Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When something is wrong and something is right

First off is the something right. My book SLIPSTREAM got reviewed by Jeff Adams over at his blog. He's a New Yorker that I made friends with via twitter, plays ice hockey, and he writes books for Dreamspinner Press. I really liked the review I got so if you would, please go check it out (warning there are some details that could be considered spoilers).

It's February 1st and it's Wednesday. It's time for Alex's IWSG from the man that may not have invented blogging, but has certainly defined it.

Because Valentine's Day is almost upon us, this month's insecurity is about love...loving your characters and/or secondary characters too much. My editor finished with my sequel (called Oculus) and remarked that my pacing seemed "off" in it. However, she couldn't pinpoint exactly what made her think this (and a pacing comment can be as general as they come).  It's like referring to something as "interesting". So yeah...this is the "something wrong" hinted at in the title above. Meaning that I know something IS wrong, but have no clue on how to go about finding it.

"That's so...interesting...hmmm." <== what exactly
does this mean?

So, I've had some serious pondering to do. And I've been doing this brain crunching for months while I've completely avoided writing anything other than blog posts and preoccupying my mind with television, movies, and books. Unrelated should watch the "Touch" pilot because it's amazing.
So now that it's almost spring, have I come up with anything?

Well, maybe.

I think that it has to do with two or even three characters that I stuck into the book that probably take up 5,000 words in the overall story and really have no purpose other than to irritate my protagonist (he finds them annoying). Why would I want extraneous characters? Well the intent is to have them available so that I can explore their potential in sequels. In other words...I have no official plan for them in the book I wrote right now. But having them there with no real plan is possibly behind the derailment of the pacing.

Maybe. That at least is my "idea".

But, I don't want to get rid of them. I like them. I find myself feeling repulsed with the thought of unmaking these fictional people. Especially if I'm wrong. Could I be wrong?

It's always possible.

I wish she was my editor right now but she
probably would charge thousands of 
dollars of which neither I or my publisher
could possibly afford. My publisher hires
people with barely a high school education
after they pass a grammar test. I imagine it's the
same with most small pubs (with few exceptions).
So anyway, it has me insecure and apathetic at the same time which is why I sit around watching television and reading books. I think I may start to tinker with it, and see if I can more closely identify what she "sensed" when she herself couldn't precisely identify what was at issue. To clarify a little, my editor is what I call "decent". This is the same word I would use to describe the food at 7-Eleven. You go in, drop a few bucks, get a slice of pizza and some wings and you are good to go.

I honestly wish I didn't have a "decent" editor right now. I wish I had a no holds barred kick-ass one. A stellar one. One that could eviscerate a manuscript and identify everything that isn't working and wouldn't care about tact. I imagine this glorious person looking like Elektra from Marvel comics, only with huge sharp fountain pens rather than a pair of oriental sais.

To use a food analogy, how would this compare to food from 7-ELEVEN?

Well for one, it wouldn't. That's like comparing frozen dinners to eating at a four-star restaurant.

The kind of help that I imagine Big Six authors get with their books is something akin to a dining experience at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. It's fine dining, you get a wonderful experience, blow a few hours with a date, and eat healthy food that doesn't make your skin greasy and has no chance of making you sick. I'm a poor bastard that simply doesn't have access to that and my publisher doesn't have the money to hire that level of talent.

But that is just how the cookie crumbles, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is my insecurity of the month.


  1. Great review! I'm so excited for you, and I can't wait for the book. It sounds awesome. Once I figure out how the heck Goodreads works, I'll click on your multicoloured Oreos of joy up there in your sidebar.

    As for your current conundrum, that's so...interesting....hmmmm.

    You're a smart guy. You'll sort out the pacing in numerous subtle and brilliant ways.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I love the cartoon, this whole post! I giggled, too. I've always wondered about my 'extras' or minor characters, making small appearances and maybe slowing the pace down, and probably don't need to be there. But they're sort of going to get fleshed out in the next novel! I think I know what you mean. Anyway, I'm sure you'll do a great job after a bit of fine-tuning. :)

  3. Great post! I love when secondary characters get their own books and stories!

  4. Loved this post Michael and that cartoon is hilarious. LOL
    Valentines month I always found to be just a whole month of insecurity in general.

  5. I'm resisting reading the review until I receive my copy and dig into it... but I really want to:)

    That is a hard one, but I'm sure you'll come up with something brilliant to wow your editor:)

  6. Glad you liked the review. I'm thrilled to be among the first to have the chance to review! I hope you're able to work out the pacing issues because I very much want to read the second installment.

  7. You'll overcome it, Michael. You're smart and sassy and I'm sure it won't throw you for too long. At least your editor speaks to you. I hired one and she could barely find time to read my manuscript. I had to email her to remind her I was still here. Er Helloooo! Can't wait to read Slipstream to find out where I'm going wrong.

  8. Congrats on the great review! That's always a boost.
    I've been lucky to have some wonderful editors. I think some ebooks are better edited than some "bestsellers" because smaller presses try harder. The playing field is leveling fast, so take heart.

  9. You find an editor like that, let me know! I think most of them provide just enough feedback to prompt us to think of a solution on our own. Not that we always want to do that.
    Run your manuscript by some critique partners. Maybe they can be more specific about what needs changing.

  10. I also think some critique partners might be the answer. I did something during writing my sequel that I don't regret. I used a consultant for a session. It didn't cost much and I thought it couldn't hurt. Her name is Cathy Yardley. I told her the entire plot and she asked me questions. She has this service called Rock Your Writing. Her questions led me to see where my story was weak.

  11. Congrats on the review. I'll have to Google it to see if I can find it.

  12. I hope your 7-11 editor doesn't read your blog. They haven't told me who's going to edit my book yet, but it would be nice if it's someone at least competent.

    What always bums me out is when you think about writers like Thomas Wolfe and Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc back in the old days and the relationships they had with their editors where the editors would help guide and mold them. It's not like that anymore because it's all about getting the product to market as quickly as possible and then making the next one.

  13. It sounds a little crazy, but maybe read it aloud to yourself to see if it's something else, like in the fluidity (is that a word?) of it in general or whether the conflict is like a crescendo that keeps building or does it move forward and then stand still. Just guessing these are things that would affect pacing.

    Good idea to have some brutally honest people read it and ask them specifically about the pacing.

    Good luck. Great post as always.

  14. I have an amazing editor who is, well, amazing. Let me know if you want a sample chapter from him. Good luck to you and just keep on writing!

  15. i'm passing over the review right now, so i skip the spoilers, but congrast! Judging by the other comments it sounds great!
    And i'm sorry things are kinda iffy for you right now. I think we all dream of that magical editor, or crit partner, or agent who can just point at something in our MSs and say "this is what is wrong" and just like that we can fix it. I don't know if people like that exist.
    A bit OT - i can't remember if you've said whether or not you tried to land an agent before your book contract with your agent...

  16. It may not always be able to tell why the story feels off, but it should be possible to tell when.

    Nobody gets to the ned of a stroy and decides the pace wasn't quite right, you feel it as you read. At some point you start to lose interest or get bored or whatever.

    If you can get the editor to roughly pinpoint (oxymoron!) when she first noticed the offness, that would be a good start.

    "Offering unsolicited advice since 2011"

  17. I got up at 5:20 today but declined to check your blog immediately because your rabid anti-ad-ism makes me think you're a pinko commie liberal.

    Then I come over here and find an ad for your book masquerading as a post on your blog.

    How... interesting.

    I like how that works.

    Anyway: here's how you edit.

    1. Take the version of your book that is on your word processor. Save it as a file that you title something like "This Is The Book I'm Going To Publish No Matter What."

    2. Then save a copy of that same file, under the title "This Is The Book That I'm Going To Hack Up Just To Make My Stupid Editor Happy."

    3. Working in file two, delete all of those annoying characters. Cut them right out! It doesn't matter! This isn't YOUR book, it's a crap file that nobody will ever see! YOUR book is that other file! You even saved it that way.

    4. See how you like the second file once you're done.

    I did that with one of my books: Cut out a subplot ENTIRELY. An entire character (and my favorite one!) Entire scenes.

    And I liked it.

    If you still want to build on those other characters in the future, then, once you finish with version two, reinsert them as a minor character in a prologue or epilogue. But you don't need to do that. If you're creating a universe, readers will let you go back and add characters and such. Unless you are George Lucas, in which case any tampering at all with the mythos will get you banished.

    Still, I feel suckered in by this post-that's-really-an-ad. I will likely go download a program I just made up, called "Post-Filters" that will block out blog posts and only let me see the ads. At least I, for one, am helping rebuild the economy.

  18. @Grumpy: "7-ELEVEN" in my opinion is in no way insulting. I buy coffee and a Krispy Kreme doughnut there more than once a week. Plus they have "decent"/quick lunches. To be insulted over that when it's the truth is like a self-pubbed/small press author being upset at the words "self-pubbed/small press". It's the truth. Deal with it.

    @Pagel: Thanks for the advice

    Thanks for the encouragement everyone. I'm sure I'll get things sorted out.

  19. Neat, I'll go read the review Michael.

    On your editor comment, I agree. I am all for surrounding myself with people who give me honest feedback and don't worry if my feelings are hurt. It leads to a better product in a reduced amount of time.

  20. Who doesn't want that kick-ass editor. Yeah, goon beat me, beat me.

    Great post. Congrats on the review. Treat yourself to dinner, date and fine dining every so often. Like to celebrate a great review.

  21. Honestly? I think its complete crap that the editor would tell you something as vague as that and not give you a clue as to what to do about it. Now it's got you second guessing things that probably aren't a problem at all (5,000 words total doesn't seem like enough to wreck pacing & I like having extra smaller characters in there, even w/ no purpose, for depth---makes the world feel bigger).

    This isn't something you should be expected to figure out on your own with such a little amount of feedback - can you let the editor know you're struggling and see if you can eek out something more to go on? Otherwise, I'd definitely look into a second opinion as some of the others have suggested.

  22. P.S. congrats on the great review!

  23. I know what you mean about putting in characters just to bug your MC and to maybe explore later. In the end I took most of them out except for one.

  24. Your book is already getting great reviews so don't sweat the whole editor thing. You're an amazing talent who has written a phenomenal book and will have a great career. Something wrong? I see none.

  25. Congrats about the great review!

    Ah, the ol' something feels off with the pacing. Yeah, sometimes that doesn't really help at all. At a conference I went to, they talk about pacing, and the key to ask on every page is what do you learn about the character/setting/plot/etc.

  26. First, congratulations on the review. Second, I'm fond of secondary characters. In fact, one of the best compliments I ever got from an editor was that "I did amazing things with secondary characters."

    They should have some small reason for being there, but more importantly, make them extremely memorable while they are on the page. Good luck.

  27. Your editor sounds like one of those gems that you know is valuable, but it slices your hand every time you hold it. But still, it's valuable. :)

    And money sucks, but 7/11 carries good stuff too. Like, I don't know if I could live without a slurpee.

    Lots of double meaning in this comment :)

  28. Checking out the review next.

    While I don't yet have an editor, I want one that's exactly as you described. No-holds-bared, ready to kick me into a wall if my stuff is not up to par. How else will I learn? :)

  29. Congratulations on the amazing review!

    As for your editor, well, maybe if you can't fix your manuscript you can fix your editor. If it's not someone who is She-Ra awesome than you should find someone else. There are so many amazing editors out there it seems like maybe one of them could help you push your book in the direction it needs to go.

  30. My sympathies on your pacing problem. All I can recommend is what I would do -- step away from your manuscript for a while, then go back to it with a fresh eye and fresh GUT. Yes, I mean gut. Then read through the whole thing in one or two long stretches while paying attention to your gut. When do you FEEL the story is slowing down? When do you FEEL a character is extraneous? Then cut and change according to those feelings and while ignoring your rational mind.

    Sorry if this sounds vague and touch-feely, but personally I've found that this works for me. Pacing is just one of those things that's hard for a writer to put your finger on in a logical way, so I've learned to fall back on my feelings as a reader. I hope this helps you.

    I'm sorry too for not checking out your review, but if it has spoilers then I gotta take a pass, because I will be reading Slipstream when it comes out.

  31. Okay, I'm high fiving the review even if I haven't read it (I avoid anything with possible spoilers). It's always nice to get reviews you're happy with. I imagine, anyway.

    Loved the Tom Gauld comic and good luck with the editing...

  32. 1. I'm skipping the review because I don't want spoilers.

    2. Personally, I would keep the characters. One of the things I -hate- in books and TV is when something (or someone) gets stuck in that has never been mentioned before to fit a current plot need. It's just too contrived. Even if you don't know what they're for, right now, keep them and keep working on them until their need becomes apparent.

    3. Tell your editor she needs to give you specific examples if she wants you to alter something. It's completely unfair to just say it's "off" and expect you to do something about it.

    4. I'd offer to take a pass at it, but not until I've read the first one. I'm at least as qualified as she is from what you're saying and, probably, a lot more qualified.

  33. Awww, yeah, I "deleted" a character from my YA dystopian...I still miss him, LOL!

    Nice post and congrats for the review!

  34. I read the review and your book sounds great. I'm excited about reading it.
    I think if you like those characters and if you may want to use them in later novels, you should keep them. One thing that makes a good movie for me- and I guess books- are the interesting side characters. Sometimes they only have a few lines or scenes, but you always remember them with a smile. Remember the overweight girl who was murdered in the movie,'In the Line of Fire'? And the manager and secretary in the Star Trek movie 'The Voyage Home'. I know there are better examples, but it is cool to me that there would be some people in your book who irritate the main character or some who were maybe funny. To me, these people round out a story and make it real. Just an opinion, as I'm not a writer.

  35. Congrats on the good review. May you get many more.

    Two thoughts about your "pacing issue". Does every chapter have a clearly defined goal? Something that the characters are going for?

    And second: your secondary characters. Rather than editing them out, perhaps you might want to edit them down. If one appears in three scenes, maybe make him appear in only one. Perhaps you have too much of a good thing?

    Of course, what do I know? I have yet to get to a final draft.

    Oh, and I liked Touch too. Can't believe that I now have to wait until March for episode 2.

  36. All I can say is...if I found a pacing problem I would be able to tell why and also tell you how to fix it. Squee....

  37. I suppose by the time you get around to looking at the novel again, you'll be able to identify what's wrong with it, especially if you have people hanging around that have no function barring their role of irritating your MC. :D

  38. Congratulations on the review!

    I agree. If I could choose my editor, I'd want someone who would pinpoint the issues and tell me how they could be fixed.

  39. Congrats on the great review. That's gotta feel good. And I think you're smart to trust your instincts on the second book. You probably already have a feel for where it's "off" and, after a little time and distance, will be able to see it clearly enough to fix it.

    Good luck!

  40. I would honestly expect an editor, even at a less than giant press, to be able to be less vague about why your pacing is off. Seriously, that's odd.

  41. I'm not going to read the review because I want to read the book, but congrats on a great review.

    I hope that your "decent" editor isn't a regular to your blog. He or she might not be so decent to you after this. :)

  42. Yeah, but those four star restaurants don't leave you full and bloated. Check out their serving sizes. Something to think about. =)

    Congrats on your review.

  43. Hmmm... yes... interesting... ;-P Sorry couldn't resist.

    I know what you mean with obscure crits. It just sucks because if I could recognize my mistakes on my own, I wouldn't need another pair of eyes to fix them.

    Good luck with sorting out your pacing issue.

  44. That's a terrific review, well done. Got no advice for you on the writing stuff.

  45. Love the cartoon, sorry the editor isn't being more specific. I had an acting teacher tell me recently that she just "couldn't connect" with my character on screen. I asked what I could do differently and she said, "Feel the truth." So, there you have it. New follower.

  46. It seems that you are now in quite the confusing situation, but here's the are truly brilliant. Everything I've read from you, is thoughtful and precise. I know you sound frustrated, but you also seem like a very capable guy; so you've gotta know - deep down - that you've got this covered, right?

    At least that is my take on this situation, I just kept thinking "he's brilliant, he'll figure it all out and it will be fantastic!"

  47. Fantastic review!!!!

    But I think it's almost torture to say that something seems off (i.e. pacing) but really not sure how, where, and what.

    I hate it when people are vague. I'd rather have them tell me something sucks and some suggestions on how to fix it.

    But you might be on the right track with those extra characters. Sometimes as a reader, you wish certain characters had been developed more. Maybe that's what you're editor is "feeling."

    But if you have plans for them in the next book, keep them. Maybe create some kind of foreshadowing - just a hint that they will return.

  48. Hey Michael! I'm not sure there are editors out there like that. I read a Pat Cornwell book some years ago and was appalled at the issues. I didn't see any spelling errors but there were plenty of others. The big 6 aren't concerned with editing for their fold of authors because we (and when I see "we" I mean Americans, not me) buy their damn books no matter the problems. And with newer authors-- well, they are on their own with "decent" editors, I guess. I am lucky because I have an inhouse editor who tells me the tough stuff.

  49. Consider that a kick-ass editor MAY have insisted you lose those 5k words and those characters, leaving you with less clay from which to build future books.

    I like the idea of tossing in a bit of weird subconscious ideas, just to have material for future plot threads. Nothing impresses me more, as a reader, than conservation of characters, and yet it's such a simple trick, isn't it?

    I think that new series The Touch is all about that. Only watched the pilot, not that interested in the series, but the looping back in on itself is definitely part of the appeal. It was also the most memorable part of the Incarnation of Immortalities series. I still remember the characters' stories overlapping, though I've forgotten all the details.

  50. I'm debating rather to read the review or not - I haven't written mine yet. Incentive to get it done tonight . .

    Uhhmmmmm; having read Slipstream I may be able to help with the "pacing" problem; but I'm no editor. Just a reader - and a kick ass critiquer.

    Oh please, don't mention another interesting series for me to get interested in. Must. Not. Watch.

    Argh; I love the distraction of TV lately. Too much . .