Archive for March, 2007

The Right First Reader

March 24th, 2007

This post is a spin-off from Kate’s latest, “How to know when your manuscript is ready.”

We all assume that a first-time novelist will have someone read their book before they try to find an agent or send it off to a publisher. But picking that ‘someone’ can be tricky. Some much published authors like to have a first or second reader go over a book, too, but they have often learned who’s reliable by trial and error. For someone who’s yet to receive the validation of being published, getting the right first reader is extremely important. A good writing group is a godsend, of course, even if its members only have time to read the opening of a long work, but not everyone lives in an area with a selection of writers’ groups who have room for new members.

My thoughts: first and foremost, make sure your first reader has the time to read the ms. reasonably soon, like immediately. Well, no, not necessarily immediately, though you’ll want them to, but certainly they should have the time to start it within a few days. Writers can put themselves through enough self-enforced misery as it is, without wondering if the reader hasn’t started because the book is horrible and he or she is afraid to say so.

Second most important: honesty coupled a knack for phrasing criticism in a way that helps, no matter how much any or all criticism may hurt. The writer has to be ready to accept useful criticisms — that’s the whole point of the exercise. On the other hand, the writer should avoid thinking of the first reader as an infallible oracle. Readers have particular tastes and dislikes, quirks and stumbling blocks. Still, the writer needs to take criticism seriously when it’s backed up by specific examples from the text.

Obviously, then, it’s best to find a first reader who enjoys critiquing a text with reference to the text. A vague, “yeah, it’s pretty good” or “I dunno, it just doesn’t work for me” is not the kind of feedback a new writer needs.

New writers in particular want to avoid two types of first reader, the Gusher and the Competitor At her most extreme, the Gusher will tell a friend-writer that a disorganized heap of vague sentences is splendid, innovative, and engrossing. The Competitor is secretly envious that a friend has finished a book and he hasn’t. He (or she, of course) will go through a basically sound manuscript looking for every small error he can find, hoping to knock the writer down to his level.

What other pitfalls should a new writer be aware of? Any other opinions?

When Do You Know When Your Manuscript is Ready?

March 22nd, 2007

There are many many things I’m not good at, and one of them is a certain kind of analysis.  I often tend to go more with, you know, “intuition” – a risky thing to rely on, in my opinion.

So I was struck by this question by Lizza in “Writing My First Novel,” and I wanted to throw it open to the rest of the party because I think it merits discussion.

When do you know when your manuscript is ready to be sent in to a publisher?

So my first and flippant answer is:  when I can’t possibly bear to do any more work on it.

Grammar neep redux

March 14th, 2007

One of the things I’ve done recently is look at a few introductory books on linguistics in order to mention them here for those readers who might be interested in the modern approach to grammar, ie, transformational or generative grammar. The book I learned out of, John Lyon’s THEORETICAL LINGUISTICS, is probably o.p. and gads, I wouldn’t wish it on any one but another fanatic for the subject like myself. Fortunately, there are newer and more readable texts out. Andrew Radford’s TRANSFORMATIONAL GRAMMAR: A FIRST COURSE, published by Cambridge UP, is about the best I’ve seen for a hardcore but very carefully arranged study of grammar itself. He’s tried to make it usable for home study and as far as I can tell, he’s suceeded.

LINGUISTICS: AN INTRODUCTION by Akmajian, Demers, Farmer, and Harnish, pub. by MIT, is a very good introduction to the entire field, with introductory chapters on grammar among many other subjects. I decided to recco this one because it’s arranged so that the casual reader/student can understand the rest of the book without memorizing the material on phonetics and phonology. Most linguistic ovreviews start, logically enough, with phonetics, but this is a hideously detail and technical subject. People such as writers of fiction who simply want to know a little about linguistics in general really don’t need it, and believe me, memorizing the details is the only way to really understand phonology. The foursome who collaborated on this book have thoughtfully circumvented the problem, though the material’s there for those who want it.

Howsomever, both the books I’m recommending and a lot of the others I looked through contain a really odd error, concerning the history of their subject. They all seem to think that Noam Chomsky created or invented transformational grammar in the 1960s. In actuality, the baskc concepts were laid down by Leonard Bloomfield in the early 1930s and developed further by Zelig Harris in the 1940s. Chomsky most certainly added much new material and expanded the discussion into the field of psycholinguistics, but he sure didn’t invent it!

Chomsky has been controversial in his life because of his far-leftist politics, which should not have influenced discussions of his work but inevitably did. He was roundly attacked in the early days by the more craven species of academics. His defenders seem to have inflated his work as a kind of compensation, or so I’d guess — I don’t know why for certain, but he seems to have gone beyond lionization to deification, never a good fate for any original thinker.

Be that as it may, Chomsky’s early work in the structure of language is immensely valuable. (His later work, particularly his “minimalist program”, looks flawed to me but that needn’t concern us here, really.) Just remember that he’s not the Font and Wellspring, no matter who assumes he is.


March 14th, 2007

I’ll be doing a signing of and a reading from my new book, THE SPIRIT STONE, the penultimate Deverry novel, at Borderlands bookstore in San Francisco on May 19th, 2007, a Saturday, at 3 pm. Borderlands is a very nifty place.

Their URL is, for more information.

Battlestar Galactica

March 11th, 2007

 Even Heather Havrilesky is turning her back upon the show.  See her today’s “I Like To Watch” column in  

 Why does this matter to me?  Heather is the one who got me watching the show in the first place.  Havrilesky (who is annoyingly objectionable all in her own right) has got a lot to answer for, if you ask me.

Since my first questions about BS-5, I’ve read all of Abigail Nussbaum’s postings on BS-G at her blog, “Asking the Wrong Questions,” (you should check out her blog — she writes insightfully about all the shows that interest me, and about things I know nothing about as well).  I particularly liked her post in which she assessed the second season, which was much of how I felt as well.  Evidently the third season has borne out my feeling that watching it was not going to be worth my time.  Additionally, Nussbaum’s posts sent me to read Dan Hartland’s essays at Strange Horizon, which have concurred with so many of my own reservations and frustrations with the show.

Is Ron Moore ilike about a 5th string Joss Whedon?  It’s as though Moore’s imitated what he thought Whedon accomplished with Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.  But like all those  guys who have endlessly recycled fantasies and games out of Tolkien’s accomplishment with The Lord of the Rings, he seems only to see the result of the enormous amount of work and fore-thought, and creativity, as well as questioning, but has no idea how the result was achieved — all that thinking, work and creativity.  You cannot separate successful effect from all the elements that create the effect.

Big Fantasy

March 10th, 2007

I’d like to add a new title to the lists of new fantasy, that may well become classic: The Name of the Wind, Day One in the KingKiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss, coming out this month from DAW.

I don’t work for DAW. But DAW did send me the galleys to this novel last fall. The story and characters pleased and interested me very much. It was so pleasing that, daunted by the pile of pages, and with so much to do with our New Orleans book, over a continuous period of nights before bed, I read the whole thing and was sorry when it was finished, and wanted the next installment now. I wouldn’t even allow Vaquero to do his usual ‘read Constance to sleep,’ because I gave that time of the night to this novel.

The Name of the Wind presents a new voice and imagination at play in this Big Fantasy sandbox. The author has a deep comprehension of the fantasy tropes, and what their purpose are, and how to best employ them for the weave and exposure of his story, and when. These are Big Fantasy tropes, though the Quest Fantasy ones are not included, at least not in this first volume. (I particularly noticed this, since I, personally, am not an admirer of Quest Fantasy generally, unless it it LOTR.)

FYI — a sense of what I will and do read, in terms of Big Fantasy, here’s a short list of authors I admire:

Kit Kerr, Kate Elliott, Jacqueline Carey (particularly her “LOTR Upside Down” GODSLAYER duology), Robin Hobb, GRRM.

I don’t read that many Big Fantasy novels these days, having not as much time, but The Name of the Wind left me eager for the next installment. Thus if you like the authors mentioned in the previous paragraphy, you probably will like reading Patrick Rothfuss too.

I don’t even like “Prologues.” But –here’s a sample from The Name of the Wind’s prologue. I was caught, just as Peter S. said he’d been, and predicted I would be too.

[ It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music … but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained. ]

Writers and editors will generally agree that describing something in terms of negatives, particularly starting a large narrative with negatives, is a no-no. But this is an example where the author uses the very reasons that negatives are no-nos for his own purposes, which is to get the reader to understand that things are not right, that things are not well, that things are not normal here in the Waystone Inn. It also, from the second statement connects (the lack of) wind to the title the novel.

Love, C.

Cheese, Anyone?

March 10th, 2007

Over in Making Light, Patrick Nielsen Hayden has started a virtual birthday party for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which debuted ten years ago this very day. Go have a beer and remember: Beer Foamy.

WordPress Hiccups

March 5th, 2007

Funny story.

WordPress, the folks who make the software that powers this blog, decide to release a security update. Cool. Then some asswipe goes and plants exploitable code in the security update, leaving everyone who upgraded somewhere in the northern regions of Merde Creek sans paddle.

And in the middle of all this, Media Temple, the ISP that hosts this blog, decides they’re going to push us onto some fancy-schmancy new hosting plan so we can install the latest version. They said it would take 5 to 10 minutes; it took about 2 hours.

So to make a long story short, the blog is experiencing some technical hiccups. The groovy banner images aren’t rotating like they should because the new Media Temple server apparently doesn’t like my little PHP-through-CSS trick. The layout might look a little funny in places because WordPress made some database changes between versions 2.0.6 and 2.1.2. The sidebar’s missing some stuff because, well, just because.

But I promise I’ll fix everything as soon as I can. Really. Would I lie to you?

Questions: Does the cream always rise to the top?

March 5th, 2007

Lots of good topics arise on our Questions page, some that deserve a somewhat longer answer than the quick response. A few weeks ago, Debbie White asked:

So, published writers: Do you think that a person who has reached a certain skill level will get published if they are persistent enough to find someone who likes their style? (And that if you keep getting rejected, you might want to think about revising further?) Or can even someone who is genuinely skilled and is sending their novels to the right markets with good query letters still not get published simply because they don’t have the right connections or some other ‘luck-based’ thing?

And so to my own answer,

Will everyone who deserves to get published get published?

Alas, no. Would that it were true. But there are many reasons a deserving work won’t hit the shelf. Here are two biggies:

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Space Opera – An Auden Poem

March 5th, 2007

Being set on the idea
  Of going to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
  Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year
As gales of abnormal force
  Are predicted, and that you
  Must, therefore, be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
  To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
  Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.


Space opera, say, and being a girl ….

Ain’t dat the troot!  “Dolls Clad in Feminism, and Hardly Anything Else,” comes to a screen in your living room.

[  “Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll,” which is to have its premiere on Tuesday night on the CW network, may look like just another reality show with attractive, slinkily dressed women preening for the camera in the hope of a shot at stardom.

But “Pussycat Dolls Present” is about female empowerment, the show’s producers explained to a group of television writers and critics here in January,

“Everything the Pussycat Dolls are is everything that I’ve developed myself into being,” said the rap star Lil’ Kim, who is a judge on the show and who served a prison sentence for lying to a federal grand jury about a shooting outside a radio station.  ]

So many generations of young women have fallen for this line.  Back in the day, I was one of them.  Probably if pole dancing with nothing on but a cache-sex had been thought of as feminist back in those days, I would have done it.  Of course, I had the Back to do it then too ….  (I still have the T*ts, but alas, not the Back.)

Interesting.  If you do a google image search on “Warrior Women,” more often than not, you get this:

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