Friday, February 26, 2010

The Misplaced Horse, by Connie Downes

Connie Downes was my 'almost' older sister, she was a fixture of my childhood – even though she wasn't a blood relation. So, it is with great pleasure that I picked up this book.

"The Misplaced Horse" is a well-written mystery about the world of horse shows. A woman buys a horse at a show, but doesn't have room for him in her trailer – so she arranges to have the horse transported to a different horse show a few weeks later. But the horse doesn't arrive, so the mystery begins.

There is a lot of back story to this book. On the show circuit horses are bought and sold – a lot. They are swapped, sent to trainers, leased, borrowed, traded and shown by an army of people whose names rarely make it to any horse fancier magazine. This army is divided by breed, within the breed by use – therefore it is no surprise to one in the 'know' that someone would ask a stranger "Hey, can you help me transport this horse from point A to point B?"

What amazes me is that 99% of the time – the horse arrives safely. This story is about one horse that went astray.

Connie was a long time trainer and her horses carried many kids to show after show – consistent performers in a very risky business. I have two of her horses in my barn – my beloved old mare was a drop out – a bucker in a barn full of kid-safe horses. My old black gelding was her prize, until infirmities made him retire – when I fell in love with him Connie was generous enough to give him up. He is my rock – steady and faultlessly trained though arthritis has made him stiff and a bit cranky. Connie gave us his papers as a wedding present.

Connie died February 15th this year, so there won't be any more novels. But, I will always remember her.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Update on Injury

Hanging in there. Can't write - the laptop is too heavy and sitting up is misery.

However, thanks to Husband, Sister, Parents and Friends everything is going well. Will be back on track in another week or so.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Injured Again

Everything has come to a halt - I'm injured again.

A slip has pinched a nerve in my hip - now I'm down for the count. Don't know how I'm going to get anything done - can't stand, can't walk, can't carry anything.

Hopefully, I'll be back on the job in a week or so.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Authonomy Answers


A number of people have been expressing their concern about the levels of negativity on Authonomy of late. (My two cents worth is posted here.) The community is awash with personalities that conflict and the race for the Editor's Desk takes a toll on the sanity of those with books in range. People are getting discouraged by all the chaos.

However, I found (and lifted word for word) this open letter to the Powers-that-be and a very gratifying reply:

Keefie Boy: There is so much negativity in the forum these days. And with good reason. The system is broken. We have people offering guaranteed backing in return for a backing. We even have people with sock puppets offering 2 for 1. In what way, do you suppose, does this 'flush out the brightest, freshest new writing talent around'?

No, you're right, it doesn't. It flushes out the sneakiest, most amoral people on the site. Maybe you (Authonomy), don't see that as a problem. You published Sarah Palin, so it wouldn't surprise me.

Us boring, normal(ish) people are getting seriously fed up with the fun and games, though. (Okay, I shouldn't presume to speak for the majority (see what a reasonable guy I am?), but I don't think many people will argue with what I'm saying). There's a gazillion threads on here containing proposals on how to fix the voting system. I'd be very interested to see an answer, one way or the other. Is Authonomy happy with the way things are, or are there going to be changes?

The Site Admin answers:

We hear you, and the countless voices that have raised this issue in the past. We are not unsympathetic to the view that the system has its shortcomings, but it is worth pointing out the simple fact that this website has allowed HarperCollins to acquire more titles than any other unsolicited submission system (more announcements soon). It is considered a great success. Other publishers and agents have also picked up authors from the site. All round, that is good for new authors, good for readers, good for publishers and good for the future of authonomy.

But as you know from your long tenure here, we are not averse to change. We have modified the algorithms of the site in the past and will do so in the future, as required. However given the rapid and ongoing growth of authonomy, the implications of any changes are now far more difficult to predict. We have to consider the likely impact in a holistic way, not just with respect to the efficacy of the Editor's Desk. We think about this a great deal and will not be hasty.

authonomy was founded on the principle of giving over control to writers and readers, (albeit in a small way, so far) – the clue is in the name after all – but with this comes a degree of individual responsibility. The general criticisms made of authonomy, editors and other industry gatekeepers is a diversion from the reality that the outcome of the authonomy charts is determined solely by the authonomy users. As a wonderful community full of individuals able to think and express yourselves, to inform, amuse, rant, persuade and cajole, you already have everything at your disposal. This is not an argument against us attempting to improve the site – we will be – but the true responsibility for the success (or failure) of this site will always rest with you all.

We'll gladly accept the accusation of idealism, but ask yourselves, do you really want more rules, more hurdles, more gatekeepers?

Clive


When I put my Tech-hat on I see the point – changing the algorithms of the site at this point could set off rippling aftershocks that make the Starcraft invasion look like a mere traffic issue.

Litopia – another writer's colony – still isn't completely running after a major software update. While the colony appears intact – the 'daily' podcast hasn't happened in over a month. If that doesn't mean serious software issues, I'll eat my laptop.

BTW – did you see that beautiful bold text? It is considered a great success. TaDa – we have arrived at a wonderful (if frightening) conclusion – the system works better than anything they tried in the past. Authonomy has justified itself with just a scant handful of titles.

Hmmm.

Think about it, more titles than ANY previous system; say a dozen "full reads" in a year and a half, minus the ones that got away? This evokes an image of the 'slush pile' a ten-foot high room stuffed to the rafters – with 'Harry Potter,' 'Twilight' AND 'Jurassic Park' (maybe even 'Gone with the Wind') somewhere inside – unread.

Rumor has it, that Authonomy has become Harper Collins' private fish tank – the employees drop into the forums. I'm sure that the water-cooler topics include the latest spats. Since I'm riveted to the site – I'm sure that other's are as well. Facebook doesn't have this kind of entertainment value – a cross between 'Survivor' and 'Idol' with 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest' thrown in for spice.

"A great success…" in spite of the flame wars – the whining – the sock-puppets (my biggest complaint is the sock-puppets) and the cast of characters – just goes to show how poorly the old system worked. So the experiment continues –we stumble blindly into the future of publishing.

Authonomy is not the only site of its kind. There are many others, I find them all the time. It is the one where I spend the most time, a little guppy in the big fish tank of publishing.

I'm never going to get any work done at this rate. (G)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowy morning in Kentucky

The sky is falling - white on white on white.
The horses leave tracks in the fresh fallen sky,
The cats sit in the tack room window, distaining to hunt
The chickens peek out the door and elect to remain in.

But I am the one who slogs the snow -
checking water and feed.
But the fire awaits, with it's warm hearth.
The croft is peaceful
while the sky falls.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Milestone!

Yes! After months of editing and writing, and more of the same - "Swallow the Moon" broke 50,000 words! (Happy Dance!) I was starting to think that I'd never get to this point. Every time I got close I ended up cutting a different scene.

How I envy the writers who can churn out 120k words in a first draft! This is my third draft, and I'm still laboring to get to the next goal - 60k. If this book makes it to 80k I'll be surprised. "Lunch" hit 85k, or so, but each pass trimmed more until it sits at a mere 74k.

Back to work!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Agent Debate - Revisited

Last year, in April, there was a series of rumblings on the interwebs concerning the relationship between writers, agents and publishers.

The first was a snark-fest called '#QueryFail' where the slush-pile bees sharpened their stingers to nail every hapless wannabe writer who sent in a query. The Swivet seems to be the source of the idea – and a quick check of the blog shows there are still posts up.

The actual twitter links are no longer active. Some intelligent soul has yanked them. (Bravo!) Google it however there are blog entries aplenty about it.

I'm going to quote this from Romancing the Blog:

"There were mixed feelings about the stream. While some people found a lot of value in Queryfail: "maley43055: @rebeccacoffey: People really say and write these things? I love this and it is helpful of what never to do!" and though it wasn't meant to mock anyone, it did. You can say you didn't mean to hurt someone, but that doesn't change the fact that if you hurt them, you hurt them. Mockery may not have been the intent, but mockery was the result. Many people felt that when you send a query that is declared bad, it opens you up for such criticism and you have no business trying to break into the publishing world."

From there it got more interesting. Mary W. Walters – a literary writer who I respect deeply – posted a blog challenging the agent's role as gatekeeper to the publishing house editors.

The result?

Her blog The Militant Writer was awash in flames. The post got thousands of hits and hundreds of comments ranging from supportive to blistering, mostly blistering. (There are currently 22k hits on her blog.) In an open letter to Editors, she has this to say:

"The substantial and nearly unassailable wall that separates you (Publishing house editors) from us (writers) has been under construction for decades. You can find the names of its architects and gatekeepers on your telephone-callers list, and in your email in-box. They are the literary agents—that league of intellectual-property purveyors who bring you every new manuscript you ever see. Those men and women who are so anxious to gain access to the caverns of treasure they believe you sit upon like some great golden goose that they would likely hack one another's heads off were they not united by one self-serving mission: to ensure that quality fiction never hits your desk."

Her efforts to be heard were in vain – one small press publisher replied to her, but to my knowledge, no other publishers did. There were a couple of agents who replied to her posts. Most of the replies came from other writers – a host of wannabe writers who appeared to be incensed that she challenged status quo.

There was so much snark and flaming that, at the time, I thought that the point was made – agents ruled. Writers are at the bottom of the food chain – they needed to suck it up. My interest in creating a self-publishing platform was born. I didn't want to give my money to "those trolls."

Then I found this little gem from Dean Wesley Smith – a writer with over 90 books to his credit. His essays on "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" and the long, interesting and instructive comments have shifted my personal paradigm once again.

"The myths that surround agents are killing a lot of writer's careers these days. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't hear stories from at least one writer about how an agent hurt them. Often more than one. The myth that you need an agent to sell a book is an ugly one, the myth that writers work for agents instead of the other way around is really causing problems among younger writers. I have not had a lunch or dinner or meeting with other professional writers in the last few years that hasn't included agent horror stories."

In addition, he is very, very clear that the AGENT works for the WRITER – not the other way around. He says the writer knows the markets much better than the agent. Sell the manuscript yourself – then contact an agent – they are supposed to negotiate the deal. Another frequent commenter doesn't use agents (too many bad experiences) she hires a lawyer, paid by the hour, and saves herself 15%.

Who is this guy? He's writer of popular fiction – one that writes under a myriad of names, in many different genre. The point is not what he writes – but how long he's been in the business, and the fact that he offers hope. Not the 'Santa Clause' type of hope – but the 'get out there and work your ass off' kind that I can relate to.

This is why I believe he's telling the truth:

  1. Most agents want to know to whom your work can be compared.
  2. Most agents want to know what your marketing plan for the book is – before they even look at it.
  3. Most agents are interested in your qualifications to write the book.
  4. There is no certification or qualification to be an agent. Buy some stationary and put your name on it, put up a webpage, and if you want to be a superstar – blog about yourself.
  5. An agent is looking for reasons to reject the work – up front – because they have a huge slush pile. This leads to inexcusable behavior like #queryfail.
I'm going to stand in line to buy "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" when it comes out.

Now to delete that list of potential agents, I'm not going to waste my time.