Sunday, February 8, 2015

Don't Rage, Brother

Past the machine
That gives metronome indication 
Of what the night should be,
(Whatever it takes to make
the girls come out).
Metronome feeding trough
I have fed from the trough,
The taste was unwholesome,
Metallic, but the dream was enough
Rubenesque heaven––
These scenarios wet dream
fragrant worlds forgot,
babies not yet born, the springtime
Sacred eyes, the Olmec belief
In order, guarding an inner gentleness,
Get down with your machine self
Do you want to get down with machine me?
The taste is metallic
Move yourself, don't forget
Never forget––learn, dance
move, holla
the machine is often wrong––
it takes one original thought.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Columbia, South Carolina, 1:51am.

Night train from Raleigh to Miami, through the South. Talking with a chemical engineer John from Oklahoma, by way of New York who has climbed the Seven Sisters, highest peaks on each continent. Sipping wine in the viewing compartment, doing it in style. He is working on a thriller about climbing, as well as five other book projects.

Start talking with the conductor, who majored in journalism and says his favorite works tend toward Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. He starts talking about the crazy things he has seen, which he says could fill a novel. A man taking a crowbar to his skull and then running through the train compartment, claiming he has AIDS and will infect the whole car. A woman who starts talking in tongues and sticking pins in a voodoo doll. When the female conductor asks her what is up, informs her that the doll is her. I ask Anthony why he doesn't write a book about his experiences, he says "I make a hell of a lot more as a conductor, unless you write for GQ or something."

Stopped in Columbia, South Carolina, 1:51am.

"Want some coffee bubba?"

"Sure, I've got another 100 pages of Arisugawa Park to revise, before I get some sleep."

"It's strong. Hope you like it black."


That Word Count Thing...

I see a lot of writer's group posts about getting inspired by authorial talks and going off and churning out mass quantities of words. (Not to mention the whole NaNoWriMo phenomenon). Unfortunately, quantity is not always bliss.

Here is an alternative perspective, from that of an agented author trying to ready his manuscript for submission NY editors. A major challenge with Arisugawa Park has involved paring down the length of a complex narrative focused on Japan & North Korea.

It seems that the days when one could write as much as the plot required are gone and that any novel in the genre I inhabit (literary mystery/thriller) sells much more quickly––and presumably for a higher advance––if it is under 100,000 words. My novel, as accepted by the agency in October, stood at 134,000 words. They took it on despite the length... I felt very honored, as my agent took on two clients last year. That does not mean that I get a free pass, with regards to book length.

The agency intern, who championed my work (and who has since been snapped up as an editor by HarperCollins) made amazingly precise edits. She respected the length on the first go round, while noting in a comment that she really wanted to cut about 30,000 words––100 pages. I could not dismiss this lightly, as I truly found all of her editorial suggestions spot on.

Unfortunately, I could not shake a feeling that part of the reason why the cuts were suggested had to do with marketability. The golden mean trends these days toward beach reads that can be devoured in a day or two. There are also printing, distribution, and returns costs to be factored in and these are still at the forefront, despite the emergence of eBooks.

While not adverse to beach reads, I set my standards a bit higher––I imagine my work engaging the type of reader who enjoys thrillers that do not speed up into an orgiastic writhing of climaxes in the last 100 pages (think LeCarre, but less British). I realize that the tendency for readers is to fly through the latter pages of a well-constructed thriller. Still, I'd rather the reader slowed down, savored the journey––even at the moment of revelation and race-against-time urgency.

Despite leaving the agency, the former intern was kind enough to take a second pass at Ari Park and this time she primarily focused on cuts that would bring the manuscript to a base point where it could be accepted by the publishers. She pared it down to 118,700 words, noting that she really wanted to cut it to 115,000 (at which point it would still not be an easy sell).

I find myself agreeing with many of the word-count minded editorial suggestions––though with that aching pain that comes from "killing your darlings." Problem is, I only agree with about half of the cut suggestions. Some of the sections excised are essential to what I conceive of as the emotional and narrative arc of the story.

Fortunately, as author, I am not without recourse. In taking me on, the agent has agreed that she will ultimately go with the length that I decide fits the manuscript best. It simply may not sell to the editors. She tells me that most commonly, manuscripts over 115,000 words are returned with the vague assurance that the editor will take a second pass when it is significantly shorter. Months turn into years for a book that has already taken countless years and revisions to find a home.

In the end, the practicality of making a living must be weighed. I am counting on this book to make me a solid advance––I need to eat and am between a rock and a hard place. I cannot simply wait until my genius is discovered, as it likely never will be without an underpinning marketing machine.

So the quandary arises––integrity at the expense of a means to continue creative writing on my own terms (i.e. making enough money to earn a semi-respectable living.) Take home––what I have to accomplish in the next week involves no easy choices. Even with a respectable agent secured, the hard decisions never go away.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What is the #endurancewriter

It is a hashtag where I collect all detritus relating to
paper leaves, endless days spent fathoming labyrinths.

It is a port to the concept that good writing endures.
And that to be a good writer, one must practice endurance.

Bob Rogers of taintradio fame and the late Howard Hart - simpatico 

It is a nod to the class act poets I know,
Bob Rogers, Sarah Menefee
who have endured, as poets triumphant.

It is the sound of my own fingers on the keys,
as I learn to play a song that is much more about
tonalities and modes. Small meanings in the
shortest sentences.

Loquatious expanses of words on the veldt––
Writing is fabric and I am poised, observant.

Not quite a poem, but I find value in this Bob Rogers concept (above) nonetheless:

What is taintradio?
A 24/7 hotel 
where each power 
owns his or her program

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Quest of the Writer

Quest of the writer is one that has no name,
like so many things, it is not about fame.

But if fame is a tool that lets you eat and create,
live life on islands in boozy climes
so be it.

Reasons for Obscurity

In poetry, as in life, there is politics.
when the stakes are low,
the grudges are high––
success is never admitted and hardly forgiven.

God I hate politics.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Editing Arisugawa Park - No Dinero, Just Time & Sweat Equity

This blog entry is actually a comment I posted within a LinkedIn Crime Fiction group discussion "Are You Your Best Editor?"  It describes a bit about the intensive editing process that has gone into the soon-to-be-shopped Arisugawa Park manuscript.

"I work with an editor out of the box - within the first 100 pages. Not for copy edits but for content editing. I need to know if those first 100 pages sing"

Rebecca Forster's comment makes a lot of sense to me. Naturally, if you can get the same level of input from friends and fellow writers, you may be able to avoid the paid editor route altogether and save considerable money.

I was a member of the South Bay Writer's Group in California for a more than a year and had high-level content/grammar/style input about Arisugawa Park from the kinds of authors who really know their stuff (including Byddi Lee, who has successfully self-pubbed her first novel, set in Belfast, "March to November").

I also had maybe a dozen independent readers do editing, particularly of the first several chapters––and first several versions––of the novel. These included my mom ( a former bookstore manager and book sales rep), my old high school English teacher, a freelance editor who leads a chapter of the California Writer's Club, and a librarian at the school library where I held a part-time job while a graduate student. Reader/editors also included a fellow graduate student with an interest in the Japanese culture & language, and a Japanese friend from my days teaching English there. The editing quality ranged from spot-on to questionable––taking into consideration the taste of the readers allowed me to triangulate a great deal.

"Traditionally published authors, when they're lucky, have a team who can do that [editing] with them."

Jenny Milchman's comment is well taken. I had a whirlwind 2014, in which I earned the annual Book Passage Mystery Writer's Conference scholarship and picked up an agent Kimberley Cameron whose agency is prominent at the conference. (I had been in contact with her about Ari Park since 2010, that's another story).

Even before I was officially on board as a client, the agency principal (my agent), a fellow agent at the agency, and an intern (who has since moved on to an assistant editor's position with Harper Collins) had taken editorial passes at my 135,000 word manuscript. This was more than invaluable... at this particular agency at least, the agents have a keen sense of what actual editors are interested in and what will sell. (Unfortunately, whittling the book to 120,000 words or less seems to be one of the priorities).

I have used the extensive agency edits, as well as a four-hour lunchtime discussion with Kimberley, as a revision template over the past four months, as I struggle to polish a manuscript that I am supposed to have ready to submit in a couple days. The former intern has been gracious enough to undertake a second edit of Ari Park, even though she has officially moved on––she feels invested, as she was perhaps the one who pushed for me to be taken on, even with my manuscript not quite as polished as needed to shop around.

I will have about two days to incorporate the former intern's changes before sending the manuscript to my agent around mid-January. The manuscript will then require a final pass or three, to ensure it is "as good as it can possibly be" and ready to shop to editors in New York––hopefully by early February. Fortunately, the timing is all rather good.. the literary mystery-thriller, 10 years in the making, centers on North Korea and Japan relations.

Bottom line is that, yes, if you have built up a close-knit network of friends and allies, you can wind up with a more-than-professionally edited manuscript, without paying cold hard cash. You may, however, need to repay in kind and really cannot expect anything more than individual readers are willing to give. So cast your net wide across your network of colleagues, friends, fellow writers, and family members.

If I didn't have discerning editors among the bunch, I would certainly have hired a professional editor, but I had that––coupled with an original vision and a receptive mind––and went my own way.