Friday, January 29, 2010

Writing Journey: Why Does It Take So Long?

I'm not talking about the eight years of writing, submissions, and rejections I went through before landing my first novel contract, although that did take forever.

(Granted, I was publishing articles during those eight years, so I wasn't a complete failure . . . I just felt like one.)

Today's topic is a reader question I got from Chas Hathaway some time ago:

Why is it exactly that it takes so long (2 yrs I've heard is average) for a book to get from submission to publication? Is it editing? Do they just have a lot of books to work with at the same time?

The really short answer is this: There are a lot of steps in the publishing pipeline, and each just takes time.

Now for the long answer . . . and this is assuming that a writer either already has a literary agent (getting one takes its own good time and has its own challenges) or doesn't need one, such as with the LDS market, which is so small that they don't use agents. (A literary agent would starve if trying to make a living in this market. It just isn't big enough for that, because all the money agents ever get is commissions on author royalties.)

We'll start with submission and then go into the actual pipeline:

Jane Writer (or her agent) submits to a publisher. This is usually not a full manuscript, but a query letter (which has the purpose of piquing the editor's interest) and some sample chapters.

The editor gets dozens of these submission packages on a regular basis and reads them when there are breaks between other publishing deadlines for books that are already under contract. Jane's submission might not even be looked at for a couple of weeks. Or months.

Eventually, the editor gets to the submission and if he or she decides the submission shows promise, contacts Jane Writer and requests either a partial (often the first 50 pages) or a full (the entire manuscript).

Again with the waiting game. With my publisher, if you reach this stage (having a full requested), two or three copies of the manuscript are made and given out to evaluators, along with a massive (seriously, like 15-page) form for them to fill out analyzing all kind of areas of the work.

When all of the evaluations are returned (so you're waiting on other people and whenever they decide to get to it), the editor reviews them. By this point, you can easily have seen three or more months pass since the original submission.

If you're one of the publisher's regular writers, your submission jumps to the front of the line and gets read first (which can still mean 3 months), but if you're new, you go to the back of the line and have to wait longer (I used to wait 8 or 9 months).

If the evaluations are positive enough, the editor reads the manuscript and decides whether to champion the book based on evals, the quality of the writing AND (here's the rub) on the overall marketability of the work.

That last one is the area that took me 8 years to figure out. I got really awesome rejection letters and even a phone call once from a managing editor with things like, "Your work is a cut above what we usually see" and, "We debated long and hard on this book, even with the president of the company," and the like, but the bottom line was that the stories weren't marketable enough for the audience I was writing for.

This is a business, and no matter how much they LOVE a piece, if they don't think they can sell enough copies to make a profit, they usually pass.

If the editor deems the manuscript worthy, it moves on to the committee: all the big wig decision-makers. This includes the company's head honchos, the marketing department, the managing editor, and more. My publisher's committee has a marathon meeting once a week. (You don't want to know what day it is for Covenant. It's a nightmare knowing it's committee day when you're waiting for an answer.)

Before my acceptance, I made it to committee many, many times, but didn't make it past that because of the marketability thing until an editor contacted me and basically said she knew I had the chops and that I'd be "an asset to the company" if we could just knock me over the line. She clued me in to the market, and my next submission was picked up. Yay!

Back to time lines: Jane Writer's book is accepted. She may have already spent 6-9 months, but she's still got a lot ahead of her:

1) First she does any rewrites needed based on the evaluations, the editor's feelings, etc.

2) Then there's the content edit, where plot holes get sewn up, character motivations are fixed, the plot arc is smoothed out. Basically, any big-picture issues are fixed. This can take 2-3 months. Or less. Or more.

3) Next is the actual line edit. This is where an editor takes a red pen and goes through the whole thing word by word, line by line. The point is to polish and clean up anything that might be clunky. Fix any incorrect punctuation or grammar. Smooth out awkward dialogue and sentences. Basically, make the writer shine. This can take several weeks or an entire month.

4) The author goes over the edit and approves or rejects every mark made. This normally takes at least a couple of weeks.

5) The editor reviews the author's changes. If needed, they discuss and talk about anything they disagree with to work out compromises. Depending on schedules, factor in a good week or two.

6) Corrections are then inputted into the file. Mark down a week or so, possibly more, depending on what else is in the pipeline and what other books get precedence.

7) Sometimes a second line edit is done, time permitting. I've even had a third done before. Repeat all the steps (and time) the other one(s) required.

8) Proofers go over the book to look for mistakes. They look for the obvious (spelling and punctuation) but also elements like plot consistency. (Did David's eyes change color? Oops, the author accidentally created an 8-day week. Wait, wasn't it raining a second ago? Now it's sunny.) Add a few of weeks for the proofers to do their job.

9) The author proofs the file. Often at this stage, I find mistakes that someone along the line has INSERTED into the text accidentally. I usually get a week or so to proof.

10) Changes are inputted into the file. (Days, a week, or more, depending on how many other files the worker has to get done.)

11) The file is set to the typesetter, where the book is formatted to look as it will in an actual book, instead of the way it does in a Word document (headers, page numbers, text the size of the book, chapter headings, title page, etc.). Typesetting can take half a month easily, and that's assuming there are no other books in the queue.

12) Proofers go through the typeset book, because typesetting can introduce NEW problems (like several lines of hyphenated words in a row which looks stupid, or a single word on a page, or whatever). Depending on how many proofers get it, add a couple of weeks.

13) The author gets to proof the final typeset version (commonly called the galleys). If you're lucky, you'll get more than a week to do this. At this stage, I'm always amazed that we still catch typos and other errors, no matter how many eyeballs have already been over it.

14) The final changes are inputted into the file. Again, this can take a week, depending on the schedule over at the publisher and how busy the disk-changer is.

15) During this time, the design department has been working on the cover, and you'll get to see it soon.

16) The marketing and PR departments have been working on ad placement, etc.

17) When the cover and the galleys are corrected and complete, the book is (yay!) sent to the printer. The printer is usually in another country, so this isn't like going to Kinko's where you get your order back overnight. Instead, books are often printed in Canada or China and then shipped back.

If your books are being printed in China like many picture books are, you may have to wait for the books to be shipped back by boat. I had a friend who published a picture book that was printed in China, and on the way back, the BOAT SANK. You never know what will delay your book's release!

Bottom line: the printing process alone can take a couple of months.

18) When the books are printed, they're sent to the warehouse. From there, orders to bookstores are filled and shipped. Depending on how close the bookstore is to the warehouse, this could take days to weeks.

Add all those numbers up (rough estimates, since you never know exactly how much ping-ponging is going to happen and how many edits you'll get):

Submission to acceptance: 3+ months
Revisions: 2+ months
Content Editing: 1-2 months
Line Editing: 1-2 months
First Round of Proofs: 1-2 months
Typesetting: 1-2 weeks
Final Proofing: 2 weeks
Printing: 2+ months
Warehousing & Shipping: 1 month

Those numbers add up to about 15 months. And that's assuming you get to move smoothly from one step to another. Sometimes you don't, because the pipelines gets bogged down with other projects being bumped up or having a crisis, so you were supposed to get your edit next week but don't for three weeks . . .

Plus, keep in mind that they're publishing maybe three dozen books a year, keeping that many balls in the air, all at different stages of development.

So does the one-or two-year schedule make a little more sense now? I've been lucky in that most of my books have had a turnaround of slightly under a year, but my last two were more like a year and a half.

One reason for the longer delay on my more recent books is that the month a book is released is a big decision. A lot of things factor into it. The publisher looks months and months into the future, filling slots in here and there with care. They make every decision carefully.

Spires of Stone, for example, came out September 2007. Covenant had four historical novels they wanted to release around the same time. But putting them all out the same month would have been shooting all of us in the foot: if historical fans are going to buy ONE book in a month, they'd have to pick between four of us, and three would lose. (And so would Covenant.)

The best thing to do would be to spread us out just a bit, in a way that would minimize competition and maximize potential sales.

If memory serves, they ended up doing two of those books in September and two in October, and they purposely pitted books against one another that they felt were as different from each other as possible.

As a result, Spires was released the same month as H. B. Moore's Land of Inheritance. My book had a more female, romancey audience, and hers had more readers that enjoyed grand, epic-type books. Plus, she had more male readers. We also have very different tones and styles, not to mention totally different time periods.

But (again, if memory serves), Jennie Hansen had a historical coming out too. They released it in October, because, like mine, her book was set in the 1800s. Had we shared a release date, we would have been in direct competition with one another, so they separated us. Wise move, methinks.

Other issues can help determine a release date, such as whether a book might be a good gift book for Mother's Day, in which case you might get an April or May release.

And if they think a particular book will get a lot of Christmas gift sales, it'll likely come out in September or October.

(Cough**cough** chocolate cookbook **cough**cough.)


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WNW: New World, New Language

I'm willing to bet that English has changed more in the last 50 years—at least in terms of vocabulary—than during any other time, and that's thanks to technology.

We have brand new words and acronyms that never existed before (Internet, RAM, Meg, LCD, blog, vlog, PC, DVD, e-mail, snail mail, high-definition, and many, many more).

I'd bet my great-grandparents wouldn't understand half of my conversations because of the new words I'm using. ("I'm going to a bloggy lunch tomorrow . . ." Huh?)

On top of that, we have oodles of old words that have taken on completely different meanings than they used to have (monitor, text, mouse, scroll, web, tablet, code, display, spam, cell, and backup, to name just a few).

All these new words and meanings have had an interesting impact on our language. We even use technological terms when we aren't in technological settings.

One example:

When I was a kid playing with friends and needed to get a drink or use the bathroom, I'd tell them to "stop the game for a minute" or maybe to "hang on" or simply that, "I'll be right back."

My kids? They say, "Pause the game."

Pause?

That used to mean a brief break in conversation, a breath, perhaps. ("She paused before going on . . .") Today, pausing is something you do to a DVD or video game.

But the current generation has taken the definition further: they can pause real-life events, stop them momentarily.

That's not something a person born in any previous generation would have come up with, but my kids (and their friends) use it all the time. I crack up whenever I hear it.

(They don't see what's so funny; it makes perfect sense to them.)

Thanks to DVRs, my kids know what "live" TV is, but they don't like it, because they can't "buzz" through the commercials with the "remote."

Texting lingo has even made its way into casual conversation like, "She's my BFF."

Any other examples come to mind? Pop 'em into the comments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WNW: Much vs Many

This week's WNW is a reader question asking me to help her children understand the difference between much and many.

If you know the difference between less and fewer, you already know the answer: it all boils down to non-count nouns and count nouns.

In other words: Are you referring to stuff of a general quantity or to something you can actually count, such as on your fingers?

Examples:

A NON-COUNT NOUN: TIME
You can't count time. It's a general noun. You can say you spent a lot of time or a little time on something, but you can't count time.

COUNT NOUNS RELATING TO TIME:
You can, however, break time into countable pieces like hours, minutes, and seconds.

So I spent three hours on a homework assignment. I watched television for thirty minutes. I ran that lap in sixty seconds. Those are all count nouns.

In the same way, you can't count flour (it's a general thing, a non-count noun), but you can count things you break the flour into: bags of flour, cups of flour, spoonfuls of flour (bags, cups, and spoonfuls are all count nouns).

Bringing it all back to MUCH and MANY:

MUCH
If you're referring to a general amount of "stuff," a non-count noun, use MUCH:

I don't have MUCH money.
(Money is a non-count noun. You count money by breaking it into dollars and cents, which are count nouns.)

How MUCH food did you eat today?
(You can't count food, but you can count French fries, slices of pizza, or apples.)


MANY
On the other hand, if you are using stuff that can be counted, than you use MANY:

I don't have MANY dollar bills in my wallet.

How MANY crackers did you eat?


And the same rules apply to LESS and FEWER.

LESS = NON-COUNT NOUN (So: LESS flavorful, LESS healthy.)

FEWER = COUNT NOUN (So: FEWER trips to the store, FEWER split ends.)

But apparently, the people who make commercials don't know that, as we're constantly being told that products have LESS CALORIES and channels have LESS COMMERCIALS.

(Fewer, people! Fewer!)

And yes, every time I hear those things, I do twitch. In case you were wondering.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today: A List

1) Five Whitney nominees to go. Three are THICK. I'm hoping to finish one of the thinner ones today. We shall see if I succeed . . .

2) I'm being loud and opinionated again over on the AML Blog.

3) Tonight my parents are coming over for FHE. Yay!

4) I'll be leaving in a few for lunch with Luisa, my favorite New Yorker and my first close bloggy friend. There will be much enjoyment of food and plenty of great conversation, I'm sure.

5) My chocolate cookbook has a title, but I can't reveal it yet. I've already mentioned this elsewhere (Twitter, FB), but for those who haven't heard, it'll be officially out in October. Frankly, I was a bit relieved they decided against May. Having TWO books released within two months of each other would have had me in a panic.

6) In theory, I should get a bunch done on a PEG edit today. Not sure if that's going to happen. Maybe if I stay up late.

7) I bought a new garbage can for the kitchen. This may not seem notable unless you know that our previous one was purchased right after the wedding . . . which was nearly 16 years ago. The poor thing lived a good, long life, but it's time to retire the poor (disgusting) thing. My kids were THRILLED to see it, which I found odd. Forget toys; I should buy new household products more often just to see their reactions. Maybe Santa will bring Windex for Christmas next year.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Writing Journey: Idea Seedlings

One of the most common questions writers get is how they come up with their ideas, so I thought I'd mention a few of mine. I've chronicled many of them throughout my WJ series, but here's a couple that are a bit different:

Band of Sisters, which will be out in March (as if I haven't blathered about that one enough lately!), came about in a very different way than my typical book ideas do. (Then again, do I have a typical way?)

I've talked a bit about it before, how I first wrote an article about women whose husbands were deployed. That article was inspired by a close friend going through that very experience, and I interviewed her and several of her friends for the piece.

I was able to use only a tiny percentage of what they gave me for the article, and that killed me. Their stories and feelings kept nagging at me, as if I had to do more with them to do them justice. And then I realized that there could be an entire book there. So I wrote a novel about five women who become friends through their husbands' deployment.

While I call it my "deployment novel," the women of my critique group get on my case for it, because really, the book is more than that. The book really is about women, their personal issues, their interactions, their friendships, their strengths. And yes, it's about deployment, too.

None of the women in the book are representative of any of five I interviewed (truly, it's FICTION!), but the types of feelings and thoughts I gave them in are true to what the women expressed in their interviews, and I did get a few lines from them (such as the basic but oh-so-true concept that rest of us "just don't GET it!" and that if they heard one more woman say they "understand" because their husband "travels a lot," they'd scream).

The murder mystery I wrote several years ago and am now reworking was sparked by a conversation I had with my police officer brother. There had been a report of a rape in a parking lot at a store in the town I lived in at the time. As a woman who shopped there, I expressed concern over it. He shrugged and said, "Don't worry about it. It's probably a false report."

I was stunned. How could he be so callous?

Oh, but he wasn't callous at all. He explained. Apparently, the vast majority of rape charges are false accusations. In Utah, they tend to fall into three categories:

1) The "victim" is ticked off at her boyfriend (for breaking up or whatever) and wants revenge, so she lays a charge of rape to get back at him. Even if the charge is dropped, it remains on his record and can affect his life later, such as for career background checks.

2) The girl is clueless enough to not know what "rape" means, and while something happened, and maybe she didn't like it or approve of it, whatever happened was not rape. (This one is ridiculously common, apparently, even in today's world.) I gave up trying to keep a straight face when my brother told me some of the things girls had accused their boyfriends or dates of that they assumed were rape. I wanted to go up to those girls, take them aside, and explain to them some basic biology.

3) And here's the Utah-Mormon one: A girl and boy consensually cross the line, and the girl freaks out. She doesn't want anyone to know what she did and is afraid of confessing to her parents or her bishop, so she claims it was rape (all HIS fault) so she's not the one in trouble.

Three common false charges. At that point in his career, my brother had yet to see a rape charge that hadn't turned out, upon investigation, to land into one of the those three categories: fake. (That was a long time ago, though. I should ask him if he's seen a real one yet.)

This whole thing frankly ticked him off, because he knew that women really are victims of rape, and that not only are they generally terrified of stepping forward, but when they do, they are often not taken seriously because of the deluge of fake charges out there.

If the women tempted to make fake charges would just keep their mouths shut, the real victims would be heard and the real perpetrators could be locked up.

I found the concept both horrifying and fascinating, but I wasn't convinced. That is, until about two weeks later, when the newspaper reported that the woman from the parking lot who'd laid the rape charge had made it up.

My jaw hung open. My brother had called it: another fake rape charge.

Most of the women in my neighborhood heard the news with relief: they could shop there again without fear. My brain went a different direction, of course: this is something I could write about. It was the seedling that sparked the idea for the murder mystery.

Later, as I watched an episode of John Doe, someone said a line (I don't even remember the episode's plot or who said it) that make my head come up, and the pieces snapped into place.

What if . . .

And right then, I knew where the story was going to go.

I won't delve into much more, because that would ruin it. But I will say that for those who have read Lost Without You, it features the same characters a decade later. Angela (who was 8 in that book) is now a high school senior. Her father, Greg, who was a patrol officer in that book, is now a detective. A serial killer has worked his way from Colorado to Utah. Angela's best friend is murdered, and Greg's on the case. And yes, the three false rape scenarios play a big role in the story.

I've found plot, character, and other ideas from all kinds of places, including an advice column in a newspaper, a radio talk show, a random article in a book, a dream (unfortunately, none as lucrative as ones about sparkling vampires), locations I've visited, a painting, and more, like that conversation with my brother paired with a random line from a TV show.

I never know where my next idea will come from. And that's half the fun: keeping my eyes and ears open and always thinking, "What if?" I love the moment with the idea crystallizes, comes into focus, and I see the bigger picture.

I'm in the the thinking stage for another project right now. I can't wait for the "aha" moment to get here so I can attack the keyboard and uncover the rest of it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

So Subjective

What makes a good book? What makes for good writing?

You'd think those questions would have pretty straight-forward answers.

Mmmm . . . not so much.

This is my second year serving as a Whitney Awards judge, and we're rounding the bend on finishing up the reading of the nominees so we can cast our ballots for who we think should be the finalists in our category or categories. I'm judging two of the six categories, and there are five judges per category.

I know every judge has their own way of looking at quality. Every judge is qualified to serve as one. Yet we all rank different elements as higher importance or lower importance. (Is the plot arc more important than character? Is the writing on a sentence and paragraph level more important than plot? And so on. The list is endless.) Whatever we use as our personal guidelines, we are to apply the same ones to every book we judge.

I'm not going to discuss specific categories or titles (although since my own book is eligible in Historical, I'm obviously not judging that one). What I'll do instead is offer some general observations.

In one category, I thought there were three clear front-runners. While I still had a couple of books to read in the category, I would have been very surprised to see any of those three knocked off my list of predicted finalists. The last two slots would be fought over by the others. Actually, not all the others, because there are always a handful of nominees that just don't hold a candle to the others. But there were several that could have filled those last two slots.

Then lo and behold, I find out that one of the judges absolutely detested one of my top 3. Um, what? Every other person I've talked to who has read this book has love, love, loved it. Except this judge. I'm dying to know what the other three judges think, and now I'm wondering whether this book will be a finalist after all. I think it absolutely deserves to be. But I'm sure this judge has their reasons.

It's so subjective.

In my other category, something similar happened, only I was on the other side. I read a title I thought without a doubt was on the "um, yeah right, this has no chance" pile. And then I heard another judge in the same category lauding it. I had to do a double-take. I had half a mind to shake the judge and say, "But no human being acts like that! The characters were cardboard, the plot was contrived, and the writer was trying too hard to have a specific tone and missed the target by a mile. Can't you see that?"

Or maybe I'm the one with no clue. So maybe that book will be a finalist even though I couldn't stand it.

In a little less than a month, the finalists will be announced. I'm sure there will be plenty of excited people. Others will be sad they didn't make the list. There will be lots of buzz about why certain titles are there while others are not, and whether LDS fiction has improved or not over the years and what were certain judges thinking, and whether the Whitney system is accurate and all kinds of stuff.

But the bottom line is this: everyone likes different things. Even "quality" is, largely, subjective. And as frustrating as that can be at times, it's the reality. It's why I have a daughter who loves brownies but hates chocolate ice cream. They're both chocolate. As far as I'm concerned, they're both delicious. But she has a different taste.

And that's okay.

On the other hand, I really hope that one title is a finalist and one isn't.

And since I'm being honest, I kinda wouldn't complain if Tower of Strength ends up on the list too.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Writing Journey: TwHistory Side Project

One of the cool benefits of being a writer is the people you get to know and the opportunities you run into as a result.

Those opportunities could be things that advance your career and bring in money (such as a new freelance gig), but more often than not, they simply enhance your life in some way. Many times they're ways of offering service with the skills you have.

An example there is with my doctor. He's known our family for over fifteen years, and he's literally followed my entire career. Whenever I went in for prenatal appointments or a child's shots, and he'd ask about my latest submission, and I'd tell him about my latest rejection or current work in progress. He knows the entire story and what I'm working on next.

He's also the head of the Friends of the Library, so when we moved closer to him, he asked if I'd be willing to judge the adult category of the library's annual Scary Story Contest they hold each Halloween. I've now judged it for seven years running, and I can't imagine that changing any time soon. I love being able to help out.

Several months ago I had the chance to embark on a very different kind of side project. It's the brain child of Matthew Buckley, author of of Whitney Award finalist Chickens Don't Have Armpits. He has this knack of taking technology and turning it on its head, and using it in unique ways.

One of his last projects got national and international attention. Matthew (also known as Marion Jensen) and his buddy Tom Caswell decided to use Twitter in a brand new way: take history and make it fun, palatable, and understandable. Best of all, they could make it feel like it's happening right now. They took journals of soldiers who had fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, broke down the events into the 140-characters that "tweets" require, and recreated the battle in real time.

People who followed the battle via Twitter watched it during the same days the battle actually occurred, read about what the soldiers ate for breakfast, how they were wounded (when they were wounded) and so forth. If a soldier suddenly stopped tweeting, it probably meant he really had died on that day in history.

Marion and Tom were invited to speak at UNESCO in Barcelona about their project. You can read a bit about that HERE and HERE and see their slides HERE. They call their concept of tweeting history in real time "TwHistory."

They're doing it again, this time preparing to tweet the original Mormon Pioneer Trek, which began on April 5 and went through July 24, 1847 ending with Brigham Young's famous statement, "This is the right place. Drive on."

And that's where I (and many others) come in. Matthew Buckley asked several writer friends if they'd be willing to help go through the journals of pioneers he'd already found who were in the original traveling party and write up the tweets ahead of time. He would take care of putting them all together and posting them in real time on the right days and hours.

So in my free (hahaha!) time, I'm Heber C. Kimball, condensing his journals down to 4 or so 140-character tweets per traveling day. All of us are trying to maintain the voice and even the words, as much as possible, of the original writers. And it's all for the upcoming TwHistory trek that will begin this April.

Again, I imagine that when it goes live, the project will get national (and, quite possibly, international) attention. They have plans to Tweet other major historical events as well.

TwHistory could potentially be a great tool for teaching history to students and an amazing experience for any twitterers willing to follow and watch history as if they're getting a peek in time as it unfolds.

If the concept of TwHistory is going to keep going, they needs funds. Right now, it's entirely a volunteer effort, and while that's great, there are costs that just aren't covered. If you're willing to donate even a little to help the cause and/or learn more, visit the TwHistory Kickstart page.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

WNW: Structural Ambiguity

One of my favorite assignments in college, no surprise, was in Dr. Oaks's class (if you've been here long enough, you know that he was my favorite professor). He was fascinated with the idea of structural ambiguity: that sometimes the way a sentence is put together can make the meaning unclear, giving it two or more possible meanings. He's even written a book on his years of researching the topic that will be going to press soon.

Our assignment took the entire semester, because we were to pay attention to speech (or television shows, movies, books, whatever) and find examples of structural ambiguity, then turn in our best examples (I want to say it was 50, but it might have been fewer). You can't come up with 50 good examples off the top of your head in the last three days of a semester. This really was something you had to be thinking about all the time and jotting down as you went.

A couple of examples I remember from class:

Using the word "little" in front of a word that could be either an adjective or a noun. Since "little" can mean both "small" and "somewhat," you end up with structural ambiguity:

It was a little antique.

In that sentence, we can't know whether we're looking at a small antique item or something that's marginally antique.

Out of context, there is no way to tell: structural ambiguity!

My favorite example from class was using a word that can be both an adjective and a verb at the end of the sentence. The resulting ambiguity was awesome:

The peasants are revolting.

So . . . either we have a revolution on our hands, or man, those poor folks really need a bath!

In daily life, we don't usually have a problem with structural ambiguity, because the sentences that could lead to confusion are within a context that clarify what we mean. We know whether we're discussing an antique chair (or a tiny little antique thimble or an early computer that's only kinda antique).

Outside of context, however, you can have all kinds of fun. This is a tool that sitcom writers use all the time for laughs: they have a character overhear something out of context, something with structural ambiguity, and the person interprets it totally wrong. The audience knows both meanings, including the correct one, and we get a big laugh, particularly if the misunderstanding draws the conflict on.

For me, there's a song I cannot hear without thinking of its structural ambiguity. I know full well what the song means, but it still drives me crazy.

The lyrics say:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone.

Meaning #1:
Now that the rain has passed, which was blurring my eyesight, my vision has cleared up.

Meaning #2:
My vision is all clear now, and as a result, I can detect that the rain is gone.

The difference is subtle--did the rain cause the vision to clear up, or is the speaker simply stating the facts that their vision is clear where it wasn't before and that now it's clear, they can tell the rain is gone?

I know which the song means, but it still makes me nuts, because my obnoxious brain can't hear the song without thinking of both meanings.

(Thanks, Dr. Oaks. I 'preciate that.)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Behold: My Cover!


I had Blogger open all morning, waiting for inspiration to strike for a new post. I had nothing.

And then my editor sent THIS, and I knew it would suffice: the cover for Band of Sisters.

Isn't it cool? I had even suggested something with five women's hands together somehow.

This is a record for me: I got to keep the title I submitted (one my husband came up with, because I'm terrible at titles, but this one just fits) and the cover is essentially what I suggested. Wowzers!

This book will be on shelves in a mere TWO MONTHS! I've been waiting a long time for this one, so I'm very excited.

I'm also proofing the final galleys right now (about halfway through as I type this), so the timing of getting to see it this morning is perfect.

In summary: Squeeee!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Writing Journey: Writer Weirdness

Being that it's New Year's Day (and I'm out of town), I'm cheating by re-posting from my archives from when I literally had what, two readers? Below is literally my very first post, and since it happens to be writing-related, I thought it'd be a good fit for my Writing Journey series.

(As a side note, the scene I refer to the beginning was for Hannah's injury in Spires of Stone.)

Enjoy!

*****

Not long ago, I pulled one of my many reference books from my office bookshelf so I could get a few details for an upcoming scene I’m writing.

Holding the book in my hands, I immediately felt transported back to the time I first read it, and I had to smile. Suddenly I felt sentimental.

It was the Christmas holidays, visiting my in-laws, during the time I was still a hopeful writer who hadn’t yet been published. I remembered the manuscript I was working on and why I needed this particular book to help me with certain details—and I still remember what those details were. Snow fell; holiday cheer abounded; carols drifted through the house.

And here I was engrossed in
Body Trauma, where every chapter follows an organ system, explaining injuries and how they affect the human body—and even better, how those injuries can be used by writers in their work.

I know; you don’t have to tell me. I’m morbid.

It’s great to be reading along about blood and guts, then have the author insert something along the lines of, "Use this injury if you need your character’s future to be uncertain," or "This is a good one to use if a character needs to be ill, recover, and then relapse."

Okay, so I’m not just morbid; I’m weird.

I’m aware of that.

But sometimes I forget that others don’t share my bizarre curiosity.

You should have seen the faces of my brothers-in-law when they saw the book. "Light reading, huh?" they asked as they inched away from me.

"No, really, it’s so fascinating," I said as I stepped forward, eager to share gems I had just learned. "Did you know that if someone has a bad impact—say they fell from a cliff—and it’s so bad you can’t tell where their face is, you look for air bubbles?"

They sank into the couch, eyes wide with horror.

The reality is that I am weird.

I’m a writer. That makes me a little bit off the beaten path.

How many other people do you know who have conflicts appear in their imaginations in the middle of the night? Who else hears people talking in their heads (and no, they don’t need medication or a strait jacket). Who else finds joy in the discovery of new information that will help make their pretend world a little closer to reality?

And how many people do you know who are so obsessed punctuation rules that they cringe when they see a T-shirt with a comma splice?

So yes, I’m weird. And I celebrate that weirdness.

Weirdness is the quality that brings me the wonder of the written word, characters, story lines, creation, and so much more. It’s what brought me to the place of—finally—getting published.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, that first manuscript I read
Body Trauma for did end up published several years later, complete with injuries for three victims of a drunk-driving car accident.

That book is now known as
At the Water’s Edge.

A few months after reading
Body Trauma I brought my next bit of light reading while visiting family—Cause of Death. I had to chase people around the house so they’d pay attention to the diagrams of autopsies. "No really. Check this out! It’s totally cool!"

They’d block their eyes and run the other way, saying, "Man, are you kidding me?"

Sheesh. Some people just can’t appreciate a good reference book.


(Originally posted July 21, 2006)