Dean Wesley Smith on books as (non-)events

Skater.cover.smallBack in the old days, before the Continental book tour, before Skater in a Strange Land, even before computers, I wrote a short story.

It was set in Anvoria, a neighbor nation of Borschland and Bearland and my next destination on the book tour.

I can hardly remember what it was about, but I'm pretty sure it involved musical instruments.

I was a sophomore in college at the time, and I showed it around to some people to see what they thought.

A couple of people liked it, but there was one who said it wasn't right and I had to rewrite it.

So I ignored the people who liked it, threw out the old draft and rewrote it, and I hated it. I showed it to the people who had liked it before, and they agreed with me that I had lost the spirit of the first draft. The reader who thought it wasn't right hadn't "gotten" it, and so I explained it, and in the explaining, I lost whatever there was of a story.

Problem was, I didn't have the first draft on disk. There were no disks then. The old draft was in a landfill.

I learned that day that you should never throw away your first drafts.

More recently, I learned from Dean Wesley Smith that your first draft should be your only draft.

In this post, he introduces the radical notion that you should think of your stories and novels not as "events"-- that is, a momentous, significance-laden work of art that needs to be labored over for years in tortured solitude-- but as entertaining tales to be told for an interested audience.

In other words, write the thing, publish it, and move on to the next story.

Smith is a genre writer with over 100 traditionally-published novels under his belt. He is currently on an ambitious campaign to write a magazine containing a full novel plus a bunch of stories every month. He's been blogging about writing a novel in 10 days, 15 days, crazy short periods of time.

I don't exactly know why he has decided to go this route, but he is very successful with his sales. People like his stuff. He doesn't have to write and rewrite.

What about the rest of us?

My second novel in the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, "The Skater and the Saint," is set to launch on November 16. I will have spent a little under a year writing and publishing it. That's very fast for me. But I like this book and I think if you liked Skater in a Strange Land, you'll be thrilled with this one.

Even a couple of years ago, I never would've thought such a thing possible. I was still in the write-and-rewrite-crowd. Heck, I was in the traditional-publishing-or-die crowd.

Now I'm leaning towards DWS's camp. I am big devotee of Malcolm Gladwell's axiom that once you've spent 10,000 hours on any one skill, you are a master regardless of your "talent" level. I've definitely reached 10,000, I feel I have finished my apprenticeship, and I am writing faster and better than ever before.

I don't know that DWS's advice holds for beginning writers. I've spent a good amount of time online this year checking out indie writers, and I don't see a whole lot of skill in storytelling. I see a whole lot of poor style as well, but that's not as important as telling a good story. I may be jaded-- and I may be thinking too much of my own storytelling skills-- but I think there are still a lot of writers out there who could use seasoning.

In other words, I still believe in apprenticeship.

DWS thinks that even beginning writers should at least self-publish, on the off-chance that they'll sell. Yes, probably true. Why not?

At the same time, I'm still enough of a devotee of the literary crowd to value a gorgeous sentence for its own sake. DWS doesn't think your novel is a work of art. I think it can be. English, written well, is a beautiful thing. And good storytelling is a learned skill.

So what would my advice be for beginning writers? Don't throw away your first draft. It may be your best. But spend some time on learning how to tell a story in a way that doesn't make us English afficionados cringe.

And yes, you may need to completely rewrite your story. You may need to rewrite it from another point of view. You may need to completely recast your opening. You may realize that you don't have a story at all, just a bunch of people talking. You may have enormous plot-holes that emerge only when careful readers show them to you.

When do you know that something's good enough to publish? That's the beauty of it. If you keep apprenticing, you will learn. In the meantime, get the opinion of someone who's spent 10,000 hours writing.

And if you can't tell, go ahead and publish it as DWS suggests. He's right: the worst you'll get is ignored.

If you do go the apprenticeship route, I think you'll look back on what you published with a lot more pride and sense of accomplishment-- even if you sell millions of that first draft.


I read Skater, Lyn reads Wendy

Truenorth.smallTrue North Writers & Publishers Co-operative, of which I am a co-founder, is having reader events! My colleague Lyn Fairchild Hawks will also be reading from her novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought.

Please come if you are local. It will be great fun.

Friday, September 13, 6 PM, Purple Crow Books, Hillsborough, NC. Friday evenings in Hillsborough are hopping. Come by to hear us read, soak in the literary atmosphere of the town, then get out into the town, walk the beautiful fall evening, and find a great restaurant to Tweet, Yelp, or Facebook about later.

Saturday, September 14, 2 PM, McIntyre's Books, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, NC. We're doing a tribute to our mentor, brilliant, literary-medalled, late author and creative writing professor Doris Betts. McIntyre's is a great independent bookshop. We will have a couple of surprises for this one.

Sunday, September 15, 2 PM, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, NC. A laid-back party with games, trivia, munchies, and beer. Come by to say hi and have a pretzel, a craft brew, a signed book. Perfect for your Hallowe'en (?) gift plans.


Skater, a clean read for you

Picture 2
If you click on the above screenshot, you will notice something remarkable.

  • This is an actual email that Amazon.com sent to a friend of mine.
  • Amazon.com did actually suggest to my friend that she should buy "Skater in a Strange Land."
  • Amazon.com did group "Skater" with a number of books on the same topic: ice hockey.
  • And yet, you can tell by the covers of the other books that "Skater" isn't selling what the others are.

I am proud of the cover of "Skater." It was done by Streetlight Graphics and I think it beautifully captures the mood of "Skater." The silver, icy flourish of the title is superimposed over the mysterious, wintry blue of the background with its old-style buildings and snowflakes.

But it is clear that "Skater" is hard to categorize. Although it is about ice hockey and romance, it is not an ice hockey romance. In addition to the romance, it has elements of the classic sports story; suspense and political intrigue; steampunk; and flat-out travel and adventure.

It is certainly not a "steamy" ice hockey romance like the ones it's grouped with here. Romance novels are a very large market, and sports romance novels have their niche. Attractive men, and intimate relationships, can be found in every walk of life, and book covers are used to advertise that fact.

No, the romance of "Skater" is based on anticipation rather than fulfillment. So even though our hero, Sherm, is tall, athletic, and with a ruggedly handsome face, and even though our heroine Rachael is young, elegant, and with eyes "dark and shiny like black coffee in a white mug," there is on purpose a dynamic of old-fashioned courting and waiting.

Which is why I felt it was good idea to sign up on the "Clean Indie Reads" blog, which is a site dedicated to promoting books that are free of offensive or explicit content.

Someday I may write a book that resembles so many of those popular reads out there. In Borschland, however, it'll stay clean.


Book, not author, goes on book tour

Etwart.skaterAnnouncing a different kind of book tour:

This summer and fall, Skater in a Strange Land, the book, is going on a journey.

Etwart says, stuff those mailers!

I will be sending copies of this fantasy novel of "ice hockey, upright bears, and other matters of the heart" to friends, acquaintances and strangers throughout the US and Canada.

These recipients are not asked to read the book, however.

They will be placing the book in locations such as coffee shops or other public places where readers are likely to gather.

Anyone who picks up the book will find a message encouraging him or her to read the book, report their experience to this website, and then pass it on to another reader or leave it where they found it.

I hope this campaign will result in a myriad of reviews, stories and serendipities.

Would you like to receive a copy of Skater and participate in the book tour? Leave a comment, write me at teenage underscore heroes at sign yahoo dot com, or @truenorthwrite, or at truenorthwriters.com, tell me where you are located, and where you would like to place the book.

It would be even better if you take a photo of where you leave the book, and send it to me, so we can do a reveal post.

So far the book is on its way to New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon. Where else will it go?

The poet Martial, who is a favorite of Borschic schoolteachers, wrote a beautiful poem about the journey of his book to Spain:

 

Go, my brave little book,
Go, keep our friend Flavus company,
over the sea, over waves that speed you
and with winds behind you-- 
Fair be your passage.
...Hie thee, then, little traveler,
You know, I reckon,
they won't hold the boat for one book.

 

 


The Flowering Branch Cup to kick off soon

Cover.talesborschland.smallThe Flowering Branch Cup (Rijksijshaackuj Keelk ter Bloomentwejg)

Every year the Borschland Hockey League holds the national tournament for the right to hold the coveted Chalice of the Flowering Branch. 62 teams from all three divisions of the Borschland Hockey League are invited to play a tournament of six rounds plus a home-and-home final. These games are usually held on alternate Friday nights during the regular season.

The Flowering Branch is the national symbol of Borschland. It is considered by some to be a branch from the Biblical Tree of Life; legend has it that it blooms every three hundred years during a long phase shift. At this time, the saints of Borschland will return to save the nation from calamity. The Branch is currently on display in Staff Borsch at the All Saints Rotunda of the Borschicherrijksmuseen (National Museum).

The next several posts will feature descriptions of the teams participating in this year's RKtB (Cup). Readers are encouraged to choose a team to follow in the Cup; results of the Cup games will be announced in future blog posts.

First: the 8 teams of the Open Division (semi-pro/amateur), Western Conference:

Noj-Sporting-West: This team operates out of the ski center in the extreme southwestern portion of Borschland at the foot of the slopes of Mount Borschika, a peak of 9,337 feet. Spectators of this team, dubbed the Mountain Goats, are treated to a breathtaking view of the Borschika range. Noj-Sporting-West seldom finds its way out of the first (play-in) round.

Skujklub Erichels: The mountain city of Erichels with its lovely, rushing River Fluum hosts a first-division team known as Holtzlund. Skujklub Erichels has its rink in the southern suburbs of Erichels where there is ready access to winter sports on the slopes of the Southern Range that separates Borschland from Celtlands. Skujklub Erichels is well-funded for an Open Division club and has made it to the third round in its history.

Groot Maalstaff: Groot Maalstaff is the largest town in the Borschland River valley between the city of Erichels and Meechen. The town is a center of dairy and its team is called the Cheese Champions. Occasionally Groot Maalstaff makes its way into the second round of the tournament.

Retter: Retter is a student team from the Coast Guard Academy in Onathav'n, at the mouth of the fjord that leads to the city of Onatten. Retter (Savior) is regularly a favorite to move on to the second and third rounds; they are normally the best team. Their rival is second division Oststaff, the Borschland Naval Academy.

Brouwergild: This team is sponsored by the National Brewers and Ciderers Union of Borschland. Its rink is located in the city of Sichebach. No team has more enthusiastic supporters and occasionally the union puts in enough money for a team that can get to the third round of the tournament.

St-Pujtr-Altstaff: This beautiful old town to the south and west of the resort city of Sajbell is one of the oldest in Borschland. It was in the old days a center of Loflin (indigenous peoples) habitation and has some of the most venerable architecture that the nation has to offer. Once a provincial capital of Borschland, it is now a tourist mecca, and its team is mostly ornamental, never having made it out of the first round in their history.

Verbrodering-Hammerspujl: This team is located in the most extreme southwest corner of the nation, set as it is in the ruby mining provincial outpost of Hammerspujl. The rough and ready miners of Hammerspujl try their best to make it out of the first round, but they are limited by the unwillingness of better players to make the trek out to this trackless wilderness.

Genk (pronounced Gunk): Genk is a small town on the northern slope of the Borschika range, a place of livestock and lumber. Winter sports are favored in Genk, especially for those who eschew the crowded slopes of Erichels, Dafna, and the Fluum River valley.

Next: Open Division, Southern Conference


Here's your hockey story, Mr. Deford

On NPR this morning, commentator Frank Deford laments that the entertainment industry is giving us only "sex, Justin Bieber and boxing" while ignoring an important part of our sports culture: hockey.

Deford laments: "But most important, right now, I wish the entertainment moguls would do a play or a film for the poor hockey fans who don't have an NHL season because the owners have locked out the players...I feel very sorry for ice hockey fans..."

Here's your story, Frank: Skater in a Strange Land. It's about ice hockey, talking bears, steampunk, romance. And there is a bit of fighting in it. Because that's part of hockey. But there isn't any boxing.

 


Phase shifts not affected by climate change, experts say

Phase_shiftA perceived spike in short-term phase shifts on the Continent is not due to climate change, scientists at the Borschland Institute for Continental Ontotropology (Onderzujksinstituut fvoor Faaseverschijving, or OfF) reported yesterday.

Klejmejns van ter Brejgcht, lead scientist for the Project on Climate Change and Continental Phase Shifts (Project over klimaatverandering n faaseverschijvingen), Tujrspaark, Borschland, released a finding from the OfF that found no scientific relationship between the warming of the globe and the uncanny "phase shift" phenomenon known only to the island continent in the South Indian Ocean where Borschland is located.

"We're leaning towards the idea that this is a coincidence," said Dr. van ter Brejgcht, who spoke for 22 other co-authors of the paper. "We haven't ruled out a relationship, but research to this point indicates no positive influence."

The "phase shift" is a little-understood phenomenon whereby the entire Continent "phases" in and out of earth's universe. During effective phase shift periods, the Continent is "not there" and cannot be located by satellites nor reached physically by ship or plane nor by telecommunications networks.

For those caught in the phase shift, life continues on as normal, except that they are in a kind of alternate earth with a different history. Since phase shifts can last from several hours to several years, it has been impossible for all but the most intrepid explorers to reliably travel out from the Continent during phase shifts to discover the particulars of this other universe.

Similarly, the people of the Continent tend to stay on the ground, because being caught in a phase shift while in the air often means being "left behind" in our universe while the Continent shifts.

Every time there is a phase shift, the underground telegraph line that links the Continent with Perth, Australia, must be reconnected.

"It's annoying," said Captain T.K. Kroonerskaap, who skippers the Borschland Navy steam needleship Te Staff ter Limpael and whose main mission is to reconnect the telegraph line after a phase shift. "But it keeps me in a job."

Kroonerskaap said that he did not believe climate change was a factor in recent more frequent phase shifts on the Continent. "It's a short-term thing," he said. "We'll have several shifts in one year, and then none for three years running."

Climate change is a live issue in Borschland. It is the southernmost nation in the world and its people are avid hockey fans. Government statistics have indicated a rise in the cost of hockey rink refrigeration in the past five seasons.