Friday, February 26, 2010

Know When to Hold 'Em

Kenny Rogers is not usually my role model, but he had it figured out in his song "The Gambler."  I'm still learning when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em in the publishing world. 

Recently I withdrew a story from consideration at a magazine I greatly admire.  Four months after my submission, the editor had said he liked the story but didn't know where to fit it in.  Six months and a status query later, I still had heard nothing, so I withdrew the piece.  Next day comes the email: "But we were going to tell you today that it was scheduled."

It seems that time moves at different speeds depending on which end of the game you're playing.  Now I've learned to be infinitely patient.  I just got one of those "Love it but can't fit it in" emails from another editor, and I'm counting this one as an acceptance.  If she publishes the story while I'm still drawing breath on this earth, that will be fine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Lure of the Known

Procrastination is an insidious beastie, and can even take the form of hard work on the wrong project. Lately I find my mind filled with the proposing and writing of non-fiction books and articles, work for which experience has prepared me and for which I would certainly get paid.  But the only writing I should be thinking about right now is fiction, an area where still I'm an uncomfortable, unpaid fledgling.

My excuse, of course, is that any writing will get my name out there, so I might as well make a few bucks at what I know how to do.  It doesn't wash, though.  That major literary agent or publisher of novels won't care how many books I've written on the fate of polar bears or the watermarks in Mozart manuscripts if I can't prove that I have fiction chops.

So why must I constantly fight to keep focused on mastering fiction, this thing I claim to love?  Well, 'cause it's freakin' scary, is why!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cheating or Fair Play

Must a writer have constant, instant access to her complete vocabulary?  Is a nudge or a hint to remind one of the perfect word a sign of weakness?  For many, yes. 

I used to feel that way, too. Then I learned that Stephen Sondheim uses a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.  That's Stephen Sondheim, man of the perennially perfect word choice.  Now I proudly reach for (or click on) my thesaurus when things get sticky. 

The rule for the successful thesaurification of a written passage: If you don't already know the word and its nuances, don't use it just because you found it in a thesaurus.  It will never fly.  The reference work must only be a reminder of what you already know. 

Another option, as illustrated above, is simply to make up the word you need.  That's the Dr. Seuss method, so you know it's all right.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Maybe I Wrote It, Maybe Not

I've always felt a strong resistance to using a pseudonym when I write.  But how one feels and the needs of the industry can be incompatible, so now I'm trying to come up with a catchy pen name.  Two, actually.  Let me know if you have suggestions. "Dirk Diggler" is taken.

Because I'm concentrating now on writing for children, I may well want a different name for publishing certain other things.  I've written 3/4 of a novel that's decidedly inappropriate for the 12-year-olds who will read my forthcoming medieval mystery.  Much as it pains me, I'll need to market the adult novel under a pseudonym, or else children's publishers (and the parents of America) will avoid me like carrion.

A live chat with a much-published author at ICL pointed out another reason to pick a second name: prolific and varied output.  If I produce a children's novel per year, a single publishing house might like all of them.  But they're unlikely to be willing to over-saturated their catalog with the works of Anne E. Johnson, lest it look like a one-woman show.  The problem would be fixed if I had another identity for half the books.

How about "Haby S. Corpus"?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wait...That Was Fiction?

E.L. Doctorow's novel The Book of Daniel caused an onslaught of discussions on ethics, such as Ron Hansen's essay here:   At issue is whether fiction can cause harm or be libelous when it is too close to a real person's life.  Doctorow has also raised scholarly eyebrows by inventing some of the documents he uses in his books, which he defends by pointing out that the "fiction" part of the term "historical fiction" gives him the right to invent anything he wants.

Fiction can be confusingly factual.  No surprise, then, that it can also work the other way.  I was reminded of this recently in the form of a rejection letter.  I'd written a sentimental, nostalgic essay, remembrances of my grandfather's love of the sea.  Having done careful market research, I sent it to a magazine that specializes in just such touching tidbits.  Frankly, I was feeling like a shoo-in, and it's probably my hubris that got me.  The editor made me wait for four months before replying, "This magazine does not accept fiction."

But it wasn't...but I used the words "essay" and "personal experience" in my cover letter...but...but...

Well, never mind.  I submitted the essay elsewhere and it found a good home.  I was tempted to say that the lesson here is "Avoid writing non-fiction so vivid that it sounds like you're spinning a yarn."  But, in truth, I believe that's exactly what the world needs more of.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Welcome, gentle reader

My name is Anne E. Johnson, and I'm delighted that you're visiting me.

Over the years, I've written all kinds of non-fiction, from genealogical guides for children to scholarly articles on medieval musicology, but I'm brand new in the fiction world. I can already see that this journey will be quite an adventure. Please join me as I discover the joy and pain of making stuff up and convincing people to read and publish it!  I value your imput and advice, be it on writing, on marketing, or on the development of my blog. 

I must start, of course, with the news that gives me the confidence to announce my career to the world:  I have a publisher for my first novel, a mid-grade medieval mystery.  I'll be reporting on that process as it goes along.

Thanks for stopping by.  Won't you please become a follower of this blog?  Just click the button on the left.  See you soon.