Sorry for not blogging awhile. I’ve been attending a friend’s wedding on the other side of the country and it’s taken weeks to catch up. So… what better a writing subject after a longish break than discussing toilets? More specifically, what we do in them and when. Which, according to 99.99% of fiction is nothing – and never.
You see, I was reading a Neville DeMille novel. I’ve been a fan of DeMille for years. In this particular book it’s a fairly typical “chase” story with our hero and a somewhat reluctant heroine racing across the country either fleeing from, or madly pursuing, some villainous dude and, of course, they regularly find themselves holed up in hotels taking stock of the situation. It’s during these occasions that our hero manages to slip into a nearby store and buy some clean shorts and a shirt. DeMille’s slight obsession with our hero’s personal hygiene was intriguing.
To be honest, I’m quite happy to assume my heroes somehow deal with the sticky issue of soiled undies and even taking a dump somewhere without drawing my attention to the realities. I mean, during the God-knows-how-long trek by Frodo to Mordor to ditch the One Ring, was it mentioned at any time that he needed to nip behind the nearest Ent for a noisy Number Two’s? Nope, of course not.
Fictional heroes don’t do a lot of things. Like fart, scratch unseemly places, discreetly pick their nose when no one’s looking… which is a good thing, since most of this stuff comes under the “Too much information” category. Of course, there are exceptions to the unwritten, writing rule and some authors use such moments to advantage, but generally even our most flawed characters don’t require toilet breaks.
They don’t need a shower unless someone plans to stab them through the curtain. They eat about two meals per book. Many of them don’t have to call their mother. They rarely go shopping for normal stuff.
Wouldn’t it be a challenge to write a novel and include all the mundane, everyday things for the sake of authenticity? It’d probably get some kind of major, literary prize.
But no one would read it.
I used to have a problem, and it caused me to read some weird stuff in my past which may — or may not — have been of benefit later in my life. For example, when I was about ten years old I read Neville Shute’s “On The Beach”. It was way over my head, that’s all I really remember. About the same time I read a short literary novel which I can’t remember the name, but it was all about correctly setting dining tables, cooking small birds in meat pies and… Hell, I don’t know. I believe it was a classic of some kind.
So was I some kind of child genius?
Not even bloody close. But I read a lot and occasionally picked up books my mother was reading. My problem which plagued me for decades afterwards was that I can’t not finish a book I’ve started to read. It caused another strange habit. I’d start reading another book, if I got bored with the one I was already reading. I used to read maybe four or five “Famous Five” novels at a time searching what I felt were the good bits. I’d still finish them all, though.
By the way, my mother normally read some pretty trashy stuff and I can’t explain what the hell she was doing reading literary books either. She devoured a whole series of books called “Confessions of a …..” Which detailed the sexual adventures of this English guy in a dozen different jobs. The women kind of hooted a lot while our hero stoically satisfied them all. Not so long ago I reminded mum of this and she vehemently denied ever reading “such rubbish”. Odd. It’s not like they were hard core porn (yes, I read them too).
The point is I’ve finally learned to stop reading books I’m not enjoying. I’ve rid myself of the sad compulsion to finish everything I pick up.
But it makes me feel guilty. Last week it was Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem” and the issue is NS a bloody good writer. Who the fuck am I to put down his book as not worth reading? Apparently his book “Snow Crash” is a classic. Stephenson is, to be fair, full-on sci-fi/fantasy and I should have known with Anathem, when it had a foreword explaining the book that it was going to be tough.
It highlights to me how much more important the early pages of any book you’re reading — and of course writing — can be. They’re make-or-break content and these days few people will persevere with a book that’s not making a immediate impact. Even more important is this applies to the “sample” functions that online bookstores provide. You don’t get a second chance.
I think a lot of people used to read whole books they weren’t particularly enjoying, because a bit like TV today we’re prepared to absorb poor entertainment out of habit. Besides, not every book could be a winner and sometimes enduring a bad book opens your eyes to the better ones… Kind of.
Now it’s cut-throat. We have too many other options and too many other books to be wasting time reading anything we don’t like.
I’m not entirely sure it’s a good thing, but it has to be better than reading about sparrow pies, cutlery and hooting orgasms.
I’m really happy to announce that I’ve been signed on to Momentum Publishers (the Australian digital publishing division of Pan MacMillan) for all of my backlist of novels and they’re slated for a full release in October. Exciting times indeed! We’re talking here about all four of my horror novels, Ghost Beyond Earth, A Place To Fear, Voices Of Evil and The Devil’s Number, plus my two crime novels Missing Pieces and A Clean Kill, and finally And In The Morning which is my historical war novel. Momentum is currently digitising the books and creating new covers. There is a small downside to the announcement – quite rightly in respect of the deal I’ve withdrawn all these books from Amazon and Smashwords, so anyone interested in purchasing them will have to wait until October. That’s not too far away…
Thanks to my agent Selwa Anthony and, of course, Momentum for creating this great opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Momentum. They’re a super-professional crew who love writing and books in all forms. You can’t ask for more than that!
The best of writing and reading to all,
People have been asking me for years to write a “funny” book. It’s not easy, because everyone has a different idea of exactly what “funny” is, but I have had a project lurking on my computer for some time and I’ve been putting in the effort to get it out there as an ebook and see if… well, anyone laughs. The working title is “Life, and Other Annoying Moments” and it’s in the final stages of editing. Then I have to make a cover, convert it into a right formats… but it’s not far off. Hopefully within a week or so it’ll be available at Amazon and Smashwords. I’m not sure about the title though- it might change.
By now you should be aware that Amazon have launched the Kindle book reader in Australia. I’ve seen one- it’s pretty neat stuff. I used to be anti-Ebook not because of any kind of traditionalist thing, but because I could see they might cause more problems than advantages. Meaning, they wouldn’t become popular. But after having a Kindle in my hands and- more importantly, knowing how companies like Apple will respond by producing something better -I can now see how EBooks will (in my never-so-humble opinion) eventually take over the book industry… and maybe sooner than you think.
Cost is a dominant factor. At the moment in Australia it costs too much to buy a book (and no, we’re not getting into the Parallel Imports argument here) and to walk into a bookstore and make a choice actually represents a gamble- like, a big decision. No one wants to waste $25.00 or more on a novel that turns into a dud read. With EBooks costing around 75% less per copy, let’s say $6.00 a book, the chances of people risking their money will increase enormously. They’ll gamble six bucks on a new author.
However, here’s the rub. Quality control is a serious problem. You can go a respected Ebook publisher’s site and buy a novel with confidence that some kind of story appraisal and editing process was applied to the book- it was worth publishing. But there’s nothing to stop pretty well anyone “launching” their own supposed best-seller from their own website regardless of how good it is. In other words, the danger of Ebooks will be that the virtual bookshelves of the internet will be flooded with crap books written by bad authors who have no idea of their own lack of talent… and there’s plenty of them.
Okay, right now I sound like a wanker, but as a published author believe me that I’ve been approached by many wanna-be writers with manuscripts that are just awful- yet their owners simply can’t see the faults. They’re blind to their own writing’s failings and, in fact, get outraged when you point them out. I once was asked by a friend to evaluate one of his friend’s MS- a monster manuscript of about 300,000 words (say 600 pages) and the whole things was truly bad, I found it incredible that someone could write so much material and never once get a feeling that it had problems. I politely told this writer his MS was crap and threw it away… not out of spite, but because that’s what you do these days. Nobody returns MS’s anymore- the postage costs more than the reprint. It’s pretty standard practise to safely destroy someone’s print-out rather than mail it back. Next thing you know, this guy tops the list of conspiracy theorists and accuses me of “stealing” his story! What a dickhead. When I explained without the aforementioned politeness that his MS was absolute shit and not worth stealing anyway he still didn’t believe me. It took the intervention of the third party, the person who originally asked me to check out the MS for his “friend”, to get this guy to pull his head in.
He is the sort of person who will find a way to publish his masterpiece of crap as an Ebook and put it out there as a worthwhile read… and what’s to stop him? What will warn you, the book-buyer, that his novel is shit?
Maybe that’s the role of established publishers in the future? (Because they will lose the job of printing and distribution). Publishers will act as a marketing and promotional company as alway- and it’ll be tougher -but their best reputation may lie in providing quality books. Publishers will become the “quality control” filter for Ebooks written by new authors.
Meanwhile, established authors like myself will get to enjoy the best of both worlds for a while.
Soon I’ll be releasing my backlist as Ebooks from my website. There’s more in-depth details about these books on my home website at www.graemehague.com.au . I’ll give away some of them for free- there’s that marketing thing again. I reckon it’s going to be a very, very interesting time over the next few years.
What do you think?
I just finished a new manuscript for my German publishers- another “crime/thriller” as they’re called. I had it professionally edited in Australia and one of the comments offered by my editor was that the ending came as too much of a surprise. I needed to include more clues.
This is interesting, because of many different factors.
The standard whodunnit has been dealt a serious blow in recent years by the advent of forensic science. It’s like the villain only needs to fart somewhere in the same suburb and “forensics” will inevitably link them to the crime. Detectives don’t have to interview anybody, do any deductive thinking… Agatha Christie must be rolling in her grave.
It’s a problem for writers unless- of course -you’re Kathy Reichs or someone and the whole point of the novel is that scientific examination of the smallest detail. But forget forensics, if you can, and think about the normal detective novel. The question is, how much do you give away? How many red herrings do you litter the story with? Basically- and this is the crux of the matter -should a dedicated reader of crime fiction be able to determine who the villain is before the end of the book? Is the author writing a story or a puzzle- or both?
I have to say a lot of television crime these days doesn’t give you a chance. Even Christie’s adaptations seem to have been re-written to the point where someone inconceivable is revealed as the murderer in the closing minutes… you’d never have guessed. And don’t get me started on “Midsomer Murders”. I love the show, it’s got a great vibe and everyone enjoys that quaint, English setting- but you’ll never guess the killer, right?
So how do you do it now? As a fiction writer, I mean? Well, in my new book the first thing I did was avoid the forensic thing. I created a situation where forensics are no real help. Then I got on with the job of writing an old-fashioned whodunnit where there’s clues, red herrings and God knows what else to make the ending a surprise.
Too much of a surprise? I DID take notice of my editor’s comments- a good writer always does, because an editor is usually the first person to see a manuscript objectively as a whole. The author has long since gotten too close to the story. So I did a few tweaks, salted a few more clues… hopefully not too many.
Giving away the villain’s identity too soon is a crime itself.