30 July, 2013

Two Editors, a Gun and a Mental Disorder


I was in an argument with a Facebook acquaintance some time ago, and for some reason this has stuck in my mind. I have to share this with you. This is what inspired my post on Standard Manuscript Formatting.  This person, who if she reads this knows who she is, is an editor. She was adamant that writers should only use one space after periods, and that failure to do so was sheer blasphemy.

"Did your publishing house inform authors to use one space?" I said.

"No. Why should they? Fuck you!"

"Well, standard manuscript format says to use either, and most writers use two spaces."

A friend of hers who works at Random House, one of the biggest publishers in the world cut in with, "Any Random House editor would kill you if you used two spaces."

Excuse me? Most professional, best-selling, money-making, business-existence-assuring novelists use two spaces, and one of the biggest houses in the world wants to kill them instead of make money off them?

"That can't be true," I said. "I've met editors from Random House. They're business people. They were talking about the importance of discovering talent and turning it into money, and how the speculative fiction market is unpredictable these days." I remember because I asked one of them if that's because the most thriving market is young adult, and you aren't sure what those readers are going to grow into. I even asked if they keep a close eye on the video game market to know what gamers will expect of fiction later in life. They thought the first was an interesting question and hadn't considered the latter, so I got a pat on the back. I like pats on the back from publishers, which is why I remember.

So I imagined all these business people thinking more about spaces after periods than making money, and it didn't sound right. "I'm fortunate to know people who know people," I said. "I'm fairly certain when my agent pitches a manuscript she cares most about the content, and I'm pretty sure most publishers haven't attempted to kill her."

"Fuck you! My friend works at Random Fucking House!"

"The Random House guidelines don't specify one or two spaces," I said, after double-checking.

"Why should they have to? Fuck you!"

Imagine the business meeting to discuss a manuscript that's taken the interest of the Random House decision makers:

"I love this story, Harvey. We've got to publish it."

"Yeah, this will make a mint, Bill. Let's give the author a small advance, just enough to keep them happy, and see what comes of them. We'll buy their loyalty later if the project pans out."

"I think we should just invest big-time right now. New talent is impor... holy shit."


"This manuscript...." Bill's hand starts to shake. "I... I can't read it!"

"Why not?"

"Take a look." Bill passes the paper to Harvey.

"What the hell? This has two spaces--two spaces!--after every period."

"Is that why it's illegible? Why could we read it before?"

Harvey punches the arm of his chair. "This must have gotten past the slush readers. I'm going on a firing spree after this meeting."

"An agent submitted this one," Bill says.

"...I'm going to kill this writer. Nobody submits two-space-after-period-having manuscripts to Random House. No one."

Bill strokes his chin. "What was that key command for find and replace?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You can hit Ctrl-F, or something, go to Find and Replace, then type in spaces somehow and it fixes stuff for you."

Harvey loads his shotgun and stares at Bill. One of his eyes twitches.

Bill raises his palms. "Never mind! It was just something I heard one of the youngster slush readers telling me about!"

"Let's go kill that youngster, then kill this author." Harvey looks out the window for a long moment. "Did we remember to put up the new guidelines on the website, informing authors of our pathological hatred of multiple spaces on paper?"

"You want to ask that after getting your shotgun out? You're getting soft, Harvey. That's worse than my Ctrl-F comment. Let's swing by my office on the way to kill that slush reader. I have a magnum under my desk."


They leave together. A shooting spree ensues.

Here's the real kicker: could you read that story? I used two spaces after my sentences--periods, exclamation points, question marks, you name it! Did you even notice? Apparently if you were an editor at Random House, you couldn't have read it. You'd think such a disability wouldn't get you a job in publishing, but actually, when you really think about it, that's probably why they all had to get jobs at the same publisher. Either that or Kelly and her friend are completely full of shit. Which do you think is the case?

20 July, 2013

Grounded, by Jayne-Marie Barker

Another great guest-post by Jayne-Marie Barker. This one's on how to talk and act like a professional. I've found this kind of thing very important lately, and this is a good lesson. The farther you go, the more you'll need your ABCs (Always Be Cool).

'I didn't know you were a bestselling author in the making,' someone said to me today, sheer surprise wrinkling their face. 

Initially it would be easy to be mildly irrated by the shock, as if it were beyond your abilities to string together two words. As the suprise of those in your 'ordinary world' begins to break, you become accustomed to the reactions of others and perhaps acknowledge that it was a tad unfair to be so emotional when they voiced their surprise. People are consistently amazed to realise that someone they know has done something 'as difficult' (their words, not mine) as to have their book published. If you're a new author you'll probably be pleased to learn that the reaction of others, and your own, does mellow over time. The more we get used to something, anything in life, the easier we tend to manage and the smoother our self control at this point becomes. When you think about it, people are normally trying to be nice so it's only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, then the really tricky bit kicks in...

It would be very easy to allow your head to swim up to the clouds and announce boldly that you are the best selling author of all time, even if this isn't quite true - yet! Perhaps the initial shyness has dilluted now that you're more used to the conversation with the newly discovered reader, but modesty should remain for all good British folk! It's part of our culture and whilst we tend to build in confidence we are a modest nation by default.

The tricky part of 'realization cycle' is to know when to advertise and talk freely and when to deploy the natural look of 'well of course, but hey, it's nothing. Thanks for noticing,' with a confident smile. There's a time and a place for advertisement and PR and for boasting one's own career with friendly chit chat. Book events and conventions are the places for these. You can go a little way along the path of 'here's the address of my website' conversation but if it's a casual enquiry born out of surprise , it pays not to overdo it. I did warn you, it's tricky, but the only golden rule I can work by myself is; 'just be yourself, always smile and be pleasant. Never be pushy.' We hate pushy people in the UK. Think about the car salesman who 'was lovely, never tried to push me into it,' and how often that person won the sale. The one who 'was all over me the minute I walked in the door,' will earn far less commission in life.

So - give it your best sweet smile and pray the enquiry is converted into a sale at some point down the line - but never push your luck! In short, keep your feet firmed on the ground, your head out of the clouds, and your eyes open to the world around you. We have two ears and one mouth... not a bad rule to remember. Good luck!

Jayne is a regular contributor to Everest by Fog. If you like mystery novels, give her website a gander. You won't regret it. Check out her books here and on Amazon. They've gotten great reviews. Or if you like using companies that pay tax and all that left-wing hippy crap, you can use The Book Depository instead of Amazon.

13 July, 2013

Guest Post by Josh Hoyt

Josh Hoyt's book seems like a handy idea to me. As you know by now, the theme on this blog has always been to make use of psychology to increase your story's impact. I've had a little e-back-and-forth with Josh and it seems to me that he knows his chops.

You can buy his book on Amazon HERE

He was kind enough to write a guest post for us, and I'm proud to have him.  Here it is:

As we create our characters and their stories it is important to understand how people in real life work and adjust to their surroundings so that our characters are more rounded and realistic. When our characters are more realistic, our readers will find themselves attached to those characters and will buy into their stories. Once a reader has bought in, we have them hooked. In order to understand how people behave and think we can look at psychological studies that have been conducted in the past. One of those studies that helps us understand why we as humans have odd reactions to certain things, such as being afraid of a stuffed animal, was conducted in the 1920's by John B. Watson.

Watson wanted to take the research conducted by Ivan Pavlov further and show that classical conditioning could be used to condition emotional responses (i.e. fear, anger, joy etc....) from a conditioned stimulus (i.e. stuffed animal, person with a beard, a car etc...) by tying that conditioned stimulus to an unconditioned stimulus (loud noise) that was already tied to an unconditioned response (fear). In order to do this Watson experimented with a child who they called, “Albert B.” The study today is more commonly known as the The Little Albert Experiment.

In the experiment Little Albert played with a white rat; Little Albert showed no fear of the white rat when he first held it. Later in the experiment Watson would hand the white rat to Little Albert and then make a loud noise which startled Little Albert. After doing this several times Albert became afraid of the white rat. The conditioned stimulus was the white rat and the conditioned response was fear. Watson showed through the experiment that a conditioned emotional response could be tied to a conditioned stimulus. Further, they proved that this conditioned response was generalized over to other conditioned stimulus. Little Albert not only showed fear of white rats but other similar white objects.

We see this happen to characters that we read about as well. For example, Frodo becomes conditioned to a stimulus, in this case a ring. In the beginning of the trilogy of Lord of The Rings, Frodo goes unnoticed by the world, feeling protected because of this anonymity (unconditioned stimulus) which comforts him (unconditioned response). When he enters the world and finds himself in trouble and being noticed by those around him, he puts the ring on (conditioned stimulus) and once again finds himself unnoticed (conditioned response). He continues to find comfort in putting the ring on which reinforces the conditioned response to the point that he can't let the ring go even if keeping it costs him everything.

Our characters not only have unconditioned responses to the situations they find themselves in but also conditioned responses that form through their story as they experience different stimuli that are paired with unconditioned responses. By developing these conditioned responses in our characters we show growth and change in our characters. They're no longer stagnate but alive and changing.

The easiest way to figure out our characters unconditioned responses and stimuli and their conditioned responses and stimuli is to make a simple chart.

Unconditioned Stimuli:

Unconditioned Response:

Conditioned Stimuli:

Conditioned Response:

Now just fill in the blanks. The responses will be the same. The stimuli are what changes. Keep in mind that the conditioned response is what the character learns and the unconditioned stimuli is what the character has already been exposed to.

For an example I'll take a character through this process.

Unconditioned Stimuli: home for Christmas Cookie smell.

Unconditioned Response: love, warmth, good feelings

Conditioned Stimuli: Young Woman baking cookies

Conditioned Response: love, warmth, good feelings

Now a short synopsis of how this could happen:

My sample character loves his mother immensely but lives a long way from her and can only afford to visit her once a year at Christmas time. During this time his mother always makes pumpkin cookies which have a very strong cinnamon spice smell that he can smell before he even opens the door. After visiting his family one Christmas his neighbor, a beautiful young woman, cooks some pumpkin cookies that he can smell through the thin walls. He instantly remembers his mother and the love he has for her and all the joys of Christmas. Later that day the young woman brings him a plate of the cookies and he instantly falls for her as he inhales the cinnamon spice pumpkin smell.

As you can see, after recognizing the different parts of classical conditioning I was able to make a believable synopsis of how the young couple fall in love. By understanding our characters and what drives them we can make realistic characters that our readers will love to get to know.

Josh Hoyt has a masters in Counseling from Northern Arizona University and is currently attending Utah State University for a Masters in School Psychology. He has worked with a range of patients, children and adults, helping sufferers of many issues including drug addictions, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. He has been writing since 2009.

06 July, 2013

Let's have some will. Shall we?

"I shall be a writer," said the lazy posh git.

Will and shall are often confused, but it breaks down like this:

Things that shall happen are going to happen. It is outside anyone's control. It simply shall occur.

Things that will happen are things that one will affect (in the sense of the word, "to act upon").

So saying you"will" become a writer means you're striving for it. Saying you "shall" means it's happening without any work. Posh gits used it in olden times to sound composed and indifferent ("nonchalant", if you like French) not because it was just a fancier word. They used it, in essence, because they were gits.

But what separates the people whose wills become reality?

See the difference? No, not just the handsomeness, but the difference in the metaphors.

The Ancient Greek word "Arete" is commonly poorly translated into English as "excellence", but Arete wasn't seen as something to become, or to have others gift you with the perception of. It isn't something to do or to wait for. Arete has much more of a Fight Club ideal behind it: to achieve Arete is to let go of all things holding you back, because Arete is something to BE.

I could get into the sociology of the Ancient Greeks here and use fancy words like "eschatological", but let's suffice to say that the Greeks didn't see time as linear, with beginning and end. Their conceptions were much more focused on the present and on individualism. Life had no purpose except in and of itself. They had mythology, but their gods were largely metaphorical (to break another common misconception). To say Achilles was blessed by Ares was to say he had superhuman skill with the blade, not to say that some sword-slinging sky-man flicked him on the ear when he was a baby and told him he was going to kick ass. Their conception of what destiny meant was very different from ours. They did not see it with finality. They saw not inevitability, but potential. They did not think in eschatological terms.

I think most modern people agree that we don't have destinies. But in the Ancient Greek sense, we do. Everyone does. I bloody well do. There's a goal I make every possible effort to achieve. If I fail, it's going to be because I'm not good enough. Simple. It won't be because I'm lazy.

So what's your destiny, in the Greek sense? If you're on this blog, I'd imagine your destiny is not to play solitaire, watch television or surf the internet. Not that I'm saying you should leave. I don't want you to leave. But if you want to be writing instead of reading this, then I say good for you.

Every second you waste letting yourself think you'd be better off after a good rest, watching television, talking to yourself in the mirror or shooting kittens with water pistols is another moment that you are closer to death. Do you really just want to be another "normal" person?  Then you don't want to be an artist.  Artists are weirdos. If you really do want to be an artist you need to not have, but give yourself Arete.

Arete doesn't mean "self-creation" anymore than it means "self destruction". It's something to be. It means waking up every day and being the best father, mother, son, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, daughter, friend, mentor, cat owner and writer and whatever else that you care to be, every day.