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The “frontier” between fiction and nonfiction

One of my favorite new blogs, A Writer of History, recently posted an amazing interview about the writing of historical fiction—or is it “creative history” or historical nonfiction?  Personally, while some argue that the terms are synonymous for the same genre, I’ve always felt that the genre designation depended on the author, the research, the message, and the presentation, if you know what I mean!  And I’m glad that author Charlotte Gray not only agrees but has definitely earned the right to place her relevant works (Gray also writes pure nonfiction) into the genre of historical nonfiction.

During the interview, which was posted to the blog on February 25, Mary Tod asked two seemingly unrelated questions of Gray: “What ingredients make for successful historical nonfiction?” and “Can you tell us what you mean when you say that the frontier between fiction and nonfiction is under constant negotiation?”

Gray’s insightful responses are actually central to the fiction-nonfiction debate:

Trustworthiness. I have worked hard to establish a reputation as a nonfiction writer who does not invent characters, events, conversations. If I say what somebody is thinking, I know about their internal monologue from private letters etc. So readers can know they are increasing their knowledge and understanding of Canadian history without constantly asking themselves, “Did this really happen?” . . .  A novelist is not under such constraints to stick to the known facts . . . he or she can let their imaginations run! (But if they have somebody driving a car in the 1880s, that’s a problem!)

Jump over to A Writer of History and glean the knowledge that awaits in the many other information-packed answers. While reading, remember that much of the commentary and advice can pertain to other fiction genres and categories as well as it does to any type of nonfiction.

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
e-mail: editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Thoughts on writing, from author Ruth Rendell

I am totally envious of the information that Alison Flood gathered from octogenarian author Ruth Rendell in her recent interview. But, I certainly couldn’t have done a better job! 

For those not familiar with her work, Rendell also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, the pen name she uses in her latest book, The Child’s Child.  For the record, I just finished reading The Child’s Child  and willingly recommend it—even the book that’s within the book, which I particularly liked, unlike many of the reviewers at Goodreads!  The book within the book is a reflective peek into one family’s history and the actions that a few members of that family felt they had to take to live within societal dictates of the time. In my opinion, the interior book provided an unusually comfortable look at everyday life during the period and how that life viewed homosexuality and out-of-wedlock motherhood.

Back to Flood’s interview “Ruth Rendell: a life in writing” . . . The piece was posted to the Manchester Guardian website on March 1, 2013, and guides Rendell into thoughts about using a pseudonym to change perspective; tackling social issues like domestic violence, pedophilia, and racism; and writing crime-based fiction.

Reflecting on the latter, she believes the force of her books featuring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford lies in knowing his personality, not in knowing the ugly, dark sides of people or life.

I just wait until I’ve got a character and I think why would anybody do that, what is it in their background, what is it in their lives makes them do it. Usually these things are just accident or impulse, or because people are drunk or on something. . . . It’s that people do these things almost by accident, or because of anger, their rage, their madness—and then probably regret it.

On the subject of her own writing, she admits that “I don’t find writing easy . . . I do take great care, I rewrite a lot . . . If anything is sort of clumsy and not possible to read aloud to oneself, which I think one should do . . . it doesn’t work.”

When talking about the writing of others, Rendell tells Flood, “The things they write, it’s as if writing dialogue is just a matter of he said, she said, thank you, yes, how are you and so on, all this superfluous stuff nobody needs. It’s as if they don’t look at it and say, ‘Do people talk like that?'”

Please, follow the link and enjoy the interview for yourself.

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
e-mail: editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Fast lives, small screens, short fiction

In eras gone by, writing short-form fiction (novellas and novelettes, short stories, and flash fiction pieces) was a common stepping stone for authors who needed to prove themselves and find audiences. Assisting in their goals, plenty of digests and magazines, and even some newspapers, provided numerous outlets for building recognition and earning income from quick sales of short pieces. This path to success helped many famous writers work toward justifying larger rewards and contracts—and, thereby, time for writing larger works.

But then came the 1980s, the 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s, which saw the elimination of most of these literary outlets. Without these avenues for getting short-form fiction to audiences, many in the publishing industry thought the genres were doomed.

However, today’s students and workers with tight modern schedules, electronic readers that allow reading on the go, and those debatable shorter attention spans seem to be reviving the basic short-form genres.

Some insights into this welcome trend appear in a recent New York Times article, “Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories” (posted online on February 15, 2013). The article, of course, mentions omnipresent Amazon, which publishes original short fiction (and nonfiction, for that matter) with its own Kindle Singles program. But, several online publishers, like EveryDay Fiction and Free Stories Center and Fifty-Two Stories are also springing into the picture.

So, get back to those tight, little drafts that you’ve been stashing away. You might have some new outlets for proving yourself to your audiences.

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Categories: Self Publishing, Writing

Song lyrics as writing

I suspect that few radio listeners make a habit of equating song lyrics to the stories in magazines, books, or memoirs.  (And, granted, the limited numbers of words and phrases in most songs would  not  help them make that association!)  However, occasionally, a well-written lyrical composition does manage to hit the airwaves and make a connection between musical words and their written cousins.

Two popular songs have caught my attention over the past couple of months as perfect examples of musical compositions that tell stories: “Ol’ Red”, written by James “Bo” Bohan, Don Goodman, and Mark Sherrill, and “Blown Away”, written by Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear.  If you are not familiar with the songs or lyrics, allow me to provide a few links so you can see and hear for yourselves.

First, the story of “Ol’ Red” has been transcribed by Garrett Holt at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF6Lame2Q9Y  (you can even listen to his cover performance of the song while reading the lyrics).  “Ol’ Red” has been recorded by artists George Jones and Kenny Rogers; though, Blake Shelton has the version that is currently on the charts.  Look up those performances or watch  another cover of the song by rising star Carl Holsher.

Second, YouTube poster NinaHappy Feet  has transcribed the lyrics to “Blown Away” and posted them to a recorded performance by Carrie Underwood on this page:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD9YJjL2qQE.  The lyrics for “Blown Away” have been praised far and wide and have even been nominated (at this point) for the Grammy’s 2013 Best Country Song, an award that recognizes the songwriters.

Enjoy the lyrics and the performances, and think about the stories in (and behind) other lyrics the next time you hear your favorite songs. You might even think of the authors of the compositions—some of the forgotten artists of the music industry.

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone/text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Categories: Odds&Ends, Writing

The “fiction” in historical fiction; and the why

Those of you who have followed me for a time know that some of my favorite editorial projects are works of historical fiction; the truth is, historical fiction has been one of my favorite genres since I was in grade school.  (Anyone remember the We Were There series?)  Perhaps that’s why, during those projects, I’ve noted one challenge that continually plagues many of their writers—especially newer ones:  “Exactly how much fiction is acceptable in historical fiction?”  Even more seasoned writers have issues, but their challenges are more generally along the lines of,  “When is fiction acceptable in historical fiction?”  Either is a common problem.

Part of a recent  interview with best-selling, award-winning author Hilary Mantel  on NPR’s  Fresh Air  briefly addresses these two questions.  (If you listen to the interview, which focuses on the two finished books in Mantel’s trilogy about Tudor England,  Wolf Hall  and  Bring Up the Bodies,  her comments on writing historical fiction run from about 16:18 to roughly 19:38.)  Her answer is simple, yet complex.

I make up as little as possible.  I spend a great deal of time on research, on finding all the available accounts of a scene or incident, finding out all the background details and the biographies of the people involved . . .  it’s really in the gaps, the erasures, that I think the novelist can best go to work . . .

She then steps into the topic that, in my mind, states the very purpose for writing historical fiction in the first place: to tell “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say—the part of the story that history books cannot easily convey; the part that relates  why  what happened, happened:

. . . inevitably in history, in any period, we know a lot about what happened, but we may be far hazier on why it happened. And there’s always the question: Why did it happen the way it did? Where was the turning point?

In other words, facts are facts, whether they involve a person or group of people, an act or event, or a time or place; but, the why and the how . . . now, that’s where the “story” in history comes in!  At least, that’s my opinion.

So, now that you know the challenge of historical fiction (and how to meet it), get back to that draft!

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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The top ten mistakes authors make, new or not!: from getting-published.com

Off the bat, let me warn you that I do not endorse the Getting-Published.com Web site, or the related BooksToBelieveIn.com Web site, or any of the products and services mentioned there because I do not know anything about them; however, I present their list of “The top 10 mistakes new authors make and how to avoid them” as one of the most thoughtful, in-one-place lists of common author mistakes I’ve come across in recent times. Below are the ten points of Getting-Published.com’s list (with some needed editorial adjustments on my part), along with some minimal commentary of my own; for their complete discussions, please visit their site.

     1. Placing a “forward” in your book  . . .  the truth is, few books should even have a foreward!  (And, be careful with the title on that “acknowledgments” page, too!)

     2. Using a “spell checker” to substitute for professional editing  . . .  I don’t need to go any farther in this discussion, do I?

     3. Falling victim to predatory editors, designers, publishers, and agents  . . .  Web sites do exist to help you weed through the greedy, villainous, untrained, unscrupulous, ungrateful b$#@%ds that give us all a bad name.

     4. Forgetting that your book’s title and subtitle are the most important pieces of sales copy your book has!  . . .  Seconded!  And, when your editor suggests that you might want to consider options, please, do consider them!

     5. Forgetting to apply the “Who cares?” test to every sentence of your content!  . . .  ’Nuf said on that one!

     6. Being ambiguous or unclear  . . .  The authors of the list discuss this so well that I won’t even bother trying to restate it:

This is one of the main reasons that authors can not edit their own books. Ambiguity creeps in because they are too close to their own work. . . . The author can see it very visually, because they are writing down what they see in their imagination, but it just doesn’t always get communicated well in the text.  [all errors in original blog text]

     7. Being inconsistent and arrogant  . . .  In fictional works, I’ve found that the major issue is inconsistency; in nonfiction works, it’s more often arrogance—as explained at the blog.

     8. Placing the wrong information in jacket copy and other promotions  . . .  The blog provides a good, informative discussion of this point, too.

     9. Mismanaging schedules and sequencing of your project  . . .  In addition to the blog’s issues with sequencing, I more often find that authors have trouble fitting editorial assistance into their project’s schedule. Editors should be involved in a project as early as possible so that a rapport can be established during substantive reviews, copyedits, and proofs. Nonfiction authors also need to allow time for research and fact-checking. And, if artwork is involved, additional time needs to be included for researching provenance and securing rights.

     10. Allowing “fear storms” to destroy your confidence  . . .  Yet another reason to form a publication team instead of venturing out on your own.  Run with your idea—write, write, write. But, then, rely on a good team for advice. A good team will not try to take away your authorial privilege; rather, its members will complement and support you and provide professional assistance—and constructive suggestions, not destructive criticisms.

Remember to visit the original blog post at http://getting-published.com/toptenmistakes.php for complete discussions and to thank them for putting together such a good list.

Excellent work, guys,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Categories: Editing, Writing

“Ten ways to save the publishing industry”: from the Guardian

For several days, now, I’ve been watching an article/commentary that appeared in the online version of the Manchester Guardian, “Ten ways to save the publishing industry,” by experienced publisher Colin Robinson.  The article has drawn quite a bit of controversial and insightful conversation on what he believes needs to be done to create a healthier publishing industry.

I’m happy to say that my chief concern for the publishing industry turns up third on his list. While Robinson’s new publishing model

dispenses with a variety of traditional functions . . . other tasks such as editing and design take on additional importance. Ensuring that books are readable and attractive is a vital way for publishers to stay afloat in an ocean of self-published titles.

I would like to point out that I don’t think the jab at self-published titles is necessarily warranted; as I’ve noted before, small presses have fought for years to improve their reputation on the editorial side . . . just as, apparently, some of the major houses have lost sight of what elements make up a quality product.

While other discussions related to the editorial function and the reader’s experience turn up throughout Robinson’s piece, I want to look at the comment string that has developed, too—there, I found two comments that were overwhelmingly relevant to my concern for the editorial industry.

One was made by “Jeniche” (note that Jeniche’s use of the term “gatekeeper” references a statement by Jeff Bezos, chair and CEO of amazon.com, that implied many of the long-time roles of publishers might be obsolete):

If publishers wish to keep gate-keeper status they really need to start employing people who know what they are doing. People have turned to self publishing in part because they are pissed off by the hypocrisy of gatekeepers. The [gatekeepers] bang on about the need for quality writing, good editing, blah blah blah and then fall over themselves to sign up the most atrocious garbage with inflated advances. Throw out the middle management and sons and daughters of wealthy chums who work as interns and start employing people with a good balance of life experience and literary expertise.

The second relevant comment was written by manyeyedhydra and begins with an excellent question. Her answer, in fact, was the central guiding principle in a publishing entity I ventured into a few years ago:

What is a publisher’s chief asset – it’s their writers.  A writer no longer needs a publisher, but publishers cannot exist without writers. Publishers need to brand this thought right down into their DNA. The world has changed. They need to think about what they can offer writers that is better than the writer going it alone. They need to unearth the best writers and provide the necessary polish to make their works considerably better than their peers. . . . They need to be the ones putting these writers forward right at the start and getting it right.

I couldn’t have said it better myself; so, I won’t!  Take a look at the article and its comments and let me know what strikes  you  as important . . .

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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