I had a very interesting time doing this interview with Michael Pang of SolaFide Publishing. It was a pleasure working with him, and, considering the services they offer independent authors, we may well be working together in the future. See the interview below:
I have a real hatred of reading novels written in the first person, and ESPECIALLY when written in first person, present tense.
Why? I don't really know. I just know I don't enjoy it, and don't read books written this way because of it. It's boring to read "I did this, I did that" for three hundred some odd pages. It sounds as if the author/protagonist is blowing his/her own horn all the time with the ad nauseum chorus of "I, I, I."
First person is probably the easiest way to write a book, as little thought has to be given to the inner workings of the minds of the characters other than that of the narrator. Why? Because the narrator cannot GET into the minds of the other characters -- he or she has no way of doing this -- so the story must be told from only ONE point of view. This makes the writing easy, and avoids what some critics view as the sin of writing from multiple POVs in one story, but to me, it also makes the story boring and one-dimensional. I want to know what the other characters in the story are REALLY THINKING -- the author's conception of what their real internal feelings are -- not what the protagonist THINKS they are thinking. There's a big difference there. It's much harder to do, but so much more interesting and informative when it's done.
Call me a snob, a blockhead, whatever. Some members of a group I am in here must think of me this way because I do not participate in all the group reads, but this is the reason. Too many authors these days, especially indie authors, are writing in the first person, and it is just not worth it to me to spend time reading something I don't enjoy when I could be reading something I do. In any art form, and that includes the art of writing fiction, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like what I like, and first person is NOT IT.
I had my first experience with trolls last night. I had a technical question about the page length of LAST STRAW listed on its product page, http://amzn.to/1qX6L1N, so I went to the Amazon KDP community help forums for an answer. Did I get an earful! Two ladies (and I use the term loosely!) decided they would get together and show the Amazon world I was unworthy. They completely hijacked the thread I started and began talking between themselves, as if I were not there, about how lousy my cover image was and how my ten 5-star ratings must be fake. One of them even went so far as to research the reviewers to see who they were and how many reviews they had left in the past. Of course, neither would part with the four bucks it would cost to download the book and read it so she could tell whether the writing was acceptable or not, and I am just as glad, as either would have probably given it 1- star just out of spite. They reminded me of two old biddies gossiping about someone they really don't know, but don't like anyway. They both have several thousand posts, so it is obvious they have a lot of pride in their "work". Their comments brought to mind the old remonstration taught me by my parents, "If you can't say something good about someone, don't say anything at all!"
Well, the fact of the matter is that yes, nine out of the ten 5-star reviews were from people who beta read my novel before it was published. That being said, however, as I wrote in a previous post here on this site, I had a broad cross section of beta readers, all of whom I requested that they give me honest feedback on this story. They gave it to me then, and they were anxious to give their opinions on Amazon once I finally published it.
So what makes their reviews any more "fake" than any others? Is it somehow a crime to have friends who like a book post good reviews about it? I would love to have impartial reviewers read and rate this book, and am not afraid of negative reviews, but as an unknown author, I am finding it hard to obtain reviews from anyone but friends. So what's the answer? I don't know. I only know that I will never stoop to the level of these two trolls and trash someone else' work without at least reading it first.
Well, the long journey from idea to published novel has run its course. LAST STRAW is now published in e-book form and is available from Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. It is not "the great American novel" by any means -- just a fast-moving story that I hope will keep the reader turning the pages from beginning to end. Thanks to all of you who encouraged and supported me in my effort to fulfill a promise I made to myself many years ago.
Now that the writing, editing, and publishing is done, the readers of the world can decide if the stuff I write is worth reading. Am I going to go to extraordinary lengths to publicize and push this book? No -- that's not a game I want to play. I have been watching others mount campaigns on social media, pushing out tweet after tweet on Twitter, running contests, giveaways, offering freebies, and indulging in such shameless self-promotion that it is almost laughable if it weren't such a pain in the ass to see. Maybe that works -- at least for a while -- but I believe that hype will only go so far. If you write something worth reading, the world will eventually find it, and if you do not, all the hype in the world will not save you.
Now that LAST STRAW is "in the can", so to speak, it's time for me to return to my first novel, THE BEAR AND THE DARKNESS, and rewrite it. The first several drafts, including the final one, had too much of "me" in it. The concept of "you write what you know" was too much with me when I wrote that book. I cringe when I read some of what I wrote back then, but the basis for a great story is still there, and the lessons learned while writing LAST STRAW should serve me well as I rewrite it.
I spent last weekend in what my wife and I refer to as "God's country", the mountain and high desert range land of Modoc County, California. We have spent much time there over the years. This area was the setting for THE BEAR, and spending the weekend there renewed my love for that country once again, restored my spirits and my soul, and made it impossible not to start working on this book again. So here we go...
For those of you who have been following my writing journey, you will remember my bemoaning the fact that I queried literary agents too early, before finding flaws in my storyline that should have been corrected prior to querying. Well, I solved two problems during the past month.
First -- I reread and re-edited my manuscript again, correcting the errors and polishing it as highly as I can polish -- even reading it backwards to be sure to catch any typos. I was tempted to send it to a professional editor, but decided not to after reading samples of other professionally edited books that did not read any better than mine.
Second -- I stopped querying! I have had enough of the bland, polite, form rejections, ironically often not written particularly well, from literary agents, telling me my story was "just not right" for their lists, but urging me to please don't stop querying because someone out there in agent land might just want to champion this book that they rejected.
Well, guess what? I am going to let the reading public judge whether or not my book is worthy -- not a handful of gatekeepers. I sent the manuscript to FosteringSuccess.com for formatting, and a young lady named Clare Ayala did a marvelous job of preparing my novel for e-publication through Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. Incidentally, Clare has a great sense of humor and was very patient with me, a rank newcomer to the independent publishing community, as she addressed my questions and concerns. Formatting is a tedious and time-consuming process, at least it appeared to be from what I read, and I was more than happy to pay her to do it rather than doing it myself.
LAST STRAW will go on sale soon at Amazon and other e-book retailers. Here is the blurb -- I hope you enjoy the book.
* * * * * * *
If you cheat a man out of his future, be prepared to pay the price -- vengeance is not always the province of the Lord.
A tough, resourceful middle-aged man makes a dangerous adversary. Hammered by the Great Recession, betrayed by his new wife, and robbed of his retirement savings by men he trusted, he uses his experience and talent to exact his vengeance on them in unique and creative ways. In the human chess game they are playing, his victims and the police have no chance -- they have rules to follow -- he does not.
Mike Kingman and Tess Brogan, the detectives assigned to capture him, have their own issues. Not only do they wrestle with the problems of a developing love affair while trying to remain focused on the job, but Tess also finds she has a strange attraction to the kller.
From the Berkeley hills, to the Ghost Fleet of ships in Suisun Bay, to the towering Campanile in the center of the University of California campus, Pickering is always one step ahead, in a race that challenges his considerable intellect and skill, and tests the relationship of the two young officers.
I have what can only be called querier's regret this morning. I was discussing LAST STRAW with my latest beta reader yesterday, and he made several points that none of the other readers have made. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for me, his comments were not filled with praise about what a great book it was. Yes, he did keep turning the pages until the end and yes, he liked the plot, but he also said there were things about the book and the characters he did not think were so great, and as I thought about what he was saying, I realized he was right -- that was no fun!
Remember in my last post I said "You can't edit too much?" Well, there I was up against the ugly truth that I need to do more editing and polishing before LAST STRAW is ready to be published, whether I find an agent or not. What I regret, and deeply so, is that I have already sent out a dozen query letters to literary agents asking them to represent a book that I can now see is not ready yet. This makes me feel STUPID, and I do not like feeling that way. Even worse, I began my querying with some of the most well-known agents in the field, and not only have I revised the book since, I have also revised the query letter. NOW it appears to me that even the revisions I have already made did not go far enough and so I have ruined my chances to have this book represented by those twelve agents. Talk about burning bridges!
It is hard to hear negative comments about a project on which I have spent so much time, but I know this reader is right. So I'll rewrite and edit the portions in question again, and then proofread and edit again, and polish. But first I'm going to step away for awhile and do something else -- play some golf, work on my motor home (also a project that never seems to end), and do some fishing and shooting. LAST STRAW has become more of an obsession than I want, and I need to clear my mind.
Last night I was doing what I thought was a final proofread and edit of LAST STRAW, as I was going to take author and blogger Nat Russo's advice and submit a portion of the manuscript to authonomy.com for evaluation and critiques from the readers there. It was lucky I did, as I uncovered a (to me) glaring error I had committed early on that would have made me, as a reader, question how and why subsequent events occurred. Only one of my beta readers (Thanks, Vince!) mentioned the area in question, and even he did not realize the full extent that the omission of critical facts about the characters had on later parts of the story. Fortunately for me, the question he did have caused me to re-read the story from the beginning (stuff I had already read, edited, and thought I had down pat) and discover the facts I had forgotten to include.
I spent the next several hours, until the wee hours of the morning, re-writing several portions of the manuscript, as one thing invariably led to another. This morning I re-read and re-edited what I wrote last night because I knew I had been too tired to do my best, but at least I had gotten the changes roughed out.
This just goes to show how important it is to edit and re-edit until you are SURE you have things right. I don't know if a professional editor would have caught this -- probably yes, but many readers did not -- but I have done my share of complaining about poorly written published works, and, as such, if I had published this one the way it was, I would have been embarrassed. Once your work is out there, you can't take it back!
I haven't blogged lately because I have been editing my new novel, LAST STRAW, and sending it out to Beta readers. I tried to pick a good cross-section of readers to give me feedback on the draft as it stands now. Currently, there are about a dozen readers, not all of whom have finished the book. The range of ages of the readers is from 35-75 years, and the genders are split about evenly between male and female. I admit, all but one of these readers I do know personally, but none of them have been shy about expressing their opinions about the story. The good news for me is that all who have read the manuscript thus far have really liked it. Some have given suggestions, some of which I have acted upon and some I have not. Only one reader, a respected author of children's books, said she had a hard time with one scene (too gruesome for her), but otherwise thought the story, character development, and pacing was very good. I have not yet heard from the only other author, who writes in the same genre as I do, to whom I sent a copy. Evidently, the readers liked the plot lines; there was enough sex and violence to satisfy those who like that, and enough characterization of the major players to satisfy those who were looking for a character-driven story and more literacy than a pure sex-and-violence novel exhibits. I am cautiously optimistic about the chances of this novel's being published. I would prefer to be published in the conventional manner, with representation by a literary agent, but thus far have received four form rejections and no positive responses yet from the eleven query letters I have sent. I will continue to query, but if I do not obtain representation, I will publish this novel myself. I am an inveterate reader, and I can say without hesitation that this story is every bit as good and entertaining as most I have purchased and read myself. If this sounds like crass self-aggrandizement, I apologize, but I have always been my own harshest critic, and if it were not true I would not say it.
I did make one interesting discovery while doing this. I found that if I converted the manuscript to PDF format and attached it as a file to an email, the formatting and appearance of the original Word document is preserved when the document is opened by the recipient, and if the recipient has an iPad and saves the document to iBooks, he or she can read it exactly like any other book. I didn't know about this before, and was gratified to learn about it. I don't think a day goes by that I don't learn something new.
I would like to hear some opinions. Is it a good idea to post snippets of this book here from time to time, or it is better to just wait until publication? I would really like to hear from you.
The third, and for many, the most important reason for writing, is the desire to effect change or to impose one's point of view upon others. Ever since the first word was written, scientists, philosophers, playwrights, poets, politicians, and novelists have written essays directly advocating their findings and beliefs, or managed to include them in their poetry and their fictional works.
Since I write fiction, I have always enjoyed seeing the way authors of fiction weave their political and social leanings into their books. It is a very sophisticated way to influence others without coming right out and hitting them in the face, and I believe it has a place in literature. Besides this, if the author has done his research carefully and does not deliberately distort the facts, one can learn about real events without having to laboriously work his or her way through a text. John Jakes' novels illustrate this. If you have never read SOMETHING OF VALUE by Robert Ruark, WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, or CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER by Tom Clancy, try them all and see what I mean. They are all immensely different, but they all show how the authors felt about the world when they wrote them. Besides that, they are very good reading!
I made a comment on another writer's blog recently. It never got published, so I'm going to talk about it here. Why do we sit at our desks, or hunch over our laptops, or scribble line after line in our scrawling longhand on yellow legal pads until our eyes are crossing and we simply can't keep them open anymore? What drives us, not only to write what we write, but to jump through the myriad of hoops we must in order to be published, whether in the conventional manner or by publishing our works ourselves? I don't know the answer to this question for "all of us" but I do know why I do it -- and it isn't for the money!
I don't need the money. I have already had a successful career that has provided my wife and me a comfortable retirement. I write first because I enjoy writing -- it keeps the neurons in my brain active. Crafting a good story with interesting characters takes a lot of thought and is great exercise for that brain. Secondly, I write, as I suspect many of you do, because you want someone or something to bear witness to the fact that you lived, and nothing fills this need better than seeing yourself in print. Granted, if money comes our way because others like our writing and buy our books, that is a big plus, but for me, the affirmation is what counts. I want to be remembered for something other than what I did in my "normal" life -- and so I write. How about you?
David Rheem Jarrett was born and raised in Berkeley, California. He attended Berkeley High School, graduating in 1959. His educational career could be described as “checkered”. Entering U.C. Berkeley at the age of seventeen, he promptly flunked out after three semesters. After a year of working as a mechanic and having an older fellow worker tell him to “use his head, not his hands,” he decided to reinstate himself with the educational establishment, ultimately receiving his D.D.S. degree from the U.C. San Francisco School of Dentistry.