Rachel

Victoria Strauss: Dealing with Scammers

You all know, of course, that Victoria Strauss is the power behind Writer Beware.

And you also know that Writer Beware is your first and best asset in checking publisher legitimacy. “Goodnovel Writer Beware” brings up this post, for example, which tells you a lot about what good contracts look like by way of contrast with this utterly terrible contract.

***

 – The grant of rights is really sweeping (see the Licensed Rights Terms clause). Not only does it include pretty much all subsidiary rights in the work, including film, TV and games, but any “prequel, sequel, special edition, continuation, series, or the like” that the writer may produce. 

In other words, writers aren’t just signing up for one work, but for any other works related to it. 

– The rights grab extends not just to related works, but, potentially, to all future work.

Taken literally, which contracts generally are, this requires the writer to submit anything they ever write to GoodNovel, forever.

***

And so on.

So here’s a new post from Victoria Strauss: Coping With Scams: Suggestions for Changing Your Mindset

Mindset 5: Phone solicitors can be convinced to take no for an answer. This one is specific to the publishing/marketing/fake literary agency scammers that are especially aggressive phone callers. I often hear from authors who are at their wits’ end thanks to constant repeat calls from scammers they’ve tried over and over to refuse.

Strauss’ advice: Say no, do not explain, do not offer reasons, say no and hang up. Do that as often as necessary until the scammer finally, finally gives up. She doesn’t offer a statistical analysis of whether you can get a scammer to shut up and leave you alone faster by saying No in a much, much more emphatic way, but personally, that’s what I would try. After the third time, I wouldn’t be saying No and hanging up, I would be saying

I SAID NO, YOU JACKA$$, GET OFF MY PHONE, GO DIE IN A FIRE AND LEAVE ME ALONE.

Or something along, you know, those general lines.

Strauss adds,

It’s not just a matter of avoiding annoying calls, either. Scammers sometimes resort to threats and insults upon being told no.

To me, this would not be a problem. A scammer in Philippines or wherever (apparently a lot of these particular scams are from the Philippines) is not going to be able to follow through with a threat. Who cares what they say?

Anyway, as always, if you’re not sure you’re looking at a legitimate publisher, check with Writer Beware, and if someone contacts you out of the blue and offers their services for money in advance, back away slowly.

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Patreon: Death’s Lady series available for just another day or two

This post is just a reminder that

A) I do have this new Patreon, and

B) The Death’s Lady series is available for download there

and

C) It’s going to be removed from Patreon this week, after which it will become exclusive to Amazon for the foreseeable future.

Book One: A gifted psychiatrist, Daniel Dodson is perfectly aware that he’s in a tough place personally following the death of his wife. Then a mysterious new patient offers a welcome professional distraction. … The world of swords and magic that Tenai so vividly remembers obviously can’t be real. The deadly enmity and long war that left such deep emotional scars plainly symbolize something else. But perhaps Daniel can use the signposts of those confabulated memories to aid Tenai in moving forward into a new life in the real world.

As I’m not actually a psychiatrist, I appreciated this Amazon review from someone who is:

“I loved this whole series. As a shrink, I appreciated Daniel’s job and the work he did–along with all the “symbolic” storytelling and the dealing with extending her hospital stay–but mostly I just adored the character. It’s a very character-driven story without sex and romance and all the tropes. I have been reading others by this author and enjoying them–but this series is the one I’ve liked the best. If you want to explore hardcore loyalty and trust and what it means to have power….check it out.”

And again, same reviewer:

“The first book was like nothing I had ever read–Tenai was a fantastic character to meet. I almost never read “crossover between worlds” books, but this series works really well. It helps that I’m a shrink and I approved of Daniel’s therapy style…and also, I know what it’s like to be in a room with someone whose anger is bigger than the hospital. As the trilogy wound on, I was far more interested in the politics and wars than I usually am, partly because Tenai was always pivotal even when she wasn’t the main character. I would love more stories about her–but also about that world. I have definitely found a new author.”

The above comment is especially interesting (as well as flattering) because of course this review makes the point that Tenai is the protagonist, even though she never carries the point of view. I specifically set out to do that, it was challenging, it came out well, and a lot of my readers pick this series as their favorite.

Also, as you may know:

D) The first chapter of MARAG is available for anyone at Patreon, and as you almost certainly know,

E) MARAG will become available at Patreon this coming Friday. I was going to upload it there March 2, but that’s a Saturday. Therefore, March 1.

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Don’t Kill Your Darlings

A post at Jane Friedman’s blog: What Taylor Swift’s Vault Tracks Can Teach You About Not Killing Your Darlings

I write a lot about killing your darlings. Or, rather, not killing your darlings but saving them for later. These scraps that say something beautiful or important to you, but don’t ultimately fit in your current work-in-progress, can still have serious value for another project down the road. That might be snippets of dialogue, a catchy turn of phrase, or a full-fledged character or plot line.

…Swift originally wrote “Castles Crumbling” for her 2010 album, Speak Now, but when it didn’t make the cut, she found opportunities to use the same imagery in future songs, like “Call It What You Want” (Reputation, 2017). The entire context of the song is completely different, of course (with Reputation, she’s turned that crumbling castle into a thing of splendor), but the same image kicks the whole thing off: “My castle crumbled overnight…”

I don’t know much about Taylor Swift, but I’m certainly on board with any post that argues: Don’t kill your darlings. They say something beautiful or important to you.

To the idea that “darlings” can be saved for later, which is true, I would add that pretty often, “darlings” can be made to, not just fit your current WIP, but be essential to it. If you’ve got a great line, a great scene, a great character, then maybe it’s worth taking 20 minutes to consider how you could jigger your WIP so that whatever your “darling” might be, it becomes integral to that project.

If not, then sure, stick them in a “save for later” file. I totally vote for never throwing away something you love, whether it’s a single phrase or an entire character arc.

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RIHASI: Back Cover Description

You know what I realized? That the first version of this description contained a direct spoiler for TUYO.

Oops!

I mean, yes, anyone who reads Rihasi will PROBABLY have read TUYO. But the back cover description is NOT the place for direct spoilers, because obviously anybody could skim through the descriptions of all the books while deciding whether to try TUYO. So that was definitely an Oops! moment.

I’ve tightened this up and rephrased just a touch for clarity. Here’s the final version, or at least, this is probably close to the final version:

***

Rihasi Gerogevet of Saraicana has a serious problem. She knows just who can help her solve it: Lord Aras Eren Samaura, the king’s most powerful scepter-holder. But Lord Aras is in Gaur, a long journey from Saraicana, and getting there safely isn’t going to be easy. Especially as a lot of people are determined to make sure she doesn’t get there at all.

Kior Voeret has a serious secret. The absolute last person he wants to face is Lord Aras Eren Samaura. But he can’t let a naïve, inexperienced young man get himself killed on the road. That’s all right: Kior doesn’t have to commit to going all the way to the scepter-holder’s doorstep himself. He can escort the young man to the border of Gaur, then walk away long before he gets close enough for Lord Aras to notice anything unfortunate.

It’ll be fine.

Really.

***

I added the “of Saraicana” up front so the town name wouldn’t come out of nowhere in the second line, and I added “Lord Aras is Gaur” to make it clear that the problem is the journey. I mean the immediate problem.

I agreed with the parallel structure comment and simplified Kior’s first sentence.

I also removed every single reference to sorcery and tried hard to phrase Kior’s half of the description in a way that would avoid definite spoilers about that. I realize this could still be read as a spoiler, but I hope it won’t be REALLY OBVIOUSLY a spoiler.

I am now, by the way, through the stab stab stab scene that provided the initial inspiration for this book. There is a lot of stuff that happens way before that. I’m just tipping over 90,000 words. But that specific scene, though it now represents a small proportion of the words, did indeed make me think, “You know … a woman disguised as a young man might be forced into a duel even though she is one hundred percent untrained … and someone could give her this type of advice … and he could be her bodyguard! Because bodyguards, yay!”

So that was two different tropes I especially like in one package: The Girl Disguised As a Boy and The Bodyguard. Realizing I could fit this story into the Tuyo world meant I was pretty certain to write this story sometime.

Then the other questions, about why does this young woman need to disguise herself as a young man, and why does she need to hand this problem to Aras, why will no one else do, and why are people after her, and how many people, and why are they so determined, and what is Kior’s secret, all those questions presented themselves in quick succession. The answers to those questions then led to the basic outline for this book.

I started this book on February 2. Although RIHASI has moved along pretty well, it’s not nearly as immersive as MARAG. Not nearly as fast either. Why is that? I asked myself. I have realized there are three basic reasons.

A) It’s not Christmas Break. That is trivial in the sense of being too obvious for words, but it does mean I have a lot less time for writing per day.

B) I knew exactly who Sinowa and Marag were as people. I hadn’t realized how important that was. It made it super, super easy to write MARAG. I wasn’t figuring out who they were; I knew who they were and could just whooosh right into the story.

It was a lot harder with RIHASI because I didn’t know either of the protagonists, especially not Kior. At first, I kept wanting to write him like Esau and it took a very deliberate effort to avoid that. I had to think about his background in more detail and then peg his register. I mean, along the informal-to-formal axis. Esau’s register is on the informal end of the axis, and I had to decide where to put Kior and then stick to it. He is a better educated man and has held a position of more authority, and he’s physically competent, but not a brawler. And he doesn’t have get. But I had to decide about all that, and then develop a consistent style for him, and that very definitely slowed me down.

Besides that –>

C) Wow, I don’t know that I truly realized until now how much easier all description is in the winter country. It all looks the same! There’s no need to think, hmm, what do mountains look like? They look like mountains!

Photo by Ben Lowe on Unsplash

Look, mountains! Then you just have to do variations on this one theme. Waterfalls, little meadows, wolves, maybe sunset:

Image by leo kim from Pixabay

I mean, you do need to find words for that flaming sunset turning the clouds to fiery mist, but this is still fundamentally A LOT EASIER than deciding what YET ANOTHER TOWN LOOKS LIKE in the summer country, where towns look very different from each other, and where I often have to pause and look up prior descriptions of Avaras or wherever. And there are a lot of people in the towns, and they have to be there, and their clothing styles change as much as the architecture, and it’s all just very much more complicated. And that has definitely, for sure, slowed me down in drafting and it’s definitely, for sure, going to slow down the first basic revision pass as well, as adding descriptive detail is going to be a big thing for that initial revision.

Well, whatever, it’s fine, I’m just saying, the summer country is definitely harder to set stories in than the winter country. The whole business is going to get even more difficult when I eventually show more of the starlit lands and, eventually, more of the country of sand.

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Adding an extract of RIHASI to MARAG

Okay, so I do like to add an extract of an upcoming book if possible.

The odd thing here is that, after adding the first bit of chapter one, I went back and instead added the first bit of chapter two. This is because the story opens in Rihasi’s point of view, and this chapter sets the stage, but it’s not as much fun as the first part of chapter two, which is in the male lead’s pov and shows him meeting Rihasi. At this moment, she is disguised as a young man, and the reader probably knows that, and I think this is just a fun thing to include in the extract.

Also! I’m writing the back cover copy and including it there.

Here’s the back cover description:

Rihasi Gerogevet has a serious problem. She knows just who can help her solve it: Lord Aras Eren Samaura, the king’s sorcerer and scepter-holder. But Gaur is a long, long way away from Saraicana, and getting there safely isn’t going to be easy. Especially as a lot of people are going to be truly committed to making sure she doesn’t get there at all.

Kior Voeret has a serious problem – and a serious secret. The absolute last person he wants to face is Lord Aras Eren Samaura. But he can’t let a naïve, inexperienced young man get himself killed on the road. That’s all right: he doesn’t have to commit to going all the way to the scepter-holder’s doorstep himself. He can walk away long before they get close enough for Lord Aras to glimpse anything unfortunate.

It’ll be fine.

Really.

***

There you go. What do you think? I think that’s pretty good, but I’m betting a couple of you can make suggestions that will tighten it up.

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The adultification of YA

From the Bookseller: The adultification of YA

When I attended YALC last year, I was eager to find some new titles I could add to 2024’s reading list for my club members. However, as I was feverishly picking up proofs, pin badges and tote bags in that very specific YALC hysteria, it suddenly hit me that I was seeing a lot of books marketed towards me – a reader in her mid-30s. But not much for my Book Club. Everywhere I looked, I saw merchandise for titles such as Fourth Wing and Sarah J Maas, and new titles that were looking to scratch that same itch: namely, romantasy with more than a dash of ‘spice’. 

I’m checking the date on my computer. What year is this again? Oh, it’s 2024, I didn’t dream the past decade? All right, then, seriously? This had been true for AT LEAST ten years, probably more like twenty. For AGES, YA has been basically Sexy Stories For Teen Girls, with relatively few books struggling against that tide.

Doesn’t the author of this post remember the absolute dominance of the Girls In Ballgowns covers for YA ten years ago? Look, this post is from 2016. Here’s one from 2015. This had been a trend for years at the time those posts were written, along with the Dead Girls covers.

There are also far more books in the YA section itself that are romantic in nature than not. This is understandable – publishing is a business, trends will be followed. But I feel that chasing more mature audiences and themes is to the detriment of teens who are not ready for, or just plain do not want, intense passion in their fiction. 

More than WHEN? Because no, there aren’t either. Or if there are, then it means it used to be a LARGE majority, while now it is an OVERWHELMING majority. But this basic YA = Romance thing has absolutely for sure been true for a good long time.

The author of the post is, of course, right that a lot of teen readers AND ALSO, I would add, a good many adult readers of fantasy would prefer not to have YA = Romance. It’s not that she’s wrong that YA is marketed to adult fans of romance. It’s just that this isn’t remotely new.

It’s impossible to comment at the linked post if you don’t subscribe to whatever or join whatever, so I’m not commenting there. However, here are my predictions:

A) When it comes to getting YA books to actually be aimed at YA readers, that ship has sailed. That is never, ever going to happen. The majority of YA sales are to adult readers. That’s not going to change. Publishers are therefore not going to market YA toward teenagers.

B) When it comes to YA books emphasizing adventure over romance, that’s not going to happen either. Traditional publishers get a notion in their head, such as “teenage girls love angsty romance” and they lock that in for a good long time. Not just publishers. There are innumerable posts about YA readers wanting tons of angst, with a very strong assumption that by “YA readers,” you mean girls. Then there are posts about how boys aren’t reading, oh no. Both types of posts have been common for at least a decade, probably two. Or more. The expectation that YA = angsty romance is not going away any time soon.

C) Eventually, marketing categories might change. As MG, YA, “New Adult,” and so on are marketing categories, new marketing categories might appear, such as, I don’t know, “Teen Reader” or whatever. Then “Young Adult” could be defined as “adults who consider themselves young, eg 20-40” and poof, problem solved. If it is a problem. Because actually –>

D) Current marketing categories could die a fiery death. That would probably benefit everyone, as I have been saying for twenty years that a marketing category that implicitly tells younger readers that it’s impossible to relate to and sympathize with older people is a bad thing, not a good thing.

E) Regardless of trends, there are still lots of YA books that do not include romance, or may have a very thin thread of romance, but so thin there may not even be a kiss. I’m not very familiar with the most current crop of YA fantasy and SF novels, but:

City in the Lake

The Floating Islands

The White Road of the Moon

The Keeper of the Mist

And of course various others of mine are often read as YA even though they were published as adult, and those often have very restrained romance as well.

And if someone is looking for lists, then

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

And so on. If you’ve got a recommendation for another YA, maybe a recent title, with no romance or very little romance, please drop it in the comments. Here’s one: The Lake House by Sarah Beth Durst. I liked it quite a bit, though I didn’t think it was flawless. It’s all GIRL POWER straight through, without a tinge of romance. I think it is genuinely difficult to find YA novels aimed at boys because of the very strong YA = Romance thing, but if I were looking specifically for that, I might suggest I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, or Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card.

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Sudden Thursday Update: Finished!

All right, so I’ll do a real post later today, but first:

I’m finished with the final proofing run and everything is formatted, ALL FOUR FILES, which was pretty tedious. I’ll be loading the final versions of the files everywhere today, and whew, that’ll be nice to have done. Release will occur as scheduled, March 2 on Patreon, unpublished there at the end of March, available on Amazon April 2.

Also!

I will shortly — I mean in another week or so — be pulling the Death’s Lady series at Patreon and dropping these books into KU, after which they will probably be exclusive to Amazon forever, or until major changes occur to how we sell books. so, I mean, if you want to become a Patron and you haven’t yet, this is absolutely the time to do it, I’m not kidding, red banner above right.

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Effective Novel Opening: Telling vs Showing

Okay, a recent post here was about “rules that are begging to be broken” and this led to various comments about “show don’t tell,” and so I went looking for actual novel openings that might be useful and interesting in this context. Patricia Wrede briefly defines “telling” as “giving the reader the conclusion they would draw, without giving them any of the actions or thoughts or descriptions that would lead them to that conclusion.” This seems like a good basic definition to me.

Her example of “telling” is “The long, dangerous trip to Byzantium took them six months, and they were nearly captured by pirates twice, but they arrived safely at last just in time for the coronation.” There’s no actual conclusion to be drawn here, however. This is just a statement that something happened. This is definitely telling. Compressing time isn’t the only use for telling, but it’s certainly useful.

To get a sample of text to examine, I typed, “excerpts Laura Ruby” because she’s a great writer and her name popped into my head when I thought, “Hmm, who’s a great writer whom I haven’t mentioned for a while?”

So, here are the opening paragraphs of Bone Gap, a book I loved, by the way; one of many I would like to re-read one of these days. It’s not precisely a retelling, but it’s strongly flavored by the Persephone myth.

***

The People of Bone Gap

The people of Bone Gap called Finn a lot of things, but none of them was his name. When he was little, they called him Spaceman. Sidetrack. Moonface. You. As he got older, they called him Pretty Boy. Loner. Brother. Dude.

But whatever they called him, they called him fondly. Despite his odd expressions, his strange distraction, and that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person, they knew him as well as they knew anyone. As well as they knew themselves. They knew him like they knew that Old Charlie Valentine preferred his chickens to his great-grandchildren, and sometimes let them roost in the house. (The chickens, not the children.) The way they knew that the Cordero family had a ghost that liked to rifle through the fridge at night. The way they knew that Priscilla Willis, the beekeeper’s homely daughter, had a sting worse than any bee. The way they knew that Bone Gap had gaps just wide enough for people to slip through, or slip away, leaving only their stories behind.

As for Finn, well, they thought he was a little weird, but that was okay with them. “Yeah, that boy’s nuttier than a honey cluster,” they might say. “But he’s a fine-looking nut. A sharp nut. Our nut.” Finn, they were sure, had his heart in the right place. Just the way they did.

Eventually, though, they found out that there was a good reason for Finn’s odd expressions, his strange distraction, that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person. A good reason he never looked anyone in the eye.

But by then it was too late, and the girl they loved most—and knew least of all—was gone

2: Finn

Roadkill

The corn was talking to him again.

It had been a warm winter and a balmy spring in Bone Gap, so everyone with a field and a taste for corn had plowed and planted earlier than they’d ever dared before. On the last day of his junior year, exactly two months after his life had burst like a thunderhead, Finn walked home from the bus stop past plants already up to his waist. It was his favorite part of the afternoon, or should have been: the sun bright and hot in the sky, the plants twitching their green fingers. Corn can add inches in a single day; if you listened, you could hear it grow. Finn caught the familiar whisper—here, here, here—and wished it would shut up.

His friend Miguel would have agreed. Miguel hated the corn, said the plants seemed . . . alive. When Finn reminded him that, duh, of course the corn was alive, all plants were alive, Miguel replied that the corn sounded alive alive. As if it wasn’t just growing, it was ripping itself out of the ground and sneaking around on skinny white roots. Scarecrows weren’t made to scare the crows, they were made to scare the corn. It was enough to give a person nightmares. Otherwise, why would so many horror movies have cornfields in them?

Finn had nightmares enough, but not about cornfields. His dreams used to be filled with the typical stuff: getting naked with this girl or that one. Evading psychos with hatchets and roller skates. Showing up in class wearing nothing but a snorkel and a single plaid sock. Flying so high that not even the clouds could keep up.

Now? He couldn’t close his eyes without seeing Roza’s slim hands slapping at fogged glass, the gleaming black SUV swallowed up by the gathering dark.

He didn’t sleep if he could help it. And he didn’t listen to the corn anymore. Why should he, when it wouldn’t stop lying?

Sweat prickled on his scalp, and he stopped to switch his backpack from one shoulder to the other. The cornfield stretched out for miles, but standing here, on a hazy back road in Illinois, you wouldn’t know it. The pavement in front of Finn ended in a wall of sky, as if it had been sliced off by the swing of a scythe.

He might have stood there for a while, considering the cutaway road and the perfect metaphor it was, if a murder of black crows hadn’t shown up, cawing their stupid heads off.

Finn wasn’t impressed. “What are you guys supposed to be? Set decoration?”

They’ ll pluck out your eyes before they peck you to death, Miguel would have told him. Haven’t you ever seen Hitchcock? But Finn didn’t like movies, and he thought the crows were nothing but jokers and thieves. Which is what he called them. “Jokers.”

The crows said, “Coward!” They cackled and flapped, the sun shining blue on their glossy wings, beaks sharp as hay hooks.

So maybe Miguel had a point.

***

How much of that is showing and how much is telling? Honestly, it’s not always as easy to tell as someone might expect (or, at least, as I expected). Some of it could be called vivid telling, or it might be called a somewhat peculiar type of showing with flashbacks. When in doubt, I’m calling it telling. You can see what you think.

Anyway, here is the same excerpt. Everything I would call telling is now bolded.

***

The People of Bone Gap

The people of Bone Gap called Finn a lot of things, but none of them was his name. When he was little, they called him Spaceman. Sidetrack. Moonface. You. As he got older, they called him Pretty Boy. Loner. Brother. Dude.

But whatever they called him, they called him fondly. Despite his odd expressions, his strange distraction, and that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person, they knew him as well as they knew anyone. As well as they knew themselves. They knew him like they knew that Old Charlie Valentine preferred his chickens to his great-grandchildren, and sometimes let them roost in the house. (The chickens, not the children.) The way they knew that the Cordero family had a ghost that liked to rifle through the fridge at night. The way they knew that Priscilla Willis, the beekeeper’s homely daughter, had a sting worse than any bee. The way they knew that Bone Gap had gaps just wide enough for people to slip through, or slip away, leaving only their stories behind.

As for Finn, well, they thought he was a little weird, but that was okay with them. “Yeah, that boy’s nuttier than a honey cluster,” they might say. “But he’s a fine-looking nut. A sharp nut. Our nut.” Finn, they were sure, had his heart in the right place. Just the way they did.

Eventually, though, they found out that there was a good reason for Finn’s odd expressions, his strange distraction, that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person. A good reason he never looked anyone in the eye.

But by then it was too late, and the girl they loved most—and knew least of all—was gone

2: Finn

Roadkill

The corn was talking to him again.

It had been a warm winter and a balmy spring in Bone Gap, so everyone with a field and a taste for corn had plowed and planted earlier than they’d ever dared before. On the last day of his junior year, exactly two months after his life had burst like a thunderhead, Finn walked home from the bus stop past plants already up to his waist. It was his favorite part of the afternoon, or should have been: the sun bright and hot in the sky, the plants twitching their green fingers. Corn can add inches in a single day; if you listened, you could hear it grow. Finn caught the familiar whisper—here, here, here—and wished it would shut up.

His friend Miguel would have agreed. Miguel hated the corn, said the plants seemed . . . alive. When Finn reminded him that, duh, of course the corn was alive, all plants were alive, Miguel replied that the corn sounded alive alive. As if it wasn’t just growing, it was ripping itself out of the ground and sneaking around on skinny white roots. Scarecrows weren’t made to scare the crows, they were made to scare the corn. It was enough to give a person nightmares. Otherwise, why would so many horror movies have cornfields in them?

Finn had nightmares enough, but not about cornfields. His dreams used to be filled with the typical stuff: getting naked with this girl or that one. Evading psychos with hatchets and roller skates. Showing up in class wearing nothing but a snorkel and a single plaid sock. Flying so high that not even the clouds could keep up.

Now? He couldn’t close his eyes without seeing Roza’s slim hands slapping at fogged glass, the gleaming black SUV swallowed up by the gathering dark.

He didn’t sleep if he could help it. And he didn’t listen to the corn anymore. Why should he, when it wouldn’t stop lying?

Sweat prickled on his scalp, and he stopped to switch his backpack from one shoulder to the other. The cornfield stretched out for miles, but standing here, on a hazy back road in Illinois, you wouldn’t know it. The pavement in front of Finn ended in a wall of sky, as if it had been sliced off by the swing of a scythe.

He might have stood there for a while, considering the cutaway road and the perfect metaphor it was, if a murder of black crows hadn’t shown up, cawing their stupid heads off.

Finn wasn’t impressed. “What are you guys supposed to be? Set decoration?”

They’ ll pluck out your eyes before they peck you to death, Miguel would have told him. Haven’t you ever seen Hitchcock? But Finn didn’t like movies, and he thought the crows were nothing but jokers and thieves. Which is what he called them. “Jokers.”

The crows said, “Coward!” They cackled and flapped, the sun shining blue on their glossy wings, beaks sharp as hay hooks.

So maybe Miguel had a point.

***

So, what do you think? I think this is an interesting example of a prologue that breaks the rule that an effective prologue should be a self-contained story. It is effective, it’s deliberately misleading, and it’s all telling; there’s not a bit of actual story in it. The reader is told that the townspeople call Finn by all these names, but fondly. They think he’s weird, but they’re okay with that. These are very much conclusions that the reader is being handed on a platter.

The actual first chapter opens with story, then moves to setting and flashback, then moves on with the story. I’m calling the flashback mostly telling, but I can see that might be arguable. Regardless, I think this level of integration of telling with showing is pretty normal.

I’ve read one other novel by Laura Ruby, whose work I admire a lot. This was Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All. It’s a very impressive historical that includes a ghost story. It also, by the way, features a highly unreliable narrator and some very neat plot twists.

However, I haven’t read her York. series. Let’s take a look at how that one opens. Again, I’m going to bold the telling. I’ll say in advance that I’m finding this one difficult. It’s first person, and that means the description and conclusions are filtered through the perceptions of the narrator, and that means I’m not sure whether some of those descriptions and conclusions count as telling or showing. A lot of those details draw the reader into the perception of the character, but does that mean those details aren’t telling? I think they are. What do you think?

***

New Year’s Eve, 1855

The true story of any city is never a single tale; it’s a vast collection of stories with many different heroes. But most storytellers believe that theirs is the only true story and that they are the only true heroes.

They are surprised to find out they are wrong.

Just a few hours before midnight, a brief hush fell over the streets of New York City, as if someone were about to tell a grand tale of mystery and adventure and needed quiet to begin. William Covington Hanover didn’t like the sudden quiet and he already knew the story of New York City—his story. He had been in this city for barely a fortnight and had concluded it was teeming with ruffians, murderers, and thieves. That he himself was a murderer and a thief was beside the point. (And he would thrash the daylights out of anyone who called him a ruffian.)

No, the point was that William Covington Hanover didn’t look like a murderer or a thief. He had pride. He had standards. On this fine winter evening, the air aflutter with new snow, he wore a crisp white shirt with a pleated front, a white cravat, a dark tailcoat, and clean trousers. His top hat added to his already considerable height, and his fine wool greatcoat swept behind him like the regimentals of a British general.

Which was why pretty Miss Ava Oneal had no idea he’d been shadowing her for seven blocks.

And why would she? His was a stylish ensemble pinched from his last employer, the profoundly nearsighted Lord Something-or-Other of Somewhere-upon-Avon, who never seemed to notice when the candlesticks and silverware went missing. Until the day he did notice, causing an ill-advised tussle over a serving fork. William was forced to stuff his spoils into a pillowcase and steal aboard a packet bound for this strange city with its even stranger inhabitants. Ruffians, murderers, thieves . . . and fools. When the ship had docked in America, and he informed the immigration officials at Castle Garden that his name was “William Covington Hanover,” he was joking. Who would believe a man who had spent months crammed into a boat with shoemakers and potato farmers was a member of the House of Hanover, same as Queen Victoria? But they had merely scratched his quip in a ledger and waved him on.

And on he went. Through Battery Park and into the cauldron of the Five Points neighborhood, where he found lodging in a cramped tenement that reeked of gin fumes and rancid cabbage. Not much to steal in the Five Points, and far too much to drink. It didn’t take long for him to migrate into the heart of the city, where the shining Morningstarr Tower stood like a beacon to everything that he had desired his whole life and all that he deserved: riches and power beyond his wildest imaginings (though, honestly, just the riches would do).

Now he was on the upper west side of the island, where the wealthy had recently built rows of fine houses as well as some grand estates complete with lawns and forest. Most of the coppers stayed south near the Five Points, but a few wandered north to protect the wealthy from, well, people like William Covington Hanover. William nodded at the coppers on the corner, tipped his hat to the groups of ladies gathered to climb into horse-drawn carriages that would bear them to this ball, or that one.

“Good evening, ladies,” he said, in his best upper-crust English accent. “You are the picture of loveliness this magical night.”

“Good evening to you, sir,” said the boldest. The ladies giggled as he passed, eyes darting over his fine coat, his fair hair, his ready smile. As long as he didn’t get close enough for any of them to notice his cold-and-whisky-reddened nose or the knife scars on his white cheeks, he was safe. He would appear to be like any other gentleman making his way to a New Year’s Eve celebration instead of a man pursuing a dream in the form of Miss Ava Oneal.

Miss Ava was dressed less opulently—and more strangely—than the other ladies. Despite the festive occasion, she wore a plain jacket buttoned all the way up to the neck, a long dark skirt and cloak, and a mannish hat nearly as tall as William’s. But her outfit was not the most remarkable thing about her. Nor was it her small stature, flawless brown face, or the fact that she walked unescorted through the swirling, sparkling snow. It wasn’t even that she was reading a book in the dim light of the streetlamps as she went. No, it was Miss Ava Oneal’s employers who most intrigued him.

Employers by the names of Theresa and Theodore Morningstarr.

Miss Ava reached the corner and floated across the street, never lifting her gaze from her pages, though more than one coachman had to haul on the reins of his horses to keep from trampling her. The coppers watched her go, twirling their clubs, whispering amongst themselves. And the others watched her, too. William spied them everywhere; only the coppers could miss them. Rough men in gangs like the Dead Rabbits—or was it the Dead Roaches?—men who called themselves ludicrous things like Slobbery Jim and Patsy the Butcher, et cetera, et cetera. They lurked in alleys and in doorways, behind walls and trees, clad in oversized sack coats and tiny bowler hats the size of thimbles. William shook his head in disgust. In such a costume, you might as well stand in the middle of the avenue and shout: “Rich citizens of the city! Prepare to be bashed over the head and shaken like apple trees!”

William Covington Hanover would never make such an exhibition of himself. An Englishman valued subtlety; a Yank wanted spectacle. As if this city didn’t have enough spectacle. The Morningstarr Tower, for one. The Liberty Statue. The oddly named Underway, a dizzying nest of above- and belowground trolleys whose workings were so mysterious that only members of a secret guild were permitted to mind the system. The rich kept their horses and carriages just for show.

At that moment, William Covington Hanover would have been grateful for a ride in a carriage or on the Underway, as Miss Ava Oneal seemed determined to march the entire length of the island of Manhattan this cold winter’s evening. Or perhaps she simply wanted to finish her book. The newspapers said she was a very smart young lady; Miss Morningstarr met Miss Oneal while both were working at a hospital for sick orphans and hired the girl on the spot. William Covington Hanover couldn’t imagine why either lady would waste her time on sick people, let alone orphans. Not shocking that someone eventually burned down that hospital.

But in addition to being smart, William was irritated to note, Miss Oneal was also a very brisk walker. William sighed and increased his pace, taking only a moment to glare at a man with a face like a pickax, who was eyeing her with a little too much interest. The man took William’s measure and wisely retreated into the shadows.

Miss Ava Oneal walked another block and pivoted right. William trotted to keep up, turning the corner just as a coachman barked, a horse whickered, and another carriage full of ladies rumbled off to a midnight party. The sharp odor of fresh manure cut through the chill. Almost as suddenly, a round hatch opened in the middle of the street and two beetles crawled out—if beetles were the size of sheepdogs and made of shimmering, iridescent-green metal. The beetles skittered across the snow-frosted cobbles toward the pile of manure and, working together, packed the scattered pile into a neat, round ball. Then, one of the beetles turned around, and used its hind legs to roll the ball backward into the hatch. Both beetles vanished after the ball, and the hatch closed. The entire process took only a few moments.

William Covington Hanover had seen the Rollers many times, but he still wasn’t used to them. Unnatural, they were, those glittering, skittering machines. Another invention of the Morningstarrs: brother and sister, twins, geniuses. They had designed the shining Morningstarr Tower, the incandescent Starr Hotel. Built impossible bridges and the greenest of parks. Engineered the Underway. Paved the streets in strange, silvery cobblestones that somehow absorbed the power of the sun, spun shimmering window glass that did the same, and forged the Lion batteries that contained it all. Created all manner of Morningstarr Machines, including the Rollers that tidied the roads, mechanical snails that washed the windows, whirring dragonflies that did everything from drying shirts to cooling people in summer. For sixty-six years, the Morningstarrs performed architectural and mechanical wizardry to make New York City the most dazzling city in the world, or so New Yorkers claimed. And after seeing the gleaming metropolis of the future for himself, William begrudgingly had to agree. (Though he was certain Theodore, not Theresa, was the true genius behind all this invention, as ladies were much more suited to embroidering cushions and giggling at tall men.)

***

What do you think? Would you say all that description should count as showing because it’s in William’s head? I don’t really think so. “Her outfit was not the most remarkable thing about her” looks like a conclusion being handed to the reader to me. Ditto for “The rich kept their carriages just for show.” Saying someone is short is exactly the kind of thing writers are always being told is bad “telling,” because you should have the character walk under something without ducking or stand on a chair to reach a shelf or in some other way “show” she is short.

Also, different topic here, but who else laughed at the wonderful detail about the giant mechanical dung beetles? I did not see that coming. Can we go back in time and have someone invent all these things? This sounds like a fabulously ornate take on gaslamp fantasy. I should do a post on unexpected and wonderful details. Or on a books that open with what looks like an ordinary historical or contemporary setting and then suddenly go sideways.

Spoiler: This protagonist gets killed in a few more paragraphs. At least, I think he’s dead, and pretty sure we’re going to switch to a new pov protagonist. Raise your hand if you hate, hate, hate that structure. I’m intrigued by this opening because it’s hard to resist, but I’m still raising my hand because I really detest opening with a pov protagonist who then gets killed a couple of pages later. I don’t like that EVEN IF it’s an effective opening, which I think this is.

I’m sure some of you have read this book, and probably the whole trilogy. What did you think?

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Rules that beg to be broken

A post at Jane Friedman’s blog: Writing Rules That Beg to Be Broken

Instant reaction: YAY!

I’m just not a fan of writing rules, especially proscriptive rules such as “don’t use adverbs” or “don’t use dialogue tags other than said” or “don’t tell,” which is explicit in “show, don’t tell.”

Anyway, I don’t like proscriptive rules, and I’m not even keen on prescriptive rules. Naturally I at once nod in complete agreement when someone begins a post about writing rules that beg to be broken; I think that’s basically all the rules.

Which rules are particularly pulled out by this post? Let’s take a look:

I despise rules. Always have. Rules are for accountants and architects, assembly line workers and neurosurgeons. In order to be successful in those professions, there are procedures that must always be followed, variations that must never be employed. The word creative, however, as in the phrase creative writing, demands, at the very least, an imaginative interpretation of the rules.

Oh, whoops, I’m cheering much, much less. Did you need to start your post by dissing everybody in the universe who isn’t a creative writer? Also, are you absolutely sure you want to declare that architects aren’t creative? Or, for that matter, neurosurgeons?

I get what this guy means — who is this? — Randall Silvis. Well, I get what he means, and I grant that mostly we do not want our accountants to be THAT creative when keeping our taxes in order, but architects, really? Regardless, there was no need to start this post by swiping at assembly line workers or anyone else. Ugh. Not sure this creative writer had his rational brain engaged when he wrote that paragraph.

Still, back to the part about writing rules. What are the rules this person wants to break? There are four:

Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. –> Do people take that as a rule? Maybe some people do. I don’t really think of it as a popular overstated rule. I do editing as I go, and sometimes I pause and do significant re-writing because I can see I’m going to have to and it bugs me to have that revision waiting ahead of me instead of done. I do agree that it may be wiser, in some cases, for some people, including me sometimes, to blast straight ahead until the draft is finished. It depends.

Write what you know. –> Yeah, that one is seriously overstated.

Show, don’t tell. –> There it is, good, by all means drive a stake through the heart of this rule. Or better: explain what showing is, explain what telling is, and provide examples of good fiction where both are used effectively. The Intern did this on her regrettably long-defunct blog. I have a small sample here.

The writing life is mostly a lonely, miserable life. –> This is not a rule. This is an assumption. It is a mistake to lose track of the putative point of your post and head off in another direction. If you do that, you need to come up with a different title and signal in the introduction that you aren’t planning to stick to rules; that your post is about myths or whatever, not about rules.

Overall, I’m disappointed in this post. What writing rules do I personally think beg to be broken? All of them, when appropriate, but which specifically are the worst? I’ve done posts like that before, but quick, a top ten list off the top of my head:

–Kill your darlings

–Write what you know

–Show don’t tell

–Don’t use adverbs (or, heaven help us, adjectives)

–Only use “said”

–Don’t use “said”

–Don’t use long words when you could use short words

–Don’t use “be” verbs

–You can’t start quietly / you have to start with action

–You have to outline

All of the above are wrong for lots of writers SOME of the time, and direly wrong for SOME writers all of the time.

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