Favors

I need help.  My birthday is coming up and the thing I want more than anything is to get to 25 reviews on Amazon by 30 June.  I’ll provide the book in the electronic format of your choice, you provide the honest review.  If you love it, yay.  If you hate it, well, that’s okay too.

Any takers?  E-mail me at a.reid.williams(at)gmail.com.

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Favors

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming for this Special Announcement

Bottom line up front: if you want a free copy of my book in exchange for a review of said book, go here.

Backstory: Story Cartel is a place where authors and readers can connect over free books and reviews.  Create a log in, peruse the books on the site, download that which looks interesting to you, agree to write a review, read a free book by an emerging author, and write a review.  Simple.  I tried it out as a reader with a book called Black.  My review is posted somewhere on Amazon – basically I tore through the book and afterwards realized there were serious flaws in the characterization.  What do you do with a book that entertains you, but has some issues?  You review it.

For my regular readers who come here for the parts where I’m addressing the big questions of how to live with integrity in a world that has completely lost all pretense of being solidly black or white, The Camellia Resistance is a fictional exploration of the same basic themes.  It isn’t autobiographical, or even semi-autobiographical, but it does address what happens after the worst thing you can think of takes place.  It is decidedly adult, unequivocally fantasy, and thoroughly dystopian.  If you haven’t already read it, here’s a chance to see what it is all about.  It will only cost you the time it takes to read and 15 minutes to tell amazon how you felt about it.

Basically, it would be a huge personal favor that I hope I can repay by entertaining you for a few reading hours.

Audrey.

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming for this Special Announcement

The S-Word

Strangers reading the book – well, any of the books – makes me happy.  People I know reading the book makes me nervous.  In part because of this pervasive rumor that authors write themselves into books.  Unfortunately, some of us do.  I’ve seen several author interviews where they talk about how the main character is just like them – same occupation, same racial composition.  This lends itself to a confluence, or an assumed confluence, between the author and the story.  It is a legitimate conclusion to draw in some cases.  However, it just isn’t the way it works for me.

This question gets to a question of legitimacy:  can we legitimately write from the perspective of people who aren’t us?  Or is the only legitimately-tacked character one that is you with a thin veneer of obfuscating details?  Can I write a convincing man?  Am I allowed to have a character with a different racial composition?  Am I presuming too much?  How much imagination am I allowed to have here?

Because the whole book is the product of my imagination and a bunch of critical insights and suggestions made by my editor and my story consultant.  As mentioned elsewhere, the book does betray of my aspirations: I’d love to be an old lady like Morrigan, or to drop everything and wander across the country like Willow, or carry around half of Ianthe’s bravery.  I admire Miles and his clinical logic.  I have grudging respect for the compromises Warren makes.  There are few characters in the book that don’t have something that I like or would like to have myself.

But I’m not them and they’re not me.  Where this becomes most uncomfortable is what happens when we get to the sex part.  Because people in the book have sex.  And yes, I imagined up the sex, and then I wrote it down.  But that doesn’t mean that what happens in the book reflects what I have done, what I want to do, or what I could be talked into doing given a nice enough bottle of wine.  Human sexuality is critical for creating well-rounded characters.  For people to live and breathe on the page, they’ve got to have all the same dimensions of someone that you’d meet in the real world.  That includes sex.  And not everyone experiences human sexuality in the same way.

I’m writing The Camellia Reckoning.  I’m writing sex scenes for Miles.  If you met me, you’d know I’m not Miles at all, but here I am writing about what Miles sexual history might look like.  What would it take to get someone that analytic to lose control?  I don’t know, I’m not that logical.  But I have to figure it out because I wrote him and now he’s got a life of his own.  His fantasies are not my fantasies.  What it takes to push him over the edge isn’t what it takes to get me there.

When you write, when you’re in the state of flow, your ego kind of fades away.  All those boundaries and memories and opinions that make up an identity get lost as imagination and empathy settle in and let you cross the dividing line between yourself and someone with a history that is not your own.  Coming back to yourself can be disorienting.  Then you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the hell just happened and what went wrong in your life that you can come up with this twisted little scene – sexual or otherwise.

Honestly, I don’t know where this shit comes from.  But if you know me in my real life and you’ve read the book…  assume nothing.  If I ever get around to book signings and interacting with book clubs …  still assume nothing.   No single character is a self-portrait and there is no scene anywhere in the book that is autobiographical or has a direct correlation to things that I have done, will do, want to do, consider doing, refuse to do, or think about doing.  This isn’t 50 Shades of Grey where I have turned an extended sexual fantasy based on some other book entirely into a trilogy.  Honestly, there’s not that much sex in the book, even with the reviewer that said it is Hunger Games, X-Men, and 50 Shades rolled into one.

I mean, I should be so lucky.  All of those franchises were incredibly successful.

Still, don’t get any big ideas.  I’m not Willow, and you aren’t Ven.

The S-Word

The Color Question

I think about race.  I think about race in terms of what I write; not my in-my-own-naval blog posts on philosophy, interpersonal ethics, and philosophy, but when I’m writing fiction.

But I haven’t thought about it enough.  Because when I picture people in my head, I tend to picture people that look like me. Which is dumb, because I look around and the world I live in doesn’t look like me at all.  It looks like an amazing blend of colors and styles and backgrounds and interests.  My job, as a writer of fiction, is to build a world that is believable.  For writing to be believable, it has to have sufficient connection to reality to be grounded.  My reality isn’t all one color.

So I had a brief exchange on twitter with another author who is using the multi-racial composition of her book as a marketplace discriminator.  Honestly, it made me sad.  Why isn’t that the baseline?   How do we still live in a world where you can say with authentic feeling that your book is unique because you have a multi-racial protagonist?

That being said, and I’m ashamed to admit this, when I was in the train with Willow and Ian, looking around at who else was there, Willow stood out as a bi-racial woman.  I wasn’t thinking racial implications, I was thinking about her as a woman who is torn between two worlds.  Someone who lost her mom and has been told ever since that who she is has to be boxed in and confined to be acceptable.  Because that is the world we live in.  Judgments are made long before  you open your mouth.

I can’t go back now.  Willow is who she is, and I’d like to think she’s complete.  A product of her parents, of course, but who they were, not what they looked like.    And some of the other characters are set.  I can’t un-write Tane’s blue eyes.  Or Ianthe’s blond stick-straight hair.  But book two broadens the world of The Camellia Resistance.  There are more opportunities for me to pay attention to what can only be described as laziness in imagination when it comes to characters.  Writing character descriptions is far more interesting if you’re describing traits instead of features.  Somehow, getting into what people are wearing and their finely-chiseled noses ends up sounding like historical romance.  But it does matter, and it matters because too often, our cultural default is white.  So I’m going to pay more attention in the writing, because maybe a white default is normal for the movies, but it isn’t normal for the reality I’m living in.  Nor do I want it to be.

The Color Question

Good Thinking ≠ Good Writing

Twitter has had a cluster of quotes and conversations about writing well being thinking well in the past few days.  This is one of those opinions that is so misleading and so unhelpful, but yet will weigh heavily on the minds of would-be and already writers.  Please know, at least in my experience, it is categorically untrue.

I didn’t have the luxury of being a wunderkind writer that wrote a brilliant debut at 18 and went on to success after lucrative success.  I’ve been hugely lucky in that I’ve been able to spend my career focused on words, but that’s been a function of putting my obsession with words into the service of some pretty mundane environments.  Over the years, I’ve served as an editor for a lot of people, a lot of smart people, working in the biggest bureaucracy we’ve got.

Every one of them, I promise you, thinks.  And thinks well. The vast majority of them do not write well.  And the vast majority of them believe that, just because they can think, they can write.  Which makes convincing them of the need for an editor quite difficult.  When you go to someone and ask them to re-arrange a paragraph, or break a sentence up, and they write like they think, all of a sudden, you’re criticizing their thought process.  That’s a pretty personal criticism.  Most of us feel like we’re scooping a bit of our brain out when we write and smearing it all over the page.  To have someone say “do over” creates defensiveness and resistance.

Which is unfortunate, because it is categorically wrong to say that thinking well translates into writing well. Maybe I am misunderstanding.  Maybe the implication isn’t that think well = write first draft well.  But even if that wasn’t what was meant, that’s too often how it is taken, so I’m going to carry on. There are a two reasons why equating thinking well and writing well spells disaster. In no particular order:

1) Thinking is not always orderly.  You jump from sensation to impression to memory to intuitive leap and back.  When you’re thinking about an area that you have significant expertise in, you jump whole steps in the chain of logic because those are thoughts you’ve already had before and you can short-cut them.  Get an engineer writing a paper for the CEO and the CEO is going to be annoyed because it isn’t going to make sense.  Why?  Because the engineer is going to assume that the CEO knows some of the same things the engineer knows and so he’s going to skip those parts, which is going to make the CEO feel stupid or annoyed or convince the CEO that the engineer is stupid, none of which are good outcomes.  This problem shows up in fiction too – I can see everything that I’m writing about clearly, I know how everyone feels and why they do what they do.  That may or may not be clear to a reader, though, and if I don’t go back and adequately line up the bread crumbs, my audience is never going to get where I’m going.  We think first and then impose logic second.  But if we want an audience to come along with us, whatever the subject or the goal is, then we’ve got to offer them the second iteration, the part that has been subjected to logic; not the first, the initial random blurt of knowledge, impressions, imagination, feeling, and assumptions.

2) The initial draft in writing is about the writer.  What do you know, what do you want to say, what do you see, what do you feel.  That’s the only place the writer’s ego should be allowed to play.  Every subsequent draft is about the reader, and making it about the reader is an entirely different mindset, a whole new set of skills.  If all you care about is what it looks like from behind your eyes, keep a journal.  If you want to write for an audience, figure out how to care more about what they need than what you need.  If you ever find yourself saying “just read through the first thirty pages, it gets really good after that” then you haven’t made the leap.  An author asks strangers to give up both money and time to join them on a journey.  That’s pretty damn presumptuous, and the author has to earn the right to that presumption.  That means editing.  That means that thinking well does not mean writing well.  Because if it did, you wouldn’t have to re-write and edit until your eyes bleed.

It is true that disciplining yourself to writing well over a period of years – and many years – makes it easier to create a first draft that needs progressively less editing.  I’ve been doing this for so long that I write to order my thoughts instead of writing, then creating order out of the initial blurt.  I think more clearly when I write, my writing doesn’t improve because I’m thinking more clearly.  In fact, the messier it is up there, if I can cram more ideas into the space between my ears and leave them alone to rub up on each other, the more depth I can bring to the page.  I’m better as a writer when my thinking is messier.  It is in the writing process that order is imposed.

But I’d never try and bring that initial mess to an audience as a book they were supposed to pay good money for.  I’m asking them to trust me.  I have to earn that trust, and the first step down that road starts with putting away the notion that every word, exactly as it flows forth from my fingers, is perfect and perfectly arranged because I’ve been granted the gift of thinking flawlessly.

So if the assertion that thinking well means writing well has intimidated you or empowered you to ignore the need to edit everything ruthlessly…  in the first case, take a deep breath.  It’s a rotten assertion.  In the second case, get over yourself.  Smart does not make you aware of the audience.  The thing you create through writing is an act of service to the audience.  That places some heavy demands on you, the author.  The first of which is to set your ego aside and admit that your first draft is going to suck.  It’s okay, though.  You’re in good company.

“The first draft of anything is shit.”  ― Ernest Hemingway

Good Thinking ≠ Good Writing