Crowning the Newsletter King – And Taking a Deep Breath

I swear Jackson visibly grew while I was away this week.

So, thank you all who signed up for my newsletter! If you haven’t yet, you still can, in the right hand column of the home page. But, for those who did sign up and participated in the contest, the winner is……

The Kev!

He just happens to be my old high school boyfriend, which makes him a long time fan. Clearly the random number generator loves him, too.

Congrats to Kev!

I’m gearing up for a big week next week, since Rogue’s Pawn goes on sale Monday! I may or may not be running around, flapping my hands in the air like a crazy person. David says there’s an acupuncture point for people who want to climb to high places and take off their clothes. I begin to understand the syndrome now…

So, if I’ve been quiet-ish this week, never fear – by the end of next week, you’ll likely be saturated.

And, while I’m at it – thanks to all of you, my loyal friends, family and readers for the support.

Love you all.

Defending Genre (Again)

Who would not be seduced by this face, I ask you?

It seems the debate on “real literature” and “serious reading” will continue to roll on. It’s occurring on so many levels, with so many lines being arbitrarily drawn. There’s the Literary camp, of course, who accepts only a few authors into their lofty ranks. I really like this summation by Neil Gaiman in answer to a question on his Tumblr about why his teacher says Gaiman’s book isn’t “real literature”:

“Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig,”  as Robert Heinlein once said.

I mean, you could ask your teacher to explain why Watchmen’s on the syllabus, if it’s not real literature. Or why TIME picked it as one of the 100 best novels of the Twentieth Century, but that will probably just make your teacher even more defensive. And mostly you’ll just be trying to explain to someone who is color blind why red is a really nice colour.

(About twenty years ago I was on a flight to the US, and sat next to an English professor at some middle-range US university, and we talked about books, because I love talking about books. And his specialty was early twentieth century literature, and I thought our conversation was going to be so much fun, until I realized that he really didn’t know any authors who he didn’t teach. He could talk Hemingway or Fizgerald, but as soon as I started mentioning authors equally as interesting out of the canon, and I was sticking to American authors because he was, you know, American, he started looking hunted; and I felt a little sorry for his students, but only a little, because even a bad teacher can’t stop you reading in your own time.)

I saved this link and this story because I think it speaks volumes. For a long time English and Literature classes famously only taught a few writers – often referred to as “dead, white males.” This has opened up, but judiciously, to minorities and females. But, as there’s an idea that lines must be drawn, most books smacking of genre are excluded from consideration.

Then, the other day, I stumbled across this really excellent essay by Ursula Le Guin. I think what we’re seeing now is these genre authors who’ve reached the age of authenticity, talking intelligently about their bodies of work, which just happen to be genre. She proposes a solution to the endless debate:

To get out of this boring bind, I propose an hypothesis:

Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.

The value judgment concealed in distinguishing one novel as literature and another as genre vanishes with the distinction.

Every readable novel can give true pleasure. Every novel read by choice is read because it gives true pleasure.

Literature consists of many genres, including mystery, science fiction, fantasy, naturalism, realism, magical realism, graphic, erotic, experimental, psychological, social, political, historical, bildungsroman, romance, western, army life, young adult, thriller, etc., etc…. and the proliferating cross-species and subgenres such as erotic Regency, noir police procedural, or historical thriller with zombies.

Some of these categories are descriptive, some are maintained largely as marketing devices. Some are old, some new, some ephemeral.

Genres exist, forms and types and kinds of fiction exist and need to be understood: but no genre is inherently, categorically superior or inferior.

This makes the Puritan snobbery of “higher” and “lower” pleasures irrelevant, and very hard to defend.

All of this continues to be on my mind because, even within genre, there’s criticism of who is legitimate and who isn’t. Mainly, there seems to be a bastion in sci fi and fantasy that feels pressed to defend it against feminization. No “soft sci fi” is their battle cry.

So, I’d like to propose an amendment to the hypothesis, as such:

Genres exist, forms and types and kinds of fiction exist and need to be understood: but no genre or emotional style is inherently, categorically superior or inferior.

What do you all think?

Why You Just Don’t Start with Back Story. Really.

It makes it difficult to keyboard this way, but I cannot withstand the cuteness.

I took the day off yesterday – from both day job and writing. We went for a walk, had breakfast on the patio, watched the 4th of July parade and then hung out. I did a lot of reading under the grape arbor. There may have been wine-drinking involved.

I’m reading a Famous Series by a Famous Author. I’m coming in after the series is complete. Some time ago I picked up one of the books in hardback, because it looked intriguing and right up my reading alley. Also I had really enjoy this author’s historical/time-travel romances. I tried several times to get into it and never got past page 52. (I know this, because when I got it out this weekend, that’s where I’d left it marked.)

Recently, several readers mentioned that Rogue’s Pawn has similarities to this series. When I said I’d never read it, they insisted I just must. (And no, this is not Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghost series. A reviewer made that comparison and I’m just tremendously flattered. Stacy’s on her 5th book in that series and, if you haven’t read it, this review might convince you.)

At any rate, convinced that my mistake had been in not starting with Book 1 in the series, I figured out what the title was by going to the author’s website. I couldn’t tell by looking at Amazon, and read it on the Kindle. And okay – it was definitely better that way. I understood more of the story, was more invested in the characters and was willing to continue. I’m told that if I read the whole series, the payoff is big. That’s when I pulled out the hardback again and started over.

And I discovered why I’d gotten so bogged down before.

She starts the book off with recap of the story so far and lots of back story. Really boring “and this happened and that happened and then…”

The other day I posted about not slavishly following the rules, but boy howdy – that rule about not starting with back story and info-dump? Totally confirmed.

So then, I’m trudging through all this recap and she mentions stuff that I know didn’t happen in Book 1. But nowhere on this book does it tell me where it falls in the series. I went back to the author website and discover my hardback is actually Book 3. I buy Book 2 on my Kindle and start reading.

Guess what? It’s almost exactly the same damn boilerplate recap she started Book 3 with. Clearly she wrote it for Book 2, then just slapped it into Book 3, with a few additional details for things that happened in Book 2.

I just don’t get it. I mean, I know it’s not easy weaving in back story. My friend Allison Pang really bled over that when she wrote her Book 2. All I can think is that the author is Famous enough that her editor let her get away with this.

Thing is – it’s awful. And it absolutely stopped me from getting into her series when I blithely picked up Book 3 without knowing it.

Now I feel much better about how I’ve handled back story in RP2.

If I ever do this boilerplate thing? Somebody slap me!

Finding Your Fiercely Out of Tune Voice

We interrupt the regularly scheduled kitten photos to celebrate the fact that it rained yesterday! Such a blessing on our parched and tinder-dry land. We’re fractionally less flammable now and the birds are going crazy this morning. It’s like everything sprang to life overnight.

Quite a few years ago, an acquaintance of mine who sang and played guitar on the side, said that he just hated Norah Jones. “She sings flat,” he said, and went on about how bizarre it was that someone who sings flat could be successful. I went home and listened to her again. (And I just put her on now.) I love the sound of her voice. It’s distinctive, unique and moving.

I thought of this because Amanda Palmer responded to a tweet yesterday on the topic. A fan tweeted:

@sevocean I think the only person who can make off key sound good is @amandapalmer.

She retweeted and replied:

@amandapalmer patti smith. bob dylan. tom waits. polly styrene

I saw this and suggested Leonard Cohen.

She retweeted me (cuz I’m a speshul snowflake) with the hash tag #fiercelyoutoftune.

This led to a great discussion of all these singers who do sing out of tune. And, among the musicians, about how autotune has changed things, because pitch can be electronically defined now, instead of the performer tuning her instrument to her own ear. Then someone asked and she answered:

@amandapalmer actually, yes. there really is…. RT @TinaH37 is there a secret to singing out of tune perfectly?

@amandapalmer ability to embrace, bend and feel around (or call attention to) roughness in your own voice is a SKILL (see Jeff magnum, Kurt Cobain, et al)

I just love that.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, there’s been an ongoing discussion on the RWA PAN loop about the “Rules” of writing. A gal started the thread saying that her critique partner (unpublished, but an aspiring editor and writer) insisted on certain conventions. Things like never using adverbs. Never use the word “suddenly.” Never use filter phrases like “I realized” or “I wondered.” The consensus has arrived at the idea that when people are learning a craft, they cling to rules. They want to do everything exactly right, so they’ll succeed.

However, as evidenced by the #fiercelyoutoftune discussion, artistry is often found in transcending the rules. That’s where you find the unique take, that special touch that sends a shiver down your spine. This is something my acquaintance couldn’t understand about Norah Jones – she is successful because of the way she sings flat, in her own special, sultry way.

This is voice. For both the singer and the writer

Being a Serious Reader


You all have figured out you’re in for cute kitten pics for quite a while, right?

Last week, there was quite a bit of discussion regarding a blog post from a librarian. It was kind of an odd post, with a number of internal conflicts. Basically she said people should stop criticizing readers of Fifty Shades of Grey, because people should be able to read what they want to read. Then, in the next breath, she declared that serious readers never read Harlequin romances. Other librarians, bloggers and reviewers passed the link around, straining their brains to understand how she could believe both things. And, of course, it all prompted declarations that they were not serious readers. (It was generally agreed that serious readers frown a lot.)  I believe there may be a t-shirt in the works.

The thing is, I don’t think her opinions can be parsed, because she’s really just declaring her own preferences. She liked Fifty Shades. She doesn’t like Harlequins. Okay. What’s salient is that preferences aren’t really arguable. In fact, they’re mainly affectations.

When we’re young, we establish likes and dislikes as a way of defining ourselves. You know – “I like purple. Unicorns are my favorite animal. I hate broccoli.” In fact, if you ask an adult what their favorite color is, I bet most will reflexively tell you the color they picked as a child. If you press them, most will say that they like lots of colors now. It’s no longer so important to have One Favorite Color because, as a mature adult, you’re more complex than that. You’re about far more than a favorite animal and most hated vegetable.

I think this is why it gets so much more difficult later in life to reel off the favorite author, book, song, movie, etc. If you’ve led a full life, you have long lists of these things. The book I loved when I was 16 is not the book I loved when I was 21 and is not the book I love today. For a long time, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was my favorite song. I still like it, but it doesn’t hold the resonance it once did, back when I was in my early 20s. Things change. I’ve changed.

To me, this is where stuff like “serious readers don’t…” comes from. The person saying it wants to define herself in a particular way, so she makes a list of what she does and doesn’t like. But, really, reading should be about what she gets out of it – not what other people think about her. It’s like the people who make a big point about declaring that they hate something very popular. I saw a writer the other day declare that she would never lower herself to read Harry Potter. Now, I read the first couple books and I freely admit that I didn’t love them. Certainly not the way so many others did. They just didn’t sing to me. But this gal wanted us to know that she is a free-thinking individual, evidenced by her refusal to read something popular. She also seemed to think Harry Potter started the fantasy genre, which was mind-boggling to me, but that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m saying is, the fact that I never really got into Harry Potter doesn’t say anything interesting about who I am. I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey, I still think Ann Patchett is an amazing writer, though I didn’t love her last book. None of this makes me more or less serious about reading than anyone else.

I just love to read. Period. And that, I think, says something about who I am.

But, if there is a t-shirt? I totally want one.