Not By Committee

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Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

Yes, of course. Your ebook is reading you.

When you’re reading an ebook, every move you make can be tracked–and probably is. Set aside how skeezy it is to have your reading habits suddenly fodder for advertisers’ consumption; what I want to talk about is a passage near the bottom of that article.

In Tawna Fenske’s romantic caper “Getting Dumped”—which centers on a young woman who finds work at a landfill after getting laid off from her high-profile job at the county’s public relations office—readers can choose which of three suitors they want the heroine to pursue. The most recent batch of statistics showed that 53.3% chose Collin, a Hugh Grant type; 16.8% chose Pete, the handsome but unavailable co-worker; and 29.7% of readers liked Daniel, the heroine’s emotionally distant boyfriend.

Ms. Fenske originally planned to get rid of Daniel by sending him to prison and writing him out of the series. Then she saw the statistics. She decided 29.7 % was too big a chunk of her audience to ignore. (Wall Street Journal)

To which I say, oh, no. Oh hell no.

It may work very well for some writers to do this sort of thing–enter into collaboration with their readers, so to speak, or even take votes on how readers want a book to end. But it sends a terrible frisson of loathing up my back whenever I think about it. It’s just not for me, as a writer or a reader. And it is one more reason why I do not have an ebook reader, why I will not in the foreseeable future have one, and why I view them with no little trepidation. Piracy aside, there’s several more insidious invasions to consider.

To me, there is a compact between writer and reader. The writer’s responsibility is to constantly polish their craft and not to flinch, to tell the truth as best s/he knows how. It’s the writer’s job not to pander to prejudice or talk down to their reader. (I’d go so far as to call it a sacred trust, if it didn’t sound so incredibly lame.) Having a focus group (because that’s what this essentially is) pressuring a writer to end things a certain way betrays that compact at its very root.

How can you tell an honest story with that sort of pressure, unconscious or conscious, breathing on you? Especially if it’s a story that deals with anything controversial, any subject that needs honesty and refusal to flinch? How on earth can you do what the character/story needs if you have a bunch of people shouting in your ear? Writing is not a reality show, it’s not about voting someone off the damn island. How can you show a reader something they may not have thought of, an aspect of a situation they may not have considered before, if you’re taking a goddamn vote? The unconscious pressure to shape the story to a reader’s prejudice and privilege is obvious, but less obvious is the damage done to the private space where a writer creates their own truth.

Imagine if Orwell had been pressured to change the ending of 1984, or if Tolstoy had been told, write smaller, happier stories. Could, say, Lolita ever have been written? Imagine Romeo and Juliet with a bunch of fans screaming that Romeo had to live, or that they’d prefer him to run off with Tybalt. Not every writer is Orwell, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Shakespeare, yes. There are certain collaborations between writers and readers during the creation process that are helpful, useful, and of incredible worth.

But I am not a writer who can function by committee. Maybe it’s because my parents used to try to find and scavenge my journals in order to better know how to control or hurt me. Maybe it’s just my temperament. I’m not a reader who wants to be breathing down the neck of my favourite writer, either. I read because I want to see and hear new things, experience things I would never have on my own. I depend on other writers to take me places I wouldn’t normally go, show me things I wouldn’t normally see. How can they do that if I’m pressuring them to give me something comfortable, prepackaged, reduced to the majority vote? The algorithms that serve up suggestions based on similarity are invisibly confining in a way physical bookstore browsing is not. Plus, I’m just naturally intransigent, too–I don’t want publishing to become all about the summer blockbuster that will pander to explosions and tits (*cough*Michael Bay*cough*).

I’m not saying that summer blockbusters and Choose Your Own Adventure books aren’t worthy or useful. I’m simply saying that the majority of books I’d want to read are not helped by this invasion of the space between writer and reader. And that it gives me a cold chill to think of advertisers mining the ebook data and forgetting all about the less-easily-measured mass of people who prefer paper and keep their dog-earing of pages to themselves, thank you very much.

Benevolence And Caves

We hope, we despair.” Both are human. It’s the sterile wasteland between them that kills.

Also, making a book is a long, complicated process. Writing is merely the first stumbling step. (But that first one’s a lulu.)

The most interesting bit of the Random House video for me was hearing the editors talk about how different each writer is. I’m very definitely a “go away into a cave and write the book, don’t bother me, sunlight will kill it before it’s finished” type of writer. I’ll sometimes send little darlings–chunks of text I particularly like–but my editors know that those are only meant to be ooh’d and aah’d over, not critiqued. Critique comes when I hand in the first draft–not the zero, Christ, only my writing partner sees that one. And each editor knows to give me one thing they like about the book first, however small. Then they can rip it to shreds, hell, and breakfast, but I need that one nice thing to sweeten the pill. All in all, the system works pretty well. Though I’m told it’s hard on the editor, waiting for me to emerge blinking from the cave with a manuscript in my palsied hands.

In other news, I had to delete Civ 5 from my computer. I was spending waaaaay too much time playing it. I could do twelve-hour marathons of that game, damn. The thing I liked the most was building a solid cultural and scientific base before getting the Giant Death Robot–and then wreaking vengeance on every civilization that had pissed me off in the meantime. Declare war on me while my cities are weak? Go ahead. Denounce me? Certainly. But once I get my nice solid base (including a dose of ongoing investment in infrastructure) I will go all Conan the Barbarian on your punk-ass country.

Lili the Benevolent Dictator, who will crush you and eat your heart if you don’t obey. Mine is an evil laugh.

And now, time to crawl back into the cave. This Cinderella retelling isn’t going to write itself. (More’s the pity, probably…)

Over and out.

Terror and Reading

mrehan / Foter

So on Monday I was at McMenamin’s Kennedy School, where I hosted Ted Kosmatka and Shanna Germain for the SFWA’s Pacific Northwest Reading Series. It was a lovely event–thanks go out to Mary Robinette Kowal (who put the first sentence of her new book on my right breast) and David Levine, as well as Mark Nieman-Ross (who was disappointed I didn’t finish my salad, but glad I didn’t vomit from terror) and the lovely folk at Wrigley-Cross Books, who had copies on hand for signing and purchasing. (Hint: they also have event-signed copies for sale through their website.)

The readings were fantastic. Ted read from his new release, The Games, and let me tell you, the birth sequence? Creeptastic. Then the ever-lovely Shanna knocked it out of the park with the first half of a short story featuring rats, a pipe, and twins. *shudders gleefully* I am waiting for the end of the story to be posted on her website, because I need to know what happens next.

I ended up reading from my upcoming Bannon & Clare novel, The Iron Wyrm Affair. Despite being terrified enough to almost pass out (yes, really, Jay, I am that scared of public speaking) I think I might have done an okay job. Certainly nobody threw any rotten plant matter at me.

After the reading, there was a general move for the bar, but I had to (TMI) attend to my fluid balance. It was then I discovered two things: the loos at the Kennedy School are haunted, and a text from the Princess telling me a Duct Tape Emergency had transpired and my presence was required at home. Which meant, of course, I scrambled out the door. Ghosts are One Thing (yawn) but duct tape is Quite Another. I made it home in time to find the emergency had passed and one-half of my sleepy children slumbering peacefully, the other half drowsy and proud of herself for Dealing With It.

*sigh*

So that was my Evening Of Leaving The House, OMG! I rather think it went well. And to all the fans and readers who came out to support us: thank you! You are who we’re writing for.

Now it’s time to go recover…

Kennedy School Reading

Foter

So this is about to happen on Monday:

SFWA‘s Pacific Northwest Reading Series is having our next event in Portland, Oregon next week! Monday, April 16th, we’ll have New York Times best-selling author Lilith Saintcrow, along with Ted Kosmatka, whose SF novel The Games just came out last month, and multi-genre writer Shanna Germain. Wrigley-Cross will be on hand again selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.

When: Monday, April 16, 2012, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211

If you want to come see me struggle through reading in front of a crowd, now’s your chance!

Beauty, Madness, Red Plague

deflam /Free Photos

Yeah, so…apparently I’m dating. This surprises everyone, me included, but I guess when he carries all your stuff through Ikea and brings you flowers each time he sees you, that’s really guy-code for “I like you.” (Who knew?) Plus, my inner goddess approves of all the adoration. It’s nice to be flattered.

In other news, it’s been Officially Announced, so I suppose I can finally say something about it here: Razorbill will be bringing out my next YA series, Tales of Beauty & Madness, soonish. I’ve been fascinated with fairytales and Brothers Grimm for a long time, and the first Tale, Heartless, is something that’s been boiling in the back of my head for a while. I’m working on the second book now–the series is also partly my homage to Kieslowski’s Three Colors, which just about exploded my tiny little brain when I saw it the first time. Further bulletins as events warrant–I will tell you, though, that my working title for the first Tale was Snow White and the Seven Mob Bosses. Heh.

I’m also working on the second Bannon & Clare, The Red Plague Affair. I broke 25K yesterday, and the book is finally starting to hang together as a whole, though it hasn’t made that clicking sound and started pulling itself forward under its own steam (ha ha) just yet. There has been a monkey, a broken neck, and the death of a character so far, though. So the initial signs are good.

How about some links, too? Anna Genoese gives a piece of Very Good Advice, Chuck Wendig talks about creativity, Ilona Gordon notes a few things about procrastination (and I should tell you, both graphics pretty much approximate my working style), and a very interesting piece on Cardinal Richelieu. Enjoy! I’ll be over in the corner beating my head on my desk and weeping softly while I try to make Red Plague suck a little less.

Wish me luck.

A Mad Thought

crowdive /Free Photos

So…good news, and not-so-good news.

The good news is that I found the old SQL file of my pre-2009 blog posts. Further good news is that I have mad thoughts of stripping out the writing posts and turning them into a book. The not-so-good news is that it’s a lot of work, and that work needs to be paid for. SO. My plan at the moment is to go through and get a reasonable text file of the entries I feel are Relevant, and after that I need to find someone who can edit for typos and clarity, format for ebook and trade paper, and get a decent cover image/layout. None of this is going to be cheap, so I may–MAY–get quotes, and then Kickstart for it.

Here’s where you come in, dear Reader: if you know of anyone who can perform the above tasks for cold hard cash, drop me a line! Or if you would like to quote those services to me, again, drop me a line. My timeline is possibly getting the book together by May. Also, I’d like to gauge interest, so if this is something you’d be interested in as a Reader, well, pop a comment here and let me know. There’s very little reason to go to all the trouble if nobody’s interested.

I know I said I hated writing advice books. And I do. I am undecided whether practicality or hubris is sparking this idea of putting one out. Please don’t tell me which. I’d rather just uncomfortably suspect both…