An avid reader calls it as she sees it on books, publishing and the written word in general.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo

NoNaWriMo, for those people living on a distant planet, stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. It takes place in November and the idea is to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in a month. It’s rather exciting to think that a book could be written so quickly, and I admit a bit of pondering about whether to participate. But ultimately, I’ve decided against it, for the following reasons.
1.       I don’t like setting myself up for failure.
Sometimes I think half the trick of getting by in this life with a moderate level of contentment is being kind to yourself. I admit to a tendency to self-flagellation where I do something wrong, or fail to meet a target. In the lovely Tania Kindersley’s example of forgetting that I’ve met someone before, I’d be mentally kicking myself for days for being so stupid.
I wonder if it’s a particularly female thing. Men don’t seem to have those critical inner voices. At any rate, I’ve decided being kind to myself means allowing myself to fail, but not setting myself unnecessarily up for failure. It’s the beginning of summer, Christmas is coming and there are Christmas parties on the horizon, and gifts to make and buy. There’s no way I can write a 50,000 word novel while doing all of that as well. Which brings me to the second reason:
2.       Writing is not the most important thing in my life.
It’s a kind of heresy in writing circles, I know. We’re all supposed to say that writing is our number 1 priority, and that’s what splits the hopeful amateurs from those who will one day be published. Well, it’s not true for me and I suspect it’s not true for a number of others who don’t dare admit it. My writing doesn’t pay the bills – my job does, so that comes first. I’m not going to neglect my family and friends for my writing because they are a higher priority.
Perhaps this means my novel will take longer to finish (seems highly likely at this point). Perhaps it means I’ll never be published, but I can live with that. Once you admit that to yourself, you actually get back to the essence of why you write, which is:
3.       Er…isn’t this supposed to be fun?

Okay, I know it’s not supposed to be fun-fun, like eating an icecream. But fundamentally, don’t we all write because at some basic level, we enjoy it? And this is partly where I think NaNoWriMo misses the point. There’s too much emphasis on publication and not enough on enjoyment. Sure, we all need a kick up the bum now and then or we’d never do anything, but too much kicking and we’re likely to find sitting down at the computer a drag. That’s one reason I try not to force myself to write, to obsess over daily word counts – I don’t want to lose that previous enjoyment. If I’m not enjoying myself, I suspect the reader won’t be either.

I wish the NaNoWriMo-ers all the best, and I admire their dedication. However my gut tells me that like everything in life, good things take time. I’ve been working on my novel for a year now and I think I’ll need at least another six months, maybe more. It’s a sad truth far removed from the dazzling NaNoWriMo concept, but it’s what works for me and that’s the most important thing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Six ways to annoy your reader

Rachelle Gardner recently posted 10 Ways to Annoy A Literary Agent and it started me thinking about some things in novels I find really irritating. So below we have....*drum roll*...Six ways to annoy a reader.

  1. Characters who are “quirky,” “sassy” or “ditzy”. It’s not just the constant overuse, it’s the fact that authors use them to avoid the work of actually creating a realistic character. One adjective does not a character make.
  2. Female characters obsessed with shoes. Okay, most women like a pretty new pair now and then but we don’t all go and spend a month’s salary on them. And if we do, it’s because we want a pair of shoes, not because we have no head for money/are depressed/are compensating for not having a man. Closely related irritant – female characters obsessed with shopping. Enough already.
  3. Naming characters with similar names – there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep Matt and Mark straight, same with Christine and Crystal. Maybe it’s a clever ploy to get readers to slow down, as according to Jonathon Franzen's book of essays it annoys the hell out of writers when readers whiz through their books. 
  4. Changing genres halfway though a series of books. You thought those were dragons? No, silly, they’re actually clever machines – did I forget to mention that in the first three books? Must have overlooked it, small details and so on…
  5. Getting to the “whodunit” scene and finding out the murderer was someone barely mentioned in the book. That’s playing with loaded dice and taking unfair advantage of the reader, in my opinion. How do you expect us to put together the clues if you don’t give us any?
  6. The series that will not die. You know which one I mean (okay, there are a few offenders out there, in several genres). If Stephanie vacillates between Ranger or Morelli one more time I’m going to blow up her car myself. On the other hand, if you kill characters, marry them off, let them get old, and generally keep things fresh, I don’t mind long series. But not when they are a literary version of groundhog day.
What annoys you the most? Post in the comments below.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buying eBooks vs "buying" eBooks

I’ve been thinking about asking Santa for an eReader for Christmas. Apparently, the main manufacturers have recently become aware that there is a place called Australia and *gasp* they read books there! As a result, we have a number of devices to choose from in the price range I’m interested in (AU$300 and below), including the new Sony Touch, the Kindle International version and the Kobo sold by Borders stores.

I have been thinking seriously about a Kindle, but there’s one intellectual property aspect that is giving me pause. You may have heard this story earlier in the year. To summarise, Kindle mistakenly made available a book to which it didn’t have the rights. It then withdrew it from the store and deleted it remotely from users’ devices. The funniest part? The book was George Orwell’s 1984.

So how could Amazon do this? Simple – when you buy an eBook for your Kindle, you’re not really buying the book (you didn’t expect Amazon to be restrained by logic and/or the dictionary, did you?). You’re actually licensing it under a fairly restrictive set of terms and conditions. It’s a model similar to the software world rather than the actual paper book world. And here comes the crunch, in my opinion.

Amazon is perfectly entitled to licence books rather than sell them, as do most of the other eBook publishers. They were entitled to remove Orwell’s book from users’ devices, and if I worked for them I would be thanking my lucky stars that they could use the licence terms to clean up the mess before they were sued for copyright infringement. This is the reason why eBook publishers choose the licence model, after all – it allows them to maintain a much greater degree of control over the things users can do with their eBooks. However, Amazon are so far the only company to unilaterally remove books that readers have purchased (sorry, "purchased"). This might be because the 3G connectibility of the Kindle makes this possible; I'm not sure whether the others would be able to do this in a technical sense.

The real issue in my view is that there is a lack of honesty about what readers are really buying. You don’t see a lot of advertising saying “License your eBook here!” Rather, Amazon’s store provides you with a picture of the book, a blurb and a link to buy the book. The Terms of Use state Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. I’d query whether the repeated use of “buy” on the site could even trigger this provision to mean that the content is sold. In any case, users are likely to assume unless specifically told otherwise that “purchasing” a book means that they have bought a copy which is then theirs to own. Technically, they could be vulnerable to action under the Trade Practices Act or equivalent US legislation for misrepresentations or false advertising.

If I was advising Amazon I’d be telling them to change the language in their advertising and to review their Terms of Use. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that Amazon’s attorneys are telling them just that, while the marketers refuse to have a bar of it (cynicism about marketers? Me?).

As a purchaser, it’s another reason pushing me towards the Sony and away from the Kindle, though I have some affection for a company that comes up with such great brand names. I mean, Amazon for an online bookstore? Kindle for an eBook reader? They may have licensing issues but they clearly listened to their trade mark attorneys.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How Cary Grant restored my faith in humanity

I just finished reading Truth by Peter Temple. It’s won a swag of awards and acclaim. Everyone’s buzzing that literary awards such as the Miles Franklin have been won by a crime novel. My mother and great-aunt both loved it and recommended it to me.

I didn’t like it.

It sounds heretical just to say it, but I’ve always been an emperor-has-no-clothes kind of person. Not that I’m saying it’s a bad novel; this is just my subjective view. I had two main issues with it. The main one was that there were that many characters, I simply lost track of who was who. It’s not a good thing for the writer when he reveals “whodunit” and the reader thinks “Now who was that person again? What was their connection? I’d better flick back and find out because this is making no sense to me whatsoever.” Personally, I think he should have taken a tip from Janet Fitch and collapsed a few characters in the police hierarchy together. I loved the character of the father though – anyone who’s been to the country in Australia will have met a tough old bugger like Bob. Still, I think some of the other characters risked becoming those “faceless men” that Tony Abbott is always banging on about (although come to think of it, perhaps that was the point).

The second issue I had was that it was so damn depressing. His thesis seems to be that everyone is corrupt to some degree, whether it’s in their professional or family life. Possibly true, but so bleak. Luckily, my local cinema had a Cary Grant double on last night with Holiday and His Girl Friday and I went along and laughed my head off and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I know there’s a certain cool factor with bleak and depressing novels but I’ll take a book that leaves me feeling good at the end every time. Thank God for Cary!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Light and shade

Inspired by a post over at Query Shark, I've been thinking recently about light and shade in novels. It seems to me that light novels need serious moments, and heavy novels need light ones. Otherwise, you get a piece of fairy-floss that you've forgotten five minutes after reading, or something that makes you want to go out and slash your wrists.

On the other hand, it's sometimes jarring to have a change of tone. Today's analogy (and I have no idea where this one came from as I'm not in the least musical): it's a bit like musical octaves. You have an octave, maybe two, maybe three if you're lucky, and within those you can move about, go higher or lower. However, if you suddenly try to reach for that High C that's way out of your range - well, the audience is likely to cringe. I was trying to think of how "strained vocal cords" translates to novel writing, but I think my analogy might break down at that point.

So here's to novels that make you laugh and cry...without straining in the least.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Big Sleep

Last week I was browsing in my favourite bookshop and I found the Penguin Edition of The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler.

I’d recently seen the classic movie adaption with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and loved it (disclosure – I have a huge crush on Humphrey Bogart.) Bogie’s habit of muttering dialogue out of the side of his mouth made him a natural fit for Philip Marlowe, the original hard-boiled detective. As usual, Bacall smouldered and cracked one-liners like a whip. The plot twisted and turned to the point where I started to lose track of who had killed whom and why, and it was all wrapped up in a stylish black-and-white package.

The book too is hugely entertaining. If the movie’s in black and white, the book is drawn in lurid colour, showing Chandler’s origins as a pulp writer. I knew about the snappy dialogue, but the vivid descriptions have been an unexpected treat. My favourite so far - “...she lowered her eyelashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain." Occasionally he goes a little too far (there’s some frothing at the mouth and drooling, for example) but on the whole the book contains some of the punchiest descriptions I’ve read.

I’m also having fun playing spot-the-difference between the book and the movie. The book certainly contains a whole lot more naked women – obviously couldn’t show those on screen in 1946. This actually necessitates a reworking of the plot, as originally there was blackmail relating to naked photographs. Geiger’s business of selling pornographic books is also skated vaguely over in the film. Despite this, Marlowe is more of a lady-killer in the film, having a surprisingly sexy encounter with a bookstore clerk while out conducting surveillance. Must be that Bogie effect.

The book is of course a product of its time as well, and occasionally made me wince with its stereotypes and references to ‘fags’ and ‘queers.’ While some of this was mercifully left out of the film, it does help explain some of the more obscure plot details. Even Chandler apparently lost track of the plot at one point and neglected to provide an explanation of who killed Owen Taylor, the chauffeur. He would later tell a friend "[The film producers] sent me a wire ... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either".

If you don’t mind a bit of pulp with your crime, I’d recommend this book as a great read and the movie as a great classic. Now if you’ll excuse me, Bogie – er, Marlowe – is waiting for me and I’m only halfway through…

Why Brouhaha?

I like a blog with a catchy title (see Boing Boing) , and what better name than a synonym for ‘sensation’?

It's an interesting word, too. Wiktionary notes that it came from the French but may have originated with the Hebrew barukh haba meaning ‘welcome’ or ‘blessed is he who comes’. So welcome to my brouhaha blog, and I’m hoping to generate some sensational, noisy and overexcited critical responses!