Books You’d Like To See In Print One Day

woman using computerMost writers beyond the beginning stage understand the value of feedback, especially informed feedback. That’s why they join critique groups and snag writing partners and look for beta readers.

Occasionally there are contests such as the one Spec Faith held some time ago in which writers could post their first 250 words and receive feedback from visitors. All these methods of receiving feedback are valuable, but what all writers crave is constructive criticism from an industry professional–a published author or better still, an agent or an editor.

Once upon a time there was a secret industry insider who called herself Miss Snark who gave selected writers a beatdown helpful insights about their work. She was pretty blunt and yet incredibly helpful.

When she hung up her snark hat, the writer who first received her biting assessment took up the mantle and began a site called Miss Snark’s First Victim. She’s expanded the purpose of the site to include contests that can put winners in touch with agents and editors.

Starting today she is running her 2013 Bakers Dozen Agent Auction. She held a submissions period during which she selected 60 entries, 35 YA or middle grade stories and 25 adult. For the next few days anyone can read the blurbs and openings of these stories and offer their critique, but two published authors and two agents or editors are guaranteed to critique. As many others as wish to join in may do so.

Then Tuesday, December 3 the actual auction begins. The cool thing is, the agents’ bids are the number of pages they would like to read, up to the entire manuscript (which is obviously the highest bid–and I’m assuming the first agent to make that bid “wins” that manuscript).

Anyway, I thought that would be a fun thing for readers to take part in. I’ve already looked over a handful of the entries and I’m impressed with the quality. One or two, I wish I could read more.

Here’s the link if you’d like to join in the fun: WELCOME TO THE 2013 BAKER’S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION! By the way, you might consider starting with the entry #1 which appears last since it seems most people start at the top with #60. And of course you get to pick and choose which you want to read and which, if any, you want to critique.

Just for fun, make note of the number of fantasy entries. It’s still the hottest genre going, it would seem. 😉

Published in: on November 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Books You’d Like To See In Print One Day  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Storm by Evan Angler, Day 2

BadBeginning-coverI like blog tours that give me lots to think about–such as the current one for Storm by Evan Angler. The downside, of course, is that I have to decide between a variety of topics, and today, I’m having a hard time choosing.

I thought I’d delve a little more into the political intrigue that plays a significant part of the Swipe series, but instead I want to talk a little about the author, or the character, Evan Angler.

One reviewer remarked about how unusual this book was that the author was a character in the book. Ah, I realized, it may be unusual, but it’s not unique. It has been done before.

Most famously, the middle grade books known as A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book one, The Bad Beginning) were written by Lemony Snicket, a pen name for American novelist Daniel Handler, as well as the name of the character in the books who narrates the story.

To my knowledge, this technique has not been copied widely, if at all.

I do know of another short series that used a similar device, though I don’t know if the Lemony Snicket books were influential at all. I’m referring to Matt Mikalatos’s two Christian speculative humor novels–My Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christian (see my reviews here and here). In both books Matt appears as a central character–either as the protagonist or a secondary-character narrator.

What does all this have to do with Storm and the Swipe series and Evan Angler? The author has used the same device, though I suspect there is an intentional borrowing or overt influence from the Lemony Snicket books.

Part of me thinks, it’s about time. I mean, The Bad Beginning first appeared back in 1999. And no one else has used this author/character device in all this time?

Another part of me wonders if readers familiar with the Lemony Snicket books will think the Swipe books are derivative. It’s hard to think so, though, because the tone of the two series is vastly different as is the subject matter. The only commonality I can detect is this author/character device.

The question, then, is whether or not the device works. I think there’s a lot of intrigue created with the use of this kind of pen name. The pretend writer has his own persona and history and interaction with the story events. But in the case of the Swipe books, it appears that the real author is determined to remain behind the curtain. At least I have yet to locate any information about the person behind the pen name.

So yes, I’d say, for me, the device worked to spike my interest. There’s an accompanying tactic that I think may have backfired, however, but I’ll address that in my review tomorrow.

For now I suggest you check out the various posts from blog tour participants discussing and reviewing the Swipe books.

Shannon McDermott posted a review of book one, Swipe yesterday, and book two, Sneak, today. Chawna Schroeder has a two-part review of the series as a whole (see Part 1 and Part 2). Emma and Audrey Engel have a giveaway for Storm over on their blog. And don’t forget to check out the ever delightful Tuesday Tunes put together by Steve Trower.

You can find the entire list of participants at the end of my Day 1 post, and I suggest you take a few moments to check out a couple of these articles. Why not leave a comment as well? Tell them Becky sent you. 😉

How Important Are The Details?

pick, pickIn more than one article critiquing the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey TV mini-series The Bible, reviewers pointed out “picky” details–Adam portrayed as a European-ish white guy, not an African or a Middle Easterner. And beardless. More than once I read remarks about the angels outfitted much like Ninja warriors.

Are details like this important?

My first thought is, Come on, people, quite being so picky.

But hold on.

Aren’t the picky things noticeable when they pull us out of the story? Just recently I read a post by agent Steve Laube about inconsistencies in novels that editors don’t catch but readers do. It reminded me of a book I recently read in which basketball details were wrong.

For example, Team A faced off against Team B in the NBA finals, with Team B hosting game 1. Some pages later the series is 3-2 and game 6 is being played at Team A’s home court.

But hold on. Fans of pro basketball know the finals are a 2-3-2 format–games 1,2,6 (if necessary), and 7 (if necessary) are played at the home of the team with the best over all regular season record. Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) are played at the home of the two seed. So no way could game 6 be played on Team B’s home court if game 1 was at Team A’s.

There was a similar stumble earlier connected with basketball (in the NBA, only one free throw when a technical foul is called) and another one with the weather in Southern California (a week of rain in May? Right! Doesn’t happen!) And another one on a cross-country drive. Three days, the character determines. It will take three days to reach her destination. She starts out on a Sunday and arrives … on a Sunday. O-o-kay.

But here’s the thing. If I were writing a review of this book, I would feel like I was being overly critical to point out these slips. I mean, did any of those matter in the long run? No. Will people who are not basketball fans, or residents of SoCal, even notice? Probably not. Does the day of the week really matter? Not really. Then what’s the big deal?

Do the details in fiction matter?

Actually, yes, they do. The details give the story a sense of credibility. I’ve said before, one of the things I think J. K. Rowling did so well was construct an incredible fantasy world. Others say she merely played off British boarding schools and that may be true. But through the details Ms. Rowling included, the world of magic came alive.

Horseless carriages that convey themselves, a sorting hat, a whomping tree, portkeys, food that appears in dishes on the dining tables, a ceiling that reflects the weather outside, broken wands mis-repaired that send spells incorrectly–on and on, each detail woven into the story with a high degree of consistency. There weren’t three school houses in one book and four in another. The new students weren’t placed in theirs by the Sorting Hat in one and by the Sword of Gryffindor in another.

Of course, the longer the book, the greater number of details there are to keep straight. An epic story like the seven Harry Potter books requires a great deal of work to keep all the details straight.

But I’ll come back to the point–why does it matter? I said credibility or realism, if you will, and that’s perhaps the greatest point, but in tangent is the fact that inconsistencies may pull readers out of the “fictive dream.” Rather than living side by side with the characters, the reader stops: Wait a minute, didn’t she say the trip took three days, and didn’t she leave on a Sunday? Then how can they be arriving on a Sunday? Did I miss something?

Lack of clarity can do essentially the same thing. The details might be right, but if they aren’t expressed clearly, the reader is still stopping, still looking back and checking to see why what she thought had been conveyed actually was something different.

So yes, details matter. At least they should.

Do editors give a pass to certain authors because they know readers will buy, read, love, and praise their books no matter what? To rectify this, should reviewers actually start pointing out inconsistencies . . . or will the point be lost because others will cry, Stop being so picky!

What do you think? Do you notice inconsistencies? Do you think those things should be pointed out in reviews?

Is Christian Speculative Fiction Weird?

Some writers who specialize in fantasy or science fiction or supernatural suspense or horror love to say that what they write is weird. It’s the stuff that doesn’t fit into another category. It’s dystopian or apocalyptic or cyberpunk or steampunk or … you name it. Weird stuff.

Or is it?

Speculative fiction, above all else, acknowledges the existence of a dimension of life beyond what we can see or measure or test with the scientific method. It acknowledges the Other.

For the Christian, it is a clear invitation to write about what we know to be true from Scripture. God exists as an infinite, imperishable, transcendent Person–three in one. How much Other can there be! Further He created spirit beings that exist beyond the realm of our physical senses, some of whom attempted a coup and continue to this day to work their own purposes in opposition to God’s.

Speculative stories, in one form or another, show some aspect of this actual world about which we know little. In other words, a story that shows the unseen, either symbolically or through imaginative interpretation, is closer to truth than any story that ignores God and the rest of the spirit world.

Is it weird to tell the truth? Then speculative fiction is weird.

If it’s normal and expected and good to tell the truth, then speculative fiction is actually in the wheelhouse of ordinary.

If we Christians really believe what we say we believe, we’d realize that this world is not humming along because it’s made up of matter and energy that behave according to a chance set of laws.

We believe, for example, that the Spirit of God lives inside a person who has put his trust in Jesus as the Redeemer. We believe we need what He has to offer because sin somehow infuses our nature and corrupts it, even as it is corrupting the entire universe. We believe that a Man who died more than 2000 years ago is alive. What’s more, we believe He is planning a triumphal entry back into this world.

Fantastic stuff. Yet we don’t think how amazing, even preposterous such things sound to the person unfamiliar with the tenets of Christianity. To us these things are normal, factual, established.

Why, then, would we think stories that bring to light this unseen spirit world or the foundational truths underpinning it, are weird?

In truth, I’ve only heard speculative writers call speculative stories weird. I’ve talked with people who say they don’t usually read science fiction or fantasy or horror. I’ve even talked with some who say they don’t like such stories. But I’ve never had someone tell me they’ve formed their opinion because the speculative stories are weird.

Throughout history, Man has recognized the spirit world, sometimes worshiping God but often worshiping a false spirit setting itself up as god. The point is, only in these most recent days have we tried to explain away the spirit world, as if we’ve become smarter and now know better than what every human before us knew.

That, I submit, is not normal. That is weird–to have so much pride as to believe that in the vastness of the universe we have uncovered, we have assurance based on our own finite abilities that nothing exists beyond what we can see, study, test. That kind of hubris is weird, not the speculation about what might exist beyond our everyday.

The Problem With Broad Brushes

A tempest broke out in the kidlitosphere this week because a writer at the Wall Street Journal took a number of authors to task for their “depraved” works. The response was instantaneous and loud, centering most on the horror of “censorship.”

I find that interesting because there are similarities to the waves stirred by author and friend Mike Duran in his recent post about Christian fiction and his idea of two camps of Christians.

In both discussions, I see a liberal application of a broad brush, from all quarters, and it is against the broad brush I stand.

Broad brushes handle a big job in the shortest amount of time (apart from rollers or spray guns 😉 ), but they have an accompanying drawback — they can easily spread paint where it does not belong.

From my point of view, this was the case in Mike’s article. In holding to his “two camp view,” he made this comment about those he characterizes as in the camp where “law is the driving principle” — those writing Christian fiction:

As long as we Christians define our witness primarily in terms of Law — no cussing, smoking, drinking, dancing, or sex — and see our fiction as a tool to perpetuate those values, we are destined for tension.

Of course the problem is that a good many novels coming out of Christian publishing houses have no such agenda. They actually have higher goals, aim for and accomplish something greater than propping up incidental cultural mores.

The furor about the WSJ article was similar. The author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, made some broad brush claims. Here’s one:

Grim though these novels are, they seem positively tame in comparison with what’s on shelves now.

The implication, of course, is that there are no books that are less grim than the ones she named that came out in the ’70s. That statement splatters paint on a good number of novels that are not grim and do not deal with “damage, brutality and losses.”

Those issuing a rebuttal take up the same broad brush. From one comment:

I find it ridiculous that anyone might think it a good idea to censor literature

Or how about this one:

You are supposed to be telling those gatekeepers to DROP DEAD. Because they ARE censoring things and that’s SICK. A journalist who thinks that censoring is OK should NOT be a journalist. [So apparently, the commenter has a right to censor journalists, but journalists haven’t the right to censor anyone else. 😉 ]

Broad brushes. They hurt individuals. Christian novelists who are not driven by law, who are not remotely interested in promoting a set of superficial values are lumped in with those who may believe Christianity is primarily about meeting a prescribed list of do‘s and don’t‘s. In the end, readers will steer clear of Christian bookstores and the aisles where Christian books are shelved because they expect all those books to be the same.

In the same way, YA writers who are not dabbling in depravity (not used here as a theological term) may come away stigmatized and vilified by some, while parents and librarians and teachers who wish to steer children away from morally questionable books end up wearing the censorship tag.

So what does the broad brush earn us? Does the conversation become less entrenched? Are people on different sides of the issues more inclined to listen to one another?

As I see it, publishers will continue to produce books that sell. The writer who is making an effort to buck the trend is the one who gets hurt. All YA books are trash or all Christian fiction is law driven splatters paint on the worthwhile YA books and the Christian fiction that is not law driven. Those books do exist and they should be celebrated, not buried under someone else’s layer of paint.

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