More Writerly Advice

Not the writer of this article

A Month of Revision
by Matthew Salesses

I am amazed that the good and wise Steve Himmer has let me have the run of the place for a month. I am going to mess this house up and only talk about how to clean it. For July, I have decided to play History. I have decided to launch a war on first drafts and erect the memorial to edits. Revision is where we do our most important work as writers, or at least where we can. And yet, for as much as we love and hate it, for as much as we talk about it, we don’t really talk about it. (See: What We Talk About When We Talk About Revision, which I’ve revised right out of this introduction.) I want that to change. I want us to teach revision up front when we teach writing, to demystify it, to make it the first thought rather than all reaction. One downside of workshops—which I love, don’t get me wrong—is that we only address the issues that come up. I think we can offer tips and strategies and experience and frustration from the beginning. I think we can say, this is where we’re going, and this is how we can make sure we get there.

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According to his website, “Matthew Salesses is the author of a novella, The Last Repatriate (Nouvella Books), as well as two chapbooks, Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) and We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius)…He received his MFA from Emerson College…and now serves as Fiction Editor and a columnist for the Good Men Project.” So he must know his shit.

Actually, he does. Everything he writes here is absolutely true. Even if you’ve read it in other forms before.

Also not the writer of this article

What Writers Can Learn from Saving Hope (Part III)

Kathy Fuller concludes are impressively positive thinking about the good that can come from a bad TV show.

by Kathy Fuller

Mistake #3: Get real, already.

The employees at Hope-Zion hospital are your typical hospital drama stereotypes—the female surgeon with something to prove, the cocky, promiscuous male doc, the pie-eyed good guy who never gets the girl but is always lusting after her, the quirky, insecure yet sexually free woman-child, and the supporting cast of wise-cracking nurses, oddball patients, and overbearing department heads.

Stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Even poorly written stereotypes can be redeemed if their stories are compelling. Plot is character and character is plot, but sometimes the stronger component can prop up the weaker one. In the case of Saving Hope, the characters have no hope, because their stories aren’t real.

What, you say? Fiction isn’t real? Of course it isn’t, because if it was then it would be non-fiction and I would avoid Hope-Zion hospital like a zombie apocalypse. Fiction, while made-up, has to be realistic. Believable. The viewer has to accept that while it probably never would happen in real life (a zombie apocalypse, for example) they have to accept that it could.

Believability is something Saving Hope desperately needs. I’m not talking about Charlie haunting the hospital. That’s actually believable, because who knows what happens to the conscious mind while in a coma. The concepts of ghosts and hauntings and other supernatural elements are given credence (by some) in real life, so the idea of Charlie wandering the hospital floors isn’t so far-fetched that we can’t relate to it.

The lack of believability appears when the story is focused on the hospital, which is 99.9% of the time. Alex doesn’t take any time off after the accident. She’s diagnosing patients, performing surgeries, filling out forms, and getting a verbal beat-down by her boss “for not having her head in the game” (or some other such twaddle) as if she’s broken a fingernail instead of slowly losing the love of her life.

To make matters less believable, the “caring” staff at Hope-Zion more often than not act as if taking care of one of their own is a huge ordeal and being sympathetic to Alex is asking too much. She has to beg the neurosurgeon to run another test on Charlie. She has to beg a nurse to practice a specific type of coma therapy. Thank God she hasn’t begged for time off yet, because apparently its better to have an emotionally compromised surgeon actively working than losing her for a couple of weeks while she grieves Charlie. If these medical professionals can’t be compassionate to the people they work with, how are they treating their patients? Why would I want to spend a minute, much less an hour with these people?

Actually, I don’t. If I’m spending my entire viewing time saying “that would never happen, that would never happen, that really would never happen” then something’s very, very wrong with the storytelling. It alienates the viewer to the point of no return. I’ve seen three episodes of Saving Hope. I won’t be watching a fourth.

Fiction has to be believable, no matter how unbelievable the premise is. Once you’ve anchored your story in a familiar reality, then you have the freedom to break the rules and create your own story world; one that viewers will want to be a part of.

Publishing Industry? There ain’t No Publishing Industry

And now, for the delectation and edification of new writers everywhere, 1,920 words to the wise:

The ‘Incredible Resilience of Publishing’ Fantasy

by Michael Levin

In this month’s Atlantic, you can find a piece by Peter Osnos, a former Random House editor, making the case that books, like the subject of a Gloria Gaynor song, will survive. He speaks of book publishing’s “incredible resilience.”

Not so fast, Peter. Incredible fantasy, or even denial is more like it.

Osnos lists some of the challenges that the traditional book publishing model has had to overcome in the past and in today’s world: mall-based bookstores; discounting of the price of the bestsellers; monolithic Barnes & Noble superstores eating everyone else’s lunch; and now Amazon and the Department of Justice’s price-fixing charges against major publishers and Apple.

And yet, he notes, the mood at Book Expo America, the recent book publishing conclave, was “strikingly upbeat.” Even independent bookstores, he suggests, are doing better. He concludes, “Book readers have proven their devotion to the written word for centuries. How they will do so in the years ahead remains uncertain in a variety of ways, but books are here to stay.”

No, they aren’t. At least not the ones published by the dinosaurs that are the major New York publishing houses. Their mood may be cheerful when they strike a public pose, but even on the Titanic, the band kept playing long after the iceberg had upended the ocean liner. That’s what’s happening now.

Book publishing as we know it is dying. I’m sure the mood at the last few conventions of buggy whip manufacturers were “strikingly upbeat” even as the horseless carriage gained traction in American society. Publishers, and those who defend them, simply don’t want to recognize the reality of bringing out books in the Internet era, simply because they really can’t imagine what else they’ll do for a living once the publishing companies collapse. But collapse they will, and here’s why.

Prior to the Internet era, publishers enjoyed a hammerlock on two key factors: the distribution of books, and the marketing of books. If you wanted people to buy your book, you had to get it into bookstores across the country, and only the major publishers had the financial clout to do that. Sure, you could always go to a local printer and then sell copies, one at a time from your garage. But you sure weren’t going to develop a national following anytime soon. Authors who self-published their way to glory prior to the Internet era can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Publishers also maintained a near monopoly on the marketing of books. In the good old days, the major publishers dominated the book review sections of major newspapers and magazines, because of the amount of ads they took out in those publications. Simon & Schuster Books wouldn’t necessarily get good reviews, or get reviewed at all, in the New York Times Book Review, just because S&S spent a lot of money on ads there.

But pretty much all of their books would get consideration. Books published by independents, or even by the authors themselves, had virtually no chance of getting attention from book reviewers. Today, newspapers have shrunk or disappeared, and there are far fewer book review sections or even individual book reviews published. There are also far fewer newspaper readers, so the major publishers lost the monopoly they had on influencing readers as to which books to buy.

What’s different today? In terms of distribution, anyone with a few hundred dollars and a dream can upload his or her book to a print-on-demand company, Kindle Direct, Smashwords, or a host of competitors, and be happily published within a couple of months for a physical book and for an e-book, within hours. The business world calls this process disintermediation, or the elimination of the middleman. In short, authors no longer need New York.

They no longer need the New York Times Book Review, either. That’s because the Internet provides infinite methods to draw attention to one’s own book without waiting for reviewers to pay attention. You can buy Google AdWords or other forms of paid search. You can game the Google algorithms through search engine optimization and have the website for your book come up on the first page for relevant searches. You can create a social media campaign using any combination of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, or a dozen other vehicles. You can blog about your book. You can target the niche market for your book far better than New York publishers ever did.

In short, New York publishers have lost the two things that made their business model work: the hammerlocks on distribution and marketing that the Internet has utterly destroyed. So how has New York responded to the challenge? First, by taking the approach that Osnos writes about in hisAtlantic article: That all is well; that we’ve weathered storms before; that before we know it, we’ll figure out the whole Internet thing and be back to making scads of money. Or as Michael Korda said back when the Great Recession was at its worst, “We’ve been through this before and before you know it, we’ll all be going out to lunch again.”

I’d hold off on those lunch reservations, Mr. Korda. Independent publishers are going to be eating your lunch. In fact, they already have. New York publishers today are no longer interested in the quality of the content of a book. All they’re interested in is the marketing plan for the book. Unless you’re Dr. Phil, it doesn’t matter how great your book is. All that matters to New York publishers is how many people follow you on Twitter, how many friends you have on Facebook, how many people read your blog.

But this begs an important question: If you already have a robust social media presence, or a lengthy speaking schedule, then why do you even need New York at all? Why should you give New York publishers 85 to 90 percent (or more) of the gross income from your book when you can publish it yourself, either by print-on-demand or Kindle Direct or some other means, and keep all the proceeds for yourself?

As a result, the books that New York publishes today are a pale shadow of the quality of books a decade or a generation ago. You see the same thing over and over again. A consultant with a cool new catch phrase or buzzword, but a book that really is a magazine article stretched out over twelve chapters. A sports book about a team or coach that changed a town or a country or the whole planet. A diet book that lets you have your cake and eat it, too. A book on finding a mate, finding a job, or finding God that repackages the advice contained in every book that preceded it.

New York publishers like to pride themselves on the “curating” of information, as if they were Thomas Hoving at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, making the mummies dance. Sorry. They aren’t curating anything. They’re just looking for good marketing plans. As a result, there’s an increasing sense of disappointment on the part of book buyers, who are discovering that the books literally aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. And as a result, they’re buying fewer and fewer books, which is why you see fewer and fewer bookstores. It’s not just Amazon. It’s the fact that the product itself is, by and large, lousy.

E-books only compound the misery. If you buy a physical book, even if it’s no good, you can still put it on your bookshelf at your home or your office and look smart and imposing. But if you buy an e-book, and you find that all the information the author really has to offer is contained in the first chapter, and the other eleven chapters are just hamburger helper, you don’t have anything to show for your purchase.

There’s nothing to put on your bookcase. Nothing to make you look smart and imposing. And after a while, people will say the same thing about books that they said about records: Why did I buy the album when I only bought the CD?

Osnos says that independent bookstores are on the rise, but that sounds a lot like the housing recovery that everybody keeps talking about but isn’t reflected in home prices anywhere in the United States. Independent booksellers will be the wave of the future, once they figure out how to make you get in your car and drive to them when you can download an e-book without budging from your desk at work or your sofa at home. I’d love to see independent booksellers come back to life, but I’m not holding my breath.

In short, publishing is in a collapse and freefall very much of its own making. New York publishers have had two decades by now to figure out what to do about the Internet, and their reaction has been to stick their heads in the sand and hope that the whole Internet thing will go away. Now they appear to be equating Amazon with the Walden and Dalton book chains of the 1980s. Please. Amazon is everything New York publishers aren’t: a well-organized, strategic, future-oriented business. The New York publishers have simply got no game.

I write as one who loves books and who makes his living writing, co-writing, and ghostwriting books. But I’m dealing in reality. Books are turning into buggy whips. And the New York publishers have no one to blame for that but themselves.

The strange thing about the Javits Center, the location of BookExpo America, is that even though it’s located in Manhattan, you still feel completely disconnected from the rest of the city. That’s because it’s all but impossible to catch a cab there. The area surrounding the Javits Center is a no man’s land, if you’re a suave, urbane midtown type. So the place is the New York equivalent of the Hotel California-you can check out but you can never leave.

Convention centers are not universally known for their attractiveness or warmth. The Javits Center gives you a sense of not only having been built by the lowest bidder but also having been designed by the lowest bidder. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but there’s not much right with it, either. It’s just a big, empty space ready to be filled with and then drained of conventioneers of all stripes. If the structure still exists two thousand years from now, archeologists of the future will puzzle over its purpose, since the building itself will offer zero clues.

Again, how appropriate. Once there was an aesthetic guiding hand in publishing, but that hand is gone, replaced by a grasping mitt that reaches out to find someone, somewhere who will still pay hard dollars for a book.

The two most exciting developments at BookExpo America this year were a novel for adults by J.K. Rowling and the steamy, smut-filled 50 Shades Of Grey. The popularity of these authors was entirely unexpected, really just lottery tickets that publishers discovered in their pockets. That’s the new business model of the publishing industry: publish stuff, do no marketing, and cross your fingers. But if that’s your business model, you don’t need an industry.

And if that’s your industry, you don’t need a trade show.

If you’re going to have a trade show anyway, and have it disconnected from reality, have it at the Javits Center. But good luck catching a cab back to reality.

Supernatural Pilot – Recap and Review

 TVWriter™ Note: This episode originally aired in September 2005. But some people, you know like most of TeamTVWriter, have never seen SUPERNATURAL because it’s on the CW. (Which, contrary to its claims, would seem to us to prove CW isn’t a viable network at all. But we’ll get back to that another time. Meanwhile, our current point, although it did kind of get away from us for a moment:)

**If you are unfamiliar with the series, be aware this review contains spoilers.**

by Anthony Medina

“Of course you should be afraid of the dark, are you kidding me?” – Dean Winchester

What do you get when you combine a burning mother, ghost hunting, and a couple of pretty boy male leads? Well, apparently you get a hit show on the CW. Welcome to the world of Supernatural.

The pilot opens on Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith), a mother of two tucking in her children. As she walks over to see her infant son, she sees a man standing over the boy’s crib, obviously her husband… OR IS IT?! Nope, it isn’t. When she realizes her mistake she runs back into the room but it’s too late. She screams in terror, which wakes her husband and he immediately runs to help her. And what is it that he finds? That’s right, you guessed it, she’s been sucked up to the ceiling, she’s bleeding from her stomach and she explodes into a fiery inferno that engulfs the house. I mean who didn’t see that coming right? John Winchester (Jeffrey Morgan) tries to save his wife but is only barely able to get his children out of the house before it all goes boom.

Fast forward a couple decades into the future and we are introduced to the two boys, now grown men. Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) is celebrating with his girlfriend on having just passed the LSAT and is awaiting an interview for a full scholarship to law school. However, things get a bit more complicated when his brother, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), appears in the middle of the night to ask for his help. Their father has gone missing while hunting for something. Something… SUPERNATURAL! Here, we get some exposition to help us understand that since the death of their mother, the boys have been raised as soldiers to seek out and destroy the supernatural beings of the world. Their father, who was adamant in their militaristic tutelage, has dedicated all his efforts to finding whatever it was that killed his wife.

Sam agrees to help and the two take off following a lead on the possible supernatural event their father was chasing. Although, they don’t manage to find him in this episode, their search prompts them to impersonate cops, use fraudulent credit cards, get arrested by the cops and oh yeah, help a ghost woman come to terms with her suicide, only to have her dragged to hell by the children she drowned in a bathtub. Take that you tortured bitch!

When Sam returns home, the worst thing imaginable awaits him. His girlfriend hangs from the ceiling, bleeds from her stomach and erupts into a fiery inferno that engulfs his home. With that, there is nothing left to do but join his brother and return to a life of hunting the Supernatural.

This show is really a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, the premise is reasonably interesting. I mean who doesn’t like ghost hunting con men. But on the other hand, I’m not crazy about Sam’s character. Jared Padalecki is a fine actor, but he plays this role just a little too stiff. While I am painfully familiar with the straightman angle, he made everything a little less fun and when you’re talking hip young ghost hunters, fun is a must. I couldn’t help but hear Heath Ledger’s Joker in my head every time he was on screen, “why so serious?” Dean, for me is a much more interesting character and sets the tone nicely for adventure and mystery.

Nevertheless, I was not dissatisfied with this pilot and I believe there certainly is potential going forward. I just wasn’t amazed. I will watch this show, but I probably won’t be dying to see every episode, at least for now.

Can’t Argue with This

Karlovy Vary 2012: Helen Mirren Calls for More Women Directors

Honored for her lifetime achievement at the Czech Republic festival, the “Prime Suspect” actress urged more female filmmakers to make movies.

Where are all the women directors?

So asked Helen Mirren Friday night as she accepted a lifetime achievement award on the opening night of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival with impromptu remarks.

Paying tribute to the late Nora Ephron,who died earlier this week, Mirren called out for more women to follow her lead as one of the few successful women screenwriter/directors in the entertainment industry.

Mirren recalled her own early acting career when few women directed films.

“When I was making those (early) films, they were very, very few female directors, and there were certainly no women on set, which made taking one’s clothes off all the more difficult,” she observed.

All that has changed in recent years, Mirren continued, after Julie Taymor directed her in The Tempest, and Hurt Locker helmer Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar as best director.

“Things have moved on, but as far as I’m concerned, they haven’t moved on enough,” Mirren insisted…

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