Stephen King

Stephen King On Stephen King

Sorry I was off for a while. Wasn’t feeling too well. Better now and hoping to get back on schedule with everything.

The New York Times ran a great piece by Stephen King on prolific writers, which you might have already read. Like him, I think every writer has their own process and their own speed. I’ve found that I’ve gotten better at the craft as I go along, but I’ve also slowed down a lot because of that, both in reading and writing speed.

With reading, I have less patience for bad now and no burning desire to finish no matter what. Life’s too short now and I will put a book down if it isn’t working for me. I can find others that will, I reason. With writing, I think it’s mostly doubt about if it’s working. I get paralyzed all the time from doubt and from not knowing how to get from point A to B. I know where I’m going, but sometimes the path is shrouded in mist. And sometimes I’m just tired and lazy. Writing can become an exercise in pulling teeth that way, but I feel like a heel if I don’t write, which leads to paralysis, and thence begins a vicious cycle.

Thankfully, I can usually find my way back out.

King also had a Q & A session yesterday though, and it was really interesting. He’s the writer that inspired me most as a young person, and he some great wisdom and quirky answers here. His response to Jake from Wisconsin wasn’t what I expected, but he’s right. If someone’s made up their mind, why bother playing their game?

I have to try that pillow behind my back thing while I’m writing though. I can feel the relaxation now…

relax animated GIF

Stay thirsty, my friends!

To Read a Lot…Or Not

My sister and I were talking about series today because our beloved cousin who happens to be a librarian called for advice about what to buy at the bookstore. Her only caveat? No series. She had been devouring a lot of YA for some time, and was all tapped out on multiple book stories.

This got me thinking. I sort of knew where she was coming from. Growing up, I couldn’t really afford to buy books. The library was my almost sole source of reading material. But it was hopelessly outdated. That meant, if  a book was part of a series, I was highly unlikely to ever find any of the others, or more than a couple or so of the sequels / prequels. In fact, they were so behind, it took a recent Google search for me to realise that one of my favourite series I thought I’d read the entirety of as a teen actually had another book I hadn’t read because the library made no mention of it.

So I have a great appreciation for writers who tended to do stand-alones, like William Goldman or Stephen King, or writers like Ed McBain, whose 87th Precinct novels could be read out of order without feeling like you missed important stuff.

Still, I read a lot of series growing up, and I remember enjoying them all and actively wishing there were more books. I cannot tell you how depressing it was to get to the end of every Sherlock Holmes story ever written. It seems a lot of people agree with those sentiments because a recent poll I read said that most people (more than 50%) like reading series. And my debut novel is actually the first book in a series (I hope!), so I’m certainly not averse to them.

And yet…

I think writing a series now is a big risk. Readers probably are getting fatigued. Every YA novel is part of a series now, it seems, and even romances are getting in on the act. Slyvia Day or E.L. James anyone? I can see how someone would get fed up of having to wait years to get to the end. Am I right, Song of Fire and Ice fans?

So to try and address the things that concerned me about recent popular series, I decided to try and write one that, much like Ed McBain’s work, could be read as stand-alones. Each book would resolve the central plot question and action so that the reader can move on having read the beginning, middle and end of a story. Sure, I end it in such a way that you know more is coming and hopefully, you’ll want to check out what comes next, but it was important to me make sure you got the answers you tuned in for in this book.

Another big risk in writing a series is the whole ending thing. I mean, I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that when I was growing up, a series ended very satisfactorily for the most part. Now, I think most series hit their best book around the second novel, and sort of take a dip by the end. See Hunger Games or Divergent, or even the very beloved Harry Potter. They were all very popular, but I think a lot of fans could talk your ear off on how to improve the endings.

The reason the end of a series might not quite live up to the books that came before could be because when a book is popular now, millions can obsess about it 24/7 on multiple social media sites, and find millions more people to exchange theories with. With all that written down, creating hype and a huge excited din, can any writer really live up to the shared thoughts and expectations of millions of minds?

Or is this recent perceived failure due more to the fact that writers have less support in creating their books now. Gone are the editors who were willing to mold and shape a career and an author. Now, there are publishing houses just looking to turn as quick a profit as possible, or writers who started out on their own, and because they found success, are left to their own devices as an independent money-making machine and expected to be the arbiters of their own work entirely, whether they switch to traditional publishing or not.

I think a lot of writers could really benefit from some editorial guidance when they are starting out, and most publishing houses simply don’t do that any more. Independent authors sometimes shun that guidance, or they try to pay for it, in which case, they get the luck of the draw depending on what they can afford.

It’s a conundrum I wonder a lot about because I’m both a reader and a writer and the thing I would love to see most is quality books out there that end as spectacularly as they begin, no matter if they’re being published traditionally or not. Nothing would make me happier than to have people read my books, get to the end of the series, and say, ‘Wow, I never saw that coming. That was SO much better than I imagined it would be. I don’t want this story to end.’

I think most writers want to do this. But how do we get there in a world where criticism can go viral in a matter of hours, and everyone seems to be trying to take the same path to success, sometimes to the detriment of originality and freshness? I mean, how many love triangles in post-apocalyptic YA do we really need? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with such a set-up, but in the last year I read Hunger Games and Fifth Wave and a bunch of books that feel like varying degrees of quality in a very similar storyline.

What do you think? Do you think there are too many common trends in multiple book stories? What are you tired off? What can’t you get enough of? As a reader, do you think it’s still worth it for writers to do multiple book series? Or are you ready to set a dragon on the whole bloody pile of them?

Wut confused reaction gifs

Looking for Ourselves

Recently, Jim Hines invited a bunch of people to talk about representation in fiction in a series of guest posts on his blog.

Basically, almost every essay that resulted could be boiled down to one plea. Please include me in your fiction, in a positive light. Readers (and writers) just wanted to see themselves, or shared wonderful stories about what it meant to discover people like themselves in books. What amazed me about the essays was the sheer number of selves I was encountering for the first time.

There were quite a few gender identities, along with some really good thoughts about female representation, people of colour and the way we tend to (wrongly) view some books as boy books and other books as girl books.

I think it’s a collection of essays that every writer should take a look at because it might wake you up–as it did me–to the fact that there are so many, many things in our world that never make unto the pages of our fiction because published writers (especially in spec fic) are often from a small group of countries and share a very similar demographic make-up.

The essays made me remember one of the reasons I loved Stephen King’s The Stand so much was he included a character with a trait I had only encountered once before in Ed McBain’s fiction. The character was deaf. It made me think in my little teenaged brain, ‘Why aren’t there more deaf characters in books? For that matter, why aren’t there more handicapped characters in books?’

I hope these essays make you think too. About the choices we make in the stories we tell, and how it can really change someone’s life to see more inclusiveness. To see themselves in a positive light.

As a mixed-race black West Indian woman, I would have loved to see myself in spec fic when I was growing up. I am now ever so grateful that Nalo Hopkinson has done that for the generations born after mine. And one of my biggest hopes as a writer is that my writing will do its part in reflecting not only the diversity of the society I grew up in, but the diversity which I think the world has come to acknowledge over the last few decades.

So  head on over to Jim’s blog. I think you’ll be educated and inspired at the same time. Be sure to let me know what you thought of it all in the comments section when you get back.

How Not to Use Thought Verbs by Chuck Palahniuk

So this post was making the rounds on my writing list and I must say, it was pretty awesome.

It’s an oldie, but a goodie. I mean, Chuck Palahniuk is someone I’ve heard of, naturally, but I haven’t read his work yet. Based on this advice though, it must be pretty good. He basically verbalised something I’ve been trying to do on my own since I started copying better writers than me, like Stephen King and Elizabeth Bear.

I firmly believe that the reader should be able to get the emotion of the scene based on what I’ve shown them as much as possible. I just can’t imagine telling emotions very well. I’d much rather infer it. Of course, this means you really have to choose your words and the situation well enough to get that across. The technique doesn’t work if you have to add words on to say what you should have shown.

When I was working on Lex Talionis, thanks to my editor, I realised that sometimes the emotion hadn’t made it to the reader. Ack! That was hard, trying to find a way to say things without just blurting it out. Not sure I didn’t still end up doing that in some places.

But there are times when you do actually just have to come out and be direct, strange as it seems. Not all scenes and emotions are worth unpacking all the time. Some can be just a footnote because you don’t want it to be the focus of the scene. In other cases, the characters may not be important enough to do all that unpacking for in the first place. Sometimes a scene needs to be brief and cut to the point, and/or you’ve already established emotion or setting in a previous scene so you just go. And there’s a certain direct style that enjoys starting off by telling you a frame of mind or a piece of information and building from there–see the beginnings of the chapters in any book written by Raymond E. Fiest. There are times, I think, when all these methods are good to use. It just depends on the story you’re trying to tell.

Sometimes, just allowing yourself to think about how to unpack what you’re trying to say leads to a beautiful scene that not only does that, it moves the story forward on all levels. And really, that’s what you’re always trying to do. Move the story forward.

Mostly though, taking Chuck’s advice can’t lead you wrong. And asking you to try it for a period of time, and then just write, is a clever way to guard against over-using good advice to death. I’ve seen a lot of that. Just ask a new writer about adverbs and they’ll probably get apoplexy, but the truth is, adverbs have their place. You just have to know what you’re doing.

So yeah, practice leaving the thought verbs behind. That will force you to think about what you’re doing when you do it, and also keep you from thoughtlessly using weak verbs instead of strong showing techniques. And that is a priceless lesson that will make your writing much stronger.

I mean, you still won’t be Chuck, but hey, you can’t have everything, right?