather the sign of two people comfortable enough with each other to “pull their leg” so to speak.

I do wish you had included an extra scene or even a montage to bridge the end of the scene where Charles goes to Peter’s apartment and Peter being sent away. I think you need to better establish that time has passed, the relationship has intensified and Charles has moved in. I would include a scene that relates this information or even a montage that shows the two men on another date, making dinner together, Charles moving in—maybe even showing them making love (not an explicit scene just a short glimpse to show how the relationship has progressed). It just seems like we have missed something when Peter calls from abroad and we see Charles in Peter’s apartment. There needs to be that dramatic connection establishing how much time has passed and what has happened.

The espionage angle of the script works well and is also handled in a mature, realistic fashion. This isn’t the slam-bang world of James Bond although there is that feel of the genre (particularly the more recent films) in the threat of violence that does hang over the final scenes. You do a good job building suspense during the second half of the script as we wonder if Charles is who they think he is and what will happen to both he and Peter. The revelation that Elinor, who we see earlier as a scatter-brained flighty woman, is a foreign agent or traitor is a great surprise and the plot twist works great. I also like that there are questions that remain unanswered by the conclusion—yet we don’t seem to mind, since Peter and Charles remain together and in love and that is satisfaction enough.

The interrogation room scene between Peter and Charles is well written. Again, the dialogue is topnotch. This sequence really draws in the audience. The conversation, the mouse analogy, the secrets that are revealed and the Morse code—all of this combines for a climax that, while subdued and quiet, is still intense and thrilling.

There were two typos I noticed that you need to fix: on page 1, “nearby table to it down” should be “nearby table to put it down” and on page 25, “where to they live” should be “where do they live”.

I don’t have much more to offer you in terms of feedback or criticism. The script is polished and well written. The dialogue is topnotch and the reader gets absorbed into the story. It is just the right length—it was smart of you to make this a short, there would have been too much stretching and filler if this was to be a feature. The characters are interesting and the situations are intriguing. You should be proud of this.

Once More with Feeling: Being a Fan Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be Blind (In Fact, REAL Fans Aren’t)

We’ve talked about this before, and we’ll probably do it again. You can chalk it up to my protesting too much if you like, but it’s simply that every now and then someone posts an article that is tangentially related. (In this case, should you fail to click on the link, the article is: “How Steven Moffat Ruined Doctor Who.”)

It’s no big secret that I have problems with Steven Moffat. I might feel differently if he could be bothered to act less smug and self-aggrandizing. And I’d say that’s beside the point, but it’s not really. He doesn’t allow for an open dialogue outside of his personal circle—a circle he controls. So . . . Whatever. That’s another discussion for another time.

What’s on the agenda here is the way Moffat and his supporters/fans react to criticism of him and his work. There is the smugness, and the insinuation that detractors are simply too stupid to “get it” or are otherwise jealous of Moffat’s great work and intellect. It’s not a terribly useful way to go about things, but it does close the door to discussion, which as I’ve mentioned seems to be the ultimate goal. Moffat doesn’t like to be questioned or second guessed, and he certainly doesn’t like to leave himself open to the possibility that he might not be, in fact, the smartest person in the room.

But here’s the thing. True fans of something—a television program, a person, a singer—will be the ones willing to point out when the emperor has no clothes. They do not blindly and slavishly drool over every little line of dialogue. Think of it this way: are your real friends the ones who let you walk around with spinach in your teeth, telling you all the while how great you look? Or are they the ones who’ll point out that bit of green so you can fix it before the flashbulbs go off? Do you want fans who worship you without filter, or do you want people who can think a little bit?

There is something rabid and unstable about fans who refuse to brook any conversation about where a show (or showrunner, or actor, &c.) falls down, something almost Nazi-like in their devotion as they blindly participate in follow the leader. The same can be said, of course, of those so adamantly opposed to a writer, show, what-have-you, those who seem to hate for the very sake of it or who blow their reasoning out of proportion . . . A lack of rationality and an almost religious fervor cause the ground to fall out from under any hope of finding and fixing any problems with the show in question. No one is willing to compromise.

I do think the article linked to above is well written and considered. I can certainly agree that Moffat has a terrible tendency to borrow and regurgitate from other sources, and sometimes even from his own work, to the point that it all becomes much the same. And yes, he’s made The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes—characters with rich backgrounds and history—into cute and, in many ways, far less clever versions of their originals (or even of other incarnations of the same). These are valid points worthy of discussion. Can changes be made, courses corrected? With or without Moffat? In the case of Doctor Who, there is always room for change; the very fabric of the show is woven just for that. As for Sherlock, well, Moffat holds the corner on the current BBC take, but there will always be more Holmes somewhere (Elementary preems on CBS in just a couple more weeks). And in ANY case, if Moffat would just open his door to some fresh blood and new perspectives, general opinions of him might change for the better.

I’ll admit, then, that I am not without bias on that score. I’ve been denied the opportunity to write for either of Moffat’s current programs, and not for lack of trying (nor for lack of talent or ability, at least according to some sources—and no, I don’t mean family or friends). That doesn’t make the arguments against some of his work any less valid, mind. And don’t they say you should be nice to people on the way up, and then again when you’re at the top, because what goes up . . .

A Torch for Torchwood

I finally got around to watching that Torchwood: Children of Earth series. I had enjoyed Miracle Day, but I think Russell T. Davies does best when writing more tightly; at five episodes, Children of Earth was definitely more intense than Miracle Day.

I have to also say, I think Russell T. Davies has it all over Stephen Moffat, hands down. Davies can sell the horror and the pathos in a way that works. Children of Earth was honestly scary at moments. And touching at others, too, without it feeling manipulative and forced. Moffat likes to go on Twitter and into interviews with this idea that he’s so clever. He promises people will be frightened by this or crying at that. I’ve yet to have that happen with anything he’s written or produced. He has talent, I suppose, but Davies wins for sensibilities.

I would like to see more Torchwood, but Davies is dealing with personal issues at the moment, and I wish him well on that front. His work is worth waiting for in any case.

Steven Moffat Is a Sexist Jerk

Or something like that. I was going to go for a subtler title, but that really about sums it up. At least based on a few articles making the rounds. There’s this one and this one, for example. So I can’t claim credit for the idea.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to project Moffat as antifeminist or sexist or however you like to phrase it. Apparently his idea of a “strong” woman character is someone bossy and irritating (Amy Pond). And YES, I love Doctor Who, and I watch it and enjoy it, even like Amy at times. But Moffat does better writing men than women, no question.

So then we look at his take on Irene Adler in last week’s Sherlock. [Spoilers, Sweeties!] Up to a point she was brilliant. If Moffat had stopped at the moment on the airplane in which she’d pushed Sherlock aside, she’d have been just about perfect, all the sex stuff notwithstanding. But it was all ruined by sentiment—which, not coincidentally, was also her downfall in the plot. Irene had to go and fall in love with Sherlock. And in the last minutes of the episode had to be saved by him besides.

In the original story, Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Irene Adler is described as having steel at her core and the resolute mind of a man. She’s also a bit loose in her morals (for the era), having had a liaison with the King of Bohemia. Although, her being an opera singer, this isn’t entirely outside the realm of the expected.

Doyle’s Adler is a woman transformed by love; her plan to blackmail the King of Bohemia is scrapped when she meets and marries another man. But she’s no fool, nor does her love blunt her brain; although she falls for Holmes’ trick in revealing the location of her incriminating photograph, she realizes it almost immediately and is clever enough to don a disguise of her own and follow Holmes to be sure he is who she thinks. She then swaps the photo for one of her alone, packs her new husband, and disappears.

It is Holmes, then, who suffers from a sentimental streak in the original tale; besides calling her “the daintiest thing under a bonnet,” he chooses Adler’s photograph in lieu of payment for his services and takes to referring to her only as “The Woman.” It’s no affair of the heart, mind—Watson is clear about that—Holmes simply admires the one person, female no less, to outwit him.

The comparison between Doyle’s and Moffat’s versions of Irene Adler is the stuff of media studies papers. It’s almost a shame I’m not still in school to take advantage of it. Moffat’s reduction of Adler’s traits and abilities are glaring; while he makes her smart, she still admits to having needed Moriarty to give her some direction. And her love for Sherlock becomes the key to her undoing. Literally. A marked contrast from Doyle’s take on love being a form of salvation.

Okay, so maybe Steven Moffat is a cynic AND a sexist jerk.