23 March 2010

Arthur Conan Doyle - "A Study in Scarlet"

Having reached the Holmes novels in my mystery collection, I decided they were worth the re-read, since it has been at least ten years since last I saw them.

"A Study in Scarlet" is a particularly odd book - it's our introduction to Holmes, and the first half of the book shows clearly why he became popular. Partly, I think, it's because Watson himself is such an amiable pair of eyes to view Holmes with. Holmes' science is intriguing and the story ambles along well enough.

And then we reach part two, and the melodrama of the history behind the murder made me wince and sigh - until a recognisable name was mentioned, I was wondering if somehow a totally different novel had been accidentally inserted. It's an interesting device, though: the murderer, the foul fiend our heroes have captured, is in fact a hero himself. Any moral dilemma surrounding his capture is conveniently disposed of by health problems.

Reading these older stories almost always involves a certain amount of adjustment. Issues of race, attitudes towards women - they're alien (and yet not so distant below the surface). One thing which stood out to me is that the murderer's attempt to rescue his stolen bride stopped as soon as he found out she'd been married the day before. She was still alive - didn't die till a month later - but the simple fact of the marriage meant he no longer attempted to rescue her. That's unlikely to happen in a modern tale.

Too many forensic shows also made me doubt that a man stabbed in the heart and lying below the window of a room would be so...leaky.

Not a terrible story, but I could happily have done without all of the flashback.

Also discovered an alternate spelling new to me: dumfoundered. Being used to "dumbfounded", I just had to look that one up to see if it was real. I'm going to have to consult the Oxford some time, because 'dumfoundered' claims to mean 'confound' while 'dumbfounded' means 'struck dumb', so perhaps it's not an alternate spelling at all.

17 March 2010

Wilkie Collins - "I Say No"

My excursion into ebooks has primarily revolved around compilations of classic mysteries (most of which are out of copyright, but it was worth the $20 or so for the convenience of 40,000 pages all in one big wad). I've a great love for Golden Age mysteries, and the novels I'm currently reading are part of the genre's foundation.

Father Brown proved a little too..."Father knows best"? Or, worse, Father knows best, but isn't going to say until pushed. Not bad stories, but they didn't leave me thrilled.

I've moved on to a patch of Wilkie Collin novels, which are not really mysteries in the modern sense, but more 'moral dramas' with an overtone of mystery.

"I Say No" has a semblance of mystery - the death of the father of the main character, Emily - but most of the drama comes from trying to spare Emily from any knowledge of how her father died.

The opening of the story caught my interest, but unfortunately I quickly became impatient. I especially despise stories which involve keeping hard truths from young girls to 'spare' them and though the "I Say No" is basically cautioning against exactly that course, the actions of the characters frustrated me to an extreme degree. Especially when Emily is hardly a wilting and fragile blossom.

Hopefully better luck with the next book in the wad.

12 March 2010

Revising Revising

Having read so much advice about the acceptability of multiple querying, I've decided to slowly add to ongoing queries. There are many useful blogs around and I've been following links all over the place and have revised my query letter slightly.

Solid progress on Wellspring after a difficult last chapter. Action scenes are much easier to write than dramah. Ideas for Sleeping Life keep percolating in the background as well, but I want to stick to Wellspring until I hit a solid roadblock.

07 March 2010

Dissimilarity

One of the details that it's recommended you include in letters to agents is a comparison between your writing and that of known authors. But, while I would love to be able to say that my writing is reminsicent of Robin McKinley's or Diana Wynne Jones' - it's not.

A slightly better wording suggested is "Fans of Robin McKinley or Diana Wynne Jones may enjoy my novels". Which is true! I am just such a fan, and I enjoy my novels.

But I can't name any authors who I'm "like".

I can't decide if it's a bad thing. More a question of interests. I like to explore certain things in my stories - the effect of magic on society, the morality of mages, the concept of a ruler as a servant bonded to their land - and it's rare I will spend a lot of time describing something like swordfights. Are swordfights interesting? Sometimes. I've read some fascinating descriptions of swordfights, where what is being demonstrated is the nature of the swordsman, or the way movement becomes art. But in other cases detailed swordfights become skim material.

The same with romance: so many of the fantasy romances I read are not my cup of tea. I'm just as interested in how a couple adapt to being together as the obstacles to them getting together in the first place and often feel disappointed at where the characters' stories end. And if the obstacles involve misunderstandings or one of the characters tediously denying how they feel then my enjoyment wanes. An absolute turnoff is if the romance involves a normally intelligent female getting herself into some sort of mess while her male counterpart keeps an indulgent eye on her and eventually untangles her. A few of Georgette Heyer's novels do this and it is so annoying to read. I like romances which are partnerships, not babysitting.

If ever I catch some readers, I shall be very interested to see who - if anyone - I'm compared to.

06 March 2010

WorldCon

Finished arranging my trip to the Melbourne WorldCon. Looking forward to the panels. I won't have any books out in September, whatever route I end up taking to publication, which means I can treat it as research and pleasure rather than business. The distance to travel to reach most SFF conventions means I don't get to them very often at all, and it will be quite an adjustment for me if I ever visit one for business purposes.

05 March 2010

Forward Momentum

My train trip to and from the city - isolated as I am from the internet - is a very productive time for me. Wellspring, my "magic as a non-transportable commodity" piece, is taking off and I've worked out what I want to happen for the first half of the novel. I also dinked Stained Glass Monsters, making subtle adjustments to the relationship development to emphasise the continuing hurdles.

As usual when I turn my attention to the publishing aspect of being a writer, I'm gripped by impatience and torn between what I consider polite submission behaviour (submitting to one agent at a time) and what is widely advised (submitting to many agents at once). I'm distracting myself by continuing to research the current state of writing and submitting. There's a great deal more quality information out there these days, and some very interesting agent blogs.

So far I've discovered that there's a much slower market for high fantasy than there was back when I last pushed for publication. Which is a pity, since I rarely write anything else, and I suspect there's even less of a market for space naga smut, which is the only non-high fantasy thing I've worked on recently. Many agents who include fantasy in their genres really mean urban fantasy, which I've never been inclined to write even if I planned to jump on a bandwagon which has already almost passed. Nor am I drawn to steampunk, no matter how fabulous I think "Girl Genius" is.

I also discovered an agent blog that listed things required before submitting to an agent and as well as the obvious (complete manuscript and query letter) included a web site. How fortunate that I only recently created one! A web site has always been on the horizon, but it seemed egotistical to create one before I had any books available. But my deadline and the resolution to take publishing seriously conveniently pushed me ahead and I'll be maintaining it whatever the year brings.

The Google Spiders haven't found the site yet, so I don't pop up as a result - ironic given that Google now owns Blogger.

I get a kick typing andreakhost.com. That won't go away in a hurry.

03 March 2010

Blip!

My agent hunt started badly. I submitted to a junior agent in a very well-regarded house. An email submission, with the agent citing a three week response time. After waiting three and a half weeks, I went to look at the agent's Publisher's Marketplace page - and found it gone.

A quick Google search told me that the first agent I had chosen to submit to after this long fallow period of non-submission had quit the agenting industry a week after I'd submitted to her.

Agent number two now submitted. Another email query with a theoretically fast turn-around and hopefully not resulting in her sudden departure from the industry.

Publishing Deadline

There are so many writers.

I love to write. I write for the pleasure of it, to create books I want to read, to go places that no other author takes me. I'd write if I was the only person in this world, or if everyone in this world told me that I was unreadable. But there's no point denying that being published is the cream on a writer's cake. The affirmation, the (tiny amount of) money, and most of all the books on the shelf.

Getting published is work. To write well, to write what's marketable, and to beat out the nameless hordes all wanting the same as you. I've chipped away at that mountain occasionally, but I can't claim to have nearly enough rejection slips to wallpaper anything of moment. I'd rather write than distract myself with the business of publication, and so I let things slide.

But I want my books on my shelf. I want them to be tangible things. Self-publishing is a too easy temptation. All I have to do is sacrifice the affirmation, pay instead of receive money, and I will get the book for the shelf. I won't be eligible for author's guilds, or for book prizes, but those things matter to me considerably less than the book on the shelf.

Rather than give in quite yet, I've decided to set myself a goal and a deadline. October this year is the anniversary of an outstanding submission, one which has dragged on far too long. Until then I will submit to agents (an important area of the publishing industry which I've only sporadically engaged) and bring a little more dogged determination to the business of getting published.

Step two: create author's blog. Step three: research and submit to appropriate agents.

Step one is writing the stories themselves, but I'm always doing that.