Friday, June 29, 2012

Page 99 or What can one page tell you?

While at Uncle Hugo’s last weekend with Jon Hansen, he told me about the book he was reading, “The Forever War.”

“How is it?” I asked.
He handed a copy to me off the shelf. Duh. We were standing right in front of it. I did what I do with any book I’m considering. I opened and started reading. In this case, it was page 1, and this was the line:

"Today we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man."

That’s a damn good line, I thought. I’d buy that book. (Fortunately Jon has agreed to lend me his copy when he’s done.)

So apparently, when book shopping, I don’t really give most books a big chance. I don’t want to read a hundred pages to decide if it’s a good book or not (I know many people who do). But—if the line or paragraph gets my attention, if the writing is so good I want to turn the page and see what happens next—I might purchase the book. If not, the book goes back on the shelf. 

This made me wonder about my writing—and I’ll ask you writer-types the same questions. So what happens when you pick up your work and open to any page and read any line or paragraph? Do you like what you find and want to keep reading? Will your readers?

For me and my own work, it depends on the page. I sometimes am surprised and think, “Gee, that’s good. Where did that even come from?” Other times I want to put my own work back on the shelf (but I can’t. It means back to the writing desk).

And then of course, there is always this site:

It’s based around this saying:
“Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”
~Ford Madox Ford

It’s an interesting idea. Check it out. If you create an account, you can read other people’s page 99 from their books (mostly unpublished)—or upload your own page 99 and get feedback. I’ve gone to it a few times, to check out what other writer’s have posted there. After reading each sample you can give feedback, most importantly, about whether or not you’d buy the book, or turn to the next page. I might be a tough grader, but for most of the samples I read on my last visit to I wouldn’t turn to the next page or buy the book in 9 times out of 10. Why?

In some cases it was “thick text” (one unrelenting descriptive paragraph filling the entire page), unrealistic or forced dialogue, telling vs. showing, unlikeable characters, characters who are doing nothing, great descriptions with no true character motivation, and so on. Or in other words, not great writing.

It’s not easy being a writer, but it’s also not easy being a reader. We’re all busy people, and if I (the reader) am going to take the time to read your stuff, you’d better be good, and you’d better be entertaining, and your writing has to be alive on the page, every single page. It’s got to be poetic, or funny, or scary, or (pick your favorite emotion), or contain likeable characters and an actual story. Or we’re not turning the page, and we’re not buying your book. And as the author, I think that stinks. But I also know that’s the name of the game. Why do you think I spend all this time editing and revising?

For fun I decided to post page 99 of my unpublished book BLACKHEART here:

Please feel free to check it out. Leave feedback if you’d like. Check out other authors on the site, or even post your own page 99 if you are searching for feedback. Again, you’ll need an account to do this. There are ground rules for the site, so read them carefully if you do set up your own account.

I debated about also putting up page 99 of my new book-in-progress, SUNLIGHT. But, it’s too new, still a first draft. I haven’t even entirely settled on which page will actually be page 99. But, I did look over that page in my rough manuscript, and it made me realize this: to make this page in my book work, to make it really stand out, sing, carry the story, I’ve got more work to do. 

Back to writing.

Happy 4th of July!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Open Your Heart

I've been cranky lately.

Its a number of things. First world problems mainly, but still, they've been weighing on me. Work's been kinda meh and I've been sick more than I haven't, but really, it's mostly the book's fault. I'm still not done!
Enough complaining.

I was driving home the other night, crabbing at the traffic, and thinking that all I wanted was to get home and get to work editing but I knew I needed to do some yoga first. It's two hours out of my evening, but I've been putting it off a lot and that's not helping things either.

So I got home and pulled up the Yoga Glow website and this class on heart openers jumped out at me. So I did it. And it was awesome. The instructor spoke of making space around your heart, of casting aside those old thoughts that weigh you down and opening up to truth and light and intuition.

That's good advice, eh? It doesn't matter if you are talking about work, or relationships, or editing. You have to be open to new ideas but that process of making yourself receptive isn't always easy. Sometimes the answer your looking for isn't even new.

Sometimes you just need to rediscover acceptance.

I am where I need to be. The rest will follow, if I open up my heart.


Originally posted at my blog, Writing and Whatnot, on 6-21-12

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury Lives

As though I had lost a family member, the messages started coming in early this afternoon.

How are you holding up?

I’m so sorry to hear about Ray.

When I got the first message I hadn’t actually heard anything yet, but a quick check of the “Internets” proved my worst fear: Ray Bradbury, age 91 had passed away.

But I didn’t buy it. You see, for me this is the third time Ray Bradbury has died.

Twice before, good meaning friends who know my love of science fiction and Ray Bradbury have told me, out of the blue, “Oh, did you hear Ray Bradbury died.” Each time I tried to conceal my horror—and said, “No. I didn’t know that.” But in each case when I went to confirm, it wasn’t Ray at all, but another author of his era. In one case it was Kurt Vonnegut (yes, that still bummed me out). Who the other author was I don’t recall. But thankfully it wasn’t Ray.

So I’m holding out hope, you see, that Ray Bradbury is not really dead, that somehow the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated to me—although this time the sources are more plentiful and verifiable. It’s not looking good, but I’m praying, wishing, as only one fantasy writer and fan can for another, especially one as important as Ray.

If I had a Sci-Fi/Fantasy dealer, that would be Ray. His short stories and books were my gateway drug to other fiction, maybe even my gateway drug into writing.

A friend once asked me if I could invite any three people alive or dead to dinner and converse with them, who would be on my guest list. I chose all living authors, which my friend said was telling. And Ray Bradbury was on the top of my list.

I never got to sit down and have a meal or an in-depth conversation with Mr. Bradbury, but I did get a great seat at a newly opened St. Cloud, Minnesota library to hear him speak once many years ago. He entertained the audience for an hour, talking about his life, his writing and sharing funny anecdotes. After his time on stage he sat at a desk out front to sign his books for a line of fans a block long.

I was the very last person in that line. At one point Ray announced that he would sit there as long as it took to sign every autograph. This was a man in his eighties, who had just had a stroke and had relearned how to write. Can you imagine that? Having what you do best taken away from you and having to learn it all over again at the age of eighty? Not many people would or could do that, let alone show up to sign autographs. But Ray sat there, and when I finally reached him he smiled and joked and shook my hand, and even took a fan letter from me.

The letter talked about my first memories at age 4 or 5 of seeing my father in his den reading Bradbury books. Of later my reading his books like THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN or the HALLOWEEN TREE. And later yet as a teenager (and an adult) trying my hand at writing my own fiction stories. The letter was mostly me saying thank you to this great writer who had entertained and inspired me my whole life.

Many months later he left a message on my home answering machine, thanking me for the letter. And a few days after that an autographed book showed up in the mail.

(Below: Ray's signature in his book, ZEN in the Art of Writing)

Even now his kindness and creative spirit overwhelm me.

After hearing of Ray’s passing today I looked online to see what other information others were putting out there about Ray. I was pleased to see on Twitter, that two of the trending topics were “We Hate Lady Gaga” and “Ray Bradbury.”

One other site I looked at had a posting by someone who seemed close to Ray, who obviously knew him and his works, knew him more closely than I ever would. And that person said, and I’m overly summarizing here, “I’ll never see Ray again.” They seemed completely devastated, and I don’t blame them at all.

But—I wanted to say to that person, “Disciple, have a little faith.” For you see, I have heard Ray Bradbury tell the tale many times over the years in interviews (and the time I saw him in person) of how Ray became immortal. As a young boy around the age of twelve he went to the circus and the “Mr. Electrico” placed his sword on Ray’s head and made his hair stand on end, and said to him, “Live forever.” And shortly thereafter Ray Bradbury decided that the way he would live forever would be to write, to be an author, that books in libraries and ideas were forever, immortal. (Hear the story in Ray’s own words here).

So is Ray Bradbury really dead this time?

I say no. Go to your nearest library or bookstore, or pick up your Kindle or Nook (devices that Ray Bradbury probably wanted nothing to do with), and look around you. Ray’s books are there. And I think considering all his books and short stories, printed and reprinted all over the world, that his plan at immortality worked out for him.

If you want to find Ray Bradbury and what he’s all about, to experience his ideas and his poetic fiction, just pick one of his books and start reading.

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.
Or better yet, live forever.

Mark Teats

The times we’ve mentioned Bradbury on this blog (includes this post):

Ray Bradbury on why we’re all here and on growing old:

The Louis Armstrong of Science Fiction: