Free-For-All Friday

(What is this? My very own meme, which could take the form of other Friday memes out there — random five or ‘fessing up — or non-Friday memes, or anything! Point being to have a little fun and get a little interactive.)


Two items I ran across that made me uneasy: This goes to the state of the publishing biz and our lot as novelists within it.

The Independent carried a piece about how novelists are under pressure to “dumb down” so as to appeal to a wider readership. It could be that publishers are rebranding certain authors more commercially — I call this the cult of personality in action — rather than let their work stand on its own.

Granted, these novelists stand to gain in the moulah-department if the publishers succeed in the marketing “remarketing.” But, I ask you, would you really want to see Cormac McCarthy rebranded as a thriller or action writer?

Simiilarly, The Guardian ran a piece about authors as “branding machines.” I’m going to quote a portion, because, for me, it says it all:

“…the obsession with “branding” authors is threatening to hamper new talent. Writing a book a year is the absolute minimum for an aspiring genre novelist, and this treadmill approach allows no let-up. Will new crime writers get the freedom of say, Dennis LeHane, Thomas Harris and James Ellroy to write the books they want, when they want? Or will they be squeezed out by rivals willing to fire off three or four books a year to establish themselves?”

Seems to me this scenario is pertinent to most novelists, not only crime writers. What are your thoughts?

An item that made me think: Sometimes another blogger’s pearl of wisdom takes me by surprise. One wee sentence on Quantum Storytelling’s blog was a welcome slap in the face: “Procrastination is caused by indecision.”

We could discuss whether procrastination is always caused by indecision, but, in point of fact, when I read that statement I realized that my procrastination of past weeks had indeed been caused by indecisiveness! Yowza. I outlined my tangled thoughts in a post last week. This week I decided to tackle point number one from that post (finish a revision). Low and behold, this week my work routines settled back into their good groove.

And, an item that made me smile: A writers-retreat-friend is doing well for himself these days. His name is Eldon Thompson, and he writes epic fantasy. I enjoyed perusing his website this week — and I’m happy for him. The bit that made me smile came out of an interview. He said this:

“…Most importantly, perhaps, it has taught me to simplify things—to toss out ideas that are too complex and to really focus on the emotional response of characters to whatever obstacles are thrown at them.”

I smiled because I tend toward too much complexity in my first drafts. Glad to know that I’m not the only one that’s learned a few lessons around this!

Here Come the Book-Touring Novelists

Springtime brings a flurry of book-touring novelists. Last week I decided to check out two of them. The first novelist I read regularly, and she’s enjoying such immense success that I was extra curious. Plus, she’s a friend of a friend, so I had an excuse to say a little something when my turn came around to have my book signed. I wasn’t as familiar with the second novelist though she’s also a branded name. We are separated by two degrees, so I dropped a name with her also in hopes of learning something very particular.


~ Mysterious Mr. M, who often comments on this blog, shines me on for being a brown-noser. Not fair! I’m just over-eager! Seriously, these days, I’m all about researching the business-side of publishing, so I ask whoever I can whatever I can whenever I can.

~ I’ve lately decided to make a study of book-touring novelists. About how many pages do they read? What kind of reading selection? What kind of introduction? How do they deal with the questions? Do they crack jokes? Do they wander off the topic? And so on. Call me ever hopeful for myself.

So, I’d like to share a few tidbits from last week’s book-signings.

JODI PICOULT. Latest novel: Change of Heart   (S.W.: She passed on a big “hello” just in case she didn’t get a chance to see you in Seattle…)

First of all, I wasn’t expecting the utter chaos. Over 200 readers gathered to hear her speak, and the book store gave out numbered tickets so that we would line up in orderly fashion for the signing. This is a woman whose latest hardcover print run topped a million copies! That’s in the realm of Stephen King and his kind (now her kind also).

  • She read from many sections but from one character’s point of view. These snippets formed their own story arc, and she ended on the cliffhanger question that is the crux of the novel. It interested me that she mixed-and-matched from several sections; authors usually read the first chapter or from a couple of independent scenes.
  • She obviously gets the same questions all the time, no surprise. I imagine most novelists have their anecdotes down pat. In fact, I remember a writer-friend telling me I’d better have some good stories to tell about myself — even if I have to fictionalize them a bit to make them more interesting!
  • She’s a mom so adept at writing in 15-minute increments. Doesn’t believe in writers block. “You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.” Too true!
  • I love this quote because it’s so true about character voices inside our heads: “It’s a very fine line between schizophrenia and being a published novelist.”
  • Starts writing when has a general idea — usually a topic that stems from something she worries about — and knows the twist at the end. Her mystery is how to get from A to Z. Does this mean she’s not an outliner? I wished I’d asked…


LISA JACKSON. Latest novel: Lost Souls  (R.V. and J.D: Thanks! She answered my particular question about publicity…)

Jackson is a local author, and her reading was intimate. Interestingly enough, she didn’t actually read from her latest novel. This was a first for me as an audience member. Our questions seemed to launch her off on different writing/publishing topics, and she rambled easily for the hour.

  • She writes mysteries these days, but she started off as a Harlequin romanticist. However, her books are still shelved under “Romance” in the book stores. Why? Because of her long-time readers, because her backlist is so extensive that it’s best to keep all her books together (for sales), and so on. Interesting, eh?
  • I’ve mentioned the current paranormal trend. Well, seems Jackson is starting to dabble also. Her editor had suggested vampires and a story started to grow from there. She seemed bemused by her paranormal dabblings. She said her current novel is a “different kind of novel” for her. The next book will feature ghosts. Just goes to show…market forces…
  • Ever wonder about those novels that seem to just end, just like that, disappointingly? She mentioned a novel by Laura Lippman and that deadlines are often the culprits. It’s not that the novelist wouldn’t like to take the time, she just doesn’t have it. I can see this being a challenge for novelists on the one-or-more-book-a-year schedule.
  • She writes a 50-70 synopsis before starting her first draft! But, she does veer off it. The closer she is to a deadline the closer she keeps to the outline. What interested me: Even given a detailed synopsis, she still doesn’t know her characters until about 150 pages in. She finds beginnings hard for this reason. (Reassured me: I’m the same way.)
  • Here’s a new concept to me: “marketing up.” She mentioned a paperback cover design that got “marketed up” from its hardcover version. This meant making it less “genre,” which in her case, meant taking the woman off the cover. Also, the idea of wanting the cover to “pop” when the book is on the shelf amongst hundreds of others.


 I was a good student last week, wasn’t I?