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Monday, April 30, 2007

Quick Links

A Canadian author will debut in eight countries soon with his debut novel, The End of the Alphabet. Interesting article in The Toronto Star about the author's journey to publication.

Michael Connelly speaks out on declining review space in newspapers.

An endangered species? TimesOnline asserts international crime fiction is more popular than ever.

Spinetingler Magazine Closing to Submissions

Spinetingler Magazine is closing to submissions as of tonight for two months*.

The reason we're doing this is that we have a high submission volume and this has created a backlog. We want to take our time properly reviewing the stories that come in, instead of rushing through the material and making snap decisions.

Anyone interested in submitting work to Spinetingler should read all of the submission guidelines. Here are a few critical points:

~ any story that does not have a release form included will be automatically rejectedThere is no argument on this point. I don't care if Ghandi penned the work himself and emailed it from the afterlife. No release=not considered for publication.

~ stories that aren't correctly formatted might be considered, but in a tough decision between two comparable decisions a story that's formatted correctly will have an advantage

Why? I have spent hours on issues where I've had to take hard returns out line after line after line, as well as make other formatting changes. The simple reality is the higher the submission volume, the more time processing stories and then editing stories, means less time for formatting. Even competitions where your work will be read, not published have submission guidelines and will disqualify paying entrants who don't follow them. The ability to follow guidelines can sometimes be an indication of how you'll work with an editor, or not work, as the case may be, so my advice for any publication is that if they have submission guidelines you follow them to the very best of your ability. And if they don't, then they can't complain.

Just a few points for those thinking of submitting, or perhaps wondering why a submission may have been rejected. Any submissions received after tonight will not be read.

* The closure may be extended to the end of July, depending on assessment of current material.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Elmore Leonard's Rules For Writing

Yesterday, my agent forwarded me a rejection letter for WHAT BURNS WITHIN. It was actually an amazing letter. It referenced my work as “fast-paced and well written” with a “compelling story” and my favourite line: “I can see why Ms. Ruttan has garnered such wonderful praise; she writes with incredible vividness and great attention to detail.” The editor even called me talented.

This is much better than form letter rejections or, worse, a “please fuck off and take your hack elsewhere.” I haven’t experienced that yet, but there’s always next week.

Now, the only reason I mention this is that it prompted a discussion between Evil Kev and I this morning, about writing. I was saying one of the risks with WHAT BURNS WITHIN, is that it starts with a lot of action. Evil Kev maintains that a year ago, I told him to never start a book with action.

I have concluded that any such statement on my part was limited to considerations for entering the Debut Dagger competition. I haven’t been eligible to enter for a few rounds now, but in assessing the previous winners and discussing them with those thinking about entering, I concluded the Dagger judges wanted introspection more than action. Something I would stand by now. There was a very specific style that seemed to win. Anything heavy on dialogue and pacey wasn’t likely to make the cut, based on what I saw.

However, writing for the Daggers and writing for publishers are different things. My friend Marsha spent years working in television and film before moving on to publishing. (Be well Marsha. Sending positive energy your way.) Marsha gave me some great writing advice:

Hit them on the nose.

She said in film you want to have the impact of walking up to the audience and smacking them on the nose. You want to get their attention. Hence my assertion to Evil Kev that stories should start with something happening. Not some long, lollygagging bit about tree bark. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t start a book with thought. Or dialogue. What it means is, you need to make sure that whatever’s being addressed, it gets people’s attention.

As we were discussing this we started talking about memorable opening lines. I said the other day I’d pulled down LET IT BLEED, because I always remembered the opening line:

“A winter night, screaming out of Edinburgh.”

Kevin said Ian Rankin broke Elmore Leonard’s first rule of writing:

1. Never open with the weather.

Elmore says that weather is only to create atmosphere and readers will skip ahead looking for people if it goes on too long. Well, look at the Rankin line. For me, I’m right there. I read this back when I lived in BC. We had an apartment on the roof of a building, with a view to the Fraser River. There were only two apartments on the roof of the building – ours and my best friend’s. We only had one wall bordering them. The rest of our place had no buffer. And when the winter wind howled we damn well knew it.

Now, let’s look at the first two paragraphs from LET IT BLEED:

A winter night, screaming out of Edinburgh.

The front car was being chased by three others. In the chasing cars were police officers. Sleet was falling through the darkness, blowing horizontally. In the second of the police cars, Inspector John Rebus had his teeth bared. He gripped the doorhandle with one hand, and the front edge of his passenger seat with the other. In the driver’s seat, Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale seemed to have shed about thirty years. He was a youth again, enjoying the feeling of power which came from driving fast, driving a wee bit crazy. He sat well forward, peering through the windscreen.

‘We’ll get them!’ he yelled for the umpteenth time. ‘We’ll get the bastards!’

See, I’m right there. Weather, people and action. The perfect balance of setting the scene. I mean, do you think the weather might impact the car chase? Could it cause an accident? I think this is brilliantly setting the stage.

My first paragraph from Suspicious Circumstances:

“Pulsing light shimmered on the rock face. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed and, for a moment, the image of the woman was clear. She scrambled along the ledge, glanced back over her shoulder and pulled herself on to the crest of the hill. Her loose, white shirt and dark hair were buoyed by the wind. Then the light faded and the black of the moonless night engulfed her.”

Damn. Weather. (But there’s still a person and movement.)

WHAT BURNS WITHIN does not begin with weather.

Okay, rule #2. Avoid prologues.

Well, SC doesn’t have one. WBW doesn’t currently have one, but I can see a strong argument for moving a section and making it a prologue. It isn’t backstory in this case, and not all prologues are. So I’m launching an official protest of the assertion prologues are backstory and putting rule #2 in dispute. I actually hate it when people take what should be a prologue and rename it chapter 1 and it’s just a page long.

Rule #3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Bill shouted, “Shut the fuck up.”

I have absolutely no problem with that. In my opinion it’s preferable to:

Bill said with anger, “Shut the fuck up.”

And Rankin used ‘yelled’. Hmmm. Listen to Elmore, listen to God*, Elmore, God*…

Rule #4. Never use an adverb to modify the said…

Okay, see, that goes to my point above. In this case I tend to agree, but most authors do this, and sometimes effectively. Sometimes it’s appropriate.

Rule #5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

Elmore and I are of one mind on this one. Is there hope for us yet?

Rule #6. Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose.’

Suddenly, all hell broke loose and I’m so busy laughing at his explanation under that rule that I can’t comment!!!!!

Rule #7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Oh, bless your socks Elmore. Thank you thank you thank you! See, there are the masters – such as Ken Bruen, and Ian Rankin - who know how to do this perfectly. And then there are those, who shall remain nameless, who think it goes to setting and such but baffle the reader and pull you out of the story.

Rule #8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

You know, I’m with Elmore here too. I was always getting slammed on not doing enough description to give a full visual, but I didn’t really want to.

Rule #9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

This is definitely a Goldilocks and The Three Bears topic. There is an amount that’s ‘just right’. And it may not always be the same for everything. I mean, damn, if you spend a page describing a woman’s legs it better be erotica or her legs better be the murder weapon. Otherwise you should probably indulge your inner dog moment somewhere else.

Rule #10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Okay, so I let Elmore down about the weather. And I have some niggling issues with dialogue tags, because I do prefer people be more precise over using adverbs, in general.

But I also think that Rankin proves the point that you can break a rule and do it effectively.

I also think the word to the wise is that breaking the rules effectively comes with experience. If you’re able to craft a story to the point where people completely lose themselves in it they won’t even notice the nitpicky points because you have done your job – sold them on your world and kept them there. It’s fair to say editors read a bit differently – the more submissions we get for Spinetingler the fussier I get – so when you get feedback from them you know it’s an astute assessment.

That said, remember editors rejected Harry Potter too. As Elmore Leonard’s rules prove, to at least me, there are some things that come down to taste and it’s possible to do almost anything and get away with it. The minute you make a long list of rules you will find someone coming up with a long list of exceptions to them.

If I were to have one rule, it’s this:
Tell a captivating story so smoothly the reader never notices the details. If you do that, nobody will notice adverbs, exclamation marks or weather. Ultimately, I believe that’s what Elmore’s getting at when he says, Being a good author is a disappearing act.

This is cross-posted from my personal blog. I think Elmore's rules for writing are interesting ones to look at, but I'm afraid time doesn't permit me to write a second version.

I will have a post up this week about scam publishers, however.

* See, I never learn.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Edgar Award-Winners

Best Novel:

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG)

Best First Novel By An American Author:

The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson (Random House)

Best Paperback Original:

Snakeskin Shamisen by Naomi Hirahara (Bantam Dell Publishing - Delta Books)

Best Critical/Biographical:

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear by E.J. Wagner (John Wiley & Sons)

Best Fact Crime:

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson (HarperCollins - William Morrow)

Best Short Story:

"The Home Front" - Death Do Us Part by Charles Ardai (Hachette Book Group - Little, Brown and Company)

Best Young Adult:

Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready (Penguin YR - Dutton Children's Books)

Best Juvenile:

Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Best Play:

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure by Steven Dietz (Arizona Theatre Company)

Best Television Episode:

Life on Mars - Episode 1, Teleplay by Matthew Graham (BBC America)

Best TV Feature/Mini-Series:

The Wire, Season 4, Teleplays by Ed Burns, Kia Corthron, Dennis Lehane, David Mills, Eric Overmyer, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon & William F. Zorzi (Home Box Office)

Best Motion Picture Screenplay:

The Departed, Screenplay by William Monahan (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award

William Dylan Powell "Evening Gold" - EQMM November 2006 (Dell Magazines)

The Simon & Schuster -
Mary Higgins Clark Award

Bloodline by Fiona Mountain (St. Martin's Minotaur)

As posted on the Edgar website.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Restoring the Past and a Boost To Independents

Modern technology is being used to preserve classic books and make them available to a whole new audience via the internet. This is an article well worth checking out, particularly if you've had any interest in reading an old, rare book. You may be able to find it, for free, online.

Courtesy of Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark and Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues comes word of this article in Library Journal that probes the contributions independent presses are bringing to the crime fiction community. Not only is Fate mentioned, but authors Troy Cook, Julia Buckley, and Tim Maleeny receive worthy mentions.

There is also a list of notable Crime Fiction blogs, but I strongly disagree with some of the named blogs. Notably absent from the list are:
~ The Rap Sheet, which is an exceptional crime fiction industry blog and required reading in my book

~ Nathan Cain's worthy Independent Crime, which features some of these new publishers the article was referring to

~ Mike Stotter's new Shots blog, (Mike may be new to blogging, but Shots is the best crime fiction ezine on the web)

~ The Outfit, which has newcomers Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover blogging alongside revered authors such as Sara Paretsky.

Monday, April 16, 2007

New Crime Fiction Ezine

Courtesy of the always charming Ray Banks word comes that there's a new ezine out there... and it's British. Pulp Pusher makes its debut with interviews with Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie and fiction by Ray Banks, Cathi Unsworth, Tony Black, JD Smith and Paul McGoran.

Not sure who The Pusher is, but he seems to have a lot of tarts working in the office...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Out of the Gutter Two

The first issue of Out of the Gutter was launched in February, 2007. A collection of 'pulp fiction and degenerate literature', OOTG received strong reviews from enthusiastic readers.

The list of contributors for Issue #2 has been announced:

Short Fiction Contributors

Steve Alten
William Boyle
Michael Bracken
William Carlson
Clair Dickson
Rey A. Gonzales
Grant McKenzie
M.C. O’Connor
John Rickards
J.D. Smith
Duane Swierczynski
Paul A. Toth

Flash Contributors

Christa Fuast
Kieth Gilman
Jacon Kohl
John McFetridge
Stephen Rodgers
Albert Tucher
Matt Wallace

Nonfiction Contributors

Dale Bridges
Edwin Decker
Seth Ferranti
Matthew Louis

I am personally delighted that John Rickards' Hardboiled Jesus will see print, and look forward to Issue #2 of OOTG.

Derringer Nominees

The Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the nominations for the 2007 Derringer Awards, winners to be announced May 15.

Flash Fiction (up to 500 words):
- “Matched Set,” by Jan Christensen (Long Story Short, Winter 2006)
- “Vigilante,” by Barry Ergang (Mysterical-E, Summer 2006)
- “Snowflake Therapy,” by Michelle Mach (Thereby Hangs a Tale, June 2006)
- “Flight School,” by Jill Maser (Flashshot, August 28, 2006)
- “Home Entertainment,” by Sandra Seamans (A Cruel World, July/August 2006)

Short-Short Stories (501 - 2,000 words):
- “Even Steven,” by Gail Farrelly (Mouth Full of Bullets, Winter 2006)
- “Four for Dinner,” by John M. Floyd (Seven by Seven)
- “Interview,” by Justin Gustainis (Cape Fear Crime Festival, October, 2006)
- “Elena Speaks of the City, Under Siege,” by Steven Torres (CrimeSpree Magazine, September/October 2006)
- “The Worst Door,” by Frank Zafiro (Dispatch, January 2006)

Mid-Length Stories (2,001 - 6,000 words):
- “Eden’s Bodyguard,” by David Bareford (ThugLit, September 2006)
- “Shadow People,” by Rex Burns (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine [AHMM], June 2006)
- “Cranked,” by Bill Crider (from Damn Near Dead, edited by Duane Swierczynski; Busted Flush Press)
- “Uncle Blinky’s Corner of the World,” by Robert S. Levinson (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March/April 2006)
- “Shanks on the Prowl,” by Robert Lopresti (AHMM, May 2006)

Longer Stories (6,001 - 15,000 words):
- “Signature in Blood,” by Annette Dashofy (Mysterical-E, Winter 2006)
- “Strictly Business,” by Julie Hyzy (from These Guns for Hire, edited by J.A. Konrath; Bleak House Books)
- “Daphne MacAndrews and the Smack-Head Junkies,” by Stuart MacBride (from Damn Near Dead)
- “See Also Murder,” by Larry Sweazy (Amazon Shorts, December 11, 2006)
- “The Valley of Angustias,” by Steven Torres (AHMM, October 2006)

Congratulations to all the nominees.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Beyond The Writing

Beyond The Writing

I always maintain that it’s about the writing, not the personal. And it would be nice if that were completely true…

It isn’t. Not in every situation, anyway, and it can be helpful to know when external rules apply.

For example…

1. Person buys book and reads it. Probably safe to say appreciation will be based solely on the quality of the writing, unless it’s a damn good author photo.
2. Person who is not your mother, spouse, sibling, former English teacher or otherwise connected with you is sent book and reads it. This person will likely base their opinion of the work on the writing.

On the other side…

1. Person submits story to magazine. In past they have submitted there and been accepted, refused to make necessary corrections to the story and argued over various things. Whether or not the magazine considers publishing them again will probably not just be about the writing.
2. Someone wants to sell an anthology. It won’t just be about the writing – they will have to consider having some known names contributing in order for the package to be marketable.

When I attended Harrogate 2005 there was a panel on getting published, and one of the things that Johnny Geller said was that he’d sometimes read the work and not be completely sold, but then meet the author and get a sense of the person and decide he could work with the person. At the time I remember thinking that was a bit unfair. Shouldn’t it just be about the writing? However, I can appreciate the reasoning that goes into things now.

It isn’t just the quality of the writing. It’s also whether or not the work is marketable. But there’s even more for agents and publishers to consider, and one of those things is productivity.

Workers are assessed on their level of productivity in a variety of ways, and the writing world is no different. If someone is invited to contribute to five anthologies, agrees to all of them, and only delivers to one it doesn’t look professional. Unless there are reasons (such as illness, family tragedy) that factor in, the editors the author failed to deliver for will be less likely to work with them again. This works in reverse as well.

I was reading Miss Snark the other day, and she said something that really got me thinking. I value clients who understand this is a business (for the most part) not operating at breakneck speed but also not at a standstill either. When I ask for something, I expect to hear back in a day or two at the most. If it's a task, it might not get done in a day or two but I'd like to hear you got the email and you're working on it.

The people I prefer to work with do that.
I've learned to be pretty clear about that preference before moving to "wanna sign up at Snark Central" but we never get to that point if you lollygag about. If lollygag is your default mode, that bodes ill for whether I think we're a good match… Agents vary, but I bet if you asked 100 of them, all 100 prefer someone who's prompt rather than not. This isn't some sort of rule. It's just a word to the wise. Have your stuff ready: bio, synopsis, people who might write blurbs if you have them, those kinds of things.

That shouldn’t seem like rocket science. It shouldn’t seem that complicated…

Yet clearly, Miss Snark felt it necessary to say it and, in my own limited experience on the receiving end of submissions from writers, I can appreciate it.

I’ve screwed up when I’ve submitted to the odd place. Okay, early days, we all make mistakes. But I learned from it. I didn’t walk around blaming the publication – I blamed me for failing to include everything they asked for.

We have submission guidelines and I’m continuously amazed at how many people don’t follow them. And if someone sends us a query, someone submits a story without the release form… Sayonara Sunshine.

And, if someone submits a story and then withdraws it and we see it’s because they did simultaneous submissions we remember that.

When we started out I tried hard to set things up in such a way that we could be fair to writers. The result was that some people tried to take advantage. Inevitably, you get to the point where your submission volume is such that scratching a few names off the list isn’t going to hurt your feelings at all.

The reason I say this is not to pick on writers. It’s because I’ve started to understand, in some limited way, what agents and editors think.

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re trying to market your work… And I’ve been wrong. It isn’t just about the writing. It’s about a lot of other things. If you have a reputation that you consistently can’t finish projects or deliver on deadlines it’s going to be a mark against you. If you have a reputation for trashing people online it might not be seen as helpful. It will certainly impede your ability to get blurbs, do joint signing events, etc.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I didn’t start this blog to sell books. However, everything on this blog reflects on me. Getting an agent and getting a book deal can be affected by my behaviour. Now, I have an agent… Yet I’ve found myself thinking a fair bit recently about whether or not the tone of my blog should change.

On the one hand I don’t like that idea. However, I do understand it. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but it can cause problems. Evilkev discovered a co-worker’s blog once, where she railed at length about her dislike for him. Not everyone has a sense of humour or can shrug that off as easily as he did.

My 2 cents for the day is, if you think you’re ready to start querying for an agent/publisher, make sure you’re ready. And make sure you can deliver. I think having a book out already helps in one respect: I’ve already proven I can bring a book to completion. Shopping another project demonstrates I can finish more than one manuscript. This is also good. It means that I have a track record.

Someone once said that you shouldn’t be in a hurry to get your first book published because you only got one chance to make a first impression. I beg to differ. The minute you start getting short stories published, the minute you start blogging, you’ve made your first impression. All of it can factor in to a decision about whether or not someone wants to work with you.

And that’s not something to dismiss if you want to have a career. It’s one thing if you already have an agent and a big publisher and books on the shelves – you can afford to do what you want more than others.

Those of us who are working toward that goal have to consider our behaviour more carefully. It’s hard to get published, and publishers aren’t prepared to throw money at proven risks. Bear in mind what your blog communicates about you and whether or not it might be hurting you more than it’s helping.

After all, having a hundred hits on your blog every day sounds like a good thing… But not if the majority of those people are dropping by for their daily laugh at your expense.

(This is cross-posted from my personal blog.)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Harrogate Update

Natasha Cooper sent me word this morning that Peter Temple will not be able to attend Harrogate this July, as planned. We'll be updating that in the online Harrogate article on Spinetingler.