Showing posts with label amwriting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label amwriting. Show all posts

13 February 2018

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

by Paul D. Marks

This is going to be a rather morbid post, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for some time. It also might be a little bit unfocused as there’s so many things going round my head on this subject, but I think the main points will come across.

Lately, I’ve been noticing on Facebook a lot of people being sick to one degree or another and even some who’ve passed on. This has been happening since I joined FB but it seems like there’s more lately and that it’s happening more frequently. As I was thinking about this, I’ve also seen posts from other people who’ve noticed the same thing. Maybe it’s because we have more FB friends, maybe it’s because that’s just life or people are getting older? Either way, every time I see these messages—and even the ones about people’s pets—I get a pang of sadness. On the one hand, it’s part of life, still, on the other it hurts to see so many people going gently—or otherwise—into that good night.

It gives me pause. Maybe because my world is so much bigger, in some ways, thanks to FB. Therefore, I see more of this than I would in pre-FB days. I’ve had friends and relatives die since I was a little kid, of course. Some well before their time, either because of “natural” causes or war or in the case of my birth father, from being hit by a drunk driver. Somehow he made it through World War II, but not the mean streets of L.A.

So I wanted to talk a little about writers and recognition, both in our lifetimes and beyond: mortality and immortality. It’s an uncomfortable subject, maybe one of those that we don’t like to talk about in “polite” company, but maybe one that we think about on occasion.

We write for various reasons. To get our point of view out there, to entertain, to get fame and recognition, maybe even a little money...very little money 😉. And it might seem vain, but I think we also write because many of us would like that little chunk of immortality that leaving behind our words gives us. We want to think that in a hundred years or a thousand someone searching some “dusty” silicon chips (or whatever the current medium is) for a bit of nostalgia or a glimpse of how the world used to be might stumble upon our words. And just for that little moment in time we might live again. Of course, we also want to be recognized while we’re here—wouldn’t that be nice?

Some people say that writing in itself is its own reward—maybe, or to an extent. But, speaking for myself, while I enjoy the writing, creating stories, characters, settings, plots and putting it all together like a jigsaw puzzle, if no one else read it it would be like the sound of that famous tree falling in the forest—with no one there to hear it. So, aren’t we really writing for others—whether today or for posterity? Otherwise why share our work with anyone else? Writing for yourself is like eating a pizza by yourself (or watching a movie, playing cards or a game), it’s definitely enjoyable, but it’s often more fun to do with someone else. And if we’re writing for others our work can live on even if we can’t.

In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare, whoever he was in reality, said…

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

…referring to his poem living on, making him immortal.



Does everyone think or hope they’ll be the next Jane Austen or Charles Dickens—or even Dan Brown? Did any of these people think they’d be remembered a hundred or more years later—maybe, or maybe not. They, probably like a lot of writers, just felt compelled to write—but maybe with one eye toward some type of immortality. For some of us, writing is like breathing. But are we really writing for a tiny audience of our wives, husbands and mothers? I don’t think so.

Jane Austen

Most people want to leave a mark—hopefully for something good or at worst neutral, though some prefer being known for their evil deeds (which gives us fodder to write about). Nobody wants to be ignored or forgotten. To some that means leaving children to carry on the family legacy and name, to others curing cancer, and yet to others leaving a piece of writing that will endure. But after a generation or two even our great grandchildren don’t really know us either, but our readers do.

If we don’t care about these things, both being known in our lifetimes and beyond, why do we get upset when our work is rejected, when we can’t get agents, etc.? Sure, part of it is ego, no one likes being rejected. But maybe part of it is also losing another shot at a little piece of immortality. 

At some points in our lives, particularly when we’re younger, I think we don’t see the possibility of not being here anymore. We know it happens intellectually, but we don’t like to think about it. Which brings to mind these lines from Flowers Never Bend in the Rainfall, by Paul Simon:

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend with the rainfall.

And that also brings me to one of my favorite songs about mortality:

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone
And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone
And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here



So, do it while you’re here, do it now and don’t put it off ’cause you never know what will happen. And hopefully it will last. And, like Dylan Thomas said, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

***

And now for a little BSP that will hopefully help me on the road to immortality: Mind Blowing News: My story “Windward” from Coast to Coast: Privates Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer and Me, published by Down & Out Books) has been selected for the 2018 Best American Mystery Stories edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler. It will be out in the fall. To say I’m blown away is an understatement. Also selected for Best American Mysteries from this collection is John Floyd’s “Gun Work,” and Art Taylor’s “A Necessary Ingredient” has been nominated for an Agatha. Not a bad batting average for one book 😁.

And a shoutout to SleuthSayers Michael Bracken and David Edgerly Gates, who also have stories in the Best American Mysteries, and Barb Goffman on her Agatha Nom. SleuthSayers is cleaning up!

https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/blogs/news/best-american-mystery-stories-2018 


Also, my Shamus-winning novel, White Heat, is being reissued in May by Down and Out Books. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon. Here is the new cover reveal:

 

Also, there’s a fun and interesting article on Alfred Hitchcock in the Washington Post (and other places) from Associated Press writer Hillel Italie: Alfred Hitchcock Remains an Influence on Crime Writers. It includes quotes from Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mike Mallory, SJ Rozan, A.J. Finn, Otto Penzler.......and even me! Enjoy!

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02 January 2018

Writer’s Resolutions 2018 – Fragile: Do Not Break

by Paul D. Marks

Well, since it’s the day after the New Year, I thought I’d come up with some writer’s resolutions. Not that I feel I need any as I’m so perfect – just ask my wife. But what the hell?


My prose will not be written in passive voice. I will not be plagued by this bad writing habit. This is one resolution that will definitely be kept.

And I’ll try to use “but” and “and” and “just” just a little bit less. But I like using them and they make me feel like the narrator is a real person talking like a real person does. Really.

Take criticism better: My wife, Amy, is my number one beta reader. And she’s a damn good critic and editor, but sometimes I just don’t like hearing what she has to say. Not that she’s wrong, just that she likes to make more work for me. I like to think everything I write is straight from the muse to the page. But she feels like she has to get between the muse and me. Most of the time, about 2/3 to 3/4, I take her advice, grumbling all the way. But in the end, I think the work is better for it.

Try not to be jealous of others’ successes: I’m always happy to see other people have success, but there’s always that tinge of envy. So I’ll try to squash the tinge and complain less. As others have pointed out, there’s always someone looking at you (me) wishing they had what I had. But I guess that’s the human condition.

Get up from the desk more often: Amy gave me a Fitbit, and it’s pretty-pretty cool. It buzzes to yell at me and tells me to get up and walk around, which I do just so it will stop shouting at me. And I do walk the dogs and other things, but sometimes when you’re in the zone you just want to keep writing. But it bugs me to get off my ass and walk around…so I do. Just to shut it up.


Do less Facebooking: Oh, yeah, that’s gonna happen. FB is my watercooler. Since I work at home and we live in the middle of nowhere (not quite as nowhere as the abandoned missile silo that I tried to talk Amy into, but that’s another story) it’s good to have a place to connect with people. It gives me a place to see what others are up to and thinking. Chat and feel like I have friends. Well, I could stand less posts about politics and more cute cat videos.

Stop calling surfing the net research: I love surfing the net. I love doing research. Sometimes when I’m surfing the net, looking up Indian head test patterns and how to murder someone and get away with it, I can talk myself into thinking I’m doing research. Or like when I was writing my 1940s homefront mystery and I spent hours just looking up big band leaders and listening to their songs on YouTube. Y’know, research, even though I only needed one song and already had picked one.

Spend less time on e-mails: I do tend to spend a lot of time on e-mails, reading them, responding to them, crafting them. It’s kind of like the Facebook thing, keeps me in touch with the outside world. Our phone hardly rings anymore. Uh, Take 2: Our phone rings many times a day…but it’s almost never from people we know. One telemarketer after another. So we don’t even bother to answer anymore, but we do feel we should keep the landline. Mostly I connect with people via e-mail or another type of electronic communication. But I’m not big on texting…yet. Still, every once in a while it’s nice to actually hear someone’s voice. But not too often!

Get back to the novel that’s been dangling for a couple of years now…and rewriting the first novel that was accepted by a publisher: I have a novel that I like quite a bit that’s about half-finished but for various reasons has been languishing. And I really want to get back to it, but something always seems to come up that takes priority. And I also want to rework somewhat the first novel that a publisher picked up. I may have mentioned this before, but the first novel I completed was accepted for publication at a major house. It was a satire on a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. Eventually, the whole editorial staff at that publisher was swept out and, as a new broom sweeps clean, my book was swept out with them. And since the humor was topical it was pretty dated even after only a couple of years so it couldn’t really go to another publisher. The lesson: don’t write things that are so topical that their shelf life is shorter than yogurt left on the counter on a steaming, hot day. Remember what George S. Kaufman said, satire is what closes Saturday night. Story of my life. But I’ve learned a lesson – No Topical Humor.


Be kind to the computer: Like Amy says there are no dumb computers, only dumb humans. But I beg to differ. It’s usually the computer that makes the mistake – not me…

Write 10000 5000 2000 100 words a day. This one’s self-explanatory.

Well, there you have it. Gotta run, gotta hit Facebook. Gotta start breaking those resolutions. It wouldn’t do to have any of them unbroken after the third of January, would it?

What are your resolutions? And which ones do you plan to break first?


Happy New Year to Everyone! Now get busy breaking those resolutions.



***

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com



05 February 2016

Confessions

by Art Taylor

The landmark anthology Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories includes Lucas Cooper's extraordinary "Class Notes," a piece of flash fiction which originally appeared in 1984 in the North American Review. As the title suggests, the story is presented as one of those class updates that you find in the back of college alumni magazines, and it all begins in just that tone of chatty news: "Ted Mecham may be the first member of the class of ’66 to retire." But these particular class notes quickly take some unexpected turns: "Richard Endergel phoned a few weeks ago from Houston, under arrest for possession of cocaine" is one tidbit, for example, and further along, "Violence is no stranger to Bill Nast. His wife turned up in terrible shape at Detroit General Hospital two months ago, the victim of Bill's hot temper," and then further along, "Sue Zimmerman was a 1978 Penthouse Pet." While many of the items indulge some dark sensationalism, toward the story's end the briefs begin to linger over quieter, more private moments, glimpses into troubled inner lives: "Frederick Mandell weeps uncontrollably in his crowded apartment in Miami Beach. Joel Reede lives in self-destructive anger in Rye, New York.... Odell Masters cries out in his dreams for love of his wife and children."

On the one hand, the story can be read as a playful poke at the relentless pride and hearty optimism of class notes as a genre—and I've seen similar things done with the genre of the annual Christmas letter. But on the other hand, the story strikes me as much deeper and with a rich awareness of the human condition. To my mind, the effect is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

I thought about this story in the wake of a couple of recent events—the first of them a Facebook status update in which a friend discussed her awareness of "the curated nature of our Facebook posts," followed by an admission that some aspects of her life were, right then, pretty crappy.

It's likely not a surprise to anyone who's social-media literate that what people post on Facebook or elsewhere is at best just a glimpse—and likely a "curated" glimpse, to use my friend's word—into a much more complex life. The genre of the Facebook post may, to some degree, demand something performative of us—and it's easy for FB posters simply foreground the good news and bury the bad. (I recognize that exact opposite may also be true for other Facebook users—a type of Eeyore-ness about those online lives.) From the side of the reader scrolling through updates about selfless spouses, brilliant careers, and exotic vacations, the response might be anything from irritation at how one's fellow friends and acquaintances cross the line between "sharing" and "boasting" (see this letter in the Miss Manners column) to actual depression about how their own real lives compare to their friends' and colleagues' online ones (see this from the Harvard Business Review and this from a University of Missouri study). Facebook doesn't cause depression, no, but there's a pretty definite link between the two, via "social comparison," according to the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (cited here in Forbes). And going back to the class notes situation above, I'll admit to catching myself at times browsing through my own college alumni magazine and wondering, "How do I compare to...?" and "Why haven't I...?" and "Oh, I wish...."

The second incident that had me thinking about "Class Notes" was the announcement, earlier this week, of this year's finalists for the Agatha Awards, a time of great celebration in the mystery world and, as it turns out, right here in our immediate SleuthSayers family. It was such a thrill to see my fellow  bloggers Barb Goffman and B.K. Stevens represented on the slate: Barb for her short story "A Year Without Santa Claus?" in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Bonnie in two categories, with the short story "A Joy Forever," also from Alfred Hitchcock, and with her YA novel Fighting Chance: A Martial Arts Mystery. I was pleased to be among the finalists myself with my first book, On the Road with Del & Louise, as a contender in the Best First Novel category. As you can imagine and some may have seen firsthand, Facebook and Twitter and various other virtual communities were abuzz with the news, with announcements and congratulations and conversations—and I'll add a congratulations again to the finalists not only here in our SleuthSayers family but across the board!

Though I was grateful, of course—immensely grateful—both for the honor of having been named a finalist and for all the goodwill coming my own way, in the midst of it all I couldn't help but feel slightly self-conscious about the attention and undeserving in several ways, couldn't help but wonder at what point these types of posts risk crossing the line between "sharing" and "boasting" (to borrow that phrase from the Miss Manners letter) and, more to the point, I found myself fretting about the "curated nature" of the whole thing—though I was heartened immensely by a posting Barb Goffman herself made, which she's given me permission to reproduce here:

We writers often toil alone, wondering if what we write is any good, if anyone will read it, let alone like it. So receiving validation through an award nomination means the world. Thanks to everyone I've heard from today about my nomination for an Agatha Award in the short story category for my story "A Year Without Santa Claus?" Thanks to everyone who listed my story on your nomination ballot. Congratulations to all the finalists, especially my fellow finalists in the short-story category, Edith Maxwell, Terrie Moran, Harriette Wasserman Sackler, and B.K. Stevens. And I want to give a shout-out, too, to all the authors who had wonderful books and stories published this year whose names don't appear on the Agatha shortlist—being published is no small thing and is to be celebrated as well.

I couldn't agree more with Barb's comments—which speak of the best aspects of the mystery community in general: thoughtfulness, generosity and inclusiveness, with celebrations and recognition for us all. Those opening comments struck home, about writers wondering if what we write is good, if anyone will read it, if anyone will like it. And echoing that closing shout-out to other authors: Having twice judged the Edgar Awards, I know all too well how many fine books and stories are published each year, how few get to step into the spotlight, and how many others were equally deserving of that spotlight.

I've been about as fortunate as any writer could ask to be—something that I recognize and am grateful for every day—and I use that word fortunate specifically, with its echo of luck, a huge factor always. And I feel thrilled and humbled by the new honor this week and by the support I've received from fellow writers and readers. But in the spirit of how I've titled this blog, "Confessions," I want to admit that even as the celebrations were unfolding on social media and email, I confessed to a friend that the news came at a time when I've been struggling mightily with my writing for a variety of reasons—not just with finding time to write (always an issue) but with lack of direction, lack of confidence, poor productivity, and more.

These are things that I don't post on Facebook: anxiety, self-doubt, a recurrent fear of failure, and then real failures—the stories languishing on my computer because of rejection after rejection.

I recognize the potential dangers in admitting this—the danger that it might come across as whining from someone who really, truly has nothing to whine about. I've said before and I'll say again (and again) that I am blessed in many ways and couldn't/shouldn't ever ask for anything better. My point is never, not intentionally, to take on a woe-is-me attitude amidst an overabundance of riches.

But I do think it's important to pull back the curtain a little to reveal how much all of us may struggle, at whatever stage of our careers, at whatever level of success or seeming success. As Barb pointed out, we writers "toil alone"—a level of interiority is indeed central to our craft—and in the midst of that interiority, in that aloneness, sometimes as that aloneness verges into loneliness, it might prove seductive to wonder why the progress or the success that comes so easily to others is so difficult coming to us.

The friend I wrote to, confessing my own struggles, wrote back that she too has had a rough patch lately—over several years—a fine writer and former Agatha finalist herself. And then another writer I mentioned this to, a writer I've always perceived as immensely productive and invariably successful, admitted that she hadn't written anything in months, admitted to her frustrations about that and to the fear that there might simply not be any next plot coming. Other writers I know, some with long and acclaimed publishing success, have no trouble with craft but are struggling with sales and contracts and the various shifts in the publishing world. Closer to home: My wife, Tara Laskowski, has a book coming out in the spring and just earned some advance praise from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist—but in the midst of celebrating that boost, she's also been uneasy about troubles with her next project, the daunting task ahead of her, the fear that she's simply not writer enough to ever bring it off. (She is, I know she is, but right now she doesn't believe she is, and that's the point.)

Not all writers are like this, I recognize. Maybe I'm just the fretful sort, I tell myself, because I see those other writers who seem to know where they're going and get there without fail and make it seem so easy and.... But then that's just proving the point too. Not all writers are fretful, no, but at least based on my small anecdotal evidence, my small corner of the writing world, many of us likely are, perhaps more this way than the other—even those who don't look it on the outside...or on whatever social media platform they spend most of their time on.

As I've been working on this post, I've kept thinking that I need to find some way to bring it to a rousing close—some moral or message. Keep on writing! Everyone struggles, but the struggles will pay off! Or simply: You're not alone in the world! But ultimately too much of that seems pat and simplistic and maybe even condescending. It's also (updating this post here) unrealistic and maybe even empty; as one writer commented to me offline after this post went live, there are writers for whom the hard work might not pay off—writers who might ultimately give up because they haven't found that success or even publication. This happens, far more often than it should.

So maybe what I'm aiming for is something closer to the "Class Notes" story that I opened with and the comments on the "curated nature" of Facebook posts, the idea that what's flattened out in those respective genres may ultimately mask something more complex and more human in real life, part of some deeper struggles that we all sometimes experience, whoever or wherever we are.

In any case, I hope some of it might be not unuseful—and to bring all this from some over-lofty armchair philosophizing back to more practical matters, how about a question or two for the writers among us: Do you ever feel similar worries or crises? And if so, how do you deal with them?

Share if you can. We're all in this together, after all.

07 July 2015

Suspense the Hard Way: Writing Suspense Stories When You Already Know the Outcome

by Paul D. Marks

In early June, I attended the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City in the LA area. I was on a panel called Thrills and Chills. The panel’s topic was suspense, how to create it, sustain it, etc. Many good points were made by my fellow panelists, D.P. Lyle, Craig Faustus Buck, Laurie Stevens, Diana Gould, moderator, and I hope by me too. Being on that panel got me thinking about what defines suspense? Is it a cliffhanger? A surprise ending? A reversal? A twist? All of which is part of it. Or is there something else? But I’ll leave the micro mechanics of suspense writing for another time. What I want to talk about here is a certain type of suspense/thriller that’s based on real events and/or people.

Thrills and Chills Panel CCWC  -- 6-2015 -- d3

When one’s writing a fictional story with fictional characters it’s one thing. It’s another thing completely when you’re writing a story based on a real character or characters and situations, because, if the reader is halfway literate (which is getting more and more iffy all the time), they will know the outcome of the story before they read the first word.

Some cases in point:

jackal 1aMy favorite example of this is The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. The book came out in 1971, about a year after Charles de Gaulle died. It’s a suspense-thriller about an attempt to assassinate de Gaulle in the early 1960s. I remember reading the book when it came out, turning page after page. Sneaking a read here and there because it kept me so engrossed. And I knew how it would end. At least I knew de Gaulle would not be assassinated, because I knew that in real life he wasn’t murdered. So the incredible thing about that book for me is how the author kept me, and others, interested when we knew the outcome. An amazing feat. And how he had us rooting for the Jackal to succeed, even though we knew he wouldn’t, and even if in real life we wouldn’t have wanted that.

In The Eagle Has Landed, Jack Higgins’ thriller, Nazi commandos allied with Irish revolutionaries attempt to kidnap British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II. Complications ensue. But once again, we know the outcome in real life: Churchill was never kidnapped. Still, Higgins manages to keep our attention and keep us guessing—will they succeed? Or is this an alternate history with a totally different outcome from what really happened?

And my wife and I just recently watched Bugsy again, the Warren Beatty movie about the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel. Again we knew the ending. We knew he got murdered, we knew pretty much the how and why, at least according to the movie. Yet still we were glued to the screen. (And as a side note, I grew up across the street from Bugsy’s brother, a doctor—and his family—who Bugsy put through medical school.)

A couple other movies that come to mind are an oldie but goodie, Manhunt, with Walter Pigeon, and Valkyrie-2008-BluRay-postera newer flick, Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. Both are about plots to assassinate Hitler, and if anyone deserved it, well..., but I digress. Manhunt is a fictional story, to my knowledge, and, as it was made in 1941, World War II was still going strong. So who knew at that time, maybe a plot to kill Hitler was going to happen? But the fact is the story is fiction, and Hitler was still alive and kickin’ when the movie came out. So people watching it then knew the ending wasn’t going to work out, at least not when the movie was released. But somehow the suspense worked and you are sucked into believing it. Valkyrie, based on a true story, came out in 2008, so everybody knew, well almost everybody, well maybe nearly almost everybody, well maybe a handful of people knew, that Hitler hadn’t actually been assassinated. But again the story was like a roller coaster ride at Magic Mountain. You were still rooting for the conspirators to kill Hitler and to get away with their lives even when you knew they wouldn’t. There’s also Argo, with Ben Affleck, and we knew the outcome there too, but were still on the edge of our seats, waiting to see if that group of people would get out of Iran alive.

So how do these authors and filmmakers keep us interested and involved when we already know the outcome?
Alfred-Hitchcock-227x300
“There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise,’ and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.
We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’
In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”
From: Hitchcock
By Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock

The suspense comes from empathizing with the characters, wanting them to get away or even succeed, even if you know they can’t/won’t and even if they’re anti-heroes or badguys. You want them to come out of it alive. Since you know from the get-go that the mission fails, you have a sense of suspense in hoping the character won’t be injured and will get away in the end. We’re also interested in the how of it—the how-dun-it? How do they plan to achieve their aim of killing de Gaulle or Hitler or kidnapping Churchill?
Also, like the ticking bomb in Hitchcock’s example of suspense (see sidebar), the reader knows they’re going to fail so you’re watching them run towards the “ticking timebomb,” hoping they’ll escape before it’s too late. But with Day of the Jackal, also what makes the reader want the killer to succeed? Isn’t he a “bad guy”. Why don’t you want the other characters to succeed in catching him?

So how does a writer achieve this? A full answer would probably take a book, but briefly: Initially you might not be rooting for the anti-hero. But as the author introduces you to the character and his/her goal you might start identifying with them and their mission. And even though you know their mission is a bad one, like kidnapping Churchill that might have changed the outcome of the war, you still feel a sense of suspense in wanting them to either get caught or succeed. It’s not because you identify with the Nazis per se, but you identify with these individuals and their efforts to achieve their goal or you’re hoping like hell that they won’t. And just like with any other character, the author puts them in jeopardy and puts obstacles in their way so the reader wonders whether or not they’ll get out of it. Also, sometimes villains can be charming or tough or cool. We admire their skill and caginess and we want to live vicariously through them and their adventures.

Sometimes the outcome isn’t the most important part of a story. It’s the ride getting there. So, while a spectacular ending may be good in some books, for some it is more important to build great characters and suspense and not rely on a surprise ending to leave the reader with a good feeling. In a way you have to work harder on the meat of the story when readers already know the outcome, but it is one way you can really distinguish a writer who is a master of suspense—when they can still build suspense with a known outcome.

So sometimes suspense isn’t just about the surprise ending or the unexpected, sometimes it’s about knowing what’s going to happen but wanting something different to happen and how that in itself can create tension, suspense and a great ride along the way.

***

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26 May 2015

Turnabout is Fair Play

By Paul D. Marks

Okay, time for me to piss everyone off. Well, at least some agents and editors I’m sure.
I want to air some pet peeves about the above-named people. They have their peeves about us, so turnabout is fair play, right? They think it’s a crime if we don’t follow their guidelines—and everyone has a different set of guidelines. And I think it’s a crime that there’s no set standard so that we’re constantly scrambling to change our manuscripts every time we submit to a different person.

Peeve #1: No simultaneous submissions. Sure, I’ll send you my story or novel and I’ll just sit around for the next year and a half waiting to hear back from you....if I hear back from you at all. And lately, a lot of agents and editors are saying something to the effect of “if you don’t hear back from us within six weeks that means we’re not interested.” Nice. Whatever happened to manners—yeah, I know. But how hard is it to send a form e-mail saying thanks but no thanks. And if we never hear from them how do we know they got the story, especially if it was sent over the net. And then they put the fear of God into you if you dare follow up or contact them again. I think authors should rebel against the no simultaneous submissions policy and just submit everywhere you can. Then what? You go on some agent/editor blacklist that says “don’t accept anything so and so sends.” But what’s the alternative? Sit around and wait and grow old.


Peeve #2: Every editor or agent seems to want a different thing. The first 50 pages or the first three chapters. Some want a one page synopsis, some 2 pages. Another wants no more than one paragraph. Others want detailed outlines, another a summary. I don’t know about you but I get sick and tired of having to reinvent the wheel every time I submit something to someone. I understand they need guidelines, but do they realize how difficult they make it for us when there’s no set standard? So what if you send a 3 page synopsis instead of two pager? Or 2½ pages? You’re a malcontent. A subversive. It’s time for the balance of power to shift. Our time is valuable too. How about an industry-wide standard, so we don’t have to start over every time?

Peeve #3: They all have things that turn them off before you even get off the ground. There was a producer once who said if you submit a script with ellipses in it he would automatically reject it. Why? Did that make it a bad story? If a writer submitting to him, on their own or through their agent, would have taken out all the ellipses would that have made it a better story? Some agents or editors don’t like prologues. Well, what if there is a need for a prologue? Coming from a film writing background I understand the need to get into a story quickly. But one of the joys of books is that you can—or used to be able to—take a little longer to get off the ground. And sometimes a prologue is necessary. But I do know about cutting to the chase. In my rewriting gig I once chopped off all of Act I of a script and started on Act II, using just a few tidbits from the first act, inserting them where I could. I understand when the prologue is used for exposition and only exposition that’s not a good idea, but sometimes that’s what works for that particular project.

  Ricky_Nelson_free
Peeve #4: Everyone has a different opinion, so when you get notes from someone, but without a commitment, should you rewrite your manuscript every time? What if they still don’t like it? Or the next person who reads it doesn’t like the things you just changed for the last person? Write your story not theirs. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be open to criticism, but only if you agree it’s valid. I once optioned a script to a producer. He loved the dialogue. It was the best dialogue he’d ever heard. He gushed on and on about it. He gave it to a director who hated the dialogue. Magically and overnight the producer hated the dialogue. Another script I optioned several times went to an agent, early on, who complained that a scene was set in Union Station in L.A. “Nobody takes trains anymore,” he said. Should I have changed that? Would it have made all the difference and he would take me on? Well, I didn’t and he missed the whole point of why it was set in a train station, which was to contrast the “old” vs. “the” new in the context of a main character stuck in the past in some ways. So if you rewrite for everyone who has an opinion you’ll spend your whole life doing that. You can’t please everyone so please yourself. Like Rick Nelson said in his song “Garden Party,” “It's all right now, yeah, learned my lesson well, You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have guidelines and rules, but they should be consistent and not so rigid that you lose before you even get in the door. Sure, margins should be an inch. Manuscripts should be carefully proofread and edited. But just like everyone one wants one inch margins, they should all be on the same page (pun intended) with other things so we aren’t starting from scratch every time we submit to them.

Whew! Glad I got that off my chest. Let the arrows fly.

***

A little bit of BSP: My short story “Howling at the Moon” from the November, 2014 issue of Ellery Queen has been nominated for an Anthony Award. I’m very grateful to those who voted. And it certainly came as a surprise. Very cool, but very unexpected. If you want to read the story, click here and scroll down to the Short Story section. All of the short story nominees are here: http://bouchercon2015.org/anthony-awards/

Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference

(http://ccwconference.org/ ). June 6th and 7th. I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel, Saturday at 10:30 a.m., along with Laurie Stevens (M), Doug Lyle, Diana Gould and Craig Buck.

And please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my soon-to-be-updated website www.PaulDMarks.com

Subscribe to my Newsletter: http://pauldmarks.com/subscribe-to-my-newsletter/



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