<— Just read this. What a phenomenal book. Writing interview questions for this guy, and his wife Sari Wilson.
A.D. is a great story. The folks in it are as palpable as the best-written literary characters I’ve loved. I’m thinking specifically of Harry Crews’s Hickum Looney, and the wickedly quirky cast of Richard Russo’s Straight Man. And while I love the movie I get to see in my head when I’m only reading text, the way graphic texts make faces and bodies and settings more accessible frees up some of my thinker. Makes me ask questions I ask when watching movies or television, like why that color, or that angle or that outfit?
One of the most exciting things about some of the voices who’re coming to this con, like Maureen Bakis and Michael Gianfrancesco, who organized NECAC, and Williamsport’s own John Weaver, is that they’re going to talk about visual literacy, which is a concept that’s gaining traction in education and the study of literacy with the increased availability of visual media via the internet, and the constantly expanding market of graphic books: comics and graphic novels.
It’s going to be wonderful. I have nothing more nuanced for you now because my head is so full with all of this. The next few weeks will be for processing and writing it out. This is part of that, but it’s also to make you aware of how awesome thing thing is going to be. Maybe to entice you to show up.
Last time, I explained my relationship with geek lore & comics in general. Part of that wrong-headed relationship with graphic texts was that I have not been adequately aware of books like Stitches, Cuba: My Revolution, How I Made It To Eighteen, AD: New Orleans After Deluge, etc. These, and books like them are gaining visibility. The truth is, the super-hero stuff is still not really in my aesthetic. But one of the points of this con is that there’s something for everyone.
John Meier, who is responsible for founding the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel prize, and who is involved in concerns about graphic texts for libraries, told me about comics that are made to describe and explain advanced concepts in mathematics and science that are suitable for post-graduate academics.
I also read this ———–>
Which Dean Haspiel drew, Inverna Lockpez wrote, and Joan Hilty edited. This book was so affecting that I had nightmares.
It is powerful in an ideology-changing way. It asks you to reckon out your notions of patriotism, creates a world that is utterly unfamiliar, but cripplingly vivid. It is a timely warning about political rhetoric. And if you’re me, it gells some stuff about history for you that you only had a kind of fuzzy grasp on from your somewhat shoddy public school education, and your mostly missing post-secondary study of history outside of literature, Britain, and after, say, 1920.
And after my love relationship almost ended over this blog post by Dr. NerdLove, it’s great to know about some influential female voices in the world of comics and other traditionally male geek media.
One of the panels I’m looking forward to the most is one that disucsses representations of race, gender, and sexuality in comics with Joan Hilty and Alex Simmons.
What I’m saying is that if you’re expecting to see a whole lotta cosplay and a whole lotta storm troopers at the Wildcat Comic Con, you probably will get some of those things. But you’ll also get to see and talk to creators in a totally non-commercial/non-industry sort of way.
You’ll get to think about new stuff and you’ll leave there with a list of stuff to read as long as your arm, with an arsenal of new vocabulary with which to discuss it.
You’ll get your brain stretched and your your creativity muscles tickled, and you’ll get to hear some really interesting, influential people talk.
Watch for articles in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, in Sunbury’s Daily Item, and in the Webb Weekly.
And to register for the con, or to check out the roster of presenters, go here.
Writing is so complicatedly ego-driven. On one hand, we have to be somewhat narcissistic to love the writing life. All the time alone, in our own minds, reading and re-reading our own words, writing more of them, clamoring after friends, peers, editors, agents to read them, dealing with the rejection and keeping on…
But on the other hand, the ego battles us! We have to come up with strategies for silencing our inner editor. We have to figure out how to block the negative, self-hating thoughts that will keep us from finishing work.
And on a third hand (handy!), I know a lot of authors and writers who would be just as happy being invisible. I write because the stuff my brain does through my fingers is way more interesting than anything it does through my mouth. And because I’ve always done it. I don’t know how not to. I feel like it’s a calling of sorts, or at least a strong compulsion.
So when we work on our novels and stories and essays and memoirs, in the brave new self-publishing world, it’s incredibly tempting to just say, “I know I’m interesting. I’m just going to self publish. I don’t need an editor! I’ve been hard enough on myself along the way.”
Yes you do need an editor! If you’re looking for a good one, call this lady. If you want a manuscript review or critique, and some advice on what to do next, call this guy.
And any traditionally published author, or author who makes money writing books will tell you, revising is the hardest, most essential part of writing, and you simply can’t do it alone.
We can’t get enough space from our egos to get where we need to go. We need a person with a pair of first eyes who we trust, who gets our writing aesthetic, and who will not be afraid to tell us hard truths about our stories, characters, or plotting impulses. These people will help us, if we can figure out how to let them.
There are three main types of editors that someone who’s considering self-publishing should find. Start with a developmental editor. Much more on this below.
Then hire a copy editor, who reads for technical inconsistencies (name spelling change and hair color change, plot queerness, syntax, grammar, style, consistency throughout, etc).
Then hire a proofreader, typically a last set of eyes, focuses in on punctuation and spelling primarily, but may flag larger issues. Hopefully there will be few if you’ve chosen well for developmental editor and copy editor.
Why hire a developmental editor?
I’ve been in hundreds of hours of writing workshops and read tens of thousands of pages of student writing and writing that’s on its way to book form, and I’ve become acquainted with some of the common faux pas of early drafts, even from the most brilliant writers. We all do these things.
Here are just a few that are also reasons to hire a developmental editor:
Editorializing–where the character will think something clever, and while the implication is transparent, go on to explain the joke or thought in the next line or two. My favorite thing to say to writers, and the best thing I ever learned from a writing teacher is this: “Trust your readers!” Writers Digest has a great article with a segment on staying true to your IQ in the most recent issue. The thesis is basically this: people who read books are smart. Do NOT try to dumb yourself down. Do NOT explain something that’s obvious to you. If it needs explaining, your developmental editor will tell you.
Using flashbacks or dreams to cover up poor plotting–a lot of writers, unwilling to return to the story board after hundreds of hours of work, or much too married to their plot maps, decide to throw in a dream sequence or flashback to explain away their poor planning. Developmental editors have radar for this kind of thing. They’ll tell you, honestly, whether you’re employing some trick that a reader will see through, or whether you’re missing an opportunity to take your character someplace affecting or compelling or wonderful or story-propelling!
Replacing actual character depth with wardrobe ticks and social stereotypes–A lesbian is portrayed as a short-haired, aggressive, ugly girl with her septum pierced, camouflage cargo pants, and two pit bulls. Developmental editors will tell you if you do this, and they won’t re-write your characters for you, but they will have tricks up their sleeves to guide you to deeper characters.
Using verb tense and point of view changes without knowing why–suddenly switching verb tense or point of view from one chapter to the next with no reason that’s related to propelling the story or providing some other literary benefit. You can’t artlessly apply these techniques. Verb Tense and Point of View are two very intimate things about any story, and they are also promises to a reader that are made in the first pages, and that you need a MASSIVELY compelling reason to break. Developmental editors can tell you if you’re doing this successfully. Here’s a post from another time on this blog about my personal aversion to extraneous past perfect (or pluperfect) tense.
State of (Self) Publishing
The trouble with self-publishing is that–unless you have a bunch of besties with MFAs or who work in publishing, and sometimes even if you do–you have to pay people to help you make your good work great, and chances are, you’re not independently wealthy or some kind of writing idiot savant to whom none of this applies, so hiring the team that traditional publishing houses (still) have on hand gets pricey.
I was recently asked to review a self-published book. It was published through Create Space, which is Amazon’s self-publishing service that offers comprehensive copy editing and proofreading as well as book marketing for prices that range from $220 all the way up to $4,000. I think that the old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies here. It probably costs a publishing house in the neighborhood of $25,000 to see a book from manuscript to press-ready. That amount of money pays acquisitions and developmental editors, copy editors, proof readers, and book artists, cover designers, etc.
Getting yours to the mouth of the press for $4,000 seems like a dubious bargain, doesn’t it?
Copy Editors and proofreaders are not paid enough to do developmental editing for you, it is not in their job descriptions, plus it’s massively beneficial to use multiple sets of professional eyes.
Don’t be a Diva!
And don’t you want people to read your book? You have to figure out how to shut down your ego’s diva. Send her shopping for shoes or something.
Let the developmental editor help you. Chances are she’s been to school to study stories, writing, and grammar. She probably has an advanced degree or years of practice or both. She loves books and stories and has read thousands of them over the years.
And don’t stop there. Hire more help. The investment will return itself to you in the form of book sales. What good is a quickly published book if it’s so sloppy nobody will read it?
If you want to self-publish, TERRIFIC. It’s a good business decision. Being your own book’s puppeteer sets you up for maximum benefit. But it’s short-sighted and a poor business choice (and it diminishes your credibility as a writer) to unleash your novel or memoir or collection of short stories on the world without investing in yourself, your work, and your business to present the most polished product you can muster!
http://www.janefriedman.com: Jane Friedman collects and offers for free almost every day piles and piles of great information about the world of publishing, about the evolution of media, and about all kinds of concerns for all kinds of writers.
http://www.copyblogger.com: This is a great resource for thinking about your writing as a marketable product. It will give you invaluable tips, including when and how to write for free to make money writing.
I realized that I forgot to give you a free story on Wednesday. This was an oversight. Largely because I was so excited to tell you about Geekery.
I’m going to switch Free Story day to Fridays both HERE, and on the Blue Lit blog.
There are a few reasons for this.
Free stories are excellent, but my blog traffic is never terrific on free story days, neither is it on Fridays. So I’ve decided to put something you’d rather not read on a day you’re less likely to hang out at my blog anyhow.
Friday is becoming a day in which I must accomplish a BAZILLION things. This is my last old story, so starting next week, I’ll be giving you scenes and chunks from my yet-untitled novel-in-progress. Of course, this is cool for you because you’ll get to see the (likely vast) difference between a novel in draft stages and what it looks like when it’s all finished.
I’m in the midst of three reasonably big projects. I’m happy to report that they’re writing projects or writing-related projects. But Friday brings me some consistent deadlines/times to get stuff done for the rest of 2012, and my psychology of deadlines works best with Friday as one.
This story, “Family Bed,” is definitely one of my best stories to date. I hope you’ll like it.
Mara scooted half-awake to the edge of the bed. Her baby was air-cycling behind her, knocking the small of her back, causing the mattress to shake, causing her to feel a little nauseous, causing her interrupted sleep to recede into wakefulness. She did not want to see the baby’s face. She was a little afraid of it and its contorting mouth, eerily empty in the night, seeking. She hoped that if she held her breath, the baby’s air cycling would stop; the baby would forget she was there. She would be able to relax, to slacken the muscles in her back the way they had not been since the baby was born.
She was never alone and she was very lonely. She caught one of the baby’s feet to stop her kicking, but she did not look at the baby. She looked at the ceiling and felt herself sink deeper into the mattress, thought of the way her stomach looked now, gray and mottled like silly putty that had carboned too many comics, soft and floppy, sagging below her hip bones. She pitied it and herself. She wondered if she would ever have another lover, if anyone would take her and her ugly belly and her gorgeous baby, and if she would be able to figure out how to have lovers and a family bed. It seemed as possible as having a pet elephant. As possible as having the baby’s father, having him the way she had asked him to be had. She remembered when she’d talked about her fear, the way the reality of the baby pressed down on her lungs and her security and her confidence like the fetus did on her bladder. He’d smiled and smoothed her hair behind her ear with a large finger, pretending empathy. He’d said, “You’ll be a good mom.” And then he didn’t say anything else until later, and then he’d said she was too tricky and he left. And she missed him, but only because he was a he.
She wanted a triangle instead of a line. If she could get a triangle, a third point on the chart of her family, she could maybe get a square, and then maybe a pentagon. She thought about the laws getting made at points east and west that said same sex couples were now legally families. No law for her and the baby, she was a fringy not-a-family. She thought of Ariel Gore and Anne Lamott whose books about being sexually liberated women and then single parents she read. But Ariel Gore was an exotic-looking rebel who had her baby at 19 inItalyin a stainless-steel-filled hospital that didn’t speak her language. Anne Lamott was older, established, already successful. She’d had marriages and abortions and loves. Mara wanted just one of any of those things. She would take exotic looking. She would take divorced, even. She did not want to be alone and ordinary.
Mara had brought the baby home from her parents’ house a few hours away late one night. It had been one of the first nights of fall and she’d wanted to roll down the windows and grin into the air so that it would dry off her teeth and they would stick to her lips and ache. But she hadn’t because she was afraid of freezing the baby. She’d pictured a dull blue nose and iced eyelashes and shuddered. Also, she’d been afraid of waking the baby and having to pull over: afraid to pull over because she’d been sure if she did, she and her car and her baby would be hit and killed by a semi. Flexing each of her butt cheeks in turn, she had let her mind relax. She’d tried some yoga breathing, then some Lamaze because yoga was too subtle. She’d become certain that the house would be burned down when she got home. But the house hadn’t burnt. She hadn’t crashed the car. The baby hadn’t frozen.
She went to sleep and dreamed that she lost her down comforter. In her dream, she was angry at herself for missing the comforter because she did not purchase it. It had come with an apartment at some point, and it had some unique stains. She washed it in the washing machine even though the tag said “dry clean only,” and it was the best blanket she’d ever owned. She had many other blankets. But in the dream, she would not settle until she found the feather blanket. She never found the blanket, but a tall bald man with a pointy nose and tailcoat kept giving her clues that led her to odd places like the bottom of a river and the scaffolding around a bank that was sinking because its wooden foundation was being eaten by termites. She dreamed about the way wood looked melted after termites inhabited it.
Sometimes the baby did not seem human. Sometimes, she thought the baby was a very ugly little parasite. Sometimes, she thought the baby would relieve her of her identity. She would become a drone, existing to sustain the baby’s life, sloppy and abundant, a nutrient provider. She would end up more alone and less herself. The baby would wake her, pasted against her back, sucking on something, the back fat her nursing bra squeezed into a mound, the base of her wing bone. A lot of things scared her now that the baby had come. Things she did not predict would scare her. For instance, staircases. Mara had nightmares of falling down the staircase with the baby, losing consciousness at the end of the fall and waking up to find the baby a pool of blood under her. The thing was – the terrible thing, more terrible than that dream – she was relieved in the dream; she was relieved that her baby was dead.
She’d explained the dream to her mother who was skeptical.
“But can you imagine your life without her?” her mother had asked.
She’d thought better of telling her the way she had days of regretting not giving the baby to a good Rabbi. At Seder dinner at a friend’s house, she had been five months pregnant. His mother with fingernails like fenders had said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“No.” Mara was surprised that she told the truth. So much of getting okay with motherhood had meant tricking herself into believing that she would be fine. That she wanted a baby the way her body did. That she didn’t mind giving up alcohol and cigarettes.
“You’re awfully young.” The mother put her hand on Mara’s shoulder, “I have a nephew out inArizona. He’s a Rabbi. He’s young. He and his wife can’t have children. Your baby would never want anything, and you would know where it is. Think about it.”
“I will.” But the conversation had lain thick on her chest, unthinkable.
She repositioned herself on her side for the baby to latch without waking, peeled back her shirt, sniffed the front of it. She loved the warm, yeasty smell when her breasts began to leak – loved it because she had always loved the smell of babies, and only realized when she had one of her own that the smell of baby was actually the smell of breast milk. She reveled in the idea that she would smell like a baby for the next months. She remembered something she had read about a man drinking his lover’s breast milk, and got angry at herself for not getting knocked up by someone she trusted.
The baby wriggled itself closer and closer to her in their family bed. Mara rolled closer to the bed’s edge. She imagined that the baby was trying to figure out how to get back inside. She wondered about the future, if her deflated uterus and devastated vagina would house and birth another person. She wanted them to. There was cosmic justification in motherhood – a fitness with the world and a peace with Self-capital-s. She’d been at war with her Self since she was ten, trying to figure out which sort of woman she wanted to be, over-thinking small decisions, under-thinking big ones. It was amazing about motherhood the way the gore and indignity of labor and birth slipped from her memory, the way she could hardly believe herself when she told people, “It was the worst pain of my life.”
In the mornings, she watched the baby wake up. The baby rubbed her tiny fists into her eyes and arched her back, made a sweet squeal. The baby’s eyes opened and looked at their mommy. Mara watched her baby’s mouth move from one side of her face to the other, contorting into grins and grimaces and simple, instinctual looks of adoration. Mara smiled and the baby smiled back, exciting her cheeks into rosy puffs. The baby reached for Mara, caught her shirt, thrashed around. Her fists landed on the bed, made a hollow thunk and the baby startled, her eyes widening and looking terrified and wise. Mara offered the baby a breast. The baby lurched for it, latched and ate hungrily, crossed her eyes, gasped for breath between gulps. Mara felt her own eyes go out of focus. There was something ethereal about nursing, something that made her sure of everything and sure of nothing.
She was broke, so she had taken the baby and herself to the Department of Social Services. The room had been large, gloomy, loud, pale green. It’d smelled like soaked beans. Surly clerks behind plexi-glass windows with noise holes had shouted to conduct the lines. She’d felt anomalous but not extraordinary in her education, in her whiteness. During her interview with the social worker, she overheard the woman in the next booth explaining which child belonged to which daddy and felt naïve. Mara always assumed that people exaggerated when they talked about assortments of babies and daddies, and accused them of racism in her head. Her social worker, Mrs. Bennett, said, “They didn’t want to give me your card because they thought you jumped in order.” They were the ambassadors of bureaucracy.
“If I had, the line might have mutinied.”
“I told them you were already here.”
Mara raised her eyebrows, “Oh?”
Mara thought about the way she might become a woman with an assortment of babies and daddies. And then she thought, not me. She was smarter than those people. She had more resources. She would not be guilty about her whiteness. She would be sad about the inequality. She would be humble and unsuspicious about the accusing eyes she saw sliding through the waiting room with her. She would be angry that it had come to this. Ashamed to be here in the first place.
A lot of things made her angry now that the baby was here. Bad drivers made her angry. Alcoholics made her angry. Almost every time she thought of her baby’s father she got angry. She got angry because he loved kids, because he worked in a middle school with learning disabled middle schoolers. He was patient and loving. He would have been a good father. But he did not want to be a father, or so he told her. He did not want to be a parent with her, he said, because she was difficult. Because she was intense. Because she would have made him feel trapped, he said. She picked up the baby who’d begun to cry, held her against her chest.
The woman next to her had a daughter who was about nine. The girl looked at the baby, smiled. The woman pushed the stub of pencil she used into the form on her lap, trying to send carbon through to the bottom.
She rolled over and felt the baby spasming against her back, felt the baby’s leg caught under her back, wondered in her drowsiness how long it would take the baby to suffocate if she rolled over onto her. She was not awake enough to feel guilty for wondering, but not asleep enough to feel she had a good excuse for trying it. The baby caught her hair and pulled. She knew rationally that the baby didn’t do it on purpose, but she clenched her teeth and breathed long and hard out through her nose. She said, “Let go.” She reached behind her and grabbed the baby’s fist. She pulled her hair out of it. She pushed the baby closer to the wall and shoved a pacifier in her mouth. She said, “Don’t be a glutton.” She tucked the blanket in around the baby, hoped it would contain her.
Although the alarm clock said it was two hours later, Mara was sure it was a conspiracy. It had only been moments and she wasn’t fully asleep. The baby sensed her resistance and started to wail. Would you just shut UP! Mara thought. She rolled back over, pulled the baby close and shoved a breast in her face. The baby writhed around for a moment, the corners of her mouth downturned like a bass; she opened wide and latched. Mara counted the baby’s hairs, they were the color of charcoal. Mara let the baby suckle until she just let go and detached, and hoped she could imagine it away, that she would find this was all a nightmare, that the baby was just a photograph lying in her bed.
Much to Fella’s eternal chagrin, I’m not much of a geek. I didn’t grow up sucking down comics, tapping controllers, or digging on horror flicks, Magic the Gathering, World of Warcraft, anime, or any of the equivalents thereof. My most successful forays into gaming were with Mario Bros. on 8-bit Nintendo, and a little later, Mario on Game Boy, first generation.
I am, by most reports, a hipster (much to my eternal chagrin). I like indie rock and Wes Anderson movies, specifically his, but also that genre of artfully rendered pictures about quirky people who are either narcissistic or intellectual, and I read mostly literary realism by authors who people outside of Creative Writing programs have not heard of. I’m trying to increase visibility of good, smart books as a personal crusade, and in so doing, I’m learning to branch out.
I’m discovering that the book market–with all its hard lines and rigid categories and neat definitions–is going to need to undergo metamorphosis in order to remain intact. We are clearly not learning enough from our friends in the music industry.
My brother is of the DC/Marvel persuasion (I have heard him pontificate on the virtues of one over the other), plays video games; I have had a modest number of decidedly geekish boyfriends along the way, but a peripheral awareness has been the beginning and end for me.
I was mildly intrigued when Child’s bio dad was reading Sandmanby Neil Gaiman et al, and I was reading it over his shoulder, but I imagine you can understand why those memories are fraught for me, and why I have not been eager to revisit.
When Fella and I first got together, he explained patiently (if with an edge of condescension) that geeks and nerds are two different things, and that I would require an education in all things geek.
Thus there was Zombies 101 early on Fella’s and my date-having time line. That was our last course on geekery, as Fella found my lack of interest frustrating, and I found his interpretation of my contemplative absorption (and sometimes sleepiness) as disinterest to be frustrating.
It was around Halloween, which is my favorite holiday, and I made a brain jello that I served with canned Lychees at the Historic Genetti Hotel in Downtown Williamsport.
Until recently I was one of those regrettable studious sods who dismissed things known as comics strictly on grounds that some well-meaning collection of intellectuals and smarty-pantses whose taste and judgement I admired, wrinkled up their noses at the comic or graphic novel, pronouncing the word as if it stank of rotted skunk. It was the same disdain they showed toward anything known as genre fiction.
Don’t misunderstand. I am not suddenly gleefully reading The Hulk and Captain America or Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel. I’m just starting to see that it’s not ALL crap, and that it might be useful for us literary types to expand our definition of genre, or our definition of literature.
In any case, I am sure you can imagine the tandem flurries of incredulity and joy in my house when I announced a few months ago that I would be moderating a panel at the coming Wildcat Comic Con on Zombie Lore with Dave Sims, John Weaver, and Jim Zub. More, that I would be immersing myself in the context and culture (more academically than physically).
So over the next six weeks or so, I’m going to be taking in a plethora of geek fodder. I’ll be reading World War Z,The Zombie Survival Guide, and probably at least a few of the stories in an anthology of short zombie fiction called The Living Dead. I’ll be watching more zombie movies, and reading more comics as I prepare for the interviews I’m doing with people as awesome as Dean Haspiel and David Small and others I won’t mention until the interviews are finished.
And I am fortunate to have as tour guides the panelists listed above who are well versed in Zombie Lore and, from what I can tell so far, have reasonably literary taste. I am also fortunate to have automatic context for some of my new comics reading in my work as a journalist.
Tuesday night, after my presentation at ComiXnite, which I am pleased to report went over well, I met with my fellow panelists to discuss the angle from which we’ll approach our zombie discussion. It is going to be a lively and interesting talk.
Each week, I’ll be posting at least once under the category: Weeks to Geek. You can enjoy the ride with me.