Sunday, September 13, 2015

Week in Review 9/13/15

At long last we resume the week in review. Yes, it's more work than the daily posts but I really do enjoy doing it and from your comments it's clear you like reading it.

On Monday we talked further on the topic of meeting agents at conferences and how to distinguish between social and business conversation. 

I resonated with Lisa Bodenheim's comment:
Janet's distinction is where I'd be in trouble. The difference between social and business . When I'm in a new social setting, I tend to get task-oriented because otherwise I'm tongue-tied and feel awkward. Which means I'd be at risk of either stepping over that line or blending into the wallpaper.

I feel EXACTLY the same way. One way to overcome this at a writing conference is to volunteer to do one of the MANY jobs they need help with. For people going to Boucheron in Raleigh, this is for you.  I always like working the registration desk: you get to meet a lot of people. 

For years, my favorite volunteer job at the Pacific NW Booksellers Association was checking badges at the door. That was the one job where you met EVERYONE, were the go to person for information, and people knew where to find you. The Exec Director of PNBA thought I was nuts for loving that job, but since I was looking for publicity clients, it was genius I tell you, genius.

So, feeling like you might be shy and tongue-tied? Volunteer!

Susan Bonifant didn't agree with my post:
I'm a big fan of timing and placement at things like this and parties attended by doctors and lawyers. But to worry about the proper framing of an appreciative comment, in a setting where hopeful writers are expected to converse with kind agents seems like micro-etiquette to me.

This isn't just an "appreciative comment"  You're overlooking the part about "asking about next work."  Also, thanking someone after they rejected you is a VERY difficult thing to do without making the agent feel awkward.  This isn't the same as "thank you for taking out my gall bladder and saving my life." It's more akin to "I know you tried hard to save Mom's life."

My goal here is to tell you that even with your good intentions, from MY side of the conversation this is awkward, and may not lead to a result you intend. 

E.M Goldsmith found another nugget of TERRIBLE advice at a writer's conference:
At last conference I attended, at one of the seminars, the presenter said if an agent rejects your work either query, partial, or full, you may never query or even pitch to them again.

This is just plain wrong. Who ever said this should be confined in the library WITHOUT their reading glasses till they come to their senses.

Again: there is no such thing as the Query Police.

Also: querying on new projects is TOTALLY expected.  

Remember: we are looking for good work to sell. Why on earth would any agent EVER not want to look at something because five years ago you weren't the writer you are today.

Some of this advice makes me wonder where they hell they ever worked that they'd think this is true.

I do like brianshwarz's pithy comment:

Here's my rule for writers - Act like you're going to be around.

And on the subject of thank you emails: it's never wrong to send one. You don't have to. It's not rude if you don't, but don't fret if your sense of self requires you to do so. I get that. And I get a lot of thank you emails too. I do read them, but I don't generally reply.

And of course, the conversation veered wonderfully off topic with new information about BettyWith2ts Buttonweezer.

On Tuesday (just one t) we talked about including awards in the writing credits part of your query letter. "It depends" was the less than helpful answer (like so much of publishing of course)

Calorie Bombshell shared this:
A few years ago, I won the short story competition held by the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado. The prize was free admittance to the three-day conference, an award, and attendance at the award dinner. It was an amazing three days of learning, networking, and binge snacking on bite-size macarons. I'm usually surrounded by overstuffed, linear-thinking lawyers, so the creative vibe blew my mind. That being said, I'm not sure I would include it in any query.

Writing conference contests can be good things to mention IF the person who judged the contest is someone like an editor, agent, or known writer.  You'd mention the judge in that case as well. Don't know who judged the contest? Less valuable as a pub credit.

One problem with conference contests is often they're limited to people attending the conference.  Conference contests open to anyone (The Golden Donut is a good example) are more competitive, therefore more valuable.

Susan makes a good point about the value of contests:
While I'm proud of that book, my best friend is self-doubt, especially when it comes to my writing--I'm working on it, but as we all know, that beast is a bastard to tame. So I entered these contests because I've rarely ever won anything and I wanted to see what would happen. I ended up winning a category in one and was a finalist in another.

Just because it doesn't go in your query doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

Colin asked the $64,000 question:

Will an agent form-reject the query, or think less of the author making it harder to convince the agent to take the project, or will the agent ignore the contest wins and evaluate the query (and pages if applicable) as if the author hadn't said anything?

I think the underlying fear for some is that they HAVE mentioned such things in a query, and these are what got them the form rejection. Or maybe they have a contest win they are not sure is valuable, and wonder if mentioning it on the off-chance the agent is impressed would hurt their chances of getting a fair shake in the event the agent is not impressed.

The only thing that I really care about is the writing. If the query isn't very good, something good in the pub credits column will get me to read pages a little more closely. 

I'm never going to say no ONLY because you mention you won the Felix Buttonweezer Lettuce Haiku Contest in your query.

Good writing trumps everything. (I need a new word for trumps. That man should be stripped of his NYC residency permit)

Jennifer R. Donohue opens a can of worms with this one:
Whew, I guess I underestimated the importance of geographic veracity in fiction! Here I thought we were allowed to make things up ;)

One of my GREAT annoyances is people who get geography wrong. EVEN IN NOVELS. If you set something in NYC, you better make sure you know Sixth Avenue traffic runs one way north, and that Broadway runs one way south, and Pershing Square isn't an actual place (like it is in LA.)

And trust me, I'm not alone in this. You want letters from readers? Fuck up the geography.

I see those little side notes "I played with the geography for purposes of the story" and think "pshaw, you just didn't work hard enough."

Of course, this is MY personal position, nowhere close to a rule or industry standard, but if you query me, you better have your historical facts in order and your geography accurate.

Colin asked
To your last point, this is where publication credits are perhaps more important than contest wins. If I was querying Janet, would she be more impressed with getting published in AHMM (I haven't--just hypothetically), or winning a Writer's Digest contest?

AHMM. Very definitely.

On Wednesday we talked about how to talk about a self-pubbed novel in a query for a new novel

I added a plea to think carefully about self pubbing this first novel.

I really like what Stephen G. Parks said:
Writers build reputations among readers. Once that’s blown, it’s hard to get back. A first book really has to set a foundation — a standard of quality — to encourage readers to commit to your later works once they arrive.

    Readers are fickle, and inundated with choice. I’ve given up on two established writers (published writers, not self-pubs) whose most recent books read like they’re fulfilling contractual obligations, not telling stories for the love of the story. I’ve found replacement authors to fill the slots in my reading list.

    If your book doesn’t soar, don’t publish it now. Put it on a shelf and revisit it in a few years. If you're still passionate about the story in a few years' time, read it with fresh eyes and see if it can't be encouraged to fly.

W.R. Gingell concurred, with the added benefit of having self pubbed herself:
SO very grateful I didn't self-publish my first novel :D

Make no mistake, I'm a self-pubbed author, but my first novel was only published after it had had a complete rewrite from the bottom up, and is in fact my fourth published book now. It bears very little resemblance to the novel it once was.

The first one I actually published was the fourth I'd written :D
I do love self publishing, but I think it's a mistake to self publish if your sole reason is that no one else would take your book. You can still make it if that's the case (lots of niche stuff doesn't find a home in trade publishing) but it's a LOT of work and you need to have more in your arsenal than 'My book is awesome and I'm gonna SHOW YOU ALL.'

It helps to have that, too, but it shouldn't be all you've got...

(Also, I wouldn't actually have thought of mentioning it in a query at all, if I ever went back to querying. But that's just me.)

Brenda Buchanan also has some insight on those early mss:

That recycled/revised/rewritten/retooled manuscript is the second book in my Joe Gale Mystery series, to be released September 28. I was fortunate that I didn't have to let it go for good. I only needed to set it aside long enough to learn some stuff I did not know several years ago.

I've known Brenda for a long time (CrimeBake rocks!) and I read several earlier drafts of what is now part of the new series. Brenda's a very good writer. She's correct in her assessment: those early drafts needed work. I am VERY glad she took the time to do that work. Now I'm a fan as well as a friend.

E.M.Goldsmith asks:
Poof gives a valid exception to the rule. Now I am worried about timing after all this convincing myself to be patient. My book is post-apocalyptic and I have it on authority the apocalypse is starting this Sunday, September 13th (So says the book, The Harbinger) and it's very convincing. Will my book still have a market if the apocalypse actually comes? What do agents do during an apocalypse? What to do. What to do.

Of course I'm prepared for the apocalypse. Aren't you? I have enough reading material to outlast even the cockroaches.

And if you haven't read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, just do yourself a favor and go do that now.

Ignore everything that makes you think you might not like the category. This book doesn't have a category other than EXCELLENT and MUST READ.

Susan has an interesting comment here:
For many people (yep, myself included), the decision to self-publish stems from a variety of factors, one of which is a knowledge of the publishing industry itself. I spent 3 years on my book before deciding to publish, then took over a year researching the industry--both traditional and indie models--before making my decision to go indie (with a personal situation cementing that decision). There wasn't a market in traditional publishing for my book (a 'quiet' novella), and I knew that. But I didn't want to pad it to bring up the word count, nor did I want to cut it to make it a short story. It was the story I wanted to tell in exactly the way I wanted to tell it, and I have no regrets.

It was hard work. I had to decide on a cover design that would be appealing, I had to determine which audience to market my book to, I had to create marketing initiatives and events to increase sales. That research and experience in self-publishing has given me a firsthand look into what goes into publishing a book, and to me that is invaluable as an author.

But now I do have a few novels that I would like to see go bigger, and I'm looking forward to working with others as a team to help bring that to light (self-publishing is exhilarating and exhausting!).

That's why when I query, I include a mention of my book. I'm still in many ways learning, but I've also learned from this experience. Whether agents will look at it that way or not, I don't know...I just think that there's value in all things and wish it weren't always so quickly dismissed.

The problem here is that you are exception to the normal experience. It's clear that your decision was thoughtful and well-researched.  Mostly I see queries from people who were impatient (which you were not) and are now disillusioned with how much work it was (also not you.)

That's one of the biggest problems self-pubbed authors face: they're judged by the company they're in.

Do I make unwarranted assumptions about authors? Maybe. But I make assumptions based on category as well: I don't do vampires. If your query mentions vampires, I'm going to say no without even reading pages. 

If you've got a book that you self pubbed cause it was a quiet novella, at least say so in the query. It may not be a pub credit, but you don't have to hide it. It's part of your bio.  I totally understand that general trade publishing is not a welcoming place for quiet books (and I've got the rejection letters to prove it)

On Thursday the conversation turned to pseudonyms, a topic that has taken Cyberia by storm recently after a poet was found to have used a female Chinese name when he was in fact neither of those things.

I am NOT weighing in on that firestorm but I did address the question of pseudonyms in general.

Angie Brooksby Arcangioli reminded me there's an e in nom de plume (or actually there are two, one should be on the end of plume)

Just a reminder that I do appreciate catching my typos and telling me either in the comments or by email.  A lot of these posts get linked to later (sometimes years later) and I really want them to be as clean as possible.

(Hands off the writing and grammar though, ok?)

Friday we marked the 14th year of 9/11/2001

Saturday the topic returned to business: the clueless promotional pitch from an author asking for reviews.

Elena said:

"Oh, and one last thing: As a huge favor, in your review, please DO NOT write things like "I received a free copy from author for an honest review.." That's an automatic turn off in review world and discredits your review from those who need to read it, so please don't do that. Pretty please :)"

Is that...actually true? I'm curious, if anybody's willing to share--if you're checking out a review for a book, and the reviewer discloses that they received a free copy in exchange for a review, are you going to think less of the reviewer/author/book itself?

Like others here I'm "justa reader" but I appreciate it when a reviewer notes that they received the book for free (or as Dena mentioned, that she got her copy from the library). I'm not necessarily going to give more or less weight to what the reviewer writes after that, but I appreciate knowing all the same.

It's not actually true. It's actually pretty clueless, since ALL books sent out for review are free. The fact that people mention they got the book in exchange for a review is due to that relatively new FTC ruling that you have to disclose that kind of stuff.  Which misses the boat completely of course. Where you get the book is a whole lot less telling about subjectivity than how you know the author (if you know the author) or the publisher, or the author's agent etc.

and Elena followed up with:
So if an indie book reviewer (who's not affiliated with a news site or radio, as then it would be implied that they got a free book) writes a review on Amazon or their personal blog or wherever saying "I won an ARC of this book" or "the author sent me a free ebook," that's fine. 

Yup. It's more than fine.

The letter-writer's concern is that someone will disclose the exact nature of his or her insidious request: that the "free ebook" isn't really free, but essentially payment for a positive review.

Now that you mention it, yup, that's it exactly.

Nightmusic said:
At the risk of getting myself in trouble here, I'm wondering how old the author of the letter is. It almost reads early teen in which case, I could cut the author a slight bit of slack, but still.

This isn't t-ball. You don't get separated into age divisions. You publish a book, you get treated like a grownup.

And I like this wrap up from a lot:

It took me a little while to figure out just WHY that author might not want someone to say they received a review copy. Finally my brain twisted into just the right shape to understand it: the implication is that the reviewer happened upon this book randomly and thought it sounded so good they had to read it. And then if all those reviews are positive ones, it looks like the whole package is just blow-you-away awesome! It has nothing to do with "reviewer credibility" (which is a ridiculous statement to make to anyone who's been reviewing for a decent length of time) and everything to do with wanting it to seem like the author and their books are appealing. Covered in an, "I'm doing you a favour by giving you this advice" wrapper. Ugh.

I always think it's crass to only ask for positive reviews. I can get why an author would want positive reviews for their work (who wouldn't?), but the guilt-trip of, "If you don't like it, please don't say so, because you and you alone might be utterly ruining my career," is just tacky. Thankfully, as a reviewer, I've had to deal with relatively little of this. Not sure why; maybe I just got lucky. Pretty thankful, though!  

 Have a great week!


Unknown said...

Am I first? That's never happened before.

Speaking of misspelling French words in Blog posts, I misspelled "rendezvous" in a comment as in "Rendezvous on Carkoon". My apologies to the author, Olivia Shimsham.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Thanks for the WIR, caught a few things I missed. Great as usual.

Cindy C said...

I appreciate the time you take for the WIR. Especially for weeks like the last one, when travel and starting the new school year kept me way too busy to read all the comments, or make any comments. Now I feel all caught up and ready for the new week to start!

(Caught up on the blog. Not caught up in life outside the blog.)

nightsmusic said...

This isn't t-ball. You don't get separated into age divisions. You publish a book, you get treated like a grownup.

Agreed! But I don't know how to explain what I mentioned without convolution so I'll just shut up now...

Unknown said...

I love the Week in Review and truly appreciate the time Janet puts into answering questions that pop up in the daily discussions.

When I saw my name next to "typo" I felt a stab of embarrassment and had to read several times to see QOTKU appreciated my suggestion. Typos are one of my biggest problems and though I'll easily tell someone they have lettuce stuck between their teeth or that their dress is hiked up, I'll don't like to correct people. Only because Janet asked did I feel the 'need' to mention. I'm still not exiled to Carkoon.

Curiously, I think this post is missing a title. When I log onto The Queen's blog I like to read the post then will click on the title so the comments show below. Because I couldn't find the title I clicked on the comments link which opens in a pop-up window.

Tomorrow I start Angela James online editing course. I can't wait 'till tomorrow.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I love getting new book recommendations. And I read every genre- can't get enough. Thank you, Janet.

Janet Reid said...

Angie, of course there's a title! How could a post not have a title? You don't see it? Here, borrow my reading glasses. Also, ignore those little editing scuff marks. They're nothing. Really. Nothing.


Susan Bonifant said...

I am really happy to see the WIR make a return. Thank you, Janet, not just for revisiting the week's comments, but for the clarification you offer.

And yes, point taken. Julie Weathers also offered an illuminating day-in-the-life take that made the agent's side of the table easier to understand.

Donnaeve said...

I was in my favorite part of my home state this past week, a little area called Newland - just a few miles from Grandfather Mountain. We have an RV (which I named Harvee - and when we had our license plate made, we requested Ha-RV-ee. Catchy huh?) I love Ha-RV-ee more than he could ever know.

Anyway, I especially loved the WIR this time around because I did miss some days, and tried to post a comment here and there when I could, but a lot of times without reading everyone's comments.

Either way, NOW, I'm all caught up! Thank you!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

WOO, Week in Review!

To clarify (though perhaps I should probably keep my mouth shut): I absolutely agree that you need your history and geography straight, if you've picked an existing place in the world as a setting. NYC, Detroit, I feel you ought to research your ass off to get the details right. You picked that place for a reason, and you want it to live on your page, you want your characters to inhabit it.

If you're writing a mainstream (i.e., not Science Fiction or Fantasy story) but create a non existent country or island or whatever for your purpose in the otherwise real world, you perhaps ought not be penalized for it, as the fellow woodland creature I was responding to seemed to have been. Unless I misunderstood.

Also, I really really like post apocalyptic books, and while I can't claim to have read everything in the genre (subgenre? of that flavor?), I feel somewhat conversant. I have not yet read STATION ELEVEN, though. Or THE DOG STARS.

Anonymous said...

This is a great week in review. I've had my nose to the trail, or maybe my tail and just going around in circles, but I've been busy chasing something.

I missed a lot of interesting commentary, so the WIR helped.

Re the geography accuracy. Amen.

Zach Recht was getting rave reviews on Plague of the Dead and got a direction wrong in a North African town. A reader ripped him up one side and down the other. Zach knew the difference. He was familiar with the area, but just had a brain freeze.

Don't ever assume you can wing it.

I started out the lady bronc rider book with two sisters from Red Lodge, Mt., partially because I know the country.

"I see those little side notes "I played with the geography for purposes of the story" and think "pshaw, you just didn't work hard enough.""

That would irk me enough to probably make me quit reading. I spend untold hours making sure details are accurate even in my fantasy. Yes, a cavalry can travel 100 miles a day, but it takes a very special tactic to do it. The riders have a string of horses and are swapping off frequently to cover that kind of ground. Very few mounted armies could pull that off.

Adjusting geography because you're too lazy to research or adjust your story to the truth doesn't cut it.

Anyway, back to the salt mines. yum yum

Susan said...

"That's one of the biggest problems self-pubbed authors face: they're judged by the company they're in."

YES. And this is probably why I'm so passionate about it, and why it's one of the few topics I choose to voice my opinion on so adamantly. I'm stopping myself here from saying more on the subject. You can breathe a sigh of relief now ;)

Thanks for the additional thoughts on the posts from this week!

Donnaeve said...

I'm curious about something I've done in my current WIP given the geography discussion and wouldn't mind other commenters (or Ms. Janet) weighing in. Best to nip it in the bud if it's not a good thing.

The setting is the North Carolina mountains, specifically Jackson County which has the Tuckasegee River running through it. I have all that in there, but I've created a fictional area, a branch off the Tuckasegee called Stampers Creek - which uses the last name of my MC's family. Plenty of folks have named their piece of land or path or trail using their surname. This is okay to do, in my story, isn't it? I.e. no different in my opinion than the fact my characters don't exist either. I don't know why I can't seem to decide, given the responses, if it is or isn't.

Pharosian said...

Thanks so much for the WIR! I missed most of the comments on Tuesday, so I'm just now reading about the importance of geography--and I agree. When I'm editing a client's novel and real cities are mentioned with compass directions or driving times between them, I look it up in Google Maps to see if that's accurate.

But I have a question: How does the importance of geographic accuracy pertain in a work like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials? In that case, he set much of the story in and around the University of Oxford, but in a fictional college within the university. Sue Grafton made up the town of Santa Teresa for her alphabet murder series. And Lake Wobegon doesn't really exist in Minnesota. There are many such examples where the author wasn't sloppy or lazy, and yet chose to make fictional alterations to an existing place. What is your feeling about instances like those?

Janice L. Grinyer said...

"This isn't t-ball. You don't get separated into age divisions. You publish a book, you get treated like a grownup."


Thank you for the WIR - Its always great to read comments here, and your reflection from those comments. Have a wonderful week too!

Colin Smith said...

Really quick comment (perhaps my only comment today)--my Mum's coming tomorrow for a few weeks, so I have tidying to do! :)

First, Donna, I don't think it matters that you have a fictional place in a real one. I'm fairly certain Stephen King invented some places in Maine for his books. The rule of thumb as I understand it is, if it's a place I can't find on the map, it's all yours. But the moment your fictional place connects with I-40, you'd better know where on I-40 it is, and how you'd get there if you're travelling from Asheville. In other words, you can let your imagination run riot with a fictional location. But when you bring real places into the mix, get the geography of the real ones correct. With the fictional places, you just need to worry about consistency. If the BWAHAHAHA Industrial Site, where they make the best Evil Genius Mustaches in the universe, is located off of Highway 2442 in Stidlequiff on the planet Qoob in the Fahharhafnah galaxy--be sure you don't later put it off of Shtiller Street in that beautiful township of Uioaeptdl.

I'm currently reading DIE TWICE by Andrew Grant, and I imagine he must have lived in downtown Chicago for a while as much attention to detail there is about geography. I've been tempted to pull up Google maps while I'm reading, but I'm too into the story... :)

FYI, I didn't win the Felix Buttonweezer Lettuce Haiku Contest, but I got an honorable mention with this:

O leaves of pale green
The caterpillars munch you
Please let me lunch you

Thanks for the WiR, Janet. This is a momentous weekly undertaking, and I wasn't sure you'd bring it back. It takes a huge chunk of your time, and I'm sure you have plenty of other things to do. But I'm glad you see how much we appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions, applaud our cleverness, laugh at our stupidity, and make us all feel not so alone in the publishing world.

Anonymous said...


"YES. And this is probably why I'm so passionate about it, and why it's one of the few topics I choose to voice my opinion on so adamantly."

That's understandable. I have a friend who has a small press. I adore her. She's been an ally for years. She's offered to publish FR if I get war weary only because she wants me to move on at some point.

I'm not anti-self-published books. I just have read very, very few that are good and my time on earth is finite. I have three bookcases of research books, plus the stuff on Kindle, plus novels and poetry stuffed in various nooks, crannies, and other bookcases. Some of the traditionally published books are crap, too, but they've at least been edited to some extent. Of that number I probably have a dozen self-pubbed books in the mix. I bought them to support friends mainly. Four I bought because people raved about them. I haven't finished any of the four, which makes me wonder what those reviewers saw that I can't see.

Another self-pubbed author I know rants about agents and publishing in general every time a discussion about agents comes up. She despises them. They couldn't see the genius of her 600-page tome. The nerve of those people suggesting she change a single word or *gasp* cut it! The agent's job is not to edit her work, it's to sell it. Period.

She can't be bothered to get the work edited, but I'm supposed to buy it and read the bloated thing to support indie authors. Umm, no.

Unfortunately, the really good indie books are getting buried by the dreck.


My fictional plantation in the Civil War piece is in Luray, Virginia. I'm not basing it on a real plantation, but the location is ideal for what I need. It's in the Shenendoah Valley, which caught hell. It's close enough to Baltimore the MC could realistically travel there. Gen. Johnson had a very active civilian spy ring in the area. Mosby and Stuart were active in the area.

I'm trying to find documentation of some businesses in the area. I will invent others as I have to interact with the owners and I don't want descendants coming down my throat. My great-great-grandmother didn't look like that or act like that. Yeah. I don't need that. Historical characters I can verify I am sprinkling liberally.

Amy Schaefer said...

I love that the geography issue is getting so much play in the comments. Hooray for detail!

When you're dealing with an out-and-out real place that you have identified, then you ought to be as accurate as you can be. There's no excuse to be sloppy. BUT, I think Donnaeve has identified the one bit of wiggle room you get, and that is making a natural insertion. As a reader, that sort of thing works for me.

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, Janet! I love the WiR.

Regarding 'truth in geography' and made-up places...

It's actually pretty common. It's sometimes used for satirical benefit and sometimes because you really don't want someone going around saying, "There isn't a Fork Street in my home town!"

The real truth of a made-up place comes in whether people think it's real. Donna, since you're following a local custom (small places named after local family, etc.), then as long as it feels real, it is real.

I know there have been some incidents where people 'identify' made-up places as a place they know, and they say, "There's no general store in Riverdale." Well, no, but this isn't Riverdale, it's Donnaville. It's not even based on Riverdale. But the author has made it so real, that the reader believes it is. And that's good writing.

John Frain said...

Thanks for the WiR, your Royal Sharkness.

I'd like to stay with Geography for $800, please.

The answer is, She makes mention in her Author notes that she'll sometimes play with the geography of her hometown Baltimore, adding a house here, a street there, when it fits the story.


Who is Laura Lippman?

So can I assume a general rule here (he said hopefully, thinking of his current work in progress) that anything you create is fair game for any treatment, but anything that exists must conform to reality? This seemed obvious to me 24 hours ago. Now, my head spins.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Another admirer of the Week in Review. So glad to see it back.

Donnaeve said...

Thanks all (so far) who've answered. I sorta/kinda suspected it was okay to come up with the fictional Stampers Creek, yet, like John Frain, it does sort of make my head spin when I consider what I'm able to manipulate vs what I must keep real. I realize (now) I probably need to go back and do some fact checking regarding Highway 107 - which exists - but is it really close enough to the Tuckasegee and therefore if I have FLOOD water, can it actually impact the 107?

Ugh. Must study the map again. Details, details.

Adele said...

Thinking about the geography thing. In my original post, the situation was that the contest entrant had mentioned an area in British Columbia and referred to it as a desert. Well, it is a desert. It gets about 1/4" of rain a year and has sagebrush, rattlesnakes and scorpions. The contest judge did not know that, wrote "Canada doesn't have deserts" and carried on with a diatribe about how important it is to get your geography correct.

So here's the thing. Obviously, the geographic fact of this desert was not known to the judge and also probably not known to agents, editors, and most potential readers. So as a writer, do you think the contest entrant should have tried to explain more fully? Perhaps working in the info that lots of people don't know about the desert? Or was she right to just assume that if she says desert, there's a desert?

Val said...

Thanks to the Week in Review, and Colin's quest for clarification, I now know that my 89th place in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Competition, Memoirs/Personal Essay category, is not as impressive as I imagined.

Amy Schaefer said...

Adele, I think that one is on the contest judge. If you are going to complain about someone else's facts, you'd better triple-check your own.

That said, if the author could work a line or two in the manuscript putting the (apparent) oddness of a desert in generally lush BC in context, it might help the reader.

Anonymous said...


" but is it really close enough to the Tuckasegee and therefore if I have FLOOD water, can it actually impact the 107?"

Oddly enough, there are areas of arid west Texas that are designated flood plains. When I lived in Wickenberg, AZ, people warned me constantly about being careful during rains. Tourists and campers drown frequently when flood waters rampage down dry gulches and stream beds.

Anonymous said...

As usual, the WIR was much appreciated and cleared up a couple lingering questions for me, too.

And then there was this: "(Hands off the writing and grammar though, ok?)"

Ooops. Sorry about that.

It's a very small, almost minuscule, consolation that I wasn't the only one who oh-so-helpfully [ahem] offered suggestions on how to re-write your email response re fulls.

Maybe we need a 12-stop program for writers. Pretty sure admitting you have a problem is essential to recovery: "Hi, my name is KD and I'm a writer. It's been, um, maybe a week since I re-wrote someone else's words, unsolicited."

BJ Muntain said...

Adele: Whoa. No deserts in Canada? Was this a Canadian contest?

Until recent years, most of south Saskatchewan was desert. Dry years, it's very much desert. The southwestern corner of Saskatchewan is still desert. Rattlers and everything. Saskatchewan also has sand dunes, which is really cool.

Thinking of what the author might have done... perhaps giving a specific area of the desert is enough? Such as 'between this place and that place, the (is there a name for it?) desert holds ... desert-like stuff...' I mean, the more specific, the less the judge can say anything, right? Especially if the desert is called something specific. Like the Great Sandhills or the Val Marie area in Saskatchewan.

It would make it easier for the judge (and others) to do research, if they do it. :)

Donnaeve said...

Julie, a great point about the flood plains, and actually makes my "job" easier in that I'm basing part of the story on fact, relative to back to back hurricanes which came in 1940.

I tend to worry about this kind of stuff though... like, wait, I have them heading towards Hwy 107 and they encounter a flood. What if someone from the area says Hwy 107 didn't flood. Yeah, that kind of nit worrying.

BJ Muntain said...

Donna, it would probably have to be someone who remembers 1940... So the person would be in their 80s... and chances are, any memories (and tale telling) was probably exaggerated... I think you'll be fine. :) But research can be inspirational, too :)

Donnaeve said...

BJ - see? Now ya'll know how my brain works - busy, busy busy and worrying'est woodland creature EVER.

CED said...

Add my voice to those who enjoy and appreciate the WIRs (WsIR?).

I found the geography part interesting, because just this week I attended a conversation between Lee Child and Stephen King where Child said that when he knew the geography too well, his writing came out sounding too much like Mapquest (and I believe he was even talking about a New York scene). He rewrote the scene with wrong directions, because it read better, and he figured the percentage of readers who would care was small.

And if you think the whole purpose of this comment was to let slip that I got to see Lee Child and Stephen King have a conversation, well, you might be right. :) But if this crowd can't appreciate that, no one can.

Anonymous said...


I check newspapers in the 1800's to see what the weather was on a certain day in a certain area when writing a scene. I don't find it odd. Most of the time no one will ding you on that stuff, but when writing heavily researched times like Napoleonic wars, the Civil War, etc. stitch counters will howl if you have them out picking posies and the area was still snowbound.

An author mentioned on a forum she didn't think it was important to check the weather for her scene in NYC in fairly recent history. She had a torrential storm going on. Other people protested it was too easy to see it had been bright, sunny, blistering hot, and without rain for ages at that particular time. Ah, well, No one will care.

Each to their own. I doubt very many people will really care the level of research behind my books if they ever read them, but I'll know I did the best I could to paint an accurate picture.

Be true to yourself and the world will follow.

Anonymous said...

Donna, I can't answer the question about flooding in that area, but I've lived here (NC) long enough to know that when there's torrential rain in the mountains it often results in landslides/mudslides and roads can become impassable. If you decide the flood thing doesn't work, for whatever reason, that might be an alternative.

Pam Powell said...

Accuracy in geography, weather, etc. -

An early version of the screenplay for the movie, "Earthquake," had a tsunami happen prior to the earthquake. Oops!

Will the inaccuracy be so egregious as to yank the reader out of the story? In the case of "Earthquake," yes - at least to those of us who grew up with earthquakes.

As for geography, if the place is fictitious, then all that's needed is for the internal logic to be consistent. Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara, better not have heavy snows. Northern suburbs and southern suburbs better be consistent. Hmm. Makes me wonder if Sue Grafton has a made-up map for Santa Teresa. I can see it now, "Santa Teresa from A to Z".

Panda in Chief said...

As much as I like to make stuff up, it is true that if you get the geography of a real place wrong, the people who live there will get annoyed. I always think of the movie "Trouble in Mind" an Alan Rudolph movie set in Seattle. While I really love this movie, I kept thinking "why is he going back and forth on the monorail between downtown and Seattle Center?"
Or maybe it wasn't really meant to BE Seattle, but it was filmed here. If I didn't know that's where the monorail went, I might have been able to believe that's how the MC traveled all over the city.

That and the final scene shot at the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park, meant to be a private mansion, where everyone starts pulling out guns and everyone is dead by the end of the scene. I love that scene, which I always think of when the NRA folks start saying everyone should be armed all the time to prevent random shootings.

Thanks for starting up WIT again. I love it.

AJ Blythe said...

Oh, so happy WIR is back. Thank you, wonderful QOTKU.

Curious, what is FTC? I'm assuming it's an American 'thing', and if so, does that mean the rules don't apply to non-US reviewers?

It took me a while to click to Cyberia, but when I did loved it. Not sure if it is Sharkism, but I'm adding it to my vocab =)

Tamlyn said...

I recently gave up on Station Eleven >> I loved the concept, the setting(s), but it just did not work for me on the writing level. I kept not-reading it until it was due back at the library and I hadn't even had a chance to look at my other library books.

Stephen G Parks said...

Tamlyn I know what you mean about “not-reading” a book. I recently did that with Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice for a few weeks before setting it aside. Maybe later.

I’m still waiting to read Station Eleven. I had hoped that after it won the Arthur C Clarke Award in the UK, that it might appear in bookstores here (Kuala Lumpur), but I haven’t found it yet.

Donnaeve said...

kd - agree about the torrential rain in the mountains here. According to records, the 1940 flood for NC (it was in three states) was in part caused by clear cutting the trees, allowing for just what you mention - mudslides, etc. Although, it likely would have happened anyway with the hurricanes coming one after the other - even with all the trees standing.

Thanks all - very helpful!

AJ Blythe said...

Heard that California's in a state of emergency because of bushfires. I know there are some here from California (but I don't know where you are in relation to the fires). Stay safe. Thoughts and prayers with you.

(And apologies, JR, if this is straying too far OT)

Brenda Buchanan said...

Thanks for the WIR, Janet, and the kind mention.

BJ Muntain said...

AJ: The FTC is the (American) Federal Trade Commission. Unlike other countries, the US feels no need to say *which* country its 'federal' means. :)

Here's Janet's blog notice on the topic:

Janet's FTC Compliance Notice

RachelErin said...

I wonder how one could figure out how many readers are likely to care.

I remember talking about the movie Troy with people once, and saying I couldn't get past the scene where the sun sets in the East (or maybe it rises in the West), it was just too blatantly wrong. And we knew some of the scholars whom the studio had consulted - and the movie makers calculated that not enough people would care to make it worthwhile to cut the cool scene.

My buddies were more bothered by the fact that I knew which way Troy faced, then the movie's gaffe.

I guess the more familiar the audience is with the place or topic, the more deviations will bother them.

AJ Blythe said...

Thanks, BJ. I don't think we have any regs like that here in Oz. Interesting though.

Unknown said...

There might not be a query police, but there is a Query Shark!

Scott Sloan said...

QOTKU said:
"Good writing trumps everything. (I need a new word for trumps. That man should be stripped of his NYC residency permit)"

I thought that had already happened – when he tried to eat pizza like a 'real' New Yorker… with a knife and fork…!

Anyhoo, how about "Good writing TOWERS over everything"?
In a not so oblique reference to one of His Hairnesses properties.
I'm having trouble at the moment working his Taj Mahal into the line, but give me a day or so. I should be able to comb-over his other properties, and come up with something…

Personally, I think we should all be saying 'toupee', or at least 'rug' or 'shag carpeting', rather than 'trump'…
But I seem to have less and less of a governor on the ol' tongue, these days…
So it's probably best if I just stop here…