Footnote Joust

I’ve been reading a lot of Indie/Self-published books lately. Though the quality can vary, for the most part I don’t see a lot of terrible work. Most of the time if I’m left disappointed, it’s because it was a good story that needed just a little more work to be a great story. On the rare occasion when I do run into a really bad book, I’ve been very strict with myself enforcing my “do not finish the bad thing” rule. Life is too short, especially at my age, to read bad books.file000719730180

Recently, I was reading a book that was teetering on the edge of badness. It had lots of copy errors and some very strange and clunky grammar. The story beneath the writing issues was pretty good though, and I was determined to press on. Until I found the footnotes.

Footnotes are rare in fiction, though they can be delightful. See, for example Jonathon Stroud’s “Bartimaeus”. These footnotes were. . .not delightful, unless I am allowing the crueler side of my personality to come out. The author had evidently made edits based on customer reviews, and made footnotes to discuss these changes. In many cases, she hadn’t made changes; she’d simply argued that her text should stand as written. Most peculiar, especially since some of the changes she argued most fervently against were ones concerning the most basic rules of grammar, usage, mechanics & spelling.  Not exotic stuff like oxford commas. Basic stuff that no decent copy editor should let slip by.

We’ve all heard of authors arguing with reviews (not recommended!) but has anyone else come across critique rebuttal by footnote? Strange days indeed.

Just a Bite of Mine #writephoto

Thursday Photo Prompt: mine #writephoto at Suve Vincient’s Daily Echo

We played here as children. Something deeper than nostalgia draws me back to visit; a time traveler trying in vain to return to a perfect moment. I step carefully and hold my breath I creep into the ruins. I don’t want to scare away the ghosts of childhood memories. Once laughter rang off these mossy walls. I can hear its echo in the holy silence that protects this place.  The old oven is frozen at the moment when we left it for more grown up entertainments. I peek inside. Alas, Time has eaten all our fine mud pies. Far in the back of the oven, preserved from the wind and rain, rests a single pie. With a triumphant smile I bring it out and offer you a bite.

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The Deep Child

Mirriam took a sip of her tepid coffee as she watched yet another group of children and adults pass by her garden gate. Everyone had a sled in tow, a smile on their face and a carol on their lips. Her own smile drooped when she realized that they weren’t Christmas carolers. They went on by, minding their business and leaving her to hers, as they had all year long.

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She pulled the heavy curtain over the frosty window panes and turned back to her computer. At first she didn’t want to rent a cottage in Westfarthing, in the middle of nowhere. Her doctor prevailed. The cleaner air would help her lungs heal. The slower pace would temper her type “a” personality. Her company allowed telecommuting.

Mirriam rarely spoke to a single soul other than the delivery boy and the mail carrier. The locals weren’t unfriendly. They just didn’t engage, other than the offhand, cheery greeting on the rare occasions when she ventured out. She didn’t mind all that much. Big blocks of data were always more alluring to her than human company.

The last of twilight came and went, unnoticed by Mirriam until she ran out of coffee. Though it was much too late for anyone to be abroad, she pulled back the curtain a sliver and peered out, something in her yearning for a glimpse. The well-trod path by her cottage contained only snow and starlight.

There was the consolation of reports to analyze, a new year of data just beginning to be born. Her life was predictable, regular, and safe. So what if it was a bit dull at times? She pushed back against a longing she didn’t fully understand and tried to focus on the present and only the present. As she stood impatiently by the old-fashioned drip pot, waiting for yet another carafe of barely drinkable brew, a scratching noise sounded at the kitchen door.

“Shoo!” Mirriam said. “I don’t do strays!” She pulled her ratty pink terry bathrobe tight, worn all day over her clothes as a charm against drafts. The scratching continued. Guilt twinged her over leaving any living creature out in the deep winter night. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to open the door just a crack.

“Please miss. I’m very lost,” said a tiny voice, not much more than a whisper of a wail above the wind.

Mirriam yanked open the door. On her back stoop was a frail girl, not more than ten years old, dressed in nothing but the tatters of an old flannel nightgown. Her feet were blue under the filth of the road.

“I’ll only stay for a little while, if that’s all right,” the girl said, looking up at her with luminous, pleading eyes.

“Yes of course!”

And then there was cocoa to make (bitter coffee abandoned) and muffins to toast over the fire. Mirriam had always wanted to toast muffins over the fire. The girl, who wouldn’t say her name, devoured most of them. It was very late, and the phone was out again. Surely it could wait until morning to call the proper authorities.

The girl wouldn’t get into the shower. They had to make paper boats to float before she got into the giant old clawfoot tub. Mirriam had thought about taking long soaks when she moved in, yet another thing she’d pushed off until “some day”. With the gas fire roaring and Mirriam’s leftover Christmas playlist on full from the computer in the other room, it felt like a party.

She couldn’t sleep on the sofa under the rattly old window, and neither could Mirriam, with her wheezy lungs and bad back. They climbed into the big old brass bed together The girl sang them to sleep with forgotten lullabies, the same as Mirriam’s mother knew. In the morning, Mirriam taught the girl how to untangle her curly hair and dressed her in a velvet dress that she found in the back of a drawer, abandoned by previous residents.

Over the following week, they played all over the house. They made too many cookies and drank too much cocoa. Paper dolls and popcorn strings decorated a very belated Christmas tree, a sad pink tinsel thing found in the cottage’s attic. They played games on Mirriam’s computer, even as her inbox filled with frantic messages from work.

It couldn’t last forever, Mirriam knew. The authorities must be notified. The girl had to be placed in a foster home. But first, surely, they could spend the day together watching movies. The girl looked healthier and more beautiful each day. Mirriam’s heart ached at the thought of her going, of her being returned to the family that had abused her and turned her out into the cold.

A pounding on the front door awoke her from where she lay napping on the sofa, the little girl curled up under a fake fur blanket at the other end. For a moment, Mirriam couldn’t work out what it meant. No one ever came to the front. No one ever came at all.

“Don’t open it!” the girl shrieked. “Don’t make me go!”

Mirriam had lost any words of reassurance. She opened her arms and the girl flung herself into them.

A key turned in the lock and Mrs. Allen, Mirriam’s landlady came in with a bang of slammed door.

“Ah, thank God. You’re alive! Your company called the police station since they haven’t heard from you since before Christmas. Don, he’s the police chief, asked me to check.” Mrs. Allen’s graying eyebrows disappeared under the edge of the red wooly scarf that she had wrapped around her head.

“What have we here? Oh no. No. It can’t be.” Mrs. Allen whipped a cell phone out of her pocket and dialed, then spoke in a rapid undertone, glancing furtively at the pair of them on the sofa. Finally she shoved her phone back into her pocket and nodded.

“We’ll get this sorted out in no time, don’t worry,” Mrs. Allen said.

The girl dove behind the sofa and broke into noisy sobs.

“I don’t want her to go!” Mirriam said. “I can take care of her, surely I can. She needs love, is all.”

“Look around you,” Mrs. Allen replied.

For the first time in days, she truly looked about the cottage. Dirty dishes piled around the little Christmas tree. Clothes and the remnants of the paper doll making mixed with muffin wrappers on the usually tidy floor. The dining table in its nook had been converted into a blanket fort using Mirriam’s best sheets. One edge finished in fine Irish lace drooped into a forgotten cup of cocoa.

Mrs. Allen dragged Mirriam into the kitchen with its sink piled high, then the bathroom, floor covered in damp towels. After reinstalling Mirriam on the sofa, she vanished just long enough to supply them both with a cup of strong tea.

“All right. I’ve let things get out of hand,” Mirriam admitted. “I’ve never had a child in the house before. I can learn.”

“This never happens to outsiders,” Mrs. Allen said. “The child is a deep child.”

“Well, yes, but I think that’s utterly normal for a child of her age. She’s growing into a young lady,” Mirriam replied.

“No, dear, not that sort of deep.” Mrs. Allen took a long sip of her tea. If we had known this would happen, we would have been on hand to help you with her.” She gestured towards the sofa. The girl’s wailing had ceased. “She’s fallen asleep. That’s a very good sign.”

“She’s ever so kind and funny and pretty and,” Mirriam paused, tears filling her eyes, “just wonderful!”

“Of course she is, dear. But you didn’t know how to manage her, and you’ve let her take charge. That won’t do.”

“I can learn!” Mirriam replied.

“You’ll have to. Most outsiders who move here, they don’t get anything. Once in a while, one might get a kitten. But a child, no, that’s never happened, not even to folks who marry in.”

The girl crept out from behind the sofa and stood next to Mirriam, sleepy and subdued.

“In you go, and no more nonsense, missy!” Mrs. Allen said, taking the girl’s hand from Mirriam’s.

The landlady led the girl to the closet door and opened it wide. Instead of its usual contents of coats and umbrellas, the door opened into a huge room. It looked like a Victorian nursery, dominated by a Christmas tree, full of playing children. The girl let out a happy cry and scampered in. The landlady closed the door.

Mirriam got up and cautiously opened the closet. It was once again nothing but closet.

“Where did she go?”

“She’s gone away, with the other deep children. We’ll get Ellen, she’s the local cleaning lady, to help you with your house tomorrow.”

“But she’ll be back?” Mirriam persisted. She peeked into the musty closet again, equal parts relieved and sad.

“Of course! Didn’t you see us all with ours? They must only stay from Midwinter night until 12th night. Past that, they get over-tired and out of control.”

Mirriam bristled, and opened her mouth to make an angry reply.

“Which is how you find yourself with a wrecked house and your employers calling the police to locate you,” Mrs. Allen said dryly. “No worries. Next year will be better. You can come out and play with us! We build snow forts, and sled, and go ice-skating, and there’s a big party in the parish hall. You must come. You’re one of us now.”

“Next year?” Mirriam thought of her half- formed plans to move to a cottage by the sea, or perhaps splurge on a Christmas cruise. Then she remembered the deep child’s happy face as they toasted muffins by the fire.

“You have a deep child. You belong to Westfarthing now,” Mrs. Allen said. She lifted a toast with her teacup, as if it were a cup of wassail.

December 2015, T.L. Ryder

Your Opening Line

 and Other Things that Writers are Neurotic About

From JStor daily, I got a link to an article about grammar rules and the people who faked them. Dear Pedants: See Your Fave Grammar Rule is Probably Fake. It’s not a free license to ignore grammar completely. It talks about grammar rules that make no sense, being reconstructed from Latin, and about the privilege inherent in certain modes of speech. If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t get that sentence to work without the dreaded split infinitive, this little gem may provide an answer.

On to opening lines. Dan Alatorre has a great post about Cheesy Opening Lines. One of the classic opening lines he lists, among some surprising clunkers from books that I love, is the opening of Call of the WIld by Jack London.

Saturday Evening Post Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild’s 2nd publication in Saturday Evening Post

Buck did not read newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.

I love this opening line. It introduces us to the main character, it plops us down right at the start of the action, and it sets the scene a little. We even have an idea of what kind of dog Buck is. It’s a little run-on, but literary conventions were different in 1902.  In these modern times of “Start with the Action!”, could we have a better opening for this story? Run on aside, I think this would be hard to improve on.

It’s the kind of opening line that makes other writers lie awake at night, fretting. What if I don’t find the perfect opening line? Why doesn’t my opening line do all that stuff? It’s an example seemingly created to throw us all in to deep despair, or at least momentary gloom and doom.

Dan’s post should cheer you up. Go look again. See how many truly great books have “meh” opening lines. It’s unlikely your book or story or article is going to sink just because your opening line isn’t up to Jack London’s. You don’t have to be perfect in one line, but neither do you dare squander too many opportunities to make the reader fall in love with your story. If you don’t have the mythical perfect opening line, make sure your opening pages shine.

Jack London was writing for the serial market when he produced “Call of the Wild.” Magazine stories of the day had to not only compete with whatever else was running in the same issue, but also with whatever was in other magazines. London’s opening isn’t perfect, but it does grab your attention and get the job of opening the story done.

It’s your turn. Go forth and hook some readers!

Your Slip is Showing

I just abandoned a Historical Romance novel set in the mid-1800s because of its underwear. In some cases of underwear missteps, I’ll limp on if the underwear is the only problematic part of the story. But one of the things that I’ve noticed is that if the underwear is a problem, there are almost inevitably other flaws that will render the book unreadable for me.

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Woman’s 1830s sleeve plumper, muslin dress and straw bonnet, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the thing about Historical Romance. It has to walk a fine line between authenticity and fantasy to work as a story that ‘s going to entertain a modern reader. A lot of Historical Romance depends on characters behaving badly (for their time). That’s part of the fun, really. Will they get caught alone in the summerhouse? Will he be forced to offer marriage because her maid found those racy notes and gave them to her father? Will she fend off his advances, or find a way to encourage him?

So why the big deal about underwear? Clothing, even intimate clothing that most people don’t see, shapes not only our figures but our behavior. If you consider the photo, there is no way a woman is going to be that particular shape unless she’s wearing underwear that makes her that shape. The clothing will dictate a great deal of her body language by the movements it allows and disallows.

In the novel in question, the heroine decides to go underwear free at the suggestion of her suitor. It’s a character motivation breaking moment. No lady in straitened circumstances would risk sweating all over one of her few good gowns in an age where laundry was difficult even with a dedicated lady’s maid. Also, even if you ignore the impossibilities of fit, which the author tries to hand-wave away with a reference to the heroine’s preternaturally small waist, everybody at dinner would know. Her bodice would be lumpy and strange, her skirts and sleeves wouldn’t hang correctly. Sweat stains generated by the summer heat referred to in the story would spread on the “thin, sensuous, delicate silk” like the frustrated tears of costume junkies on our modern paper tissues.

You could argue that I’m just grumpy, and these sorts of missteps don’t bother that many readers. Do a little internet searching on the subject and you will find that grumpy historical readers are legion. It’s lazy not to do your research. You might think that you might deserve a free pass because you think the rest of your book is so sexy and so good, you don’t and it isn’t.

If you want to write a story with a heroine who daringly goes to dinner with no underwear, pick a time period (there are LOTS AND LOTS) when that would actually be physically possible. Otherwise, your heroine is nothing but a hot mess inside and out.

Writer’s Residency via Amtrak?

amtrak train

amtrak train

I saw this very intriguing article about Amtrak possibly offering writer’s residencies on some of its long haul trips. They’re definitely going to be a limited offering and also probably limited to routes that are off-season at the time. For me, that makes it even more intriguing, sort of like getting to be on your very own “Orient Express” type setting– only without the crowding, murder, and mayhem.  Think of all the crowding and murder and mayhem that could happen in your head on such a trip, if that’s the sort of story you like to write! I love to travel and as much as I enjoy driving, paying attention to the road does limit the amount of sightseeing one can do.  I’ve often had some pretty interesting writing ideas pop into my head at the wheel, only to have them evaporate after a long day of driving.

I used to write on the city bus, producing notebooks full of crazy cursive with weird marks and jots made by every bump in the road. Train travel would be a bit smoother, either for longhand or keyboarding.  I wouldn’t want to be on a train with Internet, however. I would update my blog/Twitter/Facebook at station stops and be blissfully disconnected the rest of the time, with no temptation to “just check my email.” All in all, it’s a nice fantasy writer’s retreat idea. As long as one doesn’t get motion sickness!

I found out about this via Shelf Awareness. If you like getting book industry news or emails about new books, I recommend signing up for their emails.

FoS Bio: Veris

FoS: Intro

For centuries humanity has expanded into space, colonizing many worlds. In all their explorations, they have never met no other sentient beings, no threats to humankind other than their own inevitable squabbles.  Suddenly, an utterly alien force erupts into human-settled space.  Part biological, part machine, it seems to exist only to replicate and destroy. Where they came from is of secondary importance when humanity is losing ground every day.

Dobruja is a reclusive colony far removed from the center of human expansion. Even though they produce elite soldiers and advanced technology, the Dobrujan government has had little desire to help out their cousins abroad. Some Dobrujans sign on with the United Planetary Authority’s forces despite their homeworld’s disinterest. Fist of Stars follows the adventures of a group of these rebels with a cause, each with their own reasons for signing on.

Today, starship pilot Veris is interviewed by my writing buddy, Laura Brewer.  Check out her blog A Muse on the Mountian. Thanks Laura, for the awesome interview questions and your support of my writing journey!

Veris

What made convinced you to become a pilot in such a desperate struggle?vercolor

Honestly, when I first signed up I was only thinking about myself and the money I would earn. After our first real mission, I realized that the war effort was really important and that my work could help humans win.

What person in your life has had the most influence on who you are?
My father. We don’t always agree, in fact a lot of the time we don’t agree on anything. He taught me the importance of doing one’s best, of not giving up when things get hard, and to stand strong when you know you’re right.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Laughs I’m not sure I know what relaxing is.

What is it about one of your companions that drives you crazy?
I really hate it when Jothie criticizes my flying. He should stick to doing what he’s good at, Engineering, and let me do what I’m good at. I need to fly my way, not his, nor by some silly rules.

What do you fear the most?
I fear that one day that our mission will fail because I didn’t fly hard enough.