Wednesday, May 26, 2010, 9:40 AM
â€śKeeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells, From the bells, bells, bells.â€ť
â€”Edgar Allen Poe
When did I actually start working on this edit? Depending on the day, and the time of day, and the vagaries of I donâ€™t know what .Â .Â . hormone levels? Sunspots? It seems as though Iâ€™ve been working on it foreverâ€”as though at the moment of my birth, the doctor slapped me on my little pink bottom then sat me down in from of a Word file with Track Changes enabled. Other times it seems as though I just started, and Iâ€™m experiencing every word for the first time.
Iâ€™ve never been one to re-read books. I accidentally read a book by the Dalai Lama one and a half times, having pulled it off my shelf at home forgetting Iâ€™d already read it. From the first page I began to experience this odd sense of dĂ©jĂ vu, as though His Holiness and I were in some kind of psychic sync. The fact that it took me half the book to realize, hey, wait Iâ€™ve read this already, is a condemnation of my memory and attention span more than it is the relative forgetfulness of this wise manâ€™s prose. Eventually I will (intentionally this time) re-read the first three Dune novels then make my way through the rest of the expanded series by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. But then itâ€™s been more than thirty years since I first read Dune, so the experience will surely be at least a little different.
But it my capacity as an editor I read books more than once, even three or four times all the way through. And this isnâ€™t some kind of speed reading exercise, this is slower than my normally slow reading pace, stopping a sentence, even a word at a time to consider each part and how it forms and informs the wholeâ€”and not just the whole book, but the whole Forgotten Realms line.
And that takes time, even if the material you have to start with is as good as what Iâ€™m working on now. In the office, people ask me questions, draw me into discussions and meetings, call and email me. Itâ€™s a busy place, our little corner of the third floor of the Wizards of the Coast offices. But what cubeland lacks in the way of time and quiet for proper concentration, our management makes up for in flexibility. If I need to immerse myself in an edit, I do it at home. The kids are in school. Itâ€™s quiet. There are no meetings. Here, I edit, there I manage. Both are parts of my jobâ€”but today, itâ€™s the edit that wins. All other priorities rescinded. Crew expendable.
So this is me now, working my methodical way through Gauntlgrym, the new Forgotten Realms novel by R.A. Salvatore, which will be in stores this October. Bob Salvatoreâ€™s storytelling is as spot-on in this book as itâ€™s ever been, and Bob is one of the finest natural storytellers Iâ€™ve ever read. The edit on a book like this is easy. I can fix sentence structure, word choice, punctuation .Â .Â . that kind of stuff. But if I have to rewrite your story Iâ€™ve slipped into the role of collaborator, not editor.
Not to say I havenâ€™t done that since I first came to TSR/Wizards of the Coast in September of 1995, but believe me thatâ€™s not â€śstandard operating procedure,â€ť and Iâ€™m delighted to say that Iâ€™ve never placed that heavy a hand on anything from R.A. Salvatore.
Today and tomorrow, I finish up this edit. Iâ€™ll change â€śaboutâ€ť to â€śaround,â€ť and â€śbeforeâ€ť to â€śin front of,â€ť but no scene will be deleted or altered, no character unmanned, no plot reversal reversed. Youâ€™ll read the story R.A. Salvatore told, though maybe in shorter sentences.
I will have done my job.
Friday, May 21, 2010, 12:53 PM
As Iâ€™m sure no one but my coworkers has noticed, I took a two-week hiatus from posting.Â I have no excuse, so wonâ€™t offer any.
I know this is the book club, but I saw Robin Hood last weekend and I wanted to bring a couple of things up.Â I wonâ€™t spoil anything. Whatâ€™s to spoil anyway? That Russell Crowe is on his way to becoming the new Mel Gibson? Is that really a surprise? No, itâ€™s not.Â Weâ€™re just a binge or two away from some bigoted comments and a mug shot on The Smoking Gun. Â As someone who paid to see Apocalypto, I would love to see Crowe as the auteur of some Australian epic about the convict colonization.Â He could slaughter some indigenous peoples before stumbling into the desert for an epiphany. Then he could leadÂ a groupÂ honorable criminals and noble savages in an insurrection against the crown.Â I'd go see that movie.
Anyway, Iâ€™m off topic.Â The first thing that gave me pause in this movie might have been a misunderstanding on my part, but I swear that Cate Balnchettâ€™s character laments the fact that they have no corn to plant.Â Did I really hear them talking about corn? Did anyone else notice this? I donâ€™t know the exact dates, but corn was not introduced to England until the end of the Fifteenth Century, at the earliest.
The second thing I noticed was a blatant misuse of words. When Croweâ€™s character asks for help removing his chainmail, he says there is a clasp at the nape of his neck.Â Blanchetteâ€™s character then proceeds to undo a clasp in the front of his neck.Â The nape is undeniably not the front of the neck.Â I am willing to believe that editing may have removed that part of the scene where she does in fact undo a clasp at the nape of his neck, but Iâ€™m still bothered.Â Mistakes like that tell me that they have no respect for me as an intelligent viewer.
Someone get me a soap box.Â I want to rant.Â Wait, it's Friday and I can leave early... Okay, Ridley Scott, you're off the hook. I already gave you my money anyway.Â I'm out.Â Enjoy yor weekend.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 11:14 AM
Welcome to the last in a series of six interviews with the players in my Monday afternoon Forgotten Realms campaign. Here you will discover all the secrets of a perfectly tuned D&D character, the very depths of the enigmatic lore known only to .Â .Â . oh, wait, thatâ€™s a different article. This one asks inappropriately personal questions that reveal only things that probably shouldnâ€™t be revealed, but might serve as a reminder of how fun this game is!
Tamurra Bitter, tiefling rogue
Phil: Where did the name Tamurra Bitter come from?
Susan:Â Tamurra I stole from Shakespeareâ€™s Tamora, Queen of the Goths, who starred in the play Titus Andronicus, which is, in my opinion, one of his angst-ridden, bloodiest, most disturbing plays. But Tamora is a fascinating character, and one that explores how â€śevilâ€ť may not think of itself as evil.
Bitter came out of a brainstorm session Erin [Evans] and I had about our characters (we play twin tieflings). Tieflings are supposed to have real words for names, but we were raised by dragonborn. So, we decided to keep a real word for the last name. Sometimes they pronounce it as you do the English word, and sometimes they pronounce it â€śbit-uh,â€ť like the German â€śbitte.â€ť In an effort to differentiate (and in the course of sibling rivalry), whichever version one twin uses introducing herself, the other twin uses the other version.
Phil: Why a tiefling?
Susan: I like it when my character has things to hold on to. No, not hornsâ€”and not in that way! But rather, she is guaranteed to have interesting confrontations and exciting experiences based on the fact that she looks like a devil. The story will often come to her, rather than having to work really hard and stretch really far to figure out how to get my character to do something that will make life more interesting for me the player, but a whole lot more difficult for her, the character.
Phil: Why a rogue?
Susan: The short answer is that I love rogues. High mobility, high damage, high utility = lots of fun.
I started playing rogues in 2E because I liked being useful and having lots of options, but I still liked dealing a lot of damage. Iâ€™ve always found that for me, characters are defined by their weaknesses as well as their strengths, so I liked that the comparably low HP and low AC, and the large number of skills and abilities that had situational triggers meant that I had to use tactics in order to be most effective. In 4E, you donâ€™t really need a rogue to open locks or to be sneaky or anything, but the play style remains my favorite. I got to play a rogue in one of the early playtests, and I totally fell in love.
Also, rogues have the most fun. I am legally required to be a smartass and practice mischief. Seriously, itâ€™s in the contract.
Phil: What makes Tamurra uniquely â€śForgotten Realmsâ€ť?
Susan: Where else could you get a tiefling raised by the nonreligious dragonborn of Tymanther, a realm returned to Toril only after the Spellplague?
Phil: Who would have cuter children, Phalar and Squasha, or Red Wolf and Rangrim?
Remember this is a fantasy world.
Susan: For cute children, Tamurra would go with Phalar and Squasha. Weâ€™re talking about a magically gifted, angsty, twiggy kid with exotic coloration who would be a teen heartthrob on the level of Edward Cullen! And then Tamurra could dress him in tie-dye that she picked up from Rangrim and Red Wolf (who are apparently bunking together, recently, apparently. Yeah. Tamurraâ€™s not getting any. Not that sheâ€™s bitter or anything.)
For awesomest children, Tamurra would go with Red Wolf and Rangrim. With their psychedelic, spiritual, athletic, and hairy gifts combined, you would produce the ultimate hippy baby. The world is not ready for Red Grim!
Phil: Phalar, Red Wolf, Rangrim. Marry, date, or dump?
Susan: Phalar has a tendency to run away from me when I need a flank, just because someone else is getting hit on by some monster or other. Also? Whenever he feels threatened, he emits this dark cloud. Dump.
Red Wolf is very willing to share his stash of fungus, which would make dating him a real trip. And he did â€śletâ€ť me use his unconscious body for a sled to escape that dire bear, which was pretty sweet. On the other hand, he will continue to be pretty when I am old and wrinkly, and letâ€™s face it: druggies donâ€™t make good long-term partners. Date, then dump.
Rangrim is very spiritual, and when Tamurraâ€™s hurting, heâ€™s always there to patch her up. On the other hand, he also canâ€™t tell Tamurra apart from her twin. And thatâ€™s not a good trait in a long-term partner. Dump.
Thanks everybody for a great series of interviews!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 10:20 AM
Aside from aÂ few great booksÂ by Leonard Marcus (Dear Genius is genius!),Â the author-editor relationship is probably the leastÂ examined aspect of the writing process outside the walls of an editor's office. Is it because editors shy away from the spotlight? (Yes.) Does it seem weird to gush about how much you like your authors or for you authors, how much you like (or hate?) your editor? (Naw.) The author/editor relationship can be at different times and on different days scary, exhilarating, frustrating, liberating, fun (We get paid to make up stories and read them!) and utterly dull (but wah, we still have to make copies, go to meetings, and fill out forms.) Ups and downs abound, but in the end you come out of it with an amazing book, something that you are both incredibly proud to bring into the world.
This week Kimberly Pauley and I celebrated something weâ€™re both super proud to bring into the worldâ€”Still Sucks to Be Me, the sequel to her acclaimed novel Sucks to Be Me. In honor of that book birthday, I wanted to give you a chance to be a fly on the wall for a real-life author-editor conversation, and perhaps gain a little insight into the author-editor relationship yourself.
Â I hope you enjoy it! If you have a question for me or Kimberly, post it below and weâ€™ll answer it in the next installment!
Â NH: What was your worst fear about the publishing process?
Â KP: Well, honestly, that I'd never get published! But that's probably not what you meant. I suppose it was that I'd wind up with an editor that didn't get me or my book and would demand tons of changes that would weaken or change my story beyond recognition. I've heard lots of horror stories over the years about exactly those kinds of things, but some of the stories you have to take with a grain of salt. Many authors (and I can sometimes be guilty of this too) are very protective over their words and have a hard time accepting constructive criticism. I feel like I've been really lucky because (and I'm totally not sucking up here, even though it sounds like it) I really think you've made my books much better than they otherwise would have been. I'm entirely too nice to my characters, especially in first drafts.
Â NH: Aw, thanks! Your books are always so fun to work on. I think we have a similar sense of humor and outlook so that helps.
Â KP:Â What's the one thing you'd change about publishing if you could (process, industry, or otherwise)?Â
Â NH: Ooo, tough question. I am frustrated by publishingâ€™s returns policy (which allows bookstores to return the books they order if they donâ€™t sell). Itâ€™s a model that was established in the Depression era to keep bookstores and publishers afloat. With this model, books are tracked by sell-in (copies ordered by the stores) and sell-through (actual sales to customers). The books are printed based on the pre-ordered sell-in, but if they donâ€™t sell through, thousands of books are sent back to publishers, at no cost to the bookstore. Often publishers end up having to throw all the excess copies in landfills because itâ€™s cheaper to chuck them than it is to store them in the warehouse. Not only does this pain me from an environmentalist point of view, but it impacts authors directly and their ongoing success. If your first book had hot sell-in but bombed on the sell-through, you may be less likely to get a second book deal than if youâ€™d had a modest sell-through that sold out and was reprinted. Itâ€™s a tricky system and itâ€™s rife with problems. But changing the habits of an entire industry is unlikely if not impossible. Â
The main thing Iâ€™d like to change, that I do have power to change somewhat, is to find a way to get our books intoÂ the hands of more readers. Itâ€™s very hard for a new book to get noticed these days. There are more books being published than ever before, meanwhile the channels for distribution and publicity are becoming more and more streamlined. With fewer and fewer independent bookstores, thereâ€™s fewer opportunities for handselling. But, luckily the rise of blogging has given voice to niche readers and communities. I love all the blogs out there about books. Ten years ago, authors didnâ€™t have any easy, inexpensive way to publicize their own books and build a community of fans. And editors didnâ€™t have a way to talk directly to readers about the books they loved working on. Iâ€™m hopeful by joining in to the blogging world through this site and getting authors to do the same, Iâ€™ll be able to help the books I work on get noticed and in the hands of more readers who would enjoy them. Â
Â NH: Before you were published, you made a name for yourself and made lots of connections by starting up your own web community, YA Books Central. How do you think that shaped your career as an author and what recommendations would you have to new authors trying to get noticed by blogging or starting a website?
Â KP: It definitely shaped my career! While the business isn't quite as "it's who you know, not what you know" as some people think it is, it definitely helps not only to know people but to have knowledge about the industry and how it works. That's where it was most valuable to me. I knew a bunch of authors and publicists and editors from running the website and I knew how things worked (mostly). Ultimately, it was an author friend of mine that introduced me to you and Wizards of the Coast. While I'd like to think that Sucks to Be Me would still have found a home (someday) it's hard to say if it really would have. It might have been the book that stayed in my drawer for years.
My advice today is that authors really need to have a web presence and that it's never too early to start yours. That said, you need to pick and choose which ones you utilize...and keep in mind that there will always be some new social networking thing around the corner. Right now, I'd recommend Twitter and Facebook and MySpace (and, of course, your own site/blog), but how you divide your time is up to you. You can't completely keep up with all of them or you won't get any writing done. The key thing is that whichever avenue you choose as your primary avenueâ€” you should actually keep up with it. An author who has a presence but then doesn't respond to readers is worse than an author who has no online presence at all. And, above all, be true to yourself. Teens especially can see right through someone being fake.
Â KP: What are three things you wish all first-time authors knew BEFORE you sign them?
Â NH:Â First, the extreme importance of self-promotion, even before your book is published. As a smaller publisher, we probably devote more than your average amount of publicity to each one of our authors, but thereâ€™s only so much we can do. Those authors who make an effort to publicize themselves early on through the web, through school visits, and whatever connections they can think of sell a lot more books, which is a mutally beneficial thing. More books sold equals more royalties for the author and more revenue for us, which means we can sign up another book and continue our relationship together. I know not everyone has the personality to promote themselves (as an introvert myself, I understand!) but Iâ€™m more and more convinced that you just have to put on your performance face and accept that itâ€™s part of the deal if you want a lifelong career as a writer.
Second, approach revision with a professional, positive attitude and check your ego at the door. Publishing is a creative collaboration and Iâ€™m open to any approach that will solve an issue I raise on revision. But I really donâ€™t want to read a three page letter on why youÂ canâ€™tÂ do any of the revisions I suggested. Channel that energy to finding a better solution! I prefer working with writers are excited by revision letters and dig into revision with creative energy. I think most editors feel that way.
Iâ€™m not sure I can think of a third thing. Iâ€™ve been really lucky to sign up a lot of great first time authors (like you!) who had just the right attitude and who I love working with again and again!
Â NH: Letâ€™s talk aboutÂ Sucks to Be Me.Â One of the things I liked best about it as a submission was the funny, spot-on teenaged voice.Â The first paragraph isÂ a great example ofÂ writing thatÂ hooks your reader right away: â€śMy parents are trying to ruin my life. Oh, yeah, I know that every teenager says that, but I really mean it â€“ literally. They want to see me dead. Or, actually, undead.â€ťÂ Have you always been a funny writer? Or did it take you time to find that voice?
Â KP: That's a good question. Looking back, I'd say that there's always been some level of humor in my writing. Sometimes it's a really dark humor that I'm not sure anyone else would get. I'm really quite funny....in my own head. In person I probably don't come across as all that funny, except in an "OMG, You're so SHORT!" kind of way. For some reason, people always expect short people to be cute and funny.
Sucks to Be MeÂ was really the first time I tried writing something novel-length in first person. And, on top of that, I wound up writing in first person, present tense because I wanted the reader to experience things as Mina did. I think first person lends itself well to humor, but also to action as well. Most of the first chapter is pretty much exactly as I wrote it down the first time. I really found that Mina had a strong voice in my head...and was pretty opinionated too. Her sense of humor is a lot like mine and I find it (far too) easy to write in her voice.
Of course, like many YA writers, the teenager in me is buried pretty close to the surface. So that probably helps.
To Be Continued . . .
And donâ€™t miss Kimberly Pauleyâ€™s awesome launch contest for Still Sucks to Be Me!
Read my previous post.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 11:19 AM
Welcome to the fifth in a series of six interviews with the players in my Monday afternoon Forgotten Realms campaign. Here you will discover all the secrets of a perfectly tuned D&D character, the very depths of the enigmatic lore known only to .Â .Â . oh, wait, thatâ€™s a different article. This one asks inappropriately personal questions that reveal only things that probably shouldnâ€™t be revealed, but might serve as a reminder of how fun this game is!
Rangrim Ratstar, dwarf shaman
Phil: Where did the name Rangrim Ratstar come from?
Fleetwood: To tell the absolute truth, the character builder generated Rangrim. Ratstar was a late addition. I felt like he needed something more and a palindrome seemed appropriate.
Phil: Why a dwarf?
Fleetwood: I feel like dwarves get a bad rap. For a while, they were a little clichĂ©. Because theyâ€™re short, they serve as comic relief. People want to throw them. They have Scottish accents. But dwarves have great racial benefits that also benefit the shaman class. Ultimately, though, I wanted to do for dwarves what Justin Timberlake did for sexy. In the long run, Iâ€™m not sure how successful I was.
Rangrim still has a Scottish accent, and heâ€™s a bit smelly. He likes to sleep rough and rarely wears small clothes. Being a shaman, his mind isnâ€™t too focused on real world concerns like hygiene.
Phil: Why a shaman?
Fleetwood: The party needed a healer after you killed the cleric I was playing, a certain Brother Robert about whom you actually wrote a short story. Anyway, you made that character as an NPC before I joined the group. Some people dropped out, so I came in and took over Bro Ro, as I affectionately called him.
I was never much for clerics, but recognized the need the party had. When I got an opportunity to create a new character, I thought the shaman seemed interesting. I especially like the spirit companion. Rangrim can fight and do damage through his iron defender spirit dog, Zevon, but also stay far enough away to keep from dying.
Phil: How would you rate me as a Dungeon Master, on a scale of 1-5 in which 1 is awesome and 5 is five-times better than awesome?
Fleetwood: I can only choose five times better than awesome?
Phil: Oh, shucks. Weâ€™ll go ahead and score me at a 10.
(This picture is close, but wrong spirit animal. . . .)
Phil: What does Rangrim hold in his â€śmain hand slotâ€ť and how does that differ from whatâ€™s normally in your main hand in real life?
Fleetwood: Rangrim carries a +1 terror warhammer. Not exactly what youâ€™d think a shaman might carry, but he is a dwarf. Got to take advantage of those bonuses.
I usually carry rubber balls in my hands to distract people from the crabapples in my cheeks. (Catch the reference?)
Phil: No, but I will start Googling as soon as I post this.
Phil: Squasha, Tamurra, Farideh. Marry, date, or dump?
Fleetwood: Rangrim would want to marry Squasha because it would upset the drow. Heâ€™s not sure who is Tamurra and who is Farideh. He might like to date one and dump the other, but every time he thinks heâ€™s got it right they get mad at him for confusing their names.
Phil: Well, you know what they say about tiefling chicks.Â .Â .Â .
Next Week: Tamurra!