Thursday, May 31, 2012

Farewell, Retreat!

I've been teaching in South America for a month, now, staying in a guesthouse, teaching every afternoon. I miss the family enormously (skype notwithstanding). But it has been great for writing! I outlined a chapter book sequel, because if the publisher who is considering the first one wants to talk series, then I'd best be ready, right? And a lot of short stories for another publisher, two of which are currently green lit to revise. I have very much enjoyed the writing boot camp, and will have fond memories of it. Not to mention that I have a store of images in my head that were not there before, such as the giant untethered pig eating grass on the narrow mid-city median strip of a four-lane highway today. No human anywhere to be seen. I think it would have come up to my waist, had I had the courage to go anywhere near it. Or to stand on the median strip in Paraguayan traffic... See? These things will show up somewhere later, I just know it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Useful "Gatekeepers"

I used to think of self-publishing as academics think of self-publishing, and it bore all the stigma of being painted in tar. But of course the times have changed. As when cheap mass printing technology and distribution made chapbooks feasible in the 1700s, and the rise in mass literacy made readers of nearly everyone, the digital printing age has revolutionized book creation and distribution again. I realize that means a very democratic mass can enter the marketplace, and that a very great deal of what is available has less literary merit as a result. But it's very Darwinian as well: survival of the fittest, and all that. I have read many an article and blog post arguing either side of the debate. So, here's where I weigh in: I'm the "cosmopolitan rat" of Isaac Rosenberg's war poem, who travels back and forth between the trenches. On the one hand, I see enormous value in the gatekeeping function of editors. I am currently writing stories at the rate of a couple a month for consideration by one press, and getting feedback on them from three editors. What amazes me every time is that when I think the story is done, and even good, the feedback always points out fundamental things that the story requires. I don't just mean tweaking, but fundamental issues with the story and what's going on. I feel challenged, and frankly honored that these editors are willing to put in this time and work with their authors to make the end results so much better. (And at this point I'd remind you that I have enormous hubris as a writer, having a job in the profession and a PhD in English. I mention this because I usually think what I submit already rocks!) And at the same time, there are certain works that won't get to the market any other way. They may have limited mass appeal (like family memoires), or they don't reflect a publisher's shaping of their lists. And in those cases, why not self-publish? Musicians make CDs all the time without signing with a recording house, and with a lot less stigma. Sometimes the music is good, and sometimes it isn't. The market gets to vote with its money, right? And that's why I think the term "indie-publishing" better reflects the current self-publishing state. Still, even with my wonderful hubris, there is no way I would self-publish anything without having a PROFESSIONAL EDITOR work on it for fundamental issues (not just proofreading). Over these last years of writing, submitting, revising, and starting over I've learned that no matter how good I think I am, a good editor is going to dismantle a manuscript and make it better.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Know Thy Kid

So my Son is 10.5 years old (the .5 matters to him. a lot). He has a college age reading level, but is still a little pre-teen sweetheart. I say this because the entire middle school recently adopted The Hunger Games as a school-wide read, and then they had some "hunger games" activities. (No, they didn't provide weapons or a style team.) As a result of the publicity that earned, many of the upper elementary students have been wanting to read the books. My son is finishing up 4th grade. Several of his mates have read the book. My son is begging to read it/them. He is not used to being the last to read something... he enjoys his status as a reader of all things. That's why he purchased his own kindle with his own birthday money. Sidebar: when you have two kindles on the same amazon account, don't be fooled by the question "where do you want this purchase sent?" Because specifing ONE kindle doesn't mean squat. My son, unbeknownst to me, had ALL my books in the "archived items" section of HIS kindle, and was merrily reading them. We discovered this when I asked what he had been reading in order to fill out the school weekly reading sheet and he said "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Fortunately, he hadn't made it past page 10. He now needs permission to download anything from Archived Items. But anyway, I find myself in the awkward position of trying to compare disturbing scenes to determine if he's up for it or not. I mean: the peeled baby thing in Harry Potter... pretty disturbing, right? But is that of the same caliber as THG? The title is there, in his Archived Items, of course. I wonder if it's only a matter of time before he takes matters into his own hands, and then he won't even feel he can ask questions about the book because he'll be reading it against our wishes. HHm. Advice?